If I bristled at what I took to be a canine comparison, many of India's neighbours would find it galling that everyone "with ethnic origins in the Indian Subcontinent" is regarded as Indian.
To ensure that no one escapes the net, Singapore's National Registration Department lists no fewer than 15 categories of Indian; and to be doubly sure, it includes Sinhalese as well as Sri Lankan along with Tamil and Bengali. But any Indian who might gloat over this terminological conquest is brought down to earth by the local university's indulgence of Sikh students, who are allowed to opt out of the Indian label.
Defining nationality is always difficult in old societies reborn as modern states. We live at many planes but the core identity—the one that matters—is clan, religion or language. The national concept is so remote that no Indian language, including my native Bengali, has ready words for India and Indian.
A continental identity is unthinkable, which explains why the political scientist Benedict Anderson calls Asia a Western invention. "People in Western countries believe in the massive existence of 'Asians,' but very few people in 'Asia' share this curious idea," he says.
Mr Anderson also says that Chinese immigrants in Indonesia had no idea they were Chinese, thinking only in terms of dialect groups, until the Dutch forced them into the Chinese straitjacket.
Even in China, they knew themselves as Hsia, Jung, Ti and Chiang. If Europe gave us national labels, it did so grudgingly. The early British in India called themselves Indian and dismissed sons of the soil as natives. "You're the only native present," said a patronising hostess in England to an Indian student, who shot back, "On the contrary, madam, I'm the only one who isn't!"
The word had pejorative overtones. So I was curious to see how a 19th century ancestor of mine had circumvented it in a protest to the viceregal authorities that resulted in Indian judges being given jurisdiction over the British. The document, when 1 obtained a copy from the India Office Library in London, was a masterpiece of diplomacy: My great-grandfather spoke of "the natives of India" as distinct from the Crown's "European British subjects". That signalled another linguistic revolution. Long before the European single currency, at the peak of the insularity that gave birth to the old "Channel frozen, Continent isolated" joke, the English in India were everywhere described as Europeans. Generously, they also included Americans, but with matching inconsistency defined anyone of mixed parentage—even those with names like Schwartz or Vitacovitch—as Anglo-Indian…
Singapore's fixation with race is just as baffling. Apart from evoking shades of genetic classification, and some of Europe's more repugnant political creeds, the ethnic question, which pops up in all official forms, places the honest Indian in a quandary.
Should he write Indo-Aryan if he is from the north. Indo-Mongoloid if from the east and Dravidian if a southerner? The trouble is that officialdom makes no concession to accuracy. The only acceptable answer is Indian, which is not a race at all, but citizenship.
sunanda k. datta-ray in "what's in a name? the
politics of defining nationality in asia" from the
International Herald Tribune
SOME YEARS after I became a Catholic, I joined Mother Teresa's congregation, the Missionaries of Charity. I was one of her sisters for nine and a half years, living in the Bronx, Rome, and San Francisco, until I became disillusioned and left in May 1989. As I reentered the world, slowly began to unravel the tangle of lies in which I hat lived. I wondered how I could have believed them for so long.
Three of Mother Teresa's teachings that are fundamental to her religious congregation are all the more dangerous because they are believed so sincerely by her sisters. Most basic is the belief that as long as a sister obeys she is doing God's will. Another is the belief that the sisters have leverage over God by choosing to suffer. Their suffering makes God very happy. He then dispenses more graces to humanity. The third is the belief that any attachment to human beings, even the poor being served, supposedly interferes with love of God and must be vigilantly avoided or immediately uprooted. The efforts to prevent any attachments cause continual chaos and confusion, movement and change in the congregation. Mother Teresa did not invent these beliefs—they were prevalent in religious congregations before Vatican II—but she did everything in her power (which was great) to enforce them.
Once a sister has accepted these fallacies she will do almost anything. She can allow her health to be destroyed, neglect those she vowed to serve, and switch off her feelings and independent thought. She can turn a blind eye to suffering, inform on her fellow sisters, tell lies with ease, and ignore public laws and regulations.
Women from many nations joined Mother Teresa in the expectation that they would help the poor and come closer to God themselves. When I left, there were more than 3000 sisters in approximately 400 houses scattered throughout the world. Many of these sisters who trusted Mother Teresa to guide them have become broken people. In the face of overwhelming evidence, some of them have finally admitted that their trust has been betrayed, that God could not possibly be giving the orders they hear. It is difficult for them to decide to leave—their self-confidence has been destroyed, and they have no education beyond what they brought with them when they joined. I was one of the lucky ones who mustered enough courage to walk away.
It is in the hope that others may see the fallacy of this purported way to holiness that I tell a little of what I know. Although there are relatively few tempted to join Mother Teresa's congregation of sisters, there are many who generously have supported her work because they do not realise how her twisted premises strangle efforts to alleviate misery. Unaware that most of the donations sit unused in her bank accounts, they too are deceived into thinking they are helping the poor.
Susan Shields in "Mother Teresa's House of Illusions" From Free Inquiry magazine. One Bengal, two systems
THE BANGLADESH Liberation War was a struggle against the hardline exclusivist tradition in West Pakistan that was trying to supplant the liberal tradition in the eastern wing and turn it into a colony. Under the guidance of the Pakistani junta from the West, the Islamist parties made it their goal to eliminate the religious minorities and to discard the secularist strands from the composite culture of Bangladesh. They cried "Islam is in danger" to garner supporters for their invidious goals.
It was a national pastime in certain quarters during the Pakistan era to erect a psychological wall between West Bengal and East Bengal in the guise of championing the cause of Muslim Bengal. There was a crack in this wall for a brief period during 1971-75. But, after 1975, for the next two decades, the wall was rebuilt and reinforced to mirror the prejudice and predilections of those in power. The master architects of this wall were the Pakistan-trained officers of the Bangladesh army who continued to look back to the pre-liberation days under Islamabad for political inspiration.
The balance of power in Bengal in the era of Permanent Settlement had indeed tilted disproportionately in favour of the Hindus. The 1947 Partition did serve to restore the balance. But it can just as easily be argued that East Bengal got rid of the overlordship of the local zamindars only to turn into a colony of West Pakistan. Furthermore, it was asked by its new rulers to sever all ties to 'Hindu' West Bengal with which it shared a common cultural heritage and where at least a quarter of the population was Muslim.
The Bangabhumi of yore is today's East Bengal. It had always been the core of Bengali language and culture. West Bengal was the Rarhbhumi which was part of Greater Bengal and had, till the coming of the British, looked up to East Bengal for cultural inspiration and sustenance. So, in a sense, Bengal's cultural heritage has its root in East Bengal. The proponents of Bangladeshi nationalism have their own agenda. It is to erase West Bengal from the canvas of Greater Bengal with a view to turning Bangladesh into a puppet in the hands of Islamabad's rulers who would be only loo happy to use Bangladesh as the cat's paw to further their own interests.
There are those who have a vested interest to cry hoarse shouting, "Hindus of West Bengal and Muslims of Bangladesh are two distinct peoples. They have absolutely nothing in common." Inevitably, proponents of this juvenile thesis ignore the cultural affinities between West and East Bengal to dwell at length on the religious differences only. That is the only way they can erect a wall between the two Bengals. But even that is not easy because a quarter of West Bengal's population is Muslim. Will the religionists disown [Bangladesh's national poet] Kazi Nazrul Islam because he is from West Bengal?
There are indeed differences between the inhabitants of the two Bengals. But it is not simple to cut off West Bengal from our cultural canvas on the basis of these differences. Religion, ethnicity, dialect, and regional characteristics, all play an important role in defining our cultural ethos. It is as dishonest as it is misleading to try to define it in terms of religion alone.
Consider the regional component, for example. The immigrants in Calcutta from East Bengal, from long before the 1947 partition, had indulged in their regional pride by cheering for the East Bengal team on Calcutta's soccer field. And to this day they continue to do so. It pleases them no end when East Bengal defeats Mohan Bagan. The Islamists in Bangladesh will be hard placed to explain this exultation on the soccer fields of Calcutta in terms of their tactics of seeing everything as a confrontation between Hindu West Bengal and Muslim Bangladesh.
Region-based differences indeed seems far more significant than religion-based ones. A Muslim Bengali from West Bengal is likely to feel more at home with a Hindu Bengali from West Bengal than with a Muslim Bengali from Bangladesh. The age-old Ghati-Bangal issue has always transcended religion to give primacy to geography instead.
The endogamic tradition of the Subcontinent kept apart the Hindu migrants from East Bengal to India from the Hindu natives of West Bengal. Even some half a century after the partition of India, Calcutta newspapers continue to conspicuously mention the ancestral roots of prospective brides and grooms in matrimonial columns. One may attribute that to the discriminatory practices of the natives or to the exclusivist practices of the immigrants. But the fact remains that ancestral district can come in the way of tying matrimonial bonds between the Hindu natives and the Hindu immigrants in West Bengal. In fact, even among the Hindu immigrants themselves, a Baidya from Jessore or Bikrampur might find it beneath his dignity to have matrimonial ties with a Baidya from Sylhet or Comilla!…
Most religionists in Bangladesh take a victimological stance to justify their prejudice. They blame the arrogance of the Hindus from West Bengal or of the Hindu zamindar of yore from his own East Bengal for their antagonism toward all Hindus. But if they were honest enough, they would have readily admitted that there can be just as much a tradition of arrogance among the Muslims of Bangladesh. For many years, educated Bengali Muslims inhabiting the central part to the north western part of Bangladesh were extremely reluctant to enter into matrimonial ties with people from Noakhali, Chittagong and Sylhet. Similarly, many Chittagongians and Sylhetese never could harbour the thought of marrying "foreigners". I know of people from Noakhali who feel ashamed to disclose their roots. Many of them feigned to be from Comilla or Chittagong to get accepted by the Dhaka-centric "Bhadrolok" culture.
Jamal Hasan in "Nuances of Cultural Complexity and
the Puerile Bid to Unlink the Two Bengals"
from the Internet daily, News from Bangladesh, Indo-phobic Mao
CHINESE COMMUNIST Party Chairman Mao Zedong was so antagonistic towards India that he even harboured doubts about the country's independence status more than two decades after the British had left, according to a new book.
"India did not win independence. If it does not attach itself with Britain, it attaches itself to the Soviet Union. And now, more than one-half of their economy depends on you (United States)," Mao said in a conversation with US National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger on November 12, 1973.
The conversation is reproduced in the book the Kissinger Transcripts, edited by senior analyst at the National Security Archive, William Burr. It contains formerly classified transcripts of then President Richard Nixon's troubleshooter's talks with Mao, Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping and others.
To drive his point home, Mao also talked of $10 billion that India owed to the United States at that time "Was it all debts?" he asked. Kissinger interjected: That was all debt together. It's not $10 billion but closer to $6 billion. I will have to check. I thought it was $10 billion to everybody, of which India owed 60 per cent.
Chinese Prime Minister Zhou, who happened to be present there, intervened: "That includes the rupee debt." Kissinger: "Including the rupee debt, this is correct. Yes. And one can mention the dollar debt, too."
Mao even made light of Indian philosophy. Nor did he show any liking for Mahatma Gandhi.
The conversation reveals two major reasons for his dislike for India: New Delhi's close relations with the erstwhile Soviet Union and Beijing's friendship with Pakistan which was instrumental in putting Chinese leaders in touch with the Americans.
In the same conversation, Kissinger said: "There is a sentimental love affair between Western intellectuals and. India based on a complete misreading of the Indian philosophy of life. Indian philosophy was never meant to have a practical application."
Mao: "It's just a bunch of empty words."
Kissinger: "For Gandhi (spelt Ghandi in the transcript) non-violence wasn't a philosophic principle, but because he thought the British were too moralistic and sentimental to use violence against. They are non-sentimental people. For Gandhi it was a revolutionarytactic, not an ethical principle."
Mao: "And, he himself would spin his own wool and drink goat's milk."
Kissinger: "Partly, but also given the character and diversity of the English people, it was only a way to conduct the struggle against the British. So, 1 think Gandhi deserves credit for having won independence against the British." Mao then questioned Kissinger's assertion, doubting India's independence.
Rosamma Jose in "Mao doubted India's 'independence'"
from Mid-day, Bombay. Missing participant
THE MR Winter Workshop awards is poised for an exciting finish with the Sri Lankan scholar giving the rest of the South Asian faculty a run for their money.
Soon as he arrived in the arena, early morning on International Women's Day, an excited Pakistani asked, "Is he the missing participant from Bangladesh?" But it soon became clear that the new entrant was not a mere participant, but a highly sought-after policy analyst from Sri Lanka. "Now our workshop has gained new meaning," an Indian lady sighed. The tea break was abuzz with the lady participants hastily brushing up their knowledge on the Sri Lankan crisis, and touching up their make-up. Many wanted to pose the most 'relevant' question to the hulk. The informal poll conducted amongst female participants during lunch put the Sri Lankan much ahead of the rest of his field for the coveted award. A male Nepali participant, however, looked envious but confused. "What's all this fuss about?"
The Sri Lankan's clean sweep to victory was halted mid-step when a participant from India, also one of the foremost theorists of feminist practice in Indian academia, boycotted the poll. All upset when this reporter talked to her later, she said, "It is a pity that my fellow female participants have engaged in what I consider to be an act that only makes patriarchy stronger." She was still fuming in the evening when the Godavari Herald caught up with her. "If we are to build a pro-women imagined community in South Asia, we must stop these contests at once, she said and gave this reporter a free copy of her recent paper "Women Must Fight: Possibilities for Emancipatory Politics in Post-Third Wave Democracies in South Asia for Women".
Post-lunch, the Faculty chair brought a semblance of order to the proceedings. In a longish intervention, he said, "It has been a part of South Asian women's everyday tradition to judge men not only by their brains but also their looks. As a psychologist and a futurist, I can tell you that these contests and the conversations related to them are both the proof and the substance of the viability of the pro-women South Asian community for the next millennium. Of course, our traditions contained some bad things as well but one need not read gender oppression everywhere."
The Bangladeshi scholar whose specialty was actually Refugees willingly agreed with the Chair and enthused, "If you do not essentialise this act on the part of the female participants while analysing the space for emancipatory politics for women in South Asia, then a gendered imagined community led by women is certainly viable by the year 2010 through such track two initiatives." The Sri Lankan scholar was happily unaware that he was the object of such heated debate.
In "A SCHOLAR AND A GENTLEMAN".
from the Godavari Herald, the resident newsletter from
the Colombo-based Regional Centre for Strategic
Studies' Winter Workshop in Kathmandu. Song break
HINDI FILMS are an important part of the country's socio- cultural landscape, the only truly original Indian art form of the 20th century, having evolved organically to create a pan-Indian identity. They are Indian in theme and structure, form and content, style and substance. Inspired by and plagiarised from many sources, perhaps, the final product is informed by a quintessentially Indian ethos: not only the sum of its parts, but even the ingredients are fully Indian—developed and completely original. Can the same be said for, say, Indian design or architecture?
Take the Hindi film song, for example, a totally homespun concept. In two or three short verses written in a metre that is strikingly different from most styles—the ghazal comes closest—it conveys an emotion at an important juncture in the narrative and takes the story forward. There is a Hindi film song for every conceivable human situation and every emotion: anger, patriotism, seduction and, of course, love in all its many splendoured shades. The songs have a life outside the films. Much before MTV was ever conceived, Hindi films had their own versions of music videos, a self-contained three-minute song that could be seen, heard and savoured independent of the film. The lyricists were poets in their own right and achieved popularity far beyond what they would have as mere published poets. Their songs reached out and touched the lives of countless of their countrymen and women who knew that the songs were not only for them but also about them and in their language. Shailendra, Sahir Ludhianvi, Kaifi Azmi, Majrooh Sultanpuri and Shakeel Badayuni wrote about love and loss in the common man's language, and the music composers, the dance directors, the playback singers and most of all the actors and actresses who essayed them on the screen, added their own touches to make the Hindi film song an art form in its own right.
sidharth bhatia in "hindi films are homespun khadI" from The Pioneer, Bombay.