Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Dams, development and the poor: Medha Patkar

Medha Patkar, the famous activist from India fighting for the rights of poor and voiceless persons, was in Bologna at a meeting organised by CGIL, the Italian workers union.

I agree with most of what she says regarding SEZs, the corruption that pervades most of our system in India, the lack of care about what happens to the poor and marginalised persons for most of well to do India, that is as self-centred like most well-to-do persons in the world. I also agree that the present dominating idea of development is result of a particular view point of developed world that has its roots in colonial past, industrialization and in a belief that nature is for man’s exploitation and thus for most persons the more things you have the better it would be. But I am not sure if poor, just because they are poor, would be happy with another idea of development, for example, the ideas of self-contained mutually dependent small communities with limited material needs envisioned by Gandhi and some other thinkers. Perhaps it is the globalisation or may be a sign of changing times, but I feel that all, rich and poor, often share the kind of dreams that are based on material wealth. Perhaps I am wrong!

Here are some points from Medha's speech in Bologna.


I come from the National Alliance of the People’s Movements in India and also from the struggles in the river valley of Narmada. These years and decades long struggles are still on and have been facing newer challenges because the whole paradigm to which the state and the corporates are committed to, is certainly bringing an onslaught on the population including the indigenous people, farmers, the working class people, artisans, the fish workers and almost 95 or more percent of the working classes.

But it is not only the case of a dam in one single river valley, apply it to various development projects. We realise it that people are bound to assert their right to the local resources which are taken away in the name of development. So sections of the civil society and of course the state, come out with certain symbols of development which fits in their paradigm like large dams or large factories. We question it, from the point of view of how the process of taking away the resources (works), and diverting of these resources from one kind of economy to another kind of economy. We raise this question.

We are also questioning the centralised-based development paradigm and planning process. When centres are in the capitals of the nation states, the communities, the rural as well as the urban communities questioned, “Who decides what is development”? And through what democratic or undemocratic procedures and processes do they impose these plans upon us? It was also bringing out the ultimate ways of managing the resources, beginning with their small units that are the communities, which are also the ecological units. So that there will be no displacement and eviction of people from their cultural, environmental milieu and also from there own kinds of life-styles and economies.

It was one story when this was within the boundaries of one nation state. With the whole paradigm of globalisation, corporatisation and privatisation, it has attained unprecedented scale and unprecedented force, including the use of physical force that the state maintained but also the various factories of the corporate powers which have infested the state itself. The nexus between the state and the corporate power, it wants every piece of land and they are eating our resources in the name of industrialisation, in the name of progress and development. It is not just the rivers, but also ground waters, reservoirs that are handed over to the companies such as Coca Cola, the mineral water bottling plants. The people living on the land with the water resources are waging battles, if not wars. In the name of industrialisation, in the present paradigm, the land is opened to all industries including like your Fiat company from Italy itself.

This has taken a new turn by the states announcing the policies and laws of Special Economic Zones (SEZs). These are officially known as “foreign territories” within Indian territory. These SEZs are large chunks of lands which are acquired partly by the state and partly purchased by the companies, who can purchase not just small farms but whole districts, areas as big as the regions (in Italy) including hills and valleys, because they have already earned so much profit. These zones are the ones which give all concessions and not less than 21 laws for the corporates. They are cutting on the labour legislations which were earned through decade long struggles by the labourers and workers.

I belong since birth to the family of a labour union leader, who was freedom fighter as well and hence I know how hard earned are those labour legislation and yet with the rush of a pen, the legislations are declared “not applicable” to the corporates, that are allowed to operate not just with free trade but also with free operations. With special judges, with no local self-government, even those elected and recognised are not allowed to function in these zones, like the Panchayats. So with these kinds of zones coming up the corporates are not just confident, but are arrogant and aggressive in taking away the lands and every thing attached to the lands.

West Bengal is a left front ruled state for the last more than 30 years. We have always been allies of the left front parties. At the world social forum, at various for a where we raised our voice jointly against the neoliberal paradigm. If you want to have a look at the resolution passed by the parties, various partners and allies in the left front in India – Communist party of India Marxist, Communist Party of India CPI, the Revolutionary Socialist party, the Forward Block, if you look at these four parties, you will find that they unequivocally question the neoliberal paradigm. They question the World Bank, IMF, WTO, they support Cuba and Venezuela and the changes in the Latin American countries such as Brazil and they vow for the people’s rights and the non corporated state.

And yet in West Bengal problems are there, coming up in place to place. In Singur there was a forced acquisition of about thousand acres of land, 997 acres, for a project that was known as Tata’s small car project.

The industries minister of West Bengal told us, when we held the public hearing on the invitation that came from the people, myself along with Mahashweta devi, the well known literary person in India, others like former justice Sengupta and also the radical left wing intellectuals, we all held a public hearing and heard the people. The people had an unanimous voice in opposition to the project. People said that whatever needs to be done, has to be done. The corporates and before the corporates, the faith has to come to us, we are the communities, we have the power and democratic constitutional right and they should say what it is that they are wanting to have, why that project, what is that project going to bring to the nation and to themselves, how are they going to get a share, whether they are going to get it or not? But the Government absolutely said no, that they are not ready to disclose the information. So we as the members of the panel placed our demands to the industries minister and had dialogue with the chief minister also. We were shocked to get the answer such as, “Oh in the neoliberal economy, after all what can we do? We have to bargain with the companies, if at all. We have to accept the land which they choose, we can not choose the land to be given to the industries. If we don’t allow them to get the land which they want they would go away to some other state. Even for the rehabilitation, we have no policy as yet here. We will in the process try to talk to Tata so that we can have some package evolved..”. We were shocked to hear this from the left front leader.

As the struggle began, it has already faced some repression, some of the opposition political parties were involved, so the Government started saying that this is all political. When we came in as people’s movement, they could not say that because we are not for the typical political or electoral politics. We are in the people’s politics. But we don’t consider the parties as untouchables, but we feel that movements are political in themselves. When we as the farmers, fish workers, the displaced people, some of the unorganised sector workers, unions, some of the organised sector worker union, we all said raised the voice of support to people of Singur, they started directing the repression to us.

You can read the full text of Medha's speech if you wish, on

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Police, writers & peace keepers

I don't usually associate the words like writers or poets with police. Not that I ever knew any one from the police but it was about their image. It is true that I had read of well known police woman like Kiran Bedi and she is not the usual image of police, but in my mind, without ever consciously thinking about it, she was some thing exceptional.

Priyanker had written to me about his friend Mahendra, that Mahendra from the police services was coming to Vicenza in Italy for some training and that Mahendra was also a poet. That intrigued me, a policeman and a poet? Poetry means sensitivity and understanding of human pain and suffering. Police duty means bringing criminals and law breakers to justice, where there is not much space for senstivity or understanding. That is what I thought and the apparent contradiction, intrigued me.

It would have been lovely to meet Mahendra but the only problem was to find an opportunity. "We are busy throughout the week, and next two weekends we also we are busy", Mahendra had said. I only these two weekends free and then I am supposed to go to London for work. Probably it will be difficult to meet him, I had thought in my heart.

And then he sent a message yesterday that today, Sunday 25 November evening, their group was passing through Bologna and stopping at one of the local police offices for dinner, on its way back to Vicenza. And so I asked my son to accompany me to meet Mahendra.

There are thirteen persons from different police related services from India, who have come here for "training of trainers" course for UN peace keeping. Apart from Mahendra Singh Poonia, suprintendent of Police at the Government Railway police in Siliguri, I also had a brief opportunity to meet Satya Narayan Sabat, DIG Police UP. Like Mahendra, even Satya Narayan is into creative writing. His book 'Bharatiya Sanskriti Mein Manavadhikar ki Avadharana' (Ideas of human rights in the Indian culture), which deals with human rights in the light of Indian culture and stresses how it directly and indirectly is influenced by the same, received a national human rights commission award in 2004-05.

It is not often that I get an opportunity to meet creative persons involved in Hindi writing and it would have been wonderful to know them better but the time was short and soon we were surrounded by other persons from the Indian group, including three women. I heard the introductions, Simla, Himachal Pradesh.. Chennai, Tamilnadu... Rewa, Madhya Pradesh, ...CBI, CRPF, ... but the there was no time to learn their names or to know them as persons.

Soon their instructors were telling them to get ready for the journey back to Vicenza and we said hasty goodbyes. As I came back home, I was thinking, how often we tend to categorize persons by mental stereotypes and yet when you know the real persons, they are very different from those steroetypes. My perception of persons in the security forces has changed from this brief encounter.

Here are two pictures from the evening. In the first one, from left to right, it is Satya Naayan, I, Mahendra and my son Marco Tushar; the second picture is of some members of the Indian group.


Saturday, 17 November 2007

Funny chocolates cause scandal in Bologna

Bologna has rightly the reputation of being a very progressive and tolerant city, but occasionally something comes out and starts a scandal.

That is what happened, day before yesterday in the main city square. There was the annual chocolate fair that brings chocolate makers and people who love eating chocolates from all over Italy to Bologna for three days. It is a unique opportunity to taste special handmade chocolates in special tastes that you can't find in shops and superstores selling packaged factory made chocolates.

Chocolate fair of Bologna, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak, 2007

Among the different chocolate makers was also "Roccocicco chocolate company" from a small city called Cento near Bologna. Cristina Merlin the chocolate maker along with her pastry maker husband likes making funny shaped chocolates, among which a special version of penis shaped chocolates called Rocco, named after the Italian porno star Rocco Siffredi. Cristina claimed that those chocolates are modelled after the real specimen of the pornostar though they are reduced in dimensions.

Walking through the shops in the chocolate fair, I noticed the crowd in front of Cristina's Roccociocco shop. She had a much bigger varieties of chocolates compared to the other shops, with specialities like chocolate covered cheese in different colours, bugs bunny shaped chocolates, etc. However, the most popular product of her shop were those penis shaped chocolates costing 10 Euro each. Couples wanted to get photographed in front of them, girls were holding them in front to get their pictures taken, giggling and laughing all the time. It seemed like innocent fun.

May be if I was new to Bologna, I would have got scandalised but with the Neptune statue right in the middle of the Bologna city square showing off the family jewels unashamedly and the story they tell about the prudish churchmen of sixteenth century wanting to cover it but citizens of Bologna voted to keep it that way, open and nude, perhaps I have also got used to similar sights.

Plus it is common to find penis shaped pasta, that is sometimes gifted for marriages & birthdays to the future brides and grooms. So I thought making chocolate in that shape was a nice commerical idea, also took a picture, moved ahead and forgot about it.

Chocolate fair of Bologna, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak, 2007

Next day morning when I read in the newspaer that one of our municiple council members, one Ms. Santandrea, had been to the fair, and had found those chocolates to be offensive and thus police was called, Cristina Merlin was asked to pay a fine of some 200 Euros and to remove those "penis chocolates" from her shop. As expected this has awakened some Bologna citizens who say that the chocolates are innocent and the council member is a hypocrite. Predictably, the church representatives have welcomed the "end to the depravity".

So if you want to have a chocolate copy of the Rocco Siffredi's endowment, you must now go to the city of Cento to Cristina's shop called Omar, because it will no longer be available in the chocolate fair in Bologna!


Thursday, 15 November 2007

Guntur comes to Bologna

Mayor's office from Bologna had sent me an invitation explaining that mayors from Indian city of Guntur and Philippines province of Bahol were coming to Bologna as jury members for an ecological project. It seems that Bologna with some funding from European Union and in collaboration with a Swedish city was promoting this project for the improvement of environment and ecological sustainability and it had started with the two pilot projects in India and Philippines.

These days when they speak of global warming and climate change, often they end up by saying that enormous growth in India and China is going to put additional pressure on the climate and that the developing world should look for some alternate paradigm of growth. I find that extremely hypocritical.

The other day I was reading that USA alone consumes hundreds of time more energy than all of Africa and if China and India continue to grow the way they are, by 2020 they will be consuming 20% of the USA energy level. So it is not about reducing India or China's energy use, it is about reducing their own energy use if they are serious about climate change and global warming. In the end every drop counts, but isn't it a little shameless to not to look at oceans and focus only on drops?

European energy consumption is not at the American level but it is probably not too much far behind. How much success have they achieved in reducing their own energy consumption?

I feel that in USA and in Europe, the trend is towards more efficient use of energy, less polluting ways of using energy and there is no attempt to change the general paradigm of living that is based on intensive use of earth's resources. Almost everything, from cars to computers, are going towards "use it and throw it" kind of mentality. So how can they preach to developing world about what others should do?

If the developed world is really keen on reducing pollution in the developing world, they should be willing to waive copyrights and protectionist measures to share ideas, efficient technologies with the developing world, and not allow their own multinationals to shift their polluting businesses in developing world without proper technology improvements.

In Bologna itself, there is lot of pontificating about using bicycle and public transport and not using cars, but in reality the city does everything to discourage people from using bicycles and promotes use of cars. In my opinion, as someone who goes regularly to work on bicycle, in the last ten years the number of bicycle users in the city has decreased and number of cars has increased many folds.

I had all these thoughts in my head when I went to this meeting. Fortunately they did not give any hypocritical speeches about climate change and global warming. The emphasis was very much on ecology for improving the lives of people who live in our cities, about improving water supply, solid waste management, traffic, greenery, etc.

Kanna Nagaraju, mayor of Guntur was there with his wife, Kirti. Nagaraju a BTech in mechanical engineering was in real estate business when he entered politics 2 years ago and at 25 became one of the youngest mayors of India (or may be in the world?). Kirti is also a BTech, is still studying, doing MBA and the couple do not yet have a child.

Nagaraju's was not a very fluent or coherent speaker but his presentation was good. He presented some big successes in Guntur after this project - they are now testing water supply for pollution and making sure that people get drinkable and pollution free water. He told that they are almost near to achieve 24x7 uninterrupted water supply, and they have a new system of solid waste collection from the house holds that is separated for recycling. He also said that Guntur is now a garbage free city, they are managing traffic better, building more parks and planting greenery, etc.

Is this change real or is it just a big political speech-giving by exaggerating whatever little has been done, this only the persons from Guntur can tell. I hope some bloggers from Guntur will send comments.

In the meantime, some pictures from yesterday: (1) Nagaraju (right) with Pamela Lama (from the Bologna Mayor's office), Anna Patullo (Bologna counsellor) and representatives from Phillipines (2). On this occasion, Sogni d'oriente, a Italian-Persian music group presented some fusion music. There were also some  (3) products from Guntur on exhibition; and (4) closeup of Nagaraju with interpreter and Ms. Lama.


Friday, 9 November 2007

Festival of lights

Today in India, it is Deewali, the festival of lights. I can imagine the crowded and noisy markets, the hustle and bustle, the packets of sweets and the millions of lamps and candles that lit the moonless night. I think of the lines from the Buddhist prayer in Sanskrit, "Tamso ma jyotirgamay", "take me from the darkness to the light".

My best wishes for all of you - let there be light in your homes, in your families, in your hearts.

Far away from home, it is just another day here in Europe, though we do plan to go out for dinner in a place that is going to have a Bharatnatyam recital. And tomorrow evening, we are going to have a show of gypsy dancers from Rajasthan. And there won't be all the noise and the pollution from millions of fire crackers!

That is how we try to console ourselves!!

I took the pictures of candles below in Li Jiang in Yunnan province in China recently, that for me do express the spirit of Deewali.

candles, Li Jiang, Yunnan, China - images by Sunil Deepak, 2007

candles, Li Jiang, Yunnan, China - images by Sunil Deepak, 2007

candles, Li Jiang, Yunnan, China - images by Sunil Deepak, 2007

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