Thursday, May 3, 2012

The People who make Chandigarh Beautiful

What connects cities as diverse as Managua (Nicaragua), Nanjing (China) and Chandigarh (India)? In all these cities, garbage collectors have tried to fight against the corporatization of garbage collection process which takes away their livelihood.  In fact, from the last few days a protest by hundreds of garbage collectors and their families has been going on at the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation Office. They are protesting collectively under the banner of the ‘Door to Door Garbage Collection Society’ against the proposed system of the Municipal Corporation, Chandigarh, (“MC”) under which a private agency/contractor will be will be given a monopoly over garbage collection, the contravention of which will be punishable by a fine. This would mean that hundreds of garbage collectors and thousands of members of their families who depend on them, will be at the mercy of the private contractor who can choose to employ them or not. Some of them will be employed to work as a contractual employees with the private contractor, and will get a salary almost half of what they currently make working independently.
The print media, especially the English media has been very lukewarm in its enthusiasm to report the matter. Most news reports play down the unemployment that this scheme of the MC will cause. Rather they focus that on the inconvenience caused by the garbage collector’s protest to the city’s residents. None of the mainstream newspapers have really reported things as they are.
The pilot run of the private contractor led scheme in one of Chandigarh’s Sectors, wherein about 45 persons were getting employment previously, showed that the contractor gave employment to merely 6 employees. Rest of the 39 employees and their families were deprived of their livelihood as well as dignity. A group of garbage collectors I talked to at the protest told me that many of them had their children in schools and elderly parents needing medical attention and the meager income the private contractor will be giving them will put them in a drastic situation. Not just this, they said that since they will be working as contract employees, their future livelihood will be subject to the whims and fancies of their employer/contractor and they will have no security of tenure/   livelihood.
Their justified anger was palpable by what many others said. While one said that they had started the work of garbage collection through their own volition and had worked hard over twenty years to make it a source of sustained livelihood for themselves and their families. He also said that what is the guarantee that the private contractor will do the job as efficiently and effectively as they’ve been doing over decades. In any case the new system cannot match the present one in terms of convenience and flexibility. Another person said that once the garbage collectors have been thrown out of their work, nothing stops the contractor from getting automatic machines and leaving almost everyone jobless! But one statement goes to the heart of the matter- a protesting garbage collector said that they are the ones who have kept the houses and business establishments of the city’s rich, middle class and lower middle class residents clean and they are the ones because of whom Chandigarh is famously called City Beautiful This is so true and I believe that the people of Chandigarh (and of India in general) have no clue about the dangerous games the State is playing on their behalf. In fact, the MC’s scheme seems more of a “scheme to remove poor, than to remove the poverty”, in the words of another garbage collector. The situation seems so dire that one told me that he would rather lose a son than lose his livelihood.
It was amazing to see the sarcasm with which the protestors made fun of the unconcerned public and the irresponsible MC. One said that MC’s record of keeping the city clean is nothing to speak about and it should first set its own house in order.   Another took a dig saying that will those who stay in huge mansions and houses be ready to go out and hand over their garbage to the MC’s private contractor (as the proposed system envisages). Another said that these people go to America and then want the same systems (of garbage collection etc) here without realizing that the India’s realities need different kind of solutions.
The fact of the matter is that the two components of the MC’s scheme of segregating garbage as organic waste and any other waste and transporting it to the Garbage Processing Plant is something that the garbage collectors can do (as per their own admission) with some help from the administration and the MC. However, the MC’s willingness to do so seems suspect.
This seems to be a small, but oft repeated example of another blitzkrieg of neo-liberal agenda’s foot soldiers, crushing the lives and taking over the livelihoods of thousands. This must be stopped, as this goes against the fundamental right to practice a business, trade and profession under Article 19 of the Constitution. How can a complete ban on something as essential as garbage collection be considered a ‘reasonable’ restriction to carry out a trade and profession? We all need to ask ourselves that where will we be without the people who really make Chandigarh, or any city for that matter, beautiful and liveable? May be its high time you came out of your cocoon and talked to your local Municipal Councilor. Better still, go join the protestors!         

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Indian Prisons: Hard on Minorities and Disadvantaged Castes

You know there is something really wrong with a country's justice, policing and political system, when out of the people in jail (undertrials, convicts and detenues), minorities and SC/STs comprise a disproportionately high number, as compared to their general population. This shows the bias in administration of criminal justice system and a huge access to justice issue. Click here for the source of the figures. It was quite shocking to read these figures. 

The reasons for this is the institutional bias against people from minority communities, especially Muslims in India and against those belonging to the Scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. It is also an issue of access to justice wherein people who need free and competent legal aid most are most forcefully deprived of it. 

This seems to be like the issue of African-Americans prisoners in the US jails. The Equal Justice Initiative, under Bryan Stevenson, is doing a great job about the issue of excessive sentencing of under privileged communities in the USA. One must watch this TED video here:

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Media Manipulation in India- The Structural Compulsion to Lie

Yesterday I saw a very interesting talk given by P Sainath, titled "A Structural Compulsion to Lie" which was given to an audience consisting  primarily of journalists.


 Anyone who has some time to spare must watch this witty and really hard hitting talk (in ten parts) which seeks to expose the myths surrounding mainstream media in India. Thus, I presume that Noam Chomsky's propaganda model which was discussed in his book Manufacturing Consent is not just true about western liberal democracies but also about the Indian media, at least the mainstream media which is highly corporatized and in the words of P Sainath, not just an instrument for big business but big business itself.

I myself looked through the websites of several of the mainstream media corporations in India, like NDTV, Living Media, Network18, and realised that they are owned (and therefore quite obviously controlled) by large business interests, apart from owning interests in several sectors themselves! For example NDTV's website, due to guidelines issued by Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) have put their shareholding patterns online here. On going through these patters, I found out that a large chunk of NDTV's shares (20% or more) have been held by huge corporations, investment banks like Goldman Sachs, Reliance Capital and other mutual funds. The latest shareholding patterns also mention the huge investments "foreign institutional investors" have made to NDTV.

I believe that such large investments by multiple corporations and the advertising model on which mainstream media is based, necessitates that the media's independence is seriously compromised and is in fact a myth. Furthermore, the focus of the mainstream media on the top 5% of the Indian population has largely blocked any reportage from the rest of India, apart from events of mass distress and death.

It is sad that policy makers and opinion makers in this country often make policies and decisions on the basis of the fictionalised/mytholigized versions of reality that the mass media touts as the truth. Its worse that we, the so called informed and educated citizenry of this country continue to accept whatever the media feeds us as the eternal truth. Its time to wake up and stop being Nero's Guests.

We are Nero's Guests

This documentary (Nero's Guests) is a must watch by every single Indian, especially those who have been brainwashed into believing that the corporatization happening all around us is beneficial to India.

Hundreds of millions are suffering at this very moment. If we don't act now, we won't be any different from Nero's Guests.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Banned Books of India Archive

Last week I read through an article in the Hindu titled, You can't read this Book by Hasan Suroor. It had a list of books that had been banned in India, first by the British and then by their Indian successors. In most cases the ban is on the import of the book, and as Salman Rushdie said in this hard hitting speech yesterday at the India Today Conclave, 2012, the Indian Customs department by a "sleight of hand" ban the import of the book without proscribing reading it. You can find the notifications of the Indian Custom department here, here,  here and here inter alia. I thought it might be a good idea find electronic copies of these banned books, already freely available on the internet, because the juvenile import bans by the Indian government trample on our right to freedom of expression and the moment we stop fighting for our rights, we lose them.

We are free to disagree to a small or large degree with any of the following books and are completely entitled to hold such opinions and take up the matter with the publisher/author. I personally am not in agreement with many of the views mentioned in the books below and do not endorse any opinion by the belowmentioned authors, however, throttling of the right to freedom of expression should not be tolerated. If have full right to be offended by any of these books, but violently acting on such feeling is not permitted. 

Do remember Voltaire famous statement: "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."

Here's a list of the books famously banned in India and links to their electronic copies for reading and download (if available). Please feel free to email me the links/copies of other banned books on mail [at] arjunsheoran [dot] com, that you know of or find, so that they can be included on this archive - this is a work in progress.

  1. An Area of Darkness by V.S. Naipaul (epub format)
  2. Rangeela Rasool by Pt Chamupati (1924) 
  3. Hindu Heaven, Max Wylie (1934)
  4. The Face of Mother India, Katherine Mayo (1936) (Available Online here as well with complete photographs)
  5. Old Soldier Sahib, Frank Richards (1936) (Order Hard copy Online here)
  6. The Land of the Lingam, Arthur Miles, (1937)
  7. Mysterious India, Moki Singh (1940)
  8. The Scented Garden (Anthropology of the Sex Life in the Levant), Bernhard Stern, translated by David Berger (1945) (order hard copy here)
  9. What has Religion done for Mankind, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (1955)
  10. Rama Retold, Aubrey Menen (1955)
  11. Dark Urge, Robert W. Taylor (1955)
  12. The Ramayana, Aubrey Menen (1956)
  13. Captive Kashmir, Aziz Beg (1958)
  14. The Heart of India, Alexander Campbell (1959)
  15. The Lotus and the Robot, Arthur Koestler (1960)
  16. Nine Hours to Rama, Stanley Wolpert (1962)
  17. Unarmed Victory, Bertrand Russell (1963)
  18. Nepal, Toni Hagen (1963) (watch a Documentary on Nepal by Toni Hagen)
  19. Ayesha, Kurt Frishchler, translated by Norman Denny (1963)
  20. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence (1964)
  21. The Jewel in the Lotus (A Historical Survey of the Sexual Culture of the East), Allen Edwards (1968)
  22. The Evolution of the British Empire and Commonwealth from the American Revolution, Alfred Le Ray Burt (1969)
  23. A Struggle between Two Lines over the Question of How to Deal with U.S. Imperialism, Fan Asid-Chu (1969)
  24. Man from Moscow, Greville Wynne (1970)
  25. Early Islam, Desmond Steward (1975)
  26. Nehru: A Political Biography, Michael Edwards (1975)
  27. India Independent, Charles Bettelheim (1976)
  28. China’s Foreign Relations Since 1949, Alan Lawrence (1978)
  29. Who killed Gandhi, Lourenco De Sadvandor (1979)
  30. Understanding Islam through Hadis, Ram Swarup (1982)
  31. Smash and Grab: Annexation of Sikkim, Sunanda Datta-Ray (1984)
  32. The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie (1988)
  33. Soft Target: How the Indian Intelligence Service Penetrated Canada, Zuhair Kashmeri and Brian McAndrew (1989)
  34. The Polyester Prince, Hamish McDonald (1998)
  35. The True Furqan, “Al Saffee” and “Al Mahdee” (1999)
  36. Islam: A Concept of Political World Invasion, R.V. Bhasin (2007 – Maharashtra)
  37. The Price of Power: Kissinger and Nixon in the White House by American journalist Seymour Hersh excerpts 
  38. Lajja, by Taslima Nasrin (Download the Hindi Translation

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Yes, India is a Hindu Rashtra (Haan, Bharat Ek Hindu Rashtra Hai)

This an unauthorised rough translation of a very powerful piece written in Hindi by activist and journalist Bhanwar Meghavanshi from Rajasthan. His post is available is available on his blog.

I can claim for sure that India is a Hindu nation. A majority of people will not agree with me and they are entitled to their opinion, but my experience tells me that even though the Preamble to India's Constitution states that we are a "secular" nation and government books state that we are a secular state, in reality we are a Hindu nation.

You go to the various cities, towns and villages of southern Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh and there you'll find that our presumably secular nation is being made a mockery of by these boards where it is written -'' Welcome to this ____ Village of a Hindu nation.'' Everyone sees such boards, but doesn't it hurt anyone's eyes to look at such boards and doesn't make anyone think that this is an open mutiny against our constitutional commitment to secularism, which can be placed in the category of treason. Say, in a village you find that it is written -"Muslim nation. . . Or Christian nation. . . Or Sikh nation. . . Welcome to such and such a village.'' How would you feel? Won't your mouth have an astringent taste seeing this? The above words do may not sound good to you, but when similar words greet you to a Hindu nation then you find them quite pleasant.

Come on, lets leave these things. A few mad religious fanatics from some army or members of a Commando force must have put these the boards. Nothing will happen because of this! We are a great secular democracy and will continue being so. Of course, we'll remain so! I am in hundred per cent agreement with your views and desires. But everywhere I see I find the features of a Hindu religious nation. Is it that my secular eyes have been afflicted by cataract of the theocratic state and the swinging of the lathi (staff) at the RSS Shakha in my youth is having an effect on my thoughts once again? I do not know, but something is happening, and it is a little difficult to tell what's going on.See my simple definition of the secular nation state is a nation that will not favor any religion, will not promote her or will not run the country on the basis of the ways and traditions and customs and beliefs of a particular religion. This is my understanding of secularism. But this is a secularism of thought. Secularism of principles and of behaviour is some other kind of secularism. Come, lets have a look at this pseudo-secularism and if you feel like it, to be the sacrificial offering to such a secularism.

Lets start with the schools where there is solid knowledge to create the citizens of tomorrow. In these schools you'll not just find pictures and statues of Goddess Saraswati, which in any case are there, but also, Sarawati Temples have been built in uncountable number of schools! And these are government schools (Not RSS's Shishu Mandir schools). Here the morning begins with prayers to Goddess Sarawati like "veena vadini var de" thus the Mother Sharde i.e., the Goddess Saraswati, is prayed for the wisdom and knowledge. Can a devout person tell me how educated this Goddess of Learning Sarawati herself was? Have there ever been found any written poetry, chants, hymn etc. written in any book or text, ever. Is there any book written by Ma Sharde anywhere? Probably not. I feel like asking that in a country where the Goddess of wisdom and knowledge is present, who is worshipped and prayed to every single day, why does that nation have the most ignorant, illiterate and uneducated people? That's what I am baffled, shocked, and upset that why is there so much illiteracy in the in the country of Goddess Saraswati and poverty in the country of Goddess Lakshmi? Why does the nation in which the Goddess of wealth stays is also a country where there are long queues to become become eligible for  schemes for the BPL? Why weren't the Yavanas, Mughals or the Turks afraid of the raudraroop of the Goddess who killed the demon Mahishasur. Why are hundreds of thousands of years of slavery and thousands of defeats etched and recorded on the shield of our "advanced" Hindu nation?
Actually lets chuck it. Lets come back to the moot point. So the moment you step out of your house, and take a few steps, in fact, even without getting out of one's house and taking those few steps one feels that India is a Hindu nation. I want to say to my communal friends, why waste time every morning and evening spinning wheels? Go work on some other good cause. This country is already a Hindu nation; how much more Hindu will you make it?Here, every government department's building is inaugrated with a bhoomi poojan and government programmes are started by the lighting of a lamp. Coconuts, incense sticks, putting of tilak, etc everything is done and often operated by the Pandits who direct the entire proceedings. Its also common that dignitaries are welcomed and honoured with turbans and saffron coloured clothes from religious institutions with religious chants.

From school assemblies to Legislative Assemblies, surya namaskars are done and mantras of Om Namah Svitri Suryanarayanay, Rviee Namah, Namah Suryay are being chanted. All kinds of babas are holding katha (story) sessions or or teaching yoga, and from our Union Ministers are standing on their heads doing shirsaasan on the tunes of these religious babas.

In order to manage, administer and take care of temples government run Devasthanam Boards are working. One can build a temple or a shrine at any public place, without taking anyone's permission. Where ever and when ever one wants, thousands of tonnes of ghee is poured into yagnas to create smoke and it is considered a pious thing! If you have a joint Hindu family you shall be exempted from tax. There is an subsidy to visit Kailash Mansarovar. All religious trusts are tax-free. Your day, the brahm mahurat, can be started at 4 AM, and you can blow trumpets at religious sites, and depending on their ability and devotion can disturb the sleep of irreligious people.

In the name of your feelings you can riot about anything; to save a dead cow you can murder living Dalits; in the name of living cows you can take away the livelihood of nomad communities; the government could take over land in the name of gau shalas (cow sheds). Yes, you're free to do all this. No one will say anything.
If you want you can attack a minority area and burn their shops and then then walk scot free taking the benefit of being from the majority community. In this country, to be a Hindu is beneficial and to be a political Hindu is even more beneficial.
Governmental and private offices have our God-Goddesses established. Our executive, press, judiciary and legislature are increasingly and more intensely becoming Hindu. Our behaviour smacks of the Hindu nation. So I often say and would like to tell you that notwithstanding how many times we write the word ''secular'' in our Constitution, we were and will remain a Hindu nation. Because in our eyes, India is a Hindu nation.

Bhanwar Megvanshi

(The author is the

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

In Defence of The Beef Eaters: Questioning the Ban on Cow Slaughter and of use of Religious Faith as Guide to Law Making

The Madhya Pradesh Bill to ban cow slaughter which received the President's assent has reopened the debate across the nation. The ban is a clear victory of the Hinduvta brigade in Madhya Pradesh. I seek to argue that the legislation is illogical and absurd, to say the least and the constitutional reasons advanced for enacting the legislation are dubious. I further argue that if it is conceded that the actual reasons for the ban is on the basis of the religious faith and sensibilities of the Hindus, especially the so called High Caste Hindus, then it is a slippery slope as religious faith makes a bad guide for law making.