Lots of social injustice going in the UK lately…
While we have discussed caste a LOT in this class, being of course a major issue pervading all corners of Indian society, many times there is a tendency to deny or ignore caste in urban settings. While in the texts we read for this class caste continued to show up even in the cities, a documentary I watched in the History of Contemporary India and South Asia class I’m currently taking (History 543.04) showed that many urban people, regardless of class, see caste as something outdated and non-applicable to their day to day lives. In a book we read for the history class, the author mentioned that college students and professors that she observed specifically made it a point to not use their family names as to prevent identification of one’s caste, and the topic of caste was something along the lines of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
So therefore it would seem to me that somewhere far removed from rural Indian village, such as the urban metropolis of London, would be the last place to see institutionalized caste discrimination. Guess I was wrong.
Vijay and Amardeep Begraj were forced to leave their jobs after facing months of discrimination for their relationship. Amardeep, a high-caste Jat, was told by a supervisor that her boyfriend’s caste (Dalits) were “different creatures,” and later at their wedding, a colleague toasted the happy couple by saying that “Jat girls are going down the drain.”
Currently the couple are suing their former employers, but have faced some difficulties in the judicial process, as the UK doesn’t recognize discrimination based on caste. News of their unique struggle has broke, and the Begraj family has since faced vandalism and hatecrime from unknown perpetrators for their love.
As I hope you are all aware, it is India’s Independence Day today! Sixty four years ago on August 15th, to paraphrase Nehru, India awoke to to life and freedom. A moment came, which comes but rarely in history, when India stepped out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long supressed, finds utterance.
The discussion in class today of the themes of the old vs. new India, the Light and the Darkness, reminded me of a post by Srinidhi in the past week which included a video of the (most?) famous actor, Amitabh Bachchan, speaking of the two Indias. This video was part of a campaign four years ago called “Lead India,” and was meant to assess the situation of India and celebrate sixty years of freedom.
While Bachchan’s video is very relevant to the themes of “The White Tiger,” another video from “Lead India” came to mind when talking about India’s progress and place in the world (hosted by none other than the also-insanely-famous Shah Rukh/King Khan):
There are so many things in this video that need to be addressed, I’m sure we could spend an entire class on it. From the Gandhian references, the call to action, criticism of the government and infrastructure, and of course those intense 20 seconds at the end…any thoughts?
I just came across this very interesting short story by Anirvan Chatterjee, an incredibly intelligent Indian American bookworm/techie/activist who spent last year (along with landscape architect Barnali Ghosh) documenting the work of climate activists in Europe and Asia. He seems like a very interesting person, and you can learn more about him at his websites:
This short story won second place at the Katha 2011 fiction contest and is a critique of climate policy using the characters of the Ramayana to demonstrate the injustice, corruption, and political inaction related to environmental reform. To be honest I’m not 100% sure who his characters are supposed to represent, either the nations of South Asia, or a larger global cast, so hopefully a rereading of the text will flesh out some more of Chatterjee’s unique portrayals. The text certainly packs a powerful punch by reinventing the characters of the timeless classic to illustrate the controversy surrounding climate change and its consequences.
I just saw this article and it made me stop and wonder…how come I have never seen anybody question the mental stability of Muslim extremists in court cases? Perhaps I just have not sought out the right news articles, but for the most part when Muslim terrorists are tried, it seems as if they are simply accused of heinous crimes done in cold blood, in their right mind.
And somehow whenever a white American/European (right wing or otherwise) commits some violent act, his ideologies are ostracized and his mental capability questioned…as if there is no way a white person could ever be so irresponsible or irrational, that naturally his philosophies and reasons for action were the products of some gross mistake. I think most would agree that the corresponding arguments for terrorism in a Muslim context would equally be deemed as wrong, but I definitely feel as if there is a pattern or accepting terrorism done by brown people as part of some unstable nature that deserves criminal punishment, while such an act committed by a white person automatically becomes an extreme exception. I think that what we discussed in class is valid, that elements of American society are quick to condemn Anders Breivik because some of his views parallel their own, but I’m beginning to think that there are underlying racial factors at play in this global problem of terrorism.
(btw Wikipedia agrees with me on this one by the way: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereotypes_of_South_Asians#Irrationality)
“This is indeed India! The land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendour and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of traditions, whose yesterday’s bear date with the moldering antiquities for the rest of nations-the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the world combined.” ~Mark Twain
While definitely orientalist in some of his rhetoric, Twain obviously has a lot of nice things to say about the world’s oldest surviving civilization. Which is more than the New York Times can say. Honestly I haven’t read this article in depth and may only respond to it later, but as the topic of this is directly how India is portrayed in the west, and how Indians and NRI’s (non-resident Indians/the Indian Diaspora) react, it is only fitting to discuss.
In reference to our brief discussion in class today about portraying characters of color with white actors (recently given the name “racebending”), I wanted to give you all a link to this movement I have been a part of that deals with current issues of brown/yellow/black face. I would encourage you to explore the website, as it can explain itself much better than I can.
As we discussed in class, there are many reasons why Hollywood’s “white-washing” of characters in film is a bad thing. Oftentimes such characters have been portrayed as egregious stereotypes or in a villainous role–both of which are present in Gunga Din, as the subservient Gunga Din himself (Sam Jaffe) and the Thuggee Chief (Jamiel Hason). Casting a white actor in a colored role can often lead to offensive portrayals of an ethnicity based on the white actor/director/filmmaker’s views of said people. Beyond these facts, the number of roles that often go to minority actors/actresses are few and far between. Most colored characters appear in side roles, or that of the villain, and rarely as the lead hero/heroine. In fact, just last year 89% of Paramount Studio’s films had a white lead, not very representative of a country with non-whites compromising almost 30% of the population. When these opportunities for minority actors do arise, racebending makes it acceptable to give these roles away to white people. Producers often claim that this happens because there aren’t enough qualified actors of Asian descent (which is quite a ludicrous claim, and even if it was true, how can Asian American actors become successful unless actually given a part?) or because audiences don’t want to see an Asian face as a lead role, which begs a whole new set of questions of where America is at racially, or at least where Hollywood thinks we are at.
While several movies in the past decade still have employed yellow/brown face when portraying Asian characters (I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, Prince of Persia) the common trend has been to simply erase the racial minority status of the character and ignore any bearing their ethnicity may have had on the development of character (Bulletproof Monk, 30 Days of Night, 21, Dragonball: Evolution, The Last Airbender, The Social Network). Racebending.com was created to deal specifically with the controversy surrounding The Last Airbender, and is currently working against several films being produced that deny equality and diversity in their casting. I highly encourage you to research movies before going to see them from now on, being mindful of whether you are supporting Hollywood’s racism and racebending.