Thursday, September 17, 2015

Geetha Hariharan: In discussion with Saima Afreen

She sets stones on fire. She wakes the dead history up. Her words bust crawling maps. She is Githa Hariharan. A prolific writer Githa has mapped the world through her journalistic pieces that mirror back from innumerable short stories, books and essays she has written. In an interview with Saima Afreen she talks briefly about the new non-fiction book of essays that she has edited and co-authored with other writers, journalists and authors.

Tell us about your new book 'From India to Palestine: Essays in Solidarity' that contains political essays from other writers as well.

The idea was to renew, revisit an old relationship between India and not only Palestine but that region where India has had historically strong ties and in West Asian region in particular. When it comes to Palestine there are two things; one is that it is a product of movement against colonization. The second is that Palestine is the last bastion of colonialism. It is a particular form that we have taken a stand on as in the case of South Africa. There are certain apartheid policies. And what does apartheid mean? It means separate unequal! And this is just happening in the occupied West Bank where it is in a way bit more flagrant because it is occupied by military, but also within Israel which is not only doing injustice to the Palestinians over there but to the Israelis as well. As we know in India that if somebody attacks on Muslims and Christians you don't have to be a Muslim or a Christian to take a stand on that. This is the logic that the book began with.

Interesting things about the theme of the book...

Some of us who have been to Palestine, it was also a curiosity to know what was occupation like in the lives of people on a day to day basis. With colonialism, we know there are different strategies of attack. If you want to attack religion the target is Jerusalem, for commerce it is Hebron - the commercial centre. At the check points you see walls that grab land on both sides. It could be in the middle of olive groves. It could be in front of somebody's house. The other aspect we had is the analysis of India's relationship. There are essays by Nayantara Sahgal, there are also analyses as to what happened in early nineties despite India's lip service in support of Palestine. NAM was not meant to be a passive movement. It was an active policy to support decolonization talking of independence in economic and foreign policy. What is discussed in the essays in the book is that when your economic policies give up the independence it's surprising that your seeding the foreign policy matters is co-terminus in seeding the economic space.

What is your idea of India today?

If we talk about Palestine, it is also one of the many ways through which we can talk about as to what is our idea of India today. We have to see what was the idea of India we began with! Both Gandhi and Golwalkar wrote about Israel and Palestine crisis. There is a contrast there. For Golwalkar, it made sense. Because that model of a nation is a homogenized model. Jews have the right to return to Israel, but the Palestinians who were displaced in 1948 and late 60s do not have the right to return! Today our idea of India is different from what it used to be. What is this new emphasis on strategic relations with the U.S.? And what does that tell about us and what kind of a nation we want to become?

What does solidarity mean as it has been discussed a lot in the book?

First, we have to redefine words like 'secular' and 'democracy'. We hardly know what they mean! Solidarity, today in the international context, means putting pressure on your own government, your own media, your own industries, your own academic and culture practitioners. And there are levels of solidarity. There are real people and real political forces at work.

Do you see a new form of colonialism rising?

There is no question about of new colonialism! It is there. Though I am not a historian or an expert on the same, colonialism has visited different parts of the world in different ways and in different times. In some places it was secular colonialism. Our own experience of colonialism was quite different from that of Africa. With Palestine, of course, it is its specificities that mark it. The question is now that it continues to manifest itself not only as occupation but also in this kind of almost impossible situation where there has to be a two state solution, but then what sort of two state solution? And there is an essay in the book by economist Prabhat Patnaik who asks if there are going to be two states are they going to be 'states' with democratic framework in both? It must not fall under the propaganda that 'Israel has working democracy'!

I met Geetha Hariharan at Hyderabad LitFest, 2014.

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