Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Footsteps of a Goan Revolution

Politics, it has been said, is the last refuge of scoundrels. In the days following the uprisings in Carmona, Siridao and Aldona, another fact has also been thrown into sharp focus; Law too, is the last refuge of scoundrels. Not for the first time, following the direct actions of residents concerned with the mutilation of their immediate environment, the ‘developmental’ interests involved (and they are Goan!) have mobilized the Law to cow down the popular protests that are thankfully becoming a part of Goan public life. The Gram Sabha, they inform us, has no real authority to reject, when the elected representatives or other authorities have already granted permission to projects.

My aim in this intervention is not to suggest that the Gram Sabha does in fact in law have a right to reject a project once it has already been approved by the concerned authorities. There is without doubt in the current events that are taking place in Goa, a clear rejection of the procedure of law, a rejection of the authorities set up by law. Of this let us not be in any doubt. Let us also acknowledge that in the manner in which Gram Sabhas are being organized and mobilized, there is a chance that it could in later times swing to another extreme. Thus these currently salvatory gatherings could possibly turn oppressors of the rights of the marginalized they are currently supporting. A perfect example of this is the manner in which Catholic villagers gang up in Gram Sabhas to make sure that local Muslims have no opportunity to establish either mosque or graveyard in their village. Let us also recognize that we need to evolve a more elaborate code regarding the manner in which quorum is constituted for such Gram Sabhas and how these meetings must be conducted.

And yet despite the procedural problems that these Gram Sabha resolutions may pose today, my aim is to point out that the current emphasis on legality; the letter of the law is being stressed primarily to shift the debate away from the emphasis of legitimacy that the people of Goa are everywhere articulating. We have for years now mourned the rule of the forty thieves. Clearly representative democracy- what our textbooks call Westminster style Parliamentary democracy was not working for us. It created a situation where law was (is) used not to meet the genuine needs of the people but to serve the interests of the new political elite of the State. It is in this context that, to paraphrase Nehru, the soul of a nation long suppressed finds utterance, resulting in the overturning of the letter of the law, for an emphasis on legitimacy of actions. What we are witness to, and participants in Goa, is nothing less than a revolution; where the attempt is to always sweep away an earlier illegitimate order and bring in one that is premised on legitimacy.

What is exciting about this revolution is that it finds its inspiration within the legitimate framework of the Indian constitution. We in India are fortunate to have a Constitution that is not static. The Constitution may have started out as a blueprint for parliamentary style democracy, but it has also gradually opened up the space for a more radical form of deliberative democracy. A democracy where not just the elected representatives, but concerned citizens will also have an active say in the governance of the country, state and locality. Unfortunately for us however, the realization of this radical form has, as the history of Goa will show, consistently been frustrated since the political elite whether in Delhi or in Goa do not stand to benefit from this model of democracy. This political elite constantly points to the lack of fit between the parliamentary and panchayati urges in the Constitution, and the only way this tension will be resolved is through the revolutionary action that the people of Goa are now displaying.

It is crucial that we remember that we are inhabitants of a revolutionary moment, since it is this consciousness alone that will save us from the deluge that threatens to overwhelm us. We have to remember that the house of the legislature today stands corrupt and lacking in any moral standing. The courtroom, even when handling PILs is the space not of radical movement; but slow, cautious and status-quoist action. It is the status-quo dictated to us in the form of speculator friendly procedures that is threatening our land, and it is only radical action that can provide us succour.

To those who tell us that we are not following a legal process, to them we must respond that we are. We are operating within the framework of the Constitution of India, and what we are in violation of, are procedures and power-structures that are wholly illegitimate. It is not our actions that are in violation of the Constitution, but the procedures themselves. It is these that must change, and not our demands or our actions. Viva la Revolucion!

(Published in the Gomantak Times, April 23rd 2008)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Vegetarianism and the Saffron Agenda

I have to confess that I went to the recently concluded Vegetarian Fiesta held on the grounds of the Kala Academy with a fair deal of skepticism. For a long time now I have seen vegetarianism in India as embedded within the same conceptual framework that allows for anti-minority rightist politics in India. For example, it is perhaps only in India that the aberrant in terms of eating food, i.e. vegetarians, those who only eat vegetables, are confident enough to tar the regular folk, those who eat all foods as the aberration, i.e. NON-vegetarian. The vast majority of Indians are not, contrary to popular myth, vegetarians. They are omnivores who eat all foods ranging from vegetables to meat, and the use of the term non-vegetarian serves in fact as a means to constantly mark them as lower on a civilizational and moral ladder and mark Brahmanical culture as the civilizational and moral high point of Indian culture. My skepticism it appears was proved valid subsequent to an encounter at the Fiesta.

More than horrified by the merry use of disposable plates and cups, and plastic packaging, I mildly suggested to members of the Vegetarian Society that some thought be given to alternatives to these highly eco-unfriendly materials. The response received was nothing short of shocking. Not killing animals was the higher priority, I was informed. Think of how much more damage is done through the slaughter of animals, deforestation to create pasture lands and the pollution that results from it. Points that were very well made, for all of this is true – except that bit about innocent animals, but let us let that rest now. What was bothering was the hierarchy of priorities that was suggested, rather than suggesting that these were both priorities that should be attended to simultaneously. The proselytizing zeal that has marked Brahmanism ever since its rise seemed clearly in evidence here, since the vegetarian seemed more obsessed with a prevention of animal slaughter, than the larger principles that can structure the cause of vegetarianism.

Vegetarianism in other parts of the world finds itself in alliance with other efforts at being more sensitive to the needs of other life-forms on the planet. As such, we have the organic food movement, that seeks to prevent the use of pesticides and other chemicals in agriculture; we have the move away from non-biodegradable packaging that chokes the earth and the waters of the planet and in doing so brings death to animals that graze, forage or swim. If vegetarianism is about preventing cruelty toward animals then, it must logically go along with other movements that seek to extricate society from industrial and chemical consumerism; a consumerism that while elevating the human as a constantly consuming deity, defiles the rest of nature. It is possible that the Vegetarian society in Goa is aware of these possibilities. To be fair to them they did use paper cups and plates, rather than plastic cups and tetrapack plates. However those who take the radical step of abjuring meat and animal products altogether, should ideally also be sympathetic to taking other radical steps- such as the rejection of consumptive practices that encourage the disposal of synthetic goods that are used just once. This not because they are in a race to fight every good cause, but because the rejection of these practices will go toward their stated object of ‘living and letting others live”. To prioritize only the ban on consumption of meat would be to engage (unconsciously) in the rightist politics of Hindutva alone, and not the politics of non-violence.

In Goa, for some time now we have seen attempts to shut down ‘illegal’ slaughter houses by members of Hindu rightist groups. As always, the law is being used as a fa├žade for more sinister communal politics, while dividing the groups that would be equally impacted by a ban on animal slaughter in Goa. The reason the largely Muslim butchers run ‘illegal’ slaughter houses is because the Goa state has not been providing necessary infrastructure to conduct slaughter legally. Since the Catholics and others don’t know that, they will support the action against illegality, not realizing that they are supporting a larger movement aiming at deliberate closure of slaughter houses all around Goa. End result no meat for Goans.

The vegetarian movement is an important one for the anti-industrial and anti-consumerist message it preaches. A message that asks us to respect life and value it when taken. The Right (Reich?) however operates in sophisticated ways, drawing us in unwittingly into supporting its perverse agenda. In the Indian context where fascistic tendencies lie dormant in the most unsuspecting practices and attitudes, it is imperative that we gain consciousness of the unspoken assumptions and implications that structure our work, or risk joining the fascist bandwagon that increasingly gains in power every day.

(Published in the Gomantak Times 2nd March 2008)