Politics, political consciousness and being

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.

In Search of a New Left

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

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.

 

 

Satyameva Jayate? : With Regard to the Impending Execution of Mohammad Afzal Guru in Tihar Jail.

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.

Books As Crime

‘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. More...
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

And then some more about home …

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.

A Place Called “Home”

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?

DISSENT, DEBATE, CREATE