Letters on February 7 Issue

Letters on February 7 Issue
Discussing Vidyasagar

Brian A. Hatcher's article "Celebrating the Precious Mettle of Ishvarchandra Vidyasagar" was excellent - throwing light on Vidyasagar's multi-dimensional and complex personality.

My two reservations: (i) Hatcher should have explored further Vidyasagar's decision to retreat to the village of Karmatar of poor tribals, where he wanted to spend the last years of his life; (ii) Instead of splitting Vidyasagar's career into a hierarchical order of `major' and `minor' Vidyasagars, Brian could have restructured it as two parallel narratives that co-existed in a disturbing relationship that Vidyasagar shared with the contemporary society in Bengal.

Sumanta Banerjee, Hyderabad
Replying to Sumanta Banerjee

I thank Sumanta Banerjee for calling attention to the multidimensionality of Vidyasagar’s personality. I completely agree. Elsewhere I have described Vidyasagar as a “man in motion.” (Vidyasagar: The Life and After-life of an Eminent Indian, Routledge, 2013). We know he moved frequently during his life, from place to place, from institution to institution, from friend to friend, and even from friend to foe. All this movement calls out for reflection. The causes behind such movement had much to do with his status as a colonial subject in search of both personal security and social change. The ramifications of all this motion were profound for his emotional life, his social networks, and even his professional reputation.

As for Karmatar, a kind of mythology has grown up around Vidyasagar’s decision to retire there. We often hear how much he cared for the local Santhali community; but we might also be on the lookout for lingering paternalism, if not Brahmanical elitism, in his acts of charity. This reminds me of Sumanta Banerjee’s concern about the “parallel narratives” linking Vidyasagar to his Bengali milieu. If I chose to speak of a “major” and a “minor” Vidyasagar it was merely to propose one tool for reflecting on how Vidyasagar’s life was embedded in—but also strained against—the various logics of British hegemony, Brahmanical hierarchy, bourgeois aspiration, and the daily discriminations of class, gender and community.

India continues to wrestle with such challenges in its daily life, high culture, and party politics. Vidyasagar did not transcend his conditions, but in his life and legacy we have a good opportunity to recognize the challenges and to seek new inspiration for change.

Brian A Hatcher
Ignoring the Left Parties’ Opposition to the CAA/NPR/NRC

I appreciated many points in the article “Three Streams in the Anti-CAA Movement” (17 January 2020). But I was surprised that while the author, H. Srikanth, noted the changing stances among some of the political parties who had voted for the CAA in Parliament, he had nothing to say about the Left parties that had consistently opposed the CAA inside and outside Parliament and supported the students’ struggle.

It is also the CPI(M) Chief Minister of Kerala who has taken the lead against implementation of the CAA and NPR. As a result of his courageous steps now the Chief Minister of Punjab has followed suit. 

The author needs to analyse these important shortcomings in the analysis. Perhaps an element of prejudice and anti-communism is at work.

Subhashini Ali
Wrong criticism

With reference to Subhashini Ali’s letter (above) the people who have made the anti-CAA movement unique were the focus of my article. It is not about the political parties, their stands and roles.  Only in a passing reference, did I mention those parties that have been compelled to change their stand because of the movement. Yes, the left parties opposed the CAB in Parliament, so did the Congress, Trinamool Congress and MIM. But none can claim that they have been leading the movement. The role of the opposition parties has been marginal and confined to certain territories where they have some influence. We can say, at best, that some parties are supporting the movement, none are leading it in a true sense. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that one can identify the agitators by the clothes they wear. I hope Ms. Ali would not use such criteria to conclude who is or who is not anti-left.

H. Srikanth, Shillong
Lucid Exposition on anti-CAA Protests

H. Srikanth in his article has offered a lucid exposition of the three different streams characterising the anti-CAA movement in the country.

Implicit in the discussion is the point that resolution to this complex problem requires the three parties to come together first to chalk out what should be the common absolute non-negotiable principles guiding their demand (which would involve some give and take among all three streams). 

And, thereafter strategise on how to move forward beyond reading of the Preamble to the Constitution and waving of the National Flag.

Padmini Swaminathan, Chennai
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