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!







Friday, November 23, 2007

aish and angu

shaadi

to work or not

Madmomma has another wonderful post on working or not working. I like the words of Anna Quindlen, about living instead of just existing.

This was a speech made by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Anna Quindlen at the graduation ceremony of an American university where she was awarded an Honorary PhD.


'I'm a novelist. My work is human nature. Real life is all I know. Don't ever confuse the two, your life and your work. You will walk out of here this afternoon with only one thing that no one else has. There will be hundreds of people out there with your same degree: there will be thousands of people doing what you want to do for a living. But you will be the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on a bus, or in a car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank accounts but also your soul.


People don't talk about the soul very much anymore. It's so much easier to write a resume than to craft a spirit. But a resume is cold comfort on a winter's night, or when you're sad, or broke, or lonely, or when you've received your test results and they're not so good.



Here is my resume: I am a good mother to three children. I have tried never to let my work stand in the way of being a good parent. I no longer consider myself the centre of the universe. I show up. I listen. I try to laugh. I am a good friend to my husband. I have tried to make marriage vows mean what they say. I am a good friend to my friends and they to me. Without them, there would be nothing to say to you today, because I would be a cardboard cut out. But I call them on the phone, and I meet them for lunch. I would be rotten, at best mediocre at my job if those other things were not true.



You cannot be really first rate at your work if your work is all you are. So here's what I wanted to tell you today: Get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger pay cheque, the larger house. Do you think you'd care so very much about those things if you blew an aneurysm this afternoon, or found a lump in your breast?


Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze at the seaside, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over the water, or the way a baby scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a sweet with her thumb and first finger. Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work. Pick up the phone. Send an email. Write a letter. Get a life in which you are generous. And realize that life is the best thing ever, and that you have no business taking it for granted. Care so deeply about its goodness that you want to spread it around. Take money you would have spent on beer and give it to charity. Work in a soup kitchen. Be a big brother or sister.



All of you want to do well. But if you do not do good too, then doing well will never be enough. It is so easy to waste our lives, our days, our hours, and our minutes. It is so easy to take for granted the colour of our kids' eyes, the way the melody in a symphony rises and falls and disappears and rises again.


It is so easy to exist instead of to live. I learned to live many years ago. I learned to love the journey, not the destination. I learned that it is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get. I learned to look at all the good in the world and try to give some of it back because I believed in it, completely and utterly. And I tried to do that, in part, by telling others what I had learned. By telling them this: Consider the lilies of the field. Look at the fuzz on a baby's ear. Read in the back yard with the sun on your face. Learn to be happy. And think of life as a terminal illness, because if you do, you will live it with joy and passion as it ought to be lived'.

So says the mad momma at 4:14 PM 7 have something to add Links to this post



Wednesday, November 21, 2007
The indecisive Libran

I've been taking a short two week yoga course. Yeah, full of surprises, that's me. So I shoot out for an hour or two everyday while the Brat is at school and try to get some life back into this battered old body. So with all my falling ill recently the family badgered me into taking this yoga course. What has that got to do with anything? You'll see at the end of the post.

This post has been in the making a long while and I don't know what to do. My thoughts are scattered and I have not come to any conclusion so if that bothers you, please bugger off. Don't leave rude remarks to that effect. Actually, if you have nothing nice to say, don't say it. Here's the thing. For the last month or two my parents and the OA have been on my case to go back to work full time. You're wasting your brains and we miss seeing you on tv and reading as much of your byline as we used to, they say. Sigh. There it is. Out in the open.

I come from a family of working women. My grandmother was one of the first few Indian women to even apply for the Indian Civil Services in those days, let alone qualify. My grand aunt worked with Elizabeth Arden and then Shahnaz Husain and was the beauty consultant for most international airlines in those days. Her son went to boarding school in England way back then and she was always travelling for her job, a big deal in those days. Second grand aunt was the Director of Education for Schools or some such post that existed in those days. Again, a traveller who left her three kids with my great grandmother often. And the last was the Principal of a college.

My mother too, has been working forever. In fact when she and dad come to visit, my guest room is a maze of wires with their two laptops and three cell phones on charge. They don't take a break. Perhaps I am some sort of aberration, a sort of reaction to all the working women in my family. A desire to have a more structured and ordered life as opposed to the cheerful chaos I grew up amidst. A desire for a more ‘motherly’ mother than the ones I grew up around. Regressive, I know, but the heart wants what the heart wants.

The truth is that when I got pregnant I had every intention of going back to work within three months and then one thing lead to another and I ended up getting hooked on the Brat and refusing to look a full time job in the eye. My logic being that I couldn't possibly go to work and quit to have my second one in a few months. And then the Bean happened and is slowly getting weaned now and the pressure from family is back. Go back to work is the message and they aren't very subtle about it. Even my brother subtly says stuff that indicates that he'd like to see me back in office soon. The OA would like me to go back to work but doesn't want to influence me either way because he knows that if it doesn't work out, he'll never hear the end of it.


Now the suggestion is that I leave the Brat after school in daycare for about three hours more. That is it. Not much. Just about three hours more. Here are the reasons why. The Brat enjoys school, hates leaving while the daycare kids keep playing and cries on the way home to go back to his friends and the tricycles. So that of course makes him the easiest candidate for daycare. At least for a few hours, says the OA and the rest of the family. I am always crying about how this house has no outdoor area and how I want the Brat to enjoy cycling around in a garden and playing in a sand pit. Well the school has a daycare which is clean and well cared for and the kids are happy no matter what time I go. So I can no longer use that excuse!


He also eats the meal given in school with much less fuss. A lot more nutritious stuff goes down his throat than I can manage at home. The teacher praises my fussy eater and calls him one of the best. So it seems a healthier option if I don't allow my ego to get in the way and refuse to accept that someone else can feed my child better. I want to do what is best for him. And at this point logically the two or three extra hours per day at the daycare seems to be the best for the Brat. It gives him more company and the open space I crave for him.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Balotra The Complex Language of Print



This is a wonderful book brought out by Anokhi Museum of Hand printing. It gives a historical background of the prints, which community wore which prints and a description of the processes that created the print. There was a wonderful picture of the different turban tieing techniques used by Langhas, Rabari, Maldari, Maali, Gujar and Chaudhurys.

Boriya print is a geometrical block print that is worn as a ghaggra by married Kumhar and Chaudhry women. The pattern on the cloth is similar to the decoration on pots created by the Kumhars.

If the ghaggra's of the women have a large red border at the hem, it means they are married, if the woman is a widow, she does not have a border or a piping on her skirt. As a woman ages her skirt print becomes duller and the motifs simpler, the reds became rusts and the yellows are removed.

Gadia Lohars, itinerant iron workers, wear the bhalka print, which is a bold repeat of a large spear or arrow head motifs. Maalis, a community of gardeners, wear prints that represent flowers or vegetation. Some of the them are phooli, gainda, chameli and neemboli. Mato ro fatiya is a simple design worn by widows and pre construction workers, mato means sand. Babooliya shows the babyul or accacia tree.

Chippa Yusuf Khan and his family in Balotra have kept alive the tradition of block printing for Hindu women, for more than 150 years. The printers use the local dabu mud resist method. The motifs sit on backgrounds dyed in indigo blue or emerald green. Motifs picked out in soft natural reds, rusts, ochres and mustard yellows are achieved through the labor intensive printing of mordant pastes onto the cloth before dyeing.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Suicide station

Outlook reports on well educated brides coming from Punjab, to be married to uneducated men and their mothers, are leading record numbers to jump in front of trains. When will their parents realize that marrying a person from England or the US is not a passport to the good life. Background checks are essential.

Flawed marital priorities fuel a thickening tragedy among young brides in Southall

SANJAY SURI
Circle Of Death
Suicide among South Asian women in Britain is three times that of the national average

Of 240 suicides on rail tracks in Britain last year, 80 were Southall women, mostly Sikhs

The victims typically come from Punjab, are educated, and married off to men who lack similar educational or professional backgrounds

Brides are trapped into domestic slavery, suffer abuse and have no one to help them
***

The cold figures tell a chilling story. Take the many thousands of miles of rail track in Britain on the one hand, a couple of miles of of rail track through the west London suburb of Southall on the other. Consider that of the 240 suicides on rail tracks last year, 80 were on just this track around Southall, and most of them were Sikh women. That in a population close to 60 million, the Sikh population is about half a million, and that of adult Sikh women a fraction of that. That's an average of over a suicide a week on the tracks through Southall and Slough, another heavily Punjabi area down the line. Finally, the suicide rate among who are described as Asian women is three times the national average.

The total number of rail suicides rose last year from 203 suicides on rail tracks in 2005. This year the suicides have risen even further, and again on the Southall tracks. The suicide rate seems to have gone up since the landmark incident involving 27-year-old Navjeet Sidhu two years back. Navjeet took her five-year-old daughter Simran and her son Aman Raj, just a month short of his second birthday, to Southall train station. "I'm taking my children to see the fast trains," she told station staff. She then grabbed her two children and jumped in front of the Heathrow Express, the fast train from the airport into Paddington. All three died instantly. Six months later, Navjeet's mother Satwant Kaur threw herself in front of a train at the same spot. She too died on the spot.

Many more cases of suicide followed that of Navjeet. Suicides have a way of becoming contagious—when Marilyn Monroe committed suicide in 1962, suicide rates in the US rose by 12 per cent. The train company on this route, First Great Western, has now stepped up security at railway stations, with additional monitoring on CCTV. Fencing by the sides of the tracks has been firmed up, and a close watch kept on passengers, particularly those on the platform where the fast trains go by—for many the fast track to suicide. Several suicide attempts have been averted this year through staff action.

The staff have more than the lives of Sikh women on their mind—they want trains running on time; a suicide on a track disrupts train services for hours. First Great Western has one of the poorest records in Britain for the late running of trains—largely as a result of suicides on the tracks. The company alone records half of all delays to railway services in Britain, according to a recently leaked internal report. The usual driver language for such delays is "person under the train".

While stronger fencing and platform checks could prevent such suicides, they scarcely are a remedy for the reasons driving the women to suicide. "The situation is alarming," says Southall MP Virender Sharma. Sharma, who discussed the problem at length with Punjab officials and British High Commission officials in Delhi on a visit last month, says many among those Sikh women killing themselves are from Punjab who came to Britain after rapidly arranged marriages with the munda from vilayat.

In one case, a girl from an exceptionally well-connected family from Punjab committed suicide. "She had no one to turn to," says Sharma. "And she was afraid to go back. Because she thought people back there would make fun of her. " In one family after another, such mismatched matchmaking ends in tragedy. Punjab parents multiply their ideas of family wealth in Britain by 80 or so. The kind of man the girls are married off to is a typically basic sort of trader who sometimes earns well enough up to a point, but has more attitude than education. The favour done by bringing a bride to England has usually to be paid for by domestic slavery, sometimes lessened if she can deliver a son early enough.


Morbid chain The Sikh population in Southall is about half a million
Many such brides from Punjab find themselves on a one-way ticket to hell. Many of those who kill themselves are well-educated, and from the more well-off families of Punjab—one of the Southall women who died recently had an MBA degree. And that itself seems to become a problem. "It is culture shock," says Sharma. "There are very few girls from Punjab who are not graduates. I have seen girls come here who have masters degrees in English, in economics. Their families arrange marriages with boys here who are not professional, not educated."

In one case, "a window cleaner working here got married to a well-educated girl after telling her parents he was an engineer in England," says Kailash Puri, agony aunt and novelist, who has long been a support to Punjabi women in distress in Britain. "And then the man and his mother can't handle the education and sophistication of the woman. But if you ask me who is primarily responsible, I have no doubt at all. It is the mother-in-law."

And for every woman who commits suicide, "there are thousands of others who are suffering," she says. "So many of these homes become hellish. There is just so much talk of killing, and dying and suicide around the home, it drives many of these women to actually kill themselves." Many mothers-in-law are actually receptive to the idea of driving the young married woman out of the house, or to suicide. "They do not seem to care one way or the other, because that clears the way to bring in another daughter-in-law—and more dowry. Again and again, I see that dowry is one of the biggest issues."

Of course, many such cases lead to divorce, or the bride running away. "The woman finds some pretext for stepping out of the house, and just goes back to India." But for those not prepared to fight it out in court or return to India, the railway tracks offer a grisly alternative. Says Puri: "The girls feel very protective of their parents; one said to me her parents spent all this money on the wedding, and her return will bring a stain on her father's turban, and she will never let that happen. A time comes when there is nowhere to go to, nowhere to turn to, and they begin to think of suicide as the only liberation from hell." This is the woeful template that sees brides flying out of Delhi and Amritsar, dreaming of a new life in England, but whose dreams and hopes end tragically under a fast train in an alien land

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sebastiao Salgado





BBC has some photos from Salgado's latest project Genesis. Here are some of my favourite images.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Asma Jahangir

Washington Post
has an article by Asma Jahangir on the current situation in Pakistan.

The Real Musharraf

By Asma Jahangir
Friday, November 9, 2007; Page A21

LAHORE, Pakistan -- It was close to midnight last Saturday when Gen. Pervez Musharraf finally appeared on state-run television. That's when police vans surrounded my house. I was warned not to leave, and hours later I learned I would be detained for 90 days.

At least I have the luxury of staying at home, though I cannot see anyone. But I can only watch, helpless, as this horror unfolds.

The Musharraf government has declared martial law to settle scores with lawyers and judges. Hundreds of innocent Pakistanis have been rounded up. Human rights activists, including women and senior citizens, have been beaten by police. Judges have been arrested and lawyers battered in their offices and the streets.

These citizens are our true assets: young, progressive and full of spirit. Many of them were trained to uphold the rule of law. They are being brutalized for seeking justice.

Musharraf justified his draconian measures by saying he needed to be able to use all his might to fight the terrorists infecting our country. Yet the day after he declared an emergency, the Dawn newspaper reported that scores of terrorists were released by the government. While tyranny was being unleashed on peaceful citizens, the notorious militant Fazalullah (also known as Maulana Radio) had seized the beautiful town of Madyan, according to the Daily Times, and hoisted his "Islamic" flag over buildings while the security forces surrendered.

Musharraf has implied that militancy increased in Pakistan because of judicial interference in governance. But until this past March, the judiciary had yielded to all executive demands. Five years ago, the general dismissed the then-chief justice and his colleagues, charging that they were obstructing his process of democratization. What is democratic about a judiciary that's not independent?

In recent days police have raided the home of the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association -- his wife has gone into hiding -- and the law chambers of two former presidents of the bar. Their clerks have been harassed. Military intelligence officers are interrogating leading attorneys. Meanwhile, unknown lawyers are being elevated to the bench.

Since Saturday, police officers have barged into my house twice after receiving (false) warnings that I had escaped. On seeing me, they sheepishly admitted they were misled.


I have tried to make them understand the difference between people such as myself and terrorists. "If I did run away, how far would I go?" I asked them. "In any event, I am not likely to blow myself up around the corner." One police officer said that he agreed but that his job was at greater risk if I got away than if a terrorist escaped the law. Terrorists, he pointed out, outnumber rights activists in our country.

The officer argued that lawyers and judges hamper law enforcement. "How can we bring law and order if we cannot torture criminals? We must be given a free hand to deal with terrorists, and the chief justice has no business to ask us to produce them in courts. We are itching to lay our hands on all those judges who humiliated us for carrying out our duties," he told me. When I asked how he knew who the terrorists were, he insisted that the intelligence was infallible.

Yet he didn't know I hadn't escaped from my house.

The international community is alarmed at Musharraf's actions, but Pakistanis expected this. The Bush administration had built up the general as moderate and benign, but the true face of this regime has been exposed.

A balanced picture of Pakistan had begun to emerge in recent weeks. Thousands turned out to greet Benazir Bhutto upon her return last month; Pakistanis were progressive-minded enough to elect a female political leader years ago. Hundreds of progressive-minded lawyers have rallied for democratic values. I welcome Bhutto's call for the Pakistan People's Party to join the demonstrations.

But Pakistan is threatened by Islamist militants, and our civil society suffers the worst of this creeping Talibanization. Woefully, the Musharraf regime is neither inclined to reverse this trend nor capable of doing so. No one has exact solutions, but there is virtual unanimity that Pakistan's political leadership must take charge and that the military must cooperate with an elected civilian government.

Musharraf's promises to hold elections by Feb. 15 or to resign from the army are a red herring. He has pledged before to give up his uniform and failed to follow through. Any election held under these circumstances will not be free and will only put the crisis on hold. Furthermore, militarization will kill the spirit of the progressive forces while boosting the terrorists' morale.

A transition to democracy is crucial, but unless freedom of the press and the judiciary's independence are restored, any changes will remain toothless. It will be difficult to put Pakistan on the path to democracy, but we must begin now, before it is too late.

Asma Jahangir, a Pakistani lawyer under house arrest in Lahore, chairs the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. She is a member of the international board of the Open Society Institute.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Chini Kum


Tehelka has a review of a new book about Chinese in Calcutta, Chinatown Kolkata, by Rafeeq Ellias. The slide show captures some wonderful photos of this community. Seems like a good book.

Happy Diwali



Delhi is hazy, the rain helped bring some clarity. Diwali seems to be quite low key, lots of gift giving of dry fruits, chocolates, gift hampers and some mithai. Fireworks are not available in most markets, which will hopefully curb it's use and help the environment. Respiratory diseases are up, due to the smog and pollution.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Single Motherhood by Choice


Babble has an article about single women having kids without husbands.

Indeed, what is truly remarkable about this single mom trend is that women are refusing to either give up having children or settle down into an unhappy marriage. They are, in essence, saying: "I want the job, the career, and the power that comes with all that, but I also want to experience domestic joys — of raising a child and connecting to something larger than myself — and if I can't find a partner, I'll do it anyway, even though it will most likely mean a substantial economic burden." It comes down to this: women have built strong networks of friends and support systems independently of marriage. They no longer have to settle for partners who, for whatever reason, lack suitable qualities. In a strange twist of the old standard, contemporary men may simply not be "marriage material."

Rather than pine for Prince Charming, single women are using the skills they have developed from over a decade of working, socializing and building their lives to create a new idea of family. It would be an oversight to say that single moms by choice are soldiers for some gender cause, but there is something truly progressive about women taking a stand for the domestic, for children and the joy parenting brings to your life, even if it means giving up some of the benefits of being single without gaining the financial and emotional advantages of marriage. And while they are indeed raising children without husbands or partners in the traditional sense, they are not raising their families alone. Now that one can shop for sperm, as one would a pair of Louboutins, and social pressure for shotgun marriages is on the decline, women are finding that they are "doing it for themselves." Maybe this is the real revolution.

Brand Free Kids

Alternet has an article on the difficulties of raising kids brand free. Mira already enjoys the Disney and baby Einstein music and logos!! It's going to be a challenge. I like the article's conclusion, that parent's values are most important, they need to practise what they teach their children, the show don't tell idea. We grew up without watching TV or drinking sodas and that helped in not getting addicted to brands. The current issue of Mothering has wonderful information on soft toys that are natural, organic and non branded.

Parents, be warned: It takes only a single visit to McDonald's for your child to get hooked on the greasy stuff for life.

Okay, so that's an exaggeration. But the three-year-old son of Angela Verbrugge still remembers his one and only meal under the golden arches. Which has Verbrugge worried.

And Kyla Epstein swears if her young son Max ever wants to eat there, he'll be doing it on his own dime.

These parents aren't raging against the health detriments of fast food. Instead, they are making a conscious effort to limit the amount of branding and advertising their kids are exposed to in all aspects of their lives; what they eat, wear, watch and play with.

It's not easy. Brands are everywhere -- literally.

Disney 24/7

Genevieve McMahon says she experienced an "eye-opening" moment the first time she bought disposable diapers for her newborn daughter Imogen, who was then too small for the cloth variety her parents preferred.


"We were unpacking them to put them in her drawer and realized there were Walt Disney Winnie the Pooh characters all over them," she says.

"It was at that point when we were like, oh wow ... it's everywhere. I mean, she's not even conscious and yet here they are advertising. I'm staring at it everyday. And eventually...she's going to recognize them."

Exactly. In her book Buy Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds, Susan Gregory Thomas explores the widespread and controversial phenomenon of using spokes-characters in advertising to young children.

She describes one study in which toddlers are shown a made-up commercial with a mouse character. The researcher's hypothesis? If the mouse was seen eating a certain kind of cracker, when given a choice later, the child would choose those same crackers.

The study didn't support that hypothesis, but what it did demonstrate is the amazing capacity of young children for character recognition. What surprised the researchers is that many children were able to recognize the mouse later, even if they didn't appear to be paying much attention to the TV screen.

Plethora of Dora

"The chief piece of learning that very young children mastered from watching characters on television was the ability to recognize them," Gregory Thomas writes.

Epstein, for one, is clearly frustrated with this kind of character prevalence. She remembers trying to find a Spanish-language picture book for Max, 11 months.

"Everything was Dora!" she exclaims, referring to the popular Dora the Explorer animated kid's show about a 7-year-old latina girl and her friends.

"I don't want all his books to all be TV characters."

Licensed characters are huge moneymakers for companies. In 2005, Winnie the Pooh earned Disney $6.2 billion in retail sales, according to Gregory Thomas, second only to the mouse.

Verbrugge believes all of this merchandising is the real problem, not necessarily the characters themselves.

"They're trying to sell kids other products, from clothing to bedding...there always needs to be something else that they're striving to buy," she says.

"It scares me when I see advertisements that showcase all these different products that show the child being engaged with a toy," she says.

"They're saying all the right things in the voiceover about baby learning and interactivity...yet you just want to take that baby and turn him around to face the mom and have her play a simple game of patty-cake."

Parents as sitting ducks

All the parents interviewed said they feel targeted by advertisers, and indeed, the desire to make one's child happy is a powerful marketing tool.

Verbrugge, who used to work as a consultant on projects related to children's online activities, says she attended many marketing conferences as part of her job.

"It taught me how sophisticated marketers are in reaching people, and more and more how integrated marketing is in everything we see and do," she says.

"I think we're seen as consumers...how much wallet share do kids have, and how much can they influence our spending."

Yet the push to buy doesn't jive with the values these parents want to instill in their own kids -- values like critical thinking, individuality and sustainable living.

Finding the balance between what their kids want, what they need and what's available is difficult, say these parents. And they are the first to admit they are by no means perfect.

Off the wagon

"The only thing we can really do is in our home environments, in the environments we choose for our children," says Verbrugge. She and her husband request that friends and family buying for their three children steer clear of plastic. But when Verbrugge's father insisted on a plastic wagon for his grandkids, she figured the item wasn't worth a fight.

Epstein and McMahon both say they make these requests as well -- and they are usually heeded.

"For his first birthday, we said gifts are not necessary, no plastic and preferably previously-owned and wearable or readable," says Epstein.

At the same time, she says Max has toys she and husband Melvin would never buy, "but he loves them and a friend passed them on."

"It's not that I want to hide him in a bubble, away from all things Disney...it's just that I want to be there to have a dialogue with him, like my parents did," Epstein says.

Gabe Epstein, Kyla's father, says he and her mother "didn't buy brand-name stuff in those days."

The retired Grade 1 teacher says he regularly saw different trends and fads sweep through the school, but in his own class and home he tried to encourage individuality.

"While it lines the pockets of large corporations, branding undermines creativity and choices, in a sense," he says.

"[Diversity] encourages the capacity to create something different."

Hemp clothes, natural blocks?

This kind of dialogue is critically important for children, says Michelle Stack, an assistant professor in educational studies at UBC.

"I'm really concerned about the fact that rarely can children engage in play or interaction that don't involve commercial or don't involve getting their parents to buy something," she says.

"It's impossible for a kid not to be exposed to massive amounts of advertising even if the TV's off all the time -- it still requires a conversation."

Stack says children need help understanding that, although they may find pleasure in TV and other media, they are designed with a purpose and often that purpose is to sell products or ideas.

Resisting the urge to spend for the sake of convenience or pleasure is difficult for parents as well (especially when toting around a baby or toddler). And, as all the parents pointed out, often the "best" choices -- natural wooden blocks or organic hemp clothing -- are also the most expensive.

"The most challenging thing about making an effort to not brand your child in what they wear, or play with...is the fact that sometimes there aren't choices and sometimes the choices are economically out of reach," says Epstein.

'Not easy'

But, as McMahon says, the best parents can hope to do is try and live the values they want their children to learn -- for their sake and for the sake of the environment.

"I think it's really important to show the down side to it too ... in the sense that it's not always easy," she says.

"It's not always easy to be a one-car family, it's not easy to limit processed foods, to try to buy locally. But I think at the end of the day, you have to live the values that you want, that ultimately you want your children to have."

Colleen Kimmett is on staff of The Tyee

Moms rule in NYC marathon




The results are
here. What an inspiration!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Situation in Pakistan

For an accurate situation in Pakistan, check Chapati Mystery.

Today at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan a meeting of lawyers and human rights activsits (around noon) was held to discuss the present situation. A statement from Asma Jehangir who has been detained for 90 days was read and subsequently the compound was surrounded by police officers in riot gear and with tear gas threatening to arrest everyone inside (around 1:45). Inside people sang songs while the police remained outside, after sometime all (as far as I know) were rounded up into buses and detained. Journalists were released. Currently they have been taken to the Model Town police station in lahore. I am unsure about the number of people currently detained.

I have received information from my partner, a US citizen, who is a research fellow (ironically researching detentions and disappearances) and who had attended the meeting at HRCP. He is also currently detained. Although they have seized most cell phones, some people have managed to keep theirs and until recently I was receiving intermittent text messages updating me on the situation. Although they are being treated (thus far) well enough and rumor is they will be released within 24-48 hours,, the implications seem clear — sending a strong message of intimidation to anyone who dares even discuss resistance/criticism of Musharaff.

Those detained were in a private meeting, inside HRCP’s offices this afternoon — not staging a protest or demonstration of any kind. Among the arrested are a motley bunch who had assembled due to a shared interest in the political situation and human rights issues: students, a professor from LUMS, a professor from Punjab U, lawyers, HRCP workers. A few have reportedly been transported elsewhere including a staff member from HRCP, although where to is not known. Some say 40-50 total people are detained from the HRCP meeting, though I couldn’t get this confirmed due to sporadic and interrupted phone communication with the detained.

Right now the police are saying they may be detained from 30-90 days under either house arrest, in detention or jail. We hope this is just an intimidation tactic to scare people into silence and passivity.

Middle School chronicles

Middle School is a dress rehersal for life