What Next–More Partitions?

osmania-universityA recent edition of India’s left-liberal daily, The Hindu (3.30.2010), included an op-ed piece, concerning yet another demonstration by Hyderabad’s Osmania University students, this time off campus, in front of the home of Kanch Ilaiah, the op-ed writer. The students were Telananga separatists, protesting his non-support for their cause because he came out in support of the region’s “Tribals” who are seeking their own state within the current debate over partitioning the state of Andhra Pradesh into two states. If the tribals have their way, Andhra Pradesh would be divided three-ways, with the proposed “Many Seema” biting into both the prospective “Telangana” to the west and “Andhra” in the east, ironically uniting the two antagonists in opposition to the new upstart—the tribals.

But the irony goes deeper. Just as that original demand for partition reflected the students’ and others’ frustration over some fifty years of agriculturally rich Andhra’s depleting of Telangana’s resources, notably water, the tribals are also voicing frustration over five decades of neglect and exploitation, again made possible mostly by the Congress party whose political and bureaucratic machinery is becoming an increasingly dubious claimant to Gandhi’s heritage. It’s the same claim with one crucial difference: the tribals—the most neglected, under-educated and impoverished sector in Indian society—have no voice on campus.

But who are the tribals? Here are some bare-bone facts, grace of the UN:

— The average life span of people living in the Many Seema belt—40 year, as contrasted with 60 for the other regions of Andhra Pradesh.

— Their education level is lowest in the state, and employment is also abysmally low.

— Their food consumption is worse than that of any Dalits or other backward class of the region.

No wonder that the Naxalite Maoist rebels have a forceful presence in the region. As Koncha Ilaiah’s op-ed piece notes, “Most of the upper caste Telangana leaders were of the view that … no other issue of caste, tribe, gender or exploitation should figure in the debate in any form. They are actually bent on killing all other forms of consciousness…” The Osmania University students who protested Ilaiah’s activism on behalf of those disenfranchised by class and caste are partners to this killing of consciousness.

As Ilaiah puts it, “The question here is whether we understand the tribals’ predicament in the context of selfish and money-making leadership” in the region. ‘Fixing’ the long-term neglect of the Telangana region without attention to the rights of tribals, dalits, OBS (‘backward class’) women and children makes no sense. The ‘reservation’ system [India’s version of Affirmative Action] that is supposed to safeguard for a range of ‘scheduled classes’ people access to education and employment has been failing them and shows no sign of change.” Justice for some is not necessarily justice for all.

So here is yet again a case of big fish eating little fish who eat yet smaller fish, and so on.

While I’ve been inspired by the scale, organization, commitment, and self-discipline of student activism at Osmania University, I am dismayed at the notion that the creation of new states, whether here in Andhra, in the Punjab, and elsewhere, is the solution to the exploitation and corruption that undergird India’s much-touted “democracy” and techno “miracle,” as the clichés go. The British “divide and rule” strategy that gave us India/Pakistan, Transjordan and Iraq, Israel/Palestine, and the unclear borders of Kuwait, has spawned offshoots—Bangladesh for example, or the festering wounds of Kashmir and Nagaland—merely spawned the delusion that petty sub-divisions into micro-self-rule will bring social justice. Autonomy is an appealing idea, but not in the context of so much corruption and self-promotion in just about any politician who manages to grab a square foot on the platform.

Perhaps my expectations are unrealistic, but I do wish these student activists thought a bit further than the tip of their own nose and self-interest. More importantly, I do wish their faculty would have them consider more than just courses gutted, exams missed, and careers jeopardized. Of course education is important. I don’t shrug off the fact that because of the ongoing disruptions I met my class only a paltry four times in four months. Still, what irks me is not just the loss of teaching time but the missed “teachable moment” when our academic work can be seen in its larger context of class and caste relations. After all, we were studying Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun, at the time. Langston Hughes’ warning about what happens to a dream deferred (in the poem from which Hansberry took her title) applies powerfully to the world Indian students are shaping, and failing to shape.

*** See Arundhati Roy’s long trek with Maoists in central India, including letters in response, both pro and con (“Commie Roy” etc).

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And now for some light entertainment: The same issue of The Hindu has an article by one “Yogi Ashwini” in support of desire. So far so good! But Yogi’s notion of “desire” looks nostalgically at the good old days of patriarchal polygamy, when men not only had several legally-wedded wives but access, within the “sanctity” of marriage, to ganikas and vaishyas. So where does my own female desire fit in? How about several husbands, wives, and hijras (Indian eunuchs) for me?

A brief bio sketch tells us that “Yogi Ashwini is an authority on yoga, trantra, and the vedic sciences. He is the guiding light of the Diyan Foundation.”

–Linda Dittmar

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