30/12/08

i don't find arundhati roy disgusting

far from it. i like the impassioned plea she makes for justice at the end of her latest article on the mumbai terror attacks (i'd talked about justice too in this post). but i'm not really sure she understands injustice any better than arnab goswami. about the taj, she says:
It's an icon of the easy, obscene injustice that ordinary Indians endure every day.
there are a few problems with her perspective. for instance, i don't think she'd find the taj an icon of the easy, obscene injustice that ordinary Indians endure every day if the government of india owned it. this is what ms. roy had to say about the public sector company bhel, in an earlier article:
For many years, India has been more or less self sufficient in power equipment. The Indian public sector company, Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (bhel), manufactured and even exported world-class power equipment. All that’s changed now. Over the years, our own government has starved it of orders, cut off funds for research and development and more or less edged it out of a dignified existence. Today bhel is no more than a sweatshop. It is being forced into ‘joint ventures’ (one with GE and one with Siemens) where its only role is to provide cheap, unskilled labor while they provide the equipment and the technology. Why? Why does more expensive, imported foreign equipment suit our bureaucrats and politicians better? We all know why. Because graft is factored into the deal. Buying equipment from your local store is just not the same thing. It’s not surprising that almost half the officials named in the Jain Hawala scandal were officials from the power sector involved with the selection and purchase of power equipment.
replace bhel with taj and make minor changes ('world-class service' for 'world-class equipment' and so on), and discover what roy would have said if the taj were a public sector company, like the centaur which was privatized a few years ago. it's privately owned, so it's obscene? one wonders whether ms. roy's problem is with organized capital or with those who organize it? bhel is okay, even if it makes turbines that are largely used in big dams (which ms. roy opposes, of course), as long as it is in the public sector.

i'd pointed out in this post why i consider the organized public sector in this country a largely private affair and the organized private sector a largely public affair: because a great majority of employees in both are upper caste hindus, and both of them are owned by upper caste hindus- upper caste business families or the upper caste dominated bureaucracy or financial institutions. in my view, in india, the public sector-private sector debate is a spurious one, for many other reasons- that requires another post, i guess.

coming back to her latest article, the second problem:
If you were watching television you may not have heard that ordinary people too died in Mumbai.
if ms. roy's problem with establishments such as the taj is the class of people they serve, shouldn't she remember that ordinary people, work at the taj too? that ordinary people were working at the taj when the terrorists attacked?

her kind of ordinary people don't work at the taj? they don't travel in the local trains to cst to work at the taj? and the diamond merchants who travel in trains, an earlier terrorist target, and most probably visit the taj, sometimes, are ordinary people? are all the business executives who travel in trains, because they're convenient for many reasons, to work in the offices at nariman point ordinary people?

any classification, and there has been one other such attempt recently apart from roy's (i refer to gnani sankaran's analysis), that seeks to browbeat you into accepting that the cst stands for ordinary people and the taj for the rich is disingenuous. because all the street vendors, peons, drivers and other manual workers who travel to south mumbai in trains do not belong to the same class as those who trade in diamonds or work in nariman point or lunch at the taj. or to the same castes.

if there is any divide, it isn't between those who travel in trains and those who visit the taj- it is between those the government seeks to protect, on a consistent basis, and those who have to fight with all their puny lives to even catch the government's attention. if the taj were to go bankrupt tomorrow, most of india's indignant classes including the media and people like ms. roy, would stand up for the rights of those who work there and would not rest until the government nationalizes that icon of easy, obscene injustice. not that the government would require any excessive pressure to nationalize it.

on the other hand, if some thelawallahs (or say, the bargirls of mumbai) were stopped from doing business in some corner of south mumbai, they'd have to work up a truly big and spectacular protest to catch the consistent attention of the media or of people like ms. roy. i'm sure ms. roy would be moved by their plight but...if their plot doesn't have an easily identifiable rumpelstiltskin, a villain the whole world could also throw rotten tomatoes at, i'm not sure they'd be able to hold her attention for long.

companies in the organized public and private sector seem to take decades, after they've gone insolvent, to fall. and while they're falling, oh so slowly, like the textile mills nationalized by the goi (i wonder if anyone among the ruling and indignant classes were thinking of the handloom workers across the country when they were embarking on this magnanimous project), a new generation of small unorganized businesses, like the powerlooms in bhivandi, rise and fall, more than a couple of times. and while this is happening, the children of the textile mill workers have moved over to new professions and new age industries. like the children, as this website points out (the internet is such a great forum for celebrating camaraderie of the obscurest kinds!) of those who joined the bhel workforce a few decades ago:
Children of most BHEL employees are currently living overseas, many of them have moved to US and Australia.
that's a random page that i found while googling for information on bhel, hyderabad. this township, a few kilometres outside hyderabad is a meticulously planned gated community, with beautiful tree lined roads, parks, playgrounds (basketball, hockey grounds etc.,) and conveniences of all kinds (auditorium, supermarket, schools, bus station etc.,). in the eighties, i remember, a friend from the township telling me why a lot of officers etc., in the company bought cars (a very rare luxury in those pre-maruti days) even when they did not need them- because they got easy, cheap loans and could pay for them by hiring out the cars as taxis. outside the township, a few kilometres from it, you'll find that life, for men and animals, has gone from bad to worse.

ms. roy's concerns for bhel (our own government has starved it of orders, cut off funds for research and development and more or less edged it out of a dignified existence) are consistent with the concerns of those who successfully protected, a couple of decades earlier, the textile mills taken over by ntc. but i wonder: did those concerns have a purity-pollution angle to them, as gopal guru points out, in another context?
In fact the checkered history of industrial capital shows that this class has followed this ‘veil of ignorance’ principle rather selectively. For example, the textile mills owners in Bombay in the 1930s did not bother to follow the modern criterion of recruiting mill workers and even managers. Relatively more unskilled upper caste mill workers barred more skilled workers from the dalit castes from working in the weaving sections of Bombay based textile mills. The upper caste workers opposed the entry of dalits, not on grounds of merit but on the line of purity-pollution.
mr. goswami and ms. roy have very different visions of what's right for india, but they're in the same room.

6 comments:

me1084 said...

//We need context. Always.//

This is what Roy has to say in her article and which is the one that is missing in your pointless post.
Your arguments are exaggarated and vulgarizing the thoughts of Roy, ripping of the context without any reason.

When the state was bent on with its sinister propaganda that all PSU's are not functioning properly, she talks of BHEL countering the structural adjustment onslaught. Regarding the icon of India debate, Roy's article speaks for itself and Gnani too rightly smashes the thrust of icons in our heads by media houses.

I think u'r tag says your aim better. You are bent on 'exposing' the 'class bakwaas' and that leads you here. but alas you move on with your wild allegation that arnad and roy are in same room while it seems you and Lal Krishna Advani converge in the same room.

Kiran said...

It is true that PSU and the government benefited largely upper caste Hindus. However I think they were more successful in inculcating modernism in the minds of Hindus than the private sector did.It laid the foundation for a modern generation to come up in India.

kuffir said...

me 1084,

thanks for reacting strongly to a 'pointless post'.

kiran,

welcome back:) modernism..hmmm.it seems to be breeding many unthinking fans and groupies of popular celebrities, as you can see :)

Kiran said...

Ofcourse it is true that many hindus are not modern in a meaningful way. But PSU with their caste based reservation, communal housing( colonies) and relatively secular behaviour have created an atmosphere where hindus had to live (however reluctanctly) as a modern individuals. That might have done atleast some good to a group as bigoted and insular(on an average) as caste Hindus?

the mad momma said...

damn. i hate it when you give me more to think about. back to the drawing board :)

Anonymous said...

"Inculcating Modernism among Hindus"

Hmmm what a rare species these Hindus are. I wonder how modernism escaped them. I guess them need to learn modernism from the folks from the slums and unemployed marxists. Poor Hindus.

 
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