Category: English

August 7, 2020 /

Sandh Karmari is a village in the Bakawand Block of Bastar district. In the village is the Maulikot, also known as the Bendrakot, one of the largest sacred groves in central India, spreading over about 100 acres. It is a small slice of an old growth forest in the eastern part of the district that borders Odisha. There are more than 400 species of woody plants, terrestrial orchids including the species of Nervilia and Habenaria, large ficus and silk cotton trees that have buttressed with age, and giant lianas that provide a wonderful high-way for the giant squirrels, langurs and civets that make this grove their home. The shrine at one corner of the grove is of Mauli Mata, also known as Kanda-khai, tuber eater. Legend has it that the first signs of her presence came about when three women went out to dig yams and one of them found a figure of the goddess in her basket.

August 6, 2020 /

Will Mr. Conrad Sangma speak up? Will he clarify how the haphazard establishment of multiple coke plants determine a more “liveable place?” Will he explain his double-tongue approach towards environmental policies of the state? Because his outward soft-speaking self seemingly hides his mischievous agenda. Or will he emulate Prime Minister Narendra Modi who doesn’t address hard-hitting questions? If he doesn’t address this issue then I will lend voice to more questions hovering around Meghalaya’s polluted air such as unabated limestone mining, remorseless timber smuggling to dubious factories, issuing of deceitful transport permits, and others that warrant an explanation from the horse’s mouth.

August 5, 2020 /

Faizabad District Judge KM Pandey made the decision to open the gates of the Babri, back in February of 1986, assuring everybody that heavens will not fall if the locks are removed. In his autobiography, he mentions that his decision was validated by a black monkey, who sat holding the flag post on the roof of the court all day long, and despite offerings of groundnuts and fruits from thousands of people of Faizabad and Ayodhya, refused to accept any. The judge spots the black monkey later in the verandah of his bungalow, and salutes him, taking him to be some divine power.

August 4, 2020 /

The tortuous thicket of laws, constitutional provisions, presidential orders, political history and legal mystifications surrounding Article 370 and Article 35A make it difficult to navigate through recent debates about its abrogation in an informed way. This series of three essays by Shrimoyee Nandini Ghosh, lawyer and legal researcher, which we published last year, aimed to be a somewhat eclectic guidebook— at times proffering a no frills step-by-step road map, at others traversing some rather more unfrequented and adventurous legal diversions.

August 2, 2020 /

A totalitarian control over histories and a calculated manipulation of meanings have been instrumental in India’s narrative warfare. Its armed and administrative forces have actively pursued the destruction of historiographic and material evidence of the Kashmiri past.
However, there exist ‘witnesses’ that reject the Indian imagination, refuse to grant it any legitimacy, and rule out any possibility of submission to its apparatus of regulation. These ‘witnesses’ attest to the multiple struggles of Kashmir’s pasts and preserve the evidence of its demands from the future. They undermine the colonial design by engaging in a negotiation of power where they reimagine the Kashmiri body, Kashmiri history, and the Kashmiri everyday. Subverting the threat of erasure and elimination, the ‘witnesses’ promise life in their sense of continuity, renewal, and resilience.”

July 31, 2020 /

We, the undersigned former and current students of Prof Hany Babu M.T., condemn his arrest by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Tuesday and stand in firm solidarity with him. Prof. Babu is a noted academic, a well known anti-caste activist, and a member of the committee formed for the defence of G.N. Saibaba, a former Delhi University professor who is over 90% disabled, and wheelchair bound. Prof. Babu has maintained his innocence since the illegal raid at his Noida apartment last year in September by Pune police. The raid, which was conducted without a warrant, resulted in the Pune Police confiscating Prof. Babu’s laptop, mobile phones, two booklets printed for the G.N. Saibaba defence committee and two books which are publicly available in bookstores and libraries. The nature of his alleged ‘crime’ remains unclear because the NIA’s warrant is, in our opinion, deliberately vague with clearly fabricated accusations. According to news reports, the ‘evidence’ that has apparently led to Prof Babu’s arrest was based off of an e folder on his hard disk. He was, however, not given a hash value for his laptop.

July 28, 2020 /

The opposition to the government’s intention to make Hindi mandatory in schools would have been an ideal moment for India to introspect on what it means to be such a language-rich country. It would have been an opportunity to take stock of the languages we have and those that are threatened, of those that require support in terms of documentation before they disappear, and how to honestly – and not just on paper – promote education in mother tongues. But none of this happened. The moment the “Hindi” issue cropped up, it became a political stand-off, instead of leading to a fruitful debate about what languages and linguistic diversity indicate about our sub-continent, and how such richness can be conserved. And so, once again the issue has been brushed under the carpet, and our ever-present notion of the vote-bank and other populist ideals have taken precedence. The present calm has lulled us to believe that nothing is the matter. The storm of linguistic decline is yet to unfold.

July 27, 2020 /

Swapna Barman became the only Indian so far to have won gold medal in the 2018 Asian Games in the event called heptathlon, an athletic event which, like many of them, most of her own villagers never heard of till she won the medal. Earlier she had also won gold medal in Asian Athletic Championship in 2017 and got silver medal in the SAF Games in 2016. Being the champion of one of the toughest athletic events she soon became well-known all over the country. For her extraordinary sporting achievements, she was also conferred with the coveted Arjuna Award. In the same Asiad the Assamese girl, Hima Das too won the gold medal in the 400 metres mixed and women’s relay. Young Hima Das deservedly became a celebrity in Assm. She has also been offered the job of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) by the state government. In stark contrast to such glorious journey, Swapna Barman received a lukewarm welcome in Kolkata airport, the capital of her home state, moderate cash rewards from the state, a clerical job to her brother, and that’s about it, where it all ended. Swapna belongs to the Koch Rajbanshi community, an indigenous repressed community recognized as Scheduled Caste in the state of West Bengal. In the caste sensitive Bengal society, they have always been considered as paraiahs, the low castes.

July 27, 2020 /

Recently, I came across a statement by 81 intellectuals and activists from Assam spotlighting the ‘disinformation’ published as part of a Call-for-Papers for a journal. Assam is a place with a complex political history and scholars do mix up issues from time to time. Therefore, the writing of the statement is a welcome step in the direction of understanding the state and the multitude of voices that it enkindles. It is in the same spirit of polyphony and dialogue that I write my comment…

July 26, 2020 /

I’ve often been invited to strange places
To keep in company with strange people.
Or, it may be truer to say I am the strange one in all that
I am the unknown usually among the known faces
As we all sit there talking poetry

First always is the introduction
And some, though already known,
For fear we may miss out on any detail
Start shooting off long lists of books and awards
And important journals-domestic and foreign
I always dreaded my turn…

July 24, 2020 /

It is the dead of the night. I look out of my favourite bed-side window and find the darkness, illuminated by tiny lights at Takht-e-Sulayman, staring at me. Each dot of luminosity reminding me of the military occupation of my land. This takes me back to my childhood days when I was growing up in my hometown. Every morning, long rifles protruding from the surrounding military camps would inspect me as I walked to the school bus stop, and each night, a blinding beam of search-light from the nearest military camp would invade one of the rooms of our home. As a child, it would startle me and I was left petrified. I would navigate around that torturous foreign beam, scared of being mowed down by the long rifles if I got into the crosshairs of the searchlight. As I grew up, my mind started questioning these search-lights and long rifles, crackdowns and curfews, killings and rapes, and the causative agent of these monstrous manifestations in Kashmir:– the occupation.

July 20, 2020 /

July 17 2020
To
Professor G.N. Saibaba
Anda Cell
Nagpur Central jail
Nagpur
Maharashtra

Dear Sai,

I’m sorry to disappoint you, but this is me, Arundhati writing to you and not Anjum. You wrote to her three years ago and she most certainly owes you a reply. But what can I say—her sense of time is entirely different from yours and mine, leave alone the speedy world of Whatsapp and Twitter. She thinks nothing of taking three years to reply to a letter (or not)…

July 20, 2020 /

I can’t remember the first time I felt excluded. I can’t remember ever feeling excluded. Maybe because for certain people, being excluded is a normative state of mind. In any case, I never looked at it as an undesirable way of being. I loved the fact that the seas and the mountains merged within me, that I could feel at home in totally diverse geographical and cultural spaces, or that I could once speak 6 different languages before I even turned ten. Years later, lovers would describe me in the exact same way: as this exotic, improbable creature, who could be so many different things at once. I had a yearning for extremely divergent things that could never exist in the same place: for instance, I wanted to walk directly from the surging, mildly chaotic seas of Chennai to the Chinar trees of my childhood, yawning in the horizons while I gasped as a baby. I craved for vadais and chutney while dawdling at a weekly bazaar in Bombay, but hunted a million markets in Chennai for just one pair of jootis.

July 17, 2020 /

Writing the northeast, often leads to misrepresentation, distortion, misinformation of the places, peoples and resources. These are not merely floating around in popular mentality, these stereotypes are consciously constructed and maintained in films and also in academic discourses. This particular Call for Paper (CFP) for a journal issue, entitled “Assam: A Citizenship Battleground” (Cached link)to be published under University of York project entitled Rethinking Civil Society: History, Society, Critique caught our attention and quite a few of us discussed it and decided to address the issue.
The result was a statement of concern, which is not about a closed academic discussion but more about placing the northeast of India, Assam in particular in a more complex frame of reference for a global readership. This was also making people of the region aware of the developments taking place in academic circles in the West. The NRC and CAA has captured a lot of global press and as it happens, the margins get distorted in the generalised narrative.

July 16, 2020 /

The Meghalaya RTI series has a success story to report. On 27th June, the Central Bureau of Investigation filed a charge-sheet against Ampareen Lyngdoh, JD Sangma, and AL Lyngdoh for their alleged involvement in the White Ink Scam, which occurred during Ampareen Lyngdoh’s tenure as Education Minister of Meghalaya. The scam, which occurred over a decade ago, was quite simple. In 2008, the Deputy Inspector of Schools advertised for applicants to the post of assistant teacher in government schools, and a list of selected candidates was issued the following year.

July 15, 2020 /

Since the days of the colonial takeover of this part of the country by the British Administration the native people of Assam as well as North East India have been facing indiscriminate land aggression by outsiders. From the very days of the colonial administration and even after independence, the land has become the central issue of conflict between subject versus subject and also the subject versus state. The legal changes that began in the colonial age that do not recognize the difference between the tribal tradition and the formal law are basic to all forms of land alienation.

In the last few days, the news and debate concerning the dog meat ban in Nagaland has been spreading like an oil-spill, contaminating conversations and diluting dispassionate and rational debate – stirring both those in favour and against it. While a good deal has now been said, much more remains to be elucidated… In this piece, Roderick Wijunamai & Menokhono highlight two points. First, how dogs feature in Naga cosmology, lifeworld, and livelihoods. Second, they foreground how the dog meat ban understate the existing constitutional provision in place for tribes in India, and the Nagas in particularly. They show how the recent dog meat ban has been an outright disregard to both.

July 13, 2020 /

The pandemic has opened up a whole new, yet familiar backdrop of self speculation through my lens. The images chronicle the mundane setting around my own domestic space, featuring my family of six members and the choices I make to freeze moments for eternity. They have been created alongside many thoughts running through my restless mind during the lockdown appending my state of mind, my political stance, my privileges, my body image, my space, my relationships, my priorities, my future and how we would turn out after all this is over. 

July 8, 2020 /

In Assam, indigenous communities are living under constant threat of eviction. Even after living for generations they are still not getting settlement for their land. Landless farmers are demanding land. But this government which stormed to power by promising to protect indigenous interests are now becoming the major threat to the indigenous people. From bringing in the CAA to the Ordinance for Automatic Reclassification of Land, we are witnessing a series of decisions by the present regime which will ultimately destroy our collective existence.

July 5, 2020 /

Axone was a much awaited film- simply because it promised ‘to speak for the Northeast ‘-the mainstream after all has taken so long to look east and whenever it has chosen to ‘speak’ for us – it has always been distorted and misrepresented, steeped in stereotypes. Axone’s promise to speak of ‘lived realities’ of the people of the Northeast-in choosing Axone as the title and the theme of the movie- to engage with questions of racism through food politics- there really could not have been any better time than now to bring forth the harsh truth of racism experienced by people of the Eastern region. But all it did- and very problematically- was to cater to these crucial questions from a very privileged and elite position, almost similar to the stance of the mainland- lacking depth, ignorant and oblivious of the ‘lived realities’ that it seeks to represent. Interesting debates have already been forth from the Northeastern community it seeks to represent; my purpose therefore is to introspect on the representation of the Nepali character of Upasna Rai as ‘part of’ and yet different from the Northeast.

July 5, 2020 /

“Adults are not reading books.”
“Children are not reading books.”
These 2 lines one comes across frequently. These are, on most occasions, followed with gyan encouraging one to read. To read more. Most of this gyan also lays the blame – for fall in reading – entirely or almost entirely on technology. In other words, televisions and mobile phones are the reason for people going away from books and reading. Roald Dahl too famously written, “So please, oh please, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away, and in its place you can install a lovely bookshelf on the wall”.

On June 29, 2020; the Minister of Industries and Commerce of Assam released a series of tweets announcing that the Council of Ministers had approved an ordinance by which industries could be set up in Assam by just “one self-declaration” and land would be deemed converted for industrial purpose. The Ordinance presently awaits the approval of the Governor of Assam.
In law, land as a natural resource is considered to be held in public trust by the State. The State holds land for the enjoyment by the citizen at large. This essentially means that there is an embargo on the State transferring public properties such as Government held land to private parties if such transfers affect the public interest.

July 3, 2020 /

In the evening of 25 May 2020, George Floyd, a 46 years old African-American man was choked to death by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer of the Minneapolis Police Department, an incident that sparked massive outrage and protest demonstrations against police brutality and lack of police accountability and racism, in the United States of America and around the world.
At around 00:30 AM on 15 June 2020, a team of Indian Army personnel under Major Sachin Sinha of 244 Field Regiment based in Charaideo assisted by a team of Assam Police under Amit Kumar Hojai, Sub-Divisional Police Officer, Titabor and Mintu Kumar Handique, Officer-in-Charge (OC) of Borholla Police Station (PS) picked up Jayanta Borah, 25 years old son of late Hem Borah who had served in the Indian Army, from his home at Balijan Gabhoru Ali, Kakodonga Habi Gaon, Borholla in Jorhat district in Assam where he lived with his old mother, Lila Borah.

June 25, 2020 /

As Baghjan burns I find myself (almost like everyone of us) entangled in heap of anxieties that comes from my association and experience with societies and institutions across the region. As Baghjan is not a case in isolation I find myself compelled to inform what cause my anxiousness. I should add, reliving and writing the self is not always a happy exercise even when one knows one is politically and morally obliged to do so. Yet, I write because much about Baghjan will be determined by what we choose to see in the sufferings and loss. What we see determines how we respond, how we care and for how long. It will decide what we will fight for in the various phases of its healing/curing. It will tell us when we will choose to withdraw our love and responsibilities.

June 23, 2020 /

Axone, an extreme comfort food, rarely has an in-between. You either love it or hate it. It seems the film Axone by Nicholas Kharkongor, has gone the same direction as well. Much criticism has been poured on it in terms of accuracy and how it has dealt with many important issues, especially to North-easterners, on racism and discrimination. With everything else going on in the world, perhaps the film seems weak to many in its stance on these issues in light of present social and political conflicts. Thus, it has been chewed down, digested and excreted with all the stench to put off anyone going near it.
I enjoyed Axone thoroughly. Both the food and the film.

June 22, 2020 /

Today is “Rev. Thomas Jones Day”, gazetted as a Special Holiday for all State Government Offices and all revenue and Magisterial Courts and Educational Institutions across the Khasi and Jaintia Hills and the Ri-Bhoi District. What might this 22 June holiday mean, individually or collectively, for Christian or non-Christian, in that shape-shifting ground between the past and the present?

June 22, 2020 /

The malicious act of re-opening and construction toll gates while a national lockdown in times of a global pandemic is in progress, when people cannot voice their disagreements or lodge their protest, is a backdoor fascist attack on the very idea of democracy and citizenry. It is a clear signal that the Indian state will, by hook or crook, relegate it’s citizenry to the status of a consumer bereft of any quality service and rights that is enshrined in the constitution.

June 21, 2020 /

Recently, three incidents have rocked Assam: a coal mining concession in a part of Dehing-Patkai Elephant Reserve, an oil blowout in Baghjaan, and the extra-judicial killing of an Assamese youth in Jorhat by security forces and police. While the state narrative regarding Jayanta Bora, the deceased youth, seems to connect him with the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) without any conclusive proof, multiple local media outlets have reported a different version of his death. This version states that Bora was seen taking photographs of trucks carrying illegal coal from the adjacent Naga hills, which might have had a role in his death. Meanwhile, different narratives have emerged from Baghjaan oil blowout as well. While one calls for a relook at the extractive economy and its power relations in Assam vis-a-vis the Indian state, another emphasize on reading it as an industrial disaster. In an interview with The Wire a few years ago economic commentator Swaminathan Ankalesaria Aiyar said, “Assamese chauvinism has long come in the way of oil exploration. The government must dismiss it for the narrow-minded silliness that it is,” suggesting how the Baghjaan oil blowout can be plotted in extractive relations of competing groups and nationalist aspirations. This essay seeks to reflect on the extractive economy, the historical and the contemporary, that has been at the centre of the development narrative in Assam.

June 21, 2020 /

It has been eight years since my father departed from this world on 3rd May 2012. Gurucharan Murmu, who entered the hallowed IPS (Indian Police Service) in 1972, is the first ever Santal to serve the Union Civil Services. Being his daughter and having to see him suffer all his life for his integrity and for upholding an incorruptible moral universe has been an agonizing experience. While it was personal pain earlier, it is more of anger towards gross violation of social justice that triggers me these days. The persistence of the skilfully devised myth that the thirty four years of left front rule in West Bengal has somehow abolished caste based discrimination is due to the pervasive dominance of the forward caste Bengali bhadralok over political, social, economic and cultural domains and academic discourses. Dismissal, oppression, deprivation, injustice, contempt and most importantly stigma and trauma of humiliation and harassment, violation of dignity and human rights on account of caste disparity remain brutal everyday realities for adivasis in this state.

June 19, 2020 /

Autonomous District Councils are frequently blamed for failures of governance in Meghalaya. Their inefficiency, however, is a feature of the system rather than an anomaly. In seeking to preserve traditional institutions by transforming them, the Sixth Schedule only further entrenched the colonial paradox it inherited. The ADCs it invented—simultaneously accountable to everybody and responsible for nobody— were practically designed for endemic corruption and abuse. Sometimes, as in the case that opened this essay, the legal system works. The RTI infrastructure helps citizens uncover specific illegalities and then the judiciary provides a remedy. More often it does not, because structural inequity cannot be meaningfully addressed in this piecemeal fashion. The eternal liminality of the ADCs also indicates just how indebted our institutional imagination remains to condescending colonial assumptions about tribal peoples and the need to “gently assimilate” them into modernity. The Constituent Assembly’s recognition of indigenous sovereignty was a landmark moment in world history, but it was only half the task. It falls to us now to build institutions that can live up to that sweeping democratic vision.

June 17, 2020 /

Axone, the film is being critically received and widely acclaimed for depicting the racial discriminations faced by the people from the Northeast in Indian metros, an aspect that has assumed a special significance due to a spike of racist attacks and discrimination against people form the region in different cities of India as the panic around COVID19 grows. Nicholas Kharkongor, the director of the movie, made this connection too in an interview to Outlook calling the movie has come in the right time, as “the idea was to be able to tell the story of Northeast people’s experience of living in a big city.”

June 10, 2020 /

#CoalMining #Meghalaya
“It is easy to see why coal interests in Meghalaya are so threatened by people like Agnes Kharshiing. They murdered P.N. Marbaniang, a policeman, simply for doing his job— how much more terrifying must it be to be confronted with someone with such a blazing sense of duty and such persistence? RTI activism is, by definition, a plodding enterprise. One soon learns the truth of the saying that the devil lies with the details, especially when the chasm between the law and the reality is so gaping it appears to be an abyss. The ladder across it is constructed laboriously, one patient enquiry after the next. The citizens’ report was built out of a dozen RTI petitions, filed by different people in different times and places and for different reasons. It was stitched together to offer the Supreme Court a complete account of the dilemma before it. In some ways, the court abdicated its responsibility when it ordered the state government to begin enforcing laws it has ignored for fifty years. This simplistic resolution prolonged the open season on mining that has prevailed since the original “ban,” and it has pushed the coal economy even further into the shadows.”

June 8, 2020 /

Today (8th June 2020) is the second death anniversary of Sukracharjya Rabha (1977-2018), whom I lovingly called Sukra Da. He was my senior, my big brother. We both learned theatre from our Oja Kanhailal and Ima Sabitri. He was the founder-director of the theatre group Badungduppa Kalakendra, Rampur, an extended family of Kalakshetra Manipur. Under the guidance of late Heisnam Kanhailal, Sukracharjya Rabha started the theatre festival Under the Sal Tree in 2008 at his village Rampur. The first festival was jointly organized by Badungduppa Kalakendra and Kalakshetra Manipur, the theatre group founded by late Heisnam Kanhailal and Heisnam Sabitri.

All commemorations and commemorative projects are political in nature, and each represents the political visions of a community, which in most of the cases transgress the political or cultural autonomy of another community. Manipur state for a long time have been projecting a particular Meetei-centric history and identity through the museums, state holidays and other types of commemorations. This should be questioned and had been questioned through political and academic language for years, but with little success. For example, the entire history of Pangal community or Manipuri Muslims hardly found any space in history writing, hero-making or such state commemorations in the region. The building of this contentious park is a continuation of this problematic state commemorations, and is most likely to result in political confrontations, which is avoidable in such a fragile political arrangement in the state. The purpose of this article is not to question the building of the park or the oppositions to its building. It merely questions the ahistorical reading of the Chibu inscriptions and the historical circumstances leading to their installation at the site.

June 5, 2020 /

On May 26, The Print published an article by Martha Lee of Middle East Forum (MEF) entitled “Stand With Kashmir not an innocent hashtag, it supports violent Islamists and terrorists.” The article made a number of defamatory claims regarding our grassroots social justice advocacy movement, Stand with Kashmir.
The Middle East Forum is notorious for its virulent Islamophobia and was created for the purpose of demonizing scholars and activists who call attention to the Israeli state’s vindictive treatment of Palestinians.

June 4, 2020 /

There is a kind of myth making going on in the media that migrant workers are leaving cities for their love of home. The question is what choice these migrant workers had. They did not start their journey from the cities out of love for their homeland and relatives. They had to leave their homes in the cities. We conveniently/unconsciously switch this compulsion to leave cities for a phrase ‘love for the home’. Those who had some means to stay deferred their journey.
To say that migrant workers are leaving cities for their love of home/natives is to absolve ourselves from looking at harsh conditions which forced them out of city boundaries and left them walking in extreme conditions or undertaking arduous train journey.

The recent amazon prime series “Pataal Lok” has witnessed wide backlash from the Indian Gorkha community who are protesting against the slur “Nepali Randi” used in the series. The community asserts that the usage of such slur is offensive to the Nepali speaking community at large. In the immediate aftermath, multiple FIR’s have been filed against the series, and the producer and numerous letters have been written to distinguished persons in the government calling for its withdrawal. Social media and Facebook, in particular, has become the new battleground where the “honour” of Indian Nepali women, whose moral standing in the use of the word “Nepali Randi” allegedly degrades, is now being fought. The past few weeks have seen Nepali men’s chauvinism and masculine need to protect the “honour” of the women in their community on an unprecedented scale, given the space that is now being provided by social media.

June 2, 2020 /

At Raiot, we remember the conviction that launched the RTI movement: hum jaanenge, hum jeeyenge; when we know, we survive. We are launching a new series this week, in which we reassess the history of the RTI in Meghalaya in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the dilemmas it has posed for governance in both the state and the nation. For the next few weeks, we will tell you stories from 15 years of RTI activism: the successes, the failures, and what we learned through it all. The RTI Act was once called the sunshine law; may it serve now to illuminate these dark times.