Category Archives: Routes

Dalit Students as Victims of Institutional Casteism in India

India’s unparalleled revolutionary leader B.R.Ambedkar’s infamous dictum is ‘Educate, Agitate, Organise,’ none of which the Indian Brahmanical state wants the 200 million Dalits (former untouchables) to do and this intentional objective of the state was exemplified in the death of an young Dalit scholar Rohit Vemula of University of Hyderabad who aspired to become like Carl Sagan.
The only fault of him was, he was a Dalit that too someone who was conscious of his identity and followed the footsteps of Ambedkar involved in the construction of a Dalit selfhood and claimed himself as a Dalit-Marxist, a political category propagated and made famous among the student community by comrade Chittibabu Padavala.

As president of Ambedkar Students Association Rohit worked hard to forge a Dalit-Muslim solidarity and fought against food fascism by organising beef festivals a visibly upsetting political exercise for the right wing Hindutva forces in the state who had earlier in another educational institution of higher learning had tried hard to foil the establishment of a study circle on Ambedkar but in vain. A whole young generation of conscious Ambedkarites is the most threatening factor for these right wing forces.

 

Rohit

Rohith Vemula sloganeering during a protest as the president of Ambedkar Students Association. Pic courtesy : Facebook.

What followed was arm-twisting by the Hindutva politicians and the casteist university administration, which succumbed to it and expelled five Dalit students. The expelled students continued their protest by staging a sleep-in-protest within the campus, however as a result of deep inflicted psychological pain, one of the students committed suicide leaving a note depicting the cruelty of caste, he wrote, “ The value of a man is reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility to a vote, a number to a thing, never was man treated as a mind.” This evaluation of what is being valued it is not mind but identity which in practical terms does count in the most hierarchical society in the world leaves us with what Gopal Guru[1] famously formulated as the Theoretical Brahmins and Empirical Shudras where the latter is a matter of mere numbers while the former is associated with cognition.

The brahmanical state follows certain uniformity when it comes to dealing with the Dalits, they practice humiliation to an disgusting extent. The state, which was not able to provide a dignified life to Dalits at least should guarantee a honourable final journey. More like the recent incident that happened in Tamil Nadu where a 100 year old Dalit man whose funeral procession was prevented by caste Hindus despite a High Court Order which finally saw the police instead of implementing the HC Order were found carrying the body doing the cremation. In Rohit Vemula’s case too, the state after seeing the students assemble in huge numbers sensed that they would showcase the anger towards state secretly without a grain of respect for the departed soul hurriedly did the cremation.

Weapons

WEAPON OF THE WEAK : Students in Delhi resisting water cannons carrying the portrait of B.R.Ambedkar  while protesting against Ministry of Human Resource and Development demanding action against authorities over Rohith Vemula’s suicide. Pic Courtesy Facebook.

The educational institutions in India are largely nothing but an extension of rural life marked by caste rigidity for most of the Dalit students, the only difference is caste is tangible in the latter case while in the former it is a combination of visible forms of caste practices and also more subtler forms. The caste discrimination starts from the level of primary schools where once can cite numerous cases of Dalit kids being asked to clean toilets to use separate utensils to eat and drink. And it is also a common phenomenon to witness social boycott of Dalits as mid day meal programme cooks. Citing ritual pollution the caste Hindu parents would make their children go hungry than eat food cooked by a Dalit. In a recent incident, a Dalit kid was asked by his teacher to remove faecal material in front of fellow students using bare hands. Ashamed by this act the kid went into a psychological affect and has developed an obsession to wash his hands. Suspecting changes in behaviour the parents probed the kid to find out what happened and after strong protests the caste Hindu teacher was arrested. This is one among numerous cases we see in what are called as “spaces of learning.” Coloured wrist bands as a form of identification of their respective castes is a common feature in most of the schools in the rural and semi urban pockets of southern Tamil Nadu and a few areas in Northern Tamil Nadu.

You can pick any random Dalit and inquire him about caste discrimination in classrooms there would be a tale to tell, the perpetual psychological fear of being discriminated against and humiliated based on their identity is a lived experience that every Dalit has to undergo inside educational institutions in India. Many are in fact living their lives masquerading their identity for want of caste discrimination. As deftly put forward in a recent piece by Meena Kandasamy,“ Education has now become a disciplining enterprise working against Dalit students: they are constantly under threat of rustication, expulsion, defamation, discontinuation.” By restricting social interaction the Dalit students are thus faced with deprivation of capabilities, a common feature practiced and perfected by caste Hindus in educational institutions to maintain and safeguard their caste privileges.

The percentage of Dalit students who enter higher educational institutions are meagre in number and even they are not spared. In the name of accumulated privilege over centuries in the form of both cultural and social capital the upper caste Hindus function within an invented realm called meritocracy. Entering the corridors of elite educational institutions like Indian Institute of Technologies (IIT) and Indian Institute of Managements and Central Universities for scores of Dalit students is like walking into hell, the fear of being shamed and humiliated based on birth status hangs like a Damocles sword above theirheads. After years of relentless struggles in their everyday lives they reach these institutions only to get caught in the entanglement of the most-unfair game of caste based micro power politics. It was no wonder why given nature of its exclusivity the IIT’s were dubbed as Iyer and Iyengar Technology, a stronghold of brahminical supremacy.

Root of the Problem

The root of this problem definitely lies with the caste Hindus who are nurtured and brought up in a feudal mindset and even the progressive among them carry a patronizing self as pointed out clearly by Ambedkar,

It is usual to hear all those who feel moved by the deplorable condition of the Untouchables unburden themselves by uttering the cry; We must do something for the Untouchables. One seldom hears any of the persons interested in the problem saying, ‘Let us do something to change the Touchable Hindu. It is invariably assumed that the object to be reclaimed is the Untouchables. If there is to be a mission, it must be to the Untouchables and if the Untouchables can be cured, untouchability will vanish. Nothing requires to be done to the Touchable. He is sound in mind, manners and morals. He is whole; there is nothing wrong with him. Is this assumption correct? Whether correct or not, the Hindus like to cling to it. The assumption has the supreme merit of satisfying themselves that they are not responsible for the problem of the Untouchables.

The idea of caste Hindus to empathise and sympathise with the Dalit cause needs to be shunned, instead they should all question their own selves and accept the bitter truth that they as part of this brahmanical structure indeed failed not only to see annihilation of caste as a praxis but used it as a mere rhetoric. The guilt as practitioners of the most carefully planned hierarchichal system should haunt them as they in a way by remaining silent also played a part resulting in the death of Rohit Vemulas, Senthil Kumars and Nagaraju Koppalas. Ambedkar both as a symbol and an ideologue remains as the ‘weapon of the weak’ in India and carrying his ideals let us march forward to brazen out the social distinctions, inequalities and injustices of a caste-ridden society.

References

[1]. Guru Gopal (2002) How Egalitarian Are the Social Sciences in India? Economic and Political Weekly 37: 5003-5009.

This post was written by Karthikeyan Damodaran.

Karthikeyan Damodaran is a doctoral candidate at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on caste processions and commemorations in Tamil Nadu, and his interests include, identity politics, social movements, caste and class, film studies and urban studies. He was previously working as a Correspondent for The Hindu Newspaper in India.

 

 

 

 

 

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Poems

Palestinian woman

( for Israa’ Abed)*

What did you say
to the guns they pointed
at your heart,
heart shaped like an olive tree
they stole from your memory?

Oh, Palestinian woman,
now lying gently tilted
a dark green hijab holding your bleeding brain
black sandals facing the ground,
upside down, as if looking for a way out,
to flee this frozen moment
where the tender touch of your heels turned sore,
a sore festering, deep in you, for decades
since the night they crept into your father’s silence,
while he was writing a poem,
he never could finish,
dead alphabets of occupied languages
lay all around his pages…

bloodied and burnt
did he visit you every night
in your teary dreams,
and stand in silence like a corpse
that you forgot to bury?
did you whisper to him
” Baba, please recite to me verses
from your last poem,
this silence is poetry I cannot bear,”?

he is waiting for you, now,
near the gates of mourning
with a charred sheet of paper in his hand
where his unfinished poem killed itself
but, why aren’t you leaving yet?
why does your image
still plunge into my pupils
rippling on my resting tears?

why does your posture, calm and tragic,
still haunt my heart
which has no place to escape?
are you waiting for your three children
for the touch of their tiny palms
for the look in their perplexed eyes
still too young to know death,
still full of hope
that they think you are teasing them,

” Mama, wake up.
wake up, Mama
you won ”
‘some games you can never win,”
you say.
but they can’t hear you,
the world won’t hear you
are you still waiting
for the birds that long flew your land
to return to the nests where they loved?

for the children
crushed while they crawled
burnt while they slept
bombed while they played
to come back and collect
the pieces of their childhood
they hid in a tiny box
buried in the bosoms
of their mothers, who waited
through the moonless nights
for that wall to crumble,
walls where they wrote,

” Martrys always return” ?
do they ever leave?
you still lie,
here, there,
everywhere
the moon on my terrace
looks like your closed eye
the sky smelt like a tomb
the cosmos carved for you
the sound of that gun,
a second before it pierced your life,
rings in my.ear
like a prologue to.a tragic play
I çan’t bear to see.

oh, Palestinian woman,
what did you see in the eyes
of the ones that killed you?
Stolen land?
Murdered memories?
the eyes
of people who eat popcorn
while they bomb your homes
people who sleep on the graves
of your ancestors, who they kill
again and again,
in dreams
they once occupied
and never left

*On 9 October 2015, 29-year old Isra’ ‘Abed from Nazareth was killed by Israeli police at Al-Affoulah bus station in Israel.

Protest against Haryana Government

NEW DELHI, INDIA OCTOBER 25: Two Dalit children burned alive in Faridabad Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch supporters during A protest against Haryana government at Jantar Manter in New Delhi.(Photo by Qamar Sibtain/India Today Group/Getty Images)

Burn-able bodies

bodies,
burning in my eyes,
ashes falling down as tears,

tears of a history,
untaught
tears of a people,
untouched
bones,
unformed,

crumbling under the burden of fire,
like sentences,
breaking in the middle
with words jumping, letter by letter,
into the abyss of silence
almost as if
they were never written
almost as if
they were never born

tongues,
yet to learn a language,
that only spoke with limbs,
shuffle within the flesh of those flames
for a syllable that resembles kindness,

all it found,
guiltless gerunds
churned from vitriolic verbs,
they knew,
there was no dignity left
in the language of humanity,

children
wake up in coffins
that smell of burning wombs
those coffins
that don’t want to be buried
not before this nation douses itself
in disgust of its own reflection
in those half-open beady eyes
their mother can’t bear to close

homes
once flaming with hope
now drenched in despair
bodies
that shouldn’t be touched
but only burnt
shadows
that shouldn’t be seen
but only slaughtered
some old
some young
some in the day
some in the night
some near the feet of temples
some near the mouths of sewers

a habit that never leaves,
but only creeps, deeper,
like death into the cemetery,
into the eyes of a Republic
that never regrets

*On October 20, Upper caste Rajputs set fire to the home of a Dalit family in Sunpedh, a village in Faridabad near Delhi, killing both the sleeping children inside aged 2 years and 9 months while their parents have suffered severe burn injuries.

Mob Kills Man, Injures Son Over Beef Rumours In Greater Noida

GREATER NOIDA, INDIA – SEPTEMBER 29: Family members of Mohammad Akhlaq (50-year-old man) mourn during his funeral at their village in Bisada on September 29, 2015 in Greater Noida, India. Akhlaq was beaten to death and his son critically injured by a mob over an allegation of storing and consuming beef at home, late night on Monday, in UPs Dadri. Police and PAC were immediately deployed in the village to maintain law and order. Six persons were arrested in connection with the killing of man. (Photo by Burhaan Kinu/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

None left

I bow
to the cow
munching my mother’s bones
near the windows of my burning house

” I am your mother”,
it moos, in maternal delight,
for her deserted sons

I hear,
in the silence of its hooves,
the final moan of my mother

” Fly away, Aslam,
before the tunes of these deaths
reach the graves of your ears

Fly away, child,
the warmth of my womb
is drenched in this doom

Fly away, darling,
these saffron skies
have no space for broken moons

but
forgive,
before you fly,

forgive all the mothers
whose kids never returned

forgive all the silence
whose words never formed

forgive all the seas
whose shores wounded you”

last wishes,
they say,
are final verses
of a poem whose time to end
has come

I take the bloodied pen
from my mother’s cold fingers
tear a piece from her white saree,
a canvas to conclude this parting poem,
with holes that smell of stubbed cigarettes

cigarettes
a country smokes
in the shadows of its temples

the ash
sprinkled all across its twisted map
are leftovers from our lynchings’

I try to finish the tear
that started in my mothers eye
but……

I realize
that I am already dead
the pen has left the ink
the eyes have left the tears
the birds have left the wings

there is no end
to this poem
there are no eulogies
to these funerals
there is none left
to weep or to write

*On October 1, 2015, Mohammad Akhlaq, a 50 year old muslim man, was lynched by a mob of 100 over the rumors of carrying beef. On October 10, 2015, Zahid Ahmed Bhat, a 20 yr old belonging to Kashmir, was lynched for the same.

Stories of a graveyard

Azaan stabs the dawn
with its absence

Aziz chacha kills himself
with poison he bought
by pawning his bronze-coated Quran

kids from the madrasa
tearing their skull caps
run across the streets
writing on the walls
with blood from their burning eyes
the Arabic word they learnt
the day before

ila-liqaa’
(until we meet again)
-their tongues folded like waves
that vomit corpses onto the empty shores

the leaves with dew on their lips
wilt into parched shrouds for dead roses

the domes of the mosque
crumble into wounded sparrows
climbing up the stairs
that touch the skies
only to slip onto the cracked soils of cemeteries
as tombstones waiting for the corpses

Khaja mama who guards the graveyard
writes a rhyme he always forgot in the school
on one of the blank gravestones
then gently sleeps inside the grave,
asking his wife to cement the top with her tears

Wazira who died two days ago
walks out of her coffin
undressing the rags on her body

stretch marks on her womb
flayed skin on her fingers

At the door of the burial ground
she sits naked
with her legs wide apart
a frozen teardrop twinkled on her bosom
a flock of butterflies huddle on her shoulder blades

*On October 23, 2015, unknown youths dug out the body of a Muslim woman, buried two days before, from her grave and allegedly raped the corpse.

All the poems were penned by Abul Kalam Azad.

Abul Kalam Azad is a student at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, Chennai. He can be contacted at saka16492@gmail.com

A Murder by other means : Death of a Dalit Journalist

On April 12th, Nagaraju Koppula lost his battle with cancer, and casteism. A Dalit journalist working in India, Nagaraju faced caste discrimination his entire life—a discrimination that ultimately worked to hinder his treatment and recovery.

A Murder by other means

“He died of cancer, murdered by Manu*”, wrote, with seething anger,clouded by grief, Chittibabu Padavala, a close friend of Nagaraju Koppula,probably the only English journalist from the Madiga community, a Dalit sub-caste,who caved in after a protracted,courageous and consuming struggle with lung cancer on April 12.

4 days prior to that, “I wish he could live”, read an article by Allam Narayana, the chief editor of a well-known Telugu newspaper “Namaste Telangana”, on the life and condition of Nagaraju.
Wishes, sometimes, remain just that: wishes. Wistful whispers of weary voices.

Nagaraju was born in Sarapaka Village from Bhadrachalam mandal of Krishna District to a family struggling to survive in the margins of a casteist society, wading through the straits of severe socio-economic subjugation. A father, who went missing when he was 4 years old, and a mother striving as a daily wage labourer, along with his five siblings, to keep this wrecking boat afloat. He too had to walk on this beaten track of child labour, as many in this country do every second, each a silent storm in this broken, and ever breaking, cup, at a very young age for the sake of sustenance. A construction labourer, then an ice candy-seller, and eventually a respected artist, who painted sign boards etc.,in his village.

With the sheer strength of his relentless hard work and will power in an environment socially, financially and structurally hostile, he managed to complete his M.A in the School of Journalism from the University of Hyderabad, followed by a Diploma in the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media in Bangalore, supported by scholarships, and trained in investigative journalism and creative writing at the Tehelka School of Journalism in Delhi.

Venturing into a field with an abysmal representation of Dalits, discriminated in myriad subtle and not-so-subtle manners, he began his attempts to eke out a living from the profession of journalism. After interning at and freelancing for publications like The Hindu that deemed beneath their ‘merit’ to hire him, he landed a much-needed job at The New Indian Express which for hardly unknown reasons paid him lesser than what they did his fellow reporters. A job,no, something more than it, a dream much dearer, to which he dedicated his heart and soul, latched onto it with a zeal that left one inspired and,even,a bit concerned, expending unmatched energies in pursuit of stories.Nagaraju swept with a stunning stroke of his sincere pen a broad range of reports from the dismal state of health care for mentally ill prisoners swallowing many lives through its numbing apathy to the wildlife species hanging from the edge of extinction in the then Andhra Pradesh. From Nehru Zoological Park hosting four cheetahs from Czech Republic to a mother waiting for three years to meet her children, Nagaraju churned scores of moving and amusing stories, serving ample proof of his journalistic mettle.Consequently, it didn’t take him long to make a mark of his own in the organization inviting well-deserved acclaim.

But as it happens, time has an unmistakable penchant for tragedies.His health declined. Weight loss and repeated bouts of coughing pulled him to consult doctors in GovtTB&Chest Hospital where he was faultily diagnosed for TB based on the meagre and clearly insufficient evidence of an X-Ray. As one of his friends notes, “They did not suspect Lung Cancer because Nagaraju was a non-smoker, largely ignoring the fact that about a third of lung cancer cases occur in non-smokers.” However, the treatment, which offered no solace whatsoever, continued for 5 months. When doctors kept ignoring the repeated protestations of Nagaraju that his medical condition is worsening, he visited a private clinic where he was diagnosed with lung cancer based through a lymph node biopsy.During this period of five months, the ruthless apathy and hideous discriminatory attitudes of The New Indian Express administration were starkly palpable, to Nagaraju and his friends. According to them, refusing to provide any sort of financial assistance/health cards, as was the case with his peers, to their employee, forcing him to go on a loss of pay leave for the five months by granting a casual leave only for 12 days, reinforced their belief in the casteist and debilitating labor-hostile environment of the publication, He was able to undergo treatment with the assistance of funds from his friends and colleagues, with a discernible absence of help from media houses or journalist unions, while Nagaraju’s name had been removed from the rolls of the newspaper without any intimation.Ill fate never stopped haunting him. More often than not, kind hearts bear the most bitter wounds.He was at the receiving end of an online fraud, a case of grave cyber robbery, which siphoned off approximately 1.23 lakh rupees from his SBI account, the amount collected for his treatment. A money that would now be smelling of blood and tears in the pockets of the robbers.

Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi organised a meeting to demand justice for Dalit journalist Nagaraju.

Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi organised a meeting to demand justice for Dalit journalist Nagaraju.

A very heart-warming campaign, initiated by his friends and well-wishers, “Justice For Nagaraju” had been afoot to bring to light the grievances of the then bedridden, with unstable consciousness, Nagaraju, to fight for the rightful justice he deserves, to indict The New Indian Express authorities for its casteist crimes, right from the unequal pay to the egregious negligence of his decaying health, demand for radical reforms in the functioning of the Media houses and Journalist Unions and, of course, to raise assistance, financial and moral, to improve the rapidly sinking condition of Nagaraju, a journalist this cursed land didn’t deserve.

The campaign had gained traction in social media circles’ and been successful in grabbing the attention of the government, which promised some financial aid, Civil rights activists’ such as famous balladeer Gaddar, intellectuals, artists, journalists, politicians etc. from the state, some of whom visited him personally, lend him their much-needed-support. Protests against the casteist administration of the Indian express were under way in places such as the University Of Hyderabad with encouraging involvement of the students, activists etc.

Before death decided to pull down the curtains on this disheartening tragedy, to force a full-stop into this sentence of maladies…before Manu snatched the final breath from the battered lungs of Nagaraju….a slow and deliberate murder…a murder by other means…a murder, scripted,in treacherous detail, in the holy books of hideous history…

A delegation comprising of The University of Hyderabad Contract Employees’ Union, the Democratic Teachers’ Network and the Telangana Students Association met the editor of The New Indian Express, G Vasu. The latter denied rejecting Nagaraju’s leave applications after Nagaraju fell sick and said he had granted him leave twice in 2013. He denied any unwillingness to provide him with medical assistance and reimbursement and said the administration was willing to provide medical help, but Nagaraju never applied for help or used his health card.Their statement also highlights, and reinforces, what many of those close to Nagaraju already knew,

“As a team we found that there were several violations of ethical conduct in how Nagaraju has been treated. Striking is the absence of a forum where he could take up the issues of caste discrimination which he said he had faced in the organization. Another key structural issue is that of contractualization of workforce, which was used by the New Indian Express administration to legitimize the taking off of Nagaraju from the pay rolls and the lack of proper medical benefits. Excuses such as Nagaraju not asking for or accepting medical help, can not be validated in today’s context, and also can not be used to justify the administration’s illegal act of not providing for medical benefits to their employee. “

 

In a press release, the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) paid tribute to him and demanded that Dalit journalists, who are anyway so few in number, be protected against casteist behaviour of superiors in media organisations. “In the rare scenario that a Dalit journalist is able to enter the upper caste stranglehold of news organisations, let the managements be careful to not exploit or subject these journalists to any sort of discrimination at the work place”, the DUJ release said.

Delhi Union of Journalists organised a memorial meeting for Nagaraju.

Delhi Union of Journalists organised a memorial meeting for Nagaraju.

Some deaths, come flying from above, pushed by the storm of misfortunes, to pierce us below the eyes, where sighs and tears rest. While others nest, all our lives, in a muted corner of our hearts,waiting for the saddest moment to strike from within us. We weep. We write. Some to remember. Some to forget. We huddle in silent spaces, alone, together, with our memories: Of us before, with, and,now, after him.

Nagaraju, a rural poor dalit, a Madiga, who broke all the boundaries that didn’t want to be touched sullying the purity of many-a-agrahara, who strenuously climbed the ladders, laden with pieces of broken glass, of the system, held onto it with his remaining breath, while the long arms of an unjust milieu kept tugging, from below, at his legs, weary from fighting all through his life. Nagaraju, a heart wrenching reminder of the efficiency of walls, cemented with bricks of inherited wealth and status, to exclude, and to kill slowly those they couldn’t.

Nagaraju, a flowering smile on a wilting face.
Nagaraju, a bed ridden hope of faintly filled stomachs.
Nagaraju, a moon passing beneath the clouds as the night slowly closes its moist eyes…
Nagaraju, the immortal flame of unlit candles…
Farewell, Nagaraju.
To gentler lands with kinder beings.

 

This obituary was written by Abul Kalam Azad, he is a student at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, Chennai. (With inputs from Chittibabu Padavala,Swathi and Friends of Justice for Dalit Journalist Nagaraju Koppala Campaign)

 

Notes:
*Manu is a Hindu Mythological figure who had scripted an extremely prominent text Manusmriti, which codifies the heinous and hideous rules, the Dharma, that should govern the workings of the caste system. Manu, hence, is a widely referenced casteist symbol/icon.

WATCH // Udita (Arise): a film on garment making in Bangladesh

Udita Poster

On April 24th 2013, the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Bangladesh. Over 1,130 workers were killed and thousands more were left injured. These workers were producing garments for consumers in Europe and North America.

We have now marked the two year anniversary of the collapse, yet the ILO trust fund established to support victims and their families remains nearly 3 million dollars short.

Rana Plaza was not the first industrial accident of its kind in Bangladesh, and building (and fire) safety is not the only challenge faced by garment workers.

Udita, the latest documentary from The Rainbow Collective, brings together footage capturing garment work in Bangladesh, collected over a five year period.

The Rainbow Collective premiered the film in East London at the Unite The Union Community Centre to a packed house on 24 April, marking the 2nd anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse.

Udita Trailer (full documentary below):

Udita

Udita asks its audience to listen to the testimonies of workers and organisers. No simple solution is presented. No judgements are passed. Viewers are left to draw their own connections.

Thanks to The Rainbow Collective for making Udita free and accessible.

Please watch and share through your networks.

Udita (full documentary):

This post was written by Mary Hanlon.

Mary is a Canadian PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh, researching ir/responsible fashion and apparel production and consumption. You can also find her at SocialAlterations.comM.F.Hanlon@sms.ed.ac.uk

Cricket, Caste and the Nation State

It was curtains for South Asia when the Indian cricket team lost to a formidable Australian team at the semi-finals of the International Cricket Council’s World Cup championship on Thursday. It is an irony that the tournament is called “World Cup” considering only 14 countries participate in the game that is followed fanatically only in the sub-continent. However it is now a final, where the the two teams Australia and New Zealand from the same continent will clash against each other on Sunday at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The defeat of the Indian team against the mighty Australian team saw emotions outpouring from the Indian fans who took both to social media and to the streets to vent their frustration and anger. And when no one paid attention to their madness, the frantic fans started heckling not the 11 players of the team or its team management, but a woman named Anushka Sharma for the team’s loss. Sharma is not a ground staff of the team, not a coach nor a player. She is a popular Indian actress who is dating Virat Kohli, the next in line captain of the Indian cricket team. The fact that Kohli consistently failed to put a decent score in the entire tournament seemed less daunting for the Indian fans, than the fact that his partner – a successful, beautiful and famous woman who had an identity of her own – was in the stadium cheering for him, without the baggage of being his wife. It was not surprising that the predominantly male cricket fans seeped in the patriarchal system of the country couldn’t handle this modern relationship. Cricket though is not only India’s national sport. In more ways than we might imagine it is a mirror to the Indian society. The heckling of Anushka Sharma brought out the misogyny of the society.

Filmstar Anushka Sharma at the Sydney Cricket Ground watching the Semi-Finals of the World Cup clash between Australia and India.

Filmstar Anushka Sharma at the Sydney Cricket Ground watching the Semi-Finals of the World Cup clash between Australia and India.

The Indian team’s loss saw social media being abuzz with  misogynyst and sexist comments against the actor, and apart from that, the loss also brought out arguments and counter-arguments about the social nature of Indian cricket and how democratic it is. For a sport which has become the symbol of national importance and is strongly associated with feelings of patriotism, a loss is considered to be a national disaster and that too in the semi-final of a world cup. The composition of the Indian team is a reflection of how long the country is taking to establish an equitable and just nation. A colonial sport, which was brought to India by the British colonizers, has evolved to become a symbol of the nation and an integral part of everyday Indian culture. Cricket is a sport that is watched and followed by millions in India and goes beyond the rubric of sport and is contoured with nationalism and communalism. Cricket indeed shapes Indian nationalism in many ways, though gendered in nature; it has become the site where one’s patriotism is put under test and especially during the team’s clashes with Pakistan. More than a sport, thus cricket here becomes a symbol of nation’s sentiment and it also enjoys political sanctity as one saw the sport being used as a means to negotiate political diplomacy with the Pakistan state.

An important question which needs to be addressed here is this: Is the sport, which has followers across religion, class and caste and is followed in all parts of the country, really representative of the nation-state and its people? A related question is this: how democratic is it in its representation? Unlike football, cricket emanated from top to bottom in India, the sport played by British colonizers in Bombay (Mumbai) among themselves, which was later imitated by upper class Parsis, then by the Hindu and Muslim elites who had their own clubs and teams;  at each stage of its evolution the sport excluded sections of the society. Does the Indian cricket team represent the social fabric of the Indian society?

Urban poor kids playing cricket on the beach in Mahabalipuram near Chennai

Urban poor kids playing cricket on the beach in Mahabalipuram near Chennai

Ramachandra Guha [1] argues that cricket as a sport cannot be understood in isolation and is strongly connected to the overarching themes of Indian history :race, caste, religion and nation. He gives us an idea how exclusive the sport was: “through its communal representation the Indian Christians were left out as they were rejected by Europeans as they were not white and the Hindus and Muslims too rejected them as they were not one among them.” The discriminatory nature of Indian cricket is exemplified through the figure of Palwankar Baloo. A Chamar [2] by birth, he was easily the most successful bowler of his era, but despite that he could never gain upward mobility in the sport and never became captain of his side. The main reason was he was a Dalit, or Untouchable. 

During his playing days, Baloo faced discrimination. His colleagues, the upper caste cricketers, touched the same ball as he, but off the field they observed the ritual taboos. At the drinks break, Baloo was served tea outside the pavilion, and in a disposable clay cup, while his colleagues drank in white porcelain cups inside. If he wished to wash his hands and face, an “Untouchable” servant of the club took a kettle out into a corner of the field and poured water from it. Baloo also had his lunch in a separate plate, and on an earmarked table. Guha compared Baloo’s achievement on the cricket field to that of Jackie Robinson in American baseball, who was likewise the first player in his game to break through what had formerly proved to be an impenetrable social barrier. The comparison is not at all far-fetched, for caste is, if anything, a more rigid and total system of social exclusion than race. 

More like South Africa, a predominantly Black populated nation whose national cricket team is always represented chiefly by Whites with a tokenist representation of Blacks and Asian ethnic minorities, the Indian cricket team is represented largely by the Brahmins and other upper caste non-Brahmins. Boria Majumdar[3] in his study demonstrates that postcolonial Indian cricket, as played at the national level, was largely a preserve of the social elite, and far from being ‘democratized’ in independent India,  it has become more than ever before a monopoly of the affluent upper castes. Majumdar shows how for almost three decades, from 1950s through to the ’80s, the Madras-Bombay Brahmin axis dominated Indian cricket. “In the 1978 team that played against the West Indies, only two players were non upper-caste Hindus and the 1982 team that played England at Lord’s all players except Kirmani (Muslim) were Brahmans or other caste Hindus.” 

As a known case, the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA), which is dominated by the Tamil Brahmins, is also riven by the constant bickering between the Iyer and Iyengar subcastes among them. TNCA has over the years become a common property of the Brahmin males in the city of Chennai (formerly Madras), and going well beyond the aspects of sport, cricket is a field for pursuing  modern forms of caste discrimination, gatekeeping and social exclusion. 

Cricket as a sport as mentioned earlier functions as a site of construction of nationalism and in the Indian case, more like other sports it acts as a masculine domain where concepts of hegemonic masculinity and nationalism overlap. Here the fact that in the colonial era as inferiorized selves, cricket served as a measure to overcome that marginality. This long tradition where the sport became a marker of nationalistic aspirations to overcome inferiority formed the construction of Indian nationalism.

Cricket, being followed by millions of fans across the sub-continent, largely remains a sport that defines masculinity in its hegemonic form, and interestingly the history of cricket in India shows us how the sport in colonial Bengal was taken up by the upper caste elites as a form of counter-hegemonic measure towards the construction of the Bengali male as effeminate by the British. This being the case, the sport which is followed mostly by males who in a sense have subordinated masculine identities see the sporting heroes as symbols of hegemonic masculinity, and through them they imagine a way out of subordination. That is why there was such an outrage when one of their masculine icons failed; they targeted the woman, thus defining an inherent characteristic of female subordination in the construction of masculinity. In another case of subordination, the caste exclusivity in cricket also defines the being of an upper caste male as a prerogative in the construction of nationalism. 

Notes and References

 

Ramachandra Guha (1997) Cricket, caste, community, colonialism: the politics of a great game, The International Journal of the History of Sport, 14:1,

Chamars are members of Scheduled Castes a formerly untouchable caste that was involved in leatherwork, so was considered by the orthodox Hindu society as polluting. 

Boria Majumdar (2006) Cricket in India: Representative playing fields to a restrictive preserve, The International Journal of the History of Sport, 23:6, 927-959 

This post was written by Karthikeyan Damodaran and Divya Rajagopal

Karthikeyan Damodaran is a doctoral candidate at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on caste processions and commemorations in Tamil Nadu, and his interests include, identity politics, social movements, caste and class, film studies and urban studies.

Divya Rajagopal is a Special Correspondent with Economic Times newspaper based in Mumbai, India.

Image 1 Courtesy : http://www.deccanchronicle.com/150326/entertainment-bollywood/article/didnt-see-anushka-sharma-during-india-australia-semi-finals

Image 2 Courtesy : http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beach_Cricket_Mamallapuram_Tamil_Nadu_India.jpg

Practices of Visual Culture: Cutouts and its Materiality as a Plebeian Political Aesthetic

Politics in India has certain unique characteristics which can hardly be found elsewhere and one element which has drawn quite a formidable amount of attraction is its practices of visual culture, countless wall posters, graffiti, giant sized cutouts and billboards form the oeuvre and decorate the landscape. Each of these practices has a specific historical connection related to its landscape. The culture of having giant cutouts is one such unique practice of visual culture specific to a geographic location; something the academicians, journalists and political commentators relate with the southern state of Tamil Nadu in India. A similar form of aesthetic but in a more concrete form of structure that comes to mind is the gargantuan Soviet era-statues, which weighed more than 40 tons and stood 25 feet high and above.

Cutouts DMK

Cutout culture, which thrived on the cinema-politics nexus, facilitated the emergence of cult figures, mythical heroes, charismatic film stars and politicians. Cutout is a term that defined the distinctive political culture of Tamil Nadu in South India. This investment on the visual aesthetics of displaying flamboyantly coloured giant size cutouts adorning the cityscapes was a contribution of the Tamil film industry and the state’s major Dravidian [1] political parties who primarily used these cutouts. Cutouts are pieces of plywood board, which are hand-painted on canvas; aesthetically shaped and erected on main junctions in the cities, they became a powerful vehicle to promote iconicity in contemporary Tamil culture. This form of cutout culture fueled ideas of devotion and charisma.

Writing about West Bengal’s political culture, prominent political theorist Partha Chatterjee said,

“wall writing regardless of parties was the single most visible material sign of political activity in the state. The activity used and perfected for over more than half a century, became an essential aspect of West Bengal’s political culture, in the same way that giant cutouts characterize the public political culture of Tamil Nadu” [2].

Giant cutouts mostly 40 to 70 feet tall where famous movie heroes or political leaders in action or waving their hands or with folded hands could be seen erected at prominent spots in the city, these cutouts in a towering height also brings into play the idea of Darshan a ritualized aspect of Hindu culture where the devotee gazes at the deity and seeing his/her image the devotee in turn becomes object of the deity’s gaze, here the filmstar or political leader is seen as god like. This also defined both the popularity of the leader and their power, and most importantly like wall posters it also gave an opportunity for the cadres to showcase their loyalty but with a little more cost pinching their pockets. Preminda Jacob [3] who studied these cutout images found out that cutouts crafted a charismatic personality for the film star leaders of political parties and enabled the amplification of that charisma throughout the public sphere. She saw the rise of iconicity of Jayalalitha [4] in a series of carefully orchestrated cutout portraits during the 1990s, the already popular image of her as a film star combined with her political persona and gave her a demigod status and the visual cutout culture was significant in constructing this status.

The years after the ‘Talkie Era’ of 1930s was when the painted signboards came into prominence, and by 1940s cutouts largely put up by the film industry surfaced to decorate the landscape and with the emergence of Dravidian parties in the 1950s the cutouts became larger in size and shape. For instance during the release of actor Sivaji Ganesan’s film Vanangamudi in 1957, Mohan Arts handcrafted an impressive 80-foot cut-out at Chitra theatre in Chennai city. This was said to be the tallest standee ever made in Asia at the time claimed Harinath, son of Mohan who designed the cutout. This form of visual aesthetics was influential in Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)’s plebeian forms of political culture and took them straightway to the masses. DMK’s close nexus with the film industry amplified these forms of larger than life structures on the public space. A political visual aesthetic primarily seen as a DMK culture infiltrated too fast and was replicated by AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) Congress and other smaller political parties in the state [5].

This visual extravaganza called the cutout culture was nothing but an extension of aesthetic display started and pioneered by the DMK in its annual conferences where smaller cutouts were used to decorate the stages and podium which were built embodying a sense of Tamil glory and golden past invoking historical figures or events from the past.  Another important facet of this visual culture are the fan clubs, a phenomenon much popular in Tamil Nadu, fan clubs also gave a fillip to these forms of visual culture during the 1960s till recent times where giant cutouts were put up during the release of films of top stars. These cutouts were erected largely in front of theatres and a few important spots, the most prominent during the 1980s and 90s was Gemini Flyover in Chennai. The cutout scenario in Tamil Public Space reached its peak during Jayalalitha’s maiden regime as Chief Minister from 1991 to 1996, it saw a proliferation of giant sized cutouts, Bernard Bate cites AIADMK as the most extravagant in its use of cutouts and says are, “unparalleled in their ostentatious semeiotic occupation of a city ” [6].

By the end of 1990s there was so much of outcry about this emergent cutout culture and was lamented by AIADMK’s political rivals, DMK being the prominent. This dissent along with the emergence of technological advancement to reproduce images digitally saw the slow demise of cutouts paving way for vinyl billboards. However during the recent past one could see its slow emergence courtesy the DMK, which has used cutouts in its recent state conference held in Tiruchi giving them a possible opportunity to distinguish them from the existing digital culture. Mohan a cutout artist in Chennai said that the cutout culture has invaded other cities, but in Tamil Nadu, the birthplace of cutout culture, it’s hard to see one. “It was only during Jayalalitha’s time that we had a field day” [7]. The last hand-painted Mohan Arts production was a cutout for the 2005 film Chandramukhi. It was raised on Anna Salai opposite the Buhari Hotel. The 2008 Supreme Court ban on all hoardings sounded the death-knell for an industry that once brought a degree of flamboyance to the city [8]. The globalizing nature of Indian cities with a specific interest to attract foreign investors and rid this form of plebeian visual culture which has been seen by the managerial and middle classes as a form of visual pollution has gained judicial investment and moral support from media. Of late, though there has been a re-emergence in terms of practicing that visual aesthetic, but not to an extent of what one saw in the 1990s, however as a visual export from Tamil Nadu it is thriving in other parts of India.

Notes and References

[1] Dravidian parties include a range of regional parties which originated in southern state of Tamil Nadu during the colonial era espousing on the idea of Dravidian ethnic identity as an oppositional binary against Aryan supremacy. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Dravidian Progressive Federation) and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (All India Anna Dravidian Progressive Federation are the most prominent among the Dravidian parties. Both the Dravidian parties had people from film world becoming top political leaders thus contributing much to the cinema-politics nexus.

[2] Chatterjee, Partha. 2006. Cleaning Up Democracy – Bengal’s zeal to sanitize its public political arena Telegraph March 16, 2006. Accessed on January 19, 2015. http://www.telegraphindia.com/1060316/asp/opinion/story_5969333.asp

[3] Jacob, Preminda. 2009. Celluloid Deities: The Visual Culture of Cinema and Politics in South India. NewDelhi: Orient Blackswan.

[4] Jayalalithaa is a film star turned politician who joined the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and rose to become the Chief Minister of the State three times since 1991.

[5] Rajadurai, S.V. and V. Geetha. 1996, ‘DMK HegemonyCultural Limits to Political Consensus’, in SathyamurthyT.V. (ed.), Region, Religion, Caste, Gender and Culture in Contemporary India Delhi: Oxford University Press. pp. 559-72.

[6] Bate, Bernard 2008. Tamil Oratory and the Dravidian Aesthetic, Oxford University Press, New Delhi. [Direct quote from Page 90]

[7] Subramanian, Nirupama. 1994. Larger Than Life, India Today November.

[8] Menon, Nithya. 2014. Chennai Once a City of Hoardings. The Hindu Accessed on January 19, 2015, http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/chen-society/chennai-once-a-city-of-hoardings/article6395165.ece

 

This post was written by Karthikeyan Damodaran.

Karthikeyan Damodaran is a doctoral candidate at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on caste processions and commemorations in Tamil Nadu, and his interests include, identity politics, social movements, caste and class, film studies and urban studies. He was previously working as a Correspondent for The Hindu Newspaper in India.

Image Source: special arrangement

The younger generation of Syrian refugees in Turkey: Forced to be precocious, but where does their future lie?

The prolonged state of the Syrian civil war led to the huge outflow of Syrian refugees to its neighboring countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. The registered number of the Syrian refugees inside Turkey is 1.5 million; however, the numbers could be more as most of the interviewees or Turkish officials told me that this number should be more than 2 million or even 3. The younger generation Syrian refugees not only been forced to leave their country, but also face the problems as drop out of schools due to security or economic reasons, lack of parenting, working illegally and got paid lower than the local average salary, and mentally and physically suffered because of their relatives or themselves’ misfortunes in and outside Syria. Even with their strong wills for surviving, how long can they stay on? And where are their future? The Syrian issue is not limited to the regional level, if the international society keeps on neglecting the refugees’ situations. The severe hatters towards the West and hopeless of their life in the minds of the Syrian people due to the careless of the international society may bounce back to the rest of the world. The following stories demonstrate how the younger generation of the refugees as Syrian youth living Turkey and their experiences reflect the iceberg of the hardship as an everyday experience.

Many Syrian youths went abroad by themselves or with few friends, because their parents either had passed away due to the cruel civil war inside their country, or are too old to travel. Muhammad and two of his younger brothers is a case of this. Muhammad is 21, Ala is 20, and the youngest Hisham is only 16, they fled from Darra to Istanbul in the beginning of 2014. All they had was 6000 USD which their father gave them. Without having any acquaintances in Turkey, they have none to depend on but themselves. From finding a place to stay to looking for a job, they can only rest on themselves and their luck in this totally unfamiliar land. Even though the two older brothers have diplomas in computer design Syrian institutes, due to the language barrier, they can only work as restaurant services for earning a life. Even worse, their salaries is half of what the Turkish worker gets in Turkey (the normal salary in Turkey should be above 1500 lira but they were getting only 800 lira).

 

Mahmoud’s salary of US$ 60 a month from a Lebanese fish factory helps to pay the rent for the underground storage room his family lives in.

Mahmoud’s salary of US$ 60 a month from a Lebanese fish factory helps to pay the rent for the underground storage room his family lives in (UNHCR/S. Baldwin / September 2013).

 

The thing perplexing me most is, why a 16 year- old-teen would like to travel to an alien land for job with his brothers? He told me: when I was in school in Darra, the police or intelligence service will come to school and arrest the school children without any reason. Some of them return injured, some of them just disappeared. We cannot attend the class anymore due to the fear from this suppression. My parents were worried about my safety so they have no choice but ask me to leave with my brothers. I need to find a job here, for sustaining the economic problem faced by our family in Syria, because there is no working possibility in Syria now.

Another 20 year old youth Muhammad from Aleppo, came to Istanbul with a few friends for finding a job. In Turkey, the Syrian people do not have the working rights, he worked as an illegal worker for construction. One day, he fell down from the second floor during his work, his back got injured and has to be bedridden for a week. I visited him with another friend in the hospital. When we entered the ward, we found three young men around his age were standing behind taking care of him, there were no adults to take care because all their parents are still in Syria. During his stay in Turkey, he got a call from his mother from Aleppo, the news from the other side of the phone was more painful than the injury on his back. His mother told him that his father has been arrested by the regime, and his brother has been detained by the rebels. Now he not only need to worry about his own situation, but also about his mother and sisters inside Syria: without any form of economic support and male members at home, how can they survive by themselves? He did not cry, not even a single teardrop, but unable to do anything he was just lying on the bed quietly.

 

Children clean up their classrooms in a school damaged during fighting in Kansafra on October 6, 2012 (Zain Karam/Reuters).

Children clean up their classrooms in a school damaged during fighting in Kansafra on October 6, 2012 (Zain Karam/Reuters).

 

In Gaziantep, I met two friends from the rebel groups, Abdullah and Mustafa, 29 years old and 24 years old. The reasons for them to come to Turkey is not as the same as the other two cases, but because during the time of their fighting their family ran out of money, so they need to temporarily stay away from the battlefield for earning some money. They told me that many people are in the same situation as them, because they did not get paid for fighting. Even though they are working in Gaziantep as carriers, but what they are carrying more in their minds is the everyday bombing near their house in Syria. Another day I met Abdullah, his face looked pensive. He told me that a few minutes ago, 100 meter away from his house just got bombed, and his wife and children are crying through the phone on the other side. Even worse, two of his cousins got injured and been sent to the Turkish hospital for recovery. He told me that he did not know what to do, but can just try to comfort his family through phone. “The living cost here is too high for us, I cannot afford to bring my family here.” The next day I saw him, his face seems to be more serious than yesterday, and he told me that one of his cousin just passed away in the hospital.

The Syrian war has lasted almost 4 years, millions of people got displaced, no matter overseas or domestic. The war not only took away the life of the people, but also damaged the future of the younger Syrian generation who are still alive. Imagine just in the Sultangazi area in Istanbul, thousands of Syrian students dropped out of class due to the war inside their country. Many of them have been away from school for 2 to 3 years. Where is their future? They have no choice but to leave their country for finding a job for earning life, while the same children in their age should go to school and learn knowledge for building up their future. There is no sign that shows the Syrian war will end soon, if the international community keeps on neglecting this huge population of Syrian younger generation refugees, after 5 to 10 years, the thousands of Syrian uneducated and illiterate people will become a misery for Syria, or even a threat to the whole international community. As a 20 years old Damascus young man who I met in a hotel in Turkey told me, “I’m going to participate in the jihad now in Syria, since the war have destroyed my family and make our situation worse than death. Even worse, all the countries in this world are not helping us, but just using the Syrian people. Only on the way of Allah can help us relieve.” Before the war, he used to be a student in the Department of Law in the Damascus University. These are just a few people I met during my stay in Turkey, and they are all urban refugees, not to mention about the people living inside the camps……

 

All the people mentioned in this article are interviewed by the author through his visit in the Turkish cities, Istanbul and Gaziantep during 2014 and 2015.

 

This post was written by Ching-An Chang.

Ching-An Chang is a PhD student in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Edinburgh,

Feminist Initiative: A Conversation with Linda Hiltmann

Sweden, which has stood apart from the rest of Europe with its “progressive” economic and political position (it has managed to withstand the recession despite keeping its welfare policy intact, is the only country in the region that has formally opened doors for immigrants, has better representation of women in politics compared to other European countries…) finds itself in a crisis as it prepares for a re-election just three months after the country went to national polls. The crisis was triggered as the opposition right wing Swedish Democrats voted against the budget that would retain the country’s liberal immigration policy, among other welfare measures. Last time Sweden saw such a situation was in 1950, and as none of the opposition party seem to be in the mood to negotiate, an election in March 2015 seems inevitable.

However, this crisis opens up an opportunity to the country’s smaller parties to try their luck in getting into the parliament. One of them would be the Feminist Initiative (F!), Sweden’s first feminist political party, which has slowly increased its vote share in the national elections since it was launched in 2005. Linda Hiltmann, from F!, who was elected to south Sweden’s Malmo City Council this year, talked to Divya Rajagopal and Najma Kousri Labidi about the party’s strategy for the coming election, its approach to immigration policy, and the need for a feminist politics. Below is an excerpt from the interview. Part of this interview with Linda was conducted over email (about the recent election development), and the other part was conducted when both the reporters were in Lund University, Sweden for an academic course in Social Innovation in a Digital Context.

Linda Hiltmann, of F!

Linda Hiltmann, of F!

The budget fell through because of immigration “reforms” – do you agree with the PM’s decision to go for re-election over this issue?

Well that is not correct, the budget fell through as the liberal and right wing parties were not willing to make agreements with the government. When the parties form in two “blocks”, the Swedish Democrats (SD) get the tipping vote role – this could have been avoided if the liberal parties had been more willing to cooperate with the government in separate issues. This would also create a much more democratic climate. Also, SD said that they would overthrow any budget that did not take their demands on immigration. So yes, I think Prime Minister Stefan Lofven and [his] government made the right choice: Let’s call for [a] new election and ask the citizens which politics (budget- the one which calls for liberal immigration policy or the one which calls for restriction on immigrants) they would like to vote for.

What is F!’s position on immigration?

F! is the only party that understands and promotes the importance of open national boundaries (or no boundaries). We talk about the free movement of people. (Sweden this year announced “permanent” residency to all refugees from Syria.) None of the other parties promotes this, as they are stuck in the economic frame and ask “what would the cost be? Is this really possible[?]“. We don’t think that policies about people’s right to protection should be calculated in economic terms. Every human being has an equal right (same rights as the Swedish nationals have, which is right to work, to health, right to education) and equal value, so we should/will frame our policy proposals on those principles. If we don’t stand up for and implement fair policies that meet at least the basic human rights, we are directly responsible for the people who are dying on the way to Europe.

Now coming to F!, what was the need to start a political party with a feminist perspective, considering that Sweden has a terrific record (at least in popular opinion) when it comes to gender equality?

To gain access to power. If you are lobbying you are always connected to something or someone else. So Gudrun Schyman, Founder and leader of F! was one of the strongest advocates for a feminist politics and for clear gender-based analysis of issues. She realised that she couldn’t leave the leading (feminist) position, and along with activists and academia, she started this party.

And it seems to have worked, your shot at power, I mean. Your numbers have certainly gone up. How did you do that?

So this election our strategy was to reach out to groups standing close to us and when we gain them we move forward. We do not try to convince our complete opponents, but those who [are] sort of interested in our politics, so when they get it, they become our ambassadors. So a lot of young people are interested in working with a feminist perspective, which is a good sign.

Could you tell us about the wage gap between men and women in Sweden?

For 2013 the total difference in pay between women and men was 13.4% (men earned 13.4% more than women). But the figure is not absolute and correct for all sectors, and when we take into account differences in working time, we lose sight of the fact that women work part-time much more than men. In 2013, 30% of women worked part-time (men 11%). Women also stay home with children to a higher degree (women 75% and men 25%), which of course affects the development of career possibilities and level of pay.

In the last election how did you reach out to voters, considering you had limited financial resources for campaigning?

We organised something called the “Home Parties”. So we have been in existence for 10 years and we haven’t had any resources. People were asking Gudrun if she could arrange a talk about feminism to just raise awareness. So Gudrun was like “all we have is ourselves”. (It was only last year we got an office in Malmo, we have been sitting at homes and working on this. This is one of the challenges for the party,which has been expressed in the way it is, and expressed in a clear way that they are so short of resources that they didn’t even have a space to work!) So she went to people’s homes where, like, about 20 people would gather to know [understand] about our perspective. At first Gudrun’s visits to people’s homes were for a couple of days in a week, then it became twice, thrice a day in a week, she was giving talks in the evening, two times in the evening, so it was all across [the campaign]. Those home parties gave her access to a lot of people.

How will F! go into this election? Will your strategy be different than the previous ones? Any learning from the past election that you would reflect on?

We will have the same strategy for campaigning, where we will reach out through social media, home parties, etc. We have not decided on any other general strategies – the re-election has taken us by surprise. What I do know is that many of the candidates [for] national parliament also went for the city councils, and a lot of us (myself included) will not campaign for the national election.

We did a great campaign last summer, and set much of the political agenda. The new government called itself “feminist”, on basic grounds of representation, and they chose a foreign minster who declared the importance of feminist policy. Of course there are several things that we learn from and change, but in general I would say that the strategies we had are still valid, to meet people in informal settings to discuss feminism and politics. What we always need to do, and which is the hardest, is to speak of feminism and power in a way so people understand the interconnectedness of power structures and how they affect everyday life.

To sum it up, do you think that feminist movements across the world should consider being part of electoral politics?

It is really important to move into the sphere of politics to change it. We should reflect on the experience that we have with these political institutions. So they look different everywhere, and you have to decide if you want to enter electoral politics, or stay outside and lobby for change. So as a party/movement ask yourself whether you believe that you can change from inside? Is this good for me? Could I cope with it? And can we build an organisation that can cope with it?

How has the political situation changed since you entered electoral politics? How influential have you been in policy change?

Well in political context, [the] last eight years has become hard for us. The liberal parties have gained power and they have created sort of Americanised block politics, though that situation has gone now, but that has also made people weary of letting go of their votes to newer parties. Also parties are seeing that feminist issues are gaining interest. In our case we have seen the young people are eager to work for [the] feminist perspective. And this makes the other parties weary, especially the left and Social Democrats. In their mind, they think we are competition and that’s why in local politics, like in Malmo, the left parties are super sensitive to our questions and they pick them up as soon as we raise [them]. So in that sense, yes, we are influencing [policy].

Most of your votes have come from the urban areas. Do you get accused of being elitist or too urban centric? And have you explored expanding your votes to the non urban parts of Sweden?

What we try to do is keep the activists’ part of the party alive. We are aware of the elitist views of the party and the discussion around it, and this is one of our challenges – how can we reach out with feminism and understand it. So our party is an umbrella organization with fluid ways of feminism. For example, we have debated how we look at [the] transgender perspective; we have to change our way of analysis to widen it. [We] also tried to address the structural racism that is within ‘Feminist Initiative’ as well, so we believe that we should at least be aware of it. So both be self-critical and norm-critical and not be afraid of being wrong and [changing] our mind. At the same time we have to be a gentle organisation, that we take care of each other and not judge each other. And this is one of the anti-elitist approaches we have, besides keeping close contact with the activist community. So one of the debates that we are having is how to keep our soul as an activist organisation and also be in politics.

How different is your politics from the left-leaning parties like Social Democrats?

We have some similarities with the left party, but our outlook is different. They are driven by the class analysis, the economic analysis, and gender discrimination is ad hoc to this. But we have moved the gender analysis and power analysis into sectional field, which deepens how power structures our everyday life. We are for open borders, but for left parties it doesn’t make sense, they are still protectionist.

*Divya Rajagopal is a Special Correspondent with Economic Times newspaper based in Mumbai, India. Najma Kousri Labidi is a reporter with Huffington Post, Tunisia.

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/newsoresund/14357204260

An excerpt of this interview was previously published at The Economic Times: http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-12-08/news/56839772_1_immigration-policy-opposition-parties-vote-share

Ferguson and the Long Life of Slavery

We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.” – Ella Baker

Darren Wilson, a white police officer who shot an unarmed black, eighteen-year-old Michael Brown on August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, said in his defense that he was attacked by Brown. “It looked like a demon,” he said. He referred to his victim as “it”. The evidence considered by the grand jury that decided not to indict him is available here.

A day after the announcement of the decision of the jury – which has led to widespread protests across the country – DeAndre Joshua, a black 20-year-old, was found dead under mysterious circumstances in the same neighbourhood that Brown was killed. DeAndre was a friend of Dorian Johnson, principal witness of Brown’s murder. A man who drove his car into an ensuing protest in Minneapolis, injuring one, was questioned but not arrested. The church in which Michael Brown’s father had been baptised recently was also destroyed by a mysterious fire.  The media has produced a stream of reports of looting and vandalism. Few are asking questions about the mysterious death of a friend of a murder witness and the equally mysterious fire at the victim’s father’s church, that occurred under an alleged state of emergency’ with the National Guard on standby to quell protests.

Shortly after the murder of Michael Brown, the police proceeded to produce conflicting narratives, first claiming that Wilson knew Brown to be a suspect in a strong-arm robbery, then conceding that Wilson didn’t know about the robbery at the time of the shooting, then proceeding to release a security video showing Brown shoving a clerk at a store. The narrative defending a similar murder of Vonderrit Myers shot from behind by an off-duty police officer on October 9, also intends to paint the victim of murder as deserving an extra-judicial execution. The owner of the store, which Myers visited before he was murdered, promptly released footage from security cameras to ensure that the police would not be able to give their latest victim the same post-mortem character assassination that they gave to Brown. About a month after the New York Times ungraciously back-pedalled from describing the murdered 18-year-old Brown as ‘no angel’ (presumably they meant that he hadn’t ascended to heaven yet), the St. Louis police union held a press-meet to defend (yet) another murderer by claiming that his victim, Vonderrit Myers, was ‘no angel’. Both victims, who were no angels, were unarmed and running away from the policemen who murdered them when they were gunned down. Maybe African-Americans require angelic status to remain alive in the United States. Or maybe only white people can be angels.As Eartha Kitt asked, asked, “When I walk into a church, I only see paintings of white angels, why?”

Surely the heavenly ranks must have swelled during that gigantic and forcible transfer of around 12 million Africans to the Americas through four centuries. That genocidal trade deprived millions of their lives and millions more of their homes and languages. The genocidal slave trade was a source of great profit to Europeans who conducted it and to their settler colonies. Systemic prejudice against dark skin is ingrained across countries that were built by slaves of African origin and descent. The abolition of slavery is rendered meaningless by these constant reminders of how race continues to stratify American societies. Stark racial wealth gaps persist. Black people continue to be incarcerated at staggeringly disproportionate rates. Michelle Alexander has named the disproportionate confinement of black bodiesthe new Jim Crow,– the set of rules that were once used to enforce segregation in the southern United States. The repeated and violent enforcement of racialized hierarchies is reason enough, as Ta Nehisi Coates cogently argues, to provide reparations to the descendants of the enslaved, to pay them back for the theft of their ancestors’ bodies and labor; for the continued theft of their right to life and dignity.

Several commentators and activists have linked the murder of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, to the long history of slavery and racist violence in the United States. Sharifa Rhodes-Pitt sees the murder and the protests that followed as one more instance in the “struggle to assert the humanity of black bodies in a country built on its denial”. The tiresome and heartlessly racist parade of a murder victim’s minor misdemeanours is used to devalue their lives, to justify their murders and to insidiously hint that the murderer had sufficient reason to commit murder, even when ignorant of his victim’s history. The most shocking recent instance of this criminal attitude towards human life was when the police in Cleveland, Ohio, murdered 12-year-old Tamir Rice for daring to carry around a toy gun and then proceed to justify the murder by claiming that he reached for his waistband when ordered to put his hands in the air. (Of course white ‘gun rights’ fanatics have been known to visit shopping malls and restaurants carrying war weaponry with no repercussions.)

Outrage at these continued violations of human rights has taken the shape of creative and powerful protests across the country. Journalists who suffered the might of the militarized police were the most vocal about the heavy-handed suppression of protest that followed. Other coverage had an emphasis on ‘unrest’ and the sporadic instances of looting. Spaces of consumption were clearly of higher priority to such coverage than black lives, shopping malls more important than the slow overflow of anger at one too many deaths, one too many racist murderers set free.

The question remains: What does freedom mean? Does freedom mean the absence of slavery? Or does it mean the right to live with access to food, housing, shelter, healthcare and education, without fear of sudden and meaningless incarceration or executions?

The Civil Rights movement in which Ella Baker played a quiet, yet powerful,role to secure basic rights for African-Americans in the United States shows that freedom is forged in the crucible of social movements. The ‘emancipation’ that followed the Civil War in the nineteenth century did nothing beyond providing a hollowed-out status of ‘free’ to African-Americans, a status devoid of many rights. While dominant narratives about emancipation claim that the Civil War was a defining moment, Ferguson shows us how little has changed, how deep inequalities persist. While many critics of Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States, have both pointed to his shortcomings and acknowledged how racism constrains his actions, Angela Davis sees the problem as lying elsewhere. Popular movements are needed to guide leaders and their actions, she points out. “The problem was that people who associated themselves with that movement [to elect Obama] did not continue to wield that collective power as pressure that might have compelled Obama to move in more progressive directions,” she said in her interview with Jadaliyya. As protests against the exoneration of Darren Wilson continue with the heart-breaking slogan ‘Black Lives Matter!’ (why do we need to say this at all?), her words show the way forward. They remind us that qualitative change only occurred for black America through the struggle for civil rights. Today again it is through protest – through protests that looks terrifyingly similar to those of the 1960s – that justice may well be won again.

This post was written by Malarvizhi Jayanth.

Malarvizhi is a PhD candidate in South Asian Languages and Civilization at the University of Chicago.

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/youthradio/15027906161

 

#MyDressMyChoice: The day we defeated silence

In Nairobi, Kenya, women are demanding respect.

They want to re-claim their bodies.

They are condemning the humiliating public stripping of three Kenyan women earlier in the month.

On this day, 17th November, 2014, many took to Nairobi streets – and marched from Uhuru Park (in the city’s CBD ) to the Embassava Sacco bus stage on Accra Road, where a mob had been filmed ripping off a woman’s clothes.

In the last one year, ten women have been stripped in public, for something that was described as ‘indecent’ dressing.

The mobilisation for the protest started through social media under the hashtag #MyDressMyChoice

Brian took photos. Ngala wrote.

This photo-essay is a narrative of the protest.

At Freedom Corner, protest organisers are reading a statement to the media. This about 11.00 AM.

At Freedom Corner, protest organisers are reading a statement to the media. This about 11.00 AM.

The protest march proceeds through the city centre. This is about 11:45 AM.

The protest march proceeds through the city centre. This is about 11:45 AM.

Our bodies, our choices. Protestors dancing during the protest march. This is about 12: 00 noon.

Our bodies, our choices. Protestors dancing during the protest march. This is about 12: 00 noon.

The adorning of mini-skirts formed part of the protest. Women want to have the choice to exercise bodily autonomy, and feel comfortable in dressing of their own choice. This is about 12: 00 noon.

The adorning of mini-skirts formed part of the protest. Women want to have the choice to exercise bodily autonomy, and feel comfortable in dressing of their own choice. This is about 12: 00 noon.

My body is not your battlefield. This is about 12: 00 noon.

My body is not your battlefield. This is about 12: 00 noon.

We demand dignity, respect and justice for all. Protestors chanting ‘My dress, My Choice’ across the streets of Nairobi.  This is about 12:30 PM.

We demand dignity, respect and justice for all. Protestors chanting ‘My dress, My Choice’ across the streets of Nairobi. This is about 12:30 PM.

The harming of one woman harms us all. This is about 12: 30 PM.

The harming of one woman harms us all. This is about 12: 30 PM.

No society that oppresses women is a civilised society. Protestors make a stand against gender-based violence. This is 12: 45 PM.

No society that oppresses women is a civilised society. Protestors make a stand against gender-based violence. This is 12: 45 PM.

Protestors refuse to tire. This is about 12: 50 PM.

Protestors refuse to tire. This is about 12: 50 PM.

11 12 13 14

Protest has arrived and sets camp near Embassava Sacco bus stage, where the public stripping of a woman’s clothes took place recently. This is about 1: 00 PM.

Protest has arrived and sets camp near Embassava Sacco bus stage, where the public stripping of a woman’s clothes took place recently. This is about 1: 00 PM.

“SHAME ON YOU”! An angry protestor stops an Embassava Sacco bus. This is about 1: 05 PM.

“SHAME ON YOU”! An angry protestor stops an Embassava Sacco bus. This is about 1: 05 PM.

“SHAME ON YOU”! Stopping Embassava. This is about 1: 07 PM.

“SHAME ON YOU”! Stopping Embassava. This is about 1: 07 PM.

On Tom Mboya Street, tension is beginning to build up. This is about 1: 15 pm.

On Tom Mboya Street, tension is beginning to build up. This is about 1: 15 pm.

A scuffle and a counter-protest are quickly developing. This is about 1: 17 PM.

A scuffle and a counter-protest are quickly developing. This is about 1: 17 PM.

Counter-protestors, the majority of whom are men, have come with the bible. This is about 1: 30 PM.

Counter-protestors, the majority of whom are men, have come with the bible. This is about 1: 30 PM.

Counter-protestors are threatening to strip us naked while the police stand and watch. This is about 1: 45 PM.

Counter-protestors are threatening to strip us naked while the police stand and watch. This is about 1: 45 PM.

Counter-protestors are defending patriarchy with bible verses. This is about 1: 50 PM.

Counter-protestors are defending patriarchy with bible verses. This is about 1: 50 PM.

Counter-protestors are getting violent. They have forcefully taken one of our banners, and some are groping women. This is about 2: 00 P.M.

Counter-protestors are getting violent. They have forcefully taken one of our banners, and some are groping women. This is about 2: 00 P.M.

One woman, a counter-protestor, invokes culture and religion, demanding that women dress decently. This is about 2: 10 PM.

Society is at war with itself. Despite the counter-protest, we press on. This is about 2: 15 PM.

Society is at war with itself. Despite the counter-protest, we press on. This is about 2: 15 PM.

We make our stand outside the Supreme Court of Kenya. This is about 2: 30 PM.

We make our stand outside the Supreme Court of Kenya. This is about 2: 30 PM.

The Chief Justice of Kenya, Dr. Willy Mutunga (centre), receives the petition. He promises that justice to the victims shall be realised. This is about 2: 35 PM.

The Chief Justice of Kenya, Dr. Willy Mutunga (centre), receives the petition. He promises that justice to the victims shall be realised. This is about 2: 35 PM.

 

History will judge you by your inaction. The protest is successful. A statement has been made. This is about 2: 50 PM.

History will judge you by your inaction. The protest is successful. A statement has been made. This is about 2:50PM.

This day silence we defeated.

This day silence we defeated.

#MyDressMyChoice Silence shall no longer be a woman.

 

There is an online petition calling on the President of Kenya to take action. Click here to add your voice.

 

This piece is the first in a multi-part series on Routes about patriarchal control of women’s bodies. Stay tuned for the next installment!

Brian Inganga is an award-winning photographer and humanitarian worker. Brian is also the co-founder of Change Mtaani CBO in Kibera Slums, Nairobi, and he works at PAWA 254.

 

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