Liberating Minds, Restoring Kenyan History

Volume 15, Issue 1  | 
Published 11/07/2018

Anti-Imperialist Resistance by Progressive South Asian Kenyans 1884-1965

by Nazmi Durrani with additional material by Naila Durrani and Benegal Pereira.


Publ: Vita Books, Kenya

ISBN: 9789966097415

Reviewer: Shehina Fazal

Nazmi Durrani’s book Liberating Minds, remind us about the resistance to the colonial masters by the progressive South Asian Kenyans, whose roles were significant in the liberation of Kenya These roles of South Asians in Kenya and its neighbouring countries in the struggles towards independence are recently gaining attention from scholars.

The author of Liberating Minds, Nazmi Durrani, died tragically in a road accident in 1990. The collection in Liberating Minds chronicles, in each chapter, the contributions made by South Asians in Kenya written in English, as well as Gujarati, in the 1980s and published in the Gujarati English magazine, Alak Malak.

Manilal Desai was a lawyer who drew upon his experience of independence in India to the struggles against colonial government in Kenya. He established links with the Indian National Congress where experiences were shared, while closer to home, taking a major interest in the African anti-colonial struggles. Desai established the Gujarati-English weekly paper - the East African Chronicle, where he covered the injustices by the colonial administration towards the Africans and the South Asians.

Makhan Singh was the Secretary of the Labour Trade Union of Kenya under whose leadership, negotiations for the de-casualisation of railway workers succeeded. Singh was involved in successfully negotiating better pay and working conditions, but it was some time before the British colonial administration paid any heed to the Union: it only succumbed when the membership of the trade union rose in number that the administration registered and recognised the body.

Ambubhai Patel became an activist at the young age of fourteen and was imprisoned for photographing the police beating protestors who were marching for independence in India. After marriage, he returned to Kenya and in Nairobi, Ambubhai ran the bookstore Jai Hind and was actively involved in the freedom movement.

Pio Gama Pinto was active in the movement to liberate Goa (India) from the Portuguese. The imperialist government had issued an arrest warrant for him, but he escaped returning to Kenya in 1949. In the early 1950s he began to work for the East African Indian Congress (EAIC). His ambition was to bring about unity among the Africans and the South Asians in Kenya. He became a journalist and was the editor of Uzwood.  However, Pinto’s work for the liberation of Kenya led to his assassination at the young age of thirty-eight, in 1965.

The contributions of Jaswant SinghBharaj, Yakub Dean and Hassan Manji to the freedom movement, was equally important. Yakub Dean supplied food, clothes and medicines and other provisions to the Mau Mau fighters. Hassan Manji, while running a transport company supplied food and other essential materials to the families of those in prisons and detention camps. Jaswant Singh Bharaj was influenced by the outlook of the Revolutionary Party of India who believed that freedom could not be achieved without violence.

Three chapters entitled “Patriotic Kenyans” illustrate the role of the South Asians activists working as journalists, editors, publishers and book binders. Their role was to expose the unjust policies of the imperialist rulers in the media. For example, the Colonial Times criticized the British government for its biased policies following the Second World War - the colonial government encouraged white former soldiers to settle in Kenya, offering them fertile land, while African soldiers were not offered any rewards.

Naila Durrani’s chapter outlines some of the key historical landmarks on Kenya’s history of resistance against imperialism. She also points to demarcations in Kenya along class lines: the working class and the petit bourgeois class of South Asians in Kenya. Towards the end of the book, Nazmi Durrani provides an overview of the historical presence of South Asians in Kenya, and Benegal Pereira writes about Eddie Pereira, a prolific writer and activist who wrote over a hundred articles making the case against colonialism.

Overall, the book is a much needed contribution to the under researched area on the role of progressive South Asians in the struggles of independence from the colonial administration. During the colonial period in Kenya, issues of caste became less important and the significance of class became crucial in the economic, social and cultural fabric of the country.

Last modified on Wednesday, 11 July 2018 19:09

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