Tag Archives: south asia

Intolerance Tracker – A Community Curated Visual Storytelling Platform: Siddharth Peter de Souza and Saba Sharma

Guest post by SIDDHARTH PETER DE SOUZA and SABA SHARMA

In a world where breaking news cycles drive our imagination and interaction with events and incidents around us, it often becomes difficult to not to have a fragmented idea of trends because they evolve and develop so rapidly. Does this volume of information necessarily imply that we become unable to view similar types of stories because they are portrayed as isolated, anomalous and disconnected? Is this also because it is much more comfortable to forget, rather than remember and reflect on an accumulation of incidents that maybe unpleasant, inglorious and inconvenient. Amartya Sen recently stated that “The problem is not that Indians have turned intolerant. In fact to the contrary we have been much too tolerant of intolerance”. Is our numbness because we are overwhelmed by these incidents or because we perceive them to be isolated without an underlying systemic pattern?

Intolerance Tracker is a visual story telling and crowd-mapping platform that seeks to engage with some of these issues. The idea of using a map is because it provides a compelling medium through which information can be consolidated, and presented across temporal and spatial boundaries.

It aims to utilize the power of the community to identify, report and map instances of intolerance across South Asia, and organically create and curate a visual storytelling database. This initiative is primarily led by students at the University of Cambridge, and has been set up on an entirely voluntary basis by people who are passionate and committed to the cause of documenting intolerance across the region. Continue reading Intolerance Tracker – A Community Curated Visual Storytelling Platform: Siddharth Peter de Souza and Saba Sharma

Terror, Performance and Anxieties of Our Times – Reading Rustom Bharucha and Reliving Terror: Sasanka Perera

Guest Post by SASANKA PERERA

[ This post by Sasanka Perera is a review of  Terror and Performance by Rustom Bharucha (2014). Tulika Books, New Delhi. Kafila does not ordinarily post book reviews. An exception is being made for this post because we feel that the subject of terrorism, which has interested Kafila readers in the past, is an important one, and needs to be thought through with seriousness. We hope that this post initiates a debate on Kafila regarding terror, the state, performance, and the performances – serious, or otherwise – that typically attend to the discussions of terror, whether undertaken by the agents of the state or by non-state actors, commentators in the media, or by intellectual interlocutors. ]

When I started reading Rustom Bharucha’s latest book, Terror and Performance, it immediately became an intensely personal and gripping engagement. It was difficult to read in a single attempt as the mind kept wandering from one unpleasant moment in our recent annals of terror to another in some of which I had also become an unwitting part – mostly as a spectator. From the beginning, my reading was a conversation with Bharucha’s text through detours of my own experiences and an interrogation to a lesser extent. In 1986, as a young man when I went to the Colombo International Airport to pick up my father who was returning from the Middle East, I was shaken by a tremendously loud sound for which I had no immediate references. I had not heard such a sound before. People started running towards the sound. It was a bomb that had blown up an Air Lanka flight which had come from Gatwick. The Central Telegraph Office in Colombo was bombed in the same year. We learnt that everyone was running towards the sound and not away from it. Dry local political humor very soon informed us that people were trying to get inside the bombed out telegraph office hoping that they could get free phone calls to their relatives in the Middle East as they had heard phones were dangling from the walls with no operators in sight. That was long before mobile phones and call boxes. We were still young in terms of our experiences with terror. However, we soon had very viable references to what all this meant as the political narrative of Lanka unfolded with devastating consequences. But in 1986, when the kind of terror that was to follow in all its fury was still relatively new and quite unknown, we were acutely unaware of the dynamics of the actual act of terror and the structure of feeling it could unleash. This is why many of us in these initial years were naively attracted towards the epicenter of the act rather than being mindful to run away from it. But as the society grew in experience, people soon learned their lessons. Though an academic text in every conceivable way, I was reminded one could always find a few rare books of this kind which might personally and emotionally touch a reader in addition to whatever intellectual stimulation it might also usher in. Terror and Performance is clearly one such book. From the perspective of the writer, Bharucha himself recognizes this personal emotional engagement and investment early in the book. For him, “this writing demands stamina as it faces an onslaught of uncertainties and cruelties at the global level that challenges the basic assumptions of what it means to be human” (xi). It is the same kind of stamina that one also needs to read it as most of us in South Asia would be reading it squarely sitting in the midst of our own worlds of unfolding terror. This is why all those thoughts came gushing into my mind throughout the reading. I was not only reading Bharucha; I was also reading my own past.

Continue reading Terror, Performance and Anxieties of Our Times – Reading Rustom Bharucha and Reliving Terror: Sasanka Perera

Where Are The Emile Zolas of Our Times !

On Minority Rights and State Violence

Each one has his reasons: for one, art is a flight; for another, a means of conquering. But one can flee into a hermitage, into madness, into death. One can conquer by arms. Why does it have to be writing, why does one have to manage his escapes and conquests by writing? Because, behind the various aims of authors, there is a deeper and more immediate choice which is common to all of us.

What is Literature? Jean Paul Sartre

It is difficult to start when you are among an august gathering of masters and students of a subject you are not much aware of and are asked to say something to them. Today I find myself in that unenviable situation.

Let me admit here that when I received the information of the seminar I was really very excited to learn that scholars of literature would be focusing themselves on human rights, an issue which demands urgent attention from every thinking and concerned human being. But when the question of joining the debate arose, I was really in two minds. In fact, I was bit reluctant to come here for two simple reasons.

Firstly, being a left activist for larger part of my social life, I have been more accustomed to address public meetings on specific issues or share my ideas on a particular theme among activist circles. There have not been very many occasions when I had the opportunity to come to such gatherings. Continue reading Where Are The Emile Zolas of Our Times !

India and Pakistan: Let people meet

This online petition has been put out by AMAN KI ASHA

The people of Pakistan and India, people of Indian and Pakistani origin around the world, and friends of India and Pakistan, are fed up of the visa restrictions that prevent them from visiting families in the other country. There isn’t even a tourist visa protocol between these two biggest neighbours of South Asia. People in the region want the right to travel and to trade, to walk along coastlines and roads that represent their collective past, to seek and spread harmony across a subcontinent not divided by politics and propaganda. In this modern age of interdependence, it is a tragedy that the citizens of India and Pakistan are left peering over a border made indomitable and intimidating. There is little space for the hand of friendship to be extended across this border. This must change.

The governments of India and Pakistan must:  Continue reading India and Pakistan: Let people meet

Bring home the crew of MV Albedo: Yusra Askari

Guest post by YUSRA ASKARI

Karachi: The MV Albedo and its crew; 7 Pakistanis, 7 Bangladeshis, 6 Sri Lankans, 2 Indians and 1 Iranian national have been held hostage by pirates off the coast of Somalia, for over 17 months now. With the final deadline fast approaching, last ditch efforts are underway in Pakistan to ensure the safe return of all 22 sailors. Continue reading Bring home the crew of MV Albedo: Yusra Askari

Bangla rocks: Jyoti Rahman

Guest post by JYOTI RAHMAN

Lagaan was a groundbreaking film, but a Bollywood film nonetheless. My favorite song-dance sequence is the one where the villagers, well Gauri and Bhuvan and friends, celebrate Krishna’s birthday. In the song, the girl complains that Radha is anxious about Krishna’s philandering ways and the boy replies that Radha should be understanding because there’s no one else in Krishna’s heart but Radha.

When the meaning of the song is explained to her, Elizabeth asks Gauri: Is Radha Krishna’s wife?

Oh no, Krishna’s wife is Rukmini! 

Of course Radha-Krishna are anything but married. Imagine the shock the Victorian girl would have felt upon realizing that the villagers were celebrating an extra-marital affair with such fanfare.

It is not just that Bollywood village in the high noon of Raj. Gita Govinda and other songs celebrating Radha-Krishna are sung in every modern Indian language. And not just in India. Songs on the theme were thriving in an unexpected place, in an unexpected time. Among Bangladeshi youth, in the early years of this century, when the country seemed to increasingly Islamicising. Partly influenced by the music coming out of the diaspora in Londonistan, songs like this one, celebrating the union of Radha-Krishna in the Nikunja Temple became massive hits.

Over the fold, let me note a few examples of Bangla rock – and let’s not be pedantic here, I’ll use rock as a shorthand for western-influenced urban music, including pop, reggae, hip hop and other genres.

Continue reading Bangla rocks: Jyoti Rahman

Kathmandu to Peshawar

Himal Southasian editor Kanak Mani Dixit and his wife Shanta Dixit, an educator, are driving from Kathmandu to Peshawar, via Lucknow, Delhi and Lahore, to raise money for Nepal’s only Spinal Injury Rehabiliation Centre, which he started after Kanak’s own miraculous recovery from a spinal injury. The journey was flagged off yesterday by Nepal President Ram Baran Yadav. Do join them!

Bhutan’s cautious tryst with democracy

Bhutan’s shift to plural politics remains carefully calibrated, but the emergence of a relatively free press and democratic institutions are important achievements. An account from Thimpu

Political changes in Bhutan over the past five years — the introduction of a ‘democratic constitution,’ the retreat by the fourth King and the coronation of his son, elections to Parliament which now has both a ruling and an opposition party, and governance being the prerogative of the elected government — have triggered two opposite reactions generally. One school has hailed the vision of the Bhutanese monarchy and its act of ‘renunciation,’ and has declared the ‘democracy story’ to be a success. Many others dismiss the transition as being a ‘farce,’ claiming that the King still calls the shots and that Bhutan remains a tight autocracy. Continue reading Bhutan’s cautious tryst with democracy

India and Pakistan: A Matter of Taste

Imported from Karachi, Shan masalas are a hit in Delhi. They make sure anyone can make good Biryani or Korma. Photo taken at a grocery store in south Delhi by Shivam Vij
Dabur Chawanprash at a grocery store in Lahore. The Devnagiri script on the pack would be a rarity in Pakistan! Photo credit: Shiraz Hassan

Celebrating Faiz

2011 marks the birth anniversary of one of Southasia’s greatest poets, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Centenary celebrations are planned in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh throughout this year. The Southasian magazine Himal has brought out in its January 2011 issue a set of six articles on Faiz. A note accompanying the issue reads:

Over the course of human history, intellectuals and artists have helped broaden the scope of citizenship and the nebulous contours of citizen rights. Southasia is no exception. Despite its colonial past and internal fault-lines, it can boast of extraordinary individuals who have stood up against tyranny and reaffirmed the innate strength of the human spirit. Continue reading Celebrating Faiz

Reading Land and Reform in Pakistan

A number of activists from the South Asia Solidarity Initiative (SASI) in New York have initiated a reading group on South Asia.  The notes below are the first in a series of commentaries following reading discussions that some members of the reading group hope to post on Kafila.  This is an attempt to broaden the discussions and in the process make it a productive dialogue to understand developments in the region and deepen our solidarity.

Reading Land and Reform in Pakistan

— Svati Shah, Prachi Patankar and Ahilan Kadirgamar

“…any strategy to stem the tide of Taliban-Al Qaida led militancy cannot ignore the issue of land rights…. Any reforms that revalue and formally recognize the local management of common property resources, therefore, will elevate the authority of tribal leaders over religious clerics or TAQ militants.”
Haris Gazdar, ‘The Fourth Round, And Why They Fight On: An Essay on the History of Land and Reform in Pakistan’

Given the escalation of a multifaceted war in Pakistan, and given our own commitment to a peace with justice in South Asia, we have started reading and discussing issues of importance in Pakistan and South Asia more broadly.  This inquiry is informed by the alarming and rapidly changing situation in Pakistan, and by an interest in interrogating the category ‘South Asia’ itself.  While all are agreed that the term ‘South Asia’ is indispensable, we wonder how ‘South Asia’ could be used to describe more than a region or a set of places outlined by shared borders. We wonder how we can move beyond the limitations of finding historical unity in South Asia primarily through the lens of British colonialism?  We wonder how we could describe the political unities and potential solidarities of ‘South Asia’ in this moment?  We find it particularly helpful to approach these questions by seeing common issues in the region relating to labour, land and the role of the state in societies in South Asia.  At the same time, we want to move away from the received notions of South Asia, whether they be the statist conceptions of SAARC, South Asia as seen by the US State Department or, for that matter, as a region defined by area studies.

Continue reading Reading Land and Reform in Pakistan

Let Us Not Forget – South Asia Solidarity Initiative

Statement by the South Asia Solidarity Initiative (SASI) at ‘After Mumbai, Which Way Forward? A Public Dialogue’, City University of New York Graduate Center, New York, December 15th, 2008. Co-sponsored by The Center for Place, Culture and Politics, The Brecht Forum and SALAAM Theatre.

Let Us Not Forget

Like many in South Asia, we watched with anguish as nearly 180 people of different castes, classes, religions and nationalities lost their lives in the events in Mumbai that unfolded over several days. We mourn their loss in this large tragedy and condemn the perpetration of such terrible violence. We also express solidarity with those intrepid groups and individuals who have tirelessly sought to build deep-roots of social, political, economic and cultural understanding for peace and justice in South Asia.  At this moment, we call for reflection on recent histories of South Asia and the world.  Hence lessons may be drawn, collective action contemplated and spaces of hope created from the debris of despondency. Continue reading Let Us Not Forget – South Asia Solidarity Initiative