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Securing the Nation State as Terrorist

Excerpt from the review in EPW by Sharib Ali

What Kafkaland: Prejudice, Law and Counterterrorism in India has to say is indeed odd and tragic. Sethi’s canvas is specific. It is not Kashmir, not the north-east, not “Naxal”. It is bomb blasts, attacks, conspiracies in “mainland” Indian cities and towns, which have together constituted the charge of “Islamist terrorism” – one of the fundamental signifiers post-2001. Meticulously examining more than 30 cases in their entirety including charge sheets, trials, media reports, conversations, etc, and the public discourse around them closely controlled by the “security analysts”, the “experts” and talk shows with police officers and politicians, as well as a close look at the military industrial complex, Sethi lays bare what Talal Asad calls “death dealing in liberal democratic times”. In the first thorough account of India’s war on terror, Sethi shows how the Indian state, in its indigenous ways, has conducted its war on terror by killing, maiming and accusing its own people of waging a war against it. How the state has rewritten its laws to suit its needs. And how it has in an ultimate sovereign act raised itself above its laws and transformed the taking away of the fundamental right to life into “breathtakingly sterile officialese”, or the sheer domesticity of Ab Tak Chhappan where Nana Patekar’s wife asks him to wash the blood stains off his shirt while giving instructions for the perfect sambar preparation.

To read the full review, go to

‘It’s important to stay engaged and keep pressing for equality and justice.’

Music, City, Self

‘No justice is possible in a system of impunity and compromise.’

MSS Pandian, 1957-2014

The sudden departure of MSS Pandian, historian, scholar and extraordinary teacher, adds a sense of emptiness to these terrible times. A massive heart attack following a gastro-intestinal complication, of which he wasn’t fully aware, took him away on 10 November 2014 at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi. On the way to the hospital in the morning he was worrying about the MA class he was to teach  at 4:00 in the afternoon at the Centre of Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, where he was a professor. He will be missed by his students, friends and colleagues. A radical,  avant garde scholar with deeply egalitarian moorings, his work will remain an example of a prose that is objective, political and moral.

An excerpt:

“For a man born in 1906 and witnessed the most acute battles around caste — whether it be M K Gandhi’s threat to suicide which robbed by means of the Poona Pact the ‘untouchable’ communities of separate electorate, or the nation-wide movement for temple entry by the untouchables, or the rise of the non-Brahmin politics in the Madras Presidency during the early decades of the twentieth century — R K Narayan’s forgetfulness about caste comes through as a bit surprising. But this feeling of surprise fades away when one does a closer reading of his autobiography. All through the autobiography, caste masquerades as something else and makes its muted modern appearance. For instance, writing about his difficulties in getting a proper house to rent in Mysore, he writes, ‘…our requirements were rather complicated — separate room for three brothers, their families, and a mother; also for Sheba, our huge Great Dane, who had to have a place outside the house to have her meat cooked, without the fumes from the meat pot polluting our strictly vegetarian atmosphere; a place for our old servant too, who was the only one who could go out and get the mutton and cook it.’ It does not need much of an effort to understand what ‘strictly vegetarian atmosphere’ or meat, which is specified as mutton (that is, it is not beef) encodes. It is caste by other means.The subtle act of transcoding caste and caste relations into something else — as though to talk about caste as caste would incarcerate one into a pre-modern realm — is a regular feature one finds in most upper caste autobiographies. Caste always belongs to someone else; it is somewhere else; it is of another time. The act of transcoding is an act of acknowledging and disavowing caste at once. In marked contrast to the upper caste autobiographies, the self-definition of one’s identity, as found in the autobiographies of the lower castes, is located explicitly in caste as a relational identity. The autobiographical renditions of Bhama or Viramma, two Dalit women from the Tamil-speaking region, the poignant autobiographical fragments of Dalits from Maharashtra, put together by Arjun Dangle in his edited volume Corpse in the Well, and Vasant Moon’s Growing up Untouchable in India are all suffused with the language of caste — at times mutinous, at times moving. Most often the very act of writing an autobiography for a person belonging to a lower caste is to talk about and engage with the issue of caste.5 In other words, we have here two competing sets of languages dealing with the issue of caste. One talks of caste by other means; and the other talks of caste on its ‘own terms’ ” MSS Pandian(‘One Step Outside Modernity: Caste, Identity Politics and Public Sphere’).

Excerpt from Afthab Ellath’s Wall.

Before the Law


“Everything that brought the country [the U.S.] to 9/11 remains in place.”
– Perry Anderson. (From Americana, his forthcoming book)


The Doctor and the Saint


In her introduction to the annotated critical edition of Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s ‘Annihilation of Caste’ (Navayana, 2014), Arundhati Roy looks at the ways in which caste plays out in modern India, and how the conflict between Ambedkar and Gandhi continues to resonate into the present day.

To mark the launch of the book Arundhati Roy will be in conversation with Asad Zaidi, Hindi poet and publisher, Three Essays Press.

Saturday, March 15, 2014, 7:00 pm
Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre, Lodi Road, New Delhi

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  • Americana

    By Perry Anderson, December 2014

  • Of Gardens and Graves

    Essays on Kashmir, Poems in Translation

    By Suvir Kaul, December 2014

  • Findings Keepings

    Life and Communism and Everything

    By Ralph Russell, January 2015

  • Medicine and the Raj

    By Daya Varma, January 2015

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