Category Archives: India

Performance Art or Protesting Act?


Performance Art or Protesting Act?

Johny ML


Blackening her face for 125 days was a new aesthetical mode that artist P.S. Jayamol adopted to create a social critique on the discriminated ‘living’ experiences of the Dalit communities. But it seems to have almost backfired on the face of the artist herself. The onus is now on Jayamol to defend her ‘creative social experiment’ which was lauded as a piece of performance art by local as well as international media.

Jayamol’s ‘performance art’ was almost a reaction toward the infamous ‘Rohit Vemula’ incident at the Hyderabad University. Taking ‘black complexion’ as a definitive marker of the Dalit identity, the artist had embarked on her ‘social experiment cum performance art’ by smearing her face and the exposed parts of hands and feet with removable black paint whenever she ventured out of her home/studio.

However, the argumentative Kerala intelligentsia, especially the Dalit intelligentsia, came out strongly against the artistic ‘co-optation’ of the Dalit issues by using her ‘upper caste’ body as a point of departure and made the artist accountable for such superficial ‘sabotage’ of a Dalit ‘agitating and theorising’ spaces. On the other hand, a major section of the artist community questioned Jayamol on the very idea of ‘performance art.’ Their contention was that the artist herself wasn’t clear about whether it was a piece of performance art or a social experiment. They also raised questions via social media regarding the aesthetics of ‘black’ and the politics of the performing body or that of the body in ‘performance.’

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Kerala is no longer the same. The issue of ‘black’ taken up by Jayamol could’ve been lapped up by the intelligentsia had it been done a decade before. Today, the Dalit intelligentsia doesn’t allow any such ‘integrationist,’ ‘patronising’ and ‘co-optation’ moves from anybody. For the spokespeople of the Dalit sections in Kerala, no discursive space that has exclusionary tactics or inclusive approach for the sake of democratic norms is acceptable. What they want today is ‘debate’; they no longer want to be spoken at or spoken to. The clear and precise political positions of the Dalit intellectuals have categorically made it clear to Jayamol that while they accept and appreciate her ‘artistic performance,’ the very idea of sabotaging the discursive space that they’ve been creating for so many decades now cannot be allowed for whatever reasons, including the aesthetical ones. The colour Black is not the only marker of a Dalit or a Dalit’s experience. Black is a general marker for Indians, though the upper castes don’t accept this until they face discrimination at the hands of the real White within the country or elsewhere. While Black being a universal derogatory marker of the evil, marking a Dalit or a Dalit experience with the colour black is almost a reductionist approach. According to the Dalit intelligentsia, blackness has transcended to various daily experiences of the Dalit even in their interactions with patronising integrationists.

It would be a reductionist argument if I say that only a Dalit has the right to speak about the Dalit experiences. However, empathy can’t be a replacement for the real experience. Jayamol’s contention regarding her performance is that it was her position/status as a woman that made her at par with the black skinned Dalit. Though we could argue that women are gendered Dalits, there is a Dalit discourse within the gender discourse itself. Feminisms all over the world have debated the multi-layered experiences of women in various social strata and have come to a conclusion that white feminism can’t speak for black feminism; similarly white upper class feminism can’t speak for the white labour class feminism. Even within Black communities such debates prevail. Jayamol has failed utterly while conceptualizing her performance art, as she hasn’t understood the nuances of Dalit and feminist discourses. Simplistic equations like Dalit= black and Dalit= woman made her almost a laughing stock within the cultural communities all over the world. However, I won’t say that Jayamol as an artist doesn’t have the right to ‘perform’ or ‘conduct’ social experiments on caste system in Kerala using a ‘color’ as a marker. While she has the right to do so, she should also be aware that the word ‘color’ or ‘colored’ itself is a marker of race or caste (in India’s case) and it isn’t just white against black, it is white against all the other colors. In Indian context, it is Brahminism against all other castes created by Brahminism itself.

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When art is treated as a ‘reaction,’ not really as ‘response’ or ‘assimilated experiential responses filtered through intelligence and feeling via adequate methods and materials,’ many Jayamols would happen in our society. Such reactionary artists, as they are driven by the urgency to ‘react’ rather than to respond intelligently, fail to understand the gravity of the situations. The failure that happened to Jayamol’s art project is because of her ‘reactionary’ approach. This performance was a ‘reaction’ to Vemula’s suicide. Her concerns were extended to the unfortunate incidents like ‘Ooraly’s arrest’ and the ‘rape and murder of Jisha.’ Reactionary artists often grab the opportunity of famous as well as infamous social happenings and attach their ‘art-ivism’ to such developments. That’s why Jayamol’s performance looks like a tacky social experiment meant for a ‘desired result’ masquerading as a piece of performance art process. The reactionary verve of the artist blinded her in seeing how artists like Vito Acconci, Chris Burden, Carolee Schneemann, Marina Abromovic and so on used body as a performance tool much before the social experiments intend to shock and eke out a reaction from the ‘shocked’ or ‘offended’ or ‘don’t care’ audiences.

Jayamol isn’t alone. Reactionary art is the latest fad in Kerala where people are looking for publicity by attaching themselves to the latest social events that demand intellectual solidarity from different sections of the society. This is an outcome of the Kochi Muziris Biennale that has been promoting an art culture which is predominantly spectacular, and supporting capitalist art with a rebellious streak. While claiming its leaning toward political art, Kochi Muziris Biennale runs with the pray and hunts with the hunter.

Before I close this article, I would like to tell the artists in Kerala and elsewhere that art is political only up to the level of the political integrity of the artist himself or herself. Painting Mahatma Gandhi with a blackened tooth or talking about Dr. B. R. Ambedkar doesn’t make an artist political. Mere sloganeering and claiming of a political voice or space also doesn’t make an artist political. Even the party affiliation of the artists does not make them political. Picasso was a Communist Party card holder, but apart from the forced reading of ‘Guernica,’ we don’t identify Picasso as a communist. Reactionaries are never political. Whether they are visible or invisible, accepted or rejected, accommodated or thrown out, Dalit political discourses have been there for over a century now in India, and a reactionary artist just cannot snatch that space for whatever reasons. As a Dalit scholar and leader had put in one of the television debates, ‘Jayamol can wash the black colour by evening, but what about us who can’t wash it off and also have to hand it over to the successive generations like a pollutant?’

(Photos: Kalakakshi/Facebook & See-ming Lee ??? SML via Foter.com / CC BY-SA)

Read More:

ചായം പൂശിയ ഐക്യദാര്‍ഢ്യത്തിന്റെ ചെമ്പ് തെളിയുമ്പോള്‍

Why this Indian woman is using ‘blackface’ as solidarity

Here’s Why This Young Artist In Kerala Is Covering Herself In Black Paint For 100 Days

Paint Me Black


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    Johny ML

    Johny is a New Delhi-based art historian, critic, curator and writer.

     

 


 

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Observer Research Foundation 


The Beginning

ORF began its journey in 1990 at the juncture of ideation tempered by pragmatism. During the period of India’s transition to a new engagement with the international economic order, several challenges emerged, evoking a need for an independent forum that could critically examine the problems facing the country and help develop coherent policy responses. ORF was thus formed, and brought together, for the first time, leading Indian economists and policymakers to present the agenda for India’s economic reforms.

Observer Research Foundation

What We Are Today

Propelled by the process of reforms initiated in the 1990s, ORF, over the past 25 years of its existence, has effectively narrated and participated in India’s story as the country has acquired an unmistakable global footprint. From primarily looking inward and engaging with domestic reforms, to gradually forging global partnerships, ORF today plays a seminal role in building political and policy consensus that enables India to interact with the world.

As new powers re-emerge onto the global stage, existing systems face challenges of agreeing on a new set of rules to control and regulate the new frontiers of space, the oceans, the internet and the human mind. The world continues, also, to navigate persisting concerns related to security and strategy, economy and development, energy and resources. As India begins to play a larger role in the 21st century, ORF continues to push normative boundaries, bring new ideas into the policy discourse and provide a platform to a new generation of thinkers. It is supported in its mission by leading intellectuals, academicians, policymakers, business leaders, institutions and civil society actors.

ORF’s aim is to encourage voices from all quarters, geographies and gender, both those that fallin and those that question dominant narratives. It is this plurality of thought and voice – in a country of over a billion individuals – that ORF seeks to carry abroad, while simultaneously bringing contemporary global debates to India.

The Mandate

ORF seeks to lead and aid policy thinking towards building a strong and prosperous India in a fair and equitable world. It sees India as a country poised to play a leading role in the knowledge age – a role in which it shall be increasingly called upon to proactively ideate in order to shape global conversations, even as it sets course along its own trajectory of long-term sustainable growth.

ORF helps discover and inform India’s choices. It carries Indian voices and ideas to forums shaping global debates. It provides non-partisan, independent, well-researched analyses and inputs to diverse decision-makers in governments, business communities, and academia and to civil society around the world.

Our mandate is to conduct in-depth research, provide inclusive platforms and invest in tomorrow’s thought leaders today.

Ghanaians Want Statue Of Mahatma Ghandi Removed


Ghanaians Want This Statue Of Black People Hater Mahatma Ghandi Removed


 

Ghanaians Want This Statue Of Black People Hater Mahatma Ghandi Removed
Mahatma Ghandi was a notorious racist against Africans.

AFRICANGLOBE – A former Director of the Institute of African Studies, Professor Akosua Adomako Ampofo, has started a campaign asking for the removal of the statue of Indian independence icon, Mahatma Ghandi, from the University of Ghana campus.

Prof Adomako Ampofo is urging members of the University of Ghana Council to heed her petition arguing among other things that, Ghandi was racist against Black people and honoring him set the wrong example for students.

In June 2016, the statue of Ghandi was erected on the University campus to the dismay of some members of the university community aware of the apparent racist overtones Ghandi exuded.

Prof Adomako Ampofo cites some of these examples of racism in her petition, like this quote from 1894. ”

“A general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.

It should be noted that, the word Kaffir, is a derogatory term for Black people with roots in Apartheid era of South African history.

No racists symbols on world class universities 

South Carolina Governor Attacks Black Protest Movement
As Africans we have no friends

The petition also contended that, if the University of Ghana sought to be a world class university, it should not be seen to be honoring former bastions of slavery, apartheid and white supremacy.

In other high profile universities, symbols edifying persons associated with controversial stances like white supremacy have been removed.

Prof Adomako Ampofo notes one such example in her petition when in October 2015, “Rhodes University [in South Africa] established a renaming team to remove the name of Cecil Rhodes, former prime minister of the Cape colony, and one of the founders of apartheid.”

The first senate and then the Council of the University of Cape Town, also voted to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes early in 2015, after protests by some students. With these arguments, Prof Adomako Ampofo urged the University of Ghana Council to “do the honourable thing by pulling down the statue. It is better to stand up for our dignity than to kowtow to the wishes of a Third World super-power.”

Find below her full petition 

Dear Honourable members of the University of Ghana Council:

Re: Petition for the removal of the Statute of Gandhi

We the undersigned bring this petition for the removal of the statute of Gandhi to the esteemed Council of the University of Ghana Council for your consideration.

Background: 

On 14 June 2016 a statue of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi [1] was erected at the Sam Aboah quadrangle[DOK1] . This is the only statue of an historical personality on Legon campus, and soon after it came to the notice of members of the University community and the general public, calls for its removal began within the University community and beyond. [2] We, the undersigned associate ourselves with that call for the reasons outlined below.

Rationale for Removal: 

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s racist identity:

Below we provide just a few citations from his own writings to illustrate this.

Before Dec. 19, 1894

“A general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.” ~ Vol. I, p. 193

Before May 5, 1895

“In the face, too, of financial operations, the success of which many of their detractors would envy, one fails to understand the agitation which would place the operators in the same category as the half-heathen Native and confine him to Locations, and subject him to the harsher laws by which the Transvaal Kaffir is governed.” ~ Vol. I, pp. 224-225

Before May 5, 1895

“So far as the feeling has been expressed, it is to degrade the Indian to the position of the Kaffir.” ~ Vol. I, p. 229

Sept. 26, 1896

“Ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness.” ~ Vol. I, pp. 409-410

Before May 27, 1899

“Your Petitioner has seen the Location intended to be used by the Indians. It would place them, who are undoubtedly infinitely superior to the Kaffirs, in close proximity to the latter.” ~ Vol. II, p. 270

June 1, 1906

“The Boer Government insulted the Indians by classing them with the Kaffirs.” ~ Vol. V, p. 59

Source: Gandhi and South African Blacks ( http://www.gandhiserve.org/e/cwmg/cwmg.htm)

*(NOTE-The term kaffir is considered a racial slur used in reference to Black South African natives.)

Gandhi also campaigned against the efforts of the Dalits, The Black “Untouchables” of India, and for the maintenance of the caste system right up to his death.

Supplementary Reading and Links:

The Myth of Mahatma GhandiBy: Velu Annamalai  Ph.D. velu@home.com

Petition calls for Gandhi statue to be removed from Ghana UniversityProfessors say late civil rights leader was racist and considered Indians to be ‘infinitely superior’ to black Africans | Thursday 22 September 2016   |

Ghana: Call to remove Gandhi statue over ‘racist views’
Campaigners urge removal of Indian social activist’s statue from university, saying he was racist towards black people.

#GandhiForComeDown: Ghana to remove Gandhi statue because of his anti-black racism
Lecturers and students began campaigning for the Indian nationalist leader’s statue to be removed shortly after it was installed.
08 OCT 2016 10:14 | MAIL & GUARDIAN ONLINE REPORTER AND REUTERS

Ghana’s problem with ‘racist’ Gandhi
22 September 2016

Was Mahatma Gandhi a racist?
17 September 2015 |  India

GANDHI SPREADS RACIAL HATRED OF AFRICANS
ORGANIZATION FOR MINORITIES OF INDIA

The truth about Mahatma Gandhi: he was a wily operator, not India’s smiling saint
The Indian nationalist leader had an eccentric attitude to sleeping habits, food and sexuality. However, his more controversial ideas have been written out of history
By Patrick French | 7:50PM GMT 31 Jan 2013 |

What did Mahatma Gandhi think of black people?
 | September 3, 2015 |

Continue reading Ghanaians Want Statue Of Mahatma Ghandi Removed

13 Racist Quotes Gandhi Said About Black People


Not All Peaceful: 13 Racist Quotes Gandhi Said About Black People

All quotes are direct quotations from The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. They are taken from his writings and statements during the years he spent working as an attorney in South Africa, before he went back to India in 1915 to fight for independence. Note: “Kaffir” is an offensive term in South Africa considered on par with “n*gger” in the U.S., though in Gandhi’s time some historians claim it was considered more neutral.

Gandhi in his 20s
Gandhi at 19

Indians Dragged Down to the Kaffirs

Before Dec. 19, 1894: “A general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.”

Gandhi in South Africa
Gandhi in South Africa

Kaffirs Pass Their Lives in ‘Indolence and Nakedness’

Sept. 26, 1896: “Ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness.”

Young Gandhi (1)

Kaffirs Would Not Work

Oct. 26, 1896: “There is a bye-law in Durban which requires registration of coloured servants. This rule may be, and perhaps is, necessary for the Kaffirs who would not work, but absolutely useless with regard to the Indians. But the policy is to class the Indian with the Kaffir whenever possible.”

gandhi lawyer

Indians ‘Infinitely Superior’ to the Kaffirs

Before May 27, 1899: “Your Petitioner has seen the Location intended to be used by the Indians. It would place them, who are undoubtedly infinitely superior to the Kaffirs, in close proximity to the latter.”

Boer War, Indian Ambulance Corps (Gandhi is in middle row, fifth from left)
Boer War, Indian Ambulance Corps (Gandhi is in middle row, fifth from left)

Indians Shouldn’t Be Taxed Like Kaffirs

May 24, 1903: “The £3 tax is merely a penalty for wearing the brown skin and it would appear that, whereas Kaffirs are taxed because they do not work at all or sufficiently, we are to be taxed evidently because we work too much, the only thing in common between the two being the absence of the white skin.”

gandhi with friend

Indians Forced to Live with Too Many Kaffirs

Feb. 11, 1904: “I venture to write you regarding the shocking state of the Indian Location. The rooms appear to be overcrowded beyond description. The sanitary service is very irregular, and many of the residents of the Location have been to my office to complain that the sanitary condition is far worse than before. There is, too, a very large Kaffir population in the Location for which really there is no warrant.”

Gandhi with friends
Gandhi with friends

Calamity Coming for Johannesburg

Feb. 15, 1904: “I feel convinced that every minute wasted over the matter merely hastens a calamity for Johannesburg and that through absolutely no fault of the British Indians. Why, of all places in Johannesburg, the Indian Location should be chosen for dumping down all the kaffirs of the town passes my comprehension.”

Gandhi in UK
Gandhi in UK

No Mixing Kaffirs With Indians

Feb. 15, 1904: “Of course, under my suggestion, the Town Council must withdraw the Kaffirs from the Location. About this mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians, I must confess I feel most strongly. I think it is very unfair to the Indian population and it is an undue tax on even the proverbial patience of my countrymen.”

gandhi smile

Kaffirs Less Advanced

Sept. 9, 1906: “Even the half-castes and Kaffirs, who are less advanced than we, have resisted the Government. The pass law applies to them as well, but they do not take out passes.”

Gandhi (right) with brother
Gandhi (right) with brother

Even a Kaffir Policeman Can Accost Indians?

June 4, 1907: “Are we supposed to be thieves or free-booters that even a Kaffir policeman can accost and detain us wherever we happen to be going?”

Mahatma+Gandhi+

Kaffirs Can Be Pleased With Toys and Pins

Feb. 2, 1908: “The British rulers take us to be so lowly and ignorant that they assume that, like the Kaffirs who can be pleased with toys and pins, we can also be fobbed off with trinkets.”

Gandhi+spinning

Kaffirs Are Uncivilized Animals

July 3, 1907: “Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilised – the convicts even more so. They are troublesome, very dirty and live almost like animals. Each ward contains nearly 50 to 60 of them. They often started rows and fought among themselves. The reader can easily imagine the plight of the poor Indian thrown into such company!”

Marche_sel

Indians Must Stay Away From Kaffir Women

Dec. 2, 1910: “Some Indians do have contacts with Kaffir women. I think such contacts are fraught with grave danger. Indians would do well to avoid them altogether.”


When India Proposed a Casteist Solution to South Africa’s Racist Problem


When India Proposed a Casteist Solution to South Africa’s Racist Problem

BY  ON 04/04/2016 • DIPLOMACY


‘Private and secret’ memo in the South African diplomatic archives reveals an astonishing proposal that India made in 1949.

Indian settlers in South Africa. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

On October 24, 1949, South Africa’s representative at the UN, G.P. Jooste, sent a ‘private and secret’ memorandum to his headquarters in Pretoria. The opening paragraph of the memo read:

“I have to inform you that shortly after my minute of September 23rd, Sir Benegal [Narising Rau] saw us and explained that his government had authorised this [meeting], at his own request, to discuss the matter with us on a non-committal informal basis. He therefore suggested exploratory conversations.”

My eyes lit up as I scanned through this document at the National Archives in Pretoria. Until then, most books on India-South Africa relations (there aren’t too many) that detail these early years of independence had given me, page after page, a story of massive confrontation – almost mythical in proportion – between India and South Africa in the late-1940s at the UN. So quite naturally, an informal dinner meeting between two top UN diplomats of countries that were at each other’s throats excited me. But as I read on, the excitement turned into bewilderment for Rau had proposed a casteist solution to a racist problem, alerting me to an issue that has been almost singularly stripped from any narratives of Indian foreign policy – caste.

One of the reasons B.R. Ambedkar had cited in his resignation from Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet in October 1951 was his exclusion from decision making on foreign policy. In the first couple of decades of India’s independence, the Indian foreign service (IFS) was the most elite of all civil services (which, as a joke went, suffered from Menon-gitis). But beyond the (Brahmin) men (in the first 10 years of recruitment into the IFS, only three out of 62 selections were women), how did casteist ideas filter into foreign policy discourse? In general, what role do caste dynamics play in the formulation of foreign policy? We have never known, because foreign policy as a matter of ‘national interest’ is deemed above domestic squabbles, such as caste. Yet, the fact is, diplomacy is carried out by diplomats, and their social milieu influences not only their views about what constitutes ‘national interest’, but also who constitutes the ‘nation’. No study has ever been done on this, but perhaps this document will prove a valuable entry point.

Let us return to our tale then.

Arrival of the first Indians in Natal. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A proposal for caste-based segregation

Less than three years earlier, from October to December 1946, the Indian delegation to the UN, led by Vijayalakshmi Pandit, had carried out a diplomatic David vs Goliath with perhaps the most respected statesman of the world then – Jan Smuts. The man who had “inserted human rights” into the preamble of the UN Charter left New York with “the honour, the power and the glory, all vanished,” wrote a sympathetic biographer, due to an “avalanche of condemnation” heaped on him by the Indian delegation on the question of human rights. Most prominent of these was Pandit herself, who called Smuts out for his hypocrisy on the treatment of Indians in South Africa.

On December 8, soon after an impassioned speech from Pandit, who, with a tear rolling down her eye, had appealed to “the conscience of the World Assembly,” India secured a two-thirds majority on its resolution against South Africa. India’s diplomatic assault had left Smuts to rue: “I am suspected of being a hypocrite because I can be quoted on both sides”. By sheer force of conviction, India had placed the issue of racism on the UN agenda.

B.N. Rau. Credit: Photo Division, Government of India

By late-1949, through a continued strategy of shaming South Africa at the UN, India had been able to secure a preliminary roundtable for talks with Pretoria. Perhaps to create a positive environment for talks, in September 1949 Rau deliberately used a milder tone in his opening statement on South Africa’s treatment of Indians, and let his counterpart, Jooste, know that his statement “may be regarded as a compromise”. A former Indian civil servant who also played a key role in drafting India’s constitution, Rau was India’s permanent representative to the UN. Known as ‘the saint of the United Nations’, he along with Nasrollah Entezam of Iran and Lester Pearson of Canada, formed the ‘Three Wise Men’ group at the UN in those early years. Under Rau, the Indian delegation was once described by Alastair Cooke as “messengers of peace casting sweetness and light around” in The Times.

Rau sought Jooste out for an informal dinner meeting, at the behest of the Indian government, and Jooste was told by Pretoria “to be most careful literally to say more or less what is proposed”.

In the meeting, Jooste, accompanied by his deputy J. Jordaan, kept to his brief, detailing South Africa’s position on the issue. Rau, however, let his tongue fly. Showing a rather “unexpected measure of frankness,” Rau began with confessing, Jooste noted, that ‘the feverish attempts in his country to destroy all caste inequalities were resulting in what in actual practice amounted to discrimination against the erstwhile ruling castes such as the Brahmins, to which he belongs’. Interestingly, this confession came just over a month before the pro-caste equality draft of the Indian constitution was introduced in the constituent assembly. In introducing the draft constitution, ironically, Ambedkar went on to specially credit Rau for his sterling work in preparing the draft.
Going further, Rau stated that “Indians who went to South Africa did not belong to the best type  and that, as in Burma, they may have exploited the local population and given India a bad name”. He added that the way the South African government treated them “might be fully justified and that in fact India would not mind discrimination against our local Indian community if only it was not based on racial lines”.

In his earlier discussions with Canadian authorities, Rau stated, he had proposed that Canada should allow “a small group of select nationals, say 20, to migrate to Canada where after a period of time they would be granted full rights of citizenship”. (Indian diplomats had indeed made such a suggestion to the Canadians, but the figure was 200) Based on this precedent, Rau enquired whether a similar proposal of citizenship to “a small number, say 10, of the cultured and best type of Indians” could work for South Africa “as a token to the world that the racial equality of Indians was recognised” by that country.

The Jooste Memorandum

It is clear from the contextual reference to Rau’s lament about “discrimination against erstwhile ruling castes like Brahmins” that his euphemistic reference to Indians of the  “best type” was really a proxy for the upper castes.

Effectively, what Rau had proposed was that if a small number of upper caste Indians were admitted as equal citizens in South Africa, this would in principle mean that there was no racial discrimination against Indians and give South Africa a way out in rechristening racism as a form of minority protection. Rau’s argument was based on the premise that upper caste Indians constituted the Indian nation in its best form, and thus only they were its true representatives. Lower caste Indians were, in short, not Indian enough, and hence how they were treated did not matter.

Rau assured Jooste that as soon as South Africa did anything to “remove discrimination based on racial considerations,” India would end its opposition to the country. He further added that India was acting as a “bulwark … against Communism in the East” and had taken a leadership position, and hence, “could not accept the position of being the inferior race,” and the South African application of the racial criteria was “playing into the hands of the communists who, today, were representing themselves as the liberators of the oppressed and the champions of freedom and liberty”.

The reaction from Pretoria to this memo was cautious. They refused to entertain the idea of making caste-based, and not race-based, distinctions. Ironically, year after year, it was apartheid South Africa that highlighted, at the UN, India’s hypocrisy on racial issues by deeming casteism as a form of racism.

Casteism in foreign policy

So, how does a historian of India’s foreign policy read this particular memo written by Jooste?

Indians in South Africa. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

One standard requirement would be to find out what Rau had to say about this conversation in his missives to Nehru or the Ministry of External Affairs. Such a letter doesn’t exist in Rau’s papers at the Nehru Memorial Museum Library, neither can one find anything in the National Archives. Short of conclusive proof, we are forced to ask the next best question: how much does one trust the authenticity of another person’s account? If it is a ‘private and secret’ memo of an external affairs department that is crucial in formulating foreign policy, there is a strong case for believing that this conversation actually happened in this form.

Or perhaps Rau was bluffing the South Africans to get a desired deal. We would never know for sure, although such a proposal of entry of just 10 Indians would almost certainly not work, given the strong struggle South African Indians were then waging within that country. Rau, though, had either misquoted or purposely brought down the numbers in the Canadian case from 200 to 20, possibly to make it more acceptable to South Africans.

The ‘small number’ argument had, in fact, also been used by Gandhi in his struggles in South Africa where he had asked for six Indians to be allowed to enter the Transvaal district, as an in principle acceptance of Indians as racially equals to Europeans. But Rau’s emphasis on ‘select nationals’ chosen from the ‘best type’ clearly referred to allowing only upper caste Indians, in order to sideline the racial argument. Although India’s argument on racial discrimination at the UN was only limited to discrimination faced by Indians – not Africans –  in South Arica until 1952, it was broadly justified by arguing that including Africans would step on South Africa’s sovereignty and thus strategically weaken India’s anti-racial struggle. But Rau’s suggestions, clearly, don’t help in using that explanation either, since he believed that racial discrimination in general could continue as long as it didn’t ‘look’ racial towards Indians.

This, of course, gives credence to the argument that India’s anti-racism has always had limited sympathy with Africans, and thus is often hypocritical. But Rau’s diplomacy reveals something more: that Indian diplomacy has also, in ways subtler than stark, used casteist framings. And accordingly, while caste has, justifiably, been scaled up as an issue of national importance, recently its remnants need to be exposed even in the most sacred of our institutions. Foreign policy is certainly one.


Vineet Thakur is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Johannesburg.

The making of India’s modernity


The making of India’s modernity

Reviewed publication: Arnold, D. 2015. Everyday Technology: Machines and the Making of India’s Modernity, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, ISBN 9780226269375


In terms of thematic exploration, David Arnold’s book on technological modernity in colonial India, which covers the period between the 1880s and the 1960s, is seminal. In the current historiography, there is hardly any book which includes sewing machine, bicycle, rice mill, and typewriter in one single account that tells us the story of modern India that unfolded at the intersections of technology, state and society.1

Two important aspects related to the theoretical positioning of the book need brief comments. One relates to the scale of technology; and two, the scale of history and history writing.

Technology: A function of scale & site of social issues

On the first: the book makes a very pertinent claim that “Technology did not need to be big to be significant, audible, visible, and everyday” (10). Arnold claims that much of the existing historiography in South Asia has remained focussed on railways, irrigation (and very recently on telegraph) as main technological movers of the nineteenth century. Against this, he presents his justification of studying “everyday technologies” because “they frequently possessed an intimacy, a companionable association with family life and domestic existence, which bigger machines lacked” (11-12).

Arnold rightly observes that the little that exists on the history of technology, which includes his own earlier works, has remained focussed on big-scale technology. They explore the big politics of imperialism, nationalism and capitalism. There is, therefore, a need to look at small-scale technologies. However, intimacies, domesticities, and other such quotidian markers/formations are not necessarily a function of the scale of technologies. If a group of girls riding on bicycles sang away, quite literally, their free-spirited pedalling across the serene landscape as one towards love and freedom which no one should try to stop (the famous song main chali, main chali from the movie Padosan, 1968) then almost two decades earlier a song picturised in a railway carriage amusingly chronicled the enactment of some other everyday practices such as sleeping, playing cards and not least eating (the song rail mein jiya mora from the movie Ankhen, 1950). Further, Bhojpuri folksongs from the early twentieth century on railways and steamships (the big technologies) very vividly depicted the intimate everyday relationship around conjugality, family life, and domestic existence (or lack of it).

The argument that technology did not need to be big to be significant is absolutely valid, but equally true (and I assume Arnold will agree as he himself uses Nirad Chaudhuri’s reminiscences of the sound of steamers, pp17-18) is that the ‘everyday’ does not need to be necessarily located in something that is plebeian, subaltern, and small. Everyday is not a function of scale. Railways and sewing machines were both part of the same everyday – at individual and social levels. And the colonialists/corporatists displayed the same kind of prejudices in relation to both: as Singer agents thought Indians incapable to use their machines, so did the agents of railway companies a few decades earlier. If Singer claimed to have helped Indians move towards better civilization, so did the power of steam.

Influenced by the ‘social construction of technology’ theory (SCOT), Arnold’s second theoretical intervention is to rescue the social history of these technologies, which were all imported in their provenance, from an instrumental relationship of transfer and diffusion from the West to the East. This relates to the scale of history and history writing in which he admits of not looking at the technical make-up of the machine, but in exploring how they became part of the social and political processes of change in specific localities; how in India they became carriers as well as sites of issues such as race, class and gender (12).

All technologies and commodities covered in this study were global in their reach and introduced in India largely but not exclusively through the network of imperialism, but their ‘creative appropriation’ in different settings gave them context-specific meanings. It is the context of the social which is at the heart of this book, which ties the global, the imperial and the local in an un-formulaic way. Given the ascendancy of formulaic ways of doing global history through connections and comparisons, I find this approach of not letting the ‘social’ go adrift refreshingly important (see the brief comment on 38). Once again, it must be stated that the cultural adaptation of technology is not specific to small or big.

Global technologies & colonial state

The foreignness of these technologies invariably leads Arnold to raise the question of their relation with colonial state power. Most of the big and small technologies were thought of first serving the state power. He says, unlike western societies where commerce, industry, and civil society played a more dominant role in fashioning technological modernity, in India the colonial state remained the leading user and publicist of these technologies (148).

Bicycles were distributed to help policing, typewriters in government offices and courts to speed up administrative work and efficiency, cars and telephones to speed up the movement of administrative personnel and information. The state was not the producer; in fact, within the ironic relationship between imperial protectionism and laissez-faire, American products (Singer sewing machines, Remington typewriters and Ford automobiles) dominated the Indian market. But the state significantly benefitted from this. These technologies strengthened the ‘inner life of the state’. And they did so in phases. During the Second World War, for instance, the expansionary nature of the state in terms of being able to regulate the usages of these technologies was quite marked.

Yet this is only one part of the story. The social and political re-calibration of these technologies to either subvert the state power or to question the existing social identity was equally important and forceful, which Arnold lucidly demonstrates. Women working for communist organisations and low-caste villagers using bicycles, typewriters used for disseminating anti-colonial nationalist aspirations – they all point at colonial control that was leaky if not absent. They all show that the life of technology was beyond the simplistic control of the state. They all indicate that different social groups used these technologies to articulate the idea of modernity and modern self-hood.

Nature of technological modernity

What are the axes and scope of this technological modernity? Exploration of race, gender and class is obviously one way of knowing the nature of this modernity, which this book like many others especially on a colonial society, does. Numbers definitely are not on the side of showing the ‘quantitative’ axes of this modernity. In spite of the rapidity with which these commodities became part of Indian life, they were still used rather sparsely if compared with figures of other countries. Arnold is aware of this dilemma and hence the way out for him is to underscore the social, experiential and utopian articulations of this modernity. The mix of social life captured through visuals, literary works and films is interesting. The articulation of this modernity is tied to the manifold effects these different technologies produced on diverse social groups and classes.

Moving beyond the state and the enterprising initiatives of some Indians selling, part manufacturing, repairing, and assembling these products, Arnold leads us into the world of users and consumers. Did new technology such as sewing machines and typewriters require new skills? Who were the people that moved in to operate them? Did they lead to displacement of existing groups and skills? One gets glimpses of answers into these questions. Bicycles empowered rural folk and elite women; typewriters mainly remained within the confines of Anglo-Indian women in offices and scribal Indian men outside the courts; rice mills took away the work of poor women; and sewing machines tapped into the existing skills of darzis, but also became part of the reformist discourse on ‘new women/new domesticity’ of the late nineteenth century. The last enlarged the scope of domestic work for women.

Yet, many of the answers to the question of modernity are just about at the exploratory level. Bicycle races fitted into the notion of Bengali manliness, but did it also contribute to the emergence of a new sensibility and aesthetics of landscape, space and movement, and if yes, how? Did the new modernity based upon widespread use of sewing machines create a new culture of mass production and consumption? Was it linked to, if any, the emergence of new ‘modern’ fashion? How did the earlier individualized notion of work which darzis performed on the veranda of their masters/employers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries transform into a shop based work culture of the later period, in which these people were not the owners of their tools? Did technological modernity bring alienation and firmer labour control? Passages from literary sources on sewing machines (141-42), and work-related changes brought about by rice mills (134-40), are illuminating sections.

Typewriters brought bureaucratic utility and speed; it “transformed bureaucratic work regimes”; transformed the “ways in which novelists, journalists, politicians, and administrators pursued their daily work”, but exactly how is not clear (56-7). I would imagine for a long time the typewriter functioned as a ‘copying machine’ producing the ‘fair’ and ‘official’ version of hand-written letters, petitions, judgements, news, and even academic theses. In fact, this was true for early day computers as well (people wrote on the paper and got it ‘typed’ with the only but significant difference of editing on the screen, which theoretically meant fewer errors in the final print, but only theoretically). It has only very recently happened that the machine has become an accompaniment of the user in the same way as her lunch box or smart phone are. The question remains how did the typewriter change, or not, the processes of thinking, reading, writing, and reporting. Everyday Technology can mark the beginning of a more systematic tapping into sources to unearth the complex social relationships around these technologies.

Conflict and resistance

If modernity is a product of conflictual claim and counter-claim making, then the history of technological modernity should also reflect the same – conflicts between social groups and classes. Arnold says that “there is little evidence of significant cultural resistance to sewing machines” (49), but what about resistance based upon capital and skill? Did the traditional catchment of darzis’ work and clientele suffer because now women started sewing at home (and quite massively, with vernacular magazines publishing essays on how to sew different types of materials) or did the expanding market compensate for it (pp. 50-51)? The competitive clerical job market revolved around the skill of typewriting; what kind of social conflicts did it lead to? Arnold prefers to look at the history of interaction between technology and society through assimilation and acculturation; I wonder if there is more to be said about conflicts and dissonances; to be fair, they are not absent (most directly to be seen in the sections on traffic and roads, 162-64 and 167-71), but not adequately presented either.

Based largely on the biases for big technologies, Arnold revisits the temporal divide of technological modernity in India. For him, seemingly it was not the period of the 1830s-1850s that saw railways, steamers, and telegraph creating a modern India (a bias that has its obvious origins in colonial claims), but rather the period between 1905 and 1914 – marked by the Swadeshi movement – that constituted the technological watershed. Not only had the influx of everyday commodities started in this period but also the imaginaries of modern India. It is this extensive engagement with technology in both its supporting and opposing viewpoints (ranging between Saha and Nehru on one side and Gandhi on the other), that Arnold sees the constitution of modernity. The study of India’s modernity – derivative or otherwise – is being constantly traced from the times of the ‘Bengal Renaissance’ to that of the railways, Macaulay, census, ghore/bahire, and hybrid Bengali cuisines. Now it has reached the shores of everyday machines, technologies and commodities. If it is a mere addition to the set of ideas on how Indians thought of themselves to be ‘modern’, or a potential new framework that would recast the historiographical thinking, is too early to say.

Make in India

Finally, at least in two ways, this book reverberates with contemporary Indian politics over technology, and the social perception of Indian skill, and thus unwittingly adds an interesting historical layer to it. Foreign capital and the current governmental slogan of ‘Make in India’ are not very far from how American firms like Dunlop promoted their products as “made in India, by Indians, for Indians” (100). There is no dichotomy between nationalistic manufacturing boost that this present government is spearheading (with the logo of the lion) and the inflow of foreign capital. In fact, the mechanical robust lion can only survive with a financial begging bowl in his mouth. Arnold’s treatment of the Swadeshi phase shows historical antecedents. Second, from repairing cycles on street pavements to that of fixing typewriters (and in the current age of unlocking and repairing all sorts of mobile phones), this book tells us that there is a serious history to be told about how India has achieved its worldwide status of ‘jugaad economy’. The production of many a commodity was stifled under colonialism – is this the reason that the skill got channelized into fixing, assembling, repairing and selling, but not innovatively producing?


Nitin Sinha, Senior Research Fellow, Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin (nitin.sinha@zmo.de).


Let’s Stop Pretending There’s NO Racism in India


Let’s stop pretending there’s no racism in India

 MAY 29, 2012 01:52 IST | UPDATED: JULY 12, 2016 03:03 IST |
Yengkhom Jilangamba


Most Indians think racism exists only in the West and see themselves as victims. It’s time they examined their own attitudes towards people from the country’s North-East

The mysterious death of Loitam Richard in Bangalore, the murder of Ramchanphy Hongray in New Delhi, the suicide by Dana Sangma and other such incidents serve as reminders of the insecure conditions under which people, particularly the young, from the north-east of India have to live with in the metros of this country. What these deaths have in common is that the three individuals were all from a certain part of the country, had a “particular” physical appearance, and were seen as outsiders in the places they died. These incidents have been read as a symptom of the pervasive racial discrimination that people from the region face in metropolitan India.

An institutionalised form

Quite expectedly, such an assertion about the existence of racism in India will not be taken seriously; the response will be to either remain silent and refuse to acknowledge this form of racism or, fiercely, to reject it. Ironically, most Indians see racism as a phenomenon that exists in other countries, particularly in the West, and without fail, see themselves as victims. They do not see themselves harbouring (potentially) racist attitudes and behaviour towards others whom they see as inferior.

But time and again, various groups of people, particularly from the north-east have experienced forms of racial discrimination and highlighted the practice of racism in India. In fact, institutionalised racism has been as much on the rise as cases of everyday racism in society.

In a case of racial profiling, the University of Hyderabad chose to launch its 2011 “initiative” to curb drinking and drug use on campus by working with students from the north-east. In 2007, the Delhi Police decided to solve the problems of security faced by the north-easterners in Delhi, particularly women, by coming up with a booklet entitled Security Tips for North East Students asking north-eastern women not to wear “revealing dresses” and gave kitchen tips on preparing bamboo shoot, akhuni, and “other smelly dishes” without “creating ruckus in neighbourhood.”

BRICS summit

Very recently, in the run-up to the BRICS summit in New Delhi, the Delhi Police’s motto of “citizens first” was on full display, when they arrested or put under preventive detention the non-citizens — the Tibetan refugees. But the real problem for the security personnel cropped up when they had to identity Tibetans on the streets of Delhi. This problem for the state forces was compounded by the fact that Delhi now has a substantial migrant population from the north-east whose physical features could be quite similar to those of Tibetans. So, the forces went about raiding random places in Delhi, questioning and detaining people from the region. North-eastern individuals travelling in vehicles, public transport, others at their workplaces, and so on all became suspects.

Many were asked to produce their passports or other documents to prove that, indeed, they were Indian citizens and not refugee Tibetans. In some cases, “authentic” Indians had to intervene in order to endorse and become guarantors of the authenticity of the nationality of these north-easterners. The situation became farcical and caught the attention of the judiciary reportedly after two lawyers from the region were interrogated and harassed. The Delhi High Court directed the Delhi police not to harass people from the north-east and Ladakh. How much easier it would have been for the Delhi Police, if only citizenship and physiognomy matched perfectly.

But should one expect otherwise from these state and public institutions, given the fact that racism is rampant at the level of societal everyday experiences? For north-easterners who look in a particular manner, everyday living in Indian cities can be a gruelling experience. Be it the mundane overcharging of fares by autoricksaw- wallahs, shopkeepers and landlords, the verbal abuse on the streets and the snide remarks of colleagues, friends, teachers, or the more extreme experiences of physical and sexual assaults. It is often a never-ending nightmare, a chronicle of repetitive experience.

One also wonders if racial attitudes, if not outright racism, influence many more aspects of life than one imagines. For instance, whether there is any racial profiling of employment opportunities, given the concentration of jobs for north-easterners mostly in the hospitality sector, young women in beauty salons, restaurants and as shop assistants.

Visible and unseen

Of course, racism is difficult to prove — whether in the death of Richard or in the case of harassment of a woman from the north-east. And it should not surprise us if racism cannot be clearly established in either of these cases because that’s how racism works — both the visible, explicit manifestations as well as the insidious, unseen machinations. Quite often, one can’t even recount exactly what was wrong about the way in which a co-passenger behaved, difficult to articulate a sneer, a tone of voice that threatened or taunted, the cultural connotations that can infuriate.

How does one prove that when an autorickshaw driver asks a north-easterner on the streets of Delhi if he or she is going to Majnu ka Tila, a Tibetan refugee colony, that the former is reproducing a common practice of racial profiling? This remark could be doubly interpreted if made to a woman from the region — both racial and gendered. How do I prove racism when a young co-passenger on the Delhi Metro plays “Chinese” sounding music on his mobile, telling his friend that he is providing, “background music,” sneering and laughing in my direction? And what one cannot retell in the language of evidence, becomes difficult to prove. Racism is most often felt, perceived, like an invisible wound, difficult to articulate or recall in the language of the law or evidence. In that sense, everyday forms of racism are more experiential rather than an objectively identifiable situation.

Of course, every once in a while, there will be an incident of extreme, outrageous violence that is transparently racial in nature and we will rally around and voice our anger but it is these insidious, everyday forms of racial discrimination that bruise the body and the mind, build up anger and frustration. Fighting these everyday humiliations exhausts our attempts at expression.

If one is serious about fighting racial discrimination, this is where rules must change — by proving to us that in Richard’s death there was no element of racism. Given the pervasiveness of racism in everyday life, why should we listen when we are told that those who fought with him over a TV remote were immune to it?

To recognise that racism exists in this country and that many unintended actions might emanate from racism can be a good place to start fighting the problem. To be oblivious of these issues or to deny its existence is to be complicit in the discriminatory regime. Also, the reason for fighting against racism is not because it is practised against “our” own citizens but because it is wrong regardless of whether the victims of racism are citizens of the country or not. One way to be critical of racism is to recognise and make visible the presence of racism rather than merely resorting to legalistic means to curb this discrimination.

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(Yengkhom Jilangamba is a Visiting Associate Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.)


 

Anti-African Racism in India


Anti-African Racism in India

Submitted by Sputnik Kilambi on Tue, 02/19/2013 – 15:55

Black Agenda Report
News, information and analysis from the black left.


Indian society appears to be confronting the horrors of rape – except the “rapes that have happened and keep happening to women somehow not considered “daughters of the nation.” Brutal assaults against Africans go largely unreported in the nation with the most thriving press in the world. 

Anti-African Racism in India

by Sputnik Kilambi

The attackers were quoted as saying they wanted to ‘punish the black.’”

On December 3 last year, five men robbed and gang raped a 24 year old Rwandese woman as she was returning home one evening to her home near Delhi University. The story was reported, though not widely, like so many others which have come before. And it was soon forgotten. Then came yet another gang rape and this time the story gripped the nation. India was shaken to its core as details emerged of how a young medical student was repeatedly raped and mutilated by a gang of drunken youths in the heart of the nation’s capital. 

Protests erupted on the streets of major cities with women and youth in the forefront, forcing the country to finally examine the shameful way it treats its women. The media blitz that followed was in sharp contrast to the silence or news-in-brief attitude to the thousands of other rapes that have happened and keep happening to women somehow not considered “daughters of the nation.” 

A similar hands-off attitude can be detected in mainstream media coverage – or, to be accurate, the lack of it – of a worrying number of cases of discrimination and violence against African students in India.

The muted coverage of the gang rape of the young Rwandese woman, who was ironically seeking asylum in India, is evidence of this selective approach to what is perceived as unacceptable. The Delhi police registered the crime three days after the rape and robbery and this only under pressure from an NGO which came to the help of the 24-year-old woman. It turns out that one of the rapists is well connected. Whether this is linked to the delayed police response is unclear. In a bizarre twist, the car used to abduct the Rwandese woman was reportedly a wedding present from the father-in-law of one of the rapists. An enquiry was ordered, four of the five rapists were arrested, and a police inspector was suspended. 

The Rwandese High Commission has now warned its citizens to be extremely cautious in their interactions with local people and especially to avoid friendships with the opposite sex.”

End of story, it would seem – no deep soul searching, no follow-up, and not even a mention of the case during the endless debates that followed the Delhi gang rape, which occurred after the sexual assault on the Rwandese student. 

While a reluctant Delhi police force had to be egged on to investigate the rape of the Rwandese student, it took the Jalandhar police no time at all to arrest three male Rwandese students on “eve-teasing” charges after an incident the Rwandese High Commission said was a misunderstanding. The students said they were asking for directions in a market, but the woman to whom they turned was frightened. 

The fear, like the misunderstanding, was probably genuine. Most women are doubly cautious since the Delhi gang rape, but it would be interesting to know how much the wariness of the woman in the market was heightened by the skin color of the men who approached her. The students have since been released on bail after an intervention by the Rwandese High Commission, which has now warned its citizens to be extremely cautious in their interactions with local people and especially to avoid friendships with the opposite sex because of Indian “attitudes.” So much for foreign studies being an opportunity to broaden one’s outlook and make new friends!

When the beheaded body of Imran Mtui, a young IT student from Tanzania, was found near the railway tracks in Bangalore in 2010, the coverage and investigation was sketchy and a racist motive dismissed out of hand. The case didn’t make national news despite vigorous protests from the victim’s family and the Indian High Commission in Dar-es-Salaam demanding a proper investigation into the murder. Local newspapers merely repeated the police line that the death was accidental. The fact that two other African students were reportedly killled in Bangalore prior to Imran’s murdercould have at the very least prompted closer scrutiny. Needless to say, Imran’s family is still bitter about their experience of “Incredible India.”

The latest horror story concerning African students made headlines briefly in January when 24-year-old Burundian student Yannick Nihangaza emerged from a nine-month coma after being savagely attacked by a gang of Punjabi youth in Jalandhar. Yannick was an IT student at the incongruously named “Lovely University,” which incidentally has one of the biggest foreign student intakes in the country. A passing auto rickshaw driver took the unconscious Yannick to hospital, where he remained on life support for weeks. Despite numerous complaints from his friends and family, and even two letters from Yannick’s father to the Punjab chief minister, there was no action from either the police or the state machinery until the national media took up the story three months later. 

Three other Tanzanian students died in Bangalore in the three months prior to Imran’s murder.”

The self-congratulatory tone taken by the media about its role in forcing the Punjab government to finally do something about Yannick Nihangaza, who will probably never live a normal life again, is somewhat hypocritical, given the length of time they took to report the attack in the first place

There were ingredients enough to make it more than just a “news” story – a foreign student has his head smashed in with a boulder and remains between life and death for weeks on end, no action gets taken, he comes from a country whose 13-year-civil war claimed more than 300,000 lives, and there are the familiar Indian elements of feudal and financial power. Why did a desperate father have to go looking for the media instead of the other way around, as would have been the case had the victim been considered more worthy of attention?

The flurry of reports that followed Nestor Nihangaza‘s appeal to the media last July subsided as abruptly as they appeared, until his son opened his eyes for the first time since the attack.

Reporting on the day Yannick emerged from his coma, NDTV called it a story of a miracle and of compassion. It was indeed a miracle, but the only real compassion came from some of the staff and students at Lovely University, who raised Rs 6 lakh to cover some of his medical treatment. 

Nestor Nihangaza says the report he was shown by the Punjab police showed that his son was clearly targeted because of the color of his skin (the attackers were quoted as saying they wanted to “punish the black”). The state government had to be pressured into paying compensation and picking up the medical bills. Nestor also complained that Lovely University authorities had been unforthcoming when he approached them for help. 

Students from the North-east can empathize with Africans in this country – they are stigmatized because they look different and are vulnerable to verbal, physical and sexual attack, attacks that get as little media attention as those against blacks. 

Of the estimated 50,000 foreign students that swell the coffers of private and public educational institutions, the majority are from neighboring countries and Africa and the Indian government has announced a further 22,000 scholarships for Africa in the coming three years.

However, the few reporters who have ventured into their world show that African students face similar problems wherever they might be in India – difficulties in finding accommodation and often being charged double the normal rent, regular run-ins with the police, not being allowed into pubs and discos, as was reported in a Bangalore tabloid sting operation. The prevalent attitude, according to the tabloid, was that Africans were perceived as a “security concern” and as “drug peddlers”, “scamsters” and “troublemakers” and that women didn’t feel safe around them. 

African students face similar problems wherever they might be in India.”

t is stating the obvious to say that the overwhelming majority of African students are here to get the quality education advertised in their home countries by Indian educational institutions. Many are from middle-class backgrounds and their families have made sacrifices to give their children a chance at getting on in life. Many others are on Indian government scholarships. 

Few saw any irony in the timing of the Burundian president’s state visit to India while his countryman Yannick Nihangaza lay in a coma in an Indian hospital. If the issue was raised at all during meetings between Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza and Indian leaders, this was not made public and nobody asked any questions. It is highly improbable that such a scenario would have played out had the student been from a wealthy nation. 

Irony knows no limits, it appears; at the height of the protests two years ago against repetitive racist – and sometimes murderous – attacks on Indian students in Australia, a group of youngsters thrashed a Congolese student to within an inch of his life in a posh Delhi mall while other shoppers looked on. The 25-year-old management student from Kinshasa was told by his attackers that no foreign student should be allowed to stay in India since Indian students were being beaten up in Australia. The Indian media, especially the electronic version, which stridently took up the clamor for justice for Indian students being attacked in Australia, never once thought to look at the glass house from which they were hollering. 

Africa remains the proverbial “dark continent” for most Indians, whose prejudices and attitudes are uncomfortably similar to western perceptions of Africa, indeed of India until not so long ago. 

The media could play an important role in deepening mutual understanding and appreciation, but they shy away from their obligations.

A group of youngsters thrashed a Congolese student to within an inch of his life in a posh Delhi mall while other shoppers looked on.”

One starting point could be a follow up to the story of Yannick Nihangaza, who is still in hospital. The media could do one of their famous “what was promised, what was delivered” pieces and ensure that his case remains in the news until a just settlement is reached. It would be too much to expect a campaign calling for justice for Yannick – the only online petition started by a concerned citizen in Bangalore closed with just 24 signatures. 

Delhi-based writer Namrata Bhandare is eloquent in her letter to Yannick’s father, cautioning him against expecting any justice“On April 21, the night your son was attacked in Ludhiana, a student from Odisha, the same age as your son, was shot dead in Boston. We shouted ourselves hoarse with outrage over his killing. We shouted ourselves hoarse when Indian students were attacked in Australia. And we shout ourselves hoarse when Ashton Kutcher makes fun of our accent and way of life. Will we shout ourselves hoarse over what happened to your son? I fear we will not. I hope you will get the justice you desire. But more realistically, I pray that your son will find a better place than the one he had here in my country.”


Sputnik Kilambi is a veteran electronic and print journalist in both the anglophone and francophone media. She can be contacted at sputnikkilambi@gmail.com.


Is the United Nations racist?


Is the United Nations racist?

Ramesh Thakur
JULY 19, 2013 02:27 IST | UPDATED: AUGUST 16, 2016 19:20 IST


Western countries occupy almost all powerful and big-budget posts in the organisation, and sadly developing countries, despite their numbers, have allowed the bias to persist

Ask it quietly, but ask it we must. Is the United Nations racist, either deliberately or unconsciously? Many years ago, the late Sergio Vieira de Mello, universally admired as one of the brightest and best U.N. officials, was pulled out of the Balkans because the Europeans would not accept a non-European as head of the U.N. mission there. This despite the fact that in personality, outlook and ways of thinking, he was more European than most Europeans. Their stance might have had credibility if, by the same logic, Europeans excused themselves from serving as heads of U.N. missions outside Europe. In fact, westerners dominate this category.

Double standards

We have seen the same double standard, rooted in the belief in the innate superiority of the westerners, in the choice of the chief executives of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The former is always headed by an American. On any objective measure, the U.S. nominee last year would not have made it to the short list against the other two main candidates from Africa and Latin America. But under the cosy EU-U.S. arrangement, the American candidate got the job. This causes neither Americans nor Europeans to blush when they lecture others on good governance norms.

When Dominique Strauss-Kahn had to resign in the wake of a sex scandal, his successor as IMF chief was another French nominee. Again without blushes, where all the years previously they had justified the self-serving arrangements on grounds of how well Europe had done economically, this time it was because only a European could understand the grave crisis afflicting the eurozone and lead the IMF.

The position of U.N. Secretary-General (SG) is protected against such shenanigans by the rotation principle whereby each continent gets its turn for the top job. But almost all the top U.N. posts after that, at the ranks of deputy, under and assistant secretary-general, are within the personal discretion of the SG to fill. The same applies to the large number of his special representatives and envoys.

Unlike the parliamentary system of government, the top ranks of this international civil service are not filled by career officials. Instead the practice is closer to the U.S. system where the President gets to choose his own senior people. But in the U.S. system, senior appointments, including ambassadors, are subject to independent confirmation by the Senate. The U.N. practice does not have any comparable check on whimsical and unsuitable appointments.

>Ban Ki-moon has been commendably conscious of and good at appointing women to the senior ranks. But both he and the system are yet to be sensitised to the fact that the top-level under-representation of non-westerners is even worse. The situation persists not just because western donor countries use money power and are more focussed in lobbying for their nationals. An even more telling explanation is that the developing countries fail to act in pursuit of their collective interest, are not equally committed to backing their own, and do not wish to jeopardise their own individual chances of a cushy U.N. post.

Remarkably, many commentators seem to believe that the alleged waste, inefficiency and corruption in the U.N. system is rooted partly in affirmative action policies that prioritise incompetent and unqualified personnel from developing countries in recruitment and promotion. When I looked into the statistics almost a decade ago, I was astonished at the reality as compared to the myth. Almost all the powerful and big-budget senior posts in the Secretariat and in the U.N. system are filled by westerners, including peacekeeping, political and humanitarian affairs, management, development and environment programmes, children’s fund, refugees, etc. I suspect that for the same ability, qualifications and experience, western U.N. officials can expect to retire two ranks higher than the rest.

Asians contribute about half the U.N.’s total peacekeepers and one-quarter of its regular and peacekeeping budget (although most of this comes just from Japan). They have also suffered around one-quarter of total U.N. peacekeeping deaths. Yet a decade ago, two-thirds of senior peacekeeping officials were westerners. In the U.N. Secretariat overall, Asians comprised a mere 17 per cent of senior U.N. staff at the grades of director and above. This for a continent that accounts for well over half the world’s population, is not short of experienced and sophisticated diplomats, and has many high achievers. Between them, Canada and the U.S. had the same number of senior staff in the Secretariat as all of Asia, when they account for 5 per cent and 60 per cent of the world’s population respectively.

I no longer have access to U.N. data and cannot guess what the numbers might be today. But another set of figures is publicly available. A decade ago, Asians comprised a mere 12 per cent of high-level representatives. Today, according to the list available on the U.N. website, of the total of 94 special representatives/envoys of the SG, 16 per cent are Asian, 30 per cent African (almost all dealing with African crises), 2 per cent from Latin America and the Caribbean: and 52 per cent from Europe, North America and Australia with nine out of ten of them dealing with non-western and global problems. This is like western scholarship. If you are western, you can tackle any topic or region. If you are non-western, you are expected to inhabit the intellectual ghetto of your own country or continent.

Consider three specific examples. To avoid being misunderstood: my comments do not apply to particular individuals. I am interested only in the patterns of over and under-representation and the consequences for the U.N.’s legitimacy and effectiveness. We would have been rightly outraged if the first two heads of U.N. Women had been men, no matter how capable the individual might have been.

Why is there no matching outrage and unacceptability when the head of the Development Program is a westerner? No matter how well intentioned, they cannot possibly know the political and social imperatives driving development strategies and policies. This is compounded by having an American as a special adviser on development goals. A practising economist from a developing country would be an infinitely superior choice, instead of people whose knowledge of development is derived from books or as an aid donor. The developing-country background and experiences of Mahbub-ul Haq and Amartya Sen were crucial, not incidental, to the emergence and enduring appeal of the notion of human development.

The only part of the system that has its global headquarters in Asia is the U.N. University. Only one of its six chiefs to date has been Asian, when equity and justice would have seen only one non-Asian. On every table of university rankings, the Asian universities (although not, alas, Indian universities) have made the most dramatic progress. Asian university presidents and vice chancellors must be doing something right. How then to explain the bias against them?

Or take a third example, the responsibility to protect (R2P). The likely sites and targets of intervention in the foreseeable future will be developing countries. It is their people who will suffer if mass atrocities being committed are not stopped, or if geopolitical and commercial interventions are masked in humanitarian language. Conversely, people in developing countries will primarily benefit if interventions are motivated mainly by humanitarian concerns and executed responsibly. The interveners can come from advanced and/or developing countries. Conversations on R2P should occur therefore first among the civil societies and governments of developing countries, and secondly between developing and advanced countries.

Norm hijacked

And the SG’s special adviser on R2P should be a powerful (public) intellectual from the global South. Instead we have had an American and now a Canadian. This is not going to help as sentiment firms that the norm, in whose origins Africans (Kofi Annan, Francis Deng, Mohamed Sahnoun) have played the most crucial roles, is being hijacked and appropriated by the West to serve the old and discredited humanitarian intervention agenda, or to pursue regime change (Libya, Syria).

Why, with numbers to put a stop to it, do developing countries put up with such clear and heavy bias and permit it to persist? One dispiriting answer might be that a particularly insidious consequence of the century of European colonialism is that non-westerners have themselves internalised the sense of racial superiority of westerners. My own extensive experience suggests that the immigration, customs and security officials in developing countries are more obviously racist than in the West.

Part of India’s national identity is the self-belief in being a champion of developing countries. Is it prepared to take the lead in demanding an explanation-cum-correction of this anomaly in the U.N. system?


(Ramesh Thakur, a former senior U.N. official, is professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University)


‘India Is Racist, And Happy About It’


‘India Is Racist, And Happy About It’

OUTLOOK INDIA | 29 JUNE 2009 INTERNATIONAL | OPINION

A Black American’s first-hand experience of footpath India: no one even wants to change

In spite of friendship and love in private spaces, the Delhi public literally stops and stares. It is harrowing to constantly have children and adults tease, taunt, pick, poke and peer at you from the corner of their eyes, denying their own humanity as well as mine. Their aggressive, crude curiosity threatens to dominate unless disarmed by kindness, or met with equal aggression.

Once I stood gazing at the giraffes at the Lucknow Zoo only to turn and see 50-odd families gawking at me rather than the exhibit. Parents abruptly withdrew infants that inquisitively wandered towards me. I felt like an exotic African creature-cum-spectacle, stirring fear and awe. Even my attempts to beguile the public through simple greetings or smiles are often not reciprocated. Instead, the look of wonder swells as if this were all part of the act and we were all playing our parts.

Racism is never a personal experience. Racism in India is systematic and independent of the presence of foreigners of any hue. This climate permits and promotes this lawlessness and disdain for dark skin. Most Indian pop icons have light-damn-near-white skin. Several stars even promote skin-bleaching creams that promise to improve one’s popularity and career success. Matrimonial ads boast of fair, v. fair and v. very fair skin alongside foreign visas and advanced university degrees. Moreover, each time I visit one of Delhi’s clubhouses, I notice that I am the darkest person not wearing a work uniform. It’s unfair and ugly.

Discrimination in Delhi surpasses the denial of courtesy. I have been denied visas, apartments, entrance to discos, attentiveness, kindness and the benefit of doubt. Further, the lack of neighbourliness exceeds what locals describe as normal for a capital already known for its coldness.

My partner is white and I am black, facts of which the Indian public reminds us daily. Bank associates have denied me chai, while falling over to please my white friend. Mall shop attendants have denied me attentiveness, while mobbing my partner. Who knows what else is more quietly denied?

“An African has come,” a guard announced over the intercom as I showed up. Whites are afforded the luxury of their own names, but this careful attention to my presence was not new. ATM guards stand and salute my white friend, while one guard actually asked me why I had come to the bank machine as if I might have said that I was taking over his shift.

It is shocking that people wear liberalism as a sign of modernity, yet revert to ultraconservatism when actually faced with difference. Cyberbullies have threatened my life on my YouTube videos that capture local gawking and eve-teasing. I was even fired from an international school for talking about homosociality in Africa on YouTube, and addressing a class about homophobia against kids after a student called me a ‘fag’.

Outside of specific anchors of discourse such as Reservations, there is no consensus that discrimination is a redeemable social ill. This is the real issue with discrimination in India: her own citizens suffer and we are only encouraged to ignore situations that make us all feel powerless. Be it the mute-witnesses seeing racial difference for the first time, kids learning racism from their folks, or the blacks and northeasterners who feel victimised by the public, few operate from a position that believes in change.

Living in India was a childhood dream that deepened with my growing understanding of India and America’s unique, shared history of non-violent revolution. Yet, in most nations, the path of ending gender, race and class discrimination is unpaved. In India, this path is still rural and rocky as if this nation has not decided the road even worthy. It is a footpath that we are left to tread individually.


(The writer is a Black American PhD student at the Delhi School of Economics.)

 


The Truth in Black & White


The Truth in Black & White

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Illustration: Namaah / Arré

Six Racist and Reductionist Ideas


Six Racist And Reductionist Ideas Propagated By Kancha Ilaiah

Poulasta Chakraborty – Jan 21, 2016, 12:45 am

kancha-ilaiah


Kancha Ilaiah is controversial due to his views on Indian, and more specifically Hindu society as well as its history – both of which are very bizarre.

Kancha Ilaiah is the epitome of what one can call a controversial scholar, although the ‘scholar’ part can be debated. Nevertheless his book ‘Why I am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy’was listed as a millennium book by one of the country’s leading newspapers, “The Pioneer”.

He is at present serving as Director of the Centre for Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU) in Hyderabad. Previously he served as an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Osmania University.

The things that make Ilaiah controversial are his views on Indian, and more specifically Hindu society as well as its history – both of which are very bizarre. He is an intellectual inspiration to many Dalit associations like the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) and the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC) whose members promote his ideas, calling for a civil war which will lead to the demise of Hinduism itself.

These ideas stem from Ilaiah’s ‘scholarly‘ views on Hindu traditions, most of which are elucidated in his most notable work ‘Why I am Not a Hindu’. Given below are five such scholarly views:

1. Through the pages 88-95 of his bookWhy I am Not a Hindu’, in the chapter titled ‘The Brahmanical Gods And Goddesses’, Professor Ilaiah explains how all Hindu gods have made the subduing of Dalits their primary purpose.

While Brahma is a light-skinned Aryan, Vishnu is coloured blue to represent the mixed race that might have emerged out of the cross-breeding between white-skinned Aryans and dark-skinned Dravidian Dalit-Bahujans.

Finally Shiva is shown to be dark because he resembles a “tribal” and the purpose of creating Shiva was to mislead the indigenous pre-Aryan inhabitants of India. In Ilaiah’s words –

Certainly the creation of the images of Shiva and Parvathi was instrumental in creating a consent base among the tribals….These two images were successfully used to subdue the tribals.

Most scholarly works penned by the likes of RC Majumdar and PV Kane are of the view that Hinduism is a synthesis of indigenous tribal practices and belief systems which were incorporated over a long period of time.

One wouldn’t have been surprised if these statements were made during the late 19th or early 20thcentury India by colonial historians who gave rise to the Aryan Invasion Theory.

But it is disappointing to see a scholar who prides himself as an Ambedkarite making such points since Dr Ambedkar himself debunked the Aryan-Dravidian school of thought in a scholarly manner.

2. In page 124 of the book, Iliah gives his insight into another aspect of Hindu society:

Among ‘upper’ castes, when a woman dies, if a man weeps loudly, such a man is said to be unmanly.

It is quite hard to believe that people will be concerned with someone’s manliness during a moment of personal grief. One can clearly find many cases in the past and present where ‘upper-caste’ men expressed their grief quite openly at the loss of a dear kin. It is unusual and peculiar to see one demarcating emotional reactions on the basis of caste.

3. In page-100 of the aforementioned book he gives his view on the Mahabharata:

The Mahabharatha narrative itself was built on a very strong Kautilyan imagination….The hundred Kauravas stood against brahminical dharma and represented Dalit Bahujans, the majority; whereas the five Pandavas stood for brahminical dharma and represented the brahminical minority.

Now of course one has the right to interpret an epic in any manner he/she wishes to but the said interpretation needs to be based on proper citations.Most readers of the Mahabharata know that the said war pits two branches of the same family against each other. The opponents practised the same religious tradition, resided in the same area, spoke the same language and shared the same ethnicity.

So Professor Ilaiah needs to state how he saw the war as Dalits vs Brahmins.

4. And this is the Professor’s understanding of Krishna:

..The Brahmins needed to project a person who could rebuild a consent system to contain the Yadava revolts. The Brahmins created an image of one who was said to have been born and brought up among the Yadavas themselves.

They worked out the strategy of creating a Krishna who was born in a Kshatriya family and brought up in a Yadava family. The young Krishna grows up in a Yadava culture, but the political Krishna never identifies himself with Yadava culture.

In no single incident did he stand by the Dalit Bahujans. It did not matter whether his beloved was a Yadava-Radha, or whether the other Gopikas were Yadavas. All his legal wives were Kshatriya women.

If Mr Ilaiah had read the Mahabharata he would have realised that Krishna was the son of Vasudeva and Devaki who belonged to the Vrishni clan of Yadavas from Mathura. And his foster-father Nanda was head of the Gokul Mandal which was one of the most powerful branches of Yadavas.

Hence Krishna was born as well as raised in a Yadava family, so again Professor Ilaiah has to mention how he came to this conclusion. Also as many students of history should know, in the medieval era Krishna as well as Rama, Shiva and the Devi were used as symbols by the Bhakti poets regardless of caste to oppose social discrimination.

That being said Kancha Ilaiah is free to believe in his interpretation.

5. Regarding the practice of cremation prevalent among most Hindus, here is the good professor’s standpoint:

Cremation  is  an unscientific  method  of  dealing  with  dead  bodies  because it  leaves  no history  in  the  form  of  fossils…Brahminism must have evolved this practice in ancient India as the Hindus killed several Dalit Bahujans who had revolted against them to destroy evidence of torture and murder….

It seems Professor Ilaiah is unaware that the Buddha himself was cremated and that cremation was a popular practice in the ancient world (unless Ilaiah believes all ancients were Brahmins).

Regarding it being scientific one of the most ardent advocates for replacing burial with cremation in the West around the late nineteenth century was Sir Henry Thompson, a surgeon and physician to the Queen Victoria, whose main reason for doing so was that “it was becoming a necessary sanitary precaution against the propagation of disease among a population daily growing larger in relation to the area it occupied”.

Now it is better to let scientific experts debate the efficacy of cremation but the view Mr Ilaiah holds that it was done to destroy evidence itself lacks the evidence to back it.  Going by that logic, even Buddhism is guilty of destroying evidence.

6. On the issue of the rising popularity of women priests trained by the Arya Samaj to regulate traditional Hindu rituals this quote from Kancha Ilaiah might interest the readers:

Turning non-Brahmin women into Sanskrit-chanting vegetarians cannot in any way be termed progress. In trying to follow in the path of Brahmins, these women are actually regressing, says Ilaiah. “I liken the Arya Samaj luring these women into their fold to ‘Hitlerite Aryanism’ where women were indoctrinated into Nazi values.

Again this sort of statement is a rehashing of the age-old but debunked Aryan-Dravidian school of thought without citing a single credible source.

In conclusion Kancha Ilaiah can hold onto any belief he wishes but one must wonder the damage that can be caused by supplanting such racist ideas in academia, where it can have negative consequences. Due to such views, many of the present day ‘Bahujan’ students view Indian history as that of a war between Aryan Brahmins and Dalits which does nothing but engender more conflicts and create more unrest.