I stand with you, Gaza

In the only canteen in a university you-never-heard-of, the the glass-door refrigerator is almost empty. There is a box of Cadburry chocolates. For a week now, the refrigerator is empty. One day few bottles of Schweppes gingerales appeared and disappeared again. The canteen is crowded, everyone asks for “cold drinks”. The walls are still adorned with smiling bollywood stars with a data-card or a coca-cola in hand. The counter is busy. Behind the counter sits, occasionally, a bearded person in a skull cap.

And I think, how many of the students ask why coca-cola disappeared from the fridge? How many may know there might be an internationalist living among them, serving them not food-for-thought but the real food ( absolutely necessary for any thought)? The university-you-never-heard-of is in a place and culture where there is nothing-unknown, nothing-unanswerable. Every subject/topic is met with the same lack of interest a plate of plain boiled rice is met with after a delicious and hearty meal. Nowhere in the campus, where alignment and movement of cosmic bodies are a matter of daily concern, does the international alignment with apartheid, movement of projectiles into the bodies of children, women, innocent hard-working men and fighters or soldiers does figure in discussions.

Reading everyday about the ongoing pogrom, I can’t tell for sure, why I am reading these at all. Can it at all be that, instead of being concerned I am morbidly interested in conflicts, massacres, oppression. Afterall, I see it where others don’t. What happens to the people who are gathering up around the tree to see a young girl hanging? Do they go home completely shaken, their faith in humanity destroyed or they go home satiated of their curiosity of the event? Silently watching, reading, knowing the tireless injustice perpetrated must be making us at least partially the audience for who it is made. The world is a stage, I remember.

I have not asked at the canteen, if they are simply showing solidarity with the businessmen in Mumbai who joined BDS campaign. He might be the lone person in this place-you-never-been to have heard of BDS against Israel. As people die, and with them hope of peace, freedom and justice, we must remember to be shaken with such brutalities.

Normalising Narendra Modi

Nehru, Gandhi and the Neheru-Gandhis(N,G & N-Gs) are probably the most criticised leaders in India in the circle of the hindu nationalists. I am forced to use the word “hindu” nationalists” here in absence of a non-offensive and/or self-described word to mean someone who supports the ideals of the BJP, RSS and their sister organisations. Evidently, Narendra Modi has described himself as a hindu nationalist, but that seem to have been in more rue than glee. Notwithstanding the widely differing visions, works of the N, G and N-Gs, the HNs can hardly agree with them on anything. Pick any book of slightly right-wing ideals, and you are most like to have Nehru’s patriotism in suspect, his vision discredited. This makes sense though, since the politics of the HNs positions itself as an alternative to the N,G & N-Gs. However, the N,G & N-G do have a stellar stand in Indian politics, in terms of the sheer number of terms they have headed the govt. of this country but also the way they have shaped the country’s economic progress and global recognition. I admit both of these are interdependent and highly controversial, but both illustrate BJP’s quintessential conundrum – it is the fame of these N, G & NGs which Hindu nationalists defame they need to match.

It began with Atal Bihari Bajpayee. Around the time he trumped the then Iron man (IM-I) L. K. Advani for this un-vetted secularism, an anecdote circulated. That Nehru once remarked, “he has prime ministerial timber” after listening to Bajpayee in the parliament,  was something that caught the string of the unthinking middle class. I am not sure, if Nehru waxed poetry in his speeches, or found the especially slow-flow of words particularly prime ministerial, we even don’t know if the younger AB Bajpayee also spoke in slow-mow, but it was Nehru’s tacit and a rather prescient approval of AB Bajpayee to adorn “his(?)”  throne which placed him in public imagination. You could find out, it wouldn’t be a Hindu nationalist to circulate that anecdote.

Ram Chandra Guha does not claim to be a Hindu nationalist. It was he who would start the same normalization of another Iron man (IM-II), Modi. In his unashamed ogling published in “The Hindu” he says, “There is something of Indira Gandhi in Narendra Modi”. Perhaps that was not enough. Not perfect enough for an “Iron Man” to be compared to a female leader (although an Iron lady herself). So we get Tavleen Singh, famed for her gossip column in Indian express who says, “Modi is the first major political leader since Jawaharlal Nehru who has articulated a clear economic vision.” It would be interesting to dissect this heap of praise, but to do that to a line of a journalist who has deep respect and warmth for Advani despite her disliking of his politics and rath yatra, because he called her after reading her book and because she had travelled with him in 1977 would be a waste of time. (By the way, people were killed in massive numbers because of that yatra and politics.)

But notice here the insinuation of political legitimacy and competency of the BJP leaders by banking on the public memory of the long-serving former Prime ministers of India. It is a hollow assurance these columnists tender to the people of India based on completely hypothetical correlation. The nature of political expediency is such that a party that opposed political dynasty in democracy needs to prove its royal blood. 

However absolute Narendra Modi’s accomplishments in Gujrat’s economy be, it is a wonder how people who claim to be liberal and apololitical otherwise, notwithstanding the contradiction in terms, completely ignore Gujrat riot. With interactions of various actors in this extended Hindu Nationalist family, over past 10 years suggest me four ways they could rationalize Gujarat riot of 2002.

  1. Not True: They simply refuse to accept that Gujarat riot happened. In the next few years after the riot, this was a major stand of the expatiate Gujaratis, and a lot of them continue to hold major English dailies responsible for spreading the “misinformation” about Gujarat 2002. They position themselves as alternative news-source, claiming themselves more authentic than the rest since they hail from Gujarat, and eloquently brand every other voice “pseudo-secularists”, communists or congress conspirators. It is important to remember that, much of the vernacular media during the period did not report the large-scale loss of lives and properties of the muslims nor it did report the of the magnitude of the carnage. This probably had created a cognitive dissonance in the mind of this group of people, for which they could be initially forgiven. But after 13 years of the pogrom, it is simple blind faith, ignorance and prejudice.
  2. True, but not Modi: Some acknowledge the Gujarat riot, even the disproportionate loss to the Muslims. These people however squarely exonerate Modi of being responsible for it.  If Modi was the Chief Minister during the riot of 2002, he is also the Chief Minister during the next 10 years of peaceful growth, they argue. L.K.Advani is among the leading voices in this argument. However, this argument is very informative in itself because what it proves is that if a govt. is interested it could administer relative peace for as along as it wants. If CM Modi did it for 10 years in Gujarat now, CM Mayawati could do it in one of the most volatile states regarding communal riots. And if govt. does want not peace, Gujrat 2002 results. Fractions of this group of people like to see the riot as a consequence of Godhra train burning. Lets put the facts aside, and ask if the disproportionate loss of lives, properties, honor and home of only a particular community far from the site of burning can happen spontaneously?
  3. Can we move on?: Gujarat riot-2002 is not fiction; Narendra Modi is in the center of it. As facts emerged, documentaries, sting operations, court, CBI investigations vacillate between almost trying Modi and his ministers/officers and giving clean chits, it is increasingly difficult for some people deny all of it. Instead they ask can we move on now, focus instead on growth and development, clean governance for a change? Yes, we should, but there is a probable killer among us, in fact not among but above us, hoping to rule us tomorrow. How comfortable you would be to know that your boss had got few people killed for whatever reason? Or that, your spouse is a killer? How much of a development-freak you would be to move on, if your neighbours, members of your community, yourself were victims?
  4. We did it!!: There is a fourth category of Modi supporters. They acknowledge the massacre, the rapes, the loots with all its enormity, celebrate it and are grateful to Modi for it.

Most of us are not blind to deny any violence did occur, nor bigoted enough to celebrate such things. Even if we were, we cannot be publicly so. But it is the idea that we should move on, whoever be responsible, so empathetically argued by the extended family, does not, result in a new socio-economic reality. The fact about development is almost like the cliché, “all that glitters are not gold”. Multilane roads, flyovers, sky-scrappers and Memorials (lets keep Maya in loop too) are easier to build than a more equitable, pluralistic society. Infrastructural investment in a short time can give you a “vikash purush” (development man) but it takes years of societal investment to have vikashita janata (developed citizenry). Modi had 20 years to do that, still Gujrat carries some worst human development indices. But again, Jyoti Basu also had 27 years.

In a zerosum game of electoral politics, a thousand different reasons to support Modi do lead to coronation of an alleged mass murderer as Prime ministerial candidate of a major national party. The effect of which would be far-reaching.

Enforcing Impunity

The recent judgement of Laxmanpur Bathe Massacre, where the High court bench chaired by Sinha and Lal acquitted all the 26 accused, 16 of who were previously given death sentence, casts serious doubts on the role of judiciary (along with the involved investigating agencies) in delivering justice when it comes to Dalit atrocity. A massacre of 58 Dalits by a gang of men (Ranvir Sena) going unpunished after 16 long years is a travesty of justice which a democratic country should be ASHAMED of.

There is an important dimension to Dalit-atrocities that often a deeper involvement into the issue brings forth. The impunity an ordinary caste-hindu enjoys in doing anything illegal, uncivil against a Dalit. The same caste-hindu might never pick a quarrel with another caste-hindu but feels free to transgress a Dalit’s right whenever she feels uncomfortable. In small societies, such as villages there are social stigma (negative reinforcement) against bad behavior/criminality, but only if it is against the caste-hindus. Bad behavior/criminality against the Dalits are justified by tradition and religion. This “perceived impunity” that even a pre-teen caste-hindu is so conceived is not biological, THERE IS NO INNATE CASTEIST FACULTY, but inherited prejudice duly enriched myths, mythologies and religious scriptures and emboldened by the deeds of her fellow caste-hindus.

In the villages, where most of these Dalit-atrocities occur, there is NOTHING which breaks the “perceived impunity”.There are three important agencies which break the news to the stone-age caste-hindu villagers that, that is in fact no impunity.

First, is the school where probably the next best thing children can learn after alphabets and arithmetics is the principles of mutual-respect and co-existence.  In fact, these things children should learn along with or even before they learns the prescribed school education. The school years should enhance the rationale of these principles, which will let the pupils question their ‘inherited prejudice’ at least.

Second are the law-enforcement agencies, the police, the court, and many other govt. agencies. Ideally the guidebook for them is the constitution and the penal codes, which grant none of the ‘perceived impunity’. Any case of establishing and protecting the rights of a marginalized group would serve as an example for the hapless caste-hindu pree-teen who was otherwise going to turn out to be carrier of the disease- casteism.  A collusion of caste-hindu brotherhood and irrational religiosity help enforce the “perceived impunity”.  The court verdict like the Patna HC on Laxmanpur bathe, in the pretext of ‘lack of reliable evidence’ makes the perceived impunity real. It is not the final verdict yet, there is a Supreme Court, of course, but it does tell a crucial fact. The apex court thinks, the killers can not be punished.

With a Casteist Judiciary like that, the third, and probably the last way out of this abyss of ignorance (as you might have guessed the “percieved impunity is just plain ignorance or inability to accept the truth), for the poor caste-hindu is Newspapers.  Remember, how Indian express took up the cause of the two slain IAS officers, by covering the issue in front page, day after day? How The Hindu serialized publication of wiki-leaks? These newspapers very well consider themselves opinion makers, and they are to certain extent, in addition to their role as reporter of facts. None of these papers wrote up an editorial condemning the derelict judiciary or criticizing the court verdict. These National Toilet Papers (again to use VTR’s word) have criticized court rulings before, in all too subtle ways to extricate themselves from the law’s tentacles. More importantly, when Dalit parliamentarians forced the MHRD to admit changes in school textbook, because some cartoons were defamatory to Dr. Ambedkar, these were the paper who surfaced more than 89 editorials and open-editorials, a list of those are with me. None of them would say it, at least, it was wrong on the part of the court to justify Dalit killings, and letting the accused free, even when surviors are unequivocal on their identification and even without a directive to the police/CBI to bring the culprit to justice.

The impunity for caste based violence (forget discrimination!) is sanctified by Hindu religion, employed primarily to subjugate Dalits, to deny them them their dignity and individuality, is guranteed by the court and actively encouraged by education and media.

Update: “The Hindu”, our responsible newspaper deems it necessary to publish an editorial on “Persecution of Jwala”. Apparently, the female start badminton play not being allowed to play in Denmark by Badminton Association of India is quite more serious issue than massacres like Laxmanpur bathe.

Between Temples and Toilets

This is the 21st century, and India still does not know how to clean up its own shit.

Unwittingly Narendra Modi parroted Jairam Ramesh. He would have to do that a lot more, because the more you are required to speak the more you’d be required to repeat, sometimes your own self, sometimes others. Pitting public sanitation ahead of (not against) temples results from an embarrassing fact, that almost half of the villages in India defecate in open spaces. That sounds like a horrible thing, only if we didn’t believe that a minimum of 53% people (i.e in delhi) live in slums without toilets. Think about mumbai, percentage population of slum dwellers can be easily 70-80%. In such case, toilets sounds pretty progressive, a development issue.

Where it does not sound progressive is, what kind of toilets?

Gujrat, along with Uttar Pradesh (where Mayawati ruled), are incidentally few states where a particular type of toilets are probably worst kind of “non-violent” human cruelty. The dry latrines are simply enclosed places where the ‘caste-hindu’ shit. Next day, someone needs to clean it up, put it in a basket and take it to the open space. This toilets are a thousand times worse than open-defecation. Navsarjan Trust, a foundation started by veteran activist Martin Macwan, has been fighting it out since 1992, when “manual Scavenging” as the work is known, was banned in Gujrat. Till 2013, Gujrat govt. refused to carry out the survey even, forget about punishment of the employer, rehabilitation of the worker in this inhumane trade. Not surprisingly because, for Modi as was for his compatriot Mohandas Gandhi, cleaning toilets is the spiritual duty of the dalits. The biggest defaulter of humanity is the central government run railway. It uses a form of toilets which are open-defecation in reality, like the dry latrines. Because Mr. Modi and Mr. Ramesh, the definition of “open defecation” is not based on whether you are in the open space while you defecate, but whether your feces is left in the open.

In a radical new theory, supported by emperical data, Dean Spear of Princeton university has argued that shunted growth of Indian children are because of open-defecation. In his theory, “Faeces contain germs that, when released into the environment, make their way onto children’s fingers and feet, into their food and water, and wherever flies take them. Exposure to these germs not only gives children diarrhoea, but over the long term, also can cause changes in the tissues of their intestines that prevent the absorption and use of nutrients in food, even when the child does not seem sick”.

Can you guess what about the Dalits?

Between the making of secular and pro-development masks, the dalits are left in the lurch.

The Uselessness Of My Activism

Activism is not sharing newslinks, quotable quotes in wallpapers or snippets of wisdom in FB. Activism, I believe, is a constant engagement with certain issues of societal relevance, and elevating your concern for wellbeing of the larger, but more importantly, less privileged sections of the societies/groups including yours. It might include informing yourself with details by reading and discussing, sharing your thoughts by writing and discussing and giving voice to what you believe in by standing up for it, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups. This “constant engagement” take a toll on your otherwise personal time and space as well as your professional progress. So it might be wise to judge the usefulness of such activity.

Recently we were protesting a case of Dalit atrocity. As the protest march ended at a police barricade which we didnt even try break, we were doubtful if our tiny gathering of 100 odd people will break the stoic silence of the government or the indifference of the administration. As a fellow protester was uncertain if these benign protests could change anything, I wondered if a more passionate protest involving arrest or detention would actually do anything more. We have done the latter too, at another time for another issue without much success.

The previous night in JNU campus, the effectiveness of any sort of protest were thoroughly discredited. These budding intellectuals, very few in numbers, young and passionate, viewed non-violent protests and reliance on state as an enervating posture which forced more and more atrocities on Dalits. If your only shield is cracked, further strike are inevitable. Violence is the only answer, was a point of view. Not violence, but deterrence through physical, communal strength or even arms was necessary and sufficient, was another.

I didn’t agree. A lot of us didn’t, not because we were opposed to violence by principle or bound by a moral. Although we swore on Ambedkar to look for constitutional means, we also know “decolonisation is a violent process”(Fanon). I did not agree because, the “grammar of anarchy” simply fails to put the goal in sight. In an increasing Orwellian state, achieving a honorable and atrocity-free living for Dalits through arms and revolution was somehow not working out in my head. Counter-attacks on the caste-hindus in Bihar by the MCC, neven stopped Dalit atrocity. Easy arms in black neighbourhoods, didn’t stop race-related crimes in USA. I am not a avowed non-violence supporter, nor I believe violence is even off the table as long atrocities continue, but I dont see it as a strategic alternative.

What else is then the point of my involvement? I doubt if any of my protest have ever led to or accelerated success. Nor have I ever converted anyone with discussion. I have won arguments, but winning argument is not winning heart. Like Yogendra Sikand, none I have shared, discussed with have changed, appreciated the concerns and taken up the issue leaving the chief aspect of my activism i.e. “information is knowledge”, “Truth itself is the catalyst for revolution”, in utter suspect for its usefulness. That does not mean though, I will leave activism. The usefulness of my activism, so far, is finding out to what does not move the people, administration, government here. May be one day, knowing this, will help us end our struggle, “by any means necessary” like Malcolm X said.

The Disingenuous Railway

Kerala Sampark Kranti was supposed to reach Madgaon station at 9.30pm on the second day of the journey. We were not exactly waiting for the destination. The gravid green scenery hill piercing the clouds and suddenly falling into valleys that gave u a sense of levitation, the extremely plain fields filled with water being sprinkled with rain, the rivers and waterways with canoe and a calm demeanor, looked at through the clean glass window of a higher-class compartment could go on forever. The waiter, although announced, Madgaon station was expected at about 2.30am in the night, apparently because during rainy season, trains ran slow in Konkan railway and there were stops at about 8 hours apart. We ordered dinner. After dinner, with just the darkness outside the window, and a noisy kid inside, I grew restless as I always did in train journeys. The same waiter in an usual nonchalant face said, “Madgaon will come at 11pm”. Most of us, first-time visitors, hurried to get our luggage together.

Cyani, my younger brother doesn’t bother. Did he just sell us a dinner we might not have needed, he asks.

We had been discussing how the railway is milking travelers. Take “tatkal scheme” for example.

Sometime back tatkal could be booked 2 days (i.e 48 hours) in advance of the departure time of the train from the source station. There was a reason for that. Those who book tatkal ticket are either the one who decided to travel just 2-3 days before their travel day or the one who booked earlier but got a higher-numbered-waiting-list that might not convert to a confirmed berth. When the second category people booked tatkal ticket, they simply cancelled their regular (called general ticket) before 24 hours of travel and got the entire fare refunded minus the cancellation fee. Now, since tatkal policy is changed (to booking 24 hours in advance) without changing the cancellation and refund policy, the second category traveler will forfeit 25% of the fare of the regular ticket. Since tatkal ticket can’t be cancelled, that 25% is assured profit to the railways.

Can you guess when this change took place? Mamata Banarjee did a lot of hoo-halla, sacked Dinesh Trivedi for his anti-people fare hike and installed Mukul Roy as railway minister who went on to do roll-back the fare-hike (in March/2012) and did this change in tatkal booking time in June/2012. Nobody protested.

We don’t know if we should protest, half the times and the rest of the times, we are not sure if protests work. Take for example, the railway “Toilets”.

Railway toilets are actually open defecation systems, and with higher-class compartments only the number of times they clean is higher. Even after Bezwada Wilson indicted Railway and the Govt. in prime time national television with Amir Khan, nothing came forward. No provision in the budget, no program for its elimination and quite predictably no protest from the people. Mostly because the people who can protest and be heard don’t care. We believe it doesn’t affect us. How many of the traveler actually hold off nature’s call at the platforms, even though it is suggested to do? Don’t you always see the railway tracks in platform soiled and smell a pungent, very characteristically railway odour there. It can affect everybody’s health, the manual scavenger’s heavily, not even the travelers are not immune to it, especially very young ones. Read here. ” Faeces contain germs that, when released into the environment, make their way onto children’s fingers and feet, into their food and water, and wherever flies take them. Exposure to these germs not only gives children diarrhoea, but over the long term, also can cause changes in the tissues of their intestines that prevent the absorption and use of nutrients in food, even when the child does not seem sick. “

So may be, next time you travel, put a letter in the suggestion box, you may not find one easily. My coach said the complaint/suggestion box was with the guard. That may not be enough anyway, but it cant be left just like that.

Presbyopia of The Hindu

If you thought the videos that “The Hindu” lately circulating in social medias and TVs(!) were tasty, I want to add some sweet lime juice to your taste. I know its never sweet.

When the march began, “The Hindu” printed a colorful picture captioned “Thousands of landless poor, Dalits and Adivasis gather at Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, on Tuesday before the long march to New Delhi” in the 3rd Oct issue.

When they get closer walking for 3 days, the eggheads in The Hindu’s editorial office re-adjust their glasses and peer into the pictures they get of the people and what they find?

That there are no dalits. And thats how they caption the photo, “Tribals and landless farmers seen at Morena in Madhya Pradesh on Friday during their “Jan Satyagraha” march from Gwalior to New Delhi demanding land rights.”

Don’t blame “The Hindu”. You know Dalits are the tricksters, they might have set the landless and tribal people on road and quitely left the scene. Or may be they were the only people, who heard the Rural development Minister. He famously said “go home..blah blah”.

Besides, if you can are nitpicking, like I do, why it is have to be “landless farmers, dalits and tribals”? About 80% of the people in such rallies are usually dalits and adivasis, because ladless farmer as a cateogry is primarily composed of dalits and adivasis. But the newspaper, which claims to teach english and morality to the whole nation (barring its own reader, who it claims are already moral and educated.) has not thought of a way to appreciate the fact.