Herstory

ValliammaHerstory by Professor A.L.I.

I have been duped; both my career and my education have been farcical parts of a grand lie that is perpetrated by an insidious system, which perpetually emboldens itself through the enforced inequity and disenfranchisement of its binary opposites.  Patriarchy is this evil, as it remains rooted in maintaining an illusion of male superiority in order to tip the scales in the favor of power structure and systems of knowledge that favor its interpretation of the world.  Like an overgrown and incessant vine, it chokes out the life of our mother earth, with the very umbilical cord that gave those who would champion its cause relevance in the first place.  Its branches can be seen in pronouns replicated by misogynists throughout time, the presumptions of normalcy of gendered language where words like MANkind means human being and HEroes are almost always “he’s”.  It manifests itself in the strange fruit of a gender wage gap and power imbalance.  The leaves of this evil plant spread from west to east, north and south, and the privilege of shade that it gives men is the strongest form of privilege globally, period.  This is why, under the weight of the realization of this, I find myself, as a man looking into the mirror and seeing the lie of my career choice to be an educator of history stare back at me—I was trained to be a HIStorian, meaning that I was actually trained to focus the light upon men, at the expense or at the absence of the feminine.  Herstory is therefore my attempt to not only make amends, but to help focus the light on those that deserve it and elucidate truths that are shrouded from the masses who unknowingly perpetuate a mirage of masculine superiority when they invariably participate in the systems manufactured by patriarchy for this purpose.  Herstory is a refocusing of the lens upon those who gave so much, never to be acknowledged for their contribution.  It is a challenged to “his” story, and a conscious attempt to rebalance the scales in favor of a just exposition of our collective human story.

Valliamma

Let us begin with the tale of Thillaiyadi Valliammai, who died, over a hundred years ago on February 22nd, 1914.  Known as Valliamma, she sparked a movement that had an impact upon the planet, yet her name is unknown to most.  She remains a footnote in the history of men who take credit for the inspiration she gave humanity and her profound impression upon the herstory of our planet is dismissed by pseudo-academics as unworthy of study.  She is hidden behind the aggrandized icon of a racist and shrewdly evil politician, who was also a sexual abuser of young women, yet is refashioned by HIStory as a wise sage and pundit, one to be revered and considered great, and a role model for all of huMANity.

This is her story:

Valliamma was a young Tamil woman and a daughter of Tamil migrants (who were part of an early Tamil diaspora, which saw slavery re-legalized in a new system called coolie labor and which led to the spread of Tamil people throughout the planet) who found themselves in the apartheid regime of South Africa and here is where her story begins.  Valliamma did not realize she lived in an apartheid state when she was young.  In the early 1900’s women could not even vote in America, let alone feel they had power in the colonial world, or within an apartheid regime at that—and yet as a teen, Valliamma found herself protesting laws that were directed, ultimately at her womb, and those of other women.  Anti-marriage laws (promoting Christian marriages) and anti-miscegenation laws were designed to reaffirm patriarchal power structures.  Valliamma’s Tamil community was disproportionately affected by the former and in a patriarchal society, where women were already powerless in so many ways, by creating a law that makes marriages null and void, women are doubly targeted since “unmarried” women, especially those who have children or are pregnant could be classified as prostitutes and thereby be abused, imprisoned and/or expelled from the country and the only way out of this predicament by subjecting oneself to a marriage in the church meant that women had to endure another layer of subjugation under the masculine power structure and iconography of the Christian church in South Africa.

Valliamma was a teenager who, along with her mother Mangalam, decided to march from Transvaal to Natal, with women protesting the apartheid state.  This march was illegal, as workers needed passes to even leave certain areas, and she was arrested.  It was here that Valliamma started to develop a conviction for the idea of non-violent resistance and begin hunger fasts.   This was long before Mandela, Bobby Sands, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mohandas K. Gandhi ever engaged in such practices.  Even Gandhi had to acknowledge the inspiration he took from Valliamma, who he’d consider the first satyagrahi (a practitioner of satyagraha, or “the force of truth”, aka non-violent resistance).

In subsequent protests she was arrested, sentenced to three months hard labor, and spent her last days in Martizburg prison.  She was offered clemency, but refused.  It was this conviction that compelled, Gandhi, a young lawyer in South Africa at the time to visit her.  He writes in his Satyagraha in South Africa:

“Valliamma R. Munuswami Mudaliar was a young girl of Johannesburg only sixteen years of age. She was confined to bed when I saw her. As she was a tall girl, her emaciated body was a terrible thing to behold.

‘Valliamma, you do not repent of your having gone to jail?’ I asked.

‘Repent? I am even now ready to go to jail again if I am arrested,’ said Valliamma.

“But what if it results in your death?’ I pursued.

‘I do not mind it. Who would not love to die for one’s motherland?’ was the reply.

“Within a few days after this conversation Valliamma was no more with us in the flesh, but she left us the heritage of an immortal name…. And the name of Valliamma will live in the history of South African Satyagraha as long as India lives.”

Some assert that Gandhi’s input in the creation of the modern flag of India, was designed with the color scheme of Valliamma’s sari, which she held up, not having a flag of her own during one of her non-violent protests.

Valliamma StampClearly Valliamma has had a profound impact in the way human beings could change the world—and her impact on South Africa, South Asia, and movements all over the world including our own Civil Rights movement have manifest in ending colonialism, segregation and ultimately apartheid, yet her simple grave is shadowed by the monoliths erected for the champions of those other movements, but none more so than Gandhi, who has become its symbol.

In this past century when the human being who had the greatest impact on those last hundred years was posed by TIME magazine, the finalists were Einstein and Gandhi and I found myself both incredulous and overwhelmed by the sheer weight of ignorance the world had about this man.

Gandhi was far from being the embodiment of truth that HIStory would have you believe—if you ever sat with my father, he would give you an earful on how Gandhi single-handedly destroyed any hopes for Tamil and Dravidian peoples for having their own state, lied to them and re-imposed an Indian (Hindi) based hegemonic structure over them—this of course is my personal bias towards the man, although it is bolstered by my detailed reading of his writings, which belie his shrewdness as a politician.  He was a lawyer by training and the great irony of him being called the founder of satyagraha is that he frequently spun lies to effectuate his desired effect on the concept of India.

Racist Gandhi

Gandhi is championed as a symbol for equality when he actually fought for the enforcement of inequity in South Africa and later in South Asia.  If you read his South African writings you will find a man who was clearly prejudiced towards blacks, and racist, in that he emboldened the systemic framing of the African in the eyes of the European colonial masters with whom he was “educated”.  He states in a writing dated Sept. 26th 1896 that “ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness.”  The term “kaffir” is akin to the n-word in the American context.  Yet even though Gandhi’s clear prejudice has come to light in his prolific writings, he remains a symbol for champion for a quality that he truly did not embody in mind or action.

For those of you who may feel my critique harsh and cite examples of how Gandhi championed the cause of the “untouchable” only further the argument.  It was Gandhi who first labeled this community as harijan, or “children of God” and many in the west clouded by white liberalism have praised this as an attempt to uplift a community that was downtrodden in South Asia.  The term harijan itself is highly problematic, at best it is a term that sweeps all Dalits (yes this is the proper term) in a Hindu hegemonic framing and at worst it is linked to an earlier term of devadasi/a, which ultimately means bastard.  It referred to the illegitimate children of the priestly class that often lingered near Hindu temples according to Dr. Velu Annamalai.  Gandhi was not interested in equity nor equality inasmuch as he was interested in the creation of an “India” that merely shifted control from European elites to Indian ones—a light brown patriarchy in exchange for a purely white one.

Finally there is Gandhi the saint—(trigger warning) who held a practice of sleeping with young, nude women often teenagers in his bed, which Gandhi argued increased his spiritual energies.  Gandhi did not engage in sexual intercourse with these women and some dismiss this as tantric practice but there are several expositions about these girls, who experienced all the after effects into adulthood of sexual abuse and molestation.

“Gandhi was married at age 13 to a girl about his own age and at age 37 took a vow of sexual abstinence. In spite of this vow, he found a need to fondle prepubescent and early adolescent girls. He took such girls to bed with him to overcome, he said, his “shivering fits” in the night. His female companions, who came from his inner circle — all certified virgins or young brides — entered his bed naked in order to warm him with their bodies. Some of them also administered enemas to him. Among the young girls, there was rivalry as to who would sleep with him, and one of his girl disciples reported that his bed companions had a difficult time in restraining their sexual impulses since he often rubbed against them and touched them in erotic places. Although his closemouthed house guardians were fearful of public reaction if news of these “pedophilic” sexual interactions were publicized, Gandhi continued to engage in them until his death. Gandhi did not have sexual intercourse with them, but obviously the touching and feeling were very important to him. If he had lived in the United States, he would have been sentenced as a child molester” (Bullough, 1981).

For those probing their minds for culturally relativist arguments, please re-holster your white liberalism for a moment and ask any person from South Asia if this behavior seems appropriate—and if you find no one from South Asia to ask, perhaps you should cut down on your chai lattes and references to yoga till you sort it out—Gandhi was a pedophile and sexual abuser, as well as a racist and political opportunist and so the real question is to ask yourself why he has been championed as a role model for the opposition of all these things?

Gandhi PedophileWhy Gandhi?

Gandhi represented patriarchy under the veil of inclusion and equity—and this, I argue is the very reason why he has been championed as a symbol, while Valliamma has been relegated to the annals of HIStory.  The Guardian, in an expose of his sexual abuse outlines his real relationship to femininity and feminine power:

“Gandhi believed Indian women who were raped lost their value as human beings. He argued that fathers could be justified in killing daughters who had been sexually assaulted for the sake of family and community [honor]. He moderated his views towards the end of his life. But the damage was done, and the legacy lingers in every present-day Indian press report of a rape victim who commits suicide out of “shame”. Gandhi also waged a war against contraceptives, [labeling] Indian women who used them as whores.”

From victim blaming to the divestment of power holistically, Gandhi envisioned a world that was the most palatable to his male privilege.  One in which his own abuse of young girls would go unquestioned by his masses of followers for decades.  This is not his erudite narrative, but it is the effect of his influence that finds India, a country he helped to found, one of the lowest on global gender equity indices where rape culture runs through the fabric of social norms and behavior.  While Gandhi did not create the patriarchy he clearly benefits from, he reinforces its fervor and strength.

Now try and imagine a different world.  Imagine it is Valliamma, who is the symbol for equity, equality and justice that Gandhi is now.  Imagine she is the saint to be revered and cast as a role model.  Imagine it is her visage that appears on Indian money, just as her sari waves on the flags above its governmental buildings.  And imagine her words as the inspirational quotes that adorn trendy t-shirts worn by hipsters and are used by organizations like Challenge Day to effectuate change in the world.  What you have imagined is a world stripped of over-arching male privilege where honesty is championed and the mirage of masculine dominance fades away like the false illusion it is.

Herstorian

Story of Valliamma

No longer insult my intelligence by calling me a historian, a student of history or a history instructor—I no longer wish to sit within my male privilege and passively continue to advance a farce upon others through the usage of this nomenclature.  Instead, honor academics of this social science who step away from the subtleties of patriarchal exposition with a new title: herstorian.

In my effort to be a better herstorian, the first song off of my soon to be released Tamilmatic album is dedicated to the story of Valliamma, and it follows in my tradition as an artist of telling the stories of the women who never get credit for the impact they’ve made on the planet like Fatima bint Muhammad, Zaynab bint Ali, Assata Shakur and Nana Asmau, to name a few.

Herstory is Valliamma’s story but it is also to story of so many other women, relegated to the footnotes of HIStory– if they are ever mentioned at all. The lyrics track her narrative and rightfully dismiss those who would usurp her impact, as their own. The refrain extends beyond her singular narrative and poses question to the patriarchal hegemons, asking the following questions:

“Why does her name not in history?

Why does she threaten?

Why is she scary?

The power of her spirit, why do your fear it?”

And then goes onto predict emphatically, invoking both Abrahamic & eastern apocalyptic imagery, that “Your leadership [patriarchy] lost, for she [the feminine] shall inherit!”

Tamilmatic is an album that explores the contributions of Tamil people, and is slated for an April 14th, 2016 release date, which coincides with Tamil New Year 2016.

Professor A.L.I. is a socio-political Hip-Hop artist and educator from the Bay Area. His previous works include the following full-length albums: Carbon Cycle Diaries, Emerald Manifesto, Das Ka Rebel, X Factor and now, Tamilmatic.

Special thanks to Lauren Santo Domingo for editing.

 

 

Bury My Tamil Heart At Karbala

Bury My Tamil Heart At Karbala by Professor A.L.I.

My hemoglobin fills the chambers of dodo quill pens.

My heart, recycled parchment; my third eye: the lens.

Lifted by thick aroma, Appa’s savory sambar angrily boils!

Just like Tamil tea picking blood when no diamonds or oil–

Distract the mainstream with the genocide of filtered coffee drinkers.

Who cares about an island of demons faced with extinction?

My mother’s grandfather was blessed by a cobra’s boon.

Yet my father’s cousin died by its poison, after five transfusions.

I tried to grasp at Saint Elmo’s fire and hold a stellar fossil.

These old tales linger like scent of mountain jasmine in my nostrils.

Yet like lotus pollen, it explodes forth, carried forcefully by the winds:

British Wind, French Wind, Portuguese Wind and Arab Wind.

Indian Monsoons bring floods that release the shadow’s venom.

Just as the comfort of cotton lungis are exchanged for harsh denim.

The feeling of cold scales gliding across one’s feet is icy concrete.

Lost in asphalt jungles while our umbilical cords recede back into sea.

Once recognized as royalty in the heart of merchant barter.

I roamed as a slave; freed by the second son of the Prophet’s daughter.

From Kerala to Karbala, I travelled with Adam,

And pondered my existence, as I spun like my atoms.

I became a dervish, around the source of my passions.

Vow of silence like Buddhists and tried to speak with my actions.

I trekked to a village in Malabar named after Ali.

Where a girl was born, who’ll one day, birth me.

Could she see, facing west from Malabar shores?

The house in the desert, where Imam Ali was born?

I’ll never know, as Sita is now one with her mother.

Her ashes ripple atop Pacific waves as I shudder,

Torn And Mad In Loss; I was The Angry Man In Limbo

A T.A.M.I.L., empty (M.T.) without Ali (A.L.I.) I ail, slow.

Like a waking dream inscribed on the back of a holy tortoise.

A primary source of an archetype bereft of remorse.

Mercilessly repeating in every land, for everyday since

On Ashura, “Muslims” murdered Fatima’s prince!

I cried when I heard the story, like I cried for the womb that bore me,

For the father that once ignored me, while I was an unborn seed.

I was circumstance’s orphan, bombarded, searching for cover!

So when my Amma died, Fatima Az-Zahra, became my mother.

And I began to see Hussain everywhere, in every innocent soul.

I plunged into sea of my waking dreams, and the son of Ali spoke!

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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.