A recent work trip took me to the north-east of Bihar, the poorest region of a state with ‘critical’ poverty incidence by any measure. For instance, within the state, on NSS 2004-05 data, West Champaran is the worst-performing district on headcount ratios (76.9) in rural India (Chaudhuri and Gupta, Economic and Political Weekly, 2009). Such destitution was on ample evidence amongst the segregated group of mahadalit and minority women members of a self-help group we spoke to, in a tola with no electricity and only candles to dispel an eerie fog settled over the village at dusk. Of 13 of them, 11 had repeat experience (up to three times per woman) of losing a child in the last trimester of pregnancy, just after giving birth or of a child under 5 years of age. It was from Champaran that Gandhi first led landless labour and tenants or ryots, in his first satyagraha against the British, protesting the coerced cultivation of the cash crop, indigo. Almost a century later, not much has changed in tangible terms for the population of this part of the democratic Republic of India. Continue reading “Welcome to the Land of Enlightenment”: Kaveri Gill→
Today comes the surreal news that anyone painting their house or apartment white or sky blue in Kolkata can claim a waiver on property tax for a full year, a horror conjuring up a city that looks like a crumpled weave of Mother Teresa’s saree. Now, towns of Regency England and the Cornwall coast have uniform building and color restrictions to maintain historical continuity, but this idea is more in the perverse vein of babus suggesting that the burning ghats at Varanasi be “white-washed” for “freshness”.
Thankfully, another Humphrey shot that idea down, yet the decimation of the architectural integrity of the façade of these famous ghats continues apace, with sealed air-conditioned buildings overlooking the burning bodies at Manikaran. Bengal’s Chief Minister has been known to remark that the colours “promote happiness” and accordingly, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) Mayor has incentivised citizens to embrace the “theme colours of the city”. Coming on the heels of a general election, where the TMC won 34 seats out of 42, up from 19 in 2009, and compared to only 2 each for the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (with 18% of the vote share, not to mention an almost win in the city), even discounting for dirty tricks appropriated by their cadres from the Left of old, the scorn must be tempered by what this result says about the contemporary citizen of this state and city. Continue reading Eta Kolkata (This is Kolkata): Kaveri Gill→