Friday, December 2, 2011

Occupy India?

First, a couple of completely unrelated items:

Occupy India! Maharaja Riches at the Asian Art Museum

It's difficult not to contemplate the grotesque disparity of wealth that made the stunning objects in Maharaja: The Splendor of India's Courts possible. On view through April 8, 2012, at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, the exhibition explores the privileged lives of India's kings, from the early 18th century, when the disintegration of the Mughal Empire led to the rise of smaller kingdoms throughout the subcontinent, to the mid-20th century, when India's maharajas, now pampered pets of their corpulent British overlords, mugged for Man Ray's camera in Cannes and went on shopping sprees at Cartier.

Unfair allusions to the Occupy Wall Street movement aside (the complaints of OWS, however accurate, look positively bourgeois when contrasted with the abject poverty of a place like India), the exhibition is a well-paced, crisply presented affair. Organized by London's Victoria and Albert Museum, the show fills three of the AAM's ground-floor galleries, although never to overflowing. As a result, there's plenty of room to contemplate each of the points the curators are trying to make via the almost 200 objects at their disposal.

Now, to the matter at hand. India's Occupy Movement fizzled before it started.

Bankers to Occupy India’s Wall Street

Last month we wondered if there would ever be an “Occupy Dalal Street” movement modeled on the “Occupy Wall Street” one. The anti-Wall Street protests started in September in the U.S. and rapidly spread to other countries – but didn’t really seem to catch on in India.

Though a little behind schedule, it looks like someone has finally decided to occupy Dalal Street. But it isn’t quite the crowd we were expecting: on Friday, a group of bankers plans to occupy Mumbai’s Wall Street equivalent. The protest has been called by members of the Maharashtra State Bank Employees Federation, a group affiliated with one of India’s main bank employee associations. They plan to gather on Dalal Street, which houses the Bombay Stock Exchange.

Organizers see no contradiction between their professional background and the cause Occupy Wall Street stands for – to protest against bankers and corporate executives who thrived while average citizens bore the brunt of the economic crisis. “In our view, the policies represented by Dalal Street are identical to those followed at Wall Street,” Vishwas Utagi, the general secretary of the bank employees group, told India Real Time.

It turns out their demands are not quite the same, however. The group of Mumbai bankers are targeting their private sector American counterparts. But their interests are more protectionist: one of the central items on their agenda is to oppose plans to liberalize the sector.

Occupy Dalal Street movement fizzles out on day one

The 'Occupy' movement, which has taken the West by storm with hundreds of people camping in open areas against greedy capitalism, reached the nation's financial capital today, but fizzled out within an hour with the Left-leaning activists - counting just 27 - being arrested.

India, into the third decade of economic liberalization that has put the economy into a high growth trajectory and home to a very large middle class, becomes the 83rd country and Mumbai the 1,501st city to witness the protests.

The Occupy Wall Street movement started in the private park Zuccotti in New York's downtown Manhattan area in mid September caught the attention of the rest of the world, particularly in the West which is reeling under an extended period of financial turbulences.

A handful organisations like the Communist Party of India, its student wing, the All India Bank Employees Association and even a body sympathising with the Telangana cause started assembling at the high-security Dalal Street that houses the Bombay Stock Exchange building to begin the India-leg of the global movement titled 'Occupy Dalal Street' in the late hours of trading today.

The protest kicked off with demonstrations by banner-holding bank employees, but enterprising attempts by others to reach the iconic BSE tower or its periphery were thwarted by the waiting policemen.

"We have arrested 27 persons, including a woman, for breach of prohibitory orders and assembling unlawfully," senior inspector of the local MRA Marg Police Station Padmakar Juikar told PTI.

The protest, which was planned by the CPI ten days ago, also saw the trickling in of some impassionate individuals, including Tushar Gandhi, the great grandson of the Mahatma.

"Such protests are required to shake up the complacency of the government which gauges economic progress with the stock market," Gandhi said.

India’s ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Barely Fills Corner

For those who were excited about the prospect of the “Occupy” protests finally coming to India, a spoiler alert: Even before India’s “Occupy Dalal Street” could get going in Mumbai Friday, it fizzled in the face of a dismal turnout and police action.

Members of the Maharashtra State Bank Employee Federation, a trade group, and Prakash Reddy, a local official of the Communist Party of India, had announced their plans to stage protests at Dalal Street, India’s Wall Street. They hoped to ape the success of the movement in the U.S.

But it wasn’t to be. If, in the U.S., the movement is characterized by large crowds and days or weeks-long protests, the scenes in Mumbai were very different. The protest comprised of fewer than 50 people, bored police, and an audience clueless as to what it was all about. It lasted all of an hour before representatives of the trade group declared the protest over. Some bank employees even took the chance to leave early ahead of a long weekend.

The only action came when party workers from the Communist Party of India, with red flags bearing the party symbol of a hammer and sickle and placards with anti-capitalist slogans, marched toward the site. The police promptly pushed them inside a police vehicle and took them away. Police officials declined to say why the protesters were removed.

As this was happening, a small group of middle-aged men and women stood at a corner of the street with posters articulating their demands. They represented the bank employees and they shouted slogans against the policies of the Indian government. Among their many demands, they voiced opposition to licenses being given to companies to open banks and they urged the government to enact strong recovery laws to tackle the problem of willful loan defaulters.

Mr. Reddy, on the other hand, expressed his anger at the police crackdown — before he, too, was taken away by the police. “Instead of stopping us from protesting, the police should crackdown against the frauds who have occupied Mumbai,” he said.

However, a recent poll suggests all hope is not lost for the movement to grow...

India may also witness 'Occupy' movement: Poll

Even as a bitter political debate rages on the controversial FDI in retail issue and an overwhelming number of urban middle class can't wait for a Walmart or an Ikea in their neighbourhood, an overwhelming 55% of the respondents in the Hindustan Times-CNN-IBN survey think that disenchantment with global corporations may spill over to the streets in India the way it has with the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US and similar movements elsewhere.

Conducted as part of the build-up to the HT Leadership Summit, scheduled to be held in New Delhi on Dec 2 and 3, the survey on 'A New Economic Order' in India threw up some revealing facts. While almost 43% of the respondents think the UPA government has not done enough in the past year to protect the Indian economy. An ever-rising inflation in the prices of essential commodities, food and fuel has added to the public anger. However, an impressive 32% think otherwise and think the government has done enough to protect the economy from the global crisis.

It's not like India doesn't have deep humanitarian issues it needs to address...

India: Karnataka, ritual that forces Dalits to roll in Brahmin leftovers ends

Practiced to prevent skin diseases, "made snas" is over 400 years old. Unnecessary protests of activists to abolish the ritual, considered inhumane by many and a way to feed the caste discrimination.

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