Infrastructures of Modernity and the Labor of Sanitation in Urban India

Lalit Batra

When the sweepers change their profession, they will no longer remain untouchables. And they can do that soon, for the first thing that we will do when we accept the machine, will be to introduce the machine which clears dung without anyone having to handle it- the flush system. Then the sweepers can be free from the stigma of untouchability and assume the dignity of status that is their right as useful members of a casteless and classless society.

    Mulk Raj Anand, The Untouchable;  pg. 251-52.

On November 11, 2015, exactly 80 years after the young latrine cleaner Bakha, the protagonist of Mulk Raj Anand’s didactic novel The Untouchable, came to invest his desire for liberation from a life of caste-based indignity and humiliation in flush toilets and sewerages, Vinay Sirohi, a 22-year old Valmiki sanitation worker, left home for work at 6:30 in the morning. A vault operator at Keshopur sewage treatment plant (STP) in West Delhi, Sirohi was responsible for regulating the balance between the inflow of raw sewage water and the de-sludged water in what is called the ‘sludge digestion tank.’ Like the human digester, the sludge digester is a notoriously fickle but essential component of the wastewater treatment process. A blockage in any of the connecting pipes, if not immediately attended to, can cause substantial overflows of raw sewage or excessive production of toxic gases and bring the entire treatment process to a halt. The Standard Operating Procedure for STP maintenance mandates a coordinated intervention by a team of six – two operators, three helpers, and a safety inspector – to deal with overflow incidents. However, to cut costs, the private company managing the Keshopur plant had significantly reduced the number of workers in the Plant over the past few years. Consequently, instead of the required six, only one operator has been designated per shift to deal with overflows.

Continue reading “Infrastructures of Modernity and the Labor of Sanitation in Urban India”

Through my Lens: Field Notes from a Trip to Nagaland in May 2017

Sucharita Sengupta

[As a part of my research on Conflict and Social Governance in North East India (Principal researcher Prof. Paula Banerjee), I went to Nagaland for 10 days between May 1 and May 10, 2017.[i] This field report, written immediately after coming back from Nagaland is based on interviews and informal conversations conducted in Dimapur and Kohima.]

It was 7pm on a Monday, when I came out of the office of Morung Express, a well circulated daily of Nagaland, after interacting with one of their journalists, Aheli Moitra. Morung Express has provided a platform to scholars and activists involved in the new protest movements within the state. It was the first day of my field visit and also the first time when fear gripped me. Completely immersed in darkness, the road ahead was deserted, with no transport in sight. Aheli was unperturbed and helped me get an auto, which charged almost double to commute back to the hotel. Answering my protests to the increased fare, the driver said in Hindi, if translated which means, “It’s not safe here madam in the evenings, and you won’t find transport to take you back, so I am charging you double”. “Why”? I asked. “Things are much better now, so why do you say it’s still unsafe”? “Madam, there is no guarantee and the people here (read Nagas) always target the outsiders like us”. The auto driver, Shambhu, was a resident of Bihar. I reflected back to my conversation with Aheli on the same evening, some time back. Aheli is a Bengali by birth, and has been raised in various parts of India, which prompted me to ask, where does she situate herself in the state? Does she feel safe being an ‘outsider’ there? Her answer was, “Of course. More than I would in Bengal. There are no problems in Nagaland, especially regarding the safety of women. There is not a single problem that I have faced in my last three years in the state. I am happy with my work here. Only at times I crave to go back to the proper city life as everything is so quiet here”. From my experience of touring Nagaland in the next ten days, I had to agree with Aheli. I was helped by every stranger I met and interacted with, although a nagging discomfort of working on a subject that rarely evokes empathy remained through out the field work. Continue reading “Through my Lens: Field Notes from a Trip to Nagaland in May 2017”

Shifting homes and a troubled past— Understanding enclave existences of the Indo- Bangla borders

 

Deboleena Sengupta

The borderland is not just a straight-line, but a way of life for the borderlanders—a space to adapt, reject and negotiate with the interests of two sovereign nations.

way to Chhit Bangla

On 8 October 2016, my friend and I reached Chhit Bangla (also known as Chhit– Tiloi), which used to be a fragmented territory of Bangladesh that fell in India. This place currently overlaps Char Balabhut which falls under Tufangaj, a sub division of Cooch Behar district of West Bengal. Bits of the land are further fragmented at places by Dhubri district of Assam. The Char (meaning a sandbar or river island) is separated from the mainland by the ‘International waters’. Across the waters, in Chhit– Bangla we met a woman, introduced as Kaushinmoi Bewa, the sole inhabitant of the region, who lived there with her daughter.

Kaushinmoi

[Kaushinmoi] Continue reading “Shifting homes and a troubled past— Understanding enclave existences of the Indo- Bangla borders”

‘Ekrupata Namkaran’ and the Nepali speaking people in South Asia: The problem and challenges of finding an appropriate collective representational nomenclature

Anup Shekhar Chakraborty

[Note from the author: The backdrop of the discussion in this article is the native Nepali speaking people in India and their quest to cartographically chart their emic self-defined identity in a map called Gorkhaland in and around Darjeeling in the directional construct ‘North Bengal’ located in the Indian state of West Bengal. As a geopolitical space Darjeeling has reflected immense tensions amidst the phased calm and phased uncalm in the form of demand for Chuttei Rajya (separate state) of Gorkhaland. The Chiyasi ko Andolan (1986 Movement) and the current imbroglio  (stretched from 2007 to 2017) though showing signs of peculiarities and particularities in terms of the movement, styles of leadership, political agency ,participations etc., continues to showcase commonalities, connections, and continuations in the indelible question of identity of the people and its place. Chuttei Rajya (separate state) of Gorkhaland is projected as the panacea for all prevailing problems of its people ranging from being stateless, neglected, misconstrued and misrepresented (as Durwans, Security guards etc), branded as ‘foreigners’ (confused to be from Nepal), called ‘Chinky’ (confused to be from North East India) etc. Though a popular tourist destination, globally known for ‘Darjeeling Tea’, idyllic backdrop of many Bollywood movies (and feeding into the romanticised visual social imaginaries of the South Asia) the region continues to be geographically misconstrued. The simple question ‘where is Darjeeling?’ can uncork startling responses and confusions: few presuming it to be in Assam (a clear confusion because of the ‘Tea’ factor); while others considering it to be a part of Nepal and trying to use Nepalese Rupee; and still others focusing on the historical connections with Sikkim etc. Another difficult question ‘Whom does Darjeeling belong to (territorially, politically, culturally, socially)?’ evokes vexed responses: while the Chuttei Rajya narrative claims its deep seated autonomy enmeshed in cultural, social, linguistic differences; those against ‘Bangavanga’ (division of West Bengal) claim Darjeeling to be the ‘crown’ of the state of ‘Sonar Bangla’. These responses do little to quench the thirst and curiosity of the questioner. I am of the view that if Darjeeling could speak for itself (like the Bollywood song sung by the late Mahendra Kapoor ‘Ye Mati Sabhi Ki Kahani Kahegi’ (Lyrics: Bharat Vyas. Music: Ramachandra. Soundtrack in V. Shantaram, dir. (1959). Navrang. India) the response might unleash startling rethinking, positional shifts and realignments. The current imbroglio in the ‘hills’ needs to be understood silhouetted on these seemingly disparate issues and problems.]

The evolution of martial race[i]– ‘Bir[ii] Gorkha’ (the brave invincible Gurkha)[iii] in South Asia and India in particular is embossed and engraved deeply into the history of the Raj (the British colonial government that ruled India in various forms over two centuries) and the Raj making. The ever changing borders, frontiers and spaces of the Raj witnessed the flow of a multitude of people/races/ethnicities/religions etc.[iv] The ‘traditional’[v] territorial spaces were traversed, turned inside out, made malleable to the demands and visions of the Raj. This meant that communities/people were coming to an interface more strongly at a faster pace amidst the wave of multidimensional change in transports, administration- security (artillery, war craft, defence, military intervention etc.) just to name a few. This also meant that communities/people were slowly yet surely by want/choice, force/coercion becoming categorized as ‘citizens’, ‘subjects’, ‘denizens’, ‘enemies’, ‘foreigners’, ‘interlopers’ and the like. The colonial census projects, studies of administrators doubling as anthropologists, surveyors, the missionaries and the numerous retinue of experts (white/European/American) and informant natives (the elites, the traditional privileged sections, mostly men) resulted in the creation/ construction of stereotypes and social imaginaries of communities/people in South Asia. Continue reading “‘Ekrupata Namkaran’ and the Nepali speaking people in South Asia: The problem and challenges of finding an appropriate collective representational nomenclature”

Has China Taken Over Pakistan?

S Akbar Zaidi

[This lecture was delivered in Calcutta on 9th June, 2017, as part of Calcutta Research Group and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung’s research on the Social Mapping of Infrastructure.]

It would be no exaggeration to state, that there has been more written on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in the Pakistani press over the last two years when the project was initiated, than perhaps any other economic or financial relationship which has affected Pakistan. In this short span of time, more words have been written on what is being called a ‘game changer’, a ‘fate changer’, a project which will transform Pakistan permanently making it part of the developed world, than on the IMF (on which Pakistan has had a huge dependence for 30 years), the World Bank or foreign aid to Pakistan over many decades. Moreover, the nature of the narrative and the discourse around CPEC, compares very differently with any other financial and economic relationship in the past. Although the US has been Pakistan’s largest donor over 70 years, there has been much criticism of the type of this financial, economic, and subsequently diplomatic relationship, where the US has been seen to be the dominating partner, always asking Pakistan to ‘do more’ for all the monies poured into the country. Similarly, even though the IMF continues to save Pakistan at critical junctures by providing emergency loans and assistance, no structural adjustment package comes through without much debate and criticism from different sections of society. While there have been some questions raised on the Pakistan-China partnership, the tone and content of discussion has been very different, and even sceptics and those who question some of the terms of the new relationship, concede that much, if not all, is more good, than bad. Continue reading “Has China Taken Over Pakistan?”

Public Lectures by S. Akbar Zaidi and Kanak Mani Dixit: A Report

Snehashish Mitra

The Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group in collaboration with the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung organized two public lectures in Kolkata as a part of their ongoing research programme – ‘Social Mapping of Logistics, Infrastructure and India’s Look East Policy’. The public lectures were delivered by S Akbar Zaidi, an eminent economist from Pakistan currently teaching in Columbia Universiy and Kanak Mani Dixit, an eminent journalist from Nepal. The title of Zaidi’s lecture was ‘Has China taken over Pakistan’, while Dixit’s title was  ‘Nepal: Gateway into and out of South Asia’. The recent assertion of China in the geopolitics through multiple initiative such as ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) and China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) made the event timely and significant.zaidi1

S. Akbar Zaidi and Kanak Mani Dixit with Ranabir Samaddar and Paula Banerjee 

Zaidi’s lecture revolved around the multiple levels of opinions, hope and apprehensions over the CPEC in Pakistan and how Pakistan figured in the grand plans of China’s endeavour of connectivity, particularly land to sea access. CPEC has been the most talked about issue in Pakistan in recent times, particularly over the last 2 years. It has been envisaged as an initiative which would bring enormous benefits for Pakistan through Chinese investments in logistics, infrastructure, defense, biotechnology, agricultural products etc. The rhetoric used for the CPEC collaboration and the reception of the Chinese president Xi Jinping during his visit to Pakistan indicate the level of enthusiasm about CPEC in Pakistan. Zaidi apprehended that through CPEC, Pakistan is following the tradition of pandering to foreign support and endorsements like it did earlier with the USA and Saudi Arabia. Zaidi pointed out that China and Pakistan have had a cordial relation in the post 1947 period as Pakistan was the first Islamic country to recognize the People’s Republic of China, the Indo-China war of 1962 further closed the ties between the two nations. A major symbolic gesture was practiced by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, finance minister of Pakistan who made the Mao jacket popular in Pakistan. Pakistan has been the third largest buyer of arms from China and received support from China during its Nuclear Programmes. CPEC is supposed to bring in investments worth $46 billion. However the other details of the CPEC are yet to be divulged in public. A leaked document of CPEC published by a reporter in a leading English daily in Pakistan has given the impression that CPEC would involve Chinese hand in almost every sector of Pakistan and would bring the major cities under surveillance and monitoring system. Disseminating Chinese culture through the intellectual community is a major agenda under CPEC. Zaidi cites the figure that around 10,000 Pakistani students are studying in China which is more than the number of Pakistanis studying in the USA. The benefits which are being doled out to Chinese business firms are not being extended to the Pakistan business class, this has led to the fear in Pakistan that the CPEC can well turn out be another East India Company in the making. Continue reading “Public Lectures by S. Akbar Zaidi and Kanak Mani Dixit: A Report”

“The Guests”: Tibetan Muslims in Eastern Himalayas

Anup Shekhar Chakraborty

Following the Dalai Lama’s apposite use of the term ‘Guest’[1] for himself and the larger ‘Tibetan’s in Exile’ in India whom he represents, I would attempt to unravel the position of the Tibetan Muslims in the Eastern Himalayan settings of Darjeeling and Kalimpong. Tibetan Muslims (Bhote Muslims/Bhutia Muslims), a micro-migrant group[2] of the Tibetan exiles in India, migrated alongside their Buddhist counterparts during the early sixties of twentieth century. Tibetan Muslims over the years have settled up North in Srinagar, and Gangtok, Darjeeling, and Kalimpong in the Eastern Himalayas.

The Tibetan Muslim community as a part of the larger ‘Tibetan in Exile’ have walked a tight rope first, in order to furnish evidence of their loyalty to the larger encapsulating Buddhist Tibetan identity and distancing themselves from the more controversial symbols of their religiously informed cultural identity. Such a strategy has enabled the Tibetan Muslims to elbow other Muslim groups (Bihari, Bengali, Kashmiri etc.) in Darjeeling and claim proximity to the exclusivist ‘Paharey Identity’ (‘Hill Identity’ akin to the hegemonic ‘Gorkhey Identity[3]) in hill towns of Eastern Himalayas. Second, in order to gain proximity to the Indian state they cling to their ‘Kashmiri-Ladaki Muslim’ lineage and flaunt the necessary symbols of their associated religious identity. These are much in congruence to the understanding how people as communities negotiate themselves into becoming ‘citizens’ in parts and degrees, and critics have typecast this in the hills of Darjeeling-Kalimpong-Gangtok as the “Chameleonizing tactics of ‘guest’ that is the Tibetan Muslims”.[4] Continue reading ““The Guests”: Tibetan Muslims in Eastern Himalayas”

On violence of the normal times: A review of Anveshi Broadsheet on Violence

Mohamed Shafeeq K

Anveshi Centre for Research in Women’s Studies, based in Hyderabad has brought out its latest broadsheet on the issue of Violence: Event and Structure (it can be accessed here).  The broadsheet flips the commonsensical understanding of violence as an aberrational outburst interrupting normalcy to illustrate the complex and stealthy ways in which violence – inasmuch as the term means violations of life, dignity, and property – is perpetrated in extraordinary events and unusual places as much as in daily lives and routine methods.  The editors, Parthasarathi Muthukkaruppan and Samata Biswas, set out the following objectives in their editorial: (i) to recognise violence as enmeshed in peaceful times too, (ii) to identify violence in “norms”, “values”, representations, (iii) to illustrate institutional violence (iv) in their non-physical forms too, and (v) to expose the ideology that deems certain violence legitimate. As a supplement to the editorial, the broadsheet summarizes Slavoj Žižek’s book Violence: Six Sideways Reflections where Žižek elaborates on three kinds of violence: systemic, where the violence is institutional and enmeshed in the “normal” working of politics and economy; symbolic, where the violence is the violence of language as it modulates the narration of violence; and subjective, by which is meant our commonsensical understanding of violence, like terrorism.  While the former two do not give the appearance of violence and is often understood to be the normal state of things, it is the third which captures our attention and demands our action.  The objective of critique is to not be swallowed by the subjective dimensions but maintain a critique detached enough to be able to see the systemic and symbolic aspects of violence which causes and docks the subjective ones. Continue reading “On violence of the normal times: A review of Anveshi Broadsheet on Violence”

Why does manual scavenging continue to exist in Tamil Nadu?

V. Ramaswamy & V. Srinivasan

“Few object to liberty in the sense of a right to free movement, in the sense of a right to life and limb. There is no objection to liberty in the sense of a right to property, tools, and materials, as being necessary for earning a living, to keep the body in a due state of health. Why not allow a person the liberty to benefit from an effective and competent use of a person’s powers? The supporters of Caste who would allow liberty in the sense of a right to life, limb, and property, would not readily consent to liberty in this sense, inasmuch as it involves liberty to choose one’s profession.

But to object to this kind of liberty is to perpetuate slavery. For slavery does not merely mean a legalized form of subjection. It means a state of society in which some men are forced to accept from others the purposes which control their conduct. This condition obtains even where there is no slavery in the legal sense. It is found where, as in the Caste System, some persons are compelled to carry on certain prescribed callings which are not of their choice.”

– B.R. Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste. Continue reading “Why does manual scavenging continue to exist in Tamil Nadu?”

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