Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Vanchinathan and S.Ramakrishnan's Jingoism


The Raj, as British rule is referred to, had a very unique history of colonization in India compared to even the other possessions of the British crown. India was referred to as the crown jewel of the British empire. Like any colonization there was, undoubtedly, oppression and exploitation. India's industry and culture was oppressed, ridiculed and eclipsed. To stop there would do gross injustice to the many men of the empire who also laid the foundations for many an institution on which India today rests secure as a sovereign independent republic.

Lord Curzon invited the wrath of India by partitioning Bengal and lighting a fire into the nationalist movement. Curzon is also the person who breathed new life into The Archeological Survey of India. The ASI was the brain child of Indologist Sir William Jones. British rule of India had its benefits and to ignore that does gross injustice to writing history with an integrity.

Writing about India's freedom struggle poses very special challenges to any author. Most Indian writers refer to the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 as India's 'First War of Independence'. Local chieftains, that's what they were, Tantiya Tope, Rani of Jhansi etc rallied together  in an attempt to chase the British and crown the ailing Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah. Should we call this as a 'war of Independence'? I think not. This was a war; more appropriately, a battle by local chieftains to protect their own fiefdoms. Liberal democracy and representative governments were totally alien to them.

Tamil Nadu had its share of such chieftains and many have entered the local folklore with an aura of being martyrs in the cause of freedom. Kattabomman, Marudhu brothers, Velu Nachiyar etc are now household names. Kattaboman's aura became a larger than life myth thanks to a blockbuster movie that was filled with fury and bluster. Whether it is Kattabomman or Rani of Jhansi or Velu Nachiyar their fame as martyrs rests solely upon the fact that they died fighting an enemy who happened to be British. All of them, as chieftains, have been warring with neighboring states and other princes. Their opposition to British was just the same as how they would have opposed any other chieftain if their fiefdom were threatened. It is plain bollocks to pretend that they martyred themselves in the cause of 'freedom'.

S.Ramkarishnan, popular contemporary writer in Tamil, is writing a series titled 'My India'  in Junior Vikatan. S.Ra, as he is referred to, has fallen prey to ritualistic need to portray the Britsh rule as singularly villainous with no shades of redemption and refer to questionable acts as acts of martyrdom in the cause of freedom.

 Vanchinathan was the first to employ assassination as a tool. Vanchi killed William Ashe, collector of Tirunelveli as Ashe was traveling in a train and committed suicide immediately in a toilet on the train. A wonderful article by a researcher published in Kalachuvadu gives lot of details including a, much discussed, confessional letter of Vanchi (or one could call it declaration).

Vanchi, an orthodox Brahmin, wrote, "The mlechas of England having captured our country, tread over the sanathana dharma of the Hindus and destroy them. Every Indian is trying to drive out the English and get swarajyam and restore sanathana dharma. Our Raman, Sivaji, Krishnan, Guru Govindan, Arjuna ruled our land protecting all dharmas and in this land they are making arrangements to crown George V, a mlecha, and one who eats the flesh of cows. Three thousand Madrasees have taken a vow to kill George V as soon as he lands in our country. In order to make others know our intention, I who am the least in the company, have done this deed this day. This is what everyone in Hindustan should consider it as his duty."

That statement crystallizes that this is the act of a religious fundamentalist clothing his act in pious robes of freedom struggle. He expresses clearly a desire to go back to what he thinks was a glorious past. This is not about democracy for all, this not about equality for all, this is about what he thinks India should be, this is about who he thinks should rule India. S.Ra dishes out standard school textbook jingoistic version without even a nod to the complexity of the situation.

Writing on Tipu, S.Ra borders on dishonesty by virtually turning a blind eye to Tipu's complex history. S.Ra completely ignores any mention of Tipu's sordid conduct during and after the conquest of Calicut. The slave march of 60,000 Christians from Calicut to Mysore was Tipu's version of the Bataan death march. 

The conduct of Churchill and the British empire at large during the Bengal Famine of 1943 is well recorded and it remains a mark of shame. S.Ra takes the criticism to a new level when he charges that famines were never heard of until British rule. This is false and a sheer canard. The British, to give the devil its due, introduced impartial accounting and record keeping. I'd not trust any king's record keeping or the worse of poets who sang praises for a few gold coins. The British established India's first 'Famine codes' to study and record famines. 

S.Ra touches a nadir when he talks about how syphilis and gonorrhea, two notorious venereal diseases, entered India. Those diseases did enter India thanks to the British soldiers (who in turn got it from the French according to wikipedia). But when a writer claiming to be an intellectual writes a devious characterization "including cholera, these diseases were sowed in India thanks to the British" it takes a sinister tone. The sin of the British was keeping impeccable records. We have almost no good record of state of health care in pre-colonial days. To take the absence of record as proof of blissful state of health care is not just fallacy but idiocy.

S.Ra chooses an interesting term to characterize the British, "வந்தேறிகள்", The term is diluted when translated as immigrants or invaders. Incidentally It is a politically charged word with a history. S.Ra ignores that Brahmins are often insinuated by that same word by DK/DMK. Would S.Ra dare to call Tipu Sultan by that name? 

In his jingoistic moment he pens "இந்தியா ஒரு போதும் நோய்க்கிடங்காக இருந்து இல்லை. அதை நோய்க்கிடங்காக மாற்றியவர்கள் பிரிட்டிஷ், டச்சு, போர்த்துகீசியர், டேனிஷ் போன்ற வந்தேறிகள்தான். இயற்கையாகவே இந்தியாவில் இருந்த மருத்துவ முறைகள், உணவுப் பழக்க வழக்கம், சீதோஷ்ண நிலையைத் தாங்கும் உடல்நலம் யாவும் இந்த 200 ஆண்டுகளில் முற்றிலும் மாறிப்போய் இருக்கிறது. அதுதான் காலனிய ஆதிக்கத்தின் மீள முடியாத பாதிப்பு."

Through out history diseases have indeed spread by migrant populations. To characterize that the British and Danes turned India into a warehouse of diseases is pure canard. Also there is a utopian portrayal of Indian food and traditional medicine. Sir Ronald Ross won Nobel Prize for identifying the Malaria lifecycle, a research he did while stationed in India. The universities and hospitals brought to India by the British and Danes have saved tens of millions of lives. 

I guess since he was writing for Junior Vikatan S.Ra was writing at a different level but his readers deserve better.

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