Sunday, 12 December 2010

Class, Caste and Conscious Citizenship

Some of my earliest caste memories are from my childhood, when we had a separate person, a 'jamadaar', come to clean our toilets in Kolkatta. Often, in acts of charity, my folks would give this person our food discards. I remember distinctly a particular occasion when I was asked to give Rotis to our jamaadar, and instructed to make sure I did not touch this person..I had asked what would happen if I did touch this person, to be told, with great stern-ness, that I was to not do that, since we did not touch such people. I remember lingering on the hand of this grown man as I gave him the left overs and then staring my hand several times, in wonder, that nothing had happened to me, even though I had touched an 'untouchable'. Its at least four decades since that childhood experiment, awakening and empowerment of discovery that we are all one, truly. Since then, caste thoughts have found few rare pockets into my conscious thought, speech, action.

Recently, PUCL-Bangalore, organised a discussion meet on the topic of 'Human Rights, Democracy and Media : Challenges in Contemporary Times". Isaac Arul Selva, Editor, Slum Jagattu, was a featured speaker, representing a first of its kind alternative media, a monthly journal with origin, organization, and focus on slum based issues of Bangalore. Selva's talk focused harshly, severely condemning the corporatization of main stream media which predominantly represents upper caste realities, issues and interest. Now, I am comfortable with the notion that all mainstream media are run like corporate houses - this is also my personal perception. I further support that there is an extreme class bias in features of media reports. But, while caste and class are strongly linked in our country, I am still uncomfortable with a predominantly 'dalit' lens to view the world, especially issues related to human rights.

There are many responses that crop up when I review this discomfort - some emotional, some rational, all of which I have decided to confront. An immediate, albeit an easy and weak explanation is that by growing up in a privileged class, I was sheltered and distanced from lower caste repressions, battles. By accident, apathy and comfortable ignorance, my associations as an adult featured those who had more in common with me, my background, interests, and battles, than those whose lives had carried a burden of caste design. It would be easy to dismiss the caste angle by saying "no one I know thinks along caste lines - it is just not a reference point!" But I would prefer for it not to be so. I hope I am sincerely and consciously open to exploring, with a caste lens, the deep social grief and burden this has caused, and thus free myself from my ignorant, guilty and privileged bliss. Yet, I am intuitively aware that this caste lens does not carry a solution for establishing equity or equality - i.e. a new order.

My rational side also needs to chew on the cud that Selva fed me and come to my own understanding. I argue that class now more universally separates the haves from the have-nots, the ones who may from those who may-not, and all those who shall and from many more that shall-not. The general direction of this is that, those who have, may and shall continue to pilfer wealth, power, resources at the expense of the large numbers of those who have-not, may-not and shall-not. That is the dictum of today's development and growth of all, including the media. I feel that wealth and power have replaced most other divides within society, including gender and caste, especially in an urban setting. While an ability to accumulate wealth and power was culturally a caste related proficiency, these days similar abilities if acquired by women, adivasis or dalits gives them about the same privileges originally intentioned for males of dominant societies. So while the representation of women, dalits and other marginalised groups still remain statistically small, exceptions (like the examples of many IAS officers from backward communities) are getting space, and also becoming examples to lead their communities along exact goals and aspirations of their higher caste counterparts.

On the flip side, this argues that issues of basic human rights violations do not heed the type of section victimized. The basic resources grabbed away from poor, while affecting mostly the lowest caste, are intended just to grab resources for profiteering and not necessarily for directly targeting the lowest caste-based community. Indeed the right or necessity to constantly profit or show improvement in profiteering dominates the psyche of both the corporate world and the middle class share holders that sustain it. The fact that victimized communities are caste based, and traditionally voiceless, ill equips them to take on mighty state backed corporations. However, this is an equation that is rapidly changing in some of the most ground breaking, tribal based people's movements, like in Orissa, which has wide support from national and international forums.

The caste angle becomes important in cases of a few traditionally inhuman professions, like that of manual scavenging, still practiced today. Such a profession is dominated by members of a particular caste and its practice still remains to be abolished. Such caste based professions and lifestyles are more closely linked at lower class end. Higher economic classes, linked to higher castes, seek to fervently imitate a globalized culture that is more consumer than caste based.

I prefer, therefore, to not always represent caste at the forefront of our all our pervasive ills. To do so limit us, both in understanding and scope, to battle the many grave issues that currently threaten the fabric of a democratic society. So, while affirmative action measures should be implemented in a rigorous fashion, genuine progress would have been achieved only when such measures become unnecessary and can be phased out. My basic partiality towards imagining an eventual caste free, and non fragmented society requires we do not resort to only compensatory practices, such as the quota systems, to address historical and social ills. This would only perpetuate the process of 'othering' between human beings, rather than move towards a society of 'only' citizens - all with equal rights.

Human rights activism means addressing all violations of the guaranteed fundamental rights - for all citizens. It necessarily encompasses all groups victimized on the basis of caste, gender, religion, that are covered in our constitution, but also taking on those matters that are a necessary part of individual choice, such as sexuality, that might not be covered in our constitution. By taking on issues of direst rights' violations and minimum needs of most, one will necessarily address issues of the most marginalised and victimised communities - and to phrase it this way makes more sense than a continual reminder and re-enforcement of an outdated and inhuman structuring of social strata.

Conscious citizenship is a necessary condition for a functioning democracy, and requires a social conscience that goes far beyond a mere 'one person, one vote' premise. It is based on the equality of all human beings, which include equal right over resources, access to choices, and thereby a pursuit to happiness. It demands equitable social and economic restructuring to ensure such democratic principles can be practically adopted, such that voting represents a real participation and choice, not structured along caste, class, religion, gender or other lines, but by our right to be represented by those who speak our individual voice, while demanding respect for those chosen to represent the largest democratic interests. Such citizenship demands going far beyond class, caste, gender, religion and community based accumulations of privileges, but thinking that our individual good lies in larger, common welfare - of all.

I appreciate what Selva's talk did for me - open up an entire world of lives, lived very differently than mine, and apparently valued far less than mine. Yet to set the balance straight requires less in making concessions based on caste, and a much more active involvement to demand rights' equivalence for all. To reiterate, the solution lies not in seeing the otherness of those whom we have failed, but seeing the similarity of their similar aspirations that are compromised when all is privatized, corporatized, and sucked dry - the earth, the water, the air, and all creatures big and small, in it.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Chinese Whispers and the State

Have just returned from a walk with usual, our discussion centered around science, politics, and State - its culpability and accountability.

There are two important observations that Atul made that I would like to share:

1. The whole issue of land re-distribution is reversed since India's independence. Soon after independence, State took responsibility for redistributing land of large owners to the poor. Now the State is involved in systematically divesting the poor of their land, resources, and funneling these upwards towards the wealthy, especially the corporates...and it does all this in name of development.

2. The operational mechanism for sanctioning wrong is via Chinese whispers - small incremental suppression or distortion of facts add up to a substantially different version of truth or reality which is then used to validate wrong policy and or false action by the State. Now some of you might feel this has shades of the recently familiar? Hint: Remember the Bt story?

Friday, 19 November 2010


I am still thinking about the issue of freedoms, and what I would like to be free from. Top freedoms I seek are:

Freedom from Fear,
Freedom from prejudice,
Freedom from constraints
external or self imposed...
Freedom from hate
Freedom from greed for
possessions, experience, knowledge
..well, let me take that back..
I am not really ready to be
free of greed.

and yet, in striving for all these freedoms, I hope I remain anchored within compassion - compassion towards others' fears, others' prejudices, others' constraints. Let me be rooted with grace in such conscious compassion towards all living.
20 minutes later...
Was chatting about this with Atul and he said after a "Freedom from Need...maybe that covers everything" - surely food for more thought.

next day..
Surely freedom from anger
is another important one for me...
also, Freedom from Pride??
Gosh, never realised so many boundaries before!

Breaking Boundaries

Yesterday, I attended ' Love Across Boundaries' organised as part of
Bengaluru Pride 2010. I was then reminded of a friend's perceptive comment a few years back. He had said that we are molded by society's conditioning and shaped by its constraints. The act of growing is, in bits and pieces, breaking these constraints. This takes up rest of one's life - we never become fully free.

'Love across boundaries', addressed issues of loving across gender/transgender, class, caste, religion, and across all those various and imaginary lines of separations that we draw amongst ourselves - needlessly. It deliberately sat with the politics of loving, patriarchal systems of marriage and its implications. I sat in silence amongst those freer-er than me, or at least more engaged with the question of this freedom - to love. I realised then that I was completely out of my depths, but, that was ok too. This discomfort was part of my breaking boundaries - my invisible march towards some unknown freedom.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Sometimes I resonate with this song

What Should the Media Do?

It bothered me during the incidence of pub attack in Mangalore...and it is now again in the forefront of my conscious thoughts....I am referring to the assault on Br Philip in Bangalore recently.
"What Should the Media Do?" When a section of uncivil, communal elements get together and stage a show, live, for the media channels, TVs roll, cameras flash, and journalists have a hay day at a field trip, a scoop for their media houses, a story to catch the interest of their disenchanted readership, or apathetic audience. Was the incidence news worthy? Surely, when some girls get beaten up or a brother of Holy Cross...the public is interested and news should be reported. However, in the both these incidences, the question is " What should the Media REALLY have done?" Is there no possibility of thinking outside their hat, and question what and why of right action? Do they realize there were other options open to them - i.e. other than rolling their films, flashing their cameras? A most straight forward option was to help the victims-or atleast try? What should the foremost concern be of a human being? To assist another in dire and helpless need, or further one's own career goals? Did this not occur to any of them? Did they really not realise, that without media's attention, there would be no story, therefore no reason to assault, beat up, commit human rights' violation?So the second option was to just leave the spot, or not report - just be bystanders - but NOT encourage either the hooliganism or the cheap thrills for their audience with "TV Live".

What vultures have we become, to monetise grief? to revel at such tragic-live-entertainment? Have our media people completely abandoned humane-ness, righteousness, and courage to stand up against tide? have they forgotten their dharma? Why? Oh Why?

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Equity for Tribals?

I have just read the latest inspired offering from GoI to the tribals sitting on the mineral rich belt which the state cannot wait to get its hands on. In the usual manner of dealing with those whom force, violence, rape cannot dispose, the latest strategy is to just buy-em-out! The GoM met recently in Delhi to discuss the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act which proposed a 26% equity for tribals of the region. The general 'public' response to this bill seems to be 'positive' - i.e. people who care about tribal rights feel that it is high time that they - the tribals - got a piece of their own pie, worth upto 2 lakh per year income for the tribals. And...I would agree, that the tribals should at least get a piece of their own pie.

However, I object to this way of operating on several grounds...primarily the bill
seems far from fulfilling a necessary condition which the GoM does not even address - that of prior sanction for mining rights in tribal territories. Only in case of 'minor' minerals does the bill propose a consultation with those effected. Secondly, the present government seems to be in unacceptable hurry to exploit the nation's major and non-renewable mineral reserves within the present generation - or in its present term in office. This pace of exploitation will leave no scope for either the environment or the cultures residing within to adjust or attempt equilibrium with their changing situations. Thirdly, I am deeply concerned about the role that large financial compensations will play in largely non-cash based case the promised equity actually reaches all those effected - a scenario that can hardly be taken for granted in India!
.....I wrote this a while back and do not remember why did not post it. I reread it now and find what I've written somewhat incomplete, although still 'perfectly reasonable' :)

So I am posting it!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Manmohan's Economy

Some times, the most severe, and irreparable damage comes from most innocuous of acts. I am referring to how a single, gentle, educated, and seemingly reasonable and harmless person by the name of Manmohan Singh became visible on the national platform, then acceptable, and finally the leader of a potentially great democracy. He did this by a promise to deliver on an idea...and the damage this did to the potential of who we, the nation, could have become was irreparable, terminal.

And this is what he did. By 'opening' India's economy, he actually opened doors to that easy evil that slumbers within us all - he legitimised greed, promoted rampant consumerism, and in doing this promised us an Utopia with unprecedented national growth and prosperity for all. It was a seductive dream to buy...and the intelligentsia succumbed to this sales pitch readily, greedily. It was a panacea for national grief - while also appeased the conscience of those yielding to its marketable pleasures. The educated, middle class bought into this, by closing their faculty, shutting their eyes and plugging their ears to their own voices of reason.The new generation of adults were allowed, no..encouraged to shop more, buy more, consume more because we were told, these very hedonistic activities would somehow provide jobs, alleviate poverty, and take us into a glorious era for a truly independent, free and developed India.

We did not pause to question how much trickling down would be required from the consumers, and over what time scales, to alleviate the 70% or so of our BPL into a market economy of shopping for their own TVs or refrigerators...for that is what was implicitly promised, wasn't it? We just did not sit down to work out some basic numbers - and we still refuse to do it. We do not confront the sordid fact that no amount of IIT building or adding Business Schools, inviting MNCs to mine, manufacture or employ is ever going to fulfill, for all, the basic goals of food security, access to health, rise in literacy and such, that we need to define our real development.

The Manmohan paradigm has failed its lofty goals of inclusive development - and maybe it was naive to assume it was ever meant for the masses. It was a notion sold to that small fraction who were visible, vocal and in-charge of a majority share of our pyramid economy. Manmohan economy continues to attract the comfortable class, with international salaries, tax benefits, swanky shopping malls - all those who take pride in saying "now we can buy everything in India"

So what do we do with the most of the rest of the Indian nationals - who do not fit? Who build our roads, malls, homes, resorts? We vacuum them away under a cosmopolitan, secular, glitzy rug into slums, bastis, and beggar homes, eliminate them via Salwa Judums or operations Green Hunt or make them a part of our constantly displaced population - a fallout of our big dams, big mines, big projects, big Dreams of BIG People.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Ten Things I Abhor

1. Manual Scavanging
2. SEZ
3. Anti-environment Development
4.The Kashmir Lie
5.Babri Masjid 'Justice'
6.Nuclear Power and Defense
7.Farmer Suicides
8.GM crops
9.Unjust Peace
10. Sexual Violence and State Repression

Sunday, 17 October 2010

(Un)Just Peace

I know it is more than a little late to sit down and comment on the indigestibility of the entire Babri episode - its ghastly demolition, the unbearably long gestation of the title suit in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri case, and the recent regurgitation of a judicial verdict by the Allahabad High court that had little to do with justice or law. Still - I thought I would voice the following.

India is held hostage by its own people, a relatively small but highly volatile, right wing, communal hindutva group which who threaten the fabric of our democratic constitution. And, we all cow down before them. We encourage them with our apprehensions, and strengthen them with our fears. The entire Babri Masjid epic has been fuelled, burnt and finally, recently disposed, by these fears of the thinking and comfortable middle class, who refused to take a visible, vocal, and secular stance, favoring instead their own peaceful comfort, prior to, during and post-demolition of the Babri masjid. This despite episodes of extreme violence, despite thousands who were killed, and despite the innumerable lives destroyed. As a nation we continue to exist in this same immoral daze of fear plus apathy.

Prior to the judgment day, appeals rang out - appeals made from the highest office in the country - that citizens maintain peace. It is strange to appeal for peace at pronouncement of justice – for any nation. And who were the appeals made to? To the knowing and ignoring middle class? Or to the minority community of Muslims, lest they take on Ramrajya?? No. The appeals were directed to the same segment that had demolished the Masjid and were rumbling warnings even before the judgment day. A Just Peace is not to be appealed, beseeched, requested but disciplined into habit and willed into necessary action. The nation, and by representation, our government, lacks both the will and the discipline to enforce peace rooted firmly in justice – as defined by our constitution.

And then the verdict came….

Eighteen years after the demolition of Babri Masjid, the verdict did not ring out with truth, did not proclaim justice, did not uphold with respect and honor the ideals pronounced by our constitution. It instead attempted to negotiate an unequal compromise in favor of communal peace and harmony, and in doing so proclaimed the violators, desecrators, miscreants - victorious. There was jubilation by the Hindu right and relief by the minority Muslims that blood would not be shed, nor homes destroyed or lives ruined – a virulent mafia had been appeased. The verdict reeked of justice being sold out in favor of peace - a cowardly attempt that does not confront the illegitimate premise of the title suit, the illegal acts perpetrated, nor attempt to question if the statute of limitations runs out for Hindutva claims over a piece of real estate where those of Muslim faith had prayed for over three centuries. It compromises the real question of justice in favor of an unjust peace. And this has a historical precedence. Illegal acts committed over ownership by Babri masjid by members of a visible, powerful hindu majority have been condoned systematically by legal amendments to the prevailing status quo from 1949 onwards, gagging down a faith that had practiced here.

And now…we have an unjust peace. We have rendered our brothers and sisters of a minority faith mute, quiet, humbled that Indian justice has no place for their justice, Indian peace demands their acceptance of a secondary citizenship, and being Indian is really about being a hindu. A rich, vibrant, alive culture of a faith has been castrated by the rule book of Ram Rajya.

Sunday, 10 October 2010


I knew instinctively that it would be unbearable to watch 'Rizwaan' at night. So I went for a matinee presentation by Indian Ensemble of 'Rizwaan' a play written and directed by Abhishek Majumdar based on Agha Shahid Ali's collection of poems 'The country without a post office'. And.. I let the play sledge hammer away at my heart, breaking it into pieces of individual pain at what the collective 'I' had caused to the whole region of people in Kashmir - mothers, fathers, sons, friends - with innocence and hopes, lives and dreams. I know the Indian I have caused this - and I prefer to bury this deep inside to continue with the act of living I. Yet today, I faced my pain, guilt, suffering with an unblinking eye, unshed tears. I know that only by act of confronting my sins and seeking penance can I salve my Kashmir conscience. I now no longer talk of Kashmir 'separatists' or 'extremists' - and I understand that India occupies Kashmir, forcefully, brutally and unforgivably. I also understand that their seeking Azadi is the only unavoidable choice we left them by treating them so....

And therefore I will seek penance, by keeping Kashmir alive in my conscious conscience, speaking about Kashmir, and allowing it to lament to me...I know that I must at least hear Kashmir before I find strength to fight for its right. And do this only to absolve my sins and seek forgiveness.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

A Thought

Today I thought-

The difference between a humanist and an environmentalist is this:
A humanist places the value of a human being above all other considerations;
An environmentalist places a human being within his natural context - the environment.

Can't decide what I prefer to be..

Mad Numbers...

Two things are in news a lot that matters a great deal to me, the other which seems unnecessary to waste a thought on. The one that has gutted my soul for a considerable time now, is the whole issue of capping the liability on our civil nuclear program to a recently raised Rs1500 crores. Meanwhile, the figures for hosting this year's commonwealth games in Delhi are teetering above 30,000 crores.

Think about it - 20 times more to showcase who-we-are-not to the world, and peanuts in case we die, maim, zap ourselves and seven generations to come - destroy our land, water, air and all that live off it - think about it. Who counts, who pays, and who makes these choices...

Monday, 23 August 2010

I believe...

I believe that national or community interests cannot supersede individual rights.

I believe the strength of a nation is indicative in its weakest link.

I believe that cowardice of the comfortable class has killed our collective conscience to seek right action and justice, for benefit of ALL.

I believe that social solutions cannot be addressed by a consumeristic development paradigm.

I believe that our largest and most brilliant development projects showcase India far less than the hunger deaths, farmer suicide, custodial rapes.

I believe that interfering, on a large scale, with our natural environment can only be disastrous to our future.

I believe that society should aim for justice and freedom, to guide acceptable peace.

I believe that man is greater than material - land, wealth or whatever - say, CAR! The right over resources lies first with the rightful, original, habitants of land.

I believe that being pro-large corporates is also anti-human rights.

I believe govt is just a representation of the collective employed to work towards the benefit of the largest common denominator, rather than the highest common factor...

I ALSO believe that my beliefs are subject to growth, clarification, and evolution as I walk this path with a number of my kindred spirits.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Shame, Shame...

In April, a 17 year old tribal girl was stripped, paraded naked and made to walk 8 km to beating of drums, while she got groped, molested, violated along the way, which was all video recorded on mobile phones and broadcast as MMS and recently reported by press; more here. The crime - for allegedly having an affair with a boy of a different community!!

I have no words to express the horror, rage, anguish, deep and un-weeping sorrow at the lowly depths that we as a society, nation, humans have sunk boundaries of moral codes, no strength of ethics, no value, no care, no compassion; we co-exist in apathetical stupor with horrific creatures that pass off as men - of a free and independent democracy...with no security, no justice, no recourse but to cry
Shame, Shame!

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Seema and Azadi

Today I have gone around with my heart in the pit of my stomach - a fervent and conscious prayer on my agnostic lips - pushing aside the limits of my faithless belief, leaving nothing to chance - not even the irrational hope that could flip at a mantra, and save her - the one I have never met.

This is what Lena Ganesh wrote on Seema Azad.
" Seema Azad, editor of the left-wing journal DASTAK published from Allahabad, was taken into custody by the police on 6th February 2010, soon after she alighted from the train on her return from the Book Fair at Delhi. She, along with her husband and left-wing activist Vishwa Vijaya Azad, has been detained at the Khuldabad Police Station. Seema Azad just published a collection of articles criticizing the Indian government for its "Operation Greenhunt" - the ongoing massive armed operations by the government in central and eastern India. The booklet contains articles by noted authors and media-persons such as Arundhati Roy, Himanshu Kumar, Anil Chamaria, Punya Prasoon Vajpeyi, Sunita Narayan, and others. Seema is the state secretary of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) for Uttar Pradesh"

This morning's email from Kavita Srivastava(General Secretary) PUCL Rajasthan contained the following:

Seema Azad handed over to UP police for two days by the Allahabad Magistrate - a judgement against the law

Dear Friends,

I just got a call from PUCL Vice President, Ravi Kiran Jain, who has also been Seema's lawyer in the High Court and lower court, told me that the magisterial court where Seema's matter was being heard, granted the UP police two days remand of Seema Azad exparte, without even giving Seema the right of being represented by a lawyer.

On the 7th of July, 2010 the Allahabad High Court had rejected a recall application that had been filed by Ravi Kiran ji against a sec 482 ( CrPC ) application that had been filed by the police after a magisterial court had ruled against granting remand to the police in May, 2010.

After the judgement on the 7th of July, Ravi Kiran jj was still planning the next move, including moving to the Supreme Court when the police moved an application today the 19th of July, 2010 in the magistrate's chamber, demanding the police remand of Seema. Neither was Seema called nor was she given the right of a lawyer. The scandalous part of this decision of the magistrate is that, after 90 days in Judicial Custody" police remand" is not allowed. The law says that if the police wants remand after 90 days then it must apply within 90 days. But then 90 days were up. This application of the police was not maintainable. still an illegal judgement was passed.

Ravi Kiranji will move an application tomorrow that a lawyer's presence be allowed during her two day remand. But the police will take her away at 8am tomorrow and no court judgement will come before the evening.

Seema told Ravi Kiranji when he met her in jail some time ago that the police had humiliated her when she was arrested in February. We fear the same this time.

Friends, the whole system including the judiciary, is helping the illegal ways of the Government, crushing the constitutional and legal rights of the people. If this attack on a persons life, personal liberty and democratic rights is not resisted today it may be yours and my turn tomorrow.

Incase you want to know more the please contact: 09335108309. Please ensure publication of this news.

This morning Seema Azad was whisked away under police custody to an undisclosed location...

Who do we turn to when judiciary makes a mockery of our laws? when police are no longer our protectors but have legal sanction to repress? to quell voices raised in protest at rampant wrong doings by State? When State becomes the oppressor - a violator of our democratic and constitutional rights? Who do we turn to? and how much will we bear? What are our Seemas (boundaries, limits, horizons) and what should we do for our Azadi (freedom)?

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

I Confess

For a person particularly partial to Gandhian philosophy, ideals of austere simplicity and aspirations to frugality, I Confess, I am utterly, and dismally spoilt. I am spoilt by a taste of finer things in life, the decadence of self indulgence and appeasement of flesh and senses. I live in eternal guilt torn between lists of what I believe in and what I indulge in, seesawing between principles and greed, beliefs and habits. And then, occasionally I am directed, by outside forces, towards my right-action...and a just sometimes, I favor it.

For years now I have stood, absolutely guilty, in prolonged hot showers, chiding myself, scolding, gathering will power to step away, close the tap - save water, save energy, save the Earth - to deaf ears and an unheeding self. In a recent list of Enviromentaly friendly measures for city folks ( I am an avid reader of all that I do not do), I agreed that the most difference I could make was by taking cold showers! And so...the other day the geyser broke. Bangalore these days is a cool 25 degrees during day (at least inside IISc.) and tap water freezing - or so it seems. This was my chance to exercise mind-over-matter, a litmus test of my beliefs, a chance to live the Way.

For 5 days now, I have resolutely paused and pondered, willing to enter a shower of icy needles, soap and clean in a blink of an eye and re-emerge in two minutes flat - shivering, but smiling and victorious. Of course, I would have preferred the victory to be sweeter, warmer...

Meanwhile, the kids have immediately taken to using the other bath with a working geyser - NOT FAIR!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Science And Society

For some time now, I have been deeply interested in the question of
science and its social relevance. Arguably, there has been great human progress, with proliferation of science and the related growth ofindustrial enterprise. However, the whole question of scientific process, scientific temper and its relevance to our daily living
somehow has left our and the younger generations untouched. India
today still remains fragmented by deep social, religious, caste
divisions that defy our common and melodramatic origins from bellies of stars. The timescales of origins of life on earth, the insignificance of our brief, individual appearances in the vast epic
of cosmic drama has failed to touch our imaginations significantly enough - that we think differently, act and live differently. We have somehow failed in our 'Responsibility to Awe'.

I think, there are two key ways by which society might benefit with
scientific interface. One is the act of placing a human life on the
space-time chart of all other 'action' happening around us - from
quasar collisions to quantum interactions of fundamental particles,
from mating of mites to significance of spiders, from geological
births to radioactive decays...and the list is endless. We sit here,
on earth, in middle of some incredible theatre, on all kinds of
incredible scales - unaware, unawed, unaltered.

Another significant aspect of scientific influence on society is the
process of inquiry and discovery. Of promoting rational, logical,
independent thought - encouraging critical questioning, questioning
social and religious dogmas, development paradigms, individual
happiness and aspirations, and larger rational responsibilities.

I believe that, as society, we are sinking into an entropy pit - exponentially. And yet, it need not be so - there is a way to be poised, in equilibrium - circling, always in free fall, and yet - not falling. This requires the urges to societally sink be perfectly countered by rational scientific thought, action, movement - persistently, perpetually - and in eternal balance.

Friday, 28 May 2010

I Walk the Woods No More...

It took just one person with inappropriately large powers, and a very large budget to change the face of IISc. Prof. Balaram took charge as the Director of Indian Institute of Science Campus in 2005. During the same period, Central government allocated Rs 100 crore to make IISc a world-class university ranked along with Harvard, Cambridge and the woods are gone, and also the fields, the dark groves of old trees. We mistakenly replaced world class achievements with world class buildings of concrete, steel, glass. Our leadership thought that original thinking and better performance could be achieved in larger, air-conditioned office spaces, more equipment, and shamefully high salaries - not to scale to the poverty that infests the land, hunger that wipes out our young, causes farmer suicides in hordes...We thought we would better compete with international performances, forgetting that excellence is an internal quality, fed by internal passion, nurtured by internal imagination - an obsessed curiosity , a pursuit to solve a puzzle, crack a problem - unmindful of the other, or the international, unmindful of pursuing excellence. Excellence is not an orchestrated, funded entity to be bought in shops, just as middle class happiness is not available in malls. Scientists whose discourses evolve around funding, and looking over their shoulders to catch up either with facilities abroad, or with salaries of their IT peers (with MNCs) are disabled to even comprehend, let alone access excellence.

Here at IISc, scientists are on verge of getting their 'firang' shaped spaces - it took five years to provide these facilities. Let us see, five years hence, whether they become a Stanford, or a Harvard, or whatever...

Meanwhile...I walk the woods no more...

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Bright Light of the Day..

That was the name he asked me to call him...the driver of bus number 2341, route 284 to Old Yelahanka. He said that by telling his given name, he would reveal is religion, caste, and he did not want that to influence our interaction....

I ran and got onto this bus around 6:30pm to be advised by the driver, that I was on a wrong bus. Since I had actually got a seat, I refused to get off, maintaining that if he took me to the closest point I could easily walk the rest of the way. He was appalled that I might walk 3-5 km or lose 3 rupees getting another bus. However, I just grinned at him, bought a ticket and kept sitting there - on a side seat next to the driver.

What followed was a 45 min. ride with a non-stop 'sat-sang' in this brief companionship.

This is how I had got into conversation with him : I heard him converse with a passenger next to me " A lucky man has a little less money - since with more money he forgets himself and the God in him" - I knew then that I had hit a jackpot for the day! When I asked him, how and why he spoke like this, he said,

" I am never tired or unhappy - I research human beings - I come across 2000 human beings everyday and from this I learn much!";

Him:" I see God or ONE supreme energy in everyone - we might feel that we are the actors - but we are being directed by a mightier will"
Me: " You are lucky to have this belief or faith; I am not similarly blessed"
Him : " You are Still immature on Spiritual path"

"Let me give you only one advice - every morning when you wake up, think to yourself, I am re-born today";

and "I will Pray for you"

For all that I Witness that is dark and grim, there are some days that get illumined by fortunate encounters (accidental? he would not agree) that are clean slated, clear hearted, and memorable for life.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Drawing Parallels

There has been stiff opposition, persuasion, arguments and discord over my previous blog - on my previous non-condemnation of Maoists...

I thought, therefore, I'd elaborate a bit more...

My personal protest history began with the first Iraq War, by George Bush Sr. I continued to subsequently protest, publicly and privately, the US invasion of Iraq. As I see it (particularly highlighted after Randy Pausch's Last Lecture), "For every Agenda, there is a hidden Agenda". US actions in Iraq were certainly propelled by hidden agendas that went beyond their 'Moral War' dictum. There was wide scale protest against this immoral invasion, internationally and in the US. And, there were disproportionately larger material losses and losses of lives in Iraq, unforgivable collateral damages of a war - waged by an enemy from outside. Yet, when American lives lost, if the Iraqis were condemned (especially by Americans who were the invaders....just to show how they were against violence from both sides), since by attacking the US military personnel, the Iraqis were undermining the peace processes that the rest of the world was trying to design for them...

Well, the situation in CG, according to me, is similar. Indian State is waging a war on CG tribal population, as outsiders, for its own set of hidden-agendas. The State is guilty of all kinds of war crimes against a civilian population, in this case, its own civilian population that are disproportionally large compared to the lives lost by the security forces at the hands of the Maosits, who increasingly represent the interests of the tribals in that area. And, the Indian army, or rather the poor suckers that we hire out as SPOs, try to save their own hide by latching on to civilian populations by using buses, ambulances on completing their own 'operations' against the locals - hoping thereby to be spared by the Maoists!! But when they are attacked by Maoists, and they die with the civilians that they deliberately jeopardised, we all cry "FOUL!!

I just cant seem to do that.


Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Why I dont Condemn Violence by Maoists

Today, on email discussions, condemning the recent Maoist attack in Dantewada, I stated that my position on the issue is firmly one of silence. I was also silent last month when 76 CRPF lost their lives - no outrage, no condemnation, no protests on violations of Human Rights - the Right to Life - LOST.

I belong to People's Union for Civil Liberties, because I am opposed to all acts of violence created, and inflicted by and between humans, and because I believe Civil Liberties of All People, a cause worth defending. And Yet...

I cannot bring myself to simple condemnation of lives lost recently in Maoist attacks. Many reasons why I should do so have surfaced - some examples being
" If you want (PUCL) to be taken seriously you must condemn violence by both parties",
"you don't want to be branded as Maoist sympathiser",
"All human lives are precious and one must oppose all violence" etc.

To varying degrees, I do agree with the above positions. And Yet...

I have no tears, no anger, no outcries..
I sit in anaesthetised sorrow, a pain that only translates to longer hours of harder work, more protests, more letters, more leaving-no-room-for-sorrow, and working toward right-actions - at least right by me.

And my position on most conflict situations in the country today is as follows:
I hold the Indian State firmly responsible for creating these situation of conflict, in Chattisgarh, Orissa, and elsewhere. I feel that the state inflicted violence is vastly in excess, continuous and largely 'collateral' in nature. I see this State as representative of me, of who and how I am. I am ashamed and impotent as actions of this State seek to benefit my class, but do not represent - at all - my personal positions, politics, or understanding.

I see me, us, all of us - cumulatively as creators of these vast wrong doings on fellow citizens, mostly not-in-garb of alternate politics - largely women, children, old - those left behind when men, the able, run away into - fields, forests, far from the State or State Sponsored attacks...and I see myself responsible for this, in not stopping those that represent me. And for this that I or mine do... I do not continuously condemn - I do not have a roster of death tolls under my name,or my country's name - for which I send out a 'condemnation' at say every 50, or every 100 lives lost. I do not keep tabs of the heavy toll taken by my country, this largest democracy, on its civilians, citizens, those that oppose the high, imposed penalty of India's development - I cry, but I do not condemn continuously. Is dying more horrific when it happens in 35, or 76, or some such large number , because it happens in single dramatic events, but other quieter wiping outs, over longer periods, genocides of people, cultures, lands, rights, less horrific? What about the 644 villages attacked by Salwa Judum (according to NHRC) and all the lives rendered meaningless because of it? of hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, of approximately three lakh lives?

I also believe that for all wrong doings, wrong speaking, wrong thinking, by non-state actors, we do have a mighty state to discipline us - harshly, strongly, insistently and often brutally. After these latest attack, there are many calls for larger, militarised interventions - to stomp out the maoist threat, to work even harder in Chattisgarh to preserve the interests of national security. I will watch this not silent, not mute, but also not effective in changing the future course of events that threaten to unfold.

How do I reach out to this country of mine? To those important governors of our national fate? How do I say to a nation - look at yourself and ask what you can do to make things right, for the least empowered of us, instead of appeasing only the corporates that are vultures at our doorstep for greed? How and who do I say all this to?

I feel that the country, its middle and privileged class and our leadership have strayed far from upholding the constitutional rights of all its citizens, and are very distanced from the ideal that seeks the welfare of the most. The effort to 'develop', 'globalise' are now formulas used to indulge in rampant, accumulative greed of a particular class that I belong to, which in turn feeds the hungry, globalised, powerful corporates that seek cheap people, cheap politicians, cheap forests, water, air, minerals...that seek a stupid, cheap India. Unless I and mine take responsibility for who we are and what we have become, how can I condemn someone else, who do not even acknowledge a belonging to 'us' ?

Saturday, 15 May 2010

The Tragedy at Mao and After...

My Dear Rose,

I weep as I read your words...Needless death, needless torture, misery - I cant make sense of the world these days or the minds of those that repress.

What can we/I do? Who to speak, who to write? Seems as if people in power are deaf, blind, and with impenetrable hearts. Is there a version available of the TV broadcast that can be uploaded on Youtube? I will share your report as widely as I can.

Wishes for courage, peace and hope, still-
10:00AM, responding to.....(also see Seby's entry)

On Sat, May 15, 2010 at 6:38 AM, Rose Dzuvichu wrote:
Dear All

For those of us who had been looking forward to the national meet at Imphal on 'State repression and sexual violence against women' , particularly from Nagaland, are shocked with the incidents of violence of the last fortnight,at the border town of Mao gate and its surrounding villages,which lies under the Govt. of Manipur.
For days,we tried to intervene as women from the Naga Mothers Association into the crisis that had threatened to erupt into another tragedy of violence at Mao gate.
The border town was sealed off and no Naga from nagaland was allowed to enter the Mao Gate leading to Manipur, as we heard of hundreds of women participating in peaceful dharnas against imposition of section 144 ,curfew and militarisation of the areas.On the 4th May, seven delegates of the NMA waited for two hours at the heavily fortified border, to finally get permission to meet the Inspector General of Police, Manipur in Mao.The appeal from the NMA was for restraint of forces and peace and we were witness to the strength of women's voices as we watched hundreds of women sitting in silent protest on the long road leading from Mao to Tadubi.
The tragedy of the 6th May was traumatic which has led to the senseless killing of two students by the Manipur commandos,hundreds wounded ,particularly women ,still recovering in hospitals and more than two thousand men, women and children on record, displaced and seeking shelter in Kohima, Kidima, Khuzama and Dimapur with relatives and by the villages concerned.The team of Naga mothers and public leaders who had rushed to the border of Mao watched helplessly as armed IRB of Manipur Police refused to let us or even the Red Cross go over to help the wounded and dead.After much persuasion they allowed the Red Cross doctors and nurses carrying medicines to enter Mao.The medical team were of great help as the Mao hospital had little medicine an with 3 doctors was not ready for the hundreds of wounded who thronged their hospital.The NMA suplied medicines from Kohima which was transported through some of the Red cross to Mao.Two of us as Red
cross volunteers were not allowed to enter Mao gate with the doctors, because the Police commando officer recognised the NMA officials.Two doctors, who had rushed with the Red Cross and had forgotten their ID card s were also not allowed to enter, even though the whole team claimed they were needed.The president of the Nags women union Grace shatsang was herself wounded i n the violence unleashed b y the commandos,while leading the rally at Mao
.The displaced women and children, have been helped now b y the Govt of nagaland in a tourist heritage village called Kisama, where they are bieng provided food and clothes by different Naga organisations, tribal Hohos,churches.The NMA organised a Candle service with the displaced on Mothers Day and hosted the dinner at Kisama. There are hundred of children, pre school, schoolgoing and even college students who are huddled up with their mothers in these shelters provided.When I visited them , as Rotary Club of Kohima,along with Doctor Rotarians in Khuzama village in the initial days, there were one thousand five hundred being hosted b y the small village which is adjacent to Mao on the Nagaland side..The whole community had come forward to help the women ,children and the aged who came trekking through the jungles and fields seeking shelter from the guns and violence of the Manipur Police and Manipur Rifles.There were many cases of traumatised pregnant
mothers and most of the children were suffering from shock and fever and flu, as our doctors checked patients.There was also a young mother with a one day old newborn who had escaped the violence.Most of the men had stayed behind as they were recklessly rounded up by the commandoes,beaten,kicked, hit with Rifle butts and shot in the legs, abdomen and treated like criminals o nthe run for protesting against state repression and for freedom of movement.These atrocities are captured on camera by visiting media people who were also caught in the rampage of the armed police commandoes.
Last night, video recordings of these terrifying atrocities in Mao gate carried out by forces that are kept to protect people, were shown for public viewing in all leading TV channels in Nagaland .We watched horrified, as they recklessly fired at the unarmed public, mostly women,who were beaten, kicked, shot and smashed with rifle butts,entering homes and houses bringing out men,even old men with their hands raised, to be assaulted,beaten and kicked on the streets of Mao like animals.Some of the commandos picked up stones and smashed windows of private vehicles parked along the road.Disgraceful acts of armed police caught on camera .
Two students o n the 6th May were killed, one was Loshuo, a B.A.2nd year student of sociology from St.Josephs college, Jakhama and the other Chakho, a graduate student of St.Josephs College, Bangalore.They had joined the protestors i n the peaceful rally, and were shot from behind by the commandoes.The post mortem report indicates bullet wounds through the heart and shots splitting the spinal column and lungs,when the NMA team visited the hospital at Mao.The Mao people refused to claim the bodies till their demands for withdrawal of armed forces and permission for entry of the Naga leader Muivah to visit his hometown was given by the Manipur Govt.However, on the 11th, the Naga mothers (NMA) from nagaland intervened by appealing to the United Naga Council to allow the NMA to receive the two bodies from police custody and give them an honourable burial.A team of twenty three Naga mothers from nagaland were given permission to croos the border
the nexr day into Mao, where families of the dead were waiting to receive the bodies from us.The President NMA Mrs.Abeiu Meru and I, as Advisor to the NMA were allowed by the Manipur police to receive and claim the two dead bodies of our children in the name of naga mothers.The bodies of the two students were highly decomposed,kept in two coffins in the police station.They were taken to the village square by the villagers who remained and their funeral the next day was attended by thousands of nagas from everywhere, with the Naga Stduents Federation declaring them as martyrs.Luoshuo had an aged paralysed mother, whom he used to bathe and fed every day before he rushed ot his college some kms inside the Nagaland border at Jakhama St.Joseph's college.His father had passed waway and his elder brother driving a taxi was the sole bread winner and paying for his brother's education.Chakho was a brilliant student throughout, from a family of 8 siblings and
studying in Bangalore St.Josephs.Two innocent students protesting armed state repression along with hundreds of others and killed.
The Naga Mothers organised a Peace Rally on 8th May, two days after the killings, on the border side of nagaland with hundreds of women from different tribes,including men.Jaya V, our friend from PUCL Andhra Pradesh, was on her way to the Imphal meet ,when it was cancelled and three of them were my guests in Nagaland and was witness to the tragedies.She spoke at the Peace rally in solidarity with the people.The NMA slogan of 'Shed No More Blood' of the nineties, was reiterated again that day with the appeal from women for restoration of peace, rights and justice i n the area.Armed Manipur commandos in armoured vehicles silently watched us,even in binoculars, as we held the rally on the Nagaland side of the border, on the main highway.
A Co=ordination Committee of Naga civil societies,consisting of the Naga Hoho, Naga Mothers Association, Naga Students Federation, Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights, United naga Council, Naga Women Union and All Nga Students Associaiton of Manipur, has been formed and an invitation was extended to the Manipur civil societies- the UCM and the All Manipur United Clubs Organisation by us, for a peaceful dialogue in a neutral place like Guwahati on the 14th May , which has been turned down.This invitation was extended as there is a long economic blockade imposed by Nagas from hill areas, including the Naga students federation that has banned any vehicle of Manipur from crossing Nagaland ,and essential commodities, fuel etc has been stopped and the valley is reeling from problems.The invitation for peace talks was also to avoid any further violence as the killings, violence and displacement has ended with the apex Naga body of all Tribes- the Naga
Hoho calling the actions of the Manipur government an attack on the Naga nation itself, which may have very serious repercussions.
Today we stand in this deadlock.Many Govt. offices of Manipur has been burnt down by the people of the Hill areas in protest.Nagas wanting to leave the valley Imphal are reportedly being stopped and searched,some prevented from leaving .The situation is tense in both the states.

Friday, 16 April 2010


I finally saw Firaaq, full of forebodings and fears, reluctance and resistance, unwilling to face the post-Godhra genocide in Gujarat, even fictionalised and on a small TV screen, sitting in the living room with my family in Bangalore, far removed in distance and in time from the horrifying events whose scattered pieces still cross my days, and inhabit my nightmares of soiled nights. I saw Firaaq with the dread of guilt, a combined guilt that people of India still have to acknowledge, accept - necessary to absolve ourselves, by first seeking forgiveness. And facing Nandita Das' Firaaq allows one to do that - feel the palpable fears of lives accidentally entangled in the violence that the state unleashed - accidental by the chance of birth - as muslims, in a hindutva enraged India. I felt fears' chill creep down, almost unbearable, in each set of anecdotes collaged - anticipating dreadful violence, horrific events that I would force myself to see, but that do not happen, in a taut, terrifying and tormented script - and through this all, a tiny child running along in long empty streets, big limpid eyes, searching for a parent.

To get even close to, in a most insubstantial, intangible, and non-damaging way, an idea of what we unleashed on our fellow muslim brothers and sisters of Gujarat - and then seek forgiveness, repent and rebuild all that we have lost, we need to first go and see Firaaq.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Rotten Games We Play

We were talking....about the plight of the tribals displaced from Chattisgarh, and there was an idea to visit the camps of those displaced, assess needs and follow up with a relief campaign in the cities. Fair enough, yes? This would serve to help the needs of the displaced and also raise awareness amongst the urban, educated, privileged.

It was then that she said,

(Such) acts of charity just serve to buy off human guilt"

The words hit me with a shattering force and splintered away fragile, precious, nurtured notions of kindness and compassion, sympathy and empathy, of sharing and caring - the very carefully structured notion of humaneness that we adopt towards the poor, less able, and non privileged.

For...are we guilty? For what are we guilty? Towards who are we guilty and how do we bear this guilt?

Without going off into generalities, lets talk specifically about what is happening in Bastar, Chattisgarh.

In a nutshell, this is the story of Bastar. Bastar is part of highly forested, highly mineral rich tribal region of Chattisgarh. Naxals and/or Maoists presence within the region, has a history that is several decades old. In 2005 the state of Chattisgarh mounted an offensive against the naxal presence in the area by creating Salwa Judum, State funded and armed operatives consisting of local tribals. A recent expose in Outlook highlights some of the key features driving this recent, large scale offensive on the pretext of driving out naxal presence from these regions. Drawing largely from the ‘State Agrarian Relations and Unfinished Task of Land Reforms’, report which claims

"Indeed, while the report focuses on the entire country (including a section on the Northeast), the part relating to the tribals and Dalits has special resonance today, as government forces engage in a bloody war with the Maoists in central India. The report is devastatingly frank about the collusion between government and big business, even accusing the two of funding and fueling the Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh. “This open, declared war will go down as the biggest land grab ever.... Tata Steel and Essar Steel...wanted seven villages or mine the richest lode of iron ore available in India. (After) initial resistance from the tribals...the state withdrew its plans. A new approach was necessary.... (It) came about with the Salwa Judum...headed by the Murias, some of them erstwhile (Maoist) cadres. Behind them are traders, contractors and miners.... The first financiers of the Salwa Judum were Tata and Essar...640 villages...were laid bare, burnt to the ground and emptied with the force of the gun and the blessings of the state. (Some) 3,50,000 tribals, half the total population of Dantewada district, are displaced, their womenfolk raped, their daughters killed and their youth maimed. Those who could not escape into the jungle were herded together into refugee camps run and managed by the Salwa Judum...640 villages are empty. Villages sitting on tons of iron ore are effectively de-peopled and available for the highest bidder. The latest information being circulated is that both Essar Steel and Tata Steel are willing to take over the empty landscape and manage the mines.”

Now to return to the refugees, and our role in the story. When corporations become big - bigger than people whom they can loot, kill, destroy, bigger than their governments or judiciary, whom they buy, bigger than the security agencies of a country, who instead of protecting lives and rights of their unprotected millions, protect the right of these mighty corporations, to remain mighty and profiteer, at all costs - then one must look at the fundamental support systems for these large agencies - like TATA or Essar. Who creates and keeps these companies so very large, that they may do anything? And when all the governance participates in this puppetry, who, who is there to hold them back - pull in the reigns, give that whack, that thump, that sharp admonishment. It is the large people base, their share holders, the consumers of their products, goods, the ones who benefit, and the ones who shop with the ill fruits of their partnerships, yes, US, we the privileged, educated, wealthy, burgeoning middle class that are the strength behind their wickedness - the same we
who trample, crush, pulverise our fellow brothers and sisters and want to, in spirit of generosity, compassion, share some crumbs of our dastard wealth with the very ones we have robbed to live, and live very well visiting malls and fancy restaurants, over wine and cheese...we are the true culprits and it is high time we owned up to our culpability and not just "buy off this guilt with acts of charities"