From Fourteen Fasting Students Determined to Live

The students of Jadavpur University request humbly that you starve yourself for 24 hours.

I pass on their request to you because I am heartened by your passionate outrage about global moral crises: the slaughtering of children in Peshawar, the dictates of hateful ‘saints’ in India, the murder of cartoonists in Paris. (But of course, this one is a little harder.)

10929116_10153690050271393_4181543863028055663_o

Jadavpur is a much-respected, much-awarded research university in eastern mainland India, one of the very, very few institutions in the country with equal nurture for technology and the social sciences. And yet, students and faculty of this sterling place have been demanding the resignation of their vice-chancellor. Their reasons are many, but the focal point of their protest became the sexual assault – on campus, by other students – of a JU student, that the VC refused to adequately address. In response, students boycotted class for a semester – harming themselves considerably – and sat on the university greens daily, singing songs and putting up protest plays.

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 12.17.58 pm

The VC could have talked to the students. But he said publicly that ‘talking’ was beneath his dignity. Instead, he unleashed a marauding police force on the students.

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 12.04.47 pm

Still, students and faculty held on to the hope of a civil and democratic resolution to the multiple problems on campus (including the VC’s dismantling of Jadavpur’s pride and joy: it’s interdisciplinary research schools and programmes). The state unleashed its full power on them – including the insidious power of media – but they stood undeterred.

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 12.02.37 pm

Finally, this last week, a few students began a fast unto death to get the university administration to engage with them.

Of course, the state tried to squash them. But it backfired.

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 12.01.54 pm

What they are asking now – these students who have been beaten, jailed, hospitalised, slandered and threatened – is that you join them in their hunger strike for 24 hours – Monday the 12th to Tuesday the 13th – in a symbolic show of solidarity.

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 11.59.32 am

The fast-unto-death has, at the time of posting, almost crossed it’s 130th hour.

 

#JeSuisCharlie? Foutre le Camp!

I see on Facebook today that Charlie Hebdo is still trending, and an email informs me that the asinine hashtag ‪#‎JeSuisCharlie‬, started soon after the Paris attack, is still raging on the interwebs.

Well, I *am* furious about the disgusting – and frankly idiotic – murderers, but this “Je suis Charlie” nonsense is taking pop activism too far. I am NOT Charlie Hebdo, thank you very much, and neither are most of you showing solidarity with the hashtag. European xenophobia – and I say this because most of my friends abroad live in the USA – is a beast quite unlike the hysterically blind, unself-aware American one: it is far more open and unapologetic. In a way, that’s often a better thing than the subtle poisoning of the subconscious, but it is still not a good thing. And much of this xenophobia is expressed culturally through satire.

Does that mean Charlie Hebdo’s staff deserved to be slaughtered? No. Litigated against, perhaps, but not violated physically, much less murdered. On the other hand, do they deserve to be universally applauded for ‘bravery’? I don’t think so. It’s easy to be part of the cultural majority of a land and claim to be an equal-opportunity satirist, but that is not how power works. And indeed, if googling serves me right, I believe France – which is trotting out it’s historical culture of appreciation of satire as a moral brownie point – once banned a magazine for satirising Charles de Gaulle [UPDATE: Facebook connections tell me the banned magazine was Charlie Hebdo’s earlier avatar. Fascinating.]. So much for historical equal-opportunity.

In summary, Hebdo had every right to print what they did, even if they didn’t have sterling taste or a clean social or political conscience. On the question of religious ‘offence': if you’re a deliberately uninformed Hindu, you’re free not to eat beef (or any animal protein), but you have no right to stop anyone else from consuming it. If you’re a devout, conservative Muslim, by all means never draw the prophet, but you have no right to attack or slaughter those that do (but of course, you could take them to court). If you’re a conservative, stupid Christian, stay away from the school curricula. Your ignorance is your choice, not society’s collective burden. Let things stand at that, and all shall be well.

Well, well-ish. It’s a pity that that is the best we can ask for at the moment.

Freeing the Indian Conscience

A bit late in the day, but still worth recording. Of course, legal practitioners have been arguing on social media that this freedom from declaring a religious affiliation was always present in the Indian constitution, but for people like me, who have no legal training or knowledge, a direct proclamation such as this is much more valuable than a right that might be more interpretive or extrapolatory in nature.

The question now, of course, is when the government offices in Bombay will get around to editing their decades-old forms and printing them, or at the very least accept a blank in the box provided in the old forms for ‘religious affiliation’. Not any time soon, I suspect. Bureaucracy, especially the Indian bureaucracy, is a behemoth of restful inertia.

Still, theory is on the non-religious citizen’s side. That’s something to celebrate. At least till some zealous righteous person or group appeals against this ‘discrimination’, but hey, even atheists can hope.

NoReligion

Better Local Governance: Electing vs. Assigning

Much of the US was a structural shock to my system. When I first heard that such key offices as Commissioner of Police and district attorney was elected rather then appointed from a national, rotating pool, for example, I was aghast.

Popular punditry often conflates democracy with the mechanism of elections, but elections today are the epitome of a rigged game, favouring only those with the connections, funds, and social identities most accommodative of popular prejudice. Consider the USA, for instance. A country predicted to soon become – amongst much media headlining – not predominantly white, has not had two black senators serving simultaneously in their version of the parliament. Politics by colour of class might seem regressive on the surface, but the continuing structural violence against groups incapable of sponsoring enough elected members to the House is for all to see.

In the wake of the police brutality at Jadavpur University, though, I have had to reconsidered my deeply rooted colonial stance. On the one hand, it seems generally sensible to select and train officer-level police personnel (that is, those who bear arms and make the decisions) at a national academy, than to accept any average eighteen-year old who hasn’t ever left his home town, and present him with the privileges of uniform.On the other hand, however, there are such civil positions as deans and chancellors and registrars of universities. These fine women and men used to be elected to office from a group of their peers, and in many places perhaps still are. This ensured two things:

  • The person entering office has spent enough time within her new domain of authority to be familiar with its workings and its idiosyncrasies
  • And s/he has earned the respect and confidence of his/her peers to be elected to be the the boss of them.

The two combined is likely to encourage a situation of greater campus democracy, instead of the detached show of might we’ve witnessed. An administrator with an organic connect can help avoid a great deal of avoidable trouble to students, faculty, university productivity, and the public image of the political party at the helm of state-assisted units.

Of course, to be fair, there are several possibilities of exceptions I am not exploring here, and in the general scheme of revolution and resistance this might seem a little dull. But with the #hokkolorob movement intensifying without a clear goal except protesting to tyranny, tedious matters such as this is worth considering.

How to Manage the Media: A Guide for India

An interesting aspect of the police brutality at Jadavpur University today has been the response of West Bengal’s most powerful media house’s response to it. As my former classmate and friends SD and PP have pointed out (that latter rather colourfully, much to my delight), the ABP house – as evinced by their print reportage in the Anadabazar Patrika – first chose to speak of the protesting students as adisturbant, a ticking bomb, a threat imminent to ‘shikkhajogot’ (the world/sphere of education).Then, this morning, the mob that aided the police in beating up and molesting the students made the mistake of being carried away by their licence to violate, and assaulted a Star Ananda journalist (Star Ananda being the house’s television channel). And ABP instantly snapped around and bit a chunk off its former allies.

Of course, in the coming days the state shall broker peace with ABP, and after a few TRP-boosting stunts (perhaps a few studio debates, a special report on campus violence and gendered crimes), ABP will drop the matter completely. But the lesson helmspeople of the Indian state need to learn, once and for all, is that the media is not the same as party cadres. Their loyalty, when not backed by cash or other tradable commodities, is revoked when a kick is delivered to their groins. Unlike the junior cadet waiting to rise in ranks or the senior member waiting for their next ticket, they don’t accept it as a regrettable accident in a mêlée. Besides, attacks on journalists will give media houses higher viewership than parroting a party line anyway.

So be nice to your media partners, parties. It’s part of their payoff package. And breaking the deal will cost you.

Jewish = Muslim

Indian hardliner ‘nationalists’ have plumbed solidly for Israel in the current conflict.

Palestine deserves destruction, they say, because it has housed terrorists who have been annoying Israel for decades. Israel has been patient. No one can say Israel has not been patient. But now it has struck, and it will rip threats to its nation out by the very roots, and stomp on them till they’re dead, dead, dead!

Now, it so happens that Palestinians are mostly Muslims. And that is what triggers the orgasm of approval from our ‘nationalists’, not their sense of fairness or balance. Indian ‘nationalism’ exists superficially to combat ‘western culture’, but it’s roots draw true sustenance from Islamphobia, and fear of Muslim dominance in the state. So for them, Muslim-bashing anywhere is always good news. Couched in Israel-Palestine dynamics, they see the constant ‘oppression’ of a patient India by rabid Pakistan, and wish fervently that India would ‘teach a lesson’ to Pakistan in similar fashion.

There is just a tiny problem with this analogy, and it is this: Palestinians ‘terrorised’ Israel because Israel was carved out of Palestinian land without their consent, to house a specific religious minority.

Much, in fact, like Pakistan was carved out of British India – in the face of immense public opposition (and suffering).

So when Indian ‘nationalists’ go berserk with righteous joy at the suffering of Muslims, and defend Israel’s violence fervently, they should remember that in their tortured “West Bank is the subcontinent” analogy, Israel is really Pakistan.

The delights of your ignorance, my fellow patriots. The delights of your ignorance.

The Answers in the Catch

Having just found my father’s tattered copy of Catch 22 in our last unpacked box from home, I have been catching up on my Joseph Heller after years.It is wonderfully liberating to read a book from an era where depth of thought was not alienated from wit, and wit was not alienated from a social conscience. I look around at popular culture today, and find far too many fart jokes getting in the way of pro-people critique of power, which is what comedy is supposed to achieve politically. Instead, people are now convinced that comedy is ‘just a joke’.

Chew on this bit by Heller. He is a very funny writer, and Catch 22 is a very readable book, but it also raises questions we’d do well to think about from time to time.

“Nately was instantly up in arms again. “There is nothing absurd about risking your life for your country!” he declared.

“Isn’t there?” asked the old man. “What is a country? A country is a piece of land surrounded on all sides by boundaries, usually unnatural. Englishmen are dying for England, Americans are dying for America, Germans are dying for Germany, Russians are dying for Russia. There are now fifty or sixty countries fighting in this war. Surely so many countries can’t all be worth dying for.”

“Anything worth living for,” said Nately, “is worth dying for.”

“And anything worth dying for,” answered the sacrilegious old man, “is certainly worth living for.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 770 other followers

%d bloggers like this: