First as Freedom, then as Farce: The Limits of Independence - The Wire

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The WireFirst as Freedom, then as Farce: The Limits of IndependenceThe WireTallow and lard: cow fat and pig fat greased the cartridges that stirred the mutiny of the sepoys across northern and central India in 1857. … In terms of religion, region, and ethnicities, the Indian state is losing its hegemonic narrative of a …and more »…First as Freedom, then as Farce: The Limits of Independence - The Wire

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The Enfield Model 1858 India Service Musket,

In 1857 Indian troops under the employ of the British East India Company openly rebelled against the British Indian Government after being issued paper musket cartridges greased in beef fat and pork fat.  While the beef fat bullets greatly offended the religious beliefs of the Indian soldiers, there were several much more profound issues the Indians had with British rule in India.  The Sepoy Rebellion would last over a year, and was an especially bloody war with horrific atrocities committed by both sides.

After the Sepoy Rebellion, the British government would end the administrative powers of the British East India Company and take direct control over governing affairs in India.  Among the new reforms was the adoption of a new service arm for the Indian Army.  The Pattern 1858 Enfield was constructed from earlier British P1853 muskets with some very specific modifications.  First, the rifling of the musket was reamed out, turning the musket into a smoothbore.  Secondly the adjustable rear sight of the P1853 was removed and replaced with a crude fixed sight.  Both of these modifications were intended to greatly reduce the accuracy of the P1858.  The British feared another Indian rebellion, so British policy hence forth was to arm Indian troops with firearms that were greatly inferior to the standard British issue.  Later the Pattern 1859 was introduced, which were smooth bore musket produced on their own rather than modified forms of the P1853.

Lakshmi Bai was Rani (queen) of the Indian state of Jhansi during the mid-19th century and a military leader during India’s First War of Independence.

Born in Varanasi sometime between 1828 and 1835, Lakshmi Bai was the member of a high-class Marathi Brahman family. She was principally raised by her father and in addition to academic studies she was trained in horse riding, shooting and fencing. In 1842 she was married to the Maharaja (king) of Jhansi, Gangadhar Rao. In 1851 she gave birth to a son named Damodar Rao, however the child died at just four months old. In 1853 the Maharaja adopted the son of a cousin to preserve his line, also naming him who Damodar Rao. The Maharaja died the next day, leaving Lakshimi Bai to rule Jhansi as regent for her new son.

However because Damodar Rao was adopted, the British East India Company claimed that Jhansi no longer had a legitimate ruler and annexed its territories, forcing Lakshmi Bai to leave the palace at Jhansi Fort. Replaced by an agent of the Company, Lakshmi Bai refused to accept the rule of the British. When the Indian Rebellion broke out in March 1857 she supported the uprising, rapidly assembling an army to reclaim Jhansi Fort and once again declared herself the regent ruler.

Initially Lakshmi Bai was not interested in fighting the British beyond maintaining order in Jhansi and her forces were principally involved in border skirmishes with other regional lords. According to some accounts she led the charge in two of these battles personally, riding on horseback armed with swords. Her armies included a significant portion of women, who she ordered should be trained how to shoot.

In early 1858 the East India Company forced her hand by invading and laying siege to the city of Jhansi for 2 weeks. Lakshmi Bai’s forces resisted fiercely, hoping to hold out long enough for the army of their ally Tatya Tope to assist them. However Tope was defeated before they could reach Jhansi and the British eventually breached Jhansi’s defenses. Lakshmi Bai herself escaped with a small contingent of guards. Regrouping with Tope, Lakshmi Bai then scored a significant victory by successfully assaulting the city-fortress of Gwalior, seizing it’s treasury and arsenal. She then marched toward Morar to counterattack the British in defense of Gwalior. During the ensuing battle she was unhorsed while fighting a British cavalry officer and killed. Gwalior was retaken by the British 3 days later.

Following her death the British General Hugh Rose described Lakshmi Bai as “the most dangerous of all Indian leaders”. She is remembered today as a heroine of India, with numerous memorials in her name. The Indian National Army’s first female regiment was named after her.

The British Sikh’s Finest Hour

Sikhs have made a long and valuable contribution to the British Army and a unique respect for each other’s courage, skill and determination have led to a proud, shared military heritage.

Recently, on the most prestigious of Sikh days, when Sikhs everywhere honour the bravery of their forebears at the deadly Battle of Saragarhi, Minister for Reserves - Julian Brazier MP, joined Major General Richard Stanford MBE, GOC Regional Command, and esteemed guests from the Sikh community in a special event in the heart of London.

On 12th September 1897 in an ultimate test of devotion to duty, 21 British Indian Army Sepoys (Sikh soldiers) defended the Saragarhi outpost in the hills of the North West Frontier Province (now Pakistan but then part of British India), against 10,000 Afghan tribesmen.

Rather than surrender, the soldiers fought to the death against impossible odds for nearly 10 hours with basic ammunition and bayonets. Although the outpost was lost, the Afghans later admitted to having lost around 180 of their soldiers with many more wounded, demonstrating the expertise of the Sikh warriors.

To honour the selfless commitment and courage of these Sikh soldiers they were posthumously awarded the Indian Order of Merit, the highest gallantry award of the time.

The heritage of Sikh Service to the Crown is humbling, courageous, inspiring and continues today in the Regular Army, Army Reserve and Army Cadet Force. The event at Armoury House in Finsbury, London, highlighted that contribution, in particular looking at how the values exemplified by the Saragarhi 21 are demonstrated in current serving Sikh personnel.

There are currently 180 Sikhs in the British Army and their integral contribution and success is undoubtedly due to the common core values upheld and shared between Sikhism and the Armed Forces: Courage, Discipline, Respect for Others, Integrity, Loyalty, and Commitment.
During the course of the morning, the First World War Sikh Heritage Platoon recalled stories of their great grandfathers and Jay Singh-Sohal provided a moving account of the selfless commitment and bravery of Sikhs, from their unflinching loyalty in 1897 to operations today.

Adding colour and pageantry to the commemorative event, the Band of the Rifles marched and played traditional music. Rifleman Mandeep Singh, 25, from Birmingham is himself a proud Sikh.

Lance Corporal Ian Chave played the last post and a solemn silence was held in memory of all those who had fallen in service of the Crown, before a dramatic “War Cry” was performed by Captain Makand Singh. The guests were then treated to a Punjabi lunch with spiced tea in the Honourable Artillery Company’s historic Prince Consort Rooms.

Lieutenant Daljinder Virdee, 25, from Iver Buckinghamshire is a pharmacist officer in 256 Field Hospital Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) in London. He said he takes inspiration from the 21 Saragarhi Warriors every day: “The RAMC motto is strength in adversity and in tough times when odds are stacked against you these soldiers stood their ground and did not give an inch. They were my forefathers and their strength is in all of us”.

Major Sartaj Singh Gogna, 37, from Brentwood is a senior instructor at the School of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineering in Arborfield. He joined the Army 15 years ago and as Chairman of the British Armed Forces Sikh Association he often get asked about the challenges facing Sikhs thinking of joining the Army. “When I signed up I was a clean shaven, short haired bloke. And surprisingly it was the Army that has helped me to grow spiritually and supported my decision to become a fully practising Sikh, wearing my Dastar (turban).”

Reserves Minister Julian Brazier said: “We’re determined to make sure that any Sikh joining up will feel at home in the Armed Forces of today. That’s why we have the British Armed Forces Sikh Association providing personnel with a practical support network, complemented by the spiritual guidance offered by our Sikh Chaplain. We have prayer rooms in every unit, vegetarian ration packs for every operation, and a flexible dress code so that these days a Sikh in a turban can stand guard outside Buckingham Palace.”

The British Army is keen to commemorate such events to keep the memory of Empire and Commonwealth soldiers’ contributions to our history alive and to inspire others to follow their example: this is the second year that they have commemorated the Battle of Saragarhi, with last year’s commemoration also coinciding with the launch of the Armed Forces’ Sikh Association.

On Far Cry 4 and respect

(Note- this essay was written before Ubisoft indicated that the figure was Asian with dyed blond hair and that he was a villain. I feel that my greater point on perception and South Asian representation still stands.)

Last week Ubisoft unveiled the cover art of the latest game in their Far Cry franchise, and the outcry was immediate and widespread.  The image of an ostensibly blond haired white man with his hand on the head of a kneeling Nepali or Indian man with a grenade in his hands conjured up accusations of racism, colonialism, and general tone-deafness.  And frankly, those readings are correct.  After 200 years of being servants of the British Crown, South Asians viewing this cover can’t help but recall a litany of horrors brought on by years of colonial abuse.  Just look up the Sepoy Mutinies, or the British theft of the royal jewels, or what they did to Somnath Temple. Not to mention Rudyard Kipling’s Burden.

My own personal history is full of proud, high caste men who knelt at the feet of the stooges of Victoria, hoping that this year the tax burden might allow their villages to keep some grain. People who were forced to harvest cotton for the brits, but only wear clothing made in manchester out of that cotton.  People, by virtue of their birth, tasked with forcing their fellow men to serve the white man as indentured overseers. An entire set of nations and kingdoms exploited for the wealth of the second and third sons of some island nation far away, given only pain and hardship in return.

From just one image, all of this.

But when I saw this cover, all of the above was far from my mind.  What took my breath away, simply by the audacity of it, was the fact that the central figure, the white man, was sitting on the lap of a desecrated statue of the Buddha, casually resting his foot on the Buddha’s head, a detail that went entirely unremarked upon in the ensuing internet firestorm.

You have to understand that to a Hindu or Buddhist, touching something with your feet is just about as offensive an action as can be taken. It shows utter and complete contempt for the target, and an explicit lowering of their status.  We’re talking offensive to the point that even casually brushing someone with your feet calls for an immediate apology, head bowed, hand on heart, everything.  Touching books with your feet elicits the same response, because books represent the Goddess Saraswati, the embodiment of knowledge.  kicking a book, then, is the same as kicking the goddess.

And here he was, our picture’s focus, casually resting his foot on Buddha’s face, as if the god himself were only good enough to be a footrest.

I was not expecting the visceral reaction that overcame me. I’m a religious guy; on the weekends I even function as a lay priest for Hindus, doing various and sundry rituals, and my home is full of statues of the Buddha from around the world.  He’s effectively my patron deity. (and yes, in Buddhism proper, he is not a deity, but in Hinduism he is). And just to see the lord so casually, flippantly disrespected…it hurt.

Mind you, I’m not a fundamentalist, nor am I a missionary expecting everyone to follow my faith, or even respect it. Freedom of expression means that nothing is universally sacred, and everyone is free to do what they like in art. That central figure may well be looking at the statue as a piece of loot to sell to a museum or some black market collector, and nothing more.

In-world, the image is entirely irrelevant, and gets across Ubisoft’s point, that this is a Bad Guy.

But I don’t live in-world. I’m not a character in this game, and I’m not the proprietor of the temple being looted, nor the buyer of said statue. I’m just a guy in the real world, who sees on the cover of a game that someone thinks so very little of him and his people that they’d choose this as their advertisement to the world. 

Cause that’s what this is about- respect. What this image says is that South Asians, Hindus and Buddhists alike, aren’t as important as getting a ‘cool’ image to show off how bad a dude is. Ubi, we get it, this guy is bad. But him being a terrible person in game doesn’t mean that your art team, marketing team, and chains of approval also have to be terrible.  Context is deeply deeply important. You can write it off as ‘oh, it’s just in game, it doesn’t mean anything, and it’s not offensive’ but that’s just wrong. It DOES mean something. It means that to a billion people, you are saying that they are less than dirt to you, and their feelings and attitudes are irrelevant in the face of your commercial gain.

In essence, the British colonials have returned, with just as much loving concern as before.

That one foot encapsulates the Hindu immigrant experience so effectively that it brought a flood of unpleasant memories rushing back. Being a hungry child at a school pizza party told to just ‘pick off the meat’. Being a high schooler laughed at because he shares a name with a half naked ice summon in final fantasy.  Being rejected from multiple publishers as an adult because the audience just doesn’t want indian themed games, and I’d have better luck if there were a few white people for folks to relate to.

Having no one to relate to myself, over 20 years of fantasy tabletop games, video games, or novels.

That’s what this cover says- You, brown man, are so unimportant to me that not only is your simulacrum kneeling at my feet, but that deity that you dedicate your life to is so pathetic that its only purpose is to let me kick back and relax.

It’s a famed stage and screen actor from India being hired as unnamed terrorist #3, or convenience store guy. Certainly never as a the main character.

Earlier I said that this was about respect. It is. Not respect of faith or traditions, but respect of the fact that all humans belong on an equal level with each other.  This image displays no concern for that. Contextually it may be different. He could be some central asian guy with dyed blond hair or whatever, and maybe he’s been fighting a lifelong war against the evils of religious oppression.  But if I walk into a Target or Best Buy and just spy that cover across the way, what will I see? A white dude lording it over a terrorist with a smug look on his face.

When this cover first appeared last week, the following set of tweets (paraphased) pretty much encapsulated exactly what I figured would happen:

Tweeter A- This image is racist!

Tweeter B- No way! Terrorist scum should be made to kneel!

Tweeter A- How do you know which one is the terrorist?

Thus what happens when one group does not respect another. When all of the representations in media are single focused, and pull from only one specific stereotype.

Looking at that cover doesn’t make me think that the white dude is a bad guy. it makes me think that the artists, directors, marketers and advertisers don’t care about me at all, except as a stock image to exploit.  And that hurts.


This was a request via mail on tumblr…

Henry McIver (1841-1907), US soldier of fortune and Serbian Brigadier General.

In his quite illustrious life he joined East India Company at the age of 16 and saw fighting in Sepoy Mutiny. Later he served under Garibaldi in Italy, and fought for Don Carlos in Spanish Carlist wars.

In US Civil War he joined Confederacy fighting under Jackson and Stuart. After US Civil war he went to Mexico, as a mercenary under Maximilian vs Juarez rebels. He was captured by Indians, but escaped by swimming over Rio Grande. He saw combat in Brazil and Argentina also.

He went to Europe in later 1860s and fought with Egyptians vs Turks and Greek rebels on Crete vs Turkey. He is known to have persuaded whole Egyptian Coptic unit (company sized) to defect to Christian side.

He fought in Franco-Prussian war on French side.

In 1874. he went to Montenegro and would lead volunteers 1874-75 during Herzegovina Uprising , using very successful guerrilla campaign vs Turks. He met and became a friend with Petar Mrkonjic, later Serbian king Petar I Karadjordjevic.

In  late 1875. he was traveling over Europe rescuing volunteers to fight for Serbia vs Turkey. 

In 1876. he founded Serbian-Russian volunteer cavalry brigade named “Knights of the Red Cross” which he lead successfully in fighting at Timok, Morava and Aleksinac in the fall of 1876. For the last battle he got Serbian Takovo Cross and Russian Golden Medal for Bravery. Andrejs Pumpurs, Latvian poet and soldier and  Sophus Christensen, Norwegian officier also served in his unit.

He was a favorite among court circles in Serbia and Romania, but he did not want to live in peace and left Serbia in late 1878. He gave up his pension to a orphanage for a children of soldiers killed in 1876-78 wars.

After that he saw combat in Cuba and British invasion of New Guinea.

All together he fought for 18 different armies.

In his old days he was sailing and lived by selling fish in England and Virginia.

He died on his boat in 1907., Serbian cavalry saber in his hand.

Diam-Diam; Dalam-Dalam

Aku ingin bilang jika menautkan perasaan tidak semudah yang kaukira. Butuh perjuangan, menyeberangi jembatan bernama ketidakberanian. Lalu, segala kemustahilan yang menyelimuti diri luruh, digerus senyummu. Menembus hingga kedalaman jiwa.

Aku ingin bilang jika aku akan selalu menunggumu, sekalipun kesempatan itu tidak pernah ada. Musnah bersama udara. Karena aku tahu, aku takpantas untuk menjadikannya nyata. Dan kemudian aku akan berlari sekuat tenaga menuju taman, mengusir sesiapa pun yang duduk di bawah pohon Kersen saat itu.

Aku akan menikmati gugur dedaunan teranggas dari rantingnya sembari menunduk dan menuding diri sendiri berkali-kali. Atas sebuah rasa yang lama bersemayam, tumbuh subur, namun melahirkan ranting-ranting tajam yang menusuk-nusuk perasaan.

Lalu, ketika senja tiba, aku akan rebah di pinggir danau, menatap lurus langit. Sesekali. Dan ketika bangkit, sepoi angin membelai tengkuk, aroma danau meliuk di dalam hidung. Adapula semerbak bunga lotus memelesat cepat di atas langit dan membuatku resap.

Aku akan terus menunggu, takpeduli berulang kali aku harus memaki diri sendiri karena begitu lemah di hadapmu. Begitu buta di saat kau takpernah memilihku. Yang kutahu, aku mencintaimu; diam-diam; dalam-dalam.

Hingga Akhir Waktu.



Hati Sedalam Samudra

6 tahun, bukan waktu yang singkat untuk mengenal, berlayar di kehidupan seseorang, lalu tenggelam dalam hatinya.

Dan, dari waktu tersebut, hanya satu hal yang aku butuhkan; menepi.

Beristirahat sedikit lebih lama di dermaga, menikmati angin sepoi-sepoi dan senja, atau memperhatikan burung merpati yang terbang kesana kemari.

Aku menghela nafas. Bagaimana bisa aku berenang ke daratan jika aku sudah tenggelam dalam hatinya? Aku merebahkan tubuh. Tiba-tiba kehilangan nafas. Bukan karena tidak ada air, melainkan karena aku belum mengunjunginya hari ini.

Tapi sejauh apapun aku mencari hatinya, ternyata aku tak mampu menemukan. Lantas, dia membuatku mengaguminya, membiarkan aku tenggelam, lalu pergi begitu saja.

Dia mungkin lupa, kalau hatinya sedalam samudra.