Why Colonialism is always wrong..

I had earlier posted a link to a Guardian Article about Singapore and how it was a model for colonial & post-colonial development.

To my knowledge Singapore & Hong Kong are colonial creations and therefore their success are more anomalous than not.

I would hazard a few drawbacks of colonial rule in South Asia:

(1.) English language as the High Culture: this is a serious problem since the Urdu-Hindi divide only represents the lack of a unified elite standard. If the Brits/Europeans had never established themselves a native literary lingua franca would have eventually emerged as a South Asian unifier. Urdu for instance is the indigenous supplanter, by Hindu courtiers, of the courtly Persian spoken at Mughal courts. Not to mire this thread into another language controversy but my point being is that if South Asia had followed a normal course of development we would be writing Brown Pundits in a desi, not foreign, tongue.

(2) Time Value of Money: South Asia may have been routinely plundered (the Persians invaded a few times in the last few centuries) but most of India’s wealth stayed home. Depraved and decadent the Mughals may have been but their monuments rest on Indian Soil. The wealth of India, through unfair trade & conquest, ultimately flowed back to the Mother Country; powering England’s economic advancement. The British Empire may have been an uneconomic enterprise towards the very end (however it still helped Britain turn the tide in 2 World Wars) but the previous centuries had been enough to solidify Europe/England’s lead.

(3) Racial Inferiority: South Asia is the land of colour, caste & creed but scientific racism wasn’t endemic to it (there is some evidence caste had been dying out prior to the Brits coming but I can’t possible comment). The Brahmins and Muslim elites may not have intermarried with anyone else (though I find that hard to believe) but the racial seclusion that the Brits maintained, especially after Mutiny & in the Victorian Era, embedded a racial inferiority complex into the desi cultural stream that’s never truly been shaken off. Currying favour with the Englishman has always taken precedence over regional solidarity. The reason as to why Native Royals were forbidden from marrying white women was the genuine fear that the royal families of India would become white in a few generations (that’s already happened to a few of South Asia’s political dynasties mind you).

(4) Communal conflict: there may have been a history of uneasy tension between Muslim & Hindu in historic India but divide & rule exacerbated it towards eventual Partition.

(5) Winston Churchill: WC has a demi-god status in Britain but was shameful in his treatment and views of desis. When a man so racist is so revered there isn’t much more to say. Famine in India & Ireland under the British Empire was arguable more of a political rather than agricultural construct.

This isn’t to say that South Asians shouldn’t take agency and own their faults (how else were they conquered but for their own lack of unity) but colonialism (even more so than the Muslim conquests though that is arguably a close second) was an absolute disaster for the Subcontinent. Shashi Tharoor is entirely right; English, railroads and a few universities are no offsets. Just because the British Empire wasn’t as evil as some others (the Belgians in Congo etc) doesn’t mean that it was a just enterprise, not now not ever..

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The Merchants of Rawalpindi

I thought this was an interesting piece by TOI; I don’t have strong opinions on it either way.

January 2, 2018 Sunil Sharan

Wow, the new year began with the ruler of the world’s sole superpower castigating only one of 190+ nations in the world. What is it about Pakistan that makes Trump see so much red? And when Trump gets mad at the Pakistanis, why do so many policymakers in India do a high five?

Trump is mad at the merchants of Rawalpindi because they won’t let him extricate himself out of Afghanistan in one piece. But they didn’t put him in Afghanistan in the first place. You could argue 9/11 did, but someone amongst America’s best and brightest should have realized that her country should not get dragged into Afghanistan.

But America then was not being ruled by its best and brightest. And the same ruler, Bush Jr., for reasons of his own, decided to take his eye off the ball in Afghanistan and focus it on Iraq. Empires that have previously entered Afghanistan have remained completely focused on it, but have barely made it out alive. Actually, only the Brits did. The Soviets left it with rigor mortis.

Continue reading “The Merchants of Rawalpindi”

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Does Colonialism work?

Colonialism can work – just look at Singapore

It is now a rich country in which most of the population lives in municipal housing while their children attend excellent state schools. There is a further crucial difference from the colonial past; Singapore now holds elections to choose its leaders. This was not the case until near the end of British rule, when the colony was allowed a measure of self-government.

But the Singapore story also shows us the price societies pay when their rulers make use of the tools colonial authorities left behind. Under British rule, detention without trial was used to stifle the threat of communism while a licensing system kept the press contained. As many Singaporean dissidents have argued, Singapore has embraced this illiberal colonial tradition to create a tightly controlled modern state.

The consequences are a country that, while wealthy, has a chilling climate for free speech and no independent trade unions. While Singapore does hold elections, there is little space for opposition politics – human rights groups say defamation laws have frequently been used to silence opposition voices.

I’ll share my thoughts later on.

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Bahá’ís & Pakistan

In Omar’s excellent post I was reading his dissection of Pankaj Mishra’s latest book. It was quite funny as I was reading it (and disagreeing with Omar in the role of Muslim power in South Asia, the Mutiny was done in the name of the Mughal Emperor not some petty Maratha, Rajput or Sikh despot) I thought to myself at least nothing was written about the Bahai Faith. Literally as I thought it then came to the section about Jamal-Uddin Afghan, the Babis & the Bahá’í Zarthushti Yazdi emigres to Bombay (my grandmother’s people).

Since I am a Baha’i it’s important on such sensitive matters to always make sure that the correct perspective is shared for no misunderstanding. As an aside the best way to see Urdu is like the Taj Mahal; the supreme symbol of the glories of Muslim-Mughal India. Hindi can be likened to the reconstructed Ram Temple (Inshallah) on the debris of Babri Masjid; gaudy, tacky & built on the ashes of something so beautiful but now sadly forgotten by an angry minority.

I usually am quite a fan of Pankaj Mishra (he makes a lot of sense tbh) but I don’t see the need to slander the Babis & Zarthustis in reference to Jamal-Uddin Afghan.

Of course in 1850 the Bab had been executed and the Babi community was in disarray. The interregnum, is to speak, only came to an end in 1863 when Baha’u’llah proclaimed his Station in the Garden of Ridvan in Baghdad (the King of Festivals).

While it is satisfying to note that so many South Asian Muslim philosophers (JA, Allaja Iqbal, Ahmediyyah) were so impacted by the Bahai Faith (& it’s earlier predecessor Babi religion wholly subsumed by the Baha’i Faith) it is sad to see that they followed the wrong path and stayed as Muslims in Islam (the Bab almost immediately abrogated the Holy Quran so we had diverged from Islam almost immediately on inception). Characters like the above sort of remind me of the desi equivalents Anakin Skywalker or Kylo Ren, exposed to the Force but instead opting for the Sith..

It is also interesting to note the strong intellectual relationship between Iranian thought and the South Asian Muslim community. The febrile atmosphere of the 1840’s-1850’s (where Babism was feared to have consumed Persia) had such strong impacts on the precursors of the Pakistan movement (it could be why the Pakistani Baha’i community are an especially patriotic community).

Incidentally Bahá’ís are only reviled in Iran (& it’s client state Yemen) but otherwise in the wider Islamic world they fare pretty well. Pakistan is especially tolerant and credit to Pakistan that it was a conduit for fleeing Iranian Bahá’ís in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution.

The Bahai community owes a great & everlasting debt to Pakistan.

Of course this is not to negate that the largest Baha’i community in the world is in India and our beloved Lotus Temple is in New Delhi (as Old as me; 33yrs from 1984).

As always the Faith bridges the divide; maybe India & Pakistan will only heal through the balm of Baha’u’llah.

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Padamavati

I’ve been exceptionally busy the past few weeks (and likely only to get busier in the run up to the New Year). What do Indian commentators think on the Padmavati furore (indefinitely postponed).

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Children’s Day

It was Children’s Day in India.

There’s a constant worry about being “outbred” in democratic societies. Instead humankind needs to have a much more rigorous (cultural rather than legal) approach towards child-breeding. Unfortunately our biologies don’t really help; peak fertility coincides with peak career-building time.

Prior to having children, couples should make sure that they are firmly on the path to success.

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