Angana Chatterji and the Historical Present

I have had the honor of conducting my graduate studies in the Social Cultural Anthropology program at California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.  There, Department head Richard Shapiro and Professor Angana Chatterji, run an intellectually/spiritually rigorous program of re-thinking our present in light of the historical past.  With this, the historical future will look differently.  Why does it need to look differently, some ask?  This, I’m afraid, is a question spoken by the privileged or the unconcerned.  Anyone who has seen that disenfranchisement, disillusionment, mass forms of escape and ignorance, despair, rage, and genocide have increased the world over.  It parallels the increase in the wealth of the few and the invisibility of the wealthy from the public in general, in most of the world.

The invisibility allows for certain mechanisms to be put into place, controlling increasingly more areas of reflection, thought, and policies.  The nation-state neo-liberal systems, which was invented in the resistance of peoples against primarily imperial rulerships based solely on single religions, has now become a ruling configuration that also detaches itself from humankind’s deepest issues, many of which come from the governance of nations and its tactics and priorities.

Angana Chatterji has dedicated her life to continual self-education, admonishing those she touches to re-think the present by including the multiple angles and hierarchically-organized perspectives that are laid into place by the dance of dominance and resistance, privilege and oppression.  The Social Cultural anthropology program (SCA) at CIIS (California Institute of Integral Studies) challenges disciples to re-introduce intellect into the psycho-spiritual domain. The intellect, especially in the United States, but in most of the first-world nations, has been relegated to something menacing and/or useless.  Today, ‘intellect’ is hardly recognized.

There is a reason for this.  The academic institutions in the United States and many of the first world nations, as mentioned earlier, is more and more unconcerned with life and the people.  It is more concerned about maintaining its institutions and formulations of power and legitimacy in their respective societies.  When this kind of way of prioritizing things is practiced over and over,  there is less and less room for adapting to things and people and situations.  When there is less adaptation, as change is constant, the institutions become more irrelevant.  What happens at this point, and has happened to a large extent in Europe, the United States, Australia, and Japan, is the amassing of wealth by these academic institutions in order to maintain its prestige.  Prestige itself, I beg of you to understand from my perspective, is not ‘evil’ or bad.  The problem is its prioritization in communities, over-taking an exacting look at the processes that create suffering and toil, vanity and genocides.

Through the work of Angana Chatterji, Richard Shapiro, and Mutombo Mpanya of the Anthropology program at CIIS, disciples (I would not say ‘students’ in the traditional sense) must grapple with re-learning, undoing, then re-thinking and learning how to think with the historical past in the now-moment.  And in addition, this ‘history’ is not the traditional and mainstream ‘history’ that is often not recognized as propaganda in some ways.  The dominant texts are written so that history  makes the dominant groups and institutions’ versions of history ‘truth.’  Being inclusive for everyone and every community, is a liberal idea that most academic institutions attempt to practice.  However, ‘including everyone’ or inclusivity, is a very tiny fraction of the issues in life.  In fact, inclusivity into a system that carries oppressive norms is assimilation, an enticement.  One just needs to look around.  Just because we have burritos and sushi in the cafe does not make the political and historical circumstances that made our identities and fractured lives happen.  Our privileges want to be maintained.  We want to ignore the pain and suffering.  So it isn’t learned.  In the mainstream academy, everything is co-opted into the ‘feel good’ place and reconciled.  Toward the neo-liberal and the maintenance of ‘good people.’  This ‘good people’ is an imagination of the moralities that propped up our histories.  ‘Good’ people were smashing soap bars down Native American throats when they spoke their native language in order to civilize them.  Civilization is ‘good.’  ‘Good’ people owned slaves yet treated everyone ‘well.’

These are crass, simplistic examples of things we need to , and can un-do as a single image in how to ‘take care of things’ in life that get in the way of our individual happiness.  The suffering of the globe in the historical present, cannot change unless we bring ourselves into the picture.  Our heritages, what has happened, what’s been done.  The complexities are immense but not unfathomable.  From these complexities we come to realize that everything has come about through each diverse community and tensions’ meetings and the series of events that play out.

In my studies with Angana Chatterji, there is tremendous transformation, a dropping-off of life-as-we-know-it, similar to some of my experiences in Zen training.  The intellect keeps many things ‘tight’ in our minds.  It is even more complex to think that in the United States, being intellectual makes us less ‘spiritual’ and ‘real’ and the intellect is relegated to something that’s ‘too much.’  Angana Chatterji and Richard Shapiro’s mission at CIIS, was to create an academy that is relevant to reality.  Skill, power, depth, complexity, and attention to our ancestors and what has happened, can be included in the story of our lives.  It deepens our lives to what it actually is and not what we blindly have let it become. Scholarship can become something that advocates for humanity and justice, not just something we do to get better jobs in the market-capitalist society or the socialist one.

Recently, Angana Chatterji, along with Parvez Imroz, Gautam Navlakha, Mihir Desai, and Khurram Parvez and others, have co-founded and convened the International Peoples’ Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in the Indian-administrated region of Kashmir (website:  This has been a labor of struggle and love and commitment, attesting to Angana Chatterji’s deepest wishes in relation to her ancestors and their legacy, for an academy that works with communities and is relevant to peoples’ struggles.  In today’s world, often a community’s struggle is put into the light of some sort of competition between groups.  Supposedly we are in a game of winning and losing.  Angana and most of the people working pro-actively with struggling communities, would say that the oppression Olympics and its race toward individual ‘rights’ is a worldview that has developed due to how these things were taught to us.  At close examination and with tremendous commitment to its roots, we can see that some things need to be struggled for and it need not be a competition between those struggling for justice and others doing the same.  The Indian state is being asked to act as the state it promised to be.  The tribunal wishes to hold the Indian state accountable to itself and others. Co-creating the world is diversity.  Diversity is not a competition.  Diversity and its concommitant need for re-thinking, re-structuring, and creating new imagination and processes toward justice and peace, takes re-education and understanding along with action and community.  Angana Chatterji and the Peoples’ Tribunal is one of the many works that happen in the world and we need more of it.

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