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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Women and Islam by Fatema Mernissi- A Brief Review

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Venu K.M

“ Fatema Mernissi has done an epoch making and scholarly exploration of the Suras (original Quranic verses) and the Hadits (accounts by the Companions of the Prophet about how the Messenger of God responded to challenging moments in the lives of first generation of believers,methodically cross checked and compiled by religious scholars who lived in the first two centuries of Islam) along with the interpretations since then. The major findings of the author are the following:
1. The Prophet undoubtedly wanted no separation between the public and private realms of life.
2. His vision of a monotheistic universal faith is absolutely egalitarian and that is a world in which women could shoulder equal roles with that of men in political, social and economic realms with a view to creating a new world that would assure peace and happiness to all humans.
3. While Islam would not sanction the practice of slavery among the believers, continuation of that institution for several centuries was possible in the actual Islamic regimes thanks to the denial of option (to the new religion )to the prisoners of wars, who were mostly women from the pre Islamic kingdoms. However,their children were considered free persons. These women were treated as slaves and they were traded off or exchanged as booty.
4.The descend of Hijab,the physical as well as the symbolic separation of private and public spaces happened as a response to the grave crisis in the Medina period,which corresponded to the later phase in the life of the Prophet. Years between Hejra 3-8 (AD 625- 628) were critical periods of crisis characterized by severe losses and uncertainty both on the side of military expeditions and on the socio-economic life of people.
5. Even while the Prophet together with his wives and many of the articulate women in the Medinese city continued adherence to the principle of equality( between men and women) , they encountered lot of social abuses on account of this.
6. The prominent of the male Companions led by his son in law Umer continuously pressed on the Prophet to impose restrictions for women. They persisted on the view that solution to the above crisis of credibility and above all the insecurity, was in the separation of the Muslim space into two- public space was to be preserved as exclusive domain of men, and the private space as the secluded space for women- both these spaces to be separated by a Hijab-
7. The Hijab ultimately descended from the Heaven as revealed to the Prophet during the night of a wedding dinner in connection with his first night with Zainab in the year Hejra 5 (AD 627). The immediate provocation of the incident, according to a Hadith, was boorish behaviour of three men who continued to linger there chatting, sitting in the room without leaving the place even after the dinner; Prophet was eagerly waiting to be left alone in the company of Zainab, his new bride sitting in the same room. ”

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Posted by
Venu K.M

Naomi Klein speaks on Israeli Apartheid Week from NOW Magazine on Vimeo.

Monday, April 20, 2009

"The Taliban are Here" - By Samad Khurram

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Venu K.M

The Taliban are Here

Monday, April 20, 2009
By Samad Khurram

Back in 2002, I was returning from Friday prayers when I saw an unusual gathering of singing and quasi-dancing mullahs. Unusual because I had always assumed mullahs to be against all types of kufr (art). The amused crowd were listening to chants of “Taliban aa-gae! Taliban aa-gae!” I smirked: As if! Pakistan is a nuclear country with the seventh-largest army. We’re safe.

The mullahs’ songs have been answered – the Taliban indeed are coming. And with them the cowards are bringing a lifestyle that destroys everything Pakistan.

Oh, no! Wait! This guy is on the paycheque of those who are trying to break Pakistan. The Taliban are our heroes, it is America which is in the wrong. Yes, this is the typical self-defence mechanism coming to full force. Having nothing to lose, and having been already declared a CIA agent earlier in life, I suppose I’ll continue. Continuing with a genuine fear that these words are falling on either deaf or hostile ears, it may well be that Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s Pakistan is over in a year if all this chaos continues.

Perhaps, if Jinnah knew that the country he founded was going to become an arena for public flogging, where the laughs of sadist barbarians will mingle with the screams of women and children, he would not have decided on creating it. Had he known that there would be more suicide bombs in his country than any other place in the world, where militants and bigots would go around threatening women to “dress properly,” where schoolchildren would have to undergo security checks as if they were in a war zone, he would be extremely upset.

All our talk shows discuss the merits and demerits of the 17th Amendment, or bash America and India. Yes, American drones and Indian statements are a threat to our sovereignty. Yes, the balance of power is important, but it is the Taliban who have killed more people than India or the US drones combined, and have made us feel more unsafe than anyone else in the past thirty years. What other definition of sovereignty is there than provision of protection to people and maintenance of the writ of the state? Why can’t we have some programmes that discuss the atrocities of the Taliban, acts of terror that they do and how they have destroyed Pakistan?

No, it’s not the “Hindu Zionists” working on a CIA/Mossad-sponsored conspiracy to break Pakistan. And for the sake of argument, even if they are foreign-funded, does that not mean we should double our efforts to counter them? Remember when India briefly occupied some land in 1965 and how the whole country rallied to defend this invasion? My grandfather had stories of people going with sticks to support the army. I am afraid I will not have any such stories of patriotic resistance to tell anyone when another enemy has taken control of, say, a fourth of the NWFP and roughly one-twentieth of Pakistan.

But remember the great Pakistani Fauj which, under the Ameer-ul-Momineen, Zia-ul-Haq, crushed the Russians? This is only a plan to make America taste the same fate! Yes, thank you Zaid Hamid. For a nation which already lives in denial, your conspiracy theories are all we need to turn us completely schizophrenic.

For the love of God, can anyone explain to me why the great army whose laurels we sing from the day we are born has still not been able to jam radio stations pouring terror in Swat? How is it that these Taliban leaders can appear before journalists in broad daylight and roam freely without any trouble even when they claim responsibility for a suicide bombing?

Perhaps the real question I should ask is, why do I even care? When I took time off from Harvard to be part of the lawyers’ movement I had seen a ray of hope. There were concerned citizens and lawyers who stood for what was right, no matter what the consequences. We fought for a principle and won, with the hope that things will slowly improve. Today the very judges we had faith in released the Lal Masjid cleric whose crimes everyone knows about. If the judiciary was going to release people whose crimes were recorded on TV, perhaps it does explain why the Taliban are growing popular.

Having said that, rays of hope like Afzal Khan Lala, who has refused to move from Swat while he is alive, appear every now and then. However, he stands alone in facing the storm. Other than Ayaz Amir, not a single Pakistani leader has spoken out against the Taliban. Will the real leader who can get rid of these monsters stand up, please? Imran Khan? Qazi? Nawaz Sharif? This silence is criminal!

What’s worse is that these leaders of ours have unanimously approved a state within a state run, which is not accountable to anyone, absolved the Taliban of all crimes and provided them a safe haven to kill more Pakistanis. The so-called Nizam-e-Adl Regulation was endorsed by the National Assembly without any proper debate.

The sad story, friends, is that the Taliban are here, and unless we stand up against them in every possible way, Pakistan will be lost for good. And it will not be lost because of Zardari’s real or perceived corruption or anything else like that, but because of the silence of the lambs – we ALL will be responsible if Pakistan fails.

The writer is a student at Harvard University and turned down an award from the US ambassador as a mark of protest against killings of Pakistanis by US drone attacks. Email: skhurram@fas.harvard.edu


Standing Up to the Madness - by Amy Goodman and David Goodman

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Venu K.M


Excerpt from Chapter 6 of Standing Up to the Madness

Voices in Conflict
Jimmy Presson was freaking out. The 16-year-old junior from Wilton High School in Connecticut was pacing in a corner, going over his lines for the school play. He had a powerful monologue to deliver, and he wanted to get it right. He was playing the part of an Iraq War veteran, Navy Hospital Corpsman Charlie Anderson. The vet was describing his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Finally, the house lights dimmed. Jimmy stepped forward, his feet spread in a defiant stance, his demeanor a bit bewildered, like the seaman whose life he was channeling:

My symptoms didn’t show up right away. Then everything just caught up to me and hit me all at once. . . . You get home, you relax, and then it just comes rushing up. I have nightmares. I can’t sleep.

There was a dramatic pause, and Jimmy exhaled. As he looked out, he didn’t see the faces of friends and families in the Wilton High School auditorium, the venue for other school plays in which he had acted. Instead, he was peering from the stage of the Culture Project, a theater in SoHo. The audience was New York City theater buffs.

When Jimmy Presson signed up for Theater Arts II taught by teacher Bonnie Dickinson in the spring of 2007, he and the other students couldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams that they would end up performing in a New York City theater. Professional actors only hope of getting a break like this. Jimmy and the rest of the cast were just high school students who had spent the spring preparing to perform for their friends and families. Suddenly, their student play, Voices in Conflict, was banned from Wilton High School.

Was there graphic sex? Homosexuality? Violence?

No—but the theater arts students had done plays that dealt with all those hot-button issues in previous years without incident or objection from the school administration. Voices in Conflict dealt with a topic that was much too hot to discuss in this suburban Connecticut school.

The subject was war.

When Wilton High School tried to silence the student actors in the spring of 2007, the students of Wilton and their teacher mounted a national stage. Their courageous stand shed light on the pervasive silencing of critical voices, especially when those voices are veterans telling the story of living and dying in a war they have been sent to fight in our name.

We find Bonnie Dickinson sitting at an outside table at a café on a warm summer afternoon in the picturesque village of Wilton. This suburban community of eighteen thousand lies less than an hour from New York City, but its sense of cloistered affluence makes it seem a world away. A group of students and parents have joined us to talk about the experience of being banned, shunned, and then hailed and celebrated. It has been two months since their last curtain call, but the outrage and exhilaration of their experience comes bubbling back with each retelling.

Dickinson has been the drama teacher at Wilton High School since 1993. A 53-year-old mother of two, she is dressed in jeans and a stylish blue blouse, her face framed by a mane of blond hair. Her students casually alternate between “Bonnie” and “Mrs. Dickinson” when addressing her. She is hip enough to connect with them, but also commands their respect.

Dickinson graduated from New York University in 1976 and struggled to survive as an actress doing off-off-Broadway shows; she later cofounded an experimental multiracial Shakespeare company in Los Angeles. A popular teacher, her classes at Wilton High School, which is home to 1,250 students, typically have waiting lists. She is well known in the school and community as the director of the fall play and the drama club. Dickinson is not involved in Wilton High School’s extravagant spring musicals—West Side Story and Grease were some of the recent productions—which are performed in a $10 million state-of-the-art theater. She prefers the “intimate, shabby Little Theater” for her dramatic performances.

Dickinson’s real passion is educational theater, which she offers to students in several theater arts classes. She often uses drama to tackle difficult and sensitive issues within the school community. Several years ago, when Wilton High School was the scene of gay bashing incidents and some lockers had been defaced with racial epithets, Dickinson and her students chose to perform The Laramie Project. The play, about the murder of
Matthew Shepard, a young gay man in Wyoming, was “a big success. Only one parent out of a thousand said we don’t want our kid to do it,” she recalls. The administration had been concerned about the subject matter, but agreed to allow the play to be performed for juniors and seniors.

In the fall of 2006, Dickinson was looking for a new way to engage her students. As she often did, the drama teacher stopped by the school library to see what new books looked interesting. The English Department chairwoman, Sandy Soson, was also prowling the stacks looking for material. By chance, the two teachers stumbled upon the same book, In Conflict: Iraq War Veterans Speak Out on Duty, Loss and the Fight to Stay Alive, by Yvonne Latty. The book is a collection of first-person accounts from soldiers about their experiences fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Teachers are always looking for voices of kids their age,” Dickinson tells us. “I saw the book as a collection of great monologues. There’s nothing like a first-person anecdote to connect with the audience. This was a natural piece of theater.” Dickinson planned to offer the soldiers’ monologues to her theater arts students and see whether it captured their interest.

A personal play about war was especially timely. Wilton High School had been shaken that fall by the news that Nicholas Madaras, a 2005 Wilton graduate who had joined the army, had been killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb. It gave further impetus to Dickinson’s interest in offering the students a play that dealt with the war. When she approached principal Timothy Canty in November 2006 with In Conflict, she recalls that he said that the idea of a play based on the book “sounds great.”

“You might even honor Nick in it,” Canty told her. Dickinson agreed. It was a routine approval.

When Theater Arts II met in January 2007, Dickinson was contacted by a parent, Barbara Alessi, who had a son serving in the military in Iraq and whose daughter was initially signed up for Dickinson’s class. Alessi complained to both Dickinson and Canty that the play was “anti-war.” It hadn’t occurred to Dickinson that the soldiers’ real-life experience
of combat could be construed as pro- or anti-war.

On March 9, Canty called Dickinson. “I don’t wanna hear from this parent anymore,” Dickinson recalls Canty telling her. “Shut this play down now.” (Canty, along with the members of the Wilton school board and Superintendent Gary Richards, declined our requests for comment.)

Dickinson pleaded for more time to change the script to make it more “balanced.” She spent a frantic weekend working with teacher Sandy Soson to add more explicitly pro-war voices to counter any perception of bias. But when she presented the revised script to Canty, he was unconvinced.

The administration’s rationale for shutting down the play began shifting. Dickinson says Canty told her, “I’m very concerned about the sister of the soldier who died. She should not have this going on in school.” Then he complained that a revised script was too violent. Later, he claimed that the script was plagiarized, since it drew heavily on other books and a documentary film, The Ground Truth, allegedly without attribution.

“We tried to make sense of it, but there was no making sense,” Dickinson tells us, waving her hand in exasperation.

Canty informed Dickinson that the play could not go on. It was a few weeks before the performance. Dickinson insisted that he explain to the students in person why he was taking this action. On March 13, 2007, Canty met the students in the school theater, where they had been working on the play for two months.

“You can’t do this play,” he told them flatly. He said it was too controversial, too complicated. And just to be sure they understood, Dickinson recounts that he added, “You can’t do this anywhere. You can work on it. But you can never perform it.”

Students protested. Senior Erin Clancy, her voice trembling, said, “I’m 18—old enough to fight in the war, and old enough to vote for leaders who send people to war. So why
can’t I perform in a play about it?”

One student began swearing at the principal. Dickinson admonished the student and insisted that Canty be treated with respect.

Canty said his decision was final. He had made up his mind and would not debate the matter any further. “This ship has sailed,” he told them. Jimmy Presson was disgusted. Canty may have mollified one student and parent, but “he was hanging us out to dry.”

We all become casualties of war. Who we are when we leave is not who we are when and if we’re lucky to physically return. Because psychologically, you, you, you’re completely changed by it.
—Corp. Sean Huze, from The Ground Truth, read by senior Seth Kopronski, Voices in Conflict

Students debated how to respond. One suggested letters to the editor. Another wanted to picket. Then an irate parent of one of the theater arts students contacted a reporter at the New York Times. On March 24, 2007, the Times ran a story describing how Wilton High School was shutting down a play about the Iraq War.

“Our school is all about censorship,” Jimmy Presson was quoted in the article as saying. “People don’t talk about the things that matter.”

Principal Tim Canty countered, “It would be easy to look at this case on first glance and decide this is a question of censorship or academic freedom. In some minds, I can see how they would react this way. But quite frankly, it’s a false argument,” he told the Times.

The response was swift and stunning. Invitations began to arrive for the students to perform in major theaters in New York City, including the prestigious Public Theater. Theater professionals of the Dramatists Guild of America, among whom were playwrights Edward Albee and Stephen Sondheim, sent letters of protest to Superintendent Gary Richards. The National Coalition Against Censorship called for the
show to go on. Music Theatre International, an agency that licenses many high school productions, awarded the students its first ever “Courage in Theatre” award.

Voices in Conflict was in the spotlight after all.

Then the recriminations began. “Theater fag,” “traitor” were just some of the names posted on a Facebook Web page about the students. The sixteen members of the cast found themselves shoved in the school hallways and shunned in the cafeteria. “It was horrible,” says Presson of the aftermath. Through it all, the students stayed focused on their goal: bringing their play to the widest possible audience.

Meanwhile, the Wilton High School administration was digging in against the students. Superintendent Gary Richards issued a letter that stated: “The student performers directly acting the part of the soldiers . . . turns powerful material into a dramatic format that borders on being sensational and inappropriate. We would like to work with the students to complete a script that fully addresses our concerns.”

Richards continued, “We believe that this play can be upsetting to our student, parent, and community audience. . . . .As a school, we have a responsibility to ensure that the Iraq war, the lives lost, and the sacrifices made by soldiers and their families are presented in the appropriate context with appropriate support and guidance. . . . In its present form, the play does not meet those standards.”

The students responded the way they knew best: They promptly added Richards’s letter to the script. The cold, condescending bureaucratese would be in stark relief opposite the play’s passionate eyewitness testimonials.

Jimmy Presson, dressed in a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt with a baseball cap pulled over his eyes, tells us that the battle was often isolating. “It felt like we were being kind of separated, like Wilton High School feels this way, and those students feel that way. That hurt a lot. . . . I don’t hate my high school. I’m not trying to bring down the administration.

“We’re not attacking anyone here,” he says, his voice rising in anger. “The play wasn’t meant to make people feel bad, or make people feel war was bad. It wasn’t Democrats versus Republicans. None of this was a factor when we did the play.”

Bonnie Dickinson became the subject of attacks. Barbara Alessi wrote an op-ed piece for the Wilton Bulletin declaring, “Though the play was to be an indictment of the troops, Ms. Dickinson was misrepresenting intent from the very beginning. . . . This was never about the ideal of freedom of speech. It was about the manipulative use and abuse of that principle by a vindictive teacher who used the hot button issue to attract the attention of the New York Times.”

Alessi concluded with a veiled threat: “Does Ms. Dickinson believe that the media firestorm would inoculate her from all negative repercussions once the uproar died down and her actions were exposed? If she does, I believe she is wrong.” Alessi then filed a lengthy administrative complaint against Dickinson in late April.

Meanwhile, the national media shone a light on political censorship in Wilton. The students appeared on CNN and ABC’s Good Morning America, and were featured in articles from the Los Angeles Times to the Christian Science Monitor. In response, the administration hedged, but didn’t relent. In April, Principal Canty announced that it might be possible to have the play performed in school in the fall—after half the cast graduated.

Dickinson and the student actors had already shifted their energies into preparing for performances at the Public Theater, the Culture Project, and the Vineyard Theater in New York, and at the Fairfield Theater in Connecticut. In early June, an assistant superintendent again asked to see the script, which now included the superintendent’s letter. “This is the version you want to do for school?” the administrator asked

“Now it is,” Dickinson shot back.

Dickinson was emboldened, but nervous. “I was really scared for my job,” she tells us as we have coffee with her and the students in Wilton. Cars honk nearby en route to a Wilton High School football game. A cancer survivor and mother, Dickinson could not afford to be fired. Noted First Amendment lawyer Martin Garbus volunteered to defend her and assured her that she would not lose her job.

The school’s clumsy attempt to salvage its image ended up ensuring that Wilton’s name became synonymous with censorship. “Had the school not done any of this stuff,” said Garbus of the play, “it would have just gone through uneventfully.”

The experiences I have had in the last two years have brought me down, but hopefully I’ll get stronger. I just got to get there.
—Army Reserves Sgt. Lisa Haynes, from In Conflict, by
Yvonne Latty, read by senior Erin Clancy, Voices in Conflict

Censorship Society
“Striving for Excellence” declares the slogan over the front door of Wilton High School. Indeed, Wilton is one of Connecticut’s top public schools. But when it comes to discussing the war in Iraq, the school’s motto would more accurately be “Striving for Silence.”

When Wilton High School administrators banned Voices in Conflict, they shut down the only place in school where the Iraq War was being vigorously discussed. Jimmy Presson, who was named after an uncle who was killed in the Vietnam War, tells us that his U.S. history class had a weekly assignment to bring in a current event news item, with one caveat: “We are not allowed to talk about the war while discussing current events.”
Other students said they could discuss the war in a Middle Eastern Studies class, but it was not being taught that spring. So it fell to Theater Arts II to be the only class in school where students were discussing the war in any depth.

Actually, there is one other place where students talk about war. “We also get to speak about it with the military recruiters who are always at school,” says Presson wryly.

Wilton High School has a history of muzzling free speech. Students were upset in 2007 because the administration required that yearbook quotations come from wellknown
sources, out of fear they might contain coded messages. When the school’s Gay Straight Alliance hung posters a few years ago, the administration ordered that all
student posters be approved in advance, due to public safety concerns. Wilton administrators attempted to ban bandanas, insisting they could be associated with gangs. Officials were forced to back down when hundreds of bandana-wearing students
showed up at school.

Wilton High School is not alone in attempting to banish controversy from the mouths of its babes. In whitewashing dissent, it has taken a page from the script followed by President George W. Bush.

At the start of the Iraq War, Bush issued an executive order banning photos of soldiers’ caskets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, neatly decoupling the disastrous war from its body count. Following Hurricane Katrina, the Bush administration’s decisive intervention was to ban images of dead bodies floating down the boulevards of New Orleans. And President Bush’s advance team has banished protesters from appearing anyplace where cameras might capture them. It is all part of an elaborate effort to create a Potemkin presidency, where reality is defined and managed by those in power.

Beat poet Allen Ginsberg explained the rationale best: “Whoever controls the media, the images, controls the culture.”

In this environment of manipulated imagery and suppression of free speech, it is no surprise that censorship in schools is on the rise:

• At John Jay High School in Cross River, New York (about fifteen miles from Wilton), three high school girls were suspended in March 2007 for reading an excerpt of Eve Ensler’s play, The Vagina Monologues, during an open mic night at school. Their crime: uttering the word “vagina” after being warned not to. Parents decried the “blatant attempt at censorship,” and the suspension was overturned.

• In March 2006, high school geography teacher Jay Bennish was suspended from Overland High School in Aurora, Colorado, following a class in which he criticized
President Bush. Bennish’s talk was recorded by a student, who gave it to local radio stations. In response to Bennish’s suspension, more than one hundred students walked out of class. Bennish was reinstated several days later.

• Deborah A. Mayer, a teacher at an Indiana elementary school, lost her job after discussing the Iraq War. The class was reading about the impending war in the newsmagazine Time for Kids in January 2003 when the students in her grade 3–6 multiage class asked if she had ever protested. Mayer replied that she had honked when passing a demonstration where someone held a sign saying “Honk for Peace.” After a parent complained, the principal barred Ms. Mayer from discussing “peace” in her classroom and canceled the school’s traditional “peace month.” The school announced a few months later that Mayer would not be rehired.

For Wilton parent Hermon Telyan, whose daughter Taylor acted in Voices in Conflict, being censored struck a familiar and chilling chord. Telyan, an Armenian who fled persecution in Turkey, is emotional as he tells us about his experience. “I lived fascism and repression. It is very familiar to me. I can smell fascism in a crowd.

“The first rule of fascism is censorship in the arts,” he explains. Wilton administrators articulated it “in such a nice way I have to applaud. We have here a first-class fascist mentality. It came from Washington to Wilton.”

While the debate over the banned play filled the pages of local newspapers—one parent said it was the most heavily covered local story he’d seen in his twenty-two years in Wilton—“the administration, the faculty, and the students became eerily silent on the matter,” recalls Glen Clancy, whose daughter Erin was in the play. “The silence of the populace involved is one of the things I find most disturbing in
the dynamics of censorship.”

Ira Levin, author of The Stepford Wives, the best-selling novel and movie that depicts a town in which people are blindly conformist, wrote a letter to the New York Times immediately after the story about the play banning. Levin, who died in November 2007, drew the connection between fact and fiction:

“Wilton, Conn., where I lived in the 1960s, was the inspiration for Stepford, the fictional town I later wrote about in The Stepford Wives. I’m not surprised, therefore, to learn that Wilton High School has a Stepford principal, one who would keep his halls and classrooms squeaky-clean of any “inflammatory” material that might hurt some Wilton families. It’s heartening, though, to know that not all the Wilton High students have been Stepfordized. The ones who created and rehearsed the banished play Voices in Conflict
are obviously thoughtful young people with minds of their own. I salute them.”
Another letter to the Times helpfully suggested a play that would be perfectly suited to Wilton High School and its administration: a stage adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984.

I’ve spent hours taking in the world through a rifle scope, watching life unfold. Women hanging laundry on a rooftop. Men haggling over a hindquarter of lamb in the market. Children walking to school. I’ve watched this and hoped that someday I would see that my presence had made their lives better, a redemption of sorts. But I also peered through the scope waiting for some- one to do something wrong, so I could shoot him. When you pick up a weapon with the intent of killing, you step onto a very strange and serious playing field. . . . You’re all part of the terrible magic show, both powerful and helpless. I miss Iraq. I miss the war.
—Brian Mockenhaupt, U.S. Army infantryman, read by junior Nick Lanza, Voices in Conflict
* * *
We choose to hear the voices of those who serve.

The lone, determined voice echoes throughout the hall of the Culture Project as the second New York City performance of Voices in Conflict opens. The theater is abuzz with excitement, as the students jostle one another backstage to get in position to take center stage.

Jimmy Presson, acting the part of Navy Seaman Charlie Anderson, steps forward.
We take fire, we return fire. The military taught us how to pull the trigger but never once did they tell us what to do next.

I heard it takes eleven or twelve years to adapt to being home. But right now, I don’t even feel like I have a home. It’s like I went away to war and someone secretly replaced my country. No one really understands me.

The doctors say I have post-traumatic stress disorder. Disorder? I call it post-traumatic stress order. I’m worried about the guys who go through what we did and be normal.

Then it’s Devon Fontaine’s turn. The thin, dark-haired high school student takes on the persona of Marine Sgt. Robert Sarra. He tells a harrowing story of what happened one day when a woman in a burka approached him.

I pulled up my rifle, took two shots at her. I know I probably missed the first shot. The second shot, I’m pretty sure I hit her. And as soon as that second shot went off, the guys on the other vehicle opened up and they cut her down. She fell to the dirt, and as she fell, she had a, a white flag in her hand.

At that moment there, I lost it. I threw my weapon down on the deck of the vehicle and I was crying and I was like “Oh my god, what are we doing here? What’s happening?”

I had a gunnery sergeant who had been in the first war. He said it happens. There’s nothing you can do to bring her back. It happens. We got to keep going.

Devon tells us back in Wilton, “Thinking about that woman coming toward my vehicle and shooting her once, twice—yeah it is very violent. But that’s what war is.

“Every time I did that monologue, I saw that woman, I shot her. . . . It affected me every time—in a good way. It put me in the shoes of this soldier. I really felt like I was there.”

Courtney Stack, a junior and the choreographer for the play, hadn’t thought much about Iraq before the play. “You have these numbers thrown at you about how many died today, yesterday—after being exposed to that, you sort of become numb to it. . . . Seeing other kids assuming the roles of these different people, it changes it from just a number to realizing these are people who are not that different from who we are. That makes such an astonishing impression.” Courtney reflected on the impact that each soldier’s death has had on their families and communities. “I think of how it would feel if a couple hundred students didn’t show up for school one day. That’s the real effect of this war.”

At the end of the play, students step forward, one by one, to introduce themselves—in the words of others.

And so we serve those who serve by telling their stories.
Who are we?
Rebels without a cause.
Fucking Goths.
Femme-Nazi teacher.
Theater fags.
Liberal pig parents.
Unabashedly biased.

Then one by one, the actors challenge those who tried to silence them:

Why is talking about the war “sensational and inappropriate”?

Since when has war not been graphic and violent?
If they consider the words of the soldiers biased, why do they allow an army recruiter into the school cafeteria?
Why has the school been silent on these issues?
Why did it take a New York Times article to start discussion?

As the curtain falls on the last monologue, the audience rises in a long standing ovation. Some people have tears in their eyes. Culture Project artistic director Allan Buchman speaks. “I couldn’t be more proud of having this work on our stage. It should travel around the country. Why it is not shown [in Wilton] is beyond my comprehension. What we saw tonight,” he said, “is the reason to have a theater.”

Actor Stanley Tucci, who starred in The Devil Wears Prada, had visited Wilton to interview the students after the play was banned. He says, “I suddenly felt there was some hope that theater was not just indulgent but can actually do some good, and some damage, in a good way.” He then addressed the students and their teacher. “You’ve made the people of Connecticut very proud.”

Devon talks to us after the performance about what he gained. “I learned that you’ve gotta fight for what you believe in.”

Natalie Kropf, an ebullient senior, says, “I don’t think I’ve ever learned so much from anything I’ve done. Some soldiers came two nights ago. They came backstage and said, ‘You guys nailed it two hundred percent.’ I just felt so proud.”

The parents agree. Moira Rizzo, whose daughter Allie was in the play, tells us, “I would say it was the most meaningful,inspiring thing that has happened to us as her parents yet. I wouldn’t trade this personal growth experience for my kid for anything in the world. It’s a shame because this was an opportunity for everyone to look fantastic. Bonnie and the kids came out shining, and the school system came out looking like a bunch of fools.”

Glen Clancy, father of actress Erin, observed that in defying their banning order, the students learned more than they’d ever imagined. “They learned that those in authority to whom they have given unquestioned respect can suddenly turn devious and duplicitous when it’s time to cover their own butts. They learned bravery by watching their now beloved teacher endure job-threatening actions from the school and stand tall in their defense because what they were doing was the right thing to do. They were presented with Music Theatre International’s ‘Courage in Theatre’ award, but every one of them will tell you the real courage was displayed by Bonnie Dickinson. Now, that is a role model.”

Dickinson’s ordeal continued even after the performances finished. In August 2007, the school administration released the results of the investigation that it did in response to Barbara Alessi’s complaint. The school found that almost all of the charges leveled by Alessi were unsubstantiated. But the school insisted that Dickinson did not cite her sources properly. In fact, the students identified the source for each of their monologues during the performances, but Wilton officials would not have known: Not a single Wilton administrator attended any of the nine performances that were staged in New York City and Connecticut theaters in June and July 2007.

In November 2007, Dickinson and her former Theater Arts II students traveled to New York City again. This time they came to receive an award from the National Coalition Against Censorship, which recognized them for “their courage in writing and performing Voices in Conflict.”

Bonnie Dickinson continues to feel harassed by school officials, but vindicated by her students. We ask her why she fought. She is in a hurry—she has to conduct a rehearsal for the fall play, a hip-hop version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night—but she pauses to answer.

“For the kids. I could not let them down. . . . I realized this is where my whole life was going. . . . I love these kids. I love doing theater. And that’s it. I could care less what the administration says about me.”

She pauses a moment and just shakes her head as she ponders all that has happened. “This censorship was so blatant. Fifty-five minutes from New York City, in 2007,” she sputters in exasperation. “Didn’t they ever learn anything? Here we are fighting for democracy in Iraq—that’s the irony of it all.”

For one of their last performances at the Public Theater in New York, the parents and students decided to buy a plane ticket for Charlie Anderson to fly in. He was the navy seaman with PTSD whose words were brought to life by Jimmy Presson. As the show ended, Anderson walked up to Jimmy and embraced him in a giant bear hug. He then pinned his medic badge on Jimmy.

“The navy’s core values are honor, courage, and commitment,” Anderson told the student actors, “and I can say beyond any doubt that you all exemplified all of them.”

STUDENT: Who are we?
CAST: Just some kids from Connecticut.
We are not the future of America. We are America. One love.

From the book Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times By Amy Goodman and David Goodman Published by Hyperion April 2008;$23.95US; 978-1-4013-2288-5 Copyright © 2008 Amy Goodman and David Goodman

Execrpts from Noam Chomsky Interviewed by Amy Goodmam -April 14, 2009

Posted by
Venu K.M


AMY GOODMAN: And how do the Republicans differ from the Democrats in this? What do you make of—do you see it as just a minor footnote that Republicans, or some of the governors like Palin, like Jindal—

NOAM CHOMSKY: There's a difference.

AMY GOODMAN: —are saying they're not going to take stimulus money?

NOAM CHOMSKY: There's a difference. I mean, we basically are a kind of a one-party state. I think C. Wright Mills must have pointed this out fifty years ago. It's a business party, but it has factions—Democrats and Republicans—and they're different. They have somewhat different constituencies and different policies. And if you look over the years, the population has—the majority of the population has tended to make out better under Democrats than Republicans; the very wealthy have tended to make out better under Republicans than Democrats. So they're business parties, but they're somewhat different, and the differences can have an effect. However, fundamentally, they're pretty much along the same lines.

So take, say, the current financial crisis. Actually, it began under Carter. The late Carter administration is the one that began—was pushing for financialization of the economy, you know, huge growth of speculative financial capital, deregulation, and so on. Reagan carried it much further, and Clinton continued it. And then, with Bush, it kind of went off the rails.

So there are differences, but differences within a pretty narrow spectrum. And anyone who's a little off the spectrum, like Nobel laureates in economics who are a couple of millimeters off the spectrum, they're basically on the outside. You can interview them, but they don't show up at the economic summit.

Cock and Bull Godhra Report – Exclusive(Repost ; Orininally posted by Ravinder Singh

Posted by
Venu K.M

Cock and Bull Godhra Report – Exclusive
by Ravinder Singh

I don’t know why Indian press including TOI has not yet analyzed
Godhra Report that exposed gross incompetence of Modi government,
abuse of judiciary and crookedness of judges’ hand picked by Modi. Was
it bribed?

These reports are monitored by Human Rights Organizations, tarnishing
the image of Indian Judiciary and expose rotten Constitutional

http://home. gujarat.gov. in/homedepartmen t/downloads/ godharaincident. pdf

9. ---- No counsel for the Commission could be appointed because of
some difficulties. --.

12. ------Thus in all, 46,494 statements/affidavi ts were received by
the Commission. Out of them 2019 were statements/affidavi ts filed by
the Government officers and 44445 statements/ affidavits were received
from the public.

Can we believe in Modi Gujarat that signed Rs.12 lakh crore MoU
recently could not find any counsel to assist Godhra Commission in a
state of 60million in 2000 days? Counsels study and analyze evidence
in over hundred thousands of pages and are basically eyes and ears of
the commission were denied to Godhra Commission in Gujarat . This left
little option for Godhra Commission to toe the lines dictated by
councils of state nominated by Modi. There is ample evidence of it in
the Godhra Report.

31. Sabarmati Express train had arrived at Godhra railway station at
7.43 a.m. Its scheduled halt at Godhra railway station was of 5
minutes. During that halt of 5 minutes some incidents are stated to
have happened. The Ramsevaks had a qurrel with Siddiq Bakar, a tea
vendor. He was given two stick blows. Some other Ramsevaks had beaten
one Siraj and also Mohmed Latika. The fourth incident stated to have
happened was an attempt to abduct Sofiyabanu a Muslim girl standing on
the platform by a Ramsevak by pulling her towards the train. During
that halt at the Station, there was pelting of stones on the front
side of the train, by the persons standing outside the station. Some
passengers standing on the platform had also thrown stones towards
those persons. Two police constables had made the passengers sit in
the train and disperse the outsider.

From the last line of the Godhra Report when two constables were said
to have disperse the crowd points to one thing only there were few
miscreants not an organized crowd or mob – there was no preplanning
and drivers had clear view ahead otherwise wouldn’t have started
moving train. In pictures one could see high boundary wall run along
rail track (there is no break in the wall as stated by Godhra
Commission) so it was impossible for a mob to assemble and indulge in

48. Shri Ramfersing, (W-40) working as a Line Inspector in the
Telephone Department in Gujarat was returning with his family members
from his native place in Uttar Pradesh. He had boarded the train at
Lucknow . He had reservation for berths 62, 63 and 64 in coach no.S-6.
He had found that berths reserved by him were occupied by the
Karsevaks. Only after repeated requests made by him the Karsevaks had
vacated only one lower berth for him and his family members.
Satishkumar (W-41) had reservation for berths 33, 34 and 35 but had to
be satisfied with one berth only which was vacated for him and his
family by the Karsevaks. Govindsing, (W-46) an army Subedar had
reservation for berth no. 9. That berth was occupied by female
Karsevaks and they did not allow him to occupy that berth, He could
manage to get one seat on berth no. 32. Punamkumari (W-49) was
travelling with her father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law and
her son and had reservation for berths 18, 19, 20 and 21. Only one
berth was vacated by the Karsevaks for them. Lalanprasad (W-44) had
reservation for berths 8 and 72. He was allowed to occupy only one
berth. Shilaben Virpal (W-47) who was travelling with her husband and
daughter-in- law had reservation for berths Nos.58, 59 and 61.The
Karsevaks had refused to vacate those berths and, therefore, they had
to sit on the floor near those berths. Ramnaresh (W-1015) had to sit
with his family members near latrines along with 20 to 25 other
persons who were already sitting there .He was not allowed to occupy
any of the berths reserved by him . So also passenger Virpal had to
sit on the floor of the coach. He had complained to the T.T.E but was
told by the T.T.E. that it was impossible for him to do anything in
those circumstances. The evidence and statements of other passengers
who had travelled in that coach disclose almost the same thing about
over crowding in that coach.

25. The train was heavily over crowded. Apart from other passengers,
there were about 2200 Ramsevaks travelling therein. Most of them had
no reserved accommodation.

There is no evidence of Narindra Modi sponsored Yatris have reserved
even one seat. Number of free traveling Yatris could be even 3000. For
35 hours in each directions 1200 legal passengers, majority of them
women or children were forced to take one sleeper for entire family.
Men, women and children were held hostage for 35 hours, humiliated,
molested forced entire family them to sleep on one berth. It started
on 22nd evening and ended on 27th morning.

Break up of casualty figure is 22 men, 27 women and 10 children. DNA
tests could have proved almost all were relatives and surely none was
Yatris. Most strangely Godhra Report didn’t list the 48 injured who
could have provided vital clues.

1. A ghastly incident of fire in coach S/6 of Sabarmati Express train
happened in the morning of 27-2-2002, near Godhra railway station, in
which 59 passengers travelling in that coach were burnt alive. Amongst
the victims 27 were women and 10 were children. Other 48 passengers
had also received injuries. Most of the victims were Ramsevaks (also
referred to as Karsevaks). This incident (hereinafter referred to as
‘Godhra incident’) had happened sometime between 8.00 a.m. and 8.20
a.m. near ‘A’ cabin within the Godhra railway yard. Sabarmati Express
train had started from Muzaffarpur on 25-2-2002 and on its way to
Ahmedabad about 2000 to 2200 Ramsevaks had boarded the train from
Ayodhya. They had earlier gone from Gujarat to Ayodhya at the instance
of Vishva Hindu Parishad to take part in ‘Purnahuti Maha Yagna’, which
was a part of ‘Ram Temple Nirman’ programme organized by some Hindu
religious organizations.

Train started on 22nd evening and arrived at Godhra on 27th 7:45 AM no
arrangement was made for Yatris security, and food all along the route
when journey time was 2X35 hours. Godhra Commission didn’t try to
ascertain who cooked food for them and where.

23. Movement for renovation of the Ram temple at Ayodhya was started
in 1993. A ‘Sansad’ of Hindu religious organizations had met at Prayag
in January, 2001 to fix a programme for ‘Ram Temple Nirman’ i.e.
construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya. The programme had started with
‘Jalabhishek’ and was followed by ‘Jap Yagna’. As disclosed by the
statement of Vishva Hindu Parishad, lacs of persons through-out the
country had participated in the ‘Jap Yagna’. On completion thereof
‘Purnahuti Maha Yagna’ was arranged at Ayodhya. It was to start on
24.2.2002. Vishva Hindu Parishad is a leading Hindu religious
organization and had played a prominent role in this programme. It had
decided that its members who had taken part in the ‘Jap Yagna’ would
go to Ayodhya for the ‘Purnahuti Maha Yagna’. It had also decided that
from Gujarat initially three batches of Ramsevaks, each consisting of
about 2000 persons, would go to Ayodhya for taking part in that Yagna
which was to go on for 100 days. The first batch of Ramsevaks was to
consist of 2000 persons from the central and north Gujarat area. It
was to leave Ahmedabad by Sabarmati Express train on 22.2.2002 and
return to Gujarat again by the same train leaving Ayodhya on
25.2.2002. The second batch was to consist of Ramsevaks of south
Gujarat and it was to leave on 24.2.2002 and return on 27.2.2002.The
third batch of Ramsevaks of Saurashtra area was to leave on 26.2.2002
and return on 3.3.2002. Accordingly the first batch of 2200 Ramsevaks,
led by its General Secretary, had left Gujarat on 23.2.2002.They had
started their return journey on 25.2.2002.

DSP Raju Bhargav was first officer to reach the burning coach at 8:15
AM he didn’t see any hostile mob pelting stones or even carrying
inflammable materials, he didn’t smell anything foul. He met only 4-5
RPF men that also don’t indicate big crowd would have attacked the
train. “He has stated that he had seen Mohmmad Hussain Kalota,
President of the Godhra Municipality and Haji Bilal, a Municipal
Councilor standing near the fire fighter but he had not seen any crowd
near them. He had not met any PSI in charge of a mobile van.”

But most important disclosure was fire started from under the berths
is indicated by the large bluish material that leaked from the burning
coach in the middle of the coach on P-139 that confirms his
observation and supports Justice Bannerjee findings.

130. Babubhai who was in charge of Alpha mobile and had rushed to the
station, in his police statement dated 8-3-2002, had stated that he
had seen a mob near Signal Falia throwing stones on the train. One
coach of the train was already set on fire. He had, therefore, sent a
message to send Fire Brigade immediately. He had ordered firing of
tear gas shells for dispersing the mob. He had seen Godhra Municipal
Presient Shri Kalota and municipal councilor Haji Bilal in that mob..
They were inciting the Muslims. He had then gone near the train and
rendered help to the passengers.. His wireless operator Jashwantsinh
in his statement dated 8-3-2002 and Armed police constables Vinubhai
and Dalpatsinh in their statements to the police made on 9-3-2002,
have stated the same thing.

131. Sureshgiri Mohangiri Gosai ( W-30 ) was working as a fireman in
the Fire Brigade maintained by the Godhra municipality. He has stated
that they had received a vardhy at 8-20 a.m. that there was fire in
Sabarmati Express train near Signal Falia and, therefore, a fire
fighter be sent there immediately. So he had gone there with a fire
fighter, It was obstructed by a mob of about 1500 to 2000 persons near
old Octroi naka near Signal Falia. It was a mob of Muslims. At that
time Bilal Haji had come there on a motor cycle and had by gestures of
his hand incited the mob to stop the fire fighter there. Thereupon
some persons in the mob had thrown stones on the fire fighter. The
driver of the fire fighter had then driven the vehicle in such a way
that the mob had to move away. They had then taken their vehicle below
the culvert and then near the train. He has further stated that while
they were trying to extinguish the fire, stones were pelted on the
train. The fire was extinguished by about 11-00 a.m. In reply to a
question put to him by one of the parties, he has stated that 1500 to
2000 persons whom he had seen were in small mobs. He had reached near
the train at about 8-30 a.m. As a result of stones thrown by the mob
one or two persons on the fire fighter had received injuries. Some
persons in the mob had sticks, pipes etc. with them. An attempt was
made to show that since he was on the back side of the fire fighter,
he could not have seen what was in front of the fire fighter. However,
the witness has in terms stated that he had himself seen the mob which
was near Signal Falia. He himself had seen stones falling on the train
and it was for that reason the he had stated that there was pelting of
stones on the train. This witness is also an independent witness who
had nothing to do with the Ramsevaks or the railway staff or even the
police. His evidence thus establishes that there was a mob near Signal
Falia and that mob had tried to prevent the fire fighter from
proceeding further towards the train by obstructing it. His evidence
also established that the said mob was instigated by leaders like Haji
Bilal, Abdul Rehman and others.

132 DSP Raju Bhargav, ( W-31 ) has stated that on 27-2-2002 he and his
staff were making preparations for annual inspection by Spl. I.G.P.
Vadodara Range, at their police headquarter. At about 08.05 hrs. he
was informed by the Control Room that Sabarmati Express train carrying
Karsevaks was stopped at Godhra station and it was not being allowed
to start. He had, therefore, rushed to the railway station after
directing his RSI to come to the place of the incident with all
policemen present at the parade ground. While he was proceeding to the
railway station, he had heard on wireless that a coach of the train
was set on fire. He had reached the railway station at about 08.15
hrs. On inquiring about the incident, he was informed that “a train
coach had been set on fire near cabin ‘A’. He had then proceeded
towards ‘A’ cabin via Signal Falia. He had inquired from one of the
four police guards of GRP as to what had happened and he was informed
that “the train was stopped and there was heavy stone pelting on the
train and then they had fired some rounds.” He had found that the
passengers were in an agitated mood because the train was attacked.
While he was trying to pacify them some policemen had come there from
the headquarter. He had placed them all along the track for protecting
the passengers from any further attack. He had then informed Spl.
I.G.P. Vadodara Range , Vadodara at 08.26 Hrs. about the situation. He
had also informed the District Collector about it and requested her to
make arrangement for S.T.Buses and vehicles for shifting the

133 Replying to the questions put to him by the parties, he has stated
that when he had gone near the passengers and asked four GRP guards
and some RPF men who were standing there as to what had happened, he
was told by one of them that the train was stopped and there was heavy
stone pelting on the train and that they had fired some rounds to
disperse those mobs. He was also told that stones were pelted from the
side of Signal Falia. By the time he had reached near the burning
coach (S/6), it was about 8-25 a.m. He had immediately thereafter
informed the Collector for making necessary arrangements for safety of
the passengers. The passengers were in an agitated mood because the
train was attacked and many men were injured and killed by the mob
which had come there. While he was there he had not seen any mob
throwing stones on the train but had seen some onlookers. In reply to
a question put by Jan Sangharsh Manch, he has stated that injuries
which he had noticed on the passengers were on the upper part of their
bodies and that he had not noticed any injury below their waist. He
was also asked questions about the parts of the coach where he had
seen flames. He has further stated that he had come to know that the
fire had started from below a berth of that coach, but the passengers
had not made it clear which berth it was. He has also stated that he
had come to know that the passengers inside the coach ( S/6 ) had
moved from Godhra side to Vadodara side to escape the fire. On being
questioned as to whether he could smell any inflammable fuel, he has
stated that he had no time or opportunity to form any opinion as to
how the coach had caught fire. The persons whom he had seen standing
little away from the railway track were onlookers and they were not
aggressive. Replying to the suggestions, he has stated that from the
information that he had gathered from the passengers, he had come to
know that there was some scuffle when the train was at the station.
Then there was chain pulling immediately after the train had started.
Again there was chain pulling when the train had moved away from the
platform and thereafter there was heavy pelting of stones on the
train. As regards the cause for the scuffle on the platform, he was
given two versions. One version was that there was a dispute regarding
payment to one tea vendor and the other version was that an attempt
was made by one karsevak to pull a Muslim girl and take her inside the
train. He has stated that he had seen Mohmmad Hussain Kalota,
President of the Godhra Municipality and Haji Bilal, a Municipal
Councilor standing near the fire fighter but he had not seen any crowd
near them. He had not met any PSI in charge of a mobile van. In view
of the situation which had developed there, each officer was
performing his duty according to what he had thought fit. In the
Signal Falia it is not unusual for 400 to 500 persons to collect at
any time and at the time of namaz even more persons usually collect in
that area. The Police Parade Ground is about 2 Kms. away from Godhra
railway station and in a small vehicle it would take 7 to 8 minutes to
reach the station from the Parade ground. It was suggested that he had
not reached the Station before 8.30 a.m. The witness has denied that
suggestion and he appears to be right as he had already informed the
Collector from the Station at about 8.26 a.m. that there was fire in
the train and considering the then prevailing situation immediate
arrangements were required to be made to shift the passengers. On
consideration of the evidence, it appears that he had reached the
station at about 8.20 a.m. and near the train at about 8.25 a.m.
Obviously, after reaching there he must have made an inquiry as to
what had happened. Therefore, his version that he had inquired from
police guards and the passengers what had happened and that he was
informed by them that there was chain pulling and after the train had
stopped there was heavy pelting of stones and the police was required
to resort to firing to disperse the attacking mob. He was an officer
of a high rank and from the evidence that he has given, it clearly
appears that he has given a truthful version of what he had come to
know and what he had seen. By the time he had reached near the train
firing had already taken place and therefore, most of the persons in
the mob were likely to have gone away from that place. He therefore,
appears to be right when he states that he had not noticed a hostile
mob near the train and the persons who were seen there were merely

Most importantly the train was five hours late and was scheduled to
reach Godhra 2.55 AM, though we know information of late running of
trains is easily available but no criminal will execute such act of
arson in day time- 8 AM when 5-6 trains arrive and depart Godhra at
peak time.

Role of 2200 Yatris who illegally occupied Sabarmati Coaches was not
explained who were all supposed to be armed with Trishuls.

Similarly organizers role who ought to have arranged for safe travel
of their members and their names too were not disclosed..

Ravinder Singh

April20, 2009

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Communalism, Minority Identity And Secularism In The Time Of Elections 2009 – An Evaluation

Posted by
Venu K.M

Communalism, Minority Identity And Secularism In The Time Of Elections
2009 – An Evaluation

By Cynthia Stephen

07 April, 2009

“Majorities are of two sorts: (1) communal majority and (2) political
majority. A political majority is changeable in its class composition.
A political majority grows. A communal majority is born. The admission
to a political majority is open. The door to a communal majority is
closed. The politics of political majority are free to all to make and
unmake. The politics of communal majority are made by its own members
born in it.” – Dr. B. R. Ambedkar.

These prophetic words are very relevant in today’s India. “The world’s
largest democracy” prides itself on the fact that its voters are
showing more and more maturity in the results the elections throw up.
People-groups which have not hitherto played a major role in electoral
alliances are beginning to gain importance and “rainbow coalitions”
are the rule rather than the exception. A political majority is sought
to be built to fight elections and gain power. But what is happening
in the context of the communal majority?

For instance, the results of the recently Assembly elections in Jammu
and Kashmir show up a glaring fault-line, one that Ambedkar refers to
in the quotation. Never before had voters in J&K ever returned 10 BJP
representatives to the assembly, all from Jammu. The divide between
the Kashmir valley and Jammu was thrown into sharp relief. But the
emotive issue which ended in such polarization, just before the
election, was of the agitation on the issue of the allotment of land
for amenities for pilgrims going to Amarnath. While the issue was
communalized, the dividends were political. Gujarat is another clear
case in point, as is a recent controversy: Varun Gandhi and his
rabble-rousing speech which has been exploited both by the media and
the BJP to maximum dramatic effect.

The birthing of India took place on the hopeful though tearful dawn of
the 15th of August 1947, when British Imperialism conceived and
delivered offspring which were almost like conjoined twins: torn apart
into two on the basis of religious identity but held together by a
shared trauma of birth, history, geography and blood-ties. It was an
ominous portent. The two newly-born countries had a ruling class whose
class-caste identities were clear and unambiguously elitist, but in
India at least, their secular credentials were not under doubt. On
26th January 1950, and the founding dream of India: as a sovereign
republican democracy – became a reality, not chiefly by the efforts of
the Congressmen who had led the anti-colonial movement for India’s
political freedom, but by the tireless efforts of one man, whose
numerous contributions to his country was crowned by the singular
effort to produce the Constitution of India: Dr. B R Ambedkar, head of
the drafting committee of the Constituent Assembly. But as he
presented to the nation the most important work of his life, he
stated: “On the 26th January 1950, we are going to enter into a life
of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and
economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be
recognising the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value.
In our social and economic life, we shall by reason of our social and
economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one
value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions?
How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic
life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by
putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this
contradiction at the earliest possible moment else those who suffer
from inequality will blow up the structure of democracy which this
Constituent Assembly has so laboriously built up.”

But now, in the India of the third millennium, equality continues to
be denied, and contradictions abound. Communalism has taken the
centre-stage, leaving its bloody footprints on the sands of the
sixty-odd years of time that India has existed.

The Constitutional values of Equality and non-discrimination are the
bedrock on which rests the edifice of rights and freedoms of Indian
citizens. The Constitution recognizes, even celebrates, the diversity
and plurality of the country and its citizens, and guarantees equality
before the law to every citizen. But the very idea that our country is
universally secular, democratic and plural in experience is
problematic. It may be so for the privileged. But women, Dalits,
children, Christians and Muslims, especially those belonging to the
lower economic and social strata, and rural, forest, hill and
desert-dwelling populations experience a different, harsher reality -
of unrelenting exclusion, violence and deprivation.

But the spirit of Equality was violated by one of the earliest
executive actions performed by the first President of India, Shri
Rajendra Prasad. He signed the rank discriminatory Presidential Order
1950 in August that year, in which an apocryphal third paragraph was
introduced, which effectively denied the benefits of reservations to
members of the Scheduled castes who were Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians
(and Muslims). This was modified in 1956 to include Sikhs in
reservations and in 1990 to include Buddhists. And despite many
assurances, recommendations and protests, the fact is that Christians
and Muslims of Dalit origin continue to be denied the very amenities
that are theirs by right. Thus the principle of nondiscrimination on
the basis of religion which was embedded in the DNA of the Indian
state, has been bypassed by this order, even though the order is
against the spirit as well as the legal position of the Constitution,
and there the matter continues to stand.

Thus, clearly, while the de jure position is that every citizen in the
country is equal before law, the reality – the de facto position – is
that the religious and other minorities in fact face systemic
discrimination. The rule of the dominants, namely those who follow a
Brahminical and casteist mode of life, prevails. Ironically, though
this category is in a numerical minority, at best about 15% of the
country’s population overall, they comprise an overwhelming majority
in the government, the academic, the political sphere, the judiciary
and the private sector. The very poor implementation of reservations
at all levels in jobs and employment, barring the lowest or class D
category – is testimony to the discriminatory nature of our society
and policy. Thus even if the law provides proactive measures for
development of those who are backward or poor, the ‘iron frame’ of
privilege will work to exclude those who are eligible for the benefits
and try to appropriate them for itself. And if about 40% of our
population is below the poverty line, that is, too poor to afford
survival-level food consumption – then we need to ask how
representative, fair and democratic our political and social structure
actually are.

The silver lining to this cloud is the consolidation of the lower
castes, both in the political and educational spheres. This has
brought fresh thinking and new talent to the fore, even if the persons
concerned are inexperienced and less exposed to the nature of the
establishment, and for that reason are better able to bring about
much-needed changes in it. The impetus given by the Mandal Commission
report to this process - and the backlash in the form of the
“Kamandal” – the consolidation and mobilization of the saffron forces
to counter this – has yet to be fully understood. The Mandal
Commission evolved an index based on 11 indicators, subdivided into
three categories – social, educational and economic – for the
definition of the OBCs, and caste was not the sole criterion. Three of
the indicators concerned caste, while the others referred to other
impediments to the progress of the people group including early
marriage – a barrier to education – and other criteria such as
percentage of the caste who owned at least kuccha housing.

Christophe Jaffrelot, in his “India’s Silent Revolution: The rise of
the low castes in North Indian politics” points out that the entire
purpose of the exercise of the Commission was to give the OBCs access
to power, not jobs. He quotes from the report – “ It is not at all our
contention that by offering a few thousands jobs to OBC candidates we
shall be able to make 52% of the Indian population as forward”. The
report goes on to say that “an essential part of the battle against
social backwardness is to be fought in the minds of the backward
people. In India government service has always been looked upon as a
symbol of prestige and power. By increasing the representation of OBCs
in government services, we give them an immediate feeling of
participation in the governance of this country. When a backward class
candidate becomes a Collector or a Superintendent of Police, the
material benefits accruing from his position are limited to the
members of his family.. [B]ut the psychological spin off of this
phenomenon is tremendous; the entire community of that backward class
feels socially elevated. Even when no tangible benefits flow to the
community at large the feeling that it now has its ‘own man’ in the
‘corridors of power’ acts as a morale booster.” The report further
says “reservation will certainly erode the hold of the higher castes
on the services.”

How is this relevant to the discourse on communalism? It has a very
important bearing on the discourse, because before Mandal, conversion
to “other” religions was an important, and often the only option for
upward social mobility of disadvantaged groups. Thus India saw
large-scale conversions at various times in the past to Islam, at a
time in its history where Muslims were the ruling class, for example
in Gujarat, Central India and in Bengal. Similarly the latter part of
British rule in India, after the East India Company lost its hold on
the affairs of the colonial project, and the Crown took over, saw a
surge in the numbers of people from the untouchable and lower castes
who became Christians because of a similar process – from being
excluded from access to the corridors of power, they saw the virtues
of becoming co-religionists of the ruling class so as to feel a sense
of belonging and identity with the powers-that-be. Thus the conversion
process, at least in the past, had a lot to do with the contemporary
political processes.

In the present day, the rise in saffron assertion has closely
paralleled the growth of the political aspirations of the lower castes
following the Mandal Commission. The Sangh Parivar also kicked in
around the same time with a thrust into the communities of the
subalterns with their Vanvasi Kalyan, Ekal Vidyalayas, and the Bajrang
Dal. Thus the threat perception of the ruling classes – that the
processes unleashed by the Mandal Commission would succeed in
subverting their hold on power – caused them to, on the one hand,
reach out to the subaltern classes to build a constituency among them,
and on the other, drive a wedge between the so-called “Hindus” and the
Minorities by demonising them by harping “differences” between the
minorities and the “Hindus”. The organizations using the name of Ram
such as the Ram Sena are usually composed of the more dominant caste,
thereby underscoring the inherent caste-class divide and power
relations implied in the relationships (Hanuman – Bajrang Bali – the
devotee of Lord Shri Ram).

As the wheels of Advani’s Rath rolled over the Indian landscape in the
1990s and subsequently, the power surge - Orissa, Chhatisgarh, MP,
Bihar, Delhi - suggests a seemingly broad-based support for the RSS-
sponsored communal agenda. But straws in the wind suggest that we have
not yet seen the real face of Fascism. Bangar Laxman, Uma Bharathi and
Kalyan Singh were all elevated to positions of power and later
discarded, after their communities appeared to buy into the Parivar’s
agenda. All of them were Dalits or BCs. Narendra Modi, though no one
thinks of his caste, is also said to belong to a BC community – the
Teli caste. He too has been used to do some major dirty work for the
Parivar. Soon the time will come when he too will be dispensed with.
Even Advani – with his Sindhi origin and his householder status – too
does not fit into the Fascist scheme of the RSS. Soon, he too will
bite the dust and a quintessential RSS man – single, Brahmin or
upper-caste will either be projected for leadership. Alternatively,
the BJP itself will be eclipsed and become a footnote in Indian
politics, while an upper-caste preferably Brahmin “Brahmachari” from
the RSS will wrest control of the political space presently occupied
by the BJP. Hardline Brahminism, Patriarchy, and Fascism will combine
to try and occupy democratic spaces and take over the governance. The
situation of the Dalits, religious minorities and women will see a
rapid decline.

With this end in mind, the ruling class have set into motion a series
of processes aimed at exploiting the existing fault-lines in Indian
society and channeling the desire of the subaltern classes to be close
to the seat of power by enabling formations such as the Dharm Raksha
Sena, the Bajrang Dal, etc. They also appropriate local linguistic
sensibilities by infiltrating or taking them over – such as happened
in Karnataka with the Kannada Rakshana Vedike. It is ironical that one
section of Kannada “Abhimanis” bought into the saffron agenda because
even a cursory glance will reveal the non-Brahmin provenance of the
linguistic and cultural heritage of the Kannada people – Basava,
Akkammahadevi, Kanakadasa and other luminaries who have enriched the
literature and philosophy of this ancient land and language can hardly
be termed Brahminical.

But the sad irony is that the true inheritors of the legacy of social
struggle, progressive and subaltern assertion appear to have lost the
capacity to counter the communal agenda. Instead they have become
pawns in the hands of those who propagate the Fascistic saffron
communal agenda. Most in India are aware that the Sangh Parivar, and
chiefly the RSS, its intellectual fountainhead – is actually a vehicle
for Fascism. In the south, the vibrant non-Brahmin movement in Tamil
Nadu has kept the Parivar at bay in Tamil Nadu. The Left and the
relatively larger percentage of Islamic-Christian populations has to
some extent retarded their progress in Kerala. But while Karnataka
appears to have been won over, the first real support for the Parivar
in the South was actually in Andhra Pradesh, because the first ally of
the BJP was the TDP which enabled the NDA to rule in Delhi for a whole
term for the very first time. But Karnataka’s social realities are
very different from AP, where the minorities rallied together to send
the TDP packing in the state elections, to punish it for its dalliance
with the BJP. Even in Karnataka, the pockets of support for the BJP
are not widespread, but only in parts of the state – the coastal and
North-western areas. The South and most of the North-eastern part of
Karnataka do not seem to be much enamoured of the Parivar. But the
secular political forces have failed to see the writing on the wall
and come together to counter its agenda. This has caused the BJP to
come to power in the state on a negative vote. Will our politically
savvy voters now save the day for our state, even though the leaders
seem to betray them time after time?

All is not lost - thinkers and scholars, writers and grassroots
political activists, and newer political formulations are waking up to
the realities. People in Karnataka were shocked to see the ugly face
of the Parivar in their own backyard or rather in their own drawing
rooms, as TV channels gave blanket coverage to footage of the public
beating of women in a restaurant in Mangalore, and some footage
emerged of unprecedented attacks on churches in the town too. In the
same region, for the past two years there were communal incidents
involving the sale of beef – mainly against Muslims. As one astute
grassroots political activist in Bangalore pointed out, the violence
against minorities is carefully orchestrated. They target Muslim for
their Beef-eating and selling, Christians for conversions, and Dalits
are targeted for casteist atrocities if they become assertive. It is
not as if Dalits or Christians don’t eat or trade in beef; or that
Muslims or Christians are not asserting. And conversions happen both
among Dalits and Muslims, but they are not targeted on this issue.
They target these three groups on three different issues so that they
cannot come together to oppose the Parivar’s agenda. In fact, on some
issues there are bound to be differences between the three subaltern
groups. And the Parivar is fishing in these waters to gain political

The RSS has shown ingenuity in enlisting youths from subaltern groups
and co-opting them into their agenda, at a time when secular and even
progressive democratic forces have ceded their spaces. Where are the
active students’ movements of the 70s and 80s? Have the educational
institutions and universities actively discouraged the activity of
these groups? Or did changed social expectations de-politicise our
youth so that they can no longer distinguish between fascism and
democracy? How can we educate young people about the dangers of
fascism? Even the strong trade union movements of the 80s have been
weakened by internal contradictions, by attrition in policies and by
sheer economic compulsions. Thus the existing political awareness in
society has been

To go back to the quotation cited at the beginning of this paper, has
our inaction succeeded in making what was surely only a communal
majority into a political majority? Is it too late already? A peep
into the future suggest that there may still be time. There is still
space for sections of society who have so far been marginalized from
these processes to come to the fore, such as women, youth and the
professional class, at least those from the newly upwardly mobile
classes. Their involvement and fresh thinking, their identification of
issues and location of solutions will bring in a new vibrance to our
maturing democratic system.

Cynthia Stephen is an Independent Researcher, based in Bangalore

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Posted by
Venu K.M
Malayalam - a language spoken by 30-35 million people (about 0.5- 0.6
percent of all living humans!)- certainly needs to be "protected"!
At the same time, it also needs to be unshackled of its narcissistic
fetishism; you will certainly and most naturally like to communicate
with other Malayalees ; but your editor is more likely to decide that
"this kind of stuff(often a translation, or any original text
comprising a particular political theme or an idea rarely discussed in
the mainstream Malayam socio-political and cultural space)will not
suit the taste of our readers".
I am afraid dearth of creativity itself, or language per se is not
the problem rather than the extremely debilitating habit of not
looking around and relocating ourselves vis a vis the rest of humans.
As we prepare to fight against newer forms of onslaughts on our
language, we owe a concurrent commitment to radicalize it by attempts
in democratizing, de-gendering,
de-patriarchalizing , de-casting /de-brahmanizing the language.
For example, we are still able to cling on to cliches like
"agolavalkkaranathinte chathikkuzhikal"as evidenced by the Women's
Commission's advertisement on March 08 suggesting women and girls ways
to defend themselves against "peedanam" : virtually to shun public
places, keep out of the range of hostile mobile phones (as they would
be photographed and ultimately end up as victims of some sex racket)
keeping out of the range of cyber crimes by avoiding chats,etc through
the internet and so on. Surprisingly but quite understandably from the
Malayalee/Kerala background of common sense, it invokes hardly any
idea of resistence by the women either collectively or as ndividuals.
We look as though more than complacent with our language and culture
and apparently don't want to instil dynamism in the language..why else
we continue to buy the drab stories and features of these mainstream
Malayalam newspapers and journals without any questions? Don't we
realize that by employing a feudal,patriarchal and brahmanical
vocabulary ostensibly catering to the peoples' tastes they often
literally "cover" events, rather than speak truth? It is probable that
many of us no longer want to move ahead of the little circles of
professions,peculiar ways of realpolitik-ing , family gatherings,so on and so forth.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Arundhati on the Double Standards on the World Health Day

Posted by
Venu K.M


"Tomorrow is World Health Day. Dr Binayak Sen spent the best part of
his life working among the poorest people in India, who live far away
from the government's attentions, with no access to clinics,
hospitals, doctors or medicines. He has saved thousands from certain
death from malaria, diarrhea, and other easily treatable illnesses.
And yet, he is the one in jail, while those who boast openly about
mass murder are free to go about their business, and even stand for
What does this say about us? About who we are and where we're going?"

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always want to defend peace, justice, peoples' right to love each other and live with dignity,struggles against parochial visions and hatred;instinctively a defender of socialist and democratic values