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Policies and Practices 26

Cyclone Aila and the Sundarbans: An Enquiry into the Disaster and Politics of Aid and Relief

The issue deals with the politics and problem of Governmentality of aid and relief on the backdrop of the disastrous effect that cyclone Aila left on the island of Sundarbans and adjouring areas. Amites Mukhopadhyay through his narratives and case studies aptly provides an insight to the poignancy that the people of Sundarban passed through during and after Aila washed away their livestock. Even worse perhaps is the dynamics of petty local politics that deprived the majority from getting aid in terms of relief. Basanti and Gosaba blocks in particular epitomize the intense Left-Trinamool rivalry circulating around proper distribution of aid and rehabilitation. The main argument Of Mukhopadhyay is the enormity of the cyclone which can be attributed primarily to lack of infrastructural facilities and comprehensive policy. Need of the hour is to formulate definite policy of compensation and rehabilitation else it would be very difficult to recover from the deep rooted catastrophe that Aila embarked on the lives of the people of Sundarbans.
Essay by Amitesh Mukhopadhyay




Policies and Practices 25

Hunger, Food Scarcity, & Popular Protests in West Bengal
These two essays on hunger, scarcity of food, and popular protests in West Bengal follow the earlier publication by the CRG on “Whither Right to Food? Rights Institutions and Hungry Labour in Tea Plantations of North Bengal” (Policies and Practices No. 24). Two more stories will follow. These two essays show (a) how inequality in accessing food becomes categorical and durable, and categories of caste, gender, location, age, income, and class make certain inequality durable in society; and (b) how governmental operations turn a specific right into a matter of state grant,     delivery and largesse. The history of Right to Food in India is marked by these two features.
Essays by Kumar Rana and Manisha Banerjee



Policies and Practices 24

Whither Right to Food?: Rights Institutions and Hungry Labour in Tea Plantations of North Bengal

The essay examines the centrality of Right to Food and the manifestations that its denial may lead to. Death from lack of food can be traced to a severe lapse in the right to food mechanism. There is also a lack of understanding that without the right to quality food all other rights become superfluous. She seeks to embark on a detailed and sustained investigation of hunger and food inadequacy to reveal the truth about the food question in West Bengal. Though the overall official headcount of poverty is on the decline the nutritional status of the marginalized continues to worsen.
She does this through an investigation of the food situation in the Dooars area of West Bengal. The paper explores the mechanics of the legal and administrative spheres of the food rights specially in relation to the tea plantation workers. Moreover she relates through her work how the right to food is not an isolated right but one constituted by other rights such as the right to information, communication, services etc. In this relation she also points out the role of the right bearing institutions. The right to information specially forms a pivot for the tea garden labourers through which they can cope with situation driving them towards starvation.
The tea plantations represent an entire framework of work culture evolving through time in its typical fashion. It is among the worst sufferers of this denial. Tea gardens offer four to five months of intensive employment. For the remaining part of the year the workers have to rely on the NREG. However this does not prove to be sufficient as is evident from malnutrition, its accompanying maladies and finally the starvation deaths. The latter are further downplayed as death from other causes in order to enable them to escape public attention.
The Supreme Court’s recognition of right to food as a basic right which comes under the purview of Article 21 as right to life has given a positive thrust to the movement for the right to food. It has brought into being a number of interim orders and measures some of which are gender or children specific like the midday meal. However the subservient history and lack of administrative skill confines people to the non questioning mode whereby they often fail to realize the centrality of right to food as the basis of all rights. This constitutes a basic obstacle in its realisation.
In this respect she notes another interesting phenomenon. Through the dialogic process which occurs as a result of the failure of the state to deliver, it ceases to be regarded as the sole facilitating mechanism especially as far as right to food is concerned. Community vigilance and social audit mechanisms often parallel the state. In such a case she shows how the idea of responsibility on case of a breach varies from case to case.
Finally she concludes that right to food is a right that has to be acquired and not seen through the charity façade that the state promised deliverables bring with them.

Essay by Geetisha Dasgupta













Policies and Practices 23

Ways of Power, Minorities, and Knowledge on Minorities: An Assessment of Research Policies and Practices

The essay engages into critical probing regarding the framing of the minority discourse; the way in which knowledge of minorities have been manufactured, what and how policies have guided the minority question coupled with the way in which these policies have been revised in the context of Europe and South Asia. The paper examines the breed of specific rationality that decides the minority conundrum and thereby emphasizes the specific reason shaping ‘minority research’. It stresses on the governmental mode of functioning and it’s quintessential brand of rationalism that constructs the minority debate as opposed to raison d’ etat. Interestingly, a chapter on ‘Minorities within Minorities’ discusses the heterogeneity of different sub-cultural configurations present within a minority group and the sort of discrimination they encounter. The study is therefore a cognitive exercise in assessing minority research priorities and policies augmenting a new dialogue between democracy and citizenship in an attempt to invisibilize minority as a category of the ‘powerless’, through healthier Constitutional, legal and political protection.

Essays by Samir Kumar Das and Ranabir Samaddar





Policies and Practices 22

Tales of Two Cities

The two research papers tells the tale of two cities— Kolkata and Helsinki from two very different themes. The first essay on the city Helsinki co authored by Ishita Dey and Sanam Rooni concentrates on the labour conditions of the city. It seeks to locate the circumstances of the temporary workers and the working conditions in Finland and situate it within the phenomena of expansion of borders of the European Union. Globalization as a process has brought up certain interesting questions regarding temporary work. The essay seeks to address these themes in relation to this class of labourers in EU in general and Finland in particular. Through a backdrop of international labour laws and the work life of Finland, moving on to an ethnographic case study of trade union and migrant workers the essay seeks to provide a comprehensive perspective on the theme of temporary workers.
The second essay is centered on the city of Kolkata. It seeks to construct the city as a relational space through the trajectory of compassion. The author Tiina Kanninen examines compassion as a technique for negotiating one’s position within those power relations that relate to situations of care and responsibility. Through interactions with five particular organizations which she presents as the nodes of the relational Kolkata she seeks to study this emotional catalyst in the creation and operation of organized care as well as probing into possibilities of construction of more such spaces of compassion.  

Essays by Ishita Dey, Sanam Roohi and Tiina Kanninen





Policies and Practices 21

Citizens, Non-Citizens and the Stories of Camps

The two research papers included here discuss the lives, experiences, memories, processes and practices of refugees located in various camps including one of the largest transit camps in West-Bengal, known as Cooper’s Camp. The papers examine, in different ways, the practices of the state and analyse the production of identities and subjectivities of the refugees and the ways they are institutionalized and differentiated from other subjects. As one paper mentions, the category of refugee emerges as the battlefield where specific identities and subjectivities are contested and forged in effective skirmishes of everyday life. The two studies on Cooper’s Camp can be labeled as micro-histories, but the strategy of recovering refugee experience in this fashion has been deliberately employed, not simply to restore subjectivity but also to recapture the agency of the refugee constructed through memory and other forms of self-representation. Refugee camps in India have always been the sites of contestation in the creation of the state and both the studies illustrate this in various ways. The two studies show quite effectively how the state produces its subjects, and more importantly, how the state creates the figure of ‘citizen’ and the ‘non-citizen’.

Essays by Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury and Ishita Dey