Sahodaran Ayyappan is making a comeback in the public sphere of Kerala through debates, radical re-reading and innovative explorations. This happens at a time when the excluded and marginalised sections of the society such as women, Dalits and other contested groups are actively intervening in the cultural politics and producing representatives. This book explores the pluralistic and dialogic legacies of Sahodaran and questions the realities of the multi-faceted intellectual through a critical re-reading of his life and works.
The idea of a biography of Sahodaran Ayyappan grew out of Ajay Sekher's engagements in the caste discourse. Following is a rundown of events that resulted in the book.
In the year 2006, Bhashaposhini monthly carried a lengthy article on the contributions of Sahodaran Ayyappan; it was written by Dr. Ajay Sekher. Having read this, our managing editor Auswaf Ahsan made a phone call to Ajay and there began the history of publishing a title on the legendary social reformer. Other Books editorial team has always been eager to identify committed critical scholars, particularly on alternative and subaltern histories, so that their consequential works can bring about new conversations in contemporary discourses. And in the case of Sahodaran Ayyappan, it was quite an unpleasant surprise for us to learn that even leading anti-caste scholars outside Kerala hadn't heard of him, despite his amazing body of work, as no authentic literature had reached them to learn about him or his work.
As Ajay Sekher himself puts, Sahodaran Ayyappan's had been one of the most articulate voices leading significantly consequential struggles against caste system, after Ambedkar's movement, particularly in Kerala. “Sahodaran has the potential to question and challenge the Brahminical patriarchy and the Hindutwa nationalist project. The dominant racial discourse in Kerala's mainstream intellectual culture consciously keeps Sahodaran invisible. You hear enough eulogies of Kumaranashan, and no word on Sahodaran Ayyappan. Sahodaran was uncompromisingly honest in his critique of Brahminism and its historic violence,” says Ajay.
Ajay has written many articles on Sahodaran. His PhD thesis has been “Caste and Gender in Indian Fiction – Representing the Margin”, submitted at the Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam. This was published by Kalpaz publications, Delhi, in 2008. Sahodaran has been a heavy influence on Ajay, like many other intellectuals and activists who have stood against the caste oppression in the region. Ajay remembers that his path to anti-caste cultural and intellectual battles, has been influenced and shaped by his teachers and friends. “Interestingly”, he adds, “they are from Muslim community: VC Harris, M Sherif, MT Ansari and so on. Another group of intellectuals I feel deeply indebted to are Dalit scholars like KK Baburaj, Kochu and Sunni Kapikkad”.
Ajay's copy was refined by our editor KS Shameer. That was the time Israeli-British author Susan Nathan was staying in Calicut and collaborating with Other Books as a co-editor. Her time and efforts have also gone into this book. Meanwhile, we had approached J Reghu, leading scholar on the Sri Narayaneeya movement in Kerala, to read and comment on it. We would later add Reghu's long note as 'reflections” in the end of the book. Gail Omvedt, author and leading anti-caste scholar, agreed to write a foreword. Our designs editor Harshad did a simple, elegant cover for the book, by using an original photograph of a rare statue Sahodaran has in Thiruvananthapuram.
Publishing this book has been an enriching experience both to the author and those at Other Books. Ajay says, “I appreciate the efforts taken by Other Books team in bringing out this work with great quality, by value-additions like a foreword by Gail Omvedt and an afterword by J Reghu. Omvedt has been at the forefront of creating global academic visibility to the Indian Dalit discourse. And Reghu is perhaps the best scholar on Narayana Guru's movement. These best minds coming together to critically reflect on a work on Sahodaran was a great thing to happen to other books.
Dr. Ajay's book was titled Sahodaran Ayyappan: Towards Democratic Future – Life and Select Works. The book analysed Sahodaran’s multi-faceted personality; his engagements with Sri Narayana Guru and other leaders in the caste reform movement in Kerala; his unique ideological positions, courageous experiments; his fight against Hindu Brahmanic hegemonic power centres in Indian philosophy; Neo Buddhist legacy; his respect for pluralism and the original challenges he posed to the Hindu unity agenda of the right wing. The second part is a collection of his writings translated from Malayalam by Ajay Sekher. In spite of being born in Ezhava community, Ayyappan was called ‘Pulayan Ayyappan,’ after his active role in inter-dining with Pulaya community; however, he was very proud of being called a Pulayan. For the future of a new radical democratic cultural politics of the marginalised groups, Ayyappanism can play a significant role.
Paul Zacharia and BRP Bhasker launched the book in Thiruvananthapuram on April 13, 2012; at the launch ceremony we honoured veteran author Dalit Bandhu NK Jose for his pioneering efforts in creating a Dalit historiographical discourse in Malayalam. The book received remarkable reviews in the print media. Sahodaran Smaraka Sangham, based in Cherayi, selected the book for the award of Sahodaran Sahitya Puraskaram in 2015.