Partition, 1947: My most brutal tryst with history

Many people ask me why my eyes well up with tears when someone talks about India’s partition with Pakistan in 1947. They don’t well up in the spirit of nationalism. I cry because 15th August 1947 is the day my grandparents, with millions of other refugees, moved to India from East Pakistan. With the declaration of Independence, in a flash, their land was divided; one land became the land of the Hindus, the other became a refuge of the Muslims. They spoke the same language but were divided on the lines of religion. It is estimated that nearly 2 million people were killed in the ensuing partition of India and Pakistan in 1947.

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We tend to take history very lightly and never realise how ever-lasting an impact it can have, on our lives. My grandparents grew up in present-day Bangladesh, spending the majority of their youth in an era where there was no distinction between a Hindu and a Muslim. Partition changed that. All of sudden, that Jafar or Sayeed or Mohammad was your enemy, not your friend. It’s funny how drawing an invisible line can divide people so much.

My grandparents each faced different scenarios during partition. My maternal grandparents moved with their family to Calcutta, without facing much bloodshed or violence, but heard many stories during their stay in refugee camps in Tollygunge. They met India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who promised them a better future post-Partition, but being the youth of the 1940’s, all they got was a brutal displacement from their home; a forced uprooting from their own country, that suddenly came to be called East Pakistan. They picked up the ruins of their lives and started life from the beginning, from stark poverty, with unemployment and homelessness staring them in the eye. Being accepted as Indians was the first big task for them, which it shouldn’t have been.

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My paternal grandparents, on the other hand, saw bloodshed. My grandmother was a zamindar’s daughter, and zamindars were known to be wealthy and oppressive back in the day. So, it was no surprise that the first thing that happened after partition was the burning down of their house. Peasants drove them out of their home, ran after them with knives, almost killed them. Violence shouldn’t be meted out to anyone, rich or poor, for it leaves a lifetime of scars, that never, ever heal. My grandfather, on the other hand, was lucky. He was in Calcutta at the time of partition and was just heading back home, when he saw people heading to the border with knives, shouting Hindustan zindabad. He went back to Calcutta and never looked back, ever again.

Violence was there on both sides of the border in 1947. Hindus killed Muslims, Muslims killed Hindus. My maternal grandmother once narrated an incident of a Hindu girl in her locality who was kidnapped by her Muslim acquaintances during partition. She was raped and put on a charpai (bed) outside their home, naked, and was raped by every man coming into the house, whenever he wanted.

Many women disappeared during the partition, were raped, maimed or killed. Those of my grandparents’ Hindu friends, who decided to stay on in East Pakistan after partition, faced an even greater amount of violence during the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war. It seems like violence refused to leave their generation.

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I feel saddened that the 1947 partition of Bengal finds little mention in our school books here in India, as compared to the 1905 Bengal partition, which we all know about, as it gives us an opportunity to diss Lord Curzon, a rather temperamental and racist British Governor-General. Unfortunately, even in popular discourse and in history courses in college, the 1947 partition of West Bengal is given lesser importance as compared to the partition on the Punjab border.

Narratives on partition need to be told, for they show the extent of brutality humans can reach in the name of war, and its discussion might motivate many of us to not repeat the same in the future. Bengal went through two partitions – 1947 and 1971, and both need to be documented to give voices to those people who faced grave injustice.

When I was a kid, I heard a distinctive term in West Bengal for people like me – Bangal. People who migrated to India from East Pakistan. In passing jokes, I was referred to as a ‘non-resident Bangladeshi’ by some people. I was even asked by many if I truly ‘felt’ Indian and felt any attachment towards my grandparents home in present day Bangladesh. It’s absurd that I can be expected to feel attachment for a place that may very well be submerged now.

In the present day, I have even been asked whether my grandparents ‘migrated’ during the Bangladesh Liberation war, even though I have told these very people that my father was born in the 60’s in India. Somehow, there still seems to be a doubt and disbelief in some people till date as to whether those who came to India as refugees do harbour a sense of nationality. As if living across the border all of a sudden demoted us from Indians to refugees, who were given asylum in India. The truth is, we do feel ‘Indian’, because we know at what cost we got it, as compared to other people.

Yes, I did feel that pang of pain when my maternal grandfather talked to me about his home in East Pakistan, about how beautiful it was, and how he flew kites there with his friends. I did get that feeling of despair when my paternal grandfather talked about his friend in Bangladesh and lamented not being able to meet him before he passed away.

My dad once narrated a story to me about his grandmother, well into her 40’s during the partition, who recollected so much violence on a daily basis that she used to wash her clothes even if the shadow of a Muslim fell on them.

I don’t hate Muslims. But I hate that period of history that divided us to the extent that we killed our own friends. I hate that independence that wrought so much conflict onto my family. I hate having paid the price for it, and for still paying the price for it, through the weird fear that arises in me whenever someone mentions Pakistan or Bangladesh.

No, Independence didn’t come easily to my family and millions of others. We paid a price for it. Many in the mainland of India don’t understand that, and it’s saddening that our discourse of history fails to address the unheard voices of 2 million people killed and displaced in this brutal event.

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As a child, whenever I asked questions about partition, my grandparents never answered. I only got access to any information in their mental archive when they spoke about the event themselves. Recollecting the good memories, they never let the bad ones overpower them. Sometimes, I felt very sad that they couldn’t go back to their hometown. Now, I am even more saddened by the fact that they died with their last wish unfulfilled – to re-live their childhood in their homeland once again. I always dreamt about growing up and taking my grandparents to Bangladesh, seeing those streets they grew up in, those stores where they got their food, that beautiful sight of the river Brahmaputra that they grew up being mesmerised with.

It could never happen.

There was an ad brought out by Google around three years back. About two grandchildren in India and Pakistan who got visas for their grandfathers to unite the two friends many years after partition. The ad may have touched many, but it failed, like so many other discourses, to address the violence both grandfathers must have faced while crossing the border.

If you ever meet any senior citizen from Bengal or Punjab, remember one thing – we Indians owe our Independence to their sacrifice, for what they gave up for their country. Till date, many of them and their children are asked if they feel ‘Indian’ enough. Acceptance into their own country, earlier just another state; but after 1947, a whole new country altogether, was an injustice inflicted on them. We should never forget the service they did for our country and always remember the sacrifice of those who died on both sides of the border.

Debates on genocide in India surround those events that took place in the 21st century. It is time we accept the price paid by so many people for our freedom today, so that every child, like me, knows the brutal tryst with history we all had. The Partition Museum project in Amritsar is one step in that direction, but it still needs to incorporate the voice of the Bengali people.

This article isn’t meant to be a treatise. And I know my experience in a household that faced partition is different from most people. But I also know that I grew up in a country for which my grandparents paid a price. And I can never forget that. And I am no lesser an Indian just because my grandparents were refugees. Because without their displacement, India wouldn’t have existed. The creation of India demanded their sacrifice, a price they shouldn’t be paying for, even today, by being asked for their loyalties towards the country.

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Why India Needs Good Social Scientists

The February 9 JNU issue brought out two important issues to the political fora:

  1. That the Indian institution is ready to take any issue and spiral it out of control
  2. That there is a need to not misrepresent and misunderstand social scientists

Indians have fundamentally shunned the social sciences ever since the tech boom or rather since Independence, when our founding fathers, with a background in the social sciences ended up unconsciously putting social sciences in the background in their search for ‘modernising’ India. The social tumult India went through during the years of the Emergency and later liberalisation of the economy failed to ask a very basic question – has India’s quantitative expansion of its higher education system failed to qualitatively discover itself?

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Image source: DNA

The tussle of the Indian government with JNU brought up very important debates into the public forum. All of a sudden, students of the most prestigious social science institution in India became ‘traitors’ and ‘anti-nationals’. The discipline of history was viewed with scorn when Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, students of the History department of JNU stood up in solidarity with Kanhaiya Kumar, the defamed students’ union leader of JNU.

This is not surprising in a country that has failed to produce good social scientists over the years to answer the never-ending debate of why social stigma, social differences and political unrest still prevail in a country that is supposedly a melting point of all the races of the world.

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Image source: Indian Express

India’s tryst with the study of the social sciences started under the British rule, with the teaching of European enlightenment ideas under their education system in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The ideas of Rousseau, Voltaire, Kant and Aristotle did evoke generations of scholars like Rammohan Roy, Surendranath Banerjea, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Jawaharlal Nehru  and even Gandhi to take forth the mantle of independent thought and action forward in their struggle for India’s fight for Independence. But Independence brought with it an absence of the teachings of these leaders and what they learnt from the European Enlightenment.

Take for example, the Father of the Nation, Gandhi. How many of us in India have been exposed to his teachings in school? Hardly a few can even vouch for having read Gandhi, apart from the regular exposure to him in history books, that has reduced him to a mere political figure.

The Indian diaspora desperately needs social scientists today more than ever before as glaring problems confront India. From Naxalites in the states of Chattisgarh and Jharkhand to disgruntled students to changing voter identities to caste issues, the country needs a force of social scientists that can analyse the differences and formulate social methods to bind the country together. Getting more political scientists or historians into the Civil Services isn’t the answer. The Indian society needs to let writers, journalists, political analysts, think tanks, theatre artists – any form of social dissent thrive, that can question and reform the structural basis of Indian society.

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Image source: voanews

We need to understand why institutions like JNU are important for the society. Places that produce research on the social sciences reproduce talent that understands the social fabric of India, understands the behavioral psyche of people, treats people as humans, not resources. Take for example farmer suicides. In 2015, a drought in places like Latur in Maharashtra led many farmers to commit suicide after their crops failed. Politicians treated it as a scenario where the average day-to-day farmer was disgruntled with the credit system, and faced a rising debt in light of little or no crop.

A social scientist would have understood exactly which kind of farmers were being affected by the drought – the marginal farmer with land less than an acre, whose land was divided over generations, because of the Hindu system of land sharing amongst the sons. For him, the need wasn’t a better credit system or a better market rate for his crops – his need was for the government to understand that India still lives in its villages and we need to be prepared for the irregular monsoon by giving the farmers high-yielding varieties of seeds and better irrigation facilities, not bank accounts.

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Image source: The Hindu

Recently, social scientists are being viewed by people who are making use of the identity to pursue a career in politics. And I fail to understand why that is viewed as a bad thing. People like Shashi Tharoor, with a PhD in History are trying to make a difference to Indian politics by using their deep understanding of the Indian system and its failings/strengths to work within the system and produce something relevant out of it.

Politicians in the United States are mostly from liberal arts backgrounds,  and they are people who use their knowledge of American politics and foreign policy to represent their country better on an international platform (I am discarding the example of Trump’s election in this essay, for now).

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Image source: tehelka

Social sciences research in India has seen dismal growth in the past decade with a rather low number of papers from Indian scholars based in their country’s universities getting published in leading international journals. Even those assuming charge of important institutions like the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) have had papers published in only half-yearly college journals, with their academic research failing to reach an international forum, where feedback is more fierce and emphasis on analysis and quality more rampant.

While the dominance of the Global North in academics can not be denied, there is still a need to retrospect the failings in the Indian academic system that presents rusty social sciences research to the world. This is a scary number as it shows that Indians are failing to question their society, an example of inward regression into non-acceptance of many realities.

T.S Papola puts this in a better way in his paper, Social Sciences Research in Globalizing India:

Major concerns of India as a politically independent nation were seen to be economic in nature, and it was assumed that economic development would lead to resolution of most social problems as well…by reorienting the pattern of growth to make it more equitable and by adopting special measures, mostly economic, favouring the poor and the disadvantaged. As a result, Economics attained the major importance among social science disciplines, in terms of relevance for identifying, diagnosing and treating the problems of Indian society.

Yet, we can’t put the blame on the research universities alone. The Government also needs to set aside money for pursuing research in the social sciences. It’s a commonly known fact by students that it will be easier to get money for pursuing research in nanotechnology or even stem cell research, rather than on deciphering the Indus Valley script. That itself is alarming. Without funding, the Archaeological Survey of India took nearly 100 years to excavate the Harappan civilization and date India’s history back by another thousand years. And now, without further research in the social sciences, the discipline will be open to political conflict and re-interpretation because no new research is being undertaken to counter politically-inflamed views.

Economists now hold top positions in policy-making in the country, but historians, philosophers and political scientists have receded to the background. Interdisciplinary studies have diminished, making every view a narrow one.

India’s Constitution is a standing example of what can happen if only a particular discipline is allowed to prevail. At 395 articles in 22 parts and 8 schedules, India’s constitution is the longest in the world, because it was composed by mostly lawyers. The Constitution ended up being a legal document with numerous loopholes, that answered many questions, yet remained silent on others, making it open to interpretation and potential abuse.

Institutions like the London School of Economics and Oxford have become institutions of excellence because students there are forced to think, and not conform to a certain academic viewpoint. In India, a Bachelor of Arts degree has been reduced to mere rote learning. Students are expected to mug thousands of pages, ready answers to furnish as their own in the examination, leaving no scope for them to think beyond what they can read in their academic text. The vast syllabus the universities aim to complete within three years is also an injustice on the students.

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Image source: blacknet

The presence of multiple view points in India present a unique scenario for social sciences research and if tapped, India’s market, economy and society can be mapped on paper like never before. Students, if led on the right path, can grow into conscientious individuals ready to question the things given to them, and can help mend the cracks in the current system.

The discipline of social science gives individuals an opportunity to think, something the sciences can not offer. If we don’t create our own Tagores or Gandhis, then very soon this country will become a walking replica of George Orwell’s 1984. And one doesn’t need to read the novel to understand what kind of state I am referring to.

Caste, Reservation and where we (The General Category) go wrong

A few years ago, a dear friend of mine and I had a very heated debate on the topic of caste based reservation. While my friend attributed reservation as a right thing, I kept arguing on the negative aspects on it, and stressing on the need to have an economic basis for reservation, not a social basis for it. My friend kept pressing that I read up more about reservation before being so vehemently against it. Right now, its admission time, and I think it is absolutely necessary to talk about a topic a lot of ‘general category’ people frequently discuss about – reservation. And I will tell you, where we (i.e general category people) go wrong.

I am a general category, Brahmin girl, and to admit it, I am obviously privileged. Not as much as a Brahmin man, but still, privileged. I have grown up in a middle-class family, I have struggled to get educated in a good college, I have been hard-pressed to become successful because of monetary issues at home. But I am STILL privileged. You know why? Because at the end of the day, I have been born into a high-caste Hindu Brahmin family, and I have never been subjected to any rhetoric that mocks my ‘caste’.

65 years into Independence, we have progressed by leaps and bounds economically. While some people got elevated, others didn’t. Post independence, Ambedkar established reservation in the Constitution for the lower castes (I hate to refer to them as lower castes, they are our own people and deserve the same level of respect. But for purposes of distinction, I will currently stick to the term lower castes). Now they are notoriously called by the Constitution as ‘SC/STs’. The OBC’s are a third category, used to refer to castes that are socially and economically disadvantaged. The highly controversial Mandal Commission report of 1980 found 52% of India’s population to consist of OBCs.

Reservation and its repercussions isn’t a new term of debate. Its a debate going on for years. From the time of the Mandal Commission, General category students have flocked to the streets protesting against reservation that ‘takes away their seats’. My plea to the General category students is- Please understand who takes reservation and that you aren’t affected by it.

1. Reservation DOESN’T take away the seats of the General category. In fact, the population of SC/STs and OBCs is larger than the General category in India. And we still get greater seats.

2. We aren’t affected by reservation. There may be economically advantaged SC/ST’s and OBC’s who take reservation, but they are taking away the seat of an economically disadvantaged SC/ST/OBC. Not YOU.

3. You may abuse reservation as much as you want, but will you ever be subjected to societal abuse like them. Even if an OBC/ST/SC candidate is talented, they are still labelled, “lower caste” by the Upper castes. If an OBC or SC/ST ever tries to explain this to you- you will never understand. Because it’s in our social training to not take into account the views of the disprivileged.

4. Reservation is NOT for economic elevation. Its for social elevation. That hasn’t happened, that’s why its still there.

I am a Brahmin girl, if I decide to marry an SC/ST, will my parents agree? I don’t think they will. Why not? Because my friends, caste hierarchy still exists in this country called India, which we call a ‘democracy’.

Now, a lot of general category people will point out that SC/ST’s and OBC’s have lower cut-offs making it easier for them to get into good colleges. Of course, thats an issue, merit should be equalised, but… the cut -offs were lowered for those people who face rampant discrimination till date in smaller towns and villages. And their seats aren’t getting filled because many of them can’t make it to school because people of OUR caste refuse to study with them. And when their seats don’t get filled – they are given to US. And the economically advantaged who do take the benefit of reservation are looking for social elevation folks – which unfortunately the institution of reservation hasn’t been able to give them because people like US won’t give it to them.

If you think I am part-Brahmin, and one of my ancestors is SC/ST, that’s the reason I “bleed” for them, then you’re very well mistaken. I am disgusted that we still live in a society where Caste as a term exists. If you think I am for/against someone, I can just clarify that I am humane, unfortunately. Reservation should have abolished caste years ago, it hasn’t been able to, because we as a society still uphold the institution. I am still referring to myself as ‘Brahmin’ because unfortunately, that is a term I have been trained to use to distinguish me from the ‘others’. And it sticks to my tongue, unconsciously, due to years of social conditioning.

An Ambedkar Periyar study circle was abolished in IIT Madras just two-three days ago. While this news has been flying around, how many of us would like to believe for what Ambedkar stood for? Here is what the students who are part of the study circle wrote in their letter to the Dean, after being derecognised by the elite institute:

We have been accused of spreading hatred between SC-ST and the Hindus and vitiating the atmosphere of the institute. We are surprised and slightly amused. Are SC, ST not part of the so-called ‘Hindus’? How MHRD and IITM is perceiving such a venomous anonymous mail with full of hatred towards the SC, ST and Ambedkar? Are we the one who polarise the students or they are the one who think IITM is their own base to propagate against the interest of SC, ST, OBC who are the majority in our Society? Rather our organization is engaged in propagating Ambedkar and Periyar thoughts, in helping depressed castes and the caste Hindus to realize the evilness of caste-based discrimination taking place in modern India and expose the ideology functioning behind such discrimination. When we talk about the hierarchical caste structure existing in Indian Society, inevitably we end up in talking about the present pathetic condition of peasants and labours. There are a number of sociological studies that will bear us out when we say that caste-based discrimination is still very strong in our society, that caste-based associations can leave some with privileges that add up throughout their lives while those that are excluded face powerful social barriers to their attempts to improve their social and economic status. We have only been discussing these issues with an aim to make a common platform for all students inspite of their caste and creed so as to dismantle the evilness of caste barriers. However, even in 2015, our activities are seen to be too radical by the religious right. If the religious right has the right to be offended, then don’t the oppressed Dalits and Bahujans who still face powerful prejudices have a right to be offended with the state of affairs? Our pamphlets do not have any material that would surprise a sociological or political scientist. Yet, the institute has taken these complaints seriously and has chosen to derecognise our organisation.

There was a reason Ambedkar left Hinduism. This is what he had to say about our beloved religion:

source: quote.lifehack.org

source: quote.lifehack.org

I am not saying that Brahmins and other upper castes don’t face any problems. Yes, a lot of us are in a minority and are labelled as ‘casteists’, when we actually aren’t. I have myself been assumed as ‘casteist’, just because I have an upper caste surname, whereas I believe caste as an institution is the worst thing Indians are born with. I find it even more disturbing that caste has permeated other religions in India too, like Sikhism, Islam and Christianity.

As a young student, I was very angry about reservation. I was very angry about the lower cut-offs for the ‘other’ people. But has our collective anger ever substantiated into equality for other people? No. We still practise Brahmanical traditions, we still like to distinguish ourselves as “upper castes”. And occasionally we love to talk about those ‘privileged’ SC/ST’s who derive wrong benefits out of reservation.

But folks, the terms ‘privilege’ and “SC/ST” don’t go together! They are  not privileged! They are still treated with disgust, contempt. In good colleges, when they don’t perform well, its attributed to the fact that they sought reservation. But reservation isn’t our fight, it isn’t our war. We need to reform ourselves first before we turn around and abuse the institution of reservation.

My plea is for all students reading this article. Population boom is the reason for our woes, don’t blame it on other people. Seats in colleges haven’t increased in proportion to the number of children born in this country, if we don’t think conscientiously, how will we change India? How will we change our society? I was once in your boat, a very angry student who had a problem with reservation, especially during the JNU entrance. (JNU has over 50% reservation – but there are different categories of reservation, not all seats are given on the basis of caste). Back then, my friends who sought reservation maintained a dignified silence – you know why? Because they know that we won’t change.

It’s time we do. It’s time we take up the mantle of equality, and give everyone what they deserve- respect and adulation. Forget that we are Hindus, forget that we belong to a particular sect, embrace humanity. Be happy that there is beauty in being alive, there is beauty in having a free spirit. Half of our inhibitions will disappear, I promise you that, and the road to progress will be smoother. But the only way that can happen in India, is by doing away with our surnames, and everything else associated with “caste”, including our high-handedness.

I am only talking about education here, lets not bring up those disgusting jokes that point that fields like Acting and Cricket don’t have SC/STs and OBC’s in them because there is no ‘reservation’ in these fields. I will just point out that it is plain ignorance if you assume that singers Daler Mehndi, Mika Singh and India’s greatest Athlete PT Usha are from the ‘Upper castes’. And their struggle has been tougher because they belonged to a lower caste.

Otherwise, take a trip to a village. When you see dalits picking up our garbage, cleaning our shoes, and when you realise that our ‘privileged’ SC/ST and OBC friends aren’t exactly privileged in the first place, then maybe our eyes will open. A brahmin may clean the floors of a temple, but a kshatriya or brahmin never has to do what the harijans do for us. The Harijans are the true bastions of our country, the people on which this country stands. Don’t break the country in the name of religion and social hierarchy, I beg of you.

Being and feeling Indian at the same time.

I once had the fortunate opportunity to talk to a famous History professor, one of India’s most eminent historians and a pioneer in the field of Ancient Indian history. She explained to me the concept of identity, and how India as a country is still struggling to let go of its colonial identity. Indians still love to identify with a ‘White culture’, a subconscious identity of a ‘white supremacy’- which is actually bringing India to a more subordinate position with respect to the West.

It is difficult for Indians to accept that we still haven’t cut our umbilical cord with the West, especially Britain. Despite having successes of our own, we still consider the achievements of Indians in the West as greater than ours. Some households don’t adhere to such thinking, but the majority do. There is still a big obsession amongst the population of moving to the ‘West’ where life is much simpler, and money is more.

But do the dynamics work that way? Is living in the West that easy?

A. People living abroad benefit because of currency exchange rate, not because they earn millions of dollars more than the local populace.

B. Indians aren’t the ONLY intelligent race in the world, and we aren’t the only ones running the world.

C. Life in the West looks beautiful, but apart from the higher standard of living, the problems of poverty, housing crisis, etc. still remain, and will only go if one is an educated Indian with a degree that has a value in the Western market. Otherwise most Indians are actually local shopkeepers (a stereotype- but it’s a hard truth!)

Indians are instilled with the belief that we are a hard-working bunch, who are bound to succeed in a foreign country, because India doesn’t provide us opportunities. India has a population crisis; India lacks technological innovation; social customs shackle the populace- etcetera, etcetera.

Despite all these concerns, there has to be an understanding that those who “cannot escape” from India aren’t unsuccessful or in any way menial as compared to those driving a Volkswagen in the US. Firstly, buying cars in the US is easy. Almost everyone owns a car, and the cars are higher range models than those of India- because India has to pay for high import taxes, and because of our weak currency, the cost appears higher. The econometrics and situational conversion of economics should be the course of our understanding, not some random observation without any thought or provocation of the mind.

A General Manager working in an enterprise in India may not be earning in dollars, but his work is no less than that of a manager in the US/UK. In fact, he may be working more hours, primarily because the system is yet to develop fully and being a developing country, the effort has to be put in more. It is unfortunate that Independence has created another class of ‘babus’- those who have made their lives in the West, and now come back to India to reap benefits of the conversion rate, and command the same respect that a White man once did.

My message is more for the educated man/woman, rather than the knowledgeable one. The ones with even a simple understanding of economics or even social situations will know why I wrote this today. I know I don’t want to land in India and have people kissing my feet because I landed from “abroad”. Locations shouldn’t determine success or command respect- that’s where we, as Indians first went wrong, and still haven’t learned from History. India is a superpower and a cultural supremo in itself – it’s time we leave our obsession with being ‘white’, because we aren’t – and we should never try to be something or someone we never are.

It is time middle-class Indians start treating their local heroes with respect and stop obsessing about our ‘foreign’ relatives, who apparently have a better sense of style, speak better English, and are more knowledgeable than us, because they hold the passport of another country. Being knowledgeable or fashionable or commanding respect has to be a state of mind- an acceptance of our confidence. We didn’t achieve Independence to run away to another country- we achieved Independence to make our country the place people would want to come to. Collectively we have to build this society. If a student or employee of an MNC wants to come back to India, he/she isn’t committing a “blunder”- he/she is simply not giving into the societal pressure of becoming a “white” person and wants to do something great for India, than someone else. Collective acceptance and collective attempts at development will make India into the country we desire. It has to begin from us. We can’t expect the World Bank to come and do it for us.

India’s culture of censorship.

Censorship in India is a cause for anyone with a creative bent of mind, who has the capability to believe that they can judge. Anything even mildly offensive to anyone, if released into the public domain faces the brunt of censorship. MF Hussain and Salman Rushdie can proudly claim to have been the recipients of our censorship. But then time and again, India has stood up for writers like Taslima Nasreen, and despite death threats, given her sanctuary in India. Ashish Nandy, a famous sociologist and historian, despite passing comments on reservation did not have to stop academic writing. There have been instances when India has stood up against ‘incorrect’ censorship, but what is baffling is Indian people’s sensitivity to recent activities. Our democracy is a contradictory one, where every form of creativity, especially in art, requires the judgement and approval of every single community within the country.

It is difficult to even define the culture of censorship we have. We are fine with TV shows like Sasural Simar ka, but we have issues with Sunny Leone gyrating on screen. We want All India Bakchod to come up with hilarious videos criticising the Government of India, and make parodies on Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal, but we have a problem with them coming up with a Roast show, where consenting adults decide to abuse each other for fun (and also raise money for charity). All India Bakchod is an exemplary example of a bunch of people who wanted to do full- out comedy in a country like India, where censorship itself is a joke. And what is surprising is that their video had a disclaimer at the beginning – watch it at your own risk. Agreed, sentiments do flare up on seeing someone’s mother and sister abused on screen, but when the same people go watch Ragini MMS 2, or read Fifty Shades of Grey, then where does our censorship disappear?

Foreign imports are tragically considered the ‘culture of the west’ and since they do not ruin ‘Bharatiya sanskriti’ or tarnish it, it is alright to watch it. Right? No wonder we queue up in front of movie theatres to watch Hollywood couples kiss and make out on screen.

What I don’t understand is the discomfort with ‘non- sexual’ topics too, amongst Indians. Religion is definitely a thread, which, if pulled, ruffles multiple feathers. Censor Board Chairman Leela Samson’s recent resignation in January over the clearance of Godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s film MSG- Messenger of God, led to a string of resignations within the Censor Board. The film was given a green signal by the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) for release. The film literally promotes a God- like figure, and has been directed by Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh himself. Our Censor Board already has faced enough flak for clearing films like Haider and Jism 2, then why should there be a problem with such a movie? Movies like Parzania and Water had to wait years to get a clearance, then why did the Censor board have to resign over such a movie, which actually promotes a religious personality? The Censor Board never fails to surprise the Bhatt family, the Indian public shouldn’t express their surprise over such an action of the Censor board.

Censorship by the Censor Board is dictated by political motives and whether the board is trying to move in the right direction or the wrong – the fact has been proven that censorship doesn’t lie in the hands of God, it lies in the hands of certain people claiming to be God (pun intended).

The past one year has been a parody on censorship in India. While on the one hand, a film like PK released, which questioned the meaning of religion altogether, and of course, Aamir Khan’s near nude poster which flared up the nostrils of every well- meaning person in the country who would rather see the statues of Khajoraho wear clothes, Tamil writer Perumal Murugan’s decision to leave writing altogether went seemingly unnoticed by a lot of people. Perumal Murugan’s recent decision to stop writing after Hindu activists started delivering threats to him over his book, ‘One part woman’ which is about a woman’s attempt at consensual sex with a stranger to beget a child has pulled the trigger in Tamil Nadu, where Murugan had to literally seek police protection for his family. But thankfully there will be no need to censor him anymore- Murugan announced his death as a creative artist recently and has decided to lead his life as a teacher.

Is this what our censorship is? Forcing people to stop their creativity altogether? In a country that claims to be upholding its culture, where is the culture if we censor it in the first place? There are statements that others don’t like, there are policies undertaken by the government that other’s don’t approve, we can’t go around censoring everything. If India believes everything is following the path of Charlie Hebdo, then it is mistaken. Our democracy is our censorship, but right now our democracy is a joke and censorship is a parody on Indian culture.

How hard is it to follow your passion?

“I want to follow my passion”, I remember telling my parents 8 years ago, when I completed my secondary school examinations. And my passion was Humanities, a subject I always loved and which loved me back. I was never very fortunate with Science and Maths, always faring badly in every exam, much to the dismay of my parents.

My father, unsurprisingly, had noticed the maddening urge in me to pursue my discipline and always stood by my side. My mother, unconvinced at first, was happy to see me happy to pursue what I always wanted to do.

8 years later, where do I stand? I am doing History, a subject I love, and by freak chance, I landed up with the right subject at University – a subject that fit my personality. History is as volatile as me, it is as multi- faceted as I want it to be. Coming back to the eternal question – where do I stand?

Now, in this corporate world (lets just call it corporate, capitalism hasn’t really managed to do otherwise), what we are in dire need of, is development, in all directions. And I belong to India – which really needs an industrial model right now, given its longing drive for development in all sectors of the economy.

So, where do I stand? What can I say? After 8 years of studying Humanities, when I now apply for a job, everywhere I am asked the question – What skills do you have? How can you apply them to your job? I never thought about “inculcating” job- related skills back in college- I just diligently studied, as any other student along side me did. I scored good marks, I got into a good University for my Masters. But skills? Wasn’t that the forum of Engineering graduates, who are expected to have industrial skills?

The confusion and dichotomy that society has thrown me under, truly makes me doubt myself now. Education is not supposed to be a business – but then education which does not empower you to earn your bread and butter, isn’t really doing much for you, right? And for people like me, who do not wish to pursue a career in academics or the civil services – where do we fit in?

Jobs are limited – candidates are more. The Western world has saturated its need for Humanities graduates, and the East does not need them. India is looking for STEM graduates – Science, Technology, Engineering and Management graduates, who can “help build” the company and give it a new “direction”. So does this mean those who followed their passion are fools? Or incapable of building and constructing new ideas?

I don’t know. I honestly wish I did.

I remember harbouring a dream to pursue a singing career as a child but didn’t take it up, as the field seemed too risky. Now, when I look back, I realize I committed a mistake by not following my first passion. But, when I give it a thought, I wonder – what if success came to me very, very late? How long would I have lasted? It all boils down to a question of time. In an age when success is required early, especially to prove your mettle and worth- where do people who follow their passion stand? There are people who follow what they despise and finally take a U- turn to finally pursue what they always wanted to. But mostly, such people, whom I have encountered are engineers or management graduates, who have something to ‘fall back upon’, if they do not manage to ‘succeed’ in the “true-est” sense of the term.

There is a saying – a person who doesn’t fear, succeeds. But what about those people who have no fear, but fear, fear itself? It’s a hard world out there – and support is limited. It is easy to follow your passion, but very difficult to live it.

That does not mean one shouldn’t follow what they want to. I never regret my decision. I just wish the world was kinder. And there were some places which did not specify that only certain people have the necessary credentials for a particular kind of function. Those who follow their passion are winners, because they weren’t afraid to stand out. The day the world sees this, will be the day when no one will pigeon- hole themselves in ‘societal pressure’. I am looking for a utopia, but it is at least better than a harsh reality.

On this note, I would just like a share a video I recently saw of Ashoka University, where noted Modern Indian History scholar Rudrangshu Mukherjee talks about bridging the historical divide between education and “business” education. It is disagreeable in parts, but at least someone is talking about something we need to know! 🙂

Learning to learn, and manipulating education.

In 2011, there was an uproar in Delhi University, when an academic article by linguist A.K Ramanujan (no, this is not the mathematician), was removed from the B.A Program course, because it hurt ‘religious sentiments’.

The article was called, ‘300 Ramayanas, five examples and three thoughts on Translation’. It was about the various interpretations of the Ramayana and how the Ramayana did not belong to just one community. Though the removal didn’t directly affect the students of the History (Honours) course, there was an uproar in the History faculty. This move was labelled as an attack on education, especially restriction of the social sciences, that questioned basic things like religion.

This was the first time I had seen such a huge academic uproar against a small move, and I was also surprised to see the huge amount of support the removal had amongst certain groups of people. I distinctly remember reading the statement of a Hindi Honours professor – “This article says that Hanuman is a playboy and Ram and Sita are brothers and sisters – we can’t let our students read this.”

rama-jayadeva-stamp

source: swamiindology.blogspot.com

Of course, we can’t. After all, how many students will be able to accept their Gods as playboys and incestuous couples?

For me, Ram is an incarnation of Lord Krishna. I have grown up reading Tulsidas’s Ramayana, which talks about an evil Ravana, who kidnaps the innocent Sita and how Ram saves his wife by killing the invincible Ravana, with the help of Monkey warriors, Sugreev and Hanumana. But, has any one ever given a thought as to why this is the only version we read? Why didn’t we grow up reading the Thai version of the Ramayana? Or the Buddhist one?

Knowledge spreads. It can’t be bound to a root, like our thoughts. Our stories/mythologies have crossed borders, entertained various people beyond India, but why is it so hard to accept that?

I decided to read up some more on this ‘Ramayana’ problem. I went and accessed academic books, took out the first book I found on the library shelf on the multiple interpretations of the Ramayana.

The first version hinted about a relationship between Lakshmana and Sita, while Ram was away in his ‘harem’, and the second version talked about how Lakshmana had actually cut of Surpanakha’s (Ravana’s sister) breasts instead of her nose.

I had to keep the book down and breathe. Because I was scandalized.

It’s natural to be unable to accept the truth when you have been fed a lie for your whole life. And it was very, very difficult for me to accept the various versions of the Ramayana. I somehow connected to the surging anger of the people on the ‘other side’. I understood their viewpoint that only those people should read this article who are able to read it, it shouldn’t be shoved down the throats of ‘innocent’ students.

Of course it shouldn’t. Freedom is a personal choice. But what I understand is – If an article like this is included in the syllabus, it is actually an eye opener for people like me disillusioned about life. This kind of article is related to life in general – we perceive life as a bed of roses, only to discover thorns in between.

Schools are the first pogrom of manipulations. Subjects like science and maths don’t shape plurality in opinion – politics and history do. And some people have already understood that generations ago, because of which history textbooks have become the subject of propaganda.

Take for example the Palestine crisis. How many school students know that Palestine as an issue is not just related to the Jews cry for a homeland, but also the slow eviction of Arabs from their own lands since the 18th century by the Jews themselves? How many school students know that the 1857 revolt of Indian ‘independence’ is actually just a small revolution, centered around certain areas of India like Awadh, and is not exactly a national event? Ravana was a great scholar, the Mahabharata is a classic text of manipulation mastered by Krishna – how many students are willing to stand up and claim that they know this?
No, no student is taught so much, because these kind of things are dangerous. It can force a student to form multiple opinions. Sadly by the time a child reaches college level- most of them abandon Historical research and end up formulating absolutely biased opinions about most of the world – because their foundation is biased in the first place.

I believe education can really help a child. But education can also ruin a child, making them corrosive, adamant and biased. All those psychologists looking for tips on understanding children – check their textbooks in the first place.

There is a saying – History is a biased form of storytelling. But honestly, a historian’s lens is a big responsibility to handle, as it requires absolute impartial, objective views. Those who are accused to be historians affiliated to the BJP, Congress, and other parties are not really supporting anyone – they are simply presenting facts of History. But those manipulating these facts and projecting themselves as “official historians” of a particular political regime – aren’t historians, they are academic cheats.

In India, the biggest field of concern right now, is ancient India. India has been looking to its past for inspiration for quite some time now, and Ancient India is a dangerous and volatile field. We attribute hero status to King Ashoka, we aspire to be scholars like Chanakya – and there are people working hard to prove these points of theory correct. Harappa and Mohenjodaro – the biggest Harappan civilization sites are actually located in Pakistan, but India, in a desperate attempt to declare one of the world’s ‘first’ civilizations its own is trying to find newer and ‘bigger’ Harappan sites within India.

But what if the Harappan script is someday deciphered and it is found out that this civilization is not really a civilization in the first place? How many people will have access to that information?

Information should be freely available in this current cyber age, but what is astonishing that we tend to rely on Google search that turns up what every other biased personality – like you and me is looking up over the internet. We are losing our originality, and relying on agents that will misuse our ignorance.

My fellow friends who are not Historians – please don’t treat History as something that can be learnt by just reading multiple books. Sometimes our clouded understanding disillusions us to such an extent that we end up reading only those things that we ‘believe’ in, and leave out the others that ‘challenge’ our thinking.