Friday, December 21, 2007

welcome home Urmi

 
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married and changed into a sari now

 
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another angle

 
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sublime

 
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Here comes the gorgeous bride

 
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Jai Mala

 

riding to go get his bride

 
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maulis being tied on the horse by sisters

 

the groom gets on a white horse

 
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White Sardars

 
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Chura Time

 
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Mehndi Time

 
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Shawn and Leela Kutty

 
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shopping for bangles

 
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amba and mira at the mehndi

 
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Mira selecting bangles

 
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Shot Central

 
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The Happy Parents Geeta and Nayan

 
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Happy Birthday Kabir

 
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Bari Mama Dancing

 
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Aish striking a pose

 
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Geeta and the Groom at the sangeet

 
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The newly weds Amit and Urmila

 

All photos by Pradip Dalal
To all the gentle readers
the earlier outburst was not for this wedding. This wedding was a beautiful family affair, just how weddings can still be.
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Such Ostentation

Such ostentation

I went to another wedding sangeet yesterday, and now I feel I have had it with Punjabi big fat weddings, and this one was really that. Indians pride themselves on their simplicity, thriftiness and lack of consumption, but this is no longer in evidence at a Punjabi wedding.

This sangeet was in a hotel, it did not start until about 10 pm. When it did start, there was a ring ceremony, with video cameras and their attendant bright lights shinning on faces.

The women were all very dressed up; the focus was on the jewellery. Women were wearing 20 carat diamonds encasing their necks. Rubies, sapphires, emeralds dripping off fat women’s, noses and ears. The women were trying to out do each other, when they said hello, they looked first at the neck, judging whether the woman was worthy to talk to before moving on the next neck. The men pretended to talk while looking to the left and right to see if any one more important was nearby.

After the ring ceremony, there were dance numbers by young kids, then by young women, followed by older women. They danced to popular Bollywood hits like Mouja Mouja and Om Shanti Om. The dancing had been choreographed and obviously much practiced. All this was watched by the passive audience while stuffing their mouths with cheese puffs, spinach quiche and galoti kebabs.

The dinner spread was a mile long; they had about fifteen dishes of Indian food like biryani, rotis, rolled up paneer, kababs and dahi bhallas. There was a fresh pasta bar, followed by a zillion roasted, stewed and curried vegetables, fish and chicken. There was a salad bar, which was built like a mountain, with breadsticks and five kinds of bread, followed by olives, salami, ham, sushi, kimchi, asparagus and fresh tossed salad. The deserts were frambed fruit in brandy, cheese cake, gajar ka halwa, ice cream and chocolate sauce.

All the bases of everything were covered; alcohol flowed freely with scotch, champagne and wine heading the list. The richest Punjabis were all in attendance dressed to kill, every possible type of delicacy was present. Lest not anyone say we did not have this or that at her wedding. They went all out, over and beyond any imagination.

As I lay in bed recovering from what I had seen, I thought how much nicer it would have been if the same food had been fed to the poor, who live so close by us, for this one day of celebration. Let them experience how we live in our irreverence, our ostentation, our addictions and nihilism. Let them live this life just one day to experience it for themselves. How the rich Indian lives, splurges, clogs their livers and party another night.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Tejeshwar Singh



Terrible

shocking news of the untimely death of Bunny. My heart goes out to Brinda, Aamana and Shonali, the brave wife and daughters and the larger family who are all feeling deep loss of Bunny's larger than life presence.

NEW DELHI: Tejeshwar Singh, publisher, theatre actor and television news reader, whose deep baritone demanded compelling attention from the viewer, died in Mussoorie on Friday night of a sudden heart attack.

He was in his early sixties. Singh founded the Sage Publications (India) in 1981 and nurtured it into a prominent publishing house within a decade.

Son of distinguished diplomat Gurbachan Singh, he was also a famous television newsreader on Doordarshan in the 1980s and early 90s. His voice left a lasting imprint on television viewers of an earlier generation. He was also associated with theatre and cinema.

Sage Publications sources told IANS that Singh had a heart attack while watching television.

Sage gave other established names in the publishing world a run for their money. Singh did this by grabbing the outsourced work from Europe and the US.

He also developed a niche distributor network and with this weaned away many authors and academics from other reputed publishers. A clear-headed visionary in the field, he said that Sage, unlike some of its competitors, would not get into retail on a large scale.

"Sage is run not by these bookstores but the libraries," he said. He argued that since Sage was not selling novels, the retail market was not important.

Tejeshwar was an established publisher when he ventured into news reading on Doordarshan, the national channel. Those were heydays of Doordarshan - it had no competitors as cable TV had not arrived in India- and Tejeshwar became a household name with his clear diction. His heavy voice and salt and pepper beard made him stand out among other newscasters on the small screen.

Another obit from the Hindu below.

New Delhi, Dec 17: Tejeshwar Singh, publisher, theatre actor and television news reader, whose deep baritone demanded compelling attention from the viewer, died in Mussoorie on Friday night of a sudden heart attack.

He was in his early sixties. Singh founded the Sage Publications (India) in 1981 and nurtured it into a prominent publishing house within a decade.

Son of distinguished diplomat Gurbachan Singh, he was also a famous television newsreader on Doordarshan in the 1980s and early 90s. His voice left a lasting imprint on television viewers of an earlier generation. He was also associated with theatre and cinema.

Sage Publications sources told IANS that Singh had a heart attack while watching television.

Sage gave other established names in the publishing world a run for their money. Singh did this by grabbing the outsourced work from Europe and the US.

He also developed a niche distributor network and with this weaned away many authors and academics from other reputed publishers. A clear-headed visionary in the field, he said that Sage, unlike some of its competitors, would not get into retail on a large scale.

"Sage is run not by these bookstores but the libraries," he said. He argued that since Sage was not selling novels, the retail market was not important.

Tejeshwar was an established publisher when he ventured into news reading on Doordarshan, the national channel. Those were heydays of Doordarshan - it had no competitors as cable TV had not arrived in India- and Tejeshwar became a household name with his clear diction. His heavy voice and salt and pepper beard made him stand out among other newscasters on the small screen.

He made a brief foray into Bollywood, essaying the role of a villain, who went under the moniker ‘DD’, in Naseeruddin Shah starrer Jalwa in 1987 before settling down in the publishing business.


Tejeshwar Singh (1945-2007): A Cut above the Rest

by T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan
New Delhi, December 17, 2007
Courtesy: Business Standard
Pics courtesy The Hindu

Saturday, December 15, 2007

David Barsamian

I went for an interesting lecture by David Barsamian, the founder of alternative radio at the Attic.
A description of the talk is below. He had just come back from Pakistan and Iran and he spoke about his experiences their. Pakistan he said was filled with protests, using the revolutionary poetry of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, not wanting military dictatorship but wanting democracy. Jamuriyat Zindabad, Amiryat Murdabad. He felt the citizens of Pakistan were aware of the lack of real choice between the lack of conscience Benazir Bhutto and the utterly corrupt Nawaz Sharif. He felt America treated Pakistan like an object, a place where it can set up military bases.

An Islamic Fascism awareness conference had recently been held in the States, where right wing commentators like Ann Coulter, had proclaimed the Muslim world should be occupied and the people converted to Christianity. The council on foreign relations a NY based think tank divides the world in to different spheres, similar to the Monroe doctrine. Iran has oil, that is why it is so strategicalsly interesting to U.S. foreig policy. The organizing principle for U.S. foreign policy seems to be the fight against Islam or the Al Queda.

In reference to Iran, he gave the figure of 5 billion dollars as the Iranian military budget, while that same amount was what was being spent in a week by the U.S. in Iraq.

He did not feel any of the current U.S. presidential candidates are substantially different from each other in terms of policy. He was critical of U.S. media that obfuscates the real issues and focuses more on Britney Spears custody battle. Also the media and the politicians who are hand in glove, keep repeating the same words together..Islam, 9-11, Al-Queda, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Oil, Pakistan. Once these words are heard often enough people start making connection and are subsequently misinformed. Democracy runs through money exchanging hands from politicians to the media.

He was fluent in Urdu, a student of the sitar and critical of neo-Fascist ideas in the US. His talk was also heard by Arundati Roy, who was in the audience.

DESCRIPTION:
‘How to demonise a country – Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran?’ a talk by David Barsamian.

The Taliban was first demonised and then a country destroyed. The “illegal and immoral” war in Iraq was preceded by a ‘manufactured consent’, through a spoon fed media for an imperialist war of aggression. Iran is now staring down the barrel of a gun to appease the insatiable appetite of the US Neo-cons for unending war. : “There is a structural relationship between media and state power. They are closely linked. Who are the media? Not just in the United States, but around the world, they’re a handful of corporations that dominate what people see, hear, and read.

I’ll just give you one example: the New York Times, this great liberal newspaper, had 70 editorials between September 11, 2001 and the attack on Iraq, March 20, 2003. In not one of those editorials was the UN Charter, the Nuremberg Tribunal, or any aspect of International Law ever mentioned.”

David Barsamian talks this evening about a wide range of subjects: Illegal wars and war crimes, the servility and sycophancy of journalism and his interviews with the cream of alternative voices – Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Eqbal Ahmed, Edward Said, Tariq Ali and Arundhati Roy.

David is a radio broadcaster and writer and director of Alternative Radio, a syndicated weekly talk program heard on some 125 radio stations in various countries. His interviews and articles also appear regularly in The Progressive, The Nation, and Z Magazine. He is best known for his series of interviews with Noam Chomsky, which have been published in book form and translated into many languages, His other books include Confronting Empire (2000) (interviews with Eqbal Ahmad)

Culture and Resistance (1994) (interviews with Edward Said)
The Future of History (1999) (interviews with Howard Zinn)
The Decline and Fall of Public Broadcasting (2001)
The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile (2003) (interviews with Arundhati Roy)
His latest books are ‘Targeting Iran’ and ‘What We Say Goes’ w/ Chomsky.

Lama Surya's weekly words of wisdom

Life is the gift of nature,
But beautiful living is the gift of wisdom.

~ Ancient Greek adage

Saturday, December 08, 2007

An arrow to the heart review

Here is a review of Ken Mcleod's new book in the Huffington Post.

By Ken McLeod
(Trafford Publishing)

Let's say right off: you don't have to be a Buddhist to read this book. In fact, you don't need to be attached to a religion of any kind. But if you're the least bit interested in some of the more profound mysteries of the life of the mind, you'll find a great deal of guidance and inspiration in its pages.



That said, let it be added that as a student of Buddhist teachings myself, I have struggled mightily with The Heart Sutra. It is one of the key texts in the entire canon--the one that serves up this eternally enigmatic gem:



Form is emptiness
Emptiness is form
Emptiness is not other than form
Form is not other than emptiness

You'll be forgiven if your response to these words is a befuddled "Huh?" As McLeod is quick to point out, that's a perfectly normal first reaction. Many students much further along the path than I have occasion to mutter much the same as they progress through this poetic and mystifying text. I applied myself valiantly to the recent Red Pine translation and commentary, The Heart Sutra (2004.) Red Pine aptly calls the sutra "Buddhism in a nutshell," and "a work of art as much as religion." His book is a meticulous reading of the text based on years of study and sheds much light on the subtleties of its meaning.

But it wasn't until I picked up McLeod's book that I began to "get it." What a relief! I didn't have to "understand" the sutra after all--at least not in the purely intellectual sense. Having read McLeod's earlier book, "Wake Up to Your Life," for review in the Los Angeles Times, I was expecting something different. To put that earlier work to its intended use required weeks of reading--along with hours of meditation, exercise and practice. An in-depth practitioner's guide to the teachings of Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism adapted to the Western mind, it's an immensely demanding--and immensely rewarding--read, an intricate map to the liberation of the mind from those reactive patterns that tend to dominate our lives without our realizing it.

If Wake Up was epic in its scope, this Arrow is its potent lyrical counterpart. Like a good poem, it chooses not to explicate but rather to evoke, arouse, suggest, inspire. It shines its light into surprising corners of the reader's own imagination, allowing the words of the sutra to maintain their mystery even as it aims the arrow to its heart. McLeod's arrow flies, however, not as arrows customarily do, in a straight line, but along its own mysterious, often errant paths--and remains always on target nonetheless. "By indirections," as Polonius said in Hamlet, we "find directions out."

McLeod's strategy is to feel for the cracks, as it were, in the sutra's surfaces and deftly open them up for readers to experience for themselves. To this end, he "riffs"--his term--on each part of the text, line by line, sometimes word by word, first with a short, image-based poem, then with a prose passage, and finally, on a facing page, with illuminating "notes," teasing out meaning as he goes. Quotations are scattered liberally throughout, from sources as varied as Lao Tzu and Leonard Cohen, Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bruce Springsteen. Their effect is not only to weave a rich tapestry of multiple associations, but also to create a broad cultural and temporal context in which the words of the ancient text begin to resonate throughout history and in our present world.

McLeod further challenges his reader with unanswered--often unanswerable--questions, Zen koans, pithy stories and parables, and scraps of ancient wisdom culled from a wide variety of philosophical and religious sources. It's a strategy that could easily become heavy and sententious, but McLeod juggles it all with a light hand and a spirit of unpretentious playfulness that make his book a lot of fun to read. He manages to make a pleasure--and experiential sense--out of the contemplation of such complex Buddhist notions as emptiness, groundlessness, self versus not-self, "reality" and delusion.

Readers will feel invited, as I did, in these pages. The generous white space that surrounds the printed text works as a silence in which the reader's mind contributes its own spontaneous riffs, spinning off from McLeod's provocative suggestions into endless projections and associations of its own invention. At each step along the way, too, a quick, light-hearted sketch by Dick Allen enlivens the words with a touch of insightful humor--adding a welcome smile to the more serious work at hand.

Like Wake Up to Your Life, An Arrow to the Heart is not a book to be read in linear fashion, page by page until you reach the end. It's a book to be savored, as its author suggests, "a page or two at a time," as one might read a volume of poetry. It will surely delight those readers who allow themselves to be led into its dance of language, image, and idea--and it will surely shed more light on the Heart Sutra than many a more academic text

Rab Rakha Febrile Convultion

Febrile Convulsion

The most scary experience in the world is watching your child having a convulsion, you can just watch in fear as her limbs move out of control, her head jerks and her eyes have a far away look, as though she is a doll performing, a move with a remote.

No soothing helps, the sound that she makes emanates from deep within, a non human sound as though the battery is stuck in the same place, ai, ai, ai, her eyes glaze and her mouth is wet with spit.

The doctors advise holding her on her side and not interfering while this is happening. A part of you is dying watching this happen, the synapses overworking, the brain working rapidly attempting to break the strong hold of the fever. She was fine all day, suddenly without warning she is so faraway, I can’t soothe her with my touch or smother her with my kisses. She is distant; she is a doll with a remote inside of her. She does not smile, she looks faraway.

I catch hold of her and take her in my arms, and run out of the room. Something is wrong with Mira, I tell my brother. He gets up and rushes to see what the matter is. He hears her primitive sound and her jerking movements. Aish he calls, she comes in running, and she takes her from my shaking arms and holds her. We all decide we don’t know what is going on. I think she is having a convulsion. I saw my young cousin have a convulsion after a dog bit her, a long time ago.

We call the doctor; she says hold her on her side, make sure her breathing is not impeded and rush to the Emergency Room of Ganga Ram Hospital. My knees are shaking, my head is foggy. I pack a bag and we are off to the hospital. My baby’s eyes are shut now, her breathing disturbed. It is 12:30 at night on a foggy Delhi night.

We reach the hospital, the casualty is well labeled, and we rush in. Inside we hear a loud howl of a baby, I look closer she is nine years old, with an oxygen mask on her mouth. A needle piercing her arm. Her mother and father pressing her legs and arms, soothing their crying child.

My baby is made to lie down on an emergency bed. I see the blood on the sheet. Perhaps an earlier patient. There are no doctors piercing or prodding my child, I hold her as she lies down. My brother holds her little finger, she clutches on tightly to him.

The doctors are busy; a male nurse attaches an instrument to read her pulse on her toe and finger. Her pulse is quite high. They take her temperature, it is 100.6. She is watching the patients coming in and out. I wonder what is registering in her young mind, is she afraid of what she is seeing. She looks at the girl who is crying in pain next to her.

A pediatrician comes to assess the young girl next to my child. I watch the young girl’s hands and feet slowly turn blue. Her mother is awash in tears; her father is pressing his little darling’s arms and feet. Give all her pain to me, I can feel him say. Let me suffer; let my little darling be pain free. The doctor says take her to ICU immediately, she has Leukemia, and is suffering. The father does not move, he is immobilized. The doctor’s words are floating. The mother’s tears are streaming silently.

A gentleman appears from beside the next patient who is coughing uncontrollably. Give me the paperwork, brother; I will get the room arranged. You be here with your daughter. The father is in a daze. The man takes the papers and disappears into the hospital. The mother’s face is wet with tears, another woman appears and holds this mother, “do not cry sister”, she says. “You cannot show tears to your child, you need to be brave for her.”

The mother wipes her tears defiantly, suddenly gaining strength to fight another day to save her daughter’s ebbing life. My daughter needs to see me brave, she seems to be saying. The gentleman reappears, he has arranged a room for the girl. “Let’s go” says the male nurse. The father picks up his precious darling in his arms. She has tubes dangling from her arms. The mother holds the medicines that are being injected into her darling’s arms.

The pediatrician then takes a look at my baby. My baby has woken and is responding now. She sits up as the nurse has her sip Crocin, to bring her fever down. The doctor checks her responses and decides to keep her under observation for the next hour and recommends a medicine if the convulsion happens again.

My knees have stopped shaking uncontrollably; I am steadier now as I hold my baby. The nebulizer’s cold steam is helping to clear my baby’s nose.

I think that the hospital experience made me realize that my fear was nothing compared to the trauma that the nine year old girl’s parents were facing. I wish them all the strength and courage to face each day, as they watch their child suffer in pain.

We head back by 2:30am, I see the bright lights of Rakab Ganj Gurdwara. I say a silent prayer of thanks for protecting my baby today and always and for the little girl that was suffering and for all parents.

Rab Rakha

For more information on this condition see
here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

the problem with Christmas

Alternet has an insightful article on the problem with Christmas. I support this notion that buying green does not make it a better Christmas, we are still consuming stuff we really do not need or can afford.
The problem with Christmas is not the batteries. The problem isn't even really the stuff. The problem with Christmas is that no one much likes it anymore.

If you poll Americans this time of year, far more of them regard the approaching holidays with dread than anticipation. It has long since become too busy, too expensive, too centered around acquiring that which we do not need. In fact, it's the perfect crystallization of the American economy -- the American consumer experience squeezed into a manic week, a week that people find themselves hoping will soon end so that on Jan. 2 they can return to the mere routine hecticity of their lives.

From that central truth, a few propositions follow:



Replacing regular stuff with green stuff isn't getting very close to the root of the problem. If for some reason you need to give someone a motorized spice rack, then a motorized spice rack with a more efficient motor is quite clearly better. But it's also quite clearly beside the point.


Stuff itself is a problem less because of its environmental toll (though that is quite high) than because it's increasingly meaningless. Think of your friends. Are many of them lacking in stuff? Or is the first question that forms in their minds when a new gift arrives from under the tree: "Where am I going to put this?"


But this pleasure gap allows for a concentrated opportunity to begin rethinking our economic life. If stuff isn't valuable anymore, what is? Time, clearly. A gift of time -- a coupon for a back rub, or a trip to the museum, or a dinner prepared someday in the future -- is a gift whose exchange rate is figured in a stronger currency (if you're an economics major, think euros vs. dollars). Or gifts can come embedded with time already spent: a jar of homemade jam, a stack of firewood in the back yard.


Gifts can also be reconfigured to remove some of the hyperindividualism that marks our consumer society. Ask yourself what you'd rather receive: another thing, or a homemade card saying that, say, a cow had been purchased in your name and was now providing milk for a Tanzanian family that hadn't had milk before. (Note: this line of reasoning is probably especially strong for those of us who are Christians, and recall that the occasion we're celebrating is the birth of a man who said to give all that we had to the poor.)


Since Christmas has long been in the business of baptizing consumption, it's a good place to start eroding consumption's allure. Newfound pleasures from a simpler holiday -- some silence, some companionship -- suddenly start to seem attractive. Maybe that attraction will remain with us even unto February.

That would be good, because our environmental problem, at root, isn't that the stuff we're buying uses too much energy or too much plastic, or that its paint has lead in it, or that it's been shipped too far. Our environmental problem is that we consume way too much because we've agreed to try and meet basic human needs -- status, respect, affection -- with material ends. And no time more so than at Christmas, when Santa rides in on a Norelco razor. It's a kind of joint conspiracy that few of us dare break out of, even though we all understand at some level that it's not working. What if you don't give your kids a "proper Christmas"?

But the second you do break out of it -- the second your family becomes one of those that exchanges used books at Christmas, or decides to follow St. Francis' Yule tradition of wandering the park and throwing seed so that the birds too could celebrate, or makes it an annual custom to serve turkey dinner at the homeless shelter -- then you start sharing in the deep human secret that consumer society is set up to obscure: the things that please us most are almost always counterintuitive. We need to be out in the cold air, we need to think about others, we need to serve.

There are, of course, some who will say that a course like the one I'm describing here will damage the economy -- that anyone who proposes a different Yuletide is a "grinch." (This, by the way, is a major literary faux pas. Close reading -- even cursory reading, or even viewing the annual television special, will remind one that it was in fact the grinch himself who believed that Christmas came in a box. He turned out to be wrong, as the Whos of Whoville, those communists, made clear.) You could answer those people by saying, "Well, it won't all happen at once, and the economy will have time to adjust." Or you could answer by saying, "Maybe you're right. And maybe the economy isn't therefore quite as rational and as obvious as we would like to believe, if in fact it depends on a corrupted celebration of Jesus' birth to stagger on for another year."

The second answer appeals to me. We need a kiss to break our enchantment, and a kiss (a coupon for a kiss! Or a dozen!) is a perfectly fine gift to give for Christmas.


Bill McKibben is the author of 10 books, most recently Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. He is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

What women want

A fun article in the Tehelka about what women want, even though Bollywood has tried to update the stereotype, women still seem attracted to dysfunctional men alas!
Wax In Vain

After OSO and Saawariya, the updated male sex symbol is the talk of the town. But NISHA SUSAN’S random chats with women point in a completely different direction



TWO WEEKS ago we saw Ranbir Kapoor draped atop a piano, caressed by a sheer curtain, romping about in a precariously tied towel of equivalent sheerness. The same weekend we saw Shah Rukh Khan cavorting tirelessly in what appeared to be stripper gear. Were the chiselled male bodies of Om Shanti Om and Saawariya, Bollywood’s attempt to actively offer women what they think they want — the overwrought male bodies that are suddenly everywhere? More importantly, did it work? Our random survey indicates that the Diwali weekend’s cinematic offerings of muscular male beauty seemed to have been remarkably uninteresting to women. As one woman put it, “Ranbir is cute but he might as well have been doing a Horlicks ad.”

Shobhaa De was one of the commentators who heartily applauded director Farah Khan for objectifying Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om. She wrote that emphasising Shah Rukh Khan’s abs was “a good move that got the chicks drooling.” Was Shah Rukh Khan himself worshipping at the cult of the body beautiful in Om Shanti Om or was he mocking Bollywood’s fetish for waxed chests and, as De put it, “nutmeg nipples”? One can only guess. But even ardent Shah Rukh fans in our survey were more inclined to deplore, than drool. There are two things you learn when surveying women about the sex appeal of Indian male celebrities. One, Bollywood is looming amiably over our collective sexual imagination, leaving barely any room for cricketers, sportsmen or politicians. Two, Bollywood seems to have managed to create male sex objects for heterosexual women, despite its more conventional efforts.

A few months ago Ekta Kapoor was on Koffee with Karan, along with the male leads from three of her most popular shows. “In Bollywood, the heroes are the subject and the heroines are the objects of sexual fantasy. In television, it’s the other way around. The men are the objects of sexual fantasy.”In an extraordinary television moment the three big, meaty men sat breathing softly, as Ekta explained with relish why she had picked each one. This one with his urbane sophistication, you would want to take to bed, she said. This one, would be cooed over maternally by older women but also fantasised about. Ekta, as usual, had got it right. Women are turned on by elusive qualities — incredibly difficult to bottle, impossible to mass-market. Perhaps that’s why everyone remembers Rakhi Sawant’s “office-porn” music video but can barely remember the classically handsome model who appeared in it.

This is probably also why actual male sex symbols are never just flavours-of-the-month.It seems like nothing new can be said about sex but what straight women find erotic remains shadowy and less apparent than men’s choices. Guru Dutt in Pyaasa, bitter and betrayed; SRK’s ‘aur paas’ scene in Dil To Pagal Hai; SRK in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge, saying he would never take advantage of Kajol because at heart, he’s Hindustani; his brooding seriousness in Chak De; George Fernandes in the 70s; Rahul Dravid batting; Milind Soman making lunch in Rules: Pyaar Ka Super Hit Formula; John Abraham in most contexts, Mithun Chakravarty disco-dancing; Saif Ali Khan in his dhoti comforting a weeping Vidya Balan in Parineeta; Jeeva in Tamizh MA.

A montage of what women say provides sexual frisson would make for a decidedly odd YouTube video.While this montage would include conventionally sexy moments, the erotic remains the last bastion of the politically incorrect. Sophisticated young lawyers desire the unpolished Other; the liberated want the masterful alpha-male; the bohemian wants the uber-competent; and the snappy dressers dislike men who seem to be overly interested in clothing. (“Shashi Tharoor is a turn-off,” one woman said vehemently).Men are appealing for their elegance, competence and restraint (Rahul Dravid and Shekhar Kapur came up) but the seductive capabilities of the flawed man is near universal.

Malavika Vartak, an activist in Delhi, says “everybody wants a man who has a problem. Women want to be able to walk into a man’s life and feel like they can make things magically better.”If there was a Lonely Planet guide to the sexual wilderness it would have to explain the word that crops up most often in women’s descriptions of sexy men — Intensity.SRK’s intensity is often cited by women, but it is Irfaan Khan’s brooding, bloodshot gaze which has women’s unwavering attention. “He makes a chhota recharge for Hutch sound like something I need right now,” says Anna Thomas, an analytics manager in Bangalore. Ajay Devgan is another star who scores high by this parameter which renders otherwise unattractive, even ugly, men magnetic.

NO ONE is denying the pleasure of gazing at a beautiful body though. “When I see those underwear ads on hoardings, my head turns. Those boys in white underwearare eye-catching and alluring. But it is not seductive. The eyes have some logic of their own. I would feel the same way about a length of purple silk. But they don’t appeal to anywhere lower than the eye,” says Polly Hazarika, a researcher in Bangalore.Women allow themselves a fascinating rapaciousness when discussing their unsuspecting, far from object-like sexual objects. Hazarika says, “One night I dreamt that Aishwarya was jumping off a cliff in her Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam costume. And I remember thinking, good, good, let her break her neck and I can marry him. That was before Abhishek got his hairband and that married man look.”

Anita Roy, an editor at Zubaan Books says, “I think what they did with SRK’s abs in Om Shanti Om was fascinating because it wasn’t being codified as gay. In the West the sexualised male body in cinema is only available in the gay tradition.” While we cheer our singing, dancing, crying men for unabashedly remaining their peacocky selves we must speculate that Ranbir was, perhaps, not dancing for the women at all.
Here is the
link

Martha Nussbaum


Tehelka has an interview with Martha Nussbaum. I think she is currently one of the most seminal philosophers, articulating Indian identity and reality.
‘The IIT mindset feeds into the fascist nature of the Right’

Noted American political philosopher Martha Nussbaum speaks to SHOMA CHAUDHURY about her new book and the roots of Hindutva.



What’s the central premise of your book?
The book’s main thesis is that we should understand the real clash of civilisations as a clash that is internal to all modern democracies. A clash between people who are willing to respect and live with those who are different, and people who anxiously seek domination. Then, agreeing with Gandhi, I say that at a deeper level the real conflict of civilisations is the clash within the individual self as the desire to dominate other people contends against compassion and concern.

What about India makes it susceptible to the hate ideology of the Hindu Right?
When I started the book in 2002, I thought it would be a grim story about the collapse of democracy in India. But it became a story of resilience. There is something about the political culture of India, including the strength of its press that enables it to survive. But there are real weak points. The key one is the system of education. There is not enough attention on critical thinking and independence of mind in India. Not enough on stimulating the imagination. We all have the capacity to understand what happens when we inflict pain on others. But this capacity needs to be trained and developed through the arts — dance, music, theatre. Tagore understood that, Nehru less so. The people behind Hindutva, on the other hand, have been very clever about culture formation. They have formed people into a killing force by using fun and games, the lure of solidarity in the shakhas, the clever use of symbols and rhetoric, and by a genuinely altruistic and self-sacrificing ideology which is very appealing. After Gandhi, this has been completely missing in the Left. They have left symbolic cultural formation completely to the Right. Partly because they felt economic issues were more important and partly because of the contempt for religion that most in the Left had.

It’s five years since Gujarat 2002, are you still feeling optimistic about India?
It’s lucky for the progressive forces that the BJP has no competent leadership at present. They haven’t found a younger generation that can appeal to voters. I do not think Arun Jaitley can, and after the death of Pramod Mahajan —

What about Modi?
I cannot imagine he will ever make it on a national level. Even the Right wants a leader who can woo the US, and he can’t even visit there because of his record of criminality. For the US to revoke an official visa is pretty amazing. To return to your earlier question, what I’m really discouraged by is the growing dominance of a technocratic middle class that is anti-political and for whom the suffering of excluded people doesn’t mean a lot. This IIT mentality — become technically competent
engineers, forget about human values — is very dangerous, particularly for a country like India. I’m afraid the need to make deals with the US is adding to this skew. I find that Sonia Gandhi says the right things. I think of her as somebody with a keen moral imagination, who really understands what women went through, say, in Gujarat, but of course she has to play her cards really carefully.

You argue in the book that one of the reasons a fascist Hindu Right mindset has taken hold is that the creative, sensuous, almost feminine ideals of Vishnu and Krishna have been replaced by a militant, virile masculinity. Can we go back to the old view?
This is what attracted so many of my generation to the study of India in the first place — the idea of a counterculture to American masculinity. In the Vietnam War era, they wanted to turn to a culture of love and peace. That’s why so many of them wanted to write about sexuality and the sex lives of gods. I think Gandhi knew how to give those ideas a modern form, of course it was a very ascetic form; it didn’t have the playfulness and the sensuousness. Tagore captured that in his school and in dance. He could certainly make that ideal very charismatic and viable. But today, I think the last refuge of this is in Bollywood — not the feminine forms of the Geeta Govinda exactly, but there is a kind of sensuousness to Bollywood stars when they dance or sing. Part of the appeal is that it isn’t a purely military use of the body. It’s also interesting that Bollywood is the one place where Hindus and Muslims intermingle and intermarry and there is not any great sense of the gulf between them. Maybe that’s where the softer ideal still exists.

You mentioned how the Left has distanced itself from any culture formation that involves the positive use of myth, emotional or religious symbols — ceding that ground to the Right. How does one combat this?
I think it is very hard now because when people here say, we should be studying the Ramayana, others turn to them and say, oh you are becoming communal. I have friends who’ve had that experience. And because the humanities are so devalued in India, intellectuals who might have been able to lead the way to a more progressive appropriation of tradition have moved to America and are happily teaching the Ramayana there! Dipesh Chakraborty can be a leading Left wing intellectual in America, but here he wouldn’t be respected. In the US, it was great that the civil rights movement was able to latch on to African-American music — it was the only creative musical force in America at that time. Blues, jazz — everyone could relate to that. Billie Holiday’s song “Strange Fruit” — about a black man who’s lynched —pulled at everyone’s gut, all over America. I think in India, the challenge is to find such a meeting ground in popular culture. Tagore did that by writing songs that everyone could sing. But that is wearing thin — even Bengalis find Tagore a bit tedious now. I think the women’s movement can play a big role. And Bollywood, of course, has great possibilities, if it would use that power. The other area is vernacular literature. The English language market is too commercialised and too aimed at Americans, so it only touches these issues superficially. It’s really in the vernacular literature that people are confronting issues of communities and diversity. Keeping the vernacular literary and theatrical cultures going is important.

Can a utilitarian, globalised, technocratic society — with no interest in identity politics — lead to an uncommunal world?
No, I don’t think so. The minute you start thinking of people as simply inputs into an economic calculus, you’ve moved away from human respect and the ability to imagine others empathetically. This is reminiscent of the Nazi technocracy which was very efficient and found it very easy to talk about humans as things — as cargo — and this was a big part of what made the atrocities possible. I have a lot of colleagues who are economic libertarians, and they think a technocracy will be benign because people will follow their economic self-interest and hire anyone because it’s in their interest to do so. This is exceedingly naïve. People can hate others and refuse to employ them simply because of the stigma. My father was born in the deep South. He lived most of his life in the North but never lost that hatred of African-Americans and he really believed — this is a man who was a high-powered lawyer in a major urban firm — he really believed that a black person would contaminate anything he touched. When I married a Jew it was not quite as bad as if I’d married a black but he didn’t come to my wedding and didn’t speak to me for years. In some ways this has a lot to do with images of masculinity. I think, for my father, who grew up very poor, the son of factory workers, and who brought himself up, there was always deep insecurity, and the strong need to be above someone else. This operates in India in a different way. The insecurity here is historical. Hindu men have been dominated for centuries, first by Muslims (though that was not always an ugly domination) and then by the Raj. So the idea — enunciated strongly by Golwalkar — is that we have been dominated because we were weak and now we must strike back by showing that we are more aggressive even than the ones that dominated us. This is the sentiment that played itself out so horrifically in Gujarat, complicated by the fact that Muslims were economically stronger there than the elsewhere in the country.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Khan Market

HindustanTimes has a wonderful piece on Khan Market, what it was when we were young. Now it's a nightmare, with ugly, over priced designer wear. I do miss the chat wala, where we ate chaat, chola bhaturas, fountain pepsi and Orange bars. I miss shopping at Chunmun, for dresses, with the lady who recognized my mom and me. The badly lit, The Book Shop, which always had great selections. I remember the hunch back of Faqir Chand and K.K. Lee. And waiting in line at Bittoo's for a lined exercise book, pencils, fountain pens and ink. Enjoy Renuka Narayanan's piece below.

Home was Lutyens’ Delhi for 13 years when I was growing up. I didn’t know then that Khan Market, the centre of my universe, would be ranked India’s most upscale mall and the world’s 24th most expensive. Lots of old shops are gone now along with the old neighbourhood feeling. Yeh sansaar ka niyam hai. I’m glad for the good times that were. As for what happens now or tomorrow if there’s one, I say, “Jede din lang jaande, wahi wah-wah!” (Sufficient unto the day is the yield thereof). That, anyway, was the spirit in which Khan Market was founded, for the refugees of Partition.

It’s nice to remember sweet things, though, like how old Mr Lee of KK Lee, shoe and bag makers, was the only one who understood my long, narrow feet, inherited from my father’s clan. No Bata or Janpath shoes ever fit right those days. I found true comfort off the shelf only when I went abroad — though today it’s another story. Back then it was Mr Lee who tenderly encased my poor shoe-bitten feet in soft and more importantly, smart leather. Richard Lee, who’s run the show for years, now, was just as sweet years ago when I mislaid my first credit card and was clueless about whom to call. He gave me tea, called the credit card company and made all well.

Old Mr Lee even modified my riding boots for me. Not that it improved my seat and hands on horseback at Captain Kundan Singh’s classes off Safdarjang Road: I still fell off and it was Rajaram Chemists at old Khan’s that I limped into, for sprain ointment and painkiller.

Khan Market is where my galpals and I went on our first dates with B-O-Y-S before heading out to Lodi Gardens. We bought LPs, cassettes and then CDs from the Music Shop and gave them the LPs to tape when technology moved on. In our DU college years we were hounded by the bad-tempered man with a hunchback at Faqirchand’s bookshop, who never let us browse. So we cruelly named him ‘Quasimodo’ and went there only to annoy. Security those days meant the groceries delivered home by Anand Stores, the bread and eggs from Saluja’s, the chocolate Easter bunnies and salami at Empire Stores, the old Sikh who altered our precious firang jeans.

Way before Khan Chacha’s in the middle gully, there was Alfina’s at the back, for great kababs. It closed down a couple of months ago.

Well, life goes on, doesn’t it? Think of lovely Market Café. And good for old Bittoo, whom we bought safety pins from, that he now sells tartan dog baskets and gourmet cat food.

Monday, November 26, 2007

manhole covers in nyc


I always felt a strange pride, when I saw manhole covers with the made in India logo. It seems now that these covers are made in dangerous conditions.

Eight thousand miles from Manhattan, barefoot, shirtless, whip-thin men rippled with muscle were forging prosaic pieces of the urban jigsaw puzzle: manhole covers.


Seemingly impervious to the heat from the metal, the workers at one of West Bengal’s many foundries relied on strength and bare hands rather than machinery. Safety precautions were barely in evidence; just a few pairs of eye goggles were seen in use on a recent visit. The foundry, Shakti Industries in Haora, produces manhole covers for Con Edison and New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, as well as for departments in New Orleans and Syracuse.

The scene was as spectacular as it was anachronistic: flames, sweat and liquid iron mixing in the smoke like something from the Middle Ages. That’s what attracted the interest of a photographer who often works for The New York Times — images that practically radiate heat and illustrate where New York’s manhole covers are born.

When officials at Con Edison — which buys a quarter of its manhole covers, roughly 2,750 a year, from India — were shown the pictures by the photographer, they said they were surprised.

“We were disturbed by the photos,” said Michael S. Clendenin, director of media relations with Con Edison. “We take worker safety very seriously,” he said.

Now, the utility said, it is rewriting international contracts to include safety requirements. Contracts will now require overseas manufacturers to “take appropriate actions to provide a safe and healthy workplace,” and to follow local and federal guidelines in India, Mr. Clendenin said.

At Shakti, street grates, manhole covers and other castings were scattered across the dusty yard. Inside, men wearing sandals and shorts carried coke and iron ore piled high in baskets on their heads up stairs to the furnace feeding room.

On the ground floor, other men, often shoeless and stripped to the waist, waited with giant ladles, ready to catch the molten metal that came pouring out of the furnace. A few women were working, but most of the heavy lifting appeared to be left to the men.

The temperature outside the factory yard was more than 100 degrees on a September visit. Several feet from where the metal was being poured, the area felt like an oven, and the workers were slick with sweat.

Often, sparks flew from pots of the molten metal. In one instance they ignited a worker’s lungi, a skirtlike cloth wrap that is common men’s wear in India. He quickly, reflexively, doused the flames by rubbing the burning part of the cloth against the rest of it with his hand, then continued to cart the metal to a nearby mold.

Once the metal solidified and cooled, workers removed the manhole cover casting from the mold and then, in the last step in the production process, ground and polished the rough edges. Finally, the men stacked the covers and bolted them together for shipping.

“We can’t maintain the luxury of Europe and the United States, with all the boots and all that,” said Sunil Modi, director of Shakti Industries. He said, however, that the foundry never had accidents. He was concerned about the attention, afraid that contracts would be pulled and jobs lost.

New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection gets most of its sewer manhole covers from India. When asked in an e-mail message about the department’s source of covers, Mark Daly, director of communications for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, said that state law requires the city to buy the lowest-priced products available that fit its specifications.

Mr. Daly said the law forbids the city from excluding companies based on where a product is manufactured.

Municipalities and utility companies often buy their manhole covers through middlemen who contract with foreign foundries; New York City buys the sewer covers through a company in Flushing, Queens.

Con Edison said it did not plan to cancel any of its contracts with Shakti after seeing the photographs, though it has been phasing out Indian-made manhole covers for several years because of changes in design specifications.

Manhole covers manufactured in India can be anywhere from 20 to 60 percent cheaper than those made in the United States, said Alfred Spada, the editor and publisher of Modern Casting magazine and the spokesman for the American Foundry Society. Workers at foundries in India are paid the equivalent of a few dollars a day, while foundry workers in the United States earn about $25 an hour.

The men making New York City’s manhole covers seemed proud of their work and pleased to be photographed doing it. The production manager at the Shakti Industries factory, A. Ahmed, was enthusiastic about the photographer’s visit, and gave a full tour of the facilities, stopping to measure the temperature of the molten metal — some 1,400 degrees Centigrade, or more than 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

India’s 1948 Factory Safety Act addresses cleanliness, ventilation, waste treatment, overtime pay and fresh drinking water, but the only protective gear it specifies is safety goggles.

Mr. Modi said that his factory followed basic safety regulations and that workers should not be barefoot. “It must have been a very hot day” when the photos were taken, he said.

Some labor activists in India say that injuries are far higher than figures show. “Many accidents are not being reported,” said H. Mahadevan, the deputy general secretary for the All-India Trade Union Congress.

Safety, overall, is “not taken as a serious concern by employers or trade unions,” Mr. Mahadevan added.

A. K. Anand, the director of the Institute of Indian Foundrymen in New Delhi, a trade association, said in a phone interview that foundry workers were “not supposed to be working barefoot,” but he could not answer questions about what safety equipment they should be wearing.

At the Shakti Industries foundry, “there are no accidents, never ever. Period,” Mr. Modi said. “By God’s will, it’s all fine.”

»

Sunday, November 25, 2007

out of sight, out of mind

It is hard to decide which is more unappetising — the spectacle of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee declaring that the CPI(M) had paid those against the West Bengal’s industrialisation programme in Nandigram “back in their own coin”, or the BJP and the Congress condemning the violence there while ignoring their own culpability for similar behaviour in Gujarat and Chhattisgarh respectively. The use of vigilante groups or armed cadres, supported and sanctioned by a pliant bureaucracy, to physically defeat an opposing group, rather than relying on legal means and political discussions, is evidently the latest fashion in governance. It is time, we are told, to forget the old expectation that it is the police that is meant to maintain law and order and not gangs of party members.

What happened in Nandigram at the behest of the West Bengal Chief Minister is not very different from the Salwa Judum — ‘peace mission’ — being run jointly by the Congress MLA of Dantewada, Mahendra Karma, and the BJP government of Chhattisgarh. Here armed vigilantes, some of them given official positions as special police officers (SPOs), burn villages, kill people and rape women with impunity on the grounds that they are wresting these areas back from the Naxalites. Officials take orders from party goons. In Dantewada district, a letter from the Chief Secretary carries less weight than the orders of a lumpen Salwa Judum camp leader.

In both cases, the presence of Maoists is used to imply that anything goes; that once an area is declared ‘Naxal affected’, all the normal protections of the rule of law and fundamental rights cease to apply. Government presence in these areas then depends solely on the power of the gun, and the relative superiority of its police and vigilantes over the ‘other side’ that include unarmed civilians.

Yet, the differences between Nandigram and Dantewada are also striking. Even though the scale of Salwa Judum terror is far greater than that being witnessed in Nandigram, it has gone almost entirely unreported. According to the figures provided in a public interest litigation before the Supreme Court, at least 540 persons have been killed by the Salwa Judum and security forces since June 2005, including 33 children and 45 women. This is a small fraction of the killings by the Salwa Judum, most of which have gone unrecorded, and does not include the approximately 550 civilians and police personnel that the Naxalites have killed in escalating retaliatory action for Salwa Judum. At least 2,825 houses have been burnt by the Salwa Judum and at least 99 women have been raped. Approximately, one lakh people — one-eighth the district’s population — has been displaced. Half of them are in government-controlled camps to which they were forcibly evacuated, and the other half are refugees in neighbouring states.

When two lakh people rallied in Jagdalpur on November 5 to protest against the Salwa Judum and land acquisition by the Tatas and Essar for steel plants, there was not even a whisper in the national media. In part, this silence is explained by the natural anti-Leftism of the media, and its warped notion of ‘balance’. As Michael Tomasky pointed out in the American context, “They now bend over backward to demonstrate that they can be ‘tough’ on liberals and ‘fair’ to conservatives.” But the difference also needs to be further explained in terms of the lack of the appropriate kind of organisations to feed the media. Nandigram 2007 and Gujarat 2002 became front page news partly because they were located next to major cities (Ahmedabad and Calcutta) with concentrations of journalists, partly because of the presence of middle-class local activists, and partly because the issue was taken up by opposing parliamentary parties. Chhattisgarh, by contrast, lacks a tribal middle-class or a density of civil/political society organisations. Above all, Chhattisgarh, unlike West Bengal, also has a Public Security Act, which is even worse than Pota in terms of its censorship, and which has been used to arrest and intimidate people who have protested, such as the General Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Binayak Sen.


But finally, the real difference lies in the principles of the Left and Right, between a state ruled for many years by the Left as in Bengal and one ruled by the BJP as in Gujarat. While the citizens of Gujarat let no hint of remorse taint their restful nights, the people of Bengal are today an anguished lot, anguished at the betrayal of the principles they voted for. Decades of CPI(M) rule may not have done much for Bengal’s human development indicators, but it has expanded the constituency of those who believe in democracy and equality.

As for Chhattisgarh, let us all go back to pretending that it doesn’t exist. At the rate that villages are being emptied and people killed, there will soon be nothing and nobody left to destroy.


Nandini Sundar is Professor of Sociology, Delhi University.

See here for the complete article.

Nandigram


Tehelka has a strong indictment of the Indian state and it's unemployed goons that repress, harass and kill. Taslima Nasreen is being shuttled from Calcutta to Jaipur and now stationed in Rajasthan House in Delhi. The CPM, the party in power in West Bengal seems to have suddenly tried to distract public criticism and attention from the pogrom going on in Nandigram, to making Taslima Nasreen a shuttle cock for political purposes.

The Cowardice of Mediocrity

Nandigram shows that the CPM is just another face of the forces that threaten the polity, says ASEEM SHRIVASTAVA.

“Not being able to fortify justice, they justified force.” - Blaise Pascal

Delhi 1984. Mumbai 1993. Gujarat 2002. Nandigram 2007. Signposts of pathology on the putrefying landscape of Indian politics. What sort of a future does this sequence of events portend for this beleaguered country? A red thread of publicly endorsed savagery runs through the heart of these chilling episodes of recent Indian history.

The matter is so central to our shared destiny that if we lose ourselves in the deception of numbers – of merely comparing the number of rapes, murders and so on – we will tragically miss the key point and bind ourselves to a frightful fate we might otherwise still be able to forestall. Outright barbarism knocks on our doors and we do not hear it. The public relations experts, image consultants and media managers (not to forget intellectual apologists) are hard at work making us deaf and blind towards obvious injustices.

Evil comes in many shades. It is saffron here, red there, and saffron, white and green elsewhere. In each case of state terror listed above a different party was in office. In one and every case, elected leaders forgot their public duty, donned their party attire and defended the crimes committed by their cadres. In Delhi in 1984, the Prime Minister of the day had declared that the earth had shaken after a great tree had fallen. In Mumbai in 1993, the Chief Minister was of the view that the city would have burned had the leaders responsible for unleashing the mobs been arrested. In Gujarat in 2002, “every action had an equal and opposite reaction”, in the words of the Chief Minister. And now, we have the Stalinist Chief Minister of West Bengal boasting that “they have been paid back in their own coin” (the invisible Maoists that is).

In every case innocents were maimed, murdered, raped and rendered homeless. The state failed in its primary function – of ensuring the physical security of its citizens. In no case did the honorable men in office take any responsibility and think it fit to resign their posts – the only act which could ever entitle them to name the crimes of their political rivals in similar circumstances. Quite evidently, our leaders have no faith that they will be returned to office, were they to signal their dissent and protest by resigning. Even more to the point, they believe that even barbarism is fine if it adds to the power of their party, “religion” or nation. And even more cynically, they calculate that the public, after making a few angry sounds, will lapse into forgetfulness.

We are still childish when it comes to learning certain things. We take our moral cues from others and, for all our education, follow the leader blindly. As usual, the trouble in human societies starts from the top. For some decades now, Indian ruling elites have looked towards Washington to show the light. President Bush Jr. set a shining example before the whole world when he announced the doctrine of preventive war in 2002, empowering himself with the right to attack any country in the event of even a suspicion of their plans to harm the national security of the US. He did just that to Afghanistan and Iraq (with consequences all too obvious to belabor).

Here in India we are very skilful at emulating the white man’s vices (never his virtues). Little wonder then that our leaders feel entitled to exempt themselves from elementary moral sense. And evidently credit the public with even less of it.

In a mediocre age, men and women in public life find themselves capable of justice only if it is in fashion. Their primary loyalty is to moral fashion after all, not to justice. As in every other age they look after their moral appearances – but only to the extent that they don’t appear too tardy in a mirror already darkened by the misdeeds of their rivals.

In the Spring of 2002, the same Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was “ashamed of the role played by the Prime Minister in tackling the Gujarat killings”, just like to L.K.Advani’s affronted sensibilities, the CPM has “nuked the farmers in Nandigram” today. If only Advani had visited the Muslims of Behrampura and Naroda Patiya with the same compassion he is showing to the peasants of Sonachura and Gokulnagar today! He would have seen just how well the Muslims had been nuked by his Bajrangi chums.

Buddhadeb’s sense of shame has dutifully taken leave of him in a timely way today. “It wasn’t possible for police to go” to Nandigram, he explains. Did the invisible Maoists prevent them? How did the cadres (mobilized apparently from as far afield as Purulia and Burdwan) do it? With what right can the government go on if it has such a seemingly incompetent police force to maintain law and order in the times that matter? How does it transpire that it trusts the militarism of its cadres more than the capacities of the police force? Who supplied the cadres with automatic machine guns? How come the same police is so efficient at raining repression on artists and intellectuals in the streets of Kolkata?

The state Home Secretary (who should know) has “not heard of any Maoist arrest.” Either he is plain wrong or the CPM leaders are lying and indulging in public fantasies about Maoists. All the partners of the CPM in the ruling alliance are pointing fingers at it not merely for not controlling the bloodletting but for in fact instigating it. Witnesses – those of them who have been allowed into Nandigram by the cadres – are reporting tales of plain horror. There is evidently plenty for the CPM to hide. Human rights teams have their task cut out.

If genocide visited the land of Gandhi five years ago, tyranny today stalks the earth where Tagore once sang.

There is no greater tragedy for the famed democracy than when the state goes into hiding from time to time to enable narrow political victories for its supine functionaries. It is a typically Indian pattern of state terror and violence which repeats itself with almost predictable frequency. To enable quick, opportunistic political gain, a party in office uses its lumpen cadres to unleash violence on defenceless innocents, with the active or passive cooperation of the police or paramilitary forces. The crimes are not even acknowledged to be so, suitable justification supplied to defend the misdeeds. All parties need male, unemployed youth to keep the blood-stained pillars of power in place (one reason why unemployment suits the political parties and is thus not going to go away).

It also makes public hypocrisies perfectly transparent and leadership ever so unworthy of credible respect by the public. How can the Prime Minister be holding out the threat to internal security posed by extremists in the politically forlorn states of Chhatisgarh or Jharkhand if he indulges the state terror of his political partners in Bengal or if he ignores the evidence of state terror in another state, recently made public by brave endeavors of investigative journalism? And how does the CPM expect any credibility in the eyes of the public if it offers the nuclear deal to its UPA allies in exchange for being granted the privilege of not having its ugly sins in Nandigram investigated and exposed? Has Washington become less of an imperial monster in the past few weeks? Is this the way a responsible political party would participate in policy-making of the greatest importance to the future of the nation?

What is pathetic to behold is the abject opportunism with which each of the major political parties make appropriate indignant noises about the crimes of their rivals for a while, only to recede into eventual inaudibility. And of course a studied, calculated silence about their own crimes.

When force is in fashion, values in public life recede quietly into oblivion and the polity faces a historic crisis of moral imagination. The most prominent political actors are only left with the freedom to act in ways which make their otherwise apprehensive rivals breathe a sigh of relief – since they are not the only ones with skeletons colliding noisily in their closets. Not one has the courage to stare into the mirror of terror. And not one has the faith that were s/he to resign s/he would live to fight another day.

In the world, cowardice arms itself. And having done so, it is too busy defending its own aggression to exercise the liberty of feeling, thought and reason which alone can enable human beings to become fully human – by recognizing, honoring and celebrating the existence of others.

Nandigram is yet another signpost on the rapid descent into growing barbarism in India. It betokens an across-the-board bankruptcy of imagination which makes the use of illegitimate force to tackle conflicts the default measure. The leaders have made themselves helpless because of their customary cowardice. It is time for the public to wake up to the urgent responsibilities of civilized citizenship.

Aseem Shrivastava is an independent writer. He can be reached at aseem62@yahoo.com..

Here is an interview with Medha Patkar, after her visit to Nandigram.

'The Left violating democratic rights is unimaginable'

Medha Patkar, leader of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, who recently led a fact-finding mission to Nandigram was in Delhi presenting the report with the findings of the mission to the media. From her unique position of being at the receiving end of a hostile Narendra Modi government in Gujarat and now the Left Front Government in West Bengal, she speaks to ANIL VARGHESE on Nandigram and the situation in Gujarat.

What is the truth behind CPI (M) cadres being thrown out of their villages in Nandigram and therefore their justification for them to storm these villages?

We spoke to both the sides involved in the conflict but mainly with the Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee (BUPC) as they represent the majority of the people. Recently we had an opportunity to go into the villages after many days and blockades and speak to the CPI (M) cadres. We had appealed for a dialogue with the CPI (M) leadership earlier but unfortunately this did not materialize. A dialogue with the leadership followed up with a meeting with the CPI (M) cadres before March would have helped.

What our investigation concluded was that, the forcible occupation of the villages was not in response to the CPI (M) cadres being thrown out of their villages. The conflict was instead entirely political in nature. The villagers, who were against the setting up of the SEZ in the area, met together and formed the BUPC with representatives from various communities and parties. This committee had CPI (M) and CPI sympathizers too, but it so happened that some of the CPI (M) supporters were for SEZ. The CPI (M) supporters would have felt threatened and a reaction followed, as is usually the case when there is such a divide. I have seen this kind of a situation develop over the years on the Narmada issue. Initially there was no violence but the locals resorted to violence to resist the party-led interference and encroachment on their daily lives. Both prior to the SEZ being sanctioned and after, the SEZ supporters seem to have enjoyed the active support of the CPI (M). The party leadership should not have let this happen. We humbly request a review of the situation, which seems grave enough to call for a CBI investigation.

In Satangabari village, for example, in March/April, that is after the plans for a SEZ in the area were withdrawn, when the mob wielding firearms entered the village, they went a step ahead looting and burning houses. This is when the villagers put up resistance with people from the neighbouring villages joining in as well. They seem to have used whatever arms they were in possession of. The claims of arms being made available to them by political parties may not be totally unfounded but their retaliation was miniscule compared to the repeated attacks from the CPI (M)’s Harmud Vahini and their own cadres, sometimes donning police uniform, on the unarmed people of the movement against the SEZ. When the Governor and others raised questions over the situation in Nandigram, we tried our level best to run a thorough investigation. We condemn institutions such as the armed unit of the CPI (M). The party has never denied affiliation to this armed unit wreaking havoc in the region. The criminalisation of politics, whether it is the CPI (M), Shiv Sena, Laloo Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal or the Congress involved, is just not acceptable.

How about BUPC’s affiliation to the Maoists and the Trinamool Congress? Is the battle in Nandigram really being fought between the Trinamool and the CPI (M)?
The BUPC is the name of the organization the movement has given rise to. Parallels can be drawn with the Raigarh struggle in Maharashtra, Kolavaram and Narmada. In all these cases there are no parties directly involved but we have to keep in mind that the members come with their respective political inclinations. The BUPC enjoys representation from the community, with members belonging to the Trinamool, SUCI, Jamaite Ulema Hind and others with no party affiliations. The committee has up till now functioned as a unit representing the whole community with the members bringing with them support of their respective parties. Their target was never the CPI (M) but it saw a threat from what it considered its political opponents and competitors. They were opposed to the formation of committees in areas that did not fall inside the proposed SEZ but were adjacent to it. The SEZ was bound to have an impact on these villages , hence the need of committees was felt. We have this in the Narmada valley also. Apart from those directly affected, other villages are also covered. But the CPI (M) again became very intolerant and put this up as an inter-party conflict to justify what the party was doing. 'Bajrang Dal' and 'Shiv sena' have now become synonymous with intolerance. The communal forces are known to be intolerant. In West Bengal CPI (M) has also the tradition of being intolerant and oppressive. Many political parties and people’s movements have always raised this issue but in Singur and Nandigram we actually saw it. This is very unfortunate as the left has also stood for democratic rights. They have been partners with the people’s movements like us. We have valued this partnership but now they violating democratic rights and civil liberties is unimaginable and also unexpected.

You visited the relief camps. What are the numbers you have of the missing people and those who have been killed? What is the situation in the camps?
At the moment, there is only one major relief camp. Thousands of people including women and children are staying in a Nandigram High School. Relief has been provided to them on daily basis by the people’s movements in cash and kind with the help of their well wishers from Kolkata and other cities . The numbers range from 3000 to more than 5000 but everyday they are spending about 10-12 thousand on food. It was obvious to me when I saw the camp and met with the people that the resources at disposal were limited. The government has hardly pitched in with any assistance when the directives from the Supreme Court are very clear on the ruling government being responsible to attend to the needs of those affected by a natural calamity or political crisis. But who are they accountable to when they are fighting their own people?

Who is involved in providing relief?
Mainly the BUPC and other people’s movement groups with some help from the Trinamool Congress.The locals also chipped in with materials from the neighbouring areas. The need for more relief is being felt everyday. But beyond the families in the camp, the estimates of the families displaced have reached 20000. Our estimate has been 10000 families but it could be much more. And 100-200 people are missing. BUPC had been quoted with figures of 500-700. The number has now fallen as people who had been abducted and taken to the Khejuri camp have been released and they have returned. There are women who have been molested or raped. Our estimate of the families displaced corresponds to the number of houses burned, demolished or looted but there are those who have simply fled from their homes fearing atrocities. Though the confirmed numbers of the dead from our trips to the villages are 40-50 the reporters based in the area claimed to have seen about 100 bodies being carried away.

Did you get to interact with any of the CPI (M) cadres?
In Kamalpur and Takapura, about 10-25 people gathered. We could see that a few among them were articulating their views. On enquiry we found they were either government teachers or those who were employed in Kolkata. They gave their side of the story. In Kamalpur, their position was that of denial. No houses were either burnt or demolished in their village and there was no terror. They attributed the terror in the beginning to the people in the movement against SEZ who used it as a means to coerce them to join their ranks. They referred to the movement as Maoists.

We spotted a quite a few demolished or burnt houses. We spoke to the women. They said the intervention of the CPI (M) cadres from outside the villages only served to deepen the divide in the community. In Satangabari village we visited, the CPI (M) supporters seemed to be curious about what we were talking to the locals about. They even made an attempt to herd the locals we were talking to in their jeeps and take them away.

How were they justifying what they were doing?
They were saying that they were tortured and their houses were attacked. So when I got off the jeep they became a little aggressive. I told them they need not do this. They should tell us their side of the story. They asked me ‘why have you come now? Why didn’t you come then?’ I said ‘whenever I came, you should have met me. I addressed gatherings of thousands. I never said I don’t want to meet anyone. Even in the same village when 60 houses were looted and burned, I had come and there were no other houses looted or demolished at that time. The other incidents took place after my first visit. Now in the last few days we have been trying to reach here. Your own party cadres are stopping us. So what do you say about this?’ So there was a dialogue. They showed us the houses of Anwar Ali, Abdul Kayyam Mannanbabu and Samiran Bibi and others. We said that this was unfortunate. This should not have happened. We are with them. The relief should reach them as well. They said there are some 400 affected in the few villages. They gave us the names and we noted down their numbers. They never gave us a figure in thousands. We also found that there were a few hundred families who remained outside the villages.

But the BUPC had made public its position that their members and the communities in villages are not against the displaced returning to their villages with the exception of 10-30 of them accused in rape and molesting. But my position is that even these accusations need to be verified. And the ultimate task now is to rebuild the integrity of the community. This is not possible even today because the CPI (M) has not taken a political decision to withdraw its armed units. Bringing in the CRPF might effect a few changes but it was observed that it took a long time for even the CRPF to be deployed. The CRPF has made public statements indicating non-cooperation from the State Government to reach out to the hot spots. They were reportedly barred from entering the villages for a few days and then allowed to move in. They were mostly allowed in the Nandigram Taluka and not inside Satangabari where we were also being threatened. In fact, till yesterday, the West Bengal Government was preparing to withdraw the CRPF. We questioned the move and finally CRPF stayed. But it is very clear that a thousand CRPF personnel are not going to change the situation.

On that note how do you compare the Gujarat 2002 carnage with this situation?
The common feature here is the use of violence to bring an end to what are legitimate rights of the people. Gujarat carnage happened in the name of religion. It remains a fact that the intervention was in favour of crime, torture and killing than in protecting the unarmed and common people. This ( Nandigram) is also a new kind of communalism. Political communalism. The approach has been that ‘those who belong to my party I will protect at any cost and those who belong to the other party I will not’. Mamata Banerjee or whosoever may be in opposition but every opposition party has a right. Just as CPI (M) gets a space in AP or Maharashtra, the opposition in West Bengal too deserve their space.There are proving to be more and more undemocratic and also apolitical. Being undemocratic and politically intolerant is also apolitical. If only the other Left Front partners had played a role, stronger and prompt in the situation whether before or after the first massacre, things would have been different. We had also kept them informed. They were more for a dialogue than the CPI-M but they have not sent a single team from January until now to either Nandigram or Singur. So how can we think of the Left front as a protector of its own people? Even the MLA from the Nandigram constituency belongs to the CPI (M). The CPI, RSP... all of them have a base of their own in the East Midnapore district. They should have at least run an investigation and taken immediate action. But they have taken a position to some extent .. which is useful. They have issued statements but they have not gone beyond this. This is very unfortunate. Otherwise this would have saved the whole of Left Front from this kind of determined opposition they are facing at the moment. We never had this as our objective.

What do you think of 'development' to meet political ends?
Development, everywhere, is just a political tool to the powerful than to benefit the needy. Whether the communal riots in Gujarat or the violence in West Bengal, the powerful are fiddling with development, the goal and the process. The sadak, bijli, paani agenda is being also pushed towards profit making and the profit is made at whatever the cost may be. This is done by alienating minority communities, not only the Muslims but also the landless and dalits as in Gujarat. There are other states also where vikas and religion are playing the role in development creating more disparity. In the adivasi areas, the non-adivasi elites eye their rich natural resources. This is another kind of communal agenda. Here in West Bengal certain kinds of projects are referred to as the only path of progress in the neo liberal economy acceptable to the Left.

Invariably, it is the violence that the state is resorting to push its own agenda ultimately towards more money power, market power and political power. This is bringing parties together and people see them as together in the pursuit. And hardly any political party in the mainstream stands up and says this is not acceptable. This is not being possible because now rules of the game are set. And you cannot come to power and retain it unless you have compromising alliances with the moneyed, market and mafia forces. This is the message we get. That is why those who are in people’s movements also feel that something must be done. Those who try their best, if they lose the battle, it is worse. So there is a hell of a lot of dilemma. The best solution is the strengthening of people’s movements, empowerment and a real democratic upsurge to challenge goals and practices, approaches and the paradigm. If this creates a left then a pro-people, more equitable politics is likely to emerge. Otherwise you may only succeed in bringing a few changes here and there.

What has been the impact of the recent Tehelka investigation into Gujarat 2002 among the people you deal with in Gujarat as compared to the mainstream?
Nakaab kholna bolte he…. pardha faas of the criminals in power. This is what Tehelka expose has done. It has really challenged us more than them. My question here is just as Bush ruled even after the Iraq war and his flawed democratic claims, how can these people be in these positions in the larger democracy of the world? I think this kind of a sting operation is a must, it is our right and it must continue but beyond these exposes what else could be done? This is not just for the press but for all of us. I was wondering whether we should go into legal action or people’s movements or some political action. We will have to wait and see how much pride and courage both sides in the parliament will have to take up both Nandigram and Gujarat and ultimately if there is a compromise it is up to us in the civil society. We all are very proud of you… Ashish Khetan and Tarun Tejpal!


From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 4, Issue 46, Dated Dec 1, 2007





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CURRENT AFFAIRS web exclusive


'The Left violating democratic rights is unimaginable'

Medha Patkar, leader of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, who recently led a fact-finding mission to Nandigram was in Delhi presenting the report with the findings of the mission to the media. From her unique position of being at the receiving end of a hostile Narendra Modi government in Gujarat and now the Left Front Government in West Bengal, she speaks to ANIL VARGHESE on Nandigram and the situation in Gujarat.

What is the truth behind CPI (M) cadres being thrown out of their villages in Nandigram and therefore their justification for them to storm these villages?

We spoke to both the sides involved in the conflict but mainly with the Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee (BUPC) as they represent the majority of the people. Recently we had an opportunity to go into the villages after many days and blockades and speak to the CPI (M) cadres. We had appealed for a dialogue with the CPI (M) leadership earlier but unfortunately this did not materialize. A dialogue with the leadership followed up with a meeting with the CPI (M) cadres before March would have helped.
What our investigation concluded was that, the forcible occupation of the villages was not in response to the CPI (M) cadres being thrown out of their villages. The conflict was instead entirely political in nature. The villagers, who were against the setting up of the SEZ in the area, met together and formed the BUPC with representatives from various communities and parties. This committee had CPI (M) and CPI sympathizers too, but it so happened that some of the CPI (M) supporters were for SEZ. The CPI (M) supporters would have felt threatened and a reaction followed, as is usually the case when there is such a divide. I have seen this kind of a situation develop over the years on the Narmada issue. Initially there was no violence but the locals resorted to violence to resist the party-led interference and encroachment on their daily lives. Both prior to the SEZ being sanctioned and after, the SEZ supporters seem to have enjoyed the active support of the CPI (M). The party leadership should not have let this happen. We humbly request a review of the situation, which seems grave enough to call for a CBI investigation.

In Satangabari village, for example, in March/April, that is after the plans for a SEZ in the area were withdrawn, when the mob wielding firearms entered the village, they went a step ahead looting and burning houses. This is when the villagers put up resistance with people from the neighbouring villages joining in as well. They seem to have used whatever arms they were in possession of. The claims of arms being made available to them by political parties may not be totally unfounded but their retaliation was miniscule compared to the repeated attacks from the CPI (M)’s Harmud Vahini and their own cadres, sometimes donning police uniform, on the unarmed people of the movement against the SEZ. When the Governor and others raised questions over the situation in Nandigram, we tried our level best to run a thorough investigation. We condemn institutions such as the armed unit of the CPI (M). The party has never denied affiliation to this armed unit wreaking havoc in the region. The criminalisation of politics, whether it is the CPI (M), Shiv Sena, Laloo Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal or the Congress involved, is just not acceptable.

How about BUPC’s affiliation to the Maoists and the Trinamool Congress? Is the battle in Nandigram really being fought between the Trinamool and the CPI (M)?
The BUPC is the name of the organization the movement has given rise to. Parallels can be drawn with the Raigarh struggle in Maharashtra, Kolavaram and Narmada. In all these cases there are no parties directly involved but we have to keep in mind that the members come with their respective political inclinations. The BUPC enjoys representation from the community, with members belonging to the Trinamool, SUCI, Jamaite Ulema Hind and others with no party affiliations. The committee has up till now functioned as a unit representing the whole community with the members bringing with them support of their respective parties. Their target was never the CPI (M) but it saw a threat from what it considered its political opponents and competitors. They were opposed to the formation of committees in areas that did not fall inside the proposed SEZ but were adjacent to it. The SEZ was bound to have an impact on these villages , hence the need of committees was felt. We have this in the Narmada valley also. Apart from those directly affected, other villages are also covered. But the CPI (M) again became very intolerant and put this up as an inter-party conflict to justify what the party was doing. 'Bajrang Dal' and 'Shiv sena' have now become synonymous with intolerance. The communal forces are known to be intolerant. In West Bengal CPI (M) has also the tradition of being intolerant and oppressive. Many political parties and people’s movements have always raised this issue but in Singur and Nandigram we actually saw it. This is very unfortunate as the left has also stood for democratic rights. They have been partners with the people’s movements like us. We have valued this partnership but now they violating democratic rights and civil liberties is unimaginable and also unexpected.

You visited the relief camps. What are the numbers you have of the missing people and those who have been killed? What is the situation in the camps?
At the moment, there is only one major relief camp. Thousands of people including women and children are staying in a Nandigram High School. Relief has been provided to them on daily basis by the people’s movements in cash and kind with the help of their well wishers from Kolkata and other cities . The numbers range from 3000 to more than 5000 but everyday they are spending about 10-12 thousand on food. It was obvious to me when I saw the camp and met with the people that the resources at disposal were limited. The government has hardly pitched in with any assistance when the directives from the Supreme Court are very clear on the ruling government being responsible to attend to the needs of those affected by a natural calamity or political crisis. But who are they accountable to when they are fighting their own people?

Who is involved in providing relief?
Mainly the BUPC and other people’s movement groups with some help from the Trinamool Congress.The locals also chipped in with materials from the neighbouring areas. The need for more relief is being felt everyday. But beyond the families in the camp, the estimates of the families displaced have reached 20000. Our estimate has been 10000 families but it could be much more. And 100-200 people are missing. BUPC had been quoted with figures of 500-700. The number has now fallen as people who had been abducted and taken to the Khejuri camp have been released and they have returned. There are women who have been molested or raped. Our estimate of the families displaced corresponds to the number of houses burned, demolished or looted but there are those who have simply fled from their homes fearing atrocities. Though the confirmed numbers of the dead from our trips to the villages are 40-50 the reporters based in the area claimed to have seen about 100 bodies being carried away.

Did you get to interact with any of the CPI (M) cadres?
In Kamalpur and Takapura, about 10-25 people gathered. We could see that a few among them were articulating their views. On enquiry we found they were either government teachers or those who were employed in Kolkata. They gave their side of the story. In Kamalpur, their position was that of denial. No houses were either burnt or demolished in their village and there was no terror. They attributed the terror in the beginning to the people in the movement against SEZ who used it as a means to coerce them to join their ranks. They referred to the movement as Maoists.

We spotted a quite a few demolished or burnt houses. We spoke to the women. They said the intervention of the CPI (M) cadres from outside the villages only served to deepen the divide in the community. In Satangabari village we visited, the CPI (M) supporters seemed to be curious about what we were talking to the locals about. They even made an attempt to herd the locals we were talking to in their jeeps and take them away.

How were they justifying what they were doing?
They were saying that they were tortured and their houses were attacked. So when I got off the jeep they became a little aggressive. I told them they need not do this. They should tell us their side of the story. They asked me ‘why have you come now? Why didn’t you come then?’ I said ‘whenever I came, you should have met me. I addressed gatherings of thousands. I never said I don’t want to meet anyone. Even in the same village when 60 houses were looted and burned, I had come and there were no other houses looted or demolished at that time. The other incidents took place after my first visit. Now in the last few days we have been trying to reach here. Your own party cadres are stopping us. So what do you say about this?’ So there was a dialogue. They showed us the houses of Anwar Ali, Abdul Kayyam Mannanbabu and Samiran Bibi and others. We said that this was unfortunate. This should not have happened. We are with them. The relief should reach them as well. They said there are some 400 affected in the few villages. They gave us the names and we noted down their numbers. They never gave us a figure in thousands. We also found that there were a few hundred families who remained outside the villages.

But the BUPC had made public its position that their members and the communities in villages are not against the displaced returning to their villages with the exception of 10-30 of them accused in rape and molesting. But my position is that even these accusations need to be verified. And the ultimate task now is to rebuild the integrity of the community. This is not possible even today because the CPI (M) has not taken a political decision to withdraw its armed units. Bringing in the CRPF might effect a few changes but it was observed that it took a long time for even the CRPF to be deployed. The CRPF has made public statements indicating non-cooperation from the State Government to reach out to the hot spots. They were reportedly barred from entering the villages for a few days and then allowed to move in. They were mostly allowed in the Nandigram Taluka and not inside Satangabari where we were also being threatened. In fact, till yesterday, the West Bengal Government was preparing to withdraw the CRPF. We questioned the move and finally CRPF stayed. But it is very clear that a thousand CRPF personnel are not going to change the situation.

On that note how do you compare the Gujarat 2002 carnage with this situation?
The common feature here is the use of violence to bring an end to what are legitimate rights of the people. Gujarat carnage happened in the name of religion. It remains a fact that the intervention was in favour of crime, torture and killing than in protecting the unarmed and common people. This ( Nandigram) is also a new kind of communalism. Political communalism. The approach has been that ‘those who belong to my party I will protect at any cost and those who belong to the other party I will not’. Mamata Banerjee or whosoever may be in opposition but every opposition party has a right. Just as CPI (M) gets a space in AP or Maharashtra, the opposition in West Bengal too deserve their space.There are proving to be more and more undemocratic and also apolitical. Being undemocratic and politically intolerant is also apolitical. If only the other Left Front partners had played a role, stronger and prompt in the situation whether before or after the first massacre, things would have been different. We had also kept them informed. They were more for a dialogue than the CPI-M but they have not sent a single team from January until now to either Nandigram or Singur. So how can we think of the Left front as a protector of its own people? Even the MLA from the Nandigram constituency belongs to the CPI (M). The CPI, RSP... all of them have a base of their own in the East Midnapore district. They should have at least run an investigation and taken immediate action. But they have taken a position to some extent .. which is useful. They have issued statements but they have not gone beyond this. This is very unfortunate. Otherwise this would have saved the whole of Left Front from this kind of determined opposition they are facing at the moment. We never had this as our objective.

What do you think of 'development' to meet political ends?
Development, everywhere, is just a political tool to the powerful than to benefit the needy. Whether the communal riots in Gujarat or the violence in West Bengal, the powerful are fiddling with development, the goal and the process. The sadak, bijli, paani agenda is being also pushed towards profit making and the profit is made at whatever the cost may be. This is done by alienating minority communities, not only the Muslims but also the landless and dalits as in Gujarat. There are other states also where vikas and religion are playing the role in development creating more disparity. In the adivasi areas, the non-adivasi elites eye their rich natural resources. This is another kind of communal agenda. Here in West Bengal certain kinds of projects are referred to as the only path of progress in the neo liberal economy acceptable to the Left.

Invariably, it is the violence that the state is resorting to push its own agenda ultimately towards more money power, market power and political power. This is bringing parties together and people see them as together in the pursuit. And hardly any political party in the mainstream stands up and says this is not acceptable. This is not being possible because now rules of the game are set. And you cannot come to power and retain it unless you have compromising alliances with the moneyed, market and mafia forces. This is the message we get. That is why those who are in people’s movements also feel that something must be done. Those who try their best, if they lose the battle, it is worse. So there is a hell of a lot of dilemma. The best solution is the strengthening of people’s movements, empowerment and a real democratic upsurge to challenge goals and practices, approaches and the paradigm. If this creates a left then a pro-people, more equitable politics is likely to emerge. Otherwise you may only succeed in bringing a few changes here and there.

What has been the impact of the recent Tehelka investigation into Gujarat 2002 among the people you deal with in Gujarat as compared to the mainstream?
Nakaab kholna bolte he…. pardha faas of the criminals in power. This is what Tehelka expose has done. It has really challenged us more than them. My question here is just as Bush ruled even after the Iraq war and his flawed democratic claims, how can these people be in these positions in the larger democracy of the world? I think this kind of a sting operation is a must, it is our right and it must continue but beyond these exposes what else could be done? This is not just for the press but for all of us. I was wondering whether we should go into legal action or people’s movements or some political action. We will have to wait and see how much pride and courage both sides in the parliament will have to take up both Nandigram and Gujarat and ultimately if there is a compromise it is up to us in the civil society. We all are very proud of you… Ashish Khetan and Tarun Tejpal!







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