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.

Inequality in School Education: Are we Asking Right Questions

To begin with, I must say that the fact that we are discussing EWS and access in school etc., is a reflection of the way in which discourses get shaped and defined. It would seem politically incorrect in a liberal framework to reject such a provision on the grounds that it does not allow us to address the basic and fundamental conditions that give rise to first inequality in society and then inequality in education. But it tends to make us believe that inequality is normal and given and therefore the way to provide good education to poor children is through some kind of quota. Nobody denies it as a stop gap arrangement but then it must be repeated time and again that it is a temporary arrangement and become comfortable with it as a quota system to tackle inequality.

The situation in education in general and schooling in particular is alarming. It is not only about the content but also the access to it. We are concerned with the question of access here more than the content. However, at some point it would be impossible to delink the two. The idea that there are people who need a terminology for identification, which is Economically Weaker Section here, is in itself a statement about the larger social and economic condition that exists in society. It is this condition which paved way for demands for EWS quotas in private schools. It is difficult to outrightly reject or accept it because it is connected with much more larger questions of how reproduction happens in societies. The demand emerged because

  • it has been considered criminal that private institutions take resources from the state but never give it back to people and that there is an accountability of private capital towards people;
  • it is considered that the mass of population also have the right to be educated the same way as the rich of the society.

However, we do realise that this process does not work that smoothly as some of the reports have indicated. The way schooling system is designed there is a logic of reproduction already inbuilt into it – a logic which would ensure that inequality in education remains because this inequality has its own functions to play in society. This has been much brilliantly explained by likes of Marx, Althusser and Bourdieu.

If the right to hope and dream is not a part of our education system or if idea of alternative possibilities are not to remain an intrinsic part of the knowledge framework it is obvious that we are imagining a world of a particular type. Education is about imparting the diverse possibilities, ways of thinking and looking at the world, not hiding what causes certain things, not denying that there is inequality, hunger, poverty, deprivation and discrimination and there are profound reasons why these things are there.
Hence, it is relevant to think if providing a quota can resolve the problem of access and inequality?

  • Is it not a stop gap arrangement in a larger battle which should ideally about ensuring that each and every child gets education of the highest possible quality?
  • Does the EWS provision really take care of the fundamental causes and conditions that produce inequality in access to schooling?
  • Are we even aware that there is a larger battle which is about ensuring that education ceases to be of two types – an elite education (in all respects – access as well as content and infrastructure) and an education for the poor and marginalised?
  • Is there a realisation that in the fight to ensure that everyone gets best education the simultaneity of short-term gains such as EWS quota and the long-term goal must be maintained.

It is time that we ask these questions to ourselves if we are committed to ensuring that imparting education has to be a non-discriminatory project. EWS has a lot of problems inbuilt into it because it is an imposition on the private schools to become sensitive, caring and have a consciousness of the wide gap in access to education that exists. There might be exceptions among private schools that take it as a mission but that is not the way the real problem at hand will be resolved because problems of inequality historically have not been resolved this way. More thinking needs to go into what can be the way forward.

Note: This is brief text of talk delivered at a panel discussion on EWS at Gargi College, Delhi University in 2018