The Face of Mother India

See also at: Countercurrents

poster3gouache on paper, 2016

“My face today is the face of the fight in Bastar”, said Soni Sori recently. An Adivasi mother, school teacher and a member of Bastar Aam Admi Party, Sori was attacked with what was termed, “acid like substance” by unknown assailants in Chastisgarh on February 20.

In her recent statement, Sori went on to say “we want azadi from the government oppression, from the way we are targeted by the state. We cannot sleep peacefully at night inside our houses. There is always this fear that we will be picked up by the CRPF men and framed as naxals.” Her past is full of such violent assaults on her body and spirit.

The attack on Soni Sori is emblematic of what’s happening to her beloved forests of Chhatisgarh and her Adivasi brothers and sisters, many of whom are still languishing in jails for no justifiable reason.

The democracy-like substance being rubbed here and there on the Indian countryside, its peoples, birds, animals, is slowly morphing into a giant, dark ash-pile, sinking right in the heart of mineral rich Mother India. But she’s not giving up. This mother India is never still. She is always moving. Fearless. The coward state and its cronies will stop at nothing in their efforts to crush Mother India and her fearless mothers and daughters. But she still moves protecting her soil, her forests, her endangered wild Buffalo, her Hill Mynah, and all the living creatures. This is her Memorandum of Understanding with our dying planet.

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Jatiindia: A Flag of Atrocities Caste, Present and Future

See also at: Countercurrents

The title for this series of painted flags, Jatiindia, is my name for the country of India, a nation of jatis (castes). India still practices this worst form of social exclusion in the world, now more violently than ever in this neoliberal age.

The flag design:

The saffron color of the top bar symbolizes long-existing casteism, now made more open and feverish by resurgent hindutva politics.

Blue—a color historically adopted by the Dalit movement—here honors all of India’s oppressed people.

The bottom green bar symbolizes India’s ecological foundations, which are endangered by the ideology of neoliberalism and defended by our Adivasis and other oppressed people.

The circular image in the center of each flag signifies a target viewed through a weapon’s saffron (indicating right-wing nationalism) crosshairs.

The series moves between the past and present, bringing forward some of the targeted faces of resistance who have challenged the stagnant ideology of exclusion in The World’s Largest Hypocrisy: Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims, Christians, occupied Kashmiris, India’s northeasterners, and others who have been caught for the longest time between the old and the ever-mutating new—between the dogmas of religious scripture and state-sponsored terrorism.

The first flag of this series depicted Rohith Vemula, the 26-year-old son of a landless Dalit mother, who hanged himself in a student hostel room on January 17th, 2016. Many in India have referred to his death as murder, because it encapsulates the continuing struggle confronting a cross-section of the country’s oppressed.

Vinay Sirohi with his wifeVinay Sirohi with his wife, acrylic on paper, 2016

Jatiindia: Vinay Sirohi, Shaista Hameed and Danish Farooq, Lingaram Kodopi

On November 11, 2015, the day of Diwali (a major Indian festival), 22-year-old Vinay Sirohi, a contract worker at the Keshopur Sewage Treatment Plant in New Delhi suffocated to death, stuck in a narrow pipe. Officials said that “he was not wearing a safety helmet, face mask or even gumboots.” “No foul play behind death,” said one cop. The question to ask here is whether a face mask, helmet and gumboots would have been enough to insulate Vinay from death by suffocation, much less from the ravages of Jatiindia and human sewage intervention. There was no foul play involved? Really? Can’t we see that the “foul play” is systemic and was already in place in a country where the occupation of manual sewage scavenging is still the order of the day, despite it having been outlawed by Jatiindia’s Parliament?

Shaista Hameed and Danish FarooqShaista Hameed and Danish Farooq, acrylic on paper, 2016

With close to 700,000 security forces stationed within its borders—one Indian soldier for every 17 to 18 residents—Kashmir is home to the most densely militarized and the most under-reported occupation on the planet today—far from our collective well-intentioned consciousness. Since the tension in the region returned to armed struggle in the early 90s, and with “boots on the ground” controlling almost every aspect of the daily lives of the Kashmiri people, the Indian state has extended its tentacles into institutions like the judiciary, media and bureaucracy, completing its grip on the country. This has directly resulted in more than 70,000 deaths, enforced and involuntary disappearance of more than 8,000 people, reports of more than 6,000 unmarked mass graves, and continuous extra-judicial killings, torture and rapes.

Around the same time as the JNU movement took center stage in the country’s right-to-dissent arena, on February 14th, 2014, the 22-year-old recent graduate Shaista Hameed and the 19-year-old engineering student Danish Farooq were killed by security forces. Shaista and Danish were among a crowd protesting the killing of a local youth who died resisting occupation.

Lingaram KodopiLingaram Kodopi, acrylic on paper, 2016

While we seldom see or hear news of murders like those of Danish Farooq and Shaista Hameed, some of us are now being forced to witness other, more visible atrocities like that inflicted on our Adivasi mother and school teacher Soni Sori—perhaps because there is only so much that can be hidden. But it puts her no less in the target sights of Jatiindia than Vinay, Farooq and Shaista, or for that matter, her journalist nephew Lingaram Kodopi, who along with Sori has spend most of his adult life exposing the scandal of resource exploitation in the states of Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Jharkhand. The price of such exploitation has included deforestation, the uprooting of indigenous populations from their land, the burning and razing of their homes to the ground by police and paramilitary forces, the torture and rape of people both outside and inside jails, and a long, long list of other dehumanizing tactics by the state and its corporate allies.

Occupation and exploitation are the names of the corporate-hegemonic power game. Silencing dissent and resistance at all costs keeps Jatiindia shining with targets old and new.

Jatiindia: A Flag of Atrocities Caste, Present and Future

See also at: Countercurrents, CounterPunch

RohithRohith Vemula, acrylic on paper, 2016

We are so cutoff from those targeted by our governments and their corporate bedfellows, and our histories are so saturated with unspoken atrocities, that there are not enough elite hands in this world to participate in this vision I describe below. And it would also mean discarding monocrop patriotism with a more diverse one because there is no one symbolic flag in which to pack it in.

But nevertheless, imagine a scene with thousands of protestors in today’s caste-and-capitalist India, taking to the street and chanting slogans of accountability, both from their own government—past and present—and more importantly their own citizen hearts, waving not one symbolic, patriotic flag, but many, each with a different face of exclusion at the heart of it.

A citizen-sea of twice-born faces waving faces of citizen-exclusion. Faces of those who have paid and are continuing to pay the ultimate price for confronting power with truth at various times in the country’s history. Resisting religious and economic fundamentalism and asserting their human right to dignity, inclusion, equality and justice—the stuff we take so much for granted. The only difference between them is that the hand that waves the flag is a beneficiary of the world’s largest democracy….I mean, the world’s largest hypocrisy (i.e., JatiIndia, my name for our nation of jatis/castes.)

The faces on the flags waving in this hypocritical Delhi breeze would belong to the oppressed, the excluded, the other—Dalits, Adivasis, occupied Kashmiris, india’s northeasterners, and others. Their exclusion is squeezed between the old and the new, between the dogmas of religious scriptures and state sponsored terrorism. Anyone who questions and resists these dogmas is speedily labeled with a T word, as a “terrorist” or a “traitor.” Despite that, today people are taking to the streets and questioning the irrational hand of authority.

“My birth is my fatal accident,” wrote Rohith Vemula. He was the 26-year-old son of a landless Dalit mother, who hanged himself in a student hostel room on January 17th, 2016. A research scholar at the University of Hyderabad (HCU) and a student activist of the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), he dreamed of one day becoming “a writer of science, like Carl Sagan.” That dream is gone now, but the suicide letter he wrote and left behind for us will not only send chills up your spine and make you weep; it might well change the course of Indian caste history, because it exposes the plight of those born Dalits in India like nothing that came before it.

Suicides among bright Dalit scholars are not a new phenomenon. National Crime Research Bureau surveys from the 1950s up until last year reveal that caste atrocities that drive these suicides have risen from 33,507 in 2001 to 47,064 in 2014. According to writer and democratic rights activist Anand Teltumbde, “The reason can be traced to the social Darwinist ethos of neoliberalism which reversed the welfarist paradigm created by Keynesian economics. Its social implications contra-intuitively resonate with the upsurge of Hindutva forces in the country, evidenced by the BJP’s rise from a marginal position in the 1980s to be the contender for political power at the center….The strategy of the hindutva camp is to brahmanize common folks of the dalits and to demonize the radical dalits. As dissenting Muslim youth are branded terrorist, dalit-adivasi youth are being stamped as extremists, casteist and anti-nationals.” To read more about the background of Rohit’s suicide please read Teltumbde’s article.

Now below is the full text of Rohit’s suicide letter:

Good morning,

I would not be around when you read this letter. Don’t get angry on me. I know some of you truly cared for me, loved me and treated me very well. I have no complaints on anyone. It was always with myself I had problems. I feel a growing gap between my soul and my body. And I have become a monster. I always wanted to be a writer. A writer of science, like Carl Sagan. At last, this is the only letter I am getting to write.

I loved Science, Stars, Nature, but then I loved people without knowing that people have long since divorced from nature. Our feelings are second handed. Our love is constructed. Our beliefs colored. Our originality valid through artificial art. It has become truly difficult to love without getting hurt.

The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust. In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living.

I am writing this kind of letter for the first time. My first time of a final letter. Forgive me if I fail to make sense.

May be I was wrong, all the while, in understanding world. In understanding love, pain, life, death. There was no urgency. But I always was rushing. Desperate to start a life. All the while, some people, for them, life itself is curse. My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past.

I am not hurt at this moment. I am not sad. I am just empty. Unconcerned about myself. That’s pathetic. And that’s why I am doing this.

People may dub me as a coward. And selfish, or stupid once I am gone. I am not bothered about what I am called. I don’t believe in after-death stories, ghosts, or spirits. If there is anything at all I believe, I believe that I can travel to the stars. And know about the other worlds.

If you, who is reading this letter can do anything for me, I have to get 7 months of my fellowship, one lakh and seventy five thousand rupees. Please see to it that my family is paid that. I have to give some 40 thousand to Ramji. He never asked them back. But please pay that to him from that.

Let my funeral be silent and smooth. Behave like I just appeared and gone. Do not shed tears for me. Know that I am happy dead than being alive.

“From shadows to the stars.”

Uma anna, sorry for using your room for this thing.

To ASA family, sorry for disappointing all of you. You loved me very much. I wish all the very best for the future.

For one last time,

Jai Bheem

I forgot to write the formalities. No one is responsible for my this act of killing myself. No one has instigated me, whether by their acts or by their words to this act. This is my decision and I am the only one responsible for this. Do not trouble my friends and enemies on this after I am gone.

I have chosen Rohit’s story as the first of this series of painted flags, JatiIndia: A Flag of Atrocities Caste, Present and Future. And for all of them, I have chosen saffron as the color of the top bar, to symbolize long-existing casteism, now more open and feverish with resurgent hindutva politics. I have chosen blue for the middle bar, because it is the color historically adopted by the Dalit movement; however, in my flags it will signify all of India’s oppressed people. I have chosen green for the bottom bar, to symbolize India’s ecological foundations, which are endangered by the ideology of neoliberalism and defended by our Adivasis and other oppressed people.

The circular image in the center of each flag will signify a target viewed through a weapon’s saffron (indicating right-wing nationalism) crosshairs. Between the past and present this serieswill go back and forth in no particular order bringing forward some of the targeted faces of resistance that have challenged the stagnant ideology of exclusion of the world’s largest hypocrisy.

Meanwhile, the next in this series is the story of Soni Sori, an Adivasi school teacher….

Served by Birth, Service Bai Birth

See also at: EYEZINE, Countercurrents

embroiderycross stitch embroidery, 2016

While I sip local Merlot with my maid-cooked eggplant parmesan made with Haiko (supermarket) shopped ingredients, she opens her purse. Breaking a small piece of tambakoo from its packet, she cups it in her left palm and rubs it a little with her right thumb before planting it in her mouth, letting the tobacco mixture numb her aching senses. I sip to toast my lucky birth, whilst her lower lip swells to mourn it.

“My life has no meaning,” she says. I have heard that emotion expressed by many women across the caste spectrum in India, including those we refer to as Dalits, today (formerly known as untouchables/outcastes). The difference is in the context of jati (caste) and the source of subjugation. In other words, the “meaning” in her life bears weight depending on where in the jati ladder she was born.

The lower the social and economic rung, the heavier the weight, and the higher the economic and (most importantly, social independence) rung, the lighter the weight. According to the Forbes’ list, the top weightless, in-the-cloud six rungs are currently occupied by Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Savitri Jindal, Indu Jain, Anu Aga, Shobhana Bhartia and Vidya Murkumbik— the six richest Indian women.

Speaking from the standpoint of someone like myself, an upper-caste employer, whose birth-right it is to sit back and be served, cannot possibly imagine what it must mean to be the person behind the birth-no-rights bai (maid) brown eyes that serve me. Listening to their life stories reinforces the huge imbalance of access to resources that govern our jati-bound disparate lives, and nothing else.

The one common suppressor that shapes most Indian women’s lives irrespective of their caste is patriarchy. A bai’s life also bears the burden of beginning in a birth-no-rights caste. So it’s a double whammy for her. When an upper-caste woman expresses a feeling of emptiness, it might be a consequence of the men in her life.

My mother once said to me, “Ye mard apne aap ko bahut ooncha samajhte hain. Auraton ki zindagi barbad kar di (These men think too much of themselves. They have ruined the lives of women.) And one upper-caste woman once told me that although she has all the comforts that money can buy her, she “lost out on love.” One category of Indian women wins some and loses some, while another category loses some and then loses some more.

Certain words apply solely to an upper-caste lexicon like the one I use. Take the word ‘splurge’ for instance. It goes with a certain lifestyle that include semi-conscious choices such as vegetarianism, urban vertical “farming”, supermarkets, window shopping, alphonso mangoes and Starbucks. All of these splurges have no place in the lives of our maids that clean and cook for us and that, in stark contrast, might plead with us one day to let them leave their jobs a little early so they can shop for a pair of chappals (slippers) to replace the ones that broke yesterday from jumping off the crowded local train to get to here.

Modern industry, resulting from the railway system, will dissolve the hereditary divisions of labor, upon which rest the Indian castes, those decisive impediments to Indian progress and Indian power—Karl Marx, The Future Results of British Rule in India, July 22, 1853.

Little did Marx know that the same wheels he thought could free her would one day deliver her two worn hands to an even more violent exploitation at the very doorsteps of a stagnant but still rapidly mutating Jatiindia (a more appropriate name for the country of India.)

All of us women who have access to resources in our day-to-day lives, including loving husbands and independence, indulge in some form of waste in varying degrees and materiality. Only the indigenous folks who continue to inhabit this dying planet waste nothing. But we’re all too polluted now to learn anything from them, it seems. Some of us who share a certain worldview feel the need to pay for our sins, for instance, by taking a metaphorical dupki (dip) in the Ganges by recycling, consuming farm raised chicken, or buying carbon tradeoffs and so on.

Of course, we should recycle and eat local and all that feel-good stuff, but the world demands a lot more change in our lifestyles, along with soul-searching, direct action, taking to the streets, and holding our policymakers and their corporate bedfellas accountable. Short baby steps just ain’t gonna do it, unfortunately. Even our self-proclaimed, yoga-loving, spirituality-seeking feminists around the world fail to see the gaping hole in an understanding of the invisible hand of Brahmanism and its perpetual hold on the psyche of a Jatindia—a white hole that personifies a diseased popular culture that treats its women like shit to varying degrees.

The key distinction here is the ability to choose. I might choose to be a vegetarian so therefore I can be one. She wants to be able to pay for her son’s hotel management course that costs Rs. 100,000 ($ 1,468), but that’s way, way beyond her means. A large number of urban domestic maids end up caring for and financially supporting their children. Many of them will tell you that “I got married when I was very young. We had two children. Soon after that my husband left me for another woman. Now I have to single-handedly pay for my children’s food, education etc.”

There is numbing monotony in women’s lives in India, but the difference is in access to breaking that rhythm temporarily with economic freedom, or not. An employer sipping her morning tea, reading the Times of India and listening to a distant drum roll of the approaching train wheels delivering her other two hands and feet in brand new chappals, with the same old greeting, “Namaste, Madam.” Another shopping list, another swollen lower lip, another day with no meaning.

Their lives are intertwined in thought, paloo (the part of a sari that drapes over the shoulder), and shadow. Only one’s economic-freedom paloo is patchworked with another’s lack of such freedom.Their interdependence is invisible to the naked eye.

One Pound Capitalism and a Pinch of Democracy Under a Cold Sky

See also at: Countercurrents

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Over 65 million people live in slums in India. An eyesore and a thorn in the side of modernization and development that benefits only the country’s elite, the dwellings of these millions that make up the country’s labor force and their families, are continuing to be bulldozed and demolished by the world’s largest democracy. We witnessed the aftermath of one such neighborhood demolition in Delhi on December 17th, 2015.

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From Modi With Cold Love

This meal includes one of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s favorite foods, bhendi kadhi (okra in yogurt sauce) and rice. Normally you would have papadam with this, but we’ve added a deep-fried quote instead.

Forced to serve seven

The series One Pound Capitalism, a Pinch of Democracy brings to our elite dinner tables meals that highlight issues exposing the extreme consequences of neoliberal policies that are disproportionately affecting the daily lives of Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis, and other marginalized people. The type and quantity of each ingredient used and the presentation of a meal is determined by choosing key statistics that are embedded in the issue being conveyed, converting that to a measurement, and then using it in the recipe. Indeed, there may be a dish or two that tastes somewhat strange, with an ingredient or two out of whack. But that’s intentional.

The ingredient measurements and presentation of this meal include certain facts and figures, which are italicized in the article that follows the recipe.

for room-temperature rice

2 cups + 2½ tbsp basmati rice
4 cups + 5 tbsp water

Wash and clean the rice in running water. Add the water and bring to a boil on high heat. Turn heat down and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Set aside.

cold bhendi kadhi

5 tsp besan (chickpea flour)
1 tsp turmeric powder
salt to taste
saffron to taste (Modi’s fundamental ingredient; optional otherwise)
2 cups yogurt
1½ cups water
12 bhendis (okra), washed, dried with a cloth and chopped
3 tbsp vegetable oil

for tempering:

1 tbsp oil
1 tsp each of mustard seeds and finely chopped ginger
12 curry leaves
7 split green chilis
1 tbsp chopped dhania (cilantro)

Put the besan, haldi, salt and saffron in a saucepan. Using an egg whisk, gradually add enough water to make a smooth paste. Mix the yogurt and water into the besan paste with the whisk and bring to a boil on a high flame stirring the mixture constantly. Once it reaches a boil, turn the heat down, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile cook the chopped bhendis on medium heat in 3 tablespoons of oil in another pan till crispy. Remove from pan. In same pan heat 1 tbsp oil and add mustard seeds. When the seeds start popping, add the ginger, curry leaves and green chilis and cook for a few seconds till the ginger starts to brown a little. Add this tempering to the cooked yogurt sauce along with the chopped dhania and cooked bhendi pieces. Cool the kadhi to room temperature, cover and place in a fridge to cool further.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADeep frying the quote: Khule Aakash Mein Sote Hain Hum (We Sleep Under Open Skies)

Makes two full quotes. We have used Devnagri script for the quote.

12 tbsp aata (wholewheat flour)
salt to taste
5 tsp vegetable oil
water
vegetable oil for deep frying

Mix the oil and salt into the aata. Add enough water to make a smooth dough. Break dough into small pieces and flatten using a rolling pin to about 3 mm height each. Then, using a razor blade or exacto knife, cut the characters out and deep fry in oil till golden brown.

Take the kadhi out of the fridge. Divide it, the rice and quote into seven portions on a serving plate and serve. Save the other quote to snack on with your favorite cuppa.

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On Saturday, December 12, Indian Railway authorities sent bulldozers to flatten Shakur Basti, a long-term settlement of more than twelve hundred homes in a New Delhi eucalyptus grove near a rail line. The demolition took more than nine hours to complete. Many of the residents were able to gather only their children and their identification and ration cards as they fled.

Demolition of people’s neighborhoods and workplaces by local governments in the name of modernization is a regular occurrence in cities across India, including New Delhi. Shakur Basti has seen more than its share of such assaults over the years, and this one would have received no more media attention than previous ones were it not for the death of a six-month-old baby. Her family says she was killed in the demolition, while the railway claims she was already dead when the bulldozers arrived. Either way, her loss was enough to draw the media spotlight to the plight of the thousands of residents stuck out in the December cold.

Those left shivering in the rubble had been dragged into the center of bitter political dispute. Indian Railways is an agency of India’s central government, also located in New Delhi and led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The railway owns the land under the slum and simply wants the people off of it, while the local government, through the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), is working to protect and provide services to all slums established in the city before 2006. And that includes Shakur Basti.

The struggle pits Modi against Delhi’s populist chief minister Arvind Kejriwal; it would be analogous to a standoff between a U.S. president and a D.C. mayor. Several previous attempts had been carried out by Indian Railways to demolish Shakur Basti without first, as required by law, providing residents decent housing elsewhere, but could not materialize following intervention by Kejriwal and the state government. The demolition was carried out finally on December 12 after three earlier notices, when the bulldozers roared in before city officials could stop them. Kejriwal arrived among the ruins at midnight to promise support to the residents and to point out the punitive timing of the assault, directly implicating India’s neoliberal, Hindu fundamentalist leader. “Railways under Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose one of the coldest days of the season to carry out this illegal demolition drive,” he noted.

Five days after the demolition, we visited Shakur Basti, now a tent city. Almost all of the families were still there (having nowhere else to live and needing to maintain their claim to residency on that land), and had constructed temporary shelters using tarpaulins—some orange and brand-new, some blue and weathered¬—that were provided by Kejriwal’s agencies. Each family, when possible, had placed its tarp-tent on the spot where their home had been. As a result, the view of Shakur Basti from a high spot along the road was now eerily reminiscent of the scene in Tacloban, Philippines in 2014, when people huddled under temporary shelter on their home sites two months after Typhoon Haiyan. The aftermath of a storm surge and a stormtrooper surge can look quite similar.

The families we spoke with said they had been in Shakur Basti for twenty to thirty years. This time, thanks to all the media attention, they dared to hope for a chance at relocation. Many of the men had jobs close by, unloading bags of cement from railway cars onto trucks, earning between Rs. 200 – 350 a day, but they said they would gladly move to a better place and commute back to work at the rail line. Mohammed Nizam said, “I am a laborer. We cannot live under these circumstances but then we live here. Politicians like Modi give us promises during elections but do nothing.” Speaking for a group of seven other fellow workers—Bikas Yadav, Ravinder Yadav, Ranjit Kumar Yadav, Mohammed Chand, Mohammed Murtuza, Mohammed Ashiq and Mohammed Israel—Mohammed Nizam had a similar message for the central government: “Tell Modiji we too voted for him and made him prime minister, and he must reassure us that he will provide a place to relocate, restore shelter, and we will go there willingly. As it is, we are sleeping under open skies.”

An extended family—Mohammed Kore, Meena Khatoon, Nisha Khatoon, and seven children named Anthony, Bhingul, Mohammed Nafil, Mana Khatoon, Taufiq, Guffran, and Sabir—had arranged their tarp shelters around a kind of circular courtyard. Meena showed us the tattered ration booklet that provides her family 5 kgs of rice and 5 kgs of gehoo (wheat kernels), her ID card, and her Aadhaar card that she had rescued from their home before it was crushed. She has yet to put the names of her children on the ration card. Doing so would give her access to more rations, but until then she has to make do with the 5 kgs of rice and gehoo. All of these documents would be essential for getting the family provisions and, if it can ever be arranged, relocation and a new home.

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Under Kejriwal, DUSIB had set up headquarters on the site and was bringing in relief supplies: water, rice, flour, and vegetables. People were cooking over wood fires in stoves fashioned from mud and dried. The local government’s Delhi Disaster Management Authority was distributing prepared food, but a couple of days later Indian Railways, acting only because of a court order, would take over with boxed meals of the type they serve train passengers. Many of those, according to Manira Chaudhary of the website, Youth Ki Awaaz turned out to be too soggy or moldy to eat.

On the Monday after the demolition, the Asian Human Rights Commission expressed frustration that media coverage had focused on the question of whether the death of infant Rukaiyya, which drew the country’s attention occurred before or during the demolition, rather than on the injustice of the assault itself and fate of the survivors. The commission wrote, “The discourse and debate has virtually no one invoking the right to shelter, for example, a basic human right, well recognized in both international and Indian jurisprudence.” On the same day, the Delhi High Court brought official focus back to the illegality and cruelty of Indian Raliways’ (and by implication, the Modi government’s) actions, using the most plainspoken of language: “You really don’t care about the people, you just want to remove them . . . You are forgetting what your role as a public authority is . . . Just because you’re the Railways doesn’t mean the law doesn’t apply to you.”

The demolition was big news for three days, and then it wasn’t. The day after the High Court statement, Kejriwal charged Modi with harboring a corrupt politician in his government, and Modi retaliated by sending Central Bureau of Investigation agents to raid the office of Kejriwal’s principal secretary. Kejriwal had had enough, tweeting that Modi was a “coward” and a “psychopath.” So through the week that followed, everything else— the baby’s death, the illegal demolition, government corruption—faded immediately into the background as debate centered on whether a criminal defamation complaint should be filed against Kejriwal. (It was). Meanwhile, night temperatures in Shakur Basti dipped dipped to 6 degrees and stuck there, and residents’ hopes of getting a roof over their heads dipped even lower.

Spontaneous Histories, Bungled Borders and Perennial Victims

See also at: Countercurrents, CounterPunch

India and Bangladesh share a 2,500-mile border. Ending a dispute that has lasted almost 70 years, at midnight Friday, July 31, 2015, Bangladesh and India finally closed a deal to swap border territories and thereby untangle their wildly convoluted border. To do this, the two countries initiated the exchange of more than 160 enclaves (including the world’s only third-order enclave – a portion of India surrounded by Bangladesh, surrounded by India, surrounded by Bangladesh). This move will dramatically affect the lives of more than 50,000 people living in the region. Residents of the now-erased enclaves, who have been living in an effectively stateless limbo for all these years, will get to decide whether they want to stay where they are and accept new citizenship or whether they want to relocate (from what is now India to Bangladesh or from Bangladesh to India) and keep their original citizenship.

How did the border ever come to look like a 3-D slice of Swiss cheese in the first place? There are a couple of legends floating around, one involving chess games between maharajas, and another featuring a drunk British officer spilling ink on the 1947 India-Pakistan map. But contemporary scholars believe that they were a result of an 18th century deal signed between the Mughal Emperor in Delhi and the maharaja of Cooch Berar, ending a series of small wars.

After the partition of India in 1947, this situation has made it virtually impossible for folks living in these areas to gain access to state amenities like hospitals, schools, markets, etc. Technically, the exchange will end one of the world’s craziest border disputes, but on the ground it will make things very complicated. For instance, it will rip families apart, leaving some stranded on one side of the border while their relatives choose to relocate to the other.

Our colonial histories, it seems, are replete with drunken, flamboyant and careless spontaneity, legendary or real. Take the case of Kashmir, where the colonized have turned 360 degrees and donned the colonizers’ garb; their military presence is almost 700,000 strong in that state. According to Angana P. Chatterji in the book Kashmir: The Case for Freedom, “70,000 [Kashmiris] are dead and over 8,000 have been disappeared. More than 250,000 have been displaced (1989-2010).” All this is the fallout from the failure of a Hindu ruler of the Muslim-majority princely state to make up his mind whether to accede to India or Pakistan at the time of India’s independence from the British almost 70 years ago.

This border dispute has continued boiling at a time when the current right-wing nationalist government in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is putting in place Hindutva fundamentalist policies affecting hundreds of thousands of Dalits (formerly known as untouchables) and other minority communities, including Muslims and Christians including their dietary habits like eating beef. India, a country in which Hindus considered the cow to be sacred, is home to 300 million cattle and also the world’s #1 beef exporter. This beef frenzy has already claimed three lives. On September 28, Mohammed Akhlaq of Bisara village in western Uttar Pradesh was lynched to death and his son Danish assaulted by a mob. On October 10th in Himachal Pradesh in the presence of police, Noman, a 28 year old truck driver was lynched to death by a mob. And on October 9, 18-year-old trucker Zahid Rasool Bhat, succumbed to burn injuries in Delhi’s Safdarjang hospital from a petrol bomb attack in Udhampur district in Kashmir.

Against this hypocritical backdrop, India has been cracking down on cattle smuggling (which drives the local economy in Bangladesh – 2 million cattle are smuggled to Bangladesh from India every year) claiming killing a cow is “equivalent to raping a Hindu girl.” India has a shoot-to-kill policy along the Bangladesh border. According to a January 2011 Guardian article, “Over the past 10 years Indian security forces have killed almost 1,000 people, mostly Bangladeshis, turning the border area into a south Asian killing fields. No one has been prosecuted for any of these killings….against unarmed and defenceless local residents.”

And the latest news about the fascist RSS (India’s leading Hindu nationalist organization and the driving force for today’s policies in Modi’s India) is that they “are going to shed their [decidedly unstylish khaki] shorts once and for all in a bid to attract more young people,” while simultaneously luring the government to adopt western-style immigration policies because they are concerned with the Muslims migrating to India from Bangladesh into the border states of Assam, West Bengal and Bihar. A resolution titled “Challenges of Imbalance in the Population Growth” was discussed during a recently held meeting of the RSS. I suppose their wearing of stylish long pants gives their Muslim-bashing agenda a more American-style “Hinduland Security” edge, no?

The same Narendra Modi who was denied a visa by the US after he encouraged Hindu-on-Muslim violence when he was chief minister of Gujarat in 2002 was warmly welcomed into this country in September, 2015 by many, including Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google. “There is tremendous excitement for your visit amongst all Googlers,” he said. Modi got a 30-foot-long red-carpet welcome when he landed in the Bay Area on September 26, along with thousands of cheering Indian-Americans and a hug from Mark Zuckerberg.

About 1,700 miles east and 40 days after this greasy Silicon Valley spectacle, artist Shubho Saha, from Bangladesh, and I staged a short collaborative performance titled No Man’s Land in front of a Kansas audience, where Shubho was the visiting artist-in-residence at the Salina Art Center.

In No Man’s Land, itself a spontaneous performance using our voices and gestures, Shubho and I exchanged between us the colors, smells and textures of raw food: rice, spices, and a chunk of oximoronically Hindu beef, while simultaneously erasing the dead colors of our imposed synthetic identities. We performed our gestures not on a long red carpet but within a tight, eight-foot diameter double spiral labyrinth (to evoke that third-order enclave). While enclaves now cease to exist, crores are slated to be spent by India, Trump-style, on building new walls to keep Bangladeshi nationals from crossing over. So yes, while our countries’ borders are becoming more linear, our Hindutva-centric policies are continuing to spin round and round, making everyone dizzy by design.

Let us shake our minds free from staccato, elite, patriotic cries and take a look at what’s really happening to the people and the very mountains, rivers, and lands mentioned in our beloved national anthem, in Gujarat, Maratha, to our Vindhyas — the very song to which we stand at attention and sing before every Bollywood movie in India’s picture halls these days. Jaya he.

 

Out of the Shadow of Caste and Into Our Consciousness

See also at: CounterPunch, Countercurrents

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Nobody is me, There are many like me. My life has no worth in my country’s popular consciousness and my violators roam freely. I am a Dalit, an Adivasi, and no upper-caste hands hold signs with our names.

I live and die and am reborn in their shadow….their calculating minds, their violent arms, their rapist’s thighs, their trampling feet. This soil was once my fertile soil and I walked upon it. Now their collective usurpation has replaced it with chemicals and concrete. And I lie upon it, my feet pointing up at their mind’s gods, waiting to be recognized as a victim of their discrimination. My hands’ actions contradict my dignity and humanity. These are not my arms, but some upper- caste’s other two arms. A mechanical bonus pair, like the hindu goddesses. A surplus, to be manipulated any which way. My fate is as old as the hindu scriptures that gave me these wretched arms, and their usurpers have evolved. My once-sympathetic shudra comrades, born of purusha’s feet are now the post-1990s neo-brahmins that stomp on my assertive words of equality with neo-violence.

I show up sometimes as the spirit of unity and solidarity in Declaration of Empathy petitions, but I am still the more than 300,000 defeated hearts of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which failed to recognize me as a victim of descent-based discrimination. Maybe my place is at the back of those ‘I Am’ signs, scribbled in invisible ink: Nobody is Me, There Are Many Like Me.

One Pound Capitalism, a Pinch of Democracy, and the Not-So-Holy Buffalo

See also at: EYEZINE, Counterpunch, Countercurrents

Image 3-20-16 at 9.04 AMBuffalo Jumbo Pav (BJP) #1 hypocrisy kebab bonda pav

Today India is the largest exporter of beef in the world. But not the holy, white kind–rather, the not-so-holy kind: carabeef, or water buffalo meat. Last year India pushed Brazil from the # 1 position earning a whopping $4.8 billion from carabeef export. At the same time, on the domestic front in early March this year, the state of Maharashtra extended a ban on cow slaughter to include bulls and bullocks. Professor Kancha Ilaiah, Director of Centre for Studies in Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy in an interview says of this ban, “It’s racism and casteism. It’s racial because the buffalo is black. Why is black bad? They want to kill it like the white Americans did. The Aryan racist idea came into that. They drink the milk because it is white.” So, dark buffalo gives white milk but doesn’t qualify as sacred.

India’s foreign and domestic policies, especially since the early 90’s, have been widening the gap between beneficiaries and losers. If you live in the city and you’re upper-caste (especially Hindu), you have white democracy on your side in some gradation or the other, and the largest-beef-exporter label might benefit you. But if you happen to live in the city as a minority (poor Muslim, poor Christian, Dalit, etc), or live in the countryside and are also a Dalit, Backward Caste, or Adivasi (indigenous person), well then you have dark democracy on your side, and the cow/bull/bullock slaughter ban directly affects you.

This pro-Hindu identity agenda is all part of the collective psychosis that some of us refer to when we talk about a post neo-liberalism scenario, where deep-rooted cultural fanatical belief systems are merging with capitalism. It creates monsters, like brothers Ram and Mukesh Singh, who, among others, were responsible for the much publicized, brutal rape, torture and murder of a young woman in Delhi, and the upper-caste men who routinely and brutally rape, torture and murder Dalit women in most every corner of the countryside, outside the media spotlight. Sacred is birthright is white is profit is pure is upper caste is media is #1 beef exporter. Not-so-holy is black is Dalit is Muslim is indigenous is polluted is poverty is birth-no-rights is no media is beef ban. It’s racial hypocrisy that exists like nowhere else in the world.

If Hindu scriptures were an advertising manual, then our Brahmin ancestors were its art directors and copywriters all in one. It has always been about commercializing, branding, marketing and usurping, which has taken on an especially violent edge with capitalism, which is more indifferent to the suffering of the country’s majority poor than anything that came before.

Eating beef has become a political issue within India. Kancha Ilaiah goes on to say that the state is becoming more and more theocratic: “Large number of tribes, Dalits and Backward Castes have a historical food culture of beef….the source of affordable protein food for the poor….This is how the RSS [right-wing] ideology is being pushed….This will destroy the cattle economy itself. Who will nurture bulls, cows and buffalos, which are neither useful for agriculture nor useful for meat? How will the people who are involved in the butchery and sale, who are particularly Muslims and Dalits, live once this is stopped?” It is an upper-caste imposition of so-called sacred values (and costly feed-and-fodder bills) on the rest of the population.

In fact, this ban does nothing other than satisfy a stubborn Hindu whim, much to the chagrin of the aging slaughter-spared cattle themselves. The mindset of the ban proponents is similar to those of the pro-life screamers in the US. We all know that the anti abortion fanatics are really pro-birth, because as Sister Joan Chittister so eloquently says of them, “your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed.” The same logic can be applied to the warped mindset of decision makers in India intensified by Narendra Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that imposed this ban on a certain caste of cattle while not on another. They are also pro-birth and anti-mercy. When it comes to the attitude toward cattle in India things aren’t as black and white as they seem. It really is a dog’s life (a street-dog’s life, that is) for a majority of the country’s cattle population.

As part of a project entitled: One Pound Capitalism, a Pinch of Democracy, I am designing recipes highlighting issues that expose the extreme consequences of neoliberal policies. So, the type and quantity of each ingredient I use in the recipe is determined by choosing key statistics that are embedded in the issue I’m focusing on, converting that to a measurement, and then using it in the recipe. Indeed, there may be a dish or two that tastes somewhat strange, with an ingredient or two out of whack. But that’s intended to help make the point.

Buffalo Jumbo Pav (BJP), a take on Maharashtra’s most popular street food vada pav, the recipe included here is recipe #1 of this project. Eat ‘n’ enjai, as we’d say in India.

Buffalo Jumbo Pav (BJP) #1 hypocrisy kebab bonda pav
includes karela chutney, okra chips, sliced red onions, and fresh green chilis

1 lb minced buffalo meat (makes 12 jumbo kebab bondas)
oil for frying
12 pav buns (dinner rolls)
a pair of dwija (twice-born) Hindu hands to cook with (not optional)

18 Ingredients for buffalo kebab bondas:

5 tbsp chana dal (split Bengal gram), washed
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1 inch piece of ginger, chopped
1 tbsp yogurt
1 dry red chili
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp peppercorn
1 inch piece cinnamon
1 cardamom pod
5 tbsp basmati rice, washed
8 dry-roasted cashew nuts
4.8 tbsp minced red onion
1 tsp turmeric powder
a pinch of jowar (sorghum flour)
1 egg
1 cup besan (chickpea flour)
a little less than 1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro

Put the minced meat and ingredients 1 through 4 in 2.4 cups of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to medium and cook for 30 minutes. Let cool.

Dry-roast ingredients 5 through 10 for a couple of minutes on a medium flame. Grind to a powder.

Put 10 tbsp water and 1/8 tsp salt in a pan, add the washed rice and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low and simmer, covered, for 12 minutes. When cool, wet your hands a little and roll cooked rice into 12 balls. Lightly press the 8 pieces of roasted cashews on most of the rice balls, breaking one or two in half.

When the meat/dal concoction cools, drain the water and grind it in a food processor. Add the dry-roasted ground spices, minced onion, turmeric powder, jowar and egg to meat mixture and mix well. Divide into 12 portions and wrap around each of the 12 rice balls till the rice balls are completely covered. Gradually add some water to the besan till it reaches the consistency of mayonnaise (Use an egg beater to mix the water in so clumps don’t form.) Mix in the chopped cilantro and salt to taste to the besan paste. Heat oil in a pan and using a spoon, carefully dunk the meat balls first into the besan paste coating it evenly, then pick up the meat ball with the same spoon and slide it gently into the hot oil. Turn the heat down to medium and cook meat balls about 2 minutes on each side. Kebab bondas are ready.

Karela (bitter gourd) Chutney

2.4 cups minced karela
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp urad dal (split black gram)
1 sprig curry leaf, broken in pieces
1 small red onion, chopped
1 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp garlic paste
1 large tomato, chopped
1 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 green chili, finely chopped
3 tsp brown sugar
1 tbsp tamarind paste
2.4 tbsp oil

Chop the karela into pieces and grind in a food processor. Sprinkle a little salt on it, cover and set aside. After about 30 minutes, squeeze all the water out of the karela by pressing it between your hands. Heat oil in a pan, add mustard seeds. When they begin to splutter, add the urad dal. Once the dal starts to turn brown add the curry leaves. After a few seconds add the chopped onion and saute for three minutes on medium-high flame. Then add the ginger and garlic paste and saute for another 30 seconds. Add the karela, mix in, turn the flame down to medium-low, cover and cook for about 20 minutes, adding a few sprinklings of water and stirring from time to time to make sure it doesn’t burn on the bottom. Add the chopped tomatoes, chili and turmeric powder, chopped green chili, brown sugar, tamarind pulp, cover and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Bhendi (Okra) Chips

Cut 15 bhendis in half. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a skillet and when it gets nice and hot (after about a minute) throw the sliced bhendi in and saute on medium heat till crisp (about 10 minutes).

Warm the dinner rolls, slice in half, put a little butter, sprinkle a little chili powder, and place hot kebab bondas inside. Enjoy with bhendi chips, 31 chilis, and 45 slices of red onion distributed equally between the 12 servings, along with a little karela chutney. Squeeze a little lemon on everything.

Ingredient measurements in order of appearance in the recipe: India is #1 exporter of beef in the world; In the country’s 18 states, cow slaughter is completely banned; Anyone caught selling or in possession of beef can get a jail term of up to 5 years; India is the fifth largest meat producer in the world; In 2014 India earned more from export of carabeef than it did from basmati rice; 8 states have no ban on cow slaughter, including in Kerala where the animal must be over 10 years old; Last year the country earned $4.8 billion from carabeef exports; Maharashtra is averaging ten farmer’s suicides a day for the past ten years, occurring primarily in the cash-crop growing areas. Food staples of the region like jowar (sorghum) that used to grow abundantly has now virtually been abandoned because of factors driven by state policies such as debt, high input costs, animal menace, water-use patterns, and catastrophic price shocks; Beef consumption within the country has been falling and was down 44.5 percent last year; Over 80 percent of buffalo meat is exported to Asia. I used karela (the Indian word for bitter melon) for the chutney which is eaten in other South East Asian countries. The Vietnamese word for it is khổ qua; In 2015 India exported 2.4 million tons of beef and veal meat; 3 states, Assam, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal allow slaughter with certificates; Africa is the recipient of 15 percent of India’s beef export; India’s chicken consumption rose by 31 percent between 2000 and 2014; Vietnam is the largest recipient (45 percent) of India’s beef exports.

Maansik Sampatti (Intellectual Property)

a performance/installation using commercial soil, sand, cotton seeds and broken green glass bangles, 2011

Between 1995 and 2014, over 300,000 farmers have committed suicide in India. Toward the end of the performance/installation slides featured above you see broken green bangles-a sign of widowhood-sprouting from the soil. Green bangles are traditionally worn by a married woman, and when her husband dies she will often break them in mourning.