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Barnita Bagchi

Barnita Bagchi is a feminist translator, literary and cultural critic, and cultural historian. She is Associate Professor in Comparative Literature at Utrecht University. She has published widely on utopia, histories of transnational and women’s education, and women’s writing in western Europe and south Asia. Her publications include a part-translation with introduction, Sultana’s Dream and Padmarag: Two Feminist Utopias, by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (Penguin Classics, 2005), an edited volume, The Politics of the (Im)possible: Utopia and Dystopia Reconsidered (SAGE, 2012), and an edited volume, Urban Utopias: Memory, Rights, and Speculation (Jadavpur University Press, 2020). She is a Life Member of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge.

‘Olive Schreiner and C.F. Andrews:
Utopia and Paths to Anti-Racism and Decolonisation’

This chapter will discuss Olive Schreiner’s writing and thought in relation to those of C.F. Andrews, Christian writer and social actor, close friend of M.K. Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, anti-colonial, anti-racist, and anti-indentured labour activist in parts of the world ranging from South Africa to India and Fiji. Race, decolonisation, religion / spirituality, and the social dreaming of utopia will be foci. Schreiner’s Closer Union and her posthumously published From Man to Man (1926) will be analysed, bringing in Andrews in a transnational and relational perspective. Andrews, as Hofmeyr (2007, 21) points out, published, in the Calcutta-based Modern Review, in June 1928, an article titled 'South Africa and India : Olive Schreiner's Message' (Andrews, 1928: 641-46). Summarising Schreiner’s Closer Union (1909), the piece also compares ‘the struggle for racial unity’ in South Africa and India. Hofmeyr writes, aptly, ‘The idea of Olive Schreiner in Calcutta is not one we often think of, but it is a conjunction which holds out exciting possibilities’ (21).

Andrews, who is buried in present-day Kolkata, where he died in 1940, was known as Deena-Bandhu or Friend of the Poor in India, while Gandhi, using his initials, called him Christ’s Faithful Apostle. In 1913, Andrews and W.W. Pearson visited Gandhi in South Africa, with Tagore’s blessings. Schreiner’s friend Betty Molteno spoke at a meeting to welcome Andrews. Andrews kept Tagore informed of Gandhi’s South African activities, and arranged for some of Gandhi’s Phoenix Farm students and Gandhi himself to visit Santiniketan; this led to Tagore and Gandhi meeting for the first time in 1915.

We need to see religion and spirituality as important drivers for social dreaming or utopianism, in many contexts, and how these work with (or against) critiques of racism, colonialism, and indentured labour. This chapter brings into juxtapositional analysis Andrews’ multiple articles, published in the Modern Review in 1914, on the South African struggle led by Gandhi, as well as his religious autobiography What I Owe to Christ (1932), the sales proceeds of which went to Tagore’s Santiniketan ashram, as an important record of a deeply religious man seeking to fight against the colour bar, exploitative indentured labour, and colonialism, within the contexts and limits of his own time, as Schreiner did in hers.

Anti-Racism and DecolonisationBarnita Bagchi
00:00 / 05:37
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