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Innocence Interrupted: Arshie Qureshi

February 23, 2015

Guest post by ARSHIE QURESHI

For a child born in Kashmir, the chances of living a normal life and even survival vary greatly from one region to another. Suppose you are born in the seemingly volatile stretch of Downtown. You may well turn out to be someone whose pictures are flashed on social media as the epitome of bravery, someone whose demise is imminent, and someone ready to wear the ‘Shaheed’ label. I arrived at this place at 4:30 on a cold evening. The room was crowded by women sitting with only one recognizable face; Shehzaad’s mother, Rubeena Akhter. Nobody spoke. The air smelled like rain. After a short while, a tall man in a brown-checkered pheran appeared. Leaning on the walls, he helped himself to one corner of the dimly lit but spacious room. He did not want himself to be identified as a ‘victim of conflict’.

For Shehzaad, life had been altogether different before. He had spent happy summers with his family in the town where violence, as it existed, had never appeared to him naked. By now, he is 23. He has become larger and properly bearded. The one thing which you can’t miss about Shehzaad is that he has giant brown eyes like a dairy cow. That’s what prompts my most idiotic lines of inquiry. Could someone who looks like that really pelt stones on streets? Idiotic, I know. “Do I have to tell you how I was supposed to have been killed that day?” he says, sounding like a gull. I hear a slow whimpering strangled with ache. This soon changes into full-throated babbling—a cascade of terrible, terrified pleading wails as he continued naming those who had been killed during the 2010 agitations.

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Bus Porters’ Petition for Aadhaar – A Political Analysis: Tarangini Sriraman

February 22, 2015

Guest post by TARANGINI SRIRAMAN

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Porters at ISBT  (Image courtesy DNA)

Barely six years into its introduction, the Aadhaar project, otherwise known as the Unique Identification (UID) project has been studied and critiqued extensively – its promises to strengthen welfare delivery, curb corruption, exorcise ghost beneficiaries from government databases, initiate financial inclusion and enhance intra-governmental coordination have been enthusiastically received in certain corporate and technocratic circles and skeptically, if not scathingly viewed in other academic and journalistic quarters. The liberties this far-advanced project has taken with individuals’ privacy and its failure to acquire a statutory basis (even as enrollment drives continue unabated) have justly attracted severe censure. And until recently, the surreptitiously mandatory nature of the project – where welfare entitlements were linked to the possession of numbers – was cause for alarm. The Supreme Court judgment in 2013 challenging this mandatory linkage between Aadhaar and subsidies/entitlements may have slowed down processes of the number’s proliferation as an exclusive proof.

However, since the new government at the Centre took over, newer uses and linkages are being imagined. How indispensable the Aadhaar will be to such schemes and entitlements only time can tell: cases in point the Jan Dhan Yojana (JDY) and the linkage of the Aadhaar with the passport. As new linkages appear in place of the old, the new government is urging all of us to walk boldly into the embrace of biometric identification that will, to a certain extent, at least, pervade public transactions (for some) and their very socio-economic chances of welfare support (for most others).  It was against this conceptual and empirical backdrop (so competently elucidated by the various scholars, lawyers and journalists following this project) that I decided, as part of my work on a larger book project, to speak with a migrant community in Delhi about their Aadhaar-related experiences – did they wish to get these numbers, if so why?

For these purposes, I picked a community of bus coolies or porters in North Delhi most of whom were migrants from different parts of the country and who stayed in a makeshift residence on the premises of the bus terminal. Read more…

The Genealogy of the Secular Discourse of Bangladesh – A Second Reading to Bangladesh History: Mubashar Hasan

February 21, 2015

Guest Post by MUBASHAR HASAN

Even though, according to a series of Gallup and Pew Research polls, Bangladeshi society is now perhaps most illiberal in its history of existence, most informed readers know that a strong secular discourse led by a group of academics, creative writers and artists still continues to flourish and resisting the illiberalism to be the main discourse of the country.

After the independence, the 1972 constitution of the country have endorsed secularism, socialism and democracy as key founding principles among others. However, it is unclear to me as a Bangladeshi who is in his thirties whether these principles were propounded within the constitution with mass support or influential elite intellectuals who were close to the power-base asserted these values because they had the luxury to construct Bangladesh in paper the way they wanted to. May be the latter is true. If secularism was a value held close to the hearts of Bangladeshi masses, it does not make sense now why there is a huge mass support-base for the center-right party Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) or the growing shift to Islam by the ruling Awami League (AL).

In this article, I want to revisit the role of a group of intellectuals who were instrumental in shaping a secular discourse for Bangladesh when Bangladesh was known as the East Pakistan. I call my approach as a second reading to Bangladesh history simply because I haven’t come across any narratives that looks into the thought process of the key constructors of secular discourse in Bangladesh. In this lieu, I shall try to point out to the motivational forces of key actors behind the secular discourse of Bangladesh.  Read more…

Zehn ki Loot – The Plunder of Reason in a Times Now TV Studio: Kavita Krishnan

February 21, 2015

Guest Post by Kavita Krishnan

“Phool shaakhon pe khilne lagey” tum kaho,
“Jaam rindon ko milne lagey” tum kaho,
“Chaak seenon kay silne lagey” tum kaho,
Iss khule jhooth ko,
Zehn ki loot ko,
Main nahin maanta,
Main nahin jaanta

“Branches are abloom with flowers” you say!

“The thirsty have got to drink” you say!

“Wounds of the heart are being sewn” you say!

This open lie…

A plunder of reason…

I shall not accept!

I shall not recognise!

(Habeeb Jalib, translated by Ghazala Jamil)

In Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, Petrucchio declares the noontime sun to be the moon: “I say it is the moon,” to test his wife’s loyalty and obedience. As long as she stands by her reason and asserts “I know it is the sun”, she continues to be a ‘shrew’. Only when she consents to ‘zehn ki loot’ (plunder of reason), when she agrees to subordinate her own reason to the whim and diktat of her husband, and deny the self-evident truth, does she achieve approval as a suitable wife.

We, the people of India, are being similarly tamed of our ‘shrewish’ behaviour, with propaganda and public shaming in TV studios accomplishing the ‘zehn ki loot’. It is a process that seeks to bully us into declaring that the sun is the moon, that night is day, that ‘khula jhooth’ (open lie) is in fact the only truth. Refuse to part with your reason, and you are chastised for ‘bad behaviour’.

I would like to revisit the #GovtVsNGO News Hour show on Times Now, on 17th February, as a particularly glaring instance (Activism or Anti-nationalism, Parts 1 and 2 )

The topic of the show was the Government of India’s decision to deplane a Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai from a London-bound flight, because she was planning to depose before British MPs about the violation of India’s forest rights laws by a British mining company, Essar, in Mahan in Madhya Pradesh.

Read more…

War and the Lightness of Being Adivasi – Security camps and villages in Bijapur, Chhattisgarh: PUDR

February 21, 2015

Report produced by PEOPLE’S UNION FOR DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS

Between December 26th and 31st 2014, a PUDR fact-finding team visited 9 villages of Bijapur district, Chhattisgarh to ascertain reports of arrests, intimidation and harassment, including sexual abuse by security forces who are stationed there to fight the Maoists. Predominantly Adivasi villages, the residents of Basaguda, Kottaguda, Pusbaka, Lingagiri, Rajpeta, Timmapur, Kottagudem, Korsaguda and Sarkeguda, narrated the daily acts of violence and violations committed by armed personnel residing in security camps. Apart from documenting the continuance of ‘area domination’ by the security forces, the report draws particular attention to:

  1. The large number of ‘permanent warrants’ issued against the populace, of which a significant number is declared as ‘absconders’. A rough estimate indicates that as many as 15-35,000 people live under the threat and fear of these warrants in Bijapur alone.
  2. The lawless conduct of the armed personnel and Special Police Officers (SPOs) who routinely raid, beat, loot, detain and compel the Adivasi villagers to perform ‘begar’ (free labour) at the security camps. Instances of sexual torture were also noted.
  3. The impossibility of lodging FIRs against the security forces as against the rising number of arrests of villagers who languish in jails. Read more…

Peace, bread and politics of AAP: Satya Sagar

February 21, 2015

Guest post by SATYA SAGAR

Among the epithets, most frequently hurled at Arvind Kejriwal by the BJP, in the run up to the Delhi assembly elections, were ‘anarchist’, closely followed by ‘urban naxal’. What is it about AAP that threatens the Sangh Parivar to a point of exhibiting such great hysteria and anxiety?

AAP, despite some novelties, is after all a very mainstream political formation, operating completely within the ambit of the Indian Constitution and no pretensions of turning the system upside down?Is there something deeper happening here?

One possibility is of course that, in its name-calling, the BJP presumed the average Delhi voter would run scared, straight into the waiting arms of Papa Modi[1]. In that case then, it was obviously a complete misreading of the public mood of anger and defiance against established national parties. Read more…

Halting the Demolition Derby

February 20, 2015

My piece (linked to and pasted as text below) in The Indian Express today, takes stock of AAP’s order to halt evictions and the possibilities it opens up to intervene into Delhi’s housing inequalities. I link it here in order to place it together with one additional frame that is necessary to the argument in the piece.

The counter to eviction is also a second object: a 25 sq m flat that is increasingly the primary choice of our housing policies to replace self-built house. This is seen as progress, an easily legible move from kuccha to pucca, from basti to flat. Complexes of these flats – often built in the thousands with a characteristic green stripe of the National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) at the bottom – have begun to emerge across Indian cities. Many more are on their way.

Who doesn’t want such a housing unit? It turns out, in fact, many people. Occupancy rates of units built in the first decade of JNNURM are as low as 30%. Why do families leave? Well, because life on very low incomes isn’t possible far from work, schools and transit. New housing units need land – far more land than the dense, self-built bastis ­– which means they are most often, especially in the bigger cities, peripheral. Far precisely from work, schools, and transit.

It isn’t just the distance. Housing decisions by the income poor are not made on the basis of the quality of a flat but on the ability to integrate housing with work by using homes as workspaces and living near jobs. This is why bastis are built where and how they are. Even if the new units weren’t peripheral, they remain a form unsuited to these multiple lives of housing: they can’t be incrementally changed and moulded into godowns, warehouses, tailor shops, or restaurants, or grow with families. They are houses, not housing. Moving beyond evictions will also need re-imagining the 25 sq m unit.

Link to the main piece here.  Text after the break.
Read more…

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