Students-Youth organisations to join Maruti Sazuki Employees Union (MSEU)’s rally and blockade of Gurgaon (Sep 12)

12TH September 10 A.M.

THE workers, both permanent and contract, of Maruti Suzuki Industries Ltd. in IMT Manesar, Haryana are struggling against the company’s exploitative and repressive ways of functioning and the willing state government, administration and police. They demand the recognition of their Union, oppose the termination and suspension of workers from August 29th for their just demands, and the company’s baseless charges on workers who raised their voices and false propaganda that production has resumed even as it is practically at a halt. They stand united as Maruti Suzuki Employees Union (MSEU) which is rallying the workers of the company, as workers and Unions in the Gurgaon-Manesar-Dharuhera-Bawal industrial belt and all over India stand in support.

Today, 11th September, the MSEU after its joint meeting with representatives from around thirty Unions, reiterated its demand of the right to organise and unionise, to withdraw the charge-sheet, termination and suspension of 57 workers, and to stand with the just demands of the contract workers for their wage-hike and withdrawal of suspensions and against the company’s easy hire-and-fire policy and that till these are met, they will not enter the factory.

The MSEU has given a call for a rally and blockade of Gurgaon tomorrow morning 12th September at 10am. All Unions and workers in the area will join with the struggling Union’s effort.

WE, all student and youth organisations and concerned individuals, condemn the exploitative ways of Maruti Suzuki and stand in solidarity with the legitimate demands of the workers for the right to unionise, the unconditional withdrawal of charge-sheet, termination and suspension of 57 workers, the withdrawal of the good-conduct bond, and the just demands of the contract workers.

WE call upon all students and youth to join the rally of the workers of Maruti Suzuki tomorrow 12th September in Gurgaon in solidarity with its struggle. It will start at 10 am from Kamala Nehru Park in Gurgaon.

signed jointly by:

Krantikari Naujawan Sabha (KNS)
Democratic Students Union (DSU)
All India Students Assiociation (AISA)
All India Students Federation (AISF)
Students For Resistance (SFR)
Vidyarthi Yuvajan Sabha (VYS)

Students from JNU and DU in solidarity with Maruti Workers (Sep 11, 2011)

 

 

FOR SLIDESHOW CLICK ON THE PHOTO…

COMPANY RAJ and WORKING CLASS STRUGGLE

The story of those who make all stories possible is a simple one of every moment’s struggle. The around 3000 workers in Maruti Suzuki in Manesar, Haryana, more than half of whom are hired on contract, are extremely angry, and this collective anger is one of the most lethal arms that they possess. It arises from discontent of the unending days and nights of alienated labour, reduced to being mere parts of the machine, torn from his fellow workers by the attack on the right to organise. The worker lives and bleeds to death, faces insults and feels fatigue, thirsts for water and suppresses his urine, all this, only so that the assembly line goes on. In this nerve centre of the automobile industry, the Plot no.1, Phase 3A of the Industrial Model Town Manesar, a Swift and an SX4 model car is assembled in 38 seconds. 1250 squeezed out per day. Super-profits of the bosses. Efficiency. Development. Growth. Consumer satisfaction. A ‘happy’ middle class family.

Maruti Suzuki Industries Ltd., the biggest automobile company in India with a passenger car market share of over 45%, promises a “way of life”. For this, it spent a reported Rs. 2000 crores on advertisement alone in a year (so the bent-back welcome to its lies from Wall Street Journal to all the so-called objective corporate media in India). As its profits soar in geometric progression, its financial statement says it spent a mere 1.9% as total employee cost in the year 2010-11, down from 3.5% in 2001 and 2.3% in 2008. When in June this year, the young workers all in their 20s, demanded their right to organise, and filed for Union registration on 3rd June, the company sent its ‘bouncers’ to literally arm-twist the workers into signing a blank sheet of paper to give up their demand for this minimum of respect. The workers struck work on June 4th and continued a sit-in inside the factory for 13 days till June 16th. The suspension of 11 workers was revoked.

Made to cower down momentarily in face of the workers’ fight, the company, with blood on its hands from crushing the workers movement in early 2000 in its Gurgaon plant, plotted revenge and Shinzo Nakanashi, the MD threatened that workers must be “educated”. Cockroaches and dead flies begun to be found in the food in the hurried lunch-break of 30 minutes that workers earn in the canteen ½ km from the working station. The tea was without tea leaves or sugar in the 7 minute break, as workers would go to the bathroom running with a snack in the mouth, tea cup in one hand, unzipping with the other hand, before the bell rings and the assembly line resumes. The company doctor would give heavy doses of ‘instant’ medicines even on any minor complaint by a worker, only so that disruption of work could be prevented. The disease then returns in greater degree and one day’s wage cut of Rs.1500, two days Rs.2200, three days cut of Rs.7-8000 is implemented, so that almost the total month’s wage is cut. One second late into punching-card entry is a day’s wage cut, but he cannot then go out of the factory but has to give his full production for that day too.

Meanwhile, with ‘development’, ‘growth’, ‘consumer satisfaction’ involved, the willing State too lends its full support (rejecting the minimum demand for registration of the workers’ Maruti Suzuki Employees Union (MSEU) as a pre-independence day gift on 14th August; police force of 500 send to occupy the factory to ‘prevent violent activities’ as a pre-emptive measure on August 28th night). The company then terminated 11 workers and suspended 38 on August 29th and 30th on false charges demanding a ‘good-conduct bond’ (read: humiliation by law), with the state police and administration, the media (which is singing the management’s tune that production has resumed), and ‘bouncers’ on its payroll as its willing pawns.

Inside the factory, with cameras even in the bathrooms, the company’s evidence-less charges of ‘indiscipline’ and ‘sabotage’ or go-slow in production are baseless. Is it remembering the death penalty for ‘industrial sabotage’ implemented in an emerging industrial England with the 1812 ‘frame breaking act’, that corporations clamour for more ‘solid’ laws? The language now is ‘flexible’ labour laws for a more insecure and ‘mobile’ labour force. In fact, contractualisation of labour is fast becoming the definitive burning issue before the working class. The workers, both permanent and contract, in Maruti Suzuki however stand united in this struggle.

In such a situation, the current demand of the recognition of a Union that the workers feel represents their interests becomes the first step towards demanding the end of such despicable working conditions and back breaking extraction of labour which make profit and strength of the company possible in the first place. The Maruti Suzuki Employees Union (MSEU) is demanding as an immediate measure, the withdrawal of the charge-sheet, termination, suspension of the 49 workers. The workers are sitting day-and-night at the factory gate, peeling off the layers of Maruti Suzuki’s “way of life”.

The significance of the current struggle in Maruti Suzuki’s assembly plant where workers anger and corporate-state power battle, can only be fully comprehended in view of its impact in the vast network of arteries of the industry in the area and beyond of which Maruti sits at the centre, exhausting a low paid, ‘mobile’ workforce with the normalcy of exploitation. On 1st Sept, on the call of the MSEU, in solidarity with all the workers of MSIL, Manesar, over 5000 workers assembled at the factory gate no.1 for a dynamic gate meeting and juloos that followed in the IMT Manesar area. On the 5th September again, around 4000 workers rallied till the highway to block it. The Gurgaon-Manesar-Dharuhera-Bawal industrial belt in Haryana is stirring up in solidarity and protest by workers and Unions in the area. The social power of these young workers is tangible with the thunderous camaraderie that erupts when workers and others join in solidarity.

This struggle erupts as a continuation of rising tide of workers` struggles in Gurgaon-Manesar with the most prominent being the police attack on a demonstration of Honda (HMSI) workers in July 2005. In May 2006, immediately after a five day occupation at Hero Honda by 3,000 contract workers, tools were laid down in the supplying plant of Shivam Autotech. Similar situations at HMSI and Delphi have also arisen after that. The Rico Auto 43-day strike happened in September 2009 with one lakh workers in the area going on a one-day general strike which shook not only the entire area but stopped production lines in General Motors in the US. This present struggle thus, more than itself, is important in the possibilities it shows ahead for working class struggle and the struggle of the masses in crisis.

We know and realise even better with the ongoing struggle in Maruti that profit depends on one most significant variable- exploitation of working people. This is true from POSCO Orissa to Maruti Manesar, where the potentiality of the masses is violently disrupted on one hand by displacement and uprootedness, and then boxed up in daily routines, shift rhythms and distorted social relations. We realise that exploitation is not an event or a spectacle but married to how ‘normalcy’ is produced. As young women and men faced with the crisis of the system as it stands, we realise that this and other such struggles of the workers and masses expose the skeletons on which the grand houses of riches are built. As a youth organisation, Krantikari Naujawan Sabha, seeks to expose the limitations of the present system from a left revolutionary perspective, seeking a living political process. Rather than ending up ‘interpreting’ Marx’s 11th thesis “Philosophers have only interpreted the world so far. The point however is to change it”, a direction is sought towards really changing the world.

With the struggle in Maruti Suzuki, we stand as part of the larger solidarity effort and forum which is in coordination with the Union’s effort. We call upon all to join us in the solidarity meeting with the struggling workers in Kaveri mess, JNU, tonight 9th September at 9.30pm.

sd/- Subhashini, Arya, Akash, Imtiaz

Krantikari Naujawan Sabha (contact: subhashini: 9711485496; arya: 9873887667; nayan: 8130589127)

On the Arrest and Release of Students on 9th August

100 hr Barricade by Students and Youth Against Corruption and Corporate loot. Thousands of students were detained and later released in order to prevent them from carrying out their 100 hr barricade at night. An interview with Sandipan Talukdar (AISA).

9 Aug ’11 – 100hr Student Youth Barricade Against Corruption and Corporate Loot (part 2)

Organised by Student-Youth Campaign Against Corruption at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi after a nation wide campaign. Interview with Aslam Khan, Student-Youth Campaign Against Corruption

9 Aug ’11 – 100hr Student Youth Barricade Against Corruption and Corporate Loot

Organised by Student-Youth Campaign Against Corruption at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi after a nation wide campaign. Interview with Kavita Krishnan of CPI (ML)Liberation

Delhi University: DO WE KNOW WHAT’S BEEN HAPPENING IN OUR DEPARTMENT?

DO WE KNOW WHAT’S BEEN HAPPENING IN OUR DEPARTMENT?
WHAT ARE WE DOING ABOUT IT?

Do we support of the Department becoming a Police State?
NO!

Do we support the presence of Bouncers in Faculty meetings?
NO!

Do we voice our dissent?
NO!

Silence in the face of Totalitarianism is equal to Support for Totalitarianism.

Is this who we want to be?
An apathetic and apolitical body of students?
Do we care?

THE NEED OF THE HOUR is to MEET.
Take time to look beyond busy exam schedules at the big picture,
Recognise the value of having an academic space which allows faculty and students to express opinions.

GET INFORMED. Read http://kafila.org/2011/04/18/is-it-nineteen-eighty-four-already/
SHOW SUPPORT.

hello all,

its time we put an end to this long silence.
what are we doing? what exactly are we doing? an MA? running desperately towards a degree? with as much speed as possible?

the only thing that can really get us into gear is exams! i wished we could do better than that. else, we could do much better in the apathetic corporate sector and science colleges we so critique for their “apoliticalness”. are we, the literature students, who theorise and tear authors and critics apart, better just because we STUDY lit.? for we dont seem to be any more political than the table in my room.

facebook is the platform for our protests. upcoming exams, bad syllabi, lack of chairs in classrooms and unsatisfactory IA – all of it goes on facebook. and of course, we expect our techie teachers to take the hint and sort our problems for us. we, helpless souls are limited to our computer mouses. thats as far as we move our fingers. the only time we draft petitions are when we want exams to be postponed, even when it is a perfectly comfortable date sheet. that’s as far we theory people can delve in practice. of course, we expect some of the practioners to see our protests on face book and demonstrate it physically for us.

and surely we do not waste our time organising seminars or attending the ones which were painstakingly fought for by the “over-enthu” and apparently not-so-studious few for their own fun.

why would the messy MA admission process bother us once we are done with it?

why will the semester system issue for UG level bother us, for we are Post Graduate students!

why should it matter if the dept is in a state of chaos, for we will get going soon enough. and if there are those who want to stay here, its their problem.

and if our teachers and mentors who have helped us through so many different things, why should we feel grateful? after all, its their job?
NO. its not their “job” to deal with our questions outside the class. its not their “job” to push for a better IA mechanism or organise a students seminar, or listen to our personal problems, as a lot of them do.
but we do ‘like’ and ‘comment’ on their plight on FB. and surely, as students, busy preparing for our exams (which probably cant happen if these teachers were not there), we cant be expected to do more! poor, helplessly busy us.

we cant speak for ourselves, we cant speak for anyone else. and of course we are students of English Literature who specialize in being articulate, in making coherent theoretical arguments and speaking for the rights of the “mute” subaltern. well, charity begins at home. start speaking for the rights of the environment you are a part of, even if provisionally.

can we please, for once, get over ourselves, our petty goals, our exam phobias and take responsibility for our political positions. for, inaction and silence does not mean NEUTRAL GROUND. it is very much a position. it is very much a choice!

can we, for once, try to take our grudges beyond our comfortable computer tables and fb groups and actually step out to express the beliefs and critiques we so well write down to get a 60%?

can we for once think of a future beyond exams? we are not half as messed up as we will be in the time to come, if we keep shirking from our political responsibilities, if we are not willing to interfere in the course things take in our work/study places, if we are self-obsessed enough to allow the flow of things to drown us.

we have actually read very little, and perhaps understood even less. for if we had understood, we wouldnt have been in the pitiable shape that we are, letting ourselves down as we have.

So. Do we meet? When?

Higher Education Cuts, Students Protests and Media Misrepresentation

Bulent Gokay
Farzana Shain

At the end of 2010, tens of thousands of university students have demonstrated in central London and all over university campuses in the UK, against the coalition government’s proposals to raise tuition fees up to 9,000 pounds. Government and Media coverage of the protests has focussed primarily on two factors – the violence of a minority of protestors and the apparent ‘privileged’ profile of a few student protestors. ‘Rich rioting students’ was just one of the headlines describing the demonstrations. A panellist on BBC’s Question Time described protestors as ‘just a bunch of middle class students’. Michael Gove, the Education Minister, defending the planned increase in tuition fees posed the question: ‘Is it fair to ask a miner to subsidise the education of someone who can go and become a millionaire?’ The irony of this analogy can surely not be lost on those who remember how brutally Gove’s Conservative Party, in its previous incarnation, destroyed the heart of British working class mining communities.


Courtesy: LATimes

One of the most passionate, but misguided, commentaries on the recent student protests comes from Julie Burchill (the Independent, 16 December), who made a plea to the public to ‘spare us these pampered protesters who riot in defence of their privilege’. Focusing on one student, Charlie Gilmour, who has been singled out by almost all the British media because of his connection to a famous rock star, Burchill vents her anger at so called ‘middle class’ protestors at the same time as dismissing university education as a wasteful time of ‘boozing and bullshitting funded by the taxes of people who had the actual gumption to remove themselves from the playpen of education and get a job as soon as legally possible’. She goes on to suggest that for many working class youth, university education has made little difference to their prospects of getting a job.


Courtesy: LATimes

Burchill is right to question the success of government-sponsored schemes such as widening participation which critics argue has done little to equalise educational outcomes. All the research suggests that while working class students are more likely to attend university than they did 10 years ago the class gap has not necessarily diminished. Working class students are more likely to attend newer universities, to be part-time students and to study for more vocational subjects. But to dismiss university education for the masses as completely irrelevant is surely wrong. Burchill is also wrong to dismiss the current protests as entirely middle class-led. The fact that some students from middle and upper class families join the student protest does not make the whole student protest an action of the privileged few in defence of their privileges. University students, whatever social class their parents are from, historically tend to act together as ‘students’, and for most part for progressive causes as in the case of the 1968 student protests. At first in 1968 too, the governments and media also sought to portray the student protests as work of radical students and small groups of middle class troublemakers.

The protests over the last few weeks have seen large numbers of working class students (some of them school students) protesting because it is they who have the most to lose from the proposed public spending cuts. Further, to get so hung up on the notion of a so-called middle class-led protest serves to support Gove’s and the coalition government’s attempts to create an ideological standpoint, presumably on the side of the ordinary working people, from which position to launch a wholesale attack on all the social and economic achievements of the previous generations, like the universal child benefit, housing benefit, disability benefits and similar other measures.

The current representation of the protestors as middle class serves a deeply ideological and manipulative function of deflecting attention away from the stark realities of the public cuts and their real causes. Many people who oppose the cuts simultaneously accept the argument that there is no alternative but to sacrifice education and other public services in order to save the economy. Further, a large section of the British public and media appear to have accepted the line presented by the government that the total package of cuts worth £128 billion by 2015-16 was ‘unavoidable’ because of previous administration’s careless spending, and almost self-made huge deficits. Until the financial crash of 2008, however, the Labour governments had succeeded in keeping national debt below the 40 percent of GDP target that they set themselves. In 2006/07, public sector net debt was 36.0 percent of the GDP. In 2008, it rose rapidly primarily because of ‘financial interventions’ to bailout of Northern Rock, RBS and other banks, because of lower tax receipts, and because of higher spending on unemployment benefits, all caused by the global recession. The current deficit was caused primarily by the recession not by previous administration’s pre-crash careless spending. It currently stands as 63.7 percent of National GDP, and was projected to peak at 74.9 percent in 2014-15.

Massive cuts to the NHS, local government, and education budgets are not the inevitable solution to national debt. During the Second World War, the UK national debt reached much higher figures of up to 150 percent of the GDP. It is not uncommon for countries to borrow more during the time of serious national and international crises, like wars, or economic upheavals like the one currently affecting the world, and to pay back the debt over a period of time once the economy starts to grow again. In this sense, budget deficits can be an effective way to deal with shocks such as wars, financial crashes and deep recessions. If anything, the problem of low economic activity is the real, and more urgent, issue than the fiscal stability.


Courtesy: LATimes

David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ programme offers an ideological justification for the massive public spending cuts which are about much more than just deficit reduction. The pretence of ‘there is no alternative’ offers a means for the Conservative project to radically transform the state and to transfer more services and money from the public to the private sector. If the real intention was to take the British economy out of the crisis, then such massive cuts would not be the answer. There are alternatives: we need to find a fair and sustainable path out of crisis. Budget deficits will more or less automatically heal with the economic recovery. Trying to cut the deficit quickly, in the midst of a serious recession, will damage the economy and extend the crisis. The government instead should concentrate on growth and allow growth to reduce the deficit. Cuts will not reduce the deficit, investment will. Recently, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) announced that it expects economic growth in 2011 to be much slower than previously predicted. A much weaker consumer spending, resulting from massive unemployment and lower wages in 2011, is described as the main reason for this. Cutting too far and too fast will mean more people out of work, fewer jobs in the economy, lower level of taxation from workers and businesses, and more people on unemployment benefit, which will cost the government more. The real challenge is to introduce constructive ways to restructure the national economy so that it can deliver strong and consistent growth.

The current crisis and the way some other parts of the world economy have been dealing with it successfully, and all social and cultural legacies of this turbulent process have highlighted, like never before, the crucial role of education. The financial and economic crisis has had a particularly strong impact on young people with low levels of education. Investments in education pay large and rising dividends for individuals, but also for economies. On average, a young person with a university degree will generate £77,000 more in income taxes and social contributions over his/her working life than someone with a high-school degree only. Even after taking the cost of university education into account, the net public return from an investment in tertiary education is £56 000 for a male, in generated income taxes and social contributions over his working life. Enhancing tertiary education attainment can therefore help governments increase their fiscal revenues, making it easier to boost their social spending, in areas like, for example education. As the global demand for jobs shifts up the skills ladder, it has become crucial for countries to develop policies that encourage the acquisition and efficient use of these skills to retain both high value jobs and highly skilled labour. Burchill is right to suggest that ‘clever working class youth of this country [have] been socially and spiritually ‘kettled’ – hemmed in, suffocated and stifled’ historically by ‘the privilege and entitlement’ of the likes of elite. But does the answer really lie in cutting away higher education for working class students altogether?

Britain’s total investment in higher education, even before the current cuts of the Coalition government, was 1.3 percent of the GDP which is behind the OECD average of 1.5 percent. Despite the student numbers rising by approximately 25 percent in the last 15 years, the UK has slipped from third to fifteenth position in numbers graduating among industrial countries because investment in higher education has risen much rapidly elsewhere. Within Europe, the UK is already falling behind France, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Portugal and Netherlands, among others. Other Western governments, most notably the United States and Germany, have viewed the global financial and economic crisis as a sign not to retrench but to invest in their higher education systems as a necessary part of investing in the skills that will be needed for recovery in near future. In the UK, however, it was education that was first in line for cuts in spending: the cutting of the Future Jobs Fund, the cancellation of school building and refurbishment, the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance, and now funding cuts in university teaching budgets, fewer university places and a massive increase in university tuition fees. All these draconian measures will ensure that talented people from working class backgrounds will not achieve their full potential. The poorer you are the more scared you are by the prospect of tens of thousands of pounds of debt. It seems this is exactly what the Coalition government wants- to keep education for the rich and privileged. And this is what tens of thousands of students are protesting against. If we want British economy to recover and take its place in a much more competitive world, if we want Britain to be ‘open for business’, we should make higher education available for everyone, regardless of their social class. The more skilled people we have, the more likely companies will be willing to invest in the UK.

Bulent Gokay is a Professor of International Relations, Keele University and Farzana Shain is a Senior Lecturer, Keele University

Videos: Dismantling Democracy in the University (March 4, 2010)

Following is the video of a seminar organised by Correspondence and Kudos, the Literary Society of Hindu College (University of Delhi) on 4th March, 2010 with the aim of initiating a discussion on radical student and university politics.

View playlist on YouTube

‘The popular must redistribute the classic’: An interview with Prasanta Chakravarty

Paramita Ghosh talks to Prasanta Chakravarty, who teaches in the Department of English, University of Delhi, on the current state and dynamic of the Indian publishing industry, contemporary fiction and the culture of reading.

Paramita Ghosh (PG): Your project Humanities Underground is an attempt to rescue the Humanities from the skill-oriented courses that university education is slowly turning into. One would have thought this is more rampant in professional courses like management and so forth. But we see publishing, which is supposed to promote literature, is also going the same way with the birth of categories like chick-lit, books to be read in the metro, page-turners to be gobbled at the airport-lounge. How does one explain this attack or shift in emphasis in the arts/humanities/publishing?

Prasanta Chakravarty (PC): First of all, Humanities Underground is a collective umbrella and much will depend on the enthusiasm of a large number of people who are in their own little ways being affected by this onslaught on the varied and nuanced world. It is also about nurturing a critical, oppositional edge that humanities provide. But we are not trying to rescue anything. No one can and should get in that kind of a saviour mode. It is an online forum for sharing ideas at this point, a venture to see whether there is enough interest in facing the variegated and uncertain world that we live in. The initial signs are quite encouraging. We are receiving a collective surge of questions and commentaries and from different parts of the country and the world too. Debates are happening. Our aim is modest at this stage: to create a space where interested people can share ideas and imagination and work out strategies in order to take on the rapid watering down of reading habits and writing styles, without being self-congratulatory.

The shift you are referring to is interesting. Now I think this dichotomy between classical and popular is often fallacious. The idea of taste is often constructed. In that sense the emergence of the genre of novel itself in the 19th century was a popular venture, or the genre of ‘essay’, which started even earlier as a modest attempt to reflect and ruminate, is now solidly mainstream. So, in that sense this rush for chick-lit or graphic novels show an interesting shift and may become important markers of our times. But the point is about homogenisation. Young and old are often looking to merge in with the available, with the herd rather than look for possibilities. There indeed are publishers, often in regional literatures, who are still taking chances with the subtleties and criticality that literature, art and performance provide us. We have a generation of students who are not even bilingual though they routinely learn French or Sanskrit as a second language in school. What is this strange phenomenon? In Delhi University we are noticing with intrigue that some of our best students who receive astronomical grades in schools and colleges often cannot even write correct English, and notions of style have disappeared from the canvas all together. Humor, for instance, as an art, is a rare commodity. Something strange is happening which Humanities Underground is trying to fathom and explore.

PG: Writing and being a writer is such a glamorous profession these days. Why does everyone want to be a writer? Has the increase in number of publishing houses, the volume of publishing, the appearance of so many literary ‘forms’ contributed to the sense that everyone has a story to tell, everybody can tell stories? Why has this particular approach to ‘form’ become so important in literature now?

PC: There is this democratisation of writing in New India, which is great. This is not unlike the phenomenon that now our best cricketers and popular singers are coming from every region of the nation. Quizzards need not gruel in a Siddhartha Basu type format; KBC will and have replaced that kind of prime-time investment in the esoteric and variegated sense of trivia sharing. Literature likewise has become more user-friendly and accessible: from the potential authors’ standpoint as well as from the reader’s perspective. But this logic of massification, instead of democratisation and freeing literature from its shackles, is actually narrowing down possibilities. Shelf life has diminished and that is fine by the author and the publisher as long as they can fill it up with the next miraculous uproar. In actuality, forms are always changing, they evolve. The logic of this kind of assembly line plays safe and is often brilliantly finessed to homogenise forms. The argument is always democratic and making a quick buck for everyone, which is a formidable one to surpass. This is what we are witnessing in non-vernacular writing at this point. How many of us routinely read poetry or plays? The glamorous always stood out and reserved a maverick space at one point. That idea is being overturned by playing onto the logic of reaching out and by hammering accessibility.

PG: Do you see this phenomenon as a lack? Does it have to do with our culture of reading, which is changing or is India really turning into a nation of writers?

PC: Again, this is not a story of crisis. I would see it as a shift in sensibility as we, as a nation, accommodate to a more conservative and individualised time. I believe Indians still read a lot and a variety of things too. It is a truism that we are an extremely conscious people, politically and aesthetically. Good or hard-hitting artistic production will be appreciated at the end of the day. But that is not coming into focus because people who matter are actively interested in suppressing these factors. Some of our best minds are thus missing on the variety and depth and criticality that even contemporary literature provides. The popular always helps to redistribute the classic. The habit of being in touch with the enduring also means you are in touch with pulse of the everyday life. One is not opposed to the other.

PG: Has the thin dividing line between popular/commercial and ‘high’ fiction confused Indians? A couple of decades ago, for example, a James Hadley Chase pulp story and a Graham Greene novel would not have the same production value, imprint and publishing hype—as they now do if we draw equivalences in current writings. Chick-lit space is eating into, say the shelf space that could accommodate the likes of Amitav Ghosh or Rohinton Mistry. We are producing more of the Chetan Bhagats than Vikram Seths.

PC: Yes, it has perhaps. The confusion, as you call it, is deliberate and well worked out, as I said, but we cannot afford to be judgemental on the buyer and clamp down with the Seths and the Ghoshs of the world onto him. That will be an enormous exercise in misplaced condescension. And besides we all grew up on Hadley Chase and the likes! But we also read voraciously—all kinds of other stuff. That is the more difficult but sure-shot way of tackling the blundering homogeneity that we see in the marquee these days. The idea of choice is quite narrow, if seen closely. All conscious Indians must push each other to carry on with the habit of greedy reading. Old book stores and the newest one on the street are equally important institutions. Variety fosters thinking, and thinking, in turn, breeds criticality and opposition to our herd-instincts.

PG: If one is to push a bit further, one notices two kinds of writers that are getting rejected—those who obviously can’t write, but also those who can ( I am thinking of radical/avant-garde) have little scope to be noticed. I guess I am making this claim because I find it really hard to believe that in 25-30 years of mainstream English language and fiction publishing we have few exemplary writers, and even those whom we can’t really claim as ours often. Why do you think ‘serious literature’ is no longer coming out of our publishing houses? Is the logic that no one is interested in more reflective stuff valid? What do your students in Delhi University, for example, read outside of their course work?

PC: Yes, it is selective usage of the radical that the market prefers. Some writers are pegged as radical and hence their saleability. But I do not see much of avant garde writing in the modernist sense of the term in English langauge writing from India at least. Avant garde does not necessarily mean radical or let us say, such a kind of radicalism is much more bohemian (not busy and straightforwardly progressive) and experimental in form and style. I mean, G.V. Desani’s All about H. Hatter was truly avant garde. Not very often now in fiction we see that kind of devil-may-care approach, at least. You still see that, but in vernacular writings. Serious literature does come out of certain English press too but the problem is reverse: they are but too self-consciously serious. People who subscribe to them, missionaries of sorts, are likely to create a false dichotomy of the classic and the popular and wallow in their cocooned world.

True, many of my students do think in terms of course work but a large section of them in fact indulge in all kinds of readings too: from philosophy to history to various forms of contemporary literature. Writings from Latin America, parts of Asia and Africa are extremely popular with many of my students, which I see as a continuity of sorts with the earlier generation. There is a fair investment in Urdu and Hindi, which is wonderful. Some of them invest in translated works. Many participate in a variety of literary and analytical activities on the internet. But as I said, reading habits often need some kind of jumpstart from time to time; the milieu has to be fostered. That could be done possibly by sharing and exchanging ideas, by deepening debates.

PG: There has been a similar publishing culture in the West—similar turbulence and shifts, one would think. But why is it that in India there is no space or culture for promotion of independent, parallel publishing like, say, Zubaan and Katha? The US does, for instance, have a publishing house like poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights, does it not?

PC: I am not an expert on publishing but there may be a variety of reasons. One, as always, it is really difficult to survive in India on a small publishing space even if you are idealistically motivated. In Kolkata, in the past few years, a wonderful independent publishing house has emerged: Gangchil. But they do not even have a temporary space to work on and distribution is a perennial headache. This is a pretty standard story all around the nation. City Lights has evolved over a period of time. It could have sputtered but for the brilliant editorial and marketing intervention of Nancy Peters in 1971. The point is independent publishing too must innovate and professionalise within its ideal and radical space. In India sometimes independent publishers have tried to come under a common umbrella for distribution and so forth. For instance, The Independent Publishers’ Group (IPG) is a partnership of 10 small/medium publishers and publisher-distributors based in Delhi that started a few years ago. Daanish, LeftWord, Samskriti, Social Science Press, The Book Review Literary Trust, The Little Magazine, Three Essays Collective, Tulika, Women Unlimited, Zubaan and Kali for Women comprise the IPG.

Often more upcoming mainstream houses like Yoda, Navayana or Seagull are also publishing interesting and tantalising stuff. Or sometimes motivated zeal make things happen, where financial worries could be handled in other ways: as the Writers Workshop experiment has successfully depicted.

The other side is readership. It is often difficult to build up a loyal and solid base of readers who would be interested in the forms of writings that independent press have often traditionally supported: poetry, pamphlets, non-fiction, plays and so forth. It takes time and energy for such a long haul. The investment is thankless. It is really a culture around the variegated that I return to, which one tries to develop and inculcate. Oppositional and critical publishing houses are fewer, as you say, but that space is more alive in the vernacular. It is possible to conceive such locales in the English speaking world too. I am hopeful.