John McDonnell MP will be hosting a Conscience event in Parliament as part of his ‘People’s Parliament’ series Wednesday 11th February 2015 at 18:30–21:30 Committee Room 11 House of Commons ...
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Are you interested in learning about how East India Company impacted on diverse people’s lives and how that changed over time?
Do you want to write historical fictions based on facts about how Britain and Asia got connected?
Do you want to improve your writing skills on heritage fiction writing?
If the answers are yes then please come to the launch and find out more about the project and how you can join.
6.30-8.30pm, Thursday, 19 March 2015
Lab 1A Idea Store Whitechapel, 321 Whitechapel Rd, London E1 1BU
Programme: Information on the project, short film on the East India Company, presentations from guests and experts, refreshments.
The London-based East India Company had a major impact on Asian and British lives for more than two centuries.
Twelve volunteer researchers will be recruited who will explore East India Company records and objects. They will discover important information about events, individuals and institutions linked to the work of the Company and write short fictional stories based on facts.
Possible topics for short story writing could include trading complexities; sea voyages and rough storms; Lascars in the East End; planning the opium wars; prosecution of criminals; experiences of warehouse workers; piracy on the Thames; receiving news of the Battle of Plassey; impacts of eastern goods; migration to India and immigration into London; long distance romance; British ladies travelling to India to get married to British officers; institutional reforms; inter-racial relationship; experiences of racism, etc.
The project is being supported by the London Metropolitan Archives, National Maritime Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, British Library, Rich Mix Centre, Bow Drama Group and many community groups.
In 1936, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was invited to deliver a lecture in Lahore – then very much part of India – by a Hindu group opposed to untouchability. When the group saw an advance text of the lecture, which was entitled Annihilation of Caste, they cancelled the invitation because towards the lecture’s end, the author had declared his intention of leaving the Hindu fold. In a riposte to the cancellation, Dr. Ambedkar published Annihilation of Caste. Its contents elicited an immediate comment from Gandhi in his journal, Harijan, to which Ambedkar issued a rejoinder.
A major text from India’s recent history, Annihilation of Caste has been republished many times and has been translated into several languages, often with the Ambedkar–Gandhi exchange added to the main text. In March 2014, a new edition was published in Delhi by Navayana. In this new edition, Annihilation of Caste is preceded by a 153-page text by Arundhati Roy, entitled ‘The Doctor and the Saint’, which is presented as an introduction to Ambedkar’s classic ‘undelivered’ lecture.
This little book is a response to Arundhati Roy’s ‘The Doctor and the Saint’. However, it also bears an indirect connection to the historic debate between Ambedkar and Gandhi, which took place during a period well removed from our times. While Gandhi’s assassination occurred nearly seven decades into the past, Ambedkar died in 1956, almost six decades ago.
The two were involved in a positive, if impersonal, relationship during the 1920s. Though they did not meet each other in this period, Ambedkar appreciated Gandhi’s concern for the plight of Dalits, and he also welcomed the method of satyagraha that Gandhi had introduced. However, the 1930s saw sharp, and from a historian’s standpoint revealing, exchanges between the two.
The exchanges help our understanding not only of two powerful individuals in history, but also of continuing flaws in Indian society and the tension in the first half of the twentieth century between the goals of national independence and social justice.
To read the full article click here: Independence and Social Justice – Jan 2015
The 2014 UCL Lancet Lecture was given by Arundhati Roy – The Half-Life of Caste: The ill-health of a nation.
The UCL video of the lecture can be viewed here:
Arundhati Roy, acclaimed novelist and political activist, won the 1997 Booker Prize for Fiction with her novel The God of Small Things. She has published several collections of political essays on issues ranging from large dams and nuclear weapons to the corporatisation and privatisation of India’s New Economy.
‘Goddess of big things?’ A rejoinder to Arundhati Roy’s 2014 lectures in London that offered a critique of Mahatma Gandhi by Narinder Kapur
Arundhati Roy, the celebrated author and Booker Prize winner, recently gave two talks in London on the subject of caste, one at University College London (UCL), and the other a few days later at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the South Bank Centre, London. I presume the two talks were very similar, but the one at UCL appears available for viewing, and I did not attend either talk in person.
As Professor Michael Arthur, the UCL Provost, outlined in his Introduction to the Lancet Lecture given by Arundhati Roy at UCL on November 20, 2104 , the Lancet Lecture series has been delivered by an impressive feast of minds, including two Nobel Laureates – the psychologist Daniel Kahneman and the economist, Amartya Sen. It was an imaginative and bold decision to invite Arundhati Roy to deliver this year’s lecture, which was both stimulating and controversial, in line with the reputation which Ms Roy has gleaned over the years.
Her lecture was entitled, The half-life of caste: The ill-health of a nation. However, while caste was a key theme of the lecture, much of it was also taken up by a rather savage critique of Mahatma Gandhi. Her criticisms were so strident, and so divergent from established views of Gandhi, that it is only fair that some form of rejoinder is offered. A rejoinder of Ms Roy’s general thesis, which actually takes the form of a 153-page Introduction to a new 2014 edition of the 1936 book, Annihilation of Caste written by Dr B R Ambedkar, has already been written by the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, Raj Mohan Gandhi (http://www.rajmohangandhi.com/ambedkargandhi-debate-reply-arundhati-roy).
Ms Roy’s critique of Gandhi comes at the same time that the British government has decided to erect a statue of Gandhi in Parliament Square, and I suspect Ms Roy will not be donating any royalties from her books towards the Gandhi statue appeal (www.gandhistatue.org)! Some of the questioners who raised queries after the lecture prefaced their question by ‘I am a fan of yours’. Well, I am a fan of both Ms Roy and Gandhi, and so Ms Roy has managed to tear me apart, something that hitherto up to now only my children have succeeded in doing! I am a long-standing member of the Gandhi Foundation and have written a number of articles about Gandhi [2-4]. My interest in Gandhi started when I was researching Gandhi and Indian history for my book, The Irish Raj . Sitting in the Oxford South Asia library, and having Gandhi’s volumes of writings in front of me, was a daunting experience while I was researching for the book.
Arundhati Roy has rightly achieved international acclaim for her Booker Prize novel, The God of Small Things. But she seems to have acquired a messianic appeal, akin to that of Mother Teresa, and – dare I say it – Mahatma Gandhi. In the eyes of many people, especially in the west, she can do no evil and say no evil. She appears to have taken on the charisma of ‘Goddess of Big Things’, pronouncing on issues that include nuclear weapons, terrorism and dams. She is seen as a manly figure in a world where we need a strong personality to stand up to male chauvinist pigs. However, as her Wikipedia entry shows , she is also a controversial figure, and she has been criticised by many in India for some of her statements and actions. She has also been criticised by the very people, Dalits, whose rights she claims to be defending and upholding. 
I do not intend to focus on Ms Roy’s pronouncements on caste nor on what she states were statements and views of Gandhi or Ambedkar in respect of caste. Caste systems lack logic and are relics of a bygone age, though a similar argument might be made of royalty! I wish instead to critique at a more general level the content of her lecture.
Ms Roy made it quite clear in her lecture that she considered Gandhi quite undeserving of the respect and accolades that he has been given, going so far as to criticise the Oscar-winning film on Gandhi by Sir Richard Attenborough. We are then to assume that those who got Gandhi all wrong include not only Sir Richard Attenborough but also Einstein, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and current leading academic figures such as Professor Howard Gardner of Harvard and Professor Lord Bikhu Parekh of London. Even those who disagree with Gandhi on certain issues have recognized his major, outstanding contributions to political thinking, such as a previous Lancet Lecturer, the Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen. In its recent award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala and to Kailash Satyarthi, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee gave a rare insight into its reasoning behind the award. It made little bones of the fact that it regretted not giving the award to Gandhi, and that the award to Malala and Kailash Satyarthi was in a sense an atonement for that grave error . So, Ms Roy also stands on the other side of the fence to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.
In the eyes of many leading figures, both past and present, Gandhi’s major achievements were two fold – firstly, to show that nonviolence was a viable means of bringing about political change and to show this at a time when violent means (two World Wars) was the norm; secondly, to point to superordinate principles of living and thinking which could usefully help to understand and guide human behaviour.
‘God is Truth’, ‘God is Love’, were the two key principles espoused by Gandhi. Where is Truth and where is Love (Compassion) in the Lancet Lecture that Ms Roy gave? Ms Roy’s compassion for those in lower castes is no doubt genuine and unarguable. The caste system is as degrading as it is illogical. What about Truth? How can one distinguish between Truth and Myth? Ms Roy gave the impression that this is an easy task, but I argue that it is not. There are three fundamental problems and flaws in the broad argument behind Ms Roy’s critique of Gandhi, flaws that lead me to doubt whether her lecture represented the Truth. Firstly, a major problem is that Mahatma Gandhi is dead, while Arundhati Roy is alive.
Ms Roy passionately believes in justice, as witnessed by her campaigns for justice in India. But there is a fundamental injustice in making strident criticisms of a man after he is dead, for the simple reason that he cannot respond to allegations – ‘Dead Men Cannot Talk’. This applies equally to other past figures such as JF Kennedy and Winston Churchill who are often the subject of allegations and innuendos. In the eyes of some people, to be assassinated once while alive is bad enough, without also having a character assassination long after you are dead. Apart from justice, I also argue that such criticisms are fundamentally disrespectful. If I was to criticise Michael Arthur or Richard Horton after they died, their families would quite rightly regard it as disrespectful for me to do so. Secondly, who is Mahatma Gandhi and who is Arundhati Roy? Is Arundhati Roy the combination of sperm and ovum one second after conception? Is Arundhati Roy the little girl in Corpus Christi school in India? Is Arundhati Roy the person on the day she won the Booker Prize? Our biology and our brains change from one day to the next. Arundhati Roy was not even the same person at the start of her UCL lecture as she was at the end of her lecture. Ms Roy tried to make the point that it was the same Gandhi throughout, that he was rigidly and 100% consistent in his views throughout his life. Ideally, one would wish to have gathered Gandhi’s views the day before he was assassinated to be sure that he had not changed his views. The point I am making is that Gandhi was a dynamic figure living in dynamic times, and it is quite likely that snapshots of his utterances, even if completely accurate, were not representative of the ‘true’ Gandhi, and the ‘true Gandhi’ may in fact be evanescent. Thirdly, Ms Roy relies entirely on words and verbal descriptions of events from the past. The Psychology of human memory tells us many things, amongst which the two key messages are that memory can be selective and can distort past reality, and that much of this selectivity and distortion can occur unconsciously, below the level of our awareness . Indeed, we are often fooled by our confidence in how accurate our memories are, and in some cases the more confident we are of a recollection from the past, the more likely it is that we may be fooling ourselves. Memory distortions are so prevalent that they are considered by some to have adaptive value [10-11]. In legal settings, credibility is often given when ‘contemporaneous notes’ were taken of a conversation or event. For verbal utterances, a tape recorder would also be a key source of validity for the record that was kept. We do not know if the written statements alleged by Ms Roy to emanate from Gandhi were not subject to error (perhaps he did not mean ‘sex’, but ‘six’ or ‘sects’, and his secretary got it wrong or the proof reader did not pick it up!). We now have the advantage of modern technology that is more likely to ensure that posterity has a more veridical record of words and events. Such technology was largely absent in the period during which Gandhi is alleged to have made comments that Ms Roy so heavily relies upon.
Towards the end of her lecture, Ms Roy appealed to the audience to ‘apply their minds to false myths’. I respectfully appeal to her to apply compassion, objectivity and science to some of the false myths that may be lurking in her own mind.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.
1 Roy A. (2014). Lancet Lecture: The half-life of caste: The ill-health of a nation. November 20,
2 Kapur N. How Gandhi’s words speak volumes to the NHS today. Health Service Journal, April
3 Kapur, N. (2013). The NHS could learn much from Gandhi’s teaching. BMJ, 346: f2411.
4 Kapur N. Bringing Gandhi to Science and Medicine. In: Mashelkar, R. (Ed). Timeless Inspirator:
Reliving Gandhi. New Delhi: Gandhi National Memorial Society, 2010; pp. 228-237.
5 Kapur N (1997). The Irish Raj: historical and contemporary links between India and Ireland.
Antrim: Greystone Press.
9 Schacter, D et al. (2011). Memory distortion: an adaptive perspective. Trends in Cognitive
Sciences, 15: 467-74.
10 Fernandez, J. (2014). What are the benefits of memory distortion? Consciousness and
Cognition, in press.
11 Lillenfeld S, Byron R. (2013). Your brain on trial. Scientific American, 23: 45-53.
In the Indian political map, clear boundaries have been drawn for the Adivasis, and when they cross those, their identity is suspected, questioned and changed immediately. One is stunned to know that as soon as they leave their territories, they are counted in the general category and their constitutional and legal rights are denied officially. But at the same time, the same sets of rules are not applied to the people of the privileged sections of the India society. Of course, it keeps happening with the Adivasis precisely because the Indian state is utterly biased against them on the basis of their race. But still they have no choice to cross the political boundaries because their own land, territory and resources have been grabbed in the name of economic growth, development of the nation and for the greater common good unconstitutionally and illegally. Thus, some of them cross their political boundaries in search of better livelihood opportunities, but most of these are forced to do so. However, the end result is, they are being slaughtered, raped, tortured, imprisoned and discriminated against actors across the country.
Unfortunately, instead of resolving these problems, the Indian state seems to be more interested in deploying more troops in the Adivasis’ territory, imposing curfews, shooting them, running relief camps and of course, buying their dead bodies too. Besides, the state also blames the Adivasis for their miseries. In the recent Assam violence unleashed on 23rd December by the extremist outfit the ‘National Democratic Front of Bodoland’ (Songbijit), 81 people, mostly Adivasis, were brutally killed, half of them women and children. This includes the killing of 3 innocent people by our brave soldiers, using their mighty power of ‘shoot on sight order’ on villagers were protesting against the violence. Besides, 15,000 people were made homeless and forced to live in the relief camps. Since then, the state called ‘India’ has been buying the dead bodies. 500,000 rupees has been paid for each dead body. Is this not shameful for the largest democracy on the Earth? How long will the state count the dead bodies and buy them?
Interestingly, whenever violence erupts in Assam, the Indian political class portrays it as the outcome of an ‘ethnic clash’. The state, whose prime responsibility is to uphold the constitution, which guarantees a dignified life to each and everyone in the country, either becomes merely a mute spectator or party to it. The questions to be raised is, why is the Indian state not able to resolve the ethnic clash in Assam? Is it merely an ethnic violence? Has the state not sponsored political violence in the name of the ethnicity? Everyone knows that the prime cause of violence is ‘self determination in the territory’. The Bodo Tribes claim that they are the owners of the territory, so the other people should desert it. Infiltration, demographic change, loss of land, shrinking of livelihood opportunities and intensified competition for political power have intensified a deadly potency to the issue of who has a right to Assam. Thus, Adivasis are called outsiders by Bodos, and the state has never been serious about resolving the issue for fear of losing the political mandate. Consequently the violence continues.
Of course, it’s very difficult to understand the algebra of the ‘Tribes’ and ‘scheduled’ in India. For instance, the webpage of the ‘Ministry of Tribal Affairs’ states two very strange aspects regarding the identity of the ‘Scheduled Tribes’. On the one hand, it says that when a person migrates from one state to another, he can claim to belong to a Scheduled Tribe only in relation to the state to which he originally belonged and not in respect of the state to which he has migrated, and on the other hand, it also states that a person who is a member of a Scheduled Tribe would continue to be a member of that Scheduled Tribe, even after his or her marriage with a person who does not belong to a Scheduled Tribe. How can there be two different parameters for the same Adivasis? How can persons born as Adivasis fall into a different category just after crossing their state’s boundary, whereas marrying a non-Adivasi make no difference? Why do the upper caste people enjoy the same rights and privileges across the country but Adivasis don’t? Is this not a state-sponsored crime against them?
The state sponsored crime against the Adivasis of Assam began in 1950, when they were denied the status of Scheduled Tribe (ST) in the Indian Constitution. However, the crime deepened in 1996 in the form of the ‘ethnic cleansing’, when 10,000 Adivasis were killed, thousands injured, and more than 200,000 were made homeless and compelled to live in relief camps for more than 15 years. Again, on 24 November, 2007, about 5000 Adivasi men, women and children were attacked in Beltola of Guwahati, while they attending a peaceful procession in demand of the Schedule Tribe status. They were attacked by the local people of Beltola, including shopkeepers. Consequently, 300 Adivasis were brutally wounded, hit by bamboos, iron rods and bricks. More than one person was killed, women were raped, and a teenage girl, Laxmi Oraon, was stripped, chased and kicked. As usual, the ‘police either remained mute spectators or joined the crowd in brutality. Instead of protecting Adivasis, the government justified the brutalities and fixed blame for this incident on Adivasi organisations.
In 2010, the Assam Government forcefully evicted the Adivasis of Lungsung forest block located at Kokrajhar district of Assam, where they had settled down ‘much earlier than 1965. The forest department claimed that they had ‘encroached’ this highly biodiverse forest, even though there was no forest as such anymore. Thus, the forest department launched an eviction move and deployed the forest protection force to evict these Adivasis. In this process, the forest protection force burnt down 67 villages, reducing them to ashes. Consequently, 7,013 Adivasis including 3,869 adults and 3,144 minors belonging to 1,267 families lost their homes. A 2 year-old boy, Mangal Hembrom, died after struggling between life and death for more than 2 months after being badly burnt during the eviction process. 40 people who were leading the protests against the eviction were arrested. Later on seven of these, who were students, were released, while the rest, comprising 33 men, were sent to Kokrajhar jail’. After protest and legal intervention, these too were released.
Historically, Adivasis were brought to the state of Assam in three different circumstances. Firstly, Adivasis in general and Santals in particulars were brought to Assam for their resettlement after the Santal Revolt of 1855. They were settled down especially in western Assam, in the area that is now the north-west of Kokrajhar district. This settlement is recorded in the year 1881. Secondly, in 1880, as the tea industry grew very fast, a large number of tea garden were set up In Assam, wor which there was soon a scarcity of labourers. The planters appointed, agents and sent them to various places to recruit people for labour. Thus, Adivasis were ‘coerced, kidnapped and incited to come to Assam, to live and work under appalling conditions.’ Thirdly, large scale land alienation for ‘development projects’ also pushed Adivasis into Assam in search of a better livelihood, as there were many job opportunities in the tea gardens. This is how Adivasis settled down in the state of Assam. Over a period of time, they cleared trees and bushes, and made cultivable land by shedding their sweat and blood.
Obviously, these Adivasis enjoyed the ‘Scheduled Tribe (ST) status during British rule. However, after India’s independence, they were de-scheduled in 1947, and from the moment when the Indian Constitution was enacted in 1950, they were considered as outsiders, since the then Chief Minister of Assam, Gopinath Bordoloi, opposed scheduling the Adivasis of Assam. Whereas the same ethnic groups enjoy the status of Scheduled Tribe (ST), with its rights and privileges, in their parental states, i.e. Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Bengal and Orissa, they are denied this status in the state of Assam. The government merely recognizes them as either tea or ex-tea tribes. Consequently, the people of Assam treat them as sub-human, terming them derogatively as Coolie-Bengalis or labourers – a classic example of discrimination of Adivasis by state and society.
The Adivasis are discriminated against at every level, which is, of course, a crime. For example, when the government evicted Adivasis in 1974, after strong people’s resistance, they promised to give them land entitlements. At that time, Samar Brahma was the forest minister, and as per his promise, he started the process of land allocation in a phased manner. However, he allocated the land to the Bodos and some other communities. With his expulsion, the whole process of land allocation also stopped, betraying his promise to the Adivasis. Similarly, according to the Forest Rights Act, 2006, Adivasis are entitled to claim their rights on the forest land which they possessed before 13th December, 2005. However, Adivasis in Assam are denied their rights under the FRA as well. In fact, the Adivasis who had been ‘living in Lungsung Forest areas much earlier than 1965’, were not given rights and entitlement on the forest lands which they had been cultivating for decades.
Indeed, the history of Assam suggests that the ‘state is itself a problem, not the solution. There are more than 70,00,000 Adivasis residing in the state of Assam, who are still not recognized as ‘Scheduled Tribes’ merely due to the political fear of losing Bodo voters. The most stunning factor in this episode is the complete silence of the outspoken India Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. He has not yet opened his mouth on the Assam massacre, though the nation wants to know his reaction. On 25th December 2014, when the Adivasis of Assam were burying their dead bodies and crying for justice, he was busy in celebrating ‘good governance day’. Why is he silent? Is it only because the victims are marginalized people? Is it merely because most of the victims were Christians? How can the head of state be so narrow-minded, biased and selective? Or does he open his mouth only for the political gain?
The track record of Narendra Modi shows that after taking office as Prime Minister, he has spent most of his time either with the corporate sharks or wooing voters in political campaigns. It’s now the right time for him to show his courage through action aimed at protecting the rights of Adivasis, as he has been preaching other Adivasis territories. The ruling elites must understand that the violence in Assam is not just ethnic violence, but has become political ethnic violence, well-scripted and sponsored by the state. It is the need of the hour to uproot the main roots of violence, instead of using every incident to serve political interest. Since the ethnic problem of Assam is political, therefore the solution must be political. The billion dollar question is who will bell the cat?
Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist and writer from Jharkhand, India.
Courtesy of countercurrents.org
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.
 Dungdung, Gladson, 2013. Whose Country is it anyway? Kolkata: Adivaani.
 PAJHRA, HUL, PAD, DBSS and NBS, 2011. Assam Adivasis Cry for Justice.
 The Assam Tribune, 1st December 2007. ‘Beltola Violence and its Political dimension.’ Guwahati.
 Assam Adivasis Cry for Justice, 2011.
 Chhetri, Harka Bahadur, 2005. Adivasis and the Culture of Assam. Kolkata: Anshah Publishing House, p 78
 Chhetri, Harka Bahadur, 2005.Ibid. p 48
 Gokhale, Nitin A. 1998. The Hot Brew: The Assam Tea Industry’s most turbulent decade. Guwahati: SP, p 6
 Assam Adivasis Cry for Justice, 2011.
 Tully, Mark, 2003. India in Slow Motion. New Delhi: Penguin Books, p xiv.
 Bahadur, 2005, Adivasis and the Culture of Assam, p 78
The new book Antiquarian Remains of Jharkhand by the 2011 Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award recipient Bulu Imam, is the result of thirty years investigative work. It describes the archaeological heritage, Mesolithic rock art, village rural painting tradition and culture. It is hoped that this comprehensive volume will go a long way in highlighting Jharkhand’s extraordinary ethnographic, archaeological, cultural, artistic and environmental heritage and the urgent need for it’s preservation and protection.
To read more about the book and it’s author click here
Read more about Bulu Imam’s work and the tribal art of Jharkhand:
ANTIQUARIAN REMAINS OF JHARKHAND by Bulu Imam
Halftone Illus. 182 Size 17cmx24 cm
ISBN 978-81-7305-529 Rs.1950/-
If you would like to order it please contact,
Aryan Books International, New Delhi
Tel: 0091-11-23287589 / 23255799
Tuesday 10 February 2015, Pacifism and Property Rights
Your thoughts on these topics are welcome, in advance and (especially) on the day.
The group meets on the second Tuesday each month, at 7pm (until around 9pm)
at Housmans Bookshop, 5 Caledonian Road, Kings Cross, London N1.
Nearest tube: Kings Cross
Please try to arrive promptly by 7pm.
Everyone with an interest in pacifism and nonviolence is welcome.
The April meeting will be: Tuesday 14th April on Pacifism and the General Election
For more information about the meetings: http://londonpacifismnonviolence.wordpress.com