Tuesday, 17 August 2021

When Dhyan Chand and India’s Olympians Refused to Salute Hitler

 The Indian contingent was one of only two teams to not raise their arm as they marched past the Nazi dictator in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, a protest made sweeter by the hockey team beating Germany to win the gold medal.

The Berlin Olympics were declared open on August 1, 1936. M.N. Masood, a member of the team, left a minute-by-minute description of the opening ceremony that provides fascinating information. It was nothing less than a grand spectacle of Hitler’s ‘thousand-year Reich’. The Wehrmacht was fully mobilised in setting up the support infrastructure and the competitors were transported to the venue in army trucks. The Indians, with Dhyan Chand carrying the flag, were by far the most colourfully dressed of the contingents present. As Masood noted,

‘With our golden “kullahs” and light blue turbans, our contingent appeared as members of a marriage procession of some rich Hindu gentleman, rather than competitors in the Olympic Games.’


But this was no ordinary ‘marriage procession’ – the members of the Indian team were about to make a huge political statement by becoming one of the only two contingents who refused to salute Adolf Hitler.


The Olympic Stadium in Berlin, 1936. Photo: Frankl, A./Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 3.0



The opening ceremony of the Berlin Olympics was one of the great set-pieces of the Nazi era. As the giant zeppelin, the Hindenberg, circled majestically over the stadium, Hitler and his minister of interior arrived amid great fanfare to observe a military guard of honour.


M.N. Masood noted the fervour that the Führer generated:

‘When the Führer neared the Stadium, a multitude of young boys who were watching the proceedings from outside, saw their idol approaching towards them. With one great cry, they shouted ‘Heil, Hitler!’ and broke the silence of the Maifield.’


In four years, that war cry would reverberate around the world but the panzer blitzkriegs and the horrors of the holocaust were still in the future. At the time, at least some Indians were impressed by this disciplined spectacle of the resurgent Third Reich.


As ‘the hundred thousand Germans in the Stadium stood to their feet and sang with one voice’ the two German national hymns – ‘Deutschland’ and ‘Horst Wessel-Lied’ – Masood writes that it ‘made a strange impression’ upon the Indian contingent and ‘not an eye was left dry’:


‘India rose before our imagination … somehow the spring of our national feelings was touched, and the unity and solidarity of the people in the Stadium made us look with shame and regret at our poverty, destitution and discord.’


But nationalist aspirations were not the same as sympathising with the Nazi cause. What Masood does not mention in his elaborate description is the serious controversy the Indians created at the opening ceremony by not saluting Hitler during the march past. The Indians were the only contingent apart from the Americans to not perform the raised-arm salute as a mark of respect for the German chancellor.


British-loyalist newspapers like The Statesman were more focused on the defiant US contingent, making only a brief mention of what the Indians did. This was partly because of the dark cloud that hung over the participation of the US and the threat of a boycott by some of their athletes, with Jewish athletes Milton Green and Norman Canners staying true to their word. The high-profile American contingent, uncertain as to whether its participation might be interpreted as support for the Nazi regime and its anti-Semitic policies, had barely made it to Berlin after a narrowly won vote orchestrated by sports administrator and future IOC President Avery Brundage. But their contingent refused to dip its flag or ‘doff its headgear’ when passing the podium, eliciting ‘a certain amount of whistling from a section of the crowd’. The Berlin Games are remembered mostly for the exploits of the African-American athlete Jesse Owens, whose triumph disproved Nazi theories of Aryan dominance. For most journalists, the Americans were the story of the Games.


Spectators giving the Nazi salute during one of the medal ceremonies. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 3.0



Yet, the Indian decision not to salute Hitler was a grand gesture of defiance, totally in sync with the tenets of the dominant stream of Indian nationalism and the Congress Party. This was perhaps why loyalist newspapers in India chose not to play it up. The Calcutta Statesman chose to place its coverage of the Indian defiance on its political pages as opposed to the sports pages where all Olympic news was usually placed.


It is important to note that G.D. Sondhi, one of the officials accompanying the Indian contingent, was deeply influenced by Nehruvian ideas. In the late 1940s, inspired by Nehru’s internationalist ideals and the dream of pan-Asian unity, he single-handedly evolved and created the framework of the Asian Games. At a time when Britain was courting Hitler with its policy of appeasement – just two years after which the prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, was to triumphantly declare ‘peace for our times’ after the Munich conference – the Indian decision not to salute the Führer, it seems, stemmed ideologically from the anti-Nazi position taken by the Congress under Gandhi and Nehru. From the 1920s, the Congress had repeatedly opposed Britain in the event of a European war and regarded fascism and Nazism as forms of Western imperialism.


Dhyan Chand scoring a goal in the 1936 Olympic hockey final. Photo: Wikimedia Commons



In 1936, the same year as the Indians were marching in Berlin, Nehru told the Lucknow session of the Congress that ‘Capitalism in its difficulties took to Fascism’ and ‘fascism and imperialism … stood out as the two faces of the now decaying capitalism’. It was as impossible for India to support Britain’s new opponents as it was to support Britain. From 1938 onwards, Gandhi began opposing Hitler in the pages of Harijan, at one point even sending him a letter to desist from violence. In 1939, the Congress resolved to ‘keep aloof from both imperialism and fascism’ in its session in Tripuri.


There is no evidence to show any direct linkage between the Congress and the athletes’ decision to not salute Hitler in Berlin. But the fact remains that it was a political act, breath-taking in its audacity and in direct opposition to most other contingents at the Games, including the British. Managers like Sondhi were in all likelihood influenced by nationalist sentiment as articulated by the Congress leadership. The ‘marriage procession’ carried an underlying political message…


Against all expectations of a resurgent German team, Dhyan Chand and his team crushed Germany 8–1 to win their third consecutive Olympic gold. Forced to swallow their dire predictions, the sportswriters once again wrote flowery paeans and the title defence was narrated in great detail. Triumphant subheadings in The Statesman summed up the mood of the match report: ‘India’s Triumph’, ‘Science Scores Over Force’, and ‘Dhyan Chand in Form’.


Boria Majumdar and Nalin Mehta

Dreams of a Billion: India and the Olympic Games 

Harper Collins



This report left little doubt about India’s overwhelming supremacy: ‘In the second half science triumphed over force and the skill of Indian forwards, assisted by a hardworking trio of halves brought goal after goal. The vast crowd rose as one man as the Indians made raid after raid, completely outwitting the home defence with their speed and stickwork and their uncanny accuracy of shooting.


Goal after goal was scored to the bewilderment of the German side and though they played with their greatest pluck and gameness and managed to score once, they were a well-beaten team.’ It was in this game that Dhyan Chand truly came into his own in the Berlin Olympics.


Dhyan Chand had discarded his stockings and spiked shoes and wore rubber sole shoes, which increased his speed a great deal. That he was at his best is borne out by the handsome scoreline of 8–1. Dhyan Chand himself scored six goals. The German papers, which until then had been predicting a German gold, were full of praise for the Indians after the final. A correspondent for the Morning Post argued that Berlin would remember the Indian hockey team for long. ‘These players, it is said, glided over turf as if it is a skating rink and their flickering sticks had the Japanese, normally so agile, mesmerised.’ The reporter went on to conclude, ‘Nature seems to have endowed Indians with a special aptitude for hockey’. The legend of Indian hockey and the Games’ special affinity with what was still seen as the ‘Orient’ was embellished further.


It is a tenet of Indian sporting folklore that Hitler personally met Dhyan Chand and offered him an officer’s commission in the Wehrmacht if he would play for Germany. This story is almost certainly apocryphal because none of the contemporary sources mention this incident and neither does Dhyan Chand in his autobiography…


The 1936 Olympic campaign finally put to rest any doubts regarding India’s hockey supremacy. India had won all its matches in style, scoring thirty-eight goals in the process and conceding only one. Dhyan Chand, once discriminated against for his inferior social status, had consolidated his position as the darling of the Western world. A statue of his was erected in Vienna. Another statue erected later in Delhi’s Dhyan Chand National Stadium remains the only sculpture dedicated to a hockey player in independent India.


His six goals against the Germans in the final were no less an achievement than Jesse Owen’s four gold medals in track and field. As Gulu Ezekiel wrote, ‘While on the track Jesse Owens exploded the many myths of Aryan superiority, which the Nazi forces had carefully propounded, on the hockey field Dhyan Chand created magic.’ It was not without reason that the government of India issued a postage stamp in his honour and conferred on him one of India’s highest civilian distinctions, the Padma Bhushan, in 1956.


This is an extract from Boria Majumdar and Nalin Mehta’s book Dreams of a Billion: India and the Olympic Games (Harper Collins, 2020).


(Source: The Wire)

Monday, 16 August 2021

“I wouldn’t take no for an answer”

 How a solidarity-based sisterhood movement spread across rural India

“I can’t read and write, but I know how to fight legal cases,” says Akkatai Teli, now 67, a resident of Shirol region in the Kolhapur district of western India’s Maharashtra state.


Early in her life, people warned Akkatai to choose her battles wisely. Contrarily, she chose every struggle. Three decades later, in 2021, she says, "No woman should face what I have gone through, so I fight for everyone."


Akkatai has helped over 1000 rural women by bringing the perpetrators of domestic and sexual abuse to justice. This solidarity-based sisterhood movement has spread through fifty villages in western Maharashtra’s Kolhapur and Sangli districts.


Women in India face the most danger, statistically, from their own spouses and the families they marry into. 


Government statistics from 2019 show that 30% of reported crimes against women in India fell under the category “Cruelty by Husband or His Relatives”. 

 

Compounding this danger is a legal system that moves at a snail’s pace, if crimes are reported at all. Akkatai’s story highlights how important social support is to overcome these barriers.


Picture of Akkatai Teli by Sanket Jain, 2021. Graphic design by Gabriela Ramirez.



Her Call to Action

In the early 1990s, while selling fruits in the nearby Jaysingpur town, Akkatai Teli saw a grandmother weeping. Upon enquiring, she found that a resident had raped the woman’s five-year-old granddaughter. The past she was trying to forget stood in front of her. Akkatai rushed to a local official, a member of the legislative assembly from her constituency. “I told him about the case and asked him to phone the police.”


From her previous experiences, she knew approaching the police directly wouldn’t be helpful. But the elected politician was lackadaisical too. With no option left, she stormed the police station: “I wouldn’t take no for an answer.” To her surprise, the police did file a complaint and started an investigation. “The case lasted for five years, and the culprit was jailed per the civil court’s orders,” she says proudly. 

 

This victory inspired Akkatai to start a movement.


The World Health Organisation states that globally one in three women has been subjected to violence. That’s roughly 736 million women. Akkatai wanted to change this using the power of solidarity.


She knew legal battles in India could take decades. The Indian judiciary ranks 69 amongst 128 countries in the World Justice project’s Rule of Law Index report, 2020. The country has 40 million pending court cases. Akkatai didn’t want to become another statistic. 


The Back Story

It started in 1963. “I was 9 years old. My grandmother took 500 Indian Rupees (€ 5.5) as a bribe [from the man’s family] and got me married,” she recalls. Her husband, Mahadev, 14 years older to her, sold country liquor and “drank alcohol like it was water”.

 

“For two decades, he would beat me from midnight till morning. He murdered someone in the community and was jailed,” she says, “He even sold the kitchen utensils to buy alcohol.” Akkatai started working as a fruit vendor, farmworker and often doubled up as a labourer in a tobacco factory at the age of 12, only to have her bare-minimum earnings taken by Mahadev. “I have lost count of the number of times we slept on empty stomachs,” she says, referring to how Mahadev devastated not just Akkatai but the childhood of her two daughters. 


Despite numerous attempts, she couldn’t return to her maternal home because of the social stigma associated with divorce and women who leave their marital homes. Even today Indian women are often told by their families and society that no matter how bad their marriage is they should stay in it till the end of their lives. For Akkatai, the violence stopped only after Mahadev died of alcoholism in the late 80s.


"This society has decided that women should face all kinds of atrocities. I wanted to change that."

Akkatai Teli, Indian sisterhood movement


Her First Legal Battle

Akkatai’s first encounter with the legal system began in 1990 when she couldn’t bear injustice anymore. “After Mahadev passed away, the violence stopped, but my in-laws had planned hell for me,” she remembers. They ended up selling Mahadev’s almost two-acre farm without Akkatai’s signature and consent. “I went to the police station, but no one helped me.” 

 

Akkatai, who had not been educated beyond the first grade, faced immense challenges. “I walked into the Jaysingpur civil court alone.” The court officials informed her of a provision where the government could assign her a lawyer. The family sold the land to four different people to make matters more complicated, which meant fighting four community strongholds, who belonged to the privileged castes. 


That’s when Akkatai met advocate Dhanajirao Jagadale from the town of Jaysingpur.


“Her determination and courage not only helped her win the property case, but also inspired several other women to come forward."

Dhanajirao Jagadale, advocate


It took almost sixteen years to win her first case. “Things kept getting difficult, as the goons would threaten me physically and mentally even at 2 AM,” she says. 

 

Akkatai also reached out to the local media. “The local coverage would inspire more women,” she remembers. “I want more women to come ahead and fight their battles using the power of solidarity.” It has helped her receive the support of at least fifty community women.


Building A Solidarity Movement

Whenever Akkatai gets a call from a survivor of domestic violence, she first comforts them. “At times when there’s a threat to a woman’s life, I even shelter her safely in my house,” she says.

 

In India, 77 percent of the women who face domestic and sexual violence never talk about it. To correct this, she has written her contact number on the wall outside her house. “My house is an SOS centre for women. I get calls from victims even at 2 am.” 

 

Revealing her contact number has also led to her receiving death threats over the phone. “I don’t fear anything. I always sleep with a sickle beside me. Now many local people support my work,” she explains. She has also taken legal action against such threats.


The excuses for violence range from birthing a female child, dowry, alcoholism, the marital family’s disdain towards women, suspicion regarding extramarital affairs, women talking to neighbours or men outside the family, and many more.


Fighting For Justice

Upon receiving a complaint, Akkatai visits the government’s special cell for women and children to register a complaint and obtain legal documents, which can be used in court. 

 

“Each case takes at least eight to ten years,” she says. Talking about the challenges of the Indian judicial system in India, lawyer Gowthaman Ranganathan tells Unbias the News:


Judicial backlog is a persistent problem. Lack of judicial appointments and lack of infrastructure are two big reasons.

Gowthaman Ranganathan, lawyer


Nalini, a Delhi based lawyer, says: “I hear from my colleagues in district courts that judges too work amidst a lot of pressure, where someone would be trying to bribe them while another person would be threatening them.”


Meanwhile, the legal costs and the mental trauma often forces people to withdraw. “Not many people are aware of the legal remedies and their rights,” she adds.


Physical and Mental Harrassment

This reminds her of Rekha Desai*, another woman she helped. Rekha states: “His family members lied to me and said that he was a bus conductor while he was a gambler.” Within a year of the marriage, she found out that her husband was having a relationship outside of the marriage. When she began confronting him, he resorted to physical violence. “For eight years, he abused and beat me. Even his family members would mentally harass me.”

 

When Rekha returned to her maternal home for a few days, she met Akkatai, who assured her safety. Before filing a complaint, Akkatai usually speaks to both the parties and only then proceeds. “Rekha’s husband threatened us, and even abused me, ” says Akkatai. 

 

She began her preliminary investigation by talking to the villagers at length. “I found everything about his illicit affair, the gambling, and how he sought local politicians’ help to silence Rekha,” says Akkatai. 


Long Road to Justice

Before filing a case, Akkatai held multiple conversations with Rekha over two months. “We first filed a case in the civil court mentioning that Rekha was lied to, deceived, and that her husband physically and mentally abused her every day.” It took three years for the first verdict that came in Rekha’s favour. Rekha says, “The court ordered him to pay me INR 5000 [€ 57] monthly as interim maintenance amount.”

 

Rekha’s spouse contested it in the district court – 50 kilometers away from Rekha’s remote village. “Every month, there would be a hearing which would take at least eight hours,” she says. “Even this result came in my favour, and now the court fined him,” says Rekha. Her husband then roped in a few relatives trying to bribe Rekha into giving him a divorce. “What shocks me every time is how a man thinks he can decide everything,” says Akkatai. 


So far, Rekha has visited multiple courts over 100 times across five years. Each hearing cost Rekha and Akkatai a day’s income.


Akkatai asked Rekha not to opt for divorce till the dues were settled. “The property is in her husband’s name. As per the law, even his wife and children have a say in it. How can we give up that right?” asks Akkatai. In India, there are no accurate datasets available on how much land women own. A 2018 state of the land report puts it at an average of 12.9 percent. 

 

“He didn’t even pay the monthly maintenance the court asked him to. We won’t settle for a divorce,” says Akkatai. After fighting for several decades, she learned such legal complexities. “I would discuss with lawyers, ask them questions till the time it made sense to me,” says Akkatai of acquainting herself with the legal provisions. 


What Allies Can Do

Narayan Gaikwad, a 73-year-old farmer from Kolhapur’s Jambhali village, has seen Akkatai fight cases from the start. “With tremendous pressure and red-tapism, sometimes Akkatai loses her calm. That’s when I take the case forward,” he says. Narayan has helped Akkatai in several instances and ensured the local police at least registered the case.


Building a support system is essential; otherwise, victims can’t endure the fight.

Akkatai Teli, Indian sisterhood movement


Advocate Dhanajirao Jagadale says, “Often, the lawyers fighting the case of perpetrators keep delaying the hearing. Prolonging the case builds mental pressure on the survivor to withdraw.”

 

Advocate Gowthaman Ranganathan believes it is important to remember the contribution of the feminist movement in getting legislation against domestic violence. Till then it was seen as something that happens within a man’s home and is personal. He agrees with the need for reform and better implementation:

 

“Laws can exist but it is the economic dependence that keeps women in violent situations. Judicial academies organise gender sensitivity training for officials but we can have more such workshops. Protection officers, appointed to support women facing abuse, need to be prompt and in accessible locations. So-called men’s rights’ movements are pushing the narrative that the law needs to be reversed because it is being misused. We need to counter that narrative too.”

 

Akkatai, who has spent her lifetime fighting, is not tired. “If I can just get the support of a woman lawyer, I can make the entire Kolhapur district safe for women,” she says. 


“Keep fighting the good fight. Keep questioning everything. The answers might change someone’s life,” Akkatai Teli advises.


* Names have been changed


(Source: Unbias The News)

Sunday, 15 August 2021

Minamata: How a Japanese corporation poisoned a community and an American photographer fought to expose it

 Minamata, directed by artist and film producer Andrew Levitas (Georgetown), is about the industrial poisoning of a Japanese fishing village by the Chisso chemical company, and the struggle, beginning in 1971, by famed photo-essayist W. Eugene Smith to reveal the disastrous human consequences of this corporate crime.

Between 1951 and 1968, Chisso dumped thousands of tons of untreated wastewater containing the highly-toxic methylmercury into Minamata Bay in southwest Japan, poisoning local fish and other sea life.

Local residents, having always eaten fish from the bay, noticed strange behaviour and illness amongst cats in the 1950s, and then, in 1956, the first human cases appeared.


In the years that followed thousands of residents, including children suffered muscle weakness, disability, insanity, coma and death from severe mercury poisoning, with the company denying any responsibility for the health catastrophe.


Aileen Mioko (Minami Bages) and W. Eugene Smith (Johnny Depp) in Minamata [Source: Metalwork Pictures]



Today, 2,283 people have been officially recognised as patients and it is widely acknowledged that over 75,000 people suffered from Minamata mercury poisoning. Over 1,700 lawsuits are still ongoing.


Minamata is a forceful examination of Chisso’s ruthless attempts to prevent any exposure of its operations and the suffering of its victims. Based on the book Minamata: A Warning to the World, by W. Eugene Smith and Aileen Mioko, the 115-minute film has brought its director into conflict with MGM, the movie’s North American distributor.


Levitas’s movie was completed in late 2019 and premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in early 2020 and was supposed to be released in the US and the UK in February 2021. This did not occur.


MGM, notwithstanding a handful of international screenings this year, has “buried” the film, refusing to announce a North American release date because of the alleged “personal problems” of the film’s lead actor Johnny Depp. We will return to MGM’s outrageous censorship below.


Tomoko in Her Bath by W. Eugene Smith, Japan, 1972 [Source: Wikipedia]



Minamata opens with Smith (Depp) in the process of photographing “Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath,” his acclaimed shot of a mother cradling her severely deformed, naked daughter, who is afflicted by Minamata disease, in a traditional Japanese bath.


The extraordinarily moving black-and-white image, later considered by many as one of Smith’s greatest achievements, along with others from the Minamata series published by Life magazine, brought to American and international audiences the horror of Chisso’s mercury poisoning.


The film then flashes back to a year earlier. Smith, a semi-recluse in his Manhattan loft, is at a creative impasse. Alienated from his former wife and children, the acclaimed photographer is frustrated with publishers, still suffering post-traumatic stress from serious wounds and harrowing experiences in World War II and drinking heavily. (Sara Fishko’s 2015 documentary, The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith, is a valuable companion piece to Levitas’s movie [see: WSWS review and interview with the director.])


Aware of his socially conscious photographic work, Aileen Mioko (Minami Bages) approaches Smith to help expose the situation in Minamata. “There’s a resistance on the ground but we need global attention,” she says.


At first reluctant, Smith eventually decides to approach long-time collaborator and Life magazine editor Robert Hayes (Bill Nighy) and insists the latter send him to Japan in order to blow the story open.


On arrival, Smith discovers that the villagers, after years of fighting Chisso, are exhausted and intimidated. Armed with as many cameras as the villagers could find, and a makeshift dark-room, Smith sets about winning the villagers’ confidence and gathering evidence against the company.


Aileen Mioko (Minami Bages) and W. Eugene Smith (Johnny Depp) with Minamata disease patient [Source: Metalwork Pictures]



Smith, Aileen and activist Kiyoshi (Ryo Kase) visit the Chisso company hospital in disguise and photograph those suffering the worst of the disease. They also uncover documents showing that the company hid the findings of private research, proving the river water was indeed poisonous for over 15 years.


Chisso’s president, Junichi Nojima (Jun Kunimura), is aware of Smith’s arrival in the community and tries a number of tactics—including bribery and physical violence—to dissuade or block the photographer’s work.


Running parallel with Smith’s efforts is another group representing a minority of victims still determined to fight the company. Though some are afraid of challenging the company, group leader Mitsuo Yamazaki (Hiroyuki Sanada), in a moving scene, urges them on. “This is not just about this town,” he declares. “Big companies invade small towns all over the world and pollute their existence.… It’s happened before, and it will happen again!”


Smith eventually wins the trust of Tomoko Uemura’s mother and is finally allowed to take the soon to be famous photograph. This and other outstanding Minamata images published by Life made up Smith’s last photo-essay before his death in 1978.


Minamata makes clear that the disaster that hit the southwestern Japanese fishing community was not a one-off. The film concludes with an extended list of similar tragedies in the decades since the Minamata disaster: mercury pollution in Indonesia, radiation in Chernobyl and Fukushima, toxic mine waste poisoning in Africa, Latin and South America, the lead poisoning of Flint water supplies in Michigan and numerous other cases.


Reviews of Minamata have been mostly positive but there have been some sour responses by critics from Indiewire and the UK-based Independent and the Telegraph. Underlying their critiques is an insistence that no one should get too emotional about the disaster, let alone be passionately committed to exposing the plight of the Minamata victims. Any filmmaker venturing outside this framework is beyond the pale.


Indiewire critic Eric Kohn, for example, denounces the film as a “mopey drama” in an article headlined, “Johnny Depp’s Gonzo Performance Can’t Rescue an Overzealous Biopic.”


The “occasional poignant observation can’t salvage a movie trying this hard to tug every heartstring at its disposal,” Kohn declares, and accuses the film of “defaulting to histrionics.”


Geoffrey McNab in the Independent says that the film “pulls in contradictory directions” and gives it two stars. “It can’t work out whether it’s a crusading social drama or the story of a troubled artist’s redemption. The result is a film that neither engages nor moves the viewer in the way that might have been expected.”


The Telegraph declares Minamata is a “self-glorifying” biopic and accuses Levitas of “shaping the story to flatter Smith with a fairly groanworthy redemption arc.”


Contrary to these arrogant and self-satisfied claims, Minamata, is a passionate and thoroughly objective work and one that thoughtfully shows how Smith’s determination to expose Chisso’s crimes, and the corporation’s victims, reinvigorated his creative spirit.


While it is not possible here to critically examine the depth and significance of all Smith’s work (see the International Center for Photography’s online collection), his contribution to photography—as a powerful journalistic tool and artistic medium—is significant and underpinned by a profound humanity.


Smith’s post-war photo-essays—Spanish Village (1951), Nurse Midwife (1951), Country Doctor (1954) and others—established a new paradigm in contemporary photojournalism.


Above all, Smith was driven by a passionate belief that fighting to expose the truth could animate others and change society for the better. As he once said, “A photo is a small voice, at best, but sometimes—just sometimes—one photograph, or a group of them can lure our senses into awareness… a catalyst to thought.”


While these sentiments strongly underpin Minamata, Levitas now confronts a media corporation hostile to these concerns and is using an ongoing #MeToo-style campaign against Depp to “bury” the film and punish all those involved in its production.


In 2018, Depp’s former wife Amber Heard, penned an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, claiming she was victim of domestic abuse. This set off the usual media and career-trashing hysteria against Depp, who was not named in the Post story. None of the incidents alleged by Heard have ever been the subject of any criminal investigations, let alone charges.


Depp was quickly removed from the scheduled next production of Pirates of the Caribbean and then last year was asked to “resign” his role as Gellert Grindelwald in the third movie of the Fantastic Beasts franchise. Depp’s removal came after he lost a libel case against the Murdoch-owned, UK-based Sun tabloid after it published sensationalist material denouncing him as a “wife-beater.”


Last week Levitas made public a letter he sent to MGM condemning the giant entertainment corporation. “MGM [in early 2020] was intent on bringing to light the suffering of the thousands of victims of one of the most heinous industrial pollution incidents the world has ever seen.


“In re-exposing their pain in the sharing of their story, this long marginalized community hoped for only one thing—to lift history from the shadows so that other innocents would never be afflicted as they have… and it seemed in that moment, with MGM’s partnership, a decades-long wish was finally coming true,” the letter states.


Andrew Levitas [Source: Metalwork Pictures]


“Now, imagine the devastation when they learned this past week, that despite an already successful global roll out, MGM had decided to ‘bury the film’ (acquisitions head Mr. Sam Wollman’s words) because MGM was concerned about the possibility that the personal issues of an actor in the film could reflect negatively upon them and that from MGM’s perspective the victims and their families were secondary to this.”


Levitas recalled speaking to Mr. Uemura whose daughter “suffered every single day of her life” because a “large faceless corporation didn’t live up to their moral obligation to humanity, decency and righteousness.” His letter demanded MGM executives speak to Uemura and other Minamata victims and “explain why you think an actor’s personal life is more important than their dead children, their siblings, their parents, and all victims of industrial pollution and corporate malfeasance.”


The letter noted that “people all over the world are victimized by corporations who do not value them or consider them as real” and urged MGM to reverse its decision “to actively hinder the distribution and promotion of Minamata.”

It concluded with a YouTube video of one of the victims—Shinobu Sakamoto—talking about her experiences.


MGM has responded with a contemptuous and anodyne statement. “The film was acquired for release via American International Pictures, a division of MGM which handles day-and-date releases. Minamata continues to be among future AIP releases and at this time, the film’s US release date is TBA [to be announced].” Any decision by MGM, currently being taken over by Amazon, will undoubtedly be influenced by economic calculations.


(Source: WSWS)

Saturday, 14 August 2021

How the Mesopotamian word for ‘elephant’ indicates Dravidian language existed in Indus Civilisation

 A new research paper shows that it was migration that took the Dravidian languages from the Indus basin to their modern location in South India.

It’s one of the greatest mysteries of the ancient world: which languages did the people of the Indus Valley Civilisation speak? Existing in the Bronze age, the Indus hosted the largest such civilisation of its time, with settlements spanning what is now northwestern India and Pakistan.


Yet, while we know what their cities looked like, we know nothing about their languages, given that the Indus script remains, as yet, undeciphered.


Tablets with the Indus Valley/Harappa script | ALFGRN – Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0



The mystery further acquires sharp political overtones in India, given that the ruling Hindutva ideology has strongly argued against the idea that modern Indian culture has ever been influenced by forces from outside the subcontinent. Culturally placing the Indus Civilisation thus becomes critical both for academic as well as political purposes.


A new paper published in Nature.com by independent researcher Bahata Ansumali Mukhopadhyay innovatively looks at cultures which were in contact with the Indus people to try and sift out words that might have been adopted from the Indus language. She finds that one particular word – “elephant” – traces quite clearly back to the Proto-Dravidian, the ancestor of all Dravidian languages in existence today, thus proving that it was at least one major language spoken in the Indus Valley Civilisation.


Ten Indus script from the northern gate of Dholavira, dubbed the Dholavira Signboard, one of the longest known sequences of Indus characters. Credit: Creative Commons.



Linguistic mystery

Some of the sharpest minds in linguistics have grappled with the problem of the language spoken in the Indus Valley Civilisation. Michael Witzel, a philologist at Harvard University, had suggested that the language was close to the Munda languages now spoken by Adivasi groups in eastern India such as the Santhals. However, he has now withdrawn the thesis and prefers to wait for more data before restarting his research.


Asko Parpola, an Indologist at the University of Helsinki, mapped symbols in the Indus script to words in modern Dravidian languages, concluding that the language spoken by the Indus Civilisation was Proto-Dravidian.


Elephant in the room

While Mukhopadhyay arrives at a similar conclusion as Parpola, she ignores the script in her analysis. Instead, the paper cleverly looks at cultures in contact with the Indus Valley Civilisation in order to fish out an Indus loanword.


The Unicorn seal from the Indus Valley Civilisation featuring an inscription of eight symbols along the top. While the script is yet to be deciphered, the latest research postulates that the people of the Indus Valley Civilisation spoke proto-Dravidian or the language from which the modern Dravidian languages of South India are descended from. Credit: Harappa.com



Given its trade links with the Persian Gulf and Mesopotamia (largely in modern-day Iraq), the paper finds that both Old Persian and Mesopotamia’s official language Akaddain might have such a word. In the latter it is “pīru’/‘pīri” meaning elephant and the former “pīrus” meaning ivory.


The paper sets out to prove that these words have been borrowed from the Indus Valley by tracing them back to “pal”, the proto-Dravidian word for “tooth”.


First, the paper notes that both the words for elephant in the modern Dravidian languages as well as that for tooth seem to be closely related to these Akaddain and Old Persian words. What is the connection between elephants and teeth? “Two most unfailing taxonomical features of elephants are trunks and tusks,” argues the paper, pointing out that even in Sanskrit, one word for elephant, “dantin” refers to the animal’s spectacular protruding front teeth or “danta”.


“Thus, the relation between Proto-Dravidian tooth-word and the Dravidian ‘pal’/‘pīl’-based elephant-words must be deeply etymological, not accidental,” concludes the paper.


Toothy analysis

To add to this is the fact that Sanskrit seems to refer to the toothbrush tree or meswak with the word “pīlu”, with the ancient epic Mahabharata associating it with the Indus basin. Given that the tree’s branches were – and still are in modern South Asia – used as tooth cleaners, the paper surmises that the word must be related to “tooth”.


Recent genetic research has shown that the migration of ancient Steppe pastoralists brought Sanskrit and the Indo-Aryan language family to India. Source: The formation of human populations in South and Central Asia.



Notably, while Sanskrit is from the Indo-Aryan language family, the word “pīlu” is not – it is loaned from some other family. Like elephant, the tree name provides another, independent clue that the Proto-Dravidian word for “tooth” existed in the Indus Valley Civilisation.


Given that “tooth” is what linguists call an “ultraconserved” vocabulary item, rarely borrowed from other languages, the paper concludes that the “basic vocabulary-items for a significant population of IVC must have been Proto-Dravidian”.


Genetics agrees

To add to the paper’s etymological analysis is the fact that the latest genetic research also backs up this conclusion. The paper quotes research to show that the Brahui ethnic group in modern Pakistan – that speak a Dravidian language thousands of kilometres from South India – were a pre-existing group and not a result of migration from the modern Dravidian speaking parts of the subcontinent.


The modern spread of Dravidian languages in the Indian subcontinent. Note the anomalous location of Brahui language in what is now Pakistan. Credit: Creative Commons.



Thus, the genetic evidence makes it clear that Dravidian languages spread from the Indus Valley Civilisation to South India after the entry of Sanskrit-speaking Steppe pastoralists (who were earlier called “Aryans”) into India.


Hindutva pushback

While tools such as linguistics, archaeology and most recently genetics have shed great light on prehistoric populations, nowhere is this research more closely follows than in India. In fact, in an interview to Scroll.in, David Reich, a pioneer in inventing genetic methods to study ancient populations, noted that India was unique when it came to being invested in the origins of its ancient populations. In contrast, in neighbouring Pakistan or even in Europe, “there’s almost no emotionality at all about the ancient farmers or Bronze Age people or hunter-gatherers. There’s in fact, no emotion about the dead.”


In the short time span between 2,000 BC and 1,500 BC, the migration of Steppe pastoralists brought the Indo-Aryan language family to South Asia. With nearly a billion speakers, Indo-Aryan is today the largest language family in the Indian subcontinent. Credit: Creative Commons.



Much of this possibly flows from the fact that Hindutva, India’s current dominant political ideology, envisages a nationalism based on nativism to the Indian subcontinent. Vinayak Savarkar, the founder of Hindutva argued that for a “true” Indian, India had to be both his pitribhumi (ancestral land) and punyabhumi (the land of his religion). “A Hindu therefore could not be descended from alien invaders,” said historian Romila Thapar, explaining how Hindutva tried to exclude Muslims and Christians from its idea of nationalism.


This is why there have been repeated attempts within India to argue that the Indus Valley Civilisation spoke an Indo-Aryan language in order to argue that Sanskrit as well as the entirety of Vedic culture had a native Indian origin. In fact, as recently as 2019, reacting to the first large-scale genetic studies of ancient population movements in India, there were further attempts to prove that the “Harappans were the Vedic people” – even though this argument went against the very conclusions of the said genetic research.


While there is little evidence to back up these arguments, politically it helps counter linguistic, archaeological and most recently genetic evidence which proves that the Indo-Aryan language family was not native to the subcontinent but was brought to India by pastoralists from the Eurasian Steppe who entered the subcontinent speaking Sanskrit.


(Source: Scroll)