Tahrir Square and India’s forgotten rebellion

On February 11, after ruling for nearly thirty years, Hosni Mubarak stepped down as President of Egypt. What form of government Egypt will have in the near future remains to be seen, but the toppling of the dictator was widely hailed as a victory for protesters, who had converged on Tahrir Square in Cairo making it symbolic of their struggle for freedom. Many armchair pundits commented that this was a struggle the likes of which had never been seen before. Closer to home, cynics snidely remarked that these kinds of leaderless grassroots protests which harnessed the power of social media would never work in India.

Earlier, on January 28, 2011, hundreds of thousands of protesters had gathered in Tahrir Square to mark the “Day of Rage”. In the absence of a defined leadership, many protesters had been using social media tools like Twitter and Facebook to connect with one another. On that day, Hosni Mubarak pulled the plug on the internet and on mobile phone services in the country. Newspapers around the world cried foul.

On that same day, The Statesman of Kolkata published a short obituary. You are forgiven if you missed it: it was only a small column with five short paragraphs of text relegated to an inside page. Here is the first paragraph of the obituary:

Veteran freedom fighter and founder of the erstwhile Tamralipta National Government ~ which kept the British at bay for about two years (1942-44) in undivided Midnapore ~ Sushil Dhara died at his residence in Mahisadal today following a prolonged illness.

I have not found a single website with comprehensive account of Sushil Dhara’s contribution to the Tamralipta Jatiya Sarkar (Tamralipta National Government) and the only book that I have come across in English that comprehensively describes this chapter in India’s freedom struggle in accessible terms is Local Politics and Indian Nationalism: Midnapur, 1919-1944 by Indian historian Bidyut Chakrabarty.

Consequently, I feel that it is necessary to briefly outline this fading episode of our shared history. First, let me apologize if any factual errors that creep in. I am not a historian. Neither am I an unbiased observer: I hail from the part of India where these events occurred, and certain relatives and acquaintances of mine, who are now deceased, were involved. However, I feel I need to share this information, just as I felt that should be more information on Matangini Hazra in English when I wrote the Wikipedia entry because there was nothing about her five years ago.

My home district, Midnapore was a hotbed of revolutionary activity during British rule, and perhaps only rivaled by Chittagong in fervor. In one aspect we may have had the upper hand: according to Chakrabarty, Tamluk holds the distinction of being the only place in British India where the natives successfully sustained a parallel government without any support from the top Indian National Congress leadership.

Tamluk is a sleepy town in East Midnapore district. It corresponds roughly to the ancient seaport of Tamralipta, which was well-known during the time of Emperor Asoka, and at one point may have even been the capital of Vanga – the forerunner of Bengal.

On August 8, 1942, the Quit India Resolution was passed by the Congress starting major civil disobedience  protesting British rule. At that time, Sushil Dhara was a student activist in Tamluk. During the month following the passing of the Resolution, he and others mobilized the rural populace by meetings and the distribution of pamphlets. During this period, the revolutionaries followed the principles of Gandhian civil disobedience.

On September 29, 1942, there was a major concerted attack on six police stations in Tamluk and Contai subdivisions by Sushil Dhara and his associates. Many activists were killed in the attacks, the most famous of which was Matangini Hazra. The movement went underground immediately afterward.

On December 17, 1942, the provisional government, Tamralipta Jatiya Sarkar was inaugurated with Satis Chandra Samanta as Sarvadhinayak. The branches of the government included a Justice Department, a Relief and Public Heath Department, and a Law and Order Department.

Sushil Dhara headed the War Department. He believed that the establishment of an independent zone outside of British India would help Subhas Chandra Bose’s Azad Hind Fauj if they chose to launch their liberation of India by sea. Dhara who was responsible for the provisional government’s militia, established the Vidyut Bahini (Lightning Squad) and the Bhagini Sena consisting of women volunteers.

The British Indian police retaliated using torture, arson, and rape as their chief weapons. In the midst of the oppression and a devastating famine, the government held on for two years. Dhara recounted that the rebellion succeeded longer in Tamluk and Contai than at the national level, because the women cooperated wholeheartedly.

The revolutionary newspaper Biplabi was the Facebook of the day which was used to successfully mobilize the populace. Chakrabarty writes that the message of the Biplabi was very simple – “organize for the last battle against the British”.

The last battle came for many who helped the Tamralipta Jatiya Sarkar keep the British at bay for nearly two years. In 1944, after the Quit India Movement had died down almost everywhere else, at the behest of Gandhi, the government was disbanded. There had been no assistance from national-level Congress leaders who disapproved of the government’s counterattack tactics.

I am informed that there is an ongoing debate on what role the Quit India Movement played in India’s Independence struggle on a national level. By late 1945, Britain was well on the path to transferring power.

But the forgotten story of Tamralipta Jatiya Sarkar is relevant today since many of the themes are common with those from the mass revolutions currently occurring around the world.

Presumably, they will be core components of successful revolutions on the future too.

Text: © 2010-2012, Anirban

How to get a fair and lovely face for matrimonial purposes

As reported in The Great Beyond, in December 2010, the Department of Science and Technology of India, in its infinite wisdom decided to sponsor an award with Proctor & Gamble to be given to the research team which can come up with the best skin-whitening agent. To win, the skin-whitener must be safe to use on humans and more effective than hydroquinone, a chemical banned in many parts of the world (but oddly enough not in India).

Clearly, the complexion of the dark-skinned natives of the country is of paramount interest to the concerned government. Yet this award is only indicative of a broader mindset pervasive across our subcontinent. And don’t worry if you’re unhappy with your face. As your trusted friend, I will guide you on the process of using software to get the right one for maximum matrimonial potential.

At the outset, let me describe my own complexion. To use two popular complexion-delimiting Bengali similes, I am neither as white as drops of red alta in milk, nor am I as dark as ebony. I could be described in the lexicon of matrimonial ads as either wheatish or olive-complexioned depending on the lineup I’m compared against. Not to put too fine a point on it, but my complexion along with my generic facial attributes has often resulted in beholders thinking I’m North Indian, South Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi depending on the context of the interaction.

In many other countries, Europeans want to get a nice tan. A study by a group at the University of Nottingham found that a tan skin-color from eating carotenoid-containing vegetables was found to be more attractive than that from sun-tanning and more attractive than the fair original. I’m not sure what would happen if that same experiment had been performed in India but we are all about fairness (at least with respect to complexion).

Suntanned face, fair face, and "carotenoid" face, respectively. Courtesy of University of Nottingham. Ian D. Stephen, Vinet Coetzee, David I. Perrett. Carotenoid and melanin pigment coloration affect perceived human health. Evolution and Human Behavior, 2010.

In the days before digital photography, there were fewer tricks for complexion whitening. You were dealt a particular genetic hand; post-birth you avoided the tropical sun and added copious amounts of turmeric paste to your face. In the best case scenario, you only looked somewhat jaundiced.

Photography made life a little easier. In the days of black-and-white stills, you whitened your face like a pancake with talcum powder. The trick back then was to make sure that you buffed all photographed skin: many a dark-skinned impostor was exposed by a visible fault line between the face and the neck due to inadequate attention to this important aspect.

As color photography became popular, it became harder to conceal the birth-complexion. High-watt halogen lights as well as overexposure of 35 mm color film by a hand deft gave some of us an edge in looking fairer.

Now with digital photography, you not only have the opportunity to lighten your complexion, but also to change your facial attributes and your gender.

Let us start with the shape of your face. Most people of either gender like symmetrical faces. If you broke your nose playing cricket or have a lazy-eye you can ‘”normalize” using image-editing software.

But most of us have symmetrical faces. We just want to “touch-up” a little here and there. A research paper published in Vision Research claims to shed light on the “golden ratios” for facial beauty. The authors took a color photograph of a Caucasian female and used Adobe Photoshop to increase and decrease the distance between the eyes and and mouth, and also the horizontal distance between the eyes. The authors claim to have discovered a so-called “golden ratio” for facial proportion. When altered images were shown, participants found the woman in the picture most attractive when the vertical distance between the eyes and the mouth was 36% of facial length, and when the distance between the eyes was 46% of facial width.

The golden ratio for maximal beauty perception. Courtesy of University of Toronto

Once you’ve taken digital photographs that show you in the best possible light, you need to use the scale tool to measure your facial proportions. If the proportions do not match the golden rule, don’t fret. Just use the editing options to digitally modify them so they match up to the 36% and 46% mentioned.

But researchers haven’t stopped at the golden ratio. By asking people which faces they found more attractive and feeding this data into a computer, they’ve created a “beauty machine” which does all the calculations and alterations for you. In an instant click, your homely face can become a “knockout”.

"Beauty machine" enhancements. The real "average" faces are on the top and the "knockout" faces are on the bottom; Image courtesy of American friends of Tel-Aviv University

"Beauty machine" enhancements. The real "average" faces are on the top and the "knockout" enhanced faces are on the bottom; image courtesy of American friends of Tel-Aviv University

Once you’ve enhanced your facial profile, you’ll need to deal with your complexion. Play around the with the color balance, and the hue/saturation until you get the desired color profile. A recent study has shown that female faces have greater contrast between the eyes and lips. If you’re a female, you have greater leeway in using the brightness and contrast tools. If you’re a male, as you start to increase the contrast, you’ll start to look more like a woman.

An androgynous face was turned into the feminine one by increasing contrast and the masculine one by decreasing contrast; courtesy of University of Gettysburg

Looking like a woman isn’t necessarily bad facial attribute for guys. Recent studies have shown that women actually prefer men who look somewhat feminine to those with the more rugged masculine mugs. I do, however suggest that you grow some facial hair if you’re going to turn the knob full-circle on the contrast.

In short, there are many ways to digitally modify the way you look to resemble the way you think you should look. You can change yourself digitally without the need for skin-whitening creams. And unlike plastic surgery there are no costs, sharp knives, or permanent physical scars.

Text: © 2010-2012, Anirban