Archive for February, 2008

Rajasthan School Textbooks: Glorifying Brahminism, Invisibilising Oppressed Castes

Caste and caste-based discrimination are fundamental realities of Indian life. Almost three-fourths of India’s vast populations belong to castes condemned by the Brahminical religion as ‘low’, having suffered various forms of caste-related oppression for centuries at the hands of the so-called ‘casteshigh’. Yet, this basic fact is completely glossed over in Indian school textbooks, which barely mention the word ‘caste’ or, if they at all do so, glorify the caste system as a supposedly ideal system of division of labour. The ‘low’ castes are thus almost completely invisibilised in the textbooks as they are in almost every walk of life. Along with this, the Vedic or Aryan civilization and the Brahminical religion, which form the very basis of the ideology of caste, are glorified as the epitome of Indian, and, indeed, world, culture and as the bedrock of Indian national identity. Caste-based oppression is particularly rife in Rajasthan, a state where vestiges of feudalism are still very strongly rooted. Yet, social science textbooks prepared by the Rajasthan state educational authorities and used in government schools do not mention the fact at all. Instead, the textbooks glorify Aryan civilisation, the progenitor of caste oppression, presenting it as the ‘golden age’ of Indian history. None of the heroes mentioned in the books as role models for students is a ‘low’ caste. Instead, besides the few non-Hindu figures, they are all ‘high’ caste Hindus, particularly Brahmins, thusreinforcing the tendency to define Indian nationalism in strictly Brahminical terms. The textbooks also mention nothing at all about grovelling poverty and oppression so rife in India and, instead, present a picture of Indian society as a homogenous unit, bereft of caste and class contradictions.

The textbooks clearly identify Hinduism with Brahminism, completely ignoring the fact that there is no such thing as a single Hinduism. They also remain silent on the existence of several traditions, considered in some sense ‘Hindu’, that are definitely anti-Vedic and anti-Brahminical. Seeking to bring together all the different Hindu ‘religions’ under a single, homogenous Brahminical umbrella, the text meant for standard s ix students lays down what it considers to be an authoritative definition of ‘Hinduism’, one which is Vedic and Brahminical in essence. Thus, it says that despite the existence of multiple traditions (panths) ‘all the Hindu panths recognize the Vedas’, ignoring completely the numerous Dalit, Tribal and other non-Savarna traditions that not only do not recognize the Vedas but are also explicitly anti-Vedic. The chapter insists that the ‘Ramayana, Mahabharata and Gita are the main books of the Hindus’, ignoring the vast numbers of ‘Hindus’ who do not recognize these books as theirs as well as the incisive critiques of these texts by Dalit ideologues. It insists that the notion of ‘rebirth’ and ‘idol-worship’ are ‘important beliefs’ of the Hindus, ignoring the numerous ‘Hindu’ traditions that deny these. The standard nine textbook presents Ram and Krishna as ‘avatars’ who, it claims, ‘have most heavily influenced [sarvaddhik prabhavit] Indian lifestyle’, thus conflating Brahminical culture with Indian culture and also denying Dalit and Adivasi critiques of Ram and Krishna as upholders of caste and caste-based oppression. Naturally, there is no mention of Ram’s brutal slaying of the Shudra Shambhukh or Krishna declaring that the varna system was divinely ordained.

Brahminical or Vedic civilisation, which laid the basis of the caste system, is repeatedly referred to in the textbooks as the alleged foundation of Indian culture. Thus, the social science text for class six students declares, ‘The Vedas are the treasury of our culture’, assuming thereby that all Indians must necessarily subscribe to Vedic Hinduism in order to be ‘truly’ Indian. It talks of the Brahmin revivalist Shankaracharya, who played a key role in driving Buddhism out of India, as ‘spreading Indian culture’, by which, of course, is meant Brahminism. The social science studies text meant for students of Class nine has a lengthy chapter on the Vedic civilisation. Expectedly, Vedic culture is described in glowing terms. In line with Hindutva arguments, the authors of the book dismiss the claim that the Aryans were invaders (in order, perhaps, to underline the claim that only the Muslims and the Christian British invaded India) and argue that ‘according to new research India is now being recognised as the original home of the Aryans’. They refer to two obscure writers, Sampoornanand and Avinash Chandra Das (without providing any references to their writings), to press this claim and even to argue that the Aryans migrated from India to other countries and that they did not invade India! They refer to two well-known and hardcore Hindutva ideologues, Rajaram and David Frawley, to argue that the Vedic peoples were the progenitors of ‘an old global civilisation ‘ and that ‘it must be accepted as older than the Egyptian and Sumerian and other ancient civilisations’. The Vedic civilisation is, predictably, portrayed in the chapter in ideal terms, bearing no relation with actual history as numerous scholars, including Marxists and Ambedkarites, have pointed out. Thus, the class six text claims that the Vedas lay great stress ‘on morality and good values, such as helping the poor, the helpless, staying away from bad deeds and immorality and preach that the entire world is one family’. In the Vedic period, it claims, ‘these values were very apparent and people helped one another […] An important feature of Aryan culture was that everyone had mercy for all creatures’. Likewise, the standard nine text says that the Vedas ‘inspired humans to lead a life of simplicity and high thinking’. It argues that the Vedic Aryans selected their rulers democratically and that the main role of the kings was to protect their subjects. In this task they were assisted by Brahmin priests or purohits and army commanders. Denying the well-known fact that the Vedic Aryans ate beef and other forms of meat and consumed alcohol, it claims that they were vegetarians and teetotalers. The texts portray the Aryan caste system as a harmonious, non-oppressive and egalitarian form division of labour, completely contradicting what critical historians have argued. Thus, the standard nine text claims that Vedic society was based on a system of four varnas and that one’s varna was decided on the basis of one’s worth, not birth. It mentions in this regard the Rig Vedic hymn that speaks of the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras as similar to different parts of the human body. These are presented as working together harmoniously without any contradiction or exploitation. The chapter does, however, mention, albeit only in passing, that in the later Vedic period, ‘in some places’ there is mention of the varna system being transformed into one based on ‘family’. Crucially, even here there is no mention of caste oppression which is repeatedly attested to in all the Brahminical texts. The chapter then goes on to a discussion of Brahminical Hinduism, praising it as the veritable epitome of ecumenism. ‘Hinduism believes in tolerance for all humanity’, it says, conveniently overlooking the stern rules that virtually all the Brahminical Hindu texts lay down for the ‘low’ castes. ‘The Upanishads speak of happiness of all creatures’, it goes on, without mentioning the cruel oppression of the ‘low’ castes in the same scriptural tradition.

‘Hinduism talks of the entire world as being one family’, it claims, glossing over the fact that Hinduism has condemned the vast majority of the Indian people to sub-human status. It insists that Hinduism ‘gave direction to world peace’, overlooking the numerous stories of violence engaged in by Hindu deities against their ‘asuric’ opponents, who, if Dalit ideologues are to be believed, were none but their own ancestors, the original inhabitants of India. The entire chapter is a crude piece of propaganda that, reflecting apologetic Brahminical or Hindutva discourse, does not seriously engage with the Brahminical tradition while at the same time seeking to ardently defend it. Since the textbooks seem to be specifically geared to presenting an idealized image of Brahminical Hinduism in line with the view of modern neo-Brahminical or Hindutva apologists, they do not, of course, refer to the darker side of the Vedas, particularly the violence and hatred directed against the dark-skinned aboriginal peoples of India, references to which are found in abundance in the Vedas. As the noted historian David Lorenzen argues in his recent book, ‘Who Invented Hinduism?: Esays on Religion in History’ (Yoda Pres, New Delhi, 2006), Aryan or Vedic civilisation has little or no resemblance with the way it is portrayed in Hindu apologetic discourse. He writes that the Rig Veda is replete with negative references to the Dasas and Dasyus, the original inhabitants of India, progenitors of the Dalits and Adivasis of today, who are almost invariably described in lurid terms; as ‘worshippers of the male phallus’, ‘not sacrificing’, irreligious’, ‘without blessing’, ‘godless’, ‘bereft of the Vedas’ and so on. ‘Whatever the Dasa religion was’, Lorenzen says, ‘the Aryas clearly regarded it as inferior to their own’.

The Rig-Vedic Aryans were not opposed to the indigenous Indians on grounds of religious difference alone and the latter’s resistance to the Aryan sacrifice-based religion. Another grounds for opposition was skin colour. Lorenzen writes that the Rig Veda is replete with praises of various Aryan gods who are described as aiding the Aryans in their merciless slaughter of the non-Aryan dark-skinned original inhabitants of India. Thus, the Rig Veda [9.41.1] speaks of Soma as ‘killing the black skin’ and of ‘burn[ing] up the irreligious […] the dark skin that Indra hates’. It invokes the fire-god Agni and says, ‘From fear of you the dark tribes went in all directions, abandoning their possessions’ [7.5.3]. It talks of Indra helping the ‘sacrificing Arya’ by ‘punishing irreligious men and [making] subject to Manu the black skin’ [1.101.1]. It invokes Indra as he who ‘gives joy and, with Rjisvan, [who] killed the black offspring [or the black pregnant women]’. It specifically identifies Indra’s enemies as Dasyus and refers to Indra as ‘the Vrtra killer, the breaker of forts [who] tore to pieces female Dasas who had black vulvae’. The Rig Veda invokes Indra as he who ‘threw down the fifty thousand blacks and broke their forts as if [they were] old garments’ [4.13] and as he who ‘drove away the blacks’ and ‘killed the Dasas’ [6.47.21]. Indra is further lauded as one who ‘killed the noseless [or mouthless] Dasyus with [his] weapon’ [5.29.10], and ‘who, with his voice, killed many thousand inauspicious [women?] who had loud voices and spoke with disputatious speech’ [[10.235.5], this probably being a reference to speakers of non-Aryan indigenous languages. Analysing these and other Rig Vedic verses, Lorenzon argues that ‘the Rig Vedic evidence showing that the Arya warriors looked on themselves as conquerors, modeled on Indra and the Maruts, is simply overwhelming. To suggest, even indirectly, that their movement into South Asia consisted primarily of more or less peaceful, small-scale migrations (or even ‘infiltrations’) by bands much smaller than such tribes seems to me to be implausible and contrary to the evidence that exists’. ‘To make the Aryas into peaceful cowherds seems to me to imply that they followed some sort of pacifistic, Buddhist-like or Jain-like ideology, whereas the rig Veda clearly shows just the opposite. Arya men dedicated much of their lives to war a nd battle’. Hence, he insists, ‘the conclusion that several large-size Arya groups entered South Asia as invaders seems to be the only view that corresponds to the Vedas’. These darker aspects of Aryan culture and history are, of course, not referred to at all in the Rajasthan textbooks, which are geared to presenting the Vedic period as India’s ‘golden age’, which, as Lorenzen’s critique clearly indicates, is completely unwarranted. The invisibiliation of the Dalits, Adivasis and other oppressed castes in the textbooks is reflected not only in the glorification of Vedic culture but also in the almost total absence of any reference to these communities at all. There is not a single mention of the Dalits, and the only reference to Adivasis appears in the standard seven text, in a chapter titled ‘Rang Birangi Bharatiya Sanskriti’ (‘The Colourful Indian Culture’), which describes the Adivasis in terms of their alleged ‘exoticness’. Thus, it says, ‘in Nagaland, people put on masks depicting animals and birds and dance. In the North-East, there are thick rain forests […] and people here are short, flat-nosed and yellow in colour. Most of them live in tribes and love wearing colourful clothes’. This is also the only reference to North-East India in all the books. The same chapter also refers briefly to the Adivasis of Central and East India, saying, ‘Bihar has a large number of Adivasis as does Jharkhand. The Chhau dance here is famous and people dance wearing masks. Adivasi [men] wear dhotis till their knees and women wear saris [sic.]’.

As the textbooks appear to see it, the ‘low’ castes have not produced any heroes who are worth emulating. All the Hindu heroes mentioned in the books are ‘upper’ castes, including a number of Hindu kings and the founders of the various Hindu religious movements. Indian history is presented as the history of Hindu (and Muslim) rulers and other elites, with no mention at all of ‘ordinary’ people. The building of grand temples and palaces by various kings is elaborated upon in detail, but, expectedly, nothing at all issaid of the oppression that the ‘low’ castes had to suffer and through whose exploitation the entire cultural edifice that that the textbooks glorify was built. Likewise, the textbooks portray the Indian freedom struggle as the effort of ‘upper’ caste Hindu leaders, there being no mention whatsoever of Dalit, Adivasi, Shudra and Muslim freedom fighters. It is as if Gandhi and other ‘upper’ caste leaders of the Congress alone won India freedom from the British. In this silencing of the non-‘upper’ caste Hindu role in the freedom struggle, Dalit and Muslim leaders and organizations are portrayed in negative terms, as playing a divisive role and thereby working to strengthen British imperialism. Thus, the text meant for students of class nine describes the Muslim League as a British creation and identifies it as the sole cause of the mass violence in India immediately prior to the Partition. Muslim and Dalit critiques of the Congress as an ‘upper’ caste party, the significant Hindu supremacist element within the Congress, the consistent opposition of Hindu right-wing organizations, such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Hindu Mahsabha, to the anti-imperialist struggle, their vociferous hatred of Muslims (and Dalits) and their active role in violence directed against Muslims are thus completely ignored. The only mention of non-‘upper’ caste figures in the context of the freedom struggle is a veiled negative reference to Babasaheb Ambedkar. It describes the decision by the British to grant separate electorates to Dalits in order to protect Dalit interests in 1932, but condemns this as ‘dividing the Hindus and the national movement’. It refers to Gandhi having persuaded Ambedkar to drop the demand for separate Dalit electorates, and, predictably, does not mention how the latter agreed to do this much against his will. Interestingly, this is the only mention of Ambedkar in all the texts.

The textbooks’ invisibilisation of the oppressed castes and, indeed, of such basic facts of Indian life as poverty, communal violence and caste discrimination, is evident in the way they deal with contemporary Indian society. Not a word is mentioned about the darker aspects of Indian reality. Instead, the textbooks present Indian society as prosperous, free of all contradictions and as marching towards peace and progress for all. Thus, the class six textbook talks of various social groups based on profession, describing this division of labour as working for the good of all, without even a hint of a mention of class or caste oppression. Defending the class system it simply asks, ‘If people associated with any profession stop working, imagine what difficulty we will face?’ The texts repeatedly refer to village and city life and make it a point to present the state as a benign institution, actively involved in promoting people’s welfare. That agencies of the state can do anything but this is thus ruled out completely. Thus, the textbooks deal in detail about various facilities provided, in theory, by the state for the public, presenting what is true in theory as true in practice as well. They mention various rights accorded to citizens by the Constitution without even mentioning the fact that for a very large section of the country’s population these remain only on paper and mean virtually nothing at all. They talk about the legislature, the judiciary and the police as being actively engaged in promoting people’s welfare, conflating principle with actual reality, and ignoring the active role of these institutions in sustaining the system of exploitation and oppression. Thus, for example, the standard seven text proclaims, ‘India is the biggest democracy in the world’ and this means that ‘the people are the rulers’ and that they elect their rulers who, in turn, ‘work for the public’ in ‘accordance with the Indian Constitution’. In turn, this means that ‘no one can be exploited and no one can be paid less than a proper wage’.

The textbooks even go to the extent of uncritically glorifying ‘globalisation’ and imperialism, which are playing such havoc with the livelihoods and lives of millions of Dalits, Adivasis and similar sections among other marginalized communities such as Muslims. Thus, the class nine textbook hails India’s close alliance with America, piously proclaiming that both countries ‘are democratic, committed to world peace, independence and respect for human rights […] Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the liberaleconomic policies have made relations between the two countries harmonious’. It further claims that ‘In the age of globalisation, due to its large area, population, huge middle class and economic potential, the USA has realized that India’s economic and political potential and democratic set-up cannot be ignored’. The devastating costs of ‘globalisation’ for millions of Dalits and other oppressed communities are thus carefully glossed over. The standard six textbook goes overboard in its enthusiasm for ‘globalization’, going so far as to claim a Hindu origin for it! Thus, it claims, ‘An important feature of Aryan society was the belief that all of humankind is one family and today that is expressed in the form of globalisation’. Rajasthan’s textbooks are not alone in their glorification of Brahminism, whitewashing its deep-rooted tradition of oppression, conflating it with Indian nationalism and invisibilising Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims and other marginalised communities.

It is likely that the same holds true in the case of texts used in many, if not most, Indian states. This urgently calls for organised efforts to critique the texts from a caste-class point of view and to buildpressure on the state to take appropriate measures.


Copyright: Yoginder Sikand circulated in Yahoo Group

Death of the Mahatma

On the 60th year of the murder of Mohandas Gandhi, we must recognise the ambivalence towards him in India’s modernising middle classes. Gandhi was not killed by British imperialism or Muslim fanatics, but by middle-class Hindu nationalists committed to conventional concepts of statecraft, progress and diplomacy. He was not killed by a lunatic, as Nehru alleged, but by one who represented ‘normality’ and ‘sanity’.

The middle-class antipathy to Gandhi cuts across ideologies. During one of her earlier tenures, Mayawati precipitated a first-class public controversy by attacking Gandhi. But she was only joining a long line of distinguished critics of Gandhi, stretching from Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the classical liberal turned Muslim nationalist, to Bal Thackeray of the Shiv Sena. New, aggressive critics of Gandhi are now being thrown up by the knights of globalisation in India.

The fear of Gandhi has been consistent in India and it has never been confined to the expensively educated Indians now flourishing in the global knowledge industry. This fear is the fear of ordinary Indian citizens suffering from that incurable disease called Indianness and suspicion of the open politics that empowers them and allows them to bring into public life their strange, alien categories. It was this fear that Nathuram Godse took to logical conclusion on January 30, 1948. His was the third attempt on Gandhi’s life by the Hindu nationalists, the first of which was made in 1930s. They made no such attempt against any other key secular leader in India or against Muslim leaders seen as enemies of Hindus.

Godse thought he was executing Gandhi on behalf of a majority. Exactly as Mayawati and, before her, E M S Namboodiripad felt that they were speaking on behalf of a majority – the bahujan samaj, the proletariat, the Shudras and the Dalits – when they attacked Gandhi. However, once the movement to which Godse belonged began to falter as an ideological formation and succeed as a political party dreaming of capturing power, it began singing a different tune. The RSS included Gandhi’s name in the daily prayers of its branches and, in the 1980s, the BJP even adopted ‘Gandhian socialism’ as its official party ideology. May be Mayawati’s hostility to Gandhi had not waned when she spoke out because she was yet to make a bid for pan-Indian presence.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Leninist hacks have always considered Gandhi a menace to progress, modernity and rationality. The respect to Gandhi that some of the retired Stalinists have begun to show in recent years is a consequence of their political demise. The vendors of secular salvation now find that Gandhi has survived our times better than they have.

M N Roy, who broke away from Marxism, disagreed with the Leninists on many counts but not on Gandhi. His three essays on Gandhi, read chronologically, show a declining hostility towards the Mahatma. The first is dismissive, the second ambivalent, the third mildly positive. As his confidence in being able to mobilise people for his version of revolution faltered, he came to grudgingly appreciate Gandhi’s ability to touch the ordinary Indians despite his ‘irrational’ credo. Indian Maoists in the late 1960s and early 70s were no less hostile to Gandhi. He with his toothless smile seemed to them a sly, scheming warhorse brainwashing rural India with his bogus ideology, whereas they, despite their direct communion with objective, scientific history and theoretical guidance from the great witch doctor at Beijing, had been exiled to urban India to survive as an ordinary terrorist outfit. As Gandhi was dead by then, they took out their anger against him by breaking his statues.

Within a decade though, from within the ranks of Indian Maoists emerged some who drew heavily, often creatively, upon Gandhi. Pushed to the margins of politics, with their dreams of an early revolution in tatters, the ageing lions began to ruminate over their failures and take Gandhi seriously. Two steps backward and one step forward, as the great helmsman might have said! The liberals have never found Gandhi digestible either. Shankaran Nair, an early Congress leader, said that Gandhi was against everything that the great sons of 19th century India stood for. Gopal Krishna Gokhale was even more forthright. He declared Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj to be “the work of a fool” and prophesied that “Gandhi would destroy it after he spent a year in India”. Such honest estimates are now rare, because the liberals in the meanwhile have produced their own house-broken Gandhi – modern, nationalistic, progressive, statist and secular. There is nothing left of the politically incorrect, intellectual maverick who took on the imperious Enlightenment vision and refused to accept that its dominance was proof of its finality.

It is possible that Gandhi sensed his growing isolation in public life. The 200 years of western domination had done its job and the definition of normal politics had changed in India. Gandhi chose death, using as his accomplice the naive, lost ideologue, Godse, to sharpen the contra-diction that had arisen between the Indian civilisation and the newborn Indian nation-state. Robert Payne understands this when he says, “For Gandhi this death was a triumph. He died as the kings do, felled at the height of their powers”. And Sarojini Naidu was right when she said: “What is all this snivelling about? …Would you rather he died of old age or indigestion?”


Ashis Nandy; The Times of India, 30 January 2008

Why Bapu Matters

Is he revered more because of his absence than his presence?  

Gandhi’s gloriously original and inventive life continues to be extraordinarily fascinating. But his assassination remains shrouded in embarrassed silence. At the Indira Gandhi memorial, visitors are subjected to the details of her assassination. Gandhi, on the other hand is memorialised, but not primarily through Birla House, a monument that still does not have its rightful place in the historical itineraries of Delhi. There is a simple story we have told about the assassination: Gandhi was killed by a fanatic representing the fringes of society, and that is that. But for a life whose every gesture was overloaded with meaning, the interpretive silence over Gandhi’s assassination itself begs for interpretation. Was it the enormity of that crime that silences us? Or was it its marginality? Were the perpetrators distant from us? Or was there a wider complicity, if not with the assassination itself, with the sentiments that fuelled it? The question, ‘Why was Gandhi killed’, is an easy one to answer only if we deliberately shut ourselves to the complex political realities of the time.  

There is a sense in which Gandhi’s death, notwithstanding the extraordinary grief it elicited was, with hindsight, an occasion that gave political relief to the nation. Perhaps it is the fate of great lives that they, at some point, achieve more in their death than by living. Gandhi had already become marginal to the new forms Indian politics was taking in the late forties. He was out of sync with the political tendencies of the time: communalism, Partition, new constitutionalism, and development. He also had the sense of being marginalised in his personal relationships with leaders of the time. He had to plead to be consulted on major decisions, including Partition. But to see what his death achieved, just think of the counterfactual. One of the matters he attended to before his death was the rift between Nehru and Patel. His death, as Ram Guha has argued, ensured that the two would continue to work together. Imagine the strain it would have been on the fledgling republic if the Congress had openly split around these two personalities.

It has to be admitted that his continual presence and riposte to the government that was coming into being would have been an extraordinary liability for Nehru. On almost every issue of the time there were serious tensions between the emerging state and what Gandhi stood for; and his stance would have continually cast a shadow of doubt over Congress’s legitimacy. To put it bluntly, it was beginning to be felt that with Gandhi around, normal politics would have been near-impossible. But perhaps most importantly, had it not been for Gandhi’s assassination, the new state would not have been able to delegitimise Hindu nationalism to the extent it did. It has become all too easy to forget the fact that by the late forties Hindu nationalism was in the position of being a potent political force, and the assassination made it difficult for more people to openly avow it. In a way, the surprise is not that Hindu nationalism reappeared in the eighties, legitimised by the excesses of the Congress; the surprise is that the guilt of being killers of Gandhi remained a damper on its aspirations for so long.  

It is a pity that we still don’t fully come to terms with Godse’s claims at his trial. I suspect it is because his words are a mirror unto a widespread complicity about Gandhi’s political place in modern India. The parts that those who read the speech focus on are the familiar ones: Godse as the fanatic who blamed Gandhi for Partition, appeasing Muslims and bringing ruin to Hindus. These are easily dismissed. But it is more difficult to shake off his sense of being imprisoned by Gandhi. He speaks of an accumulated 32 years of resentment. But the essence of his case has three prongs: Gandhi was a failure, the charkha could not even clothe 1 per cent of the nation and non-violence was an ideal honoured only in the breach. Second, Gandhi was impractical. But most importantly, Gandhi’s virtue had become his vice: “Gandhiji should have either changed his policy or could have admitted his defeat and given way to others of different political views to deal with Mr Jinnah and the Muslim League.” The problem with Gandhi, on this view, was that his own path was too impractical to succeed, but his presence was powerful enough to ensure that no other path could gain equal legitimacy. Gandhi remained the high ideal, but he was now the ideal that stood in our way. In a way Gandhi’s resolute individuality, Ekla Chalo had become, not a signifier of leadership, but an ability to block. Again to quote, “Indian politics in the absence of Gandhiji would surely be practical, able to retaliate, and would be powerful with armed forces.” In a sense this captured the schizophrenia over Gandhi: his undoubted power over us, but also an experience that this power was a fetter to our conception of practicality.  

One of the judges presiding over the trial had little doubt that had the audience on the day of trial been constituted into a jury, they would have returned a verdict of ‘not guilty’ on Godse. To say that we were all complicit in Gandhi’s death would be to obscure several important moral distinctions. But it is not too far-fetched a claim to say that by the late forties no one had any idea about what to do with him. Even Patel and Nehru were at their wit’s ends. The moral force of his ideals could not be denied, even if living up to them was impossible; his personality remained a powerful force that could move people to peace. But it was peace sustained by the aura of his personality, not an acceptance of his ideals. In some contexts, Gandhi still remains supremely relevant. There is little doubt, for instance, that the Palestinian cause would have succeeded far more if it had taken a Gandhian turn. His manner of constructing a fearless and inventive self remains supremely instructive. As the first genius to master mass politics, he remains, to use the defining aspiration of our times, cool. But on the sixtieth anniversary of his assassination, it is difficult to shake off the feeling that he is revered more because of his absence than his presence. As with Munnabhai, his ghost occasionally haunts us, but the important thing is that it is only a ghost. His assassination allowed us to cope with him.


Pratap Bhanu Mehta; Indian Express, 30 January, 2008

First Few Feelings in Denmark

On 15 February, looking through the windows of Turkish Airlines, I was overwhelmed to see the scenic beauty of the city of Copenhagen sorrounded by deep blue water. It was truely rare and I regreted sitting beside the aile, since I could not capture the moment in my Camera. Believe me, I am a camera crazy person and feel sorry if could not capture some of the memerising moments. Some of my good old friends thats why complain against me that I always take pictures and do not enjoy the moment, which sometimes could be true.

Anyway, the experience began with a smile. The smile turned into a laughter when I got off the flight and came out of the Airport to see the afternoon sun waiting outside with its bright golden rays to welcome me to this amazing city. My first feeling was happiness. Wah !! What a bright day? My fear of cold and cloudy days faded away and the scary imagination of expecting dark gray days seemed like day dreams. I spoke to myself, it will not be hard to survive here.!!

It was not difficult to find my way to the Roskilde University. People were very warm, nice and welcoming. I joined the line to buy my train ticket and an one way ticket from Copenhagen Airport to Roskilde University, which is not more than 30 minutes ride, cost me DKK 90 (SGD 26). My reaction was, what an expensive city?? Though I knew it is one of the expensive cities in Europe, I had no idea that it would be so expensive.

The train travelled through lands that looked deserted. I could not see any houses around or city centres. It looked like as if I am passing through a desert in winter. The stations and sorroundings looked scary, since there were only one or two people getting into or getting off the train at the stations. It was scary for me because of my experience in Indian train stations, which were crowded with populations fighting to get into the train to find a space to accomodate at least their two legs to reach their destination or the experience in Singapore, which may not be as disorganised as the Indian experience is, but people lining up for getting into the train. In comparison to those experiences, Denmark was a unique anomaly. But it was interesting.

I got off at the Trekroner Station, which is just 8 minutes walk from the University. I found myself in the middle of the station almost alone. The station, as usual, looked like a desert and as if I am standing in the middle of it. I was wondering how to go to the University from the station and found no one to ask to. After few minutes, to my happiness, found someone, perhaps looked Asian (I dont remember correctly the face now – no racist intention), who directed me the way to the University. It was freaking cold and my hands were freezing. I dragged my luggage trolley and on my way I saw pretty Danish girls and handsome guys making their way back from the University towards the station at around 2.30 pm, since the University closes at 3 pm on fridays.

The University seemed to be situated in the middle of an Industrial Complex. It looked isolated and lifeless. Close to the University, there is a nice small lake, where I saw swans and some other birds. But the water in the lake looked stagnant. When I went to touch the water, It was hard and had turned into ice.

The campus looked nice though, with its dark gray leafless trees. It was not hard to find my destination. I went to the Department of International Development Studies and Dora and Inge were there to welcome me. They were very nice and welcoming. Dora assisted me finding my house. She is a very nice smiling face. To her, I brought the bright sun with me to Roskilde, since this was the first bright day. So nice of her. I checked into Korallen Students’ Dorm. its a nice place but isolated and boring. My first encounter was with its unclean communal kitchens. But, the rooms looked nice. It is not like the hostels in Indian Universities which are always (extra)lively and crowded. It is a very clam and quiet place filled with International students from various parts of the globe.

I met Reason from Zimbabwe, who is studying in South Africa. I also met Gonzallo from Cloumbia studying at LSE and Elisa from Italy working on Tanzania. These were the Guest PhD students like me. I also met some other exchange students at the Master level. The dinner was bought for me by Gonzallo and Reason, but they did not have the idea that I am a Vegetarian. Elisa was so sweet to cook some Pasta for me. We had a wonderful evening together. A warm eveneing at Korallen welcomed me with colourful, and diverse smiling faces around the world. Let this smile be continued….Thats all for now.


See also:

Games Historians Play

HISTORIANS are fond of playing a game known as “What if?” in which they try to picture a world where a different set of decisions had been taken at a key juncture. Thus, what would have happened had Hitler not invaded the Soviet Union? What would the world be like today had Nazi Germany won the Second World War?

In the same spirit, here’s a game for readers: What would the subcontinent be like today had it not been partitioned 60 years ago? Had both Congress and the Muslim League accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan — and they were desperately close to an agreement — India would have remained intact, albeit as a country with three confederating units. Would we have been better or worse off in such an arrangement?

In terms of physical development, I have little doubt that Pakistan has benefited from Partition. In physical infrastructure as well as social, political and intellectual development, the areas that constituted Pakistan on August 14, 1947, were some of the most backward in the subcontinent.

Since then, the country has seen considerable progress. Roads, hospitals, universities and schools have been built. Muslim entrepreneurs who migrated to the new state brought capital and business skills, and have created banks, mills and factories. And in a semi-arid country, new farming techniques have created a green revolution. For me, the transplantation of mango varieties is the most welcome aspect of this development.

In fact, had it not been for Pakistan’s inexorable population growth, we would all be much better off today, with fewer people demanding their share of the small but growing cake.

Of course, it can be argued that most of these changes would have occurred in an undivided India. But given our neighbour’s slow economic progress in the first three decades of Independence, I doubt that enough resources would have gone to the periphery.

Also, no Partition would have meant that no mass migration would have taken place. This in turn means that most of the skills and capital that crossed the new border in 1947 would not have been available to this part of the subcontinent.

Factors that led to Pakistan’s relatively rapid progress in the fifties and sixties include liberal economic policies, as well as our pro-western stance. This gave us access to capital and modern technology. Meanwhile, India was being governed under the Congress party’s socialist vision that included a tightly regulated economy that yielded what is now known as the ‘Hindu rate of growth’.

So all in all, my guess is that in economic terms, Pakistan has benefited from Partition. It is in the non-physical areas that our growth has remained stunted. Had the subcontinent not been divided into two (and later three) components, we would not all have squandered such vast resources on defence.

With the trillions that have gone into the black hole of military budgets, the government could have doubled and tripled the expenditure on health, education, culture and sports.

As a confederating unit of India, the area today known as Pakistan would not have suffered from the identity crisis that has seen it position itself as an adjunct to the Middle East. This, and the exclusion of the army from political life, would have reduced the religious fervour that has brought the Taliban wolf to our door.

Indeed, one of the factors fuelling the rise of extremism in Pakistan has been the perception of the existential threat that (Hindu) India poses to us.

This has been matched by the rise of the Hindutva religious nationalism in India reflected by the Shiv Sena and the BJP. These organisations use the (Muslim) Pakistan threat to drum up support, in the same way governments and religious and right-wing parties play the India card here.

Living under a secular constitution would have made life a lot easier for our minorities. They would not have to live in fear under the Damocles sword of our iniquitous blasphemy laws, and would be equal citizens. Women, too, would have benefited, and not been subject to random prosecution as under Ziaul Haq’s infamous Hudood Ordinances.

In the international arena, an undivided India would have long been a powerhouse. With around 1.5 billion people, it would have provided an even larger market for imported and locally produced goods.

Culturally, we would have benefited from much greater diversity than we have now. Pakistan is a monochromatic society where women have not been allowed to play their true role in society. By contrast, they are highly visible in all Indian cities. And with more exposure to literature and the arts, our cultural life would have been that much richer.

In sports, too, a combined population of 1.5 billion would have produced world-beating teams: imagine a cricket team representing the entire subcontinent!

There is a perception that had Partition not taken place, Muslims would have been oppressed by the Hindu majority. But half a billion Muslims are not a small minority that can be kicked around. As it is, about 160 million Muslims still live in India.Similar numbers in the areas that constitute Bangladesh and Pakistan today would have ensured that Muslims carried substantial political clout. And had Indian Muslims not faced the kind of isolation caused by Partition, they would not be the marginalised community they are now.

Politically, we would not have been subjugated by the army as we are today. As a result, parliament and the judiciary would have been functioning with far greater freedom than they have done here over the last six decades. Indeed, we would be a far freer people than we are.

At the end of the day, there are going to be winners and losers. Through Partition, many people gained, while others lost out. Many fortunes were made as a direct result of the scams arising out of the purchase of property claims submitted by refugees. Thousands of well-off people, caught up in the stampede created by the riots of 1947, were made destitute. Other migrants prospered due to the lack of competition in the new state.

Of course, all these are highly speculative projections, and if I have offended readers on either side of the Great Divide, let me remind them that this is just a game. And everybody can play.

By Irfan Husain; http://www.dawn. com/weekly/ mazdak/mazdak. htm