The Nation, the State, and Indian Identity 8185604096, 9788185604091

The Book Suggests That We Should Focus On Identity Which Would Help Us Tackle The Divisive, Often Violent Strands Of Our

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The Nation, the State, and Indian Identity
 8185604096, 9788185604091

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The Nation, the State and Indian Identity

Edited by MADHUSREE DUTI'A, FLAVIA AGNES

and NEERA ADARKAR

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UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

)>5 ylidate itself?

i••MpPt d'.Dt issues have been raised. I will respmad io thm,, in seqnenc:~. I shall begin with the atti- . tude of tM trade · towards other than workplace issues► i■wl■mi11g the g.:Pdt r • e I think that is really the key to fighting cac11111Pwaatism to be able to genemlize and get_.. cepCed by the nmk and file that there is a bottom line which defi•~ the aitit■-le and identity of the union. That is a com111it11-ent to equality. If you can get the rank and file to accept that the m■ion exists because of certain broader cow,,roitts am. m partic,■darT llD'. nt to eq1U1lity,. then, from that► the fight agairu;t irnalism, casteis~ sexisr,,, raffle-, cn.ccotitme~t to the rmorganized sector, etc.,. follow. Bow ii is io he done is a very big question. One way that we tr:y to do ii is that when '-'Olk«s approach llS► WE: explain the idedecy of the mrion. We tell them that if they only want a-•e wages► bcwtus and better working conditions, they shouLl go io sane other union, and that if they ~ame t.o our ,,a~ we will also be taking up broader issues such as comim11,alism. Merely by saying that does not automatically lead to fighting cou,atwmalisro. However,. if we tell them that we are fighting c o m m ~ they will not ask later as to why we are taking up this issue. The question of putting equality back on the agenda is a pn>blem, JM>t on1y with the trade unions but with other in■porla:nt in the co1Jntry today. To mobilize on this issue, various mass organizations,. movements, and so m.,. exist. In a trade union this may raise many questions about what equality means equal wag~ equality between skill~ and unskilled workers, etc.-which certainly have to be addressed. The next question that I would like to take up is about the labour market, how the Shiv Sena has been able to establish itself by d.ominPting the labour market, the dangers of closmg the labour JD81'ket on issues of region and kinship. I share this concern, though not necessarily the same peneption. F'Jl'Stly,. the most important consideration of the labour market is just straight closure. Factories are dosing down and jobs are being eliminat:ed. This has to be

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the main focus of the struggle. When everybody is being expelled from jobs, this is what the workers have to fight against. We also have to build up a resistance towards the narrow approaches to the contraction of the labour market as represented by regional criteria or kinship. We do this at the level of our policy or statement or explaining to the worker. In actual fact, if a worker dies and there is a demand that his son should be employed in his place, we have to compromise with it, only because the family requires another source of support. While saying this, we ·also raise the question: If only the sons of the employed can get jobs, what about the sons of the unemployed? We try to put these questions before our rank and file. · However, there is another problem that has to be tackled: the demographic changes that are taking place in the context of modem capitalism. In places like Tripura, the indigenous population has been swamped by the people who have come from outside and there is a very real concern that people are getting pushed out of their homes and lands, which are being taken over. If we do not take up this issue in a serious, sober, democratic manner, it will mean that we are leaving the matter to be taken over by communalists. These problems 1md concerns of rank and file workers about being swamped by outsiders cannot be rejected on the ground that we stand for open labour markets all over the world. People will neither believe nor accept that. One last question that I will take up is about Naheeda's question of inse_n sitivity towards religion and her particular experience. I would like to tell two short stories, both of which are real. When the riots broke out on 18 May 1984, the house of Abdul Ghani, a worker, was burnt. Somehow he collected his belongings and fled to his village in Uttar ·Pradesh. Some months later, his house in Uttar Pradesh was destroyed in the floods and he sent a letter to the employer saying that he could not return to Bombay for some time. This letter never reached his employer. When he returned to Bombay he was told by the employer that since he had been away without notice for three months, he could not be taken back. Abdul Ghani was the only Muslim worker in the factory. I had reason to believe that another

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worker who was a leader in the area, may have actually participated and led the riots. When Ghani came to the union office and asked for help, I asked if he had sent an intimation. He said he had but did not have any proof as everything had been destroyed. In this rolling mill, most of the workers were from Maharashtra, uneducated and illiterate. I took a general body meeting which was near the bonus time and I anticipated a problem in reinstating him because he was the only Muslim. To sense the mood, I recounted his story and asked whether we should take up the issue. All the workers said 'yes'. To test the mood a little . more, I said that at present, he was without any funds and so asked each worker to contribute five rupees. Everybody agreed including the person who had participated in the riots and attacked Muslim houses three months earlier. Then the workers decided that they would all take it up with the employer. A week later, the workers came to office regarding the bonus letter. I inquired as to what had happened to Abdul Ghani. They said, ~rrey, we went and gheraoed the owner and demanded whether he would take Ghani back or no.' They had got Abdul Ghani back. Had this happened three months earlier, this would have been impossible. After three months, not only had these workers agitated and got Ghani back in his job_but they also thought it to be so inconsequential that when they came to -meet me a week later, they forgot to mention it. This is an example of the contrary feelings in the minds of the workers and a shift in perceptions from time to time. I would like to clarify a few points. One is about the incident about the two workers who were asked to leave because they were Muslims. I agree that this was done because they were Muslims, but if this was done in a different situation, it could also have been because they were contract workers or women or Dalits. So from time to time there are different kind of prejudices which are used by vested interests among workers. Gouri was asking whether I meant prejudice or hatred. I meant prejudice, but prejudice can tum into hatred during the riots. I do not think it is per1nanent hatred. AB a col-

MEENA MENON:

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lective, people tend to right the wrong without much discussion about it. This happens very often. Many questions have come up about this whole cultural aspect. Since it is important for our own future and the way . we are going to handle the problem in the future, it is true that IPrA and other organizations in the past have played a very important role. In fact, it was so poignant that Amar Sheikh Marg in Saat Raasta had belongings of Muslims lying on the street during the riots. At the same time, it is a fact that even today, Amar Sheikh is revered and warmly thought of among the workers and that today there is no such cultural movement. We must build upon the sensitivity/perception of the artists. It could be done with the help of the unions and the workers in a particular area. Even if we select only one or two areas for such a programme, I am sure it will have a lot of impact. I am willing to co-ordinate such a programme in Lalbaug-Parel, where artists can experiment. We can then slowly replace the cultural monopoly that is being exercised by the communal elements. We also need to organize creative workshops. The Sena worker exists, whether one likes it or not. It is his democratic right to belong to a 11nion as a worker in that particular organization. His membership cannot be denied only because he is a sainik. However, we would be definitely failing in _o ur task if we did not educate such workers on progressive concepts like secularism and gender. We have workers who regularly beat their wives and those who participated in riots. They have to be educated, but this has to be a gradual process. In fact, when a worker told us that he had participated in riots and mass murders, gradually, after several meetings, the workers started to look down on him. This was not merely because of the riots but due to his attitude and ideological stand. No one can be communal and not let it affect other areas in the same way as no one can be a chauvinist and not let it affect other relations. (chairperson): It is commendable that after the events in Ayodhya, the organizers thought it necessary

BAGARAM TULPULE

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to arrange a session on the role of trade 11nions in this context. It is significant that the educated and thinking people understand and want a special position for the trade union movement and feel that it should shoulder some responsibility. I agree with this view entirely. This session raises the question as to what exactly was destroyed on 6 December 1992. We know that the great thing that was destroyed was our staunch faith that notwithstand- . ing the communal tensions and the periodic riots that have occurred in our country, the majority community would never attack a place of worship of a minority community. This unshakeable belief was demolished. This feeling should be expressed in every gathering. I will say that this sentiment was not adequately expressed by the trade unions. The response of the trade unions fell far short of the sentiments expressed by the ordinary people in our country. Personally speaking, this lack of sensitivity and perception on the part of the trade unions is a very sad reflection of the reality. Today, when I meet my old trade union friends; I sense a 'business as usual' approach, that things will continue in the same manner as they have been in the last fifty years despite a temporary change in atmosphere amidst us. They fail to recognize that they are facing a new . challenge and that if they do not confront it, it will be impossible to continue in their same old tracks. A basic weakness has been built into the foundation of the trade union movement, which needs to be examined. If we look back twenty years ago, we will see that there was a similar challenge before us, though it took a different forn1. At the time of the Emergency, in June 1975, all our democratic nor ins were cast aside. The Supreme Court even prono:unced that if the government took someone's life, we cannot question it. Simultaneously, there was a challenge that gripped every thinking citizen. Some trade 11nions opposed the Emergency. But many others, including the ones which call themselves 'Left' trade unions supported it. AITUC (All-India Trade Union Congress) and INTUC (Indian National Trade Union Congress) supported the Emergency. Those who opposed it did not do so openly on the streets. At least 20-25 trade union activists who are my close friends were in jail.

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But they were not there as representatives of trade 11nions challenging the Emergency. They were in prison as political activists. The weakness of the trade unions became evident when the Emergency was lifted. The leaders of the trade union movement failed to acknowledge that the workers and the activists had faced a grave challenge. Hence they did not examine the strategies which could be evolved to ensure that such a state of affairs would not be repeated. Again it was 'business as usual'. Although we think that work on the new economic policy began in 1991, it actually began after 1980, when, through the process of liberalization, the government decided to re-• duce its role. Those who have studied this phenomenon agree that this is so. At that time it was gradually becoming clear that a major disaster would befall the economy and the workers and that the trade unions would be confronted with a new challenge. ~ At that time, existing jobs started decreasing; recruitments of workers had declined; industrial disruptions had started; and foreign debt and industrial insurance started increasing. None of these symptoms had an impact on the trade 11nions. Some trade 11nionists did write sporadically and there were a few piecemeal publications but as a collective movement, they should have recognized the threat that was looming ahead and should have fought it at that level. This did not happen. And now, when confronted with the new challenge of communalism, the trade unions leaders have become confused and bewildered. However, they have not been able to take the issue to the streets. I agree with Meena that when tensions were raging, it was difficult to go ahead and douse the flames. When the communal frenzy calmed down, and it became possible to think about the issue with a cool head, did the trade unions as a movement begin to think of strategies to arrest this trend? Was the issue debated? As Vivek pointed out, there may have been discussions in small committees within the unions, but until we can reach the ordinary workers and can convince them, the situati~n will not change. This is an admitted fact. If we study the history of the trade unions during the

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last twenty years, we will find that this weakness is very fundamental. It is not limited to communalism or to economic conditions or to the Emergency. In my opinion, the outlook of the trade unions has become very constricted. Workers' livelihood is a central concern of the trade unions but the solution does not lie in agitating about it within a narrow and confined framework. During the pre-Independence years and a decade after Independence, workers were far more illiterate in comparison to today's standards. I began my trade union work, two or three years before Independence and I speak from my personal experience. Even though the workers were illiterate they knew what was happening in our country and in our society. This may be due to the fact that they had witnessed the freedom movement and were greatly influenced by it. The level of awareness which I witnessed among the illiterate workers then is not found even among the educated workers of today. The outlook of the workers has become very narrow and we, the trade union leaders, including myself, are responsible for it. We have to admit it. It is this narrowness that takes the worker on the 'business as usual' road, even after passing through a big catastrophe. If this kind of inertia continues, there will be newer catastrophes. There is a hue and cry over the Dunkel Draft, GATT (General Agreement for Trade and Tariffs) and how workers will be affected. However, the government had started to move towards the Dunkel Draft in 1980 itself. Most trade unions were aware of it but there was no organized resistance to it. Today, a few demonstrations and bandhs may be organized. After that it will be ' business as usual'. I may_be doing some injustice to the trade unions by this analysis, but there is a need to reflect on the points I have raised today. Though the organizers have included this topic in the seminar, I do not think it has been debated among the trade unions in a similar manner as to what the failures of the trade union movement have been and the. ways to rectify them. These issues have not been discussed by the trade unions and that is the irony. If the trade union movement takes up this issue, it can be dealt with adequately. AB

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someone pointed out during the discussion, the trade 11nions possess certain strengths: the organizational skills and the experience to carr,fon systematic campaigns. They have the means to chart out a definite strategy after adopting a defi-· nite approach. If they decide to take up this issue, it is inconceivable that their strategies will not have an impact. . I would like to make a few suggestions. In the course of the agitations by trade unions, democratic characteristics gain momentum. These forces can also help .to strengthen secularism by creating broad fora to fight the communal poison which is spreading among the workers. To fight simultaneously on a theoretical and practical level, there has to be a sustained and systematic campaign. The unions will have to rise above inter-union and factional rivalry. If they .manage to achieve this, their objective will be realized. In the past few months, I have come across a few publications which have a very good analysis of communalism. One is by a Gandhian, Thakurdas Bhang, which forcefully exposes the hollowness of communalist propaganda. Another is a periodical titled Communalism Combat. Such literature exists but the outreach is limited to the elite class. How will this reach the workers? Who will take it to them? Bhang's views were already well known in the Gandhian circles. So these publications do not go beyond converting the converts. There ·are also cultural expressions from groups like the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHAMAT). Unfortunately, none of these reach the workers. Trade unions are secular but their sec~arism is of a passive kind. Active secularism does not exist within them; it is merely an ideological secularism. In a similar way, their ·opposition to the Emergency was also passive. I . am not using the word 'passive' the way Gandhiji used it. Gandhiji's agitations were passive only to the extent that this word was used. In effect, it was an active resistance. But the trade unions are passive in the true sense of the word. It is important to have a programme of active opposition. If inter-union conflicts and distrust can .be put aside by at least those leaders who claim to be committed to secularism, they will be able to set up a forum specifically for this purpose. They will be able to raise the necessary resources,

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effectively use the mass media and create a secular consciousness among the workers. They would then have made a major contribution to secularism. It may not happen in this century, may not even be in the next century but at least by the third century. If we do not make such efforts and do not discard the 'business as usual' line in order to tackle this problem, in future, this problem will destroy us. If we can understand this and make some efforts, the trade unions may find a solution. The practical difficulties and the strategies of resolving them are better known to Vivek and Meena, but if such efforts are initiated, despite the fact that I have not been actively involved with the movement for fifteen years, I am ready to join the movement again.

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Chairpersons and Contributors BAGCHI is

director, School of Women's Studies, and profeWJI, Depfflrtment of English, Jadavpur University. PUSHPA BHAVE. ~ English literature at Ruparel College, Bombay, and has been long active in lm••aan rights. RATNABALI CHA'ITE.RJEE is reader, DP.ps.rt,xumt of ls)aoai~ History and Culture, University of Calcutta. GOURI CHOWDHURY is CCHJl'dinat.or, Action India, Delhi. KAMALA GA!O: --~ is a researcher and lecturer, Departr,~nt al Sociology, University of Bnt•uy. NANDrrA HAKSAR is a lawyer and. a h rights acti~ cur1"et1tly b-'fUld in Bangldore. KAI.PANA

. a lt.i8eew.,er, h-.;....._a_~....., BIil~ IS WOl•udl •.lfi&Aaa aa;wv.u:H,

and sec:retawy of ~ llym:1 abed MEENA MENON is a trade 1mionist and is 88S04.iated with the hwlian Fede1ation of Trade Unions (IFI'U). VIVEK MON'l'EIRO is a trade unionist and is with the Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU). GAUTAM NAVLAKHA js a hnman rights activist and a member of the ·c Rights Movement, the Committee for Initiative on Kashmir and convenor of the Delhi-based People's Movement for Secularism. He is associate editor of the Economic and Political Weeily, Bombay. GYANENDRA PANDEY is professor, Department of History, Unive1sity of Delhi. SHAKUN is a wnn,en's rights activist and member of Vrmo-cbana, Bangalore. BAGARAM TUI.PULE was for many years a researcher at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and bas been long active in the trade union movement.

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',

Mailis a legal and cultural resource centre, and its activities include legal advocacy, research, publications, campaigns and seminars on human rights discourse. Majlis also produces plays and films. The editors work as a t.eam in Majlis.

MAJLIS IS

is a graduat.e in dramatics from the National School of Drama (NSD), Delhi. She is also a documentary film-maker: her film I Live in Behrampada won the Filmfare award as the best documentary for 1993. FLAVIA AGNES is a legal rights advocat.e and researcher and is practising in the Family Court and High Court of Bombay. She has written extensively on domestic violence, minority rights and personal laws. _ NEERA ADARKAR is a designer and an archit.ect. She also t.eaches at the Academy of Architecture, Bombay. Her specialization lies in space designing for women and the urban poor. MADHUSREE DU'tl'A

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