Category Archives: movement

A Report on Caste Oppression That Has Not Seen the Light of the Day

At a time when Dalits are protesting all over the country over Rohith Vemula’s death, we must realize it is pent up anger against institutional casteism, systemic Brahmanism – it is not just about the death of one “scholar who did not use his SC quota” only “who loved reading Carl Sagan”. Those who need such justifications to appease their casteist notions of merit and ‘deserving victim’, either need to mend their ways or step aside, lest they get burnt in the fire of passion that is raging in the country right now. “A Specter is haunting Brahmanism” as a poster read, but not just that of Rohith, but that of a Dalit upsurge, a caste based rebellion. Rohith’s suicide  murder just ignited a volcano waiting to explode.  It only makes sense now to produce a piece on caste oppression that has not been printed in official media (according to the essay itself) – not only because it contains accounts of caste based discrimination but also precisely because it was rejected by Brahmanical media on grounds that there wasn’t “enough proof”.  No peace without justice. 

Rohith – We Shall not Forget, We Shall not Forgive

From Gutta Rohith’s Facebook post:

By Shahina Nafeesa (Translation- Renu Ramanath)

2010 September: To reach the village of Chinthula in Ranga Reddy District you have to travel around 60 kilometers from Hyderabad. That journey was in search of the home of R. Balaraj, who had been a Ph.D Scholar at Central University of Hyderabad. Balraj was researching on Telugu Literature. During the second year of his Ph.D. Balraj hung himself to death. He would have become the first Ph.D. holder from his community, even from his locality. In the tiny, two-roomed house made of laterite there were Balraj’s father, mother, two sisters and brother. He was the only literate one in the household. All others did their caste occupation: tethering cattle. Continue reading A Report on Caste Oppression That Has Not Seen the Light of the Day

Why Not Being in an Organization Need Not Mean Individualism and Egoism

This piece is for all those who so vociferously defend “doing organizations”. Right at the onset, let me clearly point out that I am not anti-organization per se – a democratically functioning organization which allows individual voices to be heard is indeed necessary. But what about the nature of the organizations at present? Do they function democratically, internally as well as externally (i.e. vis-à-vis other orgs and society at large)? There is a good reason to doubt that. Given that is the case, isn’t it perfectly possible for an otherwise politically motivated person to not join any of the organizations because they find them ideologically problematic? Of course there can be reasons other than ideological concerns that may make a person avoid an organization. Some of these reasons may be personal, which is an entirely different matter.

I know that the pro-organization brigade will pounce on me at this stage and say – how do you know for sure that all those who say they are not doing organizations for ideological reasons are actually not acting that way for personal reasons? To them, I will say, yes, I am not sure. It can be difficult to separate the personal from the ideological at times. But that can also be a product of the organization’s doing. Particular leaders may make it a point to suffocate the voices of certain cadres within the organization. Is it so outlandish that a personal disliking can also develop towards such leaders (or other members for that matter)? Indeed such a disliking can have a rather political color to it. Let’s now ask the “organizationists” a return question – what makes you people so sure that those who are in them organizations are there entirely for ideological reasons? Indeed, it is quite possible that romantic attachments, blind following of some “dada” or “didi” or just the basic socio-psychological need for association is the driving motivating factor behind being in such organizations.

So is it justified to stifle someone’s opinion just because they happen to be an “individual”? The way most organizations, including the leftist ones, operate today, it is extremely difficult to remain within them while being critical of their activities. Hierarchical as most of them are, it would be immensely hard to avoid internal censorship. Expression of dissent is strongly discouraged, such is the organizational structure and modus operandi. The only way to remain in an organization is to either give your critical approach up or become an obedient cadre or to compromise with your ideals. You will be forbidden to openly criticize your organization, so what option will you have other than to toe the official line? Yet, if a person chooses not to do any such organization but still remains politically active, why should that person’s opinions be considered any lesser? Yet, rarely do we see, apart from a few “elite” and glorified intellectual elites (research scholars, teachers etc) or a handful of well known individual activists, individuals getting a space during movements or any other political process for that matter.

On the contrary, what we usually see is that there is always a slandering against certain individuals, especially if they are critical of the current organizations. Strangely, even those organizations who are otherwise at each others’ throats, join hands in building popular opinion against such individuals. Indeed, it is as if being an “individual” automatically means one is being escapist, opportunist, egoist and what not. I urge the “organizationists” to consider this aspect of the individual-organization binary as well. It is a false dichotomy I admit, but it cannot be denied that the present situation demands that a special focus be given on the rights of individuals to express their opinions and make meaningful contributions without hindrance from organizations.

by Kisholoy

Scrapping non-NET Fellowship: No Merit in That

Here I would try to argue that the University Grants Commission’s decision to scrap non-NET fellowship is problematic by calling into question the idea of merit and entitlement based on which some are trying to justify this decision.

After the JRF amount was hiked, many expected that the same would happen for the non-NET fellowship amount which stood at Rs. 5000 and Rs. 8000 per month for MPhil and PhD students of central universities who are not getting any other UGC fellowship. However, the committee that was deliberating on the topic of increasing this fellowship amount has decided to scrap the fellowship altogether.

Then, what could be the argument in favour of continuing with the fellowship? After all, aren’t we talking about students who could not qualify for JRF, and hence have proven themselves ineligible? Why must the government waste more money on them?

If we are to honestly answer this question, a look at qualifying for JRF as a metric for eligibility must be called into question. For that, let us take a look at the ‘education’ system.

Schooling: What Is Excellence?

This education system provides education in a language that is not accessible to most, in a manner that actively dissuades students from thinking critically and analytically, and with content that is tainted with class, religious, caste, gender, and other biases. Broadly speaking, the education system has different approaches towards the poor, the Dalits, women and the ‘third’ gender, the disabled in the society, people from various ‘underdeveloped’ parts of the country, and neither last nor the least, the disobedient and the critical thinker – the said categories are NOT mutually exclusive. And the idea of excellence in such a system reflects all those biases.

What is excellence in a system where in maths and sciences, your tried-and-tested formula for excellence is a list of ‘suggestions’ – questions which will presumably appear in the examinations you are preparing for, which either your elite private or government school or your tutorials whom you pay a shitload of money will provide you with, so that you can ‘excel’ by mugging up the answers to those questions? What is excellence in a system where the teachers trained by the same rote-learning methods will not accept a correct answer because that answer does not come from the books or notes they have mugged up? What is ‘good writing’ in a system where students speaking various dialects are forced to write in the elite Brahminical dialects (which are not even recognised as dialects, but are seen as the ‘shuddh’ expression of the language) and are penalised with humiliation and low grades when they struggle with it? What is ‘good history’ in a system that is mostly preoccupied with the lives of the rulers, and that too with strong Hinduist Brahminical taints and hardly permitting analytical expressions from the students, demanding mostly memorising of dates of battles and names of rulers? What is excellence in literature in a system where the literature of and by the marginalised in terms of caste, class, ability, language, culture and gender hardly finds its way into the textbooks, and while their stories in their narration stay far from the syllabi, the literature by the authors revered by the elite is almost never subjected to critical analysis to explore the existing oppressions in different social systems and to inspire thoughts regarding how to change the systems? What is excellence in a system where ‘specialised’ education methods and equipments for PwD students are seen as a waste of public money where a little spending could have made it possible for many of them to study the subjects they would’ve liked to, even though the government has money for the bureaucrats, parliamentarians and corporations? And how easy for a student to speak up for their rights when they are crushed under the weight of the one teaching this monstrosity of an education system strives so hard to impart – that you deserve to be treated as shit if you fail the system?

‘Underdevelopment’, or deliberate negligence on part of the governments to provide proper educational facilities, has turned getting education into a struggle for many poor, dalits and tribals. The lack of teachers, books, pencils, blackboards, computers, internet, various educational toys to aid the learning process, free time from housework and other labour, electricity, guidance from parents and other sources etc has created and keeps on broadening the gap in accessing materials necessary for their ‘good performance’ in schools between the poor students and their wealthier counterparts.

Colleges: An Open Space?

The schools send some through to colleges and chuck the rest out at various levels. In higher education, along with rote learning, marginalisation based on class, caste, gender, ability, culture, good English which is a privilege of the elite too enters the rank of ‘merit’, further throttling the expressions of most of the marginalized, both in the classroom and on the answer script which determines one’s entry into the next stage. The silencing mechanism incorporates, among others, ridiculing and ignoring their contributions to classroom discussions, both by teachers and many other elite students. This delivers a blow to their confidence and takes a toll on their studies.

A System of Exclusion

UGC-NET is the crowning glory of such a system. Further, it espouses another attribute present in the education system – that of exclusion through competition. Whether you will get the JRF does not depend on your score alone, rather it also depends on how others perform on it. This other attribute of the education system fosters animosity among students and reduces cooperation and learning from each other. Many have attacked UGC-NET for its stress on rote-learning, but that will tell only part of the story. It is not to be seen as an aberration of the education system, but as reflecting its values. And the education system is not to be seen as some benevolent failure, but is to be seen as a violent system which has integrated the values of irrationality and uncritical obedience to authority which protects its classist, Brahminical, elitist fabric.

This education system needs to be overhauled for a better one, and that will not happen in isolation while the society continues with its classist, casteist, ableist, patriarchal, elitist practices. But this decision to scrap non-NET fellowship is a step clearly against that direction, as this will deny many a shot at MPhil and PhD, making higher education further exclusive to those with privileges and barring many from the marginalized a chance at contributing to the academic discourse and changing it for the better. The MPhil and PhD students are research workers, and the non-NET students are paid quite low for their work, which often involves travel expenses to field sites, libraries etc, purchasing of books and other materials, arranging for accommodation and food where there are no free hostels and messes and so on. Even access to many online journals and articles are privileged and one has to pay if one is outside the privileged circles. The elitist ‘logic’ that justifies a lower payment to a contract teacher compared to a permanent teacher, a higher payment to a manager compared to a factory worker (where this education system worked to determine their positions in the society) is the same ‘logic’ where JRF and non-JRF students’ getting differential compensation for the same work finds justification. It is high time we rebelled against this.

For a more detailed exploration of the casteist nature of merit, see this.

by Sutanaya

It is a “Power” Struggle Alright! – A Centrifugal Take on Recent Movements

Protest against power tariff 2

“আন্দোলনই ঠিক করে দেয় আন্দোলনের পথ”। It roughly translates into a movement decides its own course. This catch phrase has been doing rounds lately quite a lot in some of the prominent movements taking place in and around Kolkata – for instance the SSC movement, Bardhaman univ movement and now, what seems to be increasingly gathering momentum, the anti power tariff hike struggle. It is no coincidence that this catch phrase is constantly being used. It is because of the presence of a very distinctly identifiable group of student[mostly]-activists who have begun to identify themselves as “independent”, more vociferously so since the Hokkolorob movement.

Now what do we make of this catch phrase? [I insist on calling it a catch phrase for the following reasons : 1. it keeps getting used and reused a lot, through photo-posts or status updates of those in or associated with the struggles or with the group in question, i.e. it is used as a marketing or sales tool for the movement and 2. there is generally no elaborate explanation of the concept as a follow up. These two, I believe are characteristics of catch phrases which have recently come to dominate the pattern of political rhetoric largely mediated by social media. As I have argued elsewhere, “campus democracy” and “independent student movement” are also examples of such “Empty signifiers” which are more empty than they might appear at first sight.

Now that I have sufficiently established “movement takes its own course” as a strategic catch phrase, let us proceed towards analyzing it. One very obvious way to react to it would be to say, why bother? Ultimately it is the movement that matters and it is after all just a slogan and if it stays hit and manages to attract people, let it be. Unfortunately, it is difficult to leave the matter at such a rudimentary level of investigation. Let us give an example why it would be problematic to do so. For instance, I distinctly remember the debates that arose when a Maoist sympathizing student organization had negatively portrayed prostitutes in one of their slogans whose core matter may have been otherwise progressive. Therefore, what a slogan or catch phrase is constitutive of in terms of its symbolic cannot be taken lightly. Continue reading It is a “Power” Struggle Alright! – A Centrifugal Take on Recent Movements

Contextualizing the Ongoing Presidency Agitation

There are three aspects that are getting attention in the ongoing Presidency College agitation:

  1. The political proximity of the VC with the ruling govt/party and her obvious submissiveness towards the Chief Minister, epitomized by her bending before the latter waist downwards!
  2. The fact that the VC had greeted the Chief Minister within the premises of the University, the same CM under whom TMC goons attacked the university premises a couple of years back.
  3. The fact that some students were manhandled by the police when they tried to approach the CM.

Now one can question if demanding the resignation of the VC in this case was indeed necessary. After all, this VC wasn’t in office when the TMC goons had vandalized the campus. However, students are reportedly complaining that the administration is terrible under her. I am not sure specifically what kind of administrative problems are being referred to here but I think the major anger is because of the political affinity of the VC towards the govt/CM/TMC. Also, some departmental heads may have been removed during her tenure and this may have angered some students, but it seems that factor has not been at the forefront of the agitation. Nor has been the fact that it was under this VC that the 75% attendance criterion was stringently enforced. But perhaps while formulating a populist agenda, it was difficult to incorporate that issue, as we saw during the actual agitation over the attendance issue, the participation was low and indeed popular opinion wasn’t entirely in favor of the agitators.

There is little doubt that there is an effort to replicate the “hokkolorob” formula [and by that I mean the combination of anti authority and anti government rhetoric combined with more dubious and ambiguous rhetoric like “independent students” leading the movement]. While it may be questioned if the hokkolorob formula can indeed be replicated in Presidency or elsewhere and that too in this specific instance, the very formula must also be subjected to more rigorous analysis. As noted above, there was a significant lack of conceptual clarity on matters that had a direct bearing on whether a person would be seen as an associate or an adversary of the movement, thereby raising questions about the democratic credentials of the movement. Furthermore, the very idea that the removal of a VC is politically significant needs to be questioned. While there is no doubt that it has a symbolic value, reality is not entirely created by symbolism. The underlying political structures that curbs democracy and perpetuates other sorts of inequalities and exploitations would hardly be affected by the removal of a VC. It is not that a socialist revolution is being expected, but lack of a genuinely political engagement with the status quo instead of merely reducing it to one person or office seems problematic. Continue reading Contextualizing the Ongoing Presidency Agitation

What the FTII Movement Is – and is Not

To start with, a teaser – does any movement against a saffron guy mean it is a movement against saffronization?

I will get straight to the point. Since I don’t have a political career at stake, I am able to call a spade a spade. I am able to say this since I am not concerned about the number of cadres I am able to net for my organization that values ideology far less than it does blind following. The FTII movement, the one that originated at FTII itself and not the solidarity demonstrations here and there, was NOT against saffronization. Or at least there is very little evidence that it was. It is far more likely that the movement was an expression of anger about the image of a “center of excellence” being tarnished. In an interview to journalists, FTII students who were at the forefront of the movement clearly mentioned that they would not have a problem with a Vinod Khanna or a Shatrughan Sinha (a right winger) occupying the post of FTII chairman. Continue reading What the FTII Movement Is – and is Not

Why did I use a Rainbow Filter Display on Facebook?

Ever since the judgement of the US Supreme Court came out legalizing the same-sex marriage, there is an outnumbered reaction on social media sites regarding Facebook display pictures and it exactly went viral when people like me started using the celebrate pride link created by Facebook which can transform the display picture into rainbow filter. Initially, the change of DP on FB might be to show some solidarity to the victory of love over partner preference. So, I also chose to use the celebrate pride link to change the colour of my DP only to show support and solidarity. First thing came in my mind while changing the DP was that, may be it can pressurize the society and the government to change their perceptions towards the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) people and it is the right time to hit the iron hard.

                                                                            Celebration of Pride

But soon after the things went wrong. People started using the celebrate pride link as a fun-sharing tool. Some people even do not know the actual meaning of the colour. They just used the link out of bound and by just following the trend on FB. No one knows as to when the trend becomes a troll. Continue reading Why did I use a Rainbow Filter Display on Facebook?

Recent Movements in Kolkata – Some Personal Reflections – Part 2

By Kisholoy

Continued from Part 1 

Another aspect of the hokkolorob movement that needs some special attention is the desperation that was visible to defame the vice chancellor at any cost. This was most starkly evident from the way the vice chancellor was being targeted for his alleged plagiarism. It is not entirely irrelevant here to point out that according to newspaper reports, India has a very high percentage of plagiarism in research work. So even if the VC was indeed guilty of this crime, it was hardly something that can be pinned on him entirely. Let us not forget that there is a very stifling atmosphere for most students in this country, both in terms of lack of academic freedom as well as the need to start earning quickly, as there is no social security. Even as we speak, many researchers around the country are protesting against the delay by the government in implementing the long overdue increments in scholarships. So plagiarism is an issue that has deeper socio economic implications and hence deserves a more serious and less populist engagement than the one that was seen during the hokkolorob movement.

BCET

Teachers of Durgapur BCET and BCETW had been protesting for several months against the unfair termination of 92 of them, whose only fault was raising their voice collectively against the injustices meted out to them as well as their colleagues by an administration which was outright fascistic in its approach. This movement had been receiving sporadic media attention but it was brought to the spotlight only when the teachers decided to take the radical step of “occupying” the WBUT campus in Salt Lake, followed by an indefinite hunger strike right in front of the office of the VC of WBUT. The participants of the movement had evidently been inspired by the Hokkolorob movement and they thought they could pressurize the government or the university to take action. Also, notably, it was only when news spread that “students of Jadavpur and Presidency” have come in support of the movement, that the media started taking some interest. The fact that the number of students from either of these institutions was actually lesser compared to the number of those from other institutions [including teachers from other private colleges offering solidarity] was never highlighted. Also, it was quite evident that not only the leadership but the rest of the protesters from BCET too seemed to depend overtly on a particular student leader who has become a face of student politics of the “third kind” in Kolkata. The teachers involved in the movement had a derogatory attitude towards the students. For them, the students who study in these private engineering colleges are no good, because they are not intelligent enough and hence do not come forward to protest. This, even though the students had actually shown solidarity with the terminated teachers and were facing the wrath of the management themselves. Apart from the elitism, another incident exposed the extremely narrow classist mindset of some of the teachers in the movement. Continue reading Recent Movements in Kolkata – Some Personal Reflections – Part 2

Recent Movements in Kolkata – Some Personal Reflections – Part 1

By Kisholoy 

Unlike some other parts of the country, Kolkata has not seen any major movement for a long time. The last time a significant opposition to the powers that be was initiated was during the Nonadanga slum eviction. In fact, ever since the “paribartan” government came to power, Hokkolorob movement emanating from Jadavpur University was the only major unrest in the city that caught both the headlines and the imagination of the people of this city and indeed beyond. Of course, if we consider the entire state, several movements have been constantly taking place. The Kamduni post rape unrest which took a sharp anti government turn, the ongoing protests at Lumtex Jute Mill and several other jute mills like Victoria, Bhadreswar; the Viswa Bharati students’ movement against removal of internal quota, protest by Durgapur BCET teachers, TET scam protests, Saradha chit fund protests, SSC candidates’ protests against corruption to name a few. In a series of essays, I will be focusing on three of these protests – Hokkolorob, Durgapur BCET and SSC movements. The emphasis will be on those aspects which have generally escaped mainstream attention.
Continue reading Recent Movements in Kolkata – Some Personal Reflections – Part 1