Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Lawns as food to the Past - juxtaposed New Town, Rajarhat

Kaleidoscope finds it interesting to teach in the heart of the built in city of New Town Kolkata. There are all sorts of juxtaposed realities co-existing here and there. The 'useless' green lusty lawns as a public space (click here), a cup of coffee in a simulacra (click here) and finally the challenges of teaching in a juxtaposed space (click here).

Today, Kaleidoscope could find something amazing. He noticed not too distant past not only haunting the present but actually, literally eating away a significant part of its aristocracy.

The photo Kaleidoscope could manage to take is this.



"A great civilisation is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within." - Ariel Durant. If you think Rajarhat is not a great civilisation go, see what is happening in Bhangar. 

For those who are interested:

Lionel S Smith & Mark D E Fellowes 2013. Towards a Lawn without Grass: The journey of the imperfect lawn and its analogues. Studies in History of Gardens & Designed Landscape 33: 3,158-159

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Challenges in teaching at a juxtaposed space: Pupil and their performances

I have taught in a college in the heart of the industrial land within a port city to find some of the finest (in my experience) students having a rainbow of capabilities. I have seen students being absent for long to harvest their crops and then again resuming classes. With a few extra aids many of them have excelled in academic career. One of them went to join IIT to do a Phd.

When i had joined my first College at the port city some of my colleagues from upwardly mobile classes having high-end educational background were already demotivated with a bunch of 'underclass' first generation learners.

The ranting of same words to describe students in the teacher's hostel were enough to make any new comer feel hopeless and cynical. Meanwhile I also encountered my fellow colleagues who have given their best to 'come down' to a certain level and make them shine. Yes, i can proudly say there are students from the first generation learners pursuing PhD, working in multinational companies or have become small entrepreneurs.

Then came a day when I had to pack my bag and come to the newly built city of New Town kolkata to serve at  'A-Zone' college. The glassy building surrounded by three shopping malls and high-end apartments this college represents a potential to become one of the best in the town.

However, there are equally frustrated teachers with first generation learners coming from a little distant villages surrounding the built-in city of New Town. A major difference that I find here is the lack of interest to learn among a large section of the students. While in the port city college there were students lacking ability to comprehend things here there are students who has the ability to comprehend but are disinterested. I have used movie clips, told them stories, gave links to movies and my blogs to make them feel interested. None of these could hold interest for long. Whatever spur created lasted for the class time only. Then most of them went back to the juxtaposed space to be lost. I have seen students changing how they embody their selves rapidly after they started coming to the college. Many of them keep on taking selfies infront of the glassy staircase of the college building overlooking the baclyard of a shopping mall. Many of them I am sure somehow lost in the space. The juxtaposed space.


What makes this difference possible? Of course there is a role of unlimited high-speed internet revolution which is taking away a considerable amount of time of the students. But that is not the sole reason. Let me explain how a juxtaposed space might be playing a role.

Below are some of the photos of the road conditions that one of my students from the department of sociology has to avail to reach college everyday.



Road conditions near Bhangar (PC. Sahajahan Mollah)


Now see the glassy building of the college positioned at the heart of the built in city of new town kolkata surrounded by three shopping malls, well maintained metalled roads and all amenities that most of students can see from a distance but can rarely have access to.
One of the shopping malls adjacent to the college
The glassy architecture of the college building
The roads in front of the college


 At one side of the college property lies high-end apartments.

Neighbourhood of the college

People here only travel in their own air conditioned cars buy foods and vegetables from supermarkets. The entire space represents a late capital postmodern reality. Even plants on the boulevard are unfamiliar ones. Moreover, many of our students have heard stories of land acquisition and related violence that many of their parents relatives and neighbours have suffered from.  The space, therefore, tells the stories of violence and does symbolic violence over the common psyche with a) portraying  massive class difference, b) alienating the marginalised 'others' (students )through process of everyday encounter of significant others (including the space and also the actors).

Teachers, they similarly misrecognise to belong to the space that takes a small moment to isolate them. No matter how hard many of them try many of the students remain at the margins as they see teachers in the same spatial context, embodying same cultural capital which is attractive but 'impossible' to reach.
The pathway to reach there is not visible or are yet to become visible. Meanwhile, the exchange of knowledge continues with a dream 'imagine all the people sharing all the world equally!'


Acknowledgements: I am indebted to Dr. Sreejith K and Pranabesh Bhattacharyya for lively discussion on these issues over drinks.

See also: Interpretations and Experimentation on Knowledge Transfusions by following this: http://sumanparole.blogspot.in/2012/09/interpretations-and-experimentation-on.html

Toothukudi to Bhangar - competitions in a neo-liberal India



It is about eight years now that neoliberal loot in mining sector was quite clear as it was evident in Vedanta in Niyamgiri hills under the Congress led UPA Government (see http://sumanparole.blogspot.in/2010/07/ and http://sumanparole.blogspot.in/2010/06/sacred-mountain-corporates-and-mao-case.html). Well the neo-liberal states were in a hurry to attract private investors in every sphere. The Left Front (LF) led by CPIM was no different than others with the aggressive go-ahead of Special Economic Zone (SEZ) pollicy. In due course we have witnessed Nandigram killing, eventual loss of credibility of the LF to become completely irrelevant in the state and national politics.

Hopeless submission of state machinery:


The crucial question remains does it stop there? Does the change in the political party leading the state curb out the aggressiveness of the neo-liberal competitive market economy every sphere of our late capital self, life and governanc? Perhaps it doesnt.

While West Bengal has seen a prolonged dilemma with the industrial growth leading to substantive investment in the farming sector - like a revert back and often justifiably so for a state which has all the potential to perform well in the farming sector (see http://www.anandabazar.com/editorial/potato-farming-and-government-policy-1.784373?ref=hm-sec-new-stry-editorial for a recent state initiative that has benefited the farmers). However, there is also a parallel rise to Bhangar power grid movement and state's brutal response to it.

The killing of Toothukudi is one of the latest examples of the helplessness of the state and their submission to the corporate players which required undermining people's call, urge and questions. The state machinery opened fire without any warning, neither rubber bullet nor water cannons were used. Plain and simple firing from automatic rifles. Yes, a hundred days of agitation was enough for the state to go for an extreme measure like taking away lives of its own people. 

There will be reasons for such act as 'uncontrolled mobs', 'attack on police', 'declaration of curfew and subsequent intrusion' and perhaps the theory of 'maost link' will somehow join the show shortly. 

Be it copper factory or power grid - capital flows over flesh and bloodline of people. Its been quite some time now and people will enjoy their democratic rights CPIM to TMC to something else. AIADMK to something else. 


PS. Don't forget to include North East into the trail - you can easily map a neo-liberal horse trader clearing pathway for capital inflow.



http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/bhangar-kolkata-land-violence-pgcil-road-blockade-bengal-government-4511146/

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/mamata-bats-for-power-grid-at-bhangar/article18968007.ece


Photograph: the person in plain cloth responsible for shooting. PicCredit https://newsxind.com/national/sterlite-violence-policemen-caught-on-camera-targeting-and-shooting-protesters

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Panchayat Poll Violence in West Bengal and the Inevitable



Pre-poll, poll and post-poll violence has become a perennial feature of election in West Bengal. Perhaps Panchayat election shows some of the ugliest phases of such a feature. In 2013 there was occupancy instead of election in many places (see my blog on this issue here) and this year with about 26% of uncontested sits and numerous instances of poll-violence (only a fraction of which is covered by media) many would consider Panchayat election to be of complete farce. What does it signify? Does it mean people in West Bengal suddenly has become violent? Does it mean there is a complete absence of democratic principles in villages of West Bengal? In order to have some understanding of possible reasons there is a need to look at different stakeholders in West Bengal in recent past.

Stakeholder 1: People without protections

Welcome to one of the lowest paid public service structure of the country. I might sound like a person with strong sense of class, but there is a strong impact of class and class position show off in West Bengal and people behave accordingly. Remember no matter how long West Bengal experienced Communist Party rule, the state is still conspicuously follow class based mobilisation of people and processes. The public servants lagging behind in their pay structure, repeated unattended grievances are already demotivated. Such a demotivation is rooted in multiple fields in their everyday life and practices. They are not in a position to implement the administrative machinery because the support structure doesn't exist. Panchayat election is one of the most prominent examples to such a contention. In case of an emergency the entire machinery collapses. Presiding Officer (PO) with Magistrate power fails to access the Sector Officer. With a couple of equally demotivated force the  PO usually has no choice than to let go.

Stakeholder 2: People who know stakeholder 1 is unprotected

Remember good old days when a 'public servant on duty' embodied a power-in-itself. One couldn't even think of doing anything violent against them. The machinery used to be so massive that the public sphere always remain apprehensive about the 'sarkar maa-e-baap.' This awe towards the public institutions has changed over past few decades especially during the last few years of Left Front and then with the new rule of Trinamool Congress. The reasons are complex and multilayered but of course linked to a) the political deep probe within the administration where the administrative structure has lost its capacity to function as an independent mechanism and b) rile of leaders extending support towards the 'mob justice' or sometimes even 'media trial.' This is a distinctive mode of public transaction where people can get away with beating up doctors, professors and police. 

The very nature of violent mode of public transaction instead of following the rules of the game and subsequent administrative inaction have resulted in a peculiar consciousness of public sphere which sees public service employees are there to serve them like their slaves. If they fail to deliver what in the opinion of the public sphere desirable the public sphere can bet them up, vandalize and get away with it smoothly. 

Stakeholder 3: The Gundas and Dadas and their assistants

Yes, its a masculine sphere of the world of politics and dependence of people on the politics. If you are an individual staying in West Bengal you must have encountered people with 'attitude.' Let me explain what I mean when I use the word attitude.

you might have encountered people

a) who chats indefinitely on a road by blocking it. When you find it difficult to navigate you honk but they take a lot of time let you pass through as if the road is their private property - yes they are the one.

b) who are always there in any occassion organised by some committee or club under a broad head 'sarbojanin' - everybody's. They have their boys who work for them to collect subscription, arrange for feast and so on.

c) you want to build a home, you are supposed to buy materials from them. 

d) you want to buy or sell a property you have to do it through them.

e) you want to beat up some or the like they are available.

yes, they are everywhere. The party machinery tends depend on this every growing section of young and not-so-young gang of boys. They are not only unemployed but are unemployable. Moreover, an increasing number of them doesn't mind being not employed. Smartphone clad, Gio internet packed, carefree section of the boys are the assets to political parties and are known as taja chhele (fresh and active boy), bachha chhele (innocent childres), etc. 

Election, party and stakeholders interplay:

What happened in 2018 Panchayat election is a classic case of power uncertainty and an interface of different stakeholders. While the stakeholders clearly know each other, often encounter each other even in few cases same person plays different roles of the tree apparently distinctive stakeholders, I guess the violence was inevitable. Such violence in Panchayat election doesn't mean there is an absence of democracy, nor does it mean Bengalis have suddenly become violent. It indicates two things.

first, there is a good number of people made dependent on party. Their livelihood depends on continuation of political change. It was there during the Left regime but TMC has consolidated it even further.

second, the helplessness of the administrative mechanism is surfaced, practiced and become part of people's everyday. Those who have had practice sessions in beating up doctors, professors and police have their final examinations in the election days. We know they will give their best shot during an election.

Hence, there is no point in being cynical and state that democracy is dead. It isn't. The entire time dimension is in a continuation of dialectics. Antethesis is under construction and it is well watered in every corner of the state of West Bengal. Today its Bharatiya Janata Party tomorrow it will be some other party. 


Image courtesy: http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-west-bengal-panchayat-poll-zee-exclusive-stash-of-bombs-found-behind-tmc-strongman-arabul-s-house-2614301 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Rapes and Riots: Controlled Violence in post Gujarat India


There are two different patterns of riots in India. The one that attempts to divide the country into two. There is a second that attempts to translate riots to electoral dividend. The first is wide spread, with high death toll and often political consequences often with a degraded political images that take years to recover from. If we look at the consequences of Gujarat 2002, even after the Supreme Court of India monitored Special Investigative Team (SIT) gives clan cheat to the then Chief Minister of Gujarat Mr. Narendra Modi (see livemint), there are confusions continuing (see India Resists) regarding whether it can be considered as a clean chit or not.

The dilemma:


Why should there be riots being linked to the politics with communal fault-line? There are two related and known reasons, first, religious fault-line helps propagation of particular forms of ideologies, such as those who wish to see India in a particular form of religious state in opposition to Islamic Pakistan. Second, religious fault-line often prioritizes issues which has no link to the deliverables of the state, such as the people's protections from 'others' - for so long, its the Muslim others. Meanwhile an Yale University study done by three Political Scientists have shown clear association of BJP's electoral gain from riots (click here). The second most effective method followed by BJP to gain electoral win is through coalition. BJP happens to be an expert coalition maker (Sudha Pai 2013 and Sridharan 2013 click here). Hence, there happens to be a double edged sword with which BJP has to move. First, it cannot afford to take part in a full fledged riots which can only make subsequent coalition building process difficult. Second, as I have already discussed with evidence, it is quite difficult to erase public memory, especially about the person held responsible in the public image.

How can one leave such a tested political game plan ever?

Smaller incidents and newer strategies:

What instead we are seeing in practice is smaller incidents of 'riot-like' situations, such as those in West Bengal and disturbing trends of rapes in Kathua on a Muslim girl and in Unnao on a Dalit girl. Both the cases represents classic examples of women seen as non-human objects to be marked, used and so on. Rape happens to be the instruments to humiliate men by assulting 'their' women. Both of these are representations of masculinity, political and sexual identity as I have already discussed in my previous post (see Rapes as Instruments: India's Chances of Survival). 

Presently, India is witnessing what may be termed as "controlled violence" and not a full fledged genocide as was evident in Gujarat 2002. 

Image courtesy: https://newsclick.in/sites/default/files/gujarat_riots_0.jpg

Friday, May 11, 2018

The unmaking of TMC - Factions and Repressions



What represents the highest challenge to ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal? Surely not the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - they have only become the nearest opposition and TMC is still managing comfortable wins in elections. Its no other party at present that can challenge TMC in West Bengal. The religious faultline which has been a successful model for BJP can only consolidate voters in a few pockets, whether that can translate a power change in the assembly is highly questionable because of two reasons, first, West Bengal has a considerable portion of Muslim minorities (around 27% as per 2011 census) and second, there still is a strong secular civil society activism working at ground level. Hence, no opposition force is capable of uprooting TMC in its stronghold. Meanwhile there are disturbing trends in Panchayat election related to the increasing percentage of uncontested sits and disjuncture of Panchayat from people as well as civil society (for details click here http://sumanparole.blogspot.in/2018/04/panchayat-civil-society-west-bengal.html).

However, what appears to be most daunting task for TMC is to save the party from itself. The fault-line of faction appears to carry a greater threat than anything else at the moment.

What makes the faction more prominent?

TMC happens to be a party that does not take care for building up organisations at the grassroots. Instead, the entire Party machinery appears to depend on a few local or regional leaders. TMC supreme Mamata Banerjee's dependence on leaders like Anubrata Mondal in Birbhum or Arabul Islam in south 24 parganas are few examples. While these men effectively 'controls' and regulate the local power grid through a variety of informal channels, they have developed an 'exchange dependence' on a handful of relatively smaller units - most often on those who have control over local  hooligans. This entire architecture has become an alternative to the party based organisation system developed meticulously by erstwhile Communist Party of India Marxist (CPIM) led Left Front (LF). 

These smaller units have their autonomous modes of operation which is most often beyond the control of vertical tier and hence often surfaces prominent internal conflicts. These situations intensifies at a time of power uncertainty.

Handling of factions:

While at the base level there are multiplicity of actors, agencies and power conflicts resulting in internal clashes at the highest level there is much lesser turmoils getting surfaced. There is a linear power allocation typically aligned to the TMC supreme Mamata Banerjee. The rise and continuation of TMC supreme is a classic example of Weberian charismatic leadership interfaced with a administrative-democratic leadership. Hence, instead of getting deeper into the resolution of factional politics within the party, TMC supreme came up with a brilliant alternative of using stardom (symbolic capital) of significant personalities - most frequently that of people from silver-screen like Dev, Chiranjit, Sandhya Ray, etc. While these people carry a significant amount of symbolic capital from their own fields, they completely lack the social and cultural capital at the field in which they are expected to perform. Hence, the people with greater social and cultural capital to work at the grassroots remain unaffected and faction remained. Occasional localised conflicts related to petty issues like who will provide material to a construction, who will partner in a land related dealing and who will get work in a particular project are reflections to such unresolved factionalism and their disagreements. 

Meanwhile handling faction in Panchayat election is a daunting an impossible task. There are simply too many sits with too many competing and 'competent' contenders. Hence, the strategy has been to depend on the locally powerful leaders. Hence, West Bengal is experiencing the highest number of uncontested sits this year. 
Percentage of uncontested sits in Panhayat election over the years

The repeats of history:

While TMC is busily fighting factionalism, there are repressions on popular movements and nuanced development of protest politics in places like Bhangar against the construction of power grid. Hardly, 25 kilometers from heart of the capital city of Kolkata, Bhangar Jami Jibika Paribesh O Bastutantro Raksha Committee (Committee to protect land, livelihood, environment and ecosystem) led movement is brutally repressed by the TMC. The same party which brilliantly fought Special Economic Zone (SEZ) initiatives to bring about a political change in 2011- ending longest democratically elected LF regime. 

Meanwhile, as the then CPIM argued Nandigram has Maoist backup which was later admitted by a section of the Maoists, TMC is also showing possible Maoist connection in Bhangar movement. 

Image courtesy : https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/trinamool-congress-wrests-noapara-assemmbly-seat-leads-in-uluberia-ls-seat-in-west-bengal/articleshow/62740260.cms

Monday, May 7, 2018

Communal Everydayness - the case of a Muslim Bakery boy

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Kaleidoscope has adopted a healthy lifestyle of late. He wakes up early and goes for a walk everyday. On his way back he usually stops at a nearby store and buy milk and curd. Since, he usually is the first customer he spends some time watching the shop owner arranging the shop neat and clean. A young boy with a bakery van appears everyday. He arranges all the bakery stuff neatly, writes the details in one of the pieces of discarded cardboard and makes the shop owner understand the details of the deal.

There are two to three people who roam around the shop - adding some words to a typicality in Kaleidoscope's everyday morning. This bakery boy is a Muslim by birth. One day he expressed his desire to a halt in the series of Kalbaishakhis - the seasonal thunderstrorm that keeps Bengal cool during the early phase of summer in April-May. This year there were too many of them, and this boy wanted to stop it. Quite contrary to Kaleidoscope's urban desire. of course, kaleidoscope wanted more of such Kalbaishakis to take place so that the temperature does not rise too much. Well, of course, both Kaleidoscope and bakery boy know their desires cannot do anything to the weather. Kaleidoscope was curious to the bakery boy who was already sweating.

Kaleidsocope: "Why do you want Kalbaishakhi to stop? see you are already sweating like anything!"
Bakery boy: "our farmland is water logged because of this, we wont be able to have a good harvest, it it continues to remain so"

Before Kaleidoscope could ask anything the shop keeper said:
"How much more money do you need? You are earning here, and also you are earning there"
he continued
"what is the point of earning, you people are going to give the money to the terrorists!"
The shopkeeper stopped with a smile.

Kaleidoscope didn't know what to say. He was awestruck for a moment and then replied:

"What makes you think that he will donate money to terrorist organisation? do you have a proof for that"
Shop keeper: "They are Muslims. It doesnt require a proof"
Kaleidoscope was angry now
"How can you declare such a strong judgement against him without any proof? This is not done"

The Bakery boy intervened
"let it go dada, what people say is not true. Saying anything doesn't make you that person. We listen to so many such comments that we don't mind it anymore"

Bakery boy left, and the shopkeeper continued "You dont know he was increasingly involved with religious fundamentalists, his father brought him back from them!"

Kaleidoscope asked "What is your opinion about the seven day long Kirtan that is being organised in our locality for last few years? Isn't that fundamentalism?"

Shopkeeper: "You know they are planning to extend it for fifteen days from next year..."

Kaleidoscope met that boy another day. The shopkeeper's younger brother continued to tease him for a person belonging to Muslim community was caught with illegally smuggling rotten meat from dumping ground - a news which is of central attraction for last few weeks in West Bengal.

The Kaleidoscope met him once again at a crossing near his locality and asked:
"People say so many things to you why don't you protest?"

He replied something that moved Kaleidoscope:
"We are minors in this country dada, Majority always humiliates minority. A poor person with minority status should not react to any forms of teases."

Kaleidoscope left the place as the conversation ends. He knows the bakery boy will continue to remain silent, will smile and tell to himself "You are not the one, what others are saying about you."  The question that bothers him is "for how long?" for he knows the power of labeling people and building social constructs around them.

Image courtesy: https://communalism.blogspot.in/2011/09/on-narendra-modis-fast-for-harmony.html