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Caste, Class and the ‘Classical’ – FAQs about the Urur Olcott Festival, Chennai: Nityanand Jayaraman

January 11, 2015



On 15-16 January, 2015, a much talked about festival of dance and music, that intends and promises to be different, is to be held in Chennai. The Urur Olcott Kuppam Margazhi Vizha means different things to different people. But for those who do not know what Urur Olcott Kuppam is or what the Tamil phrase Margazhi Vizha means, the Vizha may have no significance. These answers to FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) is for such people, and for those who know what it means and have sent many bouquets and a few brickbats my way for being engaged in the organising of this Vizha. The views expressed here are personal and do not reflect a consensus within the group of organisers. However, the process of organising, the event and post-event engagements are itself likely to provide a platform for discussing such views and counterviews.


T.M. Krishna performs at Besant Nagar beach as a part of the Urur Olcott Kuppam Margazhi festival

What is Urur Olcott Kuppam?

Urur Olcott Kuppam is a centuries-old fishing village in South Chennai. By rights, the Kuppam ought to be the landmark for Besant Nagar as in — “You know Besant Nagar, that newly settled neighbourhood near Urur Olcott Kuppam?” But that’s not how it is. Besant Nagar’s residents are predominantly upper class, upper caste. Urur Kuppam’s are predominantly from the fisher community of Pattinavar. The hip and happening Besant Nagar is well-known; the kuppam is invisible. The injustice doesn’t stop with geography. Dominant history also begins where dominant geography begins – with Besant Nagar. Ask Besant Nagar residents what existed 40 years ago in this area, and people are likely to say “Nothing” or “Nothing but the beach.” It’s as if the fishing villages did not exist before the government decided to carve residential plots for middle and high-income people out of sand dunes carpeted with cashew, palmyra, casuarina and screwpine.  Read more…

Under the Saffron Flag

January 11, 2015

The Long Forgotten battle against Hindutva Terror

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Not some time ago a very brief write-up by Younus SK had shared news items  revealing Hindus posing as Muslims to be committing mischief to whip up anti-Muslim frenzy.

If Amiya Sarkar was found to be behind putting up posters in Kolkata under the name of “Jamaat ul Mujahideen Bangladesh” threatening to bomb West Bengal, a VHP worker Deshraj Singh was arrested by police in Muzaffarnagar for placing slabs of buffalo meat in three Hindu temples, one Sushil Chaudhary was caught for sending threat mails to Rajasthan ministers under the name of ““Indian Mujahideen (IM) terrorist” , a Hindu boy adopting a fake Muslim identity was held by Bangalore police for posting threatening tweets to bomb the city.

Underlining the fact that in all the four cases, which were reported in the month of December itself from different parts of the country, and the manner in which police released them with minor rebuke, without finding any larger terror conspiracy behind their actions convincing ‘us that the men were stressed, depressed or mentally unsound’ it had posed a simple query whether they could be considered ‘random events or an RSS ploy’.

In the backdrop of ascendance of majoritarian forces at the centre and the consequent de-emphasising of battle against Hindutva terror – which had begun albeit half-heartedly under the UPA regime – it needs to be reminded that it is far from over and should be taken to its logical conclusion. Read a recent overview of the menace in ‘fountainink’,  a monthly magazine of narrative journalism.

What does one write today?

January 10, 2015

It’s the kind of moment that makes you reach for poetry, for words that convey what can scarcely be written. It’s the kind of moment where you must write for it is writing that is itself at stake.

The debates on Charlie Hebdo are wide and varied. There is, as Joe Sacco so beautifully drew, before anything else, a deep yet horrifically dull sadness. Few and fewer in the world have the privilege to still be “shocked” by violence, to not have its banality be its true horror. There is solidarity, some of the most meaningful of which comes from cartoonists in the Arab world.  There is a wide agreement that no justification is possible for returning any measure of offence with death yet there is an insistence on the ability to critique even that which one defends. As Teju Cole eloquently argues: “moments of grief neither rob us of our complexity nor absolve us of the responsibility of making distinctions.” There are important, vital debates about what it means to “insult everyone equally” when everyone is not equal, reminding us that we must begin and ask our questions in place, in history; that we must remember that the power to criticise is a freedom but also a privilege. There are the universal debates on the limits to absolute speech, pointed to by Sandip Roy who reminds us that the French Government itself banned the earlier incarnation of Charlie Hebdo for printing a mock death notice of the then French PM De Gaulle. There are fears of the Islamophobia this violence will re-incarnate as, that Hari Kunzru argues is one intent of the attackers.

I write with a different intent today. I write not to enter these debates about Charlie Hebdo but to insist on what these deaths must provoke us to do: to translate our solidarity, our empathy, our fear, and our resolve into the real work of protecting the freedoms of speech, satire, offence, and expression in India. That is the tribute to Charlie Hebdo that matters, that transcends all our debates.

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‘To those who attacked Charlie Hebdo yesterday shouting Allahu Akbar': Karima Benoune

January 10, 2015

KARIMA BENOUNE in Open Democracy

We are all Charlie!

To those who attacked Charlie Hebdo yesterday shouting “Allahu Akbar,” I would like to say that your kind of God – a God of Hate and Murder – is not Great. Nor is that God the God of most Muslims, but rather of your own Islamist cult – which so many people of Muslim heritage oppose. You are incapable of understanding satire; you openly revile the beliefs of others but brook no criticism of the medieval notions you believe. You claim to defend Islam while bringing only shame upon it. You are offended by cartoons but not by killing. You claim to have avenged the Prophet Mohamed but have instead defamed him with your cowardly attack on unarmed journalists in his name.

As a Tunisian woman wrote to me afterwards, “It is so horrible, claiming the name of God while killing these poor people. But, about which God are they speaking?”  With an ironic outrage, worthy of Charlie Hebdo itself, she insisted the deity would be “gratified” that they are “making him a God of intolerance and blood.”  In the name of tolerance and peace, and in memory of the tragically murdered victims in Paris, and of so many others – even more numerous – in places like Peshawar, let us commit after this bleak January day to make 2015 the year we finally put an end to this ghastly jihad.

While first information suggests the authors of the Paris attack may have claimed affiliation with Al Qaeda in Yemen, others suspect an “Islamic State” link. In any case, their indisputable connection is with the pernicious ideology of international Islamism and its myriad armed manifestations.  These are, to quote Algerian sociologist Marieme Helie-Lucas, “political movements of the extreme right that… manipulate religion to achieve their political aims.” We must collectively denounce that ideology and do all we can to defeat these movements.  As Helie-Lucas and Maryam Namazie wrote in an online petition in denunciation of the Charlie Hebdo attack, a statement rapidly signed by activists from Iran to Sudan, “What is needed is straight-forward analysis of the political nature of armed Islamists: they are an extreme-right political force, working under the guise of religion and they aim at political power. They should be combated by political means and mass mobilization….”

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Qalam chhin gayi to kya ghum hai/Snatch my pen away, I remain defiant (Faiz Ahmed Faiz)

January 9, 2015

Post jointly authored by ADITYA NIGAM AND NIVEDITA MENON


This image celebrating the power of dissent and creativity over forces of tyranny, circulated widely after the murderous attack on the French satirical journal Charlie Hebdo and the shooting of cartoonists Charbonnier, Wolinski, ‘Tignous’ and Cabut, among others. The cartoonists of the ‘equal opportunity offender’ journal were called out by name and coldly slaughtered in the name of Islam.

It seems appropriate now to remember Faiz’s words on censorship and the violent closing of minds:

Mataa-e- lauh-o-qalam chhin gayi to kya ghum hai 

Ke khun-e-dil men dubo li hain ungliyan maine

Zuban pe muhar lagi hai to kya,

ke rakh di hai har ek halqa-e-zanjeer mein, zubaan maine.

Snatch away my ink and pen, I remain defiant,

For I have dipped my fingers in the blood of my heart.

Chain shut my lips, I don’t give a damn,

For in every link of the chain I have placed a tongue ready to speak.

After the Charlie Hebdo Massacre, Support those Fighting the Religious-Right : Statement by concerned citizens

January 9, 2015

Statement by concerned citizens

After the massacre in Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7, 2015, expressing indignation, as so many are doing, is not enough.

A quick look at the English-speaking media shows that whilst many condemn the violence itself, they also assert that Charlie Hebdo courted (and maybe deserved?) a strong response from “Muslims”. Charlie’s regular cartoonists did not spare Islam, any other religion, nor fanatics and bigots.

This trend in the media requires our attention. Apparently secularists, agnostics and atheists must keep silent and do not deserve the kind of respect that believers are entitled to; nor can they enjoy free speech to the same degree.

In the name of “respect” of religions and of the religious sentiments of believers, it is indeed the fanatical religious-Right that is being supported and given centre stage. Meanwhile, those who are on the forefront of countering armed fundamentalists are left to their own devices. It is high time to give these secularists prominence, to recognise their courage and their political clarity and to stop labelling them “Islamophobic”.

In October 2014, secularists – including atheists, agnostics and believers from many countries, in particular many Muslim-majority countries, met in London to denounce the religious-Right and to demand being seen as its alternative. It is high time to learn from their analysis and lived experiences.

The tragic massacre in Paris will undoubtedly give fuel to the traditional xenophobic far-Right and the immediate danger is an increase in racism, marginalization and exclusion of people of Muslim descent in Europe and further. We do not want to witness “anti-Muslim witch hunts” nor do we welcome the promotion of “moderate” Islamists by governments as official political partners. What is needed is a straightforward analysis of the political nature of armed Islamists: they are an extreme-Right political force, working under the guise of religion and they aim at political power. They should be combated by political means and mass mobilisation, not by giving extra privileges to any religion.

Their persistent demand for the extension of blasphemy laws around the world is a real danger for all. France has a long – and now growingly endangered – tradition of secularism; which allows dissent from religions and the right to express this dissent. It has had a rich tradition to mock and caricature powers that be – religious or otherwise. Let us keep this hard won right which cost so many lives in history, and, alas, still does – as Charlie Hebdo’s twelve dead and numerous wounded demonstrate.

Marieme Helie Lucas, Algerian Sociologist and Secularism is a Women’s Issue Founder
Maryam Namazie, Iranian-born Spokesperson of Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, One Law for All and Fitnah and Co-host of Bread and Roses TV
Karima Bennoune, Professor and Martin Luther King Jr. Hall Research Scholar, University of California, Davis School of Law
Ali al-Razi, Ex-Muslim Forum
Amel Grami, Professor at the Tunisian University of Manouba
Anissa Daoudi, Birmingham University, Head of Arabic Section
Ayesha Imam, Coordinator of the Nigerian Women’s Rights Organisation BAOBOB
Braema Mathi, Human Rights Activist, Singapore
Chris Moos, Secularist Activist and Researcher
Christine M. ShellskaPresident of Atheist Alliance International
Codou Bop, Groupe de recherche sur les femmes et les mois au Sénégal
Daayiee Abdullah, Imam of Light of Reform Mosque
Deeyah Khan, Norwegian Filmmaker and Founder/CEO of Fuuse
Esam Shoukry, Defence of Secularism and Civil Rights of Iraq and Left Worker Communist Party of Iraq
Fahima Hashim, Director of Salmmah Women’s Resource Centre in Sudan
Fariborz Pooya, Founder of the Iranian Secular Society and Co-host of Bread and Roses TV
Farzana Hassan, Writer
Fatou Sow, International Director of Women Living Under Muslim Laws
Fiammetta Venner, Writer and Filmmaker
Gita Sahgal, Founder of Centre for Secular Space
Gona Saed, Campaigner and Activist
Hala Aldosari, Women’s Health Researcher and Women’s Rights Women’s Activist
Harsh Kapoor, South Asia Citizens Web
Houzan Mahmoud, Kurdish Women’s Rights Activist
Imad Iddine Habib, Founder of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Morocco
Inna Shevchenko, Leader of FEMEN
Julie Bindel, Writer
Kate Smurthwaite, Comedian and Activist
Laura Guidetti, Marea Italian Feminist Review
Lila Ghobady, Iranian Writer and Filmmaker
Magdulien Abaida, Libyan Activist and President of Hakki (My Right) Organization for Women Rights
Meredith Tax, Centre for Secular Space
Mina Ahadi, International Committees against Stoning and Execution
Nadia El Fani, Tunisian Filmmaker
Nina Sankari, Vice President of Atheist Coalition of Poland
Nira Davis-Yuval, Founder member of Women Against Fundamentalism and the International Research Network on Women in Militarized Conflict Zones
Peter Tatchell, Director, Peter Tatchell Foundation
Ramin Forghani, Founder of the Ex-Muslims of Scotland and Vice-Chair of the Scottish Secular Society
Safak Pavey, MP for Istanbul, Turkish Parliament
Sara Hakemi, Secular Greens and Giordano Bruno Foundation
Siamak Bahari, Political Activist and Editor of Children First Publication
Sultana Kamal, Bangladeshi Human Rights Activist
Taslima Nasrin, Bangladeshi-born Writer
Tehmina Kazi, Director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy
Soad Baba Aïssa, Founder of Association pour la mixité, l’égalité et la laïcité
Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society
Waleed Al-Husseini, Palestinian blogger and Founder of the Council of Ex-Muslims of France
Yasmin Rehman, Women’s Rights Advocate

Matargashti on New Year’s Eve, Take Back the Night 2015: Citizen’s Collective Against Sexual Assault

January 7, 2015

Citizen’s Collective against Sexual Assault (CCSA) is a Delhi/NCR-based group of individuals and organisations that works towards preventing and addressing issues of sexual violence against women, girls and transgender people, including raising awareness among the public, media, administration and the police on issues of women’s rights. CCSA organized for the third year in succession, a Take Back the Night rally on December 31, 2014, ending at 12.30 am on January 1, 2015. The New Year was welcomed with songs of protest, dance, street plays, with everyone meeting at PVR Anupam Saket, walking towards Saket Metro Station. Below is the statement they produced for the occasion, and some photographs.


Matargashti is an expression of freedom, vibrancy, happiness, consent, confidence like reaching out to the clouds and bursting them like bubbles! Matargashti (or “loitering”) should be an essential part of each one’s life. Fearlessly roam on the roads, sprawl in the park, jump on to buses, metro and trains or laze around at a chai stall. I may be anyone — woman, man or transgender. Fearlessly be out at any time, travelling by public transport or in my own car. Proudly flaunting my wheelchair or crutches or tap-tapping my way around with my white cane. Someone who lives on the streets because I have nowhere else to call home. Fearlessly wear whatever clothes I feel like. And regardless of which region of India I belong to – North, South, the Northeast or anywhere else.


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