Latest Entries »

Notes for SLS 506 Spanish Literature of 20th Century, Doon University

  “Of course we could try to forget the past. Why not? Is it not natural for a human being to repress what causes him pain, what causes him shame? Like the body, memory protects its wounds. When day breaks after a sleepless night, one’s ghosts must withdraw; the dead are ordered back to their graves. But for the first time in history, we could not bury our dead. We bear their graves within ourselves.”

From the Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Weisel (a polish-American Jewish writer, activist and concentration camp survivor)

Cultures across the world believe that when the dead are not buried properly they remain in a state of restlessness and can come back as ghosts. The burial of a loved one, the grave of a deceased relative, the memories of that person gone are all very personal matters. But in Spain, the entire nation has had to confront with the question of death of an entire generation and their graves. Spaniards are still divided over how to remember the ones who are gone. Wiesel in the speech mentioned above says that “Remembering is a noble and necessary act”. That since the dawn of history mankind has been encouraged to remember. He mentions that even the bible insists on remembering. “It is incumbent upon us to remember the good we have received, and the evil we have suffered” as forgetting “would doom us to repeat past disasters, past wars.” We can see that he means that memory of what went wrong can help us avoid the same from happening again. In that case clearly injustice of the past should be remembered. However Wiesel also recognizes that “it is surely human to forget, even to want to forget”…forgetting is a “divine gift” which helps men to deal with the past. He says “Indeed if memory helps us to survive, forgetting allows us to go on living. How could we go on with our daily lives, if we remained constantly aware of the dangers and ghosts surrounding us? […] Without the ability to forget, man would live in a permanent, paralyzing fear of death.”

The same dichotomy between whether one should forget or remember the trauma, conflict and violence of the past emerges every now and then in Spain. The country had undergone a three year long civil war followed by an authoritarian fascist dictatorship for 36 years. It is the memory of this period that remains controversial to this day. It is an intriguing case of how a society or a nation constructs or deconstructs and reconstructs its understanding of its own past.

Those who know Spanish history are well aware of the causes that led to the Spanish Civil War and the nature of the Francoist regime that came to power after the war. See this for a quick recap. After Franco’s death in 1975 Spain smoothly transitioned to Democracy and continues to function as a modern European liberal democracy. The transition was based on el “pacto de olvido”, a set of collective decisions by the then political leaders to let bygones be bygones and move forward without holding any one or any group responsible for the Civil War and the violence committed under Francoist regime. In its enthusiasm to become modern and democratic, Spain chose to forget its traumatic past. Several generation could live in peace by forgetting the past. However over the next decades as Spain integrated into Europe and felt more and more at ease with its identity as a modern, liberal democracy a new generation came up who felt the need to know more about the past, about Civil War, and particularly about their relatives who they knew have been victims of the war and dictatorship. This is also known as the grandchildren of those who suffered during the war.

A desire to remember rather than forget can be seen to emerge in Spanish culture from 2000. Javier Cerca’s fantastic novel Soldados de Salamina followed by many other literary works have played a major role in this process. But more importantly an organization called Asociación de la Recuperación de Memoría Histórica (Association of Recuperation of Historical Memory) led by Emilio Silva. In October of 2000 the first exhumation of a mass grave took place that was used to bury about twelve persons in 1936 after they were executed by nationalist forces, in Priaranza del Bierzo (Léon). This was possible due to the investigation and struggle led by Emilio Silva, a journalist who happened to locate the mass grave of his own grandfather. This was the first time that a grave was exhumed and the remains identified using DNA testing. This incident led Emilio Silva to create the organization ARMH. This organization has helped many people find out more details and eventually the remains of their family members and relatives who died at the hands of nationalist forces. The work they started is rooted in the belief that recognizing the victims of war is a responsibility that gives dignity to those who sacrificed their life in defense of the Republican cause. Several legal battles have been fought in Spain over these exhumation. While the ARMH believes that recuperating the memory of the victims of war is a matter of justice and criticizes the fact that no government has taken a serious step towards recognizing the victims of the war, a section of Spanish society sees these activities as attempts to open old wounds.  The Amnesty Law of 1977 is seen by the ARMH as unjust which absolved the nationalist from their responsibility of having caused the tragic Civil War. The right wing political party PP has been very vocal about its opposition to the work carried out by ARMH. They have said that exhuming mass graves will not only open old wound but also bring anxiety and distrust amongst citizens of Spain now. Whatever happened should just be left the way they were. Those who feel the need to recuperate the memory question the well-guarded existence of a Basilica, known as the “Valley of the Fallen” where Franco’s grave has been kept and his death is commemorated each year with full honor (Buck, 2015). These debates often appear in national television and newspapers. In 2007 the Socialist Government led by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero passed a law named Law of Historical Memory which made it a duty of the Spanish government to recognize the victims of the Civil War. This also included providing citizenship to those who went into exile, thereby lost their nationality due to Civil War and Franco’s regime. This was the first law that accepted the Civil War as a tragic feature of Spain’s history. Under this law some budgets were sanctioned for exhuming of mass graves. But since 2011 the right wing PP party has slashed the budget to nil. When Spain went to elections last year the parties were still divided over this is issue, right wing parties hardly mentioned any proposal for Historical Memory while left wing parties continue to promise more benefits and efforts for recuperating Historical Memory (Ejerique, 2015). The Law of Historical Memory has several short comings and activists fighting for Recuperation of Historical Memory feel it is not enough. The fact that relatives have to fund the exhumation and DNA testing is seen as unfair.

The memory of civil war has also been repeatedly brought back by Spanish cultural industry, films, television, theater and literature. Every year several productions come out with Civil War as theme or background that has been termed as an “industry” of memory filled with sentimentalization of the Civil War and Franco years in Spain. A separate post will deal with this aspect in details. Students of Spanish must understand that this is an unresolved question in Spain that evolves everyday. The question of how to remember the Civil War and Francoist Spain has a direct relationship with the question of Spanish identity.  Just like an individual a country and a society derives their character from their memory, from how they remember their past. This is known as collective memory. It is not important what happened but what people believe happened. Memory is always subjective. It is based on experience and perspective. Therefore this remains a tricky terrain. Whose perspective and whose experience will be given importance and acceptance to? Individuals need to acknowledge the past no matter how painful it may be as running away from it or repressing painful memories mostly don’t help. Without a proper closure the past keeps coming haunting to us. Similarly Spain needs to resolve this issue in order to heal the cracks that still divide the citizens even after so many years.

Spain, a country situated in Southern Europe, with a close geographical proximity to North Africa been shaped by a fascinating and complex history that has often left Spain caught between various dichotomies: European or African? Islamic or Christian? Modern or Traditional? Liberal or Conservative? Spanish intellectuals have spoken about the concept of “las dos Españas” (Tr. two Spains) since the nineteenth century. Spain has always been a divided society and those divisions have entered into violent conflicts at various moments of history. But probably nothing could show the divisions between Spanish society as well as the Spanish Civil War fought between 1936 and 1939. The liberals and conservatives have been fighting each other through the nineteenth century to take control of politics in Spain. Spain became a Republic for the first time in 1873 but chaos subdued and Monarchy was restored within two years. After nearly fifty years of functioning as a parliamentary monarchy where the two main political parties (liberals and conservatives) alternated according to a mutual agreement Spain became a republic for the second time in 1931. The Republican government which was democratically elected ushered in a series of radical reforms inspired by their socialist ideology such as separation of the church and state, removing Church’s role in civil life, marriages, birth, education, land reforms, military reforms etc. The traditional ruling elites found these changes too radical and saw a direct threat to their privileges. While the working class population who ideally should have benefitted from these reforms did not see their lives improving immediately generally due to the lack of organization and structure that could put these reforms into practice in such a short span of time. Thus Spain went through a period of unprecedented turmoil and civil chaos. The divisions between factory owners and workers, priest and non-believers, landlords and farmers often broke out into violent conflicts. Socialists, Communists, Anarchists, and many other left wing activists and parties joined the ongoing turmoil and conflicts and exacerbated the matters as liberals became divided within while the traditional power holders, the Church, the Bourgeoisie (landowners and Capitalists) and the Army, all came together as a unified and thus very strong opposition. (Garrioch, 1993) The government won a second term through a close margin in 1936 after which a part of the Army rebelled which started a Civil War between nationalists and republicans. The Civil War was a war of ideals, fought by both sides in order to defend what they believed was the true idea of Spain.  In those early years of 20th century the Spanish Civil War also attracted lot of international attention and a major role was played by volunteers of foreign countries who came to Spain only to defend the cause of Republicanism, Socialism and Democracy such as the International Brigade[1]. After three years of violence and bloodshed in which friends, neighbors, brothers started fighting and killing each other over their ideology, the Republican government lost to the Nationalists led by General Francisco Franco. Franco established an iron fisted dictatorship banning all political parties and activities. Spanish citizens lost the right to form unions and protest. Franco devised several ways of repression such as censorship, executions, disappearance. Education and all aspects of civil life was controlled by the Church, the right hand of Franco’s regime. Women’s role was reduced to being housekeepers and child bearers. During the first decade Spain became an isolated country which slowly opened up. Franco was projected as someone chosen by God to save Spain from the evil: communism and liberalism. With the passage of time Franco’s regime became less repressive but he remained the most powerful man in Spain till his natural death in 1975. That makes him a more long lasting and powerful dictator than Hitler and Mussolini. Franco’s ideology known as falangismo is very similar to fascism. In spite of Franco’s well planned policies created to ensure that the structure of government created by him would continue after his death Spain transitioned to democracy within three years of Franco’s death.

Transition to Democracy

The transition to democracy of Spain is considered a great model for such a process because the transition took place within a short period of time without any conflict or violence or need for using force. The resulting government also enjoyed a great deal of stability and the constitution adopted by the transition government in 1978 is still in practice in Spain. The political leaders during that time were able to put aside their differences and work together towards democracy.

It is seen as a great success of the Spanish society because the transition was possible without immediate persecution of any section of the society nor by dismantling the structure of Franco’s government. Earlier members of the dictatorial regime themselves took steps towards democratization. This meant that Spain’s new government did not question the very legitimacy of 36 years of Franco’s rule over Spain. An Amnesty Law passed in 1977 ensured that no one would be charged with any crimes committed during the Civil War period or during Francoist regime. This of course relieved many people on both sides of the conflict. It is a known fact that during the Civil War forces on the republican side also caused violence on the opposite forces and vice versa. Perhaps letting bygone be bygones was the only option at that time if the country wanted to move forward. Talking about the Civil War as a trauma and holding any person or group responsible for it would have made the way ahead difficult. This collective decisions by the then political leaders have been termed “pacto del olvido”, i.e. a pact to forget. We can then say that a generation of Spanish people wished to forget the trauma of Civil War and its aftermath. In that context memory was not desirable and forgetting was the way to live in peace. However over the next decades as Spain integrated into Europe and felt more and more at ease with its identity as a modern, liberal democracy a new generation came up who felt the need to know more about the past, about Civil War, and particularly about their relatives who they knew have been victims of the war and dictatorship.

Works Cited

Garrioch, D. (1993). Historical Background. In A. Kenwood, The Spanish Civil War: a cultural and historical reader (pp. 3-36). London: Bloomsbury Academic.

 

[1] One may refer to Earnest Hemingway’s For whom the bell tolls (1940), a novel about an American of International Brigade in Spanish Civil War.

Paper presented at Global Migration: Rethinking Skills, Knowledge and Culture organized by Global Research Forum on Diaspora and Transnationalism (GRFDT) held on 26 – 27 November, 2016 at India International Centre (IIC), New Delhi.

Abstract

Spain, traditionally a migrant sending country, has received a great number of immigrants since early 2000s. Migrants from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have formed a small but important South Asian Diaspora in Spain that is often perceived as a homogenous group by the Spanish people. Although the number of migrants in this group is comparatively less than the African, Latin American or East European counterpart, their visibility is much higher in Spanish media (film, television and newspapers). This paper will first argue that the pre-existing interest among the Spanish people in Indian cultural aspects such as Yoga, Hinduism, Bollywood etc govern their interaction with the South Asian Diaspora. The paper will highlight the instances which prove that the migrants from South Asia are perceived as a common group by the Spanish people. Then the paper will focus on the representation of the South Asian Diaspora in films. Through the analysis of films the paper will argue that the interaction between the migrants and the autochthonous plays out in either a framework of multiculturalism or eurocentrism. The failure or success of the interaction and/or the possibility of integration depends on this: whether the Other is accepted with its differences (multiculturalism) or expected to adopt the culture of the host society (eurocentrism).

Keyword: Migration, Culture, Representation, South Asian Diaspora, Immigration Cinema

 

Originally posted as a Discussion at H-Net Nationalism Network on 13th Mar, 2016

Introduction
Today we live in a world where the nation is the dominant way of organizing people. We have to identify ourselves and others as nationals of a country. From childhood one is taught the history and trivia related to his/her country even before children can perceive the geographical spread of a country or for that matter understand what a nation really means. Only a minority of intellectuals and academicians who study the history of nationalism can see that there is nothing natural about what we call our nation, that it is a construct, a product of certain historical circumstances. The formation of each nation comes about for different reasons. The average citizen of any country feels that love for and loyalty towards one’s nation is something obvious and natural. Patriotism and Nationalism are often understood as one and the same thing and both are seen as virtues. In India over the past few weeks these common assumptions have been questioned and debated as a response to a series of events related mainly to students’ political activism and the way the central government handles such activities. This blog post looks at this aspect of the so called “JNU row.”
Background to the JNU Incident
Debate over Nationalism is surging in India after the police arrested a young student political leader named Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of the JNUSU (Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union), by charging him for sedition after an event was organized in JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) to discuss how the government of India handles the issues of Kashmir and capital punishment. A detailed report on these events can be read here atThe Hindu. It was alleged that the students who organized the event were shouting “anti-India slogans.” The video of these slogans were played by television news channels several times and launched a media trial of the student leaders in question. The Delhi police entered the university campus and arrested Kanhaiya Kumar, against the common practice in which a university proctorial board would decide the future course of action. Media played a huge role in the issue by over-simplifying or dumbing down complex ideas and concepts, which led to the formation of public opinion that questioned the patriotism and loyalty of students of JNU to the Indian nation. The term “anti-national” was used again and again to condemn them. Petitions were launched over social media to “Shut down JNU.” One of the student leaders, Umar Khalid, was quickly alleged to have connections with a Pakistani terrorist organization. The Home Minister also commented on the links between these students and Pakistani terrorists based on a twitter account that was later revealed to be fake. Little evidence was available and all this was done based on speculation.
JNU is one of the most prestigious and esteemed universities of India, among the very few which figures in international rankings. It provides a quality education at a highly subsidized rate. Most students pursuing research get some kind of financial assistance. It is characterized by a campus life where student politics play an important role. The walls are filled with posters that display the different political ideologies on campus. Many professors are known to have left leaning political ideologies and defend the values of socialism while criticizing Neoliberalism, Casteism, Brahmanism, and Patriarchy.
The event that sparked the controversy was to commemorate the execution of Afzal Guru, a man convicted for planning a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, whose hanging was controversial, especially in the region of Kashmir. This discussion frequently leads to claims about the right to self-determination for the Kashmiri people, and this event was attended by Kashmiri youth from outside JNU. Kashmir, the northern most part of India, has been a conflict area since the birth of India and Pakistan as nations after their independence from British rule in 1947. Life in Kashmir is precarious, caused on one side by the militants and on the other side by the Indian army. The militants claim to be fighting for the freedom of Kashmir but, as the press has documented, often act like terrorists. (One could draw parallels to ETA in Spain.) To control the activities of the militants, the Indian government deploys a huge army at all times. Given these circumstances a discussion on the execution may have invoked repressed sentiments in some and they may have raised certain slogans which can be termed anti-India. But using this incident to label the entire university as indulging in “anti-national activities” is an exaggerated reaction. Defenders of JNU and the liberal-left politics are seeing in this a massive attack on freedom of speech and an attempt to crush dissent.
Who is Anti-National?
The JNU incident led to the formation of a discourse on what is anti-national and as a corollary a discourse on nationalism. In our contemporary mediated societies, how these discourses are generated is quite complex, but I can fairly say that television news channels, print media, social media, and remarks made by members of the party in power all converge to create a discourse that seeps into the general public. After the JNU incident got media attention people were outraged at the slogans that allegedly demanded Azadi (Freedom). Some channels projected the matter in such a way that within no time people started to believe that JNU breeds “traitors” or agents of enemy states. It was perceived that they were demanding freedom (of Kashmir) from India. So, we can conclude that JNU students were perceived as anti-national because they were in some way sympathising with Kashmiri separatism.
A month before the JNU incident the word anti-national was used for a group of Dalit[1] students in the Hyderabad Central University. One of them, Rohit Vemula, committed suicide after facing several days of expulsion from his university hostel due to a minor scuffle with a student political activist of ABVP, the student wing of BJP. The scuffle took place when members of ABVP tried to stop the screening of Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai, a documentary that throws light upon the role of BJP in communal riots in Muzaffarnagar district in the state of Uttar Pradesh. A BJP Member of Parliament, Bandaru Dattatreya, sent several letters to the HRD minister (Human Resource Development, the ministry that governs higher education), Ms. Smriti Irani, branding Rohit and his friends as “anti-national.” Dattatreya and Irani’s intervention are seen as causes behind the expulsion of Vemula and his consequent death. His suicide note is a beautiful literary piece that shook the collective conscious of India.
After the JNU incident anybody showing any form of support to JNU students was also branded anti-national and attacked, including much respected journalists and authors. The word anti-national became so trivial that perhaps Umar Khalid is right when he says in India all you need to do to be branded as anti-national is to think.[2]
Two visions of the nation and what it means to be patriotic seem to have acquired the foreground in India. The idea of nationalism among those who are against the JNU students are arguably much closer to right wing ideologies such as ultra-nationalism and fascism. Theirs is a breed of nationalism that mostly thrives on hatred. The discourse on nationalism generated by them glorifies the idea of going on war and destroying the enemy, real or imagined. Some army veterans suggested that tanks be installed in the university premise to instil nationalism in students. For such nationalists, the soldiers who die at the frontier or in conflict zones are the greatest patriots and heroes. This is why a totally unrelated incident in which a soldier died after an avalanche in Kashmir was used to contrast the sacrifice of such men against the students of JNU. (One such view can be read here.) They, however, do not question why peace is not established through debates, discussions, and negotiations in the first place. They are constantly in a defensive mode and are suspicious towards westernisation, liberalism, communism, secularism, etc. They carry the Indian flag and chant Bharat Mata Ki Jai, [Victory Be to the Mother Goddess India], and they threaten to use violence against desh-drohis (traitors). There seems to have been a growth in these aggressive stances since the present Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, and BJP government came to power after the elections in 2014.Writers have been attacked, NGOs held back, unrest awakened over food habits of the minority communities, and there have been attacks on inter-faith marriages and relationships. Many of these ideas are one way or the other related to what has been termed Hindu Nationalism or Hindutva. A fair idea about it and how it originated could be made from this article. When Smriti Irani spoke on the JNU incident in the parliament, she provided several examples to prove the point that JNU really does harbour some anti-national activities. She even quoted Cicero to warn against the dangers posed by traitors to a nation.[3] One of her examples was a pamphlet that denounces a major Hindu religious festival. She was shocked to see the pamphlet’s reversed narrative of the festival provided by students of JNU and called the pamphlet a “depravity.” The Goddess here had become the villain and then the villain a victim.
There is another group with their own notion of nationalism. They are the ones who try to examine the problems of the nation and try to solve them through research and analysis. In this process they may criticize the government and its policies. Most of the teachers and students in JNU are perhaps part of this group. Their criticism of the nation is a reflection of their concern for the nation. It is not anti-national but against all that is problematic about the nation. One can find out what these thinkers have to say through a unique response that emerged in the form of a series ofTeach Ins on the theme “What the Nation really needs to know.” These are open lectures given in an open space on the campus of JNU, instead of a classroom. They can be attended by anyone from anywhere without any enrollment or fee. Some of the brightest minds in India are sharing with the general public their views and knowledge pertaining to Nation and Nationalism. To further expand the reach of these talks, they are being uploaded on Youtube (available here). Many of these speakers are from the Centre of Historical Studies of JNU and offer a nuanced version of India’s history. Some of these talks remind people that the highly revered poet, philosopher, and artist of India, Rabindranath Tagore (India’s only Nobel Laureate for Literature) was against an aggressive nationalism that puts the nation above the human or the right cause. Discussion has also taken place on Gandhi’s view of nationalism and how it rejected exclusionist and aggressive attitudes. These debates on Nationalism are necessary to open up the minds of people who have a narrow definition of nationalism and who in some cases know very little about India’s complex history. The language of these lectures is English, and academic English at that, which restricts their potential audience. Nevertheless, this is the first attempt of its kind to break the academic bubble and let one and all participate in a debate and form their own positions after hearing scholarly talks. Only someone from this school of thought would be able to highlight the fact that there really does exist a tribe of a few thousand who believe in the reversed narrative of the religious festival mentioned by Smriti Irani. By speaking in support of this minority tribe’s belief, students in JNU are attacking the Hindu caste system, which still prevails in India, and not the religion per se nor the integrity of the democratic nation. But by relating the two, those who oppose these voices are ending up portraying nationalism as the defence of the ethos of only the dominant groups.
The JNU situation has shown the cracks in India’s society at many levels. It was no doubt an attack on the autonomy of a university; an attack on the idea of a university being a free space, a hotbed of debates, a place where the youth can exchange ideas and form their own opinion and take political positions. It doesn’t matter if sympathy for a convicted terrorist is right or wrong. A university has to be a place where one can express views that may be totally against the official position of the State. Secondly it is an attack on free speech. It should not be a crime to support the aspirations of self-rule of any community in a democracy. The freedom of Kashmir is a concept supported by many in and outside Kashmir and India, and a mature democracy should not be so sensitive that any discussion on that front be seen as an attack on the integrity of the nation. Thirdly, it has highlighted the power of the media. It has shown how easily the media can form opinions and vilify someone or a group. The incident has polarized the society into two sections: on one hand we have those who are defenders of liberal values and the right to dissent in a democracy and on the other hand there are those who look at the nation as a holy entity, a Hindu Goddess-Mother, the Bharat Mata,[4] that needs to be worshipped, not questioned. India has enjoyed a stable democracy since its independence, perhaps because the majority were neither radical left or right but moderates. But the present government seems to fan the flames of radicalization on both sides. Deep polarization of the society has taken place and that is very harmful for a country like India that is known for its rich diversity in every sphere.
Conclusion
From the second week of February till a few days ago, I, (Swagata Basu, an alumnus of JNU and an assistant professor at a university which aspires to be like JNU) was extremely anxious. I was feeling like the world, my country as I knew it, was coming to an end. It was the first time that I could truly relate to the trauma people face under repressive authoritarian regimes, civil wars, revolutions; things that I teach to my student as part of my courses on Spanish and Latin American History and Culture. I was reminded of the Falangist ideology defended and promoted by General Francisco Franco during and after the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). What a tragic, fratricidal war it was. A war that killed millions, including a brilliant young poet like Federico Garcia Lorca. I could for the first time understand what it’s like to fight for a cause; how one can give up their comfortable life and plunge into a fight, to defend an idea that you want to see survive. I was also afraid all the time, waiting to hear the latest update on the JNU students’ condition. Some of them were jailed and others were questioned and still many more were protesting on the streets of Delhi. I was away in a different city and I suddenly felt my surrounding to be meaningless. My heart was with them, the ‘anti-nationals’ of JNU. I really felt threatened. I read about a Lucknow University professor being attacked for sharing an article in support of the JNU students and I felt that it could be me. I wondered what if they are being beaten and tortured in jail. What if they get killed? I wondered what will happen to all my professors if they closed the university.
On March 3rd, Kanhaiya Kumar was released on interim bail and the speech he gave upon his arrival on JNU has put my faith back in the constitution and given me some hope. Yet the future doesn’t look very bright. Fresh issues are coming up in Allahabad University, where the first female President of the student union is allegedly facing harassment for her activism. The PM has still not spoken on these issues. Ms. Smriti Irani has still not apologized for the death of Rohith Vemula and continues to campaign against anti-nationals. Perhaps Kanhaiya Kumar will be able to lead the youth to a culture of open and free academic discussion. Upon release he chanted his slogan for Azadi once again. He clarified this time that he is talking about freedom in India not from India. “Freedom from Hunger, from Sanghwad[5], from Feudalism, from Capitalism, from Brahminism, from Casteism.” And I do not see anything anti-national about that.

 

Links to Some Related Videos:

  1. Umar Khalid’s Speech at Admin Block, JNU on 22 Feb., 2016 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9K8ZM_6Tc4
  2. Kanhaiya Kumar’s Speech after returning to JNU  on bail https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yS9AX8rvYhg
  3. Kanhaiya Kumar’s slogan’s sample used to create a catchy track by Dub Sharma: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NJbxEgf3Uo
  4. One of the teach-in, the fourth lecture on the series: What the nation really needs to know by Prof. Ayesha Kidwai, President of JNU Teachers Association https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0M6LhkM5hTk
  5. Smriti Irani’s speech in the parliament on the JNU incident where she talks about the dangers posed by a traitor to a nation among other thingshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PlGs8NCMWE

 

Notes

 

[1] A term used in India to talk about people who come from oppressed background as members of a lower caste in the caste system, which is no longer legal but survives in practice.

[2] Umar Khalid, also a JNU student booked under Sedition charges, disappeared for a few days and resurfaced in JNU and gave a speech which became very popular on Youtube. He later surrendered to the Delhi police and is still in police custody.

[3]A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within…” Link to the speech given at the end of this essay.

[4] There are actually a few temples in India dedicated to the worship of this Goddess, known as Bharat Mata Mandir.

[5] Sanghwad in Hindi means Federalism, but in this context it is more likely to mean the ideology of RSS, also known as Sangh Parivar.

Like most left leaning ideologies and movements Feminism has a lot of internal divisions. Many strands of Feminism exist and they differ in their opinion about major issues. On one question all feminists agree upon: that they are denouncing unfair practices of traditional and/or patriarchal societies that harm men as well. I find it very interesting when Feminists say that when they are fighting for the rights of women they are automatically fighting for the rights of other marginalized sections of the society. In this sense Feminism can be seen as the front runner of a Marxist revolution where all the sections which have traditionally been marginalized begin to understand the politics that subjugate them and then rise to claim their rights. By that logic if you are a Feminist you cannot be casteist, racist, capitalist etc. When you start to recognize the need to treat all women at par with all men and thereby the need to treat everyone with equality, respect and dignity then you will automatically see the pointlessness of other distinctions that are often used to discriminate against some. Although it is quite logical then that any Feminist would also fight for other causes, in practice this doesn’t always happen. Some Feminists fall into the trap of looking at a problem from the Feminist perspective only and loose the larger picture.

In India, recently a lot of discussion has taken place on social media over the images of women in  advertisements. And feminists have rightly pointed out that women are held responsible for all the household chores and men are seldom expected to contribute in any way to domestic activities. What Feminists are then demanding is that men in reality as well as in media (representation of reality) should participate equally in the domestic sphere. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, feeding the pets, taking care of the children and the old should all be shared by both men and women in every household. This is only an ideal idea. It is not practical. The entire work that is required to run a household is simply too much. Too much to be handled by any person, be it of any gender if they also have to go out and work, i.e. if they are earning a livelihood by doing some job outside home. The real problem is that the household activities have no economic value in the capitalist system. The health of the family members, the happiness found at eating good food, the intelligence of children cannot be quantified financially. Of course they do have financial implications.

So in reality, this activity which is devalued is relegated to a more vulnerable section of the society. Earlier it was the lady of the house, but now, since she is empowered, ready to go out and work, the majority of the household chores are neither handled by men nor the women of the family. The real figure doing all that, is a maid, and that maid in most societies is a migrant worker.

Europe’s ageing population cannot do without the migrant domestic help. US’s busy life cannot function without the Latina maids and nannies. In India, working women of the cities need the Bangladeshi or Nepali domestic worker. Feminist must recognize that large part of their empowerment is owed to the cheap migrant labour who work as domestic workers. Why is the domestic worker mostly a migrant? Because migrants are ready to accept jobs at a wage lower than what a native expects. And that is so because migration originates in places where people have zero opportunities. But women and men often do not value the domestic worker. They fail to see that the amount paid to them is not at par with the true contribution they make in the lives of these households. They should calculate the amount of time away from work they would have to spend if they had to do it all without a maid. And the financial losses which that time away from work would incur should be seen as the real value of the services provided by domestic workers.

No matter how much we, women, progress, develop  and in that path reject the traditional patriarchal life, we should remind ourselves that we are progressing at the cost of another woman’s exploitation. The day the migrant domestic worker become empowered and understand the true value of their labour and start demanding equal pay as a wage labourer, say the wage given to a bricklayer, we would simply not be able to afford it. Then we can expect men to chip in as they would then understand that the job done at home is not valueless. But Marx spoke more than 100 years ago but a Marxist society has never been created in this world. So such a scenario is also not likely to occur where domestic workers would not work for us and demand a hefty salary. However Feminists should support the causes of migrants, domestic or international, as for our own freedom and empowerment, we depend on them. This is why I think Feminists should support Migrants’ rights.

Doon University, a state university located in the beautiful city of Dehradun is slowly expanding and striding along its road to become a center for excellence. A wide variety of courses at undergraduate, post graduate and research levels are offered but the School of Languages is turning out to be the most successful endeavor. In the department of Spanish we teach Spanish Language, Literature, History and Culture of Spain and Latin America. Our Spanish language graduates have already been placed in top companies such as Convergys and Oracle. Many have found placements as teachers in Global and International Schools. And some are pursuing higher studies in JNU and other such universities. So whether you are interested in quickly getting a job, or just studying literature for the love of it or learning a language and literature to make a career in teaching or research Spanish is the language for you. You must have heard of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Miguel de Cervantes, Mario Vargas Llosa, Isabel Allende, Jorge Luis Borges, Juan Ramon Jimenez, Pablo Neruda!!! They are all Spanish speakers. Have you heard of Amadeus? You must have loved a Zara dress or shoes? That’s Spanish too. It is the leading IT Provider for the global travel and tourism industry and is Spanish. Have your recently read about growing India Latin America relations? Spanish will be required for this. Spanish is also the most important language for the entire US economy because of the Hispanic population in US which is its largest minority and is projected to soon become a majority.

So if you want to pursue a B.A Hons in Spanish you have the opportunity to do that in Doon Unniversity. If you already know Spanish and want to earn a MA degree you can take admission in MA Spanish directly as well. First round of admissions have taken place but some seats are left so hurry. Contact me at basu.swagata@gmail.com if you are interested.

School of Languages, Doon University

Invites you to its

1st International Film Festival

SoL-Screen Cinefest 2015

Reading Talkies: The City and its Changing Landscape

1st to 3rd May, 2015

At Senate Hall, Doon University, Dehradun

SOL Screen Cine Fest 2015 flex

School of Langugaes (SoL) of Doon University is proud to organize an International Film Festival showcasing the theme “The City and its Changing Landscape” through 6 masterpieces of world cinema. SoL deals with teaching and research of Foreign Languages, History, Literature and Culture of Chinese, German, Spanish, Japanese and French speaking areas.

Since 2011 SoL-Screen is a platform where films are used as a didactic tool. From 1st to 3rd May 2015 through SoL-Screen Cinefest we are bringing together films from different parts of the world that respond to one common theme “The City and its Changing Landscape”. Our endeavour is to bring academics and cinema lovers together.  Each film will be preceded by an academic talk and followed by a discussion. All the films will be shown with English subtitles.

About the films.

La Zona (The Zone, Spanish)

Violence, crime and extreme social disparity dominates life in most of the big cities of Latin America. This film takes us into an exaggerated and hypothetical but quite plausible situation where the obsession to be safe and secure only perpetuates violence and injustice. La Zona is a zone of wealth and privilege, created to shut out the surrounding poverty with a private security system. The film unfolds as Miguel and Alejandro, two teenage boys from the two opposite worlds cross each other’s paths.

Talk on ‘Walls Within- (In)Security and Fragmented Urban Spaces in La Zona by Rodrigo Pla’ by Swagata  Kumar Basu

 

Hotaru no Haka (Grave of the Fireflies , Japanese)

This is a Japanese Animated Film produced in 1998 and the story is based on a novel which was written by Akiyuki Nosaka. The protagonists of the movie are the two siblings (Seita and Setsuko) who strive hard to survive during the last month of World War II. The Kobe city of Japan was badly destroyed during the World War and the people were dying with hunger, malnutrition and other diseases. Seita and Setsuko have lost their family members and have to stay in an abandoned bomb shelter. The film portrays the reality of life during the war days asking many questions related to war and further consequences.

However, the movie ends on a good note showing the dead-spirits of Seita and Setsuko living happily and surrounded by fireflies.

Talk on ‘Memoirs of World War II through a Japanese Animated Movie’ by Ravi Kumar

Banlieue 13 (French)

In 2010, social problems such as violence, drugs and organised crime have overrun the poorer suburbs of Paris, especially a banlieue commonly referred to as Banlieue 13 (B13), a ghetto with a population of some 2 million people, ruled by the drug lords and gangsters. Unable to control B13, the authorities construct a high wall forcing the inhabitants within to survive without education, proper utilities or police protection behind the containment wall. Though fictionalised, this film represents the changing landscapes of the suburbs built around the periphery of major French cities (Paris in this case) due to various social and economic issues. It also showcases the art of Parkour (freestyle running) which is a new feature of the Parisian suburbs.

Talk on ‘Inside the walls; how did we get here?’ by Shubhra Kukreti

Lincoln (English) is a revealing drama that focuses on the final four months of Lincoln’s life—his efforts in January 1865 to have theThirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitutionby theUnited States House of Representatives. In a nation divided by war and the strong winds of change, Lincoln pursues a course of action designed to end the war, unite the country and abolish slavery. His fierce moral courage and determination is to change the fate of generations to come.

Talk on The settings in Spielberg’s Lincoln’ by Richa Joshi Pandey


 

Almanya – Welcome to Germany (German) released in 2011 is a comedy by a new generation director Yasemin Şamdereli. The film is about a Turkish migrant, who comes to Germany as the 1000001st guest worker in the mid 1960s; is subsequently joined by his family and then it becomes the story of three generations of his family.

The film plays with a lot of stereotypes and highlights the life of an immigrant in a new social, cultural and linguistic environment. These immigrants have not only historically contributed to the German economic miracle, but also to the change in the demographic and cultural landscape of German cities.

Talk on ‘Where do I belong? : Shifting Sites of Identity’ by Chandrika Kumar

Platform (Chinese) released in 2000 is the second film in the “Hometown Trilogy” by Jia Zhangke, one of the most critically acclaimed “sixth generation” directors of China. This epic film is a laconic portrayal of  the transformation in the lives of the people and a small city of Fenyang , China from between 1979 to 1989 (a decade of post Mao period of the rise of market economy). A winner of several international awards, the film was voted the second best film of the past decade by the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)’s Cinematheque, by more than 60 film experts (historians, archivists, etc.) from around the world.

 

Talk on ‘Desultory Wanderings: Reading Jia Zhangke’s ‘Hometown Trilogy‘’ by Madhurendra Kumar Jha

Following is Schedule of the Festival:

Film Name & Director Language, Duration Title of Talk with Name of Speaker
1st May, Friday 10:00 AM
La Zona,

Dir. Rodrigo Pla

Spanish,

92 mins

Walls Within- (In)Security and Fragmented Urban Spaces in La Zona by Rodrigo Pla

by Swagata  Kumar Basu

1st May, Friday, 2:30 PM
Hotaru no Haka

Dir. Isao Takahata

Japanese, 89 mins ‘Memoirs of World War II through a Japanese Animated Movie’

by Ravi Kumar

2nd May, Saturday, 10:00 AM
Banlieue 13

Dir. Pierre Morel

French, 86 mins ‘Inside the walls; how did we get here?’

by Shubhra Kukreti

2nd May, Saturday, 2:30 PM
Lincoln

Dir. Steven Speiberg

English,

149 mins

‘The settings in Spielberg’s Lincoln

by Richa Joshi Pandey

3rd May, Sunday 10:00 AM
Almanya – Willkommen in

Deutschland

Dir. Yasemin Şamdereli

German,

97 mins

‘Where do I belong? : Shifting Sites of Identity’

by Chandrika Kumar

3rd May, Sunday 2:30 PM
站台 Platform

Dir. Jia Zhangke

Chinese,  143 mins ‘Desultory Wanderings: Reading Jia Zhangke’s ‘Hometown Trilogy‘

by Madhurendra Kumar Jha

A young researcher or budding academic like me in India does not have things easy. Teaching and Research, what ideally should be the two sides of the same coin, cannot be done together.  Assistant Professor are overworked, teaching 18 to 20 hours, which leaves very little time for personal research. Writing a research paper takes several hours of reading at peace which is quite difficult to achieve while the semester is in progress. If you don’t have a PhD already doing it while working is next to impossible. It makes sense that the UGC has made it necessary for scholars to dedicate at least two years (residential clause) in order to start a PhD.

To get a job at a state or central university you need to be UGC NET qualified and have a Masters Degree with more than 55% marks and need to perform well in the interview; a PhD is not required. However a PhD is seen  in the world over as the most basic qualification that a faculty member in a university must possess. Getting a teaching position delays the PhD, while finishing the PhD first, delays getting a job and sometimes a loss of rare opportunities (newer positions do not come up that frequently). A fundamental flaw gets created in the higher education sector in India due to this contradictory situation. A situation where one has to chose between teaching and research.

Ideally a University department should be incomplete without Professors and Associate Professors. They should be the motors that run the departments. Assistant Professors should assist them in teaching while they should be allowed and encouraged to do their research and finish their PhDs. The real situation is totally the opposite, specially in the new universities created in the last 5 to 10 years all over India. Since Assistant Professors get the least amount of money, they are hired most easily. Worse still is the trend of hiring people on contract. Departments are being run with such non PhD Assistant Professors and Faculty on Contract. Selections are not done after an analysis of specializations, in fact without a PhD one can hardly speak of having any specialization. So everyone is ending up teaching everything regardless of specializations. And then, once in a while, comes  a situation where  a senior professor comes to advise and oversee things in one such emerging department. He or she looks down upon such enthusiastic young teachers who are trying to teach everything. At one hand we are left with no choice and are forced to study in order to teach and on the other hand our academic credentials get doubted when we teach what is not seen as our specialization. 

When senior teaching persons do join such departments, they take up the role of managers, overseeing the work of the junior colleagues and do very little teaching themselves.

Setting aside these things, young and motivated teachers like me do take it as a challenge to give the best in the classrooms. I take up courses that are more demanding for both me and my students. Therefore I spend more time on preparing for my classes than reading for my personal research or making contacts with other departments of bigger universities. In other words I do not spend time in establishing connections, chit chatting and exchanging favors with the big shots of my field. I do not get the time. Besides after all the class preparation I feel like spending time with my husband, my family.

This is taking me nowhere. My expectations from my students often remain unfulfilled. Students today feel that the degree matters, not the knowledge. They don’t come to the university to learn anything, they have the internet for that. They just need to step on this stone before they leap to the next, the job market. This is why perhaps when UGC does an evaluation of a university or teaching center, all they ask for is the CV and personal research of all the teachers. Classroom teaching is not evaluated in India. Students feedback are either not taken or not analyzed properly. The most lenient teachers are automatically the most popular among students. Friendly teachers are good teachers, how much they teach is hardly a matter of concern to anyone.

More than teaching, what matters in academia is  presenting papers in seminars. Whether these papers get published or not is again not of concern.

On the other hand those faculty members who spend time establishing connections, chit chatting and exchanging favors with the big shots in a field receive lots of benefits. When seminars and conferences are conducted by the big shots, those selected few get invited to present papers. Again the quality of the papers are not the criteria of these, whether or not they have those numbers saved in the contact list is. You would ask what do the big shots get in return? Well they get invited to deliver lectures and spend a nice weekend in a scenic campus near the hills at the host university’s expense. So those who keep in touch are also the most visible in such seminars and therefore acquire the image of being the only ones doing research. I like a fool am doing research for teaching and what my peers are thinking about me is that perhaps I am only enjoying a family life. This is how ghettoes are created, walls are built, little fortresses made in the academic world to filter out those who do not fit the norms of keeping in touch and exchanging invitations. And then those who created those walls, sit in well lit AC rooms and lament over marginalization in the third world and demand for inclusive growth and sustainable development. Or worse still, feminists champion women’s rights while holding the prejudice that someone who got married early in her career before finishing her PhD is not to be seen as a serious researcher. Is it a coincidence that active Facebook members who share their most mundane activities on social media do not speak a word about their upcoming conferences on FB? Lest someone outside the privileged class tries to get access into the holy shrine of their conference. Call for papers are not even published on their universities’ home page let alone international forums such as H-Net listings or conference alerts. It is a deliberate attempt to keep things within a limited circle.

I do have a specialization, not a PhD. I know this because if you Google the area that I have worked upon in my MPhil you get to see this blog. I closely work with and feel for such themes as the process of “Othering” someone or some people in a society: Migrants, Ethnic Groups, LGBTs, Blacks. I read about how stereotypes are created. What is wrong with the prejudice and preconceived notions that a group hold regarding ‘Others’. What is wrong with the Fortress Europe, a land with such tight security at its gates to impede the entry of those who dream of Europe and the opportunities it can provide. While writing this article I realized why do I feel for migrants so much. Because what they feel is so relatable for me. It should be relatable to all of us who have been deliberately excluded from the place we would like to belong to. When you are seen as an outsider. When you are not welcome. My heart breaks to face just this much of exclusion, exclusion from a seminar I feel I should have at least been informed about. And I can only imagine what the migrants feel when they are returned from the gates of their dreamland, a shiver runs down my spine.

Interview

Acabo de leer la novela La familia de Pascual Duarte de Camilo José Cela, una obra clásica de la literatura española. Ha sido una experiencia inédita para mí. A veces cerraba mis ojos para no leer más por la crueldad de las imágenes pero ésas eran imágenes creadas por palabras directamente en la mente, así que cerrar los ojos no sirvió para nada. La novela empieza con la técnica cervantina de atribuir el origen de la novela a un manuscrito encontrado por el transcriptor que nos transmite la obra. Y el concepto de cartas dirigidas a alguien para explicarse que empiezan con “yo señor, no soy malo” recuerda a Lazarillo de Tormes. La novela nos lleva dentro del cerebro de un hombre que parecerá extremadamente violento y pecador a cualquier persona, un criminal que no merece nada menos que la horca. A lo largo de la novela comete cinco asesinos. Mata a dos animales and tres seres humanos incluso su propia madre. Pero en el cárcel cuando mira hacia atrás y recuerda cada uno de esos delitos presenta siempre una justificación. Como el lector lee lo que le llevó a Pascual a matar a sus víctimas empieza a perdonarle hasta tener simpatía a él. La novela trasmite la pena y la crueldad de la vida que le tocó vivir a Pascual. La parte más desoladora de la novela para mí fue la descripción de las desdichas del hermano de Pascual, Mariano. Evento de donde surge el odio de Pascual hacia su madre. Sigue odiando a su madre más que a cualquier persona en el mundo. Relata que su madre le trataba con reticencia, le decía palabras hirientes, le parecía como una bruja. Al final mata cruelmente a su madre. Ese odio a la figura de una madre cruel, autoritaria, sin piedad he encontrado en muchas instancias en la literatura en lengua española. Inmediatamente me recuerda de Bernarda Alba, de García Lorca, la Doña Perfecta de Galdós, la madre en la novela Como agua para chocolate de Laura Esquivel. Me pregunto si es un tópico literario de la literatura hispánica. No sé si es un tema recurrente en la literatura universal. Yo por lo menos de mi país lo que he leído, tanto en Bengalí e Hindi como en Inglés, nunca he encontrado un retrato negativo de la madre. La madre en la literatura india siempre es el repositorio de todos los valores posibles, de una caridad rebosante. Ese contraste me está apareciendo muy interesante. ¿No han problematizado las feministas esa representación negativa de la mujer? Las críticas que he leído de las obras antes mencionadas, admiran esas novelas por la crítica que aportan al concepto de autoritarismo frente a un anhelo liberal. La madre autoritaria viene a representar el mundo tradicional y conservador que intenta ahuyentar las ideas liberales y modernas. Llegan esas madres a ser representantes de dictaduras. Por eso es justificable el odio hacia ellas, los deseos de matarles para liberar de esa agobiante represión que ellas mantienen sobre otros. Así se ha leído a Bernarda Alba, Doña Perfecta y Como agua para chocolate. Pero me pregunto por qué la mujer. ¿Por lo mucho que padecen las mujeres en cualquier sociedad patriarcal, que es la mayoría de las sociedades del mundo, por qué estos autores no pueden buscar otros personajes varones para representar la represión? ¿En realidad qué dictador femenino ha habido? Me parece que ese odio que justifica esas novelas refleja la misoginia en las sociedades hispánicas sea lo que sea su intención verdadera. La lengua española y su literatura canónica (que casi no incluye escritoras a parte de Pardo Bazán) es patriarcal es sexista, algo inescapable para mí como será para cualquier persona en el campo de estudios hispánicos.    

Repensando el tema admito que la representación es siempre problemática. La imagen exageradamente positiva de las mujeres- las madres en la literatura y cultura popular de India también han sido criticadas justamente. Es verdad que crean una presión sobre las mujeres y fomentan unas expectativas irreales de la mujer en la sociedad: la mujer siempre tiene que ser paciente y tolerante, debe perdonar al hombre todos sus defectos etc. Y la mujer que no cabe en esta imagen no merece ser respetada. Así se justifica a la violencia y  los crímenes contra la mujer en la India, que merecía lo que le pasaba por no vivir la vida de una mujer casta.