Corona Narratives III:Enmity, Hatred and Livelihood in times of Communal Virus

Ahmad (name changed) has been our regular kabadiwallah (junk dealer). He would come whenever we called him to collect newspapers, empty bottles, old junk of any kind. Around two years back he took a lot of time to come and, in fact, told us that he could come only on Sunday. I was perplexed at this. When he came I asked him whether he was not there in Delhi and had gone to his village in Uttar Pradesh his answer proved my premonition right – that of an economy which is making most people’s lives miserable. He said sale and purchase of junk was not providing two time’s meal for his family so he has become a daily wager and does this junk-dealing only on Sundays. During this Coronavirus lockdown he must be finding it difficult to survive. When a few daily-wagers have become vegetable vendors he cannot even resort to this new profession because he could neither purchase/rent a cart nor could he manage to hide his identity very easily. And I started thinking about the forms that capitalism can take – demonising individuals and communities, forcing them to verge of hunger. People would die but the system would survive because it has developed mechanism to tide over its crisis. It has created a consensus and has an army of mercenaries at work doing this. They include analysts and intellectuals who ensure that our eyes miss the fundamental flaw – that lies with the structure of the system itself, which takes inequality, hunger and impoverishment as normal because its functionality is bound to produce and reproduce these aspects. Capitalism-in-crisis has resorted to a powerful pedagogical tool – spread lies to such an extent that they become truths which no one could nullify. Lies become convincingly true, much more truer than the truth thereby nullifying the idea of truth itself.

People must have watched the video that went viral and even news channels showed it – a vegetable vendor was being asked to produce his Aadhar card to ascertain his religious identity. In many cases they are beaten up. The social media went into its usual hyper-activity following discovery of infected persons at a programme of Tablighi Jammat, after all the Right-wing and the fence sitters needed something to once again vilify the Muslims. We have seen in last two decades or so the way social media has been used to create a division in society based on religion. It becoming increasingly clearer that anything majoritarian is beyond law and other instruments of state in our times because it has either merged with the state or it has become supra-state. That is the reason any shouting match (as nearly all TV channels are constantly under adrenalin rush) on television goes unnoticed by the law, which sometimes becomes hyperactive and does something called suo moto cognizance. It is capable enough to differentiate why certain developments qualify to be cognized as such and certain others do not.

It does not really matter today if houses and shops are razed to the ground in the heart of the nation by a planned act of violence in name of religion. Strange logic seems to be at work when one after another intellectuals and journalists are booked under UAPA on one hand while on the other hand high decibel hate factories (read TV channels) are given respite by justice system. The intellectuals who simply analyse, dissent and write are considered terrorists. It is a weird, dystopic world governed by the Snowmen that we are living in. Everyone is under constant watch under some pretext or the other. Across the world, surveillance has increased but we know that some are watched with more seriousness while others are not. The law also works differently while some are not arrested despite ample proofs and others are arrested with much swiftness. But it seems normal – those in power would always look the other way when their own cadres engage in acts of violence. However, the liberal bourgeois democracy, which survives on its own self-appreciation of being democratic, and objectivity, is seeing a new moment.

In everyday lives, the reality is that communalisation has seeped in. The vigorous campaign that was launched by the Right and their cohorts has gone down deep among the masses – something that the ruling class in crisis would also love. After all, it is easier to blame the others for any crisis – the German Nazis did it on Jews and communists and in India it can be done on the minorities. I was feeling uncomfortable in asking the vegetable vendor his name and his place of origin, which I usually do for rapport building. My fear came from what was being done to the vegetable vendors and what was being done to the Muslims. He confidently gave me his details, including the phone number so that I can contact him during lockdown for vegetables. Only the other day another vendor said how Muslims have spread the virus – and I realised the success of the Right in their agenda. They are being deprived of their everyday economic means. It has been ensured that we stop thinking rationally. A human relationship, bereft of religion or even with two individuals with different religious faiths coexisting, is becoming more and more impossible. Enmity and hatred is the principle that governs our lives today and it gets encouraged by the formal and informal structures of power. Imagine what would happen to those who are struggling to meet their ends meet. I am reminded of the poem that Nagarjun wrote in 1983:

तेरी खोपड़ी के अंदर (1983)

गले से
रुद्राक्ष की लम्बी माला
लटक रही थी
जोगिया कलरवाले
कुर्ते पर
दाहिने कान से
लाल फूल अटका पड़ा था,
चमक रहा था भाल पर
चंदन का पीला तिलक
वो अपना रिक्शा
मेरे निकट ले आया
“नमस्ते बाबाजी!”
संजीदगी में बोला
“किधर को ले चलूँ बाबाजी?”

मैं उसको गौर से देखने लगा
वो अच्छा-भला युवक था,
गंदमी सुरत का डबल-पतला!

बड़ी-बड़ी आँखे, सुरमई
चौड़ी पेशानी पर
चमक रहा था चंदन का टीका
लूँगी पीली थी
पैर ख़ाली थे

“चलो बाबाजी,
किधर ले चलूँ?
छीपी तालाब?

कि इतने में
एक और युवक
इन कानो में
फुसफुसाके कह गया –
“ख़बरदार, यह मुसलमान है
इसके रिक्शे पर
कभी ना बैठना आप!”
मगर अपना साथी
अ अ बोला –
“हम इसी का रिक्शा लेते है।“
हमने उससे कहा –
“हॉस्टल ले चलो,
हाँ-हाँ, मेरठ कालेज हॉस्टल ।“
हमे हॉस्टल के गेट पर
निहायत नरम आवाज़ मे
वो कहने लगा –
“बाबाजी, हम चुटैया भी रखेंगे
आठ-दस रोज़ की
भुखमरी के बाद
हमारे अंदर
य अक्किल फूटी है।

रुद्राक्ष के मनके
अच्छी मजूरी दिला रहे हैं

“बाबाजी, अब हम
चूट्टना भी रखेंगे माथे पे
अब हम चंदन का टीका भी
रोज़ लगाते रहेंगे
बाबाजी, अब हम
अपना नाम भी तो
‘परेम परकास’ बतलाते है
अपना रिक्शा लेकर
प्रेम प्रकाश जा रहा था
और हम डोनो
मिनटों उसे जाते हुए
देखते रहे
यों तो वो
कल्लू था –
कल्लू रिक्शावाला
यानी कालिमुद्दीन
मगर अब वो
‘परेम परकास’
कहलाना पसंद करेगा
कालिमुद्दीन तो
बख की भट्टी में
ख़ाक हो गया था

“जीयो बेटा प्रेम प्रकाश!
हाँ-हाँ, चोटी ज़रूर रख लो।
और हाँ, पूरनमासी के दिन
गढ़ की गंगा में डूब लगा आना!
हाँ-हाँ, तेरा यही लिबास
तेरे को रोजी-रोटी देगा !
लेकिन तू इतना तो ज़रूर करना
मुझे उस नाले के क़रीब
ले चलना कभी
उस नाले के क़रीब
जहां कल्लू का कुनबा रहता है!
मैं उसकी बूढ़ी दादी के पास,
बीमार अब्बाज़ान के पास
बैठकर चाय पी आऊँगा कभी!
कल्लू के नन्हे मुन्ने
मेरी दाढ़ी के बाल

Reads so true even today. It has not changed. It has aggravated and intensified. One needs to be worried at the generalisation of hatred.

More of Anti Working Class Indian Left: Again Moving in the Same Direction

India will go to elections in 2014 and the battlelines are gradually getting drawn (or may be redrawn). And CPI(M) and CPI are once again looking for new allies. They are also planning to go back to what they have been doing all along – mistaking the aim of increasing seats in Parliaments for a working class offensive.

I fear these times because it is these times that would generate weird kind of alliances – unnatural and unthinkable ones. And what I fear most is the move that the Left would make – yes, specifically the two bigger parties – CPI (Communist Party of India) and CPI(M) [Communist Party of India (Marxist)]. They have been going everywhere, literally everywhere, to align with all kinds of forces. The excuse being only one – to safeguard secularism.

I have always wondered how does a party such as JD (U) which was till yesterday an ally of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) would become a secular party the day it leaves the alliance for reasons that we all know – and the reasons which have nothing to do with the secular/fascist credentials of BJP. This has now happened end number of times. It happened when it supported the National Front government from outside along with BJP. The issue for them becoming one (in a certain sense) was dynastic politics of Congress (which it will continue to have because it is not a ‘party’ with mass base but rather a coterie of some leftovers of past and the new messiahs of corporate governance and interests). Then they went with Rashtriya Janata Dal, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Telugu Desam Party… and so on and so forth. All in name of secularism. After surrendering whatever they did/had in the name of working class politics to the forces that most brazenly represented the forces of private capital what have they achieved are literally nothing – communal fascism remains a force (it remains, quite naturally, quiet and wakes up whenever it is required); and the Left mass base (even if it is of social democratic character) continues to slide. This obviously raises some questions in my mind:

1. Is it not possible to have rather an all Left alliance? We have seen it has not worked till now – whether agricultural laborers are massacred in hordes or whether the state goes on a declared war against working class – informalising the economy, taking away all benefits, doing away with pensions, privatizing all that is there in public sector, privatizing basic services of education and health, etc. All them – right from the tiniest of them to a relatively bigger one – live in their own world of arrogance as if they would lead the revolution when that day of judgement would arrive. One has seen this from micro-struggles within universities and factories to larger alliances on questions of macro-economy.

2. Is it too difficult to understand that alliances have dealt a blow to the Left politics because through these alliances one knowingly or unknowingly get into a political understanding that destroys the working class unity and the working class organization to resist the designs of private, corporate capital?

3. Is it beyond comprehension of these Left formations that the notions of ‘secularism’ or ‘justice’ can have meanings not necessarily floated by the bourgeois political formations? Is it possible to explicate these concepts from a working class perspective?

Unfortunately, they do not seem to get these questions or they may not be willing to reflect on them because of what they have become – essentially seeking pleasures of parliamentary politics. They are, in fact, now knee deep into it. Hence, constitutive historical processes are of no relevance to them.

These are the times when masses are looking for a Left alternative and not opportunistic alliances. The massive number that throngs to their rallies, which goes beyond even their imagination and expectation as was evident last year in the rallies in Bihar, are an indication of the discontent that is there against a system which is pushing them to last limits of misery and agony. They need a new hope not an alliance where the partners shift their allegiances overnight. What kind of anti-Congress, anti-BJP alliance is this when the partners were voting for privatization and against all working class yesterday in Parliament? Now after two decades of similar politics (since 1991) one should not expecting anything else from them.

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)


  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


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…