Thursday, December 31, 2009

A New Year Tableau

Wishing a happy new year to all readers...!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Summit Concludes; and Warming...?

Global climate summit concludes in Copenhagen with no definite agreement: news.

Did anyone ask the planet how she feels now...?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

In Defence of Thejas Daily: A Reply to Critiques

WHAT IS the responsible media's job in a democracy?

For the past quarter century when I was active in this profession, I was under the impression that we are the watchdog and we need to a keep barking and if possible do some biting too.

But going by the Central Home Ministry's letter (sent by the Ministry's National Integration wing's director Y K Baweja, to Kerala chief secretary, asking effective steps to curb Thejas daily and fortnightly, I think the government is now thinking of providing some new roles to the media in this country.

The letter is an excellent piece of media criticism. It needs a thorough critical analysis, but right now I will quote here only the four major points they have raised in the letter:

First, they say Thejas in its editorials and articles speak up against the Government of India's policy line on Israel and the United States.

Second, they say the paper in its articles and editorials dubs the Government's actions to control extremism in the country as State terrorism.

Third, the paper opposes the Government of India's actions and policies in Kashmir to control extremism and tries to debunk all the initiatives there.

Fourth, the paper tries to look at issues and developments from a communal point of view.

While I was writing these points for a discussion forum, I had not a copy of the letter with me. I was quoting from the media reports that appeared in various publications and channels like the New Indian Express, Deshabhimani, India Vision and Amrita TV. Since then, I have been able to get a copy though a friend and it urges the State chief secretary to take effective steps to curb the operations of Thejas so that it does not vitiate the communal atmosphere in the state of Kerala.

The letter warns the government of Kerala about Thejas daily as well as fortnightly. I have been closely associated with Thejas daily (run by Intermedia Publishing Ltd, while the fortnightly has a different ownership pattern), an from its inception on January 26, 2006, I was its executive editor. It was one of my primary responsibilities to keep the newspaper under a firm professional control and I think I had done the job fairly well. There were mistakes and criticisms, but I must say that it was a fairly well edited and professionally run newspaper. Then how did the government of India find it a threat to communal peace in Kerala is a mystery to me.

I was watching the public reaction to this and was happy that most people thought this was a serious encroachment on media freedom and there was nothing its pages that warranted such a criticism or perceived punitive action. That is good, but I do not know how the Government proposes to go ahead in the coming days as it appears there is some concerted and serious moves on the part of the officials to put difficulties before Thejas daily.

I saw that in some public fora, there were criticisms raised against me personally and some even raised questions about my credibility to speak about media freedom vis a vis the contemplated actions towards Thejas, in response to the first part of this post I quoted above.

Below, I am just quoting a post I made where I try to explain my position vis vis Thejas and its role in Kerala society and media:

I am returning here not to defend myself or my paper against public criticism because I have said earlier in this forum itself that as a media-person, I do consider myself a public person and I am willing to be subjected to pubic scrutiny. Not only my public life, but even my private life.

So let the question of my personal credibility, raised here, remain there unanswered.

But I think it is absolutely necessary for us to ask some important questions in the charged atmosphere that is Indian journalism today. It is about the charge that certain newspapers and certain media-persons are communal, they need to be hauled over the coals for violating our public morality; they need to answer for and provide proof for their loyalty to the nation and its ideals. And some others are whiter than white, they are secular without a spot; they only deserve the nation's undivided attention and adulation.

This, at best, looks like a nursery story of black and white world; a world of certainties and no gray areas. That Punjabi bureaucrat in charge of National Integration in Home Ministry (!!), who has passed a judgment on the (lack of) secular credentials of Thejas, a Malyalam newspaper from deep south which he has not even seen most probably, must be living in such a world of fantasy. God save him and his nation.

Now what is the reality?

Let me give my take on this: When I returned to the regional media after a long spell in the national press, what I could see was a terribly fragmented media scene with substantial sections of the people just left out of its ambit. You cannot imagine the kind of gap and communication vacuum that existed here. You can say such a situation is the national reality, and why bother about it?

Well, I think the difference at least in Kerala was that those people who were feeling left out and dejected and frustrated were still in a position to build upon their limited resources. Unlike Gujarat or other places in the north, where the 'Final Solution' is almost achieved in the case of Muslims, (“they will not dare to make a noise any more...”), Kerala offers a peculiar situation where members of the community, though frustrated and angry, do have the resources and powers to fight back and build a life of their own.

In this context, we must remember in the 90s there was the rise of a militant tendency among the youth (Madani was one example, SIMI & NDF were some others) and this did cause serious introspection and concern among many, especially among the Muslim community. I was a reporter with Indian Express in Malabar and I did have deep and intimate contacts and communication with various players and had a deep idea of these concerns and the search for new options and solutions.

Those days I was arguing for a new alliance among the restive Islamic youth and the left wing, as you can see in my many articles of this period, including the Indian Express edit page piece, The Radical and the Faithful, published some time in late 90s. But we know such a turn never took place, and the left, to my mind, was taking political advantage of the helplessness and frustration of these people.

Now we are at a crossroads: Things are taking a bad turn and we hear reports of youngsters even from remote Kerala getting shot on Kashmir border; they are being taken into custody even from Afghan or Bangladesh borders. So what? One might ask. The police and border cops will take care of them. As far as Kerala's own security is concerned, who said we do have any problem here? Of course, even if there are a few malcontents, the forces are capable of handling them.

But I do feel we cannot and should not opt for such a solution. The only way is to go through a democratic process, a dialogue process and a process of engagement and empowerment.

So in the past four years when we were running this newspaper, we had to take up strong and uncompromising positions; tough stances. We were asking why the six men from Muslim community were shot dead point blank at Beemapalli, we questioned the claim of the police that the boy from Pakistan who came here to meet his relatives was a terrorist (which he was not), we said there is a different tale to tell for Shahansha (in Love jihad case)... no other paper cared to tell this story as we did.

Now can anyone in their sense describe these as communal propaganda? I don't think so. Of course Thejas, in its editorial today(December 19, 2009), has thrown the challenge: All its editions during the past four years are available in public domain (also available online free of charge), and just locate one sentence in all these that can be dubbed a deliberate, malicious and hateful attack on another community, (must be easy as some honourable people have discovered that we are full of venom spewing it every day), and confront us in the public sphere with the proof.

A post-script:

On Monday, I heard on India Vision an interesting comment made by media critic S Jayasankar: "On the centenary year of Swadeshabhimani Ramakrishna Pillai's banishment, Tejas' N P Chekkutty also can hope for a place in history through another deportation!"

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Role of Subaltern Classes in Future Indian Politics: A Critique of the Left positions

RECENTLY Dr K N Ganesh, of the department of history at Calicut University, published a long article in Sasthragathi, on the society and politics of Kerala and its future development perspectives.

The article and its timing is interesting in many ways, as Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP) which runs Sasthragathi is one organization that influences the ruling left front’s policies to a large extent and Dr. Ganesh himself happens to be one of the foremost Marxist thinkers in the younger generation.

Some comments I made in a discussion forum and my response to some critics:

1. I would like to comment briefly on Dr Ganesh's article though he does not seem to be a member of this forum. I hope someone here would invite his attention to the views expressed here:

I do agree with his basic argument that what goes on in the name of development debate in Kerala is a political debate. I also agree that in development debates, what take upper hand is middle class vested interests which have all but buried the real class interests of the toiling segments.

But I disagree with his assertion that the newly emerging movements of various social segments (like minorities, Dalits, backwards, women, etc) are essentially reactionary and they are camp-followers of imperialism. He is refusing to look at the specific class and historical origins of these movements in Indian society in the past two-three decades and fail to address the objective conditions in which they came up and what historical role they have played. Without taking this into considerations, his assertions are baseless and made only to serve a specific partisan/political purpose.

It is very interesting to note that in recent articles, other left theorists like Prabhat Patnaik also raise similar allegations against Maoists operating in India, that they are serving the imperialist agenda. Ganesh also appears to be keen on attacking the emerging new movements of the oppressed sections with almost similar arguments. . Both are interestingly failing to address the issue why these movements sprang up and whether it had any reason in the failure of the established left in taking up slogans which were important to these people? Or perhaps whether the official left and its governments were in anyway responsible for actions that gave them the impression that their class interests did clash and hence they found to their utter dismay that the official left is at the other side of the barricade in recent times?

Why does he fail to ask the question, why the middle class interests came to dominate our left parties and their government policies? Why can't he look at the issue of development vs. political debate in the light of what has been happening in the left parties, especially the CPM, during the past two decades? Is it not time for us to put these questions of inner party disputes in the 80s and 90s in their proper historical perspective now and see why the left took such a right-wing turn, though Dr Ganesh deftly avoids entering such dangerous ideological waters?

2. I do not want to respond to all the points raised by John and I do not want to say anything on the prescriptions offered by Dr Ganesh. But without a proper stock-taking of the past, we are not going to build any future, I am sure. So before John proceeds to discuss his own prescriptions for the future, let me make some points here which might possibly influence him as he draws up his own action plan.

The question he raised about the class/caste basis of the so-called past politics based on class struggle is very relevant. In fact I do feel Kerala's left politics started in late 30s as a class-based movement but at some point it was obviously taken over by other interests and ended up in a middle class-controlled, upper-caste dominated movement which ultimately resulted in its present impasse. (Which Ganesh also seems to recognize implicitly.)

The development of the present subaltern class, identity-based movements (mainly of Muslims, Adivasis, Dalits, women, etc) are a natural extension/corollary arising out of the failure of the traditional left in carrying forward its original political agenda. I would also argue that these new movements do fill a vacuum left behind by the Left parties in our society. Here we must say that the new social movements of the marginalized groups are actually taking over the slogans practically abandoned by Left parties in the economic, political, social and cultural spheres for emancipation and equality. They are taking the Left's unfinished agenda forward.

To continue my point that the Left actually started out as the force that cemented the unity of the oppressed social/class elements in our society, I will revert back to the 30s when it was all started.

In the 30s Malabar, especially Kozhikode, was the major point of class struggle. The organization of the left movement actually started mainly among workers in this region and in the second stage it spread to the peasants in north Malabar which resulted in a series of violent struggles, in 30s and 40s.

On the political side, we see a coming together of these forces mainly opposed to the upper-class &caste dominated Congress leadership. In fact in 1937-38 we have the most beautiful alliance of all such forces with EMS as KPCC secretary, Muhammed Abdurahman as president, and people like P Krishna Pillai, A K Gopalan, K A Keraleeyan and E Kannan, a Dalit leader, as top leaders of the masses. Note that the left leadership even then was predominantly upper caste, just like the Gandhi Sangham in Congress which they opposed and displaced in 1937-38. Unlike the Gandhi Sangham which was exclusively upper caste, the left was firmly in alliance with the socially oppressed segments (mainly Dalits and Muslims in the 30s) which gave them their real strength and energy.

But in the post-Independence period, especially after the left formed governments, we see only the predominance of the elitist segments in the left while those who were their original allies in the 30s, slowly receded and drifted away.

Now these people who were left to the devil as the Communists took power are returning to the limelight and taking up the slogans their friends had abandoned. Why such a development should irritate people like Dr Ganesh is something which needs probing. When I read his diatribe against the dangers of identity politics, I see very well that in fact what irritated him was the rise of newly assertive subaltern politics in our midst.

3. Reply to Mr. RVG Menon,president,KSSP:

When I was reading your note, I was struck by the image of the new political and social movements, which are generally called identity political formations, being dismissed as of no serious consequence to the social/political transformation.

You seem to charge the new movements as being simply groups that would want to bargain some economic and political benefits for themselves (and their caste/community sub-sects) from the existing system, while giving no thought for the larger social and political change. That boils down to the charge that they are there to bargain and collect the benefits and not the change society through revolutionary means. So at best, they are only peripheral players and nothing more.

Reading Dr Ganesh, I felt he too accepted this limited role for the new movements though, as a historian, one should expect a more encompassing and larger picture from him. Or, as a senior KSSP person, is he simply projecting the 'politically correct' views the KSSP may hold and remain only a spokesperson for their views?

I ask this question because I have read the narrative of Kerala history Dr Ganesh made some time ago, in his book the Yesteryears of Kerala. The book is very important because it tries to study Kerala history and social evolution from a historical perspective and try to delineate the actual, deeper forces at work throughout our history.

That is why I thought it odd a person who has such an historical vision and deeper analytical skills do comes out with such a mechanical and automated response to Kerala's present problems and makes sweeping generalizations about its present process of churning, and provide a view for the future, which could have been done even by a computer at work on the data.

I am sorry for the harsh comments, but I just can't understand why you and Ganesh miss the point, why the crisis of confidence in the present dominant views that has given rise to the debate, after all. It is simply a fact that the present model is a failure, and is felt to be a failure at the larger social context, and you see there is a clamour for change, which actually is now overtaking all of us. The setbacks at electoral political level for the leftist ruling parties were an indication of the deeper setback they do face at various levels, including ideological, political and cultural spheres.

This failure or unwillingness to address the real issues, to face the reality of the utter debacle of what was once close to one's heart, one's world view, is the real problem that Ganesh and others from the left parties face today. It is this incapacity to accept this reality e that keeps them harp on the shortcomings of the new challengers to their dominance which is only laughable.

4. From a reply to JS, a friend:
Let me point out that I make a distinction between identity politics past and identity politics new (which I prefer to call New Politics because much more than identity what decides their ideology and nature must be class intermingled with caste/community).

Clearly there is a distinction between them as one can always see the line between the Kerala Congress groups, Muslim Leagues and NSS-SNDP formations, etc. They are more or less what RVG describes them; pressure groups who are content with bargaining for something for themselves and their offspring.

But the new movements which we, for clarity call groups of New Politics, are different and they do have deeper roots and wellspring. Their origins need not be local, but more national and even supranational. They acquire their strength and ideology from our recent historical experiences and developments, both national and global. In Kerala's context there might be regional issues also.

Just look at what these factors are: I would say the Mandal movement and the rise of backward castes is one; the Babri Masjid destruction and the churning in the Muslim community is another; the global war on terror and the rise of a global and national alliance against imperialism is a third, the onslaught of new economic policies and their impact tribals, dalits, farmers and others is a fourth; the rising forces of radical and Maoist politics might be another. There are so many new forces coming up and coming together in a new crucible of political experiments, that make it difficult for the present ruling classes to carry on as usual for long. For mere survival, they will have to accommodate changes.

The crisis in the left is an indication of what are the real forces at work today and the deep impact all these factors now have on our ruling elite. It appears that these huge churning are shaking up our crumbling traditional left edifice already and surely, as Lenin said, they would prove to be the weakest link in this imperialist-capitalist chain that rule India today.

Now you may ask: So what? Trinamool terror may replace the CPM terror; UDF corruption may replace LDF corruption, etc. But I am not sure this phase will continue for long. Every revolution sets off a series of big changes. There are other forces everywhere and it is only a matter of time before they come together and make the push into a shove.

5. A friend criticizes the new movements that originate from the Muslim community in parts of India as merely fundamentalist outfits. Here is the relevant text and my reply to it:

Where in socially regressive, reactionary and politically progressive. Anti-Imperialist on the one hand and pro-fundamentalist on the other hand. Such a politics do no add up. Because without democratic content of emancipation at the social and political level, there can not be a genuine subaltern politics.

I hate to fight with you but I am appalled by the exhibition of a set of preconceived notions about some groups and communities that is seen in this post, something that reminds me of Samuel Huntington.

As you can see I was making an effort to look into the future and speculate the strategy and alliances of various forces in future India, as the present dominant forces are showing unmistakable signs of fatigue and are likely to be crumbling down.

Your criticism is that some of these forces are clearly regressive in social outlook, and most have disparate and often mutually exclusive visions and agendas. Hence like water and oil, they don't mix.

But political alliances are complex mechanisms and I have never seen any alliance in the history of India where all partners were agreed on all issues. They came together on a minimum agenda and worked together; some times they failed, as in the case of the Janata experiment in 1977, and some were fairly successful as the United Front in the nineties and a few were successful to a large extent as the NDA and UPA in recent times.

So what does it tell us? It tells me that despite differences and cultural problems, people and political formations can come together and hang together. What helps them stick together is the commonality of interests despite differences. Also, it tells us that as years pass by and our politics gains in depth and experience, there is a growing willingness on the part of all parties (at least mainstream parties who were experimenting with alliance model) to stick together and work together.

In the case of subaltern mass movements that grow up from grassroots, what is going to be decisive is the common interests and the joint struggles they conduct. We have had many such experiences already. For example, I have not heard of any person who kept away from the Nandigram struggle simply because some of those who were at the receiving end of state repression and those who fought the police were Muslims with long beards and a possible patriarchal outlook when they go back home!

(My comments were originally made at

Friday, November 27, 2009

Liberhan Report and Future of BJP & the Indian Right-wing

Kerala concerned about leak in Mullapperiyar dam; Parliament is rocked over the leak of Liberhan report: news.

Yes comrade, leak is a common problem, for you and me...!

WHILE DISCUSSING the Liberhan committee report on Ayodhya, and its implications for the future of Indian politics, I made the following points in response to some questions raised by a few friends:

a). My points are as follows:

1. The coming together for a second time of the malicious forces in the Hindutva right-wing is an idea they would surely pursue but they would see it does not work any longer.

2. The report and its debate in Parliament and outside in the public sphere would prove to be a severe indictment of the politics of communalism unlike the 90s when the right-wing carried the day almost wholly.

3. I am reserving my comments on the future of RSS and its right-wing agenda as one setback or a series of setbacks are unlikely to diminish their fortunes. Even the murder of the Mahatma did not do it.

4. But the future of Indian politics is going to be more assertively influenced by the forces from below, the sections who are genetically opposed to the right-wing, elitist politics of the right, that gives rise to the Hindutva phenomenon.

5. With the rising levels of social awareness, better communications and more aggressive questioning and nailing of the untruths and half-truths that helped the rise of the Hindutva agenda in the 80s and 90s, the battle for minds would be better fought and won by progressive forces. It is a more vigilant society and polity they have to encounter and their ancient Chanakya tactics might not wash any longer.

6. The global situation is also changing. Criminals in one country used to travel to another to escape the law. But things are changing and those who are able to stop the arms of law in their country with strong-arm tactics might find themselves running into trouble elsewhere. It is a matter of time alone for the gentlemen named as culprits in the report finding their nemesis.

b.) On a question on the possibility of new communications strategies from the right-wing:

I am sorry that I have to be very brief on how the changed circumstances in society and communications could defeat the criminal intent of all sections who would want to come to power through devious means.

If you look at the conclusions of Justice Liberhan, I think one of the major points to note is his conclusion that even then the Indian public had not endorsed the movement for a temple in the same place of the mosque. It was a constructed image and only a few people, like the writer of the letter Bina forwarded, were hoodwinked by it.

Now we have to ask why the Indian public actually rejected their claims?

I remember the widespread rumours they spread that hundreds had been killed in Ayodhya but it took little time for the people to realise what was the truth. In fact post 90s despite the crescendo of the Sangh Parivar campaign, what you see is that their political effectiveness was coming down though they were able to win power with the help of allies. But their campaign was showing a decline.

Why? I feel because truth ultimately prevails. Cynicism cannot hold itself for
long and other systems that depended on falsification of truth, iron curtains, media manipulations, etc, were also crumbing post 80s as we see in Eastern Europe and Soviet Union in the same period. So if you want to build a political movement, as the BJP might want to once again rebuild itself, they will have to think of new strategies based on truth and competition on an equal footing.Then, of course,they will no longer be the BJP we know but a right wing party which is welcome in any democracy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thejas Daily: A Note on the Beginnings of an Experiment

Journalism is an unappeasable passion that can be assimilated and humanised only through stark confrontation with reality. No one who does not have this in his blood can comprehend its magnetic hold, which is fuelled by the unpredictability of life. No one who has not had this experience can begin to grasp the extraordinary excitement stirred by the news, the sheer elation created by the first fruits of an endeavour, and the moral devastation wreaked by failure.

--Gabriel Garcia Marquez

THEJAS DAILY was launched on January 26, 2006 as a unique experiment in mass media, with an uncompromising pro-people position in its editorial line and a vast mass base in financial sources and support base.

The newspaper stands for protection of the rights of the most dispossessed and marginalized segments in Indian society, namely the Muslims, Dalits and other backward sections. It upholds their democratic rights, their economic and social rights and above all their human rights. It is steadfast in its commitment to these ideals and its editorial policy is evolved through a process of democratic consultation based on a firm commitment to the principles of equality, dignity and social justice.

Launched by Intermedia Publishing Ltd, a company with grass-root level support, the newspaper has its editorial offices and press at Media City, on the national highway at Nallalam, in the outskirts of Kozhikode city. A multi-edition newspaper, it also comes out from major cities like Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, and Kannur. The fifth edition will be launched from Kottayam shortly. The newspaper has a widely read internet edition, and an electronic edition,, which is a paid service for our vast network of readers in other parts of India and abroad.

The origins of the newspaper:

Though Thejas daily was launched on the Indian Republic Day in 2006, the idea behind such a newspaper was there for a long time. In fact, Thejas as a new title was launched over a decade ago, from 1996, first as a monthly and now it comes out as a fortnightly.

The need for a strong, uncompromising daily newspaper has always been felt especially since the mainstream media, both in English and regional languages including Malayalam, has been unashamedly pro-establishment and spread all kinds of untruths, half truths and rumours that often painted the oppressed segments of Indian society like Muslims, Dalits,tribal people and others in a poor light. The widespread oppression of these people, the social, political and economic marginalization and ostracism practiced against them, the communal violence against them were never properly covered by the mainstream media and the versions of the forces of the state and perpetrators of violence and oppression received undue importance.

Another aspect of this media war against the oppressed people was the deliberate demonization of these communities which painted them as the breeding ground of terrorism and social evils in India. It was such a widespread and deadly strategy that whenever an incident of explosion took place anywhere in India, the needle of suspicion automatically pointed to the Muslim youths and a large number of them were jailed, terrorized, tortured and even murdered in the past many years. The situation of Dalits also is no better. In many cases, such incidents were later proved to be completely false and media stories deliberately planted and willingly purveyed by interested parties.

This media apathy and a sense of alienation and cynicism caused by such a totally one-sided media atmosphere had to be countered for a variety of reasons. First, it was slowly giving rise to a social psychology of frustration and a willingness to take extreme steps that would only mean further alienation and cause harm, thus ultimately playing into the hands of the oppressors who were plotting for such an outcome.

The strategies for counter moves in media:

Thus it was almost self-evident the need for evolving counter strategies in the media which had put the Muslims and other oppressed people in such a hopeless straight jacket.

To counter the massive propaganda, we needed our own strong media organizations, but the question was how to go about it.

The planning and execution of the project to develop Thejas as a daily newspaper run on professional lines with a self-sustaining financial model, was, in a way, a theoretical and practical experiment to answer this serious question faced by Indian Muslims and all oppressed people. It was an experiment to find a pragmatic way out in the capital-intensive, big-money controlled media scene.

There were a few fundamental points on which such a revolutionary media model could work:

First, the newspaper must rely upon a strong band of independent and committed media practitioners who would remain as its backbone, both intellectually and professionally;

Second, the newspaper must be able to provide an intellectually stimulating atmosphere and also be able to give professional satisfaction to its journalists and readers;

Third, it has to develop a new kind of media ethics and professional practice in order to counter the dominant ideology that pervades the entire global media scene, especially as the paper will have to rely mainly on the imperialist versions of news coverage with its embedded biases;

Fourth, any viable media organisation that seeks to replace/challenge the dominant media players will have to master the cutting edge elements in technology to keep it ahead of the competition and to keep itself agile in a highly flexible market;

Fifth, it has to remain financially viable and must be able to rely upon its own resources, for which prudent financial control and extreme care for keeping the costs to the minimum is a must.

How we implemented our strategy:

We worked on these principles in a deliberate, conscious and restrained manner because, in Kerala, where dozens of media experiments have taken place, we have seen dismal failures of many efforts that were launched with big promises. Looking at the media experience, one cannot but conclude that media industry is a big mine-field where not many escape unhurt.

It was necessary to avoid the pitfalls and the only way to go about was through making a realistic assessment of the market possibilities and our own capability to rise to these expectations. The best option for developing a realistic and pragmatic business model was to go to the people, and when a preliminary survey was conducted, it was found that we could sell a much larger number of copies that we were initially hoping for, at the outset itself. The point driven home was that we were actually underestimating our real strength and this came as a major morale booster. Instead of a small newspaper that would remain as a niche player, we were now planning for a major newspaper that would have a statewide presence and a global readership. It was also realised that many of those who were the potential subscribers were to be first-time newspaper buyers. Hence for many, it was the one and only newspaper at home and it was absolutely necessary to make it a complete newspaper, answering all the needs of a normal newspaper reader in Kerala.

That meant larger number of bureaus all over the state and outside, bigger staff at the desk to handle all departments of news from local to international; besides other avenues of news like business, sports and entertainment and a large number of features and special pages like those dedicated to school children, that all major newspapers offered to the readers.

We had to do it within limited means, both financial and professional, and one of the major strategies used was to go for a bunch of young professionals, fresh from the colleges, capable to take over all these tasks. They needed to be trained in all aspects of newspaper operations including news gathering, editing, translating, proof reading, page making, etc, besides internalising thee special, empowering nature of this project. In fact they were to be all-rounders who could match those with years of experience in the profession and committed, socially conscious and responsible media practitioners.

It was not easy to find experienced professionals because the subaltern social classes to which Thejas belong, do not have many such professionals among them. We had to train them from the scratch and that helped us develop a committed and cohesive team with only a few senior people mainly to provide guidance to their daily activities.

That was an immense risk to take because anything could go wrong in a daily newspaper business but the best way to learn swimming is to jump into the cold water, come what may. We did just that and the result is a newspaper that has been reaching Malayali public everywhere, every morning without a hitch ever since January 26, 2006.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Laughing Gas

former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda made billions during his days in power: news.

Crorepati rule...!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

How Nature Speaks to Us: A Little Kitten's Encounters With Life and Death

THEY SAY cats have nine lives. Maybe. The other day, as I watched a little kitten’s encounters with life and death, I realized there is something in this old saying.

It was a new-born, just a few weeks old, still suckling on its mother who had given birth to five little ones this time. The mother is called Surumi, may be because she has beautiful eyes and she has been a favoured one with kids at home.

I think Surumi invited herself to our house the same way her ancient ancestor had walked into the abode of a tribal family in Mesopotamia, who had settled down to a life of agriculture some 12,000 years ago. Ever since, cats had been domesticated and women and children had a special relationship with them.

So Surumi was part of our household ever since she was a tiny kitten, and when she gave birth for the first time a few months ago, she had a poodle of five. They were living in the small work area near the kitchen and a few weeks later the little ones started playing around in the yard. But soon she lost all the kids for some reason or the other, and one of them got run over by my office car one day as I watched helplessly.

The driver had parked the car in the courtyard and nobody noticed the little kitten which found a nice place to play beneath the vehicle, and as I was coming out of the house, I saw the driver move the car a bit forward and then, a terrible cry erupted and in a moment I saw the blood-splattered body like a soiled piece of cotton behind the wheel.

I was shaken as I witnessed death taking place just in front of me. It was Surumi's last surviving offspring in her first delivery.

So this time, as she got pregnant again, I was keen she had better luck as a mother. She gave birth to five again, and one of them simply disappeared a few days later. Probably the stray dogs on the prowl might have made an excellent meal of her. These days the street-dogs have developed a taste for blood as they feed on slaughterhouse waste, dumped everywhere.

She was living happily with her remaining little ones and, everyday as I watered plants in the afternoon, I watched with amusement their play in the garden, often running and fighting and then training themselves in climbing up a tree or trying to catch a fly or a lizard. Surumi was not only a good mother, but a vigilant guide and a watchful teacher.

Day before yesterday, as I was sleeping I heard a soft mewing after midnight in my bedroom and I realized one of the kitten had got trapped in the room. But it was afraid of me so much that as I tried to coax it out, it withdrew deeper into the recesses of the room. Early in the morning, she got wind of her mother and ran out of the room, like an arrow released from the bow.

I remember it was the one with a long black line on the back of her white fluffy body. It was a weakling, often preferring to keep herself close to mother, while her brothers and sisters played around.

My wife was away and I had to get some breakfast ready before the children went to college and so I hurried to the kitchen. As I was working, I heard the same soft and weak mewing again, this time more terrified and pathetic. I looked around, but there was none to be seen. The mother and kids were there, but this time one of them was missing: the black-spotted one again.

It was surprising. The terrified mewing was heard continuously, but she was not to be seen. I searched all around and as I looked into the well in our little compound, I saw her precariously perched on the small round ring just above water.

So she had managed to fall herself into the well. It was unbelievable. The well has a protective iron ring around it with small holes and above it my wife had kept a wire-mesh net to stop leaves falling into the water. It was simply beyond me how she had got over all these obstacles to fall into the well.

But I had a rescue mission on hand. There was no way to climb down the rings and try to rescue her for two reasons. First, I could not go down easily because it is beyond my physical powers and secondly even if I went down how could I get hold of her? She was so terrified and surely she would struggle and might even jump, and that would mean both of us ending up in the water.

It was a tough to decide what to do. Then my friend Devadas, a historian who incidentally has written about Poochakkanam, the cat tax that Arakkal royal family in north Kerala had imposed on the beaches to protect the cats, rang up. He suggested sending a bucket down and trying to coax her to jump into it. I had requested Sujith, another friend, to come and help me in the rescue mission and we both got the bucket ready and tried our luck.

The bucket went very close to her and of course she knew it was a rescue mission. She touched it with her paw and as it moved a bit, she withdrew again in fear. It happened a few times.

Then I thought we should keep the bucket there and allow her to take her on own time. Let her decide whether she must choose life or death. And summon the courage to act. So we tied the rope on the iron grill and waited...

A few minutes later, she decided to take a chance and jumped into the bucket. She landed safely at the bottom of the bucket and then she lay there like a piece of cloth, wet and shivering...

Now as I write this, I can see her playing in the garden, happy and without a trace of the terrified look I had seen then. But what keeps me wondering is how she got my message. How did she guess the bucket that came to her was the proverbial ship in the deluge, that hand of God coming to lift her to safety and deliverance? Is there a universal language that helps all beings to be in communication with each other? I keep wondering about the mystery of mother nature as I see her there.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Why Do Most of Our Television Commentators Look and Sound Simply Silly?

MY FRIEND Damodar Prasad is a highly intelligent and well-read person. He is a no nonsense person and his comments are always sharp and incisive. Recently, he made some comments in a discussion group on our commentators on television news programmes, and as usual he was quite forthright and aggressive. Here is an example:

Why can't these commentator chaps take some sabbatical leave or even think of applying for VRS. I think the journalist association should keep some funds reserved for these commentators to offer them a VRS golden hand-shake.

And on the political commentators on CPM affairs, he has some more:

In heights of CPM factionalism, let the evening come, all these guys wait outside our TV studios like the contract labourers waiting for the contractor to pick them up. Do these chaps have any refreshing views to share? I really doubt.

Unfortunately, I happen to be one of the people who have been commenting on left politics, especially CPM affairs, in Malayalam television channels in the past few years. In fact, during the height of factionalism in the party, I had to visit two or three channel studios on many evenings, and when the Kairali TV interview with Fariz Aboobacker became a major issue of controversy in the party, I had to visit news studios every evening for over a week continuously, speaking to various channels and radio stations on the topic, may be because I was one of the pioneers there when Kairali TV was launched in August 2000.

Still, I do not have any wish to defend the tribe of people called commentators, because I also share some of the criticisms expressed by Damodar about the quality of television debates. But I do feel we need to take a look at the issue from the commentators’ point also, as what Damodar gave was, essentially, a viewer’s point.

My points are as follows:

First, the commentator has no choice on his/her being a commentator. As far as I know no self-respecting commentator has ever made a request to the channel authorities seeking a place as commentator. They are invited by the channels to give comments. If poor quality people are invited, quality of comment also suffers. (I recently heard of a Malayalam professor who did actually seek such a thing and his intention was to debunk a close friend who was likely to get a Parliament seat nomination .But this is an exception that proves my argument.)

Secondly, if the commentators are poor in quality or ill-equipped to argue the case, I feel the people who invite them are equally culpable. Either they should know the quality and capability of the person invited or they should stop such programmes that need a supply of commentators in plenty.

Thirdly, it is also a fact that if one look for good people who can speak intelligently and cogently in Malayalam on serious issues, there is a real shortage among us. That makes the commentators’ position rather difficult because often he/she has to address the same issue in two or three channels. This is one reason why we see the same crop of commentators appearing again and again in various channels on the same issues, repeating the same points ad nauseam. It is really sad that most of our Malayalam channels do have a fetish for CPM stories and if one takes a survey, one can see a large number of debates take place on left or CPM politics. I do remember having to talk about the same topic on as many as four channels only recently. Repetition makes one really boring.

Fourthly, there is also a technical aspect that is part of the inherent shortcomings of television communication. The commentator has to answer to specific questions and he has maximum one minute or so (if he is lucky and the anchor patient enough) to make a coherent reply and in two or three sentences, it is next to impossible to develop any real argument even if you are adept at this game. The fact is, you can reply to a question and if the question itself is rubbish or biased (which they often are), then the reply can't be any better. I have encountered this problem often and it is highly irritating to the commentator himself, though he only would face the criticism.

Finally, our comments on TV are amateur and needs to be professionalised. Check CNN or BBC or any other major international channels, they do have their own in-house experts on topics from politics to international affairs to environment. (Even our own national channel, NDTV, has a crop of in-house experts.) They are paid for their services and are committed professionals with a stake in the professional standards. Here, as far as I know, no expert gets any payment for his services and the comment can only be off the cuff. In journalism there is an adage that facts are sacred, comments free. I think the channels have misunderstood its meaning and feel one need not pay anything for comments. But even small newspapers do pay as much as Rs. 500 to 1000 for a 500-word comment piece these days. If you can't spend money on quality, how do you expect quality stuff, whether it is report or comment?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

From Jawaharlal to Rahul: On a Second Reading of Nehru’s Autobiography

Rahul Gandhi's visit to Kerala campuses trigger a wave of enthusiasm among the youngsters: news

AS ONE crosses fifty, a realisation slowly takes hold that one is no longer part of the present. Maybe not quite passé but still there is something that forces one to think about the past as well as the future. A person at 50, is a person like the Greek god Janus, he looks both to the past as well as to the future, with mixed feelings for both. At 50, a considerable part of one’s life is already behind, and of course there is another considerable part waiting in the future also.

I am at such a juncture, having left behind five decades behind and now I realise one of the things I always think about these days is the future; not my own-- there is nothing much to think about there-- but about our society’s, our country’s.

In the seventies when we were young people and active in politics, we were angry and impatient. We wanted change and nothing short of a revolutionary change, and hence we took up the red flag, the symbol of a revolutionary future.

Now more than thirty years on, I know that these dreams were nothing but pipedreams. We said the freedom from colonialism, from the white bosses to brown bosses that took place at Red Fort, was nothing but a sham. It was not real freedom.

But we grew up in such a country and slowly, but surely, we saw it coming to grips with the massive problems that beset the new nation. Not that we are a completely successful democracy, but what makes me happy now is the fact that we are surely not a failed nation, either.

That is why I was keenly watching the new generation of our leaders at the national scene, trying to come to grips with the Indian reality. Most of them make me sick and tired, but somehow Rahul Gandhi is one person on whom I pin much of my hopes right now.

I was keenly watching his performance at the national scene, and his visit to Krala’s campuses yesterday gave me the feeling that this young man has something quite similar to the spark shown by his great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, as he entered Indian politics as a young aristocrat almost a century ago, in the 1920s.

What I liked about him is his simple, straightforward style, his disarming frankness and palpable sincerity. All these qualities were evident in his numerous interactions with youngsters in all parts of the state in a one-day tour.

I was reading Jawaharlal Nehru’s Autobiography again last week and I could not but notice the same frankness, sincerity and straightforward nature of the person who wrote those lines, and his personality that comes through this thick volume that he finished as he spent so many solitary years in jail in the early forties.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Laughing Gas

India celebrates Gandhi Jayanthi on October 2.

Cheers, and thanks for the holiday, dear Mahatma...!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Globalisation, New Jobs and Women’s Empowerment: Myth of Reality?

Eloquent Silences: A Discussion Part Three

John Samuel: There is indeed a whole range of issues related to gender, women's political participation, space and voice in Kerala. But I also think there is increasing awareness and discussion on these issues in Kerala, in relation to many other states. There are a number of paradoxes, contradictions and tension - operating in Kerala society (and that is also the case with almost all other societies.)

The paradox of ‘empowerment’ and ‘space’ is one among them. In spite of having one of the biggest percentage of highly ‘qualified’ or ‘educated’ women in Kerala, there is relatively less space in the leadership roles, articulate voices and empowered roles within the public and private spaces. The fact that such issues are discussed is also the beginning of a change process. Such a process of transformation requires more affirmative action and more active political participation of women in all arena- in academics, politics, media, and social action, etc.

It is important for enlightened and educated women and men to work together to expand the quantity and quality of those spaces. It is important to participate and shape the discussions elsewhere. When we begin to believe in change, change begins to unfold within us and beyond us.

So the first thing women and men will have to fight is an entrenched sense of cynicism.

R V G Menon: In a male-dominated society only those women who conform to the established norms of hierarchy will be allowed to come to the top. This is true of male dominated groups also. This is enforced not necessarily by the males in the society / group. The females who have come to the top through this conformist route, will zealously ensure this, because their own self-justification depends upon this. The nonconformists are a threat to them, more than even to the males. This leaves the males free to assume a liberal and patronizing attitude.

This predicament can be broken only if the nonconformists settle for a long fight, foregoing the rewards of conformism (like moving up in the hierarchy). But eventually their voice will be heard and their viewpoint will be taken seriously. Settling into silence is self defeating.

N P Chekkutty: Anandi's long note calls for a serious response. I have lots of agreements and a few disagreements.

Now let me take this point, women in the freedom struggle. Freedom struggle being what it was, one cannot expect more women to take part in it unless they were inspired by their family, spouses, etc. It was an anti imperialistic struggle and it came mainly from the upper middle classes, the new Indian elite. Masses came to it only at a later stage and even then women who did participate from lower social segments had little chance to emerge as leaders.

But that is not the case today, when social action, politics, etc, are part of a career. We see that a substantial number of women who are now holding public offices, say in Parliament, Assembly, corporation councils/mayors, etc, are daughters/spouses/ close relatives of powerful male politicians, even in the progressive movement. The case is almost similar in parties like CPI and CPM. Ditto is the case with Congress, etc.

I was thinking about many women activists I knew in my student days, mainly from 1972 to 1982-83, and when I wrote down their names I realised most have disappeared. Who emerged at the top, instead, are women who had powerful support in male politicians. Another group that I see emerging at the top consist of newcomers or what we may call lateral entry: They join public life at a later stage when they have completed education, raised kids, had good jobs, etc. Almost all of them are women with strong support among influential males and are from middle/upper middle class only. Those who had to fight up from below never made it.

Kavitha Balakrishnan: I think today some section of women in 20s and 30s are strategically overlooking so called 'intellectual gender debates' (it doesn’t mean that they are not so 'powerful' to do that, they have their share of struggles that they don’t want to project simply on a gender level. They know that it is now too hotchpotch to do it).

And they are living their life on altogether different contenders; more focused on acquiring skills that can professionally and financially equip them to practically evade restrictions on them generally imposed by family and society. Some of them may perhaps look ordinary and conformists, but they are working largely out of their ordinary frames in life....

I don’t think that Kerala alone has feudalist hangover; in metropolitan cities too one finds the very same, equally contagious and dangerous hangover of feudal mindset. Yeah, academic/ activist circles in major cities may give a slightly assertive picture of women who bother to articulate with a politics of 'self'. But a huge number of other women in same such cities have more access and choice to gain financial independence that eventually equip them to live on their terms in spite of their silently internalised ( more practical, one may say) contentions of feminism or gender debates. These women whom generally we find outside the 'cultural / activist' circles are not altogether apolitical, though one may not find them strictly articulating self in male dominated intelligentsia...

Yeah, majority of women apparently don’t bother gender debates... but it doesn’t mean that they are complacent at all.

There are many ways to live with mind....intellectual articulation is just one among them.
And there is of course a vacuum - of new ways of articulation of mind, emotions and state of affairs not yet conveyed properly and inclusively yet widely experimented across the digital technological world where hiding and revealing have umpteen options....

Now that earlier 'cultural contenders' [that was constituted basically by men with essential 'male' hangovers and women masquerading with either 'male' (whom we called feminists) or 'female' (whom we called home-loving gal) gestures and options in public domains] need to device themselves newly. They should incorporate the multiplied options and disintegrated selves of women.

No space is an ideal space. We live in multitudes of spaces, rather. Let all spaces come in...if they bother....

It is about frames of mind as 'beings in a post-cultural-ideological-unevenly globalised scenario' where ghettoism of all kinds dominates but strategies of more effective kinds are generated to meet with ghettoisms.

V Santhakumar: When I was young (in the mid-eighties) and was an activist, I had good relationships with a number of young girls who were socially concerned, and eager to break the then existing restrictions on girls/women. Most of them were from middle class or lower middle class backgrounds. However, they could not sustain that activism/concern, mainly because a conventional marriage is seen as the most important thing for a girl; and to be married, they have to conform to certain social norms which were highly restrictive.

The conventional marriage is an important issue. I am not arguing against marriage...But seeing conventional marriage as the main source of social (and economic) security for girls - a norm widespread among many sections of Kerala society - creates an environment very much against the interests of women....

N P Chekkutty: The marginalisation of women and the economic stagnation in Kerala are quite interlinked. If you look back, you will see it was in the middle of seventies that Kerala’s economy reached a standstill and even registered a negative growth. From then on, the economic trends were such that women were more and more sidelined and their marginalisation and dependence on men-folk became very pronounced.

In my childhood I used to see many women, including our neighbour who was a Nair woman who fought her husband every evening as he came home dead drunk, going to work in paddy fields but by late seventies such possibilities became next to nil even in our remote village.

The social impact was very high. I know many women who had no means to live, and took to illicit brewing. I still remember one of them for whom I used to carry plenty of jaggery from the shop.

Then the only way out was the little money from the men who went to Gulf or who did some odd jobs here itself. The other option was small jobs on offer -very few- from cooperatives and traditional/cottage industries, etc, where political pulls were very strong. Women were pushed to the rear and their limited independence vanished. I can see this in my mother's and elder sister's life: My mother - who worked in the little land we had -was always strong and independent, my sister dependent on her husband. The slide in their fortunes was not to be missed.

That explains the phenomenon of missing women activists in our political sphere and the rising trend of purdahs, etc, in social sphere. They are two sides of the same coin.

But post- 90's, there is a positive trend emerging. Thanks to globalisation, new job chances are rising even in our villages. I see many girls now going to small units, to fashion hair stylists as assistants, to garment makers, to pickle units, to bank pigmy collection centres, to internet cafes, to DTP centres, and so many other things. They are now able to eke out a living and I am sure their new-found freedom in this post- 80 generation, is an indication of their economic independence.

I think like Dalits who find the economic opportunities offered by globalisation quite liberating, women also are beneficiaries of these new changes brought about by economic changes. Hence they would need to devise their own tactics to safeguard their interests when our established left parties, solely controlled by men, take a different line.

Ramakumar: I think it is a huge twist of facts to say that the revival of Kerala's economy after the late-1980s was due to globalisation. My quick points are below.

First, there was a major revival of Kerala's economy after 1987, in which agriculture and industry grew rapidly. Of course, services also grew rapidly, which indeed accelerated after 1991. This was largely remittance-driven, because globalisation involved devaluation of the Indian currency. That meant that the rupee value of remittances into Kerala increased sharply (almost doubled). For your argument to stand, it has to be said that globalisation is totally coterminous with devaluation. Then, it is not the usually tom-tommed benefits of globalisation that we are talking about.

Secondly, the same globalisation has led to a major slowdown in the State's economy after the late-1990s, leading to a huge rise in unemployment rates across men and women. Where would you account that?

Thirdly, it is totally wrong to argue that post-globalisation, there was a rise in female employment in Kerala. Post-globalisation, agriculture and traditional industries sectors, which account for a major share of female employment, have been in a crisis. In contrast, because of gender stereotyping of jobs, women are not able to get an adequate share of the new service sector or modern industry jobs. A slender expansion of female employment has taken place in trade, export oriented garment industries, ICT and tourism, but it has not compensated for the loss of employment elsewhere and is far less that what men have gained. Between 1999-00 and 2004-05, female unemployment rate in rural Kerala rose from 19.7 per cent to 20.1 per cent. In urban Kerala, this rise was from 26.4 per cent to 33.4 per cent! Where is the benefit?

Fourthly, it is a pity that you have fallen into the argument that globalisation benefits Dalits. The argument here (made by Gail Omvedt, Chandrabhan Prasad and others) is that globalisation is a process by which choices of agents in the economy expand, thereby expanding modernity and thereby helping to break down historical barriers of caste discrimination. Here, globalisation is considered as synonymous with capitalism, which, it is argued, Marx and other writers had seen as progressive. The proponents of the positive view conflate the notions of classical capitalism (that Marx talked about in a positive sense) and “imperialism” of the present era. The outcome is that they do not see any role for the state in either promoting development or in fighting imperialism. The state is seen only as an instrument of oppression. The state is not seen as a bulwark in the national development project. The state is also not seen as essential for resisting imperialism.

Look at the data. The pace of poverty reduction has fallen after 1991 in India. That means that some people who could have been lifted out of poverty were not lifted out. Who were these people? Brahmins? Clearly, it were the Dalits and Adivasis of India (and Kerala).

Anandi Krishnan: But post- 90's, there is a positive trend emerging. Thanks to globalisation, new job chances are rising even in our villages…They are now able to eke out a living and their new-found freedom is an indication of their economic independence.

Correct, in a sense. But a girl working in such petty jobs are secondary educated, graduates or PGs and the income she gets is below Rs. 2000 with which she cannot eke out a living, but her ‘middle-class’ needs can be met. (Since most of the jobs she takes up are receptionist or sales type her appearance is counted, which needs lots of money.) She is a reserve army (In a silks store, a sales girl told me that if the customer refused to take a product, the wage of the sales girl in the respective counter will be cut. She is employed, still she is economically dependent. On my travel, I used to talk to these girls and many of them are doing some other small work too. Today's situation insists a woman and also a man to do two or three types of odd jobs to make both ends meet.
The other class of women, mentioned above, is completely thrown out of their job (for which globalisation has played a role.) The agrarian crisis all over the country has created havoc in the lives of peasant women, which reflects in the migration studies. (Sainath explained his experience of staying with the migrants of Mehboob Nagar.) Most of these women are in the unorganised sector, where the wage structure and working conditions are pathetic.(Now that they all come under the welfare schemes, still I have doubts whether what they want is welfare schemes or wage raise?) With NREGA and other reforms, why selling of wives? Where is the Central Governments' policy and promises to increase jobs? How did they fail, and why state governments are keeping mum?
So sad the word ‘labour,’ ‘labourer’, and ‘proletariat’ are also outdated but they all exist very much in this same society, and nobody is bothered. Even the university studies are concentrated on textual analysis and halla-bulla about violence and sexuality. These are the manifestations of the disease.

N P Chekkutty: I think I will be brief with regard to two specific issues I have to address here:

1. Ram says my contention that the pick up in Kerala economy in the past few decades was not because of new economic policies, but owing devaluation of rupee and other circumstances. He also reminds me that the poverty reduction rates have come down in the post-90 days and the losers were not Brahmins but people like Dalits.

This is a point which is hotly contested in every sphere and I am aware my position is quite apart from that of Ram and others like him. I feel it is better to agree do disagree.

2. Anandi points to the fact that economic development while helped some among the poor, has hit many others, like those in agricultural sector.

Yes, the results of these policies have benefited/affected differently people among different segments. Some have benefited, some seems to have become worse off. But my main point was that the women seem to have slowly emerged out of the extremely difficult situation they faced in the seventies and eighties and there is an indication of a new independence among them through access to jobs and income. It is for the state and society to find out who are the losers and help them out. But the fact remains that though minimal and not satisfactory, there is a tendency which is positive and I am happy about it.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

G S Bhargava Passes Leaving Memories of a Great Editor and Human Being

I HAVE to write this in a hurry, but I cannot hold it for another day because G S Bhargava was one person who helped me come up in the profession of journalism, fighting against so many odds.

The day I stepped into the old biscuit company premises of Indian Express, at Domal Guda just off the Tank Bund in Hyderabad, some time in early 1985, the person who caught my fancy was the tall, elegant gentleman who had a pipe in his mouth and kept on talking in Telugu mixed with English or English mixed with Telugu.

He was easy, affable and always accessible, unlike the other biggies in the office who kept you nervous trainee journalists at a distance. As I went in and reported, he smiled and told me Malayali journos were often trouble and hoped I too would keep up the tradition.

I don't know who he meant, but before I reached there people like Mony Mathews, now with Business Line in Thiruvananthapuram, had been making headlines in the Express desk there, and others like R Shankar and Talita Mathews were also at the desk; Shankar a fine gentleman menon from Guruvayur who spoke softly and Talita, a bulky young lady with short cropped hair and a sharp tongue, among others.

It was fun to be there, learning the tricks of the trade, often accepting the choicest abuses from the desk chief and news editor with a smile...

Bhargava was the presiding deity; he liked all and of course he liked the girls more. His family was away in Delhi and some times they flew down to Hyderabad and he brought his kids to the office once or twice and made our dreary life very happy.

First, he thought I was a real stupid guy. I was diffident and could not speak English much, and naturally when I addressed him my mouth went dry and my words often played hide and seek. Once he told me, you came from Kerala and I will see to it that you will go home in no time. Talita took up my defence and kept me under her wings...

But soon his wonderful humanity was visible even to me. He was such a large-hearted, generous person and his political views were left of centre, basically socialist. He had close association with the Indian socialists and was involved in many of their political movements.

Like all good socialists, he was critical of the communists and he knew I used to be a Marxist student activist. But unlike true socialists, he was very friendly even to commies and was always willing to talk to you, engage you in a debate even if you had been the most junior chap in the staff. Once, after he had retired and shifted to Delhi, he came to Hyderabad he came to the Express office and took me out and we had a long talk on some topic on which he had been writing in Mainstream or some other publication at that time. I had my different views and expressed them in a letter, and he was ready listen to me. In fact, it appears that he had a special liking for me as we came to know each other much closer, because on one of his final days in Express, after he had decided to shift to Delhi leaving Express, he came to the desk with a couple of books and handed them over to me. It was a parting gift from a great man to a boy who had come from far away with none to claim as a godfather in the profession.

I bow my head in memory of a great person, a doyen among Indian journalists, who has just passed leaving the profession that much poorer. His last book was a history of Indian journalism, published by National Book Trust. One of my regrets would remain my inability to visit him at his Green Parks residence in Delhi during those days I spent there. Parsa Venkateswar Rao Jjr, now a senior editor with DNA, who worked with us in Hyderabad, had promised to take there as he was indisposed, but unfortunately we could never make it.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Patriarchy, Imbibed Norms and Values: Need for Introspection

Eloquent Silences: A Discussion Part Two

N P Chekkutty: Well, what I was trying to say is this: About the convoluted expressions of empowerment in our society, especially among women. I do not claim that men are different. But what makes me worried and why I try to provoke my female friends to think and react, is another trend that I see: Women slowly emerging as the most dependable foot-soldiers of the most retrograde and negative social and political forces.

The classic example of this trend was at the site of Babri destruction. Those who were there to report it (I was not there) could not ignore the ugly sense of jubilation shown especially by females of the Sangh, Sadhwi Ritambhara and Uma Bharati, etc, while people like Vajpayee and even Advani had expressed some shock, at least in public.

I was also referring to the same tendency that was witnessed in places like Maradu (Uma Unni was the quintessential expression o f woman power of the Sangh) and in Nadapuram, where the most virulent and unrepentant group proved to be women.(See the case of Vineeta Kottayi, a widow who was persecuted for over a decade by KSKTU people led by a couple Balan and Narayani. Even the local CPM had to take a stand against them finally.)

That I think calls for some rethinking on the assumption of social scientists that women as a group are normally less prone to violence, are more accommodative in a secular set up, etc.

John Samuel: This is precisely where we have different perspectives. There is nothing like a homogeneous category of ‘women’ or ‘men’- beyond their physical/biological differences. Multiple identities are as much operational among women as much as among men- class, cast, religion, locality, sexual orientation, etc, etc.

Both women and men can be perpetrators of patriarchy. In fact, many such values may be perpetuated by women- partly because of the internalized sense of ‘norms’ constructed and made almost pathological over a period of time.

Just because a woman is part of a reactionary, or fundamentalist or established power structure does not necessarily make such structures and processes less patriarchal. Almost all women leaders in South Asia are the torchbearers of a set of conservative values -- and not expressions of feminist politics-- by any stretch of imagination.

N P Chekkutty: I do not find much of a difference between what I said, and the positions of John. Even when most women internalize patriarchal views and propagate them, it still remains patriarchy. Even if many men internalize a feminist point of view, it does not erase patriarchy.

That again takes us back to square one.

It is not a question of not knowing what is wrong; but not willing to overcome it, not willing to struggle to free ourselves of these internalized norms, not willing to fight for our own freedom.

Here, this struggle can only be an individual struggle, a fight against one's own hidden demons, not a collective one, though ideologies could help us at best to some extent.But sadly, ideology is nothing but a sham, a mirror image. The self-proclaimed progressive turns out to be the rabid obscurantist; the hated communalist, a sensible human being...

That is why I feel all of us need to keep talking. Whether in this group or outside, we need to talk and engage. Unless we do so and try to understand each other, there is no way out, no way ahead.

I will end this note with a small anecdote, something I experienced a few weeks ago:

It was vacation and two children came to spend a few days with us.
As we were sitting at the dining table, the younger one, a very smart guy aged four, asked me innocently: Uncle, are you a Hindu?

I was shocked, but also amused. I said, No, I am Muslim...

I saw he did not like it at all. His face showed it.

Sometime later he declared he did not like Madhavikkutty.
I asked, Why?
Because she became a Muslim...

You know who is Madhavikkutty?
No, he did not know...

Neither did the Nazi kids know who were the hated Jews.

I am deeply troubled and sad not only about the kid but about me too. It was my fault, or our collective fault; our collective silence, our internalized norms at work here. But I see the child is a victim of a criminal indoctrination. And who did it?

I only hope we will see reason and try to tell our kid better stories, give them better ideas that they would not end up cannon-fodder in a fratricidal war not too far away.

V Santhakumar: How do we internalize casteist, fundamentalist, obscurantist and patriarchal values and how to get over them are interesting questions. The fact that YSR (who may have been brought up in a Hindu landlord family) became (an eclectic) Christian and that it did not prevent millions of ordinary Andhrites from adoring him is interesting. However when the same people want his son to be the CM, we see an element of backwardness; this may be showing that all these apparent identity struggles are the reflection of something underlying....

Neelan says that the decline of the left led to the revival of reactionary forces.Yes it is true that the leftist forces did play a role in bringing up secular, non-casteist, non-obscurantist (but not necessarily non-patriarchal) values in Kerala society. We see a revivalism today. My take is that this is due to the (lack of) credibility of signals sent by leftist forces. Some parts have become outdated to even common sense... The messages of modernity combined with this outdated ones cannot communicate credibly to the youngsters who are likely to be idealist...

Let us take a typical boy/girl: that type is likely to think that we should be more environment friendly, the attack of Bush on Iraq is a crime, less likely to think that people should be marrying only within caste, less likely to think that killing others for politics/religion is good, likely to consider poverty something horrible, etc. My point is that the ground for idealism still exists. They may be even open to greater equality between boys and girls. But they are less likely to be influenced by Communist party's slogans or actions today. Saying one thing and doing something else regarding education, advocating that globalization is bad when everybody is trying to get a job outside or in a company exporting knowledge to outside world....

There is a possibility for building on this idealism to nurture anti-casteist, anti-obscurantist, non-fundamentalist, and less-patriarchal values. Unfortunately this cannot be done by the leftist forces today. Sad part is that no one else is trying to build on this idealism, a value system suitable to a modern world...

R V G Menon: Chekkutty, I suspect the two young guests you had are being brought up in an environment where they don't come into contact with anyone outside their own caste or creed, and are constantly being fed with stories about how ‘bad’ the ‘others’ are. Quite often parents are the very source of such indoctrination. Unfortunately, this is quite common in our society. It is quite possible that this was so, even earlier. But we had many public spaces, like the public schools, where this sort of indoctrination could be countered in a natural way. Unfortunately these spaces are also shrinking now.

Some time back I had recounted the results of a study, which showed how children are systematically being routed to denominational schools, where most of the children and all the teachers belong to only that particular denomination (either Christian, Hindu or Muslim).

I can imagine no other antidote than strengthening the common schools system to counter this peril. Let children of all castes, creeds and classes sit side by side and intermingle, and get to know each other. There is no other way. Even in the case of unaided schools, let it be mandatory that the schools should reflect the population profile of the region where it is located.

N P Chekkutty: Yes RVG, I agree with you. We need to strengthen public schools and the experiences with my own children tell me the same thing. There is something in the very atmosphere of a government school/college that makes the children shed much of the inherited notions about their class/caste importance, their social and economic status and other rubbish and help them reach out to others. That makes them better human beings. Though I do not consider myself a very fortunate person, I do think I am lucky in this sense that I find both my children sensible enough to understand the complexity of our pluralist society and I am sure they picked it up mainly from the government educational institutions where they went.

But the parental role in shaping kids is much more important. The kids I spoke about are an example of what happens. They live with their mother and grandmother as their father is away in the Gulf. The women, for a variety of practical reasons, keep to themselves and that restricts the scope for kids to see the world as it is. Most often, the kids are sent to 'prestigious' educational institutions, meaning caste/ community based schools which charge a fat fee and do not allow the kids even to talk in their mother tongue.

This situation in Kerala puts a lot of responsibility on the mother, she is often the sole person interacting with the kids as in most families where the husband is away, coming home only once in two or three years.

Anandi Krishnan: I agree with Chekkutty that women took a communal role in many riots including Maradu. Yes. The educated Kerala has Nair woman, Muslim woman, Ezhava woman, Dalit woman, etc. (like our matrimonial ads which say, Ezava sundari, Dheevara sundari, Pulaya sundari, Nair sundari, Maraar sundari, etc. )Women are not a homogenous category. Caste-wise, religion wise and class wise there is a divide.

Political space is no more a public space for women in Kerala. It was, once upon a time. That does not mean that she is free from any sort of exploitation. As many have pointed out, there is a communal divide and going back to tradition which is becoming more and more visible in Kerala. Yes, in the so called ‘educated Kerala’. How far our education has worked as a liberating force in the society? It was a liberating force during 20th century - no doubt, all the communal organizations of late 19th and early 20th century have raised the issue of education, especially women’s education. From Yogakshema Sabha to Sadhujana Paripalana Samiti, every community organization called for change. Above all, colonialism and imperialism along with casteism were fought tooth and nail with the help of education. .

How Kerala lives and Kerala thinks clearly reveal the social mobility in Kerala society created by education. It has only helped them to become glorified educated housewives is quite pathetic. And that is the paradox of Kerala’s development model. Can we say that our education today is carrying out this role of liberating people from the shackles of social anarchy?

I agree that Sarojini Naidu and many other women were involved in the national movement. These were individual women. A close study of these women in freedom struggle reveals that those whose brother/husband/father were in the movement only could get involved in it. Akkamma Cherian, A.V. Kuttimaalu Amma, Gracy Aron, Verkot Narayani Amma, Dhakshayani, Parvathi Ayyappan, Arya Pallam, Swarnakumari Menon, and many others.

But that is not an issue. Individual women are not a factor. How many women could become a part of the Salt Satygraha? Why Gandhiji was against taking women to Dhandi? Women from all over India had requested and fought with Gandhiji, sent dissent notes to him that he has avoided women. From Gujarat, Punjab, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and also from Kerala, women raised their voices against Gandhiji’s attitude. (Recent critiques of Gandhiji in the books Gender and Nation: Breaking Out of Invisibility, Women in the National Movement, etc, are revealing.) During 1942 when Kuttimaalu Amma was selected by Gandhiji for Individual Satyagraha, (Vykthi Satyagraham) how her needs were ignored has been written about in her diary. Akkamma Cherian’s role in fighting the government in Travancore was tremendous, but still nowhere in history the students are taught any of the details. Kerala society has never digested women who articulated /articulate against the existing societal views. It is true that the patriarchy in Kerala psyche has to be studied.

There is no point in blaming the left alone. As the great Valluvar has said when we point our finger to others, the other three fingers are pointing towards us. All of us are responsible for such a plight.

(To be continued.)

Eloquent Silences: Why Do Women Keep Silent in Public Sphere?

A Discussion: Part One

RECENTLY I was involved in a pretty long discussion at fourth-estate critique, a Google group, which went on for many days, and I realize some very interesting points emerged out of.

Here I post an edited version of it for the benefit of my readers, with thanks to the participants for permission to use their comments here:

N P Chekkuty: In the self-introductions here, I found two comments which gave me reasons to think:

1.Often feels that [this forum] is highly andocentric. (Anandi)
2. As feminists have pointed out, politicized spaces require personal time to spare, machismo, ego, gawkiness, and willingness to get involved into online standoffs – attributes historically associated more with masculinity rather than femininity (C S Chandrika.)

I was somewhat confused and intrigued why do they feel it that way. Is there something in this forum and its topics and ways of discussion that make women feel aloof, uninterested? C S Chandrika gives a hint, describing it as a politicized space, historically associated with masculine.

I do feel we may have to look elsewhere for the reason why open spaces are predominantly male spaces, or perhaps why do open spaces are given a wide berth by women in our society. I feel it has much more to do with the social life in Kerala and the deep feudal mindset we still do nourish even among the progressives.

I found some interesting observations in Amartya Sen's book, Argumentative Indian, where he tackles the question, whether females were excluded from our argumentative/political tradition.

He seems to think, No. He points out that the Indian National Congress had its first president (Sarojini Naidu, 1925) 50 years before UK's ruling party had a woman as their chief (Margaret Thatcher, 1975.)

Then he goes back in history: In Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, there is a great debate with Yagnavalkya in which his stoutest opponent is Gargi. Another major interlocutor is Maithreyi, whose point about the individual wealth and personal achievement proved to be a starting point for his own research on growth and welfare, he says.

So if women could be fiercely argumentative in the past, why not today?

Kavitha Balakrishnan: As far as I understand, one should take into consideration that this forum is so far limited to 'a class of people' and 'a class of topics', like international relations, economics, current affairs etc. A forum mainly of economists, diplomats and journalists, etc.

Yet anybody can break in when feel like, when finds a topic of one's area of expertise, when get time, etc. But no guarantee that they will be treated and taken further with due importance that they imagine they will get in 'cultural circles'.

But why should it necessarily be? This is not a 'representative' forum of diverse communities or identities. This is a very limited forum but made out of resourceful, informative and scholarly people in some ways or the other, yet with lots of limitations to initiate an inclusive attitude to many things that are yet out of one's academic rigors and logics. So I think this is not simply a gender problem; even more serious than that: the limits of our reasoning and intellectual articulations....

N P Chekkutty: In a personal note, a friend says:

As a marunadan Malayali from Trissur, with a deep sense of nostalgia and pride for my land and its people, this paradox has been extremely intriguing. Kerala is no Bihar. Women are educated, financially independent; but disempowered, lack freedom and choices.

But let me ask: Is it true?

Peripherally, it appears women in Kerala are much better compared to other states, statistics also say the same. Hence naturally, they should have been more empowered, more active politically and socially, though what we witness in Kerala today is a reverse trend, the women returning the safety of marakkudas or all-covering purdahs in public.

Every day as I travel in the city buses in Kozhikode, I see with a sense of helplessness the larger and larger number of Muslim women who have now started covering their entire face, leaving just a hole for the eyes, something which I had never seen in the past. I was at my village for the Onam and I found women with similar dress in buses and markets while in the past they were merrily moving about in their colourful kachithuni and long blouses.

Then in trains that travel through Potta, I see the same phenomenon. Larger and larger number of women, frenzied in their ways and unconcerned about their surroundings. Pay a visit to the Mata's ashram or Sri Sri's classes, the same is the scene. Women abound, they make the public space in all those places mainly.

I do feel strongly that this de-politicization of women and their estrangement from social and political action has deeply wounded our society. In Maradu and Nadapuram, I had seen the dangerous portents of it, as one cannot help the conclusion that one of the primary forces behind the rabid communalization of and sectarianism in the society there happen to be women. (In the first instance, it is a Hindutva variety, while in the second it is predominantly secular and Marxist.)

It is for women to tell us why do they go more and more to such depths, cut and run from our common lives? It does them no good, it does the society no good.

Neelan Neelakantan: The whole Kerala of society is going back adorning themselves with signs which were once considered reactionary and rejected. Poonool is back! Chandanam is replaced by Raktha Chandanam, which one finds very violent a sign. Youngsters with jeans and Raktha Chandanam on the forehead make a strange sight these days. Purdah is common. When the real left politics and ideology gets weakened, all the reactionary ritualistic signs will re-appear. They will be renamed as new "cultural identities’ and justified ...

John Samuel: I wonder whether the kind of trend you have mentioned is specific to one gender- women.

In fact, the "patriarchal" power is perpetuated by the men - who control religious establishment, consumer stores and institutions of spirituality and religion. It seems there is nothing new in the fact that women seem to be more in to "bhakti" mode or more manifestly religious or spiritual. This also may have to do with ‘family' behavioral pattern (again perpetuated by a patriarchy). And there is nothing new about the trend- about relatively more spiritual/religious inclination among women. This aspect requires more serious research in relation to the constructed roles of gender in different societies and its relation to "cultural", "spiritual" "creative", "reproductive" and "fertility" etc.

There is indeed a revival of religion- in its conservative as well as consumerist avatars. And this new revival of religion - in institutional, political and market varieties- is a larger trend. So how can one link this only with "gender"- or say that "why women are like that?" Of course, we tend to see what we look for.

The new revival of religion- and "spiritual" customer-care oriented new market approach has a lot to do with new sense of alienation and insecurity - in the midst of economic growth, increasing disintegration of community/family spaces, saturation of "secular" dreams, and increasing sense of social, economic and political insecurity, as well as political reactions to perceived sense of marginalization, exclusion etc. So it is nothing peculiar to Kerala. This is happening all over Africa, Latin America, parts of Asia, Europe and the USA.

The new revivalism is also partly a reactionary response to and partly a byproduct of aggressive economic globalization. These days there are many "drive in Churches"- very customer-care oriented, well-marketed, no-strings attached- of course one is expected to pay for a well-organized/managed "Sunday" service. There is no-community or real communion. They are the new service providers in a new market place- because there is new demand for a particularly packaged "psycho-comfort," "feel-good" product- available, accessible and affordable.

We need serious discussions and explorations about the "gender spaces" in Kerala. We need to explore the apparent dichotomies and tensions of such gender-power relationship in the ‘public’, ‘private’ and ‘intimate’ spaces.

There are serious contradictions in Kerala between the perceived ‘empowerment’ of women- taking the social development and gender-development indicators and real ‘disempowerment’- particularly in the private spaces of family and ‘intimate’ spaces of bedrooms, though seemingly ‘empowered’ in the public sphere.

(To be continued.)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Laughing Gas

Arrested underworld characters taken to the state with police, media in tow: news

Every goon has his day...!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

YSR Succession: One Must Earn Power and Not Land it as Family Legacy

THE DEATH of Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy is sad indeed, but sadder seems to be the sudden pitch for making his son, Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, the new chief minister.

The Hindu report, by my old colleague, S Nagesh Kumar -- who was with Indian Express in the mid eighties when I was in Hyderabad-- today refers to this move by a section of the legislators who claim that there are around a hundred MLAs who are fans of the younger Reddy. Another report in the inside pages tell us that these gentlemen are now threatening a split in the party if the claims of the son is not accepted by the Congress high command, even before the body of the senior leader, who was one of the most successful Congress politicians in Andhra Pradesh for many decades, has been cremated!

I do not think this is the time to think about the legitimacy of the claims of Jagan Mohan Reddy, a 36-year- old Parliament Member, who runs a new media company with newspapers and television channel in Telugu, which came into being during the tenure of YSR who came to power in 2004.

But the trend is unmistakable and disturbing. It goes against the legacy of democracy and democratic principles in succession. But the Congress itself is to blame, as this party has, over many decades, converted itself into a family concern, a private property of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

The benefit of that legacy is now being claimed by other regional satraps, and our own K Karunakaran was one of the early practitioners of this Doctrine of Family Legacy when he was powerful enough to make his son an MP and then KPCC president and minister and all that. Let us also remember that it was Defence Minister A K Antony, then KPCC president and now a member of the Congress high command’s core committee, who helped Karunakaran to get away with it as he himself nominated Muralidharan to the Congress list of candidates for the Lok Sabha as the leader had gone for a leak…!

Now the story has come full circle. Those less fortunate guys who had to give way to the Leader’s son way back in eighties are now in control of the KPCC and Muralidharan is out in the cold, trying to get back into the party. He wants a simple membership and nothing more but the party leaders here do not want him at all despite all the pressures his frail father could exert with the high command.

I do feel there is lesson in it for Jagan Mohan Reddy and all other highly ambitious Congress siblings (and of course to non-Congress siblings too): You earn power and not get it as a family legacy which you cannot keep.