Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Hridayesh Joshi - Death of a killer lake

Standing almost 4,000 metres above sea level on top of the Chorabari glacier, we look down at the remains of a lake. The memories of the havoc caused by the now-dried lake are hard to erase.

Photo by Hridayesh Joshi
On the morning of June 17, 2013, Chorabari lake breached its banks, bringing a massive flash flood -complete with debris and boulders – down the slope to the temple town of Kedarnath. It almost wiped away the town and then roared down the Mandakini – one of the main tributaries of the Ganga – and killed thousands in Uttarakhand. Many are still missing and several bodies are still being discovered in the higher reaches of the Himalayas.

A thin thread of water trickles down the middle of the lake bed and drains out through the broken embankments. The lake where the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi were immersed – leading to its official name Gandhi Sarovar – is now a collection of mud and sand. Until it burst its banks, Chorabari was one of 14 lakes spread over the Mandakini river basin, all above 3,700 metres. At a height of 3,960 metres, Chorabari lake was almost two kilometres upstream of Kedarnath.

The lake had originally formed from meltwater at the snout of the Chorabari glacier, but due to climate change, the glacier had retreated more than 200 metres, leaving a moraine of broken debris through which little water could flow from the glacier to the lake. Since the start of the century, if not before, the lake’s water has come from snow melt and rain.As a result, the 250 metres long and 150 metres wide lake – with a depth of 15-20 metres – had very different volumes of water at different times of the year.

Dehradun-based Wadia Institute of Himalayan Ecology (WIHE) has a monitoring camp at Chorabari glacier. The scientists at the camp had found that the accumulating water was adding 2-4 metres to the depth of the lake every year. The greatest increase was of five metres in 2010, when they took measurements in October that year... read more:

Friday, October 13, 2017

Jairus Banaji - Revolution Destroyed

As the Left celebrates the centenary of the Russian Revolution this month, it is important to learn lessons from its tragic fate.

The Russian Revolution is a startling paradox. It was a revolution largely based on the working class, the first workers’ revolution in history, creating a state that was not a workers’ state. This searing paradox would clinch the fate of the radical left for the rest of the twentieth century, since the chief outcome of the revolution (the regime known as ‘Stalinism’) would exert a preponderant influence on radical sectors of the left in countries like India no less than in Europe, and crucially affect the course of major political events internationally, most notably, Hitler’s unimpeded rise to power at the end of the twenties and the tragic fate of the Spanish Revolution a few years later.

As Don Filtzer showed in his seminal book Soviet Workers and Stalinist Industrialization, by the 1930s the working class in the Soviet Union ceased to exist as a collective force, and the sole basis on which a strong opposition might have emerged was therefore preempted. Even more tragically, ‘with Stalin socialism came to mean something altogether different from [its] revolutionary vision, as socialism became identified with top-heavy, centralized bureaucracy, government attempts to control every aspect of social and individual life, a repressive and brutal police apparatus, scarcity, and general economic mismanagement’. The key issue thrown up by the revolution, then, is how this came about or how this was allowed to happen.

The Bolsheviks had seized power in October 1917 by garnering the support of Russian workers because they were seen as endorsing the slogan of workers’ control of production and because of the support they extended to the Factory Committees that mushroomed from the middle of 1917. As the most detailed study of those committees suggests, ‘There is no doubt that the notion of workers’ control of production was very popular at the grass roots, and it was the willingness of the Bolsheviks to support this demand which was a crucial reason for their growing appeal’ (S. A. Smith, Red Petrograd, p. 165). Already by June, factory committees were widespread throughout the bigger establishments, where they were dominated by ‘skilled, experienced, relatively well-paid workers’. 

Yet within a few weeks of the Revolution the Bolsheviks were demanding the subordination of the factory committees. The first Congress of Trade Unions held in January 1918 ‘voted to transform the Factory Committees into union organs’ (Maurice Brinton, The Bolsheviks and Workers’ Control, p. 32). By March that year, Lenin ‘made the first of a series of appeals to return to one-man management’ (Smith, Red Petrograd, p. 241). A year later, when the eighth party congress declared portentously, ‘the trade unions must achieve a de facto concentration in their hands of the whole administration of the whole national economy considered as a single economic unit’, the factory committees had ceased to matter entirely. 

With a brutal civil war dominating most of 1919 and 1920 and massive supply shortages throughout the country, Trotsky was arguing for the ‘militarisation of labour’, that is, for the unabashed exercise of compulsion in industry and other economic sectors, and for the subordination of the unions to the state. Although this was never officially endorsed, by 1920 industrial workers in post-revolutionary Russia were again subject to what one historian called ‘the familiar forms of capitalist industrial organisation’, as if the clock had moved full circle.

The only significant challenge to all of this, the group known as the Workers’ Opposition, which emerged at the end of 1920 to espouse a vision of an economy run jointly by the unions and factory committees in a sort of articulated system of management, came closest (among the Bolsheviks) to the revolutionary aspirations of 1917 but was met with sharp reprisals by the party leadership, causing widespread disillusionment among more class-conscious workers (many of them part of the Metalworkers’ Union) and effectively ending an earlier tradition of inner-party democracy. When ‘factions’ were banned at the tenth party congress in March 1921, the Workers’ Opposition was almost alone in opposing the ban publicly.

Suspended in a social void for lack of any organised expression of the autonomous power of the workers such as the factory committees, the Party ‘now exercised absolute power and was outside the control of any social force whatsoever’. This was the situation Kollontai would presciently denounce early in 1921. What it entailed increasingly over the 1920s was a ‘dictatorship of the Party over the proletariat’. .. read more:

Virtual anxiety: The disturbing new reality of life online. By Olivia Sudjic

The internet promised transcendence of the physical, but has developed into a no man's land where incomprehension, lack of ethics and insufficient regulation meet. This lawlessness at once part of its appeal and its central problem.

Currently, those who benefit most from the internet are those who run it, and Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg may soon run for president of the United States. His intimate understanding of the digital fabric of our daily lives, not to mention his contribution to the way the last election went, means he'd likely win. Anyone who still thinks internet culture is superficial can wake up now. After all, what's so superficial about Facebook? It is deeply human to look to others, compare and copy. But to gratify natural drives to the extent social media enables is the same as binge-eating fast food because it is natural to be hungry.

I think of King Midas, and how everything he touched turned to gold. Do we want to be that app-happy? To live with the illusion of mastery over our environment and others, while becoming a prisoner of this power? To live without limits to our greed and selfishness, without personal boundaries, without control over one's selfhood and personal data is, to me, a scary place.

The idea that the internet's mission is still about connection, making our experience of the world seamless, persists in the names of the digital companies breaking down the divide between two words to make a new one. Social media still professes to support an enhanced empathy for others and a more porous, better-networked self. While this may have been the case for some (arguably people who would have been nice to strangers anyway), there are plenty of racist, sexist, xenophobic, transphobic homophobes coming out of the woodwork every day for whom Instagram has apparently done the opposite. Well, that's life, you might say. And yes, it is: Real life and digital life can no longer be considered separate.

I read a description from the early days of the internet likening a chat room to a room full of people talking to each other while facing the wall. That early dream of anonymity is over. The further our IP address shadows us, the faster our images -- via Facebook, Instagram (owned by Facebook), Snapchat and Periscope -- proliferate, the more our corner of the Internet becomes Plato's allegory of the cave. We grow used to distortion and normalize what once seemed strange. We do not feel the need to leave our cave. Increasingly, it will not occur to us to do so. 

And so we are corralled into groups whose ways of thinking and points of reference mirror our own, and we encounter fewer and fewer instances when we are forced to confront this. The rest of the time, we're in the dark, in a delusional kind of unity… read more:

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

I Cannot Accept Hindutva Because I Am a Hindu. By NAYANTARA SAHGAL

NB:Thank you Nayantara. Genuine followers of every faith can learn from what you have written DS
The other day, an acquaintance of mine asked me why I was opposing Hindutva. What did I have against it? I told her why. I said I opposed it for two reasons. One reason is personal and the other is political. Let me begin with the personal. I cannot accept Hindutva because I am a Hindu. By this I don’t mean only that I was born a Hindu, but that I am a believer. My religion is important to me. I draw daily strength and sustenance from it. It is central to my life and thought, and to my behaviour toward believers of other faiths, for Sanatan Dharma teaches that the world is our family. To millions of Indians, of whatever faith, religion matters. And all truly religious people know that God has no chosen people. We are all equal in the eyes of the creator.

So it is unbearable to watch my religion being transformed into what it was never meant to be by people who call themselves Hindus but practise a brutal, militant creed of their own that drives them to lynch defenceless innocent Indians, pump bullets into those who question their creed, and enter a train armed with knives to stab to death a fifteen-year-old boy who is returning to his village after his Eid shopping in Delhi. Unbelievably, this vengeance pursues some of its victims beyond the grave. What else are we to make of the news that the grieving families of Mohammed Akhlaq and Pehlu Khan are now being made the guilty parties instead of the criminals who killed them, while the killers roam free to commit other hate crimes. Jesus Christ, in agony on the cross to which he was nailed, could pray: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” But the Hindus among us cannot utter a similar prayer because those who kill and maim and terrify in the name of Hinduism know exactly what they are doing and take pride in doing it. Such things have happened in all countries and centuries when religious fanaticism or racism has been allowed to go unchecked, and more especially when a ruling ideology gives free rein to fanaticism.

Then there is the political reason. Hindutva is a political invention that has re-defined Hinduism for its political purpose, which is to declare India a Hindu rashtra.

Prem Panicker - Modi's Unwillingness To Listen To Criticism Has Knocked The Halo Off His Head

The crowds that thronged Delhi to celebrate Narendra Modi’s swearing-in breathed that purified air through the Modi mask that had during the election cycle been elevated to a fashion statement. And in response to Modi’s triumphant speech, they responded to his call of "Achhe Din" with chants of "aa gaye", in a symphonic chorus of sycophantic adoration. The crowds responded to Modi's call of ‘Achhe Din’ with chants of ‘aa gaye’. Those were heady days. The air was perfumed with faith – "the substance,” says Hebrews 11:1, “of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” A nation saturated with a carefully constructed narrative of UPA non-performance, endemic corruption, and policy paralysis had found faith in the mythological "Gujarat Model"; it now sought evidence of turbocharged performance in the headlines.
On May 28, 2014, Modi talked tough to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif. Also on May 28, the Modi Cabinet in its first formal act constituted a Special Investigation Team to bring back the black money stashed abroad. On June 5, he shook up the bureaucracy, told them their leisurely golf games were a thing of the past, and said they should clean up their offices and their act. His tough love energised the bureaucrats, we learned. The decisions flowed thick and fast; the contrast with the paralytic UPA2 could not have been starker. June 10: Poverty was to be eliminated. June 11: The Supreme Court was asked to take a quick decision on the question of MPs with criminal back-grounds. July 30: Through a “lab to land” policy, steps were taken to increase agricultural output, producing “more crop per drop”. August 7: FDI in defence and railways was increased. August 20: A new irrigation scheme was announced. August 28: Every citizen was to get a bank account.

On September 17, Modi sought his mother’s blessings on his birthday. September 20: Modi batted for Indian Muslims and spoke of the injustice done to them. October 11: Each MP was told to adopt a village. October 23: Modi spent Diwali with the troops in Siachen. October 26: In three quick meetings, defence projects worth a total of Rs 1,20,000 crore were cleared. November 22: Modi spoke of his affection for the people of Kashmir and promised to restore democracy and humanity to the region. November 30: The police force became SMART.

Monday, October 9, 2017

'BEING A REFUGEE IS A HUMAN CONDITION': Katie Kilkenny interviews Ai Weiwei

Non-stop self-documentation has long been both a statement and a safeguard for Ai, who is an outspoken critic of his native China. It was his opposition to the regime- recording his monitored, heated confrontations, and even physical abuse at the hands of Chinese authorities - that helped Ai achieve international fame. It was also his opposition that inspired his Chinese supporters to meet with him in person, despite close monitoring by the Xi administration. Ai will later Instagram my picture (#nofilter), just as he will Instagram the photos of other journalists visiting him that day. It's all part of his daily routine for documenting his life on Instagram and Twitter for his cumulative 700,000 followers—in between major exhibitions, public performances, and documentary releases.

We're here to discuss Ai's latest major release, and one of his most ambitious, the documentary 
Human Flow. Many may be most familiar with Ai's works about China - his 1995 performance piece in which he dropped a Han Dynasty urn, or his 2009 installation of 9,000 children's backpacks, commemorating those who died in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake due to poor school construction. 
Human Flow, in theaters today in New York, represents something of a departure from his more famous pieces, focusing instead on the global refugee crisis

The crisis has been a frequent subject of Ai's work after he became a refugee himself in 2015: In 2016, he covered Berlin's Konzerthaus venue in a curtain of 14,000 life vests discarded on the Greek island of Lesbos, a popular entry point for refugees to Europe, and filled the New York Gallery Deitch Projects on Wooster Street with cast-off clothing from a refugee camp in Greece. Last March, 
he installed a 200-foot sculpture of an inflatable boat occupied by hundreds of refugees in the National Gallery of Prague, among other projects.

Human Flow documents the lives and travels of refugees in over 23 countries, including Afghanistan, France, Kenya, and Turkey. It combines drone photography documenting the immense scale of camps and ongoing human migrations with intimate on-the ground storytelling in which Ai meets with, asks questions of, and occasionally comforts and jokes with displaced peoples.The ultimate goal, Ai tells me, is to challenge stigmas surrounding refugees, helping to create a new, universally understood definition for their status. Ai believes that, only by viewing refugees not as migrants, but rather as displaced persons, will the world arrive at a more compassionate policy for welcoming them. On Sunday we talked about the advantages of documentary, the challenges of production, and Ai's message for President Donald Trump.

Over the last few years, the refugee crisis has been the subject of your installations, sculpture, and public performances. Why do you return to the crisis again and again?
Well, my work not only focuses on the refugee crisis. I've also done many works relating to freedom of speech, human rights—especially while I was in China—and also about justice and judicial practices. But certainly refugees have attracted my attention for the past three years. Before I got my passport in China we already started to do research.

Why it attracted my attention is because it's getting overwhelmingly large-scale, and I have a strong curiosity to know what the story is and what is behind it. I didn't have the opportunity when my passport was [denied to me by] the authorities. Once I [finally got the passport], I started to be involved.

Tell me a little bit about how this documentary began to takes shape... read more

As Germany and Spain prove, history – with all its wounds – is not over. By Natalie Nougayrède

History is back in Europe. The Catalan referendum and the German election illustrate this spectacularly. The scale of the far-right vote in what was once East Germany and Catalonia’s apparent march towards independence may look like they happened on separate planets – to be sure, they are fuelled by different political beliefs – but they both have to do with pent-up frustrations. Citizens who feel that they have been insulted have gone to the ballot box, and in some cases taken to the streets, to protest. In both situations there is a vivid historical backdrop, with memories of Europe’s 20th-century nightmares playing an important role: in Catalonia, the fight against fascism and Franco; in the east of Germany, the experiences of Nazism and Soviet communism.

In Leipzig and the nearby small town of Grimma, I was told about how citizens felt their self-esteem had been trampled on. German reunification has not led to a shared sense of community. Rather, it’s compared to colonisation: “westerners” took over everything – regional administrations, courts, education and the economy. Everything about life in the Communist state – the way people dressed, what they ate, what they learned in school, how they decorated their homes, what they watched on TV – became an object of scorn and ridicule. It’s not that life isn’t better now: of course it is. There is freedom. And living standards have improved immensely. But many eastern Germans feel their identity has somehow been negated, as if they were being asked to forget about it.

Speaking with Catalan friends in recent days, I heard similar qualms: “We were waiting for a sign that our voice would be heard, but as the years passed nothing was changing” … “Our cultural difference isn’t being acknowledged as it should be”: these were common sentiments, even from people not altogether enthusiastic about breaking away from Spain. Identity isn’t just about power, rights and institutions. Former East Germans aren’t asking for secession, nor a special status. Catalonia is deeply divided on the question of independence. Nor can identity be boiled down to purely economic factors – wages, income, jobs, social class. It’s true that regions covering the former East Germany have higher unemployment (7.1%) than western ones (5.1%), but the malaise reflected in the east German far-right vote went beyond material circumstances. Catalonia’s economy has thrived in recent decades – that hasn’t prevented protests.

A generation has passed since German reunification, in 1990; and Spain joined the European club in 1986. It’s hard to exaggerate the benefits. Anyone who visits Leipzig, with its beautifully restored facades and the amazing modern architecture of its university, will struggle to spot traces of the bleakness and poverty that once characterised eastern Europe.

Catalonia’s transformation has also been stunning. I have spent many summers in the Pyrenees, regularly crossing into Spain from France. And over the years I have seen roads improved, hotels built, and prosperity spread – a region shedding the drabness left by the Franco years. The 1992 Barcelona Olympics celebrated that success. Yet these accomplishments don’t necessarily translate into people’s minds... read more:

Gujarat HC Allows Zakia Jafri to Appeal for New Probe in Modi’s Role in 2002 Riots

 In what appears to be a silver lining in an otherwise adverse judgment for Zakia Jafri, the wife of Congress politician Ehsan Jafri who was killed by a mob in the Gulberg Society massacre in Ahmedabad during the 2002 anti-Muslim riots, the Gujarat high court on Thursday allowed her to move the courts to request a fresh investigation into the alleged criminal role of the then chief minister Narendra Modi and 61 others.

Zakia had moved the high court in 2014 against the closure report filed by the Supreme Court-appointed special investigative team (SIT). Zakia had also alleged in her petition that the 2002 riots were part of a larger conspiracy involving Modi and others. The closure report  submitted by the SIT in 2012 at a trial court hearing Zakia’s pleas – had stated that the SIT could not find any “prosecutable” evidence against the accused persons, as a result of which it could not press any charges against Modi and others.

Protesting this, Zakia had appealed to the metropolitan magistrate’s court demanding a fresh probe, but her appeal was dismissed in 2013. The magistrate, B.G. Ganatra, had ruled that since the SIT was monitored by the Supreme Court, he did not have the power to order a fresh investigation. This had forced Zakia to file her petition at the high court, which started final hearings in the case in 2015. On Thursday, the high court upheld the validity of the closure report and dismissed Jafri’s allegation.

However, the high court allowed Zakia to demand a fresh investigation in the case – as sought by her in the petition – and overturned the trial court’s observations, which had ruled out another probe as it thought the SIT was monitored by the Supreme Court. “The trial court has self-limited itself in saying that further investigation, in this case, can’t be ordered. This order of [the] lower court deserves interference. So, the petitioner can raise the issue before the concerned court that is the same magisterial court, the division bench of the high court or the Supreme Court,” Justice Sonia Gokani told the Indian ExpressEffectively, the high court judgment has created an opening for Zakia to seek redressal at a lower court instead of the Supreme Court, which would have been her last stop for appeal.. read more:

Catalonia: A personal response LUKA LISJAK GABRIJELCIC

The attempt by Catalan authorities to hold a referendum on independence was marred by violence on Sunday, 1 October. Several hundred people – including approximately 30 policemen – were hurt in clashes between security forces and citizens attempting to vote in the referendum, which had been denounced as illegal by the Spanish central government.

For the past 18 days, the editor-in-chief of Slovenian Eurozine network partner journal Razpotja, Luka Lisjak Gabrijelčič, has been commenting on the events in Catalonia via a series of Facebook posts. Lisjak Gabrijelčič is an intellectual historian of nationalism and a translator from Catalan to Slovenian, and is part of the Catalan Weekend project group, organized and founded by the Òmnium Cultural association, an informal group of scholars and journalists founded in 2015 who regularly visit Catalonia to observe, discuss and critically engage with the process of independence. He was not in Catalonia for the referendum.

Here, in the order they were posted on Facebook, are Lisjak Gabrijelčič’s instant, personal, and sometimes passionate responses to the process that culminated in the clashes on 1 October. They are a contemporaneous record, republished here in the form and style in which they were originally written, lightly edited only to correct spelling and syntax.

Friday, 15 September at 22:12
Constitutional guarantees have been basically suspended in Spain, without any authorization by the parliament. Today, a court shut down a talk by a Catalan MP in Vitoria (Basque Country). Two days ago, a similar order was issued by a judge in Madrid. This time, the police was sent to enforce it.A cultural association was prevented from holding an event in Santa Coloma de Gramenet near Barcelona.

Armed police have raided the headquarters of at least five major Catalan media outlets (El Nacional, El Punt Avui, Vilaweb, Racó Català, Nació Digital). Newspapers face punitive fines for publishing ads regarding the referendum (they can be effectively shut down), and it’s technically a crime to share information regarding the referendum on social media. Writing an article in favour of the referendum is considered illegal if it could be understood as ‘inciting participation’.

The Spanish Post Office has refused to deliver a local newspaper because it included an article in favour of the referendum. The same has happened to the journal of the cultural association Òmnium Cultural. The website Punt.cat, a foundation for the promotion of the Catalan language online, has been shut down by a court order. The foundation claims it has not published any material declared illegal by the state.

100,000 posters related to the referendum have been confiscated by the police, mostly from private companies. At least three people have been arrested for putting them up. There are reports and videos of police searching private vehicles, often without individual warrants, and harassing citizens suspected of carrying or performing ‘illegal propaganda’. At least one citizen was arrested, in the Sant Andreu neighbourhood of Barcelona, for standing up for his constitutional right of free expression. These actions have been met with mass protests… read more:

Blow by blow: the assault on academic freedom in Turkey. By AYSE CAGLAR

Since 2015, the curtailment of academic freedom and the diminishing autonomy of universities in Turkey has attracted attention in the Turkish and international media. As the assaults on academic institutions in Turkey assumed unprecedented dimensions – with massive purges, restrictions and control on academics and universities imposed by the government, especially after the failed coup attempt in July, 2016 – these attacks on and violations of academic freedom have rightly become the subject of numerous reports, communiqués and calls from Turkish and international academics and institutions and human rights organizations. 

The erosion of the universities’ autonomy has been part of the systematic dismantling of democratic institutions in Turkey. This requires analysis in the context of the broader dynamics of the reconfiguration of authoritarian and democratic politics which we also observe in places like Hungary, India and Russia. Here, however, I focus solely on the inner workings and the consequences of these assaults on academic institutions in Turkey, in order to highlight the politics of law in this regime’s authoritarian form of governance.

It is important to situate the curtailment of the autonomy of universities within the structural context of higher education in Turkey. Two important characteristics of higher education are important here. First, all these attacks have been taking place within a university system which has already been centralized and hierarchically regulated mainly by the Higher Education Law (HE law) and the Council of Higher Education (CHE), which were established in 1981 after the military coup in 1980. Both the HE law and the CHE had already restricted the autonomy of universities substantially by establishing wide-ranging powers to control and discipline them. Since 2016, the power of the CHE over universities and academic institutions has become even more comprehensive and alarming. 

Second, the HE law of 1981 allowed the establishment of non-profit, privately funded universities in Turkey, sometimes referred to as foundation universities. In 1981 there were only 19 public (state) universities in Turkey. In 2015 there were 109 public and 76 private universities. In Istanbul alone, there were 38 private and 9 public universities in 2015. So we are talking here about a higher education landscape that has been increasingly privatized and commercialized, and in which the number of universities and students has continuously grown thanks to the actions of the government. During the 15 years since the current governing party, the AKP, came to power in 2002, 120 universities have been founded.

However it is important to note the weak boundaries between private and public universities in terms of their organizational and employment autonomy… read more:

Faced With 100-Crore Defamation Case, Journalist Who Reported On Jay Shah's Business Refuses To Back Down

Journalist Rohini Singh, who investigated into the alleged irregularities in business enterprises run by Jay Amitbhai Shah, BJP President Amit Shah's son, for The Wire, has stood up for herself after being slapped with a defamation case. In a Facebook post, she made her stance clear, explaining that her job as a journalist is to speak to truth to power and she wouldn't desist from it. According to reports, Jay Shah has sued the independent news portal for Rs 100 crores, after the latter ran a story outlining alleged financial irregularities involved in his business transactions.

Based on filings available with the Registrar of Companies, Singh reported that Temple Enterprise Private Ltd, a company of which Jay is director, increased its turnover by a staggering 16,000 times since the BJP-led government at the Centre came to power under the prime ministership of Narendra Modi. Jay's father is a close associate of the PM and a leading light of the BJP. From Rs 15,000 in 2014-15 to Rs 80.5 crore in 2015-16, the rise in revenue for Temple Enterprise has been wondrous, bolstered by an unsecured loan of Rs 15.78 crore from Rajesh Khandwala, a relative of Rajya Sabha member Parimal Nathwani, who is also a senior executive at Reliance Industries. The Wire's findings have led to speculations whether such deals were struck between the various parties with the collusion of politicians, business leaders and elected lawmakers.
However, Jay said the report had made "false, derogatory and defamatory imputation against me by creating in the mind of right-thinking people an impression that my business owes its 'success' to my father's political position." According to The Indian Express, he claimed his businesses are "fully legitimate and conducted in a lawful manner on commercial lines" reflected in his tax records and through banking transactions. "I have repaid the loans by cheque on commercial rate of interest and within the time stipulated. I have mortgaged my family property with the cooperative bank to get the credit facilities," he said to quash all the allegations raised against his dealings by Singh.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Sreenivas Janyala - His smile and his mother’s tears of joy were worth the effort, says Police

“The boy was crying but as soon as I took him in my arms, he became quiet, looked at me with eyes wide open and a big toothless grin followed. It filled my heart with happiness. The moment may have been captured by camera, but it will remain etched in my mind forever,’’ said Inspector R Sanjay Kumar of Nampally Police Station.

The four-month-old infant was rescued 15 hours after he was kidnapped late on Wednesday night. “The boy’s smile and his mother’s tears of joy were worth the team’s effort. The boy was crying when he was rescued. He kept crying even after he was handed over to his mother. At that time, I took him in my arms, rocked him gently and he stopped crying. Then he looked at me and gave the widest smile I have ever seen,’’ Inspector Sanjay said.

Late on Wednesday night, four-month-old Faizan Khan was kidnapped while he was sleeping beside his mother Humera Begum (21) on the pavement near Himmatram Jewellers in Nampally. Humera, a beggar, woke up at 4.30 am and after searching for her son for sometime went to Nampally police station and lodged a complaint. After scanning CCTV footage in the area, police suspected two persons, later identified as Mohammed Mushtaq (42) and Mohammed Yusuf (25). “We showed their photos in the locality and came to know that Mushtaq was an autorickshaw driver who hung around Nilofer Children’s Hospital and Yusuf was his friend and that they live near Dargah Shah at Agapura. We maintained surveillance in the area,’’ he said.

Officials said Mushtaq and Yusuf had revealed during questioning that Mohammed Ghouse, a relative of Mushtaq, had recently asked him if he and his wife could adopt a baby as they were childless. Ghouse, they said, told Mushtaq that they would like to adopt someone whose parents were too poor to take care of the child. Mushtaq told them that he knew many poor couples who wanted to give away their children for adoption and promised to arrange for a baby. He then allegedly kidnapped Faizan with Yusuf’s help, said the officials.

“But when they reached Ghouse’s house at 5.30 am, he got suspicious and asked who the baby’s parents were. Mushtaq introduced Yusuf as the boy’s uncle, but Ghouse refused to accept the boy, saying he would like to meet the parents and adopt the child only if they were willing. Mushtaq and Yusuf left his home and went to Nilofer Hospital, hoping to find someone to give away the baby. Late on Thursday evening, they returned to the dargah near their home with the infant and the police team waiting there arrested them,’’ inspector Sanjay said. Police are probing if the duo wanted to sell the baby, and if Ghouse was expected to pay them for arranging for the “adoption’’.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Anna Politkovskaya Award shared by Pakistani Activist and Gauri Lankesh

A month after her violent death at the hands of unknown assailants, Lankesh has been posthumously honoured with the Anna Politkovskaya Award, instituted by the Reach All Women in War (RAW in WAR) organisation. She is the first Indian journalist to win the prestigious award, reported Hindustan Times. Lankesh, 55, shares the award posthumously with Gulalai Ismail, 31, a human rights and peace activist who lives in Pakistan, and who, like Lankesh, is a fierce critic of Islamic extremism. Ismail has received many death threats for speaking out against the Taliban.

RAW in WAR is a London-based, NGO that supports human rights and victims of war. It established the Anna Politkovskaya Award in 2007 to honour the memory of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered in Moscow in 2006 because of her courageous reporting of the second war in Chechnya.

According to a report in The Wire, while announcing Gauri's win, the award committee, in a statement, said, "RAW in WAR honours Gauri Lankesh and her fearless journalism as a strong critic of right-wing Hindu extremism, campaigner for women's rights, fiercely opposed to the caste system, and campaigner for the rights of Dalits. A senior Indian journalist and activist, Gauri just like Anna Politkovskaya before her, was shot dead outside her home in Bangalore on 5th September 2017 in order to silence her voice and her critical reporting and activism."

Addressing a press conference about the award, Lankesh's sister, Kavitha, said that the award does not belong to the family but to "everyone who stood by Gauri". "This award is a morale booster for people who want to write, and fight... It honours what Gauri stood for — that you cannot silence me," Thomson Reuters Foundation quoted Kavitha as saying. Talking about her co-winner, Ismail told Thomson Reuters Foundation that Lankesh's murder had left her numb with grief. "It was heartbreaking that an advocate of democracy, a courageous voice was silenced. This award recognises our common struggle and courage," she said.

RAW in WAR also honoured a Rohingya refugee, 25-year-old Jamalida Begum, who spoke out publicly about the horror of being raped by Myanmar security forces after her husband was shot dead in the village of Pyaung Pyaik in north-western Myanmar.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Sixth mass extinction of wildlife also threatens global food supplies / Guardians of the grain. By Chitrangada Choudhury

The sixth mass extinction of global wildlife already under way is seriously threatening the world’s food supplies, according to experts. “Huge proportions of the plant and animal species that form the foundation of our food supply are just as endangered [as wildlife] and are getting almost no attention,” said Ann Tutwiler, director general of Bioversity International, a research group that published a new report on Tuesday

“If there is one thing we cannot allow to become extinct, it is the species that provide the food that sustains each and every one of the seven billion people on our planet,” she said in an article for the Guardian. “This ‘agrobiodiversity’ is a precious resource that we are losing, and yet it can also help solve or mitigate many challenges the world is facing. It has a critical yet overlooked role in helping us improve global nutrition, reduce our impact on the environment and adapt to climate change.”

Three-quarters of the world’s food today comes from just 12 crops and five animal species and this leaves supplies very vulnerable to disease and pests that can sweep through large areas of monocultures, as happened in the Irish potato famine when a million people starved to death. Reliance on only a few strains also means the world’s fast changing climate will cut yields just as the demand from a growing global population is rising.

There are tens of thousands of wild or rarely cultivated species that could provide a richly varied range of nutritious foods, resistant to disease and tolerant of the changing environment. But the destruction of wild areas, pollution and overhunting has started a mass extinction of species on Earth. The focus to date has been on wild animals – half of which have been lost in the last 40 years – but the new report reveals that the same pressures are endangering humanity’s food supply, with at least 1,000 cultivated species already endangered.

Notes Ban 'Largest Money-Laundering Scheme Ever': Arun Shourie To NDTV

Arun Shourie, former union minister, was categorical today in blaming the economic slowdown on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's shock outlawing of high-denomination notes a year ago. "It was the largest money-laundering scheme ever, conceived and implemented entirely by the government," Mr Shourie told NDTV today. It was an "idiotic jolt" he continued, "everyone who had black converted it into white." The RBI has said that nearly 99 per cent of the banned currency has been returned to banks, which suggests that black or untaxed money was not destroyed by the giant move.

He was quick to add the new national sales tax -- the GST -- to the list of the government's misdeeds, stating that though it was an important reform, it had been poorly implemented. "The rules have been amended seven times within three months," said the former BJP member in support of his claim, adding that what makes it worse is the "event management of the GST -- imagine! A tax reform is being compared to the independence of India" he said about the special midnight session of parliament held to introduce the new tax in July.

Mr Shourie's relentless criticism of the government's economic mismanagement comes days after former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, who was his colleague in the cabinet of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, said that the economy is a mess and that it will not recover, despite the government's claims, by the next general election in 2019. The BJP responded by dismissing Mr Sinha and Mr Shourie as frustrated politicians who are avenging their sidelining by the party by publicly dissing its leadership. "This is their Standard Operating Procedure," Mr Shourie said of the BJP's response, adding "they should publish a list in advance of frustrated persons" as a pre-emptive strike against disagreement.

He said major economic policies are being decided in "a sealed echo chamber" of "2.5 persons" whom he listed as "Amit Shah, PM Modi, and an in-house lawyer." His derision of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley echoes that of Mr Sinha, who said the buck stops with Mr Jaitley for the economy plummeting to 5.7 per cent growth in the last quarter, marking a three-year low. Mr Shourie said that he agrees with Mr Sinha's assessment that others in the BJP share their concern over the government's economic policies but are either prevented from or scared to raise questions….

More posts on demonetisation

Giles Fraser - The truth about capitalism is out as Marx’s magic cap starts to slip

Wasn’t this supposed to be the party conference in which the Tories reminded everyone of the virtues of market capitalism? “Tories need to start explaining the unassailable truth that markets don’t just make us richer, they make us happier too,” urged the former chair of Northern Rock, Matt Ridley, in the Times. “Time for a full-throated Tory defence of enterprise and capitalism,” insisted Simon Heffer in the Telegraph. With Comrade Corbyn riding high, it has been quite some time since economic liberals have so felt so threatened to their ideological core. Next month it will be a hundred years since the Bolsheviks took power in Russia. Ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the right have assumed that the argument against communism had been won, and won decisively. But the young are picking up their Karl Marx once again. And just at the point when the right seem to have forgotten their lines.

Viscount Ridley argues that capitalism makes us better people as well as richer. It is a morality driven by enlightened selfishness in which my own interests are only advanced if I look after yours as well. This is supposed to be the moral case for market capitalism: I only get to be extremely rich if you get to be a little bit richer too. This is the economy of the “invisible hand”, powered by greed, where my own desire for ever greater wealth drives ingenious new opportunities for this magical thing called growth, which in turn creates greater wealth for everyone else. 

Yes, capitalism is basically a superstition, a belief in the power of magic. I’m with David Attenborough: “We have a finite environment – the planet. Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth in a finite environment is either a madman or an economist.”

Of course, I am not the first person to argue that capitalism is based on a superstitious belief in the efficacy of magic. Marx’s Kapital, one of the great works of 19th-century atheism, is a genius attempt to disabuse us of this dangerous mystification. Of course, the god in Marx’s sights is not the one of the Bible but one celebrated by the philosophers of Enlightenment rationalism: the god of capital.
In the first chapters of Das Kapital, Marx explains how money makes money – or how, in the words of Matthew’s Gospel, “to everyone who has, more shall be given … but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away”. Those with money are able to own the means of production and the labour needed to operate it. Throughout the whole cycle of making things and selling them on, the capitalist creates more money for themselves by getting employees to work longer and longer hours. This extra labour creates surplus value that results in profits for the capitalist.

Profit here is intrinsically exploitative – it does not exist without the extra hours worked by the capitalist’s employees. This is the source of the capitalist’s wealth, and when it is reinvested to capture an even greater share of the means of production and employ more workers, it grows off itself. Thus more and more is owned by fewer and fewer people. And money makes money, as if by magic. But when, with Marx, we begin to understand that money is a way of capturing a social relationship between those who own the means of production – whether factories or apps – and those who work in them or for them, we begin to recognise that capitalism is not magic but exploitative to its core. The magical quality of our faith in money and in economic growth is a deliberate mystification of the social exploitation that the capitalist – understandably – wants to cover up. 

And “we draw the magic cap down over eyes and ears as a make-believe that there are no monsters,” as Marx put it in the preface to Das Kapital. All of this becomes more and more obvious as global capital seeks new and ever more ingenious forms of concentration. The generation who learned their politics through the Occupy movement have had the scales fall from their eyes. Since then the 1% has become the 0.1%. And the magic cap is beginning to slip.

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Posts on Greece

Monday, October 2, 2017

After 27 years in space, the Hubble Space Telescope is sending back its most beautiful and revealing images

NASA celebrates Hubble's birthday each year by giving us a gift - a new, breath-taking view of our universe. The latest birthday card: this elegant swirl of galaxies dancing in tandem deep in space. Last year - this bubble of stellar gases floating among the stars, like a diaphanous, cosmic jellyfish. Hubble has shown us radiant rose-shaped galaxies stretching across deep space; and dramatic towering clouds of gas teeming with the stuff of creation. Stars are born here. Year after year, in the infinite black canvas overhead, Hubble paints an ever-expanding picture of our universe - an awe-inspiring light show for us to admire ... and for scientists to study.     

AMBER STRAUGHN: I believe Hubble has been the single most transformative scientific instrument that we've ever built.
"Most transformative," says NASA astrophysicist Amber Straughn, because Hubble keeps improving our understanding of the universe. She showed us what Hubble discovered after staring for days into what seemed to be an empty black patch -- a deep, dark void -- in outer space.
BILL WHITAKER: Is it that Hubble just stares into that dark spot until the light penetrates and reveals itself?
AMBER STRAUGHN: That's exactly what happens. It's sometimes many, many, many days of just staring at one part of the sky and allowing the photons to collect on your detector. 
BILL WHITAKER: And this is what's revealed.
AMBER STRAUGHN: And this is what's revealed.
But Hubble was just warming up. That was 22 years ago. Since then Hubble has stared deeper and longer into space with enhanced equipment.
AMBER STRAUGHN: In this particular image, there are 10,000 galaxies. So every single point of light is an individual galaxy, its own little island universe. And so this is a real visualization of the distances of these galaxies. So sort of like—
AMBER STRAUGHN: --3D, like we're flying though. So we can make these images 3D because we know how far away the galaxies are. What Hubble has essentially given us is the size of the universe. Hubble has taught us that the universe is filled with hundreds of billions of other galaxies.
And now the latest analysis of Hubble's data reveals there could be more than two trillion galaxies—10 times more than previously thought. Typical galaxies, like our Milky Way, have 100 billion stars. That means the total number of stars—or suns out there—is 2, followed by 23 zeros. That's called 200 sextillion. To get some sense of how many stars that is, we went to Adam Riess, who won a Nobel Prize for his work on Hubble.   
ADAM RIESS: This is more stars in the visible universe than grains of sand on the beach.
BILL WHITAKER: --on Earth.
ADAM RIESS: On all the beaches on Earth.
BILL WHITAKER:  And Hubble has shown us this?
This image, created by the Hubble telescope, shows a cluster of stars in the constellation Sagittarius  NASA

ADAM RIESS: It has. In many cases, it has allowed us to see what some of the most distant galaxies look like and how many stars were in them. And we've been able to add it all up.
BILL WHITAKER:  Hubble has been called a time machine -- that it looks back in time. What has been the most astounding part of that for you?
ADAM RIESS: I study explosions of stars called supernovae. It's like fireworks. It's only visible for a short period of time, in this case, a few weeks. And that light has been traveling to us for 10 billion years. It began its journey when the Earth wasn't even here, And over those 10 billion years, our planet formed. Life developed. We built the Hubble Space Telescope. We opened the aperture door. And in the last one-billionth of one percent of that journey that the light made, we opened the door just in time to catch it. Hubble almost didn't catch anything. The first pictures it sent back were blurry because of a microscopic flaw in the mirror. The Space Agency launched a daring mission to fix it... read more (and see more photos):

‘Police Chased Us Even Into Our Hostel Rooms. We Want An Apology From The V-C’

Banaras Hindu University’s campus is one of the largest in Uttar Pradesh. It is accessible through several gates, the most renowned and biggest of which overlooks Lanka, a locality in Varanasi. It is at this gate that hundreds of students of BHU, mostly women scholars, were protesting since 6 am on September 21. It is from this historic site that they were lathicharged by police and chased into their hostels. Videos of the all-woman crowd being beaten by police have since gone viral, sending shockwaves through the country.

The women students had come out in protest after an incident of sexual harassment on the campus, for which the BHU administration blamed the victim. She was the first to step out to protest against the unequal treatment of women in the university and the lack of basic safety norms there. She was soon joined by other hostel residents, and as she shaved her head in protest, became a symbol of all BHU women students’ demands.

Banaras Hindu University student Seema (name changed) was part of the entire seq­u­ence of events since September 21 and faced a police lathi-charge which left her injured. In a conversation with Pragya Singh, she describes their ordeal ever since they raised demands for greater security against sexual harassment.

There are allegations that the protests are politically motivated. Are you and other protestors affiliated to any party or outfit?
I am just a student of BHU, not affiliated to any political party or outfit. On September 21 I saw a female student surrounded by three-four members of the proctorial board. The proctors were asking the girl why she was outside in the evening. I guessed immediately that she must have complained about sexual harassment. I went to my room after this, but when I awoke the next morning there was talk about a protest. The students were agitated because the girl who I had seen last evening had been blamed for the sexual harassment she had faced. That girl had come with other students of her hostel to protest at the Singh Dwar of BHU from 6 am onwards on September 22.

How did the protest become so big?
Later, everybody else started joining the protest. Everybody came for their own causes bec­ause there are many issues at BHU that students face. Slowly, as students arrived on the campus, the protest grew in size from a handful; then, a few hundred joined in, both women and men. The V-C almost met us twice, but finally didn’t show up. There was a delegation of four-five whom he apparently saw, but nothing came out of it.

What kind of slogans were you actually raising?
Our slogans were related to women’s empowerment and rights. There was nothing political in them. Also, it was completely peaceful on September 22 and it continued all night. That is, even after 8 pm, which is the curfew time for the girls hostel. We remained on the site, Lanka Gate.

What prompted the lathicharge then?.. read more:

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Homage to Catalonia: '465 injured by Spanish police violence'

The mayor of Barcelona said 460 people had been injured after Spanish police in riot gear stormed polling stations to prevent Catalonia’s independence referendum from going ahead on Sunday.
Although many Catalans managed to cast their ballots in the poll, which the Spanish authorities have declared illegal, others were forcibly stopped from voting as schools housing ballot boxes were raided by the national police. The large Ramon Llull school in Barcelona was the scene of a sustained operation, with witnesses describing police using axes to smash their way in, charging the crowds and firing rubber bullets.
Catalonia’s pro-independence regional government, which has pressed ahead with the referendum despite implacable opposition from the Spanish state, said hundreds of people had been injured. Spain’s interior ministry said 11 police officers had been hurt and three people arrested for disobedience and assaulting officers. The Catalan health ministry said 216 people were hurt in Barcelona, 80 in Girona, 64 in Lleida, 53 in Terres de l’Ebre, 27 in Catalunya central and 25 in Tarragona. The two most seriously injured were in hospitals in Barcelona.

The Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, told crowds the “police brutality will shame the Spanish state for ever”, while the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, demanded an end to the police actions and called for the resignation of the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy. Artur Mas, the former Catalan president whose government staged a symbolic independence referendum three years ago, also called for the “authoritarian” Rajoy to stand down, adding that Catalonia could not remain alongside “a state that uses batons and polic brutality”.

However, Enric Millo, the most senior Spanish government official in the region, said the police had behaved “professionally” in carrying out a judge’s orders. Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, the Spanish deputy prime minister, echoed the position, saying the police had shown firmness, professionalism and proportionality in the face of the “absolute irresponsibility” of the Catalan government. She called on Puigdemont to drop the “farce” of the independence campaign, saying Spain had long since emerged from the authoritarian shadow of the Franco dictatorship. “I don’t know what world Puigdemont lives in, but Spanish democracy does not work like this,” said Sáenz de Santamaría. “We have been free from a dictatorship for a long time and of a man who told us his word in the law.”

By late on Sunday afternoon, the Spanish interior ministry said police had closed 79 of the 2,315 polling stations set up for the referendum. Earlier in the day, the Catalan government had reported that voting was taking place in 96% of polling stations. Jesús López Rodríguez, a 51-year-old administrator, had taken his family to vote at the Ramon Llull school on Sunday morning. Like thousands of Catalans, they began queuing from 5am. Three hours later, he saw seven national police vans arrive full of officers in riot gear. “They told us that the Catalan high court had ordered them to take the ballot boxes and that we needed to disperse,” he told the Guardian. “We chanted, ‘No! No! No!’, and then about 20 police officers charged us. It was short – only about two minutes – but we stayed together.”.. read more:

Justice in modern India - After 30 years of service, retired army officer from Assam branded as Bangladeshi

A retired army officer has been branded as a Bangladeshi immigrant by Assam police, asking him to prove his citizenship in a bizarre twist to the contentious issue of illegal migrants in the northeastern state. Mohd Azmal Hoque, who retired as a junior commissioned officer (JCO) last year, after serving the army for 30 years was living a peaceful life with his family at Guwahati, when he received a notice from a foreigners’ tribunal last month. Hoque has been asked to prove he is Indian and not an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant.

In Assam there are 100 foreigners’ tribunals set up to detect illegal immigrants, especially those who entered India after creation of Bangladesh. The notice mentioned that the district police have registered a case against him alleging he entered Assam illegally without any valid documents after March 25, 1971, the day Pakistan army launched Operation Searchlight against the people of then East Pakistan. The notice, issued on July 6, asked Hoque to appear before the court on September 11 to prove his citizenship, failing which the case against him would continue ex-parte.

But the 49-year-old failed to keep the date as the notice reached his ancestral village Kalahikash near Boko, nearly 70 km from the state capital, after September 11. He will now have to appear before the tribunal on October 13. “This incident has saddened me a lot. Even after 30 years of service to the nation, we are asked to prove our identity. This is unnecessary harassment,” he told Hindustan Times.
Hoque joined the army in 1986 in a non-combat role as technician and retired from the corps of electronics and mechanical engineers (EME) as Subedar after serving at several places including border areas in Punjab and Arunachal Pradesh.

Incidentally, Hoque’s wife Mamtaj Begum had also been summoned by a foreigners’ tribunal in 2012 to prove her citizenship. Since she had all necessary documents, she was able to satisfy the tribunal.
Hoque’s son is at present studying in the prestigious Rashtriya Indian Military College in Dehradun while his daughter is at the Army Public School in Narengi, Guwahati. Hoque maintains that his family is indigenous Assamese and his father’s name is mentioned in the voters list of 1966. His mother’s name is listed in the 1951 National Register of Citizens (NRC).

“I have no doubt that I will get justice at the tribunal. But it pains me when my daughter questions me if this is how the country treats those who serve it for so many years,” he said. Infiltration of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh is an emotive issue in Assam. A six-year-anti-foreigner agitation from 1979 to 1985 led to signing of the Assam Accord which set March 25, 1971 as the cut of date for detection and deportation of illegal Bangladeshis.

As per official records, nearly 80,000 people have been detected as foreigners in Assam since 1986 and 29,729 were deported. At present around 200,000 cases are pending in the foreigners tribunals.
An interim report submitted earlier this year by a committee set up by the state’s BJP-led government to suggest measures to protect land rights of indigenous people claimed illegal Bangladeshis outnumber indigenous people in 15 of the state’s 33 districts. This is not the first time a tribunal served a notice to a public servant. Earlier, Assam police constable Abu Taher Ahmed was accused of being an illegal immigrant. A foreigners’ tribunal later held him an Indian citizen.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Living under house arrest, I'm losing hope in democracy and free speech, says Kancha Ilaiah

Social scientist Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd has been facing heat from the arya vysyas, who have taken offence at his analysis of the community as 'social smugglers'. After reprints of his book were circulated, a TDP politician called for Ilaiah to be hanged, effigies of him were burnt, protesters have urinated on his photograph, and he has been threatened on the streets. The state, he says, has not offered any protection. In an interview to Amulya Gopalakrishnan, he explains his position

Could you explain what you meant by 'social smuggling'? How does caste interact with economic exploitation?
The notion of social smuggling, which I coined in my book Post-Hindu India, is meant to capture the idea of cultural and economic exploitation. From the post-Gupta period onwards, one caste controlled business. The banias or vysyas alone had that right, as per the Manusmriti, and as decreed by the Gupta rulers.

Smuggling is a process of illegally taking away goods and commodities or wealth out of a nation's borders. Social smuggling, as I define it, draws wealth, grain, goods and commodities from all the productive (agrarian and artisanal) lower castes, into the boundaries of the bania caste. The bania business often involves deceptive mechanisms while buying and selling, which is called dandekottuta in Telugu. The lower the caste, the higher the level of exploitation by the shahukars at the village level. At higher levels, non-banias are either not allowed to enter business, or not allowed to survive in it. Bania social relations with others were/are very negative, without any element of "moral sentiments", as Adam Smith would describe it. This is what leads to massive poverty among the lower castes and massive wealth in the hands of bania business and industry.

In ancient and medieval times, it took the shape of guptha dhana. Now, it has led to the massive accumulation of billionaires without any social responsibility. A 2012 study of corporate boards in India shows that vysyas make up 46% and brahmins 44.6%. Shudras, including all OBCs are a mere 3.8%, and SC-STs are 3.5%. The population of banias is so small, how do they control such a large share, right from the village grain market to the top industries? And okay, there is no problem if you have historical control, but what is your moral relationship with the rest of the productive market? There is no responsibility towards farmers and foot soldiers. Forget the sham of corporate social responsibility, there is no sense of social or national obligation. People keep asking the Modi government and state governments for jobs, but when they privatise everything, how can they give jobs? Why can't the private sector give some jobs to lower castes, or create a fund? I have said I am willing to modify the book if these demands are met.

Instead, for taking these academic positions, I have been targeted by arya vysyas in two states, not in seminar rooms but on the streets. Their MP has issued a fatwa against me, and I have been attacked.

Why are some parties reacting so strongly to your book now?
The value of a piece of scholarship can't be judged by politicians in press conferences or by angry members of a community, but by other scholars. If there is indeed a dispute, it should be settled by the courts.

So your analysis is a description of social conditions, rather than a claim about the essence of any person or group?
What I suggest is that caste is also an economic category that has material effects on living standards, and is not merely a social category.

Your view of free speech in India today?
In the ancient and medieval period, there was no right to speech for dalits and shudra castes. Now, they may have some space to talk freely about class, but not about caste. The moment one talks about caste exploitation, one becomes suspect. I have experienced this deeply. They say my methodology is suspect, my English is suspect, my academic morality is suspect. I am losing hope in democracy and constitutionally guaranteed free speech. That is the reason I am living in self-imposed house arrest. Nobody has to protect me after my death.

Was this always the case, or is there a new climate of intimidation?

Absolutely, it is on a new scale. Our food habits are now in danger — tell me, what will the lower-caste soldier fighting China at the border eat, if not beef? Journalists like Gauri Lankesh have been killed for speaking freely. My books have been in the market for a long time. Earlier, there was some space for disagreement. Now, it is fatwas and threats of violence, even from arya vysyas who claim to be peace-loving people and share a heritage with Mahatma Gandhi.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Saeed Kamali Dehghan - 'Is it art or pain?' Iran's Parastou Forouhar on family, death and the failed revolution

Every autumn, the Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar returns to Tehran from Germany to hold a memorial service for her murdered parents. 

Dariush Forouhar, a secular politician, and his wife, Parvaneh, were two of Iran’s most high-profile political activists when they were stabbed to death in their home on 22 November 1998. The killers placed her father’s body in a chair facing towards the Qibla, the direction of Mecca. “I called a close friend of my parents in Paris and he was crying,” Forouhar says. “I thought, it mustn’t be just an arrest. We were used to [arrests]. I said, is Dad killed? He said, it’s not just your dad.”
Work by Parastou Forouhar.
Work by Parastou Forouhar. Photograph: Courtesy of the artist

Every year since, Parastou has gathered with close relatives to light a candle and pay tribute to her parents’ secular democratic values. The public are routinely blocked from attending by security officials. “They won’t let people in for the ceremony [but] it gets media coverage and it becomes an act of protest,” says Forouhar, whose work was recently exhibited at Pi Artworks in London.
Forouhar says regularly revisiting the suffering she has endured for nearly 20 years has helped to heal the wounds of her past. “When I work, I also have pain, you want to move on but also reproduce the pain at the same time,” she says. “Sometimes I can’t distinguish; is it art or pain? It’s really like finding healing in repetition. For me, the way to deal with pain is to reproduce it in art.”

The murder of Forouhar’s parents shone a spotlight on the killings and disappearances of other Iranian dissident intellectuals in the 1990s and created an atmosphere of fear that helped put the brakes on the reformist agenda of President Mohammad Khatami. In a rare admission in 1999, Iran’s ministry of intelligence took responsibility for the killings, saying it had “committed these criminal activities … under the influence of undercover rogue agents”. Saeed Hajjarian, a reformist politician and journalist involved in revealing the “chain murders”, survived an attempted murder the following year but was left severely disabled.

Forouhar studied art at Tehran University after the 1979 Islamic revolution and says it was the failure of the revolution that made her the artist she is today. “We thought, we’ll build a better life, we thought it was possible, but then we realised those who hijacked the revolution are suppressing the segment of the society that did not approve of revolutionary policies,” she said. “The streets turned unsafe and the arrests and the executions followed.”

She left for Germany in 1991, graduating with a master’s from Offenbach am Main and holding her first exhibition at her university in 1994. Forouhar established a portfolio of works that she defines as being between “abstraction and the formation of metaphors”, drawing on what she learned in Tehran, when students expressed dissent through highly coded and alternative methods… read more:

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