Politics, Religion

Remembering Dr Abhay Xaxa, 1983-2020

*Re-posted with permission by Dr Rebecca Prentice from ‘Culture and Capitalism’*

Abhay

“So I draw my own picture, and invent my own grammar,

I make my own tools to fight my own battle,

For me, my people, my world, and my Adivasi self!”

With sadness we remember our friend and colleague, Dr Abhay Xaxa, who passed away on March 14th. Abhay was an educator, leader, and activist for the rights of Adivasis in India. We had the great fortune to know Abhay when he studied with us as a postgraduate student, and have kept in touch over the years. In his frequent Facebook posts, Abhay let his friends and supporters share in his tireless work on behalf of indigenous, tribal, and Adivasi rights. Abhay’s fortitude as an advocate was underlined by his gentle and introspective nature, which could be seen in his writing and poetry.

Born in the Jashpur district, Chhattisgarh, Abhay’s activism emerged from his own experiences as a young Adivasi man. He excelled academically, and won a Ford Foundation fellowship to study for a Masters in Anthropology of Development and Social Transformation at the University of Sussex in 2007, followed by a PhD in Sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University. In addition to being a research scholar at JNU, Abhay served in many roles as a campaigner, advocate, and educator, including most recently at the National Campaign on Dalit Human rights.

We share below some of the reflections and memories from those who knew Abhay from his time at Sussex.

My heart swells with pride to have had the chance to be Abhay’s friend. When I met him in our MA programme, we connected over discussions on Marxism, food, South Asian politics, and our course materials. I sometimes waited for Abhay to get a coffee first in the Arts C cafe, because he would insist on paying for my drink every time we queued up together (how many coffees did we consume during the write-up seasons!). Abhay always encouraged me to opt for “controversial” topics to write term papers, and on one occasion he went out of his way to get me a specific book from the library. His encouragement continues to inspire me even today. Abhay told the most fascinating stories, and he had a talent for lifting spirits, and making people feel good about themselves. I am remembering Abhay with the fondest memories. I cannot imagine the loss his family and his community must be feeling with this sudden departure. What an incredible human! Gone too soon! Abhay, I will miss your infectious smile. Rest in power my friend. 

– Samara Khan, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Abhay was among the first postgraduate students I taught at Sussex after completing my PhD in 2007. Having so recently been a student myself—and not much older than many of the Masters students in my classes—my instinct was not to lecture and instruct, but to sit at the table together, to listen, probe, problematise, and discuss. Thank goodness for that. Abhay took my spring seminar on “Households and Livelihoods,” where we studied poverty through the lens of households, labour relations, gender and generation. By then Abhay was already an experienced activist, researcher, and a scholar in his own right, even though it would be years before his PhD from JNU made it official. Abhay talked especially about his work on bonded labour in Odisha; we debated the value of juridical activism, and the bitter injustice of employment that makes workers poorer and deeper in debt. Abhay had much to say, but spent a lot of time listening too—always inquisitive and open-minded to the contributions of peers with less knowledge and experience than he had at that time. Abhay, as I knew him, was the best kind of scholar: remarkably accomplished but always unassuming. From Abhay and students like him, I have learned that listening can be a mode of teaching, and that you can choose never to relinquish being a student even when you become an educator. With enormous pride I have watched Abhay’s onward journey from Sussex. His death is an immeasurable loss to so many people.

– Dr Rebecca Prentice, Brighton, UK

Abhay was a profound presence – he was capable of intense political debate and carefree laughter in equal measure during our days at Sussex. Since those days in the Downs, Abhay had become a tireless advocate for Adivasi rights – challenging everything from governance failures that harmed Adivasi, to their marginalisation within the Indian “academy,” to their popular representation in Indian culture. His death comes as a terrible shock. But although his days were far too few, Abhay’s influential work will serve as a lasting inspiration for other indigenous activists – and indeed for others who seek to dedicate their lives to creating a more just world.

– Dr Jon Sward, Brighton, UK

When I first met Abhay, what immediately struck me about his presence was his eyes. They were kind and gentle, and his smile was surprisingly coy. As we were part of the same small cohort, we would meet for gatherings on occasion, usually organized by our friend, Samara Khan, and through these encounters I caught glimpses of a man currently trying to figure out his future role as a mediator for his people. Growing up in the Jesuit tradition he was keenly aware of the discord that existed between the Roman Catholic Church and the Adivasi community. As respectful as he was of the Church’s intentions, we spent one evening outside my house discussing religion and our belief in God. It was there that I learned about Abhay’s concern for the Adivasi community and their way of life and that their belief in animism might be wiped away if action was not taken. This internal conflict to do what is right was a big part of his personality, along with the love for his wife and daughter, and future child who was on its way.

But there were other aspects to his personality that even his colleagues may not have known: like the fact that he used to read his classmates’ palms when he was younger in return for a handful of coconuts. Apparently, his palm reading became so widely known that he had more coconuts than he knew what to do with. Classmates would come asking if they were going to pass their exams before going in to take their tests. One evening at a pub while I was living in Brighton, UK my friend asked if he would read her palm and that is where we learned that Caucasian hands are much harder to read as the lines are not as visible compared to darker skin. As silly as that memory might seem to the reader, it is a memory that warms my heart and reminds me of a man who left an indelible impression, even after all these years.

– Dr Ann Wand, Oxford, UK

Links to learn more about Abhay’s life, work and poetry:

Image may contain: Abhay Flavian XaxaPoetry: “I am not your data

Poetry: “The republic of memory lost

Poetry: “I refuse, I reject, I resist!

Poetry: “Beautiful damaged people

From Youth KiawaazMadait: The Adivasi Spirit of Volunteerism and Cooperation

From Citizens for Justice and Peace:

From The India Forum: In Memoriam: Sociologist and Activist Abhay Xaxa

From The WireRemembering Abhay Xaxa, a Fiercely Unapologetic Adivasi Scholar-Activist

education, Politics, Religion, Teaching resources

Episode 16: COVID series Part I: Educating the Roma

“I feel that if you’re on the margins, the strange thing is that you have more power. If you are not within a structure, you’ve got nothing to lose, then in a strange kind of way you gain everything.”

– Dr Julia Bolton Holloway

(taken from: https://citydesert.wordpress.com/2017/12/11/julia-bolton-holloway/)

Dr Ann Wand had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr Julia Bolton Holloway to discuss her work on educating the Roma in Florence, Italy. She has not only created an ‘Alphabet school’ for Roma children and adults to learn literacy, but her life’s work is dedicated to changing the world’s perspectives on one of the most marginalized communities in modern-day society. The C&C team is also fortunate to have had two Roma citizens, Daniele and Diamanta, join us at the studio in order to provide their side of the story, and for that, we are extremely grateful.

The show notes:

Dr Holloway’s story:

My doctorate is from Berkeley with a dissertation on pilgrimage in Dante, Langland and Chaucer. I taught for the Franciscans while writing it and raising my three sons, their father having left us penniless. I next taught at Princeton, we were the first generation of women so tenure was not granted, then taught at Boulder where I directed Medieval Studies, publishing many books and articles, but a bitter tenure fight. I persisted as a scholar but actually had to leave academia to be such, facing jealousy from men and a woman, imagining the outcome as becoming a shopping bag lady, homeless, but at least with Plato, Aristotle and the Bible in my shopping bag in their original languages.

I eventually joined my Anglican convent which had been my school in Sussex, but found it had become the opposite of what I remembered, a place of beauty, scholarship and holiness. I fled to Italy, soul-shattered but was editing Julian of Norwich. The edition was published by Florence’s SISMEL. In my despair I found the Roma, even poorer than I, particularly when I came to be Custodian of the English Cemetery and they helped me restore it and build the library’s bookshelves, while I teach them the alphabet. I got that position because I had edited Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetry for Penguin, and she is buried here, also here are Abolitionists like Frances Trollope, Theodore Parker, Hiram Powers, and Richard Hildreth. Frederick Douglass came to visit their tombs on 11 May 1877, my Roma restorer creating the plaque recording that. The Roma were freed from slavery with the publication the year after of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Romanian, and she was copying Frances Trollope’s and Richard Hildreth’s earlier anti-slavery novels!

I define myself as ‘libero professionista’, as an independent scholar, and in ecclesiastical standing as a vowed hermit. I publish as books and on the Web the works of women and men colleagues, while at the same time teaching the alphabet to Romanian Roma families denied literacy from their centuries of slavery and then the Holocaust in Transnistria.

More information on Dr Holloway can be found in the following websites:

http://www.umilta.net

http://www.florin.ms

http://www.ringofgold.eu

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nLkryRaFfQ–>

http://contemplative-oasis.blogspot.com/2011/10/interesting-hermits-in-21st-century.html

https://www.thecompassnews.org/2015/11/freelancing-the-religious-life-an-urban-hermit-tells-her-story/

Additional information on the Roma:

https://qz.com/298445/why-id-rather-teach-illiterate-roma-than-princeton-students/

https://qz.com/280695/the-roma-may-be-just-what-europe-needs-to-recover/

*Like the topics we’re discussing? Consider becoming a Patreon member for as little as £1 per month to help finance our team to explore new topics.

C&C announcement, education, history, Religion

COVID series: Starting June 6th!

libraryjulia

We’re finally getting back into the rhythm of things starting with our COVID series, Saturday June 6th. We’re kicking it off with religious sister, Professor Emerita, and custodian of the English cemetery in Florence, Italy, Dr Julia Bolton Holloway. She’ll be telling us about her incredible work educating Italy’s Roma community.

*Like the topics we’re discussing? Consider becoming a Patreon member for as little as £1 per month to help finance our team to explore new topics.

C&C announcement, media, Politics, Religion

New COVID series on ‘Coffee & Cocktails’

Zoom

Apologies for the silence but C&C is pleased to announce that we will be hosting a COVID series starting this June. Rather than wait for the studio to open, we’ll be taking advantage of Zoom and recording live (bloopers and all!)

If you’d like to get in on the action and have ideas for future episodes, please feel free to contact us! Otherwise, anticipate several new episodes in the next several weeks/ months including mental health issues in higher education, educating the Roma in Florence, Italy, and the confusing world of Cannabis law in America.

*Like the topics we’re discussing? Consider becoming a Patreon member for as little as £1 per month to help finance our team to explore new topics.

education, ETE announcements, history, language, Politics, Religion

Coffee & Cocktails: Podcast 6- English language policy and UK security

Dr Kamran Khan from the University of Lleida, in Catalonia, Spain and visitor at King’s College, London tells us about his most recent work on citizenship, ESOL policy and (Islamophobic) suspicion in the UK.

*Like the topics we’re discussing? Consider becoming a Patreon member for as little as £1 per month to help finance our team to explore new topics.