They don’t make them like her anymore: A tribute to Vina Mazumdar #poem


June 12, 2013 Obituary
vina mazumdar vina mazumdarPoem recited at the memorial meeting for Vina Mazumdar, on 11th June, 2013 in New Delhi, organised by Centre for Women’s Development Studies

By Urvashi Butalia

They don’t make them like her any more
It’s a very particular kind of recipe
You’d need an enlightened father
You’d need a visionary mother
It would help if you had an educated book loving driver
You’d need friends scattered all over the world
They’d have to be doctors and feminists and academics and activists
You’d need a good dose of children
You’d have to have politics in the blood
A firm belief in democracy
You’d need universities that believe in teachers and teaching
A rare thing these days
You’d need international recognition
That women deserve to be counted
You’d need mentors at home
And well wishers abroad
You’d need a spirit of questioning
A liberal dose of rebellion
A belief in support
A commitment to institutions
You’d need to be curious and interested
Awesome and inspiring
You’d have to help new groups
Give support to new enterprises
You’d need to support the feminist endeavour
To provide space and step in to sort out their battles
You’d need friends who connived
And plotted and succeeded
You’d need to march in demonstrations
Learn you lessons from the poor
Focus on the town and the city
You’d need liberal doses of Old Monk
A loud voice to shout for Nandan
An ability to give dictation till 4 in the morning
Spiced by Old Monk and hot tea
To your poor long suffering fifth child (aka Nandan)
You’d need to fight for women’s studies
Begin the battle long before other had even begun to think of it
You’d need to produce a report that was just more than a report
You’d need to find a good name for it
Perhaps call it Towards Equality
And then work hard to do what most reports don’t do
Turn it into action, use it to further research
You’d need to keep the focus on the activist
And equally on the researcher
You’d need to extend your attention to the village
To learn from your sisters out there
You’d need grit, determination, braggadaccio, a loud voice
You’d need a friend called lotika di
Another called Neeraben
You’d need a clutch of feminists of all ages
your biological and political jamaat
Who were willing to be your students
Even though you’d never been their teacher
An endless supply of cigarettes
A battle with your publisher for delaying your memoirs
You’d need liberal doses of argument
A vast collection of saris
Some kaftans to be in with your grandchildren
Comrades in the movement
Whom you could rap on the knuckles from time to time
You’d need the honesty to say
Arre, you must stop me, I tend to meander
I’m getting old you know
Put all of this together
And you’d have a very potent brew
By another name it would be called Vinadi
Glasses on nose, cigarette in hand, tea on table, dictation at the ready
Come on, Vinadi, own up, we know you’re up there watching us
And we’ll raise a glass of Old Monk to you tonight
For we know
They don’t make them like you anymore.

With inputs from many feminists across India

 

India’s elites have a ferocious sense of entitlement


JANUARY 2013

A revealing set of US studies has got Urvashi Butalia thinking about how the rich behave in Delhi.

My office is located in an urban village in the heart of Delhi. Originally surrounded by fields where people grew crops, these areas now house apartment blocks and shopping malls. All that’s left of the old village is the cluster of houses in which many of the erstwhile residents live, and where a few small traders have set up offices and shops. Some old practices remain though, and there’s a strong sense of community. Come evening, houses in Shahpur Jat empty as women and children spill out on to the narrow streets where a village haat – a market where you can get fresh vegetables, fruit, fish, eggs, plastic goods and virtually anything else you care to name – springs up. Or at least, that’s how it was until about a year ago. I still remember the day that marked the beginning of the end of this little daily ritual.

Babu Babu / Reuters
Privilege looms large in the southern Indian city of Chennai.Babu Babu / Reuters

It was around 6 o’clock on a late summer day, not yet dusk. As people shopped and went from cart to cart selecting the best and sometimes the cheapest, cars and auto-rickshaws negotiated the narrow gaps between them, taking care to avoid children and animals.

Then along came a large SUV, driven by a young and obviously wealthy man. He honked loudly for people to get out of his way; no-one really bothered. He tried again, he leaned out of the car and shouted, he revved up his car. No effect: the cart standing nearby was doing brisk business, another one went past and gently grazed his car. Suddenly, before anyone could realize what was happening, this young man leapt out, caught hold of the cart laden-with-onions standing in front of his car, tipped it over, spilling its contents on to the road, lifted the heavy metal scales and hurled them at the vendor, who just managed to duck and escape being badly injured. People scurried away, the young man stalked off, climbed unhurriedly into his car and drove off. Since that day, the village market has disappeared, the people are too frightened to come on to the road, children don’t play there and cars can now drive freely down it.

This isn’t an unusual scene in India and it’s not about road rage. It’s about being rich, and the privilege, callousness and arrogance that comes with it. It’s something I’ve always wondered about: the rich have so much, what does this wealth do to their minds that they always want more, they don’t want anyone else to have anything? Indeed, why does wealth make them lose all sense of humanity and compassion?

Let me tell you another story: my neighbour in the upper-middle-class area where I live is a man who owns luxury hotels. His house is huge, but no sooner had he moved in than he appropriated about half of the pavement space to the front and side of his house, claiming it for his own. This means less parking for others, less pavement for children, less walking space for everyone. Of the 400-odd houses in this area, at least half have done this. At the same time they have also collectively seen off the only roadside tea stall in the area that served all the service providers – the guards, the drivers, the domestics, the sweepers.

Who could study the rich?

Where does this kind of behaviour come from? You’d think if people had more than they need, they would be generous about it, and would see, reflecting on themselves, that others might want to have more as well. Not so. Until recently, every time I asked myself this question, I wondered if I was just being prejudiced, or imagining things. And then I read about the experiments carried out in the US by researchers Michael Kraus, Dacher Keltner, Paul Piff and others about what wealth does to people socially and psychologically – their conclusions are telling.

Who in India would have the temerity to study the rich?

There haven’t, to my knowledge, been any such studies in our region of the world. Indeed, in India, it’s always struck me as strange that, while there are any number of books about the poor (perhaps they provide an easy subject because they’re poor and don’t have the power to refuse to be subjects of research), there are no studies about the rich or their behaviour.

The question does arise: who would study the rich, or perhaps we should ask who could study the rich? In a society that is so deeply hierarchized along both class and caste lines, which scholar or scientist would have the temerity, and the access, to do so?

For us, wealth is so completely tied in with political power, and often to crime without punishment. Take any recent scam in India and you will find proof of this.

Recently, two wealthy brothers, fighting over a piece of property, shot each other dead. The history of their many businesses showed how liquor licences had been sold to them by the state at ridiculously reduced prices. The nexus of industry and politics is exceedingly tight; and the media are tied into this too – without advertising from the corporates, they would not survive.

This somewhat lethal combination has acquired the status of a ‘natural truth’ in India’s hierarchized society and it is seldom questioned. The behaviour of the rich is taken as just that, and the oft cited refrain is: ‘that’s what they are like!’

The culture of taking

Indeed, the ferocious sense of entitlement that the rich carry with them at all times has also helped to legitimize so many inequalities in India. Take, for example, a simple urban phenomenon: parks within the city. These are the places where poor people can hang out, do nothing sometimes, and where the homeless often find a bed. But the assumption seems to be that our public parks are only meant for the rich, and so the poor are often pushed out and denied entry.

Eating the children’s sweets

In recent years, scientists in the US have been investigating the ways in which having money affects personality and behaviour. Their results have been remarkably consistent. The rich are different – and not in a good way. Their life experience makes them less empathetic, less altruistic and generally more selfish, according to Dacher Keltner, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. ‘We have done 12 separate studies measuring empathy in every way imaginable… and it’s the same story…’1

For example, less privileged people are better at deciphering the emotions of people in photos than rich people. In video recordings of conversations, the rich are more likely to check cell phones, doodle, avoid eye contact; while less privileged people make eye contact and nod their heads more often, signalling engagement.

In another test, when poorer people were awarding points representing money, they were likely to give away more than richer people.

Keltner also studied the activity of the vagus nerve, which helps the brain to record and respond to emotional inputs. When participants are exposed to pictures of starving children, for example, their vagus nerve becomes more active. Keltner has found that those from poorer backgrounds experience more intense activation.

One of his students, Jennifer Stellar, did a similar experiment using heart rate, which slows with feelings of compassion. Unlike those of poorer students, the heart rates of the richest students did not change when they viewed pictures of children with cancer. ‘They are just not attuned to it,’ Stellar told the New York Magazine.2

In 2012 another University of California researcher, Paul Piff, published a paper entitled ‘Higher Social Class Predicts Increased Unethical Behaviour’. Using quizzes, online games, questionnaires, in-lab manipulations and field studies, Piff also found that living high on the socio-economic ladder makes people less ethical, more selfish, more insular and less compassionate.

One experiment showed that rich participants, when placed in a room with a bowl of candy designated for children, were the most likely to help themselves to the sweets. Another showed they were three times more likely to cheat than those on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder.

In another study, Piff and his researchers spent three months observing the behaviour of drivers at the busy intersection of two major highways. They graded cars one to five, with five the most expensive. They found that drivers of grade-five cars were the most likely to cut off other drivers. Piff then devised an experiment to test drivers’ regard for pedestrians. A researcher would enter a zebra crossing as a car approached. Half of the grade-five car drivers cruised right into the crossing, regardless of pedestrians. ‘It’s like they didn’t even see them,’ said Piff.2

Can the rich redeem themselves? It will take another set of studies to show what happens if they give their riches away.

  1. Michael Kraus, Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner, ‘Social Class as Culture: The Convergence of Resources and Rank in the Social Realm’, Current Directions in Psychological Science, August 2011.

  2. Lisa Miller, ‘The Money-Empathy Gap’, New York Magazine, July 2012

There’s also a particular way in which the rich adopt the moral high ground. In a recent incident, three poor Dalit boys inadvertently caused a small fire in a local community centre where they worked. Their local community leader pleaded with the centre manager to let them off with a warning, but he was told, in no uncertain terms: ‘No, you can’t be soft on these people, they have to be punished, else they will never learn.’ Very likely, all three lost their jobs. Very likely, they were the only earning members in their families.

The studies in the US speak of the ‘culture of taking’ that comes with privilege. So, for example, the better-off person is more likely to take sweets meant for a child than a less well-off person. If you replace sweets with money, you’ll find this is rampant in India. Funds set aside for development schemes that are supposed to help the poor, are frequently siphoned off by the rich. Land that belongs to the poor – including adivasis – is taken for setting up factories (the Nano plant, for example) without compensation ever being paid.

Why do those who have so much want more? Why do they behave so badly towards their fellow human beings, and why is their behaviour so widely accepted as ‘natural’? Perhaps the day is not far off when we, in what are known now as emerging economies, will start to look for answers to these questions.

Urvashi Butalia is a feminist and historian who founded the independent non-profit publishing house Zubaan in 2003. She is a regular contributor to New Internationalist.

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 459This feature was published in the January 2013 issue of New 

 

Protest Narendra Modi- Printers who pull out from conference get threats


English: Narendra Modi in Press Conference

 

5-2-2013

 

http://zeenews.india.com/news/delhi/printers-protest-narendra-modi-as-chief-guest-pul_831453.html

 

New Delhi

 

A printers’ conference, which will begin here later this week, has got into a controversy with several participants pulling out to protest participation of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the Chief Guest.

 

Scheduled to be held on March 2 in Delhi, the conference “Romancing Print 2013” is the third edition of an annual, professional conference of the printing industry.

 

This year it has been organised by AIFMP (All India Federation of Master Printers) and the journal Press Ideas, with participation from both national and international players in the field. The organisers say they are expecting over 300 participants.

 

“We are both shocked and dismayed to see that Romancing Print has seen fit to invite Narendra Modi as its Chief Guest to this year’s edition…We fail to understand why, in the first place, a political figure who neither has anything to do with the print industry nor holds any official position in this regard should have been invited as Chief Guest when there is no dearth of professionals from the publishing and print industry who could lend both grace and dignity to an event such as this,” said Indu Chandrasekhar of Tulika Books.

 

 

 

Following the protest, two of the media partners for the event — Mumbai-based Printweek India and Delhi-based Indian Printer and Publisher (IPP) — have withdrawn their support to the event, Chandrasekhar claimed.

 

 

 

In an email to organisers Ramu Ramnathan, Group Editor of Print Week India officially withdrew as a media partner for the event. “We do not agree with the content of your seminar and invitation of Narendra Modi as a chief guest,” he said.

 

 

 

“As a magazine and as a publishing house in India with more than 12 years of standing, we stand by the principles of good taste, decency, progressive values, democratic principles and above all, the Constitution of India. As editor of PrintWeek India, I don’t think Narendra Modi stands by these values; and hence the withdrawal of support,” Ramnathan said.

 

 

 

Naresh Khanna, Editor, Indian Printer and Publisher Packaging South Asia (IPP) has also pulled out from the event.

 

 

 

“I regret to say that we will not be media partners for the Romancing Print 2013 Conference. We think that it is a huge mistake for you to have invited Modi to address this event. In any case we have never been consulted as to the content or program of the previous Romancing Print events and the organisers have assumed that we would simply rubber stamp our agreement to be media partners.

 

 

 

“It seems that in a bid to perhaps draw crowds rather than hold a conference with real content you have been misled by Narendra Modi’s propaganda machine of his great successes in Gujarat…In addition, you are perhaps unwittingly becoming a part of Modi’s propaganda which includes his efforts to avoid all legal responsibility for crimes perpetrated by him and his government,” Khanna said.

 

 

 

Among those protesting the choice of Modi as chief guest are Urvashi Butalia of Zubaan Books, Arpita Das (Yoda Press), S Anand (Navayana), Radhika Menon (Tulika Publishers, Chennai), Mandira Sen (Stree-Samya, Kolkata), Asad Zaidi (Three Essays, New Delhi), Ritu Menon (Women Unlimited, New Delhi) and Chandra Chari (The Book Review, New Delhi).

 

 

 

Antara Dev Sen (The Little Magazine, New Delhi), Sudhanva Deshpande (Leftword, New Delhi), Madhumoy Sengupta (Samskriti, New Delhi), Esha Beteille (Social Science Press, New Delhi), Faheem Agboatwalla (Hi-Tech, Mumbai), Ram Rahman (designer, photographer and writer) and Akshay Pathak (publishing consultant and writer) are also opposed to the choice of Modi as the chief guest.

 

 

 

The annual printer’s conference had popular writer Chetan Bhagat as the keynote speaker in the first session in the year 2011.

 

 

 

Organisers say like the previous two editions, this year too they expect over 300 delegates to participate.

 

 

 

“Certainly we will go ahead with our event,” said Jacob George of PressIdeas, an organiser of the conference.

 

 

 

“They have a right to protest but it will not affect our event. We will go ahead as planned,” he said.

 

 

 

The invite to the printers conference said, “A dreamer that Mr Modi is, he has the remarkable ability to transform dreams into reality and we have been seeing it in the state of Gujarat…Let us all hear him speak on his vision and mission and get inspired to do better business in our chosen field of printing!”

 

 

 

“We shall leave no stone unturned to make it an even bigger success than the last two,” George said.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, Ramanathan claimed he had received “calls and sms from leading members of the AIFMP with both covert and overt threats”.

 

 

 

“This is the second time such a thing has happened. A few months ago, I had objected to the glorification of the late Bal Thackeray by one of the 50 print associations of the AIFMP in their monthly print journal. I had sought to understand what the contribution of Thackeray was to the welfare and growth of the Indian print industry; and no answer was given by the said association; except I was told, ‘we know best.’ This time we beg to disagree; and as a mark of our protest we withdraw our support to your event,” Ramanathan said.

 

 

 

Among the foreign participants listed are Kunio Ishibashi (Japan Federation of Printing Industries), Yu Yongzhan (President of The Printing Technology Association of China), D D Buhain (Philippines), Peter Lane (Printing Industries Association of Australia, Sanjeev Mohan (Sri Lanka Association of Printers) and C K Liew (Malaysia).

 

 

 

V K Gulati from Saku Group (New Delhi/Noida), Sreekumar from Bhavin Graphics (Chennai), Manu Choudhary from CDC Printers (Kolkata), Sandeep Bhargava from Kumar Printers (Manesar) and Shailesh Shah from Krisflexipack (Mumbai) are part of an Indian panel listed by the ‘Romancing Print 2013’ organisers.

 

 

 

What Ashis Nandy said #JLF


No room for nuance in this fragile republic

HARSH SETHI, The Hindu

MISREADING THE CONVERSATION: The days when such an event would have been dismissed as irrelevant, if not comic, are now over. Instead, we want instant retributory action without pausing to ascertain the facts. Photo: Rohit Jain Paras
The HinduMISREADING THE CONVERSATION: The days when such an event would have been dismissed as irrelevant, if not comic, are now over. Instead, we want instant retributory action without pausing to ascertain the facts. Photo: Rohit Jain Paras

In the rush to condemn Ashis Nandy and demand that he be jailed, no one bothered to understand what exactly he had said about corruption and caste

It is symptomatic of the times we live in, of the climate of political discourse that we have contributed to, that even relatively innocuous statements can get so easily misrepresented and twisted to convey a meaning that is diametrically opposite to what was said and meant. The Jaipur Literature Festival 2013, which until the morning of Republic Day had managed to successfully steer clear of any controversy, was suddenly rocked by angry protests based upon (and this must be stressed) a total misreading of remarks made by Ashis Nandy.

The panel discussion on “The Republic of Ideas,” featuring IBN7 Managing Editor Ashutosh, author and Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal, historian Patrick French, philosopher Richard Sorabji, and social psychologist Ashis Nandy, was moderated by the author and publisher, Urvashi Butalia. Following a fascinating exchange on the “promise” of the Indian Republic and Constitution, the discussion turned to the theme of corruption and the significance of the anti-corruption protests led by Anna Hazare.

Making a passionate plea to deconstruct the sociology of corruption, Tarun Tejpal argued that we need to understand the “corruption” of the poor and the marginalised as a necessary strategy to break through the stifling nature of our rules, regulations and laws. Characterising Indian society as deeply stratified, hierarchical and oppressive, our laws and rules, he claimed, are mostly designed to “keep out” the erstwhile excluded strata from having their say. The corruption of “people like us” — an elite which has both the resources and power to subvert the system — often goes unnoticed, and if discovered, rarely results in prosecution. The misdemeanours of the “others,” in contrast, not only get caught, but also generate outrage, in part because they do not have the necessary skills to successfully cover up their corruption.

Grounded in earlier remarks

Subsequent remarks made by Ashis Nandy need to be read and understood in the context of what Tarun Tejpal said speaking before Nandy did. Agreeing with Tejpal, Nandy went on to argue that such “corruption” of the excluded — the Dalits, tribals, Other Backward Classes (OBC) and minorities — is inevitable if they are to break out from the bonds of an oppressive web of rules and regulations. He went on to say, referring to both himself and Richard Sorabji, that if they “arranged” to get fellowships for their children at Harvard or Oxford, as part of a trade in mutual and selective favours, none will comment about that, as if it is axiomatic that the fellowship was awarded on the basis of merit. Politicians or leaders of the oppressed strata, being new to the game and relatively untutored in the skills of manipulation, are unlikely to seek academic fellowships as a form of graft, and are more likely to covet and corner licences to operate petrol pumps. These pumps are publicly noticeable and can provoke outrage. Their licensees are linked to their “corrupt” benefactors, who are then condemned by the chattering classes in metropolitan cities.

So far so good. Nandy then went on to more provocatively stretch the argument, asserting that it is precisely this kind of “corruption” that has “saved” the Republic and democracy by enabling a degree of social and economic mobility and pluralising the composition of India’s elite. Furthermore, he argued, that it is most likely the list of “corrupt” could be inordinately dominated by Dalits, tribals, minorities and OBCs. Despite his prefacing his last remarks, saying that what he was about to say may shock many people, and that he nevertheless wished to stress the point about how we understand corruption, many in the audience (and one on the panel) completely missed Nandy’s point, and immediately accused him of casteist bias, calling upon him to withdraw his remarks and tender an apology. Some in the audience demanded that he should be charged under the Protection of Civil Rights Act for hurting the sentiments of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.

Competitive outrage follows

Nandy’s protestations that what he said and meant was completely the opposite of what he was being charged with were not persuasive once the atmosphere was charged with heightened emotions. Competitive outrage, taking on the familiar form favoured by some overly strident and aggressive TV anchors, evidently gives no quarter to nuanced arguments, any irony, or even black humour. When Nandy characterised the former Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Madhu Koda (now in jail), as India’s first dollar billionaire, he was hardly extolling the virtues of corruption or turning a blind eye to the “perfidies” of upper caste politicians. At best, in an underhand and sly way, he was expressing admiration for the abilities of a tribal leader in matching up to what has hitherto been an exclusive preserve of India’s upper caste elite.

Accusations of Nandy of being anti-Dalit/tribal/minority groups, the calls for registering a FIR against him, and demanding that he should be arrested would, in our better days, have been dismissed as an irrelevant, if not comic, aside. Such innocent days have faded, unfortunately, into a distant past. So quick are we now to take offence and demand immediate retributory action against alleged offenders that we almost never take a moment to pause, to ascertain the facts, understand what was said and meant, in what context, and to what ends. All we want is action, and now!

Signals shrinking discourse

Subsequent demands by the Bahujan Samaj Party leader, Mayawati, by the chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes P.L. Punia, and others, to arrest Ashis Nandy, even though none of them was present during the discussion, illustrates the danger of a growing kind of prickliness and intolerance. Worse still, such occasions are used by politicians to signal their commitment to their constituencies and shore up their images. In the process we are left with a diminished public discourse. Even liberals, usually quick to defend “freedom of speech,” advocate caution and temperance in the expression of reactions to intemperate allegations of the kind made against Nandy. Is this stance, one wonders, a compensatory guilt, marking what is politically correct, an obverse privileging of the erstwhile dispossessed?

Ashis Nandy’s choice of words, phrases, and examples can be questioned. He is not an organised and scintillating public speaker. One can also differ with his argument and analysis, for instance, his failure to distinguish between “corruption of the poor” and the “corruption of their leaders,” whose subversion of rules often results in them robbing the very poor who are also their constituents. Nevertheless, Nandy’s argument that the “rules of the game” have been set by an elite class to which he belongs, which remains a privileged lot, and therefore, that the deliberate subversion of those rules is an inevitable strategy for those striving for survival and upward mobility, certainly has merit. Clamping down on nuanced utterances and elliptical statements of the kind Nandy made will only make us a poorer democracy and Republic.

(Harsh Sethi is Consulting Editor, Seminar magazine.)

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