“English Literature” or Literatures in English

Devyani Sharma

 Discussing the movement to decolonise the field of “English Literature”

Postcolonial studies in English Literature bring forward the cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism by focusing on the consequences of control and exploitation of the colonised.

One such cultural consequence of colonisation can be seen in the Eurocentric approach towards Literature as a whole. The English Literature syllabus of most Universities and Educational Institutions around the world majorly consists of Literature from England while unabashedly ignoring the indigenous writers who use English as a medium of expression.

“The fact that in a country like India, the English Literature syllabus in schools include writers like William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth or Samuel Taylor Coleridge but hardly any Asian or African writers in English, speaks a lot about the hegemony that exists in English Literature.”

The fact that in a country like India, the English Literature syllabus in schools include writers like William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth or Samuel Taylor Coleridge but hardly any Asian or African writers in English, speaks a lot about the hegemony that exists in English Literature.

According to Varud Gupta, author of ‘Chhotu: A tale of Partition and Love’ and the award winning ‘Bhagwaan ke Pakwaan,’ “Institutions should be rapidly renovating their curriculum to include indigenous, minority, and marginalized communities.”  Being a writer of the ‘rising generation’, Varud believes that “This change isn’t not warranted only for the idea of inclusivity, but also for us to broaden our perspectives.” He thinks that “The longer we continue to classify ‘The Greats’ as those historically revered in the colonial world, we will continue to silence countless voices and lived experiences.”

Apart from the syllabus imposed, it is heart-breaking to witness the illogical imposition of English language in schools and colleges. Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’s recollection of his school days is a perfect example of such an imposition. Ngugi’s school rules mentioned that those who were caught speaking the native language, Gikuyu, would be caned or humiliatingly made to wear a metal plate with the words ‘I AM STUPID’ inscribed on it.

“The situation still remains the same as even today most schools in non-English-speaking countries prohibit and even penalise the use of native language and use only English as the medium of instruction.”

Though Ngugi graduated from school around half a century ago, the situation still remains the same as even today most schools in non-English-speaking countries prohibit and even penalise the use of native language and use only English as the medium of instruction.

“Most people argue that English is a global language and being fluent in it only brings about positive impacts and access to universal knowledge. Unfortunately, the Eurocentric approach towards the language has created a greater global divide as racism is forged in the transmission of this knowledge.” 

Most people argue that English is a global language and being fluent in it only brings about positive impacts and access to universal knowledge. Unfortunately, the Eurocentric approach towards the language has created a greater global divide as racism is forged in the transmission of this knowledge. Carol Boyce Davies, professor of English and African Studies at Cornell University believes that English departments are often like “colonial relics stuck in time”, retaining a formidable streak of eurocentrism, a legacy of the discipline’s central role in Britain’s so-called “civilising mission”.

This comes after Cornell University’s first step in decolonising English Literature as the University’s English Department staff voted to change the department name from ‘English Literature’ to ‘Literatures in English.’ The University became the first in the United States to change the department name to reflect the global diversity of writers using English as their medium of expression.

This decision has been welcomed by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o who told Al Jazeera that this renaming “opens up to more literary streams in their own right, not just under the umbrella of English literature.”

However, this decolonisation of English is still in its embryonic stage, an onset of a paradigm shift in how we perceive Literature and the world around us. Dr Prantik Banerjee, Associate Professor of English in Literary Studies, Cultural Studies and Indian writing in English at Hislop College, Nagpur believes that along with the writings in English from around the globe, English Departments must also incorporate Translation Study Centres “to restore parity among different languages.” 

“Dr Banerjee further explains that the “trade-off between English and Bhasha literature will go a long way in removing “the colonial hangover and the tag of ‘Black Skins White Masks’ for non-native learners of English. To achieve this, it is imperative to encourage the study of classical regional texts in English as “the former Colonial Master’s tools cannot dismantle his house.””

Dr Banerjee further explains that the “trade-off between English and Bhasha literature will go a long way in removing “the colonial hangover and the tag of ‘Black Skins White Masks’ for non-native learners of English. To achieve this, it is imperative to encourage the study of classical regional texts in English as “the former Colonial Master’s tools cannot dismantle his house.”

Devyani is an aspiring writer who strongly believes that words have the power to revolutionise the world. She is a Commerce and Literature Major student who loves watching movies, listening to music, reading books, talking to people and doing everything which helps her gather new stories and perspectives.

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In Conversation with Anjali Dalmia: A Young Climate Warrior

Vinay Agrawal

Discussing all things environment with Anjali DalmiA, Yugma Network, PLANT project, issues with EIA 2020 and how she views sustainability.

Climate change is one of the most pressing concerns today. It is a concern we cannot and should not ignore. It is a concern that deserves a priority on the list of agendas, not just at an institutional level, but on an individual level too. If you’re still scouting for a fitting new-year resolution, climate activism is one to consider. Make it a life-long commitment, and be an environmental crusader. 

“Anjali Dalmia is an inspirational climate warrior. She has resolved to fight for climate justice throughout her earth years. She is the co-founder of Yugma Network – a pan Indian initiative that works towards achieving ground-level environmental justice by broadening and contextualizing the discourse through local languages.”

Anjali Dalmia is an inspirational climate warrior. She has resolved to fight for climate justice throughout her earth years. She is the co-founder of Yugma Network – a pan Indian initiative that works towards achieving ground-level environmental justice by broadening and contextualizing the discourse through local languages. Committed to the cause, she eats, breathes and speaks environment. She was one of the force du jour in leading a national-level student movement in response to the problematic Draft EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) 2020 through the Yugma network. 

Yugma Network now runs a language society with more than 70 students, an environmental justice clinic working on legal avenues, and a narratives and education program to build a space for youth from non-English backgrounds to further the discourse. 

Besides that, Dalmia also works closely with SAPACC Maharashtra (South Asian People’s Action on Climate Crises) where she is involved in reviewing the water section of Maharashtra State Adaptation Action Plan on Climate Change. She is also an Indian delegate at the international Mock COP26. 

Where do you see yourself in 2021? Any climate-specific goals?

In 2021, I would like to spend time understanding and experiencing realities at a ground level. I would say that the pandemic has ironically, helped me connect a lot more to the world and the political and environmental situation in India. However, I often feel I am speaking from an extremely sheltered point of view. Hence, I want to travel and understand what environmental justice truly means to different people in India. 

Additionally, I would like to start some research on urban centres and environmental solutions, delve deeper into environmental education in schools, spend some time to understand environmental laws in India, and further the PLANT project. I would also like to collaborate with people working in the alternate space and explore different forms of local governance and policy-making.

Since you mentioned PLANT: People’s Living Archive of Native Trees, how did it come to life? Are you following any checklist for documentation?

“The goal is to create a repository of cultural and social narratives around Indian indigenous plants through a living archive method while also detailing their uses and distribution.”

PLANT started as a project for the Millennium Fellowship of 2020, in which Sowmya Vaidyanathan and I were fellows. The goal is to create a repository of cultural and social narratives around Indian indigenous plants through a living archive method while also detailing their uses and distribution. 

The research for the project will be aided by eminent conservationists, activists, and academics. As of now, the project is in its early stages and hence we are looking at our communities to begin collecting stories. We don’t have criteria as such, however, we are focusing on exploring religious, social, caste and class angles to stories of plants. Our first few stories are mostly based in Mysuru. 

Can you share a few interesting knowledge paradigms you might have had come across during documenting PLANT?

An interesting plant story we came across was the way we, as environmentalists and urban dwellers, see the Lantana plant as an invasive species. However, for the locals, the Lantana was an essential medicinal plant they had deeply incorporated into their tradition. 

How can the inclusion of local languages & dialects broaden the discourse of environmental activism? 

“In India, any movement based solely through English automatically becomes an elitist movement as it is only accessible to those who have learnt English in school.”

Language is a very powerful tool that not only helps in communication but also has a sense of identity and belonging attached to it. Many of us feel very proud to speak and hear our mother tongue, even when we can’t understand it. In India, any movement based solely through English automatically becomes an elitist movement as it is only accessible to those who have learnt English in school. 

But even then, many people who do speak English don’t connect to it at a deeper level like they would in their native language. Therefore, if an environmental movement aiming for social justice is only in English, it prevents the flow of information from environmentalists and authorities to a grassroots level, and also prevents those who are most affected from speaking for themselves. This often leads to a very homogenous and top-down movement. 

“Broadening the movement to include official state languages is a one-step better approach”

Broadening the movement to include official state languages is a one-step better approach, and it would be very important not to only have Hindi in a country as diverse as India, to help the movement spread across many more people who can then make decisions for themselves and make the movement their own by connecting it to their daily struggles. 

On that note, I’d like to ask you what dissent means to you?

I believe ‘dissent’ is an extremely essential tool today considering the way our society is structured. In an ideal situation wherein people are in power at the local level and large scale, dissent could be seen as a difference in opinions. 

Unfortunately in India, there are very few avenues for citizens to comment on and influence policy-making constructively. Most of our laws have been heavily top-down and there has been very little room for citizens especially youth to raise concerns and suggest alternatives. 

“dissent has played a key role whether it is physical protests (farmer protests or CAA/NRC) or online (EIA 2020). Dissent, therefore to me, represents the voices of the marginalized and most affected, who are rarely involved in the decision-making process.”

In such a situation, dissent has played a key role whether it is physical protests (farmer protests or CAA/NRC) or online (EIA 2020). Dissent, therefore to me, represents the voices of the marginalized and most affected, who are rarely involved in the decision-making process.

Speaking of draft EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) 2020, what are its key shortcomings and potential solutions to those? 

The EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) is a tool used by authorities to assess the impact of any developmental project on the environment, people, economy and infrastructure of an area before the project commences. It is also a public tool that allows people to voice their concerns and opinions. In India, a new draft of the EIA was released in March 2020. It severely diluted many requirements. Many projects classified as B2 projects (but still extremely destructive despite their small size) along with all defence and strategic projects as defined by the central government have been exempted from public consultation. 

Post-Facto clearance (which means that the project can begin by clearing and levelling land) has also been allowed for many projects, which has even been declared as environmentally destructive by the Supreme Court. Time for public consultation has been reduced to just 20 days, which means the public will only have 20 days to review the EIA report and give feedback amidst the pandemic, poor internet, and non-native languages; this is highly unconstitutional.

“EIA 2020 has also reduced the frequency with which industries need to submit environmental reports from twice to once a year. Many environmental clearance durations have been increased e.g. for river valley projects, a clearance that earlier had to be reviewed every 10 years now can be reviewed every 15 years. They are designed to help business and industries rather than to act as a tool for environmental conservation and justice.”

EIA 2020 has also reduced the frequency with which industries need to submit environmental reports from twice to once a year. Many environmental clearance durations have been increased e.g. for river valley projects, a clearance that earlier had to be reviewed every 10 years now can be reviewed every 15 years. They are designed to help business and industries rather than to act as a tool for environmental conservation and justice. It will lead to the exploitation of many marginalized communities and result in the mass approval of severely destructive projects.

In terms of solutions, I would say that the framework of the EIA itself is largely flawed. It has been criticized by many experts for creating a dualism between development and the environment. Additionally, since it is not a proper Act in the constitution, it is very easy to manipulate as it happened with the EIA 2020. Hence, we need a new framework based on public consent. If possible, the public should be given more decision making power. I would say that the entire EIA 2020 needs to be withdrawn and a new draft should be prepared. 

As someone who has designed and been a part of many tweetstorms, what is the right way to “tweet-storm” and what is a big “no-no”?

Usually sharing hashtags before the scheduled time is a big no. A successful tweetstorm from my experience should have a well-written tweetbank with tweets that include all the decided hashtags (usually 2-3 hashtags are perfect) along with tags of the relevant authorities. If the tweetbank has clickable links and images also, even better. This is usually circulated an hour or so before the tweetstorm. Having one WhatsApp group with all the dedicated tweeters helps. Retweeting is also extremely important.

How do you practice sustainability on a personal level?

To me, sustainability is definitely about the choices we make as a consumer. But it is also the mindset with which we approach our surroundings and society. As a consumer, I try as much as possible to live a zero-waste lifestyle. This means using a menstrual cup, natural soap and shampoo bars wrapped in paper, bamboo toothbrush, reuse and buying/borrowing second-hand clothes, using public transport like bus and trains over cars and flights, carrying my cutlery and tiffin while travelling, segregating my waste at home, and using biogas for cooking. 

Additionally, I am part of a wonderful initiative called “Pune Freecycle”, a WhatsApp group where people can give and take items based on goodwill. In terms of the mindset, I feel sustainability means interacting with people around me – talking to the akkas who clean the roads in the morning, having a conversation with the bhaiya running the corner grocery store, noticing individual trees near my house and sending and receiving positive energy, slowly walking around the neighbourhood. All of these are also forms of sustainability to me because they help me slow down and connect to my surroundings. 

Climate change is a reality we cannot afford to ignore. To safeguard the planet from any further degradation, each of us has to become a warrior in our own right. Our collective actions will determine the climate of the future. 

If we want to improve the standard of life, mitigate impending climatic disasters and preserve the planet for posterity, it is time to lead, make changes for the larger good and act accordingly and sustainably so. The time is now before it is too late.  Each one of us can be a climate crusader like Anjali Dalmia and can start young or old. 

An introvert by nature, Vinay believes in the strength and the beauty of vulnerability. He likes to read about arts & culture and has worked full-time as a features writer, and has contributed for various publications. Vinay is a staff writer at Bol Magazine.

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We refuse black coal, save Goa!

Suparna Chatterjee

An insight into the movement that seeks to protect Goa from becoming a coal hub and save the biodiversity of the state.  

The sea, sand and beach shacks along with some parties are what we have in mind when we think of Goa. But beyond that, the West Indian coastal state of Goa fosters rich biodiversity and dynamic cultural and political histories that have shaped the lives and livelihoods of the people and the ecology. All of this is currently under threat from a massive industrial onslaught. 

Goans are protesting against three infrastructure projects that will facilitate the transport of coal through the state. If allowed to proceed, as the protestors deem, Goa will turn into a “coal-hub” for the benefit of private players. 

Coal corridor through Goa? Environmental and socio-economic impacts

“Around 59,000 trees will be cut in Goa alone, and a total of over a lakh will be cut across Goa and Karnataka for the completion of these projects.”

The three infrastructure projects, namely the double-tracking of the South Western Railway line, a four-lane expansion of the NH4A, and the laying of a 400 kV transmission line, will all pass through parts of Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park, and lead to a loss of 170 hectares of protected forest land. Around 59,000 trees will be cut in Goa alone, and a total of over a lakh will be cut across Goa and Karnataka for the completion of these projects. The forests in Goa are home to around 721 plant species, 70 mammal species, 235 bird species, 219 butterfly species and many other creatures, some of which are endemic to the area. The projects will result in forest fragmentation, habitat destruction and disturb the ecosystem stability of the area. It will directly impact the life of the communities that reside in these forests, and will have detrimental impacts on the health and livelihoods of a large section of the population from across socio-economic classes. 

These projects are part of the Sagarmala program which the director of the Goa Foundation, Claude Alvares describes as a scheme of turning the state of Goa into a dedicated coal corridor and says: “[..]..not designed by Goans for Goa by the Goa government” but is planned by a set of foreign actors. As part of this program, coal is to be transported from the Mormugao Port Trust (MPT) which is located in Vasco, Goa, and is well connected through the railway and highways, to the neighbouring states of Maharashtra (via roadways) and Karnataka (via railways). It currently has a handling capacity of 12 MTP (million tonnes per annum), which is projected to increase to 51 MTPA for increased coal supply to the thermal plants and the steel industries of the neighbouring states. Coking coal is scarce in India and is imported from countries like Australia and South Africa into Goa via the MPT. Three public-private partnership terminals run by JSW, Vedanta, and Adani Group handle coal at the MPT.  

“A report published in DownToEarth magazine in January 2018 explains how from 2001-02 till the current day the coal and coke carrying capacities of the MPT have tripled, causing disastrous impacts on air quality and life of the locals in the area.”

A report published in DownToEarth magazine in January 2018 explains how from 2001-02 till the current day the coal and coke carrying capacities of the MPT have tripled, causing disastrous impacts on air quality and life of the locals in the area. The three projects were cleared by the National Board of Wildlife governed by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change in April this year through a video conference, along with 30 other projects, which essentially cut down scope for public engagement in the process of providing these clearances. 

Goans against Coal: protest movements in Goa against the infrastructure projects

The protests against the three projects started soon after they were passed. In the early stages, there were petitions, letters to the Central and State governments from citizens, civil society organizations and Goan youths. In July, the Goa Foundation filed a PIL at the Goa bench of the Bombay High Court on this matter. The protests slowly gained momentum with the involvement of larger sections of people through the use of social media. Several individuals as well as groups like SaveMollem and GoyantKolsoNaka started trending the topic on social media platforms to educate people and gather attention on the environmental issues in the area. 

On the night of November 1, at around 10:30 pm more than 5,000 people gathered near a level crossing at Chandor village in South Goa. These people were opposing the construction of railway tracks being carried out despite the Bombay High Court staying the double-tracking project in the protected area until the next hearing scheduled in December. Amidst the raging COVID-19 pandemic, the people held a peaceful protest till 4 am. 

“Speaking to Bol Magazine, Sherry Fernandes, a youth activist involved with the movement since June says that when all other means failed, the protestors had no choice but to take to the streets: ‘[..]..People tried everything and this is (our) last resort.’” 

Speaking to Bol Magazine, Sherry Fernandes, a youth activist involved with the movement since June says that when all other means failed, the protestors had no choice but to take to the streets: “[..]..People tried everything and this is (our) last resort.” For this activist and many others like her, the beautiful association developed with Mollem over the years, along with the love of its rich biodiversity and communities is what has driven them to be a part of the fight to protect it. She is concerned about biodiversity: “[…]..Slender lorises, Mouse deers, Hornbills and so much of life in the forest”, are all currently under threat. 

The midnight protest included the middle classes of urban and rural Goa, civil society members, activists, indigenous communities and large numbers of the youth. Fernandes describes the protest as “[..].. something so beautiful and peaceful despite the agitation amongst people which had forced them to come out, risking their lives amidst the pandemic.” The immediate response to the protests was an FIR filed by the Goa Police against the six convenors of the two NGOs – Goyant Kolso Naka and Goencho Ekvott, for unlawful activity and wrongful restraint. Fernandes says that the news of an FIR being filed was shocking, mainly because of the extremely peaceful nature of the protests which displayed varied forms of Goan culture, and there was no rioting or damage to property. 

The protest at Chandor was covered by leading online media outlets, and a buzz was created on social media. Following this, several email and signature campaigns were launched in which people from across the country participated. However, large parts of the country that often dream of a vacation in Goa are still silent on the issue.

“This movement is not the first of its kind in Goa. For long several groups have been protesting unsustainable mining in parts of Goa, coal import into the state, and the Sagarmala project since its inception.” 

This movement is not the first of its kind in Goa. For long several groups have been protesting unsustainable mining in parts of Goa, coal import into the state, and the Sagarmala project since its inception. Groups like the National Fishworkers Forum and several fisherwomen groups from the region protested against the Sagarmala project and the autonomy granted to the MPT in 2016. There have been protests in 2017 and 2018 opposing the infrastructure development and increasing coal handling permits at MPT. 

“The government has also promised a capping mechanism on coal imports into the state. Sadly, such statements have not been backed by documented proof, and revisiting government response to similar movements in the past proves that such claims are an immediate measure used by those in power to pacify protestors without actually taking up concrete measures to accede to the demands.”

The response of the government to such movements has not changed over the years. In the current situation, following the mid-night protests and media-outrage over the destruction of the environment, the Minister of Environment & Power in Goa, Nilesh Cabral while speaking to the media said: “Goa will not be a coal hub.” He also suggested afforestation in other parts to counter the effect of the felling of trees. However, there is an absence of a plan regarding such afforestation which has been cited as an ineffective mitigation measure to counter the carbon loss due to the felling of 200-300-year-old trees. The government has also promised a capping mechanism on coal imports into the state. Sadly, such statements have not been backed by documented proof, and revisiting government response to similar movements in the past proves that such claims are an immediate measure used by those in power to pacify protestors without actually taking up concrete measures to accede to the demands. 

What are the stakes? Who benefits? 

Urban environmental movements of this kind are here to stay; the movements to Save Mollem and Save Aarey forests prove this fact. It becomes essential to study the nature of these movements to understand how the dynamics of environmentalism are playing out in India. 

“Environmentalism in developing countries like India has been termed as ‘environmentalism of the poor’, where concerns of material distributive justice force people to protest against environmental destruction in contrast to environmentalism in developed nations where post-materialistic concerns shape environmental justice movements.”

Environmentalism in developing countries like India has been termed as “environmentalism of the poor”, where concerns of material distributive justice force people to protest against environmental destruction in contrast to environmentalism in developed nations where post-materialistic concerns shape environmental justice movements. Another form of environmentalism which is gaining popularity is “bourgeois environmentalism” where the middle-class seek environmental protection through institutional machinery. While environmentalism of the poor emerges out of concerns for immediate loss of livelihood and habitat as a result of environmental degradation, the bourgeois environmental movements are usually shaped by health concerns and loss of beautification due to environmental degradation. Street action against such forms of degradation is usually viewed as a means used by the poor, who do not have access to other forms of protest, while the urban or in rare cases the rural middle class usually resort to court petitions and other institutional means to further their goals. 

However, movements led by the middle class have often been criticised as rooted in a feeling of contradictory consciousness among them who, unaware of their own contribution to the problem seek end goals that try to secure environmental justice for them while negatively affecting the livelihoods of the poor. They sometimes have an elitist undertone and a blatant disregard for the poor. 

“Environmental problems and environment versus development debates must be viewed in the backdrop of politico-economical and ecological interactions at the local, regional and national levels.”

Essentialist arguments by conservationists are sometimes made to gain political support for environmental protection in India, and it is often suggested that challenging the premise of such movements has a probability of weakening the larger political discourse around environmental protection. However, it is equally important to study and critique the premise of such movements regularly to improve and redefine the ways of environmentalism to suit the needs of the marginalized. Environmental problems and environment versus development debates must be viewed in the backdrop of politico-economical and ecological interactions at the local, regional and national levels. The incorporation of interdisciplinary professionals into environmental conservation has started the dialogue for maintaining an effective balance between ecological conservation and seeking social justice and livelihood protection for the marginalised.

The movement in Goa tries to overcome some of the aforementioned barriers by taking into consideration the livelihoods and lives of the marginalised and by targeting the Central government’s backing of a few private corporations in bringing coal into Goa. It is an amalgamation of the two forms of environmentalism- the protestors mainly belong to the urban and rural middle class, with some representation from the economically marginalised groups. They are using petitions and other institutional means as well as mass mobilization to secure environmental and social justice. Concerns of ecological sustainability and life and livelihood protection form the basis of this movement, unlike other middle class movements driven by elite notions of ‘beautification’ or ‘cleanliness’. 

The infrastructure projects in concern will have severe environmental and social consequences and the current movement is backed by scientific claims, giving due recognition to the dynamic cultural and political history of the state.

“‘National integration’ and ‘benefit’ have often been used as terms to pass such infrastructure projects, which serve no purpose to the populace of the region in concern, who also face the detrimental impacts of such projects.“

On the other hand, the government-corporate lobby supporting and pushing for the project is evidently disregarding concern for the environment as well as the livelihoods and habitats of the people. They are either hiding facts and making false claims to pacify the protests, or suggesting unrealistic mitigation measures such as reforestation to counter the claims of irreversible environmental and livelihood damage. “National integration” and “benefit” have often been used as terms to pass such infrastructure projects, which serve no purpose to the populace of the region in concern, who also face the detrimental impacts of such projects.  

“Public opinion at all levels is very much required, and the current draconian ways adopted by the government in prioritizing crony capitalist gains and infrastructure development benefiting a few over the livelihoods of the masses is bound to see more such protests in the near future.”

Public opinion at all levels is very much required, and the current draconian ways adopted by the government in prioritizing crony capitalist gains and infrastructure development benefiting a few over the livelihoods of the masses is bound to see more such protests in the near future. Therefore, it is very important to define the nature of environmentalism and the intellectual and political premise of such movements, to effectively counter such detrimental developmental projects and further the cause of environmental protection along with social justice. 

Suparna is an early-career researcher working with Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) in Bangalore. She likes to explore and work on issues concerning the environment, society and gender. 

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“Kodavas have always seen Kodagu as theirs”

Sahitya Poonacha

A walk through the buried history of the Kodavas of Kodagu (Coorg), their colonial past and post-colonial quest for representation.

If we begin with the Kodavas, we must first speak of Kodagu. The hill station tucked away in the Western Ghats of south India which eventually turned into a mnemonic device for the Kodavas. Home to a tribe of warrior clans, never quite well-placed in the caste structure, addressed little in the media, and with little self-reflection by Kodavas themselves. Although, there has been much push in recent times to change this.

While their recorded history goes back to the 10th CE, their oral histories go farther back and have passed down generations. Barely reconstructed, these oral histories are yet to be pursued and are often rejected as hearsay. That being said, this article doesn’t seek to rewrite its history. Moreover, written by a Kodava herself,  it must not be taken at face value. 

“It was the British colonialists after all who called it ‘Coorg’ instead of ‘Kodagu’ and dubbed it the ‘Scotland of India’ a title similarly accorded to Shillong as ‘Scotland of the East’.”

Remnants of colonial history are found in India on every street corner, every household, and this includes the secluded hills of Kodagu. It was the British colonialists after all who called it “Coorg” instead of “Kodagu” and dubbed it the “Scotland of India” a title similarly accorded to Shillong as “Scotland of the East”.

What made and still makes the Kodavas different is that they stand out within the “imaginary” idea of India. As a tribal, egalitarian community divided into clans the Kodavas have existed in Kodagu with their own distinct culture and traditions rejecting the systems in neighbouring regions. 

“Kodavas have always seen Kodagu as theirs. These hills were hard to penetrate, tough to live in, with harsh climate and topography.”

Kodavas have always seen Kodagu as theirs. These hills were hard to penetrate, tough to live in, with harsh climate and topography. Kodagu remains nestled in the hills, a road trip from Bengaluru is the most common and only way to get to Kodagu. The martial Kodavas who possessed a strong sense of community, pride and dominance made it even harder to rule. This could have been a reason even the mighty Chola Dynasty couldn’t get a hold of the region leaving them in the periphery.

We see this continue today as Kodavas try to assert their identity as a different group, that requires autonomy, insulated and still angered by their past in modern India. They’ve had multiple separatist struggles in the 20th CE that are rarely covered by  the media, and a section still demanding homeland status. The historical records to help uncover these movements  curiously sit in the libraries of Britain and a few can be found in the National Library of India.

The Kodava Culture 

Let’s go to the beginning, Kodavas if you ask them their origins see themselves as having an Aryan  connection in heritage, essayed in M.P. Cariappa and Ponnamma Cariappa’s work as well. This is what every young Kodava grows up hearing in living room conversations, what history hasn’t proved or as some Kodavas say, hasn’t ‘yet’. 

For those who aren’t familiar with Kodavas or Kodagu, Kodavas constitute a patrilineal society centred around “okkas”, a clan stemming from a common ancestor. Each okka possesses an “ainmane” or ancestral home where they used to celebrate and congregate. Vast tracts of land were given to an okka or clan, called “jamma” lands, that are jointly cultivated and passed down over generations. The Kaveri Purana as part of the Skanda Purana identifies Kodavas as “Kshatriya-Shudra” (warrior and lower caste), something history and India neither expected nor explained. 

As nature and ancestor worshippers, Kodavas are known to hold the elements of nature in high regard. Many of their festivals are also centred on nature worship, particularly the harvest festival of Puttari and Kaveri Sankramanna marking the date that Goddess Kaveri began her descent. On many festive occasions offerings are made to ancestors. Kodavas eventually came to worship Hindu deities as interaction with those around Kodagu increased. 

Kodavas worship goddess Kaveri as custodians of the river that originates in the Brahmagiri hills. Kaveri’s story is intriguing. For me, a Kodavathi, the worship of a goddess who left her husband,   Brahmin sage Agastya for reasons debated has left an incredible mark. It is believed she left to serve the people, to save the world, and this story fascinated me. One simplified version of the myth, which I heard most growing up, is that Kaveri agreed to marry Agastya on the condition that he wouldn’t leave her alone. 

However, he once turned her into water and kept her in his kamandala (pot) asking his disciples to guard it, so that she wouldn’t leave him while he went to bathe. Recognising the trickery, she left him. As she flowed out of the pot she was unstoppable, even as men and women stood in her path. Legend has it, it was her force that turned the women’s sarees the other way around. Till today, the women of Kodagu continue to wear their sarees the other way around setting them apart from the conventional draping followed by Indian women. The story is powerful. These may be reduced to myths, but it reveals one thing, the attempt to assert an aspect of identity.

“Kodavas conduct marriages with little intervention by priests and worship a Hindu goddess who refused to be tied down. Draping the saree in their own way, and giving women agency in its mythology and culturally to some extent is a powerful story of liberation that fits in very well with the 21st CE aspirations.”

Kodavas conduct marriages with little intervention by priests and worship a Hindu goddess who refused to be tied down. Draping the saree in their own way, and giving women agency in its mythology and culturally to some extent is a powerful story of liberation that fits in very well with the 21st CE aspirations. However, today Kodavas struggle to make their culture felt.

The Colonial History of Kodagu 

“The Haleri dynasty’s entry into Kodagu became the lofty foundation for Kodagu’s recorded history on the map of India, following huge gaps of invisibility until then.”

A large chunk of Kodagu’s history starts and ends with the dynasty of the Haleri kings back in the 17th century an off-shoot of the Ikkeri Nayakas[i], who managed to make Kodagu their home and that’s when the Kodavas entered the dynamics and politics of Southern India. The Haleri dynasty’s entry into Kodagu became the lofty foundation for Kodagu’s recorded history on the map of India, following huge gaps of invisibility until then. 

Curiously, the Kodavas never had a Kodava ruler. Regardless of the ruler, it was the Kodava identity that had to repeatedly sustain itself through cultural preservation. Kodagu’s history of course has left its own impression and scars on Kodavas and has pushed them to stay the course. This is especially seen in the community’s memory of Tipu Sultan, who ruled the Carnatic between 1782 and 1799 from Mysore. The contest for Kodagu in some ways presented itself here. Often dubbed the “Tiger of Mysore” and alternatively a “temple desecrator” has been somewhat of a contested history. 

For Kodavas, they see this attempt to assert dominance as a traumatic, dark, blood-soaked past that India has undermined. The reconstruction of Tipu’s rule in sources has either glossed over his feud with Kodavas or has revolved entirely around this bit. Either way, the reconstruction has not been reliable, with unconfirmed  numbers, underreported facts, and some confusion. You might recall the protests in the district against celebrating Tipu Jayanti in recent times.

“This tug-of-war was actually playing out between the Haleri dynasty and Tipu Sultan which brought in the British colonialists into the mix, the greatest opportunists world history has seen.”

This tug-of-war was actually playing out between the Haleri dynasty and Tipu Sultan which brought in the British colonialists into the mix, the greatest opportunists world history has seen. Although, one should notice it was the Kodava identity that truly got caught in this triangular power struggle, trapped in the hills with little say over what happened to their status.

Mercara Fort
Image by Sahitya P Poonacha (2016)

“Chikkaviraraja was the last Haleri king for Kodagu, known to be impulsive and ruthless. Dubbed as the “Mad King” he was the only Haleri ruler in Kodagu who was wary of British control, when he tried to shake them a short-lived war was the result, after which Kodagu would officially be in the hands of the East India Company.”

Still, Kodagu in its  strained relationship with the Haleri dynasty in the 19th CE, would come to be signed off to the British in 1834 by Chikkaviraraja. Chikkaviraraja was the last Haleri king for Kodagu, known to be impulsive and ruthless. Dubbed as the “Mad King” he was one Haleri ruler in Kodagu wary of British control, when he tried to shake them a short-lived war was the result, after which Kodagu would officially be in the hands of the East India Company.

On the colonial front, they still enjoy some privileges, like being the only community allowed to carry arms without a license, an 1861 colonial exemption that came in place. This owes to the fact that Kodavas worship weapons. 

“The moment the British East India Company took over Kodagu, was the moment Kodavas once more had to wait for Indian independence.”

The British East India Company saw profitability in the hills for plantation agriculture. They acquired the martial clans that would then become associated with India’s defence for generations to come. Post-independence the community would eventually be home to national heroes such as General Thimmayya and Field Marshal Cariappa. The moment the company took over Kodagu, was the moment Kodavas once more had to wait for Indian independence.

Postcolonial Identity

Independence has been at the heart of Kodagu’s history, liberated in mythology by their goddess. Even as a small hill station Kodagu holds much diversity, Muslims, Gowdas, other communities and smaller tribes have coexisted through their own myths and timeless tales. Today, Kodavas try to preserve their  culture, through their shrines, ainmanes, jamma lands passed down generations and their revered padathi or traditions. All to some valaga beats, and celebrations like Kailupodhu where weapons and arms are worshipped. 

In the 21st CE, these traditions sustain in new forms even as many Kodavas have moved out of the hills. Many Kodavas continue to maintain their sprawling coffee estates, paddy fields. Notable Kodavas join India’s defence forces and contribute in various sectors. Kodagu meanwhile, now welcomes tourists from all over the world to find new ways to showcase and preserve the hill station. 

“The history of the Kodavas remains hidden deep within its forests, its rivers and its people. From this account and many others what becomes certain is that Kodava’s history remains partially uncovered and needs unbiased reassessment. Kodavas see themselves as unique, this can’t simply be sidelined as ‘pride’.”

The history of the Kodavas remains hidden deep within its forests, its rivers and its people. From this account and many others what becomes certain is that Kodava’s history remains partially uncovered and needs unbiased reassessment. Kodavas see themselves as unique, this can’t simply be sidelined as “pride”. Perhaps there is  a reason for it we haven’t explored. Why does this warrior tribe demand homeland status and self-rule?

The answers are in its history and this is the colonial baggage the community carries with it through generations beyond independence. Therefore complex power struggles are not simply a thing of the past. Lest we lose all this history to the trappings of development and more political dialogue. In 2020, ironically British chef Gordon Ramsay found something noteworthy about Kodavas’ Pandhi curry[ii] on his show with National Geographic and that’s hardly a brush on the surface.

[i] The real origin date of the Haleri dynasty is uncertain, but dates to the mid-17th century according to the Rajendraname. [ii] Pandhi curry is a pork delicacy loved by Kodavas.

Sahitya is a journalist and a writer with a voice. Finding time to pursue an academic interest in minority positioning in mainstream media between chasing leads and searching for stories that need telling.

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The Invisible Hand of Indian Women Farmers

Sukanya Maity

Highlighting the exploitation of women farmers in India and the impact of the psychological burden of their disguised labour and lack of recognition.

Besides the lush green fields and huge patches of land, separated from the vast blue sky by a streak of sap green forests which beautifully serve the purpose of the horizon, a regular scenario that often captures my attention are groups of rural women working on the field, almost outnumbering their male counterparts. What surprises me the most is that despite their more than equal participation, their work goes unnoticed and unrecognised. I have often questioned myself as to why every time I look for an article on Indian farmers, pictures of male farmers flood the screen. I am forced to opt for the second round of search on “women” farmers, who are mandatorily categorised just like the “women” cricketers, “women” soldiers, “women” pilots and the list goes on.

The invisibility of women farmers

“Despite India’s long history of farming and cultivation as a male-dominated profession, the National Council of Applied Economic Research (2018) reports that 42% of the farm work in India is done by women; however, they account for less than 2% of the land ownership.”

Despite India’s long history of farming and cultivation as a male-dominated profession, the National Council of Applied Economic Research (2018) reports that 42% of the farm work in India is done by women; however, they account for less than 2% of the land ownership. Why such economic disparity? The answer lies in the simple fact that instead of working as independent farmers, their formal identity remains restricted to widows and wives of their farmer husbands. To add on to their misery is their social identity of being women from the oppressed communities; reportedly more than 81% of the female agricultural labourers belong to the Dalit, Adivasi and the OBC (Other Backward Classes) communities. Like Aiyappan (2012) says that women from marginalised groups are often subjected to double exploitation, sometimes even outweighing their gender status, it is very clear as to why #rural women are deprived of what they rightly deserve. 

Indian Woman Farmer in Parasia, Madhya Pradesh – Photo by Navika Mehta

The plight of women farmers 

“The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reports that as many as 3,53,803 farmers died by suicide between 1995 and 2018, out of which 50,188 were women.”

In India, which  can be referred to as the land of farmer suicides, the failure to implement labour laws and the repeated amendments to the existing agricultural and labour laws have stormed hell upon the farmers, especially women farmers. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reports that as many as 3,53,803 farmers died by suicide between 1995 and 2018, out of which 50,188 were women. 

“The pandemic-induced lockdown has resulted in deaths by suicide among farmers as they were unable to bear the burden of absolute money crunch, unavailability of farm labourers, no possible savings and huge debts.”

Unable to repay their huge debts, aided by the state’s inaction, the farmers ended their lives either by consuming pesticides or by setting themselves ablaze or hanging themselves. According to the NCRB, more than 10,281 farmers killed themselves in 2019. Young children of debt-ridden farmers had killed themselves fearing that if they didn’t do so, their parents would end their lives. People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) documents that “altruistic suicide” has been on the rise among the farmer households in the poorest villages of India. The pandemic-induced lockdown has resulted in deaths by suicide among farmers as they were unable to bear the burden of absolute money crunch, unavailability of farm labourers, no possible savings and huge debts. Even while the reported cases of farmers’ suicides have been increasing exponentially in India, the data on the deaths of women farmers who killed themselves have been surprisingly reduced to zero.

Why are women in agriculture more vulnerable to exploitation? 

“Despite their vast presence, women farmers are hardly considered or referred to as farmers. In the interiors of rural India, a woman who spends more than 13 hours of her day on the field, when asked about her profession, vaguely replies that she ‘sits at home all day’.”

Despite their vast presence, women farmers are hardly considered or referred to as farmers. In the interiors of rural India, a woman who spends more than 13 hours of her day on the field, when asked about her profession, vaguely replies that she “sits at home all day”. Hence, her inability to claim her rights and protest against the unjust system stems from her internalisation of the oppression that she is subjected to. This has been largely possible due to the increasing and unprecedented rates of illiteracy among rural women due to lack of opportunities, lack of awareness, traditional gender roles, male-dominated administrative sectors and mostly, presence of a clear patriarchal setting in the peripheral backdrops of the sub-continent. 

They are also expected to shoulder the burden of both housework as well as fieldwork and this unequal division of labour further takes a toll on their mental health. Despite doing more than 60% of the work, they are made dependent on their husband’s income. Women also engage in more strenuous fieldwork, from sowing the seeds to harvesting them. This is due to their lack of educational exposure  in mechanical aids which poses a great limitation to their ability. 

Women farmers at work in Parasia, Madhya Pradesh – Photo by Navika Mehta

“Since banking rules do not permit already debt-ridden farmers to opt for further loans, the women members of the families are pushed to take exploitative, informal loans and the process continues as long as they are immersed in the vicious pool of debts and cannot get out of them. Reportedly, ‘every woman farmer in India has loans against her name (which she is unable to repay)’.”

When women farmers take up the mantle of a breadwinner, it becomes extremely difficult for them to continue with their work in the absence of government schemes and financial support due to gendered income disparity. As a result of this, they borrow from the local moneylenders and agencies much more than what their male counterparts do. Most of the time, their families force them to do so. Since banking rules do not permit already debt-ridden farmers to opt for further loans, the women members of the families are pushed to take exploitative, informal loans and the process continues as long as they are immersed in the vicious pool of debts and cannot get out of them. Reportedly, “every woman farmer in India has loans against her name (which she is unable to repay).” 

Aljazeera (2018) reports two such cases – Rekha Kadu and Shilpa Mamankar, two debt-ridden women farmers who had killed themselves. The latter was only 19 years old when she ended her life, unable to repay a sum of $ 5,500 that she had initially borrowed. She suffered from serious mental health issues and was on regular medication but even that didn’t help lighten her burden. Her family now struggles with the load of the unending debts that fell on them after Shilpa’s death .

Effect of the Farmers Bill (2020) on women farmers

In 2011, a former Rajya Sabha MP, MS Swaminathan proposed the “Women Farmers Entitlement Bill”  that would seek to provide recognisable status to women farmers along with their rights over land, water resources and credit funds as well as provide them with financial support. Unfortunately, it lapsed in 2013. 

“In India, where 81% of women farmers own less than 13% of the land, only 8% of them have control over their income and 4% of them have access to institutional credit, the new ‘contract farming’ rules will make it difficult for them to bargain for the best prices at the local mandis.”

However, the recent Farmers Bill (2020) not only ignores the contribution and participation of women in agriculture but also makes it much more difficult for them to thrive in the market economy. The bill ensures loosening of the rules related to storage, pricing and sale and states that private buyers can hoard essential commodities for future sale. These very rules have protected the farmers from the free market trade. The bill also allows the farmers to sell their produce to the private buyers, along with the government-owned mandis (without any exclusive mention). In India, where 81% of women farmers own less than 13% of the land, only 8% of them have control over their income and 4% of them have access to institutional credit, the new “contract farming” rules will make it difficult for them to bargain for the best prices at the local mandis

“The bill also outrightly ignores the gender-based digital divide; the proposition of technology-oriented work will lead these women to depend on their male counterparts while making financial decisions.”

The elimination of middlemen who act as informal bankers by lending loans without collateral will make it impossible for women farmers to avail financial support since they are not accustomed to the process. The restricted mobility of women farmers will not allow them to sell their produce outside of the local mandis. The bill also outrightly ignores the gender-based digital divide; the proposition of technology-oriented work will lead these women to depend on their male counterparts while making financial decisions. Moreover, the introduction of e-mandis whereby farmers can select mandis of their choice and sell their produce online through eNAM, will completely leave out the women farmers from the business transactions due to a lack of digital literacy and low access to smartphones. 

Women in farmer suicide survivor families

“The BBC (2014) reported that in Maharashtra, which is infamous for its history of farmer suicides, there are more than 53,000 widows of farmers who had killed themselves.”

The wives and daughters of male farmers who did not own land and cultivated on leased ones are not eligible for getting ex-gratia compensation. The loans that their husbands and fathers were unable to repay gradually fell back on their shoulders which they remain unable to repay , due to no prior schemes and financial aids. The BBC (2014) reported that in Maharashtra, which is infamous for its history of farmer suicides, there are more than 53,000 widows of farmers who had killed themselves. Besides the financial burden, they are also subjected to marginalisation within their own families. Neither are they allowed to remarry as it goes against their local customs. No psychological help or counselling is provided to them, which only makes the situation worse. Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch (MAKAAM) found out that 40% of the widows in 11 districts of Maharashtra haven’t received any compensation yet. The widows are also at risk of being trafficked or forced into prostitution.

What can be done to ease their problems?

Women Farmers outside their home in Parasia, Madhya Pradesh – Photo by Navika Mehta

First and most importantly, the state must recognise the women farmers as farmers, irrespective of their marital status. The draconian Farmers Bill (2020) should and must be repealed, especially because of the massive outrage from farmers and the following violent outbreaks. Instead, bills like Women Farmers Entitlements Bill, as mentioned earlier, must be reintroduced. Psychological help must be provided to the farmers in rural areas, irrespective of their gender. Every village must have a counselling center.

“Positive discrimination in favour of women farmers in the form of special schemes, financial aids and free skill-development training courses must be introduced. Every woman farmer must register themselves as farmers, and have their own registration certificates. They should have their land and ownership rights.”

Positive discrimination in favour of women farmers in the form of special schemes, financial aids and free skill-development training courses must be introduced. Every woman farmer must register themselves as farmers, and have their own registration certificates. They should have their land and ownership rights. Rules must be mandated which propose the gradual transfer of the deceased farmer’s land to his wife and every family must be liable to compensation whether or not the deceased farmer owned any land. Social security schemes like old-age pensions must be introduced to help the farmers survive when their health doesn’t permit them to work any further. The government’s investment in agricultural sectors must increase in order to tackle these problems. 

It is high time that we spoke about the distress of women farmers, their oppressive status and their invisibility. Remarkably, one should be glad that more and more women farmers are claiming their rights as they lead the protests against the Farmers Bill. It is only a matter of time as to how far our policymakers can go and how long they keep leeching on the unpaid labour of oppressed women. 

Sukanya is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. She is a feminist, anti-fascist and anti-capitalist and hopes to document the lives of remarkable women so that their stories don’t vanish into anonymity.

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#MeToo: 1.7m Tweets, 12m Facebook posts, 85 countries

Asmita Sood

 Examining how #metoo has progressed through the years, its achievements and pitfalls

Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence 

On October 15, 2017, American actress Alyssa Milano shared an image on Twitter containing the following text:

“Me Too. Suggested by a friend: “If all women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem”.”

#MeToo originated from Milano’s tweet and became a global news-maker. It trended in 85 countries with 1.7 million tweets and 12 million Facebook posts in the first six weeks alone. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center after a year of Milano’s tweet estimated that 19 million tweets had used #MeToo, which is more than 55,000 tweets per day. An analysis of over 600,000 tweets and Facebook posts with #MeToo showed that tweets varied from containing personal stories and expressing general support to re-posted articles, commentary to discussing offenders. However, “Me Too” as a grassroots movement supporting survivors goes back to 2007 when it was founded by Black Feminist Tarana Burke. Researchers have found it useful to distinguish between the hashtag #MeToo as a moment, and the broader Me Too as a grassroots movement. 

When it comes to measuring the impact of #MeToo, it has been hugely successful in drawing attention to and legitimising experiences of sexual harassment for survivors. Feminist scholars and activists have been advocating for a more holistic understanding of sexual violence for decades, an understanding which steps away from ranking individual incidents on the basis of what would traditionally be considered serious, such as rape, sexual assault and not everyday harassment. This was captured in Liz Kelly’s hugely influential continuum of sexual violence that conceptualises sexual violence as continuous in nature and its effects on women as being interlinked. It sees women’s lived experiences of various forms of sexual violence as constituting a continuum, not a hierarchy. Milano’s tweet asked women to share experiences of sexual harassment or assault with the aim of making all forms of violation visible. Under the stream of #MeToo, it is possible to see stories of stranger rape, incest, workplace harassment all next to each other. This juxtaposition of different experiences points to their interconnectedness in how they are gendered and sexualised, how they can flow into each other and how they impact the victim-survivor. 

“#MeToo has legitimised experiences of sexual harassment which did not rank as ‘serious enough’ in hierarchical frameworks of conceptualising sexual harassment.”

The links between different forms of abuse and how continuous they are in women’s lives become difficult to ignore in the face of thousands of individual stories shared under one umbrella. #MeToo, thus, has legitimised experiences of sexual harassment which did not rank as “serious enough” in hierarchical frameworks of conceptualising sexual harassment. It has also brought these experiences to the forefront, when they may not be explicitly defined as criminal acts, and has shown how they inform women’s everyday decision-making processes in regards to safety and risk in public and private interactions. In this way, #MeToo has fostered a more survivor-centric, continuum-based thinking of sexual harassment in wider public discourse. 

“Allied to #MeToo were hashtags such as #YoTambien in Spain and Latin America, #BalanceTonPorc (expose your pig) in France and #RiceBunny and #MiTu in China which sparked and rejuvenated local feminist organising and protests.”

This reckoning with different types of sexual violations brought on by #MeToo has not been limited geographically. #MeToo inspired global movements and lent itself to the rise of activism for context specific feminist goals. Allied to #MeToo were hashtags such as #YoTambien in Spain and Latin America, #BalanceTonPorc (expose your pig) in France and #RiceBunny and #MiTu in China which sparked and rejuvenated local feminist organising and protests. In India, women in the entertainment and media industries started using #MeToo to share their stories of abuse roughly a year after Milano’s tweet. This caused a renewal of wide concern with sexual violence which had been largely absent since the 2012 New Delhi gangrape case. 

In Argentina, #MeToo was shared by actresses to share their experiences of sexual harassment. It then evolved into #NiUnaMenos (not one woman less), an activist coalition of grassroots protestors and popular actresses demanding redressal of feminist concerns such as through legalization of abortion. China’s #MiTu emerged on new years’ day, 2018 in universities where several senior academics were accused of sexual harassment by current and former students. As of September 2018, more than 50 public allegations were made in China on social media against powerful men coming from different backgrounds, including NGO founders, media personalities, businessmen. Local feminist movements across the world were able to adopt #MeToo for culturally specific causes and they harnessed its burgeoning visibility to further their feminist goals. This ability of #MeToo to permeate borders and extend its platform has the potential for creating cross-cultural coalitions for preventing sexual harassment. 

“#MeToo has not included every survivor. For one, #MeToo requires digital literacy and the freedom to be able to share your story without fear of repercussions. This means that a large chunk of survivors including older women, women and children in conflict zones, incest victims, those with abusive partners or otherwise marginalised remain unable to say #MeToo.”

However, #MeToo has not included every survivor. For one, #MeToo requires digital literacy and the freedom to be able to share your story without fear of repercussions. This means that a large chunk of survivors including older women, women and children in conflict zones, incest victims, those with abusive partners or otherwise marginalised remain unable to say #MeToo. Activists point out that the focus in the international #MeToo remains largely on relatively privileged, western, white women often to the exclusion of Black, Asian, Indigenous, Minority Ethnic women and LGBTQIA people. In the international press, faces associated with #MeToo that gain most visibility are primarily middle-class Hollywood actresses, particularly those who brought charges against Harvey Weinstein and at the helm of Times Up!, the legal defence fund set up in conjunction with #MeToo. 

“There are many such cases of #MeToo mobilising grassroots protests and strike action, but these #MeToo affiliates did not get nearly as much coverage as Hollywood actresses speaking about abuse. The media discourse around #MeToo erases their stories and the online moment has not been able to remedy that so far.”

In the US, Alianza Nacional de Compesinas and similar groups domestic workers and female janitors highlighted harassment in their industries. McDonalds workers in ten American cities organised a day-long strike protesting workplace sexual harassment. There are many such cases of #MeToo mobilising grassroots protests and strike action, but these #MeToo affiliates did not get nearly as much coverage as Hollywood actresses speaking about abuse. The media discourse around #MeToo erases their stories and the online moment has not been able to remedy that so far. In India, the conversation around #MeToo remained largely restricted to film and media industries, with little attention paid to the plight of women who work under even more precarious conditions. The harassment of garment factory workers or domestic workers have received barely any coverage in the media that has chosen to focus on details of high-profile cases that can be sold for shock value. Nearly two years since Tanushree Datta accused Nana Patekar of sexual harassment, it is unclear if any of the film production companies that publicly vowed to build safer and more equitable film sets have followed through. 

While this focus on more privileged and well-known faces of #MeToo can be attributed to patriarchal and commercial media conditions beyond the control of those speaking out, that does not account for instances where women of colours’ voices were actively side-lined. In a joint television interview about #MeToo with Burke, Alyssa Milano was criticized for taking up most of the airtime and interrupting Burke in her responses several times. According to Alison Phipps, because #MeToo has replicated the hierarchies of mainstream feminism that privilege white women, and thus, “Speaking out” can become “speaking over”. 

“#MeToo has so far not been able to address the intersections of race, age, class, religion, and other categories of marginilisation in compounding violence against women.”

#MeToo has so far not been able to address the intersections of race, age, class, religion, and other categories of marginilisation in compounding violence against women. This has hindered the vast potential of the online #MeToo moment into becoming a movement for all survivors. However, #MeToo has immense, unprecedented potential for harnessing cross-cultural coalitions against patriarchal oppression that still needs to be actualised. It has been transformative for women and survivors world over and has validated experiences of abuse and trauma that survivors have historically been told don’t matter. It has highlighted that sexual and gendered violence is the unspoken pandemic raging unchecked. This speaks to the work that is yet to be done and the need for #MeToo to become a movement inclusive of all survivors. 

Asmita is currently pursuing a Masters in Woman and Child Abuse. She runs the Talking Research Podcast and is an Editor at Bol.

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India’s 112th Rank in Global Gender Gap Index

Gurbani Kaur Bhasin 

Examining India’s fall in the Global Gender Gap Index, what it means and where we stand going forward in a world with covid

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is based in Cologny-Geneva, Switzerland is the organization for Public-Private Cooperation, committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas.

According to its Gender Gap Index, countries are ranked according to the calculated gender gap between women and men in four key areas – Health, Education, Economy, and Politics. “Gender Gap” is the measure of this gender-based disparity.

It reports that for the year 2020, the Global Gender Gap score (based on the population-weighted average) stands at 68.6%. This means that, on average, the gap is narrower as compared to last year, and the remaining gap to close is now 31.4%. Iceland is ranked the most gender-neutral country, which is the country with the lowest disparity (highest equality) between men and women when measured based on the said parameters. 

“Despite the remarkable spike in the educational attainment for women and the formulation of schemes to encourage women’s education, the Economic Participation and Opportunity rank reveals that India stands at the 5th position from the bottom.”

India’s latest position at 112th has dropped 14 ranks lower than its reading in 2006 when the WEF started measuring the gender gap. India is ranked lower than many of its neighbouring countries like China, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesia and Bangladesh. This widening gap raises red flags for India for many reasons. Despite the remarkable spike in the educational attainment for women and the formulation of schemes to encourage women’s education, the Economic Participation and Opportunity rank reveals that India stands at the 5th position from the bottom.

“The assumption that major gender parity problems can be solved by making education available to women is challenged due to the fact that healthcare and necessities are a luxury for many people in India. The country is 4th last in the list of 153 others in making healthcare facilities available to women.”

Similarly variables of Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment, are aligned with the numbers reflected by Educational Attainment graphs to study the reasons behind gender disparity. The findings provoke questions on lifestyles, law-making and execution, and attitudes towards women in Indian society. The assumption that major gender parity problems can be solved by making education available to women is challenged due to the fact that healthcare and basic necessities are a luxury for many people in India. The country is 4th last in the list of 153 others in making healthcare facilities available to women. A striking contrast on the other hand is seen in the relationship between education and political empowerment where the nation stands at number 18 on the same list.      

Upon analysing the reasons behind the dynamics of each of the above trends, one can broadly infer that the stem of this disparity roots down to and raises doubts about the quality of education, healthcare provided, and interest and capability in Politics (ref WEF_GGGR_2020).

“While 93% of women have access to primary education, the numbers are filtered as we move to secondary and tertiary enrolment figures and ultimately lower than 30% of women become professionals and technical workers.”

While 93% of women have access to primary education, the numbers are filtered as we move to secondary and tertiary enrollment figures and ultimately lower than 30% of women become professionals and technical workers. This in turn accounts for a similar low share in economic participation and income earned.

This filtration can further be attributed to the largely patriarchal nature of Indian society impacting households and professional environments. The vicious circle of this disparity looms large out of the fact that it is women, who preach these social norms to younger women and the following generations. Any attempt for reform is defamed as an indecent rebellion. Women who stand up against these norms are ostracised from society making large scale social reform very difficult.

Another unfortunate contributor to the bottleneck situation of women’s quality of education is the very fondly tamed culture of meticulously planning and saving for a fat, extravagant wedding and heavy dowry – a presumed responsibility of the woman’s family. Prevalent in many rich and poor, educated and uneducated households of South and East Asia, this culture shapes the savings of the family where the majority is invested to compound into huge sums to meet unnecessary wedding responsibilities, followed by only basic education and lastly, healthcare of the girl child.  This adds to the gap because of the presumption that the man is the earner of the family. As a result, most women either aim or are compelled to confine their lives as homemakers. Thus, many among the very few who manage to attain tertiary education, are not able to transform their years of investment in academics, into monetary rewards.

“Many newly married women are also not welcomed by employers for long term jobs as women are expected to start having children soon after their marriage and maternity leave is not a cost most employers are willing to incur.”

Since largely all the above, in varying magnitudes, affect the educational turnover of women, the standard of their qualifications is poorer than their male counterparts thus yielding them less lucrative employment opportunities. Moreover, the employers in India view most women as short term resources as they are expected to get married early into their careers. Many newly married women are also not welcomed by employers for long term jobs as women are expected to start having children soon after their marriage and maternity leave is not a cost most employers are willing to incur.

Contrary to popular hashtags, women are not exactly “in this together” or at par with men, they are not in the same boat even when they share the same storm. The risk of the current Covid pandemic to an average female employee is much higher compared to her male colleagues. 

“Women are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic in the job sector. Women have lost 54% of all jobs during the pandemic even though they only held 39% of all jobs before the pandemic. This is partly due to the nature of employment of women in sectors worst hit by the pandemic, like tourism, hospitality etc., and partly because of the disproportionate increase in the burden of domestic chores on the women.”

A report by McKinsey shows that women are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic in the job sector. Women have lost 54% of all jobs during the pandemic even though they only held 39% of all jobs before the pandemic. This is partly due to the nature of employment of women in sectors worst hit by the pandemic, like tourism, hospitality etc. and partly because of the disproportionate increase in the burden of domestic chores on women since they are the main caregivers in most households.

Another issue is the sex ratio which has been perpetually lopsided due to a long prevalent practice of female infanticide and foeticide, which even though has been abolished for a few decades now, has made a deep dent in the gender distribution of our population. Technologies such as IVF are being misused for sex selection leading to a rising sex ratio of males per female. Figures of infanticide and foeticide together show that nearly 200,000 Indian girls are killed before the age of six owing to gender bias. Many women also succumb to death during childbirth due to low access to healthcare facilities 

The world is a witness of how much more efficient at management, women are than men. Former Union Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj had assumed the rightful liberty to once quote that: “As a woman and an elected Member of Parliament, it has been my firm conviction that there is a shortcut to real social change — empowering the girl child.”

“Not only is this a pressing human rights issue to be inculcated and implemented through government’s policies and reforms but also an alarm call to increase efforts towards equality for all genders. At the dawn of the 2020s, building fairer and more inclusive economies must be the goal of global, national and industry leaders.”

Having studied the credible data about the gender demography of our country, the need for women’s representation in the given parameters is louder than ever. Not only is this a pressing human rights issue to be inculcated and implemented through government’s policies and reforms but also an alarm call to increase efforts towards equality for all genders. At the dawn of the 2020s, building fairer and more inclusive economies must be the goal of global, national and industry leaders. 

The points distinguished in the WEF report on Gender Gap and elaborated above highlight the growing urgency for action. Without the equal inclusion of half of the world’s talent and at the present rate of change, it will take nearly a century to achieve parity, a timeline we simply cannot accept in today’s globalized world, especially among younger generations who hold increasingly progressive views of gender equality.

Gurbani is a 23 year old student, in the final year of Chartered Accountancy and a graduate of Commerce from Hislop College, Nagpur.

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Migrant Deaths: “No such data is available”

Sukanya Maity

Speaking to Bhunia, a migrant worker who shares his experience during Covid pandemic, as the government claims to have no data/record of the deaths of migrant workers.

The constitutional strongholds of India were shaken up when the Ministry of Labour and Employment claimed “No such data is available” in response to a question about the deaths of migrant workers during the Covid-19 lockdown. 

On March 24, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, announced a nationwide lockdown. The entire country was panic-stricken. While those of us reading this worried ourselves about groceries, medicines and purchasing disinfectants, 40 million people who account for more than half the population living below the poverty line, had just one question in their mind – “How to go home?” In India, where inter-state migration is common, hundreds of thousands of people from rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and West Bengal migrate to the cities in search of jobs and better living conditions. Migrants usually end up working in informal sectors and as daily-wage labourers. They live in substandard living conditions or slums in the margins of cities.

“They marched from one city to another, walked miles after miles barefoot, carrying their aged parents and young children in trolleys, bicycles and mostly on their shoulders.”

Shutting down factories and mining centres rendered these daily-wage workers jobless overnight. With no alternative forms of employment and very little savings, they had to bear the prospects of starvation, homelessness and even death. Hence, started the great exodus! They marched from one city to another, walked miles after miles barefoot, carrying their aged parents and young children in trolleys, bicycles and mostly on their shoulders. The pandemic, undoubtedly, brought to light the plight of the most vulnerable, ignored and exploited section of the society – the migrant labourers. 

Migrant workers photo by Sukanya Maity

While most of them, fortunately, made it to their homes, some of them had succumbed to the journey. Reportedly, sixteen migrant workers were crushed to death by a goods train in Aurangabad, in Madhya Pradesh, five of them were killed in a truck accident and eight people died in a road accident in Karnataka. As many as 378 people lost their lives, out of which 69 people died in road and rail accidents and others succumbed to starvation and exhaustion.  In the Shramik Special trains deployed to rescue stranded migrant workers in the middle of a heat wave, 97 people have died before 9th September. Those who made it to their hometowns faced stigma and new forms of untouchability. 

“Speaking to Bol Magazine, Sourav Bhunia, a resident of a small village in West Bengal who had migrated to the Khammam district of Telangana to work as a labourer in a granite factory, shared his heart-wrenching experience”

Speaking to Bol Magazine, Sourav Bhunia, a resident of a small village in West Bengal who had migrated to the Khammam district of Telangana to work as a labourer in a granite factory, shared his heart-wrenching experience: “For the last two months from the start of the lockdown, the contractor allowed us only one meal a day….one chappati (bread) and sometimes a spoonful serving of rice”. 

Bhunia, 25, along with eight other people, originally from Madhakhali, a small village in East Midnapore district of West Bengal, had left for their destination in 2019, sometime around September. After nine months, spending their maximum earnings, impoverished and jaded, they returned to their home state in the first week of May 2020. Following is Bhunia’s account of the lockdown. 

Sourav Bhunia photo by Sukanya Maity

How did you get through the initial days of lockdown? Did you save up?

Whatever little we had earned in the past few months, we transferred the amount to our families back at home and kept with ourselves, not more than what we would need to buy groceries or pay the rent. The contractor, Bera, under whom a group of eight people worked, promised me a sum of twelve-thousand rupees by the end of March. Because of the countrywide lockdown, the granite factory had to be shut down and the contractor always found an excuse to not talk about our wages. We waited for weeks until we confronted him. He seemed helpless and ignorant about the entire situation when we came to know that the factory owner had not paid him the sum that was due. I grew restless, without a penny in my pocket and an empty stomach, I would cry to sleep every night. We prayed for the lockdown to be lifted in no time so that we would get our due wages and return to our village. We did not want to die there, either of hunger or from the virus; we would rather die in our homeland. 

He broke down in the middle of our conversation.

Did the State Government or the local officials help in easing your condition? 

Mr Bera had recorded a video of us pleading with the West Bengal Government to arrange for our return. He had assured us that it would reach the Chief Minister of the state. We were betrayed again. It did not; why would the government think of us? 

The Central Government had arranged for Shramik Specials (special trains to carry the migrants to their hometowns). How has the initiative helped you?

When the Central Government passed an order to bring back the migrant workers to their villages, we were overjoyed; but we are labourers and why would anyone do us any good? The rail authority asked for our Adhar Cards so that we could get the free tickets to our home. I felt a sudden urge to kill myself when I realised that I did not have my Adhar card with me. How would I know that the only thing they care about even when we are in the midst of a pandemic, is a proof of citizenship? Back at home, my father contacted the local BJP cadres so that they might help in any possible way, but it did not work. I was not surprised at all. In the last election, I had voted for the Janata Party thinking that Pradhan Mantri (Prime Minister) coming from a family like ours, would work for the betterment of the majdoors (labourers and menial workers). I was only daydreaming.

How did you manage to return?

Thank heavens, I was not the only one without an Adhar card. Some of my co-workers, who could not board a train the following day, planned to go to the local police station in Khammam to seek help; I accompanied them too. The police personnel asked us to arrange a feasible means of transport for ourselves and made it clear that they would not be able to help us in any way. There were eight of us and we managed to get an ambassador car which charged each of us 5,000 INR. After continuous rounds of visits to the local police station and the district magistrate’s office, we were finally granted permission to leave for our home states.

Bhunia sighed after narrating his experience. As a sign of empathy and being at a loss of words, I exclaimed how the pandemic has affected the lives of people in the worst possible ways. What followed next, has kept me wondering about the situational reality and the world that we are living in. He said, “A pandemic becomes a pandemic when no one can escape from it, be it the rich people in the cities or people like us and when it affects them (referring to the privileged sections), it becomes a global issue. People like us anyway die of hunger. It has been ‘their’ (the privileged) government, ‘their’ problem, and now, ‘their’ disease. The only thing that we want is our wages. That will help.” 

“Not acknowledging the sufferings, hardships, humiliation and helplessness of the workers and erasing their reality by not keeping a record of their lives reflects how little the lives of people like Bhunia matter.”

Last week, the Home Ministry openly declared in the parliament that the panic created due to the migrants’ exodus has been solely stimulated by “fake news” about the duration of the pandemic. This negates the reality that the government did not specify the duration and for a daily-wage migrant worker the most rational action, like many other professionals, students, travellers was to go home. Not acknowledging the sufferings, hardships, humiliation and helplessness of the workers and erasing their reality by not keeping a record of their lives reflects how little the lives of people like Bhunia matter. Speaking to Bhunia and listening to his harrowing experience, I realise how we, as a nation, have failed to uphold our democratic ideals by choosing to be silent observers.

Sukanya is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. She is a feminist, anti-fascist and anti-capitalist and hopes to document the lives of remarkable women so that their stories don’t vanish into anonymity.

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हुजूम पे आखिर इल्ज़ाम क्या है

By Smriti Bhoker

Smriti is a feminist Urdu poet and writer with a post grad in Sociology. 

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Indian Populist Leaders: From Indira Gandhi to Modi

Navika Mehta

Why populism works in Indian politics as a political tool used by leaders to gain popular support.

In 2016, 2000 articles in the Guardian mentioned populism as compared to 300 articles in 1998. In 2017, “populism” was declared the word of the year by the Cambridge Dictionary. In the last 20 years, there is a significant increase in populist support worldwide and populist vote share has more than tripled in Europe. Although populism is not a new occurrence, the 2008 financial crisis and the 2015 refugee influx in Europe have been commonly cited by academics as propellers of this “anti-establishment” rhetoric

“populist parties are not revolutionary and do not oppose established political parties. Instead, they call themselves a ‘new’ kind of party that is different from all others.”

Cas Mudde, a Dutch political scientist, has defined populism as “an ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite’, and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté (general will) of the people”. He explains that populist parties are not revolutionary and do not oppose established political parties. Instead, they call themselves a “new” kind of party that is different from all others. He differentiates populists from early socialists because populists claim to speak for the “oppressed people” while unwilling to change “their values or their ‘way of life’”. For example, speaking for farmers’ rights while charging high-interest rates on loans. 

Indian politics is not a stranger to populist politics. Right from the movement for Indian independence from the British Empire, to the current BJP government, populism has been key to gaining votes. Prior to Independence, the nationalist movement which enabled the country-wide resistance against the British Raj brought about a sense of togetherness in the collective struggles against the oppressor. This movement succeeded largely by gathering the outpouring of popular support as the nation as a whole came together to bring an end to British rule. 

“After Independence, another major wave of populism was brought about by Indira Gandhi from 1966. She created an anti-elite rhetoric by pushing a pro-poor agenda with the famous phrase ‘gareebi hatao’, which means, end poverty.”

After Independence, another major wave of populism was brought about by Indira Gandhi from 1966. She created an anti-elite rhetoric by pushing a pro-poor agenda with the famous phrase “gareebi hatao”, which means, end poverty. And so, further enforcing redistribution through economic policies like nationalisation of banks and abolition of the privy purse (a sum paid to the former rulers of princely states of India who agreed to integrate with the union). Thus, creating a them vs. us narrative – the colonial past vs. modern egalitarian India – and – rich elite vs. poor. These redistributive anti-elite policies along with her emphasising a strong feminine character, being referred to as “Ma Durga”, Goddess of Power, challenged the political masculinities of Indian politics and enabled her to get the popular vote. 

“Since independence, an exclusive form of populism has emerged, based on identity rather than economic interests. This populism uses economic hardships as a tool to gather identity-based support.”

Populism can be inclusive or exclusive. For example, populism in Europe is exclusive and that in Latin America is inclusive. This means that while European populism has a socio-cultural dimension to exclude immigrants or refugees, the Latin American populism has an economic dimension of including and helping the poor and underrepresented. Indian history has witnessed both kinds. The independence movement was inclusive, it was a fight against colonial oppressors and freedom for all Indians. Since independence, an exclusive form of populism has emerged, based on identity rather than economic interests. This populism uses economic hardships as a tool to gather identity-based support. Identity here can be religious, caste-based, gendered or along any other social category. Due to this, a new political cleavage with a cultural dimension has now emerged.

“Unlike Indira Gandhi, Modi’s populism focuses on exclusion. While it is the same anti-elite rhetoric, the focus remains on identity-based exclusion and highlighting political masculinity. His famous statement during the 2014 election campaign ‘chhappan inch ki chhati (56-inch chest)’ perfectly exemplifies the politicisation of his masculinity.”

Populism in India today has taken a similar approach using this new dimension. With identity-based politics at the forefront, right-wing populism has slowly grown and has now taken a stronghold with the re-election of the BJP for a second term. Unlike Indira Gandhi, Modi’s populism focuses on exclusion. While it is the same anti-elite rhetoric, the focus is on identity-based exclusion and highlighting political masculinity. His famous statement during the 2014 election campaign “chhappan inch ki chhati (56-inch chest)” perfectly exemplifies the politicisation of his masculinity. The party has successfully created a them vs. us narrative through religion – majority vs. minority and also through nationalists vs. anti-nationals (those who speak against the government). While Gandhi herself belonged to the ruling class she channeled her image as the anti-elite rebel, similarly, Modi has emphasised his humble beginnings as the “chai wala” (tea seller). 

Both types of populism focus on pro-poor agendas, their solutions are oversimplified and inadequate in bringing about real economic equality. For example, demonetisation and privy purse, both claimed to be for the benefit of the poor, anti-elite, but neither had a significant impact in bringing real economic and social change for the masses. 

The recent Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a law that prohibits illegal migrants from becoming citizens of India with exceptions for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian minorities was defended by supporters of the government and mainstreamed a huge populist anti-immigrant sentiment. Suddenly, elite, upper middle-class and majority religious groups who may have never before concerned themselves with the rights of the Indian working class, expressed deep concern about Muslim immigrant workers from Bangladesh taking jobs of the Hindu working class. The focus of the political sphere thus shifted from the real causes of unemployment to the them vs. us narrative of Muslim immigrants taking the jobs of natives. This has been highlighted as the “scapegoating phenomena” by Colantone and Stanig who explain that anti-immigrant sentiments tend to be higher in areas with greater unemployment and in the presence of a right-wing populist party. They explain that unemployment and lack of opportunities trigger this belief that the labour market is a “zero-sum game”, wherein, in order to get a job the individual needs to take it from another person thus making immigrants a perceived threat for natives. 

“nativism means that ‘states should be inhabited exclusively by members of the native group – the nation – and that non-native people and ideas are fundamentally threatening to the homogenous nation-state.’ He argues that this idea of nativism has essentially been ‘whitewashed’ by using the term populism.”

Mudde argues that this anti-immigrant ideology used by populist parties is actually “nativism” couched in a less explicit racist term as “populism”. He explains that nativism means that “states should be inhabited exclusively by members of the native group – the nation – and that non-native people and ideas are fundamentally threatening to the homogenous nation-state.” He argues that this idea of nativism has essentially been “whitewashed” by using the term populism. In India, the CAA along with the NRC (National Register of Citizens) is not only a threat for migrants and refugees but also against people who don’t have the paperwork to prove their citizenship, with the CAA  specifically excluding Muslims who entered India on or before December 2014. Thus, further reinforcing the exclusive populist narrative of India in the 21st century. 

“The present day form of Indian populism is very different from post-colonial populist beliefs.” 

The present day form of Indian populism is very different from post-colonial populist beliefs. Post-Independence, in the backdrop of partition, the Indian government laid emphasis on ideas of pluralism, secularism and diversity, with the phrase “unity in diversity” coined by Nehru. These ideas were deeply ingrained in education, government policies and cultural references. In the present day, until the issues of “nativism”, economic inequalities and political propaganda of right-wing populists who pretend that they care about the working class are effectively tackled, populism will continue to thrive, and fake news and positive media coverage will enable it to do so.

Navika is the Editor of Bol Magazine and created this platform to inspire conversations and action.

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