openIndia https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/5915/all cached version 15/06/2018 19:33:28 en God votes in India, abstains in Britain, Part II https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/god-votes-in-india-abstains-in-britain-part-ii <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Unlike in India, British democracy, distorted by Mammon, is spared by God.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 12.42.47.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 12.42.47.png" alt="lead lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screen Shot: The Mail on Sunday.</span></span></span>Britain has undergone rapid secularisation in the last 50 years. It is no playground for religious bigots. Northern Ireland is an exception. There are some people who are always ready to die for their religion. In the rest of the country, the clergy’s influence has waned over the years. </p> <p>In neighbouring Ireland, the Catholic church’s hold on popular imagination has been loosened. &nbsp;This was once considered improbable. The latest referendum results that went against the Government’s faith-driven anti-abortion policy have been interpreted as a public rebuke to the Catholic church.</p> <p>A fall in the numbers of church-goers and the growing indifference to religion have been going on in Britain for decades. Perhaps the deprived tend to turn to God in desperation. So, when prosperity brought TV sets, washing machines and ample bread with butter and marmalade, the need for God declined in Britain. Commercial success promotes materialism. Poets foresee. More than a century earlier, Matthew Arnold had heard the withdrawing roar of faith!</p> <p>Even during the interwar era, the trend of religious indifference continued, though religious questions could stir up occasional excitement. Post-war Britain did not witness a religious revival of the kind that gripped the US. American evangelists like Billy Graham came and went but failed to awaken Britons to a religious frenzy.</p> <h2><strong>Different flavours</strong></h2> <p>Britain has taken major strides towards becoming a multi-religious and multi-cultural nation. The children of the British Empire barged in from distant lands and a large number of surviving Western European Jews made Britain their home. Immigration from Pakistan and other countries made Islam the religion of several thousand Britons.</p> <p>The existence of God and the interface between religion and science are debated vigorously in Britain. The writings of Richard Dawkins helped promote new atheism. The sixties assaulted orthodoxy and left a legacy of New Age religions. As the hold of institutional religion loosened, many young Britons started looking inwards. They found individual ways of fulfilling a kind of spiritual yearning. Many believers started ignoring the God without and heeding the God within. The trend of privatisation of religion picked up.</p> <p>The swinging sixties further expanded and intensified secular influence despite the traditionalists warning against television, lurid advertising and creeping crass commercialism. Society kept marching towards materialism. Growing affluence led to an increase in crime and vandalism. Rebels against orthodoxy proliferated.</p> <p>The Eastern mystics saw more devotees coming to their spiritual sessions. Esoteric religious practices aroused interest. Some Christian theologians devised terms such as “Christian Vedanta” which was contested by an Indian scholar! </p> <p>In a land of multiple choices, God started appearing in different flavours. The traditionalists pooh-poohed it as pick-and-mix approach practised in a spiritual supermarket! One commentator sees it as a mark of mobility, an individually decided preference. He says: “It may be as much as the “cool” of freedom that is being aspired to, as the love of Jesus Christ Our Saviour. If so, Nietzsche may be dead, but God only survives by being available in many exciting flavours.”</p> <p>In a statement more relevant to America and India, he says: “Annoyingly it may well be that religion is gaining greater traction, not because of its own strength, but because of the weakness of political parties. Politicians are desperate to reach and use pockets of activism, and – with the death of class politics – the most available and vocal belong to religious organisations.” He finds it slightly worrying. </p> <p>The plurality and diversity of groups within Christianity itself prevented British politics from being dominated by a single, major confrontation between politics and religion. British sociologist James A. Beckford, who makes this comment, could perhaps add collusion to confrontation! He says the British state did not therefore cast politics into a mould which necessarily polarised or amalgamated religion and politics. The fact that all major religious groups drew members from a variety of social classes and cultural backgrounds also helped to prevent religion from becoming a political issue in itself, he says.</p> <p>Successive Governments took steps to end discrimination against religious and other minorities. Political leaders learnt a lesson from the history of sectarian strife in Britain. They perhaps cared for their nation enough not to light the fires of sectarianism that would have turned it into Disunited Kingdom. </p> <h2><strong>Karen Armstrong on Hinduism</strong></h2> <p>A cynic may say they remembered how promoting sectarian strife harmed the former colonies and benefited the British Empire! The western powers know that the best way to destroy a nation is to damage its social fabric. The British Government created and exacerbated religious strife in the colonies but at home promoted religious harmony and multiculturalism. Writer Karen Armstrong said: “It is ironic that the British who had banished ‘religion’ from the public sphere at home should classify the Indian subcontinent in such tightly religious terms”.</p> <p>She says the castes there did not see themselves as forming an organised religion. They found themselves lumped together into something that the British called Hinduism. This term was first used by Muslim conquerors. The British used it to give a communal identity to the natives which was alien to their age-old traditions.</p> <p>Karen Armstrong elaborates further: The British based the Indian electoral system on religious affiliation and in 1871 conducted a census that made these religious communities acutely aware of their numbers and areas of strength in relation to one another. By bringing religion to the fore this way, the British bequeathed a history of communal conflict in South Asia.</p> <p>In Britain, the clergy saw the clashes between the Catholics and Protestants bringing a bad name to Christianity and moved to arrest the trend. They cared for the way their faith was perceived by the people. Considering how Islam is seen today, they were wise to worry about public perception. The Christian leaders have been trying to turn religion into a positive force instead of becoming an obstacle to progress. Modernity was allowed to seep into their very traditional sphere. That is why Christianity is no longer associated with primitive hysteria, as it was once. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 12.49.04.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 12.49.04.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>The tragic headlines about religious violence in different parts of the world may have also led many Britons to grow more indifferent to their own religion. Islamic extremism and the rise of British nationalism failed to cause panic in Britain about the erosion of Christianity. The Christian majority has enough self-confidence not to fall prey to any narrow-minded group that may try to instil fear in it by pointing to the growing numbers of the others. </p><p>Britain suffered from sectarian conflicts for centuries, but such ugly incidents are now limited to Northern Ireland. It is said that the establishment of the London Stock Exchange brought down the incidence of religious violence. Capitalism and sectarianism or communalism, as it is called in Indian English, do not go together. This is not understood by India’s business tycoons.</p> <h2><strong>Science, law and critical thinking</strong></h2> <p>Apart from the dampening influence of commerce that requires social harmony, two professions have helped check religious frenzy. Britain made significant contributions in the fields of science and law and jurisprudence, producing many eminent scientists and legal luminaries. Both encourage scepticism, argumentation and rational thinking.</p> <p>The British centres of critical thinking do not come under political attacks unlike what happens in the US and in India. The Republicans of America do not trust universities. India’s ruling party has sought to diminish the influence of universities promoting critical thinking.</p> <p>The decline in the number of church-goers, the ageing of congregations, and the rise in the number of disused and closed churches continue. Church buildings are reopened and turned into places of worship by other faith communities. The faithful have got used to seeing the churches becoming bankrupt and being sold! Rational Christians accept the reality and never make a hue and cry over the conversion of a church. </p> <p>Britain is known for football fanatics, not Christian fanatics! Even the pub fights on Friday nights never acquire a religious hue. Jokes about Jesus provoke mirth, not violence. The English trait of not taking things seriously has been accentuated by the media mocking all those who were once revered and respected. They can be turned into objects of scorn. No authority, spiritual or temporal, is safe from cruel hilarity. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 12.50.41.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 12.50.41.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <p>The failings of the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church, as disclosed by sexual and financial scandals, can get magnified! These convey the message that to be a Christian is not something great. No menacing group goes around asking fellow Christians to declare it with pride that they are Christians. In India, the secular Hindus are asked to repeat: <em>Garva se kaho hum Hindu hain!</em></p> <h2><strong>“God is my business.”</strong></h2> <p>In Britain those looking for “hurt feelings” have to look towards faith groups other than Christians. An official move to slaughter a diseased temple bull might hurt another community and footwear with an artistic image of Lord Ganesh have a similar effect. The host community can’t understand those whose religious sensitivity is hurt.</p> <p>Christianity in Britain mostly does not resist secularisation. At times, it seems to adapt to it. An Archbishop can preach liberal views or sing along to Beatles’ tunes during the Jubilee Concert! To a politician seeking to use God, an Archbishop might say: “God is my business.”</p> <p>Modernity, moderation and a new emphasis on civil rights led to the scrapping of legal provisions for discrimination against religious minorities in Britain. Inclusiveness and diversity became more acceptable. Several factors contributed to the evolution of a political culture in which religion plays little part.</p> <p>Voting intentions have been studied in terms of religious denominations. A section of Catholics tended to favour Labour. The Church of England was once called the Tory Party at prayer! It is now just an interesting saying. Sectarian differences do not dominate the political scene and never lead to a confrontation. No fatwa is issued before any election! A fatwa will not work since the Church of England commands little political influence.</p> <p>Faith, in any case, does not provoke passion, thanks to the growing indifference towards religion. Nor are political battles fought with great passion, especially since the end of ideology. British politics is not marked by a cut-throat competition. Failure in politics is not dreaded because a political career is not essential for survival. A defeated politician can always migrate to the corporate world and make a decent living.</p> <p>Britain has a much smaller and less conservative religious base, so a political constituency fails to develop. The relations between the Government and Christian leaders are never so smooth that a politician can think of winning popularity through their endorsement. </p> <p>Jesus in Britain, unlike Lord Ram in India, does not improve the electoral prospects of a candidate. Thus, there is no political incentive to create social disharmony by fuelling religious hatred. Political leaders in the UK do not try to polarise the voters on sectarian lines. They do not politicise religion. In fact, they fear that an attempt to misuse religion may backfire. &nbsp;</p> <p>In Britain, political leaders know that hate speech may cost their political career. Indian politicians have no such fear and at times they even violate the law in order to incite religious violence. That is why political discourse has been vulgarised in India. </p> <h2><strong>God, on His part, does not do politics</strong></h2> <p>In the UK, religion has become peripheral to politics. Even devout Christians among British politicians do not do God! God, on His part, does not do politics. God may be an Englishman, but he keeps away from British elections. His messengers bring no political message for the voters. Even the faithful do not consult Him in the polling booth. </p> <p>God grants no electoral support to British politicians. In India, God does bless selected politicians who invoke His name on the eve of an election!</p> <p>Britain’s commercial ethos, Christians’ approach towards their faith and the influence of institutions that promote scepticism, critical thinking and dissent – all have shaped a political culture that shuns extremism. Politics in Britain is not afflicted with religion. British democracy, distorted by Mammon, is spared by God!</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/god-votes-in-india-abstains-in-britain-part-1">God votes in India, abstains in Britain. Part 1</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> <div class="field-item even"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia uk India UK Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics L K Sharma Fri, 15 Jun 2018 11:39:30 +0000 L K Sharma 118418 at https://www.opendemocracy.net God votes in India, abstains in Britain. Part 1 https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/god-votes-in-india-abstains-in-britain-part-1 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Once Britain moved beyond religious nationalism, religion itself became a spent force, though not one prevented from speaking truth to power. Contrast India.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/&#039;Lambeth_Palace&#039;,_c1685_MoL.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/&#039;Lambeth_Palace&#039;,_c1685_MoL.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Lambeth Palace from the south. Circa 1685. Wikicommons/ Anonymous - A picture from the collection of the Museum of London. To the north, many of the riverside buildings off of Whitehall and the Strand may be seen. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>A lot depends on where you come from. It affects your way of seeing.</p> <p>Arriving from the India of the eighties, it seemed only normal to hear the Dalai Lama addressing a congregation in a Christian church in London. Coming from India in 2018, one gets anxious hearing Hindu, Buddhist and Sufi chants in a Brighton church. Some fanatic Christians may come and disrupt the well-advertised multi-faith event. They may be provoked further by the weekly prayer meeting being held in the neighbouring Bahai Centre. Nothing of the sort happens. No one arrives to protest.</p> <p>Multi-faith prayers mark the Brighton church’s reopening as Saint Augustine’s Centre for the Arts, Spirituality and Wellbeing! The church building fell into disrepair as the number of worshippers dwindled and it remained disused for 10 years. A real estate developer made the church appear in its new avatar! He bought the building, renovated it and rechristened it. The reincarnation of this Brighton church is not a miracle. Such incidents keep happening in Britain. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_114420.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_114420.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>The new owner is a Christian with an interest in other faiths. He looks enchanted by the Sufi prayers. This writer is unable to concentrate on the words of faith. He is distracted by thoughts of religion-politics interactions in Britain and in India. <span class="mag-quote-center">The new owner is a Christian with an interest in other faiths. He looks enchanted by the Sufi prayers.</span></p> <p>Inside the reopened church, the Gothic architectural setting flaunts contemporary furniture. Modern lights illuminate the high ceiling and walls. The Lady Chapel area is offered as an “unusual setting for boardroom meetings”. Sixty people can be seated for theatre-style talks or 20 people can sit around a large board room table. The Alter area is “an exciting space for powerful business presentations” as well as “a space for spiritual enlightenment”. For 36 pounds an hour, the corporates can invite guests to take their seats. The café and the holistic therapy centre are in business. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_114255.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_114255.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Gothic interior. Author's photograph.</span></span></span>While cafés pop up in church buildings across the UK, a village pub has started holding a regular church service in its precincts. There is no opposition. The pub-owner says Christianity does not disapprove of drinking. </p><h2><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_114025.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_114025.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><strong>Once upon a time</strong></h2> <p>The Hindu-Buddhist-Sufi prayers being held in a Christian church building reaffirm inter-faith harmony that was once generally valued in India. In the eighties, one had come to the UK from an India where devout Hindus passing by a mosque or a church bowed their heads.</p> <p>During a visit to Britain in 1955, writer Nirad C. Chaudhuri went to the King’s College Chapel in Cambridge on Easter Sunday. Moved by the service, he wrote: “I said to myself that if anywhere I, a Hindu, could think of becoming a Christian it was in such a place.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_114248.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_114248.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Brighton renovated church building.</span></span></span>In an Indian town in the late fifties, a bearded old man used to stand for hours on a street corner talking of Jesus Christ. A respected Sanskrit-knowing Hindu was safely invited to address the evening prayer meeting in a local mosque. India is dotted with places of worship visited by devotees belonging to different faiths. </p><p>Of course, India was never free of sectarian clashes, but respected community leaders always moved fast to restore normalcy. The participants in violence would later show remorse. Mutual hatred did not last long. Usually, all was forgotten and forgiven. In normal times, Hindu and Muslim neighbours live peacefully, the two telling each other: “You do your things, we do ours”. The majority community did not display triumphalism. That was the India that was. <span class="mag-quote-center">“You do your things, we do ours”. The majority community did not display triumphalism. That was the India that was. </span></p><h2><strong>Mental pollution wins elections</strong></h2> <p>Today a politically promoted religious resurgence seems to be transforming India. A thick layer of mental pollution shrouds the nation. Bigoted political leaders spew sectarian hatred and get away with it. They are encouraged and helped by the print and audio-visual media and even more by social media.</p> <p>Newspaper headlines tell a depressing story. A Hindu-Muslim wedding is disrupted by goons. An inter-faith couple in a public garden is thrashed by a group screaming “love jihad”. Journalists who do not promote sectarianism are threatened. The principle of secularism is attacked openly. The secular people are called “sickular”. A religious minority is threatened. At times their place of worship is vandalised.</p> <p>It is not a genuine religious resurgence. All this is done to polarise voters. Religion is deployed blatantly to win every electoral battle. Sectarian strife disturbs social harmony. But it helps a Hindu nationalist party whose electoral strategy involves religion-inspired aggressive political mobilisation. This strategy calls for generating sectarian tensions in the run up to elections. Attacking a religious minority in election speeches helps in the consolidation of Hindu votes.</p> <p>Religion has become central to politics as some poll campaigns in India indicate. The behaviour pattern of Hindus has helped. They prostrate themselves before the gods as well as before their mortal heroes. Nirad C. Chaudhuri points out that “between the secular prostrations and prostrations before the gods there is only a difference of degree and not of kind, because in India the most powerful political leadership is itself quasi-religious.” </p> <p>Niradbabu did not live on to see an Indian temple with the idol of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his supporters being called “devotees”. This aspect of Hindu behaviour makes Indian democracy vulnerable to religious frenzy. &nbsp;</p> <p>Some other features of the Hindu tradition are designed to sustain and enrich democracy. Hinduism features millions of gods and goddesses constituting a grand Divine Parliament! What could be more diverse and multi-cultural? Hinduism has no single Book nor a central religious authority. It embraces even non-believers in its fold. It has varied philosophical schools and a long tradition of scepticism, argumentation and disbelief. Scholarly debates once prevailed over theological divisions.</p> <p>Notwithstanding this glorious legacy, the faith tradition has been hijacked for narrow ends and is used as an effective tool for political mobilisation. Even the complex caste system and the multiplicity of gods and goddesses do not always frustrate a plan to rally a majority of Hindus behind one political banner. </p> <p>A political formation organises communal display of faith and taps it for electoral gains. Increased intolerance and violence mark the process as fiery rhetoric incites religious passion. That is why coming from the India of 2018, one feared trouble outside that Christian church in Brighton on that sunny afternoon.</p> <h2><strong>Borrowed nationalism </strong></h2> <p>Religious nationalism anywhere is always aggressive. True religion could not be read on the faces of the Hindus mobilised by a political party to demolish a mosque in India. According to Steve Bruce, who has written extensively on sociology of religion, the most violent individuals were usually the least personally religious. He also notes that many of the churches played a key role in encouraging reconciliation. In India religious leaders do little to bring about reconciliation between clashing faith groups. Some NGOs and secular and leftist parties make heroic efforts to counter hate and violence.</p> <p>India’s present ruling party says it is committed to “Hindu nationalism”&nbsp; – a mixed-up concept based on imported ideas. Leaving aside the party’s Fascist tendencies, it is to be noted that “Nationalism” was borrowed from Europe. And temple politics, through which nationalism is promoted, has no place in the original Hindu faith tradition. Temple cults were borrowed from western Asia. Even after their adoption by Hindus, these retained the features they had in their homelands. Christianity had fought and triumphed over these very cults.</p> <p>Christianity was a violent religion in the era of the Crusades of the 11th century. However, to see Britain as an image of contemporary India where nationalism needs to be clothed in religious idiom, one has to go back to the 16th and 17th centuries that saw constant sectarian strife. Religion was nationalism then. In fact, religion was a 16th century word for nationalism. Over the centuries, English nationalism discarded its religious garb. And in the last few decades, religion itself became a spent force. <span class="mag-quote-center">Over the centuries, English nationalism discarded its religious garb. And… religion itself became a spent force.</span></p> <p>Today no Protestant group displays a messianic fervour. No one retaliates or feels hurt if a church is converted into a multi-faith institution. Different faith groups co-exist in peace and even intermingle on special occasions. </p> <p>Surprisingly in Britain the rise of militant Islam has not led to a major spurt in Christian militancy. Attacks on mosques and Sikh temples have increased but these are not politically motivated, and the criminals do not enjoy political patronage. And there is no religious inspiration behind these. And all hate crimes are taken seriously by the police and politicians.</p> <p>The two major parties in Britain have regular internal debates to scrutinise if any of their members has been affected by the virus of Islamophobia or anti-Semitism. Racial prejudice is sought to be curbed and not encouraged with a view to winning votes. In the current situation marked by Islamic militancy, the election of a Muslim as the Mayor of London and the appointment of a Muslim as the UK’s Home Secretary cannot be dismissed as token gestures.</p> <p>Hate speech has no place in Britain’s political culture. Fifty years ago, senior Conservative leader Enoch Powell made a speech in an attempt to instil the fear of immigrants. That one statement ended his political career. A few weeks ago, a Tory councillor in Britain was suspended for Islamophobic comments on social media. Some Labour Party leaders have faced disciplinary action because their statements were considered anti-Semitic. </p> <h2><strong>The US and the UK</strong></h2> <p>The political scene in the US is different. There a Charlottesville Hate Marcher belonging to a pro-White group recently got elected to a Republican Party post. Britain does not witness the US-style culture wars. In America, a Christian group may indulge in competitive communalism, raise anti-Islam slogans and behave violently. </p> <p>In America Islamic militancy has given rise to Christian militancy. Bigoted pastors issue fiery statements and campaign for their chosen political leader. A special breed of American voters called “evangelical voters” command considerable political influence in selected areas. </p> <p>President Donald Trump banks on bigoted pastors one of whom was chosen for giving the controversial benediction at the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem. This fanatic has a record of inciting against religious minorities including Mormons, Catholics, Jews and Muslims. This pastor supported Trump during the election and blamed President Obama for paving the way for the Antichrist! Britain does not produce such priests.</p> <p>President George Bush had a direct line to God who presumably asked him to invade Iraq. Bush was never shy of making a reference to his proximity to God. In Britain, even a practising Christian among its political leaders does not wear his faith on his sleeves. If a politician professes his Christian faith too much, journalists start pelting him with hostile questions. </p> <p>British Prime Minister Theresa May offered an Easter message in which she spoke of herself as a vicar’s daughter. But she takes care to say that “we don’t flaunt our faith.” Her approach has been described as “a very English form of understated belief”.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_114401.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_114401.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>Margaret Thatcher opposed the national lottery because she was a Methodist. She did not hesitate to discuss religion and was not amused by the Archbishop of Canterbury and some bishops talking of the inner cities and the Falklands War. Tony Blair converted to Catholicism only after leaving the Prime Minister’s office. </p><p>In Britain, the demand for restricting the number of immigrants is driven by economic reasons rather than religious prejudice. Many Christians seem to have drawn a different lesson from Islamic militancy. They perhaps link violence to religions in general rather than to one particular religion. They have become more indifferent to religion.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_113918.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/20180513_113918.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>Of course, Britain remains a predominantly Christian country. It has a long history of close interaction between the church and the state. Royal occasions provide an opportunity for the two institutions to display their bond. The monarchy as well as political institutions such as Parliament are associated with faith and religious rituals. The formal links have not been snapped despite official secularisation and the social trend of moving away from religion. </p><p>The Archbishop of Canterbury lives in a mansion far grander than the modest abode of the Prime Minister and gets as much publicity as the Prime Minister. However, as a historian points out, “the effect of the Church upon the day-to-day lives of its supposed members had long since been subordinated to a variety of secular influences”. <span class="mag-quote-center">The Archbishop of Canterbury lives in a mansion far grander than the modest abode of the Prime Minister and gets as much publicity as the Prime Minister.</span></p> <p>The British clergy’s conduct also discourages the political leaders from thinking of misusing religion. In some countries, men of religion keep quiet when their faith is hijacked by the ruling party. Some willingly get enlisted by politicians to incite sectarian passions. </p> <p>When social harmony is disturbed, a minority religious leader has to be careful in what he says. In India, a letter of instruction from the Archbishop of the Delhi Diocese to its churches to pray for the nation was construed as an attack on the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister! Because of that innocuous letter, the Archbishop got mauled in social media by the devotees of the powerful political leader. Those benefiting from mixing religion with politics start warning others against mixing the two.</p> <h2><strong>Speaking truth to power</strong></h2> <p>The clergymen of Britain can and do speak truth to power. They often condemn the Government’s anti-poor policies and cuts in the welfare budget. The Church comes out with reports on the plight of the poor. It has contributed a great deal to creating the impression that Thatcherism was to blame for growing spiritual and economic poverty of the inner cities.</p> <p>Senior clergymen oppose the Government’s “immoral” move even if it seeks to enhance British power. For example, Anglican Clergyman Canon John Collins, along with philosopher Bertrand Russel, led the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1958. A clergyman was the vice-president of the CND for years. A few church leaders oppose Britain waging wars, though the Government always ignores their view. Politicians know that they can afford to ignore the church leaders. After all, how many Brigades does the Pope have?</p> <p>Some politicians resent those in dog collars campaigning against welfare reform. The churches bypass the official structures providing food banks and housing and employment advice. All religions talk of love, compassion and service. Churches in Britain, like in other countries, implement the message by running educational institutions and by collecting money for providing relief and deploying volunteers to help the poor, homeless and starved. One Archbishop hoped that the Church will fill the void left by a failing state. He saw the mood generated by economic problems as “the greatest opportunity” for the Church.</p> <p><em>(Part II follows)</em></p><p><em>All the photographs were taken by the author.<br /></em></p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> <div class="field-item even"> United States </div> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia uk UK United States India Conflict Democracy and government Ideas International politics L K Sharma Sat, 09 Jun 2018 13:14:01 +0000 L K Sharma 118323 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How students in India are resisting the Hindu-right's attacks on universities https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/ananya-wilson-bhattacharya/how-students-in-india-are-resisting-hindu-rights-attacks-on-uni <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In India, student protests have escalated under the current far-right, Hindu-supremacist government and been characterised by open ideological warfare.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-35987561.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-35987561.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>April 13, 2018 - Kolkata, West Bengal, India - All India Students' Association (AISA) and All India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA)protest against the brutal rape at Kathua and Unnao. Saikat Paul/ Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>At a time when Narendra Modi's Hindu supremacist leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India is moving towards full-fledged fascism with its <a href="http://www.southasiasolidarity.org/2018/04/22/un-human-rights-commission-urged-to-act-after-40000-sign-petition/">rampant attacks on Muslims, Dalits, and critics of the regime</a>, the question of what it means to be a citizen in India today is complex, and the answers frightening. </p> <p>But on a recent visit to India, I had the opportunity to interview several student activists about the main issues currently facing students across the country as a result of the changes implemented in universities by the government. How are students challenging the regime?&nbsp; </p> <p>The fundamental change they told me about was a nationwide move towards so-called <a href="http://cpiml.org/commentary/modi-governments-intensifying-assaults-on-premier-institutes-of-higher-education/">‘greater autonomy’ for universities</a>, which has affected 60 institutions so far, and is set to continue. This essentially involves cuts to government funding of universities much like the austerity UK students have been experiencing on a wide scale since 2010. Under the pretext of 'autonomy' a host of measures are being imposed which are likely to transform, and even threaten, well-known universities with a progressive reputation like Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi. </p> <p>JNU has a long history of left-wing activism, primarily due to the strong presence of AISA (All India Students Association), the student wing of the CPIML (Communist Party of India – Marxist-Leninist), in the university. Chintu Kumari, a student there and a leading member of AISA, told me about the resistance to the dismantling of the Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH), which was set up in the late 1990s and includes representatives from different political organisations across the university. </p> <p>What made GSCASH so effective, Chintu explains, is that it worked on a number of different levels: not only did the body serve as a support system for survivors of gender violence and sexual harassment, it also held well-attended, public talks which aimed to raise awareness of the complexities of sexual harassment, and give students a much-needed clearer understanding of how it could operate. </p> <p>But these initiatives have faced hostility from JNU’s recently appointed pro-BJP Vice Chancellor, who is also a member of the BJP’s parent organisation, <a href="http://www.sacw.net/DC/CommunalismCollection/ArticlesArchive/casolari.pdf">the openly fascist RSS</a>. Last year, the Vice Chancellor replaced GSCASH with an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), which has been framed as a resource for victims of harassment to report their experiences. In reality, however, the ICC is neither effective in this respect, nor does it cater towards students’ needs on any wider level. The members are solely appointed by the Vice Chancellor and are thus all affiliated to the BJP and/or the RSS – organisations with <a href="https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/RSS-chief-Mohan-Bhagwats-remark-on-rape-has-to-be-understood-in-entirety-BJP/articleshow/17894925.cms">a blatantly patriarchal ideology</a>. Chintu describes the ICC as a ‘puppet body’ for the Vice Chancellor, a way for him to maintain maximum control over the students’ response to harassment. </p> <p>But the students are not taking this lying down. Two days before I spoke to Chintu, a major protest - in which <a href="http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/delhi/2018/mar/23/delhi-police-fires-water-cannons-lathicharge-at-jawaharlal-nehru-university-students-1791509.html">the police used water cannon and baton charges to attack and disperse the students</a> – took place at JNU around a range of related changes which are severely affecting students’ lives.</p> <p>Beyond these structural changes, individual cases of harassment involving university staff are rife. Chintu tells me about the shocking scandal around Atul Johari, a professor of life sciences with close links to the BJP. Recently, nine female students – all in the final year of their PhD – filed a joint complaint against him for sexual harassment. All these students were members of the ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad), the student organisation affiliated with the BJP – indicating that this abuse of power in universities takes place within such Hindu rightwing circles as well as across political divides. </p> <h2><strong>‘Saffronisation’</strong></h2> <p>The ‘saffronisation’ of education – the imposition of the BJP’s ‘Hindutva’ ideology upon the syllabus – is another phenomenon which is negatively impacting on student experiences across the country. Chintu tells me how this has particularly affected arts and humanities students, ­­­­­­as their fields of study are often deprioritised and – more importantly – seen as a threat to this ideology. One example of this is an entrance exam for an MPhil course at JNU, which included a question on the <a href="https://www.ndtv.com/opinion/bigotry-and-islamophobia-in-bhansalis-padmaavat-by-rana-ayyub-1808938">recent, highly controversial feature film, <em>Padmaavat</em></a>. The film openly embodies Hindutva values through its denunciation of marriages between Hindus and Muslims, amounting to blatant Islamophobia. Students were asked to give their opinion on this film – a clear indication that they were being judged on their political leanings rather than their aptitude and passion for their subject.</p> <p>Another key aspect of the move towards so-called 'autonomy' is the government’s attempt to undermine the hard-won system of 'reservations', which reserves places at top universities like JNU for students from deprived and underprivileged sections of society, including Dalits, Adivasis and oppressed caste students, and those from remote and backward regions. <a href="http://cpiml.org/commentary/modi-governments-intensifying-assaults-on-premier-institutes-of-higher-education/">Only 20.75% of places were reserved at JNU in 2017-18, compared with the constitutionally mandated 50%.</a> It is no surprise that most of the student activists at the forefront of the current wave of resistance are from these backgrounds, and many are the first in their families to go to university. </p> <p>JNU is, of course, not the only university in which tensions are running high between student activists and RSS-backed administration. Sunny Kumar, a student activist who is also currently teaching at Delhi University (DU), told me about the cuts there. ‘The best institutions in India today are government funded,’ he tells me. But this funding is rapidly decreasing. Since the BJP came to power in 2014, government funding towards DU has dropped from 90-95% to only 70% in the guise of granting the university more freedom. </p> <p>But the situation at DU is not entirely negative. AISA, the most prominent Left students' organisation on campus, organises, among other things, study groups on Marx and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhagat_Singh">Bhagat Singh</a>, the Indian Marxist and atheist revolutionary hanged by the British. At a time when the government is desperately trying to prevent students’ access to such progressive thinkers in fear that this will mobilise them politically, this type of activity is a crucial aspect of resistance and self-empowerment. </p> <p>However, at DU too, AISA does not simply function on this educational level. Practical gains have been made especially around gender issues. Last Valentine’s Day saw them organise the ‘Love without Fear’ protest, which challenged <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/a-muslim-and-a-hindu-thought-they-could-be-a-couple-then-came-the-love-jihad-hit-list/2018/04/26/257010be-2d1b-11e8-8dc9-3b51e028b845_story.html?noredirect=on&amp;utm_term=.2fcbd4fdd2de">the government’s Islamophobic ‘Love Jihad’ ideology</a>, and the physical attacks on couples openly expressing affection – all-too commonplace in university settings – have been significantly curbed since AISA gained prominence in DU’s last students’ union election. </p> <p>Talking to these students leads me to think about the connections between student experiences and the wider political climate in India and the UK. The issues faced by students, namely those stemming from austerity and neoliberalism, have been festering for several years now in the UK too – the crucial distinction is that, in India, they have escalated under the current far-right, Hindu-supremacist government and been characterised by open ideological warfare.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India Ananya Wilson-Bhattacharya Sat, 26 May 2018 18:05:45 +0000 Ananya Wilson-Bhattacharya 118086 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Indian Supreme Court curbs one of the world’s most powerful anti-discrimination laws https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/ananya-wilson/indian-supreme-court-curbs-one-of-world-s-most-powerful-anti-discrimination- <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The vitriolic anger directed at the PoA might mean that Indian society is not entirely ready to face the depth of its own ingrained prejudice.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-35838739_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-35838739_1.jpg" alt="lead lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Candle light vigil to protest death of Dalit protestor during Bharat Bandh,Kolkata, West Bengal, India, April 4, 2018. Saikat Paul/ Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>On April 2, 2018 violent protests under the banner ‘Bharath Bandh,’ (‘Shut Down India,’) broke out across northern and central India, resulting in the closure of public transport systems, schools and shops. Ten people lost their lives, dozens were injured and hundreds of protestors were arrested. The agitations were a response to an unanticipated judgement by the Indian Supreme Court, which curbed the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act (PoA), one of the most powerful anti-discrimination laws in the world.</p> <p>First introduced in 1989, the PoA declared verbal, physical or ritual violence against India’s former untouchable community (Dalits / Scheduled Castes) and tribal population (Adivasis / Scheduled Tribes) criminal acts. </p> <p>The law outlined strict punishments for such offenses, stating, for example, that anyone who causes ‘physical harm or mental agony’ to members of the aforementioned groups ‘shall be punishable with imprisonment for a minimum of six months and up to five years’. In addition the PoA introduced a number of exceptionally stringent stipulations: a blanket ban on <a href="https://www.oecd.org/site/adboecdanti-corruptioninitiative/46814340.pdf">‘anticipatory bail’</a>;<a href="#_ftn1">[1]</a> the immediate arrest of accused parties; and the possibility of prosecuting public servants guilty of ‘neglecting their duties’. As a result of these harsh punitive measures and the unprecedented agency the law awarded Dalits and Adivasis, the Prevention of Atrocities Act has always been a highly controversial piece of legislation. </p> <p>P.S. Krishnan, former Secretary to Union Ministry of Welfare and original author of the PoA, emphasised that ‘since its inception someone has always been trying to abolish this law’. Now, the recent Supreme Court judgement, issued on March 20, has significantly weakened, or entirely scrapped, many of its exceptional features. In particular, it reinstituted anticipatory bail and stated that in the future cases could not be registered without a preliminary police inquiry, <a href="http://indianexpress.com/article/india/sc-st-atrocities-act-in-nda-two-different-views-on-supreme-court-order-5107946/">in order to prevent</a> what the court deemed, the <a href="http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-bjp-s-up-mla-welcomes-supreme-court-verdict-on-scst-act-says-centre-s-review-plea-politically-motivated-2601355">‘rampant misuse’</a> of the act.</p> <p>A. K. Goel and U. U. Lalit, the judges behind the Supreme Court verdict, justified the new provisions by pronouncing 15-16% of the complaints filed under the act ‘false’ accusations. Dalits and Adivasis were said to register untruthful or invented cases against innocent upper caste members in attempts to procure financial and social advantages. As such the judges warned that the act may be reinforcing ‘casteism’ rather than alleviating inter-caste conflict to pave the way for a more equal social order. </p> <p>‘Let me be honest, as soon as we even see a case filed under this atrocities act, we tend to assume that it is fake,’ a high-ranking official in the Rajasthani police force candidly disclosed. ‘I know that means we might be biased,’ he continued, ‘but so many of these investigations get filed away as false after the police inquiry that we don’t really have a reason to take the accusations seriously any more,’ </p> <p>Yet, my own ethnographic research on the implementation of the Prevention of Atrocities Act in Rajasthan – a state that in 2016 ranked third in the country for <a href="https://thewire.in/caste/ncrb-crimes-against-dalits-women">crimes against Dalits</a> and Adivasis according to the <a href="http://ncrb.gov.in/">National Crimes Record Bureau</a> (NCRB) – tells a different story. Surveying and tracing 40 cases filed under this law, I found that the phenomenon of the ‘false’ case is highly complex, politically charged and can rarely be reduced to straightforward categories of intentional deception or pure veracity.</p> <h2><strong>Village dispute </strong></h2> <p>Take a dispute in a village two hours north of the city of Udaipur. The controversy had arisen between the Dalit community and members of the numerically and financially dominant caste group (Rajputs). One Dalit family had wanted to add a balcony to their newly built house. However, the Rajput dominated village council decreed that construction of the balcony must be stopped. Drawing on outlawed ideas of impurity and untouchability, the council expressed concern that if water fell from the balcony onto pedestrians passing underneath, these passers-by would become contaminated. </p> <p>When the Dalit family in question refused to comply and built the balcony anyway, the Rajputs staged a social boycott and ostracised the Dalit family from village life. As a reaction to the boycott the Dalit family then filed a case under the dreaded Prevention of Atrocities Act. A police investigation was launched that found the Dalits’ complaint to be legitimate but, soon after, the police officer in charge was suddenly transferred. Following his replacement, the police inquiry was re-opened and the second police report denounced the accusations as ‘baseless’ and ‘untruthful’. </p> <p>A constable at the police station where the case had originally been registered eventually helped to shed light on this seemingly confusing series of events. It turned out that some of the men listed as the main accused in the initial police report (FIR), were distantly related to an influential politician in the district. The accused had contacted the politician, who, in turn, had promptly called the station instructing the officer in charge to halt ‘this ridiculous investigation’ and get rid of the constable who had issued the report in favour of the Dalit complainants. A second investigation then arrived at conclusions more palatable to the politician and his caste-brethren. </p> <p>The circumstances surrounding the aforementioned police investigation are suspect at best. Even if we acknowledge that cases such as this one represent challenges in terms of locating adequate legal evidence to support the claims of the lower caste litigants, the nonchalant manner in which the final police report brushed the complaint off as ‘baseless’ is worrying. The Udaipur case was eventually filed away as ‘false,’ and has gone down in history as yet another instance of legal misuse. Still, a closer analysis of the events should lead us to critically reflect on the claims about case legitimacy made by the Supreme Court. </p> <h2><strong>‘False’ cases</strong></h2> <p>Policy changes emphasising the pervasiveness of the ‘false’ case are often blind to the complex dynamics that cause an allegation to be classified as truthful or fraudulent. They further divert attention from very real experiences of caste-based discrimination that continue to characterise the lives of many Dalits and Adivasis in contemporary India. While article 17 of the Indian constitution officially abolished practices of untouchability in 1950 and the country has introduced affirmative action policies in higher education and government sectors for Adivasis and Dalits, caste prejudice, practices of social exclusion and forms of ritual verbal and physical violence are still alive in many parts of the country. Horrific crimes like the 2006 <a href="http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/Because-Khairlanji-is-not-just-another-murder-story/article16140401.ece">Khairlanji murders</a> in Maharashtra that cost <a href="http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/maharashtra-khairlanji-dalit-rape-murder-una-vemula-caste-system-discrimination-3055056/">a Dalit family their lives</a> and the 2015 <a href="http://www.frontline.in/social-issues/murder-for-land/article7297927.ece">Dangawas massacre</a> in the <a href="https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Jats-crush-3-dalits-under-tractors-in-Rajasthan/articleshow/47304040.cms">Nagaur district of Rajasthan</a> suggest that caste-related atrocities are unlikely to disappear in the near future. Nevertheless, the new Supreme Court ruling creates the illusion that the tables have turned and that historically privileged groups now find themselves at the mercy of legal schemes perpetrated by the greedy and marginalised.&nbsp; </p> <p>While isolated instances of such misuse undoubtedly occur, the far more disconcerting issue is that the in-transparency of criminal investigations makes it exceedingly difficult for courts to discern when and how manipulation of legal procedure has transpired. As cases filed under the PoA unfold, the realities of affected individuals and communities regularly come into conflict with the goals of caste-based interest networks or public institutions like the police. Additionally, sufficient and admissible legal evidence can be difficult to obtain for the socio-economically weak. </p> <h2><strong>‘Not a virgin’</strong></h2> <p>This was particularly evident during a criminal investigation for a gang rape case involving a 16 year-old Dalit girl in the state capital Jaipur. After examining the severely bruised and injured victim, the doctor on the case issued a startling medical testimony. The report concluded that the girl was ‘not a virgin.’ However, it continued, there was ‘no proof de-virginisation was the result of rape.’ Considering the state of the victim, her age and the fact that one of the four accused men openly admitted to the assault, the physician’s inference was disquieting. When I expressed astonishment, a local activist affirmed my misgivings. ‘This one boy’s father is the sarpanch (village head) in our neighbouring village, they paid off the doctor, so now there is no evidence,‘ she said with a defeated shrug of her shoulders. &nbsp;</p> <p>While India’s police force is often (and frequently rightfully) blamed for being corrupt and settling criminal investigations in favour of the party offering the bigger cheque, this story from Jaipur highlights the many pillars of legal evidence, which are routinely tampered with to undermine inquiries, secure acquittals or ensure that victims never proceed with case registration. </p> <p>At times even responsible police officers can become entangled in opaque, caste-based power networks. The organisational pyramid of the Indian police, a system whereby higher-ranking police officers are recruited through a different scheme than the constables posted at the police stations, also contributes to legal in-transparency. An immense communication gap exists between the police officers who see criminal investigations unfold and those who make policy recommendations based on the resulting reports. Hence, those holding influential positions within the police force and even judges usually lack a true understanding of the dynamics within a community that can turn a truthful account into a false case.</p> <h2><strong>Imperfect translations</strong></h2> <p>When the Supreme Court declared that more than a quarter of cases registered under the PoA are based on untruthful accusations, instances like the ones I encountered form part of the statistic: cases that somewhere along the line become part of political agendas, cases that involve evidence tampering and cases where witnesses are bought off. When doctors are bribed into falsifying reports and the police are repeatedly caught at a crossroads of civil and political interests, legal evidence can be impossible to come by. &nbsp;</p> <p>Ultimately, the truth or falsity of cases under the PoA is defined by a multifaceted set of social relationships and power dynamics that often remain hidden from the eyes of the law and of lawmakers. Goel and Lalit’s judgement ignores a myriad of administrative and political issues in India contributing to a situation where experienced realities of violence and discrimination often fail to translate into a sound legal case. This, undoubtedly, is a wider challenge in relation to anti-discrimination law everywhere. It is a problem that arises when complex events are squeezed through imperfect administrative channels: a challenge that arises when culturally specific social and political interactions need to take a standardized form to be judged as law. However, using this imperfect translation process as the basis for amending law seems misguided.</p> <h2><strong>Secretly prevalent attitudes</strong></h2> <p>Accordingly, the Supreme Court’s assessment that measures like the Prevention of Atrocities Act heighten casteist tensions should be taken with a grain of salt. On the one hand, the interminable communal push-and-pull around cases filed by Dalits and Adivasis and the particular vehemence with which the act regularly comes under political scrutiny should be indicator enough that casteist sentiments are alive and well in India. Legislation like the PoA simply shines a light on secretly prevalent attitudes. </p> <p>On the other hand, we also need to acknowledge that the vitriolic anger directed at the PoA might mean that Indian society is not entirely ready to face the depth of its own ingrained prejudice. However, the path to achieving this goal can hardly be paved if lawmakers simply reverse measures that bring these tensions to the forefront. We have to wonder if rather than curtailing a law that has represented a unique opportunity for marginalised communities to take up the fight against their own disadvantage, lawmakers would do better addressing prevalent issues of legal implementation and transparency?</p> <hr size="1" /> <p><a href="#_ftnref1">[1]</a> Section 438 of the Indian Criminal Procedure Code allows individuals to request bail in expectation of being accused of a crime. </p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India Sandhya Fuchs Sat, 26 May 2018 17:13:42 +0000 Sandhya Fuchs 118082 at https://www.opendemocracy.net When Harry weds Meghan https://www.opendemocracy.net/l-k-sharma/when-harry-weds-meghan <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Some bashed the monarchy and called the royal wedding a non-event. A minority voice claimed that the wedding was no big deal. (He was wrong). </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-36600232.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-36600232.jpg" alt="lead lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Prince Harry and Meghan Markle walk down the steps after their wedding at St. George's Chapel, Windsor. Saturday, May 19, 2018. Ben BirchHall/Press Association. All right reserved.</span></span></span>Why does V S Naipaul go to Africa to record mass hysteria? He could witness it in his adopted land during every royal wedding and funeral. That is when the long-suppressed emotions of the reserved Britons find a release. The un-British act of crying in public with joy or sorrow is there for all to see.</p> <p>Prince Harry married Meghan and Britons came out to dance with joy. Nothing else mattered to the revellers forming a sea of Union Jacks. </p> <p>The young royals, when they marry or produce babies, also serve the Queen! Every such event increases the longevity of the monarchy. The carefully choreographed spectacle enhances the monarchy’s magic and mystique.</p> <p>The British monarchy is criticised for not becoming as modern as the bicycling kings of northern Europe. In Britain, royal traditions are hard to discard. Even then the monarchy keeps trying to reinvent itself in order to remain relevant. </p> <p>Prince Harry lent a helping hand by marrying Meghan Markle. She is a commoner from a former colony, daughter of a black mother and white father, product of a broken home, an actress with a record of social activism and of saying things that are not said in Britain’s palaces. The pet phrases of the British aristocracy such as “simply not done” or “simply not said” are as foreign to Harry’s new wife as light to a coal mine. <span class="mag-quote-center">Prince Harry lent a helping hand by marrying Meghan Markle.</span></p> <p>Harry made a powerful social and cultural statement by picking Meghan as his wife and magically transforming her into the Duchess of Sussex. He brought Buckingham Palace closer to Balti Britain and showed that he had grown up since the days when he used to utter words such as “Paki” and ‘raghead”.</p> <p>What could be more modern than marrying a mixed-race American divorcee? The British people once refused to accept their king marrying an American divorcee. The king responded by giving up his throne for love. But in 2018 more than 100,000 flag-waving ecstatic Britons turned up in Windsor town to catch a glimpse of the bridegroom and the bride. </p> <p>The nation loved the lovers. The people trusted the choice of their Prince. The class, colour and creed of the beloved was not a matter of contention. Had Prince Harry chosen to marry a British communist, the defunct Communist Party of Great Britain would have gained followers! Had he chosen a Hindu bride, the cries of Love Jihad would have been muted. Had he chosen a Muslim girl, it would have stopped the radicalisation of her community.</p> <p>Harry made Britain appear as an island of diversity and inclusiveness. The Queen merrily went through her grandson’s wedding ceremony that included strange new elements such as a powerful sermon by a black American minister. The Bishop’s repeated and emphatic reference to “love” sounded novel to the British ears. If some royals were made uncomfortable by the unusual ceremony, they did not show it. <span class="mag-quote-center">Had Prince Harry chosen to marry a British communist, the defunct Communist Party of Great Britain would have gained followers!</span></p> <h2><strong>Royal bouts of inclusiveness</strong></h2> <p>In a distant past, this castle of white privilege has undergone bouts of inclusiveness, like when Queen Victoria got too close to her Indian Munshi Karim or when Princess Diana took to hugging. An American visitor came to celebrate the wedding in Windsor with the placard, “we are Americans, we hug”.</p> <p>Britain’s social and cultural transformation over the years made the monarchy abandon some traditions. Jeremy Paxman, the TV anchor, commented that Britain ran out of virgins after Diana got married to Prince Charles! The perquisite of virginity for a royal bride was scrapped without a murmur by the loyal subjects. Following Diana’s death, Prince Charles married his old flame Camilla Parker Bowles, a divorcee.</p> <p>Many royal alliances in the past were firmed up to yield a strategic advantage to the ruling families. Prince Harry’s choice of wife has strengthened the Anglo-American special relationship at a time when Donald Trump is weakening it. A British think tank may hold a seminar on Harry’s role in promoting the most important relationship.</p> <p>By marrying an American, Harry has also sent a powerful message against the British Government’s hostile policy towards the immigrants. This policy has popular backing as the Brexit referendum results proved. But the Government unrolled a red carpet for the American immigrant wanting to live in the UK by marrying a Briton. It will not be so for brides from India. In fact, at one time the Government had wanted to subject them to a virginity test at Heathrow airport before letting them marry anyone in Britain!</p> <p>Even before Harry confirmed it, it was known that many British men prefer American women. In the past the Englishmen wanted the dollars and American women wanted to live like aristocrats. In contemporary Britain, this attraction has been portrayed in films hinting at the sexual allure of American girls. English maidens should think about it.</p> <h2><strong>A commoner in the palace</strong></h2> <p>Meghan Markle is currently bathed in public adoration. But a fairy-tale wedding does not always lead to a happy married life. The Prince’s bride must have read how a British royal wife is expected to conduct herself. A commoner has to be quite careful while living in a palace. </p> <p>Her being an American makes Meghan’s task more daunting. Britain and America are divided not just by a common tongue but also by customs, and the people’s behaviour and temperament. Americans are loud and demonstrative. The British people are reserved and cold. Britons consider Americans to be vulgar. In popular American imagination, funny people inhabit the small island. Meghan will have to be less of an American or her British husband will have to jump to her defence every now and then.</p> <p>Meghan will be unable to follow the footsteps of her sister-in-law who has endeared herself to the nation by saying nothing in public. Meghan’s upbringing, family background, American education, film career and activism have not prepared her to keep her mouth shut. Her conduct will make the monarchy look modern but may cause strains within the palace.</p> <p>The fawning media coverage does not always last. Interesting material about Meghan’s feuding family in America is floating around. British tabloids are committed to transparency related to bottoms and breasts. A tabloid once published a photo of a royal wife’s toes being sucked by someone other than the husband. That led to a royal divorce! <span class="mag-quote-center">British tabloids are committed to transparency related to bottoms and breasts.</span></p> <p>Strangely, such developments have not harmed the institution of monarchy. The republican movement got no stronger even when daylight fell upon the magic of monarchy. Much publicised marital misery, bed-hopping, adultery, sordid exhibitionism by young royals and the financial scandals have not lessened the charm of the royal family. </p> <p>In fact, such disclosures made the royalty a major player in the celebrity circus. The royal narratives are made for tele-visuals, a staple of popular cultural entertainment. Harry’s wedding was a grand performance in contemporary celebrity culture that values the famous for being famous!</p> <p>A royal event turns Great Britain into a mass observation laboratory of interest to serious academics apart from those writing on current fashions and royal traditions and scandals. </p> <p>Most Britons live to celebrate royal weddings and births. A few days earlier, Harry’s older brother, who would be the king one day, and his wife were blessed with a baby. Hundreds of people had slept outside the hospital in order to catch the first glimpse of the baby hailed as the most influential entity. <span class="mag-quote-center">Most Britons live to celebrate royal weddings and births.</span></p> <h2><strong>Serious ideological debate</strong></h2> <p>Of course, the royal wedding, apart from causing mirth and laughter on a massive scale, also sparked a serious ideological debate on the future of the monarchy. </p> <p>The media came under scrutiny because many enlightened citizens, not necessarily republicans, felt disgusted by the excessive coverage of the wedding. These readers and viewers did not like the news about the people’s problems being blacked out because of a royal wedding.</p> <p>The newspapers and TV channels know their readers and viewers. Afraid of losing the ratings war, they deployed hundreds of journalists to cover the wedding that enthralled the royalists who dressed up in Union Jack suits and camped for days to catch a glimpse of the Prince and his bride.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-36605480.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-36605480.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex exit St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle after their royal wedding ceremony, in Windsor, Britain, 19 May 2018. Pool/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The high level of public interest forced even a newspaper such as <em>The Guardian </em>to go all out to cover the wedding. It shocked many of its serious readers. A typical comment was: Appalling, sycophantic coverage worthy of the <em>Daily Mail</em>. There could have been no greater insult to <em>The Guardian</em>. Some readers declared on social media that they are cancelling their subscription. </p><p>Once the <em>Morning Star</em> could be different. It dismissed the 1973 wedding of Princess Anne and Mark Philips with a two-sentence coverage: “Some traffic congestion is expected in Westminster today due to the wedding of Anne Windsor and Mark Philips.” <span class="mag-quote-center">“Some traffic congestion is expected in Westminster today due to the wedding of Anne Windsor and Mark Philips.”</span></p> <p>Public interest in stars and styles was so high that every newspaper wanted to publish eight royal wedding stories on the front page. The minutest detail was broadcast about what the bride wore, and what the bridegroom looked like. Every bit of information was lapped up. &nbsp;When Prince Charles had married Camilla, a million words were printed about her hat. This time it was all about the bride’s gown. One person thought the white gown was not well-tailored. </p> <p>Another had no interest in the design or the fabric. He said: “Oh wow, look at her taxpayer-funded dress.” Guess who is footing the massive bill for the wedding? That question was raised by some penny-pinching kill-joy Britons. They did not like the people having to cough up 300 million pounds to spruce up one of the palaces! Another mean Briton asked why a 33-year old should have a wedding treat costing millions of pounds on security alone.</p> <p>The homeless on the Windsor footpaths were moved away to “make room for those wanting to gawp at the tawdry display of the wedding procession”. This attracted many adverse remarks.</p> <p>The anti-royalty Britons were called mean, but some called the royalty mean because the ordinary invited guests for the wedding were asked to bring their own picnic lunch! One invitee protested by binning the royal invitation which many were prepared to die for. <span class="mag-quote-center">One invitee protested by binning the royal invitation which many were prepared to die for.</span></p> <p>The few moaners reminded the nation of the problems of daily life. Some bashed the monarchy and called the royal wedding a non-event. A minority voice claimed that the wedding was no big deal. (He was wrong). </p> <p>A vocal minority criticised the royalty-mad majority for its euphoria. It consists of a section that has no problem with the monarchy but disapproves of the excessive and vulgar way of holding the wedding.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-36590638.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-36590638.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>May 19, 2018 - London, UK - Royal wedding well wishers at Waterloo station on their way to Windsor. Veronika Lukasova/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Some commentators referred to “bread and circus” and compared the wedding to a football match. They were attacked by the revellers for being emotionally constipated. The revellers said: “Oh, sod off, we’re having fun.” But one said: “I’m avoiding this display of bourgeoisie elitist shit at all costs.” </p><h2><strong>More emotional constipation</strong></h2> <p>Take another comment: “This royal wedding is the epitome of everything that’s wrong with society, people coming out to celebrate greed and indulgence of the super wealthy while the homeless are swept away like garbage and kids go hungry.”</p> <p>Others counted the benefits of monarchy such as the Queen bringing in tourists. Even during the reign of Queen Victoria, some used to ask whether the nation was getting value for money from the monarchy. But that did no harm to the institution. The public interest in the monarchy was noted by Walter Bagehot who wondered how the actions of a retired widow and an unemployed youth had become of such importance.</p> <p>A monarchist argued that a royal wedding, like a football match, brings the people together. It gives them a sense of pride and belonging. “The monarchy gave us a strong national identity and has done a lot for the people, historically”. </p> <p>Others asked them to read the history of the royals who came over from Germany in the 17th century and “subjugated us”. One social media user whose comment was not deleted just wrote: “Off with their heads!!!”</p> <p>The usual Left-Right divide crept in. A fun-loving Briton condemned Lefties as a miserable lot! Some called the Conservatives hypocrites since they advocate meritocracy and yet support privileges based on heredity.</p> <p>Mass psychologists must investigate whether the people play this charade in order to escape from their miserable life. It is also said that many critics of the excessive coverage only feign to be against it. They love to watch it either secretly or while pretending to do so for a higher serious purpose.</p> <h2><strong>Forward to June!</strong></h2> <p>The royal wedding mattered for the young couple. But it was critical for the Queen as it demonstrated her hold on the British psyche. It reassured the Queen that her people want to remain subjects instead of becoming citizens. She can safely ignore the few Republicans and true democrats shouting in the wilderness. That they are allowed to shout and not beheaded serves the purpose of telling the world that Britain is a democracy!</p> <p>The dramatisation and popularisation of royal spectacle is set to continue as the nation gets ready to celebrate the Queen’s birthday in June. The magic and mystique of the mediated monarchy will endure.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><span>LK Sharma's two e-books <a href="https://read.amazon.co.uk/kp/kshare?asin=B07BD2SWFK&amp;id=VYQatYmRRj-rjWBn32lYoQ&amp;reshareChannel=system&amp;reshareId=BMHMN2YHHNEF9EZZ6PHZ">The Twain</a> and <a href="https://read.amazon.co.uk/kp/kshare?ref_=r_sa_glf_b_1_hdrw_ss_CAu4AAA&amp;asin=B07C73Z7F5&amp;id=vlcU5UCVQHyr8zLt5BNh4w&amp;reshareChannel=system&amp;reshareId=NNY95MSEETJ5EV23E93X">A Parliamentary Affair</a> form part of The Englandia Quartet.</span></p> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? openIndia uk UK L K Sharma Tue, 22 May 2018 11:43:55 +0000 L K Sharma 118000 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Silence and din define Indian journalism https://www.opendemocracy.net/openIndia/l-k-sharma/silence-and-din-define-indian-journalism <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Ravish Kumar has recorded the Republic of Fear for posterity. These are the heroes of World Press Freedom Day.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 20.24.48.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 20.24.48.png" alt="lead lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screenshot: Prime Time with Ravish Kumar, May 9, 2018, NDTV. YouTube.</span></span></span>In India today, one cannot talk of science, history or politics without a reference to mythology. Godmen and astrologers make their daily pronouncements on the TV channels. So, how does one report the emergence of an independent journalist in a sea of embedded media. One attributes it to the divine intervening to reform His degraded profession! </p> <p>Sorry, this outrageous statement was designed to make you read this piece on Ravish Kumar, a TV anchor from India. In order to be read or heard today, one has to shout and shock. In the confrontation-loving high-decibel society, the one who shouts the loudest wins. <span class="mag-quote-center">In order to be read or heard today, one has to SHOUT and SHOCK.</span></p> <p>Most newspaper readers have got addicted to hyperbole and rhetoric and the TV viewers to screaming anchors. Journalism promotes vitiated public discourse and falls victim to it. “On the other hand,” is a phrase banished from journalism. Fair journalists are hunted and silenced. Those of the other kind are bought and deployed to make maniac noises in favour of the ruling establishment and against its critics.</p> <p>A sober beginning to this article would not have worked. &nbsp;“Indian journalism in crisis” would strike no new note since this is not typical of India alone. America’s President is told every day that free press is essential for sustaining democracy.</p> <h2><strong>Dark spots</strong></h2> <p>The theme of this World Press Freedom Day on May 3 was “Keeping Power in Check: Media Justice and the Rule of Law”. One heard stirring calls on governments to strengthen press freedom, and to protect journalists. Many depressing headlines marked the occasion. One from India said: “Bastar journalist charged with sedition for sharing cartoon lampooning the government.” With seven complaints registered against reporters in one month, the police of the Chattisgarh state are notorious for acting against journalists. Old headlines of journalists murdered featured in opinion pieces.</p> <p>The threats to press freedom even by the so-called democratic governments were discussed. Some references came up to the internal threat from within the profession. Veteran journalist Thalif Deen recalled that once a Malaysian politician, asked about the leading newspapers in his country, shot back: “We have only misleading newspapers”.</p> <p>Reports about the dark spots carried references to fake news, enforced disappearances of journalists, authoritarian governments tightening grip on press freedom, getting away with murder in Slovakia, pre-election tension threatening free speech in Brazil, Azerbaijan blocking news websites, Kenyan journalists feeling heat, and to internet freedom rapidly degrading in Southeast Asia.</p> <h2><strong>Hostile environment</strong></h2> <p>There is a hostile environment in India in which Ravish Kumar and other independent journalists work. They are attacked by the devotees of the Modi Government. Ravish Kumar’s fans keep alerting him and wishing for his safety and security. Ravish Kumar works for a Hindi TV channel. Thanks to the translation of one of his books in English many more citizens can understand the dangers to democracy that he warns against in his Hindi programmes.</p> <p><em>The Free Voice: Ravish Kumar on Democracy, Culture and the Nation </em>is a more searing document than a Free Press Inquiry Commission Report. Of course, it is more interesting to read. The author recalls that within a few months in 2017, journalists were forced to gather twice to condemn violence against colleagues. In a sequel to this book, he will have to say, “our speeches made no difference as threats and violence against journalists continued or even increased”.</p> <p>The chapter headings give a flavour of Ravish Kumar’s short book: The Robo-Public and the Building of a New Democracy. The National Project for Instilling Fear. Wherever a Mob Gathers is Hitler’s Germany. <span class="mag-quote-center">The Robo-Public and the Building of a New Democracy. The National Project for Instilling Fear. Wherever a Mob Gathers is Hitler’s Germany. </span></p> <p>The book covers an area wider than just press freedom. Ravish Kumar refers to the wars for religious pride. He writes about the ongoing battles against what some radical Hindus call ‘Love Jihad’. “Every other day a handful of goons go on a rampage because a girl of one faith chooses to marry a boy of another faith.” </p> <p>Internal threats to press freedom are not new. In many democratic countries, including India, advertisers and media owners diminished it. Some of the organisations fighting for press freedom during the cold war era never dealt with this internal threat. The state was their only target and change of regime their goal.</p> <p>A western media mogul inspired his Indian counterparts to transform journalism into a profit-making ‘infotainment’ business. The media feeds the readers and viewers with what they supposedly want. The owners dumped the editors who thought the readers should be given what is good for them and for society! What the newspaper readers really want remains a controversial topic. The readers’ appetite can be whetted by titillating stories and images. If a tabloid prints a naked woman’s photo, its rival has to flash two women. It is said that readers of a British tabloid do not care who ruled the country as long as they see the photos of porn stars every morning! <span class="mag-quote-center">What the newspaper readers really want remains a controversial topic.</span></p> <p>Most TV anchors can be called the children of a former TV star, an American of Irish origin, who gained mass popularity for his extreme right-wing views and for his ability to silence his studio guests with insults. His pernicious influence afflicted a host of Indian TV journalists. </p> <h2><strong>Badge of honour</strong></h2> <p>Ravish Kumar seeks to counter such trends night after night, challenging his Hindi TV viewers to change to another channel if the issues of unemployment, poverty, illiteracy and sick hospitals and under-funded state schools do not interest them and if they are obsessed with the Hindu-Muslim debates engineered by the vote-grabbing politicians.</p> <p>His selection of topics can bore the viewer looking for titillation. The disclosure that so many schools have neither teachers nor buildings and so many officially electrified villages turn dark at night may interest some concerned citizens. But most others want to know whether Rekha was seen with A or with B at last night’s Bollywood bash. So, Ravish Kumar’s news and discussion agenda drags his channel down in the ratings competition and affects its balance sheet. However, his channel wears it as a badge of honour and Ravish Kumar gets an honourable mention in select circles of media critics and enlightened TV watchers.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 20.18.28.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 20.18.28.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screenshot: Ravish Kumar's Speech On Fake News Order At Press Club Of India, April 2018. YouTube.</span></span></span>He refrains from using the formula to win the ratings war. Apart from politics, he covers education and health extensively, highlights public grievances, failures of the administration and hypocrisy of politicians. He does this effectively, gently and with a literary flair. Irony and satire mark his coverage at a time when many other journalists either lack this talent or dare not use it lest an intolerant government is offended. Ravish Kumar seeks to give voice to the powerless. He cajoles the powerful to hear the voices from the margins. </p><p>Such journalistic conduct was taken for granted once but “old-fashioned” journalism has gone out of fashion. Ravish Kumar is conscious of his profession’s failures and indulges in self-criticism. He distilled his disappointment in a memorable programme titled “TV stricken with TB”. That night, black screen was all that there was to see. A powerful commentary made up for the loss of picture. The surprised viewers were told that the black TV screen was not due to a technical problem but was designed to make a point! </p> <h2><strong>Unleashing the Rottweilers</strong></h2> <p>The risks that Ravish Kumar takes by practicing developmental journalism pale into insignificance when compared to the risk to his life and limbs that he takes by criticising the Modi Government. He is spared no threats, abuses and insults. And these are not just via the social media. He has been chased and his live interviews interrupted by bikers. After one such incident, he telecast a programme recreating the scene through computer graphics and images of menacing shadowy figures. It seemed like a thriller film clip.</p> <p>Many others like Ravish Kumar face similar problems. The women journalists refusing to be embedded anger the ruling party activists even more. A minister calls them “presstitutes”. Not many fellow journalists protest. Some because they have been won over by the ruling establishment flaunting its power to punish and reward. <span class="mag-quote-center">The women journalists refusing to be embedded anger the ruling party activists even more.</span></p> <p>Ravish Kumar and his ilk work in a hostile environment. Dealing with independent journalists has been outsourced since official measures to curb press freedom attract too much frontal criticism. This kind of threat is new for India. It once went through a much darker but brief period when the state suppressed press freedom and arrested some dissenting journalists. That was when the Indira Gandhi Government declared Emergency and suspended the civil rights. Then the suppression of press freedom was blatant and was there for all to see. These days “crowds” deal directly with the critics of the government which may signal to the police force to look the other way. <span class="mag-quote-center">Dealing with independent journalists has been outsourced.</span></p> <p>This method is subtle and insidious and invites less criticism. When the state suppresses press freedom, it becomes an identifiable target for the NGOs and brave newspaper editors. The BJP-ruled Government of Rajasthan tried to curb press freedom through an official order but had to retreat in the face of powerful protests. </p> <p>A safer strategy is to unleash state-sponsored or state-inspired Rottweilers against a few targeted journalists. Dissenters and critics can be silenced as easily by threats of physical and psychological violence delivered by goons personally or through social media, as by a local police inspector knocking at the door at midnight. </p> <h2><strong>Debate abandoned</strong></h2> <p>Once goons terrorise, discretion trumps bravery. Self-censorship attracts little attention and the government achieves its objective without getting blamed. This has become common in democracies where unconstitutional conduct against suspected terrorists is outsourced by the governments.</p> <p>Reporting rising sectarian violence makes independent journalists more vulnerable. When the accused persons belong to a political outfit, the party activists attack the reporters. Ravish Kumar writes: “Today, the number of people who spread hatred by highlighting this reason or that or by exploiting various inequalities has increased exponentially.” He talks about the erosion of liberty and dignity, the undermining of the Constitution and democracy and the collapse of institutions.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 19.50.43.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 19.50.43.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screenshot: Ravish Kumar Acceptance Speech 'Journalist of the Year', 2016. You Tube.</span></span></span>The author scrutinises the Government’s mal-intention and society’s response. It is a field report on the spurt in intolerance, hate and sectarianism. It is about an emerging dictatorial order underpinned by mobocracy and populist politics spreading like wildfire in this post-fact era. The tradition of debate and dialogue has been abandoned. To be a critic of the ruling establishment is to be the enemy of the nation. <span class="mag-quote-center">To be a critic of the ruling establishment is to be the enemy of the nation.</span></p> <p>Ravish Kumar records the proliferation of programmed Indians who can see only one face (that of the Prime Minister). “They are programmed to dismiss not only contrary opinion, but also discussion. They listen to nothing, they read nothing. Those who behold a different sight are enemies and traitors – in the context of India, they would be anti-Modi, anti-Hindu, anti-national.”</p> <h2><strong>Robo-public</strong></h2> <p>He continues: “Fake news first falsified news and journalism and it is now turning the citizens fake. The Robo-public is a fake public. A fake public makes a fake Republic, a fake political consciousness, a fake democracy.”</p> <p>Ravish Kumar begins the book narrating his own encounter with fear that affects all those who speak out. He describes the deadly feeling while handling a report about the sudden death of a judge dealing with a case featuring allegations against a powerful politician who went on to become the President of the ruling party. Ravish Kumar chose to speak out. <span class="mag-quote-center">Ravish Kumar chose to speak out.</span></p> <p>Some honest police officers or independent judges protecting the powerless must have been gripped by a similar fear during their careers, but Ravish Kumar recalls his experience with a literary flair. So, his introduction to the book becomes a moving and frightening document. </p> <p>He breaks the shuddering silence surrounding that sensitive news story. He delivers the sensitive report on NDTV concluding with the words: “Now whatever will be, will be”. The closing sentence, he says, was “for my viewers, and also for myself”. Having done the programme, he finds release from the fear that had held him in its suffocating grip for two days.</p> <p>This independent journalist says he makes the journey from fear to courage every day. “My days start with the trolls’ abuses and threats and end with the thought that I should be careful for the sake of my job.”</p> <h2><strong>Republic of Fear</strong></h2> <p>The recent transformation of the nation into a Republic of Fear has been observed by all but only a few like Ravish Kumar have recorded it for posterity that will inherit an officially revised history of the nation, its religions, and its leaders. </p> <p>The author says: Post 2014, the political winds began to change course. Criticism of the government began to be equated with criticism of the nation. A factory called the IT Cell was set up and many varieties of fear were manufactured inside its basement. </p> <p>The trolls of the IT Cell mounted fierce attacks on anyone who dared to ask questions. They were called many things, from anti-nation, anti-religion to even pimps of the opposition media…. Even serving ministers began to attack reporters. The IT Cell (of the ruling party) rapidly transformed media into lapdog media. He notes that many anchors and journalists crept into the laps of power and began to sing praises of Prime Minister Modi.</p> <p>Ravish Kumar refers to the IT Cell running the WhatsApp university that specialises in teaching fake and poisonous history. He quotes politicians threatening to kill critics or announcing rewards for their heads.</p> <p>The threats to the freedom of the press, like the violation of human rights, used to cause greater concern in international fora and the western capitals during the cold war. These days the “international community” is not shocked by the murder of journalists in India or the threats to the freedom of the press. It is different if such incidents take place in a country that refuses to be a “strategic ally” or that has neither oil nor market to offer. <span class="mag-quote-center">It is different if such incidents take place in a country that refuses to be a “strategic ally” or that has neither oil nor market to offer. </span></p> <p>The recent Commonwealth summit in London did not take much notice of these issues. The Commonwealth Journalists Association and the Commonwealth Human Rights initiative tried in vain to sensitise the leaders to such problems in the member-nations. The activists should try and slip the reprint of the chapter “Speaking Out” into the pack of agenda papers of the summiteers at every forum! Ravish Kumar’s prose may move some of them.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/queen-rules-commonwealth">The Queen rules the Commonwealth!</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/cut-throat-competition-distorts-democracy-in-india"> Cut-throat competition distorts democracy in India</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/remotely-controlled-weapons-hit-democracy-killing-from-distance">Remotely-controlled weapons hit democracy: killing from a distance</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics L K Sharma Thu, 10 May 2018 19:45:27 +0000 L K Sharma 117809 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why the ‘good’ refugee is a bad idea https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/nimmi-kurian/why-good-refugee-is-bad-idea <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>An opaque process of separating the ‘good’ Rohingya refugees from the ‘bad’ ones has begun under conditions where only seven and a half thousand out of one million people have national verification cards. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-32814449.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-32814449.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Indian Muslim mass protest rally during a protest against the persecution of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim minority in Kolkata, India, September 11, 2017. NurPhoto/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>There is something surreal about the photo-op of a smiling&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/15/first-rohingya-refugees-repatriated-to-myanmar-despite-un-safety-fears">Rohingya refugee family</a>&nbsp;heading back to conflict-torn Myanmar. In a similar case of mixed signals,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/myanmar-minister-visits-rohingya-camp/article23505181.ece">Myanmar’s social welfare minister Win Myat Aye’s visit</a>&nbsp;in April to the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh spoke a language of resettlement but its message was a deeply unsettling one. </p> <p>He announced that his country would take back only those Rohingya refugees who could furnish a proof of residency in Myanmar. In the complex game of political signals all nations play, this was as clear a warning shot as any, of trouble ahead. But one wonders how many in the Indian policy establishment heard it at all, given its increasing tone-deafness to both nuance and subtext.</p> <p>Could this misplaced complacency arise from the fact that Myanmar’s securitised narrative on the Rohingya issue is a lot similar to that of the Indian state? If this is indeed the case, what Delhi has deluded itself into believing is that a shared language translates into a shared understanding. If anything, Myanmar’s securitised narrative on the Rohingya issue will potentially affect India’s interests in damaging ways. For instance,&nbsp;the verification process will no doubt involve an opaque process of separating the ‘good’ refugees from the ‘bad’ ones. </p> <p>This means that, as and when the full-fledged repatriation takes place from Bangladesh to Myanmar, several thousands of the one million refugees will not make the cut. What is also sobering is that&nbsp;their right of return is seriously jeopardised by the fact that only an estimated&nbsp;<a href="https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/foreign-affairs/2017/10/04/myanmar-proposes-taking-back-verified-rohingya/">7,548 out of the one million Rohingya</a>&nbsp;in Myanmar’s Rakhine state hold national verification cards. </p> <p>When you add to this the fact that the fleeing millions did not exactly have the time to pack their bags with the necessary documentary proof, what are the chances of their right to return in a land where they are totally unwelcome?&nbsp;What this will mean is that a sizeable stateless population will remain next door to India in a heightened state of vulnerability and faced with the prospect of an indeterminate wait.&nbsp;Where will they end up?&nbsp;Could India become&nbsp;<a href="http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/dont-want-india-to-become-the-refugee-capital-of-the-world-govt-to-sc/article22608096.ece">‘the refugee capital of the world’</a>&nbsp;by its own acts of omission?&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Framing the challenge<br /></strong></h2> <p>How Indian diplomacy addresses this crisis of credibility and governance will depend a lot on how it chooses to frame the problem. Ironically, while the Centre categorically defines the Rohingya as the problem, this could well be a case of not knowing what the problem is. India’s Rohingya narrative appears to be caught in a double vision, suspended between political opportunism and a squandered opportunity.&nbsp;</p> <p>One would have thought that given its experience of&nbsp;historically managing complex population movements in South Asia, India would have been a shaper of the&nbsp;larger global discourse on refugee protection&nbsp;from the point of view of the Global South. But it has curiously chosen not to&nbsp;shine a light on&nbsp;the reality of such ‘mixed flows’ and to&nbsp;lend&nbsp;intellectual and political heft to&nbsp;non-western approaches and experiences.</p> <p>Ironically, it is its own policy fetters that prevent India from&nbsp;utilising&nbsp;the array of intellectual and political tools at its disposal to respond to the regional crisis that the Rohingya issue represents. Part of this inaction is due to its own fixation with the opportunistic logic of seeing the Rohingya issue as an ‘internal’ issue. Intriguingly, it has cited economic costs as a factor while making a case for deportation of the 40,000 Rohingya refugees from India. In its&nbsp;<a href="http://www.livelaw.in/continuance-rohingyas-india-illegal-serious-threat-security-centre-read-affidavit/">affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court</a>&nbsp;in September 2017, the Centre argued for deportation citing ‘diversion of national resources’. It is an incredible argument for the world’s fifth-largest economy to make, given that even in&nbsp;<a href="http://www.unhcr.org/3ebf9bab0.pdf">1971 when India hosted 10 million</a>&nbsp;refugees, it did not make such an argument despite the fact that its economy was then virtually on the verge of collapse. </p> <p>Back then, among the measures it adopted to cope with the financial burden, was the rather innovative postal tax called the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.rhcourtney-collector.com/refugeerelief.html">Refugee Relief Tax</a>&nbsp;priced at 5 paise that it levied to help raise revenues. What any talk of economic costs at this juncture will certainly do is to bring serious credibility costs for India.&nbsp;</p> <p>What India could do instead is to begin a regional conversation to unpack the definition of the refugee to include the diverse categories of those seeking protection. It could help draw up a list of the most vulnerable such as women-at-risk, unaccompanied children, environmental migrants and victims of trafficking among others. It is only by rendering the displaced millions more visible in this fashion that the state, be it in India, Myanmar or Bangladesh, can be held to account to provide protection. And the more diversified this list is, the more it will be in India’s interests as well as those of the returnees. Doing so can also help India strike the much-needed&nbsp;<a href="http://indianexpress.com/article/india/national-interest-and-human-rights-we-need-to-strike-a-balance-sc-on-rohingya-refugees-4889042/">‘balance between human rights and national interest’</a>&nbsp;that the Supreme Court had referred to in one of its hearings on the Rohingya issue. </p> <p>But if India instead chooses to peddle the good refugee/bad refugee categorisation that all refugees are potential terrorists, it will only end up swelling the ranks of the stateless in the region. Reducing the&nbsp;Rohingya narrative to a single-issue debate fixated only on the security dimension would ironically end up creating an even more intractable security nightmare not just for India but for the region.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>If India is willing to imaginatively reframe the Rohingya narrative in the coming days, it could tick several political boxes at once: from offsetting centrifugal forces, strengthening regional stability to salvaging its own image as a leader with the influence and incentives necessary to shape the discourse on rights and responsibilities.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/ali-bilgi/decolonising-migrant-resistance-from-refugeeswelcome-to-these-walls-mus">Decolonising migrant resistance: from #Refugeeswelcome to ‘These Walls Must Fall’</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/zrinka-bralo/amnesty-not-apology">Amnesty, not apology </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> <div class="field-item even"> Myanmar </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia Myanmar India Conflict Democracy and government International politics Nimmi Kurian Mon, 30 Apr 2018 13:36:09 +0000 Nimmi Kurian 117575 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Queen rules the Commonwealth! https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/queen-rules-commonwealth <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Many epithets have been used to run down the Commonwealth. The London summit may even be called the Commonwealth Games II…</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-36083398.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-36083398.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Queen Elizabeth II hosts a dinner at Buckingham Palace in London during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. April 19, 2018. Toby Melville/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>It was a grand family reunion. The head of the family opened her magnificent home for the members coming from all over the world. She won them over by a charming smile and the display of her wealth. Her wish became her command.</p> <p>The Queen and her Government, suspicious of revolutionary fervour, easily convinced the diverse family members that continuity and stability were more desirable. With great foresight, the Queen intervened politically to suggest her successor, since the office of the Head of the Commonwealth is not hereditary. The member-nations readily accepted the suggestion. So, it was formally announced that when the time comes, Prince Charles will be the Head of the Commonwealth. The decision was an excellent gift to the Queen on the eve of her 92nd birthday. </p> <p>The Queen, as the Head of the Commonwealth, and her Government that hosted the London summit, felt victorious. The endorsement by 52 other countries should discourage the minority of Britons who keep talking against the monarchy. <span class="mag-quote-center">The endorsement by 52 other countries should discourage the minority of Britons who keep talking against the monarchy.</span></p> <p>This summit was to have “transformed” the Commonwealth, a voluntary inter-governmental organisation of Britain’s former colonies. There was much talk of its being reimagined, renewed and revitalised. It was to have been modernised. That was what its supporters and critics had hoped. The intense involvement of the royals has thus come in for some criticism.</p> <p>The decision to have the Prince of Wales as the next Head of the Commonwealth was variously attributed to “strong consensus” and “unanimity”. The pro-democracy activists would like to know the process through which this consensus was secured. The dark secret may be revealed when a retired head of the state writes his memoires. </p> <p>A British correspondent asked at the press conference whether it was democratic that an unelected leader selected another unelected person to succeed her in the Commonwealth office. A Head of the State did not respond to this question. &nbsp;</p> <p>There were hostile comments from ordinary people including a member of the Indian Diaspora. Some said Prince Charles was not fit for the job. Some criticised royal nepotism. Some felt offended. Some saw a trace of racism and gender inequality because the Prince is a white male. One saw it as a hideous and laughable reminder of the Empire.</p> <p>But that was not what the leaders had felt. They were not sensitive about the royal relationship. The “royal show”, as it was planned, did not remind them of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conference_of_Rulers">the Durbar</a>. The leaders quite liked being in Buckingham Palace and in Windsor Castle. It was a great photo opportunity, and some clicked away their mobile phone cameras. The constituents back home will be impressed that their leader shook hands with the Queen!</p> <p>Of course, how could they defy the head of the family. Family values are deeply ingrained in societies in which the young ones respect the head. And the Queen is quite a sweet old lady. Only a British author would move her from her palace to a bed-sit.</p> <p>So, the Queen ruled the Commonwealth Summit! <span class="mag-quote-center">And the Queen is quite a sweet old lady.</span></p> <h2><strong>Money well spent</strong></h2> <p>It was a big diplomatic victory for the British Government that had discreetly lobbied for such future transition. The Prince of Wales readily recalled his association with the institution from his childhood. The Government that ran a huge bill on hosting the Summit saw it as money well spent. </p> <p>The Commonwealth is no longer called the British Commonwealth but then what is in a name? Call it just “Commonwealth” but even decades later, as the London summit proved, it still smells like the British Commonwealth!</p> <p>A vociferous section of commentators in Britain minds it. The tiny group of the Republicans minds it. But the member states themselves don’t mind it. Not even the leader of the largest member-nation who rails against dynasties. The <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shah#Shahzadeh">British <em>shahzada</em></a> was acceptable to all!</p> <p>Those ideologically opposed to the monarchy and dynasties do not see the other side of the coin. Most feudal societies do not care for their advocacy of elections for every office. And at times, elections cause a lot of trouble and instability!</p> <p>The pragmatists recognise that during her long reign, the Queen has provided the glue that has kept this unique family of diverse nations together. She sided with the wishes of the majority in the family when a dominant member such as her own Government went against it, as happened during South Africa’s struggle against apartheid.</p> <p>There have been many suggestions from British Labour leaders and others about having an elected Head of the Commonwealth. Considering the political confrontation going on in some of the democracies and semi-dictatorial regimes in the Commonwealth, a decision for having an elected Head could open a can of worms. Headship by rotation! Some wonder: when will the nation whose name begins with ‘Z’ assume office? </p> <p>And what happens when an elected head of Government is thrown out of office in a mid-term election? So, howsoever outdated the concept of hereditary office in the context of the Commonwealth, no one has placed a better alternative on the table.</p> <h2><strong>Civil society talk shows and other missed opportunities</strong></h2> <p>Leaving the Queen’s role aside, some other steps could have been taken to modernise the Commonwealth and making it appear less tied to the royals and the British Government. In fact, in order to clinch the issue of succession, the Royals were made to play an even more dominant role this time. Most of its members of the royal family and their assets were deployed for impressing the guests from the former colonies. This had the desired effect. The Prime Ministers and Presidents walking on the endless stretch of the red carpet were overwhelmed by the images and statues.</p> <p>The infrastructure for running the Commonwealth is largely British. The malady has been known for years. An old study had highlighted that the largest share of consultancy and aid programme contracts given out by the Commonwealth Secretariat were going to the British firms. There were case studies indicating how some projects in Africa had to be closed down because of the inappropriate technologies recommended or sold by British firms.</p> <p>The sorting out of the succession issue may have ensured a measure of stability and continuity in future, but it distracted from whatever the London summit said to promote sustainable development, security and a clean environment. </p> <p>The leaders’ meetings and the retreat were preceded by the civil society talk shows. The exchange of ideas among the activists belonging to the women, youth and human rights groups would have enriched the political perspective of any leader who could have spared any time to attend these meetings.</p> <p>Moving tales were heard of discrimination and oppression and of suppression of the freedom of expression. A young successful woman politician lamented that she lost her first boy-friend and was having trouble with the second one because in her country it is believed that a woman cannot succeed in politics unless she has slept with a powerful leader!</p> <p>While these fora were officially part of the summit, there was not much evidence in the official communique of any inputs received from these. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative or the Commonwealth Journalists Association, dealing with some of the burning issues today, have no reason to feel satisfied with the outcome of the summit.</p> <p>The host Government, under domestic pressure to promote gay rights, felt afraid of displeasing the guests. So, The British Prime Minister had to remain satisfied by making a fleeting reference to this issue in her statement at the concluding press conference. She slipped in a comment about the use of nerve agent in the UK and the use of chemical weapons in Syria.</p> <p>The summit highlighted the growing vulnerabilities caused by climate change and the rising sea levels. The issue concerns the Commonwealth even more since many of its member-nations are exposed to such natural calamities and being small states have no resources to deal with the tragedy. The summit sensitised the participating leaders to the pollution of the oceans by plastic. The issue was in the news because the host Government decided to do something about it like banning plastic straws. <span class="mag-quote-center">The summit sensitised the participating leaders to the pollution of the oceans by plastic.</span></p> <p>The leaders adopted a Commonwealth Blue Charter designed to cover one-third of the world’s national coastal waters and help sustain livelihoods and ecosystems globally. “They agreed on a bold, coordinated push to protect the ocean from the effects of climate change, pollution and over-fishing.”</p> <p>Their communique inevitably covered cyber security, health and education and “Commonwealth values”. </p> <h2><strong>Commonwealth values </strong></h2> <p>The leaders expressed their concern over rising protectionism and reaffirmed their commitment to a transparent, rule-based multilateral system of free-trade. The issue of trade and investment was deliberated at length at the Business Forum. The leaders committed themselves to the vision of increasing intra-Commonwealth trade to 2 trillion US dollars by 2030 and expanding intra-Commonwealth investment.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-36083619.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-36083619.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Prince of Wales and Queen Elizabeth II greet Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Blue Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace. Matt Dunham/Press Association. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>Britain’s economic diplomacy in this context is under attack from two sides. The Europhiles say the Commonwealth will never make up the loss that Britain will suffer because of leaving the European Union. The Commonwealth supporters say Britain should stop looking at the member-nations just as trading partners! They want Britain to treat them as long-lost cousins who were betrayed when Britain joined the European Union. </p><p>This summit will be remembered most by the relief it brought to the Caribbean migrant families settled for decades in Britain who were facing the threat of deportation and some of whom had been deported as they could not prove their British citizenship. Known as the “Windrush generation” as their forefathers came by this ship to help a war-devastated Britain to rebuild itself.</p> <p>The issue was taken up by the media and the opposition in a big way. Tragic stories of individual families were published and shown on the TV day after day. Migration is a sensitive subject in domestic politics: but despite that the newspapers and TV channels showed no bias in favour of the Government or waved the flag of nationalism. They all wanted to be “fair”. <span class="mag-quote-center">The Prime Minister met the Caribbean leaders, offered apologies, promised immediate action and even agreed to the Labour Opposition’s demand for compensation to the families.</span></p> <p>Since the issue had the potential to disrupt the Commonwealth event, the host Government went into fire-fighting mode to minimise the damage. The Prime Minister met the Caribbean leaders, offered apologies, promised immediate action and even agreed to the Labour Opposition’s demand for compensation to the families victimised by what was officially described as a “hostile immigration policy”. This lowered the anxiety of the concerned Commonwealth leaders and the summit was immunised against any ill-effect.</p> <p>It was an unprecedented Commonwealth summit. It was the biggest such meeting. It got more than usual media coverage. Thanks to the distribution of Commonwealth information packs in schools, ignorance about this institution may reduce. </p> <p>The summit was held amid extraordinary fanfare as well as trenchant criticism by the opinion-makers angered by the Brexit politicians flourishing the Commonwealth as a counter-veiling economic force to Europe! A book, launched to coincide with the summit queered the pitch. Ironically, it is written by the director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Philip Murphy. The book is called <em>The Empire’s New Clothes: The Myth of the Commonwealth. </em><span class="mag-quote-center">A book, launched to coincide with the summit queered the pitch.</span></p> <p>The summit turned him into a media star and he let out a flood of comments about the Commonwealth facing “an existential crisis”. Many epithets have been used to run down the Commonwealth. The London summit may even be called the Commonwealth Games II.</p> <p>The London summit did push the organisation towards tradition, frustrating the endeavour to make it modern. The dream of reimagining the Commonwealth will remain a dream for some time.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia Can Europe make it? openIndia uk UK Culture Democracy and government International politics Commonwealth L K Sharma Mon, 23 Apr 2018 08:42:32 +0000 L K Sharma 117435 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Commonwealth gets extra attention https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/commonwealth-gets-extra-attention <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Some 5,000 participants from government, business and civil society have arrived for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). The central theme of the deliberations is ‘Towards a Common Future’.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-34976995.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-34976995.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Queen Elizabeth hosts Commonwealth Diaspora community at Buckingham Palace, in the lead up to CHOGM this April in London. Jonathan Brady/ Press Association. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>Great Britain is known for its grand events and theatre. Magnificent pomp and pageantry awaits the leaders of 53 Commonwealth nations arriving here for their summit. The masters of ornamentalism have pulled out all the stops and a prominent role is being played by the Queen as the head of the Commonwealth, and other royals.</p> <p>Some 5,000 participants from government, business and civil society have arrived for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). The central theme of the deliberations is ‘Towards a Common Future’. Their vision is to promote peace, prosperity and democracy.</p> <h2><strong>Providing relief</strong></h2> <p>The Commonwealth has been playing a constructive role over the years by highlighting the problems of the developing countries and small island nations and by providing aid. Concerned British leaders and groups see it as an effective instrument for helping the helpless of the world through aid programmes. It fights malaria, malnutrition and other maladies in the member-countries. It provides relief in the face of natural calamities. <span class="mag-quote-center">Concerned British leaders and groups see it as an effective instrument for helping the helpless of the world through aid programmes.</span></p> <p>Some want the Commonwealth to promote democracy and free speech by enforcing these virtues and punishing the offenders – even throwing out a member-country straying from the democratic path. Some others feel that the institution’s extra emphasis on human rights was driven by cold war considerations.</p> <p>The business leaders expect every institution to promote commercial interests. So, the Business Forum will have a busy schedule during the summit. </p> <h2><strong>A valued talking shop</strong></h2> <p>Since the present British Government is tasked with implementing the result of the referendum favouring exit from Europe, popularly known as Brexit, it has come to value the Commonwealth even more.</p> <p>It has drawn an elaborate programme for the summit and the supplementary events involving business leaders, youth, women and civil society. The institution is often derided as a “talking shop” but the flow of ideas at various fora will be quite interesting. Only a Commonwealth Literature Festival is missing from the long list. The Declaration will, of course, present a concrete plan for marching towards a common future.</p> <p>The substantive part of the proceedings apart, the summit will provide plenty of grist to the sketch-writers’ mill, generating any number of colour stories. Odd Republicans may criticise the intense involvement of the Queen and the royals and the selection of Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Palace and Windsor Castle as the venues for the Summit. </p> <p>Some of the giant portraits on the regal walls may cause an allergic reaction in those who refuse to believe that the British Empire was a benevolent enterprise. Mercifully, Shashi Tharoor, an Indian MP, who called the period of the British rule in India an era of darkness, will not be part of the Indian delegation.</p> <h2><strong>Relocating to India?</strong></h2> <p>Most leaders of the Commonwealth countries are not that sensitive. The hosts know that the current masters of their old colonies value photo opportunities as much as concrete benefits. India’s Prime Minister, who will simultaneously address his domestic audience, is expected to find the splendorous Buckingham Palace quite impressive. <span class="mag-quote-center">The hosts know that the current masters of their old colonies value photo opportunities as much as concrete benefits.</span></p> <p>Modi will have to refrain from criticising dynasties since the event involves the Queen, her son, the grandsons and other royals. Also, the Queen is accustomed to being greeted in exotic ways when she visits some Commonwealth countries, but she will not be amused if any leader tries to hug her!</p> <p>A non-substantive issue that is causing waves here is the reported proposal that Prince Charles should be the next Head of the Commonwealth. The post is not hereditary. It appears that the Queen, while not ready to abdicate, may be willing to let the Prince be given a consolation prize. Amid secret lobbying about succession, a British Labour MP has come out against the move, even criticising the Prince. India’s stand on the British <em>shahzada</em> inheriting the office is not known as yet.</p> <p>If this move faces any hurdle a deal-maker summiteer may suggest that the next Head should be a democratically elected leader. Some British commentators have also proposed that the Commonwealth Secretariat be shifted from London to the capital of another member-country. New Delhi could be a strong contender. Such a relocation will bring a few low-level jobs to India and a windfall of votes for the Prime Minister! India has become a bit more enthusiastic about the Commonwealth which was not always the case in the recent past.</p> <h2><strong>Amazing diversity</strong></h2> <p>Next to the UN, the Commonwealth is one forum that showcases amazing diversity at a time when diversity is under attack. It signifies the importance of multi-culturalism and multilateralism when both have entered a phase of decline. So, the forum itself is the message!</p> <p>Britain is hosting the summit at a time when the Commonwealth has acquired a special significance in its contentious domestic politics. So, while the British Government has become more enthusiastic about it, more critics have emerged to devalue the Commonwealth.</p> <p>For this reason, this summit’s outcome will come under closer scrutiny. Those expecting concrete results will not be satisfied only with colourful stories about the fanfare marking the occasion. <span class="mag-quote-center">The Commonwealth is used to indifference by the people of the member-countries and by the leaders of the emerging powers that were powerless earlier.</span></p> <p>The Commonwealth is used to indifference by the people of the member-countries and by the leaders of the emerging powers that were powerless earlier. This time an external factor has spawned a new breed of critics painting a pessimistic scenario about the Commonwealth’s present and its future. </p> <p>This is because the institution has been dragged into the ongoing battle over Britain’s relationship with Europe that has polarised the country. In a 2016 referendum, Britons wanting to leave the European Union won a narrow victory. In their vigorous campaign, they used the Commonwealth to allay the nation’s fear of isolation in the event of severing the official link with the European Union. They assured the voters that there was a world beyond Europe, the world of former colonies with people long accustomed to treating Britain as their mother country.</p> <h2><strong>Oxygen of publicity</strong></h2> <p>This angered the pro-European commentators who jumped into the fray to demolish the myth that the loss caused by leaving the European Union will be met by the Commonwealth family. The Commonwealth-sceptics say that the former colonies are still problem-ridden. They present a strong case because the trade and investments within the Commonwealth do not amount to much. They represent the realistic school of foreign policy. </p> <p>However, their efforts to pull down the Commonwealth have given it the oxygen of publicity. And that is one thing that this institution lacked even during its hey-day.</p> <p>The Commonwealth-sceptics strengthen their case by pointing out that the former colonies were not enthusiastic about Britain leaving Europe. They feared that Brexit would adversely affect their foreign trade and aid.</p> <p>These nations wanting to promote free movement of manpower noted that the Brexiteers ran an anti-immigration campaign with a trace of racism. So, if a country turns its back on the Poles and Hungarians, why would it welcome Indians or Pakistanis, they wondered. <span class="mag-quote-center">If a country turns its back on the Poles and Hungarians, why would it welcome Indians or Pakistanis, they wondered.</span></p> <p>The pro-European commentators say that the UK-India talks on free trade failed since New Delhi wanted more Indians to be allowed to come and work in Britain. The British Prime Minister was in no position to entertain such a request because migration has become a hot subject in British politics. The summiteers from the rest of the Commonwealth should not expect a grand gesture in this regard from the host nation.</p> <h2><strong>Contrasting styles past and future </strong></h2> <p>The debate on the relative importance of the Commonwealth is suffused with images and words used in personal relationships. So, Britain is painted as a divorcee on the rebound wooing an old flame. In the imagination conditioned by the British Empire, the composite of the rest of the Commonwealth is a female. As it happens, this female is no longer a supplicant. It has become somewhat empowered and is not quite dying to embrace the old lord and master. </p> <p>The pro-Europeans keep pointing out the futility of courting the old flame and kneading nostalgia into international relations. Commonwealth links were liked by some of these critics only for their entertainment value. The Prince of Wales being ceremonially welcomed by some Australian or African tribe is funny stuff, a reminder of an exotic encounter of the past and the glory of the Empire.</p> <p>An essay on the Commonwealth is illustrated with a photo of the sari-clad British Prime Minister with a bright yellow garland around her neck standing with a bare-chested Hindu temple priest in Bangalore. One sees in newspapers a visiting British royal wearing a funny traditional wig or dancing with the rural hosts with semi-exposed bottoms. In contrast, the European Union headquarters in Brussels enact a civilised scene with the pin-striped suits from Britain conducting hard business negotiations.</p> <p>Of course, the Commonwealth has always had sections of supporters who valued it for different reasons. Its origins lay in Britain searching for its identity after it lost its Empire. The search still continues amid a great deal of confusion. At times, Britain wishes to return to its glorious past as an imperial power and at times it wants to be an equal partner with the neighbouring European nations. <span class="mag-quote-center">Some British thinkers and politicians envision the Commonwealth as Empire 2.0, but now voices are heard about the sins of the British Empire.</span></p> <p>Some British thinkers and politicians envision the Commonwealth as Empire 2.0, but now voices are heard about the sins of the British Empire. This reaction was provoked by the academic-salesmen who used fiction to list the benefits of the British Empire. This debate is sullying the image of the Commonwealth, even leading to the suggestion that the Queen may be replaced by an elected Head of the Commonwealth!</p> <h2><strong>More equal partners</strong></h2> <p>The imperial Britain’s misdeeds may be an old story, but the Shadow Foreign Secretary wants the British Prime Minister to tender an apology at the Commonwealth Summit for other historic wrongs including what Thatcher’s Government did during the apartheid struggle in South Africa. Margaret Thatcher ignored in the eighties the Commonwealth’s effort to end the apartheid regime in South Africa. </p> <p>Labour MP Emily Thornberry dug up a 30-year-old story and said that Margaret Thatcher nearly destroyed the Commonwealth by not listening to the member-nations who wanted unified sanctions imposed against South Africa’s apartheid regime. She writes: “We should see our commonwealth cousins not just as trading partners but as full and equal partners.”</p> <p>The old demand for an apology by the host nation is unlikely to generate any heat but the one contentious issue that the leaders may face is about the rights of the gays and lesbians. It puts Britain in a somewhat awkward position as a large number of member-nations are not ready to decriminalise the conduct of these minorities. </p> <p>The hosts know it only too well and thus notwithstanding the pressure from the human rights activists, Britain will go slow in promoting gay rights.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> <div class="field-item even"> India </div> <div class="field-item odd"> EU </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia Can Europe make it? openIndia uk EU India UK L K Sharma Mon, 16 Apr 2018 12:35:49 +0000 L K Sharma 117308 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Cut-throat competition distorts democracy in India https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/cut-throat-competition-distorts-democracy-in-india <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>So, what is the right measure of passion in politics that is good for the health of democracy? There has to be a right balance.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-34624377.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-34624377.jpg" alt="lead lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>January 23, 2018 - Ajmer, Rajasthan, India - Indian national congress and BJP supporters during campaign on bye-elections. Shaukat Ahmed/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Commenting on democracy in Great Britain, a north European journalist attributed its ills to “too much competition”. His own country is accustomed to a much gentler version of the democratic order. </p> <p>If he were to come to New Delhi and read just a day’s newspapers, he would find that in the case of India, his diagnosis is confirmed. Cut-throat competition afflicts democracy in India. Global warming is tracked by instruments but there are no instruments to measure the rise in sectarian hatred recorded by newspaper headlines. One such front-page headline may be sampled here: “As communal heat rises, BJP allies in Bihar rally together”. The same daily carries as many as ten reports related to sectarian animosity and violence. </p> <p>Growing mental pollution causes this upsurge in violence. The poison of bigotry being injected into society can be felt and talked about but not measured by an electronic sensor. The seamy side of Indian politics has been highlighted for some time but earlier the main instruments were money and muscle power. The marginalisation of a religious minority and consolidation of the Hindu votes through sectarian incitement are recent developments. Some of the latest polls have proved that polarisation pays.</p> <p>The word “communal” in Indian English is used as a substitute for “sectarian”. What has triggered the current wave of communal violence? In most cases, the spark is provided not by religious fundamentalists but by political activists whose leaders understand the power of religious passion and fault-lines of society. <span class="mag-quote-center">The poison of bigotry being injected into society can be felt and talked about but not measured by an electronic sensor. </span></p><p>They call themselves Hindu nationalists. They have become overactive on seeing that votes can be won by polarisation of communities based on religion and castes. The voters, fired by baser emotions, can be driven to the polling booths easily. In a surcharged atmosphere, a gentleman-politician is overwhelmed by a street-smart man who outshouts him. The former species will be extinct one day. </p> <p>The formula for winning elections has been standardised. Create resentment and anger against the political rival. Intensify religious hatred, promote inter-caste rivalry and attack the secularists ruthlessly. Tap the voters’ feelings and promise the moon. Administer the right mixture of fear of the other and hope for the future. That populism and fake nationalism damage the nation is not the concern of the victorious candidate.</p> <p>In such an atmosphere, Indian democracy faces multiple threats, though mercifully none from any rogue General. However, internal subversion by an elected leader is subtle and equally lethal. Democracy can easily be hijacked by an actor-politician, a second-hand car salesman or a seller of snake oil. Anyone with the power to mesmerise the audience. </p> <p>Democracy is turned into a sound-and-light spectacle featuring a 3-D Hologrammed leader. The leader delivers his line with great effect. He knows all about light and camera angle. He chooses carefully the colour and style of his dress for the day’s role. Democracy led in this fashion retains its name but loses its true spirit. Significantly, newspapers publish elections-related news under such telling banners as The Carnival of Democracy. No newspaper in Britain uses this banner.</p> <p>Lovers of democracy lament that every election campaign report uses the word “hawa” (wind) to signify the political atmosphere created, not as a result of the deeds or the misdeeds of the outgoing government, but by the rhetoric used and bogus promises made by the leaders. Then there is another set way of describing the election-eve atmosphere. The word used is “wave”. The biggest democracy turns into a mighty ocean and the candidate who generates a mighty wave by the gift of the gab is swept to power. </p> <h2><strong>Offence given, taken and sucked away</strong></h2> <p>In India, a community can feel hurt by a word or an image. Politicians can afford to ignore the basic needs of the electorate but dare not ignore the sensitivities of the dominant communities. Offence is given and taken very easily. The book lovers complaining of the writers not writing about “feelings” should know that feelings have been sucked away by politics!</p> <p>If feelings rather than a dispassionate analysis influence the voting behaviour, consolidation of votes through inculcating hatred for and fear of ‘the other’ pays political dividends. In a cut-throat competition for winning political power, no holds are barred. More and more street-smart boys and criminals get into politics which starts losing traditional, dignified public-spirited leaders.</p> <p>Social media makes it easier to create a favourable political atmosphere by rousing baser emotions. The task of poll strategists is merely technical like that of those who generate clouds on a film set and create a dream sequence or a nightmare on screen. The voters get impressed by the performance of the leader descending on the stage or talking to them from remote locations and forget his dismal performance in office. The future of democracy in a virtually real world is another topic. <span class="mag-quote-center">In India, a community can feel hurt by a word or an image. Politicians can afford to ignore the basic needs of the electorate but dare not ignore the sensitivities of the dominant communities.</span></p> <p>A tough competitor in the political arena knows that feelings are bankable and that defines the poll strategist’s task. He has to incite the mob frenzy that characterises developing countries. V. S. Naipaul has written about it in his books referring to Africa. India is ripe for a fresh visit by Naipaul as he can witness another version of the million mutinies that he observed the last time. As in Africa, so in India. Naipaul will see celebrations by violent mobs. He will be amused by the elected municipal councillors installing their name plates on public facilities and renaming roads.</p> <p>Naipaul will witness a nation in a temper. Long before America voted for Trump, British journalist Gavin Esler went there and discovered the United States of Anger (USA) and wrote a book with that title. Today, an illiterate maid in New Delhi, who has not heard of that book, says that there is krodh (anger) all around. She is worried as to how long the people like her or the daily wage-earners will be able to go out to work in safety.</p> <h2><strong>A failure of intent</strong></h2> <p>Anyone writing about “intolerance” and the spurt in sectarian hatred and violence has to face “whataboutry” from the Prime Minister’s devotees. What about the riots of such and such year, is their counter question. Yes, India was never free of sectarian violence but there is a qualitative difference between the past and the present. </p> <p>The sporadic incidents in the past were not always politically motivated and, in most cases, the state and the district administration distinguished between the victim and the accused. The civil servants failed at times because of incompetence but did not turn a blind eye knowing that the political leadership would discreetly approve of it. Now an impression has gone around that the ruling party is determined to marginalise a community. The failure to control violence and enforce law and order is one thing but the failure of intent is another.</p> <p>This has encouraged the closet communalists in the bureaucracy, police and even judiciary to be less cautious. The ruling party leaders freely make inflammatory speeches, the like of which would have ended their political career in another democratic country.</p> <p>Till the demolition of the mosque in Ayodhya, one never heard insensitive sectarian statements in the so-called elite or refined or cultural families. That has changed. This is the difference between the past and the present of a secular India.</p> <p>All these years, those trying to harness Hinduism for political benefit faced resistance not just from the liberal secular Hindus but also from the staunch believers who remain committed to their faith’s inherent pluralism and inclusiveness, extending even to the atheists within its fold. </p> <h2><strong>Diversity hatred and ‘Hindu Pakistan’</strong></h2> <p>This diversity is hated by a rising political force trying to inject the foreign ideology of Fascism into an indigenous faith. It is determined to monopolise power by establishing the primacy of one single Hindu God – Lord Rama. This chosen God comes into the picture in the reports of many incidents of politically inspired inter-religious violence. </p> <p>The condemnation by the liberals no longer frightens the sectarian forces. But what they are up against is a faith tradition having millions of theologically approved Gods. Thus, forcing homogeneity and uniformity on Hindus is going to be a difficult project.</p> <p>This sectarian agenda has no theological basis. It involves no official plan to “reform” Hinduism. If anything, the party activists try to enforce some medieval customs in order to “purify” the faith tempered with modernity over the years. A top item in this agenda that mobilises many believers is reclamation of the temples demolished by the foreign invaders belonging to a different religion.</p> <p>The current political confrontation has been given a religious dimension but essentially it is a political project designed to assert the supremacy of Hindus in a nation that establishes its new identity in the world. Those who have generated this cut-throat political competition are not religious scholars. In fact, they have little understanding of the Vedic literature or of the classical language associated with their faith. The spirit of argumentation that marks this faith tradition is foreign to them. <span class="mag-quote-center">The long-cherished project of the mentor of the ruling party is eventually to establish a powerful Hindu nation.</span></p> <p>The top leadership of the ruling party is not into politics for pelf or for power for the sake of power or for public service. It has a single-point agenda. The long-cherished project of the mentor of the ruling party is eventually to establish a powerful Hindu nation. Fired by messianic zeal, the party leaders are perennially focused on electoral strategies, ignoring governance and the citizens’ problems. For the first time in the history of independent India, this party has gained unrestricted political power and influence and it does not want to let go of this opportunity. It is keen to move faster towards its goal of establishing what its critics call a “Hindu Pakistan”.</p> <p>The Government has got away with this till now, despite its failure to fulfil Modi’s election-eve promises, because of its power of patronage and the Prime Minister’s charisma. Both are being used by the “cultural” organisation that holds the real power derived from its extensive network of volunteers. </p> <p>But now voices are being heard against the politicians for being obsessed with the Hindu-Muslim debate and ignoring the issues of public health, education, malnutrition, safety and transport.</p> <p>The constant public discourse on the Hindu-Muslim issue and embedded media’s focus on it are bringing democracy into disrepute. Politicians are being ridiculed and condemned more and more. “Plague on both your houses” is a slogan that has been heard. The Prime Minister’s devotees attack anyone criticising their beloved leader. One devotee took to social media to seriously suggest that Modi should impose a dictatorship to teach his critics a lesson!</p> <h2><strong>Full-time politicians</strong></h2> <p>While the ruling party’s Hindutva agenda is mainly responsible for queering the pitch, some other factors also intensify competition in Indian politics. Far too many politicians are full-time politicians. They know no other way of leading a life. Many are into politics for making money. Some lack the qualifications to get any job and possess no skills to earn in any other line of business. So, winning an election at any cost becomes essential for them.</p> <p>Thanks to the declining faith in the police and judiciary and the administration’s failure to provide civic amenities, more and more people are joining politics in order to secure the necessary clout to get the administration to do their work or to secure the safety of their families. They use political power to safeguard the interests of their relations, friends and supporters. <span class="mag-quote-center">They use political power to safeguard the interests of their relations, friends and supporters. </span></p> <p>More ambitious corrupt politicians use political power to promote the interests of their rich friends in the corporate world. Some business leaders and media moguls do not spend money on sponsoring other politicians and join politics to directly benefit their business.</p> <p>The cut-throat political competition for gaining power exacerbates religious animosities and widens social fault lines. However, it may be argued that such intense competition at least proves that democracy is alive and kicking. The people are willing to kill or die during a heated poll campaign for a leader they love! </p> <p>Here is a dilemma. Suppose the voters turn indifferent and spend the polling day holiday decorating their homes instead of taking the trouble of going to cast their vote. That kind of mass indifference to exercising one’s right will also enfeeble democracy. </p> <p>So, what is the right measure of passion in politics that is good for the health of democracy? There has to be a right balance. It will depend not on the regulatory authorities or election &nbsp;laws but on the wisdom of the leaders and on the proverbial common man.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/remotely-controlled-weapons-hit-democracy-killing-from-distance">Remotely-controlled weapons hit democracy: killing from a distance</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/statues-are-not-safe-in-india">Statues are not safe in India</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/when-faith-fills-ballot-boxes"> When faith fills ballot boxes</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India Conflict Democracy and government International politics L K Sharma Fri, 06 Apr 2018 13:38:53 +0000 L K Sharma 117081 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Remotely-controlled weapons hit democracy: killing from a distance https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/remotely-controlled-weapons-hit-democracy-killing-from-distance <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In the new information order, manipulated voters have come to outnumber threatened voters and bribed voters. The larger picture.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-35613070.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-35613070.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Supporters listening to Nicolas Sarkozy, UMP candidate for the presidential elections during his last campaign meeting on May 3, 2007 in Montpellier, France. ABACA/ Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>National electorates have lost their primacy in deciding the outcome of their elections. They have the vote and they go to the polling booths, but their choice may be determined by a foreign government or a private company. In the new information order, manipulated voters have come to outnumber threatened voters and bribed voters.</p> <p>Democracy stands diminished as the world debates whether Donald Trump was sent to the White House by American voters or by Vladimir Putin! Not a month goes by without protests by those who believe that the Russian state meddled in the US election. </p> <p>This controversy has been followed by reports that a British data analytics firm energised Trump’s poll campaign by using allegedly stolen private data for targeting American voters.</p> <p>Democracy has spawned manufacturers of dissent and consent who can be contracted for swaying the election results in one country or organising a political 'Spring' and destabilising a regime in another. If it is illegal to subvert free elections in another country, the official intelligence agency can outsource the job to private commercial players. This formula for plausible deniability has been tried and tested. <span class="mag-quote-center">Democracy has spawned manufacturers of dissent and consent who can be contracted for swaying the election results in one country or organising a political ‘Spring’ and destabilising a regime in another.</span></p> <h2><strong>Loads of Russians and some Brits from Cambridge</strong></h2> <p>Technological advances have increased asymmetry in power relations and the new business leaders come from the same regions that dominated manufacturing and financial services. Their business depends on data mining based on technologies monopolised by the privileged. </p> <p>Stealing of private data seems easier than pilfering coal from the mines. Data is far more expensive than coal. The victims of robber barons knew what they lost but the victims of data miners do not know what is being stolen from them. </p> <p>Data mining is as important a weapon in the arsenal of a political leader as it is for a company selling soap and shampoo. </p> <p>The involvement of a “foreign hand” was one of the reasons that made Donald Trump’s victory controversial from the moment the results were announced in 2016. One senior US official or the other keeps revealing details of cyber-meddling by Moscow. A grand jury in Washington accuses 13 Russians and three organisations of plotting to sway the US presidential election in favour of Trump.</p> <p>The indictment goes beyond the charge of an online operation and using a “troll farm” in Russia to flood the social media with pro-Trump and anti-Hillary content. Some Russians even travelled to the US clandestinely to contact social and political activists and organise demonstrations and protests designed to harm Hillary and benefit Trump.</p> <p>This indictment was used by the US national security adviser H R McMaster to say that “Russian meddling is incontrovertible and beyond dispute”. Trump denies the allegation and blames the FBI for investigating his election campaign. <span class="mag-quote-center">Trump denies the allegation and blames the FBI for investigating his election campaign.</span></p> <p>As if the alleged Russian involvement was not enough, it turns out that some credit must also go to a British data analytics firm which carries the prestigious word “Cambridge” in its name. Another newspaper headline: “Cambridge Analytica boasts of dirty tricks to swing elections.” </p> <p>According to media reports<em>, </em>the Cambridge Analytica executives boasted of their role in getting Trump elected. Their weapon was “unattributable and untrackable” advertising to support their clients in elections.&nbsp; The firm, according to a senior member of staff, was “behind” the “defeat crooked Hillary” advertising campaign. It just placed false information into the bloodstream of the internet and then watched it grow! </p> <p>Such stuff infiltrates the online community with a lightning speed. Hillary Clinton, the victim of this social media campaign, did notice something unusual. She said that she faced a new kind of campaign that nobody had ever faced before.</p> <p>This data scandal led to the suspension of the company’s chief executive. Also, Cambridge University asked Facebook to tell it whether one of its academics used university data and resources to help Cambridge Analytica.</p> <p><em>The Observer</em> reported that the company had unauthorised access to tens of millions of Facebook profiles which were used to build a political targeting system to help Trump. The British company faces allegations of the theft of personal data from American voters. &nbsp;The newspaper headlines appearing every week will not let the controversy die or let the Trump poll campaign get a clean chit soon.</p> <h2><strong>More foreign interference, France and elsewhere</strong></h2> <p>A report of foreign interference in national politics has been reported from another democracy – France.&nbsp; The former President Nicolas Sarkozy has been taken into police custody for questioning” over allegations that he received millions of euros in illegal election campaign funding from the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Sarkozy won that election in 2007. Sarkozy also faced another allegation of false accounting for his failed re-election campaign of 2012 when he was described as a “political showman” because of his expensive rallies and the US-style stadium gigs. <span class="mag-quote-center">The employment of foreign poll consultants by the candidates in emerging democracies has become a known strategy.</span></p> <p>In France, a foreign power directly helped the then President by funding his re-election campaign. In the US election, a foreign power allegedly meddled by abusing social media.</p> <p>The employment of foreign poll consultants by the candidates in emerging democracies has become a known strategy. In a new scenario, a foreign government can offer this expensive service to a favoured candidate in the Third World in a clandestine manner. It can evade the charge of meddling in a foreign election by enlisting the Diaspora favouring one candidate over the other, one ideology over the other in the motherland. </p> <p>The US and Britain have a long history of using the expatriates in their official as well as unofficial campaigns to dislodge a foreign ruler, elected or non-elected.&nbsp; The Diaspora operates from the safety of their adopted country and does not mind if its campaign finance causes social unrest and political instability in the motherland. </p> <h2><strong>The US and Iran</strong></h2> <p>The Iranian Diaspora in the US plays a big role in the politics of the motherland. The US Government offered grants worth millions of dollars inviting applications from the groups wanting to promote human rights and democracy in Iran. This was seen even by some Iranians in America as a veiled attempt at regime change in that country. </p> <p>A political revolution in Iran can be seeded in Brooklyn! This meddling is done in the name of promoting democracy in the target country. In some cases, the new regime turns out to be more oppressive and a transient political ‘Spring’ is followed by a harsher winter. </p> <p>A big power smells an opportunity if the Diaspora belongs to a politically polarised country. Depending on the foreign and economic policies of the target nation, official agencies recruit either the dissidents or the supporters of the regime from among the expatriates. <span class="mag-quote-center">A political revolution in Iran can be seeded in Brooklyn! This meddling is done in the name of promoting democracy in the target country.</span></p> <p>Social media is a very powerful political tool in possession of the Diaspora! Digital patriots have proliferated in recent years. The Diaspora helps its favourite leader’s campaign in the motherland through tweets and online campaign videos. It organises impressive events for a visiting leader from “home” and holds a token protest against his political opponents or his critics in the media. If a Third World leader cannot afford data mining, analysis and poll consultancy by a foreign firm, the Diaspora can foot the bill.</p> <h2><strong>Third World leaders</strong></h2> <p>Such remotely run campaigns influence the voters of the target country as the US Presidential election proved. The growing external influence on the democratic process is now understood by every smart elected leader. He knows that his people’s mandate for a given number of years is not enough and he fears destabilisation. He wants to strengthen his position by getting a big external power’s endorsement. It also enhances his popularity in his country, especially if it happens to be a former colony.</p> <p>If America gives a favoured-nation treatment, global appreciation follows and the media in the US and Europe starts seeing that country in a new light. Eric Hobsbawm once told this reporter that young India’s achievements were ignored by the western media for decades because America had reservations about India’s policies. </p> <p>The Third World leaders realise the importance of the President of the United States and seek a bargain with him. Abandoning their party’s election manifesto, they open up the domestic market a little more to become more acceptable to powerful nations. They carry orders for big-ticket military equipment when they go to meet their counterparts. &nbsp;A smart elected leader does not antagonise a big power for fear of ruination. His democratic credentials are not enough to keep him safely in power. <span class="mag-quote-center">They carry orders for big-ticket military equipment when they go to meet their counterparts.</span></p> <p>A vilified dictator who benefits the commercial and manufacturing interests of his host country is hailed as a world statesman. And the same dictator refusing to play ball at a later stage can be deported from the world. An old photograph of an American defence secretary bowing in the court of Saddam Hussein illustrates how an enemy was a great friend once.</p> <h2><strong>The Golden Square Mile</strong></h2> <p>Democracy is often threatened by external elements posing as a force for democracy. The use of social media and foreign funding has increased challenges facing the election regulators. In the best of times, the democratic order faced threats from domestic money, media and muscle power. The dominant castes of Bihar or the money bags of London’s Golden Square Mile have always swayed the election results in their respective areas of influence. The latter do not send armed ruffians to capture polling booths but underwrite a friendly political party’s poll campaign. </p> <p>The City’s financial might has protected its extraordinary rights and privileges, granting it immunity from the elected Parliament’s authority! The unkindest description of the Golden Square Mile, from where the old East India Company operated once, comes from <em>The</em> <em>Guardian </em>columnist George Monbiot. He says it is the place “where democracy goes to die”. </p> <p>Another columnist Jeremy Fox calls the City of London “the prime launderette for dirty money and the world’s largest controller of offshore tax havens”. It became the prime destination for the super-rich Russians after the end of the cold war. Following the suspicious deaths of a former Russian spy who spied for Britain, some British columnists made dark references to the Russian oligarchs helping the ruling party in Britain.</p> <h2><strong>British media moguls</strong></h2> <p>Some British media moguls have perfected the art of winning friends in a coming government by influencing the people during the election campaign. A media owner doesn’t just ask his editors to write the desired kind of opinion pieces and editorials but unleashes his trusted reporter on a leader whom he doesn’t want to become the next Prime Minister. At the behest of the government, the media moguls can deploy massive financial resources in publishing and distributing a book written by a foreigner fighting the leader of that country. </p> <p>Their Indian counterparts have quickly learnt from them.&nbsp; The Indian media scene has become so dismal that every now or then a TV or a newspaper journalist either resigns in protest or is thrown out for showing signs of independent thinking. This happened twice this month. The Indian media scene has become so dismal that every now or then a TV or a newspaper journalist either resigns in protest or is thrown out for showing signs of independent thinking. This happened twice this month.</p> <p>Such domestic threats to democracy have been discussed for years. But it is the external threat that has grown manifold and is set to acquire greater lethal power to disrupt a democracy. The new weapon is safer to use, and technological advances will make it more and more effective. It has demonstrated its capability not just in the young democracies but even in mature democracies. <span class="mag-quote-center">The new weapon is safer to use, and technological advances will make it more and more effective.</span></p> <h2><strong>A spectre is haunting the democratic process</strong></h2> <p>Globalisation, data collection and analytics and social media have given a remote weapon to subvert democracy in any distant country. This weapon is humane. An unfriendly foreign leader no longer needs to be killed physically. It is easier to assassinate him politically.</p> <p>Some powerful western democratic nations who preach democracy while supporting cruel but friendly foreign dictators, used to suppress the democratic movements in those countries by offering a dictator the best of weapon systems plus substantial financial aid, while keeping quiet about the human rights violation by his forces. Now, they can help a subservient dictator by using subtle methods to sabotage the electoral chances of his democratic opponent.</p> <p>Many democracies keep trying to curb the misuse of money and muscle power in elections. Now the spectre of the “foreign hand” has come to haunt the democratic process. Media coverage of external meddling in elections makes the true democrats anxious and gives added credibility to those forecasting the death of democracy.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/statues-are-not-safe-in-india">Statues are not safe in India</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/when-faith-fills-ballot-boxes"> When faith fills ballot boxes</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/of-sacred-cows-and-profane-men">Of sacred cows and profane men</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Internet </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia Civil society Conflict Democracy and government International politics Internet L K Sharma Sat, 24 Mar 2018 09:58:20 +0000 L K Sharma 116855 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Statues are not safe in India https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/statues-are-not-safe-in-india <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>One cynic says that after every election, the new Government can spend its first year in uninstalling the statutes erected by the previous regime.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 15.39.53.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 15.39.53.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>Violent political activists in India, used to attacking fellow humans, have now turned their attention to statues. Within a week they demolished or damaged the statues of Lenin, Ambedkar, the Dalit icon, and Periyar, the social reformer who fought against upper-caste hegemony.</p> <p>In India statues of leaders command an immense political significance which now characterises even the idols of Hindu Gods. These come in all sizes and colours. Prime Minister Modi is seeking to ensure that his home state Gujarat boasts the tallest statue of Sardar Patel, co-opted by his party, even though he was a life-long leader of the Congress and India’s Home Minister in Nehru’s Cabinet. Sardar Patel is being used as an instrument for diminishing Nehru!</p> <p>Towns are dotted with statues installed by the followers of one political party or the other. Statues are erected, defaced and made controversial, all for promoting political interests. A State Governor belonging to Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu nationalist party said what a democratically elected government can do can be undone by the next elected party! He was responding to reports of the demolition of a statue of Lenin in a state where the BJP ousted a communist government that had ruled the state for 25 years. </p> <p>One cynic says that after every election, the new Government can spend its first year in uninstalling the statutes erected by the previous regime. The old order changed in this north-eastern state and a commentator is sure that streets named after Lenin will now be renamed to glorify some Hindu nationalist leader!</p> <p>India’s economic policy-makers had some years ago bid goodbye to Lenin, who supported India’s anti-colonial struggle and inspired many Indians to come under the influence of communism. Lenin’s statue suffered a worse fate as soon as the Hindu nationalists dislodged the long-ruling communist government in the state of Tripura. They bulldozed his statue, severed its head and played football with it. The cries of “Victory to Mother India” filled the air as the 11.5-feet tall fibre-glass statue of Lenin was brought down. </p> <p>The demolition of Lenin’s statue was followed up in another state by some miscreants who vandalised a statue of iconic Dravidian leader Periyar. The statue of the social reformer and thinker was attacked soon after a BJP worker issued a statement: “Today it is Lenin’s statue in Tripura. Tomorrow it will be caste zealot E V Ramaswamy’s (Periyar) statue in Tamil Nadu.” </p> <p>The social reformer is revered by large sections in the state for having led a self-respect movement against upper-caste hegemony. The BJP could hardly show respect to the memory of a leader who called the believers in god Barbarians. The state leader of the BJP did not realise that his party is now trying to extend its reach by shedding its image as an upper-caste party. </p> <p>Periyar is not Lenin because the attack on his statue can upset the Prime Minister’s party’s electoral chances in the state of Tamil Nadu. Demolition of Lenin’s statue only strengthens the Indian Prime Minister’s credentials in the eyes of some western powers.</p> <p>It is not just Lenin’s statue that made news. A political carnival, once started, tends to expand. In Kolkata, the statue of Syama Prasad Mookerjee was vandalised by those who felt offended by the demolition of Lenin’s statue by the BJP supporters in another state. Mookerjee was among the founder of BJP’s precursor Hindu nationalist party. He was once in Nehru’s cabinet but fell out with him and founded a new party.&nbsp; The BJP Government is trying to see that history is rewritten to give Mookerjee a more prominent part in the national narrative. </p> <p>A statue of B. R. Ambedkar in the state of the BJP-ruled state of UP was vandalised by some miscreants. Numerous statues of this eminent Dalit leader were installed when the state had a woman Dalit chief minister. However, other parties including the BJP also show respect towards Ambedkar, who was also one of the architects of India’s Constitution. Of course, reverence towards Ambedkar is not shared by many from the upper castes.</p> <p>The focus on statues made the Shiv Sena in Goa demand the reinstallation of a statue of Shivaji, a Hindu King known for his valour. The statue was removed by the local authorities because it was installed illegally. Shiv Sena, a right-wing Hindu party, is an ally of the BJP so its demand in a BJP-ruled state matters. A Shiv Sena leader said it was not a question of legality but an issue of the people’s emotional attachment to the statue! Hundreds of tiny temples built without permission on public property in Indian cities cannot be touched lest the demolition hurts public sentiments.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 15.40.28.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 15.40.28.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screenshot of E.V. Ramasamy (Periyar) statue, still intact at Vaikom town in Kottayam, Kerala. Wikicommons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p> <h2><strong>World impact</strong></h2> <p>Those who celebrated the demolition of Lenin’s statue abused the communists while some of those who expressed their shock wondered whether India was becoming Iraq or Afghanistan. </p> <p>The world saw in 1992 the TV coverage of the demolition of the Babri mosque in India by the workers of the same party. The demolition of Lenin’s statute was surely seen on the TV screens by the Taliban terrorists. They must have recalled with pride their own glorious feat of demolishing the sixth-century Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan. </p> <p>Alas, Ronald Reagan could not live to see the destruction of Lenin’s statue in India. The present President of America does not consider Communism to be a threat to America’s survival, so he sent no congratulatory message to the Indian Prime Minister. In the post-Reagan era, Washington got more interested in the demolition of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Iraq which it accomplished with great aplomb.</p> <p>But the foreign service of at least one nation retains institutional memory. An unnamed foreign diplomat was quick to send a message to Ram Madhav, general secretary of the ruling Hindu nationalist party. The BJP leader publicised the certificate of good conduct: “Congrats Ram! The world needs fewer Communists.”</p> <h2><strong>Prime Minister Narendra Modi</strong></h2> <p>No celebratory event these days passes without a reverential reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Ram Madhav in his newspaper article said that in India the task of decimating Communism will most likely be completed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.</p> <p>While Lenin faced physical violence, even national icons such a Nehru and Gandhi have been facing verbal violence in social media. The two mass leaders had fought the sectarian forces and Gandhi was, of course, killed by a Hindu nationalist.</p> <p>This in a country with such diverse traditions that a figure considered evil incarnate in one region is worshipped in another. And despite Shashi Tharoor reminding the nation about the sins of the British Empire, one village in Rajasthan has a temple of a white British military officer where devotees go and offer cigarettes in order to seek his blessings!</p> <p>But this is not the BJP’s idea of India. It seeks to discredit the multi-cultural narrative and assert the supremacy of Hindus. The Prime Minister’s party has unleashed a sort of cultural revolution with its cadres targeting every institution, official, autonomous or even academic. Official plans to weaken the spirit of pluralism, to revise India’s history and to modify the text books are part of a strategy to kill the idea of India and to fashion a new Indian identity reflective of a religious ethos. </p> <p>Scientific temperament, a reference to which figures in India’s Constitution, has been devalued. Scientific theories are challenged by semi-literate ministers and fictional accounts about India’s past are turned into factual treatises. Works of literary imagination glorifying India’s past are presented as reportage based on observation.</p> <p>The storm-troopers for street action against the dissenters, beef-eaters, women drinkers and lovers who display affection in public are supplied by organisations affiliated with the ruling party. </p> <p>The BJP’s mentor, RSS, acts as a think tank, does public service and organises military-style drills by its volunteers to highlight the importance of discipline and love for Mother India. The RSS was banned after the murder of Mahatma Gandhi but then it got free from the ban by declaring itself a “cultural organisation”.</p> <p>The ongoing million mutinies in India have got intensified as a direct consequence of the Modi Government’s efforts to culturally transform India. This plan is based on a vision of India’s fabled past and on the veneration of Hindu Gods. </p> <p>The process is chaotic and at times violent because it involves curbs on personal freedom, demolition of old institutions, vilification of national heroes and manufacturing new idols. </p> <p>India was not pushed into the twenty-first century kicking and screaming, but now there is a systematic attempt to take it back to the medieval period. Interestingly, those leading this movement use the most modern communication technologies and constantly talk of digital <em>nirvana</em>.</p> <p>The ruling party cadres fight some of yesterday’s battles and celebrate victories with an exuberance bordering on violence. They feel empowered after Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister. </p> <h2><strong>Then there is Hinduism</strong></h2> <p>The Hindu ethos is somewhat different from the ruling party-led Hindutva revolution that is currently spreading in India. Hinduism, as is known, has no central church, no one single book and no single head of the religion. It projects a Parliament of gods! The multiplicity of gods and goddesses that caused occasional intra-faith clashes in the past promoted diversity of beliefs and enabled even the atheists to remain in its fold. </p> <p>The Vedic literature affirms the validity of questioning in faith. Questions were even raised about whether God knows everything! </p> <p>Hinduism is tempered with uncertainty. Certainty in faith unleashes a wave of intolerance. Of late, the space for scholarly debates has shrunk. India has a rich tradition of argumentation but now everyone seems to be screaming: “if you disagree, you are my enemy.” Of course, any critic of the Prime Minister is trolled and certified as the enemy of the nation.</p> <p>Writers, poets and thinkers who were the first to criticise the ruling establishment were given hard time. No one has cared to recall how the poets had started expressing disenchantment with the ruling establishment in the life time of Nehru despite his being adored by the masses.</p> <p>All that the officially discredited writers and poets had done was to criticise the rise of intolerance. But Modi’s devotees could not take it. So how could they allow Lenin’s statue to stand after they defeated the communists in the state elections?&nbsp; </p> <p>It remains to be seen whether the pieces of the statue will be preserved in a museum for visitors to come and throw stones or will be buried for ever so that no power is able to resurrect it for adoration in changed political circumstances. </p> <h2><strong>Communism and communalism</strong></h2> <p>Any opinion poll would show that most Indians believe in reincarnation. But Lenin has little chance since India’s poor are too busy trying to ward off hunger to join in any political revolution.</p> <p>Any serious discussion on the future of communism in India in the wake of the fall of Lenin’s statue is futile. India is one democratic country where the extraordinary power of political power constantly crushes the spirit of democracy. The willing suspension of dissent and disbelief is widespread. &nbsp;The media and the business leaders pay tributes to the ruling deity. </p> <p>The Vicar of Bray used to change his religious doctrines depending on who ruled the country. He has been adopted as a role model by most people and many political leaders. </p> <p>Political power has become a powerful tool for “awakening” the Hindus and showing other faith communities their place. It was only because the BJP was not in power that the public discourse on sectarianism could not take this vicious turn all these years. Those who used to keep their pro-Hindutva views to themselves have been emboldened to say nasty things in public.</p> <p>The poor and neglected states are so dependent on the financial grants from New Delhi that the people readily switch their political loyalty to the party that forms the Union Government. </p> <p>The rulers get away with anything. A Government scheme causing a widespread disaster and costing human lives, is successfully sold by invoking morality.</p> <p>In the current political scenario, ideologies have lost all relevance. The BJP has been embracing its ideological opponents and forming state governments with their help. What matters is setting up a formidable electoral machine and implementing a winning strategy based on the polarisation of voters on the basis of caste or religion and attracting the opponents by promising spoils of office. </p> <p>The cadres and even senior leaders defect either before a coming election if they see their party going nowhere or after an election that dislodges their party’s government. Even the ideologically distinct leftist parties are not immune to this, not to talk of the Congress that provides an umbrella to various shades of opinion.</p> <p>The ruling Hindu nationalist party has benefited from this vulnerability of its opponents, attracting to its fold a large number of them who till the other day were supposed to be committed to secularism and socialism. </p> <p>In its assiduous attempt to cast its net wider and wider, the BJP has displayed amazing flexibility dumbfounding the few ideological purists within its fold. Those committed to the interests of the farmers and workers feel uncomfortable with the economic policies of the Modi Government, but they can’t sever their links with a winning party. </p> <p>As soon as Modi came to power, the RSS abandoned its principle of not encouraging foreign goods and capital and not having any truck with the separatists. The Prime Minister himself set an example of ideological flexibility when he began to implement many of the policies of the earlier Government that he used to attack vociferously.</p> <p>It seems that sectarianism, called communalism in India, has always had more mass appeal than was estimated. It was only that strong secular governments kept divisive sentiments under check. That changed when the BJP came to power in New Delhi.</p> <p>Secularism will perhaps assert itself more forcefully only because of the good sense of the majority and the pluralistic ethos of true Hinduism. The communists, who failed to counter capitalism, are more handicapped in fighting communalism which can be controlled effectively only by the true Hindu believers.</p> <p>The relentless campaign to polarise Hindu voters has succeeded in several recent elections. This trend cannot be arrested by campaigns by the secularists and leftists till the BJP’s political fortunes decline because of new circumstances. </p> <p>The BJP is using its rule in New Delhi to consolidate its hold and propagate its vision of a Hindu India. An occasional electoral setback apart, the Hindu nationalist party marches on triumphantly under the leadership of Narendra Modi.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India L K Sharma Sat, 10 Mar 2018 15:47:04 +0000 L K Sharma 116607 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Islamophobia gastronomica - on the food police, rural populism and killing https://www.opendemocracy.net/openIndia/raj-patel/islamophobia-gastronomica-on-food-police-rural-populism-and-killing <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Khan’s killing was an act of adjudication over citizenship, culture, gender and life, in a form that’s becoming increasingly widespread in the US, India and through parts of Europe.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/6947061876_2f52a85f26_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/6947061876_2f52a85f26_z.jpg" alt="lead lead " title="" width="460" height="450" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Holy Cow Container, India, 2012. Flickr/ Rod Waddington. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>This is the fifth article in a series on ‘confronting authoritarian populism and the rural world’, linked to the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (</em><a href="http://www.iss.nl/erpi"><em>ERPI</em></a><em>). The article opening the series can be read&nbsp;</em><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/marc-edelman-ian-scoones-saturnino-m-borras-jr-lyda-forero-ruth-hall-ben-white-and-wendy-wolford/con"><em>here</em></a><em>.</em></p> <p>Food cultures have become a battleground for authoritarian populism. Moral panics around food have fanned violence with impunity. Gastronomic Islamophobia is becoming commonplace because it rests on framing the relationship between the self, state, food, nature, and rural society. Any resistance to it must be equally comprehensive.</p> <h2><strong>Listening out for a license to kill</strong></h2> <p>“There are two sides to this<em>”,</em> said Gulab Chand Kataria, the Home Minister of Rajasthan. He was responding to the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/05/world/asia/india-cow-mob-hindu-vigilantes.html">mob lynching</a> of Pehlu Khan, a 55 year old man who had purchased some dairy cows in Alwar, in the north-west Indian state of Rajasthan. Khan and others were transporting the cows to Jaisinghpur in neighbouring Haryana in a truck, when a mob stopped them and, with cellphones out to record the dispensation of justice, beat him to death with iron rods and bricks. No arrests have been made. </p> <p>On one side, a man was murdered. On the other, Minister Kataria offered, the killers had a point: “They know that one cannot smuggle cows out of Rajasthan,” the Home Minister said. “A law is in place.” &nbsp;</p> <p>Superficially, this equivocation sounds like Donald Trump’s remarks after the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville VA, when he offered that “<a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/08/trump-defends-white-nationalist-protesters-some-very-fine-people-on-both-sides/537012/">there were some very fine people on both sides</a>.” Whether from Kataria or Trump, even-handedness serves both as a wispy rebuke of, and a pat on the back for, supremacists of different stripes. In the rare moments where state authoritarians are equable, mobs receive their license to kill. </p> <p>But while Trump and Kataria share an uncharacteristic ambivalence in their pronouncements in the wake of a murder, Khan’s death shows something more. His killing was an act of adjudication over citizenship, culture, gender and life, in a form that’s becoming increasingly widespread. In the US, India and through parts of Europe, populism is lived through an Islamophobic gastronomy. </p> <h2><strong>Islamophobic populism and sacred cows</strong></h2> <p>In Northern Italy, the Mayor of Cittadella and member of the Northern League has banned kebabs, on the grounds that “<a href="http://www.dw.com/en/italian-towns-kebab-ban-enrages-migrant-community/a-15300614">this food is certainly not part of our tradition and of our identity</a>”. At 30,000 feet, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/30/diet-coke-islamophobia-united-airlines">a headscarf-wearing Muslim chaplain was denied an unopened can of diet coke</a> because the flight attendant thought she’d use the can – possibly together with a tube of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwyMcV9emmc">Mentos</a> – as a weapon. From undercover sleuthing on the BBC’s Rogue Restaurants series that <a href="https://web.archive.org/web/20180223100934/http:/www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00cwgzh">conflates citizenship status with food hygiene</a>, to the possibility of purchasing pork-fat-dipped <a href="https://www.ammoland.com/2013/06/peace-through-pork-jihawg-defensive-ammunition/">Jihawg bullets</a>, populist gastronomy thrives. <span class="mag-quote-center">From undercover sleuthing on the BBC’s Rogue Restaurants series that conflates citizenship status with food hygiene, to the possibility of purchasing pork-fat-dipped Jihawg bullets, populist gastronomy thrives. </span></p><p>In India it is given its authoritarian bent by a Hindu supremacist government. Consider the murder of Mohammed Akhlaq. Although he died at the hands of a mob, it was <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-34409354">the meat in Akhlaq’s fridge that killed him</a>. Toward the end of 2016, at a temple in north western Uttar Pradhesh, a Hindu priest accused the Muslim Akhlaq family of eating beef. Around 100 villagers pulled father and son from the house and beat them with bricks. Akhlaq died and his son Danish was recently discharged from intensive care after multiple brain surgeries. The Senior Superintendent of Police moved swiftly. The meat was rushed to the local forensics lab. Turns out it was <a href="http://www.firstpost.com/india/what-next-in-dadri-lynching-case-meat-found-in-akhlaqs-fridge-was-mutton-not-beef-2461780.html">sheep, not cow</a>. </p> <p>Several Indian states have banned beef, on the grounds that Hindu sensibilities might be offended by the killing of cows. Yet death is necessarily an intimate of living reverence. What happens to sacred cows when they die? Hinduism offers conflicting answers for <a href="https://theconversation.com/hinduism-and-its-complicated-history-with-cows-and-people-who-eat-them-80586">what happens to their souls</a>. Their bodies’ fate is more quotidian. <a href="http://apps.fas.usda.gov/psdonline/circulars/livestock_poultry.PDF">India is the world’s largest exporter in the combined category of beef/buffalo</a>. The work of turning dead cows into <a href="https://theconversation.com/cow-economics-are-killing-indias-working-class-79274">leather employs 2.5 million people</a>, mainly <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/20/violent-clashes-cow-protection-vigilantes-low-caste-india">Dalit Hindus</a> and Muslims.&nbsp; It is this leather that wraps the balls used in India’s <a href="https://www.hindustantimes.com/cricket/indian-premier-league-valuation-rises-to-usd-5-3-billion/story-Pxh61UiEcLRggcmz0ehfVI.html">$5bn cricket industry</a>. Hindutva involves a re-purposing of religious texts and superstitions in the national interest. Killing follows.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>Under Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu supremacy, the main targets of this policy were India’s Muslims, who were thrown to Modi’s supporters to be dealt with as they saw fit. Modi made a comment about it two weeks later, saying that the killing “was sad and unwarranted, but <a href="http://thewire.in/2015/10/14/modi-accuses-opposition-of-polarising-india-by-raising-bogey-of-communalism-13171/">what is the central government’s relation with these incidents</a>?”</p> <h2><strong>Moral panics, socio-ecological order and food policing the crisis</strong></h2> <p><a href="http://www.iss.nl/erpi">The Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative</a> recognizes that populism both happens <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/marc-edelman-ian-scoones-saturnino-m-borras-jr-lyda-forero-ruth-hall-ben-white-and-wendy-wolford/con">somewhere</a> and is an attempt to <em>make </em>somewhere. As Jacques Rancière suggests, populism serves “simply to draw the image of a certain people”. For every imagined community, there’s an imagined geography, ecology and gastronomy. One of the central cultural vectors of authoritarian populism is the original link between rural and urban politics: food. <span class="mag-quote-center">The Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative recognizes that populism both happens somewhere and is an attempt to <em>make </em>somewhere.&nbsp; </span></p><p>The people who figure in populism don’t just live some<em>where</em>, they eat some<em>thing, </em>and in so doing, enter relationships of life and death with an ecological order. European liberal democracy adjudicates these relationships through rules on what can and can’t be eaten and killed, and who is licensed or unlicensed to do the killing. Populism in America’s <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/marc-edelman/sacrifice-zones-in-rural-and-non-metro-usa-fertile-soil-for-authoritarian-populism">sacrifice zones</a> has these relationships too: <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/feb/21/who-is-dana-loesch-nra-defender-florida-shooting">as Dana Loesch draws it</a> “Coastals (on the US East and West Coast) think they understand firearms because they watched a TV movie about Columbine …Flyovers (the states in between) get a deer rifle for their thirteenth birthday.” Hindutva adjudicates who can kill and eat, and what can be killed and eaten too.</p> <p>You can trace these orders through their moments of crisis. As <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/marc-edelman-ian-scoones-saturnino-m-borras-jr-lyda-forero-ruth-hall-ben-white-and-wendy-wolford/con">the first in this series of posts observes</a>, one tool to do that is the “moral panic”, a term used by Stuart Hall and his comrades in their seminal study <em>Policing the Crisis</em>. For them, the moral panic around mugging was an optic through which they could look into the hegemonic crisis of 1970s Britain. Moral panic became an “index of the disintegration of the social order.” Think of our current moment as “food policing the crisis.” Social panic around food and hygiene is always a concern about order, a signal of crisis. Authoritarian populism fixes the moral panic in rural northern India through the police and its cognates in the Hindu priesthood. </p> <p>Neoliberalism’s secular boundaries between self, society and nature have never been enforced with total success, in post-Independence India or anywhere else. Insofar as the technologies of coercion, nitrogen-fixing, monoculture and marketing were able to secure the consent of key segments of rural India through increased incomes from their land, this might have been smoothed over. No more. Populism emerges at a moment of ecological state-shift.</p> <p>The soil on which Indian rural life depends is dying: <a href="https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2F978-3-319-19168-3_15.pdf">44% of the country suffers land degradation</a>. Khan and Akhlaq’s killings happened in <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4336437/">zones of high soil salinity</a>, a consequence of the country’s <a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/03066150.2012.719224">Long Green Revolution</a>. Amid the ecocide of industrial agriculture, Hindutva invents a tradition that offers an alternative. It’s a different way of parsing relationships with other beings in the web of life, and one that offers salvation in ways that neoliberalism cannot, in conditions neoliberalism created. Rural populism in northern India is nourished by capitalism’s infertile soil.&nbsp; <span class="mag-quote-center">The soil is dying…Rural populism in northern India is nourished by capitalism’s infertile soil.</span></p> <p>The state is doing its part, of course, to abet this salvation. The Indian government has cow shelters, and is in the process of acting as a guardian through <a href="https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/40-million-cows-to-get-aadhaar-like-number-at-cost-of-rs-50-crore-in-1st-phase/story-9f50M1CkgBoCSym5SR1VzL.html">an $8bn bovine biometric identification scheme</a> yet more Orwellian than the one that <a href="https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3060959">already registers its human citizens</a>. But the state is merely the embodiment of the people. Hence the license, indeed the imperative, for citizens to police the crisis themselves. </p> <p>Such are the seductions of this politics that even the <a href="https://onlinelibrarystatic.wiley.com/store/10.1111/joac.12146/asset/joac12146.pdf?v=1&amp;t=jdz3zamt&amp;s=9a051c98c47a051749be3b94d2715f7fd6ae85b9">Bharatiya Kisan Union</a>, a member of La Via Campesina in Northern India, have participated in it. If <a href="https://onlinelibrarystatic.wiley.com/store/10.1111/joac.12146/asset/joac12146.pdf?v=1&amp;t=jdz3zamt&amp;s=9a051c98c47a051749be3b94d2715f7fd6ae85b9">Ramakumar’s analysis</a> is correct, fissures in the BKU’s prior solidarity between Hindu and Muslim emerged through class tension, flaws within the organization’s processes, and rural-urban tensions. The concrete example: urban Muslims’ ownership of a meat-processing plant as an inciting influence behind BKU’s participation in the <a href="http://www.epw.in/search/site/Muzaffarnagar">Muzaffarnagar riots.</a> </p> <h2><strong>Renegotiating relations with humans and nature</strong></h2> <p>As Achin Vanaik observes, for emancipatory rural politics to succeed, <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/achin-vanaik/hindu-authoritarianism-and-agrarian-distress">“we need to fight against more than communalism”</a>. Communalism offers a way of parsing the crisis, of living through it in moments like the panic around cow killing. One doesn’t solve that by insisting that, to the contrary, killing people is bad and killing cows is OK.</p> <p>Authoritarian populism has its political ecology, one that threads humans’ relationships with other species. A response to this crisis will involve far more than a demand for different religions to get along. Confronting authoritarian populism will need, centrally, to offer a far more comprehensive renegotiation of human relations to one another and the web of life. <span class="mag-quote-center">A response to this crisis will involve far more than a demand for different religions to get along.</span></p> <p>Rural populism recognizes the <a href="http://www.bascompte.net/content/publications/nature11018.pdf">state-shifts that capitalism</a> has wrought. Emancipatory politics will need to reweave those relations, undoing the supremacies and patriarchies that such populism rests upon. This will require in the words of Donna Haraway, learning "to revoice life and death in our terms" and not accepting "the rationalist dichotomy that rules most ethical dispute". The forms of that revoicing are precisely the tasks, and stakes, of emancipatory rural politics. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The <strong>Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative</strong> (<a href="https://www.iss.nl/en/research/networks/emancipatory-rural-politics-initiative-erpi">ERPI)</a> was launched during 2017 as a response to the rise of <a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03066150.2017.1339693">authoritarian populism</a> in different parts of the world. Our focus is on the rural origins and consequences of authoritarian populism, as well as the forms of resistance and variety of alternatives that are emerging.<br />&nbsp;<br />In March 2018, a major <a href="https://www.iss.nl/en/events/authoritarian-populism-and-rural-world-2018-03-17">ERPI event </a>will be held in The Hague, the Netherlands, bringing together around 300 researchers and activists from across five continents. ERPI small grant holders will present research insights and debates will focus on mobilizing alternatives, generating new research-activist networks across the world.&nbsp; &nbsp;<br />&nbsp;<br />You can also follow updates from ERPI on <a href="https://twitter.com/TheErpi">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/TheERPI/">Facebook.</a></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/marc-edelman-ian-scoones-saturnino-m-borras-jr-lyda-forero-ruth-hall-ben-white-and-wendy-wolford/con"> Confronting authoritarian populism: the rural dimension</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openindia/achin-vanaik/hindu-authoritarianism-and-agrarian-distress">Hindu authoritarianism and agrarian distress</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/amber-huff-salima-tasdemir-patrick-huff/why-defendafrin-confronting-authoritarian-populism-with-radi">Why #DefendAfrin? Confronting authoritarian populism with radical democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/marc-edelman/sacrifice-zones-in-rural-and-non-metro-usa-fertile-soil-for-authoritarian-populism">Sacrifice zones in rural and non-metro USA: fertile soil for authoritarian populism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/wendy-wolford-sergio-sauer/authoritarian-elitism-and-popular-movements-in-brazil">Authoritarian elitism and popular movements in Brazil</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/benjamin-white-laksmi-savitri-devi-adriyanti-hanny-wijaya-ciptaningrat-larastiti-abdul-rahman/demise">The demise of emancipatory peasant politics? Indonesian fascism and the rise of Islamic populism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/khin-zaw-win/how-populism-directed-against-minorities-is-used-to-prop-up-myanmar-s-democratic-reviva">How populism directed against minorities is used to prop up Myanmar’s ‘Democratic’ revival</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia Can Europe make it? openIndia Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World Raj Patel Mon, 26 Feb 2018 06:37:11 +0000 Raj Patel 116312 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Sri Lanka local elections: the return of Rajapaksa https://www.opendemocracy.net/andreas-johansson/sri-lanka-local-elections-return-of-rajapaksa <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>After his recent win, Mahinda Rajapaksa urged his voters not to attack the losing side, saying: “No matter what they did to us we must set an example”.&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-34936024.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-34936024.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="288" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa greets supporters after landslide victory in the Local Government Election, February 12, 2018. NurPhoto/Press Association. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>Sri Lanka celebrates its seventieth year of independence in 2018 in a country where ethnicity has been a deadly factor, and local elections can turn violent. This year’s election, held on 10 February, however, has been one of the <a href="http://www.colombopage.com/archive_18A/Feb06_1517933601CH.php">most peaceful </a>the country has known. The turnout was over 75%, which shows that people <a href="http://www.colombopage.com/archive_18A/Feb10_1518277196CH.php">are keen</a> on exercising their right to vote. </p><p>The current government attributes the nonviolent character of the election to a new election system. As Prime Minister <a href="https://twitter.com/RW_UNP">Ranil Wickremesinghe</a>, of the United National Party (UNP), <a href="http://www.colombopage.com/archive_18A/Feb10_1518275980CH.php">explained</a>: "the reason is that the most competitive and conflicting preferential voting system that was in the previous elections is not seen in the new system we introduced.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">I have just cast my vote in today’s local elections. I urge all voting today, to do so peacefully and respectfully. <a href="https://t.co/9bX3DrCprA">pic.twitter.com/9bX3DrCprA</a></p>&mdash; Ranil Wickremesinghe (@RW_UNP) <a href="https://twitter.com/RW_UNP/status/962202759473721345?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 10, 2018</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <p>Wickremesinghe added that introducing the new election system would give the current administration <a href="http://www.colombopage.com/archive_18A/Feb10_1518275980CH.php">an advantage</a> in the upcoming general election. Sri Lanka suffered from a protracted civil war between 1983 and 2009, so a peaceful election is certainly a welcome blessing to the fledgling democracy. However, there are signs that the results of the local election will not turn out to favor the ruling power in the end.</p> <h2><strong>Rajapaksa’s comeback </strong></h2> <p>Local elections in Sri Lanka might not have the same impact as the parliamentary or presidential elections, but the victory of former <a href="https://twitter.com/PresRajapaksa">President Mahinda Rajapaksa</a> means that he is back in politics full speed ahead and poised to regain political power.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Thank you to all who supported the vision of the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SriLanka?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#SriLanka</a> Podujana Peramuna at the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/LGPolls2018?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#LGPolls2018</a>. Your voices have been heard. It’s clear that our country needs a change. <a href="https://t.co/k3hdKGhRkQ">pic.twitter.com/k3hdKGhRkQ</a></p>&mdash; Mahinda Rajapaksa (@PresRajapaksa) <a href="https://twitter.com/PresRajapaksa/status/962646411790749696?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 11, 2018</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <p>Rajapaksa lost the presidency in 2015 when the challenger <a href="https://twitter.com/MaithripalaS">Maithripala Sirisena</a> won 51% of the votes. Reportedly, minorities like the <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-30738671)">Tamil and Muslim communities</a> of Sri Lanka secured his victory. Sirisena, who now represents the Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP), joined forces with Wickremesinghe (UNP). Together since 2015 they have politically dominated Sri Lanka. Even though Rajapaksa’s presidency was filled with allegations of corruption and nepotism, he has never lost his popularity among the <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-35505995">Sinhala community</a>. </p> <p>Rajapaksa is back under a new political banner after leaving his former party, the Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP). Now, with the support of his brothers and former members of the SLFP, he leads <a href="http://www.sundaytimes.lk/180211/news/landslide-for-slpp-in-south-north-goes-to-itak-281688.html">Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna</a>. It seems that Rajapaksa has taken his revenge on both the UNP and SLFP by winning the recent election. After the election, he stated that the current government should <a href="https://twitter.com/newsradiolk/status/962933578333122560">dissolve parliament</a> and call for re-elections. &nbsp;</p> <p>Given this background, there is no question that Rajapaksa has little intention of giving up his desire to become a prominent figure in the country’s political affairs once again. Knowing that there are potential clashes between supporters, Rajapaksa has <a href="http://colombogazette.com/2018/02/11/joint-opposition-claims-landslide-win-at-lg-elections/">urged his voters</a> not to attack the losing side. He says: “No matter what they did to us we must set an example”.&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Tamil and Muslim distress </strong></h2> <p>The local election <a href="http://adaderana.lk/local-authorities-election-2018/">clearly shows</a> that the Tamil community in the North and East do not vote for the Sinhala major parties. The Tamil nationalist party, the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK), earned major victories in the councils in the north and to some extent in the east where the majority of the Tamil population resides. During the civil war, the Tamil guerilla movement Liberation Army of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and its allies, operated in these areas. LTTE does not exist any more but its spirit <a href="http://www.amnestypress.se/artiklar/reportage/26190/firande-sorg-och-lokalval-i-splittrat-sri-lanka/">lives on</a> in the north. </p> <p>The Tamil community is reportedly under stress: <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-35249088">reports of torture</a> still keep coming in. Another big issue for the Tamil minority is land grabbing and resettlement. The Sinhala-dominated army is taking land from displaced Tamils and using it <a href="http://tamildiplomat.com/sri-lankan-government-fails-promises-resettlement-demilitarization-reconciliation/">to expand</a> their own estates. So old problems have persisted under the current presidency, with the result that the Tamil community does not place much trust in Sinhalese leadership in general. &nbsp;</p> <p>Another minority community that has been affected by land-grabbing is the Muslim community. This was confirmed to me when I talked to the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauff Hakeem back in 2013. Hakeem told me that land-grabbing was the most important question for his community: </p> <blockquote><p><em>“An important issue is land : land distribution (…) is a very crucial factor which dominates our political tension as well. (…) in particular because livelihoods depend on land as far as every community is concerned”.</em></p></blockquote> <p>Another thing that might worry Muslims in Sri Lanka after Rajapaksa’s success is that Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist movements might receive a boost. Under the last Rajapaksa rule, Mahinda’s brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, was associated with the hardline Buddhist organization <a href="https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/gotabhaya-rajapaksa-and-his-bala-sena/">Bodu Bala Sena</a> (BBS) – an organization that has an anti-Islamic agenda and sees Sri Lanka as a holy land for Buddhism. &nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>2020</strong></h2> <p>2020, when the next presidential election will be held, is the year to look out for. Due to tenure regulations, Mahinda Rajapaksa will be unable to contest the current presidency. But in this year’s election Rajapaksa has showed that he is still popular. Perhaps one of his brothers will become a presidential candidate. The UNP might drop their support for President Sirisena and present their own candidate. </p> <p>So President Sirisena is likely to face problems no matter who he faces in 2020. While the major Sinhalese parties are competing for power, the two minorities will be struggling with their own concerns. </p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Sri Lanka </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia Sri Lanka Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Economics Equality International politics Andreas Johansson Thu, 15 Feb 2018 11:49:42 +0000 Andreas Johansson 116141 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The myth of the Indian ‘New Middle Class’ https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/asiya-islam/myth-of-indian-new-middle-class <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Families in Modi’s India are caught in a spiral of working class conditions in jobs pretending to be middle class, with their requirement for degrees and skills training. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-34609554.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-34609554.jpg" alt="lead lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Alain Berset, president of the Swiss Confederation, shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the opening ceremony of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 23, 2018. Xu Jinquan/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>At the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was welcomed by a big turnout at the plenary session and introduced by WEF founder, Klaus Schwab, as the leader of a country that is the <a href="https://livestream.com/accounts/1909571/events/7959969/videos/169093788/player?autoPlay=false&amp;mute=false&amp;width=&amp;height=">“bright image of dynamism, of optimism”</a>. For his part, Modi spoke of a vision of shared future that overcomes the fault lines of inequality, poverty, unemployment, and lack of opportunities. </p> <p>Ahead of the visit, Modi encouraged the presentation of India as the centre of attraction for the entire world. Closely on the heels of Modi’s platforming of India as a rising global force, NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India, ironically headed by Modi) published a report on <a href="http://www.thehindu.com/business/Economy/india-facing-problem-of-severe-under-employment-says-niti/article19570289.ece">severe underemployment in the country</a>, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2017 published findings on the <a href="https://www.dailyo.in/politics/modi-demographic-dividend-aser-education-slap-davos-skill-india-rte/story/1/21919.html">failures of various programmes for education and vocational training of Indian youth</a>, and the World Bank released data showing that <a href="http://www.businesstoday.in/current/economy-politics/oxfam-india-wealth-report-income-inequality-richests-poor/story/268541.html">the richest 1% in India now own 73% of its wealth</a>. In short, not the best prospects for India. </p> <p>Modi, on the other hand, <a href="http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-pm-modi-interview-with-zee-news-top-10-key-takeaways-2576913">continues to insist</a>, “If someone opens a 'pakoda' [fried snacks] shop in front of your office, does that not count as employment? The person's daily earning of Rs 200 will never come into any books or accounts. The truth is massive people are being employed.”&nbsp; PM Modi’s celebration of informal and precarious work as gainful employment is <a href="https://thewire.in/216400/no-prime-minister-earning-rs-200-a-day-selling-pakodas-employment/">rightly being criticised</a>. But what of the much-touted formal jobs generated as a result of encouraging foreign direct investment and privatisation post-1990? </p> <h2><strong><em>Pakoda</em></strong><strong> employment</strong></h2> <p>Unfortunately, the conditions of <em>pakoda </em>employment – informal, underpaid and precarious employment – are not limited to selling snacks and <em>chai </em>on the street side. As much as Modi would like to insist on India’s growth story, these conditions characterise the majority of employment in the country, including formal employment in services, the biggest sector of the Indian economy and the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.in/malvinder-mohan-singh/the-rise-of-the-services-sector-is-redefining-india-s-growth-nar_a_21445764/">fastest growing</a> service sector in the world. </p> <p>The numbers that demonstrate the success of the deregulation of the Indian economy – high GDP growth rate, increasing per capita income, rapid growth of services – carefully mask the exploitation and everyday struggles of common people, even those <em>privileged </em>enough to be employed. </p> <p>The idea that privatisation and foreign investment in the market has led to a surge of employment opportunities for the youth, <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/fast-food-chains-in-india-cultivate-untapped-workforce-women-1482674401">particularly</a><a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/fast-food-chains-in-india-cultivate-untapped-workforce-women-1482674401"> women</a>, is popular (because if there are any bastions of women’s empowerment, they’re American multi-nationals, right?!) Perhaps the popularity of this idea is not so surprising. Dressed smartly in uniforms, young professional women in the gleaming malls and cafes of Indian cities may give an impression of upward mobility. But the smiles, the English greetings, and the lattes cover up conditions that are not so dissimilar from the informal self-employment that Modi speaks of as gainful employment.</p> <p>This hidden-away reality became obvious as I conducted research with young women workers in cafes and malls in affluent South Delhi in 2017. On an average, these young women earn Rs.8000 (USD 125) per month; income that their families heavily rely upon for everyday living expenses. To earn this salary, all of them work overtime, which they are never compensated for, often seven days a week, rather than their contractual 6 days a week. And even if calculated for just 25 days of work per month, their wages do not meet the minimum wage for the state of Delhi. </p> <h2><strong>Trapped</strong></h2> <p>Early in 2017, the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi <a href="https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/aap-govts-minimum-wages-too-little-and-inadequate-delhi-high-court/articleshow/58646166.cms">increased the minimum wage</a> by approximately one-third to Rs.13,350 (USD 210), Rs.14,968 (USD 235), and Rs.16,182 (USD 254) for unskilled, semi-skilled, and skilled workers respectively. Commenting on the employers’ plea against this move, the Delhi High Court noted – “Is it possible to sustain an individual on Rs 13,000? Average cost of commute for an individual per day is around Rs 100 which comes to Rs 3,000 in a month. Where do you eat? One has to eat. That would also cost Rs 50 per day. The amount of Rs 13,000 is too little. It's inadequate.” </p> <p>These workers’ emotional labour, which is far from acknowledged, hides their utter physical exhaustion, which is often made visible on the swollen feet that have to get a night’s rest before starting all over again the next day. The limits of their earnings are made manifest in their inability to use the metro because the maximum fare has now been increased to Rs.60 (USD 1), in the impossibility of getting their degree certificates because they still haven’t paid the full fees, and in their negotiations with landlords for leeway in payment of rent on their Rs.5000 (USD 78) per month one-bedroom flats. And these are conditions that these workers cannot think of escaping since alternatives are few and far in between. </p> <p>As the <a href="https://scroll.in/article/815500/is-this-even-legal-what-is-modi-is-doing-in-a-reliance-jio-ad-ask-twitter-users">Prime Minister’s image appears on Reliance Jio advertisements</a> across the country offering low cost data services, young people get access to smartphones and 4G sims, but not to good quality education, housing, or infrastructure. Much as we’d like to believe, and the government would like us to believe, that these one-off purchases are signs of an upwardly mobile new middle class, reality counters this presumption. They are, rather, families caught in a spiral of working class conditions in jobs pretending to be middle class with their requirement for degrees and skills training. </p> <h2><strong>Formal employment </strong></h2> <p>The government’s investment in employability training for youth is not matched by the creation of secure and fairly paid work. Many complain about being trained in computers and English speaking at low-cost government centres or NGOs, only to end up in work that does not require these skills at all. As one of my research respondents put it, “They ask for education, BA, MA…but they’re not willing to spend the money, that’s the government. They put suits and ties on workers but if you ask them, you find out how bad their financial situations are.” </p> <p>It is then no surprise that these young women, as well as men in their families, express a desire for ‘government jobs’, even preparing to sit exams while working seven days a week. <a href="http://www.caravanmagazine.in/reviews-essays/india-struggle-knowledge/2">In 2015, 2.5 million people applied for 600 Class IV government jobs in the state of Uttar Pradesh</a>. The cry for government jobs may be dismissed as a historical affliction or just nostalgia but it is actually indicative of the lack of secure employment that can offer stability. A Class IV government job (lowest category of permanent employment) would pay twice the salary that my research respondents currently earn, with nothing to say of access to job security, provident fund, and pension. </p> <p>While informal employment is often considered to be the problem marring India (and rightly so), we also need to pay more attention to the conditions of formal employment that the country is generating and hopes to generate more of in the future. It needs to be reiterated that the underpayment, exploitation, and precariousness that young women workers have described characterise jobs that are actually on the better end of the employment situation in the country. These jobs would be categorised as formal, regular, salaried employment but the experience is far removed from that categorisation. </p> <p>As underemployment and exploitation pervade the vast majority of employment opportunities in the country, including in emerging gleaming globalised urban spaces, one needs to ask – what kind of economic and social future are we looking towards? The need for sustainable, secure, and fairly paid work is urgent. Rather than touting informal and poorly paid formal work as gainful employment, the government needs to consider India’s longterm social and economic prospects for the disgruntled majority of its population.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/8390775831_d072dd62a2_b.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/8390775831_d072dd62a2_b.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Employees operate the telephones at the Touch Solutions Ltd call centre in New Delhi. Flickr/©ILO/Benoit Marquet. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India Civil society Culture Democracy and government Economics Equality International politics Asiya Islam Mon, 12 Feb 2018 10:56:41 +0000 Asiya Islam 116068 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Hindu authoritarianism and agrarian distress https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/achin-vanaik/hindu-authoritarianism-and-agrarian-distress <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>To defeat populist-nationalist forms of communal authoritarianism in India, we have to fight against more than just communalism.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Jignesh_Mevani_Social_activist.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Jignesh_Mevani_Social_activist.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="613" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Jignesh Mevani, who is insisting on going beyond identity politics, demanding not just land redistribution but jobs for all the poor, in 2016. Wikicommons/ Gazal world. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>This is the second article in a series on ‘confronting authoritarian populism and the rural world’, linked to the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (</em><a href="http://www.iss.nl/erpi"><em>ERPI</em></a><em>). The opening article can be read </em><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/marc-edelman-ian-scoones-saturnino-m-borras-jr-lyda-forero-ruth-hall-ben-white-and-wendy-wolford/con"><em>here</em></a><em>.</em></p> <p>Far right political forces have burgeoned throughout the world, but only in India does a far right party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), hold governmental power on its own. Nor anywhere else is there a far-right force, with obvious fascist characteristics, that has existed now for over 90 years.</p> <p>The BJP is the electoral wing of the group called the Sangh Parivar, with well over a hundred affiliates, including cultural, religious, student, women and federated trade union fronts, whose original parent body is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). </p> <p>The Sangh is fully committed to the project of establishing a <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/09/india-modi-bjp-cow-vigilantism-judiciary-corruption">Hindu state/nation</a> as the ‘true’ embodiment of nationalism. The scale and depth of its implantation in the pores of civil society is unmatched. Across India, the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resident_set_size">RSS</a> has over 56,000 branches and an estimated membership between five to six million.</p> <h2><strong>The rise of globalized neoliberalism: national histories and specificities</strong></h2> <p>How this came to pass certainly involves global developments, such as the rise and spread of a neoliberalism that has had devastating economic consequences, as well as creating new and more powerful forms of social disorientation and alienation. </p> <p>In such circumstances, people seek psychological refuge in clinging to ‘unchangeable’ ascribed identities of ethnicity, religion, race, caste and nation, either separately or in combination. Exclusivist and <a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03066150.2017.1339693">authoritarian populist</a> nationalisms take hold. </p> <p>However, the effect of neoliberal globalization is always mediated by national histories and specificities. In India, this has resulted in the rise of the Sangh and its expanding ideology of <em>Hindutva</em> or Hindu nationalism with its foundational hatred of Islam and Muslims, who constitute 14% of the country’s population. </p> <p>Today the BJP has replaced the Congress party (now in serious decline) as the only national party in electoral terms, while in the competitive struggle to establish hegemony, compared to all other forces, <em>Hindutva </em>is in the lead although still well short of its ultimate goal. </p> <p>Given this reality, the struggle to defeat communalism must necessarily fight on all fronts – cultural, political, ideological and economic. And it is the economic front, especially in the agrarian sector, which is currently the Sangh’s weak spot.</p> <h2><strong>Agrarian crises and distress</strong></h2> <p>Agriculture contributes only 14% of GDP and only 40% of all rural output with micro-, small, and medium enterprises of all sorts (services, manufacturing, construction) counting for the rest. But even here output growth far outstrips employment growth. </p> <p>Two-thirds of the total population is from rural India with one-quarter being landless. Here there is a strong overlap between lower classes and lower castes: for example, a near majority of Dalits are landless but a majority of landless are not Dalits. This situation calls out for cross-caste/class alliances. Yet the main Dalit organisations and parties focus on affirmative action and identity politics. Only very recently has a young lawyer and Dalit leader, <a href="http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other.../jignesh-mevani-face.../article19435937.ece">Jignesh Mevani,</a> emerged, who is insisting on going beyond identity politics, demanding not just land redistribution but jobs for all the poor. This pleases neither upper caste farmers nor urban dwellers, while disturbing existing Dalit leaders. </p> <p>Around 80% of all the landholdings of Indian farmers are small or marginal. Even the 20% of rich and medium-sized farmers feel disempowered, although they dominate rural politics, providing leadership for many, though not all, rural struggles, such as low caste mobilizations against upper caste atrocities and discrimination. </p> <p>Over two-and-a-half decades Indian agriculture has suffered a serious decline. The <a href="http://www.frontline.in/cover-story/reaping-distress/article8870098.ece">key trends</a> are rising costs of inputs despite some subsidies, growing indebtedness (52% of all farmers are in debt), increasing subdivision of land, declining output prices from global competition and greater corporatization of value chains between farm and retail. </p> <p>Agriculture growth is not only insufficient, it is also jobless, while land acquisition for defence, infrastructure projects, real estate and industrial corridors has created uprisings against the government’s pro-urban bias. </p> <h2><strong>Agrarian mobilizations</strong></h2> <p>Agrarian mobilizations have been against land acquisition, for jobs/support prices/debt relief and amenities. In the last 25 years around 300,000 farmers <a href="http://www.epw.in/journal/2017/21/special-articles/lives-debt.html">committed suicide</a> with around 270,000 doing so in the last 15 years. </p> <p>Apart from the struggles against caste oppression most others have been led by the rich peasantry whose distress has led many to look for exit in due course and certainly for their progeny. According to the <a href="http://www.asercentre.org/Keywords/p/315.html">2017 Annual Status of Education Report</a> only 1.2% of youth from whatever backgrounds are willing to work in agriculture. It is no surprise, then, that such upper caste farmers’ movements are now demanding reserved places for themselves in secure government jobs. </p> <p>A big contrast to the 1990s when reservation was extended to the middle castes (around 50% of the population and also called Other Backward Classes or OBCs) as well as to Dalits (15%) and Tribals (8%), provoking an angry upper caste reaction.</p> <p>Does this mean that the hegemonic ambitions of <em>Hindutva</em> forces and their anti-democratic project are being seriously challenged by such agrarian discontent? </p> <p>Things are not so straightforward. The agrarian bourgeoisie comes mainly from the upper non-Brahmin castes and from the upper echelons of the OBCs. Most are not opposed to <em>Hindutva</em> ideology; indeed the main social base for the Sangh is from these castes. Indeed, recently there has been a substantial <em>Hindutva</em>-isation of OBCs, as well as some in-roads into Dalits and Tribals.&nbsp; </p> <p>The promise of cultural upward mobility as a result of joining the broader Hindu fold has served as a psychological balm of sorts. But this rural bourgeoisie feels it has lost out at the apex of society to its urban industrial, service sector and financial counterparts. </p> <h2><strong>Challenges ahead</strong></h2> <p>What lessons can be drawn? A major focus of the struggle against rising Hindu authoritarian populism must be opposition to neoliberal economic policies. Yet all but the Left parties are wedded to a neoliberal position. </p> <p>A new programme must be worked out for environmentally sustainable development to meet employment, health and welfare needs for the vast majority. The Left and other progressive forces must also link the struggles of lower castes, women, tribals in all their variety, to the class struggles of all the working poor, perhaps especially in rural areas. </p> <p>To defeat populist-nationalist forms of communal authoritarianism we have to fight against more than just communalism! </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The <strong>Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative</strong> (<a href="https://www.iss.nl/en/research/networks/emancipatory-rural-politics-initiative-erpi">ERPI)</a> was launched during 2017 as a response to the rise of <a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03066150.2017.1339693">authoritarian populism</a> in different parts of the world. Our focus is on the rural origins and consequences of authoritarian populism, as well as the forms of resistance and variety of alternatives that are emerging.<br />&nbsp;<br />In March 2018, a major <a href="https://www.iss.nl/en/events/authoritarian-populism-and-rural-world-2018-03-17">ERPI event </a>will be held in The Hague, the Netherlands, bringing together around 300 researchers and activists from across five continents. ERPI small grant holders will present research insights and debates will focus on mobilizing alternatives, generating new research-activist networks across the world.&nbsp; &nbsp;<br />&nbsp;<br />You can also follow updates from ERPI on <a href="https://twitter.com/TheErpi">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/TheERPI/">Facebook.</a></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/marc-edelman-ian-scoones-saturnino-m-borras-jr-lyda-forero-ruth-hall-ben-white-and-wendy-wolford/con"> Confronting authoritarian populism: the rural dimension</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/amber-huff-salima-tasdemir-patrick-huff/why-defendafrin-confronting-authoritarian-populism-with-radi">Why #DefendAfrin? Confronting authoritarian populism with radical democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/marc-edelman/sacrifice-zones-in-rural-and-non-metro-usa-fertile-soil-for-authoritarian-populism">Sacrifice zones in rural and non-metro USA: fertile soil for authoritarian populism</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openIndia/raj-patel/islamophobia-gastronomica-on-food-police-rural-populism-and-killing">Islamophobia gastronomica - on the food police, rural populism and killing</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/wendy-wolford-sergio-sauer/authoritarian-elitism-and-popular-movements-in-brazil">Authoritarian elitism and popular movements in Brazil</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/benjamin-white-laksmi-savitri-devi-adriyanti-hanny-wijaya-ciptaningrat-larastiti-abdul-rahman/demise">The demise of emancipatory peasant politics? Indonesian fascism and the rise of Islamic populism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/khin-zaw-win/how-populism-directed-against-minorities-is-used-to-prop-up-myanmar-s-democratic-reviva">How populism directed against minorities is used to prop up Myanmar’s ‘Democratic’ revival</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Equality International politics Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World Achin Vanaik Mon, 05 Feb 2018 08:39:59 +0000 Achin Vanaik 115943 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Modi government and the muzzling of the Indian media https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/nissim-mannathukkaren/more-damaging-development-has-been-role-of-mainstream-media-in-face- <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The more damaging development has been the role of the mainstream media in the face of the government attempts to muzzle it.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-33533666_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-33533666_0.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the crowd on National Unity Day, October 31, 2017. Hindustan Times/ Press Association. All rights reserved. </span></span></span></em></p><p><em>Under democracy, individual liberty of opinion and action is jealously guarded.</em></p> <p>— M. K. Gandhi</p> <p>Generally, the death of a judge, in what seem to be mysterious circumstances, while presiding over a case against the second most powerful person in the country, and the closest associate of the head of the government, would be make prime-time television in a democracy. Similarly, the allegations of corruption against the family of the same person would have garnered media attention. But recent events in India prove otherwise. </p><p>On November 20, and 21, the Indian publication <a href="http://www.caravanmagazine.in/vantage/shocking-details-emerge-in-death-of-judge-presiding-over-sohrabuddin-trial-family-breaks-silence"><em>The</em> <em>Caravan</em> broke a story</a> of the death of 48-year old Justice B. H. Loya, involved in the case (of alleged extra-judicial killing) against the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s ruling party. This was after a purported attempt to bribe him by the Chief Justice of a High Court, for a favorable verdict in the case, with an amount of Rs. 100 crore ($ 15.3 million). The report contained testimonies of the family of the judge. </p> <p>Despite the explosive nature of the story and its potentially unprecedented implications for Indian democracy (in independent India’s history, to my knowledge, there is no instance of a judge being assassinated) <a href="https://scroll.in/article/858771/the-daily-fix-a-shocking-silence-hangs-over-allegations-about-the-death-of-sohrabuddin-case-judge">there was a stunned silence in the mainstream and big media</a>, especially, the English-language television channels that have a disproportionate influence in the setting of the political agenda. As one media commentator <a href="http://www.thenewsminute.com/article/silence-english-media-worrying-caravan-editor-loyas-suspicious-death-72040">put it</a>, “it seems that two deaths need to be investigated: that of Judge Loya, and that of the Indian media.”&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>After a week, while a <a href="https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/from-nagpur-to-latur-retracing-last-few-hours-of-justice-loya-1780039">couple of big media</a> outlets <a href="http://indianexpress.com/article/india/cbi-judge-bh-loya-death-amit-shah-sohrabuddin-case-nothing-suspicious-say-two-bombay-hc-judges-4956115/">reported on the story</a> (and which contradicted the <em>Caravan</em> report), they seemed to throw up more <a href="https://scroll.in/article/859391/new-reports-tell-us-more-about-sohrabuddin-judges-death-and-bring-up-fresh-questions">questions</a> than <a href="https://thewire.in/200269/judge-loya-death-questions/">answers</a>. Any conclusion about the death of the judge, especially when the family has raised serious questions, cannot be derived from media investigations and reports. It can only be settled by a high-level judicial probe which should also consider the bribery allegation. Not only is that not forthcoming, there is no demand for it from the media or the political firmament which is also curiously silent.</p> <p>Almost as a trailer for the judge story, in October, the Indian news website, <em>The Wire</em>, <a href="https://thewire.in/185512/amit-shah-narendra-modi-jay-shah-bjp/">broke the story</a> of how the business turnover of a company owned by Jay Amit Shah increased by 16, 000 times in the year following the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Jay Amit Shah is the son of Amit Shah. </p> <p>The story began trending on twitter and social media. It naturally raised question marks about the fairytale surge in Mr. Shah’s business revenues as well as loans (seemingly, without adequate collateral), the abrupt shutting down of the business (that too just before the controversial <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/27/opinion/in-india-black-money-makes-for-bad-policy.html">demonetization of high-valued</a> Indian currency notes) due to losses in the same year as the galloping revenues, another of Mr. Shah’s businesses involved in stock trading getting a loan from a public-sector undertaking to set up a wind energy plant, etc. </p> <p>Instead of dispelling the cloud hanging over these questions by ordering an inquiry, the Government of India came down with its full might on scotching them. It chose to depute a senior minister to respond, who said: “<a href="https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/amit-shahs-son-slaps-rs-100-crore-defamation-suit-on-a-website/articleshow/60994676.cms">We reject all allegations</a> against Jay Shah.” Mr. Shah filed a Rs. 100 crore ($ 15.3 million) defamation suit against <em>The Wire.</em> The Indian government also initially gave permission to the <a href="http://www.firstpost.com/india/tushar-mehta-to-represent-jay-amit-shah-what-the-service-rules-say-about-an-asgs-role-4131913.html">Additional Solicitor General of India</a>, the third highest law officer of the government, to represent Mr. Shah.</p> <p>What was curious in all this was that Mr. Jay Shah is a private citizen, and there was clear conflict of interest in the government defending a private citizen, especially, the son of the ruling party president. A court in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, barred <em>The Wire</em> from <a href="http://indianexpress.com/article/india/ahmedabad-court-injunction-the-wire-barred-from-writing-on-jay-shah-to-protect-his-right-to-live-with-dignity-4897414/">publishing any more reports</a> on Mr. Shah’s businesses without even hearing the arguments of the news website.</p> <p>Much of Narendra Modi’s legitimacy among the Indian public comes from the perception that, unlike most of the political class, <a href="http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/india-today-mood-of-the-nation-poll-10-big-takeaways/1/1028161.html">he is personally beyond reproach</a> when it comes to financial corruption. Moreover, it was he who <a href="http://www.dnaindia.com/india/live-updates-pm-modi-bengaluru-inaugurates-pravasi-bharatiya-divas-dr-antonio-costa-indian-diaspora-2290283">declared a war on corruption</a>, the most emphatic example of which, the government claims, is the demonetization exercise. </p> <p>But Mr. Modi’s <a href="http://indianexpress.com/article/india/rahul-gandhi-on-jay-shah-case-will-not-speak-on-shah-zada-nor-will-let-others-4899065/">silence on the corruption story</a> finally exposed the hollowness of the government’s <a href="http://www.firstpost.com/business/3-years-of-narendra-modi-govt-clean-money-portal-chidambaram-raids-timed-well-but-whats-come-of-black-money-battle-3451420.html">crusade against corruption</a>, which in any case, has so far amounted to nothing more than targeted attacks against <a href="https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/cbi-raids-chidambaram-and-son-kartis-chennai-residences/articleshow/58691908.cms">rival politicians</a>.</p> <p>In politics, perceptions play a huge role. This is the first time that Mr. Modi’s carefully crafted image as incorruptible and as a crusader against corruption has taken a considerable beating. WhatsApp messages, tweets and Facebook posts were rife with jokes about Mr. Shah’s businesses, and Mr. Modi’s silence. </p> <p>As examples from history show, when jokes start circulating about a powerful leader, cracks in political legitimacy begin to appear. And in another first, the monthly average of retweets of the Congress party’s prime ministerial contender, <a href="http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/one-chart-that-shows-how-rahul-gandhi-is-challenging-narendra-modi-on-twitter/story-0ybIrE0J9ZrD7CnDdwfEFO.html">Rahul Gandhi’s tweets&nbsp; overtook</a> that of Mr. Modi.</p> <h2><strong>Muzzled media</strong></h2> <p>But the more damaging development has been the role of the mainstream media in the face of government attempts to muzzle it. Just as in the judge story, there was silence about the corruption story in the media. Even when there was coverage, it was more about the defamation case filed by Mr. Shah <a href="https://www.newslaundry.com/2017/10/09/amit-shah-rs-100-crore-defamation-media-blackout-times-of-india-hindu-indian-express-aaj-tak-ndtv">rather than the merits of story itself</a>. The rare television channel that has sometimes been critical of the Modi government and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/07/opinion/india-freedom-of-press-narendra-modi.html">faced its wrath</a> for doing so, succumbed, <a href="https://scroll.in/latest/854478/ndtvs-sreenivasan-jain-says-channels-decision-to-take-down-his-story-on-jay-shah-is-unfortunate">pulling down reportage</a> about the Shah story.</p> <p>This is an extraordinary level of submissiveness displayed by the media. This must also be read in the context of the largest democracy’s abysmal ranking in the World Press Freedom Index. Last year, India ranked <a href="https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2016">133 out of 18o countries</a>. And this year, it has <a href="http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/poll-is-freedom-of-the-press-under-threat-in-india/article18371922.ece">declined to 136</a>. Recently, the main mode of intimidation against journalists doing investigative stories has been through <a href="http://www.caravanmagazine.in/vantage/jay-shah-sue-wire-responses-investigative-journalism-india">Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPPs)</a>, like the one filed by Mr. Shah.</p> <p>Journalists face severe challenges, including physical violence and threat to life, in carrying out their work. According to an independent media report, there were <a href="http://www.thehoot.org/free-speech/media-freedom/the-india-freedom-report-january-2016-april-2017-10080">54 attacks on journalists</a> (and seven murders) between January 2016 and April 2017, the majority being perpetrated by law-makers and law-enforcers. Four journalists were killed in 2015, and there were 142 attacks in 2014-15.&nbsp; </p><p>Rohini Singh, who did investigations into the Jay Shah story, recounted the threats she faced while and after doing the story. According to her, this was not the case when she did similar stories on the previous <a href="http://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2017/oct/09/i-am-not-brave-im-just-a-journalist-rohini-singh-responds-to-jay-shahs-lawsuit-threat-1669019.html">Congress-led regime.</a></p> <p>So, the emerging “manufacture of consent” in favor of the ruling government does not happen only through active participation, or self-censorship on criticism by the media, but also as a result of the egregious threats that the media personnel face.</p> <p><a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/leezamangaldas/2017/07/17/how-a-meme-of-indian-pm-modi-with-puppy-ears-provoked-police-complaints-in-india/#1018a6616570">Jokes making fun of Mr. Modi</a>, or <a href="http://www.thehoot.org/free-speech/media-freedom/the-india-freedom-report-january-2016-april-2017-10080">Facebook posts</a> of lay citizens, and <a href="http://indianexpress.com/article/entertainment/tamil/bjp-objects-to-gst-references-in-vijay-starrer-mersal-everything-that-has-happened-so-far-4900071/">films criticizing his government</a> are met with police complaints, legal cases, and threats by the ruling party and its larger ideological family. BJP-led state governments have also introduced draconian bills to curb free speech. </p> <p>India’s democracy is at a critical juncture. After the <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-33269607">Emergency</a> declared by the Congress government in 1975 which legally curbed press freedoms, we have not witnessed such levels of abnegation of free speech. (The otherwise-activist Indian judiciary too has maintained a deafening silence on the judge’s death.) It would not be wrong to consider this present conjuncture as marking a deterioration in that regard.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p><h2><strong>“Anti-national activity”</strong></h2> <p>While all governments, in varying degrees, try to muzzle free speech or physically intimidate journalists, what is radically different under the Modi dispensation is the wider climate of intolerance fostered by the combustible combination of religion and nationalism aided by state power. </p> <p>This has led to unprecedented attacks against religious minorities on accusations like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/17/opinion/indias-turn-toward-intolerance.html">possessing/eating beef</a> or the killings of those who are <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/06/world/asia/gauri-lankesh-india-dead.html">critics of the government</a>. Dissent and criticism of government has been construed as an anti-national activity clearly demonstrated by the <a href="http://www.thehoot.org/free-speech/media-freedom/the-india-freedom-report-january-2016-april-2017-10080">40 sedition cases filed in 2016.</a> A film “wrongly” depicting a mythical Hindu queen has caused a nation-wide storm including a <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/11/20/indian-ruling-party-member-offers-bounty-for-the-beheading-of-bollywoods-biggest-female-stars/?utm_term=.cee9b2028fe6">death threat to its makers and actors.</a></p> <p>The Press Freedom Index Report is clear about the reasons for India’s drop in the ranking: “With Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media.”&nbsp;</p> <p>When the largest democracy in the world, and the oldest one in the Global South, displays authoritarian tendencies betraying the promise of its founding fathers, it has implications beyond India.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India World Forum for Democracy 2017 Nissim Mannathukkaren Sun, 03 Dec 2017 13:51:21 +0000 Nissim Mannathukkaren 115035 at https://www.opendemocracy.net When faith fills ballot boxes https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/when-faith-fills-ballot-boxes <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Ironically, the message of scientific temper, modernity, secularism resonated more in India when the rate of literacy was low. Distinctions between science and mythology and mythology and history keep eroding.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/maxresdefault_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/maxresdefault_0.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kedarnath shrine. Youtube.</span></span></span>Democracy and religiosity are no longer strange bedfellows in the secular India. The display of religiosity spikes during election time. The contestants either seek the Divine blessing or show that they are not atheists. Poll campaigns require a heavy dose of piety apart from large sums of money. Faith moves the voters to the polling booths. The electoral battle at times is won by polarising the Hindu voters. Leading a campaign to build a Hindu temple can make a party leader from zero to hero. The voters overlook the fact that India is not short of temples but short of schools and hospitals. <span class="mag-quote-center">The voters overlook the fact that India is not short of temples but short of schools and hospitals.</span></p> <p>The Opposition Congress leader Rahul Gandhi finds it necessary not to let the temple visits remain the unique selling point of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. So he goes visiting temples in the poll-bound state of Gujarat, Modi’s home state. Gandhi’s temple visits naturally upset the BJP leaders who issue hostile statements. Is visiting a temple still the privilege of the chosen few? Did Rahul Gandhi commit a sin by visiting temples in Gujarat? The BJP leaders who trolled him for doing so seemed to believe so. But in this pre-election season more BJP leaders have visited more Hindu temples. </p> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi frequently visits temples in the glare of TV cameras. He even talks about his getting a Divine Call. This time he greeted the people of Gujarat from a temple in the Himalayas that ranks high in the hierarchy of shrines. Setting aside the secular principles to which India is committed, the Prime Minister promised to reconstruct the Kedarnath shrine with the taxpayers’ money! He went to the extent of revealing that Baba (Lord Shiva) had decided that the responsibility of doing the reconstruction work at Kedarnath Temple should be assigned to no one else but to Baba’s son (<em>Read Modi</em>)!</p> <p>One of the builders of the ruling BJP was hailed as <em>Hindu Hriday Samrat</em>, Monarch of the Hindu Hearts, before he was ousted by the Crown Prince to whom the title was transferred by his followers. Till now Modi has done nothing to displease the hardline Hindu followers in his extended political family. Thus he retains the title. </p> <h2><strong>Identity matters </strong></h2> <p>The efficacy of the Hindutva card in elections is tested all the time. Identity in politics has come to matter more in India just as in America and Europe. Narendra Modi once declined to wear the distinctive skull cap offered to him at a public function. That cap would have confused the voters about his brand image based on a different religion.</p> <p>The Hindu temples are in the news for non-electoral reasons also. One more temple in south India recently allowed the untouchables to enter it. Another temple for the first time appointed a non-Brahmin priest.</p> <p>But Rahul Gandhi’s visits to temples in the poll-bound Gujarat hit the headlines because the BJP saw in his visits a conspiracy to diminish its USP. As if it was asking Rahul Gandhi “what right do you have to come to a place that we visit!” Only they must have a direct line to the Hindu Gods and Goddesses who grant electoral boons.</p> <p>The BJP leaders, who spell secular as “sickular”, scampered to protect their party’s brand image built assiduously over the years through agitations against the Hindu Code Bill and cow slaughter and a violent movement for replacing the Babri Mosque with a temple of Lord Ram. </p> <p>The brand image matters in politics even more since electioneering now depends heavily on bands, buntings and social media videos. A brand strategy is as critical for a political party as for Apple or Samsung. Had Rahul Gandhi been a company, he would have been sued for stealing the brand! </p> <p>For a leader, being associated with multiple faiths and cultures used to be a plus point. It has become a liability. It pays political dividends if the leader is seen following the rituals and traditions of the religion of the majority. It does not matter if he is constantly engaged in violating the spirit of that faith. <span class="mag-quote-center">Being associated with multiple faiths and cultures used to be a plus point. It has become a liability.</span></p> <h2><strong>Insinuations</strong></h2> <p>A party that polarises the Hindu votes makes the religious majority feel besieged and see its faith in danger! It needs a distinct ‘other’ to be pitted against. And the other in the Indian context subscribes to a minority faith. That is why some political opponents of the BJP such as Mulayam Singh and Mamta are addressed in a way that misrepresents them as followers of the faith that they do not belong to. Mulayam is addressed as Maulana Mulayam and Mamta as Mamta Bibi. This way they are branded as “the other”. The comments attacking Rahul Gandhi for visiting temples included a reference to the Muslim way of praying. Insinuations matter in the politics of hate.</p> <p>Since the Hindu card worked in some recent elections, there is a greater incentive to mix religion with politics in violation of the Constitution. Any step towards positive discrimination is called appeasement of the minorities. Fake religiosity is promoted and used for a political project designed to brand the Congress as anti-Hindu. </p> <p>This kind of political challenge is not new for Congress. It faced political Hinduism even in the first General Elections when the secular freedom-fighters had an extraordinary mass appeal. Determined to reform the Hindu personal law through the Hindu Code Bill, the Congress handed the first big opportunity to the Jana Sangh the parent body of the BJP, to mobilise forces against secularism. </p> <p>Nehru was challenged by Swami Prabhudutt Brhmachari who campaigned against the Bill arguing that it went against the age-old values associated with his religion. The newly born political party Bharatiya Jana Sangh went into the poll battle portraying the Congress leaders as anti-Hindu. </p> <p>Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant, the then UP Chief Minister, while campaigning in the elections, felt it necessary to counter this propaganda. In a Lucknow public meeting, Pant listed the achievements of the Congress and Nehru’s contribution. He went on to assure the audience that the interests of the Hindus were well protected. With a flourish, he added: <em>“Aakhir hum bhi to Hindu hain” </em>(after all, we are also Hindus). Suddenly there was a chorus from all corners of the meeting:<em> “Pantji bhi aaj se Hindu hain!”</em> (Pantji is also a Hindu from today!) </p> <p>Rahul Gandhi will do well to read the account of that campaign written by journalist and freedom fighter Upendra Vajpeyi. “Pantji looked around. There was no police or the Congress volunteers to stop the slogan-mongers who had, in small groups, taken position in all corners. They were all committed volunteers of the newly-born outfit, the forerunner of today’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).” </p> <p>Even then, this party understood well the functioning of the print media. The disturbance of the meeting became the main news in the reports that downplayed what Pant had said about the achievements of the Congress!</p> <h2><strong>Atrocious statements</strong></h2> <p>In his subsequent election speeches, Pandit Pant skipped all references to Hinduism and still Nehru won with an impressive margin. The challenge by the Hindutva forces was not strong during those days. Today the appeal of Hindu nationalism has increased, thanks to the traditional as well as social media. And there is no Sardar Patel to ban any communal party. The leaders can make the most atrocious statements to inflame sectarian passions.</p> <p>The Congress poll strategists have to factor in this reality of the new India. In the process, Congress may succeed in protecting the nation from religious extremism but not without compromising its principles intended to promote secularism.</p> <p>The genie of fanaticism is out of the bottle. The influential Hindu saints and scholars have not spoken against bigotry. They have watched silently the distorted presentation and political misuse of their sacred faith. <span class="mag-quote-center">The genie of fanaticism is out of the bottle. The influential Hindu saints and scholars have not spoken against bigotry.</span></p> <p>Today educated young men donning “I Love New York” T-shirts are seen crowding footpath temples on the auspicious days of the week. The public discourse is full of abuses against certain sections. The audio-visual media, laser shows and managed events have magnified the images of the Hindu Gods and Goddesses. </p> <p>The distinction between science and mythology and mythology and history keeps eroding. Ironically, the message of scientific temper, modernity and secularism resonated with the people more when the rate of literacy was low. </p> <p>Nehru could describe the irrigation projects as the temples of modern India and get away with it. A Bengali comedian could make fun of the characters of the <em>Ramayan</em> in his public performances. The feminists could question Lord Ram through their poetry. The people had a better understanding of the traits of the Maryada Purshottam Ram and the principles of Raj Dharma, the noble conduct of the King. Today even a stray comment can hurt one community or the other.</p> <p>With a view to promote Hindu nationalism, history is being rewritten. The memory of even the recent past has to be obliterated. Some political leaders have included the Taj Mahal in the list of the hate objects. Their prime hate object the Babri Mosque has already been demolished. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/kedarnath-temple.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/kedarnath-temple.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kedarnath shrine, 2015.</span></span></span></p> <h2><strong>Restoring sanity</strong></h2> <p>India has travelled quite a distance from the days when irrigation projects were called the temples of modern India. Only a few years ago, the most learned and devout Brahmin such as Kamlapati Tripathi, the Congress leader, had a Muslim assistant to clean and rearrange his home temple and its idols before his daily prayers. Dayanand Saraswati had launched a powerful reformist movement that discarded idol worship and popularised the Vedic culture.</p> <p>Such leaders and not the left liberals will be able to counter the communal forces. Learned preachers and apolitical monks well versed in the faith traditions can expose the political <em>pracharaks </em>(propagandists) exploiting Hinduism. They alone can help restore sanity in the nation and prevent the distortion of Hinduism. The communal forces can be fought more effectively by some one who, like the late philosopher Ramchandra Gandhi, attacks them for “hijacking <strong>my </strong>religion”.</p> <p>The BJP has been asking the people to shout with pride: “We are Hindus”, <em>Garva se kaho hum Hindu hain</em>!<em> </em>The slogan sways a large majority. However, on some Hindus it is having the opposite effect. They feel embarrassed by the antics and the bigotry of the self-styled defenders of Hinduism. There is anecdotal evidence of some disenchanted Hindus searching for spiritual solace in other faith traditions or distancing themselves from all religions. </p> <p>Their numbers are very limited but the damage to the brand image of Hinduism may be huge. The defenders of Hinduism must remember how the image of Buddhism got sullied by the bands of violent monks and Islam stands discredited because of the violence and terror resorted to by the jihadis. A few extremists can malign a political party or a religion. At stake is the brand image of Hinduism as well as that of India. <span class="mag-quote-center">At stake is the brand image of Hinduism as well as that of India.</span></p> <p>In India’s politically surcharged atmosphere today one gets to hear strange statements and see strange scenes. A ruling party leader claims that a Shiva Temple lies under the Taj Mahal. A State Governor and the Chief Minister ceremonially welcome Lord Ram alighting from a helicopter that doubles as the <em>Pushpak Viman</em> of the mythological India. </p> <p>If mythology is inducted into science, if rational thinkers are killed and educational institutions devalued, the people can be made to believe what the dominant political force wants them to believe. If argumentation is prohibited no political choices are left.</p> <p>A wag says more is yet to come because competitive sectarianism follows a set trajectory. Nationalism gets superseded by ultra-nationalism. Some may demand the renaming of India and the scrapping of the Hindu Code Bill that reformed the Hindu personal laws. Some may want 10 Hindu saints to be nominated to the Upper House of Parliament to give moral guidance to the Government! </p> <p>Nothing is impossible in the new India!</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>openDemocracy was at this year's World Forum for Democracy, exploring the impact of populism on our media, political parties and democracy (see the <a href="https://www.coe.int/en/web/world-forum-democracy/home">WFD2017 website</a> for details).</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/georgios-kolliarakis-rosemary-bechler/from-fake-to-fact-and-then">From Fake to Fact – and then? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/anna-krasteva/facts-will-not-save-youth-from-fake-citizenship-will">Facts will not save (the youth) from Fake. Citizenship will</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India World Forum for Democracy 2017 L K Sharma Sun, 12 Nov 2017 15:37:03 +0000 L K Sharma 114602 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Patriotic education is textbook propaganda https://www.opendemocracy.net/david-mountain/patriotic-education-is-textbook-propaganda <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Resistance is vital if we are to spare children from the mind-numbing diet of national superiority and state allegiance that governments around the world are trying to feed them.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Army-2015_2.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Army-2015_2.png" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A soft opening for Russia's Patriot Park, 2015. Wikicommons/Government-ru. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Something strange is happening in Indian universities. A few days ago, the Ministry for Human Resources called for ‘<a href="http://www.hindustantimes.com/editorials/nda-govt-s-priority-must-be-quality-of-education-not-patriotic-rock-music/story-0mHmNtFlvCKoG4HzGkNdzN.html">patriotic rock music</a>’ to be performed at the nation’s campuses. In July, the Vice-Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, one of the country’s largest, asked that a tank be displayed on site to spark ‘<a href="http://www.firstpost.com/india/whats-behind-jnu-v-c-jagadesh-kumars-call-for-army-tank-on-campus-need-to-intimidate-unarmed-enemy-who-questions-state-3853125.html">patriotic inspiration</a>’ in students. A recently-passed law requires all state-funded universities to fly the national flag ‘<a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-35602161">to evoke nationalistic sentiments</a>.’ And in March this year, students protesting the ABVP, the country’s powerful right-wing student association, were branded ‘anti-national’ traitors and <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/2017/03/20/asia/india-universities-nationalism-abvp/index.html">pelted with stones</a>.</p> <p>The Indian government, under their Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is aggressively pushing a programme of ‘patriotic education’ upon the country. What we see happening in higher education is just part of their plan to raise a generation of highly patriotic citizens. In schools, the government hopes to introduce mandatory singing of the national anthem, compulsory hoisting of the country’s flag, a greater focus on the lives of national heroes, and even military lessons, in order to ‘<a href="http://www.timesnow.tv/india/video/soon-lessons-on-patriotism/53157">instil patriotism and nationalism in the curriculum</a>.’ As the head of Veterans India <a href="http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/vc-asks-for-a-tank-in-jnu-to-instil-love-for-army/articleshow/59729693.cms">ominously declared</a> in July this year: ‘We will create a situation where people will love the nation. And if they don’t, we will force them to love it.’ <span class="mag-quote-center">“People will love the nation. And if they don’t, we will force them to love it.”</span></p><h2> </h2><h2><strong>Young Army Initiatives</strong></h2> <p>Patriotic education is by no means unique to India. In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has explicitly stated that ‘love of country’ should be <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/08/01/national/media-national/political-turning-point-japans-youth/#.WJyYtW-LSHs, accessed 09/02/17">a goal of education</a>. Likewise, Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for China’s education system to be infused with ‘<a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/afp/article-4844006/Sour-note-China-bans-parodies-national-anthem.html">patriotic spirit</a>.’ In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte is currently pushing through (as ‘urgent’) a law that would force all sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds to <a href="http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/02/07/1670018/duterte-approves-mandatory-rotc">take part in military training</a>, ‘to instil nationalism, patriotism and discipline among the Filipino youth.’</p> <p>Since 2005, Russian children have been subject to the State Programme for the Patriotic Education of Citizens, which has quadrupled the country’s spending on patriotic projects in a bid to make national pride the ‘<a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-news-from-elsewhere-38315892">spiritual backbone</a>’ of Russia. Central to this has been the <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/news/russia-young-army-yunarmia-patriotism-youth-military-skills/">Young Army</a> initiative, a ‘military and patriotic’ venture teaching military skills to children as young as ten. Alternatively, the country’s youth can visit Patriot Park, Russia’s ‘<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/16/vladimir-putin-opens-russian-military-disneyland-patriot-park">military Disneyland’</a>, which President Vladimir Putin has designated ‘an important element in our system of military-patriotic work with young people.’</p> <p>Even in relatively free and democratic countries we can find the philosophy of patriotic education in action. In the UK, for example, teachers have been threatened with losing their jobs and even being barred from their profession if they ‘<a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/trojan-horse-schools-teachers-to-be-barred-for-not-protecting-british-values-9621914.html">fail to protect British values in their schools</a>’. And in the USA, it is stipulated in the country’s stringent <a href="https://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/RL30243.pdf">Flag Code</a> that the stars and stripes ‘should be displayed during school days in or near every schoolhouse.’ In October this year, a private college in Missouri launched a <a href="http://time.com/4997528/college-of-the-ozarks-military-patriotism-class/?utm_campaign=time&amp;utm_source=twitter.com&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;xid=time_socialflow_twitter">mandatory patriotism class</a> for all freshmen. </p> <h2><strong>Why?</strong></h2> <p>Patriotic education is clearly popular among governments. But why? Consider these few simple observations. Firstly, patriotism is a mercurial and loosely defined sentiment, encapsulating wildly different ideas to different people – just look at the USA, where patriots for and against President Trump are arguing over whether patriotism means loyalty or dissent. This means that national pride can easily be moulded to support various beliefs and ideologies. Secondly, most if not all of the governments championing patriotic education are at pains to equate themselves with the country. As one Chinese citizen put it, ‘loving the country equals loving the Party.’ Lastly, and quite simply: children are impressionable. They tend to believe what their teachers tell them.</p> <p>Put these observations together and it doesn’t seem outlandish to suggest an ulterior motive behind these education campaigns. Could it be, as critics of the Chinese education system <a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2012/09/02/thousands-protest-hong-kongs-moral-and-national-education-push/">have charged</a>, that these governments are engaged in patriotic ‘brainwashing’, employing national pride to inculcate in children obedience and unwavering loyalty to the state and its leaders?</p> <p>If this seems outlandish, consider the effect that such ‘education’ is already having. <a href="http://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2771&amp;context=etd">Research has shown</a> that the longer a Chinese individual stays in state education, the more likely they are to support the Communist Party. In this way Beijing has avoided another Tiananmen-style protest, as a large proportion of the country’s youth, pumped up with national superiority, no longer look to ‘the West’ with envy. In Russia, the classroom obsession with national pride and foreign enemies has helped distract the public from the cocktail of economic and social ills – such as shrinking real wages, rising poverty and high inflation – that are plaguing the country. And in India, the deteriorating and polarising political climate has forged an extremely patriotic body of students<em> </em>that profess unswerving loyalty to Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. So let’s call patriotic education by its proper name: propaganda.<span class="mag-quote-center"> So let’s call patriotic education by its proper name: propaganda.</span>Patriotic education can be resisted, and has been on several occasions. In 2010, public opposition to an education bill in Slovakia, which would have forced every classroom to display the national flag and coat of arms, <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/8577338.stm">forced President Ivan Gasparovic to veto</a> the measures. The creeping patriotism infiltrating Japan’s education system has been met with considerable opposition from the country’s teachers, who, angry at being disciplined or even suspended for refusing to sing the national anthem in school, have <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/feb/06/world/la-fg-japan-anthem-20110206">launched dozens of lawsuits</a> against education authorities. Perhaps the biggest pushback occurred in Hong Kong in 2012, when attempts by the Chinese government to extend its patriotic education to the city drew <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-19529867">tens of thousands of protestors</a> into the streets, eventually forcing Beijing to back down.</p><p>Resistance such as this is vital if we are to spare children from the mind-numbing diet of national superiority and state allegiance that governments around the world are trying to feed them. No country can consider itself free from this danger: as patriotism is found in every country, so too is the potential for its manipulation and abuse. We ought to ask ourselves: who has the most to gain from a generation of die-hard patriots – the people saluting the flag, or the power that waves it? It’s a lesson we could all do with learning.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>openDemocracy will be at this year's World Forum for Democracy, exploring the impact of populism on our media, political parties and democracy (see the <a href="https://www.coe.int/en/web/world-forum-democracy/programme-2017">programme</a> for more details).</p> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? North-Africa West-Asia openIndia uk Civil society Conflict Democracy and government International politics World Forum for Democracy 2017 David Mountain Wed, 01 Nov 2017 17:16:28 +0000 David Mountain 114397 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The social and political roots of exploitation in India https://www.opendemocracy.net/beyondslavery/neil-howard-ravi-srivastava/social-and-political-roots-of-exploitation-in-india <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>What is it that allows severe labour rights abuses to flourish in India? The answer is more complicated than poverty alone.</p> </div> </div> </div> <iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_ttwlg6KGGc?rel=0&amp;showinfo=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> <p>I'm <strong>Ravi Srivastava</strong>. I teach development economics in Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, and I've been working on problems related to labour, labour migration, bonded labour, and forced labour for about four decades.</p> <p><strong>Neil Howard (oD): Thank you very much Ravi, that makes you particularly well-placed to answer the first question. In your view, what structures are there particularly within Indian society that help perpetuate exploitation? I’m especially curious about how those intersect with global structures of coercive capitalism and nation states.</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> At least during the last four decades, while I've been looking at the situation, there have been forms of unfreedom, forced labour, bonded labour, trafficking etc. This is primarily because the Indian economy has shifted from being more agrarian and rural to more urban. Forms of agrarian bondage have become much less as a result, but forms of non-agrarian bondage in general have increased.</p> <p>Rice mills, brick kilns, construction, quarries, mines, garments – the forms of recruitment in these and other sectors necessitate bondage or debt bondage. Then, of course, you have a lot of trafficking and other things involving recruitment of workers across state lines, for example for domestic work. Migrant child labour which is involved in a number of sectors, such as embroidery, textiles, cotton seed picking, and so on. </p> <p>The nature of the problem has changed and this is because the demand for various kinds of unfree labour and cheap labour has also changed. Many of these people are located in the informal sector, and many of these are working within longer value chains. So you must understand, the problem of bonded labour or forced labour has to be located within the nature of the demand for such labour. And the demand for such labour has changed with the nature of the requirement of capital.</p> <p><strong>Neil (oD): So as capitalism has deepened and neoliberalised the Indian subcontinent over the last many decades, the forms of unfreedom required for labour, if you will, have also changed.</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> Absolutely. We typically think of capitalism, and particularly today's global capitalism, as requiring flexible and in some sense also free labour. But what we find is that capitalism is able to extract more from labour if it is unfree to varying degrees. Unfreedom and flexibility co-exist, going against the classic definition of the kind of labour which capitalism requires.</p> <p><strong>Neil: So in contrast to the classic liberal and also Marxist understanding of capitalism, actually, what you are saying is that unfreedom can exist within capitalist modes of production.</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> Absolutely. We talk about free labour as being in some sense the requirement of capitalism, but capitalism is able to locate itself much more easily with unfree labour. The nature or form of that unfree labour depends on the way capitalism interacts with local social structures, and how it is able to, for example, make use of child labour, women's labour, or family labour. </p> <p><strong>Neil (oD): For audiences that are not familiar with the subcontinental context, could you speak a bit more about what these domestic structures look like?</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> Domestic structures are important in the Indian case for two reasons. One, we have a caste structure, and the caste structure means that there's an in-built hierarchy of rights and entitlements. People who are lower in the caste structure are seen as having lower entitlements, lower rights than people who are higher up in the caste structure. Also, women are generally less free, less mobile than men. Now, it is very easy to build a labour structure on the premise of unfree labour if that unfree labour happens to be from lower castes, because automatically they are less visible. And this is how many sectors have evolved.</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">In some sectors it is much easier to build the labour and recruitment process around families, and to mobilises the whole family for a season with advances or with debt.</p> <p>Their exploitation, their status of unfreedom is something that has wider social acceptance. It is less questioned. With women, while the movement of single women tends to be more difficult, it becomes easy in certain settings. In some tribal settings, for example, such movement can be negotiated more easily by recruiters. Elsewhere the movement of single women is more of a problem, such as when a labour process involves the composite exploitation of men, women, and children. We see this in brick kilns, quarries, and the construction industry, for example. In such cases it is much easier to build the labour and recruitment process around families, and to mobilises the whole family for a season with advances or with debt. </p> <p><strong>Neil (oD): And would it be fair to say then that structures like gender, caste, or race help define which category of personhood is ultimately worth less and therefore more exploitable?</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> Absolutely. The thing is that capital is generally able to negotiate and find spaces around these social structures. And it finds it easier to negotiate these degrees of unfreedom around hierarchies which already exists within society, and that is why you see a compatibility between these hierarchies and the ways they evolve into capital-labour relations.</p> <p><strong>Neil (oD): Thank you, that's very clear. Moving on a little bit, who would you give the blame to, so to speak? Who is responsible for the increase in neo-bondage that we have seen over the past few decades, and for unfreedom to have perpetuated itself even as capitalism has deepened?</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> I think the responsibility has to be fixed at several levels. Globalisation has, in general, involved race to the bottom. Capital finds labour to be more flexible than other imports, and therefore takes the cost of other imports as a given and tries to flexibilise and reduce the cost of labour. Because this operates across country frontiers it becomes more difficult for capital in any one country to renegotiate the price of labour upwards. That's number one.</p> <p>Number two, development strategies and states are not able to negotiate with global capital. If you want to build capitalism in any particular country there is more than one way of doing it. Improving productivity by moving the technological frontier, for example, is clearly a way which is available to capital. </p> <p>Most states work with global capitalism by reducing the cost of labour, thereby encouraging these forms of capital-labour relationships. The state comes in the way of any labour mobilisation or labour collectivisation. Labour union bargaining is acted against, and this means that one of the core rights of labourers – the formation of labour associations for negotiation – has become something which is virtually dispensed with in countries like India.</p> <p>It's a very serious situation. You now have a lot of disorganised labour outbursts. It's like putting a lid onto a pressure cooker and then when the pressure builds up, you have this whole thing popping up. But you don't have sustained and much more organised labour movements that can bargain with capital and get a better deal for themselves. </p> <img width="100%" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u563152/8724979358_eceff316c0_o.jpg" /><span class="image-caption">Mary Crandall/Flickr.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/57340921@N03/8724979358/">(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)</a></span> <p><strong>Neil (oD): Then is the India context, you would very much place considerable burden of blame on the state.</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> On the state and of course on capital itself. What capitalists are doing is looking at it very short term – aiming at the bottom is really looking at the short term. The way out is to pay labour its due and build up the productivity of the firm itself. And that is something which capital does not try to do. </p> <p><strong>Neil (oD): So it's a particularly predatory form of capitalism.</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> Absolutely it's a predatory form of capitalism. A form of primitive capital accumulation, which one didn't expect to see in the twenty-first century. </p> <p><strong>Neil (oD): In terms of potential responses, you mentioned the importance of collective organisation. What are your thoughts on the prospects of new unions forming, or older unions adopting non-traditional approaches?</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> It is incumbent on all forms of labour organisations to grow into new forms of communication and organisation, building up solidarities not just within nation states but across nation states. This is not something which only new trade union organisations or collectives should do, but also old unions. Unless they adapt and look at new forms of organisation, I don't think we'll be able to achieve very much.</p><p> <iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/8vT5KkRx4t8?rel=0&amp;showinfo=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> </p><p><strong>Neil (oD): In terms of potential responses, I’d like to also ask you about basic income. This is a particularly pertinent and, at time, tense debate in India. I'm wondering what your views are on basic income as a potential pillar for the deocommodification of labour.</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> So you have to look at basic income either as a concept or as an instrument. As a concept, basic income is very important for countries like India, but as a tool of cash transfer, it's not so important. The reason is if you have something like this in an economy like that found in India, it will quickly be devalued. It would be intentionally devalued. And it would replace all the existing forms of social protection that currently exist.</p> <p>Universal targeting is something which is absolutely fine as a concept, but as an operational issue you have to basically target those who require a floor level of income. How does the principle of universalism coexist with operational constraints? I think these are the kinds of debates that have to take place, otherwise in India there's a risk of misappropriation.</p> <p>If you look at the debates around UBI in the last four months, it has been grasped very rapidly by exactly those same constituencies who oppose social protections and social security over the last several years. They are very eager to grasp this as a way of abandoning existing social protection systems. That is a great danger and one has to look at this very carefully. But as a concept, remember, to say that everybody is entitled to a level of basic income is very important.</p> <p><strong>Neil (oD): If I am understanding you correctly, there seems to be a polarisation in the debate in India, as there has been in countries like Switzerland, between the idea of some form of universality that is rights based and acknowledges the equality of human personhood, and the fear that ultimately the right will capture this idea like a Trojan horse for destroying what little already exists.</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> Absolutely. Very hard-earned levels of social protections which have been achieved through decades of struggle are at risk.</p> <p><strong>Neil (oD): Can I ask you a final question with regards to these struggle-won protections. In an ideal world, so with a different government – a much more redistributive government – what would you like to see form the basis of a universal protection floor in India?</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> I’ve written about this quite extensively, and I argue the approach needs to be built up on the concept of rights. And we have a concept of rights which is well accepted: the right to housing, the right to food, the right to health, the right to education. So what you are looking at is basic entitlements to people, who cannot otherwise afford such entitlements through the market.</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">Basic income has been grasped very rapidly by exactly those same constituencies who oppose social protections and social security.</p> <p>This is why in different areas you would have to have different approaches. The problem with UBI as it is, is that many of these entitlements, for example housing, cannot be reduced to an income stream. Housing is an asset. Now, all countries in the West developed systems of social housing in the 60, 70s, and 80s. So the concept of UBI perhaps has more relevance in Western countries, where there are large formal economies and systems exist to provide things like social housing. The debate becomes different there than it becomes here. And here we still have to look at specific kinds of rights and entitlements and we have to look at social protection of UBI within the gamut of these rights.</p> <p><strong>Neil (oD): So things like housing would have to be provided outside of and alongside UBI?</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> The moment you put health, education and housing within this complex of UBI, without assumptions of how they would be provided for, there would actually be no UBI. Health, for example, can be huge in relation to any level of UBI. Private education can be multiple times the cost of public education, so if education is not publicly provided, no notion of UBI will be able to deal with it, and so on. </p> <p>So you have to look at it as a broad concept. And you have to look at all these levels of provision. </p> <p><strong>Neil (oD): That makes sense. One last question then, with regards to the international efforts around the ‘decent work agenda’ and the framing of SDG 8 and SDG 8.7. What are your views on the prospect of achieving SDG 8, or on the push towards it over the next 12-13 years?</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> The useful thing about the sustainable development goals generally, as compared to the millennium development goals, is that the focus is on equitable and sustainable growth. If we look globally at the prerequisites for sustainable and equitable growth, we would also be looking at employment-led growth. And if we could actually achieve employment-led growth and more equitable growth, we would provide the basis for dealing with SDG 8.7. </p> <p>SDG 8.7 cannot be dealt with as a goal in itself. It is linked with the broader social and economic growth that the SDGs actually set upon themselves. We have to work recursively. In the short-term, what are the regulatory mechanisms we can have for 8.7? What are the ways that we can advance the battle against exploited workers? But at the same time, we must recognise that these goals can only be met if longer-term goals of equitable development are achieved.</p> <p><strong>Neil (oD): So if I can paraphrase, we can't solve the problem of severely indecent work outside of the problem of work more broadly.</strong></p> <p><strong>Ravi:</strong> Absolutely. At the same time recognising that we need to focus on these forms of exploitation.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/beyondslavery/daniel-m-gge/403-million-slaves-four-reasons-to-question-new-global-estimates-of-moder">40.3 million slaves? 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Jon Brew/Flickr.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/yaatra/272974080/in/photolist-q84FE-pBq3ve-5Q6iWv-kszwU4-9KxaxB-awhNn9-seGpV5-myYjq-gdeEjv-r32GyN-SkYNoW-SVQm24-nLVNKf-cWXCH5-REuXkY-Ub11HY-eZSjmD-5UkxUC-arCYFv-iN7qzU-puUqnM-UL6NaF-7C97mJ-pH7iqT-mPAwDi-rbwaQM-oXvYzC-RDnYyQ-SJv66x-gdfTN3-SkYZpJ-btUav4-YDMaUL-Xb73yS-r67jBi-dFdjHV-bAzeE1-ghDWZ4-zdDZB1-hSeaXe-Uyyxkz-7BhhVA-7Bhh7C-7Bhhdm-dQ59Rx-w3nHNq-7pffG6-bjtuVB-qnreYx-bjtrnK">(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)</a></span></p><p>I am <strong>Gopinath K. Parakuni</strong> and am with Cividep India, an NGO based in Bangalore, India, that focuses on workers' rights and corporate accountability. We undertake a range of activities in support of workers, which include supporting the formation of trade unions in sectors with little union organisation, worker education, research on working conditions, dialogue with brands and suppliers on remedying violation of fundamental rights at work, and capacity building on international mechanisms like the UNGP, OECD Guidelines and ILO conventions. The most satisfying work, of course, is helping workers have their own voice in the form of trade unions or other social organisations.</p> <p><strong>Neil Howard (oD): What brought you to this struggle?</strong></p> <p><strong>Gopinath:</strong> I was a student at university when the internal national emergency was declared in 1975 by the then Indian government curtailing democratic rights. Students all over India participated in the struggle to restore democracy, answering the call of the legendary socialist leader Jaya Prakash Narayan who led the movement for 'complete revolution'. It’s now known more as the 'JP Movement'.</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">The labour movement will gain strength if it eventually becomes the vanguard of the broader movement for democracy and secularism, equity and justice.</p> <p>Despite all the talk of development and some let up in extreme poverty, working people in India are still deprived of basic rights in workplaces. Legal protections for labour benefit only a minuscule part of the working population and this needs to change. Powerful worker organisation is an important necessity for any such change. We believe that we are contributing in a small way to this endless struggle.</p> <p><strong>Neil: What are some of the major challenges you face in your work?</strong></p> <p><strong>Gopinath:</strong> </p> <ol> <li>Workers in global supply chains are paid poverty level wages.</li> <li>The hostility of management and the unhelpful attitude of brands make it difficult for workers to organise.</li> <li>Central trade unions have yet to make serious efforts to organised the unorganised. </li> <li>Some pseudo-intellectuals calling themselves trade unions try to establish their own hegemony, though they are funded and supported by NGOs that depend upon solidarity grants from abroad. </li> <li>Governments are also suspicious of organising efforts and government agencies often collude with managements.</li> <li>Brands largely give only lip service to labour rights and human rights and do pretty little in earnest to change matters. </li> </ol> <p><strong>Neil: What prospects do you see for the labour movement in India?</strong></p> <p><strong>Gopinath:</strong> In the short run labour will be under tremendous pressure, as can be seen in the attempts of the ruling powers to undermine labour legislation and labour rights. We expect reorganisation of the working people in the broader context of political mobilisation to defeat right-wing forces that seek to divide the country on the basis of religious beliefs. The labour movement will gain strength if it eventually becomes the vanguard of the broader movement for democracy and secularism, equity and justice.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/beyondslavery/neil-howard-mohan-mani/collective-bargaining-in-globalised-south">Collective bargaining in the Global(ised) South</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/beyondslavery/genevieve-lebaron/can-world-end-forced-labour-by-2030">Can the world end forced labour by 2030?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/beyondslavery/collected-activists-and-academics/no-easy-answers-for-ending-forced-labour-in-india">No easy answers for ending forced labour in India</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/beyondslavery/alf-gunvald-nilsen/adivasis-in-india-modernday-slaves-or-modernday-workers">Adivasis in India: modern-day slaves or modern-day workers?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/beyondslavery/jayaseelan-raj/women-strike-back-protest-of-pembillai-orumai-tea-workers">The women strike back: the protest of Pembillai Orumai tea workers</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> BeyondSlavery BeyondSlavery openIndia Gopinath K. Parakuni Neil Howard Mon, 16 Oct 2017 07:00:00 +0000 Neil Howard and Gopinath K. Parakuni 113000 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Squeezing civil society hurts India’s economy and democracy https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/mandeep-s-tiwana/squeezing-civil-society-hurts-india-s-economy-and-democracy <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>India played a key moral role in international affairs during the anti-colonial struggles and as a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement during the cold war. What happened then?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-32423332.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-32423332.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Grand laser show at Gateway of India about the journey of India's 70 year of independence, August 15, 2017 in Mumbai.Hindustan Times/SIPA USA/Press Association. </span></span></span>This August, India celebrates 70 years of the culmination of its freedom struggle which inspired the world. Powered by individuals from all walks of life and led by social activists who cut across religious and ethnic divides, the country’s freedom struggle was the greatest civil society movement of its time, and led by the world’s pre-eminent civil society activist, Mahatma Gandhi. The struggle’s purpose was not only to win independence but to create a just and equal society where the human rights of everyone including the historically disadvantaged would be respected. </p> <p>Through their successful struggle, India’s freedom activists <a href="http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/What-it-means-to-be-independent/article14570903.ece">paved the way</a> for replacing colonial structures with constitutional democracy in much of the post-colonial global south. They faced regular persecution for acts of peaceful protest. Their writings demanding civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights were often deemed to be ‘seditious’ and against ‘public order’. </p> <p>Today, India might be an electoral democracy with human rights enshrined in its constitution. Following tradition, Prime Minister Modi paid a floral tribute at Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial and referenced the sacrifices of the&nbsp; men and women who fought for the country’s freedom in his independence day <a href="http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/pm-narendra-modis-independence-day-speech-1737721">speech</a>. </p> <p>Despite this, the spiritual descendants of India’s freedom fighters working in thousands of civil society organisations (CSOs) across the country are facing a slew of well documented <a href="http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/ngos-barred-from-foreign-funds-pm-narendra-modi-un-human-rights-ngo-funding-2946735/">obstacles</a>. Routine online trolling, unjustified vilification based on rumour and various forms of arbitrary administrative harassment as some of the everyday challenges faced by those engaged in the defence of constitutional values. </p> <h2><strong>Self-sacrifice and obstruction</strong></h2> <p>Contrary to popular belief, those familiar with the working of CSOs know well that the overwhelming majority of organisations and activists operate on relatively meagre budgets drawing on Gandhian traditions of self-sacrifice. Global Witness has recently reported a <a href="https://www.globalwitness.org/en/press-releases/india-focus-worst-year-ever-environmental-and-land-rights-activists-least-200-killed-2016-crisis-spreads-across-globe/">spike</a> in the murders of land and environmental activists in the country. Government officials who have a responsibility to protect rights have been implicated in several attacks on activists and in curtailing protests by communities facing usurpation of their land by mining companies.</p> <p>While economic growth, security and corruption free governance may define the narrative of the ruling political class, the state of India’s democracy including intolerance of alternate views remains on the mind of several international interlocutors. Notably, the <a href="http://reports.weforum.org/global-risks-2017/part-2-social-and-political-challenges/2-2-fraying-rule-of-law-and-declining-civic-freedoms-citizens-and-civic-space-at-risk/">World Economic Forum</a> has identified fraying rule of law and declining civic freedoms as a major global risk for 2017. Attacks on the <a href="http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/cbi-raids-homes-of-ndtv-s-prannoy-roy-his-wife-in-2008-bank-fraud-case/story-HJOdY5DmNpbZNmZhcIuMBK.html">independent media</a> and civil society have already damaged the country’s reputation as a stable investment destination. <span class="mag-quote-center">Attacks on the independent media and civil society have already damaged the country’s reputation as a stable investment destination. </span></p> <p>The Economist Intelligence Unit which provides key analysis to business leaders rates the world’s largest democracy as ‘flawed’ in its <a href="http://www.eiu.com/public/thankyou_download.aspx?activity=download&amp;campaignid=DemocracyIndex2016">2016 Democracy Index</a>. Never mind that India is a member of the&nbsp; governing council of the <a href="http://www.community-democracies.org/">Community of Democracies</a>, an intergovernmental body that supports civil society and democratic values around the world. The&nbsp; <a href="https://rsf.org/en/ranking">2017 Press Freedom Index</a> ranks India at an abysmal 136 out of 180 jurisdictions covered. The <a href="https://monitor.civicus.org/">CIVICUS Monitor</a>, which measures protection of civic freedoms categorises India’s civic space as ‘<a href="https://monitor.civicus.org/newsfeed/?country=8">obstructed</a>’.</p> <h2><strong>Democratic dissent</strong></h2> <p>India’s leaders need to be cognisant of the fact that by attacking civil society they are undermining a key source of the country’s influence in international circles. Selective use of <a href="http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/FCRA-licenses-of-20000-NGOs-cancelled-since-2014/article16950063.ece">international funding restrictions</a> to hobble thousands of diverse and vibrant civil society organisations (CSOs) – through the emergency-era-inspired Foreign Contributions Regulation Act – is tantamount to an own goal by the government which is keen to project a positive image to foreign investors. <span class="mag-quote-center">Robust debate and space for democratic dissent should be welcomed in the larger public interest. They make a country stronger not weaker in the long run.</span></p> <p>At a time when barriers are being lowered to enable foreign private entities to bring in and take out huge amounts of capital from the country, use of the FCRA to target a substantial section of CSOs receiving relatively insignificant amounts is jarring, considering that like private companies, CSOs must also adhere to criminal, anti-terror and money-laundering legislation. Moreover, CSOs act as a bulwark against corruption and poor governance. They champion social cohesion and the rule of law, recognised by governments, the private sector and the international community as the building blocks of sustainable economic development. &nbsp;</p> <p>To fully realise the country’s <a href="https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/memberstates/india">national development vision</a> of <em>Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas</em> (collective effort and inclusive growth) civil society should be able to offer deep critiques of public policy without fear of reprisals. Contestations on political and economic matters are inevitable in any democracy. Robust debate and space for democratic dissent should be welcomed in the larger public interest. They make a country stronger not weaker in the long run. Prime Minister Modi’s speech referenced the values of peace, unity and compassion which are integral to civil society.&nbsp; </p> <h2><strong>Key moral role</strong></h2> <p>Notably, India played a key moral role in international affairs during the anti-colonial struggles and as a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement during the cold war. Today, as a rising economic power and as a member of BRICS alliance, the country needs to draw on its history in being a promoter of democratic values at home and abroad. Active citizens and civil society can help the nation in reclaiming that legacy. </p> <p>When India was going through its Universal Periodic Review on human rights at the UN this May, the country’s Attorney General <a href="http://www.mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/28437/Opening+Statement+by+Attorney+General+for+India+at+the+Third+Universal+Periodic+Review+of+India+Geneva+May+04+2017">spoke</a> about Indian traditions of openness and diversity, coexistence and cooperation, and about tolerance and mutual understanding being ingrained in the country’s polity. Having heard this near-Utopian description, a well-respected civil society activist quipped, ‘I now want to live in <em>that</em> country he was describing.’ </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/n-jayaram/india-at-70-bigotry-rules">India at 70: bigotry rules</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India Civil society Culture Democracy and government International politics Mandeep S. Tiwana Wed, 23 Aug 2017 08:54:06 +0000 Mandeep S. Tiwana 112977 at https://www.opendemocracy.net India at 70: bigotry rules https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/n-jayaram/india-at-70-bigotry-rules <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>"Hyper-nationalism and the closing of the mind is also ‘a manifestation of insecurity about one’s place in the world.’”</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-31090269_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-31090269_0.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vice President of India Mohammad Hamid Ansari, April 2017. NurPhoto/SIPA USA/Press Association. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>As India marks 70 years of independence today (August 15), two events of the past week illustrate the predicament a country that often preens itself as the world’s largest democracy finds itself in.</p> <p>One was a vitriolic and graceless speech by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a farewell ceremony for Mohammad Hamid Ansari, who was stepping down after <a href="https://thewire.in/166900/hamid-ansari-narendra-modi/">two terms as Vice-President</a>. The other a prominent television anchor declaring that a panellist’s mention of the deaths of dozens of children in a hospital in Uttar Pradesh state was an attempt to divert attention from the real issue, which in her opinion was the rectitude of the state government’s order to Muslim schools to celebrate Independence Day with <a href="https://newsd.in/times-now-managing-editor-vande-mataram-real-issue-not-death-63-kids-gorakhpur/">the recitation of a nationalist song</a> entitled Vande Mataram (salute the motherland). </p> <p>Modi said in his speech in Hindi (translation taken from thewire.in) addressing Ansari in the Rajya Sabha, the Indian parliament’s upper house which the Vice-President chairs: </p> <p>“Your life was that of a career diplomat. I understood what being a career diplomat means only after becoming prime minister. Because the way they smile, the way they shake their hands has a meaning which a novice may not understand immediately. They are trained to do that. But that skill must have been useful for you in the last 10 years. Your skill must have benefitted the house in trying to manage contrarian voices within it.</p> <p>“In your career as a diplomat, you spent most of your time in West Asia. You spent most of your life in that single circle, that environment, that way of thinking, among those people. Even after retirement, your work was similar, whether it be in the minorities commission or Aligarh Muslim University. More or less, your circle remained the same.</p> <p>“But in the last 10 years, you had a different responsibility. Every minute, you had to work within the limitations of the constitution. And you worked to the best of your abilities. It is possible that you must have encountered restlessness in the process. But after today, you will not have to face even that dilemma. You will experience freedom and will be able to work, speak, and think according to what you really feel.”</p> <p>By West Asia, the area generally referred to in western media as ‘the Middle East’, Modi meant Muslim countries. He neglected noting that Ansari had also served in other places such as Australia and that he had been a very active Permanent Representative of India in the United Nations before retiring as a diplomat. Modi also failed to mention that Ansari has served as ceremonial president of the Indian Institute of Public Administration, the Indian Council of World Affairs and other such bodies. </p> <p>Modi’s clear attempt to depict the much respected former diplomat and scholar as someone steeped in a Muslim “circle” was breath-taking in its venality rarely matched by heads of governments or states. </p> <p>Then again, Modi was clearly waiting to tick Ansari off for thinly veiled criticism of his government. Asked in an interview whether he had shared concerns over growing intolerance in India, Ansari said he had and when pressed as to whether he was satisfied with the response, <a href="https://thewire.in/166419/asserting-nationalism-day-day-unnecessary-hamid-ansari/">said obliquely</a> “Well, there is always an explanation and there is always a reason. Now it is a matter of judgment, whether you accept the explanation, you accept the reasoning and its rationale.”</p> <p>A few days earlier, in a convocation speech at the National Law School of India University in Bangalore, Ansari said: “For many decades after independence, a pluralist view of nationalism and Indianness reflective of the widest possible circle of inclusiveness and a ‘salad bowl’ approach, characterised our thinking. More recently an alternate viewpoint of ‘purifying exclusivism’ has tended to intrude into and take over the political and cultural landscape. One manifestation of it is ‘an increasingly fragile national ego’ that threatens to rule out any dissent however innocent. Hyper-nationalism and the closing of the mind is also ‘a manifestation of insecurity about one’s place in the world.’”</p> <p>This was an unmistakable dig at <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/n-jayaram/year-of-modi-raj-%E2%80%93-india-in-crisis">the kind of polity</a> ushered in by Modi since his Hindu chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party came to head the central government in New Delhi in mid-2014. Of a piece with this style of governance, Modi chose as Chief Minister of the most populous state, a Hindu supremacist politician named Adityanath who has headed a militia named Hindu Yuva Vahini (youth brigade) that has been implicated in incidents of violence against Muslims. </p> <p>It was Adityanath’s order for Muslim schools known as madrasas to celebrate Independence Day and provide proof thereof by video-recording the events that Times Now television channel anchor Navika Kumar was dealing with. She objected, during <a href="http://en.southlive.in/india/2017/08/12/the-new-low-in-television-anchoring-times-nows-navika-kumar-asks-why-raking-up-child-death-issue-when-you-need-to-debate-vande-mataram">a panel discussion</a> on prime time she was chairing, to the raising of the deaths of children in Adityanath’s own parliamentary constituency, Gorakhpur. About 70 <a href="http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/gorakhpur-hospital-tragedy-continues-6-more-children-die/articleshow/60062665.cms">deaths from encephalitis</a> have occurred in a hospital there. A reference to these deaths on the leading television channel – a hyper-nationalist and Hindu supremacist version of Fox News – was what its anchor was objecting to.</p> <p>It encapsulated in a few moments, along with Modi’s venom-filled speech, all that has gone wrong with India over the past 70 years. Instead of emerging as a vibrant, modern democracy, it is being led down an antediluvian path towards medieval bigotry.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/n-jayaram/year-of-modi-raj-%E2%80%93-india-in-crisis">A year of Modi Raj – India in crisis</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government N. Jayaram Tue, 15 Aug 2017 07:01:39 +0000 N. Jayaram 112866 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Of sacred cows and profane men https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/of-sacred-cows-and-profane-men <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The cow has highlighted religious, regional, social and cultural differences. Some humans have been killed in the name of the cow. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/DSCN6706(1).JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/DSCN6706(1).JPG" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>From the author's portfolio, a cow sighted in Brighton, England.</span></span></span>On landing in any country with his notebook and pen, V. S. Naipaul wants to know what the people are talking about. If he were to come to India today, he would find the national discourse dominated by the cow. </p> <p>Many people demand that the cow be declared the “national animal”. Many more publicly address the cow as mother (<em>Gau Mata</em>) and deliver fiery speeches against those who do not consider themselves to be the cow’s children. Vigilante groups roam the street attacking those suspected of butchering the cow or eating beef. Transporting cows in trucks has become hazardous. A social media army has gone to war against cow slaughter and beef consumption.</p> <p>The docile cow is credited with divine powers. It has beaten Trump in its polarising power. The cow has highlighted religious, regional, social and cultural differences. It has brought the issues of human rights and democracy to the fore. Some humans have been killed in the name of the cow. </p> <p>The violence by cow-protection vigilantes against the butchers and beef-eaters has caused the fear of creeping Fascism, since these groups decide what the people should not eat. Beef is part of the daily diet of many sections and of the majority in some regions. The beef-eaters are hitting back by organising “beef festivals” and inviting attacks by the cow-protectors.</p> <p>With a Hindu nationalist party ruling, the cow worshippers are asserting their faith in public, at times violently. In the words of writer Mukul Kesavan, the vigilantes bend the system to their will and take the law in their hands with the tacit or explicit blessings of the State and in the name of the virtuous nation.</p> <p>The fault line is widening between those who worship cows and those who use “cow belt” as a term of denigration; between those who relish beef and those who do not want a beef-eater to be their tenant, neighbour or a fellow-citizen.</p> <h2><strong>The virtuous nation</strong></h2> <p>The cow has thrown up issues related to governance, law and order, justice and relations between the Union Government and the States. The New Delhi-sponsored cattle trade regulations have caused friction between some states and New Delhi. The former are resisting what they see as an unconstitutional dilution of their powers. Some states are refusing to implement the New Delhi’s fiat. </p> <p>A regional leader says under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the states have been reduced to municipalities. The Central notification on the cattle trade will keep the High Courts and the Supreme Court busy for some time.</p> <p>No area of human endeavour or discipline of study is left untouched by the cow discourse. Politics (cow veneration gets more Hindu votes, and an anti-cow-slaughter agitation can be used to harm an elected Government), economics (massive beef exports, the livelihood of butchers, dairy farmers and cattle traders and the leather industry) sociology (eating habits), history (did the Hindus eat beef in the ancient India?), cultural studies (the cow’s status in popular imagination) and arts (the depiction of cow and its symbolism – a hybrid of the cow and woman painted by an eminent artist).</p> <p>There are more areas such as faith (cow as mother - <em>Gau Mata</em>), piety (cow as an instrument of charity and penitence) mythology (cow and Lord Krishna or <em>Kamadhenu -- </em>incarnation of wish fulfilment in <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puranas">Puranic</a> literature), science (cow as manufacturer of medicinal products), traditional knowledge (the benefits of keeping cows), linguistics (the Sanskrit word for the cow means the earth). </p> <p>Watch on the YouTube a phonetically-driven English teacher telling students that the word ‘go’ in the sentence ‘go down…’ means cow! A cartoon shows a live cow tied to the turret of a Pakistani tank that would rumble on to an easy victory in India because no Indian tank would counter attack!</p> <p>The recent months have again seen the cow being used as a weapon for disturbing social harmony and widening the inter-religious divide (butchers are mostly Muslims while beef exporters may be Hindus also). </p><h2><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Cow in England copy.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Cow in England copy.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Author's portfolio.</span></span></span><strong>Illegal activity and sinful lives</strong></h2><h2> </h2><p>The cow is of great interest to those indulging in illegal activity because of the ban on cow slaughter in some states. Cow meat is disguised as buffalo meat till it reaches the foreign destination. There are more than 100,000 illegal slaughter houses.</p> <p>The veneration of the cow is seen in millions of images of a Hindu holy man worshipping a cow after bathing in a holy river or women garlanding a cow. The camera also exposes hypocrisy through the images of hungry cows swallowing plastic bags dotting the roadside rubbish piles. Many cows that stop giving milk are just abandoned.</p> <p>PETA, the people for the ethical treatment of animals, also exposes hypocrisy by pointing out that cows are confined to tiny stalls, crudely inseminated and forced to stand on piles of their own faeces. They are injected with the drug oxytocin that gives them stomach cramps. It is done to increase the milk yield. Recently, several cows died in a badly-managed official cow shelter in Rajasthan.</p> <p>Millions of Indians believe in traditional knowledge about the medicinal properties of cow’s urine and shit. The Modi Government, whose leaders frequently enlighten the scientific community about the technological feats of the ancient India, set up a national steering committee to validate the properties of <em>Panchagavya</em>, a traditional concoction of cow dung, urine, milk and clarified butter. </p> <p>The Department of Science and Technology is coordinating this programme while the steering committee is guiding research. Delhi’s prestigious IIT earlier organised a national brainstorming-cum-consultative workshop on <em>Scientific Validation and Research on Panchagavya</em>. Science means not disbelieving anything that has not been proved to be false. Thus research to validate these claims is fully justified.</p> <p>However, no committee of scientists has been asked to examine the claim aired on the TV that drinking cow’s urine will “wash away the sins of the past life”. This is a nation whose Constitution seeks to inculcate the “scientific temper” and whose first Prime Minister used to talk of science and technology in his mass rallies.</p> <p>The first sight that hits a foreign visitor in India is that of a stray cow sitting or ambling on a busy road. The less faithful are convinced that the cow is slowing down not just the road traffic but India’s march towards modernity, even the South Asian modernity!</p> <h2><strong>“the most superior animal”</strong></h2> <p>The faith-based adulation of the cow has touched even those whose professions are based on reason and a spirit of inquiry. They kept their views private earlier but now they join the chorus coming from the ruling establishment. They are keen to tell the Government that they are with it and not against it. The cow thus figures prominently in the hyperactive display of religiosity.</p> <p>A High Court judge said in a 139-page order that the cow should be declared the “national animal” and cow slaughter should warrant a life sentence. He cited the<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vedas"> Vedas</a> as saying that “those who kill cows should be massacred”.</p> <p>He described the cow as the “world’s mother who appeared on the earth along with Goddess Lakshmi during the churning of the ocean”! It contains millions of Hindu Gods in its body. He claimed that the cow is the only animal that exhales oxygen! </p> <p>The High Court judge called the cow “the most superior animal”. Of course, among the humans, Lord Curzon had a long time ago appropriated the status of being “a most superior person”.</p> <p>The judge quoted a German scientist who found out that cow has “cosmic energy” between its horns! A Russian scientist, he said, found that cow dung has the property of protecting humans from “radioactive waves”.</p> <h2><strong>National Bird of India</strong></h2> <p>Justice Mahesh Chandra Sharma later made some more statements before the media that led to a hilarious public discourse on the sex life of the peacock, the National Bird of India that <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/reimagining-india-in-britain">lit the Buckingham Palace facade</a> at the inauguration of the UK-India Year of Culture.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/JUDGE copy.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/JUDGE copy.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>The Indian National Science Academy did not comment on the judge’s claim that the peacock abstains from having sex and remains a life-long celibate, <em>Brhamachari</em>. The judge elaborated on the rare immaculate conception in the kingdom of the peahen who gets pregnant by merely drinking the tears of the peacock. </p><p>Whether the peahen swallows the tears flowing from more than two eyes, the judge did not say. Perhaps out of fear that a new vigilante group may subject Mrs National Bird to character-assassination.</p> <p>Indian scientists, in the current ethos, may not like to contradict a judge and invite the hostile attention of the cow protection vigilantes. It wasn’t always like this. Years ago when newspapers reported a holy man’s claim to turn base metal into gold, an eminent scientist contacted this reporter and gave a statement ridiculing the man.</p> <p>The Royal Society must join the fray since the High Court judge has cited one Dr Hamilton of Britain who says that cow urine cures heart disease. Culture includes science and thus to strengthen the Anglo-Indian relations, the British Council should trace this Dr Hamilton and send him on a lecture tour of India. India’s traditional knowledge desperately needs to be consecrated by Britain.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_20170602_072406767(1) copy.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_20170602_072406767(1) copy.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>A businessman of Brighton has done his bit by placing a colourful Indian cow at the entrance of his restaurant. This cow has surely brought him more Hindu and Indophile customers. He deserves to be blessed by the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to his restaurant. The British Hindoos may have thought of the fanfare for that event.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/BIRD_PARK_8_0189.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/BIRD_PARK_8_0189.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/reimagining-india-in-britain">Reimagining India in Britain</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> <div class="field-item even"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Science </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia UK India Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics Science L K Sharma Wed, 07 Jun 2017 18:49:01 +0000 L K Sharma 111502 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why is the UK government wheeling back on legislation against caste discrimination? https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/amrit-wilson/why-is-uk-government-wheeling-back-on-legislation-against-caste-discrimination <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Appeasing votebanks of the Hindu right, instead of legislation, a consultation has been launched which serves to obscure the ugly reality of caste-based discrimination which is alive and well in Britain.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/PA-24731966.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/PA-24731966.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="309" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is presented with a garland of blossoms in celebration of Hindu new year as he arrives at Heathrow Airport, London, for an official three day visit in 2015. Jonathan Brady/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Back in the 70s, when Bhangra – the popular Punjabi dance music – first hit the scene at South Asian parties and social events, it was about South Asian unity and fighting racism. Now all too often its inherent machismo is directed at glorifying Jats, a powerful farming caste in India, and often insulting oppressed-caste men and women.</p> <p>What has happened in Bhangra is only one aspect of the ugly caste prejudice and discrimination, which is now, more than ever, dividing South Asian communities – particularly Sikhs and Hindus (although caste prejudice exists among South Asian Muslims and Christians too). Since 2005, major campaigning by the UK's Dalit organisations has called for legislation outlawing caste discrimination.&nbsp;</p> <p>As a result, such a law has effectively been passed, with the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 imposing a 'duty' on the government to make caste an aspect of race in the Equality Act of 2010.&nbsp;</p> <p>However, ignoring all legal norms, the government has failed to comply with this duty. Instead it appears to be backtracking. Despite substantial evidence of the need for legislation it has launched a public consultation, which asks not whether the law is likely to be strong enough in its present form to be effective, but whether it might not “stereotype... certain ethnic groups” or “potentially have unintended consequences for members of those groups naturally associated with... caste”.&nbsp;</p> <p>The consultation also suggests that the law could be abandoned in favour of reliance on the development of case law, pointing to a case (Tirkey vs Chandok) where an adivasi (indigenous Indian) domestic worker, successfully brought a claim against her employer, for breaches of employment law and won damages under the Equality Act for discrimination on grounds of religion and race (<a href="https://academic.oup.com/hrlr/article-abstract/14/2/359/615752/Capturing-Caste-in-Law-Caste-Discrimination-and?redirectedFrom=PDF">Waughray, 2014</a>).&nbsp;</p> <p>However, as UK's major Dalit organisations wrote in a recent joint letter to the Minister for Equalities, Justine Greening, the assumption that case law would lead to a change is baseless “it is unlikely that case law will be developed because of the major risk of cases being unsuccessful... no one [including Ms Tirkey] has succeeded in a claim for discrimination specifically on the grounds of caste under the Equality Act.” The letter has so far received no reply.</p> <p>According to Satpal Muman of Castewatch UK, the largest Dalit organisation in Britain, the consultation, written as it is in impenetrable legalistic language, is a smokescreen by which to obscure the bitter everyday experiences of caste prejudice, 'untouchability', and other features of the ideology of the pre-modern caste system which is still alive and well in the South Asian diaspora in Britain. He directs me to his organisation's documentation of cases of elderly patients being refused care because 'upper-caste' medical professionals will not touch them, or workers being sidelined, or refused promotion, and school children being bullied for reasons of caste.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The consultation is a smokescreen by which to obscure the bitter everyday experiences of caste prejudice, 'untouchability', and other features of the ideology of the pre-modern caste system which is still alive and well in the South Asian diaspora in Britain.</p> <p>Dalit women in West London told me of sexualised casteist slurs thrown at them in supermarkets, beauty parlours and other public spaces. A law against caste discrimination could clearly be used to combat some of these incidents.&nbsp;</p> <p>In the numerous cases that occur in the private arena, the law will not be directly applicable but may act as a deterrent. In relationships and marriages, for example, where transgressing caste boundaries lead to emotional and sometimes physical abuse. As Manju (not her real name), a Dalit married to a man of a 'higher caste', put it: “it does not matter how much money you have in the bank or how many degrees you have under your belt,&nbsp;they see your caste as defining you… I was not allowed to go into the kitchen or to touch food because I was considered impure…".</p> <p>“In recent years, caste prejudice has, if anything, becoming more entrenched in this country,” says Meena Varma of the Dalit Solidarity Network. There appear to be two interlinked reasons for this. Firstly, in recent years and particularly since Modi came to power, there has been a horrific <a href="http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/muslims-dalits-religious-attacks-grew-in-india-narendra-modi-us-report/1/879370.html">increase</a> in violence against minorities (Muslims, Christians and Dalits) in India, with Hindu supremacist killer gangs and vigilante squads allied to the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) raping, killing and lynching with apparent impunity.&nbsp;</p> <p>Secondly, as I <a href="http://www.plutobooks.com/display.asp?K=9780745318479&amp;st1=Amrit%2BWilson&amp;sf1=kword%5Findex%2Cpublisher&amp;sort=sort%5Fpluto&amp;m=1&amp;dc=3">wrote back in 2006</a>, Hindu supremacist organisations in the UK have built a solid base in Britain. Among these is the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), the overseas wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is the ideological heart of the Hindu right. The RSS's second Sarsanghchalak – or supreme leader – <a href="http://www.golwalkarguruji.org/">Golwalkar</a>, saw Hitler's treatment of Jews as a model of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_or_Our_Nationhood_Defined">'race pride'</a>, which India should emulate, and believed that Dalits should see their 'ascribed task' of cleaning toilets and sewers by hand as <a href="https://sabrangindia.in/article/sanghs-hypocrisy-dalits-its-time-read-bunch-thoughts-again">a 'selfless service' and a form of worship</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>The HSS was investigated for hate speech and, in a meaningless gesture, asked by the Charity Commissioner to <a href="https://sabrangindia.in/article/keep-away-rss-uk-charity-watchdog-warns-hss">keep away from the RSS</a>, its parent body. At the same time, the RSS itself is considered so respectable in Britain that Treasury minister <a href="http://hssuk.org/priti-patel-congratulates-hss-uk/">Priti Patel</a> has openly expressed her admiration for it and MPs like Bob Blackman MP for Harrow East have been delighted to share platforms with <a href="http://bobblackmanmp.com/news/1167-hss-sanskriti-mahashibir-2016">RSS leaders</a> at HSS events.&nbsp;</p> <p>Since Narendra Modi came to power in India, a plethora of right-wing Hindu organisations&nbsp;– the Hindu Forum of Britain, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the National Hindu students' Forum UK, among others – have dug their tentacles even deeper into Indian communities. These groups, together with MPs like Blackman and a very small number of academics like Prakash Shah, Reader in Law at QMUL, have come together to lobby against the law.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“I was not allowed to go into the kitchen or to touch food because I was considered impure…"</p> <p>Blackman's views appear to rest on the fact that he depends on the bank of votes created by right-wing Hindu organisations in Harrow East. So powerful is this constituency that columnists in papers like the widely read Asian Voice can tell Labour MPs they will no longer be receiving votes, because Labour is a party whose <a href="http://issuu.com/abpl/docs/av_6thmay2017?e=1256050/48213371">“elected MPs attack the land of my forefathers, India'</a>’. In other words, they will brook no criticism of Narendra Modi's government, not on human rights, nor anything else. This may be why Blackman claims, with a confident disregard for logic, that legislation outlawing caste is likely to cause segregation.</p> <p>As for Prakash Shah, he is quite open about his political position. He recently invited <a href="http://www.southasiasolidarity.org/2017/05/11/professor-makarand-paranjape-audio-extract/">Makarand Paranjape</a>, an extreme-right Hindu ideologue and Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi to speak at QMUL, and listened approvingly while Paranjape heaped scorn on his Dalit students. In his book 'Against Caste in British Law', Shah describes the legislation as <a href="https://www.academia.edu/30118111/BOOK_REVIEW_Prakash_Shah_Against_Caste_in_British_Law_A_Critical_Perspective_on_the_Caste_Discrimination_Provision_in_the_Equality_Act_2010_London_Palgrave_Macmillan_2015_pre-publication_text_published_in_South_Asia_Resear">a 'threat to Indian businesses and to the well-being and existence of the Indian communities'</a> which would cause distress and create “a climate of intimidation”.&nbsp;</p> <p>Shah's melodramatic language suggests that what is at stake here is not just the legislation outlawing caste discrimination, but a demonstration of the power of right-wing Hindu forces in Britain and their ability to get their own way.&nbsp;</p> <p>Post-Brexit, this is also a time when Theresa May is <a href="http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/theresa-mays-india-visit-to-give-new-opportunity-to-strengthen-ties/articleshow/55227773.cms">seeking trade deals with India</a>, and wanting to keep on good terms with the Indian CEOs in possession of multinational empires whose names frequently appear on UK ‘rich lists’ – men like Swraj Paul, Anil Agarwal and Laxmi Mittal who are full of adulation for Narendra Modi.</p> <p>Like them she is not interested in Modi's abysmal human rights record or his ominous silences in the face of atrocities like the <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-3281581/Caste-fire-engulfs-house-Faridabad-killing-two-Dalit-children.html">burning alive of two young Dalit</a> children in their homes by 'upper castes' on the outskirts of Delhi. May is unlikely to want to rock the Hindu right's boat by supporting legislation that outlaws caste. But the campaigners say due process is on their side. “It will be a struggle,” says Satpal Muman, “but we are ready for it. We won't give up”. </p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><em>Makarand R. Paranjape has contacted openDemocracy about this piece and wishes to state the following: </em></p><p><em>"I am, by no means, an "extreme right" ideologue – I don't think I've ever been dubbed thus. I am a poet, novelist, columnist, and critic, certainly not an "ideologue." I don't belong to any party, nor am I affiliated to any political organisation. I consider myself to be an independent intellectual. I never heaped scorn on my Dalit students; I said that students in India were being over-politicised and de-skilled; even JNU, considered India's top university, was no exception. I write this clarification because I believe I have been misrepresented and unfairly portrayed in Ms. Amrit Wilson's in June on this website; I had sent my response almost immediately on reading her piece.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/amit-singh/caste-as-colonial-creation">Caste as a colonial creation</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/amrit-wilson/india-gender-violence-is-at-heart-of-hindu-rights-agenda">Narendra Modi, gender violence, and the Hindu Right&#039;s agenda</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/amit-singh/ignorance-of-lords-on-their-caste-legislation-shows-how-redundant-they-are">The ignorance of the Lords on their caste legislation shows how redundant they are</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk openIndia uk Amrit Wilson Wed, 24 May 2017 11:49:28 +0000 Amrit Wilson 111120 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Reimagining India in Britain https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/reimagining-india-in-britain <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Great India Show covers even science in India. It has been blessed by the two governments. Britain is out on a mission to rediscover India.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-30304536.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-30304536.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A projection designed for the UK-India Year of Culture by Studio Carrom, the Bangalore and London-based design studio, of a peacock and dancing figures on the facade of Buckingham Palace, London, February, 2017.Jonathan Brady/Press Association. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>Those wanting to take a condensed course in India’s heritage and contemporary culture would do well to spend this year in Britain.</p> <p>They will benefit from a massive exposition of a wide range of performing and visual arts, literature, films and rich collections from the national archives. The Great India Show covers even science in India. It has been blessed by the two governments. Britain is out on a mission to rediscover India.</p> <p>The UK-India Year of Culture coincides with the seventieth year of Indian independence. Even after seven decades, Britain lingers on in Indian public memory, though as the most-preferred destination for Indian students, it has been superseded by America. But in public discourse Britain figures more prominently. It gets blamed as well as admired more often. V. S. Naipaul noticed this at a meeting of writers in India and asked them with unsuppressed irritation to move on.</p> <p>In 1851, the Great Exhibition held in London during Queen Victoria’s reign sought to reassure the people about Britain’s industrial and cultural leadership of the world. In 2017 the Great India Show seeks to assure a shaken Britain that beyond Europe lies the Golden Hind!</p> <p>The jewel in the crown of the British Empire was given a disproportionately large space in the Great Exhibition. Of course, no indigenous industry or technology was displayed. The exhibits focused on the opulent trappings of empire.</p> <p>The Great Exhibition was actively patronised by Queen Victoria. This year the UK-India cultural exchange was given a grand start by Queen Elizabeth who hosted a reception in Buckingham Palace.</p> <p>The Great Exhibition of 1851 was seen as a pivotal moment when Britain sought to find a definition for itself or redefine itself. There was an undercurrent of anxiety about industrialisation and modernisation. While conscious of its power and reach, the country was “witnessing class inequality, a fear of foreigners, and a contempt for internationalism”. <span class="mag-quote-center">While conscious of its power and reach, the country was “witnessing class inequality, a fear of foreigners, and a contempt for internationalism”.</span></p> <p>The Great India Show comes in the wake of Britain’s decision to leave Europe. Britons feel this island nation has changed. Britain is not what it was, they lament and are gripped by a feeling of uncertainty.</p> <p>The Great India Show promotes multi-culturalism, thus countering the appeal of the UK Independence Party. The British politicians feasting night after night on the Chicken Tikka Masala at Tandoori Nights tend to dislike jingoism. Those exposed to Tagore’s works see the dangers of nationalism. Cultural exchanges moderate identity politics that is vitiating the atmosphere in many countries.</p> <p>The Great India Show involving several prestigious British institutions and cities will go on for a year. The celebration plan was announced in 2015 by the then British Prime Minister David Cameron and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. Prime Minister Theresa May reiterated the commitment during her India visit in November 2016. </p> <h2><strong>Cultural diplomacy</strong></h2> <p>Cultural diplomacy does not come cheap but the British Government and the cultural institutions are not counting pounds. Culture has a commercial dimension for Britain which boasts of a unique institution called the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce! The Department of Trade and Industry has a strategy for the performing arts. Britain has lost its primacy in politics and manufacturing and sports but is still among the world leaders in terms of culture. It knows that cultural diplomacy is about tourist pounds also.</p> <p>The Indian High Commission and the Ministry of Culture are supplementing the British effort with India@UK2017. &nbsp;When it comes to cultural diplomacy, New Delhi does not think big. India is far behind China in the number of cultural centres abroad. China gets 200 works translated into foreign languages just to participate in the Frankfurt Book Fair. India mainly depends on Bollywood. <span class="mag-quote-center">China gets 200 works translated into foreign languages just to participate in the Frankfurt Book Fair. India mainly depends on Bollywood.</span></p> <p>The Jaipur Literature Festival, a private initiative, has done more than any official agency to promote India’s brand image. This time it teamed up with the British Library to spread the message that good writing is done in India also. The Science Museum will show that India is not poor in innovative skills and scientific talent. It is an unusual gesture because while China’s scientific prowess was highlighted through Joseph Needham’s monumental work, scientific India got ignored.</p> <p>Britain showed little interest in modern India while providing an audience for classical music and dances. India, for its part, was happy to see Ravi Shankar playing the sitar in London and Raj Kapoor being feted in Moscow. It failed to project its space programme. </p> <p>The British TV documentary-makers focused on the semi-naked Sadhus rolling up the hills and the raped girls of India. An eminent British writer and a noted film-maker focused on the carnival of public-defecation in India.</p> <p>This British way of seeing India was a legacy of the colonial era. The empire could be justified by portraying the subject races as inferior beings with no traditions of art, literature, thought or philosophy. Even the scholarly journals described Indian art as a monstrosity. Such people were, of course, incapable of governing themselves!</p> <p>Indo-British political relations during the cold war discouraged Britain from seeing India in a new light. The irritants included the differences over Kashmir and the official patronage given to the separatists agitating against India.</p> <p>With the end of the cold war and India’s emergence as an emerging economic power, relations improved. After 9/11 and the terror attacks in Britain, India’s concerns made more sense to British parliamentarians. Even those British MPs whose lofty pronouncements used to be inspired by the Pakistani migrants in their constituencies, toned down their criticism of India’s human rights record. <span class="mag-quote-center">This British way of seeing India was a legacy of the colonial era.</span></p> <p>The British Foreign Office took a cue from America which had started seeing India not as an enemy of its friend Pakistan but as a useful counter-weight to its enemy named China! British political leaders, pushed by the financial services sector, began courting India. Realising that India invested more in Britain than the European Union, they were happy to walk in Delhi in the mid-day sun.</p> <p>The profile of the Indian community in Britain changed over the years. Once Indians were seen sweeping Heathrow Airport or selling exotic Indian items from door to door. That was now a distant past. The newspaper headlines began to scream about the British billionaires of Indian origin! Indian business leaders came to the UK to lecture their British counterparts on using information technology. Little Indias had sprung up with shops blaring the Bollywood songs. The pavements got coloured by women in saris. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Lalvani 2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Lalvani 2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="273" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screenshot, Sunday TImes</span></span></span></p> <h2><strong>Pissing into Britain</strong></h2> <p>This was not a sudden development. India, as Salman Rushdie would say, has been pissing into Britain for a couple of centuries. The Indian cuisine had entered Britain even before 1773 when a London café started serving it. Indian cooks were taken to Britain by those returning from a career in India where they got accustomed to a different kind of food. Indian curry powder started selling in 1780. </p> <p>From the 1870’s the Indian dishes served by Indian waiters became a regular feature on Queen Victoria’s dining table. Her personal life featuring an Indian functionary highlighted multiculturalism and solidarity with India! <span class="mag-quote-center">The popularisation of the Bhangra beats needed no governmental effort.</span></p> <p>Cultural exchanges were officially promoted periodically but cultural fusion took place in the normal course. The popularisation of the Bhangra beats needed no governmental effort. Britain could sell English language and literature even when the Indian market for its financial services was closed. Following economic liberalisation, the large Indian market gripped the imagination of the British corporate world. The time was thus ripe for heralding the UK-India Year of Culture in 2017 and for strengthening the multifaceted partnership underpinned by historical ties.</p> <p>Since the fare during the year will cover all areas of culture, a debate on the British Empire will get prominence. When Niall Ferguson went around publicising the benefits of the British Empire, no Indian academic pointed out the factual inaccuracy in his telling of the economic history of pre-British India. The challenge was belatedly taken up by a writer who joined politics after a successful career as an international civil servant. <span class="mag-quote-center">Shashi Tharoor launched a scathing attack on the British Empire, first in an Oxford union debate and then in his book <em>An Era of Darkness – The British Empire in India.</em></span></p> <p>Shashi Tharoor launched a scathing attack on the British Empire, first in an Oxford union debate and then in his book <em>An Era of Darkness – The British Empire in India. </em>Tharoor’s eloquence won him millions of social media fans. He will be in the UK to list the misdeeds of the British Empire. It goes to the credit of Britain that no gang has threatened to paint his face black or to ask the publisher to shred his books.</p> <p>Tharoor’s work largely covers the economic rape and destruction of the Indian handicrafts and industry. This is a field in which a lot of work was done even before independence. An investigation of the ‘evils’ of the British Empire requires a multi-disciplinary endeavour. </p> <h2><strong>Empire and political correctness</strong></h2> <p>Fresh material keeps coming to light. One comes across a reference to the adverse impact on the status of women as a result of the Indian male being oppressed and humiliated by the British. So he came home and took it out on his wife. Have the psychological scars been transmitted from generation to generation?</p> <p>Only last month, an activist pointed out that the policing of the performances during the British Raj banished the snake-charmers and street magicians. A significant cultural loss. Many rules and procedures set down by the British Raj continue and are often blamed for the ills afflicting today’s India.</p> <p>The historians may hit the jackpot if they discover some of the official files related to India that were presumed to have been burnt. A lot remains to be known about the British officials winning over some Indian princes by spying on their personal lives. So Tharoor’s work will perhaps be followed up. <span class="mag-quote-center">William Dalrymple is no admirer of the British Empire but that does not discourage the British Council from participating in the festival! That dispassionate approach will be unthinkable for the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.</span></p> <p>The <em>British Empire</em> figures regularly at the yearly Jaipur Literature Festival. Its co-director William Dalrymple is no admirer of the British Empire but that does not discourage the British Council from participating in the festival! That dispassionate approach will be unthinkable for the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.</p> <p>Of course, the view that the British Empire was rapacious will be challenged. The first blow was struck this year by the art critic of <em>The Telegraph</em> in his review of the V&amp;A’s “brave” exhibition, <em>Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London</em>. Rudyard Kipling’s father was “a polymath whose career as an artist, designer, teacher, journalist, and colonial servant flourished during the British Raj”.</p> <p>Alastair Sooke laments that not long ago “empire” wasn’t a dirty word but a source of pride, but not today. He says “British imperialism has become associated with jingoism, racism and exploitation of indigenous people for profit that lots of us find shameful.” He wonders whether this tendency has gone too far and the British Empire has been poisoned by political correctness!</p> <p><em>The Telegraph</em> review ascribes this “bellyaching and guilt in part to Britain’s current diminished stature and lack of self-confidence on the international stage”. Some in Britain support this art critic but many more are likely to agree with Tharoor’s criticism of the British Empire.</p> <p>But Tharoor would fail to convince an Indian immigrant, a technologist-tycoon Kartar Lalvani whose health food supplement advertisements cannot be missed in Britain. During his 50 years in Britain Lalvani was pained to see that Indians failed to acknowledge their cultural, political and economic debt to Britain. He wrote a book, <em>The Making of India</em>, to set the record straight. This volume by the native informer got extensive coverage in the British newspapers.</p> <p>Lalvani has spoken when some newly empowered Indian thinkers seem to justify Churchill’s grim forecast about the Indian leaders ruining their independent nation. These thinkers hold Nehru and others responsible for all the ills of the nation. They claim that India’s wasted years ended only when Narendra Modi took over as the Prime Minister of India!</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Lalvani 1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Lalvani 1.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screenshot: Daily Mail</span></span></span></p> <h2><strong>Reimagine!</strong></h2> <p>The British Empire is not a fresh issue. <em>Reimagine</em>, the topic picked by the Arts Council England is a theme with great potential for a vigorous debate. In fact, the entire British project for reimagining India has already been dated since India is changing at the speed of light! Britain is belatedly trying to catch up with the modern India when India is being pulled back towards the medieval times! <span class="mag-quote-center">In fact, the entire British project for reimagining India has already been dated since India is changing at the speed of light!</span></p> <p>India is undergoing a transformation that is more radical than what has hit Britain. Culture’s vital role in international relations is acknowledged. But culture has got so entwined with politics in India that a large section of Indians fears the end of the very idea of India envisioned by the nation’s founding fathers.</p> <p>The governments of different hues came and went but this is the first time in 70 years that Indians are dreading the promised <em>transformation </em>that has caught the imagination of the Prime Minister Modi’s followers and the vigilante gangs violently enforcing their code of conduct in the states ruled by his party.</p> <p>The earlier imagined India of the rolling saints was an imperfect reflection of the reality. Now when Britain seeks to correct its perception through a literature festival and the science museum, it can’t keep pace with the changing reality. </p> <p>Britain is trying to project a modern throbbing self-confident nation that innovates, that generates wealth as well as world-class art, fashion goods, and literature and that has inherited civilizational values. </p> <p>However, it will be an incomplete image of India if the scenographers and designers skip some features of the contemporary scene. These are a polarised society, cow vigilantes, anti-Romeo and anti-love jihad squads, honour-killings, religious reconversion campaigns, sectarian strife, a tide of intolerance, an outbreak of contrived nationalism and religiosity, populism in politics, degraded public discourse, a frightened cringing media serving fake news, manufactured consent and manufactured dissent.</p> <h2><strong>This minefield</strong></h2> <p>All this is a rich material for an artist, a cartoonist, a film-maker and a writer who are ready to risk their limbs and are not afraid of mob violence. But this minefield is a no-go area for two friendly governments wanting to boost bilateral trade and investments. Cultural exchanges have a limit. Would India commission a British documentary on the Red Light District of Mumbai? Would the British Council sponsor an India tour by the tattooed pink-faced football hooligans pissing from the upper stands while watching a match in a Delhi stadium? Never. <span class="mag-quote-center">The new rulers in New Delhi are not favourably inclined towards Nehru and Akbar.</span></p> <p>Friendly relations between nations demand caring for each other’s sensitivities, ignoring principles. The British High Commissioner must have sent a secret cable to London cautioning against playing Nehru’s historic midnight speech in Parliament during the seventieth year of Indian independence. The diplomat might have also suggested that no reference be made to Akbar the Great in any presentation on India’s heritage. The new rulers in New Delhi are not favourably inclined towards Nehru and Akbar.</p> <p>Her Majesty’s Government is alert just in case someone demands the expulsion of Beefeaters from the Tower of London as their presence hurts the Hindu psyche! A religious group may seek permission to install a giant marble replica of the sacred Indian cow at the Trafalgar Square arguing that it would promote multiculturalism and attract tourists.</p> <p>With the spotlight only on sugar and spice and all things nice, at the end of the year of culture, India shall remain what it has always been, an <em>Imagined India.</em></p><p><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Bollywood in london_0.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Bollywood in london_0.JPG" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Author's own portfolio.</span></span></span><br /></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/l-k-sharma/trump-modi-hover-over-jaipur-literature-festival">Trump &amp; Modi hover over Jaipur Literature Festival</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/l-k-sharma/long-live-empire">Long live Empire!</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/writers-get-bouquets-not-brickbats">Writers get bouquets, not brickbats</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/l-k-sharma/modi-at-wembley-empire-strikes-back">Modi at Wembley – the empire strikes back</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> <div class="field-item even"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Science </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia uk UK India Culture Democracy and government Equality Ideas International politics Science L K Sharma Fri, 19 May 2017 11:47:39 +0000 L K Sharma 111033 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Conversion of a Hindu priest in India https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/conversion-of-hindu-priest-in-india <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>If religious passions are inflamed, it is election time. This is what every regular visitor to India has come to know.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-30606350.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-30606350.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="283" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Narendra Modi (left), Governor of Uttar Pradesh and newly appointed Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath (right) greet the crowd during Yogi Adityanath's swearing-in ceremony in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh on March 19, 2017. Xinhua/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>India is a happening place. It has just witnessed the rare event of a Hindu priest becoming the Chief Minister of its politically most influential state of Uttar Pradesh (U. P.). Ajay Singh Bisht became Yogi Adityanath and after the death of his “spiritual father” became the head of his religious establishment. </p> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigned hard to win the state assembly elections for his party and then ensured that the state is ruled by a monk in saffron clothes who converts Christians to Hinduism and delivers anti-Muslim speeches. </p> <p>In the ancient Hindu tradition, the priests preached and the rulers ruled. The division of labour is clearly marked; based on the accident of birth or by the virtue of the person’s conduct. The priest enjoyed a status higher than that of the king and was respected by the ruler as his Guru and adviser. But a priest would never be the king. </p> <p>The ancient Hindu traditions notwithstanding, Yogi Adityanath is following the footsteps of some Hindu priests who began to participate in politics in order to challenge Nehru immediately after the independence. They were upset as Nehru talked to millions of his countrymen about the need to develop a scientific temper and march towards modernity. He called dams and other development projects, temples of modern India. Nehru was the prime target of the Hindu right wing political formations that attracted many heads of the Hindu religious establishments. Of course, they could not mount a significant challenge during all these decades and no serious setback was caused to the nation’s secular ethos.</p> <p>The new U. P.&nbsp; Chief Minister who transformed himself from an ordinary mortal into a Yogi took to politics like duck to water and has been winning parliamentary elections for years.</p> <p>This priest’s fiery speeches and hateful rhetoric promoted the consolidation of the Hindu votes in the 2014 parliamentary elections and the latest state assembly elections. </p> <p>For the same reason, the new Chief Minister has caused unease among those who see this as an initial step in the grand plan for eventually turning India into a majoritarian state, called <em>Hindu Rashtra. </em></p> <p>The Yogi’s selection also indicates that Prime Minister Modi does not want to take any risk in 2019 when he would seek a second term. He has figured out that he cannot win without the consolidation of the Hindu votes and without a promise to end the appeasement of the Muslims. Some Muslims may vote for him out of fear. His party sent a strong political message when it did not select even one Muslim candidate in the state elections. Modi’s devotees have heartily welcomed the selection of the Yogi. One commentator applauded Modi for staging the third disruptive event after the surgical strike against Pakistan and de-monetisation.</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ****</p> <p>A Yogi becomes a Commissar! But Hindus pray for a commissar to become a Yogi, a more evolved being. Many Hindus would say that this militant-monk, this fire-brand BJP leader who spreads hate is no Yogi. </p> <p>If Adityanath looks up the meanings of the Sanskrit words <em>yoga</em> and <em>yogi</em>, he would give up his divisive politics and uphold the principle of unity in diversity. Yoga signifies union, balance and moderation. In New York, “Hot Yoga” is a brand but a true Yogi cannot go about exposing himself to criminal cases and fuelling violence against a community. </p> <p>But all that does not matter because the Prime Minister is behind the Yogi and the media is suffused with comments applauding Modi’s astuteness. Before the state’s Chief Minister was selected, the Yogi’s followers went around shouting the slogan that those who want to live in the state must hail their Yogi! Modi saw the Yogi’s potential. This Yogi also runs a Hindu youth organisation, independent of the BJP.</p> <p>The Hindu card matters in elections but its effectiveness rises and falls from time to time. Even in the recent surcharged sectarian atmosphere, the BJP would not have got such an overwhelming majority had it projected this Hindu monk as the chief ministerial candidate. </p> <p>In his poll campaign, Modi used the themes of development and Hindutva (Hinduness) in the right proportions. Thus the selection of the monk after winning the election has been described by a commentator as “bait and switch”.</p> <p>Hinduism marks a clear distinction between the spiritual and temporal power. So is an ancient religion transforming contemporary politics or the ruling party’s politics modifying Hinduism?</p> <p>This reporter, steeped in the Hindu tradition, was horrified when first he saw the Knights of Armour glorified in Christian churches or read about a Pope of a bygone era who issued a clarion call for the destruction of the non-Christians. </p> <p>Of course, like the Christian churches of the yore, several Hindu temples and self-appointed Hindu saints are very wealthy, owning large sums of cash, gold and real estate. </p> <p>And if Great Britain learns from the largest democracy, the Conservative Party could groom the Vicar of Bray to be the next Prime Minister!</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ****</p> <p>But Yogi’s selection has upset some of Modi’s followers. They were mesmerised by Modi’s development dreams. Now they advise Modi to be like Nehru or at least discipline the “foul-mouthed fanatics” in his party. These innocent columnists driven by their hatred of the Congress regime never understand where Modi came from.</p> <p>They ignored Modi playing the religion card during his election campaign in U.P. Modi gathered more votes for his party by saying that the state government should provide equal patronage to the Hindu crematorium and Muslim grave yard. The implied political charge of Muslim appeasement against the state government was clear.</p> <p>They say a person charged with inciting sectarian violence and facing criminal cases ought not to have been chosen, especially since Modi had made a lot of noise about decriminalising politics.</p> <p>But Modi will dismiss with contempt this tiny section of his devotees displeased with him over the Yogi Adityanath affair. Their newspaper articles cannot shake Modi’s self-confidence. Hypothetically, today if Modi were to declare that in 50 days, he would make the sun rise in the west, hordes of his devotees in India, UK and America would hail him through the social media.</p> <p>With appropriate gestures, he might explain how this New India to be transformed by his New Politics would help the poor. Also the New Sun God would stop appeasing the people of the Eastern India, infiltrators into the sacred nation from across the border! Tweets will blame the Congress Governments of the past for obstructing the change in solar trajectory!</p> <p>After all, Modi is no ordinary man. He got a massive mandate by the people of India. In a democracy, that is the end of the argument.</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ****</p> <p>However, since arguments are still allowed in India, a Yogi becoming a ruler may lead to vigorous debate. Some Modi devotees may be looking for a verse in the sacred texts of Hinduism that sanctions the wielding of political power by a Yogi! </p> <p>The Hinduism texts do contain contradictory statements, leaving scope for argumentation. A Vedic hymn questions even the Divine’s ability to know everything. That would be considered heretical in some other religions.</p> <p>Are Hindus more spiritual than the westerners? Is the concept of monkhood different in Hinduism and Buddhism? If some Buddhist monks turned violent, why can’t the Hindu monks do the same? Why do the Jain monks refrain from hurting even the insects in the air and on the ground? Did Gandhi weaken the nation by preaching non-violence? Isn’t muscular Hinduism needed to fight the Islamic fundamentalism, as Yogi Adityanath keeps saying. </p> <p>The Hinduism experts have to seek answers to such questions while political analysts may tell us whether the Yogi was chosen because he belongs to a dominant caste. Could a Hindu priest belonging to the small Brahmin community have been chosen in his place? </p> <p>The academics joining the fray will invite hostile reaction of the kind that seeks to intimidate those historians and political scientists criticising sectarian rhetoric in India. The American scholars of Hinduism are more vulnerable as some recent events have shown. But they will be rewarded if they cite a sacred text justifying the Yogi becoming the king! </p> <p>The view that the Hindu tradition marks a distinction between the spiritual and temporal power will be contested through cyber posts and You Tube videos. The Hollywood Hindus have been encouraged by the resurgence of Hindu nationalism in India now ruled by the “Emperor of Hindu Hearts”. They run a rapid response team to rubbish any criticism of Modi. Even devout Hindus committed to the nation’s secular Constitution are called “sickular” and “fake Hindus”. </p> <p>Someone well-versed in the sacred literature of Hinduism rarely questions the political Hindus. One exception was the late Ramu Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, a teacher of philosophy. After the BJP’s movement to build a temple to Lord Ram at a place where Ram was born, Ramu Gandhi said in New Delhi that as per the Hindu tradition, the place where a baby is born is considered “impure” and thus a temple cannot be built there. </p> <p>Ramu Gandhi’s argument did not convince the pious Hindus who demolished the mosque that was said to have been built in that place. Years ago, Ramu Gandhi got away with it, today a philosopher would hesitate to challenge a mob! </p> <p>The Ram Temple issue has been hibernating. With the Yogi as the Chief Minister, the BJP will push it onto the front-burner. Modi has taken off his mask, at least temporarily. In the parliamentary election in 2019, Modi wishes to use the Yogi. So religious polarisation will be a continuing crusade.</p> <p>If religious passions are inflamed, it is election time. This is what every regular visitor to India has come to know.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/modi-marches-on-amid-hope-and-fear">Modi marches on amid hope and fear</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India L K Sharma Sun, 26 Mar 2017 17:25:05 +0000 L K Sharma 109687 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Bengal residents resist hazardous power grid amid repression https://www.opendemocracy.net/raksha-kumar/residents-of-bhangar-bengal-resist-hazardous-power-plant-amid-repression <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In January, police in Bhangar, West Bengal, shot two people dead as residents of the village protested a dangerous and unwanted electrical grid.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/Bhangar 1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/Bhangar 1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="256" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protestors in Bhangar in January. Kabeer Katlat. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In a country that is constantly hungry for electricity, residents of Bhangar, a sub-district in the state of West Bengal, are protesting a power grid in their backyard.</p><p dir="ltr">In the first two months of this year, palpable tension in Bhangar sub-district in West Bengal raised important questions about state repression in the world’s largest democracy. Men, women and children flooded the streets, claiming the government lied to them and was quiet about the health hazards of an electrical grid being built in their area. The state, in turn, used force to quell protests. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">On January 11, villagers began protests in Bhangar, 35km southeast of the state capital of Kolkata. On successive days, there were police raids and arrests. On January 17, two villagers were shot dead. Since then, the issue has gained unprecedented traction, with agitators preventing police from entering the area for seven days in mid January.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-right">In a traditionally agrarian society like India’s, people do not not easily trade in their land.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span></span>Bhangar sits right beside the upwardly-mobile New Town-Rajarhat neighbourhood of Greater Kolkata. It has one of the most fertile tracts of land in India, with farmers harvesting four crops a year. Many villagers work in fisheries as well.</p><p>The government took their land in 2012. Since then, the villagers say, they have been painstakingly gathering bits of information about the power grid. Today, they say, they do not want the grid. The electromagnetic impact of the high tension lines crossing above their fields would have an adverse impact on their livelihoods and ecology: “moreover, we fear the leakage of SF6 gas, which can be potentially hazardous,” said Kallu Islam, a resident of Bhangar who protested last month. “If we were not lied to during acquisition, we would not have given up our lands at all,” he added. They were told electricity would be generated for their use and there was no mention of negative health implications.</p><p>People have many misconceptions about the power project in Bhangar, said Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, Minister of Power in West Bengal. “Projects like the one in Bhangar have been set up in several parts of the country, just go and see. We have the necessary clearances and we will reassure the people that there are no health hazards,” he said.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-left">“They took our lands for a pittance to transmit power to other places, while we have to face the health hazards emanating from it..."</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span></span>Acquiring land for industrial purposes has always been contentious in the story of India’s development. In trying to compete with China’s galloping growth rate, India has accelerated mineral extraction and industrialisation, the first step for which is land acquisition.</p><p dir="ltr">In a traditionally agrarian society like India’s, people do not not easily trade in their land. The state regularly sidesteps consultative processes with residents before taking away their lands, and many of these deals are shrouded in secrecy.</p><p dir="ltr">For instance, in October 2016, when the construction of Bhangar power grid was in full-swing, the residents found out that it would not generate any extra power for the region but transmit it to other parts of Kolkata, Bihar and Jharkhand.</p><p>“They took our lands for a pittance to transmit power to other places, while we have to face the health hazards emanating from it,” summed up Islam.&nbsp;</p><h2>High-handedness of the State</h2><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/16105626_1452425101457580_1692885744494084430_n.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/16105626_1452425101457580_1692885744494084430_n.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="263" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Residents meet with state aggression. Kabeer Katlat. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The people of Bhangar claim that the Power Grid Corporation of India Limited, which was setting up the grid, did not hold fair public hearings to seek consent of the village leaders. “We speak Bengali in these parts, and certainly do not understand bureaucratic jargon written in English. So, they should have explained the consequences to us in our language,” said Rameez Khan, another resident and agitator. &nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-right" dir="ltr">We speak Bengali in these parts, and certainly do not understand bureaucratic jargon written in English.</p><p dir="ltr">Such a complaint is commonplace in many large infrastructure projects across the country. India’s diversity requires that literature related to centralised projects be printed in local languages and the officials conduct public hearings to sincerely listen to the concerns of the residents.</p><p dir="ltr">A newly-formed Committee to Protect Land, Livelihood, Environment and Ecosystem, assisted by a left-wing political party, the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of India (Red Star), led the agitations. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">On 22 January 2017, K. N. Ramachandran, general secretary of Red Star, alleged he was overpowered, blindfolded and abducted. He resurfaced in Delhi two days later but around that time three of his comrades, Sharmishtha Chowdhury, Shahnawaz Mandal and Pradip Singh Thakur, were arrested by the police in Bhangar. A week later, they were booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which is usually used in terrorism-related cases. On March 15, two more protesters were booked under the Arms Act. </p><p>“If we protest for our lands, they shoot at us and book us under a terror law. How is that fair?” asked Islam.</p><p dir="ltr">In the last week of January, after bloody protests, the West Bengal government backed down and called off the power grid. However, this move was retracted in a few days. The residents of Bhangar are furious about the inconsistency of the government’s stance. Even when the government made assurances to the residents that the grid will not be built, the construction work for that very project was proceeding within the boundary walls of the acquired land.The District Superintendent of police, Sunil Chowdhury, said they understood the concerns of the people. “We work for the people and would rather keep violence away. We don't use force if there is another option,” he said.</p><h2>Chief Minster’s Double Standards?</h2><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/16142862_10155649728293998_2280265170910216928_n.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/16142862_10155649728293998_2280265170910216928_n.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="368" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sharmishta, Red Star activist. Kabeer Katlat. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Ironically, the current Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, catapulted to power in 2011 protesting land grabs and unfair land acquisition by the previous government. She ended the 30-year rule of the Communist Party of India in the state. </p><p>The then-state government of West Bengal had acquired close to 1000 acres of farmland in Singur village of Hoogly district. One of India’s largest corporations, TATA Motors, was to build the world’s cheapest car on the site. But Banerjee had challenged this, saying the rule under which lands were acquired was only for public improvement projects. She came across as an activist-politician who would uphold land rights of small farmers.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-left">If we protest for our lands, they shoot at us and book us under a terror law. How is that fair?</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span></span>“Even Buddhadeb did not slap UAPA, the law for terrorists, during the Singur and Nandigram struggles between 2006 and 2009,” said Ramachandran of Red Star.</p><p dir="ltr">However, Banerjee has a tough role to play. Power demands in the state are expected to grow at an annual average of 5% – to 62,926 million units by 2019. Even though the state has achieved near 100% rural electrification, according to power minister Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, the problem is the quality of supply. “What is the point of connecting all the villages with power cables if there is a low voltage problem for more than 14 hours in a day?” said a senior official at at the Department of Power, West Bengal, who didn't want to comment on the issue as the matter has reached the courts. <br class="kix-line-break" /></p><p dir="ltr">On February 8, the Calcutta High Court questioned the state government and asked why the bullets that killed two protestors were not collected for ballistic examination. The judge said that the court would now monitor the investigation into the police violence in January.</p><p dir="ltr">For now, Bhangar is quiet. “After all, how long can we protest?” asked Khan. “We all have our work to return to.”</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/raksha-kumar/seeking-justice-for-rape-by-state-in-bastar-indiai">Seeking justice for rape by the state in Bastar, India</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia Democracy and government Raksha Kumar Fri, 24 Mar 2017 14:05:14 +0000 Raksha Kumar 109664 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Modi marches on amid hope and fear https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/modi-marches-on-amid-hope-and-fear <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Modi can get away with anything now. His public adores muscular Hinduism, majoritarianism, politicised nationalism and a neo-liberal development model which gives subsidized big corporates big incentives.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-30503094.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-30503094.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>BJP supporters celebrate Holi around a Narendra Modi photograph after the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election results are announced.NurPhoto/SIPA USA/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Any foreign correspondent who came to India to cover the state elections must stay on to report on this land of miracles. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is being called ‘Magic Man’ after he won the largest state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) for his Hindu nationalist party, the BJP.</p> <p>The voters gave an overwhelming mandate to Modi who was not a candidate. He was elected to Parliament in the 2014 elections from UP’s world-famous temple town of Varanasi, but he did not leave this election campaign to the state-level leaders. The Prime Minister kept going from New Delhi and addressing public rallies in UP. He camped there for three days, visiting temples and holding road shows that dominated the TV screens.</p> <p>Modi attacked political opponents in blunt words that were lapped up by his listeners. He conveyed messages to the poor. He appealed to the Hindus by blaming the State Government for its appeasement of the Muslims.</p> <p>Modi faced a formidable challenge because his de-monetisation move had caused hardship to millions of poor apart from inconveniencing the rich. It had led to the closure of thousands of small industrial units. But Modi called it a sacrifice for the nation and his voters seem to have agreed. <span class="mag-quote-center">Modi called it a sacrifice for the nation and his voters seem to have agreed.</span></p> <p>The UP voters don’t care if Modi’s irresistible rise frightens the defenders of democracy, fighters for free speech and soldiers of secularism. Some of the BJP leaders and its student wing question the concept of free speech in the TV studios and through their street violence.</p> <h2><strong>When free speech invites violence</strong></h2> <p>Modi has been facing protests by the liberals, intellectuals, writers and artists, and a major section of the student community who are deeply disturbed by the atmosphere of intolerance in which free speech invites violence. The section of the media not beholden to the Modi Government or the corporates reminds the nation about Hitler’s Germany. Talking of Hitler seems a bit far-fetched at this juncture even though some fascist tendencies keep coming to the fore. The UP elections however, did display both the strengths and weaknesses of the Indian democracy. <span class="mag-quote-center">Talking of Hitler seems a bit far-fetched at this juncture even though some fascist tendencies keep coming to the fore.</span></p> <p>The marginal sections feel empowered and gain developmental benefits because elections are held regularly. The latest massive exercise was conducted peacefully. Hate speech will subside after the elections. Of course, the nation is yet to diminish the role of money and muscle power and a large number of candidates facing criminal cases continue to win elections.</p> <p>It was no ordinary victory for Modi. His party had not ruled the state for more than two decades. Thus when the BJP dislodged the young socialist chief minister of the state, it seemed like a magical trick. Derided by significant sections, Modi acquired in popular imagination the status of the Super Man.</p> <p>The “Modi wave” delivered more striking results in the poll than even the earlier “wave of Lord Ram” that had swept UP following the BJP’s campaign to build a Ram temple in place of a mosque in the same UP. Religious polarisation was witnessed then, but even the temple campaign could not lead to the consolidation of the Hindu votes to this extent. This comparison has been made in the media and till going to the press, the Hindus based in America or the UK have not taken umbrage at the belittling of Lord Ram compared to Modi.</p> <h2><strong>Modi Plus</strong></h2> <p>The product that Modi sold so successfully to the voters of UP can best be described as Modi Plus. He offered something to every one. If that required ideological compromises or shaking hands with the enemies of yesteryear, so be it. While Modi’s latest feat is most impressive, he is not new to divining an effective political strategy. No one can beat him as a hidden persuader. He won a Gujarat state election by attacking the then military ruler of Pakistan by calling him “Mian” Musharraf. <span class="mag-quote-center">No one can beat him as a hidden persuader.</span></p> <p>Modi wins over masses by appearing in multiple personas, pleasing rival sections of the voters at the same time. Depending on the need of the hour and the audience and the district, he appears as a leader committed to development or as a leader pitted against the Muslims in order to remain the “Emperor of Hindu Hearts”!</p> <p>As this writer wrote in this journal two years ago: “Lord Shiva is one God who assimilates in his person all contradictions/ Modi did the same… Modi has a divine trait. God is perceived by the devotees as per their feelings, says a Hindi poet.” During the UP poll campaign too, the people saw the Modi as they wanted to see. Modi’s core constituency fed on the anti-minorities rhetoric had no alternative. The sectarian Hindus felt elated that his party did not field a single Muslim candidate in the election. Many more Hindu voters felt attracted by Modi when he launched veiled attacks against the state government for appeasing the Muslims at the cost of the Hindus!</p> <p>Modi went on to attract other voters in large numbers by selling development dreams. The poor felt that he would fix the rich as he claimed to have done through de-monetisation! The rich corporates felt that once Modi’s party ruled UP, the state Government will shower them with plenty of incentives and subsidies as Modi had done while running the state of Gujarat. <span class="mag-quote-center">Modi wins over masses by appearing in multiple personas, pleasing rival sections of the voters at the same time.</span></p> <p>Many wavering voters were swayed by Modi’s oratory and cheap digs at his opponents. In small towns, the people derive comfort and entertainment from the oratory of the religious preachers in temple compounds and the lizard-oil sellers on the footpath. Thus political rallies are always a big draw in India. </p> <p>The ingredients of Modi’s magic potion are not hard to detect if his poll campaign is analysed. Modi knows his Indians better than any mass psychologist. He deftly exploits the social and economic fault lines to expand the social base of his party whose appeal was restricted to the middle-class trading community and upper castes. </p> <p>The UP campaign also tapped the fault line of economic rivalry. Statements were made to fuel antagonism based on religion, caste, sub-castes and class. No communist leader seeks to fuel class conflict in such a blatant way. But Modi wanted to appear as pro-poor. If the political opponent belonged to one sub-caste, the BJP hugged the leaders of rival sub-castes. <span class="mag-quote-center">No communist leader seeks to fuel class conflict in such a blatant way.</span></p> <h2><strong>BJP transformed</strong></h2> <p>Narendra Modi set out to transform India and he has already transformed the BJP. His victory in 2014 and now in the UP state elections show how effectively he has enlarged the social base of his party. He has expanded the area of the BJP’s influence. It has established itself in areas it has never reached before.</p> <p>The campaign control rooms of the BJP could perhaps beat Google in their access to the data related to the voters, the party’s campaigners and the opponents. Just count the tweets, videos, social media likes in favour of the BJP.&nbsp; </p> <p>The Gujaratis excel in their organizing ability. The institutions of Gujarat can run massive relief operation at a very short notice, a temple can organise a feast for 10,000 people in a day! This efficiency saves lives and serves the people well in times of drought, floods or earthquakes. But one also recalls that the groups who went to torch homes and shops during communal riots in Ahmedabad had computerised lists of the owners and their religious affiliation.&nbsp;</p> <p>Add this organizing power to the charisma of the leader while analysing Modi’s winning formula. BJP runs an ideologically-fired huge cadre and a team of voluntary and hired experts who operate with what is known as “western” efficiency. It can be marked out in an “oriental” atmosphere in which many district offices of the rival parties come to life only during the election season. It is the same with the activists of the non-BJP parties.</p> <p>So one cannot question Modi’s claim about “hard work” even though he used this phrase to deride the Harvard economists including Amartya Sen who had the temerity to criticise the Prime Minister’s de-monetisation scheme.</p> <h2><strong>The idea of India</strong></h2> <p>One wonders about the sheer enormity of Modi’s achievement and its consequences for the nation. This transformation of the political scenario signifies changes that will last far beyond the term of the new state government. </p> <p>By wresting the politically most influential state from his opponents, Modi emerges as a leader powerful enough to modify the “idea of India”, a long-term objective of his party and its mentor, RSS, who hate the Nehruvian ethos. </p> <p>Detracting from India’s first Prime Minister who kept the communal forces at bay has been Modi’s top priority. Since his party had no heroes, he was quick to co-opt some Congress leaders even though they were opposed to the ideology of Modi’s parent party. A cartoonist describes this trick as collecting stolen idols.<span class="mag-quote-center"> A cartoonist describes this trick as collecting stolen idols.</span></p> <p>As part of the anti-Nehru crusade, the Modi Government has tinkered with the institutions named after Nehru and inspired his Hindu fans living in America to unleash an anti-Nehru campaign. No nation seeks to demolish its heroes in this fashion.</p> <p>Modi, who punctuates his cheap digs against his political opponents with a rare dignified Prime Ministerial statement (Trump can learn from him), is today in a position to get away with anything. He is bathed in public adoration that demonstrates the growing appeal of muscular Hinduism, majoritarianism, politicised nationalism and a neo-liberal development model under which the big corporates get large subsidies and big incentives. </p> <p>His new pro-poor rhetoric has robbed his opponents of their main political weapon. His flaunting of the welfare measures does not frighten either the capitalists or the conservative economists who ignore the distributive justice and the concept of public goods. The pro-poor rhetoric does not obstruct the speedy privatisation in the critical sectors of health, housing and education. <span class="mag-quote-center">His new pro-poor rhetoric has robbed his opponents of their main political weapon.</span></p> <h2><strong>The 2019 campaign</strong></h2> <p>The BJP challenges secularism by raising the bogey of Muslim appeasement. When its storm-troopers make most atrocious sectarian statements, the Prime Minister remains silent.</p> <p>The parties wedded to secularism hesitate to confront him on this score as they have been intimidated by the BJP’s appeal to Hindu sensibilities. They refrain from offering an effective counter-narrative. <span class="mag-quote-center">The pro-poor rhetoric does not obstruct the speedy privatisation in the critical sectors of health, housing and education. </span></p> <p>The secular political formations will find it hard to cleanse society of the communal poison infused in recent years. The sectarian card yields political dividends at certain times. But BJP tones down its communal rhetoric when it sees that it is not working. &nbsp;The BJP will continue to play the Hindu card, unless a truly Hindu leader emerges to unleash a cultural revolution that challenges bigotry and fake nationalism. </p> <p>Modi’s supporters now feel confident that the people will reward their leader with yet another term as the Prime Minister and all opposition will be crushed. So Modi is justified in starting a campaign for his re-election as the Prime Minister in 2019. In the near term, the BJP is desperate to retain its control over the municipalities in Delhi that are to go to the polls soon. The state government is run by a new opposition party called AAP and chief minister Arvind Kejriwal frequently complains that the Prime Minister does not allow him to function. He is one leader who replies to Modi in Modi’s language. </p> <p>Power even in the local bodies matters to Modi. And he would like to clip the Delhi Chief Minister’s wings. He will help his party in every way possible even if he does not take time off from his Prime Ministerial duties to lead the BJP’s municipal poll campaign!</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-30503121.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-30503121.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>BJP gets majority in Uttar Pradesh. Kolkata, India, March 11, 2017. NurPhoto/SIPA USA/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/will-real-modi-stand-up">Will the real Modi stand up? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/another-arrested-revolution-in-east">Another arrested revolution in the East</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openglobalrights/zahir-janmohamed/modi-and-trump-voting-strongmen-voting-hate">Modi and Trump—voting strongmen, voting hate</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India L K Sharma Mon, 20 Mar 2017 08:12:45 +0000 L K Sharma 109535 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Trump & Modi hover over Jaipur Literature Festival https://www.opendemocracy.net/l-k-sharma/trump-modi-hover-over-jaipur-literature-festival <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Since both Trump and Modi excite hearts rather than minds, they ought to be invited to the next Jaipur Literature Festival.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/2.15622883.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/2.15622883.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A Jaipur Literary Festival audience.Deepak Sharma/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>It was yet another victory for Trump. The reports of America’s decline are exaggerated. The Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) proved it. POTUS – President of the United States – matters. Donald Trump got mentioned in several sessions. Hovering as a spectre over a literary festival in a distant land is a great achievement, beyond the President of Mongolia and the Supreme Leader of North Korea.</p> <p>If Donald Trump did not tweet about the Jaipur Literature Festival, it was because he was too busy with his inauguration. India got ignored because the good women of this civilisation did not join the international march against the new POTUS.</p> <p>At JLF, all references to Trump were critical and every scathing remark about him was greeted with derisive laughter by the audience. But Trump derives oxygen of publicity from critical comments. These energise his cultish constituency. His fans, like the devotees of all cult heads, are ever ready with an abusive and intimidating response to the leader’s critics. A quick response team goes into battle on the social media.</p> <p>Soon after moving into the White House, Trump phoned the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a fellow populist leader, and invited him to visit the White House. Trump could hardly complain to Modi against those in Jaipur who misjudged him. They were mainly Americans, Britons and Non Resident Indians.</p> <h2><strong>A big nuisance</strong></h2> <p>Political leaders get implicated in literary conversations because the ills of the world are felt most acutely by the sensitive souls. Poets and playwrights spot the emerging dystopia even while politicians falsify a given situation as per their set partisan agenda. That is why the politicians in power consider the writers and poets to be a big nuisance.</p> <p>A democratic leader lets the writers speak even if she is unable to build a nation of their dreams. Another kind of leader, whether elected or unelected, unleashes on writers and other dissenters either the oppressive state machinery or his party’s storm-troopers. The use of the non-state actors is a preferred option because it protects his own “democratic” credentials and no questions are asked by some US-based Freedom Forum established during the cold war.</p> <p>The prominent Indian writers who had retuned their awards protesting against rising intolerance and intimidation of writers and rationalists were not invited to the Jaipur Literature Festival this time but some of those who came pointed a finger at the ills afflicting the contemporary India. A famous poet from the Hindi film world “barked” and celebrated his “freedom to bark”. So what if he cannot bite he said, acknowledging the failure of poetry to influence politics! He knows we are not in the romantic age and poets are no longer unacknowledged legislators of the world. <span class="mag-quote-center">Hovering as a spectre over a literary festival in a distant land is a great achievement, beyond the President of Mongolia and the Supreme Leader of North Korea. </span></p><h2><strong>“Terrible inauguration”</strong></h2> <p>The attack on Trump began at the opening session of the festival. American poet-performer Anne Waldman, in her keynote address, referred to the “terrible inauguration” in Washington DC. She went further than Meryl Streep, shouting in solidarity with her sisters, daughters, children and all women marching towards Washington to protest against the impending inauguration of Trump as President.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/15932480064_cf0b571f43_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/15932480064_cf0b571f43_z.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Anne Waldman reading, 2015. Flickr/kellywritershouse. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>That was just the beginning. Trump kept coming in for dishonourable mention and those making snide remarks included eminent speakers and moderators. A British writer said he would not even utter the name of the new American President. He didn’t have to. </p><p>American writer Paul Beatty went further in an interview saying there is a reason that people picked this guy (Trump). “He is an apparition, but he is both real and unreal, and people see something in him.”</p> <p>A Jaipur newspaper quoted a state minister belonging to Modi’s party. The eight-column headline said “PM Modi has some divine power: Kataria”. No devotee of Trump has gone that far.</p> <p>Another English daily carried a long opinion piece arguing that both Modi and Trump are textbook populists. The writer said that Modi matched all the characteristics of a populist leader as defined by Princeton Professor Jan-Werner Muller in his book “What is Populism?”</p> <p>Both leaders are polarising figures and both do not sit idle for a moment. They tweet and they tweet. They are not afraid of making politically incorrect remarks and very simple statements. They take on the elites fond of articulating complex thoughts. Modi and Trump know what an American columnist said: In tough times, people want someone who can make a compelling pitch and inspire a sense of urgency. Integrity and intelligence are not what the voters are after.</p> <p>Apart from the stray comments by individual speakers, the entire final session of the festival referred to Trump as it was titled: “Debate: We are living in a Post-Truth World”. It was a topical subject but the debate only proved what some writers have been saying: “There is no space left for a real public discourse.”</p> <p>The organisers had framed the issue mainly in the context of Trump and Brexit since lies were used in the two campaigns. As the debate progressed, the spectre of Narendra Modi came to haunt it. Since Prime Minister Modi has been blamed for not being truthful while electioneering and while selling his demonetisation decision, his supporters suspect words such “Post-Truth World”.</p> <p>In India, the list of “provocative” words keeps expanding. Politicians hijack words and phrases to make them seductive or repellent. The frame of reference matters. In contemporary India, anyone uttering the words “intolerant” or “inclusive” or “secular” is branded as a critic of Modi.</p> <h2><strong>Slippery slope</strong></h2> <p>Trump is cited most by those commenting on the post-truth world. Of course, the argument about the rise of passion as the prime instrument of winning power has been validated in the recent years in India, America and Europe.</p> <p>Thus the debate in the JLF reflected the polarisation between the supporters of Modi who saw the slippery slope. If you light a verbal fire around Trump, it will soon reach Modi, they feared. And it did. One speaker devalued the very term “post-truth”. He detected in it a conspiracy by the liberal media. He told the British critics that what Trump does is not their business. He wanted the audience to pay respect to the wise voters of America. He pointed out with satisfaction that women of India did not join the global protest against Trump! He was not upset by the attack on a fellow journalist launched by Trump at his press conference. </p> <p>Since the expression “post-truth” is not as simple as “lies”, there was considerable scope for philosophical musings. What is truth, it was asked and no one was prepared to wait for an answer. The meditation on the nature of the truth involved words such as “my truth”, “your truth”. A writer found it necessary to quote Yeats: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”</p> <p>In a literary festival, Trump could have even been lauded for his power of imagination and for creating fiction to fight a political battle! Emotion-based politics is closer to literature than fact-based rhetoric. A professor of literature would say that literature is important precisely because it is not bound by facts. “It is important because it is not bound up in issues of law, science, medicine or business.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-12574870.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-12574870.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Entering the Jaipur Literary Festival.Manish Swarup/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>It is said that one can gain more understanding about the human heart from Shakespeare than from Freud. Myron Magnet asks in an essay: "Can anyone think that the studies of Margaret Mead or Alfred Kinsey tell us anything nearly as true as Ovid or Turgenev?" </p><h2><strong>Conclusion</strong></h2> <p>Since both Trump and Modi excite hearts rather than minds, they ought to be invited to the next Jaipur Literature Festival. Modi’s book of poems could be among the scores of books that are released at JLF. </p> <p>It will fit into JLF’s intellectual agenda since the organisers say that the festival should not just be a bubble in which the liberals talk to liberals. Going by this policy, this time they invited two leaders of the RSS, a right-wing cultural organisation that mentors the ruling party. Modi was groomed by the RSS from a young age.</p> <p>Participation by Trump and Modi will fit into JLF’s commercial agenda also. It will gain significant sponsors as the American Embassy and the Indian Ministry of Finance. </p> <p>If the Modi Government accepts the suggestion made at JLF by a noted TV journalist, it would set up a Ministry for History. That ministry could sponsor presentations by two non-Marxist historians. Like the truth, there is also “My History vs. Your History.” That may be a topic for the next JLF. Rival historians can then come and fight outside the Groves of Academe!</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/writers-get-bouquets-not-brickbats">Writers get bouquets, not brickbats</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/litfest-expresses-india%E2%80%99s-genes">A lit-fest expresses India’s genes</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> <div class="field-item even"> United States </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia United States India L K Sharma Sun, 29 Jan 2017 17:14:49 +0000 L K Sharma 108432 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Another arrested revolution in the East https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/another-arrested-revolution-in-east <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Donald Trump ought to thank Modi for showing the way to electoral success. More and more leaders are convinced that perpetual confrontation pays in politics. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2016-12-13 at 13.25.21.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2016-12-13 at 13.25.21.png" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screen shot of Yes Prime Minister in which Sir Humphrey Appleby demonstrates the use of leading questions to skew an opinion survey.</span></span></span>Fidel Castro is dead but a leader determined to unleash a cultural revolution has risen in democratic India. On one dramatic night, an elected Prime Minister announces his decision to purge India of financial corruption and people the nation with honest citizens. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in one fell swoop, killed 86 per cent of the currency notes in circulation as the legal tender. Thus began the great run on the banks to exchange the old notes with the new ones that remain scarce even after a month. The nation is reeling under the impact of a cash crunch rare in the history of currencies. </p> <p>The demonetisation causes daily chaos in front of banks. More than 80 &nbsp;people either collapsed in the long queues or committed suicide when not able to feed the family. For a nation that subsists largely on cash transactions, the decision has brought untold misery to the common man. <span class="mag-quote-center">For a nation that subsists largely on cash transactions, the decision has brought untold misery to the common man.</span></p> <p>The Government leaders called it as the Prime Minister’s “surgical strike” against black (unaccounted) money. A judge called it “carpet bombing” because suddenly 86 per cent of the currency in circulation was withdrawn. The political opposition doubted the intentions of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister dubbed his critics <em>hoarders of black money</em>. </p> <p>Millions of man hours have been lost; thousands of small industrial units have closed and their workers had to flee to their villages. The people’s confidence in the national currency has diminished in the face of ever-changing official notifications. Some basic questions have been raised about the violation of property rights, the legality of the government’s decision, the Prime Minister running a presidential form of Government, the diminution of the role of Parliament and of the Central Bank and the collapse of the informal sector of the economy.</p> <p>An imaginative observer visiting India today would see a nation of currency traders and rumour-mongers. For a month now the national conversation has only been about cash.&nbsp; Modi’s critics focus on the human misery caused by demonetisation. A few economists warn against a decline in the economic growth rate. Psychiatrists see their workload increasing in coming months.</p> <h2><strong>Golden future after 50 days</strong></h2> <p>The Prime Minister has sought to keep the suffering people’s hope alive by promising a golden future after 50 days. The good people of India must sacrifice for a good cause and suffer “temporary pain, for ultimate gain”. The concept of ‘sacrifice” that has become less appealing in todays’s aspirational India, is being marketed as part of the ruling BJP’s political strategy.</p> <p>Modi is moved to tears in public and still sees signs of his biggest political gamble succeeding. His own app used for a public opinion poll showed that his decision to create a corruption-free India enjoys overwhelming support. This self-conducted poll provoked some to float on the social media <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0ZZJXw4MTA">the inimitable scene from the British TV comedy</a> “Yes Prime Minister” in which two top bureaucrats discuss how a public opinion poll can be manipulated to bring the desired results. <span class="mag-quote-center">His own app used for a public opinion poll showed that his decision to create a corruption-free India enjoys overwhelming support.</span></p> <p>Media reports also suggest that Modi’s surgical strike against black money enjoys popular support though no one is sure how long this will last. The rich and the poor, the honest and the dishonest – tell TV reporters that Modi has done a good thing. No one says that dishonesty is the best policy. “For a good cause, I am prepared to stand in the queue for the new notes for a few hours.” This is a set response.</p> <p>A reporter found that one person lauding Modi’s anti-corruption campaign went on to chat about his collecting rent from his tenants in cash and evading taxes! His auto-rickshaw driver told him that Modi had done a very good thing. When the driver abruptly turned into a side lane, the reporter was puzzled. The driver explained that it was to evade a traffic policeman since he had no driving license. </p> <p>The poor, unable to meet their daily needs are helpless but still patient. The Government has launched a massive campaign to wean them away from cash transactions and to switch to digital payments through mobiles and plastic cards! The digital nirvana will elude a vast majority for some years. </p> <p>Those with unaccounted money are stricken with fear and anxiety as the official agencies are busy raiding their hidden treasures. A big cop-and-robbers chase is on as millions of Indians have devised innovative methods to frustrate the government’s effort to extinguish the unaccounted currency notes. A large amount of untaxed money has been inducted into the banking channels through ghost accounts. </p> <p>Ignoring the daily disruption of Parliament over the disastrous implementation of the demonetisation scheme, the Prime Minister attacks the opposition for his public. Deploying rhetoric, he appears as a valiant pro-poor fighter facing an onslaught by the “powerful forces out to destroy him”! The entire political establishment is in a temper as two crucial state-level elections are to be held soon.</p> <p>The Prime Minister has emerged as a powerful leader and some magazines will portray him as Emperor Modi. Demonetisation was his decision, dutifully rubber-stamped by his Cabinet. Modi loves to be in the spotlight. It is all about Narendra Modi and Mr. Modi wants to have it that way. Policies must be personified. </p> <p>The recent elections in some parts of the world have shown that a political leader who lacks theatrical experience and the ability to sell snake oil or used cars cannot go very far. In this era of post-truth politics, telling lies and making politically incorrect and provocative statements makes a politician popular. Donald Trump ought to thank Modi for showing the way to electoral success. More and more leaders are convinced that perpetual confrontation pays in politics. </p> <h2><strong>Aspirational India</strong></h2> <p>The media has extensively covered the cash crunch causing human misery and economic setback but the social and cultural dimensions of this ongoing revolution call for further scrutiny. Modi is seeking to reverse some recent trends in the history of this young nation. Economic liberalisation made people greedier, fuelled the demand for luxury goods and popularised vulgar displays of wealth. The stigma of corruption traditionally associated with money is ignored as the rich persons have become role models for the younger generation of the aspirational India.</p> <p>Modi’s rise in politics has increased political and social disharmony. Political, religious, social and cultural divisions have been exacerbated in recent times. As a star campaigner for his party BJP, Modi tells a public rally that because of demonetisation, “the poor sleep in peace while the rich wander around at night looking for the sleeping pills.” This after weeks of TV reports from urban and rural centres that demonetisation has hit the poor badly. But the people at the rally waving the party flags to cheer the leader.</p> <p>The Prime Minister then calls upon the poor not to return the money that the rich deposited into their accounts for redeeming the old currency notes. Those with unaccounted cash co-opted the poor with bank accounts with no money. The poor obliged because they were promised in return a small part of the deposited funds!</p> <p>Latent class antipathy is being fuelled. The poor are being encouraged to vent their anger against the “filthy” rich who have been made the new “Other” in a political confrontation. Anyone leading a nation of the poor has to deflect the criticism that his policies are designed to help the rich. He has to appear pro-poor even if his poll campaign was financed by the rich and his policies in the Government have helped the rich. <span class="mag-quote-center">Anyone leading a nation of the poor has to deflect the criticism that his policies are designed to help the rich.</span></p> <p>Right now it appears to be an electoral necessity to turn the dishonest rich into a hate object. Every political campaign needs “the other” against whom the voters can be mobilised. Many people vote for a leader who they think would “fix” a particular community or “fix” the national economy or “fix” the corrupt people. Modi has gone further than any communist leader in telling the poor to revolt against the filthy rich. The Marxists in India have been called sterile who just profess revolutionary fervour and in the new aspirational India even they have stopped abusing the rich.</p> <p>In India it is child’s play to start a clash between two religious communities but it is not that easy to organise violent riots against the rich. The vigilante groups associated with the&nbsp; BJP’s extended political family know it well. A rhetorical attack on the filthy rich in public speeches is safe. But to stone a corrupt rich person caught with a huge pile of unaccounted cash is not like attacking a beef-eater or a girl dancing in a skimpy dress. No one has tried to organise a protest in front of the house of a tax-evader featured daily in the well-publicised police raids.</p> <p>The mansions are unlikely to be stormed also because the poor in India generally prefer to co-exist with the rich. They tend to blame their fate rather than the exploitative rich for their plight. A Gandhian Congress leader once told this writer how difficult it was for his party to free the poor villagers from the clutches of the money-lenders. The oppressed would reject their help and side with the oppressor. </p> <p>The poor do harbour latent antipathy towards the rich. That is why they lent support to Modi’s campaign against the wealthy tax-evaders. They did not mind standing in long queues and returning home from the bank without any cash because they see that Modi is teaching a lesson to the “immoral rich people”. As a lawyer pointed out, a poor person feels glad to see a wealthy man in trouble. His typical response: “So what if I have lost one eye, he (the rich man) has lost both his eyes.”</p> <p>If the poor bank account-holders heed Prime Minister Modi’s advice and revolt against those who trusted them with their money, a social conflict will break out on a scale that no authority will be able to control. </p> <p>Modi’s tirade against the dishonest rich, meant to prove his pro-poor credentials, is not what was expected from him by the wealthiest business leaders who helped Modi win the elections. Nor did they expect that he would unleash the “inspector Raj”, reverse economic liberalisation and dampen the demand for their goods. The rich business leaders may be saying “You too Brutus”. None of them has dared to say that publicly. If anything, some corporate leaders have gone on record praising Modi’s decision.</p> <h2><strong>Previous attempts at cultural revolution</strong></h2> <p>Will the current campaign make the people more honest? Will this campaign to change the people succeed? An unintended consequence is quite significant. Corruption has sucked into its net a much larger section of society, including the rich and the co-opted poor. The rich recruited the poor to stand in long queues to exchange old notes them. They recruited many bank managers. The ghost bank accounts proliferated. The scrutiny of millions of new tax cases opens up a sea of opportunities for the corrupt officials.</p> <p>The bureaucrats enjoying more discretionary powers will be more tempted to demand bribes. Already the new notes with a higher denomination of Rs 2000 have been used for bribing Government officials and for stocking in the hidden vaults of the illegal money exchangers in the past few days. A cartoon shows Modi wondering whether he should now demonetise the new Rs. 2000 note. </p> <p>If the anti-corruption campaign is to be seen as an attempt to reform the political culture, two key elements are missing. Political parties are not accountable for the donations they get for fighting elections. A TV anchor remarked that if it is a war against corruption, the next election campaign will see no helicopters flying with leaders. They will be forced to share taxi rides with their opponents and will have to address joint rallies in order to save money. There is no move to introduce a system of state funding of election campaigns and banning all direct private donations, a major cause of corruption. <span class="mag-quote-center">Corruption has sucked into its net a much larger section of society, including the rich and the co-opted poor. </span></p> <p>Prime Minister Modi’s earlier bid to unleash another cultural revolution met with a very limited success. He launched a cleanliness campaign with fanfare but the people have not refrained from littering public places or defecating and urinating in the open. The municipalities have not deployed men and machines needed to demolish the mountains of rubbish.</p> <p>Some undesirable kind of cultural revolutions were unleashed by the followers of Prime Minister Modi. They tried moral policing and chased away loving couples from public places. They tried reconverting those who had abandoned Hinduism for another faith. They raided beer bars. They prescribed what not to eat. They told girls what not to wear. They told the universities what not to teach. They told writers what not to write. They told reporters what not to report and newspapers what not to publish. They told cine-goers what films not to see.</p> <p>Chroniclers of revolutions must come to India to observe the ongoing as-yet peaceful revolution with political, economic, social and cultural dimensions. </p> <p>Those hoping for the success of this major experiment in social engineering may be disappointed. The official campaign against the corrupt is not going to suppress greed or reform the corrupt. The governments in the past tried but failed to curb black-marketing, hoarding and money-laundering. Society’s attitude towards money is unlikely to change.</p> <p>The economic consequences will be recorded when definitive data is available about the damage to the informal sector, fall in the GDP, setback to major industries and the decline in consumer confidence. The economic argument cannot be clinched because economists are divided and even the Nobel Laureates who paint a grim picture are derided by the Modi camp.</p> <p>The political fall-out will be known when the results of the coming elections in two important states are announced. A more definitive outcome may be recorded more than two years from now when Modi will once again seek to win the parliamentary elections.</p> <p>Prime Minister Modi has a secure political future for more than two years. He is not going to be upset even if the demonetisation fails.&nbsp; He has already identified the “powerful forces” that he is fighting, risking his office and life. With his superb ability to communicate with the masses, he will come up with another new narrative. Narendra Modi likes to think big and administer shocks to his political opponents. </p> <p>The disruptive war against unaccounted for cash is just the first step. As pointed out by the experts, the racketeers keep only a very small percentage of their untaxed wealth in cash and most of it is kept in land and property and gold and diamonds and in banks abroad. One expects the anti-corruption campaign to expand its scope in the coming weeks. However, it is likely that historians will be recording yet another arrested revolution.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/l-k-sharma/trump-diminishes-democracy">Trump diminishes democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openindia/l-k-sharma/change-people">Change the people</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openglobalrights/zahir-janmohamed/modi-and-trump-voting-strongmen-voting-hate">Modi and Trump—voting strongmen, voting hate</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India Understanding the rise of Trump L K Sharma Tue, 13 Dec 2016 13:22:31 +0000 L K Sharma 107634 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Singleness and the world of 'not belonging' https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/asha-l-abeyasekera/gendered-dimension-of-space-singleness-and-world-of-not-belonging <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The repertoires about single women are unequivocal: without a husband and children, single women signify ‘lack’ - they are incomplete and therefore do not belong. 'Gender' and 'space' are both embodied experiences.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/501857/Singleness3(1).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/501857/Singleness3(1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="399" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Singleness. Image: pixabay.com</span></span></span></p> <p>Let me begin with a story, which is set in urban middle-class Sri Lanka. </p> <p>It had been six years since Ruwanthi (36) had left her violent and alcoholic husband after enduring five years of severe psychological and physical abuse.&nbsp; When I met her, Ruwanthi was living with her older sister’s family who had offered her refuge, reluctantly at first, after she could not “drag this along [sic] anymore”.&nbsp;&nbsp; She now had a full-time job at a Montessori and she also baked cakes to supplement her income.&nbsp; Ruwanthi presented herself as a resourceful person who her extended family, as well as friends, relied on especially in the organisation of events such as a birthday party or wedding. Yet, her life-history was redolent of a sense of being ‘out of place’.&nbsp; Two moments in Ruwanthi’s narrative stood out.&nbsp; Ruwanthi told me: </p> <p><em class="blockquote-new">“I love going on trips […] When my family plans them I am always the one organising […] and coordinating […] When I stop and look around, however, I feel so alone. Then I think, ‘if [my husband] were here, at least I would not be alone. I would belong somewhere.’ Everyone has someone. The children will play together, my mother will chat with my aunts […] I feel like I am drifting […] It’s a strange thing. Everyone needs me. I am the first to be called when there is a party or a funeral. I do all the running around.&nbsp; I am always in the kitchen helping out. I feel odd when I am doing nothing."</em></p> <p>The marginality Ruwanthi conveys here is visceral—an emotional response to the deep-rooted cultural expectation that a woman’s identity, status, and sense of belonging depend on her being married.&nbsp;&nbsp; Later, Ruwanthi’s narrative illustrated the deeply corporal dimension of her marginality when she described her living arrangements.&nbsp; Her sister and brother-in-law lived in a small three-bedroom house. They occupied the main room, their teenaged daughter shared a room with her grandmother, and the third room belonged to their adolescent son. Ruwanthi slept in the landing upstairs where the TV was installed.&nbsp; </p> <p><em class="blockquote-new">"Sometimes I crave a nap […] Just a few minutes when I have had a difficult day. I have to wait until everyone goes to sleep before I can even shower and change.&nbsp; If there is a [cricket] match, my brother-in-law watches TV till late […] If my niece is studying she will ask me to lie down on her bed, but I don’t like to impose […] I shouldn’t be ungrateful. They took me in. So, I am careful.&nbsp; I wait for everyone to finish their dinner before I start my cake orders […] I don’t want my sister feeling like I am invading her kitchen. I don’t want anyone to feel I am in their way."</em></p> <p>Ruwanthi’s narrative powerfully evokes how marginality is a deeply embodied experience.&nbsp; That Ruwanthi cannot fully occupy the space that she calls ‘home’, that she must continuously negotiate where she places her body in relation to others goes beyond a metaphysical experience.&nbsp; </p> <p><strong>The theory</strong></p> <p>Feminists have highlighted how ‘single women’ as a category continues to be regarded as a ‘problem’ that must be rectified. Psychologists <a href="http://oro.open.ac.uk/2784/1/Discursive_climate_paper.pdf">Jill Reynolds and Margaret Wetherell (2003)</a>, for example, illustrate how the notion of singleness as a ‘deficit identity’ has a powerful influence over how single women present themselves: justifying their decision to be single, and claiming meaning and their life’s worth as originating outside of marriage. <a href="http://www.palgrave.com/us/book/9780230273825">Anthea Taylor (2012)</a> argues that single women are ‘pathologised’: their independence and autonomy often read as a poor ‘trade-off’ to marriage and family. &nbsp;In Sri Lanka, as in other parts of South Asia and elsewhere, the ideal of companionate marriage—imagined as a union of two persons and based on intimacy and pleasure—amplifies the marginalisation of single women. The repertoires about single women are unequivocal: without a husband and children, single women signify ‘lack’—they are incomplete and, therefore, do not belong. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/501857/Excel World-facebook generation.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/501857/Excel World-facebook generation.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Facebook generation, Colombo, Sri Lanka. Image Asha L.Abeyasekera.</span></span></span></p> <p>The feminist discourse about gender and space in South Asia (and beyond) has tended to focus on women’s access to public space. Issues of women’s safety and security are central to these dialogues. It is explicit in the discussions about women’s mobility: the experience of sexual harassment on public transport and the imminent risk of sexual assault on the streets as women move between ‘the home and the world’.&nbsp; It is also implicit in the debates on women’s equality in the workplace where sexual harassment precludes women from fully enjoying the rights and privileges as their male counterparts. &nbsp;<a href="http://digital.lib.ou.ac.lk/docs/bitstream/701300122/1096/1/sandya%20and%20FTZ.pdf">Sandya Hewamanne (2003)</a>, commenting on the experiences of young women working in the Free-Trade Zone in Sri Lanka, argues that sexual harassment operates as a form of disciplining, a way of communicating that women do not belong in the public domain without familial guardianship. </p> <p>The idea that gender identities are relational—that they are constituted in and through our engagements with the social world—is now academic commonplace. Equally commonplace is the reconceptualization of space as relational. Feminist political geographers like <a href="http://oro.open.ac.uk/7224/1/Geographies_of_responsibility_Sept03.pdf">Doreen Massey (2004)</a> and <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/262127061_The_Way_She_Moves_Mapping_the_Everyday_Production_of_Gender-Space">Shilpa Ranade (2007)</a> have argued that social space is not a neutral backdrop against which social relations are enacted, but that gender relations are constituted by socio-spatial constructs. &nbsp; </p> <p>For Ruwanthi these seemingly clichéd ideas in feminist theory about gender identity and gendered space become deeply salient in the way she feels she does not belong—not on her family trip, not at social events, and certainly not at home.&nbsp; Her life not only exemplifies how ‘singleness’ is a marginal identity and status, but her experience as a single woman is rooted in how she can inhabit space in the intimate sphere of kinship and family. Ruwanthi is accommodated by her family, but tolerance comes with an extraordinary price: her invisibility.&nbsp; She must be ‘inconspicuous’—and what this means in terms of her behaviour is very much about how and when Ruwanthi can occupy space.&nbsp; The spatial dimension of Ruwanthi’s marginality as a single woman—her sense of ‘not belonging’—brought home to me what feminists mean when they claim that ‘gender’ and ‘space’ are both embodied experiences. </p> <p><strong>Belonging</strong></p> <p>The <a href="http://genderedspace.blogspot.com/">‘gender and space project’</a> conducted in Mumbai focused on how men and women “locate themselves in and move through public space in their everyday negotiation of space” (Ranade 2007). The findings offer critical insight to my discussion about single women’s sense of belonging as an embodied experience. The study calls for a radical shift in the debates about ‘gender and space’ from the realm of ‘danger and safety’ to that of ‘risk and pleasure’. &nbsp;<a href="https://www.academia.edu/270062/Dangerous_Liaisons_Women_and_Men-Risk_and_Reputation_In_Mumbai">Shilpa Phadke (2007)</a> points out that “that even the most&nbsp;desirable of urban subjects [i.e., middle-class women] are offered only conditional access&nbsp;to [public] spaces (p.1510). Shilpa Ranade (2007) argues that by focusing on women’s safety, the debates ignore how women are denied the pleasure of ‘loitering’, i.e., occupying public spaces as men do when ‘hanging out’ or ‘gazing at others’.&nbsp; She asserts that ‘loitering’ is a ‘male privilege’, claiming that “women can access public space legitimately only when they can manufacture a <em>sense of purpose</em> for being there” (<em>my emphasis</em>).&nbsp; </p> <p>The idea that women must justify their occupation of public space speaks to Ruwanthi’s experiences in the intimate sphere.&nbsp; Ruwanthi, sans marriage and children, must justify her place in her family by helping out at family events.&nbsp; When she’s not doing anything useful—in the evenings after work—Ruwanthi must be invisible. Like the millions of women on the streets and in offices, Ruwanthi as a single woman can belong only if she has a purpose. </p> <p>My conversation with Ruwanthi was an extraordinary moment in which an abstract theory became crystallised in a respondent’s narrative: the feminist concept of gendered space. As Doreen Massey <a href="https://books.google.lk/books?hl=en&amp;lr=&amp;id=X_uVogLRjQsC&amp;oi=fnd&amp;pg=PR10&amp;dq=MASSEY,+D.+1995.+Spatial+divisions+of+labor:+Social+structures+and+the+geography+of+production,+Psychology+Press.&amp;ots=UKBpRoL1vD&amp;sig=Erd0zrpbr6cRN1dXeATEbEukSeY&amp;redir_esc=y#v=onepage&amp;q=MASSEY%2C%20D.%201995.%20Spatial%20divisions%20of%20labor%3A%20Social%20structures%20and%20the%20geography%20of%20production%2C%20Psychology%20Press.&amp;f=false">(1995)</a> observes, “things are more easily said than understood or thought through into practice”.&nbsp; </p> <p><em>Read more articles on openDemocracy in this year's</em> <strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/5050/16-days-activism-against-gender-based-violence">16 Days: Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.</a></strong></p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Sri Lanka </div> <div class="field-item even"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 openIndia India Sri Lanka Civil society Culture Equality 16 Days: activism against gender based violence 50.50 Women's Movement Building women and power gender 50.50 newsletter Asha L. Abeyasekera Mon, 05 Dec 2016 10:27:36 +0000 Asha L. Abeyasekera 107278 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Teaching gender inequality in Sri Lanka https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/thursica-kovinthan/teaching-gender-inequality-textbooks-and-traditions-in-sri-lanka <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Sri Lanka has been lauded for equal access to education for girls and boys, but textbooks and traditions continue to play a role in perpetuating inequitable gender norms and stereotypes.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Sri Lanka has in some circles been considered a model of post-colonial gender equality compared to its South Asian counterparts due to high <a href="http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/sri_lanka_statistics.html">literacy rates</a> &nbsp;for men and women, 97.7 and 98.6 respectively, universal franchise for both sexes as early as 1931, and two female state leaders. &nbsp;Sri Lanka’s long history of free and compulsory education for boys and girls which was achieved shortly after independence, and girls’ equal access to education and gender parity in all three levels (primary, secondary, and tertiary) of education has been an important contributing factor to this idea of gender equality.</p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/SriLankangirls.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/SriLankangirls.png" alt="" title="" width="240" height="427" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>Yet women still continue to grapple with the same old questions of gender inequality in Sri Lanka. In addition to experiencing high levels of gender based violence, women’s labour force participation is half that of men and double their <a href="http://www.undp.org/content/dam/srilanka/docs/mdg/Gender_Dimensions%20of%20Sri%20Lanka.pdf">unemployment rates</a>. In 2013 only 35 percent of the <a href="http://www.statistics.gov.lk/samplesurvey/LFS_Annual%20Bulletin_2015-f.pdf">working population were women</a>. Women continue to be under represented in upper level management and decision making positions in both the private and public sector.&nbsp; Equal participation, retention, and performance by girls in education has not led to equal representation of women within decision making. A glass ceiling continues to keep women out of governance. Currently there is only a five percent representation of women in parliament and two percent in local government. Which begs the question, what is going on here, why haven’t gains in education translated to economically independent and empowered women in Sri Lanka? </p> <p>Education is often championed for its transformative possibilities related to liberation, empowerment, social justice, individual freedoms, human rights, and the reduction of social inequities such as gender inequality. From this perspective, education is regarded as a means that will enable learners to think critically and have the ability to challenge the status quo. Schools are sites for the construction of girls’ and women’s identities and should ideally contribute to their active role in society. Generally, however, education systems reflect and help to reinforce the prevailing power arrangements of the state and society. Many education reforms focus more on utilitarian goals, such as the transmission of knowledge and skills, to help learners become contributing members of the existing and often hegemonic, political, economic, and social order. This has been the case in Sri Lanka, where utilitarian goals have side-lined the agenda of promoting values of gender equality. Rather than challenging gender norms and stereotypes, education has played a significant role in perpetuating them. </p> <p>Sri Lankan classrooms are often embedded with gender boundaries that reproduce powerful patriarchal hierarchies. Interviews with civics teachers, analysis of the civics curriculum, discussion with students and classroom observations show that there exist two key challenges to promoting gender equality in Sri Lanka through education. These include strong gender biases and ideologies held by teachers and a curriculum particularly social studies and civics curricula and a school system that emphasizes the protection of culture and tradition at all cost. These factors work in tandem to maintain the status quo when it comes to challenging traditional gender norms. </p> <p>Teachers generally hold strong gender biases based on their own upbringing and ideologies. Though they agree that gender equality is important, many teachers believe that because girls are doing so well in schools there is in fact no gender inequality in schools or Sri Lanka for that matter. This may be true on the surface level with respect to the classroom, where girls are on equal footing with the boys in classroom discussion and marks. The differences are apparent in the subtle hidden curriculum of the day-to-day practices of teachers and students. Whether it is the way teachers only call upon female students to sweep classrooms or ask only the male students to move desks, gender roles and responsibilities are assigned in the day to day life of the school through teacher-student and student-student interactions. </p> <p>Some teachers took the “I don’t differentiate between girls and boys” stance, not understanding the need to move beyond the equal treatment of boys and girls to the equitable treatment of them. The characteristics attributed to boys and girls respectively also impacted their engagement in learning. For example, many teachers and students felt that girls were better in the social science subjects because they were patient and good at memorizing information. Boys were perceived to be adventurous, problem solvers who could think outside of the box and therefore are more suited to science and technology subjects. One can only imagine the detrimental effects these fixed expectations have on girls AND boys. </p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/SriLanka_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/SriLanka_0.png" alt="" title="" width="240" height="426" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>The gendered expectations of teachers are reflected in the students’ civics textbooks that promote gendered forms of citizenship, which is further protected with the seal of tradition, and culture, thus creating a rift in the way boys and girls are able to engage in society. The mandatory civics curriculum from grades 6-9 continues to depict men and women and girls and boys in outdated traditional gender roles, despite mandates by the Ministry of Education to avoid gender biases in textbooks. Much of the text feature male role models and historical figures. In rare instances there are images of girls in leadership roles; however, these instances are relegated to the school. Images related to men and women’s roles in society, such as work, or family conform to traditional fixed gender roles, thus reinforcing the status quo that although women have full access to education they should still maintain their traditional roles in society in and outside of the home. </p> <p>The disparity in gender roles is further reinforced with an emphasis on the theme of the protection of traditions, cultures, and customs. In all of the textbooks examined, there was a strong and repeated emphasis on the need to follow traditions. For example, the grade nine civics textbook states, “Social Security is ensured by virtue of the individual upholding the customs and manners, social values, rules and regulations as well as traditions that prevail in society” and the grade seven texts states, “You should be well aware of the traditions followed by members of the family. You should vehemently follow and practise these traditions<strong>”</strong>. The depiction of women and men in traditional gender roles alongside the emphasis on the need to follow tradition to uphold society leaves very little space for teachers or students to challenge the status quo. Interlinked with tradition is the family, a space that is exulted as sacred and foundational to the core of society. The civics textbook creates a direct link between the family unit and the nation as a whole throughout all of the grades. One should be obedient to the leaders of the nation just as one is obedient to the head of the household i.e. the father. Thus the curriculum and classroom are essentially grooming girls to become good (well educated) mothers and wives and boys into providers and leaders in society. </p> <p>Students and teachers, particularly in war affected communities, echoed the text books’ emphasis on holding on to tradition, culture, and family values. This is in response to the destabilization of the traditional family unit as a result of three decades of war and the rapid influence of globalization. &nbsp;War affected communities had been sheltered from mass media and globalization for close to 30 years and are now dealing with the consequences of open access to everything from Facebook to pornography. Many teachers and students’ response to this is to fall back to traditional values and norms. Some teachers and students felt that the influence of social media on the way women dressed was leading to the increase in gender violence against women. The example provided was the predominance of young women wearing leggings rather than traditional clothing. There is a growing belief that the shift away from tradition puts women at risk of violence and that it is in some ways warranted because women had strayed from the model of the traditional good women. This creates a dangerous space for women and girls who may challenge the status quo. </p> <p>Even though education in post-war Sri Lanka is contributing to reinforcing gender norms rather than challenging them, currently there is a significant gap in knowledge and understanding of the link between education and subtle day to day practices that devalue women and girls. A fixation with equal access has led to a dangerous complacency that facilitates and normalizes inequity. Officials and policy makers often fail to consider that the content of education perpetuates negative norms and stereotypes. Challenging these deeply entrenched practices will require the explicit integration of gender equality training for all those involved in the education system from policy makers to teachers. But before that policy makers at the highest level need to confront their own ideologies and have an open and honest conversations on how long we are going to continue to hide behind gender parity, tradition, and the traditional family unit to allow gender inequality to persist in Sri Lanka. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/chulani-kodikara/state-racism-and-sexism-in-postwar-sri-lanka">State racism and sexism in post-war Sri Lanka </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/chulani-kodikara/justice-and-accountability-for-war-related-sexual-violence-in-sri-lanka">Justice and accountability for war related sexual violence in Sri Lanka</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/chulani-kodikara/sri-lanka-where-are-women-in-local-government">Sri Lanka: where are the women in local government?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/rahila-gupta/sri-lanka-women-in-conflict">Sri Lanka: women in conflict </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/charlotte-bunch/remembering-sunila-honouring-women%E2%80%99s-human-rights-defenders">Remembering Sunila, honouring women’s human rights defenders</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Sri Lanka </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 openIndia Sri Lanka 50.50 Women's Movement Building 50.50 Contesting Patriarchy gender justice gender feminism 50.50 newsletter Thursica Kovinthan Tue, 08 Nov 2016 09:48:27 +0000 Thursica Kovinthan 106477 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Where is India under Modi headed? https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/njayaram/where-is-india-under-modi-headed <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>If not Theresa May, the accompanying media ought to note the gross human rights violations and crackdowns on dissent that abound.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-28545025.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-28545025.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Prime Minister Theresa May holds a meeting with her Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, on the second day of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China. Stefan Rousseau/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Britain's recently elected Prime Minister Theresa May, post-Brexit, has chosen to visit India from November 6, her first foray outside Europe after taking office. She ought to have headed to Washington given Britain’s ‘special relationship’ with the United States but presumably thanks to the presidential election due on November 8 that was ruled out.&nbsp;</p> <p>However, why did she choose India as her first port of call outside of Europe even as her country is witness to a rising spate of racist attacks including against people of Indian and other southern Asian as well as Black and Coloured origins?</p> <p>The former colony which is home to the second largest population – 1.2 billion, behind China's 1.4 billion – has been pursuing pro-big-business policies since the 1990s at least. And under the current government of Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party, the country has been moving <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/n-jayaram/year-of-modi-raj-%E2%80%93-india-in-crisis">rapidly rightwards</a>. </p> <p>While domestic big business is being favoured with gifts of tax concessions and vast tracts of mineral-rich forests, mountains and land (seized from indigenous peoples), foreign domestic investment even in retail commerce is being encouraged by the very same party that previously criticised such moves while it was in the opposition. </p> <p>Prime Minister May perhaps sees an opening and wants to engage with the Modi government in order to land some lucrative contracts, especially of the defence kind: much warmongering noises have been reverberating around New Delhi since <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/deadly-attack-in-indian-kashmir-sparks-new-war-of-words-with-rival-pakistan/2016/09/19/b260eb82-7e54-11e6-ae22-bfe3092ac7cc_story.html">an attack that left 17 soldiers dead</a> at an army base in Uri in Indian-controlled Kashmir. <span class="mag-quote-center">Prime Minister May perhaps wants to engage with the Modi government in order to land some lucrative contracts, especially of the defence kind.</span></p> <p>Given May’s track record thus far, especially in the face of increasing anti-immigrant sentiment in post-Brexit Britain, it is unlikely that she will raise thorny issues such as the massive human rights abuses taking place in many parts of India as also in Indian-occupied Kashmir in the north and Manipur to the northeast of India. &nbsp;</p> <p>The media contingent accompanying her ought to look beyond the May-Modi talks and report on what has befallen the country that preens itself as the “world’s largest democracy”. </p> <p>In Kashmir alone since the anti-India uprising escalated following the killing of a militant named Burhan Wani in early July, more than 100 Kashmiri men, women and children have been killed by the Indian state. The forces’ use of pellet guns has caused massive injuries and left scores of people – including innocent children – blinded. As many as <a href="https://kafila.online/2016/11/05/end-repression-in-kashmir-a-call-from-civil-society/">15,000 people have been injured</a> and 8,000 have been arrested. </p> <p>In the capital itself, a young Muslim student named Najeeb Ahmed has been missing since October 15 from the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University but its authorities have made little effort, if any, in helping to trace the 27-year-old. Earlier this year, student leader Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on trumped up charges of sedition, sparking protests from <a href="http://www.telegraphindia.com/1160218/jsp/nation/story_69965.jsp#.WB28bfl97cc">beyond India’s shores</a>. Another ‘sedition’ accused is <a href="http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/the-other-sedition-arrest-s-a-r-geelani/">Professor S.A.R. Geelani</a>, who had been teaching in a college under Delhi University. His crime: an address at the Press Club during which he spoke on the anniversary of the 9 February 2013 hanging of fellow-Kashmiri Afzal Guru – almost entirely wrongly convicted in connection with a mysterious attack on the Indian parliament in 2001.</p> <p>In January, a brilliant Dalit PhD scholar at the Hyderabad Central University (in southern India) named Rohith Vemula <a href="http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/Full-text-Dalit-scholar-Rohith-Vemulas-suicide-note/articleshow/50634646.cms">committed suicide</a> having faced months of hounding by the university authorities and a student wing linked to Prime Minister Modi’s party. Human rights groups refer to his death as institutional murder. <span class="mag-quote-center">Human rights groups refer to his death as institutional murder.</span></p> <p>A little to the east of the capital, in Dadri in Uttar Pradesh state, a Muslim man was murdered in September on the suspicion that he stored beef (the cow being deemed sacred by Hindu fanatics) and when one of his assailants died a natural death in hospital recently, his body was covered with the national flag, Modi’s <a href="http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/hurt-to-see-tricolour-on-coffin-of-akhlaqs-killer-says-family/article9198694.ece">party members egging on</a> the supporters of the attackers.</p> <p>Just a few days ago, eight Muslims were killed by police in the central Indian state, Madhya Pradesh which is ruled by Modi’s BJP: extra-judicial executions or “encounters” as they are known in India, are quite rife, the National Human Rights Commission having noted that there were <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/01/bhopal-jailbreak-police-urged-to-explain-killing-of-prisoners-madhya-pradesh-india">206 such instances</a> over the past year. In Manipur, to the east of India, there have been more than 1,500 “<a href="http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/manipur-indian-army-afspa-supreme-court-fake-encounter-2905690/">encounters</a>” since the 1970s.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>Attacks on Dalits (members of oppressed castes) are a daily occurrence. ‘Cow vigilantes’ or Hindu fanatic hoodlums who attack Muslims and Dalits transporting meat – and not only of the cow – have been becoming increasingly brazen in their ways in many parts of India, especially in BJP-ruled states but also in others such as Karnataka, currently ruled by the Congress party.</p> <p>Vast areas of mineral-rich central and east-central India have been rendered no-go zones for independent lawyers and journalists with police-raj prevailing and local Bar Associations and the media subject to police control. <br /> May is set to end her India visit on November 8. Just the day after, unless wiser counsels prevail, the Modi regime’s bizarre order on a television channel, NDTV, to go off air for a day is to take effect: the government’s grouse is apparently that the outfit put out <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2016/11/03/democracy-blackout-outraged-ndtv-responds-to-govts-gag-order-f/">sensitive information</a> about an alleged Pakistani attack on a military base in Pathankot in Punjab earlier this year. Never mind that other channels too had reported on the attack. But NDTV had earlier <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/24/hype-india-march-to-war-media-24-hour-news-culture-coverage-pakistan">blotted its copybook</a> by caving in unasked just a couple of weeks earlier when it interviewed a former Congress party minister named P. Chidambaram and then decided not to air it. Meanwhile, the Kashmir Reader remains banned. </p> <p>But there certainly is resistance against Modi Raj. In fact, it is occasionally “in your face” even from the usually supine middle class: just a few days ago, when it was reported that <em>The Indian Express</em>, a major newspaper house, had invited Modi to present journalism awards, there were predictable expressions of consternation, which, however gave place to pleasant acknowledgements of the courage of a couple of journalists who used the occasion to signal dissent – senior journalist Akshaya Mukul <a href="http://www.firstpost.com/india/journalist-refuses-to-accept-ramnath-goenka-award-from-pm-narendra-modi-3085816.html">refused to accept</a> his award from Modi and Raj Kamal Jha, the newspaper’s own editor made <a href="https://www.scoopwhoop.com/The-Indian-Express-Editor-Schooled-Modi-In-Journalism-The-PMs-Expression-Was-Priceless/#.wqgc7lrt6">pointed references</a> to the need for reporters to question governments. It was similar to scholar Sunkanna Velpula’s <a href="http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/rohith-vemula-student-velpula-sunkanna-refuses-to-accept-degree-from-appa-rao-podile-university-of-hyderabad-vc-3059905/">refusal to accept his doctorate</a> from Hyderabad Central University Vice-Chancellor Appa Rao Podile a few weeks ago in protest over the Rohith Vemula issue. </p> <p>The media accompanying the British prime minister will not be able to question Modi as he does not face unscripted, freewheeling interviews or press conferences. His ministers and party leaders are also kept on a tight leash. The British reporters have their work cut out seeking other sources if they want to report on the reality of India under Modi.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> <div class="field-item even"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia uk UK India Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics Equality International politics N. Jayaram Sat, 05 Nov 2016 14:14:35 +0000 N. Jayaram 106506 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Daring to report: facing death in India https://www.opendemocracy.net/raksha-kumar/daring-to-report-facing-death-in-india <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A strong culture of impunity, enjoyed by the powerful in India, is dismantling the very foundations of a thriving media in the world’s largest democracy. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/501857/IndiaComposite3.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/501857/IndiaComposite3.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="142" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Left to right: Akshay Yadav. Jagendra Singh. Umesh Rajput. Sumit Galhotra/ Committee to Protect Journalists. </span></span></span></p><p class="Body">In February this year, the <a href="https://cpj.org/about/">Committee to Protect Journalists </a>asked me to co-author a <a href="https://cpj.org/reports/2016/08/dangerous-pursuit-india-corruption-journalists-killed-impunity.php">report</a> on the dangers of being a journalist in India. CPJ is a New York City based non-profit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide. Not only do they document the dangerous situations that journalists find themselves in, but assist some scribes financially as well. </p><p class="Body"> For the past two decades the organisation tracked journalist killings in India and observed a curious pattern. Since 1992, 27 journalists were murdered with corruption and politics being identified as the two deadliest beats in the country. </p> <p class="Body">To investigate why reportage on corruption and politics in India had killed almost the same number of journalists that <a href="https://cpj.org/killed/asia/afghanistan/">war reportage in Afghanistan</a> had in the same period, I set out with CPJ’s senior research associate, Sumit Galhotra. </p> <p class="Body">The three-week long reporting expedition took us to narrow lanes of Shahjahanpur in volatile eastern Uttar Pradesh and dingy offices of Hindi news dailies in Chhattisgarh. We spoke to a wide range of journalists, editors, media analysts and lawyers on what makes it easy to get away with murder of journalists. </p> <p class="Body">We discovered that a strong culture of impunity, enjoyed by the powerful, dismantled the very foundations of a thriving media in the world’s largest democracy. </p> <p class="Body">I have tried to summarise our findings and place our work in context in this short article. The full report can be read <a href="https://www.cpj.org/reports/2016/08/dangerous-pursuit-india-corruption-journalists-killed-impunity.php">here</a>. </p> <p class="Body"><strong>Regional language journalists have it hardest <br /></strong></p> <p class="Body">According to the Registrar of Newspapers for India’s 2011 report, India has 82,237 newspapers. More than 32,000 of those are in Hindi and only about 11,000 in English. Numbers of other regional language publications are significantly higher. &nbsp;Similarly, the viewership for Hindi news channels far surpass the viewership figures of English ones.</p><p class="Body">Since the reach and impact of Hindi media was much higher, three journalists who worked in small-town India for Hindi news outlets became our case-studies. Ironically, despite the smaller reach, English language journalists in India carry a clout that gives them a layer of protection, which Hindi journalists lack.</p><p class="Body">Reporting on powerful men who live in the same village becomes dangerous. Therefore, many of them prefer to ignore the issues that matter, while some others sell-out. </p><p class="Body"> The few journalists who persevere become targets. For those that dare to report on important issues, passion is the only fuel. Financial return for a local journalist is negligible. What makes matters worse is that almost all of them are freelance journalists, with no backing from a particular organisation. If attacked, the journalists are left to fend for themselves by the publishers. <br /> <br /> The journalists we profiled in our report belonged to the third category. All three of them exposed the powerful people in their articles, and eventually all three met their deaths.</p><p class="Body">“<em>Freelancer Jagendra Singh, who died from his injuries after allegedly being set on fire by the police in June 2015, was reporting on allegations that a local minister was involved in land grabs and a rape.</em></p><p class="Body"><em>Before he was shot dead in January 2011, Umesh Rajput was reporting on allegations of medical negligence and claims that the son of a politician was involved in an illegal gambling business. </em></p><p class="Body"><em>Investigative reporter Akshay Singh was working on a story linked to the US$1 billion Vyapam admissions racket when he died unexpectedly in July 2015</em>.”</p><p class="Body">There is another deeper reason for journalists who cover local issues to be targets. While urban Indians need not come into regular contact with government institutions, in rural India it is almost impossible to survive without the state. For instance, village-dwellers come into direct contact with their elected representatives to demand basic infrastructure such as roads, schools, hospitals etc. Contrarily, in the cities, many don't vote in local elections at all. In such a situation, the role of journalists who live in small towns and report on local goings-on becomes crucial.</p><p class="Body">It is curious that the larger media fraternity does little to raise the issue of journalist safety. While there are fragmented efforts in different corners of the country to unite journalists under a network and fight for safety, there is no concerted pan-India movement. For instance, we met journalists in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh who were demanding a journalist protection law which would provide additional safety to those who report from conflict areas. That was just a sliver of the larger demand that should be made.</p><p class="Body">The most important step that the government could take in order to protect journalists is to ensure they are given a free hand to function. By not punishing any of the accused in the killings of 27 Indian journalists, the establishment is sending a covert message. Killing for journalists for doing their jobs is not okay. And that should be made clear.</p><p class="Body"><strong>No women journalists</strong> </p> <p class="Body">All the stakeholders we spoke to were men. My co-author and I felt the gender imbalance starkly. However, it is one aspect we could not focus on in any detail in the report as the format of the report was case study based. </p> <p class="Body">Most journalists in villages are men. The reason for this is two-fold. Literacy rates are much higher amongst men and mobility is easier for men in the rural parts. Travelling in over-crowded buses, walking long distances and speaking to strangers do not come naturally for rural women. Traditional roles of patriarchy are still entrenched. </p> <p class="Body">For a small number of women who dare to report from the villages, there have been repeated threats to their lives and safety. Many women work in collectives, specifically from rural areas. <a href="http://khabarlahariya.org/">Khabar Lahariya </a>from Uttar Pradesh and <a href="http://www.mediamagazine.in/content/rural-women-take-journalism-redefine-lives">Navodayam</a> from Andhra Pradesh, being two of the most well known. Their reach is limited and they are constantly struggling to raise money. They face regular threats of sexual violence and attacks to their families. </p> <p class="Body">Physical threats to journalists are one of the main reasons for influential regional language media being shaken to its very foundation. In order for India's democracy to survive it is essential to have a vibrant media that instils restraint in the minds of the transgressors. </p> <p class="Body">However, in this young democracy where institutions are still trying to stabilise, having a weak media is a death blow. </p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 openIndia India Civil society 50.50 Editor's Pick 50.50 newsletter Raksha Kumar Wed, 02 Nov 2016 08:33:27 +0000 Raksha Kumar 106315 at https://www.opendemocracy.net