Book review – #Republic -Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media. By Cass Sunstein. Princeton University Press; 310 pages; $29.95 and £24.95.

LAST June Facebook announced a change to its newsfeed. Henceforth it would rejig the way stories were ranked to ensure that people saw “the stories they find most meaningful”. But what does “most meaningful” actually mean? Posts from family and friends, apparently, as well as those users you frequently “like”. Your newsfeed should be “subjective, personal and unique”, Facebook went on, promising to work on building tools to give users “the most personalised experience”.

Cass Sunstein, a law professor at Harvard University and Barack Obama’s former regulation tsar, is one of Facebook’s dissatisfied customers. “Facebook can do better,” he writes in “#Republic”, his new book about democracy in the age of social media. Mr Sunstein is disturbed by some aspects of ultra-customised information, yet he shows himself a master of restraint in his criticism. He clearly wants to influence Mark Zuckerberg and other tech titans without alienating them. Although Mr Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard, perhaps he can still pick up the occasional book by a Harvard professor—along with his new honorary degree.

In some ways, “#Republic” is a kind of Democracy 101, a review of the basic requirements for those who may have skipped the course. These requirements include, among other things, that citizens be exposed to a wide range of ideas and perspectives—even, and especially, those they would not choose to see or hear. Unplanned, chance encounters—with a protest as one wanders down the street, or a competing argument aired on the evening news—help guard against “fragmentation, polarisation and extremism”. They ensure that people are not hearing only an echo of their own voice. They reduce the likelihood that people will be stirred to extremes, such as terrorism. And they promote shared information and experiences, making it easier to solve problems and govern in a heterogeneous society.

In some ways, “#Republic” is a kind of Democracy 101, a review of the basic requirements for those who may have skipped the course. These requirements include, among other things, that citizens be exposed to a wide range of ideas and perspectives—even, and especially, those they would not choose to see or hear. Unplanned, chance encounters—with a protest as one wanders down the street, or a competing argument aired on the evening news—help guard against “fragmentation, polarisation and extremism”. They ensure that people are not hearing only an echo of their own voice. They reduce the likelihood that people will be stirred to extremes, such as terrorism. And they promote shared information and experiences, making it easier to solve problems and govern in a heterogeneous society.

This is the positive side of the free- speech principle, Mr Sunstein writes. It means not only forbidding censorship, but also creating a culture where people engage with the views of fellow citizens.

In the digital age social media function as the public forums where ideas are exchanged. But when people filter what they see—and providers race towards ever greater “personalisation” in the name of consumer choice—democracy is endangered. People live in separate worlds. Even hashtags, meant to help users find information on a certain topic, lead them to different bubbles. Democrats use #ACA and #blacklivesmatter; Republicans use #Obamacare and #alllivesmatter. Partyism might be said to exceed racism in America, Mr Sunstein argues. Whereas in 1960 only 5% of Republicans and 4% of Democrats said they would be “displeased” if their child married outside their political party, by 2010, those numbers had reached 49% and 33%, a far higher percentage than those who would be “displeased” if their child married outside their race.

Mr Sunstein wants an “architecture of serendipity” to combat these forces: that is, media that promote chance encounters and democratic deliberation like the public forums of old. Facebook might design “serendipity buttons”, he suggests, allowing users to click for opposing viewpoints or unfiltered perspectives. Conservative news sites could feature links to liberal sites and vice versa, alerting people to material beyond their usual sources. A site like deliberativedemocracy.com—the domain is not yet taken—could offer a space for people of divergent views to discuss issues. Democracies should take their cue from Learned Hand, an American judge who said the spirit of liberty is that “spirit which is not too sure that it is right”.

It is not just up to Mr Zuckerberg, then, to foster a culture of curiosity and openness. Citizens must demand it, Mr Sunstein argues, and they must seek out those serendipitous encounters. “#Republic” is full of constructive suggestions. It should be required reading for anyone who is concerned with the future of democracy—in Silicon Valley and beyond.

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Book Review: When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics. By Milan Vaishnav. Yale University Press; 410 pages; $40. To be published in Britain in March;

ALL politicians are crooks. At least, that is what a lot of people
think in a lot of countries. One assumes it is a reproach. But not in
India. Indian politicians who have been charged with or convicted of
serious misdeeds are three times as likely to win parliamentary
elections as those who have not. In “When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle
in Indian Politics” Milan Vaishnav of the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace meticulously tracks the remarkable political
success of India’s accused murderers, blackmailers, thieves and
kidnappers. Having been a symptom of India’s dysfunctional politics,
the felons are metastasising into its cause.

Sadly, this is not a book about some small, shady corner of Indian
politics: 34% of the members of parliament (MPs) in the Lok Sabha
(lower house) have criminal charges filed against them; and the figure
is rising (see chart). Some of the raps are peccadillos, such as
rioting or unlawful assembly—par for the course in India’s raucous
local politics. But over a fifth of MPs are in the dock for serious
crimes, often facing reams of charges for anything from theft to
intimidation and worse. (Because the Indian judicial system has a
backlog of 31m cases, even serious crimes can take a decade or more to
try, so few politicians have been convicted.) One can walk just about
the whole way from Mumbai to Kolkata without stepping foot outside a
constituency whose MP isn’t facing a charge.

Mr Vaishnav dissects both the reasons why the goons want to get
elected and why the electorate seems to be so fond of them. Their
desire for office is relatively new. After independence in 1947 thugs
used to bribe politicians to stay out of trouble and to secure
lucrative state concessions such as mining rights. It helped that
candidates from the dominant Congress party were sure to win a seat
and then stay there. From the 1980s, as Congress started to fade as a
political force, bribing its local representative became less of a
sure thing for local crooks. So in the same way that a carmaker might
start manufacturing its own tyres if it finds that outside suppliers
are unreliable, Mr Vaishnav argues that the dons promoted themselves
into holding office, thus providing their own political cover.

What is more surprising is that the supply of willing
criminals-cum-politicians was met with eager demand from voters. Over
the past three general elections, a candidate with a rap sheet of
serious charges has had an 18% chance of winning his or her race,
compared with 6% for a “clean” rival. Mr Vaishnav dispels the
conventional wisdom that crooks win because they can get voters to
focus on caste or some other sectarian allegiance, thus overlooking
their criminality. If anything, the more serious the charge, the
bigger the electoral boost, as politicians well know.

As so often happens in India, poverty plays a part. India is almost
unique in having adopted universal suffrage while it was still very
poor. The upshot has been that underdeveloped institutions fail to
deliver what citizens vote for. Getting the state to perform its most
basic functions—building a school, disbursing a subsidy, repaving a
road—is a job that can require banging a few heads together. Sometimes
literally. Who better to represent needy constituents in these tricky
situations than someone who “knows how to get things done”? If the
system doesn’t work for you, a thuggish MP can be a powerful ally.

Political parties, along with woefully inadequate campaign-finance
rules, have helped the rise of the thug-candidate. Campaigns are
hugely expensive. Voters need to be wooed with goodies—anything from
hooch to jewels, bikes, bricks and straight-up cash will do. Criminals
fill party coffers rather than drain them, and so are tolerated.

“When Crime Pays” can be grimly amusing. In 2008 government whips
desperate to avoid parliamentary defeat sprung six MPs out of prison
for a few days to get them to cast their votes, never mind the 100-odd
cases of kidnapping, arson, murder and so on that the MPs faced
between them. Some of the gangster-statesmen are straight out of
Bollywood films. A fan of a local politician at one point explains
that his man “is not a murderer. He merely manages murder.” Spare a
thought for the libel lawyers at Yale University Press, Mr Vaishnav’s
brave publisher.

If his book has a defect, it is that the author seeks only to answer
the questions for which he has data. This academic diligence is
laudable, but it narrows the scope of his survey to just one corner of
India’s political moral depths: there is precious little about
corruption in office, for example, beyond pointing out that MPs leave
office vastly richer than when they came in. Perhaps inevitably in a
case where the problems are so deeply entrenched, the book offers few
solutions.

But Mr Vaishnav does spell out the perils of India’s elevation of
lawbreakers to lawmakers. Constituencies represented by crooks suffer
economically. A bigger cost is in the legitimacy of the public sphere
as a whole when even MPs can flout the rule of law so brazenly. The
prime minister, Narendra Modi, has pledged to clean up the system, for
example by recently scrapping large-denomination bank notes, which he
thinks contribute to corruption. One presumes that the 13 alleged
lawbreaking MPs he appointed to his first cabinet (eight of them
facing serious criminal charges) all supported the move.

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Disability and the media edited by Andrew Crisell

Disability and the Media forms part of the ‘Key Concerns in Media Studies’ series edited by Andrew Crisell and is aimed primarily at students and teachers of the media, although it will also have appeal to academic readers and disability activists and organizations. The authors were aiming to fill a gap for a general textbook on disability and the media by way of introduction to significant theories and concepts. They certainly cover much ground in a short volume and offer tantalizing glimpses into the power and reach of the media and its inevitable shortcomings. The book covers definitions of disability as well as some understandings of disability theory, and addresses access, participation, representation, production and consumption using a wealth of relevant and recent examples.

The initial chapters of this book explore definitions of disability and challenge the reader to interrogate the assumptions of commonly  used classifications and to explore the more nuanced meanings of what disability means. A case study of Miley Cyrus ‘twerking with dwarves’
(13) is used to illustrate a range of responses to the representation of disability in the media. Chapter Two offers a brief overview of disability studies, and both the medical and social models are referenced as a way to explore the social and cultural underpinnings of disability. Seminal texts by Zola (1989), Barnes (1992) and Watson, Roulstone, and Thomas (2012) are cited as central to these debates and worthy of further study for those who want to deepen their understanding. Interestingly, this chapter does manage to take us beyond the binaries of the medical and social models, of positive and stereotyped representations into cultural disability studies and the ways in which culture and language can both perpetuate the ‘otherness’ of (dis)ability as well as offering sites of empowerment.
Chapter Three looks at the ways in which the media and disability relate to each other. The initial example of the film The King’s Speech illustrates the power of the media to orchestrate conformity to the medium – to moderate a stutter – in order for the voice to ‘fit’ the conventions of radio. Ellis and Goggin go on to argue that the rapid development of the media and digital media has brought new challenges to some groups in the way that radio brought exclusion for deaf people and television brought challenges for the blind. The concept of access to, and participation in, the media are further explored through the advent of audio description to enable greater access to television for blind or visually impaired people.

A case study of the representation of disability in the news is offered in Chapter Four by considering the different ‘frames’ employed by news producers to detail the content of a news story, often portraying disabled people as deviant, disadvantaged or dependent. Ellis and Goggin also identify more progressive approaches such as the cultural pluralist model that allow for more positive framings, albeit still through the anchoring of certain meanings. The case study of the London Paralympics is helpful here in illustrating both a welcome focus on disabled lives and achievements, and a less welcome dominant discourse of the ‘supercrip’ model of beating the odds (although the
under-representation of athletes with learning disabilities is not acknowledged here). The rarity of incidental characters played by disabled actors is brought to our attention by the example of Breaking Bad, which is singled out for breaking ground as the character’s disability becomes less salient than the character himself in the cult television series. A less progressive example is given in the television series Glee, in which a non-disabled actor plays a character in a wheelchair dreaming of a cure. However, signs of progress and change are identified in comedy series such as My Gimpy Life and The Last Leg where disability culture is emerging and re-appropriating power by owning the jokes about disability.

Ellis and Goggin finally turn towards media ownership and the means of production as a less researched area where disabled people are completely under-represented. They argue that without the pervasive employment of disabled people, representations of disability are likely to be narrow, little understood and marginalized in mainstream media. While the industry is extremely competitive, relying heavily on short-term, temporary or freelance contracts, there have been some recent developments in areas such as community television, radio and new media which are helping to pave the way for people to develop skills and move into more mainstream media positions. The
democratization seen through the proliferation of social media such as blogging, tweeting and forum discussions by disabled people is challenging stereotypes and making previously unrepresented voices more frequently heard. In the conclusion to the book, the authors coherently summarize their arguments and identify challenges to disability and the media in relation to accessibility, representation, consumption, production and employment.

While Disability and the Media tries to be global in scope, it perhaps falls short in trying to do too much. The chapter on television, notably one of the shortest, can only scratch the surface of the images and programming experienced there. Advertising is not even attempted. A rich array of examples is identified for discussion but the representation of those with intellectual disabilities is explored less exhaustively. Ellis and Goggin demonstrate how far the media still has to go in relation to disability and that both the news and popular television offer very limited narratives and frames through which we come to understand versions of disability. The frustration that the authors feel is palpable as they surmise that the media have been ‘spectacularly crap’ (117; original emphasis) in their slowness to respond to the employment, representation, participation and consumption of disabled people. I would readily recommend Disability and the Media as an excellent introduction to some of the key issues in disability and the media for those seeking to join the debate.
Jacqui Shepherd School of Education and Social Work, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK

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Book Review: India Exclusion Report 2015 by Centre for Equity Studies; New Delhi: Yoda Press, 2015

Uncovering exclusion in India is akin to the child shouting out the visible truth. Exclusion and discrimination in India is as old as the country’s history. It is a lived reality as much as it is part of our history; stratification and dominance run along the axes of gender, caste, race, ethnicity and class. The sheer adaptability of the process of exclusion in Indian society is what makes contemporary studies of it relevant. Does the process display an interlocked nature of inequalities along the axes just mentioned above—they do. What changes are the forms, the overlaps, and the mutually reinforcing mechanisms and this report presents formidable evidence of the same.

The roots of such exclusion in India date back to the premodern and far outdate the idea of a state, at least, the modern idea of the European state as a democracy and as a welfare provider, among other things. This distinction is important because the rise of the contemporary study of social exclusion is traced to the shortcomings of the welfare state in France in the 1960s.

Rene Lenoir,1 then a minister in the left-leaning Chirac government had come up with the identification of the excluded (Les Exclus: Un Francais sur dix, 1974—The Excluded: One French Out of Ten) in France. Lenoir identified a 10th of the French population as the excluded, based on socio-economic conditions. Lenoir’s list included people who were mentally and physically handicapped, suicidal people, aged invalids, abused children, substance abusers, delinquents, single parents, multi-problem households, marginal, asocial persons and other social “misfits.” The list can be read as one of people who were left out of the productivity calculus of a capitalist economy with a multiparty democracy; a sort of admission that things were not well in the post-war period of Western capitalism (also referred to by some scholars as the golden age of capitalism), and even more so with the functioning of the welfare state.

The departure point of social exclusion was also partly to do with the French intellectual dissatisfaction with the British concept of poverty.2 Thus, the term exclusion could signify multiple meanings and hence it becomes important to define it precisely for a coherent usage. Otherwise, Oyen’s (1997: 63) scathing observation on new research in this field becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, that is, new entrants are seen as proceeding to “pick up the concept and are now running all over the place arranging seminars and conferences to find a researchable content in an umbrella concept for which there is limited theoretical underpinning.”

The report under review builds its foundation on the idea of public goods and exclusion—it proceeds to ask “who, if anyone, is excluded—or adversely included—from equitable access to public goods, why and by what processes is such exclusion or adverse inclusion accomplished, and what can be done to change this to a more just and equitable set of outcomes?” (p 1). It is however this foundational aspect, which suffers from certain shortcomings, and I address these in the next
section. The report is broadly divided into four sections: Section 1 deals with the conceptual issues of defining exclusion and a deft overview of the entire report; Section 2 deals with inequitable access to public goods; Section 3 is a fascinating analysis of taxation through the lens of exclusion; and Section 4 maps some of the highly
disadvantaged communities and their disparate access to public goods. One of the most interesting features of this report is the acknowledgement of collaborative efforts, and the result of such cooperative research is there for all to see. Each chapter is well researched and extensively referenced providing a wealth of information for anyone analysing certain aspects of discrimination and social exclusion in India.

Conceptual Overview

Mander offers an exhaustive explanation on how exclusion is to be understood followed by an excellent overview of the report. I concentrate only on the conceptual overview. The first step the author employs is to borrow the specific notion of the public good and use it to generally define exclusion. This is not easy, as the economist’s (even the neoclassical) definition of public goods is quite precise and narrow, that is, a public good is one which is non-excludable and
non-rivalrous in consumption. For example, the air we breathe, or the street lights in our localities.

Employing this specific definition of the public good which employs exclusion, or more precisely non-exclusion, as a defining feature to conceptualise exclusion runs the risk of becoming a tautology. Moreover, it might not fit the broad spectrum of issues that needs to be covered in a report such as this, so the author takes the next step which is to differentiate from the economistic definition and to fall back on the greats (Rawls, Nussbaum), that is, the “tradition of social and political philosophy;” to define public goods which then includes “goods, services, attainments, capabilities, functionings and freedoms—individual and collective—that are essential for a human being to live with human dignity” (emphasis mine). These leads to more tautologies.

Mander further argues that it is not the intrinsic “publicness” of the good itself but something that is determined by the “political community at a particular point of time.” To be fair, the author is well aware about the obvious problem of unequal citizenship and the contested terrain of what is the political community and who then is a member of the “public.” So he then goes on to derive the “definition of public goods from the premise of equal human dignity of human beings,” but by this time he is probably aware that this definition will become an easy prey for critics, because in his own words it runs the “risk of turning into a tautology.”

As a way out of the tautological roller coaster, he speaks about the unshakable belief the authors commonly share about “human-ness.” The last line of defence is to appeal to an overlap with other “sibling ideas” such as human rights, human development and human security. This makes the definition suffer from the problem of additivity—one can bunch as many items together to make a definition and in the process it ceases to be a definition.

Here too, he employs scholars such as Gasper, Mahbub ul Haq and Amartya Sen (who were articulating very specific concepts from rights to human development) to the defence of what by now seems to be a wish list rather than a conceptual definition of exclusion. In fact, Mander himself says so explicitly that “this list will grow” (p 3). One final word about the “public” in the Indian context and the perils of ignoring a theorist of Ambedkar’s calibre, specifically when one is trying to conceptualise exclusion is to reiterate what Ambedkar said not too long ago: “Caste has killed public spirit. Caste has destroyed the sense of public charity. Caste has made public opinion impossible. A Hindu’s public is his caste” (1936). So which public is Mander referring to?

The tautologies and additivities aside, the rest of the report bears testimony to an impressive level of research and scholarship.

Inequitable Access

There are three interrelated chapters in this section. The first on urban healthcare and exclusion by Nambiar et al, the second on urban water supply and sanitation by Anand et al, and the third on women’s exclusion from just conditions of work by Lahiri et al.

Chapter 1 provocatively titled “Who Cares?” brings out the multifaceted exclusions and barriers that the urban poor face in accessing healthcare. The tragedy of urban areas with a relative abundance of services, still inaccessible to the urban poor is brought out quite poignantly—but the question remains, who cares?

The trade-off is quite stark—more urbanisation does not necessarily translate to better healthcare facilities for the poor as it does for the non-poor in urban areas. In fact for the urban poor, the overlap of vulnerabilities may be exacerbated along other axes of exclusion like that of being a single woman or denial of access for women to just conditions of work, or special health exclusions of other major social groups, such as Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims or the particular vulnerabilities faced by the differently abled and homeless children. The chapter also highlights the stigma of homelessness or being a sex worker and how healthcare eludes these sections. It highlights the multiple morbidities suffered by the urban poor and links it to the denial of access to decent work for the same population.

Chapter 2 on urban water and sanitation points to the persistence of similar disparities as with healthcare. The fact that caste/tribe status has a direct link with access to drinking water is brought out—only 55% of Dalit and 57% of Adivasi households have drinking water within premises (the national average being 71%), similarly almost double the number of Dalits and Adivasis defecate in the open  as compared to the national average of 12%. Much of the same is also true for female headed households. The chapter nuances our easy understanding of exclusion by pointing out that there is no significant difference for location and exclusivity of water sources across religious groups unlike that which exists for the axes of caste and gender. The chapter brings to the fore multiple exclusions faced by vulnerable groups as with urban health and also to class and regional biases in terms of disparities.

Chapter 3 looks into the persistence of the most stubborn form of discrimination—the multiple burdens instituted by patriarchies for women workers. The underlying logic being that of undervaluing work done by women, and also to look into the processes which multiply such burdens for women across caste, class, religion and ethnic identities. nThe chapter focuses on the dialectical burden of being a woman under capitalism—on the one hand being defined in terms of a propertied notion that impinges on women’s freedom, exemplified by the vulnerability of singleness that has to be borne by some women and the paradoxical fact on the other, that this very singleness unsettles patriarchies as these women are outside the perimeter of their control.

Tax Regimes and Exclusion

This section is an analysis of a tax system for inclusive development titled “Some Aspects of Tax Incidence and Tax Mobilisation in India” by Malhotra and Kundu. The entire chapter is premised on the fact that tax is a burden for an individual (p 149), but the state has to rely on such revenue generation techniques (using direct as well as indirect taxes) to provision public goods.

The chapter effectively raises two primary issues, that is, whether India has been mobilising tax revenue in accordance to its developmental stature and whether India’s tax strategy exacerbates poverty and inequality.

The explanation requires a two-step process, first the authors establish that India has a low direct tax collection due to low declaration of income, non-collection of data, etc, which easily corroborates the oft-repeated observation of other scholars regarding “tax avoidance behaviour of Indians” (p 156). So the authors prove conclusively that the coverage of direct tax regime in India is incommensurate to the growing size of its economy.

Second, is the overt reliance on indirect taxes, which according to the authors are regressive since they fail to distinguish between a poor and non-poor tax payer. The authors provide empirical evidence that “significant proportions of the population are being pushed into poverty” because of the burden they face because of inflated consumption expenditure due to indirect taxation on such items. The authors give an interesting example by way of explanation, of no tuition fees to be paid by households for elementary education in public schools, and in some states, for the school education of girl students. There is, however, a cost to be borne by each household because they have to purchase pens, pencils uniforms, paper, etc—all these items come under the indirect tax regime. Hence, the government’s taxation policy on these goods could push a household into poverty in the process of providing “free” education to their children.

Overall, in terms of methodology, the use of income data is best for the kind of analysis the authors deploy, but they are forced (since the national statistical systems do not collect direct income data of households) to use a proxy—consumption data—which itself suffers from underreporting of inequality. The authors use the Tendulkar poverty line, which has been criticised for underreporting poverty.

Notwithstanding the methodological challenges (mainly leading to under calculation of the magnitude of poverty and inequality produced by such a tax regime), the authors manage to drive home the point about the abysmally low tax-gross domestic product ratio in India, the progressive but limited impact of direct taxes and the regressive nature of indirect taxes.

Thereby, the authors ask the important question of inclusive development and the tax burden. What might also be important is to read this in tandem with the fact that there are tax concessions for the corporates and which could very well be placed as evidence of a certain class bias of Indian democracy, since democratic governments do decide on tax rates! We shall come back to the inclusive nature of such a state in our conclusion.

Purchase Cialis Soft cheap Highly Excluded Groups cheap Cialis Soft US

The next section looks at five of the highly excluded groups in India: Gandhi et al on single women; Hasan on the survivors of communal violence; Barbora et al on the survivors of ethnic conflicts; Premchander et al on the devadasis and John et al on the Jarawas of the Andamans.

Chapter 1 in this section deals with a diverse category—“single women”—which includes widows, divorced, abandoned or separated women, and never married women, all held together by the common kernel of patriarchal propertied notion of women. The agency that is imputed to such women in this chapter is a result of the fact that this is a “troubling” category since they “survive independent of male control.”

The chapter looks at how these exclusions are embedded and continue to reflect in design and implementation of state policy—implicitly in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, National Family Benefit Scheme, Short Stay Homes, Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme, Widow Pension, Targeted Public Distribution System, Integrated Child Development Services—and explicitly in the inheritance, divorce, and maintenance laws. The reduced priorities for women in the budgets and the multiple barriers faced by such women in male led panchayats and jamaats in different states are also mentioned.

Curiously though, a crucial theoretical understanding that the authors miss here is the concept of “surplus woman” as enunciated by Ambedkar (1916) in “Castes in India” where he establishes why society is troubled by the surplus woman as she threatens the very existence of the system of control.

The next chapter presents the actual working of the process of communal violence in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts in western Uttar Pradesh in September 2013. Based on meticulous participatory research, Hassan points out that this violence led to 52 deaths and the displacement of around 50,000 people (mostly poor Muslims) from 74 villages and shows how communities surviving the violence in Muzaffarnagar have been the subject of discriminatory treatment due to the institutional bias of the state.

The resultant effect of such violence is the mass scale displacement that follows (in this case, the author claims that the figure could be as high as 50,000) and could result in a process of ghettoisation that evolves with the rehabilitation and resettlement efforts. There are similar lessons to be learnt from Jaffrelot’s3 brilliant work on the planned pogrom of the riots in Ahmedabad and the subsequent ghettoisation of Muslims who were resettled in the outskirts of Juhapura.

Barbora et al map the processes of exclusion faced by ethnic communities due to recurring cycles of mass violence in the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) region of Assam, since 1990s. Th authors extensively trace the roots of such conflicts between the indigenous Bodos and the two set of settlers—first, the descendants of indentured labourers brought to the tea gardens by the colonial rulers from among the tribes of the Central forest region of India in the mid-19th century and the second, the entry of Bengali migrants (mainly Muslims), from what is now Bangladesh, for settled agriculture since the early 20th century.

The authors conclusively establish a fourth mode of exclusion—territorial—which plays a crucial role in the violence and delineates the exclusions faced due to insecurity, from relief and rehabilitation and exclusions from land and livelihood.

The following chapter is on one of the multiple vulnerabilities faced by devadasis and the inextricable link to the modes of subjugation perpetrated by the caste system. The last chapter is a “classic” case of adverse inclusion of the Jarawa tribe (or the Ang as they describe themselves) into the developmental concerns of the Indian state. This chapter clearly lays out the perils of such paternalistic policies of inclusion by taking the case of the Jarawas and points out to the most dangerous outcome of adverse inclusion, that is, the extinction of the particular group itself.

Pathways of Inclusion and the Question of Accountability

Each of the chapters recommends, often in great detail, the various pathways of inclusion that the Indian state can follow to include the excluded. It is a menu of choices for the Indian state, should it wish to follow.

For lack of space, I am not discussing the various pathways which could lead to inclusion; the interested reader is encouraged to look at the recommendations painstakingly put together by the researchers. I wish to bring to light one particularly troubling aspect of this otherwise progressive report: the higher moral claim of accountability which the chief architect of the report refers to in his overview.

It is quite clear that the nature of the democratic Indian state is producing such exclusions and it is to be held accountable. But what about the concrete role played by the unaccountable and unconstitutional bodies like the (erstwhile) Planning Commission, NITI Aayog, National Advisory Councils or Marg Darshak Mandals? It is after all these councils of the wise that coin the slogans of inclusion and harmony and push for policies that often paper over the exclusions perpetrated by the very government they advise.

One wonders if the diverse contributors to this report are bound by a kernel of shared normative and political convictions related to ideas of accountability and advice to the democratic Indian state. This brings us back to the fable regarding the emperor and his new cloth—it was after all the council of wise men who corroborated that the cloth the king was wearing in the fable was such fine muslin that nobody could see it. Much like the muslin of inclusion—sometimes all it takes is a child to pierce through the veneer.

Notes

1 See Sen (2000) for a historical trace of the coming into being of this concept in academia in the last few decades. According to Omtzigt (2009), the term was first used by the French economist, Pierre Massæcopy; in his report titled Les dividendes du progress (The Dividends of Progress) in 1964 and in 1965 by another French commentator, Jean Klanfer, who had published a book titled L’Exclusion sociale: Étude de la marginalitæcopy; dans les sociæcopy;tæcopy;s occidentals (Social Exclusion: The Study of Marginality in Western Societies).

2 See Silver (1994) and Arjan de Haan (2011) for a succinct analysis of this dissatisfaction.

3 See Jaffrelot and Gayer (2012) for details of such processes of marginalisation and ghettoisation.

References

 

Ambedkar, B R (1916): “Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis andDevelopment,” Indian Antiquary, Vol 41.

— (1936): “Undelivered Address to the Annual Conference of the Jat-Pat-Todak Mandal of Lahore, Section XIII,” Selected Works of B R Ambedkar, http://drambedkarbooks.wordpress.com, accessed on 16 October2016.

de Haan, A (2011): “Rescuing Exclusion from the Poverty Debate: Group Disparities and Social Transformation in India,” Working Paper No 517, International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague.

Jaffrelot, C and L Gayer (eds) (2012): Muslims in Indian Cities: Trajectories of Marginalization, India: Harper Collin.

Omtzigt, D J (2009): “Survey on Social inclusion: Theory and Policy,” Report Working Paper, Oxford Institute for Global Economic Development, Oxford University.

Oyen, E (1997): “The Contradictory Concepts of Social Exclusion and Social Inclusion,” Social Exclusion and Anti-Poverty Policy, Charles Gore and Jose B Figueiredo (eds), International Institute of Labour
Studies, Geneva.

Silver, H (1994): “Social Exclusion and Social Solidarity: Three Paradigms,” International Labour Review, Vol 133, Nos 5–6, pp 531–78.

Sen, A (2000): “Social Exclusion: Concept, Application and Scrutiny,” Social Development Papers No 1, Office of the Environment and Social Development, Asian Development Bank.

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Adivasis of Bastar –Leftovers of the Tribal India Culture.

Woodsmoke and Leaf Cups: Autobiographical Footnotes to the Anthropology of the Durwa by Madhu Ramnath; Delhi: Harper Litmis, 2015; pp 324, ₹399.

Sarkar teen parkar—adei thindana, narpitana, auru jiyam noipitana (The three qualities of government—to beg, to terrify, and to make the heart ache)  This is the essence of a reverse anthropology—an Adivasi view of the mainstream, literate world and its power structures—of how a tribal people in south Chhattisgarh perceive the behaviour of government people and their system, in their own language, Durwa—a language we have probably never heard of. As such, these words contain the essence of the hellish situation that has developed in the region during the last few years. Many books have been written about the civil war situation in Bastar. Many have analysed the Maoist conflict and the Maoist system of governance. Some are based on interviews and interactions with Maoists. This book goes deeper, in the sense that it presents us with the cultural system that was there before Maoists came on the scene, and the interactions with forest guards and other small-time exploiters who have long plagued Adivasi villagers. Presented not academically, journalistically, or governmentally, but in an Adivasi idiom of storytelling and anecdotes, spiced with a wild, vivid sense of humour.

Beating Heart of Tribal India
Over the last few years, people have viewed Bast—meaning the old district of Bastar that equals south Chhattisgarh, since what was Bastar has been increasingly subdivided into an ever-rising number of new districts (presently seve—through the lens of appalling human rights abuses, as epicentre of India’s Maoist conflict. People who have known Bastar longer feel intense anguish about the violent tragedy engulfing a region that used to be the beating heart of tribal India. Adivasi cultures existed here with maximum confidence and least disturbance until 2005, when that slippery entity SalwaJudum burst onto the scene. Reviewing this extraordinary book properly would have to begin with an aside on terminology, to wake us up to some fundamental questions. What is Bastar? What was Bastar? What has happened to the extraordinary wild forestland that was Bastar? This is a landscape that speaks, or spoke, Gondi, Durwa, and other ancient languages that most of us in cities are quite ignorant of. Extremely beautiful, expressive languages, that have a very different form “modern” languages such as Hindi and English, which formed through military campaigns of conquest across cultures. Which is a significant connection? There is a definite continuity between the military forces that rampaged to and fro between Hindustan and Afghanistan, where Hindustani formed as a language of commerce and command, and the camps of security forces proliferating across Bastar, where shouted commands mix Hindi, English, Halbi and Gondi, for those enlisted Adivasis who serve in the Koya commandos and other such units.

Anthropology of Power Abuse

This is a book of “deep anthropology,” giving what anthropology promises yet rarely delivers. It is an in-depth analysis of a tribal culture, and the complex cultural interactions through which outsiders can begin to understand such a culture—a tribal people whose name we have probably never even heard of, who live across the border between Sukma district of Chhattisgarh and Malkangiri district of Odisha—Odisha’s most Maoist-affected district and south-westernmost toe, where it dips down to meet the Godavari. Along the way, this is also an anthropology of ourselves, and of how “we,” the modern world of “educated people” are impinging on this culture that lived in Bastar. We may know all about the history of Naxalites and the Maoist war against the state. But this is the first book that shows the conflict through the eyes of the Adivasis it affects most deeply, and quite rightly, the conflict arises tangentially. What most prominent are the daily, weekly interactions and depredations of government officials, especially forest guards. Through accounts of these interactions, this book is also an anthropology of power and the details of the exercise of power.If the world of learning and academia operated as it should, this book should transform ways of writing and thinking about India’s tribal people that colonial anthropology moulded into a set formula consisting almost entirely of negative stereotypes—a cultural racism and dehumanising objectification that remains largely unchallenged by intellectuals, even from the left. Yet Woodsmoke and Leaf Cups is written with deceptive, disarming simplicity, unfolding the social structure through anecdotes, evoked through the cheeky subtitle Autobiographical Footnotes to the Anthropology of a tribe that most people have never heard of.

Telltale Details

Among many levels to this work, one is that of storytelling at its best—telling the story of tribal people’s daily life, and the interferences and abuses of power that come from government officials, politicians and other exploiters and manipulators of every hue. Language is central to this work, as well as this wild, Adivasi sense of humour, that mainstream anthropology hardly ever evokes—perception of the crazy contradictions at the core of the destruction called development, brought out through fascinating, telltale details, without the least bit of romanticisation. The violent side of tribal life is presented unsentimentally, from internal conflicts to the hunts and killing of animals that forms a thread through Adivasi culture. The Department of Mysteries,” whose lower officials swagger over Adivasi landscapes like small kings, is the forest department. For example, “Moya was carrying his bow and arrows, considered a man’s shringar, as decoration and for protection. On the way, he was stopped by the director of the National Park, and a few nakadars …”. Moya is taken to jail and a court case inititiated, since hunting is forbidden in the park. But who made this so? Who made the forest
department? How can anyone ban hunting when it is an intrinsic part of this culture since time immemorial? All too easily, in the embedded power structure that has grown up in Bastar! Another department with similar powers is the “rimni department” (revenue), and it often happens that a man will come to a village threatening people with jail and fines for cultivating “government land,” and then pretend to respond to entreaties, taking money to enter names in a book to rectify people’s land entitlement (supposedly!), for a few hundreds rupees only. Often these men are total imposters. Ramnath has fun with one such. “The rimni ‘official’ would get a meal of chicken, toddy to wash it down and hot water to bathe. The bathing was always a spectacle; most of these specimens who came were from Cuttack district, and bathed noisily in public, soaping themselves all over, including their hair, gargling and spluttering all the while, shouting orders to the children to pass the soap or fetch more water” . On this occasion Ramnath intervenes, and the whole village has some fun with this particular specimen.

Question of Land

<>Land is a massive question, and the book bears witness to rarely articulated yet vital aspect of the vast stuggles over land and territory that haunt tribal areas. For one thing, the book shows how the traditional hunt territories of the clans that make up a village constitute the actual, culturally recognised territory of a village that goes far deeper than any written record of ownership. As Marx and Engels recognised, what differentiates tribal from “modern” societies most radically is the prior importance of communal land over any form of private property. These societies are communist in essence, in their egalitarian norms of behaviour as well their forms of ownership and exchange. Many factors have combined to disturb this. For a start, other tribal groups come in who have been displaced and transitioned to a stage where their instinct is to clear forest as soon as they can lay claim to it, and the Durwas have suffered such incursions; where the leaders of incoming groups befriended up and coming Durwa youth; got them to
allow the new groups to settle and take over hunting territories; cleared forest, questioning the authority of Durwa elders, who had managed these tracts of forest sustainably as hunting territories “since time began.” And when “communist” politicians hold meetings nearby, sending out orders for people to attend rallies, and give out a message that all such land claims will be backdated to allow cleared forestland to be legitimised, and more forestlands to be taken over and cleared in this way, no force seems able to prevent this destruction. This story is told through many examples and levels, adding immensely significant detail to one’s deeper understanding of the forces at play. The backdrop of the Maoist conflict is not tackled explicitly, though Durwas live right in the heart of the civil war engulfing the region. To understand what has happened and what is really happening right now in this area, it is not enough to know the history of the Maoists and the state’s war against them. The norms of daily life, and the norms of interaction with government officials and other exploiters that embedded power abuse over generations need to be understood too, as village people have experienced and understood them, with immense wit and discernment, for a long time.

Journey into Tribal Culture

In terms of “anthropology,” the book offers what mainstream anthropology hardly ever gives us, for the simple reason that anthropologists’ notion of “data” is so superficial, and draws so little from indigenous perceptions. In this case, the author has immersed himself in adapting to life in a tribal culture for 30 years. For example, the book makes clear—supporting the ethnographic tradition in this—that in Durwa culture, there are two kinds of death—“good death” and “bad death” according to the written ethographic tradition! Of course, Durwas express this a lot more subtly and vividly: “There are only two kinds of death: chatta chayarana and bat-thel chayarana, dying on the mat, indoors, and dying outdoors …” These kinds of death are illustrated, with humour and compassion, through the passing-on of old acquaintances, in their journey into the great unknown. Along the way, and throughout the book, we get many examples of spirit possession—a fascinating subject. For the best part of 1,500 years any form of shamanic possession was outlawed as witchcraft by Christian institutions in Europe, including the inquisition—the ultimate censor! Between the years from 1300 to 1800 many thousands of people, especially women, were burnt at the stake as witches. As a result, the colourful forms of social behaviour, songs, dialogies and much more that take place during spirit possession represent the ultimate “banned knowledge”—the antithesis of moden, academically “legitimate” knowledge. Spirit possession is rarely described or analysed by anthropologists, largely because it demands huge linguistic skill as well as social familiarity with participants before one has any chance to even begin to understand what on earth is happening, let alone interpret it. Here too, the drama of spirit possession is rarely without huge humour, that lightens the atmosphere in the face of the worst misfortune,
including disease and death. This is a book highly recommended for anyone who wants to journey into a deeper understanding of the tribal cultures that currently face genocide in central India.

 

 

 

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book review: ‘Daughters of Parvati: Women and Madness in Contemporary India’

Sarah Pinto.  Daughters of Parvati: Women and Madness in Contemporary India.  Contemporary Ethnography Series. Philadelphia  University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014.  296 pp.  $59.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8122-4583-7. Reviewed by Esme Cleall (University of Sheffield) Published on H-Disability (October, 2016) Commissioned by Iain C. Hutchison

This is a powerful and engaging ethnography of women and mental  health in contemporary India. In pursuing a gendered reading of psychiatry, Pinto deftly explores what effect “particular considerations,” taking the perspective of women, have on our understandings of medical practice (p. 4). It is both a study of the social life of medicine, exploring the effects of psychiatry on the lives it touches, and an exploration of love, marriage, and the family, as well as of the dissolution of these relationships. In calling her book _Daughters of Parvati_ Pinto evokes the goddess for her “capacity to fall to pieces,” her ability to “become–wildly—one thing and then another” while wreaking “havoc with cosmos-rattling love” (p. 37). That she does these things in her capacity as a wife, lover, or mother further makes Parvati a “touchstone” for Pinto, as she explores the messiness of intimacy and its powerful effects on the psyche and the social (p. 37).

_Daughters of Parvati_ is a book rich in stories. The opening chapter tells the life history of Ammi, who, having been in, the Agra Mental Hospital for twenty-seven years, is now being “rehabilitated” with her son and daughter-in-law. Lata, another example, is a young woman detained in the Nerhu Government Hospital under court order to ascertain her state of mind given that she had married a man twenty years her senior, a servant in her parents’ house. The battle as to whether or not her sexuality should be pathologized and her “illness,” which defies diagnosis and definition, are not only used to show the intangibility of medical diagnosis but also to illustrate her powerful personality. As Lata insists on the validity of her sexual relationships with her husband and with his “friend,” and her desire to marry both, Pinto points to the politics of medical diagnosis, asking, “what _would _be a feminist approach here?” (p. 219). Sanjana, who lives in a smaller institution, is another striking character. Pinto preserves this private establishment’s identity by giving it the pseudonym of “Moksha,” the name of a deity that represents liberation but also death (and rebirth). Sanjana is desperate to “get out” of Moksha, but the dates she is given for her release are constantly being deferred. Pinto’s own life is woven throughout such narratives in the book. The presence of her daughter Eve and Pinto’s separation from Eve’s father are movingly interlinked with the narratives of her characters, speaking to Pinto’s positionality and her entanglement with the ideas of separation, longing, and dissolution that color her work.

Although some of Pinto’s case studies, notably Ammi, now live outsidea psychiatric setting, the book is mainly focused on institutional care. The institution that Pinto names Moksha is a bleak, lonely place where patients are often “dumped women” abandoned by families,lost in the throes of divorce and separation, and where the resemblance between the institution and the asylums, supposedly of old, is palpable. The Nehru Government Hospital meanwhile is a busy, bustling, and bureaucratic environment where most patients are outpatients, while those who reside within the hospital are cared for by family, friends, and relatives. The ethics of institutional care, particularly a form of care where patients might be hit, forciblyrestrained, unwittingly medicated, or lied to about their treatmentand release dates, haunt the narratives.

Pinto sensitively explores the complexities of the ethical questions surrounding her own research as well as the treatment that the patients receive. The notion of “consent” is a particularly difficult one in the contexts in which Pinto works. What does it mean to secure the consent of a person deep in psychosis? Is limiting the reproduction of such a patient’s words patronizing, cordoning off forms of self-knowledge, expression, and agency? Or is it vital to ensuring that consent is fully respected? What about “truths” that fold, unravel, and refold? What about patients who, by their very presence in the psychiatric institution, had formally agreed to any research, which the institution might see fit to undertake? While this is an ethnography and work of anthropology rather than a history, there are elements of historical context to Pinto’s contemporary research from the discussion of Agra’s grim past (during one period, twenty-five of its thirty-nine inmates died), to the more recent moves toward deinstitutionalization. The discussion of the changing nature of “hysterical” and “dissociative” conditions and diagnoses will be particularly interesting and useful to historians of medicine and disability as well as to anthropologists. Pinto explores the way in which the ongoing use of the label “hysteria” is not, as might at first glance appear, a marker of India’s “backward” psychiatry practice. In using a label no longer current in the West, but which is highly complex, and whose history was made in India as well as in Europe, Pinto demonstrates how it continues to have a powerful if uneasy utility to doctors and to patients. This beautifully written book is a pleasure to read, the characters stay with the reader long after the book has been put down, and it exemplifies good research practice and self-reflexive authorship. It provides a critical study on gender and mental health in South Asia today. Citation: Esme Cleall. Review of Pinto, Sarah, _Daughters of Parvati: Women and Madness in Contemporary India_. H-Disability, H-NetReviews. October, 2016.

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Casteism in India, A New Book by Stephen Knapp

Casteism in India has gotten a lot of criticism, and rightly so. Many look at it as a means for the upper castes to live a privileged life while keeping all lower castes oppressed without the means for upgrading themselves. Present day casteism is based on the idea that whatever caste your father was, that will also be the caste of the sons and daughters, without any means to change it. But this is not what is actually prescribed in the Vedic or Hindu texts of old. This is what must be understood and corrected. So this book is a short study of what the Vedic texts actually say about what the Vedic social arrangement is really supposed to be and the purpose of it.

The real Vedic process of social organization is what is called varna and ashrama. It was meant to help everyone progress throughout life, to live happily in a career that suites the talents, interests, and intellectual level of the person, and to guide them toward attaining higher levels of consciousness, awareness and understanding. That is why any confusion about the difference between today’s caste system and the real Vedic varnashrama system must be cleared up.

This book goes into detail about,

* What is the real varnashrama system of social organization and how it works.

* How the present-day caste system got started.

* How we can correct this misunderstanding and be rid of the present-day caste system.

* Where the Vedic literature explains how the caste by birth system is unjust.

* The benefits of following the varnashrama system.

* How the Vedic varnashrama system of social arrangement was to help propel everyone to the spiritual domain.

* How an analysis of the modes of nature with which we associate can help determine what is our most natural varna or occupational class.

* How the varna system is a natural process of selecting one’s occupation and career by recognizing a person’s natural interests, talents, tendencies, proclivities, and intellectual capacity.

This is a process that is used by many schools and colleges today, but was started many years ago in the Vedic tradition.

This book will help show the difference between what has become the present caste system, and why it is unnecessary and even harmful to Hinduism and Indian society, and explain the value of the Vedic system of varna and ashrama.

CONTENTS

CHAPTER ONE:
THE PURPOSE OF THE VEDIC SYSTEM OF VARNASHRAMA
What Casteism is Today * What is the Original Vedic System Called Varnashrama * The Four Varnas are Here to Stay * The Earliest Reference to the Varnas * How the Present Casteism Developed * The Dangers of Casteism as we Find it Today * What We can do to Eliminate the Modern Caste System

CHAPTER TWO:
VEDIC LITERATURE SAYS CASTE BY BIRTH IS UNJUST
How do we Recognize One’s Varna * We are All Quite Alike * It is Only Our Actions and Qualifications That Differentiate Us * A Caste System Based on Birth is Unjust * The Damage of Unqualified Brahmanas * So Who is a Real Brahmana? * A Brahmana can Easily Fall Down, While a Shudra can Easily Move Forward * When a Brahmana Becomes Lower Than a Shudra * How Everyone Can Advance * Classifications Based on the Body are Completely False * One Misses the Goal of Life When Preoccupied by Caste * The Difference of Proper Consciousness and Intent, or Merely Going Through the Motions * Expected Characteristics and Actions of Each Person of the Four Varnas * In Conclusion

CHAPTER THREE:
DETERMINING OUR VARNA BY THE MODES OF NATURE (GUNAS) IN WHICH WE ARE SITUATED
What are the Modes of Nature * How the Modes of Nature Work * Action and Consciousness in Various Modes * Action and Work * Residence * Faith * Understanding * Knowledge * Sacrifices * Austerities * Charity * Foods * Happiness * Where the Modes Take Us * Becoming Free From the Modes

APPENDIX:
GOTRAS: A SIMPLE EXPLANATION

GLOSSARY

REFERENCES

INDEX

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ORDERING INFORMATION

This book is 100 pages, Paperback at $5.95, 5 1/2″ x 8 1/2″, ISBN-10: 1530963842, ISBN-13: 978-1530963843, Paperback $5.95.

AVAILABLE AS A PAPERBACK through Amazon.com at: http://www.amazon.com/Casteism-India-Perversion-Legitimate-Varnashrama/dp/1530963842/ref=sr_1_1_twi_pap_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1461118672&sr=8-1&keywords=casteism+in+INdia

AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE EBOOK for $2.99 at: http://www.amazon.com/Casteism-India-Perversion-Legitimate-Varnashrama-ebook/dp/B01DX284Y0/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1461118672&sr=8-1

AVAILABLE AS PAPERBACK AND KINDLE EBOOK in the local currencies through the following amazon outlets: USUKDEFRESITNLJPBRCAMXAUIN

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Book Review: Pyre,Author: Perumal Murugan

Book: Pyre
Author: Perumal Murugan
Translated from the Tamil by Aniruddhan Vasudevan
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
Pages: 270
Price: Rs 399


The prose is deceptively simple and sparse. And yet it has the effect of hitting you hard like the blazing sun, the parched land, the rock, and the thorny karuvelum shrubs. A perfect setting in the true Tamil literary tradition of the bards from Sangam period — it is the landscape that symbolises the nature of men.

Tamil writer Perumal Murugan, a poet and a scholar, knows how to handle masterful imagery and human emotions. Especially when he delves into the emotional space of his women characters, be it a coarse, unloving mother-in-law or the soft, sparrow-like, bewildered new bride.

Murugan’s Tamil novel Pookkuzi, translated into English (Pyre) by Aniruddhan Vasudevan, brings out the subtle nuances in an amazing, evocative style. It must have been a challenging job translating the Kongu rural dialect into English. Thankfully, Vasudevan does not slip into an idiomatic literal translation, which would have marred a supple narrative, while retaining the regional colour and the lilting tone of the original prose. It is a sensitive translation done with great care. There is not a single word that jars and the narrative is more tightly woven. (The original drags in the middle and is repetitive). One wonders why the translator’s name is not on the cover.

It is a haunting tale, of love and desperation; of societal prejudice that is potent enough to destroy ; of the fire of hatred that consumes the community; of caste pride and its resilient force that is felt to be life-affirming though there is nothing else to boast about; of innocent love that fails to understand the engulfing fire.

Pyre is the love story of Saroja and Kumaresan, who belong to different castes. Murugan is careful not to mention the specific castes to which they belong. Saroja is a city girl, a motherless child, reared fondly by her father and brother. Kumaresan, from a faraway village, goes to the city in search of a job and finds shelter in the building Saroja lives in. They fall in love. The love narrative that is woven in between the chapters is like a silent song.

They elope, get married with the help of a friend and Kumaresan takes her to his remote village. Family bonding is very important to him and he knows that the village community will not approve of the inter-caste marriage. But he believes that once his mother and the others have a look at the fair-skinned, pretty Saroja, everything would be fine.

He is, however, shocked, and Saroja is terrified when they come face to face with a mother and a family raging in fury at this breach of faith. It is no ordinary fury. The words spit like fire. The abuse showered with physical blows is dehumanising. Why did Kumaresan take her there? The story unfolds mostly through Saroja’s perspective. The scorching, vast expanses of arid land, the taunting language of women, and Marayi, the mother-in –law, who is in constant dialogue with goats and dogs and the sky, bewilders her. Marayi’s monologues are laments that she sings as dirges, as if her son were dead.

Is she real, wonders Saroja. She is frightened to the core. It is Saroja’s story; her struggle to cope with the surroundings that reject her. She, a dreamer, clings to every word of assurance from Kumaresan, believing a better day would dawn. Kumaresan is loving and kind but feels helpless at the unreasonableness of his people. “Is it a crime to marry the girl I love?” he asks his mother after days of silence. It angers her even more, a woman who was widowed at the age of 20 and had remained “impeccable” in her conduct.

Honour killings in Tamil Nadu, the land that saw a unique movement against caste hierarchy, have become more visible than before. By getting us close to the lives of Saroja and Kumaresan, to the land and language, of beliefs and prejudices, of hatred and cruelty, Murugan seems to attempt to shake us out of the numbness. He gives us a terrifying vision of intolerance. It will haunt the reader for a long time.

Vaasanthi is a Tamil writer

 

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Talk like a Parsi by Chintan Girish Modi

Did you know that a baira master is a casanova, tumboo ma saheb means that someone is pregnant, andsuhrah chhuh noh kato is a euphemism for impotence? The news of a person’s death is announced aswicket puree guyee , an expert in cock-and-bull tales is termed a fekology master , and a never-ending story is sarcastically called dastaan-e-dilrooba .

This is a tiny sampling from 1,058 phrases crowd-sourced from 308 contributors and compiled by photographer-screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala and writer-editor Meher Marfatia in Parsi Bol 2 , a book that released in March 2016. The success of the book will be celebrated, quite fittingly at SodaBottleOpenerWala, this evening. The new edition, an expansion of Parsi Bol , which was published in December 2013, features a large new collection of phrases, and an audio CD with the phrases recorded by Boman Irani, and Dolly and Bomi Dotiwala.

While the text is enjoyable in itself, the audio CD is a significant value addition for visually-challenged readers, younger Parsis who are unsure of the pronunciation, and for people not familiar with Gujarati. It places emphasis on preserving the cultural legacy of the Parsis through their rich linguistic repertoire. It’s a thought that resonates with Irani, who got roped into the book project by Taraporevala after she directed him in Little Zizou (2008), a film about the adventures of two Parsi families.

“We, Parsis, have our own special vernacular,” says Irani, “which is unabashed and metaphorical in a twisted sort of way. Young people hardly use these phrases now, but what is rare becomes more cherished by oldies like myself. I hope there never comes the day when we lose this Parsi Gujarati language. It would be like losing our identity, like losing the recipe for dhansak or patra ni machchhi.”

Taraporevala says the book celebrates how Parsis have subverted the Gujarati language and made it their own. “What we have now is a language full of imagery and funny associations, wild juxtapositions and inventiveness,” she says. The contributions to this book “were received orally, via email, handwritten letters. People sent them from Gujarat and other parts of India, New Zealand, Canada, the U.S., and other places. We also collected phrases on a visit to an old people’s home.”

Marfatia, who wrote and self-published Laughter in the House: 20th Century Parsi Theatre (2011) says, “Language is such a vital part of one’s culture, so I used to regret the fact that my kids hesitated to speak Gujarati. After Parsi Bol 1 and 2 , I find that my daughter has got more interested in using some of the phrases. She finds them cool. I think a large part of the appeal of the book lies in the illustrations. They bring in a level of humour that people find endearing.”

The art for the tomes has been done by Hemant Morparia and Farzana Cooper. “Being a Parsi, I enjoyed this project very much,” says Cooper. “It was effortless. For example, we call each other kagra khaobecause our bodies are traditionally feasted on by the crows after we die. We also refer to Queen Elizabeth as aapni rani . Working on this book gave me a chance to celebrate and also laugh at my own community.”

Morparia, whose illustration features on the cover of Parsi Bol 2 , says, “Since I am a Gujarati, many of the phrases were familiar to me. Of course, the naughty ones were more fun to illustrate. I have been living in South Mumbai for several years and there are many Parsis here. Therefore, this book was great fun to work on.”

Irani and a lot of people hope that Taraporevala and Marfatia will consider compiling a collection of Parsi gaalis or swear words. However, “I am afraid it will be an expensive volume. It is bound to run into several pages,” says the actor. We hope not; that book will definitely be a knee-slapper.

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Book Review: The Great Departu Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World. By Tara Zahra

EASTERN Europe is in the midst of a migration panic. Milos Zeman, the
Czech Republich’s president, has called the influx of refugees to the
continent an “organised invasion”; Jaroslaw Kaczynski, chairman of
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, warns that they may be carrying
“very dangerous diseases”. But anxieties about migration in the region
are nothing new. In 1890 a lawyer in Galicia described it as “one of
the most important, burning problems of the day”. Yet as Tara Zahra
recounts in “The Great Departure”, a perceptive history of migration
and eastern Europe, until very recently that problem was not
immigration but emigration.

considered a “fever”, that could empty villages. For most, the
destination was America: 300,000 made the journey from Austria-Hungary
in 1907, the highest number to arrive from one country in a single
year. The story of their arrival there has been told many times; Ms
Zahra, of the University of Chicago, describes the impact that leaving
had on their homelands and the debates it provoked. The departure of
so many men of working age, for example, created new opportunities: in
one Hungarian town women reportedly took over most of the positions in
local government. But it alarmed local elites. Polish nobles were
deprived of cheap agricultural labour, Austrian and Hungarian military
officials of conscripts.

The authorities quickly found a convenient scapegoat. They fined and
arrested Austria-Hungary’s travel agents, accusing them of duping
gullible peasants into leaving the country. This was part of a wider
propaganda battle, in which newspapers ran lurid items about violence
and exploitation in America. After the first world war, scare stories
no longer sufficed. Populations had been devastated, first by the
fighting and then by the Spanish flu. The region’s new nation-states
quickly deemed emigration an existential threat. In 1920 Poland
introduced stricter passport controls; Czechoslovakia sought to lure
back expatriates to boost the national stock.

Emigration did have its uses for some, though. Politicians realised
they could exploit migration policy to remove unwanted minorities.
Despite the passport restrictions, in Poland Jews were encouraged to
emigrate. By the mid-1930s many politicians in the region were in
favour of mass Jewish emigration. Seeking a solution to what was
widely referred to as the “Jewish problem”, Western officials
fruitlessly considered places—Madagascar, British Guyana—where eastern
European Jews could be resettled. As Ms Zahra points out, these
efforts blurred the lines between “rescue and removal…emigration and
expulsion”, while doing little to save Jews from the horrors that
awaited them. Even before the Holocaust, removing Jews from eastern
Europe had become politically acceptable.

For the author the Iron Curtain was the “culmination” of eastern
Europe’s struggle against emigration. Communist regimes had long
warned of the misery that awaited emigrants to the West; now, however,
the political stakes were far higher. Embarrassed by defections to the
West, eastern-European governments sought to woo back other �©migr�©s,
offering them financial incentives even as they denounced the greed of
capitalist societies. But still they were willing to let certain
citizens leave. Dissidents and unwelcome minorities could be sold to
West Germany or Israel in exchange for substantial ransoms: in the
1970s, Nicolae Ceausescu said that Romania’s best export commodities
were “Jews, Germans and oil”.

Eastern Europeans now enjoy the freedom of movement that so many
longed for under communism. The expansion of the EU in 2004 gave
Poles, Hungarians and Czechs, among others, the right to live anywhere
in the union, stimulating the biggest wave of east-west migration in a
century. Migration today is never one-way. Some people spend just a
couple of years in the West before returning. Others never leave at
all. Now that east Europeans can move as they please, for many true
freedom is the “freedom to stay home”.

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