S. H Raza | Aarambh @ 93

Indian modernist, Syed Haider Raza unveils his new solo exhibition at gallery Art Musings in Colaba, titled ‘Aarambh @ 93’. The painter’s oeuvre comprising over thirty paintings is characterised by his depiction of Bindu. The dynamic, yet aesthetically pleasing dot, or how Raza would describe it — Bindu, is a visually stimulating image, resonating a mystical energy creating a dialogue between the image and the viewer. In this particular series, Raza’s vivid imagination allows him to explore a new visual idiom engaging with notions of creation and existence.

Upon entering the gallery, the first painting which caught my eye was ‘Hartiabh’. The geometric pattern represents a symphony of lines, incorporating a triangle and a circle. The cold colour palette with shades of blues and greens creates a mood of tranquillity and collectedness, leaving the viewer with a feeling of contentment. The Bindu, which is strategically positioned at the top, draws the viewer’s gaze, and causes it to focus from top to bottom. The artist has beautifully juxtaposed the colours and texture to create a sense of conflict as well as harmony between the elements.

In my opinion, the Bindu signifies a narrative of an existential anguish. The circle signifies creation, and the triangle represents destruction. If one looks at the composition with a mortal dimension of our human existence, the crookedness of the lines could perhaps symbolise the discourse of a life filled with ups and downs. However, one must not fret upon such imbalances, as nothing is permanent — not our sorrows, nor are we. This further engages with existential questions of life itself— despite knowing nothing is permanent why do we humans dwell upon joy or sadness? If we do not cherish the moments of joy, or engage with disorder, then what is after all the purpose of life itself? Are we just mere actors on a performative stage incapable of deciphering the telos of life? 

From the collection, the painting titled ‘Samavesh’ has an element of fascination. As a viewer, the centrally dominant Bindu evokes an overwhelming feeling. In my opinion, the impact of this work can be felt only when one is standing right in front of it. The black coloured Bindu, appearing like a black hole, is a space looking out into the void. A sense of mystery, enchantment and fear prevails in the image. Furthermore, the surrounding bright hues of blue, red, yellow, and white could perhaps resemble water, fire, land and sky, thereby complimenting the Bindu. The Bindu then, resembles a ubiquitous mass, a part of the cosmos, as a bearer of all of nature.

That being said, Raza’s work continues to be popular amongst art connoisseurs. He till date continues to push the limits of experimentation with the motif of a Bindu, producing and reproducing timeless pieces of art.

Megapolis India| Without Walls | Studio X

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The process of making a city ‘modern’ has brought joy as well as anomie – joy because people are getting exposed to new forms of information and communication technology, integrating sections of society, anomie because modernisation tends to shun the unprivileged even more. The changing dynamics of Mumbai’s infrastructure and economy have resulted in patterns of spatial segregation  – which have denied the poor their right to the city. The homeless, classified as the “other”, are rendered passive in the changing urban landscape. However, in recent times, the plight of the poor has witnessed a certain revival in popular imagination. A co-curated multimedia exhibition by Megapolis India and Studio X, along with inputs from NGO Pehchan, has focused on the plight of the homeless by exposing the everyday struggles faced by them.

Upon entering the exhibition, one sees a series of video interviews displayed on a projection screen, where women, young and old, reveal their daily struggles living on footpaths. For instance, Meera, a woman in her 30s, along with her family has been living on the footpath for years. She says, “This is where we were born and raised, where our children were born and raised.. Where will we go, even if you chase us away?”. This powerful statement gives us a glimpse of the lives of the homeless, making the urban city dweller question whether or not the homeless have a right at all to decide upon what type of urbanism they want. The series of video interviews made me raise certain questions — on whose ideology does the city run on? Is urban planning done taking into consideration the homeless/poor? Has urbanisation completely become a capitalist endeavour? Are the homeless completely left out of the process of globalisation? 

One whole wall of the exhibition is assigned to maps of areas where the homeless dwell, along with photographs which display the areas where the homeless reside. Thus, as a viewer when I began to engage with the map, there seemed to be a sense of loss of identity and belongingness. In my opinion, the larger than life map displayed on the wall seemed to be overwhelming, further making the observer feel displaced. There seems to be a “growing amnesia” towards the poor, making them appear as overlooked elements of society, as political scientist Rajni Kothari recalls. The homeless seem to be perceived as an unchanging, mundane aspect of the urban dweller’s life.

As an observer, I also find it amusing to see how the visual space of the gallery can transform mundane aspects of life to sacred. The homeless are seen as inhabitants of a space, but who do not seem to catch the everyday pedestrian or a car go-er’s gaze. However, when the lives of the homeless are displayed in a gallery, they instantly become noticed and valued. The visual space of a gallery has the power to alter the perception of an object/group of people. Furthermore, the public then starts to pay attention to the plight of the homeless population.

Moreover, as one walks through the exhibition, a certain sense of a nomadic lifestyle seems to prevail in the images. As a viewer, I feel as if Mumbai’s homeless are living as urban nomads. The temporary lifestyle — similar to that of a nomad, lacks privacy, makes a person succumb to loneliness, keeps an individual always thinking of new places to rest and work in. Nevertheless, the exhibition is an eye opener and can be looked at as a tribute to Mumbai’s homeless.

The Harsh Consequences of The Politics of Social Inclusion and Exclusion

Each social institution has its own methods of creating boundaries within its structure. There are concrete and blur boundaries made in order to distinguish between the cultural spaces of individuals in a society. These boundaries, contribute to the social inclusion and exclusion mechanisms by which people are labelled to be as inferior or superior. What is deemed as ‘normal’ plays a great role in cementing the foundations and boundaries of a society. Anyone who deviates from the so called ‘normal’ is said to be looked at as a maladaptive element in the society and hence is marginalised. However, it is important to note that the definition as to what constitutes as normal is subjective for each community.

Social inclusion as well as exclusion, play a a vital role in terms of marking social positions of individuals in society. Both these concepts are intertwined with power relations, which cater to the issue of social advantage. The individuals who have access to resources are given a more ‘inclusive status’ which is characterised by a privileged status, where as an ‘exclusive status’ can be seen in those who are alienated and de-attached. Exclusion in the Indian context can be understood by those individuals who fall into the category of Dalits, tribals or adivasis and other minorities who are alienated from their most basic rights.

As per the 2011 census in India, scheduled tribes constitute to 8.6% of the total population. Since this number is relatively small, the classification of tribes as inferior is not uncommon amongst many minds in India. Tribals in many parts of the country are assumed to be irrational and incapable of making their own decisions, which is why they have been marginalised not only from many societies in India, but by the nation as a whole.

The issue of governance of tribals in India has been a fragile one and it is crucial to understand both sides of the story. Shri Brajeshwar Prasad, member in the Constituent assembly had strong opinions about the governance of tribal areas. He said that they should be centrally administered and not in control of the state, as during 1947 there was still a blur boundary as to which areas constitute as India. This view further argues that the trib- als through the ‘civilising mission’ should be integrated into the nation as a whole. This argument has lead to the thought of tribals being a ‘local tradition’ which needs to be absorbed in a larger tradition, being that of the country.

There is a confusion as to what constitutes as ‘Indian culture.’  As Hinduism is a religion which is majority in number, many characterise practices of Hinduism as what should be ‘Indian culture’. Hence, tribals who live in isolation are ‘sanskritised’ into Hinduism and are given the status of a lower caste. This a a way of integrating them into so- ciety, into a bigger more ‘recognised’ culture. Hence, the face value of tribals can be seen as inclusive, but looking deeper into the situation they still have an excluded status.

Another school of thought is that of the liberals, who state that the tribals should be be seen as an autonomous unit and be given self governing rights in order to ensure their welfare. This view claimed, that the tribals should be free from processes of globalisation and impacts of dominant cultures that disorient the tribals from their own culture.

Years of hard work towards the preserving of resources such as cultivable land, and forests which are owned by the tribals are looted by the ‘developed people’ who make profit off these means of production. 90% of all coal and around 50% of other minerals are found in the tribal lands. The tribals, being naive and illiterate are fooled by the poli- cies and framework of the so called ‘promised’ agendas of the government resulting in further alienation of tribals from their own land. These so called developmental activities leave the tribals landless and displaced with minimum survival needs.

The government has certain ideologies and goals in mind for the country, one is to increase the GDP growth of the country and move towards a more civilised India. There is nothing wrong in having such agendas, but what is wrong is the means by which they achieve them. The government relentlessly feels that after taking over the resources from the tribals, it would grant the tribals separate land to live on and give them means of livelihood. However, this does not always follow due to the scams and corruption activities involved. Even if they are given employment opportunities and societies to stay in, they are still at a great loss as they are placed in unfamiliar societies having less skill to fit the conditions of modern society. This leads them to be excluded from not only form the economic, social and political sphere but also in the areas of education, citizenship and respect.

Rebellious movements such as the Maoist movements come into play here. The members of the movement brainwash the tribals and use examples of how the tribals have been excluded from mainstream society and from the eyes of the government. They emphasise on how a blind eye is turned towards them, compelling the tribals to join these movements. The tribals feel that there is a certain class of people showing sympathy to- wards them and hence join them. This further intensifies the struggle of being excluded for the tribals.

Till date, tribals are still victims of developmental processes. Unless proper attention is given to the plight of the tribals, bringing about a change in their situation is tough to accomplish. The main issue to be targeted is the implementation of the laws. There are many protective laws made in order to protect the tribals. But the question still remains, how far does law enforcement go? Nevertheless, tribals should be educated and made aware of the laws made for them, it is only then they can stand up for their rights.

Can The Dreams of Secular Education Ever Be Achieved By Indian Society?

As citizens of India, we are citizens of a secular nation. “Secularisation is the process whereby religious institutions and practices become peripheral or almost invisible in a society in which they were perceived to be central and pivotal” (Copley, 2005:7) However, in the case of India the definition of secularisation takes a different turn. India rests on the principle of “dharma nirpekshta” which means indifference to religion to be observed by the State. As Gandhi said, it was vital for India to have respect and tolerance for all the religions in India and that was crucial to govern on bases of common citizen interest, permitting free expression of religious practices.  Having understood this, it is a precondition for a secular nation to promote secular education. Unfortunately, the Indian state is far from promoting secular education.

Education is a social institution which plays a pivotal role in shaping the future of India, through the youth, who are the agents of social change. Education goes beyond the domain of classroom learning and can be inculcated through experience, debates and different modes of conversation. What holds importance in education, is the power relations and the quality of content involved.

Karl Marx, has spoken about the ‘superstucture’ in society that comprises of the people who hold immense power and are capable of moulding nearly all social institutions, the most important being education. In India the educational system is controlled either by the government or by elites. What goes into what we call ‘book knowledge’ is governed by the ideologies of what the people in power follow.

Andre Beteille claims that the Indian education system has suffered from the ‘bad advocacy’ of academics. Hence the educational system becomes defective and encourages the people to think in terms of groups and communities and promoting feelings of ethnocentricism or having the view of being superior against another culture. This practice further encourages feelings of communalism and alienation amongst the citizens of India.

Today in many schools, especially in the rural areas (in the urban as well) of India one can find the textbooks being dominated by pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses and slokas from Hindu scriptures. There is barely any other representation of other religions of the country.  The aim of education is to foster critical thinking and broaden the vision of individuals, this is not being done with the current practices being followed by the educational system of India. Instead the schools are encouraging conservative thinking which is inclined towards going back to barbaric stages of evolution rather than civilised. This also leads to a vicious cycle where the teacher who was once a learner, was placed in an environment which encouraged sectarian thinking, propagates the same ideologies to his or her students. Hence the claims of ‘educated’ people promoting sectarian ideologies does not come across as much of a shock in todays day and age.

Many textbooks till date still promote casteism. There is difference between understanding the ideology of caste and promoting the ideology of caste. Many teachers purposely label the Dalits who belonged to the lower strata of caste, in a more negative light. Their status in many books is linked to that of a crow whose lifestyle thrives on living in garbage. How is it possible to cultivate broad thinking when the malleable minds of young children are getting brainwashed to believe in a particular way? Many have questioned this stand.

India has innumerable tribal population living in its interiors. They constitute 8.61% of the total population of the country, figures go upto 104.28 million and cover about 15% of the country’s area. (2011 Census). Very conveniently textbook authors has ben ignorant about this fact and have labelled them as a part of Hindu tradition. Many tribals have different Gods, rituals, ceremonies and many do not have the concept of caste, but this goes unnoticed. Their tradition has been labelled as an inferior ‘local’ tradition compared to the ‘great’ dominant tradition of Hindus. Hence their have been claims that the tribals have been “sanskiritsed” into the folds of the great Brahminical tradition. The unfortunate part is that the tribes due to their isolated lifestyle are completely unaware of the exploitation done by the people in power.

Education not only revolves around text but is also achieved through various discourses. The religious discourse of Hindutva, has in recent times intensified the struggle to achieve secular education. This ideology glorifies Hinduism and one of the principles which it adheres to is that of “pitra bhumi”, meaning an individual’s forefathers must be born in India for him or her to call it ones land. According to them, Muslims and Christians have their lineage originated from else where and hence are ‘foreign elements’ to India. Thus being ‘foreign’ is given the status of an outcast encouraging feelings of communalism. This ideology is being promoted in various rural areas of India where there are high levels of illiteracy, leading to the moulding of the minds of the villagers.

As every nation envisions itself as being successful, India is no exception. If a modern India has to be built, the government has to have a broader outlook with aims of encouraging healthy thinking and achieving a society which is not based on caste. The panel for framing the syllabus in schools all over the country should themselves have an open mind and not just get elected on the basis of religion. Critical thinking is the key to achieve progress, existing societal structures and epistemological claims to knowledge theories should be questioned by the citizens themselves. With these fundamental changes, India as a country will no longer be far from achieving progress in terms of secular education.