All posts by Aman Sethi

[Statement] In solidarity with students and faculty at JNU

The following statement has been signed by students and faculty from universities across the world. You may sign on by adding your name in the comments section.

In solidarity with the School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU

We, the undersigned students and faculty members in art history, cinema studies, and other concerned academic departments across the world, are writing in protest against the recent removal of Prof. Kavita Singh from her position as Dean of the School of Arts and Aesthetics (SAA) at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi. This represents a serious attack on academic freedom, a blatant disregard for due process, and a worrying precedent being set by the University’s Vice Chancellor to silence and repress reasoned, principled dissent and disagreement. As students and  scholars who have learned a great deal from Prof. Singh’s scholarship and benefited from the cutting-edge research fostered at SAA, we stand in solidarity with its students and faculty as they strike to protect the school’s autonomy from the brazenly undemocratic acts being carried out by the current Vice Chancellor.

Continue reading [Statement] In solidarity with students and faculty at JNU

[Statement]: Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) on the on-going conversation on “The List”

The following is a statement by WSS on the lists of sexual harassers being circulated on social media. We reproduce it here as part of the ongoing dialogue on the issue.

Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) stands
firmly with the survivors who have faced sexual harassment at the hands of the
perpetrators on and off the list and, most importantly, extends solidarity in this
moment of unravelling narratives, disjointed arguments and personal struggles of
individuals voicing their experiences.

The last few weeks have seen lists of sexual harassers in academia and civil society published and circulated on social media, statements issued by groups of persons and individuals reflecting on the lists, and questions raised on the ways of dealing with such lists, perpetrators of harassment, and the mechanisms in place to address it.

Alongside the lists and statements, there has been a marked silence from some of the avenues that normally engage with sexual violence and harassment, both within and outside academia. While social media was abuzz with discussions and debates, now, once again, there is silence. As a collective standing against sexual violence and state repression, we recognise that institutional spaces can be fraught with sexual violence of varying kinds and, sometimes, despite systems and processes in place, the journey of seeking justice for each individual can be a long and lonely one. Continue reading [Statement]: Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) on the on-going conversation on “The List”

Modi mocks ‘pessimists’, but RBI says a whole lot of Indians are pretty pessimistic about the economy

Last week, Prime Minister Modi gave an hour long speech denouncing ‘pessimists’ who refused to see the bright side of demonetisation and other transformations that his government’s able management had visited upon the economy.

We at Kafila, did a quick fact-check offering many reasons for pessimism, but as they say in Delhi – humari kya aukaat hai?

Now, a set of surveys by the Reserve Bank of India have concluded that 65% of the 5100 metropolitan households polled feel the economic situation has either worsened or stayed the same. It’s a small sample, but the results are revealing.  To quote :

Households’ current perceptions on the general economic situation remained in the pessimistic zone for four successive quarters, with the outlook worsening — RBI

For those you wondering – “four successive quarters” is a full year.

I would urge most readers to read the report in full, but here are some key takeaways:

Continue reading Modi mocks ‘pessimists’, but RBI says a whole lot of Indians are pretty pessimistic about the economy

Modi says the economy isn’t so bad; He’s right – it’s worse

by Samarth Bansal and Aman Sethi

On October 4, Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered a robust defence of his government’s management of the economy, shortly after the Reserve Bank of India lowered its Gross Value Added (GVA) growth estimates for the current fiscal year from 7.3% to 6.7%.

Since then, the ruling party has been pains to push a positive narrative on the economy,  extent of emailing clips of the speech to journalists who write about the economy.

So, what is the current state of the economy? Here’s a reality check.

How many jobs has the economy created?

Modi said: “Upto March 2014, the subscriber base of the Employees Provident Fund Organization (EPFO) stood at 3.26 crore. Over the last three years, the numbers increased to 4.8 crore. Some people forget that this number can’t increased without a corresponding increase in employment.”

Reality Check: EPFO numbers have increased, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that total employment has increased. In July this year, this jump in EPFO subscribers was attributed to a government amnesty scheme which allowed firms to come clean on their actual staff strength without being penalized. In a detailed note, Mahesh Vyas, Managing Director and CEO of the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), explained why using EPFO data as a proxy for job creation is “fraught with danger.”

Referring to the jump in the subscriber base, Vyas wrote: “This is not new employment. It is merely enrollment of employed persons into EPFO.”

Continue reading Modi says the economy isn’t so bad; He’s right – it’s worse

Feminists say ‘NO’ to recent rape judgments: There is nothing feeble about it

The following is a statement by feminist organisations . To add your name to the statement, please sign in the comments section.

In the wake of the protests following the 2012 Delhi gangrape, India had witnessed a welcome sharpening of understanding around sexual violence and consent. Legal reform recognized the principle of affirmative consent – i.e the principle that consent must be nothing short of an unequivocal positive ‘Yes’ (whether through words or gestures) to engage in a sexual act.

In public discourse and popular understanding too, the understanding that ‘No means No’ had been strengthened. Recent Court verdicts and orders have however dealt a deep blow to this hard-won progressive advance.In the wake of the protests following the 2012 Delhi gangrape, India had witnessed a welcome sharpening of understanding around sexual violence and consent. Legal reform recognized the principle of affirmative consent – i.e the principle that consent must be nothing short of an unequivocal positive ‘Yes’ (whether through words or gestures) to engage in a sexual act. In public discourse and popular understanding too, the understanding that ‘No means No’ had been strengthened. Recent Court verdicts and orders have however dealt a deep blow to this hard-won progressive advance.

Continue reading Feminists say ‘NO’ to recent rape judgments: There is nothing feeble about it

[Watch] Marching with the Bhim Army!


This October, a colleague and I tracked a group of young Dalits fighting caste atrocities in Uttar Pradesh. The documentary posted above is one part of an extended multimedia project. See the entire project here:

Everybody Loves A Good Riot

This here is a 360 video of Friday namaaz at the Rangrezi masjid in Lisad, a village where 13 Muslims were killed in the Muzaffarnagar Riots of 2013.

Play the video, and tilt your phone left, right, up or down to explore the mosque. If you are watching this on your computer, click on the screen and drag your mouse to look around this space.

I shot this video last week in Muzaffarnagar as part of “Everybody Loves A Good Riot” – an immersive multimedia project detailing western Uttar Pradesh’s “riot economy”. The story features 2 more 360 videos like the one above, as well as a text story to mark the 3rd anniversary of the Muzaffarnagar riots. Experience the full story here

[Audio] Funky Protest Music: Delhi Sultanate on Music, Politics, and Cultural Appropriation

Earlier this month I caught up with Delhi Sultanate, a member of the SkaVengers – a Delhi based reggae ensemble – around the launch of their new album XX or Double Cross to talk about their music, the unlikely journey of Udham Singh, a Indian revolutionary best known for assassinating General Dyer, and “Why Reggae?”.

Apart from the interview below, we’ve also got links to some of their music – listen, learn and enzoy.

 Here’s the video for Frank Brazil


[Kafila Audio] Dilli Tha Jiska Naam: Recollections of a Forgotten City

Last week I caught up with Shubhum Mishra, a cartographer/geographer/urban planner, in Sundar Nursery – a Mughal garden turned  colonial green house spanning 70 acres in the heart of Delhi – that shall should be open to the public sometime next year.

Shubhum has just transliterated Intizar Husain’s famous book – Dilli Tha Jiska Naam – from the original Urdu/farsi script to devnagari, in the hope of making this incredible resource more accessible to north Indian readers. In this conversation he reads excerpts from the book and I asked him why modern Indian cities are so spectacularly ugly.

Listen in for a fascinating description of Chandini Chowk and “Old Delhi” – back from when “Old Delhi” was the only Delhi around.  Shubhum will respond to comments on the site. His book is now available in most book stores around the city and you can buy it here


[Audio: Hindi] Prashant Jha on Upper Caste Madhesis taking the Sorry Pledge

In the second instance of what I hope will become a regular feature on Kafila, I caught up with fellow journalist and Kafila contributor Prashant Jha on the We Are Sorry Campaign for Social Reform in Madhes , where upper-caste Nepali Hindus acknowledge they have benefited from the centuries long oppression of pretty much everyone else.

In our conversation Prashant addresses the substantive and well-founded criticism of the pledge [another example of upper-castes setting the terms of debate and discourse, largely symbolic] as well as broader questions of Nepali politics and nation-hood.

He will respond to comments on this site. Let me know if there are any particular themes you would like us to explore in our new audio work. All audio files in this series are freely downloadable, and shareable – so you can download them to your phone and listen on your commute to where ever.


[Statement] Does the “Liberal Cause” need Tejpal? Complainant Responds

Earlier today, the Mid-Day newspaper carried a short piece arguing that the so-called “media trial” of Tarun Tejpal, for raping a junior colleague, had damaged the “liberal” cause, at a time when personal freedoms are under assault in India. The article concluded by hoping that Tejpal would make a “come back” – presumably to save us all from the Big Bad BJP.

The article is not just profoundly misogynist and ignorant, it also conflates all resistance to oppression in its many forms with Tehelka and Tejpal’s transactional and dubious politics.

Here we reproduce the complainant’s response to the Mid-Day piece:

Fighting patriarchy, sexual violence and harassment at the workplace should be the cornerstone of any progressive politics. For TT’s supporters to claim that all should be forgiven because the liberal cause needs him is completely bogus. There was nothing liberal about the source of Tehelka and Think’s funding, or the fact that stories in the newsroom were killed whenever they threatened the editor’s friends.

If Tehelka was so righteous and embattled, how did its editor in chief amass huge properties in Delhi, Goa, Mumbai and Nainital? If a media trial destroyed Tejpal, how does he continue to pay his huge and expensive battery of lawyers? Finally — whom does this delay in the ‘fast track trial’ benefit? What kind of justice should one hope for when wealthy and influential criminals are lobbying with journalists, politicians and industrialists to hold an international conclave under the guise of “liberalism”?


[Audio] Delhi: A Hydrological History

In summer, Delhi’s fancy turns grimly to thoughts of thirst.

How can a mega-city provide a safe and sustainable supply of water to its 24 million residents? How has it done so in the past? What do we lose when we turn our backs on a river,  turn our streams into sewers and lay concrete over our ponds?

In this conversation, Sohail Hashmi summons the Delhi of history, and  the Delhi of his childhood through recollections of the Yamuna, ponds, streams, and the Urdu Bazaar where everyone had a favourite well from where they drew their daily sustenance.

Like what you hear? Leave us comments on how we can expand our audio section


Reading Foucault in Mahendragarh


In March this year in a rural hamlet 3 hours by train from New Delhi, the local edition of Hari Bhoomi carried an unusual piece of news: Central University of Haryana (CUH) at Mahendragarh, had filed a police complaint against a Facebook page.

The story was short on specifics, but an email to the university registrar, Ram Dutt, elicited a reply:

“Yes, University has filed a complaint against the CUH Media page (anonymously administered unlawfully using acronym of the University) to trace the identity of the page. As the University is Autonomous Body and has the right to continuous vigil to maintain the reputation of the University on the Internet World …”

What was this page, “anonymously administered”, that had the administration so upset? Who were these students “unlawfully using the acronym of the university” to besmirch the university’s reputation “on the Internet World”?

At first glance, the CUH Media page was just like the millions of pages on Facebook visited by a small band of followers – at last count it had just 174 “Likes” – who trolled each other. But a closer look at the posts, the comments they attracted, and their ripples offline, since the page was started in September 2015, suggested the gradual emergence of a spiky student politics in one of India’s newest central universities. Read More


North East Students’ Forum JNU Protests the defamation of JNU by “Dossier”

North East Students’ Forum JNU organized a protest march on May 4, demanding strong action against teachers who are involved in preparing the “internal dossier”. The dossier was also burnt by NESF at Administration Block – Freedom Square – JNU.

Some images from the march




A third woman accuses Pachauri of harassment

Yesterday, a young woman accused TERI’s Rajendra Pachauri of harassing her when she worked briefly as an intern when she was only 19 years old. When she resisted Pachauri’s advances, the woman says in her statement, her contract – originally signed for a duration of one year – was terminated in only 4 months. Here, we reproduce her statement in full – as obtained from her lawyers.

I have read the story “Rajendra Pachauri speaks out over sexual harassment claims”, published in The Guardian. I remember that in the third week of February 2015, I had read some news reports which said that an employee of TERI had filed a criminal complaint against R.K. Pachauri for sexually harassing her. On reading these news reports, I was 0% surprised. I can very much relate to what the other women wrote in her statement. When I was 19, I worked for 4 months (end of 2008) at TERI, as Pachauri’s secretary. Pachauri’s claim that his computer was hacked is totally false. From my point of view, this is right in line with his character, and not a case of his computer being hacked. I think it is important for me to now make my statement public so that people know the truth about Pachauri.

Here is what I recall from my time in TERI.  Continue reading A third woman accuses Pachauri of harassment

Rebellion as Contagion


Perhaps this is the infection, the gangrene, that Justice Pratibha Rani fears: a slogan, chanted in the streets of Srinagar as a matter of routine, finds an opening at a university campus in New Delhi. Freed from the usual suspects, unmoored from the routine skirmishes, deaths, and encounters, along the Line of Control, the slogan floats through a university corridor – distracting rows of disciplined students from their academic pursuits.

A slogan’s explosive power, it seems, is not just about what is shouted – but rather where it appears, and who takes up the call. This realisation offers us an opportunity, long sought, to think through this troubling question of “Freedom of Expression.” Read the rest of this piece here

Caste, sedition, oppression: JNU round-up

Earlier this week, I tried to join the many dots of violence at universities into a coherent pattern. My central contention is:

Spirited resistance in campuses across the country suggests the politics of India’s youth are more fluid and assertive than expected. The mid-1990s empowerment of historically oppressed castes, narratives of economic aspiration from the 2000s and an instinctive suspicion of authoritarianism have come together to forge a bold poetic new politics of desire that has befuddled even ruthless and astute politicians like the prime minister.


Modi’s government uses outdated laws, a pliant police force and Hindu student organizations as a battering ram to crush this awakening, exacerbating the discord between a prime minister determined to stamp his authority on an unruly nation and students enraptured by a thrilling moment of unlikely solidarities that could define their generation.

Read the rest of the piece here:

A message of Solidarity and a Statutory Warning: Pankaj Mishra

Guest Post by author Pankaj Mishra
One can only welcome the broad coalition that has sprung up against the assault on JNU and in defense of the right–eternally vouchsafed to students–to intellectual freedom. But the imperative of solidarity should not make us forget that this multi-pronged violence—ordered by the government, and assisted by police officers, university officials, lawyers and sections of the media—has been in the making for a while—at least a decade and a half.
The empowerment of a technocratic elite that presumes to know exactly what the ‘New India’ ought to do in order to be wealthy and powerful made much intellectual and artistic endeavour, not to mention political struggle, seem unnecessary. Its cherished epithet ‘jholawallah,’ aimed to scornfully delegitimate a whole spectrum of demands for justice and equality as well as a culture of reflection and debate. Wealth-creators and their lackeys in politics, business and the media have long been united in their contempt for intellectual dissent—roughly interpreted as anything that seems to impede or slow down their own progress towards more wealth and power.

Continue reading A message of Solidarity and a Statutory Warning: Pankaj Mishra

JNU: 1975, 1983 and 2016: Two interviews

IMG_6506At the JNU rally in Delhi yesterday, I caught up with JNU alumni and historians, Rana Behal and Mukul Mangalik and asked them about their experiences as students at JNU in the 1970s (Behal) and 1980s (Mangalik) and what brought them to Mandi House on a damp, but pleasant, thursday afternoon.

Continue reading JNU: 1975, 1983 and 2016: Two interviews

Why I am returning my Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar

In 2012, I was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar, an award given by the Akademi for writers under the age of 35. At the time, I was conflicted about accepting the award as I wondered if I should accept an award conferred by the state.

I chose to accept the award as I believed the Akademi’s official charter that states that the institution is an autonomous, publicly funded body registered as a society under the Societies Registration Act of 1980. Thus, the Akademi, to use an analogy, is an autonomous institution much the same way that public universities are autonomous – they are state-funded, i.e. they are run on public money, but are not government run. The Akademi award is thus a state honour, not a “government” honour – and this is an important distinction. Continue reading Why I am returning my Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar