Friday, March 31, 2017

Left Eye Flickering

My review of ‘No Free Left - The Futures of Indian Communism’ and a chat with the author Vijay Prashad- we talk about the role of the Communist parties in an increasingly neoliberal India.

Communist campaigners at Karol Bagh in Delhi during the 1952 general elections.
(Picture: Photo Division, Government of India)
Vijay Prashad’s No Free Left – The Futures of Indian Communism is a history of the Indian Left movement, a speculative self-critique and a hope for a future where the Left’s vibrant socio-economic discourse remains key to bringing a real public policy dialog back to the people in the face of seemingly insurmountable tide of neo-liberalism.

The book charts the uniquely South Asian roots of the Indian Socialist movement with Gandhi’s focus on localised self-sustained economy, which was more or less nipped in the bud by Nehru’s keen interest in mass industrialisation and state centralisation post-independence. Although Nehru was, in the nineteen-thirties, drawn ideologically towards the Communists, his domestic policy was largely devoid of the earlier tilt, especially with his infamous dismissal of Kerala’s first Communist government. Vijay bemoans the fact that alternative political movements such as the Socialist parties of Ram Manohar Lohiya and EMS Namboodiripad soon degenerated into caste-based single-family dominated formations.

(Read the full article in Kindle magazine)

The Blood Soaked Closet

Queer people have in recent decades been one of the less talked about victims of what is generally called "Islamic terror". In this article, I speak to some of those who have a personal stake in the matter, and muse on what the future holds for LGBT people in Muslim societies.

The bodies of Xulhaz and Mahbub being taken out from their home in Dhaka (Picture: Mohammad Jamil Khan, Dhaka Tribune)

Forty-year old Xulhaz Mannan’s life was brimming with creativity, talent and hope. An employee of the American embassy in Dhaka, he was also an avid photographer, traveler, activist and the editor of Bangladesh’s only gay magazine, Roopban. We had been in touch for some time because he was mentoring a small contingent from Bangladesh that was supposed to attend the Indian LGBT Youth Leadership Summit in Mumbai in June last year. Then, with just a few weeks to go, I got an email from one of the participants saying that Xulhaz and his friend Mahbub Tanoy had been hacked to death and that the team will no longer be able to make it to Mumbai. By next morning, the story about the gruesome murders was all over even on Indian news channels and newspapers.

The apparent reason was that Xulhaz was planning a rainbow rally at the annual Bengali New Year parade in Dhaka. Bangladesh, a country where Atheist and freethinking writers have for some time been targeted for expressing views against Islam or Islamic fundamentalism, had witnessed its first high-profile homophobic act of terror. And an act of terror it definitely was against an already invisible and criminalised minority. The handful of queer activists who had dared to come out went back into hiding, and we have not seen any major LGBT initiative in the country since the killings.

Tragic as it was, Xulhaz’s murder was not an exception. The LGBT community has long been the target of Muslim extremists around the globe. Soon after the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, they went after the city’s known homosexual men and executed them. Iran is known to routinely hang homosexuals, and when the so-called Islamic State took over large parts of Iraq and Syria, the world witnessed horrific images of gay men being thrown off roof-tops, and stoned to death.

(Read the full article in Kindle magazine.)

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Short Fiction: Out at the Wedding

A brooding and disheartened Nikhil sat in front of the ceremonial fire inside the wedding mandap, surrounded by four improvised towers of festooned clay pitchers under an ornate red and gold canopy while watching his sister and future brother-in-law walk the seven rounds to solemnise their marriage vows. The priest invoked singsong mantras amidst the usual brouhaha of an Indian wedding, with extended families from both sides each making considerable contribution to the general clamour.

Two weeks earlier, Nikhil had made it adequately clear to his mother that he would give Shweta’s wedding a miss unless Shailesh, his partner of three years, was also invited. But Indian mothers are known to be insistent and here he was—sitting sniffing distance from the ghee-flavoured smoke—cross with his family, with Shailesh, and most crucially, with himself for having let this happen...

(Read the full story in Kindle magazine)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Travelogue : Three Days in Phnom Penh

A busy street in Phnom Penh

Four decades after it fell to the Khmer Rouge, I visit the Cambodian capital to understand the extent to which the wounds have healed.

Our bus from Siem Reap reached Phnom Penh by dusk. The seven-hour bus ride, cutting across the Cambodian countryside of green paddy fields, marshy rivers, and hamlets of bamboo huts, brought us into the midst of a thriving metropolis that was as different from Siem Reap—a tourist base of guesthouses and hip restaurants—as night from day. The streets were teeming with buses, tuk-tuks, and two-wheelers driven by stylishly dressed young men and women. One could get a sense of the cosmopolitan nature of the city from its many French bakeries, Chinese restaurants and dazzling Buddhist shrines.

It was already dark by the time we washed up. After having left our hotel in central Phnom Penh, we took a walk down the arterial city street, Sihanouk Boulevard, to the impressive Independence monument, a soaring commemoration of Cambodian freedom from the French in 1953. This monument is modeled on the central tower of Angkor Wat, the iconic temple that finds itself imprinted almost everywhere in this country—from the national flag to beer bottles. On our way back, we stopped at a hole-in-the wall cafĂ© for some sumptuous, warm and sweet pork dumplings of a size we could never expect to find in India...

(Read the full article in Kindle magazine)

Monday, August 3, 2015

Where men need to 'lean in'

Image: Representational
...If there is one thing I have understood in my work in the area of diversity management, is that it ultimately always boils down to a power game. Men hold power in the world of business, and there needs to be good reason for them to share it with women. And so men giving equal space to women in the workplace, needs to be complemented by letting them take a greater role at home. But traditionally in India, how many fathers have taken an active role in the child’s early stages of development? In their nutrition and health care? Or in their primary education?

My point is simple - till the woman remains the primary contributor at home, the man shall remain the primary contributor at work, and all affirmative action will ultimately come to naught, with women dropping out just when it starts to matter most. Sheryl Sandberg while advocating for women to “lean in” at the workplace, does not forget to remind us of the importance of letting men lean in at home. In a Yahoo News interview she said, “We also haven’t supported men as caregivers. … Women get discriminated against in the office; men get discriminated against when it comes to care.”

(Read the full article in People Matters magazine)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Cracking the Corporate Closet

Image: Representational 
At the rooftop Bandra pub Bonobo on a warm autumn evening, where a group of gay male professionals- from entrepreneurs to employees at large firms- meet up once each month, everyone had their own dilemma to share. Sandeep, an employee at an international investment bank that has offices in Mumbai, said that he felt betrayed after his company rolled back plans to launch an LGBT initiative after the December 2013 ruling. He saw his own HR and business leaders backtracking, even as gay colleagues retreated into their corporate closets.

Following the Supreme Court ruling, for an entire week my inbox was flooded with distraught queries from HR managers who were having their LGBT initiatives stonewalled by risk-averse Legal departments who had limited understanding of the nuances of the Section 377 Supreme Court ruling, and seemingly little sympathy for gay rights otherwise. “If we support our gay employees, wouldn’t that be considered aiding illegal activity under Section 377?” asked an HR manager over phone from Bangalore. “If the police ever comes knocking at your door, tell them that as far as we are concerned our same-sex couples drink coffee from the same cup and no more..!” I advised. There was a long silence on the line- the humor was apparently lost on her...

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

This Thursday even as I was watching Frieda Mock’s stunning documentary Anita (2013) at the Culture Lab, my mind could not but wander back to the disturbing, yet beautifully crafted Indian film Bawandar (2000).

These are the bare facts of the two films- Anita Hill’s is the story of an American Law professor who in 1991 accused U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, her supervisor at the U.S. Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, of sexual harassment. The very public hearings, and the slew of allegations and counter-allegations made her a nationally recognized figure- idolized and berated in equal measure. Ultimately, Thomas was elected to the Supreme Court by a slim majority, but Anita went on to become a crusader for the rights of all American women at the workplace, at a time when sexual harassment in the workplace was not a topic most Americans were even comfortable discussing. Bawandar tells the story of Bhanwari Devi- a watershed case for the issue of workplace sexual harassment in India. Bhanwari- a Government worker in rural Rajasthan was gang raped by a group of powerful upper-caste men when she tried preventing child marriage in her village-which was part of her job. Her case, which turned into a protracted legal battle went on to the Supreme Court of India, which ultimately issued the Vishakha guidelines (named after the NGO that took up her case) on workplace sexual harassment of women in India...

(Read the full article here on the India Culture Lab Blog)