Mumbai- Activists slam govt’s nuclear policies


Nikhil M Ghanekar, Hindustan Times  Mumbai, May 12, 2013

First Published: 01:26 IST(12/5/2013) | Last Updated: 01:27 IST(12/5/2013)

On Saturday, the Coal-ition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP) and anti-nuclear activists criticised the Centre’s policy of expediting civilian nuclear energy projects when most developed nations have shunned the technology following the Fukushima disaster.
CNDP founder Achin Vanaik and activists such as Praful Bidwai and Vaishali Patil spoke on nuclear disarmament, the secrecy around nuclear power and the huge costs of producing nuclear energy at the seminar- ‘Coming out of the nuclear trap’.

Bidwai said the department of atomic energy had propagated myths about the advantage of nuclear power. “The costs of producing nuclear energy are exorbitant… the cost of decommissioning reactors is half of what is used to build them.”

 The seminar’s organiser Kumar Sundaram criticised the Supreme Court’s decision on the Kudankulam plant. “The court did not take into account the safety standard violations. But this judgment will not deter other protests,” said Sundaram.

Story of a refugee grand mother, of identities and displacements #Sundayreading


In times of displacement, do we leave our former selves behind and create new identities? In this moving personal history, Garga Chatterjee profiles his Bengali grandmother whose true self was unmasked only by a tragic stroke .

http://www.thefridaytimes.com/

 

I have crossed the border between the two Bengals multiple times. In February 2013, I took back my maternal uncle Bacchu mama to his ancestral home in East Bengal (now part of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh). He had fled after his matriculation exams, a little before the 1965 war. Then we reached his modest, 2-storey, tin-shed erstwhile home in the Kawnia neighbourhood of Barishal Town. And here this mama of mine began to touch and feel the dusty walls and stairs. He is by far the jolliest person I have known. This was the first time I saw his eyes tear up. The story that follows is of his paternal aunt, or pishi.

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Dida and her husband - mid 1970s
Dida and her husband – mid 1970s
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Having taken an active interest, and in some cases an active role, in anti-displacement agitations of various hues, what rings hollow to my privileged existence is the trauma of such an experience. I know the statistics, the caste break-up of the internally displaced, the pain of being transformed from sharecroppers to urban shack dwellers – raw stories of loss and displacement. The “on-the-face” aspect of the accounts, unfortunately, has a numbing effect. When a populace is numb to the explicit, its sensitivity to things hidden is virtually non-existent. In spite of my association with causes of displacement, in my heart of hearts, I don’t feel I inhabit them. I can empathize but can’t relate. Nobody I have grown up with seemed to have any psychological scar or trauma about displacement – at least none that was carried around, although I grew up around victims of one of the biggest mass displacements of all times. I am talking about the partition of Bengal in 1947.

The narrow path was a metaphor for my dida’s connection to her new world

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Dida or Jyotsna Sen - early 1970s
Dida or Jyotsna Sen – early 1970s
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Growing up in Calcutta in the 1980s, visits to my maternal grandparents’ house were a weekly feature of my life. We lived in a 30-something-strong joint family, firmly rooted in West Bengal, very Ghoti. For Ghotis, the East Bengalis are a people with a culture less sophisticated than their own. In later years, especially post-1947, the term ‘Bangal‘, which used to mean East Bengali, also came to mean refugees, and hence evoked a certain discomfiture in West Bengal, if not outright animosity.

With time, however, social ties were built between certain sections of the two communities. I am a child of mixed heritage – I have a Ghoti father and a Bangal mother.

The people of my mother’s extended family had their displacement stories – not really of trauma, but of a sense of material loss – the money they couldn’t bring with them, the land they had left behind, the travails of some families they knew, etc. Calcutta subsumed much of their former selves. An exemplary figure here is my maternal grandmother, my dida. She was married off to my maternal grandfather, my dadu, who I hear opposed the marriage at that time, if not the match itself (both my parents were teenagers). When she came to Calcutta in tow with her husband, she was still quite young. My mother was born in Calcutta.

I have a Ghoti father and a Bangal mother

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The author and his dida
The author and his dida
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They lived in a rented place near Deshopriya Park. There was an air of dampness about the place. It was connected to the metaled road by a longish, narrow path, gritty and dimly lit, a metaphor for my dida’s connection to her new world, in that connecting to the mainstream required a certain tortuous effort. Inside that house, it was strange and intriguing to me. The lingo was different – they spoke Bangal (a Bengali dialect) with a Barishal twang (Barishal was one of the more pupulous districts of East Bengal) called Barishailya. Dida said chokh(‘eye’) as tsokkhu and amader (‘our’) as amago. I used to pick these up and relate them delightedly to my Ghoti joint family to regale them. Now I don’t think it’s hard to imagine that many Bangals didn’t like the fact that other people found simple pronouncements in their dialect amusing and even comical. (Some comedians have used this aspect in Bengali comedy: I am reminded of black clowns with artificial and heightened mannerisms who regaled white audiences.)

She bought her groceries at a bazaar full of grocers who were refugees from East Bengal

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Dida cooked well and was known for it. But what did she herself want to be known for? My mother related to me how her father was a great lover of letters and sciences. This was somewhat true – sometimes I abhorred going to him because he would not only tell me to do a math problem but also ask me why I did it that way. He tried to get all his children formally educated – a Bangal signature of the time. Markedly different was his attitude towards Dida – I remember numerous instances of “ o tumi bozba na” (‘You wouldn’t understand that’). On her 50th marriage anniversary, her children got together for a celebration. The couple garlanded each other. She looked happy with her self and her world. “ Togo sara amar ar ki aase” (‘What else do I have but you people’) was her pronouncement. Something happened a few years later that made me question the exhaustive nature of her statement.

Things happened in quick succession after that. The brothers and sisters fell out. This turn of events resulted in Dida staying with us. Our joint family had ceased to exist too. By now, I was a medical student. Dida was getting worse due to her diabetes. So I spent time with her. I remember her trying to speak (and failing miserably) our non-Bangal Bengali dialect to my paternal grandmother. She was still trying to fit in, for circumstances demanded that she do. At the time I thought she was extraordinarily fortunate. With my newfound sensitivity towards “identities”, I thought, she must have been very happy to speak Bangal until now. She bought her groceries at a bazaar full of grocers who were themselves refugees from East Bengal. Her husband’s extended family was essentially her social circle and they all chattered away in Bangal. They ate their fish in their own way. In spite of being displaced from East Bengal, she had retained her identity, her “self”. Or so I thought.

She was speaking gibberish – names we didn’t know, places we hadn’t heard of

[box9]She suffered a cerebral stroke not long afterwards. A stroke is tragic as well as fascinating to observe. It cripples and unmasks. The social beings we are, who care about what words to speak to whom, what state of dress or undress to be in where and when, all this complex monument of pretense comes crashing down with a stroke. For one whole day Dida had been in what would medically be termed a “delirium”, characterized by, among other things, a speech that was incoherent to the rest of us. She couldn’t move much and spoke what we heard as gibberish – names we didn’t know, places we hadn’t heard of. To ascertain the stage of cerebral damage, one asks questions like ‘Who are you?’ ‘Where are we?’ ‘What is the date?’ I was alone with her when I asked her these questions. Who are you? “Ami Shonkor Guptor bareer meye.” (‘I am a girl from Shonkor Gupto’s family.’) I repeated my question, and she gave the same answer. She couldn’t tell me her name. Shonkor Gupto wasn’t her father but an ancestor who had built their house in Goila village of Barisal in East Bengal. Later, when she had recovered from the stroke, she remembered nothing of this incident. When I asked her later, she replied “Jyotsna Sen” or “Tore mare ziga” (‘Ask your mother’). ‘Who are you?’ and ‘What’s your name?’ had become one and the same again. She died some time later. It was another stroke that felled her.

Displacement brings trauma with it. And the trauma can be cryptic. It can be hidden. It can be pushed down, sunk deep with the wish that it doesn’t surface. But displacement resurfaces in odd ways. And often an involuntary journey away from home is a journey away from one’s self too. The journey of displacement is hardly linear. It is more like a long arc. In most cases, the arc doesn’t turn back to where it started from. The journey looks unhindered by identities left back. But we can sometimes peer deeper. Nobody called my Dida by the name Jyotsna Sen – she merely signed papers with that name. She had a name by which people called her before her marriage – “Monu”. This name had become hazy after her marriage and the journey to her husband’s house; and it was essentially lost after she migrated to Calcutta. She had been doubly removed from the people, the household, the organic milieu that knew “Monu”. She had three children, four grandchildren, a husband, a new city. Where was she? And when all this was shorn off, what remained was a teenage girl from East Bengal village – a place she hadn’t been in 60 years, maybe the only place where she had been much of herself. Monu of Shankar Gupto’s house.

At this point, I wonder whether she silently bled all through her years in Calcutta. Would she have bled similarly if she had made choices about her own life, or if she had actively participated in the decisions that changed her life’s trajectory? The speculative nature of the inferences I draw from her “unmasking” story is not a hindrance to imagine what could have been. A little looking around might show such stories of long-drawn suppressions all around – suppressions we consider facts of life and take for granted. Who knows what she would have wanted at age 15, or at 22? Where was her voice, her own thing in the whole Calcutta saga that followed? The picture-perfect 50th anniversary clearly didn’t capture who she was. Her husband believed she had had her due – what more does one need, he would have thought. My mother assumed that with the well-intentioned husband that her father was, Dida must have been happy. The identity-politics fired lefty in me had thought she hadn’t been displaced enough, given the continuity of her Bangal milieu! But a part of her lived repressed.

In the microcosms we inhabit, there are stories of displacement, failed rehabilitation and denial of life choices. It is my suspicion that on learning about the Narmada valley displaced, a part of my Dida’s self would have differed vehemently with the Supreme Court judges, who upheld the prerogative of “development” over the costs of displacement.

 

 

Red Ant Dream – #FilmReview #Sundayreading


HEAVEN ON EARTH

By MOHAMAD JUNAID,

 

FILM REVIEW — RED ANT DREAM BY SANJAY KAK

 

It is war for earth, to maintain the earth as heaven, if not to create a new heaven on earth. In an age of pervasive cynicism, it is no small act to dream such a dream and to work to achieve it, given the power of global capitalist forces against which the Adivasis are ranged. An essay based on Sanjay Kak’s latest documentary, Red Ant Dream

 

The state of war exists.

A calm but firm voice, distilling reason to its fundamentals, declares: “Maoism teaches us that self-preservation is possible only through war.” A caption mentions ‘Azad, spokesperson, CPI (Maoist).’ We never see him. We learn about his death later, death in custody. Azad’s words about self-preservation, which reach us now after his death, acquire a decisive clarity. The devastating collusion between the State and big capital has left no other possible way to preserve a life of dignity than to fight for it. This is the resounding call from the bloodied forest in the vast hinterland of central India that has announced a ‘People’s War’ on the Indian state. It is a revolutionary war that hopes to stop the indignity of the ruling elite’s war on the people.

 

Red Ant Dream, Sanjay Kak’s new feature-length documentary, is a tour de force. The film engages you compellingly with the power of its ideas, while it catches you at the visceral level with the intensity of its images. Appearing amid the din of corporate media’s demonization of India’s insurgent Maoists and Adivasis as the enemies of the ‘nation’ on whom the country needs to be tough, Red Ant Dream shakes you to see that the state of war already exists; it is just that the news has not been allowed to reach your ears. Or you have, like the proverbial three monkeys, refused to see, hear, or speak the ‘evil’ of the bitter truth—the bitter truth of everyday deprivation of the poor upon which the Indian middle class’s self-congratulatory comfort zone has been erected.

 

It is plausible to suggest that people’s movements are influenced by ideologies. The State experts, and even the mainstream Indian Left parties, see the political thought of Mao Tse-Tung, 20th-century Chinese communist leader, as mainly responsible for the insurgency in the forests of central Indian states. For the Adivasis, the numerous forest dwelling ethnic and tribal groups in India, and perhaps even for the Maoist insurgents, however, clarity of thought comes from experience and from the critical encounters with the State. They see the State as representing only the interests of the rich and the powerful; and given the spectacular inequalities of wealth the last twenty-two years of neoliberal economic policies have produced in India, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that the State’s organizing logic articulates the forcibly accumulative logic of capitalism. As Ladda, an Adivasi activist from Lakhpadar, Odisha, says in the film: “the company giant has swallowed the Indian government giant. They have now become one giant.” For Adivasis, the war of dispossession has been going on incessantly for more than a century now. And so has been the resistance. On the Maoist influence, Ladda, facing the camera, declares, almost tongue-in-cheek: “Lingaraj (Lingaraj Azad, an Adivasi activist and intellectual) is my guru, and if he is a Maoist, then I am too.” The association is more incidental than direct. The real influence comes from a deep sense of justice, which may find echo in stories of Mao’s understanding of the oppression of the countryside by the urban-industrial-capitalist powers. One of the largest bidroh—revolt—in Adivasi living memory took place against pillaging British colonizers in 1910. Mao formed his first armed peasant militias in the 1920s and wrote his texts on revolutionary warfare in the 1930s.

 

The film is a tour de force. It engages you compellingly with the power of its ideas, while it catches you at the visceral level with the intensity of its images. Appearing amid the din of corporate media’s demonization of India’s insurgent Maoists and Adivasis as the enemies of the ‘nation’ on whom the country needs to be tough, Red Ant Dream shakes you to see that the state of war already exists; it is just that the news has not been allowed to reach your ears. Or you have, like the proverbial three monkeys, refused to see, hear, or speak the ‘evil’ of the bitter truth—the bitter truth of everyday deprivation of the poor upon which the Indian middle class’s self-congratulatory comfort zone has been erected.

 

The first remarkable, and immediately noticeable, achievement of Red Ant Dream is that it takes the genealogy of revolutionary war in South Asia out of the ossified narratives of the internal, and often fractious, ideological debates within the Indian Communist parties, and places it firmly within the history of people’s struggles for justice in South Asia. As such, the people’s war in Bastar is closer to the struggles for self-determination in Kashmir or Nagaland, rather than to how it is often represented: as a fringe within the broad spectrum of Left politics in India. No doubt an entire constellation of revolutionary thinkers, from Marx to Lenin and Mao to Charu Mazumdar, form the iconic backdrop of this war, but instead of their thoughts unfolding as reality or practice, it is the present conditions of life that breathe vitality into their mode of thinking. It is the people’s war that clarifies their thought and makes them relevant for contemporary understanding. That is why, while the ‘mainstream’ Left may see the people’s war as the ‘fringe,’ and wait for the ideal proletarian subject to emerge, or for capitalism to destroy itself, in the forests the actual grueling task of the war against capitalism has already begun, and taken off without so much as a vanguard.

 

At the same time, the film takes the war out of its enemies’ scope of vision. While the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has declared the ‘Maoist insurgency’ as the “single biggest internalsecurity challenge” to India’s security—the enclosing metaphor being a constant refrain among the State’s political and military leaders to domesticate challenges to its sovereign image—the film shows how the revolutionary war continuously deterritorializes the State’s metaphoric and real reach. The Indian state is not fighting a war with its citizens, but with subjects who, having been denied full citizenship rights, may lie within its nominal boundaries but remain outside its apparatus of capture: both the police apparatus as well as the constitutional parliamentary one. The State may think of adivasis as bubbles on the surface of water that modernization will cruelly break, or even affect commiseration about this ‘necessary’ loss for the sake of the nation’s superpower ambitions, but Adivasis (and others who are being dispossessed) understand capitalism at its most raw and bare level, and have taken the most logical route possible under the circumstances. The real power, the film asserts, lies ultimately with the population. As the fundamental contradictions of caste, class, and nationality widen in India, contra the optimistic assessments of elite votaries of India’s neoliberal ‘democracy,’ it may make it painfully visible that the population of dispossessed subjects actually constitutes the majority of the people—and they may well take the revolutionary route.

 

The film takes the genealogy of revolutionary war in South Asia out of the ossified narratives of the internal, and often fractious, ideological debates within the Indian Communist parties, and places it firmly within the history of people’s struggles for justice in South Asia. As such, the people’s war in Bastar is closer to the struggles for self-determination in Kashmir or Nagaland, rather than to how it is often represented: as a fringe within the broad spectrum of Left politics in India

 

Kak’s own voice, measured, strategic, and unobtrusive, suggests: “They fight to protect a life that the modern world has pronounced obsolete, unfeasible…it is a war of defense.” He points out that the Adivasis see the present bidroh as a continuation of the old ones—the rapacious Indian ruling elite somewhere having replaced the pillaging British colonizers. The film connects the dots between ecological destruction wrought on the forests, for instance in Niyamgiri hills by giant bauxite mining companies like Vedanta, its justification under the broad mainstream neoliberal nationalist consensus, and the assistance provided by the State’s armed forces to suppress any dissent against this national-capitalist common-sense. Early 20th-century socialist revolutionary Bhagat Singh’s statement that ‘the state of war does exist’—which is the point of departure for the film—aptly expresses how the revolutionary war is not a war of choice, but a war to stop the already existent war that imperialist and capitalist powers have launched on the people. Kak states that between the insatiable resource exploitation of market forces and the ideological and moral debates about violence on the Left, it is the existence of fragile Adivasi communities, which is most critically at stake now.

 

With immaculate clarity, however, the film also points toward what remains intrinsic to war itself—that, while scenes of war may appear in isolated theatres, from eviscerated hills of Niyamgiri to the submerged fields in the Narmada valley, the logic of war is totalizing and engulfs all. Drawing adroitly from early 19th-century German-Prussian military thinker Carl von Clausewitz, whose ideas on war and military formation remain popular with the State politico-military elite, the film reveals how Indian counterinsurgency logic is directed at denying a stable popular base to armed insurgents. So, while the erstwhile Maoist leader Azad, using the well-known metaphor from Mao’s On Guerrilla War argues that “we rely on the support of the sea of people in which we swim like fish,” the counterinsurgency military commander in the region declares that the anti-Maoist campaign is “a politico-military-socio-economic-psychological” one, which in Kak’s analysis replicates Clausewitzian understanding that the State must launch all the forces against the enemies’ ‘center of gravity’—the population. At the psychological level, says the counterinsurgency commander, the war must “make the other side feel that their end is near.” True to this logic, wholesale burning of Adivasi villages, spectacular brutalization, punitive containment, and production of proxy counterinsurgents, like Salwa Judum, mark the anti-Maoist/anti-Adivasi counterinsurgency.

 

While it maintains a persuasive focus on the fundamental battle line between the State and its subjects, with lateral shifts from one tense point of symbolic confrontation or appropriation to another along this line, Red Ant Dream subtly draws attention to how Indian military thinking might be unable to comprehend the primary raison d’être behind the people’s war in these forests. The State experts may create a Jungle Warfare School to fight wars in forests or a High-Altitude Warfare School to fight in Kashmir, but their principle mode of thinking remains tied to stereotypes about their opponents. The counterinsurgency commander, taken in too much by military manuals (and no less by the British era sartorial and equestrian style), keeps repeating to his soldiers that Maoists believe “power flows from the barrel of gun.” This could be a perverse attempt to project one’s own deepest desire and beliefs onto one’s enemies. It is also likely that he is only lying to his soldiers, who, after all, come from the dregs of Indian poverty much like the insurgents, and very much unlike the commander.

 

It is plausible to suggest that people’s movements are influenced by ideologies. The State experts, and even the mainstream Indian Left parties, see the political thought of Mao Tse-Tung as mainly responsible for the insurgency in the forests of central Indian states. For the Adivasis, the numerous forest dwelling ethnic and tribal groups in India, and perhaps even for the Maoist insurgents, however, clarity of thought comes from experience and from the critical encounters with the State

 

Mahendra Karma, the venal pro-State Chattisgarh politician of Adivasi background, who set up Salwa Judum, perhaps understands unconventional aspects of the people’s war better, which makes him too dangerous for the Adivasis, if not the Maoists. Salwa Judum, which means “Purification Hunt” in Gondi, has been the violent proxy in the State’s war on Adivasis in the forests of Chhattisgarh. Part of the counterinsurgency war-machine, it acts as a blunt cover on the barely hidden bayonet of the State. If the State is ever called to reveal its account books of the war, Salwa Judum will serve the function of plausible deniability for the State. Salwa Judum also purports to change Adivasi consciousness. In the film grainy footage from a ‘found video’ tellingly reveals how Adivasis are forced to join the Salwa Judum, beaten into submission, and to say Ram Ram (a Hindu greeting) instead of Lal Salaam (Red Salute!), while in attacks on their homes their cultural objects, alongside their instruments of livelihood, are violently razed. Their resemblance with Ikhwanis in Kashmir is uncanny (and, why not, both are products of the same thinking). In mid-1990s Ikhwanis, with full backing of the Indian state, unleashed a reign of terror on Kashmiris in the countryside, even though their elaborate assault on Kashmiri consciousness may have only had limited consequences.

 

The hope of success

Beyond the tactics of war that might not succeed—for instance, the Maoist tactic that the revolutionary forces should only fight at moments of their choosing fails as Maoists are regularly drawn into battle to avenge wanton destruction caused by counterinsurgents—the hope for the success of people’s war may lie elsewhere. While the State sees people as fickle consumers whose politics can be cheaply bought with cash or silenced with violence, among the Adivasis there is a much deeper sense of attachment to the earth. (The film’s Hindi title, Mati ke Laal—Beloved of the Soil, expresses this connection well). This attachment, undergirded by a web of Adivasi memory and traditions, remains largely invisible to the State and the capital, which treats earth as a commodity.

 

At the same time, the guerrillas and the State connect with people differently. The film follows a group of Maoist guerrillas through the forest paths, which they negotiate gently and leave but just a light touch behind—a military tactic as well as an ecological ethic. Their movements in the forest resemble that of ants, close to the ground and collaborative, despite the heavy burdens on their shoulders. They recognize each other, and pass on the revolutionary conviviality to the villagers they meet on their way, through handshakes. The State is incapable of replicating these forms of relationship with people whose substantial rights it does not acknowledge.

 

In the film red ants are a wartime delicacy for the Adivasi guerrillas, but they can also be seen as a metaphor of a certain kind, a metaphor that might find resonance in certain Kashmiri idioms. Red ants are tiny but pack a powerful bite. They swarm the earth, and truly never go away. When red ants bite, it is hard to find a locus. In Kashmiri, rei names both the red ant and the eruption of unlocalizable itch their bites cause. Counterinsurgency draws its own blood as it furiously scratches the skin. The success of the people’s war is not in its bites, but in the eruption of itch all over the surface.

 

Thus, the non-commoditized attachments, the spread of revolutionary cordiality, and the proliferation of revolutionary praxis across different regions, may lead to success. But new bhumkaals (Bhumkalmemorializes the legendary bidroh of 1910, ‘when the earth shook’) will have to contend with new ground, for the mining companies are disemboweling the earth of its substance at a gigantic scale.

 

The People’s War is a war for existence. It is war for earth, to maintain the earth as heaven, if not to create a new heaven on earth. In an age of pervasive cynicism, it is no small act to dream such a dream and to work to achieve it, given the power of global capitalist forces against which the Adivasis are ranged.

 

With a conceptual depth that eloquently unfolds and weaves together some of the fundamental forces shaping India today, Red Ant Dream is surely going to become an important milestone in South Asian political documentaries. Noted for picking up the most vexed and potent knots of defiance against the forced enclosure euphemistically called the Indian ‘Union’, the film adds yet another superb accomplishment to Kak’s oeuvre.

 

Its strength lies in its intensification of engagement between the aesthetic and the political. But instead of simply evoking an abstract meta-theoretical relationship between the two, the film’s visual scheme is thoroughly inhabited by the political. Each image is an assemblage of power and affect. A frail sari-clad girl in chappals, with an AK 47 slung across her shoulders, flits past in one frame. Her diminutive dimensions make the rifle look too large for her, yet more crucially it shows the magnitude of determination her tiny body carries. The most impressive and metaphor-laden scene from the film is the concluding one. While Indian paramilitary forces practice their guns on sanitized hills and on effigies of the Maoists, raising clouds of dust, the guerrillas—perhaps to save ammunition, perhaps to not hurt the living forest with their shooting practice—train with imagined weapons. As their fingers pull imaginary triggers, their eyeballs move swiftly from one direction to the next in a deadly dance. The practice of revolutionary war is embodied. This is something even a Mahendra Karma won’t be able to find an answer for.

 

Mohamad Junaid is a doctoral student in Anthropology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. He has translated parts of Sanjay Kak’s previous documentary film ‘Jashn e Azadi: How We Celebrate Freedom.’

 

 

Germany opposes death penalty for Devender Singh Bhullar


death-penalty
New Delhi, May, 10 (ANI): Germany has opposed the death penalty for Indian convict, Devender Singh Bhullar, who is facing the gallows for the 1993 militant attacks on a top police officer and also a political leader, claiming several lives.

Bhullar was extradited from Germany and tried by a court in India. German Ambassador to India, Michael Steiner said on Friday that they were against death penalty, as they don’t believe that it serves the cause of justice.

The Supreme Court had last month rejected a petition by Bhullar seeking that his death sentence be commuted to life imprisonment as his mercy plea had not been decided by the President for a long time.

Bhullar was given the death sentence for killing nine people with a car bomb in Delhi in 1993.

 

#India – Cash transfers are bad for food security


MADHAVI CHERIAN, The Hindu 

 
SILO TO BAG: The government’s decision to promote cash transfers in the National Food Security Bill<br />
ignores crucial lessons from India’s past at a time when it needs to intervene on both the demand and<br />
supply sides to ensure food security for every citizen. Photo: M. Govarthan
SILO TO BAG: The government’s decision to promote cash transfers in the National Food Security Bill ignores crucial lessons from India’s past at a time when it needs to intervene on both the demand and supply sides to ensure food security for every citizen. Photo: M. Govarthan

The stabilising effect of the Public Distribution System on prices will be lost as beneficiary households turn to the market for their needs

India’s hard won gains in achieving food security are in danger of being undermined by a clause in the National Food Security Bill that encourages States to adopt cash transfers in lieu of food entitlements under the Public Distribution System (PDS). Supporting this view, a recent report by the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) concluded that the provision of food subsidies in the form of cash would save the government crores of rupees. Additionally, cash transfers will supposedly eliminate middlemen such as dealers and transporters, ensuring that the subsidy reaches intended beneficiaries.

Cash transfers are a solution only if we view the PDS in isolation, rather than as part of a larger food policy. India’s food policy begins with the procurement of rice and wheat and price support operations by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and the CACP. Each State is entitled to purchase a certain amount of food grains from the FCI at subsidised prices for distribution through its Fair Price (Ration) Shops. It is this distribution end that constitutes the PDS, and what the cash transfers would replace.

Besides not taking into account the devaluing effect of inflation or the role of intrahousehold dynamics when it comes to cash transfers, its supporters do not specify what would happen to the agricultural commodities that are procured by the FCI. As the policy exists today, the government holds millions of tons of rice and wheat, well above the buffer norms required by law. To reduce its stocks, the government has preferred open market operations (to bulk consumers) and export to distribution through the PDS.

Experiments with decontrol

Using those actions as an indicator of the government’s policy orientation, cash transfers arguably are a gateway to greater deregulation of the food market. Relying on cash transfers alone would mean that the beneficiary households would have to turn to the market to meet all their food needs. More importantly, the stabilising effect that the PDS has on consumption and prices would be lost. Cash transfers thus are only a partial substitute to the PDS.

To understand the importance of a broad food policy, we only have to look at India’s brief experiments with decontrol. The government’s policy reaction to the Bengal famine of 1943, which led to the death of 1.5 million people, provides us with a primer of what not to do in a famine situation. At first, there was a complete laissez-faire policy towards food grain trade, which led to hoarding by traders, farmers and consumers. Subsequently, the provincial governments introduced a policy of procurement and distribution of food grains, which failed miserably as they did not have the requisite infrastructure to implement the policy. For example, grains were rotting in Calcutta, the centre of distribution in the eastern region, as the government had not made arrangements to handle incoming stocks. To avoid what was called a “tragedy in unpreparedness,” the government took steps towards setting up a comprehensive food administration, including procurement by the government, the building of buffer stocks and the introduction of rationing.

However, soon after Independence, India abandoned these policies on the insistence of Gandhiji, who by then had started chanting the following prayer, “Controls give rise to fraud, suppression of truth, intensification of the black market and to artificial scarcity. Above all, it (they) unmans the people and deprives them of initiative; it undoes the teaching of self help, they have been learning for generations, makes them spoon-fed.” Shortly thereafter, droughts and floods led to insufficient production, food shortages and price rise. Controls in the form of rationing, price control and distribution had to be reintroduced in March 1949 to deal with the adverse food situation.

The next phase of free markets in food was under the Food Minister, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, beginning 1952. Improved food grains production in 1953 and 1954 led to declining prices and a temporary break from chronic shortages. Government procurement of food grains was stopped and restrictions on the movement of grains were removed. Paradoxically, even as farmers faced deflationary conditions, there were shortages and price rise in various parts of the country. The instability in prices, combined with adverse weather in the autumn of 1955, had a dampening effect on production.

In 1957, the Ashok Mehta-led Food Grains Enquiry Committee concluded that an expanded money supply, growing industrialisation and urbanisation and increased investment led to enhanced purchasing power. On the other hand, hoarding by traders, producers and consumers as well as speculative activities in anticipation of public investment by the government led to a rise in prices. Additionally, it found that prices were allowed to fall too low in 1955 and that there was no coordinated policy of combating inflation and shortages that began in 1956.

Back to controls

The government had to reintroduce controls and carry-out price support operations to curb the fall in prices. It opened an additional 10,000 ration shops between October 1956 and September 1957, and released its stocks to combat price rise. This episode underscored the need for the government to intervene in the market to influence prices and output. The Food Grains Enquiry Committee recommended the setting up of institutions like the FCI and the CACP for this purpose. The government’s decision to promote cash transfers in the National Food Security Bill presented in the recently concluded session of Parliament ignores these lessons from India’s past.

Since the 1950s, India has made major strides in agricultural production as evidenced by the large government-held stocks of wheat and rice. However, problems of inadequate nutrition, starvation and double digit food price inflation remain. Strengthening of the PDS, as seen in Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu, would serve the purpose of ensuring food security for the nation through stabilising prices, production and consumption. As seen in the past, government withdrawal from the food sector can lead to a decline in production and an increase in hoarding and speculative activity. Unlike the PDS, cash transfers cannot counter the resultant shortages and price rise. In a growing economy like India with constantly increasing demand, the government needs to intervene on both the demand and supply sides to ensure food security for all its citizens.

(Madhavi Cherian is a PhD scholar at the Department of Sociology, New York University.)

 

#RIP- Veteran votary of women’s television Jai Chandiram loses battle with cancer


NEW DELHI: Former deputy director general of Doordarshan and a veteran in educational television Jai Chandiram died this morning aged 75.

She had been battling cancer of the colon for some months. Chandiram is survived by her brother and two sisters.

Less than a fortnight before she passed away, Chandiram was awarded the lifetime achievement award by the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT), whose Indian chapter she headed for many years. The IAWRT annually organised a film festival to coincide with the International Women’s Day.

 jai Chandiram started her career as a producer in Doordarshan and retired as Deputy Director General. Doordarshan.  She received her Masters Degree from the School of Journalism and Communications, University of Florida, Gainesville.  Her experiences in media covers production, training and management. Her main area of work has been on children, education, distance learning, gender and developmental issues.

 

She has headed several media centers in India and Asia – Head, Department of Television at the Film and Television Institute, Pune Television Consultant at the Asia Pacific Institute for Broadcasting and Development, (AIBD), Kuala Lumpur. During this period she provided training to the broadcasting organizations in the Asia Pacific region. The audio video resource kit on gender, “Into Focus,Changing Media Images of Women in Asia,”, was a path breaker and continues to be widely used in many countries. She is a regular participant and contributor to Asia Media Summit on issues of gender, children and training the Central Institute of Education (CIET-NCERT) Educational Media Production Center, Indira Gandhi National Open University (EMPCIGNOU) Chief consultant for CEMCA and author of the “Manual on Teleconferencing” (with an accompanying CD). Initiated radio programs for the start of Gyan Vani, IGNOU, in collaboration with AIR Bhopal, Executive Director Media, at the Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts (IGNCA) where she produced several documentaries and programs on arts and artists. These have been screened at the JDCA Film Forum Festival, Bhubaneshwar.

 

Director of Doordarshan Delhi

Director of Doordarshan, Ahmedabad

Director of Doordarshan, Central Production Center

Started the Third Channel of Doordarshan, which concentrated on the arts

Retired as Deputy Director General, Doordarshan

Director, “Beyond 60”, a series for Tara Television

 

Jai Chandiram has been Advisor to the Government of Andhra Pradesh for Mana TV, the

bouquet of Educational Channels. She recently did a Report on SIET Hyderabad : The Road

Ahead.

 

She has been a jury member for many national and international organizations, including

NHK (Japan), IAWRT Awards, Doordarshan, CEC. She has also been a jury member at the

national level for many organizations.

 

She has been on the media advisory and task forces for various Ministries andorganizations dealing with Family Welfare, Health, HIV-AIDS, Leprosy, Biodiversity, CIET , NLM

etc.

She is also Trainer Consultant, Princess Diana Leprosy Mission Trust

Examiner, Jamia Millia Institute for Mass Communication.

Consultant and Trainer, Commonwealth of Learning for National Institute of Teachers and other media centers in Nigeria and WOU, Malaysia.

For UNESCO, Jai Chandiram and Ammu Joseph did a needs study on the training of journalists in Sri Lanka.

She has been the President of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television

(IAWRT) for two terms and is currently the Managing Trustee, IAWRT – India Chapter.

For the last five years, IAWRT India Chapter has organized the Asian Women’s Film

Festival. This festival has travelled to many cities in India.

Till September 2008 she was Executive Director, Fortune Institute of Communications and Television.

Till recently she was Media Advisor, DEP-SSA IGNOU.

 

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