Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Trip to Nelliampatti, Palakkad, January 2016

A Visit to a Palakkad Hill Station, January 2016, or the Case of an Antarjyathi
I started out  on field trip on a bright January morning, camera in hand and took a bus some sixteen kilometres from Palakkad, since I had to change buses. After walking up and down  at that interim rural bus stop, for quite sometime, and watching the lottery ticket seller, I realised that he was a terrific  informant. People not just asked him whether their bus had gone, they also wanted to tell him about the latest quarrel, the price of paddy, the wedding in their church and the pilgrims who visited the village on the way to Sabarimalla.  As I was eavesdropping on these conversations, I saw the bus to Nelliampatti as it reached the stop. I ran and caught it, but then it went into a long wait, as buses going to obscure places do. The people who got in were rural, they had come to Nellampara to sell or buy something and now they were going back to the tea estate at Nelliampatti.
When the bus  took off, it did  so with practised ease, rolling along country roads with a man in a blue shirt driving, yelling greetings to all his passengers, and villagers enroute. The Kerala bus drivers have a hard task, since they have speed limits to observe, pouring rain, narrow roads, on  occasion there are uphill climbs, and regular passengers who love to hear ear crashing loud music as they go from point to point. On this occasion, we had to travel 30 kms uphill, on an unusually pristine route. The forest guards are particular that there should be no garbage disposal, no cigarettes, no alcohol bottles junked out of windows. The signs say that it will cause the offender to pay a fine of Rs 2500. I wish this was the case for all of Kerala, where garbage piles up and is put to burn all over the State.  The bus goes up to the orange farms run by the government, in Nelliampatti. Here the  wage workers, the honey moon couples, and young children with their parents get off. The oranges are grown under huge tarpaulin green houses, and the fruit  sold by local merchants in tourist friendly shops, which also advertise tea and natural honey.
A woman sitting directly behind me, a small, fair, Tamil Brahmin woman,  smiles at me whenever I turn around. I have nothing to say to her, there is something so innocent,  so vacuous and intelligent, about her simultaneously. She lives by her prayers, it’s clear. There is no reason for us to talk. While I sit comfortably near the window,  she is someone  well known to the tea workers, for  all three of them sit together, squashing her a little bit, but she smiles, and says nothing. There is no bifurcation of caste and class and religion here. They are labourers, dressed neatly, their scarves covering their hair. They are jubilant that they have received an increase in wages, thanks to the struggle of the communist workers, some of whom were put away in jail as Marxists and Maoists for months, but recently released, thanks to digital activism. The newspapers had been full of the news of Marxists in Nelliampatti for weeks! The Nelliampatti  workers do not convey their regret, except with the smallest of frowns, that the tea workers in other plantations after similar struggles received higher wages than them. For the moment it is enough that they got an increase, it allowed them to visit their children in local towns and receive and give gifts.
I was afraid to get off the bus at the Orangery, though I had a phone number for a local community of organic farmers, thinking if I missed the bus on it’s way back then I would not be in a position to go back to Palakkad before dark. So I stayed in the bus, as it went up and up and up. The air got cleaner and cooler. The tea gardens transformed themselves into coffee plantations. The tea workers got off the bus, they said they had good accommodation,  children went to local schools, each community had a place of worship, and they did get medical attention.  Lots of signs proclaimed that visitors should not throw garbage, and that there should be no photography.  At the last stop, we got off, and the smiling bespectacled, slightly balding but robust man at the back had one of the emaciated workers still with us, help him with a large sack. The conductor and driver went off to visit a relative who lived nearby (there were only two houses on that lonely hill top). The lovely passive woman sitting behind me turned out to be the wife of the bespectacled man. She  smiled sweetly at him, and went ahead. One could never have guessed their relationship previously, as they showed no sign of acknowledging one another. Clearly, that gentleman was on an official trip. I asked him what he did. “Ration shop owner.” Earlier there were two hundred families who came to him for cereals. Now there are  hardly half a dozen. He said he loved living here, “Great sky, great hills, great mountains, great country!”  he said grandiosely. Living alone with his wife on the top of a mountain, he felt immensely proud. Interestingly, he made this invocation to me in English, saying they got many visitors, mainly Japanese.
A closed temple to Mariamman, the small pox goddess, had a sign board in Tamil, since plantation workers were often from Tamilnadu, and close by was a more recent idol to Ganesh, the god of Beginnings.  A huge white bird flew out into the sky. I returned to the bus, and in a few minutes, the conductor and driver were back. The driver said he had driven the same route for forty years. When we drove downhill the conductor picked a few coffee seeds for me from a bush, so that I could see the deep red hue of the berries. A little later, we saw an agent of the coffee plantations, with a dog,  and a walking stick, dark glasses, and a cap, wearing bermudas, smiling, assured, clearly a man who enjoyed his solitude and his whisky, and was happy with his line of trade.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Mother's Day

Mother’s Day
Everyday I set out, my identity as an intellectual intact, and that’s the greatest blessing my parents gave me. Hallmark cards did not exist in those days, and the only day which my father celebrated was May Day, though he had a lot of respect for Good Friday, and Diwali and Christmas. And ofcourse Eid, since he taught in Jamia Millia Islamia, having been one of the founding member of Rural Development, as his department was called in the 1950s. Dad was a real mum to us, since it was he who was always at home, when we came from school, and it was he who taught us to cook, and to do our homework, and had  a constant surveillance system in place, going through our books, and letters and even our dreams. We were never sufficiently grateful, thinking him to be just so intrusive and overpossessive. Mum was much more liberal, and we enjoyed her company in the real sense of the word, her love for books, and unlike my father, who had a lethal sense of humour, Mummy was amusing in a different way. Now I feel that the gifts of ancestors are the things we remember about them, and when we die, those memories go with us. We really have no idea about who our great grandmother was, for instance, or how we understand the gift of a fishing net adorned with shells which was my great grandmother’s dowry to the family, along with one gold coin and  five rupees. My mother was always snooty about that legend about my father’s family, and it was probably the elephant which her mother’s family owned, that she brought to her mind, when thinking about the fishing net. Whether either elephant or cowrie bedecked net really existed is anyone’s guess. I had a guest over at my place once, who told me that he was descended from those who were sent away by the king for killing a cow, and the women in their clan were  Nair princesses who were then sold to fishermen. And he looked at me, and said, “Your father’s father’s brother married one of our women.” I looked blankly at him, and wondered if the family knew of this legend, and whether the dowry of a fishnet could be explained for our line as well. Between fiction and genealogy there is never too much gap, only those are remembered who can further the interests of the group. Now, that artisanal castes are fighting for recognition, the sum of class interests are focussed on them. It is they who have the voice, it is they who are producing a new intelligentsia, and backward is as backward does, which is to negotiate a space between dalit intelligentsia climbing rapidly to the top and the Brahmanic upper castes.
For my generation, it really does not matter who we married, and how we brought up our children, it was the survival instinct that we wanted to harness most. We were a generation who listened to Janice Joplin’s “me and bobby mcgee” and while the real battle between the cowherds and the macaulayites  escalates, it is the past which beckons, the past which has no genealogy, but only a dna stamping which takes us back to Africa. One of the young woman lecturers who dropped in to see me last week, as tempers frayed on JNU campus, and the barometer climbed relentlessly, said that it was a struggle teaching African kinship and social structure to undergraduates, as they could not see the relevance of it in their lives. Comparative Sociology never needed legitimation in the 70s of the last century. Reading about the Mother’s Brother and bilateral filiation among the native Americans and about ghost marriages in Africa were always exciting, and our teachers released our imagination.  Teaching is always a strenuous occupation, it is a vocation, and not the sum total of knowledge garnered for purposes of passing the NET examination. Passing or failing the NET exam can never be the index  of academic achievement. To be a good teacher one must be free of worries, of where salaries come from, or what the State will say, or what the agenda of the clerical and administrative bureaucracy is. It has it’s own checks and balances which include teacher student ratio, and the continuous feedback from young people, who enrich our bibliographies with their own rite of passage.
However to think that students “run” the university, or that they will do so,  after anarchic and life asserting moments are absorbed into the university calendar as part of student democratic rights, is pushing the mile stone too far. We have a breathing space, let’s use it to be just, fair, generous and reasonable. Alma mater has a history, a written constitution, a logo, a chronology of achievements and we need to keep moving. While aggressiveness in speech is recognised as reprehensible, the student community need to know that the teachers are not with them on all the vile things they shout when they are looking to upset the apple cart.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Museums and Childhood

Of Museums and Childhood.
When I joined Hindu College in 1984, I made a gang of friends, who on odd Saturdays would go somewhere, do something, meet for lunch. There were a dozen of us, I was twenty eight  years old  and I had a new baby, and so did another member of the English Department, Renuka Booth. Going to the National Museum, or to Dilli Haat,  or to the Cottage Industries at Janpath,or to the hills with students was not something we did often, but it was memorable. We were salaried professionals, and enjoyed the pleasures of our financial independence, though the pittance we brought home went to paying grocery bills or house rent. I bought a bunch of cowbells from Dilli Haat, and though my upstairs neighbour at that time, borrowed them and did not return them (because her child liked it too much) it still remains as one of the significant purchases of a first job. College lecturers, all of us, somewhat looked down upon by the general public (“Lecturers koi kam Nahi Karte” were the invectives of the middle class upon us, and ofcourse the professoriate  in Delhi University at that time,were kind, patronising and mildly contemptuous. The fact that the publishing record of undergraduate lecturers in the Arts and Humanities was hugely  higher than that of the post graduate departments in the 1990s is a fact not to be forgotten. The new systems of  academic accounting actually dull the teachers; leave them free and let them pursue their intellectual ambitions without saying ad nauseum, “Where is the output?” like the king wanting hay turned into gold.
I remember the Mohenjo Dara and Harappa section of the National Museum in the early 1990s, when my three daughters were growing up, and learning to know the city of Delhi. On hot summer days, it was a nice place to browse, with young children, and the  teams of school children following their energetic teachers.  Corpses folded into earthen ware pots left us completely tongue tied. There were the amber beads, and the miniature toys, and the lovely designs on pottery. The Gandharva exhibits with the greek looking heads of Buddha and the sundry warriors and damsels were lovely too. Up and up you go, seeing the clothes the Mughals wore, and the delicate detailed painting of Rajputana. When the currency section opened, the coins of Gudnapheres had me completely entranced, not to mention the plethora of Mauryan and Roman coins, and ofcourse cowrie shells gleaming in the boxed light. 
And then there were days, we went to the Natural History Museum. When I saw the staff sitting on the pavement after it burned down, I felt sorry for them, it’s bad enough to lose your life’s work, but not to have a place to go to when the hot summer winds blow? What could be worse than that? One of the members of that group was a gifted artist, who once had an exhibition at Triveni Kala exhibition in the late 1980s. He drew the forts of Madhya Pradesh, which one sees from the train, perched high up on bare rocks. They were black line drawings, austere, skilled draftsman’s drawings. I felt totally in love with his work, but although they were priced at 800 rupees, circa 1980s, I did not have the money.  We were fighting union battles those days, and our pay went up from 4000 rupees to 6000 rupees per month, but rent and food bills, just did not allow us to have that additional spending money. Window shopping and friendships were sufficient for us in those days.
In the Natural History Museum, the children never dragged their feet, which they could when they went to the zoo with me, as the caged animals were never pleasing to them, and only the snake cage created a mild ripple of interest, or the greedy catatonic crocodiles in their fetid state of stupor. The Natural History Museum welcomed us with that wide mouthed laughing dinosaur, and then there was the image of the worms any ancient mariner would have been proud of, from whom we humans had ascended. And the musty exhibits in their glass cases were so remote from our lives, including impaled butterflies.  After climbing the stairs, right to the top, the children complaining a little,  we would go to Triveni for lunch, and shake off the sense of extinction that accompanied us.
 The National Gallery of Modern Art on days when summer was depleting its store of fatal days, and running into the monsoon was equally delightful. The children got their sense of the world from the rooms in which Amrita Shergil paintings led you from company art and it’s  black and white etchings to the Tagore School, and then upstairs to the larger rooms where the Hussains, Tyebs and one summer a whole new array of the generation of Rajiv Lochan and his age set were on display with their luminescent or dread oils. Museums grew bigger, better, ticketed, tourist friendly. The reproductions hung in our homes, often not framed, just tacked on with scotch tape on the wall.
 Now, I wonder what will replace the  Dinosaur exhibitions at Natural History Museum, with their plastic reproductions and terrifying cries, creating immense excitement among five and eight year olds. 
I’m waiting for my granddaughter to grow up, so I can do the rounds of the Museums again, after 20 years. And the zoo ofcourse. But let me mention the Science Museum as another delight, with it’s frequently broken exhibits, where eager children must have turned the handle too aggressively, and ofcourse the black and white photographs of our science pundits looking gravely back at us. What’s family, but the continuous sense of rotation and revolution, and the feminist space of recreating the world, regardless of blood or war, fiction or fact? In the Lal Quila, the markets of the traders with their extravagant turqoises, and the baths of the Kings, and the howling of the Delhi wind accompanies the slaves  as they move in that relic past to give the last king his food and drink while he writes in the middle of the pond, where he had a room to tide his summer days of writing and reading before being pushed off to Rangoon. Let’s hope we can keep our monuments and museums. Humayun falling down from the stairs of his library still echo in our ears when we visit his tomb, as does Bairam Khan’s gentle presence in the company of eager young lovers and old people walking to ease their bones. But picnics in the old forts is another story, that includes Tughlakabad and Suraj Khund.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

A Case of Ineptitude in University Bureaucracy

In a world where politicians deal with consumerism and corruption with the same sense of banality, what is happening in JNU must come as a puzzle to them. The supreme court has stated that chanting slogans is not seditious and it’s  enquiry committees have discovered that partisan channels have doctored videos. The general assumption for right wing incendiary campaigns including shouting at Faculty Members and banging on their doors  at dead of night is to be subsumed under the category of “Students can be indisciplined, and shout all sorts of things."  So where do we go from here? "Ghar Ghar Ghus Ke Mareinge" , their favourite slogan frightened some students and teachers inordinately. Maybe, we thought they really meant it.
The Vice Chancellor has alienated his working groups, and whether these be students or teachers,  he cannot do anything to solve the problem. The teachers no longer see dialogue as possible, since the error lies in Administration, not in the stars of a dozen  students. A committee that takes a decision without meeting the students is illegitimate in its jurisdiction, if it is unable to call the defendants together, or the support of the University community. To go against the wise council of the Supreme Court is itself slander to democratic institutions. The Vice Chancellor was sent in by the President, now the President must take a decision on how he sees the fate of what was once India’s premier institution, with the highest NAAC accreditation in the country last year.
 The JNUTA President, in the middle of the struggle for justice, came out with a new book from Routledge. So, just as classes continued, and evaluation process is now in place, the institutional work of the JNU remained stable. It takes a lot of effort to work in situations where the crisis of academia is part of a state pogrom against intellectuals. The BJP RSS functionaries in the JNU were placed when the right wing was in power the last time round. As two of the Rectors were RSS affiliated, their appointments  of clerical and administrative staff were also politically biased. In the 80s and 90s, the Law Faculty in Delhi University was crammed with right wing students,   and we see now that the Bar Council has a right wing partisanship. The silence of people was the expected location of the legitimation of rule and plunder, but Rohit Vamula’s suicide put a stop to that. Young people saw the annihilation of the universities as the extinction of their own hopes for a normative future, and have moved substantially to protect their ideals. "Occupy UGC" and now the present JNU struggle is part of that larger movement, with students on indefinite fast, and teachers in solidarity on relay hunger strikes.
JNUTA has to believe that institutional mechanisms can be retrieved, and with the citizenry now moving into JNU since 4th May 2016,  for providing the support that the students and teachers need, with hunger strikes and relay groups, the momentum is now in place. Vice Chancellor has a reputation for silence,  for treating JNU as if it was IIT with its extreme suicide rates,  and lack of empathy, and now, is seen as a dummy set up by the RSS to destroy the university. What is the RSS dream? If the Gujerati experience is to be relayed, it has meant hierarchy, ritual, power, death without reason. When forty percent of the country voted Mr Modi into power, they must have thought that genocidal impulses would rid the country of the extras, minorities, left, secular, what have you, women, dalits, handicapped, the hungry. Now is the time for the remaining sixty percent to respond, through writing, demonstrations, fasts, hartals, strikes, whatever it takes before the age set that now demonises the law courts as RSS lawyers become judges themselves.
Indiscipline on campus has it’s routine punishments, if the committees are not known to be partisan. By choosing a majority of the members for their right wing or Youth for Equality representatives, the JNU Administration has alienated itself from the students and teachers. The ABVP has been known to create its own ruckus whenever given a chance. The fact that two crowds met in the night,  and there was a conflagration has to be handled by the University. That the VC only hears the ABVP side of the disruption is really unethical, and its members  who went to the Paschimabad flats to terroise teachers, cannot be identified according to Adminsitration. Who will call VC to book for this absenteeism from his role as mediator and catalyst for regular functioning? We can only punish students for indiscipline, how can we punish them for their political views? The RSS does not maintain the demeanour of free citizens nor does it provide an atmosphere of equality, conviviality and freedom. It frightens people, it is contemptuous to women, dalits and minorities. Why would we want to be ruled by them?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

JNU Strike on Monday 15th 2016

The JNU students have been picketing for a long time, collectively with other unions. The corporatisation of education has been their greatest anguish. Now the caste oriented politics of the BJP has made things so much worse. Why is it that the JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar was picked up with out a warrant? The JNUTA is completely stunned, because the young man neither shouted antinational slogans, nor did he support Kashmiri selfdeterminism. The discussion on capital punishment has been going on for very long in human right protection circles. Quite often, people come to JNU canvassing for the rights of prisoners.  Now, we are told that Kanhaiya has been placed in the Terrorist Cell in R.K. Puram. We hope that he can be returned to us at the earliest, as there is no reason for him to be put in jail.
When there are disturbances on campus, because of volatile groups of politically committed students, and the far right and the extreme left are always looking for occassions to be at each other's throats, the presence of teachers calms things down. This time, the VC was new, and the acting registrar Bhupinder Zutshi did not recommend  to him that the proctor's committees be activated. We are all shocked by Zutshi's  action, which was to give a list of  previously prepared students' names to the police, and that the VC was advised to let the police enter  the campus was most reprehensible.
Students in JNU have had a long tradition of training as grass roots intellectuals. They keep an inventory of deficits both institutional and national. They know that they are responsible for the smooth running of the institution they study in. We as teachers have always respected them, and learned from them. The mutual love we have for our students and their ideas, and the respect they have for us is now almost fifty years old. It's tragic that the press barons, who have no respect for the poor and the genius among them, should have used their agents to misrepresent JNU. The segmentalised and aggressive way in which the press manipulated their cameras and showed teachers and students of JNU to be antinational is most unseemly. We can only imagine that they are ideologically or otherwise implicated in capitalism and caste orientations.
Rohith Vemula's death was something that the students were deeply grieved by. His suicide note was a classic example of the genius of the young that I have already stated as characteristic of the Marxist Ambedkarite vision. It is this that the right wing cadres are keen to damage.
The human chain four kms long, held in friendship and love to uphold the great struggle that the JNU community sees as lying ahead of it is a good omen of the self respect and the optimism that we feel.

To kill the spirit of the rural intelligentsia is not so easy. They are learned, wise, and practical. They will show India, that learning is something which opens up the path to greater achievements. Today, they organised the crowd gathering perfectly, without a single moment of anxiety for JNUTA, who participated to support the students. On 13th February, when ABVP members, none of them recognisable as  JNU students, tried to harass 3000 students gathered together, the JNU students were completely calmed and restrained. Yesterday, 13th February 2016,  we felt we were sitting on a time bomb, which would go off, as the university became a site for visitors who came to support the JNUSU, and the lumpen elements posing as ABVP students moved around freely. On 14th February 2016, with the peace march around JNU campus, we felt our own sense of integrity and camaraderie. The FEDCUTA President, JNU President, Ambedkar University representatives all communicated their sense of belonging to an India which is democratic, dialogic and continuously open to the questions of freedom and identity. To lock up a young man on the bases of his official post, as responsible for slogan shouting by anonymous members of the crowd, seeking to create fissures in the community, is totally illogical.
On 15th February, 2016, some of the Professors,  including myself, Chitra Harshvardhan, Neera Kongari, Nivedita Menon, Madhu Sahni,  Ayesha Kidwai and Janki Nair, accompanied by some men faculty went to Court number 4, gate number 2, Patiala House, to be there for JNUSU president when he was produced before the judge. We were first ushered into the room, and settled in, and after twenty minutes, around ten minutes to 2 pm, when the hearing was to begin, we were crowded in by RSS lawyers, who shouted at us, and pushed us around, and said we were to leave. The police then  cordoned the women professors and took them up staircases and down different ones, saying that they were protecting us from the RSS activists. They were very concerned, and wanted to communicate that they had our best interests while ushering us along a warren of rooms and steps.
The polarisation of JNU, and its breakdown has begun. It is immensely frightening, since the secular and the religious are now confrontational. The karamchari union took out a march on 15th February  at 11 a.m  outside administration. I heard a woman clerk  at the meeting say, “First, we will identify the students who are anti-national, then all the teachers.” On 14thFebruary, when the journalists asked us “What are your opinions about being called antinational?” The hundreds of teachers who were assembled laughed.  After today, and the expressive and fearsome RSS response, it does not seem funny anymore. The young boy who stood up for the rights of the poor to study and to be liberated will have us always as his Brechtian mothers, for us he is of the earth, and will be blessed for his courage.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Research Team from Law and Governance to Sundarbans, and a Sociologist's report.


Settler communities face difficulties primarily because they are always treated as poor, in  continuous states of servitude, and called into the arena of wage labour, because of the needs of the State. The first impression we get off the islands, is that of an austerity, calm, and of an inviolable beauty. The Disaster Management team from Centre for Law and Governance, JNU, had a minimalist agenda, which was to discover whether the communities who live on  those islands have benefitted from the Relief Programmes of the Government. When cyclone Aliya, (or Ayla, as the people call it,) arrived, the people were completely unprepared. The Government officials told us in Calcutta, that they could not give 48 hours warning because the storm suddenly turned it’s path, and hit the Sundarbans. The odd thing about this conclusion is, that the local people communicated that  the weather forecasting satellites work better for Bangladesh, as they have quicker responses to the disaster, and evacuation is speedier. For themselves, they moved to higher land, and waded out with their children, when the water had reached chest deep. They had no idea that the storm would strike so murderously, as they are used to storms, and live with them. The officials say that the lack of preparedness made them create certain resources, including a disaster shelter which includes 1000 to 2000 people. There are 4700 families on the island of Bali. The shelter, as we saw it,  however, was not at all well maintained, and actually was used for storing some metal water pipes, and also doubled as a barat ghar, or community hall used for marriages. The problem with its non maintained aspect, is that in the tropical climate, it can rot, if left in the condition it is now.
Subsistence societies are essentially existentialist. The Panchayat members are very clear that the money reached them, and they used it to good effect. Their rice storage and hay stacks have been lifted by four inches for instance, clay and sludge brought in by the 2009 storm has been used for creating embankments, by the simple principle of filling the sacks with this mix, and then parking it on the earlier embankments. It dries and becomes a type of local cement. The assumption is that these simple measures will keep the water out. In truth, the people live simple lives working very hard to sustain their rural economy by farming, fishing, and keeping of cattle. The children are educated in a voluntary school run by an NGO which also has a guest house for their officials. There is an internet college run by Prasanjeeth Mandal, who is a lawyer trained in Calcutta, with a B.A in English Literature, and also has Panchayat responsibilities. He returned to Bali to look after his parents, as they are now old. His Panchayat membership allows him to play an active role in local politics, and to mediate with visitors. His father’s farm, which he manages, grows the things his family needs.  Rice, vegetables, like cauliflower and beans, fruit like guavas and bannanas, and the new cash crop, green chillies. He also grows flowers for the market. Part of the problem that they have encountered is still experiential, terrifying, and much of how they think of the past and future, both of which are still represented as coterminous, is coloured by these memories. Fear is something they live with. Several people in the islands work as manual labour in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Some of the elderly men on the island, have travelled to Kerala to see their sons at their workplace. One man stood  proudly against the electric pole, a cement pillar, and said “By this pole I can talk to my son.” His deep belief in the magic of the mobile was to assert it’s efficacy. They do not feel that they are isolated, because they are connected.
Farming is sufficient to give them a good life. It is interesting that organic farming is seen as a way by which vegetables can reach Malancha, a nearby town, which is three hours by ferry and two hours by bus, away. The hybrid tomatoes and the large sized vegetables were a testimony to the farmer, stating that he only used “waste” from his fields to cultivate. Other farmers, like Prasanjeeth Mandal, use urea as well. The basic assumption is that “if they work very hard, they can eat”, an aphorism that I have heard from  farmers elsewhere. The organic farmer thus believes that this ability  to work hard is his characteristic, to feed  the family, to be able to hold the property together. Unfortunately, the BPL card is only available to farmers with certified landholdings. The  organic farmer  whom our team spoke to, has land which belonged to a man from Midnapore, who after Ayla does not want to utilize his property, so now it is in the hands of the workers. They own it, but though it is a gift, it is worthless, because they cannot prove that they own it. Bureaucracy being what it is, the complexity of paper work is difficult for these previously landless  farmers to handle.
At night there is no electricity, there is fear of the Royal Bengal Tiger, who does not discriminate between deer and humans. The waters connecting the islands are crocodile infested. The boat only comes during fixed hours. There is no hospital or police station. Trafficking and alcohol abuse are known crimes, and in case of rape, the immediate punishment is to kill the rapist, using the common sickle to severe the neck, according to an informant.
The sense that here are people left to themselves to live or die, is mitigated by the self assurance that they communicate, which is of the essence of being human. They are connected to one another, they have all the values of being alert to one another. The sense of love for the land, and the beauty of the landscape is immediate. It is possible only because the inhabitants feels responsible for what they have. We must remember that  only 200 families left Bali for good, after Ayla. They believed that they could continue to live on the island, inspite of the terrible  environmental disturbance.
The Government response was immediate. The IAS officer in charge of relief operations was told that rice should be immediately provided to all families, and no one should go hungry. What is missing however is the training for immediate response, should another storm arise. The people have not developed their ‘best practice’ for this event. There is no leader, or community management for drill for evacuation.
The resources  for survival and sustenance remain simple and private. The rich alluvial silt the storm left behind has made the fields more fertile. Dr Sajjal Baruah, a veterinary doctor who has decided to settle in Bali came in as a wildlife photographer. He then bought land, has set up four rooms, two for himself and his wife, and his mother, and two for guests. He believes eco tourism is viable in Bali, and that people will come to this remote island for the pleasure of living in pristine and primeval conditions. Dr Sajjal tells our team that when he came as a photographer, to the specific place he now farms, he set up a tent, and slept there, and at night the tiger came and prowled around, had never seen a tent, and lay down beside him. As legends go, it would seem that those who truly respect the wild, have no enemies among the animals. As an organic farmer he has already established the vegetable gardens he will need for his commercial venture. When we think of tourism, there are many questions that we have to be attuned to. One is the problem of regulation of numbers. The second is the question of disposal of garbage. The third  refers to how natural resources may be used in a  habitation by people who bring with them their specific needs for food, toilets, and luxury goods. All three are related.
Organic farming is essentially tuned to family needs, and has been a parallel ecological practice for decades. Once it becomes commericialised a fresh set of problematics remain, which have been successfully handled by Kerala government. These include training of housewives, children and retired people, to practice farming as a vocation rather than being dependent on the market. In Bali this will be easy to do, as there are key agents, such a “labour class” (as they proudly refer to themselves,) who have returned to Bali, and  who will have already had an experience of the  successful Kerala experiment. It involves agricultural scientists providing Bali residents with seeds generated as natural, or hybrid, (but not gmt seeds), and then proliferating the gardens with local horticulturally managed produce for the family and tourists. Those farmers who are able to have greater success than others should receive state recognition. There should be outlets where the vegetables and fruits grown by organic farmers can be sold to other residents and tourists, in such a way that there is mutual benefit. The simplicity of the exercise lies in the dependence of state and people to each other. The poverty of the migrant to Kerala, who live in terrible circumstances all over Kerala, and are  socially reviled for being lower class, is actually contrasted to the very good living conditions in an unpolluted environment.

 Sundarbans is the delta which has been for four thousand years known for it’s fertility, constantly in the making. Tribal people from Chota Nagpur were settled here, for clearing of the mangroves by the colonial state, and by wealthy Bengali landlords in the 1920s and 1930s. Now, densely populated as it is, the primary need is for replanting the mangroves, so that the land is anchored, and the significant ways by which the State can better the life of these frugal horticulturists and fishers. Every house has a tank outside it. The cleanness of these tanks says a lot about how people who live here, respect the water. Alsa alsa, a  fern like moss,  grows on many of them, providing resource for fish farmers, and prawn cultivators. The spawn for fish farms is made  easily available  by local co-operatives, in fact showing inter state collaboration, and is an important source  for fish for the Calcutta restaurants. However, the encroachment into the mangroves remains a serious problem. As often as the mangroves are depleted, the higher the statistic for cyclone and storms which can kill people and dissolve the land. The water, according to Panchayat members is two feet higher than it was previously at the embankments. The rise of the sea, due to global warming, is because of climate change. In so many terrains with seismic zone warnings, such as New Delhi, for instance, people know that they live with risk, but do not leave, because their families and their livelihood is present. It is the same with horticulturists in Ladakh who grow fruit and vegetables, they do not expect to die because of natural calamity. That is the optimism of human life, people just do not expect terrible things to happen them. Disaster preparedness is thus the paramount need, and the training for survival has to start very early, with schooling itself. The Japanese case of rigour and calm is the best aspect of preparedness. As one Japanese delegate at the Napsig conference, in JNU in 2015 said to me, “We are trained very early to know that there may be earthquakes.” At the same conference, a Japanese psychiatrist and his team,  showed a film which showed how they had trained a team of  visually challenged, orthopedically challenged, and mentally challenged patients in a hospice to climb a mountain at a very fast pace, over four years, not anticipating an earthquake, but preparing for one. When the earthquake did strike, it was these challenged patients who led the entire village to safety.
In an interesting preliminary discussion with the conference team, Anurag Danda of the WWF said that he had worked as a team leader for his organization in Sundarbans for seventeen years. He said,
 “Community resilience is a challenge. Basanti has a density of 18,000 people per square kilometres. It has no forest dwellers, no one lives inside the forests. The settlements we see today, are  thought to be from 1905. The delta was still building, when in the 1700s there was an earthquake, which shifted the mass, which tilted eastwards. Settlement was being encouraged by the British, and the result was Henkelganj, where people began to grow rice. In the 1830s,  Zamindars were encroaching, and Dampier Hodges line was established. Refugees from East Bengal were  asked to settle, but then they had to clear out because of the Royal Bengal Tiger. None of the settlers are indigenous. Indigenous populations tend to have an understanding of the place they inhabit. The stable population, as it exists now, is from the 1970s. They don’t have the benefit of Forest Rights Act. The tribals are from Chotta Nagpur, Santhals and Orans who were  called in to clear forests and build embankments in Sanjakhali  and Bali, both of which are Tiger conservation sites, with their lodgings for government officials and tourists.
At the moment, electricity and communications  don’t exist in Bali. So some options are not available to them. As they are migrants, they brought with them their traditional practices.  Rainfed agriculture means that they only have one crop, rice, at the mercy of the season. If the embankment is breached then the saline water rushes in. If there is a depression, then the standing crop falls. These people are trying to do agriculture when the land is not fit for agriculture, given the variability of the seasons, and the possibility of flooding. It is highly risky. Their literacy rates are high, and there is therefore, the possibility that skill development may lead to higher employability. Can we think of bringing land in cultivation for a second crop? Cyclone Ayla is a marker. However, November, December, January are not cyclone months. Cyclone Ayla coincided with high tide. By itself, it was not a very dangerous weather event. Agriculture must be related to Energy production and utilization, and to sustainable development. Twenty percent of Sunderbans is devoted to agriculture, and consists of 2.9 lakh hectare. Loss of 25,000 hectares occurred through submersion, or erosion. Forested islands have become half of what it was. It is locking down people in places. Mohsin has 30,000 sq kms, and it has a population of 29,000 people per square km. People can’t go away, and they can’t sell it, because the land value is lower than the price fixed by the government as the buying price. Land acquisition, therefore, is possible. Sunderbans is a remittance economy. Conspicuous goods, like mobile phones, maybe seen routinely now. Little children, old people, and women are left behind. The women are expected to cope.
In Kosaba, there is  one police station, one Co-0perative, (the first in the country) one college. Tagore visited Kosaba in 1901. Saagar and Kosaba are not connected by bridges.  It has a micro-grid. It’s lines are 11 kilo watts. Its saw mills, zerox shop and ice factory are dependent on generators. From 25th December to 1st of January, the number of picnickers are higher than Corbett. There is no access to the forest. Bali has included a village as part of its tourism project. There are 46 revenue villages in the forest, out of 1,100 villages. South of Bali a new island has come out, but it cannot be occupied.
 While it could be presumed that those who have lived in forests for 75 years can benefit from Forest Act, Sundarbans is an exception. In 1865, it was declared reserved, when it was not inhabited. Human habitation in the marshes has meant that the people are drinking ground water. In Kosaba, it is pumped up from 1800 feet, or 2200 feet. It is pumped for people twice a day, and networked, and is uncontaminated water, free from arsenic.”

Prasanjeet Mandal is a Panchayat Member in Bali. He has a B.A in English, and an LLB from Calcutta University. He said,

“When the flood came, no one knew. After 10 pm, everyone left their home, and went to the school. They freed their animals. Out of 4025 houses, 3000 houses were flooded. All the animals died. Now, there is some advance warning. The whole day, when Ayla struck we went hungry. The Left Front and Buddhadev Bhattacharya were in power. Bhattacharya said, “There would be no shortage of cereal,”  but water was not available, it came from outside. There were many NGOs that came from outside. All the ponds were flooded with salt water. People returned to their homes, after the storm. But there were no houses. The Government supplied tarpaulin. Chief Minister Bhattacharya came by boat and reassured us. But while ration was made available, the extra that was required was not available. And there was no facility for cooking. Community kitchen was started by the local MLA, who was an opposition party member. It was started ten days later. They received roasted rice and biscuits, and jaggery. The children got Amul powder. “
Prasanjeet grows vegetables and flowers for the market. There are no hospitals and medical treatment, and people depend on local remedies and quacks. On 20.1.16 a ten bed hospital was promised by the MLA.  Prasenjeeth said in a meeting initiated at Bali’s panchayat office, by Prof Amita Singh,
“Water flowed backwards after the Ayla. It took a month for things to normalize, as saline water flooded the land. People migrated to Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and Andhra. The women stayed, often with their parents. Diarrhea prevailed, and people suffered snakebites as well. Saline water was washed away with the monsoon. The seed crops were lost in the monsoon, but the Government helped in providing new seed beds. The composition of the families in terms of caste is 400 families in the general category, 500 are OBC, 2000 are SC, 500 are ST, and 400 are minority.”
The Panchayat office is well organized, and names of the members and their telephone numbers are visibly displayed. The files are maintained on the net, and all information can be received easily.
Panchayat member Pranoy Janak said, “When the NGOs would come to the jetty, all the people would reach the jetty. Later the Government came, and gave 10,000 per month to the family, and  16 kgs of rice at the rate of RS 2 per family, which continues even today. First the water was continually pushing the bank. When the Ayla came, it burst the banks and the tanks were overfilled. The huge field was filled, but as the tanks were empty at that time the water went there. Poisonous snakes went away at that time, so the people were saved. Two deer cubs were recovered and returned to the forest.”
Prasenjeet said that when the flood happened, his mother was not at home, and he and his father were eating at their neighbour’s house. The flood came in two or three minutes. They escaped to higher land, and he left his father there, and returned to save his neighbours.  By Indira Avaz, all houses are now built on higher land. But it is the Sundarbans, and the waters can come flooding their homes anytime. On anti pollution, there are government instructions. They cleaned the water with bleaching powder, and with  hydrogen tablets for drinking purposes. In this area, they have faced many hurricanes, but Ayla took them by surprise. They are building houses at a height, trying to be better prepared. People help each other, regardless of caste, religious affiliation and even political affiliation. The human recognition is higher than other places. There was no known  case of a person left abandoned. They were re-established in kin groups.  Two hundred families who left Bali went to Calcutta, Azamgarh and Siliguri. One man from Poona married a woman from Bali and set up a goatery.
The embankments have become weakened. After Ayla, when the embankments were low, the repairs could not keep up with the rise in water. Since 1991,  the water has risen by two feet. The people are using NREGA to raise the embankment. Fishing and cultivation were the basic occupation. There was no television, and no mobiles previously. With the low wattage, they could not hope to have TV. There are 100 self help groups.
After the Ayla in 2009, there have been some achievements. Embankments, mangroves, ponds and the primary health centre have been developed or promised. Roads have been uplifted. River Embankment has been the greatest investment at 2.5 crores. Since it can flood the population if neglected, the Embankments are of the utmost importance. The water that comes from Nepal, and floods Bihar is sweet. But the water that floods the Sundarbans is salty and the fish also get killed.  As for counseling, they are at the mercy of Nature, since the storm was headed to Orissa, but it diverted to Sundarbans in the last forty eight hours. People know that they live near the sea, and they annually expect the flood, but the Ayla has  provided them with new levels of anticipation, of preparedness. Disaster Management funding has focused mainly on Plantations, embankments and drainage. However Emergency Plan is a necessity. There should be a classification of responsibilities with a committee. Who will save women and children? Who will bring supplies? Is there training as to how to proceed, if disaster strikes?
 The Governments programmes must each have a disaster rehabilitation component.  The Deputy Magistrate is on 54 committees, and the Chief Magistrate, Deputy Magistrate and Prime Minister are on every committee and have no idea what it actually constitutes.
The Centre for Law and Governance team headed by Prof Amita Singh were very clear in their response to the representatives of the West Bengal representatives that the committees must act according to the Disaster Management Act. The Response Fund must be given to the Panchayat for immediate use, and the Mitigation Fund to be delivered accordingly. Sundarbans has ten government employees, but none are trained. In Bali there is no Air Dropping Funds that have been identified.
Forest Officer and Disaster Management expert, Senthil  Kumar, of IGNFA  said about the significance of the mangroves in Sundarbans
“Sundari is the name of the tree that predominated in Sundarbans. It was forest before the settlement came into place. Freshwater and seawater meet in in the soil. The trees are like spiders looking for food. The roots are always submerged in the water. To breathe, they grow different appendages as roots. They procreate where mature boughs fall off and take root. It it’s high tide, they float off, and that’s where the forest office come in. Desalination has to take place. So they (the trees) have to have a salt factory, which  is situated  in the roots. There is always a fight between water and land. The mangroves act as buffers. Whatever the situation, the mangroves trap the silt, and create land. They are efficient in bio mass production. They also detox river water before it reaches the sea. So clean water goes to the sea. They are also safe fish nurseries. They are also a reservoir for blue carbon. Ecotoursim is flourishing because of the tigers, and it is the mangroves that protects the flora and fauna.  The problem with tourism is that the allied occupations can be disease producing. Prawn production and shifting cultivation can foster diseases for the human population. Kiln industries such as brick making can contribute to illegal felling. Embankments can create problems for the forests, since the trees need normal sediments. The mix of sweet and salt water is essential. Degradation is caused by the loss of this water. Alternative livelihoods are fisheries, apiary and wood collection, all of which are dependent on the mangroves. The major problem is that the sea levels are on the rise. Mangroves are walking plants. They walk to the sea, or when the sea is aggressive, the mangroves walk to the land.  If there are lots of developmental activities the mangroves are unable to walk towards land.
Eighty percent of the natural honey collection in India, comes from the mangroves. Honey collection, with the loss of mangroves will be depleted. The Sundarbans mangroves are beginning to lose their abilities, and when the forest zone starts disappearing, then the animals move toward the land. There are other difficulties too, as the saline tolerant wild rice has become virtually extinct. The Green Revolution reduced these forms of bio diversity. Like animals and humans, plants also become extinct. Some plants which survive are called prototypes. Identification of these plants is essential. Scientific community has to be alert to the decimation of mangroves. There has to be attention focused on State Level Climate Change Action Plan.”
Prof Bhandari  from Jadavpur University says interdisciplinary studies are essential for understanding the Sundarbans forest, which was cultivated since the 18th century on its higher ground. According to him the damaged caused by Ayla in 2009 has shadowed the damages of the 2004 Sunami, After Ayla stuck, it was found that 40 percent of the embankments had not been repaired in 2015. NREGA has played a great role, but the problem of salinity of water continues. Mangrove and coconut plantations can help to solve the problem of land loss. Sundarbans has a total of 580 self help groups. Sundarbans Development Department has all the maps and figures dealing with Environmental changes, crop patterns and land use. During high tide sediment deposits accumulate on the island. Sweet water and salt water ratio is disturbed by the embankment. If we displace people we cannot give them the same employment.The total length of Sundarbans is 3250 kms of which 430 kms is very vulnerable. The local people do not cut the forest because it is their protection.
Suresh Kumar, a civil servant said,
“Mitigation Fund is to  be set up by following the examples of Kerala and Bihar. The Pradhan is the representative for the SDMA. Trawlers go out for five days at a tme, when they see the cyclone, they cannot return in time. Early advance warning system is required for their survival. Relief camps, maintenance, logistics cost the government 400 crores annually. The government spent 900 crores post Ayla. Most of the money was spent on agricultural subsidies. Unseasonal rains and the floods are the greatest problem. 1000 crores have been spent on farmers to mitigate their distress.”
A.K Sinha reported that the Disaster Management department works on an approved plan, so innovation and mitigation cannot be clubbed in ledgers. Training, Mainstreaming and Mitigation must  go together, where mitigation is proactive and research oriented. The team is anxious that having insights from people and administrators there should be a plan for all states put in place at the earliest, which can be oriented to socialization of children in schools, a disaster management plan for reporting and website access. And as P.K Joshi argues, the new discourse is about environmental justice. shows comparative data for degradation of ecosystems all over the universe. One has to be alert about how pollutants and heavymetals from factory waste enters into the Sundarbans delta.
The new practices of conservation which take deforestation and degradation into account have to be sensitive to community needs before it moves ahead with populist or tourist friendly practices. The only way to do this is to engage in continuous comparative research and to draw in grassroots intelligentsia. Nivedita P Haran suggests that there should be discussion of issues at state level in the presence of SDMA , members and West Bengal representatives. The enquiry committee needs to know the status of implementation of the DM Act in every State, and the federal relation with the Centre. Are the associations set up for disaster mitigation, are they functional, and what are the duties and responsibilities of each individual. Does the State/state  have a map for risks and vulnerabilities. How is the fund utilized? SDA Funds are divided in the ratio of 75% for the Centre and 25% for the States. The Committee from JNU  and interacting institutions were keen that the process of publicizing the work of disaster preparedness should be made available to lay people all over the country at the earliest.

Susan Visvanathan, CSSS/SSS JNU February 10th 2016

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Detachment and Faith

Detachment and Faith
The two, detachment and faith, seem contradictory, and yet theologians know that everyone of us live parallel existences, contributing not to the dilemma of  compulsory choice, but engaging with co-existence as a principle of rationality. This relativism is something that sociologists have accepted as compartmentalisation, and the debate goes back in Indian Sociology, atleast, to the work of M.N. Srinivas and Milton Singer, foregrounded by Robert Redfield and his classic work on Mexico . It was understood, in the 60s, of the last century, that when scientists went to the laboratory, they took off their traditional identities and put on their scientific roles,  and nothing was lost. Renny Thomas, in a recent work has argued that the scientists  in India, see no disjunction between their acceptance of religious beliefs, or the practise of them, as these are cultural idioms of the society in which they live. (Thomas 2015) Existentially, how do human beings live in disparate worlds, and come to terms with the many different codes of culture, without creating schism in themselves?
I ask this question primarily because co-existence is accompanied by adaptation, but this adaptation is dependent on a mutual dialogue, which premises the understanding of one another’s vocabulary.  The Sociology of Religion has always foregrounded Comparitive Religion as its most important apparatus. It is not possible to understand religious behaviour unless one accepts the axiom of the existence of the religious. Experience is personal, and yet the vocabulary of believing assures us that there is the component of ritual and myth that accompany it. This is the essential aspect of the religious. Monks and Nuns practising transcendence still assure the laity that the text and the rite are part of the daily apparatus of the believing community. Silence is possible only to those who have accepted the ultimate space of  the transcended, but to reach there, usually the path  taken is of erudition or revealation, both of which are dependent on visual or and verbal imagery. Auditory aspects are fundamentally significant where the participants share the domain of the heard and the experienced, and music is a part of this constantly changing scenario, using the voice or instruments to codify. Experience is the opening up of the mind, and religious people know that tourism elaborates the secular use of the music, architecture, texts, drama and performance of ritual. Thus, they open up their holiest sights to the viewer without distinction.
The Vashista Yoga is an important work that offers us insights into the nature of maya itself. Rather than seeing existence as a delusion, we are called upon to enquire. The mode of enquiry then foregrounds narratives not only as a source of spiritual sustenance, for it elaborates upon existence, and the metalanguage of reconstruction. Because we tell stories, we understand these manifold worlds. Time too, is enhanced by the co-existence of many worlds. The stories are told by Vashista to Ram, in order to communicate that boredom is unnecessary, and our call to duty is profoundly a form of ordering the world. To understand the world, then, we must allow our imagination freedom. What is truth is less objectively defined, for this truth is also part of existence as a dream. What is reality is more elaborately configured. In order to enter the realm of this discourse, we must suspend belief or disbelief, we must enter the domain of existence, because words are our only reality, and action is a by product of words. By understanding words, we may then disseminate them to others, by listening we may proceed to a higher level of understanding.
Jean Baudrillard in The Mirror of Production argues that
The logic of representation – of the duplication of it’s object – haunts all rational discursiveness. Every critical theory is haunted by this surreptitious religion, this desire bound up with the construction of it’s object, this negativity subtly haunted by the very form that it negates. (Baudrillard 1975:50,51)
Whether it is the utopia of equality, or the subservience of the body to evolution, and the mind/soul dichotomy, we are constantly facing abstraction as the way in which we approach the existence of theoretical paradigms. Social Science deals with this not as “true” or “false”, but as representation. The problem asserts itself only when we subscribe to these as articles of faith. Detachment then becomes the mystic’s zone of arrival at a goal, as much as that of the Anthropologist’s.
The art of documentation involves questions of bias as much as it does of suspension of belief. We choose to study something because we have a prior understanding of some of it’s elements. Rituals and communities of believers help us to locate ourselves within the axes of it’s reproduction through narrative or action. Demonstrably, time as memory and time as action are encoded with in it. Just as space can be identified with specific moments of history, modified by events, so also memories are encapsulated within both tradition as well as within the new orientations to post modernism. This is what makes the present so kaleidoscopic, since the time element is submerged in the immediacy of an ever present significance, and the contemporaneous is commonly felt and known.

Rama asks Vashista, “Lord, the infinite consciousness is transcendental; pray tell me how the universe exists in it.”
 Vashista replied, “This universe exists in the infinite consciousness as waves exist in a calm sea; non-different in truth, but with the potentiality of an apparent difference. The infinite consciousness is unmanifest though omnipresent- even as the space, though existing everywhere is unmanifest.”   (Swami Venkatesananda 2003:186)
Vashista tells Rama that just as clouds exist in the sky, so also reflections exist, and as light refracts, so too consciousness is manifested, and we understand existence through these. Seasons, time, space, events are all concealed and made apparent through this prism of consciousness which is eternal. The body is the citadel, and consciousness realises it’s goals through the body. The self that is enlightened then allows for the Consciousness which is all embracing to define itself.
The mind has no existence apart from the infinite consciousness: it did not exist in the beginning, it will not exist in the end, and so it does not exist now. One who thinks that it does exist holds sorrow in his hand. He who knows that world is the self in reality goes beyond that sorrow; this world give him both joy and liberation. (ibid 186)

In this discourse, the role of maya is significant, because that which is real appears as the unreal, and the unreal then, like the waves of the sea, represent the existence of Brahman, self limited by individualised consciousness. (ibid 190). It is our desires that bring about birth, for “bondage is the craving for pleasure and its abandonment is liberation.” (ibid 185)
It is boredom that brings Rama a teacher, and the teacher tells his father that he, Rama, has been born to defeat Ravana.
Visvamitra asks that Dasratha should send Rama to him, and the king replies, “O Sage, Rama is not even sixteen years old, and is therefore not qualified to wage  a war. He has not even seen a combat, except what goes on in the inner apartment of the palace. Command me and my vast army to accompany you to exterminate the demons. But I cannot part with Rama. Is it not natural for all living beings to love their young, do not even wise men engage themselves in extraordinary activities for the love of their children, and do not people abandon their happiness, their consorts and wealth rather than their children? No , I cannot part  with Rama.
If it is the mighty demon Ravan who causes disturbance to your rite, nothing can be done to help you. Even the gods are powerless against him. Time and again, such powerful beings are born on this earth; and in time, they leave the stage of this world. (ibid 7)

For Rama, time is the essential enemy,  for it destroys everything. Time creates multiple universes, it does not come or go, it uses the sun and moon as its assets, and while creating the year and seasons it remains hidden ( ibid 17) Krtanta is the end of time, and with niyati, the laws of nature it subsumes human beings.

What then is the time of the dream? This becomes the central problem. The dream involves in real time, the sense of actors and of transcending space, time and the body. The preoccupation that Ramana Maharshi had with death as a time of dreaming is the real explanation of existence. We can only imagine the wandering soul, that identifies with the cosmic Atma, but when it’s endless desiring is to find a home it chooses the body. Clement Rosset puts it elegantly.
The recognition of self, which already implies a paradox (since it involves grasping that which is precisely impossible to grasp, and since ‘taking control’ of one-self resides paradoxically in renouncing that control) also necessarily implies an exorcism: it implies exorcising that double that poses an obstacle to the existence of the unique and demands that the unique be something other than simply itself and nothing but itself. ( Rosset 2012:60)

While theologies are culture bound, the perspective of the Self and the Other becomes premised on the codes represented by each given theology. Secular theologies are in this sense interesting, because the dictum may be the sacred charter as constructed by citizenry or by the mores and rules and aphorisms ascribed to a savant. The sacred can be anything that stands apart from the everyday, mundane, routine activities of individuals and collectivities as Emile Durkheim pointed out a hundred years ago. Therefore our charters of human rights are universally important as signifiers of how war influenced the lives and minds of human beings in the 20th century.
Thiruvalluvar in the Thirukkural writes that detachment is a virtue beyond all else. While abiding in the rule of conduct, the great are those who have abandoned all desire. (Tiruvalluvar 1989:7) Human Rights is one of the key issues that we need to be concerned with, when we measure the degree of detachment with which we engage with questions of justice. Do our religious views influence our action? Can we believe that what we do is a result of our faith, and that this directs us to act in what may be termed as judicially negative? Some of the most important questions regarding politics and ethics may be placed here. Should we do things because we believe that we are religiously motivated, and others may  not ask questions about their right to believe differently? Clearly, we are placed in situations where the dilemmas we face in our everyday life, regarding justice or reason are placed in a strikingly ambiguous location. It is here, that we are called upon to act, not as representatives of institutions but in terms of collective good. Yet, what if the people want fascism? Should we presume that what the people want is a democratic right?

Resistance always creates for us so many of the spaces by which we rethink our contexts. Faith and Reason are two sides of the same coin. When Durkheim wrote Moral Education, he was faced by the  Dreyfus Case, and the implications it had for all Jews living in France. Therefore, this work, essentially posed questions about humanism, science, rationality and rights. The obligations that an individual had, drew from his or her position in the family, neighbourhood, school and university. The forms of socialisation were culturally given. How then can religious education be the hall mark of modernity or post modernity? How can faith be an equalising force for all? The right to be secular, or agnostic or atheistic is a given in the Indian Constitution, and we see that both Nehru and Ambedkar were oriented to Buddhism, in terms of the charter of conduct. This essentially meant that the dialogue of religions was implicit by the very codes of conduct given in justice and social interaction, and the right to citizenship. For Durkheim, a “religion without God” was expressed best in Buddhism, and yet for Indians, the sages were resplendent in their experience of nature and the oneness that human beings could experience in their understanding of purusha and Shakti. The common language of experience was part of the process of refraction and naming, and Ramana Maharshi was most comforting in the ultimate theology, of “Be As You Are.” The resilience of religious dialogue was thus placed in the accident of birth, and the right to conform, or possibly to adapt to another faith, should one feel the call to do so.
Since Conversion is one of the most discussed topics in the Indian continent, it is imperative that we look at the concept of metanoia. This means transformation of the heart, and is perhaps an experiential concept that goes beyond the statistics of conversion, and the matrix of forced conversions, ghar wapsi or money motivated conversions. Faith is something that is essential to the survival of religions, but it cannot be forced, it has it’s own ambience, and respect for one’s own religion and the religion of the other is something that is fostered. Many world religions practise a particular exclusiveness, and from the Human Rights point of view, it can be very distressful if the other religion is abused. The freedom to worship is like the freedom to work. Marx devised the concept of Labor as freedom, and within that non labor appears as the term by which fishing in the morning, and attending a political meeting in the evening, is accompanied by a sense of self worth, which could be applied equally to writing, scavenging and cooking. How do we reconcile this integrated notion of the body, and the break down of the distinction between manual and mental labour as a form of non-work, or pleasure. It is the conditioning of the mind, that allows for freedom.
Play, Freedom, Transparence, for Jean Baudrillard are still captured within the bourgeoisie ethics. To be freed of work is to enter the domain of work, but in a different way. Does Feminism reiterate the right to understanding, concupiscence, tragedy, tedium, weeping and tears and laughter. The contradictions of existence are now posed in the work involved, to make the invisible visible.
Work and non-work: here is a “revolutionary theme”. It is undoubtedly the most subtle form of the type of binary, structural opposition discussed above. The end of the end of exploitation by work is this reverse fascination with non-work, this reverse mirage of free time (forced time-free time, full time-empty time; another paradigm that fixes the hegemony of a temporal order which is always merely that of production.) (Baudrillard 1975:40)
Within this, he discusses the preoccupations of institutional structures, and how individuals are placed within the frameworks of rules, labor, death and mortification. We may also view pilgrimage, and therefore tourism too, as a show of non work, which is essentially labor magnified. The hardship of non work, of all art forms as liberation is similarly, creation and energy, which is typified as non work. When the mind sees an architectural construction, such as a religious site, or a landscape that has been prefigured by myth, legend and holiness, one presumes that it will be peaceful and life generative. But, essentially, the emotions that holy places garner may be of deep discord, or of dissent, or of violence and death.
One of the most interesting works in this regard is Rodin’s illustrated manuscript on the Churches of France. It was a diary kept on his travels to obscure villages, and to well known medieval churches such as Rheims and Chartres. The manuscript was a symbol of the fear that he experienced that with bombing all this would be lost. Memorabilia of nostalgia and vivid experiences, we are led into both text and illustration as if into the double vault of cereberal spaces, and the mnemonics of space and architecture. Very often, tourism highlights this dual experience of then and now, as well as the hiding away so necessary for conservation. Where Humayun’s mortuary remains truly lie, is a secret known to the archaeologist and monument preserver: the tourist and the pilgrim only know the sarcophagus and the vault where pigeons are trapped, high above the ground.
It is not just the past which ties us down. It is the understanding that the present is necrophilia oriented, and that we are constantly evading the shadow of war. Christoph Wulf suggests that the great landscapes of destruction, both a result of geological transformations, including climate change, and man made disasters bring about a momentum to new forms. How we adapt to change is often a mystery.
Modernity is associated with optimism and the rights of citizenship. Post modernity is much more complex, because new enclaves of metropolis and hinterland relations begin to develop. It would seem that the right to be an individual, and the need to belong to communities begin to interconnect in different ways. Tradition, orthodoxy, and modern lifestyles do not necessarily clash, but may embellish one another in contradictory  and interesting ways. When these become coercive or life threatening, as in the case of dominant caste interlocutors who appear as wealthy farmers denying human rights to their clan members, and all the associated freedoms of citizenship and free choice, where then murder is the consequence (as for love marriages, daughters who rebel etc) the State and citizen’s groups do intervene. Religon and secularism are then dramatically posed against one another. The freedom to believe is not to take another’s life. Khap Panchayats (the conglomerate of male agnates and male elders) are the new demon in post-modernist India. They take over from constitutional and elected bodies, placing repressive law as the given moral good, in seemingly totalitarian perspectives. Like terrorists, who kill others, in order to fulfil a personal and hegemonic dream traditionalists here too,  as in the Khap Panchayats, express their belief  that religion and their traditional customs, are the total social good. Fundamentalism by any other name, murder as intent, ‘honour’ as an excuse, drags India back into segmentalisation and feudalism. Post modernity has to deal with the question of hierarchy and tradition in a way that modernity did not. New media, both Television and Internet have played a substantial role in  highlighting the parallel of ‘talibanisation’ of religions other than Islam. Fearing the orthodoxy of other religions, Hindu elders of Haryana have become a law unto themselves. In a mimicry of feudal practises, women and men are murdered if they go against the customary laws of the clan.
 Maosits too, have become similarly totalitarian in an area which politicians admit to being, now, one third of India. Ideology becomes a total social fact, where there is no manoeuvrability for the ordinary citizen. He or she is not powerless, and standing by the constitution, the majority go to vote.  Places like Kannur in Kerala, which have the greatest index of violent feuding in the country between RSS and Marxists have  also the highest voting indexes (upto  70 percent voter turn out in the country). (Visvanathan 2011 :169)
The dialogue of religions asserts itself in every way in the most compelling circumstances. Part of the acts of forgiveness comes from the families who have lost their kin to annihilating acts of murder. The State may take a stand which is relevant to it’s political orientation, but the political party only occupies the machinery of the State, it is not the State. The constitutional rights remain the ‘right to believe’ and the ‘right not to believe’ as equivalent. These are not contestatory. Raimundo Panikker in the “Mantramanjari” writes that,
Modern Human is a secular Human, which does not mean that he/she is not religious or that he/she has lost the sense of the sacred. The statement means only that his/her religiousness and even any sense of sacredness he/she may possess are both tinged with a secular attitude. “Secular attitude” means a particular temporal awareness that invests time with a positive and a real character: the temporal world is seen as important and the temporal play of Man’s life and human interactions is taken seriously; the saeculum, the ayus, is in the foreground. Man can survive on earth, both as a species and as a person, only if he pays careful attention to everything secular. Otherwise he will be swallowed up by the machinery of modern  society or the mechanism of cosmic processes. Secular man is the citizen of a temporal world. (Panikkar 1983:18)
It is in this context of the blurring of culture, that Raimundo Panikkar  refers to the significance of the Vedas, as shruti and smrithi, carrying forward the poetry of traditions 3000 years old, and signifying the manner in which translations globalise words in their new contexts.  For Panikkar, translations liberate meaning and make them universal, from secrecy to shared wisdom. The utterance is the moment when the author is born, by taking away the authorial space of the text to the existential moment when language allows for new meanings, new contexts, the universalization of this experience is promised. Implicit is the need “to purify our relationship with the text and to avoid any kind of idolatory.” (ibid 12) He says,
Any one of us is the author of the Vedas when we read, pray and understand them. Nobody is the author of living words except the one who utters them. The Vedas are living words, and the word is not an instrument of Man but his supreme form of expression. What has no author, according to the apaursya insight, is the relation between the word and it’s meaning or object.  The relationship is not an artificial or extrinsic relation caused by somebody. There is no author to posit the type of relationship which exists between the word and it’s meaning. To do this, we would require another relationship and so on ad infinitum. When a word ceases to be a living word, when it ceases to convey meaning, when it is not a word for me, it is not Veda, it does not convey real or saving knowledge.  (ibid 12,13)

The central focus of this paper thus has been the dialectic between faith and Human Rights. How can we pursue our right to be believers, (or as non  believers protect our spaces as atheists or agnostics) and how can we entrust our societies to the post modern contexts of withdrawal of rights? Migration histories and climate change show us that we have no choice when it comes to the extreme situations in which we may find ourselves. This then forces us to consider our existential situations in terms of age and gender contexts in which we find ourselves. While ascription has it’s moments of closure, yet technological changes, and digital resources make our understanding of the world so much more complex. This adaptability to the modern world, which simultaneously compresses and expands our world view, is essential. We see the beauty of the world through digital photographs, just as we submit to it’s entropy. What could be more heart-breaking? Many of the resolutions modern individuals make are to safeguarding earth’s resources for future generation. The dictum that Christ gave, in the Sermon on the Mount, so well known to the Gandhians was, “The meek shall inherit the Earth.”  Within post modern contexts, talking to plants, and believing that they can hear us, has become an essential scientific attribute of horticultural and farming technologies, leading to new survival strategies.
One of the more successful experiments in practical wisdom, with it’s empirical follow up, has been how Kerala has ushered in a domestic revolution with regard to growing vegetables and fruits for the table. Women were trained by the State, in classes organised by their local Krishi Bhavan. They learned about seedlings, manure, water harvesting, bee keeping and bio-diversity. Kochi, Ernakulam, Trivandrum, Pallakad, Wynadu and Kasergode for some reason took to the social movement with great enthusiasm. Part of it also revolved around the resurgence of the indigenous cow as a fount of milk and organic manure. The religious undertones of this movement are not articulated except to communicate the love for mother earth. The joy of growing things seems completely unanimous. It is not gender specific, as men and children also participate and share in the momentum of growing food for the table. Part of how we understand modernity is to engage with how tradition reinvents itself. When Logan’s Malabar famously recorded how Malayalis lived in their enclaves of gardens, lagoons and coconut groves, the attempt was to communicate the resilience of an ancient culture which represented this humility, this ownership without partisan identity, this ability to renegotiate with cultural demands made multitongued by varieties of colonialism. Organic farmers, today, do not give up their spice gardens, or rubber cultivation, they grow payr or beans as nitrogen fixers instead of chemical fertiliser, and thus protect their vegetable patches.
Similarly, in Ladakh, the farmers have adapted to climate change by using tarpaulin green houses in the winter months to grow vegetables in the dry season, watering their produce with water which does not freeze as it runs in underground pipes. The work of the scientist and technologist Sonam Wangchuk and his wife Betty Norman is a compelling account of faith and reason. They have run SECMOL, a school committed to ecological values, guided by their Buddhist faith. No story could be more enchanting than that of their committed dream to green the desert. The ice stupa, which is the formation of an artificial glacier which rises upwards, to melt slowly through the summer providing water to the fields is a case in point, of how science depends on team work, and on the detachment that allows failure to be followed by endless trials, till success is achieved. The mystical moment of Eureka is surely when the sense of surprise is compounded by reason and intuition coming together.  In Remembering Sir J.C Bose (2009) one of the Editors, V.A Shepherd quotes Romain Rolland who wrote  to J.C Bose in 1927,  “you have wrested from plants and stones, the key to their enigma….you made us hear their incessant monologue, that perpetual stream of soul, which flows through all beings from the  humblest to the highest.” (cited in Sen Gupta, Engineer and Shepherd 2009:107)
Sociologists never attend to the truth value of sentiments, as much as they do to the fact of representation. Do plants  really hear the people who foster them and eat them? The scientists of the Krishi Bhavan, insomuch, as they pushed forward populist agriculture, programmed their trainees to talk to their plants daily, to water the plants every alternate day, and provide amino acids on one day  a week( I kg sardines in  1 kg jaggery, soaked for three weeks produced an effective distillation, which was to be watered down in a 1/10 of a litre mix). The farmers say that the pleasure they get from the every day tasks are huge. A woman with a vegetable patch among her roses and jasmines ran out to her yard,  while I was talking with her, and said, “I’m going to check on my children.” (Jyan ende kunjukallue nokkan pogua.) What more can one say about the inter-relatedness of the world, or the nurturing ethic? In Allapuzha district, fisher women have now started vegetable gardening, wild spinach and beans are the most successful, they report, growing on sandy banks. They come into town, to see what the price for a kilogramme of beans is, because if they have surplus, after the household needs are completed, and  friendly exchange of produce between neighbours and friends and kin is over, they may sell it in town.  The success of the experiment depends on the time and ardour that people put into this venture. At Alathur, in  Palakkad district,  there is a complex interrelationship between state agriculture scientists and those who have been chosen to grow seeds for distribution among farmers. The best farmers are chosen, and they are monitored  by rural officers to see that they are growing these seeds without chemical interference from nearby fields. The seeds are hybrid, but not GMT, and are the outcome of the work of laboratory scientists who then link up with farmers to proliferate good quality seeds. The basic assumption is that Malayalees should not be compulsorily tied up as thoughtless consumers, with chemical produce coming in from Tamil Nadu in truckloads, through the Coimbatore pass. An award winning vegetable gardener in Palakkad, Swapna James, says in an interview with me on 6th January 2016, that for three years they have not bought any vegetables, and that they receive an income of Rs 2000 a week, from the excess which they sell to a school in Palakkad. It is these successes that allow one to believe that work as a vocation is indeed a religious experience itself. The intensity of love that people feel for their work is tied up with the sense that their labor is accounted for, and that they are wholly absorbed in it. This is the Marxist theme of “work which is not work”.
Feminists ofcourse, while being hugely influenced by Marx and Engels, will not support the idea that love by itself is enough, or that love and responsibility are values which go beyond recognition. This is one of the most difficult mazes in the right to wages debate, and whether it is housewifization or any other form of service, women do look for accountability in terms of the relation between giver and receiver. The gift is the paramount symbol of that which cannot be subsumed within reciprocal exchange, but at it’s outset, as Marcel Mauss would argue, needs to be distinguished from loot and tax. Let me now close the argument by saying that for Simone Weil, the concept of dhyana or concentration was both religious and secular, absorbing both prayer and work.
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