Sahir Ludhianvi – Communist and a Poet

By Saswat Pattanayak

It was more than a coincidence that Sahir Ludhianvi was born on an International Women’s Day. His concern and respect for women was as much personal as it was political. For him, no one – and nothing – was more important than his mother Sardar Begum. Resenting her husband’s feudal properties, his mother had left that household and raised Sahir on her own. And Sahir grew up as an organic revolutionary against landlords and burgeoning capitalism of that era. And more importantly, as a progressive poet deeply aware of the capitalistic exploitations of women and the working class.

An avid reader of Marx, Sahir early on was influenced by Faiz and Josh – prominent communist poets of that era. His early compositions included “Jahaan Mazdoor Rehte Hai” [Where Workers Reside]. In 1937, Sahir joined All India Students Federation (AISF), affiliated to the Communist Party of India (CPI) – committed to anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggles. He was expelled from both the colleges (in Ludhiana and Lahore) that he attended, due to his political activisms. Sajjad Zaheer’s Progressive Writers’ Movement (PWM) would subsequently provide Sahir his cultural platform, to express himself as a socialist poet rejecting ‘art for the sake of art’.

As a revolutionary poet, Sahir wrote “Kuchh Baatein” [Some Issues]:
“Des ke adbaar ki baatein karey
Ajnabi sarkar ki baatein karey
Agli duniya ke fasaaney chhoddkar
Is jahannumzaar ki baatein karey”

[Let us talk of the nation’s tribulations
Talk of the colonial power impositions
Why bother with heaven’s splendors
Let us talk of the hell we possess]

As a communist poet, Sahir wrote the poignant verses “Aurat ne janam diya mardoen ko, mardone ne use bazaar diya” [Women gave birth to men; men made them commodities]. His analysis of feudalism/capitalism manifested itself in the splendid tribute to Taj Mahal, full of scorn borne out of a materialistic outlook that defined his work.

He wrote,
“Anginat logoen ne duniya mein mohabbat ki hai
Kaun kehta hai ke saadiq na tha un ke jazbe
Lekin un ke liye tasahir ka samaan nahin
Kyon ki woh log bhi apni hi tarah muflis the”

[Countless peoples in our world have showered love in abundance
Who can claim their heartfelt love ever lacked sincere affections
But they lacked the means of advertisement, of crude exhibitions
After all, they were like you and I: submitted by birth to cruel situations]

Sahir’s secular credentials were unmatched. An avowed atheist, he rejected the organized religions as impediments on the path to attaining a sense of humanity. Addressing an abandoned child without a social identity, Sahir wrote:

“Accha hai abhi tak tera kuchh naam nahni hai
Tujh ko kisi mazhab se koi kaam nahni hai
Jis ilm ne insaan ko taqseem kiya hai
Is ilm ka tujh par koi ilzam nahni hai”

[A bundle of joy you are, sans a given name
Disconnected from religions, that’s your gain
Religious texts have only divided humanity
My child! So far they couldn’t attack your sanity]

As a communist poet, he was not just dedicated to women’s empowerment and secular values, he also was a peacenik who refused to believe in sanctities of geographical borders that justify militarism. He wrote –

“Khoon apna ho ya paraaya ho
Nasl-e-adam ka khoon hai aakhir
Jung mashriq mein ho ki magrib mein
Amn-e-alam ka khoon hai aakhir
Bomb gharoen par giren ya sarhad par
Rooh-e-ta’amir jakhm khaati hai
Khet apne jalein ki auroen ke
Jis’t faakoen se tilmilaati hai”

[Shed our blood, or theirs
Lives lost are of human race
War on the East or against the West
Casualty is troubled peace
Bomb our land, or across the borders
Afflicted are souls under construction
Homeless our people, or theirs
Suppressed is oppressed expression]

It was his internationalism that was recognized in the Soviet Union and his commitment to humanist values remain unchanged till the end of his life. In 1961, when Patrice Lumumba was assassinated by CIA, Sahir would protest and leave behind a haunting masterpiece, like none other –

“Zulm ki baat hi kya, zulm ki aukaat hi kya
Zulm bas zulm hai aagaz se anjaam talak
Khoon phir khoon hai, sau shakl badal sakta hai
Aisi shakley ki mitao toh mitaaye na baney
Aise sholey, ki bujhao toh bujhaaye na baney
Aisey naarey ki dabaao toh dabaaye na baney”

[Injustice can only do so much
Capable of nothing much
But the blood can take many shape
Shapes that are permanent
Inextinguishable Embers
And indomitable slogans]

Sahir’s dream coincided with that of a revolutionary who is capable of imagining not just a world without borders, but also a world without prison cells – a song that is so relevant today in light of sedition charges routinely applied to silence independent thinkers of the society Sahir once had sought to liberate.

He wrote –
“Jis subah ke khaatir jug jug se hum sab mar mar kar jeete hai
Jis subah ke amrut ki dhuun mein hum zahar ke pyaale peete hai
In bhookhi pyaasi ruhoen par ek din to karam pharmayegi
woh subah kabhi toh aayegi…

Manhoos samaaji dhaancho mein jab julm na paale jaayenge
Jab haath na kaate jaayenge jab sar na uchhale jaayenge
Jailoen ke bina jab duniya ki sarkaar chalaayi jaayegi
Woh subah hum hi se aayegi”

[For the dawn, that for ages, we nurtured with sacrifices
For that morning of nectars, have we not consumed poisons
These impoverished souls will finally be rewarded
And such a dawn, shall one day be ushered in…

As crimes cease to be structural givens of societies
Justice no longer served with torture, death penalties
A new world needs no oppressive prison
We shall usher in such a new dawn!]
——

As a communist poet, like Neruda, Sahir was close to the women of his life. Since none of his relationship could be formalized, and he died shortly after his mother’s demise whom he loved endlessly, he remained much misunderstood in his personal life. Many criticized him as an egotist megalomaniac seeking attention. But Sahir remained indifferent to both adulation and brickbats.

In 1971, when he was awarded with the prestigious Padma Shri, he told his close friend and fellow progressive poet Jan Nisar Akhtar, “Yaar Jan Nisar, ab sarkar ko tumhe bhi Padma Shri se nawaazna chahiye” [Jan Nisar, the government should now honor you with a Padma Shri as well].
Jan Nisar, amused, asked Sahir, why [“Bhala aisa kyoun”]?
Sahir wryly replied, “Ab yeh zillat mujh akele se bardaasht nahni hoti.” [I cannot bear this embarrassment alone.]

———

[All translations by Saswat Pattanayak]

More translation of Sahir’s poetry –

Fellow Decent Humans

Taj Mahal

Radical Child

Giving Back

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Fellow Decent Human Beings… (Translated)

Following is my translation of a poem by Sahir Ludhianvi: “Ae Sharif Insaanoen”

I find the poem to be deeply relevant to our times. Just when the majority of us are blaming the minority among us for criminal acts of terror caused by the militarists and suddenly believing in the words of “our” national politicians to caste doubts upon innocent people of another country, at a time when we Indians have become mute witnesses to cultural bans on Pakistan and artists from Pakistan even as racist communal elements in Bollywood such as Aadesh Srivastava or Abhijeet are gaining grounds, at a time when artists such as respected Ghulam Ali are being banned from entering the land of a country – India- whose people love him immensely, simply because suddenly some communal Hindu supremacist leaders are opposing any possible cultural exchanges with our neighboring nation, at a time when we are allowing a bunch of proven thugs – the politicians who we all know to be corrupt to the core every passing day, the politicians who have legitimized criminalization of politics in the land of the Buddha – are demanding across party lines to come up with draconic laws to silence resenting voices in India, at a time when ATS officer Karkare who was instrumental in uncovering the ugly masks of the terror from Hindu fundamentalists has been killed and has been converted into a hero by the very people he despised, such is a time to question our conventional wisdom.

Shed our blood, or theirs

Lives lost are of human race 

War on the East or against the West

Casualty is troubled peace

 

Bomb our land, or across the borders

Afflicted are souls under construction

Homeless our people, or theirs

Suppressed is oppressed expression 

 

Tanks march across or in our lands

Leave Mother Earth barren stretch

Victory cry or vanquished sighs

Countless lives mourn the death

 

War itself the biggest crisis

What problem can it ever solve?

Seeds of hatred it perpetuates

What necessities will it absolve?

 

Hence, fellow decent humans,

Better if we avert these wars 

Ours and theirs – in all the lands

Better if candle of peace sparks

 

To prove our point of advancements

Do we need to flow their bloods?

To rid our houses of darkness

Do we need to set theirs on flames?

 

Wars we must differently showcase

Battlefield’s not the sole option

Humans also exhibit intelligence

Fanaticism not the only emotion 

 

Come, in this age of bitter darkness

Let us spark some lights of care

Those steps that foster peace and progress 

Let us consider some new thoughts to share

 

War, results of heartless barbarism

Peace, results of civilized progress

War, proud catch of power structure

Peace, humble heritage of humaneness

 

War, in the name of enslaved people

Peace, to promote socially just system

War, voiced by misguided zealots

Peace, for hapless masses supreme

 

War, a shameful occupation of few

Peace, for equity, prosperity for all

Fight the war, and the war-mongers

For peace, progressives everywhere

 

(Translated by Saswat Pattanayak, Peoples’ Poet)

 

  

Original poem by Sahir Ludhianvi – 

Ae Sharif Insaanoen

Khoon apna ho ya paraaya ho

Nasl-e-adam ka khoon hai aakhir

Jung mashriq mein ho ki magrib mein

Amn-e-alam ka khoon hai aakhir

Bomb gharoen par giren ya sarhad par

Rooh-e-ta’amir jakhm khaati hai

Khet apne jalein ki auroen ke

Jis’t faakoen se tilmilaati hai

Tank aage badhe ki peeche hatein

Kokh dharti ki baanjh hoti hai

Fatah ka jash’n ho ki haar ka sog

Jindegi mayatoen pe roti hai

Jung to khud hi ek mash’ala hai

Jung kya mash’aloen ka ha’l degi

Aag aur khoon aaj bakhshegi

Bhookh aur eh’tiyaj kal degi

Is liye ae sharif insaanoen

Jung talti rahe to behtar hai

Aap aur hum sabhi ke aangan mein

Shamaa jalti rahe to behtar hai

Bartari ke suboot ki khaatir

Khoon bahaana hi kya jaroori hai

Ghar ki taarikiyan mitaane ko

Ghar jalaana hi kya jaroori hai

Jung ke aur bhi toh maidan hai

Sirf maidaane kushtoen-khoon hi nahni

Haasil-e-jindagi khi’rad bhi hai

Haasil jindagi joonon hi nahni

Aao is tirabakht duniya mein

Fiqr ki roshni ko aam karein

Aman ko jinse taqbiyat pahunche

Aisi jung-oen ka ehtimam karen

Jung, baha’sat se barbiriyat se

Aman, tahaziboen irtika ke liye

Jung, magr-afreen shiyasat se

Aman, insaan ki baka ke liye

Jung aflaas aur gulaami se

Aman behtar nizm ke khaatir

Jung, bhatki huyi qiyaadat se

Aman, bewas aawam ke khaatir

Jung sharmaaye ke tas’loot se

Aman, jumhoor ki khooshi ke liye

Jung, jungoen ke falsafe ke khilaaf

Aman, pur’an jindagi ke liye

 

Vote for Taj! But find for me yet another place!

As India (and the world) goes to vote for Taj Mahal tomorrow, an ugly form of patriotism and appreciation has surfaced utilizing a monument declared to be most beautiful by some.

The claim for “seven wonders” (and one wonders why they need to have it to be only seven, and not thirteen, or a hundred) has been reduced to a competitive exercise where people representing their countries exhibit some version of solidarity to showcase monuments that have absolutely nothing in relevance to either the present, or the future.

Moreover, the past–related to sites like the Taj Mahal–also needs to be investigated further before the glorifications continue in a world where human beings have less worth than marble stones.

In our world where visual appeal and exhibitionism is so rampant as to have become a required criterion for assessment of objects, events and people, it is no wonder that huge architectures are recalled with how they merely have been standardized to generate individualist awe, and not with any form of collective remorse.

To mark this day with regret, therefore, I have translated one song which was written more than four decades ago by the great progressive Urdu poet Sahir Ludhianvi. The original poem follows the translated version:

Taj Mahal

For you, Taj Mahal is no less a splendor of love
Amidst the eldritch, obsessed are you with its trove

My beloved! Discover for me yet another place where we can meet!

Grandeur of royal palace is deliberately contrasted
For the commoners; it’s a sordid message so crafted
We mortals have no permit to tread the paths so strewn
With baits to allure us into that maze, to dream to its tune!

Before being inveigled into the royal sparks, my beloved!
You should have descried the mammoth trickery and fraud!
You could have felt the roars of your insignificant abode!

Countless peoples in our world have showered love in abundance
Who can claim their heartfelt love ever lacked sincere affections
But they lacked the means of advertisement, of crude exhibitions
After all, they were like you and I: submitted by birth to cruel situations

This monument, this mausoleum, this unmitigated embankment
These are apparition of regal wealth and unmerited enchantment
For the records of the wretched, these disdainfully antique afflictions
Were erected upon the toil, labor and sweat of many a poor generations

O my beloved! They must indeed have been in love forever
Those that could shape such magnificence by their love’s labor
Yet not a candle is lighted in memory of those that were enslaved
Nor a lamp they could plant to cherish the love of their beloved
This opulent yard, this palatial lap of luxury that marks the ruler
Bedizened with gaudy presence of stately, colossal architecture
It’s merely an act of mockery on part of an autocratic monarch
Who usurping wealth, has smudged the poor, with this indelible mark!

My beloved! Discover for me yet another place where we can meet!

(Trans. by: Saswat Pattanaya, The Peoples’ Poet)
—-

The original poetry by Sahir Ludhianvi follows:

Taja tere lie eka mazahara-e-ulafata hi sahi
tujha ko isa vadi-e-rangina se aqidata hi sahi
mere mehabuba kahim aura mila kara mujha se

bazama-e-sahi mein gharibom ka guzara kiya maini
sabta jisa raha mein hom satuta sahi ke nisana
usa pe ulafata bhari rahazana ka safara kiya maini
meri mehabuba pase parde tasahira vafa

tune satuta ke nisanom ko to dekha hota
murda sahom ke maqabira se behalane vali
apane tarika makanom ko to dekha hota
anaginata laugom ne duniya mem mauhabbata ki hai
kauna kahata hai ke sadiqa na tha una ke jazabe
lekina una ke liye tasahira ka samana nahim
kyonke vaha lauga bhi apani hi tarah mufalisa the

yaha imarata-va-maqabira ye fasilem ye hisara
matalaqa-ula-hukma sahanasahom ki azamata ke sutum
sina-e-dahara ke nasura haim kahate nasura
jajbe hem una mem tere mere ijadada ka khuna

meri mehabuba, inhem bhi to mauhabbata hogi
jina ki sanai ne bakhasi hai use sakla-e-jamila
una ke piyarom ke maqabira rahe be nama namuda
aja taka ina para jalai na kisi ne qandila
ye chamana zara ye jamana ka kinara, ye mahala
ye munakqasa dara-o-divara ye maharaba ye taqa
ika sahanasaha ne daulata ka sahara le kara
hama gharibom ki mauhabbata ka udaya hai mazaqa

mere mehabuba kahim aura mila kara mujha se

A Review of “The Darker Nations”

[Originally published in
Radical Notes, 18 March 2007]

Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, The New Press, New York, 2007. Hardcover, 384 pp. Amazon/NP

The Darker Nations is a critical historiography of the Third World. Vijay Prashad’s deeply instructive as well as occasionally mordant looks at events and processes that made up the history of oppressed peoples in the 20th century comprise this brilliant work. It is a book profound for being peremptory, and absolutely necessary for being so relevant today that it is imperative for activists and researchers alike.

For one, the various assumptions that form a dominant paradigm of Eurocentrism need radical reproving. Yet that would merely amount to a criticism of the thesis itself. Prashad goes beyond that and proposes an alternative narration to the history – not just of the Third World, but also through its lenses, the peoples’ history of the world during the last century. Darker Nations in some ways could be appositely used to speak for aspirations of the oppressed everywhere. In this sense, the book is a celebration of collective hope, even as it traces the demise of a grand project based on it.

I

The thesis of the book circles around the Third World as a unique project on its own. Even as there have been far too many usages of “First” and “Second” Worlds in contrasts, the reader is never lost darker nationsto the main point: that is, the Third World was not merely in response or reaction to the prevailing ‘cold war’ grand narration, but it was more importantly an independent culmination out of unique historical necessities to combat neocolonialism and to promote internationalist nationalism.

To that extent, the author has conducted painful researches and unearthed valuable and often less quoted documents. The book thus does justice to the Suez Canal nationalization controversy and credits Nasser for his motives beyond cold war considerations. It brings Nehru alive through his letter drafted for the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that argued against nuclearism, appealing to both Kennedy and Khrushchev. The book researches Che Guevara’s UN speech that assumed a necessary political standpoint for all oppressed countries: “As Marxists, we maintain that peaceful co-existence does not include co-existence between exploiters and exploited, between oppressors and oppressed.”

What, then, was common to the Third World? For the nationalist leaders, the fact that they were all colonized. Prashad writes, “For them, the nation had to be constructed out of two elements: the history of their struggles against colonialism, and their program for the creation of justice….The Third World form of nationalism is thus better understood as an internationalist nationalism.” (p.12)

Prashad’s assessment of “neopatriarchy” and domestic capitalism in the third world is quite worthwhile. This book is clearly a critical document for collective introspection of the oppressed peoples than an empty glorification of a united umbrella. In this sense, it is a necessary and long awaited work, which while marking the sites of struggle does not lose sight of the continuing struggles.

The author has cleverly named the chapters after the various sites of significance. Clever, because the chapters (Paris, New Delhi, Bali etc.,) have less to do with specific descriptions of the cities of those times than they have to do with bringing these otherwise disparate places together in context – at times stretching the contexts well out of bounds of the chapter title; at times celebrating the specificity with a poem by Neruda. One would be tempted to verify the header of the page several times while going through the texts just to make sure that she is in the right page. Yet such deliberate discursions are wisely scheduled to make for chapters that elucidate points contextually, rendering Prashad into a master narrator.

Illustratively, the author makes clear the intent of the book at the end of “Paris” chapter and perhaps leading one to wonder how much of the chapter was actually devoted to Paris. Of course that’s the idea of a project, the professor would convince us: each section needs to have scope for a flow into the next without exhausting every specific reference. It’s a project after all. A process, not a few events.

The book covers all that it promises to: Brussels meeting of “League against Imperialism”, Afro-Asian gathering at Bandung, Women’s conference at Cairo, NAM at Belgrade and Tricontinental Conference at Havana.

Prashad unearths the role of international communists in formation of the Brussels conference – a landmark event patronized by Einstein and attended by 37 countries/colonies. He writes about Pan-Africanism, Pan-Americanism, and Pan-Asianism in the context of colonial dominations, along with deconstructing the Kuomintang massacres of communists that might have contributed to severance of the ties between the Comintern and several nationalist leaders.

Prashad quotes W.E.B. DuBois in relation to Pan-Africanism within the Brussels context, although he omits Paul Robeson’s solidarity with the colored peoples at Bandung. It was in 1955 that Robeson sent his famous greetings to Bandung: “…peoples come from the shores of the Ganges and the Nile, the Yangtse and the Niger. Nations of the vast Pacific waters, greetings on this historic occasion. It is my profound conviction that the very fact of the convening of the Conference of Asian and African nations at Bandung, Indonesia, in itself will be recorded as an historic turning point in all world affairs.” Heralding it as a history-making conference, Robeson expressed, “Indeed the fact that the Asian and African nations, possessing similar yet different cultures, have come together to solve their common problems must stand as a shining example to the rest of the world.”

Prashad aptly summarizes what Bandung achieved: “a format for what would eventually become Afro-Asian and then Afro-Asian-Latin American group in the UN.” He also takes a stab at the inherent weaknesses of the member countries that lost moral grounds because of several reasons, from murdering communists to hoarding weapons, despite agreeing on some basic precepts of “cultural cooperation”.

“Principle Problem” of Raul Prebisch is explained in context to economic policies, in the crucial introduction to the role of UNCTAD, of which he was the founding general secretary. If Buenos Aires is visited for economics, Tehran is the metaphoric site of cultural struggles. Khrushchev’s betrayal of cultural workers in face of opposition to Shah regime is well articulated in a chapter that describes “roots of the Third World intellectual’s quandary was how to create a new self in the new nations”, thus reinforcing nationalism, democracy and rationalism.

Prashad’s political argument that the relationship between Third World and Second turned tumultuous after the demise of Stalin may draw some criticisms, but he amply demonstrates its foundations. He argues that the “new leadership led by Khrushchev and Bulganin adopted peaceful co-existence and pledged their support to the bourgeois nationalist regimes (often against the domestic Communists). The unclear situation suggested that the USSR seemed keener to push its own national interests than those of the national Communist parties to which it pledged verbal fealty” (p. 97).

Prashad makes a point that is vital to understanding of the Third World formation and crisis. In the Soviet Union, the Second World indeed “had an attitude toward the former colonies that in some ways mimicked that of the First World.” But this did not necessarily require pitiful stance at the Third World recipients. Prashad argues quoting Sauvy and Nkrumah that the Third World was not “prone, silent or unable to speak” before the powers. It was an independent political platform on its own, which according to Nehru stood for “political independence, nonviolent international relations, and the cultivation of the UN as the principle institution for planetary justice.”

So he asks, “What about the two-thirds who remained outside the East-West circles; what of those 2 billion people?” The narration of the author is instructive in a poetic sense. As obviously gigantic is the scope of such an inquisitiveness, he offers a plethora of factors/voices that could have been representing this Third World.

The book analyzes the various complexities of state politics in the Third World countries. It correctly mentions the several betrayals of communist workers in the hands of Moscow and Peking leaderships in the aftermath of Stalin and Mao. The book describes accurately the growing militarization of the developing nations. Prashad, while upholding the vision of the Third World, well encapsulates the elements of utopianism inherently present in some of the documents.

As an instance, the Arusha Declaration validated the twin principles of liberty and equality, individual rights and collective well-being. Prashad argues, “The main problem with the Arusha-TANU project, however, came not in its goals but in its implementation.” Though defying academic limitations, he does not give away credence to neoliberal economists/politicians like Rajaratnam of Singapore. Even as he describes the feud between Singapore on one extreme and Cuba on another, Prashad instructs us wisely about the pitfalls of economic liberalization. “The abandonment of economic sovereignty lost the national liberation regimes one of their two principal pillars of legitimacy. When IMF-led globalization became the modus operandi, the elites of the postcolonial world adopted a hidebound and ruthless xenophobia that masqueraded as patriotism”, Prashad writes.

Succinctly enough, Prashad encapsulates the present scenario: “The mecca of IMF-driven globalization is therefore in the ability to open one’s economy to stateless, soulless corporations while blaming the failure of well-being on religious, ethnic, sexual, and other minorities. That is the mecca of the post-Third World era.”

II

Prashad’s ending of the book with an obituary to Third World would have perhaps perplexed the writer he invokes in the beginning of his work: Franz Fanon. He even quotes the prophetic statements from The Wretched of the Earth: “The Third World today faces Europe like a colossal mass whose project should be to try to resolve the problems to which Europe has not been able to find the answers.”

Prashad’s persistent declaration in the book about demise of the Third World may bring back nostalgic chords, but would not undermine Fanon’s question. Have the problems that bore out of colonialism been resolved? The answer is no. Has Europe or the USA been able to find the answers yet? The answer is no.

In that case, is it not too early to declare the Third World a dead project? Moreover, is the author at times tending to air the lost leaders’ voices over the struggling peoples’?

No doubt, Prashad’s book is unique in its stress on women’s movements in the Third World – an aspect that’s comfortably overlooked when such taxonomies are applied to political texts. In his Cairo chapter, Prashad examines the role of women in Third World liberation struggles – from Rameshwari Nehru to Aisha Abdul-Rahman. This is significantly noteworthy, as women have joined the guerrilla wars as well as street protests in almost all of the Third World countries. And yet many progressive forces have difficulties in understanding gender relations, thereby resulting in mere “state feminisms”. However, was this chapter written because Cairo had women members on its podium necessitating a mention/discussion, or because a tribute to women activists is necessary to understand the Third World project? In either way, the book does not employ a lens of the women to understand the movement, although does a commendable job at understanding women struggles through the lens of the Third World. Considering that only this chapter has a portion devoted to a few women activists in context to Cairo, while the rest of the book mostly quotes the three “titans” or famous “fives” in explaining the history, I would say there are quite a few questions unanswered still.

The chief criticism against this work would primarily come from two quarters: One, from a strictly Third Wave (interesting how the growth of Third Wave coincides with the recognition of the Third World) feminist critique: independent struggles by women could have been much better encompassed within this book, given its scope. Prashad does a cursory mention of the alternative movement (considering that third-world women had a movement within, and against the larger movement) limiting it to a chapter and focusing on a couple of eminent speakers. Would the Third World have been different had the precepts for it not written by the “titans” and “giants”, but by women comrades who were voices of resentments against the hierarchies of nationalist and communist parties? Prashad does not dwell on this aspect.

Two, the criticism may become more scathing from the perspectives of militant activists. Third World, like Rome, was not built in a day. And certainly not through some leaders of few countries. Prashad is arguably right in crediting the giants and bringing forth the canons, but at the same time, these very leaders certainly rode the wave of success utilizing the larger unrest that was recognized by the anti-status-quo forces, often united through guerrilla wars, and almost going unnoticed after making vital impacts. Would the Third World have been different had the precepts for it not written by the giants, but by the larger oppressed peoples engaged in organized and otherwise struggles? We do not know for sure, but it would have been worthwhile to ponder over that a bit more than the book does.

The more crucial question then, is if such precepts were actually already written (or worked on with) by the peoples who did not find mentions in the historical documents that Prashad cites towards the book’s end spanning 60 pages. The focus of the book, although is in continuance of Prashadisque tradition of Afro-Asian unity, is slightly away from Africa. In fact, Mandela is mentioned just once in the book (that too as a pure travesty – citing a Ruth First memorial). The truth is Third World texts had been written in South Africa as well as in Nepal. However, such underground struggles went largely amiss from the work. Sure, the book by the author’s admission is inexhaustive and merely illustrative, but even a 300-page work could have inculcated some unknown peoples’ movements than chronicling lesser known leaders’ engagements.

Ironically enough, before proceeding to Havana chapter, Prashad mentions “From the early 1960s to the late 1970s, the rhetorical denunciation of imperialism reached its apogee even as the Third World began to lose its voice”. This is a dangerous statement to make if one considers that indeed from the 1970s onwards, the peoples voice in the Third World had immensely proliferated. No doubt the leaders – those giants who we find exalted throughout the work – had fallen to deaths or arrests, but the period thereafter also signaled the end of dominant and diplomatic voices, and somewhere alongside highlighted the obscure and powerful ones.

People who spoke truth to power were the people on the streets that challenged the nationalist parties which came to power in the pretext of newfound freedom from the foreign rulers. The growth of domestic capitalist classes in comfortable alliance with these nationalist parties were indication enough that the new powers were no less different from the old ones, except in their make-up and “patriotism”. In fact, these illusive weapons of nationalism and patriotism helped strengthen exploitative capitalism on basis of trusts of the “own” people. Such betrayals of faiths, notwithstanding goodwill of the famous leaders, were also being fought against on a daily basis in the Third World. Beyond the conferences and meetings and gatherings of Third World leaders under different names, there were large-scale protests of poverty and unemployment. Beyond the famous rhetoric of anti-nuclearism (while proliferating conventional weapons domestically) and socialist development (while harassing voices of dissent at home), people had on their own formed two classes in the society. The haves went to the ruling elites that apparently “voiced” the Third World for few years, and the have-nots remained with the unknown millions of peoples whose only commonality was their resentment against the power-grabbers. Be it Nehru or Indira in India, Sukarno or Suharto in Indonesia, the popular imagination went beyond such leaders that treaded the careful path all the while claiming to be representing the Third World.

Third World was neither the name of a place nor merely a documented project. And certainly it did not die. Considering that its origin was a necessity in itself, a necessity borne of conditions of colonialism, about which Sartre (another contextually grand omission from the book except for one mention – his writings on neocolonialism were far more instructive) writes in the preface to Albert Memmi’s ‘The Colonizer and the Colonized’: “Colonialism denies human rights to people it has subjugated by violence, and whom it keeps in poverty and ignorance by force, therefore, as Marx would say, in a state of ‘sub-humanity’.” This sub-humanity does not see its history changing with the midnight bells of colonialist departures. It takes quite a while for the real freedom to be conquested for even after the colonialists are gone. This is why South Africa’s period of struggle just began after Mandela came to power. South Africa’s Third World status will not die anytime soon.

So the assumption that “the Third World began to lose its voice” may have been made a little too early. Keeping in line of the eloquent narration of events as Prashad has done (for example, referring to revived “armed struggle not only as a tactic of anticolonialism but significantly as a strategy in itself”), the book perhaps wished away the Third World before examining its overbearing presence today. Do we have a Second World? I have no answer to that. But if the name Third World was admittedly accepted by the oppressed people of several continents basing on their historical heritage, then the phrase is as relevant today as it was before. Perhaps some countries would want not a place in it. Earlier, China was a question. Today, Singapore is. All the same, for the rest of the countries, nothing much has changed, except that the capitalist exploitation has intensified and expanded manifold, the national regimes have lost faith and people are more politically conscious.

If the Third World was imagined out of former colonies and if the colonial problem was chiefly an economic one, then the Third World has become even all the more relevant today. Simplistic as it may sound, there is a greater need for Afro-Asian-Latin solidarity today in the world than ever before. And Prashad, a remarkably profound scholar who gave to us treasures of arguments through his previous works about the need for alliances of the oppressed, would be among the firsts to acknowledge the necessity of such unity.

III

However, apart from remaining in want of more comprehensive analysis of women’s movements and of peoples’ liberation movements (both-dually oppressed by former colonizers as well as the nationalist rulers, and more importantly conflicted between the both – male and female comrades), the book also offers cursory looks at the external roles played by the First World in maintaining indirect subjugation of the Third.

Prashad rightly critiques the predominant views held by leftists about the role of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He argues that such a minimalist assumption renders people of the Third World insignificant and often passive audience in the larger world stage. Whereas he is absolutely correct in this critique – largely identified by the radical feminist movements worldwide – there is no harm in going through the roles of the CIA that have been well documented in a work that does chronicle interactions of the Third World “leaders” with the First World instigators. Many conflicting situations have been initiated and fuelled through CIA interventions in the Third World politics and that should have found a deserved mention. For instance, a critique of the Nixon administration vis-à-vis the Third World (including the recently released notes with Kissinger) is found lacking.

One need not subscribe to conspiracy theories to gain insights about how the First World allies in the “neocolonial” period have acted towards the Third World: less through coercion, and more through lucrative measures such as economic aids, western education and religion. Prashad misses out on the role of the Catholic Church that was the first body to significantly recognize the Third World as an entity worth pondering over. The large money, the pool of debts that would crumble the economic backbone of the Third World came from the consent of the Vatican during the early 1960s.

Prashad mentions religion quite casually, when he describes how “Mother Teresa would soon get more positive airtime as the white savior of the dark hordes than would the self-directed projects of the Third World nationalist governments.” Immediately following this, he goes on to make references to military invasions and embargoes.

Here the book could have made a crucial connection between the recognition of the Third World by the First World through the Catholic Church decisions. Mother Teresa’s airtimes were neither incidental nor were to be seen only through a liberal critique. The missing piece is that Vatican Council II which was the 21st ecumenical (general) council of the Roman Catholic Church was crucial to recognition of the Third World in an official manner.

In fact this council brought the most far-reaching reforms within the Catholic Church in 1000 years. This most significant reform movement in the world’s leading religion was brought forth during its four sessions in Rome during (the first Council after its suspension in 1870). The idea was to aim for aggiornamento (renewal and updating of Catholic life and teaching). Such a vital step was taken by the Vatican as a result of emergence of the Third World. This council altered the nature of the church from being a European-centered institution to become a worldwide one so as to acknowledge the Third World countries, where it counted most of its followers. Mother Teresa and her likes were thus byproducts of this acceptance of the third force in the world.

Prashad says that Nehru, Sukarno and Nasser among other leaders did not use Third World to describe their domains, but does not corroborate their reasons, if any. For the framework of this book, the constant usages of “First World”, “Second World” and “Third World” is imperative, but considering that Prashad is eager to lash out against the “camp mentality” or “East-West” conflicts, he does avoid a critical exposition of the limitations that such three “Worlds” may bring for the readers.

One way to understand why the three “worlds” were not sufficient explanations (although necessary at many junctures) is to detail how the three worlds could not be thus compartmentalized either in degree or by their types. More importantly, the countries thus categorized under such headings definitely had uniquely different histories (colonial and otherwise), treated differently by their respective partners in their perceived specific worlds. On the one hand, Singapore had a different colonial experience than India. On the other, China’s Security Council membership put it on a unique platform, and there is no comparing between Soviet Union and Hungary. What is vital to this discussion is also the fact that there was not a yardstick that was used to specify categories either for the First, the Second or the Third. As much as the Third World was a movement against colonialism, such a usage of categories would still render it as a site affected by Eurocentric worldviews.

Prashad says Nehru et al., instead of calling themselves to be part of the Third World, “spoke of themselves” as the NAM, G-77 or the colonized continents. Although accurate, here the author’s own argument that kickstarts the book will be subject to questioning. Prashad says in the first line of the book, “The Third World was not a place. It was a project”. And yet he compares the project with some conferences and places (continents) to bring home the point that the leaders evaded “Third World”. Certainly there were other reasons why all Third World titans did not prefer the phrase (if at all). And that, we are still unsure of.

The author writes: “The phrase ‘East-West conflict’ distorts the history of the Cold War because it makes it seem as if the First and Second Worlds confronted each other in a condition of equality.” He contends that the USSR was socially and economically way behind due to its unique recent history. “The dominant classes in the First World used the shortages and repression in the USSR as an instructive tool to wield over the heads of their own working class, and so on both economic and political grounds the First World bore advantages over the Second.” Whereas this could be one truth, it does underscore the fact that more countries on the earth joined the Second World than they could be declared as the First World also because of the lacunae starkly evident in the First World. Whereas massive racism was predominant in the First World, economic depression and political censorships in the capitalist countries also contributed to popularity of the Second World.

A connection between the third world “project” and the United Nations (UN) is well established in the book. What perhaps amiss is a discussion on manners in which either of them might have contributed to the downfall of the other. Prashad says, “Today there is no such vehicle for local dreams”. The larger question then would be if the United Nations played a role in obliterating its dependant. On the other hand, a stark reality in the post-Iraq scene is the redundancy of a forum such as the United Nations today that effectively has no role either in shaping a collective conscience or implementing a pro-people agenda. Least of all, the UN has failed to safeguard the sovereign nations from external aggressions. It has failed to overcome the elitism of its Security Council, almost unquestionably letting the powerful countries to run their own little League of Nations inside the UN. Amidst such cynicism that the UN has contributed to, what responsibilities must the Third World project shoulder.

Amidst several responsibilities, the Third World still has to its credit a Non-Aligned News Agencies Pool (NANAP), a fact that is missing a mention in the book. Over 40 news agencies in non-aligned countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe have pooled their resources for the exchange of news reports and information to defy the vertical information flow of corporate media. The “Pool” was adopted at the Fourth Summit Conference of Non-Aligned Countries, held in Algiers in 1973. During that period, the New World Information and Communication Order was also proposed to democratize the knowledge domain of the world. No doubt, UNESCO was criticized by the American and European intellectuals, but the MacBride Commission succeeded in recognizing the divergent voices of the Third World in order to challenge the media hegemony world over. Responsibilities of the Third World still include an informed opposition to militarization, providing alternative channels to western corporate media, campaigning for need-based distribution of world resources, and most of all, representing the popular voices of dissent, opposition and celebrations. One wonders if the struggles to attain the above has waned any bit, if looked from the peoples’ perspectives. And in this context, the Third World still holds hopes, possibilities and victory. One is perhaps disappointed if the Third World is perceived to be voicing only a limited elite constituency – often opposed to the peoples’ dissents.

IV

Hence, finally, the book questions not the constitution of the Third World itself. If it was brought around through its various leaderships under certain historical period, what expectations should we have of this “project”? Were such leaders to be expected to play the truly internationalist roles, and to what avail? In the preliminary draft thesis on the National and the Colonial Questions, for the Second Congress of the Communist International, Lenin wrote: “Petty-bourgeois nationalism proclaims as internationalism the mere recognition of the equality of nations and nothing more. Quite apart from the fact that this recognition is purely verbal, petty-bourgeois nationalism preserves national self-interest intact, whereas proletarian internationalism demands, first, that the interests of the proletarian struggle in any one country should be subordinated to the interests of that struggle on a world-wide scale, and, second, that a nation which is achieving victory over the bourgeoisie should be able and willing to make the greatest national sacrifices for the overthrow of international capital.” Between the elite internationalism founded on peaceful co-existence and peoples’ internationalism based upon rejection of the international capitalist order, did the Third World got somewhere hijacked or we refuse to acknowledge its existence because we already defined its proponents?

Needless to state, the criticisms above demand for more literature for inclusion into the book, than specifically target the author’s works. Such a case arises only because the book is an extraordinarily brilliant effort that is bound to encourage readers to plunge more into the relevance of the subject. All of that credit goes to the humanely written, accessibly crafted work that shuns academic elitism and genuinely attempts at a peoples’ history of the oppressed world.

Hindus, Muslims and Secular Traditions: Vande Mataram (Part II)

Vande Mataram debate has almost engulfed India these days. I would not claim it to be entirely of no consequence. And those who say that people should be left to sing what they want to, in the tradition of liberal democracy, in my view again, are continuing to enjoy a Hindu privilege. If for a moment, they would imagine how it feels to be member of a minority group being subjected to a song that was targeted against them, most of us would clearly understand the inherent pain. Muslims in India have been told from the beginning that they are citizens of a secular country, and it is the responsibility of the Hindu majority to live upto that expectation. There must not be any confusion in this regard.

Furthermore, some of my beloved readers of this blog have vociferously attacked the communalism in Islam, and in fact to that extent shown solidarity with Bankim Chandra, the poet of Vande Mataram, who also happens to be the founding father of modern Bengali literature.

I am not surprised at the way both perceptions have been intertwined. However, I shall like to dispel some myths about the dismissal of Islam as a communal or fanatical religion, as many in the Hindutva brigade would like to portray it and influence some of us in that process in their abominable quest to establish a “Hindu Rashta”. Some even bring to question the credibility of Mohd. Iqbal who penned down “Sare Jahan se Achha” and compared it with “Vande Mataram”, which I think is a valid comparison, but a grossly non-issue, this time. I will attempt to make some clarifications within the limits of a weblog:

Vande Mataram vs Sare Jahan se Achha:

Let there be no doubt that the origins of the writings and the world-views of the authors are important in understanding the significance of any work. However, even while doing so, one should always keep in mind the socio-political context in which the works have been authored.

I have elaborated on Vande Mataram already in a previous post. The origin of the song was embedded in the work “Ananda Matha” which was just like every other written work of Bankim Chandra, a highly hindu supremacist literature. It clearly outlined Bankim’s aversion towards Muslim people and possibly could have sowed the seed among the Bengali community to later on engage in the religious animosities that eventually led to partition of India into two separate religious regions (East Bengal-Pakistan region and India).

Sensitizing the Bengali population to become reactionary elements in that age was the sole aim of Bankim Chatterjee, and he fairly succeeded in it (which is why the Hindu hymn became so popular to begin with). It can be said without a doubt Bankim was the founding father of reactionary Bengali literature and unfortunately as it is, quite a handful of works during that time thrived with feudal stories and patriarchal protagonists with entire omission of British misrule, (Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s stories included) thanks to the unmistakable popularity of this legendary writer.

Speaking of historical context, Bankim Chatterjee lived at a time that was not about “Islam invasion”, that his works were so apprehensive about. It was rather a time when British people had already invaded India. The primary enemies of Indian people were the British colonialists. And yet, Chatterjee was a loyal civil servant of the British administration, and worked as a deputy collector. And he was instrumental in sowing the seeds of two-nation theory through his works full of hatred for Muslims, who he used to describe as “Mlechhas”.

As regards Mohd. Iqbal, who is unfortunately brought to discussion in the context of Bande Mataram controversy, one can only say this. Mohd. Iqbal was a patriot of the highest order whose revolutionary songs were targeted against the British rule only. He had no expressed hatred against Hindus, although looking at growing popularity of Hindutva brigade within the Congress those days, he had sufficient reason to turn skeptical. Muslims, Buddhists and Dalits were among the most oppressed in India, and yet they were the least represented in the high echelons of Congress power. Congress was losing its secular focus with continued tension between Nehru and Patel. Despite Gandhiji’s reluctance, the Patel faction was growing in strength also due to the immense influence the Indian business houses had on sponsoring Gandhi’s visits and shelters at Ashrams. In disillusionment, Netaji Subhas also had to quit Congress. One needs to remember that the hindu fanatics had taken up so much of political space that Netaji Subhash was as unsure as Mohd. Iqbal about the eventual victory of Indians under leadership of mere religious reformers. Netaji was always known for his determined effort to persuade people to give up all their political differences and get united under the banner of Congress. He has emphatically stated that Congress was the only platform that needs support from people all across political spectrum, thus helping to enlist thousands of communists as well as receiving communist support to win the presidentship. However, Netaji was deeply influenced by the Soviet system of governance, its secularism and collective ownerships and he wanted to establish India in similar lines. Except for Nehru, who had himself visited Soviet Union and was a pronounced supporter of Marxist philosophy, Netaji could not gather support from any other major leader, finally leading to his quitting the party and forming an alternative Left organization.

It was during these times that Mohd. Iqbal also went through transformation as he was witnessing how the power structure of Congress was slipping into the hands of Hindu fundamentalists. He used to be a teacher in Philosophy after completing MA from Lahore University. During the college days, his radical poetry to destabilize the British rule with united efforts from Hindus and Muslims were inflammatory enough. At the same time, while on a short visit to London, Iqbal became conscious of the international Islamic revolutions against the European colonial powers, and his alignment towards Islamists became sharper. India was not merely struggling for independence from British during those days, one also needs to remember that some Hindu supremacists within the Congress were making clear their intent to get rid of Urdu as the lingua franca (which it was till that period), and to declare a Hindustan where Muslims would be tokenly represented as was the trend. Hindu leaders like Rajendra Prasad, Radhakrishnan, Sardar Patel were rabidly pursuing Hindu scholarships. And Gandhi himself was trying to adjust to Hinduism demands by “reforming” the religion, not condemning it. Clearly the country was about to be divided, just like Bankim Chatterjee had envisaged, the question was regarding when.

Bankim and Iqbal: Dichotomies

Again unlike Bankim Chatterjee who preached religious violence based on Militant Hinduism, Mohd Iqbal was deeply secular despite being a Muslim. And this is why there were attempts to caste aspersions on his popularity. Iqbal’s poetry were nationally sung and were widely popular (interestingly, it became popular even on the space when Rakesh Sharma made India proud by saying he saw “Sare Jahan Se Achha” from above when asked by Indira Gandhi about what India looked like to him while he was on the Soviet space expedition). Iqbal’s poetry was in Urdu, as opposed to Sanskrit, and that was a great dichotomy already. He was a Muslim revolutionary writing about the poor and the oppressed people of India grounded on realism of political economy. Chatterjee was a Hindu Brahmin reactionary who was writing about glorification of one-nation of Hindu India that was conditional upon annihilation of the Muslims. Whereas Chatterjee was preaching that deaths of Muslims were inevitable for India to be a proud nation, Iqbal was writing:

“Gurbat mein ho agar hum, rehta hai dil watan mein
Samjho wohi humein bhi, dil mein jahna hamara
Majhab nahni sikhata, aapas mein bair rakhna
Hindi hain hum, watan hain Hindustan humara”

(roughly translated it means: We are where our hearts are, and even when we reside abroad, our hearts live in our land. Thus artificial borders cannot separate our patriotic feelings. What of the religions? Our religions do not teach us to create enemies among each other. We are the people from the land of the Hind and shall remain thus despite religions and artificial borders.)

This was the great radical poet Mohd. Iqbal who wrote this “Taraana-e-Watan” among other brilliant works where he always stressed on Hindu-Muslim unity that was needed to overthrow the British rulers.

Sadly, the country was so taken hostage by the Hindu supremacists that they did everything possible to highlight Bankim Chatterjee’s conservative anti-Islam works while they continued to demean Mohd Iqbal. Any serious reader of progressive literature would be able to fathom the length at which Iqbal was subsequently saddened by the way his hopes for a united India was being shattered through the aspirations of the growing Hindu militancy even within the rank and file of the mainstream Congress.

I am reproducing a rare poem of Mohd Iqbal written to his beloved son, where he is asking his child to treat poverty as an asset, and not a weakness. Living the life of the oppressed calls for revolution against the foreign invaders, he declares. He directs his son to recognize that Mother Nature (interesting because its not a similar portrayal like Goddess Durga) has gifted a heart to him that must be used to appreciate the diversity of flowers (his stress on ‘Gul’ is consistently present in most of his poems, including another poem by the name ‘Gul Hai to Gulistan ho’. Also interesting, considering that flowers have universal appeal unlike nation-state names). Iqbal asks his son to dedicate life towards serving the poor and the oppressed in a colonial India and not get disheartened by inherent limitations. “Do not be a sell-out; Make a name amidst poverty!”

“Garibi mein Naam Paida Kar”

Dayare-Ishq mein apna muqaam paida kar
Naya Zamaana naye subh-o-shaam paida kar

Khuda agar dil-e-fitrat-shanaas de tujhko
Sukute-laal-o-gul se kalaam paida kar

Utha na shisha-garane-Firang ke ehsaan
Sifale-hind se mina-o-jaam paida kar

Mein shakhe-taak hnu meri gazal hai mera samar
Mere samar se maya-e-lalafam paida kar

Meri tariq amiri nahni fakiri hain
Khud-i na bech, garibi mein naam paida kar

I could go on quoting from the works of the great poet who did his best to promote religious harmony in the country that was facing threats from fanatic Hindus and insecure Muslims in terms of its future. And bowing down to the pressure of the Hindu revivalism that was to sketch a conditional secular country, Iqbal, like Malcolm X of African-American struggle, turned more towards recognizing the religious mainstream than secular alternatives. When he died in 1937, the entire country mourned the great loss whose expectations could not be lived upto by millions of people of the country who were engaged in falling into the traps of Hindu supremacists’ hatred towards Muslims as well British endorsement of the riots. What’s ironic is that Hindu atrocities those days were only usually tolerated with grief (as Gandhiji famously used to feel ‘sad’ about the conditions in a non-violent manner, which later allowed people like Patel to infiltrate Kashmir with terrorism), and it was continuation of a tradition. What’s often missed in the discourse is that most Muslims actually were converted from Hinduism because of the atrocities and caste-structures of Hinduism. Islam, despite its Shia/Sunni divisions never practiced “untouchability” which was a cornerstone of Hindu religion, and continues to exist even today in practice.

Finally, the categorical difference between Iqbal and Chatterjee was that whereas the former was a die-hard secular who wanted a “Hindustan” based on religious harmony, Chatterjee was a Hindu fanatic and British loyalist who wanted the country to be divided into two parts. Of course Chatterjee won by design since that’s also what the British wanted, and later on towards the late 30’s and early 40’s even the secular people of India had no other option than to accept the two-nation theory, simply because in the other case, there was a clear indication that India would have been ruled by Hindu Brahmins almost to the exclusion of Muslim leaders in power sharing. Even having more Muslim population in India than there is in Pakistan, today, India continues to oppress Muslims when it comes to relegating power.

Those who say that Congress is “appeasing” the minorities are entirely misguided. In fact, Congress, as much as the BJP, has been appeasing the majority in all respects, as a result of which the country’s power equation has fallen in the hands of Hindu Brahmin Supremacists.

Historical evidences, and why the right-wing never quite gets it right?

“Battle of Algiers” is considered to be a landmark in the history of cinema. And its Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo (who co-wrote it with the great Franco Solinas) shot Algeria while the Islamic revolution was defeating French colonialists in the 60’s. His extremely sympathetic treatment of cause of the revolutionaries won him great admiration from the progressive world, whereas the French were quick to ban the film in their country.

Encouraged by the response from the world over, he and his son went ahead to shoot Algeria once again, this time in the 90’s to get the pulse of the country under Islamic rule. Surprised as he was, his videos showed that people just could not tolerate his entry into the country, simply because he was a European filmmaker. However, after knowing that this was the man who had directed “Battle of Algiers”, he was immediately recognized by the new generation of people who greeted him, although with a little pinch of salt.

Seeing the commotion on the streets, a fellow European journalist asked him the reason behind Islam being such a violent religion. Such violent was it, that the Muslims even would not entertain a Marxist filmmaker like Pontecorvo, just because he was a European. Since throughout Pontecorvo was sad while shooting the second film in Algeria (and at some places children were spitting on his car), I was anxious to see how Pontecorvo responds to this stereotyped “European” question.

Pontecorvo, unfazed, replied that Islam was never a violent religion. Indeed its been violent from phase to phase since last 200 years only, and that marks the beginning of European colonization period. It was only in the manner that the European colonizers projected an image of the Muslim people as inherently backward that, they are now facing the wrath of a reaction (which is an ‘open wound’ still). He said he is convinced that the women in Algeria are not oppressed due to their religion, they are oppressed due to economic sanctions imposed by a group of elite colonialists who have made wealth by looting the Muslims during their illegal occupations. As regards the culture, Islamists were not ‘backward’ and the women were not ‘humiliated’. When asked why the women then covered themselves up in such primitive manner, Pontecorvo quoted a female Muslim doctor who said that burka is actually one of the most liberal outfit a woman can wear. It reveals the least and that’s why it makes the woman sexier. The point is to also see the perspectives of the other culture from different levels.

This is also a lesson one can get from the various radical postcolonial studies about how the Islam was never a regressive or oppressive religion in comparison to any other (every religion thrives on codes that are equally repressive). As in the case of India, MJ Akbar, the renowned journalist and author, gives the most comprehensive account about Muslim Rule in his book “Kashmir: Behind the Vale”.

He cites how Saiyyid Bilal Shah (called with love as Bulbul Shah) introduced Islam with love and compassion. That was a time when Kashmir was being ruled by Hindu King Sahadeva. Owing to Bulbul Shah’s immense popularity, there was great support for him, and consequently the King had befriended him in order to carry on the rule. In fact by the time Bulbul Shah passed away in 1327, the king, king’s brother and commander-in-chief of the army were all converted to Islam! The converted king had even constructed Bulbul Langar in Srinagar.

Two things can be noticed here. One, that the King was himself a convert, naturally a voluntary one. And there were many Hindus, predominantly lower castes, but also quite many Kashmiri Pundits themselves, who were horribly disenchanted by Hinduism’s orthodoxy and voluntarily converted themselves. In fact, works by Mulla Ahmed, the first Sheikh-ul-Islam, such as “Fatwa-i-Shihabi”, and “Shihab-i-Saqib” were immensely secular works that held more relevance to Hindus and Muslims than the epic superstitious mythologies of Hinduism.

Upon death of mongol expansionist Kublai Khan (1260-1294), there were huge tribal uprising that led to death of Beijing’s viceroy Lha-Chen-Dugos Grub. Tribes attacked the region Sonamarg valley, which was being ruled by Rama Chandra, who was the prime minister of King Sahadeva. But Sahadeva did not lend much support to Rama Chandra during the period of crisis when tribals attacked the area (in fact Sahadeva was supportive of the tribals). This betrayal led to Rama Chandra declaring himself as the King. As a rather feeble king, Rama Chandra was no match for Lha-Chen’s son Rinchin who attacked the king soon after. Rinchin had escaped the border and aspired to be a king, as much as his friend from Swat valley Shah Mir. Rinchin with support of Mir took over the palace. And Rinchin was declared the Lord of Kasmir on 6 October 1320. Interestingly, Rama Chandra’s daughter Kota who was in love with Rinchin much before the attack, quickly declared herself the queen.

Rinchin’s era is considered to be the golden age in the history of Kashmir, as Rinchin was a Buddhist and he wanted to spread peace throughout the region. He not only married Rama Chandra’s daughter, he also made Rama Chandra’s sons his prime ministers. But since Rinchin was a Buddhist, he could not rule over the state that did not have much Buddhist presence. Hence he decided to convert to Hinduism and called for the head priest. And as shocking as it may sound, the high priests of Hinduism declined to convert him, since they could not determine what caste in the hierarchy was King Rinchin!

Since the Brahmin pundits exercised this folly, Shah Mir found the opportunity to ask his friend to convert to Islam. Although Rinchin was skeptical, he soon saw the great Sufi divine Bulbul Shah at a prayer. Bulbul Shah provided Rinchin what the Brahmins could not: a casteless religion. Islam had no caste: it was built on the equality of humans and faith in the omnipotence of Allah and His last Messenger, the prophet Muhammad. To become a Muslim, Rinchin only had to utter the Qalimah: ‘La-e-laha illallah, Muhammad un-Rasul Allah’.

Rinchin thus became a Muslim, and Islam arrived not through violent coercion, but through peaceful understanding of a harmonious religion. Rinchin took the name Sultan Sadruddin, and built a mosque called Bodro Masjid. During his friend Shah Mir’s rule as Sultan Shamsuddin, a dynasty that lasted for 222 years, Islam had become the paramount religion of Kashmir, but because of its popular success and their identification with the Kashmiri people. Jonaraja described this rule:

“This believer in Allah, calm and active, became the savior of the people and protected the subjects.”

And throughout, despite the brahminical prejudices against the converted kings (Hindus and Budhhists who had turned into Muslims), the Muslim rulers were always sympathetic towards the high priests. It was the period when Nand Rishi or Lal Ded and other religious people flourished. In fact, Abul Fazl wrote in the Ain-i-Akbari:

“The most respected people are the Rishis who, although they do not suffer themselves to be fettered by traditions, are doubtless the true worshippers of God. They do not revile any other sect, nor ask anything of anyone. They plant the roads with fruit trees to provide the traveler with refreshments. They abstain from meat and have no intercourse with the other sex. There are 2000 of these Rishis in Kashmir.”

Moghul rulers likewise, and especially Akbar, were aware of the large Hindu population and worked towards their harmonious living. Firstly, it was the most practical thing to do, since any alternative could have called for doom. Tribal populations were always up in arms against any empire, and it could become a matter of time before Hindus got disenchanted and joined the revolution. To that end, the emperors were forced to be considerate towards diversity of religions. Needless to point out, just as characteristic of any empire (just like it is true in today’s so-called democracies running large thought controls called mainstream media), there were state propaganda working those days to lull people to passivity and relaxation instead of agitated uprising. And just like today’s cheap slavery and draconic hours of call centers, people were forced those days to seek cheap labor in works they had no interests in. But as evidenced, the secularism during the Muslim and Moghul periods were quite practiced at several levels.

“The fusion of Islamic culture with existing Indian culture achieved the most positive expression in the activities of the artisan classes of the towns and amongst the cultivators, as is evident from the socio-religious ideas of the time, and also in primarily artisan activities such as building monuments, the fusion being evident in the architecture of the period. The pattern of living in both these classes came to be interrelated to a far greater degree than amongst the nobility. Domestic ceremonies and rituals such as those connected with birth, marriage, and death became mingled. The converted Muslims were also heirs to long-standing rituals practiced by the Hindus. New ceremonies which had come with Islam, and which were regarded as auspicious, crept into Hindu ritual.”
(page 300, A History of India, Volume One. Romila Thapar.)

Upon deconstruction, what it merely suggests is that Moghul rule created more problems for the upper caste Hindu feudalists than the working peasants. The assimilation was seen more among Muslims and the working poor of India, than between Muslims and the upper caste people.

Now I will quote from Orissamatters, authored by SCP, who is an eminent journalist of Orissa:

“Kalhan’s classic work ‘Rajtarangini’ describes how the Brahmins conspired against Queen Dida as she was not patronizing to Brahminism and after her death, beheaded from behind Sri Tunga, the most powerful protector of the liberal policies of the Late Queen.
So ruthlessly the Brahmins known as Kashmir Pundits imposed their caste supremacy that the people exploited under caste apartheid jumped into Islam which was not vitiated by caste system. They not only became Muslims en masse, but also they became so with so much revengeful resolution that they drove away the Pundits from the soil.
The entire land mass that has now become Pakistan and Bangladesh was the dwelling place of Indians where our ancient people had established their own civilization. It is the Brahmins’ supremacist mentality that has helped Islam to spread in India.
So whosoever has embraced the Muslim religion in this Sub-Continent is an Indian who has revolted against Brahminism, against Brahminic caste apartheid.”

Eminent historian Irfan Habib says that Moghul rulers had even appointed Brahmins as administrators owing to their upper caste/class/knowledge backgrounds. And even in such positions, the Brahmins under the Moghul rule, did not amend their behavior. As an example, we shall take the case of ‘Satnamis’, a sect founded in 1657 by a native of Narnaul, who proclaimed himself to be of the tradition of the great monotheist Kabir, the weaver. They were opposed tooth and nail by the banyas and Brahmin caste people, since Satnamis (worshipper of the True Name or God) comprised people from sections such as sweepers, carpenters and tanners. “It was obviously owing to this contamination from contact with the untouchables that the sect became particularly hateful in the eyes of the orthodox,” says Habib. (Essays in Indian History, Tulika, New Delhi, 1995).
Isardas Mehta in “Futuhat-i ‘Alamgiri” quotes a loyal Hindu official of the Mughal government describing Satnamis as:

“That community, because of its extreme dirtiness, is rendered foul, filthy and impure. Thus in their religion they do not differentiate between Hindus and Muslims. They eat porks and other disgusting things. If a dog has eaten from their bowl, they do not abstain from eating from it or show any revulsion.”

Thus, even during the Mughal period, the Hindu supremacists continued to hold sway, even in the face of definitive secular reigns by Akbar and Aurangzeb. Unfortunately, they continue to do so even to this date–to the extent that the stories of forced labor were exaggerated by the Hindu revisionists, without a mention of exploitation of workers to build temples. More than the Hindu kings, it was the Moghul rulers who played their part in promoting economic parity. Indeed Sir Walter Lawrence’s works show how in Moghul periods, women were given six annas a day for independent sustenance. And in projects involving large-scale labor, the main gates were written with inscriptions such as these:
“Na kardeh hech kas beggar anja
Tamame yaftand az makhzanash zar”.

(No one, it proclaims proudly, was shanghaied into beggar, or forced labor, for this imperial project; each worker was paid fully for his her labor.”)

This blog cannot go on in the direction of glorifying the Moghul rulers. Indeed far from it, this stands to condemn any of the rules by the kings and emperors, since none of them established peoples’ democracy. Also because of the stages of development those days, such dreams were quite distant. But in view of the current attack on Islam and an ignorant dismissal of it as a religion inherently violent, oppressive or backward, I thought it would serve well to do a small analysis of the situation using a critical historiography.

In Conclusion:
The day of patriotic exhibition of India has passed us by. We can rejoice at its passage. To begin with 2006 is not the centenary of Vande Mataram. It was used this way solely for sensational purpose. In addition, even singing of National Anthem Jana Gana Mana is not compulsory and should not be. Hence Vande Mataram controversy was furthered solely for the political purpose. Lastly, Islam is unlike Hinduism. Just the way Hindu preachers know that Hinduism is an organically developed national religion that has always stayed inside India due to its exclusionary philosophy that forbids people from joining it (just like Puri Pandas are absolutely right in not allowing non-Hindus to enter Jagannath Temple since they know Hinduism quite well to be discriminatory), Muslims know it well that Islam is a global religion that is based upon spreading the word of the last Messenger of Allah, and hence it does not recognize a nation-state to be paramount. So certain religious people condemning certain other religious people because they think their base of religion is valid while other bases of other religions are not, amounts to mere assertion of misconception.

And the way the right wing brigade took advantage of death of Pramod Mahajan and statue of Bal Thackrey’s wife to cause unrest in the country, they are now trying to take advantage of a song-recital drama. News reports say that their Vande Mataram demonstrations are causing violence in muslim areas where the hindu fanatics are having a free hand in harassing the minorities in India. And this is simply intolerable and unacceptable, and every patriotic Indian must rise up against the narrow minded ignorant bigots of the rightist parties and stop them from further claiming that they represent us in any manner whatsoever. Its time for them to either gain newer knowledge and get rid of their professed idiocy, or prepare to face the wrath of the oppressed in coming times when the people of India will no more merely vote them out of power like a dying party of losers, but also wipe them off the public platforms where they stage hypocritical melodramas.