As 2022 ends, around the world, mass evictions threaten all that is human

“Housing should not be a privilege”. After years in shelters and on the streets, 41-year-old Dwayne Seifforth and his nine-year-old daughter D’Kota-Holidae Seifforth live in an apartment in Harlem, in upper Manhattan. Having a stable and decent place to live has made all the difference. Mr. Seifforth moved from working part-time and living on food stamps to a full-time job. His daughter went to school and settled in. Unbeknownst to them and their neighbors, the landlord’s ownership of the building was tenuous, at best, and now they face eviction, through no fault of their own. “Housing should not be a privilege”. It’s a sentiment expressed around the world, and, sadly, with increasing frequency, given the rise this year in mass evictions. Consider just the last month or so, 2022.

In the United Kingdom, November ended with the revelation that, in the depths of the pandemic and its economic and existential hardships, housing associations, home to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable tenants, had secretly lobbied the government to let them charge more rent. At the same time, the typical salary for a housing association executive was around £300,000 a year, close to $400,000. At the same time, Michael Gove, the `levelling up’ secretary, reported that `at least’ tens of thousands of rental properties across the UK were unsafe, due to lack of maintenance. One minister’s “lack of maintenance” is a thousand landlords’ refusal to maintain. Meanwhile, end of the year reports showed that no-fault eviction notices rose 76% in the past year. 48,000 households in England alone were served with no-fault eviction notices.

In Canada, evictions marked the end of the calendar year. Quebec’s non-urban areas saw a marked increase in “renovictions”, forced evictions under the pretense of renovation. Non-urban Quebecois renovictions rose 43% in the past year and look to continue rising. The Coalition of Housing Committees and Tenants Associations of Quebec describes the situation as “alarming”. In metropolitan Quebec, evictions rose from 1,041 in 2021 to 2,256 in 2022, a 154% increase, again in the midst of a pandemic and its hardships.

For the state of Assam, in northeast India, in December, the state went on an eviction spree, and this in a state that has used mass evictions often since May, 2021, when the BJP assumed power. These eviction campaigns have targeted `encroachers’, who are almost Muslim. At the time of the last census, Assam’s population was around 27 million, of whom around 19 million were Hindu and 11 million were Muslim. From May 2021 to September 2022, 4,449 families have been evicted, almost all Muslims of Bengali origin, most of whom have lived in the area for generations. In November, 562 families were evicted from one site, without notice. In the first week of December, 70 families were evicted. On December 19, another 302 families were evicted. On December 26, 40 families were evicted from one site. On December 28, another eviction drive was announced, in Guwahati, Assam’s most populous city. Repeatedly, the government and its supporters have boasted that there was no resistance to the evictions.

Finally, on December 17, a group of people identifying themselves as part of or related to Operation Dudula, an anti-immigrant group in South Africa, invaded a derelict building in the New Doornfontein neighborhood of Johannesburg and evicted over 300 people, almost all migrants. Included among those cast out were more than 60 people living with disabilities, most of whom were blind, and over 200 women and children. As in Assam, the purpose was to remove `encroachers’ who were somehow `foreign’.

That’s the end of 2022, along with mass evictions of slum dwellers in Nigeria, villagers and small shop owners in Cambodia, Afghan refugees in Greece, long term residents in Mexico forced out to `welcome’ the new remote workers from the United States and Europe, Palestinians across the occupied West Bank, and especially Jerusalem, and, in the United States, from Connecticut to Oklahoma to Missouri to California to Oregon, and beyond and between, eviction filings and evictions are surging, often to record heights. When it comes to access to decent, stable, and affordable housing, the world map is one of violence, devastation and existential crisis.

Globally, the common theme is fear. In India, for example, the government assured the world that everything was fine because there was no resistance. According to residents, the reason there was no resistance was years of police violence against those who protested.  Ajooba Khatoon, whose house was demolished, explained, “We did not resist them because there were hundreds of policemen. The police had already instilled a sense of fear among us since their arrival on December 13. We were not allowed to step outside on the eviction day.” Across the United Kingdom, renters live with dangerous conditions because they are fearful of revenge evictions if they speak up. In South Africa, one of the survivors of the eviction in Johannesburg, Lazarus Chinhara, explained, “‘We are not scared of deportation or anything. If we remain quiet, we will become prisoners of conscience.” Tadiwa Dzafunwa added, “I don’t know if we will ever recover from this”.

Around the world and around the corner, neighbors are living with histories of State violence, perpetrated by landlords with the assistance of the police. Thinking of the residents’ and the world’s silence at the evictions in Assam, Moumita Alam wrote, “The silence around eviction however can be attributed to the history of violence that has marked the fate of the protestors …. If every protest begets dead bodies to be buried in silence, ‘peace’ of the burial ground shrouds our memory.” If we silently accept the forced disappearances of neighbors, the web of trauma thickens and tightens as the corpses pile up. What threatens all that is human is the cooperative architecture of violence, silence, and trauma of eviction. I don’t know if we will ever recover from this. Housing should not be a privilege.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Image Credit 1: Next City)     (Photo Image Credit 2: LibCom)

Hope in a time of choler: From India to South Korea and beyond, women’s current and historic rights extended

The news these days is grim, some say “somber”: “currency blowouts and rampant inflation, rising food and fuel prices, and ongoing security threats”; civil and imperial wars; climate crisis forcing millions from their homes, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently. These are days with darkness, but they are not exclusively dark days. There is hope. There is light, and it is real, serious, promising, joyful and momentous. Consider the news from India and South Korea in the past twenty-four hours.

Today, in India, the Supreme Court decided that “unmarried women” have a Constitutional right to abortion. The language of the decision is explicit: “All women are entitled to safe and legal abortion … If Rule 3B(c) [the rule which determines who qualifies for abortion] is understood as only for married women, it would perpetuate the stereotype that only married women indulge in sexual activities. This is not constitutionally sustainable.The artificial distinction between married and unmarried women cannot be sustained. Women must have autonomy to have free exercise of these rights … The rights of reproductive autonomy give unmarried women similar rights as married women”. Women have reproductive autonomy. The Constitution says so. The State must recognize and respect the concept as well as the material reality of women’s bodily as well as agential autonomy.

Supreme Court lawyer Karuna Nundy responded to the decision: “I think in a world where the US is moving backwards and failing to recognise women’s right to their own bodies, this judgment is based on the privacy of the body and non-discrimination between married, and unmarried, separated or divorced women. It recognizes all these rights in constitutional and affirmative terms.”

Today, in South Korea, the Supreme Court to pay compensation to women who had been dragooned, by the State, into so-called “camp towns”, large brothels designed to “service” U.S. soldiers. The camp towns were first established in 1945 and ran for decades, and for decades, women who had been trafficked into them had organized, campaigned, and sued for recognition of and compensation for the South Korean government’s role in that industry. In 2018, the Seoul High Court, in a landmark decision, decided that the women were right and deserved something like justice. There were at least three major issues: the role of the State in recruiting, sometimes forcefully, women into sex work, for `the good of the nation’; the forced segregation of camp town women into forced internment facilities and the indiscriminate administration of penicillin; and, finally, recognition and compensation. 117 former camp town women workers had sued the State, and the Court agreed with them on all counts: “In regarding the right to sexual self-determination of the women in the camp town and the very character of the plaintiffs as represented through their sexuality as means of achieving state goals, the state violated its obligation to respect human rights.”

For decades, former camp town women organized. They organized informally, and the organized formally, through Camptown Women’s Human Rights Alliance as well as other organizations. The State appealed the Seoul High Court decision, basically playing the same game as Japan has with `comfort women’, delaying and delaying in the hope, if that’s the right word, that all of the applicants would die before the final decision. Today, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision, and its language was explicit and crystal clear: “The government’s formation and operation of the military base villages, and encouraging and justifying prostitution inside them constitute a violation of the duty to honor human rights”.

Two Supreme Courts today, issuing decisions on different but linked issues, agreed: Women must have autonomy to have free exercise of their rights, and it is the duty of the State to honor those rights as civil, human and women’s rights.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit 1: India Times) (Photo Credit 2: Hankyoreh / Kim Min-kyung)

And also lonely: With mass incarceration, the State becomes a factory producing loneliness

Umar Khalid

Umar Khalid, a political prisoner held in Tihar Jail, in India, wrote an open letter, which was published September 13, 2022. The letter was addressed to Rohit Kumar, a high school teacher and education activist. In India, “democratic rights” organizations, communities, and people observe September 13 as Political Prisoners Day, to commemorate the death of Jatin Das, 24-year-old independence activist and revolutionary who died, September 13, 1929, after a 63-day hunger strike. On September 14, 2020, student activist Umar Khalid was arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which allows for indefinite detention. Two years later, he is still in jail, still awaiting trial, still surrounded by State and media lies. As Umar Khalid notes, “Do people not see any similarity between the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) – under which we are languishing in jail – and the Rowlatt Act, which the British used against our freedom fighters? Should we not do away with these penal instruments – a continuing ‘legacy’ of colonial rule – that enable the violation of the people’s rights and liberties?” What is it called when history repeats itself? Halfway through his letter, Umar Khalid takes a slight turn and writes, “To be honest, Rohit, it makes me feel pessimistic at times. At times I also feel lonely.”

At times I also feel lonely.

We don’t talk enough, if at all, about the imposed, enforced and mandated loneliness that is part of incarceration. Why is that? Is it because loneliness isn’t grand enough, doesn’t fit into the register of tragic conditions? There’s talk of solitude, torture, resistance, all of which are critical components. But what about the conditions and feelings, the ways of being and becoming, that are `minor’? “At times I also feel lonely” is the invitation to enter into “minor literature”, the literature a minority constructs within a major language; the literature in which, because of its “cramped space”, everything connects to politics; the literature in which, because of the scarcity of talent in a confined, constrained space and community, “everything takes on a collective value.” This is how Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari describe Kafka’s project, the production of a minor literature: “We might as well say that minor no longer designates specific literatures but the revolutionary conditions for every literature within the heart of what is called great (or established) literature”.

Umar Khalid understands the revolutionary conditions of the minor literature of the incarcerated. He follows his `confession’ of loneliness with precisely the political and collective significance of his scarcity of talent: “The only thing I find succour in in such moments is the realisation that none of this is personal. That my persecution and isolation is symbolic of something larger – the persecution and isolation of Muslims in India right now.”

Prison is an architecture of loneliness, a structure and practice of estrangement, alienation, and then theft, by the State, of a person’s sense of belonging and of being. While loneliness is distributed and instilled across the carceral universe, it has its gendered particularities. How often must we wonder about the greater distances between women’s prisons and the women’s home communities? How often must we wonder about the absence of educational, cultural and social programs in women’s prisons and jails? Always, the State responds with budgetary alibis, but the real purpose is to render women lonely.

Lonely is not just being alone nor is it solitude nor solitary, although there are connections. Lonely includes dejection, sadness, absence, missing parts. Umar Khalid’s sometimes loneliness is a function of recognizing that something has been taken away, something is being taken away. That theft is part of the State policy and practice of mass incarceration. It is literally the State of Abandonment. As Umar Khalid notes, “It makes you feel unwanted. It makes you feel a stranger in your own land.”

In 1917, Rosa Luxembourg was in prison, in Berlin. On February 7, 1917, she wrote a letter to Mathilde Jacob in which she describes the cry of the chickadee, a cry she knows so well that she draws the chickadee to the bars of her cell. Then Luxembourg adds, “Despite the snow, the cold and the loneliness, we believe, the chickadee and I, that spring is on the way.”

In 1965, Dennis Brutus was in prison, on Robben Island, when he wrote “Letter 18”:

“18

I remember rising one night
after midnight
and moving
through an impulse of loneliness
to try and find the stars.

And through the haze
the battens of fluorescents made
I saw pinpricks of white
I thought were stars.

Greatly daring
I thrust my arm through the bars
and easing the switch in the corridor
plunged my cell in darkness

I scampered to the window
and saw the splashes of light
where the stars flowered.

But through my delight
thudded the anxious boots
and a warning barked
from the machine gun post
on the catwalk.

And it is the brusque inquiry
and threat
that I remember of that night
rather than the stars.

20 December 1965”

In 1974, Assata Shakur was one month pregnant. She was taken to Roosevelt Hospital and shackled to a bed for 10 days. Then she was moved to Middlesex County Jail for Men and kept in solitary confinement for four months. She was then moved to New York, to Rikers Island, where `the treatment’ continued. On September 10, Assata Shakur went into labor, and, on September 11, gave birth to Kakuya Amala Olugbala Shakur. When Shakur returned to Rikers Island, she was shackled, beaten, put into solitary confinement for a month. Finally, she was released from `punitive segregation: “So I was no longer locked. Just in jail. And separated from my child.” And she wrote the poem, “Leftovers – What Is Left”, in which she wondered

“After the tears and disappointments,
After the lonely isolation,
After the cut wrist and the heavy noose,
What is left?”

On February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela walked out of incarceration, hand in hand with his then partner Winnie Madikizela Mandela. He walked forth into the strong summer sun of Cape Town and addressed the nation and the world: “Friends, comrades and fellow South Africans. I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all.” He ended with an invocation of pain and loneliness: “I pay tribute to the mothers and wives and sisters of our nation. You are the rock-hard foundation of our struggle. Apartheid has inflicted more pain on you than on anyone else … My salutations would be incomplete without expressing my deep appreciation for the strength given to me during my long and lonely years in prison by my beloved wife and family. I am convinced that your pain and suffering was far greater than my own.”

Those who have been incarcerated, those who are presently incarcerated, they know. Loneliness is not just an afterthought, not an aside. Loneliness is a constitutive component of incarceration. A State that engages in mass incarceration is committed to the mass production of loneliness. 

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Pariplab Chakraborty / The Wire)

India’s prison system is at 155% capacity, 80% await trial, the process is the punishment

India’s prison system, consisting of 1,378 prisons, is designed to hold a maximum of 403,739 people. On July 16, Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana noted that the prisons held 610, 000 people. By July 17, that number was just under 620,000. Today, July 19, that number is 626,259, and rising. As of last count, India’s `correctional’ system is currently at 155% capacity. According to Chief Justice Ramana, 80% of incarcerated people are awaiting trial and presumed to be innocent. As Chief Justice Ramana noted, “In the criminal justice system, the process is a punishment. From indiscriminate arrest to difficulty in obtaining bail, the process leading to prolonged incarceration of undertrial prisoners needs urgent attention. Prisons are black boxes. Prisoners are often unseen, unheard citizens.” While the cloak of coerced silence and visibility cuts across several sectors, in each, the epicenter is women, and that is intentional.

Where are the women? Everywhere and nowhere. When it comes to overcrowded carceral spaces for women, six states lead: Uttarakhand, 156.5%; Uttar Pradesh, 140.6%; Chhattisgarh, 136.5%; Maharashtra, 105.8%; Jammu and Kashmir, 104.1%; and Jharkhand, 102.6%. Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, and Jharkhand have no dedicated women’s jails; women are housed in enclosures in men’s prisons, designed for men. The process is the punishment. While this `unprecedented overcrowding” is shocking, it’s no surprise.

In 2015, 612 women in Tihar Jail, New Delhi’s Central Jail, refused to accept `the process’. They informed the State that they had been in prison awaiting trial for more than half of the maximum sentence for their various crimes. Responding to a letter by Supreme Court Justice Kurian Joseph, the Delhi High Court decided to take over. Justice Joseph had written directly to the Delhi High Court Chief Justice G. Rohini, the High Court’s first woman Chief Justice, “earnestly” requesting her “to take up the matter appropriately so that the cry for justice is answered in accordance with law with the promptitude with which a mother responds to the cry of her child”. In a plea to Justice Joseph, the 612 women in Tihar Jail described the cruel separation from their children six years and older; the severe overcrowding of the women’s jail; the insufferable delay in disposal of their cases; the unjust bail bonds conditions; the “lack of sympathy” from the jailhouse courts and doctors; and the inadequacy of legal aid made available to women prisoners. The women asked to be released immediately on personal bond. Testifying before the High Court, the Delhi government agreed: “Out of 622 inmates, 463 are undertrial prisoners, and there are only 159 convicts.” The Delhi government advocate noted that Jail No. 6, the women’s jail, was designed to hold a maximum of 400 women, and at that point, seven years ago, held 622. Effectively, one State agency told another State agency it was time to let my non-people go.

In 2019, after a bit of a delay, the National Crimes Record Bureau, NCRB, finally released its Prison Statistics India 2016 Report, which reported that, in 2016,  67% of India’s prisoners were “undertrial”. 72% of women prisoners were awaiting trial. Much more than with male prisoners, women prisoners were overwhelming young, minimally educated, poor … and formally innocent. Additionally, there were 1,809 children in prisons and jails across India, and they were all cared for by their incarcerated mothers. Of the 1809 children living behind bars, 78% of their mothers were awaiting trial, minimally educated, poor … and formally innocent.

And then came Covid.

In 2020, India’s Supreme Court, on its own, recommended various measures to control the spread of Covid in prisons and jails. In 2021, the same Supreme Court ordered state authorities to reduce arrests and decongest jails and prisons. States convened “high-powered committees” which came up with presumably high-powered plans. Today, those prisons and jails suffer unprecedented overcrowding. The last two years saw a 30% rise in incarceration numbers. From 2019 to this year, Haryana’s prison population went from 105.78% capacity to 224.16%. Uttar Pradesh went from 167.9% to 198.8%. Bihar went from a `respectable’ 94.2% to 164.3%.

Maharashtra has 60 central and district jails. Of them, one, Byculla Women’s Jail, is the only one dedicated for women and children. In 2020, Byculla Women’s Jail was at 101.5% of capacity, in the midst of the ferocious first wave that hit India, and Mumbai in particular, where Byculla is located.  On March 31, 2020, Byculla, capacity 200, held 352 women. That’s 176% occupancy rate.  In September 2021, when Covid raged through Byculla, the jail held close to 300 womenAccording to activist Sudha Bharadwaj, her Byculla unit housed 75 women. It had a maximum capacity of 35. Women slept side by side by side on the floor, each on a mat the “size of a coffin. Overcrowding becomes a source of fights and tensions. There’s a queue for everything – food, toilets.” 24% of the women in Sudha Bharadwaj’s unit were infected with Covid: “The judiciary should consider decongesting our jails more seriously. Even during the pandemic most people did not get interim bail to return to their families.” In April 2021, Byculla accounted for 33% of the Covid cases in Mumbai’s five jails.

The judiciary should consider decongesting our jails more seriously. The judiciary did consider decongesting the jails more seriously, and today the women’s carceral spaces are more overcrowded than ever. For women in India, the process – rule of law, due process, presumption of innocence, innocence itself, justice itself – is the punishment.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Art Work: Arun Ferreria / Free Them All)

Friday’s factory fire in New Delhi was yet another planned massacre of women workers

Woman worker’s shoe outside the burned building

On Friday, May 13, a fire broke out in a “commercial building” in the Mundka suburb of New Delhi. As of two days later, at least 27 people were killed, or better murdered. That number is expected to rise. “Women made up the majority of … workers.” Again. The building had a factory. The factory owners have been arrested. The building had two owners. The owners have been arrested. Their arrest will not bring back the 27 people, the majority if not all of whom are women.

The building is stories tall. The building has never passed any fire department inspection. The building had no fire safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers. The building had no fire exit. Most of the people who died, the twenty-seven “charred bodies” that were recovered, died of asphyxiation. The only exit to the building was blocked “by rubbish”. The staircases were packed with cartons. Those inside never had a chance. Women made up the majority of workers.

According Atul Garg, the Delhi Fire Chief, “It seems the entire building was illegal.” Illegal and in plain sight. The area in which the building stands is village land, zoned only for residential and small shops. Commercial enterprises on village lands are prohibited. “However, commercial activity in these areas is rampant.” Four stories high, completely and visibly illegal.

The women manufactured and assembled CCTVs and WiFi routers. They are the latest addition to the roster of women workers sacrificed to the global, national, and local economies. December 11, 2019: “Sunday’s factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of workers: We know”. July 16, 2019: “Saturday’s factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of women workers”. January 22, 2018: “The factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of women workers”. Women made up the majority of workers.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: BBC)

 

In Covid-hit India, where are the women? In Byculla Women’s Jail, awaiting trial, awaiting death

When Covid hit India, the reports, and for some expectation, were that the State would consider pandemic measures, such as the need for social distancing, and would reduce the incarcerated populations. To no one’s great surprise, that did not happen generally, and in particular it did not happen in women’s jails and prisons. For example, the state of Maharashtra has 60 central and district jails. Of them, one, Byculla Women’s Jail, is the only one dedicated for women and children, but that doesn’t mean the conditions are in any way better. Byculla Women’s Jail has always been an overcrowded hellhole for women and children.

But first, let’s consider the national situation. The most recent National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)’s annual Prison Statistics of India looks at 2020. It finds, first, that, between 2015 and 2020, the prison population increased by 16.4%. In 2020, the number of undertrial prisoners increased by 11.7%. In 2020, there were 1427 women prisoners with 1628 children. 1184 were undertrial, with 1345 children. 214 convicted, w 246 children. Where are the women? In prison, awaiting trial. Occupancy rate for women in all jails at national level was 72.2%, but in many states the rate was much higher. 20,046 women were held in jail, of whom 15.4% were in women’s jails. The number of women in women’s jails increased 3.7% from 2015 – 2020; in Other Jails, 14.2%. Between 2015 and 2020, the number of convicted incarcerated people decreased by 16.1% while the number of undertrial inmates increased by 31.8%. Again, where are the women? In prison, awaiting trial.

In 2020, 4,83,585 were incarcerated: 4,64,260 men, 19,255 women, 70 transgenders were confined in various Indian jails at the end of the year 2020. Of that 4,83,585 population 3,68,381 were remand, awaiting trial. 96% are undertrial. Incarcerated women are disproportionately, overwhelmingly undertrial.

Finally, in 2020, 1,291,504 people awaiting trial were released. In 2019, that number was 1,606,731. So much for pandemic concerns.

Byculla Women’s Jail was at 101.5% of capacity, in the midst of the ferocious first wave that hit India, and Mumbai in particular, where Byculla is located.  On March 31, 2020, held 352 women. Its capacity is 200. That’s 176% occupancy rate.  Last September, when Covid raged through Byculla, the jail held close to 300 women. According to activist Sudha Bharadwaj, recently released, sort of, on bail from Byculla, her unit housed 75 women. It had a maximum capacity of 35. Women slept side by side by side on the floor, each on a mat the “size of a coffin. Overcrowding becomes a source of fights and tensions. There’s a queue for everything – food, toilets.” 24% of the women in Sudha Bharadwaj’s unit were infect with Covid: “The judiciary should consider decongesting our jails more seriously. Even during the pandemic most people did not get interim bail to return to their families.” In April 2021, Byculla accounted for 33% of the Covid cases in Mumbai’s five jails.

Amidst a pandemic and despite promises to reduce the incarcerated populations, why is Byculla Women’s Jail a death trap? Why is the entire prison system, the entire criminal justice system, filling prisons and jails with people who are presumed to be innocent and are awaiting trial? Why sentence people to death or serious infirmity in this manner? We have seen this before, in pretty much every carceral system in the world. Out of sight, out of mind, out of luck, and, soon, out of breath. This is the State of Abandonment: “Zones of abandonment … accelerate the death of the unwanted. In this bureaucratically and relationally sanctioned register of social death, the human, the mental and the chemical are complicit: their entanglement expresses a common sense that authorized the lives of some while disallowing the lives of others.” That original formulation pertained to Brazil, but we have seen it in the United States, England and Wales, South Africa and beyond. What happened in the prisons and jails of India in 2020,  during the pandemic, what happened in Byculla Women’s Jail? Absolutely nothing. Nothing happened … absolutely.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Art Work: Arun Ferreria / Free Them All)

 

Farmers in India have been protesting for a year: Friday they won

After a year of protests by farmers in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced that he would repeal the infamous agricultural laws, which had sparked the protests last November.

Most of the farmers in the demonstrations hailed from the northern Punjab and Haryana states-two of the biggest agricultural producers in the country. The farmers raised major concerns that the law-which was signed September of 2021, introduced market reforms to the farming sector, a move that the smallholder farmers argued would favor large corporate farms, devastate the earnings of many of the poorer farmers, and leave those who, “hold small plots of land behind as big corporations win out.”

The fear is that the new legislation will leave the farmers poorer, at a time where Modi had attempted to reinvent India as a “hub for global corporations.” The bill is also not clear on whether the government will continue to guarantee prices for certain essential crops, which would leave small farmers open to large agrobusiness competition; farmers had already voiced concerns as the government attempted to liberalize the farming markets and move away from a system of farmers selling only to a government-sanctioned marketplace, which would have left them at the mercy of corporations without any legal obligation to pay them the guaranteed price. Clauses in the legislation almost guaranteed that the farmers were on their own-including one that would have prevented them from taking contract disputes to court, thus having no means of redress apart from bureaucrats.

The subsequent protest had been the biggest since Modi claimed power in 2014 and erupted at a time of economy and social insecurity, with laws that were deemed discriminatory and a botched COVID-19 response. Dozens of farmers have died during the process, one from the police during a demonstration in January when protestors stormed the Red Fort in the capital’s center, and others from either suicide, bad weather from the demonstrations, or COVID-19.

While Modi has promised a repeal of the law, farmers and their unions are not backing down. Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the group of farm unions organizing the protests, said, “It welcomed the government’s announcement but that the protests would continue until the government recommits to the system of guaranteed prices. The protesters had long rejected a government offer to suspend the laws for 18 months.”

The announcement came on the day of the Guru Purab festival, where Sikhs celebrate their founder Guru Nanak’s birthday. The laws have been particularly alienating to the Sikh community and come after Modi attempted to discredit the protesters as being motivated by religious nationalism. The move to repeal the law on Guru Purab, amidst an important election cycle, while most definitely Modi’s government attempting to do damage control, is nonetheless a decisive win for poor farmers whose annual income is 20,000 rupees or $271.

 

(By Nichole Smith)

(Photo Credit: Altaf Qadri / AP)

Mitochondrial DNA

Mitochondrial DNA

Mama told me a story

She said:
You are an ocean and I am a river that feeds you and makes you grow.

If I’m an ocean now; then what will I be when I grow up, I asked?
That’s easy, she said, you’ll be a river that will feed an ocean just as I do.

Choose those that choose you.
Not every eye can see your coat of many colors
Nor can every ear hear your plaintive cries desiring belonging

Not all fingers can touch the wounded places and the scars
Nor offer the healing touch of consolation.
Not all skin folks are kin folks
And strong enemies contribute to ones growth, too.
Rivers lose their identities once they reach oceans.

Lose their identities 
And their contradictions.

Who is my mother and father asks the ocean?
Child of many streams
And many rainstorms
Where is your home 
And where will you lay your head?

What floodgates open because of intrepid questioning?
And, what Jerichonian walls crumble because of courageously blown conch shell horns?

Funeral Pyres blaze in India
Telling two stories
One ancient
And one new
Tell me who I am as I inhale deeply
As the dust of the dead mingles and enters my nostrils 
reminding me that I am a sleeping god.

Pandora’s curiosity brought forth both plague and hope.

Who is my family in all of this?
Like calls to like; but, can that call be answered?
All of this is mission; but, can it be accomplished?

My brothers and sisters have many names.
They ask questions as I do
And are not afraid of the answers that they receive.
By their curiosity my Family of Choice is known.

In Tibet they are called Vidyādhara because they want to know
And knowledge is their seat.

Among the Lakota they are called Heyoka — contrarians for whom night is day and day is night
And, Reality is only just when and if it can be questioned.

In India they are called Brahmins because they seek the truth.
This cannot be achieved merely through bloodlines and birth within a family.

Among Yoruba Orishas, my family calls on Shango
And the Wise Women in my family venerate Yemaya.

American Griots,
Fearlessly tell your stories and sing your songs
And teach the children to sing, too.

Sing the songs that Grandma sang in the kitchen
Or as she danced on the laundry with her blessed feet.

Sing work songs and war songs
That helped men survive chain gangs 
And oppressive assembly lines.

Sing bawdy songs and love songs 
That foment perilous rendezvous.

Sing new songs of Hope and learn to call on The Mothers once again.

How many more Mothers of Exiles can be named 
In this melting pot called America?
That hasn’t yet finished melting

Not even close.

But the Gods came here to these shores with the people who brought them
Listen for the answers that they whisper
Even though we vaguely call upon them 
With dimly remembered prayers.

Let your peace fall upon all of those who will listen to you and receive you
But if they shun you
Shake off the dust of your sandal on their threshhold
As a testament against them and their house
Then walk on.

All it takes to make stone soup is
A pot
A stone
a story
And the willingness of Families of Choice to bring the rest of the ingredients.
All seasonings and flavors blend in a stew.

And all oceans eventually become rivers that feed other oceans
Losing both their identity and their contradictions

I am just a ghost driving a mitochondrial DNA machine made of:
Blood
Fat
Bone
Marrow 
Tissue
Ovum
And Sperm

Why am I even afraid?

(By Heidi Lindemann and Michael Perry)

(Image Credit: Metropolitan Museum)

Farmers’ Protest in India Is An Intersectional Feminist Issue

It is important for the Indian farmers’ protest movement currently unfolding in New Delhi, India, to be seen as intersectional feminist issue. 

Farmers from the Punjab are protesting the latest laws of the Indian government designed to now hand over to the billionaires—who already hold this poor country’s wealth since the so-called liberalization of the 1990s.The farmers are calling attention to the government’s colonizing of the agrarian sector.  Among networks covering news about the farmers’ protest in New Delhi, we see only male farmers and male protesters and male speakers. Where are the women, especially since the state of Punjab is rife with violence against women, a warped sex ratio, and the wide economic gap between the genders? The reality is that women farmers all over India are underrepresented in the news. They do the same work as men and use machines that are easier for men to use than for women. In the spate of suicides among farmers that we have seen in the past decade, women farmers are part of this statistic, but did not make the news. According to Surbhi, “out of total 8007 farmers suicide in 2014, 441 were female farmers.” Additionally, the women are affected by the farmers who commit suicide, since now they become the sole supporters of their families and receive no welfare form the government. Undervalued, women farmers are the building blocks of the country’s economy. 

What is the reality on the ground during the current farmers’ protest in New Delhi? Women from across villages and towns in Punjab have traveled to Delhi to speak. When a women protests, she is speaking for her whole family and for her whole village of farmers. Women protestors are enlightening the public about the bias against female farmers who are called agricultural laborers and are paid less and given poorer implements and are exposed to toxic chemicals. In fact, the women farmers work hard for long hours and do the same kinds of work as their male counterparts, from sowing and harvesting, to threshing and winnowing. 

The farmers are protesting not just the lack of control over the prices of their products but the corporate pressure to use GMO seeds. In a recent Twitter post, Vandana Shiva states, “In 1984 Punjab farmers were protesting against the #GreenRevolution model saying if you cannot choose what you grow or how you will grow it , these are conditions of slavery . They have already paid a very high price with debt , suicides & a #CancerTrain”. Shiva’s ecological activism is based on understanding that the exploitation of the earth and our ecology is both intersectional and transnational. She traces back the exploitation of the most vulnerable, earth, women, and the poor to colonialism and capitalism. In the same Twitter feed, Shiva argues, “No one was dying of famine in India in 1965 when the World Bank & US govt imposed the #GreenRevolution on Punjab to sell left over war chemicals. Chemical Monocultures of dwarf rice & wheat forced on farmers use 10 times more water.” Here is an example of economic colonialism at play, which in another 60 years has not subsided but increased in power. 

As Shiva and other feminist activists see, a stitching together of agricultural activism across borders can impact governments subservient to corporate interests. In the current farmers’ protest, Sikh women in the U.S., Canada, Amsterdam, are taking to the streets, bringing attention to their farming families spread over the diaspora. As Ramanpreet Kaur, one of the Sikh activists in Queens, New York says, “Even if you don’t feel a personal connection to India or the farmers out there like many of us do, as a human being who lives on earth you should be concerned about exploitation of the people who feed you everyday.”

Women activists who are part of the long arc of farmer activism in Indian history are not only protesting the Indian state with its development model but also patriarchy and capitalism. Currently organizations such as Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch (MAKAAM) are on the ground offering the strong voices of women farmers. 

In other parts of India, there are grassroots movements such as Fatima Burnad’s Society for Rural Education and Development (SRED), which lists support of women farmers as part of the intersectional model. SRED challenges the oppression of Dalit and women laborers. These movements are intersectional and bring religious, caste, communal, and gender perspectives into the fight for farmers’ rights. 

What is interesting about the Sikh farmers is that Sikhism as a religion is critical of caste discrimination and religious divisions. Men and women were equally active during partition. They are admired for their warrior spirit and their generosity. At the height of the protest, the farmers offered langaar, or food donation, to all protesters—a sign of their good will despite the draconian measures they are battling. The farmers are careful not to let the news media misconstrue their protest into a religious protest or the 1980s disastrous “Khalistan” protest. They do not want to be labeled anti-national. In fact, the stories about women farmers can become the linchpin for any success that can be seen in this latest farmers’ protest movement. In addition, feminist protests across the globe can show solidarity with the farmers and increase pressure on the Indian government and point to the danger to food, earth, and human and animal health.

Pramila Venkateswaran

 

(Photo Credit: Reuters / Anushree Fadnavis)

Why many Indians believe Muslims spread COVID-19

Wazukhaana in front of Fatehpuri Masjid, a Sufi mosque in northern Delhi, in 2015.

Here’s an analogy. If people are standing in line, and a brown person shoves a white person, it would be incorrect of the white person to conclude that brown people have no manners. I think most Indians understand this. So when we Indians stand in line and a Muslim person shoves a Hindu person, it would be incorrect of the Hindu to conclude that Muslim people have no manners (especially when all of us have seen how our fellow Indians cut lines, everywhere, even when there’s assigned and assured seating, as when boarding a flight).

What prompted this was a conversation I had recently with an old friend, in which Muslims as a whole were being held responsible for one Hindu (said friend) getting shoved while waiting in line at a store, at a time when everyone is supposed to stay 6 feet apart. The friend started to say something about “these people”, so I felt compelled to point out to them that just the previous day, I had to tell a Hindu fellow shopper blocking a narrow aisle in the grocery store to cover her nose and mouth with her mask. Her mask was hanging around her neck like a necklace, and she made no attempt to put it on or to give way when I indicated that I needed to pass her. She had already breathed over who knows how many products, leaving germs all over the place. I told my friend that the definitely-Hindu cashier had no mask either. Everyone knows that this sort of behavior is currently punishable.

A word about Hindus, Muslims, and cleanliness. People who have researched sanitation in South Asia have found that in general, personal hygiene levels in predominantly Hindu India are lower than in the predominantly Muslim neighboring countries of Bangladesh and Pakistan. They surmise that this may be directly related to the fact that Islam has clear prescriptions pertaining to personal hygiene, which are daily rituals. In contrast, they note, Hinduism has none (or no clear and effective ones that are widely taught and practised, at any rate).

And yet our fascist government/media/social circles have brainwashed us into racist thinking by repeatedly portraying Muslims in particular as vectors of Covid-19 (for example, see thisthisthis, and after the Delhi government’s own complicity, this). And sadly, even those of us who sincerely believe we are good, smart, sensible, righteous, reasonable, and not-evil take up such racist thinking and let ourselves become pawns in the politics of hate. We slip into believing greater lies like “Muslims are destroying this country”. Many of us vote for leaders based on the racist belief that we have chosen to embrace, instead of voting in the interest of ourselves and our fellow citizens.

 

(Photo credit: Uma Asher / Medium)