Agyeya’s proletarian reading of The Ramayana

जो पुल बनाएंगे

जो पुल बनाएंगे
वे अनिवार्यत:
पीछे रह जाएंगे

सेनाएं हो जाएगी पार
मारे जाएगे रावण
जयी होंगें राम,

जो निर्माता रहे
इतिहास में
बंदर कहलाएँगे।

Those who build bridges
Will certainly
Be left behind

The armies will cross
Ravan will be slain
Rama will be victorious,

But the architects
will be remembered in history
As monkeys.

Vijay Prashad’s Uncle Swami, a review

Vijay Prashad, Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today

New Press, 2012

That south Asians in the US face Islamophobia and racism was made clear on August 5th of this year when Wade Michael Page, a white supremacist who was being tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center, entered a Gurudwara in Oak Creek, WI and killed 7 people, most of them Sikhs.  While the media went into overdrive trying to convince everyone that this was a “mistake,” that the real targets were Muslims and not Sikhs, as if this was supposed to be some consolation to anyone, it was quite clear that the problem was in fact the long and persistent demonization of Islam and the omnipresent xenophobia to which all immigrants are subject.

Sikhs were attacked not because Page mistook them for Muslims, but because Muslims, in general, are seen as a fifth column in the US.  As a result, anyone who happens to look like them becomes necessarily a casualty of the racism that has been mobilized against Muslims in general.  Even though the media attempted to portray this as the consequence of individual ignorance or misrecognition, the events of Oak Creek are better understood as the result of widespread propaganda which cautions fear by arguing that all Muslims are possible terrorists.

But Sikhs in the US are victims of Islamophobia in different ways than are Muslims, and that was at least part of the reason that the massacre at Oak Creek happened.  So desperate are non-Muslim immigrants to prove their American loyalty that they repeat the humiliating refrain over and over again—“But we are not Muslims!”—in the hopes that this will relieve some of the pressures that they face.  South Asians become mascots of Team Docile Immigrant and then are pitted against Arabs and Muslims (even though many South Asians are Muslims) in the never-ending process of racializing “terrorism.”

The production of “good” or “model” minorities in the United States has always been connected to a process of isolating the “bad” or “criminal” races.  If from the 1970s to the 1990s South Asians were seen as the ideal immigrant population (hardworking, law-abiding, upwardly mobile), it was because that depiction of them was convenient as a stick with which to beat African Americans and Latinos in the US.  Today, it is convenient for the Global War on Terror.

One more thing went unnoticed, though.  Unlike Muslims and Arabs who are subject to intense scrutiny by law enforcement and are asked to make themselves available to intelligence agencies all the time, Sikhs have not been subject to state surveillance.  Law enforcement agencies have undergone countless hours of training in learning how to deal with Muslims and the issues that surround Muslim communities (not all of this learning has been salutary, one has to add), but this has not extended to learning about or reaching out to the myriad other communities that are affected by the twin problems of Islamophobia and anti-terrorism.

One of the strange consequences of this is that while most mosques have video and security equipment installed outside and have direct lines to law enforcement agencies, most Gurudwaras do not.  In some ways, then, the attacks on Gurudwaras and Sikhs are not mistakes: they happen because Sikhs are vulnerable and visible in ways that most Muslims have learned not to be.  One needs to add, though, that countless mosques are routinely attacked and vandalized with almost no media attention; the singular and exceptional focus on Oak Creek is one more indication of how much Islamophobia is tolerated in the US.

But understanding the complex and contradictory ways that many south Asians have both suffered from and been cheerleaders for Islamophobia requires having a historical understanding of the divide-and-rule racial politics of American society.  This is the task that Vijay Prashad sets out in his new book, Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today, a survey of many of the important trends and issues facing South Asians in the US since 9/11.  In it, Prashad elegantly captures the contradictory pressures on South Asian Americans as they navigate the crucible of domestic racial politics, India-US political and economic relations, and internal divisions with the South Asian American communities in the US.

This book picks up where Prashad’s previous book, The Karma of Brown Folks, left off.  In that book, Prashad demonstrated, in part, how many South Asians were recruited in the United States to participate in the discourses of anti-black racism in exchange for ethnic inclusion into larger public spaces.  At the same time, Prashad showed, smaller groups of South Asians became involved in important community organizing campaigns in the US and developed as important leaders in anti-racist and international solidarity work.  A deep sensitivity to the push-pull forces that affect South Asian immigrants as well as an understanding of transnational movements of peoples into and out of the Indian subcontinent marked some of the best features of the earlier book.

But the new project is best understood as one of comparative racial formations in the US.  He argues, “In my own earlier work I argued that the fear factor of ‘blacks’ created the conditions for the construction of the Indian American as the model minority, whereas I will now argue that this is insufficient.  It is the terror factor of the ‘Muslim’ alongside antiblack racism that provides the political space for Jewish Americans and Hindu Americans to mitigate their cultural differences from the mainstream, but crucially to put themselves forwards as those who, because of their experience with terrorism, become the vanguard of the new, antiterrorist Battleship America.”

That integration of Indian (Hindu) American identity with antiterrorist politics has taken a number of different but parallel tracks in the US.  The first is the creation of the “India Lobby,” which explicitly argues for the interests of Indian capitalism within the halls of American power.  Two simultaneous processes helped to grow the India lobby and the India caucus within the American Congress.  The new opportunities opened by India’s economic liberalization beginning in 1991 meant that India was seeking new partnerships with the US and American capitalists were looking for ways to penetrate Indian markets.  The resulting convergence of interests paved the way for the lifting of sanctions on India and for closer military collaboration.

The second is the construction of a South Asian (more precisely, Hindu and Indian) identity as victims of terrorism, and so like the Israelis and the Sri Lankans, natural allies in the Global War on Terror.  Military connections and arms trades between India and Israel were already extensive when Indian Americans also launched the US-India Political Action Committee (explicitly modeled on AIPAC).  But the myth of “American-Israeli-Indian” victimhood was predicated on another myth of a singular “Islamic” enemy launching terrorist attacks on all three nations.  Despite the fact that the groups and organizations that each nation is organizing against are all different, this mythology has been convenient at creating the impression of a global jihad launched by a monolithic Islam.  It has also meant that India has not had to answer in the US for its ongoing occupation and brutalization of the people of Kashmir.

The third has been the transformation into celebrities of certain right-wing Indians who have risen to important political posts.  The likes of Bobby Jindal, Nikki Haley, Sonal Shah, and Dinesh D’Souza have all been lionized in the Indian American press as signs of Indian American accomplishment without ever interrogating the political content of their vision.  At the same time, the fact that the majority of South Asian Americans are a part of the Democratic Party and usually left-of-center gets overlooked in the ways that certain Indians have been used to advance a neoliberal agenda in the US.

The most nefarious aspect of all of these processes has been the mainstreaming of a right-wing Hindu chauvinist ideology (called Hindutva), which has both been used against Muslims in the subcontinent as well as against linguistic, ethnic, and caste-based minorities.  In the US, the Sangh Parivar, the coalition of the Hindu right in India, uses American multiculturalism to its advantage to advance a particularly narrow understanding of Hinduism, one which whitewashes its long legacy of sexism and caste chauvinism, in particular.  This process, what Prashad calls “Yankee Hindutva,” has allowed for the growth of right-wing organizations in the US in exchange for Indian cover for American aggression abroad.

Prashad’s book is an important contribution to the understanding of how race and ethnicity are always tied up in a larger understanding of the historical flows of capital across national boundaries and the devastating effects of imperialism on people all over the world.  If there is one place that the book falls a little short it is in its call for an ethics of compassion, modeled around Gandhi in the concluding chapter, rather than fleshing out a politics of solidarity modeled around internationalism in the working class.  Indians have, as Prashad shows, participated in spectacular movements of international solidarity, and the growth of these tendencies inside the working class in the subcontinent and in the US will play no small part in challenging the American imperium.  By drawing our attention to the politics of race and ethnicity in the US, though, Prashad’s book serves an important function by highlighting just how deeply connected the fights against racism and imperialism are.

City of Irreverents

Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis

Penguin Press, 2012, 304 pp.

It’s difficult not to like Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis, not the least because the novel irreverently does what few in Maharashtra (or in India) are able to do without bringing down the ire of certain political supremos: it defies the unofficial ban on calling the city by its more cosmopolitan moniker, “Bombay.”  This is, incidentally, the first and last word of the novel.

And the irreverence continues, in ways (and with words) that would make a Mumbaikar cringe.  The novel takes such pleasure in describing the proper way to consume opium in a long pipe (“The length is very important, it cools the smoke as it travels”), what sex is like for a hijra (“I feel pleasure but not, what’s the word?, relief”), and the pleasures of random acts of violence (“what he was unprepared for the joy that shuddered up from his hands into his brain”) that it is nigh on impossible not to follow it wherever it turns.

In fact, what is so thrilling about the irreverence of a novel like Narcopolis is the sheer audacity of attempting to understand the dramatic changes Bombay undergoes since independence by tracing the history of the city as a node in the global traffic of opium.  This also helps to explain the novel’s (and our) enduring fascination with a performance like Zeenat Aman’s “Dum Maro Dum” in Hare Rama, Hare Krishna. Bombay’s transformation from colonial port to decadent cultural capital, in Thayil’s rendering, is a story of the rise and fall of certain kinds ofnasha, before they lose out to their faster, harder cousins: heroin, cocaine, and the synthetics.

In this telling, Bombay becomes a city populated by characters that could be taken straight from Sa’adat Hassan Manto’s world and rendered sensitively in a modern light: a Chinese dissident fleeing Communist Party rule with his traditional opium pipes; a lapsed Muslim who owns an opium den; a religiously ecumenical hijra (dare we say Amar, Akbar, Anthony); a wife-beating middle manager; a Bengali babu who manages the accounts; and a thinly veiled surrogate for the author, a Keralan Christian addict and artiste who spends substantial time abroad.  It is also a portrait of Bombay in which Mumbaikers are not at the center.

As a result, the novel is able to do things with language and form that are definitely innovative.  The soporific style and the narcotic haze in which the plot of the novel is delivered (and it’s important to say that this is a novel with the thinnest of plots) are remarkable in their distance from the expected formulas of Mumbai noir or Filmfare glitterati speak.  But it is also able to do this by linking Bombay up to the global traffic in narcotics as it stretches from China, through Southeast Asia, and into Pakistan and Afghanistan, making the story of Bombay an international story spoken in international English.  In every sense, Thayil’s Bombay has not yet been written, and even perhaps seen.

The book has been much in the news in the past several days because it made the long list for the Man Booker Prize, the unacknowledged kingmaker of contemporary Indian fiction in English.  But even here, the novel is supposed to be irreverent, flouting the longstanding tradition of historical allegories, wordplay, and leftist politics which have characterized the blockbuster novels in English.  I say “supposed to” intentionally—despite the stylistic and thematic differences from the Rushdie-Roy-Ghosh trimurti, there are plenty of similarities, as well (“Satan/Shaitan/Shat On”).

The problem with the novel’s impious attitude towards literature and politics (and it’s fetishization of irreverence in general) is that it mistakes novelty for insight and titillation for drama.  The novel’s greatest strength, it bears underlining, is its sensitive rendering of characters that are rarely deemed deserving of ink, and it brings a deeply humanist skill at portraiture to bear in giving flesh to otherwise caricatured types.

But one of the pitfalls of such an approach is that the novel is also mesmerized by the aphoristic nuggets produced by these characters in their drug-induced stupor.  So what is supposed to be philosophical (in the way that hallucination and religious revelry are kins) turns out to be clichéd and underwhelming, the drug at the end of its high, not at its height.  So we learn that “women are more evolved biologically and emotionally” than men are or that “childhood was a kind of affliction, certainly physical and possibly mental” as if these were quotable truths suspended in the fog of the narrative.

The other pitfall is that the novel misses the important role drugs played in transforming the economy of the city.  The characters in Narcopolis are more victims than agents, and so by the end of the novel almost all of them are (spoiler alert!) dead as the narrator nostalgically hopes to recreate the world that was centered on opium in his distaste for the world that is built on cocaine, a world of cheap shimmer and dead surfaces.  But opium was not a victimless indulgence, especially not for the owners of the opium dens, whose children become in the new Bombay the inheritors of a vast criminal operation.

Narcopolis, though, is definitely worth a read, despite some of these shortcomings, because it attempts to make sense of Bombay from the margins, from the transformations taking place in the brothel and the opium den, as opposed to from the Ambani skyscraper or the Imperial Towers.  It’s a reminder of both the seductions and the dangers inherent in all acts of irreverence, and why understanding the libertarian utopia of the addict (“are addicts free? Are they in fact the freest of men?”) is not, ultimately, sustainable or durable, even as it is preferable to some of the darker realities of Mumbai.

Pamphlet on Maruti-Suzuki workers (translated from Hindi)

Long live the revolution!

Long live workers’ unity!

Stop the repression and harassment of the Maruti-Suzuki workers!

Stop declaring workers criminals with one-sided, incomplete inquiries!

Bring charges against the agents of management for stoking the violence!

Comrades,

The events of July 18th at the Manesar plant of Maruti-Suzuki are representative events that reveal the condition of workers in today’s age.  These events have brought forward [revealed] the suffocating atmosphere of the nation’s factories and the smoldering anger of its workers, but it has also stripped the mask from the real face of the government, the Indian Administrative System [IAS] and the police machinery [apparatus].  These events have also exposed the vast [vicious] anti-worker character of the capitalist media and at the same time rather than being unbiased and independent as they greatly claim they are really the mouthpieces [megaphones] of the ruling classes.

And just as the electronic media has conducted one-sided reporting, they too have gotten down to the business of characterizing the workers as a mob bent on violence, anarchy, and murder.  Ignoring all established procedures [rules] of law, the police made all 3000 workers suspects and has begun rounding them up.  At the same time, not a single member of management has been interrogated.  There is a growing sympathy for the members of management who were injured in the scuffle, but there is no concern for the injured workers.  The workers have repeatedly insisted that management brought in thugs, but neither the police, the administration [IAS?], nor the media have not found it relevant to look into that.  Just as in the incidents at Graziano in NOIDA or Allied Nippon in Sahibabad, here, too, there has been a one-sidedness before any investigation, meaning the workers have been charged as criminals.

Certainly, the events that took place at the Manesar plant on July 18 were neither coordinated nor could they have been part of any strategy of struggle [resistance].  It was an explosion of long-brewing anger among the workers whose fuse was lit by the mischief [plotting] of management.  From the media to the government, no one bothered to learn why the workers’ anger unleashed itself in this manner.  Last year, during the campaign [movement] of three long waves of actions from June to October, there was not a single incident of violence on the part of the workers.  The workers were inside the factory for thirteen days in June, and then outside the factory for 33 days in September when they held an encampment, and once again in October when several parts of the plant were under workers’ control.  Despite being goaded by management, there was not a single incident of property destruction or violence.  The same workers that conducted a long campaign with uninterrupted nonviolence—why did these very workers become violent [fierce]?

Looking at the condition of Maruti-Manesar over the course of the last several months makes everything clear.  Last October, when the management used the filth of bribes, government intimidation and false promises to force a compromise and destroyed the Maruti Suzuki Employees Union by buying off its leadership with bribes, it proved that it did not have good intentions.   In order to stop the never-ending stream of losses, they wanted to put an end to the strike by any means, but they had no intention of fulfilling the workers’ demands.  The course of events over the last eight months has demonstrated that this is true.

 

{PARTIAL TRANSLATION … I will update this throughout the day}

INCACBI Appeal to Academics: Boycott Collaboration with Israeli Academic Institutions at the Indo-Global Education Summit & Expo 2012, Hyderabad, September 7-9, 2012

New Delhi,
4 July 2012

Dear Colleague,

We, a group of academics, activists and artists in India, came together in June 2010 to campaign against yet another apartheid regime by extending support to the international campaign for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel.

The Israeli state daily tramples on the academic freedom and cultural life of the Palestinian people, and continued association with the instruments of such a state is unconscionable. We believe that academic life is rooted in the values of democracy, equality and justice. The pursuit of excellence in the fields we work in has meaning only if imbued with conscience. When Palestinian students and teachers are not allowed to reach their universities because of permit laws and checkpoints, universities and schools are leveled by bombs and tanks, food, textbooks, and medical supplies are prohibited from entering Gaza, and artistic events are closed down in Jerusalem, none of the foundational principles on which academic and cultural contact are based can ever be fulfilled.

Indian academia has historically played a crucial role in the liberation of our people, and to this day supports those who struggle against colonialism and foreign domination. We appeal to you, as Indian academics to join us in firm opposition to India’s strategic, scientific, military, and economic relations with Israel. We appeal to you to speak and act in solidarity with the Palestinian people’s struggle for self-determination. Please visit http://www. incacbi.in for further information on how to join and what you can do.

This letter is to bring to your attention to yet another instance of India’s complicity in Israel’s brutal occupation and human rights violations in Palestine. Hyderabad is soon (September 7-9 2012) to host the Indo-Global Education Summit & Expo 2012at the Taj group of hotels, to which a number of Israeli Universities have been invited. This meeting seeks to facilitate academic partnerships between Indian and foreign Universities towards “collaborative research programs, joint/dual degree programs, twinning and transfer programs, faculty and student exchange programs, study abroad in India programs, distance education programs, and vocational education programs”.

Although ostensibly hosted by a private organization, The Indus Foundation, which purports to be an “American organization of professionals working as authorized representatives and promoters of American universities in the Indian sub-continent”, the mission statement of this organization has been “firmly” endorsed Kapil Sibal, Minister of Human Resource Development, in the interests of the needs of globalization. The summit itself has been blessed with his good wishes, and MHRD and Ministry of Home Affairs clearance has been given to the event. All this indicates that the Indian state’s recent assurances of commitment to “the restoration of Palestinian land and the assertion of Palestinian sovereignty” (Shri E. Ahamed, Minister of State for External Affairs, on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, January 28, 2011) are nothing but platitudes. Otherwise the GoI would have been appalled by the track records of Tel Aviv University, Technion, and Hiafa University, the three Israeli Universities invited to participate in the Summit.

All three institutions further the practice of institutional discrimination against Palestinian students (who are citizens of Israel) by severely restricting their freedom of speech and assembly and access to scholarships and student housing

1. Tel Aviv University (TAU):

Israel’s premier academic institution Tel Aviv University (TAU) is deeply invested in the facilitation and prosecution (at both the material and conceptual level) of what amount to war crimes.

  1. It has played the leading role in developing an explicit military doctrine of “disproportionality” calling for the targeting of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians and civilian infrastructures, and is at the forefront of the development of technological support to the Israeli military and arms industry. Indeed, many of the TAU faculty are also leading officials in these establishments – for example, a lecturer in the Law Faculty at Tel Aviv University, Colonel Sharvit-Baruch was also the former head of the International Law department at the Israeli Military Advocate General’s office. Similarly, another professor, Yitzhak Ben‐Israel, holds the rank of an air force General and is head of Israel’s Space Agency, as well as Chair of the Knesset’s Lobby for the Defense Industries.
  2. TAU’s research Centre, the Institute for National Security Studies, is heavily involved in military planning, and hosts seminar, workshop, and lecture programs jointly with the National Security College, IDF Command, and National Security Council. It is a key venue in advancing what it terms the ‘redesign of the IDF’ into a force capable of achieving ‘the proper balance between the three threat arenas: classic, non-conventional, and low‐intensity.’ In early January 2009, TAU’s quarterly Review offered a special cover story focus on TAU’s ‘major role in enhancing Israel’s security capabilities and military edge.’ It celebrates ongoing high‐level military and surveillance research being ‘conducted in rooms and laboratories protected by barred windows, multiple locks and office safes. Amongst other programs, the Review celebrates:
  3. New explosives research being conducted in the Organic Chemistry Department;
  4. Electro‐optical missile defence research in the Faculty of Engineering (funded by ELBIT);
  5. Laser and radar air defence systems being developed in the Faculty of Exact Sciences;
  6. Electronic eavesdropping and transmission tracking developments in the School of Electronic Engineering;
  7. New algorithmic email surveillance and data‐mining techniques being pioneered in the Fleischman Faculty of Engineering;
  8. Biometric and genomic sorting and surveillance techniques developed in the Chemistry Department;
  9. Aerodynamic and flight control mechanisms for unmanned aerial vehicles being advanced at the School of Mechanical Engineering;

2. Technion

The scientific research institution Technion has long been known to be complicit in Israel’s violations of international law and the rights of Palestinians, specifically by designing military weapons and developing technologies used to drive Palestinians off their land, repress demonstrations for their rights, and carry out attacks against people in Lebanon, Gaza, and elsewhere. Technion’s record of complicity in Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian rights is too long to reproduce here, but here are some highlights:

  1. It has a partnership with Elbit Systems, which is one of Israel’s largest private weapons manufacturers. Elbit manufactured the drones that Israel used in its crimes against civilians in Lebanon 2006 and Gaza 2008-09. This partnership has played a leading role not only in the construction and surveillance of the apartheid wall in Palestine, but also along the U.S.-Mexico border through its subsidiary, Kollsman.
  2. Technion trains its engineering students to work with companies dealing “directly in the development of complex weapons in the process of researching their academic theses.” In one example with Elbit Systems, the reward has been the funding of research grants in upwards of half a million dollars to Technion’s students conducting research.
  3. One of the institute’s most notorious projects resulted in the development of a remote-control function on the Caterpillar’s ‘D9’ bulldozer “used by the Israeli army to demolish Palestinian houses and farms and the development of a method for detecting underground tunnels, specifically developed in order to assist the Israeli army in its continued siege on the Gaza Strip.”
  4. Technion has deep relations with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, one of Israel’s largest government-sponsored weapons manufacturers famous for its “advanced hybrid armor protection system” used in Israel’s Merkava tanks. The institute has developed an “MBA program tailored specifically for Rafael managers” which further solidifies its relationship between academia and Israel’s military-industrial complex.

3. Haifa University

  1. Haifa University sponsors scholarships for army veterans and those who took part in the 2008/9 military attack on the Gaza Strip; and, as its former Rector, Professor Yossi Ben Artzi, has remarked through a 2010 press release “is proud to continue being the academic home for the security forces and to teach the IDF leadership a large number of different and diverse perspectives.” Professor Ben Artzi made this announcement following Haifa University’s winning of an Israeli army tender to continue training students at the army’s College for National Security for MA studies in the next five years.
  2. Another prominent professor at the University, Arnon Sofer, the Reuven Chaikin Chair in Geostrategy, in a speech on 15 December 2011, raised the alarm about the supposed invasion by Bedouins and other undesirable non-Jews and urged the government to act, presumably to expel them and retain the land for the exclusive use of Jews.

We hope this brief summary of the role played by these ‘academic’ institutions in the Israeli occupation and oppression of the Palestinian lands and people has underlined the need for a complete boycott of any academic relationship between Indian and Israeli Universities. There is no doubt that there may be many right-thinking individuals in these institutions as well; but continued or newly instituted educational ties with Israeli academic institutions, are exploited by the Israeli state as a means to legitimize its occupation. As Judith Butler has written, with regards to her visit to Israel years ago, “the rector of Tel Aviv University said, ‘Look how lucky we are. Judith Butler has come to Tel Aviv University, a sign that she does not accept the boycott,’ I was instrumentalized against my will. And I realized I cannot function in that public space without already being defined in the boycott debate.”

We appeal to you to publicise the information in this letter, as well as the boycott call. We seek your cooperation in exerting pressure on the institutional authorities of your University/institute to boycott any consultations\collaboration with Israeli academic institutions, both at the Summit and outside. In addition, we request you to mobilise your colleagues in our protest to the Indus Foundation (indus@indus.org) and the HRD minister (hrm@nic.in) against the invitation of Israeli academic institutions at the Summit.

For The Indian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (INCACBI)
Upendra Baxi (Delhi University, INCACBI Patron)
Ayesha Kidwai (Jawaharlal Nehru University, Convenor)
Mohan Rao (Jawaharlal Nehru University, Convenor)
Gargi Sen (Filmmaker, Convener)
Githa Hariharan (Writer, Convenor)
Kamal Mitra Chenoy (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
Anuradha Chenoy (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
Achin Vanaik (Delhi University)
Janaki Abraham (Delhi University)

  1. G. Arunima (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
  2. Anand Chakravarthy (Delhi University)
  3. Uma Chakravarthy (Delhi University)
  4. Rupa Chanda (IIM Bangalore)
  5. C.P. Chandrasekhar (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
  6. Roma Chatterji (Delhi University)
  7. Anuradha Chenoy (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
  8. Kamal Chenoy (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
  9. Satish Deshpande (Delhi University)
  10. Rohan D’Souza (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
  11. Vasanthi Devi (Former VC, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tamilnadu)
  12. Jayati Ghosh (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
  13. Meena Gopal (SNDT Women’s University)
  14. Mushirul Hasan (Director, National Archives of India)
  15. Zoya Hasan (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
  16. T. Jayaraman (Tata Institute of Social Studies)
  17. Mary John (Centre for Women’s Development Studies)
  18. Kalpana Kannabiran (Hyderabad University)
  19. Nuzhat Kazmi (Jamia Millia Islamia)
  20. Farida Khan (Jamia Millia Islamia)
  21. Vina Mazumdar (Former director of CWDS)
  22. Nivedita Menon (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
  23. Aditya Nigam (Centre for the Study of Developing Studies, Delhi)
  24. Rajni Palriwala (Delhi University)
  25. Prabhat Patnaik (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
  26. Prabir Purkayastha (Delhi Science Forum)
  27. Nina Rao (Delhi University)
  28. Kannamma Raman (University of Mumbai)
  29. Rahul Roy (Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi)
  30. Madhu Sahni (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
  31. Sumit Sarkar (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
  32. Tanika Sarkar (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
  33. Nandini Sundar (Delhi University)
  34. Vikram Vyas (Delhi University)

And 100 other INCACBI members

May Day Appeal from Jan Sansad


Our Labour ! Our Strength ! Workers Power Zindabaad !
Labour Day : An Appeal from Jan Sansad
Dear Friends,
Zindabaad !
Every year the May Day is celebrated by millions of workers around the world commemorating the the hard earned workers rights after years of struggles. It is a celebration but also a time to remember the victories, defeats and challenges infront of the workers movement even as we move ahead. Workers of the world unite ! The slogan has assumed much importance and the meaning of work and labour has also gone through significant changes over years. Today nearly 93% of the workers are in the unprotected and unorganised sector who are still having to fight for their basic rights : social security, job security, pension, health and education facilities, eight hour working day, mandatory leaves, fair wages, minimum wages, right to unionise and others.

A hard fought right to form independent unions by the workers is under threat and so are other rights in the era of global capital pushing for maximum exploitation of labour and complete privatisation and contractualisation of work in neo liberal reforms era. Millions of agricultural workers, NREGA workers, construction workers, fish workers, forest workers, hawkers, and many other non-traditionally recognised forms of workers remain outside the social security net and face problems with the authorities in forming their own unions across the country. In the same way millions of workers working in manufacturing sector face the same problem most recent being Maruti factory in Gurgaon, Rockman and Satyam in Dehradun and elsewhere.

Various studies, surveys and reports have accepted the fact that this group of workers contributes more than 60% to the GDP. From road construction crews to domestic help, they work long hours for less than the minimum wage, receive no compensation for work-related injuries; and they receive no social security. About 44% of all unorganised urban workers are construction workers but they have no social security or job security, most of them migrants who stream in from remote villages where agriculture can no longer support their growing numbers. It is unfortunate that even though nearly 60% of the population is engaged in the agriculture, fishery and forestry but their total contribution to the GDP has come down to nearly 16%, indicating worst agrarian crisis fuelling large scale farmers suicide and migration.

These issues and others were discussed at Rashtriya Jan Sansad held in New Delhi (March 19 – 23), attended by nearly 7,500 people from 20 States over five days. Member’s of People Parliament agreed that time has to demand rights and justice for the working class people who are running the economy today but remain unprotected and unorganised. Some of the significant resolutions from the discussions on the subject are following :

• The honest producers of this country – workers, artisans, fisher folks, hawkers, and others in unprotected and unorganised sectors continue to be oppressed and often victimised. The 93% of workers who have been denied social security pensions should be given protection equivalent to the organised and secured sectors. There should be access to food, water, shelter etc. to everyone equitably. Every service, every resource or development benefits should be equitably distributed.
• The Provisions for pension must be extended to the 93% workers in the informal and unorganised sector workers, the current provisions are not at all adequate. The inequality in various pension schemes in different states must be removed.
• There should be an end to inequality in the country. The politicians are working only for the interests of a handful of people, not for the interests of the masses. There shouldn’t be a difference of more than 1:10 in the income of the people and a ameeri rekha should be determined. Tax should be levied on property and assets, not on small productions or incomes.
• Right to Unionise is a fundamental right and it must be respected irrespective of the sector, work, etc.
• All forms of forced labour must be stopped effectively. There is need of comprehensive social protection for all unorganised sector workers and fair wages must be given to them. The minimum wages must be raised to a living wage level and it must be ensured that these are remitted on time. Minimum wages should be as such that the whole family is provided for by the income of one. The below poverty line families list should be enumerated by the members of the gram sabha or the electorate of the urban areas.
• There must be provisions for Rain Basera (shelter homes) for daily wagers and migrant workers. The migrant workers in cities who have faced eviction must be duly rehabilitated.
• Under NREGA, work must be provided throughout the year. Corruption must be stopped in NREGA and different pension schemes must be introduced.
• The ambiguities and contradictions in central and state labour laws must be removed. The labourers must be adequately represented in the labour boards.
• The use of machines in PMGSY must be stopped and manual labour be implemented so that the employment can be provided to workers and their skills can also be upgraded.
• There is a need for changes in the hawkers policy and provisions must be made for them to be allotted shops and given rehabilitation as per requirement.
• The domestic workers must be brought under the sexual harassment act and be provided protection and security under various acts.

Many other issues were discussed during the Jan Sansad which will take forward the struggle for the development with justice and equity. The programmes emerging from the Jan Sansad will be carried forward in coming days by the movements and community groups in their regions and areas through struggles, moblisations and advocacy.

On this Mazdoor Diwas on May 1st our constituent groups organise to demand the rights, dignity and security for the 93% of the working force of this country and pave the way forward for a most just and humane society. We hope you all will join us in taking forward the struggle for a life and livelihood of dignity for millions of working class people of the country.

In Solidarity,

Medha patkar, Prafulla Samantara (Orissa), Sandeep Pandey (Uttar Pradesh), Dr. Sunilam (Madhya Pradesh), Gautam Bandopadhyay (Chattisgarh), Suhas Kolhekar, Vilas Bhongade, Subhash Lomate, Sumit Wajale (Maharashtra), Shaktiman Ghosh (National Hawker Federation), P Chennaiah, Ramakrishna Raju (Andhra Pradesh), Gabriele Dietrich (Tamilnadu), Vimal Bhai (Uttarakhand), Rakesh Rafique, Manish Gupta, Rupesh Verma (Western Uttar Pradesh), Prof. Ajit Jha, Rajendra Ravi, Bhupendra Singh Rawat, Vijayan M J, Madhuresh Kumar (Delhi), Gurwant Singh (Punjab), Anand Mazgaonkar (Gujarat), Mahender Yadav (Patna, Bihar), Nizam Ansari (Bokaro, Jharkhand), Geo Jose (Kerala) and others
(Jan Sansad Coordinating Committee)

Jai Bhim, Comrade — a film by Anand Patwardhan

Anand Patwardhan‘s new film “Jai Bhim Comrade” took 14 years to complete. Beginning with an incident at Ramabai Colony in Mumbai where 10 Dalits were shot dead by the police in 1997, the film goes on to explore the music of protest of those who were treated as “untouchables” by a caste hierarchy that has ruled the Indian sub-continent for thousands of years.