Augusto Pinochet and India

Salvador Allende (right) and Augusto Pinochet

Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator who overthrew the first democratically elected Marxist government in history and who died today at the age of 91, may have been little known in India but he cast a short but eventful shadow on recent Indian history.

The overthrow of Salvador Allende‘s government in the Pinochet- led coup on 11 September 1973 sparked off rumors of similar events happening in India. Those were the years of the Cold War, and Mrs Indira Gandhi was in her early phase of a swing towards the Left in order to defeat the Syndicate within the Congress Party. JP’s “Total Revolution” was seen as a movement to upset her regime, even as the CIA was thought to be in the process of dislodging her regime.

It was in this background that the CPI supported her when she clamped down the Emergency in 1975. The coup in Chile had led the Dange faction within the CPI to strengthen their support of what was perceived as a Center- Left Congress government headed by Indira Gandhi.

Salvador Allende’s brief tenure became well known in India as an example of a socialist government taking power by democratic means, his death during the coup made him a hero in the eyes of the intelligentsia in the country.

However, in the last two decades as India moved towards the United States economically and politically, even this memory became hazy. A recent news story even had a headline that made me wrench: Former Chilean dictator’s health improves as if this was something to be celebrated.To me, it only illustrated the chasm that had come over in India in the intervening years and the ignorance of contemporary history.

The novels of Ariel Dorfman (The Last Song of Manuel Sendero) and more recently Roberto Bolaño made one aware of the brutality of Pinochet’s regime and today, the news his death came just as I finished reading Bolaño collection of short stories Last Evenings on Earth.

This particular collection of short stories is somewhat uneven and a bit of a disappointment compared to his very excellent novels By Night in Chile and Distant Stars. There is one story in the collection, however, that has India in its backdrop. I found it strange that Bolaño used India as a backdrop to illustrate the brutality of the Pinochet years. Reading it, I felt while India may have forgotten Allende and Chile, Chile had remembered India, even if it was in its nightmares.

I quote excerpts from the story Mauricio (“The Eye”) Silva:

It is customary in some parts of India, said The Eye, looking to the ground, to offer a young boy to a deity whose name I can’t remember… outwardly, the ceremony is like a Latin American pilgrimage, but perhaps more joyful, more turbulent, and for the participants, those who know what they are participating in, the experience is probably more intense. But there is one major difference. A few days before the festivities begin, they castrate the boy. The god whose incarnation he is to be during the festival requires a male body- although the boys usually no more than seven years old- purified of male sexual organs. So the parents hand him over to the festivals doctors or barbers, or priests, and they emasculate him. And when the boy has recovered from the operation, the festival begins. Weeks or months later, when it is all over, the boy goes home, by now he is an eunuch and his parents reject him. So he ends up a brothel. These brothels vary; there are all sorts, said The Eye with a sigh. That night, they took me to the worst one of all.

That night, when he (“The Eye”) went back to his hotel, he wept for his dead children, and all the castrated boys, for his own lost youth, for those who fought for Salvador Allende and those who were too scared to fight. Unable to stop crying, he called his French friend, who was now living with a former Bulgarian weightlifter, and asked him to send him an airplane ticket and some money for the hotel.

And his friend said Yes, of course, he would, right away and then: What’s that sound? Are you crying? And The Eye said Yes, he couldn’t stop crying, he didn’t know what was happening to him, he had been crying for hours. His French friend had told him to calm down. At this The Eye, still crying, laughed said he would do that and hung up. But he went on crying, on and on.

As Augusto Pinochet is laid to rest- something that he denied to many of his compatriots during his years in power, one remembers, nay salutes, all those who disappeared, or were silenced and whose silence lies buried in the sea or in lime pits.

An evaluation of his legacy by Marc Cooper: Pinochet Cheats Justice, even in his death

Related Post: Torturing People so that Prices can be Free
Image Acknowledgment ( more images of Salvador Allende)

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18 thoughts on “Augusto Pinochet and India

  1. kochuthresiamma p .j

    In hindsight, i feel Emergency in India had more reasons than meet the eye. the reason floated for emergency – that forces were trying to destabilise the country – were not mere pretexts as many (and i too at that time) believed. Your blog, unwittingly. vindicates Emergency.

    I stand by my claim that at that point of time, india needed a strongman(?!) like her.if not for her, Chile would have encored in India.

    Mrs Gandhi meant well.But ceaser’s wife was not about blame. It’s sanjay gandhi who got high handed.

  2. bhupinder

    You are not alone in feeling that the Emergency was correct. The former CPI ideologue, the late Mohit Sen continued to defend it till the last. I have merely presented what was then known as the Dange line.

    My own take is somewhat sympathetic, though not in total agreement with their line. Of course, I was too young then in 1975 to have actually felt any direct impact, and have the benefit of hindsight.

    In a nutshell, I feel while there was a strong resentment to Mrs Gandhi’s Leftward shift from the Right, the Emergency was hardly a solution, ultimately counter revolution triumphed from within the ruling groups (among others, Sanjay Gandhi).

    Mrs Gandhi’s return to power in 1980 merely toned down the right ward drift in her policies that began during the Emergency.

  3. Alok

    I have little clue about the congress party politics that you talk of here. I think I had heard of the syndicate but never knew what it really was.

    I have got Last Evenings on Earth but haven’t read any of the stories yet. it is strange how little latin american politics and culture get mentioned in indian media and intellectual culture, specially given that we have so much in common with them.

  4. bhupinder

    The Syndicate was the bunch of people like Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy and Morarji Desai- conservative Congress state leaders from the freedom struggle days. They had projected Indira Gandhi as the Congress leader taking her for a ‘gungi gudiya’, she, however, turned the tables taking a leftward shift.

    I found Roberto Bolano’s Last Evening a trifle disappointing. Some of the stories are good, for example, Sensini, A literary adventure, Phone Calls, Mauricio Silva, Gomez Palacio and the Dance Card. I had intended to post a review, but then our friend Pinochet passed away.

    I am still, like many Chileans, in mourning, you see 🙂

  5. Alok

    Haha nice pic… over at the lenin’s blog, people were speculating who will be the next to go. everybody was betting on thatcher 🙂

  6. Antonia

    I find that link to Dorfman interesting,that you refer to the Last Song of Manuel Sendero. Here in Europe often is referred to Dorfman via this Death and the Maiden book, you have Schubert then and the film, too. Interesting that never his other books are mentioned here…maybe it is the Schubert for it so nicely fits in the cultural tradition which probably the other book might not do, but which makes it probably much more interesting….have not yet read it, but it have it here on the shelves…

  7. Mahesh

    Bhupinder,

    You are sick to read “Former Chilean dictator’s health improves,” because “as if this was something to be celebrated.” Now how about all those thousands butchered by that other bloodthirsty tyrant of Latin America, Fidel Castro? There were reams of newsprint cranked out with concerns and pious wishes for the butcher of Havana’s health. Our leaders congregated in Havana recently for that gabfest called the NAM with other mass murderers such as Robert Mugabe, and bowed at the bedside of Fidel. So reserve your anger and contempt. You will need them in plenty when The Hindu prints banner headlines hailing the legacy of the “liberator” Fidel some day – if you can find the courage to call hypocrisy.

    http://tinyurl.com/sv56u

    So India is close economically to the US? That’s funny. Then China shd be even closer right, because it runs a huge favourable trade deficit with the US.

  8. bhupinder

    Antonia: it just so happened that I came across Manuel Sendero first, and I can understand why it is not so well known, it is an over ambitious work, and rather convoluted to read.

    Thanks for pointing me to “Death and the Maiden”. But is “Schubert” another work by Dorfman? I could not find it on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk

    Mahesh: While I think the points that you raise are pertinent, they are out of context of this particular post. This post is about Chile, Pinochet, Allende, to some extent Mrs Gandhi’s Emergency and Roberto Bolano.
    >Then China shd be even closer right

    This point is well taken, of course.

  9. Mahesh

    Bhupi Bhai,

    OK let’s start talking about Cuba! It is standard hypocrisy to paint the other side as evil. And the Indian commies especially their media lackeys such as at The Hindu – N.Ram and his fellow flunkies such as Siddharth Varadarajan – have made an art form of selective criticism. There’s no point in calling Pinochet names if you think Fidel is god’s gift to mankind. It’s OK, truth hurts and you aren’t doing too badly in coping with the truth!

  10. bhupinder

    Mahesh: I think you are ascribing other people’s views to me, I don’t see any point in debating on those.

    I will be happy to discuss, when, I have a post on Fidel and Cuba.Inshaallah!

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