Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Arindam's Report Mentioned in Kama Maclean's Work

Prominent author, Kama Maclean, mentioned my January 21, 2001, report in Hindustan Times, in her footnote No. 76 (Sept 2009, page 341) in a prestigious research paper, also Chapter One of a book now.

Here’s note as mentioned in that paper:

This paper was presented in an earlier form at the Annual Conference on South Asia at the University of Madison Wisconsin, 2005, with thanks to the panel participants and audience for their feedback and comments. It is an extension of the arguments presented in Kama Maclean, Pilgrimage and Power: the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, New York: Oxford University Press, 2008, chapter one.
Sample the beginning of the paper:

Pilgrimage, Tourism, and Layers of Looking at theKumbh Mela

Kama Maclean


The black and white photograph is of a group of peasant women, wrapped in coarse woolen shawls against the January cold. They look at the camera blankly—or is that with hostility at the camera’s intrusion? Deliberately drained of color, the image seems as though it could have been taken a century ago. One woman, the central figure, is wearing dark sunglasses, and has been no doubt chosen as a focal point because her middle-class accessory stands out as the image’s only sign-post to modernity. The photograph, ‘‘Kumbh Mela Women,’’ was taken at the Allahabad Kumbh Mela in 2001. It is copyrighted. It is ‘‘collectable,’’ and apparently, a wise addition to an investment portfolio. It is also an example of how images of the traditional (often synonymous with ‘‘the religious’’) have become desired, frame-able objects, fine art mementos to our own modular, more complete modernity. It was images such as this (and this is a comparatively benign example) that raised along-standing issue for managers of the Kumbh Mela in 2001: did photographers have a right to enter the mela grounds and take photographs as they pleased? How did the presence of international media crews affect the festival, and the ways in which people perform their rituals?


76. Roy, Arindam, ‘‘Scribes vow to shun Kumbh administration,’’ Hindustan Times, January 21, 2001; Rahul Bedi, ‘‘Hindu Sect forces out Westerners,’’ The Age, January 13, 2001, p. 22.

Link of the Research Paper:

Monday, March 5, 2012

Earthquake hits New Delhi, North India

Arindam Roy

Residents of the National Capital Region (NCR), New Delhi, Noida, Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Gurgoan felt mild tremors at 1.10PM Monday. The jolts were also felt in Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The after shocks lasted for less than 10 seconds.  Buildings and lifts shook in the mild quake that measured 4.9 on the Richter scale.

The jolts of the mild earthquake, with its epicenter at Bahadurgarh, Haryana, was reportedly 9Km beneath the earth's surface.

Many had panicked and had stormed out of their homes and offices. However, no damage was reported.

According to the Seismic Zone Mapping done by the Geological Survey of India (GSI), Delhi is among 30 cities in the country falling in zone IV, which is defined as a severe intensity seismic zone. This is the third tremor in Delhi since September last year.

The Wall Street Journal, one of the first to report the earthquake today, stated, "The U.S. Geological Survey measured the earthquake in Haryana at 5.2 magnitude at 1.11 p.m. local time 30 miles (48 kilometers) from Delhi."

A fellow journalist, in a TV channel newsroom, said tongue-in-cheek, 'We are feeling the jolts almost a day before the election results of UP and four other states are out.'

Friday, February 18, 2011

Dalits against Dalits: Is Mayawati Listening?

By Arindam Roy on February 17, 2011

Allahabad: For most of us, ‘Dalit’ means a nebulous homogenous mass of the downtrodden, disposed people, living in the margins of society. The harsh reality is otherwise. Dalits are a heterogeneous group. The differences between them are sharp and distinct. Dalits are arranged in hierarchy. Inequality, exclusion, contestations and other social tensions are not only present, it’s rampant. Beneath the calm surface of Dalit class consciousness is submerged violence. Deep within it is red hot – bubbling and boiling like the core of the earth.

These tensions burst forth, now and then. Those who enjoy power amongst the Dalits have created a ‘public sphere’ for themselves, while the ones that contest it have given rise to a ‘counter public sphere’. The tensions and frictions between these two might be seen, if you care to peel off the surface paint.

Uttar Pradesh ruled by a Dalit ki beti (daughter of Dalit), Mayawati, has become a laboratory of the tensions amongst Dalits. Two incidents on Sunday, Feb 13, 2011, are worth close examination:

First, when the chief minister, Mayawati, was in Allahabad, a Dalit rape victim, Munni (name changed) fell at her feet seeking justice. Munni had been raped twice. In 2004, Anil Singh with two others allegedly took her against her will. In 2010, she was reportedly raped by Nandlal, husband of a lady village pradhan. In the latter case, the rape victim named two Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leaders, Deep Chand Gautam, district BSP president, and Prem Chandra, stating that they were pressurizing her to withdraw her case against Nandlal. She had to face police apathy too.

Second, at Nawabganj, Bareilly, Munendra Gangwar, 30, the son of BSP MLC Kesar Singh Gangwar, allegedly shot at the Dalit farmer Kalicharan Jatav. The farmer had dared to refuse to sell 15 bighas of agricultural land at a throwaway price to the BSP tough. Jatav was dragged inside a SUV. When he tried to escape, he was shot at. Presuming him dead, the BSP leader’s son and henchmen left, throwing him out of the SUV. The Dalit farmer was gravely injured. “The MLC and his toughs were forcing me to sell the land. I also said my life was in danger. But the police didn’t help,” he said. The police have registered a case against Munendra and his two accomplices, but are allegedly trying to protect the BSP MLC.

Meanwhile, in December last year, a BSP MLA from Banda, Purushottam Naresh Dwivedi, allegedly raped a 17- year Dalit girl.

The latest report of the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) says that UP led the country in the number of crimes against Dalits in 2009. Of a total of 3,35,94 crimes against Dalits in 2009, 7522 took place in UP, followed by Rajasthan ( 4985), Andhra Pradesh ( 4504), Bihar ( 3836), Madhya Pradesh ( 3040) and Maharashtra (1096). UP also has the most reported instances of violation of the Scheduled Castes / Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Out of 11,143 cases in the country, 2554 cases (22.9 per cent) were reported from UP.

The chairman of National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes PL Punia, erstwhile principal secretary to Mayawati, described UP as the ‘worst offender’ for crimes against Dalits.

He accused Mayawati of shielding two ministers suspected to be involved in the murder of Rajender Singh, a junior engineer in the state Irrigation department. He was allegedly killed in August 2010, in Aligarh. “…the chief minister appears to have forgotten that she had come to power riding on the back of the Dalit community,” he agonized.

Punia added that on an average the Commission receives about fifty complaints by Dalits in UP in which the police have not even registered preliminary reports. He will soon make public, a list of officials from UP who had neglected, slackened on, or not taken cognizance of crimes committed against Dalits in the state. The Commission’s first step was to write to President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, drawing their attention to the rapidly rising graph of atrocities against Dalits, he said.

Social reality of Dalits

Numbering 160 million, Dalits represent 16 per cent of India’s population of more than one billion. Officially, caste discrimination is banned in India and special quotas exist for Dalits in Parliament, state legislatures, village councils, government jobs and educational institutions.

The word Dalit conjures up the image of a community that is discriminated against. Their only sin being that they are of low birth. The social discrimination against the Dalits is similar to racial and other discriminations practiced in other parts of the world.

There are several communities amongst the Dalits – it’s more like circles within circles. While few Dalit communities are relatively better off, most are not even in the margins of the margin. Those who are better off often practice ‘exclusion’ – the evil that they fought and snatched power from the upper castes. They are not prepared to share their piece of cake with the less fortunate.

Chamars (shoe-making, leather tanning and agricultural labour being their profession) form the major chunk. They are relatively better educated and the Dalit intelligentsia belongs to this community. The Chamars also claim that they have their own Veda, known as Chamrved. Pasi and Dhobi communities are the next two major groups amongst the Dalits in UP. The list of dispossessed Dalits is long, but some like Dusadh, Basor, Dhanuk, Kori, Dhrikar, Kharwar, Kanjar, Nat, Bhuiyar, Chera, Jatsar, Rangrej[1], etc are nowhere near the door of state-led democracy.

The BSP-led state has given a sense of identity and pride that has come about with political empowerment to select Dalit communities, economic empowerment is a far cry. It’s worth mentioning that in this social milieu Mayawati rules.

Ever since she has come to power on her own, from May 2007, she has faced flak, not only from the so-called upper caste parties like Congress and the BJP, but also from the Dalit communities.

Last year, in Allahabad, some Dalit leaders blamed Dalit leaders accused Mayawati of favouring only a particular backward community to which she belongs.

Udit Raj of the Justice Party went on record, stating, “We have gathered Dalits here and are creating awareness among them to fight for their rights. For example the issue of reservation in private sector, or the Dalits who are being exploited in Uttar Pradesh, or about the issue of jobs that are disappearing, or the issue of land acquisition, we are discussing all such issues here.”

Nihare Rakesh, a former state deputy, went on to add, “The benefit of reservation is being availed by Mayawati’s community. Those who do not belong to her community are exploited with cruelty. The crime is on full flow. In every 18th minute a boycotted Dalit woman is raped, they are being killed in the whole state. I demand that the central government should immediately take action against Mayawati’s rule.”

Mayawati, however, brushes these criticisms as ‘politically motivated’. She has time and again said that her political opponents are out to ‘malign and tarnish her image’. But, with a Dalit’s daughter in power comes great expectations. How she fulfills the aspirations of so many people, particularly the marginalized, needs to be seen. Let’s not to forget that UP is hardly a state. Its population is enough to make it the sixth largest country of the world, in its own rights.

A political observer (unwilling to be named), rightly pointed out that hidden behind the dazzle of gold, diamond and wealth, is a crown of thorns that Mayawati should adorn, everyday, with utmost humility and true prayers!

[1] Prasad, M. (2007). Uttaranchal Sahit Uttar Pradesh ki Dalit Jatiyon ka Dastavez, Delhi: Samyak Prakashan, pp 44-45


Binayak Sen: Stifling the Voice of Conscience?

By Arindam Roy on February 14, 2011

New Delhi: What Dr Binayak Sen is going through is shameful and this opinion cuts across both political and the social divide. There have been protests from different sections not only in India but in over a dozen countries. Denial of bail to him has only triggered fresh protests. Questions have been raised as to whether the voice of protest is being stifled.

Over the weekend, there were large scale protests all over India - rallies in major cities and meetings in smaller cities and towns, as the entire intelligentsia were shocked at the treatment meted out to him where he was denied bail.

Editorials and reports were dashed in newspapers; TV channels beamed reports and discussions. Online campaign gathered momentum. Tweet, Facebook and other social sites were abuzz. Most right-minded people, in India and abroad, were dismayed and shocked. A journalist friend from abroad asked this scribe if this was what the largest democracy of the world had to offer!

Other than 40 Nobel Laureates from about a dozen countries, who campaigned in Sen’s favour, civil rights activists raised their decibel.

While Sen’s rights might be denied, those who dare to speak in his favour are allegedly not being spared either.

In Mumbai, Daniel Mazgaonkar, a septuagenarian Gandhian, along with college professors and students, were jostled and dragged away to Azad Maidan police station. Kamayani Bali Mahabal, a lawyer and human rights activist, was brutally assaulted by the police and dragged to Colaba police station, along with student bystanders who protested against such high-handedness. She was merely standing at Kala Ghoda silently with a poster proclaiming peace and justice!

In Kolkata, Magsaysay award winner, Mahasweta Devi, appealed for demonstration in front of Raipur Central jail, where the ‘barefoot doctor’ has been lodged on charges of sedition.

In New Delhi, activists of several civil rights groups and left wing organisations staged a rally to demand the release of human rights activist, Dr. Binayak Sen, on Saturday (Feb 12). Writer and social activist Arundhati Roy said the case should not be viewed in isolation, but with a focus covering thousands of other innocents languishing in prisons.

“The fact is that, it is not about one man. It is about hundreds of nameless people who are also in jail. It is not about misuse of law; it is about the very proper use of a very bad law. So, the problem is that we have to talk about the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which is actually, barely constitutional,” Roy said.

Sen was convicted of sedition charges under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act for his alleged links with Maoist ultras on December 24, 2010. He has also been critical of government-backed tribal militia named ‘Salwa Judum’ to battle the Maoists. Maoist ideologue Narayan Sanyal and Kolkata based businessman Piyush Guha were also convicted under the same law.

So is state led-democracy which is messy, be termed as democracy under the garb of authoritarianism?

The core group of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) sent a letter to the NHRC chairperson, Justice K.G. Balakrishnan. It said: “First, we express deep concern at the manner of recent conviction of Dr. Binayak Sen by the Raipur sessions court, and rejection of bail by the Bilaspur High Court. Dr. Sen has been declared guilty of treason and sedition by the Raipur court, apparently accused on the flimsiest of evidence, and is facing the bleak prospect of a life behind bars.

It seems that the trial court has simply relied on the police version for the conviction, since the evidences produced by the prosecution do not appear sufficient for conviction, that too with an award of life sentence. In fact there was no material on record to prove that Dr. Sen had committed any offence that comes under the purview of sedition, and not a single document seized qualifies to be linked with sedition charges.”

Charges against Sen

On May 14, 2007, Dr Sen, was arrested under the provisions of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005, (CSPSA) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. The allegations claimed that he had acted as a courier for a Maoist leader Narayan Sanyal lodged in the Raipur Jail and then absconded. The five charges against him were: (a) treason, (b) criminal conspiracy, (c) sedition, anti-national activities and making war against the nation, (d) knowingly using the proceeds of terrorism and (e) links with the


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Under its confluence

Allahabad: Where The Rivers Meet
Edited by Neelum Saran Gour
Marg Rs 2,500 pp 180

Here’s a city that’s literally marked by its situation. At the confluence not only of the Ganga and Yamuna but also of the past and the present, Allahabad is peeled layer by layer in this elegantly produced book that’s far more than just another coffee table book. The essays divide the book into zones, editor of this volume, author and Allahabad University English professor Neelum Saran Gour providing the perfect introductory chapter, ‘Avatar and Antecedents,’ that deals with Allahabad’s many forms.

The reader gets deep enough into ‘Hindu’ Allahabad (Arindam Roy’s ‘Where Nectar Split’), ‘Mughal’ Allahabad (N.R. Farooqi’s ‘Akbar’s Ilahabas’ and Asok Kumar Das’ ‘Salim’s Taswirkhana’), ‘British Raj’ Allahabad (John Harrison’s ‘For Company and Queen’), and other chapters to seek out more with ready ‘further reading’ lists after each chapter.

But what lifts this from plenty of other volumes on Allahabad is the quality of the photographs in this book. One hardly finds an image that is clichéd, an especially honourable feat especially in the chapter that deals with the Kumbh mela. The photograph by Rajesh Singh of three pilgrims wrapped in blankets and looking like three boulders in the foreground while a procession of women and children can barely be seen walking down the fog-filled air is worth the proverbial thousand words and more.

This is a book that should be with people who associate places with the stories these places have to say. And in Allahabad: Where the Rivers Meet, the stories are laid out to be confirmed once you follow them to the city.

© Copyright 2010 Hindustan Times