Friday, August 8, 2014

Women's Clothing and Killing the Right to Education

There is always such a furore about what women wear, and what women want. It looks like dress codes are going to be slapped on us forthwith if the right wing masculinist mafia from all over the country take a position on how women can avoid rape if they dress in a dignified way. What seems really reprehensible is that the length of leg Maharashtrian women show, or the length of waist that Malayali women show while wearing sarees is all going to be under review. It's a hot country.  Not wearing a dhupatta is just an option that women sometimes exercise, not anticipating violence from men, for doing a common sensical thing.  Men could just be trained not to stare at women's body parts lewdly while on their way to work or coming home.
If they can be trained  so easily to kill humans, which routinely happens in all parts of India, as part of some militant ideology, the lust of men to devour women is further fuelled.  So women must stay home, and men must go to war to kill all those who don't behave in the way that these self appointed warriors want,  seems to be the new plank on which the fuelling of sentiments is headed. 
Even in the case of the recent violent animosity between Dalits and Muslims  in what were BSP dominated areas, it is communicated by journalists that this is indeed a new development, as the two communities lived amicably previously sharing dietary habits, such as the eating of beef without totemic views on the sacredness of the cow which the twice born have.
The RSS has made substantial inroads into working class communities as has been proved by their presence in mazdoor sanghatans. Indoctrination is essentially the drawing into Sanskritic patterns of behaviour with a promise to provide dividends such as acceptability, conformity, festival and feasting, wish fulfilment, and sacrifice. This is quite different from the idea of human rights as a modern device by which people may ask for Food, Shelter, Medical Rights, Education, and the right to be heard in a democratic framework of equality. Since the indoctrination of Tribals happened in the same way, during the Gujarat riots, a new cadre of workers who could be commanded to kill, became visible. Ofcourse, this is substantially different from using lumpen proletariat to  participate in riots, as we saw in the case of the 1984 riots. There, the Congress was able to use certain key leaders to propel vast ghettoised slum dwellers to follow the leader into the enclaves or neighbourhoods where Sikhs were known to dwell, and burn them in some “Ram and Ravana” metaphorical moment of victorious warfare. Needless to say, the courts still pursue the cases from that time, to promote the idea that one day, those tragic families, many of whom lost all their men in one fell swoop, will have justice.
Rather than spending on education, the RSS propelled Modi Government is set on providing an impetus to traditional hierarchies, which allow Kshatriya and Brahman domination, as an ideological platform, for legitimating their world view. The cosmic world of diversity is lost. The case of the choice of Army Chief Dalbir Singh, which set up such tremors because of his known violent handling of North East contexts of turbulence, the sacking of Kamla Beniwal, at 87 years, with no explanation, from her post as Governor of Mizoram, because of her frank opinion of Modi’s way of handling things in Gujarat, are two cases in point. Domination and persuasive forms of cultural conversion are very much in the matrix of the BJP- RSS rhetoric. Not to take the people’s opinion into account however, is a grave mistake. Modi has been quiet on many things, which frankly is a relief. Having got forty percent of the people to vote for him, he is grateful and generally stays out of public view except as a state functionary. His  financial policies however, remain open to analyses, since his delegates are outrightly anti poor, while using the poor as  fodder for work of development.
Take the cut in education. It’s the most shocking aspect of how little virtue there is in the new government, for it takes away the right to mobility and leaves the poor to be caught in a status quo trap, where they can only be landless labour, or manual workers. That is their fate. Atleast, the Congress government gave them the trickle illusion, that with Right to Education, they would have the possibility of choosing their occupations over two or three generations. Even if hundred years was offered as an optimum time span for social mobility, we must understand that it meant a lot to poor people.
The new government is least bothered. Give the poor their jagrans, and a couple of free puris and bowls of sacred halwa, and the poor will then begin to work for low wages and accept their suffering as a test of their faith. Send them on orchestrated pilgrimages and let them recover the  wisdom of living in continual crises as the god given way.
Faith is a personal index of received beliefs. So if people have not been persuaded by the faith of the masters, then it is time to understand, that in constitutional terms, these people too, are worthy of legitimate attention, with regard to jobs and educational opportunities. Those children crossing a river, by holding onto a brass pot to get to school was one of the most dramatic news items that Delhi-ites got to read about. They forded the river, for half an hour, to get to the opposite side, and then walked a couple of miles to school, helped by their parents. They got totally wet. Then with soaked clothes, which never dried in monsoon and winter, they sat in class, reading their books. And yes, they believed in Education.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Small Towns and Their Hinterlands

India has always had an interesting history of ancient riverine towns, and entropots on the trade route, at the cusp of mountains and plains, and rivers and seas. The hinterland is the most interesting of geographical phenomena, because ancient cities like Benaras, Gauhati, Gorakhpur, Kochi, for example, would bring to attention not just the co-existence of various religions, but also of occupations. One only has to think of the phenomenal variety of production of crafts that many small towns carry with them, to know that the idea of the  modern city or the metropolis is something which speaks demographically of industrialisation, and artificially produced consumption patterns. Metropoli, by their very nature, as the Mexican sociologist Manuel Castells showed, are linked not only to cities of various population density, but also to small towns and villages. It is the nature of communication networks that allow small towns to be meshed with a larger more complex and voluminous maze of populations, with their varied occupations and their social and cultural needs. India’s villages are now being sought to be denuded by the intensity of massive modernisation projects with the assumption that the greater volume of electricity produced by damming rivers, will bring down local populations through a Malthusian project, which will make villagers  lives seem outdated and on the route to  self extinction.
Industrialised agriculture, which the so called  Green, White and Mulberry Revolutions propagate are based on the idea of mono agriculture. Punjab and Gujarat are examples politically of what happens when industrialised agriculture projects itself as the only  type of modernisation that is available to the Indian imagination. Tamil Nadu has offered another way, which is agriculture as sustainable, as a means of livelihood, and of cross border exchanges, leading to profound nutritionally substantive indexes. It might be interesting to look at the way in which Tamil farmers have foregrounded education too, since the time of Nadar freedom fighters, such as Kamaraj, to premise professionalization as a goal, along with the contexts of farming, engineering colleges,automobile manufacture and industrialisation as co-existent occupational zones. The same tradition has valorised weaving,  metal and stone work as ancient occupations which have a very important role to play. Spiritual centres also attract tourists, as do dance and  music as  forms of classical and contemporary discipline. The dialogue between Kerala and Tamil Nadu on the question of dam renovation is probably the most interesting relic of a colonial history, and foregrounds how we think of Agriculture and Tourism in the two states. The Pallakad gap has now completely transformed from verdant hills to a long traffic lined route for trucks going between the two states carrying goods.
It is very important to set up the debates on what the people want, by conducting studies which are not biased towards industrialisation as the only way in which modern Indians see their role in a buoyant economy. The average land holding is two and a half acres, perhaps, but the constant success of traditional farmers in producing bumper crops, whether in Nalanda in Bihar or in the former arid zones of Tamil Nadu, have to be understood within its cultural and historical contexts. With the water crises and climate change  representing itself continually through modes of adaptation by local farmers, it is necessary to take the voice of activists into account. The North East which has withstood varieties of colonialism, including interior colonialism, is now in a precarious political condition with the appointment of an army chief known to have disciplinary action being taken against him for vacuous, or even worse, actively dastardly behaviour against local communities.
When we look at tribal or dalit communities, we have to be aware of the way in which their world view is attached to visions of the land as a potent and animistic force. When they are forced to leave their homes, where they are able to lead frugal lives in consonance with their beliefs, they are rendered destitute. This is why for decades the Indian government (bureaucracy) has worked with alleviation of poverty programmes rather than with the  sole idea that forced eviction is the only way that the poor can be forced into the cities as cheap labour. Industrialised farming will create the kind of destructive, separatist and entropic violence that India faced in the 1980s, and which continues to be seen in Maoist regions.
 Where people are well fed, clothed, educated and offered employment, the chances of survival of people and freedoms are the highest. Alongside this, comes the awareness of citizen rights and privileges. By constantly offering free electricity to urbanites in large cities, so that their recreational and consumption enhanced lifestyles are protected, we are doing tremendous damage to the environment and to  local communities.
Small towns, which have a hinterland in agriculture, also provide us the best window to tourism, which is one of the most revenue generating occupations in the globalised world. This permits people to have the autonomy to choose how and where they wish to live, rather than competing unthinkingly with the  industrialised West,  and which also  permits revisiting our pragmatic orientations with regard to survival strategies.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Soccer as  Strategy

Football is a cult. It brings people together because of the speed of the game, and the instinctive thinking required by the players, and the split second response by commentators and couch potatoes equally, as they watch the game. Football is visceral, because it pounds the senses, wrenches the guts and men and women fall in love with the players by the  numerical signs on their back, as each one is distinguished by a particular style. Advertisers find this rampant energy immediately sensual, and so there is a great colourful propoganda about players and clothes and shoes as much as there is about energy drinks they consume off field. Since football arouses such passion, the streets become the immediate playground for the emotions of the audience, as they revel. They swirl about in search of their cultic heroes, and they become mobs, who drink a lot, and fight with one another. So football becomes the site of the most spectacular riots and dishevelment, where the players are assigned the stature of gods.
 Because the blood flows in the veins so fast, football fans are proud of their feelings, and carry it into the sports stadium. Decorative and patriotic face paint is a little like war paint, and the noise is also profoundly higher, since it communicates the individual body as the site of personal and collective identity.
The real play grounds for footer are in the villages and streets of the urban jungle. Since young boys are inculcated in the sport very early, their desire to be known is also very heady, and film makers are happy to make football films to show how much it means to be a young Maradonna. The vivacity of the game leaves the audience spell bound, while the players themselves live in the  vivid Olympia of their actual proficiency and collective grandeur. Ordinary people can identify with the game, because the tactile nature of the sport means that the warriors will always do what is good for one another, in order to win the game. The "other" is clearly demarcated, and so the real passion is in teamship, and in surrendering one's individualism one actually hones one's superior gamesmanship. Women's football is something which is promoted but not practised, primarily because men represent the sport as that which will emulate the work of the Gods. and the women have only an ornamental or passive status. In Brazil and Argentina, liberation theology promoted the training of football stars in the local community churches where the sons of poor people could aspire to greatness and wealth and power. The idea of hard work leading to honour is not unknown in Christianity,  yet, the specific aggrandisement that football brings is surely a sign of its investment in Capitalism. The medieval churches were built on the loot of war and inquisition,  similarly the soccer theatres are an aspect of the capitalist industry putting its signature on the game. Countries which are poor often have governments which take the carnival and spectacle of sports to define how they will organise the resources of labour and management and profit incentives to make the game do something else rather than  just play. While the world watches, and the stars battle it out, the steel industries and the cocoa cola and the branded clothes and shoe companies will make their profits. The urchins who play in the sun and rain will succumb to hours of television time in order to become passive recipients of the advertising barrage.Cities will undergo transformation, and the carbon trail to the soccer cities will be humungous.
Pele will remain the spiritual ancestor of freedom, the icon of resistance to  war, control mechanisms and political silencing. When football stars become models of behaviour, then every child who watches them on screen, in live play or in the auditorium, will dream of a day when they too have a chance to make that difference. Soccer is not about Homo Ludens but also about glamour, degradation, salvation and rehabilitation. Not surprisingly, for left leaning states like Kerala and West Bengal, the call to street football has always been very noticeable.  The quantum of energy  expended requires a wholesome diet, and both the Malayalees and the Bengalis have a rice eating, fish eating culture, where stamina is the index, not girth or height. Goa has always had football, because the village traditions there too encourage volleyball and football. The Jesuits in South America have been great propogators of sports as a stepping stone to the  possible dream of equality for the poor. The tradition instills discipline, rule bound behaviour as well as hierarchy. Equality is premised in the idea of individual aptitude, which then allows the trainer to take on  a team which he can hone to perfection, given the autocratic nature of his own choice making facilities about who can do what best. That decision is for the trainer to make. Oddly, the acceptance of this is what gives each player his autonomy.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The early 20th century letters of Satyanand Stokes.

The Farmer of Kotgarh
I went to Shimla in 2009, while footnoting my essay, “Summer Hill: The Building of Viceregal Lodge” published by the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, (SHSS, Volume 18, 2010) and became interested in the history of the potato and of the apple. So I visited the Central Potato Research Institute, and browsing through newsletters and books, found that spuds grown in Himachal, were being sold to makers of American style  hot chips, and more interestingly that it originated in South America. Pamela Kanwar  in her book Imperial Simla, says Captain Charles Pratt Kennedy was associated with introducing potatoes in the hills. He was posted as Garrison Officer till 1821, and then the Political Agent, controlling the hill states. He was a good host, who fed his guests including Lord Amherst, very well and gave them champagne, hock and  mocha coffee at dinner, and Calcutta journals at breakfast. He worked only one hour after breakfast, according to Kanwar, but that was enough to unfurl the roads, houses,and bazars as they came to be built. Raja Bhasin in Simla:The Summer Capital cites Rudyard Kipling who describes it as a round of dances, picnic, theatricals and flirtations.  Vipin Pubby takes up the problem of landless forced labout, and writes in Simla: Then and Now that begar was finally abolished in 1929, through the work of Samuel Evans Stokes, who was close to Mahatma Gandhi.
In the archives at Teen Murti Library, I found a record that Satyanand Stokes, as he came to be known, had left behind for his family. It was a legacy of letters, and very interesting ones too. The first set recorded for his mother in America, a patient he was looking after, who died a most terrible death. Stoke’s horror and his  helplessness at the boy’s terminal illness, where the pustules blinded  and he tore at his flesh but in the end, became calm as death approached, is a frightening record of how illness a hundred years ago left the attendant completely enervated and sorrowful.  Stokes then goes to Kotgarh, where he falls in love with a village girl, called Agnes, who makes garlands for him to wear and shyly accepts his overtures of affection and respect. His love for her is intense, and he soon marries her. He writes to his mother on June 5 1912 that “I thank God that Agnes is to be my wife. I think that I have truly fallen in love with her and am looking forward to our marriage with great eagerness.” For Stokes, the love remains a constant space which allows him to engage with the “inner life of India” . On December 27th 1912, he writes, they are honeymooning at the Taj Mahal Hotel, in Bombay, and the village girl is now completely at ease with strangers,  “Agnes is greatly taken with saris – the long silk article of dress which the Parsi ladies wear here”. Stokes returns to  Kotgarh and Barobagh and his interest in farming is already evident. On May 28th 1913, he writes, “ It will interest you to  know that I have taken to what I never thought would interest me even a little bit – gardening. Each morning early and every evening I am out in my garden among my peas and beans and lima beans and pumpkins, cabbages etc.”. For him, his plants were like his babies, and he turned the earth “as if I were arranging their bed clothes for them and tucking them in like babies upto the chin. This ofcourse sounds silly but I cannot help feeling like a father to them for all that.”
On August 20th 1913 he writes that , “One of the things which I intend to do when in America is to go in for a selection of good wheats and grass-seeds to introduce out here. If I can find anything which will yield the farmer a larger crop per acre, and if I am able to import, and after using introduce it, I shall be doing the people a very real service. At present the difficulty is to subsist on the small amount of land owned by each. The introduction of potatoes has greatly helped, and if I  could only follow it up by the introduction of other useful things I should be delighted.”
A visit to Agnes’ grandmother’s house dazzles him, as he writes to his mother on Sept 10th 1913, “It is a beautiful day at the end of the rainy season. As I sit here upon the porch of Dhan Singh’s house, the shout of the ploughman comes to my ears, and when I look out across the fields I can see the hillsides covered with labouring oxen. I thank God for this beautiful country and for the balm it is to my spirit which has been in the last two years so cut and torn, and is now by His mercy receiving comfort and strength again.”
After three sons are born,  named Premchand, Pritam, and Tarachand, Sam Stokes is very busy, helping his wife, and at the same time, intent on educating her too. He writes to his mother, September 20th 1916, “I do the best I can to make the burden as light as possible, and do all the night work and washing of most of the bottles myself, but there are three babies to bathe and feed, and all the house-keeping and managing to be attended to by her. And besides she will not behave herself, so that when I have succeeded in making her work lighter in one direction she will put in the time saved in something else – either putting up quinces or drying tomatoes, or sewing or knitting. I am glad that in the midst of all her activities she continues to make time for reading. She has just got through four or five of Fennimore Cooper’s books and now she is devoting herself to George Elliot’s works;  at present she is absorbed in Adam Bede.… Here we are engaged in the autumn sowing of wheat and barley. I have got a number of fine big fields in shape since our return, and all being well, hope to have all our principle provisions from our own place next year. We have now got in all our potato crop - it amounted to over four tons, and after keeping what we need for sowing and home consumption we sold the rest for a good sum, getting the best price in the neighbourhood because our potatoes were the finest….So you see that at last I have gone in for selling. I don’t like it but see that it must be done. It would be crazy to distribute our surpluses at present. I have therefore determined to sell all that I can (I won’t do it myself, but my foremen does it better than I could,) and make it an aim to eventually pay all our expenses off the place. The aim is interesting even if the means does not appeal.”
Marketing produce is so hard that even if there is over abundance, the fruit and vegetables must find a buyer. Sociologists want to know the relation between the producer, buyer and consumer, across time, and in differing circumstances.
 I took the address of a descendant of the Stokes, in 2009 from the publicity officer at Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, and caught a bus, which dropped me off on a hill road,  and then I had to take a detour down to where the house was. The descendent was an MLA and was in Delhi, so I could not speak with her, though the  domestic staff were friendly, and the house and garden a hillside delight.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Lost Worlds or Lot's Wife

 Lost Worlds (also published as "By the Rivers of India" in the Financial Chronicle of Weekend February 22nd 2014

 Two women became the symbols of Kerala as it stands today. One brought her two school going daughters and infant son to Jantar Mantar in October 2013 to protest against illegal sand mining in Kerala. It was Jairam Ramesh who immediately wrote to Oomen Chandy asking that he look into the case.( see October is not a very cold month, but it took all of four months for Oommen Chandy to respond to the environmental crusader. Sand mining is one of the most visible of illegal occupations, and no one speaks of it, for fear of being killed. A cursory web check will show the fear in which people live of the sand mining mafia. Yet, construction activity cannot ostensibly be supported without it,  though  now crushed mortar is providing a recycling alternative. Dr  Samuel Paul has argued that 60 percent of Kerala is now urbanised. The promise of  IPL games brought with it its own crushing sense of the morass of traffic, which besieges Kerala with a consumerist culture, now well in place with the Gulf Diaspora returning and looking for what they were used to. Internet parks and shopping malls became the common cause for an industrialising nation everywhere. Sunanda died leaving her families  and friends distraught,  because by all accounts she was likeable and amusing. Development strategies, however, which come with their leisure packages are not without costs. According to a resident in Kuruvillangad,  (a wealthy  rural  gulf diaspora  Syrian Christian outpost in Kerala with its proliferating colleges and ritual sites,)  “Sunanda  was so charming, she could sell sand to desert inhabitants in Dubai”. Jazeera, the autodriver however, had to sit in the freezing Delhi climate when temperatures went down to 4 degrees, to protest against the rampant death of rivers in Kerala. Jazeera’s protest, was supported by her school master husband. The future of Kerala lies in the hands of those three children who survived Delhi’s bitter cold, though the files to Oommen Chandy took four months to be cleared, before he could intervene.
Bureaucracies are the spine of the nation. If one disrupts officialise there is vagrancy. Yet Hannah Arendt said that because the bureaucrat follows orders, and because the bureaucrat is never responsible, the banality of evil is rampant. When Varun Gandhi invoked the name of his father and wished to return in the name of his father, I shuddered, for Emergency excesses were huge, and Sanjay Gandhi’s youth brigade who roistered through the streets of Delhi were very energetic.
I was 17 when the Emergency happened. Coming back from the Delhi University, (before the Mudrika bus seva had completely reinvented our lives), I had to catch a connecting bus to Nizamuddin, where I lived, from Daryaganj. In those days,  a lone 57 number bus went to D.U, and you had to find a place to catch it from. So Daryaganj was where I boarded and got off,  mornings and afternoons, in 1974, all a good forty years ago. And there, every day, I would see the government officers who would put up little tables, where people came and signed up for a vasectomy or a tubectomy because they wanted something from the Government. If one had three children, then one had to sign up and get a  sterilisation certificate. Brinda Karat upturned the apple cart by stating some years ago, that women should decide the number of children they wanted. Working classes, as Mahmud Mamdani argued in  one of our prescribed Sociology readings on the 1970s, see children as the substitute for pensions, which they don’t receive in our country, as they are poor and usually contract labour does not receive identity cards, for what permanent address do they have?
Interestingly, on 18.7.67. Panampilly Govinda Menon wrote a note in his capacity as Union Law Minister, to say “To subject a person to the operation of vasectomy or tubectomy is to inflict “grievous hurt” as defined in Sec 320 of the Indian Penal Code on that person. Currently in our hospitals and family planning centres these operations are done with the consent of the persons operated upon and therefore are not penal. The case here is not of sterilisation with the consent of the person sterilised but under compulsion of law. And the question is whether such law would be within the competence of Parliament” ( NMML Manuscript Section,File 190 xxxv 176)
P. Govinda Menon does not have a problem ethically with people being sterilised compulsorily so long it is not “deprivation of personal liberty by naked executive order.” After having clarified that none of the “religions  of the world”, besides the Roman Catholic one, is against contraception, (and this community may  be exempted along with other conscientious objectors,) the law for compulsory sterilisation may be seen as a reasonable one. “Since the proposal is to have legislation for compulsory sterilisation, the order to be issued to an individual by the appropriate officer will be according to procedure established by law and protected; unless the Courts further stipulate the law in this respect should be a reasonable law; and the stature on scrutiny is found to be unreasonable.” (ibid) In another note in the same file, which is preserved as Symposium on Greater Cochin Development Concluding Speech, dated 1967 he says, “It is time that Malayalees dropped the habit of staying in separate house, each standing in its own compound. The density of population and the scarcity of land does not permit it. Multistoreyed buildings into flats for residential purposes would be the only possible solution for the housing problem in this region. I am sure the Malayalees would be able to adjust to this type of living.”
 The Malayalees love for gardens is a characteristic,  and growing fruits and flowers has been now concretely translated by Diaspora into terrace gardens, since  Kerala government runs courses on growing runner beans, bitter gourds and ladies finger and curry leaves on one’s own terrace, or in pots. Any sorrow for lost gardens is ostensibly nostalgia, which most modernists see as potently limiting. I would just presume that having more agricultural colleges is necessary in the 21st century, and new agriculturists should by right be nurtured, instead of the Indian State going the Bt way monotonously. The survival of rivers, as Jazeera argued, is the most significant thing for those who live in our riverine and ancient civilisations. These are living and sustainable traditions, not to be axed in the name of Development, and archived through Proud Parade marches. Watching the Ladakh villagers growing apricots, apples,  turnips, radishes, runner beans, celery, potatoes, even grapes (in Kargil) for the  consumption of the Indian army, and farmers with small gardens hoping for roads to Delhi to market their excess produce was an eye opener.
Amit Shah would have us believe in television rhetoric,  that prosperity is a neutral thing, and that when water or electricity is provided, Gujarat provides equally to both, in the same village. However post 2002, many Muslims continue to live in refugee camps or ghettos. Muzaffar Nagar has proved that in some states, segregation of communities is sought. Industrialisation comes with heavy cost to the rural poor, many of whom come to the city to earn. Whether town, country or metropolis, the City decides the future of the hinterland.


Friday, January 31, 2014

Murder by any name

Nido Taniam is one more dead by the wrath of the city, and again, the unnecessary hate that goes into these macabre events leave one completely befuddled. When will it stop? Delhi is  like Chicago in the 1930s, there are no rules, and the glamour of illicitness runs its way through the city like its very veins.
Everyone thinks the other is evil, and goes to get him or her. It's a very odd way to behave as humans. I grew up in this city, dreading its entrails of lewdness and hate. The parks and the ruins and monuments made up for the dread,  and one was distracted by the flowers every Spring, but the crimes committed in the city were too frequent to allow for any real acceptance of calm. One can imagine, that at one level there is a rhetoric that says people are free, and that they must avail the opportunities of being able to use the facilities the city offers, but at another level, the risks of being out there after 8 pm are just too huge. One family was told  one morning,that the business men who had been killed in the night in an accident were theirs. Innumerable hit and run cases occur, and increasingly, murders of young people who are out at night. The students from the North East are targetted because they don't look like the other migrants to Delhi. The city of Delhi has its various layers, and in each there is a way of  presenting oneself which is like a rule of the territory. Dress codes are like uniforms. When young men appear with sharp haircuts with peroxide at the edges, the citizens behave like they have been personally attacked. When these students, both men and women, have Sino features, the ghettoised citizens in these colonies,  act as if these are enemies of the State.

As someone who is in her late 50s, I am expected to behave as if I were without any rights to my identity as a person. One instance of this is the mandatory dress code expected of me. One of the problems of "being a bad example" is that people actually imagine that if you don't look like them you are "a bad example." Constantly there is pressure to conform, to look like the woman who sells washing soap across the different states speaking a dubbed different language in each region, but quintessentially the same middle class woman wearing a bindi. This trope of sameness is ofcourse  provided by advertisers as much as state policy, where citizens are defined only by their ability to negotiate with the administration. Tobacco and alcohol may be state regulated, but so are the advertisements which project cancer as a deadly disease. The benefits received by the state from taxes has to be represented through the manner in which privatisation works in order to keep the boot leggers at bay. The Bacardi ads with which a whole generation grew up as tv watchers meant that the totemistic nature of human life would be represented as a risk taking exercise in the urban jungle. The alcohol bottles lying in the streets in Kerala have to be seen to be believed, and even in Leh, alcohol bottles lie unclaimed in growing piles. In Delhi, the recycling of waste is perhaps more exact in where these bottles go.
 Modernisation has not meant that people have left their traditional views on human behaviour aside. Each caste group, each religion, each class has distinctive ways of projecting their identity, and those citizens who break the laws such as beating up and murdering others,  must be punished. Religious identity is a personal motivation, which is decided by the accident of birth and individual choice. To kill or beat up another because he/she is different in appearance is the most dreadful thing to happen in a city. Routinely people are beaten up our city, because the mob thinks they know best. At this rate, we in Delhi, will be no different from those who live in cities which are constantly patrolled, and there deaths occur without explanation or cause.
In JNU, where students have won the right to work in the Library through the night, giving Social Science students the same privileges as Science students in their Laboratories, the Security staff are on patrol all the time. Yet there are robberies, occassionally, and an  attempt to murder and  a suicide, just last year in the School of Languages. We obviously don't have a closed entry system, since the bus comes in freely till late at night, and everyone is welcome to visit our campus. Monitoring and patrolling become symbols of a closed system, rather than a truly democratic one. What are people's life chances regardless of the accident of birth?

Unless people believe and trust in one another, how can one have democracy? The idea that people can round up on others and believe that these are criminals with intent to hurt and must be exterminated, seems medieval to the extreme, or fascist in the way Europe was in the 1930s. In that scenario, undermining institutions is not the answer, but legal remedies must be sought, before young people are sacrificed over and over in the name of something or another.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sepulchral Winter in Delhi

Its been cold, and the skies so grey, one feels afraid to look at it. The planes stopped flying for a couple of days, and it seems like twilight all day long. I have never felt so cold, but then every winter seems colder than the last, and every summer very very hot. One morning  I woke up, and read the newspapers to find that a friend's husband had fallen to his death. My neighbours and I rushed there, and found her grieving and puzzled. Later, the story unfolded with tragic twists and turns. His death had been the result of kangaroo courts publicly devoured on tv. My friend's husband had been accused of rape, that he had spiked a guest's drink and then violated her. Battalions of friends turned up at the CPI office courtyard where his body was taken from the morgue. None of us believed that he could have done this. But it was too late to help him, and his friends who had tried to protect him from this terrible ending, by providing him emotional support during the last months of his life were very distraught.
Many of us know that anyone who takes on  chroniclingpolitical vendettas and writes about perpetrators come to difficulties, or their families do. And in the case of my friend's husband, a professional activist this too came to pass. As his body went into the electric crematorium, the hatchet opening to take him into the flames, the young people who had been trained by him, and cherished him saluted him. The fire was huge, the body small. I saw it by chance, when we had all stepped out, and I looked back. The fire was immense, and the body lay there wrapped in its shroud, immersed in the final flame. Samar's father, Meenakshi's husband, Comrade Khurshid Anwar who had more friends than he had ever imagined in that sorrowful moment when he stepped off the ledge, or was pushed off by rumour and the invective of hate. All of us asked, as he had too before he died, why did the alleged victim, not gone to the police, registered a case, gone to a hospital, submitted herself for  medical examination  and dna testing...why for three months did her friends and her supporters do nothing other than spread rumours, visiting a tv channel to air their story? Rape has become such a common word in Delhi today, that we remind ourselves everyday to breathe and live, to be one with the universe, to hope for tomorrow.