#India – Dams and the Doomed… min(e)d games of the state


 

April 29, 2013

 by Subrat Kumar Sahu

‘We all are living in a gang war… [in which] the state is just another gang!’ 
Arundhati Roy

In the wee hour 29 April 2013, at least 10 platoons of police cracked down on a gathering of about 2000 people, sitting in peaceful protest, on the bed of Suktel River, emanating from the magnificent Gandhamardan Mountains. Near Magurbeda village of Balangir district in Orissa, they were protesting against the construction of a dam at gunpoint on the river – their solitary lifeline – that will submerge more than 50 villages and devastate a self-reliant and robust agrarian economy. The forces came, saw the people, started beating them mercilessly, and invaded the ground. Several left injured and 16 of them arrested, including nine women. Among them were Lenin Kumar, poet and editor of Nisan (an Oriya literary magazine), and Amitabh Patra, an activist-filmmaker. Patra had received the severest of blows; understandably so, as he was filming the state-sponsored brutality live: his camera and head smashed. He fell unconscious and, only hours later, was taken to the hospital at the district headquarters of Balangir where he regained his senses.

Thousands of people of the Lower Suktel plateau have been agitating against this dam project for more than a decade now, facing brutal repression time and again. The state terror has magnified manifold since the past 20 days or so, as the state decided to push this project on war footing and complete it before elections next year – owing to unprecedented pressure from (1) the local politician class of all possible hues who have acquired huge tracts of farm land and hope to multiply returns if irrigation is ensured; (2) land mafia of Balangir who have duped and bought land from project-affected people even after the project was notified, which is illegal, in hope of pocketing hefty compensation amount (some of them are also leading a movement to raise the compensation amount); (3) big landholders of the area who have appropriated land from the aborigines (adivasis and dalits) over time; (4) the educated middle-class who see this brand of ‘development’ as a tool of salvation since the entry of a new market culture would cater to their aristocratic lifestyle and greedy capitalist aspirations (this includes many lawyers, engineers, doctors, professors, journalists, traders, contractors, and the likes). So, for the past 20 days or so, there have been unspoken brutalities unleashed on the people who have held the soil inviolate for centuries. More than a hundred people have been arrested so far and scores beaten up badly; a woman has also died of sunstroke while braving police aggression under a scorching sun.

What actually propels the state to get down to such excesses? Let’s have a quick take on it.

Nehru’s temple of doom

The fact that big dams and associated hydroelectric projects are actually NOT intended for irrigation and power-supply to people, as is always propagated, has come clearer to public perception in light of the recent controversy surrounding the Hirakud Dam in Orissa. The Orissa government’s decision to divert 478 cusec of water in 2007, originally meant for irrigation, from the dam reservoir to feed the mushrooming industries has created a political storm in the state in which ordinary folks have come out to the street in resistance. On 6 November 2007, more than 40,000 farmers gathered in front of Hirakud Dam and marched into the ‘prohibited area’ pulling down at least four police barricades in an unprecedented show of ‘civil disobedience’. The police though tried to push the demonstration back with a sudden and ruthless lathi charge, in which more than 35 farmers including women were badly injured, the successful act of civil disobedience by the strong gathering of ordinary people definitely jolted the powers-that-be in Bhubaneshwar out of their wits.

The controversy has even brought to fore how the dam has failed the originally promised irrigation plans and even produces electricity much below the promised and projected capacity. The water-carrying capacity of the reservoir has decreased drastically over the years, and nearly 50,000 acres of land in the irrigation command area has already turned dry. In such a demanding situation, the government’s plan to divert 478 cusec of water to industries would baffle any sensible mind. The fact that one cusec of water could irrigate 100 acres of land would arguably rage the farmers, especially when they were waiting for the government to set the worsening water situation right. Moreover, a large number of people displaced due to this project five decades back have not even been rehabilitated yet. Widespread reporting (for a change) of the harrowing facts that this movement brought forth into public gaze has had people learn a lot, especially that Nehru’s ‘temple of modern India’ for which innumerable sacrifices were made has only turned out to be the ‘temple of doom’ for the people! However, instead of learning from this blunder, the government kept on pushing numerous dams in various parts of the state down people’s throats, clearly indicating that dams are for industries, especially mining, and that industries are more sacrosanct than people.

Invoking the colonial ghosts

The fact that the Naveen Patnaik government has not left any doubt in public perception regarding its war-footing agenda to turn the entire state into an industrial graveyard explains it being so adamant and impatient in pushing several dubious dam projects throughout the state, despite strong opposition from the common folks as well as from environmentalists. Orissa now witnesses a sudden, uncomfortable, and outrageous influx of foreign mining and metal companies to set up shops there by destroying people’s homes, livelihoods, and cultures. These water- and energy-intensive industries, in turn, unleash unbearable burden on the natural resources, and the state government is only tamely obliging, pushing aside people’s needs and well being. Among these, the share of bauxite mining and aluminium-manufacturing units is the largest, especially in the western part of the state.

Supplying electricity and water to aluminium factories has historically been the central reason for the construction of big dams the world over. Europe and North America witnessed a spate of big dams built during the 1900s–1930s, soon after the technology of aluminium manufacturing matured in the West towards the end of the 19th century (Silenced rivers: the ecology and politics of large dams, Patrick McCully, 1998). This is because production of aluminium demands exceptionally large amounts of electricity and water. Producing one tonne of aluminium requires 15,000–16,000 kWh (kilowatt-hours) of electricity and 10,000–12,000 litres of water.

It is little wonder that the present plans for intensive mining of bauxite in Orissa alongside number of big dams, aluminium factories, and rail links actually date back to the 1920s. In fact, British geologist Cyril Fox had then outlined the whole plan for Orissa’s aluminium industry, as a colonial undertaking, involving aluminium factories, dams, railways, and ports, fed by bauxite mines on the main mountains (Double death: aluminium’s links with genocide revealed, Felix Padel and Samarendra Das, 2006). The Orissa government, of late, is only invoking the ghosts of colonial exploitation by welcoming foreign mining giants to dig every bit of the state while making their business easy by building dams, railway tracks, and roads with public and borrowed money, displacing and distressing millions of people and ensuring the state’s long-term indebtedness.

Damning a people

As the general mass is now aware of the warped intentions behind building dams, they are opposing such projects wherever there is an attempt to evict them from their homes and lands. The movement against the Lower Suktel Dam project is one such movement that is in its peak now in the Loisingha block of Orissa’s Balangir district.

The project has an interesting history, which evidently links to the state’s notorious mining agenda. The first survey for the dam project (the Lower Suktel Major Irrigation Project) was done way back in 1979; soon after it came to public knowledge that BALCO had been given permission to mine the adjacent Gandhamardan Mountains for bauxite. But, the government’s contention on the dam project then was also that for irrigation. However, a strong and determined people’s movement threw BALCO out of Gandhamardan in the 1980s and the government eventually scrapped its mining plans there. Interestingly, following that, work on the dam project also did not move ahead from there.

Now that scores of mining companies (including the infamous Vedanta and NALCO) have applied for and are eagerly waiting for approval to mine Gandhamardan, suddenly the dam project has once again become the state’s priority agenda. As people clearly see a nefarious nexus between mining and the dam, they have pulled up their sleeves in opposing it. Moreover, the government is unbending in not making public the DPR (detailed project report) despite demands from all quarters. While the people are united in fighting under the banner of the Lower Suktel Budi Anchal Sangram Samiti, government officials have earlier forced people in many villages to accept the so-called compensation money. Police force has been used mercilessly against the villagers in number of occasions and false cases have been registered against hundreds of them, including teenagers. In 2005, 52 persons (including school-going girls) from Dungripali and Pardhiapali villages were arrested, beaten up badly (two of them later succumbed to the injuries), and sent to judicial custody. They were released on bail after 21 days after the intervention of a local lawyer while the cases are still pending.

The Lower Suktel area is known as the vegetable garden of Orissa and is one of the most fertile land sites of the state. Even without any irrigation programme, the area has never witnessed drought or famine in history. Moreover, its forests are abundant in medicinal plants and revenue-generating tree species, apart from containing a rich biodiversity.

Interestingly, the Suktel River does not have much water to make way for a dam meant for irrigation. Villagers believe that it is a dangerous ploy by the state to first displace majority of the population through this dam project so that there will be few left to oppose when some inane mining giant comes to mine the Gandhamardan Mountains. There is also a plan afoot to interlink the Hati River to the Lower Suktel reservoir considering that Suktel does not hold much water. That makes it clear why a reservoir is needed exactly where it is being built. That would perfectly serve the mining company by providing it with a water source just next door.

The people’s movement against the project here offers a microcosm of the political economy of mining, linked to dams, devastation, and displacement – all in the name of ‘development’ (of a tiny sect of people, as listed in the beginning, whose greed and aspirations are acknowledged by the state as ‘will of the people’)!

While the villagers are resolute in putting up a strong resistance and had till now forced to stop the construction of the dam, meanwhile the government, after setting up several police stations in tiny villages, in the middle of nowhere, and a massive police barrack next to the dam site, has now declared war on its own people.

 

Maoists threaten to silence voices #Vaw


 

SATURDAY, 02 MARCH 2013 15:17SANTOSH NARAYAN | RANCHI, Pioneer

 

Time has turned a full circle in the case of Niyamat Ansari. It is on the brink of taking the same ugly turn witnessed exactly two years ago, when Ansari was murdered. The social activist had been fighting corruption in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme (MGNREGS) in Latehar.

Apparently acting at the behest of culprits behind Ansari’s killing, local Maoists have now threatened his sister, Saida Bibi, and even abducted Bhukhan Singh, the whistleblower’s close aide and companion in his struggle on the Centre’s flagship programme.

The ultras had approached Saida Bibi on Wednesday and threatened her with dire consequences. “The ‘party people’ (Naxals) told Saida to change her statement in court. They pressurised her to say she does not identify the persons languishing in jail (for murdering Ansari) and instead blame the ‘party’ for the crime. Otherwise she would meet a fate similar to her brother. She is terrified since then,” Nuroosha Bibi, Ansari’s wife, told The Pioneer.

Saida Bibi still lives in Jharua village, which Ansari’s wife had been forced to leave behind after his murder. She had left Manika block of Latehar and come to the town with her children.

Seven accused are behind the bars for the March 2, 2011 murder that had sent shockwaves across the nation. Facts coming to the fore now suggest that some of those arrested have had close association with Rajan Yadav and Pappu, reportedly Maoist ‘area commanders’. The Naxals are now terrorising the family members of the whistleblower and key witnesses to deviate from their original statements.

Activists like Jean Dreze, Aruna Roy, Arundhati Roy and several others had raised the matter on various platforms in 2011. A team headed by BK Sinha, the then Secretary in the Rural Development Ministry, had visited Kope gram panchayat in Latehar and filed a detailed report admitting rampant corruption and the role of contractors in the MGNREGA work in the area — the very issue raised by Ansari before he was silenced.

The rebels have been working on sabotaging the entire investigation into and even abducted Bhukhan on February 26 to frighten him into turning a hostile witness.  Bhukhan was released a day after and has been given police protection.

“Maoists often visit Jharua and bully the 14 to 15 eyewitnesses of the incident. They have even beaten a few to get them to change their statement before court,” said a local MGNREGA activist who is fighting for justice to Ansari.

The motive behind pushing the name of the Left-wing organisation for the killing is to save the culprits. It would be virtually impossible for the police to pinpoint individuals working in a Maoist organisation.

It would effectively silence the voice against siphoning of funds and the cold-blooded murder would be masked as another Naxal act.

Does your bomb-proof basement have an attached toilet?


Arundhati Royin Outlook

Magazine | Feb 25, 2013
AFP (From Outlook 25 February 2013)
opinion
Does Your Bomb-Proof Basement Have An Attached Toilet?
An execution carried out to thundering war clouds
l
Also In This Story 

What are the political consequences of the secret and sudden hanging of Mohammed Afzal Guru, prime accused in the 2001 Parliament attack, going to be? Does anybody know? The memo, in callous bureaucratese, with every name insultingly misspelt, sent by the Superintendent of Central Jail No. 3, Tihar, New Delhi, to “Mrs Tabassum w/o Sh Afjal Guru” reads:

“The mercy petition of Sh Mohd Afjal Guru s/o Habibillah has been rejected by Hon’ble President of India. Hence the execution of Mohd Afjal Guru s/o Habibillah has been fixed for 09/02/2013 at 8 am in Central Jail No-3.

This is for your information and for further necessary action.”

The mailing of the memo was deliberately timed to get to Tabassum only after the execution, denying her one last legal chanc­e—the right to challenge the rejection of the mercy petition. Both Afzal and his family, separately, had that right. Both were thwarted. Even though it is mandat­ory in law, the memo to Tabassum ascribed no reason for the president’s rejection of the mercy petition. If no reason is given, on what basis do you appeal? All the other prisoners on death row in India have been given that last chance.

Since Tabassum was not allowed to meet her husband before he was hanged, since her son was not allowed to get a few last words of advice from his father, since she was not given his body to bury, and since there can be no funeral, what “further necessary action” does the jail manual prescribe? Anger? Wild, irreparable grief? Unquestioning acc­eptance? Complete integration?

After the hanging, there have been unseemly celebrations. The bereaved wives of the people who were killed in the attack on Parliament were displayed on TV, with M.S. Bitta, chairman of the All-India Anti-Terrorist Front, and his ferocious moustaches playing the CEO of their sad little company. Will anybody tell them that the men who shot their husbands were killed at the same time, in the same place? And that those who planned the attack will never be brought to justice because we still don’t know who they are.

India has displayed a touching belief in the testimony of a former chief of the ISI, of which the mandate has been to destabilise India.

Meanwhile, Kashmir is under curfew, once again. Its people have been locked down like cattle in a pen, once again. They have defied curfew, once again. Three people have already been killed in three days and fifteen more grievou­sly injured. Newspapers have been shut down, but anybody who trawls the internet will see that this time the rage of young Kashmiris is not defiant and exuberant like it was during the mass uprisings in the summers of 2008, 2009 and 2010­—even though 180 people lost their lives on those occasions. This time the anger is cold and corrosive. Unforgiving. Is there any reason why it shouldn’t be?For more than 20 years, Kashmiris have endured a military occupation. The tens of thousands who lost their lives were killed in prisons, in torture centres, and in ‘encounters’, genuine as well as fake. What sets the execution of Afzal Guru apart is that it has given the young, who have never had any first-hand experience of democracy, a ringside seat to watch the full majesty of Indian democracy at work. They have watched the wheels turning, they have seen all its hoary institutions, the government, police, courts, political parties and yes, the media, collude to hang a man, a Kashmiri, who they do not believe received a fair trial. With good reason.

He went virtually unrepresented in the lower court during the most crucial part of the trial. The court-appointed lawyer never visited him in prison, and actually admitted incriminating evidence against his own client.  (The Supreme Court deliberated on that matter and decided it was okay.) In short, his guilt was by no means established beyond reasonable doubt. They have watched the government pull him out of the death row queue and execute him out of turn. What direction, what form will their new cold, corrosive anger take? Will it lead them to the blessed liberation they so yearn for and have sacrificed a whole generation for, or will it lead to yet another cycle of cataclysmic violence, of being beaten down, and then having ‘normalcy’ imposed on them under soldiers’ boots?


Afzal Guru family weren’t given the President’s reasons for rejecting his mercy plea. (Photograph by Getty Images, From Outlook 25 February 2013)

All of us who live in the region know that 2014 is going to be a watershed year. There will be elections in Pakistan, in India and in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. We know that when the US withdraws its troops from Afghanistan, the chaos from an already seriously destabilised Pakistan will spill into Kashmir, as it has done before. By executing Afzal Guru in the way that it did, the government of India has taken a decision to fuel that process of destabilisation, to actually invite it in. (As it did before, by rigging the 1987 elections in Kashmir.) After three consecutive years of mass protests in the Valley ended in 2010, the government invested a great deal in restoring its version of ‘norma­lcy’ (happy tourists, voting Kashmiris). The question is, why was it willing to reverse all its own efforts? Leaving aside issues of the legality, the morality and the venality of executing Afzal Guru in the way that it did, and looking at it just politically, tactically, it is a dangerous and irresponsible thing to have done. But it was done. Clearly, and knowingly. Why?

I used the word ‘irresponsible’ advisedly. Look what happened the last time around.

Kashmiri youth have seen Indian democracy at work now, and believe its institutions have sent a man to the gallows without a fair trial.

In 2001, within a week of the Parliament attack (and a few days after Afzal Guru’s arrest), the government recalled its ambassador from Pakistan and dispatched half a million troops to the border. On what basis was that done? The only thing the public was told is that while Afzal Guru was in the custody of the Delhi Police Special Cell, he had admitted to being a member of the Pakistan-based militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). The Supreme Court set aside that ‘confession’ extracted in police custody as inadmissible in law. Does what is inadmissible in law become admissible in war?In its final judgement on the case, apart from the now famous statements about “satisfying collective conscience” and having no direct evidence, the Supreme Court also said there was “no evidence that Mohammed Afzal belonged to any terrorist group or organisation”. So what justified that military aggression, that loss of soldiers’ lives, that massive haemorrhaging of public money and the real risk of nuclear war? (Remember foreign embassies issued travel advisories and evacuated their staff?) Was there some intelligence that preceded the Parliament attack and the arrest of Afzal Guru that we had not been told about? If so, how could the attack be allowed to happen? And if the intelligence was accurate, and infallible enough to justify such dangerous military posturing, don’t people in India, Pakistan and Kashmir have the right to know what it was? Why was that evidence not produced in court to establish Afzal Guru’s guilt?

In the endless debates around the Parliament attack case, on this, perhaps the most crucial issue of all, there has been dead silence from all quarters—leftists, rightists, Hindutva-ists, secularists, nationalists, seditionists, cynics, critics. Why?

Maybe the JeM did mastermind the attack. Praveen Swami, perhaps the Indian media’s best known expert on ‘terrorism’, who seems to have enviable sources in the Indian police and intelligence agencies, has recently cited the 2003 testimony of former ISI chief Lt Gen Javed Ashraf Qazi, and the 2004 book by Muhammad Amir Rana, a Pakistani scholar, holding the JeM responsible for the Parliament attack. (It’s touching, this belief in the veracity of the testimony of the chief of an organisation whose mandate it is to destabilise India.) It still doesn’t explain what evidence there was in 2001, when the army mobilisation took place.

For the sake of argument, let’s accept that the JeM carried out the attack. Maybe the ISI was involved too. We needn’t pretend that the government of Pakistan is innocent of carrying out covert activity over Kashmir. (Just as the government of India does in Balochistan and parts of Pakistan. Remember the Indian army trained the Mukti Bahini in East Pakistan in the 1970s, and six different Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups, including the LTTE, in the 1980s.)

A few days back, Pakistan test-fired a nuclear missile of short range, for use on the battlefield. And Kashmir police published N-survival tips.

It’s a filthy scenario all around. What would a war with Pakistan have achieved then, and what will it achieve now? (Apart from a massive loss of life. And fattening the bank accounts of some arms dealers.) Indian hawks routinely suggest the only way to “root out the problem” is “hot pursuit” and the “taking out” of “terrorist camps” in Pakistan. Really? It would be interesting to research how many of the aggressive strategic experts and defence analysts on our TV screens have an interest in the defence and weapons industry. They don’t even need war. They just need a war-like climate in which military spending remains on an upward graph. This idea of hot pursuit is even stupider and more pathetic than it sounds. What would they bomb? A few individuals? Their barracks and food supplies? Or their ideology? Look how the US government’s “hot pursuit” has ended in Afghanistan. And look how a “security grid” of half-a-million soldiers has not been able to subdue the unarmed, civilian population of Kashmir. And India is going to cross international borders to bomb a country—with nuclear arms—that is rapidly devolving into chaos? India’s professional war-mongers derive a great deal of satisfaction by sneering at what they see as the disintegration of Pakistan. Anyone with a rudimentary, working knowledge of history and geography would know that the breakdown of Pakistan (into a gangland of crazed, nihilistic, religious zealots) is absolutely no reason for anyone to rejoice.The US presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Pakistan’s official role as America’s junior partner in the war on terror, makes that region a much-reported place. The rest of the world is at least aware of the dangers unfolding there. Less understood, and harder to read, is the perilous wind that’s picking up speed in the world’s favourite new superpower. The Indian economy is in considerable trouble. The aggressive, acquisitive ambition that economic liberalisation unleashed in the newly created middle class is quickly turning into an equally aggressive frustration. The aircraft they were sitting in has begun to stall just after takeoff. Exhilaration is turning to panic.

The general election is due in 2014. Even without an exit poll I can tell you what the results will be. Though it may not be obvious to the naked eye, once again we will have a Congress-BJP coalition. (Two parties, each with a mass murder of thousands of people belonging to minority communities under their belts.) The CPI(M) will give support from outside, even though it hasn’t been asked to. Oh, and it will be a strong state. (On the hanging front, the gloves are already off. Could the next in line be Balwant Singh Rajoana, on death row for the assassination of Punjab’s chief minister Beant Singh? His execution could revive Khalistani sentiment in Punjab and put the Akali Dal on the mat. Perfect old-style Congress politics.)

But that old-style politics is in some difficulty. In the last few turbulent months, it is not just the image of major political parties, but politics itself, the idea of politics as we know it, that has taken a battering. Again and again, whether it’s corruption, rising prices, or rape and the rising violence against women, the new middle class is at the barricades. They can be water-cannoned or lathicharged, but can’t be shot or impriso­ned in their thousands, in the way the poor can, the way Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims, Kashmiris, Nagas and Manipuris can—and have been. The old political parties know that if there is not to be a complete meltdown, this aggression has to be headed off, redirected. They know that they must work together to bring politics back to what it used to be. What better way than a communal conflagration? (How else can the secular play at being secular and the communal be communal?) Maybe even a little war, so that we can play Hawks & Doves all over again.

What better solution than to aim a kick at that tried and trusted old political football—Kashmir? The hanging of Afzal Guru, its brazenness and its timing, is deliberate. It has brought politics and anger back onto Kashmir’s streets.

The idea of ‘hot pursuit’ is stupid, pathetic. What would we bomb? Some individuals? Their barracks? Or their ideology?

India hopes to manage it with the usual combination of brute force and poisonous, Machiavellian manipulation, des­igned to pit people against one another. The war in Kashmir is presented to the world as a battle between an inclusive, secular democracy and radical Islamists. What then should we make of the fact that Mufti Bashiruddin, the so-called Grand Mufti of Kashmir (a completely phantom post)—who has made most abominable hate speeches and issued fatwa after fatwa, intended to present Kashmir as a demonic, monolithic, Wahabi society—is actually a government-anointed cleric? Kids on Facebook will be arrested, never him. What should we make of the fact that the Indian government looks away while money from Saudi Arabia (that most steadfast partner of the US) is pouring into Kashmir’s madrassas? How different is this from what the CIA did in Afghanistan all those years ago? That whole, sorry business is what created Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It has decimated Afghanistan and Pakistan. What sort of incubus will this unleash?The trouble is that the old political football may not be all that easy to control any more. And it’s radioactive. Maybe it is not a coincidence that a few days ago Pakistan tested a short-range battlefield nuclear missile to protect itself against threats from “evolving scenarios”. Two weeks ago, the Kashmir police published “survival tips” for nuclear war. Apart from advising people to build toilet-equipped bombproof basements large enough to house their entire families for two weeks, it said: “During a nuclear attack, motorists should dive out of their cars toward the blast to save themselves from being crushed by their soon-to-be tumbling vehicles.” And to “expect some initial disorientation as the blast wave may blow down and carry away many prominent and familiar features”.

Prominent and familiar features may already have been blown down. Perhaps we should all jump out of our soon-to-be-tumbling vehicles.

 

Life after death of Niyamat Ansari


FRIDAY, 15 FEBRUARY 2013 00:05
SANTOSH NARAYAN | RANCHI , Pioneer

 

Niyamat Ansari’s family is yet to breathe easy. It’s been nearly two years since the whistleblower was killed. His wife Nuroosha Bibi has got work in January this year but is yet to draw her first ‘salary’.

Worst of all, the frightened family has had to abandon its original village Jharua (Manika block) and settle in Latehar town.

On March 2, 2011, Ansari was dragged out of his house, brutally beaten up and murdered by local goons for exposing MGNREGA embezzlement.

Narrating her unending hardship to The Pioneer, Nuroosha Bibi said the family of eight have had to survive on pennies. “We would get some agricultural work on others’ farms and make ends meet. No one gave us land and we were left with some tand (less productive) land only. Nothing but maize grows there,” she says.

After Ansari’s murder, his parents’ old-age pension has proved too little to survive on, leave alone provide proper education to his three children and those of his sister —Saida Bibi, a widow.

Nuroosha has now been given a temporary job in a Government office at Latehar. “I am working in DRDA office on a daily basis since January 22. But they are yet to pay me. The bada babu (senior clerk) told me I would get Rs 195 a day. But that would be for working days only and not for Sundays or holidays. I don’t know how I will manage,” she says in a chocked voice.

The cold-blooded murder had created a furore at national and international levels in 2011. Activists such as Jean Dreze, Aruna Roy, Arundhati Roy and others had raised the matter on various platforms. As a result, a team headed by BK Sinha, the then Secretary in Union Rural Development Ministry, visited Kope gram panchayat and filed a detailed report. It admitted rampant corruption and the role of contractors in the rural job scheme.

Despite the attention it grabbed, Nuroosha Bibi was forced to abandon her husband’s house, succumbing to pressure, mostly from associates of forces behind Ansari’s killing. “I had some money from my marriage and also from Saida. By collecting savings, I somehow managed a house at Latehar, though it had no windows or stairs. But I did not want to live in the village. They used to laugh at me, threaten me and pass comments. I was feeling extremely frightened.”

Her sufferings have not ended. About two months ago, money and valuables were stolen from her house and there has been no police action.

The Government deposited Rs 3 lakh as fixed deposit in her name about seven months ago, but not before draining efforts. “The file was moving very slow. We approached officials in Delhi and in Ranchi. Finally, when we met Arjun Munda and Jairam Ramesh (Union Rural Development Minister), the process speeded up,” said Shayama Singh of NREGA Help Line, an NGO working to bring transparency in the scheme.

However, Ansari’s family is still awaiting Rs 1 lakh and a permanent job as compensation that was reportedly announced by former CM Arjun Munda and promised by then Deputy Commissioner Rahul Purwar. It will come only after the case finally concludes, a distant dream indeed.

Nuroosha Bibi is not sure about the fate of the case. “I have no knowledge of legal aspects as I am not very educated. They are in jail but for how long, I don’t know and also when the case is going to end,” she says.

Ansari’s case is just another grim instance on how it does not pay to blow the whistle.

 

Afzal Guru Hanged, Whose Conscience Satisfied? #deathpenalty


By N. Jayaram

09 February, 2013
Countercurrents.org

It was bad enough that Ajmal Kasab, the only Pakistani captured after the 2008 attacks in Bombay, was stealthily hanged without a public debate last November. It is far worse that the Kashmiri Afzal Guru was hanged on the morning of 9 February 2013 following his highly questionable conviction over the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament.
Many eminent lawyers, scholars and journalists have written extensively, pointing out gaping holes in the entire trial and appeal process as well as the rejection of petitions to the president of India on Afzal Guru’s behalf. They include senior lawyers Nandita Haksar and Indira Jaisingh, writers Arundhati Roy, Praful Bidwai and Nirmalangshu Mukherji and the late K.G. Kannabiran, a former president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties.

Journals such as the Economic and Political Weekly and this website have periodically shed light on the case and established that the way Afzal Guru has been treated is a complete travesty of justice. Not only articles in journals and newspapers but books too have been written on the subject, including December 13: Terror Over Democracy by Nirmalangshu Mukherji (2005) and 13 December, a Reader: The Strange Case of the Attack on the Indian Parliament by Arundhati Roy (2006) detailing the role played by Delhi police officer Rajbir Singh in putting together the case, the acquittals that followed in the Delhi High Court (including that of S.A.R. Geelani, lecturer in Arabic at a Delhi college), the challenges in the Supreme Court and its confirmation of the death sentence for Afzal Guru despite the questionable nature of the evidence produced in the case. A website dedicated to the case has collected some of the pertinent writings:http://www.justiceforafzalguru.org/

The Supreme Court said: “The collective conscience of the society will be satisfied only if the death penalty is awarded to Afzal Guru.” It was, to say the least, unfortunate that a court of law decided to pander to its assumed notion of “collective conscience” rather than abide by points of law.

The ignominious role played by the national media in the wake of the 13 December 2001 parliament attack has also been well documented by Nirmalangshu Mukherji and others. The media seems to have eaten out of police officials’ hands instead of asking tough questions. As Sukumar Muralidharan of the International Federation of Journalists has pointed out, members of the profession failed to do what they ought to have at least after the High Court verdict – investigate the claims of the police and revisit the case they had not yet examined.

Afzal Guru’s execution is the second time after Ajmal Kasab’s on 21 November 2012 that the government has carried it out stealthily, ignoring the need to share the appeal process with the public, the lawyers for those convicted and their families. The execution of Dhananjoy Chatterjee on 14 August, 2004 following his conviction over the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl in 1990 followed a public discussion.

In many of the now steadily shrinking number of countries that retain the death penalty, long delays such as in the cases of Afzal Guru and Chatterjee would automatically have led to commutations. Nearly 150 countries are abolitionist in law or in practice, meaning that they have not carried out execution for many years or observe a moratorium.

Rather than moving in that direction, the Indian government has been riding roughshod over people’s aspirations. Following the massive nation-wide upsurge in the aftermath of a gang-rape (and eventually murder) in New Delhi on 16 December 2012, the government set up a committee headed by former Chief Justice of India, J.S. Verma, with Justice Leila Seth and former Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam assisting. But when the committee offered a detailed set of recommendations within a record time of a few weeks, recommendations which were widely praised by women’s organisations and lawyers’ collectives, the government stealthily put out an ordinance, circumventing the need to face parliament and draft a detailed bill.

Then when Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi came calling at the Sri Ram College of Commerce on 6 February 2006, Delhi Police sided with Hindutva elements and rough-handled those protesting against his visit. And hours after Afzal Guru’s execution, the same police again sided with the Saffron elements, arresting several peaceful protestors.

Meanwhile, the same day as the execution, in another part of India, namely Bangalore, hundreds of peaceful demonstrators against the evictions of 1,500 families from a shantytown were met by a few hundred policemen, who proceeded to make arrests. The police are siding with a company owned by the son of a former senior-most police official of Karnataka.

A respected reporter in Mangalore, Naveen Soorinje, who exposed a Hindutva attack on young people enjoying a birthday party last year, continues to be in prison even after the state cabinet withdrew the charges framed against him. There again, there are persisting allegations of police collusion with Hindutva elements.
Indian politicians have to realise that if they ride roughshod over democratic norms and ignore the rule of law today it can backfire on them when their opponents come to power and imitate their cynical actions.

Moreover if they think hanging Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru is easy, they need to figure out how to respond to those who ask why not Balwant Singh Rajoana (for the 1995 assassination of Punjab chief minister Beant Singh) and Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan (for the 1991 assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi). The Akali Dal, an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party, has appealed against any move to hang Rajoana. The fury of Sikhs worldwide would certainly be too great for the Indian state to bear. The Tamil Nadu state assembly has gone on record in demanding that the three Tamils be spared.

With obvious electoral gains in mind, the Congress government has gone after soft Muslim targets. And the BJP is happy to make vociferous demands for the hanging of Muslims accused of terrorist acts while calibrating its stance in other instances.

How long will the people of India turn a blind eye to such cynicism? Instead of whipping up and pandering to mob demands, the Indian state ought to be pursuing peaceful development by fostering coexistence. But that would need a modicum of wisdom currently sadly lacking in the rulers in New Delhi.

N. Jayaram is a journalist now based in Bangalore after more than 23 years in East Asia (mainly Hong Kong and Beijing) and 11 years in New Delhi. He was with the Press Trust of India news agency for 15 years and Agence France-Presse for 11 years and is currently engaged in editing and translating for NGOs and academic institutions. He writes a blog: http://walkerjay.wordpress.com/

 

#India -Sexual Violence, Consumer Culture and Feminist Politics #Vaw # Sexuality


 – Rethinking the Critique of Commodification : Sreenanti Banerjee

FEBRUARY 3, 2013

Guest Post by SREENANTI BANERJEE

I will begin with the by now well-known interview of author and social activist Arundhati Roy, conducted by Channel 4 (a British Media House), about the widespread protests after the horrific December 16th incident of the brutal gangrape of the 23 year old medical student in Delhi. Permit me to quote Roy at length as I do not wish to take bits and pieces from her talk, and pluck them out of their context.

We are having an unexceptional reaction to an event which isn’t exceptional […] But the problem is that why is this crime creating such a lot of outrage is because it plays into the idea of the criminal poor, the vegetable vendor, the gym instructor, the bus driver actually assaulting a middle-class girl. But when rape is used as a means of domination by upper castes, by the army or the police it’s not even punished.

Question: Is there any chance that this protest is going to lead to genuine change, that the political class will accept that this is not what modern India is all about?

Answer: I think it will lead to some laws perhaps, and increased surveillance. But, all of that, I repeat, all of that will protect middle class women.

Question: This is such a contrast from the image of modern India that is being potrayed by the film-making industry in Mumbai, by the whole sort of new tech India. I mean as if there are many worlds competing here [……] So you are suggesting that this new India is fuelling disrespect for women?

Answer: The feudal India has a huge history and legacy of disrespect and violence against women, I mean, any accounts of partition or what is done to dalit women contains that. But, now there is a sort of psychosis. First of all the army and the police are using rape as a weapon against people in places like Chattisgarh, Kashmir and Manipur and so on [……]

But, the other thing is that there is a widening gap between the rich and the poor.Earlier atleast the rich did what they did with a fair amount of discretion. Now it’s all out there, on television, all the sort of conspicuous consumption, and there is ananger and a psychosis building up. Women at the top, at the middle and the bottom are going to pay the price for it, not so much at the top but certainly the dalit women are continuously going to be subjected to violence, and young urban women like the one to whom this happened are very very vulnerable to this kind ofpsychotic rage.” (emphasis added).

Now, although the interview appears to state the ‘real’ conditions of Indian democracy and how the state always permits only a particular class to vent its grievance against violence, here I would urge you to read with me in this interview something that appears to be a central conundrum of cultural politics in what we come to know as the “Global South” today.

The anchor of the programme here speaks in his generic Orientalist “civilizing” tone of a “new and a modern India”, accompanied by a commonplace bewilderment about a supposed “clash of civilization” (in the Hutingtonian sense), about how a “modern” country can exhibit such entrenched misogyny (as if women’s emancipation is always and already another synonym for ‘modernity’) – a country which in fact was supposed to have ‘transcended’ its erstwhile ‘uncivilized’ past and by now gotten rid of its taint of being a “fallen civilization”. And this amazement on the part of the anchor is nothing unusual since this was typical of the whole of Western media after the ghastly event of December 16th when it was always poor “Indian men” raping its modern civilized ‘other’ (in the form of urban women), not being able to cope with rapid processes westernization and globalization.

However, it is interesting to note Arundhati Roy’s response to these questions, especially her notion of “conspicuous consumption” leading to anger and psychosis amongst the urban youth, and women “paying the price” for capitalism’s “pornographic” seductions with its obnoxiously rising concomitant gap between the rich and the poor.  Now, for quite some time, we have seen a continuum in terms of taking positions on westernization and its supposed effects on women and their ‘safety’. From Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief to the Supreme Court Judgement criticized by the Justice Verma Committee Report pp. 80 – 83 (which claimed that in India women would seldom falsely “cry rape”, as sex here is generally not for sale and hence women are more protectionist about their sexuality compared to the West where sex is used for pleasure and economic purposes), to Kakoli Ghosh Dastidaar of Trinamool Congress asserting that the “context” of the Park Street rape incident of the “pub-going woman” was qualitatively different from that of the bus gangrape as in the former (“false”) case it was a mere squabble between a prostitute and her client (as opposed to the more ‘authentic’ gangrape in the bus), to Abhijeet Mukherjee’s lament about painted and dented, non-intellectual, consumerist women’s frivolous protests – all of them (although from different standpoints) seem to be commenting on the ghastly effect that capitalism and its twin associate commodification has on the urban Indian woman. While the article published in The Hindu (quoted in the Verma Committee Report) as well as Arundhati Roy seem to be engaging in a much more nuanced analysis of how women venturing in the public sphere for work, education or leisure ‘unfortunately’ become the targets of the wrath of men who are “victims” of an ever-growing individualist consumption-oriented culture, as opposed to Kakoli Ghosh Dastidaars or Mohan Bhagwats who engage in a much more blatant eulogy of the woman who maintains all the ‘lakshman rekhas’ and is not ‘utstrinkhal’ (a term recently used by the Hindi columnist Raj Kishor in an article to describe the ‘licentious urban women’); the underlying assumption is the same. And, that is, the striking opulence of consumer capital leads to sexual violence of urban women.

Fear of the ‘Inauthentic’ Female that predates Capitalism

Although I do understand where Roy is coming from and her concerns about the injustice that global capital has been giving rise to in recent times in terms of erasing any public discourse on state-sponsored sexual violence against women and sexual violence perpetrated by the upper class and upper castes on Dalit and tribal women, the assertion of women (of all classes) “paying the price” for the pornographic exhibitionism of wealth of a particular class, I believe, is certainly problematic.

Here, I do not wish to give the elaborate and rather painstaking (although much needed) inventory of misogyny predating capitalism. However, I do wish to give one particular instance which perhaps would take us to the heart of the matter, and somewhat help me to articulate my theoretical disagreement with Roy and certain other significant social commentators who consider “mindless flaunting and display of wealth” as the “root cause” of sexual violence against middle class women, and a “paying  of price” in terms of them being brutally violated and their intestines being pulled out as a direct and inevitable outcome of the hubris of global capital. This I believe, is a classic case of the much talked about notion of “justifying” sexual violence, something that directly informs what we conceive as “rape culture”.

Here, the notion of male ‘anxiety’ demands further exploration. One of the significant instances of this vulnerability gets demonstrated in the Laws of Manu, which is commonsensically renowned for its misogynist claims. But since commonsense by definition impedes criticality, it is significant to say that it is quite possible to refrain from any crass reductionism of Manu as far as his interpretation of women is concerned. In Laws of Manu, chapter 9, Manu says,

“[14] Good looks do not matter to them (women), nor do they care about youth; ‘A man!’ they say, and enjoy sex with him, whether he is good-looking or ugly. [15] By running after men like ‘whores’, by their ‘fickle minds’, and by their natural lack of affection these women are unfaithful to their husbands even when they are zealously guarded here. [16]. [……] women, who have no virile strength and no Vedic verses, are ‘falsehood’ […]”  [i]

What we need to do here is to read Manu against Manu himself. What is interesting is that the notion of control of women’s sexuality does not stem in Manu from the assumption that women are ‘naturally’ passive and weaker. Neither, does the desire to control emerge from an understanding that women are ‘essentially’ treacherous, unaffectionate and malicious. Rather, a different reading would help us realize that one of the primary sources of men’s anxiety and vulnerability about women’s sexual excess is the notion of the ‘masquerade’, the capacity to feign ‘originality’ and ‘authenticity’ on the part of women, only to prove the fictive nature of that very notion of an ‘authentic’ uncorroded pure womanhood’; in other words, the capacity to ‘mask’ or ‘mime’ oneself, only to show that there is no ‘referent’ of a ‘real self’ behind the mask. Thus, patriarchal disgust emanates from an inherent fear.

Is Commodification and Objectification Bad for Feminism?

From the above analysis, we realize that a culture of misogyny which certainly predated the advent of capitalism, already had a deep-seated fear of the ‘inauthentic fake open feelinglesss promiscuous whore’, whose sexuality in effect had to be controlled. With the advent of capitalism, new patriarchies got introduced which denied women’s household labour, gave rise to unequal wages so on and so forth. But, along with that, the already existing culture of misogyny became all the more ingrained as the apprehension and fear about the ‘inauthenticity’ of the ‘exchangeable’ woman became all pervading now. This is because like everything else, the woman also got translated into an ‘unnatural’ fetishized commodity, got ‘reduced’ to an ‘object’ of exchange under the capitalist order.

However, it should be noted that here the words objectification and commodification are necessary phenomena (as Thomas Keenan points out in his Reading ‘Capital’ Rhetorically), used strictly in the (non-orthodox) Marxist sense of being rendered ‘abstract’ for the purpose of exchange, so that everything is made ‘equal’ (alike) in the eyes of the bourgeouis law (or in other words, rendered ‘human’). Objectification here is a necessary and determining trait of social constitution of individuals as proprietors where the notion of the ‘object’ presupposes a consciousness of ‘difference’. Thus, here the agent is constituted as a discrete ‘self’ (individual), posessing ‘natural rights’, different from ‘others’, and yet ‘equal’ to ‘others’ (since as proprietors the agents should be able to see the others as “subject to the same laws, rights, calculations”). Thus, the ‘equality’ which objectification gives rise to is certainly not false consciousness in this context (as orthodox readings of Marxism would read it), since such a misplaced Marxist reading of objectification as false and hence bad reduces the meaning of the word to a banal Rightwing moralistic cry over a sovereign ‘wholeness’ getting ‘reduced’ to a mere ‘part’.

It is significant to note the pejorative connotations that words like objectification, commodification, consumerism and alienation have assumed in Indian feminist circles, where feminism has almost come to imply a kind of politics of asceticism, bereft of an ambiguous engagement with notions like that of desire and consumption practices. Here, desire of non-westernized women is assumed to be always and already more real, ethical and hence democratic than that of their westernized counterparts. And, I believe that it is precisely under such a climate of an uncritical collapse of rightwing and leftist critique of commodification, that the dissemination is possible of the opinions  that conspicuous consumption is the reason for sexual violence against women.

It is interesting to observe here that the Justice Verma report, along with all its commendable suggestions, makes one similar observation. It endorses the view that, “[…] the large-scale disempowerment of urban men is lending intensity to a pre-existing culture of sexual violence.” [ii] What is significant here is that, a mere stating of the ‘fact’ (as if it is self-evident) certainly does not explain the fact. It rather reifies the ‘fact’ as inevitable or ‘natural’. Hence, in my mind, in order to engage in a full-blown analysis of the ‘causes’ of sexual violence, this observation needs a qualification. And, that qualification is that neo-liberalism along with all its dissemination of social inequity across classes, in the process of commodifying people, alsomakes them ‘inauthentic’, that same inauthenticity which was much feared by Manu and his other patriarchal cohorts of those times.

And discourses on ‘teaching the promiscuous woman a lesson’ originate from an inherent fear of this very ‘inauthentic artificial’ woman, who chooses to objectify and commodify herself (although certainly “not under circumstances of her own making”). This choice, in my mind, needs to be respected, rather than dubbing it as mere false consciousness (just like we have learnt to respect the ‘choice’ of non-secular women adopting the headscarf, the hijab or the veil, by now a well-recognized aspect of postcolonial interrogation of Western Feminists’ ethnocentric spree to “Save the Other”). Hence, we need to ask the all important question that under what circumstances women’s commodification (starting from sex work to Bollywood item numbers) becomes the worst kind of objectification?[iii]

Thus, what we should keep in mind is that a real ‘critique’ of political economy should never get reduced to a mere ‘criticism’, since then our interrogation of capitalism becomes a banal moralistic one, bereft of the mentioning of the possibilities that processes of commodification give rise to, something that certainly impacts our subjectivity as well. In other words, a critique of global capital should not get reduced to a mere rightist and in turn a protectionist sob story ofcultural degeneration in terms of what capitalism does to the ‘unharmed’ body of the nation (the idea of the ‘nation’ already being a gendered concept, marked as feminine), a ‘sovereign’ body which is in need of ‘protection’ and ‘recuperation’ from the onslaughts (read harm, corrosion and injury) caused by globalization.

Now, although the larger point that the Justice Verma Report was trying to make here was that rape is not a ‘crime of passion’ but rather an “expression of power” and also how different subcultures use rape as a weapon against women to assert their collective identity, and all this can easily pass off as a mere ‘depiction’ and a resultant ‘analyses’ of ‘reality’,[ivi] it is significant to point out that this underlying assumption of the article in The Hindu about consumerist abundance and “showing off” as the root cause of sexual violence was indeed troubling. This especially becomes problematic in a climate where precisely the same words (although devoid of any sociological nunace) are used to “teach them” that this is the “price that they pay” for being brazenly commodified.

Now, the point is where do we draw the demarcating line if we are to build this continuum between sexual violence and pompous modernity? How do we intellectually separate the claims on capitalism made by thinkers like Roy with respect to sexual violence against urban women and that made by Mohan Bhagwat of RSS for instance, for whom, westernization is to be ‘blamed’ for the increase in crime against women in cities, or in other words ‘Indian’ women are more ‘rapeable’ than the auspicious ‘Bharatiya Nari’ (And Bhagwat, let me remind you, before hurling such lunacy, infact had already demanded severe punishment for the rapists and even called for their death penalty, something that can easily be used in his favour as a disclaimer to this terrible claim). Furthermore, this argument was later backed up by none other than Ashis Nandy, the eminent sociologist, for whom urban anomie and severe individualization is yet again the cause behind the increasing amount of sexual violence against women. Push the logic, and we shall easily be reminded of the words of the Toronto police officer for instance who remarked that, “woman are extremely fashionable these days and are constantly “showing off”, they should stop dressing like sluts to avoid rape”, something that triggered off the Slutwalk movement in Toronto, or for that matter someone like Abhijit Mukherjee’s contempt towards “painted and dented women”, intellectuals and protestors by morning and disco-goers by night!

Rape, Shame and Consumption

While the Justice Verma Report tries to undertake the mammoth task of addressing sexual violence as a structural problem rather than an aberrant individual act (and thus engages in a resultant critique of inequitable economic policies for giving rise to urban violence and quite rightly so), and quite commendably recommends a separation of notions of ‘honor’ and ‘shame’ from the act of rape, the language of the continuing emphasis on capitalism curbing options of recreation for migrant men and hence such “prospectless” men taking recourse to sexual violence as an articulation of their pent up frustration on urban women frequenting pubs, lounges or discotheques is certainly problematic. It creates an aura of scholarly empathy (for the lack of a better word) for the ‘deprived’ victimized men who are thought to become “psychotic” for the surrounding bourgeouis profligacy and hence engage in ghastly gangrapes as their last resort to gain some identity. Thus, it becomes a viscious argument which creates a moral, linguistic as well as an intellectual atmosphere where if the rape happens in and around what gets connoted as ‘hubs of consumerism’, since conspicuous consumption of the rich by now is already located as the indirect ‘cause’ of rape, the raped woman is judged as guilty for her ‘offence’ and hence is supposed to be ashamed for her habits of consumption, feel apologetic for a structure which “creates rapists” by ripping lower class men off their fundamental rights. This logic also at times gives rise to the age-old public spectacle of the vamp of Bollywood pleading for mercy, saying she is no more “like that” (consumerist, open and unrestricted).

Thus, conceiving capitalist exclusion as a cause of rapes in the cities creates an ambience of shaming the “slut” by claiming that such pomp-exuding ‘looseness’ furthers capitalism’s brutality of alienating the urban youth (which also strenghtens the implied logic that ‘she deserved it’). Thus, unless we put a vehement period to this perceived cause and effect chain of consumption habits of the rich and its resultant repercussion of poor optionless anxious migrants raping, we shall never be able to remove ‘shame’ out of rape, especially when the rape is that of an upper-middle class woman. It would perpetuate an atmosphere of the much talked about slut-shaming and “victim” blaming (as a ‘predictable’ outcome of ‘ugly modernity’) if not in the langauge of provocation, but certainly in the language of apparently sanitized social science ‘analyses’ of cities and urbanity leading to a culture of anonymity (devoid of community and kinship ties) which is then perceived to strengthen a culture of sexual violence against upper-class women (something that Nandy diagnoses as “anomic rape”). Here, a politically motivated continnum is established between modernization, urbanization and rape.

The point which I am trying to bring home here is that shame (for being loose, available, commodified, consumerist, accessible, frivolous and all other such cuss words) would continue to get associated with rape if we emphasize consumption practices of either the rich (as the Leftist position seems to be doing) or the woman herself (as the Rightwing generally does) as the cause of rape, and not a general culture of hatred towards the non-normative woman (consumerist or non-consumerist), who in turn needs to be “kept in place”. We cannot under any circumstances say that neo-liberalist exclusionary mechanism is one of the causes which manufacture rapists, since that would politically be as fatal as saying dress is “one of the causes” that lead to rape. We cannot and should not under any condition “justify” in the name of “analyzing” the root cause of rape, since otherwise just like demonizing the “criminal poor” or the “vegetable vendor”, the “pub-going loose and inebriated woman” would continue to be easy targets of Rightwing vengeance and Leftwing scorn. It will reinforce the view that “some women” ignite if not provokethe pent up anxiety caused by the lack of recreational options under the capitalist order, and give rise to a kind of ‘violent working class jealousy’, which when pushed to its logical and inevitableextreme causes a psychic collapse and hence ends up in rape. That would be suicidal for Feminist politics, especially at a time when detractors and digressors are all around, looking for an opportunity to hijack Feminist issues to further their own political agenda. The six rapists also perhaps thought that the woman in the bus was a non-abiding, permissive and consumeristwoman and hence needs to be punished and put to shame. Thus, let us not embellish the self-worth of rape culture and not justify sexual violence with the garb of finding ‘root causes’ of such heinous acts (in our misplaced spree to curb the self-worth of global capital).

Does the Hindu Right and the ‘Critical’ Left merge on notions of Women’s Sexuality?

Here, it is important to mention that the larger political impulse of this article is to point out that the intellectual Left should certainly be more critical and tentative about its critique of conspicuous consumption and the homogenization of its effects, to keep its theoretical distance from an atavistic nativist criticism of consumer culture of the Hindu Right or even the nationalist political project for that matter. Ruth Vanita, in her insightful article published in Seminar 2002 hinted at a similar problem where she pointed out how there is a strange congruence of the secular left and the Hindu Right (what she calls the “Hindu Left”), no matter how theoretically distant they are, as far as taking ‘positions’ on cultural debates concerning depiction of sexually explicit materials in postcolonial India was concerned. (She here cites the controversy around the Miss World contest and around such songs as “Choli ke peeche kya hai” as instances to illustrate how both rightwing as well as leftwing women’s organizations condemned such ‘degeneration’, although in different parlances, by demanding a state censorship to ban such phenomena).[v]

Towards a Defense of Painting and Denting: Can Commodities seek Citizenship Rights?

At this juncture, it is significant to point out that women in recent times have assumed this very political identity of a conspicuous consumer to get human rights against sexual violence, be it in the form of the Slutwalks, the Consortium of Loose and Forward Going Women (in the case of the Pink Chaddi Campaign) or the more recent broaching of the Society of Painted Dented Ladies of India (as a result of Mukherjee’s comment about the perceived ‘frivolity’ of the protestors in Delhi). Tired of listening to cynical leftists about capitalist inequity being the foundation of gender violence, as it is thought to put sex out there in the open, make it marketable and devoid of restraint (along with the perennial infliction of rightwing violence), these women seek human rights and seek to defend the notion of ‘bodily integrity’ against sexual assaults ‘as’ sluts, ‘as’chaddis (the pink branded female underwear in this case i.e. ‘objects’ or vendible commodities), ‘as’ painted and dented women (or in other words, ‘impure’ and ‘contaminated’ beings), only to show the performative and fluid nature of this much abused notion of ‘integrity’ and how the oft-cited idea of “non-commodifiable purity” informs rape culture (Remember the essentalist assumption based on which women are given loans under the system of Microfinance, the assumption that women are ‘essentially’ good, not money-mongerers, and hence more reliable in terms of paying back loans on time, unlike the greedy ‘materialist’ men? Doesn’t it sound strangely similar to the Supreme Court verdict derided by the Verma Committee Report which said Western woman are economically motivated and hence more likely to falsely “cry rape” for material reasons as opposed to Indian women who are ‘good’, less materialist and hence more reliable?)  [vi]

Does the ‘Postcolonial’ Collapse with the ‘National’ when it comes to Women?

Now, even for an eminent Subaltern Studies Scholar like Dipesh Chakrabarty, the Indian Feminists of today (and he actually gives the instance of the Pink Chaddi campaign)[vii], critique the hypermasculinity of the Ram Sena by a kind of ‘uncivilized’, neoliberal class-war (which, in his mind, excludes the poor), precluding any dialogue between the supposed sacred and the secular,  which, as he tries to show, erases and symbolically “gags” the ‘other’ in the name of female empowerment (what he calls a kind of “in your face Feminism”, punctuated by an undertone of superfluousness and intolerant individualism, which for him is ‘uncivilized’ in the sense that it does not offer room for self-reflexivity and self-criticism). In other words, the protestors against sexual violence (the Pink Chaddi campaigners) and the ones who perpetuate sexual violence (the Ram Sena), for Chakrabarty, occupy the same moral space, where political claims like that of ‘looseness’ and ‘forwardness’, for him, deserves vehement criticism for being significant cohorts of what he calls “economic globalization”, devoid of a kind of self-criticality that the legacy of ‘civility’ (something that he found in the nationalist political project) taught us. Now, the moot point is, does perpetration of sexual violence by the under-class or the non-secularists (a category that at times gets denoted by the postcolonial scholar as an idealizedhaven of ‘faceless crowd politics’ exhibited by global modernity’s ultimate ‘other’, a section of the society who are not only citizens and voters but also perceived as significant subversive players of Indian democracy and cultural politics), here get patronized as a mode of enraged ‘resistance’ (no matter how psychotic) against globalization’s hegemony?

At this juncture, it is important to recollect that the two categories of women that Shilpa Phadke, Shilpa Ranade and Sameera Khan pointed out in their thought-provoking article on Loitering, Gender and Public Spaces (the ones who appear in urban public spaces without an “apparent purpose”, as they call it), are the window shopper and the street walker (or the sex worker). Now, while the window-shopper is idealized as shopping is considered as a respectable act in the global city (as the authors minutely illustrate), the streetwalker is conceived as “undesirable and illegitimate.”[viii]

However, for the purpose of my argument, I would like to introduce a third category of women (although all the three are certainly overlapping each other and I draw the demarcating line solely for analytical purposes), where the buyer or the consumer woman also ‘behaves’ like a street-walker. Now, what happens when this ‘particular’ category (women in the cusp zone of window shoping and sex working), the primary one which pink-chaddi campaings, slutwalks or the feminist assertion of being painted and dented end up representing, seek ‘universal’ entitlements for protection against sexual violence? A category of women who do not feign the empty rhetoric of ‘universal sisterhood’, who are respectable on the grounds of class and their ability to get access to spaces of consumption, yet they thwart the liberal discourse and hence become ‘unrespectable’ as they, precisely in and through the tools of consumerism, violate the normative bourgeouis markers of femininity as well? Do we read the gestures of these women as mere ‘assimilation’ to the discourses of global capital, or do we read them as further ‘democratization’ precisely with the aid of the ‘tactics’ of assimilation? Moreover, are all class-marked assertions necessarily classist? What is interesting to note here is that the notion of subversive unrespectability and logic of impropriety gets instituted precisely through the discourse of consumer-driven respectability and propriety. And, we can never engage in any serious analysis of such instances of resistance by a blanket en masse debunking of phenomena like that of conspicuous consumption and an unanimous lament for its aftermaths.

To me, such women act as a ‘spectre’ which ‘haunts’ and breaks open the very limit of the normative subject ‘woman’ of human rights, i.e. the image of the ‘bhadramahila’ (a mixture of the Victorian bourgeouis emancipated mother and the Brahminic image of the ‘pure’ nationalist woman, as Chatterjee put it), a spectre that needs to be recuperated and not dismissed as ‘middle class’ and hence ‘exclusionary’. And, most significantly, they denounce a “politics of assimilation or inclusion” where the spectre is merely “integrated” into the whole (the image of the chaddi or the slut does not say that I represent a non-commodified ‘real’ woman and hence give me human rights. Remember the Park Street rape survivor asserting repeatedly that she might be an escort but that certainly does not give anyone the right to violate her? Remember her statement when she said that just because she did not choose to be a ‘victim’, and in fact carried on with her dailyconsumerist chores from the next day even after the ghastly attack, did not mean that the state could deny her justice?).

Thus, a serious critique of the eulogy of consumer imperialism getting packaged as Feminism (something that the new Feminist assertions are accused of) can never be plotted in the language of commodification as a ‘curse’, something which “alienates” women from their “authentic”native selves. This is because, adherence to such notions of reactionary nostalgia of non-consumerist lifestyles and uncritical assumption of ‘good’ and ethical national/local or working class culture (garland bedecked “innocence” of tribal women so on and so forth) leads to the dangerous assumption that westernized woman are less “authentic” and hence more condemnable (and even rapeable in certain arguments).

Welcoming the Spectre

Hence, the larger question is, can we recuperate this ‘hollowness’ and inauthenticity that capitalism gives rise to for Feminist ends? A commodified woman is an inauthentic “monster” (a term that Marx himself infact used to describe commodities in Capital), a monster who is feared across all political positions. Thus, we need to defend this present moment in Feminist politics where such abstracted spectral artificiality and monstrous frivolity are used as political ‘standpoints’ which certainly help us in our struggle against patriarchy. Although these ghosted creatures scare and haunt us, and we can never know with adequate certitude what kind of violence and exclusion embracing them would entail, nonetheless such spectres should be welcomed for Feminist politics to survive. To believe in them is a practical necessity. Commodification here is pushed to its logical limit. Thought, after all, as Althusser once put it,must be pushed to its extreme.

Thus, to me, this moment of women claiming to seek rights as ‘impure materialist reduced commodified alienated objects’ should be respected, rather than dismissing it as middle class, elite or exclusionary. This is because it is just not an emotional response to the kind of brutal violence against women that we are experiencing in urban areas in recent times, a mere unreflective ‘enough is enough’ kind of deliberation. Rather this has an intellectual underpinning. And that unsaid subtext is that, let the spectral inauthenticity caused by consumer capital be pushed to its limit, or be celebrated in order to break open that same consumer capital’s logic of manufacturing feminine respectability. It strives to create a transformation of the very meaning of personhood, of humanness, or in other words changes the very meaning of what kind of a woman ‘deserves’ human rights and state protection against sexual violence.

Sreenanti Banerjee is an M.Phil student of Social Sciences and a Junior Research Fellow at Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC).

References:

[i] Manu, The Laws of Manu, ‘Chapters 3 and 9’, trans. Wendy Doniger and Brian K. Smith, (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1991), pp. 43-73, pp. 197-233

[ii] Praveen Swami, “Rapist in the Mirror”, The Hindu, Jan 11, 2013

[iii] This is a point which Shohini Ghosh raises in “The Troubled Existence of Sex and Sexuality: Feminists Engage with Censorship” in Women’s Studies in India: A Reader (ed. by Mary. E. John), Penguin Books, 2008.

 [iv]Justice Verma Report, Pp. 220.

[v] “Whatever happened to the Hindu Left” by Ruth Vanita, Published in  Seminar, 2002.

[vi] Shilpa Phadke had raised some key questions around these issues in in her nuanced 2005 article on Middle-Class Sexuality, “Is there a Feminist way of being a consumer?”

[vii] Shilpa Phadke, “Some Notes on Middle Class Sexuality” in Geeta Misra and Radhika Chandiramani (eds.) Gender, Sexuality and Rights: Exploring Theory and Practice, New Delhi: Sage, 2005.

[viii] Dipesh Chakrabarty. From civilization to globalization: the `West’ as a shifting signifier in Indian modernity.  Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Volume 13, Number 1, 1 March 2012, pp. 138-152(15).

[ix] Shilpa Phadke, Shilpa Ranade and Sameera Khan, “Why Loiter? Radical Possibilities for Gendered Dissent” in Melissa Butcher and Selvaraj Velayutham (eds), Dissent and Cultural Resistance in Asia’s Cities, London: Routledge, 2009.

 

#India- The Struggle Against Rape and Sexual Assault: A View from the Left #Vaw #Rape


gangrape

Soma Marik , radicalsocialist

The Current Mobilizations over Rape:

As a historian, I know that the actions very often have highly unintended consequences. Historical turning points occur, not because deep planning willed them into existence, but at the intersection of many cross-currents. So it is today. Activists of our generation have been campaigning for long over rape, demanding changes in rape laws, changes in attitudes, and a wide range of demands. But it was not our repeated campaigns, nor even the over a decade long epic protest of Irom Sharmila, that managed to shake the entire country. It was, on the surface, a single incident, the Delhi bus gang rape of early December 2012. We are aware of the vast numbers who have come out and demanded punishment, government action, who have protested repeatedly and vigorously.  Accordingly, we need:

  • To understand, why this tremendous anger, and how do we relate to it? There are reasons for taking this approach, because at some important points, the approach of the feminist movement may not be the same as the approach of a part of the current movement.
  • To reflect and ask ourselves, where do we go from here?  What will our long term demands be?
  • To discuss ways and means, by which the movement can develop.

The anger is the result of growing hostility of the people of India, including of the well-to-do middle class which has been much more looked after by all the regimes – UPA, NDA, United Front – and not just the most exploited social layers. This anger and rejection was earlier displayed by the support given to Anna Hazare. I do not thereby express my support to him. I am pointing out that Hazare received mass support because he seemed to represent an alternative to round and round of corruption, criminality, violence, by all the mainstream parties. Regardless of his own motivations, which were quite authoritarian, the social base that was behind him was not finished when his movement seemed to die down.

And this means, when we discuss rape and struggle against rape, we need to discuss politics, as well as legal issues. There are two distinct dimensions to the politics of rape. One is the party level, the other at a deeper social level. All parties and their spokespersons and ideologues have been trying to see how best to use the current crisis. Being at the government both in Delhi and in the Centre, the Congress has had the most difficult time. Its approach has been to call for calm, to promise that things will be done, to put up Sonia Gandhi on TV with a puffy face (you see, she too had been crying at the tragedy) —a move sadly let down by Man Mohan Singh not realizing he was still being recorded and asking handlers, Theek hai?

The Sangh Parivar has of course sought to cash in on the issue. It has done so in different voices, since it wants to talk to different constituents. The Sarsanghchalak has announced that rape occurs in India, not in Bharat. Return to “our traditions” and there will be no rape. And Swapan Dasgupta, the western trained ideologue who uses tools of analysis taken from western discourses to support the Sangh cause, has argued that as a result of liberalization, a confident young India has emerged which is demanding, not supplicating. Only Narendra Modi can be its role model, since he too is anti-establishment.

The demand for the death penalty has been raised for rapists. This was of course raised long back by Advani in 2002. But only selected rapes of course. V.D. Savarkar had long ago argued that in order to teach Muslims the proper lesson, it was necessary to rape Muslim women in a big way. This agenda was put to practice in Gujarat. Even before 2002, it was in Surat (1992) that Hindutva rioters not only raped Muslim women but videotaped the act. A decade later, there were mass scale rapes, sexual violence as well as murders when of course Narendra Modi was the CM then. And of course, now we have had Babu Bajrangi and Maya Kodnani convicted for masterminding some of the pogroms. And again of course, it was Modi who made Kodnani a minister, AFTER the pogroms.

When we are asked to campaign only for death penalty, or when we are asked to put the entire focus on law change, these are dimensions we are asked to forget. Who are we asking to change the laws? Parties that have supported pogroms and rapes. Parties that have not only kept criminals in their backyards, but have actually made criminals, including people with rape and sexual molestation charges against them, MLAs, MPs and ministers.

Caste, Communal and Custodial Rapes:

There are also other politics involved, beyond the Congress trying to save its votes and the BJP trying to garner them.  There is a class, caste, gender linkage which is complex. Rape, Arundhati Roy pointed out, has become part of India’s political culture. Police attack villages and gang rape. Upper castes attack dalits and as part of that rape dalit women. At this point let us look at some of the images that haunt us.

  • Rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama of Manipur (2004) by Assam Rifles personnel. No punishment for the crime. Protection of the criminals because according to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, army personnel in areas where this act has been invoked cannot be subjected to trial under the regular laws of the country.
  • The Shopian Rape and Murder of Niloufer and Aasiya (Kashmir 2009). Cover up and denial of rape. Nobody punished despite massive struggles.
  • The arrest of an adivasi social movement activist Soni Sori on the charge of being in the CPI (Maoist) in 2011, and actions against her including stripping during interrogation, insertion of stones in her vagina and rectum. The SP of Dantewada who had ordered this, Ankit Garg, subsequently awarded the Police Medal for Gallantry on 26th January. Soni Sori is still in Raipur jail, in the custody of that same police force.
  • Rape as a part of communalism – The Anti-Sikh riots, arson, murders, and as part of that cycle of violence, rapes of Sikh women, following the death of Indira Gandhi, in 1984. Prime accused included Jagdish Tytler, H. K. L. Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar and other Congress(I) leaders. There have been numerous anti-Muslim, anti-Christian communal attacks, promoted by the RSS or other members of its extended network of organisations, usually called the Sangh Parivar. These include Surat 1992, where rapes were videotaped and shown, and Gujarat 2002, where a very large number of rapes were committed.
  • Rapes by upper and intermediate castes on Dalits. They include the Khairlanji rapes and mass murders (2006) case.

The protests in Delhi were legitimate. The woman who died, contrary to Arundhati Roy’s claim, in fact came from a rural background though she was working in Delhi, according to a news published by The Hindu.  She earned hardly enough to be counted as middle class. So the kind of left wing argument that simply slotted the protests as middle class, just because a large number of middle class women were present, is questionable. Middle class is a vague term. There is an ideological pressure from the ruling class for working people in urban, non-factory jobs to imagine themselves to be middle class. Rather than a Marxist concept of class, dress code, “culture”, and other factors are worked in here. So old petit bourgeoisie, professional and managerial layers who are close to the ruling class, and salaried employees who by any objective definition, are clubbed together under this category. Attempts to marginalize the protests by saying they are middle class, leads one to a position close to that taken by Congress (I) leaders who have commented that the protestors do not have a grasp over reality and other comments.

But one point Arundhati Roy and others make does need to be taken seriously. The rapists in this case were lower class, and it happened in South Delhi. I do not make this comment in order to argue in the least that therefore the rapists should be let off. But I raise the point, because we have not seen such massive outrage when dalit women, working class women in unorganized sectors, etc are raped. Trade unionists and women activists connected to labour issues know quite well, for example, that there are sectors (one can mention brick-kilns in West Bengal for example) where women have to provide sexual services to contractors and overseers in order to get or retain their jobs. Since rape even in its current definition includes sexual intercourse under pressure, this is certainly rape – but never reported. We, activists in the women’s movement, have more often been accustomed to rallies and meetings where a hundred people attending were often taken as a good sign. I do not therefore blame those who were out on the streets. I just want to stress, that unless we are active in all cases, a class/ caste/community bias will inevitably creep in. And also, unless we are clearly aware of the politics of rape, we will not be able to understand just why, for example, the governments at state and centre want to bring in death penalty for rape, but only in very rare cases. After all, there have been very many rapes committed by men uniform. Soldiers protected by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, police protected in various ways, have to be sheltered. The moment we take up such cases, we go beyond looking at rape as action by a few criminals or so called perverts, to looking at rape as part of the use of elite power or using women’s bodies to gain political mileage.

Participation first, critiques afterwards:

It is however necessary to know how to make critical comments. What we have seen is a massive public show of anger and a rejection of government cynicism. We have to be a part of such a movement, we have to be out there, on the streets, with the predominantly young people who have come out, before our critical voices make sense to them. In other words, our first practical task is to continue to build the movement. Our task is to reject all platitudes, all tall promises to the effect that we can go home since the duly constituted authorities are looking after the question of rape, and punishment of rapists.

After we have come out once, twice, thrice, we also have to start asking, where do we go from here? And that immediately raises questions of theory, strategy and tactics.

In order to ask what practical demands are needed next, we must start with the overall picture of rape and sexual assault in India, as well as the legal and administrative reflections of the same.

In 2010 there were over 22,000 rapes. In 2011 the figure was above 24,000. But this is just the number of recorded rapes. There are far greater numbers of rapes that are not recorded compared to the ones recorded. Legal experts point out that many rapes go unreported. Due to “family honour” many complaints are not made, or are withdrawn and in many cases the police do not give a fair hearing. Medical evidence is often unrecorded making it easy for offenders to escape without any conviction, under prevailing laws. And finally, existing laws marginalize many actions. Law is a representation of the social order. Our society is deeply impacted by four types of hierarchies – class, gender, caste and community. And these interact with one another. Rape is seen as loss of honour, chastity, modesty. It is not seen as violence inflicted on women. As a result, rape is defined so that it excludes all torture of a woman’s sexual organs, unless there is non-consensual peno-vaginal sexual intercourse. Moreover, it is held that there is no rape in marriage. In other words, a woman who had stones inserted in her vagina, as was the case with Soni Sori, cannot bring a charge of rape. What she can bring, at best, under existing law, is a charge of molestation. She was stripped, according to her own assertion, but this according to existing law, can only be called “outraging the modesty of a woman”. And even if Ankit Garg, the then Dantewada Police Superintendent, subsequently awarded the Police Medal for Gallantry, were to be convicted for these crimes, what would he be given? According to law, for molestation and outraging the modesty, these are the provisions:

Section.509 of IPC, — when there is an intention to insult the modesty of any woman by the offender by uttering any word, making any sound or gesture or by exhibiting any object, with the intention that such word or such sound be heard, or that such gesture or object be seen by such a woman, or by intruding upon the privacy of such a woman.

Punishment: simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, with fine or with both.

Section 354 of the IPC considers the assault or criminal force to woman with the intention to outrage her modesty. This offense is considered less serious than Rape.
Punishment: Upto two years imprisonment or a fine or both.

Section 323 IPC punishes anyone causing voluntarily hurt(non cognizable)
Punishment: Upto one year or Rs. 1000 or both.

So the maximum punishment will be four years’ imprisonment, plus an unspecified fine. A more likely scenario, even if he was to be convicted, is just some fine.

Let me connect this with certain other issues. This is where class and caste and community become so important. The legal terms used here are significant. We are talking about the modesty of a woman, and about molestation.  Given a hierarchical society, patriarchy does not have an identical impact on all sorts of women. Bhanwari Devi, a Sathin in Rajasthan, a low caste potter by social origin was raped because she was actively campaigning against child marriages. I do not want to go into all the details of her case. But it shows insensitivity by police, insensitivity by magistrate, and a deeply caste-ist attitude of the court. The district sessions judge pronounced that upper-caste men could not have raped a Dalit!!! The State Government formally decided to move the High Court, but till 2007, fifteen years after the rape, the HC had managed to hold only one hearing.

In another case, in a judgement delivered this December, Delhi district judge J.R. Aryan said, “IPC does not recognize any such concept of marital rape. If complainant was a legally wedded wife of accused, the sexual intercourse with her by accused would not constitute offence of rape even if it was by force or against her wishes.” In simpler language, after marriage a woman has no bodily integrity vis a vis her husband. It is his to take when and how he chooses.

While there cannot be any hierarchy of victimhood, according to which the rape of dalit women, or the rape of working class women, is more heinous than the rape of middle class women, the media blitz in the Delhi case highlights the existence of other hierarchies. By separating this one case from the many thousands of cases (572 rape cases recorded in Delhi alone in 2012) the media and the mainstream political parties have consciously sought to draw attention away from rape as a systemic matter. And our demands and movements have to take these into accounts.

Justice and the Social Order:

The crucial point where socialists need to intervene is in moving attention away from talk of vengeance, hanging, castration, to concerns for the victims, and the causes of rapes. First, we need to take a look at what kind of a society we live in, that constantly creates rapists. It is of course necessary to demand punishment for crimes. But when we talk about individual criminals and punishments, and when the cases highlighted by the Barkha Dutts and the Arnab Goswamis are cases where lower class rapists rape individuals, the full picture does not emerge. It means, on one hand, we are not trying to find out what drives such people to violence. On the other hand, it also means that we are hiding rapes that are created, promoted, and orchestrated by the state, or by powerful social and political groups. Perhaps the clearest evidence comes from the media endorsement of Narendra Modi in recent times, ignoring the convictions of Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi. Rapes in Gujarat do not matter, since Modi has won elections thrice in a row and the GDP has grown.

It is also necessary for us to campaign about rape survivors and helping them overcome their trauma. When we talk about justice, we need, therefore, to focus on first, justice in ensuring that the woman is able to live with dignity, and second, that the social causes of rape are addressed, instead of merely retributive justice, that is, getting vicarious pleasure at long sentences handed out to a few among many rapists.

Finally, historical experience suggests left wing activists need to be involved within the social movements themselves, stressing that rape and sexual harassment is not permissible within the oppressed either. If we do not want to condone any rape, and at the same time want to ensure widest class unity of the oppressed, we need to take our campaigns among the oppressed, not just to point out that the ruling class is hand in glove with patriarchy, but also to stress how patriarchy influences the toiling people, and building up a struggle against it. To reject or minimize such actions as feminist irrelevancies, as large sections of the left once tended to do, and as it is still a tendency that reduces serious campaigning, is to ensure that patriarchy will remain and revive within the oppressed.

The Right Wing Discourse on Rape:

The role of the state all too often is obliterated when we look at each rape case in isolation. And when we focus only on the loss of chastity and modesty. Take the Delhi Case and the reason for public anger. The rape occurred in a bus, which was taken over by a gang of six persons. What exactly was the police doing? Where were they when a public vehicle was de-facto hijacked? Instead, they and the other arms of the state were visible against public protests. The use of water canons is not my sole point. The core area of Delhi was shut down. The Metro could not be used between a number of vital stations. All in the name of security. Whose security was being protected? Not that of ordinary citizens – not the woman who would die soon, nor her male friend who was badly injured.

The demand for changing the law from rape to sexual assault is at the same time the easiest to explain and among the hardest to achieve. Based on events I have already recounted, and many other events we know, such as the use of lathis or other implements to insert into the vaginas of women accused of being Naxalites, separatists, terrorists, Maoists, etc, if we do not provide for adequate punishment for these, we are ensuring gross miscarriage of justice. But it is difficult, because of the mindset of a society which is deeply patriarchal. It is a woman’s loss of honour or chastity that matters for this patriarchy. If raped, she is supposed to have suffered a fate worse than death.

A woman who has already “lost” her chastity and modesty by having sexual relations before or outside of marriage, is not considered to have suffered too much harm; and the perpetrator is therefore not required to be punished too severely. Till 2003, the defence could try to cast doubts on the victim’s evidence by raising the question of her past sexual history. The Indian Evidence Act was amended in 2003 to stop this, but the amendment appears to have impacted only the guilt determination phase of the trial, and not the sentencing phase. The stereotypes have an adverse impact on rape sentencing. In cases where the woman’s behaviour does not adhere to stereotypical constructs, the men who raped them end up getting lower sentences.

Once we have a category of crime called sexual assault, and with clearer guidelines for standards of punishment, it would be more difficult to let off rapists/assaulters who are socially higher up, or where the survivor is/was not someone who fit the stereotype. This can be seen very clearly with the Park Street Rape Case. Even now, a TMC leader can openly say that it was not a rape case at all, but a conflict between a sex worker and her clients. The sole “reason” if you want to honour the ridiculous argument with that term, was of course that she had been drinking in a bar late at night. In other words she was not the ideal woman. Ensuring principled sentencing, one that is in tune with our constitutional values, is a better guarantee for justice to rape survivors, rather than legislative steps providing for capital punishment, chemical castration and the like.

That we have had 24206 recorded rape cases in 2011, and that we have over 9000 past rape cases yet to be disposed off in West Bengal alone, show things about state machinery – police, civil administration, and judiciary. Police show reluctance or even hostility to take FIRs and file charge sheets on time. Medical examinations are not always properly performed nor is there adequate provision. Cases move excruciatingly slowly. As we noted, even in well publicized cases like that of Bhanwari Devi, the trial has been agonizingly long. And here, once again, we need to note that while class and caste are not the sole factors, how far cases move, how they are handled, are also not totally delinked from them. I want to stress that there is nothing wrong in student youth being angry at the Delhi case, or the Park Street case. But we need to ensure that regardless or their class, caste or community identity, all women get equal protection. This means campaigning as hard over the rape of a woman who works in an unorganized sector industry, as for middle class women. And this will not be done by mainstream parties, by the police, or by judiciary, without relentless pressure on them.

This pressure has to be built up and integrated with any socialist strategy. Today, we find a large scale attacks on the women themselves. According to the RSS supremo Mohan Bhagawat, rapes occur in India not in Bharat, i.e., among “Westernised” women. Factually this is false, since nearly a quarter of rapes occur in rural India. More important, this puts the blame for the rape on the women. It is they who supposedly invite rape for having gone out after dark, for having worn the wrong clothing. And obviously, rape as a political action by Hindutva advocates against Muslims or Christians is excluded from this notion of rape. Then it becomes “just retribution”.

Another figure, a widely known “Godman” named Asaram Bapu, has stated that you cannot clap with one hand. That is, rape is not something only the males do. The women too are responsible.

Rapes in the family:

Advocacy of chemical castration is based on an argument that not real men but sexual perverts are the rapists. This has to be contested. Rape is not about sex. It is about display of masculine power. Castration as a punishment supposes it is only the bad individual who needs to be punished, so why not deprive him of the power to rape. In the case of the Delhi rape, as I have already pointed out, the rapists were lower class. Now it is being insinuated, and in cases like the Marathi chauvinist Raj Thackeray, openly stated, that poor migrants are at fault. These people, you see, are sex starved, so they rape. This is a class cum regionalist targeting that we need to combat.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau data for 2011, “Offenders were known to the victims in as many as 22,549 (94.2%) [cases out of 24,206]” and “Parents/close family members were involved in 1.2% (267) of these cases, neighbours were involved in 34.7% cases (7835 ) and relatives were involved in 6.9% (1560 ) cases.” So the rapists are around us. They are created by a society that devalues women. And a “typical” rapist is then created as an illusion, with “acceptable” class-caste-community configurations.

Some Demands:

Many of the issues have led us, along with others, (many women organized in the network Maitree) to formulate demands, some of which are:

  1. Time-bound trials in rape cases through fast-track courts in each sub-division of every district of all states needs to be ensured.
  2. Sessions courts must be established in the geographically remote or otherwise backward sub-divisions where such courts do not exist. Concurrently, fast-track courts for trial of sexual assaults needs be in place in all sub-divisional courts.
  3. Wide publicity from time to time in all local languages across the country of the State’s provisions for shouldering liabilities involving legal procedures (including financial ones) in cases of sexual violence against women is essential for ensuring victims and survivors, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, seek redress through law.
  4. A code of conduct needs to be in place to prevent stigmatization of survivors of sexual assault. Character assassination of survivors of sexual violence during trial or at any time anywhere by elected representatives, other politicians, public servants and the media, should be made a punishable offence.
  5. Extensive gender and sexuality sensitization programmes for the police and judiciary at all levels starting from the lowest tier, and irrespective of sex, is a must for doing away with patriarchal biases, making the legal system gender-friendly and helping in the de-stigmatization of survivors of sexual violence.
  6. The police stations and police personnel should be rigorously trained in human rights and women’s rights irrespective of the gender of the personnel. There should be intensified trainings to police personnel to handle cases of sexual assault on cis gendered women, transwomen, transmen. These trainings should include previous cases to make them more sensitive in their handling and not moralistically judge the victim. There is a need to provide for penal measures of police personnel violate such training and ill-treat victims.
  7. The Gender sensitization program must include disability component for the police and judiciary at all level so that sensitization and a clear understanding about the difficulties of Girls and Women with Disabilities is developed among the police and judiciary and the system become disabled  friendly and helps to reduce the stigma, negative and apathetic attitude towards such women and are able to take appropriate action in case of sexual violence on them.

The most important question is, however, how do we want to achieve all this?

The protests in Delhi were sought to be shut down. Protestors were compared to Maoists and terrorists. The CP of Delhi called attacks on them collateral damage, using rhetoric from the biggest imperialist power on earth. Unless we understand that this class dimension of the state is also there, and will not go away, we will be fooling ourselves. Of course we must demand reforms. But we must not give in to any illusion that incremental reforms will end up by creating a good and just society. The reforms will be won only if we are out there, mobilizing and fighting. Why has the Verma Commission been set up now? The NCRB data is first of all available to the state. It knew better than us how many rapes occur in a year. If it did nothing then but has moved now, that is because huge masses were out on the streets. And unless we plan our mobilizations, if we simply feel tired and go back home, or if we are happy with a speedy disposal of the case in the Delhi issue, with hanging being handed down, especially with the woman dead, and forget the other 571 rapes in Delhi in 2012, the 9000 pending cases in West Bengal, and so on, then in the long term nothing positive will emerge. As Meena Kandasamy reminds us “Inhandling rape cases, several judges have proved themselves to be incarnations of khap panchayat chiefs. Two years ago, in dealing with the case of a gangrape of a minor girl, Justices H.S. Bedi and J.M. Panchal of the Supreme Court of India held that “there can be no presumption that a prosecutrix would always tell the entire story truthfully”. The above bench also shamelessly said, “In rape cases, the testimony of the victim cannot be considered to be the gospel truth.” This inherent suspicion by the judiciary is another act of silencing. The system tells you, speaking out will be a disgrace since you have to be disbelieved.” The idea that only the rapists are perverts, ignores the system which creates rapists and promotes rape as part of its political culture. We have to make this struggle part of wider struggles for human rights and for a better social order.

This is based on several speeches delivered and discussions held with various groups in late December 2012 and early January 2013. As a result, it bears the imprint of a specific discussion and debate, though some attempts have been made to situate it in a wider context.

Soma Marik can be contacted at mariksoma@hotmail.com

How Do We Break The Indian Penile Code? #Vaw #Rape #Justice


REUTERS (FROM OUTLOOK 14 JANUARY 2013)
OPINION
How Do We Break The Indian Penile Code?
This cultural sanction of rape must stop, the state has to speak
MEENA KANDASAMY, in Outlook Jan 14, 2013

The endless discourses of the elite point fingers everywhere: except at the real cause, which is the cultural sanction of rape in India. Arundhati Roy was brave to label it India’s rape culture. Rapes are not just numbers (24,206 in 2011), but categories: first, there is the not-a-rape marital rape. Then, the easily dismissible she-asked-for-it rape to be applied to urban women. There is patriotic rape: singular nights of horror courtesy the Indian army as in Kunan-Pushpora and Shopian in Kashmir; its second cousin, the long-lasting disciplinary rape to teach a lesson to a population seeking self-determination such as by the ipkf in Eelam, or the afspa-empowered army in Manipur; the minority rape as in the rape of Muslim women in Gujarat, custodial rape as in what happened to Chidambaram Padmini and, above all, the commonplace, everyday caste-Hindu rape of Dalit women, as in the rape of Surekha Bhotmange and her daughter in Khairlanji, and a thousand other instances. Please add the word ‘alleged’ in front of every mention of rape, so that we carry this pretence of political correctness.

  • Talk of crime is followed by talk of punishment. The 23-year-old paramedic’s gangrape in Delhi shakes the nation. Seizing the opportunity, violence drapes itself in the clothes of justice, and from the comfort of its kangaroo court, calls for chemical castration and the imposition of a death penalty. Behind this bloodthirsty demand is the propaganda machinery of big media. Out of a hundred questions that come to mind, here’s the obvious one: I do not believe in a hierarchy of victimhood, but why was such a campaign absent when the rapists were not the easily criminalised working classes, but feudal caste-Hindus, army, paramilitary or police personnel, or the rich and powerful? Does caste status, army uniforms, political clout and money grant immunity from media outrage?
  • Then there is patriotic rape, singular nights of horror courtesy the Indian army as in Shopian in Kashmir.

    These phenomenal protests draw the veils over our passive acceptance when we resign our fates to rapes in the private realm. Bleeding from a night of forced sex, when you go to the hospital, brace yourself for disappointment when doctors flash a congratulatory smile at your husband for proving his manhood yet again. You cannot go to the courts afterwards; there is no provision in the Indian Penal/Penile Code to deal with marital rape. In a judgement delivered this December, Delhi district judge J.R. Aryan said, “IPC does not recognise any such concept of marital rape. If complainant was a legally wedded wife of accused, the sexual intercourse with her by accused would not constitute offence of rape even if it was by force or against her wishes.” Translation from the legalese: your husband owns your body. Postscript: marriage is a licence for a man to get free sex and get away with repeated rape. Let us begin by exposing the sexual violence in our homes, tackling the rapists, child abusers and wife-beaters whom we shelter with our silences.

  • Should we buy into this rhetoric of quick justice and fast-track courts, oblivious to the implications of what awaits us and lacking the wherewithal to initiate reforms in the judiciary? In handling rape cases, several judges have proved themselves to be incarnations of khap panchayat chiefs. Two years ago, in dealing with the case of a gangrape of a minor girl, Justices H.S. Bedi and J.M. Panchal of the Supreme Court of India held that “there can be no presumption that a prosecutrix would always tell the entire story truthfully”. Remember, rape trials are tests of true storytelling. Let us devote time to work on that skill so that when we are eventually raped, we increase our chances at getting justice. The above bench also shamelessly said, “In rape cases, the testimony of the victim cannot be considered to be the gospel truth.” This inherent suspicion by the judiciary is another act of silencing. The system tells you, speaking out will be a disgrace since you have to be disbelieved. Understand my contempt, it is equal and directly proportional to the Supreme Court’s misogyny and mistrust of women.
  • Beyond the false pride vested in virginity and the glorified burden of chastity, Indian women suffer because they are seen as sexual objects instead of sexual beings. Just as the Indian male imagination cannot include the possibility of a woman wanting to have sex, he cannot imagine a woman wanting to refuse sex. Their consent is taken for granted, this gives a free run to rape culture. In its most bloody avatar, this denial of a woman’s sexuality can lead to mindless violence and an indefinite moratorium on intercaste marriages. Last month, the Ramadoss-led PMK burnt 300 homes in three Dalit colonies in Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu, to warn caste-Hindu women off from marrying Dalit men. Love, he claims, is an immature act. The scope of anti-caste rebellion arising out of women’s sexual autonomy singes this disturbed man.
  • We fight for ourselves and spontaneously find our strength. Sorry to disappoint you, Sushma Swaraj. We refuse to be frozen into frigidity merely to fit into your depiction of rape survivors as zinda laash, the living corpses. We are not the walking dead; every day comes alive because of us. We even own the nights. Patriarchal pride dies between our thighs. Your education in feminism will begin, Ms Swaraj, when you learn to respect us. In your spare time, you can start by questioning Hindutva hyper-masculinity and how it resulted in the rapes of Muslim women in Gujarat.

This country gave a gallantry medal to SP Ankit Garg, who ordered the torture of adivasi schoolteacher Soni Sori.

In a city comatose with its own delusions of power, this was a disaster waiting to happen. The Delhi-NCR police have legitimised rapes in the region earlier too, speaking their mind to hidden cameras, saying “she asked for it” and “it is consensual most of the time”. They blamed young women for not staying within their boundaries, for wearing short skirts, for not wearing stoles, for drinking vodka, for enticing men. A cop declared that no rape would happen without the girl’s provocation. No serious action has been taken against any of these cops. It’s difficult to expect otherwise, in a country that gave a gallantry medal to SP Ankit Garg, who ordered the torture of Soni Sori, the adivasi schoolteacher from Dantewada. She was undressed, given electric shocks, stones were shoved in her vagina and rectum. I will save other stories of custodial rapes for another day.

  • This is how the state ushers in a semblance of calm in Delhi: using expired teargas, lathicharging protesters, wielding water cannons in the December cold. Unleashing police terror is a surprise tactic with a long-term payoff, it is violence meant to shut the door on further peaceful protests. Justifying this brutality, the Delhi police commissioner spoke of “collateral damage” and the Union home minister compared protesters to Maoists. When such language is routinely employed by the state—not in reference to rebellion in the Red Corridor, but to pretty placards in the capital city—it signifies an all-out offensive on the people. When the state finds an escape hatch by homogenising all protest and labelling everyone a Maoist, it creates a sense of helplessness and isolation among the young people. Since the ruling order will not meet protesters on the roads or in Raisina Hill, are they suggesting that all of us schedule a rendezvous in Bastar? Assuming politics is an antidote to violence, the protesters at India Gate merely had a defanged demand: “Talk to us.” What they heard was the silence of the political elites and the deathly drone of the state machinery that sought to quell their protests.

The middle classes who got a taste of police violence will now, hopefully, wake up to the reality of police, paramilitary and army excesses in Kashmir, the Northeast and in adivasi villages in central India. Out of their slumbering state, they will perhaps realise the sham of the present democracy and the zero accountability that elected representatives enjoy. The prime minister robotically reading out empty words and the strategic absence of legitimate mediation from the state will not quell protests. On the contrary, it will have the unintended consequence of detonating similar struggles everywhere. The state will have to speak then. If it doesn’t, and the government succeeds in driving all anger and dissent underground, it will have to take the blame for creating guerrillas en masse. Theek hai?

#Vedanta vs the government: Just a lovers’ tiff? #tribalrights


by  Dec 19, 2012

 

Earlier this month Vedanta Aluminium Limited (VAL) announced it was closing its Lanjigarh refinery in Odisha.

VAL’s chief executive officer told the Hindustan Times, “Despite out concerted efforts over the past three months to ensure sustainable supplies of bauxite for our refinery in Lanjigarh, we have not been able to find any solution.”

The company said in a press release that the closure would affect 7,000 people directly or indirectly. Vedanta says the state government is not keeping its promise to provide bauxite linkage to the refinery.

“The bogey of job losses is meant to blackmail the central and state government and influence the court,” social activist Prafulla Samantara told HT. According to Business Standard,  the state government has started the process of identifying prospective alternative bauxite deposits for Vedanta now that  Niyamgiri is out of bounds.

Does that mean Vedanta, whose mining practices have long been the target of activists, is in big trouble? Or that the activists have won?

Not so fast. An Open Magazine article (worth reading in its entirety here) says the government versus Vedanta case is a lot murkier than it would seem from the tit-for-tat press releases and official statements.

In nine cases out of 10, Big Business gets its way. And the perception is that when it does not, it’s not because the government was on its toes, but because it was embarrassed into doing its job.

The Ministry of Environment and Forest did withdraw its clearance for bauxite mining in Niyamgiri after an international campaign against it. The ministry also came down on Vedanta for violating ecological norms and expanding the refinery without an environmental clearance.

But, says Open, “no explanation was offered for the ease with which the MoEF let the project go ahead in the first place.”

That story is the real story that gets people up in arms about how much a Walmart spends lobbying India to get into the market. It’s not that the lobbying is illegal but the sense is that the company-politician nexus is a juggernaut that will ride roughshod over everything else. A Vedanta setback is just a temporary blip. In nine cases out of 10, Big Business gets its way. And the perception is that when it does not, it’s not because the government was on its toes, but because it was embarrassed into doing its job.

So it’s a little hard to take at face value the current scuffle between Vedanta and the Odisha state government as anything but a lovers’ tiff. Odisha is demanding that Sterlite Energy Ltd (SEL), a Vedanta company, deposit its contribution to the Odisha Environment Management Fund immediately, writes Business Standard. Meanwhile Vedanta is applying the screws on the Odisha government for not paying Rs 744 crore dues for power supply from SEL.

Despite all the bad press, Vedanta is happy to play the good Samaritan. On World AIDS day on 1 December, it kicked off an AIDS awareness campaign at Jharsuguda. At Lanjigarh itself it held a free camp for cleft lip and palate surgery. “This is a noble initiative,” Dr Mukesh Kumar, the president and COO of VAL, said. “Vedanta hospital will continue to serve the people of the region.” The Vedanta Foundation and the Odisha state government just signed an MoU for an e-Shiksha project that will help students in tribal areas get LED Pico projectors with memory and backup.

But Open Magazine says that’s not enough. Its reporter found  that the company has tried to build consensus through blank pieces of paper. It claims 3,000 villagers have supported their project. Open found a video that showed residents of the village being asked to put their thumb impressions on blank sheets of paper at a meeting organised by the local Block Development Officer, the village Sarpanch, Tehsildar and Vedanta’s law officer.

In a situation where the state politicians and police are in bed with the company (and the centre is acting partly because an opposition party is in power in Odisha) anyone who speaks out does so very much at his own peril. The local journalist who took that video says he fears every day he will be branded a Maoist and thrown into jail. People fighting for compensation or refusing to give up their land have had dacoity charges slapped on them already.

That’s easy to imagine happening because as Arundhati Roy explained in Outlook, the collusion between a company like Vedanta and powers that be is deep and entrenched.  P Chidambaram was a non-executive director of Vedanta till he became the finance minister in 2004.

What are we to make of the fact that, when activists from Orissa filed a case against Vedanta in the Supreme Court, citing its violations of government guidelines and pointing out that the Norwegian Pension Fund had withdrawn its investment from the company alleging gross environmental damage and human rights violations committed by the company, Justice Kapadia suggested that Vedanta be substituted with Sterlite, a sister company of the same group? He then blithely announced in an open court that he too had shares in Sterlite.

This is not just a jholawallah critique from the Arundhati Roys of the world. Even Ratan Tatais speaking out about crony capitalism. As Gurcharan Das points out in his new book India Grows At Night:

Indubitably the 1991 reforms have unleased business enterprise and this has done a lot of good in lifting the millions out of poverty and into the middle class. But it has also given greater freedom to ‘robber barons’, as it did in the United States at the turn of the nineteenth century… Because many sectors of the economy have not yet been reformed India has increasingly moved to a disturbing situation where large business groups enjoy excessive power.”

Vedanta complains the media is biased against it and never presents its side of the story.  The story of Vedanta deserves attention not because it’s about tribal lands or that the Dongria Kondh people regard the hills as their living gods.  It’s because when the state is weak and corruptible, every company just assumes that it pays to be a robber baron.

In a video obtained by Open when asked by an engineer if they had taken permission to raise the heights of certain embankments, a company rep airily says the company rarely does that. Work is done first and permission taken later.

That about sums it all up.

 

There’s no escape from the corporations that run India


Arundhati Roy, in Guardian

Domestic mega-corporations’ tentacles extend into every aspect of Indian life – but no one dares speak out against them

Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, is personally worth $20bn. He holds a majority controlling share in Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), a company with a market capitalisation of $47bn and global business interests that include petrochemicals, oil, natural gas, polyester fibre, special economic zones, fresh food retail, high schools, life sciences research and stem cell storage services. RIL recently bought 95% shares in Infotel, a TV consortium that controls 27 TV news and entertainment channels in almost every regional language. Infotel owns the only nationwide license for 4G broadband. Ambani also owns a cricket team.

RIL is one of a handful of corporations that run India. Some of the others are the Tatas, Jindals, Vedanta, Mittals, Infosys, Essar and the other Reliance (Adag), owned by Mukesh’s brother Anil. Their race for growth has spilled across Europe, central Asia, Africa and Latin America. Their nets are cast wide; they are visible and invisible, overground as well as underground. The Tatas, for example, run more than 100 companies in 80 countries. They are one of India’s oldest and largest private sector power companies. They own mines, gas fields, steel plants, telephone, cable TV and broadband networks, and run whole townships. They manufacture cars and trucks, own the Taj hotel chain, Jaguar, Land Rover, Daewoo, Tetley Tea, a publishing company, a chain of bookstores, a major brand of iodised salt and the cosmetics giant Lakme. Their advertising tagline could easily be “you can’t live without us”.

The era of the privatisation of everything has made the Indian economy one of the fastest growing in the world. However, like any good old-fashioned colony, one of its main exports is its minerals. India’s new mega-corporations are those who have managed to muscle their way to the head of the spigot that is spewing money extracted from deep inside the earth. It’s a dream come true for businessmen – to be able to sell what they don’t have to buy.

Of late, the main mining conglomerates have embraced the arts – film, art installations and the rush of literary festivals that have replaced the 1990s obsession with beauty contests. Vedanta, currently mining the heart out of the homelands of the ancient Dongria Kond tribe for bauxite, is sponsoring a “Creating Happiness” film competition for young film students who they have commissioned to make films on sustainable development. Vedanta’s tagline is “Mining Happiness”.

The Jindal Group brings out a contemporary art magazine and supports some of India’s major artists (who naturally work with stainless steel). Essar was the principal sponsor of the Tehelka Newsweek Think Fest that promised “high-octane debates” by the foremost thinkers from around the world, which included major writers, activists and even the architect Frank Gehry.

Tata Steel and Rio Tinto (which has a sordid track record of its own) were among the chief sponsors of the Jaipur literary festival. . Many of the world’s best and brightest writers gathered to discuss love, literature, politics and Sufi poetry. Some tried to defend Salman Rushdie‘s right to free speech by reading from his proscribed book, The Satanic Verses. In every TV frame and newspaper photograph the logo of Tata Steel (and its tagline, “Values Stronger Than Steel”) loomed, a benign, benevolent host. The enemies of free speech were the supposedly murderous Muslim mobs, who, the festival organisers told us, could have even harmed the schoolchildren gathered there.

Yes, the hardline Darul-uloom Deoband Islamic seminary did protest at Rushdie being invited to the festival. Yes, some Islamists did gather at the festival venue to protest and yes, outrageously, the state government did nothing to protect the venue. The battle for free speech against Islamist fundamentalism made it to the world’s newspapers. It is important that it did. But there were hardly any reports about Tata, the festival sponsors’ role in the war in the forests of central India – a war ostensibly waged against Maoists, but actually against all those who are resisting displacement by corporations such as Tata.

There were no reports either about the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, which make even thinking an anti-government thought an offence. Or about the mandatory public hearing for the Tata Steel plant in Lohandiguda which local people complained actually took place hundreds of miles away in Jagdalpur, with a hired audience of 50 people, under armed guard. Where was free speech then?

No one mentioned Kalinganagar where, in 2006, police fired on those who protested against the construction of a boundary wall by Tata Steel. No one mentioned that journalists, academics and film-makers working on subjects unpopular with the Indian government – like the surreptitious part it played in the genocide of Tamils in the war in Sri Lanka, or the recently discovered unmarked graves in Kashmir – were being denied visas or deported straight from the airport.

But which of us sinners was going to cast the first stone? Not me, who lives off royalties from corporate publishing houses. We all watch Tata Sky, we surf the net with Tata Photon, we ride in Tata taxis, we stay in Tata hotels, sip our Tata tea in Tata bone china and stir it with teaspoons made of Tata steel. We buy Tata books in Tata bookshops. Hum Tata ka namak khatey hain. We’re under siege.

But which of us sinners was going to cast the first stone? Not me, who lives off royalties from corporate publishing houses. We all watch Tata Sky, we surf the net with Tata Photon, we ride in Tata taxis, we stay in Tata hotels, sip our Tata tea in Tata bone china and stir it with teaspoons made of Tata steel. We buy Tata books in Tata bookshops. Hum Tata ka namak khatey hain. We’re under siege.

If the sledgehammer of moral purity is to be the criteria for stone-throwing, then the only people who qualify are those who have been silenced already. Those who live outside the system; the outlaws in the forests or those whose protests are never covered by the press, or the well-behaved dispossessed, who go from tribunal to tribunal, bearing witness, giving testimony.

But the Litfest gave us our aha! moment. Oprah came. She said she loved India, that she would come again and again. It made us proud.

Read original article- Capitalism: A Ghost Story