Disket Document: Dinner Discourse
Cinematographer: Shaina Anand
Duration: 00:17:05; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 17.649; Saturation: 0.042; Lightness: 0.154; Volume: 0.204; Cuts per Minute: 2.809; Words per Minute: 178.736
Summary: A number of historians, journalists and activists are invited to Disket in the Nubra Valley, Ladakh to participate in National Integration Conference. However, it appears that the same has been misrepresented, on arrival they are told that the actual event is the celebration of "Buddh Mahotsav", the first in a series of Nation-wide Events (the next was to be in Arunachal Pradsh) master-minded and organised by the VHP. What were a bunch of left-liberal folks to do? They performed their speeches for the good citizens and children of Disket, and talked late into the night.
This clip depicts their discussions over dinner - making reference to everything from Leftist ideology, politics and workers rights, to feminism.
The participants consist of :
Shaina - Shaina Anand
SA – Shubhadra Anand, Historian (Former Principal and Professor of History, R. D. National College, Bandra, Mumbai)
IE – Irfan Engineer, Social Activist and Advocate (Director - Center for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai)
MM – Meena Menon, Political and Trade Union Activist (Vice President, Girni Kamgar Sangharsh Samiti (Mill Workers' Action Committee) and Senior Associate, Focus on the Global South)
RM - Rama Menon, journalist
NS - Nandini Sunder, journalist
SV - Siddharth Vardarajan, Former Editor, Times of India; currently the Strategic Affairs Editor, The Hindu.
KMC - Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Professor, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
A group comprising of Rama Menon, a Delhi-based journalist, Meena Menon, a Political and Trade Union activist, Kamal Mitra Chenoy, a Professor of Comparative Politics and Political Theory at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU, Delhi), and Siddharth Vandharajan, the Strategic Affairs editor at the Hindu, a prominent Indian newspaper, discuss Indian politics, focusing primarily on the presence of the Left.
has more information on Left wing politics.
RM: There are no cities.
MM: That way Cochin is a lot, lot better. It's all...
KMC: No,no but look at all the DMS ministry...
MM: But they never touched the culture, they never touched caste, they never touched gender. The Left never has touched caste and gender.They never have.
KMC: No, the Iravas and all have been with the Left from the beginning. So there is some touching of caste.
MM: No, but it's not as if they took up the caste issue.
RM: You need to find out what happened this time. The Iravas have backed the Congress this time. They came out completely in favour of them.
KMC: This last nine year government was a corrupt government.
MM: Giving a caste a voice is not enough, you have to deal with the system.
Nubra Valley, Ladakh
Nubra Valley, Ladakh
RM: The Iravas have become a very strong lobby and this time they've pitched for the Congress, openly.
MM: They deal only with minimum wage, equal pay for equal work.
KMC: That is part of our fault. One thing we've been consistent with is the economic -
MM: Yeah, that is the main issue.
SV: But you can't expect the government to start dealing with the issues of morality and so on.
KMC: Why not yeah?
SV: You cannot.
KMC: What are Left governments for? How is the Left different?
SV: It's all about creating an environment in which these issues can...
MM: To create that environment...
SV: You can't pass legislation about how boys and girls should behave in college.
MM: No, no. you can't. But tell me one thing - will you support women's organisations which are taking up these issues? Will you support women who are fighting those cases?
SV: Of course, necessarily.
MM: They don't.
The conversation moves to appropriateness of the Left government deviating from fundamental economic discourse, and getting involved in possible issues of morality.
MM: Like for example that Piyusha case where she was eve-teased or whatever, and when she filed a case.
KMC: There is a simple barometer. How many women did we put up for the elections? How many of our ministers are women?
RM: More BJP and Congress women stand for elections than from the left.
MM: In Piyusha's case, this guy who went against her in college is a Union C.I.T.U. or whatever... activist... So the Left government was very quiet on the whole issue. They didn't file a case. They didn't do anything. There was a call for her suspension.
SV: That's the other big problem.
MM: Then Antony came to power just now, and first thing Antony does is suspend the guy. So it's basically politics. I mean, she's not gaining...
SV: It is a partisan issue. There is no principle involved.
MM: Yeah, exactly. There's no principle involved in it.
SV: Like when that sex scandal... Some small town Kerela... South Kerela, some...
RM: That was the thing she was talking about. You were talking about the sex scandal?
SV (continuing): ...in which some Muslim League and Congress politicians were allegedly involved in it.
MM: Yeah, Yeah. Kunhalikkutty and all those people.
SV: Yeah. So the Left made a big issue out of it. And if the same thing would happen to them they would do the opposite of what they've done. They would suppress it.
SV: Absolutely they would suppress it immediately.
The group comes to a consensus on the fact that the responses of most political parties are based primarily on politics not principles; the fact that they're either Right or Left wing is incidental. The group discusses a number of sex scandals in order to back their points.
is the current Defence Minister of India and a Congress party leader.
contains information pertaining to the sex scandal involving P. K. Kunhalikkutty, a powerful minister in Kerela. http://www.tribuneindia.com/2006/20060113/nation.htm#6
deals with the outcome of the case.
RM: The same party which they said is involved in the sex scandal, the Left tried very hard to tie up with them in these elections. When that failed, they went with those PDP guys or whatever. Which is like tying up with the second best.
SV: Yeah. These things change very slowly. The governments don't change...
SA: The women also who are in power right now, none of them have got any vision. None of them want to do anything for...
RM: The ones in parliament?
SA: Yeah, parliament. Or otherwise also, women in power. What are they doing? They don't have any vision. Nothing!
MM: Yeah, that'll take some time. It's the transition period. But if there are no women in parliament at all, that would be even worse.
SA: No, I'm not saying that. I'm saying, "yes." But why don't they take up women's issues? They don't.
MM: Well they do.
SV: Some do.
MM: They do take up some issues. When things happen, they do make a noise. But not very much.
RM: I mean a senior IAS officer like Nalini Netto makes a complaint against a minister saying that "he sexually harasses me," and explicitly writes down what he has done and what he's said. He's won this time after all of this.
SV: What do you do? Jayalalithaa won not just the constituency, but she won the whole state.
MM: Even for the women it doesn't matter.
SV: Laloo keeps winning in Bihar. The BJP keeps winning in Delhi. What do you do?
The conversation moves to a discussion of women in power. Rama Menon makes reference to the Nalini Netto Case
, while Siddharth Vardharajan discusses the political implication of Jayalalithaa's
win. They continue to refer to Indian politics, discussing the wins of the BJP
as well as Laloo Prasad Yadav
KMC: No there's a more serious problem here. There's a basic problem even with us in the left that there has been no real feminisation of the Socialist movement, including the Marxist. And part of it is linked to our classical text, that really even Marxism had no theoretical critique of patriarchism. That has come from the feminist movement later, which we have not vindicated.
MM: Do you know how much had to be fought? How much we had to fight within the party and with the left when we first formed a feminist and a women's organisation?
KMC: Vrinda just said that out a few more people on the Central committee. And Surjeet said we don't have these people, and Vrinda resigned.
MM: Vrinda was one of those who opposed the feminists tooth and nail when we had our first women's conference in Trivandrum.
KMC: Vrinda takes time to grow up. That's a separate issue.
MM: By that time the world has passed them by.
There is a heated discussion regarding the lack of women allowed to have a presence in the Left wing. Various theories are raised with regard to the reasons behind this lack. Kamal Mitra Chenoy makes reference to human rights lawyer, Vrinda Grover.
has an in-depth interview with Vrinda Grover.
KMC: Look, yeah. Marx's own personal life - was he far from a feminist? OK. Certainly Lenin is dubious but Stalin certainly was not; what he did to Svetlana and all that. Trotsky you know.
MM:See I'm not worried about what they did about a hundred years ago.
KMC: No, no. Enlightened in theory.
RM: Kamal time dekho yaar
(look at the time.)
SV: What has he done in practice?
KMC: Arre, he was killed through his mistress. Of course.
MM: No. I'm saying...
KMC: Stalin infiltrated the thing through that woman and then....
Shaina: Make for me also, na.
MM: Shall I put some of this into this, and give you this?
Shaina: Yes okay.
KMC: I don't know about patriarchy but...
The conversation moves rapidly from Trotsky
, to Lenin
. Kamal Mitra Cheoy refers to Stalin
's treatment of his own daughter Svetlana
while discussing the lack of feminism in Marxism.
MM: No, but that's the question of a time. In those days someone might have done something. Why do you want perfection in it? He was just a man. He was a victim of his time you could say. But today, what is the excuse? You cannot expect him to be some perfect human being in the Victorian times.
KMC: Okay I can tell you three party Congress' in a row. Someone had stood up and said "where are the women? And where is the youth?" They are willing to do a compromise under forty-five now. But later you make it under thirty-five, because that's the majority of our population. And each time we've been outvoted there's been some tokenism. Yeh vo
(this and that) but tokenism. And there's been an absolute refusal...
RM: No, these elections the left did try and. I mean, they had more women candidates than the congress had. At least in Kerela they tried. And younger women, I mean, people who were first timers...
KMC: Yeah, yeah. They did a lot of chopping and changing. But we'd already lost the election by that time.
RM: Exactly. It was a little too late.
KMC: And that's why the women were put up. Because they realised that they were going to loose anyway, so let's make them compete. Look, when it comes to these kind of things we're as slimy as they get.
The conversation moves to the further inclusion of women in the election, and the reasons behind the same.
KMC: Because we'll do our tokenism say we did this and that.
MM: The ML formed the first feminist organization in the country, we formed it in 1970. 1975. Oh sorry, 1973. The POW. It's been recorded in history and everything. We formed it in '75. 1975 in Hyderabad POW. POW - Progressive Organization of Women. And we were banned when the emergency was declared and they had to go underground. But when we formed it the ML. Well, kind of... Some ML organizations, they said "fine." But the majority of the organisations of the Left said "this is divisive." And to form a women's organisation is divisive because we were taking a feminist standpoint talking about oppression within organisations, within the family. You know, things that are generally... This is divisive. When you talk about domestic violence, that's divisive!
KMC: I saw there was a leaflet circulated in JNU "this is anti-class" and so on. I remember reading that.
MM: It was so ridiculous. And you know the worst thing was that we were being stoned by the RSS people on the other hand and we had to fight on both fronts.The RSS people would actually throw stones at the windows where we were having our meetings.
Meena Menon continues to expand on the inclusion of feminism into Indian politics through the establishment of the Progressive Organisation of Powen (POW). The conversation also makes reference to treatment they recieved during the Emergency
, as well as their reception by the RSS
SA: What is this for? Are we supposed to take permissions for a seminar where foreigners are to be called?
RM: Escalated into...
MM: Yeah, escalated into a huge fight. But it was that bad.
KMC: In the interest of National Security.
MM: The Left? What do you say about the Left?
SV: Yeah, well, there are varieties of the Left.
MM: I'm talking about the entire Left.
SV: One problem or issue which is a reality - it's called a constituency, a working class constituency. And when women's participation in work is not very much by default, the constituency of the left does not have many women. So what do you do?
The conversation continues to focus on the Left.
KMC: You know there is a deeper problem. Since the sixties, at least - some would argue from the fifties - the Left has been profoundly anti-theoretical. So all new theoretical trends have been viewed with grave suspicion...
SV: Especially if they originated in the west.
KMC: And if you look at the...
RM: Oh Yes. The environment originating you know, strongly...
(They begin to mock the policies.)
MM: Out, out... Out!
RM: These are all fads! There are all fads!
MM: Let's have pollution.
KMC: Imagine, on the Silent Valley project we had a slogan, we'd said "people first, environment later." Which is a straight violation of Marx, who said that the basic contradiction is with nature. Man and nature. And so after everything else you have to overcome that contradiction. Which makes it really a primary contradiction.
MM: But you see they read it in a way as to say that the destruction of nature therefore became almost a human duty.
SV: No. The other problem is that the people who were most effected by environmental degradation are not part of the left constituency. They were not bothered. Tribal who suffer from the deforestation...
MM: But you know the fallacy of that argument is in fact...
SV: And the working class which gets the job, which benefits from construction contracts, they are very much there. So they want the dams. They don't care about...
That's why economism - it's all short term and largely electoral.
Kamal Mitra Chenoy discusses the basic tenets of Marxism
KMC: If we get electoral advantage in the short term, that justifies everything. Because the argument is...
MM: Everything gets spoilt. The whole matter gets spoilt.
KMC: But that's the line, right? That if we make an electoral game that will position us to take over state power later. So it's theoretically justified that way so... We can't say that we are guilty of parliamentary cretinism. Because we're saying that we are making a parliamentary game, and from that we'll use it as a springboard to change the whole world.
MM: Two of us have written a book on this, which is now going to be published by OUP. So we've studied a 100 year period in Bombay, in the mill area, which was the main bastion of the Left. Of course we haven't dealt directly with caste, gender that way, but talking about the whole degeneration and how they lost out. The Left was like... You couldn't imagine what the Left was like.
KMC: No, I know what the Left was like. I had long talks with people there including Dange and his younger brother.
MM: Huge, huge. The fact is that the party was so powerful...
The conversation continues with regard to the electoral games, and the policies of the Left.
KMC: But that party has answered in an instrumentalist way, saying how the Shiv Sena killed everyone. It means it doesn't answer the larger political organisational question.
MM: You can't be just killed like that if you have that kind of base, there has to be some other reason. That is what we've studied.
KMC: Going back to the gender question, the 'other' Chenoy's book from 'Kali for Women' will be coming out in a month or two.
MM: Which one?
KMC: It's called Militarism and Women in South Asia
MM: Who's written it?
KMC: Anu Chenoy.
SV (mockingly): The 'other Chenoy, the lesser Chenoy...
KMC: No, no! That's not a fair thing. In fact, she gets really annoyed because in JNU, I kept saying the senior Chenoy. She says that, "that implies that I'm older."
Kamal Mitra Chenoy discusses political references to the Shiv Sena
. He also continues the early conversation pertaining to gender theory by bringing up the publication of Anuradha Chenoy
's book Militarism and Women in South Asia
in the series, Kali for Women
RM: But even this chucking out of industries, which has happened in Delhi...
KMC: That's elite environmentalism.
RM: Yeah. Nothing has been done about... What exactly has been done about... What is the extent to which people have been effected?
KMC: No, that the left fought! The left said, "the environment is fine, but what about these workers?" And these maaliks
will sell this land as real estate. But you know they did the same thing in Mumbai.
MM: That's what we are fighting.
KMC: That's another in the bourgeoisie courts.
SV: Delhi had that first case before Bombay. The DCM case in Delhi was the first case of traditional industrial property being converted to residential apartments.
MM: We've got a government GR on that. Finally after fighting it for about eight years. So now the government has decided that any development on mill land, which is six hundred acres of land - that's huge in the middle of Bombay - any development of land, the following will have to be maintained:worker's housing, alternate jobs for one person from each mill worker's family(working there). And retraining, if there is.
RM:But these things were said in Delhi also. This whole thing was drawn up.
SV: The DCM case was - and really, you know, we should study that case - this is the first case. And DCM was a really powerful group in the Delhi context because it was the big industrial family.
MM: No, we studied that. That was when we were still fighting this.
The conversation moves to a discussion on Workers Rights and Pollution Control
, with Siddharth Varadarajan refering to the Pollution by Industries in Delhi
, the case on Workers Rights in Delhi
. Meena Menon makes reference to having received a GR
which then proved useless.
RM: All the stipulations were there, they were submitted in court. And it was told that "all these things will be done." But if you ask any of these guys what has happened to the number of workers who were there - nobody knows. Half of them have left that place, half of them have been forced to evacuate.
KMC: We did a survey, I went on behalf of the people who did that survey. It's a total sell out. And the court knows it and is covering it up.
RM: Absolutely! Of course the court knows!
MM: So who sold out? The trade unions?
(KMC shakes his head in the negative.)
KMC: The court, and everyone in the government, and everyone else. Trade unions fought, yaar. But how much can the trade union fight when the court order is there?
MM: The courts are playing an extremely negative role.
The conversation continues with regard to the Indian Judiciary and the inherent corruption.
KMC: And after a while the media told us "get lost. We've already covered this story."
MM: No, no. I was going to tell you that the GR doesn't mean anything.
RM: He held this meeting of forty organisations. A huge number of people who've been pushed to the absolute extremes of Delhi. They came together, they talked about their problems. And when these documents are shown, the standard response is "who has collected this information? NGOs? Forget it! They are not reliable." I mean, they've talked about things like how many people come walking to their place of work, how many people use cycles - they are the most environment friendly. Why aren't there cycle tracks for them? They are the people who die most on the roads from road accidents. But then nobody is interested. It's like... amazing.
The group discuss the lack of interest from the media and prominent organisations in assisting rural development.
KMC: Dunu was taken as a madcap by the bureaucracy. They don't take him seriously at all.
MM: But he's done phenomenal work.
KMC: But because Imraana is a professor in JNU, and is a doctor; so there is this scientific thing! So Imraana is taken more seriously. I keep telling Dunu that you send Imraana instead.
SV: She's so shy and retiring, she'll not be able to...
KMC: No, no. Imraana's thing is "I don't know this." Imraana is a true scientist. She'll say, "I don't know this."
SV: If there is an injury, a physical injury to you, on account of some going wrong, a U.S. citizen can go and demand compensation. There are certain laws of liability, which the court has never enforced. The worst case was Bhopal. It was the worst ever case of the judiciary. When it comes to Delhi's industrial pollution, this generic kind of definition of a problem. They just pass a generic order saying all industries should get out of this bloody place.
RM: When in fact the amount that they contribute to pollution is minimal!
KMC: No, but there is a theoretical problem, that in the west and elsewhere, who have a certain law of wrongs done to you, and it is called the Law of Torts.
The conversation moves to the work of Dunu Roy, a well-known social activist, and then continues on to a discussion of the Indian Judiciary. The discussion revolves around the need for India to develop the equivalent to the Law of Tort
. India does have a version of the Law of Tort, as per www.ielrc.org/content/a0206.pdf
. Siddharth Vandhrajan also makes reference to the Bhopal Gas Tragedy
Anubrotto Kumar Roy, popularly known as Dunu Roy, was a an activist in the field of rural development. http://www.iitkalumni.org/sda/sdaProfile2.asp?id=3
has more information regarding Dunu Roy's work, whereas http://www.outlookindia.com/author.asp?name=Dunu+Roy
has articles written both, by and about the activist.
KMC: But you have no Law of Torts in India!
SV: Because the judiciary has not developed it! The judiciary should develop that Law of Torts.
KMC: And mind you people have argued this. Indira Jaisingh, Rajiv Dhawan etc. To develop a Law of Torts. Especially in a country with this kind of gulf in income levels and all that, you must have a Law of Torts! The courts are not interested.
MM: Because even if you are looking at industrial pollution, what is the contribution of industrial pollution to the total pollution in Delhi? Finally it is private vehicles which are polluting maximum. Buses constitute a small percentage; they've been forced to go CNG.
KMC: But they thought that they had taken care of private vehicles by, say, euro two.
MM: But that's hardly... (The clip is cut.)
The group continue to discuss the need for an Indian equivalent to the Law of Tort
. Meena Menon attempts to discuss the probable causes for pollution in Delhi. She states that it couldn't be the buses that cause the same as they've all been switched to the CNG