Beneath the Veil – Lipstick Under My Burkha and Debates around the Uniform Civil Code (UCC): Debaditya Bhattacharya and Rina Ramdev

Guest post by DEBADITYA BHATTACHARYA and RINA RAMDEV

*Disclaimer: Even as news pours in of Pahlaj Nihalani’s ouster as CBFC chief, consider this essay an earnest tribute to the man who is ‘alleged’ to have beeped sense out of Indian cinema. We repeat, merely ‘alleged’ – since we go on to prove otherwise.*

Let us start out with a basic methodological premise – that forms and effects of ideological mensuration cannot exhaust the life of cinema, or even be adequate to an understanding of the ways in which a film-text lives. To that extent, the ferocious debates around how much or how little of Lipstick Under My Burkha qualifies as feminist material have only generated a fair share of readings. While acknowledging the need and value of these aligned readings, we would also urge a look at cinema’s ‘coming into being’ as something more than an image or a text or a performative medium. Often, in our haste for neat hermeneutic closures, reading a film as cognitive-critical material could tend to a negation of the very relationship between the cinematic object and the everyday. The site of a film’s meaning is necessarily in excess of its narrative unfolding as viewing experience. It lies in the negotiations of its object-world – which includes the plot, the actors, the techniques of representation, the exhibition-settings, the infrastructures of distribution and marketing strategies, discourses around its production and release, celebrity-scandals or pre-release promotions, box-office statistics, publicity routines and review ratings, as well as non-audience expectations – with the other object-worlds of thought, feeling and belief. With that note of ‘methodological caution’, as one might call it, we would argue that a movie like Lipstick is also more than just a story of four women as desiring subjects, grappling with their own bodies to secure the most intimately ‘fundamental’ right to dream.

Continue reading “Beneath the Veil – Lipstick Under My Burkha and Debates around the Uniform Civil Code (UCC): Debaditya Bhattacharya and Rina Ramdev”

An Anthem for Kerala: Mojitopaattu

In these days in which Indo-Gangetic barbarians seethe with rage against Kerala and unleash all sorts of false propaganda about the state of affairs here, I have been thinking about my own love for and quarrels with this place. My relation to it has been largely critical, as a Malayali woman born and raised here who has endured, and continue to endure, much second-rate treatment. More than anyone else, I realize, it is Malayalis who have criticized Kerala.  Not surprising, then, is the fact that one of the most ardently-discussed themes in public politics here in the past decades has been the critique of the entrenched imagination of Kerala, and its exclusions. Not for nothing, too, have the struggles of marginalized people here demanded not just material gains, but the reimagining of Kerala in more expansive terms. And newer and newer groups of excluded people keep renewing it – most recently, the LGBTIQ+ people.

Our love for Kerala is a cursing, stumbling love – but love above all.

That’s why I think Anitha Thampi’s poem  Mojitopaattu (The Mohito Song) ought to be our anthem. Anitha is undoubtedly one of Kerala’s most perceptive poets of the present, capable of delving into the depths of the present cultural moment and surfacing with inscrutable yet pervasive feelings and moods and weaving these into words. Our crazy love of Kerala which cannot be but critical is brilliantly caught in this poem In it, this love comes alive as moonlight falling on this place which illuminates erratically, sways madly, and disappears without notice; this loving looks as hard and risky as a drunk’s faltering steps along a rough bylane through treacherous yet playful moonlight; this love eddies through the blood of two and a half generations and comes awake even as the whole world sleeps. Long before the Indo-Gangetic barbarians even noticed us have we felt this mad love, and it will take more than vituperative slander to kill it.

Below is my translation of Mojitopaattu – and I take Anitha’s suggestion that it a song, and a drunken one, seriously. I hope someone sets it to music and it becomes the anthem of crazy-lovers of Kerala.

 

 

Four-five sprigs fresh mint

Two spoons sugar
Juice of three limes
Vodka, two measures and a half 
Soda
Ice

Hey you, swayin’-shakin’-rollin’
 on night-time alley that’s runnin’
all o’er earth that’s green and shinin’
Banana-leaf-like, straight and gleamin’*
Hey sweet moonlight, 
who you be,
you be man or you be woman?

Hey you, fallin’ easy-loose-y
You for real, or just a feelin’?
Hey you singin’ , spreadin’-creepin’
Who you be to sunshine beamin’?

Hey you lurchin’, fallin’, stumblin’
on each an’ ev’ry greenly leafling  
Hey bright moonshine,  distilled-dried blood, bluish, 
two and a half generations bleedin’
Who be you?

You be me, or you be you?

*Kerala, that lies at the foot of mountains like a bright green banana leaf beside the sea.

( Anitha Thampi , ‘Mojitopattu’)

 

And here is the original, much more terse and controlled in its use of language, but a paattu all the same:

 

മൊഹീതോപ്പാട്ട്

നാലഞ്ച് തളിർപ്പുതിന

രണ്ടു സ്പൂൺ പഞ്ചസാര

മൂന്നു നാരങ്ങാ നീര്

രണ്ടര വോഡ്ക

സോഡ

ഐസ്

 

നാക്കിലമണ്ണിൻ∗

രാവൂടുവഴിയൂടെ

 

ആടിയാടിപ്പോകുന്ന പൂനിലാവേ നീ

ആണാണോ പെണ്ണാണോ?

അഴിഞ്ഞഴിഞ്ഞു തൂവുന്ന പൂനിലാവേ നീ

നേരാണോ പൊളിയാണോ?

പാടിപ്പാടിപ്പരക്കുന്ന പൂനിലാവേ നീ

വെയിലിൻറെ ആരാണോ?

 

പച്ചിലകൾ തോറും തപ്പിത്തടഞ്ഞു വീഴും

രണ്ടരത്തലമുറ നീലിച്ച വാറ്റുചോരപ്പൂന്തെളിനിലാവേ നീ

ഞാനാണോ നീയാണോ?

 

∗കേരളം

 

 

 

 

 

“No research please, we are college teachers” – On the HRD Ministry’s latest bright idea.

A version of this piece appeared yesterday in The Wire

“I would like to thank Huddersfield University for enabling me to have a sabbatical semester to work on this revised edition and for providing such a supportive environment. Thanks to many of the students on my Women, Power and Society module for their hard work and enthusiasm.”

That is the dedication in a book by British scholar and teacher Valerie Bryson – a text I often use for teaching at a college in Delhi University. Evidently, Bryson found her teaching and research lives complementing each other beautifully, as have thousands of university and college teachers who have had the luck to have what she calls a “supportive” professional and academic environment. What are the elements of this support? A sabbatical semester or year every once in a while, ready research facilities within the college premises or nearby, and an opportunity to formulate teaching courses that ally with your research focus. With these elements in place, both teaching and research benefit dramatically.

Until recently, college teachers in this country had the first two conditions. They were given in their entire careers – say from the age of 26 or 27 when one normally began teaching at a college to the age of 65 – three years of paid study leave to pursue or finish their PhDs (with the usual conditions and caveats including a strict bond that they signed with college promising to return the three years’ pay if the PhD remained incomplete, or if they resigned upon return to the institution) and a further two years of (until recently, paid and now invariably unpaid or “extraordinary”) leave to take a break from teaching and pursue a postdoctoral or visiting fellowship at a research institute.

Continue reading ““No research please, we are college teachers” – On the HRD Ministry’s latest bright idea.”

Baiting Desire – The Politics of Women’s Sexualities in Popular and Other Indian Cinemas: Brinda Bose

Guest Post by BRINDA BOSE

To return to questions about women’s imperiled sexual desires and freedoms that have been spilling around us in recent weeks – with a middle-aged ‘Rosie’ emerging as a blissful mascot of women’s ageless pleasures in a multiplex film – I had unexpected occasion on a long-haul flight recently, to watch a film in a completely different register, Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Tope (‘The Bait’, 2016, Bengali with English subtitles).

Tope had done the round of international film festivals last year, and I believe released in Indian theatres (mostly if not only in Bengal, I would think) in the early summer of 2017.

Continue reading “Baiting Desire – The Politics of Women’s Sexualities in Popular and Other Indian Cinemas: Brinda Bose”

Noida’s Domestic Workers’ Take on the ‘Madams’ – A Report from Ground Zero: Maya John, Sunita Toppo and Manju Mochhary

This guest post is an investigative report by MAYA JOHN, SUNITA TOPPO and MANJU MOCHHARY, who are associated with Gharelu Kamgar Union and actively involved in organizing domestic workers.

Recently, the otherwise docile workforce of domestic workers – most of whom are migrant labourers from the poorest states in the country – showed remarkable collective zeal against their wealthy employers in Noida (Uttar Pradesh). On the morning of 12th July 2017, a confrontation broke out between wealthy residents in a posh housing society, Mahagun Moderne in Noida Sector 78, and a gathering of agitated domestic workers and their families. The rampant exploitation of domestic workers, and the huge antagonism between their interests and those of their employers was directly exposed with the outbreak of this agitation.

The 12th July incident and subsequent developments have also revealed the sickening nexus between the police, employers, and right-wing politicians who have extended support to the wealthy residents. Within hours, an obvious labour issue, and the struggle of workers against the alleged illegal confinement of a female domestic worker was projected as a communal confrontation. With the accused employers and their sympathizers identifying the protesting workers and the missing domestic worker as ‘Bangladeshis’, the social media exploded with communal diatribe and messages of hate. Conditions for communal discord were consciously sown by Mahagun residents, putting at risk the lives of hundreds of workers living in neighbouring slums.

Continue reading “Noida’s Domestic Workers’ Take on the ‘Madams’ – A Report from Ground Zero: Maya John, Sunita Toppo and Manju Mochhary”

Armed Forces Veterans Speak Out – ‘Act Now to Uphold the Constitution’

In the midst of all the cacophony and shrill pseudo-nationalist rhetoric that is destroying the fabric of a plural India, often in the name of the Armed Forces, 114 veterans of the Indian Armed Forces have spoken out. They have spoken out in no uncertain terms against targeted attacks on Muslims and Dalits and against the attempts to destroy the Constitution –  upon which arose the new, independent India.

An Open Letter from Veterans of the Armed Forces

To: the Prime Minister of India, Chief Ministers of the States, and Lieutenant-Governors of the Union Territories.

30 July, 2017

We are a group of Veterans of the Indian Armed Forces who have spent our careers working for the security of our country. Collectively, our group holds no affiliation with any single political party, our only common commitment being to the Constitution of India.

It saddens us to write this letter, but current events in India have compelled us to register our dismay at the divisiveness that is gripping our country. We stand with the ‘Not in My Name’ campaign that mobilised thousands of citizens across the country to protest against the current climate of fear, intimidation, hate and suspicion.

The Armed Forces stand for “Unity in Diversity”. Differences in religion, language, caste, culture or any other marker of belonging have not mattered to the cohesion of the Armed Forces, and servicemen of different backgrounds have fought shoulder to shoulder in the defence of our nation, as they continue to do today. Throughout our service, a sense of openness, justice and fair play guided our actions. We are one family. Our heritage is like the multi-coloured quilt that is India, and we cherish this vibrant diversity. Continue reading “Armed Forces Veterans Speak Out – ‘Act Now to Uphold the Constitution’”

Under the sign of security – Why the bogey of ‘the illegal Bangladeshi immigrant’ is so powerful across urban Indian homes: Sahana Ghosh & Rimple Mehta

Guest Post by SAHANA GHOSH & RIMPLE MEHTA

From the night of July 11 when Zohra Bibi did not return home to the evening of July 16 when union minister Mahesh Sharma, member of parliament for Gautam Budh Nagar, UP met with residents of Mahagun Moderne, much has transpired. Promptly after the minister’s assurances of ‘justice’ and even retribution to the flat-owners, the settlement of tin walled shacks in which Zohra Bibi and other workers like her lived with their families was demolished the next day. Many of the ‘facts’ of the matter remain disputed – while Zohra Bibi maintains that she neither admitted to the theft of cash nor hid in the basement of the building, the allegation that her employers Harshu and Mitul Sethi harassed and detained her, confiscating her mobile phone is denied by them. Meanwhile, thirteen men, a majority of them Bengali Muslims from West Bengal, arrested from the workers’ settlement are denied bail on the charge of attempted murder on the might of three FIRs filed by residents of Mahagun Moderne and languish in judicial custody. The Noida police are yet to commence any investigation of the Sethis as required by the FIR filed by Zohra Bibi and her husband Abdul Sattar. What does this language of the riot, of murderous mobs with which residents of the swanky apartment complex took to social media with #MaldainNoida accomplish? As security cards, required by domestic and other workers to enter the gated community, were revoked for 80-odd workers under the cry of ‘ban the Bangladeshi maid’, the bogey of the illegal Bangladeshi immigrant reared its ugly head. Continue reading “Under the sign of security – Why the bogey of ‘the illegal Bangladeshi immigrant’ is so powerful across urban Indian homes: Sahana Ghosh & Rimple Mehta”