Saturday, October 25, 2008

Wine and Philosophy: A Symposium on Thinking and Drinking

The Greek word sympotein means literally "to drink together." In the era of Socrates and Plato, the symposium was a central part of Greek culture: a gathering where men consumed wine freely and debated the issues of the day.

Philosophers, wine critics, and winemakers share their passion for wine through well-crafted essays that explore wine's deeper meaning, nature, and significance. Wine & Philosophy offers a playfully fresh, insightful - and, at times, controversial - perspective on the philosophical dimensions of wine and wine appreciation.

Joining Beer & Philosophy and Food & Philosophy in the "Epicurean Trilogy," the essays herein celebrate the ongoing relationship between wine and philosophical reflection, discussion, and debate.

Wine and Philosophy: A Symposium on Thinking and Drinking

By Fritz Allhoff

* Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
* Number Of Pages: 328
* Publication Date: 2007-10-29
* ISBN-10 / ASIN: 1405154314
* ISBN-13 / EAN: 9781405154314
* Binding: Paperback

Monday, October 20, 2008

in these times

A reader has sent the following searing comment on Pankaj Chaturvedi's poem At Such A Time As This that appeared on this blog a few days ago. It is being published separately here so that the readers may not miss it. The comment with its poem has what I can only term as atomic economy:



i am a son of an infantryman. i was also infantry. i have 2 of my children,who have done 2 deployments each to america's "wars"


in these times
money talks
hands listen
our children
pay
for our
silence

Friday, October 17, 2008

Don’t Just Do Something, Talk

Slavoj Žižek

One of the most striking things about the reaction to the current financial meltdown is that, as one of the participants put it: ‘No one really knows what to do.’ The reason is that expectations are part of the game: how the market reacts to a particular intervention depends not only on how much bankers and traders trust the interventions, but even more on how much they think others will trust them. Keynes compared the stock market to a competition in which the participants have to pick several pretty girls from a hundred photographs: ‘It is not a case of choosing those which, to the best of one’s judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligence to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be.‘ We are forced to make choices without having the knowledge that would enable us to make them; or, as John Gray has put it: ‘We are forced to live as if we were free.’

Joseph Stiglitz recently wrote that, although there is a growing consensus among economists that any bailout based on Henry Paulson’s plan won’t work, ‘it is impossible for politicians to do nothing in such a crisis. So we may have to pray that an agreement crafted with the toxic mix of special interests, misguided economics and right-wing ideologies that produced the crisis can somehow produce a rescue plan that works – or whose failure doesn’t do too much damage.’ He’s right: since markets are effectively based on beliefs (even beliefs about other people’s beliefs), how the markets react to the bailout depends not only on its real consequences, but on the belief of the markets in the plan’s efficiency. The bailout may work even if it is economically wrong.

. . . . . .

If the bailout plan really is a ‘socialist’ measure, it is a very peculiar one: a ‘socialist’ measure whose aim is to help not the poor but the rich, not those who borrow but those who lend. ‘Socialism’ is OK, it seems, when it serves to save capitalism. But what if ‘moral hazard’ is inscribed in the fundamental structure of capitalism? The problem is that there is no way to separate the welfare of Main Street from that of Wall Street. Their relationship is non-transitive: what is good for Wall Street isn’t necessarily good for Main Street, but Main Street can’t thrive if Wall Street isn’t doing well – and this asymmetry gives an a priori advantage to Wall Street.

. . . . . .

The standard ‘trickle-down’ argument against redistribution (through progressive taxation etc) is that instead of making the poor richer, it makes the rich poorer. However, this apparently anti-interventionist attitude actually contains an argument for the current state intervention: although we all want the poor to get better, it is counter-productive to help them directly, since they are not the dynamic and productive element; the only intervention needed is to help the rich get richer, and then the profits will automatically spread down to the poor. Throw enough money at Wall Street, and it will eventually trickle down to Main Street. If you want people to have money to build, don’t give it to them directly, help those who are lending it to them. This is the only way to create genuine prosperity – otherwise, the state is merely distributing money to the needy at the expense of those who create wealth.

. . . . . .

What all this indicates is that the market is never neutral: its operations are always regulated by political decisions. The real dilemma is not ‘state intervention or not?’ but ‘what kind of state intervention?’ And this is true politics: the struggle to define the conditions that govern our lives. The debate about the bailout deals with decisions about the fundamental features of our social and economic life, even mobilising the ghost of class struggle. As with many truly political issues, this one is non-partisan. There is no ‘objective’ expert position that should simply be applied: one has to take a political decision.

. . . . . .

Read the complete article in LRB

Thursday, October 16, 2008

My Unforgettable Teacher

By V.V.B. Rama Rao


(Professor Rama Rao has suggested that we write about our beloved teachers. We begin with his memories of Acharya Ronanki. It is hoped that other readers of the blog will help sustain this fine thread of memories. -RKS)

Renowned as Acharya Ronanki , Ronanki Appala Swami was a polyglot. He was one of the diggajas (eight elephants standing in the seven diks) who made Vizianagaram, the seat of the PoosapaTi rajahs of fame, in Andhra. A product of Banaras Hindu University, he couldn’t make it to a high grade and had to settle down to be a teacher. But his voracious reading and thirst for acquiring knowledge of the European languages sent him to the priests of Western origin staying in the citadel city and the treasure house of books acquired by the renowned Rajas of Vizianagaram. He mastered not only Greek but also French by self-study alone. It has been my great good fortune to be taught by him during my four years of study at Maharajah’s College. In 1958 he became the Head of the Dept. of English. His classes were unforgettable: he would recite long passages from The Aeneid and The Iliad from memory. English poetry was his love but he especially liked Baudelaire and Paul Valery in French. T.S. Eliot he loved most, and often mentioned Eliot’s lines ending with ‘Humility is endless.’ He made me buy Dundo’s French Grammar, when he saw me as his colleague in 1957. When I was appearing for my additional degree in English language, he gave me on his walks the books I should read from the library he equipped. When asked for a tip to be at the top in the exam, all that he said was “Gossip intelligently”. I did and was at the top in the University exam in Special English. He it was who inspired me: I never took his remark “You are ambitious” amiss. He still appears in my dreams in his sola topi, reciting Baudelaire in our English class at the undergraduate level. His remark to a colleague behind my back: “the fellow knows English”. Here is poem in his honour: a tribute from a headstrong pupil of his:

To My Teacher RAS A


“… there was light! Not His alone!

It’s more of his revelations – apocalypses

His exegeses and exhortations caused

It’s not mere charisma either – it was effulgence

A polychromatic phantasmagoria

All his erudition, charm and commitment

-Cheeks bedewed with tears of gratitude thoughtful

I remember, pay him homage

His Latin, Greek, French, Spanish and Sanskrit

Held us captive, enthralled, roaming in regions ethereal

A veritable heaven it was, listening to his renditions

Of Homer, Virgil, Baudelaire, and Valery,

Cerevantes, Milton, Kalidasa and Bhavabhuti

His puny figure in starched suit

–Sitting in his chair, not standing before the lectern

His calves twisted round one another

His sola topee drew smiles - never was it risible

Whoever laughed at the matted hair on the pate of a rshi!

The impeccable tie knot never displayed conceit.

He was our RAS but we gave him another A

For He was Rasa, the elixir of life

Our text had always been an excuse

It was always a springboard to the Divine

(To our Professor at Vizianagaram R. Appalaswamy)

Dr V.V.B.Rama Rao, D-94 NTPC Shorya Bldg. Plot C-55 Sector 33 Noida- 201307
Email: vadapalli.ramarao@gmail.com Phone 011 2697 5732 Mobile: 09910726313

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Memories Of A Teacher

OBITUARY

By Ismaa Saadat

Raffat Karim stood and listened for a long time. Then once more he climbed up the hall with tired steps and left the class, as if Hamlet was exiting the stage.

The news of Professor Raffat Karim’s death took me back to 1997: the quiet, slow-paced gait of Raffat Karim carrying his diminutive and graceful figure through the crowded corridors of the Department of English in Karachi University, while walking to his room every morning, discussing a variety of subjects with his students.

Nasty and naughty as we were in those days, and condoned for being so by our generous teachers, one day we spread the news of the mix

‘n match socks Mr Karim was wearing.

Raffat Karim received the largest number of students in his office that day as everybody was keen to have a good laugh at the professor’s tiny mistake.

He very well knew what had massively transpired in the students’ body and allowed laughter at his own expense with a wistful smile. All along we thought he was unaware of our nastiness.

During the subsequent Students’ Week celebrations, Raffat Karim made it a point to attend all the events and visit stalls of all students in the department and pass tiny, encouraging remarks, sometimes in English and sometimes in his Luckhnavi Urdu.

Then there was Raffat Karim inside the Karachi University lecture hall: occasionally attempting to elicit a romantic response from students to the events in the massively unconvenentional love-tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra. At other times he would be himself, engrossed in the case of the bartered soul of Dr Faustus. But one piece of literature that he was obsessed with was Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark.

Hamlet had somehow become synonymous with Raffat Karim. Some people say that he had announced that if anybody else was allowed to teach Hamlet as long as he was in the department, he would resign. The choice was between Raffat Karim and Hamlet.

And now the quiet corridors of the Department of English mourn his death.

As alumni of the department, I see the “banquet hall deserted”. The death of Dr Kaleemur Rahman Khan, followed by the departure of Professor Naushaba Moosvi and now Raffat Karim’s has left a huge vacuum.

Raffat Karim practised tolerance and sagacity during the many teaching sessions we had with him. Now nearly a decade later, a teacher myself, I can fully appreciate the intellectual magnanimity of the person.

Many a time it happened that an impatient student attempted to reach outrageous conclusions about a particular play or pass hasty judgments on a character under discussion. But Raffat Karim would respond with his trademark wistful smile and forgive the offender.

I remember even today the very last session we had on Hamlet with Raffat Karim. There was a general panic as we were to go off for our first semester exam preparation break and a sizeable part of the play was yet to be taught.

Raffat Karim arranged a two-hour plus session after 2pm in the lecture hall. He climbed down the stairs and very calmly took up one act after another and tackled one scene after another.

The entire class was engrossed in the last days of Hamlet’s life and his feigned madness. Raffat Karim had infused a strange passion into the whole class and yet remained ruthlessly detached himself, thoroughly enjoying the magic of the tragedy.

And suddenly, snap! It was over. The class was done and dusted. Raffat Karim now hurled a question at the students, “Of all the plays of Shakespeare why has Hamlet enjoyed continuous popularity and withstood onslaughts of time, boundaries, religion, culture and individuals?” One student said, “Because each one of us can relate to the character of Hamlet.” The response was followed by a series of many more responses from the group.

Raffat Karim stood and listened for a long time. Then once more he climbed up the hall with tired steps and left the class, as if Hamlet was exiting the stage.

The great teacher will be sorely missed.

(This wonderful piece was emailed by Professor M. L. Raina)

Friday, October 10, 2008

We have to continue to read novels - Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio

“My message will be very clear; it is that I think we have to continue to read novels. Because I think that the novel is a very good means to question the current world without having an answer that is too schematic, too automatic. The novelist, he’s not a philosopher, not a technician of spoken language. He’s someone who writes, above all, and through the novel asks questions.”

- Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Rethinking Higher Education in India

Learning from the Global Economic Crisis

By Rajesh Kumar Sharma

The bubble economy of speculative finance capital is in a crisis. People are losing jobs and money. The students who borrowed huge sums to finance their education and who are half way through their study programs are anxious whether all the trouble has been worthwhile. Placements have shrunk and, in several favourite courses, stopped altogether. These are some of the grim, ordinary truths of our time. You have only to visit a few institutions offering ‘professional’ and ‘job-oriented’ courses, or speak to your friends in the finance, banking or consumer sectors to find out the actual state of affairs. Or try and find on the pages of your newspaper any images of jubilant young people beckoning the reader to join them in the sunrise sectors of the new economy. Those images have quietly stopped appearing.

The situation offers an historic opportunity to seriously reconsider the course we have taken during the last few years and, more than that an opportunity to do, in the academia, a bit of soul-searching. In a country where very few people can put pen to paper, have the teachers by and large not failed the call of responsibility? As ‘education’ got re-branded as ‘human resource development’ and as a variety of myopic vocational courses began to push out all else that for centuries had been identified with education, did we not act as mute and complicit witnesses to the steady ruin of education? Singing Margaret Thatcher’s TINA, TINA (There Is No Alternative), did we not allow ourselves to be reduced to the paid audiences of serialized song and dance shows on television?

It is time we thought of correcting our course. We need more than mere quality improvement; we need real changes. All said and done, education is not just industry or commerce. We do not make things; we shape people. Those who argue, with reference to Macaulay’s imperial agenda, for the decolonization of education in the interest of the country’s current economic requirements forget that the discourse of decolonization is often merely a disguised plea for the subordination of education to the requirements of neoliberal global (read Western) economy. The argument that the country earns precious foreign exchange through the BPO and the like ignores the right which each BPO worker has to the realization of her or his fullest intellectual potential. Treating some human beings in the country as no more than foreign exchange-producing resources is an insult to their humanity. And it is not patriotism but calculated insanity parading as high wisdom.

The education of a country is too valuable an affair to be abandoned to the vagaries of changing winds. Any education policy that is worthwhile must address itself to at least three questions simultaneously: (1) What kind of human beings do we wish to shape? (2) What kind of country do we want ours to be? (3) What kind of world do we wish to live in? As for the exigencies of the present, the really significant issue is not how to survive opportunistically in the present so as to let the future take care of itself, but how to pursue the triple objective in the context of the constraints and the opportunities that attend the present. Democratic leadership inheres in the capability to lead all people to a better future, not in exhorting the majority of people to adjust to the prevailing circumstances because “there is no alternative”. Is it not perplexing that going back to Mr Narasimha Rao, no reformist Prime Minister has actually accomplished anything substantial to radically reconstruct education? It is bizarre that the political leadership can respond instantly to the fluctuations of the stock market but finds even five years too short a period to do anything when it comes to education.

‘Global competencies’ should not mean, as the phrase has come to mean, the competencies demanded by changing global business trends. These should, rightly, mean the cultivated abilities to think, comprehend, anticipate and deal with various issues with a global vision. And since this implies a situated practice in each specific case, ‘global’ seems to be an inadequate term, if not an outright misnomer. ‘Glocal’ would be an obviously better choice. And it does not come burdened with the deceptive aura which the term ‘global’ has accumulated over the years.

Change in education does not mean mere ‘tinkering’. And it means much more than only ‘improvement’. The notion of ‘improvement’ can be a shield against the sense of guilt that necessarily accompanies the acknowledgement of our previous failures as also an escape from the full recognition of risk and responsibility that the commitment to a new and unfamiliar course of action entails.

Once we recognize the pre-eminence of the triple objective of education mentioned above, the questions of ‘what’ and ‘how’ clarify themselves. For too long now, the question of ‘what’ has ruled to the detriment of other questions. The curricula continue to be designed and tinkered with, without our bothering to ask, with a clear expectation what for these curricula are intended. If we can give precedence to the question of ‘why’ – why should we teach a certain course and not another – the curricula will be compelled to reconfigure themselves. If only we could ask ‘why?’ in various disciplines, the threat of obsolescence which haunts several of these would recede. Indeed the disciplines are asking to be reinvented; only we have become impassive and obsolescent. And if we are not stepping across the disciplinary boundaries, the reason might be that we do not want to come out of our little shells, which we continue to cherish like private kingdoms. Let’s understand that the finest intellectual production is happening today only at the points where boundaries blur and vanish. Technology today leaves us no room to complain that we are not in the universities (if we happen to be in colleges) or not in the world’s best universities (if we happen to be in a not-so-good university). The argument carries no conviction that we can do little more than transfer knowledge picked up from here and there. Everyone with access to information networks has the basic resources and capability to be a producer of knowledge. Everyone can participate in the shaping of the emerging paradigms of critical-reflexive education. We only need to push ourselves. If we do not, those elsewhere in seats of authority will. One should not need to look up to any gods in the Ministry of HRD to send down a charter of accountability and transparency. Each person, every department, all institutions can formulate their own guidelines.

Everyone knows there are people who work only on incentives. When the last incentive has past, they altogether cease working. Imagine ‘professors’ who continue to ‘profess’ much but no longer study or teach anything nor even supervise any research. ‘Why should we, when there is no incentive?’ if you are here for incentives only, you are in the wrong place; you should be a marketing executive. When we can press for the right to recall our elected representatives in the event of their not performing according to our expectations, there is no reason we should not press also for the right to recall a professor who has become intellectually unproductive and sterile.

Equally grave is the malaise of ethical sterility that flourishes in the soil of elitist exclusivism. All sections and strata of society need to get a place in positions of teaching and research. The inescapable agenda of social justice can be kept in the foreground only if higher education at all levels becomes universally accessible. We cannot afford to have (as we are unfortunately doomed to have if we do not wake up) a socially divisive system in higher education, the kind we have already got in place in the elementary and secondary education. The diverse issues of the society in their entirety cannot be properly addressed unless the academy is a sufficient microcosm of the society. Notwithstanding our most liberal impulses, the economically better-off cannot be presumed to be capable of spontaneously grasping the issues of hunger, illness and homelessness with the required urgency. The enabling and disabling influences of a teacher-researcher’s life-world cannot be simply passed over. For instance, a teacher-researcher who has been intellectually groomed in an elite climate in a metropolitan space may not be the best bet when it comes to dealing with problems that afflict the lives of rural masses. In most cases, he/she would even require considerable reorientation to advance halfway to meet students who come from brutally impoverished communities.

This leads us back to the point that cannot be overemphasized: that we need to keep the human being and her/his world in the center for any initiative in education to make sense. As such, we need to put together at the present juncture a core program of studies in higher education also that is sufficiently flexible and situation-specific. It should keep the focus firmly set on the cultivation of faculties of thinking, comprehending, analyzing and anticipating in complex global contexts. The conventional boundaries which divide and seal off the disciplines would not exist in this core. Specialization would still flourish but in wider contexts and in more innovatory locations. The students would have more freedom to choose, and change, vocations.

An important question that we as teachers would need to address is how to proceed with change. Shall we expect or petition the authorities up there to frame new policy initiatives and so wait for something to come? To do this and no more would be to succumb to the convenience and lure of authoritarian and centralized models. To forswear such initiatives altogether would mean falling into the dark embrace of anarchism. Why not, then, envisage our activities, undertaken singly or collectively as pockets of experimental pedagogies that may evolve and spread gradually? Or expire, if they cannot? If we honestly try to know what we are doing, and if we understand that our best efforts are circumscribed by history, we shall have no regrets. For we shall have done what lies in our power. And, who knows, even more?

Permalink

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Amy Goodman interviews Naomi Klein, the author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

Wall St. Crisis Should Be for Neoliberalism What Fall of Berlin Wall Was for Communism

Extract:

So, we know that the crisis is coming, and the question is, how are we going to respond? I think there needs to be better ideas lying around. I think the Milton Friedman Institute is about keeping the same old ideas that have been recycled so many times, that actually make these public crises worse, making sure that they are the ones that are ready and available whenever the next crisis hits. I think that is what—at its core, that’s what so many of the right-wing think tanks are for, and that’s what the Institute is for. And I think that is a waste of the fine minds at this university. I think it is a waste of your minds, your creativity, because all of these crises—climate change, the casino that is contemporary capitalism—all of these crises do demand answers, do demand actions. They are messages, telling us that the system is broken. And instead of actual solutions, we’re throwing ideology, very profitable ideology, at these problems. So we need better ideas lying around.

We need better ideas responding to what a Barack Obama presidency would absolutely face. As soon as he comes to office, “Yes, you can” turns into “No, you can’t; we’re broke.” No green jobs, no alternative energy, no healthcare for everyone. You know, his plan for—to give healthcare to every child in America costs $80 billion. Bailing out AIG cost $85 billion. They’re spending that money. They’re spending those promises. So, the people who are going to say, “No, you can’t,” who are going to use this crisis to shut down hope, to shut down possibility, are ready.

Link

Sunday, October 5, 2008

At Such A Time As This: A Poem by Pankaj Chaturvedi


A translation of Pankaj Chaturvedi's Hindi poem Ek Aise Samay Mein

from his anthology Ek Sampoornata Ke Liye

At such a time as this

when people think that not a trace of the conscience remains

in responsible people,

I do not tire repeating

that if you visit injustice upon someone,

your soul too shall suffer a scratch.


At such a time as this

when hungry kites circle above

and a silent proclamation does the rounds for each hiding place

that anyone daring to dig his hand into it will be torn to pieces,

I wander through the streets as an easy prey,

seeking the truth of my speech –

that when there is drought all around,

the rainfall will depend on how our call pierces the cloud.


At such a time as this

when everything has been put on sale,

when in this all-sale

people cannot refrain from selling themselves

even if they can hide from one another’s looks,

when the race is not for ascension but for self-degradation,

the only happiness we may earn is to have emerged

with an unscathed soul

from the hell of impure desires.

(Translation by Rajesh Kumar Sharma)

When a remarkable republic turns into a majoritarian State

The Telegraph, October 2 , 2008

IN LOCO PARENTIS
- When a remarkable republic turns into a majoritarian State

by Mukul Kesavan

I teach in Jamia Millia Islamia, a university in Delhi that was recently in the news because two
young men said to be terrorists were killed in its vicinity, in the course of an ‘encounter’ or
shoot-out with the police. One of these men was a student of the university. Subsequently, the
police made more arrests in connection with the recent bomb blasts in Delhi and two of those
arrested were enrolled in Jamia.

The university authorities made it clear that they would deal strictly with any student found to
be involved in terrorism. The university also declared that it would provide legal aid to the
arrested students (a) because they were members of Jamia in good standing, and (b) till such time as their guilt was proved they were entitled to due process.

The response to this declaration was at once odd and unsurprising. Various spokespersons for the Bharatiya Janata Party demanded that the vice-chancellor be sacked for using the public purse (Jamia is a UGC-funded Central university) for succouring terrorists. The vice-chancellor of a university in Jodhpur, in the course of a speech inaugurating a seminar on “Indian Women: Changes and Challenges”, found the time to regret that Jamia’s ‘kulapati’ was supporting terrorists.

I think these reactions aren’t just odd, they’re contrary to every intuition Indians have about
their republic and about civil society. We’re a constitutional republic, a nation of laws. Ravi
Shankar Prasad, the spokesman of the BJP, almost certainly knows that Article 39A of our
Constitution sets out the principle of legal aid. It does so because the presumption of innocence
and the right to a free trial become meaningful only if the accused has proper legal
representation. Once we allow that public money can, indeed must, be spent to ensure that people have legal representation, it becomes hard to find a charitable explanation for the BJP’s

outrage.

I have a son who, in less than two years, will go to university. If, god forbid, he finds himself
in police remand for whatever reason (murder, armed robbery, menacing the faculty, fraud), I’d
want his university to behave as if it were acting in my place, in loco parentis. I would expect
the proctor of the university to liaise with the station house officer to make sure that such
rights of visitation as he might have in that ghastly circumstance were given him, to hire a
lawyer to see if he could be released on bail, and if the nature of the alleged offence didn’t
allow that, to try to have him transferred to judicial custody. Police remand is a dreadful form
of imprisonment in India; unlike judicial custody where the procedural restraints of prison
manuals apply, the police in their station-house lockups have a free hand in working suspects
over. Any university that washes its hands of its students the moment they are arrested by the
police because it doesn’t want to be associated with notoriety or (as in this case) the taint of
terrorism is a cringing and wretched institution undeserving of a citizen’s respect or a parent’s
trust.

Interestingly, Jamia has supplied legal aid to arrested students before. Some years ago, dozens
of its students were arrested on charges that were later shown to be unfounded. But their
innocence isn’t relevant: the point is that no one thought, at that time, to object to the
university’s aid. The reason for the difference isn’t hard to find. The previous incident
involved a skirmish on the campus; this time round, the students were suspected of collusion in
terror. But it wasn’t just the gravity of the offence that made the difference; the narrative
that the BJP hoped to exploit was that of jihadi terrorism and the two useful facts they were
rubbing together like flints were (i) that these students were Muslims, and (ii) that Jamia
Millia Islamia is a remarkably Muslim-sounding name. “Muslim university bats for Muslim
terrorists”: for a party whose reason for being is the demonization of minorities, specifically
Muslims, this was a script made in heaven.

So some background is in order. Jamia Millia Islamia began life as a nationalist college. It was
born of the non-cooperation movement, the first anti-colonial mass agitation led by Mahatma
Gandhi. A group of young radical students and alumni of the Aligarh Muslim University,
dissatisfied with their alma mater’s compradore politics, decided to establish a nationalist,
anti-colonial alternative to AMU. Gandhi, Maulana Mohammad Ali, Zakir Hussain, Hakim Ajmal Khan, M.A. Ansari are only some of the great names who nurtured Jamia. It’s not just ironical, it’s grotesque that the BJP, born of parent organizations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Hindu Mahasabha, which were notable for their distance from the great anti-colonial struggles that won India freedom, should make a bid to impugn Jamia’s commitment to India’s integrity.

But history aside, it’s worth reflecting on the way in which we respond to news related to
terrorist atrocity. In the Jamia encounter, a policeman and two terror suspects were killed.
Years of staged shootouts have induced a reflexive scepticism about police encounters. In this
case, a policeman was killed which seemed to suggest that someone was shooting back. However, given the police’s fraught relations with Muslim neighbourhoods, this fact cut very little ice
with residents of Jamia Nagar. But even if we allow that on the face of it the police had reason
to raid the premises in which these two young men were killed, the complete lack of concern in
the majority of news reports that two young men had been summarily killed (Atif was in his early twenties and Sajid was all of seventeen) was dismaying.

In the summer of 2005, the British police killed Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian with a
brown skin, because they were convinced he was a terrorist. He wasn’t; it was a dreadful mistake and though it was made in good faith, three years later, the inquest into the incident now threatens the career of Britain’s top policeman, Ian Blair. It’s at least possible that the Delhi
Police, likewise, got it wrong, that Atif or Sajid or both were innocent, that they were caught
in the wrong place at the wrong time, but nearly every newspaper I read baldly reported the death of two terrorists without any caveats or qualifications.

The synchronized bombings that have ravaged Indian cities over the past year have led the police, unsurprisingly, to look for Muslim villains. It has led political commentators from the Hindutva right to make interesting distinctions. One worthy tried to distinguish Muslim terrorists from Hindu rioters and pogrom artists. A rioter, he argued, could, a few years after the riot, settle down into society again as a solid citizen. A terrorist, on the other hand, was implacably committed to the subversion of the State. I can see what he means: Gujarat is full of solid citizens who looted and killed recreationally a few years ago and now led respectable lives
unmolested by the police.

But given the fact that the most recent explosions in Modasa (Gujarat) and Malegaon (Maharashtra) occurred in Muslim localities and had mainly Muslims casualties, the police might try to diversify their enquiries. It was only two years ago that two members of a Hindu militia blew themselves up in Nanded while making a powerful bomb. When people, policemen and political parties buy into the narrative of a priori Muslim guilt, they run the risk of turning this
remarkable republic into an ordinary, ugly, majoritarian State.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Citizens' Statement Against Terrorism and Communal Violence

'No Double Standards in the Fight Against Terrorism'

Please send your signed copy to:

southasiadocuments@gmail.com

In recent months the country has witnessed a spate of terrorist attacks in different cities as well as organised communal violence against religious minorities in several states.

We the undersigned strongly condemn all these acts of violence that have resulted in loss of life and grievous injury to scores of innocent people. It is clear that whoever is responsible for such violence should be severely punished under Indian law and all measures be taken to protect the lives of ordinary citizens under threat from their activities.

We find it deeply disturbing however that the Indian government as well as concerned state governments have adopted double standards in dealing with the two equally deadly phenomenon of terrorist bombings and communal violence.

On one hand throughout the country Muslim youth are being targeted, without any or little evidence, as responsible for terrorist attacks.In our view there is a concerted attempt by the Indian police, sections of the media and certain political parties to portray all members of the Muslim community as 'terrorists and extremists' - to be arbitrarily arrested, tortured and killed in fake encounters.

On the other hand Hindutva extremists behind the communal violence in Orissa, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh against Christian populations are being allowed to go scot-free. The term 'terrorism' is never associated with the Hindutva extremist outfits like the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad or the Shiv Sena despite their clear and acknowledged role in the murder and injury of hundreds of innocent Indian citizens.

This includes not just citizens from religious minorities but also anyone who happens to differ from the Hindutva extremists. While a vast majority of the Hindu population is peaceful and tolerant of diversity those upholding the politics of 'Hindutva' are misusing symbols and beliefs of the Hindus to impose a fascist majoritarian dictatorship on the country.

Hindutva religious terrorists have also been found time and again planting bombs in Muslim religious places or localities in Nanded and Malegaon in Maharashtra, Tenkasi in Tamil Nadu and suspected of carrying out the heinous bomb blasts on the Samjhauta Express in 2007. The recent attacks on Christian religious institutions are in fact openly claimed by Hindutva terrorist groups, like the Bajrang Dal, in front of television news cameras and yet no action is taken against them.

It is in this context of utter hypocrisy of the Indian and state governments towards what really constitutes terrorism that we would like to demand the following:

1) An immediate ban on all organisations and individuals carrying out or inciting communal violence particularly the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Shiv Sena. Investigation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh for involvement in terrorist activities and prosecution of its members if found guilty;

2) Stringent punishment for those organising or participating in communal violence against Christians or carrying out forcible 're-conversion' in Orissa, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and other parts of the country;

3) Special investigation by an independent body of the involvement of Hindutva extremist organisations in terrorist activity such as planting explosives, manufacturing arms and mobilising mob attacks on religious minority populations;

4) Disbarment from contesting national or state elections, by the Election Commission, of political parties found guilty of using religious, regional, linguistic hatred and violence to further their electoral fortunes;

5) Setting up of an independent judicial commission to inquire into the indiscriminate arrests, torture and killings of youth belonging to the Muslim community. Investigation of the unlawful activities of the 'special cells' and 'anti-terrorist squads' of the police and if necessary their disbandment

6) Payment of adequate compensation to each person, from all communities, arrested, tortured, injured or killed on false charges by the Indian police; prosecution of police officers guilty of planting evidence and framing false charges against innocent people;

7) Initiation of action on the recommendations of the Srikrishna Commission Report, expediting of pending cases against those involved in the demolition of the Babri Masjid and speedy justice for the survivors of the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat.

8) A ban on regional chauvinist organisations such as the Maharashtra Navnirman Samithi of Raj ackeray responsible for attack, injury and murder of North Indians living in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra.

9) Prosecution of bar association office bearers who have expelled members of the legal fraternity taking up cases of human rights violations or of those upholding the right to legal aid of those accused of terrorist activities and involvement.

10) Prosecution of media groups and outlets found guilty of defaming individuals and communities while reporting on the phenomenon of terrorism in the country.

1. A Sohaib

2. AC Michael

3. AK Ramakrishnan

4. Ali Bin Ahmed

5. Amitabh Pandey

6. Anand Patwardhan (Film maker)

7. Angela Farooq

8. Anil Chaudhary (Peace)

9. Anil Sadgopal (Educationist, Bhopal)

10. Apoorvanand (Lecturer, Delhi University)

11. Arif Azam Khan

12. Asad Zaidi (Writer)

13. Ashish Nandy (CSDS)

14. Avinash Kumar

15. Azra Razzack

16. Dr Anuradha Ghosh

17. Dr John Dayal (Member, National Integration Council, Govt of India)

18. Dr Sabu M George

19. Dunu Roy (Ecologist)

20. Dushyant Bhai (AVHRS, Vadodara)

21. Farah Farooqi

22. Father T.K.John (Vidyajyoti College of eology)

23. Fr Cedric Prakash (Director, Prashant)

24. Fr Dominic Emmamuel

25. Ghanshyam Shah (Historian, Ahmedabad)

26. Hanif Lakdawala (Sanchetna, Ahmedabad)

27. Harsh Dhobal ( Human Rights Law Network)

28. Harsh Kapoor (South Asia Citizens Web)

29. Harsh Mander (Aman Biradari)

30. Hiren Gandhi (Samvedan Cultural Programme, Ahmedabad)

31. Hozefa (Aman Samudaya, Ahmedabad)

32. Iikhar Ahmad Khan (Professor of History, Vadodara)

33. Iqbal A Ansari (Social Activist)

34. Jagadish (New Socialist Alternative, Bangalore)

35. Jaya Mehta (Sandarbh Kendra, Indore)

36. Jenis Francis

37. Jitendra Chauhan

38. Jitendra Kumar

39. John Chathanatt (Vidyajyoti College)

40. Joys Sebastian

41. JunaidBhai Pathan(United Education Charitable Trust, Vadodara)

42. K Dasgupta

43. Kamla Bhasin (SANGAT)

44. Kavita Srivastava (PUCL, Rajasthan)

45. Mallika Sarabhai (Darpana Academy, Ahmedabad)

46. Manisha Sethi (Lecturer, Jamia Millia Islamia)

47. Manohar Singh

48. Manoj Verma

49. Mansi Sharma (ANHAD)

50. Mukul Mangalik

51. Nafisa Ali Sodhi (Social Activist)

52. Nalini Taneja (Delhi University)

53. Neelabh Mishra

54. Neshat Kaisar (Lecturer, Jamia Millia Islamia)

55. Nithiya

56. Omar Farooq

57. Pallavi Deka (General Secretary, JNUSU)

58. Poorva Bhardwaj (Nirantar)

59. Prabhu Ghate

60. Pradeep Bhattacharya

61. Praful Bidwai

62. Prasad Chacko (Activist, Ahmedabad)

63. Professor S. Hasan Mahmud (Vadodara)

64. Ranjit Abhigyan

65. Ravi Shankar Mishra

66. Rohit Prajapati (Activist, Gujarat)

67. S Waheed

68. Sachin Gupta

69. Salem Nusrat Ahmed

70. Sanjeev

71. Saroop Dhruv (Darshan, Ahmedabad)

72. Satya Sivaraman (Journalist)

73. Senthal

74. Shabnam Hashmi (ANHAD)

75. Sheba George (SAHR WARU, Ahmedabad)

76. Shivraj

77. Sivapriyan

78. Sonia Jabbar (Independent journalist)

79. Sumit Sarkar (Historian)

80. Tanika Sarkar (Historian)

81. Tanveer Fazal (Lecturer, Jamia Millia Islamia)

82. Tapan Bose (Social Activist)

83. Trupti Shah (Activist, Gujarat)

84. V.Srinivasan (Chennai Metro Union)

85. Vijay Parmar (Janvikas, Ahmedabad)

86. Vineet Tiwari (Madhya Pradesh Progressive Writers Association, Indore)

87. Waqar Qazi (Samvedan Cultural Programme, Ahmedabad)

88. Yusuf Shaikh (AIQM, Vadodara)

89. Rajesh Kumar Sharma (Punjabi University, Patiala)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Teachers' Orientation Programme, Or Government-Sponsored Fatalism?

A group of 93 teachers working in various government schools of Punjab have just returned from a six-day orientation programme at the Brahma Kumaris’ Om Shanti Retreat Centre, Gurgaon. It is presumably the first batch in a long line that will eventually include the majority of teachers from the state. Each teacher was paid a lump sum of Rs. 2500 in addition to Rs. 100 daily.

The organisers of the programme claim that the OSRC has been recognised as a Regional Resource Centre for teachers' training by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. According to them, several other states have also been getting their teachers trained in "value education" at the Centre.

However, the teachers who have received "training" have a rather disturbing story to tell. According to them, the so-called orientation has nothing to do with pedagogical competencies and rational thinking. To the contrary, it is an exercise in ideological immersion of the most retrogressive kind. The participants are introduced to the trajectories of the soul in this and others worlds. They are counselled to turn inwards and tend their private souls since the world will any way proceed on its own course, no matter what they do. Therefore, the best course for them is to learn to fatalistically accept economic disasters, terrorist strikes and ecological catasprophes.

Both the state and the central governments owe an explanation to the people for this dangerously silly misadventure. Can government resources and personnel be used to serve sectarian mystical mumbo-jumbo under a Constitution that commits the governments to the promotion of a scientific temper? Will the government sponsor the “orientation” of its employees by other sects and groups too, including the various deras and the so-called non-political wings of different parties?

Perhaps there has been an enriching handshake somewhere behind the scenes, because the amount of money involved is potentially enormous. Or it could be the misplaced zeal of a bureaucrat or minister going overboard in devoutness and offering to “officially” enlarge his or her spiritual shepherd’s fold. Or it could a brazen attempt by the ruling classes to use the glamour of mysticism and spiritualism to divert the people’s attention from the real conditions of their existence. The persons responsible for this insult to the Constitution must be identified and rewarded for their wonderful idea of catching the very nation-builders and trying to indoctrinate them against the whole spirit of modernity, reason and secularism.

Rajesh Kumar Sharma