Asia

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Supak sa Anti-Terror Bill

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 05/08/2020 - 6:05pm in

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Usa ka analisa nga anarchist sa Anti-Terror Act nga gihisgutan sa kongreso sa Pilipinas. Translation of “Against the Terror of Anti-Terror

Usa ka katilingbang nahigugma sa kagawasnan, katilingbang nagrespeto sa kagawasnon, ay dili na magsalig sa usa ka panon para sila'y malipod ug ma-alagad, para ra sila'y magtiklo sa mga protesta, mag-diskriminar sa pagkalaki o pagkaputi, ug mupata'y nga walay pagmahay.

Malaginoo

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Book Review: The Jakarta Method: Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program That Shaped Our World by Vincent Bevins

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 29/07/2020 - 8:53pm in

In The Jakarta Method, Vincent Bevins explores the US role in the mass killings in Indonesia in 1965-66 as well as military coups in Latin America to show the consequences of Washington’s Cold War interventions in the present day. This is a well-researched, tightly written and emotionally affecting book, writes Thomas Kingston.

The Jakarta Method: Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program That Shaped Our World. Vincent Bevins. PublicAffairs. 2020.

Ask most people what they associate with Copacabana in Brazil and Seminyak in Bali, and it’s likely to be a tropical idyll. However, The Jakarta Method, the new book by Vincent Bevins, might just change that. These palm-fringed sands take on a darker aspect when one learns of their prominent roles in a transcontinental web of political intrigue, mass killings and the assertion of US hegemony, with Seminyak playing host to mass graves and Copacabana a recurring location for far-right agitation. Bevins, a California-born journalist with a fascinating career that has seen him stationed in London for the Financial Times, Brazil for the LA Times and Jakarta for the Washington Post wrote this book on ‘US-backed mass murder in Indonesia, military coups in Latin America, and the ways Washington’s Cold War interventions have shaped life in the entire “developing” world to this day’. Though receiving some initial criticism, he has managed to craft an excellent book, and I don’t write that lightly. He weaves interviews with academic sources, backroom CIA dealings with thwarted dreams of would-be revolutionaries, and delivers a well-researched and tightly written work that is at times extremely provocative, both politically and emotionally.

Whilst US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan are still a recent memory, with raw and ongoing consequences for millions, this book looks back beyond the ‘War on Terror’ and depicts the evolution of US policy towards opponents on the international stage during the Cold War, with most narrated events occurring in the 1960s and 1970s. I use the word ‘opponents’ because despite the subtitle referring to ‘Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade’, this campaign often found its victims amongst people who simply represented a slight chance of threatening the interests of Washington. The CIA set out to fight Communism and protect the rights of multinational corporations, but appeared, more often than not, to be more concerned with the latter than the former.

Such was the scale of CIA involvement that the reader is at times almost left reeling by the jetsetting of the text, at one moment in Iran, then in Guatemala, followed by a sojourn in the USA before it tackles the main countries featured, Indonesia and then Brazil. The book then heads to Chile, returns to Brazil, Indonesia and Guatemala, and ends up in an office in 30 Rockefeller Plaza, perhaps better known for its central role in a sitcom.

Some of the episodes featured will be more familiar than others, with the Indonesian Mass Killings of 1965-66 having recently been brought to global attention by the critically acclaimed 2012 documentary, The Act of Killing. While Joshua Oppenheimer’s film placed those responsible for the killings in the public eye, this book depicts the victims themselves in a way that emphasises their humanity, a quality that was so long denied. For example, one of the people presented in the book is a young Indonesian woman seeking her fortune in the capital Jakarta, only to find herself marked out for punishment due to suspected Communist ties simply for being in a union. Due to this, she experiences years of torture, rape and imprisonment as well as ostracism in the present day.

Alongside these personal stories is the bigger picture of the Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI) – then the third largest Communist Party in the world (and largest non-ruling) with up to three million members – being crushed almost overnight, resulting in the estimated deaths of up to one million people. What is particularly notable about this is that rather than the costly ‘boots on the ground’ intervention seen in Vietnam, this was carried out by domestic players: in this case, the Indonesian armed forces and political vigilantes, with significant CIA/US State Department support. This ‘scorched earth’ approach to the complete annihilation of opponents via proxies, whether through mass murder or campaigns of terror, led to the titular ‘Jakarta Method’ of suppression and extermination being exported around the world, with the CIA often acting as the common element in these atrocities.

US involvement in Latin America will not come as news to many, but the brutality and paranoia it encouraged might. In Guatemala we see indigenous Mayans preemptively killed due to their potential to be left-wing sympathisers, and Jacobo Árbenz, a democratically elected President with a deep commitment to capitalism, is overthrown thanks to a corporation with the ear of the US. The United Fruit Company, infamous for its monopolistic control of banana production in the so-called ‘banana republics’, took issue with the fact that the land reform programme proposed by Árbenz would only compensate them for the value of their land declared for taxation purposes, which they’d been undervaluing for years in order to avoid taxes. As a result of this, Árbenz was portrayed as a Communist and overthrown; his US-backed replacement, Carlos Castillo Armas, is said by Bevins to have brought back slavery, whilst also encouraging widespread killing of alleged Communists and other leftists that might be a threat to the regime. Figures like Margaret Thatcher’s Chilean ally, General Augusto Pinochet, might be more familiar to British readers, but the full extent of the terror of his rule might come as news to some as well as his involvement in the continent-wide campaign of repression and death squads known as ‘Operation Condor’, backed by successive US administrations, both Democrat and Republican.

As mentioned earlier, Brazil plays a central role in this book, acting as a second axis that at times overlaps with Indonesia, both in terms of policy and, via Bevin’s combination of storytelling and interviews, the individuals involved. Through this, we see Brazil’s back-and-forth between military and democratic rule cast in a new light with US support, and Indonesian-inspired tactics playing a key role in a crusade that labels anything opposed to big business and US interests as ‘socialist’ or even ‘Communist’, with a cruel trick of fate meaning some of those who fled Indonesia’s purges now bear witness to a new wave of violence in their supposed safe haven of Brazil.

The book depicts moments that are almost comically absurd – such as Bevins reporting that the CIA worked with Bing Crosby and his brother Larry to produce an unreleased pornographic film that featured an actor impersonating the left-leaning Indonesian President Sukarno in order to discredit him, before they realised his perceived virility was actually part of his popularity; or, in an even darker way, US forces in the Philippines propagating myths of bloodsucking monsters as an alibi for the desecration of the corpses of rebels.  Yet, these stories are always followed by the overwhelming scale of death and terror carried out. Further complicating the emotional tug of war is the recurring and almost ghostly presence of a positive future that might have been, which is brought to life via the interviews conducted by Bevins that are included at the end of the book. To readers of this review, it might seem odd to repeatedly mention these emotional aspects, but at times I had to put the book down due to an almost incandescent sense of injustice; at other moments, I turned to comic relief to avoid dwelling on the horrors that had just been depicted. As someone who doesn’t usually find themselves that emotionally affected by books, this was quite unsettling.

One can imagine The Jakarta Method being reduced to an anti-American diatribe, but that would be an inaccurate and unfair summary of a book that manages to piece together events that have often been relatively unknown outside of academic or activist circles. Personally, whilst familiar with the 1965-66 mass killings in Indonesia, I wasn’t aware of their echoes and influence around the world, leading me to believe that this book could be enlightening for most readers. I also imagine critics may target the lack of focus on Communist-led terror and killings, but Bevins offers a satisfactory explanation for this in the closing chapters, highlighting the wealth of works already dedicated to the crimes of self-proclaimed Communist regimes.

Ultimately, it’s hard to envisage how you would write a balanced account of what were often unilateral actions in pursuit of ideological intangibles that resulted in death and misery for millions. Perhaps the best and most simple example of this can be found in the book’s final pages, when Bevins, asking an Indonesian political activist/survivor ‘How did we win [the Cold War]?’, receives the answer: ‘You killed us.’

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: Pancasila Sakti monument in Jakarta, built during the rule of Suharto, marking the killing of six senior Indonesian army generals on 30 September 1965. Propagated as being an attempted Communist coup, this event precipitated the mass killings of 1965-66 and the coming to power of Suharto (Chez Julius Livre 1 CC BY NC ND 2.0). 

 


Book Review: Islamic Shangri-La: Inter-Asian Relations and Lhasa’s Muslim Communities, 1600 to 1960 by David G. Atwill

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 28/07/2020 - 8:39pm in

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Asia, history

In Islamic Shangri-La: Inter-Asian Relations and Lhasa’s Muslim Communities, 1600 to 1960, David G. Atwill investigates the neglected history of the Khache from the seventeenth to the twentieth century, with keen attention to the complexities and contradictions surrounding notions of identity, subjecthood and citizenship. This is a pioneering work in the study of Tibetan Muslims and an indispensable contribution to the growing literature and scholarship in Tibetan borderlands studies, writes Palden Gyal.

Islamic Shangri-La: Inter-Asian Relations and Lhasa’s Muslim Communities, 1600 to 1960. David G. Atwill. University of California Press. 2018.

Tibet has never been ethnically, religiously nor linguistically monolithic. Tibet’s ethnic, religious and linguistic makeup has been complex and diverse at the cradle of Tibetan civilisation, Lhasa. As noted by travellers from overseas, from Ippolito Desideri to Ekai Kawaguchi, not only was Lhasa a cosmopolitan city, but the monastic universities in the vicinity were also international learning centres that attracted scholars from various Asian countries. In the same vein, the current situation of Tibetans in exile is more complex and multifaceted than conventional wisdom would have it.

The case of Tibetan Muslims (Tib. Khache), their history and contemporary predicament offers fascinating and crucial insight into the aforementioned complexities of Tibetan society. Through careful study of previously untapped archival materials as well as interviews with members of various Khache communities in Lhasa and India, David G. Atwill’s Islamic Shangri-La investigates the long-ignored history of the Khache from the seventeenth to the twentieth century, with keen attention to the complexities and contradictions surrounding notions of identity, subjecthood and citizenship as Tibetans deal with their conception of national identity in terms of nation-state ideologies and policies.

As the title of the book suggests, with an allusion to Donald S. Lopez Jr.’s groundbreaking Prisoners of Shangri-La, Atwill argues that most overseas observers and their accounts of Lhasa and Central Tibet mistakenly portrayed the Khache as ‘outsiders’ or ‘foreigners’ because the Khache did not fit in their imaginary, singular and monolithic narrative of Tibetans as Buddhists and the city of Lhasa as the capital of the Buddhist kingdom.

Atwill begins the book by carefully analysing the differences amongst the Tibetan Muslim communities, their respective histories and the multivalence of the term Khache in its contemporary usage. He demonstrates that historically Khache referred only to the Tibetan Muslims in Central Tibetan cities like Lhasa and Shigatse, not the Tibetan Muslims in Northeastern Tibet (Amdo), nor the Chinese Muslims (Hui) who have settled in different cities of Central Tibet in the past few decades. The contemporary usage of the term Khache or Zang-Hui for all Tibetan Muslims not only conceals the history of the Khache, but also undermines the cosmopolitan character and diversity of Lhasa and its inter-Asian connections before the twentieth century.

Atwill provides a clear historical context to the ethnic makeup and diversity of foreign residents in Lhasa. For instance, as many accounts by outside observers treated the Khache as similar to the Khatsara (half-Nepalese and half-Tibetan) with regard to their legal status and other privileges, this served to obscure the position of the Khache within Tibetan society. Unlike the Khatsaras, both Khaches and Kokos (half-Tibetan and half-Chinese) were fully accepted as Tibetans and were subject to Tibetan law, as evidenced by several examples of legal cases. After the Treaty of Thapathali (1856) between Tibet and Nepal, Nepalese traders and nationals gained extraterritorial rights in Tibet, which were also extended to the Khatsara.

Furthermore, Tibetan historical sources that are predominantly written by Tibetan Buddhists rarely addressed the Khache, despite their presence in Tibet for the past three centuries. Atwill contends:

Not abandoned or erased, the Khache have always remained in plain sight, yet never quite in focus. They have been screened off within the official chronicling of the past since they do not fit comfortably in the historical narrative of Tibet (12).

Islamic Shangri-La challenges the master narratives of contemporary Tibetan history and national identity, and provides an alternative ‘history from below’ as the narrative of the Khache uncovers what Dipesh Chakrabarty defines as their ‘subaltern past’.  It makes an important intervention in highlighting the process by which imaginings of national identity are produced, reified and naturalised through the nationalist discourse of Tibetans in exile.

Although the Khache rarely appear in Tibetan historical sources as noted above, the Khache are known for their linguistic ability and literary gift. For instance, one of the greatest secular Tibetan works of socio-moral teaching is Advice on the Art of Living by Faizullah, a Tibetan Muslim who wrote under the sobriquet Khache Phalu. The Khache seamlessly integrated into Tibetan society as the community evolved and expanded through intermarriage with local Tibetans who converted to Islam, and their multilingualism (Tibetan, Hindi, Chinese and English) and commercial expertise allowed them to serve as guides for outsiders in Tibet since the seventeenth century.

When the current Dalai Lama fled into exile and the People’s Republic of China completed the takeover of Tibet in 1959, the status of the Khache in Tibet altered permanently. As the Chinese Communist Party began its campaign of terror in the name of ‘liberating’ Tibetans from the shackles of ‘feudalism’, the Khache (Barkor Khaches in particular) decided to rethink their identity and assert their historical and ancestral Indian or Kashmiri identity, following the Khatsaras who immediately claimed their Nepalese citizenship and returned to Nepal. For the Chinese officials, the Khache’s denial of Tibetan identity was equivalent to declining Chinese citizenship, and thus demanded proof of their Indian citizenship. While the majority of the Khache couldn’t prove their Indian ancestry, some never even tried to leave Tibet, but close to one thousand Khaches left Tibet legally as ‘Indians’ in 1960 after a year-long political negotiation between the Governments of India and China concerning the status of the Lhasa Khache. In the midst of fear and tragedy, the Khache returned ‘home’ to India only to realise what their ‘repatriation’ entailed and to endure its consequences.

When the Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetans escaped into India, they were provided with Registration Certificates (RC) which gave them the legal status of ‘foreigners’, and this self-proclaimed ‘refusal’ of Indian citizenship became a rallying point of the Tibetan political movement in exile – a symbolic act of patriotism and political struggle. Therefore, in the eyes of the newly arrived Tibetans in exile who were predominantly Buddhists, the Khache not only betrayed Tibet but also forfeited their Tibetan identity the moment they exited Tibet as ‘Indians’.

On the one hand, the Khache were excluded from the Tibetan exile community. For instance, the Khache as ‘Indian citizens’ weren’t given representation in the parliament of the Tibetan Government in Exile. On the other hand, the State of Jammu and Kashmir did not consider the Khache as Kashmiri Indians but treated them as Tibetan refugees, and even today they still struggle to integrate into Kashmiri society. Ironically, the refusal of state citizenship by the government of Jammu and Kashmir placed the Khache in a position and predicament similar to the rest of the Tibetans in India. Atwill’s study aids in clearing certain misconceptions between the Khache and the rest of the Tibetan exile community and in bringing the estranged communities closer.

The recent history and experience of the Khache in India, especially those settled in Srinagar, underscore how the prevailing categories and concepts of national identity and citizenship are inadequate to explain and account for the Khache’s transnational identity. The fluidity of the Khache’s identity forces us to rethink such concepts and categories in light of the diversity and hybridity in the ethnic, linguistic and religious makeup of Tibet. In the context of the ‘decolonisation’ or reterritorialisation of Asia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Atwill does an excellent job of presenting how the case of the Lhasa Khache serves as an analytic lens that captures the changing relationship between space and identity. Islamic Shangri-La is a pioneering work in the study of Tibetan Muslims and an indispensable contribution to the growing literature and scholarship in Tibetan borderlands studies. Through painstaking scrutiny of a wide variety of archival materials, Atwill has produced an original work and delivers it in a style that is accessible to both specialists and non-specialists of Tibetan and Himalayan history and culture and of modern Asian history.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: Photograph of the Great Mosque of Lhasa, Tibet (Richard Mortel CC BY 2.0).

 


Update on Anti-Authoritarian Prisoners Involved in Vandalism (Tangerang and Bekasi, Indonesia)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 25/07/2020 - 9:42pm in

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Indonesia, Asia

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Three anti-authoritarian detainees from Tangerang and Bekasi (Indonesia) are charged with “provocation” for spraying graffiti and can be charged up to ten years in prison. The police have unlawfully isolated them from their families and legal aides. A report written by the Anti-authoritarian Federation (FedAO) of Indonesia and an update to “Solidarity with Anarchist Prisoners in Tangerang and Bekasi in Indonesia.”

We are reproducing this here to signal boost this news to the international community.

“sudah krisis, saatnya membakar” (there's a crisis already, time to burn) & “melawan atau mati konyol” (fight or perish)

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Interlinking our Struggles in Gender and Queer Issues

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 25/07/2020 - 4:02pm in

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Men in anarchist spaces need to step up to make our spaces safer and more inclusive. Lacking experience of being queer or women is no excuse to stay silent. Staying silent on oppression just contributes to that oppression.

We hope that this document can be part of the discussion to fundamentally abolish the patriarchal and cisheteronormative norms present even and especially among the anarchist spaces in the archipelago.

Bandilang Itim

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Book Review: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past, 1883-1924 by Vikram Sampath

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/07/2020 - 9:02pm in

In Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past, 1883-1924, Vikram Sampath offers the first volume in a new two-part comprehensive biography of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who played a key role in the development of Hindu nationalism. While the book offers detailed biographical information and makes use of Savarkar’s writings, the lack of critical analysis of Savarkar’s intellectual thought makes it far from a definitive account of this influential figure, writes Surajkumar Thube

Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past, 1883-1924. Vikram Sampath. Penguin India. 2019.  

Decoding Savarkar: Documentation Minus Analysis

With the rise of a Hindu nationalist government in India in 2014, Hindu nationalism, both as an idea and as an everyday phenomenon, was unleashed with institutional impunity. Hindu nationalism can be characterised as a majoritarian form of nationalism whose ultimate goal is to transform a secular-democratic India into a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ (roughly meaning ‘Hindu nation’), a majoritarian form of nation which treats all the cultural, social and political differences as nothing but manifestations of Hindu values. Even if many developments have shaped the rise and growth of Hindu nationalism over the years, the pioneering role of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar cannot be ignored.

Savarkar is widely considered as the most influential figure in the history of Hindu nationalism. His book Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? (1923) was the first comprehensive text that detailed the idea of ‘Hindutva’ (Hinduness) which became the key marker of the Hindu nationalist ideology. His emphasis on ‘Hindu unity’, equating Indian culture with the values of ‘Hindu civilization’, and his vision of a Hindu Rashtra that belonged only to those who treated India as their ‘Fatherland’ and ‘Holyland’ (thereby excluding Muslims and Christians and treating them as alien communities), were some of the core principles laid out in this book.

Largely remembered as the father of Hindu nationalism, Savarkar’s thoughts continue to influence Indians across generations. That said, it is a matter of intrigue that there has been no comprehensive biography of Savarkar in the English language up until now. Vikram Sampath attempts to fill this void in two volumes, with the first book, Savarkar: Echoes From a Forgotten Past, documenting the life events of Savarkar between 1883 and 1924. The book provides a detailed description of Savarkar’s early childhood days, his life as a law student in London where he helped Indian revolutionaries opposing British colonialism learn methods of assassination, his reading of the Indian Mutiny of 1857 as the ‘First War of Indian Independence’ and his daily struggles behind bars when he was transported to the British prison on the Andaman Islands for his alleged complicity in the killing of a British district magistrate.

The word ‘documenting’ is crucial here. The author’s goal is certainly to write a detailed two-part biography. However, as noted in the synopsis, he also aims to unearth certain aspects of Savarkar’s life which he believes have prevented ‘truth from coming to light’. He goes on to pose the question of ‘what was it that transformed Savarkar in the cellular jail to a proponent of Hindutva?’ His goal is therefore not only to chronicle Savarkar’s life events, but to make an argument for why his political thought evolved in a particular manner and to ‘put his life and philosophy in a new perspective’. However, the book largely focuses on showcasing anecdotal information and some rare public participation records rather than providing a critical analysis of Savarkar’s theoretical oeuvre. The author’s quest to include detailed information on every aspect of his life thereby becomes a limited attempt at convincing the reader that Savarkar must not be singularly maligned for his majoritarian impulse. ‘Truth’, we are told, ‘lies in between’.

Instead of focusing on all the details of Savarkar’s life in this period, I would like to highlight a few observations made by the author which fail to provide critical insight into Savarkar’s thoughts and deeds or make more persuasive and nuanced arguments. Sampath begins his introductory narrative by arguing Savarkar viewed Muslims with mere ‘suspicion’ (rather than derision and contempt), vowing to take up this narrative later in the text. Savarkar’s public projection of himself as a crusader against untouchability and his strong disbelief in everyday Hindu rituals are understood as opposition to the caste system. The possibility of such a strategic move directly helping Savarkar consolidate his idea of Hindutva by visualising all Hindus as one political entity is overlooked. This, alongside the fundamental point that being against casteism does not necessarily mean being against orthodoxy or the varna system, is not deemed significant enough for exploration. Sampath’s reference to Savarkar’s ‘alleged’ atheism is also left unexamined.

Furthermore, in order to underscore Savarkar’s ‘freedom fighter’ attributes of valour and militancy, these are juxtaposed with an oversimplified Gandhian idea of pacifism. Ironically, by deploying a term like ‘pacifism’ to explain Gandhi’s complex thought, Sampath’s documentation, which is presented as ‘self-evident’ in its meaning, robs the book of multiple possibilities for analysing Savarkar as well. This continues in the rest of the book as the detailing of life events comes at the cost of not providing enough critical substance.

We are introduced to Savarkar’s early days and how he found the caste system regressive since childhood. At the same time, we are also told that he started reading Vishnushastri Chiplunkar’s Nibandhamala among other works. Chiplunkar’s emergence marked the rise of a Marathi literary phase which had strong underpinnings of an upper-caste worldview packaged as ‘national consciousness’. There is no attempt to show how Nibandhamala’s position in history as a text that gave rise to a revivalist phase in the Marathi literary renaissance reconciles with Savarkar’s purported opposition to casteism.

Furthermore, we are made to wait until Savarkar is in his mid-twenties to explore how the concept of Hindutva developed. This abrupt introduction to what Hindutva actually entails belies the boasting of Savarkar’s precocious talents in the initial chapters. This raises the question of whether it is historically informed to accept that the basic tenets of Hindutva did not play any significant role in Savarkar’s childhood. Was there a sudden Hindutva epiphany moment in the early 1920s? What were Savarkar’s relations like with Muslims, lower castes and Dalits who may not have agreed with the growth trajectory of his intellectual thought from his childhood days?

These gaps become more pronounced when we are introduced to the readings that influenced Savarkar in his teenage years. Apart from a few local figures, Savarkar is said to have read Italian republicans Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi at the age of sixteen. He also read philosopher Herbert Spencer’s Liberal Utilitarianism and was inspired by English radical writer Thomas Frost’s book Secret Societies of the European Revolution, 1776-1876 (1876). While we do get introduced to these works, it is one thing to document Savarkar’s reading lists and quite another to dissect his comprehension methods and the development of his philosophy. For instance, what impact did reading a local rebel fighter like Vasudev Balwant Phadke, and at the same time reading a more global figure like Frost, have on Savarkar’s development of the arch of Hindutva? In this way, as information supersedes analysis, what ‘revolution’ actually meant for Savarkar eludes us. One example of this is how Sampath refers to secret societies in Ireland and Russia and their impact on Savarkar without unravelling this influence.

What substitutes for the anticipated laborious analysis is an extended graphic and emotional discussion of Savarkar’s sufferings in the notorious Andaman Jail. The jail chronicles effectively brush aside the hitherto dominant historiography (which includes works from scholars like A.G. Noorani, Jyotirmay Sharma, Vinayak Chaturvedi and many others) of how Savarkar capitulated in front of the British government. He first petitioned for release in 1911, following his attempted armed revolt against the Morley-Minto reforms (1909). He made additional petitions up until his final release from Ratnagiri jail in 1924, where he was transferred in 1921. In a bid to present Savarkar’s clemency petitions as an ingenious strategy to ensure his release from jail, the author does not address the conciliatory and timid tone of his petitions at a time when the notion of ‘sacrificing oneself for the nation’ was gaining momentum.

Despite Hindutva being written during Savarkar’s time in jail, Sampath’s focus largely remains on Savarkar’s hardships behind bars. This is only loosely accompanied by hollow comments on how ‘there was not a single book he left unread’ during this time. Again, there is no probing in terms of what transpired from Savarkar’s readings in terms of his eventual generation of thought. This is compounded further when a large section at the end of the book is a collection of essays written by Savarkar, including Savarkar’s views on the need to reform Hinduism, encouraging inter-caste marriages and dismissing cow worship as a superstition. While it is useful to provide these essays to English-language readers, we do not get any insight into Sampath’s views or his interpretation of these intellectual writings of Savarkar.

In the chapter titled ‘Who is a Hindu?’, Sampath alludes to the alienation and separatism among a vast section of Muslims in India as the context for the birth of Hindutva. By outsourcing the birth of Hindutva to ‘the suspicious’, Sampath clearly attempts to humanise Savarkar. Sampath gives examples to support this by showing how Muslims were wary of taking part in the activities of the Indian National Congress. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, a Muslim reformer of the nineteenth century, is declared as the first proponent of the Two-Nation theory. There is precious little in terms of engaging with Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s intellectual thought and how he was a vocal proponent of Hindu-Muslim unity. Furthermore, the Muslim League is said to have had actively vitiated communal harmony and the Moplah Rebellion in 1921 is described as a ‘fanatical outbreak’. As with the over-simplified portrayal of Sir Syed’s politics, the author’s discussion of the Hindu-Muslim riots that erupted in Malabar fails to provide  background to how the rebellion was primarily waged against the feudal system and an ailing agrarian economy. It also fails to problematise the role of upper-caste Hindu landlords since the nineteenth century. Instead, Hindutva is ultimately projected as an ‘all-embracing philosophy’, as a phenomenon that focuses on building a unitary identity.

Sampath, in a paradoxical sense, retrieves ownership of Hindutva’s origins from Savarkar and puts the ‘Muslim context’ at the forefront. Savarkar’s case for building a strong, muscular Hindu society is primarily seen, almost always, as a reaction to Muslim aggression. This narrative, more than anything else, saves Savarkar from being castigated as an exacerbator of Hindu-Muslim discord. The book will definitely be helpful for an English reading audience as it does make use of Savarkar’s writings in the vernacular Marathi language, although a systematic study of popular and academic commentaries on Savarkar in Marathi still remains largely underexplored. That said, it remains far from being a definitive account of Hindu nationalism’s pioneering figure.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: Crop of corridor of the cellular jail (Ankur Panchbudhe CC BY SA 2.0).

 


The New Terror Bill in the Philippines: Another Front in the Worldwide Struggle against Tyranny

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/07/2020 - 10:23am in

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An introduction to why Filipinos oppose the Anti-Terrorism Act in the Philippines with a preface from CrimethInc.

History has never been kind to tyrants. We must prove this once more. We will fight tooth and nail. Stand with us.

A.S. Sakdal

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FT Review from 2000 of Three History Books on the British Empire

Another clipping I’ve kept is a review by the Financial Time’s David Gilmour, ‘World in the Pink’, of three history books on the British Empire. The books reviewed were The Oxford History of the British Empire: The Nineteenth Century, edited by Andrew Porter, The Oxford History of the British Empire: The Twentieth Century, edited by Judith M. Brown and Wm Roger Louis; and the Oxford History of the British Empire: Historiography, edited by Robin W. Winks. The review was in the FT’s weekend edition for February 19/20 2000. I’m putting it up here as some readers might find it useful, as after the Black Lives Matter protests the history of the British empire is going to come under debate once again. The review runs

Once upon a time the British Empire was an easy subject to teach. Pupils stood in front of the schoolroom map, identified two red dots in the middle, and were encouraged to gaze with wonder at the vast expanse of similarly coloured spaces stretching from Canada at the top left to New Zealand at the bottom right. If suitably awestruck, they could then learn about these places (and how they came to be red) in the novels of Henty and Rider Haggard and in the poems of Tennyson, Kipling and Newbold.

Stout histories were also available for serious pupils to study the process of conquest and dominion, the spread of civilisation and prosperity, and, in some cases, the splendid bestowal of certain freedoms. From them students would learn that “the British Empire existed for the welfare of the world”, a belief held by many but expressed in these particularly terms by Gandhi. Guided by Providence and Queen Victoria, Britain had assumed a grandmaternal role, the mother of Dominion daughters, the “mother of parliaments” and, even more stirringly, “mother of the Free”.

The uniformity of the vision – red is red whether in Canada or Ceylon – may have been useful for the schoolteacher and the recruiting officer. But the men sent out to administer different systems all over the globe understood its limitations. The appearance of theses impressive books, the last in the five volume Oxford History of the British Empire, demonstrates that historians, after a long time-lag in the first half of the 20th century, have caught up with them.

The previous attempt at a comprehensive survey, the Cambridge History of the British Empire (published in nine volumes between 1929 and 1959), retained the anglocentric approach of earlier works, as well as their assumptions of a noble imperial purpose. Without entirely demolishing those assumptions (indeed the editor-in-chief, Roger Louis, specifically endorses some of them), the Oxford History offers more cautious and rataher more sophisticated assessments of the imperial experience. As Louis points out, these volumes do not depict it as “one of purposeful progress” nor concentrate narrowly on “metropolitan authority and rule”; nor do they see its demise as “steady decline and fall”. Their emphasis is on diversity, on a “constantly changing territorial empire and ever-shifting patterns of social and economic relations”.

The chief inspiration behind this approach is the work of the late historian Jack Gallagher and Ronald Robinson, who compared the empire to an iceberg, the visible section being the red-painted colonies and the submerged bulk representing the “imperialism of free trade”, a vast “informal empire” based on naval supremacy and economic power which extended into places such as China, Latin America and the Middle East.

Many of the contributors to the Oxford volumes apply this view to their own areas. In south-east Asia, stresses A.J. Stockwell, the demarcation between Britain’s formal empire and its neighbours was indistinct: “‘British pink’ seeped over the whole region: nearly indelible in some areas, it merely tinged other parts and elsewhere faded fast.”

The scope of these books is so large that there were bound to be gaps: Malta and Gibraltar are barely mentioned, sport and the “games ethic” are ignored, and almost nothing is said about training administrators to do their job. Yet the overall achievement is undeniably impressive. Under the magisterial guidance of Louis (a distinguished American academic whose appointment as editor raised predictable insular howls in the UK), a vast array of of historians has produced a solid monument of contemporary scholarship. Some of the contributions, such as those by E.H.H. Green on political economy and David Fitzpatrick on Ireland’s ambivalence towards the empire are brilliants – subjects that would justify individual volumes distilled into concise and lucid essays.

Naturally there can be neither a common view nor a uniformity of tone among the hundred contributors to these volumes. The assembled historians are certainly not apologists for imperialism but nor, in general, are they too apologetic about it. Several remind us of its humanitarian dimension, and Louis may have confounded his fogeyish detractors with his view that Kipling was “perhaps the greatest poet of the age”. In addition, while appropriate genuflections are made to all those contemporary “studies” (area, gender, cultural and so on), the faddish preoccupation with “discourse” (in its postmodernist and post-colonial contexts) is restricted.

Yet the work has some of the defects as well as most of the merits of current historical writing: too much drab prose, too heavy a reliance on tables and statistics, a sense (especially in Historiography) of colleagues complimenting each other while disparaging their predecessors. Few contributions show real historical imagination: several leave an aroma of seminars and obscure historical quarterlies.

The great historian Richard Cobb used to say that a good deal of French history could be walked, seen and above all heard in cafes or buses or on park benches in Paris and Lyon. But most of the academics in these volumes do not seem to share his view that history is a cultural and creative subject as well as an academic one. However diligent their research may have been, they do not write as if they have ever sat in a Delhi rickshaw or a cafe in Calcutta. Robin J. Moore directs readers to all his own books, but neither he nor any of his colleagues cite a work published in an Indian language.

Yet if these volumes have little feel for the imperial setting and its personal impact, they manage to convey the sheer scope of the enterprise, the scale of the endeavour, the means by which those little dots reddened a quarter of the map. More importantly, they demonstrate the need to study the empire’s history, not in order to glorify or denigrate, but in order to understand the centuries of interaction between the dots and their formal and informal empires.

Perhaps this history, the first to be written since the territorial dismantlement, will mark a new stage not just of reassessment but of acceptance of the empire’s importance, for good and for bad, in the history of our planet. The topic is unfashionable in Britain today – Bristol’s excellent British Empire and Commonwealth Museum has not received a penny of public money – but it might now, thanks to Louis and his collaborators, emerge as something more than a sterile debate between those who regard it as a cause for sniggering and those who see it as a reason to swagger.

Bristol’s Empire and Commonwealth Museum is no more, unfortunately. It packed up and left Bristol for new premises at the Commonwealth Institute in London, where it died the death. I believe its former collection is now housed in the Bristol’s M Shed museum. The Empire is going to be acutely relevant now with the debate over racism, social justice and what history should be taught in schools. There are parts of British imperial history that are indefensible – the conquest of the Caribbean, slavery, the extermination of indigenous Australians, the concentration camps of the Boer War, the Bengal Famine and the massacres in Kenya. Niall Ferguson in a discussion about the British empire on a programme on Radio 4 a few years ago admitted its dark side, but said that it was a benevolent institution, although he qualified this. I think he said something to the effect of ‘just about’. For a short history of the negative side of the British empire – its domination, exploitation and massacre, see John Newsinger’s The Blood Never Dried. But it was also responsible for bring modern, western science, education and medicine to distant parts of the globe.

And it did try to stamp out slavery worldwide, not only where it had established and exploited it, but also indigenous slavery and forms of servitude around the world. That shouldn’t be forgotten either.

Feature Essay: Literary Work and Contemporary Crisis: On Two Novels Concerning India

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/07/2020 - 9:22pm in

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Asia, Politics, India

In this feature essay, Atreyee Majumder reflects on literature’s relationship with contemporary crises through reading two recent novels, Samit Basu’s Chosen Spirits and Megha Majumdar’s A Burning, which share a concern for the challenges facing India today. 

Literary Work and Contemporary Crisis: On Two Novels Concerning India

Chosen Spirits. Samit Basu. Simon and Schuster. 2020.

A Burning. Megha Majumdar. Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House. 2020.

The idea of India has pervaded Anglophone literature for decades. One can populate a potted history of ‘India’ novels with works like Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel. These literary works stem from an implicit concern with the state of things in India, or rather the health of the idea of India, besides situating a particular story in the nation’s socio-historical canvas. I recently read and found myself pondering over two novels – Chosen Spirits by Samit Basu and A Burning by Megha Majumdar – both of which implicitly show a concern for the India question of today. This question emerges from the current political milieu which is a far cry from the ideals (equality, secularism, tolerance and so on) of India’s originary moment, as enshrined in its originary document – the Constitution that came into effect in 1950. What will happen to the idea of India given the current developments? These two novels seem to emanate from contemporary crises, though Chosen Spirits is located in the future (around 2030), while A Burning is temporally unmarked. I use these two novels to mark out a conversation that literature has been having consistently with the question of the contemporary. I found myself asking: what is literature’s relationship with contemporary crises? How does time (in this case, the contemporary) lend itself to narrative form beyond serving the purpose of creating the temporal backdrop for plot? This essay arises from a meditation on these questions.

Literature and the Contemporary

The literary author takes up the canvas of the contemporary as a central focus of her work, not only because it will quickly arouse the interest of the audience. That may be a consideration – people like to read about what is immediate. But such literary works provide a certain author-mediated continuity between the reading public and the current milieu. They seek various kinds of resolutions to quandaries of the present. These resolutions may be cathartic, hopeful or dystopic. But through them, the author inevitably emerges as a mediator in the struggles of the present, one who shows continuities, and in some cases ruptures, with the current time. The author arises not only as a sociological and historical documenter of the times, but as a conjurer who contains the power of offering release. If the contemporary is a cage we are all trapped in together, the author offers some terms of negotiation.

The author of the contemporary novel, I believe, also serves as a friend of the citizenry of the current time. Somewhat like a psychologist, offering alternate narratives for the same events, offering attention to the minutiae, offering empathy for those in pain. In addition, the author establishes, through literary production, a moral project. A project of catharsis in remembering what we knew to be true and good, and what has gone wrong in the present. The author may not always show her siding with the ‘right’ side of history in an obvious way; her setting up of comparative moral weight to narrative elements establishes a moral stage on which the author helps the audience in making collective judgment.

But first, a bit about the two contemporary novels I will be discussing. Basu’s Chosen Spirits is squarely within the genre of speculative fiction, while Majumdar’s A Burning is a realist novel, which although temporally unmarked, carries traces of the current Indian political milieu. The protagonist in Chosen Spirits is a 24-year-old woman, Joey, who is negotiating a post-conflict Delhi in 2030, layered with memories of the 2019 Shaheen Bagh CAA/NRC protests and a consequent clampdown on freedom of expression and assembly. Joey is a ‘Reality Controller’ in a world where influencers and their curated lives have heavy social and economic value. Joey’s life progresses through a number of events – some within the folds of the reality manufacturing company of which she is production head, some outside in the city of Delhi where we see a strong class divide and the underclass in a state of frenzied anger at the powers-that-be.

Chosen Spirits maintains a definite continuity with the actual 2019 CAA/NRC protests in India against the religion-based reforms in citizenship law and the repression of this public dissent. Joey’s parents are victims of that moment who, as a consequence, in 2030 have lost jobs and dignity and are ill-adjusted to the place of the future. The future is a place where you do not express dissent, definitely not openly in your home where there could be recording devices. One of the most interesting touches in the novel is the delicately woven normalcy of a technologically unfamiliar universe. A sure example of this is the voice of Narad (an advanced version of today’s Siri), who carries out the dutiful conduct of specifying the biopsychological condition of Joey, suggesting therapeutic changes from time to time. Another interesting aspect in Chosen Spirits is the moral continuity of the liberal subject through to the 2030s – where Joey is compelled to keep her mouth shut, but feels the exact same genre of dislike for the state of things in her city, and presumably nation, as a left-liberal citizen of 2020, particularly in the wake of the nationwide CAA/NRC protests.

A Burning tracks the months following the Facebook-post-led arrest of Jivan, a young woman who works as a salesperson in the Pantaloons store in Kolkata; through her circumstances, we are increasingly led to infer that she and her family are Muslims. As Jivan’s arrest, prison stint and trial progress on the charges of sedition for interacting online with a terrorist recruiter as well as aiding in a recent train-burning incident, two other characters emerge in the story whose lives get entangled in the main narrative. Lovely, a transgender woman, whose acting career gets a miraculous boost because of her impassioned testimony at Jivan’s trial, and PT Sir, perhaps the most interesting character, a hapless physical education teacher in Jivan’s school who grows his political ambition through a number of events and ends up as education secretary in the newly victorious Jana Kalyan Party’s government. PT Sir’s ambivalence at his former student Jivan’s mercy petition, after initially being sympathetic to her plea of innocence, and the slow submergence of his guilt in the intoxication of newly held power, are perhaps the most real testimonies that this novel bears to the current condition of ordinary Indian people.

India: A Crisis Cauldron

India in 2020 is embroiled in multiple crises. The Indian slice of the COVID-19 pandemic is looking quite acute as I write this essay. Yet, 2019-20 have been populated with a number of other crises – not only the aforementioned CAA/NRC protests, but also the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir (negating the various special autonomies of Kashmir that were earlier granted), the continuous internet shutdown in Kashmir since August 2019 and the outbreak of localised riots in February 2020 in Northeast Delhi. As the pandemic thickened in regions like Delhi, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, there appeared a deadly cyclone Amphan in Bengal, causing massive damage to life, livelihood and property, especially in the ecologically significant landscape of the Sundarbans on the coast of the Bay of Bengal. This was then compounded by tension at the India-China borders in Ladakh, especially the Galwan Valley.

The crisis cauldron that is contemporary India is underlaid by the expanding liberal worry about a government run by the conservative Bharatiya Janata Party and its social wings (the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and others) that, over the course of two government terms, have openly alienated minorities of all kinds, especially Muslims. The hateful rhetoric has been coupled with arrests of many well-known left-leaning activists as well as many incidents of mobs lynching persons of Muslim or Dalit backgrounds for cow slaughter.

All this is to say that the crisis cauldron in India is now filled with ingredients that could directly lead to dystopian fiction. A brutal government, an unstable economy, a pandemic and other natural disasters, diplomatic crises and communal violence. Why should we worry about India? The answer would be: it is our country, we are its citizens, we mean well for the future of the country, we wish to pass down a certain ethical register of how India should be governed to our progeny. These answers add up for the case for protest and dissent. They don’t quite add up to lead us to a particular form of artistic production.

So why should we be concerned for India in our artistic production? Let me venture into this question through a reading of the character of Joey in Chosen Spirits and the character of PT Sir in A Burning as the voices of concern for India. PT Sir gets closer and closer into the inner circle of the Jana Kalyan Party, and comes to participate in its rising ambition to win the imminent legislative assembly elections. PT Sir, whose birth name we do not know, goes to buy modern kitchen equipment with his wife after he joins the party at a considerably high salary. PT Sir’s self-confidence increases significantly as he is no longer a bystander at public meetings, but a speaker and an organiser – an important man, a righthand man to the party honcho, Bimala Pal. There is a testament here to the life of the lower-middle classes in Kolkata, West Bengal, where the Communist Party had ruled for 33 years. Having a political party interact with the interstices of one’s daily life is a mundane thing in Kolkata. Majumdar curates this closeness, this banal shoulder-rubbing with the forces of politics, with great precision.

PT Sir watches a devastating incident of communal violence. He musters the courage to voice his discomfort with such politics to Bimala Pal. He even considers resigning. But the opportunities offered by the party are too powerful to resist. His wavering conscience is much too real – a key voice of contemporary India, as evidenced by a large number of people, journalists and intellectuals included, who lost their conscience once the opportunity of personal enrichment presented itself through association with a party whose moral ideals one may find objectionable.

This rift between internal morality and outer action is the current, dominant voice of India. An alienation from laudable ideals encased in the constitution or morals emanating from architects of the nation like Gandhi and Nehru, coupled with co-option into the current apparatus of power, which seduces some with power and money, and forces others into a quiet acquiescence. This rift is the place of pain which the current voice of India expresses, I believe. The December/January CAA/NRC protests took up the challenge of reading the idealistic Preamble of the Constitution in public, as a kind of rehearsal of a lost morality. PT Sir is the metonym, I believe, of this loss.

Joey, on the other hand, was only fourteen at the time of the CAA/NRC protests. 2020, our present, is a year she looks back on as the troubled times of her adolescence. There is veiled reference to a whole decade of violence in Delhi, including ‘riots of 2026’. The control of authoritarianism is now nearly complete. There are recording devices everywhere. Life is punctuated by reality shows by influencers like Indi and Tara who dress their lives with fake relationships as ‘flow’. Flow is the jargon for this new register of reality. It comes with its own technological hardware, including headgear. Joey constantly harbours an irritation in her inner voice at the world, and also herself. This irritation has a telling continuity with the current comportment of liberal citizens who find themselves without a meaningful course of action. Joey, though, grows up through all of this technological surveillance and indoctrination, and survives with a conscience that is unwavering. We see her initially as someone who is trying to get by keeping quiet, and cautioning her parents from time to time from talking politics, especially about the troubled past that they witnessed as younger adults. But it is clear in her head that the world around her is morally bankrupt. We see her in the end initiating herself into meaningful action after her encounter with Raja from the Cyber Bazaar underclass. Joey, too, on an optimistic note, could be the voice of India. One that is forced to play the war of positions, finding itself cornered from all ends in the current time and therefore turning silent, but harbouring an inner conscience that is strong and capable of meaningful action.

Through both characters, the authors express concern and investment in the ethical complex at the heart of the idea of India. The two characters speak as India of the present day, while the authors also speak with them. Basu excavates a sliver of hope at the very end; Majumdar damns the current arrangement of power that shapes India. While authorial concern for the contemporary disastrous state of things is not new (remember the literary legacy of George Orwell’s 1984), what is refreshing in these two novels is that this concern is voiced through the characters themselves in their negotiation of their circumstances and not spoken baldly as political commentary by the authors.

Time and The Novel

Raymond Williams, in the essay ‘Realism and the Contemporary Novel’ (1958), makes a distinction between the ‘social novel’ and the ‘personal novel’. The ‘social novel’ is one in which a farmer or a miner’s primary function in the story is to show the typical life of a miner or a farmer. A key example of the ‘individual novel’ would be Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway or D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover in which the dispositions, motives and actions of the protagonists (including the gamekeeper in the latter) are of greater importance than a demonstration of their social location.

Williams’s distinction is useful until it isn’t, when one can show that in some novels, the individual becomes a metonym of a larger entity, usually the nation or the society. In this way, Chosen Spirits and A Burning are neither social nor personal novels. The protagonists are symptoms of the anxieties of our time. The stories are personal, but the characters are not contained within the interiority of an individual only. Yes, they represent particular social brackets – more definitely in A Burning, where Jivan, PT Sir and Lovely are negotiating lives near the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, and Jivan is Muslim, while Joey and her friends come from a technologically savvy youth born out of the generation of middle and upper classes who lost jobs in the ugly events of the past ten years. Yet, these characters unfold not by reduction into socioeconomic units, but as expansions of the particular anxieties about justice and goodness in our time. Both novels ask an immensely ethical question – when and how will justice be delivered in our deeply unfair world? – and go on to resolve it through hope or dystopia.

Both novels are future-oriented. In Chosen Spirits, Basu locates the future as a mundane place with radically different technological arrangements, alongside ethical and political anxieties quite like our own time. Joey’s cautious nature in the midst of all kinds of trouble around her is a clear symptom of our present, for which the future is an effective mirror. Even if A Burning is temporally unmarked, it ponders the possible extension of the Indian contemporary into the future.  The future, further, is a trope through which Jivan’s internality unfolds to the reader – she is constantly worried about her and her parents’ futures. And so are Lovely and PT Sir, in different ways. Williams writes about the future-story:

The “future” device (usually only a device, for nearly always it is quite obviously contemporary society that is being written about) removes the ordinary tension between the chosen pattern and normal observation. Such novels as Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Fahrenheit 242 [sic], are powerful social fiction, in which a pattern taken from contemporary society is materialized, as a whole, in another time or place. (Williams 1958, 23)

Williams shows the future to draw from the contemporary pattern. The future in such narratives, according to Williams, functions as a place of release from the current oppositions between a ‘vile society’ and a noble individual. This trope of opposition can be seen in both Chosen Spirits and A Burning. Both novels set up a generalised anxiety and disdain harboured by the protagonists about the state of the world. The difference is that Jivan is at the centre of a terror trial, fighting for life and dignity. And Joey, a successful Reality Controller, can afford the luxury of a thinly veiled and cautious disgust for the state of the nation and society around her. The future sits in both novels as a place of dumping the hope or despair of the central characters. PT Sir enters his office as an education secretary at the end of A Burning. He has been entirely co-opted into the new Jana Kalyan government; we don’t see signs of his earlier conflicted conscience anymore. Joey makes a resolve at the end of Chosen Spirits, the nature of which is indeterminate. But through it, Basu turns dystopia on its head. The future becomes an exaltation to action.

Both novels keep time – like taal, in Hindustani classical music. Jivan’s waiting in prison cells, making one hundred rotis and negotiating the petty authority of prison figures Americandi and Uma Madam marks the time of the novel in A Burning. The pattern of the temporally unmarked novel is to follow the mental temporality of Jivan. The novel spans for as long as Jivan waits. The quagmire of the trial, the prison, the newspaper reports calling her a terrorist, populate Jivan’s mental landscape. But these are ingredients dressing the basic uncertainty of not knowing when and if she will get out of prison. Thus, Jivan emerges as a time-keeping device in the novel.

In Chosen Spirits, the biopsychological technological teller Narad (the name obviously taken from the character that serves as the conscience of the Hindu mythological world) is, as I see it, the time-keeping device. Narad narrates Joey’s inner stress from time to time, and punctuates these observations with banal corrective suggestions, like ‘play soothing music’. Narad marks the internal time of Joey. Joey is constantly running away from herself in some ways, but Narad serves as a useful, somewhat annoying, reminder of the temporality within Joey which maintains the rhythm of the progress of the story. Throughout the novel, Joey is usually irritated by Narad, as is the nature of time-keeping devices which reveal to us that a lot has happened while we were busy trying to respond to our circumstances. Narad reflects a kind of cosmological time, I believe, while Jivan reflects the lived anxieties of time, mainly through the trope of waiting.

Literary authors have long suggested to us what is right and what is wrong. Literary works have mirrored the problems in our current world, setting up an opposition between society and a morally upright protagonist struggling to make sense of it. As India wavers and alienates itself from its original moral project, we read the Preamble to our Constitution at protests as a reminder of these goals. All the while, some look over our shoulders to see if we are being watched or not, while risking the difficult path of meaningful moral action. The authors of Chosen Spirits and A Burning emerge as tellers of this symptom of our time. Basu and Majumdar emerge as crucial time-keepers for us.

Note: This feature essay gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Banner Image Credit: Photo by Sumit Saharkar on Unsplash.

In-text Image One Credit: Paper boats in the shape of a heart at Shaheen Bagh protests, New Delhi, 15 Jan 2020 (DM CCO).

 


Dan Hodges Lies about Liberal Left Hating White Working Class

Yesterday I put up a piece attacking ‘Celebrity Radio’ host Alex Bellfield, who had falsely claimed that ‘lefties’ had done nothing about the sweatshops in Leicester. As I explained in my piece, the problem wasn’t with the left. The Labour MP for Leicester East, Claudia Webbe, had talked about the problems with the area’s sweatshops in a Zoom online meeting on Saturday afternoon organised as part of the Arise festival of the Labour Left. Webbe made it very clear that she and others had tried to get the authorities to act about the appalling conditions and low pay in the city’s garment industry, but they were ignored.

Now another right-wing hack is also spreading lies about the ‘liberal left’. Yesterday a video appeared on my YouTube page from Talk Radio. This one had had the title ‘Dan Hodges – Liberal Left View White Working Class as the Enemy’. Hodges is a writer for the Daily Mail. Such is the quality of his journalism that readers of Zelo Street know him as ‘the celebrated Blues artist Whinging Dan Hodges’. It’s an old chestnut. The Tories have been pursuing this line for years. Way back in 2003/4 the Spectator was publishing pieces like ‘Blackened Whites’ about how anti-racist activists were maligning the working class. These articles contained lines such as ‘there is only one minority not welcome under Labour on the streets of central London – White men’. They also opined about how the Left despised working class Whites because of their patriotism, amongst other values.

This is a flat-out lie. It was another one that was shown as such by the speakers at Saturday’s conference. The first of these was Black Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy. She gave a superb speech making it clear that Labour stood for the working class in all its diversity, and that we should not allow the working class to be divided. It was a theme repeated again and again by nearly all the speakers there, including, I believe, Corbyn’s deputy, John McDonnell.

Owen Jones, the bete noir of the rabid right, made the same point in his brilliant book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class. He dispels accusations of racism made against the unions during a strike. I’ve forgotten the precise details, but the media presented it as if it had been caused by White workers refusing to work alongside Blacks and Asians. In fact the reverse was true. The strike had been called by the union partly because of the exploitation of BAME workers. There is racism in the working class,  and a feeling of marginalization. The latter has its roots in the way New Labour turned its back on the working class in order to chase middle class Tories. This created a constituency of White, low-skilled, working class people in their fifties for UKIP. See the excellent study of that particular piece of populism when it was led by the Fuhrage, Revolt on the Right.

I don’t believe Black Lives Matter has helped this situation. Although the demonstrators have repeatedly stressed that they are not against Whites – I’ve mentioned the meme of the cute little Black girl holding a placard spelling this out – and there was another placard with the slogan ‘We’re Not Trying to Start a Race War – We’re Trying to End One’, unfortunately that is the impression some BLM protests make. The right-wing put up another video a few days ago about a group of BLM protesters demonstrating against White privilege in Birmingham. The photograph for that video showed a White middle-aged women waving a placard with the slogan ‘Use your White Privilege for Good’. This is particularly tin-eared. Whites and ethnic minorities are not homogenous communities occupying distinct places in the social hierarchy. While Whites generally have higher status, better jobs and education, and are more prosperous than Black, this is certainly not uniformly the case. Some ethnic groups, such as the Chinese, outperform Whites. Indians are only slightly behind Whites in society as a rule. Muslims and Blacks are at the bottom, but nevertheless there are many Whites who are as poor or poorer than parts of those ethnic groups. And the worst performing group at school are White working class boys. By waving such placards, the protesters appear to show that they are indeed elite middle-class Whites with a hatred of the working class. But if they do, those protesters do not speak for all left-liberals.

The Labour left support the White working class, just as they support all the disparate communities of the working class. The Tories don’t. They only appear to in order to garner votes, fostering racial antagonism in a very cynical policy of divide et conquera. As we’ve seen over the past ten years of Tory rule, they have cut welfare benefits, frozen pay and introduced mass unemployment and job insecurity to Whites as well as Blacks and Asians, while at the same time lying to them in the pages of the Scum, the Heil, Torygraph and Spectator that they are really defending them. It’s a classic piece of misdirection that the racist elites have done for centuries. In 17th century America the colonial rulers after Bacon’s rebellion found a way to prevent White indentured labourers joining forces in revolt with Black slaves: they simply defined Whites legally against Blacks, but gave them no extra rights nor privileges. White indentured labourers were as exploited as before, but it worked. Whites felt themselves to be superior and no longer joined Black revolts quite as they did. Although many White working people, as well as liberal Whites further up in the social hierarchy could still have considerable sympathy for Black slaves. James Walvin in one of his books on slavery has a passage from a 19th century article stating that in Scotland, the women who demand slave emancipation are working class.

The likes of Hodges have been lying to Black and White for a long time. It’s time we stopped listening and exposed this lie for what it is. Working people of all colours unite – you have nothing to lose but your chains, as Marx could have said.

 

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