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Smash Brahmanical Patriarchy

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By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Smash Brahmanical Patriarchy has created a lot of hurt among the ‘liberal’ brahmins while the hardcore are threatening twitter to apologise. A privileged brahmin journalist wrote that it has become a norm to ‘blame’ brahmins who are a ‘minority’ community. She compared attacking brahmanism to Nazi treatment to jews during Hitler’s regime. If I am not wrong, Hitler was never an idol for the Bahujan samaj but I have heard stories of how Hitler have influenced India’s powerful brahmins who ‘hegemonised’ everything about India right from its culture to politics. Apart from Nagpur, another Hindu Hridaya Samrat in Mumbai known for speaking violently against Muslims as well as South Indians, was too fond of Hitler. It is not for unknown reasons that after 2014, Hitler’s Mein Kampf became available everywhere.

I am not amazed to see the brahmanical backlash at the twitter claiming victimhood. In the last one decade the powerful savarna lobby enjoying all the privileges of being a minority in the western world actually hate to speak for the rights of minorities and marginalised in India. It is this group, which has been consistent in its approach to support the forces of rabid Hinduta in India We all know how twitter became a factory of Hindutva hatemongers, threatening and intimidating with all those who disagreed. We know very well how everyone else who disagreed became anti-national and the level of debate in our media went to gutter level.

 

Smashing brahmanical patriarchy or White Supremacy or caste forces or racist forces amount to the same thing but it is also important that when we speak of brahmanical patriarchy is not mere brahmins but all those who believe in varnashram dharma which the brahmins are the founders and torch bearer. A Thakur, a Bania, a Yadav or Kayastha, a Bhumihar or any one else could be a person of brahmanical patriarchy who carry the hatred and contempt for woman. What we termed Hinduism today was actually known as Brahman dharma or varnashram dharma so it can not happen when you claim everything for all the good things but not want to take the criticism.

Yesterday, there was a big story in The Hindu of how two lovers were killed. It was killed because the boy was a Dalit while the girl belonged to Vanniayar community, an OBC. The Vanniyars have been at the forefront of demanding scrapping of the SC-ST Act. Many of the OBC leaders in the past have demanded that because much of the violence unleashed on Dalits today are OBCs and that is why Baba Saheb Ambedkar called them gatekeepers of brahmanism. All this is brahmanism and yet those who do it cant always take shelter by abusing the brahmanism while remaining a part of it. Baba Saheb Ambedkar gave us a path of Buddha’s enlightenment which was essential for annihilation of castes.

A friend wrote that why should the Dalit OBC’s break the caste. It is the brahmins who created and hence they should annihilate the caste. He meant that annihilation of caste slogan was not meant for the Dalits and OBCs but for the brahmins. The problem with such jumlebaazi is that they take us nowhere. They ask all of us to continue behaving in casteist way and ultimately take escape in blaming the brahmins all the time. Brahmins created our structures of justifications of caste and caste based discrimination but those have been exposed by our forefathers like Baba Saheb, Joti Ba Phule, EVR Periyar and others.

The fact is that caste system has given the savarnas particularly the brahmins absolute privilege without being accountable. Despite the facts that most of the Kings and emperors did not hail from brahmin community yet it was they who enjoyed all the patronage of power. The Brahmin power in India actually came after independence as they occupied all the major centers of power right from political power to judiciary, academia, media and even the sports, apart from unchallenged supreme social status.

I agree with those who say brahmins are minority. Yes all the Savaranas are minority but got disproportionate power. Find out the castes of the officers in the Prime Minister’s Office. Look at who are heading our academia, media and judiciary. Look out at our armed forces, our sports, our advertising world, and the world of cinema in India. They all are ‘den’ of brahmanism and not merely brahmins. Caste system operate in each of these institutions in different ways. All the powerful temples of India are one hundred percent control of brahmins and savarnas. All the gutters of India are left at the hands of ‘sanitation workers’ or Swachchkar samaj.

With these privileges, I am sure, annihilation of caste wont be possible by those who are enjoying the privileges of power. Baba Saheb knew it very well and that is why he gave a call to all those who believed that these power structures must go, to embrace Buddhism and work for Prabuddha Bharat. Yes, that Prabuddha Bharat call was not meant for the untouchables alone but for all Indians who wanted to make India stronger and a nation which can be proud of its cultural heritage.

We know not every one has taken Baba Saheb’s call. The Bahujan communities have yet to respond because as long as they are part of this structures, the caste system will flourish and brahmanical supremacy would continue. The caste based killing will continue. It is not merely brahmins but the Thakurs, bhumihars, Yadavas, Reddy’s Thevars, Jats, Gujjars every one will act and kill to innocent couples as long as they challenge their caste structure. The young couple marrying beyond their castes will continue to face it unless our families become enlightened or we leave them and create our new world. The meaning of brahmanical sysem is those who believe in supremacy and sanctity of caste and its hierarchies. Many of the enlightened whose parents might have been brahmins but they smashed it. We cant ignore the great work of Rahul Sankrityayan as well as M N Roy in this regard, both born as brahmins yet exposed brahmanism completely.

The solution to these issues is not making everyone feel guilty. None can be harassed on the basis of their birth but it is a fact that in India caste is birth based and it gives you absolute privilege. We can not decide our birth. We can not chose our parents but we can decide our present and future action. We can politely accept the dangers of hierarchical society as it is dangerous for all. It will destroy India. We need an enlightened India and it will not be possible without destroying birth based hierarchies and privileges.

The problem is that the wider debate on these issues are polarised and every one speak in their ‘confined’ circles. Youngsters are not groomed to accept diverse thoughts and hence any dissent of their popular belief is considered as sacrilege. No society can grow if they feel hurt on every small issue which challenges the popular notion. One thing is clear, that we can stop the march of the communities denied justice historically. Their assertion of their caste identities cannot termed as ‘casteism’. The Dalit assertion today and the brahmin supremacy are two different terms and cannot be equated. But beyond these things should a realisation that everyone has a space and each person should be provided justice. It will not be possible unless historical injustices are not acknowledged and diversity is not placed in our academia, media, judiciary and bureaucracy.

Caste system is the biggest crime imposed on people of India. We know as the world become too small and accessible to all, these things will also get exposed. Those who claim victimhood from the ‘colonial’ masters actually remain the biggest power people and victimised communities in a much worst way than their colonial masters. We must admit that caste discrimination and untouchability are crime as equivalent to racial discrimination. When the world can join hand and feel offended on anything that has racial connotations, then, we in India we do not feel offended by caste discrimination and violence in the name of it. How has India tolerated untouchability which is nothing but hidden apartheid?

Issues are serious but it will only get resolved when the Savarnas in India genuinely feel that certain communities have been historically wronged and denied justice. It will pave the way for reconciliation and nation building but that has a lot to do with voluntarily resigning from your privileges which gave them enormous power socially as well as politically. Will Indian Parliament ever discuss this and apologise to its Dalit Adivasi communities for historical wrong done to them? A reconciliation is only possible if the powerful and those who enjoyed fruits of the system offer their hand, admit and proceed to build a new future. There is no winner here accept humanity but will the caste mind rise and condemn the system of their privilege?

(Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at www.manukhsi.blogspot.com twitter @freetohumanity Email: vbrawat@gmail.com. Courtesy: countercurrents.org)


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Opinion

Faiz and Manto

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By Ali Madeeh Hashmi

January 18 was Manto’s 64th death anniversary and it should be noted that Manto has been experiencing something of a renaissance for quite a few years. Manto’s best short stories like ‘Toba Tek Singh’, ‘Mozail’, ‘Hattak’, ‘Naya Qanoon’, ‘Khol Do’ and countless others remain peerless both as works of art as well as searing commentaries on their times. However, even Manto’s most ardent admirers admit that his work is wildly uneven. Exquisite short stories are mixed in with works that are at best hurried and slapdash, at worst incomprehensible. Most of this is, no doubt, a result of the life that Manto lived: a life marred by poverty, alcoholism and mental illness.

In and of itself, this is of no moment. After all, an artiste is free to create and propagate his or her work anyway he likes. But the continuing attention on Manto has had the result of perhaps diverting attention away from a number of other gifted writers some of whom were his contemporaries and some who came later. Writers like UpendranathAshk, Krishan Chander and even the great MunshiPremchand. In addition, later writers like the exquisitely subdued Ghulam Abbas and Muhammad Hasan Askari have not received the kind of attention or accolades that have accrued to Manto.

 

February 13 was Faiz’s 108th birthday and it seems appropriate to examine what connection (if any) existed between the two. In a couple of interviews, initially noted in Dr Ayub Mirza’s book Hum keThehrayAjnabi, Faiz said: “Manto was my student at the MAO College Amritsar (Faiz’ first job after finishing his MA)”. Faiz went on to note affectionately: “He never studied much, he was mischievous. He…didn’t respect anyone. But he respected me and considered me his ‘ustaad’”.

A recent column in a leading Urdu daily devotes a considerable amount of ink to disproving that Manto was ever Faiz’s student. It points out, correctly, that Faiz was appointed a lecturer in English at the MAO college Amritsar in 1935, probably in the latter half (the exact date is not available). Manto had, by then, already become a translator of some renown having translated and published some Russian short stories as well as Oscar Wilde’s play Vera among others. Manto did join the MAO college Amritsar as a student in 1933 but most likely had dropped out by the time Faiz joined as a lecturer. Subsequently, Manto was briefly a student at the Aligarh Muslim University but had to drop out after being diagnosed with tuberculosis. He returned to Amritsar in August 1935, probably right around the time that Faiz joined MAO college as a teacher. Manto then travelled back and forth between Amritsar and Delhi for treatment and in May 1936, on the advice of his physician moved to Bombay and later (after partition) to Lahore.

It seems obvious that Manto and Faiz were, in fact, present in Amritsar around the same time (mid-late 1935 till summer 1936). Faiz was an up and coming poet having received some acclaim for his poetry while still a student at Government College Lahore and then Oriental College from around 1929 till 1934/35. His poems had been published in Government College’s esteemed literary journal Ravi and his teachers, leading literary lights of the day including Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum, Dr MD Taseer and Ahmad Shah Bokhari ‘Patras’ were aware of his poetic talents.

In addition, in Amritsar, he was introduced to Syed SajjadZaheer and quickly became one of the leading organisers of the newly emergent All India Progressive Writer’s Association (AIPWA). All through this time, Faiz would undoubtedly have been reciting his poetry both at mushairas and perhaps private events even though the publication of his first volume of poetry Naqsh-e Faryadi was still some years away (1941). Many of Manto’s short stories were also published in the quarterly Adab-e Lateef which Faiz briefly edited around 1939-41. Faiz also defended Manto in court more than once. In Dr Ayub Mirza’s book, he said “Every time he (Manto) would be taken to court, I would be one of the defense witnesses. He was arrested four times; for ‘KaaliShalwar’, ‘ThandaGosht’, ‘Khol Do’ and ‘Dhuan’. The first three times we managed to get him off.”

Manto was actually prosecuted six times for alleged pornography. In addition to the stories Faiz mentions above, he was also taken to court for his stories ‘Bu’ and ‘OoperNeechayaurDarmiyan’. In 1949, Faiz was the convener of the Press Advisory Board tasked with rendering a judgment about whether Manto’s notorious short story ‘ThandaGosht’, published in a special edition of the magazine Javed in March 1949 was a work of art or pornography. In short, the two were well acquainted.

When Faiz says in his interview “Mantoapnashagirdtha”, he clearly means ‘Shagird’ not in the narrow sense of a student enrolled in a class one is teaching in a college or university but someone who seeks guidance from another who he considers more learned or erudite. In addition, when Faiz says

“Wohmeriizzatkartathaaurmujhayustaadmaantatha”, he clearly means ‘Ustaad’ in the Eastern/Indo-Pakistani sense, again, someone learned, older, more worldly who can be confidante/guide and mentor.

Manto, to my knowledge, never referred in writing to any association with Faiz and, fairly early on, dissociated himself from the AIPWA. From his meteoric rise as a short story and then film writer in the late 1930s and early 1940s, to his legal battles over being an alleged pornographer, through his fateful decision to migrate from Bombay to Lahore only to be dogged by continuing legal troubles, alcoholism, mental illness and penury into an early grave, he walked his own lonely path, refusing to compromise what he considered his artistic integrity, refusing to draw a cloak over the ‘unbearable society’ in which he lived.

In 1955, he died in Lahore at the young age of 43. Faiz, languishing in prison at the time under threat of a death sentence for the Rawalpindi ‘Conspiracy’ case wrote: “I was grieved to hear of Manto’s death. Respectable members of our community, who have neither the awareness of the fragility of an artiste’s heart nor any sympathy for it, will probably say that Manto himself is to blame for his death. But no one will wonder why he did this…The problem is that when life and art are in conflict with each other due to social circumstances, one of these has to be sacrificed. The other possibility is of mutual compromise, in which some part of both is sacrificed. The third possibility is to unite the two into a subject of struggle, which only great artistes are capable of.”

Faiz referred in another interview to Manto’s ‘exquisite short stories’ and went on to say “but after 1950, he lost his way. The film or newspaper people would give him a bottle of liquor and have him write whatever they wanted”. None of this is to take away from the greatness of Manto which is universally acknowledged but perhaps we can stop quibbling about what relationship (if any) he had with Faiz; student, peer or fellow artist. Neither one of them is with us today but their art is, and that’s the way it should be.

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Opinion

ODDS TOWARDS ENDS

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By Umair Khan

The relationship between Pakistan and India has seen many ups and downs — probably more downs than it should have. Several books have been written to explore the intricacies of this sensitive relationship as both sides try to present arguments from their own perspective in an effort to legitimise their policies and actions. India and Pakistan: Neighbours at Odds is one such endeavour undertaken by Avtar Singh Bhasin, a researcher and former Indian diplomat.

Before writing this book, Bhasin had compiled a 10-volume magnum opus titled India-Pakistan Relations 1947-2007: A Documentary Study comprising original political and diplomatic documents from the archives of the government of India pertaining to Pakistan-India relations. In a way, his new book is a distilled form of the earlier, encyclopaedic work.

 

India and Pakistan: Neighbours at Odds consists of 34 chapters dedicated to important events in the region’s history in chronological order. The book starts from the woes of Partition and continues up to the mistrust each country holds for the other even today. Looking back over centuries of recorded history of the Indian subcontinent, Bhasin rightly points out that “at no time in the medieval history of India was there a single ruler ruling the entire country from [the] east to the west and north to south. There were many rulers.” Thus, he gives credence to the claim that the Indo-Pak subcontinent has not been a political unity for a long period of time.

Starting proper from the fateful years of the post-Partition era, Bhasin admits that “certain actions of the Indian leaders at the very start of the journey, even if they were rational from the Indian standpoint, such as withholding Pakistan’s share of Sterling balances, the stoppage of canal waters, Junagadh, Hyderabad and Kashmir, did not add to building trust between the two countries, and Pakistan cried foul.” However, he is not able to explain how these actions were rational from the Indian standpoint. The same has been admitted by another former Indian diplomat, ChandrashekharDasgupta, in his book War and Diplomacy in Kashmir, 1947-48, that “the Indian control over the irrigation headworks in Mangla could lead to the ruin of Pakistan’s agricultural economy.”

Bhasin presents the case of the generations of mistrust in a way that implies that the British favoured the Muslim League over Congress during the last days of their Raj, and favoured Pakistan over India during the early days of its independence. However, recent scholarship discredits the author’s claims. In a story published by the BBC in August 2007 titled ‘Partitioning India Over Lunch’, it was revealed that the memoirs of Christopher Beaumont, who was secretary to Sir Cyril Radcliffe, chairman of the Indo-Pakistan Boundary Commission, had been discovered by his son. Beaumont wrote in his memoirs that “the viceroy, Mountbatten, must take the blame — though not the sole blame — for the massacres in the Punjab in which between 500,000 to a million men, women and children perished.” Beaumont categorically stated that Mountbatten favoured the Indian side in the matter of the Radcliffe Boundary Award. This effectively negates Bhasin’s implications that the British favoured Pakistan over India.

When the locals of Kashmir revolted in 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru, in the words of Bhasin, “unable to opt for the military option, went to the UN considering it the better option. It was a panic decision.” However, the author feels that the platform of the United Nations — that had been created for the peaceful resolution of international disputes — was not the right platform for the Kashmir dispute to be taken to by India’s then prime minister. With hindsight, he believes that Nehru should have opted for the military solution instead.

When the United Nations Security Council passed resolutions in 1948 that asked India to let the people of Kashmir exercise their democratic right of self-determination through a free and fair plebiscite held under the auspices of the UN itself, Bhasin writes that “India had the option of rejecting the resolution since it had gone beyond its reference.” Here, any student of international law can underscore the fact that the UN Security Council has been authorised by the UN Charter to ensure peace and security in the world and its resolutions cannot be rejected by any state on the flimsy ground of “having gone beyond” the reference submitted by that state.

Nehru reneged on his promise to hold a free and fair plebiscite in Kashmir on the flimsy grounds that ground realities had changed after Pakistan made military pacts with the United States during the mid-1950s. Bhasin does not clarify how the signing of these military pacts by Pakistan could disbar the Kashmiri people from exercising their democratic right of self-determination.

Commenting on the nuclearisation of South Asia, Bhasin admits that after a nuclear test was conducted by India in 1974 (Pokhran I), Pakistan proposed in a statement issued in 1980 to declare South Asia a nuclear weapon-free zone. However, Bhasin states that “India was keen on a universal nuclear disarmament, something which was beyond the realm of possibility.” And when India again conducted a nuclear test in 1998 (Pokhran II), forcing Pakistan to conduct a nuclear test as well, Bhasin comments on the nuclearisation of South Asia by writing “both Vajpayee and then Nawaz Sharif did the most unexpected” without putting the blame where it primarily belongs — the side that introduced the nuclear arms race in South Asia.

Reading and understanding the history of Pakistan-India relations has never been more important. The geostrategic situation of the region demands that both the neighbours at odds with each other need to bridge the trust deficit somehow and find some way to move forward. While this book is a good source for understanding the Indian perspective and narrative on important issues, and it is rich in quoting primary source material, it falls somewhat short in the logical analysis of those references. Still, it can prove a good read for students of history and policymakers.

India and Pakistan:
Neighbours at Odds
By Avtar Singh Bhasin
Bloomsbury, India
ISBN: 978-9386826206
538pp.

 

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Opinion

Colours of Asia

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By Nijah S. Khan

Asia, the world’s largest and most populous continent, home to 48 countries each with their own diverse cultures and subcultures, languages and religions, presents an interesting situation: What is it to be ‘Asian’? It almost seems impossible that such an expanse of land would have narratives that are similar and relatable, given the uniqueness of the multitudes residing within each Asian nation. Yet in The Best Asian Short Stories of 2017, “different voices, viewpoints and themes combine to shed light upon various facets of the Asian experience,” writes Editor MonideepaSahu in her foreword.

The anthology contains thirty two stories ranging from the skyscrapers of Korea, to the deserts of Jordan, from the rainforests of Malaysia and the historic anguish of the Indo-Pak partition to the impoverished slums of Bangladesh, just to name a few. The particular focus of this omnibus of short stories is precisely the home-grown Asian identity, free from Western attempts to explain what they see as quaint and exotic. The stories ‘Jellybeans’ by Soniah Kamal and ‘The Spaces Between Stars’ by Gita Kothari, which are set in the United States of America are still narrated from the Asian perspective.

 

Though the call for submissions prescribed no set theme, larger motifs such as extreme poverty and the quest to improve one’s living situation through brutal hard work emerge across the stories; for example in ‘Ladybugs Fly From The Top’ by Korean writer Park Chan-soon, our acrophobic window-washing protagonist dangles daily from the tops of skyscrapers with only ropes attached to a small board, risking his life to make a living. A poor construction worker’s family converts to Christianity from Hinduism in the vain hopes that “their escape in the dead of night from one identity into another” will help transform their lot in life, in ‘Patchwork’ by Shikandin.

In MithranSomasudrum’s ‘The Yakuza Under the Stairs’, Clisty’s tale is a slightly less morose one of rags-to-riches, when the humble immigrant cab driver finds himself the unsuspecting recipient of a sizeable inheritance. The story takes a humorous turn when a pronunciation mixup leads our newly moneyed protagonist to accidentally order a Yakuza (i.e. Japanese gangster for hire) instead of a jacuzzi, for his new home in Thailand.

Of course, no collection of Asian narratives can be truly representative without reference to the long period of political turmoil and upheaval in the subcontinent, which forms five stories housed in this panorama, but each tale reveals a unique facet of the struggles countless individuals faced.

The troubled Kashmir forms the backdrop for Siddhartha Gigoo’s ‘The Umbrella Man’, the story of an inmate at an asylum which parallels the persecution of Hindu Pandits in Kashmir, cast out from their motherland as refugees, their identity as a community stands endangered with no salvation in sight. Left isolated and expelled from Kashmiri society, they are akin to the inmate at the asylum, “For the inmates, the world ended at that wall. Beyond that brick-and-stone wall was a vast darkness, an oblivion.” The horrors of war and its effects on the natural beauty of Kashmir and the lives of brave youths who enlisted are further illustrated in IlaksheeBhuyanNath’s ‘The Wetland’.

Our subcontinent, unfortunately, is not the only region affected by war: a young mother fleeing war-torn Aleppo is the central figure of Amir Darwish’s ‘Samar’, and the horrors of China’s Cultural Revolution and a childhood spent in starvation during a famine are elucidated by an elderly woman to her young niece growing up in a time of prosperity in Jeremy Tiang’s ‘1997’.

Female protagonists that are breaking away from the tropes of battered and oppressed women populate many of the short stories found in this collection, some like ‘Lilly from Fits and Starts’ by Yu-Mei Balasingamchow and ‘Moyna in Powerless’ (a translated work) written by Moinul Ahsan Saber rise above their difficult circumstances and take charge.

Lilly holds her own as the only female 24-hour delivery rider for McDonald’s, filling in for her brother to support her family while he is behind bars. Her beauty and femininity is juxtaposed with her no-nonsense and often defensive exterior, an occupational hazard for females who work in a male-dominated environment. “She moved the big bike stiffly, and although she was tall enough to swing her leg over it, things got unwieldy when she strapped on the bulky backpack they used for transporting the food. Once, Zul had offered to hold the backpack while she mounted, but she barked him off.”

The challenge taken on by the editors of this collection was no small feat. The American equivalent to this compendium The Best American Short Stories selects its contents from works already published in literary journals, whereas MonideepaSahu had to trawl through numerous submissions. Deciding what qualified as “the best” Asian short stories meant struggling through the deluge of entries and an acute reader’s block for Sahu.

Whilst inclusiveness was a goal when consolidating the selected submissions into a book, out of thirty two stories contained in the anthology only four are translated works- a number that one would expect to be far greater given the rich linguistic heritage of Asia. Central Asian short stories also remain conspicuously absent from the winning essays. Nevertheless, the goal of gleaning transferrable themes of humanity across the stories proves to be not only a successful one but an illuminating and enjoyable one in this inaugural endeavour in collecting the finest short stories written across Asia.

The Best Asian Short Stories 2017
Author: Edited by MonideepaSahu
Publisher: Kitaab, 2017
Pages: 454
Price: INR299

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