Indian Democracy: The Role of Civil Society and Social Movements in Strengthening Democracy


[MUSIC PLAYING] Evening. I come from a very
informal background, so you’ll forgive
me if I don’t follow the rather formal structures
that you’re used to in Brown. So I suggested to Patrick
that the best thing to do would be to have a
conversation with all of you to listen to you as well,
because I think change comes only through conversations. It doesn’t come
through lectures. And I don’t know
whether I can carry the spirit of the
movements to you unless we have a conversation. I just want to place
myself in the MKSS which Patrick described so
well, but it is this hut. So you really have to
take yourself really back to a small village, a
hamlet, as we call it in India, which means it’s not
even a proper revenue village. It’s just 40 households. It’s a house made
of stone and mud. And this is where,
in 1987, three of us turned up and decided
to live and try and see if we can build a people’s
political organization from there. We do not take any
institutional funds. We often don’t receive
money from any foundation, any agency that gives money,
either Indian or international. And we have existed on
crowdfunding since then till now. It’s been quite a long journey,
but we have lasted out. For instance, on the
1st of May, which is the date of the
birth of the MKSS, between 5,000 to 10,000
people get together at the place in the small
town where we were born. And there, the local
people, because it’s just after the harvest,
bring their grain. And it might be 20 tons. It might be 18 tons. It might be 16
tons of grain come. So that is their
donation to the MKSS, and that then gets translated
into food for the campaigns we go to. We protest a lot, so
it’s street fighting. So you have to cook
for numbers of people. And of course, we sell some
of it if we want the cash. Then there are donations
in cash as well. We live in a very frugal manner. And I think half the battle is
won because we are so frugal. And all the MKSS workers
take a minimum wage, which is the agricultural
minimum wage of the worker in the area, which is about– I don’t know– 6,000 rupees would be about. How many dollars
would it be, $100? Maybe less. So that’s our monthly wage. And we pool everything together
and live a collective life. And I find, therefore,
that being single in a flat for the last
month is a new experience. Not that I haven’t
lived like that, but it’s a good experience. It also shows me the
other side of the world. It has given me space
to think and to revisit many of my issues. But I am a collective
human being, and I have lived with
masses of people. So for me, this hut, which has
two rooms, we sleep in that. And if people who
are used to being in the civil service and people
who come from the civil service often ask my friends,
where does Aruna live? Because the civil
service is kind of a snobbish system in India,
so they are quite shocked that I sort of live in
this hut and that there is no separate room either. There’s only your
space on the ground, which is 6 by 3, which is
the space you can sleep in. So I just thought that today
I’d talk about the resistance to perversions of democratic
and constitutional rights from where all
movements are born, because our real
fight is to talk about what is denied to us. And I really have
a great admiration for George Orwell, whom I read
as a student of literature and earlier when
I was very young. And I think this is
an absolute fact. And every time we went
and said anything, we were told that we
were telling lies. So that’s how we were always
faced, with police action, with the possibility
of being arrested, with false information
reported to a police station, just to say that minimum
wages were not paid or that we were not given
the right amount of work or if we sat on a
strike somewhere, which we do quite often in India. So actually, it is true that
“in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is truly
a revolutionary act.” So you don’t have to go and
throw a bomb anywhere in India. You just have to
speak the truth. And it’s more so now
than ever before. But anyway, this is a
very important thing. And I’m going backwards. Sorry, I don’t know
what am I doing here. Yeah, so many
forms of movements, I thought the discussion
about the MKSS will come out when
Patrick and I speak. I thought I’d just bring the
kind of movements India has, a little bit of it, the
larger picture to you. This is the methods of
movements, for instance. They don’t sit and talk to
each other in closed rooms. More often than not, we
are in the open spaces. And culture and theatre
play a very important role. And much of our
spreading the message for the Right To Information
movement and the minimum– the works law that
we finally got, which both derive from
constitutional articles in the Constitution,
the right to information derives from Article 19, and
the right to work also derives– its origin is from an
article in the Constitution. But this picture shows you how
we communicate about the law. And it was not said. If we had spoken to
each other in a room, we wouldn’t have got the
numbers who joined us. So we really went
and had this chariot of scams which is
called in Hindi [HINDI] because we lampooned
Advani’s rat. There’s always been a very
strong political content in whatever we have done. So Advani, who used to
be the head of the BJP which is the present ruling
coalition then the NDA, he came to Rajasthan. We were on a big sit
down strike for 53 days in the center of Jaipur. He said they were going
to fight against hunger, against corruption and fear. In Hindi, it was
[SPEAKING HINDI].. And he came. And he came in a chariot. Now, this political gambit
of playing with people’s imaginations is not new. There’s something else
going on now in India, but they used the
chariot, which is the chariot of the deity who’s
taken out from the temple, and they used it. And they sat in it. So they donned the garb
of the saint or the god and then got the faith of
the people in a manner. So Shankar, my friend, who you
can see there, was furious. And he said we must–
because we went and asked Advani for information. And he said I can’t do it. So we did a black flag
demonstration and came away. But he said this
is not good work. We have to have a chariot which
precedes or follows Advani. So we said no, that’s
too much, because he has an air conditioned chariot. [LAUGHTER] And a big truck, and of course,
it’s all extremely affluent, the whole thing. And they eat well. And then here, we were
sleeping on the street. And this 53 days that we slept
on the street in the Jaipur really got us extraordinary
amount of publicity. We got our message
across to people. We got many campaigns
involved with our thing. We also laid the
seeds of the right to food campaign, the right
to employment campaign. We had seminars in the
Institute of Development Studies in Jaipur, which
was just over there. And we had many such
political activities going on, research activities, theoretical
activities, discussions and debates. So this chariot of scams is
now an extremely popular method of getting a message
across, going into an area where no one knows you,
and just park this chariot. And Shankar’s amazing. So when he brings– and we called him Rajvani
to rhyme with Advani. And Rajvani in Hindi means
the “voice of the state.” And then we had these
songs, and we had theatre, and it was amazing. So if we do not have
these kinds of methods of reaching our views
across to people, then movements
simply don’t happen. So in a sense, we say that
theory comes from practice, and reflection
comes from action. Because unless you act,
there is no reflection. And so what is this action? And how is this
action going to be? There are a lot more stories. Recently– I’m going to jump. Recently, on the
1st of January 2019, I was in a place
called Kochi in Kerala where we had something
called a human chain. And the human chain
was to protest against the action of
the right wing in Kerala preventing women from
entering the temple. It’s extraordinary that this
organizing of this human chain was done by prominent
women’s organizations. I’m in one of the organizations
called the National Federation of Indian Women. I am the chair of that
organization, which has about 1.4 million members. But that is a
left-associated union, but they always get a
non-party president. So since I– well, I don’t know
how many of you know Aruna Asaf Ali, but I’m named after her. And she was one of the
first chairs of NFIW. So I went to Kochi
both as a woman and as the chair of
that organization. But we were millions of
people holding this, forming this human chain
from Trivandrum, which is the southernmost
tip, to the northernmost tip. And it was a huge
mobilization to see that women should enter the temple. Now, look at the range
of movements you have. First you were fighting
for poor people’s rights. Here you’re fighting
for temple entry. Most of us were not
religious people. But it was asserting the
right to enter any place we would choose to go into. And Sabri Malai,
which is in Kerala, which is one of the most
progressive of our states, had this most
regressive tradition. And because the
left organized this, because the Supreme Court gave
a decision that women could enter, the right
wing entered Kerala and manipulated the
traditional groups and formed them
into violent groups. And you had violence. You had all kinds of things. And following this,
there was more violence. But anyway, we all went there. And it was an
amazing experience. In Delhi, there are
people who assemble who fight corporate attacks. So look at the
range of movements. I think India is an
extraordinary place for resistance. And I do think that
people generally don’t recognize
how many movements and how many protested
out in India. It’s an amazing place. People who come there go
back with this extraordinary impression and which is
true too that there are so many different
kinds of movements. Even with the
present dispensation which has been gagging us,
which has been arresting us on all sort of flimsy
and real causes– I don’t think there
are any real causes, but we’ll give them the
benefit of the doubt– but in this case,
even so, they haven’t been able to restrain us. And there are many reasons why. First of all, the
Indian is argumentative, as [INAUDIBLE] has told us. We are also people who can’t
be quelled very easily. And the biggest problem for
Indians during The Emergency, which Mrs. Gandhi
imposed on us, was that we couldn’t talk and
couldn’t shout and couldn’t express our point of view. I think it was just too much. And I don’t think it can last
too long if we are gagged. So protests and movements
of various sorts are always important. Then you have films of protest
and so many different kinds of films. Actually, I brought
a lot of films, but I didn’t think that
there was any opportunity to show them. Because recently,
there have been films made on the
students’ protest in JNU where young students
who would just express their
political point of view were accused of being seditious. And some of them were arrested. Some of them are now due to
be arrested under the sedition law. And so firms are
extremely important, but the pity is that today that
the Supreme Court of India, which we all used to feel
and still feel, in some part, is the final refuge
for all of us to fight for
constitutional rights, has given this
extraordinary order– about a week ago, was it? February 23 is not
even a week ago. Where it said that there
should be an eviction of forest dwellers, 100,000 people will be
evicted from the forest because of this order. And this is to
protect animal rights. And I can’t understand how,
for the welfare of animals, you can evict. And this person who’s
written this article is Kalpana Kannabiran, who’s
a famous legal activist who is in Hyderabad. And really, it’s another issue. So now we have
mobilized on this. So there is never
an end to the kind of mobilizations we have to do. I’m going back, sorry. And then theatre, apart from
the chariot that you saw in the beginning, theatre
and expression has been vital in our mobilization. And I think India, for us,
more than any other form, theatre has been vital. I am also part of a campaign
for old age pensions. So I just wanted to– we’re actually going to go back. I’m telling you
about my present. And with Patrick, I’m going
to talk about my past work. But today, I am also
involved with pension for workers who are in
the unorganized sector. 93% of India’s workforce is
in the unorganized sector. And we do not get any
social security or support. The welfare state, of course,
has gone totally to sleep. But in our case, it’s
slept for many years. At some remote point,
they fixed 200 rupees, which is about $3.00, $3.50,
as the pension for a month. It’s still stuck there. And even the $3.50 is
not given to everybody. It’s for a select few. And we have gone again
and again to Delhi. Once we were 12,000
elderly in Delhi for seven days with
the previous government and again 6,000 of us again
with this present government asking for a decent
non-contributory pension. We can’t contribute because
we are now already elderly. So you can’t say to us now cough
up, because there’s no work. And I tell you that I
am a very tough nut, and I don’t cry easily
because I, of course, have to live this kind of life. But when I see these elderly
people, I really am so upset and so moved. One rickshaw puller from Bihar
who came for this protest brought all the cards
that they issue. And government of India
issues numbers of cards. You’ve got your election
eligibility card. You’ve got your some other card. You’ve got your poverty card. You’ve got millions of cards. He brought all his cards
in a little plastic bag. He thought that if he brought
all those cards to Delhi and gave it to the
government of India, he would get his pension. He pulls rickshaws at
the age of 75 or 78, which is a cycle rickshaw. His wife is paralyzed, and his
son is mentally imbalanced. So he probably thought this
trip to Delhi was worth it. But what could he
get at the end of it? When we went and met the
minister for social justice, she was so moved she took out
all the money in her handbag and said, here’s your money. This was a previous government. She said here’s the money, but
I don’t know what we can do. And still today, there has
been no revision of pension. This takes us to
some of the issues that Patrick and I will
be talking about welfare and how important it is
to have welfare in India. Transparency doesn’t
end with the law. There are many aspects
of transparency. And in a country like India,
it doesn’t end with a computer or with your mobiles. It doesn’t end, because
we have to transfer that information onto a space
where people can see it. So in the implementation of
the right to information, it’s not only the commissions,
which we talk about a lot in Delhi or in
Rajasthan, in Jaipur. It’s not only the law and
amendments to the law. We have to talk about how that
information reaches people. So one of the most
important things that we talk about is instead of
the MIS, we talk about the GIS. And the GIS translates into
Janta Information Systems. Janta in my language
means “people.” So it’s the people’s
information system. So when you paint
all this information outside the walls of all our
local government offices, everybody knows
exactly how much money is going to whom,
who’s being paid, whose names are on the
list, who’s been denied, and where there is fraud or just
absolute cooking up of figures. So it becomes the
beginning of a big struggle to get accountability
from the system, and it’s been a very
important thing. And finally– not
finally– there is rural protest against
corruption and denial of rights. Some people, politicians, always
accuse us of buying people, because that’s what they do. They pay money to people
to come to these protests, so everybody’s paid
money, and of course, they raise their money in
many different ways. Our people come
paying their own way because they’ve realized that
the streets are our parliament, that these protests are
the ways in which we can get policy changed. That’s the ways in which we can
get amendments made to the law. So that’s why they come. Roughly and quickly,
I’m going to go to the issues that
are now facing us because we want a conversation. There is curbing
and incarceration of free speech and expression. We’ll discuss it in
the course of the day. Then there’s an attack on
musicians, creative artists, writers, and fanning small
discontent into major fires. TM Krishna, a famous
Carnatic musician, sings all over the world. He’s sung in Washington. He’s sung in Boston. He sings everywhere, well-known. He’s written and
published books. He sang Islamic songs, and
he sang Christian songs within a classical frame of
[INAUDIBLE] and Carnatic music, which is mainly Hindu. And he was attacked. A lot of people
have been attacked. Writers have been attacked. It’s been the impunity of
social violence supported by the state. There’s been lynching of Muslims
under the Cow Slaughter Act. We have now passed a Cow
Slaughter Act which prevents people from slaughtering cows. In the state in which I
live, four innocent Muslims have been lynched to
death by huge crowds. And it’s very
frightening that there are these social mobs which
get the sanctity of the state and the impunity
to do what they do because the civil
administration does nothing. So that is a huge problem. Then civil society,
action and activists, we know that Teesta Setalvad was
a human rights activist who’s been fighting in Gujarat
when Modi was there, from those days, is
now still under attack. We know that 10 people are
in jail, Sudha Bharadwaj, [INAUDIBLE],, and the latest
is Anand Teltumbde, a Dalit scholar, and all of
them under attack. We have been given a new label. We are called Urban
Naxals, by the way. They coin these phrases
to buy your imagination, and then they feed it. So we are all
called Urban Naxals. Naxals are Maoist. So how are we Urban Naxals? Because once you put that
phrase into someone’s brain, everybody is petrified. So they fear. So what you do is stifle
the voices of dissent. The amplifiers of
peoples issues, like we were successful in the
RTI because you could amplify people’s issues,
you cannot issue. You cannot today speak though
there are so many different opinions on what’s happening
today in Delhi or in India or in Kashmir. We can’t say many
things in India because people are afraid. And this kind of
tactic, to label you, to fix you in a phrase,
and to make you impotent, make you unable to voice
your opinions is now rampant. And sedition cases,
I told you about, and there’s also
sedition against us, cases against innocent
Adivasis, tribals, and natives. But they’ve just
asked for their wages or asked for hospitals to run. Media is totally
controlled in India. There’s a stray media house
that is occasionally there. And of course, on in the
India electronic media, we have one human being whom
we all extol who was a Hindi. Ravish, I don’t know whether–
did he ever come here? He’s been to Yale, I think. So Ravish Kumar speaks out. Control over technology, now,
the control of a technology has been very useful
for all these demagogues who’ve hollowed out democracy. What they do is– whether it’s the
Aadhaar card, which is a unique
identification device or whether it’s
all the biometric that they insist that we
put in our fingerprints everywhere, they’ve used
technology whether it was de-monetizing, which
has led massively to the use of technology
for drawing out money, for putting in money for bank
transfers, they now control us. Because what is the threat? If they remove my number from
the UID, I’m a non-person. So in one fell
swoop, I’m finished. There’s a beautiful poem. I won’t read it out to you
because it’ll take time. But a young man wrote. He said, “I don’t need the
police to get after me. I don’t need the
army to finish me. I just need a clerk
in the ministry to remove my name from the list. And I’m finished,
because I won’t have any powers to do anything. I can’t travel. I can’t register for a
course because that Aadhaar will be missing.” Then there’s attack
on the welfare state. Anything that comes under
the name or welfare subsidy, it’s rhetoric. They say one thing and
do completely another. Rights-based laws,
the first thing that this present establishment
did when it came to power was to say that the
right to information law should be set aside. It’s a useless law. It’s brought in
policy paralysis. If you have right
to information, then your bureaucracy
is so terrorized that they can’t write anything. So there’s a policy paralysis. And the employment program
has caused an economic crisis. 4%, not even 4%– if they gave everybody work,
it would be 4% of the GDP. It’s not even 4%. It’s not even one point some
percent, perhaps, of the GDP, but it paralyzed an economy
in which trillions of rupees are given to companies like
Adani and of course Ambani, all these big names. They get trillions of rupees. That didn’t matter. But this small amount
of money given to people because it brought
bargaining power for the poor to fight for their
wages wherever they were employed in rural
areas, it became a big thing. Then whenever we
speak of rights, they speak of doles,
cash transfer. Cash transfer may be a very
good thing for scholarships, for many other things. But for wages, for
work, we protest. Because when you
work for your wages, you have the dignity of doing
something for which you get paid. The dole brings in a kind
of mindset which reduces us to absolute nonentities. And poverty and the poor
are being exterminated too. Several programs,
I won’t go into it. But there’s land. We are losing land. We are losing our rights
over land, rights over water, rights over forests. We are losing our control even
over the democratic process. And I will end this
whole bit of it with a flag versus
the Constitution, because nationalism today
has been reduced to symbols. So the real national,
people who are really nationalists who ask for the
Constitution to be implemented, become this people
who are anti-national. They are the people
who become seditious. And it’s a tragedy
beyond all compare. Then I thought I’d bring
you some visuals from Delhi. And people who’ve been arrested
under this law have been many. But I’m not going to
go into nationalism. I had a quotation from Tagore. I don’t know if you can quickly
read what he has to say. Our national anthem is his song. Bangladesh’s national
anthem is also his song. He wrote beautiful
songs and lovely poetry. So two countries sing his verse
as their national anthems, but nationalism and patriotism
are issues we must debate on. We are really blind about what
we think about nationalism. It’s really important
to understand that nationalism and
patriotism must be unpacked, especially in
universities like yours. You should really spend a lot
of time looking at these issues and looking at these
words and these concepts and breaking them up. This is his famous poem. It should be well-known–
most Indians know– from the Gintanjai. And I think from when I
was able to read and write, I have known this poem. It’s so powerful, and it’s such
a critique of today’s India, because everything he
holds dear has gone awry. Knowledge is free. Knowledge is not free in India. Knowledge is contained. Textbooks all have
been revamped. Histories are being rewritten. So facts have been
misrepresented. Everything that he says
has gone the other way. Students are being harassed. As you know, all universities
are now under surveillance. And that’s Einstein
talking about that. And then this is
a Hindutva crowd saying that if you
want to live in India, you will have to chant
one day vandemataram. And vandemataram is
really identified with the Hindu community. So this is a very terrible
slogan that they shout. Anyway, I want to end
with a small poem. And I think it’s
a beautiful poem. “When we find
within us compassion for the children of
countries of our attackers, when we need not raise a flag
in protest because we recognize that all flags are bloodstained
and all borders born of blood, when we understand that a dead
person has no nationality, that is when will
begin to heal.” And for me, in
today’s India, it’s a very powerful poem because
we are fighting on our borders. We are fighting Pakistan. They are killing people
within our own territories. We’re killing Kashmirs. We’re killing Manipuris. They’re killing our own
people indiscriminately. So I’ll end there. [APPLAUSE] So I’m just going
to pose to Aruna a few very quick questions. And then we’ll just open it up. And Aruna, I wanted
to begin by commenting on your first set of
slides, because you gave us a nice broad picture of the
range of movements in India. And for those of us who
follow Indian politics and developments in
post-colonial India, I think we would all agree
that the social movement sector and civil society in general
has been quite vibrant. And social movement scholars
in talking about movements, usually, I think point
to five broad factors that are important in thinking
about when and how movements might be successful. So one is what
Chuck Tilly called repertoires of contention. And India invented
most of them, right? And it has a long history out
of the anti-colonial movement and through all the forms of
protests like you mentioned. So in terms of repertoires,
the movement sector is clearly very strong. The second one would
be having some spaces. And India is unusual
in having been throughout its
post-colonial period, with the exception of The
Emergency, a democracy and a democracy in which rights
of association and free speech have generally been protected
by the constitution. So on those two registers,
movements do extremely well. Then there’s the
question of resources. And you said that everything
from MKSS was crowdfunded. So I’d like to push you a
little bit more on that. In the United States to the
extent that we have movements, they can tap the middle
class, et cetera. And one of the things that’s
always been striking to me is how little support
movements in India have from the middle class
and the kind of resource constraints that might pose. But it’s the last two
points that I really want to ask you to comment on. So one is points of
access to the state. Movements generate demands,
frame issues, make some noise, get into the public sphere. But at some point, you
have to access the state. And I think one of the
things that’s been unique about the MKSS is the
range of strategies you’ve had for accessing the state. And yet most movements
in India have not had much success when
it comes to access. It’s a quite insular state. It’s very big. You’ve known it from the inside. It’s a very bureaucratic state. So I was wondering
if you could comment on that part of the
social movement sector. And then the other one
is political parties. Because normally when we
think of successful movements, whether it’s the civil rights
movement the United States or labor movements in
the US, at some point, they align themselves
with political parties. And to me, one of the
extraordinary things about all the constitutional
amendments that came out of the UPA 1 and 2 and the
National Advisory Council is, yeah, the Congress
sort of supported them. But it’s not as if this was
a part of the Congress’s programmatic vision and that
by and large political parties, if anything, have
often been quite hostile to social
movements in India. So on those two last
questions in particular, points of access to the
state and the multiple layers of the state from local to
district, state, provincial, and then central
government, and then the relationship of movements
to political parties, could you just comment
on that, both the MKSS and other movements in India? There have been
controversies initially with the MKSS because we
engaged with the state. We fall somewhere–
we’re not within the four corners of any ideology. But we fall somewhere between
Marxism and Gandhi in ideology. We live like Gandhians
because we really live on– we feel that you cannot fight
the battle against consumerism if you become
consumerist yourself. So you have to learn to
live with very little. And of course, the
economics of it also makes us live
with very little. And we do believe that
many things, especially if you are fighting
a non-violent battle, if you’re fighting with
civil disobedience, there’s so much that we
can learn from Gandhiji in terms of ethics as well
as in terms of strategy. There’s enormous
amounts to learn. But in the definition
of the state, at least with the Gandhians
who are there in India, we didn’t agree. They felt that we shouldn’t
get anything from the state, and we should be divorced
from the state and separate. We don’t agree at all. There we learned. Much that we learned,
we learned from Kerala. We went and worked with
the Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad, KSSP. We spent a lot of time in Kerala
to look how they had got things like the People’s Plan passed. How did you manage to move the
state so that the state did what you wanted? And we also believe
that the state is the most powerful welfare
organization in my country. Why should I look for welfare? And it’s an independent country. It’s a country in which
we have our own elections. It’s our own government. So why should I see
them as enemies? I have to see them as
adversities absolutely, because they are adversarial. But we don’t have to
see them as enemies. So how do you make that
system work for you? In the beginning when
we started engaging with the state at all levels,
because we engaged with them at the panchayat level,
engaged with them at the level of the state,
and we engaged with them at the national level. We engaged with all
political parties. We used to go to all
of them and really lobby with them for our issues. So they said that you are
being co-opted by the state. And you will really end up
being a part of the state. But the government has to
be made to work for you. So we have a couple of slogans. I’m afraid they’re
Hindi slogans. I don’t know how many of you
know Hindi in this audience. How many of you know Hindi,
if you put up your hand? Quite a few– so let me
first say it in Hindi, and then I’ll say it in
Urdu, which is the same. We used to say,
[SPEAKING HINDI].. We should tell Modi also that. You see, that is this
country is mine and yours. It isn’t an ancestral property
of any one individual. So if that is the case, then
the state must function for me. And it must work in
a manner to deliver. So we had a little bit of
discomfort in the beginning, but we worked our
way through it. So we had four distinct stages. Without a struggle, you
can’t get anything across. So the first thing has always
got to be a street struggle. And I still believe that the
street is our parliament. And recently, in Delhi, the
government’s environment board said that we couldn’t
have protested in Jantar Mantar, which is the
only place we have in Delhi, because it was noise pollution. Then MKSS fought, went
to the Supreme Court to get that order vacated
so that we could go back to Jantar Mantar to protest. The street is our parliament. It’s our planning commission. It’s our policy space. It’s everything. So that struggle is vital,
and you can’t give that up. But you also have to
engage with advocacy, because advocacy requires
a different set of people but linked to the struggle. So you have to go
with knowing the law, with knowing the rules, with
knowing the regulations, and you have to pin them down. As the British said, the
devil lies in the details. So you had to know the
details to pin them down. And after the advocacy,
we needed a structure. So we all formed campaigns. So the campaign was a really
major, overarching campaign. So you had lots of
little struggles all over the place
joined together by this major campaign. And then finally, in the end,
when this campaign spread word further, then the
movement happens. You know you can’t really
engineer a movement, so the movement really happens. So it’s this dialectic. I don’t know how popular that
word is now in the world. But anyway, this
is this dialectic between these four
systems of functioning that really delivered. Political parties, it’s a
very ambivalent relationship that most of us have with
our political parties. But some, we have
definite views. Now, I have great– I would not associate
with or have anything to do with any party that
talks about communal India. I will draw the line. But if there are others, you
have to negotiate with them. And for that, there
are 11 parties in India you can negotiate with. So you have to negotiate
with every political party to get this put into
their manifesto, and you have to educate
them really and truly. They’re not villains. They are people who many of
them are fairly decent people. But they probably never
thought anything through. Because of the nature
of our political parties and the nomination of
candidates, people who win, many of them have
never been to higher educational institutions. Those who have been are
elitist, so they don’t care. I don’t want to name, but
in every political party, there are people
who’ve been abroad to study, come back with
wanting to promote corporations and other people. So we have them as well. So you have to educate them. Actually, this law became
possible because the Congress, when the UPA won in 2004,
it was surprised because it was Congress plus its allies. I don’t think they
expected to win actually. So the India Shining myth
that the BJP had put forward, the right wing, that India was
shining, India didn’t shine. And therefore, they
lost the elections. They were surprised,
I think, as we were. But mercifully, they
lost the elections. And then the left
supported from outside. Now, well, I have a big
quarrel with the left as to why doesn’t it ever join. Why didn’t Jyoti Basu
become our prime minister? He never did. They always opt out
of the structure. But anyway, the left
supported from outside. And it is because of
the presence of the left that the more progressive part
of Congress got a lot of space. And the laws, the
rights-based laws were passed because the National
Common Minimum Program, which was, in my opinion, a
revolutionary document which was drafted by
this group of allies, was given to us as
a set of promises by an elected government. And I really thought
that when that came out that we had matured as a
country, that listening to people, the elected
government will say, OK, in the next five years,
these are the things we’re going to do for you. So when the National Common
Minimum Program came, we were really happy, because
the first thing they promised us was the works program. And they also promised us
a better information law. They promised us many things. And then when we got to know
that they were setting up this council called the National
Advisory Council to monitor the working of this National
Common Minimum Program, there was a definite agenda. There was a clear cut framework. And then they invited people
like Jean Dreze and me to become members. There were many others to
become members of the council. I went to every campaign
I was a member of. And there were huge arguments. Are you being co-opted? Or should you go there? Will you become part of the
Congress Party or the UPA or– anyway, so are you going
there or not going there? Should you go or not go? Extraordinary
conversations took place. But finally, everyone
said go, because this is a platform from which we will
be able to negotiate on what terms our demands are met. So they sent us. And it was very odd, because
the Congress thought I was left. And the left thought
I was a activist. But I don’t know. Whatever it is, we are generally
in this broad left category because all of us who
work with poor people, talk about poverty,
quality, et cetera, are broadly grouped into
the broad left category. And it is true. So anyway, so that’s how the
political party relationship matured. And even today,
about two months ago, we invited all the members
of political parties to Vithal Bhai Patel
House, VP House, which is our Constitution
Club, to come and state whether they would support
the welfare state programs or not, what their positions
would be on the accountability law. So we can’t treat
them as untouchables. We’ve got to have them
somewhere within the can. And then we went to
Parliament to depose in front of these
committees, because it’s a parliamentary
committee that is set up, we found that many of them are
very intelligent, common sense intelligence. You see, they could understand
what we were seeing. And many of them
were even convinced that some of these
laws should come. So we feel it’s also
an educational process with our elected
representatives. But we want to go beyond that. We say that unless they are
transparent, accountable, and we have
participatory democracy– representative democracy will
be like what it is now in the US and now in India, or there
are many other countries where they’re totally– Two and a half people in India
brought the de-monetizing through– two and a half
because Arun Jaitley was not even fully there. There was only the Prime
Minister and Amit Shah. And we had some 1.2
billion or three billion. I don’t know how
many billions we are. And you just bring
in a policy which shakes the foundation of every
single individual in India, a fiscal policy, and
you don’t discuss it. This isn’t democracy
at all for me. It’s completely arbitrary. It’s completely despotic. And what is happening
in India now is related to what has happened
in the last many years, the last four or five years. So a quick follow up question
and then I want to open it up. But I really want to press
you on the NAC and NREGA, because observing all
of this from the outside and through comparative
lenses, there’s something to me that’s
still deeply mystifying. And NREGA, Rajiv Gandhi once
said only 95 paisa on the rupee actually gets to
the beneficiary. No, it’d be 15. Oh, no, yes, only
five paisa on it. It’s 95 [INAUDIBLE]. 15 paisa from the rupee. And so I can’t remember
who, but someone once did a count of all the rural
anti-poverty programs in India. There’s been over 100. Yes. And this is the first
one that’s worked. And for people who don’t know,
this is hundreds of millions of people being paid– it varies– but
being paid something for up to 100 days of labor. Any rural person can apply. The logistical challenges
of this program are completely mind
boggling, right? How from the central
government do you get the billions of rupees
down to every village through the blocks
and the [INAUDIBLE] into the hands of laborers? How do you monitor it? How do you minimize the leakage? The complexity of
the scheme, I think, would be a challenge to any
policy analyst or anyone trying to design the
anti-poverty program. But when you have to do it
on a scale of 1.2 billion across 26 different
states, all of whom have different administrative
structures, et cetera– and we know that rural
wages are going up, which is pretty clean
evidence that NREGA is having a quite significant impact. And it was not designed through
the conventional channels. Normally, you’d have a
party or a coalition, and they have a general
sort of legislative idea. And some committees
get put together, and then the
bureaucrats come in. Instead, it was Jean Dreze and
you and [INAUDIBLE] and others. And there are so
many veto points in the Indian political
system, right? The parties could block things. Committees could
have blocked things. The bureaucrats could
have blocked things. And yet you got it through. And then you got through a
bunch of other rights-based– So I understand the political
conditions or coalitions that you described. That makes a lot of sense. I’m still trying to work
through the actual machinery or mechanisms that you were
able to get this really complex policy proposal through
and voted on and implemented. And I know you had a lot
of allies in the state, so that’s one of the things I’m
fishing for in this question. Well, actually, we had a design
already in Maharashtra, which is a Western Indian state. There was something called
the Maharashtra Employment Guarantee Scheme
already in place. It was a failure. Now, the guaranteed
money never was paid, and the work never came. But there was a pattern. So for a number of years, the
left unions, the trade unions, the workers’
organizations had been asking for a rural employment
guarantee program for India. So it was not as if it just
came out of our struggle. It was an older demand. On this side, because of
extended work in rural India and the 500 organizations
that formed a coalition to fight for the
employment guarantee, we all had very
intimate relationships with workers in rural areas. And wherever we went and
we asked what do you want, they would say work. They never said give us
money, never give us a dole. They wanted dignity. They said give us work,
and we’ll earn our money. And we’ll look after. Whether you went to Tamil Nadu,
whether you went to Bengal, or whether you went
to Rajasthan or you went to Madhya Pradesh or any
state, UP, wherever you were, they said give us work. Since it was such
a common demand, the participation of
people was ensured. We got the political
parties also to agree. And I think this is where we
have failed today in India. We went and told them. Because in Gujarat in 2002,
the riots are taking place. And people who were
hired to kill in Gujarat were Dalits and poor people. And they were hired actually. Many of them were hired. So we argued with
the political parties that if you have
huge unemployment, you will lead to violence
and a dismemberment of our social fabric. And I believe today– I was sharing with
[INAUDIBLE] also– that it’s this huge
unemployment of youth today that’s leading to this
kind of social disruption that’s happening today in India. So we argued with them
from that point of view, saying that if you do not give
any kind of guaranteed work, you are going to have
a splintered India. Because they will have nothing
to do, and they’ll all become hired assassins,
and hired whatever. On the other side,
the bureaucrats had– the good ones, I
mean, some of them– they felt terribly
worried that they wouldn’t be able to handle the
poverty levels that was rising, the actual lack of benefits
for people, and the structures. Because we got one famous civil
servants who’s no longer alive but who was a great ideal for
many of us called SR Sankaran, whom [INAUDIBLE] also reveres,
and I thought he was one of the finest human beings
I’d ever met who was also [INAUDIBLE]’s’s great
friend in all of that– he first was a little skeptical
about this whole process. But once he was convinced–
and he was secretary of rural development before– he pushed us. He wasn’t there
when it was passed. But he pushed us. But there were many
civil servant friends who were willing to
sit with us and tell us exactly where we were
not quite right in terms of implementation. So it was across sector, like
the RTI was across sectors, the MGNREGA was
also across sectors. Economists– so you
had [INAUDIBLE].. You had Jyoti Ghosh. We had Prabhat Patnaik. You had a whole
range of economists. You had people, workers’
groups, trade unions. You also had all kinds
of workers’ groups like us who were in
the informal sector. You had a mix of many people. And of course,
amongst them, there must have been sociologists with
disciplines and so on and so forth. So it’s this group that got
together and finally pushed it. And the political
parties, put yourself in the role of a political
party in Parliament. When there is this law– and of course,
pushing it through is very difficult,
because even in the NAC, there was resistance. Jayaprakash Narayan who came
to Harvard now to talk with me was one of the
opponents of the NREGA. And actually, his
argument was set down by a person called
[INAUDIBLE] who used to be chair of the Planning
Commission, deputy chair. He told him that this
was all nonsense. It can’t work. So there were fiery debates. I mean, it wasn’t an easy thing. But finally, in Parliament– and we had a very good minister
from the RJD from Bihar who was really pro-poor who really
listened to everything we said– and then when it went to
the Standing Committee, we all went there again. So we didn’t leave any one
of the procedural processes. We didn’t let it go
out of our hands. We were prepared for everything. And of course, we had details. And we had films. And some of our films
that we still see were all made for the Standing
Committee of Parliament so that we could
show to Parliament to show exactly how it will
benefit or not benefit. And then we had slogans. And because one of the slogans
of the time– which, of course, again, in Hindi we used– the slogan used to
be [SPEAKING HINDI].. [HINDI] is the Hindutva
symbol, and [HINDI] is the alleged Islamic symbol. So we said we neither
want this nor that. What we want is
work for our hands. So all these slogans
also caught on and conveyed the essence of it. Because divide and rule
is a policy not only the British did with us– we still do it. So the moment you feel there’s
an economic policy which will benefit the poor,
the first thing you do is religious divide. Then you do a caste divide. Then you do a language divide. Then you do further
divides so that they’re fighting amongst themselves,
and you don’t have to deliver. Well, we tried to forestall
all these things with this. And it was not an easy thing. It took us 11 years. So it was not one day. And it was consistent attrition. It was fiery debates. It was arguments. And we wrote so much– which is
what I’ve been looking at when I’m here in Brown– that we wrote for
all of the papers. We wrote in Hindi. We wrote in English. We wrote in Tamil. We wrote in Bangla. We wrote in every
language possible so that the idea of
this works program would not be drowned
in the uproar of the so-called
“civil society.” I never went into it. But for us in India, “civil
society” is very upper class. And we call ourselves
people’s movements. So we say “civil society”
is the person who will be allowed to enter a
hotel without being questioned. “People’s movements,”
the moment you step there, they’ll
say, stop, who are you? So we are class divided. Now, we may not want
to talk about class. We’re definitely class divided. So people who work with the
poor are all people’s movements. People who work with
well-dressed human beings are civil society. And since I’m a middle
class, sometimes I look like civil society. [LAUGHTER] On that note, I think we
should just open it up. So I had a question
in terms of when you said that we are class divided. Do you also see
somewhere that we’re also movement divided in the
sense that some movements are treated more equal than others? So for example, if I
take you to Manipur where you have 12 women
disrobing and carrying this banner saying, the
Indian Army rape us– and that’s a movement
that has been going on for so many years. There’s a case which has been
fought in India’s Supreme Court. It’s almost when you say that
the street as your parliament, you have different grades
in the country within which you are operating and
different legal grades. You have the Armed Forces
Special Powers Act. You have the Unlawful
Activities Prevention Act. And there is a lot of violence. So the state’s response, do
you see a subtle difference in the state’s response? Sometimes it’s violent,
and sometimes it’s nonviolent where
you have the space of arguing with the
state or sort of we have this entire army pushing
your civil servants and law and pushing what
you’re talking about? I absolutely agree with you that
there is no uniform attitude of the state ever. Even with nonviolent groups and
even in less contentious areas where there’s no Armed
Forces Special Powers Act, we don’t get the same treatment. It’s absolutely true. And I’m afraid this was– I would have liked
to have talked about, because in NFIW, I have a lot of
talk to do with Manipur women. And I would have liked
to have brought it up. But I didn’t have the
time, so I didn’t. And I’m glad you’ve done. Because whether it’s
the Kashmiri women or whether it’s
the Manipuri women, or if it’s the Adivasi women
who are all dubbed Maoist, or whether it is the
poor women in Kundumkulam in southern India
because they’re fighting the atomic plant
who are called seditious, we are not treated equally. It depends on what
issue you’re fighting. I think it was not such
a controversial issue. They didn’t realize with
the right to information actually how much
they were ceding. If they had understood how
much they were giving away, we wouldn’t have got the
right to information. In fact, one parliamentarian
about a year ago said in the Upper House of
India in the Rajya Sabha, he said we made a
terrible mistake giving the right to information
law to the people of India. Had we known what would
happen to our privilege and our impunity, we
wouldn’t have given it. So we caught them unawares. Actually, the right
to information law seemed very innocuous. It is transparency. And we only projected
poor people’s rights. Instead of one rupee,
they’ll get 15 paisa. They’ll get 60 paisa. But the fact that
you could unearth scams of the prime minister,
of the present prime minister, the former prime minister,
or scams related to builders, that’s why 80 of us
have been killed. 80 of our right to information
seekers have lost their lives. We’ve been killed
only because we are asking controversial
and vital questions where we threaten the security
of people with privilege. So it is actually
distribution of power, and it’s distribution of
privilege and questioning impunity. But they didn’t
understand it like that. And that’s why it got passed. And NREGA, they didn’t
have the gumption to stand up in
Parliament and say, we won’t give this to the poor. Because already
in India, I think, two million signatures had come
to Parliament Street asking for the law. So they would have lost. It would have
impacted their vote. So they were not keen
on doing something that would jeopardize their
political power, so they gave it. But you really have to
work through and strategize through all this. And it’s real hard work. And it never stops actually. You have to continually
think five steps ahead of the political parties and six
steps ahead of everybody else. But today in India, what’s
happening is something else. Yeah, I don’t think– whether we want
to speak about it, I think we should a
little bit in the end. Yeah. Yeah, I wanted to follow up
on this very beautiful idea of street as the
parliament that you raised. And to think about the
street as parliament, I’m actually interested
in hearing more about the nitty-gritty of
organizing a demonstration that brings people to the street. Now, since the question
that the gentleman was asking was to do with
the state’s response and coming from having grown
up under military dictatorship, do any group that collects
requires permission from the state in
order to do so? Otherwise, you can be
sure of police action, and of course, in cases,
militarized zones like Kashmir and north east, you can’t
collect on the street. In fact, the
response of the state is to prevent people collecting
on the street at all costs. So all kinds of violence that
precedes and then of course the violent response
when people do collect. But in other spaces
where you can, I just would love to hear
more of the detail of how do you bring. What does it take? How do you mobilize and the
extent to which middle class men and women are important
to taking the street and being present on the street
along with the solidarities across class that I sense
in all of these movements, that those across
class solidarities are maybe vital to being able
to take the street and make it into a site of negotiation
and power for our people? I think it depends a lot
on where it is located and what issue you take up. Women’s issues have always drawn
people from across all classes because mostly we take to
the street for violence against our bodies, mostly. Women don’t have
one economic issue. We’re also divided by class
and caste and everything else. But the one issue on which I’ve
seen across all class, caste, everything, assembling
together to demand is when there is assault
on a woman’s body. Then we all come together. Then the middle class, even
some upper class women, and the range of working class
and lower middle class women, we all congregate. Because at that time, all the
other differences dissolve, and we just look at
ourselves as a female form. And we feel the
pain, the anguish. We get together. At other levels, when it’s
a religious group which is being victimized,
then you don’t look at the class and
the other compositions. You get together. But in cases where
it’s an economic issue, there is a class divide. Because if the pensioners
were sitting in Delhi, so I sent a letter to
so many of my friends– I’m above 70– so I sent
a letter to all my friends saying we should
be there as well. We are all elderly. We’re people. We should sympathize. Five people or six people came. Maybe a dozen came. And the low people were– there were 12,000 people
from all over India from poor families. But we were maybe at
most 100 in proportion. So the middle class
doesn’t move when it comes to economic issues
because it doesn’t really think about it. It might feel some sympathy. They’ll give some
blankets, maybe at the most distribute some blankets. Or maybe say, OK, we’ll
give cost of one meal. But they don’t move beyond
that, generally speaking. There are, of course, some very
extraordinary people who come. So across class,
it’s really tough. But how do we mobilize? For instance, in cases– I’ll just talk about MKSS
where I know it best. Not all are like that, but
I will talk about MKSS. What we normally do is,
since we don’t have funds– we don’t get funds for protests. We don’t ever take it. We might get somebody to fund
the daily food or something, but the travel is
always paid by us. So what we do is we go to
a village and say, look, we have to take– we must go in numbers. How many should we go? Then if they say, OK, we
should go x number of people. We always talk in
terms of bus loads. Six buses should go,
or 10 buses should go. Then we say, OK, 10 buses
means so many people. So that means your village
will have to send so many. What about them? They say, all right, we
don’t have any money. And we said, we are not going to
take elderly people in trucks. We load ourselves into trucks. I’ve traveled in trucks
very often just hanging on, or lorries at the back, which
normally got all kinds of stuff like boxes and
store or whatever. But with elderly people,
you just simply can’t do it. They have to travel in
minimum comfort, which is at least a seat to sit on. Because from our
place to Delhi, it’s a solid 10 hour journey or more. You can’t just go like that. So the village gets
together and decides, OK, from our village
or our panchayat, we’ll send so many people. And we collect the money. So every household donates
some money for those people to go to Delhi so that they
go in reasonable comfort. But beyond that, we don’t
ask them for anything. And we also subsidize it
a bit by getting donations from middle class friends or
local people who are salaried. So that, of course, we do. Most of us do not
feel comfortable when the money comes
from foundations. Because the first thing– there are two reasons why. One is that the first attack
on us from the government will be that you’re
foreign-funded, that you’re foundation-funded,
that it’s not a genuine group. You have just bought
these people here– bought not brought– bought them and
brought them here. So we don’t want to
hear that, because it’s politically incorrect. And why should we get
ourselves into that position? The second thing
is that if we do that, apart from the
accusations of various sorts, people will lose their
own dignity in having paid not only for their fare
but the dignity of fighting their own battles after all. And we say, you want to fight? You come. We stand with you. But don’t think that I’m
going to go fight your battle, because it will never work. So you have to give something. Give time. Give days. Give this. Give that. But it cannot work without you. And I think the [INAUDIBLE]
works like this. The Fishworkers Forum
works like this. So many organizations
work like this in India. And we all collect money from
people, but we subsidize it. And there are, of
course, the trade unions. The trade unions are better off. Because when you’re
a trade union, the trade union pays for you. We have informal trade unions
which also work very well as Hamal Panchayat and
[INAUDIBLE],, which is organized people who are head loaders. And they have, like, 40,000– 150,000 people, members. Now, that kind of
organization pays, because they can afford to pay. And now they’ve
organized themselves, and there is a general
fund and so on. But what about us? Because a worker
who barely gets paid his minimum or her
minimum wages can hardly pay that kind of money,
and it’s a huge challenge. But it’s worked for us so far. But with Modi and
his restriction on our freedom of
speech and also restrictions post
the Supreme Court order releasing
Jantar Mantar for us, there are restrictions on us. We always had to get permission. But what we would do, we
would go and sit there. We would go sit there and
negotiate for permission. It was sort of easy. Now it’s much more difficult.
And there are people in Delhi who are spending weeks
on end just negotiating with the police station
to get the space. Now they say you
can’t sleep there. These poor people have
no place to go to sleep. So we used to sleep there. Now you can’t sleep there. It’s like officers
10:00 to 5:00, and you have to
leave at 5 o’clock. So where do we at 5:00? So we’ve got to negotiate
with institutions which will house us at night. So it is not easy anymore. And it’s much more difficult. But I think for
democracy to work, the first thing we should
fight the world over is public space is our space
and that no government can impinge on that space
and say that it’s for us, and you can’t use it. And I don’t know what
the state is in Calcutta, but I certainly know in
Bombay, in Delhi, in Chennai– in Chennai, when
they were protesting, they had to go to the
marina and the famous beach, the huge beach in Chennai, and
they were pushed off the beach. And there was
violence against them. So where do we go? And what the hell? This is my country. What is the
definition of freedom? What’s the definition of freedom
for Kashmiris and Manipuris? But what’s the definition
of freedom for poor people? I can’t open my mouth. I can’t demand anything. I can’t say. And there’s this beautiful poem
by Subramania Bharti, a South Indian poet, a famous poet who
was part of the independence movement, where a
woman sings a song. She recites
[INAUDIBLE],, the one who is the main character
in that poem. And she says that I
am dying of hunger. And I can’t drink my gruel. But before I ask
for the gruel, I must have the right
to ask for the gruel. So the right to
freedom of expression is the fundamental right. And this present
government in Delhi is hitting at our fundamental
right to freedom of expression. First, they attacked
activists and activism. They have called us
all kinds of names. They’ve called us
sickular activists, which is secular becomes sickular. They call us
pseudo-intellectuals. They call us left intellectuals. I said please don’t insult
the left intellectuals by calling us intellectuals. Call us activists. It’s good enough. But no, they call us
left intellectuals. And the whole idea was to
dis-value left ideology, dis-value the amplifier of
people’s voices, and slowly and steadily build
up this kind of fear that we were all people
who are Maoist threatening the safety of individuals. In fact, in Bangalore
about four years ago, one woman came to
me after a meeting. And she said I’m very scared
that the Maoists will come and attack me in Bangalore. I said who’s going to
attack you in Bangalore? There are no Maoists
in Bangalore. No one’s going to attack you. But the fear psychosis, so by
calling us Urban Naxals now, you put the cap on the lid. So as soon as you mention
the word “Naxal,” which is another name for
Maoist in India, and you’re an Urban Maoist, then
people don’t want to associate with you. And now you’ve built
up this entire fear apart from the
hatred of Muslims, the fear of being
seen next to a Muslim, the fear of other
religious communities, is the fear of being a Maoist. If you should amplify anything
or if you should protest, if there should be dissent,
disagreement, or difference, then you’re a Maoist. So they have built
this fertile ground. So today, when we have gone
into a situation of war with Pakistan, when
so many people do not want to be in that
situation, we are unable to voice or
have a street protest. We’re beginning to now, anyway. But in the beginning,
we couldn’t. And a friend of mine
and a fairly good public intellectual, very good
public intellectual depending on how you see him,
Shiv Visvanathan has published an article
today in The Hindu. And he said, “the
biggest casual day of unquestioning
enthusiasm for war is democracy and
rational thought.” But he said something
which I think I’d just like to read very quickly. He says, “our peace is a
testimony and testament to a society that must return
to its civilizational values.” He compares civilizational
values to national values, and he also has
something to say. He says, “the biggest casualty
of such enthusiasm for war is democracy. Our leaders know
the minute we create a demonology around Pakistan
we cease to think rationally or creatively about our
own behavior in Kashmir. We can talk with ease about
Pakistani belligerency, about militarism
in Pakistan, but we refuse to reflect on our
own brutality in Kashmir and in Manipur.” This has been published in one
of the important Indian dailies which is The Hindu. And well, I also liked
what he said about peace. He said that when he was a
boy, he went to see a film. And he was totally enthused
about Winston Churchill. And he came back home, and
he said Gandhi’s rubbish, and Winston Churchill
is fantastic. And he says what
his father said. His father said to him, “war
creates a schoolboy loyalty, half Boy Scout and half
mob, which becomes epidemic. Peace,” his father
told him, “demands a courage few men have.” And he then says, “I
remember these lines, and I realize their relevance
for the events this week.” Because peace really
requires courage. Today to talk about
peace in India, you’ll be dubbed
an anti-national. You will be dubbed a
pro-Pakistani agent. You will be called
all kinds of names. So in a sense, this kind
of democratic culture– and I’m afraid all our
campaigns will be finished if we don’t fight that battle today. So no matter what movement
you’re in today, Patrick, we have to fight this right
to freedom of expression which is a fundamental
right for all of us. I’m sorry if I got
overexcited about the right to freedom of expression. But it is a very important
and fundamental right here. So I have two questions. And this is essentially going
back to arguing with the state. So my understanding is
that in the last 10 years, we’ve sort of seen this blurring
of boundaries between state, private sector, and
the civil society, by which I mean private sectors
operating principle as profits. But we find them building
schools and the government asking them to build toilets
and hospitals, operating principle of civil
societies persuasion, but then civil society
is bringing in laws, is taking the policy seed. And the problem
that I have with it is that I find that
the role of the state as a policymaking body
seems to be restricted. So there’s this blurring of
responsibilities which I see. I would like to comment on that. And the second point goes on. I really would like you to
comment on what would you see as the welfare state
architecture 2.0, which is to say that last
decade has been this phenomenal rights-based legislation
on education, on health– well, now in health
as well, but whatever. And then moving on
the next 20, 30 years, where do you see the
welfare state architecture? And where do you see the
role of the movement? When liberalization, economic
liberalization began, those of us who
protested against it were called all kinds of names,
the ones were anti-technology– not anti, but said that
technology had its limits, became Luddites. And people like us who protested
against this extraordinary marauding capitalism,
because capitalism is many kinds of
capitalism, what’s today when the state
subsidizes capitalists, it’s marauding capitalism. What is it? It’s not capitalism. It just goes and rides
roughshod over everything. With this marauding
capitalism and all this, there is an invisible presence. And that is what’s most
frightening for me today. And that is
international finance, fiscal policies, investment. You call it by many names. So what happens is it’s
the investors in India who now call the tune. If you don’t believe me, then
there is the electoral bond. What is the electoral bond? Something like this would have
not happened 10 years ago. Parliament passes a law which
says that all political parties can float electoral
bonds and receive money from foreign companies
from foreigners. They have come down
heavily on NGOs which receive foreign
funds, and they have labeled them enemies of
the country, state enemies. They’ve suspended
their licenses. They’ve done all sorts of
things in the last 10 years. But they say that they
can receive money. And today, the amount of money
that political parties receive from foreign institutions,
it’s foreign capital which can give money. And who pays calls the tune. So the private
sector will increase, because they are the
ones who are paying the politicians to run
their political parties and win the elections. So the notion that your vote
is going to give you the right to monitor and keep your
electoral representative on ground gets vaguer and
vaguer, more and more diffused. So we’ll have to
fight many battles to control that Parliament
will be responsible to you and me and not to that. So that’s why privatization
of the sort that’s happening in India is frightening. And it’s really something
we should all stand up. And its mining industry. There are innumerable ways in
which people are being denied their right to life, actually. So we’ll have to look at
the fallout of mining, the silicosis that’s happening
where people– silicosis is a disease, by the way,
which is incurable. It’s worse than cancer. And there are
hundreds and thousands of people who are working
in stone quarries, in marble mining, who
all have silicosis. So where are we questioning
investment and its ethics? We don’t. So I really feel that we
have to question that. Your second question was? On the welfare architecture 2.0. The welfare
architecture, we’ll all have to fight for politically. We’ll have to come out of the
woodwork and say that we are– whatever they call us,
by any number of names– that we are that, and
the welfare architecture has to be in place, that your
facts and figures are wrong. You’re giving false
figures about poverty. You’re giving false
figures about people who are below the poverty line. The Oxfam Report which
came out before I left said that 10% of India
has 70% of the wealth, and 50% has the majority of
what’s left out of the 30%. What comes to us is dribbles. There’s nothing. So we’ll have to look at and
redefine the kind of poverty indicators we have today. You finance the state. Look at the anomaly. The state finances
you to build a house. The state finances
you to build a toilet. Then when they come for
the Survey on Poverty, they say, oh, you have a house. And you have a toilet. So you’re above
the poverty line. And it also blackmails people. It says, if you don’t
build your toilet, you won’t get your
other benefits. So my friend, my
Dalit friend who became the head of
the village council, suddenly said, I’m
breaking my kitchen. I said why are you
breaking your kitchen? She said there’s no space. Because Dalits have very
small amounts of space. So she said, if I
don’t break my kitchen, I can’t build my toilet. If I don’t build my toilet,
I won’t get my pension. I won’t get any other benefit. So if we don’t fight the
battle from the ground up, we’ll not get the welfare state. It cannot be a policy
sitting in Delhi. It will have to be listening
to the voices of the people who are at the cutting edge that
will really give us the welfare state. We’ll have to listen to them. We’ll have to
amplify their voices. We’ll have to see. And that’s why those
who amplify their voices will be called seditious,
like Sudha Bharadwaj, like [INAUDIBLE],, like
Anand Teltumbde will all be put in jail because
they are amplifying the voices of the poor,
amplifying and expanding that and putting it
into theory, putting it into a relevant perspective
which makes sense to people who understand the role of policy,
the role of decision making, the role of politics. So we’re out of time. But we do have some, I
think, refreshments outside, although it’s a
bit like Gujarat. And it’ll be dry. But there will be
some [INAUDIBLE].. And we can continue the
conversation outside. So I hope you’ll all
join me in thanking Aruna for speaking so
passionately and giving us such an extraordinary overview
of the current challenges of democracy and building
the welfare state 2.0 and hopefully 3.0 as well. Thank you, Aruna. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

2 thoughts on “Indian Democracy: The Role of Civil Society and Social Movements in Strengthening Democracy

  1. She is definitely an Urban Naxal propagating the agenda set from 10 Janpath Road
    These are the activists who have managed to keep the nation in shackles under the garb of "Activism and Human Rights"

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