Sunday, April 13, 2014

Down with Modi! Down with the sangh!

There is a lot of talk about the benign force of democratic institutions of this country and its liberal democratic ethos. The more gullible among these expect it to guard us against the evils of fascism, like one would expect rajnikant to do. Then there are those who are a tad less delirious and remind us there is no rajnikant in reality, obvious trivia. But even these find it difficult to give up entirely the belief that it is only once in a while that demagogues rise above the institutions that are by default the pillars our 'democracy' is built upon. They are merely asserting this attitude of witnessing the next aberration (after 1976), "Shit's got real, and we don't know how to wipe it off!" So while both kinds of liberals have been sleeping, the latter has the meagre advantage of not dreaming at least.

On the other hand, there's nobody toying with the idea that institutions of this country don't really matter much. Nobody wants to admit that even between 1976 and 2002, rather than heavenly peace, we have been a nation of state corporations - now private corporations - in nexus with mafia selling off commons. Nobody wants to talk about the heavy casualization of labour and unabating indignities inflicted upon the services of domestic labour, ragpickers, sweepers and sanitation workers, and countless others the bourgeoisie can't do without. This period also witnessed the rise and disappearance of caste militias without any punitive measures against their excesses. In many pockets (which actually adds up to a big bloody pocket) caste mobilizations have been enforcing segregation and meting out 'justice' to those who violate their agendas. The military demands increased immunity and resources, despite their frequent excursions into lives in the 'disturbed areas'. 2002 is an argument used against the BJP only very feebly, not to be pressed too hard. This often hides the fact that it was only the fountainhead of many other communal and sexist acts in full view of our benign institutions. At the same time, those who happen to be from the liberal class have also seen unprecedented wealth after coming out of their oh-so-stiffling license Raj days. Surrounded and infiltrated by this heavy militarization, heavy control, heavy communal fundamentalism, the liberal thus still believes fascism can be kept at bay.

On the other hand, we shouldn't forget those (laughably, also 'liberals') who do not bat an eyelid welcoming the likes of Modi and Amit Shah, and some chinese whisper called "development." The cautious liberals, it is evident to see, will eventually side with these conservative ones, and very probably talk about these benign institutions will evoke, "lulz, that's so 2014 bro" in sometime. A big part of the answer is class interest: when the middle ground vanishes, no way in hell are these liberal spokespersons will speak for those they have overlooked. But let's look at the liberal picture of our benign institutions once again: the hidden assumption is, like in Hobbes's world, it is only this rajnikanth that is prevents us from eating each other up. And that has historically been proven wrong time and again. All antifascists must realize that they don't have a struggle that is separate from that of caste, class, gender, right to social welfare. Basically, don't side with the elite. Down with Modi! Down with sangh!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

"Stand still laddie!"

Observations from a protest against police apathy towards the rape of a minor girl in Delhi, 8th Feb, 2014

At around one thirty in the afternoon I read it off my facebook wall: a 14 year old Manipuri girl had been raped by her landlord’s son in the locality I live in, Munirka Village, and that the police had refused to file the FIR. The post called on people to gather at the nearby Vasant Vihar police station. I left in a bit; all of nelson mandela marg between the ring road and jnu was closed off to traffic by youth that had blocked the road outside the police station. The incident had happened the previous evening, following which the family of the victim had approached the police. While the police immediately began the medical procedures, it was not until 3pm the next day that the first reports (unattested) of their having filed an FIR came out. That was what sparked the protest since morning.
When I reached, the protestors already amounted to about a hundred people, blocking both sides of the road. Many were at the gates of the police station, with shouts of ‘dilli police sharm karo,’ (“Delhi police, have some shame”) ‘FIR ki copy deni hogi,’ (“You will have to give us a copy of the FIR”). Apart from just the state and the police, included as a target in these rants was the posterboy of political change Mr. Kejriwal, and his associate Somnath Bharti, whose recent stint with racism-stoking (among other allegations of being authoritarian, sexism, encouraging Khaps) has exposed the maggots in his progressive-image. Only a week ago the death of Nido Taniam had come to the front pages, and that had also shed light on other cases of violations on women from North-Eastern India. This was insult to injury, and that was evident all around. Among the protestors were a large number of youth from the North East settled in Delhi. Some studying in JNU (which is close-by), some residing in Munirka Village who work in Delhi. Other students, and student organizations, from JNU were present too. There is a fair amount of to-and-fro that happens between JNU and Munirka Village, a road apart from each other, since many students and ex-students, apart from friends of students, from many different parts of the country, rent in inexpensive rooms out there. The protestors had managed to draw a sizeable number of bystanders and passers-by. The press was all over the place, but none of the big names that clamour to keep the nation informed (of what?) each evening.
Between the police station’s gates and the protestors were a few of the constabulary and some sub-inspectors, armed with sticks and wearing riot-gear. Soon enough, the protestors were large enough to push their way, break open the gates and reach the courtyard of the police station, where they entered into fray with a larger number of policemen. Slogans continued even when the police were scuffling with the marching protestors. Soon the police marked the limits with a rope, and the youth occupied the courtyard between the rope and the gate, and continued their demonstration inside the Vasant Vihar police thana. Many still continued the blockade outside. Meanwhile, representatives of the North Eastern community and student organizations were talking with the police officials.
A word about the people gathered at the protest. It is often the contention of the government and the police, and is only furthered by the media, that people who show up at demonstrations are hooligans who do not have any respect for the law, and that they’d do much well behaving as ‘law-abiding citizens’ and going about their daily lives. This idea tries to discredit protest by putting the burden of proof upon those who have actually come out to seek answers, as well as washes the state of all blame by refusing to acknowledge their questions. People who had gathered at the protest were not just high seditionists or edgy hooligans; some had newly enrolled for courses in JNU the last semester; many had come hearing about the incident from other friends of theirs; some of them were simply passing by, carrying on their lives as citizens as it were, and got curious about what was happening. One such, an elderly lady who seemed to have been returning from work, was disturbed – but not surprised – to hear of the rape. She said, “These people (the police) won’t do anything. They are hand in glove with the landlords of Munirka. They are like dogs – upon seeing morsels, they do as are told.” Another woman, her friend, remarked how this keeps happening despite all the hue and cry that was raised last time during the 16th December protests. “One should throw stones there (she pointed to the police station); maybe then they will realize the pain one suffers by such acts.” I was filled with joy talking to them; as I said earlier, they weren’t ideologues or professional rioters (which is actually a profession that enjoys the state’s immunity somehow), just people going about their lives. There was one called Nilakantu who was studying history. He was trying to get a message across by entering the police station (everyone’s right as a citizen) when he got smacked hard on the sides of his abdomen and had to move back outside the crowd of protestors. He was about five feet tall, wore specs, and had freckles on his cheeks. Later on he showed me how the police attacked him, which was strangely funny to both of us, maybe also because by now he wasn’t in as much pain.
Meanwhile, the barrage of slogans continued inside. In sometime, representatives came out saying that the police had assured them that an FIR would be lodged, and that they had told them the sections of the penal code under which the accused would be booked (they however failed to tell us what sections those would be). By this time, a lot of riot police had gathered with sticks, shields and riot gear, which this time also included motorcycle and cricket helmets. They almost equalled the protestors in number. Since the police was also requesting us to halt the protest and return, we surmised that this was just a ruse, and continued sloganeering, and tried to march further across the rope. This led to further scuffle. This time, I got punched (as amusingly feebly as Nilakantu got smacked) by a police inspector (three stars on his shoulder) who was also muttering “behenchod (sisterfucker)”. One gentle constable, seeing that women at the forefront were also being pushed in the scuffle, requested them to leave the crowd and come on the side of the police. But others weren’t as clement; during the scuffle, a girl tripped on the rope and fell back, and another fell on her, both due to being pushed by the police. Three of us tried to shield their side from the police by holding the rope firm so that they could get up, but it took a while, with the police uncompromisingly pushing. Meanwhile, a girl who had crossed the rope was now being pushed by male policemen with all impunity; that was clearly a violation, and it went on till about fifty seconds, in which time we shouted violently that this was illegal. A woman constable was rushed to the spot, but by this time, the representatives (“leaders”) came and said enough pressure had been put, and that we could continue demonstrating without trying to march further inside. The police seemed satisfied with this. Many of the protestors thought this was a sell-out, and continued in same vigour for another minute; but meanwhile others kept persuading them that this could lead to a lathi-charge, and would dissipate the protest.
Meanwhile, I came out to find another scuffle on the other side of the road. A person on a motorcycle allegedly rode into a group of protestors, hoping that this would give him way (a common trick among bikers in Delhi); nobody was pleased, and he would have had it, if not for interventions by others protesting who called against this kind of diversive violence. The biker made matters worse by saying he was also from JNU, which rightfully invigorated the mood against him. Anyhow, his pleaders managed to save him. It later turned out that not only was he a student in JNU, but also a realty agent in Munirka. I realized that among the crowds were also other landlords of Munirka, who gathered and began discussing what had happened. It was from them that I overheard where exactly the act was committed, who committed it, and so on. Apparently, the news had spread by word of mouth, since little had as yet come in the media. I was approached by another passer-by who asked what this was all about. I told him. He asked if the girl was a nepalan (Nepali; many immigrants from Nepal reside in Munirka). I told him no, a Manipuri, and asked how does it matter. He replied saying that most immigrants in Munirka Village run dhandha (“business”; a euphemistic way of sleazily referring to prostitution). I told him he was talking nonsense, and he repeated his nonsense with full conviction and left.
All prejudice and violence in our political spectrum gets cloaked in seemingly moral excuses: police and state violence is overlooked as ‘service to law and order.’ Similarly, we target Africans and North-Eastern people with covert excuses, like blaming them for sex and drug rackets, rather than airing openly our racist prejudices (and here ‘openly’ means strictly within the political class, who doubtlessly knows that there exist tendencies called racism, casteism, communalism, etc., but just refuse to call their spade a spade; how far the residents' welfare associations this political class represents is aware of these tendencies I don’t know). We express our dislike for the poor and working class by judging them filthy, unmannered, and violent, despite leeching off them as much as possible. In fact, here I would suggest that race is also a question of class in our society, as most of these incidents of targeted racial violence involve people who are from the working class. On the one hand, the police doesn’t file a complaint coming from somebody without many resources; it makes them ‘compromise’ with the accused, especially when the accused happens to be from ‘respectable society’. This came out in the open with Nido Taniam’s death, but happens all the time. On the other hand, respectable society tries evening out all differences by criminalizing the culture of the working class. I’ll end with an interesting thing I noticed at today’s protest: one of the protestors had come with a baseball bat quietly held in his hands, which were folded around his back. He stayed for the entire protest just holding on to it, as if making a symbolic point. I was scared he might actually use it (strangely, I wasn’t as scared about the much more violent potential that Delhi Police had at that time); but he didn’t. It was just to… Now wouldn’t we like to ignore all that riot gear, all that tear gas and say to the guy with the baseball bat, ‘Laddie, don’t go about rioting, don’t go about breaking the law’?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

JNU GSCASH Presidential Debate: What was said and what was left unsaid

The evening of 20th March, 2013 saw the presidential debate for the Gender Sensitization Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) in JNU. I will try to put up an account of what the candidates spoke about, what questions they were asked, what they replied, and how did it feel like being in the audience. At the outset I would want to eliminate a few misconceptions: even though most parties, by general consent, claim that the GSCASH candidate is “independent,” “neutral,” and so on – which basically means that most of them refrain from contesting under their party's name – in reality the affair is much more openly political. The publicity campaign is run by the parties. The floor of the debate is divided into clearly demarcated areas where each of the party's cadre sit, and loyalty votes are freely asked by the parties from those who they think sympathize with them. There are consequences of the results too: a party would look at it as a matter of pride generally if its candidate wins the election, to speak nothing of the prestige that can be used in the coming elections of the students' union or GSCASH in the next term. The other problem of this deliberate de-politicization of GSCASH elections is that this is what the right-wing powers in campus and outside want: you are students, you shouldn't be allowed to talk about politics, do not make gender a political agenda, let us do the talking for you, and so on. Why, then, should progressive left parties want to speak the same language? The second misconception that needs to be cleared is regarding the relationship between the candidates and the audience; this is an unequal relationship, since the candidates make many claims about what their party has done in the past, and what they will once again do when given a chance. Some candidates went to the extent of saying that every vote given to her would be a blow to patriarchy! Usually the “how” questions are avoided, and when pushed, evaded. Hence, even if the debate seems democratic in its format, it lacks a very crucial aspect: there is no way the audience can verify the lofty claims made by the candidates. While there did exist a procedure earlier to discuss the annual faring of the GSCASH before elections, this has become defunct. But it is clear that GSCASH autonomy rests in dis-balance until such mechanisms for review are reinstated.

Around 5 30 pm, the proceedings for the election began. There was a show of strength going on, meanwhile, in the audience, which comprised mostly of political parties by now. As the debate began and carried on, more and more people filled in. A liberal estimate would be that perhaps a thousand – out of the seven thousand students enrolled in JNU – students were witness to the whole debate.

Abhiruchi Ranjan (All India Students Association) She began with a couplet about the freedom of women. Her manner of speaking was rather affected, and spontaneity was clear in its absence. She began by saluting the spirit of women's resistance in various contexts – against the AFSPA, against feudal caste relations, against the state war against tribals (there are some obvious omissions in this list, as we will see later; these omissions, in fact, were spoken of by none). Apart from this, there were no threads running through her speech, except these: firstly, she seemed to be in favor of increasing official, administrative mechanisms dealing with gender (gender orientation programmes and modules in courses). Secondly, she spoke in favor of everyone's right over their own sexual choices and the integrity of their bodies. Thirdly, she constantly reminded the audience of the recent protests in Delhi after a gangrape that caught high media attention, more than hinting that its leadership came from the “Freedom without Fear” campaign headed by her parent party. She was asked what was done regarding the issue of the LGBT community in the previous GSCASH term, when a student of her party was the representative. She replied that it was talked about during the gender orientation session held at the beginning of the previous semester, to which many in the audience shouted back that these sessions hadn't much to do with alternative sexualities. The second question she was asked was that having spoken about sexual crimes all over the country and the world, why was she or her party silent over the failure of the GSCASH to support a girl from outside who was molested within the campus by a student? Her reply was that she doesn't distinguish between the outside and the inside, and that the crimes committed in other parts of the country are more gruesome. Many in the audience did not consider this a proper reply to the question asked.

Dipti Tamang (Democratic Students' Federation) She began by pointing out towards the momentum built around gender issues in the wake of the famous Delhi-gangrape. She said that while on the one hand people are questioning patriarchy and asserting their rights over their body, the parliament is still living in its patriarchal mindset. It is necessary to question the ideas regarding gender that we grow up with, as well as do away with the draconian powers given to the police and the military. She pointed out how the state is ignoring the JVC and instead pushing forth laws that are to the detriment of women, which needs to be fought on the streets. She is not against the Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Bill, but wants it to keep gender bodies representative rather than nominated in their elections. She believes that the administration should grant support to maintain the autonomy of GSCASH, and that GSCASH should keep a regular counselor in the health centre to provide psychological support to complainants.

Lovey Srivastava (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) She began by narrating a string of developments world over where women achieved, recently, their equal rights with men, in terms of wages, right to work, right to social access, etc. But this enumeration ended abruptly, and she came to issues closer home. The most important part of her agenda was that GSCASH must be de-politicized, since it is a “neutral” body in the first place. It should not become a site for political clash, and must be impartial in its functioning as a court is. She has been in the campus since her BA days (now ten years), and she has consistently seen how the neutral character of the body has been watered down by political parties, and that GSCASH is often a tool for retribution. Hence, there should also be steps to curb false cases registered in GSCASH. Apart from these, she was in favor of demands for sanitary napkin dispensers in campus, speedy disposal of cases, and so on. She also spoke in favor of the students' protest that took place in Delhi of late, and against physical violence against women. She was asked what her idea of gender sensitization is. She replied that many students in campus watch porn in their rooms, and that should stop. She also believes that the administrative class that the girl faces exploitation from includes professors on one hand, and workers – mess, sanitation, etc. - on the other. She was asked how she could speak against rape when her parent party – the BJP – perpetrated these very crimes against minorities in state-sponsored pogroms. She replied that if these allegations are true, she condemns them. She was asked if she was in favor of condom-vending-machines in campus. To which she replied yes, and not only in campus but otherwise also. She was then asked how could she ask for stopping pornography given that MLAs from the BJP indulge in it in the parliament? She replied it is a detestable habit, and hence should stop everywhere, accepting the MLAs folly too. Lastly, she was asked what is her opinion about the LGBT group. She said she accepted them, but did not endorse them.

Sandhya Das (UDSF, SFR, New Materialists, Independent support) Her election agenda was based on the idea that patriarchy not only identifies the woman as its target, but also different kinds of women, based on lines of caste, nationality, and so on. She asked those who supported the protests against the famous Delhi gangrape why they remain silent about the Soni Soris and Asiyas and Nilofars. She pointed out that the Justice Verma Committee report – and law in general – would remain useless until and unless society steps up to uphold that, for which a patriarchal mindset will have to be questioned. In this regard, she criticized the dominant left for sacrificing work amidst people to media-centric attention. (What would be the nature of this work, however, she did not clarify.) She also exposed the image-centric notion of activism – the jholas, unruly beard, glasses of the standard activist – against allegations (these allegations have been made, but there is exageration also) that she is elite in her appearance and diction and so on. She upheld the right to sexuality also, openly raising the issue of the right to safe and free sex. She was asked what she thought wrong with the JVC report, and she clarified that nothing was wrong with it, but it was wrong to assume it will somehow work by itself, given the state's continuous disregard for reports of this kind. She was then asked why she was against protesting at Jantar Mantar, to which she replied that the kind of media-centric protest that JNUSU and the left in campus believe they are leading is actually just a “hang-over” from their Anna Hazare obsession.

Srirupa Bhattacharya (Democratic Students' Union) Srirupa was the only candidate who admitted to fighting from her party. She pointed out that we do not recognize that what the gender movement is up against is not simply misbehaviour, but entrenched patriarchy. In the context of the gang-rape protests in Delhi, she said that those of the campus left who claim to have led the protests had nothing to say when the demands for death penalty and chemical castration were raised, and they couldn't do anything when demands for increased surveillance and policing came about. She accused them of failing to recognize that it is this police that is the agent of patriarchal forces in our society. It will take a popular struggle to even uphold the autonomy of GSCASH. She also raised concerns about women of the marginal sections of society – SC/ST women, women of oppressed nationalities, and so on. She also put forth the suggestion that the results of GSCASH inquiry be binding for the administration to act upon. She was questioned about this point, as to what exactly she meant by it. Her reply was rather unclear, but suggested that as things stand presently, the GSCASH gives out its conclusions to the administration, which then acts on these. It should be GSCASH which decides how to act upon the findings they have.

Tintumol Joseph (Students Federation of India) She saluted the spirit of the people who took to the streets after the Delhi-gangrape and condemned the govt.'s passing the ordinance rather than accept the recommendations of Justice Verma. While she condemned the upper hand of the state with its draconian laws in Kashmir and North East, her party's position in Tripura still remained unclear. Tintumol argued towards preserving the autonomy of the GSCASH from administrative interference as well as from being made nominative under the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill. She spoke against the vulnerability that a student has to face in lodging and carrying through a complaint against a professor, and promised to balance out these inequalities if given a chance. She also said that there needs to be a more timely dispensing of justice in GSCASH cases, and was ready to brace all these challenges as a GSCASH student representative.

We must also ask ourselves a few questions after having heard what the candidates have to say. Firstly, amidst all the slogans for Bhanwari Devi, Nilofar-Asiya, Manorama Devi, Irom Sharmila, nobody mentioned Shah Bano. That is the Achilles' Heel of the left (even the “independent” left/caste-based/tribe-based parties) on campus. The progressives here rarely talk about Shah Bano. And we know this belongs to the votebank strategies in campus. There is nobody asking the question if patriarchy also further marginalizes women and children within the marginalized. Secondly, nobody raised the question of the moral-policing that hostel rules allow. There are huge fines levied upon students if guests (of either gender) are found during warden checks. Mostly, hosting men is easy for men, since it only requires putting a letter requesting permission, which then costs Rs 10. There is no way a woman guest can stay over. Why does this never figure into the discourse on moral-policing in campus? Thirdly, there are considerable gaps between the agenda put on the parchas and those spoken of in speech. For example, nobody spoke of sanitary-napkin-dispensers, even though it was part of the agenda. Nobody spoke of condom-vending-machines. The former was promised last time too, but not given, hence it was better not to mention it. The latter was an attempt to sound progressive, but as it turned out, repression got the better of most left candidates, while it was an ABVP candidate who agreed to it! Likewise, nothing substantial was said about the issue of alternative sexualities. What is to be done with token support? How about speaking against the stereotypes and misconceptions that many in campus hold regarding the LGBT?

The most important thread running across all these concerns is the disappearance of the “how” questions. A friend who witnessed the election remarked that nobody seemed to be interested in really doing something, it was just a power-game that one plays in the interest of one's party. What will be required now isn't simply voting for one or the other candidate, who seems to us most radical or most progressive, but rather a strong pressure on GSCASH from outside to deliver sincerely and deliver on the correct issues. We need to have quarterly report discussions in which all the developments in GSCASH are publicly read out and discussed. We must demand and help ensure that complainants are not threatened by professors or political parties to take back their complaints, and that they are helped against psychological torment by insensitive and crooked elements. We must demand that gender sensitization should include students and professors, and must be regular. GSCASH elections need to be organized with the JNUSU elections. There must be provisions that if a student's representative has resigned, there must be by-elections so that the student representation is not weakened. More time must be given for the candidates to be questioned: it is seen that they talk nonsense for this limited time and simply get away without answering important questions. The effects of the Sexual Harassment Bill on GSCASH autonomy and our plan of action must be made more clear. And these are only preliminary demands. The list must definitely grow. Meanwhile, we must not take the elections lightly and must cast our vote having thoroughly judged the agenda of each candidate. We must not think of voting as a favor for somebody whom we know or who has helped us. We don't want privileges, we want what is rightfully ours.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"For India to win....."

Nationalism, patriotism, is a hoax. There are historical reasons for its emergence as a social force. Those reasons are not under dispute. But as an attitude, as an ideal to follow and propagate, its fraud is pretty apparent if one could look at its functionings without it playing in one’s head.

An interesting example to begin with is how easily it injects geopolitics in sports, and food, and things like that. We have just seen a glimpse of this in the two sports tournaments held of late: the Euro cup, which saw massive riots between soccer fans of various countries, and the cricket world cup. Having a more personal experience of the world cup, I’d like to point out some telling examples from it. The first most obvious, yet incredibly overlooked aspect is that patriotism is a selling commodity, with highly inelastic demand. In a world where food and other essentials are being kept away from so many, nationalism is the stuff of mass spoon-feeding. Such drivel as put in advertisements, devoid of wit, sense, or aesthetics, is still accepted if it calls out to the patriot in us, much as god calls out to the devotee in us. Commentators on radio and television chant on and on the requirements “for India to win”, seven times often between six balls bowled. The commentator’s purpose seems to be to tell his audience what they must be bothered about. Had this been a gladiator’s fight in a Colosseum, we couldn’t have told the difference. Did we not see a flag representing the Indian Army in the match against Pakistan waving in the crowd? A radio transmission of a cricket match had its commentator suddenly losing his voice in the middle of a sentence; when his co-commentator resumed after an awkward gap of five seconds, we learned that a player of our beloved team, “our player” had just been bowled out. As we understood that our run-rate did not qualify us for the semi-finals, the cameras in the TV transmission flashed to us constantly clips of the supporters of Pakistan, sporting T-shirts of South Africa, since it could now prevent our entry in the semis over theirs. If we took the broadcast company’s bait – which many of us did – we would be among those delusionals who refuse to clap at the rival’s shots because we just cannot see they’re playing good, who feel that those Pakistanis have no moral fibre because “they can stoop down to wear another jersey”, “they are at it again, heckling us”, and such other ruses, not for once recalling our bad mood a few hours ago when they defeated a team we lost to.

The person who’s patriotic – and today this mostly means chauvinistic – because he feels the enemy is constantly scheming feels justified because he is given so many examples, of which even if many are manufactured, many still are true. However, even those examples are reflections of what “the enemy” has seen in us. So even if there is a sense of self-righteousness, but deceit from outside, this exists on both sides. And when we would see the networks of industry and realpolitik between the two sides, this illusion would be broken. Therefore, one is shown as little of this as possible. The problem isn’t that they are bad; the problem is that we aren’t very different from them, and as they cling to their powers and terrors, so do we to ours.

Constraints over entertainment industry, even if real and necessary, have some looseness in application which seems “allowed” in some sense. So, when cricket “analysts” question the Duckworth Lewis score system when their team has lost, but look at it in askance in another hour, we laugh at it but also know that it matters little. However, much more is expected from news-broadcasting. Let us see what is delivered: a radio broadcast on the day of Gandhi Jayanti spoke about “tribals and local officials in the Andamans paying eager homage to the father of our nation in a sarvadharma prarthna (all-religious prayer ceremony)”. This is a rare message from those faraway islands; what is disturbing is that everyday there is an industry waiting to turn those islands into a major tourism zone, even more disturbingly into some sort of a “primitive man zoo”, very much with the permission of the state. But, since “the tribals” have paid homage, they must be “one of us”, so things cannot be bad for them. In Gujarat, the same ceremony was held in the name of that vile rioter Narendra Modi. Likewise, in a state that is liberal in principle, it no matter of shame or oppression for a foreign minister to say angrily, possessively “Kashmir is an integral part of India” at a UN forum, much as one may say that a certain tree falls in my backyard. Apparently, these reasons are adequate to ban the consumption of gutka and liquor from the Andamans and Gujarat (“as was Gandhi’s belief”), to deploy massive armies in “disturbed areas” (an inheritance from colonialism).

That nationalism is a powerful force has been known since long; what truly reinforces this fact is that it is so effective still, in spite of the many indications of its harms to those very people who have espoused it. It is a tribunal for those who are presented with it: the next time you see someone swearing by the nation, do observe if you can see traces of his being coerced into it by our situation. At the same time, it distracts beautifully. Our Prime Minister recently made a strange comment: he equated the opulence of the few rich, “our” economy, to matters of “national security”; apparently, he has faith over the garbing properties of the phrase “national security”, much as this term invokes memories of terrorism, amplified by predatory media that has silenced everybody in its noise. The biggest advantage that nationalism has is that it is like a capsule that can be doled out by a small clique of people, and then spreads on its own. That’s why the state wants to be seen at its fountainhead, and also those nationalist movements that emerge from a large chunk of people eventually tend to statism. We would find plenty of examples: Gorkhaland, Telangana, so on and so forth. Even those “revolutions” that are anti-nationalistic in their outlook – many of the Communist states formed in the 1900s – bear notorious marks of branding as “betrayal” or “counter-revolutionary” any activity that seeks to differ from what the high-command has in mind.

Nationalism takes the place of other tendencies that are not so emotional, so irreflexive, and so inflexible as it is. All sorts of movements where people have raised protest over legitimate demands have known, often have been stunted by, the heavy hand of patriotism of some kind which tells them what they think is unimportant compared to what the powers have planned. Or else, they are co-opted by it. We are seeing this in Koodankulam and Kalapakkam, where even the judiciary believes the real question is not what the people think about the plant, but whether the nuclear plant is safe or not. We saw this in the case of the Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Union struggle in IMT-Manesar, Haryana, where the state unambiguously supported the management in every way possible, first in apathy towards a management’s high-handed and violent attempt to break the workers’ right to organize themselves, and then in hounding them with greatest judicial speed possible. Moreover, when Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. showed signs of moving out of Haryana, Narendra Modi (an icon of today’s nationalism) sprang up to invite them, saying he could build a bigger garrison for them to set up their factory in, to exploit cheap, desperate hands, and keep them under the leash of hired muscle-power of the same class of men. The truth is that everyone is well aware of these things: demolition of shanties, rural distress, casualization of labour, all these are tied, eventually, to the fingers of the state. However, there’s a veil of nation and allegiance to nation (hence to state) that makes these seem legitimate state of affairs.

Today, Indonesia is added to all those places in Africa, Arabia, Europe and the Americas where people have discarded questions about whether the nation is important or not, and asked if power must be entrusted to the state. In Indonesia, millions of workers have entered the streets denouncing their casualization. Even this list is not exhaustive: there are many other places where protest is the norm of the day. Meanwhile, how we can look above the questions of nation would decide what we can do for ourselves as autonomous people. There’s definitely a lot to be done.


Friday, June 8, 2012

Making sense of Anonymous' Operation India

The wave of protests that the world was swept with in 2011 is claimed to have trickled down in India: how far and to what effect, that's the question we ask. The controversy over Anna Hazare aside – that is, whether or not it should be considered a part of that world-wide wave – this time Anonymous has managed to put up an Operation India. They have managed to reach to a huge class of internet users, especially those social-network friendly people centred across many cities (even if this network misses out many places systemically), and has managed to put in place a physical protest. Hence, trying to understand them is somewhat justified, in spite of the many temptations against such an exploration.

AI opposes certain developments in internet-regulatory laws, which broadly imply:

  1. that the govt. has access to social-network postings of users of these social networks
  2. that there will be increased regulation of 'objectionable material' online, and provided that complaints are made by those aggrieved by something, such material would be asked to be taken offline
  3. that public hosting web-sites (torrents, certain video web-sites) will no longer be permitted to operate, in toto

Much of the present furore is limited to these demands. Which is a pity, because one expects much more from them when one reads of them. (Details found on the OpIndia page)

The parent of AI – A – claim that their purpose is to expose “government and establishment hypocrisy”. In their version of history, The Indian Government has been making strong laws that allow them to invade your privacy and to censor your free speech since 2008.” From the outset, two things are clear: the outlook of AI coincides with the most ignorant of presuppositions that fills the dominant Indian discourse, media, and thereby common sense; they are largely unaware of violent state-repression, and their freedom must be solely understood in the sense of internet rights (though we shall see that even their idea of internet freedom is somewhat skewed). This outlook produces such gems like “Fifty years ago, your freedom fighters laid down their lives for your freedom. Today, your Government has taken away those freedoms.” Or, often, abrupt dosages of Anna-wisdom: “The Government of India is shielding its ministers who are involved in corruption scandals. The Government plans to keep you ignorant about its tricks. They have censored out several websites that share information. Your Ministry of Communications & Information Technology & it’s minister Kapil Sibal is to blame.” Another, now irretrievable, went: “We stand for freedom. We stand for free internet. We stand against corruption.” Secondly, they largely target that audience which finds it comfortable to stick to these presuppositions, and hence AI is also unwilling to engage in questions about freedom and repression by a hypocritic establishment on any serious level. In a way, it helps: it creates the impression that history was fair till now (and hence our quiescence), and now that suddenly things have gone bad, we must speak against them. However, it helps only in adding numbers; it does not help at all in understanding the problem as it stands in its entirety. Anonymous OpIndia (Operation India) fails because it is innocent of the history of state-repression, of what it thinks it addresses.

Consider some other parts of the argument: we'll give AI that they've been consistent about their demand for freedom of expression on the internet. However, what about torrents and other web-hosting rights? “Torrents are widely used to distribute open source and free software such as linux distributions, and many other books and publications that are in the public domain. .. Many small - medium businesses use vimeo to showcase their services and individuals including filmmakers and designers use it to promote their work. .. Most of these sites provide a mechanism for illegal and copyrighted content to be taken down, but the GoI and Indian ISPs decided to bypass this mechanism and block these sites entirely.” AI is unwilling to recognize, or at least discuss, peer-to-peer rights like the ones used in torrents. If I wish to lend or borrow something I possess, and there's already a system existing that facilitates that, why block those systems? This is a question AI refuses to ask; it is a spokesperson for business rights, and seeks to even out the creases that have come into the surface of a cyber-operating business class. How much of the internet freedom argument, then, is to be considered seriously? (Interestingly, many enthusiasts and supporters, in spite of this open stand, express their solidarity on the fb pages, saying they want their movie/game sources back.)

I put an open question on fb (with some substantiation): shouldn't AI be addressing broader questions of state policy, and acknowledge it's historically aggressive role in society? Two replies to it, each interesting in its own right: first read “tl;dr”. Urban Dictionary says this means “too long, didn't read”. The second reply was a URL to the Anonymous India website, with two things written underneath: first, that primary focus was internet freedoms, other things being secondary. Second, “we are Anonymous, we are legion, we are an idea”. It's perplexing, but true: such slogans (if we may allow them this label) have become signatures of hundreds of AI enthusiasts. Two things are interesting to note: there's a very strong narcissistic spin in everything, borrowing from everything popular, from Guy Fawkes imageology to Anna Hazare-like verbage. The romanticist air of the revolutionary leaving for work is hard to miss. Secondly, related to this: the protest is a good occasion to come out in one's latest apparel, a mask and black overalls. The facebook pages of have turned into advertisements of mask-manufacturers (the second most asked question is: has anybody called the media?). Claims to represent “the 99 percent!”, and such paraphernalia seem incompatible, not just by the price (which would seem exhorbitant anyhow to most of the 99 percent), but by the very apparent absurdity and incongruity of the paraphernalia in regard to a protest. But again, this is just another pointer to the scope of OpIndia.

But let's just look at this hooh-hah in light of some other facts: paranoid shreiks in AI pages, highlighted in all sorts of ways (emboldened, reddened, UPPERCASE, etc.) beseeching all anonymous protesters “this is a nonviolent protest”. A little enquiry yeilded insights into what was meant by “non-violent”: the venue for the Mumbai protests was shifted from Gateway of India (the pride of Mumbai) to Azad Maidan (the prison house for all protests in Mumbai). When I asked for reasons on the fb page, I was told due to lack of permissions. I pointed out that one doesn't usually request permission from those one protests against. To this came the reply: the protest is non-violent. I inferred that this is not the non-violence we usually talk about, but is rather more akin to abiding by a benevolent, peace-loving state with it's golden laws. I was also told that a shift of venue doesn't mean anything. My feeling is that this protest has already been marked by state authorities as 'safe'. More facts; invitation procedure: simply sending invites to everybody on your friend-list. However, what goes on the posters, what goes in the slogans has been decided by a small clique of AI operants. The shift of venue itself was simply announced. Then came the calls for 'volunteers'. We keep everything in this paragraph in account, and look at the first claim of Anonymous: “Anonymous is a decentralized network of individuals.” Definitely not; if you're into event-management, you cannot afford to be decentralized. This is, unfortunately, true of AI.

OxbloodRuffin, in an article hosted by Kafila, has made two interesting observations:

Any discussion of Anonymous is problematic. One is never sure which Anonymous is being referenced: the meme, the group as a whole, or an individual operation.” Hence we find these inconsistencies within what seems the same Anonymous umbrella. A question of importance here is the relative role of cyber-freedom in the different societies Anonymous has had operations in.

Anonymous India and Why This Kolaveri di have two things in common. Both have achieved their fame through the Internet. And both are engagingly superficial.” Anonymous India has considered the possibility of a physical protest. However, it has surrendered it, in spirit, from the outset, to state leash. It has refused to delve deeper into state-repression in India while making claims addressing state hypocrisy, taking away of freedoms, etc. It fails to differentiate between a papparazzi event and a protest. However, there is at least one serious positive we must look at: it has managed to mobilize to a sizeable group of people, and to connect to an even bigger mass. Whatever the character of this mobilization, it is an important occasion for discussion, if there be concerted efforts. Unfortunately, efforts are not visible in the e-sphere in which the mobilization has taken place, but there's no need to think 9th June to be the deadline. AI OpIndia not only succeeds in mobilizing, but also in becoming a case to be considered for discussion.

It also holds a special place in the internal affairs of India. It is not a protest, but the image of one. However, much energies, much frustration could possibly find vent here, and there might be satisfaction of feeling one has lodged one's protest, even by help of such an image. The political class are already happy for two related reasons – many believe this is a protest, yet the protesters are already toeing the line. (Look at this for some protest guidelines) It's true that AI poses little danger as such; but still, it makes 'administrative sense' to award cyber concessions as a decoy-victory to ensure that that safety-valve is well-open (though this move also depends on other factors, like the interests involved in those cyber-laws, the relative trade-off between the safety-valve and those interests, the perception of the political class of this issue, etc.). We still await the events of 9th June, 2012, and thereafter, to come to conclusions.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

On modern cleanliness

It is perhaps the greatest irony we live in today that we, who strive to keep ourselves clean in every act we perform, leave around us a mess that can be considered nothing if not unclean even in terms set by us. We have created such a divide between our body and our surroundings that we cannot see that what is dirty around us will get inside us forthwith. So immediately, we must see how ironic it is that we find such an evident thing ironic.

Firstly, most of us who consider ourselves the cleanest create the most of the unhygienic conditions we live in. Consider the most elementary measures of modern hygiene: hand sanitizers, soaps, brooms, electrical appliances. Are these not packaged in plastic? Does not the disposal of that plastic become a most serious problem for modern social cleanliness? But 'modern social cleanliness', insofar as it rests in our minds, believes in buying as much of these as it can, and 'disposing of' unnecessary plastic bottles and covers as soon as their purpose is met. As it rests in the lexicon of the state, the plastic ought to be taken to the dumpyard and let be. In the scheme of do-good voluntarists, the solution lies in reusing or recycling plastic. However, they are not willing to admit that 'modern' man would rather 'dispose it of', even after reuse, and that a lot more would be found 'disposed of', blocking drains and other sewer-outlets, than would be found being recycled. Nor would they challenge the blind use of plastic, lest the industry be enraged. Considering modern perspectives on orgainic waste is even more harrowing: the 'modern' individual can vomit anywhere in hordes after booze-parties, and forget about it as if disowning it. The 'modern' man does not seek to know what happens to his shit after he dispels it. Using soap water to clean himself, 'modern' man would then consider that soap water dirty, and what would have been used for other purposes simply as water, otherwise, is now let to flow away in the drains as carrying soap and 'bacteria'. All of the 'modern' elite class' conception of cleanliness consists of 'disposing of' something at a distance decided as agreeably far away. And when they must pass that dump of garbage, each would mutter, or whinny: "How dirty!".

But for every such 'modern' man, there must also be ‘a few good men’. For who picks up the garbage from the carts to the dump-yard? Who mops up our vomit when we have disowned it? Who but the rag-picker can realize the task the the do-gooder when he says, "Recycle, Reuse!"? The 'next-generation' conception of social cleanliness lies in throwing of all garbage at an agreeable distance, but for even this they need somebody to stay regularly with that garbage, to transport it, and hence their picture of man will always stay fragmented and dichotomized. One group of men, for them, are responsible for things which are more important than such petty tasks as pertaining to cleanliness, however important being clean "themselves" might be. Another class of men must take responsibility of throwing garbage at a distance; their justification is that he gets paid for it. Often, when pressed, they would tell you “to each according to his merit”. Because one has taken the pains to study, one deserves a “better” job, or a “job suited to his qualifications”. Because the other did not, he must maintain toilets for two-rupees-a-person. But we know only too well how our money economy facilitates the production of those without schooling, and also of those left with no other alternatives as work but the refuse of all: garbage disposal. Feudal arguments often enter here: "they have been traditionally doing it as their caste-profession, let them do it". Even when the burden of the entire society's cleanliness falls upon the other man, the 'modern' state seeks to extract as much labour from him for as little remuneration as possible. Whence arrives contractualization of social cleanliness workers, and with that "cutting-down" on their gloves, clothes, and other gear required to protect them from dangers and indignity. Modern social cleanliness believes in creating a class of men who will deal with filth at the least possible cost, and in having them banished from the midst of a society that it cleans.

These attitudes enshrined in modern-day social cleanliness resonate with two strongly held socio-psychological prejudices held by men of today. Firstly, that for some men, it is unhealthy to come into contact with dirty things due to low immunity, while some others have developed immunity because of their social class. Secondly, that for some men, their merit makes it below their dignity to touch such base things as organic waste, while others must pay for their laziness and/or ungifted nature by cleaning the mess others make. Concern for health and for dignity mix together and claim justification every time any of us 'modern' men refuse to touch the flush-knob, fearing it has been already touched by dirty hands; notice that our concern for physiological health also means that we distrust those of our own class (however, refusing to consider distrust ourselves even). But more importantly, this also explains how coolly we watch as others clean up after us. The truth is that those classes upon whom we thrust our filth are not blessed with any magical immunity as we like to believe; class-based studies of health indicators have established since long that those whom we abet towards garbage suffer from worse health conditions. Meanwhile, our cleanliness and our affluence brings its own afflictions, trumping any possibility of a one to one correspondence between cleanliness and good health. Secondly, there is no serious evidence to show that some men are innately more gifted or meritorious than others, and hence the only explanation of social inequalities are social mechanisms.

Modern hygiene has been stamped with the inequalities that are part of our political economy, for which function its own particular assumptions. By exposing their irrationality and inhumanity, we move towards challenging that very political economy. But most importantly, social cleanliness offers us a window-view of this political economy right from our homes, and at once we realize that we are part of something big.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

An Anarchist Diary

As one promises, so one must deliver. I was, since some time, ardently looking for ways by which I could be more frequent on this blog, but did not have the motivation to. I realized that I hadn't thought much about the many topics I could write on. To call this an anarchist diary is to be bashful in many ways; now that one is bashful, one would have to work too. Moreover, anarchism, if what I understand of it is true, is the most apt label to go for the variety of things I have in mind to put down in thoughts.