Volume 5: Number 2, July 21 2002.
On May 11th, 2002, we woke up to terrible, if inevitable news. Kaifi Azmi, the lion of Azamgarh, was no more. It wasn't just Kaifi's death that made us despondent. We were also dealing with the profoundly sad realization that the last of a "golden generation" of Indian socialists had passed. "I was born in Enslaved India, lived most of my life in Free India, and will die in Socialist India." Kaifi's ringing words were echoed by dozens of leftists in newspapers and condolence meetings all over the world. But as eulogies for Kaifi poured forth, our mind's eye was focused a thousand miles away in Gujarat, where Kaifi's Saanp of communalism had devoured thousands of innocents, where the new politics of impunity allowed the government of India to deem it unnecessary even to dismiss the Chief Minister under whose watch the pogroms had continued unchecked. Mourner upon mourner at Kaifi's funeral must have bitten their tongues from asking the terrible question - Kaifi had not died in socialist India, but had he died in Fascist India? After all, it was in May that the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) had been signed into law as an act (POTA), effectively granting the Indian government immunity over any statute of the rule of law in detaining and incarcerating its citizens.
The predicament that the Indian left finds itself in is not unique. The situation is equally bleak in the rest of South Asia. Maoist insurgencies in Nepal point to a complete crisis in the land-holding patterns and an escalation in caste exploitation in the 'kingdom.' In Bangladesh, the fruits of the development regime ("deeper tubewells") have translated into a public health crisis where much of the country's drinking water is arsenic-contaminated. Of course, no development agency has ever been indicted in this shocking oversight. In Pakistan, General Musharraf rode the coattails of the US offensive to become an "elected" President, with the power to do away with future democratic adventures.
In the rest of the world, the events after 9/11 have been used by the right to consolidate their positions, premised on an induced hysteria of 'external threats' to nations, and the depiction of civil rights activists as 'agents' of this threat. The events in South Asia and their effect on the South Asian diaspora are not unique. The victory of right-wing forces in the Colombian election, LePen's popularity in France, the attempted coup in Venezuela, the role of financial carpetbaggers in Argentina, and of course the juggernaut of colonialism that continues to roll in Israel, besiege us from all sides.
The past 12 months have been particularly difficult for the left in the US. On September 11th, we saw the most perverted example of 'anti-capitalist' rage, putting us on notice that an inchoate sense of victimhood against the alienating rapacity of global capitalism does not translate automatically into a progressive sentiment. George Bush, in his capacity as the presiding deity of imperialism, responded with his famous declaration of war on terrorism. Afghanistan was brutalized, but so was the rest of the world. The regime of human rights, so hesitantly put in place by a century of activism, was rapidly assailed all over the world. The Homeland Security Act provided an effective smokescreen for a variety of anti-immigrant, anti-labor and anti-human rights legislation. Over 1000 South Asians found themselves in INS custody in the United States, victims of a bewildering maze of Kafkaesque laws that often allowed them to be speedily and secretly deported after months of illegal confinement. We seem to be fighting far too many wars to be effective.
Why is it that the right was the first to make the most of this international crisis, while the left finds itself in complete disarray? This is an important question for us on the left to consider. In many ways, we find ourselves forever on the defensive, responding to the agenda set by the right. As activists in the South Asian diaspora, we bend over backwards to explain why the events of Godhra are not commensurable with the Gujarat pogroms. Our critique of US imperialism is fraught with defensiveness after September 11th. We have to rally and demonstrate to ensure the most basic of democratic dignities, such as Shabana Azmi's right to participate in a play reading, or to Anand Patwardhan's films being screened in the American Museum of Natural History. We rail on the internet against various bills, and wonder whether to picket Sadhvi Rithambara as she spews venom in the US in the name of religious meetings. We shout slogans at the board meetings of Ogden Corporation and the World Economic Forum. But the only aspect of our agenda that seems to be coming across is the agenda of holding-the-line against the right.
Is there any way out of this pathological reactivity? How can we as leftists foster a space where the agenda can be set by us, where the right is forced for a change to respond to our interlocutions? This is a question that must occupy us as activists. In all fairness, it is not as if people are not thinking and acting on these issues already. Some groups within FOIL have gone the extra distance. The Youth Solidarity Summer will be held in New York for the seventh consecutive time this August (see http://www.proxsa.org/yss/). Various subcommittees of FOIL are thinking through other efforts. From highlighting gender violence (see this issue), uncovering the financial links of the Hindutva brigade, and coordinating international responses to the Gujarat pogroms, we have some agenda-setting work cut out for us.
One instrument of this proactive organizing lies in your virtual 'hand' right now. Ghadar, the webzine of the Forum of Indian Leftists, offers a space for intra-left dialogue, where we can debate ways in which we answer the vital question: What is 'left' in the post 9/11, post Gujarat landscape of left organizing in the South Asian sphere? We invite you to join this quest, by writing for us, popularizing the magazine, and making it an effective vehicle for organizing among the South Asian diaspora.
[This issue was put together by Usha Zacharias, Rahul De’, Raza Mir, Ashwini Tambe, Gautam Premnath, Priyamvada Gopal, Anhoni Patel, Murli Natrajan, Biju Mathew and Maya Yajnik. Address all correspondence to: email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org]
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