Category Archives: Debates

Taslima Nasreen and the Spirit of Islam

It is said that after he announced his Prophethood Hazrat Mohammed suffered severe persecution in Mecca. The vitriol and calumny extended from the verbal to the physical. There was one woman who would always throw filth on him whenever he passed by her house. He would unfailingly take the same route everyday and she would equally invariably throw filth on him. He never protested. One day as he passed her house, she was missing. He inquired after her and learning that she was sick he went up to her room, and finding her bed-ridden, tended to her. I grew up listening to a lot of stories from my grandmother about the Prophet Mohammed. Told in an anecdotal form, the stories largely avoided his image as a conqueror and concentrated instead on his personality, specially his grace under hardship. I narrate this story especially to remind my compatriots about what they might do when faced with hostility, or criticism.

I write this particularly in the context of Taslima Nasrin, whose vise expires this week and she still does not know whether it will be extended or not. Taslima Nasrin must be given an opportunity to stay on in India, and must be provided that opportunity not as a grace or favor but because she is, as a South Asian, as a fellow human, fully entitled to it. My appeal rests not merely on a liberal idea of freedom of expression, or on making this a litmus test for India’s pluralism. India’s pluralism, where it exists in practice, is not dependent on appeals or testimonials from intellectuals. Our pluralism does not, and has not, precluded violent confrontations between different social groups. However, we also have countervailing traditions of coming to a working adjustment with each other, which, as an aside, partly explains why the word ‘adjust’ is so popular in all Indian languages.

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Aman Sethi on Gajar Matar

This is something that i have been thinking of ever since Chomsky et
all brought out their series of letters on Nandigram
, left unity etc, and now Tariq Ali on Why he will
not participate in Turin Book Fair
. At such points, i imagine the
writer of the letter in an almost kung-fu posture – balanced on one
foot, maybe raised on one toe to make the stance more complete, the
other leg bent at the knee, hands in classic double punch pose. The
moment of “taking a stand”, defining his/her stance.
Continue reading Aman Sethi on Gajar Matar

Conscience of the Company

A nocturnal gas leak in 1984 took the lives of more than 7,000 people in Bhopal over a three-day span, and a further 15,000 in the years that followed. The leak came from a pesticide plant owned by Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), now owned by Dow Chemical (DOW). The company is still denying its responsibility, and refuses to reveal the toxicological information of the gas, thwarting medical efforts to deliver appropriate treatment to more than 100,000 surviving victims. Should not there be a conscience of the company, which ensures that the Bhopal factory site and its surroundings are promptly and effectively decontaminated, that the groundwater is cleaned up, that the stockpiles of toxic and hazardous substances left at the site are removed, and that full reparation, restitution, compensation and rehabilitation are promptly provided for the continuing damage done to people’s health and environment by the ongoing contamination of the site? Should they not be ashamed of the lack of effective regulation and accountability systems, which have meant that court cases are dragging on, and corporations and their leaders continuing to evade accountability for thousands of deaths, widespread ill-health and ongoing damage to livelihoods?

Of course, our government has the primary obligation to secure universal enjoyment of human rights, and this includes an obligation to protect all individuals from the harmful actions of others, including companies. However, while the government has been frequently failing in regulating the human rights impact of business or ensuring access to justice for victims of human rights abuses involving business, the companies too have been complicit in their human rights abuses. In a democracy, a government will be taken to task for its failure. At the same time, there has also to be a call for the companies to be conscientious and accountable for their activities related to human rights. A few of them claim to engage with human rights responsibilities through voluntary consultations, relief and rehabilitation initiatives. While these have a role to play, such voluntarism can never be a substitute for concrete standards on businesses’ mandatory compliance with human rights. In India, as a minimum requirement, all companies should respect the right to information; free, prior, informed consent; and no displacement without rehabilitation, regardless of the sector, state or context in which they operate.

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Climaterror, boredom and media

The pressing, in fact the overpowering need to keep people perpetually agog with false excitement, generated by the fear of impending doom, played out in all its gory details over the last three days across the gossip channels that go in the name of News Channels and Glamour sheets that try to pass of as Newspapers.

26th January had come and gone, Sarkozy had come and gone without giving us the nuclear fuel that would have overnight made the greatest democracy into the second or third or fourth or the nth most happening country in the world.

Continue reading Climaterror, boredom and media

Three Responses to Prabhat Patnaik – Praful Bidwai, Dilip Simeon, Manash Bhattacharjee

[As part of the ongoing post-Nandigram debate, we publish below three more responses to Prabhat Patnaik’s earlier attack on non-CPM Left intellectuals. We publish them here for record and general interest and do not necessarily endorse all the comments. – Admin]

[Praful Bidwai’s piece was first published in Mathrubhoomi magazine. It was forwarded to us by way of Manju Menon with the following interesting prefatory comment:

“The West Bengal Coastal Zone Management Authority (WBCZMA) that recommended the change in status of Nayachar from CRZ I to CRZ III so that the chemical hub can be located here has as one of its members Smt Tamalika Panda Seth, the Haldia Municipality Chairperson. She is the wife of CPM MP Laxman Seth (“who was largely held responsible for the spiralling violence in Nandigram.”). She was made member of the
Authority when it was reconstituted in March 2005. She was elected as Chairperson when the CPM retained its power in Haldia in the 2007 civic polls.

The state Cabinet had approved the Nayachar site in its August 17 meeting. After this, it was only a matter of time before it prevailed over the WBCZMA! No amount of ‘scientific data’ can possibly stop the change of status of Nayachar from CRZ I to III.

‘Another case of regulatory capture’?”]


By Praful Bidwai

Prabhat Patnaik has done what no other intellectual allied to West Bengal’s Left Front has even attempted after Nandigram: namely, try to turn the tables on Left-leaning critics of the CPM by gratuitously attacking them for their ” messianic moralism” and their presumed
“disdain” for “the messy world of politics”.

His agenda goes well beyond defending the CPM or apologising for one of the most shameful episodes in the Indian Left’s history, involving the killing of peasants, devastation of thousands of livelihoods, sexual violence, and gross abuse of state power. It is to declare all criticism of the CPM’s policies and actions illegitimate and
misconceived, however sympathetic or inspired by radical ideas it might be.

The impact of Patnaik’s article will be to prevent rethinking within the CPM, which could produce course correction. Ironically for Patnaik, it will only strengthen the party’s neoliberal orientation and the “cult of development” that neoliberalism spawns, which he
rails against.

Worse, it will harden the West Bengal CPM’s readiness to brutalise peasants and workers (in whose name it speaks) in the interests of the rich and powerful, like the Tatas, Jindals, and the Salim group which is a front for Indonesia’s super-corrupt Suharto family.

Continue reading Three Responses to Prabhat Patnaik – Praful Bidwai, Dilip Simeon, Manash Bhattacharjee

Looking forward looking back

While the Bali conference is finally over, work on its roadmap is only just begun. Below, am pasting a summary of Bali prepared by the Earth Negotiations Bulletin. The full report can be found on their website:



You should not be impelled to act for selfish reasons, nor should you be attached to inaction. (Bhagavad Gita. 2.47)

Marking the culmination of a year of unprecedented high-level political, media and public attention to climate change science and policy, the Bali Climate Change Conference produced a two-year “roadmap” that provides a vision, an outline destination, and negotiating tracks for all countries to respond to the climate challenge with the urgency that is now fixed in the public mind in the wake of the headline findings of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report. The outline destination is an effective political response that matches both the IPCC science and the ultimate objective of the Convention; it was never intended that the Bali Conference would focus on precise targets. Instead, the divergent parties and groups who drive the climate regime process launched a negotiating framework with “building blocks” that may help to square a number of circles, notably the need to reconcile local and immediate self-interest with the need to pursue action collectively in the common and long-term interests of people and planet. The informal dialogue over the past two years has now been transformed into a platform for the engagement of parties from the entire development spectrum, including the United States and developing countries.

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Monobina Gupta on Inconvenient Women

Recently Kiran Bedi, the country’s first woman police officer, sought voluntary retirement after being in the eye of a storm following her allegations of gender discrimination in the police force. Bedi, who had transformed Tihar jail from filthy dungeons to a clean and livable place and has had an outstanding career, was superseded for the post of Delhi’s police commissioner. Because she was a woman.

Women in civil service have come up against sexism time and again. Madhu Bhaduri, who joined the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) in 1968, recalls how women IFS officers launched their first protest against blatant gender discrimination in this elite branch of service, which was at that time wrapped up in layers of  discriminatory codes.

Here is an account of how it all started…

Continue reading Monobina Gupta on Inconvenient Women