I will be here for exactly 12 weeks—arriving on a Thursday and leaving on a Thursday. Today is exactly six weeks in and six to go.
The vitality of the public and not-so-public dialogue on caste, class and race is shaking me up. India is as ideologically polarized as the US, but the conversations—and rants—are more articulate and openly grounded in the struggle for power. Trump’s semi-literate followers cheer at his racist sloganeering. Here, when similar sentiments are expressed in Parliament by the national government’s Minster in charge of Human Resource Development, she quotes Cicero and, in an exchange with another woman legislator, shouts, “And if you are unsatisfied with my reply, then I will cut my head, and put it before your feet.” The idiom is lost on me, but not the passion. The HRD Minister is defending the government’s repression of student dissent. Student netas (leaders) have been jailed, journalists beaten in the courthouse and a professor was shot at. This in the name of nationalism, patriotism and a status quo wherein 800 million people live in the cliché of “abject poverty.”
Went out to clear my head and get some fruit from the vendor outside campus. Got a kiwi, bananas and a little potato-looking thing that tastes like caramel. Then a bird pooped on my head. I plucked a couple of leaves off a plant, cleaned up and contemplated the irony of “clearing my head.”
I spent last evening with a feminist collective that has been meeting weekly since the early ‘80s. We met in the Women’s Centre in Santa Cruz. So much was familiar to me–the space with posters, stacks of books and old flyers, the women of a certain age with short hair, glasses and comfortable clothes and the focus of the meeting on preventing domestic violence and promoting gender justice. The familiarity feeds me in this strange place where so much is unfamiliar. However, they speak loudly, interrupt each other and give freely of unsolicited advice without fear of hurt feelings and fragile psyches unrecovered from long ago traumas. Life is more present here and change more urgent.
And here in India my wishy/washy frigging “progressive” politics feel dull, benumbed and useless. There is a battle between the powerful and the powerless, between those who take and those who produce. Here 800 million people provide the labor that builds all wealth. Caste reinforces divisions of labor and the social oppression of many for the benefit of the few. Religious differences are fanned by elites to control festering frustration. Women are at the bottom of all hierarchies and their unpaid and uncounted so-called “household” labor holds the entire pyramid up. And there is a left and a right: the right defends the status quo and “stability” while those on the left, in spite of many differences of analysis, strategy and tactics, speak clearly about who is on what side of the battle between the elites and the people. And that battle has a name and it’s name is capitalism.
But at home it is Bernie v. Hillary. It seems pathetic from here. Hillary Clinton, by birth, experience and positions, is a member of the capitalist elite. She has never been and never claimed to be of the left. (I have not read US papers today so she may have actually claimed this by now.) I have many friends who are political centrists and their support for her makes sense. But for my friends and comrades who have spent their lives organizing against racism and sexism and for the rights and power of a united multi-racial US working class, my unsolicited advice from India is that support for Hilary is support for capitalism and the continued political and economic supremacy of the elite oligarchs.
Support Bernie because he comes close and because he is raising the problem of class. Or sit it out because he does not go far enough and the revolution will not be won by voting in bourgeois elections. Ah, the language of my youthful conversion to socialism has been liberated in India! Feels very good.