August 07, 2020
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Judith Brown

The Oxford historian and author of eight books on India, including biographies of Nehru and Gandhi, on her new release, Global South Asians

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Judith Brown
What fascinates you about this country?

I was born here. But only as a student in Cambridge I realised I’d study India forever.

What did you discover about Gandhi?

He wanted to spend time in investigating natural remedies like good diet and sunshine. Building people’s lives was his main concern.

You failed to explore the continuities between Nehru’s secular nationalism and the rise of Hindu nationalism in India.

I don’t think they can be linked directly. The ideological and rhetorical space vacated by Indira’s Congress led to the Hindu nationalists.

Is the Indian democratic system a success?

Yes, apart from the Emergency.

What are its strengths?

The strong organs of civil society like education and press, the scaffolding of democracy.

What issues need to be urgently addressed?

Empowerment of the marginalised.

Could the Constituent Assembly have done something differently to reduce our ills?

You can legislate for reforms but they couldn’t have guessed how it would be implemented.

What is Global South Asians about?

The five groups of the South Asian community all over the world—indentured labour, free workers in the British Empire, unskilled workers who migrated after Independence, twice migrants (those forced out by the rise of indigenous nationalism) and the highly skilled migrants.

What did you show about these groups?

The three challenges they’ve dealt with: making homes and communities, integrating into the new homeland and relating to the old homeland. All three processes have tremendous impact on the way these communities live.

Does the South Asian diaspora affect politics and writing in India?

Romila Thapar was attacked by Indians in the US when she was given a visiting chair at the Library of Congress. It was an effort to mould the study of Indian history.

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