02 February 2017

John Berger : A firm Marxist who transformed art history

(Source: Socialist Worker) John Berger, who died on 2 January at the age of 90, was the most important writer on art in the last 60 years or more. There will be those in the academic and art worlds who would reject this judgment. But in terms of influence on the wider culture globally, it is clearly true. This is all the more remarkable because he was an intransigent rebel and Marxist. One of his earliest works, a collection of essays taken from his time as the New Stateman art critic, was called Permanent Red. The title was a declaration of intent that, “I would never compromise my opposition to bourgeois culture and society.” He stood by his word. Berger was much more than an art writer. He was a painter, poet, novelist, film writer, playwright, political and social essayist, philosopher and more. His range was extraordinary. It went from examining the lives of peasants in the French Alps, among whom he lived for over 30 years, to looking at animals to a dialogue with Zapatista leader Subcommandante Marcos. This exceptional breadth of knowledge and sensibility made his writing on art so powerful. However it was on art that he made his major intellectual contribution and for which he will be most remembered. This brings us to his best known work—the TV series Ways of Seeing and book of...

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A Tribute to Sulabha Brahme

Eminent economist, Marxist intellectual, political and social activist Dr. Sulabha Brahme passed away after a brief illness at her residence on December 2, 2016. She was 84 years old. She was active till the last moments of her life. A week before her death she attended a meeting at Purandar with local residents to oppose the proposed airport. Her last article was about the devastating impact of the demonetisation on ordinary people. Born as daughter of eminent economist and Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission D. R. Gadgil and eminent social worker Pramila Gadgil (Kale) she finished her schooling at Huzurpaga in Pune. She then went on to study at the S.P.College and did her PhD from the Gokhale Institute of Economics and Politics, Pune where she was later Reader and also Registrar. During her tenure at the GIPE she conducted a large number of socially relevant studies including two important reports on the Regional Development Plan for Marathwada and Land Use in Western Maharashtra.She was a member of the Board of Directors of the Bank of Maharashtra. She founded the Shankar Brahme Samaj Vidnyan Granthalaya which became a centre for left, progressive and secular tendencies in Pune and Maharashtra conducting research, publishing important pamphlets on topical issues and organising activities to create awareness. The range of her passionate involvement in people’s movements and issues was staggering – from economic...

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How Om Puri Should Be Remembered

(Sanjay Joshi, Convener, The Group, Jan Sanskriti Manch and of Cinema of Resistance, remembers Om Puri. Cinema of Resistance plans to organise screenings of Om Puri’s films and has appealed to people to come forward to host such screenings.) In the 1970s and 1980s the National Film Development Corporation- aided production of films in Hindi by directors like Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani, Tapan Sinha, Kumar Sahni, Mani Kaul, Avtar Kaul, Basu Bhattacharya, Prakash Jha, Ketan Mehta, Sayeed Mirza, Kundan Shah, M Sathyu, Mrinal Sen, Sagar Sarhadi, Muzaffar Ali, Pradeep Krishan and others resulted in the birth of the so-called ‘New Wave’ in the Hindi film world. I use the term ‘so-called’ for this New Wave because contrary to the mainstream Bombay cinema it was unable to develop either its own independent market or its own distribution system. The whole ‘wave’ was dependent on the State, therefore it sank into oblivion when the state withdrew its support. Be that as it may, this wave did give much that was new to Hindi cinema. Apart from the young directors, a team of very talented script-writers and technicians was working to build this wave; a new kind of acting was also hugely responsible for the common people’s recognition of this new cinema. Along with Amrish Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Amol Palekar, KK Raina, MK Raina, Sadhu Meher, Anant Nag, Farooq Sheikh,...

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Rising Inequality In The World And In India

Oxfam International released a study report, ‘An economy for the 99%’, on January 16, which found that the world’s wealthiest eight men own the same wealth as the poorest half of people in the world. It blames this situation squarely on economic policies and on the economic system: “The very design of our economies and the principles of our economics have taken us to this extreme, unsustainable and unjust point.” The report also showed that “While some billionaires owe their fortunes predominantly to hard work and talent …one-third of the world’s billionaire wealth is derived from inherited wealth, while 43% can be linked to cronyism.” The report also traced how across the world, the richest individuals and corporations tend to have a great deal of control over political processes and leaders – thereby undermining democracy. The report noted the growing wage gap and decline of workers’ collective bargaining power all over the world. It noted the role of corporations in driving this global inequality crisis: “Squeezing labour and production costs and minimizing taxes allow corporations to hand an ever-growing proportion of these profits to their owners. In publicly listed companies, this drive for ever-greater profit has delivered rich rewards for shareholders…. In India, as profits have been rising for the 100 largest listed corporations, the share of net profits going to dividends has also increased steadily over the last...

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Is A Murder Motivated By Communal Hate Less Serious Than Other Murders?

A Bombay HC bail order by Justice Mridula Bhatkar, granting bail to three of the men accused of killing Mohsin Sheikh of Pune, opines that a communally motivated murder may be a less serious offence than other murders. Such an observation has dangerous implications – and points to deep-seated communal biases in the judiciary itself. In June 2014, Mohsin Sheikh who worked in a Pune software firm, was beaten to death by Hindu Rashtra Sena members while he and his friend Riyaz were on their way home after offering prayers at a masjid. The Hindu Rashtra Sena leaders like Dhananjay Desai had held meetings and made provocative speeches calling for revenge for morphed pictures of Bal Thackeray and Chhatrapati Shivaji that were circulating on social media. Mohsin Sheikh had nothing to do with the posts: he had been targeted and lynched to death because he was identifiably Muslim. Two years later, the main issue is not that several of those accused of murdering Sheikh have been given bail. Of the 17 arrested for Sheikh’s murder, several have already been granted bail on various grounds. The Supreme Court has held that bail may be granted to any accused keeping the following considerations in mind: “(i) whether there is any prima facie or reasonable ground to believe that the accused had committed the offence; (ii) nature and gravity of the accusation;...

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Will SC Verdict on Secularism Curb Electoral Hate Speech?

Ever since the 1990s, communal and casteist propaganda and hate-speech has become a staple of election propaganda, poisoning political discourse deeply. Section 123 of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951 (Act) lays down that appeals by candidates for votes on the grounds of religion, race, caste, community or language or the use of, or appeal to religious symbols amount to “corrupt practices.” But the interpretation of this Section by various Courts has remained mired in confusions, helping politicians leap the legal hurdle posed by the RPA. After all, we have seen how appeals for votes based on a Ram Temple – undeniably a religious symbol – have not faced any serious legal hurdles, helping to catapult the BJP into the status of a major national party. One of the key interpretations that had smoothed the way for communal propaganda in elections was the Supreme Court judgment of 1995 that held that “Hindutva or Hinduism is a way of life of the people in the sub-continent” and that therefore appeals by Shiv Sena to Hindutva for votes did not amount to corrupt practice. That judgement, by a Bench headed by Justice JS Verma, had held that “a mere statement that the first Hindu State will be established in Maharashtra is by itself not an appeal for votes on the ground of his religion but the expression, at best, of such...

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Convention by Left and Democratic Parties in Assam

Left and Democratic Parties in Assam organised a Joint Convention on 18th January at Rabindra Bhawan, Guwahati against forcible eviction of people and issues with the process of registering Assam’s people under the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Left and Democratic Manch (LDM) comprising of eleven left and democratic parties – CPI(ML), CPI, CPI(M), RCPI, AIFB, JD(S), Liberal Democratic Party, AAP, NCP, Asom Samgrami Manch and RSP, has been jointly fighting against anti-people policies and steps of BJP Government in Assam. It has taken up a series of movements – against privatization of oil fields, against forcible and communally motivated eviction and against communally motivated proposals to amend the Citizenship Amendment Bill in a way which would undermine the Assam Accord. The Sarbananda Sonowal led BJP Government in connivance with the Sangh Parivar in Assam is conducting an eviction drive on communal lines, spreading rumours that the evicted people are suspected Bangladeshis and therefore to be evicted immediately. People were evicted in different places like Kaziranga, Mayeng and Sipajhar and even in the state capital Guwahati. Most of these people are Muslims, and have already suffered displacement due to flood and erosion. The Government has not offered any compensation and rehabilitation t the evicted people. The BJP government is trying to set up a ‘land bank’ and grab land to allot to the corporate houses and big business. In...

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A Man-Made Mine Disaster

On 29 December at 7.10 pm, an open cast Rajmahal mining project in the Lal Matia coal mine of the Eastern Coalfields Ltd in Godda, Jharkhand, caved in, burying alive more than 100 mine workers 300 feet below the ground. At least 18 workers are reported killed and a large number continued to be trapped, feared killed. Just four days ago, this mine had been closed when workers had raised safety concerns. But two days later the CMD RR Mishra came and surveyed the mine and ordered that mining be resumed and the mine work even be expanded. So the project management intensified the mining work. A Director General of Mines Safety officer Rajiv Guha from the ECL’s Kolkata Headquarters visited the mine. He also gave a green signal to the mining work. On the day of the accident also, a worker had warned at 2 pm itself that there were signs that the mine might cave in. But the Project Manager Pramod Kumar Singh just took an hour for a token safety inspection and then ordered the mining work resumed at 4 pm. News reports also state that workers again raised the alarm at 6 pm but to no avail. The mining is outsourced to three companies, of which the main one is the Mahalakshmi Company which is notorious for employing only migrant labour, not local labour, and...

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12th Martyrdom Day of Comrade Mahendra Singh

Comrade Mahendra Singh was remembered all over Jharkhand on his 12th martyrdom day on 16 January 2017. People gathered in Bagodar as well as in his native village Khambra and other parts of the state in huge numbers and reiterated their pledge to carry forward his legacy, struggles and dreams. Jan Panchayats (people’s court) were organised on this day in all districts of Jharkhand where panchayat representatives rejected amendments to CNT and SPT Acts in these jan panchayats. People gathered in the morning in Khambra to garland the statue of Comrade Mahendra Singh. CPI(ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya and politburo members DP Bakshi and Manoj Bhakta joined them to pay tributes. Floral tributes offered at the Party office in Bagodar before all of them joined the Jan Panchayat at the bus stand grounds which took the shape of a massive rally as tens of thousands of people assembled to remember their beloved leader. This was addressed by comrade Dipankar, DP Bakshi, Marxist Coordination Centre (MCC) leader and MLA Arup Chatterjee, Dayamani Barla, Manoj Bhakta and other leaders. Mahendra Singh’s concern and devotion towards people was reflected in his militant and struggling persona. His struggles reverberated as a challenge to the politics of loot and repression inside the state Assembly which was his unique contribution in the politics of Jharkhand. Jan Panchayats were held in all parts of state resolved...

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A Huge But Partial Victory:

The Free Pricol 8 campaign organized by the Party all over the country for the release of 8 worker comrades of Pricol who were sentenced to double life imprisonment has won a huge though partial victory in the Madras High Court.Of the total 27 comrades who were chargesheeted for murder and criminal trespass with intent to kill, 25 are now acquitted while two remain convicted. The two convicted comrades who earlier carried double life imprisonment on them have been sentenced to life imprisonment now. 27 comrades including Comrade S Kumarasami, National President, AICCTU and 4 women comrades were charge-sheeted for offenses under section 120 B, Section 302 and other sections of IPC in Sessions case75 of 2011. This case was tried by the bomb blast cases court in Coimbatore. On 03.12.2015 the Sessions court convicted vanguards of the Pricol workers’ struggle Comrades Manivannan, Ramamurthy, Rajendran, Sivakumar, Velmurugan, Saravankumar, Sampathkumar, Gunabalan to double life imprisonment for murder and criminal trespass with intent to kill. They were also punished for causing damages under the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Damages to Public Property Act. All 27 comrades were acquitted on the charge of criminal conspiracy. 19 comrades were acquitted of all other charges in the trail court itself. Against the acquittal of 19 comrades of all charges and the acquittal of the 8 comrades of the charge of criminal conspiracy the state...

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Singur Then, Bhangor Now :

The land grab and repression on peasants’ resistance in Singur and Nandigram cost the CPI(M) its decades-long Government in West Bengal. The TMC, posing as the champion of peasants against land grab, had made its way to power. Now, the TMC Government has unleashed firing on villagers in Bhangor who were resisting land grab, killing two villagers. The firing at Bhangor took place on the very day the West Bengal State Government hosted the Global Industrial Summit at Kolkata with great fanfare and Mamata told the gathering that Bengal is the most preferred destination for industry. The CM Mamata Banerjee had assured farmers via a tweet: “No land will be acquired if people don’t want to give away land. Proposed power grid will be relocated if required.” However this tweet was subsequently deleted. Instead, Mamata Banerjee blamed “outsiders” for the agitation against land grab and tweeted, “Maoists are responsible for violence in Bhangor.” Sovandeb Chattopadhyay, the TMC Incharge of 24 Parganas, and the Mayor and Minister of urban affairs even threatened stern action if the ongoing ‘development’ work was disturbed. It is impossible not to recall that the TMC’s predecessors too had sought to discredit and blame the peasants’ agitation at Singur and Nandigram as a conspiracy by “outsiders” and “Maoists” to disturb ‘development’. The Bhangor firing has exposed the TMC’s double standards and hypocrisy on the issue of...

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Mass Molestation in Bengaluru: Who Is To Blame?

Bengaluru was shamed by the mass molestation of women out in open on the eve of New Year 31st December 2016 at Brigade and MG Road, that too in presence of police! Cries for help were louder than the NY greetings. Cops were everywhere as ‘elaborate’ security arrangements were made with 1500 police and 560 CCTV cameras strategically placed. Even a special task force was said to be ready for any eventualities. By midnight hooligans in the garb of revelers started pawing, molesting and passing lewd remarks to women in the streets, forcing some of the women to literally take off their shoes and run for help. Once the crowd control began, many young women, some of them weeping started to run towards women police officers to save themselves. In many cases, young women were surrounded by drunken mobs. And in other incidents, bike riders were seen openly molesting women on streets at night. The Government should have been duly ashamed that the police were helpless against the mobs who thought molesting women was a way of celebrating New Year’s eve. But instead the Karnataka Home Minister G Parameshwara blamed the victims and blame ‘Western’ clothes and culture, declaring that “In events like New Year or Christmas Day, there are women who are harassed or treated badly….Unfortunately, on days like New Year, a large number of youngsters gather on...

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Relief From Neither Corruption Nor Note Ban Disaster

Prime Minister Modi’s New Year’s Eve speech was significant for side-stepping all the issues raised by the Note Ban. Soon after his 8 November Note Ban announcement plunged the country into chaos and distress, the PM had appealed to the people of the country to “bear the pain for just 50 days.” If the troubles continued after December 30, he had said, he was “willing to face any punishment at any crossroads in the country.” In his 31 December speech, however, the PM made no mention of the 50-day deadline. He was silent on how far the self-proclaimed objectives of the Note Ban had been achieved. Since then RBI has admitted that 97% of demonetized notes have been deposited back in banks, showing that contrary to Modi’s claims, very little black money had actually existed in cash holdings. Above all, the PM remained silent on exactly how long the cash shortage would last, and when exactly withdrawal limits from banks would be lifted. He failed even to acknowledge the enormous economic slowdown, wholesale destruction of jobs and devastation of agriculture caused by demonetization – let alone announce any sort of relief and compensation measures for this Note Ban disaster. Instead he announced several sops better suited to a routine Budget speech rather than specifically address the demonetization-induced crisis of livelihood and survival. Instead of waiving farm loans in view...

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The Malicious Motives and Calamitous Consequences of Note Ban

A Preliminary Appraisal Some 60 odd days into the despotic demonetisation, its inherent class bias, its organic links with international finance capital and the ways it is set to further intensify the major contradictions in Indian society, are unfolding before our eyes with greater clarity. The Disastrous Socio-economic Impact Corroborating the lived experience of the suffering millions hit by Note Ban, a steady stream of data have already presented a dismal picture of economic slowdown across agriculture, manufacture, services, infrastructure, real estate, trade and export. Banks are flush with funds, but credit uptake by business has dipped to the lowest level since 1960s. The all India Manufacturers’ Organisation (AIMO) sent the government as many as three survey reports stating that micro-small scale industries suffered 35 per cent jobs losses and a 50 per cent dip in revenue in the first 34 days since demonetisation. The Finance Minister, rather than acknowledging and acting upon such worrying drifts, have tried to paint a rosy picture of the economy by citing selectively from stray figures of an apparent hike in the government’s revenue collection post Note Ban. But other experts have been quick to demonstrate that he was lying to the nation by resorting to statistical jugglery. Adding to the embarrassment of the government, India’s former and incumbent Official Statisticians, the RBI, practically all Indian (and many foreign) economists, the World Bank...

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Murder of Dika in Bihar: Killing Dalit Dreams of Education and Dignity

(Slightly expanded version of a piece in Wire.in) Kusmi Devi is an agricultural labourer from Bihar’s most oppressed Mahadalit Musahar community. She sent her daughter Dika to school, determined that Dika must not slave in the fields as her mother and foremothers had done. 16-year-old Dika studied in the Ambedkar Residential Girls’ School in Hajipur (Vaishali), one of the schools run by the Bihar Government for Dalit children. But Dika was killed – on the very premises of the school – in mysterious circumstances. Testimonies of Dika’s mother and hostel mates raise questions about the role and responsibility of the School authorities in the murder. They also raise questions about the conditions inside such schools – conditions in which the students and their parents are not seen as deserving of dignity and rights. Was Dika killed to cover up sexual harassment? Are the Bihar police authorities seeking to hush up the matter? On 6 January, Dika made a call to Kusmi, saying she was not well. Kusmi went, packing some homemade sweet sevai and phulki for her daughter. Dika, on meeting her, said, “Mai re, I want to tell you something but you’ll feel very bad. Please just take me home, I’m feeling very upset.” On being pressed by Kusmi to tell her what the matter was, Dika said that a teacher in the school called her into his...

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