UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay applauds Indian movement to eradicate ‘manual scavenging’


GENEVA (31 January 2013) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay today welcomed the strong movement that has been developing over the past few months in India to eradicate the practice known as ‘manual scavenging’ which, because of the stigma attached to it, has traditionally been carried out by Dalit women in a clear manifestation of discrimination based on caste and gender.

The focus on manual scavenging – essentially the manual removal of human excreta from dry latrines and sewers – has recently been significantly heightened in India by a National March for the Eradication of Manual Scavenging (also known as “Maila Mukti Yatra”). The March, which in addition to advocating the eradication of manual scavenging has called for the comprehensive rehabilitation of those who have been conducting it, took place over a period of 63 days, starting on 30 November 2012 and crossed a total of 200 districts in 18 states. It will be formally concluded on Thursday in New Delhi.

“I congratulate the strenuous efforts and commitment of the organizers, and of all the participants — especially the thousands of liberated manual scavenger women — who marched across the country in support of the many others who are still being forced to carry out this dreadful practice,” the High Commissioner said.

“An estimated 90 percent of manual scavengers are Dalit women who face multiple inequalities and discrimination based on their caste and gender, and who are often exposed to violence and exploitation,” she added.

“Because of the nature of the work, manual scavenging has contributed to a self-perpetuating cycle of stigma and untouchability,” Pillay said. “Manual scavenging is not a career chosen voluntarily by workers, but is instead a deeply unhealthy, unsavoury and undignified job forced upon these people because of the stigma attached to their caste. The nature of the work itself then reinforces that stigma.”

The High Commissioner met two years ago in Geneva some of those campaigning against manual scavenging “I was deeply moved when they presented me with a brick they had broken off a dry latrine,” she said.  “I keep it by my office to this day as a reminder of their struggle.”

“I am encouraged to hear that the march has been supported by a wide cross-section of society, who have come together to energize the growing movement to abolish this degrading form of work, which should have no place in 21st century India,” Pillay said.

In September 2012, a new bill on The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation was submitted to the Indian Parliament by the Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment. The bill builds on the strong legislative framework already in place prohibiting untouchability and bonded labour, and adds a comprehensive definition of manual scavenging.

“The new bill provides a solid framework for the prohibition of manual scavenging,” Pillay said. “India already has strong legal prohibitions on caste discrimination, so the key to the new law will be effective accountability and enforcement. It is also crucial that adequate resources are provided to enable the comprehensive rehabilitation of liberated manual scavengers. This is the only way these grossly exploited people will be able to successfully reintegrate into a healthier and much more dignified work environment, and finally have a real opportunity to improve the quality of their own lives and those of their children and subsequent generations.”

 

Nestlé Found Guilty of Spying on Swiss Activists


by Pratap ChatterjeeCorpWatch Blog
January 30th, 2013

Image by phdinparenting. Used under Creative Commons license.

Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, has been found guilty of spying on Swiss activists in 2003 with the help of Securitas, a private security company. Jean-Luc Genillard, president of the Lausanne civil court, told the two companies to pay 3,000 Swiss Francs ($3,267.55) to each of nine victims.

Vevey, Switzerland, based Nestlé sells $91 billion worth of products a year such as Nescafé coffee, KitKat chocolates and Maggi noodles. The company has frequently been criticized for marketing baby food in poor countries in violation of a 1981 World Health Organization code that regulates the advertising of breast milk substitutes. It has also come under fire from Greenpeace for using palm oil grown on deforested land in Borneoand buying cocoa beans from plantations that used child labor in Cote d’Ivoire in a film entitled “The Dark Side of Chocolate.”

In 2003, a group of activists with the Association pour la Taxation des Transactions pour l’Aide aux Citoyens (ATTAC) in Vaud, Switzerland, started working on a book on the global policies of Nestlé. At the time aSecuritas employee started to attend meetings using the false name of Sara Meylan.

In June 2008, Temps Présent, a Swiss TV program, revealed that the Securitas agent had briefed Nestlé security personnel as well as corporate communications staff about the ATTAC meetings she attended including ones that were held in activist homes. Securitas also provided this information to the local police.

ATTAC members sued Nestlé after the news report was aired. “We are revolted by this practice, which overturns the principles of freedom of expression and basic democratic rights,” a press release from the group stated. “We condemn the role played by Securitas. This private security company, whose activities traditionally consist of guarding buildings and car parks, accepted a contract to spy on a group of people who in no way represented a threat or a danger, except for the fact that the results of their research activities could not be controlled by the transnational Nestlé.”

In recent years Nestlé has started to respond directly to some complaints of activist groups like Greenpeace, according to the Financial Times. “For a company like ours to prosper over the long term we have to create value for the communities in which we operate,” Janet Voûte, Nestlé’s global head of public affairs, told the newspaper. “And we fundamentally believe we cannot create shared value – not just for shareholders but for society – alone.”

Despite the new public relations strategy to contain activists, the company has been unable to quash the Vaud group. Although ATTAC dropped a criminal case against the two companies in 2009, it continued to press a civil claim in Lausanne courts which it dubbed “Nestlégate.”

“We are very satisfied that the civil court has now condemned NESTLE’s and SECURITAS AG’s spying activities,” ATTAC said in a press release issued after the judge ruled against the companies last week. “Nevertheless we’d like to point out that we are continuing to critically observe the worldwide activities of multinational corporations like NESTLE, especially concerning its hostile trade union policies and the excessive pumping of groundwater in different parts of the world.”

Nestlé reacted to the court ruling “with disappointment” although it added that “incitement to infiltration is against Nestlé’s corporate business principles.”

 

#India- Between thirst and darkness in Maharashtra


Rivers are diverted for generating electricity, while the government plans water trains for its people. Baba Umar reports on an impossible situation in the state
Baba Umar

January 31, 2013, Issue 6 Volume 10

Parched earth Eight districts in the Marathwada region of the state are expected to run completely dry by March, Photo: Getty Images

THIS SUMMER, people in southern Maharashtra can enjoy either electricity or water, not both. Until recently, the state had prioritised use of water for industrial purposes over agriculture. But now the government finds itself at odds to explain the diversion of water to hydel projects when water activists claim that the diverted water can be used to meet the requirements of eight drought-hit districts, which are expected to run completely dry by March.

Activists say the state government diverts massive quantities of water from the drought-hit regions of southern Maharashtra to hydel projects in the water surplus western regions of the state, eventually ending up in the Arabian Sea. But stopping the diversion may also mean shortage of electricity in an energy-starved state.

“If the government is serious about quenching the thirst of millions of people, then it has to stop diverting water from east flowing rivers to the west, which is a water surplus area and receives over 3,000 mm rainfall annually,” explains water resources expert Himanshu Thakkar a water rights activist.

Maharashtra diverts 1,413 MCM of water annually to three hydel projects from the Krishna river basin, while the Koyna dam in Satara district diverts 1,911.4 MCM of water from the Krishna basin to five hydel projects. Currently, these projects have 2,835 MCM of water in live storage. And this water is sent to Konkan areas where it ends up in Arabian sea.

“The water available in live storage capacity of these dams today is sufficient to provide 100 litres per capita per day for about 7 crore people for the entire year, provided it’s not diverted,” Thakkar says.

According to him this water, besides the additional flow into these dams through the rest of the year, can be useful for the drought-prone areas if no more water from any of these dams are allowed to drain into the Konkan rivers until monsoon arrives.

The three hydel projects in the Krishna- basin collectively produce 297 MW of electricity, while the five hydel projects based around the Koyna dam collectively produce around 1,956 MW of power. The eight projects add up to 8.5 percent of the state’s total installed power capacity.

“A decision should have been taken as soon as it became apparent that the monsoon is a failure and the state is in dire need of all available water,” says Thakkar. “We are already at least five months late in taking a decision on this. When people are facing severe water scarcity, it is high time the diversions were stopped.”

Currently, water is being supplied across the region by tankers. Meanwhile, the Maharashtra government has already spent Rs 414 crore to combat the situation, of which Rs 248 crore was released for erecting cattle shelters for nearly 70,000 cattle head in the drought-hit villages and hamlets. According to reports, the government has also finalised plans to send water-filled train carriages to the droughthit region.

Earlier this month, a high-level committee that studies which states affected by natural calamities need the Central government’s help approved assistance of Rs 778.09 crore to Maharashtra. But people living in the districts of Aurangabad, Nanded, Latur, Jalna, Beed, Parbhani, Osmanabad and Hingoli, which are the worst-hit in the region, are yet to see the crisis subsiding.

“The state government must work on long-term solutions. Sending water by tankers is a only short-term effort,” says Shrikant Katre, a local journalist. In Jalna, people are taking their cattle to government shelters “because they can’t afford to provide the animals with water and fodder”, he adds.

A media report suggested that stopping water diversion was discussed during a meeting at the water resources ministry, but the option was rejected.

“Stopping diversion would also mean hampering energy production in the already distressed state,” a senior official in the water resources ministry told TEHELKA on the condition of anonymity. “The government, I think, would continue to remain in limbo. We can’t see power cuts in the state, neither can we see people dying of water. It’s a double-edged sword.”

In the past five years, the state’s peak electricity demand deficit has risen from 17 percent in 2005-06, to 22 percent in 2011-12.

But water expert Thakkar says: “In times of crisis, such decisions need to be considered. Maharashtra is already facing the possibility of conflicts and clashes, with the people and cattle in the Krishna basin facing dire water scarcity. When there is talk of running water-tanker trains, shouldn’t this option too be explored?”

WATER RESOURCES Minister Sunil Tatkare couldn’t be reached for his comments. His public relations officer, however, referred TEHELKA to Dr Patangrao Shripatrao Kadam, minister for rehabilitation and relief works saying, “His ministry is managing the present drought condition.” But Kadam’s staff denied access saying, “He is busy in a meeting and can’t comment right now.” An SMS sent to Kadam elicited no response.

Suniti Su Ra of the National Alliance of People’s Movements says the water from these dams have been flowing into the sea for more than 60 years and in all these years the government could have developed a mechanism to stop this water from going waste.

“The state needs to overhaul its water policy. Water for industries has all along been prioritised over water for agriculture and drinking purposes. Water meant for farmers and drinking purposes is guzzled by industries across the state,” she says.

While the government is struggling to help people survive the drought, Thakkar says the only option left is to stop the diversion of water from ending up in the sea.

But is the government listening?

babaumar@tehelka.com

 

Ashis Nandy’s Predicament and Ours #JLF #FOE


January 30, 2013
by , kafila.org

For the past few days I have been preoccupied in one part of my mind in dealing with two reasons for anguish. The first reason has to do with the profound sense of disappointment and anger with which I heard Prof. Ashis Nandy, a man I consider to be a great teacher, friend and in possession of one of the finest minds of our time, commit himself in public to a flippant and vulgar position when speaking of the relationship between caste and corruption at the Jaipur Literary Festival.

I was saddened because Prof. Nandy’s statements do a great disservice to the suppleness and ethical integrity of his thinking, and represent one of those sadly paradoxical situations where an intellectual can become their own worst adversary. I am unambiguously critical of the Nandy who chooses to be pompously opinionated and misinformed at a forum like the Jaipur Literary Festival or while riding the hot-air currents of television especially because I remain a partisan of the Nandy who can be (when he chooses to be) one of the most thoughtful and insightful witnesses to our time in his writing.

The second reason for my anger has to do with the knee jerk reactions that have followed this episode, calling for Nandy’s prosecution and imprisonment, that come laden either with a disturbing sense of authoritarian rectitude emanating from the foot soldiers of identity politics and brokers of victimhood or with a degree of schaudenfraude from intellectual charlatans.

In all honesty, I cannot deny that Nandy’s remarks at the Jaipur Literary Festival reflect a profound lapse of judgement. As a person who claims to be a student of psychology among other things, I would urge Prof. Nandy, out of the solidarity and respect that I have for him to do some honest introspection and think about the conscious and unconscious habits of thought and affect that so speedily bring an invocation of caste, even when it is not immediately relevant, to the lips of our intellectuals. Corruption is a question of an unregulated access to power, or, a measure of the way in which the absence of a sustainable wage makes it necessary for millions of ordinary people to pursue informal economies and ways of life outside of or on the fringes of legality. A meditation on neither of these two polar phenomena necessarily requires us to weigh in on the caste identities of those who corrupt, or are corrupted by the ordinary operations of power and the economy in our society.

To say that ‘most of the corrupt are Dalits or come from backward communities’ is to say something as nonsensical as ‘most terrorists are Muslim’, or, ‘most people in the top echelons of right wing Hindu groups are Chitpavan Brahmins’ or ,’most of the financiers and speculators in global Capitalism are Jewish’, or ‘most of the people who were carriers of the HIV virus in the early days of the AIDS epidemic were homosexuals’.

First of all, such statements are of extremely dubious empirical value. They reflect the prejudice of the speakers and the spoken to more than they mirror facts on the ground. Secondly, even if they were to contain a modicum of truth – ‘yes, some of those caught for corruption have been Dalits, yes, some of those found guilty of terrorism are Muslim, yes, some of those who were early carriers of the HIV were gay, and yes, some of the leading plutocrats are Jewish and some of those involved in right wing Hindu fascism are Marathi speaking Brahmins’ stating them in bald terms necessarily involves the assertion of a falsehood, simply because there are always more counter factual instances that disprove each of the above assertions. For each X that is why Y ( here, for X, read an identity category – Dalit, Muslim, Gay, Jew, Brahmin etc. and for Y read an attribute – corrupt, terrorist, disease carrier, plutocrat, fanatic), there are way too many Xs that are also not Y for any correlation between X and Y to be meaningful. In fact no statements of this kind, or pretences to facticity of this nature actually tell us anything valuable about corruption, terrorism, AIDS, finance capital, or hindutva, or for that matter, about Dalits, Muslims, Jews, Gays or Brahmins.

They reflect instead a habit of inexactitude and imprecision that is indulged in Indian intellectual life, based on the easy anecdote, idle prejudice and plain statistical dissimulation, and deployed, casually, in passing as the currency of opinion, in may I add, largely male homosocial gatherings, where no one actually challenges anyone else. It reflects the sad fact that the mainstream of Indian intellectual life has not yet learnt to think beyond, below or besides identity based categories.

With regard to a discussion of corruption, the question of caste has a relevance insofar as the informally expressed networks of power and privilege are concerned, through which corruption operates – nepotism, for instance, in a specifically Indian context has to be read in terms of caste, because of the relationship between kinship, the closed structure of many affinity groups and affinal ties and caste structures in India. This is perhaps the territory that Ashis Nandy intended to step into when he began talking about corruption at the Jaipur Literary Festival. But a consideration on the matrix of privilege, informality and familiarity that comes with an assessment of how the wheels of corruption are greased – which is best represented by Nandy’s remark gesturing towards how elites reward and protect their own (which in all fairness cannot be read in an ‘anti-Dalit’ manner) does not necessarily translate into a quantitative assessment of which caste embodies how much corruption. That leap, I am afraid, takes us straight into a habitual, reflexive cast of thought that cannot articulate itself in terms other than those of caste. That intellectual failure, the rush to make a sweeping statement about millions of people, their intents, actions and motives is what disappoints me. If anything, a serious consideration on kinship, influence, caste and corruption would show that there is not a single caste, community, old boys network, professional sector, affinity group or vocation that is free of corruption in India. To single out any particular group or identity, for the purposes of a conversationally discursive rhetorical flourish, is to be utterly deluded, and to provide fuel to the purveyors of prejudice, even when the person doing so may not be prejudiced themselves.

The political theory that emanated from CSDS may well have said important things about the relationship between caste and electoral politics in parts of north India in the latter half of the twentieth century, but to have caste become the inevitable conceptual short-hand for any random feature of social, political or cultural life in India, shows us what happens when the contingent results of time bound quantitative surveys become intellectual fetishes that can be used to talk about any and everything in the name of a faux and au-fait indigeneity. Nandy’s profound error is not his alone, he is only the canary who sings in a predictable monotone as the conceptual mine shaft around him begins to cave in on itself. Perhaps there is no coal left in this particular seam.

What is particularly distressing to me is the fact that Nandy is actually at his best when he offers us the intellectual tools that help us critique the cults of empiricism, expertise and scientism. He is at his best when he speaks in riddles, enigmas and allegories. To see him pillory his own method at the altar of a vocabulary of ‘facts’ and ‘data’ is to see Nandy become the caricature of what he has most relentlessly criticised. Again, he is not alone in this. Great minds fall from great heights, and they fall hard. Let us not forget Martin Heidegger’s sinister Nazi period, Michel Foucault’s enthusiasm for the venality of the Islamist revolution in Iran, Hannah Arendt’s alleged abandonment of her principled anti-Zionism for the sake of a bizarre celebration (late in her life, and in private) of the military prowess of the Israeli state, Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s anti-semitism and Jean Paul Sartre’s disgusting apologetics for Stalinism. We need not be blind to any of this when we read and learn from the work of these intellectuals and writers, nor do we need to be blinded by it. Intellectuals are not infallible, and there is no need for us to be incredulous when an intellectual that we otherwise admire succumbs to an ethical or cognitive lapse that we cannot, and indeed must not ignore.

A robust commitment to the principles of free speech can reconcile trenchant intellectual disagreement with a passionate embodiment of the ethical defence of the liberty of that with which one disagrees. I am prepared to argue strongly in favour of the freedom of speech of those who are my bitter intellectual and ideological adversaries, not because I think they are all wonderful people but because I think we are left poorer as a society when we do not make room for contrarian points of view (even when they are profoundly disagreeable). I strongly believe we need to consign every single law in the statute that restricts the freedom of speech, whether on the grounds of offended religious sensibilities, caste sentiments or the sanctity or security of the state to the garbage bin.This needs to begin with a rejection of the first amendment to the Indian Constitution, and its infamous ‘reasonable restrictions’ clause, which is the fountainhead of every justification for the stifling of liberty. Whatever damage violent and hateful forms of speech do can in my opinion be effectively addressed by those legal instruments that define and target acts that are accessory to, or abet, the conduct of actual violence be it on casteist, sectarian or misogynist grounds. As for the specious argument of offended sentiments, especially on the grounds of religion, identity and honour, I maintain that a consistent and just application of this principle would also necessarily entail the potential prosecution of almost every religious believer because virtually every religion enshrines in its scripture hateful and damning sentiments regarding the believers of other religions, non-believers and those who undertake to lead forms of life, particularly in the intimate sphere that are not in conformity with religious dictates. My doubt may be as sacred and important to me as the faith of a believer. While I think that these sentiments (that damn those who are not of the right or sufficient faith) are provocations for us to think carefully about the relationship between prejudice, misogyny, homophobia and tradition, I would not think for a moment that the scriptures be banned or that religious figures be imprisoned for wanting to send the likes of me to hell, because there is a great deal in the same religious traditions that I am interested in and care for, even as an unbeliever. If I am, and millions of people like me are, prepared to live with the fact that our sentiments are offended on a daily basis by religion, then why must we not insist that we be returned the favour?

Because I am committed in principle to the freedom of speech, especially of the speech with I do not agree, or even disagree strongly, I do not think that Prof. Nandy’s words are sufficient ground for arrest or legal action. i must say here that even if someone made rank communal or casteist remarks, I would still not agree with them being ‘locked up’, ‘put away’ or gagged in any form. While I would urge everyone to either combat such speech, or deprive it of the oxygen of publicity by ignoring it, (even by means of a social boycott when necessary) under no circumstances would I endorse or call for punitive measures like a ban or imprisonment. The discomfort that some of the intellectuals who are currently standing in support of Nandy is something that I can recognise, but not sympathise with. It is this discomfort that makes them adopt several rhetorical contortions by means of which they are trying to either overlook or retroactively justify the import of his statement so that they can prove to themselves that he must not be banned or punished. This is the discomfort of those who have no issue as such with a mild climate of censorship (of the ‘reasonable restriction’ variety) but believe that someone like Nandy (one of ‘us’) ought not to be bound by it. Meaning they can perform the complex acrobatic manoeuvre of reconciling a mild hostility to free speech (in general) with an automatic endorsement of Nandy’s particular right to free speech because he is special. This is why they are making excuses for Nandy today. I make no excuses for Nandy. I do not believe that his words have not done damage. I do not think his is a special case that one should make exceptions for. I would defend him even if he was not a scholar of eminence, even if he was not someone I respected, or regarded as a friend. Even if he was a clear adversary, or an inhabitant of the widening constituency of right wing lunacy in this country. We have to learn to distinguish between different kinds of speech acts. Nandy’s words embody an opinion, a reactionary opinion, and must be confronted, immediately, with counter-speech, and vigorous, militant thinking, but they are not intended to act as a threat. On the other hand, when a Praveen Togadia or an Akbaruddin Owaisi, or a Varun Gandhi, or the family firm of the Thackerays call for the undertaking of acts that would involve physical harm or violence against particular communities, then, we can and indeed must consider whether or not the speech act itself constitutes the kind of violence that must be punished. Even at the sidelines of the Jaipur Literary Festival this year, there was a man, Kirori Lal Meena, an independent MP from Dausa, Rajasthan who loudly declaimed on television that he would personally beat up the women who he said were ‘drinking alcohol in the evenings at the festival’.

Now that is a threat, a clear statement of an intent to do or support physical harm being done to someone else for no good reason. That is the kind of speech that should make us think about whether or not to invoke the law.

The damage that Nandy’s flippancy has done on the other hand can be addressed only if we make room for stringent intellectual criticism and a demand for introspection, on everybody’s part. No amount of retrospective qualification can restore to the statements that Ashis Nandy made about caste and corruption, (or for that matter to the ones that he made just a little earlier endorsing the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s bizarre two-nation theory of rape), any degree of ambiguity or irony. And the various attempts that I have seen by some of Delhi’s intelligentsia and commentariat at closing ranks around Nandy, by referring to his ‘maverick sense of humour’, his almost apparently zen master like ‘provocative intentions’ cannot take away from the intellectual and moral harm that a set of grossly incorrect statements pretending to facticity do when they are said with authority, and may I say, with an unnecessary degree of braggadocio. It is also not adequate in my view to say that these statements were made, as Nandy and some of those around him have been saying, in a context that was otherwise supportive of Dalits and other marginalised groups. Let us take this position for what it is worth and examine it closely. Basically, (and this is a generous interpretation if this position) what it implies is that the marginalised get ‘caught’ because they are not sophisticated or intelligent enough to develop strategies that would help them get away with it, like upper caste elites have long been accustomed to. There is something profoundly, vulgarly patronising about this attitude, that shades off into the snigger about the foibles of ‘simple people’ who can’t do better. I have no hesitation in saying that this needs to be called out, not because it is necessarily casteist, but because it is egregiously patronising.

I do not for a moment believe that Ashis Nandy is personally casteist. I know him to be an unorthodox and irreverent thinker who is deeply uncomfortable with any kind of intellectual protocol premised on hierarchy, and therefore, but naturally, is a trenchant critic of the actual operational existence of the caste system. But at the same time, like the Gandhi that Nandy admires, he is both a critic as well as a captive of the conceptual cage of caste. He may think against it, but he cannot think outside it. In doing so, he is on the same page with some amongst those who are calling for his punishment. They have spent their lives preventing themselves and others from thinking in terms other than those provided by the caste system, even if they have done so as its victims.

I know Nandy to be refreshingly egalitarian in his personal conduct, life and work practices. He has stood bravely in support of very radical positions, even when these positions have brought upon themselves the wrath of state fury or an angry majoritarian public consensus founded on negativity. One can only salute all of these attributes of his personality. But these facts do not in themselves absolve Nandy of the intellectual irresponsibility of his recent statements. While I strongly condemn any move to use the law to effect punitive measures against him, or to send him to prison even for day. I do believe that a refusal to be critical, and even harshly critical of his language and expression is irresponsible. The times that we live in require us not to be irresponsible in this way.

One of the finest statements that I have heard in the wake of this unfortunate episode has come from a person I find myself rarely in agreement with – the Dalit intellectual Chandrabhan Prasad. I heard him say on television (in conversation with Ashis Nandy and Barkha Dutton NDTV) that it is time to invoke ‘the great Dalit tradition of forgiveness’ while dealing with someone like Ashis Nandy. I agree with this view. Forgiveness involves a tacit admission of guilt on the part of the forgiver as well as the forgiven. First of all it means that both parties agree that the person who is to be forgiven has in fact done something wrong. One cannot forgive the innocent. And it does not evade the question of justice in the way that a anodyne invocation of reconciliation does. One need not ever be reconciled with the act that one chooses to forgive. Forgiveness is also a greater and more powerful instrument in the hands of the weak than the weapons of retribution. Forgiveness strengths the weak while doing away with weakness while retribution only redistributes weakness. Chandrabhan Prasad’s very intelligent deployment of the trope of forgiveness offers everybody, and especially the Dalit position, an opportunity to discover and flex its ethical strength, I hope it will be listened to.

The Bhagawad Gita opens with Arjuna’s predicament on the battlefield. He sees arrayed against him his teachers, his kin. And he says he does not want to take up arms against his teachers. This does not necessarily mean he is unaware of the harm that they have done. It only means that he is looking for a way other than violence or victory to confront their perfidy, because he is attached to them, because they mean something to him. Krishna’s counsel to Arjuna is well known, and I need not distract us with its details, but in essence it commands Arjuna to rise above his attachments in order to fight the war. I have never been satisfied with Krishna’s answer, while I remain fascinated by Arjuna’s question. Today, I find myself in the place of Arjuna, and in front of me is an acharya, a teacher who has done wrong. Perhaps the first thing to do is to invert the logic of the Bhagavad Gita, to insist on the ethical validity of one’s attachments, to think not against, but with desire in the pursuit of an ethical life. Doing this means being critical of the long tradition of renunciative abstraction as the engine of a meaningful life that includes not only Mohandas Gandhi but also some of his foremost interpreters today, including Ashis Nandy. It is to insist that one need not rise above or beyond the matrix of one’s attachments in order to fashion an ethical life. It is to find a language of criticism that is also the grammar of solidarity.

I hope that sense prevails, that Ashis Nandy is not sent to prison, so that we can roundly and thoroughly criticise him on intellectual grounds. Should the powers that be decide that a spell in prison is the only way their meagre imaginations can deal with this situation, I call upon everyone, regardless of whether they agree or disagree with Nandy to denounce such a move in the strongest, harshest terms because of its inherent authoritarianism. I also call upon us all to call for a thoroughgoing review of every repressive legal instrument in the constitution and criminal law, from the first amendment onwards, that restricts free speech.This country has already been shamed when it sent writers like Arundhati Roy or Varavara Rao to prison, or when it has banned or prohibited the work of M.F.Husain, Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen at the urging of bigots. If Ashis Nandy is sent to prison, we will once again find ourselves rightly accused of being the citizens of an illiberal, immature and closed society that is unable to live with difference.

Nandy himself has said that he will dance and write if he is sent to prison. I hope that he will dance and write even if he is at liberty. And I will happily dance with him, and read what he writes, and tell him while I do so, how wrong he has been in this instance, how profoundly exasperating he can be, and how much I love him. I believe that given half a chance, and had he been possessed of the intelligence and moral courage to defy Krishna that the situation warranted, that is what Arjuna would have done with Bhishma.

 

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