India’s Patriotic Feminist Daughters

Posted in Uncategorized by Karthick RM on November 3, 2016

Originally published on Round Table India

The recent documentary “India’s Daughter” on the 2012 New Delhi gang-rape case by Israeli born filmmaker Leslee Udwin has come under criticism from certain leftist feminists for being ‘Western racist’ and the likes. A particularly trending article in these circles is one by Kavita Krishnan, who is a central committee member of CPI (ML) – Liberation. Comrade Krishnan is pained that Udwin has shown “India as a place of ignorance and brutality towards women, that inspires both shock and pity, but also call for a rap on the knuckles from the “civilised world” for its “brutal attitudes”.” She laments that there is a “racist profiling of Indian men” that informs this documentary. And so on and so on.

To start with, yes, Leslee Udwin’s documentary is problematic because it is not well informed. It picked a most brutal gang-rape that caught worldwide attention and tried to show some light on violence against women in India – but it failed to adequately pay attention to the systematic most brutal forms of rape and sexual violence that millions of Dalit, adivasi and lower caste women endure on a daily basis. The problem with the documentary is not that it demonizes Indians and India’s (Hindu) misogynistic culture. The real problem is that it has NOT demonized them enough!

Yes Comrade Krishnan, brutality is an Indian cultural problem, Indian backwardness is a problem, and Indian mentality is a problem. The problem is structural, embedded in India, in the idea of India, in the way this idea was imagined, in the discourse of India, by the people who create that discourse, who accept it and who defend it. I am not saying anything new. I am only repeating what Periyar has said in the past.

But what ethical rights does a Western person have to make a documentary on Indian women?

“I was in Hyderabad recently and was seriously appalled to hear that Arundhati’s piece is apparently being construed by some as being demeaning of Ambedkar and ‘devoting more space to Gandhi’. If this is indeed the nature of the criticism that is being made the pretext for the denial of permission, it is a travesty of reason and a deliberate, mischievous misreading of her article, not much unlike the Hindutvavadi’s misreading of Doniger.”

The above are Comrade Krishnan’s own words, based on nothing but rumour.

So let us twist it slightly and say:

“I was in recently in New Delhi and was seriously appalled to hear that Leslie Udwin’s piece is apparently being construed by some as being demeaning of Indians and racist. If this is indeed the nature of the criticism that is being made the pretext for the denial of permission, it is a travesty of reason and a deliberate, mischievous misreading of the documentary, not much unlike the BJP’s rationale to censor it.”

One logic for Roy and another for a White person. If a Roy can write a (theoretically shallow) preface to Ambedkar to highlight Dalit issues to the West, why cannot a Westerner make a documentary to highlight India’s rape crisis to the West? Between the two, Leslee Udwin was at least honest to admit her shortcomings. Roy and comrades on the other hand said this and more. While the documentary has been wholeheartedly welcomed by other women activists, Roy’s preface came under massive critical condemnation from Dalit activists, thinkers and writers – which were dismissed off by the privileged leftist intellectuals without any just engagement.

Comrade Krishnan challenges Westerners to recognize “the “brutal attitudes” that abound in our own comfort zone, our own “culture”.” What she should do is to challenge Brahminists, the leftist ones especially, to challenge their brutal intellectual attitudes, the comfort zones that they inhabit, the academic spaces that they occupy, the political culture of their politburos, the voices they silence and marginalize. What she should do is ask how many Dalits and OBCs – the people who actually form the working class – are there in decision making levels of the various communist parties in India. But of course, anti-Westernism is “radical”. Anti-Brahminism is “identity politics”.

This is not meant to be an individual attack on Comrade Krishnan, but rather an attempt to offer an insight into a pernicious trend that is dominating political discourse in the name of “anti-Westernism” “postcolonialism” and so on. In fact, Krishnan’s response to the documentary is much in the line of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?” where the latter argues against White men saving brown women from brown men. But in condemning western universality, who gave these members of an ultra-elite closed group the right to condemn in the name of all brown women and men? If it was not for the intervention of “white imperialist capitalist patriarchy” women of a particular low caste in Tamil Nadu would not be allowed to cover their breasts. It was British colonialist legislation that put an end to the barbaric practice of temple prostitution in the state. All these moves were also fought for and welcomed by the women of the concerned castes. The subaltern actually spoke. Spivak did not care to listen.

Some of the feminists have had a problem with the documentary being named “India’s Daughter”. But in their zeal to defend the image of India, they are behaving like dutiful Indian daughters in ensuring that the name of their mother country is not besmirched by a ‘colonialist Western foreigner’. Gayatri, Kavita, Pragya, Rithambara… sometimes it is hard to tell the difference.

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A Few Good Men like the American Liberal and the Indian Liberal

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on November 3, 2016

14907093_1007164592726355_5738480194756239295_nIt is a shame to confess this, but I watched A Few Good Men for the first time only a few days back. The American courtroom drama captures the political drama between the American Liberal and the American Right-Winger that has been playing out for several decades now. If Jack Nicholson militarist diatribe in the famous “You cant handle the truth” scene was powerful, so was Tom Cruise’s prosecution of the accused. Both men stood for the American ideal; they just interpreted it differently. But the American Liberal is willing to fight for his ideals, even though he might not understand the nature of the same. The transformation of Cruise’s character in the movie from frivolous to serious is a commentary on how the liberal would rise up to the occasion to save the system from its unwanted (but necessary) elements. And as much as we may find them annoying, many American liberals are serious in their opposition to the Right.

14568087_1007164549393026_1664785442703190775_nFlashback to Shaurya. I watched this movie a few years back, knowing that it was a remake of the above flick. Now this is an Indian courtroom drama with Rahul Bose playing Cruise and Kay Kay Menon playing Nicholson. Menon was spellbinding; every frame he appears in reeks of power. His militarist rant, with a mixture of blind patriotism and personal tragedy, effectively shows him as a man of principles, however bad they may be. (Kay Kay Menon is a dangerous actor: In Gulaal, he had my support for free Rajputana!) Menon was a worthy choice to play Nicholson’s role. On the other hand, Rahul Bose had not 1% of the passion or intensity of Cruise’s character. Like the Indian liberal, his character is visibly – politically incorrect terms ahead – emasculated and impotent. And yet he wins by trickery, and proceeds to give a banal monologue about Indian secular values, which even he doesnt seem to be convinced about. But in reality, the Indian liberal will never put up a fight against the Indian militarist because, like Bose’s character, they have no conviction and reality is no courtroom drama where such easy victories are scored.

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A little tribute to Vidrohi

Posted in General by Karthick RM on August 14, 2016

I believe there are two really smart decisions I have taken in my life – joining JNU for my Masters, leaving JNU immediately after my Masters. Jawaharlal Nehru University is always a Dickensian scenario. You meet the best of people and the worst of people there; inevitably both will be from the left. Imagine 1968 Paris being repeated over and over again – the slogans, the sexual liberation, the orgasmic enthusiasm for revolution, the wild dreams… and just like the 1968 revolutionaries, the Guevaras of JNU too succeeded in doing absolutely nothing to change the system. But then, JNU’s biggest magic trick is the illusion that it gives you that you are actually doing something. Much like the five star hotel in Chennai that promises to give you an authentic fisherman’s cuisine, JNU too allures you with the promise of being part of an authentic revolutionary event.

But once a while you run into a really genuine character who really believes in the JNU dream. Vidrohi was one of those rare characters. This humble unassuming man was a powerful poet, speaker and a treasure-trove of knowledge. Vidrohi could be seen at several protests, offering his poetry to add color to the demonstrations. His admirers would clap and cheer. But most of his admirers had clear career plans. To them, JNU was a stepping stone to something higher. I know quite some ultraleftists who believed armed struggle was the only way who later joined NGOs, earning good money. But Vidrohi’s universe was the university.

Vidrohi genuinely believed in the JNU dream. He died poor.

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Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on June 4, 2014

More than the fascination of Hindus with Nazism, Nazis have had a fascination with Hinduism. Why not? It is the perfect philosophy of slavery, rigid division of labor and racism that has survived for millennia without one major slave revolt. On the other hand, their contempt for the Judeo-Christian tradition was well recorded. Take for instance Savitri Devi Mukherjee. Born as Maximinaini Portas in France, with a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Lyon, she traveled across the world in search of pure Aryan race and culture. Arriving in India, she was fascinated by the native paganic Hindu traditions which she believed was uncorrupted aryanism. She converted to Hinduism and married a Bengali Brahmin (pure race idea in practice) who was part of the Indian nationalist struggle. In her eyes, Hitler was an avatar of Vishnu who was born on earth to redeem the aryan race. Denying holocaust, advocating death penalty for non-vegetarians, the purging of Abrahamic religions from India were some of her bright ideas.

Call me Eurocentric, but I prefer the “colonial” Judeo-Christian civilizational tradition any day to the hegemonic barbarisms from the “native” third world.

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A Tale of Two Prefaces

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on May 12, 2014

Originally published on Round Table India

With her new preface to Dr. Ambedkar’s ‘Annihilation of Caste’ Arundhati Roy, and the publishing house Navayana, have received criticism from Dalit activists and writers. Very compelling critiques have been put forth explaining how Navayana’s annotated version of an Ambedkarite classic is an act of appropriation. In the short essay that follows, I seek to explain why it is an act of appropriation with the help of an analogy.

In 1961, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth was released. The book, which was later praised as the “Bible of the Third World”, had a preface written by the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, probably one of the most recognizable faces of “First World” philosophy of the 20th Century.

The beauty of Sartre’s preface was that it offended everyone privileged – the French nationalists who wanted him murdered, liberals like Hannah Arendt who thought that the preface was more incendiary than the original, dogmatic leftists who dubbed it anarchistic and also a section of Black American academics. These critics’ only contribution to Fanon studies is to reduce an intellectual giant’s thoughts to a Lilliputian idea of “lived experience”, who felt that a White man had overstepped the boundaries in writing a preface for what they felt was the work of a “Black man”.

However, Fanon himself was above such thoughts. He wanted Sartre to write the preface because he considered Sartre a “living god” and several biographical accounts confirm that he was greatly satisfied with the controversial preface. The power of a preface is that it conditions the way a text is read. And when the author of a work has conveyed an explicit approval for a preface, he is in a dialogical process with the one who writes the preface, and he also indicates that he wants to be read in that spirit. Or, Fanon wanted to be “framed” in the ideological parameters of Sartrean humanism and posthumous criticisms of the preface can only be termed as acts of bad faith.

Now, let us turn to a book that can rightfully be called a Bible, a manifesto of liberation, for the Dalits and the other oppressed castes in India – Babasaheb Ambedkar’s “Annihilation of Caste.” Is there any indication anywhere in “Annihilation of Caste” that he wanted a Brahmin publishing house and upper-caste intelligentsia to frame how he should be read? Is there any indication anywhere in any of Ambedkar’s works that he wanted upper castes to assist in interpreting him? Since the answers to these questions, to the best of my knowledge about Ambedkar, is in the negative, the critics are right when they allege that Navayana is engaging in an act of appropriation when they decided to frame him in the fashion that they did. What those defending Roy should realize is that what is being contested is not Roy’s right to write an essay on Ambedkar – I’ll add here that I enjoyed reading the essay for the stuff on Gandhi – it is this essay framing Ambedkar within certain paradigms and reading him in a manner which has little relevance to Ambedkar’s politics that is being challenged.

There is also a particular way in which the Dalit criticisms are being read by those to whom it is addressed to and the way they respond to the same. It is as though they are responding “Ooh, we understand and sympathize with your lived experience but we are trying to help you with our knowledge.” This seems to be a way of saying “Ha ha ha. Knowledge still belongs to us, but you guys can only talk from experience.” Sorry to disappoint you friends. Ambedkar’s critique of caste was not based on lived experience alone but rather was and is one of the most rigorous theoretical analysis of a social system of oppression that has confounded and condemned the oppressed for millennia. And likewise, the Dalits and lower castes who are “claiming Ambedkar for themselves” are not doing so based on their lived experiences alone, but rather because of a thirst for emancipatory knowledge by challenging the epistemological privilege that Brahmins have enjoyed for ages.

What is this privilege? The superiority of the Brahmin is not based on economic power that can change with fortunes. It is also not a weak pseudo-science argument of race superiority. It rests largely on the Brahmin’s power over definition, on his ability to determine good and evil, social and anti-social, clean and unclean, high and low, acceptable and unacceptable, interpretation and misinterpretation. It is the Brahmin’s power over the Word, over knowledge, and over meaning.

In contemporary India, take the Indian nationalists, the Hindu nationalists, the central committees of the various socialist parties, postcolonialists, liberals, anti-modernists, anti-Eurocentrists, anti-Enlightenmentists, anti-colonialists, feminists – which caste defines the ideological paradigms in any of these different political/intellectual/ groups?

When the Brahmin determines what the philosophy of oppression is, the Brahmin determines what ‘neutral’ liberalism is, and the Brahmin also determines what resistance is, where is the space for a counter ideology to emerge? And when a Brahmin runs a powerful publishing house that markets how Dalit thinkers should be read, is it not legitimate to think that the traditional monopoly over knowledge and meaning is being extended to assimilate even the voices that counter it?

Going back to Fanon, he clearly recognized that Europe had a thousand problems. But he also recognized that it produced schools of thought that sought to take man to a higher level. Thus, Fanon accused the White colonizer of hypocrisy, of belonging to intellectual traditions that spoke about equality but behaving as a person practising inequality. But in our case, as recognized by Ambedkar and thinkers like Periyar, the Brahmin is a hypocrite only when he talks about equality. The radical potential of the thoughts of Ambedkar lies in the fact that he recognized that, throughout history, even in the most liberal vision of equality as propounded by the Brahmin, whatever intellectual tradition the Brahmin hails from, to take an Orwellian line “some animals are more equal than other animals.” Consider this, Arundhati Roy has pointed out several times in her public speeches that over 90% of the cadres of the Maoist party are Dalits and Adivasis. But why is it that over 90% of the leaders of the Maoist party and its urban intelligentsia come from the upper castes?

Some years back, Hindutva ideologue Arun Shourie wrote “Worshipping False Gods”, a third-rate pamphlet against Ambedkar. The sordid history of the Hindu religion shows us one thing – while there are one section of Brahmins who denigrate and deride the gods of the lower castes, there is also simultaneously another section of Brahmins who try to accommodate and assimilate these gods within the Brahminical tradition and spin their own myths about these gods which are then imposed on the rest of the population. The lower castes have lost several such gods in history. They cannot lose anymore.

They cannot lose Ambedkar.

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Indian PM’s Boycott of CHOGM, Foreign Policy, and Tamil Nadu’s Role

Posted in Politics by Karthick RM on November 12, 2013

Originally published on The Weekend Leader

Contrary to claims in certain sections of the Indian media that the Indian Prime Minister not taking part in Sri Lanka’s CHOGM compromises the country’s ‘national foreign policy’ in favour of ‘regional interests’, a decision by the highest political authority of India to avoid participation in this event is precisely in favour of India’s national interests.

If India really had long-term strategic vision, it would completely boycott the CHOGM, but that is a different argument.

Let us also leave the moral question of engaging with Sri Lanka – a country accused of genocide, war crimes, systematic rape and torture – aside.

What could be a rational reason for Dr. Manmohan Singh to boycott the CHOGM?

The Arthashastra emphasises that the welfare of a state depends on an active foreign policy. The operative word here being ‘active’.

An active foreign policy takes into consideration not just relations between states, but also intra-state relations, especially those between power blocs within a state, and the geographical location of these power blocs.

In the Sri Lankan context, an active foreign policy of India must, in all rationality, be mediated by the geographical and demographic power bloc that is Tamil Nadu, which is historically and culturally, not to mention emotionally, connected to Tamil Eelam.

In that sense, the ‘regional interests’ of Tamil Nadu must be part of any Indian foreign policy calculation vis-a-vis Sri Lanka.

At no point of time in history has pro-Tamil Eelam activism in Tamil Nadu been so politically charged and conceptually clear as in the years succeeding the genocide in May 2009.

The new generation activists, smooth, suave and adept in their use of social media for political purposes, have generated tremors in the state in their protests against the US resolution earlier this year.

The heat generated by the Tamil Nadu youth, besides inspiring diaspora youth to stage similar protests, also compelled the Tamil Nadu government to pass resolutions calling for a referendum among the Eelam Tamils.

And it is precisely their pressure and that of grassroots Tamil political parties, which compelled Tamil Nadu State Assembly to pass a unanimous resolution calling for a full Indian boycott of CHOGM in Sri Lanka.

There is another thing to note here. While pre-2009 pro-Tamil Eelam activism in Tamil Nadu was directed primarily against Sri Lanka, after May 2009 the informed political discourse began challenging the role of the world establishments – especially the US and India – and their role in assisting the Sinhala state.

Except during the period of anti-Hindi agitations in Tamil Nadu, at no other point has Tamil civil society been mobilized en masse to challenge a policy of the Indian Centre.

After all this, if Dr. Manmohan Singh, the political head of the Indian state, goes to Sri Lanka, not only would it have been suicidal for the Congress party’s political prospects in Tamil Nadu, it also would have given fuel to greater anti-Centre sentiments in the region.

So, a decision for Dr. Singh to boycott the CHOGM is indeed taken in ‘national interest’.

If those ‘experts’ in the media commenting on “foreign policy objectives” and placing national interest over “political expediency” fail to take this into account, it only reflects their sad ignorance of ground reality.

It should be added here that activists in Tamil Nadu are not satisfied with this gesture alone and continue to demand a total boycott of CHOGM and the removal of Sri Lanka from the body.

Informed activism in Tamil Nadu has a reached a stage where it knows to differentiate a symbolic gesture from a strategic victory.

Yet, can anything be deciphered from Dr. Singh’s decision?

One, the Indian government realizes that Tamil Nadu can turn volatile on Sri Lankan issue and therefore is trying to balance collective Tamil sentiments.

Two, the pressure exerted by peaceful democratic mass movements in Tamil Nadu has a potential to influence the centre via the periphery.

Three, Indian foreign policy on Sri Lanka cannot be blind to the power bloc of Tamil Nadu as it has been doing all the while. It needs to take in the ‘local’ factor into consideration if it indeed has a long-term ‘national’ vision.

Overall, Dr. Singh’s absence at the CHOGM signifies a symbolic victory for Tamil Nadu. Though symbolic, a victory nevertheless!

After all, the British Prime Minister is attending the meeting despite protests in his country against the same. Besides, this move is also a snub to Northern Province Chief Minister Wigneswaran and certain ‘analysts’ from Colombo who were pleading with the Indian PM to attend.

The power relations are rather explicit here. It is obvious that a strong Chennai carries more impact than a dummy in Jaffna or the stooges of Colombo.

India needs a serious re-think on its overall policy towards Sri Lanka. In this Information Age, the Tamils world over have emerged as a well-networked community.

Activists from three centres of Tamil power namely Tamil Nadu, Tamil Eelam and the Tamil Diaspora actively engage in knowledge sharing exercises through various medium, constantly expanding their spheres of influence in opinion making.

Through shared images, notes, articles and videos, the Tamils are constructing a political discourse that informs them of the oppression the Eelam Tamils suffer in the island and the remedy that is required.

And this creates intellectual ammunition for critical and radical voices in the Tamil Nadu polity.

The key questions that Indian foreign policy analysts with vision should consider is this – given that it is in the very nature of the Sri Lankan state to be hostile to Tamil interests, wouldn’t you rather lose Sri Lanka as a friend than gain Tamil Nadu’s enmity?

Does India really want to create instability in Tamil Nadu for the sake of creating stability for the Sinhala state? Does India want to antagonize a Tamil community that is global in its reach and potential for the sake of a failed state?

As for Dr. Singh’s decision, this symbolic victory of the Tamil Nadu activists must be converted to a strategic victory by eventually compelling the Indian government to do a complete re-evaluation and an overhaul of its current myopic foreign policy towards Sri Lanka.

Madras Cafe: Intercept The Half-Truth

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on August 27, 2013

Originally published on Countercurrents

*Spoiler alert

Some sections of the Indian media may be going gaga over the ‘realistic’, ‘non-dramatic’ film ‘Madras Cafe’ of Shoojit Sircar. Some have, rather shamelessly, compared it to Zero Dark Thirty – in reality, GI Joe: Retaliation is a more gripping watch. While the poor sense of aesthetics of these pseudo-critics is lamentable, their contempt for history as it happened leaves much to question.

Selective history, grand conspiracy theory, not-so-subtle Indian patriotism all go into the making of a movie that principally exonerates India from all culpability of the brutal war crimes committed against the Tamils by the IPKF. From the start till the end, the subtext of the movie is to project India, a nuclear power state with the fourth largest army in the world, as a victim of the LTTE. For the record, at the height of the IPKF-LTTE war, over 100000 Indian soldiers armed to the teeth confronted about 3000 LTTE cadres. Despite this, India lost.

“They were powerful. In this game, we lost our prime minister, and the Lankan Tamils, their future,” confesses RAW agent Vikram Singh (played by John Abraham) to a Christian priest. The entire movie is the confession of Vikram to the priest, from his activities as a RAW agent in IPKF occupied Jaffna, to the failure of the RAW to break the LTTE, to their failure to stop Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.

The numerous atrocities suffered by the Eelam Tamils under the IPKF, the murders, tortures, rapes and disappearances, do not form part of his confession. Thus, no mention of the same in the film. On the other hand, the reel LTTE are shown as fanatics, who even murder the wife of Vikram in India in their attempts to get to him. I am yet to hear of a single case where the real LTTE has deliberately targeted the family of officers or soldiers of even the genocidal Sri Lankan military.

The LTTE, shown in the film as Liberation of Tamils Front (LTF), are shown as some intransigent armed rebel group that has support of the local population. Why did the armed struggle come about, what did the Sinhala state do to create such a situation, why did the Tigers oppose the Indian solution of 13th Amendment, why did the Tamil people stand with the ‘rebel group’, and what did the IPKF actually do in the course of its intervention – these are questions not even considered by the filmmaker. But the words “provincial council elections” are repeated to the point of being a slogan throughout the movie. Contrast this with the bare minimal usage of the word ‘Sinhalese’ in the movie – it is as if they had no role to play at all. The tagline for the movie was “Intercept the truth”.

The first half of the film is concerned with the RAW agent’s covert operations in Jaffna. These include scenes that allude to RAW’s role in supporting Tamil groups antithetical to the struggle for Tamil Eelam, the Mahattaya split and so. Of course, the intelligence failure in the famous ‘Jaffna University Helidrop’ is underplayed, though the filmmaker grudgingly acknowledges the superior intelligence of the Tigers at that time.

The second half of the movie, concerned with the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, is actually banal. Other movies like ‘Mission 90 Days’ have covered the subject with more intensity, and with far more venom. Madras Cafe tells us that its LTF was a foot-soldier of foreign forces in carrying out the plot.

“Corporations, big countries, big organizations,” in short, “economic hitmen” supported the LTF, we are told. The purpose is “economic control, business deals and large arms contracts,” it is asserted. An intelligence officer informs Vikram that the war is for Trincomalee, that the foreign forces wanted the LTF in power so that they can get the harbour, and that this would be a threat for India. Last time I heard however, it was the US that gave Sri Lanka effective advice in counterinsurgency strategy to remove the LTTE from the coveted harbour.

“At no stage did we ever consider India as an enemy force. Our people always consider India as our friend. They have great expectations that the Indian super power will take a positive stand on our national question,” LTTE leader Velupillai Pirapaharan said in his Heroes’ Day address on 27 November 2008. He has never referred to any other country in such terms.

However, Anna Bhaskaran, the movie’s celluloid version of Pirapaharan, tells in an interview to British journalist Jaya (a sad allusion to the Indian journalist Anita Pratap) that he will even consider taking help from the West to wage their struggle.

This is the other subtext of the movie. India is justified in assisting unitary Sri Lanka, irrespective of what the latter does, else foreign powers will intervene and that will be against India’s ‘national interests’.

To be fair to the movie, it has its share of laughs.

For instance, the scene where Jaya interviews Anna in English and the leader of the Tamil struggle responds to it – in Hindi.

The climax was dark comedy. Vikram ends his confession and walks out of the church muttering lines from Rabindranath Tagore’s famous poem from Gitanjali “Where the mind is without fear…” The poem is a utopian vision of an ideal democratic country. Unitary Sri Lanka, which India has been supporting till now, is the perfect antithesis of the spirit of the poem.

The line best suited for the context of Madras Cafe, however, is Alfred Tennyson’s “That a lie which is half a truth is ever the blackest of lies”.

Dalit Socialists Via Dalit Capitalists: A Response To Anand Teltumbde

Posted in Politics by Karthick RM on March 9, 2011

This article is intended as a response to Anand Teltumbde’s Dalit Capitalism And Pseudo Dalitism on Countercurrents dated 7th March, 2011

Fanon writes in The Wretched of the Earth that in colonies, a person is rich because he is white and he is white because he is rich. Simply put, the superstructure is the base. Stretching this analysis to India, one can argue that a Dalit is poor because she is untouchable and she is untouchable because she is poor. In a society like ours where hierarchy receives ritual sanction and operates via the medium of not only religion, but also language, social customs, morality and of course, the state, social capital determines economic capital. Nay, social capital is economic capital. If one has a glance at the top 50 ‘dollar billionaires’ in India one finds that there are 2-3 OBC’s in the list. No Dalits at all. Most of the rest are brahmins or baniyas. Is this capitalism in the classical sense?

Of course as Mr. Teltumbde says “capital does not have race, religion, caste, creed or even country.” But the capitalist has. What is capital without the capitalist? What struggle against capitalism can be successful unless it is directed against the face, all too human face, that embodies it? If we were to purely study the structure of capital subtracting the human agency that drives it one would just drive down an Althusserian blind alley. No. Capitalism has a human face and it is shaped by the thoughts, opinions and prejudices of the actor. In India, the face of the capitalist is the face of his caste.

Since Mr. Teltumbde is an avowed Marxist, I presume that he believes that socialism follows/should follow capitalism. Presuming that he is a Leninist, I believe that he would agree that the working class requires its organic intellectuals both in and out of a revolutionary party. In the history of Marxist intellectuals, very rarely have there been any who have actually emerged from an authentic proletarian background. They were bourgeois or petty-bourgeois who gave themselves up intellectually to the cause of the working class. India will be no exception to this. Where India will be an exception is that the caste of the intellectual will matter as much as, probably more than, his class. Here I would ask Mr. Teltumbde to look at various Marxist intellectuals in the country and their caste-class background. One does find a alarmingly high percentage of upper-caste adherents to a philosophy that intends to break all hierarchies. This not at all to doubt the intentions of the political actors concerned. Of course, various Maoist party intellectuals like Anuradha and Kobad Ghandy have taken genuine efforts to deal with caste. Yet, the question is why so many of them to analyse an experience that they can never feel? Can’t the subaltern think?

A partial answer lies here. We are dealing with a class of intellectuals that have had a middle class and bourgeois background to which the social capital of caste did contribute. Being literate sections for generations (rarely performing the gruelling tasks of manual labour), they have had access to a decent standard of education both at schools and more importantly, at home, besides day to day interaction in a more sophisticated intellectual culture. The texts of Marxism are not far from the reach of those that can read a text. Only the intention is required and the resources are given. But the void of Dalit and backward caste intellectuals in Marxism is precisely due to the fact that the social conditions around their caste rarely provide them the cultural and economic resources for them to first get a decent education and concurrently engage with and absorb a philosophy that changes them into conscious actors. Crudely put, the lack of a sizeable petit-bourgeois and bourgeois class of Dalits reflects on their minimal representation in Marxist circles.

Which is why Dalit Capitalism needs to be welcomed albeit partially. It does have its flaws in that the involved actors do consider it as the final stage of Dalit liberation, which is, of course, an act of bad faith. But there is always the possibility of positive effects on members of the community, let us say, the children of the Dalit capitalist, relatives or friends who might become beneficiaries out of a sense of caste solidarity of the Dalit capitalist. More Dalits get access to education and a different culture that they were previously denied. From here on, it is a matter of choice on what politics they seek to enter. But when they do enter, they enter not as objects, but as knowing subjects adding their experiences, their knowledge, their visions to a theoretical framework. One cannot expect that all might make the right choice, that is, the left choice. But the opportunity should be given to them to choose their political and intellectual destinies.

In Philosophy of Hinduism, Ambedkar writes that genuine liberty must be accompanied by three factors (I) Social equality (II) Economic security (III) Universal knowledge. We know that none of these are available in India for the Dalits. We can argue that economic security, even if it is for a miniscule number of Dalit capitalists, can and will open up possibilities for knowledge accumulation for a greater number, which consequently open up newer avenues for Dalit actors in movements for social equality. Caste is not just a social category. It is an experience. Unless you have representation from all caste groups to articulate those experiences in theory and execute them in revolutionary praxis what one would actually end with, I fear, is a group of upper castes performing the revolution, their revolution, in the name of the backward castes and the Dalits. The point is this: Dalit capitalism needn’t be glorified the way its protagonists have for it is not an end in itself. Yet, it needn’t be denounced the way Mr. Teltumbde does.

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Merry Christmas Dr. Binayak Sen

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on December 26, 2010

The news that Dr. Binayak Sen had been sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of sedition came as a rude shock to me today morning. The shock quickly gave way to a sense of irony as I pondered the significance of the timing (unintended of course) of the judgment. For today, the world commemorates the supposed birth of one the most celebrated seditionists in history – Jesus Christ.

My faith in reason does not allow me to believe in the ‘immaculate conception’ or the ‘son of god’ thesis. Nevertheless, I do think that Christ was an amazing personality in his age. The various churches that focus more on the text than the message of the Bible might want to portray him as a serious prophet of an organized faith – for that would then justify their own bureaucratic functioning. But Christ was a man who attended more parties than religious sermons. Who was the ‘king of kings’ who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Who said that the poor shall inherit paradise and that the rich have no place in the Kingdom of Heaven. Whose greatest message was to love and serve the poor.

Love and serve the poor. That is the crime Dr. Binayak Sen is guilty of. The place of his work is what we, the comfortably settled urban middle class, would call hell. Dirt, disease, starvation and poverty filled districts of Chhattisgarh. The wretched place cries, it shrieks for attention. And as an individual, Dr. Sen dedicated the best part of his life giving precisely that. Attention and care. Indeed, like Christ, Dr. Sen was a healer. Literally.

I have attended a few meetings in Delhi where Dr. Sen has spoken. If one identifies a person’s political ideology on the basis of what he speaks in public, I would say that Dr. Sen is definitely not a Marxist-Leninist. He is closer to Gandhi than to Marx. But it appears that the only ‘Gandhism’ that the Indian state allows is Rahul Gandhism. Even the communal cousin gets his space in democracy. Those Gandhians, who through some interpretation of the ideas of the original thinker try to make some positive difference in the lives of the masses, find themselves in the line of fire however. The state unhesitatingly clubs them with the ‘Ghandyians’. This sort of paranoia towards anyone who questions the state and its (mal)functions is hardly the sign of democracy, rather, it is a manifestation of the despotic undercurrents that plagues this system.

So there you have Indian democracy. Gun down suspected criminals in encounters and you are a local star. Kill civilians in Manipur or Kashmir and you are a war hero. Exhort people to butcher Muslims on the basis of an imagined community and you are a patriot. Even if the ‘secular’, ‘humanitarian’ elements in the polity would disagree to these statements, I doubt it if anyone would dare even suggest slapping sedition charges against a Togadiya or a Thackeray. But work for the poor and/or question why they are so and voila! Section 124a.

Maybe Sen’s life term is another crucifixion. Maybe this is the rebirth of Christ, as those who sacrifice their lives for the oppressed. Maybe this is the Kingdom of Heaven, the heart of the brave and the compassionate. Maybe like Christ who died then for the sins of humanity, such people do for ours now – the sins of inaction and silence. Maybe they are executing Christ’s message after all: “Greater Love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his fellows.”

Merry Christmas to all.

(I wrote this yesterday)

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A PIL: Mahabali vs Indian State

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on December 2, 2010

To be filed in any high court in Indian Territory

Honorable your Honour

I recently read the judgment of your colleagues on the Babri Masjid… ooops… the Ramjanmabhoomi issue. I should say that I was thrilled. Since legal bodies of our great modern country have extended their jurisdiction to the unknown past to settle real or imagined religious disputes, I make an appeal for my client with great confidence in your rational-legal authority.

Since in the RJB judgment, ‘Lord’ Rama is accepted as a historical character, I would like you to the consider the case of my client, King Mahabali. Since you have managed to map out Ram lalla’s birth to a specific geographic region, we hope you would pay due regard our argument of the Kerala origins of Mahabali. Sir, we want to bring to light the historical and religious injustice done to Mahabali and his followers.

Mahabali was a righteous king who hailed from that section whom you call in legal terms as ‘backward castes’. He was to the oppressed sections what ‘Lord’ Rama was to the upper castes. In case you need more information on his historical significance, I would suggest that you read Mahatma Phule’s works, in case thy most knowledgeable self has not already. His rule was considered to be one where there was a just treatment of all sections of the population. However, jealous with the virtuous rule of this backward caste king, Vishnu, in the guise of a brahmin dwarf (Vamana), duped Mahabali and pushed him into the underworld. (I think a case of impersonation can also be filed against Vishnu).

Anyway, what happened over the years was that my client was denied his place in society by the brahminical ruling classes and they also crafted stories to justify his predicament, thereby legitimizing their own rule. Result was disastrous for his people, the backward castes, who comprise the majority of the population. Not only did they lose a politico-spiritual symbol, it also meant material losses. Thanks to Mr. Vishnu, they lost their wealth, their lands and above all, their self-worth, being stigmatized and dehumanized for well over a millennium. I am sure your honour understands the social and historical significance of all this.

Thus, keeping the Allahabad verdict on RJB in mind, we would like you to consider the following

1. That Kerala was the kingdom of Mahabali (if you go by Mahatma Phule, it was much larger. But we are content with Kerala as of now) which was unjustly usurped by the brahmins with the help of Mr. Vamana, an alias of Mr. Vishnu.

2. That since Kerala is the birthplace of Mahabali lalla, we want 2/3rd of the land to go to his descendants, that is, the backward castes – yes, even after Namboodripad’s much talked of land reforms, the brahmins still have enormous land-holdings in the state.

3. That an Archaeological Survey of India research team must be constituted to do a study of all brahminical temples in Kerala. If evidence showing that they have been built over backward caste temples is arrived at, steps for their demolition and the rebuilding of the original temples should begin in earnest.


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