A Discussion on Ashis Nandy’s Comments at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2013

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of EPW.


In 2013, Jaipur Police filed a first information report (FIR) against Ashis Nandy under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 for his statement that

“It is a fact that most of the corrupt come from the OBCs and the Scheduled Castes and now increasingly Scheduled Tribes and as long as this is the case, Indian republic will survive.”

Nandy had also argued that West Bengal was “corruption-free” because

“in the last 100 years nobody from the OBCs, the backward classes and the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes have come anywhere near power in West Bengal.”

Nandy received both severe criticism and support for his statements, and the Supreme Court stayed his arrest in February 2013.


Gopal Guru, in his 2013 article, argues that Nandy’s comments may be considered creative and pro-Dalit, but they do not promote the well-being of Dalits. Guru adds that Dalits should engage with public intellectuals rather than use legal methods. He also says that by labelling the Prevention of Atrocities Act as draconian based on an individual case, critics are minimising the collective importance of the act.

Dilip Menon responds to Guru, arguing that his article is a random reiteration of “characteristics” about Dalits that Nandy is not complicit in formulating. Menon claims that Guru has deliberately misread Nandy’s statements.

K Y Cybil replies to Menon, arguing that he has overlooked Guru’s concern about the safety of Dalits and constitutional provisions to ensure it. Moreover, Cybil claims that “the problem with Nandy’s observation is that it conceals the coercion that forms the basic alphabet of the exchange of bribes.”

Arvind Kumar and Sriti Ganguly respond to all the authors by asking whether Nandy’s own writing on humiliation would classify his comments as humiliation. Kumar and Ganguly answer in the affirmative. While they recognise that the incident has provoked debates on caste and expression within and outside academia, they question why demands to be “liberal” and “sensible,” instead of being “impassioned,” and “impulsive,” are directed towards Dalits and not Savarnas.


A few other works that are broadly related to this discussion:

  1. Ashis Nandy's Critics and India's Thriving Democracy, Indrajit Roy, 2013
  2. On Misreading the Dalit Critique of University Spaces, Drishadwati Bargi, 2018 
  3. Judicial Atrocity? Anand Teltumbde, 2018
  4. Why Do We Need a Specific Law to Safeguard Dalits Against Caste Violence? EPW Engage, 2018  
  5. Why Indian Universities Are Places Where Savarnas Get Affection and Dalit-Bahujans Experience Distance, P Thirumal and Carmel Christy, 2018
  6. Misuse of the Prevention of Atrocities Act: Scrutinising the Mahajan Judgment, 2018, Nitish Nawsagaray, 2018


Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at edit@epw.in with the subject line—"Caste and Democracy"

Curated by Abhishek Shah [abhishekshah@epw.in]

Image courtesy: Canva [Public domain]

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