The Politics of Anti-Politics: Forms of Expression and Dreams for an Alternative World

One has often wondered what does it mean for an act to be ‘organic’. Is it about invoking the Gramscian notion of the organic or the redefinition of it? Many a times it becomes misplaced. It is shorn of its content. Creating a space of resistance (and ‘resistance’ does not always lead to ‘revolution’) has to be something emanating out of the organic efforts of the the oppressed. Cultural expressions – ranging from the distinctions that one witnessed in the content and form of the Madhubani paintings across caste to the emergence of the form of ‘street theatre’ and its different forms over space and time – have always been deeply rooted in their contexts. These contexts have always emerged out of certain social relations and have always imagined an alternative within them. This alternative could have been to transcend the immediate, without any concrete model for the future, or could have been to substitute the existing system/order of things with a new one that denounces different forms of exploitation.

The fight for an alternative society has often found a resonance in universities because of the spaces of dissent that they have traditionally provided. Ever since collapse of welfare capitalism university as a liberal space has been under constant threat – from the ruling class that seek to disband all forms of art (and expression) that challenges its existence and expansion. Creating a space within the university for dissent is one of the tasks of various cultural expressions that are collective in nature. Individual expressions while becoming sources of inspiration are not always potent enough to create a space because they would be banished due to lack of a collective support base. Secondly, certain forms of expression, by their very nature, are subversive. Hence, one finds experiments happening in street theatre in particular and theatre in general. Extending the argument it would be foolish to equate the expensive stage based productions with the street theatre format in terms of their potential to be subversive. This needs a mention because of the shift towards stage based performances that one has witnessed across universities. Both of the forms, generally, fulfill different functions, cater to different socio-economic constituencies and play different political roles. Similarly, both forms of theatre cannot be performed in all the places and all kinds of audiences. The kind of alternative ideological visions (needed to fight oppressive university environments under neoliberal capitalism) that street theatre present get reified when they go to stage (wherein the constituency of audience changes). Shift from street form also involves reliance on the university institutional support, and then the process of institutionalizing the whole process of art as a form of liberating experience begins. To keep them outside the institutional framework is an important aspect of maintaining the autonomy of these art forms as spaces of dissent.  In the end, it would also amount to absence of organic linkages between the form and the content.

Given this situation then, dissent becomes a political position which will have the potential to be subversive only if it tries to draw into its ideological fold a collective. Within an university, the effort to use expressions such as street theatre, music, or any other cultural space with the aim of generating steam of subversion has to be prodded. However, it loses that potential when it becomes part of the institutional political ideology. It has to be emerge organically out of the larger political struggle that the students, teachers or other workers envision within the university space. It would also become meaningless if it is seen as an isolated space of ‘performance’, disconnected with the reality outside that determine the character of the university all the time.

Growing out of this understanding it is important that one recognizes the need to connect the politics of these cultural expressions. What do they do through their content? If they talk about the celebration of the individual they are definitely there to rupture the collective. And by doing so they are weakening the possibilities of imagining an alternative to the ongoing oppressions. This alternative can be progressive insofar as they seek to destroy the basis of the context that gives rise to oppression or can become limiting insofar as it becomes a celebration of individuality. They are to nurture a dream – a dream that does not stop at being an act of an individual aspiration. The dream has to be shared. The dream would be about imaging that there can be a world beyond the one where one lives. Avatar Singh Pash wrote:

‘Mehnat ki loot sabse khatarnak nahi hoti,
Police ki maar sabse khatarnak nahi hoti,
Gaddari, lobh ki mutthi sabse khatarnak nahi hoti.
Baithe bithaye pakde jana bura to hai,
Sahmi si chhup me jakde jana bura to hai,
Par sabse khatarnak nahi hoti.
Sabse khatarnak hota hai murda shanti se bhar jana,
Na hona tadap ka, sab kuch sahan kar jana,
Ghar se nikalna kaam par, aur kaam se loutkar ghar aana, 
Sabse khatarnak hota hai,
Hamare sapno ka mar jana’.

He was positing the individual within a collective context where people are either being trained not to dream or the the dreams are being manufactured. To dream is important but to dream beyond the given – challenging the given, to transcend the system of exploitation by destroying it – is further more important. Dream is about the ability to say that there are alternatives to oppression available. It is about putting posters on a wall where you are not allowed to; it is about contesting what is taught in the classrooms; it is about saying that life is more than following the routine set by those in power; it is about dissenting and saying that the system that YOU put in place is not what the people want; people want something else; the collective needs are beyond the imagination of those in power. Dream is not about fragmenting the collective through practicing an anti-politics agenda which any anti-collective theoretical strand and politics emanating out of it has been doing. A fight has to be waged that spits at the face of anti politics by saying that there politics is the most dangerous one, which betrays the power of collective for radical transformation.

THE HEART OF THE MATTER – Development, Identity and Violence: Reconfiguring the Debate

THE HEART OF THE MATTER – Development, Identity and Violence: Reconfiguring the Debate Edited by Ravi Kumar (Aakar Books, Delhi, 2010)

Contents

  1. Acknowledgement
  2. Introduction – Ravi Kumar
  3. Thinking through Urban Debris: Violence, Terror and the State    – Nandita Badami and Anirban Nigam
  4. Through and Beyond: Identities and Class Struggle – Paresh Chandra
  5. “No Rehabilitation” is ecocide and genocide: Is there possibility of Hope? – Savyasaachi
  6. Ventilating Predicament of Development: New Economic Enclaves and Structural Violence in India – Manisha Tripathy Pandey
  7. The Artifice of Modernity in Nation-building: Analyzing the Case of “Postcolonial” Northeast India – Neikolie Kuotsu
  8. Developing Bastar: The Dandakaranya Project – Saagar Tiwari

 

Excerpts

Introduction
Ravi Kumar
Glancing at the plethora of works produced in this direction over the last decade, displacement and violence seem the most popular characters of a much-debated, possibly over-debated area. Displacement has existed for centuries – for instance, kings would displace people from forests to convert the forests into hunting-grounds. But something about displacement today, makes it starkly different from the kinds that have existed so far. Perhaps, this difference can be understood keeping in mind the nature of modern nations which have emerged from the ashes of colonial empires, and have tried to ground themselves in the legacy of liberal democracy and the various other state-centric (people friendly?) paradigms of governance. The displacement of peoples from their areas of habitation under the garb of “development” can be seen across the history of Independent India; hopes of the people have been buried under the foundations of the “Temples of Modern India” which have been “constructed” one after the other, even as the state has continuously claimed to represent the interests of these very people. Of course, the nature and the degree of pretensions have changed, from the welfarist state to the neoliberal state…

 

Ghetto and Within: Class, Identity, State and Politics of Mobilisation

Ghetto and Within: Class, Identity, State and Politics of Mobilisation by Ravi Kumar (Aakar Books, Delhi, 2010)

http://www.aakarbooks.com/

Contents

  1. Acknowledgement
  2. Context of the Study
  3. Secularism, Nationalism and the Problematic of Religious Identity Formation
  4. Identity Formation and the Class Question
  5. Identity Politics and Ghettoisation
  6. Why Study the Ghettos: Some Methodological Considerations
  7. Identity Formation and the Ghetto: Reflections from the Field

Class and the Everyday life State
Control and Identity

8. Collective Identity and the Class Politics – Beyond the Appearances in a Ghetto

Excerpts:

Chapter 1
Context of the Study
A study of the process of ghettoisation acquires relevance when the polity is being defined by identity politics and the politics of class is waning. The primacy of collective identity formation in politics has gained ground with the onslaught of neoliberal politics, laced with the ideas of localisation, difference and autonomy of subjects. Class as a category of analysis has been relegated to the background with a clear intent of marginalising possibilities of resistance to the system. A tendency, which is neither new nor surprising, to sustain the status quo has rejected dialectics as a method and class as the defining category of analysis. This is not to deny the conjunctural significance of identity politics insofar as it rips open subterranean repressions and resists the hegemonic powers and discourses. However, an identity politics, which fails to take cognizance of the balance of forces in class terms fails to transcend the systemic logic of repression and gets accommodated in the system…

The study of the ghetto explicated here makes an attempt to understand how certain physical and socio-economic zones within the city space remain outside the purview of contests to transform the essentially unequal social order. In fact, discourses within ghettos, which are defined by the sharing of a common religious identity and which see subjects as victims of an agenda furthered by the state or other segments of society, do not address inequities of various kinds and fail to locate inequality within the production relations that characterise it. Class is never a part of such discourses. These address extends only religion and caste based inequality (see Appendix I) and base themselves in the context of secularism and communalism, which in turn are analysed mostly in terms of their appearances, divorced from political economy. In the following pages an effort is made to understand how the idea of a collective develops from within the community as well as in relation to the outside world. It is a complex set which comprises of state, people and politics and which is explored to understand this dynamics which cannot be defined or understood without a context…