Surrounded by lush green hills, Shillong, the capital city of Meghalaya is widely known for its salubrious climate and natural beauty. As one of oldest hill stations of the sub-continent, Shillong was chosen – after the failure of the British administrators and soldiers to continue operating out of Cherrapunjee – to house the headquarters of the colonial government including the Sylhet Light Infantry in 1864. Following the creation of Assam as a Chief Commissioner’s province (carved out of the Bengal Presidency) in 1874, Shillong, a small town then, was declared its capital. Shillong scored over others in that part of the empire, among others, due to two important factors. First, its climate and second, the town being best suited to serve the colonial administrative, commercial and strategic interests.
As a result of the reorganised political geography of the region substantial number of European, Assamese and Bengali officers and clerks of the colonial bureaucracy lived and settled in Shillong. And so did a large number of tea planters of Assamese and European origins, Nepali staff of the colonial army, Marwari entrepreneurs and, so forth. Indeed, the quaint hill town, which was essentially populated by the Khasi tribe, acquired by the turn of the twentieth century a vibrant, cosmopolitan character which stood substantively (and perhaps best) reflected in the organisation of its cultural space. Shillong’s spirit of cosmopolitanism, as its socio-cultural history shows, was deeply embedded in the ideology of the recognition (and not mere political management) of cultural difference. Continue reading Climate, Culture, Cosmopolitanism – Notes from Shillong: Nabanipa Bhattacharjee→
Guest post byMANISH THAKURandNABANIPA BHATTACHARJEE
Scholarship on caste has always been much more than merely about caste. At stake has been the very idea of India, and the production of knowledge about it. Expectedly, whenever academic knowledge on caste spills over in the public domain (and it does so often, as in the recent Ashis Nandy case), politically charged contestations about the idea of India inevitably follow. In the academy, the privileging of Brahmanical worldview in sociological discourses on India continues to be a source of deep-seated resentment. ‘Indian Critiques of Louis Dumont’s Contributions’ (Khare 2006) notwithstanding, the figure of ‘the learned Brahman’ (Alamgir 2006) looms large in the voluminous corpus of anthropological knowledge about India. So much so that Richard Burghart(1990) views modern anthropological knowledge primarily as a function of multiple dialogues between modern day anthropologists and the Brahmanical tradition of knowledge.
Guest post byMANISH THAKUR andNABANIPA BHATTACHARJEE
Observers of the political scene in Bihar would have hardly failed to notice a renewed interest in the life and works of Swami Sahajanand Saraswati (1889-1950), the founder president of the All India Kisan Sabha, and arguably the most influential peasant leader of Bihar in the 1930s and 1940s. Over the last decade or so, his birth (22 February, 1889) and death (26 June, 1950) anniversaries have been celebrated with great pomp and show with full attendance of political luminaries of the state including Nitish Kumar, its present Chief Minister. Not only have glowing tributes been paid to his legacy but there has also been a spurt of writings on his life and times.
New biographiesi have been released, and his collected works been published in six volumesii. In fact, there is a Swami Sahajanand Saraswati Foundation based in New Delhi as well as a Swami Sahajanand Saraswati Forum on the internet. Curiously enough, Swami Sahajanand Saraswati figures prominently on the internet in the caste-specific web-portals such as www.bhumihar.com; www.bhumiharmahasangh.comand www.bhumihar.net where his name appears along with Bhagwan Parashuram, Chanakya, Mangal Pande, Sri Babu, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, C.P Thakur, and so forth in the long list of supposedly Bhumihar icons. Indeed, Saraswati’s legacy has always been the bone of contention between the Bhumihars and the communists. What needs explanation is the BJP’s concerted efforts in appropriating this iconic peasant leader as ‘samajik samrasta ke sant’.
At the end of last month (March 2012) students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi under the banner of a recently formed group called the New Materialists (NM) organized a public meeting to debate the issue of (dis)allowing certain kinds of food – beef and pork in particular – on the campus. The group, as one of its members Suraj Beri said, intended to petition the university administration to allow the sale of beef and pork in the canteen(s), and fight for inclusion of the same in the hostels’ menus; it was a struggle, as the NM declared, against the Brahmanical dietary impositions on Dalits and other minority community students of JNU. In fact, Francis (JNU students of the 1990’s would remember the man from Kerala) who ran a canteen at the basement of the School of Social Sciences II did serve beef curry on Saturdays, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that there would be more than a mad rush for that. However, he was pressurised – by Hindu right wing groups and other similar forces – to stop the sale of the “forbidden” food, and the canteen was eventually closed down.