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HomeBooks and LiteratureIngenuity of anti-CAA protest inspired new book: Amit Chaudhuri

Ingenuity of anti-CAA protest inspired new book: Amit Chaudhuri

The anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests of 2019 were a break away from the traditional forms of protests — they were not politically affiliated and their agenda was humanity itself, said author Amit Chaudhuri, adding, “Led by Muslim women, many of them in burqa, these protests gave rise to a new language of protest.” The protests and his meditations on Indian rationality and interventions made at the time by the organic intellectual (that is, the blue- and white-collar worker, like the captain on an Indigo flight, rather than academics or writers) prompted Chaudhuri to write On Being Indian, the second book in the Literary Activism series, which was launched by the Centre for the Creative and the Critical at Ashoka University and Westland Books on August 22, at the India International Centre, New Delhi.

On Being Indian is part political analysis, part literary criticism, and part an impassioned expression of, and meditation on, what it means to ‘be Indian’. It was originally a talk delivered by Chaudhuri at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, in February 2020, and later published as an essay in Social Research Quarterly the following year. The book is the new imprint’s second publication after Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s first book of poetry in twenty-five years, Book of Rahim and Other Poems.

The book fits into Literary Activism’s vision mainly because of its hybrid formal quality, which makes it different from conventional political writing. As the carefully crafted description points out, “On one level, the book is a record of the various events and utterances that led up to and characterised the protests against the CAA in India. On another level, it questions and shows us the limited value of dichotomies such as the secular and the religious. This long essay is an exploration of how such a critique might be written in a way that’s urgent but not journalistic; intellectually rigorous but not academic; political as well as imaginative.”

Literary Activism is a project that began in 2014 with a series of annual symposia. Its aim was to create a space for the kind of discussion on creativity no longer available in mainstream contexts (literary festivals, book launches) or in academic ones (conferences, classrooms, monographs). The literary activism website ( was created in 2020, and the Centre for the Creative and the Critical at Ashoka University came into existence in 2022 at Ashoka University to give this project a home and to look at the kind of thinking that writing and the arts comprise.

Speaking about this announcement and the new imprint launch, Mehrotra, said, ‘Sixty odd years ago, along with two friends, Alok and Amit Rai, one of whom is dead and the other still a friend, I started a magazine called damn you/ a magazine of the arts. It was mimeographed and had a circulation of some 50 copies. There was also a damn you press. The press, such as it was, published one mimeographed book – if book it can be called. Literature, then, in the mid-1960s, had something to do with secrecy, with the surreptitious, with the lowercase. It was something to be whispered. “Literary activism”, the imprint, has brought back the whisper to literature. The irony is not lost on me — it is whispering on social media, in the age of chatGPT. It’s been 60 years. Still, I feel as though I were revisiting a forgotten, urgent, world.”

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Karthika VK, Publisher, Westland Books, who was present at the launch, said, “It’s a privilege to partner with Ashoka University’s Centre for the Creative and the Critical and with Amit Chaudhuri’s project, “literary activism”, to publish this series of unusual, experimental, and truly outstanding works that don’t fall into the usual categories, genres, or formats. And I am particularly pleased that Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s poetry and Amit Chaudhuri’s non-fiction are the first in the series, for they set the tone for what will follow.”

Chaudhuri also announced at the launch that Hindi writer Vinod Kumar Shukla’s Treasurer of Piggy Banks, a collection of translated poems, will the be imprint’s next publication, alongside a collection of essays from the 4th literary activism symposium, ‘Against Storytelling’. Shukla had recently won the 2023 PEN/Nabokov Lifetime Achievement Award.

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