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Prose of Power and the Poetry of Protest – An Outsider’s Attempt to Make Sense of the ‘Kolorob’ in Kolkata: Uditi Sen

September 28, 2014

Guest Post by UDITI SEN

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#Hokkolorob – Embodied

It’s been more than a week since tens of thousands of students marched in a rain drenched Saturday in Kolkata, in solidarity with Jadavpur University students and their fight for justice. Much has happened since to delegitimise this mammoth, genuinely popular and student-led march. A counter-march, the co-optation of the victim’s father by the ruling party, adverse propaganda in the press and fatigue and confusion amongst the protestors have been some of the dampening developments that followed the unexpected show of student power. True to their clarion call, hok kolorob (let there be clamour), the marchers made a lot of noise. A week later, as the numbers of protestors on the streets have dissipated as fast as they had congregated, it is perhaps time to step back from the euphoria of the gathering and the intimidation and murky co-optation of protest that followed, to reflect on the political meanings and potential of this uprising.

The march was not organised by any single political party, though many with experience or background in student politics of one ilk or the other, marched. The vast majority, however, were students who had never marched before and had no experience of politics. The question therefore arises, what, if anything is the unifying ideology of this body of protestors? What goals motivate them? Above all, the question that is doing the rounds the most, on social media, on mainstream news and on the streets is what are the politics of the protestors? The question of politics is seldom posed directly. Its ubiquitous presence, however, can be clearly read in the answers provided regarding the nature of the march, the motivations of the protestors and the identity of the marchers. Unsurprisingly, diametrically opposite sets of answers emerge from members of the ruling party, inside and outside Jadavpur University; and the people who took to the streets on Saturday. From the Vice Chancellor, the Education Minister and officially ordained leaders of the ‘youth’, such as Abhishek Banerjee and Shankudeb Panda, characterisations emerge that focus on indiscipline on campus, presence of Maoist and other outsiders and deep conspiracies. From students of Jadavpur University and their sympathisers, assertions emerge that this protest is about justice and not about politics. Both characterisations fail to capture what is at stake.

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Terror, Performance and Anxieties of Our Times – Reading Rustom Bharucha and Reliving Terror: Sasanka Perera

September 28, 2014

Guest Post by SASANKA PERERA

[ This post by Sasanka Perera is a review of  Terror and Performance by Rustom Bharucha (2014). Tulika Books, New Delhi. Kafila does not ordinarily post book reviews. An exception is being made for this post because we feel that the subject of terrorism, which has interested Kafila readers in the past, is an important one, and needs to be thought through with seriousness. We hope that this post initiates a debate on Kafila regarding terror, the state, performance, and the performances - serious, or otherwise - that typically attend to the discussions of terror, whether undertaken by the agents of the state or by non-state actors, commentators in the media, or by intellectual interlocutors. ]

When I started reading Rustom Bharucha’s latest book, Terror and Performance, it immediately became an intensely personal and gripping engagement. It was difficult to read in a single attempt as the mind kept wandering from one unpleasant moment in our recent annals of terror to another in some of which I had also become an unwitting part – mostly as a spectator. From the beginning, my reading was a conversation with Bharucha’s text through detours of my own experiences and an interrogation to a lesser extent. In 1986, as a young man when I went to the Colombo International Airport to pick up my father who was returning from the Middle East, I was shaken by a tremendously loud sound for which I had no immediate references. I had not heard such a sound before. People started running towards the sound. It was a bomb that had blown up an Air Lanka flight which had come from Gatwick. The Central Telegraph Office in Colombo was bombed in the same year. We learnt that everyone was running towards the sound and not away from it. Dry local political humor very soon informed us that people were trying to get inside the bombed out telegraph office hoping that they could get free phone calls to their relatives in the Middle East as they had heard phones were dangling from the walls with no operators in sight. That was long before mobile phones and call boxes. We were still young in terms of our experiences with terror. However, we soon had very viable references to what all this meant as the political narrative of Lanka unfolded with devastating consequences. But in 1986, when the kind of terror that was to follow in all its fury was still relatively new and quite unknown, we were acutely unaware of the dynamics of the actual act of terror and the structure of feeling it could unleash. This is why many of us in these initial years were naively attracted towards the epicenter of the act rather than being mindful to run away from it. But as the society grew in experience, people soon learned their lessons. Though an academic text in every conceivable way, I was reminded one could always find a few rare books of this kind which might personally and emotionally touch a reader in addition to whatever intellectual stimulation it might also usher in. Terror and Performance is clearly one such book. From the perspective of the writer, Bharucha himself recognizes this personal emotional engagement and investment early in the book. For him, “this writing demands stamina as it faces an onslaught of uncertainties and cruelties at the global level that challenges the basic assumptions of what it means to be human” (xi). It is the same kind of stamina that one also needs to read it as most of us in South Asia would be reading it squarely sitting in the midst of our own worlds of unfolding terror. This is why all those thoughts came gushing into my mind throughout the reading. I was not only reading Bharucha; I was also reading my own past.

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‘Red Carpet’ in Forests: Kamal Nayan Choubey

September 28, 2014

Guest post by KAMAL NAYAN CHOUBEY

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View of the Rajapur Mining Project in Jharia from Bokahapadi village

The Narendra Modi led National Democratic Front (NDA) government had promised, even before its inception, to increase investment in the country and lay down the ‘red carpet’ for investors and corporates. The process of fulfilling that promise started with the formation of NDA government and under the leadership of Mr. Prakash Javadekar, the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) working overtime to ensure huge investment in the forests for the high growth rate of the economy. Within hundred days of the formation of the government MoEF has given environmental clearance to 240 of 325 projects that had been in limbo as the previous government slowed down the process of giving clearances to various projects due to a variety of reasons. The Government has estimated that these clearances would lead to the investment of 200,000 crore rupees and it would help to revive the economy. In this whole process, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) decided on the diversion of 7,122 hectares of forest land into revenue land for the various development projects. It is pertinent to ask, has Modi Government followed the procedure established by law while taking these decisions? Are these decisions in consonance with the promise BJP made to the tribal population, of more decentralized power? Could these decisions empower those communities who have been facing historical injustice from both colonial and post-colonial Indian state? Can we say that this kind of development model would work as a long term strategy to control Maoist violence in the most of the tribal dominated forest areas? Read more…

Have the Gods Fled Their Own Country? Mohan Rao

September 27, 2014

Guest Post by MOHAN RAO

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I returned a few days ago after four wonderful days in Trivandrum – having gone back there after some thirty years. Looking over Trivandrum from my seventh floor hotel room was a wondrous sight for sore eyes, a thick lush greenness everywhere. Hardly any high rises, an occasional mosque, temple or church rising above the green.

Going for a walk the next morning, around the medical college area, it was vastly reassuring to still see some old bungalows, and a number of ugly new ones of course. But not that many apartment blocks. Unlike Bangalore, the ones that have come up are not named Malibu Towers or Sacramento, but Revi Apartments.

Yes, it was wondrous to see Lakshmi still spelt Lekshmi and Ramya, Remya. Read more…

Remembering Maqsood Pardesi

September 27, 2014

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On 23rd September 2014 Maqsood Pardesi lost his life. He had gone to the National Zoological Gardens in Delhi to meet a tiger. The tiger killed him. He was 20 years old. Maqsood worked as a daily wage laborer and lived with his family under the Zakhira flyover in central Delhi. He is survived by his father Mehfuz Pardesi, his mother Ishrat, his brother Mehmood and his wife Fatima.

There are conflicting reports as to how Maqsood found himself en face a tiger. Several reports state that, despite being discouraged by a guard on two occasions, he managed to climb into the tiger’s enclosure when the guard’s attention wavered. Some reports suggest that he accidentally fell into it. The authorities have vigorously denied the possibility of accidental entry and contested the assignation of blame on the zoo, or the tiger, for Maqsood’s death. Other reports have dwelt on Maqsood having a history of mental illness. Some state that he was drunk when he entered the enclosure. Some claim that he threw stones at the tiger, lost his balance and fell. Like the dissection of Maqsood, there has been speculation about Vijay, the tiger. The zoo authorities defend against charges that Vijay is aggressive. The tiger is not at fault many say: how can it be held responsible for the death of a man who enters its enclosure? The head zoo keeper has said, “Maqsood was mentally unstable otherwise why would a sane person jump into the tiger’s enclosure.” Why indeed? Read more…

Let the flower bloom in Jadavpur: Arindam Majumdar

September 26, 2014

This is a guest post by ARINDAM MAJUMDAR

Last week the columns of many newspapers took a comprehensive look at the imbroglio that has gripped Jadavpur University and concluded that the movement was a backdoor attempt by the beleaguered Left to crawl its way back into the political arena of the state. In doing so, they have unwillingly lend political colours to a movement that has been a silver lining amidst the dark cloud of indecency that has almost but killed the political environment of Bengal, once revered for its Bhadrolok culture and statesman leaders.

Student unrest in college campus is not a new phenomenon in Bengal. This community has always been politically aware and has not hesitated to stand up against any form of oppression or state sponsored violence. In the 1960s when the US forces invaded Vietnam, cries of Amar naam, tomar naam, Vietnam echoed in the anti-war demonstrations in the streets of Kolkata and the students were at the forefront of it. During the heydays of Naxal movement in 1970s, college students, including that of Jadavpur University, participated in the bloody street battles of Kolkata. This author does not intend to dwell on the motives behind those violent days, but it cannot be denied that brilliant students left behind their secure career and dreamt of turning a system, that they considered as oppressive, upside down. Read more…

Koni koni chhe Gujarat: Rita Kothari

September 26, 2014

Guest post by RITA KOTHARI

['Koni koni chhe Gujarat' is a poem by Narmadashankar Lalshankar Dave, popularly known as Narmad, who is understood to have introduced the notion of Gujarat in the 19th century, by identifying the region of Gujarati-speaking people. In the poem 'Koni koni chhe Gujarat' Narmad wrote that Gujarat belongs to people from different religions and also to those who belong to other parts of the country or globe.]

In 2006, St.Xavier’s College in Ahmedabad (where I then taught) hosted a conference on “Ahmedabad: Past and Present.” Towards the end of the conference a panel discussion focused on religious, linguistic, and other minorities to discuss how for instance, Jews, Muslims, Christians and Parsis felt about the city. Did they feel they belonged to the city, was their experience of citizenship complete, the panel moderator had asked. It was saddeningly clear that Ahmedabad, despite being multi-religious and multi-ilingual, did not hold the same social meaning and comfort for all. The reasons why this city, like some others, has been losing its historical contours of experience and pluralism are not far to seek. Some of the answers could be found in the history of Ahmedabad by Achyut Yagnik and Suchitra Sheth. I would only be reiterating the familiar and well established story of a majoritarian hegemony that has transformed lives irrevocably. Anyway, of the many stories that emerged during this panel, one in particular stayed in mind, reappearing intensely at some times, but receding again in ‘normal’ times.

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