India News Interview Kerala

‘Collapse of the civil society undermines Kerala’s Renaissance narratives’

Professor TT Sreekumar, a distinguished academic currently associated with the School of Interdisciplinary Studies at the English and Foreign Language University in Hyderabad, has an extensive teaching history. His experience extends to prestigious institutions such as the National University of Singapore and the Division of Social Sciences at HKUST, Hong Kong. Renowned for his contributions to the field, Professor Sreekumar authored “ICTs & Development in India: Perspectives on the Rural Network Society” (Anthem Books, London, 2011), highlighting his expertise in development and technology studies. Beyond his academic endeavours, he is a prolific writer and columnist in Malayalam, his mother tongue, having penned over 500 articles and authored or edited 18 books mostly concerning literature, society, history, culture and politics of Kerala, where he was born. His engagement with civil society organizations in India underscores his commitment to societal impact. Additionally, he is known for his insightful fortnightly column “Naalam Kannu” in the Madhyamam Daily, further cementing his status as a much respected voice in contemporary discourse.   

In this long conversation with Abhish K. Bose Dr Sreekumar discusses the diverse challenges faced by the  Kerala society, its renaissance, the social context of the emergence of Communism, its civil society, growing islamophobia among other issues.  

Excerpts from the Interview   

Abhish K. Bose: Given that the Kerala Renaissance movements achieved significant progress in overcoming entrenched caste-ist superstitions and promoted human dignity, yet the vestiges of these deep-seated beliefs continue to linger in Kerala’s society, evident in the resurgence of communal tensions at even minor provocations, can we consider the Kerala Renaissance to have been an incomplete social transformation, falling short in fully addressing and eliminating the enduring societal afflictions that transcend time and affect various communities?

TT Sreekumar  :The term ‘Renaissance’, applied to the socio-cultural transformations that occurred in Kerala in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was retrospectively coined in the 1970s to elucidate the ‘Kerala model.’ The Kerala Model refers to the unique socio-economic and developmental approach adopted by the successive governments in  Kerala, characterized by high human development indicators. This model is distinguished by significant achievements in health, education, and social welfare, despite having a lower per capita income compared to other Indian states.Central to the Kerala Model is the state’s emphasis on equitable access to healthcare and education. Kerala boasts one of the highest literacy rates in India and a robust public health system that provides widespread, affordable healthcare. These achievements are underpinned by a long history of social reform movements, which have contributed to a more egalitarian social structure compared to other parts of India. The term Renaissance began to applied to these set of social reform movements as a teleological explanation of the Kerala model.

These movements, primarily anti-caste in nature, have historical roots predating colonialism, as evidenced in texts like ‘Thirunizhal Mala’ (13th century) , ‘PachalloorPathikam’ (14th century) and southern ballads (13th-18th centuries) which contain anti-caste and anti-Brahmanical sentiments. The intersection of internal anti-caste dynamics and external colonial influences catalyzed these social movements.Initially led by Dalits, these movements did not see significant participation from the upper castes, including the Nair Sudras, until the 1920s. The Nair Sudras, historically aligned with the Nambudiri Brahmins and forming a hegemonic group in Kerala, began embracing social equality ideals when their dominance was challenged by subaltern movements. However, this adaptation was more about retaining Sudra hegemony than genuine reform. Even today, this hegemonic alliance remains influential, dominating socio-economic spheres and manipulating policies, including reservation benefits, to their advantage.

The legacy of this alliance is evident in the rhetoric surrounding the Kerala Renaissance, which they claim to be the rightful heirs of. Despite this, caste-based discrimination, including honor killings and caste abuse, persist in Kerala. Discussing these issues is often seen as undermining the renaissance narrative, despite their prevalence. This hypocritical stance overlooks the fact that these movements were deeply rooted in Kerala’s history and utilized the opportunities presented by colonial modernity to advocate for social justice.The Sabarimala agitation, a recent example of this hegemony, showcased the alliance’s ability to mobilize and maintain social dominance. This movement, ostensibly about religious tradition, also reflected the underlying social power dynamics at play in Kerala. The agitation illustrated how the rhetoric of renaissance and social reform can be co-opted to maintain existing power structures, even when they contradict the principles of equality and justice that these movements originally stood for.

How does the current state of Communism in Kerala compare with that in China and Vietnam, considering the unique historical context of Kerala’s social transformation following the collapse of its matrilineal system, a process which some scholars liken to the social upheavals preceding the emergence of Communism in China and Vietnam? Additionally, in light of Kerala’s prolonged exposure to Communist governance, what factors contribute to the ongoing and evident social disparities within the state?

It is important to recognize that the matrilineal system in Kerala was not uniformly practiced across the region. Primarily, it was the Sudras and a section of the Ezhavas who adhered to this system, with its presence also observed in some subaltern communities. However, the prevalent notion that Kerala was entirely matrilineal is a misconception, largely stemming from the ideological dominance of the Nair caste. This misconception overlooks the diversity of social structures within Kerala and erroneously generalizes the practices of a particular caste as representative of the entire region. Such a perspective fails to accurately reflect the complex tapestry of cultural and social practices that have historically existed in Kerala.The transition from the matrilineal system in Kerala, predominantly practiced by Sudra Nairs and a section of the Ezhavas, played a crucial role in the state’s social dynamics. This system’s collapse was not an isolated phenomenon; rather, it was intricately linked to the wider social consciousness fostered by the subaltern classes’ reform movements. A progressive segment of Sudras and Nambudiri Brahmins, embracing the principles of caste equality and social justice, initially joined the Indian National Congress, transitioning later to Congress Socialists and Communists. They championed workers’ and peasants’ rights, transforming caste-based justice demands into class-based ones.

Dr TT Sreekumar, Head of the department, at the School of Interdisciplinary Studies, The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad and also serves as the Director of EMMRC.

In Kerala, the disillusionment with the matrilineal system, particularly among leaders, intersected with the influence of Dalit and subaltern movements. These leaders, while initially inspired by these movements, eventually appropriated their agenda, shifting the focus from a caste-based to a class-based approach. This strategic shift, while integrating Kerala into the broader Communist narrative, undermined the potency of anti-caste struggles. The emergence of Communism in Kerala in the 1930s, following the disintegration of the matrilineal social system, presents a distinct context compared to the historical backdrops of China and Vietnam. While the social upheavals in these countries, marked by civil war and the dismantling of Confucian bureaucracy, acted as precursors to Communism, Kerala’s path was different.This evolution in Kerala, however, presents a contrast to the large-scale class mobilization in China and Vietnam. The Communist mobilization in Kerala, influenced by sporadic struggles, was significant but did not mirror the extensive peasant and worker mobilizations led by Communist parties in China and Vietnam. The social hegemony of the Sudra-Nair alliance in Kerala remained largely unchallenged, unlike the systemic and revolutionary transformations in China and Vietnam.

Kerala’s experience as a sub-national entity within South Asia further differentiates its path from those of China and Vietnam. The state implemented substantial land reforms, yet these reforms, like those in communist China and Vietnam, were marked by inconsistencies, particularly in the exclusion of Dalits from land entitlements. Furthermore, Kerala’s trajectory, within the democratic and constitutional framework of India, diverges significantly from the authoritarian contexts of China and Vietnam. This difference has led to notable opposition in Kerala to neoliberal policies initiated by both leftist and centrist governments, a response that is distinct from the more controlled economic environments in China and Vietnam.The persistence of social disparities in Kerala, despite prolonged Communist influence, can be attributed to a complex interplay of historical, social, and political factors. The Communist movement’s adaptation of class-based politics, while influential, has not fully dismantled the entrenched caste-based social structures. Additionally, Kerala’s democratic context, allowing for a diversity of political and economic ideologies, has resulted in a multifaceted and sometimes contradictory approach to development and social justice. This complexity reflects the unique socio-political landscape of Kerala, distinct from the more uniform communist systems in China and Vietnam.

Considering the land reforms bill enacted by the coalition of Communist Party and Indian National congress aimed to reduce social disparities in Kerala, where a significant portion of land was controlled by higher caste members, to what extent do you believe these reforms achieved their intended visionary goals?.

The land reform bill implemented by the Communist Party- Indian National Congress- Muslim League coalition in Kerala was a significant step towards addressing social disparities, particularly in the context of land ownership predominantly held by higher caste members. However, evaluating the effectiveness of this reform reveals several complexities.Firstly, the initial formulation of the land reforms by Kerala’s first Communist ministry in 1957 was structured in such a way that its benefits were primarily directed towards the relatively well-off and middle-class tenants, predominantly from the Sudra, Christian, Muslim communities, and to a lesser extent, the Ezhava community.This outcome was facilitated by Kerala’s unique ‘relative class position’ within its feudal structure. Unlike many other Indian states with powerful landlords and zamindars, Kerala’s Sudra and Nambudiri landlords held more of an ideological hegemony and a somewhat limited monopoly over land. This made the land reform process comparatively feasible, especially with the post-independence constitutional framework and the prevalent anti-feudal, anti-caste sentiments and struggles in Kerala directed toward caste hegemony.However, a major oversight of the reform was its exclusion of Dalit and other subaltern castes, who were not the primary tenants of the land. These communities were largely marginalized in the reform process, receiving only limited housing allocations through a lengthy and procedural system. This oversight was exacerbated by the limited availability of land and the large number of tenants from Christian, Nair, and Muslim communities, which led to a land ceiling of 15 acres per family. Additionally, plantations were exempted from the land reform, further limiting its scope.

The reforms of the 1970s resulted in a predominance of small farm sizes in Kerala. While studies in Indian agriculture suggest that smaller farm sizes do not necessarily lead to decreased productivity, in Kerala, resistance to mechanization and demands for higher wages led to a reduction in productivity. This outcome was in stark contrast to the national agenda, where land reform was more successfully implemented in Kerala than in many other states.The unresolved issue of Dalit land ownership remained a critical concern, leading to demands for a second wave of land reforms to provide cultivable land to the landless Adivasis and Dalits. This demand became a focal point for Dalit and Adivasi land rights agitation in Kerala. The land reform in Kerala, while part of a broader national agenda and relatively successful in certain aspects, did not fully address the deep-rooted social disparities and left key issues, particularly concerning Dalit land rights, unresolved.

Recently, Kerala has witnessed the emergence of distinct women-led movements, such as ‘PenpillaiOrumai’, and others representing a cross-section of society. Could these initiatives signify women’s collective efforts to dismantle the patriarchal constraints within the state? Furthermore, do these movements hold the potential to effect a paradigm shift in the state’s political dynamics?

The ‘PenpillaiOrumai’ movement, which emerged from the women plantation workers in Munnar, Kerala, is a testament to the burgeoning assertion of women from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds against the prevailing patriarchal order. This movement stands out for its grassroots-level mobilization that brought to the fore the gendered dimensions of labor and exploitation. It signifies a shift from traditional feminist activism to a more inclusive and intersectional framework that takes into account class, caste, and gender.

However, the feminist movement in Kerala faces staunch opposition, not only from entrenched patriarchal norms but also from Savarna anti-feminist ideologies and the anti-feminist sentiments of religious fundamentalists spanning all faiths. These opposing forces create a complex battleground for feminist activists.The feminist movement in Kerala, as explored by scholars like Dr. J. Devika, is not a uniform force but a constellation of various strands and ideologies that have evolved over time. It presents a fragmented landscape within the civil society of Kerala, with no single entity holding sway over the feminist discourse. This heterogeneity is crucial, as it reflects the movement’s responsiveness to the multiplicity of issues and contexts within the state.The resilience of the patriarchal system in Kerala means that the struggle for gender equality is multifaceted and enduring. Feminist and queer movements, along with other new social movements, need to forge solidarities and continuously open new fronts against patriarchal institutions and the subtle patriarchal underpinnings that pervade state policies, political discourse, and civil society practices.

In this context, movements like ‘PenpillaiOrumai’ are not just isolated events but part of a larger wave of feminist activism that has the potential to reshape the political landscape of Kerala. The collective efforts of these movements could challenge and possibly alter the patriarchal status quo, leading to a reconfiguration of power dynamics within the state. The success of these movements in bringing about substantial political change will depend on their ability to maintain momentum, to unite a broad coalition of support, and to strategically navigate the complexities of Kerala’s social and political milieu.

As a scholar with a profound understanding of Kerala and its civil society, you must have noted the impact of the BJP-led Sabarimala agitation, triggered by the Supreme Court’s verdict on women’s entry, on Kerala’s societal fabric. This movement sounded the alarm on the intents of fascism and its advocates. Is it within the capacity of Kerala society to withstand future fascist incursions and reaffirm its commitment to the principles of the Renaissance? Can you contemplate the potential harm that fascist tactics might wreak upon the Renaissance ideals and the socio-political ethos of Kerala?

The Supreme Court’s verdict on women’s entry into Sabarimala is pivotal, asserting the primacy of constitutional morality over public morality. This distinction is vital for discerning the ethos of civil society. Hegel, in his ‘Outlines of the Philosophy of Right’, posits that individuals in civil society pursue their own objectives, often disregarding external considerations. Public morality may encompass ideological, religious, or secular ideologies. In contrast, legal ethics transcends these notions, serving as the arbiter of social conflicts and thereby regulating civil society.Chief Justice Dipak Misra underscored the supremacy of legal/constitutional morality. The court decreed that it is this constitutional morality which must steer the judiciary in appraising the legitimacy of a custom. Nonetheless, this stance is not without its complications. In a society with predominant religious views, the constitution may inevitably reflect some of that influence, potentially overlooking the rights of minority identities. Despite these intricacies, the core principle of the Supreme Court’s stance is commendable.

This leads to a dissenting view, as expressed by Justice Indu Malhotra, who contends that legal/constitutional ethics ought not to govern issues strictly of religious and faith-based nature, advocating for faith as the sole criterion. However, within the broader narrative of Kerala’s social history, and particularly in the Sabarimala discourse, the application of legal/constitutional ethics is crucial for advancing societal progress and upholding the principles of equality and justice enshrined in the constitution.In the early 1980s, the political terrain of Kerala saw the intensification of Hindutva politics. Capitalizing on the disaffection with the Emergency period and the impatience with the emergent neo-democratic resonances in regional politics, Hindutva proponents endeavored to establish a stronger presence within the political arena of Kerala. Despite a conducive environment for its proliferation, Hindutva politics struggled to gain traction, largely due to the burgeoning ideological force of neo-socialism within the state’s society.

The decades of the 1920s and 1930s were marked by Kerala’s experimentation with political innovation, a legacy that was mirrored in the 1980s and 1990s as the region embarked on another phase of democratic experimentation. This period was characterized by a surge in environmental activism, with heightened awareness and advocacy addressing ecological concerns. Concurrently, Dalit politics revitalized the discourse on caste consciousness, challenging the status quo and transcending the stagnation of preceding years. Feminist activism also gained momentum, seeking to transform public consciousness by vociferously challenging gender disparities, including those within political entities, and stimulating dialogue on essential structural, legal, and administrative reforms for the liberation of women.Furthermore, human rights advocates extended the scope of democratic politics, addressing a spectrum of issues from penal reform to the atrocities of custodial torture. These developments presented a formidable challenge to successive governments, signaling a period of intense political dynamism. The undeniable reality was that Kerala’s society was confronted with an imperative for self-rejuvenation—a transformative process that could only be realized through the acceptance and integration of these vigorous political movements.

It has been mentioned before that Renaissance is not Nostalgia. It is the dependability in approach to democracy and human rights. Renaissance is not a window that can be raised and lowered at will. It is not a one-size-fits-all agreement. Criticism is an integral part of its foundation. If the renaissance is not to remain condensed in history, there must be a politics that can see it continuously. This country has renewed itself under the pressures of old struggles. Its resonances echoed throughout the twentieth century. It was not because he always went to the memories of the Renaissance with a ghostly presence. To maintain the democratic tradition means to be ready for political and cultural reforms. We can find the right answer to the question of whether the Renaissance tradition is sustained by whether there is a fair approach to the concerns, ideals and aspirations of the new civil society.What is being heralded as a ‘renaissance’? What historical processes are embedded in it? Are all those processes similar? In my opinion ‘Kerala Revival’ is an ideological construct. It is not just a mere imitation of Eurocentric historiography. On the contrary, it was deliberately made to confirm the later concept of Kerala model in history. The Renaissance concept is made as a historical testimony to the imaginary creation of Kerala model by putting all the social advancements as a result of British rule and missionary work in the list of a single social process and giving the same face of upper caste reform to all the great Dalit advancements in Kerala.

The Kerala Renaissance is a mega-history made only to validate the Kerala model. Politics is not possible here without pretending to follow the concept of Renaissance heritage and its historical achievements. The caste struggles here are the result of Kerala society being opened up to an outside world that asks ‘caste? What is that?’ Renaissance as a discourse has now become an ideological construct that belies its complexities. It remains to be debated whether it is correct to abstract the efforts of reforming Brahminical ideology, Shudra politics against Brahminicalism, Dalit anti-caste struggles based on the awareness created by the British occupation and missionary work along with the historical forces of caste conflicts in feudal Kerala as part of the same historical process.

In your research on the Muslim community in Kerala, you have observed a noticeable increase in Islamophobia over the past ten years or more. Could you elaborate on the underlying causes of this rise in Islamophobia within the state?

In my explorations of Islamic popular culture and minority politics within Kerala, I have observed a discernible increase in Islamophobia over recent years. While some suggest that this is due to a rise in conservatism and militancy within the Islamic community in Kerala, there is no substantial evidence to firmly substantiate such claims. Instead, it appears that the roots of Islamophobia may lie elsewhere.The phenomenon of Islamophobia in Kerala may, in part, be linked to the socioeconomic transformations experienced by the Muslim community, particularly due to the significant labor migration to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. This migration has not only improved the economic standing of many Muslims in Kerala but has also introduced new cultural and religious influences.

The increasing Islamophobia in the state seems to be fuelled by a resistance to the accumulation of cultural and economic capital within the Muslim community as a result of this Gulf migration. Islamophobia is exhibited in various ways, with one of the most insidious being the selective targeting of specific factions within the diverse Muslim community. Accusations and critiques are often leveraged against groups like SDPI, Jamaat-e-Islami, Salafi organizations, Samastha, and even the Muslim League, under the guise of political critique but often represent a broader sentiment of Islamophobia.Furthermore, the participation of ordinary Muslims in new social movements has been co-opted by state mechanisms and their defenders to disparage these movements as extremist. This has led to a situation where the average Muslim individual can be easily miscast as an extremist, contributing to a pervasive atmosphere of mistrust and discrimination. This insidious form of Islamophobia poses a significant challenge to the social fabric of the state, impeding the collective journey towards a more inclusive and tolerant society.

The rise in Islamophobia in Kerala seems to be precipitated by a resistance to the Muslim community’s augmented cultural and economic influence, which itself is a by-product of these migration patterns. Islamophobia manifests in a variety of expressions, one of which is the strategic targeting of specific sects or groups within the Muslim community. Often disguised as political critique, these attacks typically generalize and misrepresent the community’s diverse perspectives.Organizations such as SDPI, Jamaat-e-Islami, Salafi groups, Samastha, and even the Muslim League find themselves at the center of continuous criticism. This form of Islamophobia is pervasive and often implicates the entire community through the vilification of select groups. Moreover, the involvement of ordinary Muslims in broader social movements can be misappropriated by state proponents to delegitimize these movements by branding them as extremist. This stigmatization risks the Muslim individual being wrongly identified with religious extremism, thereby exacerbating the climate of Islamophobia in Kerala and hindering progress towards a cohesive and equitable society.

Does the current political landscape of the state require a transformative approach to effectively combat the modern-day threats, including the menace of fascism, and to recover from the prevailing political deterioration?

The social fabric of Kerala is currently experiencing significant fissures. A series of troubling events, from harrowing caste-related killings to the surge in students seeking education abroad, are indicative of a deepening political malaise. This pervasive sense of tragedy is rooted in historical grievances and revolutionary zeal, reflecting a collective disquietude about departures from an idealized vision of Kerala—a vision that, while nebulous, is fervently cherished.The interpretation of these societal challenges often leads to a sense of alienation among Keralites, as if they are strangers within their own transforming state. There exists a pronounced tendency to vilify historical epochs, notably those referred to as the Renaissance, and a concurrent inability to comprehend contemporary issues outside the Renaissance paradigm. This dichotomy places considerable stress on the social psyche of the people.Dominant religious ideologies across India that advocate for caste pride, combined with the negation of Dalit autonomy, rising Islamophobia, appropriation of historical narratives, and a dismissive attitude towards history, have been persistently operative in Kerala. Yet, a prevailing reluctance to acknowledge these elements under the guise of Renaissance disdain has been the norm. The societal distress is palpable in the public discourse, marked by a disconcerting realization that casteism is resurging, that honorkillings and human sacrifices are not merely relics of the past but present realities—contrary to the collective denial or ignorance that once prevailed.

In reflecting on the historical trajectory of Kerala, it is imperative to acknowledge the significant yet often overlooked socio-ideological evolution between 1900 and 1950, particularly the ascendancy of upper caste-Shudra ideology. The impact of this ideological evolution on shaping subsequent social dynamics in Kerala is considerable. Despite not achieving mainstream dominance, upper-class ideology retained a firm grasp on the logic governing social processes. Robin Jeffrey’s title “The Decline of Nair Dominance” might be seen as somewhat of a misnomer, as it does not encapsulate the full complexity of the book’s content.The Namboodiri-Sudra hegemony in Kerala transcends economic and cultural dominance, representing an ideological supremacy that cannot be adequately captured by the notion of ‘decline’. In contrast to North India, where Brahminism’s ideology and political power were directly linked, in Kerala, this power was upheld by the Nairs—Shudras. The permeation of colonial modernity and the Dalit movements of the 19th century, which could not be entirely suppressed, prompted the upper classes to adopt the guise of progressivism expeditiously. This period saw many from the upper echelons who earnestly sought social reform.

During the 1890s, this led to a strengthening of upper caste reform as part of the ‘Renaissance’ movement. Literary and scholarly works, from Chanthumenon’s “Indulekha” to Chattambiswami’s interpretations of Vedic texts and ancient Malayalam, emerged as critiques of Brahmanical ideology. By the early 20th century, these upper classes began to consolidate a new form of power under the banner of caste reform, with Brahmins conceding to Shudra leadership within this recalibrated social hierarchy. This shift facilitated the persistence of caste consciousness, conservative orthodoxy, and micro-level Hinduism, effectively circumventing the progress made in the 19th century.The agendas advanced by these movements, which ranged from the near complete marginalization of Dalits to the propagation of Islamophobia, paved the way for right-wing movements. These movements, gaining popular acceptance, have retrogressively steered the Kerala community and imbued it with Hindutva politics, thus undermining the social advances previously made.

In the 1970s, Kerala saw the emergence of various social movements, encompassing environmental, anti-caste, gender equality, and human rights campaigns. These movements infused the state with the ethos of neo-socialism, piercing through the entrenched cultural norms and challenging the influence of the right-wing majority. Retrospectively, Kerala’s contemporary history appears to be characterized by instances where religious conservatism has frequently prevailed.The Sabarimala controversy served as a pivotal moment, reigniting a critical awareness and forcing a reckoning with past periods of inaction, particularly those reminiscent of the early eighties. The entrenchment of right-wing conservatism, which fundamentally opposes democratic values within Kerala—a state with a significant presence of left-wing and Congress parties—demands serious attention and cannot be trivially dismissed or denied.

Does the conversation suggest that reshaping civil society in Kerala is challenging and that the state is ill-prepared to confront the fascist elements within the nation?Does this signify a comprehensive breakdown of institutions and governance in the state? Is the erosion of the Kerala model leading to a cultural, economic, and political crisis within the state?

This should not be interpreted to mean that Kerala has been stripped of the fundamental politics of social justice and the ethical principles that have been the bedrock of its cultural norms. Nonetheless, it is concerning when dominant social tendencies undergo a transformation, and opposing ideologies gain momentum, particularly if such changes are ignored due to a misplaced sense of renaissance triumphalism. The paradox of individuals espousing progressivism while the society collectively leans towards conservatism is particularly alarming.This shift signifies a diminishing of the politics historically associated with the renaissance ideal. It highlights a situation where the defense of liberties is increasingly pursued by individuals in prolonged legal battles, lacking the support of democratic institutions. This situation underscores a pivotal moment in Kerala’s history, where the commitment to progressive values must be reevaluated in the face of rising conservative tides.

Kerala can no longer rely solely on the perceived legacy of a Renaissance to guide its progress. This legacy has evolved into a double-edged sword—a collective agreement that simultaneously undermines itself through pragmatic betrayals. While the narrative of the Renaissance in Kerala has historic validity, it is crucial to acknowledge that ‘Renaissance’ is an ideological construct, not merely a replication of Eurocentric historiography, but a political framework that has underpinned the historical conception of the Kerala model. The socio-political changes spurred by medieval anti-aristocratic movements, British colonialism, and missionary endeavors in South India are diverse and cannot be conflated into a single narrative, yet they were instrumental in forging the narrative of the Kerala model. Kerala’s commitment to the evolving democratic ethos of neo-socialism cannot be sustained by clinging to an overarching historical memory of a renaissance.

Presently, the superficial agreement observed in Kerala’s approach to LGBTQ politics, caste abolition, environmental stewardship, and minority rights often belies an undercurrent of reluctance and resistance. The growing influence of right-wing conservatism is exerting pressure on the general consensus previously established by neo-socialism. It is becoming evident that the state is drifting away from the ethical principles of human fraternity and social justice championed by figures such as Sree Narayana Guru and VaikuntaSwamikal.

The contemporary challenges faced by Kerala cannot be resolved by mere retrospection into the Renaissance era. The vital historical lesson here is the necessity for political and cultural reform, especially in an era where global capital is fostering an opportunistic nexus between neoliberalism and fascism. It is against this global backdrop that the defeat of neoliberal forces and the insidious rise of right-wing orthodoxy becomes imperative. The reunification of democratic forces stands as the sole viable strategy in this context, rejecting the confines of sectarianism.

The aspirations of the new civil society and the realization of neo-sociality’s ideals are fundamental to crafting a new vision for Kerala, transcending the nomenclature of the renaissance. This arduous task spans from penal reform to the re-democratization of institutions, prompting introspection about our integrity and commitment to these values. The potential of constructing a future Kerala that honors its rich historical legacy hinges on the successful internal struggle to reclaim and revitalize the values of neo-sociality.

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Films Interview Lite Blogs

Manoj Bajpayee on Being a Private Person

Hailing from Bihar, Manoj is an example of how an outsider can make it big in the film industry…reports Asian Lite News

Actor Manoj Bajpayee undoubtedly churns out good films every year but he knows very well how to balance out the limelight by staying low-key with his personal life. In a recent conversation Manoj called himself a private person and also talked about how “shyness is an aspect” of his personality.

“(In childhood) I was stubborn and I was shy… I am still that sort of a person today till I get comfortable and I am able to open up. That shyness is an aspect of me,” he said on the sidelines of the 54th International Film Festival of India in Goa. The ‘Satya’ star also shared that he does not like to talk about himself so much in public.

“When you work you have to talk to people, give interviews…so everyone is not aware about that aspect of yours …everybody thinks that you know it is very easy for me to talk but no it is not. I am giving interviews I take it as a job and I have to do it well. I am a very private person. I don’t like to talk about my life …I don’t like to get out from my home …I don’t like giving interviews. I feel tired talking about myself … I get exhausted. I like to talk about other people, other filmmakers and actors more than myself,” Manoj emphasised.

Hailing from Bihar, Manoj is an example of how an outsider can make it big in the film industry. His current stardom is a result of decades of hard work, underlined by hits, crushing failures and most importantly his never-say-die attitude. Reflecting on his journey in the Indian film industry, he said,” I believe it is a miracle…a boy from a village has spent 30 years in this industry. I have done a lot of work it is nothing short of a miracle.

With a big smile on his face, Manoj described his journey as “extraordinary”. “My story is not an ordinary story it is extraordinary because for a village person to come this far you need blessings from God…you need some kind of miracle to happen because it has not been easy and it is still not easy but people don’t understand they always see the end part of it they don’t see the journey,” Manoj shared. (ANI)

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Arab News India News Interview

INTERVIEW – Israeli Ambassador Naor Gilon

MUMBAI ATTACKS 26/11 – The Israeli drew parallels between the Mumbai attacks and the tactics employed by Hamas…reports Asian Lite News

Calling the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai a “horrendous” event that disrupted public lives, Israeli Ambassador to India, Naor Gilon said that terrorism is a global phenomenon and countries have to join hands to fight against it.

He also echoed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks on terrorism and affirmed that Israel always stands with India in the fight against terrorism. Gilon said, “It’s a horrendous phenomenon when people come into your safe haven, to your houses in Mumbai to disrupt the life, to create panic. They wanted panic, they wanted to transmit it – exactly like Hamas. Their aim is not only to kill but also to create panic with the surviving, to make them afraid” Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of the horrendous 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai whose memory still continues to send shockwaves and linger in the collective memory of the nation.

26/11, 2008 Mumbai Terror attacks.

Speaking further, Gilon said that there are no ‘ifs or buts’ in the fight against terrorism and the countries are working together to finish the menace. “We are telling the Indians, like India is always standing with Israel, more recently but always. Whenever we need, India is on our side. Indians have to know, we are on your side. When you come to fight terrorism, there are no ifs or buts. We are working together, we will finish terrorism,” Gilon said.

Notably, six Jews were among the 166 people killed during the attack. Recently, Israel officially designated Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) as a terror organisation. The action has been taken without any request by the government of India.

The Israeli envoy further said that India and Israel demonstrate the fight against terrorism in their actions and friendships.”As PM Modi said rightly so terrorism is a global phenomenon. You have to join hands globally. Countries, and free people of the world have to join hands and efforts in order to fight it. I think India and Israel demonstrate in our actions and friendship in what we do together, the joining of these hands to eliminate terrorism,” Gilon added.

On November 26, 2008, coordinated assaults were carried out by a group of 10 terrorists, who did mayhem on the streets of Mumbai and sent shockwaves through the nation and the world. Terrorists from the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terror group had entered the city of Mumbai on the night of November 26 and killed 166 people and injured 300 more over the course of four days.

The targets were carefully chosen after being surveyed for maximum impact, viz., the Taj and Oberoi Hotels, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, the Jewish centre at Nariman House, and the Leopold Cafe, since these places were frequented by Europeans, Indians and Jews.
The nine LeT terrorists were killed while Mohammad Ajmal Amir Qasab, the lone surviving Pakistani terrorist from the attack at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station, was arrested. In May 2010, Qasab was handed the death penalty, and two years later, hanged in a maximum security prison in Pune city. The scars left by the tragic event continue to linger in the collective memory of those who witnessed it, and the lessons learned remain crucial for global security. (ANI)

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India News Interview Politics

7 guarantees set narrative in Cong’s favour, says Gehlot

With just four days left for the crucial assembly election, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on Monday said that seven guarantees have set the narrative in favour of Congress and history will be created as there is no anti-incumbency which will break the tradition of alternate party government in the desert state.

Polling for 200 member assembly is scheduled on November 25 and counting of votes will take place on December 3.

Congress is eyeing a second consecutive term in Rajasthan which has a tradition of the alternate party government for last three decades.

In an interview to Anand Singh, the Chief Minister said that BJP has nothing to show when it comes to their report-card, as neither central government has done anything for Rajasthan nor previous BJP government brought any major change.

The seven guarantees have made the people to talk about Congress in the Rajasthan. Do you feel that the schemes of the state government will play an important role in the grand old party forming the government again?

Yes, seven guarantees have set the narrative in favour of Congress in Rajasthan. We had given 10 guarantees earlier and fulfilled all of them. We organised ‘Mehangai Raahat’ camps to give respite to people from price-rise. So, we have credibility and people trust us. People know that we do walk the talk. We will fulfill all the guarantees that we have given to the people.

The seven guarantees of the Congress focuses on an annual honorarium of Rs 10,000 to women head of family, cooking gas cylinders at Rs 500 to 1.05 crore families, purchase of dung from cattle rearers at Rs 2 per kg. How will you manage the same?

Congress believes in empowering people and transferring benefit directly to them. BJP has been empowering its favourite corporate and crony capitalists. They use public money to waive of their NPAs. We use public money to empower people economically. We know how a stream of funds is to be created. We will use the same money in providing a gas cylinder in Rs 500 to 1.05 crore families, Rs 10,000 to every woman head of the family and Rs 2 per kg to buy dung from cattle-rearer.

Among the seven guarantees are laptops or tablets to students taking admission in government colleges, insurance cover up to Rs 15 lakh per family to compensate losses due to natural calamity, and school education in English medium. How you plan to implement it?

Rajasthan has made lot of progress in last five years. We have no dearth of money. We will use public money for well-being of public. We did an exhaustive survey amongst students and their guardians to know how school education in Rajasthan can be improved. At least 99 per cent of them said they want their kids to be taught in English in the schools. This propelled us to introduce this guarantee. We need to give protection to our people from natural calamities. Sometimes, single bread-earners of the families have lost their lives in natural calamities. It is very painful to see families in destitute conditions. So, we have come up with a solution and we will arrange funds for it.

The Chirnajeevi Scheme provides insurance upto Rs 25 lakh has become one of the main talking points across the country. Do you think that this scheme will prove a game changer in the state in the elections?

Private hospitals have been charging exorbitantly from the patients. A common man is not able to afford quality treatment. It was very painful to see people dying just because they were not able to afford quality treatment. Then we thought to bring this scheme and introduce it as a guarantee. We fulfilled it. Now everyone in Rajasthan is getting a medical cover till Rs 25 lakh. It is five time of what central government is giving in Aayushmaan scheme.

Rajasthan has a tradition of alternate government for last three decades. Do you feel that the Congress government will form the government for the second consecutive term and change the tradition?

For once, there is no anti-incumbency. We have served the people in the best way possible. We are getting lot of love and support in Rajasthan. We firmly believe that this time, Congress government will be repeated and history will be created.

You announced the caste-based census ahead of the model code of conduct came into force in the state. Do you believe that the party will gain from the promises?

That was Rahul ji’s commitment towards social justice. We will fulfill that commitment too.

Central agencies actions ahead of the crucial assembly polls, including the searches at the premises of your state unit chief Govind Singh Dotasara and also summoning and questioning of your son Vaibhav. Will it help the Congress to gain grounds by defeating the BJP’s accusations of taking political mileage?

It is the central agencies and not the BJP who is contesting elections in Rajasthan. They have conducted thousands of raids to intimidate our leaders and people. They have found no evidence and not a single charge-sheet has been filed. That is because we have done no wrong. Our leaders are clean. People are watching this witch-hunt. They will give a befitting reply to the BJP.

BJP has been accusing your government over the poor law and order in the state. How you look at the accusations of the BJP?

BJP has nothing to show when it comes to their report-card neither central government has done anything for Rajasthan nor previous BJP government brought any major changes. They have nothing other than a blame-game. BJP’s accusations are nothing than rhetoric. We are contesting these elections on a positive agenda and what we did in last five years. So, people will vote for us.

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Europe Interview World

‘NATO Expansion Concerns Not Cause of Ukraine Invasion’

Oleksandr Svitych is an Associate Professor at the Jindal School of International Affairs. His research interests lie at the intersection of political economy, critical theory, and political philosophy. Oleksandr was born and raised in Ukraine. He pursued higher education in Ukraine, Hungary, and Singapore. Prior to moving to India, he worked in the development sector for a Danish NGO in the Ukraine’s Donbas region. While there, he also ran a taekwon-do club for the local kids of his hometown Sloviansk. While Oleksandr has developed a cosmopolitan outlook, he remains firmly rooted in his homeland. In a bit of serendipity, he happened to move to India just a few days before Russia invaded his country.Besides social sciences, Oleksandr finds meaning in martial arts, philosophy, and his family. They reside in Sonipat, Haryana. In this interview with ABHISH K. BOSE, he discusses the Russia – Ukraine war and the damages of it in the economy of the countries and other related developments.

Excerpts from the interview      

Abhish K. Bose: In the book “The Rise of the Capital-state and Neo-Nationalism: A New Polaniyan Moment” you argue that populist nationalism emerged as a reaction to the pro-market structural changes in the political economies of nation-states. You claim that there is a link between free market reforms, declining state legitimacy, and identity-based mobilization. You also saythat discontented voters are pulled toward populist nationaliststo cope with their insecurities generated by the state restructuring. How did these dynamics play out in the case of India? Is this how BJP rose to power in 2014 and 2019?

Svitich: In the book, I draw on the ideas of the Austro-Hungarian political economist Karl Polanyi from his famous book The Great Transformation. Polanyi made several important insights on the relationship between the state, market, and society, backing his claims with rich amount of anthropological and historical evidence. Firstly, there is no such thing as the complete “free market.” The market needs concrete institutional and legal arrangements for it to operate, which historically have been provided by the state. Secondly, the market economy is only one possibility for organizing human activity, albeit it has crowded out other alternatives. In contrast to classical economists, there is nothing natural or “rational”about the desire to barter or strive for profit. Humans can be productive through other motivations, such as social recognition, social standing, occupational pride, or a sense of solidarity. Thirdly, state attempts to promote the free market generate strains in society and lead to counter-movements to protect people’s livelihoods from the market forces. These observations are especially pertinent in the era of neoliberal globalization that we are living in today. In the book, I explore how these dynamics played out in different national contexts and generated populist nationalism – both on the Right and the Left of the political spectrum – as a form of Polanyian counter-movement.

Regarding the case of India, my cautious estimation is that a similar framework can be applied yet it must accommodate the specificities of the Indian society, politics, and culture. In fact, quite a number of researchers have applied Polanyi’s ideasto the Indian context. Some focused on the neoliberal restructuring of the Indian state since the 1990s as an example of Polanyian “great transformation.” Others analyzed a myriad of counter-movements – both at the grassroots and state levels – that these changes generated, ranging from fights to reclaim the land, to labour movements, to farmers’ protests, to environmental campaigns, and so on. Yet others charted the links between the structural changes in the Indian political economy and the rise of right-wing populism, most notably exemplified by the Bharatiya Janata Party.There’s a lot of excellent work on these themes done by scholars like Ajay Gudavarthy, Ashoka Mody, Christophe Jaffrelot, Partha Chatterjee, Rahul Verma, and Sarbeswar Sahoo, to name a few.

There’s a consensus among academics to classify BJP as a “populist” party despite different interpretations of the term “populism.”What is unique about this case is that it illustrates how populism can be combined with religious nationalism to offer an irresistible cocktail for voters. My intuition is that political economy indeed contributed to the electoral success and persistence of BJP. There’s certainly a correlation between liberalisation of the Indian economy and the appeal of BJP’s message to the public. The class politics are alive and well in the Indian society. At the same time, India’s distinct institutional legacies must be factored in – post-colonialism, the role of caste, and statism, for instance. In addition, India has come up withvarious responses to neoliberalization of its economy and society, sometimes quite creative ones.I would therefore refrain from drawing a direct connection between state transformation and neo-nationalism, especially that more data are needed. And yet the general tendencies, on the surface, are remarkably similar to what we observe elsewhere across the globe. In other words, there is roomboth for similarity and contextual specificity in the Indian case.

Q. The war in Ukraine has devastated the country, isolated Russia from the West, and fuelled economic insecurity around the world. The embargoes and sanctions have affected Russian oil trade. Could you assess the financial burden the war brought onto the people of Russia and how it affected their standards of living, including health, education and food? What is your projection for future?

I am not an economist by training, and thus cannot estimate with precision the impact of Russia’ criminal war against Ukraine onto Russian citizens.And all future projections are futile, of course. I am much more informed about the situation in Ukraine. However, based on the information that I receive both from the Russian sources (by virtue of knowing the language) and foreign ones, the Russian economy does not perform well. This should not come as a surprise as the war disrupted Russia’s economic, business and financial ties with the world, as you pointed out, and put pressure on people’s ability to make both ends meet. Still, I’d like to balance this narrative by several crucial observations.

Firstly, there’s enough evidence that Russia is managing to manoeuvre its way around the sanctions regime, albeit not entirely. This is done via either trade and military ties with China and Iran, for instance (and probably will be done via the expanded BRICS club), or intermediary companies to bypass sanctions, or smuggling activities as in Kazakhstan. Secondly, some Russians have certainly benefited from the war, materially speaking. And here I am less interested in the Russian oligarchs whose wealth mushroomed through military contracts with the state. I am talking about the Russian soldiers who choose to fight in Ukraine in the hope to reap lucrative bonuses from the state – and pay off their mortgages. This is a sort of a Russian roulette: you either die or get rich. Thirdly, we should not underestimate the effect of Russia’s obscene propaganda which targets the audiences both at home and abroad. Domestically, the narratives of “national greatness,” “fighting Nazis,” and “defending Russian values” obfuscate economic hardships. This combination of material and symbolic rewards is an explosive mix that helps sustain loyalty to the Putin regime.

Finally, the foreign aspect of Russia’s propaganda and disinformation campaigns is related to your first question on populist nationalism. I disagree with researchers who describe Putin as “populist” in the period before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He is and was part and parcel of the elite, which is the complete opposite of being a populist who blames the elites for leaving the people behind. Now, however, I think Putin can be described as a transnational populist as part of his overall political persona. He taps skillfully into the anti-western and de-colonial sentiments in the countries of the so-called Global South. It is ironic how an authoritarian and an imperialist like Putin flirts with leftist ideas of anti-colonialism and anti-neoliberalism. Unfortunately, his narrative – propagated by Russia’s propaganda machine –does seem to gain traction among former colonies, including India. What needs to be remembered, however, is that Russia is one of the most neoliberal and unequal countries in the world, while Ukraine has been on the receiving end of its imperialist politics for decades, if not centuries. 

After the flower-laying ceremony on National Unity Day, Vladimir Putin speaks with representatives of civil society and youth organisations. (Photo via Kremlin)

Q. According to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 2022 was a bad year for the Russian economy. It is estimated that in 2022, Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) dropped by 2.1%. Russia’s economy may continue to shrink in 2023. Its GDP is forecast to decline by 2.5% in the worst-case scenario (OECD) or by 0.2% according to the World Bank. Going by the statistics,the economy is going down. Do you agree with this assessment?

I think my response to the previous question largely covers this. I will add that we need to be cautious with “objective” assessments like these ones as they do not, and cannot, completely reflect realities on the ground. Overall, I think it’s prudent to take a middle stance between two extreme positions: the inevitable collapse of Russia’s economy and, vice versa, the infinite strength of its regime.

Q. What was the driving force behind the Russian invasion of Ukraine? What was the political advantage Putin and the Russian elites envisioned when they ordered the aggression? Do you think they overestimated its benefits?

In the question of the driving force behind the invasion, I have tried to cover it elsewhere for the Indian audience, so I will largely and briefly repeat myself. I have also already touched upon this in the previous questions. The main reason for the invasion is Russia’s aggressive imperialism. In fact, Putin has been quite explicit about this, comparing himself to the Russian historic figures like Peter the Great and Catherine the Great who “collected lands.” His pseudo-historical essay on the eve of the invasion makes it abundantly clear that Putin, in the good old KGB tradition, is paranoid about the so-called “project Anti-Russia.” This, in his erroneous view, justifies bullying its sovereign and peaceful neighbours.

Putin has denied the existence and identity of Ukraine for years, treating it as his “sphere of influence” and interfering into Ukraine’s domestic politics long before the country officially adopted pro-EU and pro-NATO trajectories. This is why he was so adamant to blame Lenin, by the way: for him Lenin had committed a grave error by allowing a degree of national self-determination for the Soviet republics. All Russia’s criminal policies in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine seek to erase all traces of the Ukrainian identity – by abducting children, forcing the Russian language, giving away Russian passports, or torturing dissenting locals. This is provided they had not been killed earlier by Russian rockets, missiles, bombs, and drones.

A repeated claim I keep hearing from some researchers, students, and Indian common people, such as taxi drivers or street vendors, is that this is a proxy war between Russia and the US, or Russia and NATO. India’s political establishment seems to share this view, at least rhetorically. More ironically, the overwhelming majority of Indian leftists, including prominent figures like Arundhati Roy, do the same.This is a flawed and a very dangerous stance. Empirically speaking, there’s plenty of evidence that Russia’s alleged security concerns about NATO expansion were not the reason behind the invasion. To mention just one, the 2022 escalation, to remind the readers, was preceded by an 8-year-long Russia-ignited war in the Donbass and the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. These, in turn, were justified by Putin as a reaction to the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity which ousted pro-Russian president Yanukovych and, in Putin’s view, was nothing but a U.S. orchestrated coup d’état.

The Russia-NATO argument is not only wrong, but is also politically dangerous for several reasons. It denies the agency of Ukraine and Ukrainians. It ignores the fact that empires do not come only from the West. And it fans anti-western and NATO-sentiments instead of mobilizing solidarity with the oppressed Ukrainian people.

Q. Is Russia getting any monetary or other support from any country in the wake of sanctions against it?

I’m not aware of any direct financial support. And if there is one (for instance, from China), the Russian state will do its best to conceal this information from public. Other examples are better known, like receiving military assistance from Iran and North Korea. Also, while China does not openly supply weapons to Russia for its war against Ukraine, it may be secretly selling some components. Finally, in my view, the recent expansion of the BRICS club should be viewed as another opportunity for Russia to steer away from the sanctions regime.

Q. The Russia-Ukraine war has passed six hundred days. As a Ukrainian academic, what do you think will be the lasting vestiges of the war and its ramifications in theUkrainian and Russian economies? How long will it take for both the economies to resuscitate from the damages?

I am a Ukrainian academic by birth but not by affiliation. That said, of course I remain very must invested emotionally and morally into my own country. If you permit, I’ll shift the focus away from the economy (except one comment in the end) as we’ve talked quite a bit about it. Other vestiges of the war will reverberate for years and decades to come: colossal damage to Ukrainians in terms of lost lives, displaced people, destroyed infrastructure, contaminated territory (Ukraine hasthe biggest number of landmines in the world), and polluted environment. And these are just the material effects. On a bit more optimistic note, the war has forged and consolidated Ukrainian national identity. It is also an opportunity to steer the country’s socio-economic development in a more socially just manner. This will become especially important as Ukraine embarks on the path of reconstruction upon. In this regard, there are some important advocacy campaigns and proposals launched by the Ukrainian leftists, such as cancellation of the foreign debt, which I totally support.On the international scale, the war will be a reminder of the fragility about the global security architecture and the need to reform the UN Security Council. It will be also a stark warning about the dangers of “whataboutism” where, in a twisted manner, references to the injustices conducted by powerful nations in the past (such as the US) can be used strategically to fuel the sense of imperial nostalgia, status frustration, andnational greatnessby others (such as Russia).

(Image shared by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Ukraine.)

Q. India has apparently initiated a shift in its foreign policy by favouring Israel instead of Palestine in the Israel-Hamas war. Is this a shift from the country’s conventional foreign policy stand and the stanceit adopted for the purpose of realpolitik? Is this the appropriate stance?

By “shift” you must be referring to India’s abstention to condemnunequivocally Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. There are several reasons why India has taken a clearer stance on the Israel-Hamas war. India still wants to see itself as an ally of the US, which is Israel’s key partner. There is a sizeable Indian diaspora in Israel. Also, condemning the terrorist Hamas is in line with the Indian government’s tough stance on terrorism allegedly emanating from the training camps in Pakistan. Lastly, as highlighted repeatedly in the media, there is a personal affinity between Narendra Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu. In my opinion, the source of this affinity is ideological and comes from similar right-wing majoritarian politics.At the same time, if India clams to be the voice of the Global South, as it has tried to be, it must remember to acknowledge the voice of Palestine in the longer Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Q. What do you think about the future of the Russia-Ukraine confrontation? How long will it last according to your perspective?

I’ll be very laconic here. The war will end with Ukraine’s victory and Russia’s defeat.

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India News Interview Politics

‘Justice to Gujarat Riots Victims Unrealised’

Sanjay Hegde is a senior advocate at the Supreme Court of India. He is a leading voice on civil rights. He was one of the two amicus curie appointed by the Supreme Court to assist the Court in the 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder. He was also an interlocutor appointed by the Supreme Court of India to talk to the protestors at Shaheen Bag. On 27 October 2019, Hegde’s twitter account was suspended for posting an anti-authoritarian image.He filed a petition in the Delhi High Court against the suspension of his account by Twitter. In its filing before the HC, Government of India has contended that suspension of Hegde’s account by Twitter violates law on free speech. Earlier, Government had said that it has nothing to do with Sanjay Hegde’s account suspension. In an Exclusive  interview with Abhish K. Bose, he discusses a number things including the setback to the victims in the Gujarat riots case, the long detention of Malayali journalist Siddique Kappen and other issues of importance.

Excerpts from the interview

Abhish K. Bose  : On June 26, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal filed by Zakia Jafri against the order of the Gujarat High Court, challenging the rejection of the protest petition filed against the Special Investigation Team’s final report on allegations of a “larger conspiracy at the highest level” in Gujarat riots case. How do you evaluate this particular case with reference to the cases of communal riots in Gujarat. Is justice to the victims of communal riots which happened  in Gujarat an unrealized deal in India?  

Sanjay Hegde –  In law, the Supreme Court may have had its reasons for ruling that there was evidence of a conspiracy at high level or not. That is a question of fact and the Court could have come to any conclusion. Towards the end of the judgement when the Court made observations about Teesta Setalvad which were almost an invitation to the government to arrest Ms Setalvad and former Gujarat DGP RB Sreekumar. That was totally unwarranted. It was beyond the scope of the proceedings. In fact they had put a target,  upon people who had helped, victims to try and secure justice within the system. This is unprecedented. Justice to victims of communal riots is not an easy thing to achieve, because mobs are sometimes faceless, sometimes leaderless, and a conspiracy at the higher levels may be suspected, but may not be adequately proven in a court of law.

Activist Teesta Setalvad

Based on the records the Court could have ruled either way that there was evidence or not evidence of conspiracy. It should have confined itself to that question. It went further and created  offences against those who even tried to seek justice for the victims. That was totally wrong. Communal riots will not happen unless the administration of the day allows it to happen. You may have communal incidents, but for a matter to go on into a full fledged riot which takes days to settle down, that will not happen unless the administration including the police are instructed to allow them to happen.  Those who suffer are very often the very poor who cannot actually set the law in motion. So I don’t think that absolute justice for every victim of a communal riot was ever achieved through the Indian legal system in the past.  The point however is that very occasionally when there is evidence of a higher up actually leading mobs. There are incidents like that in Delhi riots when Sajjan Kumar got convicted. There may be  a sense of closure.

Do you think the situation would have been different if a Congress government was in the centre instead of the BJP government?

The Congress government was in the centre for ten years after the riots occurred and if they did not secure a verdict at that point of time who is to blame?. 

The two activists who tried to selflessly help the victims in the riots case Teesta Setalvad and former DGP RB Sreekumar were framed in a case. There is an anxiety regarding their safety?

For the moment they have been set free on bail. I don’t know how long the prosecution in Gujarat will continue but no doubt they have adequate legal advice. What made the cases very difficult at the trial court and the high court stages were the observations of the Supreme court itself in the Zakia Jafri matter and there after a subsequent bench of SC granted them bail.  They have indicated that those observations may not be taken in the right spirit by the investigating agencies.   

Isn’t the legal hassels which Ms Setalvad and Mr Sreekumar are put through will act as a deterrent for those in similar cases?

What happened to Teesta and Sreekumar might deter others to stand up in future in similar cases and it might even be cited as a precedent. 

There are widespread complaints that the Right to Information Act is being sabotaged and information sought by the public is not provided by the bureaucracy citing exceptions. Let us remember Justice Bhagwathi’s words, ” the citizens’ right to know the facts, the true facts, about the administration of the country is thus one of the pillars of a democratic state. But this important role people can fulfil in a democracy only if it is an open government where there is full access to Information in regard to the functioning of the government”. Is the RTI Act in the process of destruction by the state?

I would think that the RTI Act is in the process of destruction. The Act itself is being hollowed out. People who are appointed to the Information Commission are directed to deny information on one ground or other. Recently when an Information Commissioner was retired people put up in social media that he had not allowed a single case. I am not sure whether that is true or not but it indicates the general reception of the Information Commissioner and the perception in the public mind that the Act is now reduced to a dead letter in actual practice. 

The biggest issue which the judiciary confronts in India is the huge backlog of cases. The legal dictum that  ‘denial of ‘timely justice’ amounts to the denial of ‘justice’ itself is a thorn in the justice system. Timely disposal of cases is inevitable to maintain rule of law and provide the fruits of  justice, which is lacking in the current judicial system. Do you agree? Do you have any solutions to tackle this?      

The biggest litigant in the judicial system is the government itself and often it is the one government department fighting the another. There should be very good reasons why any government department  is compelled to bring things to Court. Unless the government puts the whole house in order, it is difficult to take away to provide ordinary citizens with access to justice.  Second point is that there are not enough pre – litigation procedures which would deter matters that would actually brought up before the judge. Judicial time is very valuable. Matters are prosecuted simply because there is not much resort to pre – bargaining, there is not enough deference given to prosecutors and whether it is better to the accused to plead guilty in exchange for a lower sentence thus avoiding a trial altogether. Alternative mechanisms outside the Court are not being used enough. Thirdly, there is no punishment in monetary terms also for unnecessarily dragging matters to the Court. Also there  doesn’t  seem to be any litigation impact assessment before laws are passed. For instance, many many courts are simply overwhelmed with check bouncing cases.  Ideally a bounced check is a civil debt which has not been paid. Rather than treating it as a civil liability with increased interests as a deterrent against non-payment, it has been criminalised and   caused a logjam in the system.

It is very easy to pass laws, but it should also be seen whether the practice of those laws will clog  the system with further delay. Right now the government is talking about reforming the criminal law and not only intends to change the numbers of the sections, but is changing concepts itself. This is all being done in the name of de-colonization. But the unfortunate part is that if these bills become Acts as they currently stand you will throw away nearly a hundred years of judicial interpretation along with it as far as the old laws are concerned. It is a bit like saying that Railways were brought into India by the British therefore they had a colonial legacy, therefore we  must start digging up the tracks and we will have our own railway. The consequence would have been tremendous. You have to change the signaling system, the locomotives and everything. It is just not worth the aggravation. Just like a headline . our executives love grand ideas without any thinking of its implementation. 

Malayali journalist Siddique Kappen was arrested and imprisoned on 2020 October while on his way to report on Hathras rape case in UP and the Supreme Court granted him bail only on September 9th 2022 almost two years after the arrest. In the meantime the moves to secure bail for Kappen ended up futile curtailing the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution. According to the article 32 which guarantees every person fundamental rights  says a person has the right to directly approach SC if the rights are violated. Despite approaching the Courts on numerous occasions his case was not considered and he was released only on 2023 February. Isn’t  Kappen’s case a travesty of justice in which he was arrested on the way of discharging his job and kept in jail for more than two years in stark violation of the fundamental rights of a person?  

Siddique Kappen’s arrest was a travesty of justice and in fact there was nothing against him. The poor fellow happens to share a cab with some people against whom there may or may not have been something. But at that point of time the local government was determined to keep journalists out and any journalist who gets arrested becomes a cause in media. The government and administration came to double down on the accusation, and tried to keep Mr Kappen inside the jail as long as possible so that the public at large thought that there was some case to answer. In fact even what is happening in the matter of News Click is also of the same kind. It is a bit disappointing that Courts did not immediately see through the game or wilfully turned a blind eye to it. Siddique kappen should  not have  approached the SC under Article 32. Because the matter was pending before the SC, probably the lower Courts were inhibited in passing orders for bail. The SC could have ask some pertinent questions and then sent it back through the  process of  Courts of first instance. The matter was allowed to linger on, elaborate arguments were made at the SC, which all have to be considered and that added to further delay. 

Journalist Siddique Kappan shows a thumbs-up sign after being released from the Lucknow district jail after over two years under the charges including UAPA and Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), in Lucknow. (ANI Photo)

Is there no legal solution to avoid such gross violation of justice similar to that of those meted out to Mr Kappen ?

The solution would be is that the Court of first instance has to have the same confidence and the same authority with which the SC asks questions and they should have a reasonable guarantee that they would not be easily overturned in appeal. Very often the trial courts are assumed to be overawed by the executive especially in cases which have attracted media attention. So there is an undue deference to the  prosecution case which could otherwise have been avoided. If prosecution are not asking tough questions at the Courts of first instance the matters tend to prolong within the system. That is not healthy for a democracy. 

According to the Supreme Court in the St Xavier’s College Judgment of 1974, a secular state is ” neither anti – God, nor pro God; it treats alike the devout, the agnostic and the atheist. It eliminates God from matters of State and ensures that no one shall be discriminated against on the grounds of religion” .  While this is the expressed stand of the SC vis a vis religion and God. Is it proper to invoke or use religious symbols at the functions of the State. The question alludes to PM Modi  receiving  ‘Sengol’ from the priests on the occasion of the launch of the new parliament building which is exclusively a State function?

India’s secularism is not an anti God version or a strict separation of Church and State on the French model. It employs an equal distance from all religions. It neither favours one religion nor disfavours the other. Now at the opening of parliament there had been a reception to artefacts from various parts of the country. You could have add a Sengol, a cross or some other artefact from the Muslim community or others. If they were equally respected and equally received there may not have been a problem. Right now only receiving the Sengol and installing it ceremonially as a Sengol would run against India’s principles of secularism. If that same artefact was received by Nehru, who treated it as a golden walking stick and sent it to a museum. It was not sacralised. Sacralising artefacts from only one religion, even if it is from the majority community that is problematic. 

The International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights( ICCPR) provides that ” anyone who has been the victim of unlawful arrest or detention shall have an enforceable right to compensation. However, The Constitution of India does not have a provision to compensate. Take the case of Dr Khafeel Khan who was placed under illegal and unjust detention on two separate occasions, two times for more than nine months each. Is there any provision for compensating the victims of unlawful arrest or detention? 

There are provisions, but very rarely used and often these are provisions which can be used only after a successful prosecution by the victim for a malicious prosecution. So you would have to prove that such and such a police officer, knowing the truth, wilfully arrested me with reckless disregard for the truth and therefore he should be prosecuted and punished and should be given compensation. Recently the Delhi High Court has ordered that even for half an hours detention the policemen had been made liable and ordered that fifty thousand rupees have to be recovered from the policemen. But institutionally also, a particular department should be faced with huge penalties . In the United States for instance if there is a wrongful arrest or persecution the police department of that county sometimes becomes responsible. Therefore, when it comes out of the departments budget that makes the police personnels much more careful. Now technology is advanced so that the police men arresting or in routine law and order situations wear body cameras. It may not be a bad idea that such ideas to be enforced in India. 

Right to dissent is the very essence of democracy. The Supreme Court of India in a decision pronounced on November 12th, 1974, during the operation of the second proclamationn of emergency, observed. ” Peaceful protests and the voicing of a contrary opinion are powerful wholesome weapons in a democratic repertoire. It is, therefore, unconstitutional to pick up a peaceful protestant and to put him behind the prison bars”. However, many among those activists who engages in disagreement against the State is framed under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act( UAPA) and are languishing in prisons in contemporary India. Has the judiciary’s thinking on approach to expression of dissent underwent a change over the period ?

This again comes down to the question of malicious prosecution. Very often when protests takes place, in order to teach the protestors a lesson the leaders are hold up and very hard sections are invoked. When the UAPA is invoked, getting bail is almost impossible. So I do not think that the judiciary has done enough to protect the protestors who may have been violent in language but absolutely peaceful in their conduct. There has not been too much of a differentiation between speech and actual conduct or actual incitement to violence. I do think that the judiciary has not been as tolerant of the right to protest as it was in previous times. In fact the judiciary might be taking a cue from the administration itself. At one point of time protests in Delhi used to end almost in parliament at boat club. Since the late eighties Mr Tikaiat, laid seige to the boat club with thousands of farmers. The judiciary’s thinking often is that if there is a police designated spot protests should only in the specific place and no other. The full effect of fundamental right to assemble peacefully without arms seems to have been given up to greater police restrictions. 

(A journalist having fifteen of years of experience Abhish K Bose was a staffer of The Times of India and The Deccan Chronicle – Asian Age. As a contributor, his interviews and articles have been published in Frontline magazine, The Wire, The Print, The Telegraph, The News Minute, Scroll, The Kochi Post,, The Federal and the Asian Lite international published out of Manchester.)

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Interview Kerala Lite Blogs

Keraleeyam will open a new way for future Kerala: S. Somnath

Keraleeyam 2023 can open a new path and put forward new directions for achieving economic and social progress in Kerala in the coming years…speaks ISRO chief S Somnath

In January 2022, S. Somnath assumed the role of Chief of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), marking a significant moment in the world of space exploration. An accomplished aerospace engineer with over 35 years of experience in the field, Somnath wasted no time in propelling India to remarkable achievements in space.

Throughout his illustrious career, he has held pivotal positions within ISRO, including Director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Center (VSSC) and the Liquid Propulsion Systems Center (LPSC). His exceptional contributions to the space industry have not gone unnoticed, as he stands as a proud recipient of the prestigious Space Gold Medal awarded by the Astronautical Society of India.

ISRO Chairman S. Somanath During A Press Conference After The Successful Soft Landing Of Chandrayaan-3

One of the most notable achievements under his leadership was the Chandrayaan-3 mission. This lunar endeavor reached lunar orbit on August 5, 2023, and made India burst with pride as it successfully accomplished its mission on August 23, 2023, at precisely 6:04 PM. It’s essential to note that countries such as the United States, China, and Russia have all attempted to explore the enigmatic South Pole of the Moon but met with failure. Chandrayaan-3, under Somnath’s guidance, became the first satellite in the world to conquer this lunar frontier.

As ISRO sets its sights on even more ambitious missions to the Moon, the Sun, and beyond—venturing towards Venus and Mars—Somnath’s journey from an ordinary government school in Kerala to reaching the zenith of space achievement is nothing short of remarkable. Today, we have the privilege to delve into his visionary mindset and explore the future of India’s space exploration endeavors. Read Excerpts :

How has Kerala influenced your rise?

He is a person who studied in a normal government school in Kerala and got education through institutions within Kerala and passed engineering. The biggest advantage was being able to work in the space sector. Dr. India’s space dreams took flight after Vikram Sarabhai took the first steps of a rocket launch at Thumpa, Thiruvananthapuram. I was also able to work there. It is a great achievement that the fame of India has been raised by reaching the Moon and Mars.

Apart from being an Indian citizen, I am also a very proud person as a Keralite. Kerala’s unique achievements, especially in the field of education, health, workplaces and in all spheres of life, the progress achieved by Kerala in achieving equality between men and women is a matter of pride for all.

Chandrayaan-3 Success: K’taka CM Congratulates ISRO Chief, Deputy CM Felicitates Team

What are the qualities that made a Malayali a global citizen?

Many people have left Kerala. Malayali presence can be seen anywhere in the world. In various fields of work in science, technology, management and entrepreneurship, Malayalees have made their mark in many corners of the world and have achieved a high position in the society. Malayalis have often reached the leadership level in the rocket field. Scientists in Kerala have been able to work in this very difficult technical field. I think all this is a reflection of Kerala’s unique character.

How do you see the future of New Kerala?

At this time of celebrating Kerala, I am thinking about the future development possibilities of Kerala. Kerala is the best place for tourism. Kerala is also a region where great contributions can be made in the field of education, health and research. Keraleeyam 2023 can open a new path and put forward new directions for achieving economic and social progress in Kerala in the coming years. Let the discussions from Kerala be discussed in all public places. It is also hoped that the debates in Keraleeyam, presenting Kerala’s unique cultural diversity and achievements, pave the way for a new Kerala.

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Fashion Interview Lite Blogs

Evolution of Men’s Fashion

Stressing that the fashion industry is a dynamic space, and trends and consumer preferences dictate their collection and design aesthetics, Shantnu feels the definition of fashion for men has changed majorly over the past decade as there is a greater focus on cuts, drapes and sheer shirts, rather than the classic bandhgalas and sherwanis…writes Sukant Deepak

Stressing that fashion designers tend to ignore the opportunities that Tier II cities like Chandigarh offer, designers Shantnu & Nikhil, who have been getting plenty of orders from customers in Chandigarh, Amritsar and Jalandhar recently opened their store in Chandigarh. They tell that many clients from here have griped about having to make the trek to Delhi for their personalized wedding shopping, and thus they wanted to bring the high-street shopping experience to this fashion-forward city.

“We thought that this would be a key region to have the presence of an S&N by Shantnu Nikhil store. Besides other stuff, the store here will boast ready-to-wear styles amalgamated in a harmonious fusion of contemporary elegance and style. Crafted for the #Glamsquad, this festive drop encapsulates the essence of celebration wear like never before,” they say.

The label, founded by the brothers in the year 2000 is known for its classic menswear silhouettes, be it a bandhgala or a S&N classic crest shirt. Precisely why, almost 70 percent of their collection in the new store are for men. “So, it is just the way the brand has been in terms of its ratio. It is just a reflection of what they truly represent in their stores.”

Stressing that the fashion industry is a dynamic space, and trends and consumer preferences dictate their collection and design aesthetics, Shantnu feels the definition of fashion for men has changed majorly over the past decade as there is a greater focus on cuts, drapes and sheer shirts, rather than the classic bandhgalas and sherwanis.

“They are also open to experimenting with our couture shoes and accessories, they are not shying away from maximalist embroidered tuxedos. A good fit is what makes your look stand out from the crowd. However, we aim to combine Indian heritage with high-street spunk. We encourage men to take the anti-trend route when it comes to their clothing choices, by reflecting the sartorial narrative of its rich history and adopting the contemporary route. It is wonderful to see them owning up to their personal style and, it is actually great when it comes to a country like India,” adds Nikhil.

Even as several major foreign brands and designers tend to ignore the extreme weather conditions in India, the duo are in the process of crafting fabrics that are specific to the weather here. “We believe in providing comfort and quality with our ensembles. Along with my team, I travelled 5,000 kilometres in 11 days to factories in Shanghai, Xibu and Guangzhou. These factories have patents for their own fabric and are willing to work with designers to create specific counts and constructions for India. We are trying to build a kind of technology in which we can infuse fabrics that are suitable for India, such as cotton that resembles mulmul to create some stunning drapes without compromising on comfort,” says Shantnu.

Ask them how they deal with creative differences, and Shantnu asserts that they are completely in sync at work. Adding that his job is to give Nikhil the intelligence he needs to create, Shantnu says, “Commerce always follows art, so it is important that he has a free rein. Sometimes, of course, his ideas go wild but I have learnt to overlook…, as brothers do. Every now and then, my team sits with the design team and he sits with my team to understand what analytics mean, what merchandise mapping stands for.”

He however adds that on the tennis court they are gladiators. Nikhil feels it is important that fashion students get out of their textbooks and do rigorous internships. Although they feel that in the past decade, especially post-pandemiP, things have started rolling in towards online exposure, they say, “We do feel that it is very necessary for students to have industry exposure and knowledge where they know the inner workings of any fashion house.”

The designers, who recently inaugurated a store in Hyderabad for their bridge-to-luxury brand feel that post the multiple waves of the Pandemic, the world has adapted towards more emotive purchasing and people are buying things that have the power of classic and timelessness towards it.

“They are not really giving into trends, but purchasing items that are a reflection of their personal style and something which will be relevant even after 10 years. The whole concept of purchasing trending items is not relevant to purchasing patterns to a large extent, but instead purchasing patterns rely more on how people adapt a certain product into their lifestyles,” conclude the designers who are gearing towards expansion.

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Food Interview Lite Blogs

 Tailoring Sustainable Food Solutions with Technology

“Food technology should encompass the imperative of science and long-standing cultural practices along with a vision towards sustainability”: An Interview with Gopika Jyothi By Aswin Prasanth

Gopika Jyothi began her professional journey soon after achieving her Bachelor’s Degree in Food Technology. She started modestly as a Quality Consultant in the field of Quality Management and later moved to AB Mauri India, as a Product Developer for the savory category. After serving the industry for five years, she moved to the Netherlands to pursue a Master’s in Food Technology from Wageningen University & Research.

Ms. Jyothi’s Master’s programme primarily focused on various aspects of product designing. After graduation, she joined the Global Specifications team at Danone in the Netherlands. She currently contributes her expertise to the development of Danone’s product line as a dedicated Product Developer within the Specialized Nutrition Category.

How do the nutritional value and shelf life of food products change as a result of food processing?

Both the nutritional content and the shelf life of food products undergo significant changes due to food processing. Throughout history, ancient methods have become integral to culinary traditions. One crucial aspect of processing involves extending the shelf life of food products. Preserving perishable food is a simple transformation technique that often masquerades as processing. Surprisingly, food processing encompasses even the basic function of cooking. Traditional ingredients like fire, heat, charcoal, and salt were the forerunners, but the advance of science brought about an era of complex food processing techniques. Methods like extrusion and freeze drying are some of the innovations that significantly improved the temporal stability of food.

Despite these advancements, the link between food processing and its impact on nutrition remained overlooked at first. Our ancestors notably lacked a complete understanding of this relationship. Nonetheless, a significant turning point emerged with the advent of techniques like fortification, which introduced the concept of nutritional enrichment. This shift in thinking was driven by nutritional awareness among the consumers. The establishment of dietary requirements played a pivotal role in fostering the connection between nutritional elements and food processing methods, contributing to the growth of this field.

What are the potential benefits and challenges of cultured meat production when compared to traditional meat production?

The idea of producing cultured meat emerged in the early 2000s, at a time when concerns about animal welfare and sustainability were becoming increasingly important. This innovative approach has a significant ethical dimension as it eliminates the need to slaughter animals. Instead, it involves growing meat cells through artificial methods in labs, thereby giving a chance to enhance the nutritional value and to use various techniques. Thus, by embracing this method, there is an opportunity to make meat more nutritious and save numerous animal lives. In addition to animal welfare, cultured meat also presents a multi-faceted solution that also addresses the urgent problems of climate change arising from the meat industry.

However, the adoption of cultured meat faces resistance due to consumer skepticism. People’s natural tendency to be cautious about change presents a significant hurdle that requires time to overcome. A major challenge revolves around recreating the familiar texture of actual meat, which is made more difficult by its subjective nature and people’s existing familiarity with its taste. Achieving the right sensory experience emerges as one of the most complex and intimidating aspects of incorporating cultured meat into the wider world of cuisine.

How exactly is 3D printing being put to use within the food industry? Moreover, what intriguing possibilities does it bring to the table for crafting personalized nutrition and innovative food designs?

The rising trend of 3D printing has now expanded into the realm of food design, bringing with it the exciting potential to elevate different aspects of our food. This technology is not just about making things look better – it is about refining textures and appearances, all the while achieving an unmatched level of precision. With the magic of 3D printing, we can add a whole new layer of sophistication to the dishes we create in the kitchen. What is even more remarkable is that this technology has paved the way for things like plant-based 3D printed steaks and innovative fish products. These creations not only offer a sustainable and environmentally friendly option but also address important ethical considerations by reducing carbon emissions. However, recreating the full sensory experience, especially the unique feeling in the mouth while eating, presents a significant obstacle in the world of 3D printed cuisine.

While 3D printing in food design shows great potential, there are still doubts about whether it can truly address individual nutrition requirements and capture essential sensory elements.  

How can food technology contribute to mitigating the effects of climate change in agriculture and food production?

Lately, a marked shift in focus is observed within food industry towards sustainability. Vegan and cultured meat products testify to this new trend. Both kinds of products have a crucial role in helping to reduce the resource-heavy methods used in the meat industry. When we adopt these options, we lessen the pressure on our land and water resources. This also means that we do not have to rely heavily on animal farms and it helps to lower the amount of carbon emissions they produce.

The traditional ways of farming for the meat industry have caused a big problem by using a lot of land and water, which in turn has a big impact on our climate. But now, thanks to the advancements in food technology, we expect to have promising solutions. By carefully choosing the right materials and improving the processes, we can actually produce more meat with less impact, which is good for both our environment and our food supply.

Another aspect to think about is the challenge of making sure these advancements reach the general population. By doing so, we must also recognize that the food industry has its own environmental impacts. Let us consider a relevant example: the complex logistics system involved in the industry is to make the food reach as many people as possible. Think about the intricate network of supply chains, transportation, and distribution channels. All these components add up to the carbon footprint, highlighting the many ways how food technology is connected to climate change.

What are the ethical considerations surrounding the development and consumption of Genetically Modified (GM) foods through biotechnology?

Different countries have different opinions when it comes to accepting Genetically Modified (GM) foods. Not all nations have banned the use of GM foods.

These foods are created by making changes to the genes of plants or crops that can result in some really useful qualities. For instance, we can have tomatoes that are vibrant red in color, or wheat that stays fresh for a longer time without spoiling. One big advantage of this technology is that it allows scientists to get rid of genes in crops that may be detrimental to its growth or quality. This means that we can grow crops that are healthier and more resistant.

However, the ethical dimension of GM foods warrants consideration, as it involves the deliberate manipulation or alteration of something that is natural. This interference with the natural order evokes skepticism among individuals, stemming from concerns that we are tampering with the intrinsic essence of living organisms. The potential consequences of GM food production require a thorough and comprehensive investigation to achieve a deeper understanding.

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Interview Lite Blogs

An Artistic Exploration of Architectural Silence

As the conversation veers towards her latest exhibition’s title, she recalls that towards the end of the ideation phase, while rendering 3D iterations of the show, she realised that parts of her broader research within her practice were interwoven with the work in this exhibition…reports Sukant Deepak

The inner silence of buildings is translated into a script of the physical. Whispers continue to resound. In the endless corridors of meanings, sub-texts and contemporary relevance, artist Ayesha Singh creates tangible thoughts celebrating/uncelebrating multiple possibilities with reality at its most profound.

In her dialogues with the past and present, many things are left unsaid only to be felt. Singh’s first solo exhibition at Delhi’s Nature Morte ‘Monumental Turns’ held recently, where she created three new sculptural installations, responding to the spaces of the gallery has been inside her for three years in the making.

She says in these times of continuous ideological shifts, the significance of monuments and memories has become more prominent in her readings and conversations.

“Since 2017, I have been researching monument aesthetics, to unpack their visuality and connotations. The pandemic further propelled me to delve into 3D software where I began to skew historical architecture to create totemic forms akin to the ‘Hybrid Amalgamations’ drawings on view at the exhibition. Today, three years later, this exhibition brings together the culmination of these explorations,” she tells IANS.

This Delhi-born artist, who completed her MFA in Sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and BFA from the Slade School of Fine Art in London, works with drawings, performance, installation, sculpture and video to question the assumed permanence of buildings and the histories omitted during construction and restoration. Her work involves subversive actions that highlight existing socio-political hierarchies and the assertion of established systems of power in architecture.

The works in the latest exhibition stress the fact that the ancient continues to breathe, consistently shaping our present, specifically ‘Frayed Continuum’ which is a machine that dips nine 50-90-year-old wooden architectural fragments into cement, speaking to continuous alteration and the assertion of the past beneath the facade of new construction.

“‘Monumental Turns’ also delves into the opposite simultaneously, drawing references to ways in which our past is altered by present value systems and the dominating ideologies. The works here point to so many of the complexities we encounter in cities, including shifting power dynamics, the desire for belonging, imagined futures, and erasures,” she adds.

Talking about Delhi, a vast city, that she says is spread in a way that one cannot fully know each crevice of it, Singh asserts that she does have a strong sense of belonging to many spaces there, albeit transient. 

“My research often takes me to areas I may not have encountered before, or rediscover a familiar space through changed perspectives such as revisiting the Qutub Complex for ‘Skewed Histories’.”

Singh, who reveals the politics and power in a building’s layers, believes scale, material and form affect how we maneuver through and around architecture. From spaces of worship to governance, the way we behave and the subconscious relations we develop with a building are initially, and intentionally, dictated via design.

“While architecture is often perceived as passive, it plays a far more active role in our everyday experience of a city. My work often looks at those personal experiences of larger decision-making that surpass individual agency, and the connotative functioning of their construction. To further that, towards questioning accepted histories, collective fact-making, and their proven malleability through architecture,” she says.

And it is the construction and ornamentation of a building that fascinates her. She often finds herself looking at the material used, especially when facades that look like brick are made with polyurethane foam and window sills that look like wood are plastic panels. 

“The creation of facade, ideals, and aspirations speak through material and form, I often find myself delving into those details,” says the artist.

As the conversation veers towards her latest exhibition’s title, she recalls that towards the end of the ideation phase, while rendering 3D iterations of the show, she realised that parts of her broader research within her practice were interwoven with the work in this exhibition.

“This includes my involvement in a reading group focused on the notion of the public and the nomenclature of public art, and my collaborative research and writing with political scientist Dr. Davies. The title of the exhibition was therefore one of the final decisions made after the work had been created.”

Remembering her encounter with British art aesthetics during her BFA, Singh recounts that when she was learning about art history in the global west, including Bourriaud’s ideas about relational aesthetics, she sought out reading groups on post-colonial theory, and worked with an artist-book publisher and a gallery from South Asia, outside of the university curriculum. 

“The ideas in each experience later evolved to alter the figurative paintings I was making in high school, to walk-around installations made with found objects, including carpets and cable trays, to foam, photographs, and drawings during my BFA.”

A co-founder of Art Chain, an active marketplace for artists, showcasing their work under the hashtag #ArtChainIndia started during the pandemic, the artist stresses that in the post-pandemic world, the range of resources accessible to all has been broadened, encompassing knowledge-sharing on art law and intellectual property in India. 

“There have been mentorship, workshops, and session opportunities for ACI artists and the wider public. We look forward to unveiling new developments and exciting updates for our audiences soon.”

On her next project, she smiles, “It is an adventure I would be happy to announce once I reach there!”

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