June 20, 2005
Out of sight
I called it "Anonymous on the maidan", but Mid-Day chose to call it Out of sight, out of mind: my Monday column for them, and you don't have to tell me which title you prefer.
Posted by Dilip D'Souza / 10:27 AM
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Dilip Says - "Only, there’s nobody to listen but the other protesters. Undermines the idea of democracy — the idea that all citizens must have a voice — but who’s listening to that either?"
He seems to be making the assumption that democracy not only implies everyone should have a voice, but also that everyone else should be forced to listen. Sorry, Dilip, you have the two confused.
Everyone does have a voice. You went to Azad maidan to listen; other interested people can do so too. What stops them?
You may consider "rasta rokos" as people expressing themselves, but for those who are uninterested, it is a terrible inconvenience that they should not be forced to endure.
Only leftist dimwits can confuse forcing people with freedom!
What is the idea of democracy that I'm getting at? That everyone should have a voice. To me, shunting the protesters into Azad Maidan effectively stunts that voice. That's it.
Let's say I told you, you have a problem with the way your government runs, that's fine. Shout as much as you want about it, but you have to stay in your flat and do it. After all, anyone who wants to listen can come to your flat and listen, can't they?
Would this amount to stunting your voice? To me it seems so.
Now to me the force seems to be in keeping you in your flat -- or the protesters to one corner of Azad Maidan (after all, they aren't going to that corner voluntarily) -- but hey, that's apparently freedom. Leftist dimwits clearly can't see it.
Neela, does that make it clearer?
I'm all for the study of attitudes and behaviour. Problem is, in the meantime there are thousands of people living on the rubble of their homes and the monsoon is upon us.
A quick question - if you disagree with everything that Dilip writes, why do you religiously read his blog?
Also, please post more often. I like reading your logic.
"everyone does have a voice" is true only literally. you can't 'have a voice' without someone listening. you can't have a rasta roko without someone stopping to listen. protest doesn't work unless someone is affected enough to wonder what has happened and why it has happened. otherwise it's just a voice blowing in the wind.
- just another dimwit who stopped by at the party.
What do you suggest that needs to be done to make their voices "heard"? Even if the government allows the demonstrations to be held in the whole of Azad Maidan, it doesn't change what you are saying. What more is needed?
Dilip, you need to understand the concept of private property and freedom clearly. People have the right to speak; they also have the right to do anything legal within their private property.
On the other hand, they have no right to trespass into others' property or prevent others from accessing and using public property. Similary, they should realize that others have a right NOT to listen.
I am not sure which part of this is hard to understand.
You say the protesters have been shunted to some place. Well, what stops them from writing down pamphlets and going door-to-door, distributing them? They could also take out ads in the media (assuming they have the resources for it).
If you have a valid point to make and want to "voice" opinions that others would like to hear, there are plenty of ways to do it and reach people. In fact, depending on the topic and how it is presented, people will throng to listen. There are many ways to do this without inconveniencing others and if your friends are really dedicated, they will find a way.
All this can be boiled down to simple principles. But, let us not get very theoretical.
Just remember, when Gandhi wanted to protest, he did not force others to starve. He stayed within his abode (flat, if you will) and fasted himself. That, my friend, is greatness.
Cristina, I got an email from a few like-minded friends who read this blog regularly and wanted me to post comments as well. Hence my interest here. Also, it goes without saying that Dilip is an excellent writer and commentator.
more voices, eswaran. it's not to do with the state. it's to do with us. whether we speak, and whether we listen.
oh, and if you "voice" opinions that others would like to hear, they'll hear it even if you don't say a word.
but if you want to say something that other do not want to hear, you can go on shouting till you're blue in the face and they won't hear you.
Eswaran (and Sriram, for that matter): who has heard and paid attention to the Maharashtra Electropathy Doctor's Association? As far as I can tell, I'm the only journalist who has written anywhere that they are on dharna in Azad Maidan, and I didn't even stop to ask them what their demands were. The governments like this: nobody pays attention to these guys, so they need not either. That is the whole purpose of pushing these people into Azad Maidan: that nobody will listen to their protest.
After all, if governments were so concerned about inconveniencing the public, they might just have also done away with convoys of cars and police jeeps for VIPs that snarl traffic and inconvenience thousands of people.
Of course the slum dwellers look for other ways to make themselves heard, evidence for that being this very discussion itself.
But I believe it is wrong for a government to decide that protests must be confined to one small corner of a city.
Sriram, since you bring up rasta rokos again, let me pose to you again the question you evaded answering here. This is the question: why did the police assault one crowd that staged a rasta roko and inconvenienced thousands, but not the other crowd that staged a rasta roko and inconvenienced thousands? I look forward to your answer.
Dilip, I am no apologist for the police (or anything related to the state, you should have known by now). I was not present for the two rasta rokos and hence, it is impossible for me to explain why one was lathi charged and one not.
If we assume that both the rokos behaved the same way and inconvenienced people to a similar extent, then the police should have dealt with them in a similar fashion as well. I see your point there and totally agree.
All I am saying is that there are too many specific "ifs" there.
I oppose all rasta rokos as I see them as a form of force and I am opposed to all force. Hope my stand is clearer now.
Your sharp slap on fiddling while Rome burns was well taken - which is why I deleted my comment seeing that it appeared inappropriate at this time.
To be entirely fair however, your article is as devoid of concrete actions and suggestions as my treatise on attitudes and behavior.
Perhaps you believe your readers should think for themselves and that your role is to merely spread awareness of injustices. I have no quarrel with that. But many of your readers (like me) have neither capacity (time, ability, opportunity) nor resources to think through what they can actually do to help especially in situations like this which seem so overwhelming. In such a context, the suggestions of one who has thought deeply about this and spent time on the ground would be helpful.
I have questions in three basic areas:
- Are there organizations who are working with the slum dwellers to protest? How do they work? Do they register complaints? Do they rehabilitate the homeless? In your experience of meeting so many of the homeless and disenfranchised, which organizations do you think are genuinely helping them? Do they have websites? What can we do to help? Do they require funds? Time? Volunteers?
- How can we protest effectively? Would letter writing help? Has it helped in the past? If it has to help how must it be done? To whom should we protest/write?
- What can people who are not based in Mumbai do? Any suggestions on how they might spread awareness for this? I would prefer to support an organization already protesting as I have neither the energy nor the creative ability to register a successful protest individually.
Perhaps you will read this and weep. Yet another clueless upper-middle class armchair sympathiser sitting in her warm home and making herself feel better by doing nothing while professing loving thoughts. And perhaps you will write more articles on the moral bankruptcy of People Like Us.
To pre-empt you I will say this: Pardon my ignorance. And my cluelessness. (And while you are at it, my long comment). And Just Tell Me.
I also realised on re-reading that the "to merely spread awareness of injustice" was trivializing. I meant to delete the "merely" (which in any case was meant to mean "exclusively" or "only" rather than "merely") but thecomment is already published and short of deleting it, there's nothing I can do.
Why do you take it as a sharp slap in the first place? I meant it: We must study attitudes, and it should happen, preferably, right away. I also meant, there's an urgency about finding a solution to the housing problems of these people right away too.
But as for solutions: what makes you think that because I write about the problems, I'm any more qualified (time-wise, knowledge-wise, anything-wise) to offer solutions? What makes you think I would dismiss what you, or anyone, says as "Yet another clueless upper-middle class armchair sympathiser sitting in her warm home and making herself feel better by doing nothing while professing loving thoughts", or "morally bankrupt"?
I take what you say seriously, and try to react in that spirit.
But anyway: solutions. Things We Can Do. What are they?
First, don't demolish slums. I believe this is the surest way to spread poverty we have yet come up with.
Second, get rid of the Rent Control Act; the surest suppressor of affordable rental housing in this city.
Third, open up government-owned vacant land and give it to slumdwellers to live on; provide essential services like water/sewage.
Fourth, remove the oppressive licensing mechanisms that exist only to harrass the poor and keep them in a permanent shadow of supposed "illegality".
Things in that vein.
It's late here, I'll attempt replies to your other questions tomorrow.
I think that you ARE more qualified precisely because you have much greater knowledge of this topic than I do. Anyone who writes thoughtfully on something for many months has obviously researched it carefully and out of that research comes knowledge. If not you, who?
Having said that, I don't expect you to come up with The Perfect Solution (I would've said The Final Solution but thats too gruesome even for me). But I think that you will have very useful suggestions that people like us can appreciate and perhaps take forward.
Unfortunately the 4 that you have listed, while undoubtedly important are not doable by me:
1. Don't demolish slums - Ok, except I never have and don't want to either.
2. Get Rid of the Rent Control Act - again I agree, but not something I could do
3. Open up government owned vacant land: No idea how to do this (believe me I would like to - I was appalled to read that there are nearly 600 acres of mill land that are lying vacant or will be converted ot high-rise buildings/discos while the slums clear out a 100 acres or so. Also that the Godrejs have 3500 acres of land in Vikhroli! And also that slums only occupy around 8% or so ofland in Mumbai - so much for encroachment. And they consume less than 5% or so of water. This was just a hurried search on google last night, so not even sure if these facts are correct. But these facts were unkonwn to me and I might venture that many of the People Like Us are not aware either.
But again, aside from not patronizing those discos that are coming up on mill land, there's not much else I could do in (3).
4. Remove oppressive licensing mechanisms etc. Again..
Perhaps if I joined voices with a million other middle class people we could make enough noise that all 4 get done. But getting a million people together would qualify as a long term solution. And as you wrote, long term solutions are important but the monsoon is fast approaching..
Neela, some more answers.
There are plenty of organizations working with slum dwellers. The NAPM is one, SPARC is another, Akanksha is a third (as you know), smaller and more local groups ... some need money, some need volunteers. My suggestion would be to get in touch with them and ask how you can contribute.
Letter writing has been effective in the past. Earlier this year people wrote letters to the CM protesting the demolition of slums. It went on nevertheless, not least because there was apparently more vocal support for demolishing them.
Outside Bom, and in the US, try getting in touch with your local chapter of AID (www.aidindia.org). They will have some ideas. An impressive organization all around.
I am not in the habit of deriding anyone for being "clueless" and "armchair sympathizers." Nor am I particularly qualified to find solutions, really.
Thanks very much. I don't know much about AID India, except for you tsunami reports. I'll definitely get in touch with them.
Do keep writing even if you don't think you have the solutions and you have people like me nagging you for them! We look merely for suggestions from a knowledgeable source, not neatly packaged solutions in a blue capsule.
Speaking for myself, my awareness of this issue has increased especially since I don't get to read any of this in the mainstream papers. On the other hand if you were to write about which designer Gayatri Joshi has chosen for her 7 lakh lehenga, then i would have to choose between reading your blog and the Times of India. So do keep writing.
AID..is it the guys listed in here?
Neela, welcome to AID - the organization that marches in San Francisco with the Pakistan-American Alliance, waving banners saying: "Death to America! Allah Will
Destroy Terrorist India!"
Actually, the banners ended up saying: "Dath to AriMdecca!" and "Allah Will Destory Terrist India!"
We need peepal like you - you can spell. As long you don't spoil that by starting bad habits like THINKING, you will be most welcome in AID. However if you stard such bad habits, you vill be PURGED like we did to all the DYFI links on our website.
Look at Dilip here - perfect example. Rich parents, paid for education even at Arimeccan universitty, claims to have got Degree in Master-something, though there is some doubt about what that something is. Yet, he is so nice. Accompanied AID-DYFI-SFI and the CPI(Maoist) Sakhavs (comrades) all over Eastern India, yet kept writing that they are completely non-political. Perfect. Being like Dilip is sooo much easier than thinking.
So please email AID and become volunteer now. Contact us at AID-INDIA@ummah.com
Allha ho Abkar!
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