A World of Pain and Suffering and Dispossession: Remembering Sri Lankan Tamil Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide

Comrade Saleh Memon asks to repost this:

A WORLD OF PAIN, SUFFERING AND DISPOSSESSION – REMEMBERING SRI LANKAN TAMIL ETHNIC CLEANSING AND GENOCIDE

In the week beginning 23rd of July 2018, Sri Lankan Tamils across the world marked the thirty-fifth year of the horrors of the anti-Tamil pogrom of Black July 1983 (Kaṟuppu Yūlai). By all account what happened was a horrific bloodbath when Tamils were killed by Sinhala mobs in Colombo and across the country.

In the western press and elsewhere these atrocities are often presented as race riots. But according to A.Sivanandan who left Colombo after an attack on his family home during the widespread pogrom in 1958, there have been no race riots in Sri Lanka since independence. What there has been a series of increasingly virulent pogroms against the Tamil people by the Sinhala state.

The turning point was the 1956 election, when S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike, launched a new party, Sri Lankan Freedom Party, with a racist platform of Sinhala-Buddhist first to win the majority of Sinhalese Buddhist vote and on winning a landslide,swiftly legislated to make Sinhala the official language and Buddhism the state religion. This attacked Tamil livelihoods and achievement because English education had been a passport for social mobility into the professions and administrative services. Peaceful protests were crushed by the police; any attempts at reconciliation were suppressed by the Sinhalese reaction. This set off a vicious political race to the bottom when the defeated United National Party adopted the same platform in competing for power.

Sivanandan succinctly summed up five decades of developmentsthus: “From then on the pattern of Tamil subjugation was set: racist legislation followed by Tamil resistance, followed by conciliatory government gestures, followed by Opposition rejectionism, followed by anti-Tamil pogroms instigated by Buddhist priests and politicians, escalating Tamil resistance, and so on – except that the mode of resistance varied and intensified with each tightening of the ethnic-cleansing screw and led to armed struggle and civil war”

Successive Sinhalese governments have carried out demographic changes in the Tamil homelands. State-aided colonization has settled Sinhalese, specifically placed between the Northern and Eastern provinces of the Tamil homeland, in order to break up the contiguity between them.

In 1971 the university system abandoned admission based on merit and substituted ‘standardisation’ through examination results – with lower marks required for Sinhalese than for Tamil students. In a single move, this blighted the future prospects of the Tami youth. Non-violent protests and political actions had reached into a blind alley. Their language demoted, their land increasingly grabbed, their educational and job opportunities curtailed and their culture marginalised, Tamil youth turned to arms in the 1970s responding to pogroms with counter-violence.

In 1979 the government passed the Prevention of Terrorism Act and sent the army to Jaffna with instructions to “wipe out terrorism within six months”. The imprisonment and torture of innocent Tamils that followed in the wake of the PTA drove the civilian population further into the arms of the emerging militant groups, all demanding a separate Tamil state, Eelam, the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) the most militant of them.

In June 1981 the security forces set fire to the Jaffna Public Library destroying 95,000 volumes and rare manuscripts of historic Tamil literature, considered to be the epicentre of Tamil cultural heritage.  In the same year, the police attacked a peaceful refugee camp, Gandhiyam, set up by Tamil doctors to give refugees succour and killed or imprisoned its organisers.

On 23 July 1983 the Tigers ambushed a Sri Lankan army unit killing thirteen soldiers in Jaffna to avenge the killing of Charles Anthony (nom de guerre ‘Seelan‘), now of the LTTE’s top commanders. Their bodies were put on public display in Colombo by the government to provoke Sinhalese fury which resulted in the killing of Tamil prisoners in Welikade jail by Sinhalese prisoners with the collusion of the guards.

A widespread pogrom against Tamils commenced immediately and over a week reached genocidal proportions. Abductions, torture, rape, killings, disappearances and arbitrary arrests became widespread. Many attackers used electoral registers to destroy Tamil homes, shops, factories, etc built by Tamils over generations thereby destroying their capital assets accumulated over generations. These planned abuses were carried out with impunity by the armed forces, special task forces, police, home guards and paramilitary forces.

A cruel ethnic civil war of attrition followed over more than two decades with violence and counter-violence on both sides. The Sri Lankan armed forces with an airforce and navy, well equipped with advanced weapons acquired from the UK and US had always had an upper hand. The North East Secretariat on Human rights (NESOHR) documented more that 150 massacres of Tamils between 1956 and 2008. The LTTE resorted to suicide bombings, assassinations and skirmishes with Sri Lankan armed forces.

In July 1987 India signed a pact with Sri Lanka to end the conflict by sending peacekeeping troops (IPKF) to disarm LTTE. As soon as the Tamils realised that India would never support a separate Tamil state, the showdown between the IPKF and LTTE resulted in thousands of deaths. The disaster led to withdrawal of IPKF in March 1990 and the bitterness on the part of LTTE resulted in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in May, 1991.

Apart from the peace talks in October 1994 which ended when Jaffna the main city in the north in December 1995, a major effort mediated by Norway in February 2000 led to a 20 month long fragile ceasefire agreement and talks only to be scuppered by President Chandrika Kumaratunga declaring state of emergency on 5 November 2003.

Meanwhile, the LTTE was already designated as a terrorist organisation in Britain, Europe, India and US, giving a greater confidence to the Sri Lankan government to go on the offensive to seek a final solution militarily. Geopolitical machinations ensured that the Sri Lankan government would have diplomatic and material support from UK and US. There is sufficient evidence that behind the scenes Britain provided training for the Sri Lankan armed forces to improve their performance and the modern weapons to defeat Tamil nationalism. The two great regional powers, India and China both supported the Sri Lankan government. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promoted Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) which countered secular Tamil nationalism. China seeking greater influence in Sri Lanka went along to court the government and Buddhist nationalism.

The election of Mahinda Rajapaksa in April 2005 brought in a regime which conducted a ruthless war not only against the Tamil Tigers but against innocent Tamil civilians. This parliamentary dictatorship tilting to fascism, instituted blanket censorship, abducting and killing any critical journalists and activists and feeding the Sinhalese public with government manufactured propaganda. In 2009 it intensified the military campaign and cornered the Tamil Tigers in Wanni with tens of thousands of civilians. The north of Sri Lanka was destroyed field by field, street by street, hospital by hospital without UN and the Western Powers intervening.

The defeat of the LTTE brought to end the attempt to establish a Tamil state. A survey showed that in 2016, seven years after the end of the war, 96 percent of Tamil land was occupied by the army. There has been little change since then, with many people still unable to return to their lands and access to water resources so that they can farm and fish to sustain their livelihood.

After the massacres in Wanni, On May 18, 2009, Colombo declared the end of the 26-year civil war and presented this as the beginning of a new era of peace, national reconciliation and development. But the PTA still remains in force enabling the security forces to detain people and subject them to torture, bypassing due legal process. There are many who are still looking for disappeared relatives. Nine years later the Sri Lankan government has set up an Office of Mission Persons (OMP) which has yet to gain the confidence of the Tamil community. Whilst the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena has promised to stop abductions and censorship of journalists, the national security state and the fundamental strategy of the ruling class to divide and rule remains unchanged. The political will to look back at the past and bring about reconciliation between the different communities is absent. Little progress has been made to implement The UNHCR resolution 30-1 passed in 2015 to promote reconciliation, accountability and human rights. For this to happen, the fundamentalist Buddhist monks must return to their monasteries and army to the to its barracks.

The Permanent People’s Tribunal on Sri Lanka held in December 2013 upheld the charge of genocide against Sri Lanka government and of complicity by the UK and US governments. Like the Palestinians and Kurds, the Sri Lankan Tamils have suffered ethnic cleansing and dispossession over the last seven decades. In none of these cases have the Western powers and the United Nations designated this as genocide. These are good examples of the prevailing politics of genocide. For the US and UK, ethnic cleaning by its allies such as Israeli, Turkey and Sri Lankan governments are benign genocides. It is only those committed by their enemies that are considered to be nefarious and requiring rapid intervention. In Kosovo, the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia)18 was briskly set up to indict the Yugoslav President Milosevic for genocide. The strategic interest of UK and US ensured immunity to the President Rajapaska for war crimes. Such double standards are with us and undermine the credibility of the current world order dominated by the US. All attempts to use international institutions to hold the Sri Lankan government to account retrospectively, worthwhile as they are, are not likely to result in any significant action.

Every community has to draw lessons from the history of their struggles. The Tamil liberation movement suffered a crippling defeat. The Sri Lankan Tamils have entered new phase. They have to regroup and radically innovate new strategy and tactics. They face a dual challenge- one at home in Sri Lanka and the other in the diaspora in the UK and elsewhere. Wherever they are they need to build strong civil society organisations with solidarity to fight against injustice legally and politically. They have no choice but to reconstruct their lives. In Sri Lanka holding on the land they have and recovering the lands they have been displaced from is the utmost priority. They must develop strategies for this. More importantly, they need to bring to an end the domination of the Sri Lankan military in civil society and public spaces such as schools. For this, they must build communities of resistance based on participatory democracy. Tamils in the diaspora should set up organisations and funding to support reconstruction of the communities in Sri Lanka, beyond mere charities. They will need to build their political organisations to contest any opportunities electorally at local and national levels.

They came for Tamils and now they are increasingly going after the Muslims. Given the triumphalism of Sinhalese nationalism and the increasing attack on Muslim community, the Tamil community must make common cause with all minorities and oppose injustices. This would show a principled position on defence of dignity, security, justice and human rights based on their experience. It will win them respect and friends at home and across the world.

In the UK, the Tamil community are still intimidated by the fact that the Terrorism Act 2000 banned LTTE and by association, any Tamil political activity can be linked to terrorism. They need to resist this by making common cause with the Kurdish and other communities facing a similar problem. Organisations such as CAMPACC have supported the Tamil community over more that a decade. The Tamil community must learn from the Kurdish experience. Kurds under the guidance of their imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan have abandoned nationalism as their aim and have attempted to build grass root democratic institutions uniting diverse communities in Rojava. They face formidable obstacles and geopolitical machinations but their strategy is both visionary and right.

Inevitably we confront the question of why the Sinhalese polity descended into barbarism with Buddhist religious bigotry having a sway contrary to Buddhist tenets of truth, virtue, morality, non-violence etc. The roots of this lies in the colonial past when the British colonial authorities imposed a unitary central state without regard to Tamil territorial claims and invented the ‘Sinhala Buddhist Aryan’ national identity privileged to rule the island in 1833. In sharp contrast to its brutal treatment of the Indian people across the water the British awarded universal suffrage in their model colony coupling it with an island wide census to instil the Sinhala identity with a majoritarian consciousness. They developed a narrative that the Tamils were not indigenous to the island but invaders. Despite the repeated demands by the Tamils for constitutional safeguards that would preserve their collective rights as a nation, the British transferred the power to the Sinhala elite in 1948 leaving Tamils at the mercy of the sectarian state.

This beautiful island still described as ‘the jewel of the Indian Ocean’ in tourist brochures is tarnished. Maybe sometime in not too distant future, coming generations of Sinhalese and Tamils will look back at the last 70 years with horror and seek to build a multicultural, multi-faith and multilingual society where all will flourish and none will be left behind, none will be marginalised and demonised. In a turbulent world they will face urgent challenges of climate change and economic survival. Hopefully it will dawn upon them that the inhabitants of this island have a history and geography so intertwined that ethno-nationalism can only be destructive and an inclusive politics and culture will enrich all of them. Without such hope, how can one face the future.

How can one remember all the victims of this carnage. Innocent children, women and men who were slaughtered for nothing but for the demigods of nationalism. Perhaps it is best to leave it to Faiz Ahmad Faiz who witnessed such the carnage in Bangladesh in 1971 by the Pakistani army and reacted to it with this poem:

This is how my sorrow became visible
its dust, piling up for years in my heart,
finally reached my eyes,

the bitterness now so clear that
I had to listen when my friends
told me to wash my eyes with blood.

Everything at once was tangled in blood-
each face, each idol, red everywhere.
Blood swept over the sun, washing away its gold.

The moon erupted with blood, its silver extinguished.
The sky promised a morning of blood,
ant night wept only in blood.

The trees hardened into crimson pillars.
All flowers filled their eyes with blood.
And every glance was an arrow,

each pierced image blood. This blood
-a river crying our for martyrs-
flows on in longing. And in sorrow, in rage, in love.

Let it flow. Should it be dammed up,
there will only be hatred cloaked in colours of death.
Don’t let his happen, my friends,

bring all my tears back instead,
a flood to purify my dust-filled eyes,
to wash this blood forever from my eyes.
(translated from Urdu by Agha Shahid Ali)

Post navigation

 

 

Advertisements

Protests in Vietnam (guest post)

Guest Post by Sally Mju

About the current protest in Vietnam. I support and I do not support!

This article is analyzed from the perspective of Karl Marx and Rosa Luxemburg.

The “99 years” rally is taking place all across Vietnam. It is a protest in the immediate sense against the lack of consultation in the legislative proposal to rezone land and provide open leases for companies that relocate to new Special Economic Zones. There have been three short strike actions and larger protests, sometimes violent, in several cities. As part of the context we must acknowledge the protests and strikes entail a rise in nationalism, which perhaps is provoked by opportunists who would challenge the authoritarian state. This raises issues of positive and negative importance for the country.

After considering the situation, visiting the strikes, and reviewing a series of articles, I identify and question the single and most serious aspect of the problem: Why did the state move forward plans to lease land through the 99-year special zone without consulting the people?

This “99-year” event has prompted uproar and indignation across the country in large part because it involves China. From every layer of the society people who had knowledge about the legislation raised criticisms: lawyers, doctors, farmers and workers protested against the government. But the criticisms were amplified not only because the Vietnamese people would want to have a say in decisions about how they live, but also because opportunists were able to access a long-standing hatred of China and the criticisms had suggested that benefits to Chinese businesses are at the expense of the people.

“1000 years of Chinese invasion, 100 years of the French”

Nationalism has long existed in parallel with the development of the country.

Nationalism is often utlilised within the government to support economic and political expansion in its various enterprises. But there is also the form of nationalism arising among the oppressed class in the face of authoritarian tendencies that prevail within the ruling party state.

Rosa Luxemburg argues for the analysis and development of Marxism including criticism of all forms of nationalism. Rosa’s arrival in the Marxist revolution supported the class struggle of peoples oppressed by the bourgeoisie all over the world. Rosa’s principle is “workers of the world unite!”. According to Rosa, nationalism is a form of bourgeois thought that must be opposed by proletarian ideology and socialist aims. Almost all forms of nationalism have developed and are deeply rooted in the proletariat in cases that span the whole world. In some instances, this involves ‘patriotism’. Some opportunist socialists opposed her revolutionary standpoint and Lenin developed his views on nationalism quite differently, distinguishing between nationalism among the oppressor nations which should be opposed by the revolutionaries and the nationalism of the oppressed nations, that revolutionaries should support. Lenin argued that revolutionary nationalism was needed to counteract imperialism and oppose the rule of the empires of the world.

Lenin’s view easily led to one-sided bias toward the right and this cannot be reconciled with the current class struggle in Vietnam as Vietnam is no longer oppressed under colonialism, notwithstanding that it is now under an authoritarian state that contracts with the capitalist system. Whether all things should be attributed to class struggle on a national level is a wider question for discussion elsewhere.

But what is the purpose of the current protests? Their purpose as I see it at first was one that I am very supportive of, especially in the way they bravely stand against the government’s lack of transparency. However, opportunists fostering patriotism and nationalism intervened and the protesters had not yet reached a level that could connect with the workers organised against the bourgeoisie, thus to that extent it remained an independent action by the peasantry to retain control of their land and we can surely understand. We would expect that in any case where peasant lands were sold to a wealthy official in Hanoi, without any compensation to the peasants using that land, then the same sort of protest would arise. But because of the nationalist antipathy against China in Vietnam, something that probably unites almost all Vietnamese, national feeling becomes an element of the case here. Those who fight the sale of land will “use” this element to inflame passions and gain support. This nationalist tendency should be opposed, even as the underlying action and its aims I would support. Looking in two directions at once is a very difficult policy to operate.

The opportunists saw a flicker of anger and they thought they could steer the people to where they wanted. They crept to the front and provoked the government. From the moment the opportunists entered, the protest was no longer a protest but a commandeered attack vehicle for those who want to destabilise the present government. If this was the purpose of the protest, it would not change the substantive original cause, but lead only to sabotage and a dysfunctionality that will slowly subside. An objective phenomenon, without actual support in the class, it will fade without resolution like the 2014 Binh Duong strike in South Vietnam’s industrial parks.

To disentangle these issues we need to distinguish between three categories: demonstrations, sabotage and marches.

A march is a kind of celebration of something that is beneficial to oneself or to society, like that in 2015 with the LGBT parade in the pedestrian street of District 1, Ho Chi Minh City;

Protest strikes and demonstrations are the action of a group of people supporting a political or economic cause;

Sabotage is militant action, used especially for escalating political advantage, and it can be either armed interference aimed at overthrow of the government or part of a development of the widening struggle of the revolutionary class that Rosa Luxemburg calls the Mass Strike.

Right now, surprisingly with no attention from the wider press and public in Vietnam, including the opportunists, there are 300 workers in Nghe An on strike over a two-hour extension of their hours with no wage increase. While there may be less people involved, the issues a more clear-cut, their base is sound, and they have a cause.

Would this small economic demand escalate into nationalism or generalise into a political struggle based upon nation or class? The opportunists do not move into this strike, they do not see it as a place for sabotage that would access the national and patriotic elements they manipulate. Yet it is this kind of economic struggle that holds promise for a better Vietnam, even though it is not escalated into a political stage and is not, yet, directed to the Mass Strike strategy.

Only on the basis of the economic struggle of the working class would be possible to widen the struggle, build the Mass Strike and establish a new government, a new institution, or anything else, because that would by necessity have to build on the strength of the truly revolutionary class. Anti-government opportunism, and every country has such examples, rarely is revolutionary where the upper class people of the country also go in for sabotage, such as the United States with President Donald Trump for example. But without the revolutionary workers these opportunist actions only introduce chaos, it does not change anything substantial. Looking to France, workers ‘protests at the Amazon plant have boosted wages and added workers’ welfare, albeit to a modest extent, with little change in their living conditions, but on their own strength.

Luxemburg argued that previous analyses of the Mass Strike had tended to separate economic and political struggles and in 1905, she said, the strike could initially start with what appear to be small economic demands but could rapidly generalise to become and challenge on a broader political level. This would only happen if led by the mass working class, it cannot happen if led by the opportunists because they have no actual political demand beyond opportunist sabotage. Sabotage here is not a political struggle that can feed back into weaker sections of the working class who would in turn strike over their economic grievance. Opportunist sabotage has no mass base and so will fade away.

The low profile of the left in Vietnam means the right-wing cause of economic inequality has become a pressing nationalist problem. The SEZ Special Economic Zones are no advantage for the nation because with less regulation and constraints upon capital, they often cause more worker exploitation. No workers movement can support them. They certainly attract capitalists from all over, not just China, but the jobs they bring are compromised and the workers have identified this drawback. At the present time, nationalists and opportunists have tried to take this moment and turn it into a protest against China and in effect bring the country back to a time when Vietnam was subject to colonial exploitation at the hands of the imperialists.

Vietnam has no left-wing opposition to offer other economic development policies.

The key to solving this problem is not the issue of nationalism but the problem of class struggle. Think about the needs of the movement, if the working classes of all nationalities around the world oppose the bourgeoisie?

Sally Mju.

Restored 18th century Danish tavern to be inaugurated today

[JH comment: now if you were plying the illicit opium trade on behalf of dodgy East India Company officials, you’d also need to stop by the Tavern and deal. I guess]

DanishTavernopenFrom; The Milennium Post

by Nandini Guha | 28 Feb 2018 12:20 AM

http://www.millenniumpost.in/kolkata/restored-18th-century-danish-tavern-to-be-inaugurated-today-287209

Kolkata: An 18th Century Danish tavern that was in ruins, has been finally restored into a 120-seater café and lodge overlooking the Ganges at Serampore, by the Ministry of Tourism and the Government of Denmank. The heritage property will be inaugurated on Wednesday by Indranil Sen, the minister of state for Tourism and several ambassadors representing the Nordic countries. The tavern dates back to 1786. Restoration work was taken up by heritage architect Manish Chakraborti and his team in 2015. “A lot of European vessels used to ply on the river during that time. They used to spend a night in transit at the tavern. When we took over restoration though, it was in ruins. The roof had collapsed and there was debris everywhere. Now the old building has been restored to its old classical beauty,” Chakraborti told Millennium Post. The cost of restoration has been borne by the National Museum of Denmark (Rs 3.5 crore) and the state Tourism Department (Rs 1.5 crore). The Tourism Department is presently looking for an operator to run the café and it is expected that it will be fully operational in a month. “The important thing is that the government is investing in a heritage building that has now been converted into a reusable commercial space. As far as the menu is concerned, the operator has to keep in mind that this is Serampore and not Park Street. The pricing could be similar to cafes like Flury’s or Mrs Magpie. And of course, it will be a boost for the state’s tourism prospects,” added Chakraborti. Chakraborti had earlier won a UNESCO award for restoring the 200 year old St Olaf’s Church in Serampore, again an initiative of the Government of Denmark and the West Bengal government.

http://www.millenniumpost.in/kolkata/restored-18th-century-danish-tavern-to-be-inaugurated-today-287209

On Madhava Prasad

an overdue appreciation.

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 09.24.31

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 09.24.54

Read the rest of the review here, or below:

In Cine-Politics: Film Stars and Political Existence in South India, film studies becomes politics, but also society, identification and desire. Prasad’s book contains six well-thought-out chapters, and reappraises the context of focus upon the well-known names and stars of ‘regional’ cinema from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Larger-than-life political icons MGR, NTR and Rajkumar will need no introduction within India, yet, from this book, the outside reader will also get sufficient detail and a good idea of the kinds of films, from ‘mythologicals’ to ‘socials’, that made up their cinema careers. However, the chapters also present the political trajectories of these stars, and the book’s significance is that the turning of film into politics demands a wider scope than any film studies’ focus has hitherto provided. The book importantly goes beyond any mechanical understanding of how film stars might use the cinema for political gain.

The first chapter shows how central government initiatives, especially the States Reorganization Commission of 1953, had deep ramifications for regional film, reflected both in the organisation of cinema as an industry and in the role accorded its emerging stars. The phenomenon of the ‘star-politician’ in South Indian films uniquely impacted upon politics there. Successive chapters then discuss MGR in Tamil Nadu, NTR in Andhra Pradesh, Rajkumar in Karnataka, and ‘fan Bakhti’, with an appendix on Jayalalithaa (see below). MGR, NTR and Rajkumar are so famous that we recognise them by their familiar initials or single names (Marudhur Gopalan Ramachandran aka MGR; Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao aka NTR; and Singanalluru Puttaswamayya Muthuraju aka Rajkumar). Yet, even though each of them played a significant political role in his respective state, he did so in quite different ways and reflecting different political developments and changes. MGR was already a Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party activist before starting in films, and his film roles helped his party to success in 1967, before he formed a new party in 1972 to continue on as chief minister of Tamil Nadu until his death in 1977. In Andhra Pradesh, NTR’s entry into politics and film was through the Telugu language and Telugu nationalism; this gained him status and prestige in the state, but was less readily translated beyond the regional. Similarly, Rajkumar was identified with the identity politics of Kannada. As a political investment, this identity politics suggests a wider path and pattern, indicating a parallel organisational format between his political persona and his screen personality.

It is Prasad’s contention (and not inconsequentially Freudian in analytic reach) that ‘an adequate explanation for the cine-political phenomenon…cannot really be found in the content of the relevant films’ (p. 57). He makes this claim at the very end of a chapter on the cinema strategies of the DMK party in Tamil Nadu, whereby a kind of commodity logic is expanded. Prasad gives us the truism that, certainly in the last ten years, Bollywood has become ‘an appendage of the consumer goods industry via advertising’ (p. 22) and ‘a reflexive commodity, consciously produced in conformity with its own image’ (p. 23). It is not beyond the readers of this book to recognise an anti-commercial and regional argument that Bollywood is shaped by and yet also subsumes the regional. While not ‘any’ South Indian film will do to establish this point, a preponderance of star persona films, and the accompanying film marketing strategies, are identifiable and discernible as influences in, of and on Bollywood.

All the same, a question about content might clarify some issues for us. Do we need to have seen the films of the larger-than-life MGR for Tamil Nadu, or NTR for Andhra Pradesh, to know that there is something different going on with the star-persona film vehicles here than in that ‘other’ dominant Indian film tradition that regionalism necessary backs up against? In Prasad’s discussion of comparative cinema, the scope is larger than the screen. At stake is history itself when he develops a point from an earlier essay in which ‘modernity continues to be identified with the historical concretion of Western modernity, [and so] it will always seem that every other form is a deviant, or not yet modern’ form.11. Madhava M. Prasad, ‘Singular But Double-Entry: Paul Willamen’s Proposals for a Comparative Film Studies’, in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Vol. 14, no. 1 (2013), p. 9.View all notes This deviation is important because where once Hollywood, even at a remove, was regarded as ‘a source of knowledge and values that hold the promise of a better life’—and its ideas were ‘stolen’ and inserted into Bollywood films—today, instead, we see ‘an epochal change in cinema [that] comes in the wake of opening up of the economy in the process of liberalization and globalization’.22. Ibid., p. 10View all notes This gives us the rationale for Prasad’s new book as a development beyond his own 1998 scene-setting work on the melodramatic in Ideology of the Hindi Film;33. M. Madhava Prasad, Ideology of the Hindi Film: A Historical Construction(Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1988).View all notes it is by going beyond melodramatic narrative content that the political appeal of an MGR or NTR is activated in a wider context.

Cine-Politics asserts that after a distinct period in which writers were dominant in the movies, the celebrity star system took hold, and this star persona system now acts like a contagion. In the past, and consistent with melodrama, the fragmentary and episodic form of stories and plots existed within an abstract whole. Subsequently, the movement from writers to star system evident in Tamil films and in the discussion Prasad offers of MGR, means the writer’s message-communicating model has been hollowed out. The message is now the star. It is revealing that the phrase used to warn against dismissing this transition is that of the haunting spectre of denial. To take cinema as transparent is to remain caught within a communicated messages model that had already been warded off as a mere propaganda tool, thus inviting ‘positive or negative valuation depending on one’s agreement or disagreement with the content of the propaganda’ (p. 46). The cultural content that haunts here is not a contained narrative or plot; MGR is not seen to be significant in any particular film, but across all films. Grand narrative returns as embodied persona. MGR plays the gods in general, and in the ‘socials’.

Cine-Politics is not just a fan book on the extraordinary and curious phenomenon of larger-than-life film stars, it is also a commentary upon issues of such long-term interest that the book will surely become the standard reference for persona studies and a major contribution to film theory, significant well beyond its subject area and location. In Ideology of the Hindi Film, the discussion of screen kissing and subsumption, the conjunction of melodrama and Marx, made that book an indispensable reference; now Prasad recaptures his pre-eminence via a regionalism that reaches out to place region at the centre of an already full field. This is the peculiar brilliance of a study that thereby changes everything at the same time, such that arguments about melodrama as the presentation of the ideology of the nation as family drama are now worked through not only Mother India, but via the regional cousins too. The family resemblance of subsumption, even as a difficult theoretical framework, is explained and reinforced with local detail. The films are described with a film buff’s affection, but the analysis relocates MGR, NTR and Rajkumar, and with a passing mention of Rajinikanth and Jayalalithaa, conceptually in the mainstream.

Along the way, the too-quick judgements of journalists and sociologists, who should know the context better, are exposed as inadequate. MGR was indeed a heart-throb and hero through many films, but the viewing public is not simply programmed or predetermined to worship personalities. Nor, despite NTR’s penchant for portraying deities, do these film stars somehow ‘replace’ the gods in the public’s estimation. Prasad displays a healthy scepticism here; even if there is some truth to the adoration and identification observed in such commentary, it does not in any way satisfy or explain the political appeal of personalities, or the persona role, for the stakes are higher than that. Prasad offers substantiation via statistics to show that, for example, NTR’s roles in ‘mythologicals’ were secondary and subsequent to his roles in ‘socials’, films about issues and themes of social relevance. Playing gods was not typecasting of him (p. 76); his ‘star’ recognition had already been established long before his first appearance as Lord Krishna in K.V. Reddy’s Mayabazar (1957).

Some questions remain for debate: is NTR’s election as chief minister of Andhra Pradesh subsumed under a greater regionalist Telugu politics, or is Telugu regionalism subsumed in NTR’s star narrative? Is how the theatre tradition gives way to mass popular film, where the allocation of roles within theatre groups moves towards a different kind of logic in that the central character acquires an importance, beyond the symbolic importance accorded to the drama itself (p. 99)? Does film technology figure deeply here, in close-ups, tracking shots and audience responses to stars, persona and life, and in ways relevant to ‘star systems in every popular cinema industry’ (p. 100)?

Gaps in the text can leave these questions open, and this might help us think for ourselves. What perhaps is needed is a larger chapter on MGR’s co-star and political successor, Jayalalithaa Jayaram. We can perhaps understand why she only receives a short discussion in the appendix, but it could be fruitful to consider how continuity might have played out if the book had taken on her mastery of self-presentation and indeed ‘fan Bakhti’ in both film and politics. Here, regional analysis of the particularity of South Indian films of a specific time and context shows that the figures of MGR, NTR and Rajkumar, as well as Jayalalithaa in particular, can be understood as ‘roles’ or personas who extend beyond the film text into the socio-political in unprecedented ways. The ‘socials’ too contain specific characters for whom patronage and clientelism prevail, but also in which uplift projects and social programmes are initiated in the generic name of the star. The cine-political is not star charisma at the ballot box, nor is it a propaganda vehicle, but a moment in the history of cinema when specific audiences have been prepared to follow the leadership of on-screen political investments orchestrated by adept political operatives—and then act to consecrate such figures as leaders. It is with this that Prasad’s text is full of suggestive insights inviting further analysis. For example, he notes how an actor’s persona across films ‘begins to communicate through other channels than the films’ and even in ‘parallel to the diegetic content of the narrative’ (p. 142). His commentaries centre on enthusiasm, sovereignty, language, ideology and the commodification, and even mass reproduction, of star persona effects (p. 184). With these openings, Prasad’s thoughtful and thought-filled volume should become a classic of film studies, and not only for its regional specificity.

Notes

1. Madhava M. Prasad, ‘Singular But Double-Entry: Paul Willamen’s Proposals for a Comparative Film Studies’, in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Vol. 14, no. 1 (2013), p. 9.

2. Ibid., p. 10

3. M. Madhava Prasad, Ideology of the Hindi Film: A Historical Construction (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1988).

Click this link if you got this far.

Danish Tavern Serampore

Danish tavern decked up to start second innings in Serampore

Ajanta Chakraborty| TNN | Nov 21, 2017, 04:53 IST

 KOLKATA: The double-storey Denmark Tavern, which was in a shambles till a couple of years ago, will soon turn into a lifestyle stay. The edifice on the banks of the Hooghly in Serampore will be Bengal‘s second government-backed live-and-conserve endeavour after the St Olav’s Church project, which was restored last year and is in back in use for prayers and religious ceremonies.
Come February xx will open the doors of Denmark Tavern that has risen out of debris after being painstakingly restored by the National Museum of Denmark (NMD) in tandem with the West Bengal Heritage Commission. The NMD has funded the Rs 3.5-crore restoration and the state tourism department is paying another Rs 1.2 crore for the finishing. It will be running the cafe-by-the-river, which will have six overnight-stay rooms.

The Serampore riverfront, which looked picture perfect during the Danish rule, fell on bad times and the majestic structures were left to rot for decades. In 2012, things started changing with Serampore Initiative, the grand revival of the former Danish colony. The Denmark Tavern restoration is part of the big plans to bring back the old glory of the former Danish colony.

“We are extremely excited about the completion of the Denmark Tavern, which was the most challenging of the restoration work we have done in Serampore,” Bente Wolff, curator, National Museum of Denmark, told TOI from Copenhagen. Over last several months, Wolff has been flying in and out of Serampore to supervise the restoration work.

“This is the first public-private partnership in the heritage sector at this scale. This will give a fillip to the CM’s pet project of river cruise linking all the heritage towns along the Hooghly,” said Manish Chakraborti, the project’s conservation architect

Clearing the morass and rescuing the tavern was the most formidable task ever, said Suvaprasanna, chairman of the commission. “The challenge was in connecting history with architecture. For instance, the exact location of the tavern was not known. Finally, we found documents showing it was next to the SDO’s residence. It took one-and-a-half months to clear the debris,” he said.

“Denmark’s interest in reviving the remnants of the buildings first started in 2008 at the ethnographic department of the National Museum of Denmark,” added commission member Partha Ranjan Das. Archival and field studies were carried out between November 2008 and April 2009 by restoration architect Flemming Aalund and historian Simon Ranten, who produced an elaborate, report.

Karen Tam opiumartifacts.

 

Screen Shot 2017-11-14 at 21.48.01Opium dens taking over galleries has a perfect beauty. I was reminded telling a friend about this and thought it was time once again for another promo on here – folks, the Opiates kick back, or something…

Check Karen’s work out here:
scroll down about six pics for the opium den, the other stuff are her porcelains, and trinkets, then a bit further down for the cardboard cut outs of chinamen.
and more cut outs here: