International Women’s Day

International Women's Day

International Women’s Day and the Story of Queen Velu Nachiyar

International Women’s Day by Professor A.L.I.

International Women’s Day has its origins in both protest and socialist movements, but it has evolved to a day which functions as a lens for the myopia of patriarchy through which we normally see our world.  It is a time for us to pause and reflect, as well as to honor and remember, all those around the globe who’ve been marginalized by the patriarchal norms we accept as the status quo.   Considering our all-too familiar binary construction of gender, history is only half the story; hence it is only a half-truth, which is akin to a lie.  Herstory was an attempt to expose the whole story, and on International Women’s Day, it is incumbent upon all who breathe in the patriarchal air that deadens our senses to the feminine energy that surrounds us, to take a moment to focus on this metaphysical force and imbue our spirits with the feminine; this necessary invocation requires an anchor, and there are many to invoke who represent its power like: Fatima bint Muhammad, Zaynab bint Ali, Rab’a al-‘Adawiyya, Nana Asmau, Queen Nanny of the Maroons, Harriet Tubman, Yuri Kochiyama, Dr. Betty Shabazz, Valliamma, and Amina Al-Sadr, to name a few.  Each name represents immense power of spirit and the best examples of what human beings can become, and each of their stories are shrouded by attempts to dim their light in the smog of patriarchy.  Yet there is one place that stood above many others in honoring the feminine; giving it its proper elevated status and honoring this force, and it is in this place so many examples arose to champion the human condition using this power.  The place is South Asia, and it is here that the concept of Devi was constructed, and where women like Queen Velu Nachiyar arose to champion resistance and freedom; she will be the anchor through which we will explore the power of the feminine and celebrate this day as it should be celebrated, in hopes that one day, there will no longer be a need for a day to correct our myopic vision, since we will see clearly through both eyes and honor the entire gender spectrum of human contribution, but until then: Happy International Women’s Day and An Everlasting Victory to Queen Velu Nachiyar!

Rani Velu Nachiyar

She Made Patriarchy Call Her Devi!

The Devi

The Sanskritic concept of Devi was constructed two thousand years BCE, as a feminine form of the divine.  It was a way for practitioners of ancient Vedic faiths to understand a pantheon of divine beings, which included celestial beings who were perceived as mothers, consorts, and sisters to cosmological concepts.  Over time this term evolved and in the text Devi Mahatmya explores the idea of the ultimate truth and supreme power as manifest in Shaktism, a movement that was an important branch of Hinduism.  This term is still used in the modern era and its concept has continued to evolve even into vernacular usage that is divorced from its theistic origins, yet honors the power of the feminine.

The night before my father died, he awoke from a powerful dream and woke my mother. This is something he never had done in their marriage and according to my mom, he excitedly shared with her his dream in the pitch black night, which was about a vision he saw of a woman made of light calling him towards her; he referred to her as a Devi; he died later that afternoon, on the outskirts of the town he was born in, land once liberated from the yoke of British colonial rule by Queen Velu Nachiyar in a taxicab.  Unbeknownst to him, the day he passed fell on the lunar anniversary of the day that Fatima bint Muhammad died; and the great irony is that her adherents often refer to Fatima as the “lady of light”.

The great lie in the history of colonialism/imperialism of South Asia is that the South Asian peoples did not resist and the only form of resistance was non-violent and authored by Gandhi.  The second half of this lie was exposed in Herstory, but the first part is also not true.  While those tuned into South Asian history will be able to mention the Sepoy Rebellion as one specific example of resistance, it is still viewed as an exception to the norm.  Sadly this erroneous presumption is a result of patriarchal smog, which diminishes the light of numerous examples of resistance movements towards European control, all of which were sparked by the feminine.  Whether it’s the Mappila Rebellion, which came from the matriarchal Mappila community, or specific examples of leaders like Queen Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi or Queen Chennamma of Kittur who fought British interests in South India, or Queen Abbakka of Ullal who fought the Portuguese, it was the power of the Devi, which manifest itself in the spirit of freedom from the yoke of colonial oppression.  The first to fight against the British, in the middle of the 1700’s was Queen Velu Nachiyar and her story is truly remarkable, one worthy of our study and invocation every International Women’s Day.

The story of Queen Velu Nachiyar is one of extreme sacrifice!

The story of Queen Velu Nachiyar is one of extreme sacrifice!

Queen Velu Nachiyar

Born on January 3rd, 1730, Queen Velu Nachiyar was destined for greatness.  A daughter in a royal family, she had access to and studied the art of war as a young girl, mastering the art of silambam (the fighting stick), horse riding and archery along with the science of strategy.  She was a scholar of multiple languages beyond her mother tongue of Tamil, including Urdu, French and English at a time where few knew how to read and write in one.  She married a king, birthed royal heirs and shared a rule that was peaceful until it was interrupted by violence sparked by the greed of the British East India Company (BEIC), which wanted the lands she governed.  They killed her husband, and children, and she escaped into the forests, while the BEIC dismantled her rule and ensnared her lands just as they practically enslaved her people in servitude of wealth extraction.  She formed a guerilla army, made up of forest dwellers, struck alliances with neighboring rulers for arms, trained her forces and strategized a way to victory at great personal cost.  Her adopted daughter, Kuyilli, agreed to be the vehicle for Queen Velu Nachiyar’s victory, and according to plan doused herself in oil and stole herself into the British military stores, exploding their armory and herself into herstory books as the first human bomb (or suicide bomber in history).  This was the tipping point in the revolution and allowed Queen Velu Nachiyar and her forces to defeat the British and re-establish her rule.  She held onto the liberated lands for a decade, until she died and was South Asia’s first revolutionary.

Velu Nachiyar Parade - International Women's Day

A parade honoring Queen Velu Nachiyar .

Our Queen

Queen Velu Nachiyar’s story is barely a footnote in HIStory, and “Our Queen” is an attempt to commemorate her more than a singular stamp issued by the government of India in December of 2008.  Her story is as symbolic as it is iconic—and it represents the power of the Devi, i.e. the feminine spirit as well as the will of Tamil people to be free.  “Our Queen” is the second track song leaked off of the Tamilmatic album as well as its first video, and it features the soulful singing of Tony Thomas, which wraps around the lyrics of a Tamil griot (poet/oral historian) who recounts the story of the life, death and struggles of Queen Velu Nachiyar.

The song and video invokes the spirit of the feminine, using the story of Queen Velu Nachiyar as an anchor.  Her light beckons through the smog of patriarchy like a lone lighthouse inspiring sailors with hope to navigate treacherous waters to shore; and this video, inspired by her story evokes other images of Tamil women, from soldiers in the army to tea pickers, representing her resistance and the people she liberated respectively.  The music video also portrays a simple sketch of her, and the placing of it in a forest clearing; it symbolizes the forest clearing she once hid in as she planned, trained and strategized for the victory of her people.

Celebrate International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day was born of protest and social struggle, and the lens it provides through the smog of patriarchy allows us to commemorate figures like Queen Velu Nachiyar and through her struggle and revolution become inspired to carry out our own—one that helps us dispel the half-truths of history and understand the human experience wholly and at all times.

Celebrate this day by making your own sign: “I need feminism because: _______” and fill in the blank in a way that reconciles your spirit with the feminine—and share it.  Share it, and tag/link this article, share it and use the hashtags: #Feminism, #OurQueen, #Tamilmatic, or share it with the video/song above.  Let’s link each story, with each other, so that these disparate lanterns representing the truth of herstory help dispel the smog of patriarchy forever.

I Need Feminism Because

I Need Feminism Because _________; #OurQueen #Tamilmatic

Each name represents immense power of spirit and the best examples of what human beings can become, and each of their stories are shrouded by attempts to dim their light in the smog of patriarchy.

 

 

Hate Muslims!

What makes a 'Muslim' hate Muslims?


10/30/11

Dear Norwegian Sisters and Brothers,

I want to begin by telling you that I don’t know what has happened to my sixth grade teacher, Ms. Whitlock and imagine that she retired soon after my time in her world history class. However I still remember how passionate she was about the world and culture in general. It was in her class that we were given a choice to do a research project (which back then meant copying out of Encyclopedia Britannica) on a European country. I had one of the first choices and choose Norway, probably because I was such a Norse mythology nut thanks to Marvel Comics.

I enjoyed doing that research project and remember how fascinated I was to learn about fjords and hakarl. Even beyond that handwritten project, my love of Norway would continue to grow over the years from a rising respect due to Norway being one of only a handful of countries to stand by the Tamils during the Sri Lankan Civil War, to my love for Norwegian Hip-Hop groups like Gatas Parlament to the fact that as a seminar instructor I’ve created and currently teach a course about Norwegian History centered on the Viking Age every Spring. I have a lot of love for Norway and could see myself settling down on the outskirts of Oslo, so when Remi Bye my friend of Facebook contacted me about writing this letter I felt the urge and compulsion to do it.

Though two decades have passed I can still remember my time in 6th grade vividly. Aided by social media like Facebook I’ve been able reconnect with old friends and wax poetic over shared memories, allowing them to live again. I remember the fun moments back then like my time horsing around with my friends Kenneth and Terrell in the back of the classroom to competitive moments like shooting hoops with Jason and Dissoni at lunch. Unfortunately I also have sad recollections, like coming back home to arguments and stress. I remember vividly how it was in the 6th grade my father was two years into his unemployment and would leave us two years later.

6th grade was a precarious time in my life, as well as a time of great self-reflection and identity formation. It was back in sixth grade I truly tackled questions like what I was in a world and why was it that it (the world) was trying to define me for its own benefit. There were so many doubts in my mind in those days but there were two things I knew to be true: that first, Norway was a wickedly cool place and second that I hated Muslims.

Maybe one of the reasons I liked Norway so much initially was because it didn’t have a significant population of Muslims to begin with. I’m not sure if that is true, but the fact remained: I hated Muslims, emphatically. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, in a suburb where a significant population of Afghan refugees had settled. Every year there were more and more Afghans and as each year passed I became increasingly agitated.

All the way through high school I was the only Tamil-American in my city, and being a brown person at that time meant you were lumped in categories for convenience sake. What bothered me was that I was continuously being lumped in with Afghans. This was pre-Taliban, pre-Islamic revival movement but there was no question that these Afghans were Muslim. In fact I saw them as Muslims first and they were joined by Iranians, Pakistanis and Arabs—and I hated them all. Being considered a Muslim drove me insane, so I lashed out.

I called them ragheads. I fought with them at the bus-stop and made fun of the kids when their moms would yell at them in their strange gibberish language. I took all the stereotypes for Muslims I saw on TV and I spit it back in their face. Like the Iron Sheikh so aptly stated in the WWF, Hack Too-Ey! I just wish the ragheads would go back home!

You know why I hated Muslims? They stuck to themselves, they were like a gang. They came off as arrogant and in my opinion had no reason to back up why. They had created their own little world within my world and it bothered me. However it wasn’t the only thing–as a student of history it bothered me that Muslims had gotten their own countries in South Asia while the Tamil people got screwed.

The primary reasons I hated Muslims was that I kept being mistaken for one. I didn’t have a bear d or a doily on my head, but I kept getting mistaken for a raghead and at the worst possible times. It was not a fun place to be in Union City during the first Gulf War. U.S. patriotism was at an all-time high and in an area with a large Muslim population that meant issues for a brown person such as me. I started to see that my friends Kenneth, Terrell, Dissoni and Jason began to wonder if I was one of them. I felt I had to keep making my case, and the best way to do that was to lash out at the ragheads, and I did that.

I formed a solid mental image in my mind, ‘Muslim = bad person’ and I would live with that image for the next 6 years. It would thaw a bit when I discovered Malcolm X in high school, a person who I grew to deeply respect, but I just couldn’t shake the fact that I hated Muslims. Hip-hop eased my dislike as well because artists like Brand Nubian, the Wu-tang Clan, Tribe Called Quest, Ice Cube, Rakim, Public Enemy and the Poor Righteous Teachers kept referencing Islam in their music. Through Malcolm and hip-hop my respect for Islam grew but my hate for Muslims did not diminish.

My six year truth would finally become challenged on the very first day of classes in college. I would meet a Pakistani-American named Abbas that day, and that meeting would change my perceptions of Muslims forever.

I still feel bad about how I treated Abbas when I first met him, calling a filthy Muslim and going off about how much I hated Muslims and how we could never be friends. A year later I was living with the guy and calling him my brother. I could write volumes about his profound effect on me through his actions, but ultimately it was the subtle things like seeing Abbas pray or fast in the dorms, give charity and help others and how he was so non-judgmental that stayed with me. Up until now I had met Muslims in the media and in my life as public school student, but none of them had actually practiced this religion I had grown to respect through its references in the music I listened to and one of the people I admired in Malcolm.
So there I was interested in reading the Quran and learning more, and in my journey of discovery with the same passion for learning about new cultures and places as I had with Norway I began to piece together the Muslim world.

Over time I embraced the philosophy and then the religion of Islam, and transformed myself into a Muslim. However it was here in my life that I truly discovered the reasons why I hated Muslims, reasons I could not know while on the outside looking in—I was now inside the mosque, breaking fast with them, and conversing openly. I was observing their behavior and the way they treated each other and me, and unlike other “converts” I did not accept answers like, ‘it is that way accept it’ I wanted to know why. My journey of asking questions led me to more questions and greater truths until I discovered a shocking secret one known by few in the Muslim world… Islam is a pretty cool religion, but Muslims suck!

I say this after having travelled and lived briefly in the Muslim world, having read the Qur’an and the books of hadith cover to cover along with the complete works of Tabari (the Arabic Historian), having learned one of the gibberish tongues I used to ridicule, only to discover that I was right all along. My sixth grade self-had reached the correct conclusion for all the wrong reasons.

I hate Muslims and I’d like to tell you why. I hate Muslims for turning their back on their own prophet, the Prophet Muhammad, by murdering the his grandchildren, for burning down the Ka’aba in Mecca, for causing the miscarriage of the Muhammad’s own daughter Fatima, which resulted in her death. I hate Muslims for attempting to spread Islam through war, though the Prophet Muhammad taught them not to. I hate Muslims for downplaying these historic events and not talking about their own culpability in them. I hate Muslims for going away from the Prophet’s demeanor, going away from the kindness and mercy he exhibited and instead practice both hate and anger. I hate Muslims for being judgmental when only God is the judge. I hate Muslims for creating worlds within worlds instead of being one with the people they live among. I hate them for ignoring the message in the Quran and for diminishing a great book into a literal understanding. I hate Muslims for trying to construct black and white realities when we live in a world of gray and for ignoring that the Quran speaks more to the gray and the idea of reasoning than it does about right or wrong. I hate Muslims for being blind in faith and not posing and asking questions. I hate Muslims for gender inequities and their cultural views on the roles of men and women which has nothing to do with Islam. I hate Muslims for attacking the arts as inherently evil, and presenting Islam as some sort or robot religion devoid of love and emotion. I hate myself for hating Muslims, because if I had truly embraced Islamic ideals fully I would not hate, because Islam is truly about love.

So that last paragraph might make me a marked man in some enclaves in the world, but I’m fine with that because I know that I can always go to Norway. But seriously, while it may come off as Islamophobic, I don’t think it is. I don’t fear Islam. Nor do I fear Muslims. I fear God. I consider myself trying to be a true Muslim one who attempts follow those things that Muslims don’t follow. I try to follow the path of Fatima the daughter of Muhammad, as I believe her to be an exemplary leader. I also follow her legacy (though Muslims would attack ten generations of her progeny, through open war and covert poisoning), who I believe are the 12 princes prophesized in the Bible in Genesis 17:20 as well as mentioned in the Qur’an both directly and by allusion. I call this a movement of truth; a movement that I refer to as the “Fatima is Fatima” movement. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwxGG3vK1E0

So to my Norwegian sisters and brothers I must say it can be quite frustrating to see the events going on in the world and the behaviors from Muslims in Norway I’ve outlined above, but step above the basic understandings like only Norwegians can, and uncover the truth. Islamophobia is the ‘irrational fear of Islam.’ Norwegians are many things but far from irrational. Start with the story of Fatima and the life of the Prophet and you will discover much depth that is hidden, unknown to the majority of Muslims because many are taught not to ask questions. I invite you for dialogue through Facebook or through my webpage www.facebook.com/professali or www.professorali.com.

Peace and Love,

Professor A.L.I.