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THE LEGITIMISATION OF BIGOTRY, THE DESTRUCTION OF REASON IN THE NAME OF THE CONSTITUTION

This essay was written within a day of the Ayodhya judgement, and we realise that we should be presenting a more elaborate essay. However, due to problems with our website we were unable to do anything for some time. We therefore present this essay as the one promised at the time the judgement was handed. We will make further commentaries later.

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Radical Socialist


THE LEGITIMISATION OF BIGOTRY, THE DESTRUCTION OF REASON IN THE NAME OF THE CONSTITUTION


SOMA MARIK

The Verdict in the Ayodhya Temple Case:

The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court, by a 2-1 verdict, has said that the site of the main dome of the Babri Masjid was where Ram Janmasthan had indeed existed, and that since Babar had built the Mosque against the tenets of Islam it was not a mosque. Accordingly, the verdict assigns, one third of the land to the Sunni Waqf Board, one third to the Nirmohi Akhara, and one third to Ram Lalla. Subject to any action that might constitute a contempt of court, one would like to call this verdict a legitimization of bigotry and the destruction of reason. However, these are admittedly strong words, at a time when politicians, the media, are all by and large arguing that this is a nice verdict that will go a long way in healing wounds and establishing peace. So they require explication.

Did Rama Chandra at all exist? The article ‘Three Hundred Ramayanas’ by A K Ramanujan explores the diverse ways of narrativizing the story of Rama. Rama and Ayodhya belong to myths. It is enough to remember that scholars of the stature of H. D. Sankalia threw serious doubt about the meaning of Lanka and Rama’s invasion of Lanka, and also that the place Ayodhya was named Saketa till a Gupta Emperor, probably Skanda Gupta, renamed it as Ayodhya, evidently to garner prestige from being associated with a Rajchakravartin like Rama. To draw the obvious parallel, Schliemann’s excavations showed that Troy, Mykenai, all had historical counterparts. But that has not led to the Iliad being turned into history. Yet that is precisely what the High Court has done in the present case. The process of peddling myth as history had begun a long time back, when the court accepted Ram Lalla as a party to the suits. And now, instead of noting that views about this mythical hero are diverse and cannot be the basis for any court ruling, it has awarded him (or are we hereafter constrained to say Him?) one third of the land. One wonders who his legal heirs are in this world, and how they will handle the property.

Rightward Shift in Mainstream Discourse:

The Hindu Right’s ability to shift the political discourse has never been so evident as now, with the Ayodhya verdict out. Just the string of shifts that have occurred since 1949, have to be noted. In December 1949, a statue of Ram was smuggled into a mosque. The then district magistrate, KK Nayyar decided not to remove it lest “Hindu sentiments are hurt”. No wonder Nayyar soon got picked as a Jan Sangh MP candidate. Neither Nehru nor GB Pant took stern action, assuming that the Muslim vote-bank must support the Congress, is it not? Then in the 1980s comes the shilanyas. The Supreme Court dismissed attempts to block the shilanyas, asserting the rights of Hindus to worship. The shilanyas marked a successful and a decisive breakthrough in the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation, representing the high point of politics as theatre, replete with symbolism and suffused with ritualism. Almost 200,000 villages sent bricks, 300,000 pujas of the Ram Shilas were performed and altogether about 100 million people attended the various processions that carried the bricks to and from Ayodhya. Riots wreaked havoc all over the country.
From the 1980s, of course, the Ram Temple campaign was a core plank of the radical right – the RSS-VHP etc, with the BJP as their electoral face. The fact that the Archaeological Survey of India submitted a report in 2003 asserting that there was a Hindu structure under the mosque is highly misleading. First, the ASI suddenly pushed the date of the site as far back as 13th century BC. According to the ASI the oldest people living there were the Northern Black Polished Ware peoples. But they lived in small units, not in massive urban centres. But the Ayodhya described by Valmiki was an urban centre. So if we are going to accept Valmiki as authentic then the ASI report cannot prove that this present Ayodhya was that Ayodhya. Did the 13th century BC level prove the existence of Rama? In addition, the need to prove a 13th century date seems to have been felt since the Indraprastha site (i.e., “Mahabharata”) has been dated to 12th century BC. In addition, the ASI report does not prove that the mosque was built by destroying a temple. At best it claims that a temple had previously (much earlier) existed, and even such a claim has been contested by many of India’s leading historians and archaeologists. Conveniently, a BJP-led government was at the centre, when the ASI presented this highly slanted report, which has now been cited as evidence in a simplistic manner.

The Politics of Temple and Mosque Destructions:

There have been temples broken, as in Varanasi and Mathura. We do not even need the ASI to tell us that. But such things have happened before. Thus, Richard Eaton has shown that in 642 CE, the Pallava ruker Narasimhavarman I looted  a Ganesa image from Vatapi, the chalukya capital. Half a century later, the Chalukyas raided north India and brought back imagesd of Ganga and Yamuna from defeated powers. Temple destruction in numerous cases were connected to the fact that particular temples were seats of royal power or prestige, and the victors wanted to take away the prestige. But the Indian constitution did not exist in 642, 1528, or in the 17th century. The majority verdict sidesteps the brutal reality that a mob, inflamed by power-hungry politicians, had destroyed a five century old mosque, which too was a part of our heritage. Instead, the court goes on to conclude that Rama was indeed born at that spot, usurping the responsibility of historians and replacing reason by irrational faith. Modern courts are set up on the basis of that nowadays much maligned Enlightenment rationality. Even if god, gods, or God, have any existence, it is beyond the powers of a court to make pronouncements regarding them. A court can say that an action will hurt believers and should be halted in the interests of keeping peace. But theology is not part of its domain. Moreover the court has said, in effect, that since Babar has been deemed to have done wrong back in 1528 or thereabout that historic wrong must be undone. It refuses to look at the destroyed monument as a mosque as it violated the Islamic tenets and built on the past relics of a massive Hindu structure. Hence presumably its destruction does not constitute a crime.

This means the constitutional promise of secularism and the lawful protection of a historic site, are given short shrift. By this, future attacks on mosques is given the beginning of a legal protection, and the Hindutva political mobilizations of the late 1980s – early 1990s are virtually legitimized. The Hindutva forces launched their offensive by presenting Muslims and Islam as the ultimate Enemy. What is the point in condemning the Taliban or other fanatics, if we proceed to emulate them while pretending to follow the rule of law and constitutionalism? If the 1980s saw the RSS-VHP launching their concerted attack on secularism and toleration, the verdict of 2010, despite being dressed up as a sober and balancing one, will ultimately be judged by history as the verdict that legitimated the discourse of fascism while formally proclaiming a democratic constitutionalism. Pure dependence on courts cannot be an adequate answer. Secular forces had taken it for granted that the courts would take a stance close to theirs. If it is the sustained mobilizations of the Hindu right that has shifted the discourse so much that the more intellectual defenders of Hindutva are treated as voices of sensibility then it is only through counter mobilizations – not for a day but for equally sustained periods – that the Hindutva offensive can be rolled back.

ANTI-NUKE ACTIVISTS DETAINED

ANTI-NUKE ACTIVISTS DETAINED
A Brief Report

Today, 6th October, in the forenoon, eleven activists of "Paramanu Bidyut Birodhi Prachar Andolan" (Campaign against Nuclear Power) were forcefully seized by the local police while distributing leaflets opposing the proposed Haripur nuclear power plant, in the vicinity of Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics in Kolkata, where Dr. Srikumar Banerjee, the Atomic Energy Commission Chairman, had arrived to preach the merits of setting up of a 'nuclear park' at Haripur.

The handful of activists present had not even entered the institute campus and were distributing leaflets on the road outside. First one activist was forced into a police jeep and hauled away to the local police station. The rest were pushed away from the immediate vicinity of the Saha Institute. But when the activists continued distributing their leaflets, a police van was brought in, the police suddenly pounced, herded the activists into a police-van and taken to the local station.  Among those arrested was Mihir Bhonsale, a member of Radical Socialist.

The activists were held for over 6 hours in the name of interrogation. However, no actual interrogation was conducted. For the real reason for detention, which the officers divulged off-the-record, was to keep the activists away from the site (where the vast benefits of nuclearisation was being preached). That, in their minds, was the ideal way of handling critics and criticism.

Support the Bhutanese Refugees Convention

A public convention has been called in solidarity with the Bhutanese refugees, and their right to return to Bhutan and live there with dignity.

Date: October 5

Time -- 5-30 PM

Place: Students Hall, College Square, Calcutta.

Radical Socialist supports this initiative and calls upon all its supporters and readers to join the programme.

Support the cause of the Bhutanese refugees!

Please endorse the appeal!



The Vice-Chancellor
University of Calcutta


Sir,

We have come to know from media reports that the University of Calcutta has invited the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, to deliver the convocation address scheduled to be held on 5 October 2010.

You are perhaps aware that there are about 108,000 Bhutanese people living in seven refugee camps in Nepal and about 20,000 more are living as undocumented refugees in India, most of them in West Bengal.

The Bhutanese authorities have not allowed a single refugee to return. Moreover, the treatment of the Bhutanese government towards the rest of the people of Nepali origin and other ethnic minorities, who still live in Bhutan, suggests that the basic rights of this community cannot be guaranteed. The UNHCR camps at Jhapa, Nepal, fall terribly short in both material and psychological aspects of civil life. Already, the community has grown into the second generation, and maybe the third, and there is visible dearth of space, with its natural accompanying problems. There is little scope for the refugees to be involved in any productive work. Frustration and restlessness due to the lack of livelihood is acute among the younger generation. The young women in these camps are in a particularly vulnerable situation, and there are disturbing reports of gender-based violence and trafficking.

We would therefore request you to please forward this appeal to the Bhutan king to ensure the refugees’ right to return and protection of the life and livelihood of the ethnic minorities in Bhutan.

Yours sincerely,

Name Designation University/College/Institute
Santosh Bhattacharya Former Vice-Chancellor University of Calcutta
Shubhendhu Dasgupta Former Member of Faculty, 
Dept of South & South Asian Studies
University of Calcutta
Ronobir Samaddar Director Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group
Meher Engineer Former Director Bose Institute, Kolkata
Amit Bhattacharyya Professor of History Jadavpur University
Kunal Chattopadhyay Professor of Comparative Literature Jadavpur University
Immanuel Ness Professor,
Department of Political Science
Brooklyn College,
City University of New York
Sanjoy Mukhopadhyay Professor of Film Studies Jadavpur University
Debaprasad Bandyopadhyay Faculty Member Indian Statistical Institute
Mohiuddin Ahmed Former Visiting Professor and Co-Director, Inter-Asia NGO Studies (MAINS),
Sungkonghoe University, Seoul, Korea
Ruchira Ganguly-Scrase Associate Professor, Sociology,
Convenor,Asia-Pacific Studies, Faculty of Arts
University of Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia
Steve Edwards Senior Lecturer in Art History Open University, UK
Soma Marik Associate Professor of History RKSM Vivekananda Vidyabhavan, Kolkata
Siddhartha Guha Roy Associate Professor Vivekananda College
Francis Adaikalam Lecturer & Coordinator,
Dept. of Social Work 
Loyola College, Chennai
Maqbool (Max) Babri Visiting Professor Lahore University of Management Sciences
Sourin Bhattacharya Former Professor in Economics Jadavpur University
Keya Dasgupta Faculty Member Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta
Bodhisattva Kar Faculty Member Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta
Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya Faculty Member Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta
Dipankar Das Reader in Economics Jaipuria College
Indranil Chakraborty Researcher Simon Fraser University, Canada
Sudeshna Banerjee Reader in History Jadavpur University
Manas Ghosh Lecturer in Film Studies Jadavpur University
Subhajit Chatterjee Lecturer in Film Studies Jadavpur University
Shubhankar Roy Chowdhury Researcher Scholar in Film Studies Jadavpur University
Sanjib Acharyya Reader, Dept. Of Mechanical Engineering Jadavpur University
Dipten Misra Lecturer, Dept. Of Mechanical Engineering Jadavpur University
Salil Biswas Former Lecturer Heramba Ch College
Pranab Kumar Nayak Former Lecturer Kandi Raj College
Jishnu Dasgupta Assistant Professor Serampore College
Achan Mungleng Independent Researcher  
Kumar Rana Researcher  
Sujato Bhadra Associate Professor in History Sibpur Deenabandhu College
Subrata Sarkar Principal, College of Nursing RG Kar Medical College






An early response at the following email address/telephone would be highly appreciated:

Kunal Chattopadhyay
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Ph# +91 98313 98301

Resisting the Radical Right: Political Mobilisations the Only Way

The following article was written for uploading in our website on 28th September. Owing to certain technical difficulties we were unable to do so. Despite the fact that we have now the verdict out, the article is being placed before our readers. An article or a statement on the implications of the verdict will follow in a few days.

Administrator, RS

Resisting the Radical Right: Political Mobilisations the Only Way


Soma Marik

Reading newspapers and watching the television news channels, one might get the impression that with the High Court verdict, at most after a final appeal to the Supreme Court to change the verdict, the tangle over Ayodhya will be over. Such a constitutionalist view is utterly false. Even a look at the title suits show that political motives form the core of the cases. The three-judge Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court has to answer, among others, the following questions: Did a temple exist at the disputed site before 1528 when Mir Baqi constructed the Babri Masjid? Was Ayodhya really the birth place of Lord Ram and is there evidence to show that Hindus have been worshipping at this place for a long time? Was Ram Lalla’s appearance inside the mosque was indeed a miracle? Can one go to court to decide on history? Can one go to courts, based on law built by human reason, to seek guidance over whether there are truly things beyond reason?

This has serious implications for the practice of history. Barring simple chronology (with even that under the occasional question, as with the death of Subhas Chandra Bose) unanimity will not even be found in text books. Was the Reign of Terror good or bad, and why was it initiated? French historians have debated this for two centuries with unflagging zeal. If courts dictate unanimity and enforce them legally, we will be facing a destruction of basic freedom of ideas and expression, and academic views could soon become as dangerous as heresy was in the Christian middle ages.

The entire Ram Janmabhoomi agitation was part of a grand design of a radical right force to mobilize in order to march to power. Some of its more sophisticated defenders have been saying of late, that it was not ‘fascist’ or some sort of radical right, because it did not take power as thoroughly as it might have liked. This is to misunderstand, or deliberately sow confusion, about the radical right, a phenomenon very different from the traditional right with its conservatism backed by reliance on state violence as the legitimate form of force. This is why, certain scholars originally trained in Stalinist, top-down Marxism, even discovered back in the early 1990s elements of laudable subaltern assertion of identity in the first kar-seva movement and even in the speeches of Sadhvi Rithambara.

In fact, the radical right uses techniques of mobilization, but in a different way than the radical left. In the present case, the invocation of History was aimed at creating a mobilization that would overcome lower class, or lower caste unity. Hence the focus, not on some specific wrong done to some Hindus, but a wrong done for all time to all Hindus for which all Muslims must atone or be punished. According to the myth created, the Babri Masjid was constructed exactly where Rama was born, by destroying a temple, under instructions from Babar. From that very period, Hindus have fought valiantly to rescue this sacred place. RSS run schools teach the story of this spurious “freedom struggle” in a catechism form. But it proved impossible to ‘liberate’ Rama Janmabhoomi even at the end of the British rule. And so, on the night of 22-23 December 1949, Ram Lalla appeared in his own place in order to remind Hindu society of its sacred national task.

Using Goebbelsian techniques, numerous pamphlets have peddled seeming details of the struggle for the soul of Hindutva -- like Ram Janmabhoomi Ka Rakta Ranjit Itihas by Ramgopal Pandey, or Ayodhya ka Prachin Itihas by Acharya Gunduji Sharma. On one hand there was a bid to prove that Ayodhya was the historic Ayodhya, but a second line of argument was to be developed by Justice Deoki Nandan, the secretary of the Sri Ram Janmabhoomi Mukti Yajna Samiti. The author comments that the existence of an ancient Ram temple in Ayodhya is an historical truth beyond controversies. How can one debate about God? If one does, one will be condemned.

Neither archaeological nor literary sources actually provide any link between the present day Ayodhya and the mythical Ayodhya of the treta age. The excavations of B.B. Lal and A.K. Narain (done independently) show that the oldest layer of the present Ayodhya does not go back further than the 7th Century B, C. And if we are to take the myth as history, the treta age was thousands of years in the past – way beyond 7th Century B.C. Lal would change his stance only after the am temple movement had gathered steam, and publish certain dubious claims in an RSS journal, not in any academic journal.

Till the rise of the Ramanandi community in the 18th century, Ayodhya was not a centre of any Ram cult. There is no reference to a temple and its destruction.  Babar’s memoirs are silent on this. It was Beveridge, the translator of Babarnama, who added a comment that he must have ordered such a destruction – a Christian western coloniser assuring us that they know how Muslims and Hindus must have behaved under various circumstances, and the evidence be hanged. Neither Tulsidas, writing less than a century later, expresses sorrow over such a momentous event. Nor does Badauni, the orthodox Muslim, critical of Akbar’s liberalism, shower praise for this alleged act.
The “disputed structure” was an indisputable masjid till the mob pulled it down on 6th December, 1992. Even after independence, it had been used as a mosque. Till a week or so prior to 22nd December, 1949, Muslims had prayed there. But then, by the morning of 23rd December, the idol was smuggled into the mosque. The mosque was promptly declared a “disputed structure” and by order of the district magistrate K.K. Nayar, the Hindus were allowed entry into the Chabutara for purposes of worship but the right of the Muslims to offer namaaz in the over 400 years old masjid was taken away. For his valour, K.K. Nayar was later picked up by the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the direct predecessor of the BJP, to become one of its MPs.

It was the RSS and its network that turned the issue into the central plank of so called Hindu nationalism. The Ram Temple destroyed by Muslims became the symbol of the oppression of Hindus, as well as evidence of their being “emasculated”. To become truly manly, to ensure a Hindu awakening, reclaiming the Ram Temple was a mobilisation strategy. The very existence of the Hindus as an entity comes to depend on the battle for Hindutva. Ram became a crucial element in this battle. As historian Neeladri Bhattacharyya pointed out, the programme of Hinduisation is a project to create an artificial “Hindu essence”. This was to consolidate a macho and offensive communal spirit. The RSS pamphlet,  “Angry Hindu”? Yes, Why Not?” gives an answer. It depicts toleration as a symptom of weakness, exploited by the Muslims to destroy the great culture and civilisation of ancient India. So the time has come to stand up and resent. Not “womanly tolerance”, but manly aggressiveness is required. Hence riots, mass rapes of women and then murdering them.

The VHP-RSS has already proclaimed a twin track strategy. If the verdict says the land legally belongs to the Hindutva claimants, they want a temple there. It matters nought that to do so they smashed a centuries old mosque. And if the verdict goes against them, they are gearing up for another round of right wing mobilisations – Bharat bandhs, other campaigns. The aim is, in either case, again mobilise people on the basis of religion, but for political purposes that involve the capture of power and the subversion of a pluralist democracy.

Bypassing the debates over whether the RSS-VHP-BJP can be called fascist or not, we can agree that they are a brand of radical populist right. Such politics cannot be countered purely constitutionally. The German Social Democrats voted Hindenburg for President, hoping that this traditionalist would keep Hitler out. A year later, Hindenburg would call Hitler in as Chancellor, and a few further months down the SPD was illegalised. From the 1980s, the rise of new mass rightwing chauvinist nationalisms across Europe have been successfully checked only where anti-racist counter mobilisations have been carried out. The court case will solve very little. No modern democratic society can be based on a foundation of revenge for real or imagined insults of the past. In 1857, the British, after their victory, murdered very large numbers of innocent Indians. An Indian nationalism today, that seeks to situate India in the world by calling for the genocide of present day English people, would be rightly attacked. So why should it be different when the attack is on Muslims – Indian Muslims who are thus pushed outside the identity of Indian-ness at that?

Venezuelan elections: affirming the Bolivarian revolution


Venezuelan elections: affirming the Bolivarian revolution

The National Assembly elections held in Venezuela on September 26 have produced a clear mandate for continuing and deepening the Bolivarian revolution being led by socialist President Hugo Chavez.

Of the 165 deputies elected, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won 95 (60% of the National Assembly) and the right-wing Democratic Unity Coalition (MUD) won 60 (40%). Both the PSUV-allied Communist Party and the opposition Fatherland for All (PPT) won three seats. While the official count has yet to be announced, President Chavez has reported that the PSUV and its allies received 5,422,040 votes while the opposition alliance received 5,320,175 votes.

The elections were also an important victory for the revolution because they showed, once again, that the capitalist media's constant portrayals of the Venezuelan government as "dictatorial" are absurd. There was a historic level of participation in these Assembly elections, with 66.45% of eligible voters exercising their right to vote - a far greater proportion than in any national election in the United States.

International observers - including participants in the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network's brigade to Venezuela in September - reported that the process was conducted peacefully and thoroughly democratically. Even the opposition, which has repeatedly claimed "electoral fraud" since Chavez was elected president in 1998, has acknowledged that the election was free and fair.

The opposition abstained from participating in the last (2005) Assembly elections. This gave pro-Chavez legislators147 seats, a huge majority that was inevitably going to decrease with the opposition deciding to contest this election.

While the PSUV and its allies did not achieve the two-thirds of seats needed to have an absolute majority in the parliament, the results clearly show that the majority of the population prefers the anti-capitalist and socialist path. In the words of Venezuela's vice-president, Elias Jaua, the result "will enable Commander Hugo Chavez to continue governing, giving power back to people and building the path to socialism".

The broader social-political context in which the majority of people voted for the revolution underlines the strength of the Venezuelan poor's desire for the radical change that Chavez represents. Just in the last 12 months, the Chavez government has faced:

* the impacts of the global financial crisis;

* widespread sabotage of basic services and infrastructure, especially by the agriculture capitalists;

* a constant propaganda assault by the 75-80% of Venezuelan mass media controlled by opponents of the revolution;

* massive amounts of funding for the opposition provided by the United States; and

* escalating military aggression by the US, including the threat of war.

A report commissioned by the National Endowment for Democracy and published in May 2010 by the Spanish Foundation for International Relations and Foreign Dialogue revealed that this year alone, international agencies - most particularly the US government agency USAID - are investing between $40-50 million in anti-Chavez groups in Venezuela. A large part of those funds have been channelled to the opposition MUD.

There is no doubt that the right wing will use its new positions in parliament to escalate its efforts to stall, sabotage and undermine the revolutionary process. Their goal is to undermine the leadership of Hugo Chavez (the next presidential election is in 2012) and roll back the significant changes in favour of the majority in Venezuela.

These gains were recently outlined by Venezuela's ambassador to the United Nations, Jorge Valero, when he reported to the plenary session of the United Nations Summit on the Millennium Development Goals on September 21. He pointed out that Venezuela is one of the tiny number of countries that has achieved the majority of the Millennium Development Goals, including:

* Between 1999 and 2009, 60% of all of Venezuela's revenues have been invested in social programs.

* Between 1998 and 2009, the level of poverty was reduced, from more than 49% to 24.2%. Levels of extreme poverty decreased dramatically, from 29.8% in 2003 to 7.2% in 2009.

* The UN's Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean has recognised that Venezuela is the country that has most diminished inequality in that region.

* Between 1998 and 2009, unemployment fell by more than 50%, to 6.6%.

* In 2005 the revolution eradicated illiteracy, an achievement recognised by UNESCO.

These are precious steps forward for the people of Venezuela, who will not give them up without a fight. The Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network offers its full solidarity to that ongoing struggle, and congratulates the courageous people of Venezuela for their election victory. In the words of President Chavez, it is a victory that makes it possible to "continue deepening Bolivarian and democratic socialism ... continue strengthening the revolution".

Viva people's power!

Viva the Bolivarian revolution!

Viva Chavez!

A statement by the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network

September 29, 2010

http://www.venezuelasolidarity.org

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The battle for control of our bodies


The battle for control of our bodies


Editorial for CSE news bulletin

By Sunita Narain

They say you are what you eat. But do we know what we are eating? Do we know who is cooking and serving us the food we take to our kitchens and then into our bodies? The more I dig into this issue it becomes clear that our world of food is spinning in directions we know nothing about.

Take honey. A sweet preserve we take for granted that it comes from bees, which collect it from the nectar of flowers. We pick up the bottle from a local shop, believing the honey was collected naturally, is fresh and certainly without contaminants. In most cases, we think that small farmers produced it or it was collected from the wild and packaged by large companies. We consume it as a natural tonic against the chemical assaults of the modern world.

But little do we know how the business of honey has changed. Nobody explains us that the culture of food is linked to biodiversity. And this is further connected with the business—and not pleasure of food. But mess with biodiversity and you mess with food. The ubiquitous bee is one such instance. Some decades ago, leading scientific institutions in India sold the idea of introducing the European bee (Apis mellifera) into the country. This prolific honey producer bee took over the business, virtually replacing the humble but more adapted Indian bees (Apis cerana and Apis dorsata) from our food.

At the same time, the business of honey moved away from small producers, collecting honey from the wild and cultivating it in natural conditions. It became a highly organised business, controlled by a handful of companies that handle all aspects of the trade—from the supply of queen bees to the paraphernalia of bee-housing, from feeding and disease control to linking up with producers across different states. It is an outsourced business, run by franchisees whose job is to find places, like the apple farms of Himachal, where there is nectar for bees.

We have lost the biodiversity of the bee—largely Apis mellifera now makes our honey—and we have lost the diversity of the business. Business is now about commerce, not food. But nature has its way of getting back at us. The European bee is showing signs of overuse across the world. In the US and Europe there is worrying news about honeybee colony collapses—bees are disappearing from colonies. This is in turn is hitting crop production as bees play a critical role in pollinating food crops across the US—a service, officially billed at some US$ 20 billion annually. The trade in pollinator bees involves carting bee colonies across the county, where crops need their service. But now there is evidence that such overwork, combined with the use of nasty new pesticides, new diseases and immune-suppressed bees, is destroying bees.

In India, things are no different. The dependence on an introduced species and emphasis on overproduction means the overworked bees are susceptible to diseases. The creatures are immune-suppressed and not adapted to local conditions. So, the answer is to feed bees antibiotics mixed liberally in sugar syrup. The bee makes honey and with it comes the lethal dose of antibiotics.

When the Pollution Monitoring Laboratory of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) checked honey, it found cocktail of antibiotics—mostly banned and prohibited in food. It found everything from the commonly used Ampicillin, Enrofloxacin, Ciprofloxacin, Erythromycin to the strictly banned Chloramphenicol in honey made and packaged by the biggest and the most known. Any doctor will tell you these antibiotics in food are bad, because they not only have health impacts but also make disease-causing bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Over-exposure to antibiotics is not just leading to super-bugs in hospitals. We are also getting small doses of antibiotics through food. Because of this doctors want us to be careful with antibiotics. It is also because of this that food regulators say there should be no—or minimum and controlled— antibiotics in our food.

This is where the equation between big businesses and food gets murky. CSE’s laboratory checked two foreign brands bought from our local store. We know Europe has banned Indian honey for having these antibiotics. They did this because they say they care about their health.

Good. But then who cares about our health? Both brands we checked had high levels of antibiotics. The health-conscious companies, in this case from Australia and Switzerland, do not check antibiotics in products they export to our world. It is about double-standards and it stinks. But why should they care for our health, when our government does not? The same government, which makes strict standards for exported honey, does not care about what we use domestically. There are no standards for antibiotics in Indian honey.

This is the age of big and powerful business taking over our kitchen, because we have complicit food regulators. The recently set up Food Safety and Standards Authority has been dead on entry. Do not be surprised. Be angry. This is not a business we should allow for takeover. It is about us. Our bodies. Our self.

Read this online: http://downtoearth.org.in/node/1908
Post your comments at: http://cseindia.org/node/1732

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