Archive for the ‘Dalit Panthers’ Category

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The stillness of rage

April 5, 2013

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‘Take a picture of my house’ before they demolish it

During the fifth demolition drive at Ganesh Krupa Society on February of 2012, Rajendra Mistry, a supervisor in a maintenance firm, pulled me away from documenting the demolishing of another house and asked me to follow him to his own house. I asked him why and he says he wants a photo of himself in his house before the ‘haramis’ (bastards) break it down. He sat down on his mattress, before his packed belongings, his idols and gods still hanging from the walls, with the solemnity of silence itself. I took the photos for him, and by the end of the day, it didn’t matter as much.

By five in the evening, the demolition crews left. His house survived.

That day.

On the 3rd of April this year, after the sixth demolition drive, it’s a field of rubble.

That too after the Union Ministry’s Principal Secretary of Housing, Ajay Maken wrote to the Chief Minister to cease from demolitions and evictions until the investigations into the numerous discrepancies in the project are completed.  ‘Your decision to investigate six of the proposed or under construction projects through the Principal Secretary (Housing) was conveyed to me, which is a welcome step. I however, would request you to ensure that wherever as in these six SRS projects under enquiry, there are prima facie illegality, no irreversible damage or eviction of residents should be permitted to be done with police force.’

This would take place after a demolition drive at Golibar’s Ambewadi on the eve of Woman’s Day when women were dragged off and allegedly molested by the police and unidentified persons, and nine homes were demolished.

And this time the state accomplished in demolishing 43 homes at Ganesh Krupa Society, most of whom, in an act of resistance, were rebuilt by the residents after the last demolition drives.

To the people of Ganesh Krupa Society, who’re predominately working class, even if they break down their homes, that is more than just a property, more than just shelter, they will put in money to rebuild, some having spent anywhere between Rs.10,000 to Rs. 40,000, as an act beyond protest, beyond the frustration of protest, beyond dharna after dharna, march after march, court case after court case. Yet this last demolition drive has been particularly brutal, ripping out foundations, leaving no trace of a home, just leaving landscapes of an exploding city.

Meanwhile, Ambewadi society, across the road, has been on a sit-in, and a relay hunger strike since the 20th of January, 2012, after a private security firm hired by the builder ended up in a violent clash that led to the hospitalization of two women from Ambewadi, where the police refused to lodge a complaint against the builder, and instead charged the residents.

Ambevadi is where stenguns are carried by the police and taken to the settlement for a welfare scheme.

Ambevadi, is where the ironies of dalit capitalism are clearer than ever, where the Budh Vihar, is where the residents swear on Babasaheb Ambedkar, and the nostalgia of the Dalit Panthers, and plan their strategies against the builder, himself from the Schedule Caste.

Ambewadi is where the Ashis Nandy controversy at the Jaipur Literature festival was a stupid joke. And where Mr.Nandy should shut the hell up. Santosh Thorat, a matang dalit, organizer for the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, laughed at his comments, standing amongst broken homes of working class dalits, looking at the tower the builder built, and commenting, ‘yeh toh brahmin hi ban gaye’(they have just become brahmins).’

Ambevadi society and Ganesh Krupa Society, are the frontlines in this war of attrition of profit, two of 46 societies the builder has to acquire for his township, the thorns in his plans. He so far, only has eleven. Most have still taken him to court.

Most still join the rallies against him, as they did during the ten day protest at Azad Maidan in January of this year, that had led the Maharashtra State Government to agree to conduct inquiries, through the Principal Secretary of Housing into six Slum Rehabilitation Projects including Golibar. It had put a moratorium on demolitions until the end of the investigations, except those where the High Court has precedence. But to both Ambevadi and Ganesh Krupa Society, thanks to questionable court orders,  they faced demolition drives.

And that brings us back to the judiciary, and the redundance of it all: the order that was once passed in the matter concerning Golibar’s Ganesh Krupa Society, where the Civil  High Court, ruled in favour of the builder, stating, ‘‘that no useful purpose will be served by allowing the petitioners to raise any dispute about the meeting which was held on 7th February 2009.’ A criminal case filed by the residents against the builder and the chief promoters of the project in Ganesh Krupa Society, led the court to order the police to investigate and chargesheet those accused of forgery and fraud, as the residents claim, there was never any mandatory 70% consent in the project, and the ‘disputed meeting’ never took place. Yet the police have only stalled their own investigations, and instead come for demolition drives.

The project and the builder has even been indicted by the Comptroller Auditor General report released in 2012, that the builder had grabbed public lands, and there was never any transparency in the manner in which the Slum Rehabilitation Authority or the builder acquired consent from the residents. Yet the Chief Minister Prithviraj Chauhan remains a mute spectator.

And on the 30th of March, a few days before the coming demolition drive, resident, leader of people on Ganesh Krupa Society, tailor, mother, angaanwadi teacher, Prerna Gaekwad, asked the Deputy Police Commissioner why he was sending a police force to support ‘criminal’ activities, when the inquiry is yet to be finished, and his response was that he is helpless against a court order. Prerna was detained on the 7th of March, when she went across the road to help prevent the demolition drive at Ambevadi. There too, they were just following orders.

Thus the Judiciary is the hammer, the judiciary is the bulldozer, a judge might as well be driving it.

The anger against the courts, against the law, against a biased system, is palpable at Golibar.

It is the High Court orders that take the bulldozers into their living rooms, it is the High Court orders that annihilate any idea of equitable justice, and becomes the reason itself for injustice, the enemy of the people. It is an unstoppable movable force, a betrayal, the judiciary that is meant to protect the constitutional rights of people, is a market ally, a creation of the stillness of rage: a stillness of rage that is not impotence, it reaps a whirlwind, it destroys any idea of respect for the law, and then lawlessness will be justified, the anger will be rebellion, it will become the fist that fantasizes to smash the collector’s face, it will be the riot, the arson, it will become the irrationality of the stone thrown onto the moving local, it becomes to rage against those in the towers who sit quietly, it becomes the end of a citizen, the anomie, the culture that keeps reacting to violence with more violence, an informal violence, for those who destroyed their lives, the so-called police-builder-politician-nexus, are too far beyond for their reach.

Here is a dying society, where if the law itself does not follow the law, then everything is permitted

And even if the market and the prophets of the free market of the world may eventually win, whatever scraps of the earth that is left to them, for a brief moment in the history of time, of a million years of this earth whose stones told the lonely geologists the poetry of a world without men, there are the bricks of demolished homes of people who lived in the slums of civilization, who will speak about self-respect. Interviews with builder after builder, the question of respect for the residents is a joke, their only response is silence.

Instead, during the demolition drive, a builder wanted to watch each and every brick breaking from the house of Sudesh Paware, a railway employee and one of the residents who protested with resolve against the builder. ‘With a lot of pride, he watched them level his house to dust,’ said Shekhar Mirgule.

Yes, many residents don’t protest against the state, against the builder. The homes of those who supported the builder in the beginning itself, or those too wary to fight the Juggernaut of development were the first to go. Then there are those who’re bought off.

Yet there are those who refuse: there are those who hold onto their self-worth: their rights, their protest. Even after 43 homes have been broken down, not a single resident has taken the builder’s offer. And for a brief moment, it wasn’t the market, it wasn’t greed is good, it wasn’t aspirations of the working class to claim the towers of the rich without baying for their blood, it was simply a humility and a truth: that we want respect. The market respects respect as the machineguns the police bring into the settlements they want to destroy in the name of a welfare scheme. A welfare scheme that is nothing but the annihilation of community. Give us your riches, and we shall leave our home, maybe. We will betray our brothers, our neighbours. You spend more money trying to destroy our resistance, than you do in just giving it to us. The market is the ego of the rich, the market will not allow the working class to claim equality in profit. The market is the bulldozer of the stillness of nostalgia, it is the rubble of rage, and from that rubble, your streets will be filled with madness.

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Jai Bhim Comrade: Where The Republic Still Lives

February 2, 2012

A teenage boy records a scene from documentary film Jai Bhim Comrade that was shown on the 25th of January, 2012, at Ramabai Nagar, where on the 11th of July, 1997, 11 people were killed in police firing.

The family of Namdeo Surwade who died of his injuries a few years after the firing.

This article appears in Daily News Analysis on the 2nd of February, 2012

Early on the morning of 11th July, 1997 at the Ramabai Nagar in Ghatkopar, Mumbai, a woman saw a garland of slippers on the statue of iconic leader B.R. Ambedkar. Within a few hours angry Dalits had gathered on the highway to protest against the desecration.

By 7:30 am, a police van would stop 450 meters away from the protesters, disembark and immediately start firing. They’d fire over 50 rounds within twenty minutes into small lanes and by-ways and into people’s homes – into the homes of people who were not even protesting.

They killed ten people.

Young Mangesh Shivsharan was shot in his head, right in front of Namdeo Surwade who was shot on his shoulder.

‘The boy’s brains were all over my father’ said Manoj about his father Namdeo Surwade, a handcart puller who could never work a day after the injury and died a few years later, becoming the eleventh victim.

But there was another casualty of the killings at Ramabai Nagar.

Vilas Ghogre, Dalit poet and singer, committed suicide horrified by what he saw at Ramabai and the realization ‘that this country is not worth fighting for anymore’ as witnessed by his friend, singer Sambhaji Bhagat in Anand Patwardhan’s new film Jai Bhim Comrade, screened at Ramabai Nagar on the eve of the nation’s 63rd year as a Republic.

For three and a half hours, over fifteen hundred people saw the film on a makeshift screen, many standing through its entire duration. The film details not just the life of Vilas Ghogre and the police firing but its aftermath – the movement for justice that led to the police officer who ordered the firing to spend less than a week in ‘hospital’ (not jail), before being let off on bail by the High Court. It tells other stories – the martyrdom of a young Dalit Panther Bhagwat Jadhav, killed by the Shiv Sena at a protest rally in 1974; the incisive and fiery oratory of Panther leader Bhai Sangare that possibly led to his martyrdom in 1999; the Khairlanji massacre and continuing atrocities in the countryside. It examines the assault on the Constitution and the slow appropriation of radical Dalit leaders into mainstream Congress or hardcore rightwing politics while also critically examining the role of the left in dealing with caste.

Highlighting precarious livelihoods, it paints intimate family portraits of ordinary Dalits across Mumbai and Maharashtra and all this intersects seamlessly with the central role of music in not just the film but in the Dalit politics of resistance.  Protest songs sung in every chawl, basti and galli  lead us to the newest generation of cultural activists/musicians such as the Kabir Kala Manch, whose songs are viewed as such a threat by the State, that they’re branded as Naxalites and forced to go underground.

The religious mother of the enigmatic singer Sheetal Sathe of the Kabir Kala Manch, would say, ‘At every performance my children always assured me that they’d never take up arms, that they’d change the world only through song and drum.’

Yet cultural and social revolution is a threat in the same country where freedom of speech and expression is a privilege.

At Ramabai, young teenagers with moist eyes watched the screen quietly, listening to a spirited widow describe how her husband’s hands were slashed by upper caste men, and how he bled to death while the police refused to take their statement. The proud woman had saved Rs.5 and Rs.10 a day over the years to buy herself land and educate her children. When the filmmaker asks her how she kept up her spirit, she replies: ‘I can’t afford to lose. What’ll happen to my children if I lose?’

When a group of boys were asked what was their favourite part of the three and a half hour film, they replied, in unison: ‘The songs of the Kabir Kala Manch.’

No wonder the state views them as a threat.  Resistance and symbols of resistance need to be wiped out like Pochiram Kamble who was killed for uttering the words ‘Jai Bhim’. Yet the film that documents the recent decades of caste oppression and it’s growing denial, has found that symbols of joy, hope, perseverance and resistance, always survive, irrespective of thousands of years of oppression.

Another Dalit leader Ashok Saraswat’s speech in the film drew laughter from the crowd at Ramabai: ‘Unfortunately we gave up 330 million gods but made Ambedkar into a god. We wear Babasaheb Ambedkar’s photo around our neck. On waking up, we say “Jai Bhim”. Before sleeping, it’s “Jai Bhim” and when having a little drink, it’s Jai Bhim!”

“Listen people! God is not in temples or idols. God is found through service to the poor.  Gadge Baba would ask – ‘Is Ganapati a god ?’

‘Yes, Baba!’

‘Who made Ganapati?’

‘A potter did.’

‘So tell me who is Ganapati’s father?’

‘The crowd wouldn’t answer.’

‘Ashamed to say it?’

“Then softly they’d say: ‘Ganapati’s father is the potter.’”

The crowd of Ramabai, especially the young, laughed out loud but none of them found the scenes of puerile racism from the middle and upper middle classes very funny.

The filmmaker interviews a young student from Jai Hind college who says, ‘Dalit issue frankly is definitely ameliorated over the past half a decade or so.’ A sentiment that is not only echoed in the mainstream media that is beginning to cite Dalit neo-liberalism as a way forward, yet those comments are put in sharp contrast to the National Crime Records Bureau that mentions ‘Every day three Dalits are raped and two killed’ and the conviction rate under the Prevention of Atrocity Act is a mere 1%.

In Beed district of Maharashtra, a young woman was raped by upper caste men, and her entire family was beaten for confronting the attackers. An old man from the same family begins to speak:  ‘We are responsible for this.  We never got organized or converted to another religion. We failed to do that. Had we done it we could have mentally discarded caste and made others understand we are humans. We Mangs bear the brunt of injustice.’

‘But those who converted to Buddhism also face atrocities.’ says the filmmaker.

‘Yes in some places it happens even to Buddhists. But they have the strength to retaliate.  We lack that strength. That’s the point.’

At that point, the crowd at Ramabai Nagar, was moved to cheers and applause.