Charity & social welfare
Sivanandan, Ambalavaner (10 of 10). National Life Stories: General
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2010-08-13, 2010-08-20, 2010-08-26, 2010-10-20, 2010-11-02
Sivanandan, Ambalavaner, 1923-2018 (speaker, male)
Brodie, Louise (speaker, female)
Part 10: [Fifth Session 2 November 2010] AS feels that the official race relations organisations were buffering institutions for the discontent of the blacks and Asians. Scarman and the government had put money into them. The first Act was ineffective. It never addressed the problem, and black leaders became very important. They represented the voices that could not be heard otherwise. They had to attack, and were against the official bodies. That has run throughout and is now seen in the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Multiculturalism became a force for good for a while. But there is the racism that kills. There is a lot of crime in the inner cities. The underclass is beginning to grow. Then there is the black bourgeoisie. But poverty is the new black. It was important to AS to work with them. [9:14] The Runnymede Trust was formed by Philip Mason after the Survey was completed. It did research. Then it became academic. Nicholas Deakin at Sussex and John Rex at Warwick supported them. Trevor Phillips at EHRC was ambitious. For a while he served the community. But the new organisation is not allowed to be radical. It is impossible that it should address the nuances of the disadvantaged society. There are different kinds of discrimination. It was a bureaucratic solution which has taken the stink out of the anti discrimination movement. [16:03] The work that was done in the universities was academic. A new jargon was imported from the USA. It was abstract. The journal ‘Race and Class’ fought this tendency. AS got a doctorate from the Open University in 1995. The IRR created their own researchers. They produced lots of published work, a people’s history. This work came to be known. The IRR library was the first of its kind. By 2001-02 there were other libraries springing up though it was still the best in Europe. And there were the pamphlets. The main collection went to Warwick university in 2006 and is called the Sivanandan Collection. [22:29] AS could do much more work when his children were finishing university. Jenny came to work as a researcher at the end of the 1960s. She and others were committed people, idealists. This is the context in which AS fell in love with Jenny. Amusing incident. She was 21 years younger than AS and her parents didn’t like their relationship. Jenny and Hazel were the cornerstones of the IRR. When they began to get money they had to get new staff who had the same views. There is no hierarchy, they all had to do all the work. Hazel has just retired, she became an authority on black theatre. [30:20] Details of what AS’s children are now doing. Bringing up children taught AS a lot, including wisdom. They are the yardstick of humanity. Children are good for the imagination. The first marriage broke up under the influence of the Catholic church. Jenny has been wonderful. They lived together for many years before getting married. His children opened him up to all the children in the world, and Jenny opened him up to all the women in the world. [37:42] Because of his work with the IRR and international talks in the refugee field, there is a hostel named after him ‘Siva’s House’ in Notting Hill. He was working with the African Research Housing Action Group, Ronnie Moodley was the leader at the time. And because of his work with children, the Asian DUB Foundation made a track with AS called Community Music. [40:45] All the time that he was working here, Sri Lanka was on his mind. There was a rebellion of the Lanka youths called the JVP. (The People’s Liberation Front). In 1971 there was an uprising and many were killed. They set up a committee in the IRR to send observers to the trial. Lord Avebury and a French lawyer went. Troubles began with the Tamil community later. Details. The socialist parties like LSSP, Lanka Sama Samaja Party, called for parity of language and so on. The Bandaranaikes had made Singalese the language and Buddhism the state religion. Later the socialists sold out on the question of parity. Intellectual corruption had set in. Tamils were finally wiped out recently from any reckoning in civil society. Rebellion had been fomenting for years. It was impossible for them to do anything but to take up arms. When his children were more or less grown up, AS would go to SL for two months to work with left wing groups. So he knew the SL situation backwards. [49:22] So he began to write, bits here and there. Everything was important, its history. The intellectuals had defected. It was corrupting. The Tamils in England preached greater rebellion than those there. AS refused to be a Tamil nationalist. You couldn’t have a separate state, it is too small and arid. So he wanted to write a history which was true. He had to tell future generations that the Singalese and Tamils lived together, and they prayed in the same temples. The personal is the political. The novel ‘When Memory Dies’ is on various syllabuses round the world now and is about to be digitised for universities and others. This is an honour. 10 years ago when the peace talks were going on, AS went back and it was being taught in SL. Then AS won the Commonwealth Literature Prize for the Eurasia region, maybe in 1998. And he won the Sagittarius Prize for a first novel by the over 60s. The book comes into post colonial studies, but AS does not believe in ‘post colonial’. It is a misnomer. He calls himself a storyteller not a novelist. [1:03:12] Now AS is writing a book set in England. A love story between young people, one a Catholic and one a Muslim. They are studying English literature. The first part is from her voice, and the second is his. It gives the backdrop of the politics of our time. AS’s illness makes it difficult to finish the writing. [1:06:34] Mrs Bandaranaike’s daughter was known to AS. She was president in 2005. She gave him an award Kala Kirthi which is a cultural acknowledgment. He said nothing against it, but did not accept it. A Canadian Tamil group also gave him an award. There was mob trouble there. [1:12:36] Everything in AS’s life is important to him. He finds it difficult to handle his vertigo. He has many trophies for his competitive sports. Helping to change the IRR was good, moving it back to its principles. To help in that struggle and win it was great. Details. It was a shift in values and they could give voice to the cause. They kept the library in the new premises, and made ‘Race’ into ‘Race and Class’ which was relevant to many more. They got rid of the Board and also the academics. They did three jobs at once and somehow raised enough money to keep going. Then AS wrote his pamphlet ‘Race, Class and the State’ which brought in a lot of people. And many others. AS planned his own obsolescence. Liz Fekete is brilliant. And she has a good young team. The work, the tradition, is being carried on. AS is a figurehead.
Life story interview with Ambalavaner Sivanandan (1923-2018), director of the Institute of Race Relations and founding editor of Race & Class.