The real struggles and battles of actual heroes such as Ayyankali in Kerala or Jyotiba Phule in Maharashtra, who successfully led mass movements against upper class brutalities, will continue to be kept away from popular imagination as long as the nation keeps celebrating the wrong heroes, writer and political thinker Arundhati Roy said here on Thursday.

She was delivering the Mahatma Ayyankali address at an international seminar on “Re-imagining struggles at the margins: A history of the unconquered and the oppressed” organised by the Mahatma Ayyankali Chair, Department of History, University of Kerala.

It is part of a political conspiracy to perpetuate the caste system that such heroes are never celebrated. All the while, the nation has been fed on centuries of lies about “mahatmas,” who never openly renounced the caste system but instead, advocated that the hereditary occupation of people who belonged to a particular caste ought to be the maintained social order, she said.

“The story of Gandhi that we have been told, is a lie. It is time to unveil a few truths, about a person whose doctrine of nonviolence was based on the acceptance of a most brutal social hierarchy ever known, the caste system. Gandhi believed that a scavenger should always remain a scavenger. Do we really need to name our universities after him?” Ms. Roy said, quoting from several writings by Gandhi.

“India can never hope to be a U.S. or China as long as the caste system, this deep disease in our souls, is not annihilated. It is time that as a nation, people started asking themselves if they wanted to institutionalise injustice, if they were so sick as to believe that some people deserved to be more privileged than the others,” she added.

Kancha Ilaiah, Dalit activist, writer and former Professor of Political Science, Osmania University, Hyderabad, delivered the keynote address.

The seminar was inaugurated by P.K. Radhakrishnan, Vice Chancellor, University of Kerala.