Saturday, February 25, 2012

Police Assualts and Evictions

The Supreme Court recently vindicated Baba Ramdev's stand on the Ram Lila eviction drive, in which the Delhi police rescinded the permission granted to him to hold a protest meeting and arbitrarily assaulted the attendees and supporters gathered there in the middle of the night in a unannounced evacuation operation. The police action was deemed brutal, unnecessary and arbitrary. The court has ordered the police to prosecute those of its personnel who used undue force in the operation and has also determined the amount of compensation to be paid to those who were injured. We await to see the police follow through on these court directives. The eviction drive drew great national media attention when it took place, and the incursion on fundamental rights drew the ire of watchdogs everywhere.

According to a report by Manoranjan Routray (, on the 21st of February, in Narayanpatna and Bandhugan in Odisha, 5,000 tribals on their way to a two-day tribal convention at Balipeta Hatpada were assaulted and beaten by the local police. They were attacked by the police, who lathicharged them, and were forced to return to their villages. They attempted to recoup in a nearby village and find an alternative route to the venue, but they were dispersed again.

The convention, organized by local civil rights groups and the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh, at Balipeta Hatpada, was to be attended by 10,000 tribals from across Koraput district.

The convention center - its furniture and tents - was set on fire and burned down by security personnel standing guard there. At another location, the police assaulted and dispersed another 1,000 tribals on their way to the convention. According to the report, about 9 tribal men have been arrested and illegally detained by local Border Security Force (BSF) personnel near Balipeta. Their families still haven't heard from them.

Baba Ramdev's interests and rights were vindicated by the Supreme Court, but it leaves one wondering whether the rights of 10,000 Odisha tribals in Koraput who were brutally assaulted by the police and prevented from attending a community convention there will ever be addressed by the law.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Murder of Chandrika Rai

Last weekend, Chandrika Rai, a freelance journalist writing for the Hindi daily Navbharat and the English daily The Hitavada, in Umaria, Madhya Pradesh, was found murdered at home along with the rest of his family - his wife, Durga and their two children, Jalal and Nisha. Rai wrote regularly about the illegal mining racket in the area, and recently wrote a series of articles investigating the involvement of a local BJP leader in illegal mining. As reported in the mainstream media, the police in MP are currently investigating a possible link between the Rai murders and the recent kidnapping of the son of a local government official, downplaying the possibility of mafia involvement. As indicated by the fact-finding team constituted by the Press Council of India, the police have "almost discarded" the theory of the involvement of the illegal mining mafia at this stage, choosing instead to focus on the latter link. Whatever be the veracity of the police investigation, the fact remains that the lives of journalists are constantly threatened in India. The lack of reliable evidence often leads to obfuscation in cases, and the perpetrators go scot-free. Many journalists, as well as activists, find themselves confronting hostile officials and criminals, sometimes coterminous entities, on a daily basis. In the case of the recent burning of Dalit homes in Lathore, a local journalist's report on the illegal businesses of the local mafia was cited as one of the reasons for the "revenge attacks" perpetrated by the Meher-Agarwals. The levels of intolerance and lawlessness in the rural hinterland are exceedingly high, and such attacks on journalists, when they do occur, often go undetected and unpunished.

Truth and justice suffer greatly in an intolerant and corrupt society that feeds on lawlessness and muscle power. The culture of corruption has roots so deep, human lives, let alone constitutional principles, lose all value. Freedom is an illusion sustained by the elite, when a large majority of people live under conditions of threat and duress.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Lathore Dalit Atrocities

In the village of Lathore, Balangir district of Odisha, on the 22nd of January, 45 houses of Dalit families were burnt down and looted by Meher-Agarwal-RSS gangs in the area. A Students for Resistance (SFR) fact-finding team from Delhi visited the location of the mass burning and found in their preliminary report evidence of the collusion of the district administration in the atrocities. The District Magistrate (DM) and police were informed beforehand of the assault and mass gutting and anticipated around 500 perpetrators in the area. The DM called local workers before and in the middle of the raging fires to ask them to organize a "relief camp" in a nearby school. The perpetrators forcibly entered the houses, looted them and then set 45 of them ablaze. The local media and the administration cited the stealing of a shirt by a Dalit boy from Bharat Meher's shop as the precipitating cause of the attacks. As the SFR report states, this is reminiscent of the Mirchpur atrocity, in which two Dalit boys were set afire because their dog barked at some Jat youths passing by. The fact that the media and administration could even cite these mindless charges as the causes of these attacks betrays a botched sense of justice and acute caste-discrimination. A local Dalit journalist in Lathore, whose house was also gutted, recently published a report on the black market in the district, targeting the illicit liquor, kerosene, forest wood, public distribution items (wheat, rice, etc.) businesses of the local mafia.

On being asked questions, the DM, AK Dey, threatened the SFR team, but he also betrayed two significant pieces of information. He admitted that the local police were present at the scene of the crime and did not do anything to intervene, for which he provided two reasons - they didn't have the resources and they were engaged in combing operations against the Maoists. (As it happens, in this district, there are scores of highly-equipped paramilitary forces, stationed there for the sole purpose of conducting these so-called combing operations.) Secondly, he stated that the administration couldn't register cases against the accused under the SC/ST Act because the mass burning had "nothing to do with caste". In addition, he said that they couldn't do anything about it at the moment because of the elections around the corner. The government released a compensation of 1L for 38 families, but the administration said they couldn't take on the responsibility of rebuilding their houses (unlike in natural calamities). A "peace committee" recommended the immediate arrest of the accused and the seizure of their properties within seven days, but no action was taken against them.

At the moment, 193 people are living in the four rooms of the relief camp on inadequate rations, unable to rebuild their lives. Most of them were relatively well-off Dalits with jobs, businesses and concrete houses before the carnage. One of them, a girl who in a widely-reported case in 2005 fought for the right to enter a temple in the area, said that they would wait to fight their collective battle through constitutional means, failing which they wouldn't hesitate to join the Maoists.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Russia & Syria

Recently, Russia and China vetoed the UN resolution on Syria in the Security Council, thereby stemming the tide of yet another NATO-led intervention. However, the manner of their combined public posturing indicates two deliberately manipulative and repressive states buttressing the atrocities of another. While it would be true to say that the Russian foreign minister Lavrov's statement - that the continued perpetration of violence in pro-Qadhafi areas in Libya, like Sirte, at the moment proves that armed intervention leads to a cycle of violence - may have great validity, his usage of the concept of 'sovereignty' and his exhortation to Syrians to resolve the conflict 'independently' are evidently emanations from one repressive state directed at another. While Russia and China continue to consistently repress pro-democracy movements within their sovereign territories, they also seem to be able to expeditiously use terms such as 'sovereignty' to undermine the legitimacy of protests in Syria. The politicking inherent in the diplomatic maneuvers should appear visible to anyone. It is impossible, in the world of realpolitik, to trust any one state actor without due vigilance and skepticism. The fact that Assad's forces killed another 58 people in the city of Homs on the day of the Russian announcement of diplomatic rapprochement (taking the overall death toll to 6,800, according to the Syrian Observatory) strongly indicates the hypocrisy of the efforts. It is impossible to conceive of sovereignty and independence in such a conflict, because the balance of power is overwhelmingly skewed.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

About Bakhtin and the Academy

A few days ago, I heard from a friend of mine that Bakhtin scholars today are earnestly discussing some claims that he plagiarized from the work of another writer (the German scholar, Cassirer) in his dissertation thesis, Rabelais And His World. The article cited as the source of this debate is one published by Brian Poole in the South Atlantic Quarterly (Duke University), 2001. The wikipedia talk-page on this issue, where Bakhtin scholars discuss the claims made by Poole and its viability for inclusion in the main wikipedia page on Bakhtin, is instructive:

It is apparent that some scholars, such as Poole (2001) and Hirschkop (1998, 2001) are convinced that Bakhtin did plagiarize some parts of his dissertation thesis (which, for the record, was finally rejected - he was denied his doctorate by his university in Soviet Russia because of the perceived subversive nature of his dissertation and his arguments on the power of freedom of expression contained therein) from Cassirer's work on Renaissance philosophy. However, as all Bakhtin scholars point out, it would be difficult for any contemporary academic to understand the conditions that he worked under in Soviet Russia, fighting inter-war poverty, institutional control on scholarship and the so-called pressures of academic recognition.

I am no apologist for plagiarism, as I hate plagiarism in all forms and consequently harbour some kind of strong personal dislike for all those (especially in my university) who plagiarize without guilt or consequence. Whole papers are plagiarized at Delhi University - no one could dispute that. Plagiarized papers are, as per standard academic practice, penalized. However, I have seen many people present arguments in class or during tutorials without due citations. Such forms of "plagiarism" are more difficult to detect because they are conducted verbally. In principle, I believe that citations should be made when using specific references taken from someone's work, but general arguments do not need to be supported by citations.

At the same time, I am also against the kind of extremist arrogance of American academia that leads to claims of discrediting whole works of scholarship based on a few instances of plagiarism. I am against the seemingly "fundamentalist" approach used in unilaterally "discrediting" scholars based on perceived inadequacies. I am mainly against the arrogant language of opposition used to transact such discourses. American academia and American universities in general suffer from a kind of professional self-satisfaction.

If American academics wish to point out that something or the other is plagiarized, I would rather have them literally point it out - and that's all. I will decide for myself, if at all, whether or not I wish to re-examine the worth of someone's contribution to scholarship and knowledge.

Also, Anglo-American academia tends to promote a kind of structural fallacy - you have to fall into a certain structural "category" suitable for academic purposes. Here is an excerpt on Bakhtin (Pollard 2008): "This means that however little we know or understand [of] Bakhtin, we can make him mean what we want him to mean and the greater the historical and epistemological distance we are from him, the less likely are we to be challenged." Her preceding argument refers to the many-dimensional aspects of Bakhtin's works that apparently make him a jack of all trades, to use a less academic idiom.

I think it is unfair and logically inconsistent to expect any scholar, a human being, to devise a particular "school" or "canon" - for posthumous academic use basically - within his lifetime, ensuring that his interests and ideas remain loyal to that one particular thing or set of things. Academia betrays a lack of spontaneity.