A petition from an organization called Change India invaded my Facebook wall today right before – rather ironically, it turns out— my morning auto ride. The petition is filed under a category on the site called “petitions for economic justice.” When you open it, the image pasted below opens. A sharp fanged, dark skinned “auto-rakshasa” demands one-and-a-half fare. The commuter is “harassed.” The petition that accompanies this image urges the ACP of police to create “an efficient system” so that complaints made to report auto-drivers who overcharge or refuse to ply can be tracked. How, it asks, can “concerned Bangalorean citizens” expect “justice” if their complaints are not tracked? We all must, it urges, “join the fight.”
Let me first say quite clearly that I do not mean to undermine the intentions and frustrations of those who launched this campaign and, yes, when the meter goes on without asking, it eases a morning commute significantly. The question is: if this does not happen at times (and indeed it doesn’t) then why is this so and what does one do about it? There is a lot to be said about the economics of the issue itself and I welcome others reading who know more to write about it more extensively. But this piece is not about that. It is about the campaign itself and how we articulate political questions in our cities. It is fundamentally about the easy, unremarked way in which a working urban resident and citizen – who is also, after all, a “fellow Bangalorean” and concerned with “economic justice”– can be termed and portrayed a “rakshasa” as if it were a banal utterance.
Continue reading The (Auto)Rakshasa and the Citizen
After the recent – and fascinating – debate on autorickshaws that spanned three posts and several comments, I couldnt resist putting this up once it arrived in my mailbox. Thank you Akshaya for sending it my way.
I want to go off on a bit of a tangent here. Just to open a different discussion in the spirit of thinking, and muddling along together. It seems to me that one of the axis on which the debate has turned is on the question of desire and its representation. Who is the desiring subject, towards whom is this desire directed, who represents this desire in what way, what are the slippages therein, who has the right to speak about whom.
I was wondering if we can approach this from a slightly different angle by taking this question of desire beyond the individual subject (variously defined). And in fact nameless did gesture to this in one of her responses where she raised the question of the appropriation of what she termed subaltern practices by elite intellectuals where certain practices and forms, in this case autos, are made to stand in for certain values – in this case progressive, ‘left” etc – which says more about the locations of the intellectuals and their insensitivity to their own class-caste positions, in a move which is patronizing at best and exploitative at worst. I think inherent in this critique is the shadow of a kind of objectification of a certain experience, so that a symbol becomes alienated from the actual life practices in which it is located to circulate as some empty signifier, to be appropriately filled as per requirement.
Continue reading A Tangential Addition to the Great Auto Debate
Little did I think when I put up this image, that it would lead to such a rich set of comments on class, caste and gender.
The picture had been circulating on the web, in blogs and email lists for some time, and without comment, as a funny, jokey kind of thing. Autos and trucks (in Delhi anyway,) are renowned, as Aman pointed out in his comment, for pithy, witty, quirky, dolorous, amorous etc. comments on life. Briefly glimpsed, their ability to linger in our minds is a reflection of their literary quality.
When this one was sent to me, the reason I posted it on kafila was initially light-hearted too, since we consider autos to be our mascots, as representing kafila’s philosophy and relationship to the city in some way – small, cheeky, full of “attitude”, winding nimbly through the mass of traffic, a resistant challenge to the idea of a shiny, “world-city-like-paris-and-singapore” that our various governments want to turn all our cities into, by neatly removing the poor, the workers, the slums etc.
Continue reading Reflections on the Great Unexpected Auto Debate
“It is forbidden to sit with your boyfriend and claim he is your brother”
My sister sent me this one…