Stop attacking whistle-blowers in Raigarh

Map of India showing location of Chhattisgarh

Image via Wikipedia

Dear Friends,

As many of you know by now Ramesh Agrawal, environmental whistle blower, and Harihar Patel, doctor and sarpanch of Gare Village, *have now completed a month of prison time for crimes they did not commit*. Last week their case was heard in the Bilaspur High Court and, shockingly, they were denied bail—on grounds not having to do with the merit of the case but rather to do with a processing mistake made by the lower court.

It is now time to step up the pressure on authorities, and let them know we will not tolerate this inhumane treatment of whistle blowers by corporate mafia. *Please take a minute and forward the **online petition** to 10 other people in your network. *You can tell them that *Noam Chomsky just signed on*, so they should too!

In Harihar Patel’s village, Gare, about fifty locals, primarily elderly women, have commenced an indefinite dharna (demonstration) in the scorching sun and now in the rain to demand the activists’ immediate release. Please show your solidarity with the struggling Raigarhi people by,* writing a short letter to your editor (200 words or less) about the inhumane activities going on in Raigarh*. After writing the letter, just drop me a line at stating the name of the media outlet you wrote to along with your name.

Finally, we think it is urgent to raise mass awareness about the Raigarh arrests and to expose the atrocities of the Chhattisgarh justice system and its collusion with corporate forces. *Can you or someone else you know host a public meeting in your city* in the coming weeks to discuss these atrocities? Let me know if you would like to do this and I will forward additional resources/contacts to you.

In Solidarity,

Samantha Agarwal (Social Justice Activist, India)

Pranav Jani (Professor, The Ohio State University)

PS — Here’s a recent article about the case and local struggle around it: Hunger strike continues demanding release of RTI activists.

here’s an audio clip from a Raigarh activist on CGNet Swara.

Makhdoom Mohinuddin in translation

(a joint effort with Pranav Jani)

“Ask the soldier who’s leaving for war” by Makhdoom Mohinuddin (apologies for not posting it in Nastaliq characters, too).

जाने वाले  सिपाही  से  पूछो
वो  कहाँ  जा  रहा  है
जाने वाले सिपाही से पूछो
वो कहाँ जा रहा है

Ask the soldier who’s leaving for war

Where he’s going

Ask the soldier who’s leaving for war

Where he’s going

इश्क है कातिल -इ -ज़िन्दगानी
खून से तर है उस्की जवानी
हाय मासूम बचपन की यादें
हाय दो रोज़ की नौजवानी
जाने वाले …

Love is life’s murderer

His youthfulness is blood-soaked

Oh, the memories of a carefree childhood

Oh, the too short days of innocence

कैसे सहमे हुए हैं नज़ारे
कैसे डर डर के चलते हैं तारे
क्या जवानी का खून हो रहा है
सुर्ख है आंचलों के किनारे
जाने वाले …

Look at how trepidatious everything seems

How the stars move across the sky in fear

Love is being slaughtered

And the hems of our saris are bloodied

कौन दुखिया है जो गा रही है
भूखे बच्चों को बहला रही है
लाश जलने की बू आ रही है
ज़िन्दगी है की चिल्ला रही है
जाने वाले …

Who is that sad woman singing

Trying to calm her starving children

The stench of burning corpses everywhere

And life is nothing but screaming

गिर रहा है सियाही का डेरा
हो रहा है मेरी जाँ सवेरा
ओ वतन छोड़कर जाने वाले
खुल गया इंक़लाबी फरेरा

The wall of darkness is falling

The dawn, my love, is breaking

Oh you who’ve left your country

The banner of revolution is unfurling

Here it is being performed in “Us Ne Kaha Tha” (1960) sung by Manna Dey (with a verse missing):

And here it is being performed by Sumangala Damodaran with some context:

Struggle over land and democracy in India continues

Public Convention on Save Democracy

Desh Bachao – Desh Banao


June 27th 2011, New Delhi

We all who have assembled here today discussed the political situation in the country in the wake of ongoing struggles across the country in Assam against evictions, Narmada Valley against submergence and displacement, Golibar, Mumbai against Shivalik; Jagatsinghpur, Orissa against POSCO; Raigarh, Chattisgarh against Jindals; Mundra, Gujarat and Chausra, MP against Adani; Kalinganagar Orissa against Tata and thousand other places. The struggle against Reliance, Jindal, Tata, Adani, Jaypee, Mittals and other Corporations and the collaborating State power is not only to protect their livelihood but central to this is defending the basic tenets of our democracy. The overall struggle is for deepening of democracy in the country – to establish the rule of law, to ensure right to life and livelihood with dignity, to ensure democratic control over natural resources – jal, jangal, jameen and Khaniz (land, water, forest and minerals).

The social and political churning witnessed at this moment in the country today is encouraging. In a political context where the questions of working class and poorest of the poor assumes prime importance we RESOLVE that :

  •  Our collective struggles have to deal with the corruption at every level and work towards establishing communities control over the natural wealth of the country. In the wake of increasingly oppressive power of State and Corporations, our collective struggles of dalits, adivasis, women, urban poor, the displaced, workers, farmers etc. have to challenge the crony capitalism and work towards a society based on equality and political freedom.
  • Everyone need to join this struggle for stronger legislations like Lokpal Bill which will control the corruption in this country and other measures which will bring back the black money stashed in the country in different forms of illegal and benami investments and tax heavens in foreign countries.
  • We will struggle together to scrap the regressive legislations like Land Acquisition Act, Special Economic Zone Act and others and agitate for drafting of a development planning act in this country with the free informed and prior consent of the strengthened Gram / Basti Sabhas and other local self-government institutions.

We urge everyone – people from all walks of life workers, adivasis, dalits, urban poor, women, men and professionals, intelligentsia and everyone else to join in this struggle against exploitation, oppression and inequality and secure justice and dignity for everyone. Let us all join hands to work together !

The Convention was addressed by Medha Patkar, Kuldip Nayar, Justice (Retd) Rajinder Sachar, Swami Agnivesh, Mastram Kapoor, Yogendra Yadav, Arvind Kejariwal, Raja Bundela, Dr. Sunilam, Ravi Kiran Jain, Smt Manju Mohan, Kavita Krishnan, Ajit Jha, Rakesh Rafiq and many other activists.

Note : Next national meeting on July 3rd, Sunday, 10:00 am onwards @ Centre of Science for Villages, Wardha, Maharashtra. For details write to | 9818905316


Translation in Progress

From current work (but I liked it too much not to share it):

लोग कहते है, विद्रोही के विचार संकुचित हैं, उसका मस्तिष्क कमजोर हैं, उसका हृदय टेढा हें।  लोग यह भी कहते हैं कि उसके स्वप्न छूँछे, आदर्शवादी, असंभव। यह सब शायद थिक हैं।  लेकिन वह पतितों ओर असहायों को सम्मानता से देख सकता हैं, उसका हृदय गिरे हुओं को उठा सकता हैं, उसका मस्तिष्क एक समूचे राष्ट्र को चला सकता। और अपने स्वप्नों के लिये सच्चाई और दृढता के साथ लड सकता हैं, और उसके स्वप्न सच्चे हो सकते हैं।

People say that a revolutionary is narrow-minded, that his mind is weak, his heart is off.  People also say that his dreams are hollow, idealistic, and impossible.  They might be right.  But he is able to look at the marginalized and the helpless with respect, his heart can lift the downfallen, his mind can run an entire nation.  And for his dreams he will fight with truth and tenacity, and his dreams can come true.

My copy of the new Adiga novel hasn’t arrived yet …

… but I’m becoming intrigued as I read the reviews.  Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead meets a critique of Bombay development-mania …

I should say at the outset, that I enjoyed The White Tiger immensely and most of my students who read the book enjoy it immensely.  It’s mostly a critique of class divisions in India, but it is quite cynical and dark, depicting crime as the only real way out of poverty (there is a vague reference to social revolution at the end of the novel, but it’s so inchoate as to be fanciful).  So I’m of course interested in the new novel which is supposed to be about a housing developer in Bombay (I refuse to call it Mumbai, because unlike the other India cities that are going back to their precolonial names, there was no precolonial city called “Mumbai” — it was entirely a colonial invention, and I refuse to be cowed by the Shiv Sena) who tries to get people to leave their homes in an apartment building in order to build luxury apartments there.  The Last Man in the Tower refers to the one hold-out who keeps the development plan from moving forward.

Reviews like this one from the Independent get me excited (but that’s because I have a spot for social realism):

Dominating the narrative is Mumbai itself, once again one of the mightiest cities on earth. The macrocosm for the novel is the countless millions of workers who endure nightmarishly crammed commuter trains each day and pack themselves into teeming communal housing each evening. But we are also taken to the fragile democracy of Versova Beach, where bankers and film producers jog alongside homeless people performing their ablutions; to the foetid slums, opulent high-rises, venerable temples; and in and around streets packed with a kaleidoscopic range of inhabitants. Adiga lays out this most frenetic of megalopolises before us, by turns fascinating, sensual and horrifying, as his writing takes an impressive step onwards.

But what’s also interesting is that book seems to have been inspired by actual social movements in Bombay agitating against slum clearance and corruption:

We tried to get the reticent writer, who once called Mumbai’s rental market “a bigot’s paradise”, to tell us whether his new work is an attempt at exposing the nexus between builders, politicians and bureaucrats. “I’m afraid I have to pass on this question,” was all he was willing to say. Social activist YP Singh calls the book significant. “Coming in the backdrop of several controversial redevelopment projects which displaced many, this will be an eagerly awaited book,” said the man who is responsible for exposing several housing scams.

At the same time, in discussions of the new book, Adiga openly declares himself in support of the economic neoliberalism of Manmohan Singh and Narasimha Rao (i.e. his preference for aggressively capitalist Congress Party economics as opposed to aggressive state-led capitalist development of earlier Congress leaders):

I wish I were a child of Nehru’s India! But I was born in 1974. I was a child of the harsher socialist regime imposed by Mrs Gandhi. I am not — and will never be — an opponent of the great economic boom initiated by Dr Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. In fact, I think it saved India from ruin and stagnation. I remember we had to bribe people in Mangalore in the old days just to get a confirmed ticket on Indian Airlines.
In 1990, I stood first in Karnataka in the annual SSLC (year 10) exams. When I came to Bangaloreto collect an award from the education minister, I was humiliated by the rich boys there — all of whom I had beaten — because I had a thick accent when I spoke English and I did not know whoLionel Richie was.
The divisions between small town and big city India have been broken down by liberalisation. I’m grateful for this…I do think people have a right to question how fast liberalisation is going and whether it’s damaging some sections of society. In the short term, India might lag China if we’re more introspective about our growth — but in the long term, we will surely outrun them. Those who interpret my novels as opposing liberalisation are misreading them. They’re marked by ambivalence, not opposition, to the changes… Money itself is amoral. It can liberate people as easily as it can destroy them. As I said, I’m not opposed to the great economic boom going on now. My role as a novelist is only to dramatize certain conflicts taking place because of the generation of so much new wealth. In “Last Man in Tower”, I urge people not to regard the developer simply as the villain, but to consider his positive attributes as well. Nor is Masterji, his opponent, a spokesman for me. He has his failings.

I’m actually looking forward to figuring out what I think of Adiga’s liberal critique of liberalism, and why the novel takes the social movements that are currently afoot against Bombay developers and turns them into this kind of humanist conflict (everyone is a hero and a villain rolled into one).

I confess that I am usually annoyed by the constant references to western writers when writing about Adiga’s work (even though I am occasionally guilty of doing the same.  The Guardian’s review is particularly egregious:

His targets here are similar: the web-like social structures that surround citizens, creating a stasis that defies attempts at progress; the vacuum created by misgovernance that allows greed and envy to flourish; the bureaucracy – represented here by a double-talking lawyer straight from the pages of Dickens – that creates the illusion of order and justice while perpetuating the opposite. “You and I were trapped,” the real-estate broker Mr Ajwani, one of the novel’s most ambiguous figures, tells Mrs Rego, “but we wanted to be trapped,” and the novel goes the distance in exploring the attraction of collusion.

Last Man in Tower has a broader and more forgiving feel than The White Tiger, incorporating a gentler comic tone that finds affection as well as despair in poking fun at its characters’ pretensions and frailties. But Adiga’s anger at the India he describes – cities in which rapid economic expansion comes at an impossible price for a vast swath of their inhabitants, and in which the slow fading of the caste system has not been accompanied by a rise in social egalitarianism – remains undimmed. Describing his childhood reading in Mangalore, Adiga once professed his early enthusiasm for the works of Golding, Orwell and Shaw, three writers with a keen appreciation of the muddy intersections between individual and political will. In this complex and multi-layered novel, he continues his project of shining a light on the changing face of India, bringing us a picture that is as compelling as it is complex to decipher.

The Mumbai Mirror, for instance, seems to be bored by the idea of another book about housing developments in Bombay:

While his publishers are billing this as the new v/s old India narrative, to us it sounds like one of the smashing stories this newspaper often breaks. Vastly expanded no doubt, and we must admit, with fewer typos.

I have nothing but contempt for pieces like the one penned by Abhineeta Raghunath, for whom the only question worth asking seems to be will the novel sell as many books as its predecessor (The White Tiger):

White Tiger may have been a major hit, showering laurels upon the Booker Prize winner Aravind Adiga. The book had a great impact on book lovers everywhere. His latest book Last Man in Tower, which is to be released by the end of this month is being pre-ordered in large numbers across major stores in the city.

If you want a laugh, read the Wall Street Journal’s ridiculously vapid review of the book here, because the only thing that the Wall Street Journal can detect in the novel is its own journalism.

And if you want to see how a critique of western Orientalism now functions as the central theme of right-wingers, take a look at this nationalist piece in the Evening Standard:

An unfortunate tendency among Indian writers who achieve recognition in the West is to crown themselves as the moral custodians of their country – sermonising against its inconsistencies and iniquities, while paying little attention to why so many Indians (yes, poor ones, too) actually love their country and feel great optimism for it.

Vikas Swarup (of Q&A fame) added his two cents, too, in the Financial Times (though don’t expect to be blown away).

Sign the petition against POSCO in Orissa

Sign the petition here (the text of the petition is below).

To: Dr. Manmohan Singh

Prime Minister of India
New Delhi

Sub: Demand that Central government stop playing double games with people’s lives in POSCO and other large projects; enforce laws relating to people’s rights

Dear Dr. Singh

As concerned citizens of this country, we are appalled at the callous and cynical manner in which the Central government is seeking to exploit people’s struggles for short term political gain. Rather than enforce the law as it stands, the government is playing both sides of the fence. On the one hand it violates the law to favour companies, and on the other it seeks electoral mileage by loud declarations of sympathy when people rise to fight these illegalities.

We refer to the recent statements by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh and by other leaders in connection with the POSCO project in Orissa, wherein the Minister, for instance, has asked the State government to follow “democratic practices” and engage in “dialogue and discussion.” But, under the Forest Rights Act, it was the Environment Ministry’s duty to engage in precisely such “democratic practices” before it handed over forest land to POSCO. Meanwhile, long before any process of any kind was complete, you and your office, as well as the Steel Ministry, were making public commitments to POSCO and the South Korean government that the project will be carried out. If the Central government and the ruling party really believe in democracy and dialogue, why have they systematically violated required democratic procedures when handing over land – and forest land in particular – in the first place?

Under the law, forest land cannot be taken until people’s rights over it are fully recorded, and the government must respect forest dwellers’ power to protect and manage their forests. On July 30, 2009, the Ministry itself recognised this when it issued an order explicitly stating that no clearance for diversion of forest land will be given without a gram sabha resolution – i.e. a majority vote at an assembly of the village – that their rights have been respected and that they consent to the takeover. Yet the Ministry broke the law and gave clearance to the POSCO project without a single majority resolution from any village in the area. Indeed, the Minister questioned the majority resolutions actually passed against the project and asked for action against the elected sarpanch, while ignoring the fact that his State government and the Ministry were the ones actually breaking the law.

The same gross illegality is happening in projects across the country. Till date there has not been a single case known of a project being rejected on the basis of a gram sabha resolution – a basic “democratic practice” that the Minister is now advertising. The Minister meanwhile stated in an interview on June 5th that he plans to amend this order because it has become too difficult for the Ministry to comply with the law.

Now, as children, women and men form human barricades to save their lands from POSCO, the very same Minister who violated every tenet of both law and democracy declares that democracy should be respected. Will your government wait, as it did in Sompeta, Srikakulam and elsewhere, for people to die before it remembers its legal duties? Do you seek another Bhatta Parsaul for electoral benefit? Your government is playing a cynical game with people’s lives to benefit corporate profits on the one hand and it’s “aam aadmi” image on the other.

We demand that your government immediately cancel all illegal forest and environment clearances to projects, uphold the Forest Rights Act and the democratic process it requires, and ensure that all land acquisition in non-forest areas too is made legally and practically subject to a democratic decision making process. The government cannot be allowed to continue playing games with the blood of innocent people.


The Undersigned

State, Civil Society and Limon Hossain: Cursory Notes on Contemporary Bangladesh

Guest post by Nazmul Sultan


The effects that generate from the state’s `exceptional’  interventions in society– often disregarding the dialogic process with its constitutive yet distinct agencies (e.g. civil society, hegemonic capitalist bloc and so on) — do not come to the fore of particular agencies in their immediate forms. Rather, in the process of their becoming as corresponding narratives, those effects coalesce with the narritivization process that is specific to the particular agencies. Such narratives go through a classificatory process, which seeks to mediate the singularities of the events in the form of its own political projection. In contemporary Bangladesh, where newspapers still are the predominant medium of civil society’s appearance , such narrativization and pigeonholing of varied form of events take place instantly through the lens of civil society’s political lexicon.

However, the becoming of the news of Limon Hossain, after he was being shot by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), took more than two weeks. The temporal gap between the day when Limon Hossain got shot by the elite paramilitary force called RAB and the day when this news was recognized through a newspaper report is indicative of the complexity involved in the immediate form of this event. That is, the narrativization of Limon Hossain’s story went through an entangled process of preservation as well as cancellation before its emergence as a news mediated by the existentialities of the civil society. To some extent, this specific mediation is determined by the constitutive tension between the civil society and the political society (political society: in its Gramscian sense). Nevertheless, this is not all. The specificity of this particular mediation only can be deciphered from the totality of the political horizon, wherein this contradiction is simultaneously conditioned by their determinate unity. Perhaps a glimpse through the event that unfolded after Limon Hossain got shot may help us to determine the internal conflict and correspondence among political agencies.

Prothom Alo (PA), the mouthpiece of Bangladeshi civil society, was the first media to pick up this news. The report appeared in the front page with a conspicuous heading: “Extreme Cruelty,” after two week has been passed since Limon Hossain got shot ( Meanwhile, one of his legs had to be amputated following tissue damage). That box report contained a one-legged photo of Limon Hossain which eventually became the most popular profile picture in the FB. The newspaper, Prothom Alo, narrated that Limon Hossain, a boy of 17 and a candidate for upcoming higher secondary exam, had left his home for fetching cattle from a nearby neighborhood. At the same time, RAB was invading the area for capturing a high-profile terrorist. Initially, RAB had not been able to capture the fugitive.

The rest of the story in the words of Limon Hossain: `(On March 23, Limon, returning home with grazing cattle, was stopped by a team of RAB-8 led by deputy assistant director Mohd Lutfar Rahman, nearby Shohid Jomaddar’s home.) They grabbed hold of my collar, they said, you are a terrorist. They dragged me to the front of Jomaddar’s house. One of them said, we’ll crossfire you. I gave him my mobile, I said, please, please call my college principal. I begged. He pocketed my mobile. Another RAB pointed his gun at my left leg and fired. His nameplate said Lutfar. I fell down, rolled on the ground till I struck a banana tree. One of them pinned down my hand with his boot. They wanted to know who I was. I told them my name, my college name, I even told them my HSC exams were beginning on 5th April. I was wearing a red shirt, one of them took it off, tied my wound. They took off my lungi, wiped away the blood. They stamped at bloodstains on the ground, they threw away the blood-soaked lungi in the nearby river. Another got a lungi from Jomaddar’s house. Limon had been lying naked until then. They called a village elder, he was heard to scream, ‘But he’s a good boy, and you shot him!’  This is how the story appeared. Although it is not here my intention to inquiry about the veracity of the represented story, there is no potential reason to doubt the course of the story given the record of the RAB.

The unearthing of this story triggered intense reaction around the nation. Perhaps, the involvement of RAB in this issue made it so visceral. Most of the ideologues of the civil society have been defending RAB’s extra-judicial killing contradicting their otherwise consistent critique of paralegal activities of the state. RAB’s reputation as clinical demolisher of extremism (both Maoist and Islamist extremism) and violent unrests earned it the trust of ‘peace-seeking’ civil society. Since RAB embodies a global label of efficiency (as Wikileaks has revealed RAB was being trained by their British counterparts) and non-corruption so rare in the legal forces, civil society retained their support on RAB, however unahppily. Although the current government vowed for the disintegration of RAB before the election, they took a somewhat vague position after ascension into power, despite their consistent defense of RAB. In fact, one of the ministers of the government said that extra-judicial killing is a political culture, which can’t be eliminated dramatically. That is to say, the obvious corollary of this incident is RAB’s legitimacy as state’s organ, which however isn’t reducible in the will of the particular government.

And the irreducibility of RAB in the particularity of state indicates that it’s existence is a consensual process among the organs of, what Gramsci had conceptualised as ‘integral state,’ by the means of which they also imply a general opposition against the subordinated class, notwithstanding the mediating manoeuvres. Civil society, thus, seeks to retain the ‘good part’ (anti-extremist necessity) of RAB, denouncing the extremism (i.e. unnecessary impatience) of RAB, which tends to perpetrate into the ‘civil’ kernel of the society. However, the issue is not only about the RAB. It is also about the particular form of power struggle between political society and civil society that has been happening in contemporary Bangladesh. So, the general impression that Limon’s case brought forth had to be differentiated, if the expediency of RAB’s action to be located in the physicality of the state, with which civil ideologues are contesting. The humble background of Limon, the college student, who used to work in brick factory with no crime record, made it easier for them to distantiate the case from other ”necessary” atrocity of RAB.

And the determinant factor between the necessary and unnecessary atrocity is none but the state, which seeks to deploy RAB for their own self-serving goals. This kernel of the story has been reinforced by the post-shooting activities of the RAB and government. With a bent on proving Limon Hossain a dangerous terrorist, RAB and administration filed case against him and compelled him to appear in court in wheel chair. After the becoming of the story as a national event (as implied by the ideologues of civil society), state officials initially sought to neutralize the case by recognizing the event as a rare accident from RAB’s part. Meanwhile, the intensified criticism of media against the recklessness of RAB (posited as an off-spring between collaboration between RAB and state) provided civil society with the opportunity to grill the state for its continual negation of ‘civil element’ from the governing. However, the increasing involvement of civil society in this case forced the state to recognize the implied meaning of civil society’s onslaught (where Limon Hussain is nothing more than an occasion to accentuate the ‘permanent’ tension between them) .

Now, government accuses civil ideologues for exploiting this issue and even dramatically reclaimed that Limon is a collaborator of the terrorist group which newspapers are deliberately hiding. Clearly, the conflicting register settled between the state and civil society. Following this U-turn of government, PA editor wrote a special editorial: “The role of media regarding the Limon-incident and then govt agencies reaction against this role have driven us in front of a burning question. The crux of this burning question: aren’t the orders of this society, the human values and sensitivity of this society  going down into abyss ?…Are we capable enough to represent all these Limons? Are we capable enough to provide with pictures of all these Limons? A nation where 160 million people live, could the media become powerful enough so that they would be able to report about all the injustices happening around? If it is not the case, then where is this society going on?” In other words, civil society’s ideologues identified state as the root cause of all anarchy. Meanwhile, they also carefully differentiated the role of RAB (patent from this excert of a column which also appeared in PA: `Even after the Limon-affair, I do think we still need the service of RAB with condition of some reformation. In a nation where top criminals get bail from the high court, where the weak and corrupted system of investigation, forensic support, prosecution and judiciary system prevail, it is difficult to legally prove the crime of influential criminals. In such a nation, RAB definitely have some usefulness”).

The common necessity of RAB is not questioned, despite the occasional appearance of liberal dilemma which does support RAB’s crusade against extremist tendencies, but skeptical of the extra-judicial anarchy. Processually, they locate the occasional invasion of RAB in homogeneous terrain of society as a sectarian effort from the state to assert it’s own interest. Hence, extra-judicial kernel of the events is an outcome of the impatience of the state, while killing itself is not a problem insofar as it is consistent with the rules that are shared by all factions of ruling class. In the course of the story, the tale of the innocent people that PA editor evoked settled into the homogeneous section of the society. The case of Limon Hossian could be picked up easily because he was clearly from a humble background, a non-extremist, unlike the terror-generating mobs of population. Clearly, the civil society as a process of political mediation, in its spatially specific form, has been lacking the necessary mediator to correlate with both the urban and rural lower-class population, while the urban middle-class has largely been flocking under the anti-political politics of civil society for quite a long time. (The clash between civil society and state-leaning political caste had culminated during the civil-military coup of 2007).

This is however only the plain description of the story, which is valid insofar as we define the interaction between civil and political society from the primacy of their spatial moments. In other words, as Peter Thomas suggested (contra the dominant thesis that Gramsci deployed the categories of civil society and state with respective fixity with hegemony and coercion) that  these categories have to be understood functionally, rather than spatially fixed attributes of political and civil society (which is why the equilibrium of integral state is the disequilibrium of related forces). Simultaneously, the general notion of hegemony  has to be located in the determinate generality of the social totality, that is, the ruling class’ process of ruling of the subordinated classes. Therefore, the notion of hegemony is inextricably related with the unified state-form, notwithstanding the systematic role of civil society as the vantage point of ruling class’ hegemonic disposition.

It has been said in various forms, drawing from Gramsci or not, that the state-form of east was historically dominated by the coercive apparatus as opposed to the consensual mediation of civil society in the west. Without relapsing into such gross contradistinction, it seems helpful to historicize the rise of contemporary form of civil society in Bangladesh with special attention to its own temporality (which is beyond the scope of this cursory note). To speak broadly, the coincidence between the emergence of East Bengal’s urban middle class (it is to be noted that Bengali Muslim civil society developed lately compared to their Bengali Hindu counterpart) and the autonomous political state helped to spatially unify the political society with the equally nascent civil society. This coterminous physical location of political and civil society restricted any contradistinct development of civil society, even the occasional agitations of sections of civil society were far from heralding a self-contained development of civil society (apart from a mere opposition to a given regime).

Following the routine domination of military powers into political apparatuses in both pre and post-independence, the civil-political societies were more prone to mitigate their internal tension in order to confront the former. The birth of a contradistinct form of civil society is closely related with the firm entry of Bangladesh into global market in 1980s (and also with the significant rise of NGOs), which also coincided with the re-birth of electoral democracy. Anti-dictatorship struggle of civil society throughout 1980s resuscitated the political imagination of the urban middle class. The erstwhile dream of a just nation-state had shifted towards a desire for well-regulated and restricted terrain of state, while civil society would have retained their relative autonomy from the embattled business of state. In other words, the formative orientation of contemporary civil society was concerned with the delimitation of political society, a concern which owed to the experience of military regime, despite their struggle for the very reformulation of political sphere. State (as in government), however, sought to control the already well coordinated civil society, since its mode of disposition was no longer coterminous with state, being appeared as an unpleasant threat for the incumbent governments. Therefore, the last 15-20 years of the nation has experienced a progressively intensified tension between state and civil society– conditioned by a civil society-aligning emerging capitalist class–which had culminated through a civil-military coup professing to fix the system with their anti-political credentials. That experiment didn’t go far, as the ‘political’ pressure mounted by popular political parties compelled the savior anti-political governors to retreat— only to pave the way for a general election in 2008.

The reception of Limon’s case among the locality remained in its concrete form, i.e., the general perpetration of coercive state apparatus in their immediate social lives. This dimension of the story become radically twisted after its becoming as a ‘national’ event. At any rate, this event signified the continually reckless invasion of state apparatus into externalized terrains of society (that is, heterogeneous), while the homogeneous urban middle class, being outside of the working space of RAB etc, only could receive the event as a distant chaos. The political investment of civil society, however, turned the significance of the event on its head. That is, the concomitant of the familiarization of Limon’s background as a humble hardworking (wannabe enlightened/middle class) was the loss of its concrete message. It became the popular signifier of state’s impatience to respect the political agency of enlightened middle class. We already described how impatiently state organs were reacting to this portrayal of the government. From the vantage of civil society’s common sense, these reaction appeared as a stubborn disregarding of the population, as if politicians don’t have to participate in election ever. But such common senses do not say much. It is to be noted that government’s stubbornness relied on a different positing of population (those who remain outside of the ‘anti-political’ civil society and do correspond with ‘benevolent’ state) as opposed to the idealization of entire nation as homogeneous middle class. Therefore, the government, as imperceptive it is, straightly reduced the struggle in the ‘popular-political’ political society and ‘self-serving-anti-political’ civil society, equally disregarding the agency of affected population.

Given this background, the state-civil society tension has mostly been envisaged as the non-correspondence between hegemonic form of state and its coercive register, as if they are fundamentally asymmetrical in their general disposition. This conflation about the functioning of unified state-form owes to the spatially determined understanding of hegemony and coercion. To restate Peter Thomas’ re-reading of Gramsci, hegemony does not remain fixed within a specific constitutive part of the integral state, rather it does traverse between the boundaries of political and civil society. The internal tension between civil and political society, therefore, does not mean that coercive state is trying to disrupt the process of hegemonic expansion and vice versa. Rather, given their constitutive tension, this is more of a mutual struggle to re-define the disposition of civil and political society. That is to say, such internal struggles, the unity of the disunity, do not necessarily pose a crisis of the hegemony of unified state-form.

On the one hand, as it has been routinely observed, the boundary of this disunity remains enacted insofar as the generality of the ruling class has not been questioned. On the other hand, the asymmetrical determinations of subordinated population problematise the hegemonic disposition of the political and civil societies apart from their spatial fixation. The presence of a growing urban middle class, sustained by the corporate-based service sector economy, conditions the vanguardist expansion of civil society. Political society’s internal crisis lies in their inability to maneuver this section of society, while civil society is continually mounting pressure to politically integrate this section within the space of governmental politics. The over-generalization of this moment of internal tension of state-form, however, often contribute to the disregarding of their unified process of restricting and controlling gigantic masses of the urban industrial workers and slum-dwelling population, whose emergence as a politically organized force is no-less determinant element in this very reconstitution of state-form.

The form of democracy which has been abstractly universalized with the advent of capitalist globalization is constituted with a deep rooted fear of multitude (the root of this constitutive fear can be traced in the historical formation of liberal democracy). The ‘democratic’ desires of civil society became another name of their fear of the empowerment of the anarchic mob of population (Ochlocracy). Given this non-correspondence between urban middle class and slum-dwelling majority of the urban population (i.e., slum-dwellers), the role of state (as opposed to civil society) as a mediating force with population has been emphasized as the corresponding (as well as reproducing) moment of social interaction between dominating and dominated classes. This normative way of reading the social totality omits the equally determinant moments of their non-mediation. As we have seen, this isolated study of state owes to the projection of state as a normatively outside force of the civil society. Such accounts only reckon their difference, but not their identity. If state is the locus of the confrontation between diverging tendencies and civil society is ‘dark natural ground’ where the secret of state lies, it would be imprudent to situate the realization of social antagonism outside the physicality of the state. In such generalized processes of confrontation between social classes, civil and political society organically march towards a unified state-form, whereby the vindication of state-form through coercive forces necessarily entails one of the defining moment of mediation between governing and governed classes (it doesn’t require to go to the point of physical confrontation. Nevertheless, the political economic development of Global South indicates the struggle between moribund labor and organized capitalism will continue to traverse to the last instance). However, that does not disregard the relative autonomy of intra-state conflicts which are internal to the movement of integral state.

Area Studies programs are facing drastic cuts!

The following is a letter sent out by Gail Hershatter, President of the Association for Asian Studies.  I’m reposting it here because so many people have asked me about what is happening with respect to the Area Studies programs around the country.  Already hit by state budget cuts, area studies programs are not being hit with drastic federal cuts which will cripple if not entirely destroy area studies programs in certain cases.  I don’t agree with the lobbying strategy that is outlined below (largely because I don’t think that Democrats or Republicans are particularly interested in restoring funding to education in any substantial way) but there are excellent resources in the letter that I wanted to pass along.

Threats to Title VI Programs
Information and How You Can Help

Dear AAS Members,

As scholars whose work centers on Asia, many of us have watched with dismay this spring as government support for Title VI programs was cut and the Fulbright-Hays grants for 2011-12 were eliminated altogether (see our news item from April, 2011). This is an issue that we will continue to track closely, speaking out on behalf of Asian Studies scholars about the importance of restoring this funding.

Miriam Kazanjian of the Coalition for International Education, who represents the AAS and similar scholarly organizations in Washington, has provided a list of articles, blogs and Facebook pages on the Title VI/Fulbright funding cuts. The most recent articles appear on the TIME Magazine and Council on Foreign Relations websites. The list is included at the end of this message. We will continue to update this list and to alert our membership at moments where our individual and collective voices should be heard.

Here are some points to keep in mind with respect to NEXT year’s budget process, with suggestions for action drawn from Miriam Kazanjian’s Coalition for International Education materials:

The Congressional FY 2012 budget process will be as difficult, if not more so, than the FY 2011 appropriations process. We are doing our best to encourage Congress to restore funding for Title VI/Fulbright to their FY 2010 levels, which in this political climate will be a steep challenge.

1) MEETINGS WITH CONGRESSIONAL OFFICES AND LETTERS OF SUPPORT. If you are a current or past Title VI/Fulbright grantee, the Coalition is encouraging targeted meetings with your Congressional delegation, in consultation with your campus federal relations officer (see more below about the key Congressional committees). If your campus has multiple Title VI centers/programs, it would be a good idea to team up with the others on your visits. Many Congressional Members are new and need to be briefed by grantees on what the programs do, how they serve the national interest, what will be lost with the FY11 cuts, and what will be lost if the programs are ZEROED in the FY 2012 budget. If you are not a current grantee, letters of support nonetheless are needed.

Letters and meetings are timely now. The House Subcommittee on Labor/HHS/ED Appropriations is scheduled to mark up its FY 2012 bill on July 26, with full committee markup in early August. They have been setting priorities. The comparable Senate subcommittee will continue to hold hearings in the next couple of weeks, but are beginning to set priorities as well.

2) ADVOCACY MATERIALS. Listed below are three additional documents posted on the AAS website.

a) Committee Lists (Excel file). The first document contains spreadsheets of House and Senate Subcommittees on Labor/HHS/ED Appropriations as well as the full Appropriations Committees. Check to see if your state has a Member(s) on these committees, and either write a letter of support, or ask for a meeting, especially if you are a grantee.

If you have no Members on the Appropriations Committees, letters to your Representative and two Senators are important. You may urge that they contact the Labor/HHS/ED subcommittee chairmen in the respective chambers requesting that Title VI/Fulbright funding be restored to FY 2010 levels.

b) Results for Title VI-Part A, International Education and Foreign Language Studies: This document provides examples of specific outcome indicators for Part A programs, particularly what the grantees have achieved with the enhancements provided by Congress since 9/11. In particular, please see a new table of NRC sample language course and enrollment increases since FY 2000, which are significant. Feel free to emphasize in your letters and meetings data outlined in the document, especially how Title VI centers have responded to Congressional directives since the post-9/11 enhancements.

c) Title VI/Fulbright-Hays Talking Points: This document provides generic talking points that you may wish to use in letters. Please note that the following language is what the Coalition is requesting the Congress to do:

“We understand the tremendous pressures on the federal budget and the difficult decisions Congress faces on spending. However, we are deeply concerned over the severe and disproportionate $50 million or 40% cut under the FY 2011 Continuing Resolution to HEA-Title VI/Fulbright-Hays programs, the U.S. Department of Education’s premier international education programs.

“We strongly urge that Congress safeguard these programs by restoring funding in the FY 2012 appropriations to the FY 2010 level of $125.881 million, which includes $108.4 million for Title VI-A&B; $15.6 million for Fulbright-Hays 102(b)(6); and $1.9 million for the Title VI-C, Institute for International Public Policy.”

In your letters, feel free to use this lead in, followed by information about the impact of your current Title VI/Fulbright grant, or one that you might have had in the past, or other ways you have benefited from these programs. Anecdotal stories demonstrating impact are effective, as well as what will be lost if these cuts continue into FY 2012. Remember that personal letters are more effective than form letters.

Also note that some in Congress and the Administration think other federal agencies or the universities themselves should sustain Title VI programs. Include in your letters what will be lost without Title VI funds. For example, state governments and foundations will not fund these activities on the steady basis required to meet ongoing national capacity needs, which is a federal role, and in this case a Department of Education role.

3) THIRD PARTY VALIDATORS. Seek third parties who have benefited from Title VI/Fulbright programs and are willing to write to your Congressional delegation urging restoration of funding, such as former students and outreach recipients. Letters should be 1-2 pages, flagging the program, expressing concern over the disproportionate cuts, stating the dollar restoration paragraph noted above, and providing one or two examples of how they have benefited from the programs.

The National Humanities Alliance has kindly posted on its website Title VI issue and action pages, including a form letter with optional add-in information, which anybody can use to send a letter to your Representative and two Senators:

4) PRESS ARTICLES AND OP-EDs. Seek press articles about the cuts and their impact. Below is a list of articles, blogs and Facebook pages that have emerged thus far and that I am aware of. Also, look for prominent Title VI beneficiaries willing and in a position to write an op-ed article in your local newspaper or in a high recognition newspaper like the Washington Post, NYTimes, LATimes, etc.

5) FEEDBACK. Finally, provide feedback directly to Miriam A. Kazanjian of CIE on the following: (a) What contacts are made with Congressional offices and outcomes; and (b) the impact of the FY11 cuts on your campus. Contact Miriam Kazanjian at or (301) 230-9214.

With best wishes for a restful and productive summer,
Gail Hershatter
President, AAS


Title VI/FH Articles and Blogs as of June 20, 2011



Title VI/FH Blogs

Developers vs. Slumdwellers in Bombay

Press release from the National Alliance of People’s Movements and the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan (the Movement to protect homes and build homes)

For Immediate Release                                                   24th June, 2011

NAPM condemns brazen attacks on slum activists and residents

Struggle to intensify: Thousands to challenge Builder-Raj and Goonda-Raj

Emboldened with the absolutely immoral and unjustifiable decision of the Maharashtra Government, the Chief Minister and the Chief Secretary to withdraw the decision constituting two committees to enquire in to the slum rehabilitation frauds, the builders are attacking the activist slum dwellers in Mumbai. Those who have exposed massive corruption and scam, and shown courage to fight the legal and non-violent battle till the agitation with 9 days fast by Medha Patkar and 1200 others on relay fast, are targetted by the musclemen of the builder’s lobby, which has a share vested interest, along with the political class and protected by the police administration.

After the first attack on Sandip Yevale and Ashok, the second one took place at the gates of the building of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) itself. The 25 strong group of those associated with Satyen Tandan, the builders who have been trying to bully the Sikh and other families in Guru Nanak Nagar where RTI documents to all attempts to discover the fraud have shown results, attacked 75 years old and other residents with iron rods. Gurinder Singh Saini (65) received serious head injury requiring 9 stitches, Harbans Singh Parmar (60+) was dragged with his hair and others including Meher Singh (65+), Gurudayal Singh (75+) etc. were also injured. While they were immediately admitted, the serious, violent and fatal attackers were only taken in custody and kept seated at the police station till next evening and were released out on bail.

The residents of Golibar know this is one more discriminatory and repressive act unlike the 7 days judicial custody imposed on the innocent old and young women and men who merely opposed the police force in a peaceful way from entering into the pucca houses and demolishing them. “The statement recorded by the police was also said to have been ‘lost’ and the behaviour of the police at local station was absolutely partial”, said  Simran, who is leading the women in Guru Nanak Nagar and was witness to the incident. The real culprit Shivaji Patil, one of the Directors of the Builder firm, their advocate and Mr. Raj who were at the scene and participated are not even arrested yet !

Ghar Bacaho Ghar Banao Andolan has reported and warned the Home Minister and has demanded immediate action against the known criminals. It is obvious that such brutality is taking the worst form and scale due to the Government’s decision to reverse the assured path of enquiry into builder’s illegalities. GBGB, NAPM and thousands of slum dwellers and middle class residents with supporters from all walks of life are to take the fight ahead against this corruption and criminalization by profiteering private developers.

Santosh Daundkar               Madhuresh Kumar             Faiza             Medha Patkar  (09821943920)                      (09818905316)                       (09820683281)

Austin Chronicle prints letter about “Mikado” and anti-Asian racism

Protests City’s Funding ‘Mikado’


Dear Editor,
As members of the faculty of the UT Center for Asian American Studies, we are writing to protest the city of Austin’s funding of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, which features performers in “yellow face.” Despite the operetta’s long history and comedic traits, it offers a mocking and offensive portrayal of Japanese society and culture. It is comparable to a municipally supported performance featuring “blackface,” which also uses the guise of humor to mask insulting and degrading representations. We ask that city arts authorities display greater sensitivity and awareness of Asian Pacific American issues in choosing how to allocate public funding.
Eric Tang
Assistant professor
African and African Diaspora Studies Department
Center for Asian American Studies
University of Texas at Austin