On the night of November 12th 2018, more than fifty people from Sittilingi, a village in Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu, made their way back home from Dharmapuri Government Medical College Hospital with the body of a 16-year-old Adivasi (Malaivasi) girl. The girl had been raped on November 5th by two drunk men, and had died in the hospital five days later – a death that her family have described as linked to blatant police negligence, beginning with their refusal to file an FIR, and involving the questionable role of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) in Dharmapuri. Manjunathan*, a resident of Sittilingi, says that on November 12th, around ten police vehicles and 100 policemen had followed the girl’s funeral procession through the village, all the way to the graveyard. “Till now we have never seen the police,” Manjunathan attests, “now suddenly, since the day of the protest, they have remained in the village, especially at the junction, harassing people.”
Till just the other day, they were committing suicide, while some of them were demonstrating in Jantar Mantar, Delhi, humiliating themselves by disrobing and eating rats, trying in vain to draw the attention of the political establishment to their plight. And to pour salt on their wounds, BJP leaders were saying that committing suicide had become a fashion among farmers! Today they are out on the streets, demanding, among other things, that their own debts be written off, not of the powerful and predatory capitalists. (See the Charter of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee below). This is, in all probability, the sign of a decisive shift, for today the charter relseased by the Coordination Committee declares loud and clear that
Farmers are not just a residue from our past; farmers, agriculture and village India are integral to the future of India and the world.
If you key in “remote island” on Google, most of the news stories it throws up are about an unfortunate and very dead young man named John Allen Chau. If you type in “remote Indian island”, Google will take you immediately to North Sentinel Island.
We are all, by now, familiar with sad tale of John Allen Chau and his ill-fated voyage to Sentinel Island. A young evangelical from the United States, Chau was – apparently from a very tender age – fired with zeal to convert to Christianity the natives of a very specific island in the Bay of Bengal: viz., North Sentinel Island in the Andaman & Nicobar archipelago.
Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”
― Jane Austen, Persuasion
Austen’s words, a searing commentary on how patriarchy controls the narrative, remains relevant today despite tenacious efforts by women to wrest authorial control from men and narrate our own stories. Even as the struggle to find one’s voice and to be heard continues, we might also ask ourselves what we will be left with after we have successfully challenged male authority and supremacy in our stories, the idea of heroes and villains, of chaste wives and women of disreputable characters. In the moment of triumph, is there also a need of introspection? The MeToo movement, in India and elsewhere, opens our world(s) up to these and many other questions that do not have easy or ready answers. A standard reply, reproduced in several platforms when questions like ‘why now’ or ‘what next’ are raised is illuminating of the problem societies face when women tell stories: “For now, we should just listen to the women who want to speak up.” It not only represents the struggle to tell our stories on our own terms but also tell them without a fixed agenda or plan.
To such a degree has Religion fuelled conflict, complicated politics, retarded social development and impaired human relations across the world, that one is often tempted to propose that Religion is innately an enemy of Humanity, if not indeed of itself a crime against Humanity … it is time that the world adopted a position that refuses to countenance Religion as an acceptable justification for, excuse or extenuation of – crimes against Humanity.
A modern critique of Sacred Books of any religion — which are worshipped by its followers — is an act which is full of dilemmas.
What should one say if they have references about burning of infidels, permitting a man to marry many women, instructing the rulers to cut somebody’s tongue or pour hot lead into somebody’s ears if s/he sings/listens to religious hymns, ordering a particular section of its devotees to be kept aloof even from places of worship or spotting a ‘divine figure’ engaged in abusing one’s own daughter or harassing women.
Should a critical intellectual just look the other way, pretending that s/he does not see, decide to keep quiet or rationalise such acts to further re-ensure her/his faith or say few things, albeit in a mild tone, that such acts do not match modern values?
And what should a modern state — which claims to be not based on faith — do in such a case? Facilitate flourishing of such critiques or allow faith merchants/fanatics of different shades to criminalise such acts taking recourse to its own statue books.
Last year, around this time, I wrote you an open letter about the plight of Hadiya Asokan who was being hunted down by the Hindutva groups for her choice of faith and partner while the CPM and its cyber force was either actively abetting the violence or watching passively. I wrote in joy, because you had taken a firm stand and despite angry howls of protest against you from your own party. However, this time, I write in sheer despair at your silence; not just yours, but of the AIDWA in Kerala in general, in the wake of the twisted machinations of the Hindutva forces around the Supreme Court’s order permitting the entry of women of menstruating ages to the Sabarimala temple. Continue reading An Open Letter to Brinda Karat about Rehana Fathima: Why are we being hunted in Kerala?→
These are times when the state of democracy is a cause of worry everywhere. With the emergence of populists, demagogues of various hues as custodians of the future of their countries, growing fascination for illiberal ideologies among masses in different parts of the world, the concern is not misplaced and it is apt that we are having this brainstorming where our focus would be on India itself.
‘Working Group on Alternative Strategies’ – which comprises of some of the finest public intellectuals and activists of our times – need to be thanked that they have been organising such seminars since last thirteen years and in this way commemorating the life and works of Prof Madhu Dandavate, a great Parliamentarian and Socialist ideologue. Continue reading Under the Shadow of ‘Holy Book!’→