Tuesday, May 30, 2006


I met this woman.
And I am left groping for words to describe how awed I am.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Big dams and little people

India has 3,600 big dams that have devoured over 50 million people already, and the promised gains from the dams have still not arrived. The Indian Government remains unwilling to own up to the vast costs in terms of exclusivist policies, of ruined farm lands, of homes lost. And of human misery.

During the last 20 years of the Sardar Sarovar Dam-affected adivasis' struggle, people's participation at various stages - especially in the last year - has greatly strengthened the movement. What has been especially significant is how people's organisations, activists, students and intellectuals have worked together with the farmers and adivasis to make this their own movement, a true people's movement. Diverse programmes and events around the country - relay fasts, protests, artistic expressions, writings, and films - every action has been important to the struggle. From adivasis, dalits, slum dwellers, and farmers to public personalities, students, teachers, and politicians - people from across the country have raised their voices against this dominant model of unjust development and have begun a historic mission to fight for the truth.

This is a time for us to form one movement against the forces that work against democracy, that favour inhuman development paradigms while displacing people from their homes, lands, and livelihoods. These forces have set forth a great challenge before the people. To fight against every form of injustice as a single, collective strength.

Despite a tough month-long struggle and despite enough substantial field evidence (including that obtained from the Pol Khol Yatra) in support of their claims, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) cannot rest nor can they celebrate. The construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam continues. The killer dam, which will destroy and drown thousands of families and hundreds of villages, more so adivasi villages, is not just illegal but inhuman.

The new committee constituted by the PM, with Mr. V.K. Shunglu and two other government bureaucrats, has been asked to conduct a survey through the National Sample Survey Organisation from 19th May to 19th June. The committee has been assigned the task of surveying the number of displaced people, the land available, and the area to be submerged through a sample survey, and has been asked to aim to complete rehabilitation within 3 months.

Several agencies, including state and central government bodies have visited the valley, and the group of three ministers, including the Prime Minister, know that the construction of the dam is against the orders of the Supreme Court, yet neither the Prime Minister nor the Central government has intervened or taken a firm stand against it.

Can the rehabilitation of 35,000 families be completed in 3 months? When law and policies clearly call for allocation of land and house plots one year before submergence and for rehabilitation to be completed 6 months before submergence, why is a central government committee (that violates these legal provisions) being set up now?

The Supreme Court, after asking for affidavits from all affected parties, was to make a decision on the dam in February - which it delayed. Even after the 8th March decision of the Narmada Control Authority to raise the dam height to 121.92 metres, 2 months have lapsed without any order to halt the illegal construction of the dam. At the 1st May hearing, the Court postponed its judgement to 8th May, when again despite glaring evidence of failed rehabilitation, it refused to halt construction on the dam and decided to hear the matter on 7th July (after the report of the Shunglu Committee is submitted to the Prime Minister on June 30th).

This decision reflects a complete denial of justice by the country’s highest judicial institution. Despite evidence that the Court is violating its own orders, the construction on the dam continues incessantly. This will result in the evident submergence of adivasi villages, houses and fields, more so with the approaching monsoons. Given the circumstances, the report of the Shunglu Committee seems to have little purpose other than to conduct a post-mortem on the matter.

Across the country, the tide is rising against the rural and urban poor, farmers, and labourers. With large-scale infrastructure, development and city beautification projects displacing more and more people, the challenge before us is enormous. The struggle against the Sardar Sarovar dam is merely one example of this.

Please do not be a mute witness to injustices carried out on such a large scale. There is a growing and murderous development paradigm that is spreading across the country, even if it remains concealed from our own well-fed realities. Please find it in yourself to support the movement against displacement. Oppose violence against the poor. Speak up against forced evictions. Do not condone what is fast becoming state-sponsored murder.

The Convention of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) will be held in Bangalore from 30th May to 1st June. The meeting will discuss the critical issues facing us all across the country, to build greater solidarity across movements and communities, and to develop long-term strategies in support of people’s struggles.

For more details on the NAPM Convention, please write to: muktaATriseupDOTnet

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

I happened

Nothing happened to me, Officer Starling. I happened... You can't reduce me to a set of influences.

-- Hannibal Lecter to Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs

In a feminine tongue

Zubaan is planning to produce an anthology of short fiction showcasing new women writers from South Asia. Called the 'Zubaan book of new writing by young women', the book will focus on works by young writers in their 20s and 30s.

* The writers should be women of South Asian origin, but may be based anywhere in the world. Non-resident Indian writers as well as those in India are encouraged to write in.
* Stories can be of any length, ideally anywhere between 2-5,000 words, and should be complete stand-alone narratives.
* All submissions must be in English.
* The anthology will be of fictional writing, and a variety of genres will be included- from humourous pieces to science fiction, fantasy, detective stories, and other forms, which may fall under the general rubric of 'speculative fiction'.
* Preference will be given to unpublished stories.

Selection will be on merit, and the stories would be read by Zubaan's in-house editorial team. The final selection for inclusion would rest with the Editor.

Complete stories should be sent as word attachments to:
with the subject line "Submission for Young Writers Anthology". Along with their story, writers should email a short biography about themselves, including details of their published writings (if any).

Responsibility for the editing, design, production and sales of the book rests with the publishers. Copyright for individual pieces would rest with the respective authors, but rights in the anthology as a whole would rest with the publishers, who will actively pursue the sale of translation and co-publication rights for the book.
Selected writers will receive a modest fee for their work.

All submissions should be received by July 31st 2006.

Zubaan is a small independent feminist publisher, based in New Delhi. Headed by Urvashi Butalia, who co-founded India's first feminist press, Kali for Women, Zubaan is committed to publishing books by, for, on, and about women and women's issues in South Asia for an international market.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Tea-time rains

The rain is unexpected these days. It’s difficult to say whether summer will ever really arrive. Or if its here, but in an impish hide-and-seek mood. Or if it’s over already, bored that nobody wants to come out and play. It’s suddenly here and then suddenly gone.

I stretch in the afternoon heat on the office balcony. I put tea leaves out to soak in sunshine for iced sun-tea. I turn up the fan when my colleague isn’t looking. And knot my adamant hair as high as it’ll stay before coming undone on its own once more.

And when I step onto the balcony to retrieve my slow-brewed tea, the skies are dark and the strong, cool winds have already begun their dance through the streets, flirting with fallen leaves and napes of necks. It’s a sneaky little nip just when you’ve started to sweat. A kiss on the cheek. A pleasant surprise. A light shawl over your strappy top.

These days, the smell of roasted peanuts wafts over traffic to find one’s nose most efficiently. Pants are rolled up as puddles are navigated on half-tarred-half-mud roads. Polythene bags become wraparound, tie-up raincaps. Couples huddle close under shared umbrellas. Roadside chai shops do roaring business, selling sweet sweet chai to those who drain the warmth from plastic cups. Men in formals bend over to light their cigarettes from labourers squatting and smoking beedis on the footpath. Buses are shiny wet and cold on the outside, muddy-floored and warm on the inside.

And I add ice cubes to my sun-tea as the rain drenches the city in surprise.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Doing it in strange places

A commonly asked question at social justice events is, ‘What can I do to get more involved?’ This question is usually answered in one of three ways: send money, call politicians, and volunteer. Unfortunately, none of these fosters a sense of personal investment in an issue; neither does it offer a solution for how to be personally involved in solving injustices around the world. It also doesn't account for the lack of time, money and resources that voluntary organisations face, and which these three solutions require. What if we could just incorporate our politics into our every day lives, particularly into our seemingly apolitical careers?
In fact, that's exactly what most activists do.

Call for Submissions - Young Women's Anthology

"Doing it in Strange Places... And Making Change: Young Women Fighting for Social Justice"

In this anthology, young women from all walks of life who have found creative ways to use their job/career/talent/passion (from writing to banking to computer programming to being a homemaker) as an outlet for social justice activism, are encouraged to write in.

The end result will be an anthology that makes activism more accessible and inspiring for others to use the resources they already have to contribute to social justice. Changing the world won't happen over night, so let's share our daily successes and strategies for making all of our visions of a better world possible.

Writers of all experience levels are encouraged to submit work. All work must be original and should not be published elsewhere.

Submission Guidelines

* "Young" is about how you self-identify. There are no age limits.
* Submissions should be sent via email in a Word or Rich Text Format document to mandy_vandevenATyahooDOTcom
with "Doing it in Strange Places" in the subject line.

Submissions can also be mailed to:
Mandy Van Deven
955 Metropolitan Ave, #4R
Brooklyn, NY 11211

* If you'd like your submission returned, please include a SASE.
* Word count: 2,500 - 5,000
* All submissions require your name, address, phone number, email address, and a short bio.

Send your submissions by May 15, 2006.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Lightning goddess

Photo courtesy: Morquendi

What's a reunion without a little drama?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

My deviant day

Today is a day for aberrations.
Ice cream and potato chips for breakfast.
Toast and chocolate biscuits for lunch.
The tease of a playful cloudburst by my staid window.
A late afternoon omelette.
No work tip-toeing its way onto tomorrow’s list of things to do.
Tomato juice for tea.
And rapture while sifting through stacks of dusty, disinterested print.
For dinner, another ice cream meal is in order.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


You play tourist well, he says. Your eyes become wider. Your voice and hands grow animated.

I pretend to take offence and stop talking for a while. The straps of my backpack leave wrinkles on thin-weave cotton. Grooves at my shoulders develop when I walk for long, my body accommodating the extra weight like a detachable, semi-permanent physical feature.

You play worldly well, I tell him. And we share a smile as we did years ago in another city. I’m suddenly aware of the thin film of sweat that clings to us both. Shiny shoulders and forearms in the heat of an indifferent afternoon. He says I find everything exotic when I’m in a place called elsewhere.

I stretch. We reach for our knapsacks. And agree to meet in another city. Another time.