Tag Archives: Capitalism

Prizes to Encourage African Farmer


How prizes can encourage African farmers to embrace innovation

July 7, 2016 12.49am AEST


Some farmers are suspicious of technological innovation. But technology can really help them. Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Africa must transform agriculture to meet its food security needs and contribute to economic transformation. But change in this sector is usually slow. It is often bedevilled by popular opposition to the use of new technologies.

In my new book, “Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies”, I argue that the idea of agricultural transformation often creates perceptions about the potential loss of income and cultural identity among Africa’s farming communities.

These perceptions could lead to people opposing new technologies and ultimately undermine farming communities’ abilities to improve their well-being through agricultural innovation. In Kenya some farmers have, over the past decade, opposed the introduction of mechanical tea harvesters because of the potential impact on jobs.

Such perceptions aren’t new. Agricultural mechanisation, for instance, has been marked by long periods of opposition, largely by advocates of farm animals and human labour worldwide. American farmers objected to the introduction of tractors. They argued that horses could reproduce themselves while tractors depreciated. Anxiety about the loss of incumbent farming systems lay at the heart of this controversy.

Agricultural transformation requires both courage and sensitivity to social effects. This is why Africa needs a variety of incentives – particularly prizes for excellence – that promote agricultural innovation in ways that benefit farming communities. Research has proved how much prestigious prizes can boost cultural innovation. Why shouldn’t the same be true for agricultural innovation?

The prestige of prizes

One of the initiatives that’s trying to change people’s attitudes to agricultural innovation is the Africa Food Prize. It styles itself as “the preeminent award recognising an outstanding individual or institution that is leading the effort to change the reality of farming in Africa”.

The prize, founded by the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa and the Yara Corporation, is worth much more than its monetary value of US$100,000. It “celebrates Africans who are taking control of Africa’s agriculture agenda.” It highlights “bold initiatives and technical innovations that can be replicated across the continent to create a new era of food security and economic opportunity for all Africans”.

More importantly, it aims to change African agriculture “from a struggle to survive to a business that thrives”. This involves pursuing agricultural excellence that isn’t usually associated with traditional farming systems whose emblem is an African woman oppressed by the inefficiency of the hand hoe.

Prizes aren’t without their detractors, of course. Their role in promoting excellence is one of the most hotly debated areas of social innovation in Africa. Each year, for instance, there is much discussion about the award or non-award of the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.

In his pioneering book, “The Economy of Prestige”, James English points out that prizes have been critical in promoting advances in literature and the arts. He argues that they’ve helped to create the “cultural capital” that’s needed to propel creativity and excellence in these areas. English shows how cultural innovation benefits from improvements in the prize sponsorship, nomination and judging procedures; presentation and acceptance; and publicity and even controversy. These lessons can all be applied to the world of agricultural innovation.

Today a number of prizes globally seek to foster innovation. A study by consulting giant McKinsey found that such prizes are most effective when there is:

a clear objective (for example, one that is measurable and achievable within a reasonable time frame), the availability of a relatively large population of potential problem solvers, and a willingness on the part of participants to bear some of the costs and risks.

More prizes needed

Hopefully, the Africa Food Prize will foster the creation of similar and complementary prizes. This is important. There’s a tendency for society to shun excellence prizes if they appear to serve only a small group of people. In social settings where patronage and entitlement are the default criteria for awards, resentment toward these prizes is particularly strong.

So what might new prizes in the field of agricultural innovation look like? They could have very specific objectives – rewarding young agricultural entrepreneurs, especially those who succeed across the full agricultural value chain. They could focus on newer agricultural fields like data processing. They could reward those who are innovative in production, processing and packaging, retailing, recycling and environmental management.

They could also provide more than a monetary reward. One of the factors that keeps young people from going into agribusiness is a lack of mentors. New prizes could incorporate mentoring functions, as is the case with the Africa Prize for Engineering and Innovationthat’s managed by the UK Royal Academy of Engineering.

The diversity of agricultural activities calls for more prizes. As “The Economy of Prestige” suggests, society can rapidly accumulate cultural capital if there are as many prizes as they are winners. The Africa Food Prize should be the first seed in a broader effort to cultivate a culture of agricultural excellence on the continent.

 

OTHER READINGS:

Agricultural Innovations can Help African Farmers Compete, Boost Food Security

Agricultural innovations can help African farmers compete, boost food security, says new report

Smallholder African Farmers Embrace Innovative Planting

The Toxic Consequences of the Green Revolution

Effects of the Green Revolution on Rural, Small-Scale Farmers and Relevant Case Studies

DOWNLAOD PDF’s:


 

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‘Cash Crop’ Agriculture in Africa


Early History of ‘Cash Crop’ Agriculture in Africa, 1880-1930

ALL AFRICA | By  Editor  / 6 months ago


Prior to colonialism, food production in Africa was in the hands of African farmers who grew crops mainly for food production. Many explorers to Africa were more focused on acquiring and shipping raw materials to the western world and considered this the most efficient use of their resources. Over time this way of conducting business became expensive and they sought to diversify ways to increase their profits. More often than not, private companies such as the Royal Niger Company, Imperial British East Africa Company, and British South Africa Company incurred high costs in trying to set up a new administration that would protect their interests. These new administrations often introduced tax systems and laws that forced local farmers to grow crops they could openly sell on the local market in order to pay their taxes. This led to the introduction of cash crop agriculture in many parts of Africa.

Ghana and Nigeria

On the Gold Coast, cocoa became the key cash crop after it was introduced to the territory in the 1880s. The Gold Coast became the single largest producer of cocoa in the world and production continued to expand until the 1970s. Cocoa production in Ghana, was introduced to the Akwapim by missionaries. In Nigeria, the Yoruba were introduced to cocoa and the Hausa to groundnuts. While cocoa production was profitable for export it required large tracts of land and could take up to 15 years to mature.

Uganda

In Uganda, the British Cotton Growing Association encouraged the Ganda chiefly class to embrace cotton production. Prior to cotton becoming the key cash crop, the Buganda had exported slaves and ivory only and farming was primarily used for food production. While cotton production increased dramatically, food production declined as more farmers chose to plant cotton which would increase the value of their land. In Sudan’s Gezira region, cotton was also the major cash crop and Sudan’s Plantation Syndicate dictated the use of land to farmers by providing most of the financing. The focus on a single cash crop for a country of region left many Africans vulnerable during periods of drought, economic decline and falling world prices.

Kenya

In Kenya, most groups were pastoralists except in the fertile Rift Valley, where the settler government parceled out land to its people by clearing African inhabitants. Groups like the Kikuyu were displaced and moved to areas with poor soil and unfavorable climate known as reserves. The few Africans who continued to live on land designated for white settlers were treated as squatters who were required to work for the white farmer in return for living on his land for a specified amount of time, thereby offering cheap labor.

Early colonial government would actively support white farmers by providing them financial assistance, seeds, equipment, agricultural advice, startup loans and cheap transportation rates to transport produce using the railway. The white settler government actively sabotaged African farmers by making it illegal for them to participate in export trade of any cash crop and prohibited from growing specific cash crops like coffee or tea.

Zimbabwe

In Southern Rhodesia (now present day Zimbabwe), the white settlers settled for farming after failing to find large the large gold reserved they hope to. In 1923, they consolidated power and achieved self-governing status. In 1930, through the Land Apportionment Act, the white settler farmers were able to take 49 million acres of the most productive land while Africans were placed in 7.5 million acres of the worst land known as reserves. Most of white settler farmers grew cash crops for export.

This article serves as a foundation for understanding the land issue in many African countries such as Malawi.

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Neoliberal Think Tanks and Free Market Environmentalism


Neoliberal Think Tanks and Free Market Environmentalism

Sharon Beder

Citation: Sharon Beder, ‘Neoliberal Think Tanks and Free Market Environmentalism’, Environmental Politics, 10(2) Summer 2001, pp. 128-133.

This is a final version submitted for publication.
Minor editorial changes may have subsequently been made. 

Sharon Beder’s Other Publications


Corporate-funded think tanks have played a central role in promoting free market environmentalism onto the policy agenda throughout the English speaking world. These think tanks have consistently opposed government regulation and advocated the virtues of a ‘free’ market unconstrained by a burden of red tape. The role of think tanks in the establishment of this ‘neoliberal’ agenda in the US and the UK in recent decades has been well documented. However their central role in a range of specific policy areas, such as environmental policy, has been neglected.

Conservative think tanks are generally set up as private, tax-exempt, research and advocacy institutes, and are largely funded by foundations and corporations. They have sought to insert neoliberal ideology into environmental policy. They advocate the use of the market to allocate scarce environmental resources such as wilderness and clean air and promote the replacement of legislation with voluntary industry agreements, reinforced or newly created property rights and economic instruments.

Presidents from Carter through to Clinton have made wide use of think tank personnel to fill high level government positions [Abelson:1995 108-09; Smith:1991 206-07]. Think tanks also employ ex-government officials giving them access to politicians and others in government. The interchange of personnel between think tanks and government officials observed in the US is now a feature of the Australian scene.

In Britain a few conservative think tanks have been extremely influential. These think tanks, particularly the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), played a major role in setting the policy agenda of the Thatcher government, providing it with most of its policy initiatives, including trade union ‘reforms,’ privatisation of public authorities such as water and electricity, and welfare cuts. The influence of think tanks continues with the Blair government.

To be effective, think tanks insert themselves into the networks of people who are influential in particular areas of policy. They organise conferences, seminars and workshops, publish books, briefing papers, journals and media releases for policy-makers, journalists and people able to sway the policy makers. They liase with bureaucrats, consultants, interest groups, lobbyists and others. They seek to provide advice directly to government officials and to government agencies and committees, through consultancies or through testimony at hearings. Ultimately think tank employees become policy-makers themselves, having established their credentials as a vital part of the relevant policy/issue network.

In their efforts to influence and become part of the policy-making process think tanks have more in common with interest groups or pressure groups than academic institutions. Nevertheless employees of think tanks are treated by the media as independent experts and, as such, are often preferred to representatives from universities or interest groups as a source of expert opinion.

Some Key Think Tanks 

Think tanks put a great deal of effort and expense into ensuring the work of their ‘scholars’ is marketed and disseminated effectively. The Heritage Foundation in the US has often been credited with changing the face of think tanks with its aggressive marketing tactics. The greater proportion of its budget goes on marketing and fund raising, including 35-40 per cent of its budget on public relations. Many other think tanks have emulated Heritages’ marketing techniques.

The Heritage Foundation has a budget of over $25 million per year of which almost 90% comes from more than 6000 private donors. These donors include corporations such as automobile manufacturers, coal, oil, chemical, tobacco companies, foundations (about 25% of the foundation’s total income).

Heritage promotes deregulation of industry, an unrestrained free market and privatisation, including the sell off of public lands. In line with this ideology it advocates free market solutions to environmental problems or free market environmentalism [Anon:1992 49-53; Shanahan:1993]. It seeks to cast doubt on environmental problems such as global warming and to lobby against legislation or international agreements to prevent such problems.

The Institute of Economic Affairs, (IEA) in the UK which has promoted laissez-faire libertarianism or ‘economic liberalism’ for decades. It formed an Environmental Unit and launched Global Warming: Apocalypse or Hot Air in 1994. It promoted property rights as a way of protecting the environment and sought to apply free market solutions to all aspects of society including environmental problems and to reduce the role of government and regulation [Desai:1994 29]. For example, one of its publications stated: “There is a strong case for letting market forces work in energy… A policy for energy is not only unnecessary but undesirable. It hampers market adjustment and induces producers to spend time influencing government rather than improving efficiency.” [Weaver:1989 573]

In Australia a prominent conservative/neoliberal think tank, and the oldest, is the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA). Almost one third of IPA’s $1.5 million annual budget comes from mining and manufacturing companies. The IPA produces articles challenging the greenhouse consensus, attacking mandatory recycling, and promoting the use of pesticides. [Burton:1995 279], [IPA Report:1991 1-3].

Additionally a number of smaller specialist think tanks have been set up, particularly in the US, to promote free market environmentalism, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute, (CEI) the Political Economy Research Centre and the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP).

These particular examples are merely illustrative of the much larger push that has been evident in the last decades. What they have in common is the desire to downplay the urgency of environmental problems, to reduce environmental regulations, and to apply neoliberal policies to environmental problems, as has occurred in other areas of policy. These ideologically motivated think tanks have sought to discredit environmental legislation, giving it the pejorative label ‘command and control’, highlighting its deficiencies and ineffectiveness (ineffectiveness that corporations and corporate-funded think tanks have done their best to ensure). In their place they have advocated market-based mechanisms including price-based and rights-based measures.

Free Market Environmentalism 

Think tanks have popularised and promoted the work of environmental economists who promote economic instruments and many of the leading scholars in this area are associated with think tanks. Such scholars include one of the foremost proponent’s of tradeable pollution rights, Robert Hahn, a resident scholar of the American Enterprise Institute, Terry Anderson, who has written for several think tanks in Australia and the US, Robert Stavins and Bradley Whitehead, authors of a Progressive Policy Institute study as well as Alan Moran, from the Tasman Institute.

Think tanks produce numerous books and papers promoting free-market environmentalism. Their books have included Free Market Environmentalism published by the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy in 1991; Reconciling Economics and the Environment published by the Australian Institute for Public Policy in 1991; and Markets, Resources and the Environment published by the Tasman Institute in 1991.

The market solutions being advocated by neoliberal think tanks provide corporations and private firms with an alternative to restrictive legislation and the rhetoric to make the argument against that legislation in terms that are not obviously self-interested. While legislation is aimed at directly changing the behaviour of polluters by outlawing or limiting certain practices, market-based policies let the polluters decide whether to pollute or not.

Some neoliberal think tank economists also argue that there is little incentive to protect environmental resources that are not privately owned. The solution put forward is to create property rights over parts of the environment that are currently free. Rights-based economic instruments such as tradeable pollution rights, for example, “create rights to use environmental resources, or to pollute the environment, up to a pre-determined limit” and allow these rights to be traded. [Cth Govt. of Australia:1990 14] Rights-based measures are also a way of providing a pricing mechanism for allocation of scarce environmental resources.

The influence of neoliberal think tanks on environmental policy has been pervasive. Yet their efforts to replace legislative solutions with free market programs have been accepted largely without scrutiny of the ideological agenda behind them. Many environmentalists have been persuaded by the rhetoric of free market environmentalism. For example the US Environmental Defense Fund has been at the forefront of the push for tradeable pollution rights and the Natural Resources Defense Council has also supported them.

The ideological and political shaping of these instruments has been hidden behind a mask of neutrality. Stavins and Whitehead exemplify this in arguing that “Market-based environmental policies that focus on the means of achieving policy goals are largely neutral with respect to the selected goals and provide cost-effective methods for reaching those goals.” [Stavins & Whitehead:1992 8] Far from being a neutral tool, the promotion of market-based instruments is viewed by many of its advocates as a way of resurrecting the role of the market. They serve a political purpose in that they reinforce the role of the ‘free market’ at a time when environmentalism most threatens it.

By accepting market instruments as a solution to environmental problems, environmentalists have accepted the conservative definition of the problem-that environmental degradation is caused by a failure to ‘value’ the environment and a lack of properly defined property rights and therefore environmental degradation results from a failure of the market to attach a price to environmental goods and services [Beder:1996]. By allowing this redefinition of the environmental problem, environmentalists and others not only forestall criticism of the market system but in fact implicitly agree that an extension of markets is the only way to solve the problem.

The root of the environmental problem, however, is the priority given to economic considerations over environmental considerations. Economic instruments, privatisation and environmental ‘valuation’ ensure that priority is still given to economic goals and they enable firms to make decisions that affect others on the basis of their own economic interests. Even if those economic interests have been slightly modified to give a small economic value to environmental impacts, the basic paradigm remains unchanged: whenever big profits can be made the environment will be destroyed.


Professor Sharon Beder is an honorary professorial fellow at the University of Wollongong.
Sharon Beder’s Publications can be found at http://www.uow.edu.au/~sharonb

Think Tanks Vs. Crony Capitalism


How Did He Get So Rich? Think Tanks Vs. Crony Capitalism


I still recall my long summer vacations in Argentina. That was before globalization and competitive pressures pushed most of the elite of developing countries to take shorter and shorter breaks. Europeans continue to buck the trend. They seem more attached to their long vacations than to the welfare statethat sometimes mandates those long relaxing weeks.

Volleyball was part of my South American beach life. It was easy to recover between endless games by taking a relaxing swim in deep sea water and then the mandatory, and now we know, dangerous sun-bathing. However, I am not writing here about life as a temporary beach-bum; I want to focus on how one of my most admired volleyball partners responded to economic incentives. Being a firm believer that all humans deserve a chance to rebuild their lives, I was hesitant to use his name, but as he wrote a book about this, mentioning him might help him increase his sales.

Enrique Piana was tall and handsome. His girlfriend and future wife, Solange, was also picture perfect. “Quique” as we called him, had a killer volleyball smash and killer looks. His family owned one of Argentina’s oldest and most respected trophy and medals companies. He seemed to have everything.

During part of the ’90s, the government of President Carlos Menem, and then-Minister Domingo Cavallo, had a policy for the importation of gold and exports of gold fabrications that amounted to a major subsidy for exporters. Attracted by the incentives, Quique, who had become CEO of his company, became a key player in a scheme whereby exporting overvalued gold-plated products netted them 30 million in subsidies for fake transactions. As it seems that none of the medals were sold at artificial value to true customers, the only victims here ended up being the Argentine tax-payers.

The scheme involved a “business” in the United States. As there is still substantial respect for rule of law in the United States, Quique was indicted, captured, and—after some months in a U.S. jail—extradited to Argentina. In his book, he lists the government officials who he claims knew about the scheme and who received bribes for his fraudulent activities. I will not mention them here. None of them were sentenced to jail.

If it would not be for the fraud in the value of the medals, the entire scheme would be just a case of crony capitalism. Receiving legal export subsidies (or export reimbursements as they are called in Argentina) is not a crime. No one would have ended up in jail. Quique was greedy. By overvaluing medals and overstating the gold content, he would help maximize his profits—but Quique lost his freedom for a while, and his century-old family company is gone forever.

Those of us who, like most writing for Forbes, believe in capitalism, defined as the private ownership of the means of production, are being faced with many similar cases. Increased publicity about economic transactions where profits are the result of being close to power, rather than serving the customer, have led to a surge in articles and complaints about crony capitalism. Making a moral case for capitalism obliges us to distinguish between “good and bad” capitalism.

Think tanks from all over the world that favor free-enterprise are trying to counter the flood of news about private players who use government and corruption to increase their profits. Through books, videos, and conferences, they are trying to portray the good side of capitalism. (I leave for another article a more complete list of groups engaged in this task.) In the United States, a short list of think tanks investing more of their budget on the moral defense of capitalism or free-enterprise should include the American Enterprise Institute and its Values and Capitalism program, the Acton InstituteThe Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College, the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and several organizations which are inspired by Ayn Rand’s writings. Talented entrepreneurs such as John Mackey, author of “Passion and Purpose: the Power of Conscious Capitalism” and Steve Forbes, in his “How Capitalism will Save Us” have also entered the debate. The Centre for Independent Studies in Australia, CEDICE in Venezuela, and PAFERE in Poland, are active in other parts of the world. The battle against this privileged form of capitalism is also taking place in social media, with AgainstCronyCapitalism.org and a special Crony CapitalismFacebook site gradually growing in presence.

As the true story I told about Quique shows, there is a fine line between corruption and crony capitalism. Several think tanks are active in exposing corruption, but they have learned that mentioning culprits can lead to more headaches or worse. The Adriatic Institute in Croatia, has been waging a David-versus-Goliath battle and has received multiple threats. Those who have exposed crony capitalism and corruption in Venezuela are currently being sued in the United States for defamation. The billions earned by cronies can buy lawyer power from the left, center, and worse, from leading rightwing legal counsel. Most free-market think tanks therefore prefer to speak about the generalities of corruption and crony capitalism rather than mention the guilty parties. This is seldom effective. I confess that in this column, I am guilty of the same prudence.

Considerable credit should be given to Transparency International for having created the most important effort to measure the perception of corruption, which has been a helpful tool to combat corruption. Having measurements to assess the magnitude of a problem, like monetary inflation, or huge deficits, helps think tanks confront the problem. To win the moral debate about free-enterprise, it would help to develop a comprehensive index of crony capitalism. There is a need to develop measurements about what percentage of profits in the United States and the world economy come from exchanges which result from favoritism, contracts between state-owned companies, corporate welfare (which the Cato Institute measures for the United States), corruption, and “sanitized corruption”—or getting legal favors, cheap loans, and foreign currency at preferential rates. This won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible.



Miracle Grow


Farming in Africa | From the print edition | Leaders | Mar 10th 2016, 16:02 | The Economist | 

Miracle Grow

After many wasted years, African agriculture is improving quickly. Here is how to keep that trend going


SOMETIMES it seems as though Adam’s curse, which promises mankind a harvest of thorns and thistles, applies only to African farmers. The southern part of the continent is in the teeth of a drought, which has been blamed on El Niño. The weather has been even worse in northern Ethiopia, where crops are shrivelling and cows are dying. But droughts, unlike biblical curses, end eventually. El Niño does not change the fundamental, remarkable fact about farming in sub-Saharan Africa: it is rapidly getting better.

The post-war green revolution that transformed Asia seemed to have bypassed Africa. But between 2000 and 2014 grain production tripled in countries as far-flung as Ethiopia, Mali and Zambia. Rwanda did even better (see article). Farming remains precarious in a continent with variable weather and little irrigated land. But when disaster hits, farmers nowadays have a bigger cushion.

African countries are on the whole more peaceful and better run than they were. Farmers are no longer forced into disastrous socialist collectives or banned from selling their crops in open markets. Border tariffs are lower and export bans rarer. As a result, innovation is accelerating. Africa has seen an explosion of seed companies producing clever hybrids, which can endure drought and resist disease. Perhaps the best proof of the importance of good government comes from Zimbabwe. It has an awful one, and productivity has crashed.

The progress that has been made elsewhere is wonderful, but not enough. African farms remain far less productive than Asian ones: Chinese farmers harvest more than three times as much grain per hectare. Climate change is expected to make conditions harder. Yet agriculture is essential for firing economic growth across the African continent. More people still live in the countryside than in cities and many of Africa’s cities are not all that dynamic. Asia has a tight grip on labour-intensive manufacturing, although there is certainly space for more food-processing factories in Africa—so, for example, it could export cocoa powder instead of cocoa beans.

Turning an agricultural uptick into a lasting boom will demand more reforms. One priority for Africa’s governments is to dismantle the remaining barriers to innovation in farming. It still takes years to approve new hybrid seeds in some countries. With a few exceptions, such as South Africa, the continent is holding the line against genetically modified crops. This is mad. GM is particularly helpful in making plants resistant to pests—a terrible scourge. The region’s governments should also take greater advantage of mobile technology. Many try to subsidise fertiliser for poor farmers, only for the stuff to be stolen before it reaches the intended recipient. They should be sending money or vouchers directly to mobile wallets.

Africa’s cities are swelling, and the people who live in them crave meat and processed food. That is a huge opportunity for local farmers, but it will be missed if transport does not become far cheaper and easier. At the moment, the rule of thumb is that it costs three times as much to move goods one mile along an African road as it does to move them along an Asian one—and that is before the police shake you down. As a result, fertiliser is expensive and much food is wasted on the way to market. More investment in upgrading shoddy rural roads would be good. Better still would be an assault on the trucking cartels that keep prices high.

Clearing out the weeds
It would help a lot if farmers—particularly women—had clearer rights over land. Proper titles would encourage them to make long-term investments, like terracing and tree-planting, and allow them to use land as collateral for loans. Getting there is tricky. Many countries have long traditions of communal land management and a complicated web of customary farming rights. Charging in and handing out freeholds can actually strip people of rights. But a sensible first step, which a few countries are trying, is to register farmers’ entitlements so their land cannot be pinched.

The rest of the world can help, too. Although some egregious subsidies have been trimmed, the rich world’s taxpayers still spend vast sums propping up their own farmers. America heavily subsidises peanuts and cotton—two things that Africa can grow well. Why shell out to make Africans poorer?


‘White Philosophers to be Dropped from Curriculum’


News | UK | Home News

SOAS students call for ‘white philosophers to be dropped from curriculum’

Lucy Pasha-Robinson | @lucypasha | 9th January 2017

Students at University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) are calling for white philosophers to be largely removed from the curriculum to better represent the university’s focus on Asia and Africa.

As part of the student union’s “educational priorities” for 2017, students outlined ways to “address the structural and epistemological legacy of colonialism within our university” as part of an initiative that aims to “decolonise” SOAS.

One suggestion was to ensure the majority of philosophers taught on university courses come from the Global South or its diaspora.

The students also said if white philosophers were required, their work should be taught from a “critical standpoint”, to acknowledge the colonial context in which many of their works were written.

Dr Deborah Gabriel, founder of Black British Academics, said the students were clearly seeking to engage in a more culturally diverse discussion that was reflective of the university’s focus, and interrogate the links to colonisation held by the institution.

“A culturally democratic curriculum is something that all scholars, regardless of their ethnic background, should be teaching, given global and national priorities in the 21st century,” she told The Independent.

“Teaching is often based on very narrow criteria and often tends to be eurocentric. These students are calling on scholars to meet the criteria of their role to teach from different cultural contexts, it’s something we all should be doing more of.”

University of Liverpool Law professor explains why Leave campaign lied ‘on an industrial scale’

However, she also said decolonising doesn’t necessarily equate to removing the problematic.

“I don’t believe that necessitates removing white scholars because not all white scholars espouse ideas that are narrow in context, a lot of them do engage in anti-racist teaching. Academia often draws on series that are decades old, which is what people often find problematic,” she said.

“If you remove that kind of content from the curriculum, how are you going to critique it? That is what changes attitudes and thinking by looking at past theories and how they have evolved, and looking at what is considered progressive and acceptable now.”

The SOAS “educational priorities” came amid growing calls from students across the UK to rid British universities of associations with colonialism.

Last year, Oxford University refused to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes from Oriel College over his links with Britain’s colonial past, despite a high-profile student-led campaign.

Cambridge University’s Jesus College took down a bronze cockerel statue, which had been looted during a British colonial expedition to Nigeria in the 19th century, after students asked for it to be repatriated.

SOAS is the largest European centre for the study of Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East.

SOAS spokesperson Dr Deborah Johnston, pro-director learning and teaching told The Independent: “One of the great strengths of SOAS is that we have always looked at world issues from the perspective of the regions we study – Asia, Africa & Middle East. Informed and critical debate and discussion about the curriculum we teach is a healthy and proper part of the academic enterprise.”


The Independent has approached SOAS’s student union for comment.


Why Travelling with an African Passport is Difficult?


Why is travelling with an African passport so difficult?

 | Friday 11 September 2015 

Getting around Europe is a struggle, but it’s just as tough to cross borders in our own continent


Morocco v Cameroon - FIFA2010 World Cup Qualifier
 A 2014 ranking of countries by the strength of their passport revealed that Cameroonians can travel to only 43 countries of their choosing. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images

In the summer of 2003, a clerk at the US embassy in London informed me that under new 9/11 laws, I was considered “unstable”, and my request for a tourist visa would be denied. Never mind that on the invitation of my aunt – a US citizen – I had bought non-refundable, round-trip tickets to Philadelphia (both the written invitation and the confirmed bookings were prerequisites), or that I was at the end of the second year of a four-year degree course at Liverpool University, or even that I had a visa and job confirmed in France, where I would be spending my third year.

None of that mattered. I carried a Cameroonian passport, and the job of the consulate team was to presume I had no intention of leaving the US, unless my documentary evidence convinced them otherwise, which clearly it hadn’t. As I left the embassy, my face wet with tears, I invented scenarios to console myself: “Her husband has obviously just left her for her best friend, she’s obviously taking out her frustration on me.”

Over the years it’s not just Americans who have looked at my forest green passport and seen the warning: “Beware! Likely to spread contagion or disappear into the black market.” Queuing in Lille in northern France to upgrade my visa from visitor to work permit was like waiting in line with the disallowed – easily 200 of us jostling to be seen by the gendarmes, emotions ranging from hopeful to desperate, depending on how many times you’d been turned back for some trivial reason. “Revenez demain” (“Come back tomorrow”) became the most painful words to hear.

Much of my time in Britain has also been punctuated by the cycle of visa applications, the prices for which escalate with each change of government. My conversations with immigration officers have become something of a chess match: they make their move then I make mine.

“How long have you been in the UK?” I’m asked, as the immigration officer feels up the page to which my visa is stuck, checking to make sure it didn’t belong to a different passport. “Oh, only 10 years,” I say, insouciant; using my BBC Radio 4 voice. “What did you study at university?” “Do you mean my first degree or one of my masters?” Neither of us break eye contact.

They were only doing their job, but I felt as though I too was doing mine: subtly making the point that I had every right to be here. I’d studied a British curriculum, taught to me by British teachers in African schools; and after my parents raised the thousands of pounds needed to pay for the British university education they thought would help me establish my place in the world, I just wanted to be left to get on with it.

But this is not just a problem in the west. My most painful visa transactions have, sadly, been on the African continent – the place where passports should be recognised immediately for the useless, artificial construct they are; where members of the same ethnic group are separated by barriers imposed from outside.

But Africa’s leaders have been among the most ardent defenders of national boundaries. In 2013, the African Development Bank wrote: “African countries remain closed off to each other, making travel within the continent difficult. Africa is one of the regions in the world with the highest visa requirements. This situation is even more restricted for Africans travelling within Africa, as compared to Europeans and North Americans. On average, African citizens require visas to visit 60% of African countries.”

But immigration systems and visa requirements aren’t designed with actual people in mind. Instead, they are a reflection of the geopolitics of the day and of voter sentiment. The number of countries your passport grants you access to is directly proportional to how many friends your government has, and Cameroon’s Paul Biya is famously reclusive.

That said, Cameroon is not the worst. In a 2014 ranking of countries by the strength of their passport, Finns, Swedes and Brits can travel the most freely, swanning into 173 countries of their choosing. Cameroon came in at 43, alongside China, Congo, Jordan and Rwanda. The least desirable passport was Afghanistan’s, giving its citizens access to a paltry 28 countries.

The system is broken, and the idea that where you are born is a lottery exempts us from our collective responsibility to change that system. But I’m an idealist with wanderlust. So I studied hard for the Life in the UK test, pledged my allegiance to the Queen, and swapped my forest green passport for a crimson red British one – all so that I could just finally roam free.


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).


Occupy Black Lives: TWO MOVEMENTS


OCCUPY BLACK LIVES: NOTES ON TWO MOVEMENTS

January 29, 2016

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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