All posts by Zainab Bawa

I am lost in life. I am running to lose myself and to lose all the handles that I have been holding on to.

Faith, religion, ritual, identity, dogma – how do I understand this?

I walked into Anjali’s  house. She lives in one of the Rehabilitation and Resettlement colonies in Bombay which were developed to provide housing for slum dwellers and railway slum dwellers affected by the creation of roads infrastructure in Mumbai. Her house is a one-room tenement. She has created a litte bedroom space by placing a large showcase unit which separates the living room and the bedroom. I sat down to talk with her when my eyes fell on the Mecca-Medina mosque photograph which was placed on the wall facing her kitchen, above her newly purchased washing machine. For a moment, I was not sure if I had seen correct. Then, while continuing the talking, I glanced carefully again. It was the Mecca-Medina mosque photograph which is usually found in the homes of Bohra Muslims, Shias, Iranis and Sunnis as some kind of a visible mark of religion or show of faith and practice (or perhaps something else, I am not sure). I was both intrigued and amused. Continue reading Faith, religion, ritual, identity, dogma – how do I understand this?

51% = legitimacy

With the elections around the corner, the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) election system used in India is being blamed for most of the ills in the Indian political system. This post is the outcome of some of the discussions and conversations that Barun Mitra of the Liberty Institute and I have been having regarding the FPTP system.

Briefly, the FPTP system is based on the principle of  “winner-takes-it-all” i.e., the candidate who gets majority of the votes is declared victorious. One of the most common criticisms made against the FPTP system is that candidates win by very narrow margins.  It has been suggested that candidates must get at least 51% of the votes in order for their victory to be deemed as legitimate. It is interesting to note that so far in the history of elections in India, not a single candidate has been dismantled or at least challenged on the grounds that s/he won by 20% of the votes in  the constituency. Therefore, is the criticism misplaced?

Both Barun and I want to suggest that narrow victory margins are in fact the strength of the Indian electoral system. This is because:

Typically, only 50% of the population in the constituency votes in any election. If the victorious candidate has won by 20% of the votes, he has actually received 40% of the votes (given that only 50% of the people are voting).

  1. The narrow victory margins keep the threshold of entry naturally low. This encourages aspirants to enter the electoral fray. If candidates won by 51% of the total votes, it would mean that political parties would have to field heavyweights and stalwarts and it would also discourage novices and independents from contesting the elections.
  2. The narrow victory margins intensifies political competition and keeps candidates and parties on their toes. New aspirants can cut into the vote bases of popular candidates and parties. Moreover, the narrow margins makes it imperative for candidates and parties to attract voters from various backgrounds and widen their appeal instead of confining themselves to gathering votes on the basis of identity and particularistic appeals.

The Shame of A Name

This has never happened to me before. But then, there is always a first time for everything in life.

My name is Zainab Bawa.

“Are you Punjabi?”

“Are you Parsi?”

“What are you?” Arjun bhai, the hawker outside VT station had once asked me. “Muslim,” I had replied. And then, very bashfully, he said to me, “Just asking. Could not make out. You speak such good Marathi. And then, after all, we are all of the humanity kind – you cut my finger, the blood that oozes out will be the same as yours.” Continue reading The Shame of A Name

Right to the City? Rethinking Urbanization, Urban Restructuring, Change and How the City is Accessed Physically and Symbolically …

David Harvey published his piece Right to the City in the New Left Review Issue of September-October 2008. Briefly, he describes the capitalist process and how the city has been the space for investing surplus capital. Specifically, this is done through the constant construction boom, be it housing or infrastructure creation. Harvey is suggesting that the global crises which has affected cities across the world (also because these cities were deeply implicated in the conditions that produced the crisis) is now offering an opportunity for the marginalized “classes” of the world to come together and take control of the “surpluses” which are generated at the expense of the cities. He proposes that if the marginalized people across the world were to unite, they could probably demand a human right to the city which goes beyond merely accessing individual urban resources. The right to the city involves re-creating ourselves in the process of re-creating our cities, in consonance with the higher values of equality and social justice. Continue reading Right to the City? Rethinking Urbanization, Urban Restructuring, Change and How the City is Accessed Physically and Symbolically …

In the midst of blasts and fireworks across cities …

[While this post is also posted on my blog, I want to add a small qualification as to why I have put this up on Kafila as well. This post goes out on Kafila in the optimistic spirit of peace and wisdom in our hearts in the midst of the various blasts that have been taking place in different cities across India.]

(I write in the spirit of my words and in submission of myself to my vulnerabilities and to the present …)

One blast here,

One there,

One everywhere.

Today here,

Tomorrow there.

One blast here

And one blast there.

So that is what we, in various parts of the world, have been hearing about in the last two days. And yet, the indifference on my skin remains. It only thickens. But I remain sensitive to more mundane issues that concern me/bother me/sit on my mind/nag me. And what is sitting on my mind as of now, is that beautiful feeling of vulnerability and the thought of what it means to be vulnerable in the city. The feeling of vulnerability is beautiful as of now because I write in the solitude of music, my words and my difficult and vulnerable self, shut off from the noise of the blasts and of the noise of the crowds that existed in my space a while ago.

Continue reading In the midst of blasts and fireworks across cities …

The Idea and the Practice of a Slum

“Right there, right there!”
“Where? I can’t see the damn station. Where is it?”
“Right there, you walk past that little lane, you will hit the station.”
Grudgingly, I walked through the lane and lo and behold! I was at the platform of Govandi railway station. It just took me a little row of settlements and some open drains running by them to get to that wretched Govandi station (not to forget to mention, passing by some of the children playing around and that sole bhaiyya woman sitting idly).
Did I say wretched? Yes, wretched is the feeling I get when I am at Govandi station. Perhaps in my life, I must have been to Govandi station exactly six times. Of the four of those six times, I have traveled in the east of Govandi, towards the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). But the last two times, I have actually experienced the wretchedness of Govandi station, when I have had to get off platform number 1 and then go past all the squatter settlements, till I eventually get to the infamously famous Lallubhai Compound.

Continue reading The Idea and the Practice of a Slum