Tuesday, May 31, 2011


The World Bank report (based on a national sample survey) cited in Ashok Desai's article today says that in 2005 83% of households supposedly had ration cards but only 23% used the public distribution system. This discrepancy is attributed to the misappropriation of food grains. Approximately 90% of rice grains procured through the system in Assam, West Bengal, Orissa and Punjab that year never reached card-holders, presumably siphoned off to the open market or smuggled across the borders. The misappropriation is currently the highest in the western and eastern states, closest to Pakistan and Bangladesh respectively. About 80% of grains in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, UP, Assam, West Bengal are diverted.

Abhijit Sen of the Planning Commission calls this report 'outdated'. The government of India has consistently delayed granting permission to the World Bank to have its report published and it remains unpublished till date. He also calls the new definition of poverty 'most rational'. If the commission would actually use common sense, let alone economic theory, they would find the need to redefine the contours of poverty simply ludicrous and unnecessary and focus instead on the problem of grains diversion.

Monday, May 30, 2011

New Definitions of Poverty

The Planning Commission's new definition of poverty will exclude a large section of the poor. The new definition released yesterday will effectively deny welfare rights to a large portion of those who currently derive sustenance from subsidies. The Tendulkar report does away with the old methodology. The earlier determinant was calorie-intake; now it is apparently primarily expenditure per person. The newly-defined urban limit of 870 and rural limit of 675 rupees per person per month are literally starvation-levels. This exclusionary policy will hit the urban poor the hardest, because despite their relatively higher-level expenditures per person, their dependence on public distribution food is great. In justifying the new parameters, the commission cites the target-groups "better served" - the homeless, the disabled poor, the street-dwellers. The homeless do not possess and have no access to ration cards that give them food entitlements. Most of the dispossessed do not even use the public distribution system. Those who do will be denied their basic entitlements hereafter. The petition in the Supreme Court challenging the commission's new estimates (according to which only 37% of the country can be classified as poor, as opposed to 55% or 70% - estimates made by other independent committees) is a window of opportunity - this is a cruel economic policy.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Seminar on Globalization and Tribal Identities in NE India

The recent seminar on globalization and tribal identities in north-east India held at the university conference hall by a Naga-based cultural and research council had the potential to be an interesting seminar on an extremely interesting topic, but it did not deliver. The papers were severely low-quality and they completely skirted the issue of "tribal identities" in favour of a more personalized and anecdotal, or sometimes pseudo-academic/ jargonistic, approach. The collection of speakers included professors and assistant professors from DU who did not live up to their job profiles, and in some cases, completely baffled me with their lack of academic credibility. Some of their papers had no logical train of thought, jumping incoherently from one thought to another without the slightest consideration for standard academic writing quality or for logical connectivity.

One paper on contemporary tribal youth really stood out for its lack of sensibility, argument and its academic pretensions, spending a lot of its already-constrained time-limit on defining "youth" from psychological dictionaries and quoting unnecessary definitions from this or that psychologist. In his argument, he made broad-brush generalizations and relied on stereotypical modes of addressing the issue - "The govt. must spend more on the development of youth, etc., etc." Most of the papers ran in a similar vein. One member of the audience even broke into a self-composed "national anthem" for the north-east, which, besides its obvious problems, embarrassed me greatly by virtue of its severe musical and lyrical demerits. I noticed a lot of the participants who spoke seemed fixated on mentioning their "travel abroad" in some way or the other. This seemed like a poorly veiled attempt to deal with a lack of self-confidence, whether personal or ethnic.

This pertinent topic deserved much better handling.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sec 29 Police Station, Gurgaon - 17.5.11

Addy parked his car outside Galeria Arcade, along the road beside the parking lot. None of us - Addy, Siddharth or I - saw any no-parking sign. Several cars were parked along that road and none of the attendants at the lot approached any of the cars to warn them that they were in a tow-away zone. When we returned to the car, we found that it had been towed away and we were informed that it had to be retrieved from the police station nearby. Two of us waited outside the police station, by a rolling field of fallow land, waste, stray pigs and broken rocks, while Addy went in to get the car back. The policeman at the counter demanded Rs. 300, no questions asked. He did not bother to listen to the arguments of anyone standing there. As he continued to stonewall questions and demand the fine, the people driving the towing machine in and out of the station, carrying other hapless cars into the towed-away zone, looked sinister and irritatingly gleeful. Another observation we made was that all of the cars brought into the station, without exception, were smaller, non-luxury cars. They did not tow away any of the more expensive cars parked with impunity at the market. It seemed quite clear that they made a lot of money by colluding in the victimization of drivers and by misusing the lack of information in the market area.

Ram Ke Naam (1991)

Patwardhan's insightful and contemporary documentary on the Ayodhya riots, shot at the time of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, captures the historic moment acutely. When I watched it two days back, I realized its invaluable worth as a testament to the period and its relevance as a document of the movement that has haunted much of the political imagination of the country for the past two decades. Two things became immediately apparent by the end of the film. First, the people of the area, most of the low-caste Hindus of the surrounding villages, an overwhelming number of priests in Ayodhya itself, most of the Muslims of the adjoining districts were aware of the deleterious effects of the influx of VHP activists (called "outsiders" consistently by the different groups of people throughout the film) and their politics and did not wish to be swamped by the massive wave of communal hatred propagated by the leading politicians of the time. Second, the advent, the propagation and the final enactment of the agenda (of the demolition and the ensuing riots) could be attributed to a single political organization. Watching the speeches of Advani was a strange experience - here you could hear the words directly and witness their consequences; there was no tampering, no editing, no modification whatsoever to counter the exactness of the testament, of statements such as, "We will build the temple, at ANY COST," as he rode through towns, surrounded by growing mobs of people armed with weapons, intoxicated as much with liquor as by the electric hatred sparked off by the yatra.

Against the background of the imminent violence in the film, you hear the vague, calm, incoherent voices of young men who say that they would be prepared to destroy anything that obstructed their path; of law students who proclaim the certitude of Ram's birth and the inalienable right to that patch of land usurped by the tyrannous Babar so many centuries ago; of low-caste Hindu women who scoff at the temple-building project, saying that it would make no difference to their lives as they are prohibited from entering temples anyway; of Muslim elders of nearby villages and their forceful assertions that death is certainly at their doorstep and nothing could mitigate the disaster. In the film, you find the uncertain voices of young men easily swayed by the clarion call to defend the faith. They are incoherent and impressionable. There is so much naivete in their faces, in their words. The eerie calm of their statements ("Yes, people will be hurt, but this is about our religious honour.") hardly betrays the extent of the carnage yet to come.

Some priests of Ayodhya at the time, particular Mahant Lal Das, were vocal critics of the growing movement. He deplored the irrational hatred mongered by the invading VHP activists. He asserted that a delegation of Hindus and Muslims had submitted a memorandum to the president at the time and could settle the matter amicably amongst themselves. He rationalized the question of birth, saying that there was no need to focus particularly on that single patch of land housing the Babri Masjid. Lal Das was later assassinated. Other priests testified to the fact that they were part of the team made responsible for placing the idols in the mosque at the behest of the deputy commissioner in 1949, K. K. Nayar, who defied Nehru's orders to have the idols removed by citing communal tensions and thereafter ensured that the idols remained there. (Nayar later joined the Hindu Mahasabha and actively propagated the cause of the temple-project.)

The Allahabad High Court order last year took on an extra-judicial role and set about attempting to divide the land between the stakeholders. The order was challenged. At the time of the demolition, thousands of people lost their lives, across the country in different states, and not just in Ayodhya. The government of the time (the documentary makes clear) attempted to prevent the escalation of violence, but were thwarted by the momentum of the events.

Babri symbolized at that time the growth of a communal identity in Indian politics. It symbolizes today the uncertainty of our country's secular future.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Assembly Elections - Assam

It is disappointing that one of the most corrupt governments in the last several decades has been voted back to power in Assam. Tarun Gogoi has presided over two consecutive terms of Congress-led corruption and he is now back in government. The NC Hills Scam exposed last year incriminated cabinet ministers and public officials, the most criminal of whom have won their respective constituency elections again. A deadly combination of vote-bank politics and unsteady alternatives plagues useless elections, when they fail to get rid of even the most unacceptable of governments.

Yemen/ Syria

Even as news of the NATO forces bombarding Qaddafi's compound in Tripoli emerged earlier today, reports this morning conspicuously juxtaposed it against how the protests in Yemen and Syria are being simultaneously brutally repressed. In Syria, the demonstrations against Asad are being quelled from town to town, even as demonstrators continue braving the streets despite the escalation of violence. In Yemen yesterday, 16 protesters died and 200 were injured when the police fired at protesters indiscriminately. Students continue to brave the regime's clamp-down and coalesce in the streets. Retributive, military attacks against democratic protests are anathema to politics today, even as they grow fiercer and more frequent, from West Asia to supposedly democratic countries like India.

In Noida, the police intervention in the farmers' protests has been violent and highly punitive. Even as the villages in question are cordoned off and politicians, social workers and citizens are denied access to the hinterland, several men in the villages are still missing from their homes. The UP government's recent executive orders relating to the regulation (or suppression) of protests (or 'law and order situations') are highly autocratic and unconstitutional. The violence that the recent farmers' agitation has seen is going to be a tipping-point.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Collateral Murder

The group of men identified in this video consisted of two Reuters journalists and about six other men. Apache claimed they saw an RPG and AK-47. ("Fucking pricks.") The journalists were carrying cameras, which were mistaken for weapons. (Later, when the ground team arrived to survey the damage, they reportedly found an RPG and an AK-47.)

The Apache helicopter asked for permission to engage. On receiving it, they shot all the men of the gathered group dead. ("Yeah, dead bastards. Nice.") One of them was initially wounded and tried to crawl away to a nearby compound. A van carrying two children arrived on the spot to take him to safety. Apache team asked for permission to engage. They shot at the van - the wounded man, the men who got out of the van and two children were shot dead. The children died later, upon the ground team's arrival. ("Well, it's their fault for bringing their children to a battle.") They thought they saw some armed men enter the nearby building and fired missiles at it. ("Nice job.")

Later investigation showed that there were three families living in the targeted building, seven of whom died.

Collateral Murder: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=to3Ymw8L6ZI

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

On Speaking of Others

Machiavelli's perception of human nature is essentially pessimistic. It applies specifically to his position as a theorist of power relations, and is even perhaps contingent on his position as a minister/ repository of gubernatorial power. He sees men as either of two contraries - as instruments of control or as subjects fit to be controlled. This dichotomy, needless to say, behoves his job as a Florentine princely stooge. The putative thrust of his discourse on princely conduct can, however, be extrapolated to apply to human relations beyond the context of power politics (behaviour of rulers, etc.), or even extrinsically to the politics of conversation. If you look at his discourse on the need for princes to "maintain [their] reputations", you will find an acute and incisive take on the vagaries of what is today generally called "gossip". Through his aphoristic statements, he reiterates that it is more pragmatic to be reserved. How often do we experience a feeling of discomfort with our own easy conversation and loose tongue! We occasionally feel irritable at our own excessive chatter and our easy dispensing of gossip placed conveniently at our disposal. The surfeit of emotive affect strikes you as being uncharacteristic of yourself and disconcerting only later, with the concomitant and unpleasant realization that you might have offended someone. Gossip can be innocuous, but ultimately, as Machiavelli rightly points out, not being circumspect can become a bit of a bad habit.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sunday - 8.5.11

Strange sensation a while back. Not sure what else to do but write about it. It's 11.24 PM.

Got back on the computer a while back and started on part-time work - to complete the last set of alignments before the exam break. Got through a couple of items and somewhere along the middle, my mind gravitated to a song I wanted to remember but couldn't. The song was written by a student in my school, who was some years my senior, and he had set it to music too. He had performed it in front of the school.

It was a beautiful song. It was listed in a collection of songs the choir published for assemblies and performances.

Couldn't remember the name of the song. I had sung it with the rest of the choir. I tried to remember the words but they eluded me. I tried to remember the tune but could only hear it vaguely in my head. Couldn't put my finger on it.

Decided to google it - thought it might be listed somewhere online. I remembered the name of the boy. Keyed it in and waited. Got a list of pages. The first was a blog entry written by a friend of his.

It said that he had committed suicide some years back. He was studying architecture.


Feel uncertain about what happened today. Feel stunned.

Not sure why the song came to me today.

I remember the title now.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Audre Lorde (1934-92)

when you were blinded by that streaming
flash of white light
interposed between
white pavements and monuments
rolling through Washington,
where you were told you were too Black
to sit at a counter in
an indifferently furnished diner -
did you know that the silence that straddled you
was anger?

When your teachers
lambasted you for drawing your name
in a cursive hand
and not hesitant scrawl;
when they gently warned you
to apply yourself
assiduously to a job,
whilst the white girl beside you
received instruction and impetus for academia and beyond -
for no Black girl could arrogate
such imprudence -
did you know the hurt
gnawing at your dignity
was anger?

When the anemic eye of pale dominion
penetrating the sidewalks of
Harlem negated you,
turning away from the curves
of your dissident,
rounded frame;
when the oppressive weight
of your unspoken vengeance
crumbled under the
ceaseless assault
of the disaffected, denying gaze -
did you know the
doubt that infiltrated your pride
was anger?

When the loud, stentorian
voice of factory machines
interspersed between the
discovery of
desire for another woman
chiseled the knowledge
of a transitory love -
did you know the disappointment that wracked you
was anger?

in the early freedom of the company of
women who liked women
coalesced together
in binding fortitude,
you felt first release and
when, with time,
you witnessed and understood
the betrayal
of flesh to flesh,
the evermore of desire,
the laceration of
when, finally,
you said you felt the recrudescence of
an old weakness - mistrust -
did you know
that the self-preservation that steeled you
was anger?

When you
stepped off the treadmill
of constant rebellion
to speak in the voice of
experience -
did you know the determination
that moved you
was anger?

I hear you now,
far away from Harlem,
not Black, but Brown,
not woman, but man -
I hear you.
I want you to know
that I hear your anger
pulse and thrust against
your words as I read them,
as they move me
to anger;
an anger of emancipation -
of love, freedom, and pride.