Sunday, September 29, 2013

State, temple and corporates: constructs and micro identities in postmodern India

Kaleidoscope and queen were amazed and shocked to find Mr P in Levi-Strauss jean and denim shirt in Varanasi as being part of the family which owns all but four temples of the old city. Mr P is a Brahmin and a saint who does not need to 'sacrifice' any of the earthy comforts to attain Moksha. Mr. P belongs to a considerably large group of many other such saints and leads a life which is quite contradictory to the common constructs associated with saints.

God man and not so godly pursuits:

Quite obvious, this section devotes itself in discussing Asaram's alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl. It appears that the girl and her parents are made to believe that she is possessed by some evil spirit and Asaram being a guru is with the power to drive it off. Asaram's ideology is anti-western, anti-non vegetarian, anti-sexuality as he says if one removes these 'antis' s/he perpetuates evil side of human beings such as aggression, wrath, etc. He advises not to fall in love before marriage, abstain sexual intercourse for pleasure as it is for the continuation of life cycle. He further advises to stop celebrating valentine's day, and also talks in favour of rapists who raped and killed the medical student in New Delhi. 

For Asaram the saint Kaleidoscope and the Queen meet at Varanasi is perpetuating evil side of their personalities.

The constructs: 

Asaram and people like Asaram projects the image of saint that is well nurtured by the mainstream media. Socialisation and social constructs are intermixed for the perpetuating their hegemony. Throughout life people tend to identify themselves with their parents, teachers and heroes. Therefore when Asaram and the like shares dais with leaders of such height as L K Advani, Narendra Modi or Uma Bharati it leaves significant effect on people's mind. When Bollywood superstars vow their respects towards these godmen the  powerful constructs embodied by them are formidable. Despite of many cases of murder, sexual assault and land grab Asaram has considerable power in BJP ruled states such as MP, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh. Asaram's arrest has been projected by VHP as an attack to weaken Hindu culture and Hindu ideology. These acts often go unnoticed but smoothly blends faith, politics and money. 

Interestingly all these happen in a time when Science and Technology dominates much like the Pharaohs of Egypt and Zamindar's of Bengal. While Science and Technology bring new barbarism, religious pursuits are even more powerful. One instance would show the nature of constructivism in neo-liberal India. The solar eclipse of 1980 was a phenomenon that people were advised by the televisions to avoid, people avoided. The 1995 eclipse was promoted by television as a spectacle and people watched the spectacle. Interestingly in the same year the country was moved by the miraculous milk drinking Ganesh. Constructs, stereotypes and myths are created, recreated and killed everyday.

Liberalisation and India's own special ways:

Godmen like Asaram project their agendas against west and aspects of 'other' culture that comes with post liberal era of the country. However, strategically Asaram and others like Ramdev uses political clout which surrounds them, encash Hindu sentiments promoted by several political parties and voluntary organisations, build their empire on leased and discounted lands from states, collect donations from sections of rich Indians in India and in Abroad, collect money from temples that tend to grow like mushrooms. They are successful in attracting corporate fundings from organisations which seek to encash from religious tourism, healthcare and education industries. Neo-liberal India sees free flow capital along with a blend of states, temples and corporates effectively. Under Neo-liberal regime India attract private capitals from both global and indigenous players. It has become relatively easy to club up money from people and corporates to form religious-cum-business empires. Saints whom Kaleidoscope and the Queen meet in the Varanasi, with whom they dine together, talk over hours and share a special friendship are therefore sidelined, although Mr. P cannot overthrow the political clout which surrounds him just because he is part of the family which owns numerous temples in the holy city. 

The rest, the dominant discourse of sainthood run patanjali, get funding for Art of Life (AOL) form Infosys, get land from the state, spread Hinduttava among the tribals of MP, Chhatisgarh and then they allegedly rape girls, kill people, and encroach lands all for sake of faith and value of a age old tradition collectively called the Hinduism.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Ethnocentric bias, starvation deaths and vanishing natives

People can die because of malnutrition, tuberculosis, fever and pneumonia, but they can never die of starvation. A recent report of starvation deaths in Birbhum triggers controversy that government and other key players have found hard to dodge. At least 19 tribal people have died because of starvation. There are several sporadic incidents of such deaths that go unnoticed. The question that becomes important is a historical one. The large scale starvation deaths occurred during 1942-43 do not report much death of tribal population of the state. The starvation death among tribal population while seen historically is a much recent phenomenon. What changes have taken place in last 70 years? More crucially it is important to explore what changes have taken place in last 20 years that have radically altered the tribal ways of life?

Post neo-liberal India sees lands being classified as barren, one to multi crop land, land having mining potentials and so on. Similarly forest policies kept displacing tribal access to the forest. Forest trees are replaced by eucalyptus and others adding noting to daily life of the people who depend heavily on the forest. Furthermore large scale displacements, often induced by development  have continued.

While a land which is seen as barren is actually used for cattle grazing, cultivating wild and high calorie cereals for local consumption, collection of tribal medicines. These lands are then taken for either developing connectivity or stone mining or much recently for industrialisation. The land grab under which tribal people are going through for last three decades are unprecedented.  

Case - I: dam construction and a close call 

The place is known as Mukutmanipur where thousands of families were displaced because of the construction of a river dam which is supposed to irrigate parts of Bardhaman, Bankura and Paschim Medinipur. My two seasons of fieldwork reveals that the impact of the dam construction is still quite detrimental. Apart from the loss of their homes and families who are now resettled far off, the neighboring villages have lost their grazing land and valuable forest resources on which they used to depend. Now the alternative economic pursuit is to work as a hotel boy in several hotels developed surrounding the mukutmanipur lake. Furthermore, the nature of the jungle is transformed and people can no longer depend on the forest resources which used to provide vital nutrients. The result is large-scale migration of men folk to neighbouring urban centres. If the neighbouring urban centres would have been far off many of the existing family members would have died.


Displacement leaves long term effects and undermines local and micro value orientations.
Policies of development usually underestimates existing man and other resource relationships

Case - II: piggery project and child malnutrition

 What happens when government decides to do something for the people. It usually happens like this.

step - I something clicks in the mind of a minister or IAS or the like in one fine morning
Step - II S/he prepares the plan over cups of high-tea sessions
Step - III An expert committee is formed and the project is implemented with the help of local agencies including NGOs.

No one even asks or seeks to explore the feasibility of the project. Once in  one of my fieldworks in Manipur it is seen that after the implementation of piggery development project child malnutrition become extremely high. The assessment team populated by anthropologists finds that because of high cash value of the piggery project people have stopped cultivating wild maize and other cereals. In consequence because of the lack of fodder which used to come from the stems of those wild cereals people have sold off their goats and cows. As a result children started to suffer from mal-nutrition triggered by low milk intake. 


Long-term effects are often undermined
Possible consequences of any initiatives are not properly addressed.  

Case - III: barren land and a halted industrialisation  


Understanding of the natural resources are never done from the persepctives of the people who depend on these resources.
Value judgement of any resource depends on perspectives and policies lack the perspectives of the people who tend to depend on those resources

Case - IV: Maoists and armed forces

In another long term fieldwork which continued for three consecutive seasons in several regions of Paschim Medinipur I have seen that people are systematically being denied from the resources on which they have historically depended. While in pre 2011 election Maoist violence have occupied the news headlines people's everyday lives have largely been unseen. The most severely affected people were the tribal. They could not go into the forest because of the fear of maoists who would see them as police linkmen and they could not come out of the jungle because of the fear that police would see them as a maoist sympathasier. The consequence have been devastating. Because of frequent bullet exchanges cultivation was virtually stopped people have starved, if not have died.  


Policies and sometimes armed ideological conflicts tends to undermine people for whom the fight take place.

The accumulations:  

One of the anthropological cornerstones have been the idea of cultural relativism. Although hotly debated, whether or not we should observe cultural relativist stance there is a need to make policies free of ethnocentric bias to the extent possible. Often we find people saying tribal and natives eat rats, snakes, insects and ant larvae because of the paucity of food. There should be policies to feed them for which we need their resources. This is an utter lie. Tribal people eat those items because they consider those as their foods and not alternatives to chicken/mutton or rice and wheat. We have continually damaged their resources. We have transformed their grazing lands to mining grounds, stone crushing factories and water reserviors. We have transformed their forests into bunch of eucalyptus trees which do not yield anything but fuel woods. We never try to explore the systematic relationship between tribal and their habitat. Sadly, anthropologists and other social scientists including activists who do understand the process are either sidelined by the policy makers or are too romantically involved in so called "going native". Instead we see site for industrialisation in their barren lands, we tend to calculate profit and loss from the land yield according to our mode of calculations. 

Now the question is how long are we going to prepare policies that has nothing to do with the natives? The answer however, is known, it is INDEFINITELY. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

A fake coin and the postmodern depthless presents in everyday life

Kaleidoscope and the queen rushes to the expressway connector in order to reach their destinations. It is a hurried moment and as always happens both of them are in no mood to waste a moment. Meanwhile a person approaches "could you please spell out what is written on it?"
Kaleidoscope and the queen become speechless to find out an East India Company 1818 coin in his hand. He convincingly says that he has found it underground while working in a place close to airport. 

The impression that the coin bears is also available in internt:

Sell it:

Kaleidoscope with his pea sized intellect reads out the inscription and he fails to understand the hidden strategy. The person keeps on saying that he intends to sell it if someone pays him 'a-man-day'. Kaleidoscope asks "which is?" "Yes, it is Rs. 300/-" the man replies. Kaleidoscope (still thinks!) does not show any interest in the coin but reluctantly offers Rs. 50/-. 

The religious issues:

Since the coin numismatically Hinduised. It includes Lord Ram, his brother Laxman, his wife Sita and Hanuman. The man promptly says "I am a Muslim and my contractor says I should not keep it." 


Not because of any attempt to save Lord Rama from a Muslim possession, but just because Queen is from archaeology, and Kaleidoscope is magically inclined to old things they make the purchase. 

Fake or Real:

Now comes the real test. Should Kaleidoscope feel the pride of possessing a coin nearly 200 years old, or he has just been cheated. The queen's father and many others (excepting Kaleidoscope, perhaps) have experiences of such encounters with fake coin sellers. Furthermore, one of Kaleidoscope's neighborhood sister from archaeology also says as the queen feels too that the coin, most probably is a fake copy. Kaleidoscope comes back and asks google, as google knows everything. While Kaleidoscope finds out, the design that the coin carries indeed resembles 1818 East India Company Coin.
Meanwhile a thought passes Kaleidoscope's mind, are not we living in an era where restorative efforts, such as Kaleidoscope's inclination towards old stuffs in postmodern condition, reflects the loss of an active relation to past as we have lost a sense of historical location and are locked into an endless succession of depthless presents (Jameson 1991). Hence, Kaleidoscope finds the answer. Whether or not the coin is true or a true copy of the original does not really matter. He is in the world with a whole historically original consumers' appetite for a world [that] transformed into sheer images of itself and for pseudoevents and "spectacles" (the term of the situationists). It is for such objects that we may reserve Plato's conception of the "simulacrum," - the identical copy for which no original has ever existed.

Kaleidoscope is amazed to find out:
  1. His consumer-centrist attitudes towards the endless successions of depthless presents
  2. His and queen's crave for a restorative efforts in their nostalgic (/colonial) hangover in a postmodern condition.
  3. A juxtaposition of religion, consumerism and images in which Kaleidoscope finds the world in which he chooses to live. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Longing for a home that never exists: (A)historical emotion and return of the repressed

When hostel students organise farewell and freshers' welcome, the hostels are usually transformed to a carnivalsque. It becomes upside down. Pupil suddenly becomes eager to confess, there are boundaries that get dissolved and people like Kaleidoscope often sees naked reality. So once in a programme like this, in a moment when Kaleidoscope's pupil were in a mood of confession, a young boy shouted "if you don't have brother don't make a dummy brother, if you don't have a sister don't make dummy sister." It suddenly opens a window, a nostalgic one where Kaleidoscope can see pupil's longing for a home that never really exist.

What might have happened:

Possibility I:
1. The guy had found a sister (highly probably) in a girl
2. The sisterhood continued for a while and it got broken up

Possibility: II
1. The guy was looking for a significant relationship in an otherwise manly hostel world and he finally ended up in getting a sister (and not a fiancee)
2. Eventually the girl realised the underground demand and they broke up

Possibility: III
1. The guy and girl both seek a significant relationship
2. They found each-other
3. At the end of the year either one (in this case probably it is the girl) got back to the lost home, went back to the real brother (or the sister, probably not in this case), hence eventual painful separation because "blood is thicker than the water."

Well Kaleidoscope can keep on listing numerous permutations and combinations of the possibilities. However, the bottom line is that there are people who continue to seek for the world that never really exist. Kaleidoscope would rather see this as a restorative effort of the people who are born in a nuclear family (or are compelled to live in a nucleus life), miss out relationships which are historically defined as important but absent. The reflective dimension of nostalgia is intertwined as Svetlana Boym sees it not as an individual sickness but a symptom of our age, a historical emotion. As the world evolves to modernity, worlds find new time and space coeval with it. A result of which is longing for not only a space but also for a time. Hence worlds are filled with ancient ghosts, people's restorative efforts and a heterotopic outcome. It is highly likely that it will call for more uncalled for carnivalsques engulfing Kaleidoscope in his restorative efforts and his longing for a imagined home. The hostel boy, the transformed spaces, vanishing places and juxtaposed and nucleus modernity do make a space for the return of nostalgia as repressed are often returned.