A Doc with a Difference ‘The Massacre at Amritsar: Jallianwala Bagh 1919’ by Rajnish Dhawan

This 42-minute documentary explores the massacre of Indians* by the British at Jallianwala Bagh in 1919. A brutal retaliation of a colonial government against unarmed and peaceful political protesters became the precursor for India’s independence. This tragic yet glorious part of our history is re-visited, this time in the context of the struggles waged by people in South Asia and the Diaspora.

The vantage point used to carry out this exploration connects our current situation as South Asians to our history where both the experiences of tyranny and of our resistance to it can be clearly seen.

Congratulations to Rajnish Dhawan, Satwinder Bains, the University of Fraser Valley, and all who contributed to this project for creating a documentary of such permanent value.

‘Dedicated to all of the unsung heroes who fought against tyranny and those who continue to rise against it.’

I would be happy to recommend this documentary to be viewed in high schools, colleges, universities, public libraries and community spaces.

Fauzia Rafique

*the term ‘Indian’ is used here to mean Indians of South Asian origin.

The History of Indo-Persian Literature (Legacy)


The legacy of Persian can be seen in the new literary genres it introduced to South Asia. In the writing of history, Persian introduced the biography, memoirs, chronicles and letters. Thanks to this literature, we have a remarkably detailed picture of Indian society from the descriptions of Mughal court life, to the biographies of religious thinkers to descriptions of the musicians, artists and commoners of Delhi.

delhiparade

The legacy of Persian is felt in the many loan words that have entered modern Indian vernacular languages. The influence of Persian on Urdu is especially noteworthy. While the legacy of Urdu is talked about in India and Pakistan today in poetry, film and ghazals, this is no less the legacy of Persian from which Urdu inherited much of its poetic tradition.

Qawalli

The romance tradition in Punjabi and Bengali was inspired by the tradition of Persian language and culture. Persian is still sung in the qawallis of Amir Khusrau and it left its mark on Sikh religious thought and modern Islamic philosophy. Lastly, through the writings of Sufis like ‘Ali Hujwiri (Data Ganj Baksh) and Nizam ud-Din Auliya, Persian has enriched the religious and cultural life of Indians and Pakistanis in terms of love, compassion and human feeling.

A History of Indo-Persian Literature (Part IV)

THE EARLY MODERN PERIOD

Jama_Masjid,_Delhi,_watercolour,_1852

During the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the Mughal empire declined and India fragmented into various competing kingdoms, confederacies and principalities. It was also during the eighteenth century that the British began to emerge as the dominant European colonial power.[1]

During the eighteenth and nineteenth century, Urdu grew in popularity and ultimately displaced Persian as the preferred language of poetry across much of North India. Nevertheless, Persian retained its prestige as the language of culture and refinement during this period especially in prose.

Prose

Georgian London

One of the most fascinating historical accounts of this period is Abu Mirza Abu Talib Khan’s (1752-1806) The Tales of Mirza Abu Talib Khan in Asia, Africa and Europe (Masir Talib fi Bilad Afranji). Born and raised in a wealthy family from Lucknow, Abu Talib travels to London, Paris, Constantinople, Cape Town and Baghdad and writes about the people he meets there and their social customs:

I was also much pleased to observe, that in European society, when a person is speaking, the others never interrupt him, and the conversation is carried on in a gentle tone of voice. One evening, while I was engaged in conversation with the lady of the house, the servant entered with a largely tray of costly china; and his foot catching the edge of the carpet, he fell, and broke the whole to pieces: the lady, however, never noticed the circumstance, but continued her conversation with me in the most disturbed manner.[2]

On London, he writes:

The greatest ornament London can boast, is its numerous squares; many of which are very extensive, and only inhabited by people of large fortune. Each square contains a kind of garden in its center, surrounded with iron rails, to which every proprietor of a house in the square has a key, and where the women and children can walk, at all hours without being liable to molestation or insult.[3]

In his Diary of the Revolt of 1857 (Dastanbu), Ghalib (1797-1869) writes about the siege of Delhi:

 “The city has become a desert … By God, Delhi is no more a city, but a camp, a cantonement. No fort, no city, no bazaars, no watercourses … Four things kept Delhi alive – the Fort, the daily crowds at the Jama Masjid, the weekly walk to the Yamuna Bridge, and the yearly fair of the flower-men. None of these survives, so how could Delhi survive? Yes [it is said that] there was once a city of that name in the realm of India.”[4]

 

THE COLONIAL PERIOD

The British abolished Persian as the official language of government in 1837. With the official institution of English and vernacular Indian languages such as Urdu and Bengali as languages of education, the status of Persian in India declined.

The growth of nationalism in India under the British and the idea of “one country, one language” meant that Persian was increasingly sidelined as a “foreign” language and one that belonged to India’s past.

Muhammad Iqbal

Iqbal

Born in Sialkot in 1877, Muhammad Iqbal is one of the greatest poets in the Urdu tradition of the twentieth century and the National Poet of Pakistan. He wrote most of his poetry, however, in Persian and he remains one of the few Persian poets from India who is known in modern Iran.

Iqbal’s mostly long philosophical poems show the influence of Rumi and Bedil as well as Goethe and Nietzche. He interprets Sufi concepts such as ‘ishq (love) in light of the philosophy of the European Enlightenment, namely as a force of will that animates and motivates the self (khudi) to create, imagine and conquer the world:

The luminous point whose name is the Self
Is the life-spark beneath our dust.
By Love it is made more lasting
More living, more burning, more glowing.

Iqbal’s epic poem, The Book of Eternity (Javednama), was inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. In it, Iqbal journeys through the celestial spheres with the poet Rumi as his guide encountering the spirits of the Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ, Muhammad, Hallaj, Ghalib and Nietzche along the way.

 


NOTES

[1] The word “modern” is not without its problems, but it refers here to a period where, even before the advent of European colonialism, India was opening up to the world. The Mughal Empire was part of a cosmopolitan Persianate world and India at the height of Mughal rule was well-integrated into a larger world economy.

[2] https://archive.org/details/travelsmizraabu01khgoog/page/n201/mode/2up

[3] https://archive.org/details/travelsmizraabu01khgoog/page/n295/mode/2up

[4] Ralph Russell and Khurshid Islam, Ghalib: Life and Letters (Delhi, 1994), 296.

A History of Indo-Persian Literature (Part III)

mughal court

THE MUGHAL PERIOD (1526-1858)

For over two centuries, the Mughal Empire united and ruled over much of India. It created a classical culture which combined the finest aspects of Persianate and Indic traditions. It united peoples from various cultures and religions across the subcontinent while the Mughal courts in Delhi, Agra and Lahore welcomed artists and traders from across Europe and Asia and Iran in particular.

 

Indo-Persian Literature

badshahi

Under the Mughals, Persian became the official language of education and its use expanded among the various religions, classes and castes of North India. It became the language of court literature not only in Delhi, Agra and Lahore but also among regional sultanates such as the Golconda Sultanate (1519-1687). Its use as a literary language also grew through poetic assemblies (mushaira), storytelling traditions (dastangoi) and Sufi monasteries (khanqahs) as well as the language of culture.

Iranian poets increasingly flocked to the Mughal courts so much so that India had become the leading centre of Persian poetry during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By this time, a classical Persian canon (Sa’di, Nizami and Hafiz) was in the making and the Mughals patronized not only new poets but also oversaw the translation of works in Sanskrit, Greek and Arabic into Persian.

 

Prose

The Indo-Persian tradition of romance (qissa or dastan) was already known during the Delhi Sultanate. Amir Khusrau’s The Tale of the Four Dervishes (Qissa-ye Chahar Dervesh) was a collection of tales and stories told by four dervishes as wise counsel to a king seeking immortality.

Hamzanama2

The Epic of Hamza (Hamzanama), composed under the reign of Akbar, was based originally on an oral tradition of storytelling. It tells of the adventures and exploits of Amir Hamza (an uncle of the Prophet Muhammad) in a world of battles, courtly politics, magic, fairies and trickery.

The writing of history flourished under the Mughals. Abu’l Fazl’s Akbarnama combined biography and chronicle in its portrayal of Akbar as the ideal monarch.[1] The memoirs of the Emperor Jahangir (Jahangirnama) tell us about the rivers and lakes of Kashmir while Dargah Quli Khan (b. 1710) provides a glimpse into the lives of the commoners, musicians, dancers, poets and artists of Mughal Delhi.

 

Poetry

old agra painting

Poets like Faizi (1547-1595), ‘Urfi (1556-1590), Talib (d. 1626), Qudsi (d. 1656), Kalim (d. 1650) and Sa’ib (d. 1677) continued writing in the classical Persian style while also expanded Persian’s poetic vocabulary through exchanges with languages like Sanskrit, Hindi, Turkish and Arabic.

In his masnavi (long narrative poem), Nal Daman, Faizi adapted a story from the Mahabharata with its themes of love, exile into a Persian saga on the lover and the beloved:[2]

The burning of desire and heartache
Like wine poured at once in two glasses
Like the same note sounded from two different keys
The same intoxication in two different spots.
The suffering that love induced in the Lover,
the Beloved welcomed as her guest.
The bell the Lover told in grief,
echoed in the Beloved’s heart.[3]

The poet Kalim wrote about a famine in the Deccan:

Not only the laughing buds
Are always fleeing from me …
Their relationship to me
Is like that of the shore to the sea:
Always coming towards me,
Then ever fleeing from me.
Life’s tragedy lasts but two days
I’ll tell you what these two are for:
One day to attach the heart to this and that;
One day to detach it again.[4]

‘Urfi crafted a more personal and emotional style:

From my friend’s gate – how can I describe
The manner in which I went,
How full of longing I came,
Yet how embittered I went!
How I beat my head on the wall
In that narrow alleyway …
In ecstatic intoxication I came
In troubled silence I went.[5]

Mughal poets praised the Sufi path of love and union with the divine over the formalism and hypocrisy of organized religion:

Give up the path of the Muslims
Come to the temple
To the master of the wine house
So that you may see the divine secrets.[6]

This was carried to the point of blasphemy by Sarmad (c. 1590-1661):

He who understood the secrets of the Truth
Became vaster than the vast heaven;
The Mullah says “Ahmed [the Prophet Muhammad] went to heaven”;
Sarmad says “Nay! Heaven came down to Ahmed!”[7]

By the eighteenth century, all classes in Mughal society who were educated in Persian began using it as a literary language.

Bedil

Bedil2

Born in 1644 in Patna, ‘Abdul Qadir Bedil was of Turkish descent. He was raised by his uncle after the death of his parents and was educated in Persian, Arabic and Turkish. He studied Sufism and was also known to the Mughal court (most notably Aurangzeb’s son, Muhammad ‘Azam).

Bedil is considered one of the leading poets of the “Indian style” of Persian poetry (sabk-i-Hindi). His philosophical and mystical verses are complex, challenging and captivating:

I read in the wave’s fickle, delicate form
The preface of the sea, the wind’s footprint.[8]

A delicate act is learning the secrets of love
The pen slips in scribing the word of error[9]

 

The trappings of desire adorn every heart’s shop
There’s no mirror but its house of clarity reflects a bazaar[10]

 

 

Regard the spring painted with hues of new secrets
What your imagination never held the spring carries[11]

 

Only wonder I seek from the world’s estate
Like the wall’s mirrored image is my house and what it holds[12]

Bedil was cited as an influence on both Ghalib and Iqbal in their Urdu and Persian verse. His verse remains popular in Afghanistan and Tajikistan where they are studied extensively.

 


NOTES

[1] Sunil Sharma, The History of Akbar.

[2] Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Writing the Mughal World: Studies on Culture and Politics (Columbia University Press, New York: 2012), 204

[3] Masnawi Nal-Daman Faizi, ed. Muhammad Taiyab Siddiqui (Patna: 1987), 191 (12-15) cited in cited in Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Writing the Mughal World: Studies on Culture and Politics (Columbia University Press, New York: 2012) 216.

[4] Annemarie Schimmel, The Empire of the Great Mughals: History, Art and Culture (Reaktion Books Ltd., London: 2004), 247.

[5] Schimmel, 248.

[6] Muzaffar Alam, “The Pursuit of Persian: Language in Mughal Politics,” Modern Asian Studies 32, 2 (1998), 333.

[7] Fazl Mahmud Asiri, Rubaiyat-i-Sarmad (Shantiniketan, 1950) cited in Natalia Prigarina, Sarmad: Life and Death of a Sufi (https://iphras.ru/uplfile/smirnov/ishraq/3/24_prig.pdf).  

[8] Annual of Urdu Studies (Vol. 27), 2012, Translated by Musharraf Ali Farooqi: https://minds.wisconsin.edu/bitstream/handle/1793/66726/20BedilPoems.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid. 

[12] Ibid.

India’s Moment of Reckoning

TOPSHOT-INDIA-POLITICS-RIGHTS-UNREST

In 1938, a Nazi law forced German Jews to register their property and assets with the government. In 2001, the Taliban forced all religious minorities in Afghanistan to wear distinctive marks on their clothing to distinguish them from the country’s Muslim majority.

Now, in 2019, the BJP government of India has passed a law which, in effect, will decide whether Indian Muslims are citizens or not on the basis of their religion.

On the face of it, the Citizenship Amendment Act (the “Act”), states that (non-Muslim) illegal migrants who have fled religious persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan are eligible to apply for Indian citizenship.

When read in conjunction with the National Register of Citizens (the “NRC”), however, the Act threatens to render almost two million Muslims in India (who migrated to Assam from Bangladesh) stateless.

By making religion a condition of citizenship, the Act and the NRC throw the very idea of India as a secular state into question. Will the law apply only to Muslim migrants and their descendants (even if born in India)? Will it be used against those poorer Indian Muslims who have lived in the country since time immemorial but who have no documents to prove their citizenship?

In 2018, Republicans in Georgia threatened to blacklist African-Americans from voting because they could not prove their identity. Will disenfranchisement hang over the heads of Indian Muslims if they cannot show the right kind of documents if any at all?

Historically, citizenship in India (like elsewhere) was acquired by the citizenship belonging to one’s parents (the jus sanguinis or ‘right of blood’ principle) or by naturalization if the person has been resident in India for more twelve years. Descent and residence on Indian territory were sufficient for the sake of claiming Indian citizenship, not religion.

In protest of the law, India has witnessed some of its largest demonstrations in decades with public figures like Ramachandra Guha and Shabana Azmi expressing solidarity with the protestors. The Supreme Court of India has issued notices to the Government of India on petitions challenging the constitutionality of the law.

I hope that these protests are an illustration of the Daoist principle that when things reach one extreme, they revert and start moving back in the opposite direction. Just like we saw with the “wake” movement in the aftermath of Black Lives Matter, the demonstrations in India have the potential to crystallize into a mass-movement that challenges Hindu Nationalism if they are given the right direction and organization.

 

 

 

 

 

 

India’s Supreme Court Ruling

section-377.jpg
On September 6, 2018, the Supreme Court of India ruled that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was unconstitutional. The section – enacted in 1861 when India was still a British colony – effectively criminalized gay sex.

India’s LGBT communities erupted in euphoria. The Indian and international press joined in the jubilation with one BBC headline ringing, “India’s Supreme Court Legalizes Gay Sex … ”

The Supreme Court’s decision marks an important beginning for India’s LGBT and for the country. For India’s sexual minorities, it represents a victory in a long struggle against an inhumane and draconian law. For India, the ruling holds the promise of a new era where India starts to step out from the shadows of its colonial past.

I too was euphoric after reading the headlines only to confront a few sober realities.

First, the Supreme Court of India ruling has not legalized gay sex. It has declared that the law discriminated against LGBT sex is unconstitutional. The law is still in force and cannot be repealed or amended except by an act of Parliament.

Second, as long as it remains on the books, the section will continue to be invoked. Certainly, a better off and well-informed gay Indian will now challenge a policeman who tries to lay a charge. But those LGBT Indians who are poor, working class or villagers are less likely to contest the enforceability of the law.

Third, the ruling leaves untouched the more basic challenges facing India’s LGBT communities. In particular, the ruling does not recognize India’s LGBT communities as legal persons who can claim basic rights or freedoms as any other Indian. It has brought India’s LGBT persons out of the shadow of criminality, without making them persons under the law.

If anything, the Supreme Court ruling stands for the same principle that Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau made back in 1967 that “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” Tushar Mehta, the Assistant Solicitor-General for the Government of India, has otherwise made it clear that the Government of India will construe the ruling narrowly so as not to accord legal status to the LGBT citizens of India in terms of marriage, property rights, government benefits or inheritance.

India’s LGBT communities have just won their first battle against the state, but their war for recognition as equal citizens under the law has yet to begin.

The Gay Faqir

shahhussain.jpg
Shah Hussain was a gay Punjabi poet of the 16th century. His love for a young man, Madho Lal, is legendary. Shah Hussain and Madho Lal are buried side by side at Shah Hussain’s shrine in Lahore. They are known to eternity as “Madho Lal Hussain.”

When I read Shah Hussain for the first time, I felt like I was looking back at myself five hundred years ago. Reading his work, as a gay Punjabi-Canadian man, gave me a sense of pride and belonging to a culture I’d long grown alienated from. I was then recently put off to see Naveed Alam trying to deny Shah Hussain’s sexuality in Alam’s introduction to his translation of Shah Hussain’s verse.

According to Alam, Shah Hussain couldn’t have been gay, because:

  1. Shah Hussain’s poems make no overt references to homosexuality;
  2. Shah Hussain’s love for Madho Lal was platonic;
  3. Shah Hussain wrote in the feminine voice in keeping with Sufi tradition (where God’s devotee refers to himself in feminine terms).

Alam’s first point makes no sense. He claims that a poet like Shah Hussain cannot be gay unless he overtly expresses his homosexuality in his poetry. By this logic, a poet cannot be heterosexual either unless his heterosexuality is overtly expressed in his poetry.

In any case, Shah Hussain probably didn’t express his sexuality overtly in his poetry for good reasons.

According to the platonic love theory, Shah Hussain and Madho Lal were master and disciple respectively and their love should be seen in that context.

The problem is that there is no proof that Madho Lal (a Hindu Brahmin) was even a follower of Shah Hussain or that he was part of a Sufi order. In fact, had Madho Lal been a disciple, then it would’ve been he who was expected to write poems in praise of his master, not the other way around.

Shah Hussain wrote otherwise:

My lover grabbed my arm
Why would I ask him to let go?
Dark night drizzling, painful
The approaching hour of departure
You’ll know what love’s all about
Once it seeps into your bones…
(trans. N. Alam)

Hagiographic accounts also tell us about Shah Hussain’s love for Madho Lal:

When he looked at Madho, he signed painfully and said: ‘Friends, take heed. This boy has set my heart out of control. With one look he has made my heart restless. With one look he has taken away my heart. Taken the life out of my heart, and the soul out of my body. What should I do, friends? What should I do to make him fall in love? Friends, I’ve become a prisoner of his love. I shall not find peace till I see him” (Haqiqat al-Fuqra (‘Truth of the Saints’), c. 1660).

In another account, one of Shah Hussain’s followers spies on Madho Lal Hussain:

You [Hussein] are taking a glass of wine from Madho and kissing Madho on the forehead and the Madho is also kissing Hussein’s forehead … Madho again gives a full glass to Shah Hussein, stands and greets him respectfully. Hussein also gets up and greets Madho respectfully. The two friends remained busy in this matter, and kept kissing each other like milk and sugar … and then the two friends become one.

As for the feminine voice, Shah Hussain uses it even when not speaking to God. Shah Hussain refers to himself in feminine terms when sitting at the spinning wheel, taking part in women’s folk dances and sharing secrets with his girlfriends. This feminine voice is Shah Hussain’s soul speaking as a gay man.

In Shah Hussain, Punjabi and Pakistani gay men can hear their own voice, songs and verses singing back to them. The light and passion in his poems is smothered by people foisting their own culturally acceptable interpretations onto it. Shah Hussain’s love for Madho Lal comes alive when we embrace it fully for what it is.

A Tale of Two Indias

Indus Valley

In a recent paper, scientists from the United States, Russia and India, have concluded that the Indus Valley Civilization was the result of a mixing of South Asians and Iranian peoples.

The study also concludes that the group previously known as “Aryan” were in fact pastoral communities from Central Asia which moved south from the steppe into the Indus Valley.

The study examined the DNA of 612 ancient individuals from across Central Asia, Iran and South Asia. This data was then compared with the DNA of 246 distinct groups in South Asia.

The study identified the Ancestral North Indian and the Ancestral South Indian as the result of the mixing and combination of three potential groups of peoples:

  1. The South Asian hunter-gatherers, the indigenous inhabitants of the subcontinent;
  2. The Iranian agriculturalists who migrated into the subcontinent, and;
  3. The Steppe pastoralists who were also migrants into the subcontinent.

The study provided the following outline based on this genetic data:

  1. The Indus Valley Civilization arises through the mixing of South Asians and Iranians;
  2. The “Aryan” civilization arises through the migration of Steppe pastoralists into the Indus Valley around the 2nd millennium BCE;
  3. Some of the Indus Valley moves further south where they mix with more South Asians, creating the Ancestral South Indian population;
  4. In the North, the Steppe pastoralists mix with the remaining Indus Valley population, creating the Ancestral North Indian population.
  5. Subsequent South Asians are a result of mixing between Ancestral North Indians and Ancestral South Indians.

The implication of this is that there was an “Aryan migration” into the subcontinent from the outside and not vice-versa. That suggestion will anger with the Hindu Rights with its inference that their ancestors and ancestral religion (including the Vedas) originated outside of the subcontinent.

This would undermines the Hindu Right’s claims that they are the original inhabitants of India vis-à-vis those following foreign religions. It also suggests that modern South Asians are a mix of what we previously called “Aryan” and “Dravidian,” with no such thing as a “pure race” or “nation” which is basic to Hindutva.

The Hindu Right is already rewriting history books in India. It is already censoring any views and ideas that would suggest India is the creation of anything but the primordial Hindu Nation. This paper will not affect the momentum of that project, but it does throw to the wind some of the theories on which Hindutva rests.

– Thanks to Satdeep, for inspiration across continents 

 

The 70th Anniversary of the Partition of India

Pakistan India

Seventy years on, there’s still hope.

On October 6, Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmad spoke on the 70th anniversary of the Partition.[1]

Ahmad’s argued that the truth about the Partition must be known before there can be any meaningful reconciliation between India and Pakistan. Only if Indians and Pakistanis confront and accept what happened in 1947, can there ever be light.

For instance, many Sikhs revere the Maharaja of Patiala, Yadavindra Singh (1914-1974) as the icon of a bygone age. Some have suggested that he even gave sanctuary to Muslims during the violence of the Partition.[2]

yada

Ahmad’s research in the The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed (which includes eye-witness accounts from Patiala including from members of the Sikh community), shows a Maharaja who planned to cleanse his kingdom of his Muslim subjects.[3]

This was a shock even for some of my better educated friends in Patiala to learn. Maybe it’s time to pierce the veil of lies and illusions both India and Pakistan have woven these past seven decades. The Partition has scarred the subcontinent. Now it’s time to heal. Seek the truth. Study extensively, inquire carefully, sift clearly, and practice earnestly.[4]

 

Notes

[1] The lecture was part of a conference presented by the South Asian Film Education Society and the South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy presented at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University between October 5th to the 8th.

Dr. Ahmad is a now retired professor who taught Political Science at the University of Stockholm in Sweden. He was also a visiting professor at the National University of Singapore and the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

[2] This last point is suggested by filmmaker Sara Singh in The Sky Below.

[3] Ahmad’s research has also been cited and excerpted in magazines and editorials like in the Hindustan Times, Frontline and Caravan.

[4] The words of the Chinese philosopher, Zhu Xi (1130-1200)

The 5th Gursharan Singh Memorial Lecture – Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed – Surrey Oct. 6 2017

News Release
September 20, 2017

Dr. Hari Sharma Foundation and Gursharan Singh Memorial Committee is organizing its 5th Gursharan Singh Memorial Lecture on Friday, October 6, 2017 in Surrey. This year’s lecture will be devoted to the 70th year of India’s partition and will be delivered in Punjabi by Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed.

It has been seventy years since India was partitioned and a new country Pakistan was created. Dr. Ahmed has written scholarly books about this period of our history. Among his much talked about publications are: The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed, (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2012), won the Best Non-Fiction Book Prize at the 2013 Karachi Literature Festival and the 2013 UBL-Jang Groups Best Non-Fiction Book Prize at Lahore and the Best Book on Punjab Award from Punjabi Parchar at the Vaisakhi Mela in Lahore, 2016. And , Pakistan: The Garrison State, Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011), Oxford, 2013. According to Dr. Ahmed the population of the united Punjab at the time of partition was around 34 millions. More than 30 percent of the total population had to cross the border in search of safety. “An estimated 500,000 – 800,000 lost their lives mostly because of violent raids on them. The first case of ethnic cleansing after World War II thus took place in the Punjab.”

Dr. Hari Sharma Foundation for South Asian Advancement is proud to have instituted Gursharan Singh Memorial Lecture in honor of Bha ji Gursharan Singh.

Gursharan Singh passed away on September 27, 2011, mourned widely by the people of Punjab, the progressive and cultural community in India and the South Asian community in Canada. He left the legacy of a life dedicated in the service of democratic and human rights and social justice. He served the oppressed, downtrodden, and politically persecuted people of India primarily through his great talent as a playwright, leaving an indelible mark on Punjabi writing and the practice of people’s theatre. His visits to Canada brought the South Asian community into a public space of progressive culture where the issues of systemic oppression and injustice could be staged and thought about.

Hari Sharma Foundation honors this legacy of a great artist and activist in the cause of social justice. By instituting an annual lecture on the memory of Bha ji Gursharan Singh, it is the intention of the Foundation to keep alive the space Bha ji created in our community and bring scholars and artists from global South Asian Community to engage us in the issues of social justice in South Asia and reflect on our community in Canada.

We attach a poster of the upcoming 5th Gursharan Singh Memorial Lecture to be delivered by Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed on October 6 at the SFU campus in Surrey from 6:30 to 8:30.
The place: Room # 3310, 250 – 3450 – 102 Ave. Surrey.

For more info.
Harinder Mahil – 778-995-5851
Sukhwant Hundal – 604-644-2470
Sadhu Binning – 778-773-1886

English Poster
PDF Version

Read it in Punjabi (Gurmukhi)
lPress Release
Poster

..

Ambedkar, Buddhism and Caste

ambedkar

Written by Randeep Singh

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was one of modern India’s most remarkable statesman. He drafted the Constitution of India, served as the country’s first Minister of Law and led the Untouchables in his fight against the caste system.

Ambedkar singlehandedly revived Buddhism in India. On October 14, 1956, he converted to the religion, prompting the mass conversion of hundreds of thousands of his followers. He created a new identity for India’s Untouchables, but he polemicized his interpretation of Buddhism in the process.

Ambedkar claimed that the Buddha did everything to uproot the caste system, but ignored the fact that the caste system remained entrenched in India throughout the Buddhist period (c. 268 BCE – 551 CE). He did not mention that the practice of Untouchability first emerged during this period. He gushed about how Buddhism gave India democratic parliaments with whip, quorum, resolutions, ballot voting and vote counting.

He still inspires me though and I believe that Buddhism, as secularized political philosophy, can help undermine the caste system. It was the first religion to challenge the caste system by turning upside down the concepts upholding it. Its insights in this respect are interesting from a modern, secular perspective.

Buddhism is concerned with the end of suffering as a human problem.  Its primary concern is to promote human welfare and happiness. It holds that only humans can end their own suffering through moral action, self-discipline, and understanding. No God, divine being, black magic, superstition or astrological charts are necessary.

Humans are equal in Buddhism in the sense of being equally capable of achieving enlightenment. They are equally subject to one universal moral law (‘Dharma’) with moral obligations to one another such as to respect one another’s life, liberty and dignity. This contrasts to the caste system which differentiates laws on the basis of caste.

The Buddha recognized the existence of caste in his society. He exhorted his followers, however, to emphasize the cultivation of moral character as an indication of self-worth. Caste or rather class in Buddhism arise due to human expediency, not divine sanction: it is a matter of vocation, not birth.

Caste is not static either. Like all existence, individual or collective, it is subject to change, interrelated and composite and conditioned by many interdependent factors. The seasons come and go, empires rise and fall and ancient communities perish. There is no “caste” other than the conditions giving rise to it.

Lastly, Buddhism left an important secular legacy for India. It inculcated a more humane ethic in politics (e.g. the reign of Ashoka). It formulated a social contract theory of government. It established inclusive social institutions such as universities, monasteries, and hospitals. Its appeal to reason, ethics and its concern for human well-being, can enlighten India yet.

 

Back to the Moment of Promise – ‘Azadi’ (freedom) Series of Art Work by Shahid Mirza

Artist Shahid Mirza’s Azadi Series is a set of seven mix media paintings illustrating different aspects of our ‘freedom’ from British rule in the 1947 partition of India. From the direct, explicit and in-your-face bloody history of our colonization to the fading shades of secularism in Pakistan, these paintings invite us to contemplate on ourselves post-partition.

Choice of mix media creates the eerie feeling of contemporality within the historicity of the past. With each of these paintings, the Artist tries to bring us back to that moment of promise when freedom from colonization and sectarian bigotry seemed possible; when millions of lives were lost to achieve it.

By bringing us back to that moment of promise, the Artist encourages us to confront our own concepts and constructs of ‘freedom’ before we go on and congratulate ourselves on the continuation of the hollow and shallow facade of celebrating August 14.

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Blood-letting of the powerless.

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Destruction of life by agents of the state.

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Changing positions of (Muslim and Hindu) power-brokers.

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The deadly religio-spiritual antagonist.

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Sectarian violence.

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Early faces of hope.

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Freedom for who?

Created after the formation of Bangladesh, Bhutto’s assassination, Zia’s Islamicization, and Pakistan’s Talibanization, Azadi Series displays the history of partition in the context of today, and, in bringing the past into the present where we continue to suffer from the same but intensified problems of inequality, these paintings insist that the moment of promise is now.

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Azadi Series by Shahid Mirza first Published at Uddari Art, Punjab 1947 & After
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Lessons in Remembering

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“Never Forget 1984.” These were the words on a sign outside a Sikh gurdwara in Surrey. The sign was posted to announce the anniversary of Operation Bluestar, the Indian army attack on the holy Sikh precinct between June 3 to June 8, 1984.

Operation Bluestar has not been forgotten. It has been the subject of living-room chats, news coverage, documentaries, history books and gurdwara activities in the years since … so what is it we should never forget?

The gurdwara wants you to remember the cause of Khalistan (‘Pure Land’), a separate Sikh state. Khalistan though has become a “Khaalistan” (’empty land’). Its supporters are now mostly on the fringe. Many Sikhs have left India. Few desire another partition.

… I remember 1984. I just don’t want any part of it.

60 Vancouver Area Writers/Artists Sign Support Letter for Indian Authors

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Writers, artists, performers, filmmakers, academics and activists of Vancouver Lower Mainland have added their names to support the heroic action of our Indian peers in their struggle against the regime-encouraged intolerance of Indian society.

‘We, the writers and artists of Vancouver Lower Mainland, fully support the protesting Indian authors, artists, actors and filmmakers who have returned their awards and those who have resigned from their posts to protest the Indian establishment’s inaction over the cold-blooded murders of Dr Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, and in August, of Prof Malleshappa Madivalappa Kalburgi. The protest also marks the general escalation of intolerance in Indian society projected in the recent Dadri incident where an alleged ‘beef-eater’ was lynched by a mob.

‘We urge the Government of India and its literary establishments to listen to protesting authors and artists and to take required action to create a tolerant society that is able to protect freedom of expression and the human rights of all its citizens.’

Signed by the following 61 authors, artists, filmmakers, performers, academics and activists:

Joanne Arnott
Jarnail Artist
Chinmoy Banerjee
Krishan Bhanot
Ajay Bhardwaj
Sadhu Binning
Edward Blodgett
Aadil Brar
Nachhattar Brar
Harinder Kaur Dhahan
Iinderjeet Dhami
Barjinder K. Dhillon
Sukhjeet K. Dhillon
Jagdev S. Dhillon
kc dyer
Janet Fretter
Nirmal K. Gill
Sonja Grgar
Christine Grimard
Patricia Gruben
Pasi Gunguwo
Alan Hill
Sukhwant Hundal
Mahtab Janjua
Sana Janjua
Nirmaljit K. Johel
Ranbir Johal
Surjeet Kalsey
Avtar Kaur
Sushil Kaur
Shahzad Nazir Khan
Ranbir Khana
Rupinder Rupi Khera
Amarjit K. Manget
Amrit K. Mann
Jasbir K. Mann
Darshan S. Mann
Manolis
Kyle McKillop
Anne Murphy
Haider Nizamani
Nadeem Parmar
Summer Pervez
Randeep Purewall
Fauzia Rafique
Jeewan S. Rampuri
Ajmer Rode
Surinder K. Sahota
Jagjit Sandhu
Joginder S. Shamsher
Jarnail Sekha
Bakhshinder Singh
Neena Singh
Bonnie Quan Symons
Gurcharan Talewalia
Ashley Tombu
Raghavendra Rao K.V.
Rc Weslowski
Rita Wong
Julian Worker
Mariam Zohra

This support letter will be sent to protesting authors, and to the government of India and it’s literary agencies.

Signatories include individual members of New West Writers, Punjabi Lekhak Manch, Purple Poppy Press, South Asia Film Education Society, Surrey International Writers Conference, Surrey Muse, Uddari Weblog, and more.

Photo from Boiaka Bo Bally

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Surrey Muse and Uddari Weblog thank everyone for participating in this signature campaign.

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Film Review: “Dheepan”

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Starring: Anthonythasan Jesuthaasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Claudine Vinasithamby, Vincent Rottiers

Directed by: Jacques Audiard

“Je m’appelle Dheepan.”

Dheepan begins on the twilight of the war in Sri Lanka. Sivadhasan (Jesuthaasan), a Tamil Tiger, mourns a fallen comrade. Yalini (Srinivasan), a young woman, wants to escape as a refugee.  Illaya (Vinasithamby), an orphaned girl, becomes Yalini’s ticket. Sivadhasan, now renamed “Dheepan,” Yalini and Ilaya leave Sri Lanka a “family” for France.

Set in a housing project on the outskirts of Paris and amidst a Balzac-like cast of thugs, gang members and drug pushers, Dheepan is raw, dark and moving. Audiard’s direction and storytelling create a picture as close to art and reality as cinema gets. Through the performances of Jesuthaasan, Srinivasan and Vinasithamby, one lives the tears, frustrations and spirit of Dheepan, Yalini and Ilaya. The war in Sri Lanka lives on not just in memories.

The cinematography of Eponine Momenceau deepens the ambiance with the paddy fields and funeral pyres of Sri Lanka to the smashed lighting strips and marijuana butts littering the housing project. In this Fifth Republic, there is no law, no fraternity. Dheepan, Yalini and Ilaya have to fight for a new beginning. In Dheepan, Audiard asks gracefully and frankly whether people can start again.

Rating: 88%