Saturday, April 30, 2011

Bahrain

Bahrain has become, in the course of the Arab spring, the symbol of repression and disappointment. Against the backdrop of the prolonged military intervention in Libya, Bahrain has become the basket-case of failed rebellion. Posterity will remember it as the people's revolution that was quelled by brute force indiscriminately. The Sunni regime in the country stands protected and ensconced by the military presence of Saudi Arabia.

The Khalifa regime in Bahrain has ruled the country since 1820. It came into power through a treaty with the British, the dominant military power in the region at the time. The king appoints half of the parliamentarians in the national assembly, and the prime minister (along with most cabinet ministers) is a member of the royal family, one of the richest merchants in the Arab world, and the world's longest serving unelected prime minister (since 1971).

As the pro-democracy demonstrations gathered momentum through February and March this year, Saudi contingents, under the banner of the Gulf Cooperation Council, descended upon the protests and retaliated against unarmed civilians at the Pearl Roundabout. The regime reacted with acrimony and cruelty - those shot and injured in the assault were refused access to hospitals and forcibly detained at the site of the military barrage.

Read in the papers today that a military court has sentenced four Shia pro-democracy protesters to death, and three others to life imprisonment. They were indicted yesterday for the killing of two police officers in the course of the demonstrations. They were denied any access to relatives, to legal counsel or representation.

In the course of the protests, at least thirty protesters have been murdered by the security forces. Who will be held accountable for the civilian death toll?

Friday, April 29, 2011

India Against Corruption

I normally appreciate the editorial quality of Frontline. It was therefore disappointing when I read this afternoon their coverage of the India Against Corruption campaign. The general tone of the editorial content was one of cynicism and reluctance - the campaign was made to appear like an ineluctable, accidental mass phenomenon. The truth of the matter is, the writers betrayed their deep sense of suspicion of the capacity of the masses to think through the insistent use of accusatory statements such as, 'The movement is about the hatred of the people for politicians and the political system.' Such statements have been emanating from political circles too, where the insecurities about public participation of any kind are gargantuan. The people do hate the politicians of this country - they are exhausted beyond reason of their sense of tolerance. The duty of the thinking journalist is to support legitimate mass movements and to give expression to mass demands, not to portray them as elements of a growing anarchy. The tardiness of the political response to public demands is gross, and journalism must not condone such responses, let alone echo them. The idea that governance is a specialized, technical matter has been repeated far too often - democracy, on the other hand, was never meant to be about the rule of law placed in the hands of a few 'specialists', most of whom, incidentally, have no rightful claim to such know-how. Get rid of your fear of the ability of the people to respond to the making of the laws that govern them! It is their right! Get rid of your skepticism about the social media! Get rid of your fear of mass communications! It is time for the generation of journalists who look at social media pejoratively to let go.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Revenge of the Slave? - Master/ Slave Sexual Politics

Been reading Abrams on Hegel's Phenomenology of the Spirit. The master-slave dialectic is one that ultimately salvages the slave because 'freedom' is predicated on consistent interaction with the external world. The master, because of his indolence, idealism and lack of participation in material activities, becomes detached from external realities. The slave engages with external objects on a daily basis, identifying them and shaping them according to his own personhood. The master loses touch with reality; the slave salvages reality.

I am led to wonder if the slave would not, in the process of constantly grappling with external objects and processes, fetishize the master and look upon him as another relational source of external manipulation.

The oppressed identify a great deal with the oppressor (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed), and begin to house the oppressor consciousness within them. The oppressed man is both himself and the oppressor consciousness housed within him.

Will not then the process of identification become, in an act of displacement, a sexual craving and aspiration? Sexual union with the master is a visibly sublimated compensation for years of servitude. When the violence in such a union is not projected outward to a direct assault on the physicality of the master, it is inverted and allowed to fester inside, in gross triumphalism and recognition of sexual concessions from the master. The aspiration to sexual union with the master becomes inextricably intertwined with the oppressor consciousness within, leading the slave to become immersed in expectations of this sort. The anticipated sexual union with the master becomes a driving force propelling the unconscious, annihilating vestiges of the rebelliousness of the slave. The slave becomes complicit in the process of desiccating the oppressed consciousness within him, i.e. his real consciousness, and begins to wallow in the falsity of the oppressor consciousness. He enacts the desperate craving for sexual union with the master through clandestine means. He often denies the unconscious and repressed motives driving his perversity. Beyond the realm of his understanding, for he is so immersed in the hunt for sexual contact with the master, the self-hatred and self-denigration in his mind fester and grow and overpower all other unconscious motives - leading him to hate his own skin, his own flesh, the oppressed consciousness within him (his real consciousness) - sublimated, ultimately, to a false sense of detachment from reality - from the reality of his own racial externalities. When the slave is doubly repressed, i.e. belongs to a sexual minority, the craving for sexual union with the master masquerades and operates as an escape mechanism.

What Hegel suggests the slave achieves through identification with external conditions is defeated by the slave's desire for sexual union with the master.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Semester Protests

The DU Academic Council passed the new semester courses yesterday, despite widespread and persistent protests over the past several months. Teachers of the English Department resigned from the committee of courses last week, but were served show-cause notices, with the threat of legal action against their continued opposition to the formulation of undergraduate semester courses. They retracted their resignations on Friday.

Over the past several months, students and teachers of several academic institutions and departments across the university have protested against the introduction of the semester system, which, they understand from the implicit instructions and agenda perpetuated by the incumbent government, serves as the stepping stone to the penultimate goal of segregating the university by making the colleges autonomous, and therefore, open to privatization and neo-liberal reform. Semester courses have been illegally passed without due process or consultation, and with great certainty the DU administration states they will be taught in the coming academic year. The case of the English department serves as an example of what has virtually been true of every department in the university: the 'general body meeting' overwhelmingly rejected the semester system, and the teachers in the committee of courses refused, as a result, to come up with a new undergraduate course. They were threatened by the administration and certain office-holders amongst their own colleagues to pass such a course by any means. They resigned and retracted their resignation under pressure.

Now, the courses have been accepted by the academic council of the DU administration, which, it can safely be assumed, is completely devoid of intellectual or moral credentials.

In the process, democratic choice and discussion, consultation and scientific assessment have been completely suppressed. The new system has been imposed without any dialogue or introspection. It has been imposed in a great hurry and completely undemocratically, and illegally. Statutory bodies have been undermined.

This is seen as the beginning of neo-liberal reforms in the educational sector. This is not speculation but fact. The National Knowledge Commission of the UPA government recommended the privatization of colleges and the increase of foreign investment in the sector, with all its natural consequences - the increase of tuition fees and the deduction of public subsidies, depriving citizens of their right to a good, affordable and public education.

The intention is to turn over the public sector to private profiteering. This is a grossly undemocratic act, and rest assured, the public will never accept such an injustice. Students have misunderstood the anti-semester protests as a purely technical concern - it is not; it is about the fight against the larger processes of undermining democratic rights.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Blindness

Watched Blindness this evening. Pretty good movie, although a little bizarre initially.

I liked the transition from order to chaos. The wards are initially benign places for the quarantined to gather together, helping one another out as they struggle against the inexplicable blindness. However, one of the fundamental things about collectivities - when numbers burgeon into unmanageable quantities - is that human beings that are forced into confinement together abandon fledgling rules of conduct "imposed" from the outside and create a new pecking order within. The threat of chaos sits heavily on incarceration. The character played by Garcia Bernal captures the essence of the descent into confined lawlessness. The effect of the cruelty and vindictiveness of the newly-instituted chaos grips you by the throat, in the end, when violence takes the form of systematized sexual control.

Julianne Moore does well in the film.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Feminist Misrepresentation

Toril Moi's essay on Freud's Fragments of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria is an instructive case in point of feminist misreading. My first problem is with the premise of the essay itself, its rallying of all other vituperative feminist misreadings of Freud's case-history of Ida Bauer. The current of analysis is overwhelmed by the desperation and the almost breathless race to denounce Freud, the man, and not Freud, the analyst, as being complicit in the patriarchy of Dora's social milieu. It is disturbing to read the vacillating and sometimes melodramatic strain of anti-psychoanalytic retribution, as the thoughts of the critic plunge into the realm of the prurient and vindictive - Freud is suddenly the victim of castration anxiety, foolhardy and determined at all costs to bolster his phallogocentric assault on Dora to undermine her imminent threat of castration in the form of abandonment and incomplete knowledge. A cacophony of voices concentrate on the passage where Freud in passing describes what he, albeit unwittingly, considers the "normal" response of a "healthy" girl of fourteen to sexual stimulation. He is consistently undermined by being conflated with the figure of Dora's father and Herr K., whose positions, apparently, are analogous to his therapeutic oppression of Dora.

The purveyors of the several feminist misreadings of Dora forget a very simple fact: Freud spoke about the sexual repression of this particular girl at a time and in a milieu where any such discussion would have been completely impossible, completely anathema to any considerations of the girl's psychic health. Instead of respecting the vagaries of time and place, these anachronistic critics pull out their guns and shoot all over Freud's grave, plunging bullets into all the many inadequacies of this man. Of course, the very same people would expect Hippocrates of 5th century BC Greece to perform multiple by-pass surgeries in his day and age.

Dora's repression needs to be understood as a result of the conditions of her time. The fact of Freud analysis and descriptions of the same conditions do not qualify him for bearing the brunt of the anger against the repressive nature of the conditions. It's like beating your oncologist for telling you you have cancer - it does not serve any constructive purpose.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Wait

Wait,
you say insistently,
look, this too shall pass,
your cups of tea and remaining dregs,
will usher in tomorrow,
when all will be read and done -
Shelley will writhe no more in disemboweling pain,
Byron will return to trollops and Wilde pretty boys,
Woolf will scour twenty scores more to write another Orlando.

In the meantime,
will I sit here motionless, a lying duck in my
room, where geckos steal past walls
warning of another month of ennui?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Tahrir Square

The latest developments in Tahrir Square in Cairo are disappointing. Is it unexpected that the military that supported the democratic protests of February and March should turn authoritarian and repressive in turn? Human rights activists say that thousands have been tried so far in makeshift military courts. The assault on protesters on Friday, gathered in Tahrir Square to demand the trial of Hosni Mubarak, where the army surrounded the area, arbitrarily rounded up protesters and shot two people dead, defeats the hopes coalesced over months of agitation.

The central question that has remained in my mind since the start of the Jasmine Revolution: how are the people to protect themselves against the onslaught of the military? In the nation state as we know it now, the people have relinquished all rights of militarization to an organized collective called the 'armed forces' - what happens when the military use this disproportionate power over the people against them without restraint? - what happens when civilian protests are quashed by an indiscriminately shooting, beating, marauding army? With what weapons are we left?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Aruna Roy


She sat in comfortable silence. Her eyes darted to her left as the questions came, long and tenuous, from the moderator. A still posture, an observant face and an almost placid, almost knowing smile - her patience and her greying wisdom weighed upon her arms as they rested on her lap, fingers meshed, head bent slightly downward. When she spoke, her voice echoed the sharp, incisive diction that must have been hers when she first expressed an act of dissent against the status quo nearly thirty years ago, when she gave up a government job to live in a village in the hinterland of Rajasthan, idealistic and hopeful in a way that only the voice of a doubting, self-apprising humanist can be. Her crisp and powerful thoughts seemed to emanate from the wisdom of experience, from the power of humility and the reinvigorating certainty of hope. "Every law, every piece of legislation that serves the people, that strengthens those who are truly oppressed, must be wrenched out of the hands of the government - for in their ignorance, they know nothing of the lives that people lead." "When I am with our people, when I live amongst them in the village, amidst our daily battles, I find hope and the strength to fight. It in here in Delhi that my hopes are depleted." "I cannot be a cynic, I cannot give in to cynicism, for if I do, I shall have to live at home and do nothing - and that is a life I cannot lead."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Selective Interventions

One of the arguments I read today is about the selective attitude of the UN to internal turmoils in nations experiencing brutal repression. The situation in Ivory Coast is worse than Libya - the former incumbent refuses to leave the post of the president and now, months after the elections that took place despite his great resistance and manipulation, the civilian death toll has reached thousands. Recently, 1,400 people were slaughtered in the territory controlled by the opposing president-incumbent, who is a Muslim from the northern region. Gbagbo (former president, holding on to power illegitimately) has repeatedly used communal tactics to incite violence and further aggravate the conflict. Liberian mercenaries continue to come into Ivory Coast at the behest of the repressive government.

In Bahrain, Saudi Arabia sent in an enourmous military contingent under the banner of the Gulf Cooperation Council to violently repress the democratic protests. Saudi Arabia is one of the US's biggest client states, and one of the most repressive in the world. The international community should have prevented this brutal assault on Bahraini civilian demonstations, but it did not. The spectre of partiality and double-standards haunts the current climate in Libya.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Attia Hosain - 2

Finished Sunlight on a Broken Column, late into the night. An indescribable experience of living through the times and the energies of early twentieth century India flowing through her ceaseless story. I immensely admire her. The conventions of the time are pitted against the passion to assert one's individuality, the fledgling new self, and the two clash and intersect and joust wonderfully at every conceivable moment, of happiness, triumph, defeat and despair. It is the storehouse of a historical moment that can never again be retrieved in literature. And the poetry of her passions, the exquisiteness of her flowing words come closer to their Persian and Urdu provenance than anything else depicting that history in English ever can. Even as she renders her world to us in English, I finally find myself confronted with a giant of a mind, a beautiful woman whose luminosity I treasure.

Turning the last page of her novel was like finishing a lifetime, in tears, in smiles and in reminiscences.

Saturday Night

Saturday night flashes against the bright red of this Delhi sky as we are herded toward the auditorium. A minute ago, we sat gabbing in the cafe, gassing anecdotes, blunt, pointless, loving insults. Now, we float in handfuls toward the thronging crowds outside the main hall. In a while, there are chants and jeers and screams. Voices form silhouettes against the fidgety bright screen where we are already one out for nought.

I walk back to the block. I miss the sound of familiar voices as they wander back to their hostels some distance away. I read their messages with a longing for their company again - so soon. The wind blows languidly with a slight edge to it, and the glow in the sky flushes a darker orange. The chants waft over desolate lawns and the balcony on which I stand, overlooking our part of the college, faces whirling dust scattered in the wind tonight.

It is quiet. In a while, Ma calls to remind me that we have won. Papa is still downstairs in front of the temporary LCD with friends and neighbours. She says, 'It was 1983, the year we were married, that we won last. It has been twenty seven years since!'

I say goodnight over the phone. I shy away from telling her how happy it makes me every time we pass a serendipitous milestone.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Attia Hosain


Started reading Attia Hosain's Sunlight on a Broken Column yesterday. She is mesmerizing. Every thought, every page feels laden with effervescence and love, with circumspection and gut-wrenching compassion, with hope, perspicuity and passionate longing.

I try and grasp desperately at figments of the past, but they move ceaselessly in her achingly beautiful story and I am left speechless - a disembodied voice tries to speak to the spirit of the age and I hear her words whisper comfortingly in return.

Recap

The names and the places: Ben Ali, Tunisia; Hosni Mubarak, Egypt; Gaddafi, Libya; Abdullah, Jordan; al Khalifa, Bahrain; al Asad, Syria; al Saleh, Yemen.

For so many decades, not a whimper about the undemocratic forms of governance in these countries.

You are overcome by the strange realization that the modes of oppression in societies other than your own never figure predominantly in your imagination. We are mutually ignorant of each other's states of suppression.