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Who Speaks for Ambedkar? The Debate over Navayana’s Edition of Annihilation of Caste and the Buddhist Teaching of Right Speech

January 24, 2017 @ 8:00 am - 5:00 pm


Dr. Christopher Queen (Harvard University) // January 24th, 2017 // 1:00pm-2:30pm // Belo Center for New Media (BMC) 5.208

Following the 2013 release of Navayana’s annotated critical edition of B. R. Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste with an introductory essay by Arundhati Roy, Dalit (ex-Untouchable) activists angrily charged that Roy and the publisher were unqualified to write on Ambedkar by virtue of their high-caste backgrounds. We examine this war of words in the context of Ambedkar’s career as the leading voice for Untouchable human rights and as principal draftsman of India’s Constitution. We compare the attack on Navayana’s Annihilation of Caste to the original attack on Ambedkar’s 1936 speech.

Given Ambedkar’s historic conversion to Buddhism, along with millions of his followers, we examine the teaching of Right Speech, the fourth step on the Eightfold Path, found in the early sayings of the Buddha. We learn that criteria for choosing speech or silence do not include the caste, gender, ethnicity, or expertise of the speaker, but rather the truth, timeliness, tone, and benefit of the words. Whether the words need to be “gentle” or “harsh” depends on the situation, according to the Buddha.

Supported by:

Ambedkarite Buddhist Association of Texas

South Asia Institute (UT Austin)

Moody College of Communication (UT Austin)

Free and open to the UT community and general public


January 24, 2017
8:00 am - 5:00 pm