Under Development: Singur

If you are in Kolkata between 27 June and 2 July, you may do well to visit the Seagull Arts and Media Resource Centre, Kolkata, for an exhibition of photographs of Singur. There will also be a panel discussion and a film festival.

This information comes to Kafila from Trina Banerji of the Citizens’ Initiative which blogs at Development Dialogues.

Programme details:

Photo exhibition: The photographs will remain mounted for viewing everyday from 2 to 8 pm at the Seagull Arts and Media Resource Centre, Kolkata.

Panel discussion and open forum
Friday 27 June, 4:30 pm: ‘On the Representation of Displacement and Development’

– Professor Samik Bandyopadhyay (Senior Film Critic and Scholar)
– Dr Kavita Panjabi (Professor, Department of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University)
– Dr Rajarshi Dasgupta (Fellow in Political Science, CSSSC)
– Dr Paromita Chakravarti (Senior Lecturer, Department of English, Jadavpur University)

Film festival

Saturday 28 June 2008

11.00 am: Bombay: Our City – Anand Patwardhan (India: 1985, 82 min)
2.00 pm: Mahua Memoirs – Vinod Raja (India: 2007, 80 min)
4.30 pm: Czech Dream – Vit Klusak and Felip Remunda (Czechoslovakia: 2004, 90 min)
6.00 pm: An Aura of Development – Shubhasree Bhattacharyya and Sumantra Roy (India: 2008, 65 min)
7.00 pm: Unnayan – Banduker Nole – Pramod Gupta (India: 2007, 44 min)

Sunday 29 July 2008

11.00 am: A Narmada Diary – Anand Patwardhan (India: 1996, 60 min)
2.00 pm: Still Life – Zhang ke Jia (Hong Kong: 2006, 111 min)
4.30 pm: Mahua Memoirs – Vinod Raja (India: 2007, 80 min)
6.00 pm: Teardrops of Karnaphuli – Tanvir Mokammel (Bangladesh: 2006, 60 min)

About Citizens’ Initiative:

We at The Citizens’ Initiative are trying to organize a continuing open discussion on the paradigms of development and the relationship, in this context, between politics and ethics. These issues, we feel, are extremely important given the kind of state-sponsored violence that people are facing all over India and particularly in West Bengal.

The group of students, researchers, and teachers that is the CI started out in February 2007 to debate and question the cost of development and the growing schism between ethics and contemporary political culture. Questions have also begun to arise on the naive equation of the ‘partisan’ with the ‘political’, and the brushing aside of any non-partisan civil political action as not just irrelevant, but, as in some circles it is fashionable to say, ‘anti-political.’ The role of the civil society in a democracy is a subject of critical re-examination now, and it is the disregard for non-partisan opinion and the consequences of it that have led us to discuss and take more concrete actions.

We launched this initiative with a one-day seminar on 16 February 2008 on ‘Development and Ethics’, where the speakers were Dr Dilip Simeon and Dr Aseem Shrivastava. Dr Dilip Simeon taught history at Delhi University for several years and is currently a Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi. Dr Aseem Shrivastava has a doctorate in Economics from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He has taught Economics at various universities in the US and India, and Philosophy at Nordic College in Norway. He is an independent writer who writes on various contemporary themes like globalisation, human rights and US foreign policy. At the seminar, Dr Simeon spoke on ‘Ethics and Contemporary Political Culture’, and Dr Shrivastava’s talk was titled ‘SEZ and the Cost of Development’.

Our next event was a workshop on the legal possibilities of the common citizen’s redress of wrongs. Mr Sabir Ahamed of the RTI Mancha spoke on the Right to Information and Mr Sujato Bhadra of Association for Protection of Democratic Rights spoke on Public Interest Litigations.
We have visited Singur six times since February 2008. A full report of our findings is to be released shortly, and a brief interim report is now ready for dissemination. In the last few months, we have carried relief – in the form of clothes, rice and pulses – to Dobandi in Singur (in March 2008), and organized a medical camp there (on 18 May 2008) with the help of the Centre for Care of Torture Victims. But neither of these efforts reflects our primary objectives. Our most ardent wish is to everywhere induce long-term reflection on models – and ethics – of development, and to contribute to reconstructive thought and efforts in the areas already adversely affected by the present political take on development. We have extensively photographed life in Singur and how it has been affected by the fencing-off of the land for the Tata Motors factory. Very few people in Kolkata have any idea of what Singur looks like, and press photographs can perhaps tell only a minuscule portion of the story. Our photographs are aimed at covering this invisible distance between the affected village and the urban centre – to put it simply, to show what development looks like in reality.

However, we should stress that we have not been to Singur as unaffected photographers who are there to snatch images and leave. We wish to be able to propose/introduce alternative means of livelihood for people who have for generations been based in agriculture. Unhappily, the government’s promises that alternative training and employment shall be the norm rather than the exception among all peoples displaced from land and/or livelihood, have been resoundingly empty. In even our limited ways, we hope that we shall, in a few months, be able to organize in Singur training workshops on certain alternative means of livelihood like machine knitting, embroidery, machine embroidery, and even cultivation of mushrooms.


6 thoughts on “Under Development: Singur”

  1. Sites like these remind one of the contempt with the Bengali Bhadralok cult hold for anyone trying to do business or engage in the creation of wealth. Till we, as a society, recognize creation of wealth (with which Seagull as a book store seems to have no problems) as a valid pursuit in life to be respected on par with debating on aesthetics and films, or writing poetry, as a class, we will be condemned to deal with issues like Singur where one of the most respected Indian companies, in terms of corporate social responsibility, is being held hostage by political parties. Shame on us. And BTW, for all the intellectual posturing on this site, has the case around sexual harassment at Seagull been resolved ? Hopefully some standards of public and private morality vs hypocrisy still work at Seagull ?


  2. BTW, has the Citizen’s Initiative :

    a) expressed concern on the yound engineer from Shapoorji Pallonji, who was brutally beaten up at Singur, for working on the project

    b) offer any comments on what the TC panchayat in Nandigram is now doing now that they are in power and why CPM men are being killed.

    Am not a CPM supporter but am fed up with the immense bias that these articles show against any developmental activity. Perhaps a taste of real life is needed for the pampered children of JU English and Comp Lit. Wake up and smell the coffee


  3. To,
    Raja Sengupta,

    We are not representatives of Seagull and shall hence not be in any position to answer any questions about their activities.

    Similarly, we are not allied, in any form, to the TMC and hence cannot answer any questions about a panchayat made up largely/entirely by the TMC.

    As for the corporate responsibilites of Tata, I will draw your attention to the months-long protest being carried out by members of Greenpeace against their proposed port at Dhamra, Orissa.

    On behalf of the Citizens’ Initiative, I can say that we are indeed concerned about the recent spate of violence in Singur. But we should also add that after having spoken to a large section of the people in Singur, we are aware of the problems that the factory has caused for them. As to exactly how the factory has affected their lives, was the point of our photo exhibition at Singur. If you had missed it, I would recommend you to, if possible, catch the exhibition at the School of Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University from 10th to 17th September 2008.


  4. thank you for noticing by august a post about an event that took place in june. in any case, it is still 2008.

    a) yes, as the ci has over the deaths of shyamsundar bhattacharya and manik pal (the death of both men from the same flawed safety technique argues a certain callousness in the attitude of those running the project, or a much earlier neglect in training appropriate to work in risky conditions) and then again ramprasad ghosh and jamshed alam (again, it is not clear why men working at positions where a fall can be fatal were working without safety lines), all within the project site.

    b) yes, although it was (and is) unsure it had to ‘offer comments’ for the actions of panchayats — of whatever loyalties.

    ci is entirely non-partisan, and critiques actions and methods and thought that work against human dignity. it also believes quite deeply that development that is worth its name in any lasting sense cannot very well be selective. that is to say, that which is indeed development cannot work FOR some while being AT THE COST OF (allegedly fewer) others, where this latter ‘fewer’ need neither be consulted not compensated for inconvenience/damage/extermination caused to them.

    but then, ci also believes that critiquing may be a self-indulgent and fashionable thing to do, easily achieved only at a keyboard. ci has so far resisted the impulse towards critiquing people and things on the basis of reportage based on nothing more than the most mainstream, and opted, to the best of ability, to read alternate histories, study contrary opinions, and above all, see things for themselves at the locales.

    it is also important to stress that singur and nandigram are very different issues, and it helps neither to club it together with the other.

    any further questions are welcome. it would facilitate the discussion if they kept themselves to any of the issues at hand, instead of the character (or the absence of character) of real and/or imagined pampered children of ju english and/or comp lit.


  5. This exhibit will be on view at JNU, Delhi, from 10 to 17 September. The details are as follows:

    Panel Discussion on Displacement and Development

    Amar Kanwar, Praful Bidwai, Tanika Sarkar

    Committee Room, School of Social Sciences (1), JNU
    Wednesday 10 September
    5 pm to 7 pm

    Photo Exhibition on Singur

    School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU
    Wednesday 10 September to Wednesday 17 September
    9 am to 7 pm

    Development Dialogues by the members of the Citizens’ Initiative, Kolkata

    Tuesday 9 September : Lady Shriram College for Women

    Monday 15 September, 3 pm: Women’s Studies Programme, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University

    Tuesday 16 September, 3 pm: Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi

    Wednesday 17 September, 12.30 pm: Miranda House

    Thursday 18 September, 5 pm: Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur

    All are welcome


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