Category Archives: Debates

A Modest Proposal to End All Controversies on Freedom of Expression in India

(apologies for cross posting on Commons Law and Reader List)

As we know well by now from the freedom loving sentiments (that are expressed loudly and frequently) by all sections of the guardians of social order in India, (that is Bharat, that is Hindustan), the real reason why certain insignificant documentary independent and student films, contemporary art exhibitions in university campuses and performances are banned, and their heinous perpetrators arrested has to do with the general populations right to sleep undisturbed each night and not to see anything other than cricket matches, news about cricket matches, election analyses, kaun banega crorepati, Abhishek Bacchan’s wedding, and yoga on TV.

Why should anyone in their right mind want to see, read, listen to or even think about anything else?

Consider the folly that some students in Kottayam have recently contemplated, making a film on of all things ‘Homosexuality’ .

Or, of the students in the Fine Arts Department of M.S.University in Baroda who went ahead and organized an exhibition of student work that contained offensive erotic imagery.

Both of these moves have been met with swift and timely responses. The offending students in Kerala have been expelled by the Christian educational institutition where they were enrolled, and the offending art student in Vadodara, one Chandramohanm has been arrested by the local police at the urging of Hindutva minded citizens.

There are only two things we need to learn from incidents of this nature. The first is as follows –

Actually, all that people need to do is to insist that only the self appointed guardians of public morality (of all stripes and shades) have the right to appear in any broadcast, exhibition, film or other forms of mediated communication. We need every channel to broadcast morally cleansed reality TV all the time. How else will this nation boldly venture where none other has gone before – into that heaven of bliss and freedom known as ennui for the billions.

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Brinda Karat: The Paranoia of a Totalitarian Mind

While West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya adopted a misleadingly deceptive tone, apparently taking all the blame for the unfortunate events that took place in Nandigram (at the 29 March SFI-DYFI rally in Kolkata), the party’s lie-machine continues to overtime on its disinformation campaign. Bhattacharya’s plea for an end to violence and killings, virtually beseeching the ‘Opposition’ to stop killing Leftist (read CPM supporters), is meant to have a specific effect – that of making it appear as though it is really they who are the aggrieved party. It is a belated strategic move, aimed at the more gullible and the wider world outside, to convey the impression that they are at the receiving end. Suddenly all the belligerence seems to have disappeared and this reasonable man appears with folded hands to beg for the return of ‘normalcy’. But this is misleading because, at another level of discourse, this new pose is accompanied by continuous, ever new production of lies and insinuations, by other members and wings/ arms of his party.

The full article was first posted in sacredmediacow.

Sacrifice of Truth in Nandigram

The ‘logic’ of the CPIM and the (West Bengal) State police under its control for launching an all-out attack on the villagers of Nandigram who had totally cut themselves off from the State to counter its anticipated move to dispossess and displace them is extremely clear. The State cannot tolerate the refusal of the people to be ruled by it. That is precisely why it makes use of its sovereign power to demonstrate and establish its supremacy or hegemony. In this particular regard, the State presumably governed by Leftist ideology has acted no different – not at all. The main reason for worry here is that the CPIM has completely forgotten that it is not a wing of the State the way the police or any other administrative department is. One may, however, retort that hardly anywhere in the world wherever the Communist party has come to power has bothered to keep a distance between itself and the State. Rather it looks upon the State as an instrument for its own expansion.

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Comprador Intellectuals on the War-Path

[comprador: 1. An intermediary; a go-between. 2. A native-born agent in China and certain other Asian countries formerly employed by a foreign business to serve as a collaborator or intermediary in commercial transactions. Source: American Heritage Dictionary. A word once popularized in the writings of Mao Tsetung, this meant simply a foreign agent. We could more profitably deploy it here to describe those who have abdicated their position as critical intellectuals to the demands of power. ]

A friend who teaches in Kolkata University was once accosted by a group of SFI [acronym of the CPM’s student-wing] activists asking for ‘donations’. You have of course to be familiar with the political culture of West Bengal – first under the Congress regime and then ably carried on under the CPM – in order to understand what ‘donation’ or ‘chaanda’ means. Ordinary mortals tremble when CPM supporters come to ask for chaanda, be it for the Durga Puja or for students’ elections. This brave man happened to tell them that he would not give donations to the SFI or CPM as he disagreed with their politics. As the students were leaving the room, one of them returned to tell him, “Sir, Amaar naam Ratna Sarkar. Kichhu dorkaar hole bolben.” [Sir, my name is Ratna Sarkar (name changed for obvious reasons). Please let me know if you need something]. The very mention of the name was supposed to reveal in a flash to this foolhardy teacher, who at 50 years plus, continues to remain a ‘senior lecturer’, that she was the daughter of one of the most powerful state CPM leaders. A daily occurrence in West Bengal. A silent terror inscribed in daily life.

This friend needs also to be mentioned here today because he has had a fairly compelling thesis for sometime now. Civil society in Bengal, he suggests, has been decimated ever since the CPM/LF came to power. In the pre-Left Front days, he argues, it was the Leftist intelligentsia that constituted the critical voice, interrogating the excesses of power. Not any more. What can such an intelligentsia be called but comprador, who have ‘sold their conscience’ to the party line – to resort to a mild polemical Leninism. But alas, such intellectuals are not merely the Sunil Gangopadhyays in Bengal who have fallen in line not because of party commitment but maybe some other calculations; after all they have to live in CPM ruled West Bengal for quite some more time to come. Such are also the seventeen intellectuals who have issued the statement in defense of the West Bengal government.

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SAARC: Need for a Paradigm Shift

As the 14th SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Summit draws nearer, and the host, the Indian Government, begins to step up its preparations, it seems a good time to raise certain issues and questions, designed to draw lessons for the next stage of regional institution building. Where are we? What issues, practices and policy changes can be proposed to improve the quality of regional policy making and implementation? What can civil society organisations and citizens do to contribute effectively to this process? How can SAARC be made more open and transparent to South Asian citizens? What are some of the best practices that have contributed to an effective intra-state coordination, consultation with non-state actors and public accountability? The vision of SAARC today should be that of a South Asia that is integrated, prosperous and peaceful; a South Asia driven by its own citizens; an anti-colonial, democratic and dynamic force in the global arena; and human and peoples’ rights the cornerstone of its political programmes.

Wars and killings in the name of nations; violence, often on a massive scale; boundaries and borders creating major elements of conflicts between the nation states; trans-border crime, narco-terrorism, illegal and informal transactions; illegal migration and large-scale refugee infiltration; trade and transit barriers and trade imbalances — we can find all this and much more in serious proportions in these times of SAARC. However, they are not the core of our assessment, as nobody had believed that these issues could be resolved in two decades or so. The core is that even though some significant spaces have been opened up for greater and more sustained regional cooperation and some beginning has been made, the overall mood is not optimistic, and the prospects of a people-driven SAARC remain largely unfulfilled. Lack of vision, initiative and will, inadequate institutional capacity, and inappropriate policies and procedures have totally negated any thought and practice that SAARC should build a partnership between governments and all segments of civil society, to strengthen solidarity and cohesion among our people in South Asia. There is hardly any civil society participation in its policy development processes, and it is taken as a closed, non-transparent, non-serious affair in the region.

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Monobina Gupta on Nandigram and the CPM Whitewash

[As reports started coming in on Wednesday of wanton killings of the local population by a combination of the state’s police forces and that dreaded being called ‘cadre’ in today’s West Bengal, the CPM lie-machine in New Delhi swung into action. Monobina Gupta, a senior journalist who has been covering the Left for almost two decades now, reports on both the press conference and the incidents that brought it forth. Our further information is that two days ago the chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya had called a meeting in Writers’ Building to plan out the offensive. As the report below shows, the Bengali daily, Bartaman had already predicted today’s action almost to the detail – obviously based on information that the CPM finds uncomfortable. We have also been informed that the call went out from the state CPM leadership of “Occupy and Liberate” Nandigram shortly before the cadres swung into action along with the police force. Thirty years of unbroken rule has made the state leadership belief that they can get away with anything. This time they may have miscalculated. It is also worth bearing in mind that faced with feisty women leaders like Medha Patkar and Mamata Banerjee the most disgusting colours of the CPM leadership are coming out. So if Biman Basu had gone on record saying that Mamata is behaving like a spoilt little girl (in Singur), then his comrade-in-arms Benoy Konar had done far better. He announced that women from his party’s women’s wing would “display their buttocks if Medha visited Nandigram”. We will soon be publishing Medha’s recent report after her return from Nandigram where she was actually greeted by a demonstration of buttocks – of about a hundred and fifty little Benoy Konars. Only, the women – even from his party seem to have politely refused. Some hope here – even though the top leadership of the Mahila Samity has been completely silent. Is comrade Brinda Karat listening? – AN]

For the CPM central leadership in Delhi defending police actions in Singur and Nandigram has now become a routine matter. It is left usually to Sitaram Yechury – second in command in the CPM politburo (and Rajya Sabha member) to address the media in Parliament and whitewash the whole incident.

Today was just one more of such press conferences. The CPM politburo member condemned the killings at the same time made it clear that the police had no choice other than to do what they did. “The kiilings are unfortunate. But we condemn such activities that took place even after
the West Bengal state government assured that no land will be acquired without the consent of the people.”

Continue reading Monobina Gupta on Nandigram and the CPM Whitewash

Humane slaughter?

By a coincidence that is entirely explainable, the Arabic word Baqar, meaning cow or ox, gets fudged into the word Bakra, originating from the Sanskrit varkar.

Thus in India, Baqr Id, the festival commemorating Abraham’s sacrifice, quite often becomes Bakr Id. As I noticed this time round, even as Bakri Id, it makes absolute sense of course, since it is goats that are the primary object of sacrificial affection, and mutton is the prized meat anyway.

Through another onomatopoeic twist, in the purabiya region Baqr Id is also known as Barki Id — the big Id. People would sometimes enquire whether this is the big Id or the small Id or whether it is the sewain Id or the meat Id. For youngsters, though the fixating charm of watching animal slaughter is leavened by the disappointing fact that as far as Idee (or tyohari) — the money gift that is customarily doled out to them by seniors — is concerned, they come off much the worse on Baqr Id. Continue reading Humane slaughter?