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.’
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.
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?’
Tanzania is receiving development assistance to further develop the agricultural sector through public-private cooperation. The projects are being promoted under the premise that fertile land is abundant but, in practice, this land is almost always occupied. This means that large-scale agricultural projects are driving people off their land. An example is the case of the Maasai of Mabwegere, who are being dealt with harshly.
Land, water and access to natural resources become scarcer due to climate change, population growth, and the increasing demand for land for investment.
The Tanzanian government wants to develop the country by attracting investors, and for that it needs land.
Maasai unwelcome in their own village
The village of Mabwegere in the district of Kilosa in the Tanzanian province of Morogoro is home to 4105 nomadic pastoralist Maasai, while the surrounding villages are made up of crop farmers.
Although Mabwegere is an officially registered village and the Maasai have been living there since the 1950s, the elites and the local government are abusing their power so as to drive out the Maasai and to drive a wedge between the crop farmers and the cattle herders. They want to use the land for speculation or for growing crops.
This fuels the conflicts between these two groups, who are given less and less land and living space.
The first time the local authorities tried to evict the farmers was in January 2009. We interviewed nine men and seven women from the village who were there at that time. For their own safety, they prefer to remain anonymous.
‘The district administration gave the order to seize the cattle. They wanted to cash in the cattle and evict herders to give the land to agriculturists,’ says one of the village elders.
During the large-scale operation to remove pastoralists from Kilosa, police and paramilitary units throughout the district confiscated their livestock.
The villagers say 5000 cows and goats were seized in their village alone, but the exact number is difficult to determine. A report of the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) shows estimates ranging from 20,000 to 200,000 or 300,000 confiscated animals in the entire district.
‘Although we paid the fines, we never saw our cattle again. The police sold every animal at a large cattle market in Dar es Salaam.’
‘We tried to stop them, but the police held us at gunpoint and fired warning shots. They bombarded us with teargas and beat people,’ says a villager.
‘There were at least 200 of them and there were also people from neighboring villages with whom we don’t get along.’
All the cattle were herded into large stables. The villagers had to pay a fine of 30,000 Tanzanian shillings, about 15 Euros, for each cow and 5 Euros for a goat or sheep.
‘Although we paid the fines, we never saw our cattle again. They sold every animal at a large cattle market in Dar es Salaam,’ says one of the villagers.
The Maasai’s livelihood depends entirely on their cattle. At the time of the seizure, a cow was worth about 500 Euros on average. People were left in poverty.
‘We had no money to buy cattle. Some borrowed cows from relatives to survive, but those who were not so lucky still have nothing today,’ said one of the villagers.
‘The cows were all we had,’ says one of the women from the village. ‘We cannot grow crops. Our sons moved to the city. They now live far away in Iringa.’
Blocking access to water may be a strategic move to prevent the Maasai from returning to their territory.
Farmers from neighboring villages used the chaos to their advantage by occupying Maasai land and using it to grow crops.
Much of the land they confiscated is located at the river and drinking spots.
The farmers let the IGWIA know that blocking the herders’ water access was a strategic move to prevent them from returning to their territory.
One of the women shows a plastic bottle that appears to be filled with lemonade: ‘This is our water. We no longer have proper water. The cattle can’t drink it. It makes us ill, too.
Whenever we have our blood tested, the results show we have typhoid. When we want to let our cattle drink from the rivers, the farmers who are now growing tomatoes and sugarcane stop us. We have to get our water from puddles.’
‘We sued those farmers but lost the case, even though in 2010 the Supreme Court ruled that Mabwegere officially belongs to us’, says one of the men from the village.
‘We have been living here since 1956. The local government is ignoring court orders.’
‘The government considers this a good region for farming rice. There are important people in the government who are particularly interested in this land.’
One of the reasons why the local authorities ignore court orders may be that the district administration has already given parts of the region to influential people without following the legal procedures.
‘There are rich people from the cities that want our land’, says one of the older women from the village. ‘What are they expecting? That we’re going to live in trees like baboons or birds?’
According to the men from the village, some of those who want their land are in the government themselves: ‘The government considers this a good region for farming rice. There are important people in the government who are particularly interested in this land.
That’s why they are turning our neighbors against us. They are conducting a hate campaign, portraying us as violent and uncivilized.’
Murder, arson and rape
This hate campaign also fits in with the policies and discourse of Jakaya Kikwete, who was president of Tanzania until late 2015. Kikwete considered the lifestyle of the nomadic cattle farmers unproductive and outdated, something that didn’t belong in a modern state.
He stated in his speech at the start of his tenure that the people of Tanzania should go from being nomadic herders to become modern sedentary farmers.
‘They came with clubs, spears and machetes. They tried to seize our cattle. They torched houses and raped women.’
Local politicians continue to incorrectly label the nomadic cattle farmers as illegal immigrants who cause conflicts.
In January 2015, the conflict escalated further when residents of the neighboring villages invaded Mabwegere.
‘They came with clubs, spears and machetes. They tried to seize our cattle. They torched houses and raped women.
The IWGIA report that six women were raped, the villagers themselves say there were four. ‘The real number is much higher’, says Maasai leader Chris.
Chris is not his real name, because he, too, fears persecution. He represents 200,000 people and, in the past, he has reported to the UN about the situation in Tanzania.
‘Women in my community can’t say they’ve been raped. They feel it would damage their reputation’, says Chris.
Chris believes those who attacked the village were trained units.
‘The elite are financing these conflicts. They want our land in order to sell it to investors. They finance the farmers from neighboring villages and train them to fight. This is not just a conflict, it’s war.’
‘The elite are financing these conflicts. They want our land in order to sell it to investors. They finance the farmers from neighboring villages and train them to fight. This is not just a conflict, it’s war.’
‘Women and children are the most vulnerable during such violence’, say the women. ‘The men are often away from home and can stay in the cities or in the forest, but we are always at home to take care of the children. We have nowhere to go.’
The trauma runs deep. The women of the village cry when talking about the seizure of the cattle in 2009 and about the more recent rapes. A recurring theme is their indignation about the fact that they do not get help in coping with the traumatic events.
‘After the invasion in 2015, the representative of the regional government even came to the village, but nothing happened. Everything stayed the way it was and no one was punished’, says a resident.
Since the cattle seizure, there has been a culture of impunity. The cattle farmers sued at different levels of government, but to no avail. They were given no protection at all.
The Tanzanian newspaper Daily News did report this February that the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau has started investigating politicians and others who may have spurred on the conflict.
Land disputes and demarcation
Mabwegere is not an isolated case. The IWGIA has gathered statements from cattle herders in about twenty villages in five provinces of Tanzania. The general narrative is always the same.
Tanzanian NGO HAKIARDHI reported in 2012 that, in the span of a year, there were 1825 land disputes in courts and, in sixty percent of those, a powerful investor was involved.
The village of Mabwegere is located in the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor (SAGCOT). The government, donors and the private sector want to realize this fertile region’s agricultural potential and modernize it through public-private cooperation, focusing on small-scale farmers.
This supports the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NASFN), an initiative launched in 2012 by the G8 in order to pull 50 million people in Africa out of poverty and hunger through public-private cooperation in the agricultural sector.
The initiative is supported by the EU, the US, the UK, the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.
In this case, the demarcation is not intended for securing the rights of the villagers, but for providing security to investors.
The NAFSN projects are aimed at the SAGCOT region.
The Tanzanian government promised to demarcate the SAGCOT region’s land in order to obtain the support of the NAFSN.
This would allow the government to create a mechanism to provide investors with land in a correct and transparent way.
A clear demarcation could help villagers secure the rights to their land. However, in this case, the demarcation is not intended for securing the rights of the villagers, but for providing security to investors.
Paolo De Meo of Terra Nuova, an NGO cooperating with the Hands on the Land coalition, considers EU policy partially responsible for the land grabbing.
‘Nomadic cattle farmers are one of the most vulnerable communities, because their lifestyle is not productive from an industrial perspective.’
‘EU support of African agriculture is increasingly focused on expanding an industrial agricultural model. This makes nomadic cattle farmers one of the most vulnerable communities, because their grasslands are considered unused and because their lifestyle is not productive from an industrial perspective.’
Edward Louré of the Tanzanian NGO Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT), which supports the rights of nomadic cattle farmers and hunter-gatherers, is also concerned.
‘The NAFSN is receiving much support from the World Bank. We are worried because the project documentation for the NAFSN does not mention the rights of indigenous peoples. This is unusual for the World Bank. They know much about the rights of indigenous peoples.
Their silence in this matter leads us to assume that they are allowing the ousting of local communities to make room for big investors.’
Land that isn’t there
Tanzania divides all land into three categories. Under SAGCOT, the only category accessible to investors is general land, but this only constitutes two percent of the land. The other two categories are village land and reserved land.
The president can convert village land into general land if this serves public interest, such as in agricultural projects. SAGCOT wants to increase the percentage of general land in the region from 2 to 20 percent.
This would free up 350,000 hectares of land for agriculture and would require converting village land or reservations to general land.
‘The World Bank does not want to be accused of facilitating land grabs.’
Professor Lusugga Kironde of the Ardhi University conducted a non-published study for the World Bank concerning land matters in the SAGCOT region.
‘The World Bank requested that study because they wanted to know if the land is really available. We believe it is not. The World Bank wants to know which steps they need to take in order to acquire the land. They do not want to be accused of facilitating land grabs.’
‘The conflicts between farmers and nomadic pastoralists are a clear sign that there is no free and available land’, says Professor Kironde.
‘If the land were available, we would not be seeing these conflicts. Farmers would not be taking the nomadic pastoralists’ land if they had enough land available themselves.
The conflicts are growing in frequency and lethality. A project like SAGCOT is impossible without taking families’ land.’
Investors who want land have to go through the Tanzanian Investment Center (TIC). A TIC employee, who wished to testify only anonymously, also agrees that there is no land available.
‘Now that they are revising policy, there is a strong lobby that wants to convert village land to general land in order to make it available to investors. If this happens, it will lead to large-scale land grabs.’
‘There is no indisputably available land. The procedures to make land available for investing are time-consuming, because the village land needs to be converted into general land. The investors have to wait for months until the conversion is complete.’
National policy concerning land is currently being revised, which worries Professor Kironde.
‘There is much pressure because it is difficult for investors to gain access to land. Now that policy is being revised, there is a strong lobby that wants to convert village land to general land in order to make it available to investors. If this happens, it will lead to large-scale land grabs.
It will take some time, because converting all land to general land would require changes to the constitution. However, the process could become more simplified and faster.
‘It would be good if they could shorten the procedures for conversion, for instance by involving the Minister for Lands rather than the President’, says the TIC employee.
No budget for proper consultations
State organization RUBADA (Rufiji Basin Development Authority) is in charge of the demarcation of the land under SAGCOT. This organisation visits villages to demarcate land and, at the same time, tries to attract investors.
RUBADA made Tanzanian headlines last year because of a corruption scandal involving the disappearance of about one million Euros of development and investment money.
‘One of our main goals is attracting investments in the SAGCOT region’, says RUBADA Director for Planning and Investment John Rutabwaba.
A RUBADA employee told academic Mikael Bergius that they handle as many villages as possible each day. Bergius has been researching agricultural development in Tanzania for decades at the Norwegian University NMBU and for the Oakland Institute thinktank.
‘We cannot adequately consult the villagers because we lack the budget’, says Rutabwaba. ‘We are a governmental organisation, but the government doesn’t support us. Luckily, we’ve gotten some help from the UNDP, otherwise we would not be able to do anything at all.’
Ebe Daems & Kweli Ukwethembeka Iqiniso This article was created with the support of Journalismfund.eu
Ntokozo Qwabe, who last made headlines when he refused to tip a white waitress until “you return the land”, did not deny using what he called his “protest stick” in the video, but said he only wished he had “whipped the white apartheid settler colonial entitlement out of the b******”.
Video posted to social media appeared to show Mr Qwabe standing on a table in the law faculty of the University of Cape Town, one of a number of institutions across the country hit by protests in recent weeks.
According to the Times Live, Mr Qwabe said he was involved in a “shut down” of the “arrogant” faculty when a white student started filming the protesters on his mobile phone.
The footage shows an argument over the filming, before it ends abruptly when Mr Qwabe appears to lunge towards the camera with a stick.
Writing on his Facebook page, Mr Qwabe said it was “not true I assaulted or whipped with a stick a white student”.
He said the only acted to knock the phone out of the student’s hand. “He picked it up and continued to video‚ at which point I came closer to him and told him to switch it the f*** off,” Mr Qwabe said, at which point the student “then kindly put it back into his pocket”.
“Although I wish I’d actually not been a good law abiding citizen & whipped the white apartheid settler colonial entitlement out of the b****** – who continued to video record us without our consent – this is not what happened as the media is reporting.”
‘Private and secret’ memo in the South African diplomatic archives reveals an astonishing proposal that India made in 1949.
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.
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.
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 TheTimes.
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?
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.
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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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The 1966 film The Battle of Algiers is commemorating the 50th anniversary of its release, opening in more theaters across the country. As the Movement for Black Lives continues to disrupt and challenge the status quo, it also worth noting that 2016 is the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Black Panther Party. This edited excerpt from Sohail Daulatzai’s new book on the legacy of the film reveal only part of the influence The Battle of Algiers had on the Black radical imagination. The excerpt is followed by William Klein’s 1971 documentary on former Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver in Algeria.
Prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the largest antiwar protest in history took place throughout the world. But to no avail. President Bush dismissed the protestors as “a focus group,” unleashing the bombing campaign that was known as “Shock and Awe.” Soon after the invasion, in late 2003, the Pentagon invited the military brass to a screening of The Battle of Algiers, and the teaser read: ”How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film.”
Well before the Pentagon screening, both U.S. Army intelligence operatives and the F.B.I. also screened the film in 1970 to try to silence domestic and global threats to U.S. power. The film was used as a training tool by the U.S. military as part of “Operation Phoenix,” and its larger strategy for the “pacification of Vietnam,” while the FBI screened it at the height of its vicious Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), which included the destabilization of leftist groups in the United States through the use of targeted assassination, disinformation campaigns, false arrests and the imprisonment of Black Panther Party members, in particular.
While security states were screening the film throughout the world, The Battle of Algiers was also embraced by a range of different leftist groups including the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Irish Republican Army and the Tamil Tigers. In the United States, it was a favorite among the Weather Underground, Arab students organizing in the aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, and later in the 1990s as Chicano activists in Los Angeles mobilized around the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, Mexico. In the 1960s and ’70s, the film was required viewing for the Black Panther Party, whose liberationist politics were linked to the anticolonial Third Worldism of Vietnam, Palestine, Cuba, and elsewhere.
This embrace of the film by the Panthers was part of a longer history of Black radical solidarity with internationalist struggles in general, and Algeria in particular. As Stokely Carmichael said, “Black Power means that we see ourselves as part of the Third World; that we see our struggle as closely related to liberation struggle around the world.” And he was far from the exception. Black Panther Party member Kathleen Cleaver said, “From its inception, the Black Panther Party saw the condition of Blacks in an international context, recognizing that the same racist imperialism that people in Africa, Asia, Latin America were fighting against was victimizing Blacks in the United States.”
Writers and activists from Hoyt Fuller to Martin Luther King had expressed admiration and solidarity with the Algerian struggle, viewing Black struggles in the U.S. in the context of anti-colonial rebellion taking place worldwide. James Baldwin also commented on Algeria and France’s brutal colonial war. He made many trips to Paris, and he often made reference to the violent mistreatment of Algerians in Paris, including the infamous Papon Massacre in October 1961 in Paris. Baldwin would write, “Algeria was French only insofar as French power had decreed it to be French. It existed on the European map only insofar as European power had placed it there. It is power, not justice, which keeps rearranging the map, and the Algerians were not fighting the French for justice but for the power to determine their own destinies.”
Malcolm X would also weigh in when discussing policing of Black people in Harlem, “Algeria was a police state. Any occupied territory is a police state, and that is what Harlem is. Harlem is a police state, the police in Harlem, their presence is like occupation forces, like an occupying army. … The same conditions that prevailed in Algeria that forced the people, the noble people of Algeria, to resort to terrorist-type tactics that were necessary to get the monkey off their backs, those same conditions prevail today in America in every Negro community.”
Theaters of War
The Battle of Algiers would screen at the New York Film Festival in September 1967, just after massive riots in Newark, New Jersey, and Detroit had rocked the country. As the winds of Black Power began to gust, fanning the flames of urban unrest, Newsweek magazine reported, “Many young Negroes cheered or laughed knowingly at each terrorist attack on the French, as if The Battle of Algiers were a textbook and prophecy of urban guerrilla warfare to come.” Three years later, at a screening of the film at the Thalia on the Upper West Side, the New York Times reported that there was “laughter and applause when bombs planted by Algerian women destroyed restaurants frequented by the French,” and “at one point a cry of ‘the United States is next’ rang through the small movie house.”
The film would also be screened in 1969 at Amiri Baraka’s Spirit House in Newark, New Jersey, which was the unofficial mecca of the Black Arts Movement. Formed the day after the assassination of Malcolm X, and hoping to extend the legacy of his revolutionary spirit, Amiri Baraka and others saw the Black Arts Movement as a vehicle in which poetry, literature, theater, music, and film were central to Black liberation. The Battle of Algiers was part of a series of films and performances that also included the 1964 film The Dutchman (based on Baraka’s play) and the 1968 documentary on the Spirit House called The New-Ark, a triple feature of radical films that reflected the global sensibilities of the era.
Emory Douglas, who was minister of culture for the Black Panther Party, and whose graphic artwork was the basis of the official newspaper The Black Panther, traveled to Algeria in 1969 and was there when Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver emerged in Algiers for the first annual Pan-African Cultural Festival. In my conversation with Douglas, he said that, at the time, The Battle of Algiers was the most influential film in his life, helping to shape his artistic and political vision “because it did what I was trying to do with the Panthers—create a culture of resistance through art.” Not surprisingly, the Panthers would use Algiers as the site to open the first International Section of the Black Panther Party due to their admiration of Frantz Fanon and the Algerian struggle of which he was a part, while in 1970, Francee Covington would write an essay titled “Are the Revolutionary Techniques Employed in The Battle of Algiers Applicable in Harlem?” in the seminal anthology The Black Woman.
The film would also emerge as part of a much covered and controversial 1971 trial in New York City of what was known as the Panther 21, one of whom was Afeni Shakur, mother of hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur, with whom she was pregnant at the time. Charged—and acquitted—of conspiring to explode bombs at department stores, police stations, and other locations throughout the city, the Panthers had reportedly drawn their inspiration for this plot from the film. During the trial, the prosecutor, in an attempt to sway the jury toward a conviction, showed the film to the jurors. Twice during the courtroom screening, when the French offered an Algerian rebel a fair trial, several Panthers laughed at what could only be assumed was the deep irony and parallel nature of their respective predicaments. For some of the jurors, the responses were equally striking. For juror Joe Rainato, this would be his fourth viewing. Another juror, Ben Giles, said the showing “saved me $3.50 because I was going to see it after the trial anyway,” and juror Ed Kennebeck, who was now seeing the film for a third time, said, “The film did more to help me see things from the defense point of view than the D.A. suspected.”
Many Black activists saw in Ali La Pointe a mirror of Malcolm X—both were street hustler who were radicalized in prison and went on to become revolutionary heroes. Lerone Bennett, who was a vocal critic of Melvin Van Peebles’ 1971 film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song for what he saw as the film’s troubling and confusing political impulses, said “some will say: ‘you are criticizing the man (Van Peebles) for not filming The Battle of Algiers. How could he film The Battle of Algiers when there had been no battle of Algiers in America?” But that is precisely the point. There has been a Battle of Watts in America, and a Battle of Newark, and a Battle of Detroit. A Malcolm lived in Harlem, a King in Atlanta, and Angela Davis is in a California prison. And it is impossible to make a revolutionary black film in America without taking these realities into consideration.”
This brief alternative history to the film is vital if we are to grasp any lessons from it for today. The screening of the film at the Pentagon in 2003 and the racial logic of the “War on Terror” have sought to control the memory of The Battle of Algiers and, at the same time, have negated the central questions and concerns that decolonization, Black Power and the Third World Project sought to address: structural global inequality, racial capitalism resulting in wealth and resource exploitation of the non-white world; the policing and containment of Black life, continued military interventions into and destabilization of the Third World; and deeply entrenched asymmetries in diplomatic, political, and economic power between the West and the Global South. It is these structural violences that now sit at the heart of the “War on Terror,” and it is their systematic silencing of which The Battle of Algiers continues to be a haunting reminder.
Sohail Daulatzai is the author of four books including Fifty Years of “The Battle of Algiers”: Past as Prologue and Return of the Mecca: The Art of Islam and Hip-Hop. More of his work can be found at openedveins.com. Follow him @SohailDaulatzai.
In this edited extract from his new book, acclaimed writer Ta-Nehisi Coates discusses the history of race in the US in the form of a letter to his teenage son
The entire narrative of this country argues against the truth of who you are. I think of that summer that you may well remember when I loaded you and your cousin Christopher into the back seat of a rented car and pushed out to see what remained of Petersburg, Shirley Plantation, and the Wilderness. I was obsessed with the civil war because six hundred thousand people had died in it. And yet it had been glossed over in my education, and in popular culture, representations of the war and its reasons seemed obscured. And yet I know that in 1859 we were enslaved and in 1865 we were not, and what happened to us in those years struck me as having a certain amount of import. But whenever I visited any of the battlefields, I felt like I was greeted as if I were a nosy accountant conducting an audit and someone was trying to hide the books.
I don’t know if you remember how the film we saw at the Petersburg battlefield ended as though the fall of the Confederacy were the onset of a tragedy, not jubilee. I doubt you remember the man on our tour dressed in the grey wool of the Confederacy, or how every visitor seemed most interested in flanking manoeuvres, hardtack, smooth-bore rifles, grapeshot, but virtually no one was interested in what all of this engineering, invention and design had been marshalled to achieve. You were only 10 years old. But even then I knew that must trouble you, and this meant taking you into rooms where people would insult your intelligence, where thieves would try to enlist you in your own robbery and disguise their burning and looting as Christian charity. But robbery is what this is, what it always was.
At the onset of the civil war, our stolen bodies were worth four billion dollars, more than all of American industry, all of American railroads, workshops and factories combined, and the prime product rendered by our stolen bodies – cotton – was America’s primary export. The richest men in America lived in the Mississippi river valley and they made their riches off our stolen bodies. Our bodies were held in bondage by the early presidents. The first shot of the civil war was fired in South Carolina, where our bodies constituted the majority of human bodies in the state. Here is the motive for the great war. It’s not a secret. But we can do better and find the bandit confessing his crime. “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery,” declared Mississippi as it left the union, “the greatest material interest in the world.”
But American reunion was built on a comfortable narrative that made enslavement into benevolence, white knights of body snatchers, and the mass slaughter of the war into a kind of sport in which one could conclude that both sides conducted their affairs with courage, honour and élan. This lie of the civil war is the lie of innocence, is the Dream. Historians conjured the Dream. Hollywood fortified the Dream. The Dream was gilded by novels and adventure stories. I, like every kid I knew, loved The Dukes of Hazzard. But I would have done well to think more about why two outlaws, driving a car named the General Lee, must necessarily be portrayed as “just some good ol’ boys, never meanin’ no harm” – a mantra for the Dreamers if ever there was one. But what one “means” is neither important nor relevant. It is not necessary that you believe that the officer who choked Eric Garner set out that day to destroy a body. All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of an American legacy, and they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be black.
Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body – it is heritage. Enslavement was not merely the antiseptic borrowing of labour – it is not so easy to get a human being to commit their body against its own elemental interest. And so enslavement must be casual wrath and random manglings, the gashing of heads and brains blown out over the river as the body seeks to escape. It must be rape so regular as to be industrial. There is no uplifting way to say this. I have no praise anthems, nor old Negro spirituals. The spirit and the soul are the body and brain, which are destructible – that is precisely why they are so precious. And the soul did not escape. The spirit did not steal away on gospel wings. The soul was the body that fed the tobacco, and the spirit was the blood that watered the cotton, and these created the first fruits of the American garden. And these fruits were secured through the bashing of children with stovewood, through hot iron peeling skin away like husk from corn.
It had to be blood. It had to be nails driven through a tongue and ears pruned away. It had to be the thrashing of a kitchen maid for the crime of churning the butter at a leisurely clip. It could only be the employment of carriage whips,tongs, iron pokers, handsaws, stones, paperweights or whatever might be handy to break the black body, the black family, the black community, the black nation. And the bodies were an aspiration, lucrative as Indian land, a veranda, a beautiful wife, or a summer house in the mountains. For the men who needed to believe themselves white, the bodies were the key to a social club, and the right to break bodies was the mark of civilisation. “The two great divisions of society are not the rich and poor, but white and black,” said the great South Carolina senator John C Calhoun. “And all the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.” And there it is – the right to break the black body as the meaning of their sacred equality. And that right has always given them meaning, has always meant there was someone down in the valley because a mountain is not a mountain if there is nothing below.
You and I, my son, are that “below”. That was true in 1776. It is true today. There is no them without you, and without the right to break you they must necessarily fall from the mountain, lose their divinity, and tumble out of the Dream. And then they would have to determine how to build their suburbs on something other than human bones, how to angle their jails toward something other than a human stockyard, how to erect a democracy independent of cannibalism. But because they believe themselves to be white, they would rather countenance a man choked to death on film under their laws. And they would rather subscribe to the myth of Trayvon Martin, slight teenager, hands full of candy and soft drinks, transforming into a murderous juggernaut. And they would rather see Prince Jones followed through three jurisdictions and shot down for acting like a human.
It is truly horrible to understand yourself as the essential below of your country. It breaks too much of what we would like to think about ourselves, our lives, the world we move through and the people who surround us. The struggle to understand is our only advantage over this madness. By the time I visited those battlefields, I knew that they had been retrofitted as the staging ground for a great deception, and this was my only security, because they could no longer insult me by lying to me. I knew – and the most important thing I knew was that, somewhere deep with them, they knew too. The struggle is really all I have for you because it is the only portion of the world under your control.
I am sorry that I cannot make it okay. I am sorry that I cannot save you – but not that sorry. Part of me thinks your very vulnerability brings you closer to the meaning of life, just as for others, the quest to believe themselves white divides them from it. The fact is that despite their dreams their lives are also not inviolable. When their own vulnerability becomes real – when the police decide that tactics intended for the ghetto should enjoy wider usage, when their armed society shoots down their children, when nature sends hurricanes against their cities – they are shocked in a way that those of us who were born and bred to understand cause and effect can never be. And I would not have you live like them. You have been cast into a race in which the wind is always at your face and the hounds are always at your heels. And to varying degrees that is true of all life. The difference is that you do not have the privilege of living in ignorance of this essential fact.
I am speaking to you as I always have – as the sober and serious man I have always wanted you to be, who does not apologise for human feelings, who does not make excuses for his height, his long arms, his beautiful smile. You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people feel comfortable. None of that can change the math anyway. I never wanted you to be twice as good as them, so much as I have always wanted you to attack every day of your brief bright life in struggle. The people who must believe they are white can never be your measuring stick. I would not have you descend into your dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.
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.”
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.
(Yengkhom Jilangamba is a Visiting Associate Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.)
Indian society appears to be confronting the horrors of rape – except the “rapes that have happened and keep happening to women somehow not considered “daughters of the nation.” Brutal assaults against Africans go largely unreported in the nation with the most thriving press in the world.
Anti-African Racism in India
by Sputnik Kilambi
“The attackers were quoted as saying they wanted to ‘punish the black.’”
On December 3 last year, five men robbed and gang raped a 24 year old Rwandese woman as she was returning home one evening to her home near Delhi University. The story was reported, though not widely, like so many others which have come before. And it was soon forgotten. Then came yet another gang rape and this time the story gripped the nation. India was shaken to its core as details emerged of how a young medical student was repeatedly raped and mutilated by a gang of drunken youths in the heart of the nation’s capital.
Protests erupted on the streets of major cities with women and youth in the forefront, forcing the country to finally examine the shameful way it treats its women. The media blitz that followed was in sharp contrast to the silence or news-in-brief attitude to the thousands of other rapes that have happened and keep happening to women somehow not considered “daughters of the nation.”
A similar hands-off attitude can be detected in mainstream media coverage – or, to be accurate, the lack of it – of a worrying number of cases of discrimination and violence against African students in India.
The muted coverage of the gang rape of the young Rwandese woman, who was ironically seeking asylum in India, is evidence of this selective approach to what is perceived as unacceptable. The Delhi police registered the crime three days after the rape and robbery and this only under pressure from an NGO which came to the help of the 24-year-old woman. It turns out that one of the rapists is well connected. Whether this is linked to the delayed police response is unclear. In a bizarre twist, the car used to abduct the Rwandese woman was reportedly a wedding present from the father-in-law of one of the rapists. An enquiry was ordered, four of the five rapists were arrested, and a police inspector was suspended.
“The Rwandese High Commission has now warned its citizens to be extremely cautious in their interactions with local people and especially to avoid friendships with the opposite sex.”
End of story, it would seem – no deep soul searching, no follow-up, and not even a mention of the case during the endless debates that followed the Delhi gang rape, which occurred after the sexual assault on the Rwandese student.
While a reluctant Delhi police force had to be egged on to investigate the rape of the Rwandese student, it took the Jalandhar police no time at all to arrest three male Rwandese students on “eve-teasing” charges after an incident the Rwandese High Commission said was a misunderstanding. The students said they were asking for directions in a market, but the woman to whom they turned was frightened.
The fear, like the misunderstanding, was probably genuine. Most women are doubly cautious since the Delhi gang rape, but it would be interesting to know how much the wariness of the woman in the market was heightened by the skin color of the men who approached her. The students have since been released on bail after an intervention by the Rwandese High Commission, which has now warned its citizens to be extremely cautious in their interactions with local people and especially to avoid friendships with the opposite sex because of Indian “attitudes.” So much for foreign studies being an opportunity to broaden one’s outlook and make new friends!
When the beheaded body of Imran Mtui, a young IT student from Tanzania, was found near the railway tracks in Bangalore in 2010, the coverage and investigation was sketchy and a racist motive dismissed out of hand. The case didn’t make national news despite vigorous protests from the victim’s family and the Indian High Commission in Dar-es-Salaam demanding a proper investigation into the murder. Local newspapers merely repeated the police line that the death was accidental. The fact that two other African students were reportedly killled in Bangalore prior to Imran’s murdercould have at the very least prompted closer scrutiny. Needless to say, Imran’s family is still bitter about their experience of “Incredible India.”
The latest horror story concerning African students made headlines briefly in January when 24-year-old Burundian student Yannick Nihangaza emerged from a nine-month coma after being savagely attacked by a gang of Punjabi youth in Jalandhar. Yannick was an IT student at the incongruouslynamed “Lovely University,” which incidentally has one of the biggest foreign student intakes in the country. A passing auto rickshaw driver took the unconscious Yannick to hospital, where he remained on life support for weeks. Despite numerous complaints from his friends and family, and even two letters from Yannick’s father to the Punjab chief minister, there was no action from either the police or the state machinery until the national media took up the story three months later.
“Three other Tanzanian students died in Bangalore in the three months prior to Imran’s murder.”
The self-congratulatory tone taken by the media about its role in forcing the Punjab government to finally do something about Yannick Nihangaza, who will probably never live a normal life again, is somewhat hypocritical, given the length of time they took to report the attack in the first place.
There were ingredients enough to make it more than just a “news” story – a foreign student has his head smashed in with a boulder and remains between life and death for weeks on end, no action gets taken, he comes from a country whose 13-year-civil war claimed more than 300,000 lives, and there are the familiar Indian elements of feudal and financial power. Why did a desperate father have to go looking for the media instead of the other way around, as would have been the case had the victim been considered more worthy of attention?
The flurry of reports that followed Nestor Nihangaza‘s appeal to the media last July subsided as abruptly as they appeared, until his son opened his eyes for the first time since the attack.
Reporting on the day Yannick emerged from his coma, NDTV called it a story of a miracle and of compassion. It was indeed a miracle, but the only real compassion came from some of the staff and students at Lovely University, who raised Rs 6 lakh to cover some of his medical treatment.
Nestor Nihangaza says the report he was shown by the Punjab police showed that his son was clearly targeted because of the color of his skin (the attackers were quoted as saying they wanted to “punish the black”). The state government had to be pressured into paying compensation and picking up the medical bills. Nestor also complained that Lovely University authorities had been unforthcoming when he approached them for help.
Students from the North-east can empathize with Africans in this country – they are stigmatized because they look different and are vulnerable to verbal, physical and sexual attack, attacks that get as little media attention as those against blacks.
Of the estimated 50,000 foreign students that swell the coffers of private and public educational institutions, the majority are from neighboring countries and Africa and the Indian government has announced a further 22,000 scholarships for Africa in the coming three years.
However, the few reporters who have ventured into their world show that African students face similar problems wherever they might be in India – difficulties in finding accommodation and often being charged double the normal rent, regular run-ins with the police, not being allowed into pubs and discos, as was reported in a Bangalore tabloid sting operation. The prevalent attitude, according to the tabloid, was that Africans were perceived as a “security concern” and as “drug peddlers”, “scamsters” and “troublemakers” and that women didn’t feel safe around them.
“African students face similar problems wherever they might be in India.”
t is stating the obvious to say that the overwhelming majority of African students are here to get the quality education advertised in their home countries by Indian educational institutions. Many are from middle-class backgrounds and their families have made sacrifices to give their children a chance at getting on in life. Many others are on Indian government scholarships.
Few saw any irony in the timing of the Burundian president’s state visit to India while his countryman Yannick Nihangaza lay in a coma in an Indian hospital. If the issue was raised at all during meetings between Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza and Indian leaders, this was not made public and nobody asked any questions. It is highly improbable that such a scenario would have played out had the student been from a wealthy nation.
Irony knows no limits, it appears; at the height of the protests two years ago against repetitive racist – and sometimes murderous – attacks on Indian students in Australia, a group of youngsters thrashed a Congolese student to within an inch of his life in a posh Delhi mall while other shoppers looked on. The 25-year-old management student from Kinshasa was told by his attackers that no foreign student should be allowed to stay in India since Indian students were being beaten up in Australia. The Indian media, especially the electronic version, which stridently took up the clamor for justice for Indian students being attacked in Australia, never once thought to look at the glass house from which they were hollering.
Africa remains the proverbial “dark continent” for most Indians, whose prejudices and attitudes are uncomfortably similar to western perceptions of Africa, indeed of India until not so long ago.
The media could play an important role in deepening mutual understanding and appreciation, but they shy away from their obligations.
“A group of youngsters thrashed a Congolese student to within an inch of his life in a posh Delhi mall while other shoppers looked on.”
One starting point could be a follow up to the story of Yannick Nihangaza, who is still in hospital. The media could do one of their famous “what was promised, what was delivered” pieces and ensure that his case remains in the news until a just settlement is reached. It would be too much to expect a campaign calling for justice for Yannick – the only online petition started by a concerned citizen in Bangalore closed with just 24 signatures.
Delhi-based writer Namrata Bhandare is eloquent in her letter to Yannick’s father, cautioning him against expecting any justice: “On April 21, the night your son was attacked in Ludhiana, a student from Odisha, the same age as your son, was shot dead in Boston. We shouted ourselves hoarse with outrage over his killing. We shouted ourselves hoarse when Indian students were attacked in Australia. And we shout ourselves hoarse when Ashton Kutcher makes fun of our accent and way of life. Will we shout ourselves hoarse over what happened to your son? I fear we will not. I hope you will get the justice you desire. But more realistically, I pray that your son will find a better place than the one he had here in my country.”
Sputnik Kilambi is a veteran electronic and print journalist in both the anglophone and francophone media. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, the first black president of Howard University
Dave Weigel is one of my favorite reporters, but I think this piece on Jason Richwine, intelligence research, and “race” deserves a closer look:
Academics aren’t so concerned with the politics. But they know all too well the risks that come with research connecting IQ and race. At the start of his dissertation, Richwine thanked his three advisers — George Borjas, Christopher Jenks, and Richard Zeckhauser — for being so helpful and so bold. Borjas “helped me navigate the minefield of early graduate school,” he wrote. “Richard Zeckhauser, never someone to shy away from controversial ideas, immediately embraced my work. …”
Anyone who works in Washington and wants to explore the dark arts of race and IQ research is in the right place. The city’s a bit like a college campus, where investigating “taboo” topics is rewarded, especially on the right. A liberal squeals “racism,” and they hear the political-correctness cops (most often, the Southern Poverty Law Center) reporting a thought crime.
It is almost as though the “dark arts of race and IQ” were an untapped field of potential knowledge, not one of the most discredited fields of study in modern history. We should first be clear that there is nothing mysterious or forbidden about purporting to study race and intelligence. Indeed, despite an inability to define “race” or “intelligence,” such studies are one of the dominant intellectual strains in Western history. We forget this because its convient to believe that history begins with the Watts riots. But it’s important to remember the particular tradition that Charles Murray and Jason Richwine are working in. A brief reminder seems in order.
Here is antebellum “race realist” Josiah Clark Nott writing in 1854 to justify slavery:
That Negroes imported into, or born in, the United States become more intelligent and better developed in their physique generally than their native compatriots of Africa, every one admits; but such intelligence is easily explained by their ceaseless contact with the whites, from whom they derive much instruction; and such physical improvement may also be readily accounted for by the increased comforts with which they are supplied. In Africa, owing to their natural improvidence, the Negroes are, more frequently than not, a half-starved, and therefore half-developed race; but when they are regularly and adequately fed, they become healthier, better developed, and more humanized. Wild horses, cattle, asses, and other brutes, are greatly improved in like manner by domestication : but neither climate nor food can transmute an ass into a horse, or a buffalo into an ox.
These new immigrants were no longer exclusively members of the Nordic race as were the earlier ones who came of their own impulse to improve their social conditions. The transportation lines advertised America as a land flowing with milk and honey and the European governments took the opportunity to unload upon careless, wealthy and hospitable America the sweepings of their jails and asylums. The result was that the new immigration, while it still included many strong elements from the north of Europe, contained a large and increasing number of the weak, the broken and the mentally crippled of all races drawn from the lowest stratum of the Mediterranean basin and the Balkans, together with hordes of the wretched, submerged populations of the Polish Ghettos.
Our jails, insane asylums and almshouses are filled with this human flotsam and the whole tone of American life, social, moral and political has been lowered and vulgarized by them. With a pathetic and fatuous belief in the efficacy of American institutions and environment to reverse or obliterate immemorial hereditary tendencies, these newcomers were welcomed and given a share in our land and prosperity….
The result of unlimited immigration is showing plainly in the rapid decline in the birth rate of native Americans because the poorer classes of Colonial stock, where they still exist, will not bring children into the world to compete in the labor market with the Slovak, the Italian, the Syrian and the Jew. The native American is too proud to mix socially with them and is gradually withdrawing from the scene, abandoning to these aliens the land which he conquered and developed.
The man of the old stock is being crowded out of many country districts by these foreigners just as he is to-day being literally driven off the streets of New York City by the swarms of Polish Jews. These immigrants adopt the language of the native American, they wear his clothes, they steal his name and they are beginning to take his women, but they seldom adopt his religion or understand his ideals and while he is being elbowed out of his own home the American looks calmly abroad and urges on others the suicidal ethics which are exterminating his own race.
In Massachusetts the birth-rate of foreign-born women is two and one-half times as high as the birth-rate among the native-bom; in New Hampshire two times; in Rhode Island one and one-half times, the most prolific of the alien stocks being Poles, Polish and Russian Jews, South Italians, and French-Canadians. What this may mean after a few generations is indicated by a calculation made by the biologist Davenport, who stated that, at present rates of reproduction, 1,000 Harvard graduates of to-day would have only fifty descendants two centuries hence, whereas 1,000 Rumanians today in Boston, at their present rate of breeding, would have 100,000 descendants in the same space of time.
To return to the more general aspect of the problem, it is clear that both in Europe and America the quality of the population is deteriorating, the more intelligent and talented strains being relatively or absolutely on the decline. Now this can mean nothing lees than a deadly menace both to civilization and the race.
In the United States it has been the same story. Our country, originally settled almost exclusively by Nordics, was toward the close of the nineteenth century invaded by hordes of immigrant Alpines and Mediterraneans, not to mention Asiatic elements like Levantines and Jews. As a result, the Nordic native American has been crowded out with amazing rapidity by these swarming, prolific aliens, and after two short generations he has in many of our urban areas become almost extinct.
The racial displacements induced by a changed economic or social environment are, indeed, almost incalculable. Contrary to the popular belief, nothing is more unstable than the ethnic make-up of a people. Above all, there is no more absurd fallacy than the shibboleth of the “melting-pot.” As a matter of fact, the melting-pot may mix but does not melt. Each race-type, formed ages ago, and “set” by millenniums of isolation and inbreeding, is a stubbornly persistent entity. Each type possesses a special set of characters: not merely the physical characters visible to the naked eye, but moral, intellectual, and spiritual characters as well. All these characters are transmitted substantially unchanged from generation to generation.
To be sure, where members of the same race-stock intermarry (as English and Swedish Nordics, or French and British Mediterraneans), there seems to be genuine amalgamation. In most other cases, however, the result is not a blend but a mechanical mixture. Where the parent stocks are very diverse, as in matings between whites, negroes, and Amerindians, the offspring is a mongrel — a walking chaos, so consumed by his jarring heredities that he is quite worthless. We have already viewed the mongrel and his works in Latin America.
Here is Karl Pearson in 1925 looking at Jewish immigration into Britain:
What is definitely clear, however, is that our alien Jewish boys do not form from the standpoint of intelligence a group markedly superior to the natives. But that is the sole condition under which we are prepared to admit that immigration should be allowed. Taken on the average, and regarding both sexes, this alien Jewish population is somewhat inferior physically and mentally to the native population. It is not so markedly inferior as some of those who wish to stop all immigration are inclined to assert. But we have to face the facts; we know and admit that some of the children of these alien Jews from the academic standpoint have done brilliantly, whether they have the staying powers of the native race is another question*. No breeder of cattle, however, would purchase an entire herd because he anticipated finding one or two fine specimens included in it; still less would he do it, if his byres and pastures were already full.
Far from being relegated to some musty corner of intellectual life, the Stoddard tradition, the tradition in which Jason Richwine stands, proved to be an influential force in world history. The Stoddard tradition gave us forced sterilization, “euthanasia” programs, miscegenation bans, and, ultimately, the Holocaust.
One might oppose the Stoddard tradition strictly on its tendency to birth suffering, misery, and catastrophe. But one can oppose it for simpler reasons — its practitioners have a nasty habit of being wrong. Harvard still stands. The Jews of Poland seem to understand American ideas quite well. And it was not the darker races who threatened civilization, but the cannibal Nordics rampaging under the Nazi flag. History has been deeply unkind to Jason Richwine’s spiritual ancestors. It’s comforting to think that the academics who show no interest in the “dark arts” do so out of fear of the leftist cabal. More likely, they do so to avoid being associated with a specious field of study whose primary contributions to the world include justifying slavery and inspiring genocide.
Which is not to say these authors should not be read. Pearson is especially instructive. In 1925, he claimed the Jews immigrating to Britain threatened to become a “parasitic race.” Under similar thinking, Jews were subsequently subjected to college quotas throughout America. Today, the descendants of Pearson tell us that Jews are the intellectual cream of the genetic crop.
This is what Barbara and Karen Fields mean when they talk about “racecraft.” Power must justify itself. When it is proven wrong, it simply recalibrates. Conditions and actions are explained away as the inalterable work of genetics. Yesterday’s yellow peril becomes today’s model minority. In the 1930s Jews dominated basketball because of their “Oriental background” and “flashy trickiness.” Today blacks dominate it through their animal strength and agility.
You see this shifting in Weigel’s own article, where we are told that Richwine is looking into “race.” But Hispanics are considered an ethnic group, not a race. That is because we have trouble explaining why Matt Yglesias, Sophia Vegara, Carmelo Anthony, Rosario Dawson, and Charlie Rangel can be said to comprise a separate “race.” One should also have trouble explaining why Walter White, Whoopi Goldberg, Djimon Hounsou, Jay Smooth, Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, and I are all the same “race.”
These people do share something in common — their geographic ancestry makes them potential targets of white racism. If there is any fact we are warned away from, this is it. Richwine’s theories originate from a long tradition of white racism, the tradition of Grant, Stoddard, and Pearson. But to say this is to indict an insupportable portion of our own history and traditions. It is to remind us that the differences between us were constructed by men who sought power, and are maintained just the same.
Don’t worry, black people! This is how we treat everyone who is not a savarna Indian male.
Masonda Ketanda Olivier’s brutal murder, 15 minutes before his birthday, has been all over the news. But Olivier’s death is only one in a string of attacks on black people in India. On May 29, six more black people hailing from Uganda, South Africa, and Nigeria were attacked in Mehrauli in three different incidents. The alleged motivation for these attacks is that the victims committed the crime of playing loud music and drinking publicly, privileges that are apparently only reserved for rich South Delhi boys in SUVs with “Jatt Pride” and “Gujjar4Eva” stickers.
Earlier this year, a mob in Bengaluru brutally attacked and stripped a Tanzanian woman because she happened to be driving down a road where a Sudanese man had run down a local half an hour prior. Different gender, different nationality, no relation to the accident, but I guess when you’re a mob looking for someone to lynch, being black is crime enough.
Anti-blackness has always been a problem in India, but in typical desi fashion, it’s something we’d rather sweep under the carpet. After the Bengaluru attack, one DailyO columnist claimed it wasn’t racist because, basically, we’re not white so we can’t be racist. The Minister of State for Culture and Tourism Mahesh Sharma dismissed Olivier’s murder by saying “even Africa is not safe”, a statement so blasé that it makes me wonder if he’s actually human. And when envoys to India from 42 African nations protested the racist violence by boycotting Africa Day, Sushma Swaraj responded by saying that the government is launching a sensitisation programme to reiterate that such “incidents embarrass the country.” That’s right. Racist violence isn’t the problem here; it’s the fact that such headlines might besmirch the government’s India Shining 2.0 narrative. Meanwhile, in a time-honoured tradition, Delhi residents lay the blame squarely at the victims’ feet because they disregard “local culture”, something Indians neverdo when they’re abroad or even visiting other parts of the country.
Anti-blackness is so pervasive in our society that even Gandhi in his early years was a proponent, separating the South African Indian community’s struggle for freedom from that of the Zulus and writing that “about the mixing of the Kaffirs (blacks) with the Indians, I must confess I feel most strongly.” Much of this relates to a historical identification with European – and later American – elites, as Indians dealt with the experience of colonisation by pretending that at least they’re higher up the ladder than blacks. For Indians who continue to aspire to be counted alongside the largely white elites of the first world, internalising the racist attitudes of that elite is only natural. Combine this with our indigenous form of “colourism”, inspired by the caste system and the association of fair skin with Brahmins and other upper-caste elites, and you’ve got a country that treats darkness like a disease, at best. At its worst, it leads to dehumanisation and eventually, violence.
Much of the blame for this lies with Indian pop culture and media, which have consistently reinforced such toxic ideas in the Indian mainstream. Enough has been written about fairness cream ads and the colourism they promote, but I feel compelled to mention Pond’s 2009 epic in five parts “White Beauty”, which features an artificially “darkened” Priyanka Chopra’s struggle to win back her ex-beau Saif Ali Khan from a much fairer Neha Dhupia. Then there’s the series of ads for Parle’s LMN drinks, which feature black men in loincloths in the desert trying their best to get a sip of water, a perfect example of egregious racism that didn’t generate a tenth of the outrage the recent Coldplay video did. But these would all be outdone by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s print ad for a jewellery brand that featured her decked up as a white colonial aristocrat under a red parasol held up by an emaciated black child. Racism, colonial aspirations and an endorsement of child-slavery, all rolled up into one particularly offensive package. Well done, Ash.
It is perfectly acceptable to use Snoop Dogg to lend authenticity to Bollywood rap songs and shamelessly rip off black music for decades, even as we use black stereotypes for slapstick punch lines.
To be fair to our advertising industry, they’ve been late-comers to the racism game. Bollywood, as ever, has been the pioneer. Whether it’s the routine use of darker-skinned – and more recently, black – actors as nameless thugs, the ignorant stereotyping of Africans as primitive tribals, or the persistent use of “blackface”, our film industry pulls no punches. I’m not sure how the racist American minstrel tradition of blackface made its way to Bollywood, but you can see it in songs like Mr India’s “Hawa Hawai”, and the incredibly offensive video for Vishwatma’s “Saat Samundar Paar”.
More recently, there’s the National Award-winning Fashion, in which Priyanka Chopra plays a model whose descent into drugs and depravity finally hits rock bottom when she wakes up one morning next to *gasp* a black man! (Co-incidentally, Priyanka would go on to star in Quantico and complain about the racism she faced in the US. Of course.) And no discussion of racism in Indian cinema will be complete without this horrendous over-the-top scene from 2000’s Hadh Kar Di Aapne, which is more racist than a KKK rally. I can’t explain this one, you’ll just have to watch and then fight the urge to hunt down and kill everyone involved with this scene.
This knee-jerk racism hasn’t, of course, stopped us from appropriating black culture when convenient. It is perfectly acceptable to use Snoop Dogg to lend authenticity to Bollywood rap songs and shamelessly rip off black music for decades, even as we use black stereotypes for slapstick punch lines. Even in articles deploring such racism, our media uses the grossly inaccurate coinage “African nationals”, reducing a racially and culturally diverse continent to one skin colour. And before you pat yourself on the back for being more enlightened than that, let me point out that your supposedly liberal social circle isn’t much better.
My Facebook feed is full of people making fun of contemporary African American Vernacular English (AAVE) slang like “bae” or “on fleek”, even as they happily use words like “cool” and “hip” – which also come from black American culture, but have been sanitised by decades of white usage. Then there’s the electronica producer I know from Delhi, who regularly used to bring hashish back to Bombay to sell to his fellow students. He was trying to defend the 2014 raids on Khirki Extension’s black residents by AAP’s Somnath Bharti, who accused them of running a drugs and prosecution racket. This supposedly “culturally literate” producer told me that the raids were warranted, because whenever he and his friends called for coke at their parties – usually playing techno, a style of music with origins that are decidedly black and political – it was always a black dealer who turned up. Bravo, my friend! I couldn’t dream up a better example of Indian racism and hypocrisy if I tried.
The reason I’m going on about this is that accepting our racism problem is the only way we will begin to think about solving it. Our unwillingness to acknowledge this racism (one of my cousins explained his attitude by resorting to that oldest of racist apologetics – genes) means that this violence is only likely to grow worse. But, as this online webcomic points out, there is a bright side. As India grows increasingly intolerant, our treatment of black people increasingly aligns with the way we treat other India’s disenfranchised minorities. Don’t worry, black people in India! We’re only treating you as we treat the rest of us. At least those that aren’t privileged savarna males.
Bhanu Kappal: Bhanuj Kappal writes about music, culture, and anti-nationals. After doing a bunch of odd jobs in the culture industry, he’s now decided to be a freelance journalist, and live at the mercy of newspapers’ accounts departments. Will write for food.
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 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-India, Buffalo 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.