Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Death of Rohith Vemula: Post Colonial Angst and the State

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust. In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living On the night of January 17th 2016, a young, highly talented student of Hyderabad Central University killed himself leaving behind a note from which I have excerpted the lines given above. The death of Rohit Vemula is the 11 suicide on the Campus of the University and in none of the earlier cases was there any show of concern. In 2008, Senthil Kumar a former student of Pondicherry University who was pursuing his Ph D in Physics killed himself. His complaint was that even after 2 years a Research Supervisor was not allocated to him. In sheer frustration he killed himself. In that instance there was clear and valid grounds for holding the University accountable for neglecting deliberately or otherwise, its academic function. However the Congress was in power then and the whole controversy was hushed up. I am only pointing out to the fact that public outrage in India is getting more and more selective with political parties jumping into the fray and milking the tragedies for their own narrow partisan political ends. Since the tragedy,HCU has seen a steady spate of high profile visitors including the heir apparent of the dynastic fascist party. As someone associated with Higher Education and one who has successfully guided three scholars from the SC community for their Ph D, I think I have something to say. SC people have been discriminated and there is absolutely no feeling in the University circles of harming their interests. In fact, I have had to hold special classes in order to bridge certain shortfall particularly in the skill of academic writing and all the three Ph D scholars are teaching in Universities and colleges. SC students are sensitive and so one must not and should not draw attention to their caste in any manner. Unfortunately in the identity marinated post colonial theoretical formulations that pass off as Social Sciences, Identity is not only valorized and "foregrounded" but students are socialized to believe that there can be no justice and their efforts are doomed. The Academic Community, particularly the post colonial Social Scientists are adept at creating a miasma of hopelessness which SC students find extremely disconcerting and they start embracing identity based politics in the hope that it would deliver a better world. Unfortunately, identity politics as we now know only leads to violence and death and it is unfortunate that Rohit Vemula died and his suicide note rightly draws attention to the futility of identity politics: A man reduced to his immediate identity. The University Administration has mishandled the whole tragic affair. From published Newspaper accounts it is clear that there was a scuffle between Rohit and his Ambedkar Student Association and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. The issue at hand was the alleged namaz offered by Rohit and his friends to Yakub Menmon, the terrorist who was executed for his role in the Bombay Blasts that killed 185 people. The constant need to take adversarial positions in the name of fighting "majoritariaism" is a sine qua non of Campus politics of the sort HCU is now acquiring a global reputation. By no stretch of the imagination is protest against the execution of a convicted terrorist a right of a student. Even so, the University could have been more circumspect. Since the Vice Chancellor, one Sharma was laying down office and a new one, Appa Rao was to take charge, the matter was kept pending. In the meanwhile the ABVP student who was allegedly roughed up, underwent a surgery which was probably related to if not triggered by the result of the assault. The Union Labour Minster Shri Datatreya was approached and he wrote a letter in which he drew attention to the protest organized by ASA against the hanging of Yakub. His letter in no way can be construed as an interference in the University as he only sought information about the action taken. If the University had just written saying that an Inquiry was constituted and the guilty were identified and punished, the matter would have ended there. Instead, the University just sat on the letters by not replying and in late September 2015, one Appa Rao, at the behest of Shri Venkaiah Naidu was appointed. If there is anyone individual to be blamed it was this man. Unfortunately, the BJP as a Party and the Central Government are being dragged into this mess because of the stupidity of this one man, Appa Rao. Instead of just saying that the students have been suspended he again sat on the letters from the Ministry. Meanwhile as is routine MHRD kept sending letters and each was escalating the level of official response. Appa Rao constituted yet another Inquiry and decided to rusticate 5 students including Rohit Vemula. The legitimacy for this course of action was given by the so called Proctorial Board. Appa Rao mis handled the situation and has created a huge crisis for the BJP and the Central Government. When earlier the stdents were suspended, now they were thrown out of the Hostle and their fellowship cut. This ignorant vice chancellor did not allow himself any escape route and is now dragging the Hon'ble Minister of Education into the mess he has created. The student Rohit Vemula identified himself as an SC belonging to the Malla caste to which his mother belonged. His father was from another caste. His identity as an SC student is clearly proved by the certificate he produced and so to evade accountability by bringing in the caste of his father is both cruel and unnecessary. His father had deserted the family very early in life and the mother had brought him up. Now the scholarship is important because every SC student that I have taught sends a major chunk of the fellowship to the family back home. Obviously Appa Rao was unaware of the implications of his decisions and he like most University administrators had a thick skin and head. It will not help to muddy the waters by now claiming that Rohit was not an SC. I do not use the term dalit ans it creates more confusion. SC and ST are legal and constitutional terms, not dalit. Dalit identity is a constructed identity not a natural one as Rohit realized just before his death. HCU has had a history of discriminating against SC students and this is clearly established by the fact that out of the 11 suicides over as many years 10 belonged to the SC category and one Muslim. Unfortunately the hegemonic post colonial discourse in Indian Universities will rob SC people of the ability to understand and conceptualize the existential situation they face and even deprive them of the ability to fight back claiming the legal protection given by the State. The post colonial trash bags in the form of social scientists who promote their individual agenda in Universities are essentially to be blamed.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Supreme Court and the antics of the BJP in Tamil Nadu: Why Jallikkattu Ban is lifted

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books More than seven years ago this blogger and several animal rights activists welcome the Suprem Court banning the cruel sport of Jallikkattu, or Bull Taming. The fact that this invented tradition of bull taming has become the symbol of Tamil pride and identity, is unfortunate, but true. There is unanimity across all political parties in Tamil Nadu on this singular issue. There is no unanimity on even important issues like education, medical infrastructure and social reform. But all the political parties have united in welcoming the ban on Jallikkatta being surreptitiously lifted. Seven years back the Supreme Court of India is an extraordinarily detailed and splendid judgement had laid out the case against this inhuman sport and correctly argued that the state had a responsibility to protect animal rights, This enhanced and expanded vision of Rights entered Indian Jurisprudence with this important Judgement. I do not believe in dividing issues on grounds of identity, gender and politics. Animals have rights and I truly believe that it is socially and morally repugnant to harm animals for religious or social purposes and I include the Moslem practice of Bakrid too in this. The Animal Welfare Board of India had filed the original writ against Jallikkattu and the Supreme Court had upheld the ban. It correctly dismissed the argument that the Sport is part of "tradition". It is a fact that Jallikkattu does not find mention in any of the ancient and medeival inscriptions and onlyin the eighteenth century we fins d some stray references to this sport. So the argument that is is an integral part of Tamil Society falls through and tradition cannot be invoked to defend the indefensible. I am of the opinion that the Kallkars and Maravars pastroral groups became the bulwark of the Telugu dominated Nakaka Kingdoms of the region. As these grups transited to state societies in the late sixteenth century a number of new practices were introduced and among them, Jallikkattu. Therefore it is a travesty of historical truth to argue that this senseless and barbaric ritual is a part of "Dravidian" custom. The missionaries of the London Mission Society who were primarily responsible for bringing the word of God to these parts railed against another primitive custom, hook swinging and it was banned. After the victory of the Dravidian parties in 1967 hook swinging has enjoyed a revival and all the important "talaivars" of the Party enjoy hookswinging done in their honour. Therefore given the regressive social climate spawned by the Dravidian movement, it is no great wonder that Jallikkattu is also given so much importance. The real reason for the BJP Minister putting pressure on the Ministry of Forest and Environment to amend the rules for the use of performing animals is political: It wants to create a vote bank among the Mukulothor castes, a cluster of 3 castes, the Maravar, the Kallar and the Agambadiyar which call themselves Thevar today. And in this the BJP is both wrong and mistaken. In fact because of this stupid move, the Nadar vote bank will be lost to the BJP. Though I am quite sympathetic to the BJP, I condemn this regressive move.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Chennai Floods, Water Management and the wisdom of the Madras Presidency Administrators: The Buckingham Canal

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books
The recent devastation caused by the phenomenal floods in the city of Madras caused large scale loss of life and property. The entire city was almost submerged by the surging waters and parts of the city, particularly along the watercourses were significantly inundated. To make matters worse nearly 34,000 cu secs of water was released from the Chennambbakam Tank without prior warning as the storage capacity of the tank was reaching the high-water mark. There was a fear of the tank breaching and so water was released and the nearby Puzhal Tank breached leading to flooding in Madipakkam and Pallikaranai. Only people living in high rise buildings were comparatively safe as the ground floor was completely submerged in large swathes of the city. Out of the nearly 3000 water bodies documented in the City of Chennai, more than half have been encroached by builders and the rapid unplanned urbanization of Chennai has led to the decline of the environment and the recent floods had demonstrated that Chennai was living on borrowed time. It must be clear to everyone that had the Buckingham Canal been allowed to function the large scale floods could have been avoided. The rulers of Independent India deliberately neglected the Buckingham Canal because they were enamored of dams which were considered the "temples of modern India". The blind rush toawrds industrialization resulted in the Buckingham canal being neglected and the 786 km canal has all but disappeared. Even in the 2001 Tsunami the vestige of the one kilometer wide canal which stretched from Markanam to Kakinada in the East Godavari District absorbed the shock of the waves and thereby protected part of the coastline. The worst damage was in the areas south of the canal.The history of the canal began in 1817 when a 11 kilomwter canal was constructed from Madras to Ennore. Gradually the canal was extended to Pulicat and during the devastating famine of 1877-79 the canal was constructed as famine relief work. Historical documents show that in the late 19th century rice was sent from Godavari region to Madras along the canal. As the cost of transportation by water was always cheaper, Madras as Chennai was then known, received its grain due to the canal. The canal was a life line for the people of the region. Independence meant that the administrative jurisdiction of the canal was fragmented and the whole project was allowed to decay. The canal was joined to the Adyar River and thereby a natural system of drainage came into existence. Had the Adyar River been dredged and the flow of water kept without major impediment, the damage in the recent floods could have been avoided. The Buckingham Canal took nearly a century of effort and Independent India as a nation run by corrupt people without wisdom allowed this great feat of engineering to decay.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Donald Trump and his Muslim exclusion comment: Why this fuss?

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomavy and Books Donald Trump, the Republican Presidential candidate, seems to have outrage the liberal public opinion with his comment that people from Muslim countries should be barred from entering the USA until America leadership figure out "what the hell is happening". This comment during the course of an election rally ought not to have created such a huge international controversy. What he says for getting votes from his constituents is of concern only to the US citizens, I am commenting on this statement only to expose the hypocrisy of his opponents. USA has practiced racially profiled exclusion ever since the establishment of the first settlements in New England. There was racially sanctioned slavery for over 300 years and even the Civil War was fought not to liberate the slaves but to defend the Union and the abolition of slavery as a war aim was proclaimed only as a strategic move in order to make the plantation workers/slaves rise in revolt. Generations of White historians have interpreted American History keeping the ideological objectives of USA in mind. During the COld War period USA was the leader of the "free world" as though the rest of the world was "unfree".Now the rhetoric of social inclusion is dominant and yet no one seems concerned that USA follows a policy of excluding the Spanish speaking Mexican from their territories and except for cheap labour the Spanish speaking people are not valued for anything else. No outrage over the proposed legislation which would identify illegal immigrants and repatriate them back to their home countries, breaking up families exactly like the slave laws once did. My purpose is not to suggest that USA IS SOME KIND OF A DEMON. It is only to put some perspective on Trump's remarks. USA has a system in which the Federal Government is the only empowered agency to regulate entry into the US and the adherence to International Law is questionable. We need only to recollect the instances of the "extra ordinary rendition", the attempted assassination of foreign leaders, the trumped up charges against Saddam Hussein and armed intervention in Libya are only some of the more egregious examples of US banditry. To top all this USA had the gall to put our Hon'ble Prime Minster on the exclusion list and ever one kept quiet. What Donald Trump has said comes from the same mind set that led to all the instances I have cited above. Historically too USA has imprisoned its own population in concentration camps on mere suspicion during World War II and still no reparations have been given to the interned population of Hawaii and California. It is sheer madness to condemn Donald Trump. If he is elected he has everyright to exclude whole populations on the grounds of national security and USA has been following this policy.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Killing of the Old and the Aged in Tamil Nadu: Talaikuthal, a savage tradition

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books Tamil Nadu is generally regarded as a progressive state with an "empowered" population, thanks to the Dravidian Movement. It is customary in Tamil Nadu to credit the Dravidian Movement for all progressive measures such as nationalization of Temple property, abolition of hereditary priesthood in Hindu Temples, stranglehold of the dominant agrarian castes over the political structure of the state, and the use of Tamil as the official language. Few people, especially the so called liberals and the progressives, do not realize that the Dravidian Movement brought in a highly intolerant society which was anti Hindu and anti Brahmin, in much the same way as the Nazi movement in Germany was ant Semitic. The exclusion of Brahmins from the civil society and cultural life of Tamil Nadu has resulted in a debasement of the very fabric of Tamil society. Today anti Dalit atrocities are particularly rampant in Tamil Nadu and the landed agrarian castes which are essentially the dominant backward castes are seldom punished for the human rights violations that they carry out. Indeed, human rights hardly exists in Tamil Nadu given the preponderance of political and administrative power enjoyed by the backward castes. This weeks nnews magazine called The Week (Nov 22, 2015) has exposed an ugly social practice that prevails in Tamil Nadu and it is time that the Central Government took note of this custom and instituted steps to prevent it. I have always wondered why there are no old people in Tamil Nadu. The c=state is no country for the Old and the infirm. The Week has exposed a horrible practice of talaikutal which prevails in Tami Nadu. According to the news magazine,the old are put to death in Tamil Nadu by the members of their immediate family, especially if they do not have independent means of financial support. A leisurely bath is administered and after that some poison is given in milk or tea and the old person is killed. This practice of talaikuthal seems to have social sacntion as there are no investigations if an old person dies. The magazine highlighted the case of a 92 year old woman from the village of Reddiapatti who was put to death by administering a lethal injection after the more traditional methods failed. Nowadays, pesticides and sleeping pills are used to kill the aged and the infirm. It has been reported that the village quacks willingly participate in such socially accepted and sanctioned senicide. When the English East India Company was battling the scourge of female infanticide in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, they empowered the Collectors to imprison anyone suspected of being involved in the killing of female babies, As a step to contain and discourage the practice of female infanticide the East India Company officers were required to register the pregnancy of women in their jurisdiction and monitor the birth of the child and if the child happened to be a girl child ensure its survival. In a similar manner the old must be regitered in Tamil Naduand if the death happens to be suspicious police invstigation must be launched. Tamil Nadu is fast losing its reputation of being a progressive state.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Harbans Mukia and his Critique of Indian Historiography

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books In the Hindu dated 27th October 2015, Professor Harbans Mukhia published a scathing critique of Indian historiography and with the hyperbole that comes naturally to the Left Liberals he terms the present political situation as a threat to "historiography". Is there any substance to this argument? It has become a fashion to decry the nationalists in and out of season and even if the nationalists are absolutelu quiet, it appears that the liberals would like a dog fight. For the past sixty five years, India has not seen any major shift in the paradigm within which History is debated: Communal versus Secular, Marxist versus the rest. Such contrived debates do little either to the profession of History or to the tasks that Historians have to perform in their societies. As memory keepers, Historians play a vital role in ensuring that the past does not become a victim of Lethe, the River of Forgetfulness. In India, we have seen a concerted attempt at rewriting the past keeping the objectives of the Nation State of 1947 in mind and as a consequence Indian Historiography is truncated and distorted. Can we study Kushana History without taking the larger context of Eurasia into consideration. Similarly can one study the Delkhi Sultanate without taking the Mongol context and how can one study the so called "Slave" dynasty without looking at the fact that the same Selujek Turks ruled Persia and Anatolia around the same time. My argument is simple: Indian historians rushed in to manufacture a so called National Secular Historiography and enshrimed that in the portals of the University and any attempt to question it was lampooned as "communal" and "reactionary". Can we forget the manner in which stalwarts ofIndian Historiography like Sir Jadunath Sarkar and R C Majumdhar were deliberately set aside as "Rankean" and "Reactionary". Mercifully Dipesh Chakravorthy has in his Calling of History studied the towering work of Sarkar. The need to satisfy the left of Center regime that came into power with Indiara Gabdhi in 1971 resulted in a virtual moratorium on debate in Indian History. The agenda of Historical Research was now set by the Left which was keen on looking at social and economic history to the exclusion of Political History. R S Sharma's highly original intervention in Indian Feudalism made historians discover feudalism everywhere. The appropriation of Indian Historiography entirely by the Left made meaningful debate impossible. For example, at the theoretical level, one must investigate the notion of feudalism as a metaphor for the medieval period as a whole. It has become passe to invoke James Mill and admonish anyone who seeks to ask searching questions as a blind adherent of the "colonial" school. The Left Liberals captured the UGC through Professor Satish Chnadra, the Ministry of Education through Professor Nurul Hassan and theICHR through Professor R S Sharma and his students. While the House of History has many rooms, Indian Historians stated letting out the rooms only to their shosen tenants and turned the MANSION OF HISTORY into a mere appartment block. The fall of the Congress Government has created the climate for new questions to be asked and these questions have remained ignored for the past several decades. For example is the Arayan/ Dravidian dichotomy a valid premise for early history of India. Similarly, did Sanskrit as a language serve only the instruments of religion and power or was there as Sheldom Pollock points out, there was a Sanskrit Cosmopolis. These question remain unanswered inspite of nearly seventy years of socalled research. The Left Liberals were guily of hounding the dissidents to the point of death. Harbans Mukhia himself was a victim of the intolerance of th Left and he should remember. The manner in which the Bhatariya Vidhya Bhavan series was ridiculed by these scholars goes to prove their intolerance. The Let Liberals have finally realized that sarkari historiography with a post colonial flavour will not wash.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Supreme Court of India and the Judgement on NJAC

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books The Indian Constitution envisaged a Parliamentary Democracy in India and over the years, thanks largely to the unmitigated abuse of power and corruption of successive Central Governments, particularly the Congress Party and its Allies, the political system as it presently states is viewed with suspicion by the rest of the country. The decline in the legitimacy of the political institutions has led to un elected elements like the CAG, the EC and quasi autonomous bodies to relegated a degree of freedom to themselves which was not envisaged on desirable in a democratic country. The Judiciary has always been a law unto itself as it does not subject itself to any scrutiny and of late, THE CREDIBILITY OF EVEN THE SUPERIOR judiciary has been called into question. A few years back there was a raging controversy over a Chief Justice, and the matter about his involvement in certain judgments still lingers on. The Constitution states quite clearly that the Executive which is accountable to Parliament must have a major say in the appointment of justices. It was Indira Gandhi's fascist talk of "committed judiciary" that alarmed the Judiciary and as the Central Government became weak under an assortment of non Congress Government. the Collegium System evolved which essentially meant that judges appointed judges. It is this imbalance of giving primacy to the Judiciary in matters relating to appointments that sought to be rectified in the National Judicial Appointments Commission which envisages a role for both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the selection of the Judges. In every democratic country the Executive and the Legislature appoint the higher judiciary. In USA the President nominates and the Senate confirms. Even the USA does not have a Judiciary which perpetuates itself by appointing itself and arrogating to itself the right of appointing judges in the name of Independence of the Judiciary. The concept of Indepemdent Judiciary does not embrace the notion of an unaccountable judiciary which is the situation under the Collegium sysytem. The basic flaws under the judicial collegium system was rectified by the present law which was passed by the Parliament unanimously. The Lok Sabha for all the flaws in our existing Parliamentary system is the representative of the Sovereignty of India and the Supreme Court cannot and should not undermine that. It is likely that some amendment will be made and the role of the Executive in the appointment of Justices will be restored. By striking down the Constitutional Amendment, the Supreme Court has undone the basic structure of the Consitution which makes the Parliament the source of law and the fountainhead of political will.