All posts by Shivam Vij

The Narrative of Corruption

Good governance, accountability, transparency, efficiency
Good governance, accountability, transparency, efficiency
Good governance, accountability, transparency, efficiency

Good governance, accountability, transparency, efficiency – the mantra of new urban management as you all know. Standing from the pulpits of the city with who I share an ambiguous relationship, estrange yet intimate, I now deliver one more narrative of corruption.

Friends, Romans and countrymen, a few months ago I started meeting up with some technicians, some politicians, some actors in local politics, some financiers, some lumpen proletariat and some of the lumpen bourgeoise. Conversations and teas revealed that corruption is more ambiguous than the transparency of good governance and the accountability of transparency – that corruption is an important pawn in the new chess of urban management and that corruption has facets, some evident, some hidden and some yet to be revealed. Who plays the corruption card, directs the game (and the direction). Continue reading The Narrative of Corruption

Absent of the absent: The elusive stories of Naiyer Masud

By Gaurav Dikshit

The incantatory quality of Urdu writer Naiyer Masud’s ‘fictional universe’–as translator Muhammad Umar Memon puts it–would seem witchcraftish to isolated and uncertain readers. Brittle and fluid, the painstakingly imagined worlds of these short stories have no resemblance in world literature. As silent and palpable as a dream, they rustle the senses until one realizes they are quite unprecedented in form and as ambitious in their idea of fiction and of tragedy.

Masud has said his stories are based on his dreams, some recurring over months which he keeps recording on waking up. He has also confessed to be a ghar-ghusna (stayer-at-home), a phrase quintessentially of Lucknow, the city where he has lived all his life in the house his father built. Writing his first story at the age of 12, he retained its plot when he began publishing at 35. He has survived by teaching Persian at the Lucknow University, though he says “My true occupation, at any rate, is reading and, occasionally, writing.” Continue reading Absent of the absent: The elusive stories of Naiyer Masud

TRP: Television Rallying Point

Is Afzal now just a rallying point for intellectuals?

A day before the fifth anniversary of Parliament attack, some of country’s renowned journalists, activists and writers – led by Booker Prize-winner Arundhati Roy – came together to release a book that raises 13 “damning” questions about the attack. But is Afzal simply an intra-elite debate among India’s Left liberals or do the intellectuals actually have a public constituency outside the seminar halls of Delhi and Mumbai? [CNN-IBN]

A rallying point, says the dictionary, is “a point or principle on which scattered or opposing groups can come together.” So the question suggests that ‘intellectuals’ are merely exploiting Afzal to ‘come together’; the act of ‘coming together’ is the sole motive of the exercise. Continue reading TRP: Television Rallying Point

God and Faith In The Life of Indians

What is common between golfer Jyoti Randhawa and actress Khushboo ? In fact, looking at their distinct fields, it would certainly be difficult to discern any thread of commonality. But if one would have come across the latest survey published in a leading newspaper one would already have got an answer. According to this survey, both of them do not believe in ‘any higher power’. For Jyoti ‘the only power I believe in is willpower- the power within you’, for Khushboo ‘my power is within me. I live for people whom I love and who love me’.
Interestingly people like Jyoti or Khushboo cannot be considered as lone rangers in this society which is becoming rather more religious with time. (A trend which is definitely at variance with what is happening in the West) Sixty six respondents out of a group of thousand plus clearly stated that they are non-believers.

Of course, the commonality shared by these two stalwarts of their own fields vis-a-vis their understanding about ‘higher power’ , is not the only interesting fact which readily emerges from the survey done by the Times of India people with TNS, a leading market research agency to know ‘how Indians view God and their faith’.(10 city TOI-TNS poll ( TOI, 26 th Nov 2006) )
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To be very frank , the recent survey done across ten cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Patna, Lucknow and Nagpur- with 1,007 respondents, which was restricted to people falling in socio-economic categories A,B and C, present a mixed set of conclusions. Continue reading God and Faith In The Life of Indians

Heard that one about the Newspaper and the Sealing Squad?

Yes, yes, yes! The rumour that you have all heard, or haven’t but wished you had, or would have heard except that you read about it first, is true! The MCD sealing squad did visit the offices of our friendly neighbourhood, pro-sealing newspaper – The Indian Express. And, till recently, my friends at the IE were filing their stories from nearby cybercafes – possibly the same cyber cafes that night be sealed soon if they are too close to “posh category A and B South Delhi houses.”

The most recent editorial that I read in the Express (titled Bullets, Bulldozers) was soon after the Seelampur shootings and observed that “We would, therefore, urge the court to stay the course. Not just for the rule of law but for Delhi’s future. The time has also come throw out the anachronistic rent control law which has contributed immensely to skewing the property market. One of the great incentives for traders to remain where they are, is the ridiculously low rents they pay. The court should now start asking some tough questions about why Delhi has proved to be so impervious to rent reform.” Continue reading Heard that one about the Newspaper and the Sealing Squad?

Chandrabhan Prasad and the Other Backward Classes

Outlook

In light of the two posts that have appeared on this blog on the peculiar politics of Chandrabhan Prasad, I reproduce below an essay I wrote for Himal Southasian a few months ago, and which CBP refused to respond to. The question of Dalit-Bhaujan unity, which is one of the points in Aditya’s succinct post, is by no means a simple one, and I do realise that I left it open-ended in this essay. But my point was more about reservations for OBCs and CBP’s opposition of it, than Dalit-Bahujan politics. Given that the two are not unrelated, I have been thinking a lot on this – Gopal Guru and Bhalchandra Mungekar are two amongst many who say that the OBCs need aan Ambedkarite political movement. Kancha Iliah and VT Rajshekhar are amongst the OBC thinkers who agree. But I don’t see that political movement happening anytime soon. Such political stagnation is another aspect of demography-driven dalit politics. Continue reading Chandrabhan Prasad and the Other Backward Classes

Population control in Gujarat

Narendra Modi, the architect of a pogrom in which the Vishwa Hindu Parishad mobs killed around two thousand Muslim Indians in 2002, onec made a controversial statement saying that Muslims reproduce so as to turn five of them into twenty five, thus increasing their population. This is conventional wisdom an old cliche of the Hindu right that tries to scare you into believeing that Muslims are going to outnumber Hindus by the time an Indian lands on the moon. Modi later claimed, with intellectual honesty typical of the Hindu right, that he was quoted out of context, that he was merely talking of population control, with no reference to any community in particular. What those of us outside Gujarat didn’t get to know is that he backed up his claim with a ‘massive’ population control programme. Continue reading Population control in Gujarat

The Orkut Brahmins

This excerpt from a discussion on the message board of a ‘Brahmin’ community on the social networking site young people spend hours on these days, offered without comment:

T.U.»»: Why do we have Ram’s Picture ?
I know that Ram was one of the avatars of Lord Vishnu, but the thing is Ram was not a Brahmin, he was a Kshatriya..The Raghukul Gotra among Kshatriyas are from Ram’s descendants..So as a Hindu I respect Shri Ram, but as a Brahmin It is lord Vishnu we should worship..what say? Correct me if I am wrong ..

krishna: just a reply……..
well……there r lot many humans to bind in castism man…..keep LORD RAM separate from this stupid concept……GOD don’t have any cast they r above of all this…..
if u say ur a brahmin u shud keep this simple fact in mind that our GOD’s doesn’t come under the concepts of what we brahmins created as CAST………any correction of what ever i said always welcome….thanx
and one more thing LORD vishnu is neighter a kshatriya nor a brahmin…… Continue reading The Orkut Brahmins

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Sometimes only a good old cliché can capture the essence of certain things.

How many times in the past few years, while watching television have we wanted to strangle the anchor (“aap ke saath itna na-insaafi hui hai, aapko is waqt kaisa lag raha hai” or “There has been a gruesome terrorist attack at the IISC in Bangalore, dont go away, we will return to the story immediately after out reporter updates you on Aamir Khan’s wedding which is taking place in the same city). And yet while watching what is perhaps the closest televised strangling of a reporter, it was with a strange sense of pleasure and fear.

The interview that I am referring to is Sagarika Ghose’s of Ram Jethmalani on his decision to defend Manu Sharma. Here is a small sampling

Sagarika Ghose: But as a criminal lawyer, don’t you believe there is a lakshman rekha that even all criminal lawyers have to work under?

Ram Jethmalani: I am sorry. Please don’t talk of this bullshit to me. I know what my lakshman rekha’s are. I have read my rules of the conduct of a lawyer. It will be the saddest day when a lawyer refuses to stand between the state and the final verdict.

Ram Jethmalani: I have told you it’s none of your business—the courts will decide. And for God’s sake, stop becoming judges and Gods. You are over stepping the limits of your duty

Sagarika Ghose: But why don’t you search your own conscience. A young girl was shot in the presence of a hundred people.

Ram Jethmalani: I am searching my own conscience. All this bullshit won’t convince me at all. My conscience is mine and you are not responsible for it. And I don’t sell my conscience either to you or to anybody else nor will I change my professional etiquette because some chit of a girl comes and tells me that something is wrong.

An absolute demolition and indictment of the media, if ever there was one. I guess the fact that the case deals with Manu Sharma of the Jessica Lal case makes us all a little less enthusiastic about this slap in the media’ s face.

But what is really scary however in the interview is the way that the devil of the day-a lustful and loathsome corporate media is pitted against its other- the Courts, the sea of wisdom in which the rule of law sails. So the illegitimacy of the media happens only via the further strengthening of judicial sovereignty; For Jethmalani, the battle for the truth is a battle between the media and the judiciary. Someone has rightly said it is almost impossible to think of battles in the contemporary without being bewildered about where lines are drawn, and what they mean. Stewart Motha for instance accurately describes the battle between Islam and Democracy as a battle between two monotheisms. In India, the battle between the judiciary and the media for the truth takes place at the site of citizenship and the casualties of this battle and its lies are borne by the denizen.

So on the one hand, we have Sagarika Ghosh (self righteous indignance dripping with every syllable) asking “Why me? I am just a voice of the people” and on the other we have Jethmalani’s tirade “You don’t know the rule of the law, you don’t know democracy; you don’t know anything”.

Those who neither have any Faustian contracts, nor can swim very well are in a lot of trouble.

Watchdogs of Another Kind?

Media is presented as a ‘watchdog of democracy’ in today’s times.

But it was really shocking to see a story on IBN 7 ( Friday, 3 rd Nov 2006 around 3-4 p.m.) which rather communicated that in today’s Corporatized times it is metamorphosing into ‘Watchdog against Democracy’. It is time that friends also know about the manner in which media is appealing (instigating would be a better word) to the powers that be that ‘too much’ democracy will be a disaster.

Punjab as everybody knows has a rich tradition of cultural festivals/ gatherings where people/groups from all over the state come together and hold day long/ nightlong programmes where dramas are staged, action songs are staged, book exhibition is organised etc. Anyone who has attended these programmes can come back replenished with energy. One such cultural festival is held in memory of the Ghadarite martyrs which is called ‘Gadari baba ka Mela’.

I do not remember exactly how it was framed but the IBN story did focus on the recently held festival in memory of these martyrs only. Interestingly, the aim of the story was not to give details of the Mela or the rich tradition which is still alive in Punjab but rather to caution the government about the literature/CDs being sold. It also interviewed one of the activists who was managing the stall. Thereafter, the unbelieving presenter proceeded to ask ” How can one allow public distribution of such literature/CDs which help arouse the masses against the state”. There was even a small byte with the local SSP also where the presenter/reporter asked him “How can you allow such things to happen in your vicinity”. The hardened Policeman was cool enough and just said we will enquire.

On dilemmas about property

When I was in Mumbai, I would talk of property from the point of view of an outsider. In that space, I was largely a participant-observer. Now, in Bangalore, I am involved in the everyday conflicts about property. Let me talk of some of my recent experiences in Thilaknagar.

Thilaknagar is touted as one of the most successful slums in Bangalore (I don’t know here what the benchmarks/parameters of this measured sucess are).

In the month of July, the street in my lane was dug up so that it could be concretized. It was agonizing to be part of this process because for fortnights, the muck would lie on the street and rains would make it sloshy, but the contractor would nowhere be seen. (This would have been the usual rant of inefficiency in the language of Civil Society!) Continue reading On dilemmas about property

Politics, political consciousness and being

Sometimes it is a matter of a moment, just that moment …

I headed towards the cobbler at Madhavan Park to repair my broken sandal. He was a darkish man. His shop had a photograph of Dr. Ambedkar.

Around Madhavan Park are some small shops and spaces occupied by people at different times in the day. There is a coobler shop, then a knick-knacks shop which also sells newspapers and is an information space for the auto drivers who are lurking there. A lady also comes by in the afternoon and sets up shop to sell food to the auto drivers and to other clients.

I stood by the coobler shop, watching the cobbler repair my shoe. An old vegetable vendor came by and dropped some tomatoes in the cobbler’s shop. The two of them had a mischievous exchange and the cobbler continued repairing my shoe. I continued watching the cobbler at work, very intently watching him, his facial features, his craft. It struck me then that here is a man who would be called ‘chamar’, a ‘dalit’. But how different is he from me? What is this theory and politics about caste?

My words are proving to be futile here because I am really attempting to describe that moment, that moment where a certain transcendence occurred and I could only see this person repairing my shoe as myself, as me. Such a moment betrays all theory, all politics and it is perhaps such moments which cause major transformations among humankind.

Such moments are those which give me a great amount of hope. There is much hope in this world. We all live by it!

As I walk by Bangalore, pass by the city in the buses, I watch the newly formed cobbler kiosks. Most of them are empty. The occupied cobbler spaces are many. And most of them are laced with photographs of Dr. Ambedkar. This photograph does not appear in a vacumm. It appears as a source of consciousness of being, it emerges out of an assertion of a certain identity.

The empty cobbler kiosks are empty not as a matter of lack of occupancy. They are empty because politically, these spaces are flat, devoid of the very identity which forms the basis of our everyday politics.

We

We is a fast-paced 64 minute documentary that covers the world politics of power, war, corporations, deception and exploitation.

It visualizes the words of Arundhati Roy, specifically her famous Come September speech, where she spoke on such things as the war on terror, corporate globalization, justice and the growing civil unrest.

It’s witty, moving, alarming and quite a lesson in modern history.

We is almost in the style of a continuous music video. The music used sets the pace and serves as wonderful background for the words of Ms. Roy and images of humanity in the world we live all in today.

We is a completely free documentary, created (and released) anonymously on the internet. [www.weroy.org]

But who made it?

“We” is a free documentary produced by an anonymous student in New Zealand. He (or She) goes by the name “anon”. It was released for free on the Internet and first appeared at an Australian web site called resist.com.au.

 

 

Satyameva Jayate? : With Regard to the Impending Execution of Mohammad Afzal Guru in Tihar Jail.

Posted on the Sarai Reader List on 16th October, 2006

A few days from now, a man called Mohammad Afzal Guru, son of Habibullah Guru, currently resident in Ward Number 6 of Jail Number 1 in Tihar Central Prison in Delhi will hang to satisfy the bloodlust of the Indian Republic, unless the President of India thinks otherwise, A few weeks ago, I recall reading the NDTV newscaster Barkha Dutt’s breathless three cheers for the fact that India retains the death penalty (so that the indignant tears in the eyes of television presenters like herself, and the loved ones of murder victims, can be wiped away with each rope that tightens around the neck of condemned prisoners). [See ‘A Battle for Life’: Barkha Dutt, on NDTV Columns, September 20, 2006]

At times like this, when hangmen are asked to practice their moves, nothing comes more in handy than the teflon coated enthusiasm for capital punishment of television crusaders like Barkha Dutt. Great democracies, like the United States of America, the Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan, the Peoples Republic of China, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea and enlightened states like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are known for their zeal in retaining the death penalty as a necessary part of state ritual. The Republic of India is in eminent company, and I am grateful to Barkha Dutt for making me remember that. I need not advance moral and ethical arguments against the death penalty here, because they have been so well countered by Ms. Dutt. Never mind the fact that states that have done away with the death penalty have lower rates of violent crime, never mind the fact the innocence of people that condemned to die has often been established after they have been executed. Ms. Dutt has demonstrated that the death penalty is the balm that comforts her agonized soul. And many of those who argue that the President should not in fact assent to the petition filed by Afzal’s family are also arguing that the Afzal must hang so that the Indian democracy and the loved ones of those who died defending the Indian parliament may rest in peace. The dignity of the Indian Republic hinges on the lever that will catapult Afzal into the empty space under the gallows in Tihar jail. As the noose tightens, our polity will blossom with renewed vigour. Continue reading Satyameva Jayate? : With Regard to the Impending Execution of Mohammad Afzal Guru in Tihar Jail.

Books As Crime

‘So you are the little woman who wrote the book that made this great (American) civil war’
-Abraham Lincoln to Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Bruno Fulgini, a non descript employee at the French Parliament, would not have imagined in his wildest dreams that his tedious and boring job at the Parliament library, would lead him to treasure hunt of another kind.

Today he finds himself metamorphosed into an author and editor, thanks to the sudden discovery of old files of the Paris police, which provided details of its surveillance work done way back in 18 th century. In a report filed by AFP, Mr Fulgini tells us that ‘Beyond criminals and political figures, there are files on writers and artists. In some cases, they go far in their indiscretions.'( The Statesman and The Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 26 th September 2006).

An edited version of these old files, focussing themselves on the writers of those times, has recently come out and is making waves. The said book ‘Writers’ Police’ gives details of the way in which greatest writers of late 18 th century who were living in Paris at that time were kept under surveillance. More...
Definitely even a layperson can understand that the whole exercise was not part of wreaking of vengeance by a frustrated writer who had joined the police force as some senior officer. Neither the police was keen to understand the impact of the actual lifestyles of the writers on societal mindset nor did it cared how a particular author would help unleash a new hairstyle on the block.

In fact the Parisian police had a very specific agenda.

It was clear to these protectors of internal security of a tottering regime that the renowned literati then viz. Victor Hugo, Balzac or Charles Dickens, might be writing fiction, but their sharp focus on the hypocrisy of the aristocrats or the livelihood issues of ordinary people is adding to the growing turmoil in the country. They knew very well that they might be writing fiction for the masses but it is turning out to be a sharp political edge that hit the right target and is becoming a catalyst for change.

While the Parisian police was engaged in tracking down the daily movements of the writers, its present day counterparts in Maharashtra especially from the Chandrapur-Nagpur region have rather devised some ‘easier’ and ‘shortcut routes’ to curb the flow of ideas.And for them it is also immaterial whether the writer in question was alive or dead. Continue reading Books As Crime

And then some more about home …

Taxi driver was driving past Mysore Road. As usual, I asked him where he was originally from and when he had come to Bangalore. Fifteen years ago madam, he told me. We passed by a bus station along Mysore Road. He pointed towards it and said to me, ‘international. Totally international’. I looked at him and said, ‘Aha, international’.

As we continued further, I asked him where he lived in Bangalore. He said Hanumanth Nagar. Where is Hanumanth Nagar, I asked him. It is near Banshankari, he replied. It’s official area. I was a bit flummoxed when I heard the word ‘official’. I asked him to clarify, what does official mean. Like residential, commercial, like that official. I presumed he meant that it was a place where a lot of offices were situated. He continued, proper, water, electricity, no problem. And when he said this, I thought he meant regularized, no problem.

Official, that’s a new term in my dictionary of the city.

A Place Called “Home”

I was headed to the airport, going back from Bangalore to Mumbai. It was one of those thunderous nights, rain pouring heavily. Sridhar was the taxi driver. He promised to get me to the airport right on time. I trusted him.

Around Airport Road, we got stuck in a jam. We started conversing. Sridhar was trained at the National Association of the Blind in Bombay sometime in the early 1980’s. He then came to Bangalore and started teaching here. After a while, I realized that personal and social life cannot be intermingled, he said to me as he continued driving. I then started my own cargo company, doing work for Blue Dart Couriers, ferrying between Bangalore and Bombay. After a while, I stopped because the stress increased. Then I bought a taxi of my own and I drive this taxi now.

Sridhar continued to talk to me about his daughter and asked me for advice on what career in psychology she should pursue. As we neared the airport, suddenly I asked him, where do you live? Banshankari, he answered. Is it your own home? Nahi madam. When I did not have money, I said I will make enough to buy my own home. Now when I have the money, the prices have gone up and I cannot afford to make a purchase. That’s destiny. I don’t have a home of my own.

I carried Sridhar’s words with me. My flight touched Bombay late that night. A day later, I met with Begum. Begum lives in slum settlement in Bombay that is due for resettlement. Begum is leading her block in the slum and is negotiating with builders for in-situ resettlement. Begum tells me about the negotiations that she is carrying out with the builders, legal safeguards that the block and she have worked out to ensure that all of them have a proper place to stay. Eventually, Begum starts to narrate a story, a story of the place called ‘her home’:

I came to this place more than twenty-five years ago. This neighbourhood was largely Muslim. I had a different way of living. Since I was quite educated, I would speak with my children in English. We lived differently. The neighbours thought I was a Catholic lady. Gradually, they started coming to me and began to bring their grievances to me. They started telling me how their children had only one school to go to and that was far away. I decided to help them enrol their children in school. Initially they were afraid, telling me, will private schools admit our children? I said why not. As long as you are paying for their fees, why should they refuse you? Today this area has two good schools. Then the problem was that there was no public BEST bus coming to this area. Along with the residents of this area, I took out a morcha to the local bus station. Today, bus number — comes to this area.

I have realized and I must tell you that people of this area are very loyal. And they will stay loyal to you all their lives. The love that I got from this place, nothing can compensate that. That love, that is it! And I will never leave this place and go!
Tomorrow, we will be resettled. The builder here has told me openly that he is hoping that most of the people who will be given houses here, will sell them off and take the money and buy house some other place and invest the rest in business. I want to tell you that this builder, he wants to ultimately build malls here, and she raised her teacher’s stick and banged it and repeated, he wants to build malls here! That’s it! He wants to build malls here!

I carry only these words with me to tell to you. What it is this place that they call home?

“How does it matter? They were Muslims. They had to die. They are dead.”

Sitting in his second-floor office in the Ahmedabad suburb of Naroda, Bajrangi talks about his NGO, Navchetan, which ‘rescues’ Hindu women who have been ‘lured’ into relationships with Muslim men. “In every house today there is a bomb, and that bomb is the woman, who forms the basis of Hindu culture and tradition,” Bajrangi begins. “Parents allow her to go to college, and they start having love affairs, often with Muslims. Women should just be kept at home to save them from the terrible fate of Hindu-Muslim marriages.”

Bajrangi’s Navchetan works to prevent inter-religious love marriages, and if such a wedding has already taken place, it works to break the union. When a marriage between a Hindu woman and Muslim man gets registered in a court, within a few days the marriage documents generally end up on Bajrangi’s desk, ferreted out by functionaries in the lower judiciary. The girl is subsequently kidnapped and sent back home; the boy is taught a lesson. “We beat him in a way that no Muslim will dare to look at Hindu women again. Only last week, we made a Muslim eat his own waste – thrice, in a spoon,” he reveals with barely concealed pride. All this is illegal, Bajrangi concedes, but it is moral. “And anyway, the government is ours,” he continues, turning to look at the clock. “See, I am meeting Modi in a while today.”

One might dismiss Babu Bajrangi as a bombast when he claims proximity to the chief minister, or describes the beating of Muslim boys. But for a man of obvious stature in society he is also accused of burning Muslims alive. As the chief accused in the infamous Naroda Patiya case, one of the worst instances of brutality during the 2002 violence, he is alleged to have led the mob that killed 89 people in the area. It is a burden that rests lightly on Bajrangi’s shoulders. “People say I killed 123 people,” he says. Did you? Bajrangi laughs, “How does it matter? They were Muslims. They had to die. They are dead.”

Evidence of Bajrangi’s complicity was so overwhelming that even a pliable state administration could not save him from an eight-month stint in prison. “They cannot reduce my hatred for Muslims with that, can they? While in jail, I demolished a small mosque that was located in there,” he says with a sly, childlike grin. Bajrangi’s views on what is wrong with Muslims are unabashedly straightforward. “They are all terrorists. Refuse to sing even the national song. Why don’t they just go to Pakistan? Now, our aim is to create a society where we have as little to do with them as possible.”

The 2002 pogrom in Gujarat was not a standalone event. It had a past, and as Prashant Jha’s essay in Himal tells us, a future.