Mad in India

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When the choice is between the devil and the dark deep sea, what can poor Indians do?

Narendra Modi has been cleared by the CBI, but Zakia Jafri still weeps. The Sikhs have been repeatedly asking for justice in the courts, since 1984. Kejriwal’s party is in the dock over recent actions ranging from his own dharna to his power tariff waiver. Beleagured as he already is over the conduct of both the law minister Sommath Bharti, as well as the MLA Binny, behaving in completely strange fashion, the former being endorsed by the party, the latter’s ambitions being on the other hand squashed for indiscipline. Rahul Gandhi is hoping to be the blue eyed boy of a billion voters, and his father was well known for using the collective pronoun hum, before Modi. Jayalalalita is up again for corruption charges. In UP, the Yadavs have made it clear that they will keep their khaap panchayats, and use rape as a form of warfare against women wearing jeans and working or seen late in the streets.

What’s to choose? Administrations are responsible for the crimes that are committed during their tenure. “A great tree falls” was never taken as an acceptable excuse by the people of India, for the great carnage that followed Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Smoke rising in every street, the foul smell of death, the lumpen proletariat out looking for Sikhs to brutalise and burn: who can forget that in the city, where amnesia is a logical way of handling daily brutalities? Similarly when the riots broke out in Ahmedabad, an IAS officer told the media, “We can do nothing, each community will have to look out for itself.” Who can forget the abdication of responsibility in Gujarat, or the statistics of survival indexes for dalits anywhere?

The thing about constitutional democracy is that there are political parties that demand the right to be heard, an electorate that votes, and legal organs of the state that defend the right of the citizens. If Kejriwal gets cleared of the doubts over foreign funding, then presumably, (after having disciplined Binny, and seen Somnath interrogated by the institutions that he has trampled over by behaving rather like a fascist Gestapo) it is possible that Indians may have some hope in having Kejriwal return as a recognised political leader, and an incumbent of the state, rather merely being a crowd-puller. It is terrifying that nameless crowds can zone in on people, point accusing fingers, and see them humiliated publicly, whatever race, caste, class, gender or nationality.

While industrialisation has been more than just a recognised trail in modernisation and development, there are a lot of people in the country who believe that the recovery of agriculture and crafts can be revitalised and revived for the economic gain of the country. Organic farming, like organic cotton, is a watch word among many ecological groups, with a strong consumer basis in the west. For India, to sustain its practises in these directions would be only a step the rest of the world has taken. Ezhumayoor in Kerala showed that when the state shifted from pesticides to organic farming, they had tremendous success.

The Keralites had large reservoirs of traditional seed varieties because of the alertness of their agricultural officers. Andhra was able to revitalise its weaving traditions through the hard work of organisations like Dastkar, which were willing to train weavers and innovate on every front. If some party were to support organic farming and handicrafts such as weaving, pottery, leather, metal, basket work it would have a very strong backing from the electorate, since many skilled weavers and farmers would return, recognised by the state to their professions, instead of being declassed as landless labour. Jyotindra Jain calls this the bases of the 5,000-year civilisation of India, and in the hands of the shudras and the dalits.

The consumers have always been loyal to traditional arts and crafts, and much of the tourist trade also depends on this. The Reserve Bank of India chief, Raghuram Rajan, tells us on TV that “agriculture is robust”. So we can presume that all the allied crafts will also be supported once this fact is recognised. Poor, hungry and deprived, the farmers of the country always produce a bumper crop, inspite of climate change.

As the IMF head, Christine Lagarde, astutely pointed out to Pranoy Roy on NDTV, let India start developing adequate transportation and storage facilities for the farmers, and the “bottle necks” to development will be removed (which means development of the people, not the statistics of the sensex alone).

What industrialist lobbies find hard to understand is that not everyone thinks like them. Gandhian economics and socialism seem like bad words, and yet, the tourist industry has made very good use of both. Dilli Haat put together by Jaya Jaitly actually made craftspeople welcome and recognised in the city of Delhi.

(Susan Visvanathan is professor of sociology in the School of Social Sciences, JNU, New Delhi, and

the author of Reading Marx, Weber and Durkheim Today)


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