Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Unity in Diversity: Notion or Reality

Unity in Diversity is a reality that we must acknowledge and live with. Unity will not come by making everybody alike rather by agreeing on certain common values and principles and leaving the rest to the people. The first principle being equality and equity to enable people to achieve equality. Do we have unity in diversity? Not entirely, the Indian government and a large number of fellow Indians refuse to acknowledge caste discrimination because caste is different from race but they expect dalits to have the sense of unity. Same with women's rights; the state apparatus, society and families continue to kill female foetus, burn women, rape and molest women and girls and deny them basic rights in the name of religion, custom, traditions and so on but when women cry and make noise they are told that they have sold out to foreign ideologies as if only these inhuman practices are the foundation of the 'Indian ideology'.

The issue of unity cannot be left to nurture itself and remain a reality on its own unless the problematic of caste practice, the practices of abuse, discrimination, and violence against women and girls, and the inequality at large are consciously addressed. Do these practices threaten the concept of Unity in Diversity? Yes, if diversity is taken to mean and allow casteism, sexism, and so on even when these are to be ended says the Indian constitution. Citizens need to revisit the role of diversity that India holds in the national identity politics and construction of a national identity. The political ideology of a cohesive nation and national integration will not go far unless diversity based on the principles of equality and equity is given true meaning by the practice of it.

Diversity is a complex reality in India as a deconstruction of this reality will reveal innumerable sects, social groups and socio-economic segmentation by end number of castes, sub-castes, religious, regional and linguistic groups apart from further division and of these by sex. With this layered and amazingly complex reality of diversity within the nation-state, the concept of ‘one nation’ was and continues to be thrown away every time an effort is made to silence certain voices against discrimination, state led violence, caste and religion led violence and gender based violence. Or, the concept is thrown off by the unethical and unscrupulous political actors who use the issues raised by the voices to serve their vested ends. Demands for separate states and autonomous districts, mosques for women and so on are the symptoms of one or the other form of rejection of the notion of ‘one nation’.

The architects of the Indian Constitution were far-sighted enough to recognize this and sought to bring about a sense of an overarching Indian identity by ending the discrimination, inequality and violence and by recognizing the reality of diversity through inclusion of the fundamental rights and protection of dalits and religious, cultural and ‘habitation’ minorities (the last terms means certain forest habitats and those citizens who inhabit those habitats). The overarching national or unified identity has to bear the imprint of myriad political, social, religious, gender, and culture based lives in the country. It cannot be the other way round that these give way to accept national unity at whatever cost.

The notion and reality of an identity coming from Diversity is necessary not just from a patriotic sense of belonging to one geo-entity but also from the point of view of a mass of people being protected from the exploitative globalized forces, for the sake of economic advancement of a considerable chunk of humanity consisting of both women and men, for ensuring that identities of some do not swallow the identities of all, and for recognizing that diversity exists at all levels and in every social strata and segment.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Up in the Air in Somalia

The Egal International Airport at Hargeisa in Somaliland
It has everything - a general waiting lounge, a VIP lounge, check in counters, a cafeteria, fuel depot, security check too!

Refueling over, aircraft checked, checked in baggage being loaded!

Passengers onboard! "Mind your head and keep your feet together", the Captain announces, "we are all set to go!"

Now at the Wajid International Airport ...
In case you missed it, look closely: The famous Tiki Lounge and all the directions for parking and entry - no entry without permission! If it is that lucky hour of the day, you may get a cup of nicely brewed chai in a little glass! 

The road from the UN compound. First round of checking before entering this gate is essential!

The aircraft arrives!

Time for security clearance and to check-in!

Multi-tasking! Refueling, loading and boarding ...

Garowe International Airport
This is the Old One, a new one has been in making ... may be already operating. Immigration used to have a room but the officer was always kind enough to go around collecting visa fee and stamping the passport, taking care not to use the whole page. If you were a frequent flyer to Garowe, you could get a discounted visa fee!

Passengers arriving at the airport and the aircraft coming to a halt ... arrivals are well synchronised!

Security check, ticket check, onboard!

And in the air again!

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Friday, December 11, 2009

The Education Catch

Education, now-a-days, is hardly being looked upon for educating the mind. Primary education, mostly as a means of acquiring the ability to read and write – to be able to read labels and signs, Higher education, increasingly, is seen as a means to acquire better jobs and to some degree set up businesses – an economic avenue. This way of looking at education is universal. Reading and writing may not have been required as a survival skill a century back and therefore treated as something important for the brain and intellectual growth. That is part of the reason why it used to be a pursuit of the wealthy, ruling classes and the like. With time and changes in the economic contexts education has become a commercial investment for individuals, families, institutions, and governments. A small woman farmer needs to be able to read the amount that she is signing in the account book of her self-help group or fill the form that the disgruntled staff member of a nationalized bank wants her to complete before s/he can tell her that she will get that little loan. Today, the critique of the commercial value of education is a privileged criticism. Education is no longer a delicacy to feed the brain or an ability to intellectualize the small matters of life that would make the person someone to whom the working classes would turn to for advice.

‘Social Returns’ or economic returns to the family or society against the investment made in a child/person’s education have become an important measure to assess effectiveness of education. And this is where the catch lies. Social significance attached to particular sex, class, caste, region (or location), etc influence the understanding of ‘who’ can bring higher Social Returns from education. This influence is critical, of utmost significance, as it is this understanding that makes a father or mother or the family determine who will receive education, who will receive what education, and who will receive education where. This understanding also influences social decision about which education will get prioritised and demanded and since society is a whole only conceptually, only those who hold power in a society get heard. The understanding also shapes the strategies of the institutions – governments, academic or otherwise who are capable of investing in education – as to who will constitute their ‘clientele’, what kind of education they would offer to whom, in which location they would offer the services and on what terms. Supposedly poor socio-economic worth of women, the supposedly lower castes and certain classes, forest dwelling communities or those living in remote areas where any form of economic development will require very high investment and would have a much longer gestation period, etc become disincentive to investment in their education by the families, institutions and governments.

Different types of education - primary, secondary, technical, higher education, etc – also pose different gendered challenges. The challenges that each type throws up require different responses. The situation is further complicated by the fact that although some problems cut across geographical barriers, education is a “State” subject in India and each state government has different legislations that affect education differently. The role of the family and society in making the changes in the state is of paramount but so is the orientation with which the party in governance comes to govern the state. For example in Kerala, higher level of literacy has been possible because of the communist elected government which forcibly introduced land and education reforms. But there has been a set back in the quality of education in Kerala in the recent years because the same government did not attempt to influence social traditions or practices and limited itself to reform as far as economics goes. This doesn’t meant that there have been no social change and reform processes going on. There have been but these have been led separately by individuals and groups who are concerned about gender inequality issues and caste issues. The poor synergy between the two or the state’s inability to go beyond economics contributed to what has been otherwise a smooth growth in literacy. Having said this, the fact that the communist government created a space to address these issues, which is visibly absent in other states, including the current day communist state West Bengal, made it possible for the individuals and groups to create a demand and desire for change.

The ‘Social Returns’ perspective needs to be continuously critiqued for its top-down approach as well as for being divorced from the socio-cultural analysis. It will benefit immensely by aligning itself with the social change and reform agenda and with the demand for reform in gender relations or the social allocation of roles and responsibilities to women and men and girls and boys in relation to each other and in the public space. Without this alignment, the claims made by institutions and governments that education will address and find responses to social issues will just remain a rhetoric without any value. Education cannot be looked at in isolation and it will bring ‘Social Returns’ for all only if we recognize and consciously work on the gender, class, caste, regional (or locational) and religious dynamics within families, societies and cultures.

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Sunday, December 6, 2009


Muddled in my thoughts
Erratic in my actions
I divide to be concealed and to be opened
And forget what belongs where

Not knowing the boundaries
Nor to break free
I time my existence
And lose track when to be where

A being of contradictions

Tell me
How to cross over
From multiplicity to a whole

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Violence in Religion or Violence with Religion?

A look at history is good enough to tell us that the history of religion is a history of violence. Not surprising; religion is indeed opium of the masses - quoting it even though it comes from a racist political philosopher - and the elite alike. Unlike any other aspect of life, this one offers a remedy for all, if you are willing to believe. People are taught to protect what can salvage them from any situation. When so much of ' the potential' is at stake, obviously it is easier to instigate those who are afraid for their well-being, vulnerable because everything else has not just failed but also told them that nothing can save them from the doom of one or the other kind. Unpredictability of the future scares all and each wants to minimize that unpredictability as far as possible. If a belief that offers some level of security to people is portrayed as under threat, people rise and react.

Religion has never been a private matter - practice of religion gives identity, the nature of that practice makes one visible or invisible in a larger whole. Religion therefore has to be a major tool in the hands of those who seek political power or clout. The element of power has created such close relationship between religion and violence. All major religions, Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism are tainted with violence.

Violence is said to be not part of any religion but when religion is the matrix within which identity is crafted, violence gets embedded in religion.

The sheer number of people - just in the sense of population - frightens humanity because humans have demonstrated consistent capacity to harm and destroy. The fear, therefore, is not unfounded. The fear then becomes the basis for social organizing, whether it is through the family or religion or any other institution which can assure the larger society that things will not go haywire and that they are not at each-other's mercy. Family, clan, religion, etc are some of the oldest institutions that have been set up to organize the society in a manner that the social as well as personal behaviours stay within certain agreeable boundaries. Since these are human creations, they can be used by humans to serve or dis-serve the humanity.

Since religion carries with what people regard as incomprehensible truths - truths which cannot be easily understood by ordinary beings and the only way to benefit from those truths is by placing their blind trust in them - even the state has often bowed before the power of religion. State and politics aim to command allegiance and compliance for the right or wrong reasons and religion has historically demonstrated its ability to galvanize allegiance and compliance. It is not surprising, therefore, that the state and politics use and abuse religion.

So while it can be said that religion does not carry violence, if eyes and ears are kept open, it can be seen that by its nature religion makes violence pursue it. And to say that religion and violence are completely divorced is not to recognise that many form of practices of religion condone violence when it takes place in form of animal sacrifice or identity politics killigs. Religion is what people practice, ie, the reality of religion lies in its practice, not in the texts that the majority have not read, cannot read or cannot understand. And religions, even in their purest forms, have tended to stand side by side with violence.

Since religion is so close to the core of human beings, the political and state machinery mix up with religions allow them to acquire much greater role. Since it is believed to have come from a supreme power, who all can trust and who can solve all problems of humanity and so on, it also gains the legitimacy to be the factor that should direct every day actions of human beings. Where that happens, it is not impossible to see how religion begins to influence practice of social justice, gender equality, rights, etc. And in societies where more than one religion exists, the competition among them is directly correlated with the level of religious involvement in violence and political involvement in religions.

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Globalization of Withering Weather, Dwindling Economies and Precarious Lives

The number of natural disasters and human-made disasters seem to be increasing manifold, each new year. Humanitarian response organizations are pointing out to the alarming ‘trend’ of increasing unpredictability of weather and seasons and to the fact that these are aggravated by climate change. And climate change has its deeper connections with economic globalization and increasingly lopsided and unsustainable energy consumption patterns. While climate change seems to have caught some attention, at least among the ‘intelligentsia’, media, and civil society organizations, economic globalization and perverse economic development of countries is hardly being taken up as an issue that is negotiable.

Humanitarian agencies across the globe are finding hard to raise resources to cope with old and new forms of disaster. Increasing number of disasters equal increasing demand for funds which practically means that funding is going to be more and more thinly scattered. The situation is becoming acute in the light of the fact that availability of the funds is also getting increasingly influenced by political actions of War on Terror and the like. Destruction of subsistence economies and destruction of forests, water bodies and other natural resources by the Corporates and haphazard development are turning large populations into internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees. These IDPs and refugees have to compete with IDPs and refugees created by the ‘democratisation army’ of the US of A and its associates and vice-versa. Often, the IDPs and refugees go through a cyclical process of being affected by impacts of both natural and human-made disasters. The line between the ecological or environmental IDPs and refugees and conflict/war IDPs and refugees is blurring at a faster pace.

Given that the political boundaries are becoming more and more stronger, the physical space that can accommodate the IDPs and refugees is shirking at a rate which is perhaps as fast as the change in climate. IDPs and refugees have become footballs to kick at all levels of politics. Scarcity of resources is further fuelling the tension that has always existed between the host communities and the IDPs and immigrants. IDPs and refugees are often attacked, murdered, raped, abused and denies basic right of movement because the host communities resent what they see as preferential treatment to the IDPs and refugees who get settled in their areas. Retaliation by the IDPs and immigrants also does similar harm to the host communities. The strain on the host communities’ resources leads to creation of newer IDPs and migrants from among these communities.

The globalized world has indeed succeeded in globalizing the natural forces and human lives. Is there a global will to accept that globalization would also imply owning the global responsibility for causing environmental violence and human tragedy and taking the global responsibility to remedy the situation? Or will the countries take individual responsibility in proportion to the damage caused by the country? We wait to hear from the negotiators in Copenhagen.

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