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Gauri Lankesh Killed for Rs 13,000 says Parshuram Waghmare   #WTFnews

Gauri Lankesh Murder: Killed The Journalist For Rs 13,000, Says Prime Accused Parshuram Waghmare

Gauri Lankesh Murder: Killed The Journalist For Rs 13,000, Says Prime Accused Parshuram Waghmare

Journalists paying tribute to slain journalist Gauri Lankesh | File Image | (Photo Credits: PTI)

Bengaluru, June 18: Parshuram Waghmare, the main accused in the Gauri Lankesh murder case, has said that he killed the Bengaluru journalist for Rs 13,000. A report by Mirror Now TV on Monday said that Parshuram has told the investigating agencies about the amount that was paid to him to kill Lankesh.

Waghmare had reportedly last month confessed to having killed Lankesh. Waghmare reportedly told SIT, “I was told in May 2017 I had to kill someone to save my religion. I agreed. I didn’t know who the victim was. Now, I feel that I should not have killed the woman.” (Also Read: Sri Ram Sene chief Pramod Muthalik Compares Gauri Lankesh Murder With Dog’s Death)

Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara said that a chargesheet will be filed in the case once the probe in the murder case is completed. “I do not want to reveal anything as the investigation is going on, any statements of mine shouldn’t affect the investigation. Once the probe is complete charge sheet will be filed and further process of law will take place,” Parameshwara told reporters in Bengaluru.

On June 12, the SIT arrested Waghmare in Karnataka’s Sindhagi city, who is suspected to have killed Lankesh. Furthermore, five persons – K.T. Naveen Kumar alias Hotte Manja, Amol Kale, Manohar Edve, Sujeeth Kumar alias Praveen and Amit Degvekar were arrested in connection with the case.

Gauri Lankesh was shot dead outside her Bengaluru residence on September 5, 2017

Related posts

Prof Shoma Sen – Class Struggle and Patriarchy – Women in the Maoist Movement

By Shoma Sen, professor at Nagpur University. Published in Economic & Political Weekly, May 2017.

In the 50 years since Naxalbari, women have made a significant contribution to the growth of the Maoist movement, breaking free from many of the shackles that bind women down in Indian society. This article discusses the role of women and the question of patriarchy in this stream of the Naxalite movement on the basis of the literature available.

Class Struggle and Patriarchy – Women in the Maoist MovementClass Struggle and Patriarchy – Women in the Maoist Movement


In an unpublished letter, “An Open Letter to Krishna Bandyopadhyay,” written to Krishna Bandyopadhyay in 2008 (1), Nishita (probably a pseudonym) expressed her affinity with Krishna and then argued why, in spite of the prevailing patriarchy within the Naxalite movement, she (Nishita) chose to stay and fight, claiming that women have succeeded in occupying almost half of the Maoist sky. Krishna herself had ended her article published in this journal by saying,

But today I feel that if all of us had continued and sustained it, we women would have stood side by side with the men and had an equal say in decision-making. Perhaps the history of the Naxalbari movement would have been written differently then. (Bandyo- padhyay 2008: 59)

Nishita has expressed her regret that women activists of her generation never met the inspiring Krishna and others who sparked that initial prairie fire. If they could have met, she says, “then we would have been spared some of the battles which we had to wage inside the party.” Fifty years after that Spring Thunder, nine years after Bandyopadhyay’s article, and Nishita’s letter, where do women stand in the Naxalite/Maoist movement?

The Communist Party of India (Marxist– Leninist) (CPI(ML)), formed in 1969, splintered into various factions, some of which are still active and have their own women’s organisations comprising the broader ML or Naxalite movement. Since 2004, when the CPI(ML) (People’s War) [CPI(ML)(PW)] and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) joined to form the CPI(Maoist), the activities of this party and the mass organisations close to it have been generally referred to as the Maoist movement. This article discusses the role of women and the question of patriarchy in this stream of the Naxalite (Maoist) movement on the basis of literature available. Due to strategic reasons, as well as state repression, this movement was pushed into being based largely in tribal areas, in the deep forests, with some work in plain areas and urban areas where women have also been active in student organisations, trade unions or women’s organisations.

Women’s Organisations

Bhattacharyya (2016) points out how the story of Naxalbari begins with women. Policeman Sonam Wangdi was hit by an arrow shot by a tribal woman at Naxalbari on 24 May 1967. On the next day, of the 11 peasants who were gunned down by the police, eight were women, two holding their babies. Reviewing the literature of the 1970s, Bhattacharyya finds that though the programme of the CPI(ML) asserts that the people’s democratic state would “guarantee equality of status to women,” the party did not feel the need to form separate women’s organisations. Women actively participated in the peasant struggles that spread across Telangana and central Bihar and in the squads of Srikakulam, bearing immense difficulties, falling to police bullets for one cause: new democratic revolution.

In the 1980s, a consciousness of sectional movements made the ML parties think deeply about strategies regarding caste, gender and the nationality question. Women sympathetic to one of the ML factions, the Chandra Pulla Reddy group, that later evolved into the Janashakti party, began the first women’s organisation with ML leanings in the 1970s — the Progressive Organisation of Women (POW). In the 1980s, in Bihar, the Party Unity group of the CPI(ML) that worked mainly among peasants had Mazdoor Kisan Sangram Samiti and a Nari Mukti Sangram Samiti. The MCC began an organisation for women called Nari Mukti Sangh that is still active, mostly amongst tribal women of Jharkhand. Several women organisations with sympathies towards CPI(ML)(PW) were also formed in many urban centres in Andhra Pradesh (AP) between 1985 and 1995.

A women’s magazine in Telugu called Mahila Margam was started in 1989 in AP by women with a revolutionary ideology. It has been running for the past almost three decades. In 1995, the CPI(ML)(PW) formed Viplav Mahila Sangham (VMS) in the villages of the areas where armed peasant struggle was going on. In the tribal areas of AP, this was called Adivasi Viplav Mahila Sangham. In AP, the POW organised the women bidi workers in Karimnagar, Nizamabad and other districts. The VMS took up land struggles as well as those against feudal forms of sexual and labour coercion that was traditionally prevalent in the area. Working along with the Rythu Coolie Sangam (RCS or Peasant Workers Association), they occupied huge tracts of land illegally owned by landlords and marked with red flags, as their own:

It is a decision of RCS and VMS that when lands are taken over and distributed, women should also be given titles to the lands independently and this is also being implemented wherever the revolutionary movement is being able to give titles to the land. (Ghandy 2011: 217)

In 1980, the CPI(ML)(PW) sent its first squads into the forests of central India, called Dandakaranya, and started forming peasant organisations there. As many tribal women work in agriculture and tendu leaf collection, they too became active in these struggles for higher wages and land to the tiller. In 1986, the Adivasi Mahila Sanghatan (AMS) was formed and later in 1991, it was renamed as the Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangathan (KAMS) after it was consolidated at the division level in Gadchiroli.

KAMS Document

An account of its history has been published in Telugu and also translated into English but not yet published. From this account, it becomes evident that it is a huge women’s organisation. Just as it identifies the class issues, it is also intensely aware of how patriarchy affects this society though it bemoans that it cannot always fight this kind of patriarchy. This document claims that 50,000 acres of forestlands were seized by Adivasis and tilled. Women played a key role, “more crucial in this struggle than men” (Kurpu 2010: 23). It traces the history of how upper-caste landlords had migrated from the West Godavari district of AP and from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to the areas of Bastar, married Adivasi women to acquire land, and where sexual exploitation of women was rampant. The presence of the KAMS and the Naxalite squads countered this practice. Apart from the sexual exploitation by “outsiders,” the KAMS writer describes the “internal patriarchy” of Gond tribal society like forced marriages, polygamy, kanyasulkam or bride price, etc.  At the economic level, daughters cannot inherit land. They are not allowed to sow seeds, or to enter the granary. They cannot thresh the grain. Superstitions about menstruation make it necessary for women to sit outside the home or in huts where food is brought to them.

In Gadchiroli, married women used to be forced to stop wearing blouses. The KAMS began a takkelladu lon hodiya (let the girls enter the granaries) campaign (Kurpu 2010: 32). They also tried to burn the korma lon (huts for menstruating women) but it was not well accepted by the tribal society. KAMS activists feel that they need to make the people understand things better before taking such decisions.

As there are many kinds of marriage practices amongst Gonds, the KAMS decided to encourage one of them called lon hodiya (entering the home). In this custom, if a girl likes a boy she is supposed to enter his home and start living with his family.Thentheparentswouldtalktoeach other and their marriage would be fixed. In an open public meeting on 8 March in a village, KAMS activists encouraged an open declaration of love by asking couples who wanted to marry to come forward and hold hands. KAMS also intervenes in cases of forced marriages, domestic violence, witch-hunt and divorce, holding “people’s courts” to openly discuss these issues and take collective decisions, making the “personal into the political.”

One of the important institutions of Gond society is the gotul. This used to be a centre for youngsters to learn their tra- ditional knowledge, to relax after a hard day’s work, interact, sing, dance and en- joy themselves. It was also a place for the boys and girls to seek out partners. Pre-marital sex is not looked down upon and even if a boy or girl does not want to marry the one with whom he or she has had sex, s/he is encouraged to look for another partner. However, the KAMS document feels that in the present times, the gotul has become a place where young men dominate, deciding who will sleep with whom, do not take up responsibility for a girl who may get pregnant and make the girls do the work like fetching fire- wood, etc. The KAMS wants to turn the gotul into more of a place where learn- ing is encouraged along with discussion and decision-making, where the focus is on gender equality. Many Gond women have demanded that gotuls should be closed down because they are forced to dance and have sexual relations in these places (Kurpu 2010: 36).

The leadership of KAMS feels strongly that they should fight the internal patri- archy of tribal society, like inheritance of land and regarding agricultural practic- es. In the areas where, they claim, the janatana sarkars (people’s governments) are ruling, and women have been given responsible higher posts, the KAMS en- couraged Gond women to go against their community’s superstitions and sow the seeds. The document says that fortu- nately, the weather bore with them and there was a bumper crop!

The KAMS also takes up political issues like the attack on Iraq by the United States, army atrocities in Kashmir, commemorating 6 December as Anti-Hindu-Communalism Day, torchlight procession and burning of ministers’ effigies when Thangjam Manorama was raped and killed in Manipur, etc. They have been publishing two magazines since 1996: Poru Mahila in Telugu and Sangharshrat Mahila in Hindi, and stated that they ought to publish more in Koya, the language of the Gonds. It is in this context that one can see how the Salwa Judum targeted women leaders, since the old feudal forces amongst the tribal people do not want these changes and have aligned with the state to unleash the most heinous forms of repression in Chhattisgarh.

Undoubtedly, a movement that is seen as “terrorist” by the Indian state will have faced severe repressions. Much of the published literature of the Maoists is based upon the lives of such women who had been martyred to the cause. The foreword of a booklet called Women Martyrs of the Indian Revolution, hails the sacrifices of Panchadi Nirmala, Snehlata, Padma, Rajitha, Aruna and others.

Conference Note

Many questions are raised in the context of armed insurgency and women’s involvement regarding their agency in these movements. Are they predominantly male groups and parties which are “using” women’s power in this violent struggle to fulfil their own ends? If this question was to be applied to the Naxalite movement, one would find ample evidence in the literature accessible in the media to say that, by and large, women go through a consciousness raising process so that they generally understand what they are doing and why they are struggling.

A small report by two urban activists, Latha and Sujata, who had attended the conference of KAMS in 1991, observed that 40 delegates representing 1,000 village units of KAMS had come for the conference. There were tribal women in- volved in all aspects of volunteer work like cutting down trees and making benches, levelling the ground, etc. There was a great deal of dancing and singing, sometimes all through the night. The observers felt that the Naxalite squads had a major role in initiating the women’s groups. As the women spoke in the conference, they seemed to generally begin their narrations with “The squad came into our village, then…”.

Initially, the male squad members took it for granted that the Adivasi women would cook for them and would participate along with menfolk in the tendu patta struggles. But there were commu- nist revolutionaries who were women in the squads and they began meeting the Gond women separately to form a women’s organisation. Though initially the tribal men did feel threatened by separate women’s organisations, the confe- rence report observes that “they have also succeeded in gradually eradicating the patriarchal attitudes prevailing in their own men” (Latha and Sujata 1991: 7). It was the Adivasi women who chal- lenged the protective patriarchy of the early squads and fought to join them as if to say that if they could fling an arrow, they could also wield a gun.

Party Documents

The seminal document outlining the Maoist party’s understanding on these issues is called “Our Approach to the Women’s Question.” Bhattacharyya uses the documents of the CPI(ML)(PW)/Maoist to discuss the attitudes of this party towards the women’s question and patriarchy such as “the approach of our party in building a revolutionary women’s movement” (Bhattacharyya 2016: 308). The 2001 Circular, “Fight against Patriarchal Thinking within the Party and Promote Proletarian Culture” clearly shows that the Maoist party acknowledges the existence of patriarchy within its ranks.

As per the report of the Ninth Congress held in 2007, the Maoist party accepted the prevalence of patriarchy as one of its shortcomings and decided to resolve this problem. A question was also sometimes raised about whether women could rise to the leadership in the Maoist party. One has read of two women, the late Anuradha Ghandy and a recently freed political prisoner, Sheela Didi, an Adivasi woman, as being the two women members of the central committee, while a number of state committees and divisional committees have women. Thirty percent of the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army comprises women and there are some military formations like squads and platoons which are exclusively made up of and led by women. Some of the recently released political prisoners who held important positions in the party prior to their arrest have shared with me, in interviews, their experiences that do speak of their difficulties in leading men and all male committees in some areas. Others, like Nishita, avow that they have worked with “excellent men comrades who can be called the best human beings to have existed on this earth with regard to women.”

In her book, Srila Roy (2012) has talked about the glorification of the heroism of the Naxalite movement in the memories of women, where sacrifice is seen as the greatest virtue. In this vein, I can recall a conversation with a woman activist, who was a wonderful mass leader, who hated housework and everything feminine and joined the movement in her young days because it allowed her a reversal of gender roles. But circumstances pushed her into the underground movement where she had to live in the guise of an “ordinary woman” to avoid suspicion and practise a backward gender reversal.

Bhattacharyya also mentions about a 1999 Circular which says, “Let us cast away the alien class tendencies regarding sex, marriage and family from our party!” He finds it as “unique” and “most valuable” because these are the areas which political parties and groups prefer to remain silent upon, or they follow the prevailing traditions (Bhattacharyya 2016: 308). That a circular would be written to encourage women to rebel against the domination of their male partners or leaders if there is a wrong trend; that the circular lashes out against men for belittling women and criticises women for undermining themselves; that it also works out norms for marriage, divorce and re-marriage is indeed unusual. Being meant largely for those involved in guerrilla warfare, for whom discipline and concentration is a way of life; the circular prohibits pre-marital and extra-marital sex; encourages self-choice marriages with the knowledge of the experienced and leading group members; and warns against the jealousy of male activists towards their female partners. It also feels that live-in relationships and casual relationships are anarchic, causing confusion and emotional disturbances that the disciplined life of revolutionaries cannot accommodate. In the past year, a section of students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, who worked in a student organisation sympathetic to Maoist politics, broke away from this group criticising the leadership of the RDF that subscribes to Maoist ideology of having feudal patriarchal views.

Thus, the above-mentioned circular and the norms it prescribes have come under criticism from a section of young radicals. Similarly, the Maoist party and women’s organisations close to it have been campaigning against the consumption of liquor among the rural people making it a norm for its activists to avoid drinking. This again is a matter of debate in urban areas or among urban students, where young men and women smoking and drinking or living together are becoming more prevalent. However, the question does arise whether the norms that prevail in metro cities can be used to generalise on issues of morality and ethics in rural areas. Similarly, norms that hold good in tribal areas do not hold water in mainstream rural society. This is the view of a recently released political prisoner and woman activist B Anuradha, who says, “Marxist ideology gives utmost importance to concrete analysis before generalising and both have a dialectical relation.” (2)

Urban Women’s Movements

The Naxalite movement, and Marxism–Leninism–Maoism, the ideology guiding it, has had a far-reaching impact on the people of India and abroad. In India, many urban women who were thus motivated had become activists. They might have worked amongst the working class, students, white collar unions or civil liberties groups as well as in women’s organisations. Many of these women’s organisations were not organically linked to any Naxalite faction or Maoist party, but some of its members sympathised with this ideology. Such women’s groups took up many struggles pertaining to rape and sexual assault, domestic violence, acid attacks, sex-selective abortions, Hindutva and women, commodification of women in beauty pageants, globalisation and the issues of women workers, the special economic zones as well as state repression on tribal women as in Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh or Sendra in Jharkhand, women political prisoners, women killed in false encounters, etc.

The issues of displacement in the present model of development in Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and West Bengal as in Nandigram, Singur and Lalgarh and repression of such movements were also taken up. Believing in the unity of all women’s organisations, these groups worked with the Autonomous Women’s Movement, hosting one of its conferences in Tirupati in 1991. Women activists participated in the cultural movement with skits, songs and dances based upon folk forms and had recorded these popular songs written and performed by women in CDs and cassettes. Women’s magazines in various languages have been published, sold in offices, colleges and community settlements, bringing the discourse of women’s liberation to the ordinary small-town women and giving them a space for their own views. Writers, poets and cultural activists of both sexes, part of revolutionary politics have had seminars and debates on women’s issues. One such seminar was held in Patna in 1992, organised by the All India League of Revolutionary Culture, where a hot debate for and against feminism in the context of revolutionary politics enriched the understanding of activists. A struggle between a patriarchal mentality, based upon middle class morality, and a revolutionary outlook sharpened by a feminist axis took place in this seminar where I was myself present.

However, in the last decade, there has been a sharp decline of this kind of urban women’s movement which mushroomed in the 1990s probably due to a massive crackdown on Naxalites, Marxists, Dalits and democratic spaces as well. In urban areas, some women activists have felt stifled by a patriarchal attitude amongst the male activists, especially those of an older generation. Women have been told that feminism is an ideology that divides the working class and should be avoided. Rather than seeing feminism as an anti-patriarchal axis sharpening the gender question within broader philosophical trends like liberalism, Marxism, Gandhian or Ambedkar thought, some activists tend to see feminism and Marxism as incompatible. The Indian Maoist movement seems in denial of issues pertaining to queer issues, like same sex relations, transgender or intersex people. By accessing the internet, one can see that the Communist Party of Philippines (Maoist) has conducted gay marriages of their squad members and research scholars have worked upon the topic of how this party has grappled with the question of homosexuality, but there seems to be no discourse on this subject in the Maoist movement in India.


In the years since Naxalbari women have made a significant contribution to the growth of this movement, breaking free of many of the shackles that bind women down in Indian society. In the words of an insider, Nishita:

As a woman comrade, I can confidently say that women in the party and army have made rapid and genuine advances, winning their rightful place in the revolution as leaders of the whole party and the people … Women comrades are not dependent on men comrades nor do they look to them for decisions. They are part of the decision-making process. It is their revolution, it is their party which they had built up and which they will defend, preserve, lead and continue.

Due to my reading, observations and various conversations I have had with women activists over the years, I would tend to conclude that there has been a sea change in the approach towards and participation of women in the Naxalite movement in both understanding and practice. First, unlike women in non- government organisations or even some Dalit women’s organisations, the Maoist movement has always emphasised on the link between patriarchy and class. Without class struggle and overthrowing the ruling class, patriarchy cannot be challenged because every type of class society perpetuates patriarchy in different forms. In most parliamentary parties, including the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the women’s wing is just another organisation that will mobilise women for the political issues, just as the trade unions, student organisations, peasant organisations do. But, from my interviews with Hisila Yami of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist–Centre), with women’s activists of Philippines and Anuradha Ghandy from India, I have realised that these parties see women as half the struggle. In other words, they are (or should be) half of the party, half of the military formations, half of the students’, peasants’ and workers’ organisations and half of the alternate people’s power structures like janatana sarkar, etc, playing a leading role in all these spheres.

Another change in understanding is similar to that regarding caste: that caste and gender are part of both the base and the superstructure. Women will not get equality automatically after the revolution but have to concretely fight against the cultural, social and economic practices which discriminate against them throughout the struggle. This is why it is heartening to see the Adivasi women of central India and Jharkhand boldly defying their own patriarchal norms. The very act of joining an organisation that challenges the entire system and wants to shake it by its roots is an anti-patriarchal act, for every woman activist of such a movement knows the sacrifices she has to make and the danger involved. As Nishita writes, “The fight against patriarchy is, in essence, class struggle.” To catch the bull by both horns is what women in the Maoist movement are attempting to do.

(1) Bandyopadhyay (2008) appeared in EPW. Probably, it would be the first time a woman activist had openly spoken out and published her experiences of patriarchy in the Naxalite movement of West Bengal in the 1970s. I recently came across an open letter to Bandyopadhyay written by another activist, calling herself Nishita. The letter was written in 2008, which she might have sent to EPW but was not published. She reviews the situation, locating herself in the Naxalite movement of the first decade of the 21st century, probably in Andhra Pradesh or Dandakaranya.

(2) Personal interview, 2017.

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India -Rationalist Narendra Nayak Under Threat

Rationalist Narendra Nayak files police complaint as suspicious man lands up at doorstep

Nayak has been seeking justice for the murder of Vinayak Baliga, a critic of hardline Hindutva, which has made him a target of fringe groups.
“They want to silence us by eliminating us”
Professor Nayak’s name was seventh in the hit list that was released on internet following the murders of Govind Pansare and Professor M M Kalburgi. He has been facing death threats and has been attacked in the past – the reason why he has also been given protection. Nayak recollects talking to the late activist-journalist Gauri Lankesh about her safety. He says, “Gauri had laughed it off by saying, nothing like that would happen. I do not know if she was remarking on the threat to her life or denying the protection.”
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Noted Mangaluru-based rationalist Narendra Nayak had been at the forefront of the movement seeking justice, over the murder of Vinayak Baliga (2016), a critic of hardline Hindutva for the past two years.

This, coupled with his endeavour against religious extremism and superstitions, has made him the target of fringe groups. Now, another suspicious activity has alerted him.

On Tuesday, nine months after the murder of Gauri Lankesh, who was also a vocal critic of the Hindu right-wing, a suspicious man arrived at his doorstep when he was out of station.

Speaking to TNM, Nayak said, “A stranger came and made inquiries. Then, when the watchman questioned him, he gave evasive answers. When my wife’s security guard wanted to bring him in, he ran away.”

Since his wife Asha, (a noted advocate) also faces a life threat, the security person has been asked to check the identity card of every visitor.

The CCTV footage of the incident made him suspicious and approach the police on Thursday.

“I was out of station and yesterday I filed a complaint with the police saying that an incident like this should be investigated as first of all, a stranger comes, makes inquiries and then he runs away,” Nayak told TNM.

“Because they are so many incidents happening, I have every reason to believe that there is something fishy. That is why I have complained to the police and they will investigate if the person involved has any links,” he added.

Past threats

Nayak says the first time he received such a threat was nearly three decades ago. He, along with several others, had moved the High Court of Karnataka challenging the grant to the land to a mosque at Mangalore Harbour. Such a grant, Nayak had argued, would open the floodgates for a number of such demands. He had obtained a stay order from the court, following which, he had received death threats and also was attacked on number of occasions. He has been provided a gunman by the police since July, 2016.

The president of Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations and a godman debunker, Nayak has earned enemies from among the superstitious and religious fanatics. They have been constantly plotting attacks on the rationalist. Writing about such attacks, he recollects one of such attacks in 1992:

“We had a miracle exposure program at Town Hall, Mangalore. It was our 125th program and my anti guru late B. Premanand had been invited too. It went on for a long time and sometime during the Q-A session, one person came and asked me whether there was bhoota(ghost). I said I have not seen so far. He then said in that case what is this? He started shivering and jumping around and tried to damage the sound system. I came down from the stage and asked him to come over. I gave him a tight slap and asked: where is it? He said I am ok now and ran off! After an hour or so, he came back with a mob who started attacking me and wanted me to say that I believe in God and one exists. I flatly refused, the police had to be called and the crowd was dispersed not before they threatened that no program of mine will be ever held in Mangalore again. Of course, hundreds of them have happened since and no one could stop them is another matter.”

The rationalist also noted that the latest attempts had started after the assassination of Narendra Dhabolkar, who was the vice president of Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations. Questioning the existence of god, ghosts and other supernatural powers is seen as a threat to the religious belief system. Rationalists, who invoke science to explain and debunk superstitions, are often attacked. Speaking about the reason behind attacks on him and rationalists in general, Nayak said:

“If it is an Abdullah or a Peter writing and speaking about these issues, they always can be dismissed by saying that they are Muslim and Christian. But if it is a Narendra or a Gauri, they (Hindu fundamentalists) cannot do that. We have been effective in presenting our point of view; and the fact that they are trying to eliminate us proves that we have been effective. So they think that they can silence us. That’s it. They want to silence us by eliminating us.”

There have been assassinations of four rationalists (Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi and Lankesh) so far. No one has been convicted so far in either of these assassinations. There have been suspects who have been taken into custody. These suspects, and in the case of Gauri Lankesh, Parashuram Waghmare, are the assassins and not the masterminds behind these assassinations. Nayak seconds this observation.


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Ram Sene chief Pramod Muthalik likens Gauri Lankesh to a dog #WTFnews


  1. Pramod Muthalik provokes anger with a comment in defence of PM Modi
  2. “Why should the PM react if some dog dies in Karnataka”: Muthalik
  3. Muthalik’s Sri Ram Sene behind attack on women at a Mangalore pub in 2009

Pramod Muthalik, the chief of the Karnataka-based rightwing group Sri Ram Sene, has provoked anger with a comment in defence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Hitting out at people who have accused PM Modi of keeping silent on the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, Pramod Muthalik questioned on Sunday, “why should the prime minister react if some dog dies in Karnataka?”

He was speaking at a public meeting in Bengaluru.

Pramod Muthalik’s Sri Ram Sene is notorious for a vicious attack in 2009, on young men and women at a pub in Mangalore.

Investigators are looking into the outfit’s possible links to the murder last year of Gauri Lankesh, who was known for her strong views against rightwing groups.

“Two murders happened in Karnataka and two happened in Maharashtra during the Congress regime. No one is uttering a word over Congress government’s failure. Instead, they are asking why PM Modi is silent and not commenting on Gauri Lankesh’s death. Many wanted PM Modi to react after Lankesh’s death. Why should PM react if some dog dies in Karnataka?” news agency ANI said quoting Pramod Muthalik.


“Why should PM Modi react if a dog dies in Karnataka?” said Pramod Muthalik

Muthalik’s comments come three days after Parashuram Waghmare, the last of six suspects in the Gauri Lankesh killing, was arrested by the special investigating team (SIT).

After a photograph surfaced on social media of the Sri Ram Sene chief with the murder accused, Muthalik admitted to knowing him. Later, he backtracked, saying, “There is no connection between Sri Ram Sene and Waghmare. He is neither our member nor our worker…This I say very clearly.”

The investigation team probing Gauri Lankesh’s murder has summoned Sri Ram Sene leader Rakesh Math for questioning, a senior police official told news agency PTI on Friday.


“We have summoned Rakesh Math but he has not come yet,” the SIT official said adding that they wanted to find out whether Math was involved in the assassination and whether he “brainwashed” Waghmare into participating in the plot.

Gauri Lankesh was shot dead outside her residence in Bengaluru on September 5 last year.

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Pune – A Year Old Baby Raped, Smashed to the Ground #WTFnews

The body of the missing girl was found nearby in the early hours on Friday. A medical examination revealed she was sexually assaulted before her head was smashed against the ground.

Pune: A 22-year-old man allegedly abducted and raped a one-year-old girl before killing her in Loni Kalbhor area near here, following which he was arrested.

On Thursday night, Malhari Bansode allegedly picked up the girl while she was sleeping next to her parents in the open in Loni Kalbhor, they said. The girl’s family hails from Tamil Nadu and her parents and their relatives work as labourers in the area, the police said.

“At midnight, the family members, including her parents, realised that the girl was missing and they started searching for her. Subsequently, a missing complaint was registered,” a senior officer of the Loni Kalbhor police station said.

The body of the missing girl was found nearby in the early hours on Friday. A medical examination revealed she was sexually assaulted before her head was smashed against the ground, he said.

“During investigation, we found a CCTV footage in which a man was purportedly seen taking away a girl. Our detection team zeroed in on the accused and during interrogation, he confessed to raping and killing her,” he said.

A case has been registered and Bansode has been booked under relevant sections of the IPC and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, the officer said.

Two months ago, the blood-soaked body of a six-month-old infant was recovered from the basement of a building in Madhya Pradesh’s Indore. The infant was sexually assaulted, following which she was brutally killed. Police found blood all over the basement area, including smears on a staircase leading upstairs to the ground floor.

The policemen were nearly moved to tears during preliminary examination of the ravaged body as they carried it away in a little bundle.


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Why I am resigning from BJP- Shivam Shankar Singh

Shivam Shankar Singh

Political discourse is at it’s lowest point in the country, at least in my lifetime. The partisanship bias is unbelievable and people continue to support their side no matter what the evidence, there is no remorse even when they’re proved to have been spreading fake news. This is something that everyone – the parties and the voters/supporters are to be blamed for.

BJP has done a great job at spreading some specific messages with incredibly effective propaganda, and these messages are the primary reason that I can’t support the party anymore. But before we get into any of that, I’d like everyone to understand that no party is totally bad, and no party is totally good. All governments have done some good and messed up on some fronts. This government is no different.

The Good:

  1. Road construction is faster than it was earlier. There has been a change in methodology of counting road length, but even factoring that in it seems to be faster.

  2. Electricity connection increased – all villages electrified and people getting electricity for more hours. (Congress did electrify over 5 lakh villages and Modi ji finished the job by connecting the last 18k so, you can weigh the achievement as you like. Similarly the number of hours people get electricity has increased ever since independence, but it might be a larger increase during BJP).

  3. Upper level corruption is reduced – no huge cases at the ministerial level as of now (but the same was true of UPA I  ). Lower level seems to be about the same with increased amounts, no one seems to be able to control the thanedar, patwari et al.

  4. The Swachh Bharat Mission is a success – more toilets built than before and Swachhta is something embedded in people’s minds now.

  5. UJJWALA Yojana is a great initiative. How many people buy the second cylinder remains to be seen. The first one and a stove was free, but now people need to pay for it. The cost of cylinders has almost doubled since the government took over and now one costs more than Rs. 800

  6. Connectivity for the North East has undoubtedly increased. More trains, roads, flights and most importantly – the region is now discussed in the mainstream news channels.

  7. Law and order is reportedly better than it was under regional parties.

Feel free to add achievements you can think of in the comments below, also achievements necessarily have caveats, failures are absolute!

The Bad:

It takes decades and centuries to build systems and nations, the biggest failure I see in BJP is that it has destroyed some great things on very flimsy grounds.

  1. Electoral Bonds – It basically legalizes corruption and allows corporates & foreign powers to just buy our political parties. The bonds are anonymous so if a corporate says I’ll give you an electoral bond of 1,000 crore if you pass this specific policy, there will be no prosecution. There just is no way to establish quid pro quo with an anonymous instrument. This also explains how corruption is reduced at the Ministerial level – it isn’t per file/order, it is now like the US – at the policy level.

  2. Planning Commission Reports – this used to be a major source for data. They audited government schemes and stated how things are going. With that gone, there just is no choice but to believe whatever data the government gives you (CAG audits come out after a long time!). NITI Aayog doesn’t have this mandate and is basically a think tank and PR agency. Plan/Non-Plan distinction could be removed without removing this!

  3. Misuse of CBI and ED – it is being used for political purposes as far as I can see, but even if it isn’t the fear that these institutions will be unleashed on them if they speak up against anything Modi/Shah related is real. This is enough to kill dissent, an integral component of democracy.

  4. Failure to investigate Kalikho Pul’s suicide note, Judge Loya’s death, Sohrabuddin murder, the defense of an MLA accused of Rape who’s relative is accused of killing the girls father and FIR wasn’t registered for over an year..!

  5. Demonetization – it failed, but worse is BJP’s inability to accept that it failed. All propaganda of it cutting terror funding, reducing cash, eliminating corruption is just absurd. It also killed off businesses.

  6. GST Implementation – Implemented in a hurry and harmed business. Complicated structure, multiple rates on different items, complex filing… Hopefully it’ll stabilize in time, but it did cause harm. Failure to acknowledge that from BJP is extremely arrogant.

  7. The messed up foreign policy with pure grandstanding – China has a port in Sri Lanka, huge interests in Bangladesh and Pakistan – we’re surrounded, the failure in Maldives (Indian workers not getting visas anymore because of India’s foreign policy debacle) while Modi ji goes out to foreign countries and keeps saying Indians had no respect in the world before 2014 and now they’re supremely respected (This is nonsense. Indian respect in foreign countries was a direct result of our growing economy and IT sector, it hasn’t improved an ounce because of Modi. Might even have declined due to beef based lynchings, threats to journalists etc.)

  8. Failure of schemes and failure to acknowledge/course correct – Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana, Make In India, Skill Development, Fasal Bima (look at reimbursements – the government is lining the pockets of insurance companies). Failure to acknowledge unemployment and farmers crisis – calling every real issue an opposition stunt.

  9. The high prices of Petrol and Diesel – Modi ji and all BJP ministers + supporters criticized Congress for it heavily and now all of them justify the high prices even though crude is cheaper than it was then! Just unacceptable.

  10. Failure to engage with the most important basic issues – Education and Healthcare. There is just nothing on education which is the nation’s biggest failure. Quality of government schools has deteriorated over the decades (ASER reports) and no action. They did nothing on Healthcare for 4 years, then Ayushman Bharat was announced – that scheme scares me more than nothing being done. Insurance schemes have a terrible track record and this is going the US route, which is a terrible destination for healthcare (watch Sicko by Michael Moore)!

You can add some and subtract some based on personal understanding of the issue, but this is my assessment. The Electoral Bonds thing is huge and hopefully the SC will strike it down! Every government has some failures and some bad decisions though, the bigger issue I have is more on morals than anything else.

The Ugly:

The real negative of this government is how it has affected the national discourse with a well considered strategy. This isn’t a failure, it’s the plan.

  1. It has discredited the media, so now every criticism is brushed off as a journalist who didn’t get paid by BJP or is on the payrolls of Congress. I know several journalists for whom the allegation can’t be true, but more importantly no one ever addresses the accusation or complaint – they just attack the person raising the issue and ignore the issue itself.

  2. It has peddled a narrative that nothing happened in India in 70 years. This is patently false and the mentality is harmful to the nation. This government spent over Rs. 4,000 crore of our taxpayer money on advertisements and now that will become the trend. Do small works and huge branding. He isn’t the first one to build roads – some of the best roads I’ve travelled on were pet projects of Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav. India became an IT powerhouse from the 90s. It is easy to measure past performance and berate past leaders based on the circumstances of today, just one example of that:

“Why did Congress not build toilets in 70 years? They couldn’t even do something so basic. This argument sounds logical and I believed it too, until I started reading India’s history. When we gained independence in 1947 we were an extremely poor country, we didn’t have the resources for even basic infrastructure and no capital. To counteract this PM Nehru went down the socialist path and created the concept of PSU’s. We had no capacity to build steel, so with the help of Russians the Heavy Engineering Corporation (HEC), Ranchi was set up that made machines to make steel in India – without this we would have no steel, and consequently no infrastructure. That was the agenda – basic industries and infra. We had frequent droughts (aakaal), every 2-3 years and a large number of people starved to death. The priority was to feed the people, toilets were a luxury no one cared for. The Green Revolution happened and the food shortages disappeared by the 1990s – now we have a surplus problem. The toilet situation is exactly like people asking 25 years from now why Modi couldn’t make all houses in India air conditioned. That seems like a luxury today, toilets were also a luxury at some point of time. Maybe things could have happened sooner, maybe 10-15 years ago, but nothing happened in 70 years is a horrible lie to peddle.”

  1. The spread and reliance on Fake News. There is some anti-BJP fake news too, but the pro-BJP and anti-opposition fake news outstrips that by miles in number and in reach. Some of it is supporters, but a lot of it comes from the party. It is often hateful and polarizing, which makes it even worse. The online news portals backed by this government are damaging society more than we know.

  2. Hindu khatre mein hai – they’ve engrained it into the minds of people that Hindus and Hinduism are in danger, and that Modi is the only option to save ourselves. In reality Hindus have been living the same lives much before this government and nothing has changed except people’s mindset. Were we Hindus in danger in 2007? At least I didn’t hear about it everyday and I see no improvement in the condition of Hindus, just more fear mongering and hatred.

  3. Speak against the government and you’re anti-National and more recently, anti-Hindu. Legitimate criticism of the government is shut up with this labeling. Prove your nationalism, sing Vande Mataram everywhere (even though BJP leaders don’t know the words themselves, they’ll force you to sing it!). I’m a proud nationalist and my nationalism won’t allow me to let anyone force me to showcase it! I will sing the national anthem and national song with pride when the occasion calls for it, or when I feel like it, but I won’t let anyone force me to sing it based on their whims!

  4. Running news channels that are owned by BJP leaders
    who’s sole job is to debate Hindu-Muslim, National-Antinational, India-Pakistan and derail the public discourse from issues and logic into polarizing emotions. You all know exactly which ones, and you all even know the debaters who’re being rewarded for spewing the vilest propaganda.

  5. The polarization – all the message of development is gone. BJP’s strategy for the next election is polarization and inciting pseudo nationalism. Modi ji has basically said it himself in speeches – Jinnah; Nehru; Congress leaders didn’t meet Bhagat Singh in jail (fake news from the PM himself!); INC leaders met leaders in Pakistan to defeat Modi in Gujarat; Yogi ji’s speech on how Maharana Pratap was greater than Akbar; JNU students are anti-national they’ll  #TukdeTukdeChurChur India – this is all propaganda constructed for a very specific purpose – polarize and win elections – it isn’t the stuff I want to be hearing from my leaders and I refuse to follow anyone who is willing to let the nation burn in riots for political gain.

These are just some of the instances of how BJP is pushing the national discourse in a dark corner. This isn’t something I signed up for and it totally isn’t something I can support. That is why I am resigning from BJP.

PS: I supported BJP since 2013 because Narendra Modi ji seemed like a ray of hope for India and I believed in his message of development – that message and the hope are now both gone. The negatives of this Narendra Modi and Amit Shah government now outweigh the positives for me, but that is a decision that every voter needs to make individually. Just know that history and reality are complicated. Buying into simplistic propaganda and espousing cult like unquestioning faith are the worst thing you can do – it is against the interests of democracy and of this nation.

You all have your own decisions to make as the elections approach. Best of luck with that. My only hope is that we can all live and work harmoniously together – and contribute towards making a better, stronger, poverty-free and developed India, no matter what party or ideology we support. Always remember that there are good people on both sides, the voter needs to support them and they need to support each other even when they are in different parties.

Source- Facebook

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All-women Dalit musical band in Bihar has a packed wedding season ahead


File photo of Sargam Band | @kumarmanish9 / Twitter


The ‘Sargam Band’ has 10 women in their 30s – all from Dhibra village in Danapur near Patna.

Patna: A musical band formed by a group of Dalit women is breaking social stereotypes in a tiny hamlet on the outskirts of the state capital.

The “Sargam Band”, which performs at weddings and other public functions, comprises 10 women in their 30s – all from Dhibra village in Danapur sub-division of Patna.

The women have been raking in moolah while carving out a “distinct identity” for themselves, said Sudha Varghese, the owner of NGO ‘Nari Gunjan’ that helmed the formation of the band.

“The idea struck me in 2016, when I was working with women of Ravidas community, mostly agricultural labourers. I wanted to think of ways to bring about their social and economic emancipation,” Varghese told PTI.

Fondly called “Sudha didi” by villagers, Kerala-born Varghese had come to Bihar five decades ago to work as a school teacher.

However, the social and economic inequality that she witnessed here moved her immensely and she became a full-time social worker.

On course of her journey in Bihar, Varghese has been involved in imparting skills like reading, writing, sewing and embroidery to women hailing from the lowest social strata. She also provides legal help to victims of sexual abuse and other forms of violence.

“When I shared the idea with the Dhibri women, their initial reaction was that of incredulity. It was not unnatural. Nobody had heard of an all-women musical band here. The job that I was asking them to take up was hitherto considered an all-male vocation,” she said.

The women were, however, courageous and willing to experiment, Varghese noted.

“It did not take much persuasion on my part to make them come out of their shells. Soon, we had to arrange for instruments and a teacher who could train these women, braving social derision. We found someone in Patna and the women began practicing with earnestness,” Varghese said.

Patna-based teacher Aditya Gunjan Kumar likes to stay away from media glare, but Savita, who heads the troupe, was effusive in her praise for him.

“Sudha and Aditya have transformed our lives. Aditya worked hard on us for about six months, without charging any money and only accepting food prepared at our kitchens by way of Guru Dakshina,” she said.

The journey wasn’t an easy one though, Savita explained.

“We were mocked by our husbands, our male relatives and neighbours. Even some women looked down upon us as if we were doing something outrageous. But we persevered and, gradually, the disdain gave way to admiration,” she added.

Finding clients for the new band was not too difficult for the band, Varghese noted.

“The charges were initially low – Rs 250 per performance for each performer. Of course, the first to call these women to perform at functions were from Danapur. Soon, people became curious and the news about the band spread like wildfire. We started receiving bookings from Patna,” she said.

During last year’s wedding season, a professional based in Gurgaon read about Sargam band on the Internet and approached the women.

“The man contacted the band, days before his marriage.

His parents asked for a performance, on trial basis, at Delhi.

We agreed and they were hugely satisfied with the presentation and immediately booked the band for a wedding that took place in Nalanda district,” she added.

Travelling to far-off places made the women initially nervous, Savita said.

“Now, we have become used to it. We have travelled to Delhi and far-off districts in Bihar a number of times. No male relative accompanies any of us as we do not feel the need to be protected,” she asserted.

Varghese said the success of ‘Sargam’ band inspires her to embark on a similar endeavour for women of the “Mushahar” community in Punpun, a satellite town of Patna, close to Danapur.

“I feel proud to see the women making a success out of this venture. Now each of them charges Rs 1000 for every performance. Nowadays, clients get in touch with the women directly instead of calling up Nari Gunjan,” Varghese remarked.

Savita, along with her colleagues, is bracing for a hectic wedding season.

“We will ask Aditya to teach us how to play flutes and clarinets. So far, we have been beating drums of various sizes and shaking jhunjhunas (rattles). We wish to learn to play new instruments, it would add variety to our performance,” she added. – PTI

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Arundhati Roy: ‘The point of the writer is to be unpopular’

The acclaimed author and activist answers questions from our readers and famous fans on the state of modern India, the threat of AI, and why sometimes only fiction can fully address the world


Arundhati Roy does not believe in rushing things. With her novels, she prefers to wait for her characters to introduce themselves to her, and slowly develop a trust and a friendship with them. Sometimes, however, external events force her hand. One of these was the election of the divisive Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi as Indian prime minister in May 2014.

At the time, Roy had been working for about seven years on her second novel, the successor to her stunning, 1997 Booker prize-winning debut, The God of Small Things. But Modi’s victory forced her to “really put down the tent pegs” on what would eventually become The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

“It was just a moment of shock for people like me,” says Roy, twirling an elegant, checked scarf around her neck like spaghetti around a fork. “For so many years, I’d been trying to yell from the rooftops about it and it was absolutely a sense of abject defeat and abject despair. And the choice was to get into bed and sleep for five years, or to really concentrate on this book. I didn’t feel like writing any more essays, although I did write one, but I felt like everything I had to say had been said. It was time to accept defeat.”

It may have felt like defeat to Roy, but the arrival of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness last year was a cause of celebration for nearly everybody else. The novel, now out in paperback, opens in Delhi, in what appears to be the 1950s, and introduces us to Anjum, a Muslim hijra or transgender woman. In the second part of the book, the story moves to Kashmir and we follow a new protagonist, Tilo, an architect who becomes involved with a group of Kashmiri independence fighters. The strands eventually converge, but along the way dozens of odd characters dip in and out of proceedings. It’s not always immediately clear what purpose they are serving; it’s only at the end of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness that you realise what an extraordinary and visceral state‑of‑the-nation book Roy has created.

“What I wanted to know was: can a novel be a city?” says Roy. “Can you stop it being baby food, which can be easily consumed? So the reader also has to deal with complexities that they are being trained not to deal with.”

Much of Roy’s own experience feeds into The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, not least the fact that she studied to be an architect and has campaigned for Kashmiri independence. For herself, she realised very quickly that architecture was not for her. “I graduated but I didn’t actually build anything, because I wasn’t really cut out to be making beautiful homes for wealthy people or whatever,” she says, smiling. “I had too many arguments with my bosses. Kept getting sacked for bad behaviour. For insolence!”

So finding her way to writing was probably for the best then? “It started with knowing very early that I couldn’t have a boss!”

Even now, at the age 56, Roy manages to retain a healthy rebellious streak. We meet in London, at the offices of her publisher, Penguin Random House, a couple of days after the end of the Hay festival. I notice she hadn’t appeared at the festival and wondered if there was a reason. There was: Tata, the Indian conglomerate that owns everything from steel plants to tea company Tetley, sponsored various events at Hay under the banner “Pioneering with Purpose”. Roy has in the past been critical of it as one of the “mega-corporations” that run modern India. She didn’t want to be a hypocrite.

“There are so many of these corporate sponsors and mining companies,” Roy explains. “For example, Vedanta, which sponsored the Jaipur literary festival in 2016. I’ve been writing about them for the last 10 years. Recently, there were 13 people killed [by police] on the streets of Tamil Nadu protesting against one of their projects. It’s a big conflict for me, because so much of my writing is about what these people are up to and then they have these free-speech tents. So I just avoid them.”

Arundhati Roy at a protest in New Delhi, 2008.
 Arundhati Roy at a protest in New Delhi, 2008. Photograph: Manpreet Romana/AFP/Getty Images

Roy, who lives in Delhi, instead wanted to use her time in London to confirm the publication of her collected nonfiction work. In the 20 years between her two novels, these projects have occupied most of her time. She has written powerfully about government dams, the 2002 Gujarat massacre, and spent almost three weeks walking through the forests of central India with Naxalites, a Maoist group that seeks to defend the rights of the tribes whose land, abundant in minerals, is being developed. It is a considerable body of work: so much so that when the essays are released next year – with the title My Seditious Heart – the book will run to more than 1,000 pages.

Her political writing often lands Roy in hot water in India. In early 2016 she even felt it necessary to leave Delhi for London, after student protests broke out in universities across the country following the hanging of a Kashmiri separatist whom Roy had praised. “I didn’t fear for my welfare as much as I feared for my book,” she says. “I was very vulnerable at the time because I was just a few months away from finishing The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, and because there were students being put into jail, mobs were on the street. The main TV news channel was saying: ‘Who’s the person behind this?’ And it was me. But I came [to London] and I went straight back in nine days or 10 days, because I knew this was not my thing to run away.”

Roy describes her nonfiction as “urgent interventions”, but ever since Modi came to power she is mostly drawn to writing fiction. It seems unlikely, then, that we’ll have to wait another 20 years for a new novel. “Who knows, but I hope not!” she says. “Because I really have so enjoyed writing fiction again. But I must say that, the times are so uncertain, there’s going to be a very, very hard year in India and I don’t know what’s going to happen. I can’t ever say in advance what I’ll be doing …”

She shakes her head and laughs, “It’s a highly unplanned life.”

Famous fans’ questions…

Lionel Shriver.
 Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

Lionel Shriver
Do you ever worry that your work as an activist detracts – or at least distracts – from your fiction, and are you concerned that sticking your neck out politically changes the way readers and critics respond to that fiction?

I have always quarrelled with this word “activist”. I think it’s a very new word and I don’t know when it was born, but it was recently. I don’t want to have a second profession added to writing. Writing covers it. In the old days, writers were political creatures also, not all, but many. It was seen as our business to be writing about the world around us in different ways. So I don’t feel threatened or worried about that. For me, my fiction and my nonfiction are both political. The fiction is a universe, the nonfiction is an argument.

What I do worry about is the fact that writers have become so frightened of being political. The idea that writers are being reduced to creators of a product that is acceptable, that slips down your throat, which readers love and therefore can be bestsellers, that’s so dangerous. Today, for example in India, where majoritarianism is taking root – and by majoritarianism, I don’t just mean the government, I mean that individuals are being turned into micro-fascists by so many means. It is the mobs and vigilantes going and lynching people. So more than ever, the point of the writer is to be unpopular. The point of the writer is to say: “I denounce you even if I’m not in the majority.”

Nina Stibbe
 Photograph: Alecsandra Raluca Dragoi/Commissioned for The Guardian

Nina Stibbe

Which Beatle is your favourite and why?

John Lennon. I can say that in my sleep! Why? Because I always felt that there was a sadness that was wrapped with brilliance. And, this is not the reason that I love him – I also love the way he looks. This morning I woke up and felt a little jealous of seeing Yoko Ono and him together. I was like, “Fuck!” Although it was really before my time, but still…

George Monbiot
 Photograph: Fiona Shaw for the Guardian

George Monbiot
Writer and environmentalist

In a world racked by climate breakdown, ecological collapse and the marginalisation of billions, what gives you hope?

One of my books of essays is dedicated to “those who have learned to divorce hope from reason”. So being unreasonable is the only way that we can have hope. I am often among people who battle every day, but when you’re in there with them it’s not all grim. These are people who have their backs to the wall and are fighting for survival, but so much of the time they spend laughing at stupid things.

For example, when I was inside the forests of central India with the comrades, one night everyone was asleep and I saw this guy typing something on his solar-powered computer. So I said: “What are you doing?” And he said: “Oh, I’m issuing a denial. You know, if all our denials were published, they would run into several volumes.” So I said: “What’s the most ridiculous denial you’ve ever had to issue?” And he said in Hindi: “No brother, we didn’t hammer the cows to death.”

Arundhati Roy on the banks of India’s Narmada River, where she campaigned against a new dam, 1999.
 Arundhati Roy on the banks of India’s Narmada River, where she campaigned against a new dam, 1999. Photograph: Karen Robinson

The story was that the current sitting chief minister had promised in his election campaign that, if he won the elections, every rural household would get a cow. So once he won, to pretend to deliver on his promise, they rounded up all these elderly cows and then they were subcontracted to people who were expected to deliver them to these far-flung households in the forests of indigenous peoples. Some of them just killed the cows halfway through and then said the Maoists did it. It served so many purposes: they didn’t have to bother delivering them, and the Maoists come out of it as anti-Hindu.

So there’s often a graveyard humour and a steely resilience, and I believe that the only way – if at all – the machine can be pushed back is through these resistances. And I’m on the side of the line with them.

Eve Ensler
 Photograph: Annabel Clark/Guardian

Eve Ensler

What reader’s response to The Ministry of Utmost Happiness surprised you the most?

Ha-ha, there are several. One is that it’s a book that doesn’t pretend to universalise anything or conceptualise anything. It’s a book of great detail about a place. So the first thing that surprised me was that it has been translated into 46 languages – that it is being read in Vietnam, in Georgia. It was never designed to be that kind of an easy read. I got a letter from someone in Palestine the other day who said: “Thank you for making space for the poetics of other languages in your book.” That was amazing because the book is imagined in more than one language. And given the climate we have in India right now, I’m happy to say that it’s been pirated and even being sold to me at the traffic lights. For half-price!

Wendy Doniger
 Photograph: USA Oxford University Press

Wendy Doniger
US Indologist whose book The Hindus: An Alternative History was recalled by its publisher, Penguin India, in 2014
Do you think it is possible for writers and publishers to join forces to find ways to oppose prosecutions for blasphemy (or “offending” religious feelings) under laws like Indian penal code section 295A? Or at least to change the charge from a criminal to a civil offence?

If we’re talking India in particular, I feel that it is possible. I know Wendy Doniger’s publishers let her down very badly. It was very wrong what they did, because they were not even taken to court. It was just this crazy man who makes a business out of going after people in this way. This is the way the criminal justice system is used in India, as harassment. So they could have backed her, but they didn’t.

At the moment what is happening in India is that censorship is being outsourced to the mob. Some person comes out and says: “Oh you’re not showing rajput in a good light,” or any community starts feeling that they can burn down cinema halls, they can stop a film release, and it’s all being allowed. In the same way, writers have been killed and shot and threatened. The government can try to act as if it’s not involved, but its involvement is in protecting the mobs. It’s a question that leads to many questions and Wendy Doniger has suffered.

Shobha Rao

Shobha Rao

When did you know your childhood was over?

It’s not over yet! It should never be over for writers. The people I fear most are the people who I look at and I can’t imagine what kind of a child they were. Because of the circumstances in which I was born and how I lived, I had to be in some ways a pretty adult child and I would like at least some part of me to be a pretty childish adult.

Kate Hudson
 Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

Kate Hudson
General secretary of CND

It’s 20 years since India’s Pokharan nuclear weapons tests. At the time, you powerfully and convincingly demolished the claims that such weapons were deterrents to war. Now the narrative from the White House is one of “usable” nukes. How can we defeat this drive towards global self-destruction, and how can a new movement be built?

I don’t know what the answer to this question is. But one thing that’s truly on my mind now, and I know it will sound paranoid – but I think we do need to be paranoid – is artificial intelligence. Perhaps AI can do better surgery than surgeons, write better poetry than poets and better novels than novelists. But what it does is make the human population almost surplus: it makes it unnecessary. One argument is that it will be the end of work and the beginning of play; that people can be looked after. But people could be looked after now, as we know there’s enough surplus to do that, and it doesn’t happen.

When human beings become surplus, that’s where these smart nukes and chemical and biological warfare – these things that are genocidal – begin to really worry me. Because I do see a time when the masters of the universe will decide that the universe is a better place without most of the population. Artificial intelligence is a way of becoming the perfect human being, which fascists have always thought about: the supreme human being. If you can think of that, if that is your goal, then certainly you can think of the other. I worry about it.

Ali Smith
 Photograph: David Levenson/Getty Images

Ali Smith

I am a fan of all your writing in all its forms, but what is it that the novel makes possible for us that no other form of writing does?

When photography came, there was a certain kind of art that it put out of business. When film came, there was a certain kind of theatre that it put out of business. So what the novel has to do, what I felt when I wrote The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, is [ask] what can it do that nothing else can?

And there are things it can do. There’s a quote from James Baldwin in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: “And they would not believe me precisely because they would know that what I said was true.” So if you were to take out the political milestones in this book and just do nonfiction about them, they would not be what they are. Only a novel can tell you how caste, communalisation, sexism, love, music, poetry, the rise of the right all combine in a society. And the depths in which they combine. We have been trained to “silo-ise”: our brains specialise in one thing. But the radical understanding is if you can understand it all, and I think only a novel can.

Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell
 Photograph: Luke Walker

Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell
Directors of Grafton Architects
You have said that literature is not about issues, that it is about the world, about everybody, that literature is a monumental, profound, beautiful and complicated thing. Would you apply the same values in your contemplation of architecture?

Yes, of course. I’m a student of architecture, and if I had to choose a profession again I would choose architecture, because I do believe it’s about everything. One of the people who made me want to become an architect was Laurie Baker; he was British but had lived in India all his life. He used to do what was called no-cost architecture, where you pay a lot of attention to material and where it came from: he was so against the idea of his buildings living for ever. I learned from him that beautiful architecture is not directly proportional to how much it costs or how much money you put into it. So for me, it’s a very fundamental and beautiful art, certainly extremely profound in terms of how you should be thinking about it.

Arundhati Roy in 2002, after being released from jail for contempt of court.
 Arundhati Roy in 2002, after being released from jail for contempt of court. Photograph: Manish Swarup/AP

Readers’ questions…

With regards to your fiction, would you be able to describe the balance between research, autobiography and imagined worlds? How important is it to you?
James Corcut

I don’t do research. What generally happens is I begin to get curious about something for no reason and then I just find it impossible to contain and I’ve written nonfiction. But especially in the novel, these things just settle in you and you become like a sedimentary rock. The characters come by and it’s almost like you’re walking down the street and someone catches your eye and you meet them again and then you become friends. It’s a bit like that. One of the ways in which I write, especially when I write fiction, is just that I wait. And something just comes knocking at your door. You have to be open to it. You have to allow it in, more than pursue it.

I’m very much part of those worlds that I describe. So sometimes it might be really autobiographical and I don’t know. When you’re open to allowing these characters in, everything is autobiographical, no? Esthappen in The God of Small Things says: “If in a dream you’ve eaten fish, does it mean you’ve eaten fish?” For me, those worlds are all very osmotic: experience, autobiography, imagination, understanding. And that’s why it all needs to mix and settle and it’s not segmented.

My friends and I often debate “the best Bookers”. Mine happen to be, in no particular order: DisgraceThe God of Small Things and Midnight’s Children. I’d like to think that you, too, have these “pub conversations” – so, what’s your favourite Booker novel, and why?
Viren Mistry

I don’t have these conversations, because I don’t feel like thinking about books in this way. Books are unique and so I don’t think of them hierarchically. I understand that people need to give prizes, but it’s so particular to you and I don’t even think of “Booker books” to begin with.

You have been fiercely expressing your disagreements with the state, irrespective of political parties in office. Have you ever wished to go into electoral politics? If yes, why haven’t you yet? If no, why?
Anand Aani

No. It’s such an important place and time in which to be a writer, where you’re not burdened by the idea of soliciting people’s support. Where often it’s so important to stand alone, to be a person who expresses themselves very clearly on certain things. So I can only see it as a great defeat if I really wanted to come into politics or stand for elections or ask people to like me or vote for me. It’s just not in my DNA to do that. I cannot even conceive of becoming a person who needed to change something about the way they were dressing or thinking or speaking to get someone to vote for me. To suddenly start going to a temple and pretending I’m really religious because I want to win the Hindu vote, I can’t do it! I’d be terrible at it!

You once said: ‘Each time I write an essay I get into so much trouble I promise never to do it again.’ What was the last essay you wrote and did you get into any trouble?
Cate Lobo

Well, the last essay I wrote was actually about the trouble, it was called My Seditious Heart. But previous to that, I wrote a piece called Professor, POWabout GN Saibaba. He is a professor of literature, paralysed in his lower body, and he was thrown in prison and sentenced to life for… I don’t know what all the reasons are, but he’s accused of being a Maoist and working against the state. He’s still in prison now and is in a bad state.

I’ve known him for a long time and when I wrote Professor, POW I was charged with criminal contempt of court. I have a long history of contempt of court, being accused of contempt of court – I’ve also gone to prison for it. So I had to appeal to the supreme court to quash it, which they have not done, but they have put it in cold storage. It’s so tiring, but it’s OK for me. Because of the work I do, I have lawyers who are friends. I have the money to fly to the other city where the appeal is being heard and hire a hotel and stay there. But let’s say you’re a young journalist or a young writer who doesn’t have that – what do you do? You’re finished! So the idea is: “Let’s make this an example, let’s break up the stride, then the mobs will come there and will shout at you.” It just goes on and on.

How do you write the parts that make us cry? And do you cry when you read them back?
Brendan Ross

Writing and crying are things that people do differently. For me, I’m always writing: when I’m walking, when I’m shopping, when I’m thinking. There’s a processing that’s going on – and the heartbreak is close to the surface all the time. But there’s a difference between the retelling of a tragedy and when you sometimes don’t actually tell it, but what it reflects is even more tragic. So often when I think about things, yes, I do cry, but I shift between laughter and tears and anger. That’s what I meant about never stopping to be a child: you have to always be in touch with those feelings.

What female writers have inspired and influenced you?
Sofía Guerrero

Oh, so many. Of course, I have read Jane Austen in the past but long ago. I don’t know if I’m inspired by her, but I’m maybe interested in her. There’s Toni Morrison, whose Beloved was a great inspiration. The memoir of [Russian poet] Osip Mandelstam’s widow, Nadezhda Mandelstam [Hope Against Hope] – oh God, what a book, just incredible. And recently I read this book called Barracoon, it’s just come out. Zora Neale Hurston was an anthropologist and she transcribed a first-person account of the last slave, who was captured 50 years after slavery was abolished. He has a memory of the whole thing, of how he was kidnapped from his village in Africa – not kidnapped by white people, but by another tribe – and then sold into slavery to American slave traders. So it complicates the way you think about things.

It seems that The Ministry of Utmost Happiness suggests it’s possible to live in a world that is carved out of, yet also away from, the degradations of a class- and caste-ridden (also ableist, homophobic etc) society. Is such a world possible only in novels, or do you think it’s possible in real life?
Alpana Sharma

I don’t think that The Ministry of Utmost Happiness should be viewed as a manifesto, that it’s proposing an alternative way of living. It’s a story about certain particular and unique people who find their way in a unique way. By having these people, you are shining a light on what society is really like and the fact that you can’t ignore caste and gender and all of that. It’s really about that.

What moments in your life give you solace?
Sylvie Millard

The moment when I just put my cheek on my dog’s tummy. I have two of them, and one has a considerable tummy, but the other is slightly more delicate. Both of them used to be strays. I found them. One of them, her mother was killed by a car on the road outside my house. Her eyes were closed and she was so small and I had to feed her with a dropper and now she’s huge. The other one I stole. I’d see her tied to a lamppost night and day on this road, and I just took her. Later, I told the people that I’d taken her, and they said: “OK, we didn’t want her.”

Related posts

The storm brewing in India’s cotton fields

Bt-cotton occupies 90 per cent of the land under cotton in India – and the pests that this GM variety was meant to safeguard against, are back, virulently and now pesticide-resistant – destroying crops and farmers


The black scars dotting the green bolls of a wilting cotton plant on Ganesh Wadandre’s farm carried a message for scientists working on the ‘white gold’: go find a new antidote.

“Those are the entry points,” said Wadandre, a five-acre farmer who is well regarded in Amgaon (Kh) village of Wardha district. The worm, he added, must have drilled into the boll from these points.

“If we crack it open, you’ll see a pink-worm devouring it from within,” he said, exuding nervousness and anger. As he cracked open the boll, a pink-coloured worm, less than a centimetre long, woke up twirling, as if to say ‘hi’. It had devoured the boll before the cotton’s white lint could form, leaving it worthless.

“A worm,” Wadandre, 42, said when I first met him in November 2017, “lays thousands of eggs and multiplies into millions of worms within days.”

Because the worm is inside the bolls, farmers cannot know of the hidden damage until the bolls burst. This can bring sudden shocks during the harvest and at the market yards, when the bollworm-damaged cotton fetches a much lower price.

Wadandre’s account spoke for cotton growers across Maharashtra, but especially in western Vidarbha’s cotton belt, through the winter of 2017-18, at the peak of the crop’s harvest. In this region, cotton is usually planted between July and August, and harvested from October to March.

Many hectares of cotton fields were devastated by swarming armies of the pink-worm. They caused damage not seen in 30 years. The fields around Wadandre’s farm bore the tell-tale signs of the pink-worm attack: black bolls, wilting and scarred, sprouting into dry blackened lint of poor quality and little worth.

It was this pest that drove the profuse and lethal use of pesticides from July to November 2017 across Maharashtra by farmers desperate to save their cotton crop, though they knew it would not decimate the pink-worm. (See Lethal pests, deadly sprays)

“No pesticide is useful for this,” Wadandre said. “It is that lethal. What’s the use of Bt-cotton now?”

A man in cotton farm


a man showing pest-infested boll of cotton


Ganesh Wadandre of Amgaon (Kh) examines pest-infested bolls on his farm: ‘No pesticide is useful for this. It is that lethal. What’s the use of Bt-cotton now?’ 

On an acre of his cotton field, irrigated from dug-well water, Wadandre could harvest 15 quintals of cotton on an average – this time, his yield was down to five quintals. Wadandre estimates he lost at least Rs. 50,000 per acre – for him, a staggering amount.

On rain-fed farms in the village, which do not have well irrigation, farmers could not harvest even three quintals of cotton this season. The state government has announced some compensation – around Rs. 10,000 a hectare for a maximum of two hectares. If Wadandre qualifies, he might get a bit of relief.

In January 2018, Maharashtra’s Department of Agriculture predicted a dip in cotton production and bales by 40 per cent, implicitly admitting to the large-scale pest-driven destruction. The state produces, annually, an average of 90 lakh bales of cotton (with 172 kilos of lint per bale). A quintal of cotton contains 34 kilos of lint, 65 kilos of cotton-seed (used for extracting oil, as well as de-oiled cake for cattle-feed) and a percentage of dirt or waste. In March 2018, one quintal of cotton was fetching Rs. 4,800-5,000 in Vidarbha’s markets.

India has about 130 lakh hectares under cotton in 2017-18, and reports from the states indicate that the pink-worm menace has been widespread in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana. Gujarat, which was tormented by this worm two years ago, has partially addressed the problem by planting early-varieties of cotton so that the bulk of the crop is harvested before winter sets in, when the worm multiplies.

The Ministry of Agriculture of the government of India acknowledges the problem, but has rejected the demand from Maharashtra and other states to de-notify Bt-cotton – a move that will change its status to regular cotton since Bt’s efficacy has gone. (This in turn would impact seed prices, and seed companies’ royalties and profits, and will be covered in another story on PARI.) Instead, in July 2017, the Centre asked all the cotton-producing states to deal with the menace on their own “by involving various stakeholders.”

The return of the pink-worm

The return of the pink-worm first set alarm bells ringing in 2015. That year, the Indian cotton research establishment was deeply worried about the “breakdown” of the genetically modified (GM) Bt-cotton technology. Reports had come in from the field of the return of the pink bollworm on crops in all major cotton-growing states, including Gujarat and Maharashtra.

Though the pink pest had first showed up sporadically on Bt-cotton in 2010, in November 2015 farmers in Gujarat reported a massive bollworm infestation on their cotton crop. The inch-long worm, chewing the boll from inside, looked in the pink of health, signalling the breakdown of this potent and expensive GM cotton – that was meant to combat infestation by that very worm.

In the last week of November 2015, a farmer in Gujarat’s Bhavnagar district plucked a few cotton bolls from a plant on her field and cracked them open for a team of visiting cotton experts to see what lay inside. “She was very angry,” recalled Dr. Keshav Kranthi, the principle scientist who led that team, when I interviewed him in February 2016. Dr. Kranthi was then the director of the country’s apex Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR), Nagpur, and is currently the director (technical) at the Washington-based International Cotton Advisory Committee.

The farmer’s anger was triggered by her imminent losses: the small but menacing pest had eaten into her cotton yield as well as its quality. But the scientists, aghast to see that the pink coloured worms had devoured the green cotton bolls from inside, were worried for reasons beyond that.

Farmer spraying pesticide in the cotton farm


The worm on the cotton ball


The virulent return of the bollworm sparked lethal spraying of pesticides last year. Right: the worm leaves tell-tale destructive scars on the cotton bolls

Pectinophora gossypiella (Saunders), popularly known as the pink bollworm, had made a comeback in India after three decades – and with a vengeance. It was feasting on bollguard-II Bt-cotton bolls, the all-powerful second-generation GM cotton hybrids that were meant to build resistance to the worm. It was also a hint, as Kranthi had feared, that the American bollworm (so named because of its antecedents) might also eventually return (though so far, it hasn’t).

The pink-worm (presumed by the CICR and cotton researchers to be of India-Pakistan origin), and American bollworms were among the most lethal pests that troubled India’s cotton farmers in the 1970s and 1980s. By the 1990s, because of these pests, new pesticides were introduced for high yielding hybrid seeds. In the late 1990s, when Bt-cotton was introduced in India – with the Bt gene in hybrid seeds – it was supposed to be an answer to both types of pests.

But by the 2015-16 season, acres and acres of cotton crop were again affected by the pink bollworm, reducing yields at the time by an estimated 7-8 per cent, the CICR’s field studies showed.

The pink bollworm’s larva feeds only on a few crops such as cotton, okra, hibiscus and jute. It lays eggs on flowers, young bolls, axils, petioles and the undersides of young leaves. The young larvae penetrate the ovaries of flowers or young bolls within two days of hatching. The larvae turn pink in 3-4 days and their shade depends on the food they eat – dark pink results from eating maturing seeds. The affected bolls either open prematurely or they rot. Fibre qualities such as length and strength are lowered. The cotton lint in the infested bolls can get a secondary fungal infection too.

The pest spreads from the seed cotton carried to market yards. The pink bollworm generally arrives with the onset of winter and continues to survive on the crop as long as flowers and bolls are available. Long duration cotton allows the pest to thrive for a longer period in multiple cycles, thereby also affecting the subsequent crop. In the absence of a host crop, this pest is genetically conditioned to hibernate or diapause; this allows it to be dormant for 6-8 months, until the next season.

Anxiety and no alternatives

By May 2016, following CICR reports that bollworms are back in the saddle, the anxiety was evident at two high-level meetings in New Delhi of the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) and the Indian Council of Scientific Research (ICSR), the country’s main agriculture and science research institutions. Officials discussed if any public sector projects on GM crops were likely to provide alternatives anytime soon.

No other new GM cotton technology – by either the Indian public sector or the private sector – is due for commercial approval after trials until 2020. The public sector so far has no presence in the GM seeds markets, though some of the agriculture institutions are working on GM research on various crops, including maize, soyabeans, brinjal and paddy.

In the ICAR-ICSR meetings, scientists pondered over the options to control the bollworms. “The best long-term strategy for India is to grow short-duration Bt-cotton hybrids or varieties that don’t last beyond January,” Kranthi had told this reporter in 2016. That would negate bollworms, because they attack the cotton mainly in winter. But most Indian seed companies produce Bt-hybrids that perform better in the long-duration.

And that year, the intensity of the assault on the crop was less than it has been in 2017-18.

Rotten cotton on the tree


Wilting cotton plants and frayed bolls during the harvest in the winter of 2017-18, when Wadandre expected a bumper yield but ran into the pink-worm

Bt-cotton breaks down

“The much-touted technology [Bt-cotton or BG-I and its second generation BG-II] has broken down,” Kranthi told me in 2016. “It means farmers would now have to adjust to less-potent BG-I and BG-II technologies [in GM seeds] and go back to using insecticides to control bollworms, other than containing a set of other pests.”

Bt-cotton gets its name from bacillus thuringiensis, a soil-dwelling bacterium. The Bt seed contains cry (crystal) genes derived from the bacterium and inserted into the cotton plant genome (the genetic material of the cell) to provide protection against the bollworm.

Bt-cotton was meant to control the bollworm. But farmers will now find the worms surviving in Bt-cotton fields, Kranthi wrote in a series of essays in industry magazines and on his own CICR blog. Neither the ICAR nor the Union Agriculture Ministry seemed alert to the potential devastation at the time. The state and central government have since been aware of the extent of pink-worm devastation, but have not come up with a solution.

The American seed biotech multinational Monsanto has a virtual monopoly over India’s Bt-cotton seed market. The Indian government approved the release and sale of Bt-cotton in 2002-03. Monsanto, the technology provider, ‘transferred the technology’ to Indian seed companies at about 20 per cent royalty on every seed bag sold. The ostensible aims were to reduce the use of pesticides and increase the productivity of cotton – GM technology was promoted as a panacea for both purposes.

In the first year, a 400 grams bag of Bt-cotton hybrid seeds cost Rs. 1,800. Subsequently, the central and state governments stepped in to control the royalty or trait price and thereby the price of Bt-cotton seeds. Still, in the early years, while the cost of Bt-cotton seeds became roughly Rs. 1,000 for a 400 grams bag, Monsanto’s royalty remained 20 per cent of the retail price, according to seed market observers. The Indian Bt-cotton seed market, Dr. Kranthi wrote in 2016,  is estimated to be worth Rs. 4,800 crores.

The global business of Bt-cotton is spread on 226 lakh hectares, of which only 160 lakh hectares is open to private technology providers. In 2014-15, Bt-cotton in India occupied 115 lakh hectares. In 2006-7, Monsanto released BG-II hybrids, saying the new technology was more potent, more durable. These slowly replaced BG-I. And by now, BG-II hybrids occupy over 90 per cent of the around 130 lakh hectares under cotton in the country, according to government estimates.

The bollguard BG-II technology, which involves introducing Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab genes from the bacillus thuringiensis into cotton plants, is claimed to build resistance against three pests: American bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera), pink bollworm and spotted bollworm (Earias vittella). The first generation hybrids, or Bt-cotton, contained only one Cry1Ac gene in the seeds.

All along, Dr. Kranthi wrote in another essay, there has been no roadmap for the sustainable use of Bt technology in India, in consonance with ecology and environment. At least six different Bt-events were approved by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of the Ministry of Environment, without any event-specific plans devised for their sustainability.

A gene in the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis produces a protein that acts as a bollworm-resistant toxin. Scientists develop gene constructs that can be transferred to cotton seeds so the plants can resist bollworms. This is GM cotton. When such a gene construct takes its position on a chromosome of the plant genome, it is called an ‘event’.

But the warnings were never taken seriously, even when resistance issues were pointed out, Kranthi wrote. Resistance is an evolutionary process. In agriculture, insect resistance is said to have developed when previously effective techniques are no longer controlling the target pest. Instead, more than a thousand hybrid Bt-cotton variations by private companies in India – crossing Bt events with their own seeds – were approved within just four to five years, he wrote, creating chaos for agronomy and pest management. As a result, the Indian cotton farmer’s inability to manage pests will keep growing.

Women working in cotton farm


A man with cotton in hand


Labourers on Wadandre’s forlon cotton field said the pink-worm infestation made plucking lint from the bolls very difficult, and the quality was also poor

In 2017, India saw a massive planting of herbicide-tolerant (HT) cotton seeds. HT-cotton is Monsanto’s new cotton seed. It’s not yet cleared by the government for commercial sale, but seed companies and unregistered firms have already sold these seeds to farmers. However, HT-cotton seeds are not an antidote to the bollworm or other pests. The cotton plant that grows out of such seeds is supposed to resist chemicals used to kill weeds and wild herbs, without affecting the cotton plants.

Now, in 2018, Dr. Kranthi’s warnings have come true. When the first reports of pink bollworm infestation surfaced in Gujarat in 2010, it was in a very small area and on BG-I cotton. Between 2012 and 2014, it spread to a large area on BG-II.

In the 2015-16 season, surveys conducted by CICR showed that the survival of the pink bollworm larvae on BG-II was significantly higher across Gujarat and the pest had developed resistance to Cry1Ac, Cry2Ab, and Cry1Ac+Cry2Ab (three different variants), particularly in Amreli and Bhavnagar districts.

Farmers were already using insecticides to contain the pink bollworm in addition to other insects, mainly sucking pests. The damage, according to the CICR’s extensive field surveys in December 2015, was more in the green bolls for second and third pickings – white cotton is picked by farmers from bolls as they come to flowering in stages spanning four, sometimes, five months, October through March.

The CICR’s studies came up with several factors for the resurgence of pink bollworm and failure of BG-II. Among others: cultivation of long duration hybrids that serve as continuous hosts of the pink bollworm.

Dr. Kranthi says Bt-cotton in India should have been released in open pollinated varieties (or straight-line desi cotton), not in hybrids. India is the only country to have permitted Bt genes to be impregnated in the hybrid varieties instead of straight-line – the farmers need not buy seeds from the market again if they plant straight-line varieties, but with hybrids, they have to buy the seeds every year.

“BG-II should not have been approved in long duration hybrids,” he said. “We did exactly the opposite.”

The return of the pink bollworm and the damage it caused to the farmers in the last three years has pitched Indian cotton-seed companies, around 50 of them, against Monsanto, from whom they had sourced the BG-I and BG-II cotton technology. At least 46 companies refused to pay royalty to Monsanto in 2016-17 – but that is a different story.

There is no new GM technology in sight now or in the near future that promises to replace BG-II. Neither is any technology available for more effective insecticides. India is in deep trouble on its fields of cotton, a crop that occupies vast stretches of land and creates millions of workdays in rural India.


Wadandre abandoned his initially promising cotton crop in January 2018. ‘… this year is devastating’, he said

‘I might flatten my farm soon’

In Amgaon (Kh) village, Wadandre – the beleaguered cotton farmer – abandoned his crop in January 2018. The plucking costs, he told me, would overrun the money he might have got by selling the battered cotton. “You see these plants – it looks as if these would give me a bumper yield. But this year is devastating,” he said, walking through rows of tall and robust plants that needed to be supported by bamboo sticks to hold them straight.

Many of cotton farmers in Maharashtra, after another disastrous season, flattened their plants when much of the cotton remained un-harvested. Some in Yavatmal district ran bulldozers on the standing crop, others just abandoned the cotton in distress and disgust as the worms swarmed over large swathes of the snowy white fields.

The harvesting period came not long after many accidentally inhaled pesticides in western Vidarbha: about 50 farmers died, about a thousand took seriously ill, some of them lost their eyes in July-November 2017.

As the winter peaked in January – a time the pink-worm relishes – the cotton peasantry stood shattered by the impending losses.

When I met Wadandre in January, he said, “I might flatten my farm soon,” showing us the bolls tormented by the tiny but lethal pest. I had met him twice before, but this time around, the bolls looked more completely devastated by the pink-worm than on the previous occasions. No amount of pesticides will help tame the worm, since it bores into the bolls and protects itself from chemical sprays, and multiplies really fast, he said.

Wadandre’s worries speak of a storm brewing in India’s cotton fields.

Related posts

India – Anger of the jobless youth

Their frustrations in an unjust world can take various expressions—a fidayeen in Iraq, a stone pelter in Kashmir, a mercenary in Saudi Arabia, a rabid gaurakshak (cow protector) in India or a hedonist in Shanghai

                    Paintings: Raj Kumar Singh
 Paintings: Raj Kumar Singh

…milega ilm-e-jihalat-numa se kya un ko nikal ke madrason aur universitiyyon se ye bad-nasib na ghar ke na ghat ke honge main puchhta hoon ye taalim hai ki makkaari karodon zindagiyon se ye be-panah dagha…

(What can possibly the young gain from the useless knowledge dished out by madrasas and universities? Dazed and confused they appear, these wretched souls Is this education or pure scam, I wonder What treachery with countless lives!)

Firaq Gorakhpuri, the irrepressible Urdu poet, penned these lines almost four decades ago, but they have a hauntingly contemporary ring. While his quarrel over the nature of pedagogy remains ever moot, the blight on the promise of youth today is probably far more pernicious.

To get a sense of the scale of the betrayal, chew on this disturbing statistic: according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD’s) Economic Survey of India, over 30 per cent of India’s youth (about 120 million) is neither employed nor in school or in any kind of apprenticeship. Add to this a crumbling welfare state, rising inequality, a rapidly changing economy that constantly needs new skills, a consumer culture that feeds on ever-new material fantasies, a never-ceasing carousal of violence, and, not to mention, a traditional society struggling with what novelist V S Naipaul described as a million mutinies, and you have a potential tinderbox.

Well, blame it on corrupt and myopic politics, an outdated and financially-strained education system, an economic system skewed in favour of the rich, and, arguably, disruptive technologies—the usual suspects. But there is a fifth factor that’s making life even more difficult and precarious for this century’s young. Demographers call it the “youth bulge”, a phrase first coined by the German social scientist Gunnar Heinsohn in the 1990s to describe a phase in a country’s demographic transition when even as fewer kids die at birth, women continue to be as fertile as before. Over the next two to three decades this translates into a youth bulge in the population curve.

With teenagers accounting for over 41 per cent (2011 Census), India is clearly experiencing a youth bulge. By 2020, the average age in India will be 29, making it the world’s youngest country with 64 per cent of its population in the working age group.

India is not the sole witness to this phenomenon. In fact, the world as a whole has never been younger. According to the Population Action International (PAI), a Washington-based private advocacy group, at least 62 countries, mostly from West Asia, South Asia and Africa, have a “very young” populace, which means every two out of three people are under the age of thirty.

As Africa’s population mushrooms, it is set to become the youngest continent in another 30 years.


Many social scientists, economists and politicians theorise the youth bulge as a double-edged sword. Harness its potential, and you enjoy higher growth and peace—a double dividend. Squander it, and you incur diminishing growth and social strife—a double jeopardy.

With the world plagued by high rates of unemployment, especially amongst the young, the auguries for the future of today’s youth are not very auspicious. Take India, for example. Even though officially only about 13 per cent of Indian youth are unemployed, much less than say Greece’s 40 per cent, many believe this figure does not reflect the whole truth as there is a significant proportion that are working as contract or ad hoc labour.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi keeps harping on India’s demographic dividend, but figures suggest that it is just one more of his government’s many clever but empty jumlas. According to the latest Employment and Unemployment Survey released by the Ministry of Labour and Employment, India needs to generate 10-12 million new jobs every year, but it mustered a paltry 5 million between 2012 and 2016. Last year, the government abandoned its ambitious plan to train 500 million workers by 2022 as it could manage a mere 20 million at the end of three years. The situation appears even grimmer considering traditional sectors such as agriculture, fisheries and forestry—which employ over 38 per cent of Indian youth—are in a grave crisis.

The figures also suggest that the more educated you are, the greater the odds that you won’t find a job. There are no figures on the number of underemployed, but according to Craig Jeffrey, an Oxford University professor who has studied the lives of educated youth in Uttar Pradesh, a large number of educated youth in India are just “doing timepass” (an Indian colloquial expression for whiling away time) as they can’t find suitable jobs.

More specifically, picture this: according to various surveys, of the one million engineers that graduate every year, as few as 7-12 per cent are fit to be employed! If figures leave you cold, you only have to watch NDTV journalist Ravish Kumar’s 25-part expose on the pathetic state of higher education to see through the dangerous hype around the much-bandied phrase “the demographic dividend”.

If only the anguish of these idlers could be harnessed by social, political and even literary movements, like it was in the US and Europe of 1960s! Unfortunately, the idle minds “doing timepass” are slowly but dangerously turning into the proverbial devil’s workshop where religion, politics, crime and poverty may combine in toxic brews. The Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 is one such example.

India is not alone in this awful mess. In 2017, two out of three South African youth were jobless. In Greece and Spain, it was two out of five. In 2013, the world had 202 million people out of work.

The Great Recession that gripped the world in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis shows no signs of letting up. If anything, automation is making it worse. But what’s clear is that young are bearing the brunt of it. About 74 million youth between the ages of 15 and 24 were unemployed in 2013. Although that figure has come down by 3 million since then, it is still about 35 per cent of the total unemployed.

As prolonged joblessness renders the young cynical and angry, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has warned of a “scarred generation” that may become easy fodder for fascist, religious or political groups like the ISIS in West Asia, the Taliban in Afghanistan, or the Bajrang Dal in India. Or it may take to a life of crime, like leaking question papers, peddling narcotics, rioting, stealing credit cards, or joining the ranks of the lynch mobs.


That said, figures only give you a broad brush. Youth, it goes without saying, is not a monolith, and it would be foolish to paint them with the same brush when they are deeply coloured by class, race, language, caste, political ideology, religion and culture. You can’t equate an Aboriginal youth with a white Australian youth, or a village Dalit youth with an upper caste rich urban youth in India. However, as important as these markers are, one cannot deny that youth today live in an increasingly globalised world that peddles more or less the same desires such as the smartphone, the Internet, Facebook and branded products. In a global marketplace, every youth is a potential consumer.

However, if there is one marker that subsumes every other difference, even more than consumerist fantasies, it’s precarity. To quote political philosopher Zygmunt Bauman, today’s youth have been “cast in a condition of liminal drift, with no way of knowing whether it is transitory or permanent”. In other words, there is no guarantee that you might get a job even after spending a fortune to get a degree, or that you may not be laid off tomorrow. The gig economy in the digital labour market where young freelancers work at cheap rates and at time zones when their body clock is telling them to sleep is a perfect illustration of the ridiculously precarious lives of the young.

It is this precarity of their dreams, indeed of life itself, that makes the millennial such a fragile, and hence angry, creature. This anger and frustration against an unpredictable and unjust world can take various expressions—a fidayeen in Iraq, a stone pelter in Kashmir, a mercenary in Saudi Arabia, a rabid gaurakshak (cow protector) in India, or a hedonist in Shanghai.


Even as the disillusioned youth occupy the world’s attention by the sheer violence of their numbers, we know precious little about them. Even less about young women. Perhaps the only place to find credible data on youth is the Youth Development Index (YDI) developed by the Commonwealth Secretariat. It tells you, for instance, unemployment, drug abuse and depression are common among both rich and poor nations; or that of the 45,000 national level legislators in the world, only 1.9 per cent are below the age of 30; or that the odds of a young woman not having a job or education are twice that of a young man.

But data crunching can only give you a snapshot of the big picture. For a more nuanced understanding, you need multi-layered ethnographies, which are sadly lacking. Even journalistic accounts are far and few between. Journalist Snigdha Poonam’s Dreamers offers a rare peep into the largely undocumented lives of India’s youth. Her book is an account of her conversations with young men and women across the country. In an interview to the online paper, she gave her two cents on India’s latest generation: “If I had to boil their philosophy down to two words, it would be: whatever works. Like it or not, young India is what it is—unsatisfied, unscrupulous, unstoppable. Few young Indians I met had a clear sense of right and wrong; fewer gave a damn about it.”

Poonam might be guilty of pandering to a stereotype about small town youth. But media images of recent agitations by disgruntled youths of communities like the Jats, Patidars, and most recently dalits do give the impresion that the youth are disaffected, confused, angry, and, most importantly, wired—it’s no surprise that the social media has become the favourite disruptive arena where the youth today can vent their outrage against anything they don’t approve of.


Be that as it may, journalistic portraits like Dreamers, even if their broad-brush interpretations are not too far off the mark, eventually disappoint because they bypass the murky alleys of history, which is where the real insights are to be found. As Malcom Harris, author of Kids These Days, a brilliant examination of American millennials, argues, “To understand the consequences of a generational shift, we need more than just the proximate causes of new culture and behavior; we have to pull apart the tangled nest of historical trends where they hatched.”

Not surprising, the older generations are quick to judge the “children of liberalisation” as brash, greedy, impatient, immoral, and aggressive. But is it fair to blame them for what they are? Surely, they were not created in a vacuum. They are the products of the political choices made by their parents (to be fair, at least the ones who had political power and those who were complicit). What Sarah Jones writes about the American millennials in The Nation is probably true of any other youth around the world: “What we are witnessing is a generation suffering not only from the perennial maladies of social change but from a particular set of indignities spawned by an economy that extracts and exploits, an educational system designed to enforce those deprivations, and a set of politicians who not only believe there is nothing wrong with this state of affairs but insist on calling it liberty.”

Extracting capital out of youth is part of the neoliberal project that views each individual decision or choice as a rational calculus of costs and benefits. As American political theorist Wendy Brown argues, “The rationally calculating individual bears full responsibility for the consequences of his or her action no matter how severe the constraints on this action, for example, lack of skills, education and childcare in a period of high unemployment and limited welfare benefits.”

The trouble is that with the neoliberal experimenton on the brink, its Frankensteins now have to deal with the fury and frustration of millions of young men and women left to their own devices (including, ironically, the smartphone, the ultimate icon of liberalisation).

It hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice, least of all politicians, that the kettled youth, to borrow the title of a book on violence among British youth, is the future currency of power. The rise of Trump, Modi, and Erdogan, the Brexit campaign and growing traction of right-wing politics in Europe are all portents of what the future game of thrones might look like. Militant outfits like ISIS and spiritual ones like Dera Sacha Sauda too have milked this bottled-up anguish.


So what can we do if we don’t want this generation to be “lost” to the deadly pathologies of religious bigotry, fascism, crime, war, drugs, not to mention social media? The most predictable prescription is to customise education and vocational apprenticeship to the demands of a changing labour market. But this manoevre, critics quickly retort, detracts from the more critical question of whether we want to turn our schools into factories that churn out readymade grist for the mills of the labour market.

Equally, a single-minded obsession with creating more jobs ends up undermining the fundamental questions of political economy, violence, inequality, justice, environment, ethics and cultural diversity. In their angry but incisive Disposable Futures, Brad Evans and Henry Giroux argue that what is unique about such attempts is “the constant reconfiguration of the nation-state in the interests of a market that colonizes collective subjectivity with discourses of risk, insecurity, catastrophe, and inescapable endangerments”.

And as automation threatens to worsen the crisis of unemployment, Silicon Valley czars, fearing uprisings, have begun lobbying for a universal basic income for every citizen (no questions asked) to take care of their basic needs. Critics, however, dismiss the idea as another clever ploy by neoliberal governments to further abdicate their social responsibility towards vulnerable citizens, especially jobless youth.

Perhaps it is high time the world junked the discredited neoliberal project and tried something little more radical than capitalism in pastel shades. As economist Joseph Stiglitz contends, “If socialism means creating a society where shared concerns are not given short shrift—where people care about other people and the environment in which they live—so be it. Yes, there may have been failed experiments under that rubric a quarter or half-century ago; but today’s experiments bear no resemblance to those of the past.”

Radical words for a former chief economist of the World Bank, but the question is how many such voices will it take to bell the comatose cat.


Source- Down to Earth

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