Archive for the ‘English’ Category
Koodankulam Activist Nityanand Jayaraman Full Speech At Balagopal commemorative meet held in Hyderabad on October. 7th 2012.
Professor Haragopal inauguration speech on at Balagopal Commemorative Meet on October 7th 2012, on the occasion of the release of K.Balagopal’s book titled ”Manishi & Marxism”.
This October 8, it will be three years since Balagopal passed away.
On Sunday, Oct. 7th, 2012 we are organising a day-long commemorative meet in Hyderabad.
The venue is Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in King Koti, Hyderabad.
The meet will begin at 10 am.
In the forenoon, A Chandrasekhar, HRF vice-president will speak on Balagopal’s contribution to the human rights movement.
This will be followed by Ashish Kothari of Kalpavriksh who will speak on ‘Globalisation, biodiversity and alternatives”.
Post-lunch, writer and social activist Nityanand Jayaraman will speak on “Nuclear power–the Kudankulam struggle”.
The 4th talk is by Supreme Court lawyer Nitya Ramakrishnan on “Role of the law in social change”.
Two books will be released on the occasion:
1. ‘Of Capital and Other Punishments’ by K Balagopal (a compilation of articles in English on the death penalty). Published by HRF
2. ‘Manishi, Marxism’ (Reflections on human agency, social movements and Marxism) by K Balagopal. Published by Perspectives.
We warmly invite you and friends to be with us on the day.
Human Rights Forum (HRF)
Understanding Indian human rights movements through the lives of two human rights defenders: Jinee Lokaneeta
Watching Advocate alongside Democracy Dialogues: a Tribute to Balagopal, both by Deepa Dhanraj, made for a powerful experience for its remarkable documentation of human rights movements in Andhra through the lives of these two human rights defenders and the collectives that they were a part of whether it was Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee, Human Rights Forum or People’s Union for Civil Liberties. There is of course a sharp sense of loss, since in the last few years we have lost both these incredible people but one was grateful for this effort to record and document their inspirational lives in such a beautiful manner. It also points to a further need for us to understand the connections of human rights groups to law, the relationship of human rights defenders to the courts, and their role in pushing for the realization of some of substantive aspects of the Indian Constitution in the process.
Commitments: Personal and the Political
What struck me the most about both of them (and people around them), was their supreme confidence, the sense of being sure of their commitments in life. Undoubtedly, there must have been phases when they must have struggled with decisions about life, family, security, materiality, true of middle class/all existence, but what is it that led them to believe that this was the path to take? It was fascinating to see in the film Advocate, Vasanth Kannabiran, feminist activist and Kanna’s companion, refer to the early part of their lives. Vasanth talks about her life initially as a middle class one (we see her wedding photo!) with husband, kids, and job and then gradually recognizing the contradictions between her life as a lecturer teaching Shakespeare and Milton and her home where she would witness survivors of custodial torture and recognizing where her lifelong commitment lay—in a critical engagement with the radical left movements as a feminist activist. Varavara Rao spoke of Kanna’s successful practice as a corporate lawyer that gradually suffered as he began to be known as a naxalite lawyer.
With his disarming smile that often appeared when he was abashed, Balagopal answered this question about commitment in a very interesting way. He said, there are many qualities that enable these commitments, individual qualities that weren’t by themselves admirable – such as being stubborn or being inflexible – but in the context of a life committed to positive values, they helped. Kanna noted that while he worked as a political activist only part time, it was not a “pass time”—all these snippets reminding one of the unknown paths they let their lives travel and once they did, they never let go.
The relationship between their lives as lawyers and as human rights activists has been the subject of much discussion. Looking elegant in their lawyerly clothes, one wondered about why they turned to law. Was there a faith in law that their lives and work represented? Balagopal said that he turned to law with little illusions about the possibilities within law, and yet he also said he had some faith in law. But mostly he chose it as a profession because he saw it as closest to the human rights work he wanted to do while trying to earn a living.
Kanna in his obituary for Balagopal in EPW (“A One in a Century Rights Activist,” Nov 4, 2009) wrote about how the latter appeared to have more faith in law than him, but in the film, it is the “advocate” Kanna who is focused. Cleverly, of course, the title could mean mostly an advocate for peoples’ rights not just in a legal sense, but to the extent, it focuses so much on his life as a lawyer, as a cause lawyer, as a human rights defender in court, one wonders about Kanna’s own complex relationship to the courts. And some of that emerges beautifully in the film. Kanna’s willingness to not only represent the marginalized for free but also to pay for their travel costs, to never coach them about what to say and most significantly to use the contradictions present within the state’s own interpretation of the laws. Mostly, for him, he suggested, it was a political performance in the court—so we hear that he spent time explaining passages of the Communist Manifesto to the judges to translate what communist activists actually did. He asked evidence for the nonexistent provisions that were being relied on by the state lawyers, and according to him, some of the liberal judges responded to his arguments quite favorably. The film Advocate among other things pushes us to note the ways in which lawyers such as Kanna could gain the respect of the court by virtue of their innovative interpretation of the Constitution, their legal performances, and their sheer persistence.
Human Rights Movement
The Indian human rights movement and its historical phases are gradually being documented and the obituaries written for Balagopal, and Kanna among others reminds us of accounts not yet written. But Dhanraj’s efforts reflect the power of documentation through the lives of these human rights activists. Some of the formative phases of the human rights movement come out powerfully in the film in the recalling of emergency (1975-77) and the arrests and above all the setting up of the Tarkunde Committee and the Bhargava commission to look into the incidents of state violence. What is striking in that narrative, apart from these state bodies actually acknowledging that encounters were murders, is just the way in which fact findings as a method got established by the efforts of these human rights initiatives. What is it that allowed the police to acknowledge that these activists have the right to know what happened? What helps them acquire that legitimacy? As Balagopal states in his interview, there is no law that requires them to and yet the police gradually accept it as legitimate. He says at least we have achieved that—this respect from the police (even more than from politicians) comes out of sheer perseverance and, of course, at great costs to lives and bodies.
While much has been written about the HRF emerging from the APCLC, Balagopal’s narration, regardless of whether one agrees with his critique or not, is noteworthy just in terms of his approach to political differences in general. Balagopal explains, in the interview, three things that are of note: a substantive critique, a method of analysis, and an ability to accept political defeat without bitterness. Substantively, it was HRF’s inability to accept state repression as the primary form of human rights violation that led to their political disagreements with the APCLC. Methodologically, his method of analysis was to constantly change in the face of reality. This theorist-practitioner pointed famously to how the human rights activists changed their focus on custodial torture to be more comprehensive to not just protest against torture of political prisoners but of all criminals. Third, what’s admirable was his ability to accept defeat in a political struggle and yet work until the very end to represent the rights of naxalites in the courts.
Neither Kannabiran nor Balagopal had an uncritical relationship to the law or to each other. Kannabiran in his very moving obituary on Balagopal in EPW pushes the point further about their different approach to law. Kanna writes, “His was a radical approach to the Constitution but he was bound by institutional norms. He accepted the law as defined by precedents but did not stretch the limits of the principle or break new ground to innovate a principle to advance the jurisprudence of the poor. My view, on the contrary, has always been that appearing for the poor and as lawyers for social change one should always at¬tempt to break new ground or innovate and strive for its acceptance. We must make the contentions and the conceptions we innovate familiar in courts if they are to be accepted later (10).” Elsewhere he writes, Balagopal believed in social transformation through the struggle for rights. While this may be a subject of further debate, what it above all points to is the need to continue this conversation, a debate to some extent that lies at the origins of the civil liberty and democratic rights movements in India in the 1970s. In the present, such discussions become even more important when questions of whether India is even a democracy (and what kind of democracy) persist and rights are even further endangered in the name of security and development. In such a context, a debate on the role of the law and the courts and analyzing the experiences of these transformative human rights defenders to these institutions become crucial.
B I B L I O : J A N U A R Y – F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 2
Balagopal found his voice as a critical public intellectual in the early 1980s at a time when the Indian economy was shifting gears and continued to be the most prolific commentator in English and Telugu until his passing in 2009. Ear to the Ground brings together the most significant of this writing in English and serves it up in an aesthetically produced book, affordably priced.
For students and activists of three generations, Balagopal’s voice was an ethical and political compass. He was of course a product of a particular time and place – post-Emergency Telangana – but he transcended time and place not only through his wide ranging work in and on human rights in Kashmir, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh, but also through his sophisticated navigation of the world of theory and practice.
The early ’80s was a troubled and violent time in Telangana. Even as agrarian surpluses largely from the Green Revolution were seeking avenues for reinvestment, older forms of exploitation and oppression were being renewed and reconfigured. Competing claims on the Indian State from caste alliances (one hesitates to use that quaint expression fractions of capital) weakened it to a point where populism and extrajudicial violence through armed forces became the only means of ensuring unjust surplus extraction. In Andhra Pradesh, as in some other states, Maoist groups emerged as a formidable force challenging the repressive order bringing about a degree of dignity to the social groups that bore the brunt of these processes — Tribals and Dalits. Building on memories of past struggles against oppression, in Telangana, the Maoists gathered force very rapidly and with a State seeking to crush it violence escalated rapidly. Academic economists and sociologists struggled to contain these processes within the abstract categories of land, labour and capital. If Balagopal’s contributions to the Economic and Political Weekly began as a parallel accounting for the same processes that the academics were preoccupied with, intervening only occasionally to expose the perils of abstractions, they also enriched abstractions by embodying them with flesh and blood. He did this from a unique vantage point — that of the general secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee. He travelled incessantly through the villages and towns of Andhra Pradesh, on fact-finding missions, enquiring into extrajudicial violence by the police, contractors and landlords, addressing the press and gathering evidence for judicial remediation. This constant transgression of the boundary between the world of abstraction and reflection on the one hand and the world of immediate action on the other, was guided by a political commitment to a particular understanding of the role of civil liberties activism in India that emerged in the aftermath of the Emergency – defending the space of State guaranteed rights so that democratic struggles can be waged by people’s organisations – in this case Maoist groups.
While by and large, the Maoist groups drove the locus of change during the ’80s, both in Andhra Pradesh and in the rest of the country, new social forces whether in the form of Dalit solidarity groups or in the form of anti displacement and environmental campaigns emerged. The APCLC had to necessarily engage with all these democratic struggles and expand its work. By early ’90s, Balagopal’s writing began to reflect a discomfort with teleological accounts of class transformations. On the one hand, the social classes that commanded the agrarian surpluses and reinvested them did not display any clear drive towards modernity and capital and on the other, the Maoist groups and their constituents not only did not seem to drive change, but also appeared to act with more and more impunity closely mirroring the very ruling classes that they were battling. Where then had historical agency shifted to? By mid to late ’90s, Balagopal began to articulate this discomfort in more and more decisive terms both in his praxis as a civil liberties activist and as an analyst. The result was a vastly broadened field of vision for Balagopal but a sharp divergence from an the intellectual and political praxis of the ’80s which envisioned the role of civil liberties as one that is by and large auxilary to the struggles led by a class determinism — namely the Maoist groups. In 1997, he was confident enough to state unambiguously that human rights movement in India could not and should not be functioning as the handmaiden to any political movement but that it had to seek its own domain of work. For observers at a distance from this deep intellectual churning, Balagopal’s trajectory signaled a simple disagreement with the Maoists on the viability of violence as means of transformation and for those who were too close to the churning, this was a shift towards liberal humanism.
Such closures may have helped different groups involved in these debates to pursue their own agendas but on the whole reducing Balagopal’s questions into rigid categorical formulations imposed a temporal sequence not only on Balagopal’s work but also on the trajectories of radical politics. Ear to the Ground, a collection of 42 essays by Balagopal previously published in the Economic and Political Weekly, organised into eight sections with a rich and nuanced Introduction by V Geetha and an appendix of a timeline of caste violence in Andhra Pradesh thoughtfully inserted by the editors, is a very important contribution to breaking the image of that sequence and foregrounds the continuities in Balagopal’s writing and thereby in social realities. The publication of this volume also brings to a conclusion, the grief that many of Balagopal’s associates and admirers have been experiencing in the two years since his passing.
Ear to the Ground, accentuates certain dimensions of Balagopal’s work that are widely known to his readers. These include of course attention to the richness of detail, an ability to move from the particular to the general to the discovery of a universal truth, a strong sense of history and agency. It introduces Balagopal to a new generation of readers as an intellectual whose praxis builds analysis from concrete realities and works its way to theory.
Ear to the Ground also foregrounds some dimensions of Balagopal’s work that are not as widely appreciated as they should have been. Geetha’s excellent Introduction brings out these. Even through the first decade of his work, Balagopal’s work with a loyalty to class politics, was clearly strongly influenced by questions of caste and violence. In some sense, class was a category that got fleshed out through caste. While there was a schematic elegance to this style of thinking, its limitations began to reveal themselves by the early ’90s, when Balagopal began to first express his discomfort with Marxist teleology and began to look for emancipatory potential in non-class struggles. The common theme throughout all these years is however, a deep suspicion of the ruling classes – their illegitimacy and their unsuccessful attempts to win legitimacy through populism and orchestrated and subtle forms of structural forms of violence – and a deep commitment to people’s struggles. Also, the ways in which Hindutva ideology was insinuating itself into public life.
Yet for all this attention to the new social formations and their potential, there is a surprising persistence in Balagopal’s search for a unifying universal struggle — a struggle that would alter consciousness at a scale where ethical conduct will no longer remain a private dilemma but a public imperative. This search was so deep that it essentially became the main compass for his professional practice as an advocate towards the end of the 1990s. Balagopal’s writing which directly drew on his work and politics reflects a deep restlessness with partial theories. To borrow a phrase from Stuart Hall, the British cultural Marxist, Balagopal’s enduring challenge was to learn to live with a Marxism without guarantees. His journeys through philosophy exploring various strands of Marxist thought is revealed in bits and pieces in interviews published in Telugu. His rejection of the politics engendered by postmodernism and adoption of post-structuralist attention to language and culture are faintly reflected in his writing. Yet he did not leave behind any clear and conclusive answers. What we do know is that by late 2000s, Balagopal began to write and speak more and more assertively that none of the struggles that were unfolding across India seemed to have a complete answer. And yet a complete answer was the need of the hour. How does one stop the excesses of the 21st century Indian State in its tracks except by physically stopping it by large numbers of mobilised people? What would be a broad politics or analysis that will bring together such an emancipatory agenda? Perhaps Balagopal would have turned to Gramsci, after all these decades. Perhaps, he would have reconciled to the necessary incompleteness and found provisional closures through solidarity with numerous local struggles for social justice thatwere multiplying across the territory rapidly. Perhaps he would have discovered the resources for the next political project in Marxism itself. In the absence of an ambitious enough counter-hegemonic struggle that alters the commonsense radically, Balagopal’s writings collected in Ear to the Ground show a simultaneous yearning for a unifying thought and commitment to the imperatives of struggles embedded in concrete circumstances. Balagopal was fully aware of this dialectic and the quixotic ways in which it played out. For example, he recognises clearly how the regional specificity of the Maoist movement shaped its trajectories and how generalising from there into a theory of necessary violence is fraught with risks.
His is an unfinished intellectual and political project. But upon closer examination, we may find that the dialectic is no longer a significant one for our world. Or yet we may find that he is relevant. Either way, Balagopal’s life through the 1980s gives you an insider’s view to Indian society. He was one of the people who animated the most progressive of the forces that shaped it. And for those who want to continue in the best of the intellectual traditions of India, Ear to the Ground is required reading.
A person travelling through rural coastal Andhra Pradesh in the late 1980s will have come across gigantic buildings in the middle of nowhere that resembled the urban cinema halls of those parts. These were actually godowns that stored agricultural produce grown in these fertile districts. It required the insight of K. Balagopal to point out that this bizarre resemblance was not merely a cultural idiosyncrasy, but told the story of a complex relationship between agrarian capital, caste, cinema and politics. The rich capitalist farmers of these parts, mostly hailing from the Kamma community, reinvested the agrarian capital in both agricultural industry and Telugu cinema. The investment in cinema created a space for them to use the medium for political mobilization. It was this background that created a fertile ground for the emergence of N.T. Rama Rao as a political figure.
Such moments of insight blended with academic rigour, clarity of expression and wry humour mark this compilation of Balagopal’s articles, a testament to the academic rigour and wry humour of one of India’s most important thinkers. Balagopal’s career followed a remarkable trajectory: from a mathematician to a hero of the democratic rights movement during the heydays of the Naxalite movement to a lawyer of the poor. His influences range from the other brilliant polymath, D.D. Kosambi, to Karl Marx, from Digambara poets to Dostoevsky. This eclecticism often found its reflection in his writings, where the sensitivity to social conditions seamlessly merged with psychological insight and a strong sense of ethics.
A sizeable section of the articles, though not all, centre on the changing social and political landscape of his native Andhra Pradesh. Some of his writings on the incipient phase of the People’s War movement during the 1980s narrate how the functioning of the local nexus between the landed agrarian classes, political parties and police and the suppression of open politics left the exploited with no other choice but to respond with militant, underground forms of rebellion and protest. The series of articles on caste and politics treat caste identities not merely as politically manipulated historical baggage, but as identities that are actively generated through parliamentary politics. For instance, till the 1980s, the term kapu was mainly used to define the profession of several middle-level cultivating castes, but hardened into a caste identity through the efforts of a section of the landowning and business elites seeking political fortune.
Balagopal’s observation of Andhra Pradesh’s ground realities helps him draw conclusions that challenge many fundamental assumptions of development theory. The conventional wisdom is that development in a third-world nation will follow a linear path from agrarian feudalism to capitalist industrialization. For a modernizing Western nation in the past, this might have been the case, but there are more profitable opportunities available to the propertied classes today. Much of the agricultural profits of landowners of Andhra Pradesh were invested in film industry, real estate and liquor. These “provincial propertied classes”, whose agricultural profits are invested in the city, are at the forefront of agitations for remunerative prices for farm produce—itself a contentious issue. What really concerns the poor are issues of work, irrigation and access to land. The richer classes project their own demands as that of oppressed rural “Bharat”. The oppression of Dalits is thus a means for them to suppress dissent and display a “unified” village movement, united in their opposition of urban industrialization.
Balagopal’s great theoretical insight is to link diverse elements—the character of peasant movements, caste oppression in the villages and modern industrialization—into a magisterial theory of political economy, calling into question several accepted paradigms of mainstream thought about India’s development.
A short review does no justice to the fertility of his thought on subjects like reservations or patriarchy, and the importance of his work as an activist. Every article shines with the originality of his insight and the fury of his concern. This volume is testament to the fact that one cannot engage meaningfully with the complex changes India is going through without having one’s ear to the ground.
Selected Writings on Caste and Class by Balagopal from 1982 thru 2009. (Listed as one of the memorable books published in 2011, Biblio Nov/Dec 2011).
Book Summary of Ear To The Ground: Writings On Class And Caste
As a human rights worker active since 1981, and slightly older than Balagopal, I remember him as a magical figure. The writings in this volume help interpret the often chaotic developments in Andhra Pradesh, and provide a model tool for understanding other regional realities of India.’
Balagopal’s writings, from the early 1980s till he died in 2009, offer us a rare insight into the making of modern India. Civil rights work provided Balagopal the cause and context to engage with history, the public sphere and political change. He wrote through nearly three tumultuous decades: on encounter deaths; struggles of agricultural labourers; the shifting dynamics of class and caste in the 1980s and thereafter in Andhra Pradesh; the venality and tyranny of the Indian state; on the importance of re-figuring the caste order as one that denied the right of civil existence to vast numbers of its constituents; the centrality one ought to grant patriarchy in considerations of social injustice; the destructive logic of development that emerged in the India of the 1990s, dishonouring its citizens’ right to life, liberty and livelihood. This volume comprises essays—largely drawn from Economic & Political Weekly to which he was a regular contributor—that deal with representations and practices of class power as they exist in tandem with state authority and caste identities.
Inspired by naxalism in the late 1970s, intellectually indebted to D.D. Kosambi’s writings on Indian history and society, and politically and ethically attentive to the politics of feminist and dalit assertion in the 1990s, Balagopal refused dogma and shrill polemics just as he refused theory that did not heed the mess of history and practice.
Balagopal was too self-effacing to put together his writings into a volume. But it is through his writings that his legacy lives on, giving us a roadmap for future struggles.
‘There is perhaps no issue on which we are such hypocrites as caste; nor any other which brings out all that is worst in us with such shameful ease. The moment V.P. Singh announces the decision to implement the Mandal Commission recommendations… an avalanche of obscenity hits the country. Caste will undoubtedly be the last of the iniquitous institutions to die out in this country. It will outlast everything else.’—Economic & Political Weekly, 6 October 1990
About the Author:
Kandala Balagopal (1952–2009) did not start out as a writer or commentator on contemporary politics. Like that other great modern Indian thinker, D.D. Kosambi, whom he read avidly, admired and wrote about, his training was in mathematics, a subject he taught at Kakatiya University, Warangal, from 1981 to 1985. The political culture of Warangal—home to the naxalite left and resonant with debates around questions of class, justice and revolution—proved decisive in Balagopal turning away from an introspective life of the mind. Instead, he came to train his acute intellect to identify, comprehend and critically examine key political and social concerns. He joined the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee in 1981, and became active in civil rights work centred at that time around extra-judicial killings of militant left cadres. Arrested under TADA in 1985 on trumped-up charges relating to the murder of a police sub-inspector, he spent three months in Warangal prison. In 1989, Balagopal was kidnapped by a vigilante group called ‘Praja Bandhu’—believed to be a front of the police, and in 1992 was beaten up badly by the police in Kothagudem.
Balagopal trained to be a lawyer late in his life and enrolled in the Bar Council of Andhra Pradesh in 1998, representing a wide variety of litigants whose lives, lands, status and employment were threatened. In fellow-traveller K.G. Kannabiran’s words, ‘Balagopal showed himself as the only lawyer of the poor of his generation with a reputation for competence.’ Owing to differences of opinion on the use of violence by naxalites, Balagopal left APCLC in 1998. He was one of the founder-members of Human Rights Forum in which he was active till his death.
దళిత , పరస్పెక్టివ్స్ , హైదరాబాద్ 2011.
వివిధ సందర్భాల్లో బాలగోపాల్ కుల సమస్యపై వ్రాసిన వ్యాసాలు, రిపోర్ట్లు, వ్యాఖ్యానాలు.
Balagopal essays, reports and commentary in Telugu on caste related issues from 1985 thru 2009.
Audio collection of Balagopal’s speeches and interviews,
4. On Marxism
On the occasion of first year anniversary of Balagopal’s demise and the commemoration meeting held on October 8th, 2010 in Dallas,Texas – Prof G Haragopal remembers Balagopal.
On the occasion of first year anniversary of Balagopal’s demise and the commemoration meeting held on October 8th, 2010 in Dallas,Texas – Sri S Jeevan Kumar, President, HRF talks about his more than thirty years of association with Balagopal, his contribution to the human rights movement, emphasising that only way to respect and remember Balagopal is continue his work in HRF. (Courtesy: www.prajakala.org)