Corona Narratives I:Being Democratic, Sensitive and an Unabashed Accumulator at the Same Time

An image is a powerful medium of pedagogy – it teaches without formally teaching us. It prepares a generation, which develops a particular understanding of the world through it.  Images have the power and potential to not reveal the fundamental characteristics of the system in whose belly lie these truths but paints the canvas with another colour and brush. The reason why so much of emphasis is put on images is self-explanatory.

Capitalism brings with itself a vulgarity which is unique. This uniqueness lies not in the way it displays richness amidst hunger and poverty because this shameless existed across societies in history founded on the basis of inequality and exploitation. It’s uniqueness lies in the fact that this display is accompanied with a farcical claim of pain and anguish at the high level of impoverishment. It calls itself democratic, defined along principles of Right to Life, Equality of Citizens etc. Pictures of a tall building standing amidst the slums in the former industrial hub of Bombay never remains the only example though that might be extreme. It is reflected in the everydayness of brazen inhumanity and inequality. Media, with its images induces us into an imagination of world where it is alright for poverty and huge richness to co-exist. It presents to us in the same image both the dimensions without discerning their realities and without explaining how it is inhuman to amass huge wealth at the cost of millions of people. The hungry, unwell, pregnant women walking for hundreds of kilometres to escape the precarity of a lockdown when presented along with the advertisements of a 2.4 crore flat presents not only the acuteness of inequality and exploitation but also demonstrates how our imagination is being shaped.  

There is a widening spectrum of shamelessness, which also provides legitimacy to this character of capitalism, when it shows thousands of precarious labourers thronging bus stations and railway stations on hand and a few lines later the same page asking you to buy a flat which would start costing from 2.4 crores onwards. Capitalism has produced a class, which is not ready to accept that it is responsible for the destruction of the planet and creation of new diseases. This class, which took pride in its globalised identity also ensured that it globalised diseases. The holidaying and honeymooning in ‘foreign’ land as well as ‘travelling for work’ has also meant that the diseases travel with them back home and infect not their family but those who cannot afford to go to those ‘foreign’ lands for any of those works. The disease, this time, was not brought to the houses by the ‘filthy’, ‘unhealthy’ and ‘unhygienic’ cheap labour cleaning utensils and dusting our households or those who work at our workplace but it has been rather thrust on everyone by those who bought their labour power. Anyhow, their unhygienic and unhealthy conditions have been produced by this very system which extracts every bit of their life to ensure a great life for itself, pushing them into this situation.

We know that the labour force is segmented – it being not so simple as exploiters and exploited. There are many who are exploited but who are also exploiters, which does not make them realise that they also sell their labour power. The vast pool of reserve army of labour allows them to become exploiters, buying labour power of others at a price they can afford. This class is also a mercenary class, which fights battles for capital. In other words, the system expands its mercenaries through segmentation of labour force – the owners of capital at the top are exploiting the labour power of a huge class of people, who do not realise this because they are sufficiently paid wages to lead a life of luxury at the cost of another huge army of people, who service them at a much lower wage. This hierarchical arrangement of wages (through a functionalist understanding) allows for the creation of a class, which would advocate democracy, equality, transparency and so on principally but will be quiet when it comes to answering questions about itself, what it does in everyday life. This segment is also further sub-segmented into illusory categories of upper, middle and lower segments, united through aspirations and an understanding of the capitalist system that there are possibilities to go up the ladder – enforced by the fact that a property dealer can become President, a sweetshop owner can own university or a second hand car dealer can own chain of schools and so on. This exercise has allowed for a huge army of mercenaries for the system to exist, which shields the exploitative and oppressive system against possible discontent.

This is also the army, which responds differentially to call for charity and donations, allowing the system to tide over possible time of extreme contradictions visible in times like pandemic of corona virus. Freire, in The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, interestingly gave us the idea of false and true generosity. He showed how the oppressor tries to soften its impact through “false generosity”. “In order to have the continued opportunity to express their “generosity,” the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this “generosity,” which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty. That is why the dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat to its source. True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity”. 

Why is there so much demand from the state to show generosity towards hungry and unwell people? Or why is the state becoming so ‘generous’? Those people marching out of cities towards their homes in remote villages of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh or other states are symbols of something seriously wrong with this system. If that wrong was corrected this call for generosity from Prime Minister and Chief Minister would not have arisen. As Freire said if one starts questioning the “source” of problems the powers that be get threatened. Without talking of anything grand, why is it so difficult to announce that each migrant workers will be provided minimum wages till they get back to work, waving of electricity and water charges and best of medical facilities. They should have been allowed to be where they were with these facilities. The state could not do that. Why? Those people who marched to their homes are the underbelly of this system. They cannot survive a lockdown, which can be afforded by only few people, those who run the system and the mercenary class which helps it run the system.

Image courtesy: Scroll

Begusarai – Has BJP made it a prestige issue?

A thirty two year old is pitched against a senior, seasoned politician in an otherwise non-descript constituency called Begusarai. But it does not seem non-descript at all. Initially, it was RJD’s insistence to not have CPI on its alliance (largely because of this candidate) and now it is because of an interesting battle on cards. The BJP national president had to campaign in this constituency on 24th April. He does not go to each and every constituency and the speakers at the function had to bring back their favourite past time – nation, nationalism, religion – albeit in a hidden tenor but could not refrain from it. Some other star speakers who specialise in the same narrative might follow on. Nobody talked of unemployment, infrastructure, minimum wages, violence again women and so on. Quite naturally, they cannot.

Kanhaiya had other kind of star campaigners – students from nook and corner of India, Javed Akhter, Prakash Raj, Swara Bhaskar and so on. They did not come due to party allegiance but due to the battle that is being waged by Kanhaiya Kumar. He has been made into a symbol of sorts in this fight against the way nation has been run, politics from WhatsApp has been practiced and welfarist institutions have been decimated. One does not know who will win (amidst reports of EVM malfunctions from across country and the effectiveness with which hatred is spread) but it is definitely proving to be a grave concern for BJP for it fears that its candidate may lose to a young turk. BJP is not so concerned at CPI sending another MP to the Parliament but it is concerned at this young man sitting there and blowing apart the rhetoric of the right in the Parliament.

Giriraj Singh did not want to contest from here and had to reluctantly come here – an issue that didn’t make locals very happy. Kanhaiya Kumar, on the other hand, was already in fray for last few months, awaiting a final decision from the party (CPI). The third candidate, Tanvir Hasan, has never won from here and has been a MLC, known to be a quiet person. Begusarai is a prestige seat not so much for Tanvir Hasan or RJD because they do not have to contribute much to the fight against BJP, otherwise they would have not made this a triangular contest putting a candidate without any credentials of anti-right wing struggle against Kanhaiya Kumar who has become a symbol of anti-right struggle today.

The right would go to any extent to ensure that any symbol of resistance against its politics is subdued. The fight for Kanhaiya Kumar is going to be a long one, beyond these elections. The reaction that one gets in Begusarai from the masses cutting across caste and religion is that they would like Kanhaiya Kumar to win and, thereby, shows that the BJP’s prestige seat is not a prestige for the locals. And RJD’s advisors and leaders will never be forgiven for fragmenting a consensus against the right wing politics.

Challenges of New Unionisation – Do we pay sufficient attention to Changed Situation

I was urgently required to get my bank passbook updated and when I asked somebody I was told that it may not be possible the the trade unions from Left and Centre had given a call for All India Strike. It had slipped out of mind and it tells a lot about where I stand politically vis-a-vis the whole issue and within the system. As a student one had fought physical battle on streets with right wing groups and police to ensure that the All India Strike was made successful at the site where we worked as students. As a faculty that was not there. It needs to be thought over.

Coming back to my passbook updating business (which is generally done by machines nowadays as banks have been replacing humans with these electronic equipment) I thought of giving it a try and went to one of nationalised banks and saw that the staff was there and it was working as usual. The difference from last time I visited was that instead of senior staff all counters had youngsters sitting. And it struck me whether it is the casualised/contractualised work force which is hired nowadays so that the threats of strikes etc., are minimised. I can see that happening in universities where the staff has been increasingly contractualised and have lost the right to strike work in a situation of hire and fire through contractors of different kinds. In such a situation it does a significant challenge to unionise and bring these people out on streets.

On the other hand, it also pushed me think about the extent to which the traditional unions have been able to integrate themselves with the employees/unions of the private banks where there have been cases of harassment by management for participation in strikes etc. If the demands are against privatisation will it be possible for the private bank employees to become part of the call, unless the demand is for nationalisation of the private banks? There are many more questions concerning the conditions in which the traditional employees and, therefore, unions have worked and the way the new private sector employees in the given situation work. It will be challenge to bring on board the traditionally established unions and the new kinds of workers that have emerged post liberalisation of economy. Only this is the way out to ensure that the capital is challenged in unison because then only will it face the sense of crisis generated by strikes etc.

South Asian-ness and Institution Building Across Borders

The recent overtures by India to strengthen neighbourly relations across South Asia have been noted as the hallmark of its foreign relations. Analysts would differ, and not unreasonably, that it is also due to the geopolitics of the region where non-Indian business ‘intrusion’ has been increasing. There is a general hype to this new attitude from India, which is an apparent departure from the patron-client relationship. The Nepali politicians seemed to be hailing Indian Prime Minister’s ‘efforts’ in unison cutting across political lines. But can this building up of a composite and cogent South Asia happen without developing institutional mechanisms that foster deep rooted sharing of intellectual processes across the region? It is only through such a complementing process of institutionalising dialogue across South Asian countries that a more organic evolution of relationships can be imagined. This is a protracted process compared to the signing and conduct of business relations. However, this would contribute to bolstering of business relations in the long run as well if one so wishes.

One way of doing this whole process is to organise an intellectual ambience that encapsulates this organic-ity and functions with the principle kernel that knowledge is non-hierarchical (which will start with the premise that in the process of knowing there is no hierarchy of knowledge) and always contestable. Taking off from this premise it can be a possible project to explore the commonalities, challenges and possibilities across South Asian countries. Once this happens as a common initiative of countries across the region, expressing their willingness to embark on a path that will of revelations narrowed and restricted by the boundaries of nation-state, it will open up possibilities for a dialogic South Asia. This intellectual project, whatever be its history or intention, got initiated in form of one institution – South Asian University. Though diverse institutions of SAARC have existed but an university compared to institutions such as SAARC Cultural Centre etc., involve a completely different process of ethos building – moving beyond bureaucratic detailing into the realm of much open and liberal intellectual sphere. However, amidst the recent emphasis on neighbourliness it does not seem to be occupy the same place of significance as many other issues as the zeal and enthusiasm on this front seem to lack.

Imagine a Bangladeshi, Nepali, Sri Lankan and Indian sociologist sitting together and deliberating on what should be taught as part of a Sociology post-graduate programme. This exercise takes place even on themes which otherwise seem irreconcilable, for instance, the identity question in Sri Lanka or questions of indigeneity, violence and religion in South Asian context. The same situation might come up while discussing regionalism and nationalism in classroom or in seminar halls. While deciding on curriculum and pedagogy it is also fiercely debated as to how can the courses represent the South Asian context transcending the narrow confines of national sociologies. This was inconceivable four years back and it is a reality in South Asian University, an initiative of the SAARC. Debates within departments such as sociology have seen such moments quite often.

When there are efforts being made to explore the South Asian neighbourliness an institution like SAU provides the platform where the possibilities of a dialogic South Asian ethos can be experimented. The MEA website tells us how unique is this experiment especially as an effort to bring together the different countries concretely – as students and teachers who make the rhetoric of South Asian cooperation a reality in flesh and blood. How far this happens and what can be the conditions to further concretise this, though, remain an issue but as an experiment this has been a major step in re-imagining South Asia in recent past.

The way this university was conceptualised it was kept in mind how the balance of power in administrative matters could be maintained. For instance, it’s rule no. 06 states that “the President will identify up to three Professors working in the University for appointment as Vice-Presidents. Subject to the availability of suitable candidates, the Vice-Presidential candidate should be from SAARC Member States other than that of the President”. Rules mention that the President and the Vice-President of the university should come from different countries. Similarly, the students should ideally come from across South Asia and the Indian students must not dominate the composition because of its sheer physical location in New Delhi. This, as a sociologist, compels one to engage with the challenges of teaching and researching in a situation where the Bangladeshi student brings fresh insights from his location and debates. Even when I think as a pure intellectual endeavour the University opens new possibilities to understand and analyse the South Asian societies, for instance, the identity question with the Afghani, Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan students in a classroom becomes a learning experience for any faculty from any part of South Asia who get exposed the complexities of a subject matter.

Commonalities and absence of dialogue

The South Asian societies share great amount of similarities – ranging from their economies to the social structures and the challenges confronting their societies. Whether it is the changes experienced by the social structures over different points of time under influence of variety of factors or the emergence of new forms of mass resistances or the challenges posed by religious sectarianism a dialogue across the region has been absent. Pakistani scholars working on Hindu temples in Pakistan or historians working on evolution of the region or sociologists grappling with similar issues across region are never institutionally brought together by the states. An effort that transcends the frequent political skirmishes between countries and establishes platforms of sharing would add to bringing out the vast amount of knowledge generated in the region.

This requires a concerted effort that transcends the national frontiers and academia is one such space, which can do that easily. It would create a dialogue that is bereft of enmities and sectarian prejudices. While at one level through research it generates tangible possibilities through pedagogical practices It makes the whole process organic. It evolves as a natural process rather than as a forced practice. In a classroom the academic engagement, in fact, does precisely this when it asks students from different countries to share, analyse and debate the issues that confronts their societies. From classrooms to the hostel rooms to cafeterias it creates a context for a dialogic South Asian ethos.

When students from Pakistan, Afghanistan and India share a room in the hostel, when they deal with questions that may have different national interpretations but they discuss it amicably within the classroom or when they celebrate each other’s independence days it ceases to be a mere pedagogical issue. It rather becomes an organic intellectual process that would produce minds engaged with the South Asian realities.

To have an atmosphere of South Asian-ness the states will have to sensitively get into institution buildings of kind that goes beyond the mere bureaucratic sharing of officials and rhetorical cultural exchanges or business cooperations. It can be done only through imagining a situation where national boundaries become porous and insignificant and when people across these borders start to locate themselves as organic constituents of any agenda, dream or programme. These will also be processes that bring together people to share the developments, concerns and hopes within this region.

Objectivity in the service of capital

When the newspapers carried the headlines that Indian Prime Minister has been concerned about 42% malnourishment, I did not think so much about the nutritional condition of Indian children but more about the game called statistics. It is interesting how we get different figures from different sources about the same issues. If it is about the below poverty line figures different government appointed committees have given us different estimates of poverty. I wonder how come the malnourishment figures stand at only 42% if the most conservative estimates about the below poverty level population is somewhere around 48-50%.

It will be interesting to see how and why different statisticians give us different pictures for the same thing. Ya, I know it is about difference in data source, methodology, etc., but if science and statistics (the precise figures) are supposed to be objective and less biased then the result should have been same. How can there be any scope of subjectivity in calculating figures by people and disciplines whose claim to fame is objectivity and precision !!!!. It seems all the objective people are in service of the state (read capital in contemporary times) – from deciding who should head what educational institutions to themselves heading institutions and militarizing them.

Beyond the Blinding Haze of Corruption Battles!

Some have already started pondering whether Anna Hazare himself or an agitation on his lines could be used to highlight the issue of establishing a Common School System or for some other welfare measures that concern the downtrodden. My conviction that it is impossible emanates primarily from the analysis of the so-called amorphous ‘civil society’ which is essentially liberal bourgeois in character. What would one expect from a ‘movement’ (??) which relies heavily on the corporate sector – from a doctor who would love to deprive millions of Indians of primary healthcare and promote privatization of health facilities to collecting enormous amount from them as donations?

Read more at Radical Notes

It’s Official – US-Based Ford Foundation Funding Anna’s Movement

The recent hue and cry raised about the “foreign hand” in the Anna Hazare-led ‘mass’ movement seems to have got answers in reply to a query filed by BeyondHeadlines under the Right to Information (RTI) to Manish Sisodia’s brainchild Kabir. Kabir had revealed that it had received funding from various sources, including the controversial Michigan (United States)-based Ford Foundation.

Read more…

Beware ! You could trampled by them

Yesterday one could see in Delhi University a rally: youths on motorcycles and open jeeps, vidographying themselves, dancing like mad and bringing back memories of those days when the ABVP members would boisterously march on streets after election victories threatening to ride over you if you do not go with them. They were wearing white ‘gandhi’ caps, now available in market, and holding the ‘holy’ national flag.

Roads in Delhi will tell you the kind of support that Hazare is getting – youth enjoying the few days of free license for lupenism wrapped in tricolour. Hoards of school children in buses and trucks pouring in. I only hope they have at least some inkling of what they are there for, apart from some freedom from the oppressive school.

Reshuffling is not Changing

There has been a ministry reshuffle in India. Some ministers have been dropped and some have changed chairs. The media, as it is destined to do, has been uselessly debating its repercussions, as if corruption will go away or if POSCO will be asked to leave because the tribals have been opposing it. Or, furthermore, the TV glued consumers are being told as if cabinet reshuffles undo fundamental laws of capitalism that thrives on the idea of exploitation and expansion of capital at human cost. The prices of petrol will no doubt soar high, inflation will be staggering and the price of survival will continue to spiral. There will be no respite from the demonic claws of private capital. We all will increasingly continue to be subjected to its ruthless repression.

The cabinet reshuffles have one and only one purpose – to hide the ugliness of the system, to tell us, once again, in a much more beautifully fabricated idiom that the state cares for its people. We are supposed to be bought by it as much as by the bogus activism of a minister who tried telling us he can set things right by ordering some enquiries, protecting environment and then conditionally allow exploitation of natural resources by private capital.

It is a bubble that needs to be bursted. But who will burst it and how is the question. The bubble that ‘Indians have prospered’, the bubble that ‘state is more and more committed to the development of its people’. All are bubbles as much as the 100 days agenda of the UPA regime. The energetic Ministers could do nothing more than creating a evanescent halo that has allowed the deeply ingrained anti-people state-market collusion to work freely. The bubbles must burst because only then would it reveal the underbelly of the capital’s machinations and its inhuman world – the ugly world of hunger and deprivation, and the witch-craft of hypnotizing and enticing market.

On the Banks of Sabarmati Where Gandhi Once Lived

Standing on the bridge over river Sabarmati in Ahmedabad today gives a completely different feeling than what Gandhi would have felt while living in his Ashram during those days. The river is being tamed by the faithful guards of capital. A seasonal river has been made into a perennial one through diversion of water from Narmada. Why not, a beautiful river bank will always get more buyers, better real estate developers, and in effect an additional space for odyssey of market. As construction continues with the riverbed being transformed into a gigantic concrete slab, one could hardly see any water in the river as the two sides of it resemble an upcoming giant concrete demon that would gobble up the wild, free and liberated of a river. Yes, it symbolises what capital, in its insatiable frenzy of transforming every possible space into a commodity, can do.

But why should one be perturbed by it? There is hardly any resistance to what is being done. And one day one would jump in ecstasy standing on the banks looking at the reflection of huge billboards in water of Sabarmati inviting us to be drenched in the frenzy of market. We would narrate to everybody how beautiful the city of Ahmedabad has become, willfully ignorant of the deep seated religious polarisation in terms of spaces in the city or unaware of ghettoisation of the city along class lines.

After all, the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Corporation is claiming to usher in a new phase in the life of the city. It says that “The riverfront project creates intrinsic value for all residents of Ahmedabad by making the banks of the Sabarmati free and accessible to the public. The river banks will evolve continually, adapting to the diverse interests of a rapidly transforming city”. Think for yourself, how lost we are in the frenzy of market, self absorbed, self-besotted, forgetting what is actually happening in the name of ‘public access’ and ‘public space’.