“No one wants to be a hawker; no one is born a hawker”, says Basudev and yet all are caught in the machinic routine of railway life, time-tables at the tip of their tongue and every train remembered by its own sound. Unlike jobs in the corporate and government sectors, this routine assures no dignity and does little to take away from the legal and existential precarity of running hawkers.
“I have been hearing the euphoria of the Gorkhaland movement since my childhood days but never experienced the reality of the movement. My blood boils when my ancestor narrates me the story of humiliation and suppression that Nepalis has been living under the regime of Bengal government. I become rebellious and agitated when I heard of 1986 movement’s (chyasi ko andolan) story where thousands of Gorkhalis have sacrificed their lives for the sake of their motherland. But I feel embarrassed again when I think of the leaders and their petty political interest because of which we failed always” said one of my friends, Dewan when he was drunk.
The Bengali Bhadrolok class always gets rattled whenever there is even a scratch on its two academic fiefdoms, Presidency and Jadavpur Universities. These are the two primary apparatuses for the reproduction of hegemony of this class in Bengal’s socio-cultural life. Noone has found this extraordinarily parochial class moving petitions or capturing media time and space to express their concern about or outrage against Bengal’s bleak education system. In the last few years, this class has gradually given up on the Presidency, and now, it is more bothered about Jadavpur. In the rising populist tidal water, the island mentality of the Bhadralok class has become acute. Latest is their rage against the decision of the Jadavpur University (JU) administration to scrap entrance examination to a few undergraduate programmes, English being the focal point.
RAIOT is pleased to publish this second extract from ‘Chandal Jibon’ (2009) by Manoranjan Byapari. ‘Chandal Jibon’ is the story of Jibon, a boy born into the hitherto ‘untouchable’ Chandal (or Namasudra) community in East Bengal, whose parents flee from East Pakistan and arrive as refugees in India. The story of the boy’s journey to adulthood – is also the story of the experience of the subaltern Bengali refugee community and of caste oppression, humiliation and violence, providing a trenchant bottom-up view of post-1947 Bengal and of Calcutta in the turbulent Naxalite era. It is an epic tale of the indomitable human will to survive.
‘Chandal Jibon’ (2009) by Manoranjan Byapari is the story of Jibon, a boy born into the hitherto ‘untouchable’ Chandal (or Namasudra) community in East Bengal, whose parents flee from East Pakistan and arrive as refugees in India. The story of the boy’s journey to adulthood – is also the story of the experience of the subaltern Bengali refugee community and of caste oppression, humiliation and violence, providing a trenchant bottom-up view of post-1947 Bengal and of Calcutta in the turbulent Naxalite era. It is an epic tale of the indomitable human will to survive.
The imminent hour of compromise and betrayal is upon the hill people as the opportunistic and spineless Gorkha “leadership” is making overtures towards the West Bengal government, with their begging bowls lined with thick layers of opportunism and greed. Once again, a telltale picture is emerging wherein the hill public has been used as political bait in this game of profit and self-interest of the Gorkha leadership. The hapless hill people are hooked by their noses as they are coerced to yield in whatever direction the shallow and weak leaders point them towards.
It is fate of marginal groups everywhere to bear the burden of this ‘double-consciousness’ – one’s self-worth, one’s sense of self is never one’s own, but always refracted through the eyes of the powerful, who gazes at him with ‘contempt and pity’. As time goes by, one starts believing in the narrative of the dominant group, one internalizes others’ judgements about him.
[WATCH] Trinamool Congress, led by Mamata Banerjee, came to power in West Bengal in 2011, riding a popular wave of mass fury over forcible acquisition of land and state atrocities in Singur, Nandigram, and Lalgarh. But six years down the line, the faultlines of the new regime are showing up, most notably in the ongoing farmers’ movement in Bhangar, with a sense of déjà vu.
Mamata Banerjee showed the way in how to fight fascists in mainstream political space. Unless dealt with in the streets, they will not budge. Mamata’s greatest political invention is her lumpen synthesis of means of law and means of lawlessness (utmost necessity in street fighting the fascists); she can traverse both realms smoothly, without falling under any. If anything, she had learnt from living as political activist under CPI-M’s totalitarian rule, it is that law is not aloof from the political deployment of human muscles in the streets. She knows that we have to invent a whole set of new constitutional measures, bordering between the formal and the informal, the violent and the non-violent, to save the Indian Constitution from its worst violators in authority.
Rice! A mountain of cooked rice lay piled up on the cement floor. And standing by the door was Dhiren Roy, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment. Hot, steaming rice. As he inhaled the aroma, a strange transformation came over him. He began weeping convulsively. “Oh dear ones, look down from heaven, see how much rice I’m master of now! You died for want of a handful of rice, but see me now! I’m the king of rice today!”
After the anti-Hindu communal attacks in Bangladesh’s Brahmonbaria in end October, social media was abuzz with it as its “breaking” news. This news competed with Bangladesh’s victory against England in a cricket match. News of such things alerts a section of West Bengal’s populace more than anywhere else beyond the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. On my Facebook page there was a discussion about the minority situation – with participants from both Bengals, both Hindus and Muslims on both sides. It was in no way representative and that’s not the story here. I just wanted to share one of the most beautiful conversations I have had in Facebook where I was confronted with such a richness of understanding and compassion, weaving in stories of the Hindu in Bangladesh to something much wider, pointing to forms of inner demons in all of us.
Ghosh babu said dryly, “Cut it into five or six bits. You’re used to cutting meat. After that wrap the pieces in a banana leaf and get to the road, go and tie it to stones and throw it into the river. That’s all the work there is. Dharmaraj remembered the time Ghosh babu’s elder daughter got married. He had been called to cut the goats. Ten or twelve goats were tied to a post. He had instructed him likewise, “Cut it nicely into medium-size pieces. Not too small, not too large, you can take the skin, heads and everything else.” Today it occurred to him that for these people there was no difference at all between men and goats. But Dharmaraj was just an ordinary butcher. His hands and legs turned icy. Sensing Dharmaraj’s plight, Ghosh babu said, “Liquor has been brought, gulp a bottle, once you’re intoxicated you won’t have a clue about what you’re cutting. Get to work at once. The work has to be completed in two hours.
Buying local is not about economic benefit alone. Its also about empowering communities in a real sense, beyond slick and shameless NGO-partnered “CSR” initiatives about street-children and “women”. Its about changing the paradigm of economic activity and getting the stake of the people back and putting one’s own surrounding first.