Monday, June 29, 2009

The Night I Met Einstein

I have heard a lot of people complaining about good cinema or music that they dont understand them. As far they are concerned same is the case with any serious subject be it politics or literature. According to them these are all for intellectuals and not for the people. Its true that some artists and writers have a wrong notion that obscurity is a yardstick for quality. What they have to understand is that any form of art that doesn't communicate with the people can't really be called worthy. However its also true that most artists dont like to make compromises.

This article , i read in an old Reader's Digest Magazine, could help those who think that they can't understand any good art. I think this article can be really a gateway to a whole new world of quality.

The Night I Met Einstein

By Jerome Weidman

When I was a very young man, just beginning to make my way, I was invited to dine at the home of a distinguished New York philanthropist. After dinner our hostess led us to an enormous drawing room. Other guests were pouring in, and my eyes beheld two unnerving sights: servants were arranging small gilt chairs in long, neat rows; and up front, leaning against the wall, were musical instruments. Apparently I was in for an evening of Chamber music.
I use the phrase "in for" because music meant nothing to me. I am almost tone deaf. Only with great effort can I carry the simplest tune, and serious music was to me no more than an arrangement of noises. So I did what I always did when trapped: I sat down and when the music started I fixed my face in what I hoped was an expression of intelligent appreciation, closed my ears from the inside and submerged myself in my own completely irrelevant thoughts.
After a while, becoming aware that the people around me were applauding, I concluded it was safe to unplug my ears. At once I heard a gentle but surprisingly penetrating voice on my right.
"You are fond of Bach?" the voice said.
I knew as much about Bach as I know about nuclear fission. But I did know one of the most famous faces in the world, with the renowned shock of untidy white hair and the ever-present pipe between the teeth. I was sitting next to Albert Einstein.
"Well," I said uncomfortably, and hesitated. I had been asked a casual question. All I had to do was be I equally casual in my reply. But I could see from the look in my neighbor's extraordinary eyes that their owner was not merely going through the perfunctory duties of elementary politeness. Regardless of what value I placed on my part in the verbal exchange, to this man his part in it mattered very much. Above all, I could feel that this was a man to whom you did not tell a lie, however small.
"I don't know anything about Bach," I said awkwardly. "I've never heard any of his music."
A look of perplexed astonishment washed across Einstein's mobile face.
"You have never heard Bach?"
He made it sound as though I had said I'd never taken a bath.
"It isn't that I don't want to like Bach," I replied hastily. "It's just that I'm tone deaf, or almost tone deaf, and I've never really heard anybody's music."
A look of concern came into the old man's face. "Please," he said abruptly, "You will come with me?"
He stood up and took my arm. I stood up. As he led me across that crowded room I kept my embarrassed glance fixed on the carpet. A rising murmur of puzzled speculation followed us out into the hall. Einstein paid no attention to it.
Resolutely he led me upstairs. He obviously knew the house well. On the floor above he opened the door into a book-lined study, drew me in and shut the door.
"Now," he said with a small, troubled smile. "You will tell me, please, how long you have felt this way about music?"
"All my life," I said, feeling awful. "I wish you would go back downstairs and listen, Dr. Einstein. The fact that I don't enjoy it doesn't matter."
He shook his head and scowled, as though I had introduced an irrelevance.
"Tell me, please," he said. "Is there any kind of music that you do like?"
"Well," I answered, "I like songs that have words, and the kind of music where I can follow the tune."
He smiled and nodded, obviously pleased. "You can give me an example, perhaps?"
"Well," I ventured, "almost anything by Bing Crosby."
He nodded again, briskly. "Good!"
He went to a corner of the room, opened a phonograph and started pulling out records. I watched him uneasily. At last he beamed. "Ah!" he said.
He put the record on and in a moment the study was filled with the relaxed, lilting strains of Bing Crosby's "When the Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day." Einstein beamed at me and kept time with the stem of his pipe. After three or four phrases he stopped the phonograph.
"Now," he said. "Will you tell me, please, what you have just heard?"
The simplest answer seemed to be to sing the lines. I did just that, trying desperately to stay on tune and keep my voice from cracking. The expression on Einstein's face was like the sunrise.

"You see!" he cried with delight when I finished. "You do have an ear!"
I mumbled something about this being one of my favorite songs, something I had heard hundreds of times, so that it didn't really prove anything.
"Nonsense!" said Einstein. "It proves everything! Do you remember your first arithmetic lesson in school? Suppose, at your very first contact with numbers, your teacher had ordered you to work out a problem in, say, long division or fractions. Could you have done so?"
"No, of course not."
"Precisely!" Einstein made a triumphant wave with his pipestem. "It would have been impossible and you would have reacted in panic. you would have closed your mind to long division and fractions. As a result, because of that one small mistake by your teacher, it is possible your whole life you would be denied the beauty of long division and fractions."
The pipestem went up and out in another wave.
"But on your first day no teacher would be so foolish. He would start you with elementary things¡ªthen, when you had acquired skill with the simplest problems, he would lead you up to long division and to fractions.
So it is with music." Einstein picked up the Bing Crosby record. "This simple, charming little song is like simple addition or subtraction. You have mastered it. Now we go on to something more complicated."
He found another record and set it going. The golden voice of John McCormack singing "The Trumpeter" filled the room. After a few lines Einstein stopped the record.
"So!" he said. "You will sing that back to me, please?"
I did¡ªwith a good deal of selfconsciousness but with, for me, a surprising degree of accuracy. Einstein stared at me with a look on his face that I had seen only once before in my life: on the face of my father as he listened to me deliver the valedictory address at my high school graduation.
"Excellent!" Einstein remarked when I finished. "Wonderful! Now this!"
"This" proved to be Caruso in what was to me a completely unrecognizable fragment from "Cavalleria Rusticana." Nevertheless, I managed to reproduce an approximation of the sounds the famous tenor had made. Einstein beamed his approval.
Caruso was followed by at least a dozen others. I could not shake my feeling of awe over the way this great man, into whose company I had been thrown by chance, was completely preoccupied by what we were doing, as though I were his sole concern.
We came at last to recordings of music without words, which I was instructed to reproduce by humming. When I reached for a high note, Einstein's mouth opened and his head went back as if to help me attain what seemed unattainable. Evidently I came close enough, for he suddenly turned off the phonograph.
"Now, young man," he said, putting his arm through mine. "We are ready for Bach!"
As we returned to our seats in the drawing room, the players were tuning up for a new selection. Einstein smiled and gave me a reassuring pat on the knee.
"Just allow yourself to listen," he whispered. "That is all."
It wasn't really all, of course. Without the effort he had just poured out for a total stranger I would never have heard, as I did that night for the first time in my life, Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze." I have heard it many times since. I don't think I shall ever tire of it. Because I never listen to it alone. I am sitting beside a small, round man with a shock of untidy white hair, a dead pipe clamped between his teeth, and eyes that contain in their extraordinary warmth all the wonder of the world.
When the concert was finished I added my genuine applause to that of the others.
Suddenly our hostess confronted us. "I'm so sorry, Dr. Einstein," she said with an icy glare at me, "that you missed so much of the performance."
Einstein and I came hastily to our feet. "I am sorry, too," he said. "My young friend here and I, however, were engaged in the greatest activity of which man is capable."
She looked puzzled. "Really?" she said. "And what is that?"
Einstein smiled and put his arm across my shoulders. And he uttered ten words that¡ªfor at least one person who is in his endless debt¡ªare his epitaph:
"Opening up yet another fragment of the frontier of beauty."

Monday, June 22, 2009

On Lalgarh

Lalgarh in India's West Bengal has literally beocme a burning cauldron. The opressed people who had been suffering under CPI(M)'s fascist misrule is finally putting up stiff resistance to the state terror. The state may succeed in crushing the people's movement for the time being. But it is obvious that they have chosen their path.

The state views the present Lalgarh uprising as the handiwork of "terrorists". But what is the truth. These two articles appeared in the Monthly Review throws light into the reality behind the uprising. One is a fact finding report by the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and another by Koustav De, an activist. And to watch a vedio on this please click here.

Report of Fact-finding Team from JNU on the Eve of Lalgarh Violence

by A Fact-finding Team of Students from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

A fact-finding team of nine students from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) recently visited Lalgarh, to probe into the reality of the ongoing movement of the people in the area. Here we are enclosing the preliminary details of what we saw. We would like to appeal to your daily news channel to also highlight certain issues of the movement, which we feel are not coming to the forefront as much as it should have

We heard through various media and other sources that there had been massive state repression in Lalgarh and other adjacent areas in November 2008, after the attempted mine blast on the convoy of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. We heard of incidents of rampant police atrocity especially on women and school children in Chhotopelia and Katapahari. We also heard that after that rampage the people there have formed the Pulishi Santrash Birodhi Janasadharoner Committee (PSBJC) and have blockaded Lalgarh and other areas out of police and other administration.

With these preliminary facts we went inside Lalgarh. We stayed there from the 7th of June to the 10th of June, 2009. We visited the Chhotapelia, Katapahari, Bohardanga, Sijua, Dain Tikri, Sindurpur, Madhupur, Babui Basha, Shaluka, Moltola Kadoshol, Basban, Papuria, Komladanga, pukhria, Korengapara, gopalnagar, Khash jongol, Shaalboni, Shaal danga, Andharmari, Darigera, Bhuladanga, Chitaram Dahi, Teshabandh, Bhuladanga villages and talked extensively to people. We attended one big meeting in Lodhashuli called by the Committee and witnessed other small meetings which were held inside the villages. The current firing and frontal battle between the people and the state and CPI(Marxist) (henceforth CPM - ed.) in Dharampura and Madhupur/Shijua had started while we were there. So we believe we have observed many facets of this movement pretty closely.

The visit to Lalgarh and talking closely to people broke many of the myths which we still held before going there. After listening to the chronological narrative of the history of police atrocities in the area, we realized that the November incident was not unique. It was just the continuation of extreme state terror and police atrocities that the people of the regions have tolerated since 2000.

What is unique this time is the resistance.

The people in all the villages virtually demonstrated how police had tortured them, entered houses at the wee hours of night to break everything and beat up people in the name of 'raids', how any movement of the people at night even to look for their cattle was banned, how almost in every family there is someone or the other who had been booked for being a 'Maoist', how 90 year old Maiku Murmu of Teshabandh was beaten to death by the police way back in 2006. Young school girls were regularly molested by the police in the pretext of 'body check', women were forced to show their genitals at night during 'raids' to confirm their gender. Before every election 30-40 people from every village were picked up as 'Maoists' in order to debilitate the opposition. The incident of Chhotopelia, where a number of women were ruthlessly beaten up and one of them Chhitamoni lost her eye, virtually broke the limit of patience of the people. They have now risen up against this long drawn police atrocity.

Coupled with Police terror they talked of CPM terror too. CPM cadres and leaders have only acted as informers to police they said. Today when we saw the jubilation among people after demolishing Anuj Pandey's house, we can understand the emotions of the people. Because what we saw among the people was utter hatred for CPM. They showed us around in Madhupur how the local panchayat office was turned into a camp of the harmad vahini. They told us how the 'motor cycle army' of the harmads zoomed around the villages, terrorizing people, breaking their houses brutally, firing in the air, and beating people up. We talked to one villager whose house was being demolished by the harmad, he helplessly kept calling the police in vein. It was only after an armed resistance was put up that the harmads were forced to retreat to Memul and further to Shijua.

Similarly, they narrated the incident of Khash Jongol, where, because of the lack of armed preparedness from the Committee, the harmads abruptly entered with the help of the police and opened fire and killed three people, injuring three others, and fled.

Police and CPM are not just in alliance, they are the same thing. They told us how the police stood as mute spectators whenever the harmads went on a rampage. The harmads have even used police jeeps to move around. The local CPM cadres provide information about the people within the villages to the police.

From our team, therefore when we see the current violence, which many media houses are branding as 'anarchy', we have a different opinion. We have seen the genuine anger of the people, their tolerance, their suffering. And we have no hesitation at all in holding the police, administration and CPM responsible for the current precipitation of the situation.

The Committee was formed against police atrocity. But what impressed us most was the alternative developmental work that the Committee and the people have been doing inside Lalgarh in the past seven months. These areas are marked by extreme poverty and backwardness. Rainfall is scanty and the people are dependent only on rainfall for agriculture. We saw the dysfunctional government canal, which is lying dry. They described the faulty nature of governmental dams which ultimately dry up the natural falls. The showed us the pathetic condition of roads which become completely inaccessible during the monsoons. The Committee on its own has made 20 km of roads with red stone chips ('morrum'). The people have volunteered labour to make these roads. The total cost to make this 20 km of road, they showed, was Rs. 47,000, while the panchayat always shows at least Rs. 15,000 for 1 km of road. They have repaired quite a few tube wells and installed new ones at half the price of the panchayat. They have started to make a check dam in Bohardanga to fight the water crisis. The two best things that have been done by the Committee is to start land distribution and run a health center in Katapahari. The vested forest lands are supposed to be distributed to the landless tribals according to a bill passed by the West Bengal government. But it never happened. Now the Committee is taking initiative in Banshberi and other villages to distribute the vested empty lands adjacent to the forests to the people who have no land. We saw the distribution of the patta in one village. The condition of health facilities was also in a pathetic state in the villages, as there was not a single functional health center. The nearest ones are in Lalgarh and Ramgarh town. Patients often died on the way to the hospital, often there had been cases of snakebites of the people who were carrying the patients to the hospital in the monsoon. There was a dysfunctional building in Katapahari which was supposed to be a health center. The administration decided to turn it into a police camp. After police boycott, the Committee turned it into a health center. Doctors from Kolkata and other regions visit there thrice a week. It is flocked by more than 150 patients every day.

We had also attended a huge meeting called by the Committee in Lodhashuli against a sponge iron factory located in the region. We visited the factory site and saw the adverse effect of pollution on the trees in region. The people informed that even the paddy grown in the region have turned black, so much so that even the panchayat has refused to accept the paddy. There are hospitals and schools in the vicinity of such a polluting factory. The meeting despite a bus strike called by CPM was attended by huge masses of people (around 12000), coming from different parts of the district. It was a vibrant meeting, where the Committee resolved among other things to boycott the factory and build a resistance to stop the factory for good.

The presence of the Maoists within Lalgarh is one of the most contentious issues right now. We saw the open presence of Maoists and their mass acceptance. They paste posters and have also held meetings where about ten thousand people have participated. And unlike the popular myth that Maoists are outsiders from Jharkhand etc. we saw the Maoist brigade to be flocked by locals. The people are pretty clear about the need for an armed resistance in the face of the regular joint attacks by the CPM and the state. The restriction of carrying traditional arms by them is a clear signal by the state to debilitate this movement.

By the time we left Lalgarh, the struggle had intensified. By now the people have been successful in making their immediate enemy CPM flee along with the police. The enthusiasm we saw in the people was exuberant. For the first time they are being part of not some vote minting political party but a committee which is their own organization. They are living a life free of state terror and building their own developmental projects. In different villages many residents held one opinion in common, 'we have got independence for the first time'. Their fight is against age old exploitation, deprivation, torture and terror. In this way this is a historic fight. And we strongly feel that what is deemed 'anarchy' by many is real struggle for independence.

We urge the media houses to revisit Lalgarh. The movement has its roots in the extreme impoverished socio economic conditions of the people because of the inaction of the state. The state is bound to strike back to this fight of the people. The CRPF will soon come back with the orders to open fire on the resilient masses. The state government is also shamelessly asking the notorious and infamous Greyhounds and Cobra to come and crush the people's movement. And that will be the most unfortunate and condemnable thing. The anger of the masses against massive state terror, underdevelopment and corruption is valid. And so is the long awaited fight against it.

We are going to publish a detailed report back in Delhi about this movement of the people. We remember that the media, especially the regional media in Bengal, had played a pretty progressive role during the Nandigram movement and would appeal to you to also stand by the people of Lalgarh and their genuine fight before the state carries out yet another genocide.

Priya Ranjan, Banojyotsna, Anirban, Gogol, Kusum, Reyaz, Yadvinder, Veer Singh, Sumati.

Contact : 09711826861

Lalgarh, an Icon of Adivasi Defiance
by Koustav De
Lalgarh was an obscure place in West Midnapore district of West Bengal (India). Before November 2008, it was just another village, 42 kilometers from the Midnapore railway station. Not any more. It is the centre of the movement of people who constitute almost 10% of the population of India. Lalgarh is now an icon of the defiance of the adivasi (tribal/indigenous population) against their history of discrimination and oppression.

The Shalbani land mine explosion on 2nd November 2008, which was targeted at the Chief Minister's convoy returning from the proposed site of Jindal Steel Plant, resulted in hyperactivity of the police, who immediately had to prove their proactive nature by identifying the 'culprits,' or rather scapegoats. As always they chose easy targets, tribal people from Lalgarh.

There is no map to Lalgarh, at least none easily available. The most detailed map shows a narrow road from Midnapore Station, which abruptly ends somewhere near Pirahkata. The road from Pirahkata to Lalgarh is well made but scantily used. The road is of no use to the indigenous population who possess no cars. Even motorbikes are a rarity among them, and their primary mode of transport is bullock carts, cycles or walking. So the quality of this road is not for the locals to appreciate. Its sole purpose is the quick transportation of police and para-military. This in fact sums up the direction of development in the majority of such areas. The black pitch road on the red soil surrounded by forests is most picturesque. The tranquility of the place was, until recently, disturbed every now and then by rumbling police jeeps and vans which would enter villages routinely and pick up adivasi for questioning. Often such questioning was accompanied by a generous dose of sadistic torture, both physical and psychological. It is most common to come across men and women of the region who have been detained and tortured apparently for no concrete reason, without any legal charge sheet produced. Detention often extends to three months on the base of mere speculation. People could not venture out of their houses after dark. The local police have even targeted some people whom they would repeatedly pick up for interrogation. A few conversations with the locals are enough to reveal a completely different world where not a day goes by without terror. The entire system at every level is bent on keeping them in such a state of constant fear that they would not even dream of making demands of development and all they wish for is a day without torture and police oppression.

Just after the Shalboni incident, the police of the Lalgarh and Ramgarh police stations led a joint operation on 5th November 2008, into the villages of Choto Pelia, Boro Pelia, Bashber and Kata Pahari. These are small villages at least two to six miles from each other, surrounded by forests and interconnected by narrow roads. They are thus easy targets for the police, where they can carry on their torturous interrogations in isolation without the news quickly leaking to surrounding villages. In Choto Pelia the police forced their way into houses and tortured and beat up people in their usual manner. According to one person, "We know the police from the way they knock at the door, just one long and loud knock and then they break in with heavy kicks. They do not even wait for anyone to open the door." In one such house the family was having a guest, a relative from a nearby village who was helping to stack up the paddy from the fields. The police at once singled him out, labeling him as an 'outsider' who has come to carry out the 'Shalboni Landmine Operation'. When the police tried to take him away, the women from the family tried pleading with the police. They pointed out that he was a guest and a relative and it was a disgrace to take him away in that manner. The police were in no mood to listen and thrashed them with the butt of their guns. One woman was hit right in the eye. She fell unconscious, her eye damaged permanently. Their guest was dragged away by four constables holding his hands and legs and thrown into the police van. On the same night, another police patrol came across four boys, all school students of classes eight to ten. They were returning to their homes in Bashber after a programme of Baul (folk) songs in Katapahari some 2 miles away. They were picked up without any questioning. "They never asked us a question, they just asked us to step into the van. We had no choice," remembered one of the students. In the police station, as their names and fathers' names were taken down, the police learnt that one boy had a father working in the army, and he was released at once. It was through him that the village came to know of the whereabouts of the other boys. The headmaster of Katapahari High School was detained on grounds of being a Maoist conspirator and hatching plans with his students. The police were working towards putting forth a good, dramatic and flawless lie that the press would readily endorse. Further detention and torture continued throughout the night. These incidents triggered the mass protests but are by no means the sole reason behind it. These were just the sparks to the gunpowder.

The list of deprivations and oppressions of the adivasis is a never ending one, and the government and the police took it for granted that these simple rustic peace-loving people had almost learnt to live with it. The police were too confident that their detentions would go unchallenged as always, especially when the adivasis of Lalgarh had no backing from mainstream parties -- neither the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI (M)] that governs West Bengal, nor the Congress, nor the Trinamool Congress, longtime ally of the Hindutva fascists. Remarkably, but not surprisingly, police never found it necessary to carry out investigations in the villages surrounding the location of the incident; they did not question even those peasants from whose fields the kilometer-long wire used to trigger the mine had been dug up. The simple reason for that is that the village and the region is politically a CPI (M) stronghold, and the party leaders did not want the police to harass their supporters.

Most adivasi of Lalgarh would point out that police repression had steadily increased since 1998, the year that marked a sudden spurt in Maoist activities in the tribal belt. People were picked up from their homes by the police, and often relatives were asked to sign papers which said that the person arrested was found in some forest and certain guns and ammunition were recovered from them. Refusal to sign would result in inhuman torture and prolonged detention without the arrest being acknowledged officially; signing the paper would mean lesser tortures but also a never-ending litigation. By 2008 there was hardly a single home in the tribal belt of West Bengal where police had not picked up and tortured a resident for being a 'Maoist' or a sympathizer.

The funds allotted to development of adivasis are regularly siphoned away by Panchayet [local government] leaders while the only visible development is more and more police camps, modern weapons and better-fortified police stations. Even as crores are being spent on modernizing the Lalgarh police stations, no house in the villages around has access to electricity, schools are but buildings without teachers, irrigation canals are perennially dry and the only toilets are the fields and forests. The majority of houses are still of mud and thatched roof of dry leaves while CPI (M) leaders have grossly misdirected funds allocated for Indira Awaas Yojna. According to IAY, money in installments can be provided to rural people living below poverty line (preference being given to members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) to build proper houses, with the cost shared between State and Central government. Funds are distributed by local Panchayets, and people who truly need the benefits have hardly heard of the scheme, while sons and daughters of local leaders got houses. Health Centers in the villages are at best occasionally visited by doctors and medicines are never available there.

In spite of all the deprivation and torture, only small, uncoordinated bursts of protest occurred, which were easily pacified or repressed. Often local leadership were bought and made to give pacifying statements after closed-door meetings. The leaders took the decision for the entire community. But the post-Shalboni protests were different -- they had no leadership who could decide for everyone. The adivasis had representatives who only communicated the decision of the entire community rather than took decisions on everyone's behalf.

On 6th November, adivasis gathered and moved to the Lalgarh police station and demanded immediate and unconditional release of all villagers detained without any ground, including the three boys. Looking at the unprecedented mobilization of the adivasis, the police well understood the gravity of the situation and started making false promises to pacify the crowds and buy time. But the situation grew tenser by the hour and soon support from other adivasi villages started pouring in. After night-long assurance that the boys would be soon released, in the morning, seeing that the mobilization had only grown yet larger, the police had to concede that the boys were never in the local police station but had been transferred to Midnapore Police Station. The adivasis could not be pacified with this -- they understood clearly that the words of assurance from the police could not be counted upon for release of their people, and a full-fledged movement needed to be launched. It was made clear to the police that they were not welcome in the villages any more. They decided to organize themselves and move for a permanent solution to this mindless police oppression.

The Lalgarh adivasis sat together in lengthy meetings and chalked out a proper plan to carry forth the movement. They decided to go around the existing mainstream political parties and float a forum of their own. This resulted in almost unanimous support of all adivasi sections towards the movement. They also decided upon an 11-point demand. The leadership emerged from within the people. But they insisted upon calling themselves a committee of the people, rather than leadership. And truly they have acted as spokespersons of the villages. Every village has chosen a 10-member committee of 5 men and 5 women. The participation of youth in these committees is truly overwhelming, as is their participation in the movement. This development and practice of participatory democracy is perhaps the most distinguishing and positive feature in these events. And this is the main point of concern for the government and the mainstream parties. Furthermore, these committees have specialized work allotted to the members, like communicating to journalists, maintaining contact with outsiders, communicating within the village, keeping in touch with far-off villages where the movement has spread. Within weeks of the movement, results started to show. The movement spread across other districts like Bankura, Birbhum, Puruliya and even North Bengal. Everywhere the character was similar, the mainstream parties dissolved away and committees sprung up. And everywhere the adivasis took measures to keep out the police: they barricaded the roads with felled trees and cut trenches across roads to prevent quick mobilization of reinforced troops.

In every aspect, the movement has shown that it has not ignored the lessons of Nandigram and Singur and is in fact a level above. Without spilling a drop of blood it has spread so far that it really inspires many thoughts. All these years, in spite of their regions being neglected and kept underdeveloped and in darkness, the adivasis, who are peace-loving people, have never protested . . . until now. Gradually this movement is taking a rather novel shape. The government is at a loss to counter what has captured the imagination of such a large section of the population across such vast region in such short time. Unlike Nandigram, it is too large to be surrounded by CPI (M) mercenaries. And the adivasis are too self-sufficient to be starved out. These people need little to sustain themselves and they themselves produce most of it. The roads that they have blocked are preventing police vans only; they never needed these roads and hardly ever use them. The government and the ruling party don't know what to do as their meager presence within the adivasi communities suddenly evaporated and information flow from the adivasi belt has stopped completely. Moreover, unlike in Singur or Nandigram, they had no ready group of leaders who would be willing to negotiate or bargain behind closed doors, keeping the movement on hold. In fact, the adivasis have welcomed any representative of government to discuss their demands, but only at their villages. In total disregard and disrespect of where the adivasi people live, however, they say, 'how can negotiation and discussion take place in jungle'.

The government tried to create confusion by roping in the upper 'creamy' section of the traditional adivasi leaders, who posed as the leadership of the movement. These emerged out of nowhere, completely ignorant of the ground situation, attended a meeting with the government officials and came out and declared before the press that all their demands had been met and they were thereby calling off the movement. Initially this caused some misunderstanding amongst the adivasi communities, but they soon got the crux of the matter and these traditional respected elders of the adivasi society were boycotted and asked to stay out of the movement.

The ruling party was and still is in a state of constant denial of the true nature of the movement and at rallies and meetings they utter less than confident phrases like 'our adivasi brothers are being misled by Maoists', 'it is a counter revolutionary force', 'imperialist funded conspiracy' and so on. At one meeting the State Secretary of the CPI (M) went as far as to state that at least in West Bengal the adivasis are in better conditions than their Jharkhand counterparts, at least the West Bengal government hasn't ordered them shot as the Babu Lal Marandi government did in Jharkhand. Mr. Bose perhaps expected his 'adivasi brothers' to be thankful for that and call off their movement.

The Lalgarh movement has matured and is preparing for a long drawn-out and sustainable movement, beyond mere blockades, demonstrations and rallies. They are coordinating their moves with far-off villages, communicating strategies. They are campaigning, talking to people and press, writing posters, distributing leaflets and trying to take their demands to the heart of Calcutta. All their campaign and communication are on behalf of 'the people' or 'the people's committee against police atrocities'. They understand very well that the elite Bengali intelligentsia will not act as sympathetically to the movement explicitly of the indigenous tribal masses, and they are prepared to do without it. But they have decided that they won't fade out without being heard.

The demands of the adivasis are not revolutionary but for a simple life without unnecessary interference. The core demand is their right to decide for themselves, to preserve their culture. Indeed their movement has not hampered the normalcy of their lives. Their blockades are lifted from time to time to allow passage of paddy-filled bullock carts from fields to villages, which is a most important activity during this season of harvest. They allow and invite representatives of all press, civil society organizations and even general citizens to come and move around their villages. They have successfully prevented the uninvited patrol of the police jeeps, and the villages are most peaceful these days. The state of constant fear that they had to live with is gone. The only hardship they have had to accept is carrying away seriously ill patients to town. They never had any proper health center anyway, for any serious ailment they had to travel to town, now they only have to take a longer route.

In their path towards a sustained movement, they meet often within and amongst villages. Each village committee has two persons who should be available at every meeting. The meetings are in local languages and are often lengthy and attended by many. In late night discussions among the committee members, it's not unusual to find the youth in early twenties doing most of the talking. They even mention 'class struggle', 'imperialism', 'cultural hegemony' rather lucidly, and in their own way. They admit openly their failure to spread their movement and thoughts in all 'fronts'. To a question like what will happen if paramilitary is deployed to crush the movement, they smile and reply that they will resist though they will eventually fail, many will perish but not all. They quickly refer to Iraq, where many were killed but the protest is still on. They also point out that the movement began without a single act of violence, and that they want none, so they prefer the path of non-violent mass movement unless they have to defend themselves from armed attacks. To ask these people who are protesting the police excesses and demanding a normal life whether they are all 'Maoists' is redundant.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Who are the real pirates in Africa's waters?

Of late we have read a lot of stories about the ship hijacking incidents in africa.And the majority of us swallow the news the right wing media across the world serve us even without checking the veracity of it. But what is the truth behind all these news stories . Are the people who hijack the ships really pirates. Or who are the real pirates in Africa's waters? To know that watch this video and read the article given here. It is from Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

April 18, 2009 -- The report in the Times of London began: ``Pirates caught redhanded by one of Her Majesty’s warships after trying to hijack a cargo ship off Somalia made the grave mistake of opening fire on two Royal Navy assault craft packed with commandos armed with machineguns and SA80 rifles.’’ The references to modern weapons and the use of the modern term ``hijacking’’, indicate that this is a recent article (from the November 12, 2008, online edition). In other respects it could have been written 300 years ago. Pompous triumphalism from the press of the ``great powers’’ (which has reached a fever pitch since the US Navy’s April 12 rescue of Richard Philllps, captain of the US-flagged and crewed Maersk Alabama, in which three teenage pirates were killed and one captured) is not the only parallel between the current confrontation between powerful navies and pirates off the coast of Somalia and that in the early 18th century Atlantic -- the ``golden age of piracy’’. Both the piracy of the ``golden age’’ -- which created the popular mythology reflected in everything from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island to Johnny Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies -- and that of contemporary Somalia were responses of the downtrodden to the devestating effects of globalising capitalism. The 18th century pirates were victims the first intercontinental economy: Atlantic slavery. In the triangular trade in which manufactured goods went from Europe to Africa, slaves from Africa to the Caribbean, and plantation commodities (raw materials for the Industrial Revolution) from the Caribbean back to Europe, malnutrition and brutal discipline affected sailors almost as much as it did slaves. Sailors and slaves who became pirates sought to turn the increase in oceanic trade to their advantage. Victims of Western plunder Today’s Somali pirates have been victims of the devastation that neoliberal globalisation has wrought on Africa, the destruction of local fisheries by industrial fishing techniques and one of the most hushed-up aspects of globalisation: the dumping of the first world’s toxic and nuclear waste in vulnerable Third World locations. The concentration of manufacturing in particular parts of the world (such as southern China) that accompanied the recently ended economic boom, created an exponential increase in intercontinental shipping that the Somali pirates, like their 18th century counterparts, sought to take advantage of. Since the overthrow of dictator Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia has not had a functioning state. Continual violence by rival clan-based warlords, militias and criminal gangs has twice been punctuated by foreign intervention: by a US-led UN-mandated ``humanitarian intervention’’ force between 1992 and 1995, and by Ethiopia (acting as a US proxy) between 2006 and January 2009. While both interventions were responsible for tens of thousands of deaths and widespread rape, torture and destruction of property, neither succeeded in subduing the country. Western journalism has emphasised one side of the relationship between this chaos and the rise of piracy: ready access to arms and lack of governmental authority. In an article posted on the internet-based Huffington Post on April 13, Canada-based Somali hip hop artist and activist K’naan explained the other side: ``Already by [1992], local fishermen in the coastline of Somalia have been complaining of illegal vessels coming to Somali waters and stealing all the fish. And since there was no government to report it to, and since the severity of the violence -- overshadowed every other problem, the fishermen went completely unheard.’’ According to a January 5, 2009, article by British Independent columnist Johann Hari, foreign illegal fishing in Somali waters nets more than $300 million a year. ``But it was around this same time that a more sinister ... practice was being put in motion’’, K’naan continues. ``A Swiss firm called Achair Parterns, and an Italian waste company [Progresso], made a deal with [Somali warlord] Ali Mahdi, that they were to dump containers of waste material in Somali waters. These European companies were said to be paying warlords about $3 a ton, whereas to properly dispose of waste in Europe costs about $1000 a ton.’’ After the December 2004 ``tsunami washed ashore several leaking containers, thousands of locals in the Puntland region of Somalia started to complain of severe and previously unreported ailments, such as abdominal bleeding, skin melting off and a lot of immediate cancer-like symptoms... But this wasn't just a passing evil from one or two groups taking advantage of our unprotected waters. The UN envoy for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, says that the practice still continues to this day. It was months after those initial [1992] reports that local fishermen mobilised themselves, along with street militias, to go into the waters and deter the Westerners from having a free pass at completely destroying Somalia's aquatic life.’’ According to an October 11, 2008, Al Jazeera report, Ould-Abdallah confirmed ``that European and Asian companies are dumping toxic waste, including nuclear waste, off the Somali coastline’’. UN Environment Program spokesperson Nick Nuttall told Al Jazeera ``the waste is many different kinds. There is uranium radioactive waste. There is lead, and heavy metals like cadmium and mercury. There is also industrial waste, and there are hospital wastes, chemical wastes – you name it.’’ Abdi Ismail Samatar, professor of Geography at the University of Minnesota, pointed out to Al Jazeera that the naval forces despatched to the Gulf of Aden to protect shipping from the pirates have turned a blind eye to the waste dumping. ``Piracy is not the only problem for Somalia, and I think it’s irresponsible on the part of the authorities to overlook this issue’’, he said. Self-defence The piracy has developed from a defensive activity by fishing communities into a highly profitable business with at least $30 million being paid in ransoms in 2008. The modus operendi of exchanging captured ships, their cargoes and their crews for ransoms has meant that the mariners held hostage have generally been well treated. No hostages have been killed by pirates. Among the economic activities flourishing in the pirate ports have been resteraunts catering to the tastes of the foreign crews. On September 23, 2008, a group of pirates chanced upon a Ukrainian freighter the MV Faina. ``We just saw a big ship, so we stopped it’’, pirate spokesperson Sugale Ali told the October 1, 2008, New York Times in satellite phone interview from the bridge of the hijacked vessel. Much to the their surprise, the pirates discovered the ship to be carrying a large amount of heavy weapons, including 33 tanks. This was the trigger for Western naval forces to be deployed in the area, amid concerns that the weapons may be sold to the warring Somali militias. These concerns, however, were unfounded. ``Somalia has suffered from many years of destruction because of all these weapons. We don’t want that suffering and chaos to continue. We are not going to offload the weapons. We just want the money’’, Sugale explained. The MV Faina was eventually ransomed for $3.2 million. While the global economy and global shipping were booming, paying the occasional ransom was absorbed by shipping companies as an operating cost, cheaper than either sailing ships around the Cape of Good Hope to avoid Somali waters or hiring mercanaries such as Blackwater to provide security. The global economy’s collapse may be changing this. Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, pointed out on his website that the owners of the Maersk Alabama earn $500 million a year as a Pentagon subcontractor. The US denied that the Alabama was working for the Pentagon when the pirates attacked. He also questioned the official version of the rescue of Captain Phillips, pointing out that the lifeboat containing Phillips and his three captors was under tow from a US warship, and that the pirates were negotiating to exhange him for money and safe passage, when US navy snipers shot the pirates. At an April 16 press conference US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton forshadowed a tougher line on piracy. ``We may be dealing with a 17th-century crime, but we need to bring 21st-century solutions to bear’’, she said. One of the solutions she touted -- freezing pirates’ assets -- is peculiar given that the pirates do not use banks. It could, however, be used to pressure shipping companies against paying ransoms. France has also stepped up operations against pirates. On April 4, the French navy stormed a hijacked luxury yacht, killing one of the hostages along with two pirates. On April 16, 11 pirates were captured when their vessel was seized by the French. The US and French naval pressure has not diminished pirate activity. The April 16 Independent reported, ``brigands have seized four vessels and more than 75 hostages since Sunday’’. Furthermore, this aggressive approach increases the likelihood of pirates harming seafarers. Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of Mombasa-based East African Seafarers Assistance Program, told Reuters on April 12, ``This is a big wake-up to the pirates. It raises the stakes. Now they may be more violent, like the pirates of old.’’ According to the same article: ```The French and the Americans will regret starting this killing. We do not kill, but take only ransom. We shall do something to anyone we see as French or American from now,’ Hussein, a pirate, told Reuters by satellite phone.’’ The April 12 NYT quoted Abdullahi Lami, who it described as ``one of the pirates holding a Greek ship anchored in the pirate den of Gaan’’ as saying: ``Every country will be treated the way it treats us. In the future, America will be the one mourning and crying.’’ Like the pirates of the ``golden age’’, todays Somali pirates see themselves as fighting for justice. As Sugale Ali told the October 1, 2008, NYT: ``We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard.’’ And as with the 18th century pirates, they have the sympathy of many in their communities. As K’naan explained: ``The truth is, if you ask any Somali, if getting rid of the pirates only means the continuous rape of our coast by unmonitored Western vessels, and the production of a new cancerous generation, we would all fly our pirate flags high. It is time that the world gave the Somali people some assurance that these Western illegal activities will end, if our pirates are to [cease] their operations. We do not want the EU and NATO serving as a shield for these nuclear waste-dumping hoodlums.’’

Saturday, June 6, 2009

'Hail Indian Democracy'

India, land of the poorest of the poor in the world, always boasts of its democracy. Though it ranks first or second in all poverty and corruption lists, the existing system asks people to be proud of its democracy. Seventy percent of Indians are struggling even to live. And majority are struggling even to find a square mean a day as well. The supporteres of this rotten democracy, however, asks those who are trying to replace this system with a better, socialist one to join the mainstream. But the question here is " whose democracy is it?" Is it the people's democracy? No...The reports appeared in various newspapers after the parliament elections clearly suggests that the common man has no role in this pseudo democracy.