Friday, February 29, 2008

Chandigarh- Avant-Garde

Amelia Gentleman writes about office furniture from Chandigarh being auctioned at Christies for $12,000.

Every working day for the past 20 years, Suresh Kanwar, a civil engineer in Chandigarh's forestry department, has been sitting on the same battered wooden chair, an object which he said had "no beauty," even if it was, "for office use, very comfortable."

Hazarding a guess as to its value, he suggested 400 rupees, or $10, "perhaps, at a junkyard."

A pair of identical chairs, instantly recognizable to collectors as Pierre Jeanneret teak "V-chairs," will go on sale at the auction house Christie's in New York this month with a reserve of $8,000 to $12,000.

A handful of antique dealers from around the world have become regular visitors to government junkyards in Chandigarh, the experimental modernist city 250 kilometers, or 155 miles, north of New Delhi, conceived by the architect Le Corbusier in the 1950s. They buy up disused stocks of furniture that was specially created by Corbusier's colleagues to fit out the new city.

The disappearance of large quantities of these distinctive, ultrafunctional tables and chairs - most of them designed by Jeanneret, Le Corbusier's cousin, for the city's government offices, courtrooms and colleges - has begun in recent months to alarm architects and some government officials in the city.

Rajnish Wattas, principal of the Chandigarh College of Architecture, was stunned when he saw the catalogue for a sale at Christie's New York last June, titled "Chandigarh."

"We found out that we were sitting on a pot of gold - quite literally. But the dealers had realized much earlier that there was big money to be made."

The process by which the avant-garde furniture left the city's offices and made its way to New York and Paris reflects a broader ambivalence among the public toward Le Corbusier's heritage in Chandigarh and widespread official neglect of his work.

There was nothing illegal about the purchase by foreign dealers of the furniture, much of which was being thrown out or sold off by the city's administration. But very belatedly, heritage experts in Chandigarh are lamenting the loss of a vital part of the city's original design.

"It is a tragic misunderstanding," Wattas said. "I wish the scandal had come out earlier and then maybe we could have clung on to much more than we have now." In the autumn, he founded Chandigarh's Heritage Furniture Committee, in an attempt to archive the remaining stocks of Jeanneret's designs, but little progress has been made, and there is no certainty about how much is left. "It has become very, very invisible in the last five years," he said.

Jeanneret, who later took over from his cousin as Chandigarh's chief architect, was passionate about creating furniture that echoed the style and ethos of the surrounding buildings.

"There were no furniture shops, no carpet shops, so the architects designed their own," said M.N. Sharma, an architect who worked closely with Le Corbusier. "The furniture Jeanneret designed is naturally in the same spirit as the city, in the same school of thought - it is functional, and used locally available material and craftsmen."

Jeanneret paid extraordinary attention to detail - designing lampposts, municipal light fixtures, manhole covers, even the pedal-boats in the huge artificial lake at the heart of the city. He designed several versions of the basic chairs, with modifications for more senior bureaucrats, like leather backs and arm rests instead of simple cane. Local workshops were commissioned to turn them out, and thousands were made.

Despite the striking simplicity of their design, few of the city's employees gave the furniture a second glance.

Gradually, as the furniture fell into disrepair, it was thrown into government store rooms and occasionally auctioned off, "for peanuts," Wattas said, usually to local carpenters who broke it up and reused the increasingly expensive teak. "People wanted new and glossy stuff: synthetic leather, Scandinavian design, metallic furniture."

"This was not something very easy to fathom," Wattas said. "It doesn't look ornate, or like it comes from a palace. One might take care of something that was 100 or 200 years old, but this was 20 years old." India's export laws classify antiques as objects more than 100 years old, which made it easy for collectors to take the objects out of the country.

The Paris dealer Eric Touchaleaume first came to Chandigarh in 1999, and started making purchases from the government sales. Much of the collection he built up was auctioned at Christie's in New York last summer - a manhole cover, designed by Jeanneret, molded with the map of Chandigarh, was listed with a reserve of $20,000, alongside daybeds, stools, armchairs and bookcases.

Thanks Contemporary Africa for the link

Barack Hussein Obama

Naomi Klein has a good piece in Common Dreams about the racism being directed towards Obama, because of his middle name and the color of his skin. She wants him to question the critics and re frame the debate to what is wrong with being a Muslim. Instead of his response that I am not a Muslim.

Obama, Being Called a Muslim Is Not a Smear
by Naomi Klein
Hillary Clinton denied leaking the photo of Barack Obama wearing a turban, but her campaign manager says that even if she had, it would be no big deal. “Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely.”

Sure she did. And George W. Bush put on a fetching Chamato poncho in Santiago, while Paul Wolfowitz burned up YouTube with his antimalarial African dance routines when he was World Bank prez. The obvious difference is this: when white politicians go ethnic, they just look funny. When a black presidential contender does it, he looks foreign. And when the ethnic apparel in question is vaguely reminiscent of the clothing worn by Iraqi and Afghan fighters (at least to many Fox viewers, who think any headdress other than a baseball cap is a declaration of war on America), the image is downright frightening.

The turban “scandal” is all part of what is being referred to as “the Muslim smear.” It includes everything from exaggerated enunciations of Obama’s middle name to the online whisper campaign that Obama attended a fundamentalist madrassa in Indonesia (a lie), was sworn in on a Koran (another lie) and if elected would attach RadioShack speakers to the White House to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer (I made that one up).

So far, Obama’s campaign has responded with aggressive corrections that tout his Christian faith, attack the attackers and channel a cooperative witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee. “Barack has never been a Muslim or practiced any other faith besides Christianity,” states one fact sheet. “I’m not and never have been of the Muslim faith,” Obama told a Christian News reporter.

Of course Obama must correct the record, but he doesn’t have to stop there. What is disturbing about the campaign’s response is that it leaves unchallenged the disgraceful and racist premise behind the entire “Muslim smear”: that being Muslim is de facto a source of shame. Obama’s supporters often say they are being “Swiftboated,” casually accepting the idea that being accused of Muslimhood is tantamount to being accused of treason.

Substitute another faith or ethnicity, and you’d expect a very different response. Consider a report from the archives of this magazine. Thirteen years ago, Daniel Singer, The Nation’s late, much-missed Europe correspondent, went to Poland to cover a hotly contested presidential election. He reported that the race had descended into an ugly debate over whether one of the candidates, Aleksander Kwasniewski, was a closet Jew. The press claimed his mother had been buried in a Jewish cemetery (she was still alive), and a popular TV show aired a skit featuring the Christian candidate dressed as a Hasidic Jew. “What perturbed me,” Singer wryly observed, “was that Kwasniewski’s lawyers threatened to sue for slander rather than press for an indictment under the law condemning racist propaganda.”

We should expect no less of the Obama campaign. When asked during the Ohio debate about Louis Farrakhan’s support for his candidacy, Obama did not hesitate to call Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic comments “unacceptable and reprehensible.” When the turban photo flap came up in the same debate, he used the occasion to say nothing at all.

Farrakhan’s infamous comments about Jews took place twenty-four years ago. The orgy of hate that is “the Muslim smear” is unfolding in real time, and it promises to greatly intensify in a general election. These attacks do not simply “smear Barack’s Christian faith,” as John Kerry claimed in a campaign mailing. They are an attack on all Muslims, some of whom actually do exercise their rights to cover their heads and send their kids to religious school. Thousands even have the very common name Hussein. All are watching their culture used as a crude bludgeon against Obama, while the candidate who is the symbol of racial harmony fails to defend them. This at a time when US Muslims are bearing the brunt of the Bush Administration’s assaults on civil liberties, including dragnet wiretapping, and are facing a documented spike in hate crimes.

Occasionally, though not nearly enough, Obama says that Muslims are “deserving of respect and dignity.” What he has never done is what Singer called for in Poland: denounce the attacks themselves as racist propaganda, in this case against Muslims.

The core of Obama’s candidacy is that he alone–who lived in Indonesia as a boy and has an African grandmother–can “repair the world” after the Bush wrecking ball. That repair job begins with the 1.4 billion Muslims around the world, many of whom are convinced that the United States has been waging a war against their faith. This perception is based on facts, among them the fact that Muslim civilians are not counted among the dead in Iraq and Afghanistan; that Islam has been desecrated in US-run prisons; that voting for an Islamic party resulted in collective punishment in Gaza. It is also fueled by the rise of a virulent strain of Islamophobia in Europe and North America.

As the most visible target of this rising racism, Obama has the power to be more than its victim. He can use the attacks to begin the very process of global repair that is the most seductive promise of his campaign. The next time he’s asked about his alleged Muslimness, Obama can respond not just by clarifying the facts but by turning the tables. He can state clearly that while a liaison with a pharmaceutical lobbyist may be worthy of scandalized exposure, being a Muslim is not. Changing the terms of the debate this way is not only morally just but tactically smart–it’s the one response that could defuse these hateful attacks. The best part is this: unlike ending the Iraq War and closing Guantánamo, standing up to Islamophobia doesn’t need to wait until after the election. Obama can use his campaign to start now. Let the repairing begin.

Naomi Klein is the author of many books, including her most recent, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Visit Naomi’s website at, or to learn more about her new book, visit .
© 2008 The Nation

Arundhati Roy

Tehelka has a candid interview with Arundhati Roy.
I love her last line. "It’s not like one is looking for a new life in a supermarket."

It’s 10 years since Arundhati Roy wrote The God of Small Things, won the Booker, and was shot out of a cannon into a mega-space that has few literary equals. Sitting against the fading light of a window in her beautiful wood and stone barsati in New Delhi, in one of her most personal interviews ever, she revisits the journey — its elations and its ambiguities — with SHOMA CHAUDHURY

It’s ten years now. Looking back, what did the Booker do to you?
It’s a little difficult for me to say because the Booker is conflated with so much else. From the moment I finished the manuscript, everything took off at such a trajectory — the Booker was just a part of it. I suppose it formalised it all, in a way. It was simultaneously a release and a burden. On the one hand, there was this artificiality that got me. It was almost as if we were all boy scouts saying, let’s go home with the big prize and show mummy. On the other hand, it became my middle name. Now I don’t think about it much.

But didn’t it open up your world and forge new platforms?
Do you think so? I don’t know how much of that was the Booker, and how much The God of Small Things (GOST). In my mind, they’re very separate. What’s incredible for me is that after 10 years of a very intense political journey, my political instincts are the same as they were in GOST. And that has to do with what the book was grappling with in itself. The Booker is an Anglo-centric prize, it means something in the English-speaking world, but the GOST is in 40 lang– uages. India, of course, has bec– ome such a success-oriented and prize-thirsty culture, in all the ads and in everyone’s dreams everyone’s always winning a prize, and so, it mattered here to the middle class. But I feel vaguely humiliated in having to discuss a prize in more depth than my own book.

Yes, the real magic carpet was the book. So across continents, what did people respond to?
It is remarkable. It was exactly the opposite of what nuclear weapons do. It vaulted over so many cultures. In Estonia, my translator said, “You know, this was my childhood too.” In America, this bank of cool women editors would say with a drawl, “You know, we’ve all got aunts like Baby Kocham– ma.” (mimicking) People tell me they’ve read out passages at their weddings... One of the sweetest things that happened was while I was sitting in Kautilya Marg one day. This little man came up the stairs like some tropical Santa Claus with a lot of presents and said, “Mai Eagle flasks se aya hoon”. And he had all these Eagle products and this brochure with all the parts of GOST where Eagle flask is mentioned! (laughs) I was particularly touched because I remember when I wrote the sentence: “Esthappan and Rahel walked across the airport car park with their Eagle flasks bumping on their hips and the twins knew the eagles watched the world by day and flew around their flasks at night…” — for some reason it delighted me. I waltzed around the room for hours because I was so happy at thinking this thought. I was sure no one would notice it; it would mean nothing to the world, but it made me happy and that was enough. And now, here was this man!

There have been many unusual receptions like that. Even today I get letters that just turn my heart. Someone wrote to me from Croatia talking about the NATO bombing and said, “My hair turned white in this horror and then I read your book and it helped me through the war…” Things like that. Sometimes it’s not GOST, sometimes it’s the political writing. But it’s all something for people to have; it’s not meant for anything else. It’s for people to have and to hold and to read and go to sleep at night, it’s for people to be with themselves. Very often, I get taken aback by people who come and start telling me the most intimate things about their lives. It throws me because I don’t know them. But it’s to do with the writing. They feel they know you. It’s different from being a star; it’s very, very deep. Very, very wonderful. And it’s not about me, but about writing itself and ideas and stories. As a writer, the clay you work with is so intimate...

It spawns a million relationships with itself —
Yes, and till today it fills me with delight because oddly enough, however I might appear to people, I did grow up in a little village like the one in the book, and the fact that that story has such a universal resonance means a lot to me. Some people resonate to the political stuff, the caste politics, the naxalism; others fix on the children’s world; some resonate to all of it. And I love that. But I always used to say, I wish I could’ve been paid back in meals or something because the thing that complicated my life very deeply — far more than the Booker prize — was the commercial success of the book. That made me have to deal with something I never anticipa– ted or sought, and being as political as I am, it was very difficult.

But didn’t it free you too?
Of course, part of the reason I can write and think the way I do is because I don’t really have to earn my keep anymore. Even my political writing has certainly been informed or emerged from that — that sense that I can be a mobile republic. But you have to be very careful about being that free because everybody isn’t, and you have to understand that. I do try and understand that I have a freedom that isn’t available to other people. I see it as a very delicate thing, because it can make you arrogant or stupid or disconnected.

If you see things politically though, you run less of a risk. I think it was very important that GOST came out in ‘97, and in ‘98, there were the nuclear tests and so that whole trajectory coincided with something dark that began here. The two together put me on a path that I didn’t entirely control. You would imagine that if you had written a book that won a big prize and earned a lot of money that you’d be in control of your life, but I’m still very ambiguous about what I’ve done. I can’t settle on it in any way.

Because the flight was so stupendous, was there any point when you lost your bearings or were pulled out of yourself?
I was lucky on several counts. I wasn’t a teenager when it happe - ned. I had been through quite a lot. So I wasn’t willing to blush when everyone was clapping. I was already skeptical and embarrassed and ambiguous about it. I never walked out and embraced it. Sometimes I wish I had —

More frothily enjoyed it —
Yes. (laughing) I was always prickly about it, always looking at it sideways and laterally. No, it devastated my life in many ways which was not nice. I am somebody who doesn’t — I don’t come from the bosom of some stable family, I didn’t have any stability. All I had were relationships I have forged myself, in many of which I was the waif, the most vulnerable person. And suddenly, I was loaded with all of this and it just changes your equation. On top of this came the fact that I never really had a choice of not coming out and saying the things I said politically because the nuclear tests happened. And as I’ve said a million times — to not say something is as political as to say something. But the moment you do that, you are in another universe, you are spinning away. I remember having a dream once — this hand coming and picking me out of the water and holding me up and saying, “You can have anything that you want, what do you want?” And me saying, “Just let me go, I don’t want to be this.” Because you are scared of everything moving around you. Every - thing. Every intimate relationship. Yet because those relation ships were forged in art and politics and so on, they are all wise people. Everybody in my life had to deal with all this, not just me. And I did manage. All my old friends are still my friends. I was shot out of a cannon but I came and landed right back here. It’s not like I wanted to live in LA.

At the same time, a whole new universe of friends and deep relationships have been formed. But it took a lot out of me. It took a lot of balancing. To be suddenly that public and that scrutinized, you have to be that hard on yourself. And the more political you are, the more difficult it is. You have to search inside yourself for your own levels of what is acceptable, not live by other people’s.

Also, there was this other interesting combination of being a writer and — what does a writer do? A writer hones his or her language, makes it as clear and private and individual as possible. And then you are looking around and talking about what’s going on with millions of people, and you are in that crowd saying things that millions of people are saying and it’s not at all individual. How do you hold those two things down? These are very fundamental questions. This is why so many writers are frightened of political engagement. They feel it is a risk, and it is a risk, and yet I would rather do it than not do it.

But sometimes it’s a big struggle. There’s always something happening, and I run the risk of becoming someone more responsible than I ought to. Before I wrote on the Parliament attack, I had literally told myself a hundred times to pull back and work on something else. But as I watched the news and the glee with which people were talking about the rope and how much it weighed, I thought, I know all this is a lie, and they’ll hang him and I’ll never be able to live with it. John Berger once said to me, something is gathering in our world, something dark, but you have to get off the tiger. I have failed to do that. It’s a very big dilemma for me. Very, very big dilemma. I know the urgent intervention is important. So is the other thing. How do you handle it? I am at a loss to know.

Speaking of loss, did you outgrow any key relationships?
No. I am a loyalist. Some of the most profound conversations I’ve had have to do with the fact that if you grow and burst out of the confines of whatever was prepar - ed for you and yet none of those things were superficial, none of those affections were superficial, how do you find a way of holding on to that and yet free yourself? To me, that’s a very fundamental thing, because it’s very easy to just walk away from everything.

But I struggled to find ways. I said, why does it have to be so conventional? Why must we be so consumerist even about our relationships? (laughs) I could’ve gone anywhere — I’m not totally unhedonistic, but I would like to look for it here, I would like to look for happiness — in whatever brief moments that it comes to anybo - dy — I would like it to be here. It’s important to recognise what are the sources of that. Even political - ly when I write, it’s very important to place yourself and to be unco - mfortable and to know that there isn’t anything that’s pristine about anybody. People who act most pristine are the most suspect.

What did GOST mean for you personally? What did you take pleasure in?
You know, when you’re writing fiction, the world is different because you, sort of, come home with sentences like other people come home with shopping. (laughs) The process of writing is the process of sharpening your thought and that’s the only thing that makes me really happy, regardless of what effect it has or what people think about it. And because writing is the same as thinking, everything in your body settles when you write. Eventually it’s about something settling inside yourself. I am a person who’s always slightly fearful of what might happen because, I think, when you have an unsafe childhood you never really settle, no matter how old you get. So for me, there are some things — like the four years when I wrote GOST — nobody can take that away from me, no matter what happens now, nobody can say those four years didn’t happen. Or that that book wasn’t written. So for a long time, I didn’t feel the need to come back home with sentences. But now again I feel that. I feel life has been lived for 10 years at some reckless, breakneck, rockstar speed, in terms of experiences and stimulus and understanding and looking at something till your eyeballs hurt and internalising that politics and living enough to write again.

Is the “lived life” important in writing fiction? Is it important to process the personal?
If we didn’t, it would be tragic. But I am not talking about gratuitous confession. The kind of writing I would respect is not about gratuitous individualisation where each person is special and we all wear baby t-shirts saying, I am special. I think if you can see the world through a person, if you can see that there isn’t anybody who is really not a product of their history and culture and who is not at the focus of so many big guns that are booming — I would respect a writer who can see that, a writer who can scale from the personal to the other stuff. Every book doesn’t have to be about everything. The point is, can you take a risk? When I wrote GOST, I didn’t think it would make sense to anybody, but whether it makes sense to 300 people or 6 million people, it was still the same book.

Did it release you from some of the demons of your childhood?
The first time my brother read it, he said, “What happened to all the monsters? Why are they missing?” So it wasn’t really about my childhood, I haven’t really written about that — maybe sometime one will. The idea wasn’t to be therapeutic. For me, it was more important to see each person has got this trajectory behind — there’s history at work, politics at work, and yet there’s tenderness and it’s totally personal.

There was such a detailed sense of place in GOST. Do you still think of it as home?
There is a very particular sense of place in the book, but it is imbued with dread. I don’t think that can ever change. Someone remarked to me that everyone in the book is somehow homeless, spewed out from somewhere else. That sort of dysfunctionality is very much part of my make-up.

Is there a very different you that’s writing the new novel?
I wonder in the new fiction what will change and what will stay. I don’t want to write GOST again (laughs). But I’m not one of those people who radically change. I function on instinct and those don’t change. I suppose the sense of loss is relocated. It’s not the village I grew up in and was terrori - sed by. That sense of dislocation has been relocated to another place. (laughs) There’s such a polarisation and hardening of things in the world around. There are other languages in my head now. It is not the English-speaking world I move in all that much anymore, even though I do think it’s necessary to engage with it and not lose that feeling of continuing to journey between these worlds.Less and less of us are doing that. But I’m uncomfortable talking about the new book in any specific way.

Last question. About sense of place: is it people who keep you here, or for all your being a “mobile republic”, does something really connect you to India?
By most standards, I probably qualify for being anti-national. I don’t have a nationalistic bone in my body. It’s just not my instinct. Yet it’s incon ceivableIt’s not like one is looking for a new life in a supermarket. for me to not be here, because it’s everything that I love. And it’s not to do with flags or constitutions or any of that. But if I go away for one week and I come back and see some ZEE TV in the immigration lounge and the mouldering ceiling, I just feel so happy. It’s just so many things —even the quality of light, the rag g e dness of things around, the environment, the food, the colour, ever ything — it’s not even external. I’m just a full desi — full-time desi in that way. I just feel, where else can you be? Where else can you interpret the darkness and all its layers? There’s all the coded jokes and the whole sense of history... It’s not like one is looking for a new life in a supermarket.

Dr. Binayak Sen

Tehelka has a shocking story on the imprisonment of Dr. Binayak Sen. By all accounts he seems to be innocent and a Gandhian who gave up privileges to go help the very poor in the tribal areas.

The untenable imprisonment and victimisation of Dr Binayak Sen, a heroic humanitarian from Chhattisgarh, exposes Indian democracy as increasingly hollow, says SHOMA CHAUDHURY. Photographs by SHAILENDRA PANDEY

FAR AWAY from the glittering salons of Bombay and Delhi, away from its obsessions with booming malls and plummeting stocks, a good man waits in jail. He’s

Doctor Love: Binayak talks urgently of famine and inclusive growth through iron bars
been in for nine months. But it is unlikely that the story of Dr Binayak Sen would have caught your attention. He’s been written about in bits. Some channels have covered him. But even though he is a mesmeric character — intense, articulate, idealistic, a man of privilege who seeks nothing for himself — and his imprisonment is a scandal that should shame any civilised society, for the most part, news of him here has been overwhelmed by hotter media preoccupations. Lead India competitions. And polls on who should be awarded Indian of the Year. Shah Rukh, Manmohan, or Vijay Mallya? Men like Dr Binayak can wait their turn in jail.

The story of Binayak Sen is the story of the dangerously thin ice India’s democratic rights skim on. The story of every dangerous schism in India today: State versus people. Urban versus rural. Unbridled development versus human need. Blind law versus natural justice. It is the story of an India unraveling at the seams. The story of unjust things that happen — unreported — to thousands of innocent people, the story of unjust things waiting to happen to you and me, if we ever step off the rails of shining India to investigate what’s happening in the rest of the country. Most of all, it is the story of what can be done to ordinary individuals when the State dons the garb of being under siege.

But, first the facts of the story.

Absences: Binayak's wife, Ilina, daughter, Prantik, and mother-in-law at home, in Raipur
A paediatric doctor by profession — a gold medallist, in fact, from the prestigious Christian Medical College (CMC) in Vellore — Binayak Sen, 56, has worked for more than 30 years with the tribal poor in Chhattisgarh, battling malnutrition, tuberculosis, and the lethal falciparum malaria strain rampant in the area. As a young man — star pupil with the world at his feet — he had turned his back on the many rich career options before him to take a job at a rural medical centre in Hoshangabad run by Quakers, where he was greatly influenced by Marjorie Sykes, Gandhi’s biographer. Ideas of public health, sustainable development and a just society obsessed him. Walking the slums of Vellore as a graduate, he had understood very early that there is a crucial link between livelihood, living conditions and health. Bolstering this with a degree in social medicine from JNU, Delhi, he moved from Hoshangabad to Chhattisgarh in 1981, to work with Shankar Guha Niyogi, the legendary mine workers’ unionist. Here, famously, he helped set up the Shaheed Hospital at Dallirajhara, built from the workers’ own mo - ney. Later, he moved away to the Mission Hospital in Tilda, and then, in 1990, joined his wife, Ilina Sen in Raipur, to set up Rupantar, an NGO through which the couple have worked for the last 18 years in training village health workers and running mobile clinics in remote outposts.

Drive 150 kilometres away from Raipur into the unforgiving dustiness of the forest around Bagrumala and Sahelberia in district Dhamtari, where Binayak ran his Tuesday clinic, and the heroic dimension of his work overwhelms you. There is nothing that could have brought a retired colonel’s elite, accomplished son here but extraordinary compassion. Scratchy little hamlets, some no more than 25-houses strong. Peopled by Kamars and other tribals, the most neglected of the Indian human chain, destituted further by the Gangrail dam on the Mahanadi river. No schools. No drinking water. No electricity. No access to public health. And increasingly, no access to traditional forest resources. Here, stories of Binayak Sen proliferate. How he saved young Lagni lying bleeding after a miscarriage, how he rescued the villagers of Piprahi Bharhi jailed en masse for encroaching on the forest, how he helped Jaheli Bai and Dev Singh, how he helped create grain banks. “Do something. Save the doctor,” says an old man in Kamar basti. “We have no one to go to now.”

OVER THE YEARS, Binayak’s medical work had morphed into social advocacy — the two umbilically linked in a state like Chhattisgarh. As Dr Suranjan Bhattacharji, director, CMC Vellore, says, “Binayak walked the talk. He was an inspiration for generations of doctors. He stirred us. He reminded us that it takes many things — access, freedom, food security, shelter, equity and justice — to make a healthy society. He was the alternative model.” In 2004, CMC honoured Binayak with its prestigious Paul Harrison Award. In a moving citation, it said, “Dr Binayak Sen has carried his dedication to truth and service to the very frontline of the battle. He has broken the mould, redefined the possible role of the doctor in a broken and unjust society, holding the cause much more precious than personal safety. CMC is proud to be associated with Binayak Sen.”

Yet, barely three years later, on May 14, 2007, in a Kafkaesque twist, the State pressed a button and deleted Binayak Sen’s long and dedicated history as a humanist and doctor. The police arrested him as a dreaded Naxal leader and charged him with sedition, criminal conspiracy, making war against the nation, and knowingly using the proceeds of terrorism (sic). Imagine the bewilderment. “Just a namesake doctor” the prosecution asserted, and with that act of wilful cynicism, a life of soaring vision and service was extinguished. Reduced to the rubble of the Indian justice system.Since Binayak was arrested, three courts have denied him bail, most damagingly, the Supreme Court on December 10, 2007 — International Human Rights Day: an ironic detail. In this august court, Gopal Subramaniam, Additional Solicitor General of India and counsel for the Chhattisgarh government, argued that the Indian State was investigating terrorism in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra and Binayak Sen was not only a part of this network of terrorism, but a key figure in the web. Granting him bail would jeopardise the health of the nation. The evidence available to back this claim would make dishonest men blanch, and honest men weep.

Sometimes the true measure of people is revealed in the small, random remarks of those who know them. When the Supreme Court denied him bail, an old man told an activist at a rally for Binayak, “If the courts are not going to free our doctor, should we storm the jail?” Then he continued ruefully to himself, “But what’s the use? All the other prisoners would run away, but Dr Binayak would stay back.”

DESPITE THIS formidable reputation, nothing has succeeded in bailing out Binayak Sen. Not affidavits by doctors from AIIMS and CMC who, inspired by Binayak, left cash-rich urban jobs to start the rural Jan Swasth Sahyog medical centre in Ganyari. Not 2000 signatures of doctors across the world. Not Binayak’s years in the Medico Friends circle. Not his stints as a member of the government’s own advisory committee on public health, not his pioneering work in creating the Mitanin health workers programme. Not even the fact that he voluntarily ret urned from Kolkata, where he was visiting his mother, to Raipur to confront the police about what he thought was a “simple misunderstanding”. In a crushing irony, on 31 December 2007, seven months after he was arrested, the Indian Academy of Social Sciences conferred the R.R. Keithan Gold Medal on Binayak. Its citation said, “The Academy recognises the resonance between the work of Dr Binayak Sen in all its aspects with the values promoted by Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation.”

Reasonable, one supposes, to incarcerate such a man in jail. As Vishwa Ranjan, the Director General of Police, Chhattisgarh, says, “So what? One can be a humanist and idealist and still be a Maoist.” You could safely take his to be the wise voice of the State.

The most pressing question then, why was Binayak Sen arrested? What catalysed the catastrophic switch of identities that has overtaken his life? The surface details first.


Going by available evidence, the three main actors in the police’s case against Dr Binayak Sen have very little in common, except ordinary human transactions. However, an atmosphere of dread has been built around them by booking them under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and Chhattisgarh Special Security Act


With a track record of 30 years of social advocacy and medical service behind him, Binayak Sen stuck by his sense of duty and intervened to get legal and medical aid for Narayan Sanyal, an old Naxal ideologue in Raipur jail, even though he knew it was like entering the “lion’s mouth.” He was arrested for this on May 14, 2007. He is still in jail

Naxal ideologue

Arrested in Andhra Pradesh in 2006, Narayan Sanyal was let off on bail. He was then arrested by the Chhattisgarh police on a murder charge. Sanyal’s brother asked Binayak to help him get attention for a painful condition in his hand. Though every visit was officially sanctioned, the police now allege Sen was acting as an illegal courier


Piyush Guha is a tendu patta businessman from Kolkata. Known to Sanyal’s elder brother, he was carrying Rs 49,000 as fees to be delivered to Binayak and handed to the lawyer. The police produced him on May 6, 2007 with 3 letters on him, allegedly from Sanyal. Guha says he was picked up on 1 May. The police claim him as their main evidence

Two years ago, in January 2006, Narayan Sanyal, 67, an elderly Maoist ideologue was arrested in Bhadrachalam, Andhra Pradesh. He was suffering from an extremely painful medical condition in his hand called Palmer’s Contracture. The jail officials at Warangal had sanctioned treatment when Sanyal was let out on bail. He was immediately arrested by the Chhattisgarh police on a murder charge in Dantewada and taken to Raipur jail. In May 2006, Sanyal’s elder brother, Radhamadhab, who lived in Kol - kata, wrote a letter to Binayak Sen, as the general secretary of PUCL (People’s Union for Civil Liberties), copied to other human rights organisations, asking for help in getting Sanyal a lawyer, as well as medical attention. As one of the most eminent human rights activists in the region, Binayak intervened. He got Bhishma Kinger, a lawyer who lived in the flat opposite his, to take up Sanyal’s case, and also began corresponding with jail officials to facilitate Sanyal’s surgery. Radhamadhab, old and himself ailing, came less and less from Kolkata, happy to have Binayak substitute in his affairs. Routine burdens of conscience, as any human rights activist will tell you.

On May 6, 2007, the Raipur police suddenly arrested Piyush Guha, a small Kolkata-based tendu patta businessman and an acquaintance of Radhamadhab, who was carrying Rs 49,000 to deliver to Binayak as fees for Kin ger. They also claim they found three unsigned letters on him addressed to a ‘Mr P’, a ‘Friend V’, and ‘Friend’, innocuously complaining about jail conditions, age, the onset of arthritis. These letters, which the police believe are from Sanyal, also contain amorphous advice to P, V, and Friend to expand work among the peasantry and urban centres, congratulations on a successful “Ninth Congress”, and sundry other things. The police claim that Guha confessed that these ludicrously explosive letters of uncertain origin had been given to him by Binayak, acting as an illegal courier from the jailed detainee. As soon as Guha was produced before a magistrate, however, he said he had actually been arrested on May 1, and illegally detained and tortured for five days before being forced to sign a blank statement. The police further claim — in what seems a preposterous leap of imagination — that the Rs 49,000 was “a proceed of terrorism,” despite the fact that, even nine months later, they have not been able to unearth any terrorist act whatsoever from which that money proceeded.

On this flimsy evidence, the police declared Binayak, who was in Kolkata, an absconding Naxal leader. The local media faithfully carried the story. Hearing of this and completely appalled, Binayak — certain of his own integrity, certain of his impeccable track record, and believing in the constitutional framework of the Indian State — returned to Bilaspur to sort out the misunderstanding, contrary to advice by well-wishers to stay away and take anticipatory bail. In Bilaspur, the police asked him to “just stop by” at Tarbahar police station for a statement. He did so, and was promptly arrested on May 14, 2007, under two of the most draconian laws in the country: the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Chhattisgarh Special Security Act: aggravated mirror images of the dreaded TADA and POTA.Under these outrageous laws, merely to think something can land you in jail. As Kinger says, “I knew the judges would deny bail. If you are booked under these laws, you are done for. They are designed to create prejudice and a particular mindset in the judges.”

One of the prosecution’s weightiest accusations against Binayak is that he met Sanyal – a known Naxal ideologue — in jail 33 times. Set aside for a moment the many valid reasons why he might have done so: Sanyal’s medical condition, the surgery, the intricacies of his case. Suppose even for a moment that Binayak was indeed a passive Naxal sympathiser, the moot point here is that each of those meetings were legally sanctioned and conducted under supervision. Is that fair reason to steal a man’s freedom? The prosecution claims Binayak masqueraded as Sanyal’s relative, but his wife, Ilina invoked the RTI Act and extracted all the letters Binayak had written to the jail authorities seeking permission to meet Sanyal: all of them were on official PUCL letterheads, duly signed by Binayak as its general secretary.

SINCE BINAYAK was arrested, the police has continually gone fishing and, post facto, pulled out the most absurd evidence against him, building the case up desperately, bubble by bubble, on the most laughable of things: a confessional love letter between supposed Maoists in which Binayak’s name appears as a possible source of moral advice; a scrap of paper in Gondi allegedly recovered from an encounter site, which no one can decipher but in which the words PUCL and the Chhattisgarh Special Security Act features; a letter by Naxal leader Madan Barkade to Binayak complaining about jail conditions which he published among the human rights community. Innocuous, explainable things. Nothing there to the common eye that suggests Binayak is a grave threat to national security who must be denied bail pending trial.

What then explains the State’s inordinate zeal to put away Binayak? What explains its intractable need to erase his gentle, morally unim-peachable, identity and erect a dread criminal in its place? Why is it literally manufacturing evidence against the good doctor? For instance, DGP Vishwa Ranjan claims Piyush Guha is their main evidence against Binayak. Yet, in a seemingly desperate attempt to make Guha look more incriminating than he does, weeks after he was arrested, the police suddenly took him to Purulia on June 4, 2007, and made him an accused in an old bomb blast case in Thana Bundwan — a case in which his name was not even mentioned in the original FIR, filed a full year and a half earlier in October 2005! Why this inordinate zeal to paint Binayak black?

TO UNDERSTAND the full horror of Binayak Sen’s case — to get a grip on its significance for the sanity of this country at large — one needs to take a close look at

In Faith: Binayak's mother-in-law and daughter seek contact as he waits in the police van
the state of Chhattisgarh. The story of Binayak is just the most high-profile example of hundreds of unnamed individuals like him, caught in the cross-hair of a State at war with its own people. Like theirs, his story is the story of suspended reason, suspended logic and suspended freedom that is the inevitable outcome of a State that paralyses itself with the scare of “national security.” In many ways, Chhattisgarh is now seen as the epicenter of a Maoist insurgency that cuts across 13 states. In Chhattisgarh, by the government’s own admission, most of Bastar and Dantewada are out of its jurisdiction. This is undoubtedly a difficult situation. Each year, hundreds of policemen, hapless tribals, and symbols of the state — bridges, jails, telegraph poles — are blown up by extremists. By Home Ministry estimates, there were 311 casualties in Chhattisgarh in 2007; 571 nationwide. Sympathisers will tell you Maoists have local support — how much of this is voluntary, how much coercion, one can never accurately tell: the only way you can report on the Maoists is if they take you into the jungles to their camps. What you get then is obviously selective information. Typically though, all the regions under Maoist influence are regions where the government has been culpably remiss. Either schools, primary health care, roads, electricity, livelihood — all the benign functions of State — are completely missing. Or, the government is on a rampage of development and industrialisation, which is at odds with local aspirations and needs.

With predictable myopia, the Indian State has been meeting grievance with violence, illness with extermination. Not cure. Draconian laws. CRPF battalions. IRP battalions. Increased militarisation. Thousands of crores for upgrading police. Special funds for Naxal-affected States. An invitation to competitive violence: that has been the government’s response to grassroots militancy. In Chhattisgarh, this manifested itself particularly harmfully in 2005 as the government-sponsored counter-revolution: the now infamous Salwa Judum, which pitted villager against villager and triggered a bloody civil war. 644 villages have been forcibly evacuated by the government, their residents forced into sub-human camps. Smoke out the support, is the State’s war cry. Civil rights activists tell you, the State’s real quarry is not even the Maoists, but the iron-rich soil, ready to be handed to private corporations, Nandigramstyle. There are rumours that the makeshift camps are now going to be turned into official revenue villages, which will force tribals to abdicate all the original evacuated land to the government. All of that is speculation still; but the excesses of the Salwa Judum are real.

Magi's gift: Binayak's rudimentary Tuesday clinic at Bagrumala
It is against this backdrop that Binayak Sen caught the self-serving eye of the State. Narayan Sanyal is perhaps the least controversial case he had espoused. Santoshpur fake encounter. Gollapalli fake encounter. Narayan Kherwa false encounter. Raipur false surrender. Ram Kumar Dhruv’s custodial death. Ambikapur. Lakrakona. Bandethana. Koilibera. Each of these hieroglyphs has a searing back story: some excess of State that Binayak and other human rights activists investigated and criticised. Most damningly, in December 2005, Binayak led a 15-member team from different organisations and published a scathing report on the Salwa Judum. It was the first of many reports that would expose and embarrass the government.

It’s this back story that made Binayak so unpalatable to the government. Consciously or subconsciously, it wanted to make a lesson of him. Perhaps even that is to accord more coherence to the State than it deserves. The real story of Binayak is the myopia of an unintelligent, scare-mongering State. Having declared Maoists as the “gravest threat to national security”, the Indian government has got itself into a George Bush like-twist. It sees weapons of mass destruction where there are none. Men like Binayak Sen start to look like Osama Bin Laden. Such are the perception tricks the “national security” prism can play on you.

In a mellow moment, DGP Vishwa Ranjan will admit there has been a miscarriage of justice. “Left to myself, I would have kept Binayak under surveillance, not arrested him,” he says. A big admission. In the same breath though, he will tell you conspiratorially that they have a mountain of evidence gathering against him. Evidence they can neither show you, nor yet present in court. Binayak Sen however can moulder in jail, while they construct their paranoid jigsaw.

ON FEBRUARY 2, 2008, a windy, brisk morning in Raipur, Binayak Sen is produced in the sessions court, nine months after his arrest, for the framing of charges. A surreal mood descends. The jostling cops contrast badly with the dignified calm of the frail handsome man who climbs down from the police van. A cold, firm handshake, a clear, refined voice, “Thank you for being here.” Then everyone is in the court room. Judge Saluja mumbles out the charges, distinctly uncomfortable. He can drop some of the inflated accusations, but he doesn’t. Binayak, listening in the witness box, denies all the charges, then asks for some time with his wife and lawyers. The judge concedes.

There is a palpable fear in the air. Several doctors who’ve come in solidarity are afraid to talk. There have been a series of arrests across Raipur the previous day: two women making an arms drop, a travel agency owner, a journalist. Everyone’s feeling hunted. It’s difficult to tell truth from lie. The framed from the genuine.

Binayak Sen, however, seems curiously aloof from all of this. As the police hustle him into the van, he presses his face against the iron bars and says urgently, “You must understand, there is a Malthusian process of exclusion going on in the country. You cannot create two categories of human beings. Everybody must wake up to this, otherwise soon it will be too late.” The concerns of the humanist are apparent even through the imprisoning bar. “If they arrest people like me, human rights workers will have no locus standi. I have never condoned Maoist violence. It is an invalid and unsustainable movement. Along with the Salwa Judum, it has created a dangerous split in the tribal community. But the grievances are real. There is an on-going famine in the region. The body mass is below 18.5. Forty percent of the country lives with malnutrition. In Scheduled Castes and Tribes, this goes up to 50 and 60 percent respectively. We have to strive for more inclusive growth. You cannot create two categories of people…”

Hardly conversation designed to dismantle the Indian nation. Ask him why he lent his services to Narayan Sanyal, a self-confessed Naxal, and Binayak’s answer captures the essential sanctity of civil rights across the world. “I knew I was entering the lion’s mouth,” he says quietly, “but if you start stepping back, where do you stop? You cannot discriminate. Everybody has the right to legal aid and medical care. That is written in the Constitution. That is the basis of individual, human rights.”

One of DGP Vishwa Ranjan’s grouses is, “Why does he criticise the Salwa Judum more than the Maoists?” Binayak’s answer would be that the Indian State has a greater responsibility to abide by the Constitution and due process of law than Maoists who’ve abdicated from the State. But that’s a moral nicety official India obviously finds difficult to grasp.

Ask Ilina Sen where she finds the strength to fight this battle, and she says, “I realise this goes beyond Binayak and my family. We are part of a much larger fight. We are struggling for the right to dissent peacefully. Our commitment to that gives me strength.” Again, a moral nicety official India would find difficult to grasp. Take Medha Patkar: 20 years of peaceful resistance. No result. Take Sharmila Irom: 7 years of heroic fasting. No result. Take Binayak Sen…

Binayak Sen will soon be on trial. To continue his imprisonment during this period is to foreclose the space for peaceful protest in India. It is to nurture weapons of mass destruction. It is to invite violent conversations. It is to further rent a tattered Gandhian dream.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Egyptian Dendur Temple Art

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Egyptian Column

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Dendur Lion

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Part 3

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Feminist Art 2

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the biggest building in qns

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the center

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Purple and Green

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Leela Lounge

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shadows 2

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What we are about

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our body is our home

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