Tag Archives: Arundhati Roy

Caste and other demons

Can Dalits rightfully claim that they have a ‘homeland’?

Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar

( Review of The Doctor and the Saint: The Ambedkar-Gandhi Debate — Caste, Race, and Annihilation of Caste; By Arundhati Roy, Penguin, Rs 299)

“Gandhiji, I have no homeland.” The first meeting between Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar, who later became chairman of the drafting committee of independent India’s Constitution and its first law minister, is memorialized in this sentence. It expresses the centuries-old plight of those most oppressed in the varna hierarchy under the “institutionalised social injustice at the heart of the country”.

Has there been a qualitative change in the situation of the ‘ex-untouchables’ since this meeting some 90 years back? Can Dalits rightfully claim that they have a ‘homeland’? Figures collated by National Crime Records Bureau show that “a crime is committed against a Dalit by a non-Dalit every sixteen minutes”, including four rapes a day and murders of 13 Dalits every week. And these figures do not include “the stripping and parading naked, the forced shit eating, the seizing of land and the social boycotts…” This is the backdrop of the book, The Doctor and The Saint: The Ambedkar-Gandhi Debate — Caste, Race, and Annihilation of Caste by Arundhati Roy. It earlier formed part of an introduction to an annotated 2014 edition of Annihilation of Caste — the historic pamphlet Ambedkar wrote when invited by the ‘Jat Paat Todak Mandal’ in Lahore. The invitation was withdrawn after the hosts read the lecture draft. Continue reading Caste and other demons

Save Democracy, Release Umar, Anirban and SAR Geelani, Enact Rohith Act – JNU Marches again in Delhi

For the fourth time since the early February, students, faculty and their friends marched in Delhi. Once again, there were thousands of people, walking from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar. This time, there was focused attention on the demand for the release of the detained JNU students – Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, the DU Professor S.A.R Geelani, solidarity with JNU Prof. Nivedita Menon and the poet-scientist Gauhar Raza against their media trials, and a direct attack on the creeping fascism of the Modi regime. Here are some moments from this march.

(Thanks to Aniket Prantdarshi, Kavita Krishnan, Samim Asgor Ali and Anish Ahluwalia, ‘We are JNU’ for their photos and videos, which I have taken from their Facebook pages and Youtube Channels)

Continue reading Save Democracy, Release Umar, Anirban and SAR Geelani, Enact Rohith Act – JNU Marches again in Delhi

Farmers’ Suicides and Fatal Politics: Vasanthi Srinivasan

Guest Post by VASANTHI SRINIVASAN

With depressing regularity, the newspapers have been reporting farmers’ suicides in many states. Recently, P Sainath wrote on BBC that around 296,438 farmers have committed suicide since 1995. He also mentions that cash crop cultivators of cotton, sugar cane, vanilla, pepper, groundnut etc account for the bulk of those suicides. According to a PIL heard by the Supreme Court in December 2014, around 3146 farmers in Maharashtra have committed suicide this year. Of course, farmer’s suicides only account for a fraction of all suicides reported in India. Besides, farmer’s suicides are a global phenomenon. The litany of woes is also familiar to readers, namely rising indebtedness, crop failures, falling prices, natural disasters etc.

And yet the meaning of these suicides, if any, is worth reflecting upon.

Politicians, who are used to massive debts, seem to think this is an ‘extreme step’ on the part of farmers. In 2003, the then Union Minister for Agriculture hinted that indebtedness alone may not be causing the ‘extreme step’, and that ‘family problems’ may also be a reason. In Karnataka, the Veeresh committee report had earlier identified depression, alcoholism and marital discord rather than the rising debt as the relevant causes. Never one to lag behind, the hi-tech Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu  announced compensations and proposed to get psychiatrists to rural areas. One scholar has pointed to the increasing isolation of cultivators and high levels of anxiety about failure suffered by some farmers [1]. These attempts at ‘personalizing’ the farmers’ problems may be necessary but not sufficient as long as other factors remain unexplored – increasing cultivation costs, crop failures, water shortages and falling product price. Citing the high figures of suicides (204) in Maharashtra for 2014 until April, followed by Telangana (69 until October), the Times of India  (dated Nov 26, 2014), reported that the present Central government admitted indebtedness as a possible factor.  There are also calls to increase monetary compensation to families affected by such suicides.   Continue reading Farmers’ Suicides and Fatal Politics: Vasanthi Srinivasan

Sexual Violence, Consumer Culture and Feminist Politics – Rethinking the Critique of Commodification : Sreenanti Banerjee

Guest Post by SREENANTI BANERJEE

I will begin with the by now well-known interview of author and social activist Arundhati Roy, conducted by Channel 4 (a British Media House), about the widespread protests after the horrific December 16th incident of the brutal gangrape of the 23 year old medical student in Delhi. Permit me to quote Roy at length as I do not wish to take bits and pieces from her talk, and pluck them out of their context.

We are having an unexceptional reaction to an event which isn’t exceptional […] But the problem is that why is this crime creating such a lot of outrage is because it plays into the idea of the criminal poor, the vegetable vendor, the gym instructor, the bus driver actually assaulting a middle-class girl. But when rape is used as a means of domination by upper castes, by the army or the police it’s not even punished. Continue reading Sexual Violence, Consumer Culture and Feminist Politics – Rethinking the Critique of Commodification : Sreenanti Banerjee

Of Complicity and Contamination in the Neoliberal Academy: Oishik Sircar

Guest post by OISHIK SIRCAR

Many years back as a naïve leftist graduate student in Toronto I discovered the meanings of complicity and contamination through a most ordinary event. As someone who believed that no artistic work should ever have restricted access because of copyright, I bought an online software programme that could break copy protected DVDs. I would get film DVDs from the university library and use the software to copy them onto my hard drive. In the one year that I spent there, I copied over 1000 films. Over the years I have distributed many of these films to my students and friends, and have made extensive use of them in my teaching and workshops.

By the time I was nearing the end of my stay in Toronto, I wanted to figure out whether the software would work in India – so that I can continue my copyright breaking enterprise. I was delighted to find out that it would, as long as I paid to extend the software’s use for another year. And at the time of making this payment, to my utter surprise, I saw that this software was copyrighted. The fact that a copyright breaking software could itself have a copyright was bizarrely enlightening. The software was a tool to rip through the oppressive regimes of copyright, and in doing so it also sought recognition from that very language of privatizing innovation. It got me thinking whether we could ever espouse and practice a politics that is not a constant negotiation between complicity and contamination. Whether a search for a politics of purity is both foolish and counterproductive? My naïveté has been gradually undone through events that I have observed and experienced since then. While I can treat this as a process of acquiring wisdom, it is nevertheless a disturbing wisdom to possess. It has also left a feeling of yearning for utopia in this world of cruel contradictions.

After returning from Toronto, I shook off my naïveté with such force that I ended up with a job at a university funded by one of India’s largest steel companies whose operations have wreaked havoc in the lives of adivasi populations in several parts of India. Continue reading Of Complicity and Contamination in the Neoliberal Academy: Oishik Sircar

Are We Talking to the People Who Are Out on the Streets? – Kavita Krishnan

Guest post by KAVITA KRISHNAN  (Editor, Liberation)

The people saying ‘I am Anna’ or ‘Vande Mataram’ are not all RSS or pro-corporate elites. They’re open to listening to what we have to say to them about corporate corruption or liberalization policies. The question is – are we too lofty and superior (and prejudiced) to speak to them?

Throughout the summer, student activists of All India Students’ Association (AISA) and Revolutionary Youth Association (RYA) engaged in this painstaking exercise for months. They campaigned all over the country, in mohallas, villages, markets where there is no visible Left presence. No, these were not areas of ‘elite’ concentration – mostly middle, lower middle or working class clusters, or students’ residential areas near campuses. In most places, people would begin by assuming they were campaigners of Anna Hazare. When students introduced their call for the 9 August Barricade at Parliament, they would be asked, ‘What’s the need for a separate campaign when Anna’s already leading one?’ They would then explain that they supported the movement for an effective anti-corruption law to ensure that the corrupt don’t enjoy impunity. But passing such a law could not end corruption, which was being bred by the policies that were encouraging corporate plunder of land, water, forests, minerals, spectrum, seeds… They learnt to communicate without jargon, to use examples from the state where the campaign was taking place. They would tell people about the Radia tapes, and the role of the corporates, the ruling Congress, the opposition BJP, and the media in such corruption.

Continue reading Are We Talking to the People Who Are Out on the Streets? – Kavita Krishnan

Kitne aadmi the? We are all seditious now

Here is a very short, utterly incomplete, hastily compiled list of people charged under Section 124 A in the last two years alone.

Our very own Shuddhabrata Sengupta figures  in this roll of honour.

(Incidentally, KK Shahina, who has guest posted with us, faces charges from the Karnataka Police under IPC 506 for intimidating witnesses. Her expose in Tehelka showed how the police case against Abdul Nasar Madani, head of the People’s Democratic Front (PDP), accused in 2008 Bengaluru blasts, was fragile and based on non-existent and false testimonies.)

There would be hundreds more, not named here, charged with sedition for “criticizing” the government, for exposing corruption and police nexus with mafias, or for expressing views that run counter to official wisdom on the “integrity” of India.

As if “integrity” is something pre-existing and eternal rather than something that has to be produced at every point. The existence of a nation is a daily plebiscite, said even historian Ernst Renan, a staunch supporter of the nation form. Not so Rabindranath Tagore, who was highly suspicious of the “fetish of nationalism”. He called the Nation nothing but the “the organization of politics and commerce” and warned that when this Nation “becomes all-powerful at the cost of the harmony of the higher social life, then it is an evil day for humanity.” (In his lectures on nationalism, published by Rupa and Co. 1994) Continue reading Kitne aadmi the? We are all seditious now