Archive for the ‘social issues’ Category

farmer oped

The father of a farmer in Haryana, Bijender Mor, who committed suicide, holds up the picture of the son with his wife. Picture credit: Vidya Venkat (The Hindu)

[First published in The Hindu dated May 13, 2015]

Everybody has an opinion on farmers these days. Be it politicians, policymakers, editors or economists. In fact, ever since the Parliament reconvened for the Budget session on April 20, the deteriorating condition of farmers has clearly dominated discussions. But even as the issue of agrarian crisis, farmer suicides (especially after >Gajendra Singh’s suicide in a New Delhi rally) and the controversial land Bill rocked Parliament, one question nobody asked was: what did the farmer have to say?

As the >Budget session was on, during a visit to Haryana this correspondent noticed how farmers had a strong sense of pride; the shame and guilt attached to the act of taking one’s own life meant they would rather die in the privacy of their fields. One such case was that of Bijender Mor, a Jat farmer, all of 27 years, from Baroda village in Sonepat district. Unlike Gajendra Singh, he consumed pesticide in his field and left no suicide note behind. Mounds of wheat piled up in the corner by the wall greeted my eyes when I entered his house. “It is of no use to anyone. This year’s harvest is of such low quality, that we cannot even use the grains to feed ourselves, forget selling it in the mandi,” his mother said. On March 9, Bijender went to check whether his 20-acre wheat field had not been destroyed by the rains, which arrived unexpectedly. He went late in the afternoon and never returned. And this is not the only instance of farmers dying across the country, either by committing suicide or from heart attacks following the shock of rabi crop loss.


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Picture credit: The Hindu Archives

[First published in The Hindu dated July 30, 2014]

Though it is five years since the civil war ended in Sri Lanka, 69,000 Tamils continue to live as refugees.

The date was 25 July 1983.

Antony* reached Luckyland biscuit factory at Kundasale, a suburb in Kandy, his place of work for 10 years, in the morning as usual. On that fateful day, his manager warned him. “They can come to get you any moment. You must leave now.”

Only two days earlier, an ambush by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had claimed the lives of 13 Sri Lankan soldiers in Jaffna. The incident sparked riots across Sri Lanka, in which mobs of Sinhala goons targeted the Tamil minority community with government support. For the first time, Tamils started leaving the island nation in large numbers. Those who could afford it took the flight to India, while others braved the seas.



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First published in Biblio: A Review of Books, Vol. XVII Nos. 9&10 Sep-Oct, 2012. (Accessed online at http://www.biblio-india.org

Why is the India story a paradox of high growth rates on the one hand and abysmal human development indicators on the other? The Indian welfare state, with its innumerable development programs, is supposed to have wiped poverty out, but somehow for the 65 years since its independence, chronic poverty has continued to mar its progress report. Anthropologist Akhil Gupta sets out to solve this puzzle in this academic tome which is the product of years of fieldwork conducted in the lower level bureaucracies of the state of Uttar Pradesh. Drawing upon Michel Foucault’s idea of biopolitics and Agamben’s work on the state of exception, Akhil Gupta theorises the inability of the bureaucratic apparatus to successfully realise the goals of ambitious development programs as a form of structural violence that allows the poor to die through indifference. This embedded violence results in the procedures of bureaucracy subverting its own best intentions, he says. The central argument of the thesis is that bureaucratic action repeatedly and systematically produces arbitrary outcomes in its provision of care. He develops his theoretical position by drawing upon insights from fieldwork experiences. For example, the author uses a rather typical case study of the manner in which bureaucrats use guesswork to determine the age of eligible beneficiaries to allocate pension for elderly people in a camp, which results in not all eligible poor persons receiving the benefits of the programme. Gupta points to the sheer contingency underlying the workings of a supposedly highly rationalised, bureaucratic state as Max Weber had originally theorised it to be.


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Social activist Anna Hazare observing a fast at Jantar Mantar in 2011 in Delhi as a mark of protest against corruption

The dust raised by the “Indian spring” is yet to settle and Mukul Sharma’s book ‘Green and Saffron’, recently published by Permanent Black, has arrived to raise another storm. An entire chapter in this book has been devoted to a careful exposition of the politics behind the Gandhian leading India’s much-watched anti-corruption movement – Anna Hazare. Though the book itself is a larger thesis exploring the linkages between environmental politics and Hindu nationalism in India, its unique selling point has been an account of the environmental movement in Ralegan Siddhi, Maharashtra, from where Hazare started his anti-corruption crusade.

The ‘Bharat mata’ (Mother India) symbol in front of which Hazare famously sat during his April 2011 fast-unto-death demanding a Jan Lokpal Bill to fight corruption in India, had already stirred doubts regarding the political affiliations of the movement. The evidence of support from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) cadres further clouded the secular credentials of the movement. Though Sharma’s book does not provide any obvious evidence of an open affiliation between the Hazare camp and right-wing political parties, it shows how a movement rooted in an authoritarian, traditional, Hindu ethos comes to occupy a common epistemological space with the Hindutva ideology, thus helping to reinforce it.

If Gandhi was infamous for his sexual experiments, Anna will be remembered for his chillingly disciplinarian tactics.


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Mangla Ram being carried on a stretcher by volunteers of the Dalit Atyachar Nivaran Samiti in Barmer, Rajasthan.

(First published in Governance Now, issue dated September 1, 2011)

Three magic wands–Right to Information, social audits and the Lokpal–have been offered as the means to fight corruption in the largely urban middle-class discourse. However, the question is, have these solutions worked for Mangla Ram?

Now who is this Mangla Ram and why does he matter to the anti-corruption discourse? He is the face of the invisible poor in India. He is one of those millions who wage everyday battles against the corrupt for securing their entitlements. He is a 37-year-old truck driver from the dusty village of Bamnor in Barmer, Rajasthan. He hails from the Scheduled Caste Meghwal community whose members have traditionally worked as labourers in the farm fields of the rich Muslim landlords here.

An overnight train journey from the national capital, Barmer has acquired fame of late for the rich oil fields that were discovered here. But not even a fraction of that wealth has reached its far-flung villages. Bamnor, which falls on the National Highway 15, is relatively nondescript, distinguished only by the undulating sand dunes that greet one’s eyes en route. Most of the poor residents of the village are forced to migrate to neighbouring Gujarat in search of better jobs.

Mangla was eligible for a below poverty line (BPL) ration card and funds under the Indira Awas Yojana but was struggling to get both. People in his village were also irked with the anganwadi that rarely functioned, the high school where one teacher managed 300 students and the rural development schemes in which they hardly ever were employed.

So, to set the things right, Mangla decided to exercise his right to information.


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