Articles posted by Radical Socialist on various issues.

Feminism: Of 1 Percent or of 99 percent? -- Intervierw with Nancy Fraser

“The Feminism of the 1 Percent Has Associated Our Cause With Elitism”

An interview with Nancy Fraser

Monday 9 September 2019, by Nancy Fraser

Recent years have seen an upsurge in the working-class women’s movement, from impressive protests against domestic violence and workplace harassment to the mass strikes marking International Women’s Day in Spain, Poland, and beyond. These actions point the way to an anti-systemic feminism, going beyond the liberal, individualist variant promoted by the likes of Hillary Clinton.

One of the expressions of this new wave is the popular manifesto Feminism for the 99% (Verso Books, 2019). It insists that feminism does not stand as an alternative to class struggle, but rather represents a decisive front in the fight for a world free of capitalism and all forms of oppression.

Nancy Fraser is co-author of the manifesto together with Cinzia Arruzza and Tithi Bhattacharya. She spoke to Rebeca Martínez of Viento Sur about the book, her critique of so-called “progressive neoliberalism,” and her understanding of a feminism that puts the voices of working-class and racialized women front and center.

RM: What exactly is Feminism for the 99% — and why launch such a manifesto now?

NF: The manifesto is a short piece of writing that’s intended to be popular and accessible rather than academic. I’ve written it together with the Italian feminist Cinzia Arruzza, who lives in New York, and Tithi Bhattacharya, an Indian-British woman who teaches in the United States.

This is the first time since I was a ‘68er — an activist in the 1960s and 1970s — that I have written a piece of real agitational political writing. I am, after all, mainly a philosophy professor. But the times now are so severe, the crisis of politics so acute, that I really felt that I had to jump in and try and reach a broader audience. So, the manifesto attempts to articulate a new path for the feminist movement, which has been dominated for the last couple of decades by a liberal-corporate wing of feminism, as personified in the United States by Hillary Clinton.

That was the feminism of the professional-managerial class, of relatively privileged women — middle- or upper-middle-class women who are highly educated and mostly white — who are trying to get ahead in the worlds of business or the military or the media. Their project was to climb the corporate hierarchy, to be treated in the same way as the men of their own class, with the same pay and prestige.

This wasn’t a genuinely egalitarian feminism — it wasn’t a feminism with much to offer for the vast majority of women who are poor and working class, who don’t have those privileges, who are migrants, who are women of color, who are trans or non-cis women. And this feminism of the 1 percent or maybe, at best, the 10 percent, has really tarnished the name of feminism. It has associated our cause with elitism, with individualism, with corporate life. It’s given feminism a bad name, associating us with neoliberalism, with financialization, with globalization, with anti–working-class politics.

The three of us thought this was a good moment to jump in and try and create a short, accessible statement of a vision and of a project of a feminism that takes the situation of poor and working-class women as its starting point, and asks what we really need to do to improve women’s lives. Of course, the three of us aren’t alone, in this — there are other left-wing feminists who’ve been trying to develop an alternative.

This is, indeed, emerging in the huge marches and demonstrations around March 8 [International Women’s Day]: these protests have an anti-systemic character, for they protest austerity and the assault on social production. The movement to meet women’s needs can’t be focused only on women’s issues as traditionally defined, like abortion rights — though those are very important. It also has to think more broadly about the larger crisis of society and articulate policies and programs for the benefit of everyone. That’s why we call it a feminism for the 99 percent. That doesn’t just mean 99 percent of women but 99 percent of human beings on the planet.

RM: You mentioned March 8 and the feminist strikes that have been organized since 2017 in many countries, including here in Spain. Indeed, even beyond that, in Spain in recent years most labor protests have been waged by women, for instance domestic workers and nursing-home workers. So, are we facing a new wave within feminism? And to what phase of neoliberal capitalism does it respond?

NF: I do think it’s a new wave, or at least has the potential to become one, if it can make a split with this liberal corporate feminism. And I think it shows lots of signs of doing that.

Neoliberalism has engaged a fierce assault on what we call the sphere of social reproduction. That means all the activities and programs that support people and their reproduction: from birthing and raising children, elder care and the work that goes on inside the private household to things like public education, health care, transportation, retirement income, and housing. Neoliberalism has squeezed all of that. It says that women need to be working full-time in the paid workforce and at the same time that states need to cut spending on social programs as part of austerity and financialization.

So here we have both the withdrawal of public support in these areas, and the insistence that women put their time into producing profits for capital. That means a real crisis of care and of social reproduction. This sphere is where — as you said — the most militant strikes and fightbacks are.

In the crisis of the 1930s, the center of militant revolt was industrial labor — the forming of unions, the struggle for labor rights, and so on. Today the situation is different, partly because of deindustrialization and the relocation of manufacturing to the Global South. Now social reproduction is at the center.

You mentioned some important strikes led by women; I’d add that in the United States we have had a major wave of teachers’ strikes. It’s extraordinary: teachers are paid so little that many of them have to take second jobs working at Walmart in the evening in order to have enough to live on for themselves and their families. But these teachers’ strikes were not only for higher wages — they were also for increased funding for education, to make the schools better. So, they’ve gotten a tremendous amount of support.

That’s an example of the sphere of social reproduction as a major site of struggle. And I understand that the huge March 8 marches and strikes in Spain were also protests against the cutting of social spending in all of these areas. Today struggles over social reproduction are at the cutting edge of left-wing, anti-systemic, anticapitalist struggle, and women are at the forefront. This fact needs to be at the center of a new way of thinking about what feminist politics is.

RM:How would you say this struggle over social reproduction interacts with class struggle and with antiracist and LGBTQ movements?

NF: First of all, I think we need to rethink what we mean by class struggle. Again, our image of the class struggle is still rooted in the 1930s — the white, male industrial worker with a union. But I would say that these struggles over social reproduction are also class struggles. For you can’t have production and industrial work if you don’t have somebody doing the work of producing and replenishing the workers and caring for the next generation that will replace them. Social reproduction is essential to capitalist production.

The work that produces those people and forms of sociality is every bit as much work as the work that goes on in factories. What makes class is not just the relationship of work in the factory but also the relations of social reproduction that produce the workers. So, this is all part of class struggle.

Our idea of class struggle in the past was too narrow. I don’t think that feminism for the 99 percent is an alternative to class struggle. It’s another front in the class struggle, so it should be allied with more familiar labor movements as well as the other things you mentioned — antiracist struggles, the struggle for migrant rights, and the struggle for LGBTQ rights.

This also matters because of the new class and racial division among women. The educated, upper-middle-class women that beat discrimination and rise to the top in corporations are working sixty hours a week in very demanding jobs. They’re hiring women of color, often migrant women, to pick up the slack of care work, childcare, cleaning their houses, cooking for their children, caring in nursing homes for their parents, and so on. These liberal-feminist women are thus leaning on the labor of racialized women. These latter are vulnerable: they don’t have labor rights, they are paid very little, and they are vulnerable to assault and abuse.

All of this class-race dimension within feminism needs to be put front and center. Feminism for the 99 percent has to be an antiracist movement. It has to take the situation of poor, working-class, and racialized women — the majority of women — and put their needs at the front, not the needs of corporate-climbers who want to crack the glass ceiling.

Similarly, within the LGBTQ movement there is a liberal wing which has been hegemonic and then a broader mass of people whose needs and issues have been marginalized. So, I think there’s a comparable struggle going on within LGBTQ movements over whose issues are going to be front and center. I’d like to see our feminism for the 99 percent speak for trans, queer, and lesbian women, and I’d like to see an LGBTQ movement for the 99 percent, which would be its natural ally.

RM: It’s clear that the struggle over social reproduction could build a bloc against neoliberalism and capitalism. But what about patriarchal relationships — can we fight male violence within the terms of the fight over reproduction? Can we use this front to change our relationships with other women and, above all, with men?

NF: Let me start by mentioning the #MeToo movement. The public image of this movement is focused on Hollywood, highly paid actresses, entertainers, the media, and so on. But the broad mass of much less privileged women is even more vulnerable to sexual assault and harassment at work. I’m talking about agricultural workers, some of whom don’t even have papers, and whose lack of power and resources makes them very vulnerable to the demands of bosses and foremen. The same is true of hotel workers — for example, the case of Dominque Strauss-Kahn — or workers who clean offices. People who work in private homes as domestic workers are notoriously subject to rape and sexual assault.

The #MeToo movement, if you think about it more broadly, is a labor struggle. It’s a struggle for a safe workplace where you are not subject to abuse. That the media focuses only on the top tier is unfortunate, for it makes it look like it’s not a class struggle. But the social reproduction issue also has to do, at bottom, with changing the relations between production and reproduction and, therefore, changing the balance of power within households.

Social reproduction should not be gendered as women’s work only. It’s important work in society, some aspects of which are very pleasurable and creative. Men should have access to that and should feel responsibility to do their share and pull their full weight. This, too, is about changing dynamics within households. And of course, a feminism for the 99 percent is against all violence against women, against trans people, against non-cis people, against racialized people, and so on.

Patriarchy is a word, I should say, that I don’t myself like to use, for it suggests an image of power that is dyadic — you have a master and then a servant who is their subject. Some of that still exists, there is no question. But the really central forms of power in our society exist in a more impersonal and structural way, constraining the options of working-class and poor people.

So, I think it’s important to have a different image of power. It works through the banks and the IMF, through the organization of finance and industry, and through the construction of gendered and racialized labor markets. This is what determines who has access to resources, who can vindicate their claims and function as equals even within families and personal relationships.

RM:When you talk about social justice you distinguish among three levels. There is distribution (the economy) but also recognition (culture) and representation (politics). To what extent are these three levels present in the new cycle of feminism?

NF: I think we’re concerned with all these things, and they’re sort of interrelated. You can’t change the economic sphere and distributive relations if you don’t change these other things, too.

What counts as a political issue is often defined in terms of what counts as an economic issue. The forces of capital insist that issues concerning the workplace should be decided by the markets, by the bosses, that these are not issues for democratic, political, collective self-determination. There’s a line between what the private owners of capital decide and what we as democratic majorities decide.

A lot of this has to do with questions of culture — with the languages available to us to understand our situation. Do we have concepts like sexual harassment and date-rape, the terminology with which to talk about what the wrongs in society are, to talk about our experience and to make our claims?

Feminism has done a great deal to create new language and, in that sense, to change culture, to change people’s understanding of what they are entitled to and don’t have to put up with. So, it’s broadened the sphere of political discourse and what is potentially a question for democratic decision-making and not the private decision for the family or the firm.

At present, we’ve made more progress at this cultural level than we have at the level of institutional change and transformation, both in the political sphere and in the economic sphere. But it’s always about the interrelations among these three things.

RM:You’ve pointed out that neoliberalism has appropriated some of the critiques developed and demands raised by second-wave feminism and other 1970s movements, incorporating them to its own benefit. Could this happen again with the emerging forms of feminism — and what can we do to avoid this?

NF: Liberal feminism along with liberal antiracism and liberal LGBTQ movements and what has been called “green capitalism” were hegemonized — incorporated into — a hegemonic ruling bloc which in the United States took the form of what I call “progressive neoliberalism.”

These movements lent their charisma, their ideology, to give these horrible policies — financialization, the precarization of work, and the driving down of wages — the veneer of being pro-gay, pro-women, and so on. That definitely happened, and this is why it is so important that the new wave of feminism should break with that kind of feminism and chart a new path.

It’s always possible to be hegemonized and recuperated by more powerful forces whose ultimate aims are deeply at odds with one’s own. It is always important for emancipatory and left-wing movement to be wary of this.

Today, we are told that we really have only two options — either right-wing authoritarian populisms, which are racist and xenophobic, or else go back to our liberal protectors and progressive neoliberalism. But this is a false choice — we need to refuse both options.

This is a moment of huge crisis in which we have the chance to chart a different path, building a truly anti-systemic movement for the 99 percent in which feminism for the 99 percent is one current along with labor movements, environmentalism for the 99 percent, the fight for migrant rights for the 99 percent, and so on.

RM: You have written that the nation state (in what you call the Westphalian-Keynesian framework) has entered into crisis with neoliberalism and that its borders are now more diffuse. You call this the “deframing” policy. But what is the role of the nation state today. Can we say that it has disappeared?

NF: No, it hasn’t disappeared. Historically the main force that has provided any level of protection and security to working people from capital has been the nation state. And it’s still the case that the nation state remains the principal addressee of claims. When we want protection, when we want social support, who do we ask? We demand that our government respond to us.

This is understandable when politics is still largely organized on a national basis, that national election campaigns are the principal activities for national-level politics. But it remains the case that this is ultimately inadequate.

We can see this when we look at migration, which is a huge point of conflict, indeed a crisis. We have people from all over the world who don’t have states that can protect them or give them anything like what we in the wealthy countries are asking our states to give us. They are living in failed states, in refugee camps, they are forced to leave by political violence, by religious persecution, by the fact that the United States has invaded and destroyed their countries, by climate crisis, by many features of the global crisis that we live in.

When these people come, the right-wing populist movements double down on their politics of nationalism and exclusion. What’s Trump’s slogan? “Make America Great Again” — like it was before all these dark people started showing up and ruining our country. That’s the ideology of this populist movement. So, we need to think in a transnational and global way about how we can ensure social rights for all people in the world. They need those rights, so that they don’t have to get into a boat and risk their lives just to find a decent place to live, somewhere halfway around the planet.

First published in Viento Sur, translated into English by Jacobin.

From International Viewpoint online


The future demands environmental justice


Sunday 15 September 2019, by Solidarity Ecosocialist Woking Party

While the forests in the Amazon and Congo are in flames, while extreme weather demolishes island countries from the Caribbean to Southeast Asia, while the Great Lakes suffer from both flooding and the spread of algae, politicians and corporations fail to address the climate crisis. So youth around the globe are taking a stand, demanding that we break with the fossil-fuel economy. On September 20 youth are striking for climate justice. We stand with them!

Solidarity Ecosocialist Working Group

As ecosocialists we see capitalism’s demand for continuous growth and the exploitation of our natural resources creates agricultural and industrial models rooted in profit for the 1%. In destroying the balance that must exist on planet Earth, this economic system also fails to meet the material and social needs of the vast majority. As a result, growing inequality and changing weather conditions have already led to more than 70 million refugees, with more to come.

Youth are demanding an end to subsidizing destructive industries: stopping the construction of pipelines, halting resource extraction on indigenous lands, decommissioning coal, gas and nuclear facilities and building a free and public mass transportation system to replace the individual car. We stand with them in requiring that investors and polluters who bankrolled and built this chaos pay for the transition, not workers and their communities. They recognize that pollution, like other aspects of capitalism, impacts people of color most severely. It is the most vulnerable who have been on the front line.

We need a “just transition,” one that retools and repurposes manufacturing, replaces the inadequate system of food production and builds communities where people have the right to good, healthy and meaningful work. In short, youth are demanding a future for themselves and for the planet!

We believe it is possible for humanity to break with the destructive logic of the capitalist system. The break will come as millions join in the fight to stop fossil fuel emissions and the pollution of land, water and air. September 20 and the actions over the following week represent a new stage in the fight to end the exploitation and inequality capitalism breeds.

Build the Climate Strike

Solidarity National Committee Motion

We encourage members to help build the Friday, September 20 international strike against climate change called by Greta Thunberg, the high school Swedish student calling for students to strike every Friday for climate justice. (See Global Climate Strike.)

The action will take many different forms around the world: striking students, targeting polluters, organizing direct actions, marching in the streets and maybe even some worker strikes. We note that there is a particular role for teachers to support their students.

September 20 is the kickoff of a week of activities that will go through September 27. Environmental justice organizations, 350.org, DSA, Rising Tide and many others will be working to build these actions. We particularly encourage members to assist in building coalitions where possible.

September 20 is just three days before an emergency climate summit being held in New York. Youth in the Fridays For Future network are mobilizing for their largest global climate strike ever. [1] They have invited everyone to join them on September 20 and again the following Friday, September 27 when they will join Earth Strike for a general strike. (See Earth Strike.)


[1] https://fridaysforfuture.org/.



Gandhism and the Myth of Liberal Tolerance

 Murzban Jal

[We publish this essay, with the hope that this will stimulate a debate on several necessary issues -- Administrator, Radical Socialist website]

In the age that imagines that sedition is the “in thing”, almost a somewhat form of postmodern fashion, one must stress the importance of free argument. The defenders of the nation like the defenders of faith usually do not think that arguments are of important. After all (for all bourgeois imagination), when one attacks the nation one simultaneously attacks the father of the nation. For Ambedkar, Gandhi was no “Mahatma” and no father of the nation; just as for Trotsky he represented colonial interests. Mr. Gandhi, the alleged “father of the nation and his elevation as “Mahatma” is an elevation in a fascistic sense and he being called the “father of the nation” is nothing but a form of sadomasochism where the father (as shown by psychoanalysis) brutalizes his children. What this literally means is that Mr. Gandhi literally sodomized the entire nation and we are all unfortunate children of this sodomy. After all, if he is the father, then we are all his unfortunate children. And just as the biblical god procreated out from himself creating Adam (and then Eve), so too we Indians seem to be procreated out from this alleged “father of the nation”.

What one needs is a radical critique of this form of quietism that Gandhism has preached. Ambedkar was critical of Gandhi and the essence of Ambedkar’s critique was Gandhism. Quite often it is said that the threats come from the neo-conservative quarters and it seems in this narrative that there are two neat halves: fascism which threatens and kills and liberalism which loves and promotes tolerance.  India, it seems according to this imagined narrative, is torn into two halves. We either have to be a fascist or a liberal. And according to this imagined narrative Gandhi becomes the apostle of tolerance and democracy—never mind his active support of the caste system and all the regressions that followed.

            What I am saying is that this eulogizing of Gandhi is not merely an imagined narrative, but a myth, in a very dangerous fascist sense. What I would also say is that fascism cannot be monopolized by any one group. It is an “open” discourse which swallows everyone. And to emphasize, we live in the age of fascism. We cannot escape it.

What I would also like to say is that liberalism and Gandhism are not answers to India’s problems. What I would also say is that Gandhi is more of a myth created by the Congress party to leave the masses disempowered. Ambedkar knew this. For him the epitome of reaction and counterrevolution in India was Gandhi. His critique of Gandhi cannot be treated as some type of “side critique” to be put as a footnote in books that no one reads. Ambedkar’s critique is the very essence of emancipatory politics in India. Devoid of a critique of Gandhi and the Congress there can never be any form of emancipatory politics. The critique of Indian fascism cannot take refuge in Gandhi and Nehru.  

Not only would emanicipatory politics emerge from the critique of Gandhi and the Congress, but also the revolution. And to those who imagine that the Indian right-wing is critical of Gandhi and the Congress, I will say in a very Ambedkarite tone that Indian fascism (while abusing Nehru) is nothing but different manifestations of Gandhism and the Congress. What does this mean?  Does this mean that Savarkar and Gandhi are the same? Does this mean that Hind Swaraj and Essentials of Hindutva are the same? 

The answer that needs to be given is that one needs a rigorous Marxist philosophy to get a proper and coherent answer and merely pattering on with random statements will simply not help. Merely claiming that RSS is fascistic and Gandhism is about all the virtues of the world will simply not solve the problem. The masses for instance are neither interested in the RSS nor in Gandhism. And we need to talk to the masses. And when we talk it has to be philosophical. It has to talk of humanity and human freedom. And as we well know Gandhism, was and is, neither interested in humanity nor human freedom. Merely mentioning Tolstoy and Ruskin and then imagining that Gandhi was another great novelist is out of question.

The first point in this rigorous Marxist philosophy is that Marxism is not an ideology. Instead as I had said first in an article in Economic & Political Weekly then followed by an article in Critique that Marxism has to be understood as “desireology” and that authentic dialectical materialism moves from the realm of “ideas” to the core material body. What defenders of Gandhi have done is that they have become merely “ideological” and in this realm of ideology there is a great fight taking place between the tolerancewallas and those against it.

While I am clear that Gandhi stands for the Indian counterrevolution and that not only did Ambedkar theorize on the same, but also was pointed out by revolutionaries like Trotsky. This is how the argument goes. There are three parts of the argument. They go thus:

1.      How does one theorize on the Ambedkar-Gandhi debate in the age of global fascism? Does Ambedkar’s radical critical of Gandhi as counterrevolutionary avant la lettre have meaning in his age of global fascism? Or can Gandhi be mobilized against fascism just as he (as the myth created by the liberal goes) fought against British colonialism? Can one make a bridge between Gandhi and Ambedkar? Or would such a manufactured bridge be a mythical bridge like the bridge that leads the immortal souls to the even more immortal and imagined heaven?

2.      I then moved to my second point and say that Marx scholarship should be a model and the work done by the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe  or the Collected Works of Marx and Engels started by David Riazanov in the 1920s in Moscow and now carried out at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam is an example of how research ought to be done. Another example is Freud Studies where studies in psychoanalysis are done. My point was that serious research involves scientific thinking and scientific organization. Ideology will simply not do. And what does scientific thinking do? It moves from the realm of ideology and ideologies to the material basis. It thus goes directly into the economic mode of production and thus claims that ideologies of manifold kinds are mere manifestations of this economic basis. Thus it is to the critique of political economy that one needs to turn ones attention. For Gandhi, the economic basis was capitalism, and he was the staunchest supporter of capitalism both theoretically and also as mobilizer for funds. Even then Gandhi’s type of capitalism was a brutal form of agrarian, pre-machinery capitalism where caste had necessarily to exist.

3.      My third point that in the age of global capitalism where “post-truth” prevails and where the truths of Marx and Ambedkar are buried, liberalism and fascism which are both the manifestations of the same economic base of capitalism appears as different. Both seem to sell different commodities, when in actuality they sell the very same commodity. I also said that instead of dealing with actual problems of the masses when one turns one’s attentions to stupid assertions as to who killed or did not kill Gandhi seems an extremely pervert point of view. I said that liberals would only be writing manuals tilted The Liberal’s Guide to Perversion.  What I then said is that for Revolutionary Marxism there is no distinction between liberalism and fascism, I said that liberalism is nothing but fascism without a gun, just as fascism is liberalism with a gun. Likewise there is no difference for Ambedarite philosophy between Gandhi and Godse. Thus Gandhi was nothing but Godse without a gun, just as Godse was Gandhi with a gun. For both liberalism and fascism, Gandhi and Godse guns are of vital importance.

It was Goebbels the propagandist of the Nazis who had said that when he hears of culture he reaches out for his gun. But here it were the Gandhians reached out for their guns against communism long before fascism became a fashion in India. “How dare”, so the Gandhians say “can one insult the father of the nation?” After all, does not one know (according to their very tolerant imagination) that the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost can never be critiqued?

            Yes we live in the age of fascism. But we see many types of fascists. But then we do not even know what fascism is. After all, we know that when the liberal is in power he becomes a fascist and when not in power he even becomes a socialist. But this has not yet answered our questions: “What is fascism? Is not fascism merely potent liberalism or liberalism charged with a dose of Viagra?”

            We need to conclude: fascism is not the problem, capitalism is. Capitalism is the brute reality that we live in and fascism is its inevitable manifestation. It is liberalism that squashes all desire for revolutionary resistance. Fascism unwittingly hastens the revolution, but for that it is communism that should learn the fine details of dialectical materialism. We know that fascism globally has given way to communist seizure of power and the consolidation of left movements. But for the growth of the left, one must not borrow from the ideological cranium of Gandhism, must stop sheepishly defending Nehru. After all, the left can grow only from a real understanding of dialectics. It can also grow with revolutionary commitment. Liberalism and Gandhism destroy the will to revolution.  

Statement on India’s Revocation of Jammu & Kashmir’s Autonomous Status by the Indian Government


 Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists

As the Indian government resorts to annexation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir at gunpoint, detaining its political leaders and cutting off all means of communication, we extend our solidarity to the people of Jammu and Kashmir as they struggle for their most basic rights and freedoms.

The people of Kashmir were never given the option of having their own state. Since 1947, their land has been fought over by India and Pakistan and divided between the two. At Independence in August 1947, Jammu and Kashmir was a princely state ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh, and was given the choice to join either India or Pakistan. Since J&K was a Muslim-majority state, many expected it to join Pakistan. On the other hand, the party leading the independence struggle, the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, was secular and allied to the Indian National Congress.

As the Maharaja dithered over the decision, there was a Pakistan-backed invasion of tribesmen from the west in October 1947, and Hari Singh appealed to India to help fight them. India agreed on condition that J&K accede to India, and the Maharaja signed the instrument of accession which on the Indian side was conditional on approval by the people of the state. As fighting continued, the UN Security Council passed a resolution requiring Pakistan to withdraw its forces, India to withdraw most of its forces, and a plebiscite to be held to decide whether Kashmir should join India or Pakistan. However, neither side withdrew their forces, the plebiscite was never held, and the state has remained divided to this day.

In 1952, on the Indian side, Article 370, which specified the conditions on which the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) had acceded to India, was incorporated into the Constitution of India on the recommendation of the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir. In 1954, Article 35A was added with the agreement of the J&K Constituent Assembly. Since the Constituent Assembly dissolved itself on 25 January 1957 without recommending revocation of Article 370, it has been deemed to be permanent by the Supreme Court of India.

On 5 August 2019, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of India revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which had given the state of J&K a considerable degree of autonomy, including having its own constitution and its own flag.

The Constitution of India does allow Article 370 to be revoked, but only with the prior approval of the Kashmiri people’s elected representatives in J&K’s constituent assembly. Even the approval of J&K’s legislative assembly was not sought because it had been dissolved in November 2018 by the BJP-appointed governor. On August 5, he fraudulently provided consent on behalf of millions of Kashmiris as they were held in captivity in their homes at gunpoint, while elected political leaders, even those who have been in coalitions with the BJP, were detained and all means of communication, including cellphones, landlines and the internet, were cut off.

The Revocation of Article 370 also involved the scrapping of Article 35A of the Indian constitution, which, crucially, reserved the right to own land and immoveable property, as well as the right to vote and contest elections, to seek government employment and obtain state welfare benefits, to permanent residents of the state. Now, J&K has been carved up into two Union Territories ruled directly from Delhi, a move designed to further humiliate the already subjugated population.

This revocation by the Indian government is the most impressive feat yet achieved in the BJP’s steady demolition of India’s democracy over the past five years. The central government’s unilateral abrogation of the terms on which Kashmir acceded to India means that the state is no longer legally linked to India, and India becomes a foreign occupying power. Previous governments have been guilty of grievous violations of Article 370 as well as human rights violations in Kashmir, but this is the first time that the Indian military occupation of Kashmir has no legal basis whatsoever.

The excuses provided by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah for making this move – to end separatist violence and develop J&K to the level of the rest of India – make no sense. Separatist violence will not be ended by enraging even those Kashmiris who previously wanted to be part of India by demolishing their democratic rights. The economic arguments the Indian government gives are bogus too.

Far from lagging behind the rest of India, Kashmir is ahead of many states in India, including Modi’s and BJP president and government minister, Amit Shah’s home state of Gujarat. Kashmir has much lower infant and under-five mortality rates, lower percentages of underweight children and women, higher percentages of fully immunised children and girls aged 15-19 with at least 8 years of schooling, and higher life expectancy despite the ongoing conflict. Most strikingly, the poverty ratio in Kashmir is much lower than the national average. This is in large part due to Kashmir’s own constitution, under which extensive land reforms were undertaken in the 1950s, drastically reducing the landlessness and rural poverty which haunt the rest of India. Kashmir’s special status has been responsible for this reduction in poverty, both by allowing for the land reforms and by preventing non-Kashmiris from acquiring land in Kashmir.

This brings us to the real reasons, political, economic and ideological, why this drastic move has been made by India: it opens the door to a land-grab by settlers from the rest of India, which will also make it possible to change the demography of J&K. Muslim-majority Kashmir has always been a thorn in the flesh of Hindu supremacists, who in 1948 had killed and expelled hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Jammu. The abrogation of Article 370 allows them to ‘integrate’ J&K into India by changing its ethnic composition. In other words, the intention is to turn Kashmir into a settler-colony like Palestine. It is not a coincidence that India, which from Independence had been a strong supporter of the Palestinian liberation struggle, has under Modi – the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel and literally embrace Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu – become a staunch ally of Israel.

At the same time, Pakistan-backed Islamic fundamentalists (both armed and unarmed) who call for uniting Kashmir with Pakistan offer an ‘alternative’ that would be disastrous for women, religious minorities, and the secular majority. They have acted in tandem with the Hindu supremacists to silence progressive voices and undermine democracy in Kashmir.

Meanwhile, the war hysteria whipped up by Hindu supremacists in India and Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan serves to divert attention from the abysmal failure of both these states to satisfy even the most basic needs of their people, and can lead to an escalation of the armed conflict between them. Russia backs India, China backs Pakistan, and the US calls on India and Pakistan to remain calm, while Trump’s overt racism and anti-Muslim bigotry serves to encourage the same attitudes in India.

At this moment of unprecedented trauma and repression, we, the Alliance of Middle Eastern and North African Socialists, express our whole-hearted solidarity with the people of Jammu & Kashmir and reaffirm their fundamental right to determine their own future in their own land. At a time when support for Jammu & Kashmir’s freedom is treated as treason in both India and Pakistan, we would especially like to extend our solidarity to socialists and progressives there and their counterparts in India and Pakistan.

August 12, 2019

Alliance of Middle East Socialists

সংবিধানের ৩৭০ ও ৩৫এ ধারা বাতিল প্রসঙ্গে র‍্যাডিক্যাল সোশ্যালিস্টের অবস্থান


র‍্যাডিক্যাল সোশ্যালিস্ট দ্ব্যর্থহীন কণ্ঠে ও দৃঢ়তার সঙ্গে সংবিধানের ৩৭০ ধারার মূল লক্ষ্য ও উদ্দেশ্য কার্যত বাতিল করা এবং ৩৫এ ধারা রদ করার বিরোধিতা করে নিন্দা জানাচ্ছে। একটি অগণতান্ত্রিক ও অসাংবিধানিক আইনি মারপ্যাঁচের মাধ্যমে এবং একইসাথে কাশ্মীরের মানুষকে উদ্দেশ্যপ্রণোদিতভাবে সশস্ত্র ভীতিপ্রদর্শনের মাধ্যমে এই কাজটি করা হয়েছে। যা ঘটেছে তাকে বলা চলে অসৎ, এবং সংবিধানের উক্ত ধারাগুলির মূল লক্ষ্য এবং উদ্দেশ্যগুলির প্রতি প্রতারণা ও জালিয়াতি ।

৩৭০ ধারা বাতিল করার একমাত্র উপায় হল জম্মু-কাশ্মীরের সংবিধান সভার পুনর্গঠন এবং সেখানে এই প্রস্তাব নেওয়া। কারণ এই প্রতিষ্ঠানটি ১৯৫৭ সালে ভেঙ্গে দেওয়া হয়। কোনরকম সাংবিধানিক সংশোধন ছাড়া অবৈধভাবে একটি রাষ্ট্রপতির আদেশ জারি করে সংবিধানের ৩৬৭ ধারা বদল করে এর মাধ্যমে নির্লজ্জভাবে জম্মু-কাশ্মীরের বিধানসভার ক্ষমতা ঐ সংবিধান-সভার সমতুল্য বলে দেখানো হয়। এই শেষোক্ত প্রতিষ্ঠান অনেক বেশি সার্বভৌমিক ক্ষমতার অধিকারী। যেহেতু জম্মু-কাশ্মীরে এখন রাষ্ট্রপতির শাসন চলছে সেহেতু রাজ্যপালের সুপারিশের ভিত্তিতে রাষ্ট্রপতি সংবিধানের ৩৭০ ও ৩৫এ ধারার বিলোপ ঘটায়। তাছাড়া স্বাধীন ভারতে এই প্রথম সংসদের দুই কক্ষে একটি রাজ্য পুনর্গঠন বিল পেশ করা ও গৃহীত হয় যার মাধ্যমে একটি রাজ্যের মর্যাদা হ্রাস করে তা অবলুপ্তি ঘটিয়ে দুটি কেন্দ্র-শাসিত অঞ্চলে ভেঙ্গে দেওয়া হয়। এই কেন্দ্র-শাসিত অঞ্চলগুলির একটির – জম্মু-কাশ্মীরের - পন্ডিচেরি ও দিল্লির মতো আইনসভা থাকবে আর লাদাখ দেশের আরও পাঁচটি কেন্দ্র-শাসিত অঞ্চলের মতো এই অধিকার ভোগ করবে না। চাপের মুখে নতিস্বীকার করে বিরোধী দলগুলি বিজেপির পক্ষ না নিলে এই রাজ্য পুনর্গঠন বিল পাশ করানো যেত না।

কংগ্রেস দল (যে দল ঐতিহাসিকভাবে জম্মু-কাশ্মীরের স্বশাসনের ধারাবাহিক অবনতি ঘটিয়েছে) সরকারিভাবে বর্তমান সরকারের এই পদক্ষেপের বিরোধিতা করছে। যদিও অভিষেক সিংহভি এবং জ্যোতিরাদিত্য সিন্ধিয়ার মতো কোন কোন কংগ্রেসের নেতা এই কাজের বিরোধিতা করেন নি, শুধুমাত্র পদ্ধতির সমালোচনা করেছেন। একমাত্র বামপন্থীরাই এর বিরোধিতায় রাস্তায় নেমেছে এবং সারা ভারতে প্রতিবাদ করেছে।

আমদের কোন দ্বিধা থাকা উচিত নয় যে বিজেপি সরকার ও সঙ্ঘ পরিবারের এই নির্লজ্জ রাজনৈতিক ও সামরিক দখলদারির মূল কারণ হল ক) প্রথমত মুসলমানের প্রতি ঘৃণা, এবং যেখানে জম্মু-কাশ্মীর কার্যত দেশের একমাত্র মুসলমান প্রধান রাজ্য ছিল। খ) দ্বিতীয়ত উপত্যকার মানুষের ওপর আরও বেশি আঘাত নামানো। সেই কারণেই ৬,৫০,০০০ ফৌজির উপস্থিতি সত্ত্বেও আরও ৩৫,০০০ সৈন্য পাঠানো হয়। কাশ্মীরের রাজনৈতিক নেতাদের গৃহবন্দী করে রাখা হয়, কারফিউ জারি করা হয় এবং উপত্যকার সমস্ত যোগাযোগ ব্যবস্থা ছিন্ন করে দেওয়া হয়। গ) তৃতীয়ত হিন্দু রাষ্ট্র নির্মাণের পথে এটি একটি গুরুত্বপূর্ণ পদক্ষেপ। ঘ) চতুর্থত এর মাধ্যমে পাকিস্তান, মার্কিন যুক্তরাষ্ট্র ও অন্যান্যদের রাজনৈতিক বার্তা পাঠানো যে পাকিস্তানের সাথে দ্বিপাক্ষিকভাবে মীমাংসা করার মতো কোন "আঞ্চলিক দ্বন্দ্ব" নেই। রাষ্ট্রপুঞ্জ বা আন্তর্জাতিক স্তরে মীমাংসার কোন প্রশ্নই ওঠে না। কোনরকমের মানবিক বিবেচনার বিষয় নেই এখানে।

অদূর ও সুদূর ভবিষ্যতে কী হতে পারে


  • বিষটি সুপ্রীম কোর্টে যাবে এবং একটি সাংবিধানিক বেঞ্চ গঠন করা হবে। এই মুহুর্তে সুপ্রীম কোর্ট শাসকের ইচ্ছা ও ক্ষমতার যে পরিমাণ অধস্তন তাতে এই বেঞ্চ এই বিষয়ে চূড়ান্ত রায়প্রদানের আগে স্থগিতাদেশ জারি করে সাময়িকভাবে একে রদ করার কোন সাহস বা সততা প্রদর্শন করতে পারবে কিনা সন্দেহ আছে। এই ধারাগুলি সম্পর্কিত নির্দিষ্ট সাংবিধানিক বিধান নিয়ে তারা কতটা সৎ ও বিশ্বস্ত থাকতে পারবে একথা বলা দুষ্কর। সর্বসম্মতিতে না হলেও এই বেঞ্চ যে সম্ভবত সংখ্যাগরিষ্ঠের মতামতের ভিত্তিতে ৩৭০ ও ৩৫এ ধারার বাতিলের ওপর আইনী সীলমোহর দেবে সেই সম্ভাবনা প্রবল। রাজ্যের -- জম্মু-কাশ্মীর এবং লাদাখের মর্যাদা হ্রাসের বিপক্ষে আদালত রায় দিতে পারে, যদিও তা নিয়ে সন্দেহ আছে।
  • আগামী নির্বাচনের দিকে তাকিয়ে জম্মু-কাশ্মীরের নির্বাচনের আগে একটি আসন পুনর্গঠন কমিশন গঠন করে বিধানসভা ও লোকসভা কেন্দ্রগুলির পুনর্বিন্যাস করা হবে। চেষ্টা করা হবে জম্মু অঞ্চলে যত বেশি সম্ভব আসন রাখা যায় যাতে বিজেপি ও তার সঙ্গীরা সহজে সংখ্যাগরিষ্ঠতা পেতে পারে।
  • জম্মু-কাশ্মীরের এবং বিশেষ করে উপত্যকার জন অনুপাত বদলে দেওয়ার পদ্ধতি শুরু করার জন্য ৩৫এ ধারার বিলোপ জরুরী ছিল। চেষ্টা চলবে যাতে উপত্যকায় মুসলমানদের সংখ্যালঘু করা যায়।
  • কাশ্মীর উপত্যকায় এর বিরুদ্ধে মানুষ, বিশেষ করে যুবসমাজ, ক্ষোভ-বিক্ষোভে ফেটে পড়বে। তারা আরও বেশি করে ভারতের থেকে দূরে সরে যাবে। আরও বেশি করে জঙ্গি তৈরি হবে এবং তাদের প্রতি সাধারণ মানুষের সমর্থন আরও বাড়বে। সীমান্তের দুই পারের জঙ্গিদের সহযোগিতা বেড়ে যাবে এবং পাকিস্তান সরকার তাতে মদত যোগাবে। এই ধরণের পরিস্থিতি এবং এমন কি মানুষের অহিংস আন্দোলনকে কাজে লাগিয়ে ভারত সরকার ও সেনাবাহিনী আরও বেশি নৃশংসতা ও দমন-নিপীড়ন নামিয়ে আনবে মানুষের ওপর। ‘সন্ত্রাসবাদ’ দমনের নয়া সংশোধিত আইন এবং ‘বেআইনি কার্যকলাপ দমন আইন ২০১৯’ বা ইউএপিএ প্রয়োগের মাধ্যমে নির্বিচারে এবং সন্দেহের বশে যে কোন ব্যক্তিকে আটক, হয়রানি এবং নির্যাতন করা হবে।
  • এই অঞ্চলের উন্নয়ন কতটা আটকে ছিল এবং তা কীভাবে শুরু করা যায় – এই আলোচনার পেছনে রয়েছে সঙ্ঘ পরিবারের মূল লক্ষ্য উপত্যকার আরও বেশি ‘ভারতভুক্তির’ মাধ্যমে ওখানকার সমস্ত প্রতিরোধ পাশবিক শক্তি ও সামরিক দখলদারির মাধ্যমে গুঁড়িয়ে দেওয়া
  • পাকিস্তানের সঙ্গে সীমান্ত সঙ্ঘর্ষের সম্ভাবনা ব্যাপক বৃদ্ধি পাবে। এগুলি কোন কোন মাত্রায় প্রথাগত যুদ্ধের রূপ নিতে পারে। এর ফলে ভুলবশত বা অনিচ্ছাকৃত পারমাণবিক অস্ত্র ব্যবহারের সম্ভাবনা উড়িয়ে দেওয়া যায় না।
  • বর্তমান সরকারের এই পদক্ষেপের বিরোধিতার পরিবর্তে দেশজোড়া বিপুল সমর্থন প্রমাণ করে যে উদ্ধত, আক্রমণাত্মক পেশী-প্রদর্শনকারী হিন্দুত্বের বিষদাঁত আজ সমাজের কত গভীরে প্রবেশ করেছে এবং তা কি পরিমাণে ব্যপ্ত। কোন বিরোধী দল এমন কি মূলধারার সংসদীয় বাম দলগুলিও ধারাবাহিকভাবে এবং গুরুত্বের সাথে এই ‘শক্তিশালী’ ভারতবর্ষ নির্মাণের সাম্প্রদায়িক ও অগণতান্ত্রিক পদ্ধতির বিরোধিতা করে নি। এই আধিপত্যবাদী ভাবনার মোকাবিলা করতে এক দীর্ঘকালীন লড়াইয়ের মাধ্যমে যার জন্য প্রয়োজন এক নতুন আপসহীন বামপন্থা।

আমাদের সতর্ক করার কারণ এই যে যুক্তরাষ্ট্রীয় কাঠামো ও রাষ্ট্রের ক্ষমতার ক্ষয় আসলে হিন্দুত্ব প্রকল্পেরই একটি অংশ। যে আঞ্চলিক দলগুলি কেন্দ্রের বিজেপির সাথে অঘোষিত, অবাঞ্ছনীয় আপোষের মাধ্যমে নিজেদের শক্তি বৃদ্ধির আশা করছে, বাস্তবে তারা আসলে আরো বড় বিপদের সম্ভাবনা বহন করছে।

হিন্দুত্ব প্রকল্পের বিপদের কথা মাথায় রেখে যারা এর বিরোধিতা করছেন, সেইসব প্রগতিশীল মানুষের আছে আমাদের আহ্বান, আপনারা সকলে কাশ্মীরের মানুষের পাশে দাঁড়িয়ে সহমর্মিতা পোষণ করুন। কাশ্মীরীদের প্রতি ন্যায়বিচার ও সম্মান তাদের স্বাধীন চলাফেরা ও দ্রুত অসামরিকীকরণ দাবি করে। ইচ্ছানুসারে গণতান্ত্রিক পদ্ধতিতে ন্যায়সঙ্গত ক্ষোভের প্রকাশ ও সংগঠিত প্রতিবাদ তাদের অধিকার।

আমরা এই বেড়ে ওঠা প্রান্তিকীকরণ, জাতিগত বর্ণবৈষম্যবাদ, সামরিক জাতীয়তাবাদের তীব্র প্রতিবাদ করছি । আমরা দৃঢ়ভাবে মনে করি কাশ্মীরের নিপীড়িত মানুষের রাজনৈতিক আত্মনিয়ন্ত্রণের সম্পুর্ণ অধিকার আছে।



Radical Socialist stand on the Scrapping of Articles 370 and 35A

Radical Socialist resolutely and unequivocally oppose and condemn the effective abrogation of the fundamental meaning and purpose of Article 370 and the overturning of Article 35A. This was carried out through anti-democratic, unconstitutional legal manoeuvrings and accompanied by the deliberate armed intimidation of the people of Kashmir. What has taken place is dishonest and a fraud on both the letter and spirit of the relevant Constitutional provisions.

Abrogation of Article 370 could only have been done with the assent of a reconstituted J&K Constituent Assembly which was dissolved in 1957. So first a Presidential Order impermissibly (without a Constitutional amendment) changes Article 367 so as to shamefully equate the J&K state assembly which has representative authority to the Constituent Assembly which has a superior sovereign authority. Since there is President’s Rule in J&K, on the recommendation of the Governor, the President then acts to scrap Articles 370 and 35A. Furthermore, for the first time in the history of independent India, a Reorganisation Bill was presented and passed in the two houses of Parliament to downgrade a region having the status of a state into two bifurcated Union Territories of J&K, which like New Delhi and Puducherry will be allowed to have a legislature, while Ladakh will join the five other Union Territories that have no legislature. This Reorganisation Bill at least would not have gone through if it was not for the pusillanimity of the opposition parties which went along with the BJP.

The Congress (most responsible historically for systematically eroding J&K autonomy) formally opposed these actions by the current government but with some of its leaders (e.g., Abishek Singhvi and Jyotirmoy Scindia) and members voicing objection to the manner in which this was done but not to the outcome. Only the mainstream left parties immediately organised street protests and called for an all-India day of protest.

Let us be very clear, the main motivation for this sanctioning of a brazen political and military occupation by the BJP government and Sangh is a) first, hatred of Muslims and the fact that this was the only Muslim majority state in the country. b) Second, it expresses the determination to humiliate the Valley population hence the prior sending of 35,000 more troops beyond the more than 650,000 armed personnel already there, along with house arrests of leaders of the mainstream Kashmiri parties, curfew orders and a complete communications lockdown on the whole of the Valley population. c) Third, it is to further advance the project of establishing a Hindu Rashtra. d) Fourth, it is a way of sending a geo-political message to Pakistan, the US and the rest of the world that there is no longer any ‘regional dispute’ that must be settled bilaterally with Pakistan, let alone that it should feature in any way on the UN or international agenda, humanitarian considerations be damned!

What now to expect in the shorter and longer run

  • The issue will be taken to the Supreme Court (SC) and a Constitution bench will be set up. This bench, given how suborned the SC has now become to the will and power of the Executive, will never have the courage or integrity to even give a stay order temporarily halting and reversing what has been done till a final judgement is reached, let alone be honest and faithful to the precise constitutional provisions regarding these Articles. This bench can be fully expected to endorse by a majority, if not by consensus, the abrogation of 370 and 35A. It is possible, but still unlikely, that there will even be a ruling against the downgrading of status from state to Union Territory in either or both of the cases. 
  • A Delimitation Commission is very likely to be set up probably before forthcoming elections to the J&K legislature to gerrymander more assembly and LS seats for the Jammu region so as to enable a majority for the BJP and allies via future elections.
  • Scrapping of 35A was necessary to begin the process of changing the demography of J&K, including of the Valley, so as to eventually render Muslims living there a minority.
  • In the Valley there will be growing anger and deeper and wider public alienation from the rest of India especially among the youth. There will very likely be greater recruitment and support for, as well as collaboration with, cross-border insurgent forces themselves abetted by the Pakistan government. This, and even non-violent mass actions will be taken as an excuse by the Indian government and armed forces for the exercise of greater brutality and repression including use of the newly amended legislations on ‘terrorism’ and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA to arbitrarily and pre-emptively arrest, harass and even torture those deemed as ‘suspects’.
  • For all the talk about how development in the region was stalled and can now proceed, in actual fact the Sangh’s Hindutva project in the Valley is to ‘integrate’ it by trying to completely finish off all popular resistance through brutal force and enduring military occupation.
  • The likelihood of cross-border military skirmishes with Pakistan rises significantly as also the possibility of these turning into a conventional war of some scale and degree thereby also raising the chances of a miscalculated or inadvertent nuclear exchange breaking out.
  • The fact that this move by the current government will generate throughout the rest of the country far more public support than opposition, reflects how deep and widespread are the tentacles today of a hubristic, aggressively muscular Hindu nationalism. None of the opposition parties, including the mainstream electoral Left, have consistently or seriously opposed this anti-secular and anti-democratic way of trying to build a ‘strong’ India. This way of thinking has become largely hegemonic and requires a long term fight by a new intransigent Left.
Our Position

We warn that the erosion of federalism and state powers more generally, is very much part of the Hindutva project and carries a danger even for those regional forces who think they can grow and expand through their despicable alliances and tacit agreements with the BJP at the Centre.

We call on all progressive-minded people who recognise the Hindutva project for what it is and oppose it, to stand in solidarity with the people of Kashmir. Justice and respect for Kashmiris demands the immediate de-militarisation of the Valley and the complete freedom for them to move around, to voice their legitimate anger at how they have been treated and to democratically protest in whatever way they see fit.   

We strongly oppose the kind of exclusivist, culturally racist and militaristic nationalism that is being generated and of course reaffirm the right to full political self-determination by the oppressed people of Kashmir. 




There is no Caste discrimination in West Bengal?

By Maroona Murmu


Note by Administrator:  Dr. Maroona Murmu, Associate Professor of History, Jadavpur University, wrote an article in Bangla in Ananda Bazar Patrika, which has generated a huge debate on social media. She has been supported, as well as condemned. Condemnation and criticism has come from dominant caste Hindus claiming as usual that casteism happens only due to reservations, but also from adivasis taking a kind of adivasi purist stance. Dr. Murmu has issued the following translation on Facebook with a short preface. We are reproducing the entire thing with her permission because the article, and the subsequent debate, raises important questions about how radical politics needs to be configured in West Bengal. -- Admin, Radical Socialist


Some of you who are not acquainted with Bengali might think why my wall is flooded with my saree-clad photo. Recently I wrote a post-editorial in a popular newspaper, Anandabazar Patrika. It created a hue and cry because I have written on the prevalence of caste discrimination in West Bengal which is otherwise considered to be progressive and liberal. If you are interested in knowing the cause of tirade against me, here is a translation of the piece.
I am grateful to my friend Anirban who helped me translate a draft version of the paper earlier. This translation is mostly mine.

There is no caste discrimination in West Bengal?
Exactly like the Santhals

Recently, there was an uproar concerning caste-based abuse on the head of the Geography Department of Rabindra Bharati University, Dr. Saraswati Kerketta. She was physically and emotionally harassed citing her caste, skin tone, birthplace and gender. The incident took a political hue. As if this has never happened in West Bengal before. Due to pervasive dominance of the upper castes over political, social, economic and cultural domains, political or academic discourses dismiss caste-based dominance as an illogical and irrelevant analytical category. Ironically enough, the very fact that such dismissive generalization goes unchallenged shows up how strong or pervasive the caste system has been in practice. I am forced, as a member of the Santhal community, to expose this skillfully devised myth that caste does not exist in West Bengal.
Sometime ago, an adivasi professor of a university in Kolkata informed me about slow and steady everyday practices of social discrimination she faced from her childhood. Every time her family members carried harvested paddy over to the upper caste households, the yard would be cleansed with a paste made of cow dung and water to remove pollution caused by the entry of lower caste individuals within an upper caste household. As a standard five student, a Brahman batchmate once ordered her to touch her feet as part of her body accidentally came in contact with that of the Brahman classmate. She complained against the discriminatory practice of adivasi students being singled out for cleaning the restrooms of the residential school where she studied. The authorities retorted: How can a poor adivasi girl dare to challenge their style of operation?
How true! How audacious of an adivasi girl to even think of having the right to feel humiliated, insulted or possess a sense of honour and dignity. They are reserved for the upper castes since time immemorial and for all times to come. According to the convention, adivasi are allowed to enrol after general candidates and assigned the last roll numbers. An upper caste classmate informed her how, she, despite being a member of the upper caste, befriended a student belonging to the last few roll numbers and shared the same table at lunch, marvelling at her own generosity and progressiveness. What an accomplishment!

Later, in the college hostel, she once hurriedly turned off the faucet seeing her classmate’s water bucket overflowing. Her classmate overturned the bucket filled with water. In government propaganda, water is life. It becomes an issue of great concern if that precious life is defiled by an untouchable. The mother of her roommate in the accommodation where she previously lived nonchalantly addressed her: Hey, Santhal girl. Obviously, Santhals do not possess an identity of their own. When she applied for her passport, the same roommate asked with profound amazement – “Even you would be going abroad?”
She ‘suffered’ from a unique disqualification of possessing fair complexion. Seeing such a strange adivasi, the bhadralok observers would patronisingly greet her with a grin – “Oh! You look like us!”. She retorts – “You don’t even have the ability to understand how insulting your praise is to me”. When she was appointed as Assistant Professor in a university, the head of her Department informed her that the students did not wish to study grammar and dense theoretical papers with her. O yes, these subjects are the ancestral professional preserve of the educated elites of our society.
Going back to the past – my mother Shelley is probably the first Hindu Bengali woman in West Bengal to fall in love with an adivasi batchmate in the university and marry him subsequently. Neither the adivasi community, nor the Bengali Hindu society was willing to recognise this marriage socially. So, in my forlorn childhood, the feeling of insecurity was my sole companion. This was compounded by my existential crisis. I was made to understand early in my childhood that I was only a ‘marginal other’. The Hindu Bengali bhadralok society did neither grant me the right nor the permission to live just as a ‘human being’, an unmarked individual.

Those who believe that identity-based mobilisation makes room for divisive politics, let me tell them that the very prejudice that predisposes them to somehow tie me down to an essentialist paternal ethnicity fixes me up as an irreversible ‘other’ in societal perception. I would often be made to face my utterly marginal location, even as a child, as if I was an exhibit in a museum of strange objects. I was a second standard student when the class teacher made me stand up and asked if I belonged to the ST category. I was struck dumb. My parents never informed me that I was the holder and bearer of those two letters or what those stood for. Otherwise an alert student who promptly answered all questions, my silence had raised the eyebrows of my class teacher. I could not comprehend whether she was surprised or irritated but I did realise that I was something that the rest of the students in the class were certainly not. I was somehow fundamentally different from others.
When I was in the eighth standard, those two letters came back to haunt me yet again. There was a turmoil at home on the issue of obtaining a “ST” certificate and me getting photographed for it. My mother argued that since I was a good student, I need not apply for that certificate. But my father believed that it was a formal recognition of my ethnic identity, and therefore a highly desirable and affirmative exercise. It was after all an official recognition of my very existence as an adivasi. The disagreement ended and I became an officially certified member of the Scheduled Tribe community.
Thanks to my father Gurucharan Murmu’s government service, we were a comfortable middle-class family. My father could buy me quality education that ensured sufficient academic competence in my early years. This secured me a seat as an Honours graduate student of History in the most eminent undergraduate college in Calcutta in those times. But in this case, my lack of cultural capital cannot be wished away. Even after three years in that premier college, I had not heard of the world-famous social sciences university in Delhi, where I eventually went up for higher studies. A classmate had perchance purchased two forms for the entrance test and passed me the spare one and I incidentally got selected. I was hurt, when I came to know that my “ST” identity is the only benchmark to my friend and her family. I woke up to the reality when the father of this Brahman batchmate called my mother, enquiring if she would be interested in a groom for me. The groom had made it to the hallowed Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and was therefore eminently eligible but was not good enough for the admittedly proud Brahman family. Even the most prestigious government job in the country was not going to make him or her suitable enough for an upper caste match. Just like the admission form, the groom was in excess.
Intriguingly enough, even at that famed bastion of progressive politics and pedagogy where I continued my post-graduate studies in Delhi, my birth and ethnicity appeared as a negative influence and I was made to understand that I did not belong to the mainstream. My formal training in vocal music for over a decade and a half prompted me to carry on research in the social history of the origin and development of the Bishnupur school of classical music in the second half of eighteenth-century Bengal. But the Chairperson of the Centre replied: 'Being a tribal you want to work on high culture? You are not even an insider.’ Forever an outsider to the classical high culture of the bhadralok, it was as though my adivasi origin had permanently limited the range of what I am allowed to research.
I now teach in a five-star university in the heart of urban Kolkata. The place is well known as a nursery of protests and as a bastion of progressive politics. Yet, there too I have seen several instances of everyday casteism. Derogatory phrases like sonar chand or sonar tukro would be casually tossed around in departmental meetings. These are sarcastic Bengali phrases punning with the abbreviations of Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes with the metaphorical connotation conveying ‘privileged ones.’ To several upper caste department heads, the very idea of a competent Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe professional appeared as an impossibility. The mere mention of some surnames would be enough for them to deduce that those candidates were academically worthless. They were cocksure that the ability of those candidates did not require any test. I was once told that some students felt that they did not have much to learn from my classes, presumably because I looked like an African. While taking a class on Modern Indian Political Thought, I even heard my female students admit that they would never marry a man who belonged to the ‘lower caste’ or the ‘Muslim’ community. This is frightening as many of these students are now teachers in schools and will successfully carry forward the dreadful tradition of casteism. I have heard that many among them still believe, even in this twenty-first century when Indian satellite is orbiting Mars, that there should be separate cremation grounds for dalits and adivasis. Even in death, ‘impure’ lower caste people do not lose their ability to pollute the upper castes. Times are strange indeed. The older I grow, the more I learn that logic or reason do not travel equitably.
The more genteel bhadralok society display casteism through their cultural aggression. A colleague once told me that I did not look like a typical Santhal. On being asked how a typical Santhal should look, the colleague offered a description that more or less matched with how Satyajit Ray had portrayed Duli the Santhal woman in his film Aranyer Dinratri. Ray, a filmmaker who had otherwise acquired a worldwide reputation for his meticulous attention to details, did not hesitate to transform a fair skinned Simi Garewal, with her pointed nose and large eyes into a Santhal woman with a dab of soot on her body. The Santhals continue to bear the literary or cinematic burden of such cultural stereotypes
This perception is so widespread that it is easy to draw random samples. Take for instance this new dictionary called Abhinaba Bangla Abhidhan (A Unique Bengali Dictionary) published by the Unique Book Centre. Unique indeed! Professor Debashish Dutta, defines Santhals as ‘Original residents of Santhal Pargana, an uncivilised community.’ We are proud to be ‘uncivilised’. The ‘civilised’ community has no attention to spare for the unique culture that informs our lifeworlds and livelihoods. Their most usual means of dispensing cultural patronage is to call us over for a dance performance, whether it is for government-sponsored pageantry, at an expensive private retreat or family gatherings. In no uncertain terms, I register my severest contempt for such civilised endeavours.