Monday, March 28, 2016

Idea of Bharat Mata is European import: Irfan Habib


NEW DELHI, March 29, 2016        Updated: March 29, 2016 00:06 IST

Vikas Pathak

 Irfan Habib. File Photo: Meeta Ahlawat

‘Bharat’ was first used in an inscription of King Kharavela in Prakrit, says the historian

Wading into the political controversy around the slogan ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ (glory to Mother India), veteran historian Irfan Habib said here on Monday that the idea of Bharat Mata was an import from Europe and there was no evidence of any such imagination in either ancient or medieval India.

“Bharat Mata has nothing to do with India’s ancient or medieval past. It is a European import. Notions of motherland and fatherland were talked about in Europe,” Prof. Habib said, delivering a lecture in the memory of late historian Bipan Chandra at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

This statement comes at a time when leaders of the BJP and its ideological mentor RSS have upheld the slogan as intimately related to nationalism in India.

In the Maharashtra Assembly, All-India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) MLA Waris Pathan was suspended recently for refusing to chant ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai,’ with Congress MLAs also siding with the BJP and the Shiv Sena on the matter.

Later, talking to The Hindu on the sidelines of the event, Prof. Habib elaborated on his statement. “Bharat is mentioned in ancient India. It was first used in an inscription of King Kharavela in Prakrit. But representation of the country in human form as a mother or father was unknown in ancient India or medieval India,” he said. “This was an idea that emerged in Europe with the rise of nationalism, and it was found in Britain, Russia, etc.”

He added that Madar-e-Watan in Urdu was also a case of the European idea being borrowed.

Prof. Habib had irked many in the Sangh Parivar months ago too, when he reportedly drew parallels between the RSS and the IS.

In another lecture dedicated to the scholarship of Prof. Chandra, historian Aditya Mukherjee recalled freedom as a key value of the Indian national movement.

“Mahatma Gandhi had said that liberty of speech was unassailable even when it hurt. I hope the government is listening,” he said.

Source: thehindu

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Sunday, March 27, 2016

One country, many nationalisms

Features » Magazine                                   March 26, 2016   

A flag vendor tries to make a living by selling the tricolours and badges. Photo: K. Murali Kumar     The Hindu

What does the idea of India mean to the ordinary people — the auto drivers and fishermen, students and shopkeepers, car drivers and homemakers?

In the wake of an increasingly shrill demand for demonstrative ‘nationalism’, the country has ranged itself on two distinct sides, each taking upon itself the onus of defining and laying down just what nationalism is, which anthems are more or less devoted, which symbols more significant, and which citizens can be awarded certificates as good, bad or middling patriots. In the ensuing noise of battle, what we have lost sight of is the middle ground, inhabited by the ordinary people, the auto drivers and fishermen, the students and shopkeepers, the car drivers and homemakers. What do they think? What does the idea of India mean to them? How do they demonstrate their love or loyalty? What is important to them? The Sunday Magazine team fanned out across the country to talk to this anonymous person on the street. And what we found was eye-opening.

From the fisherman in Chennai who said that before Bharat Mata he worships Kadal Mata (ocean mother) who gives him his daily bread to the tribal musician in Kerala who said making anthems compulsory in school is no guarantee to produce more patriotic students to the driver in Vellore who said that Jana Gana Mana has no religion, we discovered a quality of distilled and clear reality in the ordinary Indian’s thinking that is far removed from the unreal and harsh debate of primetime television and social media. Read on to hear their voices.


‘The bore-well is broken’

Shakuntala Soren (40), Santhali, Purulia, West Bengal


This Santhal woman from Shahajuri village, deep inside the Bengal-Jharkhand border, seeks help from her neighbours when asked about ‘nationalism’. “Weh ki?” (what is that?) she asks in Santhali.

Much explanation later, the word still makes no sense to her. So we ask if she knows the “identity” of her country. She looks around at her neighbours and then says “Bengal”.

And what about the national anthem? Soren looks restless. “Nolkup bari ekana,” she says. (“The bore-well is broken.”)

We turn to ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ and now the crowd gets restive. Someone shouts, “We don’t have work.”

A middle-aged man, Dhananjay Kisku, says they “barely survive” selling dry timber.

“I visit the forest too,” Soren says, and leaves to collect timber from the Ayodhya hills, a Maoist stronghold during the last elections five years ago.

- Suvojit Bagchi

‘Wasn’t Bharat a king?’

Mohammad Idrees Choudhary (47) , Dry fruit merchant, Bengaluru, Karnataka


Surrounded by neat packages of dry fruits imported from across the globe, Mohammad Idrees Choudhary, a 47-year-old merchant in the nearly 100-year-old Russel Market, explains what makes him an “Indian”. “At events and functions, I say: ‘Jai Hind, Jai Karnataka’ as a gratitude to the country and state that has allowed me to thrive. Now, with all this talk of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, I am confused. Wasn’t Bharat a king? How can he suddenly be a mata? If I think ‘Jai Hind’ symbolises my patriotism better than ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, why should I be forced to say the latter?”

With poverty rampant and other pressing issues still affecting life, citizens do not have the time to repeatedly display their ‘patriotism’. “It is only politicians who seem to have all the time in the world to set these rules,” he says.

- Mohit M. Rao

‘Hatred is anti-national’

Drashti Shah (28), Entrepreneur, Ahmedabad, Gujarat


For Drashti Shah, patriotism or nationalism is about respect for the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution. “My definition of nationalism is to serve a new India that is visibly emerging from the fold of its many pasts. This new India needs to be seen with new eyes, free from the baggage of yesterday's political characterisations,” says Shah who is a designer and runs a café.

“A liberal and pluralistic democratic nation makes us a progressive and self-confident country,” she says. Anything that promotes violence or hatred, says Shah, is anti-national.

- Mahesh Langa

‘My slogan is Jai Bheem'
Premnath Dhingra (52), Sanitation worker, Meerut, UP


“For a sanitation worker, a Dalit who cleans toilets and streets, and who has struggled all his or her life for dignity, ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ has no meaning, says Premnath Dhingra, a sanitation workers’ leader in Meerut. “In fact, as a group that faced upper caste atrocities for centuries, I would say that this slogan is an insult for us because the Hindutva groups that are talking about ‘Bharat Mata’ hail the caste system and want to continue with the structures of injustice and untouchability. It was neither a slogan of Bhagat Singh nor Baba sahab (Ambedkar), nor even Mahatma Gandhi,” he says. For Dhingra,the very idea of questioning the nationalism of lawful citizens of the country is “problematic”.

“From what I know of history, I can say that ruling governments and ideologues have raised the issue of nationalism when they had to do something dangerous. One instance is Hitler.”

“Nationalism,” continues Dhingra, cannot be “a slogan or an abstract idea or a statue or just one symbol. For me, nationalism means talking about those living in the nation and working to ensure equality, liberty, social justice and the absence of corruption”

For Dhingra, the suspension of the MLA in Maharashtra is not only wrong but also illegal. “Not only Waris Pathan, even I would never say ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. Why would I? For me, the slogan is ‘Jai Bheem’, which stands for the struggle of Dalits. But I would never advocate forcing ‘Jai Bheem’ on anybody,” says Dhingra.

- Mohammad Ali

‘Corruption is anti-national’

P. Kannadas (42), Toddy shopkeeper, Muthalamada, Kerala

P. Kannadas

A worker at a toddy parlour close to the Govindapuram border checkpost between Pollachi in Tamil Nadu and Palakkad in Kerala, P. Kannadas is also an amateur nature photographer and environmental activist. “My area is a composite of Tamil and Malayalam traditions. Many unskilled workers from North India, who work in the farms and factories of Pollachi and Palakkad, visit my shop every day. I don’t feel any difference based on region or language. I connect with them as a daily-wage worker who ekes out a living in a toddy shop. For me, the ability to relate with others is nationalism. Patriotism is not just jargon but an attempt to consider all Indians as equals irrespective of their class, community and other affiliations. Patriotism is not an end in itself. It must be a giant leap forward to achieve global citizen status.” For Kannadas, corruption and communalism are anti-national. “They are taking our society backwards to the dark ages. Nationalism is not about wearing a T-shirt carrying symbol of Bharat Mata. It is something that must help us broaden our perspective.”

- K.A. Shaji

‘Kadal Mata is my first loyalty'

R. Raju (45), Fisherman, Chennai, Tamil Nadu

R. Raju

R. Raju is still intently unknotting his fishing net when we begin talking. “What does desa bhakti (patriotism) mean to me?” he repeats my question. And then, as if on cue, the 45-year-old resident of Pattinapakkam, along Chennai’s Marina Beach, responds: “It’s like worshipping god.”

But when we come to the question of Bharat Mata, Raju is more contemplative. He turns around and points to the sea: “To me, Kadal Mata (ocean mother) is with whom my first loyalty lies. Everything else follows. Bharat mata, swamis and temples, whatever, whoever they may be.”

On a day when the catch is good Raju makes close to Rs. 1,000. “The ocean is the giver. That is how I have fed and clothed and educated my children, that is how I run my house.” For Raju, the ocean is clearly bigger than the nation.

- Divya Gandhi

‘Jana Gana Mana must be compulsory in schools’

Suresh Shaw (52), Street vendor, Kolkata, West Bengal

Suresh Shaw

Suresh Shaw is not sure about the symbols of patriotism, but he is particularly fond of ‘Jana Gana Mana,’ which he used to sing at his local government school. A sports enthusiast, Shaw has played football in the first division league in Kolkata until poverty and family pressure forced him to give it up. Now Shaw sells vehicle accessories on the pavement. “I think the national anthem should be made compulsory in schools. This makes us more patriotic. We are able to express our love for the motherland,” he says. Patriotism, says Shaw, is to express deference to the nation, but being patriotic also means “having responsibility to stand beside your countrymen”.

- Shiv Sahay Singh

‘Patriotism is dwindling’

P. Ramesh (32),Shopkeeper, Vellore, Tamil Nadu

P. Ramesh

P. Ramesh says that patriotism has been dwindling over the years. “Not many understand what true patriotism is. When compared to earlier generations, the present generation gives less importance to patriotism. I am proud to be an Indian. Be Indian, buy Indian is what I believe in.”

Ramesh regrets that people vote for money but show less interest in being loyal to the nation. He says that singing the national anthem is a wonderful feeling.

“For me, listening to the national anthem or singing it is a chance to feel patriotism. Students should definitely sing the anthem everyday in school, as those few minutes are an opportunity to express our love for the nation.”

The businessman sees nothing wrong in chanting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. “There is a practice of saying ‘Jai Hind’ and ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ gives a different feeling. There is nothing wrong in saying it.”

What distresses him is engaging children in labour, alcoholism, and discrimination against women. “These are not good for the country. Child labour is an insult to the nation. Providing education to women is equal to educating the society,” he says.

- Serena Josephine M.

‘The debate is absurd’

Sheeba Ameer (55), Social worker, Thrissur, Kerala

Sheeba Ameer

As a social worker engaged in supplying free essential medicines to institutions housing people with disability, Sheeba Ameer believes the present debate on nationalism and patriotism involves a high dose of absurdity. “Those who have any doubt on nationalism must read the Indian Constitution. It has clearly defined nationalism as pluralistic and accommodative. The concept of nationalism envisaged in the constitution involves the right to dissent and the right to remain different,’’ she says.

“I come from an orthodox Muslim family and life so far was a relentless fight against fundamentalism of different hues. Intolerance has no religion. Nationalistic and patriotic feelings must not involve hate and intolerance. We must not allow obscurantists to define nationalism,” she says. According to Ameer, nationalism must not be something imposed on others by a brute majority.

“I don’t know what prevented the Maharashtra MLA from saying ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, but forcing one person to say something and punishing him for disobedience would not be ideal for a civilised world. We have to make our democracy more meaningful by ending hatred based on religion and narrow perceptions of nationality.”

K.A. Shaji

Source: thehindu

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Saturday, March 26, 2016

How rumours on Twitter maliciously painted the Delhi dentist murder as a communal incident

Communal Poison

The dangerous falsehoods continued even after police and press reports made it clear that there was no communal angle to the murder.

Scroll Staff


Another day another #outrage on social media. Except, in this case, things were more malevolent than usual.

A 40-year-old dentist was beaten to death in west Delhi’s Vikaspuri area on Wednesday. The incident started when the victim, Pankaj Narang, was involved in a quarrel with two men on a motorcycle. As per an Indian Express report Narang slapped the rider, leading to tempers flaring. Later, the rider returned with a group of nine ­– consisting of five Hindus and four Muslims as per a Dainik Bhaskar report – and proceeded to assault Narang, leading to his death.

Ignoring or unmindful of these facts, however, users on social media sites such as Twitter started to twist this murder into a communal incident.

On Friday morning Rahul Raj, co-founder of the website, made Holi the “cause” of the “communal” clash.

He later deleted the above tweet, saying:

But Twitter was already abuzz with the rumour.

This handle has 63,000 followers and is followed by the prime minister, among others.

Even when the Holi motive died down, the rumour that this was a “Hindu-Muslim” clash, a Dadri-in-reverse, persisted.

Tarek Fatah, a Canadian writer who frequently comments on communal relations in India, incorrectly characterised the mixed-faith mob as a “Muslim mob”, going on to graphically describe the violence.

Fatah later on deleted this tweet and posted a correction.

As if the “Muslim mob” rumour wasn’t enough, anonymous but influential Tweeters added “Bangladeshi” to the mix, firing up things even more. A handle calling itself the “Amit Shah Army” with 72,000 followers tweeted this out on Saturday morning:

There was even a call for on-ground mobilisation – lucidly illustrating how seemingly harmless rumour mongering in cyberspace could lead to actual real-world violence.

Matters reached a pass where the Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police of Delhi (West) had to actually tweet out the religious break up of the mob in order to quash rumours.

Bhardwaj’s tweets as well as the many press reports clearing up the matter, though, seems to have had little effect on Twitter as the hashtag #JusticeforDrNarang, filled with communal comments, trended at first place on Saturday afternoon.

While the Indian Twitter community is tiny – the website has 2.2 crore user, amounting to 1.8% of the country’s population – it often generates a disproportionate amount of noise given its elite, English-speaking character. Unfortunate, this isn’t the first time Tweeters have used their social media megaphone to try and spread communal rumours. Here are three earlier such instances:

1. It wasn’t #GodhraAgain. So what exactly happened in Uttar Pradesh?

2. The riot that wasn’t: How Twitter spread rumours of communal violence in Kolkata

3. Kolkata Ground report: Was Durga Pujo really banned in a West Bengal village?

We welcome your comments at

Source: scrollin

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Legal plans and letters of love: A despatch from the embattled University of Hyderabad


Photos from a campus that is bracing for even more students to be arrested.

 Image credit: Mayank Jain

From taxi drivers who cautioned this writer against entering the campus to speculation at tea stalls about why media vans have has been stationed at this specific corner of Hyderabad's Gachibowli area for the past few days, Hyderabad University has become a talking point – and not for its academic prowess.

The front gate has two checkposts manned by police personnel. Behind the barricades are members of the campus security who ask everyone seeking entry for an identity card before deciding whether they will be allowed in. The only exceptions are vehicles belonging to members of the faculty or carrying supplies of food and water.

The ban on the media on campus has resulted in a near-blackout of credible information about events at the university.


On the grounds on Friday morning, however, there is near-silence. There were no obvious clues about the ideological churning inside the institution. Since Tuesday, the campus has been in a heightened state of tension, after the crackdown that in several students being detained for allegedly vandalising Vice Chancellor Appa Rao’s office on Tuesday.

At the campus shopping complex is a makeshift memorial stone to the man whose suicide in January came to embody the concerns swirling on campus. Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula hung himself in a hostel room on January 17, after a series of events that had started with him and four other Dalit students being put on indefinite suspension for allegedly assaulting a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party's student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.

Since his death, students have been sitting under a tent at the memorial singing songs of resistance, protesting, shouting slogans and issuing releases to the press reiterating their demand that Vice Chancellor Appa Rao should take responsibility and resign.

While Appa Rao took a few weeks off to calms tempers, he returned to campus earlier this week.

Students accused the authorities of shutting off supplies of electricity and water, and trying to starve them by closing down hostel messes. The authorities denied these charges: the lack of water was caused by miscreants damaging a pump, they said, while the messes stopped functioning after staff went on strike to protest students attacking their colleagues.


On Friday morning, the tent was largely empty. This was because 27 students who participated in the protest at Appa Rao's residence on Tuesday are currently lodged in jail on 11 charges ranging from criminal intimidation to trespassing on private property.

A woman reading Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste next to Vemula’s picture told that even more students were “preparing themselves for jail”.

She was referring to a latest remand order that the police filed on Thursday that names another 26 people as accused on a complaint filed by university registrar M Sudhakar. These names come with the bracketed disclaimer that they are “yet to be arrested”. The list ends with the open-ended phrase “and others”, implying that it could be extended to include more students during the course of enquiry.

The registrar's complaint says that on Tuesday morning, “about 10 students…came to the lodge, jumped over the main gate, broke open the man door windows/door glass panes and entered the premises. They…ransacked the V-C’s lodge, damaged the TV, furniture, computers and laptops.”

Preparing for jail

Fifty metres away from the shopping complex are a set of shops that sell everything from groceries to tea. Here, Firdaus Soni, a student of sociology and one of those named in the latest list of the 26 accused, was finishing her tea while discussing plan of action for the day.

“Yes, I am an accused now,” she said. “What is the basis of making someone an accused anyway? The university seems to have supplied the police with a list of names of the students who were present there at the protest on Tuesday and those who are participating in the movement to fight for the rights of Dalits and minorities on campus.”

Soni pointed to the Hostel C building nearby where she introduced to many other co-accused who, she said, were waiting to be picked up by the police.

“Do we become criminals for simply voicing our concerns?” she asked as others nodded in unison. “We have to fight this battle till the end and all they want is to send us all to jail so that this movement fades away.”

Soni took to the visitors room at the hostel, where a few women were writing up complaints of the assaults and harassment from the police personnel who entered the campus on Tuesday.

Vaikhari Aryat, a PhD student, was watching videos students recorded on their phones to identify the policeman she claims abused her for her complexion and made death threats.

She has been using her Facebook account to send out updates about the situation on campus and she said that her complaint will ensure that the “police can’t get away with their witch-hunt”.

She said that the students were angered by the fact that Appa Rao had resumed charge without any official intimation. “He’s accused of orchestrating this whole series of incidents which led to Vemula to suicide and he just walked in one day and resumed office like nothing happened,” she said. “I was targeted by a burly policeman who abused me for being dark skinned and made comments of the nature that I should be sent to Pakistan or be dead.”

Using the law to counter legal action

Aryat is not the only one who has resolved to fight the authorities. As of Friday afternoon, at least seven other students had framed complaints as the student Joint Action Committee held a press conference to announce that they were going on the offensive against the authorities.

A party of five lawyers had arrived from various offices of the Human Rights Law Network, a non-governmental organisation. Archana Rupwate, a lawyer from Mumbai who was overseeing the process, said that even lawyers weren’t being allowed to enter campus so they had to “sneak in”.

“The charges against these students are not serious except two which are non-bailable offences so we might be able to secure a bail for those in jail and an anticipatory bail for those who have just been named,” she said. She added that the legal process has been delayed because of back-to-back holidays due to Holi, Good Friday and the upcoming weekend.


“I have heard so many testimonies of students who say they were beaten up with lathis and even blades by the police on campus but many are scared to come out and file cases,” she said. “We are trying to get as many students as possible to at least write what they went through because this will form a part of our defence in the court that the police went out of its way to beat up students.”

Meanwhile, the students’ union president Zuhail KP was loading packages of clothes in a SUV parked outside the university gate to be sent to the students in jail. A delegation of seven students went along with the car to Cherlapally central jail where the students have been lodged for three days now. Their bail plea for these students will come up in the court on Monday.


Amid the hustle and bustle, a sociology student pulled out her mini-notebook and started scribbling a letter that she said she was going to send along with the clothes to her colleagues in jail.


“I hope you are as aggressive and as angry as you have always been,” she wrote in the letter. “And if we get picked up we have to plan a protest demanding that we are all put together. Anyways, you should know that we are all safe. You also take care. Lots and lots of love.”

This student is also named as an accused on the recent list.

Hope and despair

By 2 pm, the shopping complex area saw some activity as students who had woken up late in their water-starved hostel rooms finally managed to get ready and assemble. Meanwhile, teams from human rights and Dalit rights organisations had arrived on the campus to investigate complaints against the authorities for denying students food and water for two days.

More lawyers from the Human Rights Law Network had managed to enter the campus and they discussed how to get anticipatory bail for the students. The students’ union president Zuhail, meanwhile, managed to find five minutes of peace and lied down under a tree to catch some rest before addressing a press conference.

“I am too tense to speak or do anything here,” he said. “There is a lot of support from the students and we all are working towards fulfilling our demands of VC’s resignation and an impartial enquiry into Vemula’s death. If the Bharatiya Janata Party government can exert influence on autonomous universities like ours in such a brazen manner than I don’t know what happens in states ruled by the BJP or universities directly under their control”

Zuhail also expressed surprise at being left out of the police report.

“I don’t know why they left me out,” he said. “I am happy that at least there will be someone here to lead and run the movement but there’s no guarantee that I won’t be named today or tomorrow or soon. Students are under pressure from their families to stay quiet or come home so the participation is getting affected but it will resume as soon as college reopens on Monday.”

Nabeel Shah, a member of the Joint Action Committee that represents 14 organisations, was in a similar situation. Shah was sitting by himself near the stage, lost in his own thoughts.

“Unfortunately they didn’t name me as an accused,” he said. Asked why he felt that this was unfortunate, he said that he couldn’t bear the thought of his friends being accused of something as serious while he was left there helpless since he’s been part of the movement of Day 1.


“It will be good if they put more of us in jail, the number will get bigger and maybe then the media will notice us,” Shah said. He express his disappointment with the media coverage of the incident and said that Hyderabad University, unlike Jawaharlal Nehur University, had failed to capture public attention because the authorities had barred students and organisations on campus from expressing their support for the cause.

He said: “They have branded us as some renegades working against peace on campus.”

We welcome your comments at

Source: scrollin

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Following an SC ruling, Andhra eyes Rs 70,000-crore bonanza from Telangana

News from the states

Andhra Pradesh asks for its share of assets and income from institutions based out of Hyderabad.


Not long ago, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao had boasted that his state was the second richest in the country. KCR, as he is popularly known, quoted the 14th Finance Commission to say that Telangana – created out of united Andhra Pradesh in 2014 – is a revenue surplus state, next only to Gujarat.

Such was the confidence of KCR in the state’s financial position that in the ongoing Budget session of the Assembly, he agreed to a demand by its legislators for a 400% increase in their salaries, as well as generous increases in perks like car loan limits and unlimited medical expenses. If the proposal is implemented, salaries of MLAs and MLCs will go up from Rs 95,000 to Rs 3.5 lakhs per month.

But last week, the Supreme Court forced a reality check. It ruled that the Telangana government’s attempt to claim exclusive ownership over the state higher education council following the bifurcation of united Andhra Pradesh was “untenable and bad in law”. This ruling has far-reaching implications as Telangana may now have to divide assets – both movable and immovable, which it had assumed as its own – with Andhra Pradesh. By one estimate, Andhra’s share in these assets is worth Rs 70,000 crore, and so far there’s nothing to show that Andhra doesn’t want Telangana to pay up.

Down to earth

But more on the judgement later. First, let’s tackle the “Telangana is prosperous” assumption.

Telangana’s leaders have always felt that united Andhra Pradesh never gave the region its due. During a debate in the ongoing budget session, KCR had told the Assembly that for six decades, the rulers of united Andhra Pradesh had completely neglected Telangana. “Now that we are an independent state, we have proved in the last two years that Telangana is indeed prosperous,” he said.

Telangana’s Finance Minister Eatala Rajender, in his budget speech for 2016-17, also projected an ambitious growth rate of 11.7% in the Gross State Domestic Product, as against the national average growth rate of 8.6%. For the second successive year, he projected a revenue surplus of Rs 3,719 crore.

But what no one has pointed out so far is that 60%-70% of Telangana’s revenues come from Hyderabad – the capital of united Andhra Pradesh, which will remain the joint capital for the new states till 2024.

A study by the Centre for Economic and Social Studies, an autonomous research institute based in Hyderabad, revealed that in 2014, only three out of 10 districts in Telangana had high per capita income as compared to the national average. The remaining seven districts fell far below the national average.

A Telangana state government study itself – Re-inventing Telangana: Socio Economic Outlook 2014 – shows that the districts of Hyderabad, Ranga Reddy and Medak together account for half of the total value of goods produced and services provided in the state, while districts like Nizamabad, Adilabad, and Warangal account for only 17% of the gross state domestic product.

The report said: “The main reason for this uneven distribution across the districts is on account of large inter-sectoral income variations. The uneven regional distribution of income coupled with uneven growth is giving rise to widening regional disparities.”

“Therefore, one cannot call the state prosperous and revenue surplus by just looking at Hyderabad and its surrounding two districts,” said an economic analyst.

A costly misreading?

The assumption that Telangana had nothing to worry about on the financial front can perhaps be blamed on an incorrect interpretation of Section 75 of the AP Reorganisation Act, 2014, which talks about the geographical location of the state’s assets and the ownership.

There are over 120 institutions located in Hyderabad that are listed in the ninth and tenth schedule of this Act, and since the formation of Telangana, its government has been claiming complete right over all institutions citing Section 75.

In January 2015, an aggressive KCR ordered his officers to freeze the accounts of the Andhra Pradesh State Council of Higher Education or APSCHR on the grounds that it had ceased to exist after the formation of the Telangana State Council of Higher Education. Telangana assumed the assets of APSCHR belonged to the new council.

Infuriated, the N Chandrababu Naidu-headed Andhra Pradesh government moved the High Court. It drew a blank there as the court upheld the Telangana government’s decision. Subsequently, KCR staked claim over all the 120 government institutions established during the united Andhra regime in Hyderabad and froze all their assets too.

The Andhra Pradesh government then moved the Supreme Court, which delivered its landmark judgement last week. It ruled that Telangana cannot claim absolute right over these institutions merely because they are located in its capital Hyderabad, which is geographically a part of Telangana. The court ruled that Telangana had to share all its revenues and assets with the Andhra Pradesh government with regard to these institutions in the ratio of 58:42 (for Andhra Pradesh and Telangana respectively – a figure arrived at on the basis of the population of the two states).

If the Supreme Court judgement has to be implemented in its letter and spirit, as Andhra Pradesh will make sure it most certainly will, the Telangana government will lose a major source of revenue from these institutions. No wonder then, following the apex court judgement, the Telangana government and its officers have kept an uneasy silence on this issue.

A senior official of the Telangana Finance Department, who did not wish to be named, admitted that something went wrong in the government’s interpretation of the Section 75. “The Supreme Court said the section deals only with the functioning of these institutions and not the finances, assets and liabilities, which have to be shared by both the states,” he said.

Some of these 120 institutions are worth crores of rupees with huge assets and revenue. For instance, the Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University has thousands of acres of land and massive funding from various sources. “Just because it is located in Hyderabad, it does not belong only to Telangana,” said the finance department official. “It was built with revenues contributed by both the AP and Telangana regions. So, it has to be shared by the states.”

The vast immovable properties like buildings and land of these institutions cannot be transferred to the new Andhra Pradesh, and they will remain in Hyderabad. Therefore, the onus is on the Telangana government to compensate Andhra Pradesh for its share either by disposing of the assets or by paying the state monetary compensation, the official said.

Fair is fair

Ganta Srinivasa Rao, the Andhra Pradesh minister for Human Resources Development, has already made a rough calculation of how much his state may gain following the Supreme Court order. Going by the 58:42 ratio, Telangana needs to give AP more than Rs 70,000 crore in the form of bank deposits and the value of immovable assets. “There are about Rs 16,000 crore [worth of] fixed deposits in different banks in the accounts belonging to state-level institutes such as Telugu University, Open University, Higher Education Council, public sector undertakings, corporations and other cooperative establishments,” said Rao. “We will insist on getting this money.”

On Wednesday, Chandrababu Naidu met Andhra Pradesh governor ESL Narasimhan and requested him to see that the KCR government heeded the Supreme Court order. Naidu has recently revived his relationship with KCR and is unlikely to want a confrontation on the matter. He is keen that the issue be resolved amicably without any further controversies.

For Telangana, however, this is going to be a huge burden. The proposed 400-fold hike in the salaries of state legislators, which is expected to cost the exchequer an additional over Rs 100 crore annually, is probably now the least of KCR’s worries.

Telangana has already sought loans to fund flagship programmes like Mission Kakatiya, a scheme to restore over 40,000 defunct tanks, and Mission Bhagiratha, a water grid scheme, as well as several populist schemes like providing weaker sections of society with two-bedroom houses.

It has knocked on the doors of funding agencies like Rabobank, New Development Bank of BRICS, Japan International Cooperation Agency, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, and Housing and Urban Development Bank. It has also requested the Centre to remove the cap of Rs 14,500 crore on external borrowings by relaxing the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management norms that are in place to institutionalise financial discipline.

But the plan to borrow money hasn’t gone down well with the Opposition. “The show-off by the KCR government and indiscriminate borrowing of funds will lead the state into a debt trap,” said Mohammed Ali Shabbir, the Congress leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council. “KCR’s tall claims of Telangana being the richest state in India has only caused damage.”

Initiating the debate on the Telangana Budget for 2016-17 in the Legislative Council on Wednesday, Shabbir said borrowing Rs 40,000 crore for Mission Bhagiratha and Rs 15,000 crore for the housing scheme in a single year will violate the Centre’s Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management norms as both are projects that will not generate revenue and not provide any return on borrowed capital. After the moratorium period of two years, Telangana would be forced to spend Rs. 7,000 crore annually on interest and repayment of these loans, he added.

Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee president Captain N Uttam Kumar Reddy echoed his party colleague. “The people of the state have given this government a mandate for five years and it is throwing Telangana into a debt trap for next 20 years,” said Reddy. “People must think over this seriously and question the government.”

With Andhra Pradesh demanding its fair share of assets from Telangana following the Supreme Court judgement, the state will have to cough up Rs 70,000 crore for that purpose, an additional burden on its exchequer. Where is Telangana going to get that money from?

For now round one belongs to Andhra Pradesh. If Telangana prefers yet another appeal, this battle will be long drawn out, with no victors in sight.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Epic battle: The Hindutvavadi attack on a 19th-century scholar that presaged the war on Pollock

Anything that moves

The shifting reputation of Friedrich Max Müller is instructive in the light of the Murty Classical Library controversy.


The petition asking for Sheldon Pollock to be removed from the editorship of an ambitious translation project called the Murty Classical Library reminded me of many happy hours I spent during my undergraduate days in a library across the road from my college in Bombay, working my way through 50 volumes of the Sacred Books of the East. The series was edited by the Sanskrit scholar Friedrich Max Müller, after whom the German cultural centre that housed the library was named. I glanced only cursorily at most of the books, but took my time over those dedicated to the major Upanishads, important Vedic hymns, and the Dhammapada, all of which happened to be translated by Max Müller himself. I came away deeply impressed by the 30 years of effort that had gone into translating and annotating the monumental collection.

While he was alive, Max Müller was celebrated by most educated Indians, although conservatives condemned his magisterial edition of the entire text [PDF] of the Rig Veda (in the original rather than as as a translation) along with Sayanacharya’s commentary, considering it sacrilegious for women, lower castes and outcastes to have access to that sacred knowledge. More liberal thinkers such as Swami Vivekananda applauded the German scholar’s “long and arduous task of exciting interest, overriding opposition and contempt, and at last creating a respect for the thoughts of the sages of ancient India”.

In the years following Independence, a counter-narrative emerged, which demonised the German Indologist as a zealot determined to interpret Indian history in the light of his literal reading of Biblical chronology. Max Müller committed two unpardonable sins from the perspective of the Hindu nationalists who have grown prominent in the past few decades. First, he dated the composition of the early Vedic hymns to a period of around 1500 BC to 1200 BC, far too late for Hindutvavadis.

Dating the Vedas

Second, he upheld the idea that the ancestor language of Sanskrit was spoken in a region near the Black Sea, and that the Vedic people had gradually migrated into India from the north-west. His reasoning for the 1200 BC date was fairly arbitrary, as he repeatedly admitted, but it so happened he was in the right ballpark. The chronology that most experts accept today owes nothing to Max Müller’s methodology, something his critics obtusely refuse to accept.

Since Independence, nationalist Hindus have spent inordinate amounts of energy trying to push the date of the Vedas back, and trying to prove that the Harappan civilisation that was discovered in the twentieth century, and which predates the earliest Vedic literature, was in fact a Vedic culture. I don’t want to get into the details of that tedious debate. What I want to highlight is that Max Müller’s path-breaking work as an editor, translator, and interpreter of sacred Indian texts is now forgotten or ignored in favour of contesting certain speculations that were not central to his work and which he didn’t take too seriously.

The shifting reputation of Friedrich Max Müller is instructive in the light of the Murty Classical Library controversy. The project funded by Rohan Murty is manifestly in the tradition of the Sacred Books of the East. MCL’s scope is restricted to the Indian subcontinent, but it covers secular as well as spiritual literature, and includes translation of seminal texts from languages widely spoken in India today such as Punjabi, Telugu and Marathi. Who could have a problem with such an enterprise? Well, the Hindu Right evidently does. Many moons after the idea was mooted and at a time when the first handsome volumes are already in bookshops, Hindutvavadis have decided that Sheldon Pollock, editor of the series, is insufficiently “imbued with a sense of respect and empathy for the greatness of Indian civilization”. Angered that Pollock signed a statement supporting the right of Jawaharlal Nehru University students to dissent, the petitioners accuse him of “disrespect for the unity and integrity of India”.

Make in India

Rohan Murty put the petitioners firmly in their place, and the matter would have been closed, had not Makarand Paranjape, professor of English at JNU, published an article in the Indian Express reigniting the issue. I was shocked to see Paranjape’s signature on the Pollock petition, for he often speaks about the necessity of evading the pieties of Left and Right, and it is hard to square such a position with a document that asserts the Murty Classical Library “must be part of the ‘Make in India’ ethos”, among other borrowings from the Narendra Modi playbook.

In defending the Pollock petition, Paranjape laments the deterioration of India’s educational and cultural institutions, but does not draw the logical conclusion that such deterioration could contribute to a paucity of sufficiently qualified scholars within India to tackle a task like the Murty Classical Library. He asks, rhetorically, “Suppose a library of 500 best books of American culture, with an endowment from, say, Bill Gates, was handed over to Chinese scholars to produce, wouldn’t interested Americans protest?” It’s an absurd question, since the United States does not have a repository of untranslated classical literature, but the answer surely is that if Chinese scholars and expatriates teaching in Chinese institutions formed the best-qualified cohort of experts in the field, it would be logical for Bill Gates to offer them the project. In any case, individual volumes in the Murty Classical Library will be taken on by different translators, many of whom will doubtless be Indians.

Rather than go after a private endowment, the Pollock petitioners would have been better served lobbying the administration to initiate a project of its own to disseminate the nation’s literature across major indigenous languages. After all, the Murty Classical Library, like the Sacred Books of the East, makes a trove of literature available to English readers who are already spoiled for choice. Translating Punjabi, Telugu, Hindi, and Marathi classics into English is all very well, but what about translating Punjabi into Marathi and Marathi into Telugu and Telugu into Hindi and so on? Why not select a hundred important texts, produce 20 translations of each by leading scholars, and put those online? Only the government has the resources to back a project so massive in scope. But while the current dispensation pays lip service to the glorious past, it appears more interested in godmen who sell noodles or plan garish celebrations on the Yamuna floodplains than in making the finest examples of our literary heritage accessible to a new readership.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Meghnad Desai explains the fallacies in the idea of Hindu nationalism


In a new essay, the economics professor from the LSE highlights the flaws in this version of history.

 Image credit:  YouTube

The following propositions are at the core of the Hindu nationalist doctrine:

- India has always been a single nation since prehistoric times as Bharatavarsha or Aryabhoomi.

- India got enslaved when Muslim invaders came from the North-west from the eighth century onwards – Mohammad Bin Qaseem and then Mahmud Ghazni followed by the Delhi Sultanate and then the Mughal Empire. Muslims are foreigners. The corollary of this xenophobia is to deny that the Aryans came to India from elsewhere. There is a tension about reconciling the Indus Valley culture with the story of Aryan incursions. The Hindu nationalists deny point-blank that Aryans were foreigners.

- The British did not create a single Indian entity. It was always there. The education which Macaulay introduced created the elite – Macaulay-putras – who behave and think like foreigners.

- In 1947, 1,200 years of slavery came to an end. (Narendra Modi said as much during his first speech in the Central Hall of Parliament after his election.) India was at last free to assert its true identity as a Hindu nation.

- Congress secularists, however, went on privileging Muslims whose loyalty is always to be doubted as their nation is Pakistan.

The stuff of bogus history

These propositions raise several conceptual and historical issues. Let’s examine them.

First, there is the issue of the native versus the foreigner. The British were clearly foreigners. They came when they had a job to do and never settled in India or “colonised” it as they did Rhodesia or Australia. Muslims emperors, on the other hand, did not go back and made India their home.

This creates a problem for the Hindu nationalist. For him, the fact that they have been here for 1,200 years does not make them natives of India. They shall forever remain alien. This is a strange doctrine because India was the receptacle for many “foreign” tribes throughout its history – the Shakas, the Huns, the Scythians and many other “races”, all of whom converted to Hinduism. But, then, 1,200 years are not enough. What about the Aryans? Did the Aryans also not come from central Europe or the Arctic, as Tilak argued?

To say that the Aryans are foreigners would make Hinduism a foreign religion. The aborigines – tribals – would then be the only true natives, as some Dalit scholars have argued. That is why Hindu nationalists deny foreign origin of the Aryans. The Aryans have to be primordially native to suit the Hindu nationalist narrative which imagines a time when somehow instantaneously Hinduism was established across all of India thanks to the Vedas and the Brahmins performing sacrifices, etc. Sanskrit has to have the prime place as lingua franca of Hindu India for that reason.

This is the stuff of bogus history. The religion which Hindus practise has only a marginal relationship to the Vedas. The Vedic gods are no longer worshipped. Vishnu, Shiva and Kali appear in the Hindu pantheon at least 1,000 years after the Vedas. The slow spread of Brahmanism (as the religion should be properly called) from its Punjab heartland to Delhi region and then on to UP and Bihar has been well charted. The importance of Pali and Ardhamagadhi in the propagation of Ajivikas, Jainism and Buddhism from the sixth century BCE onwards is also known.

It took a thousand-year struggle between Buddhism and Brahmanism before the latter could declare a complete victory. India became a Hindu nation about the time the Adi Shankaracharya debated and defeated the Buddhists. If the chronology of Hindu nationalists is taken seriously, however, it should be soon after India became “slave” to Muslims.

The Hindu nationalist strategy is to deny any conflict between Buddhism and Brahmanism and claim that Buddha was an avatar of Vishnu. This assertion is not found till the seventh century CE in the Puranas, by which time Buddhism was on its way out. Hinduism is not enough to define India as a Hindu nation throughout its history.

Savarkar tried to square this circle in his essay on Hindutva. He was a modernist and not a devotee of religion. His idea of nation is derived from the then fashionable ideas of nationhood espoused by the newly born nations of Europe, many of them parts of the Habsburg Empire which broke up in 1918 – Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia. Nationhood depended on territory and those born in the territory were members of the nation.

His Hindutva is not tied to Hinduism. It says that anyone born in the land of the Indus – Sindhu – is a Hindu and part of Hindutva. There is a subtext that Hindus are more so than Muslims. But Muslims can belong to Hindutva if they are loyal to the land of their birth. Subsequent Hindu nationalists have adopted the notion of Hindutva but not Savarkar’s secular doctrine.

Spurious idea of slavery

As a history of India, the Hindu nationalist story is as partial as the story that the Nehruvian vision has created. Of course, they are both north India–biased stories. They take Delhi and its rulers to be all of India. Muslim raiders may have come in the eighth century to Sind and Saurashtra and in the twelfth century established the Delhi Sultanate. But they never penetrated south of the Vindhyas.

South India has a very different history about Muslim immigrants from that of north India. Nor did it “suffer” from Muslim rule till very late when Aurangzeb went to the south in the late seventeenth century. Hindu kingdoms were coexistent with Muslim ones in the south but that happened only in the middle of the second millennium. The whole idea of “1,200 years of slavery” is spurious. Assam was never conquered by any Muslim power.

But ultimately there will never be “true objective” history. There never is in any nation. Debates and reinterpretations go on forever. Patronage to academia can be used to commission histories to buttress the official line. The sanctity of dispassionate research can never be guaranteed if the funding is public. India, however, does not have the tradition of private philanthropy for research. The government guards all the doors to higher education, thanks to the statist bias of the Congress which ruled for the first thirty years uninterruptedly. This bias has permeated the BJP as well.

It is not the idea of Hindu nationalism that is worrying. It is that the government will be the propagator of this particular view.

Meghnad Desai is emeritus professor of economics at the London School of Economics and author of The Rediscovery of India and Development and Nationhood.

Excerpted with permission from “India as a Hindu Nation – and Other Ideas of India”, Meghnad Desai, from Making Sense of Modi’s India, HarperCollins India.

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Dear Kanhaiya Kumar, here’s some unsolicited advice. Regards, Kiran Nagarkar

Student Protests

The renowned author feels compelled to write to 'the most admired – as well as the most reviled – PhD student in the world'.


Post Script

This is first time I am starting a letter with a Post Script instead of ending with one.

Dear Kanhaiya Kumar, I finished this letter to you on Monday night and must confess that not even in my worst-case scenario had I ever imagined that any educational institution would attempt to deprive its students of the sacred task of completing their education.

As I have said time and again, the most sacrosanct space and institution in any country in the world is the university. It is “hallowed” ground because it is the crucible for the finest and the most creative talents in society.

This is where the brand new zeroes, the new Paninis, the Platos and Socrates, the Upanishads, the edge-of-the-universe frontier sciences, sub-atomic particles, the Albert Einsteins, the Jayant Naralikars, the Amartya Sens, the future Nobel Laureates, the Thomas Pikettys, the environmental great souls and saviours, the critical inventions and discoveries of tomorrow are being mulled over, attempted, written, and argued about.

And now I open the newspapers on Tuesday to discover that the most retrograde, stifling and deadly virus has taken over the Jawaharlal Nehru University and a high-level committee has proposed that you along with Umar Khalid, Anirban Bhattacharya and two others be rusticated. That you will not be allowed to study further, complete your PhDs and, like Rohith Vemula, will be asked to vacate the hostels.

Not just you and your colleagues, 35 students of Film and Television Institute of India are also being chargesheeted. Would we now prefer “Zika” brains to young minds bursting with ideas and hopes and adventures of the mind? Has the governing party at the Centre learnt absolutely nothing from what happened at the Central University in Hyderabad and how much it alienated the young and old of every hue?

I want to ask:

Where are you Ravi Shankar Prasad who had the honesty to say that the JNU had a fine tradition of scholarship?

Dear Piyush Goyal, we both come from the same alma mater, Don Bosco High School, and it was wonderful to hear you sing Our Father who art in Heaven at a school function, will you speak for the future of our varsities and our country?

Suresh Prabhu, LK Advaniji, Arun Shourie, how about you three?

Am I barking up the wrong tree? Are there no leaders in the echelons of the Bharatiya Janata Party who will have the courage and the integrity to stand up for intellectual freedom?

Are you going to permit the provenance of vidya, of knowledge, of Saraswati to become the prisoner of politics?

Is there nobody in the Central Cabinet who can tell Prime Minister Narendra Modi that his “Make in India” will be still-born if the university becomes the site for the persecution of independent ideas? That there is no greater crime than to deprive bright young people of their right to education?

And now, let me append the letter that I had already finished writing.

Dear Kanhaiya Kumar,

My name is Kiran Nagarkar. You don’t know me – and hence my name is irrelevant.

Forgive me for presuming to intrude on your privacy especially since you must be flooded with calls, emails, requests for interviews and so on.

I can offer at least one reason why you should perhaps ignore this letter. I am above the age of 70, closer to 75 actually, and Mr Modi has made it clear to the highly respected elders in his party that they may as well disappear into vanaprastha ashram for they are obsolete and irrelevant.

What I can assure you is that this is not a hate-mail.

On the contrary, I have chosen to write to you because I am deeply concerned about your safety and wish to offer a few perspectives on the peculiar situation you find yourself in.

Needless to say you are more than entitled to ignore my missive.

After this long prelude, let me finally come to the point.

A peculiar situation

What exactly did I mean by your situation being “peculiar”?

Quite simply, you are perhaps the most admired – as well as the most reviled – PhD student in the world. You are the classic example of what appears to be a preconceived plot gone terribly wrong.

For years now, the JNU has been the bête noire of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party. And suddenly there seemed to be an opportunity to show it down as the powers that be in the human resource development and home ministries seem to have been informed by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad that the villains in this den of inequity had been caught red-handed while making some "anti-national" speeches.

The home minister later made a highly explosive revelation: apparently none other than the Lashkar-e-Taiba Chief Hafiz Saeed had supported the controversial JNU event on February 9. Simultaneously, a few media channels, representing the governing theology, seem to have gone into overdrive and, lo and behold, with the help of what has been shown to be doctored video footage, they managed to show you committing what they called was sedition – on camera.

By the next day, it was clear that Rajnath Singh had failed to pull wool over the eyes of all but die-hard Hindutva fanatics since he had quoted from a fake Twitter account. But by then you were taken into custody without the mandatory first information report and the super-patriotic, conscientious lawyers were good enough not only to beat you up but also to viciously abuse the most respected elders from their own community appointed by the Supreme Court.

All this while former Delhi Police Commissioner Bhim Sen Bassi claimed to have single-handedly saved the nation from a repeat of the Jalianwala Bagh tragedy. (How can we ever thank him for this great service to the nation?).

But, eventually, the plot began to unravel and the dirty tricks department stood thoroughly exposed.

The only reason I have detailed what is common knowledge is because I wanted to underline the fact that you have on your hands an anaconda that has been humiliated and stung and will not rest till it has swallowed you whole and there’s not a trace of you left.

They’ve already thrown every minister and accusation at you. No less a figure and lawyer than Arun Jaitley, who had earlier described authors returning their Sahitya Akademi awards as “a manufactured crisis” and the prime minister himself have got into the act. Even the honourable judge who gave you six months’ bail had a very problematic view of sedition.

It might be a good idea not to underestimate the fact that the honour and pride of the ruling party are at stake. They are bloodthirsty.

Which is why I feel compelled to highlight the need for you to sit with your highly competent lawyers and formulate a carefully crafted strategy.

The Azadi chronicles

Let me now move to a word that occurred time and again in your most famous speech: azadi or freedom. You spoke nobly of fighting for a variety of freedoms. Freedom from poverty, freedom of speech, freedom from unemployment; freedom to survive droughts, famines, bankruptcy and feed this nation by taking care of the beleaguered farmers; freedom that ensures the empowerment of women and rights of Dalits, tribals and minorities.

And yet you took for granted the one freedom which is the first freedom, the freedom from colonial rule and the winning of independence. This is why I need to offer a historical perspective. Does anyone from your or your parents' generation recall our utterly unique national narrative? That we are the only country in the world to win our independence through a non-violent civil disobedience movement against the mightiest empire in the world? And that we owe our first freedom to Mahatama Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Abul Kalam Azad and all the great leaders of the Congress, not to mention hundreds of thousands of our countrymen who stood by the doctrine of non-violence in the face of draconian laws and measures taken by the coloniser?

Let’s never forget that the Indian Marxists, RSS, the Hindu Mahasabha or the various incarnations of the BJP were never present or involved in the country’s struggle for independence. Then, as now, the only agenda that the RSS and its various affiliates, including the BJP, have is its rabid fanaticism and pure hatred for the Muslims. One has merely to read the incredibly provocative statements of the BJP leaders like Kundanika Sharma, Yogi Adityanath or Union Minister of State for HRD Ram Shankar Katheria egging their members to dire violence against the Muslims, and even the Christians.

The BJP rank and file have nothing but contempt for Dalits as was underlined once again when Rohith Vemula committed suicide and they vociferously fell back on endless lies to defend their despicable role in his death.

As for the Communists, even as late as 1962, Jyoti Basu and others of the same ideology were justifying the Chinese invasion of the country.

As a PhD student at JNU, I hope you never forget that it was the Congress cadres at all levels which fought for and won our first freedom. And that the first betrayal and the appalling corruption of the Congress ideals came, as is so often the case in world history, from its own ranks.

Uniting the divided

While I don’t want to forget that Lenin, Stalin and Mao amongst the three of them committed genocides amounting to millions of their own people, it is not my intention to keep harping on the so-called Communist past in India.

While the RSS and the BJP are stuck in their deadly, divisive Hindutva agenda and their obsession with unbridled crony-capitalism, the communists hopefully will get down to fighting the good fight once again – that is if they can get their act and élan together – for the poor whether they be Dalits, farmers or labourers, the utterly marginalised tribals, or the millions of jobless in the cities and towns of our country. This is where perhaps your biggest contribution could be.

First of all, it is extremely important that these different groups coalesce and can thus no longer be ignored. Our political parties have learnt their lesson from our colonial masters: Divide and rule. They play one group against the other and wake up only during election time to exploit that feckless institution called the vote bank.

You and your colleagues must put an end to this practice to start off with. But much more important than this is the urgent need to replace old and moribund strategies with new and highly effective ones.

For instance, how long are we going to let successive governments butcher the so-called Naxalites or maltreat the Dalits? While the grievances of the tribals and others are very real, their responses have become hidebound and so is the public reaction to them. Not only is there a need to present their case in a far more engaging way but there is need to think of an effective process by which the depressed and the damned can assert their rights. Needless to say, this should all be strictly and scrupulously within the ambit of the law so that when push comes to shove, the wretched of the earth will never be caught on the wrong side of the law and suffer for it.

Modern technology

If you have the time I would like you to read at least the first act of my play, Bedtime Story which deals with the tribal Prince Eklavya. Never forget that Ekalavya was a self-made man and yet was a better archer than Arjun. But even more to the point, the first act will show you how Eklavya squares matters with the wily Dronacharya.

Education is key but so is information technology and other smart modern technologies. Where would you have been if what you actually said was not caught on camera for the world to see? Likewise, let the roving cameras of young men and women be employed in bringing the truth forward and exposing the falsehoods.

Again, if you are fighting for a good cause you need to know how to use the media to your advantage.

You have to make sure that over a period of time you develop a whole phalanx of superb and dedicated lawyers as part of a dedicated team, so that the best possible legal defence is available in case of any foul play – or even to challenge flawed and unfavourable judicial verdicts in higher courts of appeal.

Don’t burn out

All this in good time. But first focus on the subject not only of your physical safety – but also in terms of your frame of mind. I want to underline how you are at risk from yourself. And to do that I would like you to watch the documentary film called Amy. Perhaps you’ve already seen it. Perhaps jazz leaves you cold. Never mind. Watch it. Amy Winehouse was a brilliant singer. She wrote her own songs. By the time she was 17 or 18, she was a phenomenally successful artist. The camera loved her and so did her millions of fans. She broke many a record, but at what cost? She was gone from this world before she was 28. The phenomenon is called burn-out.

You have been in the glare of publicity. The demands made on you are colossal. The BJP and their RSS colleagues hate you, just as your fans across the country adore you. It’s a bad mix – nay, it’s a deadly mix. Never underestimate the stresses and strains of being in your shoes. There’s absolutely no shame in getting some psychological help to keep your focus on sanity while keeping the burn-out syndrome at bay.

You and all the younger generations of today are crucial to this venture called India. Its success or failure depends on what all of you bring to the table, as long as you keep the flame of integrity and openness alive.

For our own sake, I wish you all the very best.

Warmest regards,
Kiran Nagarkar

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Dear PM Modi, if challenging status-quo is sedition, I too am guilty!

Dear PM Modi, It is treasonous to not pay attention to the needs of poverty-stricken children while pretending to be patriots jailing university students for 'ant national' slogans.

Written by Ujjal Dosanjh | Published:March 15, 2016 9:29 am

To my mind, what is most anti-national is to not see, acknowledge and eradicate this grinding poverty of India. Reuters

I am feeling “seditious”. I am. I am in India, my motherland, the land of my ancestors. I can literally feel the centuries of Indianness coursing through my veins. Though the arms I think of are of the peaceful variety yet it is impossible to escape the call of my conscience to arms.

From India I have been following the events surrounding the JNU and the allegations of ‘sedition’ and ‘anti-national’ being thrown about so recklessly. There can’t be any real danger to the world’s largest, well grounded and enduring democracy from some students shouting what may or may not have been irresponsible slogans. India is not some airy fairy place that is going to be torn asunder just because some students talk about whether Afzal Guru’s hanging was legally proper and just.

No one has the right to dictate what thoughts one can think or articulate even if they may be questionable in their very essence or how they are crafted including those that may cast doubt on the legal propriety of Afzal Guru’s hanging by India.
I have no time for any one picking up a gun to kill or attempt to kill any one let alone the parliamentarians of Indian democracy that Afzal Guru’s alleged associates did. And I have no time for those who glorify others such as Nathuram Godse who, in liberated India, killed the undisputed leader of the freedom movement.

One could call those who glorify Guru or Godse or others like them misguided, gone astray or completely wrong. But in a true democracy they have a right to be misguided, wrong or to be led astray. To call them seditious is to cheapen true patriotism and think India weak and believe that it will readily crumble under the weight of sloganeering by students at universities.

I would urge the self styled definers of “patriotism” and “nationalism” in India to stop constraining individual freedoms and start worrying about students at its universities turning into book worms who never read a newspaper, shout a slogan or attend a demonstration to change the country. If all the students become solely preoccupied by the marks they get at universities and how big their pay packets might be, in the end India will be a much lesser country and certainly not the country of the dreams of its freedom fighters.

A degree of sedition and subversion, in other words an undermining and challenging of the status quo, is inherent in any movement for change. In that sense, RSS is subversive as it wants to change the nature of Indian state and so are all the political parties worth their name who have differing visions of India. If they intend no subversion of the extant reality — the status quo — then they have no business in politics unless they are in the business of massaging their own egos or plundering the country.

As I write this column on the train from Delhi to Phagwara, I occasionally lift my sights away from the keyboard of my computer and see acres and acres of wheat and other green crops in the vastness of Haryana and Punjab. I also see the poverty in the shanties and jhuggies lining both sides of the railway tracks. The surroundings of these dwellings, if one could at all call them dwellings, are littered with runaway plastic and other garbage. There are small ponds, puddles and sewers of waste, mainly dirty water mixed and polluted with all manner of waste both human and animal. This is where a significant part of the future of India lives — in those shanties, in the midst of that plastic, human and animal waste and the sewers of stench. This is where the children of the shanties play and grow up. None of it seems at all touched by the Swachch Bharat or any other grand schemes or plans of state or central governments past or present.

To my mind, what is most anti-national is to not see, acknowledge and eradicate this grinding poverty of India.

This is the kind of extreme poverty that is everywhere in India. It lives alongside and in sight of the extreme wealth. Those half naked children playing in front of and around the shanties are what the government should worry about instead of the students at universities shouting slogans mildly subversive of the status quo. Those children, dressed in rags, play and live — no, I must say exist — right next to cows and other animals chewing gobs of plastic as they graze on the patches of dying grass littered with the ubiquitous garbage all over India. One day they are going to — and they must if India is to have any hope of change — grow up and join the university students such as Kanhaiya and Khalid to subvert the status quo that has kept them and their parents in such extreme poverty.

Prime Minister Modi, here is the naked truth:

It is treasonous to not pay attention to the needs of these children while pretending to be patriots jailing university students for ‘ant national’ slogans;

It is not seditious to shout anti government slogans;

The BJP government is not India. For that matter no government ever is or has been India despite Indira Gandhi and her sycophants once believing so and imposing the hated Emergency in what they claimed was national interest;
It is sedition pure and simple, Prime Minister Modi, for the governments of post independence India to have allowed poverty to remain at alarming levels, to allow corruption and communalism to grow and to enable all three to have a deadly strangle hold over the country.

And, Prime Minster Modi, I have harboured and expressed these thoughts all my life. Being forthright and honest is sedition too in the eyes of the defenders of the status quo. I do not believe one whit in the status quo in India on caste, communalism, poverty and corruption. Therefore I must plead guilty to being seditious and subversive.

On behalf of those children I saw playing outside their shanties on both sides of the railway tracks and hundreds of millions of other poor Indian children I CHARGE ALL GOVERNMENTS OF INDIA SINCE 1947 WITH SEDITION FOR BETRAYING THEM–A CRIME far more serious than some angry slogans of a few angry students.

And yes! For levelling the charge of SEDITION so publicly against all Indian governments to-date I may be, according to the newer and twisted definition of sedition, GUILTY of SEDITION /SUBVERSION — take your pick.

Views expressed by the author are personal.

Source: indianexpress

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Inter-caste marriages on the rise despite odds

COIMBATORE, March 16, 2016

M.K. Ananth


'The number of inter-caste marriages has gone up over the last two decades with more girls getting educated and getting better exposure.'

Not long after the reported ‘honour killing’ in Udumalpet, a couple approached the Thanthai Periyar Dravida Kazhagam (TPDK) in Coimbatore on Monday asking for help to have an inter-caste wedding.

The Kazhagam, authorised to enable registration of inter-caste marriages, has organised more than 3,000 inter-caste marriages since 2000. “We performed 50 marriages a year initially. It is steadily increasing every year. Last year, we performed 385 such marriages,” state general secretary of the organisation, Ku. Ramakrishnan, said.

He said that the number of inter-caste marriages had actually gone up over the last two decades with more girls getting educated and getting better exposure. Around 15 per cent of the couples were students.

“Fifteen per cent are from the IT sector, of them one or both are from other districts or nearby States,” he said. Twenty per cent are inter-faith marriages.

A third of the marriages involved one of them from the southern and central districts, who were getting married here due to fear of attack by the Caste Hindus.

‘Parents rarely attend inter-caste marriages’

Parents of either the groom or bride attended the marriage in only 10 per cent of the cases and in only two per cent of the cases did both the father and mother attend. “Though they were not against the marriage they preferred keeping it a low-key affair, over fear of being sidelined by their community,” he added.

President of Social Justice Movement N. Paneerselvam who has organised 150 inter-caste marriages from January 2015 said that there were very few marriages that take place without a problem. “We have even been threatened by the Caste Hindu families on many occasions,” he said.

“After performing such marriages we take the couple to the police station,” he said. He said that doing so gives a strong message to the families of the bride and groom as the police warn the families not to harm or disturb the young couple. “Down the line some of the families accept the couple setting aside casteist sentiments,” he added.

Source: thehindu

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Dalit who lost his limbs for protesting against his daughter’s gang-rape

Dalit atrocities

A new book chronicles the amazing story of Bant Singh’s courage, resistance and willpower.

Nirupama Dutt  · Today · 08:30 am


On January 5, 2006, Bant Singh, a Dalit agrarian labourer and activist in Punjab’s Jhabar village, was ambushed and brutally beaten by upper-caste Jat men armed with iron rods and axes. He lost both his arms and a leg in the attack. It was punishment for having fought for justice for his minor daughter who had been gang-raped.

What does the laal salaam mean to Bant? He smiles. “The red salute links me to every worker in the country. In this greeting, red is for the blood that flows through the veins of a labourer; the blood that a worker is not afraid to shed in struggle. You know the red of the Communist flag means the same. The flag was first white, but the blood of the workers dyed it red.”

After this simply and surely put reply, Bant moves on to discuss the activities of the Mazdoor Mukti Morcha of the All India Agricultural Labour Association (AIALA), associated with the CPI Marxist-Leninist (CPI M-L) Liberation Party. This overground party evolved from a faction of the ML and it now participates in the democratic process of the country with representation in state assemblies.

Word gets around that Bant has visitors from Mansa; some elders from the neighbourhood come calling and settle down on charpais in the courtyard.

As the discussion warms up, a tall, slim and attractive girl brings steaming hot tea. A little boy is trailing her. Natt, patting the child on his head, tells me, “This is Baljit, Bant Singh’s eldest daughter.” I am silent for a moment, then force a smile on to my lips as I look at this young mother who is barely out of girlhood.

Her testimony echoes in my ears: “I, Baljit Kaur, daughter of Shri Bant Singh, am a resident of Burj Jhabbar in Mansa district, Punjab. I was gang-raped on July 6, 2002. I did not conceal the incident and along with my father waged a struggle for justice...” I wonder if I will ever be able to talk to her about her travails. The idea that she would have to relive her pain all over again is horrendous to me.

I was to realise later that my hesitation arose from the comfort of my own relatively privileged existence. Those who are pushed to the wall find the courage to tell their tale of woe over and again.

Bant Singh’s was that rare case in which a Dalit had defied the sarpanch of a village to seek justice in a court and had succeded in having the culprits sentenced to life imprisonment. And, for this, he and his family had to pay a very heavy price. This was because a Dalit had actually succeeded in getting an upper-caste Jat man and two others convicted of rape.

What, after all, does a Dalit labourer have? He has neither money nor influence. All he has is his own body, which he must use to earn a livelihood. And, as for the body of the Dalit woman, it is very easy for it to be seen as an object of casual, easy abuse. In Bant’s case, and in Baljit’s, it was their bodies which became the sites of oppression.

There was this very crude joke that a Jat boyfriend told me many years ago when we were classmates at the School of Journalism in Panjab University. “In the village we laugh that if you make out with an ‘untouchable’ girl [the word Dalit was not in vogue at that time in our part of the country] you get defiled and then you have to make out with a Brahmin girl for purification’s sake!” At nineteen I just dismissed it as a rustic off-colour joke without realising that I was probably being considered a potential agent of purification.

Seeking justice

Bant lost three limbs on 8 January and, as he was moved into intensive care, his comrades, after recovering from the grave shock, got busy in organising the struggle for justice. One of the first steps was to appeal to the police authorities for sterner action against the culprits, with recommendations from the doctors at PGI that Bant’s life was still in danger. The next was to hold a Press Conference in the basement of Punjab Book Centre in Chandigarh’s Sector 22 on 11 January.

The Times of India carried a story in which correspondent Ramaninder Kaur brought out the grave injustice in no uncertain terms: “In a country where law-breakers excel in subverting the system, how much is a landless farm worker expected to pay for getting justice for his minor rape-victim daughter? To be precise, two arms and a leg.”

Other papers followed and the blackout which the Mansa reporters had imposed gradually lifted. This brought a sad reflection from Comrade Jeeta: “After the attack, we contacted the media but even the local papers did not report the beating up of a Dalit. It was only when his limbs were amputated that journalists seemed to find the incident newsworthy.”

Tragic indeed are the yardsticks of news-making, but the reports on Bant soon flared into outrage and the collective conscience was roused from apathy because it was not just one man’s tale – Bant emerged as a symbol of Dalit resistance in Punjab.

The people’s support

A rally of agricultural workers demanding justice and compensation for Bant was called at his village on 16 January, 2006, while he was still in intensive care at the PGI. But the terror unleashed by the brutal attack took its toll on the attendance and only some five hundred activists from different outfits trickled in.

However, the tide had turned within nine days. The rally on 25 January had a phenomenal attendance with over ten thousand agricultural labourers and activists. Recalling the mammoth gathering, Kanwaljit recalls that the most emotive moment came when Baljit got up, holding her three-month-old baby in her arms and spoke out in angst.

He said, “Comrade Swapan Mukherjee, who had come from Delhi, saw Baljit and asked her to speak. Without any hesitation she got up and said what had happened to her and now what had been done to her father. ‘How long will we suffer such injustice,’ she cried out and tears sprang to many eyes. It was an act of great courage because a girl in Punjab never speaks of any sexual exploitation, but here was someone breaking a taboo and calling out for justice.”

Bant had supporters in Punjab and elsewhere. The Forum for Democratic Initiatives sent a team to Punjab to enquire into the details of the incident and launched a nation-wide campaign which laid bare the ugly face of prosperous Punjab.

Above all, it was Bant’s spirit which made the movement. On the eighteenth day after his amputation, while his condition was still serious, he surprised doctors and his fellow patients alike by singing some of Udasi’s songs from his sick-bed. “That was the moment,” said Kanwaljit, “when I decided: no more robot-making; it was time to quit my job and become a whole-timer with the Party because here I was now in the company of crusaders, the real men and women.”

He has since organised agrarian labour in the Sangrur district and has not regretted the decision even for a moment. Bant and he share a special bond, because during the three months that Bant was in PGI they were constant companions. Kanwaljit says that Bant endeared himself to everyone in the hospital with his wit, humour and courage.

The song of the oppressed

The sad and violent secrets of human existence linger in the picturesque countryside. “How can such ugliness co-exist with the innocent beauty of the ruralscape?” I wonder, as I collect bits and pieces about Bant’s life, as well as the lives of many like him. “I hope Bant is safe in the open like this?” I ask and Natt laughs at the naiveté of my question. “What more can they do to him? Kill him? But they will not, for they have perhaps realised that it may not be so easy to play with the lives of the oppressed. The oppressed will rise and question injustice.”

My first visit to Bant was at an end but I was left wondering how I would play Boswell to him. This was a new territory that I was entering, one paved with misery, but one which Bant and his people gradually eased my way into it. The untravelled path has its lows and one sometimes stumbles or sinks into deep depression but, most of the time, one is elated by the courage and resilience that comes to the fore.

This, then, is the ballad of Bant Singh.

Excerpted with permission from The Ballad of Bant Singh: A Qissa of Courage, Nirupama Dutt, Speaking Tiger Books.

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Source: scrollin

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