November 25, 2015

India: Among the Ramayanas, Sita’s ascent (Anuradha Raman)

The Hindu, November 25, 2015
Among the Ramayanas, Sita’s ascent

Anuradha Raman

With concerted attempts to homogenise the epic and make one size applicable to all, questions must be asked about what we do with the many Ramayanas in the countryside.

Call it an anti-intellectual antidote to the one Ramayana that is being foisted by the cultural watchdogs of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as they go about in earnest setting dates around which the epic’s main hero was born. And this based on a study of the constellations in an attempt to provide a standardised text for all.

However, in Kannada poet Du. Saraswathi’s telling of the epic, in which Sita speaks, there is little room for the man extolled and venerated as the most virtuous one. Seen through her eyes, he appears diminished. Saraswathi, also a feisty woman’s rights activist, who represents one of the many small traditions that India is, points out that in every village there is an account of the epic. In every village there is a marker, a spring, a rock, or a tree around which the timeless story of the king of Ayodhya is woven. And these are far removed from the tele-version that was aired on Doordarshan in the 1980s and that has since spawned several imitations as kitschy as the original. In these attempts, the epic has been standardised, overlooking the layered interpretations that go beyond what the eye can see on television.

Representing unseen women

There is something deeply paradoxical in the retelling of the Ramayana, a satire by Sannthimmi, the character created by Saraswathi, who represents little, unknown and unseen Indian women, who are comfortable without the heroes in their lives. This is a Sita who goes about her everyday work, cooking for all those dear to her. Saraswathi has not brought her one-woman act to Delhi, but she has travelled around the villages and towns of Karnataka; the telling of the epic has evolved with her. As she puts it, her attempt is to show that the rural folk of India have their knowledge systems and philosophies in place, which cannot be dislodged by an attempt to push through a linear, homogenous narrative. “I fear that is what is being attempted right now; it is an attempt to force down a narrative which is compatible to us all,” she says.

Nearly five years ago, poet and scholar A.K. Ramanujan’s Three Hundred Ramayanas, prescribed as study material for history undergraduates in Delhi University, was removed from the curriculum. This was following pressure from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student body affiliated to the BJP, and claiming to be among the torch-bearers of Indian tradition. It had found the essay objectionable. The vice chancellor who made the decision to expunge the essay, said that there was nothing intellectual about it, implying that it lacked the heft necessary for its inclusion in the curriculum. Yet, as more attempts are being made to standardise the epic, questions must be asked about what do we do with the many Ramayanas in the countryside. As the Culture Ministry blesses an exhibition which seeks to authenticate the Ramayana among other epics by raising it to a historical fact, there are many Ramayanas in the countryside that the government is oblivious to.

In every village there is a rock or a tree around which the timeless story of the king of Ayodhya is woven. These are far removed from the version that was aired on Doordarshan.

Saraswathi’s fears are not unfounded when placed in the context of Union Minister of State for Culture and Tourism Mahesh Sharma’s praise for a foundation researching on the Ramayana, mirroring the attempts being made by the Indian Council of Historical Research to fix a date to the epic. While many question the attempts to historicise the Ramayana, for Saraswathi the dangers lie in removing the many Ramayanas where Sita is a single woman, a single mother, and comfortable in her own skin. It is also a feminist interpretation of Sita from a Dalit perspective. As Saraswathi grapples with her central character, a leading television channel has decided to take the plunge again, delving into the epic in an attempt to see it from a woman’s perspective.

Branding exercise

“Siya Ke Ram”, being marketed and advertised as the Ramayana from Sita’s point of view, is as glossy as its previous electronic media avatars. And though the general manager of Star Plus, Gaurav Banerjee, says his telling of the epic is Sita’s narrative, there is no escaping the Ramayana branding exercise under way. Using the official Twitter handle of the channel, you can retweet if you like an episode in the serial, which is aired six times a week on prime time. The Twitter handle, ‘@StarPlus’, raises questions about questions that Sita asks in the epic. An example: “Is Sita right in asking questions?” The answers are a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. Mr. Banerjee promises that all the characters will spring a surprise. Kaikeyi, Rama’s stepmother, is depicted as a woman who is extraordinarily intelligent and forced to extract a promise from King Dasharatha only to safeguard her son’s future. “We can understand her dilemma,” he says.

The programme has spawned Twitter handles from fans, and there is no escaping the fact that this is a telling that conforms to the grand vision of the BJP. Lost in the hyper-marketing branding exercise is the voice of Saraswathi.

“I am happy with my life,” says Saraswathi’s Sita. “I say this not with sadness or anger. One day the throne you sit on will pierce you and to Mother Earth you will also return.” Saraswathi cooks on stage for an audience as she tells her story. She doesn’t have the time to do a stand-up number. Like other women, she too has to juggle various responsibilities that life has thrown at her. These include being a single mother to two sons.

As the academic Velcheru Narayana Rao reminds us in A Ramayana of their Own, “The Ramayana in India is not a story with a variety of retellings; it is a language with which a host of statements may be made.” It is a reminder for anyone who wishes to engage with the epic.


November 24, 2015

India: Signs of parliamentary decline | Lokniti-CSDS survey says 38.9 % approve of "We should get rid of Parliament and elections and have a strong leader"

The Indian Express

Winter is coming
Unless government engages Opposition, Parliament will be about ordinances and obstruction.

Written by Christophe Jaffrelot | Updated: November 24, 2015 8:23 am

Parliament house in New Delhi on July 24th 2015. Express photo by Ravi Kanojia.

The last monsoon session of Parliament was one of the most dysfunctional in Indian history, with no non-money bills passed in the Rajya Sabha, and eight bills cleared by the Lok Sabha after the speaker suspended 25 Congress MPs. None of the government’s priority bills was put to a vote in the Upper House. In fact, the Rajya Sabha could work for only 9 per cent of its allotted time, and Lok Sabha for 48 per cent, because of continuous disruptions by the Opposition. In the last five years, things have been worse only once, in 2010, when the Rajya Sabha could work for only 2 per cent of the allotted time because of disruptions by the BJP, which was protesting the 2G spectrum scandal. Clearly, the Congress was paying back the BJP in the same coin, and had the same demands: Corrupt ministers and chief ministers have to go; Parliament can only function after their resignations.

But India has witnessed additional signs of parliamentary decline under the Narendra Modi government. The cabinet system enshrined in the Constitution implies that the prime minister heads a team of ministers responsible before Parliament, an institution where debates are supposed to make democracy work. These institutions have been eroding for years, but at least more than just a couple of people were in the driving seat. In the present government, fewer ministers than in the previous one really matter.

Second, Parliament has lost its importance. While Modi described Parliament as the “temple of democracy”, he has, so far, not attended as many of its meetings per year as his predecessors. Instead of promoting inside Parliament the bills he needs passed, Modi has resorted to more ordinances than recent governments. In one year, he has issued about 14 ordinances. In contrast, UPA 2 issued only 25 ordinances (four per year). This is not only because of the NDA’s lack of a majority in the Rajya Sabha. The frequent promulgation of ordinances has more to do with a managerial ethos according to which the government should deliver quickly. In that view, parliamentary work is seen as a waste of time — and the disruptions of the monsoon session, telecast on TV, might have reaffirmed this impression in the eyes of many citizens. An increasingly large minority has turned towards anti-parliamentarism, as is evident from a recent Lokniti-CSDS survey that shows that 38.9 per cent of respondents “strongly approve” or “somewhat approve” of the following proposition: “We should get rid of Parliament and elections and have a strong leader decide things.” The percentages are almost the same when “strong leader” is replaced with “the army” or “experts”.

This result-oriented brand of politics is part of the “Gujarat model”, which was to mean business in many different senses of the word. The Gujarat Assembly did not sit for more than 150 days in 2008-12 (that is, 30 days a year, on average) and 154 days during the previous legislature, in contrast to the 1980s and 1990s, when it met for more than 200 days during each full term of the assembly. Similarly, as Gujarat chief minister, Modi related directly to the state bureaucracy and only a handful of ministers mattered — such as Amit Shah, who held more than 10 portfolios.

But this trend is affecting all states, where assemblies and ministers are becoming more irrelevant. In 2014, the assemblies of Bihar, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Odisha worked between 35 and 59 days. Some winter sessions only lasted for two to five days (in Gujarat, UP, MP and Bihar) and some monsoon sessions simply did not take place — not to say anything about super-short budget sessions (whose brevity needs to be qualified because of the role of legislative committees).

This was on par with the hyper-concentration of ministerial portfolios in the hands of chief ministers. UP CM Akhilesh Yadav gets 35 ministerial departments, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar 19 in his previous government, Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje 16, Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar 14, and Gujarat CM Anandiben Patel 13, like Kerala CM Oomen Chandy. Others, including the CMs of West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka, keep nine to 10 portfolios. The most collegial CM of a large state seems to be Naveen Patnaik of Odisha, who keeps only three portfolios, including home. Interestingly, most CMs retain the home ministry.

This concentration of power is a reflection of the power structure prevailing in most of the ruling parties these CMs belong to. While state leaders of the BJP and Congress have to report to the party’s heads, state parties have often become the property of one man/ woman, or even one family. How can parliamentary democracy prevail when there is no democracy within the ruling party?

Whether this arrangement is conducive to efficacy remains to be seen. But it diminishes the democratic potential of important checks-and-balances institutions. All the more so as some CMs who have a clear majority resort to ordinances. Raje is a case in point. In December 2014, her government issued two ordinances that set conditions for candidates to contest rural local body elections. The fact that these measures were taken without debate in the assembly goes against the spirit of parliamentarism.

The coming winter session of the Lok Sabha may see changes because of the BJP’s defeat in Bihar, which may make the government more interested in being a team player, since it will not get a majority in the Rajya Sabha in the foreseeable future. Indeed, if the Union government wants to defuse legislative paralysis, it will engage the Opposition and bargain. Otherwise, ordinances and obstruction will remain the order of the day. That may happen if India’s rulers want to continue to resort to ordinances and don’t mind giving a bad name to parliamentarism — or even seek to foster anti-parliamentarism.
The writer is senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, Paris, professor of Indian Politics and Sociology at King’s India Institute, London, and non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
- See more at: http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/editorials/winter-is-coming-3/

India:: Confronting the Sangh Parivar: Passive and Active Resistance (Sumanta Banerjee)

Economic and Political weekly, Vol - L No. 46-47, November 21, 2015

The Bihar post-election scenario provides both the secular political parties and leaders of civil society movement an opportunity for coming together to plan alternative strategies and tactics to preserve the secular and democratic basis of our Constitution and pluralistic culture of our society, and protect citizens from the depredations of the Sangh Parivar.

The defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Bihar polls certainly reassures the Indian people in general that the Sangh Parivar is not all that omnipotent and invincible, and reinvigorates the spirit of the secular political parties in particular to mount a united national offensive against the Narendra Modi government. But this should not make us underestimate the capacity of the parivar to continue with its malicious designs through its various networks which range from the administrative agencies and academic institutions that it still controls through the ruling BJP at the centre, to the hoodlums of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Bajrang Dal and other similar outfits whom it employs to terrorise the minorities and stifle any dissent.

Besides, the euphoria over the Bihar poll results should not blind us to the fact that the Modi government at the centre continues to enjoy the mandate for ruling for another four years—unless there is some unpredictable development that may lead to a mid-term poll. This period can provide the Sangh Parivar enough opportunities to put its house in order (by organisational reshuffling), recover its lost ground (by a few cosmetic changes in its public image to woo back the disenchanted middle classes, as well as the hesitant industrial investors), and yet continue to pursue its primary agenda of setting up a Hindu Rashtra through both covert and overt means of encouraging and exploiting public grievances along religious lines. The secular political leaders who are envisaging a national united alternative to the BJP should deny the parivar the opportunity of such exploitation of public sentiments, by taking care of their constituencies. Much will depend on how the new government in Bihar under the Janata Dal (United)–Rashtriya Janata Dal–Congress coalition operates during the next four years. If it can set up a model of governance that is free of allegations of corruption and nepotism (with which unfortunately some of their leaders are tainted), ensures safety for religious minorities, Dalits and other underprivileged classes, and delivers the goods that it promised to the poor, that model can be propagated as an alternative to the BJP in the national election campaign in 2019.

Sangh Parivar’s Long-term Strategy

But while envisaging that alternative, we have to investigate also the strategy and tactics of those whom we are confronting. The members of the Sangh Parivar who are running the present government at the centre are ideologically committed to the creation of a theocratic state. It is intended to be a Hindu counterpart of Zionist Israel, the Sunni Sheikh dynasty-ruled Saudi Arabia, and the Shia Khomeini regime of Iran—where society will be ruled by orthodox religious diktats imposed by an oligarchy of politicians and clergy; majoritarian religion-based customs and rituals that divide communities living in a common space will be reinforced; religious minorities will be reduced to second class citizens; and liberal democratic voices of dissent will be suppressed.

The Sangh Parivar is already on the path of creating such a society in India today by the twin tactics of (i) invading the sociocultural sphere through moral policing (for example, imposing styles of dressing, banning eating habits and inter-religious marriages, attacking dissenters and rationalists) in the name of defending its moral ideal which is described variously as “Swadeshi” and “Hindu” (interchangeable terms in its political vocabulary); and (ii) terrorising the religious minorities (particularly the Muslims) and Dalits and tribals into a position of total subjugation, as evident from the rising incidents of attacks on them during the current Modi regime in different parts of the country, for which the local Sangh Parivar Hindu upper caste leaders and gangsters have been accused but remain unpunished. While carrying out these twin tasks, the parivar’s muscle men are assured of covert and overt support by the BJP government, and granted immunity from any punishment by an obsequious police force.

The Bihar election results will not make any difference to these basic objectives of the RSS-led BJP (euphemised as the National Democratic Alliance or NDA) government. Contrary to the advice and expectations of the liberal bourgeoise commentators in the media (who are desperately trying to reform the BJP into a respectable looking rightist party, and shed its Hindu baggage of superstitions and communal fanaticism), the umbilical cord that ties the BJP to the RSS cannot be easily torn asunder.

In such circumstances, we expect those political parties of the opposition which are committed to secular values, to launch a nationwide resistance against the Sangh Parivar’s long-term strategy of creating a Hindu rashtra. Unfortunately, however, these parties are in a state of total paralysis. Even in the states that they are ruling—the Congress in Karnataka and the Samajvadi Party in Uttar Pradesh—they remain mute witnesses to daily depredations by the Hindu fascist gangs in their respective states. In the one-time left citadel of West Bengal, the CPI(M) today is unsure of its role as an Opposition. It is cowering before the threats of the Sangh Parivar, as evident from its recent decision to reprimand, and distance itself from one of its own leaders, Bikash Bhattacharya (who was at one time the Mayor of the Kolkata Corporation)—because he joined a feast of beef dishes organised by a local Kolkata voluntary organisation as a gesture of protest against the Sangh Parivar’s ban on beef (Anandabazar Patrika, 5 November 2015)! One hopes that emboldened by the Bihar election results, these demoralised opposition parties overcome their passivity and assert themselves against the Sangh Parivar.

BJP’s Post-Bihar Strategy

Meanwhile, the BJP central leadership is harping on the arithmetic of a casteist combination of its opponents as the main cause for its defeat in Bihar. It is significant that the leadership has made it a point to exonerate its RSS guru Mohan Bhagwat and other Sangh Parivar leaders like Amit Shah, whose provocative statements during the Bihar election campaign often went to the extreme point of violating the electoral code. As for the rest of the country, the BJP with Narendra Modi as the prime minister (who lacks the honesty to acknowledge his own failure to bring back his party to power in Bihar, after all his braggadocio and macho gesticulations in public rallies) will continue to play the role of a double-dealer—cheating the masses with false promises, dividing them on religious lines, and trying to seduce the corporate sector with tempting offers of investment. True to its traditional role as professional hypocrites, the BJP central leadership, on the one hand, will officially distance itself (due to pressures from the Western nations, to whom it has to genuflect to get investments) from incidents like the killing of rationalist intellectuals, and lynching of Muslims. But, on the other hand, it will allow its foot soldiers (including legislators and ministers) to carry out such operations with impunity.

The BJP’s exoneration of its RSS gurus even after its defeat in Bihar, once again, exposes its religiously obsessive dream of a Hindu rashtra. But it is yet to be seen how it can manage to reconcile this ideological dream with its economic goal of creating a neo-liberal capitalist system in India in conformity with the secular values of a Western-dominated global order.

‘Passive’ and ‘Active’ Resistance

The Bihar post-election scenario provides both the secular political parties and leaders of civil society movement an opportunity for coming together to plan alternative strategies and tactics to preserve the secular and democratic basis of our Constitution and pluralistic culture of our society and protect citizens from the depredations of the Sangh Parivar.

They can surely go back to the tactics of “passive resistance” which were adopted during our national movement, when mass satyagraha, non-cooperation with the ruling administration, boycott of government institutions, and civil disobedience of unjust laws brought to the fore and world attention the immensity of Indian public discontent against British rule.

Public disaffection with the Modi regime today has reached a stage when sections of civil society are already resorting to passive resistance (redolent of our anti-colonial movement) against its policies and practices. Their voices range from non-violent demonstrations against acquisition of land by the BJP government for industrial projects in the rural sector, to the boycott of classes by students at the prestigious Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune in protest against the appointment of a third-rate actor called Gajendra Chauhan as their head, just because he enjoys Sangh Parivar support. There have been protests by rationalist writers against obscurantist superstitious beliefs and customs propagated by the Sangh Parivar, and eminent writers and intellectuals have returned their Sahitya Akademi awards. Other similar official awards have been returned by film-makers in protest against killings of minorities and rationalists by the BJP’s storm troopers.

The “passive resistance” against the Modi regime is thus represented by a large spectrum of India’s intellectual and professional world, ranging from writers, artists, film-makers to retired members of the defence forces (who are following the example of the writers by returning their bravery awards—in protest against the government’s dilly-dallying over their demands), and to Indian scientists who are publicly questioning the Modi government’s policy of encouraging superstitious beliefs and intolerance of scientific inquiry, some among them expressing concerns over the increasing acts of violence (for example, Jayant Narlikar’s letter to the President of India, reported in the Hindu on 5 November 2015).

Responses to Passive Resistance

But do these expressions of passive resistance have any impact on the Modi government? It is not only unwilling to listen to these voices of protest, but is using its minions in the police and goons of the Sangh Parivar to unleash a reign of terror on the protestors. In a midnight raid, the police arrested the protesting students of Pune FTII, despite the fact that their demand for the removal of the Sangh Parivar nominee as their head was endorsed by some of the leading personalities of the Indian film world (who felt that the appointee was professionally unfit for the job). Till today, despite a series of talks between the students and the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, the latter stands recalcitrant, refusing to remove Gajendra Chauhan.

In a similar arrogant and dismissive manner, Arun Jaitley (who significantly enough plays the dual role of a minister in charge of both the Finance and the Information and Broadcasting portfolios, which allows him to intervene in cultural policies) has the impudence to describe the return of Sahitya Akademi Awards by eminent writers as “manufactured revolt,” and suspect their moral integrity by questioning how many among them protested against the 1975–76 Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi, implying that they remained silent because they were beneficiaries of the Indira Gandhi regime. Jaitley’s impertinence stems from the twin proclivities embedded in the Sangh Parivar (that reared him up as a functionary of its student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad in the 1970s: (i) cultivation of a myopic mindset that ignores, and is indifferent to facts that are uncomfortable to the parivar; and (ii) partisanship in selecting facts that suit their purpose. To start with, while condemning the dissenters among the Sahitya Akademi awardees, Jaitley chose to ignore the courageous record set by one of them—Nayantara Sahgal—who came out in the open opposing the Emergency imposed by her own cousin Indira Gandhi. Let me remind Jaitley, that this was the time when his own leader from the RSS, Balasaheb Deoras was writing a letter from Yerwada Jail to Indira Gandhi (22 August 1975), cringing before her for pardon, and offering her the support of his RSS cadres. Soon after that, his party’s mouthpiece, the Hindi weekly Panchajanya (21 December 1975), greeted the emergence of Sanjay Gandhi in politics! Can Jaitley deny these facts—which he can check from official records?

As for Jaitley’s other false complaint about the “silence” of these intellectuals during the Congress-sponsored anti-Sikh genocide in 1984, he, true to his RSS-trained mindset, has chosen to ignore the role of independent liberal-minded intellectuals like the late Rajni Kothari and Gobinda Mukhoty, who during that genocide, presided over the compilation of a fact-finding report, jointly produced by the Peoples Union of Democratic Rights and the Peoples Union of Civil Liberties entitled “Who Are the Guilty?” (which was released to the press soon after the genocide, indicting several Congress leaders for complicity in the genocide).

As an instance of the other earlier mentioned myopic proclivity of RSS training, Arun Jaitley, when talking about the anti-Sikh genocide and blaming the Congress, conveniently ignores the statement made by his own leader Nanaji Deshmukh at the same time, who condoned the genocide. In a statement called “Moments of Soul-Searching” (written on 8 November 1984 and reproduced in the Hindi journal Pratipaksh on 25 November the same year), Nanaji Deshmukh praised Indira Gandhi and damned the entire Sikh community by identifying them with her assassins, saying that “Sikhs were cut off from their Hindu roots thus inviting attacks from nationalist Indians…”

Instead of engaging in a “soul-searching” that should lead him to question his own discipleship under weak-kneed temporisers like Balasaheb Deoras and Nanaji Deshmukh, Jaitley is insulting the widespread spontaneous manifestation of passive resistance by India’s leading writers and intellectuals (who have shown more courage than his “gurus”) by decribing them as “manufactured.”

Search for Modes of ‘Active Resistance’

The long acknowledged and universally recognised tradition of passive resistance (sanctified by memories of the Irish freedom fighters, Gandhi in India, earlier his followers in South Africa and the civil rights movement in the US in the 1960s) is being crushed by the present Indian rulers. We are today suffering a government run by religious bigots of the Sangh Parivar, who with the help of their foot soldiers are not only suppressing every expression of non-violent political passive resistance against their oppressive policies, but also imposing on common citizens their diktats in the name of a Hindutva-oriented nationalism. These diktats are increasingly taking on violent forms, most gruesomely demonstrated recently in Dadri and the stopping of the Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali’s function in Maharashtra.

Since the police force is a mute witness to such events it is up to civil society to protect victims from the assaults of the Sangh Parivar. There is a need for “active resistance” that can supplement the traditional passive resistance in order to prevent the religious fascist forces from taking over our society. How can members of our civil society carry out the task of active resistance against these forces? They can resort to the provisions in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which empower the citizen to resist in self-defence. Under Article 96—“Nothing is an offence which is done in the exercise of the right of private defence.” In fact, in a case, an honourable judge explaining the implications of the Article, said:

The law does not require a law-abiding citizen to behave like a coward when confronted with an imminent unlawful aggression. There is nothing more degrading to the human spirit than to run away in face of danger. The right of defence is thus designed to serve a social service…(Mohammad Khan vs State of MP, 1972 SCC (Cri) 24; (1971) 3 SCC 683).

Another provision in the IPC—Article 97—ensures every person the right to defend “his own body, and the body of any other person, against any offence affecting the human body,” as well as defend “property, whether movable or immovable” against “any act which is an offence falling under the definition of…criminal trespass.” Thus, going by the law, if the Sangh Parivar gangsters attack innocent citizens (for following different religious or social customs that do not conform to the parivar diktats), or violently prevent a person from wearing a particular dress or a tatoo, or vandalise exhibitions of paintings, or invade cultural shows (acts which amount to “criminal trespass”), citizens have the legal right to get together and resist them, without the need for approaching the police (which, in any case, acquiesces with the ruling party).

It is about time that civil society groups (engaged in social movements, like the National Alliance of People’s Movements and the various human rights organisations) get together to draw up a common programme of action to counter the violent and divisive machinations of the Sangh Parivar. To pre-empt the parivar offensive in communally sensitive areas, they can set up peace committees in mohallas with representatives from every community (Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Dalit) who can intervene in local disputes and scotch rumours that threaten to spark communal riots. Along with this, squads of young people can be organised to resist instigations and assaults by the Sangh Parivar goons. They can guard premises where exhibitions are held, or theatre shows are put up—when they are threatened by members of the Sangh Parivar.

An act of active resistance against sangh depredations was demonstrated in Gurgaon on 24 October 2015. A gang of Shiv Sena mobsters came to disrupt a play by a group of Pakistani actors. The Indian hosts who organised the play and the audience, however, stood up in unison and chased them from the auditorium (Hindu, 25 October 2015). Such forms of resistance against the Sangh Parivar on the streets, marketplaces and the villages are needed to supplement the passive resistance by the intellectuals.

It is a combination of these two forms of resistance than can create a new space for public protest against the imposition of a fascist Hindu hegemonic order. It can reassure our people (disenchanted with Modi’s tub-thumping, disillusioned with the paralysis of the national Opposition parties, and reinvigorated by the victory of the Grand Alliance in Bihar) that there are still alternative means of organised resistance against the offensive of the Sangh Parivar.

Sumanta Banerjee (suman5ban@yahoo.com), a journalist and commentator, has written over many decades for the EPW.

India: Rajasthan govt drops feminist literary giant Ismat Chughtai from textbooks

The Times of India

City literati fume after Raj govt drops Chughtai from textbooks

TNN | Nov 24, 2015, 01.10 AM IST

MUMBAI: Liberal, rebellious and progressive to the core, Ismat Chughtai (1915-1991), enfant terrible of Urdu literature, fought parochialism all her life. She led from the front and lived by her own principles.

One of her daughters was married to a Hindu while the other was married to a Parsi. She didn't consume beef, not because of the Hindutva diktat, but to respect the sentiments of her Hindu grandson. And when she died she was cremated at Chandanwadi because she had willed so. Mumbai where Chughtai spent most of her adult life is understandably outraged at the Rajasthan government's recent decision to drop her stories from school textbooks. That controversy follows Chughtai nearly a quarter of a century after her death, say city-based writers who knew her well, is gross injustice to a writer who epitomized India's composite culture. "Those who have decided to drop Chughtai's stories are not concerned whether she was a liberal and feminist or that she respected all religions. They want to send a message that saffronization of Indian ethos is underway and Ismat doesn't fit into this plan," said poet-lyricist Nida Fazli.

Defending the controversial decision, a textbook committee member said that Chughtai's stories, along with Safdar Hashmi's poems, didn't fit into the local culture of Rajasthan and the students couldn't identify with the Muslim characters in their creations. "Premchand penned several stories, including the landmark Eid Gah, depicting Muslim characters. I ask the textbook committee members, 'did Premchand write for Muslims alone'? This is a stupid argument," added Fazli. Sahitya Akademi awardee writer Salam bin Razzak says the purpose of literature is to break barriers. "Children need to be exposed to different cultures. Why can't a child in Rajasthan know about life in Muslim households of UP and vice versa? ," said Razzak who is also member of Balbharati, the state bureau of textbook production and curriculum research.

Chughtai held an acerbic pen and didn't flinch from puncturing false egos and the hypocrisy around her. And those who plan to banish her from the textbooks are not her first tormentors. They came in the form of those too who dragged her to the Lahore high court in 1944 , accusing her celebrated 'Lihaaf' (The Quilt) of spreading obscenity because it dealt with homosexuality. Chughtai scripted many films, including 'Ziddi', 'Garam Hawa' and 'Sone Ki Chidiya', it helped as her husband Shahid Latif was a filmmaker. Rebellion remained a signature tune in her creative outputs. She must be laughing at the ignorance or plain stupidity or both of the people who want to deprive children from soaking in the stories she penned.

November 23, 2015

India: Text of NSI Solidarity Statement to Anti-Communalism Convention by Artists and Intellectuals in Assam


Below is the text of [New Socialist Initiative] NSI solidarity statement (in Assamese and English) that was read out in the Assam state level convention of artists and intellectuals against communalism and increasing 'culture' of intolerance in India in general and Assam in particular, held on 22nd November at Laxmiram Barua Sadan, Guwahati, Assam.

We would like to express our gratitude to Comrade Biswajit Bora for translating this short statement.

* * *

প্ৰথমতেই আমি এই মানবীয় মূল্যবোধৰ হকে, সাম্প্ৰদায়িকতাৰ বিৰুদ্ধে ৰাজ্যিক অভিবৰ্তনখনৰ আয়োজক আৰু অংশগ্ৰহণকাৰীসকলৰ প্ৰতি আমাৰ সংহতি প্ৰকাশ কৰিছো।

ভাৰত অতি খৰতকীয়াকৈ অসহিষ্ণুতাৰ এখন উত্তপ্ত কেৰাহীলৈ পৰিণত হোৱাৰ পথত আগবাঢ়িছে য’ত ঘৃণা আৰু বহিষ্কৰণৰ জুয়ে দেখাত বিক্ষিপ্ত কিন্তু প্ৰকৃতাৰ্থত নিৰ্বাচিত কিছুসংখ্যকৰ বিৰুদ্ধে এক পৰিকল্পিত হিংসাৰ জন্ম দিছে। আমি যিকোনো গণতন্ত্ৰৰে নাগৰিকৰ মৌলিক অধিকাৰৰ ওপৰত হোৱা একাগ্ৰ আক্ৰমণৰ সন্মূখীন হৈছো – তেওঁলোকৰ নিজস্ব ধৰণেৰে থকাৰ বা যি বিচাৰে তাকে হোৱাৰ অধিকাৰৰ ওপৰত। এয়া হৈছে ধৰ্ম বা বৰ্ণ বা লিংগ বা শ্ৰেণী বা জাতিৰ ভিত্তিত দেশৰ সকলো প্ৰান্তীয়কৃত লোকৰ ওপৰত এক আক্ৰমণ। এই আক্ৰমণ হৈছে দেশৰ সংখ্যাগুৰুবাদী এক প্ৰকল্পৰ আওঁতাত নপৰা যিকোনো সামাজিক গোষ্ঠীৰ ওপৰত। এই আক্ৰমণ হৈছে দেশৰ জনগণৰ নাগৰিকৰ আলোচনা, সমালোচনা, তৰ্ক-বিতৰ্ক কৰা তথা বিৰোধিতা আৰু বিক্ষোভ প্ৰদৰ্শন কৰাৰ অধিকাৰৰ ওপৰত। ধৰ্মীয় উন্মাদনাৰ বিৰুদ্ধে মাত মতা তিনিজন বিশিষ্ট নাগৰিক, ডঃ দাভোলকাৰ, কমৰেড পানছাৰে আৰু প্ৰফেছাৰ কালবুৰ্গিক দিন দুপৰতে হত্যা কৰা হ’ল। অস্ত্ৰধাৰী ধৰ্মান্ধৰ দলে উদ্ধতালি মাৰি নিজকে সমাজৰ নৈতিক প্ৰতিৰক্ষী সজাই বলপূৰ্বকভাবে নিষেধাজ্ঞাৰ সংস্কৃতি প্ৰতিষ্ঠা কৰিছে; ভাৰতীয়ই কি খাব, কি পিন্ধিব, কি পঢ়িব বা কি চাব নিৰ্ধাৰণ কৰিছে। সবাতোকৈ বিপদজনক কথাতো হৈছে যে এই দলবোৰ কেৱল সমাজত সক্ৰিয় হৈ থকাই নহয়, কেন্দ্ৰ আৰু বহুতো ৰাজ্য চৰকাৰৰ ক্ষমতাৰ আঁৰত সুৰক্ষিত হৈ আছে। কেন্দ্ৰ আৰু বহুতো ৰাজ্যৰ হিন্দুত্ব চৰকাৰ আক্ৰমণাত্মকঅসহিষ্ণুতাৰ এই সংস্কৃতিৰ প্ৰসাৰত চকু মুদা কুলি হৈ থকাই নহয়, লগতে ইয়াত উদগণিহে জনাইছে। হিন্দুত্ব চৰকাৰে প্ৰণালীগতভাবে শিক্ষাব্যৱস্থা, আমোলাতন্ত্ৰ, পুলিচ, আৰু ন্যায়ব্যৱস্থাকে ধৰি ৰাষ্ট্ৰৰ প্ৰতিষ্ঠানসমূহত সাম্প্ৰদায়িকতাৰ বিষবাষ্প ঘনীভূত কৰি তুলিছে।

অৱশ্যে এইটোও উল্লেখনীয় যে স্বাধীনতা আৰু যুক্তিৰ ওপৰত হোৱা এই আক্ৰমণ হৈছে আমাৰ সমাজৰ এক গভীৰ অসুস্থতাৰ লক্ষণ। ৰাষ্ট্ৰীয় সুৰক্ষা বা ধৰ্মীয় আৰু বৰ্ণবাদী অনুভূতি তুষ্ট কৰাৰ নামত অন্যমত পোষণ কৰা বা মতপ্ৰকাশৰ স্বাধীনতা খৰ্ব কৰাতো দেশৰ প্ৰায়বোৰ ৰাজনৈতিক দল আৰু চৰকাৰৰ দীৰ্ঘদিনীয়া পৰম্পৰাত পৰিণত হৈছে। আমি লগতে সমাজত দ’লৈকে শিপাই থকা জনপ্ৰিয় ভাবাদৰ্শ যিবোৰে অন্ধবিশ্বাস, পুৰুষতন্ত্ৰ, বৰ্ণবাদী বিশেষাধিকাৰ আৰু হিংসাৰ প্ৰকাশ্য প্ৰয়োগক মহিমান্বিত কৰি তোলে সেইবোৰৰ ওপৰতো মনোনিৱেশ কৰাতো প্ৰয়োজনীয়। নিজৰ প্ৰতিষ্ঠানসমূহক প্ৰশ্ন কৰিবলৈ সাজু নোহোৱা এখন সমাজত গণতন্ত্ৰ কদাপি সফল হ’ব নোৱাৰে। অযুক্তিকৰ পৰম্পৰাত বন্দী এখন সমাজত স্বাধীনতাৰ নিজৰা ব’ব নোৱাৰে।

তথাকথিত মূলসূঁতিৰ ভাৰত ৰাষ্ট্ৰৰ প্ৰান্তত হৈছে অসম মুলুক। ভাৰতৰ আন কোনো ৰাজ্য বা অঞ্চলতে ইমান ধৰ্মীয়, সাংস্কৃতিক তথা জাতিগত বৈচিত্ৰ নাই। অসমতো দাংগা, নৈতিক ব্যাখ্যাকৃত হিংসা আৰু ধৰ্মীয় আৰু জাতিগত সংখ্যালঘুৰ উপৰত হোৱা আক্ৰমণৰ ইতিহাস আছে। হিন্দুত্ব ৰাজনীতিয়ে ইয়াৰ বিশেষ সাম্প্ৰদায়িক বিষবাষ্প ইতিমধ্যেই সমস্যাৰে জৰ্জৰিত অসমৰ সমাজ-ব্যৱস্থাত বিয়পাব খুজিছে। ইয়াৰ পৰিণাম হ’ব ভয়ংকৰ, যদিহে অসমৰ গণতান্ত্ৰিক আৰু প্ৰগতিশীল কণ্ঠ এই আক্ৰমণৰ বিৰুদ্ধে একত্ৰ আৰু প্ৰবল প্ৰতিৰোধ কৰিবলৈ আগবাঢ়ি নাহে।

এই অভিবৰ্তনখন হৈছে এক আৱশ্যকীয় হস্তক্ষেপ, আৰু এনে এক সন্ধিক্ষণত য’ত ভাৰতবৰ্ষৰ কেৱল ধৰ্মনিৰপেক্ষ অংগসমূহৰেই নহয়, এখন ধৰ্মনিৰপেক্ষ ভাৰতবৰ্ষৰ সামগ্ৰিক ধাৰণাটোৰেই অস্তিত্ব হেৰুওৱাৰ পথত। আমি পুনৰবাৰ এই অভিবৰ্তনখনৰ আয়োজক আৰু অংশগ্ৰহণকাৰীসকলৰ প্ৰতি আমাৰ গভীৰ সংহতি প্ৰকাশ কৰিছো।

এয়া এনে এক সময় যেতিয়া আমি একগোট হৈ থিয় দি ৰবীন্দ্ৰনাথৰ এই শক্তিশালী পংক্তি আঁওৰোৱা উচিত:

“চিত্ত য’ত ভয়হীন, উচ্চ য’ত শিৰ
জ্ঞান য’ত মুক্ত, য’ত ঘৰৰ দেৱালে
নিজৰ প্ৰাংগণত নকৰে ধৰিত্ৰী খণ্ড-বিখণ্ড . . .
দেশৰ সেই স্বৰ্গ, পিতা, কৰো জাগৰিত।”


ৰাষ্ট্ৰীয় কাৰ্যবাহী সমিতি, নিউ ছ’ছিয়েলিষ্ট ইনিচিয়েটিভ (এন. এছ. আই.)ৰ হৈ,
সুভাষ গাতাড়ে, আম্ৰপালী বসুমতাৰী, নবীন চন্দেৰ আৰু বনজিত হুছেইন


At the very outset we would like to extend our solidarity to the organizers and participants of this convention “For Humane Values, and Against Communalism”.

India is fast turning into a pit field of intolerance where an ethos of hatred, and exclusion is giving rise to seemingly sporadic, but actually very methodical violence against selected targets. We are facing a concentrated attack on the first right of citizens in any democracy; their right to be simply what they are, or what they want to be. This is an assault on all marginalised groups in the country, whether based on religion, caste, gender, class or ethnicity. Any social group whose very existence does not fit into a majoritarian schema for India is under attack. Also under attack is the right of citizens to discuss, debate, criticize, dissent and protest. Three prominent voices against religious obscurantism, Dr. Dabholkar, Comrade Pansare and Prof. Kalburgi have been murdered in broad day light. Hordes of armed zealots, arrogating to themselves the right to be the moral police of society, are forcing a culture of bans; deciding what Indians can eat, wear, read or see. What is extremely worrying is that these groups are no longer active only in society, but are also now safely ensconced in state power at center and in many states. Hindutva governments in Center and states are not only complicit in the culture of aggressive intolerance, but are also encouraging it. These governments are systematically communalising institutions of state; institutions of learning and education, bureaucracy, police, and judiciary.

However, it also needs to be emphasised that the Hindutva assault on freedom and reason itself is a symptom of deeper malaise in our society. Attack on dissent or freedom of expression in the name of national security, or for appeasement of religious and casteist sentiments, has been a longstanding tradition of most political parties and governments in the country. We also need to address the deeply rooted popular ideologies which valorise superstitions, patriarchy, caste privileges and public use of violence. Democracy can not thrive in a society which is not ready to question its institutions. Streams of freedom can not flow in a society which is shackled to irrational traditions.

Assam lies at the margins of the so called mainstream India. No other state and region in India has as much religious, cultural and ethnic diversity. Assam has its own history of riots, moralizing violence and attacks on religious and ethnic minorities. Hinduvta politics is trying to spread its specifically communal poison in the already strained social fabric of Assam. Its consequences will be devastating; unless democratic and progressive voices of Assam offer a united and powerful resistance to this onslaught.

This Convention comes as a necessary intervention, and at a time when not only the secular elements of the Indian state, but the very existence of the idea of secular India is under serious threat. Once again we extend our deep solidarity with the organizers and the participants of this Convention.

This is a time when we should together in solidarity remind ourselves the powerful words of Tagore:

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments …
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake”.

In solidarity,

Subhash Gatade , Amrapali Basumatary, Naveen Chander and Bonojit Hussain
On behalf of the NSI Executive Committee,
New Socialist Initiative (NSI)

Nigeria: 2,000 people were killed in a Boko Haram assault that destroyed a town

The Independent (UK)

Witnesses claim 2,000 people were killed in a Boko Haram assault that destroyed a town
Television footage showed scores of civilians waiting on the outskirts of Baga to catch buses

Sam Masters
Saturday 10 January 2015

Baga is said to have been all but destroyed in the Boko Haram attack AFP/Getty Images

Two thousand men, women and children may have died in Boko Haram’s latest blood-letting in Nigeria’s north-east. Those, at least, are the claims.

But in the restive regions where the Islamists passage is barely opposed by government forces, few facts – as human rights groups told The Independent yesterday – are verifiable. Even as President Goodluck Jonathan launched his campaign for re-election this week, evidence appeared to emerge indicating that his government’s attempt to prevent Boko Haram forming an Islamic “caliphate” in the northern regions is failing.

As the militants swept through, over-running government forces, one town populated by thousands, Baga, had until last weekend held out against the insurgency.

Protected by a multinational military base manned by troops from Niger to Chad, it was the last place in Borno State under the national government’s control. Over the weekend, that changed. “They came through the north, the west and from the south of the town because the eastern part is only water,” one resident told the BBC. “So, when we [went] toward the western part, we saw heavily armed Boko Haram men coming toward us.”

Soldiers walking in the street in the remote northeast town of Baga, Borno State (AFP)

At the sight of the insurgents, the soldiers put up scant resistance before abandoning their base and leaving residents defenceless. Politician Maina Maaji Lawan said Baga had been “burnt down” and estimated that 2,000 may have been killed. But other estimates placed the number dead at closer to 200. More than 10,000 people have been killed in the past year and more than a million displaced within Nigeria as a result of the five-year insurgency.

And Baga, local government officials now say, is no more, described as “virtually non-existent”. One man who escaped with his family told Agence France-Presse he had to navigate through “many dead bodies on the ground” and that the “whole town was on fire”. Another told Reuters: “I escaped with my family in the car after seeing how Boko Haram was killing people… I saw bodies in the street. Children and women, some were crying for help”. He added that bodies were “littered on the streets and in bushes”.

Television footage showed scores of civilians waiting on the outskirts of Baga to catch buses. Many carried the possessions they had salvaged, such as bags of clothes and rolled-up mattresses.

In pictures: Nigeria kidnapped schoolgirls

In the past week, around 2,000 Nigerians and 500 Chadians have fled Boko Haram attacks in Chad’s Lake region, the Chadian Prime Minister, Kalzeubet Pahimi Deubet, said on Wednesday. According to AFP, Boko Haram’s recent attack means the group controls all of Borno’s borders with Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

The Cameroon President, Paul Biya, yesterday appealed for international assistance to fight Boko Haram. The group is part of a movement that has attacked Mali, the Central African Republic and Somalia in its drive to establish its authority from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, he said. “A global threat calls for a global response. Such should be the response of the international community, including the African Union and our regional organisations.”

India: ABVP students attack President of Allahabad University Students’ Union (AUSU) who has been protesting controversial BJP MP Yogi Adityanath to the university

First women President of Allahabad University Students’ Union (AUSU) attacked by ABVP students

November 23, 2015
22nd November 2015, Allahabad:
In a shocking incident at Allahabad University on late Thursday night, students belonging to the BJP’s youth wing ABVP physically attacked, harassed and intimidated Richa Singh, the president of the students union and other students including women. The incident took place during a peaceful hunger strike that was being led by Richa. The strike was in protest of the impending visit of controversial BJP MP Yogi Adityanath to the university.“We were attacked at 2am by the General Secretary Siddharth Singh alias Golu, and Vice President Vikrant Singh of the Students Union along with dozens of other lumpen elements in the presence of the Proctor of the University. When we appealed to the Proctor to intervene, he simply refused to cooperate and failed to stop the attackers.” said Richa.

Following the incident, an atmosphere of fear has gripped the university campus and the city. Women students in particular say they are feel vulnerable. Richa states, “I have been receiving repeated death threats since the incident. If I, the women president of the Students’ body, feel unsafe, one can only imagine the plight of other women students. The administration is refusing to provide us adequate security.”

Earliar in September 2015 Richa Singh made history when she was elected to the post of Students Union President as an independent candidate, becoming the first woman to hold the post since Independence. The remaining four members of the Students Union are from the ABVP. Richa and 50 other students were staging a peaceful hunger strike to protest the invitation extended to Mr Yogi Adityanath. The BJP MP from Gorakhpur, who has recently been in the news for making communal statements, had been invited by the ABVP students without Richa’s consent to inaugurate and felicitate the newly elected union on 20th November. This is in blatant violation of the AUSU’s constitution. Mr Adityanath was later not allowed to enter the university as the requisite permission from the district administration had not been taken either.

source: http://www.aapkatimes.com/first-women-president-of-allahabad-university-students-union-ausuattacked-by-abvp-students/