The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, November 5, 2000

Hollywood’s irreverent Third World rivals
Review by M. L. Raina

Hidden parts of RSS past
Review by Bhupinder Singh

No way to understand RSS

Long haul of women struggle
Review by Rumina Sethi

Small state syndrome
Review by Ashutosh Kumar



Hollywood’s irreverent Third World rivals
Review by M. L. Raina

Third World Film Making and the West by Roy Armes. University of California Press, Berkeley & London. Pages xiv+381. $ 25.

Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media by Ella Shohat and Robert Stam. Routledge, London and New York. Pages xx+405. $ 18.95.

TWO events that marked my recent stay in America have a direct bearing on my response to the books under discussion. One was an exhibition in August titled "Noble Dreams, Wicked Pleasures: Orientalism in America" at the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. The other was my introduction to the best contemporary Iranian, Brazilian, Cuban and African films in Boston and New York between June and September.

The Orientalism exhibition featured some of the most articulate paintings of the western appropriation of the Islamic Orient by canonical painter John Singer Sargent and his half-forgotten minor colleagues. Among other exhibits, it displayed works like Sargent’s "Ambergris Smoke" and Gerone’s "The Snake Charmer", to say nothing of the ubiquitous orientalising photograph of Rudolph Valentino in the film "The Sheik". This diverse material, however, was presented from a perspective of topographical omniscience bordering on divine beneficence, as well as from a sense of ownership and surveillance typical of a brazen-faced and assertive single superpower in the world today.

The Asian, Latin American and African films brought home to me the possibility of an alternative film aesthetic that could replace the dominant Hollywood paradigm as also the strident politicised rhetoric of a section of the Third World cinema. It also suggested difficulties in retaining this aesthetic in tact. More on this later.

The Clark exhibition and the other Third World films could frame the two books by Armes and Shohat and Stam. Both in their different ways elaborate on the Hollywood perspective on Third World cinema and the efforts of new film makers in the non-western world to create a national cinema of their own.

The two books are different in every respect. Armes is relatively more accessible to the lay reader. Shohat and Stam almost creaks under the excess fat of the post-colonial theory-mongering and, consequently, is less hospitable to an enthusiastic but non-specialist lover of films.

Armes gives well-deserved attention to the cinema of Satyajit Ray, Shohat and Stam focus principally though not exclusively on Latin American and African cinema. Armes is descriptive throughout and relies on detailed supporting evidence about the economics of film making in the Third World. Shohat and Stam are concerned with the artistic and political interventions of the directors. One book is purely informative and gives a reasonably cogent historical account and the other is essentially analytical.

And yet, if we leave aside the theoretical padding in Shohat and Stam, we will notice a good deal of similarity in the two books. For a start, both are aware of the overwhelmingly dominant position of Hollywood in Third World cinema. Considering that the initial cinematic ventures in most countries started with the Lumiere Brothers’ cinematograph, it is interesting to see how the Hollywood juggernaut came to dictate and stimulate the direction of cinema in most places. This is as much true of the commercial cinema of Bombay as of the chanchadas of Brazil. As Armes puts it, "The ideology underpinning Hollywood’s export effort was the ‘open door’ policy that characterised all US trade strategies of the 1920s.

Though commercially motivated, Hollywood dominance of films had a cultural impact that extended worldwide. As long as silent films were in vogue, American dominance was unquestioned. This was proved by the fact that silent films were all captioned in English, establishing this language as a hegemonic film language all over the world. Pioneers such as Dadasaheb Phalke were attentive to Hollywood’s impact, but problems began to arise when sound was introduced. For the first time the dominance of English (though not of Hollywood) began to recede from the non-western film.

The coming of sound made it possible to create cinema for local audiences in local languages. This explains the growth of Marathi, Hindi, Tamil and other cinema in India and in the languages of native population in Latin America. The visual immediacy of the image was reinforced by an intelligible sound track. The film left the precincts of petty bourgeois cultural influence, came down to the illiterate audiences, spoke to them in their own language and demanded to be indigenised.

The result was the growth of a vast local industry that could do away with the American shadow and strike on its own. This is what happened in India, Brazil, Egypt and, to a lesser extent, in other non-western countries.

But the stranglehold of Hollywood did not end with the coming of sound. As Roy Armes describes it, Hollywood had a subtle influence in that it introduced the concept of mass entertainment and devised set formulas for its success. The Indian mainstream cinema as well as the Egyptian, Brazilian and other Third World industries showed a conspicuous ingredient of the American formulaic structures in the fields of entertainment and media (Shohat and Stam are good on this subject). Harry Magdoff calls this subtle percolation "imperialism without colonies". Around the time before World War I, as American military interventions took place in Cuba and the Philippines, American cultural impact also began to be felt.

According to Armes, there are in the Third World countries two parallel cinemas: the mainstream entertainment studded with song-and-dance sequences (in India these were combined with mythologicals) and a cinema which takes off from the Italian neo-realism of the forties and the fifties. De Sica’s "Bicycle Thief" was a vital catalyst for Ray, just as it was for Raj Kapoor ("Awara") who never pretended to be anything other than a pure "entertainer" with a smidgen of social conscience.

Armes as well as Shohat and Stam are silent about the compulsions behind retaining the entertainment format in what is known as "middle cinema" in India. In Egypt they had Um Khultoom and here we had Lata Mangeshkar as icons of film songs which form a major ingredient in mainstream cinema. Even the so-called art cinema did not entirely do away with this. I don’t find the two books coming to grips with this phenomenon.

The second section of Armes’s book is given to analysing the careers of some leading Third World film-makers such as Ray, Glauber Rocha, Ousmane Sembene and a few other auteur-directors. He is totally unoriginal on Ray and repeats the familiar grouse against his "humanistic liberalism". In the case of Rocha and Sembene, he is content with presenting plot summaries of some of their major works (I think Shohat and Stam do a better job with Sembene’s "Xala" than Armes does). The Turkish director Yilmaz Guney is better treated, although I am not satisfied with his analysis of "Yol" that I regard as the crowning achievement of this director’s work.

A clear omission in Armes’s book is any extended treatment of Palestinian cinema. I looked in vain for his views on what I think is the most authentic film to come from Palestine, Michel Khlefi’s "Wedding in Galilee". When I saw this film last summer I was struck by its metaphoric treatment of the theme of identity and representation — something the raw experience of the Palestinian struggle would not allow. He is cursory on the Iranian New Wave cinema which was a discovery for me.

The question that Armes raises in the book is that of a national cinema in the Third World countries. For him as well as for Shohat and Stam, Third World cinema (at least that which defies Hollywood style categorisation) tends towards an independent entity rooted in indigenous cultures and drawing from them their artistic and technological resources.

But, as in the case of India, Ray, Adoor Gopalakrishnan and other "art" cinema directors have never had a national audience, partly because they produced their work in their own languages and partly because distributors were reluctant to risk their money on them. Second, given the nature of cinema as an art form, considerable enterprise is needed to create a national reach. Much art cinema in India is hamstrung by the absence of a socially aware and cinema-literate audience. I have watched middle-class intellectuals squirming in their seats at a showing of Adoor’s "Mukham, Mukham". The term "art film" is still somewhat of a misnomer among a majority of filmgoers. Hollywood continues to shadow national film industries in the Third World.

There is a general belief shared by Armes and Shohat and Stam that alternative cinema is necessarily leftwing, in fact militantly so. The discussion of Latin American cinema in both books strengthens the impression. Though there are some valuable discussions of individual films, particularly Glauber Rocha’s in Shohat and Stam, neither of the books succeeds in explaining why, in spite of manifestos and art noveou movements in Brazil, Cuba and Bolivia, leftwing films could not loosen the vice-like grip of Hollywood in many Latin American countries. (Cuba is an exception because its avowedly Marxist indoctrination creates another kind of domination.)

The authors of these books seem to assume that the radical stance of the directors and high voltage political content would by themselves create an alternative cinema. Armes concludes his study by asserting that only regional cinema giving voice to "peoples excluded from history and ethnic minorities" can break the monopoly of western influenced commercial cinema. Similarly, Shohat and Stam, by giving too much time to the analysis of even minor films from Latin America and Africa, seem to suggest that alternative cinema in these countries alone represents national culture.

Impeccably just as their analysis of Rocha’s "The Anguished Land" is, I am disturbed by their assertion that only a politically conscious artist like Rocha could produce a deeply partisan but also a strikingly experimental work. I have enjoyed this film’s amalgam of documentary, narrative and other innovations without giving much thought to its political content, though politics is its donnee, its given. I detect in this argument sediments of the often-touted magic realism cliche which brands all Latin American films as radical national allegories in the sense in which Frederic Jameson perceives Third World art. You don’t have to be a magic realist to produce experimental films. Kumar Shahni’s "Maya Darpan" was made long before magic realism became an all-purpose critical tool kit and it remains a difficult but determined innovatory work.

Which brings me to what I consider to be the signal achievement of the Iranian cinema in recent times. Not embarrassed at western sponsorship and often going against the grain of the heavy-cholesterol Hollywood style entertainment, contemporary Iranian directors have brought a keen and unencumbered sensitivity to the art of the cinema. A film such as Jafar Panahi’s "The White Balloon" is an unsentimental portrait of a child looking for a goldfish on Id day. It makes extensive use of outdoors and approaches the story elliptically, bringing in submerged political content without raising the hackles of the Islamic clerics. His "Circle" is harsher in its treatment of reality but still ideologically subdued. Surprisingly, Iranian censors banned the film.

Abbas Kiarostami’s "Taste of Chery" and "The Wind Will Carry Us" are films that sympathetically render the inner core of Iranian life on the borders of tradition and modernity. They shun chest thumping of the overt kind.

Films such as these have defined a new genre of progressive cinema. And in this definition, they are not unique. Bernardo Bertolluci’s latest film "Besieged" about the poignancy and pain of ethnic divisions proves this beyond doubt.




Hidden parts of RSS past
Review by Bhupinder Singh

Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh by D.R. Goyal. Radhakrishna Prakashan, New Delhi. Pages 303. Rs 250.

WHEN it first appeared in 1979 the book under review, was considered the first major work on what is perceived to be one of the most secretive organisations in the country. In a way, it marked the return of the prodigal son — the author D.R. Goyal had been an RSS member in his younger days in Hoshiarpur. The present work is a revised edition.

The RSS sees itself as a modern-day rajguru or as a "meta- political" force. According to the author, unlike the pre-independence Congress, this outfit "did not articulate the needs and perceptions of the people but sought to teach them and administer an esoteric set of ideas which are presented as some kind of divine revelation to its founder".

The life story of Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS, is itself told in the "puranic style where stories are narrated to present ideas and not human beings". Though the believers talk of his participation in various revolutionary secret societies like the Anushilan Samiti, there is no documentary evidence to support this. Moreover, "the life story of Hedgewar tells us of his visits to gymnasiums and akhadas but not of his visit to a library or a reading room. He is supposed to have edited a weekly and a daily newspaper but nowhere do Sangh publicists refer to any of his writings as evidence of his erudition, knowledge or analytical calibre."

The author concludes "that the founder of the RSS was an extrovert personality and had fought back the cramping effects of an unhappy childhood with a measure of success. Not a learned man but ambitious of going places on the strength of his capacity to mobilise young boys... But he did not get much recognition except as a leader of youth groups who could stand up to the goonda elements in the Muslim community. At the age of 36, he decides to plough a lonely furrow and sets up an organisation of his own to which he admits young men generally below the age of 18. However, he shows extraordinary capacity for inspiring them with a religious fervour and reverence about himself and his ideas."

The RSS has sought to underplay the influence of Hindu Mahasabha in general and that of V.D. Savarkar in particular on Hedgewar. Both later disagreed with the RSS and advocated greater political activity. Savarkar is reported to have remarked that "the epitaph for the RSS volunteer will be that he was born, he joined the RSS and he died without accomplishing anything".

Hedgewar’s successor Golwalkar (nominated by him just before his death) provided the theoretical dimension to the organisation with his two major works "We, or our Nationhood Defined" (1938) and "Bunch of Thoughts" (1966). The former has been withdrawn from circulation ostensibly because of the adulation that Golwalkar expressed for Hitler and his methods of ethnic cleaning. This work itself is nothing but a translation into English of Savarkar’s Marathi treatise "Rashtra Mimansa".

"The major contribution which he made to the enrichment of the RSS arsenal of ideas was to develop the anti-communist, anti-socialist dimension... In that respect he stole a march over the Hindu Mahasabha which could never develop an anti-socialist edge. With the result that all those who feared a radical social change began to look upon it as a saviour and the RSS today has become the most favoured recipient of the material blessings of all vested interests, whether landlords, monopolists or imperialists."

The author goes on to trace the role of the RSS from its inception to the present day. The focus of the book, however, is most cogent till the late seventies. The best part of the book is the chapter on "Murder of the greatest Hindu". Though Nathuram Godse claimed to be a member of the Hindu Mahasabha, he had strong links with the RSS. He had accompanied Hedgewar on a tour in 1932, had been a member of the RSS before joining the Mahasabha in 1934 as Hedgewar refused to make the Sangh a political organisation.

Goyal raises some pertinent questions and points, for example, to the statement by Gopal Godse (the assassin’s younger brother) that during the last moments Nathuram recited the "namaste sada sada..." verse. This is the opening verse of the RSS prayer sung in every shakha. At the time of Godse’s membership of the RSS (1934), this prayer was not sung — it came to be adopted only in 1940. If Godse had broken off his relations with the RSS by the early thirties, how come he was acquainted with this verse?

The RSS was indicted by the judicial commission investigating the Mahatma’s assassination for creating an atmosphere where a group of political activists planned and carried out the assassination of the most outstanding advocate of ahimsa. He points out that because of the repercussions that the Sangh faced in the immediate aftermath of the murder, its castigation of the Mahatma became oblique. So, while Jawaharlal Nehru comes in for direct rebuke in Golwalkar’s "Bunch of Thoughts", his abuse of Gandhi is implied though unmistakable.

Golwalkar says: "Those who declare ‘No swaraj without Hindu-Muslim unity’ have thus perpetrated the greatest treason to our society. They have committed the most heinous sin of killing the lifespirit of a great and ancient people. To preach impotency to a society which gave rise to Shivaji who, in the words of historian Jadunath Sarkar, ‘proved to the whole world that the Hindu has drunk the elixir of immortality’ and to break the self-confident and proud spirit of such a great and virile society has no parallel in the history of the world for sheer magnitude of its betrayal". (pages 150,151 in the 1966 edition of "Bunch of Thoughts").

The RSS’s contempt for Gandhi, despite the "ritualistic cosmetics" employed by it surfaces again. This was when the BJP government first in Gujarat and then in Maharashtra allowed the staging of a play based on Godse’s explanation justifying the crime — despite the play having been banned by the previous Congress government in Maharashtra. The RSS chief, Rajju Bhaiya, commented that "Godse was not wrong in opposing Gandhi, only his method was not correct".

At a time when the BJP, the RSS and the entire Sangh Parivar have been able to camouflage their real character and win over even some liberal sections, Goyal has done a great job in reminding us of what is termed in much of the press as the RSS’s hidden agenda.

A lot of research has been carried out on the RSS in the years between 1979 and now. Part of the reason has been the increasing role that the organisation and its front organisations have played in last decade. Serious academic work by Sumit Sarkar, Achin Vanaik, Christopher Jafferlot and Anderson and Damle brooks mention. But it needs to be stated that all these works, rigorous and original in their own right, owe much to Goyal’s pioneering effort.

However, where Goyal still scores is the verve with which he writes. In that respect he recalls to mind the intellectual crusaders of the fifties and sixties, and who carried on till the seventies, for whom journalism, academics and activism converged and were means to a larger end. The appearance of the revised edition of the book enables one to savour the engaging style that characterised their writings, besides providing a comprehensive critique of the RSS.



No way to understand RSS

THIS refers to the book extract "Roots of RSS authoritarian ideology" which forms the opening chapter of D.R. Goyal’s book on the RSS (October 15).

The above titled chapter is an inhibited, sectarian and lopsided account of what the RSS actually stands for.

The RSS is formed on the parivaar concept which qualifies it for an organisation (sangh) in which all its constituents which are individuals (swayamsewaks) matter. Goyal’s comparison of the RSS with the rajguru concept is limited and narrow. The RSS does wield influence over its political outfit (the BJP), but there is no authoritarian tinge about it.

The RSS is a social and cultural organisation whose aim is to promote Bhartiya (Indian) ethos. Goyal’s parallels between the RSS and Gandhi are sectarian. Of course, Gandhi did leave the Congress to work for his goals. But the RSS has nothing much to do with the BJP. To say that the BJP is the RSS and vice-versa is nothing new. For the swayamsewaks in the parivaar are free to join politics.

The inhibition part of the extract under evaluation is Goyal’s linking the RSS ideology to Hitler’s fascism. Goyal has overlooked the fact that Hitler used coercion, force, oppression and suppression, inhuman brutalities and elimination of other faiths for founding a pure Aryan breed. The closed mind of the writer does not note the collective spirit of the functioning of the RSS. Perhaps Goyal’s infatuation with the rajguru institution of the bygone ages has led him to draw similarities between Hitler and the RSS.

In the RSS the pracharaks (whole-timers) throw light on the darkness and brightness of the past and the present; they do speak for one nation and one culture. Yet the whole harmonising thinking is left to the decisive soul of the swayamsewaks. There is no compulsion, no coercion, no threats to make the volunteers adhere to the expressed ideology.

Goyal’s word about "the anti-Muslim attitude of the RSS" is incorrect. It needs to be debated.

There is no denying the fact that Pakistan was carved out of India for the Muslims. The so-called two-nation theory underlines Pakistan as a Muslim state. The RSS while talking of Pakistan as a country for or of the Muslims speaks for the integrity and oneness of India. The Parivaar does dream of an Akhand Bharat. The land of the country is envisaged as Bharat Mata, whose body (the so-called Pakistan) has been severed. Thus there is nothing unpatriotic to visualise the lost status of India. So Goyal’s focus on the anti-Muslim attitude of the RSS seems to be provocative.




Long haul of women struggle
Review by Rumina Sethi

The History of Doing: An Illustrated Account of Movements for Women’s Rights and Feminism in India by Radha Kumar. Verso, London. Pages vi + 203.

ANY research on a subject with a historical and material reality undergoing mutation in a thousand different ways is exceedingly difficult. Further, if it is a category shared by the researcher, it can only add to the difficulty of representing correctly. I am referring to women and feminism, of course, whose history Radha Kumar very methodically renders in "The History of Doing".

Why it becomes difficult for a woman to talk about women has to do with the inevitability of the personal voice creeping in, raising the question how one woman facing particular circumstances can represent other women in completely different circumstances. Can bourgeois women represent proletarian women or upper caste women represent dalit women? However, we are grateful, at least, for a woman-centred discourse or else we would have an androcentric way of knowing where women have more often been the objects of knowledge than the producers of it.

Radha Kumar is well aware of the difficulties the locator faces as she goes through the familiar yet unfamiliar terrain of the feminist movement in India from the late 19th century to the 1980s.

Kumar does not directly contest male-centred ways of knowing even as she questions the gendered hierarchy of Indian society and culture. Alongside, she also raises the question as to who these women are. Are they women in general or only some women? Are certain women being left out of the picture? She traces women’s assigned roles and their cultural contexts over the past 180 years, highlighting all the time their little campaigns for improvement.

Evidently, women’s "politics" has moved from needs to rights, from restricted rights to parity in selected areas and to the larger right of self-determination. She writes, "In India, from the early 19th century definitions of the suffering of Indian women and the need for reform, by the early 20th century, the emphasis had shifted to stressing women’s right to be treated as useful members of society. By the late 20th centuty, women were demanding that they should have the power to decide their own lives."

"The History of Doing" traces the early period of social conflict what with the formation of Rammohan Roy’s Atmiya Sabha intended to initiate education of women and to put an end to sati, on the one hand, and the Dharma Sabha of orthodox Hindus, on the other, forcing the British colonial government to make a distinction between "forcible" and "voluntary" sati (as though some forms of it were legitimate).

Do women and feminism together represent dalit women? Radha Kumar circumvents this difficult question.. By the late 20th century, she says, by tracing the feminist movement in India, it began by emphasising social reform. Of course, the custodians of the women were menfolk. Nevertheless, by the end of the 19th century, two firebrands— Pandita Ramabai and Tarabai Shinde — were writing about the everyday hostility, both from the traditionalists and the modernists, which women had to put up with. For not only were women insulted and ridiculed by the orthodoxy but reform literature itself projected women as gossiping, superstitious, treacherous and insolent.

The next phase was scarcely worth the effort that was being made on their behalf The intense activity witnessed the construction of mother-centred nationalism so famously associated with Bankim’s "Vande Mataram" but also, surprisingly, with Sarala Devi, Tagore’s niece, who almost became an example of Bankim’s Debi Chaudharani. This is the period when woman became shakti, both Durga symbolising Mother India, and Kali, who was used to sanction violence in the struggle for independence from colonial rule. The subtlety of these images is often lost because these goddesses are the traditional symbols of female strength. They should instead be read as representational to allocate women a role in national struggles and, more importantly, as a way of containing the threat of woman’s dangerous erotic energy these representaions mean.

Later Gandhi also played with the idea of the devouring sexuality of women when he predicated women’s involvement in the freedom struggle upon chastity and in "thought, word and deed." When in 1925, the Bengal Congress Committee roped in some prostitutes under its banner, Gandhi was hysterical with rage because these women had stolen the virtue of society and hence were worse than thieves. It is a very well known story that he tried to prevent the marriage of the Kriplanis since women constituted a sexual threat and were incapable of transcending desire.

Although Gandhi has been seen as a champion of women’s causes, he, in many ways, saw their greatest strength in their weaknesses because of his innate belief in the woman as a repository of spiritual and moral values.

One of Kumar’s insights is her focus on the indifferent attitude adopted in describing women’s movements, in particular the histories of landless labourers and the working class. Indeed, there is a discernible inclination towards representing middle class and upper caste movements which may be perceived in a number of biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, collections of speeches and writings in the early part of the 20th century.

And even before that if one looks at the women’s movement in the late 19th century which started as a process of social reform, how much of that could have affected the large section of lower caste women? Susie Tharu and K. Lalitha have examined the varioius categories of the late 19th century women’s movements in detail in their monumental "Women Writing in India" and come out with the observation that lower caste women were not the main beneficiaries of the changes brought about by illustrious figures such as Rammohun Roy or Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar.

Sati, for example, was a Rajput custom, later practised by the Brahmins of Bengal. The harsh rites governing a widow’s life, again, mattered to the upper castes which alone could impose severe diet restrictions. In fact, among the Jats in Punjab or the Muslims, widow remarriage was not completely uncommon. The removal of purdah and the issue of women’s education, part of social reform, could also have relevance only to the lives of upper caste women who led a cloistered life in comparison to their toiling sisters.

Being a history rather than a critical documentary, Kumar’s book does not, however, comment on the value of social reform in institutionalising changes in women’s lives.

Be it as it may, Radha Kumar does raise the theoretical question of the degree of inequality in real and imagined women. We see in this society not only a celebration of the feminine values of gentleness and care but also a reflection of the desire to be different from hierarchical, power-based and male-dominated organisational structures. Apart from this basic tension, we are exposed to the complexity of the circumstances which confront feminists — a society where there are differences between women themselves which exist at the level of caste, tribe, class, religion, region and language.

This is evident especially when it comes to legislations for change. This is when women are confronted with the question: "Equality for whom?" What makes the situation even more complex is the playing up of Muslim, Christian and Hindu identities by power-hungry groups as happened in the Shah Bano case.

Interestingly, movements against feminism use this form of attack. Feminism is itself often branded as a westernised, upper class and urban movement which is ignorant of, and unsympathetic to, traditional "Indian" women.

Feminists, ironically, often find themselves outnumbered by groups of women in a hostile situation, appropriating their slogans and using them for an antithetical cause. Anti-sati demonstrators in 1987, therefore, experienced a humiliating sense of loss when their own words were snatched and turned against them by their own kind. It is undeniable that post-modernist. Lacanian ideas of the French feminist movement are disconcerting for us since problems of poverty and illiteracy precede the framework of sexual politics in this country. where a marxist-feminist approach would be more appropriate.

Further, owing to an all-male leadership, who have been wooed in terms of the tradition-modernity debate where feminism is pronounced as a selling-out to the West. In a post-colonial and post-imperial scenario, this only serves to widen the gap, drumming up of sentiments.

The contemporary feminist movement in India can thus be seen as riven by the gendered hierarchy of society and culture. In Kumar’s examination of the 1970s and the 80s, the protests against the existing sexual division of labour, the campaigns against dowry and rape, and the brutal forms of violence against woment can especially be linked to the culture that rationalises and justifies such oppression. Women’s "natural" inferiority, attributed to biological difference, and the language of rights is at work here. Even women’s organisations function on the principle that women have a secondary, derived identity.

Thus it is that pooling resources to reduce the burden of dowry comes before active campaigning against dowry by Rashtra Sevika Samiti. Sevikas are also always told to try persuasion but to never openly revolt against their families. Although the Rashtra Sevika Samiti represents a restricted form of women’s empowerment, the organisation accepts final commands from an all-male leadership that refuses any debate on Hindu patriarchy. The so-called feminists, activist women, are seen to be drawn in support of authoritarian regimes, playing subservient roles.

It is heartening to note, however, that the symbol of the mother as a rallying or entitling device is now giving way to two self-images — the woman as daughter and the working woman. The former places emphasis away from "role playing" and the latter focuses more on her productive rather than her reproductive potential. The inadequacy of the conventional politics and literature indicates that we are grappling today not simply with the intellectual history of women but also their very site of enunciation, their location and their audience.

Although Indian feminism has witnessed all kinds of liberal, leftist and radical feminist positions, clearly several things have to be done. First, women have to be put back into the study of formal politics. It is necessary to make clear how ostensibly neutral political processes and concepts, such as nationalism, citizenship and the state are fundamentally gendered. And second, the conventional definition of "the political" should be widened so that many of the activities undertaken by women are incorporated.

This will enable us to approach the complexity of women in the Third World from a perspective of the multiplicity of difference rather than "otherness".



Small state syndrome
Review by Ashutosh Kumar

Why Do We Need More States? — A Case For Uttarakhand by Pradeep Kumar. Kanishka Publishers, New Delhi. Pages xi + 228. Rs 495.

THE book under review has come out at a time when Uttaranchal (Uttarakhand) is set to become a state of the Indian Union along with Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand. Besides the time factor, the book also deserves attention because of its academic rigorousness in analysing a regional movement which has finally led to the creation of Uttaranchal in a historical manner.

The work not only analyses the nature of the socio-economic genesis of the movement which was launched in mid-1994 but also compares it with the nature of political and para-political movements in the Uttarakhand region prior to the 1950s.

More significantly, the author raises theoretical issues pertinent to the growing regionalisation of Indian politics, culminating in the movements demanding the reorganisation of states on the basis of development, cultural distinctiveness, administrative convenience, history of separate existence as political entities and economic discrimination, among others.

Based on a concrete analysis of the politics of Uttarakhand, the work seeks to establish that contrary to popular perception based on the historical experiences of the state’s reorganisation in the fifties and sixties or ethnicity (as in the case of Meghalaya) which became the accepted basis of the construction of new states, nowadays it is the perception of relative socio-economic deprivation combined with an urge for speedier economic development which are far more potent factors explaining the demands for new states.

In this context one can refer to the movements for smaller states of Gorkhaland, Purvanchal, Bundelkhand, Telangana, Vidarbha and most recently for Harit Pradesh. However, the author cautions that the economic factor may constitute a necessary condition but additional social factors are also needed to enable regional forces to articulate and assert in an effective manner.

This explains the "non-emergence" of regionalism in the Hindi belt for a long time despite decades of lopsided, uneven and unequal economic development, creating sub-regional "peripheries". It follows that while the construction of a regional identity is "more typical of a society fast moving up on the development trajectory to catch up with the better-off regions", the process also "liberates people from the clutches of psychological bondage and inferiority complexes, which have been products of centuries of economic backwardness".

Tracing the demands for smaller states and the construction of regional identities in Indian politics in the first two chapters, the author argues that originally the states were created on the basis of demands put up by the regional linguistic elite. The author argues that the unilingual distribution of resources and neglect of economic development were always stressed as reasons for carving out linguistic states.

However, with a higher level of electoral participation and grass-root democracy, the realisation has set in the masses of the lesser developed sub-regions about their distinct identity based on their own dialect. These "dialect communities" speaking Bhojpuri, Maithili, Bundelkhandi, Chhatisgarhi, Kumaoni, Garhwali and tribal languages, etc. in the Hindi belt have come to entertain precisely the same grievances which the linguistic elite had entertained against the major dominant linguistic groups in the multi-language states at the time of decolonisation.

This explains the demands for Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh and Uttarakhand. Besides these, in the years to come Bhojpur, Bundelkhand, Poorvanchal, Mithilanchal, etc. are bound to demand political arrangements independent of the present states, the author predicts.

In some of the linguistic non-Hindi states the movements for separate states have ironically been "anti-language" as the creation of Vidarbha, Marathwada and Telangana would mean the breaking up of unilinguisitc provinces. In these cases the grievances are more economic than cultural, releasing centrifugal forces.

Where does this lead us? Are we moving towards the break-up of the country into several small political units reminiscent of the princely states? Would this trend lead to the balkanisation of the country? The author holds that such fears are exaggerated and even misplaced in this era of globalisation as "the development of an identity by a region helps the region in its development on all fronts — economic, political and even psychic".

The author then traces the politico-cultural and historical background of the two main subregions — namely, Garhwal and Kumaon of Uttarakhand. The chapter aptly captioned "Uttarakhand: A Profile" provides a lot of the socio-economic data and information about the people living in the 12 districts of Uttarakhand. Most significant is the reference to the Garhwal-Kumaon variation beginning with the pre-colonial period and accentuated by the Britishers. Whether the creation of Uttaranchal leads to an assimilation of the two sub-regional identities is the question the author repeatedly raises.

The fourth chapter is "Geneses, anatomy and nature of the movement". The author argues that the model of internal colonisation applies to Uttarakhand in toto leading to continuous exploitation of its natural resources. The weak electoral strength of the sparsely populated hill region resulted in disillusionment among the people from both the state and the national political elites. Moreover, the distorted model of development led to a disruption of traditional sources of livelihood and loss of control of the locals over their resources.

The refusal of successive UP administrations and the Government of India to recognise the distinct geographical and demographic patterns was most visible in the decision to extend 27 per cent OBC reservation in 1994 to the region despite the fact that only 3 per cent of the locals belong to this category. It was this decision that led to a regionwide agitation in a virulent form. Pertinently Uttarakhand already had a tradition of mass stirs like the chipko movement and anti-liquor women’s movement.

Since the demand for Uttarakhand became mass-based the logic of vote bank politics compelled the national parties like the BJP and the Congress to declare support to the creation of a separate state after initial opposition. Very soon other parties followed suit.

In the fifth chapter the author has analysed the electoral pattern in the Uttarakhand, revealing the marginalisation of a regional party and the emergence of the BJP as the dominant party despite the fact that the UKD founded in 1979 had spearheaded the agitation in the eighties and the early nineties.

This had to do with two factors, according to the author. One, the general hostility against the SJP, the main rival of the BJP given the unleashing of terror tactics by the Mulayam Singh Government in 1994. The second has been the belief in the BJPs capacity to fulfil its promise for the creation of Uttarakhand.

Since the massification of the movement after 1994, the frequent holding of elections provided the region with opportunities to translate the simmering anger in political terms. The political fortunes of the national parties in these elections remained linked to their roles in the ongoing movement for the creation of Uttarakhand.

In another chapter, the author has raised serious questions on the well being of the periphery of the proposed Uttarakhand — namely, the Jaunsar Bawar sub-region of Garhwal, a tribal dominated area, in terms of the very poor state of education, health and communication facilities. The author also highlights the concerns of the lower castes (known as Shilpkars) as well as ethnic-linguistic minority groups like the Sikhs, Bengalis and plains people living in the terai region.

The last chapter deals with the challenges before the proposed state of Uttarakhand. Would the creation of the state lead to the construction of a unified regional Uttarakhandi identity notwithstanding the sub-regional variations involving Garhwal, Kumaon, Jaunsar-Bawar and terai as well as the perceived apathy of the Dalits, the tribals, and outside settlers towards the proposed state? The greatest challenge, however, would be "channelising the tremendous political awareness and sentiment generated in a new Uttarakhand... into maintaining the political vigil and adequate pressure on the various democratic institutions in the state, and consequently preventing them from getting degenerated into the likes of them elsewhere".

The same also holds true for the other two proposed states of Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand.




Where will you find another Judge like him?
by Jai Narain Sharma

V.R. Krishna Iyer: A Living Legend by P.Krishnaswamy.
Universal Law Publishing, Delhi. Pages 416. Rs 395.

JUSTICE Benjamin N. Cardozo once said that the work of a judge was in one sense enduring and in another ephemeral. What is good in it endures and what is erroneous will pretty soon perish. The good remains the foundation on which new structures will be built. The bad will be rejected and cast off.

There is an immeasurable amount of good in Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer’s long series of judgements. They bear the impress of a great and cultured mind — quick in perception, broad in vision and fresh in approach. Justice Krishna Iyer knew that reported cases were only "small change of legal thought". The enduring currency is that of principles and he liked to rest his judgements on them. He was at his best in dealing with cases where analogies are equivocal and precedents are silent.

The law to him is no lifeless conglomeration of sections and decisions. He illuminated justice and humanised the law. He had the rare capacity to go to the core of every case. However complicated the matter, he could wade through hundreds of pages of arguments and evidence, cut through verbiage and put his fingers unerringly on the crucial points. Few judges have equalled him in legal acumen and analytical faculty. It was his grasp over the essentials, which enabled him to write judgements which are exemplary in their conciseness and lucidity and which have blazed a new trail in different fields.

His one burning desire was to do real justice. In achieving that, he brushed aside conservatism which failed to conserve and which nourished the form at the expense of the substance. His incredible open-mindedness is a byword now. No case was ever lost or won in his court till the last word was spoken. His first impression, his tentative views, were never tenaciously held; he did not allow them to obstruct the light thrown by even the juniormost member of the bar. Daniel Webster used to say that "the power of clear statement is the great power at the bar". It is also the great power on the Bench, and Justice Krishna Iyer had it in abundance.

Most readers may be familiar with these facets of Justice Krishna Iyer’s many splendoured personality, but after reading this fascinating biography by Krishnaswamy, a leading journalist, they will be amazed to see how many parts a consummate player on this stage of the world can play. And for this alone, if for nothing else, his tale should be told.

This story starts with a solemn, sensitive and hard-working boy, quick to learn and wise to know. His father, a lawyer of humble beginning who made a distinguished career at the bar in Malabar, was a public figure with people’s causes close to his heart. But his tutelage at home under his grandfather who had commendable proficiency in English and mathematics proved to be a blessing in his years of college life and after.

He was called to the bar in 1938. Fortune combined with self-confidence and sound legal scholarship gave him a head-start. His early professional success and contact with Communist Party struggles drew him to the court as a defender of local Marxists and that shaped his political ideology.

When the first Communist government was voted to power in Kerala in 1957. Krishna Iyer was invited by the legendary E.M.S. Namboodiripad to become a Minister where he remained for 28 months. He held several important portfolios like Home, Law, Irrigation and Power. He excelled in every department. The EMS Ministry was dismissed in 1959, and Krishna Iyer went back to his black gown.

He was named a Judge of the Kerala High Court in 1968 and later on became a member of the Law Commission. In 1973, he was sworn as a Judge of the Supreme Court. There was some resentment against his elevation because of his progressive views. Soli Sorabjee, an outstanding advocate and at present Attorney General of India was the first signatory to a statement published in The Times of India opposing Krishna Iyer’s appointment.

Sorabjee later appeared in several celebrated cases of seminal significance to human rights before Justice Krishna Iyer and when Krishna Iyer retired Sorabjee candidly wrote in The Statesman that his opposition to Justice Iyer’s appointment was a great blunder.

The verdict of Justice Krishna Iyer in the case of Indira Gandhi vs Raj Narain was not merely a judicial milestone but a national event from any point of view. There is a school of thought which holds the view that Indira Gandhi would not have proclaimed emergency in the country had Justice Iyer not issued an order against the Allahabad High Court judgement. Some believed that he favoured Indira Gandhi as an act of gratitude for appointing him as a Judge of the Supreme Court knowing full well that he was a communist.

There is no denying the fact that he was pressurised by a large number of big wigs, but he remained undisturbed. Even the then Law Minister H.R. Gokhale tried to meet him in this connection but he did not get an appointment. Justice Iyer himself recorded, " Gokhale was a good man under heavy pressure from other sources, as I later knew, but I had to maintain the impeccable proprieties of the high office I occupied pro term. Judgeship has diamond hard parameters. I knew that certain judges have at the request of the Chief Justice, heard cases on holidays and late at night and other laggardnesses, laxities, vanities, slants and infirmities are infiltrating into and polluting the system; the parties being money bags and heavyweights; were freak accidents, but I was made of slightly sterner stuff."

He further added: "I could feel Gokhale’s tension and predicament since, obviously, he must have made the call bonafide on behalf of the Prime Minister and would have expected an easy yes but I merely said, "You are welcome." I had the cold neutrality of a Judge to keep, an equality which admits of no exception when judicial matters and manners, however trivial, are concerned. Transparency, aloofness, accountability, the protocol of the office are not negotiable".

Maintaining the high standard of judicial propriety, he decided the case on merit and granted a conditional stay to Indira Gandhi. The judgement was criticised by both the parties. Her advocate, N.A. Palkhiwala, an eminent jurist, later told Justice Iyer that his client was furious over the order while the other party was also equally dissatisfied. Perhaps that is why it is often said that the best judgements are those which are disliked by both parties.

H.M. Seervai, an outstanding constitutional jurist of the country who otherwise was very critical of Justice Iyer, hailed the order as "the finest hour of Indian judiciary".

In the fullness of time Justice Iyer retired only to continue in the service of the people with renewed vigour. Joining hands with a wide spectrum of NGOs in the country and abroad, he became a tireless campaigner for the protection and promotion of human rights. Travelling far and wide, he makes common cause with every victim of human rights violations — be he a child worker, a bonded labourer, a dispossessed adivasi or a shelterless old man..

Three passions, all overpowering and enduring, seem to dominate Justice Iyer’s life: adherence to progressive nationalism, safeguarding the integration of all communities and predicating unity among all citizens; and a love of basic human freedoms rooted in the perception that liberty is distinct and different from democracy and devotion to justice between man and man and between man and the state.

Biographies of luminaries, some of whom have already become legends, make absorbing reading. When an author like Krishnaswamy chooses to fill in the details, absorbing cameos emerge and the past comes back to life.

The book is packed with memorable and amusing anecdotes, which would otherwise have been lost to history. It will also be remembered and read when the current controversies recede into history for it is the story of a generous and lovable man for whom humanity is not a witless word and progressive nationalism is not an idealistic dream.



Book extract
North-East is a geographical, not cultural, construct

This is an extract from the introduction of "The Periphery Strikes Back" by Udayon Mishra

THERE seems to be a growing tendency among policy planners and social scientists these days to club together the different states of the north-eastern region of the country as the North-East. While there is no denying the geographical reality of the North-East, the complexities are bound to arise if the term is used as an umbrella connotation involving political and cultural aspects as well. It is true that the different states of India’s "North-East" share a host of common problems ranging from communication bottlenecks to drug-trafficking, illegal infiltration and insurgency. It is also true that several of the states which today make up the North-East were once part of the undivided state of Assam, and still happen to share certain commonalities. But it would undoubtedly be simplistic to view the problems of the different states through a common North-East perspective. For, these states not only possess distinct culturo-historical traditions, but economically too they are in different stages of growth. The present-day Assam, made up primarily of the Brahmaputra and Barak Valleys, for example, presents a very different picture when placed with the neighbouring states of Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. Assam had a deep and wide-ranging cultural intercourse with the rest of the Indian subcontinent centuries before the other neighbouring hill regions came to know of the "mainstream". When most of the other regions were living on a subsistence economy, Assam was engaged in trade and commerce with neighbouring Bengal and state formation had taken place.

Of all the hill tribes, it was only the Khasis and the Jaintias who had a moderately developed economy, with the Khasis engaging in vigorous trade with the plains of Assam and with present-day Bangladesh, while Manipur also underwent the process of state formation from relatively early times. Politically too, all the states of the north-eastern region cannot be seen as one general unit, facing similar problems. Assam, for example, possessed a completely different political lineage and cannot be equated with other states of the north-eastern region, as a brief introduction to its history, culture and politics will reveal.

Today because of the rise of insurgency in the entire north-eastern region, "experts" tend to view the problem as a total North-East issue. But even when analysing the roots of insurgency in different states of the region, it would be advisable to take into account the history and economy of each individual state. For socio-economic factors which have given rise to insurgency in the different states cannot be put in one basket. Therefore, it is imperative that while dealing with the states of the north-eastern region of the country, the distinct history and culture of each people should be kept in mind and attempt to club all together as the North-East should be avoided. In matters of language and literature, culture and religion, the degree of Aryanisation or Sanksritisation, etc. the Brahmaputra valley stands distinctly apart from other states of the north-eastern region.

Thus, the similarities that exist between different states of the region should not overshadow the different stages of socio-cultural and politico-economic development. This point was well illustrated during the Film Festival held in New Delhi in 1996. In the Indian Panorama section Assamese, Bodo and Manipuri films had been shown. But when it came to meeting the Press, all the directors belonging to the north-eastern region of the country were slotted together, whereas directors from other parts of the country were given exclusive time slots. This was resented by Assamese film directors Bhabendranath Saikia and Jahnu Barua, both winners of several national and international awards, as they felt that the very purpose of interaction with journalists was nullified by such clubbing together. The Press Information Bureau of the Government of India, however, saw no problems in grouping all directors of the north-eastern region together. For it, the "North-East" was one single category. The Assamese and Manipuri directors boycotted the Press meet after making their point clear that in such matters they resented being grouped together.

Bhabendranath Saikia was making a strong case that though geographically, and also at times politically, it might appear to be convenient to refer to the region as the North-East, yet it would be wrong to steamroll the different histories and cultures of the people inhabiting this area under the blanket term "North-East". The use of the illusive construct, the North-East, has not only led to discrimination in matters of financial allocation to resource-rich and larger states like Assam, but, more importantly, to serious administrative mishandling by the Centre of the complexities of the region. The tendency of the Indian state to treat this extremely diverse region as one unit has resulted in the growth of totally incomplete and often misconceived notions about the different states that make up the north-eastern part of the country. Such monolithic conceptions about a region, which stands out for its diversity of cultures and civilisation, would only help to nourish the biases and prejudices which have marked the Indian state’s approach to Assam and neighbours since independence.

The history of Assam, which is made up of the Brahmaputra and Barak Valleys, stretches back to the epics and the Puranas and mention of the region is found in Kautilya’s Arthashastra. The political history of the Brahmaputra Valley could be traced to a period long before the foundation of the Varman line of kings of the fourth century AD. For instance, Amalendu Guha says: "The ancient history of the Assam plains could also be extended backwards beyond the fifth and fourth century AD. The Mahabharata and several Puranas that were rewritten between circa second century BC and the second century AD and the copper plate prashastis of the Kamarupa kings — all contain elements of late recorded oral history related to Assam’s early Indo-Aryan settlers who were the carriers of the new civilisation marked by iron, cattle, wet rice and the plough".

The process of state formation in Assam in the fourth and fifth centuries AD and epigraphic evidence show that the political chronology of Assam can be well traced to the fifth and the 12th centuries AD.

Assam had trade links with contries and regions lying to its north-east and to the west. One of the earliest references to commercial relations between Assam and China is to be found in the accounts of Chang Kien (200 BC) which have been highlighted in the works of Joseph Needham and P.C. Bagchi. There is a reference in the Shung Shu (AD 420-79) that a particular king of Assam sent an envoy to China. Initially, there seemed to have been one major land route to China through upper Burma but later on other routes were developed through Burma, Bhutan and Tibet. The Patkai Pass in upper Assam, through which the Ahoms came in the 13th century, must have been an important link in Assam’s early relations with Burma and China. One text states that there were as many as 35 passes.

Most historians, however, agree that Assam’s cultural and commercial relations with the rest of India have been closer. Chaudhury says that the most intimate contact which early Assam had was with Magadha and that the earliest trade routes between Kamarupa and Magadha are to be found in Arthashastra. The Brahmaputra must have served as the main communication link between Assam and the rest of India and, compared to the river route, the land route through mountainous passes to Burma and China must have been a difficult one. Hence, the latter routes must have fallen into disuse by the time the British arrived on the scene.

The process of Sanskritisation and Aryanisation of Assam has been a long one. Suniti Kumar Chatterjee is of the view that the Aryanisation of the ruling classes in Kamarupa was completed as early as 400 AD. Chatterjee says that "by the early centuries of the Christian era, Assam as Pragjyotisa and Kamarupa had become definitely a part of Hindu India, although the masses of its people were probably still Bodo-speaking, as in the 16th century North Bengal among the Koches". He further maintains that "by the end of the early medieval preiod, that is by 1200 AD, Assam, meaning specifically the plains-lands watered by the Brahmaputra, definitely appears to have become a part of Aryan-speaking India". The process of Sanskritisation gathered momentum during the period of Srimanta Sankardeva (1499-1568), the reformer-saint whose liberal brand of Vaishnavism brought thousands of tribal people of the Brahmaputra Valley within the fold of Hinduism. But the process of Aryanisation was heavily influenced by the tribal life-pattern of the region and this may be seen in the absence of the growth of professional classes or groups along caste lines. The non-rigidity of the caste system and the relative egalitarian pattern of society were the direct result of the tribal influence. The lack of occupational specialisation in pre-Ahom Assam is also borne out by some of the inscriptions. Nonetheless, Brahminical culture, which was largely Sanskrit-based, made its presence strongly felt in ancient Assam and continued to be an important influence throughout medieval Assam. The impact of the process of Aryanisation was to be seen in the growth of wet rice plough cultivaiton in lower Assam during pre-Ahom times and Guha says that "sali" cultivation in Assam plains was at least as old as the process of Sanskritisation itself.

The 13th century saw the coming into Assam of the Ahoms, a northern Tai or Shan tribe of upper Burma. Initially numbering only a few thousands, the Ahoms quickly assimilated with the local population. From 1228 onwards the Ahoms gradually extended their domain and ruled Assam till 1826 when by the Treaty of Yandoboo the British took over control of the region. Apart from their well-ordered system of administration, the Ahoms brought about a radical change in the economy of Assam by introducing wet rice cultivation in the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra valley and extending it by building hundreds of miles of embankments. Wet-rice cultivation, however, had been going on in lower Assam during the Kamarupa empire and must have produced enough surplus to sustain it. The process of Hinduisation continued during Ahom rule and reached new heights in the 17th and 18th centuries. Thus "if the 16th century dominated by the expanding Koch kingdom was the formative period of Assamese society, the next one century and a half was the period of steady consolidation under the Ahoms. The extension of the plough at the cost of the hoe cultivation and of wet at the expense of dry ricelands alongside a general agriculture expansion — a process that was going on for some time in Upper Assam — led to a rapid increase in surplus produce. The consequent rise in population provided the Ahoms with the material base for their further economic and political expansion. Firearms, introduced in the area first in the 1530s, were increasingly put to use and, by the 1660s, excellent gunpowder, matchlocks and cannons were manufactured locally."

Compared to the well-documented history of Assam from the fourth century AD onwards, little is known about the hilly regions of the north eastern region which today forms part of the states of Nagaland Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Tripura and Manipur. The lone exception seems to be Meghalaya, made up of the Khasi and Jaintia hills, where agriculture and trade were relatively developed, with primitive tribal organisations having been long replaced by a political organisation bringing together the different village republics.

Unlike Assam, most of the hill tribes did not possess the experience of state formation and continued to be governed by their own established tribal organisations. Guha says that "among the different tribes, it was only the Khasis who appeared to have moved towards statehood several centuries before the coming of the British". Most of the hill tribes maintained their autonomous existence. Village and kinship ties governed the average tribal’s life; this being especially true in the case of the Nagas. Not only in the case of the Nagas, but with most of the tribal people of the region, the central political and economic unit was the village. So, it may be concluded that in matters of political organisation, the Nagas and other tribes did not go beyond the village and the immediate community.

A majority of the hill languages and dialects belong to the Tibeto-Burman group of languages and the absence of a script is common to most. Only the Khasis and Jaintias belong to the Austro-Asiatic group, though they too did not possess any script. As far as the hill tribes are concerned, it may be said that except for the Jaintias, there was no Sanskritisation or Hinduisation at all. Till the advent of the Christian missionaries, the tribal people of the region followed their own rituals and traditions. The traditional pattern of tribal society did not provide for specialisation of professions, though certain villages specialised in crafts.

It is in the complex mosaic of different nationalities at different stages of socio-economic and political growth that the Indian nation-state is today facing some of its gravest challenges, with the entire process of nation-building being questioned. It is here that the centralised authority of the Indian state is being repeatedly questioned, issues based on the uneven development of the socio-economic order raised, and the idea of the "mainstream" redefined. Time and again, the Indian nation-state has had to work out new strategies and adjustments to deal with the issues raised by the different autonomist and "secessionist" movements of the north-eastern region. Though the Indian nation-state’s management of the problem of dissent and political identity has been commendable, especially when one takes into account the experience of most Third-World countries, yest there seems to be a long way to go. The idea of "one nation" which gathered strength during the country’s freedom struggle and which was buttressed during the years immediately following the partition of the country and its independence, received its first jolt in the hills of the north-eastern region. This was an area which had been virtually untouched by the freedom struggle and also historically outside the pale of Indian civilisation. Hence, it was difficult for those who believed in the unifying force of the Indian civilisation to understand and appreciate the demands for autonomy that were raised in the Naga Hills and other areas soon after independence.

The success of the nation-state in providing a meaningful space within its system to the different nationalisties has not been uniform. Assam today poses a really grave challenge to the entire process of nation-building. With its really complex ethnic situation, the almost unsurmountable problem of influx and demographic change and the backward, almost "colonial" state of the economy, Assam has emerged as the problem state, next perhaps to Kashmir. The future health of the Indian state will depend on how well it can resolve the many problems which Assam today throws up. Many years ago, Ram Manohar Lohia had said that the struggle for Indian independence was being fought in the hills of Assam. That was said with reference to the first outbreak of insurgency in the Naga Hill district of Assam. Today, the Indian nation-state is fighting not just insurgency in Assam and the other north-eastern states, but is fighting for the survival of those very values on which the Indian Union stands. This is bound to be a difficult struggle because the fight is not restricted merely to the swampy jungles of the region but is very much a fight on the plane of ideas. Moreover, it is a fight with its own people. The very idea of the Indian nation-state is being challenged by those who are fighting for an independent Nagaland and a Swadhin Asom. Will the nation-state be able to accommodate these recalcitrant nationalities within the framework of its Constitution? What are the structural changes in the Constitution that will have to be made for this? Success in dealing with the nationality issues being raised in the north-eastern region is bound to strengthen the Indian nation-state, while failure to check separationist tendencies in regions like Assam could have far-reaching negative effects on the country as a whole.