SACW - 7 May 2018 | Bangladesh: State-Mosque Complex / Pakistan: Manzoor Pashteen’s Pashtun / India: Ashok Mitra (1928-2018) / Brazil's racialised sperm economy
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Sun May 6 20:15:42 EDT 2018
South Asia Citizens Wire - 7 May 2018 - No. 2988
[via South Asia Citizens Web - sacw.net since 1996]
1. Pakistan: ‘When doves cry’ | Afiya Zia
2. Pakistan: Land of Toxic Learning | Khaled Ahmed
3. India: Interim Observations of People’s Tribunal on Attack on Educational Institutions
4. Ashok Mitra (1928-2018) - selected tributes
5. Recent on Communalism Watch:
- India: The Issue Is Not Jinnah But An Armed, Unlawful, Attack By A Mob at Aligarh Muslim University | Apoorvanand
- Book Review: Understanding Hindu-Muslim violence in Uttar Pradesh in the 2000s
- India: Our Rights to eat, to wear, to love - A video from Karnataka
- India: The Hindu Right Has More in Common With Jinnah Than AMU Students Do | Faizan Mustafa
- India - Capture of Monuments: Tomb from Tughlaq dynasty turned into Shiv Bhola temple in New Delhi
- Video: Separate Religion & Govt: Prakash Raj
- India: Video recording of the poet Javed Akhtar on Naya Hukmnama ( The New Ordinance ) [in Urdu]
::: URLs & FULL TEXT :::
6. Bangladesh State To Heavily Get Involved With Religion
7. Are you with the tyrants?' Pakistani Che risks all to take on the army | Memphis Barker
8. Sexual Harassment: Pakistan’s Tipping Point? | Nazish Brohi
9. The time machine trap: Asia’s most prosperous countries are not squeamish about borrowing from the West | Sadanand Dhume
10. How Modi is taking Karnataka election campaign to Nepal | Vishnu Sharma
11. A "Piece of Real Estate Known as India": Ashok Mitra's 1989 Column on How India's Rich Shed their Guilt and Fear
12. India: PF data 'stolen' from Aadhaar seeding link | Jayanta Roy Chowdhury
13. India: Pussy cat at home, Bengal tiger in a mob | Sandip Roy
14. Brazil's racialised sperm economy | Mariana Prandini Assis
15. Book Review: ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Us’: The British Far Right since 1967 edited by Nigel Copsey and Matthew Worley
16. Book Review: Rule By Aesthetics by Asher Ghertner
1. PAKISTAN: ‘WHEN DOVES CRY’
by Afiya Zia
Postcolonial scholars and right-wing conservatives oppose enlightenment rights, human rights laws, or modernity for Pakistan and offer religious laws and culture as substitutes.
2. PAKISTAN: LAND OF TOXIC LEARNING | KHALED AHMED
A girl from Pakistan has offered the best diagnostic of the ailing state and her work, Pakistan under Siege: Extremism, Society, and the State (Brookings), takes you into the guts of what has gone wrong. Madiha Afzal is a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution Washington DC, an adjunct assistant professor of global policy at Johns Hopkins SAIS and has been a consultant for the World Bank.
3. INDIA: INTERIM OBSERVATIONS OF PEOPLE’S TRIBUNAL ON ATTACK ON EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS
People’s Tribunal on Attack on Educational Institutions was held at the Constitution Club of India, New Delhi, on April 11-13, 2018. The tribunal was organised by the People’s Commission on Shrinking Democratic Space in India (PCSDS).
4. ASHOK MITRA (1928-2018) - SELECTED TRIBUTES
A select collection of tributes to Dr Ashok Mitra who passed away in Calcutta on 1st of may 2018
5. RECENT ON COMMUNALISM WATCH:
- India: The Issue Is Not Jinnah But An Armed, Unlawful, Attack By A Mob at Aligarh Muslim University | Apoorvanand
- India: Hardline Hindutva outfits heavily campaigning openly for the BJP before 2018 Karnataka assembly elections
- Video: Spinning Hate for Political Gain - Wide Angle' Episode 31 (The Wire)
- India: Smaller new parties fighting the 2018 Karnataka assembly elections may cut into secular vote
- Book Review: Understanding Hindu-Muslim violence in Uttar Pradesh in the 2000s
- India: Triple Talaq Judgment and After, Has the Stance of Secularists Changed At All ?
- India: Our Rights to eat, to wear, to love - A video from Karnataka
- India: The Hindu Right Has More in Common With Jinnah Than AMU Students Do | Faizan Mustafa
- India - Capture of Monuments: Tomb from Tughlaq dynasty turned into Shiv Bhola temple in New Delhi
- Video: Separate Religion & Govt: Prakash Raj
- India: Trouble at AMU campus over Jinnah portrait - Hindu Yuva Vahini and ABVP trigger violence - select news reports
- India: Video recording of the poet Javed Akhtar on Naya Hukmnama ( The New Ordinance )
-> available via: http://communalism.blogspot.com/
::: URLs & FULL TEXT :::
6. BANGLADESH STATE TO HEAVILY GET INVOLVED WITH RELIGION
WILL BUILD 560 MODEL MOSQUES TO TO COUNTER THE RELIGIOUS MISCONCEPTIONS
May 07, 2018
Model mosques to spread Islamic values
The government took the initiative during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s June 2016 visit to Saudi Arabia, when King Salman promised to fund the vast majority of the Tk8,722 crore project
The government will build 560 model mosques across the country to preach “accurate and correct” Islam and to counter the religious misconceptions which cause militancy and extremism.
The government took the initiative during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s June 2016 visit to Saudi Arabia, when King Salman promised to fund the vast majority of the Tk8,722 crore project.
Since the Saudi government is yet to send the funds, however, Hasina’s government will now undertake the project with funding from local sources.
Based on examples only seen in the kingdom, Qatar, and Malaysia, the model mosques will have special features including research facilities, seminar rooms, and libraries to provide religious education and “spiritual revival”.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina laid the foundation stone of the project at her Gonobhaban residence on April 5, when Religious Affairs Minister Principal Matiur Rahman and Secretary Anisur Rahman also present.
“Islam is the religion of peace,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said. “Our aim is to spread the true light of Islam. We are going to build model mosques where Muslims can exercise the real culture of Islam.”
The prime minister said her government was committed to stopping violence in the name of Islam. “Islam never supports militancy, and such actions in the name of Islam are affronts to the religion,” she said.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Islamic Foundation prepared the model mosque project details and received the approval of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) on April 25, 2017.
“We will implement the project using government and local funding,” Religious Affairs Ministry Secretary for the project, Anisur Rahman, said.
Islamic Foundation Chief Shamim Mohammad Afjal told the Dhaka Tribune that funding from Saudi Arabia would be received “eventually,” although he could not be specific on the amount.
“It is a government project, so the government will be the primary financer,” he said. “That being said, anyone can donate into the model mosques project to uphold the religious spirit.”
The government is initially building nine model mosques at a cost of Tk90 crore in Chittagong, Jhalkathi, Khulna, Bogura, Sylhet, Mymensingh, Rangpur, Noakhali, and Gopalganj.
The total cost of all 560 mosques is Tk8,722 crore, of which the Saudi Arabian government committed to funding Tk8,170 crore.
Despite the process having been delayed due to the slow progress of land requisition, project officials said a tender for the building works will be floated “within a very short time.”
The tender is to be floated separately for each mosque and the allocation will not be similar, according to the plan.
Project officials said the Ministry of Religious Affairs has already formed 15 sub-committees to complete the project within the timeframe.
“The project has the priority of the prime minister’s office,” Religious Affairs Secretary Anisur Rahman told the Dhaka Tribune. “Initially, we will start construction work on nine mosques and gradually complete all 560.”
According to the plan, men and women will be allowed in the mosques to pray separately. In addition, the local community will be able to use the cultural centres for religious learning.
All the mosques are to follow the same model and will be built on 40 decimals of land. At city corporation and district levels, the model mosques will have escalators and air conditioning.
7. ARE YOU WITH THE TYRANTS?' PAKISTANI CHE RISKS ALL TO TAKE ON THE ARMY
Manzoor Pashteen’s Pashtun Protection Movement gathers support in country where criticism of army is rare
2 May 2018
Manzoor Pashteen waves to supporters at a rally in Lahore, held in defiance of a government ban. Photograph: Rahat Dar/EPA
Every morning Ahmed Shah puts on his circular, red-and-black cap, decorated with spades, and feels ready to take on the world. “For me this cap is a symbol of resistance,” he says. “That’s why I like it.”
Shah (not his real name) is one of thousands of Pakistanis who have taken to wearing the distinctive tribal hat to show their support for Manzoor Pashteen.
The charismatic 26-year-old, rarely seen without his “Pashteen hat”, leads the Pashtun Protection Movement (PTM), which has convulsed the country with unprecedentedly virulent criticism of the powerful armed forces.
It accuses the military of being behind a litany of abuses in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), an inhospitable, mountainous region on the border with Afghanistan dominated by Pakistan’s 15-million-strong Pashtun minority and which has played host to a variety of terrorist groups.
Although Pashteen is committed to non-violent protest, his youthfulness, firebrand speeches and distinctive headgear have drawn comparisons with Che Guevara.
What marks the PTM out as a particular threat to Pakistan’s army, which has ruled the country for more than half its 70-year history, is that its allegations mirror those made by western officials, namely that the army plays a “double game” with regard to terrorism, silently supporting groups that target India and Afghanistan.
The government has responded with a crackdown, banning rallies and harassing PTM supporters. Nine PTM activists have gone missing in Karachi, Pakistan’s southern business capital. At a rally last weekend in Swat, pro-military protesters tried to block entry to some of a 25,000-strong crowd.
Even the “Pashteen hat” has been subjected to local, unofficial bans. Replicas can no longer be found in the Swat valley city of Mingora, where at least five shopkeepers selling the hat were recently detained and beaten by thugs associated with the military, locals say.
At a rally in Lahore on 21 April, held in defiance of the government ban, Pashteen bowed his head like a boxer as minders escorted him through an exultant, selfie-taking crowd to a stage adorned with pictures of missing people.
My family say: if you are killed, then at least you will have done something for the people
Earlier that day, sewage had mysteriously flooded the ground. About 8,000 people – many in the Pashteen cap – chanted “the uniforms are behind the terrorists”, a slogan that fosters particular apoplexy in the military’s headquarters in Rawalpindi.
Pashteen tells his audience that he has come to Lahore, a city populated by relatively few Pashtuns, to “expose what the army are doing against us”. To his right, a gigantic poster shows a devastated, rubble-strewn street in a town in North Waziristan partly flattened during a 2014 military campaign against Pakistan’s Taliban.
That campaign is credited with helping reduce deaths from terrorism by more than two-thirds. Yet, according to the PTM, ordinary Pashtuns were caught in the crossfire, and have ever since been subject to humiliating curfews, checkpoints and collective punishment by troops stationed to maintain order.
Manzoor Pashteen speaks to supporters in Lahore. Photograph: Rahat Dar/EPA
So-called enforced disappearances generate particular grief. A government commission has dealt with almost 5,000 cases since 2011, but rights groups say this number vastly underestimates the scale of the problem. “According to the constitution, anybody who commits a crime must be produced in a court of law within 24 hours,” says Pashteen. “But so many people have been taken and are still missing.”
His voice rising, almost to a scream, Pashteen yells at the crowd “are you with the tyrants?” He calls on ordinary soldiers to defy the orders of high command, a statement some have interpreted as treasonous. One rally-goer from Pakistan’s Punjab majority bites his lip and glances anxiously over his shoulder. “It’s quite remarkable hearing this,” he says, on condition of anonymity. “What it portends for Pakistan I don’t know.”
By tradition the military is largely referred to in code, as “the establishment” or, in the case of agents of the feared Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), “angels”. Among PTM-supporters, however, that is changing.
“Before the PTM we didn’t say anything, even in our bedrooms, about the ISI and military intelligence,” says Shehrullah Khan, whose brother was “disappeared” from his luggage shop in 2016. With some safety in numbers, “we can now say everything in our mind and hearts”.
PTM leaders admit that some of the disappeared may have links to the Taliban, but argue that all should be produced in court to face charges.
A white flag, representing the movement’s commitment to non-violent protest, flutters above the stage. Among the stereotypes Pashteen is helping to break down, says analyst Fasi Zaka, is that of “Pashtuns being a martial ethnic group given to conflict”. Its leaders argue that Pashtuns are more victims of the Taliban than the willing hosts often portrayed in the media. One, Ali Wazir, has had 17 members of his family or killed.
The military response betrays choking discomfort. General Bajwa, the chief of army staff, has referred indirectly to the PTM as being “engineered” by Pakistan’s enemies. Reporting on the movement has been censored in the media.
Yet, unable to stop its growth, corps commander Lt General Nazir Ahmad Butt held a meeting last week with the PTM to discuss its “legitimate grievances”, referring to a five-point list of demands that includes de-mining, the punishment of a Karachi police chief accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings, and a “truth and reconciliation commission” on enforced disappearances.
“The PTM’s success,” says civil rights activist Jibran Nasir, is that after years of denial, some in the military “admit there have been some transgressions”.
From the back seat of a car whisking him away from a horde of supporters, Pashteen tells the Guardian that he is unconcerned by a possible threat to his life.
“At first my family said they would throw me out of the house,” he says, “but now they say if you are killed, then at least you will have done something for the people.”
8. SEXUAL HARASSMENT: PAKISTAN’S TIPPING POINT?
May 06, 2018
She went public about being sexually harassed, he categorically denied it; other women spoke up and said they had similar experiences. She complained to the management and disclosed it on Twitter; he sent her a defamation notice. People took sides. Commentators said she did this for fame and personal gain, that all women in the industry are cheap and easy, doubted her version, commented on her clothing and behaviour at private gatherings, and asked why she continued to stay in a toxic environment.
The woman referred to here is television journalist Tanzeela Mazhar, who was joined by journalist and anchor Yashfeen Jamal in pursuing a case of sexual harassment against PTV’s then director of current affairs, Agha Masood Shorish. These women braved professional losses and social censure, courageously went through the formal complaints process, and won. In November last year, Shorish was fired on charges of sexual harassment.
While most women do not report sexual harassment, for ones that do, the immediate response and aftermath follow a predictable template, as evident in the recent Meesha Shafi-Ali Zafar standoff. However, as awareness in the wake of recent laws and platforms for interactions increase, there are slow but evident changes in social reactions.
A spate of allegations of sexual harassment have been highlighted recently, especially on social media. Are the numbers actually piling up? And if so, why?
Going by social media, it seems there is an explosion of sexual harassment cases, of women finding the strength to break the silence. A wider lens, though, would show that social media has been slow to catch on. Women have been fighting both inner demons and external opponents to speak out for over a decade now.
Hockey player Syeda Sadia Nawazish was expelled from the national team after she filed sexual harassment charges against head coach Saeed Khan. Earlier this year, she approached the Lahore High Court to demand that a woman be appointed to the Punjab government’s apex body dealing with sexual harassment. She asserts that the provincial ombudsperson’s office did not conduct a formal inquiry and pressurised her to withdraw her case. She is not just fighting her case itself but fighting to make the formal system more responsive to women.
Rewind to eight years ago. On March 9, 2010, over a hundred professional women working in the police, in airlines, private corporations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), doctors, health workers, bankers, teachers, all cheered from the upper galleries of the National Assembly as President Asif Zardari signed into effect the law on Sexual Harassment at the Workplace. The law was steered through a 10-year gestation by Fouzia Saeed, the first woman to publicly complain and contest a case of sexual harassment in Pakistan. One of the first women to file a formal complaint under the law was PIA pilot Captain Rifat Haye.
Rewind another eight years from then. It was in 1998, when I wrote (from what I know) the first report on sexual harassment at work in Pakistan for the legal aid organisation Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid (LHRLA). I spent half the interview time explaining to women what the concept meant.
The change is palpable.
In an earlier incarnation of the law, the policy had to be called the ‘Code of Conduct for Gender Justice.’ The law itself, insisted the then-PML-Q government, could be ‘Law against Gender Aggravation’, because the phrase ‘sexual harassment’ could not be used. Now, as per the law, guidelines against sexual harassment have to be prominently displayed in public spaces in government offices.
As an illustration, look at the office of the Sindh Ombudsperson on Sexual Harassment at the Workplace. It was instituted in 2012 and only one case was registered that year. The next year, the number rose to 25, to 38 new cases the year after that and in 2016, there were 134 cases filed. In six years, that’s an increase of a whopping 197 percent. The most number of complaints were filed in Hyderabad, followed by Karachi, Khairpur and Naushehro Feroze.
The rise in the number of cases being brought on the public radar was made possible by the 2010 law. But it is no coincidence that women have started speaking out on abusive work environments at the same time that they have started claiming their right to public space, whether it is riding bikes or sitting at dhabas, and the same time that ‘khaana khud garam karlo’ [heat up your own food, the playful protest sign which drew the ire of some men] becomes an issue. It’s the economics.
More women are now working outside the house than ever before, and with the preconditions for women’s work increasingly in place, the number is set to continually rise. See the data pointing to seismic socioeconomic changes:
The mean age of marriage for women has risen from 16 years in 1961 to 22.8 in 2007. Since 1988, fertility has almost halved and teen fertility decreased from 20 percent to eight percent. Later marriage and fewer children are the prerequisite to women joining the workforce.
As poverty has declined in Pakistan — by 25 percentage points between 2002 and 2014 according to the World Bank — women are less occupied with dealing with household survival needs such as collecting water, subsistence farming or domestic chores.
Pakistan’s female literacy has also seen a slow rise, reaching 49 percent in 2015, but is considerably higher for women in the 15-25 age bracket, at 66 percent. Between 2004 and 2014, according to economist S. Akbar Zaidi, there has been a 432 percent increase in girls’ enrolment at universities. Mobility has also increased — women who can visit markets alone rose by 12 percent in the past five years — now at 37 percent.
All these statistics are reflected in the changes in the labour force profile. Female labour force participation increased from 16 percent in 2001 to 24 percent in 2012, rising eight percent in a decade, as female unemployment went down from 16.5 percent to nine percent. While women being a quarter of the workforce is still substantially below regional averages, the rate at which it is changing is significant, as is the fact that the increase is not only in agricultural work — the traditional mainstay of women — but also in the formal economy and in the services industries.
How do these figures connect to sexual harassment?
If almost a quarter of the workforce — one in every four employees — is now women, it would mean that working women are no longer an aberration. The earlier reflex reaction at sexual harassment was questioning why women were working outside the home at all, or telling women to quit their jobs and sit at home. That is no longer viable.
The primary reason why women did not openly complain about harassment was that they wanted to or needed to continue working. Women’s presence at the workplace is now generally not challenged, even if their roles, responsibilities and authority continue to be.
There is also strength in numbers and women are not as isolated as they previously were. The dynamics between being the only woman in a workplace and being one out of many is significantly different. Additionally, economic independence and the ability to contribute towards household expenses significantly changes women’s position inside domestic power hierarchies, which in turn impacts the kind of familial support networks available to contest harassment.
It also means employers will have to deal with women differently now. While lobbying for the 2010 law to be passed, the Alliance Against Sexual Harassment (AASHA) made a voluntary code of conduct on sexual harassment for organisations to adopt. Interestingly, the private sector came on board before even women’s rights NGOs did, with over a thousand companies adopting and instituting it before the law was even passed.
Only those in a position of privilege will ask questions such as why didn’t she report it when it happened,” argues Uzma Noorani. “[Those who cast aspersions] have not experienced the pervading confusion, vulnerability and insecurity when such acts happen.”
In the statement of reasons in amending the law on sexual harassment in public places, the note by then Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani states: “This amendment will not only make the public and work environment safer for women but … more and more women will get the courage to enter the job market.” As women’s employment becomes economically desirable and the preconditions are in place, women will increasingly influence the terms of engagement as these sexual harassment cases show.
But women aren’t cresting any waves yet.
Five years ago, a young woman committed suicide because her accusation of sexual harassment was not taken seriously. Haleema Rafique, a cricketer who played with the Multan Cricket Club — along with three other players — accused the chairman of the club of sexual harassment. He filed a suit of 20 million rupees against the girls after the Pakistan Cricket Board inquiry committee did not find evidence to support the accusation. Her family says she could not cope with the social censure and with her trauma being rubbished by the authorities.
Even today, it is still difficult for women to report cases because of the power hierarchies involved. Rarely are there instances of junior staffers sexually harassing line managers or senior executives. By going public, women risk taunts, jeers, workplace ostracism, penalties and professional losses, social censure and family opprobrium. All this in addition to the emotional toll such acts take on women. The usual pattern in discrediting women’s testimonies is character assassination, of focusing on past behaviour, dress, relationships and so on.
Norm setting is a universal function of the privileged and establishing what is acceptable is a function of power. By allowing women to define what is normal and acceptable and what is not, laws on sexual harassment subvert gendered power relations and hence trigger severe public reaction.
The possibility that an accusation could be fabricated prompts a unique panic. In Pakistan’s context, where fake assault, theft, kidnapping and even murder cases are filed by the dozens everyday (the institutionalised practice of ‘intiqami karwai’ or acts of vengeance), the possibility of the misuse of no other law leads to calls against the law itself.
Despite symbolic power, the laws have constrained outreach. The sexual harassment at workplace law only extends to formal workplaces and does not cover the informal economy where the bulk of women still work, such as in the agriculture sector. The law regarding harassment at public places, which is not well known by women or well understood even by the police, is tougher to prosecute, and does not have many prominent success stories yet.
Sexual harassment is notoriously hard to prove. It can easily degenerate into ‘he said/she said’ statements when accusations are flung around and it is one person’s word against another. But there are ways around it.
With workplace harassment, the law itself is expansive enough to allow a broad-range interpretation, and includes verbal harassment, and no material evidence is necessary to lodge a complaint.
Women have found innovative ways of providing proof even years after the incident — such as by writing down details when such an act occurs, dating it and sending it to one’s self through courier or registered mail and leaving it sealed till they decide to formally complain. The authorities concerned can then open the sealed, courier-dated document to ensure the evidence was not fabricated overnight.
There have been many sexual harassment complaints in which there is no proof or circumstantial evidence, but trained investigators have been able to hold harassers guilty by establishing patterns. Despite harassers bringing in people to vouch for their character, investigators speak to others associated with either the victim or harasser one-on-one in confidentiality without involving police or the courts and unearth corroborating factors.
“In 90 percent of cases, harassers target more than one person and it’s not a stand-alone act. We know how to get to that,” says Maliha Sayed, executive director of Mehrgarh, an institution specialising in this and which has dealt with almost 4,000 cases of sexual harassment.
But to know these mechanisms, women experiencing harassment have to reach out to others, to look up the law and to go through the systems that have been put in place.
It is here that things become touchy.
This issue exploded in India last year. A senior law student crowdsourced and published a list of over 60 renowned Indian male academics who, she said, were sexual harassers based on what others had told her privately.
Some seasoned Indian feminists, who have been political vanguards and fought for women’s rights over decades, wrote a cautionary letter about unsubstantiated, anonymous accusations and underlined the need for due process so as not to delegitimise the struggle against sexual harassment. It divided the women’s movement into what some referred to as a ‘feminist civil war.’
Older feminists were accused by young feminists of protecting male academics belonging to their own class, of being upper-caste apologists, of upholding a system that had failed women. Younger feminists promoted unconventional and radical methods of naming and shaming sexual predators because, they argued, that the due process didn’t work for them. In the generational divide, the older feminists were dismayed that all their work and struggles were summarily dismissed and that the principle of fairness was being overridden.
The same dynamic also played out in Canada where committed feminists such as writer Margaret Atwood expressed concerns over the #MeToo movement and the eclipsing of due process in a case of a Canadian academic. She faced the same anger and rejection and was dismissed as redundant by younger women. Atwood mused over the choices in an opinion piece in The Globe and Mail: “Fix the system, bypass it, or burn it down?” she asks.
The same dilemma has emerged in Pakistan.
Those who have been part of the women’s movement for decades and have fought to institutionalise women’s rights emphasise the need to engage with the system, however flawed it may be, and work to fix it and not bypass it. For instance, they insist women facing sexual harassment at work must report it formally and follow up with case investigation and not accuse someone on social media and stop there.
Fouzia Saeed was the driving force behind the sexual harassment law and set up AASHA. Anis Haroon was the chair of the National Commission on Status of Women when the law was passed and currently is on the National Commission for Human Rights and Women’s Action Forum (WAF). Uzma Noorani is with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and runs Panah, a shelter for women and is part of Sindh’s provincial Sexual Harassment Implementation Watch Committee. All three believe the existing law and its mechanisms must be used and just accusing someone without formally complaining trivialises the process. Pointing to the success stories where women managed to get justice, they iterate the need for due process.
“Breaking the silence is critical when there are no systems in place. But now we have legal protocols, and they get undermined with media trials,” says Fouzia Saeed, referring to the accusations MPA Ayesha Gulalai made against Imran Khan.
Anis Haroon illustrates with the recent case from the University of Karachi, where the victim did not have screenshots or other forms of proof but a pattern of behaviour was established and the offending professor was prohibited from entering the university ever again. In National College of Arts (NCA), Rawalpindi, female faculty members fought a case against the director of the campus and, in accordance with the recommendation of the inquiry committee on sexual harassment, NCA announced that he had been “compulsorily retired.”
“Speaking out is important but you should follow through,” suggests Sayed. “Women have to decide what their goal is. There are now forums for resolving things. If those are not used, then it’s just accusations, statements and controversy. The process should not be unjust to anybody. At least try using the mechanisms first.”
STANDING BY WOMEN
All women’s rights activists at the same time point to the need of believing the victim.
“It’s a rubbish argument that women make such claims for publicity,” says Haroon. “Here, it only offers notoriety, abuse and wrecked nerves. No woman will make such claims lightly. We believe them. If they approach us, we always help them.”
Those who professionally investigate sexual harassment cases say it is unhelpful to look at allegations as true or false. Since an allegation is a statement of belief that some wrong has occurred, they suggest the assessment should judge whether the charge is substantiated or not, and not be framed as whether it is true or not.
In most cases, globally and not just in Pakistan, women generally file complaints after some time has passed after the incident and they can gather the courage, secure themselves in a support network or are no longer in a position subservient to the abuser.
“Only those in a position of privilege will ask questions such as why didn’t she report it when it happened,” argues Noorani. “[Those who cast aspersions] have not experienced the pervading confusion, vulnerability and insecurity when such acts happen. The law has no statute of limitations. Women can report no matter how much time has lapsed.”
One significant influence on public disclosure is if women realise what is happening to them is a pattern; that they are not alone in experiencing this. It could be the knowledge that the abuser is a serial harasser. Or it could be impersonal — the understanding that what they are going through is a phenomenon across society or even across countries and cultures. Having instant access to such information and to connect with others has become pivotal.
Accessible media has been a game changer for women. The instantaneous mass outreach of social media enables trends to become global, such as #MeToo and #TimesUp. Activists had earlier tried to catalyse such moments around rights-based movements — for instance, the World Social Forums in the early 2000s — but without social media platforms, they were unsustainable. The Aurat March is another example of the cascade effect, as women’s marches were held across the United States for the past two years.
Social media platforms have created and democratised space for women.
Often women experiencing sexual harassment experience anger, confusion and self-doubt. The act of speaking out breaks through the isolation women experience and as others share their experiences, it allows patterns to emerge through a cascade effect.
Illustration by Soonhal Khan
While condemnation of women who speak out is routine, social media has created channels for people to express solidarity. In the recent cases where women have accused men on Twitter, many women have expressed support and admiration and said the simple words that women often do not get to hear: “I believe you.” Many women on social media were unflinching in their support for victims and pointed out the hypocrisy and misogyny of gender and cultural hierarchies. In a departure from the norm, many men have also expressed support to women who speak out, have condemned harassers and challenged other men who defend them.
In one case, it had an instant effect. Patari stated that its CEO accused of harassment would be stepping down, expressed complete support for victims of harassment and announced a detailed investigation, and through a statement by investors, iterated its commitment to positive and progressive workplace values. It was a best-case scenario.
Conversely, the organisation The Digital Factory (TDF) in a statement denied all charges against its chief — also accused of harassment and lewd behaviour — and said that the accusations are based on personal grudges to defame the organisation.
This points to the shape-shifter the media can be.
There has simultaneously been an outpouring of scorn and outright abuse against Shafi. When known activist and social analyst Marvi Sirmed observed that the broadcast media persons condemning Shafi were also known for harassment, she also faced a barrage of abuse, much of it also amounting to sexual harassment. Social media provides the anonymity and amplification that allows for diatribes and taunts against the victims. The Federal Investigation Agency and private organisations such as Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) and Bolo Bhi are working to address online harassment as a phenomenon. DRF has set up a cyber harassment helpline, through which 1,500 cases were registered in a single year.
“Nothing works,” fretted a senior activist friend. “We thought better laws would fix things, then we thought increased education would, then that women becoming financially independent would, then women in leadership positions would.”
She goes quiet for a moment.
“I understand structures and patriarchy and all that, but so much could be eased if these boys just had better manners.”
The writer is a researcher and consultant in the social sector. She tweets @Nazish_Brohi
KNOWING THE LAW
The strength of the workplace law is that it has an inbuilt implementation system. It mandates all organisations to have inquiry committees to deal with complaints and provincial and a federal ombudsperson’s office that can either be approached directly by women, or be used to challenge decisions of the committees. The ombudsperson’s decision can be appealed before the governor, whose decision will be final. The courts are not involved. No material evidence is required to approach the ombudsperson and verbal testimonies are given weightage.
If organisations have not made standing inquiry committees, that complaint can be taken to the ombudsperson’s office too. Women who are not employees but have been harassed in a work-related environment, for instance freelancers, can directly appeal to the ombudsperson’s office.
The other law is that which addresses sexual harassment in public places and covers all spaces outside the workplace, including private gatherings. This is the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) 509. In addition to physical sexual advances, it includes words, sounds, gestures and exhibiting of objects of sexual nature that women find offensive. It is punishable by three years in prison or fines or both. These cases, heard before first class magistrates, involve the courts, are bailable and require warrants for arrest.
All provinces are meant to have sexual harassment implementation watch committees. Though Balochistan and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa have not instituted these as yet, the ones in Sindh and Punjab are in place and have dealt with numerous cases already. The committees comprise bureaucrats but also rights activists and civil society members. While the appointment of Krishna Kumari as a senator was celebrated by many for the election of a Hindu Dalit from Tharparkar, many people may not know of her expertise on sexual harassment code compliance and that she ran Sindh’s provincial centre of Alliance Against Sexual Harassment (AASHA) for years. Many other women politicians have also been active in anti-harassment efforts including Shahnaz Wazir Ali, Sherry Rehman, Shazia Marri and Attiya Inayatullah.
There are many organisations that assist women attempting to deal with sexual harassment. These include Mehrgarh, Interactive Resource Center (IRC), Women in Struggle for Empowerment (Wise), Tehrik-i-Niswan and Women’s Action Forum (WAF), among others.— N.B.
9. THE TIME MACHINE TRAP: ASIA’S MOST PROSPEROUS COUNTRIES ARE NOT SQUEAMISH ABOUT BORROWING FROM THE WEST | Sadanand Dhume
The Times of India
May 5, 2018
We live in unusual times. Just a few years ago, the idea of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat giving a 55-minute lecture on the Indian economy at the Bombay Stock Exchange may have belonged in an enterprising comedian’s stand-up routine. These days it’s a legitimate event, earnestly covered by the pink papers.
Bhagwat gave the speech in question last month. The headlines dwelled upon his opposition to both privatisation and foreign ownership of the loss-making Air India. As the RSS chief put it, in fluent Hindi, “does it not run properly, or has it not been properly run?” In short: never mind that countless attempts to manage the chronically inefficient airline “properly” have failed. Next time must be the charm.
My purpose here is not to relitigate the case for privatising Air India, but to ask a more basic question: what are the economic consequences for India of the worldview outlined by Bhagwat at BSE? If you’re sanguine, you can see it as a set of harmless nostrums with few real world economic consequences. Alternatively, to take a darker view, the insularity that nativists espouse could permanently hobble India’s bid to catch up with the prosperous economies of East Asia.
In fairness, much of what the RSS chief expounded upon was unexceptionable. For instance, he pointed out the well-known inadequacy of gross domestic product as an accounting measure. GDP counts a maid’s work as economic output, but ignores a housewife’s unpaid labour. He pointed out that each country must pick policies to suit its circumstances, and that it’s foolish to be a slave to theory. He emphasised that the benefits of economic development must reach the poorest members of society.
The bulk of Bhagwat’s effort appeared to be an attempt to massage Hindu spiritual ideas into some kind of economic philosophy. (Much of this echoed the work of RSS ideologue Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, who rejected both communism and capitalism as unsuitable for India.) For instance, according to Bhagwat an Indian could never ask you to believe in an ideology such as socialism or capitalism. The Indian way is merely to share one’s own experience and allow others to learn from it if they find it helpful.
In a similar vein, the RSS chief emphasised the need for Indians to remain “themselves” by remaining connected to who they once were. He likened those who lack this quality to an elephant playing football or a monkey riding a bicycle.
Why does any of this matter? For starters, because we live in an age where conventional expertise appears to carry a lot less weight than before.
Take the idea for demonetisation, the Modi government’s harebrained decision in 2016 to nuke nearly 90% of India’s currency by value overnight. This brainwave was not incubated in a think tank or in the pages of a peer reviewed journal. Most credible accounts suggest that its proponents were a well-connected yoga guru, a spiritually inclined chartered accountant, and an obscure activist in Pune. Only after the fact did a handful of trained economists attempt (probably to their lasting chagrin) to justify the bizarre policy that even Venezuela deemed too risky.
Similarly, former Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan, widely lauded in the West for his economic acumen, was virtually hounded out of India for, in the immortal words of BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, being “mentally not fully Indian.”
When noted trade economist Arvind Panagariya returned to Columbia University last year, his successor as NITI Aayog vice chairman Rajiv Kumar made a dig about India no longer needing foreign experts. On the campaign trail, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has himself extolled the virtues of hard work over Harvard.
Can India prosper while waging a cultural war against Western-educated experts? Unfortunately for the nativist brigade, the weight of evidence leans against them. Over the past century and a half, the Asian countries that have successfully played catch-up with the advanced industrial economies of the West have been those where nobody spends much time worrying about looking like an elephant playing football.
Less than two decades after American warships pried open its ports in the 1850s, Japan paved the way for its breathtaking modernisation with the Meiji restoration, whose 150th anniversary we are commemorating this year. Acquiring Western education was central to this effort. To varying degrees, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and China have followed suit – aggressively scouring the West for what works and shamelessly adapting it for their own use.
According to the South Korean author Park Seong-Rae, East Asian countries even adopted remarkably similar-sounding phrases to describe this process of modernising by synthesising. For the Japanese, it was “Japanese spirits and Western talents.” The South Koreans used “the Eastern way and Western tools.” For the Chinese, it was “Chinese body and Western uses.”
In his meetings with Modi in Wuhan last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping invariably wore a Western suit. You can view Xi’s sartorial preference in two ways: as a symbol of subjugation by an alien culture, or as a matter-of-fact aspect of globalisation. But as China shimmies up the ladder of prosperity one thing is clear: nobody in Shanghai or Beijing seems to spend a lot of time fretting about how much they borrow and how much is authentically their own.
10. HOW MODI IS TAKING KARNATAKA ELECTION CAMPAIGN TO NEPAL | Vishnu Sharma
6 May 2018
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is taking BJP's Karnataka election campaign to Nepal. This isn't a new thing for him. Since 2014, he has turned every idea, platform and even his visits abroad into election campaigns.
His speech at the United Nations was an election campaign, his interactions with the NRIs abroad too is an election campaign and when he inaugurates a temple in Abu Dhabi he is eyeing on elections back home. So not surprisingly, on May 11 when he visits Nepal, he is taking his party's Karnataka election campaign along. It might be a slip but Nepali home minister Ram Bahadur Thapa has rightly described the visit as "religious and cultural and not political".
On the eve of Karnataka election, Modi will fly to Janakpur, a place said to be the birthplace of legendary goddess Sita, to offer prayers right at the beginning of his trip. People in Karnataka will cast their ballot on May 12. He is also scheduled to address a public gathering during a civil facilitation in the presence of Nepal Prime Minister KP Oli. Reports suggest that Oli is personally looking after the preparations.
Home minister Thapa has already visited Janakpur to take stock of the security measure. After Janakpur, Modi will visit other religious places, including the Muktinath Temple and the Pashupatinath Temple. The rumours in Kathmandu are rife that BJP general secretary Ram Madhav visited the capital secretly to make these arrangements.
Just imagine the way the BJP is going to use the visit to influence Karnataka voters. On May 12, the day of election, newspapers across India will carry on their front pages the news with the headlines such as: Modi accorded grand welcome in Nepal, People chant Modi Modi in Nepal, Modi offers prayers in Janaki Mandir, Modi visits Muktinath, offers prayers etc etc.
In 2014 too Modi had attempted to visit Janakpur but failed because the communists were in Opposition then. They threatened to disturb the programme and forced then Prime Minister Sushil Koirala to alter Modi's itinerary. This time neither is Koirala the PM - he passed away in 2016, nor are the communists in Opposition.
'Hindu' spring in Nepal
In today's communist-ruled Nepal, enlightenment is a commodity up for sale, negotiation and trade. Since the communists are in power, they don't need the idea of enlightenment, democracy and secularism to mobilise masses, as they did a few years ago. They now look more like the nineteenth century pharmacists, who offered opium for all sort illnesses. For Nepali communists, their opium is religion, coated as nationalism, and exported, as everything else, from India.
After years of struggle, peaceful as well as violent, and sacrifices of countless people, Nepal finally became a secular democracy in 2008. Now, the communists are pulling it back to its "original" Hindu fold. While the Nepali Congress is embroiled in an internal struggle, the former rebels are working overtime to transform Nepal into a "Hindu republic".
Not so long ago these comrades swore by Marx, Lenin and Mao as well as science, today they look eager to prove that they have much in common with the BJP and its parent the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
In January, the comrades celebrated the National Unity day to commemorate the first Gurkha king of Nepal, Prithvi Narayan Shah. President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and other ministers and leaders laid wreath on the statue of the "unifier" king, who for majority of the people was a cruel conqueror.
Prior to this, the communists allowed the cow to be named as the country's national animal and also remained quiet when the Gurkha flag was retained as the national flag. There wasn't a single word of protest when daura sulwar and dhaka cap, the traditional dress, was proposed as the official dress of Nepal. And now, by according Modi a welcome of a religious conqueror, the KP Oli-led Nepali government is set to give a strong push to its agenda.
Cow terror in communist Nepal
For poor Nepalese of tribal region, the rule of current communist government is a reign of terror. There is news of people being arrested for cow slaughtering almost every day. The number of such cases is more than what is witnessed in India which is now ruled by the sect of people who believe in Hindi, Hindu and Hindustan. In secular Nepal, cow slaughtering is punishable crime of up to 12 years and the act is implemented very rigorously. During Monarchy too cow slaughtering was a crime nevertheless the rulers were cautious enough to not disturb the social fabric of the Nepalese society by enforcing the blanket ban on it. But, the current government is taking extra measure to destroy every traditional custom which is not in agreement with the values of the ruling elite.
During the Maoist movement in Nepal, the European Union had ever advocated the negotiated solution for Nepal's conflict. Unlike other countries, the EU had a clear stand on secularism and democracy. While the Maoists favored EU's involvement in the conflict the anti Maoist forces, including the country's Army and the neighbor India, opposed its involvement in Nepal's 'internal matter'. Today in the name of 'national sovereignty' the government is targeting it. While it is ever comfortable with interference from the north and south, the EU slamming looks more like an indirect yet targeted attack on the principle of inclusion and secular democracy that the EU claims to represent.
Hope for secularism
It sounds ironic but for many in Nepal, hope for its secular future lies in delaying in the unification of the two communist parties, the UML led by KP Oli and Prachanda's Maoist Centre. There are leaders in the Maoist Centre who were involved in the violent struggle against monarchy and these leaders are strictly secular and democratic in their approach.
Tacitly, they agree to the danger of "Oli nationalism". Today they are silent due to the uncertainty surrounding their future in the united party. But once the talk of unification is put aside, they can be powerful allies in the country's fight against "Hindu" revivalism.
11. A "PIECE OF REAL ESTATE KNOWN AS INDIA": ASHOK MITRA'S 1989 COLUMN ON HOW INDIA'S RICH SHED THEIR GUILT AND FEAR
Economic and Political Weekly
18 March 1989
Should one apologise for returning to the same theme, over and over again? But when cliche is the reality, cliche it has to be.
They are the top of the heap. In their scheme of things, only the top, in fact, exists, the heap does not. One happens to pick one of those slick publications which deal, exclusively, with the perambulations of this set. It is gushingly informative India, it confides to you, has finally arrived; at long last, what a relief, it is the year of the designer. The influence of the designer, one is told with authority, permeates every—yes, every— sphere of Indian life; our compatriots, each and every one of them, have ceased simply to buy clothes, they now insist on buying labels. The labels of course have their price-tag, but, in civilised society, who does not know, it is not the in thing to mention prices.
Classy writing, classy name-dropping. Sons and daughters of the very, very rich design apparel for each other. They buy from each other. They create wealth, and exchange that wealth, within the fold. It is a self-contained arrangement, where the offspring of the affluent concern themselves with fashions and designs and such other foppery intended for themselves alone. They compliment each other for their creativity; one or two amongst them sit down to write learned-sounding discourses on what they have created. Foppery, they take it for granted, is substitutable with culture. Somebody from within their set they designate as the country's 'premier culture person'; taking the long view, they even name his or her successor. It is such a cosy world of unending in-dulgence, as if those advertisements in the New Yorker magazine have suddenly come to life, eleven thousand miles away, along Indian shores.
These precious children have a new con-fidence in their voice. It is not merely that money-making for them is an extraordinarily easy proposition. It was always so for those who had the connections. What is however special is the assurance with which they now-a-days, almost absentmindedly, flaunt the fact of their holding money, interminable lots of it, which they are going to spend with a carefree abandon. Not a flicker of hesitation passes across their mind. They own the piece of real estate known as India. It is to them axiomatic that they are to enjoy the high life this ownership entitles them to. The pages of the slick journals they patronise; and which subsist on their patronage, are a revelation. It is a closed-circuit ambience. None is to be permitted to suspect that India happens to be one of the poorest nations on earth, beset by hunger, pestilence and squalor. The exclusive talk is around fashions and designs, you will only expose yourself as a silly old goat were you to try to chip in with that awkward bit of statistics about per capita consumption of cloth in the country today being even less than what it was at the time of independence.
This is then the qualitative change which has come about in the past decade, more so in the past five years. The filthy rich of yesteryears have shed both their guilt com-plex and their fear complex. It is no longer shameful, they have come to acquire the knowledge, to parade their affluence. That the wealth of some of them has been amass-ed through roundabout means is no ground for apprehension either. A transformation has taken place in the perception of moral principles. Appellations such as Ill-gotten' have gone into disuse The possession of money alone matters, the modality of how one came by it is a foot notish detail which must not spoil the fun. There is a way of putting it; as the fascinated urban sociologists would say, Indians, meaning the Indian rich, have finally succeeded in getting rid of their hang-ups.
To offer the comment that the specimens being described subsist in an unreal world, and then move on, is hardly adequate Rest assured, their new-found confidence is not unreal. For the first time since socialism dawned in the country, they do not feel the need to hide their money under the bushel. For, for the first time; their holding of wealth has a major supportive advantage: it is backed by their direct holding of political power. Not that they were exactly lacking in political support in the past. But that was in the nature of patronage, dispensed by the powers-that-be for their own reasons. Such intermediaries have disappeared; the rich can now claim political power on the strength of their own credentials, and use that power with the same nonchalance with which they use the other perquisites of life.
This political strength the offspring of the rich have amassed is a concrete phenomenon. They do not have to operate any more through lobbyists for wangling an import or industrial licence or for getting a certain import or excise duty waived or reduced. They themselves have the clout to effect changes in public policy. Not that all of them participate with equal gusto in the direct political process. Sometimes the husband is involved, the wife is not Sometimes and-sister act, the sister is the political number, the brother is in designs. All told, they have not done at all badly. Some of them actually contested the elections and won thumpingly. True, a certain historical circumstance helped them to chalk up those victories. The fact nonetheless remains that they won. Also the fact that electoral triumph effected the most sweeping changes in the political arena. They have been quick learners. The legal and constitutional arrangements in the country they have in-herited are such that a division of responsibilities is called for. They have accepted the fact with grace that a handful amongst them have to perform the dirty parliamentary chores, such as going through the motions of chanting socialism and placing on record from time to time words of filial sympathy for the poverty-stricken millions. These are minor irritants. Altogether, it is still a heady feeling: no bloody counter-revolution, no messy coup d'etat, it has been an amazingly swift—and incident-free—transition: the rich have inherited, in one whole lot, the duchy of India. There is nothing ersatz about it; it is a genuine seizure of power. They can behead you if they want to. They can, at the shortest notice, despatch troops to rescue pals abroad who, either accidentally or by design, get themselves embroiled in trouble. They can strike an after-hours deal with the concerned multinational corporation and sign away the interests of the thousands who were felled by the gas leak at Bhopal. They can sign away the sovereign-ty of the country. Power grows, they have proved, out of straightforward inheritance, and, once that happens, they can quite believe that they might even control the power that grows out of the barrel of the gun.
True, the foppery they are indulging in has a fragility of its own. It is dependent fop-pery, sustained by the country's huge foreign debt already comfortably exceeding fifty billion American dollars, and promising to rise further at an impressively exponential rate in the course of the next few years. But so what? Those offering funds from overseas have every reason to keep up the act; India, they have satisfied themselves, is an eminently trappable tract, and the decision-makers here have classy credentials. It will perhaps take us still some while to catch up with Brazil and Mexico, but both Argentina and Indonesia are within reachable distance. Give or take a couple of years, we are bound to enter the big league of external in-debtedness, and will constitute one of the eminent threesome. The offspring of the rich, worrying their heads off over motifs and designs, need not entertain fears of any nuisarfte of a distraction. Their foppery is heavily import-using, imports will however for the present be duly taken care of. Even the compensation from Union Carbide, in gleaming foreign exchange, will be put to good use.
They therefore exude health. They do not feel any moral pressure, the squalidness afflicting the rest of the nation does not touch them. In any event, closed-circuit travel from air-conditioned boutiques to air-conditioned cars to air-conditioned restaurants to air-conditioned penthouses can instil a great deal of other worldliness. Their friends from New York or San Franscisco are of course impressed at the swiftness with which the Union Carbide was offered the helping hand: After this, there ought to be not one doubting Thomas to allege that India is not safe for foreign in-vestments. While their satellite links with the west are thus unsnappable, even the winds blowing from the direction of the socialist countries are equally propitious. Those wont to sing the Internationale, on the other side of the assumed ideological divide, could not have stumbled on their perestroika at a more appropriate time. They and the children of our rich are, it seems, on an identical wave-length. Could it be the consequence of Cher-nobyl, could it be because these are charac-ters in search of a place where they could dump their spare sets of atomic power plants? Be that as it may, it is a kind of . global hook-up: whether it is Budapest or Moscow or Beijing or New York or Los Angeles or London, there is just one message: now is for now, live it up, live it up for yourselves, you are not your neighbour's keeper.
Notwithstanding such earthshaking developments, there is that other objective correlate: the poor will not go away from these shores, they add up to millions and millions, and their number is growing; one of these days, they will learn to mobilise; one of these days, just for the fun of it, they will turn to organised mayhem; one of these days, for the heck of it, they will, suddenly, burst into the genteel tranquillity of air-conditioned salons and make a bonfire of motifs and designs. That will be some bother, which is why it is found necessary to set aside funds in the budget for distributing saris, gratis, to destitute women. And there is just an outside chance that the general elections due toward the end of the year could provide a jolt to the offspring of the affluent. A few amongst them perhaps have occasion to glance at the opinion polls the slick magazines they patronise have fallen into the habit of organising every now and then; stray motifs and designs are hid-den there too. Whether the rich have inheri-ted the earth for ever therefore remains an open-ended issue. Some designs may still turn out to be non-acceptable, whatever the, 'leading culture persons of the country* may say.
12. INDIA: PF DATA 'STOLEN' FROM AADHAAR SEEDING LINK
Jayanta Roy Chowdhury
The Telegraph, May 03, 2018
13. INDIA: PUSSY CAT AT HOME, BENGAL TIGER IN A MOB: THERE’S LITTLE GENTEEL ABOUT THE BHADRALOK
3 May, 2018
Dishing out mob justice, showing women their place has a powerful appeal whether in a pub in Mangalore or a train in Kolkata.
The Metro rail was once Kolkata’s pride and joy. The city, after all, was the first in India to get one all the way back in 1984. Now, overnight, it’s become a symbol of the city’s shame.
The Ananda Bazar Patrika recently carried an eyewitness account about a young couple thrashed by their middle-aged and elderly co-passengers for being “too close” on the train. That has led to great soul-searching and hand-wringing all over the city.
Et tu Metro? Then fall Kolkata.
Suddenly, we are unable to recognise our city anymore. The Metro is appealing to us to not allow anyone to tarnish Kolkata’s “cultural heritage”. “It is difficult to believe that the city I have known for decade after decade has become so dangerous underneath the surface; so intolerant, so cruel! I am unable to believe it. It feels literally like a nightmare,” laments Ujjwal Chakravarty in the Ananda Bazar Patrika.
Some are claiming this incident is just another sign that the moral policing of the khap panchayats and the Karni Senas and the Shri Ram Sene is now infecting even metropolitan Kolkata. From sword-wielding Ram Navami processions to PDA-phobic uncles on the Metro, it is but a hop, skip and hug away.
But it’s not about Right-wing/Left-wing politics as much as it’s about bhadralok gone wild. That’s what really stings.
When suburban lumpen were the villains, Kolkata could feel superior. In 2013, a college student was gang-raped and killed in Kamduni village just outside the city in an area surrounded by fisheries, ill-lit and ill-served by police stations. Local boys gathered there and drank in the open, passing lewd comments on any young woman that passed by. Kolkata marched in shocked protest.
A 21-year-old college student was hacked to pieces in 2014, killed for protesting against gambling rackets and illicit liquor dens in his neighbourhood. A 39-year-old school teacher was murdered two years earlier for daring to take on criminal gangs who raped and tortured at will in his village. But these were on the outskirts of the city, in neighbourhoods Kolkatans might have heard about but rarely had reason to visit. The Metro did not stop there.
That gentlefolk, the kind that take the Metro, could suddenly turn into a flash mob seems unbelievable. But is it really? Or does it just prove what we always secretly suspected, that the bhadralok liberalism Kolkata snobbishly prides itself on can be a thin veneer at best?
There is really nothing to indicate the bhadralok is intrinsically liberal and tolerant. The quintessential bhadralok rarely gets involved because he does not want to get his hands dirty. That squeamishness is sometimes mistaken for tolerance.
But it’s anything but, as is often evident when the bhadralok opens his mouth. When Suzette Jordan was raped after a visit to a nightclub in the heart of the city, a bhadralok minister wanted to know what a mother-of-two was doing at a nightclub.
As a young woman commented, the men who beat up the couple are also the ones that look the other way when a woman is harassed on the same trains.
Yes, Kolkata is still one of the safest cities for women in the country but National Crime Records Bureau statistics for 2016 say the state has the highest number of cases of domestic violence. The dadas in the neighbourhood, the aunties next door, the I-know-best uncles, even the student union leaders on campus, have always been moral police unto themselves. A young woman tells a story about how, as a student, she was harassed by dadas for wearing shorts and smoking in public in Kolkata. The difference is dadas dictated the norms in what they considered their own backyard while the Metro is public transport that supposedly belongs to everyone.
The heavy-handed Bengali soap operas, while apparently peddling stories of women’s empowerment, trot out the same old tropes, where girls who go to “discs” or have a drink are women who will inevitably have their “modesty outraged”. Even that genteel word ‘bhadralok’ is a cutting-edge weapon used to enforce a ‘Lakshman rekha‘ of propriety. We’ve all heard it. “You can’t dress like that/you can’t party like that/you can’t argue like that/you can’t stay out late like that, this is a bhadralok home/apartment building/housing complex.”
When a mob decides to enforce their idea of what is seemly, it shows that the middle-aged bhadralok in Kolkata is just as frustrated at the sight of carefree young love as their khap counterparts elsewhere.
When it’s discreetly out of sight, on the dark tree-lined streets near Victoria Memorial where you will find couples in a tight clinch every few feet, they pretend not to notice it. But when faced with it in the bright fluorescent light of a Metro compartment, the Bengali blood boils over.
The renowned poet Rabindranath Tagore might have famously told us ‘jodi tor daak shuney keu na aashey tobey ekla chalo re (If no one heeds your call, then go it alone)’, but in a Metro compartment in Kolkata, everyone is eager to answer the call of the mob. Dishing out mob justice, showing women their place, has a powerful appeal, whether in a pub in Mangaluru or a train in Kolkata. They might be pussy cats at home, but in the safety of a mob everyone is a Bengal tiger.
There are silver linings here. Unlike other parts of the country, the reaction has at least not been an angry bristling defence of the moral police. It was other passengers who came to the couple’s rescue. The Metro railway authorities quickly tweeted, “Metro Rly IS AGAINST MORAL POLICING”, and said they were investigating the incident though their CCTV cameras had not captured anything. However, their zero-tolerance stance was slightly dented when their official Facebook handle apparently posted a message asking, “What wrong has been done by the passengers?” calling the episode the “inevitable fallout of year-long vulgarity shown by a section of the young generation”. That message was hurriedly deleted but not quickly enough.
Now, young people are giving out free hugs as part of a ‘#HokAalingon (Let the hugs happen) campaign’. People are singing songs and quoting Bob Dylan to the media, saying the times they are a changing.
That’s all very cool and exactly the sort of reaction Kolkata prides itself on. But it does not change the uncomfortable truth. The league of extraordinary Bengali gentlemen isn’t so out of the ordinary, after all. When push comes to love, they can be just garden-variety bullies. Then, they will go back to their fish-and-rice bhadralok lives without missing a beat.
Sandip Roy is a journalist, commentator and author.
14. BRAZIL'S RACIALISED SPERM ECONOMY
Why is there a surging demand for caucasian sperm in Brazil?
by Mariana Prandini Assis
5 May 2018
Sperm samples, each individually numbered, rest in a tank of liquid nitrogen. [Fred Prouser/Reuters]
The commodification of biomaterials, such as eggs and sperm, and their associated products, has drastically changed the ways in which we deal with reproduction and kinship. A domain of life once understood to be natural has now become a matter of choice. At first glance, the vast availability of biomaterial in the borderless marketplace seems to be liberating: single women increasingly make up the largest consumer group of sperm banks, a fact that signals to the disruption of traditional gender roles and family models. But are people's uses of assisted reproduction technology only telling us about subversion or could they also indicate the ways in which powerful structures of domination are entrenched in our societies?
In the case of Brazil, the answer seems to be that the recent trend of sperm importation, reported by the National Health Surveillance Agency, reveals a lot more than simply a tremendous increase of demand for this commodity (which cannot be commercialised within the country). The report details the information on foreign human semen use from 2011 to 2016 and shows that 95 percent of the demand was for samples provided by Caucasian men. The colour of the donor's eyes was also an important factor for the importers: 52 percent preferred donors with blue eyes, followed by brown (24 percent) and green (13 percent). The profile of the donors who received the largest number of requests show a slight variation: They are either blond Caucasian with blue eyes or blue-eyed Caucasians with brown hair.
For anyone who has ever heard about Brazilians being mixed people who live in a racial democracy, it might be difficult to understand why those who can afford to import semen have such a strong and almost unanimous preference for the blue-eyed Caucasian type. Growing up as a white person in Brazil, it is not hard for me to figure this out. The racist structure that governs our society unmistakably establishes that power, privileges and inherent capacities go along with the colour of your skin. Whiteness is the normative racial identity here, and being a white person places you in a position that, throughout your life, systematically gives you privileged access to material and symbolic resources.
The value given to whiteness may be seen in different domains of life. First, in terms of beauty standards, white aesthetics is hegemonic. Straight hair, white skin, blue or green eyes and delicate features make up the prevailing idea of human beauty, which is entrenched in popular culture, and disseminated in mass media. Such aesthetical superiority is, in fact, one of the distinguishing features of whiteness in Brazil, as recent studies have shown. Also, the idea of moral and intellectual superiority - which is at the heart of "race" as a colonial construct to justify subjugation of indigenous and black people in the Americas - is deployed, up to this day, by white Brazilians to explain why they earn more money, live in the best neighbourhoods, occupy the highest positions in both the market and the state, among many other advantages they enjoy.
It is clear thus that Brazilian racism is by and large supported by a pact of whiteness. While such a pact does not place barriers to the establishment of everyday relationships between whites and non-whites, hence our "racial democracy", it reinforces, in every instance, the idea of white superiority that legitimates the privileges that we white people enjoy. White people are not only favoured in such racialised structure, but they have actively produced and strengthened it, simply by promoting the (very wrong) idea of racial democracy or through more direct mechanisms of discrimination.
One of such mechanisms were the state policies deployed at the turn of 19th century, when the abolition of slavery became an inevitable fact and hundreds of thousands of black people would become citizens. Aiming to turn Brazil into a white country, a decree from 1890 liberalised the entrance of workers, except for those native to Asia or Africa. During the coming decades, particularly between the 1920s and 1940s, the state engaged in a deliberate effort to attract European migrants as a means to whiten the population. Interestingly in contrast with the US experience, interracial coupling became, both in state policy and intellectual discourse, a eugenic instrument. In only about 30 years, 2.1 million European migrants were allowed in the country, a number equivalent to that of the black people forced into Brazil as slaves during nearly 375 hundred years.
Today, we have the largest black population outside of Africa and the majority of my compatriots define themselves as black or mixed race. Nonetheless, the commitment to make this a white nation has not relinquished, as the recent and growing trend of Caucasian sperm importation might suggest. While institutional racism still plays a major role in sustaining preferences, hierarchies, privileges and material inequalities between human beings based on their skin colour, the role individual racism plays in the maintenance of this structure cannot be ignored. After all, signing out of the "white pact" means to oppose a long list of racial, economic and political privileges that comes with being white in Brazil.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial stance.
Mariana Prandini Assis is a human rights lawyer and a PhD Candidate in Politics at the New School for Social Research.
15. BOOK REVIEW: ‘TOMORROW BELONGS TO US’: THE BRITISH FAR RIGHT SINCE 1967 EDITED BY NIGEL COPSEY AND MATTHEW WORLEY
LSE REview of Books
25 April 2018
‘Tomorrow Belong to Us’: The British Far Right since 1967, edited by Nigel Copsey and Matthew Worley, offers an interdisciplinary collection that explores the development of the British far right since the formation of the National Front in 1967, covering topics including Holocaust denial, gender, activist mobilisation and ideology. Katherine Williams recommends this insightful and dynamic volume, which shows the importance of new approaches and methodologies when it comes to examining the rise of the far right in Britain.
‘Tomorrow Belongs to Us’: The British Far Right since 1967. Nigel Copsey and Matthew Worley (eds). Routledge. 2017.
Part of Routledge’s Fascism and Far Right series, ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Us’: The British Far Right since 1967, edited by Nigel Copsey and Matthew Worley, has its finger firmly on the pulse of contemporary debates surrounding the development of the far right in Britain, which have gained particular currency once more following the Brexit referendum of 2016.
As the editors note in the introductory section, the rise of neo-nationalist or nativist populism has become increasingly difficult to ignore, particularly given radical right mobilisation across Europe and the election of political outlier Donald Trump to the US presidency. To make sense of present-day events, they posit that an understanding of the past is essential to contextualise the British far right today. Thus, 1967 is a particularly significant moment with which to begin the discussion: the National Front (NF) was formed in this year, marking the first time since Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF) that far-right groups in Britain came together under one united ‘front’.
While the NF today presents no tangible threat in terms of electoral politics – it has no elected representatives at any level of government – it enjoyed considerable success in 1977 when it won a quarter of a million votes in the Greater London council elections. Following this precedent, 33 years later, the British National Party (BNP) stood 338 candidates and amassed half a million votes in the 2010 General Election. However, despite the relative successes of the NF and BNP at the ballot box, the volume is concerned with the establishment of a ‘new way’ of viewing the far right. The editors aim to move beyond the methodological approaches of ‘hard politics’, eschewing the statistical analysis typifying the field more generally. Thus, the topics discussed in this volume are approached from diverse, interdisciplinary epistemological and methodological perspectives, including scholars in history, cultural studies and behavioural studies, to name but a few.
The ultimate aim of the volume is to bridge gaps in the existing literature, and take analyses of the far right in directions that have yet to be explored or are currently underexplored. The volume is comprised of twelve principal chapters, including an extensive bibliographic survey of primary and secondary source materials pertaining to the British far right. The chapters themselves discuss a variety of topics ranging from homophobia in the BNP, the impact of Greece’s Golden Dawn on British far right parties as well as far right and punk youth culture during the 1970s, illustrating the interdisciplinary nature of the collection.
Image Credit: National Front March, Yorkshire, UK, 1970s (White Flight CC BY SA 3.0)
In the first chapter, Mark Hobbs asserts that, alongside 1967, 1945 is also of utmost significance when it comes to examining the link between Holocaust denial and the subsequent development of far-right ideology. While Holocaust denial presents something of a barrier to the political legitimacy groups like the NF were seeking, it contributed to the construction of what Hobbs terms a ‘false history’. According to this view, the failure of far-right movements to attain legitimacy is blamed on Jewish conspiracies, of which the Holocaust itself is considered one such example, and further ‘evidence’ of Jewish ‘interference’ in global politics. The many crimes of the Nazi regime are, of course, conveniently ignored.
Holocaust denial had no ‘official’ place within the NF, but influential members, such as John Tyndall, held different views; he was not afraid to ‘retract’ these beliefs publically in order to secure power and influence within the movement before becoming party leader in 1972. The publication of Did Six Million Really Die? by Richard Verrall in 1974 saw the far right attempt a bid for legitimacy that went beyond the ballot box. Hobbs notes that this infamous tract was meant to imbibe far-right propaganda with scholarly credentials: the authorship was attributed to an academic institution, and the text was presented with footnotes, references and a bibliography. This was designed to lend further credence to the idea that Holocaust denial could be a ‘viable’ form of historical revisionism. This tradition was continued by the revisionist Journal of Historical Review, and cast into the public eye by libel cases brought against prominent figures in the movement like Ernst Zündel and David Irving.
It is far too easy to fall into the trap of suggesting that Holocaust deniers and proponents of far-right ideology are ‘mad’ or stupid. As Hobbs asserts, ignoring these views is to overlook the serious danger posed by both the ideology itself and the violence it facilitates. Similarly, we cannot underestimate the danger posed by ‘alt right’ groups today, despite their academic veneer – Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute being a case in point – and seemingly inconspicuous stylings (for readers interested in this particular subject, Chapter Seven, by Ana Raposo and Roger Smith, offers a wealth of discussion on far-right visual cultures as they pertain to British movements). Hobbs effectively demonstrates that Holocaust denial is an essential part of the inner workings of far-right ideologies that not only sustain epistemological ‘grand narratives’ of a Jewish conspiracy, but continue to ‘unify’ like-minded individuals, as events in Charlottesville last year have shown.
This ‘unification’ is also facilitated through the proliferation of far-right ideology on social media sites, despite recent ‘purges’ by platforms such as Twitter. Consequently, far-right groups are able to reach out to potential members, as well as altogether different types of audiences, from the comfort of their own homes. In Chapter Nine, Hannah Bows discusses the relative lack of research undertaken on one particular potential audience: women. Despite the rise in academic interest in the far right, the author notes that studies have been dominated by ‘salient’ images of angry, white, working-class men, often absenting women from the discussion altogether. As Bows reiterates, we therefore know ‘painfully little’ about women in the British far right, historical studies notwithstanding. Subsequently, the chapter aims to provide a theoretical overview of the relatively small pool of research that exists.
Bows discusses research, both qualitative and quantitative, that attempts to unpack why a ‘gender gap’ in discussions of women’s participation may exist. Four key strands of thought emerge: men dominate manual occupations and are more likely to be affected by a lack of employment opportunities; women may be more religious than men and find the far right antithetical to their personal beliefs; the diffusion of feminism has seen women turn their backs on the far right; and, finally, society’s rigid adherence to gendered binaries has seen both men and women socialised into ‘knowing their place’. Whilst this may offer researchers insight into some of the reasons behind women’s alleged non-involvement, Bows argues such studies are limited not only by small sample sizes and altogether different methodological approaches, but also the difficulty in predicting levels of female participation due to the secretive and non-formal membership processes of far-right groups.
Although the far right is dominated by men, we know that women are active in the movement both at home and beyond – Britain First’s deputy leader Jayda Fransen and Germany’s Beate Zschäpe are high-profile examples. Influential studies undertaken by sociologist Kathleen Blee have also attempted to shed some light on women’s involvement in neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan (KKK)-affiliated groups in a US context. Bows posits that as well as an innate ‘paucity’ of empirical research, there is an almost total lack of theoretical engagement: dominant theories inevitably centre men’s experiences and cannot simply be transferred to women. The author opines that while feminist scholars in particular may have trouble reconciling far-right agendas with feminism’s core tenets of agency and equality, the rise of far-right movements and their gender-specific appeal are hugely important to feminist theories and activism. Ultimately, what we need, and what Bows advocates, is empirical research that engages directly with women in far-right groups in order to effectively unpack dominant socio-cultural narratives surrounding their involvement.
‘Tomorrow Belongs to Us’ offers readers a dynamic insight into the development of the British far right since 1967, and reminds us that despite its various peaks and troughs, the movement continues to have the ability to incite hatred and undermine democracy, as recent events have also shown. Contributors to this excellent volume advocate a new way of looking at the far right in Britain, and demonstrate a range of means through which intersectional engagement can be achieved, all the while encouraging researchers to look beyond the statistical methods of the ‘hard’ sciences for ‘answers’ regarding the subject matter at hand. The book is a must-read for researchers and general readers alike.
Katherine Williams is an ESRC-funded PhD candidate at Cardiff University. Her research interests include the role of women in far-right groups, feminist methodologies and political theory and gender in IR. You can follow her on Twitter: @phdkat.
16. BOOK REVIEW: RULE BY AESTHETICS BY ASHER GHERTNER
Society and Space
24 April 2018
REVIEWED BY RYAN CENTNER
Asher Ghertner, Rule by Aesthetics: World-Class City Making in Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2015, 272 pp., $26.95 (paper), ISBN: 9780199385577
Geographical fieldwork with philosophers and elsewheres
Asher Ghertner continues his work as a creative and profound scholar with his first monograph, Rule by Aesthetics: World-Class City Making in Delhi. This book is a great read yet also manages to be impressively detailed in its data and textured in its ethnographic feel. Ghertner proves particularly agile in his movement among sites in Delhi as well as among concepts and modes of academic engagement, shifting from exposition and explication to conceptual development and back again. There is a masterful sense of a very locally specific framework and argument that simultaneously hold broad utility for a range of settings. I would like to focus on a few features of this book that I find especially worth thinking about in terms of Ghertner’s larger contributions, as well as some aspects that got me stuck thinking—both in terms of elsewheres, or other sites, where we might see these phenomena happening, and other conceptual engagements that we might consider in light of this.
Among the many accomplishments of the book, it excels in dissecting the world-class city from new angles. Ghertner breathes new life into this concept, moving above and beyond the pivotal, now classic critique by Jennifer Robinson (2002) about global and world cities as a “regulating fiction.” Ghertner advances our understanding here by showing how this idea of the world-class city—this image, this aesthetic—is cultivated through both statistical wizardry and discursive innovation, as part of cultural domination. But he also shows how this reaches various groups: not just those who benefit from it directly, or who are seen as some kind of favored audience ready to buy into its fantasy by buying up luxury flats, but also how this fantasy becomes something that those most persecuted by it absorb, admire, and obey. Ghertner shows how disadvantaged urban populations find ways to make sense of their own unbelonging in schemes of remaking the city to match some kind of world-class aspiration.
In another example of his oblique, innovative interventions in influential debates in urban geography, Ghertner grapples with the gentrification literature by finding ways to shore up its utility for the institutional and political context of Indian cities (see also Ghertner, 2014). While some recent contributions advocate the “planetary” sweep of gentrification analyses (e.g., Lees, Shin, and López-Morales, 2016; Slater, 2017), Ghertner takes prudent steps both toward deeper empirical embeddedness and outward to wider considerations than is the norm for these swirling discussions among a small set of commentators who remind us that gentrification is everywhere. Indeed, the revalorization of devalorized space—an axiomatic understanding of gentrification from the late Neil Smith (1996)—can be witnessed across much of the globe. Ghertner has no interest in naysaying that observation. Rather, he argues that displacement and the remaking of urban terrain happens through different mechanisms, with differently pitched dynamics and differently inflected deplorable outcomes across planetary space, which has quite a lot to do with local political histories, longstanding socioeconomic structures, and both the design and enforcement of regulatory frameworks in any given state. Drawing on his longitudinal positioning in Delhi, he shows how processes of displacement obtain through a number of “extra-economic” means (i.e., beyond the most standard ambit of gentrification explanations), including governance tactics and the impunity of brute force. Ghertner’s focus is specifically on the Indian context, but this kind of insight pertains to a number of other settings where property and residential rights draw on a different inheritance of norms—and repertoire of practices—than in the wealthy postindustrial countries where gentrification frameworks emerged. This is where Ghertner also takes a step outward, by considering how other broad frameworks—such as Henri Lefebvre’s (2003) understanding of urban revolution, and David Harvey’s (2003) accumulation by dispossession—could prove more amenable to a variety of settings, and indeed more adaptable to their specific features and how locally embedded scholars have understood them, than the standard gentrification story.
Rather than abandoning gentrification as a phenomenon to analyze, Ghertner shows us how to do this more incisively so that we might yield better-informed strategies for denouncing and resisting it. If, instead, we start to see all kinds of urban change as gentrification, we are shorn of our ability to understand its nuances and make more effective interventions. Recently, even Saskia Sassen (2015)—sometimes criticized for the overstretch of her own concepts—claimed that “calling a phenomenon gentrification is like an invitation not to think,” in her effort to convey the need for more tailored yet still critical theorizations and analyses of urban change. Ghertner, in richly textured ways, meets and exceeds this intellectual demand to offer us new ways to think about gentrification as well as the limits of what we can describe and analyze as gentrification in this book. He points usefully, for example, to “the gentrification of the state,” elucidating how various processes of governance can be powerfully shifted along a class gradient.
Among the many other thought-provoking facets of Rule by Aesthetics, two features pushed me to think about possible influences or extensions that could be rooted in this work. First, the book is quite philosophically omnivorous. Ghertner engages with philosophers in his geographical fieldwork with aplomb: whether Foucault, Rancière, Barthes, Kristeva, or others, there is much in philosophy (or among the philosophically minded) that Ghertner incorporates into his explanatory repertoire, for how to make sense of what is happening in Delhi with world-class urbanism and this rule by aesthetics. But I was left wondering at several points what this was doing for the book’s reception more broadly—both within geography and beyond. In human geography, there is somewhat of a disciplinary penchant for cherrypicking philosophical frameworks or following vogue theories—obviously not every geographer does this, but it happens often in the discipline, where an idea that is not necessarily relevant, and a thinker who may be extremely clever but has no (or no pertinent) empirical foundation, are invoked in almost scriptural fashion to make sense of a very empirical geographical phenomenon, as if somehow inherently legitimate or beyond question. This is not Ghertner’s game. To the contrary, his command of different philosophical frameworks is erudite and nimble, his use of them sensible and indeed grounded and reflexive, which are key shifts that are all too uncommon. This made me wonder how other geographers might then follow this example, how this could be a model for doing geographical fieldwork with philosophy but without resorting to flavor-of-the-month genuflection or hand-waving.
Beyond geography, the book’s philosophical engagement may well be surprising, especially in disciplines such as sociology where scholars are very accustomed to the struggle of bringing together complicated theoretical frameworks with a rich local context. In particular I kept asking myself what would the analysis in Rule by Aesthetics have been like if Pierre Bourdieu had been utilized more directly and abundantly. Bourdieu is there, but he is not there extensively. Bourdieu as a sociologist was famous for his “fieldwork in philosophy” (Bourdieu, 1990: 3-33), as he himself exemplified this practice of bringing philosophical concepts into the empirical fray to test and recalibrate them. I wondered then—especially around issues of judgment, taste, habitus, etc, that do show up in this book, and are key elements in Bourdieu’s repertoire—what would it have been like to engage with a philosophically minded scholar who is much more empirical, like Bourdieu? He certainly has his own critics, not least among geographers (see Cresswell, 2002), so I am not claiming Ghertner’s book would have been necessarily better for working more extensively with Bourdieu; instead, it is an open question about what could happen with some of the analysis here if there were greater engagement with others like Bourdieu who have also been committed to empirical fieldwork with philosophy.
Second, this book may be about Delhi but it made me think constantly about a variety of elsewheres. I was of course led to reflect on some of my own fieldwork—not on the same specific topics but grappling with some similar broad issues. For example, with the idea of rule by aesthetics, one of Ghertner’s assertions is that we must analyze an aesthetic from multiple perspectives because it does not necessarily have a clear ideology embedded within it. An aesthetic can serve as a form of rule, but it is open to being filled by an array of charged contents. An aesthetic can also be contested, and recast, either by those who suffer from its rule, or by others who pose alternative agendas of power. This made me mull over my work in Turkey, in Istanbul, with regard to the imperial motifs and references in politics, architecture, and popular media in recent years that have been called “neo-Ottomanism,” or even “Ottomania” (see Danforth, 2016), to refer to the spreading fascination with the height of the Ottoman Empire’s power, and representations associated with it. This could be analyzed as having implications on a number of empirical scales, including for Turkey’s currently shifting regional role, but if we focus on the turbulent urban landscape, on Istanbul as Turkey’s economic center and the former Ottoman capital, then we can detect this Ottomania as embodying a sort of aesthetic to remake the city. We could analyze this aesthetic as being wielded to justify or legitimate certain kinds of ruling practices by the AKP (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi –Turkey’s current ruling party, also in power at the metropolitan level in Istanbul), and a variety of development initiatives in the city that it has supported, with major displacements as a consequence. At first blush, pondering this case made me reject Ghertner’s assertion about the openness of an aesthetic: how could these sultan-infused moves be anything other than authoritarian and capricious? But on further reflection, I realized my inability to see other ways for Ottomania to be reworked from below, from the side, etc., could very well be due to the success of its rule by aesthetics so far. Still, other angles into this aesthetic could be exploited for challenging the nature of this rule on its own terms, as well as providing different approaches to its analysis.
Another familiar issue that kept pushing my thinking toward elsewheres was the importance of the middle class, which is enormous in the book. Ghertner shows how the middle class has been “conjured” as a key player in creating a world-class city in Delhi and a new kind of imagined future for India. This resonated with my research in Argentina and Brazil, especially, but also to some extent in Turkey and South Africa, where there has been a recent expansion of the middle class in statistical terms. Some observers recognize, however, that in fact we are not talking about a homogeneous class but very socially (and often economically) heterogeneous groups that get clustered into the same, broad statistical category of “middle class.” Some may be much richer or poorer, some may be new to this designation while others may have been described in this way, and seen themselves in this light, for generations; there could be racial differences, quite significant political differences, and so forth (Centner, 2013). We could even imagine many of the political tensions in Brazil and Turkey, building since 2013, as connected to fissures among this increasingly broad, diverse middle class. While the achievement of a sizeable middle class has traditionally figured as a cornerstone of “success” and political stability in development scholarship (Davis, 2010: 245-249), perhaps we now can discern middle-class diversification as fertile ground for the quarrelsome unmaking of democracy among factions of the middle class when development encounters economic turbulence, and the privileges of different middle-class groups begin to be threatened or called into question. With this conjecture in mind, it struck me that the middle class in the Delhi case is not likely to be so unitary either, and that some of the statistical work predicting a kind of “middleclassification” of India, which Ghertner (2015: 29-44) critiques, may point to different kinds of middle classes numerically, despite a homogenizing gloss. In the ethnography, however, I do not get as much of a sense of this heterogeneity of middle classes, with diverse forms of middle-class anxiety. But in thinking about Rule by Aesthetics with and through these elsewheres, I had to wonder about Delhi: was its middle class merely “conjured,” or were parts of it more self-consciously middle-class than others? Do some segments of the Delhi middle class consider themselves more deserving of privilege in the city than those they may see as their middle-class others (whether in terms of religion, party, regional background, occupation, language fluency, taste, etc)? Perhaps exploring some of the differences of vision across social divisions within the statistical middle class—so evident in the cities of middle-income elsewheres—is an avenue for pushing this kind of revealing fieldwork on conjuring and its effects even further.
From its unusual but enticing interventions in grinding geographical debates, to its vivid evocations of changing landscapes and their complicated human dimensions, Ghertner’s book is an excellent contribution that does much more than make me think about philosophers and elsewheres. Indeed its many strengths and arresting aspects will not go unnoticed by readers. But these facets inspired insights I had not expected when I started reading; even long after putting the book down, they keep inspiring me to think about ways of engaging with geographical fieldwork anew.
Bourdieu P (1990) In Other Words: Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Centner R (2013) Distinguishing the Right Kind of City: Contentious Urban Middle Classes in Argentina, Brazil, and Turkey. In: Samara TR, He S, and Chen G (eds) Locating Right to the City in the Global South, UK: Routledge.
Cresswell T (2002) Bourdieu’s geographies. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 20(4): 379-382.
Danforth N (2016) The Ottoman Empire from 1923 to Today: In Search of a Usable Past. Mediterranean Quarterly 27(2): 5-27.
Davis D (2010) The Sociospatial Reconfiguration of Middle Classes and their Impact on Politics and Development in the Global South: Preliminary Ideas for Future Research. Political Power & Social Theory 21: 241-267.
Ghertner A (2014) India’s Urban Revolution: Geographies of Displacement beyond Gentrification. Environment and Planning A 46(7): 1554-1571.
Harvey D (2003) The New Imperialism. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Lees L, Shin HB, and López-Morales E (2016) Planetary Gentrification. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Lefebvre H (2003) The Urban Revolution. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Robinson J (2002) Global and World Cities: A View from off the Map. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 26(3): 531-554.
Sassen S (2015) The Politics of Equity: Who Owns the City? Presentation at Urban Age 10: Global Debates. 25 November.
Slater T (2017) Planetary Rent Gaps. Antipode 49(S1): 114-137.
Smith N (1996) The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City. New York, NY: Routledge.
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Ryan Centner is Assistant Professor of Urban Geography at the London School of Economics, and currently Chair of the Urban Geography Research Group of the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers). His work has mostly focused on the social and spatial transformation of cities, particularly redevelopment and neighborhood change, particularly in Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Istanbul, Cape Town, and Johannesburg—key urban showcases of large middle-income countries. He has also recently studied the shifting landscapes and everyday uses of space in central-city areas of Caracas and Havana as nexuses of political and economic change.
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