“Court”ing Controversy – A Brief Review

film Court official
Vira Sathidar as Narayan Kamble in “Court”

Court is a 2015 Marathi film by Chaitanya Tamhane. While from the name itself it becomes clear that the film has something to do with “court kachari ka chakkar”, it is only on seeing it can one fully appreciate why this movie is a great watch for any sympathetic observer of the progress of human rights, law and their systematic violations in India. The film starts with scenes of some children taking tuitions from one Narayan Kamble, who is the central character of the film. After taking his classes, we find him taking a bus to a spot where a cultural program is taking place to commemorate a (fictional) “Wadgaon massacre”. He is then invited to a stage where he sings a powerful song that calls upon the exploited masses (and evidently, the exploited castes) to identify the exploiters and rise up against them.  From the picture of Ambedkar in the background, it is clear that caste oppression is one of the central themes of what comes later in the film to be called Kamble’s cultural troupe’s performances. Kamble is interrupted by cops who come and arrest him on charges that a song of his had reportedly led one gutter cleaning worker to suicide some days back. His case is taken up by a lawyer named Vinay Vora (played by Vivek Gomber) who has a personal interest in pursuing cases where human rights are likely to be violated. What follows in the film is an elaborate portrayal of not just the court proceedings that seem to make a mockery of justice (more on that later), but also of the personal life experiences of Gomber, the public prosecutor as well as the judge. In course of this portrayal, what we learn is not only the different lifestyles, social statuses and cultural values but also the different life views and ideological standpoints of these major stakeholders in the case. Continue reading “Court”ing Controversy – A Brief Review

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Two Responses to the ‘World’ about Its Obsession with Alan Kurdi

A few weeks ago, a photograph of a toddler washed ashore became famous world-wide. Not only did the mainstream media receive it with the usual zeal with which sensational news is grabbed and broadcast, it also resonated with social media channels, wherein many people got something simple to express concern about. In a sense, it seemed to many that the ‘world’ had united for a common-cause, something linked to the salvaging if not (we don’t use ‘not just’) of human beings then of humanity for sure. Charlie Hebdo carried caricatures in its next issue that, many say, point to the decadence of European culture. We present below two responses.

Popular Art and photo-journalism are in crises

 

The questions for the first response are taken from what has been said of these two Charlie Hebdo cartoons.

“So close to the the end... Promo! 2 Combo children for the price of one”
“So close to the the end… Promo! 2 Combo children for the price of one”
“This proves that Europe is Christian. Christians walk on water. Muslim children drown.”
“This proves that Europe is Christian. Christians walk on water. Muslim children drown.”

Charlie Hebdo and their apologists argue that the true intent of these cartoons is to mock the systemic apathy of European culture, based as it is upon consumerism, reckless display of wealth, religious dogma, etc. On the other hand, CH has once more been accused of racism and islamophobia, of deliberate sadism targeting desperate populations. A glimpse of these debates can be seen here[i]. Continue reading Two Responses to the ‘World’ about Its Obsession with Alan Kurdi

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

Some Observations on Institutional Pride – The Case of South Point School

This is in response to an article by ex-South pointers who have celebrated the school. The objective of my response is to expose the regressive/reactionary philosophical underpinnings behind such celebration and also certain outright factual errors.

I hate institutional pride. Those who share this vice may have Daniel Bell’s blessings, but it sucks, big time. First of all, it is just the same as provincialism or communalism. Institutional rivalry is of terrible proportions already in Kolkata. It is astoundingly difficult to believe that those who ostensibly believe in some form of socialism as a better alternative can actually think that it is not only okay but even “cool” to engage in such institutional competitiveness.

I remember in my own South Point days how comparisons would regularly be made with other schools, whether in the context of academic or extracurricular activities. It is not that I have anything particularly against the elitism surrounding South Point – such mentality is manifested by students from a wide range of schools and colleges. It hasn’t changed one bit from the time I used to be in school and from my experience so far with the “radical” student organizers, they don’t do one bit other than to encourage this regressive mindset even more (hence the even more pressing need for this response), presumably as part of the plethora of populist tactics they employ on a routine basis to increase cadre base. As for South Point, the lesser I speak of it the better it is. It was a school which had only one motto – to make each student another brick in the wall, another cog in the machine and make them ready for the market. Continue reading Some Observations on Institutional Pride – The Case of South Point School

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

Porn Matters, and Some More

Some thoughts on Ashley Tellis’ article Why Porn Matters:

Ashley opposes the blocking of porn sites, I too oppose the blocking of some porn sites. But I find it hard to relate to certain of Ashley’s approaches here.

Generally in India, invoking the category ‘Dalit’ would silence only a handful of people, given the casteist society we live in. So, without qualification, apparently generalized phrases like “It has become something of a piety to invoke Dalit women or just the category Dalit to silence critics on any given issue. Once one utters the word Dalit or adivasi, the opposition is silenced” come uncomfortably close to the casteist approach of ‘crying casteism’ – where people are falsely accused of ‘seeing casteism where it isn’t there’. I am also not comfortable with Ashley’s definition of the Dalit feminist as a sex-conservative, which he apparently gives in the statement “The Dalit feminist position on prostitution and bar dancing has become clear.” If one understands intersectionality, then one would see that such construction of the idea of Dalit feminism is anti-feminist, since never does Dalit feminism automatically include the stands on prostitution and bar dancing opposed by Ashley, even though certain people identified as Dalit Feminists may take those stands.

Secondly, the ban on the production and distribution of pornography has been there before the BJP government came in power. So Ashley is wrong in saying that this will push the domestic producers of pornographic content underground, because they already are. The recent move involved blocking some popular porn sites, some of which have been unblocked now.

If we are to judge this decision to block porn sites by whether it would affect the viewing of pornographic content by the people of India, then it can safely be said that there would be little success in that. People have DVDs, proxies, numerous other sites that the government has not managed to block yet, the forums and so on and so forth. So, useless in achieving their purpose, such blocks stoke the prevalent anti-pleasurable-sex attitude, which is to be strongly condemned and opposed.

Is access to pornography, which includes various kinds, helping create problematic images of sex in the minds of people? In many cases, yes. If so, is that reason enough to call for a total ban on pornography? No. Bollywood has been the misogyny factory since its inception, few are calling for a ban on Bollywood now. Erotic content needs to be discussed, analysed, criticized and not brushed under the carpet. The rights and plights of the workers involved in the production and distribution of erotic content deserve more articulation, so that the struggle towards a more just society can be waged better.

There is no denying of the fact that a lot of pornography demeans women, men, transpeople, agenders, asexuals, and even harms animals. When we are articulating our stances on erotic content, we must bring this fact into the foreground and think about ways in which the struggle against these can grow. Ashley stresses on the extremely important point of sex education, but does not elaborate on what effects the porn industry in its current state has, given there is no formal sex education. While we are opposing some of the blocks, let us also explore and articulate strongly the problems with so, so many of the porns, the kind of acts, dignity and wages the porn industry subjects to many of their workers, the kind of effects they have on the mindset of the viewers, without falling prey to sexual conservatism. (Ashley does condemn the exploitation in the porn industry.) The opposition to erotic content per se as exhibited by many in the society should be countered, but not with an approach like ‘yay for the porns we have, stop being such spoilsports’. The massive cultural influence of porns that are widely consumed needs discussion. And wouldn’t that be a potent tool to battle the sex-conservatives as well, if we could create an environment where a healthier discourse on erotic content is possible?

by Sutanaya

A Research Scholar as a Worker: Many Divergences

by Pratik Ali

School_Kids_6

To see through the aura of professional seriousness that surrounds oneself and others doing research in a university or similar academic environment can possibly lead to the realization that the said person is a worker like any other (alternatively, one may also come to the conclusion that the said person is a spy for the enemy nation, or part of some apocalyptic organization with really evil intentions). This realization appears especially clear when as research scholars, we begin to ask, Is all this really necessary for me to do? These questions throw light upon the absurdity of having to justify every claim beyond the minimum one decides for oneself, having to review a tonne of literature that still remains alien to oneself and unnecessary to one’s work, having to make the art of study and discovery into a systematic practice that should time and again be given to the ratification of the supervisor (whence it really becomes only a summary of existing findings), to attend conferences and present papers that claim more than they beget, to perpetually be questioned on output for getting due fellowships, to always be so tired down and shut out by this individualized research that disjunction from one’s peers becomes the norm, and so on. And then there is also the question, Where is all this going and why are we part of it? To which the answer is, each dissertation is adding to our, supervisor’s, department’s, university’s claim to being quality researchers, professors, departments and universities, and the more the citations, the reviews, the papers, the conferences, the more the university’s felt presence in the network of universities, the more the exchange of grants and man-power, not to speak of the (numerically) biggest function of the university, producing workers and managers for the market. The serious research scholar usually keeps away from the more naked manifestations of the market, and hence conceptualizes themself as not-a-worker; however, to do so, he must participate in keeping the university system up and running, the nature of which is not very different from the market, as we have seen glimpses of in this introduction. However, when we speak of the research scholar as a worker, we find certain traits in the work situations of the researcher as a class that mark them as an exception among most workers, which we shall see is mainly due to his class position. Below we note these divergences that keep the research scholar/researcher (I’m arbitrarily collapsing the two into one, and often and again pointing out the differences between the two) away from the large part of wage workers in present society.

Do researchers produce surpluses?

The largest number of researchers do, in fact, participate in finding ways for enhancing output or finding procedures that reduce costs. In this regard, though, the researcher is only finding a method. The researcher’s product is not similar to the factory worker who comes into direct contact with thousands of products at various stages of its production. We should note that people who ‘excel’ at ‘management’ have, in this case, a task which is similar to the researchers: methods to increase productivity from the workers, even if in those methods there may be substantial differences. Continue reading A Research Scholar as a Worker: Many Divergences

Death Penalty – It Just Couldn’t Get Worse, Could It?

I suddenly find myself confused over the issue of death penalty. I am not talking about the Yakub Memon case, I don’t even know its details ,only that it seems there is hardly enough evidence that he was “guilty” of the crimes he is accused of. So let alone death penalty, probably he should get a fairer trial. What I am interested in is to know why people actually oppose death penalty. I mean I totally understand the disgust with the brutal mentality that makes one seek capital punishment. For instance, I totally sympathize with those who oppose the brigade who say that harshest of punishments should be reserved for the rapists, that they should not just be hanged but their penises should be cut off etc. But my sympathies lie only to the extent that I believe such hate mongering will do humanity no good, wont get us anywhere better than the collective hell we all experience. What I don’t or rather fail to sympathize with [and this I admit is a more recent development] is the passionate denouncing of death penalty per se, as if that is way too inhuman or something. More inhuman than keeping someone jailed [especially considering the conditions in which inmates have to remain in India at present?] for a lifetime? More inhuman than having to come out of the jail and then face social persecution and wrath for the rest of the life? Continue reading Death Penalty – It Just Couldn’t Get Worse, Could It?

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?