I was watching news television a few nights ago – it was a programme on the Afzal death penalty. As the CNN-IBN anchor aggressively postured on screen, the viewers were invited to SMS their vote on the hanging, which was updated constantly on screen. This seemed the most natural thing to do – people are asked to vote instantly on TV contests, social issues, sports etc. Telephone companies make massive profits in this system, which is shared with TV networks. That seems obvious. There is another story here, behind the obscenity of like sending in your votes on the issue of the death penalty. Never mind that many of these polls in news television are often carefully staged, a friend of mine who works at a network told me that when ‘voting’ is low, staffers are asked to reach for their phones or call their friends… Continue reading Exiles from the Republic of Numbers
The Idea of Open Space
The recent years have seen the rise and spread of local, national, regional, thematic and global social forums, inspired directly and indirectly by the World Social Forums (WSF) and its Charter of Principles. Any Social Forum, inspired by the WSF, and the WSF itself is conceived as an open space that facilitates the coming together of people to engage with each other on diverse social-political issues, and to oppose neo-liberalism and the domination of the world by Capital and any form of imperialism. They are committed to building a planetary society directed towards fruitful relationships among Humankind and between it and the Earth. Indian social and political activism has shown tremendous energy for the Forum in these years: Activities of the WSF process in India were initiated in early 2002, and were designed to set up and build a World Social Forum process in the country, towards hosting the Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad in 2003 and subsequently the World Social Forum in Mumbai in 2004. And now, the proposed India Social Forum in Delhi from 9 to 13 November 2006 marks the initiative to further advance the movement against neo-liberal globalisation, sectarian politics, casteism, patriarchy and militarization. Continue reading The Social Forum Phenomenon
Strange tales of the independent media
Recently, after endless rants against the NBA our favourite paper, The Indian Express, finally gave some space to Medha Patkar to set the record straight (November 4 2006). Her blunt and effective challenge to Indian Express common-sense concluded with some record-straightening by the Express Kolkata office.
The supposed response from the newspaper to Medha’s pointed questions, consists SOLELY of information from government sources: “according to the Addl District Magistrate”; “We have verified this from Singur’s block development officer”; and “land compensation rates reported by us are all official figures.” The best part is where they triumphantly say – the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 is the law of the land, much though Ms Patkar may view it as a one-sided process.
Hello – have you missed the point? She and thousands of others all over the country, insist it is an anti-democratic and draconian law and it must be radically changed. So you simply reiterate that it is the law of the land? THIS is a debate? Here are some other Laws of the Land: the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that keeps the North-East under the military jack boot; Section 377 that says if you have sex that the judge thinks is against the order of nature, you’re a criminal; rape laws that say it is not rape but a much lesser crime if someone shoves a finger up an infant’s vagina…
Who ARE these people who get hired to write this stuff? They’d fail a decent BA degree.
On September 18, 2004, newspapers carried a mandatory Public Notice issued by the DDA, inviting objections and suggestions to a proposal to modify the Delhi Master Plan (2001). The DDA wanted to change the classification of six hectares of land that lay right by the Yamuna — just south of the erstwhile Yamuna Pushta slums — from “riverbed” to “commercial”. The change was needed to accommodate an it Park as part of the collaboration between the Delhi government and the Delhi Metro.
At first sight, the notice appears much like any other of the dozens one skips rapidly past every morning. What makes this notice different, however, is that, at the time of issue, the it park had already been under construction for over a year despite a 2003 Supreme Court order to clear all riverbed encroachments, and to stop all construction on the Yamuna banks. The DDA’s “proposal” was, in effect, simply a de-facto regularisation of what planners argue is an illegal encroachment. Just a few kilometres away, accused of violating the same Master Plan, and under the directive of the very same Supreme Court verdict, another kind of “encroachment” had no public notice in its defence, as tens of thousands of people were forcibly evicted from the slums of Yamuna Pushta — home to some of them for twenty-five years. Continue reading Whose City Do We Live In?
Before the ‘Battle for Truth’, Reveal Your Assets, Honourable Men and Women of the Media
Today’s Indian Express carries Medha Patkar’s response to a long continuing rant by the paper on a series of issues ranging from compensation for the displaced of Narmada valley to the whole issue of SEZs. She has thrown the gauntlet – a challenge to the newspaper to join her in a ‘Battle for Truth’. The Express has of course joined it right away in the most unbecoming way that has by now become a hallmark of its ranting style: It barely lets Medha conclude and puts in a rejoinder from its “Kolkata Bureau” – they could barely wait for her to finish and if the form did not impose the limitations, one could imagine them jumping up and down and shouting her down, booing her in the middle of her speech…
So gentlemen and women of the media, before you really join the Battle for Truth, the time has come for you, especially senior media persons – Editors and senior Commentators, the custodians of public opinion (or Truth, should we say?) – to declare your assets and their sources. You have been very vociferous about maintaining public standards and have campaigned tirelessly to see that politicians are forced to declare their incomes. Since the functions that you honourable people perform are no less public – you too must lay yourself open to public scrutiny. When the CEO of Xphatic or some secretary-general of a Corporate Association or a Chamber of Commerce writes, we know exactly where they speak from and for whom. But when “journalists”, “Editors” and political commentators – in this and other papers and news channels – write or talk, they supposedly talk from the “objective” position of truth. Everybody in the trade of course knows that there are crores of rupees of ill-begotten wealth circulating in the media that shapes the Truth. The defence campaign of the takeover of farmers’ land for a leading corporation by most of the English media is not unrelated to the circulation of this strange thing. This is not an insinuation against any specific person/s but surely a declaration of assets should become the voluntary practice of all those who desire and fight tirelessly for probity in public life. What say you gentlemen and gentlewomen?
But what of those really innocent ones who may not be otherwise part of corrupt corporate power nexuses? Their naïveté is so truly astonishing that it would make you gasp. These really innocent ones are products of the New Age who have taken in the new theology hook, line and sinker. Immediately after deaths in police firing on protests against takeover of tribal land in Kalinganagar by the government for a private company, a well known TV journalist demanded of the hapless tribals – “But why are you against industrialization?” Holy shit! You are against Industrialization! Next you will turn against your own Self – Don’t you see that it is the messiah who has come to redeem you and deliver you from your hellish existence! One can hardly respond to such innocence except by saying Dam the Media for starters – and give them – all the displaced journalists some Cash Compensation. Oops! That is one thing they are not short of – How about some land in barren New Harsud town.
Orwell created a range of wonderful concepts in his dystopic novel 1984 to characterize the language of power. One such phrase Doublethink referred to the ability to hold “two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them” without being aware of their contradictions.
The latest addition to the vast repository of doublethinks in the archives of the Indian state comes from the background note of the new committee formed for the reform of the criminal justice system. Barely a few years after the controversial Malimath Committee, yet another committee has been formed under the chairmanship of Dr. Madhava Menon (the founder of the National Law School in Bangalore). The National Criminal Justice System Policy Drafting Committee (“NCJSPDC”) has been constituted “taking into account changing profile of the crime and criminal” We can safely assume in the context of the global war against terror, what the changing profile of the crime and the criminal refers to. Continue reading Doublethink in the Time of Criminal Reform
When I was in Mumbai, I would talk of property from the point of view of an outsider. In that space, I was largely a participant-observer. Now, in Bangalore, I am involved in the everyday conflicts about property. Let me talk of some of my recent experiences in Thilaknagar.
Thilaknagar is touted as one of the most successful slums in Bangalore (I don’t know here what the benchmarks/parameters of this measured sucess are).
In the month of July, the street in my lane was dug up so that it could be concretized. It was agonizing to be part of this process because for fortnights, the muck would lie on the street and rains would make it sloshy, but the contractor would nowhere be seen. (This would have been the usual rant of inefficiency in the language of Civil Society!) Continue reading On dilemmas about property
Published earlier in Social Action, Vol 54, April-June 2004
Shortly after the World Social Forum (Mumbai 2004) I came across an article by Cecilie Surasky, an American Jew, posted on a discussion list by a friend from Amsterdam. The article was startlingly entitled “Anti-Semitism at the World Social Forum?” and naturally invited one to read it immediately. It transpired that the author was the Communications Director of an organization called “Jewish Voice for Peace” that works for a peaceful and democratic resolution of the Palestinian problem and is therefore, also anti-Zionist. She was writing from within the specific context of a well-known but disturbing trend in Jewish politics, particularly in the US. A glimpse of this troubling context is provided by the fact that important voices among Jews, the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) in particular (which has been known for its important work in hunting down Nazi criminals worldwide), has been portraying the World Social Forum (WSF) “as one of the centers of the ‘new anti-Semitism'”.
Surasky further reports that “these charges have been picked up by various journalists as evidence of a dangerous new trend on the left.” The SWC had described the atmosphere at the third WSF in Brazil the previous year as “anti-Jewish”, according to her. She therefore landed up at Mumbai to check out first hand: “I have come to the WSF to be loudly and visibly Jewish…and to see for myself this purported new tidal wave of hatred of Jews from the rest of the global left.” The actual event of course, turned out to be something entirely different and if anything, Surasky ended up making some of the most moving friendships with many Arabs. Her account of these friendships in the article is quite touching in itself. What was most amazing for her, however, was that on return she found that the SWC had published an article on the WSF in the Jerusalem Post, entitled “Networking to Destroy Israel”. It further claimed that the WSF Mumbai event had been hijacked by “anti-American, anti-Israel forces”. As Surasky puts it, it became clear that many of these propagandist accounts made practically no distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism or in fact, any criticism of Israel.
The important thing about the WSF however, was that it provided a space to some one like Cecilie Surasky, a “come out” Jew, as she puts it, to meet, exchange notes and make friends with people from the Arab world. So did it to the innumerable others who have so far only known about the ‘Other’ through representations by propaganda machines like the Simon Wiesenthal Center and their Arab counterparts – or through the US media. This is of course, one small episode in the big event called the WSF. But the WSF is actually made up of literally thousands of such episodes. It was an occasion where the displaced Tibetans – supporters of the Dalai Lama – could move about prominently, distributing their literature, making friends and allies from different parts of the world. It was an occasion where the Dalit groups of India could make their voice heard before a vast gathering of people who were all fighting for their own liberation from oppressions of different kinds.
Sometimes it is a matter of a moment, just that moment …
I headed towards the cobbler at Madhavan Park to repair my broken sandal. He was a darkish man. His shop had a photograph of Dr. Ambedkar.
Around Madhavan Park are some small shops and spaces occupied by people at different times in the day. There is a coobler shop, then a knick-knacks shop which also sells newspapers and is an information space for the auto drivers who are lurking there. A lady also comes by in the afternoon and sets up shop to sell food to the auto drivers and to other clients.
I stood by the coobler shop, watching the cobbler repair my shoe. An old vegetable vendor came by and dropped some tomatoes in the cobbler’s shop. The two of them had a mischievous exchange and the cobbler continued repairing my shoe. I continued watching the cobbler at work, very intently watching him, his facial features, his craft. It struck me then that here is a man who would be called ‘chamar’, a ‘dalit’. But how different is he from me? What is this theory and politics about caste?
My words are proving to be futile here because I am really attempting to describe that moment, that moment where a certain transcendence occurred and I could only see this person repairing my shoe as myself, as me. Such a moment betrays all theory, all politics and it is perhaps such moments which cause major transformations among humankind.
Such moments are those which give me a great amount of hope. There is much hope in this world. We all live by it!
As I walk by Bangalore, pass by the city in the buses, I watch the newly formed cobbler kiosks. Most of them are empty. The occupied cobbler spaces are many. And most of them are laced with photographs of Dr. Ambedkar. This photograph does not appear in a vacumm. It appears as a source of consciousness of being, it emerges out of an assertion of a certain identity.
The empty cobbler kiosks are empty not as a matter of lack of occupancy. They are empty because politically, these spaces are flat, devoid of the very identity which forms the basis of our everyday politics.
This is the Concept Note for a panel in the India Social Forum on “New Horizons For a Radical Democratic Politics: In search of a New Left”.
The panel is being proposed as a way of getting together activists and scholars in thinking afresh about the possibilities of a different kind of Left – a New Left, if you please – or radical democratic political practice. It is being proposed as a forum for thinking of ways of bringing together different kinds of radical urges and aspirations that have come forth in the last couple of decades. Many of these, broadly subsumed under the category of social movements, are based on sectional identities and interests. There are others that have been based on class questions but in a way quite different from conventional kinds of class politics. At the level of thinking however, most movements, despite having taken some extremely bold initiatives, have not really begun to articulate alternative theoretical positions or think through the far-reaching implications of their own practice.
Feminism, ecological movements like the Narmada Bachao Andolan or the sexuality movements have undoubtedly made major contributions in terms of enabling us to think of democracy and ways of radicalizing it, of thinking about the good life very differently. Movements like the Dalit movement or some recent independent trade union initiatives that are inclined towards the idea of an autonomous workers’ movement have also started posing new questions for radical political practice – questions that are not always very comfortable.
Yet, the fact remains that the moment we begin to think about contemporary capitalism, we almost unthinkingly tend to lapse back into some nineteenth and early twentieth century formulations that need to be seriously re-thought today. Much of the thinking on capitalism – influenced by Marxism of one shade or the other – has remained caught within the problematics of the state and the nation-state (both seem to us to be discrete but inter-related problematics). Even when we recognize that global capitalism at the beginning of the twenty-first century is an altogether different beast, all we get by way of theorization are tired repetitions from the Communist Manifesto (“the bourgeoisie seeks to build a world in its own image” or “the need for markets chases it all over the globe” etc). In contemporary capitalism this may tell us only a small part of the truth.
Further, in most of Left-wing discourse, nation-states continue to be posed as some sort of defense against global capital and the ultimate ground of emancipation and the state in general as the object of revolutionary politics, as that point where all transformative attention must be focused.
The panel is being proposed to explore questions connected with some of these articles of faith. As indicative of some of the questions that we could address, we list below some which we group together according to some broad themes. (To be sure, this is a tentative list): Continue reading In Search of a New Left
We is a fast-paced 64 minute documentary that covers the world politics of power, war, corporations, deception and exploitation.
It visualizes the words of Arundhati Roy, specifically her famous Come September speech, where she spoke on such things as the war on terror, corporate globalization, justice and the growing civil unrest.
It’s witty, moving, alarming and quite a lesson in modern history.
We is almost in the style of a continuous music video. The music used sets the pace and serves as wonderful background for the words of Ms. Roy and images of humanity in the world we live all in today.
We is a completely free documentary, created (and released) anonymously on the internet. [www.weroy.org]
But who made it?
“We” is a free documentary produced by an anonymous student in New Zealand. He (or She) goes by the name “anon”. It was released for free on the Internet and first appeared at an Australian web site called resist.com.au.
Posted on the Sarai Reader List on 16th October, 2006
A few days from now, a man called Mohammad Afzal Guru, son of Habibullah Guru, currently resident in Ward Number 6 of Jail Number 1 in Tihar Central Prison in Delhi will hang to satisfy the bloodlust of the Indian Republic, unless the President of India thinks otherwise, A few weeks ago, I recall reading the NDTV newscaster Barkha Dutt’s breathless three cheers for the fact that India retains the death penalty (so that the indignant tears in the eyes of television presenters like herself, and the loved ones of murder victims, can be wiped away with each rope that tightens around the neck of condemned prisoners). [See ‘A Battle for Life’: Barkha Dutt, on NDTV Columns, September 20, 2006]
At times like this, when hangmen are asked to practice their moves, nothing comes more in handy than the teflon coated enthusiasm for capital punishment of television crusaders like Barkha Dutt. Great democracies, like the United States of America, the Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan, the Peoples Republic of China, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea and enlightened states like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are known for their zeal in retaining the death penalty as a necessary part of state ritual. The Republic of India is in eminent company, and I am grateful to Barkha Dutt for making me remember that. I need not advance moral and ethical arguments against the death penalty here, because they have been so well countered by Ms. Dutt. Never mind the fact that states that have done away with the death penalty have lower rates of violent crime, never mind the fact the innocence of people that condemned to die has often been established after they have been executed. Ms. Dutt has demonstrated that the death penalty is the balm that comforts her agonized soul. And many of those who argue that the President should not in fact assent to the petition filed by Afzal’s family are also arguing that the Afzal must hang so that the Indian democracy and the loved ones of those who died defending the Indian parliament may rest in peace. The dignity of the Indian Republic hinges on the lever that will catapult Afzal into the empty space under the gallows in Tihar jail. As the noose tightens, our polity will blossom with renewed vigour. Continue reading Satyameva Jayate? : With Regard to the Impending Execution of Mohammad Afzal Guru in Tihar Jail.
‘So you are the little woman who wrote the book that made this great (American) civil war’
-Abraham Lincoln to Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Bruno Fulgini, a non descript employee at the French Parliament, would not have imagined in his wildest dreams that his tedious and boring job at the Parliament library, would lead him to treasure hunt of another kind.
Today he finds himself metamorphosed into an author and editor, thanks to the sudden discovery of old files of the Paris police, which provided details of its surveillance work done way back in 18 th century. In a report filed by AFP, Mr Fulgini tells us that ‘Beyond criminals and political figures, there are files on writers and artists. In some cases, they go far in their indiscretions.'( The Statesman and The Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 26 th September 2006).
An edited version of these old files, focussing themselves on the writers of those times, has recently come out and is making waves. The said book ‘Writers’ Police’ gives details of the way in which greatest writers of late 18 th century who were living in Paris at that time were kept under surveillance.
Definitely even a layperson can understand that the whole exercise was not part of wreaking of vengeance by a frustrated writer who had joined the police force as some senior officer. Neither the police was keen to understand the impact of the actual lifestyles of the writers on societal mindset nor did it cared how a particular author would help unleash a new hairstyle on the block.
In fact the Parisian police had a very specific agenda.
It was clear to these protectors of internal security of a tottering regime that the renowned literati then viz. Victor Hugo, Balzac or Charles Dickens, might be writing fiction, but their sharp focus on the hypocrisy of the aristocrats or the livelihood issues of ordinary people is adding to the growing turmoil in the country. They knew very well that they might be writing fiction for the masses but it is turning out to be a sharp political edge that hit the right target and is becoming a catalyst for change.
While the Parisian police was engaged in tracking down the daily movements of the writers, its present day counterparts in Maharashtra especially from the Chandrapur-Nagpur region have rather devised some ‘easier’ and ‘shortcut routes’ to curb the flow of ideas.And for them it is also immaterial whether the writer in question was alive or dead. Continue reading Books As Crime
Taxi driver was driving past Mysore Road. As usual, I asked him where he was originally from and when he had come to Bangalore. Fifteen years ago madam, he told me. We passed by a bus station along Mysore Road. He pointed towards it and said to me, ‘international. Totally international’. I looked at him and said, ‘Aha, international’.
As we continued further, I asked him where he lived in Bangalore. He said Hanumanth Nagar. Where is Hanumanth Nagar, I asked him. It is near Banshankari, he replied. It’s official area. I was a bit flummoxed when I heard the word ‘official’. I asked him to clarify, what does official mean. Like residential, commercial, like that official. I presumed he meant that it was a place where a lot of offices were situated. He continued, proper, water, electricity, no problem. And when he said this, I thought he meant regularized, no problem.
Official, that’s a new term in my dictionary of the city.
I was headed to the airport, going back from Bangalore to Mumbai. It was one of those thunderous nights, rain pouring heavily. Sridhar was the taxi driver. He promised to get me to the airport right on time. I trusted him.
Around Airport Road, we got stuck in a jam. We started conversing. Sridhar was trained at the National Association of the Blind in Bombay sometime in the early 1980’s. He then came to Bangalore and started teaching here. After a while, I realized that personal and social life cannot be intermingled, he said to me as he continued driving. I then started my own cargo company, doing work for Blue Dart Couriers, ferrying between Bangalore and Bombay. After a while, I stopped because the stress increased. Then I bought a taxi of my own and I drive this taxi now.
Sridhar continued to talk to me about his daughter and asked me for advice on what career in psychology she should pursue. As we neared the airport, suddenly I asked him, where do you live? Banshankari, he answered. Is it your own home? Nahi madam. When I did not have money, I said I will make enough to buy my own home. Now when I have the money, the prices have gone up and I cannot afford to make a purchase. That’s destiny. I don’t have a home of my own.
I carried Sridhar’s words with me. My flight touched Bombay late that night. A day later, I met with Begum. Begum lives in slum settlement in Bombay that is due for resettlement. Begum is leading her block in the slum and is negotiating with builders for in-situ resettlement. Begum tells me about the negotiations that she is carrying out with the builders, legal safeguards that the block and she have worked out to ensure that all of them have a proper place to stay. Eventually, Begum starts to narrate a story, a story of the place called ‘her home’:
I came to this place more than twenty-five years ago. This neighbourhood was largely Muslim. I had a different way of living. Since I was quite educated, I would speak with my children in English. We lived differently. The neighbours thought I was a Catholic lady. Gradually, they started coming to me and began to bring their grievances to me. They started telling me how their children had only one school to go to and that was far away. I decided to help them enrol their children in school. Initially they were afraid, telling me, will private schools admit our children? I said why not. As long as you are paying for their fees, why should they refuse you? Today this area has two good schools. Then the problem was that there was no public BEST bus coming to this area. Along with the residents of this area, I took out a morcha to the local bus station. Today, bus number — comes to this area.
I have realized and I must tell you that people of this area are very loyal. And they will stay loyal to you all their lives. The love that I got from this place, nothing can compensate that. That love, that is it! And I will never leave this place and go!
Tomorrow, we will be resettled. The builder here has told me openly that he is hoping that most of the people who will be given houses here, will sell them off and take the money and buy house some other place and invest the rest in business. I want to tell you that this builder, he wants to ultimately build malls here, and she raised her teacher’s stick and banged it and repeated, he wants to build malls here! That’s it! He wants to build malls here!
I carry only these words with me to tell to you. What it is this place that they call home?
Sitting in his second-floor office in the Ahmedabad suburb of Naroda, Bajrangi talks about his NGO, Navchetan, which ‘rescues’ Hindu women who have been ‘lured’ into relationships with Muslim men. “In every house today there is a bomb, and that bomb is the woman, who forms the basis of Hindu culture and tradition,” Bajrangi begins. “Parents allow her to go to college, and they start having love affairs, often with Muslims. Women should just be kept at home to save them from the terrible fate of Hindu-Muslim marriages.”
Bajrangi’s Navchetan works to prevent inter-religious love marriages, and if such a wedding has already taken place, it works to break the union. When a marriage between a Hindu woman and Muslim man gets registered in a court, within a few days the marriage documents generally end up on Bajrangi’s desk, ferreted out by functionaries in the lower judiciary. The girl is subsequently kidnapped and sent back home; the boy is taught a lesson. “We beat him in a way that no Muslim will dare to look at Hindu women again. Only last week, we made a Muslim eat his own waste – thrice, in a spoon,” he reveals with barely concealed pride. All this is illegal, Bajrangi concedes, but it is moral. “And anyway, the government is ours,” he continues, turning to look at the clock. “See, I am meeting Modi in a while today.”
One might dismiss Babu Bajrangi as a bombast when he claims proximity to the chief minister, or describes the beating of Muslim boys. But for a man of obvious stature in society he is also accused of burning Muslims alive. As the chief accused in the infamous Naroda Patiya case, one of the worst instances of brutality during the 2002 violence, he is alleged to have led the mob that killed 89 people in the area. It is a burden that rests lightly on Bajrangi’s shoulders. “People say I killed 123 people,” he says. Did you? Bajrangi laughs, “How does it matter? They were Muslims. They had to die. They are dead.”
Evidence of Bajrangi’s complicity was so overwhelming that even a pliable state administration could not save him from an eight-month stint in prison. “They cannot reduce my hatred for Muslims with that, can they? While in jail, I demolished a small mosque that was located in there,” he says with a sly, childlike grin. Bajrangi’s views on what is wrong with Muslims are unabashedly straightforward. “They are all terrorists. Refuse to sing even the national song. Why don’t they just go to Pakistan? Now, our aim is to create a society where we have as little to do with them as possible.”
The 2002 pogrom in Gujarat was not a standalone event. It had a past, and as Prashant Jha’s essay in Himal tells us, a future.