Swag, Tiger and Being Secular in Contemporary India


First things first. I am not a Salman Khan fan. Nor is this meant to be a review of Tiger Zinda Hai. But it does take off from a song of that film which is particularly relevant to the toxic climate of communal hatred in which India is currently shrouded. Throughout the last year there have been hundreds of sporadic incidents of violence perpetrated by the thugs of the Hindutva Brigade including the assaults and murders of people over suspicions of possessing or consuming beef, for belonging to Dalit-Bahujan communities, for simply trying to observe one’s own religion and at times for no apparent reason at all. Consider, for example the recent attack on Christmas Carollers in Satna in Madhya Pradesh. Goons of the Hindutva Brigade attacked them, falsely accused them of forced conversion, burnt the car of priest and to top it all, the police arrested the carollers and the priests without taking any action against the ones responsible for such blatant vandalism. This latest assault is complemented by similar incidents which have happened elsewhere across the country, for example in Aligarh and in parts of Karnataka, as part of a rising trend of such violence which has rapidly increased over the last couple of years. Such events not only signify the increasing threat posed by ever-growing religio-fascist organisations in India but also the shocking callousness of the administration that either actively protects these groups or allows them to continue with their atrocities through sheer passivity. And it is during these occasions that one hopes for a kind of muscular secularism which can actively resist these hooligans by collectively combating their menace with civic volunteer groups of their own in various localities who will stand up to them without either fear or passivity. Candle light vigils and silent marches cannot do much against the shameless and inhuman assaults of those who are far too insensitive and despicable to understand appeals to humanism and compassion. This is where Tiger and his swag come in. In one of the songs of the film we have the protagonists, Tiger and Zoya, Indian and Pakistani respectively, declaring:

Chahe jo aaye leke dil mein ishq mohabbat

Sabko gale laganaa apni culture ki hai aadat.

Swag se karenge sab ka swagat.

The strength, the courage and the flamboyance symbolised by the characters, both in the original Ek Tha Tiger and this one, are perhaps what is needed by seculars in India who cannot turn any longer the other cheek in hope of a peaceful solution. At times, the best step forward is not just to proudly hold on to your beliefs but also to instil enough fear in those who are trying to terrorize you. At times you need to be assertive enough to show that not only will you not be intimidated but that those who are trying to intimidate you better watch their backs. In other words, you need to be secular with swag.

And this swag is needed not just to ward off the shadow armies of hate that are marauding across the land. But you need it to counter the vicious ideas that are being spewed even by a minister of the central government who recently claimed that secular people are confused about their parentage and that everyone should only identify themselves in terms of their religion and caste. This represents the kind of parochial, unidimensional thinking which is the hallmark of RSS and the current regime. They neither understand the plurality of human identities nor do they have any respect for India’s prolonged tradition of accommodation, hospitality, tolerance and diversity. From the days of the Harappan civilisation, which had active ties with Mesopotamia and Rome, to the age of Ashoka who actually had ministers and bureaucrats that enforced religious tolerance to the glorious heights of the Mughal empire which fostered a syncretic culture that accommodated multiple religious traditions to the Twentieth century visions of Tagore and Ambedkar – India has been a land of acceptance and harmony, something that Bajrangi Bhaijaan also demonstrated interestingly. And when ministers try to negate and distort that history we need to roar with Tiger and claim:

Chahe jo aaye leke dil mein ishq ibadat

Sabko gale laganaa apni culture ki hai aadat.

Swag se karenge sab ka swagat.

Unless we keep on asserting these values, we will never be able to bring to justice the murderers of Gauri Lankesh or rid India of individuals like Shambhu Lal Regar who murdered in cold-blood a labourer named Mohammad Afzarul from Malda in Bengal and even made a shocking video of it or incarcerate for life those hundreds who are making Shambhu out to be a hero and even collected money to ensure legal assistance for him. Some of these people even dared to take to the streets to protest against his arrest. All of these events are symptomatic of a pervasive and vicious atmosphere of hatred that has been seeping into the fabric of the Indian polity for several years and is leading to a virtually cancerous outbreak of atrocities with the overt or covert support from different branches of regional or central administration. No wonder then that Nathuram Godse is getting a temple in Gandhi’s India while everyone looks the other way even as emboldened supporters of Godse continue to advance their murderous machinations. So do we become martyrs like Gandhi for believing in secular ideas or do we come out swinging, making the spiritual descendants of Godse and Golwalkar quiver in their khaki shorts? For the very sake of our survival as a secular, democratic nation, the latter seems almost indispensable. So this holiday season, wear your santa hats, go to the movies, have your cake and pudding and do all that your heart desires and the constitution approves to spread joy and love, because as Irshad Kamil informs us

Insaan hai insaan jag mein jab tak ishq salamat

Sabko gale laganaa apni culture ki hai aadat.

Swag se karenge sab ka swagat.

This could well be our New Year motto; let’s put the swag in secular.


A Haunting

A list is haunting the Indian academia. The list of Raya Sarkar. What she has done is to create a virtual hall of shame for Indian academics accused of sexually harassing students and colleagues. As the list demonstrates, some of the offenders are known and have already been penalised while others have neither been formally charged nor held guilty. While objections have been raised regarding the authenticity of anonymous accusations and the ethics behind them, reports have also come to light of offensive behaviour, by certain individuals on the list, which were not available in the public domain in the past. Raya Sarkar has also claimed that each individual name included on the list is based on screenshots, first-person accounts and other credible information provided either by the victims or by their close friends. While it is true that the readers should have had access to the information provided to make up their own minds, one also understands how such revelations might endanger the victims even further and that they may be subjected to legal, social and professional ostracization and subjugation. The list will not bring about institutional redress for the victims, but it might warn future students and scholars which in itself would be a notable achievement. However, in a world of constant digital manipulation of all kind of data, especially images, how does one become sure of the validity of the evidence Raya Sarkar claims to have in her possession? Is it too much to imagine that some people might just be making capital of other people’s trauma to satisfy their own malicious intentions? What to do about the reputations of these men who might thus be falsely accused? The overwhelming support Sarkar has received of course suggests that her initiative lends voice to the silenced trauma that many women, across time and space, have experienced within the walls of Indian academia without much hope for justice. And it is also true that academics across the country, especially in institutions which have had several of their faculty members mentioned in the list, are also showing signs of modified behaviour, with even hesitant declarations of apologies and amends. Some of the accused who have come out in denial have also had their hypocrisy exposed by other women who have been emboldened by the list to openly declare the instances of harassment which they witnessed or experienced.

Unfortunately, the publication of the list was also followed by its denouncement by a group of feminists on the online platform Kaafila which went on to spark an even greater controversy, especially with Raya Sarkar and her allies castigating their critics as advocates of Savarna Feminism. A movement that should essentially aim for broad-spectrum solidarity must not get mired in petty identitarian name calling or the demands to shut up or go away. Such fissures only strengthen the hegemonic order and weaken ongoing struggles for greater gendered justice within the academia. An anarchist list has its uses. But not at the expense of institutional measures which some of the feminists on other online platforms have been calling for, even though their call for the withdrawal of the list smacks of arrogant myopia and ignores the emotional salve it has been able to provide, to many women who have been victims of sexual harassment. During our time in Presidency College, we often came across or shouted a slogan: “When order is injustice, disorder is the beginning of justice”. The operative word from Rolland’s famous remark is ‘beginning’. The list might be seen as a beginning and not an end in itself. But if the process initiated by the list is to successfully continue, one needs utmost solidarity among people who seek to end violence, harassment or discrimination based on gender and sexuality, without privileging other determinants of individual identity such as caste, class or religion.

What is also agonizing is what the list and surrounding debates reveal about the nature of the Indian academia. Many of us have grown up hearing whispers and rumours of such behaviour, even though I have never come across definitive allegations or evidences of sexual misconduct. But what if the rumours were true? I remember batchmates talking about one particular teacher who spent too much time patting the backs of favoured female students. There have been scholars who have talked about a male professor pressing their thighs as if to congratulate them. There was even a story about a teacher who had supposedly claimed that a poem was like the body of Bipasha Basu: the deeper you went the more pleasurable it was. While I was able to ignore and scoff at these rumours by supposing them to be the ridiculous actions of gross old men, I am sure the female students did not feel the same. Incidentally none of those names are yet in the list which suggests that the problem is more pervasive than the 70 names on the list suggest. I cannot report any of these names as not only are they powerful but I have no evidence to back up my claims, especially since I only heard these reports from other male students and not even from supposed victims of these predatory actions. It is this shroud of silence and fear and shame that the list has perhaps managed to partially lift. After all, subaltern knowledge often eludes official archives and their due processes,

But what does this suggest about the academic world to belong to which we had worked so hard, with such idealistic passion? It is of course foolish to think that the maladies affecting the rest of the society will somehow not affect the academia. Far from it. But there is a difference between isolated cases of wrongdoing and systemic problems. And what the list, irrespective of its accuracy or lack of it, seems to hint at is a systemic problem which will further degrade the popular perception of the intelligentsia and the nature and significance of academic research. When the pioneers of retrieving subalterns from their shadows are seen as agents of subalternisation, disillusionment and apathy are inevitable. In our country, at this particular moment, there is a concentrated attempt to disparage rationality, intellectual vigour and the pursuit of truth to champion, bigotry, sycophancy and submission through verbal and physical violence. This is the time when we needed our academics the most so that the leading lights of academia could set examples of just action and behaviour so that the public could strive to extricate itself from the miasma of abusive, chest-thumping howls of division and hatred that are threatening the very fibre of our idea of India. Instead we have found ourselves mired in these lists, allegations and counter-allegations while the yogis, the gau-rakshaks, the bajrangis and their other cohorts prepare further assaults against all that we hold dear.

Disagreement should never put an end to dialogue. The compilers of the list and those who are sceptical of its efficacy should learn to listen to each other so that the kind of gendered justice they all seek can be collectively fought for, a fight that also needs to include other male academics who have neither practised nor condone the predatory activities of which some of their colleagues have been accused. It is only by forging networks of solidarity that are mindful of our specific limitations and cognizant of what we need to learn from others that we might together seek to thwart the quasi-fascist forces that are raving and raging across the land. In the name of Gauri Lankesh, M.M. Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, Pehlu Khan, Akhlaq Ahmed, Nirbhaya and other martyrs of our time, can we dare to try? I think we must.

Teachers’ Metamorphosis: Instrumental Rationality and Academic Clerkship

Umbridge’s mayhem isn’t as alien as we would like

The modern Indian academia is haunted by apocalyptic acronyms like CAS, NAAC, RUSA and not to mention that progenitor of endless eccentricities: UGC. What generates the spectral power of these acronyms is the nexus between money and paperwork to which are subjected young academics full of hope and promise and intellectual acuity who realise soon enough that the system only demands imitation, repetition and boundless vacuity. A college or university needs adequate infrastructure for a teacher to impart education properly to students. To that end it needs adequate financial grants. Hence the inevitability of NAAC and RUSA. But the teachers also need to lead a reasonably worry-free life to dedicate themselves to the project of learning and teaching. And s/he may have committed the blunder of having a family. So s/he needs money, and given the inflation in this country and the rising cost of medical assistance, food and accommodation, quite a lot of money. So s/he needs (and deserves) upward movement along the academic ladder popularly known as the promotion. Hence the relevance of CAS (Career Advancement Scheme). What binds these acronyms together is the demand for production of endless papers with different formats, immense data and repetitive hollow rhetoric of many kinds, all of which is supposed to justify either the distribution of money to institutions or to individuals. For example, anyone who has had to endure the pathetic farce that unfolds in the name of a NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council) visit will know how the whole college is forced into a collective enterprise of fabrication, manipulation and concoction of data that covers almost everything from what percentage of SC/ST students were there in the college 5 years ago to what is being done by students who passed out from the college, some of whom did not even bother to attend the classes while they were there. And much of this conjuration happens through a process of duplication where one canny colleague smuggles in the SSR (another pesky bugger) of a college that has recently suffered NAAC and the current victim-to-be simply changes the name and the relevant data with what the former-victim has painstakingly (maybe not, may have been re-appropriated from the similar document from yet another co-suffering institution) fudged for months. As stated before all these translate into imitation, repetition and boundless vacuity. Something similar happens for CAS. One’s ability, dutifulness and accountability is measured through reams of paper congealed into an apparently fat file whose weight alone should impress prospective experts among whom one may even find associate professors or professors who have never qualified NET (National Eligibility Test) and have climbed the ladders of academic hierarchy with somnambulist stupefaction. None of these processes have anything to do with the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge which is supposed to be the essence of academia, or which should have been the guiding principle of academic life. Instead, teachers are forced more and more into immersing themselves in exhausting paper work.  And they also have to sit idle for hours while waiting for students to arrive with proper papers during admission season. And they have to draft stale and perfunctory letters to different offices and departments for assistance during examinations.  And they even serve as presiding officers during elections. None of this has anything to do with pursuit and dissemination of knowledge which alone should be the task of teachers. Academic institutions are supposed to be endowed with non-academic staff who should be able to take care of the other stuff as they are not professionally bound to pursue and disseminate knowledge – a task that requires single-minded devotion. While there is no denying that a group of people involved in teaching presently are incapable of such devotion and undermine the profession by dabbling in ten thousand other things, there has also been a systemic devaluation of the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge, mainly by clubbing it with other professions and by introducing alien mensurational methods based on quantification which are utterly incompatible with the academic vocation. The thrill that one feels when one learns something new or the ecstasy that courses through one’s veins when s/he is able to impassionately teach something and see the glint of recognition in the eyes of the audience – these are immeasurably precious experiences which cannot be identified through quantifiable data and attendant analysis. Teaching and the alchemic communication that takes place at times through teaching is a matter of affect, a visceral tripartite bond between the teacher, the student and the text which arouses wonder, stirs the intellect and motivates the heart to soar like the skylark into a Rushdie-esque sea of stories where multi-coloured strands of stories are merging and splitting into innumerable other strands of inexplicable hues. Teaching is supposed to be a plunge into such oceans where the teacher first guides and then allows the student to swim in his/her own style, with his/her chosen currents towards whatever shore he/she envisions. None of this is a matter of quantifiable data and mechanical procedures culminating in points/numbers/grades. But there is no daring prince in this land of cards who might shake things up with his defiant tunes and gestures.

Such absence is evidence of the total domination of instrumental rationality over the lifeworld of our societies. Since capital only moves through the abstract hyperspace of data, numbers, figures and performance models of one kind or another, the growing commercialization of the education sphere has meant a pervasive integration of the teachers with the rationality of capitalist domination and as an obvious outcome we have become shackled in a world of spectral mechanisms of control heralded by the notorious acronyms with which I began.  The result of such control is the gradual transformation of teachers into a hybridised clerk whose greater qualifications only breed frustration and discontent as he/she remains chained to various forms of bureaucratic drudgery that clinically oppose that realm of freedom, innovation, experiment and affective bond which the academic world deserves and yearns for. Even the grand old Shantiniketan of Rabindranath is no exception to this process. Mercuse’s nightmare is coming true, the one-dimensional man is proliferating through the flatlands of Indian academia.

“Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach? 

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. 

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. 

I do not think that they will sing to me”.


Will these lines be our chorus then? Or will we dare to “bombard the headquarters” (figuratively, of course)?


Love in the time of Darj’healing’

As I type this on a lazy Sunday morning, the hills that were supposed to be smiling, are actually burning and smack of gunpowder. Reports of fresh violence have trickled in and if some of my friends and acquaintances living in North Bengal and the Darjeeling district are to be believed, there has been a clampdown on Internet services. With a period of relative normalcy and peace in the last few years, the clamour for a separate state of Gorkhaland has found voice again. And this is not just a murmer or a whimper, it is slowly developing into a war cry.


Since the formation of the independent India, various states/ tribes have demanded autonomy. Some struggles have found success, like the creation of a new state in Telengana, some have seen bloodshed like the demand for Khalistan and some like the Gorkhaland movement have hung in a limbo for almost two decades. The Gorkhaland agitation seems to have been the culmination of decades of exploitation and a particular ethnic group being labelled, stereotyped and marginalised.It is independence from the state that this ethnic group sought and not from the country. The complaint was of years of neglect and domination by the Bengali population and intelligentsia, in matters of jobs and opportunities in the government and the private sectors.

In today’s Darjeeling however, the term Gorkha tends to be applied to all Nepali-speaking people. What unites them all is probably their common aversion to the Bengali majority. Despite their immense contribution to the country and society, the majority of the Gorkhas are still second rate citizens and live without any solid base of livelihood and adequate educational and developemental facilities.  In the main industries of the Darjeeling district, Nepalis constitute the vast majority of the workforce, but are almost wholly absent from the ownership or management positions wich invariably have gone to the plainspeople.

The Gorkhaland National Liberation Front originally led the movement, which disrupted the district with massive violence between 1986 and 1988. The issue was resolved, at least temporarily, in 1988 with the establishment of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council within West Bengal. The Gorkhaland movement distinguished Darjeeling Gorkhas from nationals of Nepal legally resident in India, from Nepali-speaking Indian citizens from other parts of the country, and even from the majority in neighboring Sikkim, where Nepali is the official language. The movement was emphatic that it had no desire to separate from India, only from the state of West Bengal. Gorkhaland supporters therefore preferred to call the Gorkhas’ language Gorkhali rather than Nepali, although they did not attempt to claim there is any linguistic difference from what other people call Nepali. The 1981 census of India, whether in deference to this sentiment or for some other reason, called the language Gorkhali/Nepali. However, when the Eighth Schedule of the constitution was amended in 1992 to make it a Scheduled Language, the term Nepali alone was used. It is to be remembered that in the past SubhasGhising had argued that Nepali was a foreign language and was terribly unhappy with its inclusion in the 8th schedule. This can be primarily traced back to the concern of the Indian Nepalese regarding their sense of belonging, for their long time concern has been to search for an appropriate term which would correctly situate them in the nation’s chronicles and distinguish them from the Nepalese born and originating from Nepal. Such was the vehemence that in 1991, the GNLF activists desecrated statues of BhanubhaktaAcharya, who was the author of the first major work of modern Nepali Literature, claiming that the statues honoured a foreign poet.

It’s the denial of basic amenities and the right to self identity and self-determination that has brought them to a point where many term them secessionist and it is the lack of inclusiveness, dialogue and underdevelopment that has ensured the stubbornness with which Gorkhas seek identity.As members of a sovereign secular country, it is a matter of great shame and concernthat its citizens have to demand for their rights with the national flag in their hands, lest they be construed anti- nationals. This blanket of fear has enveloped most parts of the country, and if the West Bengal government looks to continue to stave off fundamentalist divisive forces, which it has successfully done over the years, it has to ensure that there exists a platform for discussion and debate, without the fear of fear eyeing us all.

With other parts of the country still reeling under violence, seeking a separatist identity, with protests and marches and vigils being organised to voice support to particular communities under the threat of physical and psychological violence being inflicted upon them, it is a matter of concern that the greater section of the Bengali community/ Intelligentsia has chosen to remain silent about the unrest that has been growing in the hills. There has not been support, neither there has been condemnation. Part of the problem might be, that throughout the years, it has become embedded in our psyche to look at this particular community in the hills through a definite filter. I would also add that popular culture has been majorly responsible for the perpetuation of the stereotyped Nepali/Gorkha identity by visualising them as nothing more than soldiers in the army or watchmen/gatekeepers in the cities.To have these people suddenly clamouring for self-determination,is almost an affront to the Bengali sensibility. Moreover, Darjeeling and its neighbouring districts have been a favourite tourist spot for Bengalis over the years. The landscape and its beauty have been up there to be consumed, to be enjoyed, to be photographed, almost a passive docile terrain made by the gods for the plains-people to relax in. To have the majority of the population of that region up in arms against the hegemony of a dominant culture, whose bearers have little idea about the lives of the people in the hills, is a blister in the foot.  What complicates matters further is that multidirectional political interests in the hills are leading several people to fish in muddy waters, especially with baits of evocative rhetoric which are often devoid of concrete plans for inclusive welfare.

So where do we go now? The fire has been stoked, people are dying. As it happens in most cases, in chess and in politics, the pawns (read the commoners) are sacrificed in calculated gambits and manoeuvres. If mutual restraint is the order of the day, what should also be on the table is a willingness to solve the impasse before more innocents are killed. Let there be a debate, a healthy one. Let people be aware not only of the geo-political landscape, but also of the convoluted and complex history of an ethnic group. Let there be more people writing about the situation, both for and against autonomy, let more people talk so that Darj might soon be ‘Healing’ from the wounds and scars of unrest and bloodshed. The Argumentative Indian and the Opinionated Bengali can surely make room for a contented Gorkha.


Interpreting Maladies


Image result for communal violence in india
The Constitutional Idea of India is under Threat

The last week has been yet another bloody reminder of all the maladies that threaten our future. A DSP was lynched to death in front of a mosque in Srinagar in Kashmir without any immediate cause. On the other hand a row over seats in a local train running from Delhi to Mathura escalated into a communal assault which claimed the life of one Muslim youth, returning home for Eid, while seriously injuring his brother and their two friends.

Given the propensity for crime and violence in India, such events are themselves insignificant from a statistical perspective. But they hint at deeper, corrosive fissures which would engulf us all.

The young men returning home for Eid were accosted by fellow passengers who demanded spaces to sit. Now, everyone who travels by local trains in India is familiar with traditional problems regarding lack of punctuality, overcrowding and various forms of associated discomfort which in this sweltering heat, often leads to bouts of anger, name calling and even occasional pushing and shoving. But what happened here was rather different. The seated youths had even offered a seat to an old man of the outraged group in an effort to smooth things over. But such courtesy proved ineffectual. Soon they began to be heckled by the aggressive newly boarded passengers who started making provocative comments regarding the fez caps on their heads, the beards on their faces, whether or not they ate beef and why they were at all residing in India. The external symbols of their religious identity had made them targets of fanatical hatred in the same way that people are generally identified and assaulted during riots. But things did not stop at words. Eventually the young men, Junaid, Mohsin, Hashim and Moeen were attacked by the mob and Junaid was stabbed to death while the others received serious injuries.

Such an event exposes the intense currents of communal hatred coursing through the Indian body politic, especially in various parts of North India. What it also foregrounds is a changing perception of normalcy. A mere discord over seats in a local train culminating in a communal hate crime is not something that one associates with civic life in India. Generally, communal violence in India has been the result of systematic political strategy or mobilisation based on inflammatory issues of one kind or another. And we have generally deluded ourselves by thinking that such violence is a kind of aberration that occurs outside the general stream of history. But the history of the present is a history of a different order. We now have digitally connected vigilante groups who are ready to kill at the mere suspicion of possession of beef, irrespective of whether eating beef is legal or not. We have international theocratic conferences from which are launched venomous declarations regarding the establishment of Hindurashtra and the eradication of the religious minorities. We have an administration that remains silent and indifferent in the face of communal violence and contributes to the covert consolidation of violent fanatics in the name of religion and patriotism. And such is the level of our apathy and moral bankruptcy that even though the body of 16 year old Junaid lay on the platform of Asaoti station, no eye witness can be found to aid the police investigation. In the process, the secular fabric of India is becoming more and more a constitutional fiction being crushed by the murderous weight of a sordid reality. But when merchants of death are democratically placed on the thrones of power, should we expect anything different?

Unfortunately something similarly grim and inhuman happened a day before in Srinagar where DSP  Mohammad Ayub Pandith was lynched to death in front of the Jama Masjid in Nowhatta, Srinagar by an angry mob that attacked him without any apparent provocation. Only a few weeks ago Feroz Dar of the Indian army had been attacked and killed in Achabal while he was returning home from duty. In both cases, there was no apparent cause of conflict, no immediate provocation. Yet the men were gruesomely assaulted and murdered by angry mobs who perhaps only saw them as representatives of an administration that they intensely hate, of a state they wish to disown. While Hindu religious fanatics reduce all Muslims to potential terrorists or hostile Pakistanis, for a section of the Kashmiri population, anyone associated with the state or the administration has simply become a creature deprived of humanity who might be remorselessly assassinated. However, given the protracted conflict in Kashmir and the kind of torture and losses many Kashmiris have had to endure, this too seems inevitable. Cycles of hatred have a tendency to harden one’s heart and flood the normal world with unprecedented abominations.

Such abominations seem particularly damaging to ordinary Indian Muslims. On the one hand they are constantly being targeted and victimized by Hindu fanatics who are ready to spill blood without any provocation at all, and on the other hand, they are being targeted by Jihadi mobs or terrorists if they become associated with the state in any form. They are becoming the nowhere-men in their own motherland.

One would have thought that, seventy years after achieving a bloody independence marked by catastrophic partition riots, we as a nation would strive to ensure that such blunders are never repeated. Instead, we continue to sow the seeds of hatred, through political organisations, the education system, electronic media and of course the fanatical trolls in social networking sites.

I have long stopped believing in the righteousness of the silent majority who would eventually rise against the forces of division and carnage. The political masterminds who preside over the murders of Junaid or Akhlaq or others have come to the conclusion that incremental violence, as opposed to protracted genocides, will not result in electoral backlash. And they are being ably aided by those who are responsible for the murders of Feroz Dar and DSP Pandith as communalisms tend to feed off each other.

What then? I don’t know. The Idea of India is under threat. The Death Eaters are gaining momentum. Can we raise a Dumbledore’s Army potent enough to take on the Dark Lords? The Midnight’s Children are in desperate need of some magic.

P. S. 3 more persons have been killed today by cow-vigilantes.

It is also the 20 year anniversary of the first publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.



An Ode to Manchester: Inscriptions of an Inconsequential Indian

I visited Manchester for a 3 day halt in-between two conferences in Leicester and London back in 2013. And just outside the Central Library was a sign that read: “Manchester means the world to me”.


You could be forgiven for considering that sign as an exercise in exaggeration. You could well think that it was merely the sentiments of people who have been born and brought up there. You could even think that this was the exclamation of a football fan captivated by the romance of the Busby Babes, the trio of Charlton, Law and Best, the Class of 92, Sir Alex Ferguson or modern-day superstars like Ronaldo, Rooney or Pogba. But even a cursory sojourn in the city will convince you that the sign actually touches a deeper chord.

After exiting the railway station, as I bunglingly looked for directions to my hotel, I came across a couple of typically robust, gregarious and smiling Sikh cabbies who gave me very clear and helpful directions to the hotel. They had all been living in Manchester for decades and did not seem to suffer from any anxiety of belongingness. This was the first clue to the multicultural plurality of the city. Such plurality was also evident from the sprawling China Town of Manchester, the Gay Village with its proud rainbow flags, Indian restaurants and a cosy Bombay Street and most importantly, a whole host of warm, welcoming friendly people who enjoyed all the colours of life (not just red and blue, that is).

This plurality would attract the eyes of a traveller in other ways as well. Alongside tall, glass-covered glitzy modern buildings, including the Manchester Hilton, he would be awed by the spires and arches of structures that bear the intricate knottings of history. And just as Manchester occupies a pivotal place in the history of the Industrial revolution in England, something which it celebrates through its Museum of Science and Industry or a statue of Alan Turing, it is also the place where the famous Chopin played his last concert and where inveterate comedians like Norman Evans or Sir Harry Secombe regaled the audiences.

For a student of English literature like me, it was also quite remarkable to see a plaque commemorating the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, which happened at the erstwhile St. Peter’s Fields that now falls within the modern City of Manchester where 15 people were killed during a peaceful demonstration and more than 600 injured after a cavalry charge. The plaque bears testimony to the heritage of Manchester as a working class city, a city of resilient people who have fought adversities and stood strong and have inspired others in turn – including someone like Percy Bysshe Shelley whose ‘Masque of Anarchy’ was written in response to this horrible consequence of governmental crackdown.


All of these memories came flooding back in the wake of the recent terrorist attack in Manchester in which a suicide bomber managed to kill 22 people in the Manchester Arena during an Ariana Grande concert attended by hundreds of young people. The attack stung me into that same kind of pain and grief that I experience when my fellow Indian regularly fall victim to networks of terror.

It is rather pointless to talk about the deplorable nature of these terrorist organisations, the inhuman motivations that drive them and the destructive fantasies that are nurtured by those who work for these organisations. They are immune to criticism and deserve whatever punitive measures a state can muster.

But more importantly, the only way one can effectively fight terror is by not succumbing to terror at all and by upholding those values of plurality, courage and togetherness which Manchester has embodied again and again. From Thatcherite blight to IRA attacks – Manchester has survived and prospered. It is particularly interesting to note that in 1996, when the IRA detonated a 1500 kilogram bomb on 15th June at Corporation Street, in the heart of Manchester, England was hosting the Euro’ 96 and despite all the horror and destruction, the match between Germany and Russia went ahead as scheduled on the very next day at Old Trafford. More than fifty thousand people watched the game. Manchester had responded: “we will not give in”, they said.

It is one of those strange eccentricities of history that once again juxtaposed terror and football as only two days after the attack, Manchester United, a club almost synonymous with the city, played the final of the Europa League and won, dedicating its victory to the whole of Manchester. Of course, overcoming adversities and horror is in the DNA of Manchester United as well. This is a club that overcame the horrors of the Munich crash to become the best in the country and the best in Europe, this is a club that under Sir Alex Ferguson, for more than two decades, showed the world that it’s not over until the final whistle and conjured almost magical, miraculous victories in the dying minutes from the jaws of certain defeat. And Manchester United is also a testimony to that spirit of diversity and togetherness which the city as a whole embodies – footballers from all across the world come and play at The Theatre of Dreams and become one of Manchester, irrespective of their race, religion or language as they become part of the collective experience of football with its truly universal language; and this is equally true for the Manchester City Football Club as well which has now become a major force in the English Premier League with a similar stellar cast of global superstars. So the victory of Manchester United, symbolically, was also a victory of the Mancunian spirit, a typically working class spirit, a spirit of invincible resilience founded on togetherness. As an impassioned Steve Bertram wrote in Manutd.com: “Marcus Rashford may have been the only Mancunian on the field by birthright, but every single player was an adopted Manc; each one buzzing about the field with bottomless energy and purpose. Ander, Matteo and Anthony from Bilbao, Legnano and Massy became Andy, Matt and Tony from Blackley, Longsight and Moston. All of them, one of us.”

For all these reasons and more: “Manchester means the world to me” too.

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Figure 1: Picture courtesy Reuters and The Independent

-Abin Chakraborty

Rang De Tu Mohe Gerua?: Reflections on the UP Verdict

In the wake of BJP’s landslide victory, there are shockwaves being felt across the country and outside among those who remain steadfastly opposed to the Sangh Parivar’s fascist vision of a Hindu rashtra and cling on to the constitutional illusion of a secular India.

The knee-jerk response has been that of blaming it all on the EVMs. After Mayavati and Lalu Prasad others are joining in as well and erudite scholars are searching and sharing articles that focus on the vulnerability of the EVMs and how they may be hacked and how the victory could well have been a product of a massive technological fraud. Now, political leaders often find it difficult to stomach losses and they are therefore prone to explanations verging on the absurd. But what makes secular intellectuals run for the same caves? I remember left leaders in Bengal scurrying in the same direction after the debacle of 2011. But such explanations are rather improbable because EVM machines are manually checked in the booth by the Presiding Officer in the presence of all polling agents by conducting a mock poll just before the actual polling begins and upon the discovery of any anomaly, the machine in question is immediately changed. The possibility of rigging an election through technological manipulation of the EVM is therefore a rather far-fetched conspiracy theory which can only be uttered by those who are in desperate denial of the reality. Had it been so easy, we would neither have a functioning multi-party democracy nor hung-assemblies. Perhaps this also stems from our hubristic inability to accept that the majority of the voters did not share our beliefs. That is why we either try to reject their agency by hatching stories of a conspiracy or claim like Akhilesh Yadav that the poor do not always know what they really want. When a former CM begins to distrust the same people who had once voted him to the power one begins to get a sense of the distance between those who have lost and the voters. So it is better if we get ourselves out of the ostrich manoeuvre and look at things more objectively.

If seen in the light of the results of the Parliamentary elections of 2014, the results in UP are not really a surprise. BJP had won 71 of 80 seats from UP with 42.6% of the total votes. Even the votes of Samajwadi Party and Congress combined could not come anywhere near the BJP vote share. So why this shock? In West Bengal, the trend of the electoral results in the Loksabha election of 2009 had spelt the doom of the Left Front government which became a reality 2 years later in 2011. Why did people think that the same logic would not apply in case of Uttar Pradesh? Was this simply a case of wishful thinking or did some people get swayed by the novelty of a SP-Congress alliance which failed almost as miserably as the equally egregious Left-Front-Congress alliance in West Bengal? This in fact is one of the problems with elite liberals around the world: we live in our cocooned world of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Netflix and suppose that the rest of the society would follow our footsteps and sink into despair when reality comes crashing down on us. This is all the more true in case of Indian elections which often hinge on cunning caste and community based electoral arithmetic combined with strong organisational mobilisation of voters to the polling booth. This is not a dust-proof, air-conditioned world of logical debates and informed discussions.

But the pitfalls of secular elites on social-networking sites are far less important than what these results portend for the country as a whole. UP has often been called the heart of India. Although the tourism department of Madhya Pradesh disagrees. Be that as it may, as the largest state in India, UP does decide, to a certain extent, the political future of India which right now, seems to be smeared in saffron. Theoretically speaking, we are witnessing the gradual re-assertion of a hegemonic bloc which is trying to utilise the ideology of Hindutva and the alluring rhetoric of development to create an inclusive alliance of different social groups who are no longer satisfied by the tokenism and empty rhetoric of identity politics of one kind or another. As the Sachar committee report had shown, Muslims in various Indian states, even states where BJP or its allies were not in power, were terribly excluded from developmental projects. Perhaps it is that disillusionment that turns them to the BJP despite its avowedly communal Hindu-nationalist identity. Perhaps that is also why backward communities other than Yadavs (traditional SP base) and Dalits other than Jatavs (traditional BSP base) also voted for the BJP. And when one organisational behemoth, with potent auxiliary units like RSS, VHP, Durga Vahini, Bajrang Dal, comes up against a divided opposition scarred by relentless infighting, the result is more than obvious.

But there still remains the question of ethics. Where is the voters’ sense of justice when the instigators of the Muzaffarpur riots are provided with electoral victories? What happens to the security of the family members of Mohammad Ikhlaq of Dadri (a seat that BJP has also won) who had been lynched to death on suspicion of eating beef, even though that was his constitutional right and even though he did not actually have beef at his home anyway? Where is the ethics of returning to power the same political force which was responsible for the destruction of the Babri Masjid and the subsequent massacres? Perhaps 20 years is too much for public memory and perhaps people have either found reasons for trust or that they just don’t care. Perhaps anti-incumbency rides roughshod over all other considerations. Perhaps. At least this much is certain: one should not hope that electoral results should reflect ethical judgments. The art of the possible necessarily excludes the realm of oughtness. But even this is not a surprise: the people of Gujarat had overwhelmingly voted in favour of BJP even after the inhuman massacres of 2002.

In his discussion of the ‘Southern Question’ Gramsci had argued that “The proletariat can become the leading and the dominant class to the extent that it succeeds in creating a system of alliances which allows it to mobilise the majority of the population against capitalism and the bourgeois state” (Selections from Political Writings 1921-26, 443). In India, we desperately lack a vanguard that can ensure such leadership of the proletariat with necessary alliances. Instead the proletariat remains fractured along the lines of religion, caste and communities, allowing the vacuum to be occupied by the united hegemonic bloc led by the Sangh Parivar which papers over its fascist violence and asphyxiation of dissent with illusions of moral strength, integrity, discipline, charity, masculinist machismo and nationalist pride which a sacrificial Indian people enthusiastically accepts. Unless the rest of India can create possibilities of resistant solidarities, the coming days will seem darker and bleaker for secular Indians who might even find their faith in democracy, shaken. What is required therefore is the attempt to effect moral-intellectual transformation at the grassroots which can neither happen in English nor within air-conditioned television studios. Does secular India have such leaders who are willing to do the literal groundwork? I wonder.

-Abin Chakraborty

The Year of the Monkey

I am not a believer in astrology. But when I saw that this year was supposed to be the year of the monkey, according to Chinese zodiac, I couldn’t help but ponder on the astute accuracy of the prediction. The idiotic events that have shaped the course of world history this year are quite staggering and there is no denying that monkey business has been the name of the game.

At first there was the shock that was Brexit. Spoiling the predictions of most political commentators and experts, the British people chose to dissociate themselves from the rest of Europe and chose to opt out of the European union. Never since the Napoleonic continental blockade has England endured such isolation and to do that voluntarily speaks volumes about the incredible depths to which stupidity can plunge a people who choose to ignore their own ignorance, buoyed by fantasies of a long-lost past and irrational fears about immigration generated by deluded oldies who have lost their grip on things in rapidly changing world. This is a modern version of the Charge of the Light Brigade and no Tennysonian elegy will actually bring consolation to those who will bear the economic brunt of this self-engineered meltdown. What is even more alarming is the surge of racist hatred that had gone into this victory for Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and their other droids which has led to an exponential growth in racist crimes and abuse in various parts of England where a large amount of people had been caught up in the propaganda that all the problems faced by a country can actually be blamed on immigrants without ever realising that there were entrenched problems which required a political and economic re-ordering and not the enactment of an ostrich manoeuvre.

Unfortunately and ironically enough this trend was not really an insular one. Instead it travelled across the Atlantic, gaining in both mass and putrescence and ended up in the bewildering and disgusting victory of Donald Trump. That so many millions of Americans, many suffering from severe economic crisis for years, could believe that a real estate tycoon who lives in a world of dangerous delusions and considers molesting women as his right, would emerge as their saviour is something that not only staggers belief but raises serious questions about the nature of democracy itself. If the majority of people in your country are despicables and dullards, what hope is there that they are going to deliver? Even now, when Trump appears to have assembled a multi-billion dollar cabinet with oil honchos in top spots, when the collusion between big money and governments is blatantly obvious, the same people who had voted for him remain callously hopeful. Sure, this is the same America that gave such iconic and sinister characters as Nixon, Regan and the great ‘Dubya’. But even they seem like gentlemen, compared to the highlight reel of sewage that oozes out of Trump’s mouth. Incidentally, and quite predictably, in America too the victory of Trump has not only been celebrated by the inbred bigots of Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists, but has given rise to a whole wave of hatred and crimes against people with black and brown skins who had hoped to fulfil the much-vaunted but utterly baseless American dream through honest hard work in a number of different fields across the country. Lost are the hopes of a syncretic future where colour, creed, sexuality, gender and such other determinants would not play detrimental role in the fulfilment of one’s aspirations. Instead you are invited to enjoy a world marked by walls, lewd locker room banter and groping, greater environmental maladies, inevitable violence, civil and international, and governance by tweets. Let the apprenticeship of dumb and dumber begin!

But let me not stray too far from our shores as that too might render me rather anti-national in my inclinations. And why bother, since there are such public demonstrations of idiocy in these historic regions of ours, almost everyday? The greatest example of such a claim is the public response regarding the recent demonetisation drive. Despite all the suffering that the people across the country are facing, despite the severe economic crisis that is haunting the Indian countryside, the majority remains in support of the governmental decisions and happily stands in the queues outside banks, even though there are no tangible evidences of any possibility of economic improvement, especially since EPF rates have once again been slashed and winter harvest is in shambles. In a land reared on tales of renunciation the government has once again provided the masses an opportunity of attaining mythical glory through self-sacrifice for utterly non-empirical rewards which remain confined to rhetorical tropes. But the spectres of unemployment, starvation or absence of emergency medical assistance due to cash- shortage pale into insignificance in comparison to the virtually orgasmic bliss provided by the sacrificial sweat generated by standing in stagnant and serpentine lines outside ATMs. Just as Yayati had passed on his senility to his son Puru who willingly accepted the curse on behalf of his father, the modern descendants of the great Bharat family have also lapped up the curse of demonetisation as their promised route to heaven. I can almost picture Rakhi in Karan Arjun tearfully mouthing – “Mere Karan-Arjun (read achchhe din) ayenge”.

All such reflections further intensify the scepticism regarding the fate of democracy where there exists such pervasive disconnect between those who know and those who do not. But since those who do not can cast as many votes as those who do, and sometimes much more, what hopes can at all be placed on electoral results? It seems we are back again in the world of the Roman mob and whoever plays Antony wins. But it was also a world where the dogs of war cried havoc and Tiber raged with blood. Are we heading for that too? Isn’t there a Fool who might make a prophecy in his gnomic verse to pierce the stupidity of our dire straits? Perhaps there are – unless they have been jailed or deported that is. The question is, will we heed such prophecies or will the prophet be faced with the fate of Cinna the Poet?

I have a booking for Mars. Wire me the answer when you can.

-Abin Chakraborty

A Lot Can Happen Over Coffee: Cafes and the Fetishized Subject in 21st Century Kolkata

Image source: chaiwallahsofindia.com

  “….Wires are cut very often, fuses go off

              But the lights are always on:

              This is Kolkata, Kolkata!

             Whatever happens, it is always alive!” (Gulzar 83)


There has always been something ‘romantic’ about the city formerly known as Calcutta: once the capital of the British Raj, it has always fuelled an artist’s imagination by evoking ever-changing ways of grasping this hustling and bustling city-space. If Kipling spoke about it as having “Palace, byre, hovel—poverty and pride—/side by side” (Gupta 4), then Dominique Lapierre’s novel made the moniker ‘city of joy’ famous. It is a space where the past and the present mingle seamlessly; the ghosts of an ever alive colonial history and Naxalite movement sit side by side with the burgeoning I.T sector and share a cup of tea.

The influx of foreign brands and coffee chains seems to threaten the mythic quality of the city. As Ipshita Chanda puts it succinctly, “Going to the College Street Coffee House where political and aesthetic revolutions are rumoured to have begun, is an attempt to live a myth, to synecdochally participate in the living history of Calcutta as it happens…” (Gupta 241). This mythic quality has its roots in a typically Bengali cultural phenomenon, that of the ‘adda.’ Historically born out of the gathering of unemployed youths over a cup of tea at the temporary, dingy tea stalls in one’s neighbourhood, this coming together has been a fertile space for intellectual/ artistic/ political debates and arguments as the years have rolled on. Not only has it provided intellectual stimulus to, borrowing a term from Amartya Sen, the ‘argumentative’ Bengali, it has also become a cultural signifier. In recent years this trend has, however, been replaced by sights of Gen- Y (or is it Z now?) thronging the various coffee outlets that have opened in Kolkata, whereby we have become passive consumers and victims to a typically western consumer culture.

One of the reasons why these retail brands have managed a foray in a somewhat conservative Bengali culture has its roots in the changing economic dynamics of the earning youth. Madhumita Roy, in her essay Cha- er Thek: Teastalls argues that “With the declining number of educated unemployed youth who were addicted to a pastime called idling, these addas are a vanishing culture in Calcutta. The young of Calcutta today seem to prefer the growing Café Coffee Days, Baristas, Adda Bites and Indthalias to the street culture of yore.” (Gupta 170). And yet, it seems that there is a sharp division in this trend. North Kolkata has emerged as a difficult fortress for the tentacles of a globalised market to creep in; this part of the city has held on to its pastness with greater fondness and force than her rapidly urbanizing southern counterpart. With its now crumbling and dilapidating colonial buildings and narrow by- lanes, it provides a sharp contrast to South Kolkata, a hub of the city’s emerging mall culture and home to some of the most upscale eateries in town. In a way, there are two cities in one, one structurally/architecturally belonging to colonized India and the other, the face of a country rapidly developing, working hard and partying even harder.

The new, ‘modern’ cafes, catering to a particular economic class raises uncomfortable questions about the manner of consumption and the way in which we negotiate with the globalised market making its presence felt. Do these cafes, armed with Wi-fi, a delectable seating arena, with music and jukebox contribute to a sense of a false ego- massage, by privileging a kind of ‘commodity fetishism’?

As Marx would argue, every object or commodity carries within it something greater than its economic or market value. These become a marker of a social statement, a signifier of social belonging, a way of distinguishing oneself from the rest of the population, by assuming that certain choices underline an intellectual/ aesthetic and social refinement. This fetish for well packaged and advertised commodities is what seems to be behind the emergence of the coffee chains like Barista, Café Coffee Day and the ilk which end up making a customer believe that one is a person of ‘Culture’, having access to a particular circle, internalizing a sense of difference and alienation from the tea-stalls and coffee shops that are part of the city’s history and culture. This manifests a kind of internalizing and naturalizing of the western cultural hegemony which leads to an erasure of native/ local traditions with the blind imitation and acceptance of things/customs perpetuated and popularized by/ in the west through a surrender to the allure of consumer capitalism. Blunden sums up, “Appreciation of culture is thus reduced, with little or no residue, to pretension—people acquire and express a taste which expresses their pretension to be recognized in a given class fraction, refusing the vulgar or the common, the difficult or the fancy, according to the need for distinction.” (Blunden 3).

What it does is to give the fetishised subject an aura of exclusiveness, a desire of setting oneself apart by inhabiting a space which “looks” expensive, open to only those who can afford it. The desire to set oneself apart from a particular habitus is also paradoxically a desire to belong to another, with the West as the marker of standards and acceptance. One realises that “People make their consumption choices based not only on a product’s utility value, but from the personal symbolic meanings they invest in objects.” (Zepf). Sitting in dingy tea shops, without the fancy brand names is something that today’s commodity driven subjects cannot identify with, for it in no way lives up to the images of the cafes and pubs popularized in American sit-coms like Friends and How I Met Your Mother. It is that image that has been played over and over again and which serves as a marker of social belonging and acceptance. Coffee bars today capture the spirit of the age, not only because of the customer profile, but also in terms of the entrepreneurial flair that is demonstrably on show. For the youth in Kolkata, shunning the traditional “cabins” that have been enmeshed in the political and cultural history of the state and accepting the coffee pubs above named is more of a status symbol or a lifestyle thing. If history suggests that coffee houses were fertile spaces for the germinating of political and intellectual ideas, the new age coffee pubs are sometimes tools for the fashioning of a particular identity for the “self”. The old world of Kolkata is a rapidly disintegrating one. In the face of globalization and the opening of the Indian market, there are remnants which are still holding on and celebrating their “pastness”: a sort of celebration of nostalgia by which these tea/coffee joints try to preserve a slice of what had been. And yet, one cannot be too hopeful. The words of Marx echo in our ears when he says, “value does not have its description branded on its forehead; it rather transforms every product of labour into a social hieroglyphic” (Knafo 160). But rather than decoding such hieroglyphs we would prefer the figurative forgetful snow and press our muddy feet to shiny coffee pubs that repeat the masquerades of time — eyes assured of certain certainties.


Blunden, Andy: “ Bourdieu on Status, Class and Culture.” http://home.mira.net/~andy/works/bourdieu-review.htm, 25th March, 2015.

Chanda, Ipshita. “ Selfing the City: the Myth of Calcutta and the Culture of Everyday Life”. In Nilanjana Gupta ed. Cultural Studies. New Delhi: Worldview, 2004.

Gulzar. Neglected Poems. New Delhi: Penguin, 2012.

Knafo, Samuel. “The Fetishiszing Subject in Marx’s Capital.” https://www.academia.edu/4038785/The_Fetishizing_Subject_of_Marxs_Capital, Accessed on 25th March, 2015.

Roy, Madhumita. “ Cha-Er Thek: Teastalls”. In Nilanjana Gupta ed. Strangely Beloved: Writings on Calcutta. New Delhi: Rupa, 2014.

Zepf, Siegfried. “Consermerism and Identity: Some Psychoanalytical Considerations. In International Forum of Psychoanalysis. Consumerism and Identity: Some Psychoanalytic Considerations, Vol. 19, pp1-5.

 -Sayan A. Bhowmik

Swooping from Right: Chris Nolan’s Dubious Superhero

The Dark Knight trilogy, directed by Christopher Nolan, 2005-2008-2012


A recent broadcast of the Chris Nolan directed Dark Knight Trilogy got me thinking once again about one of my most favourite things: the imbrication of cultural artefacts within structures of ideology and paradigms of power. While such entanglements exist for most American superheroes, Batman aka Bruce Wayne (perhaps along with Tony Stark) remains one of the most conservative ones around and the last film of Nolan’s trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, actively nurtures a deeply right-wing agenda that vilifies popular social movements, castigates the history of revolutionary struggles and even indulges in standard Hollywood Orientalism.

The entire plot-line of The Dark Knight Rises is premised on Bane and his gang capitalizing on the seething discontent of the people against the prevalent elite of Gotham City, of which Bruce Wayne is unabashedly a member, as indicated early in the film by Selena Kyle, the Catwoman. She categorically warns Bruce Wayne that “There’s a storm coming” and further adds “You and your friends better batten down the hatches, cause when it hits, you’re all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large, and leave so little for the rest of us.” Released in the wake of the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011 and several such other anti-capitalist protests across the world, it is impossible not to relate the events in the film to the events that were unfolding then. The connections become all the more obvious when Bane and his henchmen literally attack Wall Street and then rouse the rabble by urging them to take back from the oppressors what is rightfully theirs. However, what follows in the wake of this apparent revolution in Gotham City, is a reign of terror, murder and destruction, which seems to suggest that popular discontent and attendant rebellious movements can only intensify disorder and any attempted redistribution of property will only invite unrestrained mayhem.

Incidentally, as pointed out by Jonathan Nolan, Chris’s brother and co-writer for the screenplay, the mayhem in Gotham was modeled on the turbulence during the French Revolution as depicted in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. In fact, so closely does the film reference the French Revolution that there are even scenes of revolutionary justice in front of a people’s tribunal, presided over by the Scarecrow, which offers nothing other than protracted or swift executions. Popular discontent based on class-antagonism thus becomes conflated with criminality and rebellious leaders get equated with psychopaths and the glorious legacy of the French Revolution is consigned to the annals of anarchy without any recognition of the radical re-ordering of society that the French Revolution sought to bring about and the kind of injustice it attempted to abolish. Furthermore, unlike the French Revolution, the revolution in Gotham is less a product of popular action and more a mobilization of the people by a typical ‘evil’ mastermind, Bane, behind whom, of course is the figure of Miranda Tate/Talia al Ghul, a member of the Gotham elite. It appears that the ordinary citizens of Gotham cannot even plunder the elite without their own consent.

While many of these insights have already been pointed out by several other commentators, what remains missing is an acknowledgment of the typically Orientalist slant that Nolan’s film also retains. Alfred informs Bruce Wayne that Bane hails from a prison in a “more ancient part of the world”, and the costume of the inhabitants, with turbans and overalls, the chants of the prisoners (apparently in Moroccan) as well as the desert-like landscape of the prison immediately hints at the imaginary resemblance between Bane’s origin and the Arab world. The orient is thus re-deployed not just as a space of backwardness and savagery but also as a potential threat to the civilization of the West, perfectly in keeping with the rhetoric of Samuel Huntington. The Orientalist paradigm becomes even more blatant through the figure of Ra’s al Ghul whom we encounter in the first film of the trilogy. Despite the Arab name, Ra’s al Ghul and his League of Shadows are seen operating out of some secret hideout in the Himalayas, possibly in Bhutan which again emphasizes the typical Orientalist strategy of homogenizing the differences within Orient. No other explanation exists for equating the country of Gross National Happiness with an international organization of crime and catastrophe, apparently operating for centuries. The fact that Miranda Tate is actually Talia al Ghul is also significant as it plays upon the entrenched racist fears of miscegenation and the perceived threat of westerners being indoctrinated by extrinsic forces that threaten national security in U.S.A., England or such other countries. In fact, Talia’s possession and attempted use of a nuclear bomb may even be said to allegorically represent persistent American fears regarding the nuclear arsenal of Iran, North Korea and such other states.

The entire Batman franchise of Christopher Nolan thus operates as an ideological validation of the entrenched myths and prejudices of an orthodox establishment beneath the veneer of wondrous gadgets, an amorous subplot and a spurious rhetoric of justice and philanthropy. In the process, the films collectively embody the crisis of imagination in the new millennia where even a back-handed acknowledgment of crisis in capitalism only yields further manifestations of the status-quo’s repetition-complex.

– Abin Chakraborty