Citizenship Amendment Bill and Narratives of the Struggles

India recently passed the citizenship Amendment Act 2019 under which illegal immigrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from the south Asia neighboring nations of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who entered India on or before 31 December 2014 can become legal citizens of India. The Act excludes any such benefit to Muslims. The Act has been vehemently protested from the very conception. The protests continue unabated even after it is passed, and is currently spreading like wildfire across the country. The entire state of Assam and other northeastern states like Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh has been the major points for the protests till yet. Such has been the extent of the protests that Internet both broadband and mobile remain suspended in Assam and parts of Meghalaya. Curfew and section 144 has been imposed in almost all the places of protests. But people continue to defy the curfew and come out in large numbers, especially in Assam. 4 people have been killed while more than a dozen injured.

While discussing the protests, two dominant narratives are now highlighted, first that the Act by using religion as a pre-requisite for citizenship challenges the very ethos of the Indian constitution and what it stand for. It is also against the secular values of the nation, which the constitution guarantees to protect. The Act, by law now classifies immigrants or ‘persecuted’ people on the basis of religion. (The Act itself does not mention the word persecuted). This is being highlighted as the dominant narrative of the struggles in India by the mainstream media. States like Delhi, Maharashtra, West Bengal, etc. are highlighted as proponents of this narrative.

The other narrative, which people of Assam and other northeastern states are following has nothing much to do with religion but more to do with identity and land rights. They do not want ‘any illegal immigrant’ irrespective of their religion. As most of the states with constitutional protections and sixth schedule statuses are kept outside the purview of the Act, the majority of the protests are happening in Assam. Other states like Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, and Manipur is now joining in the protests.

Now certain trends are being noticed in the media –

  • By dividing the strikes into narratives, a section of the media is also seeking to hijack the Northeastern narrative or just bulldoze the whole thing. Many seem to be eager to highlight the Assamese people as xenophobic for not wanting ‘persecuted refugees’, and that the movement is inward-looking. They think that the protests in other parts are by default better due to the values it stands for like ‘secularism’ and ‘constitutional ethos’.
  • Such blanket narratives not only harms the movement but also ignore the historical and lived realities of the people of Assam. Assam and states of northeast after the formation of Bangladesh in 1971, steadily kept receiving influx of immigrants/refugees from across the border. Now they have reached a point where they cannot share the burden anymore. People in Assam have lived with their experiences and have seen with their own eyes, the attack immigration brings on their language, land and culture. Thus, the movement is also about protection of their ethnic identity. 
  • Various media personnel including those from the northeast use the reason of Assam voting for BJP and supporting the NRC as justifications to their narrative of portraying the Assamese people as xenophobic. The Assamese people when they voted for BJP did it with a hope for systematic eradication of the whole illegal immigration business. They were tired of political parties milking the issue for political mileage in every election. They hoped NRC fix that once and for all by maintaining a registrar of citizens and migrants who have come to Assam before 1971. This was a commitment done under the Assam Accord. Instead what Assam got was a badly carried out exercise which left out millions from the list. But the govt betrayed the Assamese people because they themselves rejected the NRC when they found that more Hindus are missing in the list. Now they have brought in the CAB to protect those left out Hindus. It’s pretty evident even though they keep trying to hide direct connections to it. While both the exercises are connected, those bulldozing the ‘secularism’ narrative have not tried to find out the reasons for Assamese people’s support to NRC and opposition to CAB. 
  • And it also clearly highlights the lack of understanding of the media. It is beyond their imagination that people of Assam and NE are more proud of their ethnic identity than religious identities. The movement is a clear depiction of that.

 

50 things I miss about Cotton College

Spent 2 years in Cotton College from 2002-2004. Did my H.S. in Arts from there. Stayed at MNDP Hostel, popularly known as DS (Double Storey). Cotton College experience is almost inexplicable. It’s a league of its own. If you’re a cottonian, you know this. But here I list some things that I miss about my stay at Cotton.

  1. Getting military-style hair cuts and wearing full sleeves shirts without tucking for a month as a part of ‘freshers orientation’ into hostel
  2. Getting and giving ‘Festival’ (something we dreaded as juniors, if you’re a Cottonian you would know what it means)
  3. Enjoying that little extra leverage from ragging, as you played sports and the hostel seniors wanted you.
  4. Singing random songs for seniors, as they suddenly felt like listening to me sing.
  5. Collecting and memorizing the home addresses of every senior in the hostel. I mean it did not make any sense, but we had to. We had separate notebooks just to write those down
  6. Asking the names of ‘pretty girls’ in your class because some random hostel seniors liked them
  7. Sitting on college stairs (when you are freshers, you are not allowed to sit on them, or else ‘Festival Khaba’)
  8. Having the best of the times with the seniors who actually gave you the hardest times
  9. Freshers parties at cotton college. (Umm they are super fun)
  10. Getting up super early and going to Judges field and blocking the pitch for cricket match against other hostel residents
  11. Staying up till late night and blocking part of the roads near the college for election campaigns. (We painted on the roads ‘Vote for …..candidates name…..’)
  12. Going to the dining hall early on Saturdays to get extra puris
  13. Doing Hostel Mess Shopping in Paltan Bazar
  14. Going to the PCO after dinner to make calls to family (Strictly Family……:P, if you know what I am saying)
  15. Playing cricket at the Hostel lawns
  16. Shouting and Singing like crazy in the Bathrooms
  17. Saraswati Puja celebrations. It allowed us to visit the girls’ hostel
  18. Handique Girls College. Oh, we cottonians love Handique College
  19. College Elections
  20. Moving from hostel to hostel campaigning, singing songs and dancing.
  21. Preparing for March past competition
  22. Requesting the armed forces Bhaiyas at the Transit Camp, Guwahati for their black army shoes, as we did not have enough to compete in the March Past competition
  23. Making fun of the ‘Kaala Panis’ (You would know what it means if you are a Cottonian)
  24. Winning the competition for 3 years continuously. Crying out of happiness in Latasil Field
  25. Irritating the Warden by making more noise when he was on the rounds
  26. Dancing like crazy in the hostel verandah to ‘Bheege Honth Tere’. we overdid it as the road next to the hostel were used by girls to go to their classes
  27. Breaking lights of trucks who disobeyed the order of ‘no entry’ to the cotton roads, especially during exams. (we were studying and the noises of the trucks disturbed us..:P )
  28. Our Hostel warden shouting at the police personnel and asking them to get out of our hostel premises. we were proud of this that night 🙂
  29. Watching all kinds of movies (you know, if you know) in those mini size TVs in our hostel rooms.
  30. Studying hard for exams (Yes, unlike popular belief, we also studied. Well at least, sometimes)
  31. Late night tea at Railway Station
  32. Movies at Apsara Cinema Hall. We used the Hostel letter pads to break the line and get tickets. Sometimes at Rupashree too. (if you are a cottonian, you will know 😛 )
  33. Sometimes it did not work and we had to get into some fights in the tickets line !!!
  34. Bunking classes and spending lazy times at the canteen
  35. Getting into unnecessary conflicts with the local students. (Local vs Hostel disputes were rampant in cotton college)
  36. Defeating the ‘Local cricket team’ in sports week
  37. ‘Fitting’ for classmates and seniors during exams (If you’re Cottonianan, you would know)
  38. Having parties in the evenings, if the ‘Fitting’ went right !!!
  39. Rajabala and Ranibala (Yes they were girls hostel)
  40. Opening my first Orkut Account at the internet cafe near our Hostel (yes, that’s all we did at the cafe 😛 )
  41. Communal bathing near the MNDP hostel water tanker, generally after cricket matches
  42. Exchanging shirts with friends (People did not know which shirt was whose 🙂 )
  43. Collecting 40 rs to buy pork fry from AT Road to not eat the hostel ka sabzi
  44. Stationary shopping at MC Trading (The shop is still there)
  45. Basketball games at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Guwahati
  46. Dighalipukhuri
  47. Hitting on the first girl crush and getting rejected 😛
  48. Hostel Picnics- Umm they were fun
  49. Asking your friends and seniors write parting memories in your notebook
  50. Crying like crazy when you had to leave college after 2 years of ‘best times’

Not an exhaustive list…You can never list down all your memories of cotton college.

If you are a Cottonian, you would know !!!

 

(The featured image shows me and my friend Jitu pegu, visiting and posing at our hostel gate)

Of language and ‘Assamese Nationalists’

I belong to the Mising tribe of Assam. Our language is in the ‘Definitely Endangered’ list. Recently the Home Minister of India, Amit Shah created quite an uproar when he hinted on one nation-one language. , highlighting that Hindi should be the connecting language in India. My tribe, the Misings, second largest tribal community in Assam, in the north eastern state has been battling to preserve its language. While I am against #HindiImposition I am equally wary of the ‘Assamese Nationalist’, especially those who expect everyone in Assam to know Assamese. The Assamese nationalist, celebrates the historical icons of Assam (mostly belonging to Ahom and other Assamese kingdoms, while conveniently erasing the history of the tribes.

They will shout from rooftops that Hindi language kills indigenous languages but will conveniently ignore the consequences of Assamese language imposition. My tribe has been demanding for Introduction of Mising language at primary levels in Mising dominated areas. The Assamese nationalist will never support this movement. They are also the ones who file PILs and court cases against the flood displaced misings when they settle in govt ‘protected lands’. Coz bird and animals are more important. I have written about how Misings were forcefully evicted from hills outside the Guwahati city in Assam here

They will talk about protection of culture and language but will take out demonstrations, and call bandhs against the 6th schedule movement of the Misings ! The sixth grants territorial protection to indigenous people in Tripura, Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram. The Misings have been demanding for protection under 6th schedule since decades, only to be faced by strong opposition from the other Assamese communities.

Moreover, they will expect everyone to celebrate Bihu but will not support the demand for a dedicated holiday on Ali aye Ligang!. Ali-Aye-ligang is a restricted holiday in Assam implemented only in Misings dominated areas. So most of the Misings who are in non-rising majority states actually cannot celebrate the new year of the community itself.

So to me, all those Assamese folks who oppose #HindiImposition but not support the movement in protecting the language, culture and land of the tribes; and if their definition of Assamese do not include the diverse group of tribes, then they are just a hypocrite.

 

(More to follow- this will soon become an academic article)

Field Notes- Finland

I come to Helsinki twice a year, usually for my work trips. Most of the trips are about closed door conference hall meetings in a hotel. And Dinners at night usually with union partners and colleagues. Sometimes, I also get to meet with some young members, mostly in seminars, where I interact with them and inform them about trade union situation in South Asia. Last night was a change. A change in my usual schedule where 10 Finnish trade union members last night. They were part of the group who visited India 2 years ago for a 2 week long study tour. This time they hosted me for an informal get together and dinner. we had lots of discussions over some beer, tea, and some dinner. Informal dinner and beers are a great recipe for conversations. People open up more and share stories. We had a few interesting conversations and I share some observations here.

 

  • Many of the union members campaigned really hard amidst their members to try and influence their voting decisions to the social democratic parties and other liberal parties. Their objectives were to be campaign against the rightist/conservative and xenophobic parties. But they say they did not succeed much. However, the social Democratic Party still won and will be the majority party in the ruling coalition. Workers, like India, here also do not vote on labor identity lines yet.
  • I told them that in the seminars that I speak over the years, questions have changed. Earlier, about 4 years ago, the members used to ask me, how their union support is helping the movements in the global south and what can they do more? Now since last year the questions have changed and they ask, “Why should we support movements abroad, when our own situations are deteriorating?’ Why should we do solidarity projects, when we are ourselves  losing jobs?”. The questions have turned more inward looking.
  • Unions here are also very male dominated with aged individuals getting most of the leadership positions.
  • The rate at which the unions are losing members are very high and the union movement will have to pull up their socks if they have the stop this process. The young members told me that they are disappointed at how the leadership is not realising this.
  • There is an increasing class gap between those who work for the unions and the general members. The union officials get much better salaries than their members, which in turn is creating a sense of alienation from the real issues of the workers.
  • A young worker, who lost a seat at the union board in an election (which she thought she deserved) highlighted at she was particularly angry at elderly leaders coming and consoling her saying, “you are still young, and will have more opportunities to be at the board”. She highlights that to them, her age mattered more than her hard work. She highlights that the union leadership do not reflect the union membership. While leaders are mostly men, and middle and older age, the membership was mixed with young members, women and men. To her the leadership should also reflect the same proportion.

Interesting learnings !!!!

 

I don’t sing in the shower anymore !

I don’t sing in the shower anymore. It’s as if something has happened. The worse part is I did not realise it till now. What happened? Did something go wrong? I still try to figure !

I look at my life. Everything is fine. we are a family of 3, with my wife and our little 1.5 years old toddler. He just lights up our lives. We are happy. Then why did I stop singing. When exactly did I stop. I can’t seem to remember.

I have grown up humming songs. Have sung in stages, on roads and at hostel showers. I was identified with my songs. In dark nights at our village, I use to sing, because it gave me a sense of confidence, and also blocked other sounds of the night. My neighbours knew me by my songs, and would call out to me. My dad hated it, asked me to give it up and focus on ‘studying’ more. For him, what mattered the most was I getting a job and getting ‘settled’. I got the singing genes from my Mom. She still sings and does it with full fervour and love. She still has the ability to make people cry with her song. She can compose a song or two on her own. we were both ‘shameless’ in a society which made many ‘judgements’.

In my hostel days, at Guwahati Cotton College, my friends and hostel mates called me ‘the singing guy’ who sang like crazy in the bathroom. we had singing buddies. He sang English songs, while I focused on Assamese and Hindi. We are still friends. I am not sure if he has also stopped singing in the shower. I shall ask him when I meet him next.  We were the ‘star campaigners’ for the candidates of our hostel standing for college elections. In that sense, we were pretty pampered and ‘sought after’. I sang at Freshers parties and at drunken nights too. My singing even got me out of hostel Ragging too.

In Delhi, I was requested for by my seniors, who missed the ‘motherland’. I could hum a few tunes of our folk songs. I never picked up English songs, nor could sing them. May be because, I never had the opportunity to hear them while growing up. We had no radio or televisions. The first black and white television at our family came, when I was about 12 years old. We use to watch ‘serials’ like Chitrahaar and Chandrakanta etc. at our neighbours house. They were better off than us. Sundays were fun days.

In Mumbai, during my masters, I sang too in the shower. I use to sing louder than usual to bother some of my ‘punter group’ friends. We still have the punter group, though we talk more on WhatsApp now. I also sang for my wife often. It started off with ‘teasing songs’ to ‘love songs’. She smiled along. More than the songs perhaps, she liked the fact that I made an effort to sing for her.

When it came to songs, I was never shy. I was ready to sing at the drop of the hat. I have sung songs which did not suit the time or place. I have rate distinctions of singing ‘Ganga Behti ho Kyun’  (by Bhupen Hazarika) at a friends wedding. Of all the places I loved the most to sing in the shower.

But it has been long since I have sung in the shower. A song just for myself. When did I stop? I can’t seem to remember !!!!

to be continued ….!!!!

 

Let this Ali-Aye’-Ligang be about a struggle !!!

Today, the Mising community celebrates Ali-Aye’-Ligang. Essentially, an agricultural festival, it officially marks the beginning of the new year for the community. Ali (Roots)- Aye (Fruits)- Ligang (Start of Sowing), literally translates into a festival which marks the commencement of the sowing season among the Misings. It’s a happy time, where families gather and feast on Apong (Rice Beer), Pork and Purang Apin. Usually a happy occasion but it is also about a struggle. A struggle for identity, cultural preservation and recognition.

Many, within the community, probably would not know that Ali-Aye-Ligang was celebrated on different dates, in different years, as sowing depended on various other factors like geographical location, climate etc. After a long struggle and discussions with the community, they decided to mark the festival on the first Wednesday of every Fagun (Phalgun in Hindi) month. This created a sense of uniformity and all of the Mising community celebrated the festival on the same day, irrespective of their geographical location.

It is also a fight for recognition. The community, after a long struggle could ensure that the Assam government declare it as a holiday. However, it is still just a restricted Holiday, which means it is a holiday in only the Mising majority districts, thereby limiting the ability of Mising people staying in non-majority districts to celebrate the festival. The Misings are the second largest tribe in Assam with almost a million, if not more (officials record vary) people. However, the community does not even have an officially recognised gazetted holiday to celebrate its festival. Assam has more state wide bandhs, which looks like gazetted holidays. (See the irony here)

It is also a struggle for identity, for cultural and geographical preservation. The Community has been fighting a long battle, lasting decades and decades for sixth schedule status, granted under the Indian constitution. Politics, leaders, vote banks have continued but the demand for 6th schedule status still remains. Misings have an autonomous councils but no territorial protection. Every election is fought making 6th schedule an issue but no government has seriously considered this long standing demand yet.

And most importantly, if not finally, Ali-Aye’-Ligang is a struggle for survival. This community, resides in the most flood affected districts of Assam, which also becomes the reason for govt. negligence towards them. The community is pushed into deeper margins of poverty with each passing day. The lands are no longer fertile, the rivers have dried up and the forests have long disappeared. The floods brought soil and created layers of it over their land, rendering it not worthy for any sort of agricultural cultivation. Thus, people had no choice but to migrate to the cities, across India and become daily wage labourers. Thousands leave Assam every day. Villages are almost empty of young people, especially young boys and men. You will find them in cities working as security guards, construction workers and cleaners etc. A self reliant community, which had once rice filled granaries, free flowing rice beer, now struggles to survive. A small minority of the community have had the education and got themselves into jobs and continue to flourish, while majority languish.

Thus, Ali-Aye’-Ligang is not only a festival. It’s a struggle. if not a reminiscence of a ‘glorious past’ let it be about a ‘bright future’ where the community grows towards prosperity and unity.

(image found via google search. Not copyrighted by the author)

Of NRC, Social Media and Exaggerations

Humans have always moved from one place to another and will continue to do so. Legality/Illegality is a concept imposed by the state. In that context, the NRC in Assam does not find any meaning. To be frank, I really don’t care much about the exercise itself. It was ill planned, done in haste and will not have any considerable results. There was no plan in place for what will happen to the people whose names are not in the list.

But what is strange is the social media outrage against it. Most of it is based on exaggerations and is complete distortion of facts. Like always in social media,  people see things in black and white and completely miss the complexities involved in it.

First, the outrage based on the fact that 4 million names are missing. Absurd statements like the Assam govt. plans to throw them out of the state or put them in detention camps is completely baseless. Let’s get the facts right, almost half of the 4 million, if not more comprises of tribals and Assamese people who have no documents to prove ancestry or simply people who missed the bus while filling the forms. About 100,000 names (mostly tribal) is missing from the list in the NRC. My grandfather’s name is not in the list, while my parents are there. My parent’s name helped me to get into the list, but I never bothered to put my wife’s or kid’s name in the list. With tribes, not maintaining records, it is obvious that many of those names would be missing.

And even for those who are not in the list, there are no Nazi like camps waiting (like the mainstream media or people would want to believe). The Assam govt. has specifically mentioned that there will no torture or camps involved.

Second, there is a belief that it is being done to throw out Bengali Muslims. It’s actually not true, even though probably most people in Assam would also like to believe that. Many actually believed that the demographic reality would change in places, where most of the names omitted would probably be Bengali speaking Muslims. But not much has changed. Even in a Hindu dominated constituency like Dhekiajuli, Out of the 38,000 names missing, most of them are Hindu-Bengali and Nepali people.

Third and very important, none of the criticisms actually reflect the views of the ‘indigenous’. There are ample cases of villages springing up within nights, mostly near elections, and increasing the vote bank of ‘certain politicians’ helping them winning elections. Many times, these villages also emerge in protected areas. Now this is also one side of the reality. Seeing them, the local population, mostly the tribes, gets insecurity and feels threat to their land and language. Now that is another part of the reality. And this also works on hear say, where these feelings of insecurity get exaggerated. Will an NRC type exercise solve it? I am not sure. Instead the govt. should take up measures to actually provide for constitutionally warranted territorial and cultural protection to the tribes under the sixth schedule.

What are the risks?

The fears of those not in the list is not unfounded. This is where there is a problem. The only thing we know for sure is that the Assam govt. do not plan to victimize/torture them or put them in camps. The supreme court has asked the govt. to clear the modalities in which those not in the list can make claims by August 16. This is where the activists should monitor and raise issues. It should be ensured that no person not appearing in the list should be victimized. In fact, a lot of the activists in Assam are already doing that. So, the social media outrage where every Assamese is blanketed as wanting to drive away ‘foreigners’ is not true.

Deportation is not even an option according to me. It’s not like the Bangladesh govt. is waiting for them. Bangladesh does not even acknowledge the presence of illegal immigration happening. Also I am not sure if the Assam govt. is actually prepared to deport such a large amount of people. The Assam govt. definitely need to put in proper plans in place for those not featured in the list.

BJP Surge in North East India-Key Lessons

By Manoranjan Pegu

In the recently concluded Elections, the BJP won a decisive majority in Tripura, giving the party a stronger foothold in the Northeast. It is now the governing party in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and now Tripura. It also managed to become a part of the govt. in Meghalaya, giving the party an undisputed hold of the Northeastern states. Congress now remain only in Mizoram, while Sikkim is being ruled by Sikkim Democratic Front, since 1994. In Tripura, the BJP not only won against the five-term regime of the CPM in Tripura, but also managed to increase its vote share from 1% in the last election to 42.5%, which is an extraordinary feat. Till 2014, BJP even after persistent efforts was not able to make much inroads into northeastern politics. Come 4 years later, BJP is a force to be reckoned with. So what happened? How did they manage to do so? The meteoric rise of BJP in Northeast, I believe has very less to do with Modi persona (as many media houses would want us to believe in) but more to do with how the party devised its strategy and implemented in the region. The party had a definite plan, contextualized to every NE state, which it followed to come to power in each of it. Some key learnings (for me, at least) are:

  1. Individuals don’t win elections, parties do. An individual might be able to win and retain her/his constituency but that’s not enough to form the government in the state. Of course, a person’s reputation matters but that is rarely enough. We have seen that in Manmohan Singh and now in Manik Sarkar too. Manik Sarkar’s simple and honest image was not enough for his party to secure a historic 5th term win. We can even take the example of Sarbananda Sonowal in Assam. His reputation has been intact since his student union days. Everybody in Assam swears by his political integrity. And he did win elections, even when he was with the AGP. He probably would have continued to do so, even if he had stayed on in AGP or joined congress for that matter. But that would have not been enough to form govt. Thus, it is the party which matters. Giving tickets to right candidates, putting the party interest as top priority and devising a contextualized plan is a must to win elections. And that is what the BJP did in Assam. They have done the same now in Tripura too.
  2. You can’t approach elections as an academic exercise. There is no alternative to hardcore aggressive grassroots campaigning. And what you bring to the table matters. The BJP in Tripura has been in election mode since the last 2.5 years. They had a simple plan, to reach out to every voter. Plans included voter registrations, campaigns and pamphlet distribution in trains, RSS opening large number of shakas and engagement of various volunteers statewide. And the results clearly show that they were able to reach out.
  3. The electorate triumphs in elections. No matter how you analyze, and how well you do, if the electorate don’t want you to win, you probably won’t. I shall use myself as an example here. I have 5 uncles, about a dozen cousins, and many relatives. To be precise, we have about 50 people who vote in my extended family. Being the most educated and ‘politically conscious’ in the family, it would be safe to assume that they would trust my judgement. And they do in everything else. But when it comes to politics, I can rarely influence any. At most, I might be able to influence about 3 people. People vote because of various reasons and my arguments often based on party ideology and agenda, don’t always make a mark among my relatives. Parties need to understand the voting behavior of the people, capture and should be able to utilize it. Moreover, most of the analysis done by political commentors in TV studios, or by us in social media are not always based on those realistic behavioral patterns but are deductions based on conversations we have had with a few people or from what we read/heard in the media.
  4. Alliances Matter. The BJP for instance, knew that they need to forge an Alliance with the IPFT (Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura), if they had to get the tribal vote in Tripura. Similarly, they allied with NDPP in Nagaland. It’s the same Alliance, that has enabled them to be a part of the govt. in Meghalaya and secure a ministerial berth even with only 2 wins.

The above experiences coupled with services of experienced leaders like Himanta Biswa Sharma in each of these states, BJP sure is getting ready for a longer run in the North East

 

(The opinions expressed are personal. Image via google search)

Surviving 16 Finns-A story of learning, togetherness and Laughter !!!

‘I have more balls than many of the men in my workplace’, she declares with utmost confidence.

While another one asks question at every given opportunity, sometimes fun, sometimes not so much. 🙂

This bunch of participants have been a fun and exciting group. It is an interesting mix, from Dentists to Researchers, young leaders to chemical factory worker. In each of them, I can see a genuine interest in learning about the issues of the workers here in India. Many I believe, would even want to contribute to the change process happening in India by participating in the struggles here.

About 2 weeks ago, I was not very sure of how the study tour would pan out. I have been told, on numerous occasions that Finns are hard people to handle. Often seen as reserved, they rarely talk and smile only when needed. Their concept of ‘space’ is polar opposite of how we view it in India.My colleague who had previously handled such tours sent me a cautious email highlighting that I should be patient in my approach with them. Also that I should DEFINITELY speak slower than I normally do.

I have never played by the rules but this time, I did make some plans. Hell, I even made plan B’s (which I rarely do). But after 2 weeks of constant travel, discussions and some drinking sessions (hushed tone), we can safely say that we did well. Our plan had no major deviations or any hiccups.

Of all things, what I liked the most is answering those questions, sharing experiences and getting to know so many awesome people. Almost all of them impress, with their passion for trade unionism and genuine concern for global solidarity. Some get overwhelmed and emotional (anyone would), and ask if they could directly contribute to bring about change. We tell them bringing about change is slow, often also painful as it demand immense sacrifice. Moreover, its a collective effort and we should focus on strengthening the struggles/institutions/networks which are in a constant battle to bring about change.

India is chaotic. There is no doubt about that. Right next to a skyscraper/beautiful Building, often there might be a dirt filled slum or a garbage dump. Absolute poverty is still at its highest in this country. A small road/rail trip shows you the absolute contrast in the country. But the idea was not to feel pity of them but understand that poverty here continues to exist due to unaddressed structural issues. Organizations like SASK tries to strengthen the struggles which are always in fight to address these structural concerns. The group seems to understand it. we ask them to spread the word and they assure us that they will.

We have Hope…!!!

The best part probably to me is that this group understands that its not about ‘them giving and us receiving’. Change and learning is a two way process. Many of them come up to me and tell me that they learned a lot and would like to replicate some of the ‘interesting things’ learned from the trip in their own unions. That’s incredible.

So, would I dare to conduct a study tour again. Would I dare to take around 15 Finns for two weeks across India. Yes, I definitely would.

All I need is a few aspirin tablets, some dry/sarcastic humor and a hell lot of openness – an openness to learn…!!!

(I was a part of study tour, wherein 15 delegates from Finland visited various unions in the states of Delhi, Rajasthan, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. This blog is a reflection of that tour- Manoranjan Pegu)

Listen, the Revolution blooms in Silence

What in your phone is making you laugh?

It’s a meme: A thief entered my room last night. He was looking for money. I joined him in the search.

Lovely one. An accurate, mischievous description of today.

On the train, a person was calling out loudly: From tomorrow, all over India, everyone’s salary will be 18,000 rupees. Equal. No one will be thief, and no one king. Long live the government.

My train has one like him too. He says 15,000 rupees. But he adds that non-compliance will lead to a prison term. Then he claps his hands and repeats this.

A different argument is on in my bus. It’s on silence. I want to discuss it with you both.

Do people in your bus look down on silence? Cowards stay silent and the bold have speech. That so?

Something like that. And yet, as arguments proceed, all kinds of qualities of silence start blooming. But then these qualities get blurred by the weight of ideas about cowardice & silence, oppression & silence.

This debate is everywhere. The many attributes of silence do have a presence. Take for example, “in silence”.

In silence. Silently.

Yes, they have a leavening quality.

Rebellious images get sparked every time I drop them into a conversation. ‘In silence’. Silently like a volcano, a forest.

‘They ate in silence in the canteen, and did not leave.’

‘Silently, they turned the machines off, and sat down. The silence made managers tremble.’

‘In silence’ is a relationship.

It is an action. A subterranean connection between bodies and minds.

Quiescence, standstill, lull. These are particular relationships. They cannot be taught. They are not inherited. They do not germinate, nor grow, through exchanges in the market.

You mean it’s a realm we inhabit everyday? Feel it all around? We make it generative? Make it lethal? We live this edge all the time?

Let’s agree it is a strength both fragile and fervid. But let’s not confuse it with speechlessness. It’s a dialect; let’s call it an in-silence-dialect.

Not a dialect that is in silence.

When 15-20 of us go to the manager, and different voices speak out, in speech that is broken and partial and in its fullness, and then the next day again 20-25 of us do the same… and again, and again… a restless milieu builds. Managers fear this. Speech remains scattered between many. Managers fear this form of being in silence.

No targets, no speeches, and with words of many.

A friend always reminds me, “When hungry, you have to yourself eat.” The words of many have velocity. They move between buses, via trains, in parks, to tea stalls, and carry across countless doors and windows.

This spread is not visible. It has a technique. It stays difficult to grasp. It has depth of memory, but is not locked in any one head. It swims within common life.

 

(Reproduced from ‘Faridabad Mazdoor Samachar’ FMS#352 || Faridabad-NCR || October 2017. Translated from Hindi by FMS. You can read the Faridabad Workers Newspaper here)