SACW | Feb. 19-22 , 2009 / Bangladesh: Ekushey / Nepal: Media / India: Threats to Secularism / Tributes to Victor Kiernan
aiindex at gmail.com
Sat Feb 21 19:07:45 CST 2009
South Asia Citizens Wire | February 19-22, 2009 | Dispatch No. 2607 -
Year 11 running
[This issue of SACW is dedicated to the memory of the Victor Kiernan,
the prominent historian and friend of South Asia. Large numbers of
non urdu speaking South Asians first read and discovered the works of
Faiz and Iqbal through their English translations by the great Victor
 Bangladesh: In the spirit of Ekushey fight for a secular state
(Editorial, New Age)
 Nepal: CPJ Letter to the Prime Minister re unpunished attacks on
the Media and Media workers
 Sri Lanka: Book Review - Asoka Bandarage's "The Separatist
Conflict in Sri Lanka" (Reviewed by Mahes Ladduwahetty)
 India: Stand up for free speech as defined in the secular
constitiution, not as defined by the mullahs (Vir Sanghvi)
 India: Hindu Spiritual Leaders Demand Dropping of Word Secular
from Indian Constitution!
 UK: Women Against Fundamentalism Needed More Than Ever (Rahila
 V G Kiernan (1913 - 2009) : Three Tributes
(i) Obituary - Victor Kiernan (Eric Hobsbawm)
(ii) Victor Kiernan: A tribute (Tariq Ali)
(iii) Illusion Of An Epoch - Victor Kiernan: historian and
India’s friend (Rudrangshu Mukherjee)
 Literature / Disapora : A book review of Peggy Mohan’s
"Jahajin" (Aditi Bhaduri)
- Urgent Meeting with Sikkim Activists (New Delhi, 23 February 2009)
New Age, 21 February 2009
THE SPIRIT OF EKUSHEY YET TO BE FULLY REALISED
Though the central premise of our historic language movement more
than half a century back was the establishment of our mother tongue
as one of the state languages of Pakistan, the movement was
essentially part of a larger struggle for the realisation of our
secular-democratic rights. And while the language movement was
largely successful given that it thwarted the sinister designs of our
rulers in the western wing to declare Urdu as the only state language
of Pakistan, our struggle for a secular-democratic state required
many more movements to be waged, and culminated in our glorious war
of liberation through which Bangladesh gained independence.
Unfortunately, however, the successes of our struggles against our
Pakistani occupiers have not resulted in the unimpeded and unhindered
enjoyment by the free people of Bangladesh of the secular-democratic
rights for which so many had fought so valiantly. Instead, the spirit
of the language movement — which began as a student movement but soon
grew into a mass movement as the common people realised that the
language issue was inextricable from their freedom and dignity — has
unfortunately been lost in our ritualistic commemoration of Amar
Ekushey throughout the month of February, and particularly on this
day each year.
If we are to truly commemorate Amar Ekushey and pay homage to
those who laid down their lives on this day over half a century ago,
we should give manifestation to the real spirit of the language
movement. Therefore, the proper commemoration of Amar Ekushey will
entail that we strengthen our fight for a secular state against all
forms of communalism and discrimination, regardless of how entrenched
the instruments of communalism and discrimination may be. It entails
that we fight against all forms of exploitation — political, economic
and social — no matter how difficult the odds of prevailing in that
fight may seem. And it entails that we continue to fight to establish
and to sustain democracy, no matter how impure and imperfect that
democracy is. Only when we are able to establish a secular democracy
with equality and justice for all can we claim to live up to the
spirit and the hope of Amar Ekushey.
Moreover, February 21 is now recognised by the United Nations,
and celebrated around the world, as the International Mother Language
Day — which is a recognition of all languages, large and small, and
the right of all people to speak in their mother tongue. We should
never forget that Bangla is not the mother tongue of all the people
of Bangladesh. Many other languages are spoken by the different
ethnic minority communities and our government has a responsibility
to protect and promote those languages just as it has the
responsibility to protect and promote Bangla. We urge the government
to take that responsibility seriously.
 CPJ CONCERNED ABOUT RISE IN UNPUNISHED ATTACKS IN NEPAL
Committee to Protect Journalists
330 7th Avenue, 11th Floor
New York, NY 10001
February 17, 2009
Rt. Honorable Prime Minister of Nepal, Pushpa Kamal Dahal
Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers
Dear Prime Minister Dahal:
On December 29, your government signed an agreement with local press
freedom group the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), ending a
week of protest by journalists against a series of attacks on media
outlets which peaked in late December. That agreement promised that
those attacks would be addressed.
Yet nearly two months on, conditions for journalists continue to
deteriorate. Your government must urgently address the climate of
impunity for violence against journalists that threatens Nepal's media.
Involvement by cadres of your Maoists' Unified Communist Party of
Nepal or their supporters is suspected in the 2008 murder of
Janadisha editor and Maoist activist J.P. Joshi, who reported on
local party disputes, and the 2007 killing of Birendra Shah in Bara
district, central Nepal. Local journalists and civil society groups
investigating January's brutal killing of radio and print journalist
Uma Singh, in Janakpur in the Terai plains region, now suspect local
Maoists had a hand in her death, too. Among other suggested motives,
including a family dispute over land, Nepal's National Human Rights
Commission suspects she was silenced by Maoist workers, who allegedly
abducted and murdered her father and brother in 2006, according to
the My Republica news Web site.
Nepal places eighth on CPJ's Impunity Index, which tallies countries
that consistently fail to prosecute journalist murders. As the leader
of the coalition government, and as head of your party, you have a
unique responsibility for reversing this trend. We urge you to obtain
justice in older murder cases, such as that of Dailekh district's
state Radio Nepal correspondent Dekendra Raj Thapa, who many local
journalists believe was murdered by Maoists in August 2004. Although
Thapa's body was discovered and exhumed last year, his killers have
not yet been brought to justice.
Non-fatal but nonetheless gravely serious attacks on the press are
reported with alarming frequency by media outlets and local press
freedom groups throughout Nepal. Often targeting Nepali-language
media and taking place outside the capital, Kathmandu, these
incidents do not always draw the attention of the international
community. Fear of repetition or escalation of these attacks breeds
self-censorship among journalists, who sometimes avoid publicizing
violent acts beyond their local communities.
Kathmandu-based newspapers are emphasizing the climate of fear
building in the media community nationwide as reports of these
attacks accumulate. "Things were never this bad for the Nepali media:
not in the conflict years, not even during the royal emergency,"
according to Kailali district FNJ leader Dirgharaj Upadhyay in a
recent Nepali Times editorial. "It was much easier to fight the ham-
handed autocrat king," veteran journalist Kanak Mani Dixit wrote on
My Republica, highlighting "an infrastructure of impunity and absence
of accountability that is more entrenched than ever before."
When your government acknowledges these incidents, it denies
involvement. Yet unpunished violence by Maoist sympathizers
contributes to an environment in which acts of aggression against
journalists--whether overtly politicized or otherwise--appear to be
sanctioned by your leadership. Both the frequency and the methods
used in attacks carried out by your supporters provide a model for
those undertaken by other political and criminal groups. This
seriously undermines the rule of law, and negates your public efforts
to negotiate peace with militant groups in the Terai region. They, in
turn, embrace the same tactics.
In public comments you all but dismissed December's attack on the
offices of the prominent publisher Himalmedia in Lalitpur, near
Kathmandu, carried out by a group described in local news reports as
Maoist trade unionists. Two days after that attack, members of a
youth group belonging to the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist
Leninist--a member of your coalition government--set fire to
thousands of copies of Ankush daily in Parsa district, according to
local news reports. The group stormed the paper's offices after it
published an article about the party's local government
representative. "You can't publish whatever you like," they told the
staff, according to a report on the Kantipur Online Web site.
This week, a group of students followed that approach. "We could do
anything against those writing and airing news against us," the
students, who were not given a political affiliation in published
reports, told staff at Tinau FM radio in Rupandehi district when they
seized control of station offices for an hour on February 10,
according to Kantipur Online. They had taken issue with a news item
about a student charged with vandalism, according to Kantipur and the
local branch of the Federation of Nepali Journalists. The same day,
students also broke into the offices of Mechikali newspaper, where
they burned 1,000 copies of the newspaper for carrying the same
story, according to the reports.
"Five journalists around the country presently face credible death
threats," Dixit wrote on February 2 for My Republica. His brother,
Kunda Dixit, was among those targeted in the Himalmedia attack. On
February 3, journalists in Saptari district in the Terai plains
staged a protest against the local administration for failing to
arrest an activist belonging to a local Terai armed group. Jitendra
Khadka, a local correspondent for Kantipur Publications, said a
person identifying himself as the activist had threatened to kill him
over a report he had written about a clash between the group's
supporters and local businessmen, but police did not follow up.
Saptari journalists have since censored stories about armed groups,
according to a My Republica report. "There [has] never been such
widespread self-censorship here," according to the Republica report,
published February 10 from Janakpur in the wake of Uma Singh's
murder. "Panic-stricken women journalists in the region are starting
to quit their profession," according to a Kantipur Online report on
Until your government takes the lead to instigate thorough
investigations and prosecutions of attacks on journalists, anyone
with a grievance against the media will be emboldened to terrorize
news outlets and their staff. If the media succumbs to this
intimidation, the country's attempts to establish democracy will have
proven a failure.
Justices at the Patan Appellate Court awarded 15,000 rupees (US$200)
in compensation to journalist Mina Tiwari Sharma on February 10 after
determining she was wrongfully held in 2002 during the state of
emergency declared by the former king of Nepal, according to local
news reports. The editor of Eikyavaddatha newspaper was held along
with several journalists accused of links with Maoist groups. During
Nepal's decade-long civil war, many news outlets strove for
objectivity, incorporating the then-rebel Maoist viewpoint, to the
point where it endangered their security.
Bringing justice to individual journalists who were imprisoned in the
past is an appropriate way for your government to redress these
wrongs. The same applies to present-day crimes against the press.
Prosecute those who attack journalists, across the political and
social spectrum, so that journalists who express the same objectivity
today are not persecuted. We look forward to your reply.
 Sri Lanka:
18 February 2009
Book Review :
THE SEPARATIST CONFLICT IN SRI LANKA - TERRORISM, ETHNICITY,
Author: Asoka Bandarage
279pp, Routledge, Contemporary South Asia Series
Dr. Mahes Ladduwahetty
Dr. Asoka Bandarage’s timely book on the Sri Lankan conflict was
launched on February 4, 2009, under the auspices of the Georgetown
University’s Mortara Center for International Studies and the South
Asia Forum. She was introduced by Dr. Joseph A. Ferrara, Associate
Dean of the Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute where Dr.
Bandarage teaches. Dr. Bandarage’s address at this well attended
event covered the salient sections of her book, taking the political
history of the conflict from pre-Independence, through the post-
Independence years and into the current period with its new
possibilities of a resolution.
There has been a significant dearth of scholarly works on the Sri
Lankan conflict, and Dr. Bandarage’s book helps fill that vacuum.
While its target is basically the academic community of political
scientists, it is also an immensely readable book that relates a
gripping tale to the lay reader interested in this conflict. She
takes the reader through the historical underpinnings of the
conflict, its British colonial history, the background events that
led to the 1983 riots, the Indian intervention and its failure, and
into the current internationalization of the conflict with its
ramifications. It deals with the multiple actors, political, military
and diplomatic, both internal and external, who entered the stage
during the period covering the nearly 4 decades in which the LTTE was
called to arms by Tamil political leaders; leaders who continue to be
described by supporters as being "moderates’ and ‘Gandhian’ despite
the LTTE’s modus operandi of violence of the most ruthless kind. The
several cycles of the LTTE’s near defeat and revival, coupled with
the entrance of international conflict resolution players such as the
Norwegians who actively aided the LTTE, as well as the cycles of war
and ceasefire/negotiations that have been experienced by the Sri
Lankan people with hope and anguish in turn, all in the background of
successive Sri Lankan governments with their political agendas as
well as partisan politics, are dealt with and analyzed.
Dr. Bandarage’s new and significant contribution towards
understanding the Sri Lankan conflict lies in the broadening of its
perspective which generally had been presented and understood,
especially internationally, as a straightforward bipolar, ethnic
situation involving the Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority of Sri
Lanka, and which therefore needed, as has been proposed thus far, a
bipolar solution. Dr. Bandarage explores and presents the rationale
to support a new, more complex multipolar model. Woven into it,
through addressing both history and the several actors involved are
the various issues of contention, like language, caste, and
socioeconomic factors that contribute to the complexity of the
conflict. What emerges is thus a model of still growing complexity
with its interacting local, national and regional (India/Tamil Nadu),
as well as international components. She draws attention to the role
today, of the Tamil diaspora as the LTTE’s financiers and
propagandists, as well as to a new ‘Third sector’ comprising the NGOs
and INGOs with their humanitarian focus and links with the LTTE’s
propaganda network, leading to increasing impact on the international
sectors’ understanding of and reaction to the conflict. Likewise,
the international news media influenced by connections with the
LTTE’s propaganda machine is serving as the lens through which the
world is being presented the image of the Sri Lankan conflict. The
book serves as an eye opener, broadening the perspective of the
conflict to include aspects which had been kept peripheral in the
debate thus far.
Most importantly, Dr. Bandarage has brought into the equation the new
factors that have serious impact on the political resolution of the
conflict. Policy makers need to take into account the more complete
story presented by her. The Think-Tank communities have remained
somewhat static in their mind-set of a federal/confederal model for
resolution of what is deemed to be a purely ‘ethnic’ conflict. That
in the Sri Lankan context, the devolved or federated regions
envisioned in these models have been designed in order to satisfy
only the LTTE and the Tamil people, and that the existential ground
realities would not make such models be viewed with satisfaction by
Sri Lanka’s other communities, especially the majority community,
have not been given adequate consideration by the conflict resolution
experts. Especially, in light of complexity of the interplaying
factors as well as the changing and emerging demographics in the
island, the author emphasizes a need for policy makers and those who
influence them to look at other solutions of a more integrated nature.
One question I would have liked to have seen addressed is the
revisionist history of Sri Lanka that has emerged in the last 2-3
decades, with wild claims now made that even Kandy was a Tamil
kingdom. With the Internet being the current information resource,
with repetition, lies become transformed into fact in Goebellian
fashion, and find their way into encyclopedias. Hopefully, Dr.
Bandarage or another expert in Sri Lanka’s political history will
address this problem.
Dr. Bandarage’s book could not have been published at a more critical
time. The world’s attention on Sri Lanka these days is riveted via
media slants on the humanitarian drama of the several thousand Tamil
civilians trapped into providing a ‘human shield’ for the LTTE’s last
battle with the Sri Lankan security forces, in a shrinking wedge of
land on the North-Eastern coast of Sri Lanka. The civilians provide
the LTTE’s ticket to another ceasefire, and to their hope of taking
the fight to another round of re-arming and re-fitting, with the aim
to confront Sri Lanka’s security forces yet again at another distant
date. LTTE propaganda has concurrently reached a new level of
intensity. The book therefore covers a topic of current international
interest. In the coincidence of this book’s publication with the new
Obama administration taking office in the USA, it should also serve
as a useful resource for policy makers to look afresh at the Sri
Lankan conflict and its political resolution.
The hardcover edition is high-priced and therefore affordable mainly
by libraries of Universities and other academic institutions with
interests in the South Asian region. There is a demand for a
Paperback Edition, and the possibility that one may soon be out is
great news. It is a book for every student of Sri Lankan politics and
history, and in fact is one that Sri Lankans should have on their
bookshelves as an information resource and reminder of a segment of
history that must never be allowed to repeat.
 India: Defend free speech as defined in the constitiution, not as
defined by religious fanatics
Hindustan Times, February 21, 2009
STAND UP TO THE MULLAHS
If you have missed the controversy that led to the arrest of the
editor of The Statesman in Calcutta for offending religious
sentiments — which you might have, because the national media
downplayed the issue — then here’s what it is about.
The Statesman reproduced an article by Johann Hari, the young liberal
British commentator, from The Independent. Hari’s politics are clear:
he stands up for secularism (for which he has won awards), tolerance
(he has defended Islam against such critics as Mark Steyn) and
The column in question was about attempts by the governments of some
Islamic states to alter the UN’s commitment to free speech. These
governments argue that free speech must be restricted on grounds of
offence to religion and that discussions of certain issues relating
to the rights of women must be curtailed because they could be anti-
Hari makes the obvious objections to all of this and then says that
religion can often be oppressive. So, why should people be stopped
from speaking out against it? He quotes examples of regressive
practices from all religions and says that just because these occur
in accounts of the lives of gods, messiahs or prophets, that does not
make them above criticism.
Who could possibly object to that?
Well, a small section of politically-motivated Islamic fanatics in
Calcutta, that’s who.
As the people who rioted did not seem like typical Statesman readers
(they were not genteel Bengalis, aged 60 and above), it is a fair
assumption that some cynical leader of an extreme faction of the
Muslim community told his followers about the ‘grave insult to Islam”
and sent them off to riot.
The CPI(M) government then arrested The Statesman’s editor and
publisher. But the arrest — though clearly unjustified — seems to
have been largely symbolic. They were quickly released and the mobs,
satisfied that “action had been taken”, melted away.
Several points need to be made about the incident.
First: The article itself. There is not one line in Hari’s piece that
I would disagree with. If religions deserve respect, then so does
atheism. Followers of religions have every right to their views and
practices. But so do atheists have the right to criticise religion.
Nothing in this world is above criticism.
Two: The rioters said they were offended by a passage in the article
where Hari referred to the Prophet’s marriage to a much younger woman
and his directive to burn Jewish villages. (In all fairness, he was
as critical of other religions and of the Israeli assault on the West
The rioters say that nobody can criticise any aspect of the Prophet’s
There’s no shortage of books and articles criticising Jesus,
suggesting that he might have been secretly married (as in The
DaVinci Code), arguing that the resurrection was a hoax or that Mary
was never a virgin.
Similarly, would mainstream Hindus be offended if somebody wrote that
Hindu mythology features practices that we would find abhorrent
today: one wife for five husbands as in the Mahabharat, the
compulsive philandering of Krishna or the appalling mistreatment of
Sita (the agni pariksha etc)?
Some Hindu extremists may protest but I doubt if they would get very
far with their objections. The community, as a whole, would shrug its
shoulders and many Hindus will agree with the critics.
And yet, it is an article of faith with Muslims — even moderate ones
— that the Prophet’s life is beyond reproach.
Does this make any sense?
Three: It is now clear that the liberal society has been suckered
into relaxing its standards for free speech by militant Islamists.
Let’s take the most obvious example. Every liberal I know is outraged
by the attacks on MF Husain. Why shouldn’t he paint nude Saraswatis?
That’s his right. If people are offended by the paintings, they
shouldn’t see them.
So far, so good. But now imagine that Husain had painted an extremely
reverential portrait of the Prophet. (Never mind cartoons, nude
There would have been riots. And even secular liberals would not have
We would have said: Islam prohibits any visual representation of the
Prophet so Husain has committed a great crime.
But so what if Muslims cannot visually represent their Prophet? Why
should non-Muslims be bound by their religious edicts? Why should non-
believing Muslims be forced by liberal society to obey the
restrictions of their religion?
Believers should follow what the Holy Book and the mullahs say. But
why should the rest of us? Why should we abandon our right to free
Nobody I know has ever explained why the double standards are justified.
Four: The reason we are suckered into accepting these double
standards is because Muslim politicians play good cop-bad cop.
Look, they say, we are all for freedom of speech. But if you say
anything that the fanatics object to, then they will take to the
streets, burn property and hurt innocent people. We will do our best
to pacify our community, but you must remove any provocation that
will cause the hardliners to revolt.
Turn this around. How would Muslims have reacted if Hindu moderates
had said to them: Look, we think this whole Ram Janmbhoomi thing is
nonsense. But the BJP will gain support on this platform. So why
don’t you agree to move the Babri Masjid? It’s not even a functioning
mosque. That way, we remove the provocation and rid the hardliners of
their issue and ensure communal harmony.
Well, Hindu moderates did say this. And we know how moderate Muslim
Five: The real reason we give in to Islamic fanatics is the desire
for a peaceful life or, to put it another way, cowardice.
Every one of their objections is always framed in terms of violence.
Ban The Satanic Verses or we will kill Salman Rushdie. Apologise for
the Danish cartoons or we will offer a reward for the head of the
cartoonist. Arrest the editor of the Statesman or we will shut
Calcutta down by rioting in the streets.
Faced with these threats, we abandon our principles and say things
like, “Come on, is a single article worth the death of so many
people?” or “Let’s just ban the book, otherwise these guys will keep
The fanatics know this. They have identified the cowardice at the
heart of our liberalism. So every demand is a) pitched in terms of
protecting the religious sentiments of the Muslim community or b)
facing murder, mayhem and more.
Almost every single time, we cave in.
Either we say that Islam is a peaceful religion.
Or we get death threats.
And finally: Isn’t it time to finally stand up to these thugs and
blackmailers? It is up to the Muslim community to rein in its
fanatics and some moderates are indeed trying to do this.
But as far as secular society is concerned, our position should be
clear. We believe in free speech as guaranteed by our Constitution,
not as defined by the mullahs.
Anything less would be a betrayal of the liberal, secular values we
[The above article is also available at: http://www.sacw.net/
 India: Secularism Under Attack
What do ’Hindu’ spiritual leaders talk when they meet?
Seers Demand Dropping of Word Secular from Indian Constitution!
by Ram Puniyani, 20 February 2009
What do spiritual leaders talk when they meet? One thought it may be
the matters pertaining to the ‘other world’ that is the focus of
their attention, away from the profane World, which is the matter of
concern for ordinary people. One thought they may be deliberating on
the issues of moral values of the religion. But it seems that is not
the case. Recently when many of them met in Mumbai they showed that
the saffron garb is the mere exterior, this color of renunciation and
piety, is no representative of their political core. On the top of
that they use saffron color to hide their sectarian ideas and narrow
politics in the name of religion. The only difference in their case
being that their politics is couched in the language of religion.
That their ideas are full ‘Hate’ for others, unlike the values
Hinduism which teaches us Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam (whole World is my
family). This got revealed once more.
Recently many a chiefs of Akharas and other assorted Saints came
together at the First Conference of Dharma Raksha Manch (29th Jan
2009) in Mumbai. They were brought together by Vishwa Hindu Parishad,
apparently for the agenda was Combating terrorism. They called for
dropping the word secular from Indian constitution and replacing it
with word religious. They Ram Temple, Malegaon blasts, terrorism, and
amongst other things and demanded that they need Manu’s parliament
and not Christ’s. They drew attention to terrorism breeding in
Madrassa, and hit out at media for using the term Hindu terrorism.
Finally Beginning Mid Feb. (2009) they plan to take out series of
yatras (religious marches) covering large parts of the country, with
the call for ending Jihad.
Who are these assorted Holy seers, coming together on the call of
Vishwa Hindu Parishad? VHP itself is the creation of RSS in the mid
sixties. Initiative was taken by RSS chief and his close lieutenant
to get different established mutt’s to form VHP. It primarily became
a religious wing of RSS, involving the Hindu achrayas etc, and
attracted especially traders, affluent processionals and those who
did not want to openly associate with RSS, as at that time RSS stood
fully discredited in people’s eyes due to its association with
Nathuram Godse, who killed Mahatma Gandhi.
VHP got involved in the identity issues strengthening the
conservative politics and Ram temple became its central rallying
point. Along with this it called for Dharma Sansad (religious
parliament) where they stated that in the matters religious, in this
case Ram Temple, the decision of saints is above the judgement of the
courts. Place of Lord’s birth became a matter not of History but of
faith, and who else can decide these issues than these custodians of
This congregation of holy seers has taken place long after their
earlier meetings around Ram Temple issue. It seems it is their next
innings where the focus is also on terrorism apart from its earlier
concerns. At the same time they are reiterating that Indian
Constitution is not welcome; let’s go back to Manu Smriti. In a way
there is nothing new in this. The RSS politics has always been
against the Indian Constitution, against the values of secularism,
democracy as these stand by Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Right
from the time Constituent Assembly was formed, RSS opposed the same,
saying that ‘we’ already have the best of Constitutions in the form
of Manu Smirit so why a new Constitution. It was backed by eulogies
for Lord Manu by the RSS ideologue M.S. Golwalkar, who also at the
same time has heaped immense praise on the methods of Hitler. Later
K.Surshan also openly called for scrapping of Indian constitution and
bringing Manu Smriti instead.
While the saints are overtly for the subjugation of Muslims and
Christians, at the same time their agenda is to push back the concept
of equality for dalit, Adivasis and women. Interestingly RSS came up
as a reaction to social changes of caste and gender during the
freedom movement. Our national movement stood not only for freedom
but also for the transformation of caste and gender towards equality.
Barring some exceptions the concept of democracy and secularism go
hand in hand. Freedom movement was the epitome of these political and
social processes, leading to the emergence of secular India. Today
RSS has many mouths to speak and many fora to articulate its agenda.
VHP is the crude version of expressing its agenda while BJP, due to
electoral compulsions, puts the same agenda in more subtle ways.
The VHP agenda is quite striking in combing the Holy language with
profane goals. It will totally ignore the problems of ‘this World’;
the problems related to survival and Human rights and will harp on
identity issues. This brings in a politics which targets the
‘external enemies’, Muslims; Christians, and intimidates internal
sectors, dalits; Adivasis and women, of society. Its call for doing
away with the word secular is nothing new in that sense. Its demand
to do away with secular word and secular ethos shows that their
Holiness is restricted to the appearance, while they want to maintain
their social hegemony through political means. Secularism is not
against religion. The best of religious people like Maulana Abul
Kalam and Mahatma Gandhi had been secular to the core. They knew the
boundary line very well. Also they used the moral values of religion
to create bonds of fraternity (community) amongst the people of
different religions. There were others who created Hate against the
other community, and that too in the name of religion. One can cite
the parallel and opposite roles of Muslim League on one side and
Hindu Mahasabha-RSS on the other.
The seers, respected because of their Holy garb are misusing their
appearance at the service of sectarian politics, they are playing the
role of handmaidens of the divisive politics. Secularism precisely
means that secular, this-worldly, issues should be the base of
politics. So the genuine religious person like Gandhi could
distinguish between the moral values of religion which should be
adopted in life while shunning the identity related issues from
political life, "In India, for whose fashioning I have worked all my
life, every man enjoys equality of status, whatever his religion is.
The state is bound to be wholly secular." It is a matter of shame and
disgust the identity of a religion is being used to pursue the
political goals of an organization, supplementing the goals a
communal political party by appealing in the name of religion.
At the same time to further demonize the Muslims it is taking up the
issue of terrorism in lop sided manner. The slogan end of Jihad is a
way to hide the anti Muslim agenda. There is an attempt to put the
blame on Islam and Muslims for terrorism, which is totally false. A
political phenomenon is being presented as the one related to
religion. So Islamic terrorism word is acceptable to them! All
terrorist are Muslims formulation is acceptable to them. But how dare
you use the word Hindu terrorism if Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Swami
Dayanand Pande and their ilk is involved in acts of terror? In this
meet, overseen by RSS representatives, lot of anger was expressed for
the Maharashtra ATS for starting investigations against Sadhvi and
The timing of the meet and the planned Yatras is more then striking.
As we await elections, the VHP is trying to revive Ram Temple as an
issue and will also be talking of terrorism; about Afzal Guru and
will be reprimanding the state for ‘torturing’ Pragya Thakur. As a
matter of fact VHP and this motley crowd of saints is an adjunct to
the electoral goals of BJP. It articulates emotive things which BJP
will not be able to do because of election commission and the media
Of all the techniques evolved by RSS, the use of these Holy men for
political goals may be the worst insult of the Hindu religion. While
these Holy seers infinite in number, many of them have succeeded in
building up their own five star Empires, there are others who are
sitting on the top of already established mutts. What unites them
through VHP is the politics of status quo, the opposition to
democracy. We had saints, who talked against caste system and social
evils. We had Kabir, Chokha Mela, Tukaram and the lot who stood for
the problems of the poor, and now we have a breed, whose agenda is to
undermine the prevalent social evils of dowry, female infanticide,
bride burning, atrocities on dalits and Adivasis. Their goal is to
keep talking about the spirituality and religiosity which is so
different from the concerns taken up by the likes of Gandhi and the
whole the genre of Saints of Bhakti tradition in India. One hope the
people of India can see this clever game of communal politics and
differentiate the grain from the chaff.
UK: LONG AND UNFINISHED FEMINIST BATTLE AGAINST FUNDAMENTALISM
by Rahila Gupta, 21 February 2009
An all-too familiar affair
Women had been fighting fundamentalism on the streets of London for
years before The Satanic Verses
The 20th anniversary of the fatwa against Rushdie has been publicly
debated by almost the same chorus of voices, now a little older and
with some welcome recantations, that was heard then.
Dissenting women’s voices are little in evidence although it is women
who are the first to feel the chill of religious fundamentalism when
their precarious freedoms begin to atrophy. This does not mean that
these voices do not exist, just that their position can be
inconvenient for the dominant narratives driving the public debate.
Long before the wider society woke up to the problem of religious
extremism in its midst, perhaps from the mid-80s onwards, women’s
groups like Southall Black Sisters (SBS) were becoming aware of the
growing religious restrictions on the women they were seeing.
Militant Khalistanis fighting for an independent theocratic Punjab in
India were making their presence felt in Southall and life was
becoming more difficult as a result for young women on the streets.
So when the Rushdie affair broke, SBS realised that this was the not
just an isolated case of religious fervour. They organised a meeting
of white and black feminists from a range of political traditions,
ethnic and religious backgrounds which culminated in the founding of
Women Against Fundamentalism (WAF) in 1989.
The group felt strongly about the need to tackle the resurgence of
fundamentalism in all religions worldwide, partly to challenge the
demonisation of Islam by the state and the liberal intelligentsia and
partly to develop an effective strategy to fight reactionary
religious forces in all our communities. WAF had its moment in the
limelight because the media were caught up in a feeding frenzy and
were keen to cover the Rushdie affair from every possible angle.
Other campaigns against Hindu, Catholic and Jewish fundamentalism did
not get the same level of publicity. As a result it became identified
with being anti-Islamic by the anti-racist lobby who saw it as
feeding into Islamophobia, exactly the opposite of what WAF wanted to
The contradictions arising from WAF’s position of resisting racism,
sexism and religious fundamentalism were perfectly demonstrated by
the WAF picket outside parliament in 1989 – approximately 50 women
were marooned between a march of young Asian men calling for a ban on
The Satanic Verses and National Front (NF) supporters. Instead of
tackling the NF, the Asian men verbally and physically attacked WAF
which then had to rely on the police for protection whereas
previously WAF members would have been marching alongside their Asian
"brothers" against police and state racism!
The fallout from the Rushdie affair was the widespread growth of
religious identities at the expense of racial and gender identities.
Secular anti-racists began to declaim, even reclaim, their Muslim
identity. Muslim women increasingly adopted the hijab as a symbol of
pride in their religious identity, not recognising or even accepting
the fact that it set women back by placing the onus on women’s safety
on their modest dress and behaviour rather than male aggression. The
left displayed a reluctance to challenge reactionary forces within
our communities because it might be seen as racist.
The state’s response has been divided to say the least: the "fighting
extremism" agenda after 7/7 has seen the active wooing of so-called
"moderates" (often linked to extremist organisations overseas) who
may be moderate on the question of public order but certainly not on
the question of women. This has led, for instance, to an explosion of
religious schools and the growing acceptance that some form of sharia
law should be accommodated within the legal system. However, last
week it emerged from a leaked counterterrorism draft strategy that
anyone who promotes sharia law could be classed as extremist! At the
same time police officers report that the government’s terror agenda
is hampering their work on forced marriage because of the
government’s reluctance to alienate community leaders.
Pragna Patel, a founder member of WAF, reflects on how things have
changed since then: "Little did we know how far the state would go
towards appeasing demands by religionists and conceding essential
public spaces which is problematic for women and an immensely
WAF is needed now more than ever before.
 V G Kiernan (1913 - 2009) : Three Tributes
The Guardian, Wednesday 18 February 2009
OBITUARY - VICTOR KIERNAN
HISTORIAN WITH A GLOBAL VISION OF EMPIRES, MARXISM, POLITICS AND POETRY
by Eric Hobsbawm
Victor Kiernan, who has died aged 95, was a man of unselfconscious
charm and staggeringly wide range of learning. He was also one of the
last survivors of the generation of British Marxist historians of the
1930s and 1940s. If this generation has been seen by the leading
German scholar HU Wehler as the main factor behind "the global impact
of English historiography since the 1960s", it was largely due to
Victor's influence. He brought to the debates of the Communist party
historians' group between 1946 and 1956 a persistent, if always
courteous, determination to think out problems of class culture and
tradition for himself, whatever the orthodox position. He continued
to remain loyal to the flexible, open-minded Marxism of the group to
which he had contributed so much.
Most influential through his works on the imperialist era, he was
also, almost certainly, the only historian who also translated 20th-
century Urdu poets and wrote a book on the Latin poet Horace. The
latter's works he, like the distinguished Polish Marxist historian
Witold Kula, carried with him on his travels.
Like several of his contemporaries among the Marxist historians,
including Christopher Hill, Rodney Hilton and Edward Thompson, he
came from a nonconformist background. In his case it was a lower-
middle-class, actively congregationalist family in Ashton-on-Mersey,
though in his time as a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, he used
his Irish name as an excuse to justify a lack of zeal for the British
He came to Trinity College from Manchester grammar school in 1931 and
remained there for the next seven years as an exceptionally brilliant
undergraduate, research scholar and, from 1937, fellow. In 1934, the
year of his graduation (double starred first in history), he joined
the Communist party, in which he remained for the next 25 years. His
first book, British Diplomacy in China 1880-1885 (1939) announced his
consistent interest in the world outside Europe.
Unlike his Trinity comrade John Cornford, about whom he wrote with
remarkable perception, his public profile among Cambridge Communist
party members of the 1930s was low. Only those with special interests
were likely to meet him, a boyish face emerging in a dressing-gown
from among mountain ranges of books on the attic floor of Trinity
Great Court. This was because he soon took over the officially non-
existent "colonial group" from the Canadian EH Norman, later a
distinguished historian of Japan, diplomat and eventual victim of the
McCarthyite witch-hunt in the US, and first of a succession of
communist (and later ex-communist) historians who looked after the
"colonials" - overwhelmingly from south Asia - until 1939.
Marxism and the irresistible friendship of Indians moved Victor, in
1938, to use one year of his four-year Trinity fellowship to visit
the subcontinent. This was nominally "to see the political scene at
closer hand and with some schemes for historical study" and he also
had a Comintern document for the Indian CP.
He was to stay there until 1946, mainly as a teacher at a Sikh
college and, somewhat unexpectedly, at that stronghold of the raj and
its rajahs, Aitchison college, both in Lahore. He returned, "reading
Thucydides on the Peloponnesian war" in his cabin, with a cargo of
friendships, a permanent passion for the great (and progressive) Urdu
poets Iqbal and Faiz whom he translated, but with no apparent trace
in his subsequent life of a short-lived marriage to Shanta Gandhi,
whom he had got to know in London in 1938. Few of his British friends
were even aware of it, or expected to see this quintessential
bachelor don with a wife, before his fortunate second marriage in
1984 to Heather Massey.
He returned to Trinity, an unreconstructed, but always critical,
communist with vast plans for a Marxist work on Shakespeare. His
referee denounced his politics when he applied for posts at Oxford
and Cambridge universities, but - such was Britain in 1948 - did not
mind the charming subversive contaminating the history department at
Edinburgh University. There he remained until retirement from a chair
in 1977, to all appearances at ease with himself, though not, except
for some science fiction, with the post-1945 cultural world. He
returned from long bicycle rides across the Pentlands to a flat at
the top of an austere staircase in the New Town, to write - not least
the diary which he had kept since 1935 - and amaze students and
admiring friends by his surprise that they did not know as much as he.
He settled down in the 1950s to publish on everything: from
Wordsworth to Faiz, evangelicalism to mercenaries and absolute
monarchy, Indo-Central Asian problems, Paraguay and the "war of the
Pacific" of Chile, Peru and Bolivia, not forgetting a full-scale
study of the Spanish revolution of 1854. In the 1960s he discovered
his unique gift of asking historical questions, and suggesting
answers, by bringing and fitting together an unparalleled range of
erudition, constantly extended by one of the great readers of our
time. He became the master of the perfectly chosen quotation inserted
into a demure but uncompromising survey of a global scene. Nobody
else could have produced the remarkable works on the era of western
empires he wrote after the middle 1960s, and by which he will be
chiefly remembered, notably The Lords of Human Kind: Black Man,
Yellow Man and White Man in an Age of Empire (1969).
Age increased his output and the range of his writings. Co-editing A
Dictionary of Marxist Thought (1984), he wrote entries on
agnosticism, Christianity, empires in Marx's day, Hinduism,
historiography, intellectuals, Paul Lafargue, nationalism, MN Roy,
religion, revolution and war. Before the end of the 20th century he
published books on State and Society in Europe 1550-1650 (1980), The
Duel in European History (1989), Tobacco: A History (1991),
Shakespeare Poet and Citizen (1992), Eight Tragedies of Shakespeare
(1996) and Horace Poetics & Politics (1999) on his admired poet.
To mark his 90th birthday, the future general secretary of the
Communist party (Marxist) of India edited Across Time and Continents,
a selection of Victor's writings and reminiscences of the
subcontinent which had been closer to his heart than any other part
of the 20th-century world.
His wife Heather survives him.
• Victor Gordon Kiernan, historian, born 4 September 1913; died 17
o o o
(ii) VICTOR KIERNAN: MARXIST HISTORIAN, WRITER AND LINGUIST WHO
CHALLENGED THE TENETS OF IMPERIALISM
Kiernan pictured at Cambridge in 1935 with the Indian communists
Savitri and Somnath Chibber Kiernan pictured at Cambridge in 1935
with the Indian communists Savitri and Somnath Chibber
Victor Kiernan, professor emeritus of Modern History at Edinburgh
University, was an erudite Marxist historian with wide-ranging
interests that spanned virtually every continent. His passion for
history and radical politics, classical languages and world
literature was evenly divided.
His interest in languages was developed at home in south Manchester.
His father worked for the Manchester Ship Canal as a translator of
Spanish and Portuguese and young Victor picked these up even before
getting a scholarship to Manchester Grammar School, where he learnt
Greek and Latin. His early love for Horace (his favourite poet)
resulted in a later book. He went on to Trinity College, Cambridge
where he studied History, imbibed the prevalent anti-fascist outlook
and like many others joined the British Communist Party.
Unlike some of his distinguished colleagues (Eric Hobsbawm,
Christopher Hill, Rodney Hilton, Edward Thompson) in the Communist
Party Historians Group founded in 1946, Kiernan wrote a great deal on
countries and cultures far removed from Britain and Europe. A flavour
of the man is evident from the opening paragraphs of a 1989 essay on
the monarchy published in the New Left Review:
In China an immemorial throne crumbled in 1911; India put its Rajas
and Nawabs in the wastepaper-basket as soon as it gained independence
in 1947; in Ethiopia the Lion of Judah has lately ceased to roar.
Monarchy survives in odd corners of Asia; and in Japan and Britain.
In Asia sainthood has often been hereditary, and can yield a
comfortable income to remote descendants of holy men; in Europe
hereditary monarchy had something of the same numinous character. In
both cases a dim sense of an invisible flow of vital forces from
generation to generation, linking together the endless series, has
been at work. Very primitive feeling may lurk under civilized
Notions derived from age-old magic helped Europe’s ’absolute
monarchs’ to convince taxpayers that a country’s entire welfare, even
survival, was bound up with its God-sent ruler’s. Mughal emperors
appeared daily on their balcony so that their subjects could see them
and feel satisfied that all was well. Rajput princes would ride in a
daily cavalcade through their small capitals, for the same reason.
Any practical relevance of the crown to public well-being has long
since vanished, but somehow in Britain the existence of a Royal
Family seems to convince people in some subliminal way that
everything is going to turn out all right for them... Things of today
may have ancient roots; on the other hand antiques are often
forgeries, and Royal sentiment in Britain today is largely an
Kiernan’s knowledge of India was first-hand. He was there from
1938-46, establishing contacts and organising study-circles with
local Communists and teaching at Aitchison (formerly Chiefs) College,
an institution created to educate the Indian nobility along the lines
suggested by the late Lord Macaulay. What the students (mostly wooden-
headed wastrels) made of Kiernan has never been revealed, but one or
two of the better ones did later embrace radical ideas. It would be
nice to think that he was responsible: it is hard to imagine who else
it could have been. The experience taught him a great deal about
imperialism and in a set of stunningly well-written books he wrote a
great deal on the origins and development of the American Empire, the
Spanish colonisation of South America and on other European empires.
He was by now fluent in Persian and Urdu and had met Iqbal and the
young Faiz, two of the greatest poets produced by Northern India.
Kiernan translated both of them into English, which played no small
part in helping to enlarge their audience at a time when imperial
languages were totally dominant. His interpretation of Shakespeare is
much underrated but were it put on course lists it would be a healthy
antidote to the embalming.
He had married the dancer and theatrical activist Shanta Gandhi in
1938 in Bombay, but they split up before Kiernan left India in 1946.
Almost forty years later he married Heather Massey. When I met him
soon afterwards he confessed that she had rejuvenated him
intellectually. Kiernan’s subsequent writings confirmed this view.
Throughout his life he stubbornly adhered to Marxist ideas, but
without a trace of rigidity or sullenness. He was not one to pander
to the latest fashions and despised the post-modernist wave that
swept the academy in the 80s and 90s, rejecting history in favour of
trivia. Angered by triumphalist mainstream commentaries proclaiming
the virtues of capitalism he wrote a sharp rebuttal. "Modern
Capitalism and Its Shepherds" was published once again in the New
Left Review in October 1990:
Merchant capital, usurer capital, have been ubiquitous, but they have
not by themselves brought about any decisive alteration of the world.
It is industrial capital that has led to revolutionary change, and
been the highroad to a scientific technology that has transformed
agriculture as well as industry, society as well as economy.
Industrial capitalism peeped out here and there before the nineteenth
century, but on any considerable scale it seems to have been rejected
like an alien graft, as something too unnatural to spread far. It has
been a strange aberration on the human path, an abrupt mutation.
Forces outside economic life were needed to establish it; only very
complex, exceptional conditions could engender, or keep alive, the
entrepreneurial spirit. There have always been much easier ways of
making money than long-term industrial investment, the hard grind of
running a factory. J.P. Morgan preferred to sit in a back parlour on
Wall Street smoking cigars and playing solitaire, while money flowed
towards him. The English, first to discover the industrial highroad,
were soon deserting it for similar parlours in the City, or looking
for byways, short cuts and colonial Eldorados.
The current crisis would not have surprised him at all. Fictive
capital, I can hear him saying, has no future.
Victor Gordon Kiernan, historian and writer: born Manchester 4
September 1913; Married 1938 Shanta Gandhi (marriage dissolved 1946),
1984 Heather Massey; died 17 February 2009.
This article appeared earlier in The Independent, 20 February 2009
o o o
The Telegraph, February 22, 2009
ILLUSION OF AN EPOCH - Victor Kiernan (1913-2009): historian and
by Rudrangshu Mukherjee
The death of Victor Kiernan at the age of 95 a few days ago probably
represents the passing of an era. This is not because he lived well
beyond the biblical three score and ten, but because he was among the
few survivors from a group of intellectuals who formed the Historians
Group of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Most members of that
group believed that he was the most erudite and widely read among
Born in 1913, he came to Trinity College, Cambridge from Manchester
Grammar School. In Trinity, he took a double starred first in history
and won the research fellowship of the college. It was in Cambridge
that Kiernan turned to Marxism and joined the communist party in
1934. He left the party in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of
Hungary in 1956. Kiernan was part of a large exodus from the CPGB
that included Christopher Hill, Rodney Hilton, John Saville and the
two Thompsons, Edward and Dorothy. The only historian from that group
who retained his party card was Eric Hobsbawm.
Kiernan’s conversion to communism is not difficult to comprehend. To
many of his generation, the Depression made the collapse of
capitalism imminent, and Nazism seemed the ultimate menace to
civilization. Communism and Soviet Russia appeared as alternatives to
many, from historians to scientists, from Hill to Haldane. Men like
Kiernan believed then, mistakenly as history showed, that communism
and Soviet Russia offered a more humane prospect. In defence of a
more humane and civilized society, young men like John Cornford,
Kiernan’s friend from Trinity and the hero of his generation, went
out to fight in Spain and die. A few days before he died in battle —
he was only 21 — Cornford wrote in a poem from Spain: “And history
forming in our hands/ Not plasticine but roaring sands….We are the
future....’’ Similar sentiments inspired an entire generation. The
call of communism was part romantic, part rational. Above all, there
was the certainty that time and history were on their side, and the
confidence that the world could be correctly interpreted and changed.
Kiernan’s political and intellectual interests did not remain
confined to Europe and the West. In Cambridge in the Thirties, he
acted as friend, philosopher and guide to many Indians who went up to
that university, among whom were Renu Chakrabarty, Mohan
Kumaramangalam and Arun Bose. It was perhaps such friendships and his
interest in the world outside Europe that made Kiernan decide in 1938
to spend one year of his six-year fellowship in India. His original
intention was to stay in India and see the political situation for
himself. He stayed till 1946, teaching in Lahore and working closely
with the Communist Party of India, which was then headed by P.C.
Joshi whose friend Kiernan became.
The visit in 1938, however, was not entirely innocent. Kiernan
carried with him, no doubt at the behest of Rajani Palme Dutt (known
as RPD, the leader of the CPGB who ran the CPI by remote control from
London with orders from Moscow), a Comintern document. This is an
interesting sidelight on how the CPI functioned. Just as Kiernan’s
academic trip was used by the Comintern to send a secret message to
the Indian party, in 1948 when Mohit Sen went up to Cambridge as a
student, he was given by the CPI the basic documents of its new
understanding and a coded letter to RPD — both typed on very thin
paper and placed under the bottom layer of a matchbox. The party
asked Mohit to take up smoking so that his carrying a matchbox would
not appear incongruous. The poor man coughed and spluttered all the
way from Bombay to London.
Kiernan was later to recall his joy when he heard in Bombay of the
liberation of Paris from the Nazis. He, in fact, wrote a tribute on
the occasion, “an attempt to explain to Indians something of what
Paris meant to Europe”. This was to have been read over the radio by
Kumaramangalam who arrived at the radio station late and Kiernan’s
declamation went unheard.
Back in Britain, Kiernan failed to get elected to a fellowship of an
Oxbridge college as his referee denounced his ideology and politics.
He settled for a job at Edinburgh University, where he remained
professor of history for his entire working life. Kiernan’s
intellectual interests were vast — he translated Iqbal and Faiz from
Urdu; his passion was Shakespeare and late in life he wrote two books
on the bard, and another on Horace. He had a fine monograph on the
duel in European history and another on absolutism. He wrote on Spain
and China. The book for which he is best remembered is The Lords of
Human Kind: European Attitudes to the Outside World in the Imperial
Age. The title — taken from Oliver Goldsmith’s “Pride in their port,
defiance in their eye,/ I see the lords of humankind pass by” —
reflected Kiernan’s immersion in literature. The book was an
extraordinary tour d’horizon of a large theme and revealed Kiernan’s
enviable capacity to store away bits and pieces of information picked
up from his wide-ranging reading. Sherlock Holmes called such a mind
an attic but it made for very attractive history writing.
Perhaps because of his many interests, Kiernan never produced the
magnum opus he was capable of. He did not quite become the historian
of the stature of Thompson and Hill. When the latter dedicated a book
to Kiernan, the dedication read, “Wit, provocateur and generous
friend of fifty years.” The choice of words is not without significance.
Throughout his life, Kiernan retained an abiding love and interest
for India (including Pakistan). In spite of this, like many Anglo-
Saxons of his generation, he failed to appreciate the cultural
differences between India and the West. I remember one leisurely
morning at St Antony’s College, Oxford (Kiernan had come to speak at
Tapan Raychaudhuri’s South Asia History seminar), when we argued
about Wajid Ali Shah. He had just seen Shatranj ke Khiladi and kept
saying that Ray had depicted the king too sympathetically. Wajid Ali
Shah, he said, was a hopeless king. I tried to explain to him that he
was judging the Awadh ruler by Western standards of governance and
thus making the same mistake as Dalhousie and Outram. Victor winced
at being compared to imperialists but refused to see the point. He
was always affectionate and friendly and had an impish sense of
humour. He was chairing a seminar in Oxford and spotted me in the
back row. When the discussion veered round to 1857, he surprised me
and others by saying, “Dr Mukherjee, who is fielding way out in the
country, should at this point be called up to field close in.” I was
flattered and charmed by the unexpected recognition from a very
He could also be devastatingly honest about himself. When the Soviet
Union was tottering to its fall in the late Eighties, Kiernan
announced to a seminar audience in the UCLA, “All my life I have
chased an illusion” or words to this effect. This makes one wonder
what kind of relationship he had with his self-confessed acolyte, a
Malayali young man whom he taught in Edinburgh in the late Sixties.
Did that young man learn from Kiernan to be honest, to be open-minded
about his Marxism, to question and to doubt? The name of that man is
Prakash Karat. What did Karat tell Kiernan about his party’s
performance in West Bengal and in India? Was his history-telling
honest to his historian-mentor? Above all, if comrade Karat had read
with care The Lords of Human Kind, he would not look at the world
with pride in his port and defiance in his eye.
I would have loved to have asked Victor what he thought of his Indian
acolyte. The answer would have been witty, provocative and not less
 Literature and Disapora - Book Review:
ERASE & REWIND
A tale of fear and adventure, of lost homelands and new found hearths.
It was the magical land of Chinidad. Always sunny, always full of
work, where employment like food never ran out, where a sturdy roof
over one’s head was always guaranteed, and where there were promises
of no more illnesses or deaths through hunger and starvation. And it
was to this magical land of Chinidad that those like Deeda — starved
and ill, decided to make their way to, across continents and the
accursed and forbidden kala pani.
Thus begins the story of the journey and life overseas of the
community of Indians, largely missing from sociological and
anthropological discourses in India — the indentured labourers to the
West Indies, the Jahazibhais and Jahazibehens. Half-fact, half-
fiction, Peggy Mohan’s Jahajin traces the route taken by these
migrants from the village of Basti to the shores of Trinidad. In
cramped trains from Faizabad to what was then Calcutta, walking
drenched in the rain to the Hooghly, and then the three-month voyage
around the stormy Cape of Good Hope and up the Atlantic to sunny
Trinidad. And when the ship entered the sea after setting sail from
Diamond Harbour, and Deeda, who till then had known that she would
return home after earning some money, turned her head to get one last
look at the coastline that she was leaving behind her, suddenly
understood, ‘as clear as the sky, that I was never going back, that I
would live and die across the kala pani...’
Through her personal narrative and through interviews with the now
110 years old Deeda Mohan weaves a tale of fear and adventure, of
lost homelands and new found hearths. Even as Deeda, who came to
Trinidad with Mohan’s great grandmother, rewinds back to the past and
narrates in her native Bhojpuri — a Bhojpuri frozen in the time of an
immigrant’s journey — about how she negotiated new paths and forged
new identities, Mohan gets a peek into her own roots.
The emotional, physical and spatial shift that occurs is fraught
with uncertainty and pain at leaving behind all that is familiar and
known and the excitement and hope of embracing the new and unknown.
“We stopped looking back...The sad notes of beeraha we had sung as we
crossed that other ocean had brightened into a new song, a song with
no dark corners, and no storms.’ And so it came that when Deeda
receives an offer to go back, back across the kala pani over which
she came, she knows that her past is, like her native Bhojpuri,
frozen in her memory. The patois with the sugarcane fields clad
Trinidad is now her reality.
Yet roots tug and Mohan comes round full circle when she takes up a
research project on the Bhojpuri language and, on a fellowship, lands
in India, from where four generations ago her ancestors had set sail.
Though Mohan’s Jahajins may have apparently moved ahead of their
fellow Indians in much of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh — driving Toyotas
and wearing jeans — the changing Bhojpuri they spoke brought home to
Mohan that living cultures are dynamic and not caught in a time-warp.
And then there’s the Saranga and Sada Birij tale which is interwoven
into Deeda’s and Mohan’s narrative and we understand the many shades
of migration that can occur in a single journey — through which the
Chinidads ultimately become Trinidads for the migrant.
URGENT MEETING WITH SIKKIM ACTIVISTS
As you are aware, members of Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT) in
Sikkim have been at the forefront of a remarkable struggle for
justice and democratic governance. Their historic actions have led to
the cancellation of four destructive dam projects .
Unfortunately, despite assurances from the government of Sikkim, a
democratic process of decision making on development and dam projects
in the state has not taken place. Instead, the government, through
the Sikkim Power Development Corporation has been pushing forward
with the process of land acquisition for a new dam, the Panan hydro-
electric project. Several members of the Lepcha community, including
students are in jail.
A delegation of local community leaders will be in Delhi on Monday,
February 23 to discuss the evolving situation.
We invite you to this crucial meeting,
Smitu Kothari, Intercultural Resources
Himanshu Thakker, South Asian Network for Dams, Rivers and People
Intercultural Resources, 33D, DDA-SFS Flats, Vijay Mandal Enclave
New Delhi 110016
Time: 2.30 pm, February 23
S o u t h A s i a C i t i z e n s W i r e
Buzz for secularism, on the dangers of fundamentalism(s), on
matters of peace and democratisation in South
Asia. An offshoot of South Asia Citizens Web: www.sacw.net/
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