Monday, 22 May 2017

Ah! Mumbai

It is difficult to see beyond the harsh reality of Mumbai and its stark disparity and the ruthless power centers. The Mumbai slums and footpath dwellers particularly in the backdrop of the rather grotesque Antila and the daunting Taj Mahal Palace Hotel makes one sad and angry at the same time.

And yet, this time, during my visit to Mumbai I simply decided to wander about and click whatever drew my attention.

I share some photos of the mega-city as I saw it this time around.

Close to Regal Cinema.

View from YWCA, Madam Cama Road.

  I would recommend that women travelling by themselves stay at Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) guest house which is housed in a heritage building. Centrally located, YWCA is within five minutes walk from Gateway of India. YWCA with its distinct features is very different from a hotel. One can also meet fellow travelers from all over the world here particularly at dinner time. The charges too are reasonable considering how beautifully located the place is. All of this makes YWCA interesting.

Heritage building of YWCA

Just at a stones throw from YWCA is located the Sahakari Bhandar Restaurat. Even today, sumptuous dosas, idlis and variety of other dishes at very reasonable prices, with its down to earth ambiance is very attractive. 

Closed cotton textile mill at Mahalakshmi

 It was rather sad to see that the lands and buildings of cotton textile mills in Mahalaxmi have now been converted into posh clubs,  high end art gallerias, plush restaurants, discotheques, so on. I recall the time when thousands of retrenched workers of the cotton  mills lay claim to these lands where they once toiled day and night. I wonder if their claims have been met even in part. 

The new and the old

Many such old buildings still remain and have not fallen to redevelopment yet.

Aye Dil Hey Mushkil Jina Yaha, Zara Hatke, Zara Bachke, Yeh Hei Bombay Meri Jaan...

Some of the many mosques

Bhindi Bazar it is said is slated for redevelopment too.I hope at least some of the original character will be preserved. 

Bhindi Bazar at night.

Evening market at Bhindi Bazar.

Olympiad restaurant near Regal cinema.

For non vegetarians as well as for vegetarians, I would recommend food at simple restaurants, Irani joints where the food is not only reasonably priced but delicious too. Importantly, it is fresh,  served with fresh pudina / mint leaves or pudina chatni. I enjoyed the distinct-Indian ambiance too. 

 Attar shop near Regal Cinema

Forget Ola and Uber, to travel around Mumbai, kali-pili taxi is the way to go. The taxi drivers, grounded in the local customs, traditions and history, double up as excellent guides. I would not have discovered the many sights, sounds and tastes of Mumbai but for the kali-pili taxi drivers. 

 Enjoying cold lassi at the gates of Aarey Milk Dairy opposite Worli Sea Face with a very well informed and proud taxi driver.

Worli Sea Face opposite Aarey Milk Dairy.

Mumbai it seems is all about land these days. There is a talk about taking over the lands of Aarey milk dairy for redevelopment too. But for me, Mumbai is all about the sea.

Sea opposite the Taj Hotel.

Even during the sweltering month of May, a walk by the sea side is refreshing. 

Hope to see you soon, Mumbai!


Saturday, 1 April 2017

RSS/BJP/Adityanath’s Ideology and Women.

I remember the year 2004 when I was teaching a post graduate course in social work in the Government College in Barwani, Madhya Pradesh (MP) when Bhartiya Janta Party’s (BJP) Uma Bharti became the Chief Minister (CM) of the State. Soon after, the regional press extensively reported that a dress code for girls in the colleges of MP was to be implemented soon by the BJP Government. The reason given was “provocative dresses” worn by the students were leading to “perversions”.

I had decided back then that if the BJP Government imposed the dress code, I would change my attire from my regular salawar khameez to pants and kurtas in solidarity with the protesting girls even if it cost me my job as a lecturer in the Government College. However I did not have to do anything of the kind as the Government bowed to wide spread protests across the state. It was a proud moment for me when young girls stood up to the proposed diktat by the then BJP Government.

Come 2017 and a statement by BJP minister Maneka Gandhi as reported by the Indian Express comes to my mind  - "Women and Child Development minister Maneka Gandhi recently made a statement that has left a lot of people baffled. Speaking to NDTV, she said early curfews in hostels ensured safety. “When you are 16 or 17 you are also hormonally very challenged. So to protect you from your own hormonal outbursts, perhaps a lakshman rekha is drawn. It really is for your own safety.”"

It is important to take note that Maneka Gandhi herself has exercised her freedom from her young age by pursuing formal education only up to I.S.C. She took up modeling at age seventeen and dated Sanjay Gandhi as a teenager. But that does not matter. She adheres to BJP –RSS’s skewed ideology concerning women as its minister of Women and Child Development. 

Other BJP – RSS functionaries have also expressed their regressive ideas about women very vocally in recent times. This is not surprising as this is the part and parcel of RSS-BJP ideology in its endeavor to build a Hindu Rashtra. However what is worrying is that ever since BJP has come to power at the center, it has started executing its ideas in an aggressive way. For example the Vice Chancellor of the esteemed Banaras Hindu University (BHU), a BJP appointee himself reportedly advocates discriminatory treatment towards girls in the university as follows 

1.   Girls not to be served meat in the hostel mess as it makes the girls “impure”. 
2.    Girls cannot avail of the 24X7 library facilities as it would be immoral for girls to study after 10 pm. 
3. Girls cannot use mobile phones after 10 pm.

There are no such restrictions on boys. During my recent visit to Banaras Hindu University, I was told that the girl students are not allowed to raise their voice against the discrimination meted out to them or participate in any protests.

It is under this back drop that the appointment of BJP CM Adityanath and his regressive views about women should also be understood. More importantly, by appointing Adityanath as the CM of UP, the BJP/RSS has given a clear message that this is what BJP stands for and requires the people of this country to abide even if it is contrary to the Constitution of India.  

I therefore bring before the readers what Adityanath as BJP CM thinks about women through his article titled, Matru Shakti Bhartiya Sanskruti Ke Sandarbh Mein: 

In reference to talking about women's reservation, he says:

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Irom Sharmila, Electoral politics and giving voters of Manipur the benefit of doubt.

Ever since Irom Sharmila as member of Peoples' Resurgence and Justice Alliance's (PRJA) lost the 2017 assembly election with less than 100 votes, there has been continuous berating of the voters of Manipur, more so by social and political activists. Some of the comments are rather harsh such as:

1.    “Manipuris are a shame. How could they dump Sharmila. After her 16 years fast in solitary confinement all against AFSPA!!!”
   2.  “If Manipur couldn't feel Erom Sharmila's fight then what else to speak?!”

According to Financial Express of 12 March 2017 even Irom Sharmila has said the following after the election result was out:  

“But I am fed up with politics after this result: I continued without even water for 16 year yet… People need to be awakened. They let me down…The people let me down,” she said in an emotionally choked voice.”

Photo Credit: Scroll

I wish to say here that while Irom Sharmila is greatly respected and admired outside as well as in Manipur also, it would be wrong to expect that respect for Irom Sharmila alone should convert immediately into votes. Instead of being disheartened at the outcome, it would be important to analyze the reasons for the same. As a student of social work, social science and a political activist, some of the reasons that come to my mind for the defeat of Irom Sharmila are listed below. It is not necessary that all the reasons may be correct.  

1.      Till very recently, Irom Sharmila herself had kept away from electoral politics and had believed in the individual self as a weapon to fight oppression. Hers was a rather individualistic means of a battle against repression by the State. Pitching oneself as a weapon against the State and electoral politics are two different kinds of politics, sometimes even contradictory. While one is against the State and all it represents, the other is to be part of the State. The natures of both are different. Therefore the work that goes into it is also different. People probably could not accept Irom Sharmila’s quick and sudden change from herself as a weapon fighting the State to electoral politics that involves the masses to choose her as their representative for the formation of the State. It takes time for people to accept the transition (if at all), leave alone support it. 

2.      It must be remembered that Irom Sharmila was on fast and almost confined to a hospital for over fifteen years’ with limited contact with her people until very recently. May be, people wanted her first to recuperate, reflect, reconnect with the masses, and so on before she moved on to forming a political party and head a state like Manipur. That too, so soon after her extraordinarily and an equally exhausting fast. May be, even her closest supporters through this grueling ordeal of a struggle wanted time for recuperation and reflection. 

3.      Supporters of Irom Sharmila probably put her on a high moral pedestal and viewed her as someone who raised herself above the most basic human needs like food and therefore above everything else - love, electoral politics and so on. May be, her supporters felt that for a person of her stature, an icon, seeking votes is getting off the high pedestal or a climb down. While fast is generally considered selfless, in electoral politics, there is a clear give and take and party politics is often considered dirty. 

4.      Probably people supported Irom Sharmila’s fast, but here she was seeking votes for her newly formed party. May be, the people of Manipur were not so much in support of the hurriedly formed party, its hurriedly assembled members and its candidates. 

5.      People till very recently recognized Irom Sharmila for her fight against AFSPA. Her struggle was issue based. A political party is much more than a single issue. Besides, Manipur is grappling with many other serious issues apart from the presence of the Indian army and AFSPA. There is the issue of economic blockade, the valley and hills issue, developmental concerns, underground groups and so on. In this backdrop, it takes time for a new party to reach out to the masses with its comprehensive ideology. Probably PRJA could not articulate itself clearly on these issues or did not have the time to reach out to the people effectively for being new. This is particularly true for a State like Manipur with poor connectivity and infrastructure. 

6.      Irom Sharmila is known for her individual decisions. She sat on a fast although for a public cause as well as withdrew it as per her personal decision and rightfully so. But if one wishes to contest elections and want people’s support, large scale consultations, collective decisions, participation of the people, especially one’s primary supporters become essential. Besides, it has been reported in papers that her core supporters who stood by her through her fast were not in favor of her forming a party and contesting elections. It is true that a world renowned figure like Irom Sharmila would draw new supporters into her party. But not taking on board long time political colleagues who are often seen as dispensable may have also been a cause for the loss. 

7.      During elections, people also see the ability of a party to win. Considering that PRJA had been able to field only three candidates out of sixty assembly seats in Manipur, it was clear that it was not going to be able to form the Government. Therefore people may have consolidated their vote in favor of a party closer to their ideology that was likely to form the Government in Manipur. The fact that PRJA could field only three candidates itself is a subject for reflection. 

8.      While Irom Sharmila’s fast is extraordinary, commendable and unique, people of Manipur too have been fighting AFSPA in various ways. State violence and repression have brutally affected the Manipuri society at large. Many of the Manipur homes have lost their family member in the struggle, many youth have taken up arms, there have been over 1500 extra judicial killings and even rapes. The cost suffered by the people of Manipur is wide spread and so is the struggle of the people. The scale of suffering and that of the struggle are beyond an individual self. The rise of Irom Sharmila has been a part of this broader struggle collectively waged by the people of Manipur for several decades now with unimaginable costs. This is why probably unlike us from outside the State, people of Manipur see Irom Sharmila as a part of this wider people’s struggle and not someone different from many of those who have fought and lost lives for the cause in anonymity. In this backdrop, expecting something specific in exchange/return (votes here) for what is perceived as a selfless struggle one has waged on behalf of the masses often does not go down well with the people. 

'Conflict widows' of Manipur protest. Photo courtesy: Women's news network

Women protest in Manipur. Photo Courtesy - Binalakshmi Nepram on twitter

9.      There are several in Manipur who have a different ideology from that of Irom Sharmila. For example there are many who do not believe in a non violent struggle against an extraordinarily oppressive State and have taken up arms. The last I visited Manipur over a decade ago; there were at least 18 underground groups as reported in newspapers. There are others in Manipur who believe in non-violent mass struggle and uprising and do not believe that an individual fast or electoral politics can be a substitute to people’s empowerment and movement. Many among them would probably agree with what senior journalist Kalpana Sharma wrote in the Hindu while writing about Irom Sharmila-

             “In India, we elevate individuals and forget the cause. We need heroes and heroines,       more so at a time of visual media. But in fixing on individuals, the issue, the cause,    the reason for protest sometimes gets forgotten or under-played...”

            Many in the State of Manipur would feel that an individual fast may result into personification of a collective struggle. Personification of a movement has its own disadvantages as it has advantages.  For example it is in the interest of the   perpetrators of oppression to narrow down mass resistance to a struggle of an individual. This way, the struggle can be undermined; delegitimized and even crushed more easily. Another danger of personification of a mass movement is that if and when the prominent figure changes  course or priority or    moves on to other  struggles/issues, the struggle over the core issue  sometimes             receives a setback. 

            Such could be the sentiments of the people of Manipur since it is only a short time ago that an unprecedented and a high profile fast has been withdrawn over a cause      that has been affecting the lives of most people in Manipur. 

10.  Many among the people who have rejected the main stream political parties are trying various alternatives even in Manipur. Aam Admi Party had contested in Manipur during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and has a state unit. Many of the non-Congress and non-BJP parties including AAP are trying to come together in Manipur as left democratic front. There are already too many alternatives and fragmented parties before the people who have rejected the Congress and the BJP politics.  

There must surely be more or other reasons than those outlined above for Irom Sharmila and her party candidates’ poor performance in Manipur. This is not the first time that individuals, activists, members of issue based people’s movements who are otherwise greatly respected have suffered defeat in an election. When such a thing happens, it is often the case that whole people/voters are berated for the loss of the good candidate. It is also seen that the standard reason given for the defeat in an election is the use of money and muscle power. The same forces the candidates were otherwise confident to fight with their good will. It is time that those of us in people’s movements, public work and political struggles, reflect where we are failing as a collective, think of the way ahead rather than merely blame the voters for being collectively insensitive.   Let us give the people of Manipur the benefit of doubt.

Nandini Oza

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Demonetisation and Non Resident (Gujarati) Indians.

Being a Gujarati, the issues affecting Non Resident Indians affect me particularly because Gujaratis, for being better placed geographically have a long history in foreign soils, trade and travels.  To get an idea of the extent of trade and travels from Gujarat, I quote a paragraph from the book, ‘the shaping of modern Gujarat’, by Achyutbhai Yagnik and Suchitra Sheth as follows:

‘...Gujarat’s strategic location within Asia and its ports along the northern centre of the Indian Ocean placed it at the interaction of a number of trading sections and proved propitious to Gujarati merchants. They profited from the overland interregional trade of Asia across the subcontinent and within the western region. But their greatest wealth came from maritime trade, both along the coast and across the seas in ships propelled eastwards and westwards by the monsoon winds. One quarter of India’s coastline is in Gujarat...Silk from China, horses from Arabia, ivory and slaves from Africa, cloth and indigo from Gujarat itself, opium and grain from the north, spices from southern India  and the Far East, to name just a few commodities passed through these ports for centuries.  Local communities of skilled ship builders, navigators and craftspeople contributed to the prosperity of enterprising merchants and traders. The sweep of this maritime network is summed up by Tome Piers, a fifteenth century Portuguese traveller: ‘Cambay [i.e. Gujarat] chiefly stretches out two arms, with her right arm she reaches out towards Aden and with the other towards Malacca...”...Gujarati Merchants travelled to West Asia, Africa, South India and eastern edges of the Indian Ocean, creating a diaspora consisting of kith and kin networks in the ports of Indian Ocean littoral...Maritime activity goes back almost four millennia to the days of Indus valley civilization...”

The spread of Gujarati community across the globe has been so vast that there is a popular saying in Gujarati- ‘Jya na pohche koi, tya pohche eek Gujarati’. This means, where no one reaches, it is there that a Gujarati will reach! Gujarati business, trade and travels far and wide has also greatly influenced Gujarati literature and some of the famous writers have based many of their novels and poems on such travels across the seas such as, ‘dariyalal, haji kasam tari vijli, dariya na khole, mehraman no mobhi’, and so on. 

The non resident Gujaratis settled all over the world therefore have had far reaching influence and impact on the life and economy of Gujarat for several centuries now. 

Like every Gujarati, Mr. Narendra Modi is well aware of this fact and is also aware of the extent of the spread and clout of the Indian as well as the Gujarati community across the globe. Hence, soon after becoming the Prime Minister of India, while travelling across the world, Mr. Modi when was given overwhelming welcome by NRIs in general and Gujarati NRIs in particular, these events were highly publicized to his great advantage back home.    

Therefore when in November 2016, Mr. Modi announced demonetization, I was sure that proper planning and arrangements must have been made at least for the NRIs to convert the old currency notes unlike the mess the resident Indians had to suffer. However I was in for a rude shock. 

Photo Source: Wikipedia

As per Government rules, NRIs can carry up to Rs 25,000/- in Indian currency out of India. So, soon after demonetization when some of my close relatives living abroad asked me what should they do with their old 500 and 1000 notes, I was confident and advised them that the Indian embassy or the consulate would most certainly have made some arrangement for the exchange of old notes. Besides, most big cities across the world would also have Indian banks and I thought the Indian Embassy would have tied up with them for the exchange of legitimate money in old currency with the NRIs. This seemed to me a logical plan and arrangement because I know of some NRIs who had just left India before the demonetization was announced and were not likely to return in the near future- certainly not before the (revised) deadline of June 31st declared by the Government for the exchange of old notes remaining with NRIs.

However I was reported by my relatives that there is no such arrangement in place! I therefore advised that the next best thing would be to send the old notes with any relative travelling to India during the short window period where the old notes could be exchanges [up to June 31st in case of NRIs]. Here again I was in for a shock! The rules laid down by the RBI are such that only an Indian passport holder can bring in the old currency which has to be declared at the customs at the airport, the customs have to issue a certificate on arrival through red channel which would then have to be submitted at the time of exchange of the notes[1] at the RBI.

This again I think is totally impractical. I know of many NRIs who have retained their Indian Passport but their spouse or children have not. I also know of NRIs who themselves are not travelling to India before 31st June but their spouse or children are.  However even if a spouse of an NRI or his/her children are travelling to India during the short window period till 31st June granted to exchange old notes, they are not authorized to bring in the old notes for exchange, even if the notes are legitimately in possession of an NRI and the person carrying the notes may have a POI card!

Besides, these old notes can be exchanged only in select five RBI branches of the country- Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Nagpur. I know of non resident Gujaratis who land only at Ahmedabad international airport these days. No facility is made available to them for the exchange of old notes in the Reserve Bank of India branch located in Ahmedabad.  Therefore a non resident Gujarati travelling for a few days to India has to make a special trip to one of these cities to be able to exchange their old notes of the value of up to Rs 25,000/-!

People in queue at the Reserve Bank of India to exchange old currency notes after demonetization. Photo Source: Hindustan Times.

Considering all of this, I know of a few close relatives both Gujaratis and Non Gujaratis living abroad who are at a complete loss as to what to do with their old notes. It is also very hard for them to dispose of the old currency as after all, this is hard earned money and while it may not be much in terms of economic value, it is after all considered Laxmi by many Indians in general and most certainly by Gujaratis in particular.

While I have personally gone through inconvenience on account of bad planning of demonetization, some among my family and relatives living aboard have actually lost   legitimate-hard earned money for no fault of theirs. 

I wonder how much of the money in old notes not yet recovered still remains with NRIs and how much of it will go down the drain in spite of it being legitimate due to bad planning by the Government? I don’t think the Government cares to know really.  


PS: The Government has been changing rules concerning demonetization. Therefore if I have missed any new rule or have not understood the rules clearly and if there is any easy way of exchanging legitimate old currency notes lying with NRIs, kindly share. Thanks.