Say counter violence

The news channels will do well if they add a new vocabulary to their arsenal of probes and questions. Instead of saying violence, the presenters may use the word counter-violence. Frankly, that gives you the whole picture. In fact, in asking for this I am not at all saying anything new. For many years now, we have had this definition of the state which says it’s an institution that has the right to exercise violence over its citizens. True, in this definition what is assumed is that the state’s violence is legitimate. For many folks who do not believe in the state, this is simply violence per se. And what we are witnessing in Minneapolis is an extraordinary case of police violence. The fact that a police officer can stop you on the road is an act of ordinary violence. And what was done to George Floyd was extraordinarily brutal.

I think it is urgent the news presenters at least get their lessons right. Ask your reporters if there has been any counter-violence from the protesters. That will give some context of why shop glasses were being smashed.

Why I came to this rally?

A woman in a rally inAustralia said a very important thing. In response to the question, she said I don’t want to be a white person who does nothing when such things happen. She was taking part in a rally organized in support of Black Lives Matter movement, protesting George Floyed’s killing in the US.

This latest round of protest in the US is characterized by a mix of participation , both black and white, and other Asian backgrounds. Millennials appear to be the key force here. Hence, they say it’s time to re-set America!

2. And today from Minneapolis (08.06.20) we are hearing all sorts of new things. There have been talks of re-imagining the police structure, talks of dismantling the structure in fact, and reimagining the issue of public safety with participation from the community.

The point is

There is no way you can avoid what needs to be done. I mean you can open the markets/ malls but do you think I will go there? Do you think that you will get the business you want?

I am not going to visit a restaurant in the coming days for sure.

Or is it?

With traffic sound increasing, will I be tempted to go out any time soon? Taste my resilience to Covid 19?

The government is fearful. Fearful of what? That the danger of covid may get out of proportion? That they might loose control? That people might come out of hunger.

Is it because of that fear that they’ve allowed people to die? An advanced death certificate and they know who are likely to catch it.

People are on the bus today. They are on the train.

Calls of strict protocol are on TV inky. Not much is done.

It’s raining out there.

Our calls for a three  months of food supply have fallen on deaf year!  

June 3, 2020

ইন্ডিয়ান এমবেসি

-ইন্ডিয়ান এমবেসি যাচ্ছি

– সাইড করেন!

-আপনারা কি ইন্ডিয়ান?

-না না

-পেছনের জানালা খোলেন…এটা কি হুইস্কি (পানির বোতল দেখিয়ে)

-না, পানির বোতল…খেয়ে দেখতে পারেন! (আমার সহযাত্রী)

-না না খাব না!

-আমি শিক্ষক (পরিচয় দেই)

-কোন বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়?

(দেখিয়ে দেই স্টিকার)

 

-ও আচ্ছা  …তাতে অসুবিধা নাই …কাগজ পত্রগুলো একটু দেখান

(দেখাই)

– ধন্যবাদ

– আপনারা কি ইন্ডিয়ান? এখনও কানে বাজছে!

 

 

 

 

Memories of Nepal

Visiting Nepal has always been a good experience for me! Nepal is a land of beauty and wonder and that’s known to all. The image of the Himalayas looms large whenever we think of Nepal and for which Nepal is known to the world. Nepal is also known for its dense forests. It has also the concentration of some of the most beautiful Buddhist monasteries. For some Nepal is also known for its Maoist politics. But for me, not a great nature lover in the typical sense of the term, Nepal has been special for its people. At the cost of generalization I am very keen to argue that people in Nepal are so polite and soft spoken. They have a strong sense of limits. During a recent visit to Kathmandu, I also noted that all the people lined up in Dhaka for a Biman flight to Kathmandu were standing in que without any complain although I would say that the que was very slow in moving and taking too much time for security check. I cannot imagine another group in South Asia, including us, doing the same (Airports in any case should be hassle free!).

During my first visit to Nepal, I noted for the first time in my life that I am visiting a country where a Bangladesh is given quite a bit of respect! (There may be some other countries and I am not a globe trotter). It seemed to me that amongst the Nepalese, Bangladesh is a country in which they take some interest. And there is a reason for that. Increasingly during my stay in Nepal for the first time (a trip that included a few nights stay at Pokhara and few visits to some of the notable places in Kathmandu), it became clear to me that a lot of the people we were meeting at the hotels, resorts and other touristic spots were having someone from the family, a daughter, a niece or other relatives studying in Bangladesh. So they had an added interest in some of the affairs in Bangladesh including people like us (Bangladeshi tourists if you will, a new upcoming group and like American tourists they like Bali).

I’ve always heard from my father that he had found a lot of Nepali students in medical colleges where he taught in recent years (i.e. some of the private medical colleges of Bangladesh). When they would return, they would always keep in touch with their teachers and in my father’s case this would be via social media (My father is 70 up and I have avoided the exact age because of complications related to his official birth date). Recently, even I met a doctor myself who studied in a government medical college in Bangladesh and now works in Maldives as a resort doctor. During a Dhaka bound flight from Kathmandu I was also told by this soft spoken gentleman that he was planning to get a new position in one of the Middle Eastern countries very soon. In many of my conversations I have felt that Nepalese generally wish to show their gratitude to the Bangladeshis because there is someone in the family who has studied in Bangladesh.

As a land locked country Nepal has limitations when it comes to trade and other businesses. It has to rely mostly on India for most of its trade operations. But there is a small corridor through which Nepal could have also linked itself to Bangladesh, some 12 kilometers if India provided a corridor. If Bangladesh had any foreign policy (!), then I would have assumed that this land connectivity question between these two countries could have been seriously dealt. A land connection would have encouraged more tourists from Bangladesh, just the way Bangladeshis form the largest tourist group in India, Nepal could have been another destination. Just imagine a coach service from Dhaka’s Pathapath to Kathmandu! Nepal on the other hand could have enjoyed the benefit of using the newly built sea ports of Bangladesh in Khulna and rely less on India for that matter. There could be other ways too through which these two countries could have benefitted. One is of course by creating more scopes for the Nepalese students in Bangladesh in medical, engineering as well other general subjects in Public Universities. As someone working in the academy for quite a bit of time now I feel that over the last decade our universities have become devoid of foreign students and I do not have a clear idea of why this happened. This was surely not the case in the 80s or the 1990s.

One of my proud moment in a foreign land was in Nepal when returning from that country in 2014. I was at once recognized by the security at the TI airport. Looking at my passport he said, “Oh Biman flight, please go to …”. The Biman flight that day was not delayed and boarding the plane and returning home from a nine day trip on time was a proud moment too. Let there be more people to people connection with Nepal. I hope “our good friends in India” (a much contested idea in Bangladesh now) will not mind!

 

Mahmudul H Sumon teaches anthropology at JU and calls him a reluctant traveler.

 

My fundamental rights

Image

 

(Dedicated to Sanjeeb Drong, a rights activist)

A poem by Matendra Mankhin

(Translation from Bengali by Mahmudul Sumon)

 

These days, there are too many write-ups on the adivasis.

Perhaps that’s the reason anthropologists look at me very minutely.

As if I am his darling Banalata Sen or some secretive love girl.

My distinct physic, my hands and body, my blood clearly reveals that  

I am a flower of the jungle, I am an adivasi.

 

Yet, the experts don’t stop, they keep on surveying

They keep doing the hard work for a rigorous analysis.  

As if they are engaged in deep thought; they keep researching on my originality

My ancestor’s identity, our early inhabitances

Language and culture.  

 

But in the end, my originality, my real identity,

My recognition in the constitution

Is kept hidden under the false cover of majoritarian

Nationalist sentiment.  

       

I can sense that after enough thought

They come up with well planned names

Call us in ill motivated colorful languages

At times they simply deny and say

‘There are no adivasi people in this country’.

No matter how you appraise, you expert and knowledgeable

This utterly sufferings and bad luck is what is bestowed upon the adivasis

The adivasi certificate declared by the UN

Turns into a dusty manuscript, remains unattended.

In such unlucky times

Our dreams and fundamental rights are stolen by the groups of red ants.

 

Matendra Mankhin: date of birth: January 3, 1953; school St Tereza Primary School and Biroi Dakuni High School. Passed SSC in 1972. Wrote poetry from school days. The poem is taken from his book titled Patharchpata ful (2008) Shatantra Prakashak, Mymensing.

Mahmudul Sumon: teaches anthropology in Jahangirnagar University. Currently, a regular blogger at Thotkata.net

Photo credit: Mahmudul Sumon      

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By Mahmudul Sumon

 

When I say I divide my time

Between two cities, a new sense of consciousness

Emerges in me…

I shall be calling this

Post- colonial

 

I find a queer sense of affinity

Between me and the writers of the day

For post-colonial writers are writing back to the colonies-

This remark of Rushdie

I find quite appalling

Though I may not agree with all of his words

And I would like to stick to that difference

And I am allowed

 

I have a feeling…

For historical reasons

Post-colonial language

Ought not be “standard” enough

There is no problem if this language is hesitant

With occasional flawed starts

Here and there

 

My language is hesitant-see

I put some effort not to…

Make it sensible or it doesn’t get sensible

 

I think it’s ok.

 

When Arundhati Roy wrote

About a ‘viable-diable-age’

I was not surprised at all

At her words

 

Because it was sensible for a South Asianist

Living in the deltaic Bangladesh;

But more importantly it was sensible

to my mama (Uncle)

a service holder

And not-so-regular-a- reader of English novels

Who told me about this line

 

Characteristically,

Post-coloniality leaves the vantage

Points of a higher discourse

Useful for all other lower discourses

Within which “our” lives unfolds.

So for people like me

And readers like you

Post colonial is an opportune moment

And there is no way out

 

Post-colonial ‘self’ is about

Dividing your time between

Modernity and antiquity

Between Cities and villages

Centers and peripheries

And so on

 

Post-colonial self is

Divided

Multifarious and multifaceted

And ever expanding

Recognize this force!

Nishchintapur

Perhaps in justifying the need for ethnography Sherry Ortner writes that “people live in worlds of meaning as well as of material conditions” (see http://aotcpress.com/articles/neoliberalism/ for details). When visiting the people at Nischchintapur, we saw how that meaning was being constructed. Yes, workers there were working in extremely difficult work conditions. The factory which caught fire did not have a fire exit. The factory’s fire certificate was expired. Gates were closed when the fire broke out, a heinous practice to say the least. All the expected disastrous effects of neoliberalism were there in NisOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhchintapur.

Yet, we saw life in its full smile too. A whole suburb was developing in the area. People lived in small rented property called “room”. People knew each other. A good number of them came from a particular place (from one of the northwestern districts of Bangladesh. In small rooms husbands and wives with children made a living. Often both worked in nearby factories. In one instance, the small compound made for these migrated families were extremely clean and well kept. In one house, which we visited a small child was watching his daily bout of cartoon network just like “our” children. Some one was feeding him. We came to know that his mother never returned after fire.

It is to these meanings of life we must explore and relate to in addition to understanding the broad dynamics of neoliberalism.

An anti essentialist manifesto of Shahbagh: some discomforting thoughts

By Mahmudul Sumon

Ever since the start of Shahbagh affair, I have found myself with some discomforting thoughts with regard to certain expressions on the ground. Every body knows that this was a non-violent movement. Yet, some of the slogans during the pick of the movement were violent in nature: akta akta shibir dhar, shibir dhaira jabai kor. I wondered whether that is all I would like to do as an activist. I write this fully knowing that this is what Shibir and Jamati politics is all about in Bangladesh.

However, that was not the only slogan in Shahbagh. Most students, ordinary citizens and blogger-activists (who initially organized the event) on the ground were chanting slogans for death penalty of the Rajakars of 1971 war. Shahbagh, one may say, was the assemblage of many symbols: of self and other. Different poster expressions, of the Rajakars was also a kind of problem for me. It smacked of narrow nationalistic zeal where there is always a need for an “enemy”/ “other”. Shahbagh, through its sloganeering reminded me all of that and made me uneasy. Was countering Jamati violence in the same language as Jamat an answer? There were also some other issues: slogans such as “who are you, who am I: Bengali Bengali” was also discomforting as this sounded exclusionary and hegemonic and did not recognize the other ethnicities than the Bengalis in Bangladesh. (this slogan of course changed later).

On the ground though, people were increasingly divided in the wake of Shahbagh movement (my friends are unsure as to whether we should call it a movement or not). Like almost every other political issue in Bangladesh, we have seen a clear cut position on the verdict of war crimes tribunal. Some supported it while others opposed it, often according to political taste. For me this was again a case of how sharply people due to some discursive shifts (verdict etc) changed from proximity to identity, a topic heavily dealt with in theories of group and collective identity formation. Images of violence on TV (both state violence and violence against the state perpetrated by Jamat and BNP) were also an important issue during the Shahbagh movement. After 2nd and 3rd verdict, respectively of Kader Mollah and Delwar Hossain Saydee, the political party directly impacted by the verdict, were calling strikes and this ensured violence of many forms. All of these, often shown live on TV accentuated different formations of identity, often forcing one to take a side.

Such a situation was also discomforting as this requires one to take a position and I for one cannot agree with any essentialist narrative of self and identity. Shahbagh was for sure vouching one (Bengali identity). Why an essentialist narrative of self and identity is theoretically problematic? Firstly, there is an issue of construction. Such narratives remind us of Colonialism, of the enormous activities of knowledge-power. It is a reminder of a particular brand of elite history which has been internalized. Secondly, hearing such narratives, I wondered what purposes are being served. Is not this almost similar to the discourses we keep on hearing from all the different primordialist/ essentialist groups in South Asia and other places of the world? In colonial situations, such originary claims are best understood if we take into consideration the concept of modernity in this part of the world. The main feature of this discourse is to claim origin to a land or territory.

Events at the Balkans, or the gruesome Hutu-Tutsi conflict due to some form of national cosmology (in the words of Malkki) in Africa and some other long standing “ethnic” and “tribal” conflicts have made me critical of any essentialist reading of identity, be it in Europe, Africa or South Asia. Scholars have pointed out that such assertions are essentially modern and bourgeoisie and are often in the hands of the elite. If we just look around “us” we will start gathering more such evidences.

Thus, I too have my share of anti essentialism with regard to question of nationalism and nationalist identity. For few days, I viewed Shahbagh with lots of apprehensions. Singular answer to sloganeering such as “who am I who are you: Bengali, Bengali” seemed problematic to me. Chanting this slogan was difficult because this “other” ed people in the country and vouched for a majoritarian discourse. This was simply a tool of governmentality. By shouting at the top of the voice about Bengali, I was afraid that I was subsuming to that power and thereby doing injustice to the population in the country who were not necessarily Bengali but Pahari, Adivasi and other identities.

Since all this begun after Kader Mollah’s verdict, one day I asked a rickshawalla a very precise question: What do you think about the verdict? By that time both the verdicts were declared so I asked about Saydee verdict too. The rickshawalla who was riding me through a Dhanmondi road on a hartal day (An innovation of Bangladeshi politics where power politicians play with Molotov cocktails, middle class boys and men and not girls and women play cricket on the streets and working class people go to work amidst fear of getting stuck by a homemade bomb) paused a bit: “Look, I don’t have an opinion on this but…it is not fair to kill so many people just for one person…law is equal for all…isn’t it? If you have done wrong you have to be punished”.

I asked him again: who is doing all these killings? His reply, “I mean all that is happening, these hartals…at the end of the day I am a rickshawalla…no matter who comes in power I have to eke out a living from rickshaw pulling and today I am scared of coming to the road”. Listening to this I hurriedly add, “I am scared too! I don’t want to die from a Molotov cocktail”. I kept thinking about the rickshawalla afterwards. How quickly he is down to some basics. He is young, and energetic, half of my age I guess. He does not support all this violence. It appears that he is not so sure about what we often term as “state violence”. For him things are pretty simple. It is simple math of power politics. In his imagination state is something given and there not anything that people can do about it. On the contrary he asks protection of his livelihood from the state. Nothing else, nothing more.

Later it occurred to me that perhaps we were making things complicated. We imagine things which are not there. Violence across the country on police stations and other government establishments by Jamati Islam (who use religion for politics in Bangladesh and elsewhere) are read as signs of the “rise of Islamism”. For me and I am sure many of us this latter phenomenon is an epistemic question, yet to be seen in Bangladesh. During Shahbagh movement we also saw use and misuse of words and terminologies. Death casualties to assuage Jamati violence was termed as genocide by one intellectual of Bangladesh. Perhaps he thought that in such violence lay the seed of Islamic epistemology. For me this is simply equating apple with bananas. Fire in the masque by Jamati activists were termed as anarchism by the PM. For me again anarchism has a deeper philosophical meaning although the power in question hardly recognizes this here or for that matter anywhere in the world. I condemn such misuse of terms. This misguides people. In the midst of all this misguidance we do not see how children and women are used in the name of “saving Islam”. Concurrently, we also miss how people die under state patronage.

The rickshawalla I speak to reduces things to basics. For him state violence is normalized. He does not see state as an immediate threat to his being. Like it or not, he asks the state to give him shelter of his livelihood. I, however, felt close to the rickshawalla that day.