Colonialism Sucks

This animated film is the product of my discoveries at the archive of the Royal Engineers Museum, which focuses on the impact of colonialism. The colonial gaze is particularly interesting to me, as it represents the political and social mindset of the time, and the result of it when combined with the power system of the military. The notion of what is “politically correct” is re-examined, as is the behaviour of some members of the Royal Engineers, photographed engaging in what seems like incredibly offensive and disrespectful behaviour: which is not exactly how the military is expected to behave. The act of seemingly innocent “play” for these officers, seen here in blackface and dressed as “local” women, is subverted to highlight their mockery. This issue is rarely discussed, and misbehavior can often be swept under the rug. Although the animation itself is tongue-in-cheek and humorous, the message of “Colonialism Sucks” is fairly dire, as it questions the impact of military presence historically as well as today.”

- Sanaa Hamid

Through the colonial language policy, it was the British who officially differentiated between Urdu and Hindi. As is well known, they began with the idea that Hindus and Muslims were two separate “races”, each with its own history, culture and language. They attempted to categorise the languages of Hindustan on the basis of religion and culture. It was John Borthwick Gilchrist who first identified language with script and religion. He identified three different styles of Hindustani: first, a highly Persianised and urbane variety of Hindustani in Persian script practised in the courtly centres with a large concentration of Muslims, which he associated with Muslims; second, a rustic and rural Hindi/Hindavi largely free of the influence of Persian and Arabic words, spoken largely in the countryside with a predominantly Hindu population, which he identified with Hindus; and a third, a middle style between the two which was neither heavily Persianised nor rustic, but was close to the polite speech with an admixture of Persian and Arabic words assimilated into it. He called this middle style Hindustanee and advocated its promotion as the standard language that would cater to both the Muslim and Hindu populations. However, during his stint at the Fort William College as Professor of Hindustanee, he actively promoted two different styles as two different languages – Hindustanee in Persian script, which came to be associated with Urdu and Hindavi/Hindui in Nagari script, from which all foreign (Arabic/Persian) words were purged. This differentiation and dichotomy were to prove providential and to influence and shape subsequent colonial language policies.

Faultlines of Hindi and Urdu

The imagination of humanitarian work as neutral and one that maintains independence from any political inclination has allowed aid agencies unencumbered access to victims of war and natural disasters. Yet, it has also helped maintain the structural conditions of risk and precarity by de-limiting its scope and handling disasters without engagement with the politics that leave so many at the brink.

South Asians Demand Climate Justice at People’s Climate March in New York



New York, September 21 — One hundred fifty members of eleven South Asian community groups came together in New York City Sunday morning to participate in the People’s Climate March, the largest such event in history. Participants in the joint South Asians for Climate Justice group came from as far away as California and the UK, carrying signs like “when fossil fuels burn, Kashmir floods” and “we are armed only with peer-reviewed science.” A South Asians for Climate Justice contingent also met at a parallel Sunday afternoon event in the San Francisco Bay Area, in addition to large climate marches and gatherings in in major cities throughout South Asia over the weekend, including New Delhi, Islamabad, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Colombo, and Malé.

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"Those books” Thayil refers to are South Asian diaspora novels about the Indian subcontinent. Mangoes, spices, and monsoons. I’ll add saris, bangles, oppressive husbands/fathers, arranged marriages, grains of rice, jasmine, virgins, and a tacky, overproduced Bollywood dance of rejection and obsession with Western culture. The frustration Thayil expresses has been echoed by other South Asian writers and readers who don’t identify with the stories and struggles presented in many of the South Asian novels published in the West from 2000 forward — the era ushered forth by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Interpreter of Maladies and all the copycats that followed. They see nothing of the real India, or the real Pakistan, or the real Bangladesh, or the real diaspora communities reflected in these novels, which are designed for a primarily white reading public. What they do see are stereotypes — a colonialist “jewel in the crown” version of the subcontinent that includes tall servants named Raj and palm fronds, mosquito nets and teatime and exiles longing to return to their super romantic homeland. In much contemporary literature, South Asians are exotic little creatures fluttering about in glass jars for the bemusement of monocle-clutching Western observers.

Perhaps this seems a highly cynical position. How can it be that South Asian novels, primarily written by South Asians and published by the intellectual one-percenters in cosmopolitan centers who understand the world and wish, through literature, to edify it for the rest of us, skew the reality of South Asia and its people?”

Why Am I Brown? South Asian Fiction and Pandering to Western Audiences by Jabeen Akhtar

Thirteen years into the War of Terror | Harsha Walia

While facilitating a youth workshop recently, I realized that this generation is completely shaped by the events and politics of 9/11. Though few of the youth were able to define terrorism (beyond “blowing things up”), most of them were quick to normalize surveillance, military occupation, online tracking, CCTV cameras, extraordinary rendition, torture, deportations and incarceration.

I would like to think that we are not just the people seen or looked at in photographs: we are also looking at our observers….we too are scrutinizing, assessing, judging. We are more than someone’s object. We do more than stand passively in front of whoever…has wanted to look at us.

– Edward Said, After the Last Sky 

Someone who is perennially surprised that depravity exists, who continues to feel disillusioned (even incredulous) when confronted with evidence of what humans are capable of inflicting in the way of gruesome, hands-on cruelties upon other humans, has not reached moral or psychological adulthood

– Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (via girlboss)

"I became really jaded about connecting with other Indians. At university, it was point of pride to be Tamil Brahmin while Punjabi students would get drunk and start repping their Jat identity in hip-hop ciphers. Because their castes had never been stigmatised, this caste culture became coded as Indian culture. All of the Indian professors on campus were upper caste as well, and all, except one, refused to advise me on projects and blacklisted my work. I stopped getting invited to South Asian events. These are some of the structural manifestations of caste in the diaspora. Once you’re out, you’re… out. "

Still I Rise, Elle India


15 June 2014 // Quote by Gloria Anzaldúa

knowledge makes me more aware, it makes me more conscious. “knowing” is painful because after “it’ happens, i can’t stay in the same place and be comfortable. i am no longer the same person i was before. 

gloria anzaldua