Rivers of Blood: A Meditation on Borders

by Taimoor Shahid

 

This is a meditation on borders, international borders, the ways in which they structure our lives—our pasts, presents, and futures, and the ways in which we navigate them. It is a dialogue between what was and what is. It is a reverie, a plea, against the imagined lines that cut across our bodies, that separate us from our pasts, that divide our homes into halves, and that are always too real to pass.

It is based on selections from Padma Surkh Hai or The Bloodied Padmathe war diary of Shaakh, a student from Lahore studying at Dhaka University in 1971. War struck. And he moved with a Bengali friend’s family. Then they had to flee for life. First they fled from Dhaka to a small town, then to Rajshahi. Then to the Indian refugee camp across the river Padma. And then back from the refugee camp itself. All this while, Shaakh maintained a diary, in Urdu, his mother tongue, but also the tongue of the aggressors. He recorded killing, looting, arson, but also bare life during war, and the ways in which borders were created, navigated, and transcended.

Shaakh is my father. Here I read a few episodes from his diary and meditate on them through my own experiences: of borders, separations, migrations, and an inheritance of his past. I present this piece then as a tentative reflection on Borders of all kinds, seen through this episode of human history, an episode unfortunately not unique. Here the partition of 1947, of 1971, and the continuing partitions of the present come together. Here Dhaka and Lahore, and Calcutta and Chicago exist on the same plane in a complicated relationship built through text and sound: through disembodied connections that borders cannot sever.

It is to one of these connections that I owe this piece. It emerged from my collaboration with The Travelling Archive, a field recordings and field notes project based in Calcutta and run by singer and writer Moushumi Bhowmik and sound recordist and designer Sukanta Majumdar since 2003. I became friends with Moushumi di when I found myself across the India-Pakistan border that carves us into different flesh. Moushumi di had heard about my father’s diary, and she and Sukanta da had already been working on Borders for some time. We talked, and she came up with this idea: that we must do something. We must archive these voices for us to remember, and perhaps to transcend the Borders, through a collapsing of geographies, of time, of sounds. I thus recorded this piece for them in Chicago, which was then woven with Jarigan recordings—songs of lament sung for the martyrs of Karbala—from Faridpur, Bangladesh archived by The Travelling Archive in 2008. It was presented as an art installation at the annual I.G. Khan Memorial lecture event in Aligarh in Feb 2016. I am publishing here, however, only my contribution, in which I interact and interpret Borders as seen through my father’s eyes of 1971. It is not a finished project, and I invite you to comment, respond, and take this forward in whatever way you think necessary and useful to dismantle Borders of any kind.

 

Zindagi Gulzar Hai and The Production of a New Traditional Woman

Rich boy meets poor girl, they clash at first only to fall in love later and to live happily ever after. This basic plotline of the popular TV drama serial Zindagi Gulzar Hai (2012-13) is one very familiar to South Asian viewership. But, there is more to the show than masala entertainment. At its best, the serial provides keen commentary on the class structure of Pakistan and, in some ways, even contests social norms. At worst, the show is simply a repackaging of pedagogical manual of yesteryears that taught women morality and respectable behavior. In any case, Zindagi grapples with the anxieties of living authentically in a rapidly changing world. In recent years, Pakistan has seen rapid growth of its large cities and a burgeoning urban middle class. Concurrent with this capitalist urbanization has been the decades long process of the Islamization of the Pakistani state and society. These processes converge in a discourse of morality that takes as its disciplinary object the bodies of women, and this, I argue, is what we see in Zindagi Gulzar Hai, specifically, in the show’s positing of models of good and bad women as a way of addressing the anxieties about the mixed up contemporary world of the urban viewer.

But, why pick on, and apart, a TV serial? Isn’t it just entertainment? I think not. Following scholar Humeira Iqtidar’s distinction between secularism as a project and secularization as a process (2011), I conceptualize Islamization as a political project, connected but distinct from Islamization as a social process. While these two formulations can be mapped onto a divide between the state and society, they are not mutually exclusive. Grasping the feedback loop between the two is crucial. A more thorough work would place an interpretative analysis of this show in the multiple and interconnected contexts of the privatization of Pakistan Television and economic liberalization, and a political economic history of Islamization— a project built on and through misogynist regulation of Pakistani women. Such a reading of popular cultural forms like the TV serial, I hope to show as best as I can in the space I am allowed here, helps understand these processes and the emergent social formations, in the case of Pakistan, of Islamized capitalist patriarchy under the hegemony of neoliberal and war-on-terror discourses.

ZGH

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The City and the City*: Space and Semiotics of Muslim Bombay**

By Sarover Zaidi

Anthropologist, architecture obsessed, studied philosophy, worked in rural India ten years.

[This text was commissioned as a guest column in The Funambulist Magazine 4 (March-April 2016): Carceral Environments. The issue is available in printed and digital versions on The Funambulist’s website.]

 

jj flyoverThe JJ flyover was built in record time with pre-fabricated concrete blocks in 2002 over what is known as the ‘native’ ‘Muslim’ town of Bombay. The narrative dominating its quick construction was explained as ‘decongestion’, an easy freeway over the old Muslim town, leading one to the financial centre of south Bombay with ease. Seen as an architectural feat the flyover running at 2.4 kilometres in length asserted what Eyal Weizman terms as a ‘sovereign verticality’ over the area below it. Covering all of Muhammad Ali road, the spatial aorta of the native town of Bombay, the JJ flyover set a new horizon of surveillance over the Muslim ‘ghetto’ of the city. What else did it do in a city already entrenched with vegetarian buildings, arbitrary arrests of Muslim boys, firing and rioting in Muslim areas and mosques, and a generally discriminatory everyday life for the Muslim populace? A swift bureaucratic decision solved not just the issue of congestion, but also provided a bypass to the ‘Muslim problems’ of Bombay.

The area below the flyover, historically dominated by different Muslim trading communities, was strongly reconstituted as a ‘problem zone’ after the Bombay riots (1992-93) spread across the different neighborhoods of this area. The stigma of the riots and the presence of the underworld involved in the Bombay bomb blasts (1993), saturated this area with a signification it could never really escape. Hence the Musalman, the outsider, the terrorist, the rioter, the anti-national came to form a metonymic chain, contrasted and highlighted heavily by the then right wing ruling party, the Shiv Sena — the Shiv Sena emerged as a Hindu right wing political party at the time and was involved in orchestrating the riots and looting in Muslim neighborhoods. If neighborhoods bear the weight of these historical events of the city, then bodies participate in this narrative through everyday locations of living with violence. Recently a public intellectual of Bombay exclaimed: “Look at these Muslim boys speeding across town, no respect for rules, civic space, probably a hangover of riding camels.” He was referring to the Muslim boys who ride their bikes between the old Muslim neighbourhood and the colonial city, today the elite financial area of Bombay. These boys due to the festival are made allowances to transgress city spaces, beyond the old Muslim neighbourhood and venture into the zones of the elite colonial city. On other days they are usually stopped, checked and fined by the traffic police, speeding or not.

The city functions as a doppelganger on itself, with different sets of rules applying to different areas, and of course to different religiously affiliated communities. Continue reading “The City and the City*: Space and Semiotics of Muslim Bombay**”

XQs V: A Conversation with Eric Beverley

[The XQs (Ten Questions) series is a conversation with the author of new and exciting works in South Asian Studies, whose aim is not to “review” but to contextualize, historicize and promote new scholarship. We thank our long time friend, Qalandar, for conducting this interview. Previously: IIIIII, IV.]

 

ELB_XQ_photoEric Beverley is Associate Professor in the History Department at State University of New York, Stony Brook. His book, Hyderabad, British India, and the World: Muslim Networks and Minor Sovereignty, c. 1850-1950, come out in 2015 with Cambridge University Press. Professor Beverley used to write for Chapati Mystery as Dacoit after being apprehended by Sepoy at a Chicago cabbie joint.

 

1. Over the last few years, there have been a number of books on Hyderabad in the years leading up to 1947 (e.g. Kavita Datla’s The Language of Secular Islam; Margrit Pernau’s The Passing of Patrimonialism; and of course your own)— what do you think is interesting (and/or relevant to our moment) about Hyderabad’s intersection with the modernity ushered in by colonialism?

Hyderabad, like other similar ‘minor’ states, provides a critical entry point for conceiving the making of modern South Asia outside of the rather strained and essentialized narrative of colonial or nationalist modernity. I think there are several aspects of the contemporary moment that make histories of Hyderabad particularly important now – I’ll describe three key ways this history is crucial for thinking about the past and present of South Asia and the world.

First, the history of Hyderabad (and other minor states) is critical to situating many contemporary developments in context. Historical scholarship on South Asia over the last few decades has tended to take colonialism and victorious statist nationalisms that prevailed in South Asia after decolonization as the relevant background for viewing subsequent political, social, and cultural trends, shifts, and conflicts. The limits of explanatory frameworks founded on colonialism and nationalism are becoming all the more apparent. The British dominated the subcontinent often using intensive coercion, but their power was regionally inflected in particular ways. Places like Hyderabad that were not under formal British rule maintained their own state institutions, and sheltered social and cultural domains distinct from those in Raj territory. Further, while the projects and paradigms that constituted Indian and Pakistani postcolonial nationalism were substantial and formative in many regards, the subordination of different parts of the new nation-states to these visions was highly uneven. Neither the history of British rule itself, nor of the policies of postcolonial nation-states, sufficiently explains many key trends in contemporary South Asia. Several dynamics bear out historical legacies other than those of the Raj: the enduring resonance of patrimonial political networks and particular kinds of alliances (the Muslim—Dalit alliance in the Hyderabad Deccan, for example), idioms of solidarity, and even forms of architecture or economic development in a number of places; broader trends such as movements for new provincial states or domains of autonomy in places such as Telangana, Swat, and Balochistan; the rise of radical Marxist autonomous zones in the old borderlands of minor states like Hyderabad or Bastar. Close attention to the history of places like Hyderabad provides basic historical context critical to developing nuanced explanations of these and many others dynamics.

9781107091191Second, the example of Hyderabad helps us move beyond pervasive stereotypes about the possible meaning of Muslim statecraft. Increasingly for the last few decades, and seemingly more so every day, various idioms of right-wing Islamism (from ultra-conservative to radical militant) have occupied a central position in global political discourse. Policy ‘experts’ and popular media cast these forms of politics, real and imagined, as the preeminent threat to stability and security in most of the world, and present them as proof of the incompatibility between Muslims (or at least those who regard Muslimness as a basis for political ethics) and most states and societies in the world. Viewed from Hyderabad, the widely varied dynamics of continuity and change from the early modern period, through the era of British colonial dominance in the region, and into the postcolonial period are visible in ways that they are not from the perspective of British India. Hyderabad provides examples of the ways that idioms and institutions of Muslim dynastic political authority remained resonant in South Asia owing to their vitality to existing state forms. My book, like the others you mention, traces the complex and productive engagements between Hyderabadi intellectuals and officials and dynamics in British India and elsewhere. I show that what we see in Hyderabad from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century represents an attempt to fashion a self-consciously modern state form founded on the idea of solidarity with other Muslim states, progressive principles such as inclusion and aid towards all segments of society, and technical and institutional innovation informed by contemporaneous global developments. Put another way, Hyderabad State provides a glimpse of very different manifestations of ‘the Muslim state’ than we have become accustomed to hearing about in public discourse.

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University of Virginia’s Statement of Solidarity for JNU

We, the undersigned students and faculty at the University of Virginia, stand in solidarity with the staff, students, and faculty at Jawarharlal University (JNU), New Delhi. We share the outrage of citizens around the world who are aggrieved at the Modi government’s criminalization of student protest and dissent. Further, we are extremely concerned by the government’s cavalier suppression of dissent as ‘sedition’ and ‘anti-national’. Freedom of speech and expression are cornerstones in any democracy. Citizens’ rights to express a plurality of beliefs and contrary opinions are essential to enabling a free, tolerant, and just society. We thus condemn the arrest, detention, and prosecution of students, including Kanhaiya Kumar (President of JNU Students Union), who have exercised this fundamental right on the JNU campus.

We also condemn the state’s wanton use of police and legal powers to subdue the rights of students to gather peaceably and debate their political beliefs. We are concerned that the persecution of students at JNU is galvanized by the state’s general repression of minorities, most notably evidenced in the tragic suicide of the Dalit student Rohith Vemula at the University of Hyderabad and the controversial execution of Afzal Guru. We value the resilience of the members of the JNU community who are now in the midst of the struggle. We also recognize the ties between the crackdown at JNU and other similar virulent state actions against some of India’s most excellent institutions of higher education: Jadavpur University, Kolkata; the University of Hyderabad; Film and Television Institute of India; and others. JNU’s preeminent reputation in India as an institution that fosters path-breaking scholarship, social activism, and critical thought is truly global. It is our hope that this statement of solidarity, by reaching across boundaries, affirms the exalted regard with which JNU is held in the international community of scholars.

In order to ensure that JNU can carry on with its educational mission, we urge the Government of India to remedy the situation immediately. To this end, we ask that the students arrested under false charges of ‘sedition’ be released immediately, that all charges against them be dropped, and that police incursions into campus activities cease. We call on the Vice Chancellor of JNU to uphold the university’s global reputation for safeguarding free and independent thought by protecting its most vulnerable members and students.

Founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, the University of Virginia aspires to extend universally the rights of equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness imagined by its founder. Even so, UVA continues to face its own struggles against discrimination based on race, class, religion, gender, and sex. It is in the name of these struggles on our own historic Grounds that members of this university find it urgent to speak out in solidarity with JNU and against the suppression of minority voices in India.
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Statement of Solidarity from members of Cornell University in support of the JNU students’ movement

We, the undersigned members of Cornell University strongly condemn the arbitrary, unconstitutional, and anti-democratic actions which have been taken against the students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in India. We demand an immediate end to all police action on campus, a withdrawal of all frivolous charges against the President of the JNU Students’ Union, Kanhaiya Kumar, and an end to the campaign of harassment and intimidation against students at the university.

That Kanhaiya Kumar is being held on account of sedition, a product of an archaic and colonial-era law (IPC 124A), is shocking and abhorrent. The existence and validity of this law in India has been called into question time and again. This incident reinforces the need to reconsider its continued existence in the Indian constitution.

The agenda of the present Indian government to create a homogeneous discourse of nationalism that privileges an upper caste, Hindu, male worldview is particularly worrisome. There has been a pattern of marginalization and suppression of minority views and dissent. The deliberate targeting of Umar Khalid, and other students as ‘anti-national Muslim terrorists’ is in keeping with the agenda of the state to create and fight false enemies. This is a dangerous trend and completely antithetical to the democratic and secular ethos that India stands for.

There has been an attempt to brand all students and faculty of JNU as anti-national. This is creating an environment of terror. People are getting arrested and beaten because they look like JNU students, and there is continuous presence of a violent mob at the JNU gates. There have been violent attacks on JNU faculty, reporters, and Kanhaiya Kumar inside the Patiala House court complex, not once but twice, with the police standing by as silent spectators. In addition, the sexual harassment of women protesters (both students and faculty) is repugnant and highly condemnable.

We believe that universities are places of debate, discussion, and dissent for people belonging to various backgrounds and ideologies. This attack on the students of JNU is an attempt to stop any kind of political discourse and discussion in university campuses and among students in India. This is in line with a pattern of state repression that has been visible in other Indian campuses like the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), University of Hyderabad, and most recently in Jadavpur University. We stand in solidarity with the ongoing students’ movement in JNU to protect campus democracy, autonomy, and the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression. We admire the teacher-student solidarity in JNU in the the wake of these protests, and are inspired by it. We extend our wholehearted support to this struggle against state repression in academic spaces.  Continue reading “Statement of Solidarity from members of Cornell University in support of the JNU students’ movement”

In Solidarity With The Dissenting Student Community In India: A Statement From Australia

As academics, students, writers, artists and activists from Australia, we condemn the use of oppressive power by the Indian state, its police, and Hindu fundamentalist groups to shut down voices of dissent emerging from within public universities in India.

We join the international community in extending our support to the students, faculty and staff at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Hyderabad Central University (HCU) and many other public universities, who have been courageously protesting the overreach of state power and brutal stifling of dissent, carried out in the guise of majoritarian Hindu nationalism (Hindutva).

Students at JNU and HCU have been targeted for opposing the death penalty awarded to Afzal Guru and Yakub Memon, convicted for “terrorism” by the Supreme Court of India. Students’ opposition to the death penalty – an act of violence carried out by the state to assert its sovereign might – has been manipulated by the state, university administrators, and irresponsible media reports, to be understood as their support for “terrorists”, and thus considered treasonous. The labelling of student activists as “anti-national” by invoking the draconian law on sedition (a legacy of British colonial rule), is a blatant attack on academic freedom. These attacks have been orchestrated by the BJP regime to strike fear among citizens who question its practices of anti-minority religious hate mongering and xenophobic propaganda. HCU student Rohith Vemula was suspended and driven to suicide because of the way the university administration and the state intimidated and threatened him. These attacks on students and free speech are not aberrations or sudden spurts of violence. Rather, they are part of a pattern of attacks on every idea and expression that does not pander to fascist Hindutva ideology.

We deplore the attack on journalists, students, academics and activists by the lawyers at the Patiala House Court premises. The silence and inaction of the police in controlling this situation only testify to the state’s complicity in these events. We are appalled by the jingoistic and prejudiced reporting by some media channels to vilify JNU student activists Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid.

We endorse the demands made by the protesting students, staff and faculty at JNU and HCU. We demand: a) the immediate release of the Kanhaiya Kumar, President of the JNU Student Union, and Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya; b) that the Bar Council of India enquiry into the attacks on journalists and protestors in Patiala House Court be carried out without political manipulation; c) that there should be no further intimidation and arrests of student activists for carrying out peaceful protests; d) the government must preserve the autonomy of universities and de-militarise campuses.

We acknowledge that our solidarity is being extended from territory occupied by a settler colonial state. We also acknowledge that the Indigenous peoples who have not ceded their sovereignty, own this land. This acknowledgement is a necessary precondition for building transnational solidarity against governments – like those in India and Australia – that use democracy and national security as alibis for legitimising their everyday violence.  Continue reading “In Solidarity With The Dissenting Student Community In India: A Statement From Australia”