All posts by Gautam Bhan

A test of dignity and democracy

Today, as the Supreme Court hears the curative petition on Section 377, it has an opportunity to remember its promise to be the last resort of the oppressed, to let dignity be the domain of all.

In 2015, a student at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru was blackmailed and threatened with being publicly outed for being gay. When he refused to pay extortion money, the private letters turned into notices pinned on noticeboards on campus. The words were sharp, relentless and inhumane: “I think it’s completely shameful, bad, immoral and disgusting. You should go kill yourself. Why do you think it’s illegal to be gay in India?”

Evading prejudice

For many queer people, this moment is familiar. It is one that many of us have faced or live in a constant fear of facing. In some ways, it is the latter that is worse. We live our lives anticipating prejudice. Even before it comes, we are constantly censoring, moving, and shaping our lives to evade it or, if we can’t, to survive it. Those of us who have the privilege of privacy scan rooms to find allies, weigh what to tell our doctors, measure out information in our offices, and seek safe spaces. Those without this privilege face a much more direct battle to be who they are: an unrelenting and legitimised public violence that falls on working class bodies in our streets, police stations and public spaces. The law is not the only force behind this violence, but it is an important one. “Why do you think,” the blackmailer asks, “it’s illegal to be gay in India?” When petitioners in the Naz Foundation case argued that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code played an important part in shrouding our lives in criminality and of legitimising violence, this letter was one of many that we wrote against in our heads. Continue reading A test of dignity and democracy

Matters of the Mind and the Agrarian Political Economy in Eastern Maharashtra: Pronoy Rai

Guest post by PRONOY RAI

I interviewed Santosh Daune (name changed), a landless agricultural laborer in the interior drylands of Yavatmal district in Maharashtra last week for my dissertation research. Santosh’s village is about 15 kilometers away from the main road in Yavatmal, 25 kilometers from the nearest Public Health Center, and the nearest railway station is about 90 kilometers away (or two and a half hours by bus). I met with Santosh, who is around 50 years old, at his home – a one room and one kitchen set – built right next to his father’s two-room house in the dalit basti in his village. I wanted to understand Santosh’s views on changes in the village resulting from increased labor migration over the last couple of decades. A lean man with a head full of grey hair, Santosh spoke some Hindi and fluent Vidarbha Marathi. Santosh was unsure about his response to my questions. He wasn’t shaking but he seemed nervous, in a basti where dalit villagers didn’t mind pulling me in to their homes in a hope that I would let the state government know about poverty in the village. I would perhaps be more convincing than the villagers to implore the state government to address extreme poverty in the village.

Continue reading Matters of the Mind and the Agrarian Political Economy in Eastern Maharashtra: Pronoy Rai


The thing about violence is that it is very hard and very easy to talk about. Describing it is simple, empirical, instinctive. There are facts, logistical details to hide behind. Motives to be ascribed, an “incident” to be explained. Mohammad Akhlaq. Dadri. A mob. A(nother) Muslim (dalit/trans/worker/woman’s) body. Meat that is not beef. A murder. A lynching.

Facts are useful. But they also hide things from us. They make violence about its incidence. It’s not. The act is banal. Ordinary. Expected.

Mohammad began to die a long time ago. When violence against particular bodies becomes legitimate, becomes a series of “misunderstandings,” it is not violence at all. It is the order of things. It is not prejudice but probability. Beef, property, a panchayat election, love jihad, a job, an argument, a WhatsApp message – these are not causes, they are just modes. The last circuits in a motherboard whose pattern is set in place.

Mohammad began to die at least as early in 1992. When we speak of his death in September 2015, it is already too late. The violence is not his death. The violence is that his body lost its right to be murdered because it has slowly been stripped of its life, bit by bit, for years.

Continue reading Untitled

Who can build Housing for All?

Policy slogans are usually fragments of a sentence. Make in India. Housing for All. Swatch Bharat. What’s usually missing in the fragment is that the verb has no subject to agree with. For slogans to become statements, missions, policies and actions, someone has to make in india, keep it swachh and build the housing. The big elephant in the room is: who?

For housing, this is a particularly important challenge. The numbers are daunting: a shortage of 18.78 million housing units in 2012. Over 95% of this shortage is for low-income households that make less than Rs 2 lacs total household income per year. Taking the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation’s own formula that a household can afford a house five times its annual income, this means “Housing for All” needs to make nearly 17 million houses all under Rs 10 lacs. That’s the finish line.

So: who should build this housing? Continue reading Who can build Housing for All?

Rattling the bag – Language Knowledge and the transformation of the university in South Africa and India: Dilip Menon

[Note: Recent events in South Africa – from raging student movements across university campuses to xenophobic violence in the streets of Durban – seem to echo so many struggles both inside and outside the university “here.” This is the second post from South Africa that seeks to listen and travel across. The first, by Richard Pithouse, is here.]

Guest post by DILIP MENON 

Susa lo-mtunzi gawena. Hayikona shukumisa lo saka
Move your shadow. Don’t rattle the bag

JD Bold, Fanagalo Phrase Book, Grammar and Dictionary, the Lingua Franca of Southern Africa, 10th Edition, 1977

In the bad old days in South Africa, whites spoke English or Afrikaans, the languages of command. When they did engage with those that did not speak English, there was Fanagalo, a pidgin based on Zulu peppered with English and some Afrikaans. Fanagalo was developed in the mines and allowed directives, if not conversation. The struggle against apartheid produced its freedoms, its heroes and heroines and new dreams of equality. As Richard Pithouse in his article shows, twenty years down the line the sheen has worn. Unemployment, xenophobia, violence, crime and a seemingly entrenched inequality dog our dreams. We live with the constant premonition of becoming an ordinary country, a nation like any other. Continue reading Rattling the bag – Language Knowledge and the transformation of the university in South Africa and India: Dilip Menon

Occupational Hazard- Militarisation and Disaster Vulnerability in Jammu and Kashmir: J&K Coalition of Civil Society


Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society recently released a report called ‘Occupational Hazard: The Jammu Kashmir Floods of September 2014. The full report is available at The following is a short executive summary. 

The Jammu and Kashmir floods of September 2014, occurred in the most densely militarized occupied territory in the world, located in one of its most ecologically fragile– the Western Himalayan region—called the ‘third pole’ for its enormous glacial reserves of fresh water. Warfare, armed conflict and prolonged occupations are widely considered among the most environmentally destructive activities known to mankind. Yet the role of the massive military deployment, and the militarised governance structures of Jammu and Kashmir has not received much attention in this analysis. The military occupation of J and K has included the expropriation, and weaponization of huge areas of land, the building of large scale permanent military installations, and the creation of militarised infrastructure in the ecologically fragile Himalayas, which have contributed directly to the region’s disaster vulnerability. The occupation of civic amenities, public buildings and community spaces has also had a direct impact on emergency preparedness, evacuation and humanitarian response. Using official documents, news reportage, case studies, and oral narratives, the report explores the causes and impacts of the flooding, and local community responses, in terms of survival, rescues and relief. It also presents an analysis of the dominant media framing of the disaster, and the local resistance to media narratives of the militarised humanitarianism of the Indian occupying forces. This report thus raises questions of accountability, governance, media representation, political participation and democracy in the backdrop of a militarised occupation, at the disputed borders of a security state.  Continue reading Occupational Hazard- Militarisation and Disaster Vulnerability in Jammu and Kashmir: J&K Coalition of Civil Society

Letter of Solidarity with Greenpeace India: A Statement

The move by the central government to freeze Greenpeace India’s bank accounts and block sources of funds, is a blatant violation of the constitutional rights to freedom of expression and association. It also seems to be an attempt to warn civil society that dissent regarding development policies and priorities will not be tolerated, even when these are proving to be ecologically unsustainable and socially unjust. These are dangerous signs for the future of democracy in India.

Specific allegations of legal violation contained in the Ministry of Home Affairs’ notice are aspects Greenpeace India needs to respond to. However, the notice also charges the organization with adversely affecting “public interest” and the “economic interest of the State”. These charges give the impression that Greenpeace India is indulging in anti-national activities, using foreign funds. However, dissenting from the government’s development policies, helping communities who are going to be displaced by these policies to mobilise themselves, and generating public opinion for the protection of the environment can by no stretch of imagination be considered anti-national, or against public interest. Quite the contrary, any reasonable policy of sustainable development (which the government claims to adhere to) will itself put into question quite a few of the mining, power, and other projects currently being promoted. ”

Civil society organisations in India have a long and credible history of standing up for social justice, ecological sustainability, and the rights of the poor. When certain government policies threaten these causes, civil society has a justified ground to resist, and help affected communities fight for their rights. This is in fact part of the fundamental duties enjoined upon citizens by the Constitution of India.

Continue reading Letter of Solidarity with Greenpeace India: A Statement