Register for Forum |  Forum Login |  Forum Control Panel  


Dialogue of the powerless
India doesn’t shine for them
by Charu Singh

A rare platform for India’s voiceless and faceless millions emerged in the Capital recently, thanks to Tehelka newsweekly’s Summit of the Powerless. This was a major attempt to give voice to India’s downtrodden and is the first such annual event to show the reality behind the “new India” or the muck that hides behind the flaking plaster of “India shining”.

Tehelka’s message was literal: till the dirt is not cleared, nothing can shine. The message especially hit home with a rather difficult-to-digest documentary Vande Mataram – The Shit Version. This documentary by media activist R.P. Amudhan has become campaign material against manual scavenging and it shows the seamy side of life in India indepth.

Whether it is the low-caste sweepress cleaning filthy toilets, the washer woman at work, people scavenging on the roadside, they are ciphers in society today; they exist but are not heard. Tehelka’s attempt through this summit has been to bring to the forefront the unequal life that exists in India or the two Indias that exist together.

The Editor-in-Chief of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal, informs candidly, “The story of two Indias is a very old one, but after 60 years of democracy it appears more vulgar by the day. Only a fool can imagine the problems are merely difficult; actually some seem almost intransigent: the ballooning population, crippling poverty, failing agriculture, growing grassroots militancy. And all of these to be negotiated and settled within the norms and decencies of a free state. Faced with such problems, most nations tend to try tinpot solutions. It is a tribute to India’s founding principles that we joust with them without taking any cataclysmic recourse.”

A galaxy of activists, grassroots workers, film-makers, creative artistes, writers and journalists and not-to-be-left-out politicians were present at the summit. Some distinguished names included Aruna Roy, a recipient of the Ramon Magsasay award for community leadership and currently president of the national slum-dwellers association; Anna Hazare one of India’s most noted social activists involved in rural development; Mihir Shah, secretary of the Samaj Pragati Sahayog, one of the nation’s largest grassroots initiatives for water and livelihood security; Vandana Shiva, the famous physicist, ecologist, author and activist; Ashish Kothari, founder member of Kalpavriksh, an environmental research and action group; and Prakash Amte, a pioneering social worker among the Madia Gond tribal population of central India. The list is endless. Many political figures like Sitaram Yechury, Arjun Singh and Farooq Abdullah were also present.

Charged discussions were organised on problematic issues very current in India today like “Reservations: inclusive merit or the death of merit?”. Participating in the discussion, Yogendra Yadav, a psephologist and senior fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, points out that “I’m utterly disappointed with the so-called national debate on reservations and this disappointment is with both sides, both with the supporters and the critics. The disappointment is with the sheer insensitivity that we can bring to our discussions. Do we retain any sensitivity to the life conditions of people who live in the gutter? There is great insensitivity in evidence in the younger generation.”

Yadav reasoned that perhaps the only achievement of Mandal-2 has been that the entire debate on reservations has shifted from the why to how. The Editor of Dalit Voice, V.K. Rajashekhara, stressed emotionally, “we do not belong to India shining but to the India sinking category. Reservation is really about representation. The 15 per cent Brahmins ruling this country will not be allowed to rule India, we simply won’t let them.”

If the debate on reservations threatened to become stormy, the one on “Kashmir: External Hand or Internal Haemorrhage?” was no less exciting. Farooq Abdullah was equally fiery, declaring openly “the people of Jammu and Kashmir have been betrayed. What do you tell those people who do not get anything for nine months (due to the adverse climate) about India’s development, its nuclear power and most advanced Air Force?”

He stressed that they will feel the “development” only when they begin to get benefits from it. There can be no real peace in the valley until peace with Pakistan is achieved, he added.

Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan called for a rehaul of the judicial system which, he declared, was “unaccountable”. He elaborated: “Street vendors are ordered to move out so that people can shop in malls. Rickshaw-pullers in Chandni Chowk are ordered to be removed so that CNG buses can ply with ease and courts have issued numerous orders to bulldoze slums. Even the Delhi government’s pleas to give them more time to prepare a rehabilitation programme was not heard.” Bhushan warned that, “unless steps are taken, we will soon have an insurgency in the country when there would be bloodshed. The judiciary can proudly claim a role in speeding it up.”

Other issues touched at the summit were farmers’ suicides, urban India vs rural India and the positive model: stories of rural success. The speakers included social activists Prakash Amte, Father Thomas Kocherry and Ashish Kothari. Then there was a discussion on “equal education: excellence or prejudice?” and “the Indian state: protector or alienator?” in which Kapil Sibal, Arun Jaitely and Medha Patekar, among others, contributing passionately. The two other subjects of heated dialogue were: “Naxals: backlash of the fourth world?” and “North East: On the Map, off the Mind”.

Excerpts were shown from moving documentaries like Kavita Joshi’s “The Mother’s Protest”, Krishnendu Bose’s “Who Killed Ranga Reddy?”, Atul Gupta’s “Waiting”, which looks into disappearances and its politics in human lives, C Vanaja’s “Smarana”, a film on the agony of mothers who have lost their children in the Naxalite movement of Andhra Pradesh, and Ruzbeh N. Bharucha’s, “Yamuna Gently Weepa”, a film on the demolition of one of the biggest slums in the world.

for more :

and thanks to The Tribune – On line Edition

Thomas Kocherry on February 13th, 2007 at 8:11 am 

It was a political event of the powrerless in India. BBut we must sustain the efforts. we are here in Haripur tryin to protect the fisher people and fsarmers from the destruction of 10000 mw nuclear plant in west bengal.

antho,ny on September 8th, 2008 at 2:36 pm 

Every industrial nation has gone through what India is going through now in the course of their development.However, India is in the unique position to benefit from the collective experience of the world’s current industrialized nations. Of utmost importance is to ensure the gradient differential of social inequity is not to
severe in intensity. A strong middle class needs to be developed. Also, of critical importance is the continued implementation of social programs which ensure universal health care and education.
India has a great future as long as steps are ,taken now which ensures everyone moves forward together.
Anthony Carlo Quintiliani
Boca Raton,Fla.
September 8, 2008

Post a comment

Name:  (enter something here)
Email:  (and here)
URL:  (but not necessarily here)