Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Great Opportunity, A Serious Danger

This is the sanest response to the current situation in India, that I have found so far. It's neither for nor against Anna Hazare and his team, but tells us to look at it more objectively and with a larger perspective in mind. This has been written by Shankar Gopalakrishnan ( and C R Bijoy (, with the help of many other people, many of whom have signed the statement. If you agree to it, or would like to comment on it, do write to them with your feedback and your signature to be added in the end. 

The Anna Hazare situation invites two common reactions: many dismiss it as a middle class driven "urban picnic"; and others, notably the mainstream media, describe it as just short of a revolutionary movement to establish "people's power." The same divide exists among progressives and those concerned with social change. Strategies differ on the basis of where one stands on this divide. The problem, however, is that neither of these reactions fully reflects the reality of what is happening.
We note that our position below is focused on what can be done in this situation, and is not meant to excuse or defend the government. We condemn the brutal, corrupt and anti-democratic actions of the UPA; we also, it must be noted, condemn the actions of the BJP and its State governments in trying to portray themselves as crusaders against corruption. The dangerous Lokpal Bill that has been presented must be withdrawn, and, as said below, a process initiated for effective institutions of people's control that can be used to defeat corruption. We issue this statement precisely to caution against erroneous tactics that are strengthening the very state that we must fight against.

The Opportunity

It is true that the protests so far have been dominated by middle classes, and that they have been exaggerated by the media. But this does not mean that this process becomes meaningless. Precisely because there is no strong organised movement among the working class at the national level, no alternative media, and no consciously projected alternative to the existing system, a hyped up middle class movement can easily grow into something much larger. We can already see that happening, as protests are spreading and diversifying in terms of their mass base. People's anger at this system and at the corrupt nature of the Indian state is hardly a middle class phenomenon alone.

For that reason, we cannot and should not dismiss this situation. The more people are willing to see this system for what it is, and to express their anger and disgust with it, the more there is an opportunity to expose it and fight for something new. A crisis is an opportunity for those who are fighting for change.

Therefore we cannot agree with those who look at these protests and hunger strikes and see in them a "blackmailing" of Parliament. Parliamentary democracy in this country has never been more than a very limited space. Even this space has been rendered meaningless in recent decades, by precisely the forces who today are shouting about its virtues.

For instance, the SEZ Act was passed after barely a day's debate in Parliament. Economic reforms were introduced through stealth, FDI in retail is on the verge of being approved, and the UID project is going ahead - all without a whisper of Parliamentary approval. It is correct to be cynical of neoliberal pro-corporate leaders when they suddenly discover that Parliament is a sacrosanct institution. When people feel that the system is rotten to the core, we should not attempt to dilute that reality by saying that Parliament will deal with the problem.

The danger is not to Parliament; it lies elsewhere.

The Danger

The fact that people are angry is an opportunity. But it is also a risk, because that anger can be channeled in ways that actually strengthen the existing power structure. In this case, consider:
  • The message being conveyed about these protests - the tactics of the leadership notwithstanding - is that of support to Anna Hazare and his "Team Anna." Beyond the concept of "transparency", the public campaign does not engage at all with the idea of a democratic organisation of the people (as opposed to one "supported" by the people). As such, this raises the question of whether those participating are being asked to fight to build people's power, or whether they are fighting to increase the power of the "good leader."
  • The demand of the campaign too is not about, even in a minimal sense, democratising the Indian state or society. The Jan Lokpal being sought may address some types of corruption, or it may not do so; but it is not intended to give people any greater control over the state. It is projected as effective not because it will be democratic, but because it will be powerful, because it will stand "above" democracy and politics itself. Just as Anna is a good person who deserves support, so the Jan Lokpal will consist of good people who deserve power, and who will use it to "cleanse" the state.
  • Most of those joining these protests are doing so on the basis of media coverage. In practically all areas (with one or two exceptions) the mobilisation lacks any core organisation. At most there are ad hoc groups of urban elites; but in large measure, the place of the organisation has been filled by the mainstream media itself. All the ideas sought to be communicated are therefore seen through the lenses that the media applies to them. As a result, even where elements in the leadership try to talk of popular struggle and democratic principles, they are overridden by an overwhelming focus on attacking the current power holders and replacing them with an even more powerful, more "clean" institution.

The net result of all this is that "corruption" becomes defined very narrowly, as the taking of benefit in violation of the law. The ultimate message of this movement is: trust the rules, trust the state, trust the Lokpal; what matters is finding the right leaders and having faith in them. This is the message that is sent by the mobilising instrument, the media, regardless of what the leaders may actually say.

This is not only not a democratic message, it is an anti-democratic one. At this moment, in India, it is also dangerous. Brutality, injustice and oppression in this country is not a result of violation of the law alone. Indeed, much of it happens because of the law in the first place. We have a state machinery which has brazenly shown itself to be the servant of predatory private capital. This is the biggest reason for the current boom in corruption: the enormous money generated through superprofits that is then used to purchase the state and generate more superprofits. Sometimes this is exposed as violating some law and gets called a "scam"; but at other times, as in most economic reforms, it simply changes the law. The SEZ Act is again a good example. It triggered a wave of land grabbing across the country, which was only slowed by the global economic crisis; but there was nothing "corrupt" in the Lokpal sense about most SEZ-related actions. Our people are being crushed by a cycle of intensifying capitalist exploitation and repression. Can this be stopped by good leaders with the right powers?

Many would answer "Obviously not; a Jan Lokpal cannot address everything." This may be true, but that is not the message actually being sent out. Rather the message is that Lokpal-style solutions and Anna Hazare-style "good leaders" are the answers to people's anger at injustice. When the leadership, Ramdev-style, starts adding on a laundry list of additional issues to its demands - as land acquisition has recently been added - it reinforces this dangerous message. Thus this movement not only does not weaken the state; implicitly, through the message it sends, it builds people's support for making the state and its leadership more powerful. This of course the reason that it attracts support from everyone from Jindal Aluminium to the RSS.

What Can Be Done

The mere fact that people are protesting against the government does not mean that they are fighting the state. The Indian state certainly has little to fear - as a state - from a mobilisation whose prime message is that change happens through good leaders. The current power holders are resisting the threat to their position, but the system itself is not under threat. Indeed, the danger is not to the state or its institutions, but to efforts at deeper social change in this society.

The dilemma of the current situation cannot be answered by simply joining wholeheartedly, or by withdrawing in silence.

Some have declared support for the current movement, while seeking to push it to take up other issues. The sympathies of some in the leadership for left and progressive positions is often cited. But the main engines of these protests - the media and urban elite circles - are actively opposed to any such positions. One has simply to imagine what will happen if this mobilisation does begin to turn towards a more radical stance: the media will instantly change its position from "Anna is India" to "Anna is a power crazed megalomaniac", confusion, slanders and disinformation will start, and the movement will collapse. Given this reality, simply joining at this stage will be counterproductive. People will no longer be able to distinguish between forces who fight for social transformation and those who are upholding the current system; and when the latter fail, they will take down the former with them.

But to remain silent is to be irrelevant at an important time. It is also important not to fall into the trap of those who, in their criticism of the anti-democratic tendencies of this movement, start defending the existing state. In our view parliamentary supremacy is not and cannot be the slogan of those who seek social change.

What is required therefore is an approach built on two realities. The first is that the current explosion of scams is a direct result of neoliberal policies that have converted the state into the arm of a particularly predatory, criminal form of big capital. Today the real face of the state is more apparent then ever before, and corruption is one glaring sign of it. Therefore, to try to fight corruption without fighting for true people's power over the economy and society is impossible. Therefore, our demands must focus on building such people's power over the institutions of the state.

The second reality is that the current atmosphere of anger and suspicion of the state offers a chance to raise precisely these issues and to make the link between corruption and the system under which we live. The more political forces, mass organisations and people's struggles do this, while keeping their identity separate from 'India Against Corruption', the more it will be possible to use this opportunity to build and expand radical struggles. If people can see the system is rotten, that can be developed that into an awareness that this rottenness goes far deeper than mere corruption and dishonest leaders. That is the challenge of this moment.

Abhay Shukla, Pune
Arvind Ghosh, Nagpur
Asit Das, POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity, Delhi
Bijay-bhai, Adivasi Mukti Sanghatan
Biju Mathew, Mining Zone People's Solidarity Group
C.R. Bijoy, Coimbatore
Kiran Shaheen, Journalist
Pothik Ghosh, Radical Notes
Pratyush Chandra, Radical Notes
Ravi Kumar, Dept of Sociology, South Asian University
Shankar Gopalakrishnan, Campaign for Survival and Dignity
Shiraz Bulsara, Kasthakari Sanghatna

(All signatures are in individual capacity. Additional signatures welcome. See beginning of post for email to add your signature. Repost in your blog or anywhere else if you agree to it.)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Conversation That Never Took Place… Or Did It?

PA To Minister, “Sir a revolution in India seems imminent, just like in the Middle-East. People had always known that corruption existed, but now with RTI they finally have proof. CWG, 2G, RadiaJi, and now fueling the nation's unrest are those like Annaji and Ramdevji… We got to do something.”

“There’s a saying: when in the midst of corruption’s cloud, terrorize it out.”


“Means use terrorism to fight corruption.”

“You mean hire terrorists to kill every corrupt in the country.”

“Fool there aren’t enough bullets with all the terrorists in the world to wipe out the nation’s corrupt. What I meant was that when the mind of the masses shifts towards the rampant corruption and injustice around them, divert their attention to bigger problems – their own survival. Use terrorism to remind them that we maybe corrupt, but we are at truce with them and this truce saves their lives… till that is they shout too much.”


“Simple. Explode more than two bombs within a gap of few minutes and everyone will see conspiracy behind it. They will think India has been attacked just because a few bombs blew up simultaneously. They will want war with Pakistan, and in the ensuing melee, forget all about the real problems plaguing them… corruption, the plunder and sale of the nation, the rape of its resources, the mass murder of its poor and oppressed everywhere…”

“But what about those that do manage to see that the true conspiracy behind the blasts.”

“Don’t worry. They will be called ‘conspiracy theorists’ by the same people who cried conspiracy in the first place. You see there can only be one conspiracy. You can either be right or wrong, you can’t be ‘righter’ than the rest… So delay no more Psmith, contact our sources in Pakistan and Afghanistan and tell them that it’s time to open the burqa.”


“May god have mercy on Wodehouse… never mind. Make that call.”

After an hour, the PA returns.
“Sir the Pakistani groups says that they are laying low, after the Obama thing… oops Osama thing. What now?”

“Shit, we have to go for the Indian groups. Those are an unprofessional lot, lazier than our politicians. They don’t even have high intensity bombs.”

“Well sir, how could they- they have not been trained by the US Special Forces unlike the Afghani and Pakistani militants.”

“Yes, that’s the problem. Anyways, contact the Indian groups. Tell them it’s time to apply orange vibuthi.”

The PA arranges for some Hindutva terror group to plan a series of coordinated blasts in Mumbai. The requisite money is paid, dates fixed strategically to coincide with an important date and all the intelligence security clearances given. The new PA however has pangs of self-doubt and anxiety so he seeks help.

“Sir, pardon me. I don’t understand life and politics as you do, but what about the people who’d die in the blasts?”

“Don’t worry, like you said before, these Hindu fundamentalists, trained as they are by ex Indian military and not American, are not as good as their Muslim brothers. So even if they want to, the maximum they can kill in these three blasts, would be 20 or 30 people and injure about 200-300.”

“20-30 people? Isn’t that too much? We are talking about living things here sir… living, breathing, feeling beings sir, beings with families, who feel pain and die…”

“Do you eat meat?”

“Yes sir.”

“Well then, don’t you realize when you eat animals that we are killing and eating living things… living, breathing, feeling beings… beings with families, who feel pain and die…”

“But animals… they don’t have a say sir. That’s why they are called animals.”  

“Bingo. You see, they do have a say - they do cry and protest when they are being taken for slaughter. But you ignore them. Why? Because we humans are more powerful. It is always about power. People who don’t have a say, who don’t have power are as good or bad as animals up for slaughter. How many times have you cried over the death of 30 chicken. It’s the same with the mango-people. Don’t cry over lives that don’t matter, that are already dead just that they don't know it yet. They are more like the living-dead. If not in the blast, they’d fall off trains and die. Do you know that on an average 15 people die and hundreds are maimed for life or injured after falling from the packed, over crowded Mumbai trains EVERY SINGLE DAY? They should be on the street protesting this daily manslaughter, no? But, do they protest even when they are stuffed in sweaty trains like chicken are in their cages? No. Do you know why? Because they know that their living or dying doesn’t really matter. And they need to be reminded of that once in a while, they need to be reminded that they are collateral damage.”

“Collateral damage to what?”  

“To their own protection, from their foolish beliefs that they matter, that they can make a difference. You see that’s the problem with democracy. Those who believe they can make a difference, have to be killed to make them change their minds… literally… ha ha ha.”

“But sir this is too much, this allaying with the Muslim and Hindu fundamentalists at the same time. I mean don't we have a policy against who we ally with?”

“Of course. We always have. Haven't you noticed that we always ally with the strong, the powerful - in true democratic, liberal and progressive spirit. If you are strong it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Hindu or a Muslim, Upper Caste or Dalit. You see there aren’t even any countries anymore today. All we have are the powerful and the powerless, the haves and the havenots. The ones without power are as helpless in a developed nation, as they are in a developing one and they are up for being collateral damage every time they are required to. It’s their greatest sacrifice to the idea of their nation they so cherish, to their ‘freedom’… it’s a price a few have to pay, so that others may live. It’s a price they pay to protect themselves.”

“Protect them from what.”

“Are you kidding me… from themselves.”

The PA is too stunned to say anything… and the conversation ends in a long silence, till three blasts kill close to 30 people and injure hundreds on 13th July, 2011. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Illusion Of Being Normal

Statistics, they say, are like bikinis - they show and titillate, but refuse to reveal the vital. Well, here’s a case where that wisdom is reversed. And the case here is about normality.

Everybody wants to be normal, to blend in, to be like others. Nothing wrong in that after all even monkeys do that and we have the right to deny our evolution and try be like our ancestors. For wanting to be normal is just that, a delusional, paranoid perception of inadequacy that lends itself to behaviour that is self destructive (when you want to be like someone else, you lose what you truly are). Thus in just trying to be normal, you prove that you are abnormal. But we are not talking about that today. We’re talking about those that are ‘not’ normal.

Now let’s see, who’s normal. To do that we need to understand the word. As an adjective, normal is defined as “Conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected” while as a noun it is meant “The usual, average, or typical state or condition.” Thus it is obvious that It is given that the too old, too young, handicapped, poor and starving, the homosexual, the minority, the aborigines are naturally excluded in this ‘normal’ equation.

Keeping this in mind let us then try and find the normal in India using statistics.

These are some known statistics about India, and define people who are, well, not normal:

  • Over 35% people chronically malnutritioned.
  • Over 15% people are handicapped enough, physically and mentally, for their daily activities to be not ‘normal’.  
  • Over 10% people are supposed to be homosexual, either closeted or in the open.
  • Nearly10% people in India are aborigines, tribals.
  • Between 3 to 5% are chronically criminal.
  • Over 20% population are too young, or too old.
  • Over 30% people are minorities, or of lower castes (dalits) and such.
… the list can go on for someone much more statistically inclined that I am.

Now if you look at the above and roughly try to eliminate the subsets that overlap in each of these sets, you’ll realize that the number of truly ‘normal’ people would be in single digit percentages. Someone still more statistically inclined would break that up and say that most of them also have some or the other form of minor abnormality (like many of them could be actors ;)) with many either being emotionally, mentally or psychologically abnormal despite symptoms otherwise.

The question thus emerges: WHO THE HELL IN THIS NATION IS NORMAL? The answer, perhaps is that no one is normal and that normality is nothing more than an illusion, perhaps even an utopia.
Hamza, suffers from cerebral palsy and lives in the rural village of Pelhar, in Vasai area of Mumbai. Don't make him feel abnormal for his disability, when all of us are perhaps as abnormal as him, only in different ways. 
Another simple fact that thus naturally emerges, is that the ABNORMAL IS ACTUALLY NORMAL, and that perhaps it is absolutely abnormal, to be normal. And that perhaps the most abnormal thing in the world is the desire to be normal (all of us stand accused).

So some simple questions to ask is whether amidst the handicapped, the able bodied is abnormal. Among the malnutritioned the one who eats two meals a day is abnormal. Among the Hindus is a Muslim abnormal and amidst Muslims is a Hindu abnormal. Amidst the atheist is a religions man abnormal. Amidst the homosexual, is the heterosexual abnormal? Amidst a corrupt nation is honesty abnormality. And if it be so, why don’t the abnormal try to be normal, since normal is so important for all of us, the non existent ideal we are taught to aspire to be?

So why punish someone for being ‘abnormal’ in the first place. Why punish a Muslim for living in a Hindu India by killing him en-masse every once in a while? Why punish the tribal by killing and raping him and taking away his home and his livelihood? Why punish the homosexual by telling him he is unnatural, abnormal? Why punish the handicapped by ensuring that even if he wants to live a self-reliant life, we refuse him that dignity by making our buildings, our shopping malls, and everything unfriendly and unwelcome to him/her?

The solution thus is perhaps to realize that everyone, despite his abnormality, has the right to live and exist with as much dignity. Even the most honestly deviant ones among us as long as that person does not directly or with direct indirectness cause or cause others to cause physical harm to those around. The rest is just a matter of adjustment for others. And do make the effort to adjust, knowing well that there are many others who adjust to your existence and to your ‘abnormality’.

Remember that no matter what you are going through, you can’t even remotely fantasize what being a mother with a disabled child going through the taunts of society for decades could be, or of a farming father who grows food for others but sees his own kids starving to death, or of a tribal child watching his parents shot by or raped for what he does not know, or of a soldier who fought valiantly in war to defend his nation but got his legs blown off and his life being made hell by society’s indifference for him, or the shame of a person who is attracted to his own sex but cannot discuss it with parents or friends for fear of being called ‘abnormal’ or a ‘freak’ etc.

Don’t merely 'tolerate' those that are different, for even being tolerant is but being violent, but try and understand them. Adjust to everyone. Include everyone possible and continue expanding your horizon of inclusion, for in true honestly, exclusion for any reason, is the greatest abnormality of them all. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Letter To My Fellow 'Anna-Hazare' Loving Indians

My dear fellow countrymen,

Congratulations on two victories – the world cup and the anti-corruption movement headed by Anna Hazare. Now that the media brouhaha on both is over, would you care to talk some real issues and take some real steps?

It was heartwarming to see thousands of you taking to the streets. Activists and affected people who have been screaming louder for decades were surprised with your sudden interest. They were happy, but also felt cheated by your ephemeral interest. Personally too, while I respect your sentiments, I have to warn you against your own mindset – the one that believes that doing this will root out corruption from this massive nation. To lay it honestly, this thought is naïve. It is as naïve as practicing an unhealthy lifestyle and when you get sick believing that popping a pill will cure you.

The current anti-corruption agitation is nothing but that pill that will not, I repeat, that will not weed out corruption or the nation’s illnesses. You have just popped a pill and it will take care of the symptoms, not the malady. Because the malady is too deep for a simplistic cure like this. At worst, the entire power structure of this nation needs to be kept under the ICU of people’s democracy to even attempt a cure of its many ailments. Let me elaborate just a few.

I live in the city of Mumbai, purportedly one of the world’s richest municipalities, yet it has roads and public amenities to match the worst. Yes, you know about that, but have you done anything about it. Even for this, you might want to take a leaf from Anna Hazare’s work in his village in Ralegan Siddhi, where every road has signage’s where the name, address and number of the builder and the amount allocated and spent is put up. One simple way to root out civic corruption would be this. Wouldn’t such a signage be an interesting departure to the pointless, vain and congratulatory hoarding of politicians. Would you now, high on the success of the Anna Hazare fast, take this up?

Or would you take up the cases of the thousands of mill workers in Mumbai, whose daughters have been forced to go to prostitution, whose sons have turned criminals, all while the owners of the mills, sell the mill lands for thousands of crores and don’t even care give a few small percentage to those who have suffered for three decades.

Or to the thousands who live on the streets without amenities, whom you ignore on a daily basis. Or the 65% Mumbaikars who live in decrepit and unhygienic slums and yet whose land is under attack by land sharks. You consider those living in slums to be pest, not realizing that on an average one a day of these slum dwelling pests die to clean your sewage so that your health is not eaten away by real pests. You owe your life to them. Would you now care to give a little back by taking up their cause?

Or would you care to understand how your favourite topic corruption, is eating away this nation, brick by brick. Of how 34% are chronically malnutritioned, of how these people have zero carbon footprint because they don’t often get one meal a day. Would you care to hear me when I tell you that your very own India has the world’s largest number, concentration and deaths of malnutritioned children and adults globally, a kind of proportion that is seen only during famines or floods. Of how 8 Indian states have more poor than 26 poorest African nations

Or would you cry foul that while so many children are dying, there are thousands in the central part of India, that are being armed both by the state and Maoists to fight each other. Do you even know that while you call Africa uncivilized because you see on films and on TV that they arm kids, India has perhaps more number of children with guns than anywhere in the world.

Or would you want to know another face of corruption, where those thousands across the nation who have been fighting corruption for decades before you even got it into your consciousness that this cancer can be fought, are being branded naxals, Maoists, terrorists etc. and put to prison, tortured or killed there or in fake encounters. Or of how the same govt. you were agitating against talks of them to be against development, when all they ask for is for equitable development?

Or would you now care to join the agitation for the release of a much awarded doctor Binayak Sen who has been put behind bars for being a Maoist and waging war against the state. Well, I have news for you. He has been waging war against the state and I have caught his confession for this ‘anti-national’ activity and it is up on YouTube. You can watch this 7 part video, beginning here: to know the extent of his anti national activity. Would you now care to express solidarity with him, like you did to Anna Hazare, or cry for justice to be delivered to literally thousands and thousands of low profile people – common men and women, hesitant activists and rebels and RTI activists - who are facing a fate worse than Binayak Sen in this nation’s jails while your corrupt bureaucrats wine and dine despite embezzling you of lakhs of crores. Getting justice for them is a much greater fight against corruption than standing with Anna Hazare.

Or after the disaster in Fukushima, would you stand shoulder to shoulder with the struggling villagers in Jaitapur, who are protesting a mad move by the government to set up the world’s largest nuclear reactor, an action bordering on insanity. To know why I think so, watch this man on YouTube (all three parts) and see if this coupled with what you have seen in Fukushima does not worry you about the health of the nation and the extent of corruption here.

Or would you care to speak out against your own corruptions, no matter how small, of casteism, religious hatred, regionalism and say enough is enough.

Please switch off your TV for 15 minutes a day, and take that time to talk to the maid at your place, to the rickshaw and taxi driver who slog their asses off only for you to ban them with your ‘meter-jam’ campaign without understanding why they do what they do. Talk to the child who irritates you by touching you while begging for alms. Talk to the peon in your office and find out how he lives and what his problems are.

If you do this little task, you would have done much more than create a revolution that you wanted with Anna Hazare. Because true revolution is never external, it’s internal. It’s when you see, understand and perhaps change, will corruption and the ills that beset this nation be taken care of. Holding a candlelight march is good. But now that you have had your kick, please try and do more. Your country needs you.

Please remember a childhood proverb, that power corrupts, no matter who holds it. It’s like the ring in Lord of The Ring. It corrupts the purest souls. The solution is when you and I constantly question authority and rebel against them when need be as an active participant not a spectator to a sporting event. You want revolution in the nation? Well let me tell you that you and I are the revolution. And the course of corruption and health of this nation will be determined by what you will do now, what you will stand for. And now that you have stood up, do look around and smell the stink. And if you do, please take a shovel and clean whatever little you can. That will be the true revolution.

Yesterday a god of cinema died somewhere in New York. This director’s name was Sydney Lumet. I would remind you of a line from his film Network where people scream, “I am mad as hell and I am not gonna take it anymore.”

Would you care to scream that now? Would you at least look around to see what’s truly going on, because I am sure if you did, you will indeed scream your voice-boxes out with madness.

Hoping for madness from you,
Satyen K. Bordoloi, 
10 April, 2011.
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