Reflections on Siva’s 100th birthday

Reflections on Siva’s 100th birthday

Fortnightly Bulletin

Written by: IRR News Team

5 – 19 December 2023

This week we remember Siva (A. Sivanandan) on what would be his hundredth ‘year to heaven’. To mark his centenary, we publish three aphorisms from his 1971 diary, including a cutting critique of the (then) academic fad of ‘participant observation’ whereby sociologists would hang out with (while studying) the oppressed, missing the bigger picture of observing and studying the oppressor.

Siva was born to the family of a Tamil postal clerk in the British Raj in Ceylon just as the British mandate for Palestine (which included the Balfour Declaration) came into effect. For him, the cardinal sin was the oppressed becoming oppressor – in the words he liked to quote, to have ‘the experience but miss the meaning’.

Those of us at the Institute of Race Relations, which he directed for over 40 years, continue in the furrows he laid down. His international anti-racism, forged in the colonial experience, seems more relevant than ever. As we say goodbye to 2023, the impact of ongoing wars weighs down heavily on us. The scale of the problems we face – from global abandonment of refugees, to the dehumanisation and immiseration of asylum seekers in the UK, to the rise of a targeted state racism against Europe’s citizens of Palestinian descent – are reflected in the last calendar of racism and resistance published by IRR News in 2023.

So, yes, it’s hard to end the year on an upbeat note. On the other hand, it’s important to stress that our movements – against racism and for refugees, migrants and Palestinian rights – have emerged stronger and more determined this year. Organisations like Together With Refugees’ (campaigning to stop the Rwanda scheme), solicitors’ firms like Duncan Lewis and Wilson’s (challenging the government’s treatment of asylum seekers at Manston detention centre) and the critical interventions of organisations like BRISMES and BRICUP (holding universities to account as they attempt to silence pro-Palestinian voices), give us hope as we move cautiously into 2024.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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