Center for Study and Research in South Asia (CERAS)

CERAS (in French – Centre d’Étude et Ressources d’Asie Sud) is based at McGill University and founded by Marxist activist Daya Varma, a professor of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, along with fellow activist Feroz Mehdi.[1] However, the current website is blank on any of its activity since 2001.[2] Hence, its current existence as an organization is questionable.  It seems that Verma and Mehdi have now shifted their focus to other Marxist ventures, discussed below.

CERAS is intricately linked with FOIL and ASDSA and has been working on various initiatives with the two for many years now. In addition, CERAS is the main driving force behind another FOIL affiliate and member of the CAG – the International South Asia Forum (INSAF). (INSAF is discussed here.)  In fact, INSAF was formed in 1999 at a CERAS Conference and the INSAF Bulletin (which is what INSAF turned into) is run by Daya Varma and others from CERAS. The website for the INSAF Bulletin is registered to Feroz Mehdi.

What’s more, INSAF (www.insaf.net) hosts the website of FOIL’s mouthpiece Ghadar, FOIL’s listserve as well as features websites of EKTA, which was discussed here.

CERAS’s Marxist ideological leanings make it follow the same line of attack as the one taken by FOIL members and other radical leftists. CERAS blames the BJP government for all the communal problems in India (except, the 1984 anti-Sikh riots) and seems to overlook the numerous political problems and communal riots prior to BJP’s rise to power.

In a 2001 interview in the McGill Reporter, the election of the BJP as the party forming the government over ten years ago, troubled Daya Varma because he deemed this as “…the progressive Hinduization of India.”[3] In his view, one political party, ruling in a coalition government that is democratically elected by the people of India, has the amazing power of forcing some sort of “extremist Hindu agenda” on the entire population of India!

Varma also has a peculiar take on Hindu identity. On adoption and assertion of a Hindu identity by the youth, Varma is fairly punitive toward Hinduism and declares: “In youth there is always a question of identity one way or another; often religious identity is the identity. We don’t want youth to become part of these backward religious ideas…”[4] Yet, in the entire article, Varma makes no mention of the backward ideas of Islamic fanaticism adopted by the youth in India, Pakistan, USA or Canada for that matter.

Similarly, Varma declares that “…since the election of the BJP minority government, India has engaged in increasing military confrontation with Pakistan, with both powers testing nuclear weapons in recent years.”[5] But, Varma ignores the fact that the biggest wars between Pakistan and India were fought before the election of the BJP government – and, during those times, the Congress was in power. Similarly, all of the wars were provoked by Pakistan’s attacks on India. Pakistan attacked India again in 1999 without any intervention or aggression by India. And, Pakistani soldiers continue to provide cover to militants and terrorists who want to cross into India and wreak havoc.

CERAS’ pejorative views on India and Hindus are illustrated further. In 1999, CERAS organized a “North American Conference on Peace and Human Rights in Pakistan and India.”[6] In its promotional materials, CERAS pins the blame for communal problems on India and the Hindu organizations but does not mention anything about riots and attacks by Muslim fanatics. In fact, CERAS’ intense dislike for the BJP is clear since the organization dedicates two paragraphs of its promotional material solely to the BJP and the “Hindu extremist” elements, while making a few passing remarks about the Taliban and other extremists in Pakistan. Though Beena Sarvar of Pakistan was one of the speakers in the conference, there is much greater weight given to personalities such as French writer Christophe Jaffrelot and his book, The Hindu Nationalist Movement in India (1998, Columbia University Press).

Section 19.01    Daya Varma and the Maoist Connection

Varma migrated to Canada in the late 1950s and got involved in the anti-Vietnam war movement, in the same way SANSAD founder and fellow Marxist Hari Sharma did. (SANSAD is discussed here). Varma’s radical Marxist reputation and views are highlighted in a 2004 interview by Montreal Serai. He says that his reason for involvement in the anti-Vietnam war activist was “…not so much because it was a war of aggression by the US but more so because it was against communists.”[7]

But, it was the Naxalite movement and the Chinese support for it that enamored Varma even more.  He admits:

Perhaps because of the Chinese support for Naxalbari armed struggle, I became a Maoist. As a result I got linked to crazy or less crazy Maoists. Even after realizing that many of these outfits were opportunists or reflected juvenile enthusiasm rather than a commitment to revolution [emphasis added], I remained a Maoist.”[8]

The Naxalite movement has been deemed as the biggest national security threat by the former Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh. While Varma admits that in retrospect the movement had no future and failed because of changing times, it was still a “…glorious chapter in Indian people’s struggle…”[9]

Thus, CERAS follows a Marxist/Maoist ideology in the same vein as many other South Asian organizations and individuals in the CAG. In the name of human rights and secularism, these individuals intend to impose an outdated and defunct communist approach on India’s problems. Combined with a tainted view of Hinduism and Indian state/history, they resort to bigotry and consider the two as oppressors of minorities (both social and religious) and hence deserving the strongest opposition. While they garner sympathy for the blacks of USA or indigenous people of Africa and Australia, they do not provide the same to Hindus, who have had a long history of oppression by outside forces from the Greeks to Islamic rulers to the British. This maltreatment of Hindus also stems from their bigoted view of Hinduism as a foreign “Aryan” religion that destroyed the so-called indigenous “Dravidian” population of India.

 

[1] Mark Reynolds, “The quiet voice of Daya Varma”, June 7, 2001, McGill Reporter, http://www.mcgill.ca/reporter/33/17/varma/. Accessed January 16, 2014

[2] CERAS’ website (CERAS Newsletter) at http://ceras.alternatives.ca/index.html features the last issue of CERAS Newsletter as of Fall 200-Winter 2001.  Similarly, a WayBack Machine Internet Archive of August 8, 2003 shows the same static page at https://web.archive.org/web/20030808081346/http://ceras.alternatives.ca/index.html.  Accessed February 15, 2014.

[3] Reynolds, ibid

[4] Reynolds, ibid

[5] Reynolds, ibid

[6] See message titled “Daya Verma, CERAS Montreal” by Jennifer Henderson on August 11, 1999 the SASSY List at http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/sassy/conversations/topics/913. Accessed January 16, 2014

[7] Rana Bose, “searching for a new paradigm: dr. daya varma reflect”, 2004, Montreal Serai, http://montrealserai.com/_archives/2004_Volume_17/17_3/Article_9.htm.  Accessed January 16, 2014

[8] Bose, ibid

[9] Bose, ibid