SACW - 14 Sept 2018 | Bangladesh: Bonya Ahmed recounts / Pakistan: Silencing the Press / India: Hindutva on a rampage / Brazil: Lula ends presidential bid / Kwame Anthony Appiah: race, nationalism and identity

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at
Thu Sep 13 15:34:25 EDT 2018

South Asia Citizens Wire - 14 Sept 2018 - No. 3000 
[via South Asia Citizens Web - since 1996]

[ with this 3000th edition of SACW an estimated 42000 articles have been distributed in our plain text mailer so far !]

1. Bangladesh: Simple narratives can be deadly - how I recovered from a terror attack | Bonya Ahmed
2. NCJP Review of education policy and on biased content in school curriculum and textbooks in Pakistan
3. Acts of Intimidation: Silencing the Press in Pakistan | Committee to Protect Journalists
4. India: Pandits living in Kashmir Valley at risk - Press release by Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (sept 10)
5. Video: Historian Ramchandra Guha interviewed by Maya Mirchandani about issues raised in his book ’Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World’
6. Study on Violence, Armed groups and Elections | Aila M. Matanock and Paul Staniland
7. Recent on Communalism Watch:
 - India: 'State apathy' for lynch scars Machinery making heroes out of violators
 - India : BJP-led North Delhi Municipal Corporation circular directs schools that students recite Gayatri Mantra
 - India: Inside Ahmedabad's Juhapura Ghetto | Christophe Jaffrelot and Sharik Laliwala
 - India: The Opposition’s feeble and piecemeal response to the BJP’s challenge is mystifying
 - Statement on violence at Hindu nationalist conference in Chicago - Chicago South Asians For Justice
 - India - Punjab: A foreign offence | Vinay Lal
 - India: Anand Patwardhan’s documentary ‘Reason’ holds a troubling mirror to the headlines
 - India: Sec 377 court verdict a threat to society - statement by Hindu Mahasabha

::: URLs & FULL TEXT :::
08. Bangladesh: Feeling voiceless, feeling unheard | Anupam Debashis Roy
09. Bangladesh photographer denied bail again
10. The shadowy extremist sect accused of plotting to kill intellectuals in India | Annie Gowen
11. Absence on the bench | Christophe Jaffrelot, Gilles Verniers
12. India: 1 Year, 160 Arrests - In Run up to 2019, NSA Is the Latest Weapon Against Muslims in UP | Neha Dixit
13. Primitive vision - Editorial, The Telegraph
14. What one leaves behind | Jawed Naqvi
15. Nightmarch by Alpa Shah – among India’s Maoist guerrillas | Julia Lovell
16. The Politics of Memorialising Violent Memories
17. Kwame Anthony Appiah on race, nationalism and identity politics | Mark Vandevelde
18. Rights Activists Arrest: This Law Is An Ass | Manisha Sethi
19. India: Why Kanupriya’s election win in Punjab University is so significant | Pritam Singh
20. Tabligh Jama‘at in China: Sacred self, worldly nation, transnational imaginary | Alexander Stewart
21. Brazil's Lula ends presidential bid, running mate Haddad takes his place

Bonya and her husband Avijit Roy were targeted by Islamist terrorists in an attack which left her gravely injured and Avijit dead. Seeking to understand why this happened, she realised the question she must ask is not "Why did this happen to me?" but "Why NOT me?" In this deeply personal, powerful talk about her recovery and how we build a more peaceful world she urges us to reject the simple narratives

National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) from Pakistan has published the sixth edition of their research on the education system in Pakistan, which includes policy making, curriculum and the textbooks taught at schools across the country.

Although overall violence against journalists in Pakistan has declined, authorities have placed heavy restrictions on news outlets, severely curtailing the ability of the press to report the news.

 KPSS strongly believe that the religious minuscule minority (Kashmiri Pandit) who so ever is living in Kashmir Valley is living of his own and the kind of relationship maintained within their respective neighborhood. It seems that the news item about life threat to the religious minuscule minority (Kashmiri Pandit) in Kashmir Valley is a hoax pre-planned conspiracy and is aimed to sacrifice the Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir Valley to gain some vested interest political mileage

5. Video: Historian Ramchandra Guha interviewed by Maya Mirchandani about issues raised in his book ’Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World’
Ramchandra Guha interviewed speaks about his book ‘Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World’

6. STUDY ON VIOLENCE, ARMED GROUPS AND ELECTIONS | Aila M. Matanock and Paul Staniland
published in Perspectives on Politics Sept 2018 this paper examines the ‘porous’ boundaries between ‘normal’ and ‘armed’ politics

 - India: 'State apathy' for lynch scars Machinery making heroes out of violators
 - India : BJP-led North Delhi Municipal Corporation circular directs its 765 schools that students recite Gayatri Mantra - a Hindu religious prayer during the morning assembly
 - India: Inside Ahmedabad's Juhapura Ghetto | Christophe Jaffrelot and Sharik Laliwala
 - India: The Opposition’s feeble and piecemeal response to the BJP’s challenge is mystifying
 - Statement on violence at Hindu nationalist conference in Chicago - Chicago South Asians For Justice
 - India - Punjab: A foreign offence | Vinay Lal
 - Can RSS be compared to Muslim Brotherhood
 - Google’s AI hate speech detector is easily fooled by a few typos | New Scientist
 - World Hindu Congress Chicago of Sept 2018 - Holy mantra: 'Bitch, bitch'
 - India: ABVP’s Delhi Uuniversity student union poll manifesto - points at "anti nationals" & wants “nationalism”
 - USA: Sangh Jamboree in Chicago - Seema Sirohi's report on the World Hindu Congress in Chicago (sept 2018) that
 - Activists disrupt Hindu supremacist conclave in Chicago - Press Release from AJA
 - India: Anand Patwardhan’s documentary ‘Reason’ holds a troubling mirror to the headlines
 - India: "verdict was a threat to society and national interest" statement by Hindu Mahasabha against the Supreme Court Judgment striking down section 377

 -> available via:
::: URLs & FULL TEXT :::
Anupam Debashis Roy
Dhaka Tribune
September 11, 2018

All we can do is ask annoying questions

This morning, I realized that I have lost my voice. I had some symptoms of the common cold the day before and noticed little cracks in my voice at night, but the morning was when I realized that I couldn’t even make a sound. All I could do is whisper at a high volume. But because there is so much noise around me, it’s impossible for people to listen to what I whisper. 

So, in exasperation, I often yell out words and phrases that cannot be written in the pages of a national newspaper. Whenever I use those words, everybody stops and looks at me for a minute with an expression of disgust and annoyance, but then they go on to do their everyday chores, as if I never made a sound, as if my voice never mattered. At times I get so desperate to be heard, I even resort to those words and those whispers to get my message across.

But no matter what I feel, my voice is somewhat heard. In the last two decades, I have positioned myself in such a way that when I speak, people (no matter how narrow the definition of the word I have to make) often listen. I get to write a weekly column for an English newspaper that is read internationally and I get to write Bangla columns that face the common people through social shares. 

I have a voice even if I have throat irregularities. Every word of this very unorthodox column is proof that I have a voice even when I lose it. Maybe that is because of my class background, my upbringing, my education, or many of my other privileges, but I have a voice even if I don’t talk. 

So it’s hard for me to feel voiceless, but I still do because I am now (temporarily) disabled to pursue my preferred mode of communication (vocal).

This makes me wonder, how do the real voiceless people feel? 

How does it feel to be silenced by noise from all directions? How does it feel to be marginalized so much that you lose every mode of communication and must resort to rumors and fake news in order to be heard? 

How does it feel when you are not trained (maybe because of structural designs) in the languages such that your thoughts are trapped in your head and you cannot make meaning out of them? What would we call that feeling? 

If you would excuse my brutal butchering of the very complex term, I would like to call that “the subaltern feeling,” which is an emotion that one can experience in part by some compromise of their communicatory faculties, even if it’s as marginal as losing one’s voice to the common cold.

By dint of the self-conscious mistake made in the previous paragraph, I will now try to speculate how some voiceless people feel through three simple questions. If you think that’s an outright wrong method, avoid reading what is below, but I must write this as a self-healing technique. 

I, an avid reader of fake news and a listener of rumours, will now pose some questions, without pretending to have the answers to them, and leave them for the readers’ judgment.

A girl was recently raped in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, as per the police. A rumour was instantly spread that this was the doing of Bengalis. Someone commented that the amount of brutality that the child went through makes sure that this was not just a “separate incident” but an action of systematic repression. 

This comment was never validated by the police or the authorities. But still, has politics been played with the Bengalis and indigenous populations to the extent that they spontaneously blame the other group when someone from their group is attacked? If so, how is this any different than “divide and rule”?

A movement was recently repressed in the streets of Dhaka. During the confrontation between the student protesters and the ruling party goons, a rumour was spread that two girls were abducted and raped. This was later confirmed as false news by many news outlets. 

However, does the ruling party have any blame in building up that image? Or was this also a “separate incident and, therefore, should not be used for broad theorizations?”

A stateless people have recently found themselves in an anniversary of their entry to a foreign land. Since then, they have tried their best to integrate into the majoritarian trend of the country, against that country’s will. 

Many of them have also been caught trying to learn Bangla, the majority’s language, so that they could pass as Bangalis and find jobs outside of the concentrated humanitarian camps that they are currently living in. 

Should they be prosecuted if they successfully escape those camps and infiltrate the general Bangladeshi population? Should they be disallowed from learning a new language?

I will not give answer to these questions because I do not know them. But I, at this semi-voiceless state, am wondering if anyone is asking them, and even  more, if anyone is even listening. 

All I feel is that these questions are worth asking, and possible answers to them are worth exploring. These are only three questions that I could surmise into globalspeak, but I wonder how many more questions are born and lost every day because the voiceless are systematically deprived of the training in languages. 

I cannot but feel that the world is losing out on much critical thinking because the voiceless are not allowed to speak. We could all have a better world if there was more voice and less noise.

But that is not the set of cards we have. All we can do in this noisy world, then, is just to ask annoying questions that may take us towards a more inclusive world. That is all that I have tried to do in this piece. And now, it’s your turn.

Anupam Debashis Roy is the Editor-at-large of Muktiforum. He can be reached at muktiforum at

11 Sep 2018

DHAKA: A Bangladesh court refused bail for award-winning photographer and rights activist Shahidul Alam, whose month-long detention has triggered an international outcry, his lawyer said Tuesday (Sep 11). 

Alam was arrested on Aug 5 for making "false" and "provocative" statements on Al Jazeera and on Facebook Live during massive student protests in the capital Dhaka.

Rights groups, UN rights experts, Nobel laureates and hundreds of academics have called for the immediate release of the 63-year-old, who says he has been beaten in custody.

After the country's high court last week refused to consider the request, Alam's lawyers moved to Dhaka's Metropolitan sessions judge on Tuesday, making another petition for his release on bail.

"But the court rejected the bail application," his lawyer Sara Hossain told AFP, adding that the court did not explain the reason for the rejection.

Prosecutor Abdullah Abu told AFP that they opposed Alam's bail after he incited people during last month's protests by making seditious comments against the government and the state.

"He has said the present government must be overthrown," Abu said, quoting from the preliminary charges police filed against Alam.

Alam's arrest capped a turbulent month in Bangladesh as students poured onto the streets for nine straight days after two teenagers were killed by a speeding bus.

Alam had told Al Jazeera that the protests were the result of pent-up anger at corruption and an "unelected government ... clinging on by brute force" that had looted banks and gagged the media.

He is being investigated for allegedly violating Bangladesh's internet laws, enacted in 2006 and sharpened in 2013, which critics say are used to stifle dissent and harass journalists.

Alam - whose work has appeared widely in Western media and who founded the renowned Pathshala South Asian Media Institute - faces a maximum 14 years in jail if convicted, along with others detained during the protests.

The photographer told reporters outside court last month that he had been beaten so badly in police custody that his tunic needed washing to get the blood out.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has demanded his release, denouncing authorities for targeting activists and journalists instead of prosecuting those who attacked students when last month's protests were broken up.

On Monday the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, used her first statement to touch upon the attacks and arrests of journalists in Bangladesh.

"The Government should do more to ensure freedom of expression, which is indispensable for free and fair elections," she said, as Bangladesh prepares to hold polls in December this year.
Source: AFP/ad

o o o


Shahidul Alam, the recipient of Bangladesh’s highest cultural award, remains in prison. He was arrested on August 5, a month ago.

Vijay Prashad

12 Sep 2018

Art is powerful. Things can be told with a glimpse that make one’s chest heave. In Budapest, during World War II, the Nazis and their Arrow Cross militia captured people – Jewish people – and brought them to the edge of the Danube River. The Nazis asked them to remove their shoes, then shot them – the bodies dropping like leaves into the river. The number of those killed, on the Pest side of the River, and elsewhere in the city between December 1944 and January 1945 is 20,000. The Red Army of the Soviet Union liberated Budapest in February. About a decade ago, the film maker Can Togay and the sculptor Gyula Pauer placed sixty iron shoes on the river’s edge to commemorate the murders. Seeing these shoes gives one a deep sense of the enormous crime of fascism. Nothing more needs to be said. One can see the rest in one’s heart.

by Annie Gowen
The Washington Post
September 7, 2018

BANGALORE, India — The killers trailed her for months, watching her every move. When the day came, they were ready for her.

Journalist Gauri Lankesh had locked up the office of her scrappy weekly newspaper and had just returned home here when the killers arrived on a motorcycle.

One of them — his face obscured by a helmet — drew close and began shooting. One, two, three shots. Lankesh tried to flee, but the last bullet ended her life.

The journalist’s death a year ago reverberated across India. She was given a state funeral in Bangalore, and thousands marched in protest around the country, chanting, “I am Gauri. We are all Gauri.” Many thought Lankesh was killed because of her outspoken criticism against the government and rising right-wing extremism.
(Pushkar V, Senior Photojournalist, New Indian Express via Storyful)

Police investigating the slaying think her death was part of a wider conspiracy, with evidence linking her killing to three other meticulously planned slayings of secular intellectuals since 2013. They say Lankesh’s killers were associated with Sanatan Sanstha, a shadowy extremist religious sect that has been accused of using hypnotherapy to incite its followers to kill those they consider enemies of Hinduism. Investigators uncovered a hit list of more than two dozen other writers and scholars.

The hit list and the accusations against members of Sanatan Sanstha have frightened intellectuals and raised concerns about freedom of expression in the world’s largest democracy at a time when violence by fringe Hindu extremist groups — many of whom helped propel India’s governing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to power — appears to be rising.

“There is no doubt about it. This is an organized group of individuals who planned and executed all four murders, and some of those who are arrested are followers of Sanatan Sanstha,” said B.K. Singh, head of the special police team investigating Lankesh’s murder.

On Aug. 27, at a news conference in Mumbai, members of the sect — clad in the color saffron, sacred to Hinduism — denied the accused were part of their organization.

“They must have attended our meetings and must have been staunch supporters of [the Hindu cause], but that does not mean they have been a part of Sanatan Sanstha,” said Chetan Rajhans, the group’s spokesman.

Now Indians wonder who is next.

Siddaramaiah, center, the chief minister of Karnataka, and other senior politicians from the state pay their respects to Gauri Lankesh in Bangalore in September 2017. (Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images)
Connected violence

The shooting deaths of the three other secular intellectuals in recent years bear striking similarities to Lankesh’s killing, investigators say. In 2013, gun-toting assailants on motorcycles killed doctor and activist Narendra Dabholkar; two years later, others shot and killed Communist Party leader Govind Pansare, who was also out for his morning walk. The same year, writer M.M. Kalburgi was shot and killed when he answered the door of his home.

Police contend Sanatan Sanstha is the common thread: The accused gunman in the Pansare killing was a member of Sanatan Sanstha. Forensic tests show the gun used to kill Kalburgi was also used in Lankesh’s slaying, and an associate of Sanatan Sanstha is among those held in judicial custody in Lankesh’s death. None of the suspects in these cases have been convicted.

The suspects in Lankesh’s killing used code names, but they also kept detailed diaries, which have been a boon to investigators in the wide-ranging investigation into the alleged extremist cell. One suspect kept a notebook that contained a map of Lankesh’s neighborhood. Another kept a hit list.

An alleged recruiter for the group who was also arrested told police the suspects often took months to plan an attack, casing their targets’ homes and memorizing daily routines, his statement shows. They recruited religious young zealots as triggermen, then sent them to arms training on a remote farm, investigators say.

The alleged ringleader of the extremist cell, Amol Kale, a 37-year-old machine shop owner from Pune, was arrested in May in connection with Lankesh’s killing. Investigators say he provided arms and training to assailants in other attacks and that he has been associated with Sanatan Sanstha for more than a decade.

Kale kept a coded diary with the names of targets and a chilling to-do list for future killings, including details such as who would bail the assailants out of jail if they were caught, investigators said. Kale’s lawyer said his client is innocent and confessed because he was beaten in custody, a charge police deny.

Parashuram Waghmare, an unemployed 26-year-old who investigators say appeared in the closed-circuit footage of the killing, told police he scarcely knew who Lankesh was when he shot her. “I killed her for my religion,” he said, according to an investigator of Lankesh’s slaying. Police think Kale hired Waghmare to carry out the killing.

Allegations of violence have dogged Sanatan Sanstha since long before the deaths of the intellectuals. Members of the group were convicted in two small bomb blasts in 2008, and two followers accidentally blew themselves up trying to plant a bomb at a crowded religious festival in 2009. State authorities pressed the Indian government to ban the group as early as 2011.

Violent rhetoric can be traced back to the group’s founder, Jayant Athavale, a London-trained doctor who became convinced he was an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu with a mission to establish a “Hindu nation” in India, according to his website. About 500 followers spend their days chanting mantras, doing chores and editing the group’s newsletters in a spiritual retreat in India’s coastal haven of Goa, according to Rajhans, the sect’s spokesman.

Athavale, now 76 and rarely seen, has advocated violence as part of a “religious war,” according to one of his early books, “The Duties of a Warrior.”

“It is very important that we slice/kill the evil-minded from the society,” Athavale wrote. “Ours is a land of saints, we would not allow anarchy to perpetuate.”

Police say Athavale once hoped to amass a huge army for his cause but eventually the focus shifted to targeting prominent secular scholars he thinks are “durjan” — enemies of Hinduism.

Critics charge that these fringe groups are gaining strength in the current political climate in India, where Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has been faulted for doing little to stop religious violence.

The sect has long maintained that it is a spiritual organization.

“Sanatan Sanstha has no connection with these killings,” Rajhans said in an emailed response to questions. “All these allegations are baseless.”

Relatives of followers who have filed a lawsuit in Mumbai allege that Athavale used manipulative hypnosis techniques to separate them from their families, coerce them into giving their money and incite them to violence, court records show. They have submitted “The Duties of a Warrior” as evidence in court.

Rajhans also rebutted that allegation: “Nobody can be hypnotized against his wish and cannot be made to commit any evil deed. Therefore, such false things are spread only to defame Sanatan Sanstha.”
A brave voice

Lankesh had been an iconoclast her whole life, rejecting the constraints of India’s traditional society even as a young girl, her sister Kavitha, 53, a filmmaker, recalled in an interview.

When her family tried to marry her off to a doctor, she went to the beauty parlor and got her hair cut as short as a boy’s, she recalled.

“It was like a Bollywood movie,” Kavitha Lankesh said. “The guy wanted to marry her anyway!”

She championed the rights of women, India’s lower caste and indigenous peoples, and wrote columns taking on establishment politicians and religious zealots — whom she dubbed “the lunatic brigade” — without fear.

Toward the end of her life, Lankesh, 55, was increasingly worn down by the demands of trying to keep her tiny newsweekly afloat while fighting defamation cases and online trolling, friends said.

Hundreds of people participate in a rally against the assassination of Gauri Lankesh, in Bangalore, India, in September 2017. (Arijit Sen/Hindustan Times/Getty Images)

“People are more circumspect now about what they write and what they say. Your words can be misinterpreted and twisted very consciously,” said Umar Khalid, 31, a well-known student activist and friend of Lankesh’s.

On Aug. 13, Khalid was walking into an anti-hate rally steps from the country’s Parliament building in New Delhi when he was attacked from behind by a gun-wielding assailant who tried to shoot him in the ribs. Khalid was spared only because the gun probably jammed.

“I immediately thought of Gauri,” he said. “In those 10 seconds, I thought — this is the end of my life.”

The attacker eventually fired one shot and escaped into the crowd. Later, the alleged assailant, Naveen Dalal, released a video with another man claiming responsibility for the attempted killing. The two were subsequently arrested. They said they were going to kill Khalid as a gift to the nation.

Azmathulla Shariff in Bangalore, Sangeeta Gandhe in Pune and Farheen Fatima in Delhi contributed to this report. 

Annie Gowen is an incoming correspondent for The Washington Post's National desk. She was previously The Post’s India bureau chief and has reported for The Post throughout South Asia and the Middle East since 2013. Before going to India, she was a member of The Post's social issues team covering wealth and inequality. 

Judiciary has become another institution where Muslims are more and more under-represented
by Christophe Jaffrelot , Gilles Verniers
The Indian Express
September 10, 2018

The SC has a history of defending Muslims against the high courts of other states.

While the percentage of Muslims in prison has never been higher — 21 per cent — the proportion of Muslims convicted — 15.8 per cent — is closer to their share of the population (14.2 per cent in the 2011 Census). This indicates that many Muslims arrested by the police and charged end up being acquitted, usually for lack of evidence, after spending years, even decades, behind bars. This gap reflects police bias on the one hand, but also the resilient professionalism of the judiciary. Except that the professionalism of the judiciary tends to decrease as one climbs down the judicial institutional ladder.

The recent trial of Mohsin Shaikh’s murder is a textbook case. This 24-year-old computer engineer was killed in a street in Pune while returning home from the mosque, by a group of about 20 individuals, who attacked him as they walked out from a Hindu Rashtra Sena rally, organised in protest against derogatory images of Shivaji and Bal Thackeray on social media. The court considered that Mohsin was attacked “because he looked like a Muslim” and his 23 assailants were arrested and charged with murder. A high court justice of Bombay granted them release on parole, however, on the grounds that Mohsin’s religion constituted a provocation.

The judge said that “The applicants/accused otherwise had no other motive such as any personal enmity against the innocent deceased Mohsin. The fault of the deceased was only that he belonged to another religion. I consider this factor in favour of the applicants/accused”. The family filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, which overturned the judgment, stating “the fact that the deceased [Mohsin] belonged to a certain community cannot be a justification for any assault much less a murder”. It moreover invited the lower courts to be “fully conscious of the plural composition of the country while called upon to deal with rights of various communities”. That it required the highest court of the land to drive home such an obvious fact shows the degree of anti-Muslim bias in the system.

The SC has a history of defending Muslims against the high courts of other states. The Allahabad High Court — which handed down a controversial judgment in the Ayodhya case in 2010 — decided in February 2018 to reclaim Waqf properties that did not meet zoning or architectural guidelines — both subjective notions. The SC stayed the decision before the BJP government could implement it. Similarly, the SC has come to the aid of minority educational institutions, including the National Council for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI), whose mission is to accredit educational institutions that apply for minority status. The existence of this institution, created by the Manmohan Singh government in 2004, is currently threatened. Between its creation and 2017, it has recognised the “minority” status of 13,331 educational institutions. Its last chairman, Justice MSA Siddiqui, resigned in 2014 and has not been replaced since. In April 2018, the SC upheld a decision taken by the NCMEI that had been challenged in the Calcutta High Court and seized the opportunity to reassert the rights that the Indian Constitution grants to religious and linguistic minorities.

This majoritarian ethos of the high courts is compounded by the under-representation of Muslims in the judiciary. Since 2010 and with the exception of the Hyderabad High Court, the representation of Muslims among high court judges is significantly lower than their demographic share, state-wise. In addition, those numbers have been decreasing over time, with the exception of Hyderabad (again) and Jammu & Kashmir High Court.

In West Bengal, the share of Muslims among judges has decreased from 25 per cent in 1991 to 8 per cent in 2011 (while the percentage of Muslims has jumped from 23.6 per cent to 27 per cent). The Karnataka High Court used to count 67 per cent of Muslims in 1961, a number that went down to 2.9 per cent in 2011 (whereas the proportion of Muslims has increased from 9.87 to 12.9 per cent). Over the same period, the share of Muslims among justices of the Jabalpur High Court declined from 14.3 per cent to 2.9 per cent (whereas the Muslim population has increased from 4 per cent to 6.6 per cent). It is the same story in Patna, where Muslims occupied 5.4 per cent of the bench in 2011, against 25 per cent in 1951 (whereas the Muslims’ share of Bihar’s population has moved on from 12.45 to 16.9 per cent).

The apex court offers a similar landscape. In the 1950s, among the 24 judges appointed to the SC, only four were Muslims (16.6 per cent). No Muslims were appointed during the 1960s (out of 16 nominations). Only two Muslims were appointed in the 1970s (out of 26), four in the 1980s (out of 33), that is 12 per cent. The ratio of Muslim SC judges decreases after the 1980s at the same time as the number of nominations increases: Three out of 40 in the 1990s, two out of 49 in the 2000s and three out of 40 since 2010, Justices MY Ekbal and FM Ibrahim Kalifulla in 2012 and Justice S Abdul Nazeer in 2017. In total, 18 Muslim judges were appointed in the SC, out of 229 (before 2018), that is slightly less than 8 per cent, for a demographic segment that represent 14.2 per cent of the total population.

Those numbers indicate that the judiciary — particularly high courts — have become (or have been, in the case of the SC), another institution where Muslims have become more and more under-represented, alongside elected assemblies, police, army and administration.

These numbers are revealing of the state of representation of India’s largest minority in an important institution. But one cannot derive from it that Muslim defendants would be better or equally well defended if they were better represented in the courts among the magistrates (although one could argue that the variations of sanction ratio between religious groups for similar offences might be less skewed had there been more Muslim, or Dalit, judges). In fact, the SC has a history of protecting minority rights and upholding India’s secular character in spite of its unrepresentative character. The social composition of the SC is also heavily skewed in favour of upper caste men and judicial dynasties,

But the fact remains that Muslim remain largely absent from institutions of power and their decreasing number in those institutions is disturbing for those concerned about inclusion and participation in India’s public life.

Jaffrelot is senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, Paris and professor at King’s India Institute, London. Verniers is assistant professor, Ashoka University and co-Director, Trivedi Centre for Political Data. Shweta Bhutada and Meeta Tarani, students at Sciences Po, helped collect data on high court judges

Neha Dixit
The Wire
10 September 2018

After attempts to instigate communal clashes all over eastern Uttar Pradesh, the Adityanath government is using the draconian law to target Muslims, even as Hindutva activists involved in the violence get off lightly.

Lucknow: On March 4, 2018, a year after the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power on the plank of improving law and order in Uttar Pradesh, chief minister Adityanath claimed that not a single incident of communal violence had taken place in the state since he took over.

Ten days later, the Union home ministry tabled statistics in parliament which showed that Uttar Pradesh continues to top the list of states in terms of the number of incidents of communal violence incidents and related deaths  – 44 people were killed and 540 injured in UP in 2017. This compares poorly with 29 deaths and injuries to 490 people in 2016, and 22 deaths and 410 injuries the previous year. The incidents of communal violence in places like Bulandshahr and Saharanpur clearly showed the involvement of the Adityanath-led Hindu Yuva Vahini and local BJP activists. Those involved were reprimanded but strict legal action against the culprits did not follow.

On January 16, 2018, the Adityanath government issued a press statement in which it said the UP police had invoked the National Security Act (NSA) against 160 people in order to control law and order. This was one of their prized achievements, apart from racking up 1200 police encounters in 10 months.  The most prominent of the NSA detentus is of course Bhim Army founder Chandrashekar Azad, who has been lodged in jail since May 2017.

In popular parlance, the NSA is known as a law in which there is ‘no vakil, no appeal, no daleel’ (no lawyer, no appeal, no argument).’  The Act, whose stated purpose is “to provide for preventive detention in certain cases and for matters connected therewith,” came into force on September 23, 1980. It empowers the Central and state governments to detain a person to prevent him/her from acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of India, the relations of India with foreign countries, the maintenance of public order, or the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the community. The maximum period of detention is 12 months. The order can also be made by the district magistrate or a commissioner of police under their respective jurisdictions, but the detention must be reported to the state government along with the grounds on which the order has been made.

Under the Act, a person can be detained for up to 10 days without being informed about the reasons for the detention. The government is allowed to withhold the information supporting the detention in ‘public interest.’ A detained person is not permitted to question his/her accusers or the evidence in support of their detention. Nor are they allowed a lawyer in this period. A three-person advisory board made up of high court judges or persons qualified to be high court judges determines the legitimacy of any order made for longer than three months. If approved, a person may be held extra-judicially for up to 12 months.

The Wire met the families of 15 people detained under the NSA in the past one year from four districts of eastern Uttar Pradesh known as Poorvanchal; all the arrests were made after incidents of communal clashes. Even when there were allegations of the clear involvement of Hindu chauvinist groups like Hindu Yuva Vahini, Hindu Samaj Party and Akhil Bhartiya Hindu Mahasabha, those put behind bars were invariably Muslim. All the accused were first granted bail by the sessions court and as soon as they got bail, re-arrested by the police under the NSA. Locals believe that just as the 2014 elections were preceded by a large number of minor communal clashes which polarised voters, these clashes and selective detentions under the NSA are part of the Sangh parivar’s preparation for the 2019 general elections.

Kanpur: Two clashes, but NSA only for the Muslims

In response to media reports critical of religious celebrations inside UP police stations, Adityanath said on August 19, 2017, “If I cannot stop namaz on the road, I have no right to stop Janmashtami at a police station.”

In fact, when reports of hooliganism by kanwariyas through their loudspeakers, DJ and road shows was pointed out, he said, this was a yatra of Shiv devotee and not a  “shav yatra” (funeral procession). By introducing religious sentiments in the maintenance of law and order, the chief minister clearly indicated that religious celebrations are above the rulebook.

[. . .]

Full text at:

The Telegraph
September 10, 2018

It is not often that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh finds common cause with the ulemas and the Church. Yet, the Supreme Court's path-breaking decision to strike down parts of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, decriminalizing consensual, adult sex among homosexual persons, has made strange bedfellows of the aforementioned entities. The anxiety among religious fraternities over the verdict is palpable. The RSS has concurred with the apex court that homosexuality is not criminal but says that the "issue needs to be taken care of at the social and psychological level". The psychological underpinnings of homosexuality have been implicit in the indignant response of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India's Office of Justice, Peace and Development, which said that there is a need to "reach out to homosexuals in care and concern including the psychological... aspects". Kerala's Muslim organizations have castigated the decriminalization of the LGBTQI community because of the threat of 'moral degeneration'.

Certain broad inferences can be drawn from such reservations. The most apparent is that sexual minorities continue to be looked upon as aberrant. The repeated, if covert, suggestion of psychological rehabilitation of homosexual citizens in a democracy underlines a propensity to view the constituency as a misfit, a threatening one at that. The patronizing mindset, couched as care or, worse, tacit surveillance, lies at the root of the marginalization of minorities. This exclusion, in turn, is an anomaly among the principles of freedom of choice, individual dignity and personal liberty that have been upheld by the apex court. The bogey of moral degeneration referred to by the clerics is equally telling. The march of civilization is predicated upon the progress of ideas. The flexibility in thought has, even though belatedly, informed legal thinking. In the light of the criticism of the Supreme Court's wisdom, it must be asked whether the leading lights of religious orders have, unlike legal luminaries, been able to keep pace with broader changes in society. The advocacy of sex for procreation as opposed to pleasure further exposes the orthodoxy of the scholarship that originates in holy precincts. The upholders of faith must demonstrate their willingness to be nimble in thought and inclusive in deed. Otherwise, their flocks might eventually dwindle.

Jawed Naqvi
September 11, 2018

ATAL Behari Vajpayee’s ashes were immersed in the Ganga. Nehru had his scattered over the Himalayas from a plane. Theatre diva Zohra Sehgal desired no such fuss. She left a stark message for her followers to cremate her quietly and put her ashes in the flush. The electric furnace was malfunctioning as it often does, so Sehgal was put on a pyre. Priests who tried to intervene were shooed away. Nehru got an emotional farewell from millions he loved and who loved him back. Vajpayee was on the ventilator till a day after Prime Minister Modi’s last Independence Day speech. Then he passed away.

In 1977, he assured fawning leftist students on a visit to JNU as foreign minister that he had decided to “drop the bomb”, a significant disavowal of a core Hindutva objective of making a nuclear weapon. As soon as he got a wafer-thin majority he did Pokhran II.

It is always different with leaders of the Dravida movement. Their mortal coils are buried in contravention of Hindu rites, a parting shot, as it were, to the Brahminical order they accuse of limiting a multi-fangled Indian culture. Communist leader Jyoti Basu’s body, true to form, was handed over for medical research after a sea of mourners bade him farewell.

Sometimes the mourners switch sides. Take the late Somnath Chatterjee, the renowned parliamentarian who passed away last month. He was expelled from the CPI-M with which he had spent a lifetime as a respected parliamentarian. While his own party shunned him, the communist-hating Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh turned their aloofness into an embarrassment. In a two-page article in its English weekly Organiser, the RSS paid him glowing tributes as a true Indian.

    Why is there fanfare when some people pass away and not when their colleagues with equal merit go?

Why is there fanfare when some people pass away and not when their colleagues with equal merit go? Khushwant Singh was a journalist who supported the emergency, and he later sponsored L.K. Advani’s candidature from Delhi, which he subsequently regretted. Kuldip Nayar who died at 95 was a gifted journalist. His Pakistani friends are said to have taken a fistful of his ashes to be interred in Lahore where he grew up. Khushwant Singh’s ashes were also scattered on a sapling.

What about others in this line of great journalism, S. Nihal Singh for example? Inder Malhotra departed quietly. Nikhil Chakravarty was a truly towering journalist who went away without fanfare. Apart from being a highly informed journalist in the 1990s he is remembered also for refusing India’s coveted civilian award, saying it was not a journalist’s place to accept appreciation or critique from the state. He never lobbied to become an MP or to be sent out as ambassador.

As journalists go, I have a surprise favourite. K.R. Malkani belonged to the RSS but he was a self-confessed atheist. His canvas of interests as a journalist was many times larger than that of his colleagues. He was better read than Vajpayee or Advani and edited the English party organ. One day Sushma Swaraj was paying obeisance at the pond of Katasraj temple off the Lahore-Islamabad highway. I joined her in the water ritual, but Malkani stood aloof smiling, to say he had nothing to do with what he had seen.

Malkani’s views on Muslim and Christian converts were far from agreeable. However, instead of bearing a grudge against the community, he showed a high regard for Muslim history. In a collection of essays published as India First, he wrote: “Many Muslim countries are occupied. Even after ‘Independence’ their governments are either toppled or turned into puppets. Their oil wealth goes to enrich the West. Their oil revenues are diverted to arms purchase. Neighbouring countries are encouraged and armed — to fight each other … In Iran when Mossadeq’s popular government nationalised oil, they toppled him. So much money was distributed as bribes that Nehru told the Indian parliament that the value of the dollar fell in Tehran bazaar.”

Nehru’s ‘sins’ have been listed aplenty. “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones,” said Shakespeare. The allegations ranged from his apparent stubbornness that led to Partition to his handling of the Kashmir dispute and ties with China. Would it not be fair to assess Vajpayee’s legacy with equal rigour? His musings from Kumarakom showed him up as a statesman. His easy affable ways with the opposition are missed today because his successor betrays no such quality.

But Vajpayee left too many skeletons in his cupboard to be overlooked. Rajiv Gandhi has been accused of favouring a botched law to restrict media freedoms. It was Vajpayee though who got an Indian magazine’s woman journalist removed from covering his PMO. There’s no space here to go into Ayodhya or Nellie or Gujarat or even the ghastly murder of an Australian missionary and his two sons by Hindutva zealots, some of these when Vajpayee was prime minister.

During a 13-day stint as prime minister, Vajpayee, without facing a trust vote in parliament, agreed to a damaging financial deal with the US-based Enron power company. And why forget the arms scam, which forced his defence minister to resign, or when his party chief was caught with his hands on the till?

It was under his watch that Muslim extremists hijacked an Indian Airlines plane and got Masood Azhar and several others freed in Taliban-ruled Kandahar. Imagine the furore had an opposition leader carried out the transaction. They would perhaps be incinerated on the streets. It was under Vajpayee’s watch that a mere shepherd helped locate Pakistani positions in Kargil. And while we may accuse Modi of playing sectarian politics with the cow, it was Vajpayee who actually introduced cow protection as a state policy in the president’s address to parliament.

It is not how people go. It is about what they leave behind in the bargain that counts.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

The Guardian
12 September 2018

An anthropologist’s nuanced account of life with India’s revolutionary movement, including her 250-km trek, disguised as a male soldier, with a rebel platoon

Between 2008 and 2010, the anthropologist Alpa Shah spent 18 months as a participant observer in India’s largely rural state of Jharkhand. She lived among adivasis, tribal peoples outside the caste system who count among the communities most neglected by the government. Jharkhand is also one of the heartlands of India’s Maoist insurgency, a civil war that in 2006 the country’s prime minister identified as the “biggest internal security threat to the Indian state”. For decades, Indian politicians and commentators have argued about the country’s longstanding Maoist war: are insurgents ideological terrorists fixated on an outdated creed, or are they desperate rebels with a cause, forced to take up guns by state brutality? Dissatisfied by this polarised debate, Shah decided to immerse herself in the communities who live alongside the insurgents, to explore what the rebellion looks like from the grassroots.
Alpa Shah.

This was an exceptional undertaking. The geographic and cultural remoteness of these communities, together with the acute dangers of living in a warzone, mean few outsiders have based themselves there for longer than a few weeks. The lack of careful ethnographic investigation has permitted polemical views of the insurgency to dominate the Indian media. Even more remarkable is the fact that Shah spent her final week in Jharkhand’s forests disguised as a male guerrilla on a 150-mile (240km) trek with a Maoist platoon. Nightmarch – a report of her time with the Maoists and adivasi civilians they govern – provides one the most nuanced, informed accounts yet of this strange and awful conflict.

The civil war is in some ways a cold war anachronism. India’s contemporary Maoists trace their lineage to the Naxalite rebellion of the late 1960s, which was heavily influenced and encouraged by Mao’s Cultural Revolution. While that earlier conflagration was for the most part extinguished in the early 1970s by a harsh state response, splinters of the original movement fought on. In 2004, several of these fragments reunited within a new political and military organisation: the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and its People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army.

The Indian government claims 20 of the country’s 28 states are affected. In reality, the Maoist operation is centred on central-eastern India: above all, on parts of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha. It owes its survival to Maoist groups’ readiness to attack some of India’s socioeconomic enormities, such as the hierarchical violence of the caste system and racist exploitation suffered by adivasis. In the new millennium, the Maoists have gained further traction by linking their cause to environmental protests. After 2003, the Indian state – ambitious to increase taxation revenues – began granting lucrative mining contracts to multinational corporations, especially in mineral-rich Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Maoist insurgents organised locals into resisting state and corporate efforts to empty land ready for industrial development. A witness to state and corporation encroachment on tribal land rights, Shah describes “the juggernaut of perhaps one of the greatest people-clearing operations of our times”.

    For some, joining the Naxalites is an adolescent rebellion, a way of escaping the control of their families, and experiencing the world beyond their village 

Successive Indian governments have demonised and even criminalised any connection with or whiff of sympathy for the Maoist cause. In June this year, five human rights activists – defenders of civil society from state attacks – were arrested on charges of “Maoist links”. In August, at least five more were detained on the same pretext. Shah, by contrast, humanises the Maoists she meets. She evokes the self-sacrificing idealism of the movement’s leadership. Many senior Maoists were born into high-caste, educated clans, were swept up in global protest movements of the 1960s and 70s, then abandoned their families and elite career prospects to fight as full-time revolutionaries for some of India’s poorest people. Shah notes how Gyanji, the leader of the platoon with whom she marched, still retains the tender, light-skinned feet of his high-caste upbringing, 25 years after joining the Maoist “Jungle Sarkar” (forest state). He is in some ways an unlikely guerrilla, seemingly more interested in “the dance of starlings” and “European and Hindi-Urdu poetry” than in landmines.

She is attentive also to the stories of rank-and-file adivasis, who join the Maoists for a bewildering variety of reasons. In the early 2000s, the Indian government sponsored the creation of local vigilante armies to fight Maoist control. Their scorched-earth destruction of villages accused of helping or harbouring Maoists drove many adivasis into the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army. Others have smaller-scale grievances. A 16-year-old called Kohli ran away to the Maoists because his father slapped him for spilling a small cup of milk. For some, joining the Naxalites is an adolescent rebellion, a way of escaping the control of their families and experiencing the world beyond their village.

Yet Shah does not romanticise the Maoists or their relationship with adivasi communities. She bears witness to how, despite their stated idealism, their political dogmas glorify violence and foster corruption. The hardships of the adivasi existence (there is at best precarious access to food, medical care and education) notwithstanding, Shah is also sensitive to what it can teach those outside the jungle: for example, adivasi women enjoy far higher levels of gender equality than exists in caste-ridden Indian society. She worries that the Maoists’ contempt for tribal custom fundamentally erodes their claims to build popular democracy. “It is inevitable that their cultures will be obliterated with development,” one senior Maoist tells her.

Shah has only one long-term solution to the injustices of the continuing civil war: the proper exercise of India’s constitutional democracy, with full participation by those tribal communities long marginalised and even persecuted by it. Nightmarch – a considered, sympathetic and balanced analysis – is one of the few accounts we possess that gives them a voice.

• Nightmarch: Among India’s Revolutionary Guerrillas is published by Hurst. To order a copy (RRP £20) go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.
Economic and Political Weekly
Vol. 53, Issue No. 36, 08 Sep, 2018

by Rudolf C Heredia (rudiheredia[at] is at the Indian Social Institute, New Delhi.

Violence and the Burden of Memory: Remembrance and Erasure in Sinhala Consciousness by Sasanka Perera, New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2016; pp xvii +322, ₹745.

A society that has been traumatised by collective violence over decades will be haunted by painful memories which cannot be easily erased. Negation only represses memories into our subconscious with unintended consequences later. To cope with such remembrances, we must find conscious ways of expression that help healing wounded memories and recalling affirmative ones. Mourning loss and grief, and celebrating victory and deliverance are part of this commemorative process.

All societies must remember their history to learn not to repeat it, either as tragedy or as farce. Personal and collective memories are tied in with personal and collective identities. Memories shared connect and enrich, whereas memory loss impoverishes and distances. Personal memories are treasured in family narratives and albums, while collective memories are embedded in a people’s past through their traditions and legends, literature and art. However, memory is always selective. What we remember and how we do so defines the process of remembering and forgetting and dictates the memorialisation, such as to remake the past so a projected future can be premised on it.

Sinhala Exclusivism

In Sri Lanka, a protracted period of brutalising violence was precipitated by the politics of Sinhala exclusivism. State terror against the violence of the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) insurrection (1967–89) peaked in the 1980s. Rather than finding a political solution and accommodating the legitimate demands of this movement, the government resorted to brutal extrajudicial violence to suppress it, upping the ante with counter-violence and then dealing with the JVP as a terrorist movement. This further internalised the violence in a society increasingly familiar with growing levels of violence, leaving this to fester alongside already traumatised memories of loss and grief. The Tamil grievances were treated similarly.

The roots of the Sinhala–Tamil civil war go back to the 1950s when Sinhala chauvinism with its linguistic exclusivism began marginalising Tamil sections. Inevitably, such aggressive majoritarianism precipitated a militant minoritism, which then spiralled into a secessionist civil war with neither side willing to concede any compromise: a federal state with Tamil autonomy was too much for the government and too little for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Of the many Tamil groups that fought for the rights of the Tamils, the LTTE, founded in 1976, was the most violent. After eliminating rival groups in the Tamil movement, the violence of the Tigers intensified in the 1980s and climaxed in the 1990s. It was only in 2009 that the Sri Lankan army, disregarding the collateral damage to non-combatants and the environment, ended the war and eradicated the Tamil Tigers. Even the cemeteries of the LTTE (p 191), which celebrated their war heroes, (mahaveer) were eradicated.

This violence against the Tamil minorities inevitably brutalised mainstream Sri Lankan society as well. In the aftermath of the violence, the physical ruins could be restored but the brutality of the devastation still lingers in the memories of people, especially the Tamils who were its worst victims. For as the United Nations (UN) Commissioner for Human Rights said in Colombo in 2013, “although the fighting is over, the suffering is not” (p 260). Sasanka Perera enters this narrative of terror trying to reach the other side:

    Metaphorically, I have waded through the blood, with numerous visions of unpleasant things I have seen and narratives of cruelties I have heard very clearly etched in my mind … Those stories will continue in different registers and with different degrees of intensity. (p 262)

Perera’s book focuses on the Sinhala experience and their remembrances in the aftermath of the war. Obviously, this is but half the story. Until the Tamil side is told and both narratives shared together, there is little hope for true justice to the victims and lasting reconciliation between the protagonists. Denial and unwillingness to come to terms with such serious human rights abuses, let alone address the legitimate demands and genuine hopes of the affected populations, does not bode well for the future. The refusal of an authoritarian majority government to countenance an independent UN inquiry into human rights abuses is tantamount to sowing the seeds of future troubles and violent disturbances, inviting a repeat of the past from which little has seemingly been learnt.

Monuments and Memorialisation

Perera describes, separately, official monuments celebrating state victory and glorifying heroism as well as personal remembrances recalling grief and loss. The connection with the larger society gives life to these structures, both personal installations in the private domain of family and friends, and official ones in the public domain. Thus, the monuments of the army and the police will have ceremonies and rituals enacted on national occasions to recall historic moments, including the Elephant Pass War Memorial (p 271), or the Victory Monument in Pudupattinam, Puthukkudiyiruppu (p 268) to celebrate the end of the civil war; while personal sculptures connect with those who share the same personal experience, as with the Monument for the “Disappeared” at Seeduwa (p 129), or the Shrine of the Innocents at Sri Jayawardenapura to commemorate the youth killed in the JVP insurrection (p 110).

The monuments are described in great detail in three chapters (Chapter 2: “Celebrating Heroism and Glorifying Death,” Chapter 3: “Remembering Death and Mourning the Loss of Innocence,” and Chapter 4: “Domains of Private Memory”); while the visual arts and poetry are taken up in Chapter 5. These will be of great interest to historians and perhaps, tourist guides manning these sites. However, the introductory chapter “The Burden of Memory,” and the concluding one “Erasure, Lingering Memory and Moving Beyond,” would be of significance to a wider readership. We learn how non-verbal memorialisation deals better with the resistance of language in communicating powerful emotions and/or intense pain (p 22). Monuments are remembrances that allow for multiple levels of meaning-making and so can address those who connect more meaningfully. But this also means it can be contested by the different constituencies that interact with and interpret it differently, even from adversarial perspectives.

However, in general, the purpose of a monument is twofold: (i) didactic or pedagogic, teaching/learning from the past for healing and closure from painful memories, and (ii) affirmative or celebratory, to open hope in the wake of traumatic events (p 23). Thus, the attack against Dalits on 1 January 2018 at their celebration of the British victory over the Maratha forces at Bhima–Koregaon 200 years ago in January 1818 is a stark illustration of this. For the Dalits, the victory pillar at the battle site celebrated the event that ended the Brahmin(ical) rule of the Peshwas. Their rallies at the war memorial in Pune were to affirm their own history and their membership in the victorious East India Company’s forces. For the upper castes, the battle marked the loss of their rule and subjugation by the colonial power. Their attack on the Dalits, therefore, was a reaffirmation of their dominance and a denial of the Dalits’ right to interpret their own history.

Sometimes symbols meant to represent national solidarity, like the national flag, get appropriated by chauvinist nationalists (such as the Hindu right wing in India). The assault on Muslims at the flag-hoisting ceremony at Kasganj, Uttar Pradesh, on the occasion of Republic Day 2018 exposed the exclusivist Hindu rashtravadis (nationalists). The Muslims were expressing solidarity with the nation on a day of national importance, however the Hindutvawadis were acting in furtherance of Muslim alienation and imposition of Hindu dominance on them.

Communalisation of Memory

There are similarities across these violent communal divides, whether of ethnicity, or race, or religion or caste in the rest of South Asia and beyond. The savage civil war between the Unionists and the Confederates in the United States (1860–65) ended with the abolition of slavery, but left behind a subterranean racism. The civil rights movement almost a century later, beginning in 1962, was led by Martin Luther King Jr, who became a martyr to its cause in 1968 and a national hero. Yet in spite of all this, racism persists among the “white supremacists” there, for whom Black lives do not seem to matter.

The communal violence between Hindus and Muslims that led up to and peaked with the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 was paused by the murder of Mahatma Gandhi; but the communal divide was not resolved. It is once again being deliberately revived by a jingoistic politics of hate. This is re-enacted with every communal riot in India, which has become a cruel instrument of regressive identity politics. This re-enacts collective violence, of the sort seen before and after the partition of 1947, and deepens the communal divide even further. “Pakistan ya kabristan” (Pakistan or the graveyard) is the battle cry of deeply resentful militant Hindus who, in denial of their own role in the horrendous imbroglio, still continue to blame Muslims for the partition and use religious nationalism to fuel a politics of polarisation for electoral gain. This is a dangerous game for the future of all Indians.

In the original Pakistani state, religious nationalism was soon superseded by ethnolinguistic politics which spilt over into a genocidal military attempt to subjugate East Pakistan’s Bengali province to the Urdu-speaking ones of West Pakistan. With the intervention of India in 1971, this stand-off ended with the cessation of East Bengal from Pakistan and its transformation into an independent nation called Bangladesh, only 24 years after the Indo–Pak partition. Such a process of fission may not end here. In Nepal, a violent Maoist insurrection launched by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), on 13 February 1996, ended with a compromise but after abolishing the monarchy in 2007. However, the young democracy is still struggling with its new constitution and the final outcome is yet to be stabilised.

Civil wars and collective violence leave a long trail in their aftermath. Unless the underlying issues are addressed and resolved, they will sooner or later resurface. The residue of resentment these leave behind are easily politicised and the violence revived in periodic eruptions. These become a continuing attrition of the very soul of a society. They sharpen and deepen communal divisions and may sooner or later precipitate another civil war and another regional cession. This cannot be resolved if the underlying jingoist violent ideology is not neutralised and defanged, whether this ethnocentricity be based on race or caste or religious nationalism of whatever hue: Islamism or Hindutva, chauvinist Buddhism or Zionism. Or else history will repeat itself, and it will be all the more tragic for it could have been anticipated and avoided.

In an FT interview, the philosopher says we need a ‘lighter hand’ with identity categories
Mark Vandevelde
Financial Times / FT Magazine
August 31, 2018

Kwame Anthony Appiah is a black, gay, American man who is descended from aristocrats and speaks English with one of those BBC accents you pick up at the better British schools. You probably think these facts tell you a certain amount about him.

Appiah, a professor of philosophy in New York, knows such badges matter — he has made a career studying concepts like blackness and gayness, social labels that guide us through humanity’s ungraspable diversity — but he wants you to know that most of what they signify is pure baloney.

Consider race. Thomas Jefferson, often described as one the most enlightened of American thinkers, thought black people smelled worse than whites, required less sleep, had comparably good memories, but couldn’t master geometry. Today no one could count such outrageous views as enlightened; but as Appiah understood, they were the product of a time in which white colonialists had used the idea of an inferior race to justify mass exploitation.

“The truth is that there are no races,” he declared in a 1985 essay that earned him fame among philosophers and social theorists, and notoriety among some of his African-American peers. “The ‘whites’ invented the Negroes in order to dominate them,” he later wrote in the award-winning essay collection In My Father’s House (1992).
Appiah at home in New York: ‘There are falsehoods there’s no harm in letting go’ © Yael Malka

Appiah’s argument was grounded in science. In nature there are few package deals, and biologists know that variations in skin colour do not correlate well with other inherited characteristics, and that there is almost as much genetic variation within ethnic groups as between them. This could not be squared, he wrote, with the idea of a “racial essence” that would pass from parents to children and influence everything from intelligence to strength to musical talent.

The upshot was far-reaching, even revolutionary. Bogus labels had been plastered all over the face of humanity and Appiah, a cosmopolitan who abhors anything that stops strangers seeing eye to eye, was determined to rip them off in one excruciating swipe. Critics said it was tantamount to calling the very idea of race a fiction. “I’ve backed off a little bit from that,” he says. But only a little bit.

Appiah owns a sheep farm in New Jersey, but we meet in his apartment in New York, where the walls are heaving with books, including 170 novels he must read as the chair of the judges for this year’s Man Booker Prize.

He has rules about what else to let in. Mayan heads are not welcome: the quota has been exceeded. Nor are British artworks: he already has one by the “very great portrait painter” Augustus John. Artefacts from China and Cuba are also off the list. “I’m allowed to add something so long as it’s not from somewhere we’ve already got,” Appiah explains.

Cosmopolitanism is a trait he acquired at birth. His parents’ marriage was tabloid material; it is said to have partly inspiredGuess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the movie about interracial marriage starring Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy and Sidney Poitier. The film was released in 1967, just as Thurgood Marshall became the first African American to join the supreme court, but when the real-life nuptials were announced 14 years earlier in London, they shattered contemporary ideas about race and national hierarchies.

    I learnt, very young, the code-switching you do between places

Peggy Cripps was the daughter of the former Labour chancellor Sir Stafford Cripps; Joe Appiah was a law student and a representative in London of Kwame Nkrumah, then the prime minister of Gold Coast, which was still a British colony. Cripps was determined to stand her ground against the racist censure of some of her peers. “If we experience any difficulties in mixing with Europeans, I shall throw in my lot with the coloured people,” she told the Sunday Express. A few years after Kwame was born in 1954, Gold Coast became the independent state of Ghana.

Appiah travels with the ease of a native and the critical eye of an outsider. “It’s very easy for someone with my background to be relatively relaxed [in different countries],” he says. “I learnt, very young, the code-switching I suppose that you do between places.”

The first part of his childhood was in the Ghanaian city of Kumasi. The gold-rich Ashanti region had long ago ceased to be its own empire, but nonetheless retained vestiges of statehood. When the king died in 1970, his successor was a man Appiah had known as uncle Matthew. The Ashanti rubbed along easily enough with Nigerian traders and Middle-Eastern shopkeepers. “It seemed . . . so natural,” Appiah has written. “I don’t remember ever having wondered how it came about that these people had settled among us of their own free will to pursue their businesses so far from home.”

The Gloucestershire village of Minchinhampton, where he spent time with his grandmother while attending school in Dorset, was a different story. It was not hostile, but “the skin and the African ancestry I shared with my sisters marked us out as different”. Even a few years ago, someone attending one of Appiah’s talks at the Aristotelian Society in London wondered aloud how a lecturer who was not white could be properly English.

“There’s a sense it’s obvious who’s English, because they’re the people who’ve been here all along,” Appiah says, tearing at another social label that matters deeply to those who claim it, and causes untold grief for some whose claims are denied. “It’s news, I think, to a lot of English people that, in the 18th century, the Jews came and went. They forget that the Danelaw covered much of the north of England, and that England was run in some Norse language for a long time.

“They forget that actually the Romans left all kinds of traces, that the Normans came in significant numbers and people from England went to Normandy. They forget that, in fact, it’s as much of a goulash as anywhere else.” Appiah has raised his voice very slightly. “In part, because most of the people who came didn’t have dark skins. So the trace of their ancestry isn’t evident on people’s faces.”

He is in no mood to deny that Englishness exists, even if most people’s understanding of it is thoroughly ahistorical. “There are falsehoods there’s no harm in letting go,” he says. “When you’re living life and using identities . . . an intellectual [who] keeps complaining and picking away at the details is not helpful.”

Still, whatever their religion, sexuality, racial identity, or nationality, “people should have a lighter hand with their use of these identity categories in a way that would mean that moments in our cultures where conflicts arise might be somewhat defused.”

Even saying that, he thinks, might be provocative. “Because people do care about identities, you can get them cross by urging them to take them slightly less seriously than they do, so there’s a risk of that kind of backlash.

“But on the whole I think that’s fine, I’m up for that, and since I think what I’m saying is both factually correcter than the standard view and morally superior to the standard view, I think the more that gets out, the better.”

Appiah practises what he preaches. In a family like his, “race is probably not going to be the main axis of your identity because Christian, my eldest nephew, is blond and my first great-nephew is half-Nigerian and darker skinned than I am.” Being gay was a more important factor for him when he was younger; he wrote long essays advocating for same-sex marriage.

In 2011, when that moral revolution arrived in New York, he was among the first beneficiaries, along with Henry Finder, the editorial director of The New Yorker and his partner of more than 25 years. “I realise there’s a lot of homophobia in the world and I do care about that as a matter of justice,” he says. “One reason for not being too preoccupied with gay identity is just that there’s not a lot of homophobia in the world I live in.”

Being American, however, is something he takes seriously. This is the nation he chose. As an essayist, he has sought to influence it. As a sort of cerebral agony uncle — he has a weekly column in The New York Times called The Ethicist — he offers it advice. (“Can my cat go out if he bullies other cats?”, one reader asked. Appiah’s answer, roughly: it depends.) “I do think of myself as an intellectual,” he tells me. “Someone whose main vocation is to try to understand things and to explain them to his or her fellow citizens.”

He taught at the most prestigious universities in the US including Yale, Harvard and Princeton, before moving in 2014 to the philosophy department at New York University, where he remains today. (I was a graduate student there until shortly before Appiah arrived.) But spending a year in the US when he was in his twenties, and still a graduate student at Cambridge, was not an obvious choice. “It’s racist and it’s dangerous, people get shot all the time,” he remembers thinking. “I had all these stereotypes through Kojak . . . I grew up reading Richard Wright [the African-American author whose writings chronicled the country’s entrenched racism], who actually visited us when I was a child in Ghana.”

In Britain, his work had concentrated on intellectual puzzles that consumed the attention of perhaps a few hundred professional philosophers. Now, to earn a living, he had to teach a course in African-American studies, confronting the raw grievance of a wronged group still battling to assert their citizenship.

He approached it with the eye of an outsider and the rigour of a logician. He was also more willing than some American historians to delve into oral history. “Reading transcribed material from interviews with uneducated people wasn’t their idea of how you found out about things,” says Appiah. “Of course if you ask ex-slaves about slavery, you get a different picture from the one you get from the official records.”

Back in Britain after that year, he returned to a dissertation called Conditions for Conditionals — “an unpublished work, but a thick work of thought about philosophical logic” — and was disappointed it didn’t take off. Then came the break. “Yale offered me . . . ”, he corrects himself. “They advertised a job in philosophy and African-American studies. But there weren’t many people who could’ve been considered for it. And I applied and got it.”

It is six years since Appiah collected a national humanities medal from Barack Obama for “seeking eternal truths in the contemporary world”. Since then, the first black US president has been succeeded by a user of racial slurs who argued that a crowd of white nationalists included “some very fine people”. Is it still realistic to hope Americans can be reasoned out of caring so much about divisive social identities?

    We should have a lighter hand with the use of identity categories

Appiah thinks it is. Trump lost the popular vote. A survey in June showed more Americans thought immigration was a good thing than when he took office. Cities such as Atlanta, New York and San Francisco are among the most diverse in the world, and their populations are surging. “If I lived in rural Minnesota I might be . . . ” — he seems about to say “pessimistic”, or something of the sort, but stops. University campuses in Minnesota, he notes, are “full of 6ft-tall blonde women students who have Norwegian and Swedish ancestry, but also a lot of Ghanaians, and they all seem perfectly happy with all that.”

His final reason for optimism, however, sounds more like a concession. Accepting that other people have different ways of life might also mean allowing that some of those people do not accept yours. The Amish send their children away at 16, he notes, so that they can decide between the closed community of their youth and the open world outside. While this does not always go well for the ill-prepared children, the practice makes the Amish “a paradigm of a liberal, despite that you might think this is an odd thing to say”.

Even in Appiah’s rarefied circle, there are people whose interests are entirely parochial. The queen mother of Ashanti, a fountain of gossip about goings-on in Kumasi, had no interest in anything happening outside, and “that’s fine by me”, says Appiah. “Indeed it seems weird to say it’s fine by me because it’s none of my business.”

The modern world, he believes, requires some people who are willing to engage across cultures: “I’m optimistic that there’ll be enough of us. We don’t require everybody to be a cosmopolitan; that would be un-cosmopolitan.”

Mark Vandevelde is the FT’s US private capital correspondent.

Kwame Anthony Appiah’s ‘The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity’ is published by Profile, £14.99. Appiah will speak at the FT Weekend Festival on September 8

Arresting activists is an attack on dissent in keeping with UAPA’s history
Manisha Sethi
Outlook Magazine
17 September 2018

On August 28, the Pune police mounted raids across several cities,taking into custody five civil liberties activists, invoking that dreaded anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

Pritam Singh
A woman student, Kanupriya, being elected to the top post in the student union elections at Panjab University (PU), Chandigarh, for the first time in the history of this university is significant in its own right as this university is one of the oldest in the Indian sub-continent.

    Alexander Stewart
Modern Asian Studies
Volume 52, Issue 4, July 2018



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