This is what it means to live …

Feeling nostalgic for the  songs my parents used to play at home when I was young, I looked up one of my favorites from Anari (1959):

Now, this movie suffers from all of the contradictions of Nehruvian socialism — populism mixed with aggressive state-led industrialization.  And it produces this interesting affect: sympathy for the poor, but only when they are beyond reproach, and already happy despite their hardships.  (The heart of the movie is a plot about a poor boy who falls in love with a woman who he imagines to be poor but who turns out to be rich, mimicking the pattern of the middle-class’s feeling about the world: loving and hating the rich simultaneously; ditto for the poor).

This pattern of romanticizing poverty has a long trajectory in Indian art, and it seems to be a mix of religious ideas about karma (which easily turn into neoliberal ideas about “merit”) alongside a deep-rooted resignation about poverty’s durability.

This song has the standard mix of ideas from the late 1950s that characterized Nehruvian liberalism: the poor are really rich where it counts (माना अपनि जेब से फकीर हैं/ फिर भि यारॊं दिल के हम अमीर हैं); the poor are naturally capable of solidarity — you’ll notice how everyone he comes across in the movie is either visibly worse off than he is or substantially better off and incapable of sympathy (किसी का दर्द मिट सके तो ले उधार); the poor are capable of incredible acts of self-sacrifice which double nicely as metaphors for a self-effacing love (किसी कि मुस्कुराहटॊं पे हॊ निसार); and even if there is no solace in the real world, something better awaits in a perpetually deferred and perhaps metaphysical future (के मर के भि किसि को याद अयेंगे/ किसि के आंसुऒं मे मुस्कुरायेंगे).  The point is to educate the middle-class into caring about its poor fellow-citizens, or at least to make them feel like their small acts of charity are actually meaningful and not simply self-serving if not irrelevant.

It also helps the middle-class to hate the rich (of whom they are jealous) with an extraordinarily confident self-righteousness (the rich characters in this movie commit the crimes, of course):

Despite the heavy does of liberal feeling (and the crisis in the movie is resolved by a return to law and order if I recall correctly — the police eventually get the evidence that Raj Kapoor‘s character didn’t poison his landlady) there is something of a social justice critique that undergirds the feeling that the movie sets out to establish.  But the point of the film and so many like it seems to be to take that understanding of the social crisis that is poverty and transform it into something interpersonal, something experienced at the level of character, so that surviving or failing in the world is in the most basic sense a test of character and morality (and beauty).  The world is tough,  films like this believe,but as long as you suffer in the right way, you’ll make it … perhaps this is also the reason that the middle-class both loves these movies and hates the poor: no one can actually live up to the standard set for the suffering poor in cinema.  There is also something really patronizing in the idea that to find beauty in the poor is an act of love.

The formal features of the song are also charming.  Character is established early with a close-up of Raj Kapoor not stepping on a bug, easily playing with children who recognize his internal goodness, standing as an arrogant and obviously expensive car walks by (the rich can’t be bothered), talking to a beggar (who actually gives him some of his change), helping a blind man (I want to say something about how all the actually poor in the movie have to be really dark while all of the central actors are fair-skinned), etc.  These are all the features of the Christ-like poor man; the Christian imagery in the movie is pretty clear, too, with Raj Kapoor praying to a crucifix in the final scene in the movie.

It has to be an itinerant song, a Chaplin-esque dandy walking through the world who experiences class divisions at every turn.  And the refrain “जीना इसी का नाम हैं” (“This is what it means to live”) is about as close as you can get to saying “the poor will always be with us” while feeling like you are saying the opposite (“the poor aren’t really poor at all”).

I’m still a sucker for this stuff.

Victorious Maruti-Suzuki Workers Strike!

After 13 days on strike — VICTORY!

Watch the video below:

Here’s the report from NDTV:

Manesar:  The nearly two-week-long workers’ strike at Maruti’s Manesar plant was called off late on Thursday night.

The strike was called off after the Labour Minister said that no one can stop workers from registering their union with the management.

All the 11 sacked employees, who were fired for allegedly inciting others to go on strike, will also be reinstated but they will have to go through a chargesheet enquiry.

Around 2,000 workers at the Maruti Suzuki India‘s (MSI) plant had been on strike since June 4 demanding recognition of a new union – Maruti Suzuki Employees Union (MSEU) – formed by those working at the Manesar plant, among other things.

The Manesar plant rolls out about 1,200 units every day in two shifts. The factory produces hatchbacks Swift and A-Star and sedans DZiRE and SX4.


Monday, June 27 · 2:30pm – 5:30pm

Capital Metro Headquarters

2910 E. 5th St.
Austin, Texas

More Info
The rally will demand Cap Metro recognize nearly 40 years of agreements with local transit workers and DOL rulings regarding the union’s rights. The Texas Leg. recently passed a bill that requires Cap Metro competitively bid all transit services. Cap Metro is using this new law as a way to crush the local union! Don’t let it happen! Come out and show Cap Metro that Austin believes in supporting workers’ rights!The following is a message from ATU Local 1091’s president, Jay Wyatt:


For several years now, Capital Metro has been attacking our workers who provide a quality service at a reasonable cost here in the Austin, Texas area.

Capital Metro is now attacking us again with support from the STATE OF TEXAS S.B. 650, which is designed to take away our Federal protective rights to COLLECTIVE BARGAINING, reduce our hard earned and fought for over the years WAGES, BENEFITS and RETIREMENT. They are trying to push the UNION into agreeing to become PUBLIC EMPLOYEES and give up all our rights or they will CONTRACT OUT OUR JOBS to a contractor who would not honor our COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT.

This move on the part of Capital Metro will not only HURT our MEMBERS and their FAMILIES, it will HURT our RIDING PUBLIC because the QUALITY of SERVICE would be reduce.

Our Local Union need all your help to fight back at this attempt to harm our quality of life.




Jay Wyatt
ATU Local 1091 President & Business Agent

Sign the petition against “yellow-face” theater in Austin

You can sign the petition here (the text of the petition is below):



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 “black face” which also uses the guise of humor to mask insulting and degrading representations. For a brief discussion of how the Mikado misrepresents Japanese society, please view the following []. Please sign this petition asking that city arts authorities display greater sensitivity and awareness of Asian Pacific American issues in choosing how to allocate public funding.

[Your name]

Spread the word, tell a friend.
as Yum-Yum (center), with Kate Forster (left) ...

Image via Wikipedia


Austin is no place for “Yellow-face”

This piece is submitted by Drs. Madeline Hsu, Julia Lee, Nhi Lieu, Naomi Paik, Sharmila Rudrappa, Snehal Shingavi and Eric Tang of The Center for Asian American Studies, University of Texas at Austin

There is a cultural practice called “yellow face.”  It began in the late 19th century as a way to portray Asians in a negative light in drama and fiction in response to the increase in immigration to western countries, greater political tensions between the West and the East, and anxieties about exotic Orientals. Similar to the blackface minstrelsy that emerged out of the white popular culture’s simultaneous fascination and contempt for black life, yellow face is literally the practice of white actors dressing up in stereotypical Asian garb and make-up and lampooning or satirizing Asian cultures and histories for comic effect.  One of the most unfortunate legacies of that anti-Asian racism is the long legacy that it has in mainstream theater and film, so much so that it gets considered one of the hallmarks of humor rather than an odious practice that has long outlived its time.

Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” stands, embarrassingly, in the tradition of “yellow face” theater.  The plot is a simple one of romance at odds with marriage, but it moves forward, we are led to believe, because Japan has passed anti-flirting laws making flirting punishable by death: burying alive wives, burning others in oil, and on and on.  All of this is carried out by characters acting out debased and absurd tropes of anti-Asian racism: sexual repression and oversexed characters; fantastical feudal laws and tyrannical rulers; violence crying out for western order and morality.  And, to make matters worse, every character is played by a white actor, giving a wink and a nod (and using the familiar “ching-chonging”, short, staccato steps, ridiculous names like Yum-yum and Titi-Poo, and the interminable bowing, which were the bread-and-butter of anti-Asian racism) to the ease of the comedy and simplicity of the caricature.

According to Josephine Lee, professor or English at the University of Minnesota and author of Japan: the Pure Invention, “The Mikado does more than simply use yellow face as a convention; it celebrates its continued privilege.  Yellow face is so ingrained in The Mikado that it is a shock even to contemporary viewers to see anything but white actors in these roles.  What also happens is that there is no longer any responsibility to represent a real Japan, or to acknowledge the presence of actual Japanese (or other Asian) people. This faux-Japan becomes an exotic and imaginary world of the far East that was more familiar to many Westerners than any real Japan could be.”

The decision of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Austin’s decision to produce “The Mikado” this month at the Travis High Theater without even bothering to offer some historical context for the racial past of the play is a disappointment.  Equally unfortunate is the City of Austin’s decision to have taxpayers pay for the production.  At best this is irresponsible, at worst it demonstrates that racism against Asians is so widespread in both government and civil society that it is undetectable, even in supposedly liberal Austin.

There is a common rebuttal among those who defend “The Mikado”: this is not a play about stereotyping Asians, but about making fun of Europeans who act the fool. It’s really a witty satire about nineteenth-century Britain. In other words, the opera is so over the top that nobody can really take it seriously as a performance that is supposed to be about Japan. But isn’t this precisely the staying power of racism? The refusal to seriously acknowledge blatantly degrading images is precisely what sustains white privilege.

These are not abstract academic points; they have relevance to everyday life. Some of us have children, and on the occasion that one of them is taunted by another child who performs “chinky-eyes,” while other kids erupt in laughter, we are painfully aware that nobody is laughing at the foolishness of the perpetrator.  They are laughing at our child’s expense.

Yellow face, however “lighthearted” and “witty” it claims to be, is reprehensible and damaging to our shared community.  While we adamantly support public funding of the arts, perhaps the city government should choose to fund productions that refuse, or better yet, challenge racist images. (Incidentally, this month’s “Black Arts Movement,” organized by Austin’s ProArts Collective provides such an opportunity:

We are not calling for censorship. Rather, we are calling-out public performances of racism. The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Austin should take note that other production companies in the US have found ways of performing this opera by addressing if not subverting its racism, by not only setting aside yellow face, but challenging it outright. Austin–particularly its arts and culture community—prides itself on being original, progressive and diverse.  This week’s production of “The Mikado” fails on all fronts.

Letter to the Governor of Bihar: stop police killings of villagers

13 June 2011, Bihar Bhawan, New Delhi               

Social Movements, Trade Unions, and Civil Society Condemns Police Killings in Forbesganj and Submits Memorandum to the Governor, Bihar

Shri Devanand Konwar,

Governor of Bihar


Through the Resident Commissioner

Bihar Bhawan, New Delhi


Dear Sir,

It is with immense grief and anger that we write to you today bringing to your notice an incident of hideous brutality unleashed by the personnel of Bihar Police on poor villagers of Forbesganj block in Araria district. On 3rd June, when the villagers were protesting the blockade of a road that connects the village to the idgah, karbala and market by a private company, Auro Sundaram, owned by the son of the local BJP councilor, Ashok Agaarwal, they were fired upon by the police at the orders of SP, Garima Malik. It has been reported that in addition to the SDO, the local councilor was also present and not only did he instigate the police, but also personally fired upon them. The protesters were chased into their homes and killed. Six people, including a woman and an infant lost their lives. A gruesome video recording of the policemen jumping and trampling upon the faces and bodies of injured, half dead young men has exposed the depths to which the state machinery has fallen in the name of upholding ‘law and order’, and the reality of ‘good governance’, where the poor and minorities continue to remain vulnerable.

Though the government has announced a judicial probe into the incident, this can only be seen as a half-hearted measure taken under pressure of mounting criticism given that it has still not bothered to name the person who will head it; the ex-gratia compensation of Rs Three lakhs, and that too to only one victim is a mockery of this horrific tragedy and injustice. We therefore demand from the government of Bihar that:

1)      Time-bound judicial probe under a sitting High Court Judge.

2)       Immediate dismissal of SP, SDO and all other senior police, administrative officers present on the spot at the time firing was ordered.

3)      A thorough enquiry into the role of the BJP councilor Ashok Agarwal for firing at people.

4)      Compensation of 10 lakhs to the families of those killed and Govt jobs to one person from each family of those killed.

5)      Compensation of Rs One lakh to the injured and treatment of all injured at government expense.

6)      Immediate lifting of the blockade on the road to facilitate the free movement of villagers.

7)      An apology from the Chief Minister and the Government of Bihar for this incident.




Shabnam Hashmi, ANHAD

Manisha Sethi, Convener, Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association

Ravi Rai, General Secretary, All India Students Association

Madhuresh Kumar, National Organiser, National Alliance of People’s Movements

Sandeep Samwad, Bigul Mazdoor Dasta

Seela Manswinee, Delhi Solidarity Group


Contact : Mahtab Alam 9811209345

NAPM memo on POSCO in Odisha


National Office : A Wing First Floor, Haji Habib Building, Naigaon Cross Road                                                                                  Dadar (E), Mumbai – 400 014. Phone – 9969363065;

Delhi Office : 6/6 jangpura B, New Delhi – 110 014 . Phone : 9818905316

E-mail: | Web :


June 13, 2010


Dr. Manmohan Singh

Prime Minister, Union of India


Shri Naveen Patnaik

Chief Minister, State of Odisha


We have written to you earlier on the issue of proposed POSCO plant in the State of Odisha. We are extremely concerned at using police force against its own people in the villages of Gobindpur and Dhinkia, Jagatsinghpur to force them to vacate their homes and lands setting up this plant in the name of “public interest”. How can this be the ‘public interest’ if people of the region has been opposed to this project for more than five years, since the day MoU was signed ? Some of us have visited the area in these years and seen the resistance and also the thriving natural resources and communities living with dignity.


There has already been violence in this area by the police against people including women and children protesting peacefully, and on June 3, 2011, 17 people were beaten up and arrested for resisting the destruction of their betel vines, the source of their livelihood. As on June 12, 2011, the whole area is tense with about more than 25 platoons of fully armed police menacingly present, making loudspeaker announcements every 15 minutes, ordering the people to vacate or in default face police action. The people are especially afraid that the police may attack at night, but they are determined to peacefully resist the land acquisition. Women and children have been forced to lie in this chilling heat facing the boots of your armoured police. Is this the great democracy we are celebrating ?


It need not be made more explicit that use or threat of police force by the Odisha State Government or the Union Government based on illegal environmental clearance from the Union Government is completely unconstitutional. By not taking all possible steps to prevent police action against peacefully demonstrating citizens, you are violating the Constitution of India which you have sworn to uphold when you took office. Similar action took place in Kalinganagar in 2006, when 14 people who were peacefully resisting destrcution of their homes were shot dead by Odisha police. The police violence against the resistance of people in other places like Kashipur (Odisha), and Nandigram and Singur (West Bengal), to name just three, to government acquisition of land in the “public interest” has severely eroded the faith of people all over the country in the democratic professions of both state and union governments. In fact, people’s perception is that governments, regardless of ideology, are complicit with the multi-national corporations that demand land and other primary resources at the cost of poor rural and tribal people.


The acquisition of forest land is in violation of the Forest Rights Act, a matter on which the two committees of MoEF have already clarified and asked settlement of rights of people living there. You possibly have very good reason to neglect such people-oriented, constitutionally and legally sound advice but whatever the reason, it is anti-people, undemocratic and in violation of the sacred oath of office that you have taken. In fact the reason is eminently suspect.


It is unutterably sad that Independent India, that too under the rule of a party that won independence from the British, is using colonial methods of grabbing land with the use of police force from poor but self-supporting rural people to benefit multi-national business corporations in spite of their peaceful resistance, and when their pending cases in the High Court are due to be heard shortly. It is amazing how you, in your positions of power, are completely divorced from the reality of the gross injustices and violation of constitutional and human rights being perpetrated by the organs of the State against the very people who have elevated you to those positions. We fail to understand that why is Odisha government in such a hurry when the MoU with POSCO is not even there, it lapsed and your government needs more time to renew it. What is the hurry ? Whose interests are you trying to promote ?


Dear PM, you must uphold the promises made by your government and party that there won’t be any forcible acquisitions against the wishes of people. This is the test case for your intervention.


Notwithstanding the foregoing, it is never too late to take a right decision and pass legally and constitutionally correct orders. In view of the foregoing, we take this opportunity to urgently urge you to immediately withdraw the police forces that threaten the people of Gobindpur and Dhinkia in jagatsingpur District of Odisha, and put halt to any forced land acquisition in the area for the POSCO project.


Medha Patkar, Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere (Retd), Prafulla Samantra, Sandeep Pandey, Gautam Bandopadhyay, Gabriele Dietrich, Anand Mazgaonkar, Faisal Khan, Sister Celia, Vimal Bhai, Mukta Srivastava, Suhas Kolhekar, Suniti S R, Rajendra Ravi, Bhupendera Singh Rawat, Ramakrishna Raju, Madhuresh Kumar


Condemn the Assault on anti-POSCO activists

Please sign this petition by clicking here.

To:  Chief Minister of Orissa, Prime Minister of India

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the ongoing assault on the anti-POSCO protesters in Jagatsinghpur District, Orissa. After arresting and beating people last week, today more than one thousand police surrounded the area and laid siege to those protesting. Women, children and men spent the entire day in intense heat in order to stand vigil against the illegal attack on their lands. Both people and police officials have lost consciousness from the heat; the police snuck in from one direction and destroyed some vines. Dhinkia gram panchayat, where the crisis is occurring, contains around 2/3 of the land sought by the steel plant and the majority of those affected.

This horrific attack comes at a time when two cases by the villagers are pending in the Orissa High Court, and when there is a criminal complaint against the District Collector for lying and fabricating the evidence that was the basis of the clearance to take the land.

It also comes after three official committees found the land grab to be illegal and in violation of the Forest Rights Act, and after it was exposed by international experts that the project has no benefits for the local or national economy (while providing a minimum profit of Rs. 1,95,000 crores to POSCO).

That the Orissa government itself sees no great urgency in this project can be seen from the fact that the MoU with POSCO has not been renewed for over a year, and its renewal was deferred again just three days ago. There is thus not even any agreement on what the project will be when it comes up. Why then this inhuman attack on those seeking to defend their rights? Can it be anything other than an attempt to terrorise the protesters and all others who may dare to oppose the crimes of the state?

Clearly the State government, with the support of the Centre, is not concerned about the law, the people, the environment or development. Yet again we see the use of police terror to loot our people for private profit. No words of condemnation are sufficient for this heinous crime.


The Undersigned


Bahrain and the Arab Spring

Speech given at today’s rally for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain:

I am out here today because I stand with the people of Bahrain against their corrupt and vicious monarchy, because I stand in solidarity with the people who are protesting throughout the Arab world (in Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon and on and on), and because I believe that these protests are in direct response to policies that the US has pursued throughout the 1970s until today, the most horrible examples of which have been the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the undeclared war in Pakistan.

But the protests that have broken out in Bahrain in the past five months, did not come out of the blue. They are part of a long process of economic change and struggle that has been developing in Bahrain and has followed a similar pattern to economic and political processes throughout the Arab world, where in order to control the wealth of the country, the leadership of those countries exercised increasing amounts of state power and violence and restricted democracy by choking the life out of it – all while the US encouraged it.

In order to maintain its economy, the ruling class in Bahrain has done two things. One is to create two pools of low-wage workers and pit them against each other –this keeps the capitalists happy and the workers at war with each other. Starting in the 1970s, Bahrain began importing workers (more Sunni than Shi’a) into Bahrain from Pakistan, Syria, Yemen and Iraq in order to run basic industries and services. These immigrants are then put at the head of the list for jobs, education, and housing, while Bahraini Shi’a are often left to fend for themselves, creating a deep sense of injustice in the population. The immigrants are themselves exploited but they depend on the state for their jobs, so they often side with the state. Shi’a on the other hand are not only kept out of the economy, they are discriminated against politically, and the official sentiment in Bahrain is that all Shi’i are agents of Iran in Bahrain.

These divisions are new, and based on the strategic plan of the Bahraini monarchy to divide and conquer their population. In the 60s and 70s, for instance, there was quite a bit of intermarriage and integration in Bahraini society – there is much less so now. But this is on the backs of pursuing a massive neoliberal program in order to make Bahrain open for business — the second important feature of the Bahraini ruling class’s economic strategy. Bahrain is the only country in the Gulf to have signed a Free Trade Agreement with the US. The result has been massive inequality in the region: desperate poverty and homelessness in parts of the country despite being awash in oil wealth.

Bahrain has a long history of social protests, especially over housing and jobs, because despite being an oil-rich country, Bahrain survives on a deep economic inequality that is often expressed along sectarian lines. The Shi’i majority by and large are substantially worse off. Not only economically, but also politically – despite being the majority in the country they are outnumbered in the Parliament and completely barred from the security forces, which consist of mostly Pakistani and other Arab nationals. The idea in Bahrain is that no Shiite should have a gun.

Starting in February, the people of Bahrain have been protesting for greater democracy in Bahrain. Signs called for more democracy and said things like “not Sunni, not Shi’a, we are all Bahrainis.” The protests gathered in the Pearl roundabout in Manama and were beginning to turn into Tahrir Square, when the Bahraini government declared martial law in March and allowed the Saudi national guard to enter the country and begin a massive crackdown on protesters. Doctors and nurses who were treating protesters have been arrested and are now being subject to military tribunals. It has meant an intensification of torture, secret trials, demolition of Shia mosques, and repression against human rights activists, labor, lawyers, students, political figures, and others.

The US media has not covered any of this. They have made the problem out to be one of sectarian violence or of Iranian meddling. Or they’ve talked about how the US is working patiently to help the Bahraini protesters. Don’t believe it. We have every reason to believe that the US has given the Bahraini government as well as the Saudi government the green light to continue their attacks on protesters. Barack Obama spoke out about the violent crackdown against the Bahraini protesters back in May, but last Tuesday, Bahrain’s crown prince, Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa meet with Obama and Hillary Clinton. The Crown Prince says he is open to dialogue about national reconciliation in Bahrain, but this is utter nonsense as the entirety of the leadership of the opposition and many key activists are all sitting in jail, many awaiting illegal military trials.

When the media isn’t covering this nonsense, it is covering the formula one race. It’s very sad when the FIA, the organization which hosts the Formula One Grand Prix has better politics than most western governments. They agreed to cancel the race in Bahrain because of the crackdown on protesters and the instability in the country – which is a whole lot better than the US.

But because of its small size and relative weakness, the Bahraini government has allied itself to the Saudi government, itself no friend of democracy or human rights, but it must be added, good friend to the Americans. And Saudi Arabia has helped in the crackdown viciously, by sending in its own national guard to help the Bahraini government stay in power.

I think that it’s time that activists in this country stand up and say that US foreign policy has been an agent of much violence in the world and little good. Lupe Fiasco was not that far off when he called Obama a terrorist. The hypocritical support for the Gulf regime and the cynical backing of some of the worst forces in Libya (like the National Transitional Council) against Qaddafi, a man they sold weapons to for decades.  It must be added that Saudi Arabia’s support for the No Fly Zone over Libya was only secured by giving the Saudis a free hand to crush protests in Yemen and Bahrain.  And the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have all demonstrated over and again that the US is not interested in improving the lives of ordinary people in the region – it is only interested in the welfare of the rich corporations that do business here and over there.

The only thing that can help the Bahraini people will be the active solidarity that they get from activists in the US and from the successful completion of the revolutions of the Arab Spring. Their liberation won’t come from Saudi Arabia, it won’t come from the 5th Fleet, it won’t come from Iran. Their liberation and the liberation of all Arab peoples depends on activists in this country putting an end to the meddlesome and destructive foreign policy of the United States.