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Long Live Charlie Hebdo : Harsh Kapoor

January 25, 2015

A letter to the left leaning in wake of Charlie Hebdo shootings of January 2015

Guest Post by HARSH KAPOOR

The January 2015 terror attack on the Paris satirical weekly and its gross misinterpretation by people of Left liberal sensibilities in India and much of the world.

We recently witnessed a devastating terror assault by fanatics who gunned down close to 200 children in a school in Peshawar. Was this a desperate cry of the dispossessed in Pakistan? I am glad that the various tiny fractions of the left in Pakistan stood up and condemned it openly, some in India also stood up for the first time. It provoked widespread shock and disdain.

But the terrorist assassination of 12 cartoonists, journalists and workers at Charlie Hebdo in Paris on 7 January 2015 has provoked very different reactions. Geographical location of the murder seems to drive this.

I am utterly astounded and shocked at the manner in which many in the left leaning and liberal circles in India have reacted to the devastating terror attack in Paris. Has a section of left gone mad? Why do they have to deflect a straight forward issue and start providing rationalisation for terror attacks from the Muslim fundamentalists. We are being given an endless spiel on French colonisation, the war for decolonization in Algeria, the exclusion of the so-called Muslim ‘community’ in France, the blowback for France’s foolish involvement in the recent wars in Libya and Syria and so on. The role of poor and dispossessed is being invoked.

( Read the full article here : http://www.sacw.net/article10438.html)

Where Have all the Swings gone?

January 23, 2015

School kids hold up a sign given to them by activists at a demonstration at Langata Primary Road School.Photo Courtesy : Brian Inganga/AP

Who ‘stole’ our playground ?

There are occasions when simple questions raised by innocent people – even by kids – invite brutal wrath of the authorities. The kids of Langata Road Primary School in Nairobi learned it a very hard way.  Back from Christmas vacations when they found that the playground of the school – which provided them enough space to unwind themselves – has just ‘disappeared’ behind ‘iron walls’ with security people guarding it, they had raised this simple question. Sympathetic teachers had told them that a dominant politician in Nairobi, who wanted space to park cars of people visiting a neighbouring mall owned by him, has ‘taken over’ their playground.

Definitely it was not an unusual event – at least in Nairobi which happens to be one of the fastest growing real estate markets in the world – where real estate mafias are so powerful that with the connivance of political masters they are able to ‘acquire’ vacant or unmarked land plots without much difficulty. And land belonging to public schools is considered ‘under threat’ of land sharks as it is not properly delineated to them.

But nobody could have predicted that the kids in Langata School would prove to be biggest stumbling block in their ‘peaceful’ expansion and would literally ‘make history’. As rightly pointed out by an analyst these kids did what ordinary Kenyans are rarely able to do: defend disappearing public space. Read more…

PK, satire, ramzadas: Prabhat Kumar

January 23, 2015

Guest Post by PRABHAT KUMAR

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Commenting on a Hindi film released a month ago is a difficult enterprise, but this ‘delayed’ review of PK highlights what the film critics so far have ignored. Through intelligent crafting of its narrator-figure and its satirical narrative, I argue, this astoundingly successful Hindi film questions the ordinary and banal of Indian public life. The political vision behind PK’s satirical attack is old but relevant: Nehruvian.

Breaking the grammar of normalcy, Pee Ke!

Oye Pee Ke hai kya?” (Are you drunk?), is the dismissive riposte that PK, protagonist-narrator, of the film receives for questions he asks. For, the questions he asks are considered ‘abnormal’. But he is persistent with his ‘odd’ queries and prying gaze, like a drunken man, unmindful of the wrath he may invite from the sober and normal beings. He is tireless and gawking in his ‘weird’ interrogations, like a curious child, unaware of the risk of irreverence to mature beings. But, why does he ask such ‘strange’ questions? What makes his questions ‘unheard-of’ and his snooping eyes ‘clumsy’ in normal everyday life? Why is his ‘drunken-childish’ probing inadvertently insistent to confront the normalcy of mature world? The answer lies in the carefully crafted lead character and the political subtext that inform PK. Read more…

Resist the Shrinking of Democratic Spaces on Campus: Concerned Students of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai

January 23, 2015

Guest post by Concerned Students of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai

Universities are thought to be just, equal and free spaces. However the history of access to universities for certain sections of the society is not very old. Discrimination has been institutionalized and structurally carried out on the basis of caste, race, gender, religion and sexual identity even in the space of the university. However, over time there has been an increase in assertion from the marginalized groups in university spaces that has caused some disquiet among administrators. This is evident from various incidents that are taking place on a day to day basis in university spaces.

Kashmir and North East are two regions which have been frequently used by the Indian state to claim its sovereignty through grave violation of basic rights of people residing in these areas. Contrary to our beliefs, campuses and universities also reflect the larger politics of our society.

We, a group of students invited Dr Dibyesh Anand for a lecture titled “Deliberating Kashmir: Beyond AFSPA and Chutzpah” at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai on 3rd January 2015. Dr Dibyesh Anand is the Head of Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Westminster, London. He is an acclaimed scholar on violence and States in South Asia and has also written and published extensively on his area of expertise. He has also been a visiting professor to the University of California Berkeley, the Australian National University, the Centre for Bhutan Studies, the Jawaharlal Nehru University and the Central University of Hyderabad. Following the procedure we had booked the room four days prior to the programme and invited students and faculty in TISS and outside to attend the talk. Read more…

Is economics sexist? Divya Bhagia

January 22, 2015

Guest Post by DIVYA BHAGIA

On the face of it, it is hard to believe that our beloved science of economics that has provided enough space to discuss, and at some levels promote, the idea of women’s empowerment could actually be sexist itself. Earlier, I would have offered an aggressive defence of the dscipline. So before I move on, I need to convince you with some facts, just as I had to convince myself that not everything is as it appears and there is enough reason to probe further in this direction.

Leaky Pipeline

The 2012 Annual Report of the Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession reported that there were only 32.5% women amongst all the people who attained a PHD degree in 2012 at 122 economic departments with doctoral programs, and there were only 28.3% women amongst assistant professors, 21.6% amongst associate professors and 11.6% amongst full professors. The fact that an already skewed women-men ratio of 3:7 in the field skews up to 1:9 ratio as we move up does ring the ‘sexist bell’. This pattern which has characterised the participation of women in economics profession for the longest time is referred to as the ‘leaky pipeline’, where we see that women are being dropped out at each step of the academic ladder.

1One reason not to dwell deeper on these numbers maybe that the percentage of women as full professors today should depend on the percentage of women as assistant professors say fifteen years back. But as the figure above shows that the numbers for each category remain more or less the same throughout the fifteen years. Also if we look at similar numbers confining ourselves to only top 10 or top 20 Economic departments in the sample, the ‘pipeline’ is even more ‘leakier’.  Read more…

Farmers’ Suicides and Fatal Politics: Vasanthi Srinivasan

January 22, 2015

Guest Post by VASANTHI SRINIVASAN

With depressing regularity, the newspapers have been reporting farmers’ suicides in many states. Recently, P Sainath wrote on BBC that around 296,438 farmers have committed suicide since 1995. He also mentions that cash crop cultivators of cotton, sugar cane, vanilla, pepper, groundnut etc account for the bulk of those suicides. According to a PIL heard by the Supreme Court in December 2014, around 3146 farmers in Maharashtra have committed suicide this year. Of course, farmer’s suicides only account for a fraction of all suicides reported in India. Besides, farmer’s suicides are a global phenomenon. The litany of woes is also familiar to readers, namely rising indebtedness, crop failures, falling prices, natural disasters etc.

And yet the meaning of these suicides, if any, is worth reflecting upon.

Politicians, who are used to massive debts, seem to think this is an ‘extreme step’ on the part of farmers. In 2003, the then Union Minister for Agriculture hinted that indebtedness alone may not be causing the ‘extreme step’, and that ‘family problems’ may also be a reason. In Karnataka, the Veeresh committee report had earlier identified depression, alcoholism and marital discord rather than the rising debt as the relevant causes. Never one to lag behind, the hi-tech Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu  announced compensations and proposed to get psychiatrists to rural areas. One scholar has pointed to the increasing isolation of cultivators and high levels of anxiety about failure suffered by some farmers [1]. These attempts at ‘personalizing’ the farmers’ problems may be necessary but not sufficient as long as other factors remain unexplored – increasing cultivation costs, crop failures, water shortages and falling product price. Citing the high figures of suicides (204) in Maharashtra for 2014 until April, followed by Telangana (69 until October), the Times of India  (dated Nov 26, 2014), reported that the present Central government admitted indebtedness as a possible factor.  There are also calls to increase monetary compensation to families affected by such suicides.   Read more…

‘Attica, Attica, You Put Them Guns Down!’ Ipsita Barik

January 22, 2015

On a day when we woke up to the seemingly incomprehensible barbarism of a woman being beheaded in Saudi Arabia, we may do well, apropos Nivedita Menon’s post on MLK, to remember the barbarism that hides in broad daylight within seemingly civilised societies. One such floodlit hideout, so bright it blinds us, is the state of our prisons. Before Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib inaugurated a new era of dehumanisation in the American “correctional system”, there was Attica, and hundreds others like it that continue in the U.S and around the world to this day. We may also remember Professor G.N Saibaba of Delhi University who, despite being 90% disabled, has been not only imprisoned but kept in solitary confinement for almost two years on mere suspicion in an Indian jail somewhere. Really, what more does it take these days?!

This is a guest post by Ipsita Barik

Attica 9

When Al Pacino’s character Sonny Wortzik yells and hollers “Attica – Attica” in the film Dog Day Afternoon, the cops and the FBI officers are left stunned & dumbfounded, but the civilian population collected at the scene, behind the police barricades began to cheer & applaud. The air is soon filled by the chants of the noun and Sonny in his soaked white shirt, flaying his arms and stomping on the ground, gestures at the cops and adds “you put them guns down; you put them down – “AATTICA aattica”. So what was happening here? Why were these people cheering and supporting a man who had come to rob a local bank and was holding hostages inside! And what was Attica all about?

Attica 5

Attica prison riots/uprisings happened at the Attica Correctional Facility, New York, United States; when the prison cells and yards were seized by the inmates, who also held hostages, on September 9th 1971, opening a series of negotiations and dialogues between the establishment and the inmates, which included civilian observers, Tom Wicker of the New York Times, Republican State Senator John Dunne, radical lawyer William Kunstler and Black Panther’s Bobby Seale, on the request of the inmates. The primary demands of the inmates were related to the inadequacies and brutalities within Attica, such as related to insufficient food and medical care, racial discrimination, physical abuse, restricted access to educational and training facilities, all a serious indictment of the prison rules and environment, as the New York State Special Commission on Attica/McKay Commission (set up by the state) subsequently went on to assert and highlight. Read more…

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