Friday, 6 November 2009

A Shard From Past

I crossed Narmada, two hours out of Bhopal. The train sped over a metal bridge, while all over the sky was a deepest crimson deepening to ink on the zenith. Boulder strewn Narmada lay under - wide, rippling, quenched in deepest colors of the dusk air.

I remember another crossing - in the early red hours of a dawn. A crossing, silent and cold, in a tiny boat - a crossing that tingled with fear. It was more than ten years ago and I was crossing Narmada at the Sardar Sarovar Project - the mega dam that has damned the river, its people, the land, forest - damned the whole notion of development - forever - in the eyes of us few. As expected, I was picked up by the police, on my solitary crossing, suspected to be a NBA jasoos (spy), and later released under strictest supervision making sure I left the state.

Yet, memories of that visit for me are colored with hope of an awakening, of witnessing the miracle of human spirit. I remember the valley, the meetings with people, the magnitude and the charged emotions of the protests, the impromptu, spontaneous, massive gatherings preceding the news of our arrival, the strong support and solidarity within the movement, the resolute, loud voices of those "who would not surrender" - their lands, forests, lives to the virtual Gods of those in the cities, the Blind Greed Gods that ruled from far, their fates to squeeze out that last ounce, last breath, the last tiny bit they needed to live on.

Today, twenty five years later, the demands of those ousted by Narmada dams remain the same - rehabilitation, resettlement, a chance to eke out a living. It was, and continues to be to this day, a fight by the victims to access their basic human right - the right to life and livelihood, right to some meager compensation for their large displacement. Government continues to repress those that dare raise a voice, even a voice for their own survival, with illegal physical brutality, and imprisonment - this despite high court ruling on the issue of compensation and resettlement. Yet, our State has become larger than our courts - it can flagrantly disregard justice, even small justice wrenched out decades later.

The Question to now ask of ourselves is " WHY AND HOW LONG SHOULD WE SLEEP ?"

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Floods in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh

" The waters rose by a foot every five minutes and reached the third storey of buildings!" That is what the man said. And he also said " In last twenty years, the forests have disappeared, and with it the root systems that act as sponges to trap the water and pull it in" - and so the story goes, on and on, the history repeating itself consistently and more frequently with passing time

Losses, in terms of human lives, have been staggering, displacements - colossal, loss of livelihood, habitats, environment - enormous and mostly irreversible. None of this is unusual for India. Nor is the massive show of solidarity, support and the outpourings of sympathy for victims of natural disasters, such as this one, from people across nation.

The question to ask is, what would we do, as a nation, people, to ensure that such large scale disasters do not continue to be a part of our future? What would we go without, what aspects of our priorities would we change, to not have this happen, again and again? Will we not fell down our forests? not dam our rivers? not level our mountains or empty our mangroves? What would we not do - to avoid this fate on ourselves, and our fellow country people??

The most honest answer, it seems to me, is 'nothing' - we would not fore go any of our destructive practices, neither because these practices are wrong, nor because they pose a very real physical threat contributing directly to potential disasters, by removing safety valves that are naturally built into natural systems. By acts of deliberate human interference, we are in fact inducing man made calamities to befall us - naturally. And we do this, to be more developed, more progressed, more consuming...we sacrifice our land, water, forests, mountains, air, to have more - roads, malls, super deluxe colonies; more wealth, more cars, more possessions, more power, more comfort. We are becoming a nation of immoderate consumers ready to sacrifice a lot at the alter of Lakshmi. And then when the nature reacts, rebels, floods, fires, cracks its belly, we cry, shout, shame on nature - and then continue - as before.

And He Stands No Chance...

My friend sat beside me - we were finally speeding on a lonely highway taking us well outside the city limits. I hold my friend in respect, in very good regard, and admire him for certain qualities that he would never suspect. Anyway, as usual, the topic turned to children, parental expectations, children's dreams. Then my friend turned to me with a smile, and very sad eyes, and said " My son is a failure" - I could'nt believe I heard him right - and I still have not recovered from the impact of his words. How can one's child be a failure? What does that mean? What does it mean to say any human being is a failure? Two responses are immediately possible to counter this viewpoint. One, the presumption of defining success and failure can be questioned. Secondly, if one is sure of this, then, isn't it the parents who have failed??and the society? How can a child of fifteen or sixteen already be a failure. Moreover, does the child stand a chance? Doesn't a harsh parental judgment, brand him - for life? Who will tell the child " Dream, my son. Dream, and thou shalt fulfill"

A Quarter Century Later

Twenty Five years ago, the world changed for people of Bhopal. Million, trillion, gazillion words, memories, tears later, Bhopal is still attempting to recover from the worst chemical disaster recorded in human history.

I have evaded Bhopal till now - avoided reading more than the inescapable, feeling more than absolutely necessary, and reacting - not at all. Bhopal has been an unbearable reality that I preferred not to wake up to - for all these long twenty five years.

Next week I go to Bhopal - I go with my heart in a cracked crucible, my mind preparing excuses, my feet running fast and away - far away from Bhopal. Yet, I go to Bhopal, because I must - I need to confront Bhopal, bear the pain it will inflict, grow and forever be changed - I need to put myself through the fire that is Bhopal, burn in it, metamorphose to one that will no longer be a mute witness to other Bhopals that are being planned, dragged to alters of development and progress, blindfolded, lips taped, limbs tied; I will no longer avoid gaze, even in photographs, of children blind, deformed, born after the disaster; I will finally wipe clean the guilty haze that clouded my vision, free myself of personal shame that stopped me from ringing out a clear call to wake everyone " We will not let this happen again!"

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Two Ways

If I were given two ways to effect change - social transformation, revolution, then this is what I would do...

When I was a little girl, I would often be awakened in the dark early hours by sounds of singing, chanting. This used to be a norm in those days...groups of people went around in 'mandalis' singing devotional songs, spiritual songs, songs to awaken not just the body, but also the heart. I remember lying awake to these songs, sometimes drifting back to sleep, but sometimes running to the balcony to watch the group of singers pass by. Mom would be up - invariable, getting started on her day's activities of running a household with four children. I have through the years often thought about these wakings - these arrivals of dawns with songs, and I have missed the singers. I have also thought, I could go around, in early dark hours, waking the world with songs, strumming of tamboora, the gentle rhythms of manjeera. These days of discovering Kabir, going around singing Kabir has renewed this desire. It occurs to me that if one were awakened to Kabir's songs of seeking - for truth, for meaning, for revolt against petty meaness in society, of divisive hatred, of love - boundless, all encompassing love, then many of the social ills would be erased - forever. Then lessons in equity, equality, need to be taught in classrooms (which they are not anyway) but would be imbibed deep inside, transformative lessons of recognising truth.

Many years later, I came across another revolutionary idea. A bunch of scientists used to go around, talking science to audiences of students from schools and colleges - basic science, the step wise rational process of science, the discoveries and stories of science. I was introduced to this concept by Sharath, an ex-collegue of mine. I still remember his message " If a society functioned on basis of a collective with individuals capable of posing questions and seeking their own answers, then many of the current social ills would automatically disappear." Also, " the scale of science from micro- to macro-, biology to astronomy, puts a particular human life in perspective - then caste, wars, hatred etc. becomes meaningless..." I remembered then, as now, how I enjoyed ending my lessons on stellar evolution with words " we are all star-dust" - a fitting perspective required to wipe out difference of relegion, sex, caste, race... None of these need to be preached overtly - it is enough to say " we are all truly just stardust" or study the processes that govern origin and evolution of life on Earth, and the wonder at it.

Given that there are many things I don't do, these are definitely two things that I think would be worth doing to "time-pass".

Tuesday, 22 September 2009


किनकी चीखे बरसी गरजते काले बादलो के साथ?
किसके आंसू समाये उचलती सागर की लहरों में?
कितने स्वप्न बिखरे सूखे सुनसान रेतो के सेहर?

ये जो मरे, मारे , बरबाद हुए,
उजाले की खोज में
घायल हुए आशा की चट्टानों पर
उजड़ गए आज़ादी की उम्मीदों पे

उनको बरबाद किया
इन आजाद देश के दलालों ने
तोला सोने के सिक्के से
बेचा लहू और भूखे इन्सानों से

यह नही पहचाना कि-
हम भी मरेंगे - मार उजाड़ कर
कुछ महेल, कुछ सिक्को कमा कर
अहंकार कि चोटी पर - हम भी मरेंगे!
धूल हो जायेंगे!
और नही छोडेंगे,
कोई गीत, कोए स्वप्न,
कोई उजाले कि परख-
कोई रंग, कोई सुर कि तलाश
सीर्फ खरीददार की समज,
और सोने की चमक,
बस, ...सीर्फ यह!!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Meeting Veerappa Moily - Our Minister for Law and Justice

For those of you that know me personally, also know this - I am an impatient person - too impatient to act, rather than a more prudent approach of think, consider, digest, before re-coursing to action. So after the usual ranting on the unfairness, unsoundness, the down right unacceptability, objectionability, crass unfair and meanness of the proposed Nuclear Liability Bill, I decided to do something about this...I contacted Nityananda Jayaram the author of the Tehelka story that first alerted me to this issue. And...based on his advice, yesterday I called up our Law and Justice Minister, Mr. Veerappa , Moily, and wonder of wonder, I was given an appointment...ok, I did cheat a bit, I did refer to myself with a "Dr." prefix, that I usually do not acknowledge, and also said "I am calling from IISc...", which is also true - I live here!

Today, I went at the appointed hour with my husband, who happens to be a bonafide IISc Professor, to meet the Minister. We were shown into an unassuming office with racks of interesting books. I was curious and looking through the bookcase when VM walked in. Since he was leaving back for Delhi in less than one hour, we got immediately to the point. We told him that we wanted to see him as concerned citizens deeply troubled with what we had read in the media.We had two points to make:1. The Nuclear Liability Cap Bill was the only legal gauruntee for future victims, in case of a nuclear disaster - and so had to be commensurate with the level of likely damages and 2. The nuclear industry in the US was responsible for $10 billion towards damages in case of a disaster event in their country and with our far higher population density, the extent of damage was certainly going to be far greater - another sentence on how another Bhopal could not be allowed to happen etc.

Through all of this, VM gave us his undivided, focused, quiet attention, accepted the literature that Atul (my husband) had accumulated from the internet, read the underlined portions, and agreed to look into the matter. He also graciously offered us tea/coffee, that we declined. We left, satisfied that we had been heard, our concerns aired to a receptive, intelligent human being, who seemed to have taken us seriously.

We planted a seed today and left.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Three Pillars of Human Evolution

Today I declared to a friend " Greed and apathy are the two dominating influences that govern social evolution". Here I am restricting myself to the western or the closely imitating urban upper Indian class that is self-centered, financially focused, accumulation greedy, and apathetically lethargic to interests that do not promote their personal goals. After some thought, I decided to add a third criteria that governs widespread individual choices, and that is Fear. So, the three solid pillars on which our current class evolution rests are Fear, Greed, and Apathy - probably in that order of importance. Now, allow me to elaborate.

Our instinct for survival has translated into an understandable fear - a fear to safeguard life. However the scope of this primal response has widely broadened beyond expected boundaries to include not just life, but also to preserve a quality of life, lifestyle, exploitative class privileges, a position in the socio-economic pyramid, which with the global parameters and uncertain market trends seems to require a constant climbing, striving, working upwards, to maintain position on a slippery downward slope. So, to some extent, this insecurity we carry as a class merges into smudged boundaries of financial/capital worth that we aspire towards which are sufficient not only to preserve life, but to promote security, improve quality of life. Unsurprisingly, this insecurity towards wealth anti-correlates, strongly, with the amount of wealth one is sitting on i.e. the wealthy are more greedy for immoderate wealth than the needy.

This automatically leads me to the next criteria dictating my class' evolution - Greed. The cliched, but still a profound Gandhian observation " Earth has enough for everyone's need, but not everyone's greed" still rings true with succinct clarity, but truth and clarity are not pursuits easily accommodated in today's world. Probably, it is the speed with which we live, that doesn't grant us that vital pause to ask, is this right, true and clear? Or, maybe we know that our daily pursuits are so meaningless that we dare not pause to acknowledge them so.

And, what do we run after, or, what do we seek? Even a most obsessive money monger would refuse to acknowledge greed - it is considered in ill taste to say, "I only want money" ,or "it is the only pursuit worth pursuing" - or wait, I should not be too hasty -what do we pursue money for - and is that our only form of greed? Maybe a deeper reason behind this outward pursuit of greed, is an inner vaccum of happiness, joy, a life well led. Combined with the crazy consumerist notion that one can buy happiness, everyone pursues the currency God that can directly be cashed in for happiness - of a fancy home, a designer dress, a luxury holiday, a spa package! And, it is not enough just to experience these happiness products that money buys, since - beyond a certain amount needed to promote health, security - happiness is really a state of mind, not a bought item. Further, one has to advertise what a lot of happiness one has been able to buy with what a lot of money. Thus, a crazy race for buying happiness dictates this generations obsessive addiction to wealth accumulation or Greed.

Finally, Apathy, the one curse of our identity identification, individual development, a defining of personal wants/goals isolated from a broader scope of overall social well being. An apathy for the 'other' outside of yourself to not count, not be taken into consideration; an apathy, driven by a need to be comfortable in non action, driven by a feeling that the less one does, the happier one is, allocating task of personal management and personal well fare to the needier lot, on lesser pay and more work, than would accept oneself. Why are we so apathetic? Why is there so much lethargy that we close our eyes to misery, shut our ears to pain, are asleep to what is done around us, behind our backs, openly, brazenly in front of us - we watch it in comfortable stupor on television channels, extreme cruelty played out in extreme crudity, in front of our eyes, till we yawn, stretch, and declare, "its time for bed!"

All this that I think, and all this that I say, I say recognizing me in my society, and that society in me - a wretchedness of identification with a class that I belong to, or was once long ago, in my near past, a part of - a sleeping class, that still sleeps, but I am slowly, deliberately starting to wake up!

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Last Weekend...

People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and Alternate Law Forum (ALF), Bangalore, co-hosted a very special event.

Harsh Mander's 'Fear and Forgiveness' was released in Bangalore on 5 Sept., Saturday. The event had a number of speakers, besides the author, reporting on the chilling and insidious incursions that hindutva type organizations are making into Karnataka, especially in the coastal belt. Recent times have seen a rapid rise in communalism arising from the divisive politics of hatred that these groups practice to fracture and breakup secular communities. To many, it seemed that the communal climate that is evolving here, terrifyingly mirrors the situation in Gujarat, pre-2002 genocide.

There are many things I carried away from the event. First, the book - now I am no longer looking for an excuse to not read it.

Secondly, the still ringing dire warning by Harsh Mander, that maybe, situations like Gujarat will not repeat, but only because the climate of fear that the BJP state aided Sanghas are carrying out have succeeded in the minority communities accepting a second class citizenry status subsuming their constitutional rights guaranteed within the democratic framework of this nation.

Third, the many stories of hope that Harsh Mander was able to share with us - go buy yourself the book! One thing that struck me is his deep conviction, which I am not able to have faith in, that for every tragedy there were three stories to afford hope, lighten the dark, restore faith...what I could identify with was his experience that the ones who stretched out a helping hand were least often from the upper class (that has replaced our old upper caste tier), often people of the majority faith who found no conflict in their own religious beliefs and the ability to live with the faith of others - these were not acts of bravery but acts of standing up for who they were, even in crisis.

Lastly, was the concept of Nyayagraha, or, inviting justice. Harsh Mander explained it this way - Gandhi's Satyagraha invited truth by breaking immoral laws or constitutional wrongs. Following a code of ethics and non-violence the Satyagrahis forced the justice system to re-examine the righteousness of certain act or law. Within the current scenario of a fair constitution and a viable legal system, the issue at hand is, for the citizens to force the government's machinery to follow the letter of the law, while maintaining a highest ethical code of conduct themselves. The idea is beautiful, its effectiveness really viable, but if, and only if, we all, in the largest numbers, join this battle, take responsibility of our non-functioning, unfair, corrupt, abusive, frequently autocratic, sometimes totalitarian nexus of our political, administrative, judicial service,served by our law enforcers, the security and police force, and enforce accountability, enforce their just and constitutional operation --and we really have no option but to do just this.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Giant Extinctions and Elusive Ghosts

We heard about it a few nights back - over a really nice dinner. Our friend reported that it took an Australian journalist to write about it in a UK magazine to bring us news in our very own backyard.

As a developing country with a closet full of issues, including poverty, hunger, illiteracy, disease, communalism, corruption, pollution, environmental destruction, species extinction - that we do not deal with - there are some matters that we urgently, immediately, commit to, without due thought, process, or public involvement. The latest appears to be a clearance given to search for highly elusive elementary particle, the neutrino, and to do this right within our highly sensitive, greatly diminished and fragile ecosystems in the Nilgiris. India-based Neutrino Observatory(INO)will involve a 100,000 tonne neutrino detector covering over 2 kilometers of tunnels right through vital elephant corridors in the Nilgiris. Usually, these extremely elusive particles "are searched by detectors in huge ice-caves in the polar regions or at the bottom of the deep sea.". We, however, with our moronic national wisdom, have thought it fit to not only join the hunt, but also hunt in our own tiny, eco-senstive, and rich, bio-diverse backyard with certain, and irreversible losses to forests, habitats, species.

Will the committee that saw it fit to accept this proposal please stand up, and take a bow? Will the scientists that proposed this ridiculous search please doff their caps that we may all see there is nothing under there? Is there no where else for you to take your mindless games? And don't we, the citizens, have a right to know, to stop this foolhardy $167 million USD project, and say " Thank you, but, no, thank you" - we would rather keep our forests, elephants, tigers, leopards, plants, birds, amphibians, species instead of maybe, just maybe, find a neutrino in a distant future.

Please learn more here and protest here.

This topic was also covered in this excellent Tehelka article, more than a year back.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

On Brahmins and Burkhas

The latest issue of Tehelka carries an article on Tamil Nadu's 2006 government order that allowed hindu people, irrespective of their caste, to become priests in hindu temples - and brahmins protested, of course!

Yesterday's Deccan Herald carried a photo of women in burkhas protesting their right to wear burkhas and head scares - opposing a ban imposed in SVS College, Bantwal.

I have always been uncomfortable with legal or formalized demand that force opening up of communities, clubs, organizations to memberships that would otherwise not be allowed. It is the intrusive, aggressive manner of promoting pluralism that I am opposed to.

I remember with distaste, many years ago in the US, the great fuss made about letting women join the "Old boy's club", or the legal battle over the right of a gay person to become a priest. I would have much preferred that women made their own club that allowed men, and gays tried a church that welcomed them or had a congregation of their own - without bias towards sexual choices/ preferences. Their liberal inclusiveness would then draw broader memberships, and with time, hopefully, drive old rigid systems out of existence.

Similarly, if a state sponsored temples that were caste independent, and the majority populace took their patronage there, the ugly system of caste segregation would vanish anyway. Maybe brahmins would then be forced to apply for jobs at these temples that were better stocked. Similarly, it is up to people of muslim faith to decide when and how their religious dress code needs to evolve - for their own good.

I strongly believe that our ability to survive as a democratic nation depends critically on our ability to exist with as many variants be it individuals, groups, communities. With their existence we allow our selves the gift of the diverse, conservative as equally as liberal, modern and also ancient, rock and dhrupad. Rights of an individual or a minority will reflect the freedom of us all, as a people. The role of a state is to provide a helping hand to the needy, financially backward, culturally downtrodden, without necessarily diminishing individual rights of brahims to be brahmanical, or women to hide their face.

I am reminded of the amazing 'Stars upon Thars' by Dr. Suess in The Sneetches. The sneetches, without stars, took to wearing stars also, leading to a completely muddled up situation till no one knew
which were the original starred ones and which were unstarred. I highly recommend all Dr.Suess books to the fundamentally muddled, or socially confused.

Friday, 21 August 2009

A Friendly Visit from Ms. Clinton

Catching up with back issues of Tehelka, I read with horror an excellent article by Nityanand Jayaraman on the agenda behind Ms.Clinton's visit to India. Apparently, Ms. Clinton was here to help pass a legal bill that provides a safe and small liability cap of a mere $450 million USD, for the operators and providers of India's nuclear power facilities, in case of a disaster! We, as a nation will have to cough up rest of the compensation - i.e. in case we deem it necessary to help out our future Bhopal type victims - and really, we do not have a good track record on taking care our needy, victimized, unfortunate. And, get this, we, the moronic, boot licking nation that we are, have already got a draft of such a bill ready. Why do our elected representatives behave so callously? Who has given them rights to play with lives? And...what is Obama up to, now? The savior of the world only wants to save national, corporate, US interests? Would such a bill be acceptable in his nation? A one time compensation of a mere $500 for lives lost, torn, harm havoc-ed over generations, the suffering, the pain - as in the case of Bhopal tragedy? Is Obama's dream only for the privileged of his world, not pain of all humanity?

How dare the US bring such a proposal to the table, and how dare we accept it???

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Sale! Humans Discounted

In a society uncontrollably propelled by rampant consumerism, accumulation, and search for deals, it appears that in a country like ours, humans are a commodity that are most overproduced and therefore most under valued .i.e. they are easily available discount priced or even on clearance sale - 90% off! Buy one get five free! The cost of a human, from within the lesser fortunate strata, goes for much less than the cost to feed that person well, let alone support a family, maintain health, or educate, aspire, dream for future - and it is most convenient to keep them that way.

This issue became spotlit for me thus. I was related an incident about an electrician making a home visit in the 46 degree heat of Delhi, this summer, to find a trivial problem that he fixed immediately. The cost of this round trip, his expertise in identifying and solving a problem was Rs.30. A similar trip in Kolkatta would earn him Rs.10 - if he was lucky, and the client generously inclined. I know that a ride on hand pulled rickshaws in Kolkatta, for about a km, can only earn a paltry Rs.5. Or a maid in most metros earns as little as Rs. 300 for cleaning a home, washing dishes, clothes - per month. The same family might spend substantially more over a single meal, or purchasing an useless item in a shop. So what has become of the Indian middle class? Who are we, what do we want, and at what cost?

It appears to me that an interesting way to define a lower cutoff to our burgeoning middle class, would be that group of people that hire paid labor to deal with chores of their daily living - and an increasing set is getting ready to not wash their own dirty laundry! We are fortunate that there still exists this bottomless pit of the needy, starving, exploitables who can, for just the price of their survival in hovels, on scraps of our compostables, live in slavery and do our want. So really, what do we want?? What do we really really want? Is there a picture, longer term goal, a dream of happiness? collective happiness? Is there a vision that guides this middle class? that only I am not getting? And mostly, why is it, that whatever we want, we are most ready to first sacrifice other human needs, human interests, human rights?

Partly, surely, the answer is that we have distanced ourselves from the exploited class - the others. I remember being reprimanded " speak well to them and you'll not get them to listen to you! Treat them decently and you are spoiling them for the rest of us." The exploiters and the exploited have become two completely distinct groups - the human,defined as ' capable of exploiting', versus, de-human, sub-human, un-human. The question to ask now is, what have we gained by this distancing? and for how long can this separation be sustained? We shudder in dread at stories of armed resistance movements that are spreading across the country, hide behind corrupt, vile, abusive and evil actions legitimized by anti-terrorism acts, shrug at large scale and illegal displacements and access to livelihoods for any number of communities across nation, and skip over even smallest mentions of civil liberties and human rights that our governments refuse to guarantee. Who are we that disregard human interest for our sloth and human rights for extra cash in our coffers? Who are we and what do we have to teach our kids!!

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Chopping Trees to Develop

It had to happen one day - the rampant cutting of trees around the city has finally hit my backyard, front yard, my threshold - 120 trees around the CNR Rao circle at the main gate, IISc, are slated for the axe. Its inevitable, we must proceed with the times. We must develop. We must progress. Even if this means we hurt, kick, scream and vehemently oppose such progress.

The larger common good,
as defined by a few,
will be rammed
down our throat,
will make us choke,
suffocate, die,
even as we defy,
and question,
what is this good?
which clears space,
where trees stood?

Bangalore traffic doubles every five years, and our ever changing governance is ever ready to demolish slums, axe trees, destroy heritage and replace it with wider roads, mazes of underpass, overpass, roundabouts, all to keep up with growing traffic needs. It is ready to lie, define, our life, happiness and success, by counting the cars that are on the roads, and squeezing even more.

But, what about people? What about people not in cars? Are roads about transporting people, or clearing spaces for cars - to move, to park? What fraction of Bangalore drives cars? And should our progress only cater to this set? Do they realise, that in their names, the government charges ahead, ready for progress, armed with axe and coffers -ready to be filled. For, lets not pretend, it is neither the well being of its citizens nor longer term development of this city drives these projects.It is corruption, and its infiltration deep into the very pores of our governance, the filthy game of power and greed that propels the development agenda.

And are there no alternatives, except to drive, widen roads, sacrifice air, breath? Our public transportation is abysmal, our walkways erased, no cycle paths, no green space, to linger, meet, wander. We are converting this city into a giant, grey, parasitic colony of consumers and consumables - and IT IS FOR OUR GOOD??? Thank you, but NO, thank you. We oppose, vocally, vociferously, loudly, clearly. We will not stand by and let this be done. We exercise our democratic right to fight progress which will not benefit us - we oppose, fight, because we dare not do otherwise.

You can most meaningfully join our voice by adding your signature here.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Raipur Satyagraha

I have recently returned after participating in my first Satyagraha, a civil resistance and a protest, an effort to 'invite truth', or even create it. I was part of a group protesting the two year incarceration of Dr. Binayak Sen in Raipur in a sham case implicating him in Maoist activities. The state's key witness has turned 'hostile', denying that Dr. Sen could have smuggled Maoist letters from the prison, which is the primary charge against him. Dr. Sen is in urgent need of medical attention and is still awaiting bail to obtain treatment of choice.

Dr. Binayak Sen is one person, of the probably thousands languishing in Indian jails without access to due judicial process entitled to them - a safety blanket to protect their civil liberties and human rights. Our 'Satyagarh' in Chattisgarh was a cry, a yell, a scream in many hundred voices, not only for justice in Dr. Sen's case, but all those others, wrongfully detained, many for substantially longer, under much more hostile and severe circumstances. It was a call, loud and clear, that we, the ordinary people of India, shall not let this be, that 'we shall not surrender!' We take responsibility for our bad governance, our rotten judiciary, our corrupt officials, mainly our own apathy in face of a hundred thousand wrongs that surround us, suffocate us, destroy us, and the very concept of a 'we' and 'us'.

There was no apathy in the Raipur Satyagraha. Minstrels sang, feet danced, voices of poets rang out with hopes for humanity and tears of their nightmares. There was no apathy when we marched under the blazing summer sun, young, old, women, children, all, with voices hoarse to wake the world. Fists clenched, held high, to shatter through the deceit, the lies! Protest calls of power, passion, in a battle cry to end wrong doings, not the wrong doers. We were strongly, forcefully, inviting truth, to come amongst us all, to end suffering, of all those suffering. For, can inflicting any pain be right? can any wrong doing be justified? are there any laws, principles, doctrines, greater than the sovereign right of all men to be free, to live, according to the current of their own inner voice? And, should we not protest, since our heart cries in pain? in shame? for all those suffering - wrongfully, willfully incurred at the hands of our own elected officials and appointed police force, who are meant to safeguard individual rights and thereby protect the existence of our nationhood?

Democracy fails without civil liberty. When human voice is silenced, questioning clamped, dissenters eliminated, then democracy itself becomes a sham. This is the state of affairs in Chattisgarh.We were just a tiny team of brave hearts in a war zone 'inviting truth'.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

An Open Letter to the Police

For all of you who comfortably sit, accept and pride in India, world's largest democracy, its accelerated drive to development,progress, measured in roads, malls, airports, dams, industries, consumerism aped after western models, there are many secret, darker sides, to us, our nationhood that we hide deep inside. One such story is told here. Read it. Then, either remain awake, or go back to sleep.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Gulabi Gang

Stories like that of the Gulabi Gang bring a new level of inspiration to all grassroot movements and a bright ray of hope for the down trodden, weaker sections in our society. Thanks to 'The world as we know it' for this excellent article. Check it out here.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

A Voter's Dilema

Today I vote for the first time in a life which is half a century old. So far, I have hidden behind lack of any real choice; no 'right' candidate that I support, or seek to represent myself, voice my voice in our collective nationhood. There are 28 candidates vying for the Lok Sabha seat from the Bangalore north sector. I have done my home work and studied the bio datas, asset declaration and criminal record list for the candidates. I like one candidate. I also realise that the chances for this candidate to win in this election, or for that matter in any other, are very slim. I am also sure of which party I will not support - and this party seems to be poised for success today. So this is my dilema - do I vote for the person I think is right or do I vote for a really distasteful candidate to keep the power tilted away (at all costs) from the party that poses a real threat to secularism of our nationhood. I remind myself that no 'real' issues are on ticket here. No person is talking about safeguarding basic civil liberties, protecting human rights, considering environmental protection an important issue for development, progress. I just learnt that in the Indian system, a candidate is not required to secure a minimum percentage of votes. So is voting for a no-chance person effectively the same as casting a no-vote??

I still have a few hours left, and till then the choice is open...

Monday, 13 April 2009

Election Action

Elections are around the corner - a time to contemplate, acknowledge responsibility, read and re-read history and then take action - VOTE your voice, vote your conscience, vote out historical perpetrators of divisive hatred, brutal violence, chilling fear. This particular story from history has some lessons to share - learn from its lessons. Because, there are those out there who will wait to repeat their history.

Monday, 6 April 2009

I am What I am!

I have a friend who would often irritatingly resort to " I am what I am.." to justify getting out of lengthy discussions, arguments. It worked - very often. How can one argue with anyone's right or choice to be just so - however he/she pleased, to exercise individuality, identity? It is precisely this diversity, spread in our persons, choices, biases that serves as the variance required to stabilize our social distribution with checks and balances.

One can extend this argument to define a democratic, open society, a nation, as that body that values all its individuals equally, in that it bestows them with an equal right, an equal vote, in electing a body of legislators to combinedly govern the nation. The power of the government is just this collective power bestowed upon it by the nation's individuals. A country's constitution plays just such a role- balancing of individual rights against the combined wisdom of collective good. And to this extent, India is a democratic nation - all its citizens have a right to vote, and we do have an acceptable constitution. However, the notion of equal vote has not percolated sufficiently into our socio-political system to ensure equal rights, opportunities and choices for all.

Can anyone in India say, " I am what I am"?? Only if one is an upper caste hindu and male. Everyone else is excluded from this club - often forcibly excluded, frequently aggressively excluded, and sometimes even violently excluded. And the list includes women, dalits, tribals, muslims, christians, naxals; poor people are always excluded. A non-standard choice in sexual preference, or even an unacceptable dress code, caring about environment, or working for basic human rights also robs one of membership into this exclusive club. For these social fragments, " I am what I am allowed to be" only holds. If one is lucky, one is granted rights to a second class citizenship. The rest become non-entities, with no granted rights , and no rights of choice. The only allowed mantra is 'I am what I should be' - backwards, uneducated, unprivileged, down trodden, manipulated, sick and tired of what I should be and with no right to be 'what I want to be'.

So, what does it mean to vote?? Will the rights of these social fragments change? And, is there much of a choice in voting? As a lawyer recently put it, question of civil liberties or human rights has never, so far, been part of the electoral agenda. All major contesting parties have bad human rights record- while some are substantially worse in terms of protecting civil liberties or human rights. Protests or educating the masses will not change our current lack of option - but will keep alive a hope for a (maybe distant) better future. For this is what one looks for, isn't it? liberty of all to be equally human? to individually dream, hope, aspire? to eventually be able to say "I am what I am".

Monday, 30 March 2009

Fear and Forgiveness

Once again Abi's blog directed me towards what I would otherwise have missed - a book, Fear and Forgiveness, by Harsh Mander on the Gujarat 2002 carnage and its aftermath, which is excellently reviewed by Chandrahas Choudhury. An immediate reaction to reading this review is 'how many of those comfortable bigots will actually read this book?', how many of those 'wavering' reflect and independently take a stance?, how many of those already sorrowful, sympathetic towards the victims accept responsibilty of being members of this civil society and 'voice their views', anywhere, everywhere, speak out - because that is the least they can do?? When will we ever learn?? that we have far more to lose by keeping quiet.

I will read this book, but only on the reviewer's promise of those humane stories that makes its bleakness less black- not enough pin holes to lighten a night, but just enough to hold promise of an eventual day.

Friday, 20 March 2009

News Today

A few pages into today's paper and I smiled - in fact I grinned and couldn't help a chuckle to myself as I read the news item in Hindu "Mallika Sarabhai to contest against Advani"- just imagine that!
and that too as an Independent! That requires confidence, guts - to say " What the hell, I'll just take the biggest BJP honcho on!!" A statement like that from a woman, an artist, dancer, writer, you name it, in today's world - and suddenly the world is filled with hope, light, radiance. Anything can happen now. She is young, beautiful, smart, gutsy - and he is old, crusty, power hungry - stooping to whatever levels to make it to the country's highest office. Yet, today he'll sleep an uneasy sleep, dream a few sordid nightmares, see his own fall, his shame - wonder if he should have spoken up against hate, violence, divisive politics -whether it was all worth it? maybe he'll pray, offer penace to Gods, promise a path of peace, righteousness, if he could only sit on that chair!!

Nah! thats too much day dreaming going on! Better stop here - kudos to Mallika - may her tribe increase!

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

A Reasonable Voice

As a recent subscriber to Tehelka, the one thing I am coming to truly appreciate is the surprise factor it carries in its news. Mind you, this does not necessarily mean breaking surprising news only. Today, at the breakfast table I picked up the new issue that's arrived and caught a surprisingly sane voice speaking out on the old Ayodhya issue. Here is the link.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Reflecting on A Story

A few years back, I was trying to set up my farm on the outskirts of Bangalore. The process was difficult, and at times traumatizing because of intense hostilities by the locals to an outsider, especially a woman, in their territory. It was then that a friend told me his story.

Many years earlier, he was part of a similar 'return to land' experiment. He lived alone on this land, making a home, going about his life. At this time, this piece of property came under intense land dispute with many parties claiming ownership, or a previously inherited stake in it. Things got ugly. One evening, when my friend was alone at home, he heard villagers clamor outside. He knew instinctively that trouble was brewing. He went outside and saw a few men carrying shot guns, with aggressive stance, challenging attitudes. My friend smiled at them, welcomed them inside, and offered coffee. He suggested that they should sit down and discuss any problems the villagers had. Soon, the guns were leaning against a wall, and people talking. Later, my friend invited the whole village for evening tea, snacks, to get to know each other, and establish a relationship. The issue over land dispute got eventually resolved, and now a community lives on that farm, in harmony with the villages around.

Recently, I have been reflecting a great deal about the recent attacks on women in Bangalore, Karnataka, and I remembered this story. I was wondering what I would do if attacked by a bunch of goons. Either I could lash out, yell, scream,try to escape, call for help, create a ruckus. Or I could, turn towards them, with a smile, ask them what they wanted, and offer to discuss it over coffee?? Will I be able to do that - have no fear, no anger? Will I be able to be such that I am no victim, therefore they become no aggressors?? Will I be able to turn around, and smile, with my heart, my eyes, my being, a gentle smile of honesty and ease - my friends smile? no you, no me, no boundaries - just human beings trying to relate? Will I take that first step?

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Whats In a Name...??

I often wonder where words come from - what past associations, what lingering memories, what rainbow reflected mind pools create the bed of layered pasts from which spring words. I have been wondering about how I came to name this blog 'I Witness'. As I pondered on my role as an 'audience' , my self preservative internal need, just to see, think, and not get involved in the larger canvas of social theatre, the name appeared, in my head, on my tongue - easily, naturally, appropriately.

Yesterday, my husband asked me how I chose this name for my new blog, pulling out a volume of 'I Witness -Partial Observations ' that I had picked up many months back - a book of poems by Kapil Sibal. I remember being completely engrossed by KS's words, experiences, imagery. I was moved, haunted, impressed.

If this blog title seems to be borrowed from his, than it is done so unwittingly, but in respect, honor for his shared observations, views, a peek into his internal ramblings.

Using Gender Power

In Bangalore, in Karnataka, a whole gender is under attack. That is half the population is threatened, coerced, terrorised by a male defintion, a party's definition of womanhood, culture, relegion. Yesterday, Advani finally issued a statement 'girls should not be beaten'. Yes, we all know that - all mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, relatives, friends. Most of us also know that 'no one should be beaten' for making individual, personal choices in a so called 'free' democratic society.

Did it really take so long for Advani to some to his senses? To issue a statement? Because of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections?? Is that all he can do? All that the BJP government can do?? Issue a statement? It is really, really funny that he invokes Gandhian values to condone, in some sense, the earlier acts of violence, aggression - something like "Gandhiji did not believe in alcohol"- ha! ha! What else did Gandhi say, you BOZO! Do you not remember? or do you just want us to forget???

It is a laugh that the BJP govt. holds 'anti-terrorism' rallies, issues 'zero-tolerance' stance against terrorism, of protecting a nationhood, borders, boundaries - it cannot protect its women, or does it not want to protect women of this country from its own virtuous self? We will Impose, Subjugate, Violate, We the great custodians of our faith, culture, religion. Or really, is the party so out of control to keep their own kind in check?? Then, please Mr. Advani, just graciously step back, do not participate, contest, national elections. Please say, we the BJP, do not believe women to be equal citizens, we cannot protect them, or will not do so. We only want them hostages in our homes, the earnings generated from behind their purdah, and their democratic votes!You know what!! We will NOT VOTE for you or your kind - no woman will. No woman, who believes in her right to not be beaten, not to be defined, not be bounded, imprisoned - no woman who sees herself as a human - and her right to be so - free, expressive, independent, an equal, secular partner in this largest democracy!

There are large scale protests planned. We must speak, we must protest, in all our multitudinal dimensions, styles, expressions. We must raise a chorus of different voices, colors, castes, relegion - a chorus of one combined womanhood. We will VOTE and NOT FOR YOU!!!

Thursday, 26 February 2009

I Witness...

I suppose we all witness events that unfold before us, in our daily lives, in our neighborhood, in the dramas played out before us, big and small, individual, social and political. I am just such a witness. I am fifty years old, educated, middle class, mother of two. I believe in individual freedom, as long as it does not tread on any one's right to also enjoy the same freedoms.

A series of events have rocked this city and state, over the last months, that require me to no longer be a silent witness. I must step into the witness booth, take an oath, and speak truthfully.How this will bear on the final outcome, the jury's verdict, is beyond me, to predict. All I can do is speak - speak about what is happening, and speak about how I feel about it - although the latter is not allowed in a judicial court. But this is not judicial court. I speak my mind, mainly to myself, and to anyone willing to listen.

Let me do this backwards....

This morning's paper carried news of a young woman beaten up for being attired in jeans.

Last week three young women were beaten up by groups of young men, in three separate incidences around the city, two in broad day light, in presence of a number of mute by protest, no help, no interference, from the the witnesses. Victims' fault - to wear western attire. Here is this report in Hindu.

On Feb 6, a shocking incident ripped our faith in the cosmopolitan, assimilative image that Bangalore has so far projected. A group of men and women were beaten up outside a central Bangalore bar, and then taken into police custody on the complaints by the aggressors 'the true sons of Karnataka! Their charges - something about trouble making outsiders.

Last month saw a much publicized television coverage of violence against women in a bar in Mangalore - the reporters were previously alerted to be present for some 'action' - and the reporters did just that, record the action, in photographs, videos, while the women got beaten up for drinking in a bar! The incidence saw many protests unleash around the city, state and nationally, including the brilliantly satirical Pink Chaddi campaign.

I witness these growing violence against women in our society - and there are so many questions.

Do the women in the lives of these aggressors know how their sons, brothers, fathers, husbands, lovers, friends, cousins have behaved? What do they say to the men? What do they have to say to the victims? Is there any understanding of these poor, wretched lost males who dare to violate rights of women- over their bodies, mind, dress, what they eat, drink, their right to be whoever they want to be? Will they force their own daughters, sisters to remain in purdah, not go to school, trained to be enslaved to whims of men, as probably no Sita ever was? What will they want for their young sisters, daughters ? That they have no rights at all - or only those granted by a fundamentalist and male interpretation of Ram Rajya?

What about the mute by standers? What kind of children are we raising that cannot protest - a wrong doing? any wrong doing? as individually defined? Or, have we so insensitised ourselves by the constant barrage of violence that surrounds our daily lives, in TV, newspapers, wars played out on all stages big and small that veiwing violence is just another opportunity for entertainment? Are we incapable of enrage, anguish, compassion? What are we capable of? Do we talk in our homes, with our sons and daughters - what would they do if this happened - to them, to you? or..were witness to acts of atrocities, violence? Would we advice our children to not get into trouble, not witness, walk away? Or would we say - scream, yell, help, call for help, question, participate? Is there any effort to discuss or even know for ones self, right action? That is all one can do - right to question, right to right action, right to protest against wrong doings. Do we protest - continuously, tirelessly, against the continuous wrongdoings?

It is funny that the BJP government in Bangalore is today hosting a large rally on 'anti-terrorism'. Will the politicians question the terrorism being unleashed within, that they fail to comment, counter, act upon?Is this lack of response, accepting of responsibility, even a blessing for the perpetrators of these acts of violence, all in the name of relegion, culture. Is ramming culture and relegion - which are individual choices and evolving social phenomena, not a form of terrorism, against individuals? Are these the kind of politicians we elect to govern our societies.

All these and many more questions continue, even as I Witness, rage, yell, protest at the social homicide that terrorises our society, city, daughters, sisters, me - a jean clad Mom.

** special thanks to Abi's blog for very often being the source of many news, many links