Category Archives: Caste

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.

     

 


 

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.”


What is a Racist?


SOCIAL SCIENCE

What is a Racist? Why Moral Progress Hinges on Getting the Answer Right

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.)


 

Race and Caste


Race and caste


Online edition of India’s National Newspaper
Saturday, March 10, 2001 | By Andre Beteille


AS A student of anthropology in Calcutta in the 1950s, I was recommended a book written by the well-known physical anthropologist, M.F. Ashley Montagu, some of whose other works we also had to study. The book to which I now refer was entitled “Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race”. Ashley Montagu had overstated his case somewhat, but the basic point he was making, that the widely-used concept of race was politically pernicious and scientifically anomalous, had come to be generally accepted among anthropologists by the middle of the 20th century.

Some anthropologists attended to the political mischief caused by the idea of race while others exposed its scientific ambiguities. The most notable among the latter was Franz Boas, widely regarded as the father of American anthropology. In his book, “Race, Language and Culture”, he established conclusively with a wealth of empirical material the distinction between race which is a biological category with physical markers and social groupings based on language, religion, nationality, style of life or status. Boas’s conclusion may be regarded as the settled opinion on the subject among professional anthropologists the world over.

“Race, Language and Culture”, published in 1940, was the culmination of systematic and painstaking research by two or three generations of anthropologists. In the 19th century, when anthropology was still largely an amateur pursuit, the concept of race was widely and loosely use to cover virtually every kind of social grouping. One read about the Aryan race, the Semitic race and the Irish race. The influential French writer Count Gobineau even proposed that the different social classes in France were composed of different races. In fact, race and class were linked together in Europe even before attempts were made to link race with caste in India. Pseudo-scientific theories of race abounded in late 19th and early 20th century in Europe and America. They made no small contribution to Hitler’s disastrous racial policies in Germany. Although the English, the French and the Americans adopted a self-consciously virtuous attitude after 1945, they too produced an abundance of pseudo-scientific theories of race before World War II.

At about the same period of time, the Indian Civil Service counted a fair number of amateur anthropologists in its ranks. Some of them have left behind valuable accounts of the tribes and castes in India. Others took an interest in race that at times amounted to an obsession. The obsessive ones found evidence of race wherever they looked. Their main confusion was between race and language, and they wrote freely about the `Aryan race’ and the `Dravidian race’. Some treated Hindus and Muslims as belonging to different races, and others expressed similar views about the upper and the lower castes. These views, based on a confusion of categories, are now regarded as worthless from the scientific point of view.

It is not as if there was no serious scientific effort by the ICS anthropologists to study the racial composition of the Indian population. Several of them attended to the problem with patience and care, combining the study of physical features with that of social customs. The most notable was Sir Herbert Risley who produced a comprehensive classification of the races of India into seven types. But the principal `racial types’ in his classification – Aryan, Dravidian, Aryo-Dravidian and Mongolo- Dravidian – were linguistic or regional categories in disguise and not racial categories at all. The subsequent classification by B.S. Guha, made in connection with the census of 1931, was less ambitious, for it did not speak of `racial types’ but only of `racial elements’ in the population of the country.

In the mid-1950s when I was a student of anthropology, most anthropologists had lost interest in the racial classification of the Indian population. Although there were many different racial elements in it, it was difficult, if not impossible, to sort them out into distinct racial groups. In the 1970s, I took some initiative on behalf of Oxford University Press to update Guha’s work on racial elements. I approached a number of physical anthropologists, but they either declined or said that they would do it but failed to deliver. I am now convinced that identifying the races in the population of India will be an exercise in futility.

Despite all the hard work done by anthropologists from Boas onward, the idea of race dies hard in the popular imagination. That is understandable. What is neither understandable nor excusable is the attempt by the United Nations to revive and expand the idea of race, ostensibly to combat the many forms of social and political discrimination prevalent in the world. It is sad but true that many forms of invidious discrimination do prevail in the contemporary world. But to assimilate or even relate them all to `racial discrimination’ will be an act of political and moral irresponsibility.

Not content with condemning racism and racial discrimination, the U.N. now wants to take on `racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance’. It has in its wisdom decided to expand the meeting of racial discrimination to accommodate exclusion or preference `based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin’. In doing so it is bound to give a new lease of life to the old and discredited notion of race current a hundred years ago. By flying in the face of the distinctions between race, language and culture, it is seeking to undo the conclusions reached by the researches of several generations of anthropologists.

Interested parties within and outside the U.N. would like to bring caste discrimination in general and the practice of untouchability in particular within the purview of racial discrimination. The practice of untouchability is indeed reprehensible and must be condemned by one and all; but that does not mean that we should now begin to regard it as a form of racial discrimination. The Scheduled Castes of India taken together are no more a race than are the Brahmins taken together. Every social group cannot be regarded as a race simply because we want to protect it against prejudice and discrimination.

In the past, some groups claimed superior rights on the ground that they belonged to the Aryan race or the Teutonic race. The anthropologists rejected such claims on two grounds: first, on the ground that within the same human species no race is superior to any other; but also on the ground that there is no such thing as an Aryan race or a Teutonic race. We cannot throw out the concept of race by the front door when it is misused for asserting social superiority and bring it in again through the back door to misuse it in the cause of the oppressed. The metaphor of race is a dangerous weapon whether it is used for asserting white supremacy or for making demands on behalf of disadvantaged groups.

If discrimination against disadvantaged castes can be defined as a form of racial discrimination, there is no reason why discrimination, real or alleged, against religious or linguistic minorities cannot be phrased in exactly the same terms. The Muslims and other religious minorities will claim that they too, and not just backward castes, are victims of racial discrimination. The initiative taken by the U.N. is bound to encourage precisely that kind of claim.

The U.N. initiative will open up a Pandora’s box of allegations of racial discrimination throughout the world. The latitudinarian attitude of the U.N. will encourage religious and other `ethnic’ minorities to make allegations of racial discrimination not only in India, but everywhere. The Catholics in Northern Ireland can claim that they too are victims of racial discrimination. The French Canadians, whose grievances are real enough, can also make the same claim. One can multiply examples from every corner of the world. By treating caste discrimination as a form of racial discrimination and, by implication, caste as a form of race, the U.N. is turning its back on established scientific opinion. One can only guess under what kind of pressure it is doing so. Treating caste as a form of race is politically mischievous; what is worse, it is scientifically nonsensical.


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.


 

The Violence of Caste


The violence of caste: Why I have changed my name to Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd

‘I thought this is the best way to tell the Brahmin: I am now no longer interested in working to reform your spiritual culture.’

May 27, 2016 · 03:15 pm  Updated Jan 03, 2017 · 03:02 pm | 
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In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana burnt my effigies, gave condemnation statements and came to my office at the Maulana Azad National Urdu University Hyderabad, under the guidance of IV Krishna Rao, Chairman of the Andhra Pradesh Brahmin Corporation. He is a former chief secretary of Andhra Pradesh.

On May 16, about 15 men were sent to my office, apparently by Rao, and they later went and issued false statements of half truths about me in Telugu news papers. These men, claiming to be Brahmins, made calls to my office and threatened that they will do to me what Parashurama of their ancestry had done to the kshatriyas with his powerful axe. The story of Brahmin Parashurama killing hundreds of kshatriyas in a mythological story is not so well known. But it is a dreadful story.

A case was filed against me at Saroor Nagar Police Station of Hyderabad under IPC sections 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion) and 298 (uttering, words, etc. with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person) on May 26, 2016.

However, forming a militant Brahmin caste associations is a new phenomenon, after the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power at New Delhi in 2014. The trend gets expressed where even the regional parties are in power. This militancy of Brahmins as a community has increased in the country threatening the freedom of speech of the nation itself.

Why now?

Why all this against me at this time? While speaking at the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, a wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) on May 14, 2016, at Vijayawada (Amaravathi), I said:

“The Brahmins as a community have not contributed anything to the production process of the Indian nation. Even now their role in the basic human survival based productive activity is not there. On the country, they constructed a spiritual theory that repeatedly tells people that production is pollution.”

To this kind of Brahmin aggression, the Dalit-Bahujan, Adivasi organisations, including some of the Left organisations responded by organising counter protests and meetings on subsequent days.

At a significant meeting organised at the Puchalapally Sundarayya Vigyna Kendram on May 21, I released my poem.

O BHARATIYA BRAHMINS

O Brahmins of Bharath and the World
You want to crucify me
Knowing that I can’t resurrect,
As I am not Jesus Christ.
But, I will follow that Star,
As I am an Indian shepherd.
I will not destroy your temples
But, I will destroy all our shackles,
As I follow only the God of Equality.
Good, you tell all lies about me
You abuse me as Iligadu
I do not abuse the abuser,
But, lay down my life for the abused.
I turn my inside out
I am now Ilaiah Shepherd
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd.

I know that many Brahmin men, and also some women, have been very angry with me ever since I wrote Why I am Not a Hindu. They think that it is a direct attack on their historical hegemony and control. They are also upset with my books Post-Hindu-IndiaBuffalo Nationalism and Untouchable God. These books are meant to transform India and I can understand the feelings of Brahmins cutting across their so called political ideologies.

Despite Gautama Buddha providing an alternative to the Brahminical set-up, nothing – not even the present democratic set up – has overthrown their hegemony. In fact, the present democratic set- up has given them global visibility, connectivity, cultural arrogance, as no Dalit-Bahujan or Shudra upper caste communities have acquired a grip over English language in the modern market. Their control over Sanskrit, which they defined as their God’s language, also remains unshaken. The Dalit-Bahujan reformers tried all methods but could not shake the Brahminical control in key areas of spiritual, social and economic systems.

A time has come where the Dalit-Bahujans should connect to the world on their own, because they cannot be controlled any longer.

A linguistic hegemony

No nation can survive without the basic production of food, service goods and cultural instruments. Those who are involved in these occupations do not depend any more on those castes that did not – and do not – do any fundamental productive work. These castes only have hatred towards the productive soil and mud but they consider it a matter of their right that they should take a bigger share of the food that is produced out of the labour of those they look down upon.

The productive class needs to begin by adopting names in a language that allows them to connect with each other and thus enjoy social respectability they have been denied.

The Brahmins adopted Sanskrit names like Sharma, Shastry, Chaturvedi, Upadhyay and so on. With those Sanskritic names, they established pan Indian connectivity. But the Dalit-Bahujans were left to live without having any dignified names – be it their first, second or last names. They have no pan Indian identity and hence no connectivity between one region and the other, largely because their occupations are known by different linguistic terms.

The only way left for the Dalit-Bahujans in the globalised world is to trump Sanskrit with English. Though not many among them are well educated in English language, they must adopt and own English as their language – in all aspects, from their names to addressing God in their prayers. Let their prayers be to a God of equality, as against the Brahmin gods of inequality.

The Dalit-Bahujan masses must begin to pray to the Universal God, leaving aside other local or national gods, who are assumed to not to understand English when you worship them in that language. As the Brahmin’s right to worship their god in Sanskrit is accepted, our right to pray to our English-knowing God in English has to be fully respected. Otherwise we must prepare for a show down. No priestly force in the world has said that even God has to live in a particular so-called national borders. Only the Brahmins of India constructed even God or gods as national and are threatening those who believe in The God, who is said to have created the whole universe, as anti-national. This primitive thinking of these forces needs to be fought with all the might at the Dalit-Bahujan command.

It’s all in a name

As a first step in this spiritual and cultural revolution, the Dalit-Bahujan masses must add their present or ancestral occupational names to their existing or new name – but in English translation. As I come from a shepherding family, I have suffixed ‘Shepherd’ to my name. I thought this is the best way to tell the Brahmin: I am now no longer interested in working to reform your spiritual culture. I join the universal brotherhood/sisterhood and remain more nationalist than you by rooting myself in the great productive occupational heritage of my ancestors. You have no business to teach me nationalism.

A believer in God of Equality is a better nationalist than those worship gods that breed inequality. The Brahmins did that all along. My ancestors suffered every ignominy because of that inhuman culture. I uplifted their spirits by adding a universally understandable language name to my existing name. Now ancestral occupation is globally notified.

The farming communities can become Mr and Mrs Tiller, Dalits can have names like Mr and Ms Cobbler, Tanner, Shoemaker. Thus pot makers can have names like Potter, Iron and gold smiths can become Smith. Thus the marginalised communities could all have English names – from Washerman to Fisherman.

In this mode of names, the productive occupation becomes globally respectable and dignified. Our indignity gets washed away by clean waters. Our children at once become globally loveable. Once we shift out of the caste rot and begin to be known by the glorious productive occupation of each one of us, God will love us more, as s/he loves all producers more than people who eat without producing food.

A day will come when even the Brahmins of the whole world will come and join hands in turning the mud into food. All our women, irrespective of caste, have suffered and continue to suffer untouchability during menstruation and child birth because of the procreative mud that comes out of their body. They will smile and bring up our children in a healthy atmosphere of equality. The world, then, will be glorious and that is what is known as “The Kingdom of God”. God Bless India.

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