Another freedom struggle


[First published in Biblio – A Review of Books dated Jul.-Sep. 2018]

It is ordinary people who often make history yet historians typically focus only on the victors and the leaders associated with popular social mobilisations. That is the reason why Magsaysay Award-winning social activist Aruna Roy decided to narrate the story of how ordinary people from the fringes of society – daily wage labourers, marginal farmers and small shopkeepers – in rural Rajasthan helped shape the demand for and saw through the passage of the Right to Information (RTI) legislation in India. During the Chennai leg of the promotional tour of The RTI Story: Power to the People the former bureaucrat-turned-activist told me that her main purpose in putting this book together was to give credit where it was due: to celebrate the common men and women who had participated in the nearly two decade-long struggle to get the RTI law passed. It also explains why Roy has not claimed solo authorship for the book but jointly with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) Collective, the civil society organisation she co-founded with activist Nikhil Dey and trade unionist Shankar Singh in 1987. As the narrators state in their Introduction, “The RTI narrative is a celebration of ordinary people and their immense contribution to strengthening the pillars of democratic justice in modern India.”

Read the full review HERE

Rights to the forest


[First published in The Hindu dated 15/4/17]

Rights to the forest have been among the most contested subjects since colonial times. In Democracy in the Woods: Environmental Conservation and Social Justice in India, Tanzania and Mexico, Prakash Kashwan uses a comparative political analysis approach to show how India, Tanzania and Mexico, with their varied forestland regimes, have negotiated the conflicts arising out of claims to forests for subsistence, industry and cultivation. In the process, the political scientist based at University of Connecticut in the U.S. shows that the state cannot always be the best arbiter of forest rights.

Kashwan’s thesis was supervised by political economist Elinor Ostrom at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her scholarly work investigating how communities succeeded or failed at managing common pool (finite) resources such as grazing land, forests and irrigation waters won her the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009. Ostrom’s work marked a departure from the fundamental Lockean economic principle that private ownership of property incentivised economic actors to ultimately act in the general interest of society. She demonstrated rather how community ownership of common pool resources resulted in better management of these resources.

Kashwan deploys this idea in the context of forestland management. Using the case of Mexico, he shows how the country’s community-oriented approach to forest governance, fares better when it comes to addressing questions of environmental conservation and social justice (of forest dwellers), compared to India or Tanzania, where the state reigns supreme.

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Picture used for representative purposes. Source: pri.org 

What conspiracies are you hatching inside that big, horned head of yours?
I can see that you have been contemplating some serious issue for quite some time.
Is it the scarcity of fodder that has been bothering you or your master’s tyranny?
The having to feed on wall posters sometimes, eating out of dustbins, and getting whipped? 

I can understand your problem dear, but tell me, is this any solution?
You lift your wiggly tail upwards just when I’m about to cross you by
And splash hot, thick, yellow urine right in the middle of the road.
Now, what point is it that you are trying to get across, eh? 

I want you to use a little bit of common sense now. Is your mooing and dunging
And peeing in public gonna do you any good? You only end up messing up the streets
Our Government lays after much deliberation. You may claim your liberty to raise
Your tail as a mark of protest for all the pains that you undergo in everyday life,

But, I will not tolerate your nonsense dear. I can’t take your shit and crap!
Oh! How you remind me of these politicians who mess up civilian life for their own cause!

© Vidya Venkat (2005)

[Reproduced here from an old blog]

[Essay published on the occasion of India’s 70th Republic Day in Economic & Political weekly]


Picture credit: EPW

On the occasion of India’s 70th Republic Day, it is worth considering how the very foundational idea of a republic, in which supreme power is held by the people, is at risk despite free and fair elections. To arrive at that argument, this article delineates the historical trajectory of India’s Right to Information movement as arising out of the need to address the unfinished agenda of democratisation since independence. It then discusses how the movement has strengthened oppositional politics by expanding the terrain for political participation and has also empowered individual citizens in their struggles to claim their entitlements from the state. By resisting scrutiny under the Right to Information Act and attempting to dilute the law’s empowering potential, political representatives and bureaucrats are subverting democracy itself. 

Read the full essay here:


moon madness

Moon madness by Andrew Wyeth.

A lazy moon reclines on clouds

With eyes of empty dreams afloat.

It is three ‘o’ clock,

The sky is red,

From moony eyes that have cried,

And bled…

A breeze blows by

And with its touch

It reminds her self of nights gone by,

Spent in wintry solitude,

Among lovers,

A bed of clouds….

She is tired of making love to pillows

That lie beside, like dead wet clouds.

The sky is a mirage, she tells herself,

And the moon will hide when there is light…


© Vidya Venkat (2006)