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History of Global Slavery in Maps

James Walvin, Atlas of Slavery (Harlow: Pearson Education 2006).

I’ve blogged several times about the importance of putting western, transatlantic slavery in its global context. Slavery was not something that only White Europeans did to Black Africans. It has plagued humanity across history and the globe. It existed in ancient Greece and Rome, in the Arab and Islamic worlds and even in sub-Saharan Africa itself. And it reappeared in the 20th century in the Nazi concentration and death camps, and the gulags of Stalin’s Soviet Union, as well as the Russian dictators deportation of whole ethnic groups and nations to Siberia.

While concentrating very much on European transatlantic slavery, in which Black slaves were transported to the Caribbean and North and South America, Walvin’s book does place it in this global, historical context. James Walvin is a former history lecturer at the University of York, and was the co-editor of the journal Slavery and Abolition. He has also published a series of books on the subject. Walvin’s Atlas of Slavery presents the history of slavery throughout the world in maps. The blurb for it on the book’s back cover runs

The enslavement of Africans and their transportation across the Atlantic has come to occupy a unique place in the public imagination. Despite the wide-ranging atrocities of the twentieth century (including massive slave systems in Nazi Europe and the Russian Gulag), the Atlantic slave system continues to hold a terrible fascination. But slavery in the Atlantic world involved much more than the transportation of human cargo from one country to another, as Professor Walvin clearly explains in the Atlas of Slavery.

In this fascinating new book he looks at slavery in the Americas in the broadest context, taking account of both earlier and later forms of slavery. The relationship between the critical continents, Europe, Africa and the Americas is examined through a collection of maps and related text, which puts the key features of the history of slavery in their defining geographical setting. By foregrounding the historical geography of slavery, Professor Walvin shows how the people of three widely separated continents were brought together into an economic and human system that was characterized both by violence and cruelty to its victims and huge economic advantage to its owners and managers.

Professor Walvin’s synthesis of the complex history of Atlantic slavery provides a fresh perspective from which to view and understand one of the most significant chapters in global history. We may think of slavery as a largely bygone phenomenon, but it is a practice that continues to this day, and the exploitation of vulnerable human beings remains a pressing contemporary issue.

After an introduction, the book has the following chapters:

  1. Slavery in a global setting.
  2. The ancient world.
  3. Overland African slave routes
  4. 4 European slavery and slave trades
  5. Exploration and the spread of sugar
  6. Europeans, slaves and West Africa
  7. Britain, slavery and the slave trade
  8. Africa
  9. The Atlantic
  10. Crossing the Atlantic
  11. Destinations
  12. Arrivals
  13. Brazil
  14. The Caribbean
  15. North America
  16. Cotton and the USA
  17. Slave resistance
  18. Abolition and emancipation
  19. East Africa and the Indian Ocean
  20. Slavery after abolition.

The book concludes with a chronology, further reading list and index.

This is slavery minutely described. The maps and accompanying texts not only discuss the history of slavery itself, but also the general trading systems of which it was a part, the goods and agricultural products, like cotton, it served to produce, and the regions, towns and cities that produced and traded in them and the routes across which they were transported. There is even a map of the currents of the Atlantic Ocean as part of the background to the horrendous Middle Passage – the shipping route across the ocean used to transport slaves from Africa to the New World.

The book’s an excellent resource for people studying or simply interested in the history of slavery. The book is almost totally devoted to transatlantic slavery, as you’d expect. But not totally so, and as I said, this global historical context is needed if an equally racist, anti-White view of the history of slavery is to be avoided.







































































Correspondence with Deputy Major Asher Craig on Slavery Education in Bristol

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/07/2020 - 11:23pm in

Asher Craig (below) is Bristol’s deputy mayor from communities, which takes in public health, public transport, libraries, parks, and events and equalities, and the Labour councillor for St. George West.

Councillor Asher Craig

I sent an email to her on Tueday this week, 7th July 2020, expressing my concerns at a brief interview she had given to BBC News Sunday night, and which had been repeated that morning on Radio 4. This was about Edward Colston and the legacy of slavery in the city. The Beeb had dispatched Lisa Mzimba to Bristol to investigate this lingering issue, and sound out local people about their opinions on it. One of those he spoke to was Asher Craig. And her comments frankly annoyed me, because they appeared to show that she was unaware that the city had tackled slavery and produced books and exhibitions about it, and that there was now a gallery devoted to it at the M Shed museum on Bristol’s docks. She kindly replied to me, and I include this with my email in this article, as well as my own comments on this.

I’m very well aware how sensitive racial issues. Please don’t anyone troll her or send her abusive or threatening messages. There’s far too much of this on the net as it is, and I don’t want to stoke up more of it or increasing racism instead of trying get rid of it.

Craig had declared that Bristol had covered up its history of slavery, and that she wanted to see a museum of slavery opened here. She also said that the council was introducing a new curriculum, which would educate children about this aspect of the city’s past. This also concerned me, as I feel very strongly that western slavery needs to be put into its global context. Slavery has existed in many societies right across the world, including Africa and Islam. It was Black African kingdoms who sold the slave to us, rather than White Europeans raiding Africa directly for slaves, although that had also gone on. Furthermore, in the 16th and 17th centuries the Barbary pirates of Muslim north Africa raided Europe for slaves. Ships from Bristol were also attacked and their crews enslaved. I am concerned that these aspects of the slave trade should also be taught in order to avoid teaching a view that is equally racist but against Whites, that racism and slavery is something that only Whites do to people of colour.  And anti-White racism has also existed in Bristol alongside hatred of Blacks and other people of colour.

I therefore sent Deputy Mayor Craig the following email:

Dear Madam,

This morning Radio 4 broadcast a brief interview you did with the BBC’s news presenter, Lisa Mzimba, about the current controversy surrounding Edward Colston’s statue and the need to confront the city’s participation in the slave trade. You, like many people, feel that it has been insufficiently addressed and more needs to be done to tackle racism. Unfortunately, you made several statements which were factually incorrect and suggest that there are areas about Bristol’s education system and the various displays the city’s museums have put on to address this, of which you are unaware.

Firstly, you claimed that the city has covered up its involvement in the slave trade. This is myth, and I am shocked that it is still circulating. I understand that it comes from an incident in the 1970s when a member of Bristol’s Black community telephoned the city council whether there was anything available about the city and the slave trade. The person answering the call denied that Bristol ever took part in the trade. Obviously that is clearly wrong, and it is understandable that after this many of Bristol’s Black citizens would feel that the city was engaged in a cover-up.

However, educational materials produced at the time for teaching the city’s history in schools do cover the slave trade. The book Bristol: An Outline History for Schools, by H. Chasey (Bristol: George’s Booksellers 1975) discusses the slave trade on its page on 18th century trade. 13 years ago there was also a book published about Bristol in 1807, which was specifically brought out to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. While this was a work of general history, it made a point of discussing the city’s participation in the slave trade. The book was available from the Central Library among other venues. The Central Library has also published a booklet of materials they hold on slavery. This was published by the Reference Library, and titled Bristol 1807: A Sense of Place – Our City in the Year of Abolition. It had the subtitle, Slavery, Abolition and Emancipation: A Reading List. The local branch of the historical association also published a booklet,Bristol and the Abolition of Slavery, by Peter Marshall.

In the 1990’s the City Museum presented an exhibition, ‘A Respectable Trade’, about Bristol and the slave trade, which coincided with the drama of that name then showing on BBC television, based on the book of the same name by Philippa Gregory. This exhibition has now ended, but there is an entire gallery devoted to the subject at the M Shed. I realize that a gallery or exhibition is not the same as the museum you wish to be built, but it does show that the local council has addressed this issue.

You also said that you had created a curriculum for schools across the city that would cover this and other aspects of Black history. I’d be very grateful if you could tell me whether this includes the participation of African states in the slave trade, and their resistance to its abolition. As I’m sure you’re aware, the slave trade was not simply a case of White Europeans kidnapping Black Africans. Many African states, such as Dahomey and Mali, had slavery long before the appearance of White Europeans in Africa. Europeans were largely confined to ghettos in some of these states’ cities, and it was these African states that led the raids and obtained the slaves, which they then sold to Europeans.

The slave trade was also not confined to White Europeans either. There was also the Arab and Indian slave trades, which saw people from central and eastern Africa enslaved and then exported to India, Afghanistan, Arabia and other countries. It was partly to suppress this slave trade that the British empire first made treaties with Imam of Muscat, who was then the region’s suzerain, and then invaded this part of Africa.There was also the Turkish slave trade, which saw Black Sudanese enslaved and transported north to Egypt and the other states of the Maghreb.Moroccan slave trade only ended in 1911, because the British empire actively opposed its conquest by the other European powers.

I realize that this goes beyond merely local history, but it is important to avoid perpetuating a simplistic view in which slavery in only something that Whites ever did to Blacks. You have made it very clear that you wish to stamp out racism. However, in my experience racism is far from being confined to Whites. There has been anti-White as well as anti-Black racism in Bristol’s schools, as well as vicious ethnic hatred between Asians and the BAME community. As difficult as this, I feel very strongly that this also needs to be addressed.

I would also like to know what you are doing to cover the subject of the White Bristolians, who were also enslaved. As you know, Bristol’s participation in the slave trade actually predates that of the transatlantic slave trade.The city sold English slaves abroad in the 11th and 12th century centuries. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Bristolian seamen were also kidnapped and enslaved by the Barbary pirates. Five of Bristol’s ships were captured in one year. While the enslavement of White Europeans was obviously minuscule compared to that of the Black Africans enslaved – 2 1/2 million compared to 12 1/2 million, nevertheless it occurred and is, I believe, partly responsible for modern prejudices towards Islam.

I would greatly appreciate it if you could tell me what you are doing to address these issues, and look forward to your reply

Yesterday I got this reply from her.

Thank you for your email.

I am very much aware of the history of slavery in this city and the resources & educational materials you refer to in your email.

It’s a pity that my interview was edited because if you had heard my full response you would not have sent me such an email.

The One Bristol curriculum will tell the full truth not the half truths of history we were all taught in school. It will celebrate our black history from Africa, Caribbean, UK but will also expand to look at the wider local history of poor white working class communities. The History Commission the Mayor is putting in place will  also I form our work going forward.

We have to start somewhere and we’ve always known that the burning platform, I’m sure you’d agree, is eliminating racial hatred & discrimination which is deeply embedded in this society.

Thank you for the history lesson but we know what we’re doing. We work inclusively not exclusively which I’m afraid is the centuries old way of white men in power.

It’s possible that the appearance of ignorance on her part was caused by the Beeb’s editing. I think if you challenged them, the Corporation would probably tell you that it was all for time. But considering their shenanigans in trying to present as biased a view of the Labour party as they can get away with, I’m not sure you can completely discount malice. I doubt it in this case, however, as by and large the broadcast media has presented Black Lives Matter sympathetically. I am very much aware that there are glaring exceptions to this from the usual crowd of right-wing shills. There is a problem with the broadcaster’s own ignorance of Bristol’s history. An ITV report on the pulling down of Colston’s statue recited some of the old myths including that about Black Boy Hill. This is supposed to be named after a slave, but the 1990’s exhibition at the City Museum showed that this probably wasn’t true, and that it was most likely named after a race horse owned by Charles II.

Councillor Craig’s statement that the history curriculum would include that of the White working class is interesting, and a positive step if that is the case. However, I’m not impressed her comment about White men. It’s been true of western society,  but in nearly all societies across the globe power has been in the hands of elite men. And most societies have been extremely nationalistic as well as hierarchical, excluding other ethnic and social groups from power and privilege. I’ve met people, who have been really shocked at how racist some non-Western nations, like China, can be.

Bristol has also been an ethnically diverse city for centuries. The latest issue of the Postscript bargain books catalogue contains a book on this aspect of the city’s history. Written by Madge Dresser and Peter Fleming, two of the history lecturers at the University of the West of England, it titled Bristol: Ethnic Minorities and the City 1000-2001 (Phillimore 2009). The blurb for it runs

Over the past thousand years, Bristol, as one of England’s most important ports, has been a magnet for migrants. From medieval Jews to 21st-century asylum seekers. This pioneering study examines the activities of the various ethnic groups who have settled in the city. Investigating how the survived economically, how they dealt with social dislocation and discrimination, and how they constructed identities for their communities, it offers insights into the wider history of the city and the nation.

Dr Dresser was one of those involved in the creation of the 1990s slavery exhibit along with several others. I think one of them might have been Dr Mark Horton of Bristol University and then Time Team fame. Dresser teaches 18th century history and the slave trade at UWE, and has published a book on how the city continued slaving after its formal abolition, Slavery Obscured. If the city is putting together a commission to produce a multicultural approach to the city’s history, then it almost certainly will contain her.

As for Craig’s statement ‘Thank you for the history lesson but we know what we’re doing’, apart from showing a certain tetchiness – she obviously doesn’t like being pulled up on her history by a member of the public – it remains to be seen if the council does know what it’s doing. They won’t be short of experts, with real insights into these issues from the city’s universities.

It’ll be very interesting to see.










No, We Are (Probably) Not Going to See a Black Death Pandemic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/07/2020 - 10:46pm in

Mike this morning has put up a piece on his blog reporting that the Chinese city of Bayannur in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia, has sounded the alarm after a hospital reported a case of Bubonic Plague. This was the disease, spread by fleas on rodents, which was responsible for the Black Death in 14th century Europe. The disease is believed to have killed a half to two-thirds of the European population and China experienced an even higher number of deaths.

Coming after the Coronavirus pandemic, this all sounds really scary, right? Well, I don’t think there’s any need to panic. Bubonic Plague has still been around in parts of the Developing World, like India for years. There’s no question that it should be wiped out, but it’s now much, much less lethal than its medieval and early modern predecessor. So much so that some historians and microbiologists have wondered if it really is the same disease.

For example, way back in the 1990’s New Scientist carried a piece about an outbreak in India. It was extremely localized. While the people living in one house or set of houses fell ill with the disease, the folks a few doors down were left unscathed. The small scale of Bubonic plague outbreaks, which only mercifully affect a very few, have led some scientists to question whether the Black Death was actually another, far more contagious disease. Back when I was at secondary school, the Beeb’s history series, Timewatch, aired a programme which suggested that the Black Death may instead have been anthrax. I think the symptoms are similar, but anthrax can also be contracted from dead bodies, which Bubonic Plague cannot. This would explain why Medieval people believed even handling the bodies of the dead was dangerous.

There is another, related form of Bubonic Plague, Pneumonic Plague, which is rather more serious as its an airborne disease and so more contagious. But fortunately even the outbreaks of this disease have been far more restricted than the outbreaks of the plague in the Middle Ages and 16th/17th centuries.

Rather more worrying is the news, which was also reported by the Mirror as well as a number of other papers, that a new strain of Swine Flu has developed, which is resistant to current vaccines. I’d consider that a more serious risk, but I don’t think we’re quite in danger of seeing that become a world-wide pandemic just yet.

Obviously, these diseases need to be monitored and are of serious concern to organizations like the World Health Organization, but the chances of either of these becoming another global pandemic like the Coronavirus is probably remote. As for avoiding people who have visited the Far East, I can remember Dr Kevin Fong’s remarks at the Cheltenham Festival of Science during the Bird Flu epidemic. Fong was speaking about space medicine, of which he’s an expert. He was also suffering from a cold and had just come back from Beijing. As he appeared on stage blowing his nose into a handkerchief, he reassured the crowd by saying, ‘Don’t worry – it’s just a cold.’ He explained how he’d just come back from the Chinese capital, and said that it was amazing how much room you could get now on the London Underground as an Asian man. Which was his jokey way of allaying any suspicions.

It might still be best to avoid people, who have travelled to China and neighbouring countries, but that would only be because of the Coronavirus. I’m very sure we aren’t going to see a return of the Plague next.


2020’s Plague of Locusts Spreads to Indian Subcontinent and South America

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/07/2020 - 6:55am in

State of play for locust infestations in Nepal, Pakistan, India, Argentina, Brazil.... and the United States.

App war 

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 02/07/2020 - 12:22pm in


India, China

App war 

Where the Mind Is Without Fear…

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 02/07/2020 - 12:02pm in

And I wondered, not for the first time, what patriotism is, what the love of country truly consists of, how that yearning loyalty that had shaken my friend’s voice arises: and how so real a love can become, too often, so foolish and vile a bigotry. Where does it go wrong?

—Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

In December 2019, police descended on the campuses of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) in the Indian cities of Aligarh and New Delhi. In January 2020 masked vigilantes entered Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi. At AMU police are alleged to have broken into student residences and caned student protestors and others who got in their way. At JMI multiple videos surfaced of police entering the university library and taking on protesters and other students who simply happened to be there. Other videos, showing students pelting police with stones, have been used to justify police action. The library was trashed; one student lost an eye; another student lost his hand. At JNU the police stood aside while groups of men and women targeted teachers and students who had been protesting a hike in campus-housing fees. The vigilantes were armed with rods and helmets. One of the attackers later said in a television interview that helmets offered indispensable protection for the business of breaking glass, doors and perhaps bones. The student-union president received serious injuries to her head, as did a faculty member. Investigations have been launched and in the only press conference to date about the JNU intrusion police named and blamed ‘leftists’ for wreaking violence. Investigations continue into all three instances of violence at universities, and courts have petitions and counter-petitions before them. The wheels of law grind slowly, and after the initial horror and panic there seems to be an uneasy calm. 

Universities in India are a microcosm of wider social desires and domains. What we are seeing playing out in universities are the fear and competitive hatred seen throughout Indian society under its present leadership. On the one hand, fear of the future and the present has led to a view of a past of perfection and glory uncontaminated by outsiders, infiltrators or foreign influences. This nostalgic recreation of a perfect past by the nationalist right wing, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), fuels people’s parochialism and bigotries. On the other hand, the left wing is nostalgic for an imagined pluralistic past, based in part on constitutional law, secularism and tolerance. Both visions are flawed and both are being aired in a competing moral panic that sees India on the path either to fulfilling its destiny as a prosperous, neoliberal Hindu nation or to being destroyed by bigots and hate-mongers. 

The vision of India as Hindu not only erases Muslim and other minority identities; it also obliterates the joyous contradictions of Hinduism to which the everyday practices and practitioners of the religion attest. But the melancholic nostalgia for a golden age of plural existence overlooks the flaws within India’s constitutional framework and seems unable to construct any progressive agenda that does not indulge in nostalgia. Political debates in India are largely rancorous, abusive and absolutist, across the political spectrum. In the meantime, the mainstream media play a major role in stoking fear and resentment. Journalistic practices are marred by obvious biases. Social-media platforms enable the emergence of vitriolic echo chambers, with bands of professional (and amateur) trolls policing the internet, making accusations of sedition, supposed anti-national activities and deviations from the norms said to define ‘Indianness’. The February 2020 Delhi riots saw video footage of that event transformed into music videos on TikTok, glorifying violence against Muslims.

To get a fuller understanding of these attacks on students and universities we need to go back to the prehistories and backstories that have strengthened prejudice and been used to justify state violence, on the one hand, and bolster the protests against authoritarian regimes and practices, on the other. That AMU, a minority Muslim university, has been targeted may be seen against a longer history. AMU’s support for the partition of India some seventy years ago is evoked whenever right-wing nationalists want to smear current students and faculty with the charge of being unpatriotic, even though they have little to do with the university’s stance of that time and do not necessarily share the same ideological leanings. Even a photograph of Muhammad Ali Jinnah (founder of Pakistan and considered an arch traitor in India) has been a source of conflict. JMI is less visibly Muslim in its student composition, but that has not prevented the right wing from ghettoising it as such.

JNU has been in the eye of multiple storms, dating back to its resistance to the state of emergency declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975, during which all constitutional and democratic rights were suspended. In 2016 there were insistent calls to shut down JNU in response to anti-nationalist speeches made by some of its students. This episode might be seen as a precursor to the current moment since it helped to consolidate a narrative—aided by the mainstream media—of unpatriotic, ungrateful students living off taxpayers’ largesse and daring to criticise their benefactors. There was (and continues to be) widespread anger directed at JNU for its refusal to accept the dominant narratives of national well-being and India’s glorious past and future, even though the 2019–20 protests were largely about a hike in student fees. 

In fact the two are not unrelated. National well-being is now premised on the neoliberal transformation of India’s universities into ‘knowledge hubs’ that will produce docile workers who will serve their motherland. As a public university, JNU had built a reputation over several decades for academic openness and student diversity. The latter is particularly important since admission policies, along with government financial aid, have enabled first-generation entrants from diverse parts of India to benefit from attending this celebrated institution. Neoliberal changes to admission policies, such as the abolition of ‘deprivation points’, which gave additional weight to a candidate’s economic and social background, and the proposed fee hike, have altered the landscape of the university. JNU Students Union argued that the fee increase would lead to many students having to forgo their courses, depriving them of their right to a good education, and perhaps a decent future.

The JNU fee hike is not an anomaly. It is integral with India’s 2019 New Education Policy (NEP), which called for increased private funding in higher education and for universities to raise their own funds through endowments or private philanthropy. The NEP formalised private funding patterns that had already been rolled out in other public universities, such as at the University of Delhi (DU). Public universities will no longer receive the bulk of their funding as grants but rather must take out loans that are subject to compulsory repayment, the servicing of which puts pressure on universities to raise funds independently. The funding crunch has led to a freeze in new appointments as well as in faculty promotions. At DU, for instance, more than 4000 faculty members have been working for years (some for over a decade) as adjuncts, with little prospect of their employment being made permanent. One soft option has been to raise fees. While individual colleges at DU have been doing this for some years without protests from students, JNU presented a different challenge—at least until the evening of 5 January 2020, when masked agents descended on the campus. Now one hears less about the protest over the fee hike, more about the trauma that students and faculty live with on a daily basis in a hostile and divided environment. 

What emerges from the narratives outlined above is a pattern of suppression of dissent in universities: at AMU and JMI police were deployed, at JNU and Visva-Bharati University (the latter founded by Rabindranath Tagore, a Nobel laureate for literature) vigilantes were unleashed to wreak violence. Another trigger for protests in universities in late 2019 and early 2020 was the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act. The Act proposes to give citizenship to Hindus, Christians, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs hailing from India’s neighbouring countries, specifically Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan; but not to Muslims. The argument is that those religious minorities in the first group have been ill-treated in neigbouring nations and have a right of return to their motherland. Proponents of the Act believe that it will strengthen India since illegitimate, illegal infiltrators will now be driven out. For them it is a good law that is being deliberately misrepresented for political purchase.

Opponents of the Act say that it is designed to further isolate India’s 200 million Muslims: while non-Muslims will have a right to stay on in India even if they cannot prove their legal status, Muslims will not. This contention is supported by the fact that the Act is now conjoined with a National Register of Citizens (NRC), a database requiring residents of India to prove that they are also citizens. A pilot version of the NRC was implemented in the eastern state of Assam, with some unsettling consequences: of the more than one million residents who were deemed to be illegal the majority were Hindus. The Citizenship Amendment Act will now enable any Hindu (or non-Muslim) to lay claim to citizenship. Opponents of the Act argue that it is a means of furthering Hindu nationalism, intended as a path to creating a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation). They argue that the economically poor are also document poor, and that the intersection of religion and poverty will lead to these groups suffering disproportionately.

University students have played a prominent role in protests against the Act, and the pattern of repression outlined above in Indian universities is typical of responses to the expression of democratic rights in other spheres. Repression is often followed by the persecution of the victims of violence, a tactic usually paired with the claim that the protests constitute a ‘red terror’ in Indian universities. ‘Red terror’ is shorthand for anyone who expresses ideas perceived to be leftist; in fact, it stands for anything that is at odds with the dominant nationalist orthodoxy. While the electoral appeal and actual power of the organised Left in India have diminished since the 1990s (following the liberalisation of the Indian economy and the lack of left-wing representation in parliament and state legislatures), the ‘Left’ serves as bogeyman; the term is used to tar all who disobey the laws of inevitable progress and development. This is not to imply that the Indian left wing is innocent, especially since left orthodoxy is not immune to its own hegemonic and violent predilections. Now, however, the might of the state and its legal and extralegal organs are trained on all forms of dissent, left or otherwise. It is worth speculating about what these patterns of systemic and sometimes spectacular violence reveal.

The attack on the JMI library was exceptional only insofar as agents of the state were actually seen perpetrating it—that there is video footage of it. In fact attacks on libraries predate the current situation. For instance, in 2004 the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) in Pune was vandalised by protestors for providing research assistance to US author James Laine, whose book on Shivaji, a revered Maratha king, contained some contentious remarks. Founded in 1917, the institute has one of ‘the largest collections of rare books and manuscripts’ on ‘Orientology’. More recently, the JNU library has had its funding for academic journals significantly reduced. If the library is a locus for learning and thinking within the larger university, it is unsurprising that libraries are a focus of attacks of one kind or another: assaults on libraries make visible government contempt for critical learning and thinking. They also foreground the validation of views based on ignorance and half-truths as being worth more than critical questioning. In a very different context Albert Camus’ narrator in The Plague ponders the consequences of ignorance:

The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding. On the whole men are more good than bad; that, however, isn’t the real point. But they are more or less ignorant, and it is this that we call vice or virtue; the most incorrigible vice being that of an ignorance which fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill.

It is the last observation that hovers as threat and intimidation in the state’s present dealings with Indian universities.

Arguably, universities in India have never been safe or autonomous spaces, as evident in the non-academic appointment of some vice chancellors and faculty in the past; the prevalence of sexual harassment; and at different times the withdrawal by university officials of ‘unpatriotic’ or supposedly seditious texts from course syllabi. But now the dominant conservative forces seek to obliterate critical thinking and even the pretence of autonomy. The excessive violence of the state’s reaction to protest is indicative of an urge for total domination and control, although it also suggests overreach, which points to a not-yet-stable hegemony. It is here that there may be a sliver of hope—cracks in that oppressive network of attempted ideological mind control. This is probably too optimistic, though, not only because the ideological state apparatus is being brought to bear on all aspects of teaching and learning but because of consistent support within universities for discourses and practices of assent and absolute knowledge. Thus, while there is dissent and unrest in academic spaces, there is also support among academics for current government policies. The Times of India reported in December 2019 that more than a thousand academics ‘from various universities and reputed institutions across India’ supported the Citizenship Amendment Act. Indeed, in a statement to this effect these academics congratulated parliament for ‘standing up for forgotten minorities and upholding the civilizational ethos of India’ and ‘providing a haven for those fleeing from religious persecution’. The Act, it was said, ‘is in perfect sync with the secular Constitution of India as it does not prevent any person of any religion from any country, seeking Indian citizenship’.

This statement seems unexceptionable if one is committed to debate and free speech. The Act offers sanctuary for persecuted minorities fleeing India’s neighbouring countries (barring Nepal, Myanmar and Sri Lanka) and the language of rights is a universal one, as is the right to have rights, which, while not universally acknowledged, is perhaps as crucial as universal declarations of rights. This statement also taps into a discourse of hospitality—the opening of doors to persecuted co-religionists in Muslim-majority South Asian nations. This harks back to and celebrates India’s plurality, ‘the civilisational ethos’ that makes India a palimpsest of cultures, religions, influences and languages.

Yet there are contradictions that this statement overlooks. While the Act promises sanctuary to some minorities, it effectively ghettoises others already living in the nation, characterising them as enemies within. The present Home Minister has called them ‘termites’; he sees them as gnawing away at a healthy polity. Open doors for co-religionists are combined with policies that make the lives of other minorities and dissidents within the nation and its universities uncomfortable, if not intolerable. In some cases, language is misconstrued to serve reactionary ends, such as when Mahatma Gandhi is invoked to justify the Act. Of course, such contortions of language are not new, and I am reminded of Hannah Arendt’s reference to the ‘language rule’ in Hitler’s Germany. As she notes: ‘The net effect of this language system was not to keep these people ignorant of what they were doing, but to prevent them from equating it with their old, “normal” knowledge of murder and lies’. Nazi Germany is not analogous with Hindu nationalism, but there is a sliding towards a ‘language system’ where the consolidation of some communities with the nation on exclusionary grounds is considered evidence of India’s ‘civilisational ethos’. There is an unconscious and chilling irony in such a conflation, for although gesturing towards plurality and hospitality, it speaks at another level of communities driven by fear.

Such fears are not only related to the ‘fear of small numbers’—Arjun Appadurai’s phrase, taken from his masterful analysis of why minorities the world over are reviled and persecuted; they are also related to the fear of freedom, and universities, however imperfectly, embody freedom of speech and action. Changes in funding models and to syllabi and administrative diktats are modes of restricting freedoms, of moulding future citizens to fit a neoliberal matrix of economically productive, patriotic beings. As Benjamin Hunnicutt observes, in the context of an obsession with work and productivity, alternatives to the neoliberal model or a post-work world are feared as ‘people might find something better to do than create profits for capitalism’. India’s future since the early 1990s has been hitched to the promise of development via capitalism, and universities play a crucial role in the production of amenable participants in the economy. JNU seems to be a holdout, since some of its students question the assumptions of neoliberal progress, their questioning based on the evidence of growing inequality, environmental degradation and the proliferation of what David Graeber calls ‘bullshit jobs’. It was predictable that the JNU community, and other Indian university communities making similar arguments, would be vilified as inimical to the project of nation building.

To consolidate community and nation, fear of the Other is kept alive, and the price of progress in this framework is constant vigilance over those who do not see the light and truth of current and future glory. The seductiveness of fear, as Lukas Bärfuss observes in his novel One Hundred Days, creates a ‘alphabet of fear’ and the threat of dissolution is what produces solidarity with one’s own tribe, co-religionists or nation. Such negative solidarities are, as Sara Ahmed argues, central to the affective formation of communities of hate that, paradoxically, perceive themselves as communities based on love: ‘Because we love, we hate, and this hate is what brings us together’. This hate is what produces the fantasy of the ‘ordinary’ and the everyday that are said to be under threat and must be defended against outsiders. While Ahmed’s focus is on the production of white-nationalist hate and solidarities, similar communities of fear, resentment and hate are being fostered in Indian contexts.

There is little space for dialogue within the national polity or civil society, and Indian universities under neoliberal governance today provide little in the way of thoughtful, deliberative discussion. The ‘ignorance which fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill’ smothers not only lives but the lifeblood of rational, critical debate and democratic functioning. University communities across India have shown great courage and ingenuity in protesting against injustices and inequities. But at present there is little evidence of any futures envisaged beyond protest. Such futures, we might hope, will constitute the ‘heaven of freedom’ Tagore imagined a long while ago in his poem ‘Where the Mind Is Without Fear’, where he wrote:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls… 

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake. 

The universities, keeping alive their constitutive traditions of critical thought and intellectual openness, will be indispensable to that project.

The Kerala dialogue on COVID-19

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/07/2020 - 11:38pm in



The Indian state of Kerala has taken an especially active approach to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kerala, a state of more than 33 million people, is governed by the Left Democratic Front, having won state elections in 2016. LDF is a coalition of left-leaning parties, led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist and the Communist Party of India. The Kerala government has been consistently focused on equity and progress for the poorest sectors of Kerala society. Significantly, the government's efforts in response to the COVID-19 crisis have fallen into the arenas of both public health and social wellbeing. The government quickly implemented public health strategies recommended by the WHO for responding -- test, trace, quarantine -- very early in the pandemic in Kerala, more quickly and consistently than the national government. Here is a nice summary by Sonia Faleiro in MIT Technology Review (link). 

In Kerala, a different style of leadership was on display. With 15 cases now confirmed across the state, Pinarayi Vijayan, the chief minister, ordered a lockdown, shutting schools, banning large gatherings, and advising against visiting places of worship. He held daily media briefings, got internet service providers to boost capacity to meet the demands of those now working from home, stepped up production of hand sanitizer and face masks, had food delivered to schoolchildren reliant on free meals, and set up a mental health help line. His actions assuaged the public’s fears and built trust.

Kerala's experience with the pandemic has been much better than other states in India. Here is a comparison table with four other states in India as of June 30, 2020, normalized to cases and deaths per million. The comparison is striking. Kerala has less than one death per million, compared to 67 deaths per million in Maharashtra (the state in which Mumbai is located), and 141 per million in Delhi.

A crucial part of the success in Kerala in limiting the impact of the pandemic was the government's early recognition that the pandemic would have disastrous consequences for poor people in the state. The government implemented emergency programs of food and stipends to offset the economic disruptions created by the epidemic. Faleiro describes the social sustenance program implemented in Kerala in these terms:

Vijayan, the state’s chief minister, was the first in the country to announce a relief package. He declared a community kitchen scheme to feed the public, and free provisions including rice, oil, and spices. He even moved up the date of state pension payments. (link)

Earlier this month the government of Kerala hosted a dialogue on the COVID-19 crisis involving extensive discussions with Noam Chomsky Amartya Sen, and Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist of the World Health Organization. V.K. Ramachandran, vice-chairman of the Kerala State Planning Board, conducted fascinating conversations with Chomsky and Sen, and distinguished journalist N. Ram conducted an excellent conversation with Dr. Swaminathan. Links to the dialogues are provided below, and they are all worth viewing. A very good summary of the dialogues is provided in The Hindu here.
Here are a few highlights. Dr. Swaminathan provides a clear, scientifically precise summary of current knowledge about the virus and the best advice available for public health measures to contain its spread. Chomsky points out the connections he sees between the ideological and material commitments of neoliberal governments to corporate profits and their failure to respond adequately to the crisis. The United States government's actions during this crisis are especially egregious -- virtually no effective national policy, on the one hand, and a rush to loosen a raft of environmental regulations during the crisis, on the other. Chomsky underlines the magnifying effects that racial and economic inequalities have had on the distribution of cases and deaths across the population in the United States. He reminds viewers that, terrible as the immediate consequences of the COVID crisis are, the effects of global climate change will be immeasurably worse. Amartya Sen applauds the Kerala government's consistent attention to the immediate welfare and nutrition crisis threatened by the COVID pandemic, and notes how crucial it is for government policy to be attuned to hunger and entitlement shortfall for vulnerable populations. In this respect the COVID crisis has a lot in common with the Bengal famine of 1943, when a sudden collapse of entitlements for poor people led to massive deprivation and eventually starvation (Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation).
Sen and Chomsky have devoted their careers to offering analysis and critique of government policy, and it is very interesting to see how they both respond to the largest public health crisis that we have seen in a century. What is especially important from the Kerala experience, it seems, is that the policy values that a government implements have enormous consequences for the wellbeing, health, and safety of the populations that they serve (or fail to serve). Chomsky's basic view of most liberal democracies is that their policy values are chiefly oriented to the needs of big business, and that this leads to huge inequalities in normal times and in pandemic crisis. Sen has made the case throughout his career that governments should choose policies based on their impact on broad social welfare, not GDP or the stock market. And Kerala presents a fantastic test case: the LDF is a government that is distinctly not beholden to large corporations, it is committed to the welfare of the broad population, and its policies have been highly successful during this crisis in ways that benefit the whole of Kerala society.
Here are the videos.
The Kerala Dialogue on Covid-19

1. Introduction and excerpts from Swaminathan, Chomsky, Sen conversations

2. First conversation
N. Ram interviews Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist of the World Health Organization.

3. Second conversation
Dr V K Ramachandran interviews Professor Noam Chomsky, laureate professor of linguistics at the University of Arizona.

4. Third conversation
Dr V K Ramachandran interviews Professor Amartya Sen, Thomas W. Lamont University Professor of Economics and Philosophy, at Harvard University.

Professor V. K. Ramachadran, the vice-chairman of the Kerala State Planning Board, conducted the interviews with Chomsky and Sen. His work as a development economist at the Indian Statistical Institute in Bangalore is discussed here, here, and here.

N. Ram, a distinguished journalist whose work is discussed here, conducts the interview with Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist of the World Health Organization. 

Kentucky’s Abandoned Coal Mines Are Elk Heaven

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/07/2020 - 11:20pm in

Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

Herd mentality

In Kentucky, a destructive form of coal mining known as mountaintop removal has, inadvertently, given way to a resurgence in elk populations. The mining method employs explosives to blow apart jagged shale and limestone mountains, and the debris from these explosions often creates a grassy plateau. These plateaus have bloomed with shrubs and trees as many of the mines have been decommissioned, creating opportunities for new uses such as farming and hiking.

They’ve also been discovered by the region’s elk. “Elk are classified as an intermediate feeder,” a biologist with the Nature Conservancy told the New York Times. “They’ll graze, they’ll browse, they’ll eat acorns and stuff that are falling from trees.” For well over a century, however, elk had vanished from Kentucky, hunted to extinction before the Civil War until being reintroduced by conservationists in the 1990s. Even upon reintroduction, however, the animals had trouble locating enough food. Now, they’re finding all the vegetation they can eat growing where the mines once were. Today, Kentucky has some 13,000 elk, all of them subsisting on the grassy plateaus of coal country. “Elk can survive just about anywhere,” said a biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. “They’ve just got to have some grass.”

Read more at the New York Times

Three wheels good

According to the Washington Post, Ranchi, the capital of the Indian state of Jharkhand, “may be the only city in the world where the municipal authorities found themselves grappling with a surfeit of electric vehicles.” 

The source of Ranchi’s unexpected boom in EVs can be traced to a surge in electric rickshaw purchases by people who see tuk-tuk driving as a lucrative side gig. Why electric? The e-rickshaws are slightly smaller and slower than gas-powered ones, which means that until recently, they weren’t subject to motor vehicle regulations. “No permit, no license, no documentation required,” as one Ranchi e-rickshaw dealer put it. As their numbers grew, authorities began regulating them, but already there are 7,000 e-rickshaws plying the city’s streets.

RanchiRanchi, India. Credit: Biswarup Ganguli

The proliferation has caused some problems, including traffic snarls on the city’s main thoroughfare and stolen electricity as drivers power up wherever they can. But the popularity of the e-rickshaws has some wondering if India might become a leader in electric vehicle usage. EV sales rose sharply in 2019, with two- and three-wheeled vehicles accounting for the bulk of the growth. The government is even considering legislation that would require all two- and three-wheeled vehicles to go electric by 2026, though it has been put on hold by the pandemic.

Read more at the Washington Post

Solo riff

La Gare is a jazz club in Paris that was once a railway station. Now, it has transformed again, from a raucous social scene to an intimate venue of concerts for one.

View this post on Instagram

Concerts solos pour spectateurs seuls. #lameilleurechosedepuisquel'hommeaarrêtédemarchersurlalune

A post shared by La Gare (@la__gare) on Jun 25, 2020 at 6:25am PDT

Like all nightclubs, La Gare closed to the public when France’s lockdown began, but it reopened once social distancing rules eased — to only a couple of patrons at a time. Customers can enter the club alone or with one other person with whom they live. Once inside, solo musicians play a brief mini-concert directly to the attendees. It’s a highly intimate experience that even the performers themselves have had to get used to. “You’re being closely watched and that can be a bit nerve-racking for the first 30 seconds,” one bass player told the Guardian.

Each performance lasts only a few minutes, allowing the club to serve a large number of patrons — in just a few weeks, it has hosted over 3,000 mini-concerts. “Even before the coronavirus we would ask people not to talk during the concerts and never turn their back on the musicians,” said the owner. “In most places, they say the customer is king. Well, at La Gare they’re not. The music is king. And we want people to give it their full attention.”

Read more at the Guardian

The post Kentucky’s Abandoned Coal Mines Are Elk Heaven appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

*Trade cyberwar erupting between India and China.  Even “Clash...

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 30/06/2020 - 3:51am in


India, China

*Trade cyberwar erupting between India and China.  Even “Clash of Kings” isn’t safe, while TikTok is a major casualty.

New Delhi:

The government today banned 59 Chinese-owned applications, including TikTok, ShareIt, UC Browser, and WeChat. The IT Ministry stated they were “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order.”

The move came in the backdrop of the ongoing face-off along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh with Chinese troops.

Many popular apps like TikTok and others have been blocked by the Ministry of Information Technology by invoking Section 69A of the Information Technology Act.

“There have been raging concerns on aspects relating to data security and safeguarding the privacy of 130 crore Indians. It has been noted recently that such concerns also pose a threat to sovereignty and security of our country. The Ministry of Information Technology has received many complaints from various sources including several reports about misuse of some mobile apps available on Android and iOS platforms for stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India. The compilation of these data, its mining and profiling by elements hostile to national security and defence of India, which ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India, is a matter of very deep and immediate concern which requires emergency measures.”

The Reserve Bank’s Pandemic Predicament

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 24/06/2020 - 11:55pm in

by Lekha Chakraborty and Harikrishnan S

As the Reserve Bank of India Governor Shri Shaktikanta Das puts it upfront, these are extraordinary times, and we need to respond with “whatever it takes” to deal with the pandemic. Over the past few days, our hope for systematically “flattening the curve” by containing the COVID-19 pandemic and moving to a quick V-shaped or U-shaped recovery is waning[i]. Evidence is increasingly pointing towards the situation worsening to a dual crisis — a public health crisis and a macroeconomic crisis — like never before.

The IMF projections substantiate that the drag of the pandemic on global growth could be to the extent of -3%. This is a major revision in the global growth rate over a very short period of time. The IMF highlighted that “the Great Lockdown is the worst economic disruption since Great Depression, and far worse than the global financial crisis,” and its estimates suggest that “the cumulative loss to global GDP over 2020 and 2021 from the effects of the COVID19 pandemic would be around $9 trillion, greater than the economies of Japan and Germany combined.”[ii] *(The IMF has since released its latest [June 2020] estimates, showing global growth declining 4.9 percent, for a cumulative, 2020-21 loss of $12 trillion.)

How have the central banks responded to this crisis?  This is evidently uncharted territory for the central banks — how to deal with “life versus livelihood” issues. The pandemic economics of central banks is twofold. One is the focus on measures that relate to instantaneous economic “firefighting”: for instance, how to ensure liquidity infusion into the system to stabilize the market reactions. The second is the long-term policy imperatives. As this crisis is of an unprecedented scale, it calls for unprecedented policy responses.

In India, the great lockdown was announced by the Prime Minister on March 25th, 2020. Subsequently, an economic package was announced in an iterative manner. To put things in perspective, in India, an agreement on a “new monetary framework” was signed between the Government of India and the RBI in February 2016, by which the single objective of our monetary policy is “price stability,” based on inflation-targeting rules. This policy transition from the discretion of the RBI governor to a rule-based monetary policy has constrained the central bank in its response to the economic growth slowdown and other economic uncertainties.  Yet another point to be considered is the central bank’s independence — “operational independence” — after the constitution of a Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) in India. The role of the RBI governor in taking crucial monetary policy decisions has been taken over by the MPC, based on their voting. As per Section 45ZL of the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934, the RBI shall publish, on the fourteenth day after every meeting of the MPC, the minutes of the proceedings of the meeting which shall include the resolution adopted in the meeting, the vote of each MPC member, and the decisions regarding the policy rates, whether to increase, decrease, or maintain the status quo rates.

Let us unpack the COVID policy response by the RBI. On May 22, 2020, on the basis of an urgent offline meeting of the MPC — before their regular meeting — the RBI responded to the COVID pandemic by reducing the repo rate under the liquidity adjustment facility (LAF) by 40 basis points, to 4.0%, with immediate effect.[iii] This was a further reduction from the 4.40% announced in March 2020 (the repo rate is the rate at which banks borrow funds from the Reserve Bank against eligible collateral).

The reverse repo rate is the rate at which banks park their surplus funds with the RBI under the liquidity adjustment facility (LAF). The reverse repo rate under the LAF stands reduced to 3.35% from 3.75%. These rates were introduced in June 2000. Since then, the repo rate has remained the reference rate for signaling the monetary policy stance. The Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) is cut by 100 bps. The Marginal Standing Facility (MSF) rate (overnight borrowing facility from the central bank for further liquidity) and the Bank Rate stand reduced to 4.25% from 4.65%. The MPC also decided to continue with the “accommodative stance” and their decisions are taken with the objective of achieving the medium-term target for consumer price index (CPI) inflation of 4%, within a band of +/- 2 %.

The RBI has responded to the COVID crisis by infusing liquidity into the system, to the tune of ₹5.66 lakh crore in May 2020 (up to May 20) from ₹4.75 lakh crore in April 2020. Within the liquidity package, 1,20,474 crore was injected through Open Market Operation (OMO) purchases and 87,891 crore through three Targeted Long-Term Repo Operation (TLTRO) auctions and one TLTRO 2.0 auction. In order to distribute liquidity more evenly across the yield curve, the Reserve Bank conducted one “operation twist” auction involving the simultaneous sale and purchase of government securities for 10,000 crore each on April 27, 2020.

In addition to infusing liquidity, the “regulatory easing” measures were announced to (i) promote credit flows to the retail sector and MSMEs and real estate developers; (ii) extend the regulatory benefits under the special liquidity facility for mutual funds (SLF-MF) scheme to all banks; (iii) extension of the loan moratorium and support for working capital financing till August; (iv) credit support to the exporters and importers; (v) extension of the tenure of the small business refinancing facilities; and (vi) increase the state’s Ways and Means Advance (WMA) by 60% (compared to 30% earlier) to monetize the deficit.

How effective these measures have been is anybody’s guess.  Even after bringing the rates (for borrowing) down to almost unprecedented levels, there was a huge increase in the funds parked by commercial banks in the RBI’s reverse repo account — which went up from ₹ 3 lakhs crores on March 27th to ₹8.4 lakhs crores by the end of April.  With unemployment rates going through the roof, needless to say, there has been a phenomenal crash in demand.  In such a scenario, focusing almost solely on liquidity measures serves only to plaster over the problem.

To conclude, how this crisis will permanently shift the economic structures depends on the epidemiology of the virus and the nature and severity of the economic shocks. In this uncertain environment, how countries emerge from the effects of the pandemic depends largely on the effectiveness of the policies they design now. Monetary policy needs to play a proactive stabilizing role in this scenario. However, the announcements so far were mainly targeted at reducing the policy rates and infusion of liquidity.  Pumping money into banks and NBFCs without adequate fiscal measures to boost demand runs the risk of increasing bad loans.  In fact, CRISIL has already predicted a rise of banking sector NPAs to 11.5% by March of next year.  As Joseph Stiglitz points out in his engaging analysis, “today’s excess liquidity may carry a high social cost. Beyond the usual fears about debt and inflation, there is also good reason to worry that the excess cash in banks will be funneled toward financial speculation.”[iv] And he warns that this could lead to a “climate of increased (economic) uncertainty” and end up “discouraging both consumption and the investment needed to drive the recovery.”  This could lead us into a “liquidity trap.”  Whether we are headed in this direction, only time will tell, but it does make one wonder whether, without demand being stimulated, these policies are enough to create a ripple.

(The authors are, respectively, professor, NIPFP, and an independent political analyst.)


[i] Harikrishnan S and Lekha Chakraborty (2020) “The Political Economy of Lockdown”, Multiplier Effect Blog, The Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, New York


[ii] Gopinath, Gita (2020), The IMF Presentation of World Economic Outlook, The IMF, Washington DC


[iii] Reserve Bank of India (2020), Monetary Policy Committee Minutes, RBI, Mumbai, May 22, 2020.


[iv] Stiglitz Joseph and Hamid Rashid (2020) “Which Economic Stimulus Works?”, Project Syndicate