Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Prostitution of boys at India's pilgrim sites called rampant

Earth Times

South Asia News
Mar 10, 2009,

New Delhi - Sexual exploitation of boys in three of India's major pilgrimage centres is pervasive and on the rise, a study released Tuesday said.

The study focused on male children in prostitution at Hindu temple sites of Puri in eastern Orissa state and Tirupati and Guruvayoor in southern Andhra Pradesh and Kerala states.

It was conducted by Ecpat, an international network that aims to stop sexual exploitation of children, and Indian non-governmental organization Equations.

The study found that in these centres, development of tourism had led to sexual exploitation of children, in the form of child abuse, child trafficking, child prostitution, child sex tourism and child pornography.

'There is a dearth of information on male child sexual exploitation and prostitution due to the assumption that most sexual exploiters are men and therefore their victims are women or girls. However, this is not true,' said S Vidya, a coordinator with the Equations.

'The double standards that society has about homosexuality and the fact that it is criminalized in India only makes the problem less visible.'

In Tirupati, which receives mostly Indians, a survey of boys aged between 6 and 18 years revealed that sexual abuse of boys is rampant due to demand from domestic tourists. Pressure on boys to earn a living for the family was cited as a reason why they were forced into prostitution.

'Family members saw less risk when male children are involved in selling sex as compared to girls, as the social stigma is less and the fear of pregnancy does not exist,' the report said.

In Puri, boys interviewed reported that both domestic and foreign tourists were involved in the sexual exploitation.

'A number of massage parlours and health clubs have mushroomed in Puri that primarily cater to foreign and domestic tourists, where prostitution takes place involving both adults and children,' the study said.

In Guruvayoor, child sexual abuse was less visible but discussions with locals revealed that several boys were involved in prostitution, selling sex to domestic tourists and locals.

The groups urged the Indian government to set up agencies to safeguard children and tighten laws to stop child sex tourism, including severe punishment for convicted offenders.

see also

Friday, March 6, 2009

Winston Churchill - Imperialist

"I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the
manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not
admit that right. I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has
been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of
Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by
the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise
race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place."

Winston Churchill 1937

"It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious
middle temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in
the east, striding half-naked up the steps of the vice-regal palace,
while he is still organizing and conducting a defiant campaign of
civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative
of the king-emperor."

Winston Churchill, 1930

Noam Chomsky on British Empire

American Amnesia: I’m interested in your response to those like Niall Ferguson – who write about the values of imperialism, such as increased education levels, GDP, etc.

Noam Chomsky: Niall Ferguson doesn’t bother telling you that in the 18th century, India was one of the commercial and industrial centers of the world. England was a kind of a backwater – it had much greater force, but not commercial or industrial advantages. It was able to forcefully impose on India what was now called the neo-liberal program of free-market, tariffs, etc. etc. Meanwhile England itself, which was a powerful state, raised high protectionist barriers to protect itself from superior Indian goods...textiles, ships, and others. There was massive state intervention in the economy, the United States later did the same thing – stole Indian technology. Over the next 200 years, that tyranny led to an impoverished, agricultural country, while England became a rich, industrial society. The mortality rate in India after 200 years of British rule was about the same as when they took over. There were railroads, but they were run from the outside – they were there for extraction of resources. Meanwhile, tens, if not hundreds of millions of people died in famines - the famines were horrendous. So that’s the history of the British in India. After India won its independence, it began a path of development, picked up again where it was two centuries ago. It’s true that while under the imperial system, some of the better features of Western society leaked through, but India had a rich literature and culture long before England came in. Basically it was a murderous, destructive, several centuries of history, which India then got out of. Then it began to develop where there were no more famines, and the infant mortality rate began to improve enormously. There are still a lot of problems, many traceable back to the English days. That’s the history of English imperialism.

How Britain Denies its Holocausts

December 27, 2005

Why do so few people know about the atrocities of empire?

By George Monbiot
Published in the Guardian
27th December 2005

In reading the reports of the trial of the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, you are struck by two things. The first of course is the anachronistic brutality of the country’s laws. Mr Pamuk, like scores of other writers and journalists, is being prosecuted for “denigrating Turkishness”, which means that he dared to mention the Armenian genocide in the first world war and the killing of the Kurds in the past decade. The second is its staggering, blithering stupidity. If there is one course of action which could be calculated to turn these massacres into live issues, it is the trial of the country’s foremost novelist for mentioning them.

As it prepares for accession, the Turkish government will discover that the other members of the European Union have found a more effective means of suppression. Without legal coercion, without the use of baying mobs to drive writers from their homes, we have developed an almost infinite capacity to forget our own atrocities.

Atrocities? Which atrocities? When a Turkish writer uses that word, everyone in Turkey knows what he is talking about, even if they deny it vehemently. But most British people will stare at you blankly. So let me give you two examples, both of which are as well documented as the Armenian genocide.

In his book Late Victorian Holocausts, published in 2001, Mike Davis tells the story of the famines which killed between 12 and 29 million Indians(1). These people were, he demonstrates, murdered by British state policy.

When an El Nino drought destituted the farmers of the Deccan plateau in 1876 there was a net surplus of rice and wheat in India. But the viceroy, Lord Lytton, insisted that nothing should prevent its export to England. In 1877 and 1878, at height of the famine, grain merchants exported a record 6.4 million hundredweight of wheat. As the peasants began to starve, government officials were ordered “to discourage relief works in every possible way”(2). The Anti-Charitable Contributions Act of 1877 prohibited “at the pain of imprisonment private relief donations that potentially interfered with the market fixing of grain prices.” The only relief permitted in most districts was hard labour, from which anyone in an advanced state of starvation was turned away. Within the labour camps, the workers were given less food than the inmates of Buchenwald. In 1877, monthly mortality in the camps equated to an annual death rate of 94%.

As millions died, the imperial government launched “a militarized campaign to collect the tax arrears accumulated during the drought.” The money, which ruined those who might otherwise have survived the famine, was used by Lytton to fund his war in Afghanistan. Even in places which had produced a crop surplus, the government’s export policies, like Stalin’s in the Ukraine, manufactured hunger. In the North-western provinces, Oud and the Punjab, which had brought in record harvests in the preceding three years, at least 1.25m died.

Three recent books - Britain’s Gulag by Caroline Elkins, Histories of the Hanged by David Anderson and Web of Deceit by Mark Curtis - show how white settlers and British troops suppressed the Mau Mau revolt in Kenya in the 1950s. Thrown off their best land and deprived of political rights, the Kikuyu started to organise - some of them violently - against colonial rule. The British responded by driving up to 320,000 of them into concentration camps(3). Most of the remainder - over a million - were held in “enclosed villages”. Prisoners were questioned with the help of “slicing off ears, boring holes in eardrums, flogging until death, pouring paraffin over suspects who were then set alight, and burning eardrums with lit cigarettes.”(4) British soldiers used a “metal castrating instrument” to cut off testicles and fingers. “By the time I cut his balls off,” one settler boasted, “he had no ears, and his eyeball, the right one, I think, was hanging out of its socket”(5). The soldiers were told they could shoot anyone they liked “provided they were black”(6). Elkins’s evidence suggests that over 100,000 Kikuyu were either killed by the British or died of disease and starvation in the camps. David Anderson documents the hanging of 1090 suspected rebels: far more than the French executed in Algeria(7). Thousands more were summarily executed by soldiers, who claimed they had “failed to halt” when challenged.

These are just two examples of at least twenty such atrocities overseen and organised by the British government or British colonial settlers: they include, for example, the Tasmanian genocide, the use of collective punishment in Malaya, the bombing of villages in Oman, the dirty war in North Yemen, the evacuation of Diego Garcia. Some of them might trigger a vague, brainstem memory in a few thousand readers, but most people would have no idea what I’m talking about. Max Hastings, in the Guardian today, laments our “relative lack of interest in Stalin and Mao’s crimes.”(8) But at least we are aware that they happened.

In the Express we can read the historian Andrew Roberts arguing that for “the vast majority of its half millennium-long history, the British Empire was an exemplary force for good. … the British gave up their Empire largely without bloodshed, after having tried to educate their successor governments in the ways of democracy and representative institutions”(9)(presumably by locking up their future leaders). In the Sunday Telegraph, he insists that “the British empire delivered astonishing growth rates, at least in those places fortunate enough to be coloured pink on the globe.”(10) (Compare this to Mike Davis’s central finding, that “there was no increase in India’s per capita income from 1757 to 1947″, or to Prasannan Parthasarathi’s demonstration that “South Indian labourers had higher earnings than their British counterparts in the 18th century and lived lives of greater financial security.”(11)) In the Daily Telegraph, John Keegan asserts that “the empire became in its last years highly benevolent and moralistic.” The Victorians “set out to bring civilisation and good government to their colonies and to leave when they were no longer welcome. In almost every country, once coloured red on the map, they stuck to their resolve.”(12)

There is one, rightly sacred Holocaust in European history. All the others can be ignored, denied or belittled. As Mark Curtis points out, the dominant system of thought in Britain “promotes one key concept that underpins everything else - the idea of Britain’s basic benevolence. … Criticism of foreign policies is certainly possible, and normal, but within narrow limits which show “exceptions” to, or “mistakes” in, promoting the rule of basic benevolence.”(13) This idea, I fear, is the true “sense of British cultural identity” whose alleged loss Max laments today. No judge or censor is required to enforce it. The men who own the papers simply commission the stories they want to read.

Turkey’s accession to the European Union, now jeopardised by the trial of Orhan Pamuk, requires not that it comes to terms with its atrocities; only that it permits its writers to rage impotently against them. If the government wants the genocide of the Armenians to be forgotten, it should drop its censorship laws and let people say what they want. It needs only allow Richard Desmond and the Barclay brothers to buy up its newspapers, and the past will never trouble it again.



1. Mike Davis, 2001. Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World. Verso, London.

2. An order from the lieutenant-governor Sir George Couper to his district officers. Quoted in Mike Davis, ibid.

3. Caroline Elkins, 2005. Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya. Jonathan Cape, London.

4. Mark Curtis, 2003. Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World. Vintage, London.

5. Caroline Elkins, ibid.

6. Mark Curtis, ibid.

7. David Anderson, 2005. Histories of the Hanged: Britain’s Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire. Weidenfeld, London.

8. Max Hastings, 27th December 2005. This is the country of Drake and Pepys, not Shaka Zulu. The Guardian

9. Andrew Roberts, 13th July 2004. We Should Take Pride in Britain’s Empire Past. The Express.

10. Andrew Roberts, 16th January 2005. Why we need empires. The Sunday Telegraph.

11. Prasannan Parthasarathi, 1998. Rethinking wages and competitiveness in Eighteenth-Century Britain and South India. Past and Present 158. Quoted by Mike Davis, ibid.

12. John Keegan, 14th July 2004. The Empire is Worthy of Honour. The Daily Telegraph.

13. Mark Curtis, ibid.

British Empire Cruelties Coverup

How did they get away with it?
Bernard Porter
London Review of Books
3 March 2005
Histories of the Hanged: Britain’s Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire by David Anderson · Weidenfeld, 406 pp, £20.00 Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya by Caroline Elkins · Cape, 475 pp, £20.00

In Niall Ferguson’s panegyric to British colonialism, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World (2003), Kenya gets just one significant mention. It comes in the introduction, and is a description of his time there as a boy. It was three years after independence, but, happily, ‘scarcely anything had changed’ since colonial days. ‘We had our bungalow, our maid, our smattering of Swahili – and our sense of unshakeable security. It was a magical time, which indelibly impressed on my consciousness the sight of the hunting cheetah, the sound of Kikuyu women singing, the smell of the first rains and the taste of ripe mango. I suspect my mother was never happier.’ Glasgow, where the family returned after just two years, was a comedown. ‘To the Scots, the empire stood for bright sunshine.’ You can see that in the book. Yet less than a decade before Ferguson’s idyllic stay there, Kenya had been wracked by war, with much bloodshed and unspeakable atrocities on all sides. It was wrong to say that ‘scarcely anything had changed.’ Not that the young Ferguson would have been aware of that in the 1960s; but by the time he came to write his book, some knowledge of it should have percolated through. The Kenya ‘Emergency’ is a major incident in the history of the end of the empire: it makes a difference to the whole story. But he doesn’t mention it. Perhaps we should not be too hard on Ferguson. I can’t offhand think of another modern general history of British imperialism or decolonisation that leaves 1950s Kenya out of the picture entirely, but none of them (including my own) makes as much of it as we shall clearly need to now, after the publication of these two brilliant, meticulously researched and shocking books.

The British declared the Kenya Emergency in 1952, when seven years of restless dissatisfaction with British rule culminated in the full-scale rebellion known as Mau Mau. It was very largely the struggle of the Kikuyu, the country’s majority ethnic group – about 1.5 million in a native population of five million – who had lost much of their land to white settlers and had moved into reservations or continued farming as tenants. The Emergency saw out two prime ministers – Churchill and Eden – and ended in January 1960. In that time, Mau Mau supporters killed at least 2000 African civilians and inflicted some 200 casualties on the army and police. In all, 32 white settlers died in the rebellion. For their part, the British hanged more than 1000 Kikuyu, detained at least 150,000 and, according to official figures, killed around 12,000 in combat, though the real figure, in David Anderson’s view, is ‘likely to have been more than 20,000’. In addition, Caroline Elkins claims, up to 100,000 died in the detention camps.

It is the scale of the British atrocities in Kenya that is the most startling revelation of these books. We always knew about the Mau Mau atrocities, of course: assiduously retailed to the British public by the authorities in Kenya through the Colonial Office, and right-wing newspapers like the Daily Mail. (Elkins calls the Daily Mail a ‘tabloid’, which isn’t strictly true for this period, but seems to fit in other ways.) But for years the equally savage abuses by British officers and their African collaborators in the detention camps, controlled villages and courtrooms of Kenya were mostly hidden from people at home. They knew some of it – indeed, did what they could to put an end to it after the scandalous British beatings of detainees at Hola camp in 1959, which left 11 dead and 60 seriously wounded – but nothing like the whole. Alan Lennox-Boyd, colonial secretary for much of this period, and one of the villains of both these books, can take much of the credit. First he denied abuses, then when that was no longer possible he dismissed them as exceptional (‘bad apples’), and appealed to his critics to remember what they were up against in Kenya: not an ordinary policing problem, but an outbreak of atavistic ‘evil’ – a useful word when you are confronting something you don’t understand. ‘Duplicity at its finest’, Elkins calls this. He also had a nice line in discrediting whistle-blowers. Then, when the British eventually left Kenya, they made bonfires of most of the incriminating material about the detention camps. Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president, connived in this, anxious in the interests of national unity to ‘erase’ the past, and not to encourage the ‘hooligans’ of Mau Mau. (It was a bit like South Africa’s ‘truth and reconciliation’, but without the truth.) Elkins tells us that she was taken in by Colonial Office propaganda at the beginning of her research, as she leafed through the files at the Public Record Office, and realised the extent of their mendacity only when she went out to Kenya to see and hear for herself. This may be part of the reason for the anger that suffuses her narrative, in contrast to Anderson’s more clinical, dispassionate tone. No one likes to be duped; on the other hand, there is much here to be angry about.

Anderson focuses mainly on the trials of Mau Mau suspects. He has read the trial transcripts and pieced together a picture of systematic injustice. Defendants were poorly represented, convicted on highly dubious evidence, often from dodgy informers, or after having confessions beaten out of them, by judges who were usually highly prejudiced. One judge was (effectively) bribed to reach a guilty verdict: he was paid £20,000 to come out from Britain to put Kenyatta behind barbed wire in 1953. Many defendants were hanged for much lesser offences than murder; often they were innocent. The number hanged, 1090, was a record for any British colony of the time, and more even than were executed by the French in Algeria. The reprieved and acquitted did not go free. Most were sent to camps for interrogation or ‘re-education’ – or just to rot away out of sight of nervous Europeans. Most of the rest of the Kikuyu population (including thousands from Nairobi) were herded into ‘emergency villages’ enclosed in barbed wire. All this turned Kenya into what Anderson calls ‘a police state in the very fullest sense of that term’.

The camps and emergency villages are where Elkins takes up the story. Some of her evidence comes from rare surviving documentation, but the most vivid is from the recollections of Kikuyu themselves. There are problems with this kind of testimony, of course. ‘Virtually all Kikuyus claim to have belonged to the Mau Mau,’ Kwamchetsi Makokha writes in his review of these books in the New Statesman, ‘regardless of whether they were even alive in the 1950s. Africans love stories; they tell them and retell them over and over again. Tales are communally owned, and it is not considered an abominable act of plagiarism to present another person’s story as your own. All this makes Elkins’s reliance on oral testimonies problematic.’ There may be something in this. But Elkins is aware of these pitfalls, and tells us she has done what she can to avoid them. She is convinced that her sources opened up to her because she is an American. Many of her accounts corroborate one another, and are corroborated in their turn by the surviving written evidence. More telling, perhaps, they are often confirmed by the white settlers she has interviewed, who ‘still seemed to take delight in their handiwork during Mau Mau. They spoke of heinous tortures as if they were describing yesterday’s weather; for them the brutality they perpetrated during the Emergency is as banal today as it was some fifty years ago.’ In case we think that they are merely winding her up in some perverse macho way because she is a woman, Anderson found exactly the same thing. As well as confirming many of the victims’ accounts, this seems to indicate that the brutality was endemic in what Anderson calls the ‘culture of impunity’ of the period; which in itself gives the lie to Lennox-Boyd’s ‘bad apples’ defence.

It was a culture of routine beatings, starvation, killings (the hanged represent only a small fraction of those who died in British custody during the Emergency) and torture of the most grotesque kinds. Alsatian dogs were used to terrify prisoners and then ‘maul’ them. There are other similarities with Abu Ghraib: various indignities were devised using human faeces; men were forced to sodomise one another. They also had sand, pepper and water stuffed in their anuses. One apparently had his testicles cut off, and was then made to eat them. ‘Things got a little out of hand,’ one (macho European) witness told Elkins, referring to another incident. ‘By the time we cut his balls off he had no ears, and his eyeball, the right one, I think, was hanging out of its socket. Too bad, he died before we got much out of him.’ Women were gang-raped, had their nipples squeezed with pliers, and vermin and hot eggs thrust into their vaginas. Children were butchered and their body parts paraded around on spears. Then there were the pettier deprivations: women forbidden to sing hymns in Komiti camp, for example, because they were putting ‘subversive’ words to them. All this while anti-Mau Mau and pro-British propaganda blared out at detainees from loudspeakers. Anderson quotes the testimony of a European officer in 1962, recalling an attempt to interrogate some ‘Mickeys’ – a slang name for the Mau Mau.

They wouldn’t say a thing, of course, and one of them, a tall coal-black bastard, kept grinning at me, real insolent. I slapped him hard, but he kept right on grinning at me, so I kicked him in the balls as hard as I could. He went down in a heap but when he finally got up on his feet he grinned at me again and I snapped, I really did. I stuck my revolver right in his grinning mouth and I said something, I don’t remember what, and I pulled the trigger. His brains went all over the side of the police station. The other two Mickeys were standing there looking blank. I said to them that if they didn’t tell me where to find the rest of the gang I’d kill them too. They didn’t say a word so I shot them both. One wasn’t dead so I shot him in the ear. When the sub-inspector drove up, I told him that the Mickeys tried to escape. He didn’t believe me but all he said was ‘bury them and see the wall is cleared up.’

The significant thing here (apart from the refusal of the three prisoners to co-operate) is that the officer had no qualms about describing all this.

Elkins has been criticised in some reviews for using the analogy with Nazism too freely. But nearly all the references in her book to ‘concentration camps’, the ‘Gestapo’ and so on come from contemporary accounts. Most were by critics, including some inside the system, but not all. In March 1953 a British policeman wrote a letter to his buddies back at Streatham police station bragging about the ‘Gestapo stuff’ that was going on in his new posting in Nyeri. All this happened a few years after the war, so such analogies came quickly to mind. The critics – many of whom had fought against Nazi Germany – knew what they were talking about. One relatively liberal police chief in Kenya claimed that conditions in the detention camps were far worse than those he had suffered as a Japanese POW. Comparisons were also made with the Soviet gulags, and, later on, by a former defence lawyer for the Mau Mau, with ‘ethnic cleansing’. The accepted view of Britain’s decolonisation hitherto has been that it was done in a more dignified, enlightened and consensual way than by other countries – meaning, of course, France. It will be difficult now to argue this so glibly. Kenya was Britain’s Algeria.

Was it typical? Possibly not. Anderson makes a big point of Kenya’s ‘exceptionality in the use of judicial execution’ compared with other British colonies, as well as in other ways. Elkins doesn’t entirely agree – ‘it was there,’ she says, ‘that Britain finally revealed the true nature of its civilising mission’ – but even she acknowledges that Kenya ‘stands apart’ from Britain’s other colonies in many respects. This had partly to do with the nature of the Mau Mau phenomenon, misunderstood at the time by those who refused to acknowledge the Kikuyus’ huge grievance about the land expropriated from them, which both these authors agree was at the root of the revolt. Mau Mau was described instead in terms of a disease (even by Kenyatta), or seen as an example of a peculiarly African, ‘primitive’ psychopathology. Elkins points out that this was the view in the United States. Perhaps there was a racist element to this kind of analysis, though many of the early manifestations of Mau Mau genuinely were savage: Mau Mau had many of the characteristics of a secret society – members had to swear a ritual oath and the punishment for breaking ranks, or even refusing to take the oath, was death. The Daily Mail did not make it all up.

Anderson gives more detailed attention than Elkins to all this: to the much publicised killings of white men, women and children around the turn of 1952-53; to the original massacre of Kikuyu ‘loyalists’ by Mau Mau at Lari in March 1953 (even more brutal loyalist reprisals followed); or to the practice of clitoridectomy among the Kikuyu, which was one of the main issues between them and the Christian churches early on. Mau Mau violence, as he points out, was more often directed against other Kikuyu – ‘traitors’ – than against the British authorities or the Kenyan settlers. To this extent the rebellion was also a civil war. Although Elkins denies none of this – ‘we should not romanticise the anti-colonial struggle,’ she says at one point – she doesn’t elaborate on it, which makes it difficult when reading her book to understand the panic that took hold of the settlers, the colonial administration and the African loyalists. The impact of Mau Mau terrorism can perhaps be compared with the effect of Hamas suicide bombings on Israelis today. It did not make a calm and considered response to the rebellion very likely.

Not that the white population of Kenya was likely to respond calmly and with consideration in any case. It is well known that settlers are generally the most problematic of colonists. (Again, look at Israel.) In Kenya this was exacerbated by their class origins. Most were upper middle class or even aristocratic; on their uppers before they left Britain, possibly, but social status in Britain has never been measured by wealth. A surprising proportion had been educated at public schools, including Eton. This is unusual in the history of British emigration. In Kenya, settled on fertile land taken from Africans, and with a huge pool of cheap African labour to work on their farms and as domestic servants, these odd characters could live the sort of life that their better-off chums in ‘socialist’ Britain were increasingly struggling to afford. The hedonistic, decadent lifestyle of many of them remains notorious today – ‘Happy Valley’ and all that. This may have been overplayed. More important, however, is the fact that they were cut off culturally from the majority of society in Britain, ‘strangely out of step’, as Anderson puts it, ‘with everywhere else’, with the exception perhaps of the white-dominated countries to the south of them. They were very often arrogant and brutal, and long before the Mau Mau revolt were accustomed to treating their ‘natives’ like dirt. It was they who started the violence. Their upper-class kin in Britain, on whom the settlers relied to defend them in Kenya (Elkins calls them the ‘Old Pals Protection Society’), ultimately lost patience with them. Churchill thought they were as much ‘the problem’ in Kenya as Mau Mau. (Churchill had a surprisingly favourable view of the Kikuyu: ‘not the primitive cowardly people which many imagined them to be’, he told one of the settler leaders, ‘but people of considerable fibre, ability and steel’.) The man he sent to sort the settlers out in 1953, General ‘Bobby’ Erskine, soon got the measure of them: ‘I hate the guts of them all,’ he wrote to his wife just a few months later. ‘They are all middle-class sluts.’ (How they would have hated that ‘middle-class’.) Kenya was ‘a sunny land for shady people’. By 1960 even the most reactionary of the upper classes back in Britain were ‘too embarrassed’ by their ‘excesses’ to defend the settlers any longer. The final nail in their coffin – though it turned out to be a pretty comfortable coffin, with Kenyatta letting them stay and hold on to their farms if they wanted – came when Lord Lambton, about as kosher an aristocrat as you could find in Britain, turned against them over Hola.

The puzzle is why they were allowed to get away with it for so long. It was not as if there were no protests in Britain. The British people have never been terribly interested in their empire, so a huge surge of feeling on the Kenya issue was unlikely. But the colony had more than its fair share of coverage in this period, both in Parliament (spearheaded by Barbara Castle, ‘that castellated bitch’, as a Kenyan attorney-general called her) and in the left-wing press. Castle and the others were helped by a stream of testimony from whistle-blowers in Kenya itself, which suggests a real unease there, among people who were decent (they would have said ‘British’) enough to object to what was going on. These included missionaries, as one would expect, although Elkins is critical of their unwillingness to speak publicly, mainly, she feels, because they needed government co-operation for their work of saving Mau Mau souls, and she accuses the Catholics of backing the colonial authorities. A number of judges, especially appeal court judges, spoke up. So did several soldiers and senior policemen, mainly those who had been sent in from Britain. Administrators like the Quaker Eileen Fletcher and even a few liberal settlers also raised their voices. They were not in time to save tens of thousands of African (and a few European) lives, though it was not for want of trying.

The critics lacked leverage over the Colonial Office, especially when the duplicitous Lennox-Boyd was in charge – a state of affairs compounded by the Colonial Office’s own lack of leverage over what was happening on the ground. This is an important and often underestimated factor in British imperial history. One thinks of an ‘empire’ as a system of control before anything else, but in Britain’s case, running its empire on a shoestring, the reality of control was very often compromised by the need to rule through – or at least with the passive connivance of – people on the ground. In Kenya, neither major group – the shady settlers or the aggrieved Africans – was an ideal vehicle for ‘indirect’ rule. The result was, as district officer Terence Gavaghan (nicknamed ‘Big Troublemaker’ by the Africans) put it, that ‘the gap between the supreme policy-makers with their grave political concerns, and the actions of local functionaries in a small remote place, was too wide for mutual comprehension or proper control.’ In other words, London would have found it difficult to change things even if it had wanted to.

At the same time, it seems clear that many in the Conservative government didn’t want to change things very much. Elkins has two, slightly contradictory explanations for this. The first is the conventional anti-imperialist one, that they simply wanted ‘to maintain colonial rule’. But Britain had already begun the process of decolonisation elsewhere, including in Africa. Lennox-Boyd certainly wanted to slow this down, and there seems to have been a ‘flicker of hope’ among some settlers that self-government, when it came, might give them disproportionate power, as in South Africa and (effectively) Southern Rhodesia, but that just shows how out of touch they were. (There were simply not enough of them.) The main consideration in Whitehall – Elkins alludes to this, too – was the place of the British Empire in the annals of history. That depended not only on what it could be claimed to have achieved while it was still living, but on the manner of its dying and the impression this made.

It had always been the proud boast of British imperialists (rather like American imperialists today) that their empire was uniquely beneficent; that its effect, if not its original purpose, was to spread ‘civilisation’ and even ‘freedom’ in the world. The upper classes believed they were specially fitted for this task. Anderson and Elkins both quote Barbara Castle’s observation that Lennox-Boyd was ‘imbued with the conviction that the British ruling class, both at home and overseas, could do no wrong.’ Many of those who witnessed the Kenyan atrocities, and deplored them, clung to this conviction. ‘I knew, I knew,’ an anguished Thomas Askwith confided to Elkins in 1997. ‘But how can I say it? . . . I just believed in our higher purpose . . . we had so much better to offer them. I thought our own bad hats would come around.’ They didn’t. Reporting from Kenya for the Daily Mirror, James Cameron saw among the settler community ‘the death of colonial liberalism, and the loss of the moral order that gave empire its only possible justification’. It seemed a terrible way to go. The Economist put it directly and succinctly in February 1959: ‘The one overriding consideration in treating any present-day colonial question must be what last memories of the British way of doing things are to be left behind before connections with Westminster are severed.’ It certainly ruled out any idea of upping and leaving – ‘scuttling’, it would have been called.

Britain’s broader colonial aim at this time was to transfer power to ‘moderate’ local leaders, which in Kenya meant defeating Mau Mau, an objective achieved, for the most part, by 1956, though no thanks to the repression, which was probably counter-productive. The revelation of the beatings at Hola finally tore away the government’s earlier papering over of its repressive behaviour – the evidence in the Hola case was just too glaring – and Iain McLeod, a new broom at the Colonial Office, made sure that there would be no more delays over African independence. There remained the haunting recollection of those dreadful Emergency years, but that was solved by Kenyatta’s reconciliation policy. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the whole affair is that the beleaguered British then opened their eyes, and the sunshine, the smell of the first rains and the taste of ripe mangoes came suddenly flooding back. Not only the horrors, but all memory of the horrors, were gone. It was like waking up from a nightmare. The stain on Britain’s imperial character was hidden from view – for the time being, at any rate. The myth of a ‘dignified’ decolonisation was able to endure. It was, Elkins writes, ‘a scenario that the British colonial government had fantasised about for years’. The Mau Mau did not get the recognition due to them (there is still no official memorial to them in Nairobi) and Britain never got the comeuppance it deserved. Half a century later, a ‘revisionist’ historian like Ferguson, seeking to rehabilitate the empire after a decent interval, could still blithely ignore the whole affair. This is no longer an option. Anderson and Elkins have seen to that.

Bernard Porter’s most recent book is The Absent-Minded Imperialists. A new edition of The Lion’s Share: A Short History of British Imperialism 1850-1995 was published in 2004.

The gory cruelties of British empire

Heart of smugness

Unlike Belgium, Britain is still complacently ignoring the gory cruelties of its empire

Maria Misra
July 23, 2002
The Guardian

So the Belgians are to return to the Heart of Darkness in an attempt finally to exorcise their imperial demons. Stung by another book cataloguing the violence and misery inflicted by King Leopold's empire on the Congo in the late 19th and early 20th century, the state-funded Royal Museum for Central Africa in Brussels has commissioned a group of historians to pass authoritative judgment on accusations of genocide: forced labour, systematic rape, torture and murder of the Congolese, around 10 million of whom are thought to have died as a consequence.

This is not the first time that the Belgian empire has been singled out for censure. Back in the Edwardian era, British humanitarians spilled much ink over its excesses and Conrad's novella was corralled into service to show Leopold's Congo as a sort of horrific "other" to Britain's more uplifting colonialism.

Complacency about Britain's imperial record lingers on. In the post-September 11 orgy of self-congratulation about the west's superiority, Blair's former foreign policy guru, Robert Cooper, and a host of journalistic flag-wavers were urging us not to be ashamed of empire. Cooper insisted empire was "as necessary now as it had been in the 19th century". The British empire was, we were assured, a generally well-intentioned attempt to inculcate notions of good government, civilised behaviour and market rationality into less well-favoured societies.

Is such a rosy view of British imperialism justified? Many argue that it is. After all, surely the British have less blood on their hands than the French and the Belgians? Wasn't the British addiction to the free market a prophylactic against the horrors of forced labour? And didn't those peculiar class obsessions make them less racist than the rest - silly snobs, but not vicious yobs? And isn't India not only a democracy, but, thanks to the British, one with great railways? Perhaps there is a kernel of truth in some of this, but there's also much wilful smugness. While the complex consequences of colonial economic policy require extended analysis, it is possible to dispel more swiftly the myth that the British Empire, unlike King Leopold's, was innocent of atrocities.

It has become a modern orthodoxy that Europe's 20th century was the bloodiest in history and that atrocities must be recorded and remembered by society as a whole. But while a Black Book of Communism has been compiled and everybody is aware of the horrors of nazism, popular historians have been surprisingly uninterested in the dark side of the British Empire. There are exceptions, such as Mike Davis's powerful Late Victorian Holocausts, but much else still lies buried in the academic literature. Davis and others have estimated that there were between 12 and 33 million avoidable deaths by famine in India between 1876 and 1908, produced by a deadly combination of official callousness and free-market ideology. But these were far from being a purely Victorian phenomenon. As late as 1943 around 4 million died in the Bengal famine, largely because of official policy.

No one has even attempted to quantify the casualties caused by state-backed forced labour on British-owned mines and plantations in India, Africa and Malaya. But we do know that tens of thousands of often conscripted Africans, Indians and Malays - men, women and children - were either killed or maimed constructing Britain's imperial railways. Also unquantified are the numbers of civilian deaths caused by British aerial bombing and gassing of villages in Sudan, Iraq and Palestine in the 1920 and 1930s.

Nor was the supposedly peaceful decolonisation of the British Empire without its gory cruelties. The hurried partition of the Indian subcontinent brought about a million deaths in the ensuing uncontrolled panic and violence. The brutal suppression of the Mau Mau and the detention of thousands of Kenyan peasants in concentration camps are still dimly remembered, as are the Aden killings of the 1960s. But the massacre of communist insurgents by the Scots Guard in Malaya in the 1950s, the decapitation of so-called bandits by the Royal Marine Commandos in Perak and the secret bombing of Malayan villages during the Emergency remain uninvestigated.

One might argue that these were simply the unfortunate consequences of the arrival of economic and political modernity. But does change have to come so brutally? There are plenty of examples of wanton British cruelty to chill the blood even of a hardened Belgian. Who, after all, invented the concentration camp but the British? The scandalous conditions in British camps during the Boer war, where thousands of women and children died of disease and malnutrition, are relatively well known. Who now remembers the Indian famine-relief-cum-work camps, where gentlemanly British officials conducted experiments to determine how few calories an Indian coolie could be fed and still perform hard labour? The rations in these camps amounted to less than those at Buchenwald.

There is Churchill's assiduous promotion of schemes to cut the costs of imperial defence in India and the Middle East by using aerial bombing, machine gunning and gassing for the control of rebellion, political protest, labour disputes and non-payment of taxes. There is the denial of free food to starving south Asians on the grounds that it would simply hasten a population explosion among India's "feckless poor". There is the extraordinary British justification for bombing Sudanese villages after the first world war: Nuer women were, officials claimed, of less value to their community than cattle or rifles.

These facts and figures are not easily culled from textbooks on empire. We don't have a dedicated museum of empire, but our nearest equivalent, the new Imperial War Museum North, would leave the impression that Britain's colonial subjects had been enthusiastic participants in its wartime crusades to rid the world of want and evil.

Does it matter that the British are smug about their imperial past, that British atrocities have been airbrushed from history? One can't help thinking that Jack Straw's pious missions to India to broker solutions to the Kashmir crisis might have more credibility if the British had the good grace to apologise for such imperial crimes as the Amritsar massacre. But a more worrying symptom of this rosy glossing of the imperial past is the re-emergence of a sort of sanitised advocacy of imperialism as a viable option in contemporary international relations.

The point of cataloguing Britain's imperial crimes is not to trash our forebears, but to remind our rulers that even the best-run empires are cruel and violent, not just the Belgian Congo. Overwhelming power, combined with a sense of boundless superiority, will produce atrocities - even among the well intentioned. Let's not forget that Leopold's central African empire was originally called the International Association for Philanthropy in the Congo.

· Maria Misra is lecturer in modern history at Keble College, Oxford. Her history of modern India will be published by Penguin next year.

Africa's Exploitation

Our Wealth, Africa's Exploitation
By Richard Drayton

The Guardian
August 20th, 200

Britain was the principal slaving nation of the modern world. In The Empire Pays Back, a documentary broadcast by Channel 4 on Monday, Robert Beckford called on the British to take stock of this past. Why, he asked, had Britain made no apology for African slavery, as it had done for the Irish potato famine? Why was there no substantial public monument of national contrition equivalent to Berlin's Holocaust Museum? Why, most crucially, was there no recognition of how wealth extracted from Africa and Africans made possible the vigour and prosperity of modern Britain? Was there not a case for Britain to pay reparations to the descendants of African slaves?

These are timely questions in a summer in which Blair and Bush, their hands still wet with Iraqi blood, sought to rebrand themselves as the saviours of Africa. The G8's debt-forgiveness initiative was spun successfully as an act of western altruism. The generous Massas never bothered to explain that, in order to benefit, governments must agree to "conditions", which included allowing profit-making companies to take over public services. This was no gift; it was what the merchant bankers would call a "debt-for-equity swap", the equity here being national sovereignty.

The sweetest bit of the deal was that the money owed, already more than repaid in interest, had mostly gone to buy industrial imports from the west and Japan, and oil from nations who bank their profits in London and New York. Only in a bookkeeping sense had it ever left the rich world. No one considered that Africa's debt was trivial compared to what the west really owes Africa.

Beckford's experts estimated Britain's debt to Africans in the continent and diaspora to be in the trillions of pounds. While this was a useful benchmark, its basis was mistaken. Not because it was excessive, but because the real debt is incalculable. For without Africa and its Caribbean plantation extensions, the modern world as we know it would not exist.

Profits from slave trading and from sugar, coffee, cotton and tobacco are only a small part of the story. What mattered was how the pull and push from these industries transformed western Europe's economies. English banking, insurance, shipbuilding, wool and cotton manufacture, copper and iron smelting, and the cities of Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow, multiplied in response to the direct and indirect stimulus of the slave plantations.

Joseph Inikori's masterful book, Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England, shows how African consumers, free and enslaved, nurtured Britain's infant manufacturing industry. As Malachy Postlethwayt, the political economist, candidly put it in 1745: "British trade is a magnificent superstructure of American commerce and naval power on an African foundation."

In The Great Divergence, Kenneth Pomeranz asked why Europe, rather than China, made the breakthrough first into a modern industrial economy. To his two answers - abundant coal and New World colonies - he should have added access to west Africa. For the colonial Americas were more Africa's creation than Europe's: before 1800, far more Africans than Europeans crossed the Atlantic. New World slaves were vital too, strangely enough, for European trade in the east. For merchants needed precious metals to buy Asian luxuries, returning home with profits in the form of textiles; only through exchanging these cloths in Africa for slaves to be sold in the New World could Europe obtain new gold and silver to keep the system moving. East Indian companies led ultimately to Europe's domination of Asia and its 19th-century humiliation of China.

Africa not only underpinned Europe's earlier development. Its palm oil, petroleum, copper, chromium, platinum and in particular gold were and are crucial to the later world economy. Only South America, at the zenith of its silver mines, outranks Africa's contribution to the growth of the global bullion supply.

The guinea coin paid homage in its name to the west African origins of one flood of gold. By this standard, the British pound since 1880 should have been rechristened the rand, for Britain's prosperity and its currency stability depended on South Africa's mines. I would wager that a large share of that gold in the IMF's vaults which was supposed to pay for Africa's debt relief had originally been stolen from that continent.

There are many who like to blame Africa's weak governments and economies, famines and disease on its post-1960 leadership. But the fragility of contemporary Africa is a direct consequence of two centuries of slaving, followed by another of colonial despotism. Nor was "decolonisation" all it seemed: both Britain and France attempted to corrupt the whole project of political sovereignty.

It is remarkable that none of those in Britain who talk about African dictatorship and kleptocracy seem aware that Idi Amin came to power in Uganda through British covert action, and that Nigeria's generals were supported and manipulated from 1960 onwards in support of Britain's oil interests. It is amusing, too, to find the Telegraph and the Daily Mail - which just a generation ago supported Ian Smith's Rhodesia and South African apartheid - now so concerned about human rights in Zimbabwe. The tragedy of Mugabe and others is that they learned too well from the British how to govern without real popular consent, and how to make the law serve ruthless private interest. The real appetite of the west for democracy in Africa is less than it seems. We talk about the Congo tragedy without mentioning that it was a British statesman, Alec Douglas-Home, who agreed with the US president in 1960 that Patrice Lumumba, its elected leader, needed to "fall into a river of crocodiles".

African slavery and colonialism are not ancient or foreign history; the world they made is around us in Britain. It is not merely in economic terms that Africa underpins a modern experience of (white) British privilege. Had Africa's signature not been visible on the body of the Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, would he have been gunned down on a tube at Stockwell? The slight kink of the hair, his pale beige skin, broadcast something misread by police as foreign danger. In that sense, his shooting was the twin of the axe murder of Anthony Walker in Liverpool, and of the more than 100 deaths of black people in mysterious circumstances while in police, prison or hospital custody since 1969.

This universe of risk, part of the black experience, is the afterlife of slavery. The reverse of the medal is what WEB DuBois called the "wage of whiteness", the world of safety, trustworthiness, welcome that those with pale skins take for granted. The psychology of racism operates even among those who believe in human equality, shaping unequal outcomes in education, employment, criminal justice. By its light, such all-white clubs as the G8 continue to meet in comfort.

Early this year, Gordon Brown told journalists in Mozambique that Britain should stop apologising for colonialism. The truth is, though, that Britain has never even faced up to the dark side of its imperial history, let alone begun to apologise.

Dr Richard Drayton is a senior lecturer in imperial and extra-European history since 1500 at Cambridge University. His book The Caribbean and the Making of the Modern World will be published in 2006. RHDrayton@yahoo.co.uk

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Did Obama snub the British?

The british can be incredibly thin skinned and sensitive when the tables are turned.

President Barack Obama just plain rude to Britain. Don't call us in future.
Posted By: Iain Martin at Mar 4, 2009
Telegraph UK

Why couldn't President Obama have put on more of a show for his British guests? He looked like he simply couldn't be bothered.

Number 10 may be content that they just about got away with the visit to the Oval Office yesterday, as Andrew Porter reports from Washington.

But on this side of the Atlantic the whole business looked pretty demeaning. The morning papers and TV last night featured plenty of comment focused on the White House's very odd and, frankly, exceptionally rude treatment of a British PM. Squeezing in a meeting, denying him a full press conference with flags etc. The British press corps, left outside for an hour in the cold, can take it and their privations are of limited concern to the public.

But Obama's merely warmish words (one of our closest allies, said with little sincerity or passion) left a bitter taste with this Atlanticist. Especially after his team had made Number 10 beg for a mini press conference and then not even offered the PM lunch.

We get the point, sunshine: we're just one of many allies and you want fancy new friends. Well, the next time you need something doing, something which impinges on your national security, then try calling the French, or the Japanese, or best of all the Germans. The French will be able to offer you first rate support from their catering corps but beyond that you'll be on your own.

When it comes to men, munitions and commitment you'll soon find out why it pays to at least treat the Brits with some manners.

Gandhi's items sold for USD 1.8 million

As a commentator said:

It is really outrageous that British who looted off the items from the countries that they so brutally occupied are still able to make money from this. The gall is that these sellers try to blackmail Asian countries by giving ultimatums - either improve the health care for poor, improve human rights or lose the items. Imagine if the tables were turned and items from Buckingham Palace or White house were being auctioned in India and China and these countries asking US and England to improve the race relations or else..
— Angela

Gandhi's items sold for USD 1.8 million
6 Mar 2009,

NEW YORK: After a high drama, Mahatma Gandhi's five personal items, including the iconic round eye glasses, finally went under the hammer here and were bought for USD 1.8 million by Indian businessman Vijay Mallya.

The auction went off despite the owner of Gandhi's prized memorabilia, James Otis, saying he has decided not to sell the items in the light of controversy.

The items which went under the hammer also included a pocket watch, a pair of sandals and a plate and bowl besides the rimmed glasses used by Mahatma Gandhi.

The prized memorabilia of the Father of Nation is expected to return to the country soon as the Antiquorum Auctioneers will handover the articles to Mallya within two weeks.

Tony Bedi, bidding on behalf of Vijay Mallya, said the purchase meant that the revered independence leader's glasses, sandals, pocket watch, and plate and bowl would now return to India.

Bedi said Mallya planned to donate them to his country. "I am sure all Indians will be pleased that these Gandhi items will be coming home," Bedi told reporters after the dramatic auction at Antiquorum Auctioneers in New York. .

Cheers and clapping broke out when the hammer came down.

Indian businessmen and others with links to the country packed the auction room, joining frenzied bidding to ensure that the memorabilia did not go to another country.

Earlier, speaking to reporters here, Otis said: "In the last few hours, I have decided, in the light of the controversy, not to sell Gandhi's personal items."

Otis' move came after intense negotiations between him and Indian diplomats at the Indian Consulate in New York.

Otis earlier in the day set new conditions including that India shift priorities from military spending to health care especially for the poor if he has to call off the auction.


March 5, 2009, 10:36 am
Gandhi Items Sold for $1.8 Million
By A. G. Sulzberger AND Jennifer 8. Lee
Gandhi itemsUli Seit for

The New York Times

Updated, 6:28 p.m. | After intense protests from India’s government and the Indian press, Mohandas K. Gandhi’s eyeglasses and some of his other belongings were sold on Thursday afternoon for $1.8 million at an auction in Manhattan, after last-minute attempts to halt the sale of the items.

The buyer was identified as Vijay Mallya, an Indian liquor and airline executive who owns the company that makes Kingfisher beer. A representative for Mr. Mallya, Tony Bedi, did the bidding and later announced that the belongings would be returned to India for public display, but it was not clear whether they would be turned over to the government, as some officials have demanded.

Indian officials had maintained that the auction — scheduled to be completed on Thursday afternoon in Manhattan — was illegal, but also that they were continuing to negotiate with the owner, James Otis, over a possible resolution. Ultimately, the government and Mr. Otis were not successful in halting the auction.

The bidders included a dozen people in the room, 30 people on the phone, and about two dozen people who submitted written bids. The auction house said it would keep possession of the items for two weeks in order to make sure there were no legal claims over ownership. The second highest bid was a $1.75 million bid submitted online from Britain, said the auction house.

As soon as Lot No. 364, the Gandhi items, came up for sale shortly after 3 p.m., a hush settled across the room and a slide show of Gandhi was displayed, with a recording of piano music.

While the bidding increments were originally set to $10,000, within a matter of seconds the price, fueled by Internet and phone offers, escalated up to $200,000 and then started jumping by $50,000 and $100,000 increments. Within two minutes the bidding hit $1 million.

At that point, the contest became a bidding war between Mr. Bedi, representing Mr. Mallya, and Arlan Ettinger, the president of Guernsey’s Auction House, representing a former Indian cricketer, Dilip Doshi, who now works for a company that distributes Montblanc pens and other luxury items. After a phone bidder declined to push Mr. Bedi’s bid at $1.8 million, Mr. Bedi was declared the winner. The room burst into applause. Mr. Ettinger said afterwards that Mr. Doshi was trying to buy the items on behalf of the Indian government.

The story has dominated headlines in India over several days.

The confusing situation culminated Thursday afternoon as a throng of journalists gathered at the East 57th Street headquarters of Antiquorum Auctioneers, which is handling the sale. Shortly after 1 p.m., its chairman, Robert Maron, said that despite some news reports that Mr. Otis had decided to pull out, the auction would proceed. “There is a lot of propaganda because the Indian government is trying to get this item,” Mr. Maron said. “The consigner has not pulled the item. The auction is not going to stop. In two hours, we’ll know the outcome,” he said.

But around 2:30 p.m., Ravi Batra, a lawyer who said he was representing the owner, Mr. Otis, a Los Angeles peace activist, pro bono, entered the auction house, and announced that Mr. Otis was trying to halt the sale. Shortly later, Mr. Batra was asked to leave.

Escorting me off the premises is the same as escorting James Otis and his wishes off the premises,” he said as he was leaving. He criticized the auction house for trying to make money on “the altar of Gandhi’s legacy.” Mr. Batra said, “The right to sell belongs solely and singularly to James Otis and not to Antiquorum.”

Robert Maron, the chairman of the auction house, declined to comment on Mr. Otis’s last-minute change of heart. “We fully complied with the consigner’s wishes,” he said, referring to Mr. Otis. “We now have a fiduciary obligation to the buyer.”

Mr. Bedi, the representative of Mr. Mallya, the winning bidder, who was in Geneva on Thursday, acknowledged that the circumstances of the auction were unusual. “The owner of the items, he had a double mind at the last moment,” Mr. Bedhi said, adding that he did not think Mr. Otis’s change of heart would prevent the sale from being finalized.

“He’s really pleased with the purchase,” Mr. Bedi said of his client, Mr. Mallya. “He is bringing the heritage of the items back to India.”

Inside the auction room was a mix between elite Indian-born businessmen and diehard watch collectors. One of the potential bidder was Sant Singh Chatwal, an Indian-American businessman who is close to former President Bill Clinton and who founded the Bombay Palace restaurants and Hampshire Hotels and Resorts.

“I made up my mind to go up to maybe half a million,” Mr. Chatwal, who is interested in bidding on behalf of the Indian government, said in a phone interview. “We’ll see how it goes.”

“Anything when it comes to Gandhi is emotional, sentimental and patriotic when it comes to Indians,” Shyan Gulati, chief executive of the Infopeople Corporation, an information technology company based on Wall Street, who described the scene at the auction house as a Who’s Who of New York’s Indian elite. “In the last ten years, Indian professionals are doing extremely well all over the world and they’d like to contribute.”

Mr. Otis offered on Wednesday to donate the items to India if the government agreed to sharply increase spending on the poor or create an international traveling exhibition about Gandhi that would include the items scheduled for auction — among them Gandhi’s trademark steel-rimmed spectacles, a Zenith pocket watch, a pair of sandals and an eating bowl and plate.

But in New Delhi on Thursday, a junior foreign minister, Anand Sharma, rejected the demands, which he said would have infringed on the country’s sovereignty, The Associated Press reported. The planned auction has raised an uproar in India, where many people feel the items are part of the country’s cultural legacy. The auction house, Antiquorum Auctioneers, based on East 57th Street, had set a reserve price, or minimum bid, at $20,000 to $30,000.

Earlier on Thursday, Tushar Gandhi, 49, a great-grandson of Gandhi who heads the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation and a writer and lecturer on nonviolence, said in a phone interview from Mumbai, “I am not going to rejoice ’til those items are handed over to the government of India.” He added, “I am apprehensive at this moment about what is going to happen.”

But after the auction, Tushar Gandhi said, “I am very happy now. Now the things will come back to India to where it rightly belongs.” He said of Mr. Mallya, “He will give them to government to display i a museum. I do not have any reason for not to believe him. I am happy and relieved now.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has asked India’s embassy in the United States to do everything possible to secure the items, and the country’s culture minister, Ambika Soni, even vowed to “enter the auction if required as a last resort.”

However, the Delhi High Court ordered an injunction to stop the auction in response to a petition filed by the Navajivan Trust, a publishing house that Gandhi started and that was designated as his legal heir. (Mr. Otis’s items were acquired legally; some of them had been given away Gandhi himself.)

The Indian government said that news of the injunction was passed to both the auction house and Mr. Otis, but the auction house said the Indian court had no jurisdiction in the United States.

“The government can’t participate because this would be contempt of court,” Prabhu Dayal, India’s consul general in New York, said in an interview on Thursday morning. “This is getting more complicated.”

The Times of India noted that the National Gandhi Museum runs a brisk trade in replicas of Gandhi’s belongings, including replicas of his nail cutter (250 rupees, or $4.85 at the current exchange rate), glasses (450 rupees, or $8.73) and watch (800 rupees, or $15.52).

Mr. Dayal initially told The New York Times that Mr. Otis was scheduled to go to the consul general’s office in New York around 10 a.m. Thursday for negotiations, but Ashok Kumar, a spokesman for the consulate, later said that Mr. Otis had not visited the building. There is a large image of Gandhi in the entryway to the consulate, on East 64th Street.

The auction began on Wednesday and concluded Thursday. Bids were taken in person, over the phone, online and in writing.

The auction house argued that it was too late for Mr. Otis to withdraw from the sale. “Anyone who consigns an item for sale has entered a legally binding agreement to put that item up for sale,” Julien Schaerer, an official at the auction house. Asked if Mr. Otis had tried to pull the items out of the auction, Mr. Schaerer declined to comment.

Before the auction began, about 40 bidders had registered, from Australia, Germany, Austria, India, Canada and the United States, among other countries. (In comparison, there were only six registered bidders in October for a watch belonging to Albert Einstein, which sold for almost $600,000.)

Among the potential bidders was Himadri Roy, 72, who had flown in from Montreal at the last minute to take part in the auction and was walking around in the auction house on Thursday morning. Mr. Roy said he had met Gandhi when he was 10 years old, when he had placed a garland of flowers around Gandhi’s head and Gandhi had taken it off and placed it on him. He still has those flowers, he said.

Mr. Roy is an engineer who has profited from real estate investments. “I just want to bid and take our stuff back,” he said. He grew teary as he looked at the Gandhi items on display. “Now I have some money. I want to hold on for a while and then maybe donate it.”

For the first time, Antiquorum Auctioneers, which focuses on watches, is requiring banking references, said Mr. Maron, the chairman.

Recently, Cai Mingchao, a collector and auctioneer, raised an uproar after he submitted two winning bids for bronze sculptures from China’s Qing Dynasty at a Christie’s auction in Paris. Mr. Cai later refused to pay for the items, saying he had deliberately sabotaged the auction because the sculptures had been illegally looted in the 19th century from an imperial palace outside Beijing.

“We are concerned about what happened at Christie’s,” Mr. Maron said in a phone interview.

Mr. Otis has said that he plans to use the proceeds from the sale to promote pacifist causes. One of his two proposals to the Indian government would have required the country to raise spending on the poor to 5 percent of gross domestic product, which would cost tens of billions of dollars. The other proposal would have required a world tour of the Gandhi-related items in at least 78 countries — the number of years Gandhi lived — to draw attention to his principles of nonviolence.

Mr. Sharma, the junior foreign minister, rejected those terms, saying that Gandhi himself “would not have agreed to conditions.” He added, “The government of India representing the sovereign people of this republic cannot enter into such agreements where it involves specific areas of allocation of resources.”

Gandhi, who advocated nonviolent resistance to British rule in India, died in 1948 after being shot by a militant nationalist, months after India’s independence was proclaimed.

Past auctions of Gandhi memorabilia have faced similar controversy. In 2007, a letter written by Gandhi was withdrawn from a London auction to allow the Indian government to acquire it.

The current controversy has become front-page news all over India and across the Indian diaspora. Among the many critics who have urged the government to find a way to return the items to India are Ujjal S. Dosanjh, a former premier of British Columbia and a member of the Canadian Parliament.

Reporting was contributed by Sewell Chan and Joel Stonington from New York and Hari Kumar from New Delhi.

Two Indian views of Slumdog Millionare

Saturday, February 21, 2009
Aspi's Drift
Why is Slumdog Millionnaire getting so much Oscar love?

I finally caught up with Slumdog Millionnaire a week or so ago. Interestingly enough just about everyone I spoke to told me that I wouldn't like it simply because expectations were so high! Bullocks! I enjoyed it precisely because everyone's expectations were so high - and I had much fun dissecting what makes Slumdog such a beloved movie.

In any case enough has been said about Slumdog - but the curious thing is although everyone calls it a feel-good film, I squirmed throughout the entire movie - at least once using my personal favorite technique of peering from under my palm. And despite having a generally good time, I can't say I walked out feeling elated.

Yet there is a good reason Slumdog is so popular with the voting members of the film industry here in the US. But I'll get to my phaltu Drift theory in a second.

First, let's get down to exposing one of my stereotypes which is: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the US - which gives out Oscars - hugely favors Holocaust movies. I'm not alone in thinking or verbalizing this - although I'll almost certainly get a dirty look from the Drift Memsaab when I joke about it.

Most famously in recent times Kate Winslet savagely skewered the Academy's fondness for holocaust pictures in an appearance on Ricky Gervais' vastly underrated show Extras. In one episode, Winslet plays a nun in a (fake) Holocaust flick. Gervais commends Winslet for playing the role.

In a bit that had me chuckling for days, Winslet takes off: "We don't really need another film about the Holocaust do we? I mean, how many have there been? We get it. It was grim, move on! I'm doing this because I've noticed if you do a film about the Holocaust...gauranteed an Oscar!"

Later she complains "The whole world has been going - why has Kate not won one (Oscar)? That's why I'm doing it. Schindler's Bloody List, Pianist, Oscars coming out of their ass!"

First, a quick congratulations to the Academy for ignoring Winslet's silly 'For Your Consideration' in the Best Supporting Actress category and instead rewarding her with a deserving nomination in the more prestigious Best Actress category. I am grateful for the Academy's maturity. But Winslet's nomination comes in a Holocaust themed movie - you can smile at the delicious irony later.

Back to Slumdog - that whole movie plays like a Holocaust flick. The story is triggered by a terrible event that has been known to change the course of history (Hindu-Muslim riots). Its a story about enormous human suffering by innocents at the hands of people who are inexplicably evil. And two protagonists, who represent the goodness that is inherent in human beings, truimph by differentiating themselves from their tormentors instead of imitating them or retaliating in kind.

If you understand the demographic of the Academy and its related history, you know why these themes resonate with them. There is nothing wrong with cultural precedence, of course - as long as its accompanied with awareness. Many of Slumdog's themes are also universal and the Academy constantly strives to broaden its understanding of cultures and cinema - they are not always successful, but the fact that they make an effort is notable, especially when compared with the circuses in other parts of the world (I'm looking at you India).

This coming Sunday, Slumdog is a hot favorite to win Best Picture and vault Danny Boyle on the Best Director podium. Whether it wins or not is immaterial. The Academy has already prostrated itself by nominating Slumdog in a staggering 10 categories. And while watching Slumdog, it wasn't hard for me to imagine why.

Also don't miss: Which of this Falls' Oscar-Baiting Holocaust movies is right for you?



B S Keshav on Sulekha

So much has been said about this issue already, that it is getting nauseating.

Then why am I adding to the mayhem? Good Question, even if I say so myself

Two reasons:

One: To take a dispassionate look at the issues minus hype & jingoism. Much of what has been written is inaccurate or based on emotional gut reactions.

Two: Take a look at the book from where this movie was inspired. That would help unravel what actually has been done.

Let’s look at the facts first

* The book was written about four years back – in 2005 and was called “Q & A”. (“was”, because it has been shamelessly renamed and reprinted as “Slumdog Millionaire” now) The author is Vikas Swarup, an officer in the Indian Foreign Services.
* The movie “Slumdog Millionaire” was made, based on this book with a large complement of Indians in the cast, notable among them being Irrfan Khan, Anil Kapoor, Freida Pinto and a host of child artistes from slums in Mumbai.
* It was nominated for several awards, BAFTA, GOLDEN GLOBE & of course the OSCARS. These included two to A R Rahman, who scored the music and Resul Pookutty for Sound Mixing.
* At the Oscars, it finally won eight, with the three to the Indians coming through.

(The fact that it bagged the Best Picture award is a travesty on the sanctity of the award itself)

Now the hype that followed

* All national newspapers and TV News channels in India went berserk in their crowing about this major accomplishment of India. (India? The film-maker was a Britisher when I last saw)
* Many of the country’s leaders jumped onto the bandwagon; congratulating the winners (Nothing new in this, it happens all the time. Anybody in the world with a remote Indian gene is feted on their success. Remember Bobby Jindal, Sunita Williams, et al? But we’ll let it pass. Rahman after all is an Indian. Even if many find his composition below par here, he has created some great music in the past)
* And the rest of the janata followed, lapping it up. Glorying in the fact that India or Indians are being mentioned on the world stage. Golly! The Goras have noticed that we exist. Just like the spate of Miss Worlds & Miss Universes had dazzled the world a decade back. (Speaking of the beauty contests, have Indian girls suddenly become ugly after that? Or were they ugly before? Or both?)
* The ruling UPA Government went on to appropriate this as one of the victories of their tenure. (Huh! What was that? In what way was the UPA Govt responsible for this? But it did give me a clue of what was going on)
* Another article by Chidananda Rajghatta in the TOI made me sit up and take notice. He called this a triumph for India’s plurality. (Plurality? Where did that come from? We are still talking of a movie, right?)


To get some more clarity, one must go back to the book. I had read the book in 2005, but the details were hazy. So I read it again and looked at what had been done to it.

There are many differences.

Ø For starters, the boy's name is Ram Mohammad Thomas in the book. This is because he is an orphan and nobody knows what religion his parents were. He gets this name in a strange manner, but uses it at various times in a cynical way to get ahead in life, assuming Hindu, Christian & Muslim identities as per convenience. This is a key element in the book - contrived, but essential to the story. In the movie, he became just Jamaal, a Muslim. Why?

Ø He stays in a slum only for a very brief part of his life - at the end. Otherwise, he moves from a church to an orphanage to a film actress's house to an Australian diplomat's bungalow & a chawl too. He shuttles between Delhi, Bombay & Agra. A chawl is also such a powerful symbol for life in Bombay. Why does the movie focus only on the slum?

Ø He is an orphan and has no known siblings or knowledge of his parents. Salim is his friend and he meets him at the orphanage. Even the mutilation of beggars in the Fagin-like den of Bombay is only spoken of. The kids never see it happening. Salim has a much smaller role in the book.

Ø There is no childhood sweetheart called Latika (Freida Pinto) in the book. He falls in love with a whore in Agra. She appears very briefly in the book. So all that bull about doing this whole thing for love alone is wrong. He has other motives which are elaborated in the book.

Ø There is a girl lawyer in the book who rescues him and has a key role. She isn't in the movie at all. The sadistic police inspector's role gets stretched instead.

Ø In the movie, one of the questions is about the Ramayana and he guesses it because of a flashback where his mother is killed by militant fundamentalist Hindus - one of them actually dressed like Rama. Again not in the book.

Ø That famous scene where the young Jamaal jumps into a pit full of shit to get an autograph of Amitabh Bachchan - again a fabrication….rubbing it in... literally! Can you imagine something like that actually happening? Then why show it?

There's more, but you get the drift I think. All these changes are acts of commission – deliberate and pre-meditated. A movie is not a speech, where a mistake could be a slip of tongue. It takes many people and a lot of time to make a movie. One change can be a coincidence. So many cannot.

Systematically the book has been "secularized" (read - made Islam friendly)

One reason could be that this was meant for a guilt-ridden western audience who must be crying tears of blood for all the 'innocent' Muslim blood shed in the Afghanistan & Gulf wars. So make a Muslim boy win the lottery. Self-flagellation and appeasement - together in a classy package.

Or probably they feel threatened by the new India. It’s so much better to feel sorry for such a down-at-the heels country like India. After all, we weren't expected to last beyond a few years after they gifted us independence.

So they portray us like this - dirty slum dwellers. How dare we even talk about our progress? This is where we are - in a slum for perpetuity and where we must be. Take that you bloody upstarts!

I agree that the book is no classic. It is not "To kill a Mockingbird"... not by a long shot, no. But it is immensely readable. I had finished it in two sittings. It just races. The plot is pretty contrived and too much has been stuffed in, but the strong central idea of the underdog winning in the end carries it through to the climax, in spite of a lot of plot-holes, logical jumps and sheer flights of fancy.

The book is balanced in the one area that matters – its treatment of India and the Indian psyche. It shows the country in a true light – warts and all. No attempt has been made to play to the gallery where religion, caste or any other issue is concerned. It definitely does not paint India as a country where Muslims are the Indian equivalent of Negroes, a la The USA some fifty years back or South Africa some twenty years back. The movie however manages to convey just that.

And I’m not okay with that. No Sir.

The author may have sold out for thirty pieces of silver, but I’m not being fooled by this mediocre movie – for being made in the first place and for being feted as the best movie of the year. AND for being trumped as some kind of reality pill for Indians – that’s the biggest joke of all – calling those who dislike this crappy movie as spoilsports.

As for A R Rahman & Pookutty – good for them – they deserve their time in the sun. Danny Boyle and his cohorts can however go boil an egg. They laid it after all.

Monday, March 2, 2009

mullah's debating womens rights...priceless!

And the big question: Is Islam intolerant?

Hindu Monk of Ramkrishna Order Assaulted Ruthlessly in West Bengal

Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Bengal Spotlight
Hindu Monk of Ramkrishna Order Assaulted Ruthlessly in West Bengal

by Upananda Brahmachari

The common hindu people may be panic stricken becasue of ongoing incidents of South Bengal for the last two months when the CPIM, the ruling party of the state tasted a bad defeat by losing the muslim support in this region through Panchayet election. When the wining force of All India Trinamul congress (AITMC known as TMC), is considering all the prime posts for the muslim minorities in every stage of Panchayet system, the losing CPIM has already adopted the way of direct torture against hindu people out of any situation for winning the heart of muslim people and to regain the muslim support by giving various packages to the muslim minority.

On June 12,’08 one muslim leader of CPIM Sk. Ismail initiated the attack upon hindu pilgrims in Gangasagar with the help of some 3000 fanatic muslim mob. Now they have tried to capture the Gorerhat Ramakrishna Ashram Campus by attempting murder of Swami Punnyalokanandaji, the Adhyaksha (in-charge) of the religious unit at Gorerhat under Joynagar P.S. South 24 Pgs, some 80 km from Kolkata.. Revered Swamiji is a hindu activists and social reformer who was initiated in monkship by His Holiness Swami Gambhiranandaji Maharaj, the 11th President of Ramakrishna Math & Mission , Belur, Howrah. Swami Punnyalokananda took the charge of Gorerhat R.K. Ashram (a small service center) some years back for the betterment of the local poor & unprivileged people. Swamiji was trying hard to start a coaching center for the primary school boys and a homeopathic dispensary in the ashram. But two leaders of local CPIM Party, Arabinda Mondal & Md. Abur Ali( husband of the sister of Arabinda) had a planning to operate an unauthorized country liquor shop within a tea stall by capturing two rooms of the said Ashram. This was stopped by the Swamiji after taking some steps through police & administration in early days. And for this Arabinda, his wife and sister and also Md Abur Ali were jointly finding a scope to drive out Swamiji from Ashram or even to murder him anyway.

On July 08,’08,the Swami was beaten ruthlessly tied with a tree by the aforesaid CPIM leaders to murder him. The Swami just tried to erect a pillar to protect the ashram fence after offering his morning prayer. The pillar was destroyed by the CPIM goons in the last night. The electronic media of Bengal telecast the ghastly sight of sever body assault upon a senior monk after stripping off his saintly robes.

The Police came to the spot when the Swami was senseless and the CPIM & Muslim fanatics satisfied themselves by a enormous blood-shed of a peaceful Hindu Monk. The Police admitted the Swamiji in nearby Padmer Hat Rural hospital, but arrested not a single culprit caused murderous activities upon Swami Punnyalokananda on spot. Swamiji had many injuries in whole body including scull. A police case was started by Joynagar Police Station on 08/07/08 vide P.S Case No.168/08 after a dairy registered by the Swamiji

Afterwards some devotees of Swamiji took him at SSKM(PG) Hospital Kolkata for a better treatment on 09.07.08. C.T Scan of Brain & other speciality treatment was done there. The health of Swamiji is now out of danger. Swamiji also personally met the District Magistrate & Superintendent of Police, South 24 Pgs., for appropriate action. But the endangered situations for Hindus prevail everywhere in Bengal for the inaction of Police, Administration and obviously for the unaccounted torture upon Hindus by all the secular Parties. The nexus of Political parties, Police, Administration and the Muslim fundamentalist Pressure groups are very much active to eliminate even for any protest to it.

Newly established HINDU SAMHATI and some other prime Hindu Organisations are trying hard to change the situation of endless torture upon Hindus in Bengal. Can Hindus of Bengal survive without joining Hindu Organisations, only relying upon pro-muslim Political Parties for their own fate?

Koh-i-noor diamond belongs to India

From The Times
March 2, 2009
The Syamantaka diamond belongs to India, Gandhi family says

The Crown Of Queen Elizabeth (1937) Made Of Platinum And Containing The Famous Kohinoor Diamond Along With Other Gems.

Spurred by a campaign to stop the sale of Mahatma Gandhi's spectacles and sandals in New York, the great-grandson of the Indian independence leader is calling for Britain to return the Kohinoor or diamond to India.

Tushar Gandhi, 49, praised the Indian Government for agreeing to try to halt the sale on Wednesday and Thursday of belongings of Gandhi, including a pocket watch, bowl and plate, at the Antiquorum auction house.

He urged the authorities to do more to return other treasures, including the Koh-i-noor, which was presented to Queen Victoria in 1850. “The Koh-i-noor diamond is something that rightfully belongs to India,” Mr Gandhi, who heads the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation, told The Times.

“If the jewels of Windsor were held by an Arab sheikh, then Britain wouldn't really like that. I'd love to see it back in India. Returning it would be atonement for the colonial past.”

Mr Gandhi has joined several Indian MPs in condemning the auction as an insult to Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1948 and is still widely revered in India.

Mr Gandhi has also been trying to raise private funds from Indian companies and wealthy individuals to buy the articles, which are expected to fetch about $300,000 (£210,000). With only 350,000 rupees (£4,860) raised, the Indian Government has agreed to try to prevent the sale.

“Whatever can be done is being done to ensure that articles are not auctioned ... involving all concerned stakeholders,” Ambika Soni, the Culture Minister, told the Press Trust of India on Friday.

In 2007 the Culture Ministry obtained a letter written by Gandhi shortly before his death after persuading Christie's to withdraw it from auction.

This time, Indian officials said that they would first try to block the Antiquorum auction by legal means, and then try to persuade the owner of the items to donate or sell them to the Indian State.

If the attempts fail they will try to persuade wealthy Indians overseas to buy the articles at auction and donate them to India.

Gandhi is said to have given the spectacles to a colonel in the Indian Army, telling him: “These gave me the vision to free India.” His pocket watch was given to his grand-niece Abha Gandhi, in whose arms he died. His sandals were given to a British army officer in 1931 before talks on Indian self-rule.

“The important thing is that we have succeeded,” Mr Gandhi said. “We take a lot of pride in being an ancient civilisation, with a rich cultural heritage, but if we're not going to protect it then what does it matter?”

Lost heritage

India is currently negotiating return of:

— Five sculptures in the British Museum

— Five astronomical tools from Egypt

— One sculpture of Thirthankar (Jain enlightened figures) from Washington

— One sculpture of Nataraj (dancing Shiva) from London

— One sculpture of Varah (god with the body of a man and the head of a boar) from Switzerland

Two reviews of Slumdog from the left

A Hollow Message of Social Justice
Slumdog Millionaire's Dehumanizing View of India's Poor

February 20, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire, one of the most celebrated films of recent times, tells the rags-to-rajah story of a love-struck boy, Jamal, who, with a little help from “destiny,” triumphs over his wretched beginnings in Mumbai’s squalid slums. Riding on a wave of rave reviews, Slumdog is now poised to win Hollywood’s highest tribute, the Academy Award for Best Picture. This honour could add some US$100 million to Slumdog’s box-office revenues, as Oscar wins usually do. But it will also enhance the film’s already-robust reputation as an authentic representation of the lives of India’s urban poor. So far, most of the awards collected by the film have been accepted in the name of “the children,” suggesting that its own cast is promoting it not as an entertaining, cinematically spectacular work of fiction, which it is, but as a powerful tool of advocacy. Nothing could be more worrying, as Slumdog, despite all hype to the contrary, delivers a disempowering narrative about the poor that renders hollow its apparent message of social justice.

Many Indians are angered by Slumdog because it tarnishes their country’s image as a rising economic power and beacon of democracy. While understandable, this is not defensible. Though at times embarrassingly contrived, most of the film’s heartrending scenarios reflect a sad, but well-documented reality. Torture is not unheard of among the police, though none is surely dim enough to target an articulate man who is also a rising media phenomenon. Beggar-makers do round-up abandoned children and mutilate them to make them more sympathetic, though such a child will unlikely ever chance upon a $100 bill, much less be capable of identifying it by touch alone.

If anything, Boyle’s magical tale, with its unconvincing one-dimensional characters and absurd plot devices, understates the depth of suffering among India’s poor. It is impossible, for example, that Jamal would emerge from his ravaged life with a dewy complexion and upper-class accent. The real problem with Slumdog, however, is not its shallow portrayal of poverty, but its minimizing of the capabilities and even basic humanity of those it claims to speak for.

It is no secret that Slumdog is meant to reflect life in Dharavi, the vast sprawl of slums at the heart of Mumbai. The film depicts Dharavi as a feral wasteland, with little evidence of order, community or compassion. Other than the children, the no-one is even remotely well-intentioned. Hustlers and petty warlords run amok, and even Jamal’s schoolteacher is inexplicably callous. This is a place of sheer evil and decay.

But nothing is further from the truth. Dharavi teems with dynamism, and is a hub of small-scale industries, whose estimated annual turnover is between US$50 to $100 million. Nor is Dharavi bereft of governing structures and productive social relations. Residents have built strong collaborative networks, often across potentially volatile lines of caste and religion. Many cooperative societies work together with NGOs to provide residents with essential services such as basic healthcare, schooling and waste disposal, often compensating for the formal government’s woeful inadequacy in meeting their needs. Although these under-resourced organizations have touched only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, their efforts must be acknowledged, along with the fact that slum-dwellers, despite their grinding poverty, have lives of value and dignity, and a resourcefulness that stretches far beyond the haphazard, individualistic survival-of-the-fittest sort shown in Slumdog.

In the end, Slumdog presents a profoundly dehumanizing view of the poor, with all its troubling political implications. Since there are no internal resources, and none capable of constructive voice or action, all “solutions” must arrive externally. After a harrowing life in an anarchic wilderness, salvation finally comes to Jamal in the form of an imported quiz-show, which he succeeds in thanks only to “destiny.” Must other unfortunates, like the stoic Jamal, patiently await their own destinies of rescue by a foreign hand? While this self-billed “feel good movie of the year” may help us “feel good” that we are among the lucky ones on earth, it delivers a patronizing, colonial and ultimately sham statement on social justice for those who are not.

Mitu Sengupta, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics & Public Administration at Ryerson University in Toronto. She can be reached at mitu.sengupta@gmail.com

An idiots' guide to India

Hirsh Sawhney
Saturday 21 February

When India's call centres and booming economy began to grab headlines, writers and filmmakers attempted to woo western audiences with tales from the subcontinent. Some of these works were nuanced and sophisticated, like Richie Mehta's recent film Amal or Suketu Mehta's bestselling book Maximum City. But many of them were designed to cash in on the India craze and provide digestible titbits about the country's culture and history to western audiences – India for idiots, if you will.

Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, the runaway favourite for the best picture Oscar tomorrow night, is precisely one of these simplistic texts. It contains a smattering of all the major Indian hot buttons: call centres, religious riots, urban development, sex workers, the Taj Mahal –and, of course, slums.

The film, which traces the life of Jamal Malik from the devastatingly poor streets of Mumbai to his deliverance on the TV game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire, has elicited some furious reactions in India. Many have pointed out that the slum children Boyle used as actors weren't fairly compensated for their performances. A group of protestors in the city of Patna burned Slumdog posters and ransacked a theatre where the film was being screened, claiming that film's depiction of slum dwellers was a "violation of human rights." Some Indian commentators insinuated that the movie has been successful in the west because uses "poverty porn" to "titillate foreign audiences".

At the other end of the spectrum, Slumdog's admirers assert that those who whine about the film are guilty of "patriotic indignation" and lack "genuine anger and concern" about India's horrific poverty. Fans not only find the film upbeat, colourful and entertaining, they also applaud the fact that it sheds light on the state of slums. The Indian romance novelist Shobhaa De claimed that it has taken an outsider like Boyle "to go fearlessly into 'No Man's Land' and hold up a mirror to our sordid society…"

Yes, Boyle deserves a pat on the back for diving into Mumbai's entrails and drawing attention to its poverty. But it's a mistake to label him original for shedding light on India's underbelly. Before him, scores of filmmakers – from the iconic Guru Dutt to today's Madhu Bhandarkar – have decried inequity and portrayed India honestly, warts and all. The legendary Raj Kapoor even employed a mixture of fantasy and realism that pre-dates Boyle's masala formula for cinematic success.

But it's also clear that Boyle's version of the third world, complete with fetidness and depravity, is particularly gratifying to our UK and US sensibilities. Why? Because it grossly oversimplifies poverty and our relationship with it.

After watching the film, viewers are left to infer that slums are horrid, rancid places because of beggar masters, Hindu zealots and Muslim gangs. Of course these forces play their role in perpetuating misery. But in reality, slums are an international problem caused by an intricate set of entities: corrupt government officials, gargantuan multinational corporations and suspect IMF structural adjustment programs.

Playing it safe, Boyle doesn't implicate any of these entities. As a result, his movie does allow us to believe that we have been responsible global citizens by engaging with the intensity of third world slums. We in the audience even feel genuine sympathy for destitution. But at no point do we have to forsake the delusion that abject poverty and inequity are strictly foreign things for which we share no culpability.

In fact, far from spreading the blame for global poverty, Boyle's film actually suggests that the west is the solution to India's problems. Protagonist Jamal only escapes his ceaseless cycle of squalor and crime once he makes it into the orderly, democratic world of a British call centre. This call centre, in turn, delivers him to his fateful redemption on Millionaire. The subtext is clear: things are really bad in urban India but healthy servings of western values are just what the doctor - and the Academy judges - ordered.

Of course, many relish this action-packed fairy tale. It reinforces the notion that our policies and mindsets are righteous and can rid the world of its troubles. Stories that perpetuate this myth are especially appealing right now. In the wake of a grave economic collapse and a wretched, unending war, we have to begin the painful process of questioning the integrity of our way of life. A movie like Slumdog allows us to put that off for a few more minutes.
Its particularly interesting to read the Many self righteous British people's comments to this article refuting it. Here is a sample

* peterNW1

21 Feb 09, 9:24am

Danny Boyle has taken a novel by an Indian writer, Vikas Swarup, and has filmed it with an Indian cast and crew - in India. If Danny was Indian, Hirsh Sawhney would be celebrating his success. But Danny is a Brit (of Irish descent) and therefore has to be condemned as a colonial exploiter. Pathetic.

* guardianreeda

21 Feb 09, 9:24am

Silly me: there was I watching a story about 'slum guy gets well paid job', when all the while Danny Boyles sickening western-imperialist subtext passed me me by.

Is he a racist too? (Just want to check)

Thank you thought police. I'm so grateful for opening my eyes.

* thetrashheap

21 Feb 09, 9:27am

India is a hugely overpopulated, country with a deeply bigoted caste system. These are the two biggest factors in it's poverty. India has a space program and nukes but slums.

I don't buy into the hype about how great the India boom is when they seem to care so little for the poverty stricken in their country but neither do I accept this is all our fault.