The bourgeois brain by Stephanie McMillan
(यह 22 जून 1791 को महान क्रांतिकारी रोबस्पेरे द्वारा फ़्रांस की संविधान सभा में दिये गए भाषण का हिंदी अनुवाद है. पाठक देख सकते हैं कि मृत्युदंड का विरोध किस तरह आज से ही नहीं बल्कि फ्रांस की क्रांति के समय से ही समाज के जनवादीकरण से जुडा हुआ है. और यह भाषण आज भी किस तरह प्रासंगिक बना हुआ है.)
एथेंस में जब खबर पहुंची कि अर्गोस नगर के नागरिकों को मृत्युदंड दिया गया है तो वहां के लोग भाग कर देवालयों में गए और उन्होंने देवताओं को आह्वान किया कि वे एथेंस के लोगों को ऐसे भयानक और क्रूर विचारों से बचाएं. मेरा आह्वान देवताओं से नहीं कानून निर्माताओं से है, उनसे जो देवत्व के शाश्वत नियमों के संचालक और भाष्यकार हैं, कि ऐसे खूनी कानूनों को फ़्रांस की संहिता से मिटा दे जो न्यायिक हत्याओं को निर्देशित करते हैं और जिनको उनकी नैतिकता और नया संविधान ख़ारिज करते हैं. मैं उनके समक्ष साबित करना चाहता हूँ : 1. कि मृत्युदंड सारतः अन्याय है. और 2. कि यह दण्डो में से सबसे दमनकारी नहीं है और यह अपराधों को रोकने से ज्यादा उन्हें संगुणित करता है.
नागरिक समाज के दायरे से बाहर यदि एक कटु शत्रु मेरा जीवन ख़त्म करने की कोशिश करता है, या बीसियों बार धकेलने पर भी मेरे द्वारा उगाई गई फसल को नष्ट करने वापस आ जाता है. तो क्योंकि मेरे पास विरोध के लिए केवल मेरी व्यक्तिगत शक्ति का ही सहारा है इसलिए मुझे उसे अनिवार्यतः नष्ट करना होगा या उसे ख़त्म कर देना होगा और प्राकृतिक रक्षण का नियम मुझे औचित्य और स्वीकृति प्रदान करता है. लेकिन समाज में, जब सभी की शक्ति केवल किसी एक व्यक्ति के खिलाफ लामबंद है तो न्याय का कौन सा सिद्धांत उसकी हत्या की स्वीकृति दे सकता है? कौन सी अनिवार्यता इसे दोषमुक्त कर सकती है? एक विजेता जो अपने बंदी शत्रु की हत्या करता है बर्बर कहलाता है! एक प्रौढ़ जो किसी बालक को शक्तिहीन कर उसे दंड देने की सामर्थ्य रखता है यदि उसकी हत्या कर दे तो राक्षस समझा जाता है! एक अभियुक्त जिसे समाज द्वारा सजा दी गई है एक पराजित और शक्तिहीन शत्रु के सिवा कुछ भी नहीं है और वह एक प्रौढ़ के सामने बालक से भी ज्यादा असहाय है.
अतः, सत्य और न्याय की नज़र में मौत के ये नज़ारे जिन्हें यह अनुष्ठानपूर्वक आदेशित करता है, कायराना कत्लों के सिवा कुछ भी नहीं है, ये केवल कुछ व्यक्तियों के बजाय समूचे राष्ट्र के द्वारा कानूनी तरीको से किये गये गंभीर अपराध है. कानून चाहे कैसे भी निर्मम और वैभवशाली क्यों न हों, हैरान मत होइए, ये चंद उत्पीड़कों के कारनामों से ज्यादा कुछ नहीं हैं. ये ऐसी काराएं हैं जिनसे मानव जाति को अधोपतित किया जाता है. ये ऐसी भुजाएं हैं जिनसे उसे पराधीन किया जाता है,
ये कानून खून से लिखे गए हैं. किसी भी रोमन नागरिक को मौत की सजा देना वर्जित था. यह जनता द्वारा बनाया गया कानून था. लेकिन विजयी स्काईला ने कहा : वे सभी जिन्होंने मेरे विरुद्ध अस्त्र उठाये मृत्यु के भागी हैं. ओक्टावियन और अपराध में उसके सहभागियों ने इस नए कानून की पुष्टि की.
तिबेरियस की अधीनता में ब्रूटस की प्रशंसा करना मृत्युयोग्य अपराध था. कालिगुला ने उन सबको मृत्युदंड दिया जिन्होंने भी सम्राट के चित्र के समक्ष नग्न होने की धृष्टता की. एक बार जब आतताई शासकों द्वारा राजद्रोह के अपराध – जो अवज्ञापूर्ण या नायकोचित कृत्य हुआ करते थे – का आविष्कार कर लिया गया तो फिर कौन बिना स्वयं को राजद्रोह का भागी बनाए यह सोचने की हिम्मत कर सकता था कि इनकी सजा मृत्युदंड से थोड़ी कम होनी चाहिए?
अज्ञानता और निरंकुशता के राक्षसी मिलन से पैदा हुए उन्माद ने जब दैवीय राजद्रोह के अपराध का आविष्कार कर लिया, जब इसने अपने मतिभ्रम में स्वयं ईश्वर का प्रतिशोध लेने का बीड़ा उठा लिया, तब क्या यह जरुरी नहीं हो गया था कि यह उन्हें रक्त अर्पित करे, और स्वयं को ईश्वर का ही रूप मानने वाले, उसे दरिन्दे की श्रेणी में पहुंचा दें?
पुरातन बर्बर कायदे के समर्थक कहते है कि मृत्युदंड अनिवार्य है, बिना इसके अपराध पर लगाम लगाना संभव नहीं है. यह आपसे किसने कहा? क्या आपने उन सभी अंकुशों का आकलन कर लिया है जिनके द्वारा दंडविधान मनुष्य की संवेदना पर काम करता है? अफ़सोस, मृत्यु से पहले मनुष्य कितना शारीरिक और नैतिक कष्ट सहन कर सकता है?
जीने की इच्छा उस आत्मसम्मान के सामने नतमस्तक हो जाती है, जो ह्रदय पर शासन करने वाले आवेगों में सबसे प्रबल होता है. एक सामजिक मनुष्य के लिए सबसे खतरनाक सजा अपमानित होना है, सार्वजनिक निंदा का पात्र बन जाना है. यदि कानून निर्माता नागरिक को इतनी सारी नाजुक जगहों पर चोट पहुंचा सकता है तो उसे मृत्युदंड के इस्तेमाल करने की हद तक क्यों गिर जाना चाहिए? दंड दोषी को यातना देने के लिए नहीं होता है, वरन वह उसके भय से अपराध को रोकने के लिए दिया जाता है.
जो कानून निर्माता मृत्यु और उत्पीड़नकारी सजाओं को अन्य तरीकों के ऊपर वरीयता देता है वह जनभावनाओं को आहत करता है और शासितों के बीच अपनी नैतिक साख को कमजोर करता है. एक ऐंसे ढोंगी गुरु की तरह जो बार बार की क्रूर सजाओं से अपने शिष्य की आत्मा को जड़ और अपमानित बना देता है. वह कुछ ज्यादा ही जोर से दबाकर सरकार की स्प्रिंगों को ढीला और कमजोर कर देता है.
जो कानून निर्माता म्रत्युदंड का विधान स्थापित करता है वह इस उपयोगी सिद्धांत का निषेध करता है कि किसी अपराध को दबाने का सबसे सही तरीका उन आवेगों की प्रकृति के अनुसार दंड तय करना है जोकि उसको पैदा करते हैं. मृत्युदंड का विधान इन सभी विचारों को धूमिल कर देता है यह सभी अन्तःसम्बन्धों को विघटित कर देता है और इस प्रकार दंडात्मक कानून के उद्देश्य का ही खुलेआम निषेध करता है.
आप कहते हैं कि मृत्युदंड अनिवार्य है. यदि यह सत्य है तो क्यों बहुत सारे लोगों को इसकी जरुरत नहीं पड़ी. विधि के किस विधान के तहत ऐसे लोग ही सबसे बुद्धिमान, सबसे खुश और सबसे स्वतंत्र थे? यदि मृत्युदंड ही बड़े अपराधों को रोकने के लिए सबसे उचित है तो ऐसे अपराध वहां सबसे कम होने चाहिए जहाँ इसे अपनाया और प्रयोग किया गया. किन्तु तथ्य एकदम विपरीत हैं. जापान को देखिये: वहां से ज्यादा मृत्युदंड और यातनाएं और कहीं नहीं दी जाती परन्तु वहां से अधिक संख्या में और वहां से अधिक जघन्य अपराध और कहीं नहीं होते. कोई कह सकता है कि जापानी लोग भीषणता में उन बर्बर कानूनों को चुनौती देना चाहते हैं जो उन्हें आहत और परेशान करते हैं. क्या यूनानी गणतन्त्रों -जहाँ सजाएँ नरम थी और जहां मृत्युदंड या तो बहुत कम थे या थे ही नहीं- में खूनी कानूनों द्वारा शासित देशों से ज्यादा अपराध और कम अच्छाइयां थी? क्या आपको लगता है की रोम में पोर्सियाई ज़माने में जब इसके वैभवशाली दिन थे, जब सारे कड़े कानूनों को हटा दिया गया था, स्काईला जो अपने अत्याचारों के लिए कुख्यात था, के जमाने की तुलना में ज्यादा अपराध होते थे, जब सभी कठोर कानूनों को वापस ले आया गया था? क्या रूस के निरंकुश शासक ने जब से मृत्युदंड को ख़त्म कर दिया है वहां किसी प्रकार का संकट आ खड़ा हुआ है? ऐसा लगता है कि इस तरह की मानवता और दार्शनिकता का प्रदर्शन करके वह लाखों लोगों को अपनी निरंकुश सत्ता के अधीन रखने के जुर्म से दोषमुक्त होना चाहते हैं.
न्याय और विवेक की बात सुनिए. ये आपको चिल्ला कर कह रहे हैं कि मानवीय निर्णय कभी भी इतने निश्चित नहीं होते कि वे कुछ मनुष्यों द्वारा जो कि गलतियाँ कर सकते हैं, किसी अन्य व्यक्ति की मृत्यु के बारे में तय करने के औचित्य का प्रतिपादन कर सकें. यदि आप सबसे सम्पूर्ण न्यायिक फैसले की भी कल्पना कर लें, यदि आप सबसे ज्यादा ज्ञानी और ईमानदार जजों की भी व्यवस्था कर लें तब भी गलतियों की संभावना बची रहती है. आप इन गलतियों को सुधारने के औजारों से स्वयं को क्यों वंचित कर देना चाहते हैं? स्वयं को किसी उत्पीडित निर्दोष की मदद करने में अक्षम क्यों बना देना चाहते हैं? क्या किसी अदृश्य छाया के लिए, किसी अचेतन राख के लिए आपके बाँझ पाश्चाताप का, आपकी भ्रामक भूलसुधार का कोई अर्थ है? वे आपके दंड विधान की बर्बर तत्परता के त्रासद साक्ष्य हैं. अपराध को पाश्चाताप और अच्छे कार्यों के द्वारा सुधार सकने की संभावना को किसी व्यक्ति से छीन लेना, अच्छाई की तरफ उसके लौट आने के सारे रास्ते निर्ममता से बंद कर देना, उसके पतन को शीघ्रता से कब्र तक पहुंचा देना जो अब भी उसके अपराध से दागदार है, मेरी नज़र में क्रूरता का सबसे भयावह परिष्करण है.
एक कानून निर्माता का सबसे पहला कर्तव्य उन सार्वजनिक नैतिक मूल्यों की स्थापना करना और उन्हें बचाए रखना है, जो सभी आज़ादियों और सभी सामाजिक खुशियों के मूल स्रोत हैं. किसी विशिष्ट उद्देश्य को पाने के प्रयास में यदि वह सामान्य और आवश्यक उद्देश्यों को भूल जाता है तो वह सबसे भौंडी और भयानक गलती करता है. अतः राजा को लोगों के सामने न्याय और विवेक का सबसे आदर्श उदहारण पेश करना चाहिए. यदि इस को परिभाषित करने वाली शक्तिशाली, संयत, और उदार सख्ती की जगह क्रोध और प्रतिशोध से काम लेते हैं, यदि वे बिना वजह के खून बहाते हैं, जिसको बचाया जा सकता था और जिसे बहाने का उन्हें कोई अधिकार नहीं. और वे लोगों के सामने निर्मम दृश्य, और यातना से विकृत लाशों को प्रस्तुत करते हैं तो यह नागरिकों के जेहन में न्याय और अन्याय के विचार को बदल देता है. वे समाज में ऐसे तीखे दुराग्रहों के बीज बो देते हैं जो उतरोतर बढ़ते जाते हैं. मनुष्य, मनुष्य होने की गरिमा खो देता है जब उसके जीवन को इतनी आसानी से जोखिम में डाला जा सकता है. हत्या का विचार तब इतना डरावना नहीं रह जाता जब कानून खुद ही इसे एक मिसाल और तमाशे की तरह पेश करता है. अपराध की भयावहता तब कम हो जाती है जब उसे एक और अपराध के जरिये दण्डित किया जाता है. किसी दंड की प्रभावपूर्णता को उसकी कठोरता की मात्रा से मत आंकिये: ये दोनों एक दूसरे के एकदम उलटी बाते हैं. हर कोई उदार कानूनों की सहायता करता है. हर कोई कठोर कानूनों के खिलाफ षड्यंत्र करता है.
यह देखा गया है की स्वतंत्र देशों में अपराध कम हैं और दंडात्मक कानून ज्यादा उदार हैं. कुल मिलाकर, स्वतंत्र देश वे हैं जहाँ व्यक्ति के अधिकारों का सम्मान किया जाता है और इसके फलस्वरूप जहाँ के कानून न्यायपूर्ण हैं. जहाँ अतिशय कष्ट देकर मानवता का उल्लंघन किया जाता है यह इस बात का प्रमाण है कि वहां मनुष्यता की गरिमा को अभी पहचाना नहीं गया है, यह इस बात का प्रमाण है कि वहां कानून निर्माता स्वामी है जो दासों को चलाता है और अपनी मर्जी के मुताबिक जब चाहे उन्हें सजाएं देता है. अतः मेरा निष्कर्ष है कि मृत्युदंड को समाप्त कर देना चाहिए.
(अनुवाद: कुलदीप प्रकाश)
शुरु भईल हक के लड़ईया, कि चला तुहूं लड़ै बरे भईया
कब तक तू सुतबा हो मुंद के नयनवां हो मूंद के नयनवां
कब तक तू ढोइबा हो सुख के सपनवां हो सुख के सपनवां
फ़ूटल बा ललकी किरिनिया, कि चला ……
शुरु भईल हक……
तोहरे पसिनवां से अन्न-धन्न सोनवां हो अन्न-धन्न सोनवां
तोहरा के चूसि-चूसि बढ़ै उनके तोनवां, हो बढ़ै उनके तोनवां
तोहके बा मुठ्ठी भर मकईया, कि चला ……..
शुरु भईल हक……
तोहरे लरिकवन के फ़ौज बनावै हो फ़ौज बनावै
उनके बनुकिया देके तोहरे पे चलावे हो तोहरे पे चलावे
जेल के बतावे कचहरिया, कि चला………
शुरु भईल हक……
तोहरे अंगुरिया पे दुनिया टिकलबा हो दुनिया टिकलबा
बखरा में तोहरे नरका परल बा हो नरका परल बा
उठ भहरावे के ई दुनिया , कि चला…..
शुरु भईल हक……
जनबल बा तोहरे खून के फ़उजिया हो खून के फ़उजिया
खेत कारखनवा के ललकी फ़उजिया हो ललकी फ़उजिया
तोहके बोलावे दिन रतिया, कि चला…..
शुरु भईल हक……
— शम्भू जी
शहीद भगत सिंह साम्राज्यवाद के खिलाफ भारतीय जनता के संघर्ष के सबसे उज्जवल नायकों में से एक रहे हैं. तेईस वर्ष की छोटी उम्र में शहीद होने वाले इस नौजवान को भारतीय जनता एक ऐसे उत्साही देशप्रेमी नौजवान के रूप में याद करती है जिसने ब्रिटिश साम्राज्यवाद से समझौताविहीन लड़ाई लड़ी और अंत में अपने ध्येय के लिए शहीद हुआ. लेकिन अपेक्षाकृत कम ही लोग भगत सिंह एवं उनके क्रांतिकारी साथियों के विचारों से सही मायनों में परिचित हैं. भगत सिंह एवं उनके साथियों के लेख एवं दस्तावेजों का व्यापक रूप से उपलब्ध न होना इसकी एक बड़ी वजह रहा है और हमारे आज के शासकों के लिए भी यही मुफीद है कि भगत सिंह के क्रांतिकारी विचारों को जनता के सामने न आने दिया जाये. क्योंकि भगत सिंह के लेख एवं दस्तावेज मनुष्य द्वारा मनुष्य के शोषण की व्यवस्था के बारें में सही और वैज्ञानिक समझ विकसित करते हैं और इसके खिलाफ जनता की लड़ाई को सही दिशा देते हैं. भगत सिंह उन विरले विचारकों में से थे जो उस समय ही यह बात जोर देकर कह रहे थे कि केवल अंग्रेजों के भारत से चले जाने से ही आम जनता की स्थिति में कोई बदलाव नहीं आएगा जब तक की इस शोषणकारी व्यवस्था को न बदला जाय. हम यहाँ भगत सिंह द्वारा लिखित लेखों एवं दस्तावेजों के लिंक पीडीएफ फॉर्मेट में प्रस्तुत कर रहे हैं. काफी कोशिशों के बाद भी ‘ड्रीमलैंड की भूमिका’ जैसे कुछ महत्वपूर्ण दस्तावेज छूट गये हैं. पाठकों से आग्रह है की यदि आपके पास यह लेख हो तो कृपया इसे कमेन्ट बॉक्स में प्रेषित कर दें.
(Joke Kaviaar is a Dutch human rights activist and political poet. Who is facing 6 months of jail sentence. In recent years she has been struggling for equal human rights to ‘people-without-papers’. The state of the Netherlands sees her -therefore- as a threat to homeland security and forced her to censor all her poetry and art work. She – of course – refused, but is now facing prison for not complying to the call for self-censorship on her art work. The state wants to criminalize her words and actions under the term ‘intent to terrorism’. This is yet another instance of severe violation of principles of free speech and basic human rights. Ironically in the Netherlands, the country that hosts the human rights tribunal in The Hague. These poems were originally written in Dutch and translated by poet herself. — Editor)
Write it – Ignite it!
Charged with the crime of speaking your mind
You better shut up – or we’ll lock you up
It is time to define we got the right to incite
Call out! Call out! Call out! Call out!
We gotta write it – ignite it
Burn the prosecution
and the ministry of justice!
We gotta light it and fight it
Burn down the profits
of the prisons, institutions!
Charged with the crime of speaking your mind
It is time now to fight – Not to listen to the lies
They make ya do time for a thought crime
Only one solution is to call out revolution!
One solution: Revolution!
Charged with the crime of speaking your mind
Down with the nations – Stop deportations!
It is time to define we got the right to incite
Call out! Call out! Call out! Call out!
We gotta write it – ignite it
Burn the prosecution
and the ministry of justice!
We gotta light it and fight it
Burn down the profits
of the prisons, institutions!
Charged with the crime of speaking your mind
Down with the borders – Fuck law and order!
They make ya do time for a thought crime
Only one solution is to call out revolution!
Beat the borders!
Who is telling us where to go and
where to stay and who says NO to
questions asked, permits applied for?
Who declared the immigrants war?
Who is standing in our way and
who is law and who is paid for
stamps to give, entrance denied to
those that tried to make it up here?
Who makes money and has a say in
who gets locked up, has to pay
for being here or being there and
either way nowhere is safe, – Let’s..
Take no orders
Let’s beat the borders
Let’s cross the lines
Let’s ignore the signs
Who’s responsible, who is rich and
who is pulling strings, and which
politicians do not lie or cry them
crocodile tears when you die?
All they ever do is take, turning
people into slaves, turning slavery
into profit, turning profit into property
into poverty for you and for me!
There is no reason to obey, living
lives that lead to the grave
Let’s be standing in the way,
make a difference, start today, – Let’s
Take no orders
Let’s beat the borders
Let’s cross the lines
Let’s ignore the signs
This war, it isn’t safe for our soldiers
Assassins crawling all over the place
It’s not even safe for our armored trucks
We keep sending the bodies back home
Bags with bones and flesh and blood
To be the heroes we need to create
It is part of our duty, the price that we pay
And the whole world is paying attention
as mothers and children cry, flags raised
As we pray for our martyrs, their honor
The just cause we pretend it to be,
this war to be played out inevitably
All so far away from our homes
claiming just another bare necessity
or mercy, peace, international ease
We can’t tell you that it is propaganda
but the truth of politics, it belongs to us
No interests, no secret agenda, say hush-
We’re only in it for the oil
We’re only in it for the soil
We’re in it for power, you know
Human rights? My ass! No show
To hell with them refugees
To hell with them deportees
To hell with these so called liberties
It ‘s only collateral damage, you see
as another childs dream is blown to smithereens!
SLAVES OF US
Let’s forget about those slaves of us
they’re not really here
they are not really there
they are the unseen
they’re not even between
a wall of concrete
and a door one way open
not even between us, the unseen
they are nameless, faceless
criminals, hookers, don’t have any papers
they are ‘they’
they are nowhere and all over the place
say they’ve been stripped whipped ripped and clipped
but they are no slaves of mine
’cause I am not feeding
and they’re not the slaves of my neighbour
’cause he’s not needing
So let’s forget about those enslaved by us
we don’t really know about it
can not even be proud of it
we are the ones clean
the ones that never have been
nor judge nor jury
at the gallows of starvation
not one us has seen
all those nameless and faceless
we are builders, colonists, traders
we are ‘we’
we are everywhere and on top of it all
we’re the ones used and accused but excused
’cause they are no slaves of us
they simply don’t exist
they pretend, offend, they intend to take over
all that we’ve built for us
So how can they be slaves of us
as their shackles are made of cotton
as our mercy is forgotten?
All they do is prey on us
lean on us, invade us
that’s why they are no slaves of us
we are even prepared to pay
just to make them go away
Sure we will pay to
forget about those slaves of us
My tear strikes a ripple into an ocean
The ocean says nothing of it
An even smile That is all
My paddles can make more waves
So I splatter and
the ocean pulls a grin
of foam around its lips
Tell me, human!
Will there be no more crying?
Out of so little tears
I can’t make any crystal
Grief on earth must be over!
No, I say
We’ve run out of tears and
this was the last one I had
the ocean, again and again,
tries to overthrow
my little ship
Lady, You Are Safe With Me
you are safe with me
like money in a bank
Do not be ashamed for me
In me you can confide
I am the good guy
the law on my side
We’ll make a report
you thought you were promised
by these men,
a career in the spotlights,
in dressing room mirrors
where the face of a poor girl
would soon fade away
behind glamourous make up
You were one of the lucky girls
to escape the stripped land
to escape the sick water
The rape, the stoning, the razorsharp knife
you thought this was
Your opportunity to make it
An airway to freedom
paved with drifting clouds
money home to mama
A flow of finances
laced with lipstick
and ‘wish you well’s’
you dug up the coins
you had secretly saved
in a hole in the ground
to pay for the trip
You could earn the rest later
as soon as you got settled down
in a furnished appartment Up-Town
High above the dirt
Windows so large
you’d forget they were there
and the light in the sky
would forever change the eye
of the innocent child from the wild
and her coconut smile
you came here
in a box of death,
You’d been wondering
why everyone else kept so quiet
must have been tired
Must have been afraid
They must have been told
not a sound to make
So you figured
you just had to wait
you woke up
when they opened the truck
and told you
that you were there
in this world where
the rain was made of champagne
where all of your misery
would soon be forgotten
in the rush of
the hush new reality,
and in that truck
was this familiar smell,
and in that truck
there was no-one that could tell
where you came from
You were there!
and from now on
all you had to do was to
Just follow the man
You lost your bag
You lost your cash
You lost your sense of direction
You lost your passport
You lost your rags
You lost but soon would win Just trust the man
’cause you’re exotic
A special brand of bush bush bitch
you were given new underwear
Unworthy of a girl like you
You were given a new name
for whitey easy to pronounce
you’d be a model
You were chosen
to parade down the aisle
You would be rewarded
by this body builder Caucasian male
with a hairy chest
Bad manners So
you wanted to leave
To walk away from
all you were about to become…
but you never did walk away
and there were many more
for you in store
until all that was left of you
was what I see before me
A bony clap spreading prostitute
than five bucks
for a blow job given
in a dark corner
of a sleazy establishment
to young kids,
still the smell of
that could learn from you
what women are for
You would still be there,
If it wasn’t for us
we want to catch the big boys
the ones with the balls and the bills
So we need you
We need your statement
So you need us
to read to you
what you just said
and to tell you
where to sign
you are safe with me
like a package in the mail
What did you say your name was?
We’ll make a report
We’ll make them pay
and we regret
to have to inform you
that there is no way
that you can stay
in our nation
of liberty and equality
without a work-permit,
without a curriculum vitae,
without a proper address
This case is closed
and so are the frontiers
Aping Mankind – Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity
by Raymond Tallis (Acumen, 2011)
(The following book review is by Lindsay Wright)
Raymond Tallis, until his retirement, worked as a medical doctor and researcher specialising in clinical neurology. His recent Aping Mankind is a criticism of how neurology and evolutionary theory are misused to argue that human behaviour is basically determined by biology, whilst the role of human consciousness and social and cultural factors are at best side-lined or simply ignored.
The first thing to say is that Tallis completely upholds Darwin’s theory of evolution as the explanation for the existence of the human species (homo sapiens). What Tallis is criticising is the use of Darwin’s theory of evolution to explain human behaviour. He says,
“I do not question the biological origin of the organism H. sapiens. The truth of the theory of evolution lies beyond reasonable doubt.” (p. 239)
“My attack on Darwinitis… has nothing to do with a Bible-belt questioning of the truth of Darwin’s central notion that species, including H. sapiens, come into being through the operation of natural selection on random variation….
“Natural selection does away with the need to appeal to a designer. Nothing in the organism is designed, intelligently, super-intelligently or even stupidly. There is no need to appeal to the conscious shaping hand to explain the emergence of complex creatures.” (pp. 210-211)
Criticising the use of evolutionary theory to characterize human behaviour is vital because this evolutionary behaviourism is a pseudo-science masquerading as objective truth. The theory is used to argue that our behaviour is determined by evolution, genes and brain structures, so that “free will” (the idea that behaviour is more than an automatic response) and in the end consciousness itself are considered illusions. Such views not only neglect the role of consciousness in human behaviour, they also fail to recognize the importance of the dynamic interaction between human thinking (which itself involves the relationship between the brain and the rest of the body) and material reality “external” to the individual, including the social world in all its complexity. Instead, what we are offered is a static and flat view of human behaviour that cannot explain why conduct varies from society to society, let alone why the same person can act differently at different times.
Many exponents of evolutionary behaviourism see the basis of human actions as residing outside consciousness and being based on what was expedient tens of thousands of years ago. For example, it is argued that sexual inequality is the natural consequence of evolution. According to this theory, women are seen to have evolved to be better at childcare and housework than men in order to ensure the prospering of their genetic investment in their children, whereas men have evolved to want to replicate their genes as much as possible – hence it is argued that they have a natural propensity for non-monogamy. This is “good old-fashioned male chauvinism” and the oppression of women masquerading as scientific fact.
People who want to change the world need to engage with, and address, this issue because these arguments are scientifically wrong and are being promoted by those in power to uphold the status quo and argue that the way things are is the way they are supposed to be.
False biological explanations, claiming to be based on evolution and other scientific facts, are used to justify backward social arrangements. During the 1960s and 1970s there was increasing understanding of how social and cultural factors impacted on behaviour. These theories of social-construction were important in providing correct ammunition for those wanting to change the role of women, child socialisation and society in general. In response, those who wanted to maintain the status quo, in particular, to “keep women in their place”, welcomed a “scientific” justification as to why change is impossible, hence the growing support for pseudo-scientific evolutionary theories of behaviour. Tallis does not provide an analysis of how evolutionary psychology is misused to uphold and maintain a subordinate position for women; for further analysis of this see Wood & Eagly (2002).
The most important impact of the application of the theory of evolution to human behaviour is that it downplays any role for human consciousness and human action to change the world. Evolutionary theory is being used as the new “opiate of the people”, to borrow Karl Marx’s phrase in regard to the role of religion in the nineteenth century. Although Tallis is no revolutionary, he is an atheist and says, “It does not seem to me a very great advance to escape from the prison of false supernatural thought only to land in the prison of a naturalistic understanding”. (p. 10)
Those promoting evolutionary theories of human behaviour claim legitimacy by arguing that their theories have a scientific basis, i.e. by claiming that these theories spring from Darwin’s theory of evolution (which is about the physical evolution of our species), as well as pointing to the similarities between us and other animals, gene theories, and, more recently, developments in neuroscience. This evolutionary behaviourism is actually opposed to a real scientific understanding of reality, and Tallis’ book is about challenging this incorrect approach, particularly the inappropriate use of neuroscience to support evolutionary theories of behaviour. His criticism of the scientifically incorrect conclusions reached by sections of the neuro-scientific community is vitally important because neuroscience in recent decades has often been considered the arbitrator of what is scientifically correct and incorrect in regard to the study and analysis of thinking and behaviour. It is not necessarily the fault of neuroscientists that, in both the humanities and sciences lately, a theory is given greater weight if it can be “proved” using brain scans.
Thereby, we have the extraordinary situation of neuro-scientific “evidence” being used in the arts to explain the impact of paintings, music and literature by examining the neural pathways that are stimulated. It is argued that our aesthetic preferences were forged in the Pleistocene era (which ended 10,000 years ago) rather than emerging out of current social and cultural influences. In this view, art criticism should become a branch of the neuro-sciences. However, if art and literature appreciation were simply a matter of stimulating neurones, then, as Tallis points out, why don’t we all respond in the same way to individual pieces of art or literature?
Such a stance fails to see humans as having consciousness that can determine behaviour, which is one of Tallis’ central critiques of this pseudo-neuroscience. This has become a notable trend among writers about human behaviour. As he puts it, neuroscience “is often given authority where it has none. This is reflected in the assumption that what neuroscience cannot find in the brain isn’t really real…” (p. 244) Tallis correctly argues that neuroscience cannot capture everything that happens in the human social world by looking inside an individual’s brain. He says, “Only the prior assumption that neuroscience speaks the last word on what we are could force us to deny the existence of the self on the grounds that it cannot be detected by electrodes or scanners”. (p. 58) In contrast, the central argument of Aping Mankind is that consciousness, the self and our personalities do exist but that they are not identical with hard-wired (pre-determined) patterns of neural activity. Tallis states, “the phrase ‘from the brain, and from the brain only’ is at the root of the notion, to which this book is opposed: that the brain is not only a necessary but also a sufficient condition of conscious experiences” (p. 30, emphasis in original)
In Aping Mankind, Tallis is specifically trying to criticise what he calls “neuromania” (the idea that the mind is nothing but a collection of synapses that are predetermined to fire in a certain way, and that our consciousness, identity, thinking and behaviour are identical with that) and “Darwinitis” (that because the mind is an evolved organ, behaviour and thinking are determined by the historical workings of the processes of natural selection and by what was adaptive to ensure replication of the genes in ancestral environments tens of thousands of years ago). This kind of evolutionary psychology claims to be able to explain all our everyday choices on the basis of evolution, reducing human life to a chain of programmed responses, thereby overlooking the role of conscious deliberation and the impact of social and cultural factors.
Tallis’ examples of this kind of thinking include, for example, that of investment traders who, according to some evolutionary behaviourists, are merely trying to make the world a safer place for their genes, and men who sleep with many women are simply trying to replicate their genes as many times as possible. The implication is that current oppressive relations between men and women are immutable and eternal, a claim not verified by historical and other real scientific evidence. In fact, what would (and usually does) follow from this is the idea that human relations and society itself are a function of our genetic inheritance – so that any attempt to bring about fundamental social change (including in the ways that human beings relate to each other) is doomed (“unnatural”) and bound to produce disaster.
Just to take a small but devastating counter-argument, some of these theorists argue that women like pink because their ancestors were responsible for collecting berries for food; whereas men are attracted to blue because their ancestors were hunters, and blue is related to blue skies when hunting animals and blue water when fishing. Yet, as Tallis points out, in the Victorian era, pink was the colour for boys and blue the colour for girls, so rather than colour preferences being determined by evolution rooted in the Pleistocene epoch, they are historically and culturally (not biologically) determined.
Tallis’ highlights that there is increasing evidence to show that rather than brain function being localised, it is the brain’s ability to function as an integral unit that is most critical to its functions. He provides an in-depth criticism of the currently popular computational theory of mind.
He also details some of the conceptual, methodological and statistical problems in the research (which is often simplistic and far removed from real world situations), and he outlines some of the limitations of neurological and evolutionary theory in explaining human behaviour and consciousness. He argues that a correlation on a brain scan does not prove causation nor does it prove that neural activity and consciousness are identical; neural activity is necessary for human consciousness but not sufficient to explain it. He argues that the neuromaniacs fail to explain human intentionality, our ability to perceive without action, to contemplate the world, to make plans and to postpone actions, our ability to operate in tenses (past, current and future) and memory – if human behaviour were purely down to how are our brains are wired at birth these things would not be possible. Tallis notes that the same neurones are activated whether remembering a past event or seeing a current event, so that neuroscience is unable to differentiate these two events when looking at brain scans; yet humans are able to differentiate between them.
Tallis argues that, “humans, through getting our heads together, have transcended our biology… running with the biological givens, we have transformed them into something profoundly different”. (p. 6) He states that a key element in evolving human consciousness is the role of the collective process (“we shall not find the evolution of the community of minds in the growth or restructuring evident in individual brains” – p. 225), but sadly he does not expand sufficiently on this very interesting proposition.
Further, although he mentions the role of the collective, as well as pointing out that evolutionary theory cannot explain the huge variations in human behaviour between cultures and within cultures, he appears to take insufficient account of how social and cultural factors impact on individual behaviour. He criticises “experiments that remove selves from their worlds and focus on elements of behaviour that are uprooted from the contexts that make sense of actions” (p. 247), but Tallis does not quote any of the research looking at the determining influence of social and cultural factors on human behaviour. People’s consciousness does not derive from itself, but it develops in a dynamic relationship to their world, their experiences, the dominant social relations and ideas, and other factors that are external to their consciousness, and their thinking can react back on all that.
Tallis criticises the neurological experiments for reducing human life to “responses to stimuli or to making trivial, often dichotomous, choices”, which isolates “an action from an entire field of action, from the flux of life” (p. 282) The experiments become tautological: “If you reduce human life to responses to stimuli, then you will seem to be justified in seeing us as biological devices programmed to respond to stimuli”. (p. 283) This in turn “links with one of the master-assumptions behind neuro-evolutionary pseudo-disciplines: that we are so devised that everything we do directly or indirectly serves the project of gene replication.” (p. 283)
Tallis describes his book as a “one-stop shop for anyone wishing to question the wild and often ludicrous claims that are made on behalf of biologism”. Although Aping Mankind is the most in-depth critique I have read on the role of neuroscience in the roller-coaster of biological determinism, his arguments in places feel weak and, he focuses far too much on the differences between animals and humans as the basis of his arguments as to why biological determinism and evolutionary psychology are wrong.
The distinction between humans and other species is crucially important in regard to the evolution of behaviour. For instance, as Friedrich Engels remarked, spiders may make webs as beautiful as any cathedral, but unlike human beings, spiders are not carrying out a conscious plan to implement a vision of what they want to construct. But at the same time, in understanding human thinking and acting, it is useful to analyse the role of learning and consciousness in higher animals.
For example, the toads in my garden used to behave in a way that could be considered as being consistent with evolution, that is they would stand completely still in the face of danger (me). Within two years they realised that to continue in this way would result in them continuing to be (accidentally) stood on and in rainy weather becoming my skateboard down the garden path. Now when they see me coming they move off the path and stand still again. I have no illusions, I don’t believe that by their 50th birthdays they will have learnt do the weeding but they clearly have an ability to learn and perhaps some level of consciousness.
Likewise, cows learn to go to the milking shed at the appropriate time for milking. This is a very new phenomenon in their long evolutionary history and shows some ability to change patterns, with whatever that might imply about consciousness. Tallis is just far too caught up with his belief that the best way to undermine the misapplication of evolutionary theory to behaviour is to prove the differences between human and animal consciousness.
Another criticism I have of Aping Mankind is the very limited coverage given to the brain’s plasticity (the ability of different parts of the brain to grow and change in response to the demands of human activity and experience). I see brain plasticity as one of the essential pillars for dealing with biological determinism. It is very clear that our brains are not permanently hard-wired at birth, as would be expected if biology and evolution were key to determining behaviour. Tallis gives this topic only sparse coverage. He uses the example of changes in the brain when someone learns to play the violin. I believe that there are stronger examples in the fight against the dominance of biological determinism. I will present here what I consider to be two better examples of brain plasticity, from books that aren’t even focussed on evolution or neuroscience.
The first example is from Walter (2010) who reviews various research that demonstrates how behaviour and experience can actually change biological make-up, including the size of anatomical structures in the brain. Her most impressive example is research looking at the posterior hippocampus part of the brain in London cab (taxi) drivers. This research found that the posterior hippocampus was larger in cab drivers with over two years’ experience than in controls. Further, the greater the number of years of taxi driving, “the bigger the posterior hippocampus, so that as they went on adding detail to their knowledge of the city, their grey matter grew. Since the volume of grey matter in this part of the brain correlated with the amount of time spent as a taxi driver, this suggests that the human brain can change physically in response to the environment, even during adulthood.” This is a very important example, as women are often said to lack map reading skills, which is usually put down to hard-wired brain differences between men and women. However, this example from Walter convincingly suggests that rather than biology being responsible for the differences seen between men’s and women’s brains, these differences could be better explained by differences in upbringing, behaviour and experience. Walter also examines research exposing how expectations, power differences and culture can determine behaviour.
A second example is from a book on substance abuse. Childress (2006) describes research on monkeys that found that changes in the environment could determine the number of dopamine D2 receptors, which in turn determined the likelihood of enjoying cocaine. When “alpha male” monkeys were moved from individual to group housing, those monkeys that achieved dominance showed a significant increase in dopamine D2 receptors and a disinterest in cocaine; whereas the subordinate monkeys were found to have a significantly lower number of D2 receptors and avidly self-administered cocaine. So in this example it was not a hard-wired brain at birth that determined the number of dopamine receptors but rather environmental factors.
Likewise, Avakian (2007) notes that what is claimed to be “human nature” is actually a reflection of the:
“economic structure and culture conditioned thereby. It is not innate in human beings, it is not ‘in their genes’, people are not ‘hard wired’ for this… All history is nothing but a continuous transformation of human nature… [O]ne of the defining characteristics of the ‘nature’ of human beings is precisely the great ‘plasticity’ that they have – the ability to respond in a variety of ways to things, and the ability to change how they see and respond to things when they change their conditions and change themselves in dialectical relation with that.
“In short, ‘human nature’, to the degree that we can speak of such a thing, is very flexible and changes with changes in human society.”
A further criticism I have is that Tallis is very dismissive of the role of gene theory saying, “Most thoughtful writers, even those inclined to biologism, know that the ‘gene-for’ notion, when applied to human behaviour, has had its day.” (p. 330.) However, I could not disagree with him more. I believe that gene theories of behaviour and temperament are very much alive and well. To give just one example, from the counselling world, the June 2011 issue of Therapy Today, leads with an article entitled, “Happiness gene discovered”, explaining how whether or not we tend to be naturally happy or sad is dependant on our genetic make-up rather than our life experience. (Further, different people undergoing similar experiences may have very different interpretations and evaluations of them, which speaks to the role of consciousness in emotional reactions.) This is just one very tiny example of how gene theory is being used to underpin explanations of behaviour, temperament and mental health. For more criticism of gene theory as applied to behaviour, particularly the methodological flaws in the twin research, see Joseph (2003).
Tallis’ book is a fairly easy read in that he puts his arguments across simply but he assumes his reader has the vocabulary of a neuroscientist. A glossary of the main terms specific to neuroscience and evolutionary theory would have made this book much easier to read on the train without access to a dictionary.
In conclusion, I believe that Aping Mankind is a useful addition for those who are already well-versed in the arguments of the evolutionary behaviourists, and who want to develop their arguments against the supremacy of this pseudo-science. However, I think that, although Tallis writes in a simple clear way, his book will be of limited use to those who are looking for an introductory text critically examining the arguments of those who claim that human thought and behaviour are little more than genes, brain synapses and evolution.
Avakian, B. (2007) “Making Revolution, Emancipating Humanity”, Revolution, no. 105, 21 October 2007.
Childress, A.R. (2006) “What Can Human Brain Imaging Tell Us About Vulnerability to Addiction & to Relapse?” in Miller, W.R. and Carroll, K.M. Rethinking Substance Abuse, The Guilford Press, New York.
Joseph, J. (2003) The Gene Illusion – Genetic Research in Psychiatry and Psychology Under the Microscope, published by PCCS books.
Walter, N. (2010) Living Dolls, Published by Virago, London.
Wood, W. & Eagly, A.H. (2002) “A Cross-cultural Analysis of the Behaviour of Women and Men: Implications for the Origins of Sex Differences”, Psychology Bulletin, Volume 128(5), pp. 699-727.
After spending about five years in jail, Mumbai-based activist Arun Ferreira was released on bail in January this year. In May 2007, he was arrested in Nagpur on charges of being a Naxalite. The police claimed that he along with a senior Naxal leader, Ashok Satya Reddy alias Murali, was planning to blow up the historical Deekshabhoomi complex (where Babasaheb Ambedkar embraced Buddhism in 1956). In September 2010, he was acquitted of all charges by a Nagpur court, but was re-arrested by plainclothes policemen and charged with an alleged crime that occurred when Ferreira was locked up in jail. An alumnus of Mumbai’s St Xavier’s College, 39-year-old Ferreira kept a prison diary during his incarceration in Nagpur Central Jail. We reproduce here a shortened version of his experiences and some of the sketches he drew in prison.
The anda barracks are a cluster of windowless cells within the high-security confines of Nagpur Central Jail. To get to most cells from the anda entrance, you have to pass through five heavy iron gates, [and] a maze of narrow corridors and pathways. There are several distinct compounds within the anda, each with a few cells, each cell carefully isolated from the other. There’s little light in the cells and you can’t see any trees. You can’t even see the sky. From the top of the central watch tower, the yard resembles an enormous, airtight concrete egg. But there’s a vital difference. It’s impossible to break it open. Rather, it’s designed to make inmates crack.
The anda is where the most unruly prisoners are confined, as punishment for violating disciplinary rules. The other parts of Nagpur jail aren’t quite so severe. Most prisoners are housed in barracks, with fans and a TV. In the barracks, the day-time hours can be quite relaxed, even comfortable. But in the anda, the only ventilation is provided by the gate of your cell, and even that doesn’t afford much comfort because it opens into a covered corridor, not an open yard.
But more than the brutal, claustrophobic aesthetic of the anda, it’s the absence of human contact that chokes you. If you’re in the anda, you spend 15 hours or more alone in your cell. The only people you see are the guards and occasionally the other inmates in your section. A few weeks in the anda can cause a breakdown. The horrors of the anda are well-known to prisoners in Nagpur jail, and they would rather face the severest of beatings than be banished to the anda.
While most prisoners spend only a few weeks in the anda or in its cousin, the phasi yard, home to prisoners sentenced to death, these sections were where I spent four years, eight months. This was because I was not an ordinary prisoner. I was, as the police claimed, a ‘dreaded Naxalite’, ‘Maoist leader’, descriptions that appeared in newspapers the morning after I was arrested on 8 May 2007.
I’d been arrested at Nagpur railway station on a brutally hot summer afternoon. I was waiting to meet some social activists when about 15 men grabbed me, bundled me into a car and drove away at high speed, kicking and punching me all the while. They took me to a room in a building my abductors later told me was the Nagpur Police Gymkhana. They used my belt to tie my hands and I was blindfolded, so that the police officials involved in this operation could remain unidentified. From their conversations, it became evident that I had been detained by the anti-Naxalite cell of the Nagpur Police. The assaults never stopped. Through the day, I was flogged with belts, kicked and slapped, as they attempted to soften me up for the interrogations that were to follow.
I had my first brush with social activism as a student at Mumbai’s St Xavier’s College in the early 1990s. I’d organised camps to villages and welfare projects for the underprivileged. The religious riots of 1992-93 really shook me up. Thousands of Muslims were displaced in their own city, and we helped run relief camps. The callousness of the state, which allowed the Shiv Sena to conduct its pogrom unimpeded, could not have been on better display. I soon joined the Vidyarthi Pragati Sanghatan, a student organisation that aimed to build a democratic, egalitarian society. We organised many campaigns in rural areas to help the dispossessed assert their rights. In Nashik, tribals were organising themselves against atrocities of the Forest Department. In Dabhol, villagers were resisting the Enron power project. In Umergaon, Gujarat, fisherfolk were protesting their imminent displacement by a gigantic port. Looking at these struggles up close made me aware that [offering] relief to the poor wasn’t as important as helping them question the skewed relations of power and justice and organise themselves to claim their rights.
However, post 9/11, there was a change in the way peoples’ movements came to be perceived. The so-called War Against Terror made security the prime motive of State policy. In India, special laws were promulgated to squash inconvenient truths. Organisations were banned, opinions were criminalised and social movements were branded ‘terrorist’. Those of us who worked to organise tribals or the oppressed in rural areas were termed ‘Maoists’.
In 2010, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that Maoists were “India’s greatest internal security threat”. Some were ‘encountered’ or ‘disappeared’, while others were arrested. In places like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand or Vidarbha in Maharashtra, all non-partisan political activity was branded as ‘Maoism’ and dealt with accordingly. In the months before my detention, many Dalit activists in Nagpur had been arrested on charges of radicalising the Amberkarite movement by infusing it with the politics of Naxalism. All this meant that I wasn’t entirely unprepared to be arrested myself.
Despite having contemplated this hypothetical situation, I wasn’t quite prepared to become a target of [State] excesses myself—to be arrested, tortured, implicated in false cases with fabricated evidence, and locked away in prison for several years.
At midnight, 11 hours after I had been detained, I was taken to a police station and informed that I had been arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 2004, which is applied to people the State believes are terrorists. I spent that night in a damp, dark cell in the police station. My bedding was a foul-smelling black blanket, its colour barely concealing just how dirty it was. A hole in the ground served as a urinal and could be identified by paan stains around it, and its acrid stench. I was finally served a meal: dal, roti and a couple of abuses. Having to eat from a plastic bag with jaws sore from [the day’s] blows wasn’t easy. But after the horrors of the day, these tribulations were relatively insignificant and allowed me a brief moment to pull myself together. I managed to ignore the putrid bedding and humid air and doze off.
Within a few hours, I was woken up for another round of interrogation. The officers appeared polite at first but quickly resorted to blows in an attempt to make me provide the answers they were looking for. They wanted me to disclose the location of a cache of arms and explosives or information on my supposed links with Maoists. To make me more amenable to their demands, they stretched my body out completely, using an updated version of the medieval torture technique of [the wrack]. My arms were tied to a window grill high above, while two policemen stood on my stretched thighs to keep me pinned to the floor. This was calculated to cause maximum pain without leaving any external injuries. Despite their precautions, my ears started to bleed and my jaws began to swell up.
In the evening, I was made to squat on the floor with a black hood over my head as numerous officers posed behind me for press photographs. The next day, I would later learn, these images made the front pages of papers around the country. The press was told that I was the chief of communications and propaganda of an ultra-left wing of Naxalites.
I was then produced before a magistrate. As all law students know, this step has been introduced [to the legal process] to give detainees an opportunity to complain against custodial torture—something I could establish quite easily since my face was swollen, ears bleeding and soles so sore it was impossible to walk. But in court, I learnt from my lawyers that the police had already accounted for those injuries in their concocted arrest story. According to their version, I was a dangerous terrorist and had fought hard with police to try to avoid arrest. They claimed that they had no option but to use force to subdue me. Strangely, none of my captors claimed to have been harmed during the scuffle.
That wasn’t the only surprise. In court, the police said that I’d been arrested in the company of three others—Dhanendra Bhurule, a local journalist; Naresh Bansod, the Gondia district president of an organisation called the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti; and Ashok Reddy, a resident of Andhra Pradesh, people I had never met before. The police claimed to have seized a pistol and live cartridges from us. They said we had been meeting to hatch a plan to blow up the monument at Deekshabhoomi in Nagpur. If the police could convince people that Naxalites were planning to attack this hallowed shrine, this could convince Dalits not to [have any] truck with leftists.
But mere allegations couldn’t suffice. They needed to create evidence to support their claims. The police told the court that they needed us in custody for 12 days to interrogate us. While the journalist and I were kept at Nagpur’s Sitabuldi police station, the other two were taken to the Dhantoli police station. Every morning, we would be transported to the Police Gymkhana for continuous rounds of interrogation that lasted late into the night. First, they attempted to force us to sign a confessional statement they had drafted. When that failed, they got the court to agree to allow us to be subjected to the scientifically dubious practice of narco-analysis, lie detectors and brain mapping tests, which they hoped would bolster their allegations. So although legally I was no longer in their custody, the police could still interrogate me under the guise of conducting these forensic tests. Preparations were made to transport us to the State Forensic Science Lab in Mumbai.
Before that, we were formally admitted to Nagpur Central Prison. I stooped through the low narrow door into the complex that would be my home for 54 months. In keeping with procedure, first-time prisoners are presented before the gate-officer. Tradition, and perhaps training, demands that even the most mild-mannered gate-officer be at his aggressive best while dealing with new entrants, who, in jail slang, are called ‘Naya Ahmads’. It is the gate officers’ job to give the newcomer a crash course in meekness and mindless subservience. A lathi at his side serves as a teaching aid.
The officer is also supposed to enquire whether the new prisoner has suffered injuries due to torture in police custody, and, if so, record his statement. In my case, I had a bleeding ear, swollen jaws and sore feet. But in reality, the officer threatens anyone trying to make a complaint. By custom, all injuries are recorded as having existed before the prisoner was arrested. A strip search followed, standard protocol for new entrants to the prison. I was stripped to my underwear and ordered to squat in a line with the other new entrants awaiting my turn with the jadthi-amaldar (the man in charge of searches). Our every belonging was scrutinised and thrown on the dirty road for us to humbly gather together again. Hazards like packets of biscuits and beedis were pocketed by the staff.
We were unfortunate to arrive in isolation, but if the prisoner’s wait at the gate coincides with the entry or exit of one of the senior jail officials, he is privileged to witness a ceremony of colonial vintage. Senior jailors and superintendents can’t be expected to bend low to enter through the door. So the main gate is swung open to allow these sahibs to walk through, heads held high. When they are sighted at a distance, the gate guard issues a yelp of caution: “All hup!” All staff stand to attention and all lower life forms are swept into corners out of sight or forced to their haunches.
Most Naya Ahmads are then taken to the After Barrack, where they spend a night or two before being assigned to a fixed barrack. This waiting period allows the jail staff, convict-warders, inhouse extortionist gangs and other sharks to assess what they can extract from the latest catch. Middle and upper class entrants are easy targets. They are softened up with dark stories of prison-life horrors and not-so-veiled threats. Young boys are targeted for free labour and as sex toys. Contacts are made and deals are struck to ensure better treatment when moved to the regular barracks.
Next is the mulaija or check-in-process. New prisoners are lectured on the value of prison discipline by a convict warder or jailor. Each new inmate has his identifying marks noted and is weighed, measured and examined by a doctor and psychologist, before being presented before a phalanx of prison divinities, led by the Superintendent. A Body Ticket is presented to each prisoner, listing his prisoner number and offences registered against him. These offences form the basis of how he will be classified, and, to some extent, how he’ll be treated in jail.
Even though the law proclaims that an accused person is innocent until proved guilty, such niceties lack meaning behind prison walls. The allegations of the police are sufficient evidence for the jail authorities to punish even those awaiting trial. Alleged rapists and homosexuals are routinely targeted by officers and other prisoners at the encouragement of the staff. Those implicated in murder cases are compelled to wear a convict prisoner’s uniform and are consigned to special ‘murder barracks’. As a sign of their patriotism, many jail superintendents personally preside over the beatings of people accused of terrorism.
Before the mulaija, procedure requires the new entrant to be bathed. However, shortages of soap and water often prevent the diligent observance of these rules. Instead, most Naya Ahmads are rushed through the rough-and-ready hands of the nai kamaan (literally, the Barber Command), one of the work groups to which prisoners could be assigned later. The Naya Ahmad’s next stop is the Badi Gol, the area in Nagpur Jail that houses the prisoners awaiting trial. Each is allotted a barrack. That, theoretically, is where I should have been headed too. But in my case, the procedures were all jumbled up. Twelve days after I had been picked up by the police, I was hurriedly put into the anda barrack, given a prison uniform, and after a quick meal at 4 pm of besan and chewy rotis, [put on my way] to Mumbai by train.
Even before [detainees] can be given narco-analysis, they are put through a series of medical tests, ostensibly to ascertain whether they are fit enough to undergo these forensic procedures. In reality, the tests determine the prisoner’s levels of resistance and help the authorities calculate how much of the drug, sodium pentothal, can be administered without causing the accused to collapse. The tests were conducted in the operation theatre of JJ Hospital, a government hospital in Mumbai that has backup facilities for surgery. That’s because sodium pentothal can cause the heart to slow down—fatally.
The drug was administered like a drip, at a controlled pace so that I should remain in a trance for [a long] time. The forensic psychologist started asking questions and the conversation was video recorded. Although the police were not permitted to enter the laboratory, the forensic experts themselves used the drug with police efficiency, with total disregard for medical ethics or my health. The police had prepared a list of questions for the psychologist to ask: where I kept arms and ammunition, and whether I was associated with suspected organisations or people. I remembered some of this later. It was a little like recollecting a dream after waking up. I didn’t remember all the details with complete accuracy, but I hadn’t forgotten the highlights.
On my return, after a week, I was implicated in another five cases involving Naxalite violence. The police were granted another 20 days of custody. This meant that I was back in the hands of the police at a police station in Gondia district. This entailed more sleep deprivation, more harassment and more interrogation. I was fortunate to have got away relatively lightly. The police injected petrol into the rectums of two of my co-accused, which resulted in days of anal bleeding. For me, it was more stretching, flogging with a strip of conveyor belt, which the Maharashtra police affectionately call “Bajirao”, and more jaw slamming.
By this time, the results of the Mumbai narco-analysis tests had come in. They failed to provide any grist for the police case, so the authorities got a court to surreptitiously order another round of tests at the forensic lab in Bangalore. Here, the tests were conducted by the notorious S Malini, who was later dismissed from duty when it was discovered that she’d submitted false papers when applying for the job. Malini was well regarded by police forces across India because she always managed to get them the results they wanted. She had apparently solved the Malegaon blasts case of 2006, the Mecca Masjid blasts case, and also the Sister Abhaya case. Years later, all these were proved to have been falsely investigated. During narco-analysis, she slapped and abused me, pinched my ears with pliers, and even administered electric shocks to me and my co-accused to keep us from turning unconscious.
But this didn’t do the job either. So the police implicated me in two more cases and interrogated me for two more weeks. That’s how the first year of life after my arrest proceeded. The police would implicate me in new cases, obtain custody to interrogate me, inflict terrible forms of torture on me, fail to extract a confession, return me to jail, only to implicate me in yet another case. It was only when the police finally filed chargesheets in these cases that I had a new routine, one that involved making weekly or sometimes daily trips to court to wait for these cases to be heard. I now had the luxury of contemplating the rhythms of prison life.
Morning brings a mad rush to the tanki or haus, as the bathing tank is known. Four hundred prospective bathers laying claim to a 60 by 3 foot trough means a hurried bath even at the best of times. In summer, when the water being pumped out of the well is likely to run dry, the pace is bound to be frantic. Jail lore tells of the guy who’s not fast enough and has to rinse off the soap by catching the drops dripping off his neighbour’s body. The ones who don’t learn to brush teeth, take a bath and rinse out their underwear in 10 minutes flat are destined to scrape the bottom of the haus.
Negotiating the morning crowds at the tanki and long lines at the toilets requires not only speed but some presence of mind. This is particularly important in the yards and barracks with a large number of undertrials who have to prepare to attend court. In less than two hours, between the opening of barracks at 6.45 am and the court call at 8.30 am, they have to not only complete ablutions and a bath, but also catch their queues to collect and then have tea at 7 am, breakfast at 7.30 am and lunch between 8 am and 8.30 am.
It wasn’t easy for my body to adjust to the absurdity of having lunch just a half hour after breakfast. The early lunches, like so much else in prison, are the result of sheer callousness. Undertrials often spend the hours between 8.30 am and 6.30 pm on their way to court, in court, and being driven back, but the jail authorities have not seen it fit to provide them a packed lunch that can be had in the afternoon. High Court orders directing that this should be done are observed in the breach. But since the Jail Manual, which governs all activities in prison, has laid down just what a prisoner must consume, the authorities fulfil their obligations by distributing lunch to undertrials at 8 am. But when you are one among many hundreds running after scarce resources, you normally end up giving up something—either your toilet or bath, breakfast or lunch.
The food distribution is done by the energetic taapa kamaan, one of the many prisoner teams that play a vital role in keeping the jail functioning. The taapa kamaan are busy from the time the barracks are opened at around 6.45 am until they are locked around 5 pm, running around with large food containers—the taapaas from which they take their name. Two thousand stomachs demanding their timely due can be a tense proposition, and the taapa workers are a harried lot. They have to ensure that each Manual-prescribed item reaches each barrack in sufficient quantities to supply the stipulated amount to every prisoner present at the morning count.
Within this unit, the post of taapa commander can be quite a lucrative assignment. The commander is normally a convict warder, a long-serving prisoner who is given the duty of an overseer of other labouring prisoners. He is paid Rs 35 per day, but can earn a healthy side income by trading the resources under his command. By manipulating distribution, he can generate a surplus to be placed on the open market. The bhais who pay him off get more and better food. But the taapa commander’s privileges pale in comparison with the deals that jail officials strike with contractors who supply the kitchen raw materials. Many jail employees are able to take enough home to feed their families on prison supplies. These leaks result in the depletion of food that prisoners are served. In order to ensure that portions meet the weight stipulations of the Jail Manual, even the most inedible portions of vegetables make their way into prisoners’ thaalis—this can even include the rope that suppliers use to tie vegetables together.
As a result, we often attempted to improvise. One way out was to re-cook the food by spicing it up with pickles and chilli-garlic powder purchased from the prison canteen. This process is called handi, after the cooking pots fashioned out of aluminium plates. We would fabricate a fireplace from bricks or by chiselling and reshaping other aluminium vessels. Strips of newspaper and sun-dried chapaatis were used for fuel, but sometimes bits of plastic, dry twigs, old clothes, pilfered prison bedding and even copies of legal documents found their way into the fire.
‘Handi’ is also the term for the group of prisoners who take their meals together. They pool the provisions they buy from the canteen and forage from elsewhere. In the barracks, all members of a handi group sleep in one place. For people like me in the cells, however, [joining] a handi group wasn’t possible—we were locked alone in our cells so couldn’t have dinner together. Still, we ensured that the food cooked in one cell was passed on to others. This was managed through a strategy called the gaadi. The dishes would be placed on a piece of cloth that was dragged along the ground by using a string thrown from one cell to the next, rather like a sleigh made of fabric.
The Maharashtra government’s near-total ban on non-vegetarian food also challenges the skill and ingenuity of the prisoner. Trapping and hunting of squirrels, birds, bandicoots and other types of small game is a serious occupation. Even locusts and other insects that occasionally swarm the prison were collected to be sun-dried roasted and relished. Cloth traps sometimes managed to snare a bird. Others were brought down with make-do catapults. Traps in drainpipes and other passages sometimes yielded bandicoots. But the more popular method for both squirrels and rats was hunting by hand-and-stick. If one was sighted, a cry would go up and hunters would gather to corner the prey.
A well-fed bandicoot—which tastes a lot like pork—was a sizeable feast for a meat-starved group. It was quickly depilated, dismembered and cooked in a corner away from the prying eyes of jail staff and their informants. The spot behind the latrines was considered safe. This was be done under the watch of the latrine-cleaning danda kamaan, who were omnivorous and enthusiastic participants in both the chase and feast. As the band sat around for the treat, the conversation would drift back to better times. A person would talk of wild boars, another would remember rabbits. The high walls and iron bars seemed to recede. Things weren’t as bad as they seemed.
Each barrack has its bhai to whom all lesser mortals claim or aspire to closeness. Those who succeed can hope for some alleviation in discomforts in the form of a cleaner or full set of bisthar (bedding). Though the Jail Manual says that the bisthar given should include a dhurry, a bed-sheet, two cotton-wool blankets in winter and pillow with pillow-case, the Naya Ahmad should consider himself lucky if he manages to get a single, tattered, filthy blanket or dhurry.
Even the deepest sleepers sometimes have to surrender to other sounds of the prison night. With each inmate living through his own private nightmare, moans, groans and sobs from adjoining sleepers are frequent. The awakened neighbour usually slaps the offender into silence. But not all troubled souls are so easily subdued. There are those who pierce the night with shrieks and are given much rougher strong arm [treatment] before they are quietened. The screamer who actually needs psychiatric help gets not even sympathy. As the whole barrack is roused, the more vicious types join the watchmen in beating and kicking him. Many believe this to be the only possible therapy to exorcise the devil who has taken possession of him. In a while, he is silenced and relative calm descends once more. But sleep is elusive, as [the quietened] prisoner strains silently to hide from his own demons. As seconds and minutes drag out, there is no clock to tell the time. Another hour is forfeited, never to be returned.
In this closed world, my only window to the outside was provided by books and magazines. However, Maharashtra prisons do not have any funds to buy printed material, not even official government publications. The prison library is completely dependent on donations from individuals or voluntary organisations. The selections are completely arbitrary, consisting mainly of religious books. At first, most of the magazines I tried to subscribe to by post never reached my cell. The jailor would decide what books were fit for us. We were once denied a James Bond novel because of its cover was deemed obscene. Every now and then, they’d block a magazine to us because it contained the word ‘Maoist’ or ‘revolution’. Even the Indian Constitution was withheld for being too bulky.
When we could get our hands on them, crime novels were always a hit. Lee Child and John Grisham novels would substitute for the absence of action or court room drama we longed for. I also read the Scandinavian novels of Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell.
The other concession grudgingly allowed by the jail administration is the mulaakaat (meeting) with family and friends. This is permitted once a month to convicted prisoners and once a week to undertrials. The families who manage to save enough money to make the long journey from their village to the jail are expected to first register their names in the morning at the mulaakaat booth near the jail gate. They must hang around for three or four hours, braving sun or rain, as the jail administration supposedly checks whether they are security worthy of a mulaakaat and have not yet exhausted their quota. After an exhausting wait, the visitors—most often women and children—are then led in batches to a room with heavily meshed windows, each with a prisoner waiting on the other side. On the other side, the prisoners have been warned that they should not exceed the time sanctioned for their mulaakaat. Undertrials get 20 minutes; convicts, 30 minutes. There is always a certain desperation on both sides of the mesh, as prisoners and their families make sure that nothing to be conveyed is missed in the short time at hand.
My first visitors were my parents and brother. Although my wife wanted to visit me, we decided that she should not do so because of police threats to arrest her too. At the first mulaakaat, my parents could only see me as a silhouette behind the wire mesh. They had only by voice to recognise me by. The wire mesh ensured that no reassuring hugs could be exchanged. As my detention stretched on, my family only managed to meet me every two months. We’d plan to meet when I was being produced in court, though the guards escorting me would occasionally refuse to grant us this luxury. Through my years in jail, my baby son never got to see me. He did not know that I was in prison. If he had come, he’d have to see a silhouette with fettered hands for a father. We felt that this would be too much for a two-year-old to understand.
My family would try to fill me in about happenings at home, and I would entertain them with anecdotes about prison life. But as the number of cases in which I was being charged kept increasing, developments in each trial became more confusing, and discussing them with my aged parents became difficult. Ultimately, the mulaakaats narrowed to my giving them a list of things I required and their promising to bring them to the next meeting and write regularly.
As I realised in Nagpur Jail, the majority of inmates didn’t fit any recognisable definition of a ‘criminal’. They had landed in jail either because they had been falsely implicated by the police or because of an attack they’d committed in a fit of anger, often during a family feud. They had been convicted due to poor legal advice at their trials.
After the initial shock conviction, they had to steer stoically into a routine amenable to living out the long years in jail—which in the case of life sentences in Maharashtra average 17-18 years.
A large number find some solace in a rigid schedule of prayer and fasting, puja, namaaz and roza. Prison nurtures spirituality. It has the merit of at least temporarily inducing the type of peace obtained by casting your lot with the supernatural. The sanctimony of ritual has the sanctity of administrative approval. It benefits the prisoner to show up at, or even organise, religious ceremonies sanctioned by the jail management.
This game of hide-and-seek between illusion and fact, between hope and despair, is the constant of almost any prisoner’s existence. The trick to be mastered is to ensure that fact is not permitted to pierce illusion and despair not allowed to overcome hope. Once prisoners realise this, it isn’t really that difficult to keep their balance.
As an undertrial, you tell yourself that the trial’s going well, all witnesses [against you] have failed, and you are bound to be acquitted. If you have been convicted, you pin your hopes on the higher courts. And in this, the endemic delays of the Indian judicial system are a real blessing. Hope remains alive till the Supreme Court, by which time you have reached what you feel should be the end of your sentence. It is then the remissions and pardons that you look forward to.
You enter that puzzled yet hope-filled period of waiting for the finalisation of your likhaan, the colloquial term for the review file prepared by the Jail Judicial Department for every long-sentence convict. This document is sent to the state government for reviewing prisoners’ sentences and to obtain an order of premature release. This file reports the prisoner’s conduct in jail and contains calculations of the set-offs he is eligible for. It also contains recommendations of the jail, police and administrative authorities. Since government rules for a premature release are so complicated, it is rare for any prisoner to be able to estimate what likhaan he will finally get.
It takes years for Mantralaya to decide. It is only then that you have some idea of when you can expect to be finally released. This starts your ulti ginti, the countdown, as you tick off the days remaining for you to go home.
Throughout all this, as you battle to maintain your balance, the abiding symbol of hope and despair is the Lal Gate, the red exit gate. It reappears in rhetoric, in small talk, in jokes and of course in your dreams. It is the barrier that holds you in and the opening that will lead you out. The secret is to ignore the barricade and only see the door. That helps maintain some semblance of normal life.
But for some, the long years of prison life are without the slightest contact or communication with the outside world. Poverty prevents them from even finding the money for the surety the State demands for sending a prisoner on furlough or parole.
Besides, many families can’t afford the expense of travelling to jail for the monthly mulaakaat. Illiteracy or a breakdown of family relations could mean that there won’t even be a letter. As the lonely years stretch on, the line separating these prisoners from insanity steadily blurs.
Sixty-three-year-old Kithulal was one such person. He would cheat time to present some semblance of normal life. He would manage to convince himself that he’d almost done his time and that the benevolent government would soon announce a special remission that would see him released. The three or four months before each Republic and Independence Day were periods of carefully cultivated hope; anyone who cared to listen would be told that the Government will announce an extraordinary reprieve and he would walk out of the Lal Gate on the great day.
As the day would come and go, despair would render this most talkative of inmates unusually silent.
He’d then resort to other devices. He would get absorbed in a flurry of apparently irrational activity, as if sweat expended in sufficient quantities would wash away the pain. The normal opiate of fasts and other rituals would take on larger dimensions.
In a short time, he’d be pinning his hopes on his next release date.
In keeping with the law, I applied for bail in August 2007. However, I came to realise that speedy trials in the Indian judicial process are a luxury. It takes three-five years on average for a trial to be completed. For nearly a year-and-a-half, I would travel almost daily in a police van accompanied by armed police personnel for almost seven hours from Nagpur to Gondia or Chandrapur.
On reaching the court, I would find that I had been brought late or that the judge was on vacation. Often, my trips and those of my lawyers would go wasted because the prosecution witness had not turned up.
One particular case dragged on for over three years and was finally completed with my acquittal after the examination of only one witness. My captors were using the due process of law to penalise me. My only hope was to patiently complete each case and be finally released.
In my first year in prison, in the isolated anda barrack, my co-accused and I were kept away from the other prisoners because the jail administration considered us far too dangerous to be [allowed to associate] with them.
To signal that we were different, all alleged Naxalite prisoners were forced to wear prison uniforms with green arm bands. In April 2008, all 13 of us went on an indefinite hunger strike. Among our demands: end our isolation, stop arresting social activists as Naxalites, and don’t force undertrials to wear uniforms.
In order to undermine us, we were dispersed into separate barracks. I was transferred to phasi yard—for prisoners [on death row].
Our strike lasted 27 days. None of our demands were fulfilled. Instead, the police officer who was conducting an inquiry into the matter advised the jail officials to scatter us across other jails. An additional criminal case was registered against us, of attempting to commit suicide—this was the ninth case I had to deal with.
In September 2011, the courts finally dismissed the last of the nine cases against me. Prison wisdom says that the first few months of jail life and the last ones are the most horrible. As freedom neared, the days grew longer and nights sleepless. Court production dates also got reduced. All reading and writing became extremely burdensome. I started making plans for life beyond Lal Gate.
On 27 September, I left prison. I could see my parents standing outside. As they watched, in the company of journalists and my lawyers, a posse of policemen in plain clothes bundled me away in an unmarked vehicle. The police charged me with two more Naxalite-related cases, and I was sent back to prison.
I was crushed at the thought of having to [suffer] the same cycle of torture, bail applications and endless waits for trial dates all over again. But this time, thankfully, it was quicker. A vociferous public outcry and the skills of my lawyers worked in my favour.
On 4 January 2012, I was released on bail in the last remaining case. After four years, eight months, I walked out of Lal Gate a free man.
A World to Win News Service.
Gunter Grass has achieved something many poets have only dreamt of in recent years: he has brought poetry, or at least a poem, to the centre of public life in Germany and elsewhere around the world.
In retaliation for that poem, Israel has announced that this Nobel Prize-winning writer, who considers himself a supporter of that country he has visited several times, will never be allowed to set foot on its soil again.
When was the last time so much political firepower was aimed at a poem? Lining up to denounce it were Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu; Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman; the Interior Minister, Eli Yishai; and the whole Zionist establishment, including the supposedly “left” newspaper Haaretz; and also German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and the leader of Germany’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee, both of whom felt that these verses endangered the national interest.
The poem has also been condemned by various guardians of literature blustering about the poor quality of Grass’s late-in-life foray into poetry. Whatever the merits of his stanzas may be, it’s odd that no one has raised literary issues until now. For instance, the New York Review of Books, known for its high standards, carried a recent Grass poem just before the scandal.
Readers can look at Grass’s offending poem for themselves, at Guardian.co.uk (4 April) (“What Must be Said”, rendered into English by Breon Mitchell, who also translated Grass for the NYRB) and in German (“Was gesagt werden muss”) on Suedddeutsche.de, the site of the newspaper where it first appeared.
It was written on the occasion of the German government’s decision to build a sixth atomic-powered submarine (at a subsidized price) for Israel. Despite their cute name, “Dolphin”-class submarines are designed to deploy Israeli nuclear-armed missiles in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. They are aimed at Pakistan and especially Iran.
What Israel and its backers find unacceptable in Grass’s piece is that it criticizes the Israeli government for claiming “the alleged right to a first strike / that could destroy an Iranian people / subjugated by a loudmouth”. He continues, “Why only now, grown old / and with what ink remains, do I say: / Israel’s atomic power endangers / an already fragile world peace? / Because what must be said / may be too late tomorrow; / and because – burdened enough as Germans – / we may be providing material for a crime / that is foreseeable, so that our complicity / will not be expunged by any / of the usual excuses.” The poem ends with a call for “those responsible for the open danger we face to renounce the use of force” and for both the Iranian and Israeli governments to open their nuclear facilities to international inspection.
Grass has long been associated with Germany’s sometimes-governing Social Democratic party, and this is far from a radical or even pro-Palestinian position. In an interview following the uproar that greeted his poem, he argued that the “the man who damages Israel the most at the moment is in my opinion Netanyahu, and I should have included that in my poem.”
Yet the Zionists are no longer in a mood to accept this somewhat critical support. The Israeli embassy in Germany issued a statement charging Grass with continuing the “European tradition to accuse the Jews before the Passover festival of ritual murder”. This is a reference to what is called “the blood libel”, that the unleavened bread Jews eat at Passover is made with the blood of murdered Christian children. That lie was the pretext for hundreds of years of pogroms – European campaigns to exterminate Jews.
Just in case some people might wonder about the basis and logic for this extremely grave charge, Anshel Pfieffer, writing in Haaretz (8 April), declared that in Grass’s case “all arguments are superfluous” and “logic and reason are useless”.
This anti-reason attitude would have gladdened the hearts of the Nazis and all of today’s religious zealots. But how else could Israel’s defenders react, when the facts are stacked against them: Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons, Iran has none. Israel is threatening to use those weapons against Iran because, as Grass wrote, “an atomic bomb may be developing”.
The Haaretz columnist ends by screaming that Grass would like to take away “the Jews’ doomsday weapon” which is, he says, all that prevents the successful completion, in today’s world, of the Nazi project “to wipe the Jews off the face of the earth.”
How can this writer claim that saying “Don’t bomb Iran” is anti-Semitism, or that in saying that no country should use nuclear weapons to attack another, Grass is calling for genocide? Isn’t this upside down? Such use of hysteria and bullying to silence arguments that cannot be defeated by reason is the intellectual equivalent of a “doomsday weapon”.
To equate Israel with “the Jews” is a lie, an old trick promoted both by the Zionist regime and Jew-haters of all kinds. But there is another lie here as well: far from being a country whose survival depends on its own people and weapons, Israel is a settler state that came into existence and has remained in existence only thanks to unwavering Western and American political, financial and military support. It is a pillar of the existing order in the Middle East, and central to American regional domination.
Israel would not be so eager to launch a war against Iran if it were not assured of US military backing no matter what. In fact, whatever secondary disputes there may be between Washington and Tel Aviv, Israeli belligerency serves the strategic goals of the US, including bringing Iran under its heel.
Israel’s nuclear “doomsday weapon” has nothing to do with saving anyone’s life. It is a threat to human lives on a mass scale, in the service of an imperialist cause.
Insofar as the anti-Grass hysterians deign to reason, it is with this argument: because in the final months of World War II, at the age of 17, Grass was drafted into a Waffen SS unit, and because he did not publicly disclose this until his 2006 autobiography, he has no right to speak about moral questions and especially Israel. (The Waffen SS was an elite branch of the armed forces that among other tasks ran concentration camps, although Grass says he was assigned to an anti-aircraft unit and never fired a shot.)
Grass himself addresses this issue in the beginning of his poem. He writes that he has never before criticized Israel because he felt “tarnished by a stain that can never be removed”, but that he feels compelled to speak out now because of his own country’s complicity in a “foreseeable crime”. He warns that this time Germans cannot avoid taking responsibility with the claim that they didn’t know.
Grass has done a great deal to focus public discourse in his country on the question of Germans’ moral responsibilities, starting with his 1959 novel The Tin Drum. It was published at a time when such discussion was held back by Germany’s ruling class, composed in no small part of former Nazis. In the mid-1980s, when many people fiercely opposed US and West German efforts to prepare public opinion and their militaries for another world war, against the Soviet Union, he denounced a symbolically significant visit by the heads of the American and German governments to a cemetery where Waffen SS officers were buried. For decades he has been honest about, and grappled with, the fact that “I belonged to the Hitler Youth and I believed in its aims up to the end of the war,” as he told The New York Times in 2000 (NYT, 6 April 2012)
Grass has been banned from entering Israel under a law that bars visits by former Nazis. This law was not applied to Pope Benedict XVI, another former member of the Hitler Youth and the Nazi armed forces. Why? Because that visit scored points for Israel on the diplomatic front.
It is bitterly ironic that Zionists should attack Grass for “the blood libel”, since it was not secularists nor “leftists” (as Grass is being pejoratively called, whether deservedly or not) but the Catholic Church that propagated it for a millennium, as part of the construction of a Christian identity in murderous opposition to Jews and Muslims. Before he became pope, for several decades Benedict headed the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Catholic Church body formerly know as the Holy Inquisition that set out to “de-Judaize” Europe centuries before the Nazis.
When Benedict came to Israel in 2009, he expressed no remorse for the crimes committed by his country of birth and his church. In fact, he refused to enter the Holocaust museum because it contains material critical of Pope Pius XII for refusing to speak out against the genocide of the Jews during World War 2.
Benedict has not continued this anti-Jewish genocidal past, but unlike Grass, who says “what must be said”, he has never sharply renounced it and instead prefers to remain silent. Obviously, for Israel the question of whether or not someone’s past should be held against them is a matter of convenience.
The attacks on Grass are made in the name of opposing anti-Semitism, but their real purpose is to rally support for the Zionist project, with no politics or morality other than that.
— Arundhati Roy
(This is the speech delivered by Arundhati Roy in fourth Anuradha Ghandy memorial lecture in Mumbai. It was originally appeared in Outlook magazine.)
Is it a house or a home? A temple to the new India, or a warehouse for its ghosts? Ever since Antilla arrived on Altamont Road in Mumbai, exuding mystery and quiet menace, things have not been the same. “Here we are,” the friend who took me there said, “Pay your respects to our new Ruler.”
Antilla belongs to India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani. I had read about this most expensive dwelling ever built, the twenty-seven floors, three helipads, nine lifts, hanging gardens, ballrooms, weather rooms, gymnasiums, six floors of parking, and the six hundred servants. Nothing had prepared me for the vertical lawn—a soaring, 27-storey-high wall of grass attached to a vast metal grid. The grass was dry in patches; bits had fallen off in neat rectangles. Clearly, Trickledown hadn’t worked.
But Gush-Up certainly has. That’s why in a nation of 1.2 billion, India’s 100 richest people own assets equivalent to one-fourth of the GDP.
The word on the street (and in the New York Times) is, or at least was, that after all that effort and gardening, the Ambanis don’t live in Antilla. No one knows for sure. People still whisper about ghosts and bad luck, Vaastu and Feng Shui. Maybe it’s all Karl Marx’s fault. (All that cussing.) Capitalism, he said, “has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, that it is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells”.
In India, the 300 million of us who belong to the new, post-IMF “reforms” middle class—the market—live side by side with spirits of the nether world, the poltergeists of dead rivers, dry wells, bald mountains and denuded forests; the ghosts of 2,50,000 debt-ridden farmers who have killed themselves, and of the 800 million who have been impoverished and dispossessed to make way for us. And who survive on less than twenty rupees a day.
Mukesh Ambani is personally worth $20 billion. He holds a majority controlling share in Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), a company with a market capitalisation of $47 billion and global business interests that include petrochemicals, oil, natural gas, polyester fibre, Special Economic Zones, fresh food retail, high schools, life sciences research and stem cell storage services. RIL recently bought 95 per cent shares in Infotel, a TV consortium that controls 27 TV news and entertainment channels, including CNN-IBN, IBN Live, CNBC, IBN Lokmat, and ETV in almost every regional language. Infotel owns the only nationwide licence for 4G Broadband, a high-speed “information pipeline” which, if the technology works, could be the future of information exchange. Mr Ambani also owns a cricket team.
RIL is one of a handful of corporations that run India. Some of the others are the Tatas, Jindals, Vedanta, Mittals, Infosys, Essar and the other Reliance (ADAG), owned by Mukesh’s brother Anil. Their race for growth has spilled across Europe, Central Asia, Africa and Latin America. Their nets are cast wide; they are visible and invisible, over-ground as well as underground. The Tatas, for example, run more than 100 companies in 80 countries. They are one of India’s oldest and largest private sector power companies. They own mines, gas fields, steel plants, telephone, cable TV and broadband networks, and run whole townships. They manufacture cars and trucks, own the Taj Hotel chain, Jaguar, Land Rover, Daewoo, Tetley Tea, a publishing company, a chain of bookstores, a major brand of iodised salt and the cosmetics giant Lakme. Their advertising tagline could easily be: You Can’t Live Without Us.
According to the rules of the Gush-Up Gospel, the more you have, the more you can have.
The era of the Privatisation of Everything has made the Indian economy one of the fastest growing in the world. However, like any good old-fashioned colony, one of its main exports is its minerals. India’s new mega-corporations—Tatas, Jindals, Essar, Reliance, Sterlite—are those who have managed to muscle their way to the head of the spigot that is spewing money extracted from deep inside the earth. It’s a dream come true for businessmen—to be able to sell what they don’t have to buy.
A whole spectrum of corruption A. Raja being led to jail in connection with the 2G scandal. (Photograph by Sanjay Rawat)
The other major source of corporate wealth comes from their land-banks. All over the world, weak, corrupt local governments have helped Wall Street brokers, agro-business corporations and Chinese billionaires to amass huge tracts of land. (Of course, this entails commandeering water too.) In India, the land of millions of people is being acquired and made over to private corporations for “public interest”—for Special Economic Zones, infrastructure projects, dams, highways, car manufacture, chemical hubs and Formula One racing. (The sanctity of private property never applies to the poor.) As always, local people are promised that their displacement from their land and the expropriation of everything they ever had is actually part of employment generation. But by now we know that the connection between GDP growth and jobs is a myth. After 20 years of “growth”, 60 per cent of India’s workforce is self-employed, 90 per cent of India’s labour force works in the unorganised sector.
Post-Independence, right up to the ’80s, people’s movements, ranging from the Naxalites to Jayaprakash Narayan’s Sampoorna Kranti, were fighting for land reforms, for the redistribution of land from feudal landlords to landless peasants. Today any talk of redistribution of land or wealth would be considered not just undemocratic, but lunatic. Even the most militant movements have been reduced to a fight to hold on to what little land people still have. The millions of landless people, the majority of them Dalits and adivasis, driven from their villages, living in slums and shanty colonies in small towns and mega cities, do not figure even in the radical discourse.
As Gush-Up concentrates wealth on to the tip of a shining pin on which our billionaires pirouette, tidal waves of money crash through the institutions of democracy—the courts, Parliament as well as the media, seriously compromising their ability to function in the ways they are meant to. The noisier the carnival around elections, the less sure we are that democracy really exists.
Each new corruption scandal that surfaces in India makes the last one look tame. In the summer of 2011, the 2G spectrum scandal broke. We learnt that corporations had siphoned away $40 billion of public money by installing a friendly soul as the Union minister of telecommunication who grossly underpriced the licences for 2G telecom spectrum and illegally parcelled it out to his buddies. The taped telephone conversations leaked to the press showed how a network of industrialists and their front companies, ministers, senior journalists and a TV anchor were involved in facilitating this daylight robbery. The tapes were just an mri that confirmed a diagnosis that people had made long ago.
The privatisation and illegal sale of telecom spectrum does not involve war, displacement and ecological devastation. The privatisation of India’s mountains, rivers and forests does. Perhaps because it does not have the uncomplicated clarity of a straightforward, out-and-out accounting scandal, or perhaps because it is all being done in the name of India’s “progress”, it does not have the same resonance with the middle classes.
In 2005, the state governments of Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Jharkhand signed hundreds of Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with a number of private corporations turning over trillions of dollars of bauxite, iron ore and other minerals for a pittance, defying even the warped logic of the free market. (Royalties to the government ranged between 0.5 per cent and 7 per cent.)
Only days after the Chhattisgarh government signed an MoU for the construction of an integrated steel plant in Bastar with Tata Steel, the Salwa Judum, a vigilante militia, was inaugurated. The government said it was a spontaneous uprising of local people who were fed up of the “repression” by Maoist guerrillas in the forest. It turned out to be a ground-clearing operation, funded and armed by the government and subsidised by mining corporations. In the other states, similar militias were created, with other names. The prime minister announced the Maoists were the “single-largest security challenge in India”. It was a declaration of war.
On January 2, 2006, in Kalinganagar, in the neighbouring state of Orissa, perhaps to signal the seriousness of the government’s intention, ten platoons of police arrived at the site of another Tata Steel plant and opened fire on villagers who had gathered there to protest what they felt was inadequate compensation for their land. Thirteen people, including one policeman, were killed, and 37 injured. Six years have gone by and though the villages remain under siege by armed policemen, the protest has not died.
Meanwhile in Chhattisgarh, the Salwa Judum burned, raped and murdered its way through hundreds of forest villages, evacuating 600 villages, forcing 50,000 people to come out into police camps and 3,50,000 people to flee. The chief minister announced that those who did not come out of the forests would be considered to be ‘Maoist terrorists’. In this way, in parts of modern India, ploughing fields and sowing seed came to be defined as terrorist activity. Eventually, the Salwa Judum’s atrocities only succeeded in strengthening the resistance and swelling the ranks of the Maoist guerrilla army. In 2009, the government announced what it called Operation Green Hunt. Two lakh paramilitary troops were deployed across Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal.
After three years of “low-intensity conflict” that has not managed to “flush” the rebels out of the forest, the central government has declared that it will deploy the Indian army and air force. In India, we don’t call this war. We call it “creating a good investment climate”. Thousands of soldiers have already moved in. A brigade headquarters and air bases are being readied. One of the biggest armies in the world is now preparing its Terms of Engagement to “defend” itself against the poorest, hungriest, most malnourished people in the world. We only await the declaration of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which will give the army legal immunity and the right to kill “on suspicion”. Going by the tens of thousands of unmarked graves and anonymous cremation pyres in Kashmir, Manipur and Nagaland, it has shown itself to be a very suspicious army indeed.
While the preparations for deployment are being made, the jungles of Central India continue to remain under siege, with villagers frightened to come out, or go to the market for food or medicine. Hundreds of people have been jailed, charged for being Maoists under draconian, undemocratic laws. Prisons are crowded with adivasi people, many of whom have no idea what their crime is. Recently, Soni Sori, an adivasi school-teacher from Bastar, was arrested and tortured in police custody. Stones were pushed up her vagina to get her to “confess” that she was a Maoist courier. The stones were removed from her body at a hospital in Calcutta, where, after a public outcry, she was sent for a medical check-up. At a recent Supreme Court hearing, activists presented the judges with the stones in a plastic bag. The only outcome of their efforts has been that Soni Sori remains in jail while Ankit Garg, the Superintendent of Police who conducted the interrogation, was conferred with the President’s Police Medal for Gallantry on Republic Day.
We hear about the ecological and social re-engineering of Central India only because of the mass insurrection and the war. The government gives out no information. The Memorandums of Understanding are all secret. Some sections of the media have done what they could to bring public attention to what is happening in Central India. However, most of the Indian mass media is made vulnerable by the fact that the major share of its revenues come from corporate advertisements. If that is not bad enough, now the line between the media and big business has begun to blur dangerously. As we have seen, RIL virtually owns 27 TV channels. But the reverse is also true. Some media houses now have direct business and corporate interests. For example, one of the major daily newspapers in the region—Dainik Bhaskar (and it is only one example)—has 17.5 million readers in four languages, including English and Hindi, across 13 states. It also owns 69 companies with interests in mining, power generation, real estate and textiles. A recent writ petition filed in the Chhattisgarh High Court accuses DB Power Ltd (one of the group’s companies) of using “deliberate, illegal and manipulative measures” through company-owned newspapers to influence the outcome of a public hearing over an open cast coal mine. Whether or not it has attempted to influence the outcome is not germane. The point is that media houses are in a position to do so. They have the power to do so. The laws of the land allow them to be in a position that lends itself to a serious conflict of interest.
The litfests Along with film, art installations, they have replaced the 1990s obsession with beauty contests. (Photograph by Tribhuvan Tiwari)
There are other parts of the country from which no news comes. In the sparsely populated but militarised northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, 168 big dams are being constructed, most of them privately owned. High dams that will submerge whole districts are being constructed in Manipur and Kashmir, both highly militarised states where people can be killed merely for protesting power cuts. (That happened a few weeks ago in Kashmir.) How can they stop a dam?
The most delusional dam of all is Kalpasar in Gujarat. It is being planned as a 34-km-long dam across the Gulf of Khambhat with a 10-lane highway and a railway line running on top of it. By keeping the sea water out, the idea is to create a sweet water reservoir of Gujarat’s rivers. (Never mind that these rivers have already been dammed to a trickle and poisoned with chemical effluent.) The Kalpasar dam, which would raise the sea level and alter the ecology of hundreds of kilometres of coastline, had been dismissed as a bad idea 10 years ago. It has made a sudden comeback in order to supply water to the Dholera Special Investment Region (SIR) in one of the most water-stressed zones not just in India, but in the world. SIR is another name for an SEZ, a self-governed corporate dystopia of “industrial parks, townships and mega-cities”. The Dholera SIR is going to be connected to Gujarat’s other cities by a network of 10-lane highways. Where will the money for all this come from?
In January 2011, in the Mahatma (Gandhi) Mandir, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi presided over a meeting of 10,000 international businessmen from 100 countries. According to media reports, they pledged to invest $450 billion in Gujarat. The meeting was scheduled to take place at the onset of the 10th anniversary year of the massacre of 2,000 Muslims in February-March 2002. Modi stands accused of not just condoning, but actively abetting, the killing. People who watched their loved ones being raped, eviscerated and burned alive, the tens of thousands who were driven from their homes, still wait for a gesture towards justice. But Modi has traded in his saffron scarf and vermilion forehead for a sharp business suit, and hopes that a 450-billion-dollar investment will work as blood money, and square the books. Perhaps it will. Big Business is backing him enthusiastically. The algebra of infinite justice works in mysterious ways.
The Dholera SIR is only one of the smaller Matryoshka dolls, one of the inner ones in the dystopia that is being planned. It will be connected to the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), a 1,500-km-long and 300-km-wide industrial corridor, with nine mega-industrial zones, a high-speed freight line, three seaports and six airports, a six-lane intersection-free expressway and a 4,000 MW power plant. The DMIC is a collaborative venture between the governments of India and Japan, and their respective corporate partners, and has been proposed by the McKinsey Global Institute.
The DMIC website says that approximately 180 million people will be “affected” by the project. Exactly how, it doesn’t say. It envisages the building of several new cities and estimates that the population in the region will grow from the current 231 million to 314 million by 2019. That’s in seven years’ time. When was the last time a state, despot or dictator carried out a population transfer of millions of people? Can it possibly be a peaceful process?
The Indian army might need to go on a recruitment drive so that it’s not taken unawares when it’s ordered to deploy all over India. In preparation for its role in Central India, it publicly released its updated doctrine on Military Psychological Operations, which outlines “a planned process of conveying a message to a select target audience, to promote particular themes that result in desired attitudes and behaviour, which affect the achievement of political and military objectives of the country”. This process of “perception management”, it said, would be conducted by “using media available to the services”.
The army is experienced enough to know that coercive force alone cannot carry out or manage social engineering on the scale that is envisaged by India’s planners. War against the poor is one thing. But for the rest of us—the middle class, white-collar workers, intellectuals, “opinion-makers”—it has to be “perception management”. And for this we must turn our attention to the exquisite art of Corporate Philanthropy.
Of late, the main mining conglomerates have embraced the Arts—film, art installations and the rush of literary festivals that have replaced the ’90s obsession with beauty contests. Vedanta, currently mining the heart out of the homelands of the ancient Dongria Kondh tribe for bauxite, is sponsoring a ‘Creating Happiness’ film competition for young film students whom they have commissioned to make films on sustainable development. Vedanta’s tagline is ‘Mining Happiness’. The Jindal Group brings out a contemporary art magazine and supports some of India’s major artists (who naturally work with stainless steel). Essar was the principal sponsor of the Tehelka Newsweek Think Fest that promised “high-octane debates” by the foremost thinkers from around the world, which included major writers, activists and even the architect Frank Gehry. (All this in Goa while activists and journalists were uncovering massive illegal mining scandals that involved Essar.) Tata Steel and Rio Tinto (which has a sordid track record of its own) were among the chief sponsors of the Jaipur Literary Festival (Latin name: Darshan Singh Construction Jaipur Literary Festival) that is advertised by the cognoscenti as ‘The Greatest Literary Show on Earth’. Counselage, the Tatas’ “strategic brand manager”, sponsored the festival’s press tent. Many of the world’s best and brightest writers gathered in Jaipur to discuss love, literature, politics and Sufi poetry. Some tried to defend Salman Rushdie’s right to free speech by reading from his proscribed book, The Satanic Verses. In every TV frame and newspaper photograph, the logo of Tata Steel (and its tagline—Values Stronger than Steel) loomed behind them, a benign, benevolent host. The enemies of Free Speech were the supposedly murderous Muslim mobs, who, the festival organisers told us, could have even harmed the school-children gathered there. (We are witness to how helpless the Indian government and the police can be when it comes to Muslims.) Yes, the hardline Darul-Uloom Deobandi Islamic seminary did protest Rushdie being invited to the festival. Yes, some Islamists did gather at the festival venue to protest and yes, outrageously, the state government did nothing to protect the venue. That’s because the whole episode had as much to do with democracy, votebanks and the Uttar Pradesh elections as it did with Islamist fundamentalism. But the battle for Free Speech against Islamist Fundamentalism made it to the world’s newspapers. It is important that it did. But there were hardly any reports about the festival sponsors’ role in the war in the forests, the bodies piling up, the prisons filling up. Or about the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, which make even thinking an anti-government thought a cognisable offence. Or about the mandatory public hearing for the Tata Steel plant in Lohandiguda which local people complained actually took place hundreds of miles away in Jagdalpur, in the collector’s office compound, with a hired audience of fifty people, under armed guard. Where was Free Speech then? No one mentioned Kalinganagar. No one mentioned that journalists, academics and filmmakers working on subjects unpopular with the Indian government—like the surreptitious part it played in the genocide of Tamils in the war in Sri Lanka or the recently discovered unmarked graves in Kashmir—were being denied visas or deported straight from the airport.
But which of us sinners was going to cast the first stone? Not me, who lives off royalties from corporate publishing houses. We all watch Tata Sky, we surf the net with Tata Photon, we ride in Tata taxis, we stay in Tata Hotels, we sip our Tata tea in Tata bone china and stir it with teaspoons made of Tata Steel. We buy Tata books in Tata bookshops. Hum Tata ka namak khate hain. We’re under siege.
If the sledgehammer of moral purity is to be the criterion for stone-throwing, then the only people who qualify are those who have been silenced already. Those who live outside the system; the outlaws in the forests or those whose protests are never covered by the press, or the well-behaved dispossessed, who go from tribunal to tribunal, bearing witness, giving testimony.
But the Litfest gave us our Aha! Moment. Oprah came. She said she loved India, that she would come again and again. It made us proud.
This is only the burlesque end of the Exquisite Art.
Though the Tatas have been involved with corporate philanthropy for almost a hundred years now, endowing scholarships and running some excellent educational institutes and hospitals, Indian corporations have only recently been invited into the Star Chamber, the Camera stellata, the brightly lit world of global corporate government, deadly for its adversaries, but otherwise so artful that you barely know it’s there.
What follows in this essay might appear to some to be a somewhat harsh critique. On the other hand, in the tradition of honouring one’s adversaries, it could be read as an acknowledgement of the vision, flexibility, the sophistication and unwavering determination of those who have dedicated their lives to keep the world safe for capitalism.
Their enthralling history, which has faded from contemporary memory, began in the US in the early 20th century when, kitted out legally in the form of endowed foundations, corporate philanthropy began to replace missionary activity as Capitalism’s (and Imperialism’s) road opening and systems maintenance patrol. Among the first foundations to be set up in the United States were the Carnegie Corporation, endowed in 1911 by profits from the Carnegie Steel Company; and the Rockefeller Foundation, endowed in 1914 by J.D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil Company. The Tatas and Ambanis of their time.
Some of the institutions financed, given seed money or supported by the Rockefeller Foundation are the UN, the CIA, the Council on Foreign Relations, New York’s most fabulous Museum of Modern Art, and, of course, the Rockefeller Center in New York (where Diego Riviera’s mural had to be blasted off the wall because it mischievously depicted reprobate capitalists and a valiant Lenin. Free Speech had taken the day off.)
J.D. Rockefeller was America’s first billionaire and the world’s richest man. He was an abolitionist, a supporter of Abraham Lincoln and a teetotaller. He believed his money was given to him by God, which must have been nice for him.
Here’s an excerpt from one of Pablo Neruda’s early poems called Standard Oil Company:
Their obese emperors from New York
are suave smiling assassins
who buy silk, nylon, cigars
petty tyrants and dictators.
They buy countries, people, seas, police, county councils,
distant regions where the poor hoard their corn
like misers their gold:
Standard Oil awakens them,
clothes them in uniforms, designates
which brother is the enemy.
the Paraguayan fights its war,
and the Bolivian wastes away
in the jungle with its machine gun.
A President assassinated for a drop of petroleum,
a million-acre mortgage,
a swift execution on a morning mortal with light, petrified,
a new prison camp for subversives,
in Patagonia, a betrayal, scattered shots
beneath a petroliferous moon,
a subtle change of ministers
in the capital, a whisper
like an oil tide,
and zap, you’ll see
how Standard Oil’s letters shine above the clouds,
above the seas, in your home,
illuminating their dominions.
When corporate-endowed foundations first made their appearance in the US, there was a fierce debate about their provenance, legality and lack of accountability. People suggested that if companies had so much surplus money, they should raise the wages of their workers. (People made these outrageous suggestions in those days, even in America.) The idea of these foundations, so ordinary now, was in fact a leap of the business imagination. Non-tax-paying legal entities with massive resources and an almost unlimited brief—wholly unaccountable, wholly non-transparent—what better way to parlay economic wealth into political, social and cultural capital, to turn money into power? What better way for usurers to use a minuscule percentage of their profits to run the world? How else would Bill Gates, who admittedly knows a thing or two about computers, find himself designing education, health and agriculture policies, not just for the US government, but for governments all over the world?
Over the years, as people witnessed some of the genuinely good the foundations did (running public libraries, eradicating diseases)—the direct connection between corporations and the foundations they endowed began to blur. Eventually, it faded altogether. Now even those who consider themselves left-wing are not shy to accept their largesse.
By the 1920s, US capitalism had begun to look outwards, for raw materials and overseas markets. Foundations began to formulate the idea of global corporate governance. In 1924, the Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations jointly created what is today the most powerful foreign policy pressure group in the world—the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), which later came to be funded by the Ford Foundation as well. By 1947, the newly created CIA was supported by and working closely with the CFR. Over the years, the CFR’s membership has included 22 US secretaries of state. There were five CFR members in the 1943 steering committee that planned the UN, and an $8.5 million grant from J.D. Rockefeller bought the land on which the UN’s New York headquarters stands.
All eleven of the World Bank’s presidents since 1946—men who have presented themselves as missionaries of the poor—have been members of the CFR. (The exception was George Woods. And he was a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation and vice-president of Chase-Manhattan Bank.)
At Bretton Woods, the World Bank and IMF decided that the US dollar should be the reserve currency of the world, and that in order to enhance the penetration of global capital, it would be necessary to universalise and standardise business practices in an open marketplace. It is towards that end that they spend a large amount of money promoting Good Governance (as long as they control the strings), the concept of the Rule of Law (provided they have a say in making the laws) and hundreds of anti-corruption programmes (to streamline the system they have put in place.) Two of the most opaque, unaccountable organisations in the world go about demanding transparency and accountability from the governments of poorer countries.
Given that the World Bank has more or less directed the economic policies of the Third World, coercing and cracking open the markets of country after country for global finance, you could say that corporate philanthropy has turned out to be the most visionary business of all time.
Corporate-endowed foundations administer, trade and channelise their power and place their chessmen on the chessboard, through a system of elite clubs and think-tanks, whose members overlap and move in and out through the revolving doors. Contrary to the various conspiracy theories in circulation, particularly among left-wing groups, there is nothing secret, satanic, or Freemason-like about this arrangement. It is not very different from the way corporations use shell companies and offshore accounts to transfer and administer their money—except that the currency is power, not money.
The transnational equivalent of the CFR is the Trilateral Commission, set up in 1973 by David Rockefeller, the former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski (founder-member of the Afghan Mujahideen, forefathers of the Taliban), the Chase-Manhattan Bank and some other private eminences. Its purpose was to create an enduring bond of friendship and cooperation between the elites of North America, Europe and Japan. It has now become a penta-lateral commission, because it includes members from China and India. (Tarun Das of the CII; N.R. Narayanamurthy, ex-CEO, Infosys; Jamsheyd N. Godrej, managing director, Godrej; Jamshed J. Irani, director, Tata Sons; and Gautam Thapar, CEO, Avantha Group).
The Aspen Institute is an international club of local elites, businessmen, bureaucrats, politicians, with franchises in several countries. Tarun Das is the president of the Aspen Institute, India. Gautam Thapar is chairman. Several senior officers of the McKinsey Global Institute (proposer of the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor) are members of the CFR, the Trilateral Commission and the Aspen Institute.
The Ford Foundation (liberal foil to the more conservative Rockefeller Foundation, though the two work together constantly) was set up in 1936. Though it is often underplayed, the Ford Foundation has a very clear, well-defined ideology and works extremely closely with the US state department. Its project of deepening democracy and “good governance” are very much part of the Bretton Woods scheme of standardising business practice and promoting efficiency in the free market. After the Second World War, when Communists replaced Fascists as the US government’s enemy number one, new kinds of institutions were needed to deal with the Cold War. Ford funded RAND (Research and Development Corporation), a military think-tank that began with weapons research for the US defense services. In 1952, to thwart “the persistent Communist effort to penetrate and disrupt free nations”, it established the Fund for the Republic, which then morphed into the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions whose brief was to wage the cold war intelligently without McCarthyite excesses. It is through this lens that we need to view the work Ford Foundation is doing, with the millions of dollars it has invested in India—its funding of artists, filmmakers and activists, its generous endowment of university courses and scholarships.
The Ford Foundation’s declared “goals for the future of mankind” include interventions in grassroots political movements locally and internationally. In the US, it provided millions in grants and loans to support the Credit Union Movement that was pioneered by the department store owner, Edward Filene, in 1919. Filene believed in creating a mass consumption society of consumer goods by giving workers affordable access to credit—a radical idea at the time. Actually, only half of a radical idea, because the other half of what Filene believed in was the more equitable distribution of national income. Capitalists seized on the first half of Filene’s suggestion, and by disbursing “affordable” loans of tens of millions of dollars to working people, turned the US working class into people who are permanently in debt, running to catch up with their lifestyles.
Embracing death Microcredit has been the bane of many a farmer. Many have been forced to commit suicide.
Many years later, this idea has trickled down to the impoverished countryside of Bangladesh when Mohammed Yunus and the Grameen Bank brought microcredit to starving peasants with disastrous consequences. Microfinance companies in India are responsible for hundreds of suicides—200 people in Andhra Pradesh in 2010 alone. A national daily recently published a suicide note by an 18-year-old girl who was forced to hand over her last Rs 150, her school fees, to bullying employees of the microfinance company. The note said, “Work hard and earn money. Do not take loans.”
There’s a lot of money in poverty, and a few Nobel Prizes too.
By the 1950s, the Rockefeller and Ford foundations, funding several NGOs and international educational institutions, began to work as quasi-extensions of the US government that was at the time toppling democratically elected governments in Latin America, Iran and Indonesia. (That was also around the time they made their entry into India, then non-aligned, but clearly tilting towards the Soviet Union.) The Ford Foundation established a US-style economics course at the Indonesian University. Elite Indonesian students, trained in counter-insurgency by US army officers, played a crucial part in the 1965 CIA-backed coup in Indonesia that brought General Suharto to power. Gen Suharto repaid his mentors by slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Communist rebels.
Eight years later, young Chilean students, who came to be known as the Chicago Boys, were taken to the US to be trained in neo-liberal economics by Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago (endowed by J.D. Rockefeller), in preparation for the 1973 CIA-backed coup that killed Salvador Allende, and brought in General Pinochet and a reign of death squads, disappearances and terror that lasted for seventeen years. (Allende’s crime was being a democratically elected socialist and nationalising Chile’s mines.)
In 1957, the Rockefeller Foundation established the Ramon Magsaysay Prize for community leaders in Asia. It was named after Ramon Magsaysay, president of the Philippines, a crucial ally in the US campaign against Communism in Southeast Asia. In 2000, the Ford Foundation established the Ramon Magsaysay Emergent Leadership Award. The Magsaysay Award is considered a prestigious award among artists, activists and community workers in India. M.S. Subbulakshmi and Satyajit Ray won it, so did Jayaprakash Narayan and one of India’s finest journalists, P. Sainath. But they did more for the Magsaysay award than it did for them. In general, it has become a gentle arbiter of what kind of activism is “acceptable” and what is not.
Team Anna Whose voice are they, really?. (Photograph by Sanjay Rawat)
Interestingly, Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement last summer was spearheaded by three Magsaysay Award winners—Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi. One of Arvind Kejriwal’s many NGOs is generously funded by Ford Foundation. Kiran Bedi’s NGO is funded by Coca Cola and Lehman Brothers.
Though Anna Hazare calls himself a Gandhian, the law he called for—the Jan Lokpal Bill—was un-Gandhian, elitist and dangerous. A round-the-clock corporate media campaign proclaimed him to be the voice of “the people”. Unlike the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US, the Hazare movement did not breathe a word against privatisation, corporate power or economic “reforms”. On the contrary, its principal media backers successfully turned the spotlight away from massive corporate corruption scandals (which had exposed high-profile journalists too) and used the public mauling of politicians to call for the further withdrawal of discretionary powers from government, for more reforms, more privatisation. (In 2008, Anna Hazare received a World Bank award for outstanding public service). The World Bank issued a statement from Washington saying the movement “dovetailed” into its policy.
Like all good Imperialists, the Philanthropoids set themselves the task of creating and training an international cadre that believed that Capitalism, and by extension the hegemony of the United States, was in their own self-interest. And who would therefore help to administer the Global Corporate Government in the ways native elites had always served colonialism. So began the foundations’ foray into education and the arts, which would become their third sphere of influence, after foreign and domestic economic policy. They spent (and continue to spend) millions of dollars on academic institutions and pedagogy.
Joan Roelofs in her wonderful book Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism describes how foundations remodelled the old ideas of how to teach political science, and fashioned the disciplines of “international” and “area” studies. This provided the US intelligence and security services a pool of expertise in foreign languages and culture to recruit from. The CIA and US state department continue to work with students and professors in US universities, raising serious questions about the ethics of scholarship.
Uniquely placed Nandan Nilekani, ‘CEO’ of Project UID. (Photograph by Jitender Gupta)
The gathering of information to control people they rule is fundamental to any ruling power. As resistance to land acquisition and the new economic policies spreads across India, in the shadow of outright war in Central India, as a containment technique, the government has embarked on a massive biometrics programme, perhaps one of the most ambitious and expensive information-gathering projects in the world— the Unique Identification Number (UID). People don’t have clean drinking water, or toilets, or food, or money, but they will have election cards and UID numbers. Is it a coincidence that the UID project run by Nandan Nilekani, former CEO of Infosys, ostensibly meant to “deliver services to the poor”, will inject massive amounts of money into a slightly beleaguered IT industry? (A conservative estimate of the UID budget exceeds the Indian government’s annual public spending on education.) To “digitise” a country with such a large population of the largely illegitimate and “illegible”—people who are for the most part slum-dwellers, hawkers, adivasis without land records—will criminalise them, turning them from illegitimate to illegal. The idea is to pull off a digital version of the Enclosure of the Commons and put huge powers into the hands of an increasingly hardening police state. Nilekani’s technocratic obsession with gathering data is consistent with Bill Gates’s obsession with digital databases, “numerical targets”, “scorecards of progress”. As though it is a lack of information that is the cause of world hunger, and not colonialism, debt and skewed profit-oriented, corporate policy.
Corporate-endowed foundations are the biggest funders of the social sciences and the arts, endowing courses and student scholarships in “development studies”, “community studies”, “cultural studies”, “behavioural sciences” and “human rights”. As US universities opened their doors to international students, hundreds of thousands of students, children of the Third World elite, poured in. Those who could not afford the fees were given scholarships. Today in countries like India and Pakistan there is scarcely a family among the upper middle classes that does not have a child that has studied in the US. From their ranks have come good scholars and academics, but also the prime ministers, finance ministers, economists, corporate lawyers, bankers and bureaucrats who helped to open up the economies of their countries to global corporations.
Scholars of the Foundation-friendly version of economics and political science were rewarded with fellowships, research funds, grants, endowments and jobs. Those with Foundation-unfriendly views found themselves unfunded, marginalised and ghettoised, their courses discontinued. Gradually, one particular imagination—a brittle, superficial pretence of tolerance and multiculturalism (that morphs into racism, rabid nationalism, ethnic chauvinism or war-mongering Islamophobia at a moment’s notice) under the roof of a single, overarching, very unplural economic ideology—began to dominate the discourse. It did so to such an extent that it ceased to be perceived as an ideology at all. It became the default position, the natural way to be. It infiltrated normality, colonised ordinariness, and challenging it began to seem as absurd or as esoteric as challenging reality itself. From here it was a quick easy step to ‘There is No Alternative’.
It is only now, thanks to the Occupy Movement, that another language has appeared on US streets and campuses. To see students with banners that say ‘Class War’ or ‘We don’t mind you being rich, but we mind you buying our government’ is, given the odds, almost a revolution in itself.
One century after it began, corporate philanthropy is as much part of our lives as Coca Cola. There are now millions of non-profit organisations, many of them connected through a byzantine financial maze to the larger foundations. Between them, this “independent” sector has assets worth nearly 450 billion dollars. The largest of them is the Bill Gates Foundation with ($21 billion), followed by the Lilly Endowment ($16 billion) and the Ford Foundation ($15 billion).
As the IMF enforced Structural Adjustment, and arm-twisted governments into cutting back on public spending on health, education, childcare, development, the NGOs moved in. The Privatisation of Everything has also meant the NGO-isation of Everything. As jobs and livelihoods disappeared, NGOs have become an important source of employment, even for those who see them for what they are. And they are certainly not all bad. Of the millions of NGOs, some do remarkable, radical work and it would be a travesty to tar all NGOs with the same brush. However, the corporate or Foundation-endowed NGOs are global finance’s way of buying into resistance movements, literally like shareholders buy shares in companies, and then try to control them from within. They sit like nodes on the central nervous system, the pathways along which global finance flows. They work like transmitters, receivers, shock absorbers, alert to every impulse, careful never to annoy the governments of their host countries. (The Ford Foundation requires the organisations it funds to sign a pledge to this effect.) Inadvertently (and sometimes advertently), they serve as listening posts, their reports and workshops and other missionary activity feeding data into an increasingly aggressive system of surveillance of increasingly hardening States. The more troubled an area, the greater the numbers of NGOs in it.
Mischievously, when the government or sections of the Corporate Press want to run a smear campaign against a genuine people’s movement, like the Narmada Bachao Andolan, or the protest against the Koodankulam nuclear reactor, they accuse these movements of being NGOs receiving “foreign funding”. They know very well that the mandate of most NGOs, in particular the well-funded ones, is to further the project of corporate globalisation, not thwart it.
Armed with their billions, these NGOs have waded into the world, turning potential revolutionaries into salaried activists, funding artists, intellectuals and filmmakers, gently luring them away from radical confrontation, ushering them in the direction of multi-culturalism, gender, community development—the discourse couched in the language of identity politics and human rights.
The transformation of the idea of justice into the industry of human rights has been a conceptual coup in which NGOs and foundations have played a crucial part. The narrow focus of human rights enables an atrocity-based analysis in which the larger picture can be blocked out and both parties in a conflict—say, for example, the Maoists and the Indian government, or the Israeli Army and Hamas—can both be admonished as Human Rights Violators. The land-grab by mining corporations or the history of the annexation of Palestinian land by the State of Israel then become footnotes with very little bearing on the discourse. This is not to suggest that human rights don’t matter. They do, but they are not a good enough prism through which to view or remotely understand the great injustices in the world we live in.
‘Mining happiness’ Vedanta is stripping all that the Dongria Kondh tribals hold sacred. (Photograph by Sandipan Chatterjee)
Another conceptual coup has to do with foundations’ involvement with the feminist movement. Why do most “official” feminists and women’s organisations in India keep a safe distance between themselves and organisations like say the 90,000-member Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangathan (Revolutionary Adivasi Women’s Association) fighting patriarchy in their own communities and displacement by mining corporations in the Dandakaranya forest? Why is it that the dispossession and eviction of millions of women from land which they owned and worked is not seen as a feminist problem?
The hiving off of the liberal feminist movement from grassroots anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist people’s movements did not begin with the evil designs of foundations. It began with those movements’ inability to adapt and accommodate the rapid radicalisation of women that took place in the ’60s and ’70s. The foundations showed genius in recognising and moving in to support and fund women’s growing impatience with the violence and patriarchy in their traditional societies as well as among even the supposedly progressive leaders of Left movements. In a country like India, the schism also ran along the rural-urban divide. Most radical, anti-capitalist movements were located in the countryside where, for the most part, patriarchy continued to rule the lives of most women. Urban women activists who joined these movements (like the Naxalite movement) had been influenced and inspired by the western feminist movement and their own journeys towards liberation were often at odds with what their male leaders considered to be their duty: to fit in with ‘the masses’. Many women activists were not willing to wait any longer for the “revolution” in order to end the daily oppression and discrimination in their lives, including from their own comrades. They wanted gender equality to be an absolute, urgent and non-negotiable part of the revolutionary process and not just a post-revolution promise. Intelligent, angry and disillusioned women began to move away and look for other means of support and sustenance. As a result, by the late ’80s, around the time Indian markets were opened up, the liberal feminist movement in a country like India has become inordinately NGO-ised. Many of these NGOs have done seminal work on queer rights, domestic violence, AIDS and the rights of sex workers. But significantly, the liberal feminist movements have not been at the forefront of challenging the new economic policies, even though women have been the greatest sufferers. By manipulating the disbursement of the funds, the foundations have largely succeeded in circumscribing the range of what “political” activity should be. The funding briefs of NGOs now prescribe what counts as women’s “issues” and what doesn’t.
The NGO-isation of the women’s movement has also made western liberal feminism (by virtue of its being the most funded brand) the standard-bearer of what constitutes feminism. The battles, as usual, have been played out on women’s bodies, extruding Botox at one end and burqas at the other. (And then there are those who suffer the double whammy, Botox and the Burqa.) When, as happened recently in France, an attempt is made to coerce women out of the burqa rather than creating a situation in which a woman can choose what she wishes to do, it’s not about liberating her, but about unclothing her. It becomes an act of humiliation and cultural imperialism. It’s not about the burqa. It’s about the coercion. Coercing a woman out of a burqa is as bad as coercing her into one. Viewing gender in this way, shorn of social, political and economic context, makes it an issue of identity, a battle of props and costumes. It is what allowed the US government to use western feminist groups as moral cover when it invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Afghan women were (and are) in terrible trouble under the Taliban. But dropping daisy-cutters on them was not going to solve their problems.
In the NGO universe, which has evolved a strange anodyne language of its own, everything has become a “subject”, a separate, professionalised, special-interest issue. Community development, leadership development, human rights, health, education, reproductive rights, AIDS, orphans with AIDS—have all been hermetically sealed into their own silos with their own elaborate and precise funding brief. Funding has fragmented solidarity in ways that repression never could. Poverty too, like feminism, is often framed as an identity problem. As though the poor have not been created by injustice but are a lost tribe who just happen to exist, and can be rescued in the short term by a system of grievance redressal (administered by NGOs on an individual, person to person basis), and whose long-term resurrection will come from Good Governance. Under the regime of Global Corporate Capitalism, it goes without saying.
Indian poverty, after a brief period in the wilderness while India “shone”, has made a comeback as an exotic identity in the Arts, led from the front by films like Slumdog Millionaire. These stories about the poor, their amazing spirit and resilience, have no villains—except the small ones who provide narrative tension and local colour. The authors of these works are the contemporary world’s equivalent of the early anthropologists, lauded and honoured for working on “the ground”, for their brave journeys into the unknown. You rarely see the rich being examined in these ways.
Having worked out how to manage governments, political parties, elections, courts, the media and liberal opinion, there was one more challenge for the neo-liberal establishment: how to deal with growing unrest, the threat of “people’s power”. How do you domesticate it? How do you turn protesters into pets? How do you vacuum up people’s fury and redirect it into blind alleys?
Here too, foundations and their allied organisations have a long and illustrious history. A revealing example is their role in defusing and deradicalising the Black Civil Rights movement in the US in the 1960s and the successful transformation of Black Power into Black Capitalism.
The Rockefeller Foundation, in keeping with J.D. Rockefeller’s ideals, had worked closely with Martin Luther King Sr (father of Martin Luther King Jr). But his influence waned with the rise of the more militant organisations—the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Black Panthers. The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations moved in. In 1970, they donated $15 million to “moderate” black organisations, giving people grants, fellowships, scholarships, job training programmes for dropouts and seed money for black-owned businesses. Repression, infighting and the honey trap of funding led to the gradual atrophying of the radical black organisations.
Martin Luther King Jr made the forbidden connections between Capitalism, Imperialism, Racism and the Vietnam War. As a result, after he was assassinated, even his memory became a toxic threat to public order. Foundations and Corporations worked hard to remodel his legacy to fit a market-friendly format. The Martin Luther King Junior Centre for Non-Violent Social Change, with an operational grant of $2 million, was set up by, among others, the Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Mobil, Western Electric, Procter & Gamble, US Steel and Monsanto. The Center maintains the King Library and Archives of the Civil Rights Movement. Among the many programmes the King Center runs have been projects that “work closely with the United States Department of Defense, the Armed Forces Chaplains Board and others”. It co-sponsored the Martin Luther King Jr Lecture Series called ‘The Free Enterprise System: An Agent for Non-violent Social Change’. Amen.
A similar coup was carried out in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. In 1978, the Rockefeller Foundation organised a Study Commission on US Policy toward Southern Africa. The report warned of the growing influence of the Soviet Union on the African National Congress (ANC) and said that US strategic and corporate interests (i.e., access to South Africa’s minerals) would be best served if there were genuine sharing of political power by all races.
Black ‘liberation’ Or a bow to the Washington Consensus?. (Photograph by Reuters, From Outlook, March 26, 2012)
The foundations began to support the ANC. The ANC soon turned on the more radical organisations like Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness movement and more or less eliminated them. When Nelson Mandela took over as South Africa’s first Black President, he was canonised as a living saint, not just because he was a freedom fighter who spent 27 years in prison, but also because he deferred completely to the Washington Consensus. Socialism disappeared from the ANC’s agenda. South Africa’s great “peaceful transition”, so praised and lauded, meant no land reforms, no demands for reparation, no nationalisation of South Africa’s mines. Instead, there was Privatisation and Structural Adjustment. Mandela gave South Africa’s highest civilian award—the Order of Good Hope—to his old supporter and friend General Suharto, the killer of Communists in Indonesia. Today, in South Africa, a clutch of Mercedes-driving former radicals and trade unionists rule the country. But that is more than enough to perpetuate the illusion of Black Liberation.
The rise of Black Power in the US was an inspirational moment for the rise of a radical, progressive Dalit movement in India, with organisations like the Dalit Panthers mirroring the militant politics of the Black Panthers. But Dalit Power too, in not exactly the same but similar ways, has been fractured and defused and, with plenty of help from right-wing Hindu organisations and the Ford Foundation, is well on its way to transforming into Dalit Capitalism.
‘Dalit Inc ready to show business can beat caste’, the Indian Express reported in December last year. It went on to quote a mentor of the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DICCI). “Getting the prime minister for a Dalit gathering is not difficult in our society. But for Dalit entrepreneurs, taking a photograph with Tata and Godrej over lunch and tea is an aspiration—and proof that they have arrived,” he said. Given the situation in modern India, it would be casteist and reactionary to say that Dalit entrepreneurs oughtn’t to have a place at the high table. But if this is to be the aspiration, the ideological framework of Dalit politics, it would be a great pity. And unlikely to help the one million Dalits who still earn a living off manual scavenging—carrying human shit on their heads.
Young Dalit scholars who accept grants from the Ford Foundation cannot be too harshly judged. Who else is offering them an opportunity to climb out of the cesspit of the Indian caste system? The shame as well as a large part of the blame for this turn of events also goes to India’s Communist movement whose leaders continue to be predominantly upper caste. For years it has tried to force-fit the idea of caste into Marxist class analysis. It has failed miserably, in theory as well as practice. The rift between the Dalit community and the Left began with a falling out between the visionary Dalit leader Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar and S.A. Dange, trade unionist and founding member of the Communist Party of India. Dr Ambedkar’s disillusionment with the Communist Party began with the textile workers’ strike in Mumbai in 1928 when he realised that despite all the rhetoric about working class solidarity, the party did not find it objectionable that the “untouchables” were kept out of the weaving department (and only qualified for the lower paid spinning department) because the work involved the use of saliva on the threads, which other castes considered “polluting”.
Ambedkar realised that in a society where the Hindu scriptures institutionalise untouchability and inequality, the battle for “untouchables”, for social and civic rights, was too urgent to wait for the promised Communist revolution. The rift between the Ambedkarites and the Left has come at a great cost to both. It has meant that a great majority of the Dalit population, the backbone of the Indian working class, has pinned its hopes for deliverance and dignity to constitutionalism, to capitalism and to political parties like the BSP, which practise an important, but in the long run, stagnant brand of identity politics.
In the United States, as we have seen, corporate-endowed foundations spawned the culture of NGOs. In India, targeted corporate philanthropy began in earnest in the 1990s, the era of the New Economic Policies. Membership to the Star Chamber doesn’t come cheap. The Tata Group donated $50 million to that needy institution, the Harvard Business School, and another $50 million to Cornell University. Nandan Nilekani of Infosys and his wife Rohini donated $5 million as a start-up endowment for the India Initiative at Yale. The Harvard Humanities Centre is now the Mahindra Humanities Centre after it received its largest-ever donation of $10 million from Anand Mahindra of the Mahindra Group.
At home, the Jindal Group, with a major stake in mining, metals and power, runs the Jindal Global Law School and will soon open the Jindal School of Government and Public Policy. (The Ford Foundation runs a law school in the Congo.) The New India Foundation funded by Nandan Nilekani, financed by profits from Infosys, gives prizes and fellowships to social scientists. The Sitaram Jindal Foundation endowed by Jindal Aluminium has announced five cash prizes of Rs 1 crore each to be given to those working in rural development, poverty alleviation, environment education and moral upliftment. The Reliance Group’s Observer Research Foundation (ORF), currently endowed by Mukesh Ambani, is cast in the mould of the Rockefeller Foundation. It has retired intelligence agents, strategic analysts, politicians (who pretend to rail against each other in Parliament), journalists and policymakers as its research “fellows” and advisors.
ORF’s objectives seem straightforward enough: “To help develop a consensus in favour of economic reforms.” And to shape and influence public opinion, creating “viable, alternative policy options in areas as divergent as employment generation in backward districts and real-time strategies to counter nuclear, biological and chemical threats”.
I was initially puzzled by the preoccupation with “nuclear, biological and chemical war” in ORF’s stated objectives. But less so when, in the long list of its ‘institutional partners’, I found the names of Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, two of the world’s leading weapons manufacturers. In 2007, Raytheon announced it was turning its attention to India. Could it be that at least part of India’s $32 billion defence budget will be spent on weapons, guided missiles, aircraft, warships and surveillance equipment made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin?
Do we need weapons to fight wars? Or do we need wars to create a market for weapons? After all, the economies of Europe, US and Israel depend hugely on their weapons industry. It’s the one thing they haven’t outsourced to China.
In the new Cold War between US and China, India is being groomed to play the role Pakistan played as a US ally in the cold war with Russia. (And look what happened to Pakistan.) Many of those columnists and “strategic analysts” who are playing up the hostilities between India and China, you’ll see, can be traced back directly or indirectly to the Indo-American think-tanks and foundations. Being a “strategic partner” of the US does not mean that the Heads of State make friendly phone calls to each other every now and then. It means collaboration (interference) at every level. It means hosting US Special Forces on Indian soil (a Pentagon Commander recently confirmed this to the BBC). It means sharing intelligence, altering agriculture and energy policies, opening up the health and education sectors to global investment. It means opening up retail. It means an unequal partnership in which India is being held close in a bear hug and waltzed around the floor by a partner who will incinerate her the moment she refuses to dance.
In the list of ORF’s ‘institutional partners’, you will also find the RAND Corporation, Ford Foundation, the World Bank, the Brookings Institution (whose stated mission is to “provide innovative and practical recommendations that advance three broad goals: to strengthen American democracy; to foster the economic and social welfare, security and opportunity of all Americans; and to secure a more open, safe, prosperous and cooperative international system”.) You will also find the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation of Germany. (Poor Rosa, who died for the cause of Communism, to find her name on a list such as this one!)
Though capitalism is meant to be based on competition, those at the top of the food chain have also shown themselves to be capable of inclusiveness and solidarity. The great Western Capitalists have done business with fascists, socialists, despots and military dictators. They can adapt and constantly innovate. They are capable of quick thinking and immense tactical cunning.
But despite having successfully powered through economic reforms, despite having waged wars and militarily occupied countries in order to put in place free market “democracies”, Capitalism is going through a crisis whose gravity has not revealed itself completely yet. Marx said, “What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”
The proletariat, as Marx saw it, has been under continuous assault. Factories have shut down, jobs have disappeared, trade unions have been disbanded. The proletariat has, over the years, been pitted against each other in every possible way. In India, it has been Hindu against Muslim, Hindu against Christian, Dalit against Adivasi, caste against caste, region against region. And yet, all over the world, it is fighting back. In China, there are countless strikes and uprisings. In India, the poorest people in the world have fought back to stop some of the richest corporations in their tracks.
Capitalism is in crisis. Trickledown failed. Now Gush-Up is in trouble too. The international financial meltdown is closing in. India’s growth rate has plummeted to 6.9 per cent. Foreign investment is pulling out. Major international corporations are sitting on huge piles of money, not sure where to invest it, not sure how the financial crisis will play out. This is a major, structural crack in the juggernaut of global capital.
Capitalism’s real “grave-diggers” may end up being its own delusional Cardinals, who have turned ideology into faith. Despite their strategic brilliance, they seem to have trouble grasping a simple fact: Capitalism is destroying the planet. The two old tricks that dug it out of past crises—War and Shopping—simply will not work.
I stood outside Antilla for a long time watching the sun go down. I imagined that the tower was as deep as it was high. That it had a twenty-seven-storey-long tap root, snaking around below the ground, hungrily sucking sustenance out of the earth, turning it into smoke and gold.
Why did the Ambanis’ choose to call their building Antilla? Antilla is the name of a set of mythical islands whose story dates back to an 8th-century Iberian legend. When the Muslims conquered Hispania, six Christian Visigothic bishops and their parishioners boarded ships and fled. After days, or maybe weeks at sea, they arrived at the isles of Antilla where they decided to settle and raise a new civilisation. They burnt their boats to permanently sever their links to their barbarian-dominated homeland.
By calling their tower Antilla, do the Ambanis hope to sever their links to the poverty and squalor of their homeland and raise a new civilisation? Is this the final act of the most successful secessionist movement in India? The secession of the middle and upper classes into outer space?
As night fell over Mumbai, guards in crisp linen shirts with crackling walkie-talkies appeared outside the forbidding gates of Antilla. The lights blazed on, to scare away the ghosts perhaps. The neighbours complain that Antilla’s bright lights have stolen the night.
Perhaps it’s time for us to take back the night.