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.
Continue reading Beyond the Tyranny of Blueprints: WSF as Experimental Form
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