Monday, November 2, 2015

Editorial: Critique Magazine [3:2, March-August, 2015] Confronting Discrimination

- Critique Collective

Baltimore Uprising, 2015. Photo: Devin Allen
Modernity exhorts humans to be free; free to choose, think, express, associate, earn a living, or simply to be. Liberal democracy proclaims that under its rule all humans enjoy these freedoms equally. Market capitalism tempts humans with its promise of consumptive freedom. Old bondages of direct community control are facing new challenges. A khap panchayat of Jat caste confederacy in Haryana cannot control young women and men in shopping malls and MNC workplaces. Deep and far reaching social changes is in the air, mediated by technological revolutions in mobility and communication, new forms of employment, entertainment and mores. An unprecedented social mix is the immediate product. A place like the Delhi University now has Dalit students, first from their families to have post-school education; young women students from the North-East of the country, hijab wearing students from Kashmir, bright students who do not cover up their alternate sexuality, and many more, some as much, and others not so noticeable. Exhortations, proclamations, and temptations, do fashion all of us, in our hopes, aspirations and dreams, yet they also mask, or simply do not register a big part of social life. The freedom actually experienced by a significant number of human is also brutally stamped by discrimination. The two are closely associated. It is only because of the possibility of freedom that discrimination is recognized and challenged.

This issue of Critique is centered on discrimination in the current world, from the cities of the US where African American young men face regular racial violence from police and civil vigilantes, to the villages of Madhya Pradesh, where Dalits oppressed for millennia in the Hindu caste society are not free to change their religion. The experience of discrimination is singular piercing, yet it is done in such an atmosphere of normality that the ones of who discriminate often are not even aware that they have done something odd. Such is the racism among the majority of the so called mainstream Indians. ‘White-washing the Paints on the Wall’ by Amrapali Basumatary provides an insight into the racism experienced by people from the ‘North-East’ and by immigrant African students. Stereotyping is a gross understatement of the aggressive ridicule and violence that these people face in the national capital. Visible facial differences and skin colour are surface excuses for racism. Its roots are ancient in the hegemonic Aryan culture.

Conservative thinkers like Dumont have found Hindu caste system to be the ideal form of hierarchy. Sinthujan Varathararajah’s ‘Sikke Ke Do Pahlu Hain’ is a reflection on the unsaid agony and confusion of being a child of a mixed Dalit and caste Hindu parentage in Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora. Protective parents of such children are forced by histories to teach them to tell lies about their family origins, even while in far off countries. Despite all efforts, when at the age of twenty two, their child, now a young man writes his first poem on experience of caste, all they can say while crying is that ‘You too could not escape from it!’. ‘Discomfort or an Identity’ by Zaara Wakeel and Hafsa Sayeed is about the experiences of being a Muslim and a hijab wearing young woman in a country whose dominant culture has turned virulently Hindutva recently. Everyday life for them requires an ever present caution for security, as for a Muslim seller of rolls near the university who has put up a Hindu religious sign on his shop. Hijab, a mere dress, is seen as the full identity. It does not matter what she is; as if her interests, thinking and feelings do not exist, she is just a walking hijab. However, whenever possible her Kashmiri identity too is immediately seized upon, with comments and jokes about terrorism.

Kishore Jha in ‘Hamara Bhavishya unkaa Vartmaan’ discusses discrimination suffered by children in families and schools. Children live in a half-way house; they are part of humanity, some would even claim they are its most prized part, yet they are not accepted as fully human. In families and schools children live in environments in which they have little say. Kishore Jha raises the point that the discrimination against children is fundamentally different from other discrimination. It is not motivated by hatred; rather children often suffer because of the ‘care’ their elders bestow upon them.

Human attitudes towards others are often determined by what they consider as normal. Difference, marginality, etc., ie; all the characteristics which enter any discussion on discrimination are defined with reference to ‘normal’. The normal state of affairs are actually structured arenas of privilege, and hence of discrimination. The other group of articles in this issue addresses discrimination through critiques of normality. Satish Deshpande’s ‘Kya Jati Ka Unmoolan Sambhav Hai?’ is an attempt to answer the question in the light of post independence scheme of universal citizenship in India. Deshpande’s contention is that under the rubric of merit, the scheme ensured that upper caste Hindus were able to convert their caste privileges into preferential access to state resources. Their access to education and jobs came to be justified as a normal consequence of merit. The converse of this ‘normality’ is that oppressed castes’ access to state resources through reservations is not recognized as a consequence of the political right to equality, but as a social welfare measure that necessarily compromises merit.

‘White Lives Matter is Redundant’ by Rahsaan Mahedeo is a critical look at the politics of anti-racism in the US, which has seen a recent spate of murders of African American men by police and armed white civilians. The starting point of his article is a march in Minnesota against racial violence in which the slogan ‘Black Lives Matter’ was out-voiced by ‘All Lives Matter’. His argument is that under normal circumstances in the US, white lives already matter much more than black lives. Hence, a slogan which implies that ‘whites lives also matter’ is redundant. 

Vikramaditya’s ‘Why is it Difficult to See Eye to Eye’ is an acute comment on the normal positions of solidarity with the LGBT movement. Following the latest judgment of the Supreme Court on the issue, it is a crime to be non-heterosexual in India. Authors like Vikram Seth have publicly denounced the judgment and asserted their alternative sexuality. Interestingly, many political parties too have issued statements questioning the judgment, and only the BJP has publicly supported it. So where do the queer stand in Indian public? In a little corner, according to Vikram. Acknowledgement and accommodation of difference are not synonymous with a truly liberated public sphere. Can we imagine a mode of social life, which does not privilege hetero-normativity as the center, but is open to diverse modes of human life being considered significant at different times and contexts?

The state of Madhya Pradesh in the geographical heart of India is rarely in news. It is one of the most backward states in the country. A significant part of its population is Adivasi and Dalit, but it has seen little of the social churning seen in other states. ‘Upper’ caste Hindus remain socially, economically and politically dominant. For long it has been a laboratory for Hindtvisation of society and polity. Anees Javed in ‘Madhya Pradesh: Bhagva Mansoobon Kaa Garh’ looks at the recent conversion of Dalits in Shivpuri district to Islam and their re-conversion under duress. He looks at the official data of discrimination against Dalits to explain why they converted in the first place. Sanjay Kumar’s ‘Liberal Moral Economy and Discrimination' starts from the double meaning of the word discrimination as a capability to distinguish the good from the bad, and the currently commonplace meaning implying an unjustified behaviour towards others. The perception and struggle against discrimination is often stamped by the types of freedoms available in hegemonic discourses. In this light he looks at different state policies meant to counter discrimination; reservations in India and affirmative action/multiculturalism in Western liberal democracies. He presents a case for a new type of universality that encourages self-criticality, rather than forcing homogeneity.

Other articles confront diverse issues faced by today's youth. 'Mexico's 43 Missing Students: We won't be silenced!' by Meztli Yoalli Rodriguez Aguilera looks at the kidnapping and murder of students of a rural teachers' school by a criminal gang at the behest of the mayor of the town Iguala in southern Mexico. Mainstream media has covered the gruesome crime mainly as a expose of the nexus between politics and drug mafia in the country. Aguilera's article also looks at the radical role Rural Normal schools, in which these students studied, have played in Mexico. The US sponsored 'War on Drugs' is a tool to get governance in large parts of Latin America aligned with US strategic interests. Rather than saving citizens of these countries from any crime, it has led to increasing criminalisation of politics and securitisation of public life.

Mr. Modi's victory in national election has brought about a qualitative deterioration in the public environment. Saffron groups in many parts have attacked young couples in parks, restaurants and pubs. The youth have responded by the 'Kiss of Love' campaign to directly confront Hindutva terror. The most bold episode of this campaign was a demonstration near the RSS main office in Jhandewalan in Delhi by students of many universities in the city. Not only was the saffron gang confronted in its lair, the radical politics of the 'Kiss of Love' campaign also came to the fore. It is not that the youth only want a secure public space for love, they are challenging the construction of a patriarchal and brahmanical culture by the right wing. 'Kiss of Love: Chumma Naheen, Chingari Hai' by Pratik Ali is a hard hitting response to the charge of 'indecency' used by saffron groups to spread their terror.

Shantam Goyal's 'Must we Think: Seeing the Old and the New in the Public art of Delhi' is a reflection on public art in the city. He looks at a number of public art pieces, in swanky shopping mall and an 1857 memorial, to understand 'how are to see public correct; does it merit interpretation; are its concern purely aesthetic; what kind of politics does this kind of art incorporate ...?'   

'Rashtriya Sanskriti ka Ghalmel: Sanskrit Sikshaa Ke Bahaane' by Prabhat places the decision of the Modi government to make Sanskrit mandatory for the students of Central Schools in the politics of making of a national culture. Ever since 19th century, this component of nation building has been an important vehicle for the ideological domination of brahminical upper castes. The construction of a sanskritised national culture and history has involved false claims, and discursive violence against the actual diversity of India.

We hope readers will find both a mirror and a catalyst in this issue of Critique; a mirror to the diverse realities of discrimination, and a catalyst for a radical critique and action.


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