Historical mistakes

And the dangers of staying in schools

Today’s dose of excellent writing comes from Varnam, where JK argues that “we cannot live without historians and our choice is not between Orientalists, Marxists or Nationalists, but between good historians and bad ones.”

“…when you apply Marxist historiography, with the theme of of social class and economic constraints in determining historical outcomes, on the Asokan empire, the results are ridiculous, but in India that passes off as serious research.” [Varnam]

Now, we don’t know what he will react, but JK is calling for all historians to go to the scientific school (note the use of the lower case).

Maoris, Morioris and projection of power

Quoting Jared Diamond

According to Wikipedia, Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel “attempts to explain why Eurasian civilizations, as a whole, have survived and conquered others, while attempting to refute the belief that Eurasian hegemony is due to any form of Eurasian intellectual, moral, or inherent genetic superiority. Diamond argues that: the gaps in power and technology between human societies originate in environmental differences amplified by various positive feedback loops; and that, if cultural or genetic differences have favored Eurasians (for example Chinese centralized government, or improved disease resistance among Eurasians), it is only so because of the influence of geography.”

It has an account of an encounter between two Polynesian groups that nicely illustrates why “projection of power is necessary to create the conditions for human development”.

In the Chatham Islands, 500 miles east of New Zealand, centuries of independence came to a brutal end for the Moriori people in December 1835. On November 19 of that year, a ship carrying 500 Maori armed with guns, clubs, and axes arrived, followed on December 5 by a shipload of 400 more Maori. Groups of Maori began to walk through Moriori settlements, announcing that the Moriori were now their slaves, and killing those who objected. An organized resistance by the Moriori could still then have defeated the Maori, who were outnumbered two to one. However, the Moriori had a tradition of resolving disputes peacefully. They decided in a council meeting not to fight back but to offer peace, friendship, and a division of resources.

Before the Moriori could deliver that offer, the Maori attacked en masse. Over the course of the next few days, they killed hundreds of Moriori, cooked and ate many of the bodies, and enslaved all the others, killing most of them too over the next few years as it suited their whim. Continue reading “Maoris, Morioris and projection of power”

Your intolerance is scandalous

India’s First Amendment

A lurker on Atanu Dey’s blog pointed to two fantastic reports from TIME magazine’s archives.

May 28, 1951…Part of the Indian press, said (Nehru), is dirty, indulges in “vulgarity, indecency and falsehood.” To teach it manners, Nehru proposed an amendment to India’s constitution that would impose severe restrictions on freedom of speech and expression. He asked for power to curb the press and to punish persons and newspapers for “contempt of court, defamation and incitement to an offense.” Nehru told Parliament: “It has become a matter of the deepest distress to me to see the way in which the less responsible news sheets are being conducted . . . not injuring me or this House much, but poisoning the minds of the younger generation.”

Nehru said his measure was aimed at Communist and Hindu extremist agitation. His real targets: Atom, Current, Struggle and Blitz, four Bombay-published sensational weeklies which have consistently attacked Nehru’s domestic and foreign policy, scurrilously attacked the U.S. [TIME]

In the event, parliament passed the first amendment that placed curbs on fundamental rights, including on the rights to speech and property.

June 11, 1951…A small but determined parliamentary opposition, led by Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, former Minister for Industry, bitterly attacked the amendment.

Mookerjee (to Nehru): You’ve got 240 supporters in this House, but outside in the country millions are against you.

Nehru (shaking his fists) : [Your] statements are scandalous . . .

Mookerjee: Your intolerance is scandalous . . .

Nehru (shouting): Any person who says that this amendment of mine curbs the liberty of the press utters lies . . .

As Nehru explained it: “We should not only give the press freedom, but make it understand that freedom.” There was a lot of doubt whether Nehru himself understood the meaning of freedom. His excuse for requesting the law: the scurrilous outpouring of Indian scandal sheets. But as the All-India Newspaper Editors Conference pointed out: there was nothing to prevent the government from using its new powers against the legitimate press when & if it chose. [TIME]

Nehru’s followers have been consistent in following in his footsteps. Dr Mookerjee’s modern-day followers would do well to heed the position of their political-intellectual forefather.

Sunday Levity: Feluda and the Golden Fortress

We take a break for some Satyajit Ray

Courtesy of the ‘BBC’, here’s an hour-long radio drama featuring Feluda, Topshe and Lal Mohan “Jatayu” Ganguly.

In “Feluda: The Golden Fortress” one of the most popular of the Feluda adventure stories was specially recorded in Mumbai, and brings together a host of top Indian actors for a very special production.

Stepping into Feluda’s super sleuth shoes is Rahul Bose, while Anupam Kher plays sidekick, Lalmohan Ganguly. Special guest stars also appear as friends and foes.

 Listen to audio

Incitement to murder

…must be punished

There is an urgent need to crack down hard on ‘leaders’ (especially in Uttar Pradesh) who issue public calls for assassination.

In the Gurjjar stronghold of Sarsawa in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur district, Akhil Bharatiya Gurjjar Mahasabha president Chaudhary Virendra Singh has put Rs 5 crore reward on Vasundhara Raje’s head. “The Rajasthan CM is a murderer, responsible for the death of innocent activists,” said Singh. [IE]

The reporter’s next question is truly bizarre.

When asked as to who would arrange for a sum as hefty as Rs 5 crore, Singh claimed that the entire community would collect money to reward “the brave man who would behead her”. [IE]

Monumental folly

A statue to end all your troubles

A bunch of violent thugs attacked the residence of Kumar Ketkar, editor of Loksatta for writing a satirical piece criticising the Maharashtra government’s decision to engage in monumental folly. In support of Mr Ketkar’s freedom to write what he thought was right, and in support of writing what was right, here are excerpts from the English translation of his editorial.

Naturally, the government felt that having solved all the problems of the people, what remains to be done is to tell the whole world of the greatness of Shivaji. The government has decided to have more than one acre of land inside the sea acquired and filled so as to build the monument, which will attract all global tourists. All facilities will be given to the tourists. There will be a museum near the statue, artifacts of the 17th century, Shivaji’s personal effects, swords and shields and attire. There will also be directives issued by the Maharaj to his administrators on how to govern and make the people happy. Along with the museum, there will be shopping malls, selling T-shirts with Shivaji’s painting. There will be Shivaji key chains, Shivaji gift items, including cutlery.

Of course, there will be no beer bars. So obviously, there will be no dance bars, which the Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil detests so much. There will be perhaps wine, which according to the leader of NCP, Sharad Pawar, is not alcohol. So wine will be sold and served along with Coke and Pepsi and other soft drinks. There will be swadeshi McDonald’s as well as vintage Marathi vada-pau, which has been renamed by Uddhav Thackeray as ‘Shiv Vada-Pau’. There will also be ‘pani puri’ sold by the MNS activists of Raj Thackeray. No ‘bhaiyyas’ will be allowed to do business, only locals will be engaged. [IE]

Those concerned about Maharashtra and Mumbai need to explain their quiescence when the plans to revitalise Mumbai city and to turn into into an international financial centre were put in cold storage.

Having nothing much to show for its term in power, the Congress Party-led government is merely stoking up Marathi-chauvinism to distract public attention ahead the coming elections. Voters in Maharashtra should see through the trick.

Instrument of social control

Epics out of proportion

Over at Varnam, JK has pithy on a commenter:

T.R.Ramaswami: Would you not also classify epics like the Mahabharatha and Ramayana, whose historic authencity is doubtful and also other religious texts as instruments for political and social control?

JK: No. Socialism has been used for political and social control in India. [Varnam]

.

Pragati May 2008: Towards liberal nationalism

Issue 14 - Apr 2008

Issue Contents

PERSPECTIVE

Liberals, culture and nationalism Ravikiran S Rao
An opportunity exists for a new politics

Changing the broken wheel Raj Cherubal
The secular-right must champion economic freedom

Towards “that heaven of freedom” Gautam Bastian
A free nation of free citizens

Out of court Rohit Pradhan, Shashi Shekhar & Mukul Asher
Carry on the battle, but respect the court’s verdict

FILTER

India as a rising great power; climate change and national security; India-Iran relations; to the brink; and trade across the Line of Control

IN DEPTH

The new currency of power Nitin Pai & Aruna Urs
A discussion on strategic affairs with K Subrahmanyam

ROUNDUP

Use the Tibet card Zorawar Daulet Singh
To settle the India-China dispute

Consensus must endure Dinesh Wagle
Maoists have the upper hand in the construction of the republic

Bottom-up dynamics Sushant K Singh
What attracts Africa to India and how it can be strengthened

Pressed by inflation Gulzar Natarajan
Easing supply bottlenecks is the right way to go

BOOKS

Memories of 1971 Amardeep Singh
A review of Tahmima Anam’s A Golden Age

Read excerpts | Download

Sunday Levity: An Iranian crore and other numbers

Do the differences count?

It turns out that the Iranians used the word crore in their old numbering system. But to denote 500,000. Was this the result of Iranians being shortchanged by a shifty Indian trader several centuries ago? We don’t know, but it turns out that the Iranians stopped using the term a few decades ago. (They finally realised they’ve been had?)

The Swahili speaking Africans still use the word laki to denote 100,000, a legacy of historical trading relations between India and East Africa.

Two more interesting asides about numbers. Shinji Takasugi has a wonderful site comparing the complexities of numbering systems of various cultures.

According to him, the simplest is Tongan, where you would say “4” “2” (fa ua) for the number that is the answer to life, the universe and everything. The most complex is Huli, a language spoken in Papua New Guinea (a country the size of a small Indian state, but with perhaps as much linguistic diversity as the whole of India). In the quindecimal (base-15 system) you’d have to say “the answer is ngui ki, ngui tebone-gonaga hombearia“, that is “(15 × 2) + (12 object of the 3rd 15)”. Mr Takasugi deems Hindi as the fourth most complex. That’s a little questionable, because though the names are slightly irregular, the pattern is not too hard to discern. The answer, as you know, is bayalees.

The Balkan-Romanis (popularly known as the Gypsies) count their numbers as jekh (yake), duj, trin, štar (char), panc (panch), šov (chov), eftá, oxtó, enjá, deš (dach) and biš (for 20). The answer according to them is saránda-te-duj. The Gypsies, being the impatient sort, must have left India after six, and made up the rest as they went along. [That doesn’t explain why they got des and bis, but this is a Sunday Levity post. It need not make sense]