Indian writer’s on warpath: Emphasising the threats to a liberal society

(The background to this post is the return of literary awards by many Indian writers, to protest against the killings of some writers and increasing attacks on minorities over issues like eating beef.)

Thomas Mann’s observation that “a person lives not only his own life, but also that of his contemporaries”, applies to everyone, but perhaps even more to writers and poets because they feel and speak for us even when we are not able to put into words our deepest feelings, and sometimes are not even conscious of them until a poet or a story writer tells us.

Writers respond to what goes on around them and to the mood of the times. As thinkers, they occasionally express ideas and views that do not always find acceptance. This brings writers into conflict with the powers that be.

Books are banned and even pulped — as in the case of Wendy Doniger’s book on Hinduism. Authors are physically attacked and even killed for their writings. Salman Rushdie was forced into hiding for many years because of death threats. In conditions where writing is stifled, the form evolves and morphs to find expression. Continue reading “Indian writer’s on warpath: Emphasising the threats to a liberal society”


When falcons turned pigeons

    In your whole life will not get repaid
    Loan on sister’s marriage incurred,
    Every drop of blood
    Sprinkled in the fields
    Will not provide colour
    Enough to paint the face
    Of a serene smiling person.
    To add to it further
    All the nights of life put together
    Will not count down the stars of the sky;
    Then, friends, let us, indeed,
    In pursuit of the flying eagles proceed.

– an excerpt from Uddian Baaja Magar,a poem by Paash,  translated by Tejwant Singh Gill

(The original word in Punjabi translated above as as eagles is “baaj”. I prefer the translation as “falcon”, for various reasons, though technically eagles is correct.)

Paash would have turned 60 later this year. When the Naxalite spring thunder roared 42 years ago, he was just 18. He went on, along with others like Lal Singh Dil, Sant Ram Udassi, Harbhajan Halvarvi, Darshan Khatkar and Amarjit Chandan to found what came to be known as the era of “jhujaru” (literally “fighting” or struggle) poetry in Punjabi. This was in sharp  contrast to the romantic oeuvre of Shiv Kumar Batalvi. In Punjab, divided on language throughout the 20th century, similar poetry was evident earlier in the Urdu revolutionary poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Sahir Ludhianvi.  Paash was briefly imprisoned during the Naxalite surge, and he moved to the United States in the 1980s where his family lived and still does.

It is remarkable that Paash’s poetry caught on only after his death in 1988, when he fell victim to  Khalistani terrorism. The Left-inclined activists came in for sharp attack; indeed Jarnail Singh Bhinderawale had termed the communists in the state to be even more dangerous than the Central government, headed then by what he called the “daughter of the brahamans” (“Bamana di dhee”), Mrs. Indira Gandhi. This is not the place to go in for a discussion on the politics of the1980s. However, it does form the backdrop to Paash’s untimely and brutal death as well as the resurgence for his poetry. In contrast, Lal Singh Dil (who converted to Islam and migrated to Uttar Pradesh, unlike the Jatt Sikh Paash), came into brief prominence just before his death only a couple of years ago in the backdrop of Dalit assertion in Indian politics.
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Dr. Ambedkar: “Our very own Buddha”

Janhavi Acharekar reviews the autobiography by Dalit writer, Baby Kamble, The Prisons We Broke: The Autobiography of a Community, “a feminist critique … and sordid memoir of a cursed community.” The book was first published in Marathi in 1986 and is recently translated into English.

The Prisons We Broke is a graphic revelation of the inner world of the Mahar community in Maharashtra. “We were just like animals, but without tails,” she says, describing in lurid detail a world of lice-infested rags for saris, feasts comprising maggot-ridden innards of diseased carcasses, the tearing hunger of starving new mothers, babies cleaned with saliva instead of soap, and intestine-damaging cactus pods consumed to quell hunger.

Born to an entrepreneurial father, the author’s “privileged background” barely keeps her above the abject poverty suffered by her people. Her English-speaking aajas or grandfathers were butlers to European sahibs, far removed from their poverty-stricken and superstition-ridden Maharwada that lay on the fringes of society. However, for the author, it is a world of buffalo fairs and sacrifice, of people possessed by spirits and boys offered to the mother goddess as potrajas. She recounts vividly the people of Maharwada, their houses and customs, their joys and sorrows. Women, especially, occupy pride of place in the narrative.

Baby Kamble’s autobiography is unique because in critiquing Brahminical domination, it also speaks out for the women of her community, presenting an unflinching portrait of its women, subjugated by both caste and patriarchy (later, the same women become the driving force towards education). The younger women suffer the worst fate. Usually married off at the age of eight or nine, they are often physically chained or have their noses chopped off for incurring the displeasure of their husbands or in-laws. And it is in these circumstances that she embraces the teachings of Dr. Ambedkar, their saviour and messiah, their “very own Buddha”.

The Prisons We Broke is significant because it traces the evolution of the Mahar community from pre-Ambedkar days to its rapid transformation through education and mass conversion. It presents the seeds of a revolution through images of impromptu speeches and bold entries into temples, of poems in praise of the man who rescued them from the mire of Hinduism, their “Baliraja, Ravan, Buddha and Bhim”. However, she also contributes to the deification of Ambedkar (“…he is our God. Nay, he is even better; he is the god of gods…He is certainly superior to God.”) and is sharply critical of the current generation of educated Dalits that rejects its roots and drives Babasaheb out of its life.

Related Post: Namdeo Dhasal and the Fall of the Dalit Panthers

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Nazi Literature in South America and India

Roberto Bolano in his recently translated novel Nazi Literature in the Americas weaves an entire literary universe filled with imaginary writers and their writings.Not all writers were,however, fans of Hitler or other Nazi leaders or even their ideology. Bolano’s biographies of these imaginary writers, inspired in a way by Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings, are short- the longest runs into a few pages, the shortest about a page in length. Marked by sharply etched portraits of the writers and of their equally imaginary writings, the novel reads like a racy potboiler, except that there is no evident plot in the novel. Only the last story (which readers of Bolano’s novel Distant Star will be familiar with because it is a summary of the same novel) is somewhat longer and has Bolano himself speaking in the first person and somewhat gives the clues to the underlying impulses behind the novel.

In this he recounts the story of Ramirez Hoffman, a Chilean air plane pilot who seemingly heralded a ‘new era’ in Chilean arts after the coup against Salvador Allende’s socialist government and the establishment of Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship. Hoffman’s poetry is written in the sky using smokes from his air plane thus announcing the new blend of technology and arts as Chile was ‘recovering its manhood’ under a military dispensation.Some of Hoffman’s poems, all one liners written on the skies, read as follows:

“Death is friendship”
“Death is Chile”
“Death is responsibility”
“Death is growth”
“Death is communion”
“Death is cleansing” and so on till “Death is resurrection” and the generals themselves realize that something is amiss. It is, however, something far more macabre that leads to his downfall.

Bolano’s prose is marked by the alacrity of flash fiction (which to me is one of the most important developments in literature in the internet age), but nevertheless carries forward the tradition of the serious novel. The absence of an explicit plot in the story does not mean that there is no plot- as a post- modern reading would suggest. Instead, the plot is hidden below the surface, like an underground river.

The point that he makes is that Nazi- like brutality has a long lineage, and it resides perceptibly and imperceptibly in literature as well. Literature is, therefore, a battlefield in the recovery of humanity and is not outside the realm of politics, and neither is politics outside the realm of poetry and literature.

Reading the novel, I could not but relate very much to India where, interestingly, it is rather normal to have politicians, in the tradition of rulers of the past like Bahadur Shah Zafar and Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, to double up as poets and writers. It is therefore not unusual that two major contemporary politicians- Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi, former Prime Minister and a present Chief Minister of Gujarat respectively, belonging to what is easily the closest we have to a fascist political movement, the Bharatiya Janata Party, have some claim to being poets.

To look for Nazi literature in India, one does not need biographies of imaginary writers. In India, they live among us, in our times. The question of literature and politics being separate also does not arise. They are so intricately tied up that both are the same. The nightmare and the muse.

Related Posts on Roberto Bolano

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NREGA- The Road Ahead

A group of researchers working with Samaj Pragati Sahayog in Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh writing in the latest issue of EPW (alternate link) focus on how the NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) marks a shift from any earlier rural development schemes and how it needs to progress. They assess the learning from the last two years of its implementation and forcefully reiterate why it must be implemented, and not scrapped.

Some of the key things that they highlight are:

  • it is a development programme and not a dole programme chipping in with crucial public investments for creation of durable public assets. Its emphasis on water conservation, drought and flood proofing is critical for rural transformation in the most backward areas of the country
  • it makes a complete break with past practices of hiring contractors, the worst oppressors of the rural worker
  • There is a meticulous process for social audit
  • An unprecedented emphasis on transparency and social audits

The key challenges in implementing the scheme in some of the districts that the researchers have surveyed are:

  • Lack of professionals and under- staffing in fulfilling the scheme. At many places staff has not been appointed at all or NREGS responsibilities have been added to existing staff like BDOs and JEs. They quote the recent CAG report that finds that 52% of the 513 gram panchayats it surveyed had not appointed EGAs (Employment Guarantee Assistant)
  • Bureaucratic delays
  • Lack of peoples’ planning and grassroots social activism
  • Inappropriate payment rates since the NREGA uses the old Schedule of rates meant for work through contractors and makes it difficult for gram panchayats to cost work
  • No real social audits taking place at the grassroots level

There are quite a few proposals that the paper makes for speeding up delivery as promised by the NREGA. These include staffing the scheme appropriately (the paper provides a detailed calculation for costing), creating personnel capacity by introducing 1 year diploma courses for implementing the NREGA and above all recommend the use of information technology to bypass bureaucratic delays and provide transparency.

They conclude:

Over the last 20 years, governments so committed to an agenda of reforms for the corporates, appear to have absolutely nothing to offer to their main constituency, the rural poor. On the contrary, with the pressure on the state to shrink, expansion in scale of programmes is increasingly attempted using under-paid, poorly qualified “worker-volunteers”.5 Corners must be cut when it comes to the rural poor. Anything for them, it appears, can be of the lowest quality. Of course, we must also recognise that even during the Nehru-era, rural development was never seen as a professional activity. The legacy of Gandhian anti-state anarchism, where people know best and can manage their affairs on their own, without any external help, only reinforced this tendency.The left, fighting for the very right of the public sector to survive, appears to have become so defensive as to completely overlook the need for reforms, long overdue in a sector marked by massive corruption and complete non-accountability towards the “public”.

The NREGA ranks among the most powerful initiatives ever undertaken for transformation of rural livelihoods in India. The unprecedented commitment of financial resources is matched only by its imaginative architecture that promises a radically fresh programme of rural development. However, for NREGA to realise its potential, it must focus on raising the productivity of agriculture in India’s most backward regions. This can then lead further to the creation of allied livelihoods on the foundation of water security. This is also the only way we can envision a decline in the size of the work guarantee over time, as public investment under NREGA leads to higher rural incomes, that in turn spurs private investment and greater incomes and employment

Read the full paper at EPW or here. 

Link to Govt of India’s site on NREGA

Related Post: A Chinese Road for Rural India

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Suharto- ‘Water will wear away the Stone’

Death, even of dreaded criminals like Suharto who died today, comes as a shock. It is also a reminder of events- in this case, the slaughter of at least a million Indonesians in the 1960s- mostly communists in a predominantly Muslim country. Outside the officially communist countries, Indonesia had the largest communist party in the world before Suharto brutally decimated it. (news report at npr)

Closer home, he bears an uncanny resemblance to Mr Modi- he brought ‘economic development’ and ‘stability’ to the country.

Here is a poem by the great Indonesian poet, WS Rendra written during the 1998 student demonstrations that brought down Suharto.

Because we have to eat roots
while grain piles up in your storeroom…
Because we live crowded together
and you have more space than you need…
Therefore we are not on the same side.Because we’re all creased and crumpled
and you’re immaculate…
Because we’re crowded and stifled
and you lock the door…
Therefore we are suspicious of you.

Because we’re abandoned in the street
and you own all the shelter…
Because we’re caught in floods
while you have parties on pleasure craft…
Therefore we do not like you.
Because we are silenced
and you never shut up…
Because we are threatened
and you impose your will by force…
therefore we say NO to you.

Because we are not allowed to choose
and you can do what you like…
Because we wear only sandals
and you use your rifles freely…
Because we have to be polite
and you have the prisons…
therefore NO and NO to you.

Because we are like a flowing river
and you are a stone without a heart
the water will wear away the stone.


As to the barbaric political repression under the former general, Tariq Ali quotes the Indonesian writer Pripit Rochijat:

Usually the corpses were no longer recognisable as human. Headless. Stomachs torn open. The smell was unimaginable. To make sure they didn’t sink, the carcasses were deliberately tied to, or impaled upon, bamboo stakes. And the departure of the corpses from the Kediri region down the Brantas achieved its golden age when bodies were stacked together on rafts over which the PKI [Indonesian Communist Party] banner grandly flew . . . Once the purge of Communist elements got under way, clients stopped coming for sexual satisfaction. The reason: most clients–and prostitutes–were too frightened, for, hanging up in front of the whorehouses, there were a lot of male Communist genitals–like bananas hung out for sale.’

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The Deafening Silence of Dalits in Punjab

One of the striking aspects of Punjab politics is the near absence of caste as a major factor during elections. It is not that the factor is wholly absent, but in contrast to even its neighboring states like Haryana and Rajasthan, it is much less in evidence, to say nothing about states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra or Tamil Nadu, where caste is most visibly present, politically and otherwise.It would seem that this apparent non- chalance about caste in the state is because of the influence of a ‘casteless’ Sikh religion. Sikhism was certainly a most strident attack on casteism in the medieval period. The Guru Granth Sahib, for example, contains the writings by many saints including Guru Ravidas, a chamar. Guru Nanak also initiated the practice of langar- collective feasts where people from various dined together and thus helped blunt caste antagonism.The last guru, Gobind Singh initiated baptism and gave the new adherents the common suffix of Singh/ Kaur, further dealing a blow to identification by caste name. Guru Nanak, like most Sufi/ Bhakti saints, makes no reference to the Gita, that many consider upholds the caste system. So different is the treatment of caste from mainstream Hinduism that Dr. BR Ambedkar seriously contemplated conversion to Sikhism much before he decided in favour of Buddhism. It is not certain why he changed his decision, but one of the conjectures is that the (upper caste) Sikh theologians were appalled at the thought of millions of converted Dalit Sikhs taking over their religious institutions and thus changing the power equations.Like any other conjecture, this may or may not be true. But the main idea certainly deserves a discussion. After Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s consolidation of the twelve warring misls in early 19th century, it is a fact that the jats more or less controlled both the political and in the last half century also the religious institutions (via the SGPC).

But the roots of the caste consolidation within Sikhism go further back- to the time of the gurus. This needs to be understood well so that one does not make the same mistake as three Sikh organisations recently did, when they termed the vision of the Sikh gurus as the creation of a casteless society:

Three organizations also want to make use services the sants and dera heads to ensure assimilation of Dalits in rural areas in the mainstream. At many places, Dalits are denied entry into gurdwaras and also denied access to Guru Granth Sahib for religious ceremonies, including marriage and antim ardas. This problem has been creating rift among rural Sikh masses and need to be stopped as the Sikh Gurus were for a caste less and classless society. (news report ) (Link via Surinder S. Jodhka’s article in Seminar January 2008: Of Babas and Deras)

The claim of Sikhism as a ‘caste less’ religion needs to be critically examined. Historian JS Grewal has pointed out, for example, that “Guru Nanak does not conceive of equality in social and economic terms.” (quoted in Scheduled Castes in the Sikh Community by Harish K. Puri). Guru Nanak’s rejection of caste was thus mainly in religious terms.

The Sikh gurus’ attack on caste ism, though admirable by medieval standards, did not go far enough, and was a far cry from modern sensitivities towards caste.

For example, till the SGPC was formed, the Sikh religious institutions were by and large controlled by the Khatri castes (the mahants). Much before that, the Sikh gurus, including Nanak had ensured that the guru- ship remained within the hands of the Khatris. No doubt it was a great achievement for the first four gurus to pass on the gaddi outside their family- something that is difficult to even conceive today with politicians and film actors passing on the baton to the next generation within their family. The trend changed significantly after the fifth guru who switched to the practice of retaining the guru- ship within the family.

However, even the first four gurus including the greatest of them all- Nanak, ensured that the guru ship remained within their own caste. All marriages in the guru families were within the Khatri sub- castes. A major, if not the determining aspect of the caste system- endogamy, therefore was retained in Sikh practice.

Even contemporary Sikhs have not taken any major reforms for eliminating the caste system. There have been probably more marriages between Hindus and Sikhs within the same caste than within Sikhs across the castes- this is likely to be true about the Khatris and the Dalit Sikhs/ Hindus, two castes that overlap between the two major religious communities in the state.

Caste distinctions are relatively stronger in rural Punjab. With the economic rise of some sections of Dalits, there has been a spate of separate Dalit gurudwaras in the state. In urban areas probably the distinction is less antagonistic, though not absent. In some places like Jalandhar, for example, the leather trade and production of leather related sports goods for a long time ensured that it was possible for at least some sections of Dalits to wade themselves out of extreme poverty and concentrate on economic development.

However, it is a different story in the rural areas where majority of the landless and agricultural workers are Dalits. The only Dalit leader in the state Communist Party of India in the past many decades was the one heading the agricultural workers front. Indeed, most Communist leaders in the state have and continue to come from among the Jats and Khatris with perhaps the sole exception of Mangat Ram Pasla who was shunted out of the CPI(M) few years ago (he is not a dalit, but a nai, a backward caste). Most of the key Akalis are Jat Sikhs. Relatively the Congress party has offerred slightly more space to backward caste and dalit Sikhs- like Giani Zail Singh (a tarkhan, a relatively backward caste) and Buta Singh, a Dalit Sikh. A majority of the SGPC members are Jats.

Given the continuing presence of caste antagonism, it is indeed quite spectacular that caste remains not only relatively subdued during election time, but is also not very powerfully expressed in other areas. For example, though there was a strong literary movement in Punjabi between the 1950s- 70s, there has been an absence of an identifiable Dalit literary stream in Punjabi. There have been, indeed, poets from a Dalit background- Lal Singh Dil and Sant Ram Udasi come immediately to mind, but both identified themselves with the jujharu or the naxalite influenced movement rather than as dalits (though they are contemporary with the Dalit Panthers movement in Marathi literature.)

The Bahujan Samaj Party, whose founder Kanshi Ram, incidentally was a Dalit Sikh, has made little headway in the state. One tactical mistake that the BSP made was to ally with the Jat dominated Akali party, the party of their immediate oppressor, during the late 1990s. Its electoral debacle and the subsequent disillusionment among its cadres has ensured that it remains a marginal political force in the state, though of late it has gained ground in terms of percentage of votes polled.

Many dalits from various parties including the communist and the Congress parties who joined the BSP have returned to their original ones or have at least left the BSP- disillusioned with its culture and factionalism though, happily, some have come back with renewed assertion as dalits.

The Dalit question has recently come into limelight in context of the controversy around the burgeoning deras and baba cults in the state. As Surinder Jodhka cautions in the article quoted above, though these deras are certainly manifestation of a pluralistic culture in the state and attract many dalits, it is too optimistic to see them as places of dalit assertion. One of the footnotes in his article highlighting the contradiction between the interest of the deras and the dalits is quite illuminating:

The following statement of my taxi driver who took me to visit some deras in the Amritsar and Gurdaspur districts of Punjab is instructive. ‘I am a Scheduled Caste fellow. I do not own any land. Most of our people own no land. Everyone should have some land. If not more, at least two acres for each family. It would give people a sense of security and dignity. Look at these deras. They own so much land; some even more than a thousand acres. There should be some law to limit the amount of land that a baba keeps and the rest should be distributed among people like us.’My driver Buta Singh did not mean any disrespect to the babas. He not only paid obeisance to all the deras we visited, but was upset that I did not show sufficient reverence for the babas we visited. He firmly believed in their supernatural powers and ability to do good.
Whether because of super natural reasons or otherwise, there is certainly no identifiable dalit assertion in the state, politically or otherwise. Most of the attention to their identity has been highlighted by academicians and journalists. There seems to be neither a political, literary or any other manifestation of their assertion in the state despite having the highest proportion of scheduled castes in the country (almost 30% of the state’s total population.)There is a deafening silence on part of dalits in Punjab. One wonders why, and for how long.


(1) It needs to be remembered that Brahmins in the state are not the dominant caste, a role usurped by the jats in rural areas and the khatris in urban areas. In this, the state does not adhere to the pattern in many other regions in the country.

(2) Sikhs in Punjab constitute aout 63% of the population. About 30% of the population is classified as Dalits (mainly scheduled castes, there are no scheduled tribes in Punjab.) About 80% of the Dalits live in rural areas. The share of Sikhs in rural areas is 73%, implying that Punjab villages are predominantly Sikh and Dalit. (All statistics from Harish Puri’s article linked in “Related Articles”.) The Dalits also have one of the lowest percentage of land holdings,a measly 2.34% (Quoted in Ronki Ram, article linked in “Related Articles”.)

Related Posts:
Dalits and the Left: A Troubled Relationship
Wadali Brothers: Sufism and Dalit Emancipation
Imagining Punjab in the Age of Globalization
Dr. Ambedkar and Sikhism
Significance of being Kanshi Ram: An Obituary

Related articles (.pdf files):

Scheduled Castes in Sikh Community by Harish K Puri
Punjab Census- Scheduled Caste Data by Surinder S. Jodhka
Of Deras and Babas b Surinder S. Jodhka

Myth of Casteless Sikh Society by Ronki Ram

Caste and Religion in Punjab by Meeta and Rajiv Lochan
Dera Sacha Sauda by Lionel Baxas
Split Dalit Votes- Punjab Elections 2004 by (unsigned in EPW)

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Journalism- Then and Now

The 12th anniversary issue of Outlook (link via Abi) carries a discussion on the changes in journalism in the last twelve years, though I’d say that the changes started in the late 1980s.

Some of the most incisive insights are by P. Sainath. Here are a few excerpts from the discussion. All the comments below are by Sainath.

The biggest trend is the growing disconnect between the mass media and the mass reality. A very tiny Indian press, for a hundred years, served a very large social purpose, and tried to speak for the masses. Today, paradoxically, a gigantic Indian press serves a very narrow social purpose, which continues to narrow everyday

If 80 per cent of your revenues comes from advertising, and 20 per cent from sales—what that means is you’re going to give advertisers four times the importance you give readers. Their preferences and priorities take precedence

You see it in the simplest and most direct way: the organisation of beats.

Many beats have become extinct. Take the labour correspondent: when labour issues are covered at all, they come under the header of Industrial Relations, and they’re covered by the business correspondent. That means they’re covered by the guy whose job is to walk in the tracks of corporate leaders, and who, when he deigns to look at labour, does it through the eyes of corporate leaders. Now find me the agriculture columnist—in most newspapers, the idea doesn’t exist any more. If you lack correspondents on those two beats, you’re saying 70 per cent of the people in this country don’t matter, I don’t want to talk to them, they don’t make news.

That is, until the elections, when they screw the media’s happiness

Everyone keeps dividing journalism into serious and non-serious journalism—it’s a bogus division. What is called non-serious journalism is in fact a very serious business proposition, or at least it’s perceived as that by the media owners. They divide journalism into what’s serious…and what makes revenue.

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The World’s Most Armed Country

We all know about the big arms race during the Cold War and the drain it was on the economies of especially the former socialist bloc. While the United States continues to be the dominant military power, it is not a surprise that it is also the most armed country as far as the civilian population is concerned. India comes a distant second. The cause of the rising per capita arms is attributed to…rising affluence!

The United States has 90 guns for every 100 citizens, making it the most heavily armed society in the world, a report released on Tuesday said.

U.S. citizens own 270 million of the world’s 875 million known firearms, according to the Small Arms Survey 2007 by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies.

About 4.5 million of the 8 million new guns manufactured worldwide each year are purchased in the United States, it said.

“There is roughly one firearm for every seven people worldwide. Without the United States, though, this drops to about one firearm per 10 people,” it said.

India had the world’s second-largest civilian gun arsenal, with an estimated 46 million firearms outside law enforcement and the military, though this represented just four guns per 100 people there. China, ranked third with 40 million privately held guns, had 3 firearms per 100 people.

Germany, France, Pakistan, Mexico, Brazil and Russia were next in the ranking of country’s overall civilian gun arsenals.

On a per-capita basis, Yemen had the second most heavily armed citizenry behind the United States, with 61 guns per 100 people, followed by Finland with 56, Switzerland with 46, Iraq with 39 and Serbia with 38.

France, Canada, Sweden, Austria and Germany were next, each with about 30 guns per 100 people, while many poorer countries often associated with violence ranked much lower. Nigeria, for instance, had just one gun per 100 people.

“Firearms are very unevenly distributed around the world. The image we have of certain regions such as Africa or Latin America being awash with weapons — these images are certainly misleading,” Small Arms Survey director Keith Krause said.

“Weapons ownership may be correlated with rising levels of wealth, and that means we need to think about future demand in parts of the world where economic growth is giving people larger disposable income,” he told a Geneva news conference.

“Educating” Caste

Harsh Mander, one of the rare bureaucrats who have acted with conscience and who resigned from the Indian Administrative Services in the wake of the Gujarat pogrom in 2002, writes on caste discrimination in schools and how traditional behavioural patterns are re- created in what are supposed to be modern institutions.

In a dilapidated slum shanty near the banks of the Ganga in Patna is settled a group of families whose profession is to clean dry toilets with their bare hands, and to carry human waste on their heads to throw into the forgiving waters of the mighty river. I found that not a single child studied in the government school, which, as it happened, was located literally just across the road from the scavenger colony. It took a while to coax from the guardians the reason for their steady resolve to keep their children away from school. It transpired that they had indeed sent their children to the school initially. It is a custom in many government schools for the teacher to send children on errands. The upper-caste children were assigned tasks such as to fetch tea. The children from the scavenger colony were asked to wash the toilets, or to clean up after a dog had soiled the school premises. The children could not bear the shame, and refused to return to the school…

Children in rural India, and even parts of the cities, learn early the rules of caste, which survive unremittingly through their lifetimes, even as their country races into the 21st century. A survey of practices of untouchability undertaken in 565 villages in 11 major states of India reveals shockingly that in as many as 38 per cent government schools, dalit children are made to sit separately while eating. In 20 per cent schools, dalit children are not even permitted to drink water from the same source…

Caste discrimination in mid-day meals is seen in various ways. The first is defiance of the Supreme Court orders to appoint cooks from dalit backgrounds. In states like Tamil Nadu only 14 per cent of the cooks are dalit. In many places where, although, dalit cooks have been appointed, upper-caste parents retaliated by not allowing their children to eat the meal, threatening to withdraw, putting pressure to replace the cook with an upper-caste cook and so on…

Almost 27.6 per cent dalits are prevented from entering police stations and 25.7 from ration shops; 33 per cent public health workers refuse to visit dalit homes, and 23.5 per cent dalits still do not get letters delivered to their homes. Segregated seating for dalits was found in 30.8 per cent self-help groups and cooperatives, and 29.6 per cent panchayat offices. In 14.4 per cent villages, dalits were not permitted to enter the panchayat building. They were denied access to polling booths, or forced to form separate lines in 12 per cent of the villages surveyed. Despite being charged with a constitutional mandate to promote social justice, local institutions of the Indian State facilitate untouchability.

Dalit settlements are often segregated from the main village, and these traditions are reproduced even by the government, when building Indira Awaas housing colonies for dalits or by NGOs, post-2001 earthquake reconstruction in Gujarat. In nearly half the surveyed villages (48.4 per cent), dalits were denied access to water sources. In over a third (35.8 per cent), dalits were denied entry into village shops. They had to wait some distance from the shop, the shopkeepers kept the goods they bought on the ground, and accepted their money similarly without direct contact. In teashops, in about one-third of the villages, dalits were denied seating and had to use separate cups.

In more than 47 per cent villages, bans operated on wedding processions on public (arrogated as upper-caste) roads. In 10 to 20 per cent villages, dalits were not allowed to wear clean or bright clothes or sunglasses. They could not ride their bicycles, unfurl their umbrellas, wear chappals on public roads, smoke or even stand without head bowed.

We found that restrictions on entry by dalits into Hindu temples were as high as an average of 64 per cent in 11 states, ranging from 47 per cent in UP to 94 per cent in Karnataka. Such restrictions endured even after conversion of dalits to egalitarian faiths. As many as 41 of the 51 villages surveyed in Punjab reported separate gurudwaras for dalit Sikhs, and even where dalits worshipped in gurudwaras frequented by upper caste jats, they were served in separate lines at the langar, and were not permitted to prepare or serve the sacred food. In Maharashtra, despite mass conversions of Mahars to Buddhism, dalits were denied temple entry in 51 per cent villages. Reports from Kerala and Andhra Pradesh chronicled divisions in the church between dalit converts and others, even discrimination against ordained dalit priests…

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India’s New Cities: Globalization’s Perfect Storm

Eurozine has write ups on two Indian cities in its current issue whose editorial is titled “The city as stage for social upheaval“. One is on Calcutta/ Kolkata and another on Bombay/ Mumbai (the latter in German, though). In the backdrop of the architectural history of Calcutta, Swapan Chakravorty observes the more recent changes wrought about by globalization:

Now that the city has to adjust to the global market, the Communists find themselves saddled with the ironic task of imposing the orderly claims of civil society against the carnival of the fringe. The old industrial map has changed with the dismantling of the protectionist economy. The premises of defunct factories are being handed over to developers who build condominiums, malls, and multiplexes. The patriarchal communitarianism of the neighbourhood has no place in these new enclaves. The fishermen in the eastern suburbs have moved out, with developers buying up every available piece of land flanking the Eastern Bypass. Derelict warehouses along the river may be soon converted into Singapore-style restaurants. The High Court has banned political processions and meetings on weekdays; crackers and microphones are illegal; the Election Commission has outlawed political graffiti. Communists now plead with their own trade unions to ignore the workforce in information technology so that American clients are not upset.

About Mumbai, the editorial observes:

In Mumbai (Bombay), with its 19 million inhabitants, the enormous wealth disparities take on grotesque manifestations. In India’s biggest city, slums are cleared to make way – quite literally – for golf courses. Ilija Trojanow describes how, among the bureaucratic classes, the word “Slum” has become a synonym for “encroachment”. The efforts of the wealthy to keep the poor at bay reminds him of the laager mentality of the European settlers in South Africa. There, life within the barricaded settlements that kept out the indigenous population was seen as orderly and harmonious, everything outside filthy and chaotic. That mentality led directly to the Apartheid regime: a comparison not at all far-fetched in the context of contemporary Mumbai.

Cross- posted at How the Other Half Lives.

"We locked away Gandhi on Feb 28"

“Terror was unleashed at Godhra Station because this country follows Gandhi, we locked away Gandhi on Feb 28 (2002), reform yourselves or we will forget Gandhi. Till we follow Gandhi’s policies of non- violence … kneeling before Muslims, terrorism cannot be eliminated. Brothers we have to abandon Gandhi.”

– Praveen Togadia (quoted from his speech in the video)

A heart wrenching documentary Final Solution on the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 and subsequent elections in the Hindutva laboratory.

Link to google videos

Link via comment at All Things Pakistaniat

Tips and Tricks to Kill Baby Girls

Renuka Chowdhury, India’s Minister for Women and Child Development on India’s “distinction” of killing 10m baby girls in the last two decades alone (I will neither comment nor respond to comments on this post; I have no words except unfathomable silences)

“Today, we have the odd distinction of having lost 10 million girl children in the past 20 years,” Chowdhury told a seminar in Delhi University.

“Who has killed these girl children? Their own parents.”

In some states, the minister said, newborn girls have been killed by pouring sand or tobacco juice into their nostrils.

“The minute the child is born and she opens her mouth to cry, they put sand into her mouth and her nostrils so she chokes and dies,” Chowdhury said, referring to cases in the western desert state of Rajasthan.

“They bury infants into pots alive and bury the pots. They put tobacco into her mouth. They hang them upside down like a bunch of flowers to dry,” she said.

“We have more passion for tigers of this country. We have people fighting for stray dogs on the road. But you have a whole society that ruthlessly hunts down girl children.”

According to the 2001 census, the national sex ratio was 933 girls to 1,000 boys, while in the worst-affected northern state of Punjab, it was 798 girls to 1,000 boys.

The ratio has fallen since 1991, due to the availability of ultrasound sex-determination tests.

Although these are illegal they are still widely available and often lead to abortion of girl foetuses.

Chowdhury said the fall in the number of females had cost one per cent of India’s GDP and created shortages of girls in states like Haryana, where in one case four brothers had to marry one woman.

Economic empowerment of women was key to change, she said.

“Even today when you go to a temple, you are blessed with ‘May you have many sons’,” she said.

“The minute you empower them to earn more or equal (to men), social prejudices vanish.”

The practice of killing the girl child is more prevalent among the educated, including in upmarket districts of New Delhi, making it more challenging for the government, the minister said.

“How do we tell educated people that you must not do it? And these are people who would visit all the female deities and pray for strength but don’t hesitate to kill a girl

Full report

Remembering a friend this Diwali

To write about Divali in South India is to invite intense fire from saffron troops. For, Ram stands delinked from the festivities. Nor, for that matter, does Lakshmi figure in anything that goes on that day. What kind of a Divali is it then?

An article by friend, comrade, mentor – the late TKR

I was reminded of this article by hip Grandma‘s post.

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A Kashmiri woman’s appeal for justice

Cricket bats this side, guns on the other: Why he too may turn his back (Image Courtesy: Himalayan Trails)

Amitava Kumar has this post on the letter written by Mohammd Afzal’s wife in 2004 and published in Outlook magazine. Though it does not state to whom the letter is addressed, it seems to be written to the Supreme Court.

There is little to add to the letter, it speaks for itself.

In 1990 Afzal was attracted to the movement led by the JKLF, like thousands of other youth. He went to Pakistan for training and stayed there for a little while. However, he was disillusioned by the differences between different groups and he did not support pro-Pakistani groups. He stayed there only three months without getting any training. Afzal returned to Kashmir and he went to Delhi to pursue his studies. He always wanted to study and before he joined the movement he was doing his MBBS.

My husband wanted to return to normal life and with that intention he surrendered to the BSF. The BSF Commandant refused to give him his certificate till he had motivated two others to surrender. And Afzal motivated two other militants to surrender. He was given a certificate stating that he was a surrendered militant. You will not perhaps realise that it is very difficult to live as a surrendered militant in Kashmir but he decided to live with his family in Kashmir. In 1997 he started a small business of medicines and surgical instruments in Kashmir. The next year we were married. He was 28 years old and I was 18 years.

Throughout the period that we lived in Kashmir the Indian security forces continuously harassed Afzal and told him to spy on people they suspected of being militants. One Major Ram Mohan Roy of 22 Rashtriya Rifles tortured Afzal and gave him electric shocks in his private parts. He was humiliated and abused.

Some days later they took him to the Humhama STF camp. In that camp the officers, DSP Vinay Gupta and DSP Darinder Singh demanded Rs one lakh. We are not a rich family and we had to sell everything, including the little gold I got on my marriage to save Afzal from the torture.

Afzal was kept in freezing water and petrol was put into his anus. One officer Shanti Singh hanged my husband upside down for hours naked and in the cold. They gave electric shocks in his penis and he had to have treatment for days.

You will think that Afzal must be involved in some militant activities that is why the security forces were torturing him to extract information. But you must understand the situation in Kashmir, every man, woman and child has some information on the movement even if they are not involved. By making people into informers they turn brother against brother, wife against husband and children against parents. Afzal wanted to live quietly with his family but the STF would not allow him.

There was no one to represent Afzal in the lower court. The court appointed a lawyer who never took instructions from Afzal, or cross examined the prosecution witnesses. That lawyer was communal and showed his hatred for my husband. When my husband told Judge Dhingra that he did not want that lawyer the judge ignored him. In fact my husband went totally undefended in the trial court. When ever my husband wished to say something the judge would not hear him out and the judge showed his communal bias in open court.

In the High Court one human rights lawyer offered to represent Afzal and my husband accepted. But instead of defending Afzal the lawyer began by asking the court not to hang Afzal but to kill him by a lethal injection.

To sign a petition on behalf of Afzal Guru, go here.

Related article: Not an ‘eye’ for an ‘eye’

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Bismillah Khan and the Kabir Tradition

Ustad Bismillah Khan passed away in Varanasi today.

What struck one about the Ustad was his life of simplicity and the tradition of syncreticism- also called the ganga jumna tehzeeb that he upheld. He lived and died in the city of Varanasi- also the place associated with Kabir. In both his vocation and life, he represented the continuation of that tradition.

The novelist Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza had illustrated this tradition in the names given to towns like Aligarh- a combination of an Arabic name ‘Ali’ and a Sanskrit word ‘garh’ (fort).

This tradition has been particularly strong in Hindustani music and the Ustad embodied this syncreticism in our age, perhaps the tallest one to do so. He lived, ruefully, to see how precarious this tradition is- it often seemed to be on the verge of collapse in the last two decades of his lifetime.

That it has managed to be resilient is because of people like the Ustad.

Brecht summed up the tragic contradiction in great heroes we look upto in times of need: Unfortunate is the land that needs heroes.

Following is a compilation from a few news reports, obituaries and editorials following his demise.

He lived his 91 years out in Varanasi, the temple town, where he often played at the famous Vishwanath Temple.

While several people saw a rift between his religion and the music he played, the Ustad saw the dichotomy as a divine one. A devout Shia, he also worshipped Goddess Saraswati. “Music has no caste,” he often said.

…from rediff site

While paying his heartfelt tribute to Ustad Bismillah khan, Singh says no other artiste after Sant Kabir has achieved so much in creating a fusion between Hindus and Muslims. Samsher Singh pays his tributes:

We will remember the Ustad like Sant Kabir

Speaking of his love for the city Kishan Maharaj the famous tabla player, who often accompanied him on the tabla, pointed out that he and Bismillah Khan continued to live in the Varanasi city while the other artists from the city gradually moved to bigger cities like Mumbai, Kolkatta and Delhi.

A family friend and a senior correspondent with a national channel Rajesh Gupta recalled a couplet by local poet Bhiya ji Banarsi which Bismillah Khan was fond of quoting,

“Chana Chabaina, Ganga Jal aur sookhi roti baasi; Dhaat tari London ki, humko pyaari apni Kashi” (Roasted grams, Ganga jal and stale dry bread Who cares for London, I love my Kashi)

Recalling his sense of humour Gupta said when he met the Ustad at his hospital bed two days ago he not only recited his favourite kajri but also reprimanded his grandson Bande Ali for being “out of tune” as he rhythmically stroked oil into his grandfather’s grey hair! Performing for as little as a rupee for a night -long performance, he was now commanding a fee of Rs 5 lakh per performance but continued to be his humble self, pointed out Gupta.

Known as a man of impeccable secular values, old-timers narrate that he not only refused to migrate after partiition but instead rejoiced by playing the shehnai at the Red Fort on August 15, 1947. According to his son Mehtab Khan one of his last unfulfilled wish was to play at the India Gate.

From The Tribune

Varanasi, from the Wikipedia:

The culture of Varanasi is deeply associated with the river Ganga and its religious importance; the city has been a cultural and religious center in northern India for thousands of years. Varanasi has its own style of classical Hindustani music, and has produced prominent musicians, philosophers, poets, and writers in Indian history, including Kabir, Munshi Premchand, Jaishankar Prasad, Pandit Ravi Shankar, and Ustad Bismillah Khan.

Editorial in The Hindu

His house contained a minimum of furniture and little else by way of ornamentation aside from photographs of him being honoured by dignitaries from various corners of the world. It was a cheerfully bare kind of place, in keeping with the maestro’s character. Much has been written about the Ustad as a devout Muslim who also worshipped Saraswati, the muse of all artists. His pluralism and tolerance were not learnt. They were instinctive and non-didactic, something that flowed naturally in the context of his being. He belonged to a generation that worshipped naad, the abstract principle of the perfectly tuned note. It was the pursuit of this goal in a culturally composite context that defined his greatness.

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Nanak Lama

While there is a lot of similarity in the beliefs of Buddhism and Sikhism, specially in the advocacy of the middle path and stress on this wordliness and non- ritualism, it is difficult to understand why there has been little or no direct influence of the Buddha in the writings of Guru Nanak

While Nanak borrowed much from other religions specially Upanisaidic Hinduism and Islam, he doesn’t seem to have indicated any direct influence of the Buddha.

The land of Guru Nanak- the Punjab- was also the land where Buddhism had once flourished- Gandharva, and as the historian Romilla Thapar has pointed out- Islam and other non- Hindu religions have an unusual overlap with the geographical areas where Buddhism had once reigned.

Some of the janam sakhis– the stories of uncertain origin related to Guru Nanak bear a strong similarity to some of the stories that one heard about the Buddha as well.

The two, however, seem to have encountered each other in Tibet when Guru Nanak, also called Nanak Shah, visited the place in the 16th century.

Harjinder Singh explores and explains why Guru Nanak is referred to as the Guru Rinpoche or Nanak Lama in Tibet, some of the tales he recounts are mythological but fascinating since this is an area that has not been sufficiently explored in both thelogical and historical studies.

If you go to the Golden Temple one of the most interesting things you will observe are some Tibetan pilgrims who come to pray there, bowing down at each of their steps. These people are Buddhists who may belong to one of the numerous sects of Tibetan Buddhism, who regard Guru Nanak as Guru Rinpoche. Guru Padmasambhava brought Buddhism to Tibet and they regard the Guru as a reincarnation of the precious one, ‘Rinpoche’….

(The picture above is) of gurdwara in Sikkim India where locals hang scriptures along with Nishan sahib and hang sikh scriptures in prayer in bodhic style.

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Football and the New Global South

As France inched towards victory in yesterday’s match between with Brazil, one could not help noticing the composition of the French team- I could see only two or maybe three white faces. Tony Karon puts it well:

And with Brazil out, France is clearly now the representative of the global south, made up as it is by Diaspora Africans and Arabs. I hope they win the whole thing.

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Land Reform: How to do it yourself

David Morton writes in The Slate on the land reform movement led by the MST in Brazil, where 2% of the population owns 46% of the land:

The goal of the MST is to force the federal government to speed up land redistribution. Theoretically, the group has the constitution on its side. Much of the privately held farmland in Brazil lies fallow. The government can expropriate this idle land (negotiating a purchase price with the owner) and then settle poor farmers on the property. In practice, though, there’s not much budgeted for the program. What’s more, landowners have little trouble tying up the process in the courts. So, guided by the spirit of the legislation, the movement’s strategy is to break the law. Several hundred families will leave their shacks at the crack of dawn, show up on private land waving hoes and machetes, and start building shelters with whatever wood and plastic sheeting they can carry.

João Pedro Stedile, from the MST executive, puts the achievements and the problem in a broader theoretical perspective:

The MST’s most important achievement has been to organise the poor in the countryside. In Brazil there are five million landless workers, the poorest layer of rural society.We have won land for 500,000 families, some three million people. These families are still fighting on other fronts – for food sovereignty [control over the way food is produced and sold], education and to change the existing agricultural model.

Power is diluted into multiple forms beginning at home, and spreading to the community and society. It is in schools, churches and the media, as well as the state. That is something which we learned from [the Italian Marxist] Antonio Gramsci.

Changes must be made at the base of society. The criticism that we make against the orthodox left parties is that they see power as only being in the presidential palace. But just changing the palace’s occupant does not resolve society’s fundamental problems.

At the same time, we shouldn’t fall into the trap of seeing the problem as just in my family or village and that we don’t have to worry about the government.

An older article on the MST’s direct action mode of land reform.

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