Punjabi Workers in Toronto Are Fighting Wage Theft—And They’re Winning
Inspired by India’s recent farmer protests, immigrant truckers and students are bringing fresh militant tactics to their struggle for worker justice in the greater Toronto area. The results speak for themselves.
Arshdeep Singh, a 30-year-old Punjabi semi-truck driver in the Toronto suburb of Brampton, was left with a bloodied lip after his group’s protest on July 9 outside Sukh Auto, an auto repair shop. Singh was attacked by the shop owner, Sukhdeep Hunjan, and a handful of goons.
It was one of said goons who threw the punch that busted Singh’s mouth. Then Hunjan, a squat boss in a tan shirt, black pants, and blue sneakers, called the police—not to report the assault, but to report the protest.
The Peel Regional Police promptly sent 10 cop cars to the scene, but that didn’t stop the crowd of about 100 from chanting “Lutt band karo! (Stop the robbery!),” and other choice slogans.
Through campaigns reliant largely on direct action, NSN has managed to fight and win back over $200,000 CAD ($154,000 USD) in stolen wages for its members. The organization of about 100mostly Punjabi immigrant workers and students (“Naujawan”translates to “young people” in Punjabi) is a little over a year old.
This was the second protest outside Sukh Auto that Naujawan Support Network (NSN) had held in a matter of months. Both protests were designed to pressure Hunjan to pay back wages stolen from former employee Rupinder Singh by publicly naming and shaming the boss. (A note for readers: While a number of them share the last name Singh, none of the persons interviewed for this piece are related to one another.)
The sign for the shop is now gone—and, according to members of NSN, Hunjan has changed the name of his business on Google.
Bold, militant protests like these are happening with increased frequency in Brampton, resulting in big wins for workers who have been exploited and taken advantage of for too long. And yet, the Toronto-area group’s emergence as a powerful grassroots force fighting for worker justice has been among the least reported labor stories in North America’s settler colonies over the past year (with some very limited exceptions).
Through campaigns reliant largely on direct action, NSN has managed to fight and win back over $200,000 CAD ($154,000 USD) in stolen wages for its members. The organization of about 100 mostly Punjabi immigrant workers and students (“Naujawan” translates to “young people” in Punjabi) is a little over a year old.
At the core of NSN is a dedicated group of volunteers and workers who connect with and support other workers who have experienced wage theft or other forms of exploitation. Mobilizing workers and community members to take collective action, like the protests in front of Sukh Auto, is an integral part of the organization’s mission—and a crucial source of its strength.
“Our benchmark—our filter—for organizing is that a worker has to be willing to come to an organizing meeting and fight for their rights while standing alongside other workers,” Simran Dhunna, a 26-year-old NSN organizer, told TRNN.Continue reading
Indian Farmers Rise Up Against Corporatization
by Selina Singh*
Thousands of Indian farmers have parked outside the capital Delhi for more than 100 days. They have pitched tents on five highways that lead to the city and say they will leave only when the federal government withdraws three new farm laws enacted last September.
Half the Indian population depends on agriculture for a living, and farms are almost entirely family-run. The protesting farmers fear these new laws will corporatize Indian agriculture. They may not know what happened to American farmers when Ronald Reagan was president, but what scares them is akin to what happened then—loss of income, more indebtedness, and the empowerment of a pillaging BigAg.
Most of the agitating farmers are from two Indian states, Punjab and Haryana. In both regions, federal and state governments buy up most of the staple food grain that farmers raise. The government also fixes the price of the grain it buys at a Minimum Support (or purchase) Price. To varying degrees of efficiency, this purchase system prevails in most Indian states.
Indian farmers, workers, and the poor depend on the purchase price and the government procurement system. For growers of rice and wheat, this price is a stable and assured source of income. Governments sell a part of the food grain they procure at subsidized rates. Roughly 800 million of the poor rely on this subsidy to be able to afford their food.
After introducing the new laws, the government assured farmers their income would double in two years. But farmers rejected the offer, saying they prefer the reliable MSP system over grand dreams of higher income. They say they will be ruined by the three new laws—the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
Favors for Corporates
Farmers are afraid of these laws because they create a parallel agricultural market, one where there are no transaction taxes. The existing markets run by state governments charge a transaction tax (it is an 8.5 percent tax in Punjab) for their upkeep. If traders would move outside the government-regulated markets to operate in the tax-free open market, farmers expect it will undermine the MSP system.
Initially, farmers suspect, they may get higher prices for their produce from private traders or agro-giants than in the existing markets. But over time, the government-run markets would start failing. Then, say the farmers, they would be at the mercy of agribusiness giants.
The new laws also permit and encourage contract farming, wherein farmers would enter into contracts with companies that would commit to supplying seeds, fertilizer, and other inputs to farmers (or groups of farmers), in exchange for raising crops demanded by the companies at pre-fixed rates. Farmers fear this will have private companies impose stringent conditions on what crops they can raise and how. The risk of rejection of crops over “quality issues” would forever loom over them. They are anxious that contract farming could reduce them to workers on their land, raising crops at the instructions of companies that they enter into contracts with.
They resent that the law on contract farming is formulated in a way that the contracting company would control the input as well as the output of farming.
“Any company we enter into a farming contract with will supply us seed, fertilizer, pesticide, etc. So, our inputs will be under the control of the company. Existing retail stores will go out of business [as they cannot withstand competition from corporate giants]. Then, the grain we produce will also go to the same company,” says Joginder Singh Ugrahan, who heads the Indian Farmer Union (Ekta-Ugrahan).
It is the biggest farmer union in Punjab and represents the interests of small and marginal farmers. A small farmer owns up to 5 acres of land, while a marginal farmer owns less than 2.5 acres of land.
The new law on contract farming bars farmers from approaching civil courts if there are disputes. It says they can take out loans to finance their contractual obligations, but the government will recover arrears on land revenue from farmers who fail to meet contracted obligations. That, farmers say, means their land (and/or other assets) would be auctioned to recover what they owe. In other words, contract farming is luring farmers with higher returns but it could make them even more vulnerable than they are.Continue reading
Rana Plaza, Coronavirus, and the Need for Worker Organizing
The continuing aftermath of a disaster
As health and safety concerns around workplaces have reentered American public dialogue, it is worth noting that yesterday marked the seventh anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh. Over 1,000 people died in the worst industrial disaster in the history of the garment industry.
Last August, I wrote a piece for Labor Notes on the state of efforts to prevent a similar disaster from happening again:
On April 23, 2013, a local television crew shot footage of cracks in the Rana Plaza factory complex in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The building was evacuated, but the owner of the building declared it safe and told workers to come back the next day. One Walmart supplier housed in the building, Ether Tex, threatened to withhold a month’s wages from any workers who didn’t return.
The building collapsed on April 24, and when the rubble was finally cleared, 1,134 people were found dead, with another 2,500 injured. It was the worst industrial disaster in the history of the garment industry.
From the ashes of Rana Plaza emerged the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. An international compact among nonprofit organizations, Western manufacturers and retailers, local Bangladeshi union federations, and several major global unions, the Accord has monitored fire and building safety in 1,700 factories in Bangladesh over the past six years for signatory brands.
The upshot of the story was that the Accord, while providing important gains in safety for Bangladesh’s enormous garment sector, did not go all the way in protecting the more fundamental right to organize from which real security on the job stems:
Chaumtoli Huq, a professor at the City University of New York School of Law and maker of the 2017 film Sramik Awaaz (Worker Voices) on the Bangladeshi garment industry, said that’s a problem..“The workers I interviewed in my documentary were very clear in what they think needs to happen—it wasn’t renew the Accord, it was put a union in my factory.” She argues that the international solidarity movement is not sufficiently listening to those workers…
“What’s odd is that you have almost these two parallel movements—you have the Accord piece and you have the wages and unionization piece,” said Huq.
At the time, minimum wage in the Bangladeshi garment sector was about $95 a month, or a quarter of what would constitute a living wage.
What’s changed in the last year? Well, wages sure haven’t gone up.
Instead, a different kind of industrial disaster has occurred. With the pandemic collapsing demand and supply chains around the world by March, one million garment workers in Bangladesh were laid off or furloughed, a quarter of the total workforce in the country’s garment industry. Most were sent home without severance or owed money, according to the New York Times. Most Western brands are avoiding financial responsibility to the workers.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA)’s members, who own not just factories but Parliament itself, are getting bailed out by the government to the tune of $590 million. Workers, on the other hand, have to face the twin calamities of extreme financial distress and worries about the spread of the virus.
The situation shows that responding to Rana Plaza with technocratic fixes and deals with the brands that were narrowly oriented on preventing another Rana Plaza-style industrial disaster—however well intentioned—was not enough. What’s needed to prevent the wide range of catastrophes that can affect workers in the global South is to emphasize building real worker power that can allow Bangladeshi people to advocate for themselves.
Otherwise, all you’ll end up with is another catastrophe down the line—one that is different in nature, but all too familiar in its decimation of the lives of the most vulnerable members of the supply chains that provide goods and services for Western corporations.
It’s not hopeless; it just takes respect for the will and the organizing capacity that Bangladeshi workers themselves already have. Solidarity, siblings.
How Hindu Nationalism Came to Rule
Journalist Rana Ayyub was recently threatened on Twitter by a police department in India with “legal action” for making a “political comment” and was ordered to delete her tweet. She had posted an innocuous statement on the impact on Muslims of the destruction of the Babri Masjid (mosque) in Ayodhya in 1992 by Hindu fundamentalists, and on her hope that the Supreme Court of India would provide a modicum of justice the following day in a widely anticipated, politically charged verdict.
While the Amethi police department eventually deleted the tweet after an outcry, a cavalcade of Hindu right-wing commenters did not go away. They claimed she was inciting religious violence, tagged multiple Indian police departments claiming she was violating communal (religious) harmony, and amplified genocidal thought against Muslims.
Ayyub is a frequent target, receiving death and rape threats for years, to the point where UN officials felt the need to intervene by calling on the Indian government to protect her. But she was far from the only one on Friday. The swarming behavior of the online Hindu right and their appeals to police Twitter accounts to harass Muslims and dissenters were widespread.
The story of how India came to this point isn’t just one of bigotry and state violence, but also of the failures of capitalism in a state that turned away from socially conscious populism toward an increasingly pro-business set of policies in the neoliberal era. But to understand its particular context with respect to what happened to Ayyub and others, we have to go back to the 1980s and 1990s.
The Hindu right believes the site of the Babri Masjid was the birthplace of Ram, a mythological figure they revere. Without objective, impartial evidence, they also claim that a Hindu temple once stood on the site before, they say, it was torn down by the Mughals five centuries ago. After years of antagonism, in 1992 they sent 150,000 cadre to illegally enter and destroy it.
The incident sparked extensive violence against religious minorities across India and the region. Thousands were attacked or killed in India and Bangladesh, and numerous other religious sites were desecrated, mostly Muslim in India, mostly Hindu in Bangladesh and Pakistan.
But the Hindu right didn’t want to just destroy the mosque; they wanted to build a Hindu temple on the remains. Meanwhile, Muslim institutions rightfully wanted to rebuild a mosque on the site. And so it went to the courts.
The Supreme Court of India recently sided with the Hindu right. It handed the site of the destroyed mosque over to a trust to build the temple to Ram. Following the decision, preemptive curfews were imposed in Mumbai, Bangalore, and elsewhere prohibiting the gathering of five or more people. This continued the policing of the public — particularly Muslims and dissenters — by the government and its Hindu right supporters that had begun before the verdict was handed down.
The Supreme Court’s decision provided judicial validation for one of the most incendiary acts of religious desecration in modern Indian history. It is unfathomable that five judges could come to the conclusion that the very force that demolished the mosque should be legally entitled to build a Hindu temple on its ruins. What the Supreme Court decision on the Babri Masjid shows is that Hindu right-wingers have captured the state’s institutions at deeper than just an electoral level.
In all likelihood, so too does the work of the government archaeological department that the court relied on. The survey, which has not yet been released, claimed to find evidence of the alleged lost Hindu temple. Previous research by the Archaeological Survey of India on the site has been contested by historians as well as other archaeologists brought in by a Muslim institution claiming the site.
All of this is a stark break from India’s secular tradition. Secularism in post-independence India was always different from the ideas of secularism in the United States or France, for instance. For India, secularism meant the balancing of interests of different religious forces by the government and respect for all of them. At its best, it was about promoting tolerance and harmony among the people.
At its worst, though, it pushed Indians to primarily identify as members of rigid religious “communities” rather than by their social position as lower caste, or farmers, or workers, or women. For example, India’s treatment of secularism has allowed the Hindu right to obscure the widespread institutionalized sexism and gender violence that undermine women across religious lines by focusing on anti-women provisions in Muslim family law. (India has separate laws governing marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance for four religious communities: Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and Parsis.) It similarly fostered a continued flattening of the enormous differences within religious communities.
But this version of secularism made some sense as a political strategy when you consider the powder keg of institutionalized religious animosity that the British fostered over hundreds of years and left behind in South Asia. Their tactics on this front, collectively known as “divide and rule,” ranged from redefining the population by religious identity through the census, to separate electorates for Muslims and Hindus, to setting the precedent for partitioning territory along religious lines in 1905.
Given this context, much organizing during the nationalist movement took on a religious hue, led by key figures like Mohandas Gandhi and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The result — the last gift of the British as they handed over political control to the native elites they had cultivated — was the creation of national states on the basis of majority religious community — Pakistan for Muslims, India for Hindus.
Enormous social violence stemmed from resulting population transfers, killing over one million people during the partition into two states (later to become three with the independence of Bangladesh). The region will likely never recover from this original sin, hardened into national boundaries in the capitalist nation-state system, and provided with armies and nuclear weapons.
The lasting impact of the violence of partition on social consciousness — including on the left — can’t be overstated. By channeling social militancy into a liberal, communal framework, the trauma of partition foreclosed on any possibility of a leftist revolution in India at independence, notwithstanding important exceptions. Consequently, there was no deep land reform on a nationwide basis, as in China, or other sizable redistribution of assets and power to the majority poor. Parties on the revolutionary left faced a choice between state repression and oppositional electoral politics.Continue reading
Modi’s Mass Muslim Detention Scheme
by Serene Kasim and Saurav Sarkar, crossposted from Jacobin
On August 31, the right-wing Hindu Indian government labeled 1.9 million of its residents as stateless.
The official purpose given by the government was to root out undocumented people. But it is widely known that the true motivation was to displace Bengali Muslims from the northeastern Indian state of Assam. This was made obvious in speeches and promises made in the run-up to the recently held national elections that brought the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government back to power for a second consecutive term.
A noxious act in and of itself, the implications of the roundup are likely to be even more consequential for the future of the Indian polity, furthering a project of isolating and punishing Muslims while expanding detentions of undocumented people, Muslims, and others.
The instrument stripping 1.9 million people of rights is the National Register of Citizens (NRC), a now-arcane institution that was created in 1951 to identify who belonged to India at the time. It was reincarnated in 2014 and completed its work in Assam this year.
1.9 million people amounts to 6 percent of the total population of Assam and is two times the number of Rohingya refugees in neighboring Bangladesh.
The current incarnation of the NRC’s purpose was to identify undocumented immigrants from neighboring, Muslim-majority Bangladesh. But its reach goes far beyond.
The new NRC forced all of Assam’s residents to submit documentation like passports, land records, or birth certificates to show they had been in the country or were descended from people who were in the country on or before midnight of March 24, 1971, the day when Bangladesh went to war for independence from Pakistan, with India’s eventual armed support.
Given the paucity of paper documentation in India and the cumbersome nature of its bureaucratic machinery, an unsurprisingly large number of people have been adversely affected. 1.9 million people, including those as old as sixty-five, are now legally forced to go to tribunals and the courts to prove that the only country they have ever lived in should not detain them.
In the absence of a repatriation treaty with Bangladesh, it is unclear what will eventually happen to those who are held in detention for ostensibly being undocumented migrants from Bangladesh; there is currently no legal avenue for deportation.
Concurrently, the government has ordered states to build detention centers across the country in places as far flung as Assam in the northeast, Karnataka in the south, and Maharashtra in the west (all states that have BJP majority governments, incidentally). It has indicated that its inclination is to round up Bangladeshi undocumented migrants across the country.
Nestle workers locked out of Kabirwala factory for months
Workers at a Nestle factory in Kabirwala, Pakistan are engaged in a months-long struggle with factory management and the multinational corporation. South Asia Labor Watch is planning to participate in solidarity actions in the Washington, DC area in coming days.
Organizers of the Nestle Workers Action Committee, are demanding regularization of contract workers, an end to a lockout of about 800 workers, an end to anti-union activities including allegedly fraudulent anti-terror cases, and the implementation of an agreement negotiated by the union.
According to solidarity activists, workers face hunger and potential starvation due to the lockout. Anti-union activities include a series of reportedly fraudulent “anti-terror” cases brought against union leader Muhammad Hussain Bhatti, who spent two months in jail leading up to his January 6 release on bail.
The workers’ supporters are requesting statements of solidarity and international protests of Nestle. The NWAC has requested statements of solidarity to: Nestle Workers Action Committee at email@example.com; Pakistan National Trade Union Federation at firstname.lastname@example.org; and copies to email@example.com.
It is calling for statements of condemnation to Nestle’s global headquarters (below), Nestle’s Pakistan office at NAATA@pk.nestle.com, and international offices of Nestle in your home country. They are also seeking pickets and protests of Nestle sites around the world.
Nestle head office in Switzerland contact information:
Nestlé S.A. Avenue Nestlé 55, 1800 Vevey, Switzerland
General enquiries +41 21 924 1111
Media +41 21 924 2200
The union president a day before his arrest describing the lockout:
Organizing the Invisible: The Movement to Unionize Domestic Workers in Bangalore
by Lavanya Nott
It is a weekday afternoon in early October. About fifteen women ranging in age from about twenty to sixty gather in a small two-room office in Jaynagar in South Bangalore. This is Dussera season, and on this day of the festival, it is customary to worship one’s work tools, so the women have brought along buckets and mops. They are here for a meeting, but before it begins, one woman performs a small puja, and another distributes sweets.
This is the Executive Committee of the domestic workers’ union that operates under the umbrella of Stree Jagruti Samiti (SJS), a non-governmental organization based in Bangalore, India and formed by long-time women’s rights activist Geeta Menon. The group is fighting for the rights and welfare of those in the unorganized sector.
The women gathered for the Executive Committee sing praises of the union, giving it credit for educating them on their rights. One woman, Saraswati, talks about how, after her involvement with the union, she is able to state her own terms and conditions to potential employers before being hired, thus tilting the power dynamic more in her favour. The women tell the story of a fellow union member Shaila, who was wrongfully accused of theft. Shaila was thrown out of her employers’ house, and was standing at their gate, crying, when Vonamma, the president of the Executive Committee, and other members of the union came to support her.
Vonamma was able to articulate to the employers that if they were intent on firing Shaila, they would have to make an official police complaint and find some evidence of her guilt. The employers finally gave in, admitting that there had been no theft. Shaila was unable to keep the job, but she was able to retain her pride and her employer was made to apologize. It seems like the community that the union has helped build among these women has been a major driving force for their strength—both collectively and individually. The women have been inspired by one another, and are learning from each other’s experiences.
Vonamma was seven years old when she began domestic work. Born in Bangalore, her father died very soon after her birth. Her mother—also a domestic worker—was left with the task of raising eight children. None of them received an education, and as a result, they also joined the workforce. Vonamma toiled away in a kitchen, standing on a stool that would raise her small figure to the kitchen counter, and was beaten by her employers when she displayed tiredness. Now she is twenty-nine, is unmarried, and lives with her mother. On this afternoon, she is cheerful and animated, and leads the proceedings when the meeting commences.
The Executive Committee is elected during the union’s general body elections. Women are recruited to the union through intensive fieldwork: SJS goes directly to the places where they live and work. Menon says, “The first step is to recognize that these places are no longer just slums, but labour colonies.” Most of the women in the union live in slums, and SJS’s work involves recognizing that these urban spaces are not merely dwelling places, but sources of labour, and that these women are economic entities. Making an effort to move on from thinking of slums merely as the residences of these women is making the effort to recognize the work that these women do—including daily labour in their own homes, in their capacities as wives, mothers, daughters, daughters-in-law, caretakers, and as women living on the economic margins.
Hailing from various parts of South India, the shared characteristic among the women of SJS is a lack of education and skills. Most only went through a few years of school. For instance, Rajeshwari, the Secretary of the union, was pulled out of school at age fifteen. While this lack of education severely hampers the women’s social and economic mobility, Rajeshwari says that working with the unions has undone some of that for many of the women. They are in many ways more empowered to stand up for themselves and preserve their dignity. Saraswati, a member of the union, says that most of the women state their own terms and conditions to future employers, and inform them of their involvement with the union. It appears that being unionized has given these women a greater sense of self and belonging—some larger context and perspective from which to think about the work that they do and their legitimate, economic contributions to their communities.
Rajeshwari works for two families in Mantri Elegance, one of many colossal high-rise apartment buildings that have sprouted in Bangalore in the past two decades. These high rises house Bangalore’s ever-expanding upper-middle class—a generation of young software professionals nurtured and supported by Bangalore’s IT-dominated economy and representative of India’s growing neoliberal practices of large-scale consumerism and capitalism. The great influx of money that this economy has created has given this professional middle class that much more spending potential, leading to a greater demand for domestic help.
While most of the women have resigned themselves to lives in the informal sector—lives that, in all probability, will continue to be on the margins of Bangalore’s society and economy, they seem determined to fight for the rights and dignities they deserve, and more so, for happier lives for their children. The most difficult step in this movement appears to be the translation of these dreams of respectable wages, regular bonuses, and workplace dignity into reality. Two factors stand out more clearly than others as hindrances to the fulfillment of these dreams: firstly, the oppression and mistreatment of domestic workers is firmly embedded in Indian middle-class society’s psyche, and much of the struggle for these women’s rights depends on some level of malleability on the part of their employers. Secondly, there is a sense of inertia among the women when it comes to taking larger steps forward, especially with regard to their own literacy and education. Solving these problems—for example, mobilizing these women to participate in adult education programs of some sort—however, is an expensive, resource-consuming endeavor.
Building Cities, Demolishing Lives
by Natasha Narwal
On September 11, 2014, residents of E block, Aya Nagar, Delhi woke up to see bulldozers at their doorstep. Accompanied by the police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), they came without any notice and started demolishing houses, not even giving the residents time to save their belongings.
Sanhati reports that at least two were killed: an elderly woman struck by a wall and pregnant woman who suffered shock. Besides the injuries inflicted on the body, the residents’ minds have been scarred by the site of their houses, their investments of a lifetime being reduced to a pile of rubble in a moment.
After the bulldozers had left, Deewan Singh, a daily wage worker and a resident of the colony sat outside the rubble which was once his house. Seething with rage that contorted his face, he lamented sarcastically that the promised ‘Achhe Din’ have come consisting of a steep rise in prices of basic necessities and now not even a roof on his head. Singh was referencing a popular slogan used by the BJP during the recent Lok Sabha elections.
“The whole Aya Nagar is built on illegal purchase of land, then why only our houses sore their eyes-just because we are poor?” asks Anita Devi. Devi and her husband, migrants from Chapra, Bihar, had invested their life’s savings in their house. That house now gone, she stared blankly into the uncertain future, narrating her story while cooking in the makeshift kitchen she has managed to build from the debris of her demolished house.
Aya Nagar is a village located on the southwestern edge of Delhi, on the road to Gurgaon, a satellite city home to luxury apartments and the offices of multinational corporations. In recent years, Aya Nagar has been completely transformed in character into a bustling urban settlement. This is no exception, though, as it is the story of Delhi neighbourhoods like Chattarpur and Maidangarghi as well. This expansion in Aya Nagar was the result of powerful people from the village grabbing land belonging to the local government and forest land and selling it off to various migrants to the city like Singh and Devi, desperate to get a place of their own in this hostile city.
Initially, incoming residents to Aya Nagar were primarily from marginalized sections of society, largely dispossessed landless labourers and low-income settlers from the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and elsewhere in India. In the last ten to fifteen years, however, the character of Aya Nagar’s population has drastically changed.
Various builders have purchased land from local real estate dealers and built huge buildings and flats to lure more upwardly mobile sections of the working population of the city. Thus, Aya Nagar has become a curious site of designer flats and sprawling markets standing amidst the very modest houses of the working class households that are being further pushed towards the margins. This is in contrast to most areas in Delhi, where there is a clear separation of middle and upper middle class localities on the one hand and working class localities on the other.
Singh came to Aya Nagar with his family in 2005 and purchased a plot of land from a local resident of the village who claimed that the land was his ancestral property and was in the name of one of his relatives. But, apparently, the land belongs to the Gram Panchayat, the local government. Despite purchasing the land and investing a lifetime in building a house over it, Singh is still an ‘illegal’ resident.
This is true for most of the residents of the area. They live on the hyphen between legality and illegality, in the ‘gray zone’ of informality neither fully integrated nor completely excluded from the city, becoming fully visible to the state only when they become an eyesore.
The establishment and growth of such ‘informal’ settlements like Aya Nagar have been an integral part of the making of urban spaces. To quote Gautam Bhan, “Like most Indian megacities, the planned city of Delhi is only a small part of the city as a whole, and historically it has always been so. The peripheral constructions and the ‘wait and watch’ game of post- facto regularization has, in fact, been the means by which much of the urban space of the city has been organized.”
Neither informal settlements nor evictions and demolitions are new to Delhi. The settlements in Aya Nagar weren’t hidden from either public view or the state. A community of nearly 5000 people with public services and an expansive built environment cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be covert. As Ananya Roy writes:
Informality is not just that which is outside the planned/formal, as some kind of neatly bound residual order that lies beyond the state and formal planning. The informal, in fact, is “produced by the state itself”. The planning and legal apparatus of the state has the power to determine when to enact this suspension, to determine what is informal and what is not, and to determine which forms of informality will thrive and which will disappear. State power is reproduced through the capacity to construct and reconstruct categories of legitimacy and illegitimacy.
Struggling to the End: A Review of C. Christine Fair’s New Book on Pakistan’s Army
A famous saying goes: countries have armies; in Pakistan, the army has a country. As a result, it seems important for those interested in South Asia to know what that army is thinking and how its attitudes and actions have ramifications for those inside and outside Pakistan.
C Christine Fair’s new book, Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War goes through tomes of army literature. She lays out a case that Pakistan’s army is eternally bent on changing the current status quo in Kashmir and India-Pakistan relations more generally. It believes that it has never lost a war with India (it has lost at least 3), because of the sheer fact that it is still fighting and India has neither conquered all of Kashmir nor eliminated Pakistan as a serious concern in South Asia. The army believes it is succeeding as long as what Fair considers the founding ideology of Pakistan (the theory that Hindus and Muslims in South Asia constitute different ‘nations’) is intact. It uses its nuclear capability not simply as a deterrent, but as an umbrella to shield it from otherwise strong responses to military adventurism.
While Fair makes an extensive case for these claims, it remains a fact that the Pakistani army is not regularly launching full-scale invasions of India or even Kashmir. It does, it seems, have some sense of boundaries, so to speak, in the nuclear standoff between the two countries. Perhaps the extended nature of Fair’s argument should not be taken as evidence of its intensity or purported reach, but it is hard not to do so.
Beyond Indo-Pak relations, the book covers a variety of other subjects. While the resulting text can frequently be tedious to wade through for those who are not familiar with and intensely interested in subjects like the “strategic culture” of militaries, the book contains several nuggets for those more broadly interested in more understanding Pakistan. Perhaps the most notable section of the text is a series of charts which reflect the attitudes of ordinary Pakistanis, broken down by ethnicity (using mother tongue as a proxy) and state. For example, 41% of Punjabis in the Punjab believe that their country ‘completely’ governed by elected representatives, while only 14% of Punjabis in other parts of Pakistan believe this. Only 12% of Punjabis in Sindh want greater sharia law, while 20% of Sindhis in Sindh do.
Fair’s book also contains a great deal of history on the various conflicts that Pakistan and its predecessor state of British India took on. Significantly, this includes not just Pakistani-India relations, but a significant chunk of text devoted to Pakistan’s attitudes towards Afghanistan. Afghanistan, Fair argues, is seen as an important site for Pakistan to try to maintain its security, either through direct meddling or through maintaining relationships with friendly governments. Fair argues that since colonial times, British India and then Pakistan alternated between strategies that were more intrusive and less intrusive in Afghan affairs.
One puzzle that Fair looks at is why Pakistan’s army has a more critical stance towards the United States, considering it a fair weather friend at best, while it has relatively uncritical support towards China. Fair does not fully resolve this issue, but it seems somewhat intuitive that, regionally, Pakistan’s army needs China to contain India-it’s primary raison d’etre-while the United States might be seen as not quite as vital to that concern, due to sheer geography if nothing else. Another issue in the relationships might be China’s status over much of the period covered in the book as a fellow developing country, while the U.S. is a superpower, easy to resent.
Fair’s analysis is deeply pessimistic, and she explicates this towards the end of her book: she does not believe any combination of external or internal changes in Pakistan is likely to change the army’s attitudes or its level of power within Pakistani society. One curiosity is that in considering possible changes, ranging from a genuine civilian takeover of the state to a resounding military defeat by India, she does not consider the possible impact of a genuine military victory by Pakistan, particularly in the divided region of Kashmir. While it does seem unlikely based on the balance between India and Pakistan’s military and the nuclear weapons they both hold, it would have been interesting to hear Fair’s thoughts on what the turnover of a united Kashmir to Pakistan might mean for Pakistan’s army and the country as a whole. Even a plebiscite in Kashmir seems like it might have an impact on the Pakistan army’s commitment to eternal conflict.
In conclusion, while the book is, as stated above, exceedingly dry reading, there are several portions, ranging from the history of British relations with Afghanistan to the history of the Pakistan-Bangladesh split, that are worth reading. If nothing else, the book casts a particular light on not just the power of the Pakistani army, but the views of the figures who have made it up. It is recommended reading for those interested in that institution in particular, while those more broadly interested in Pakistan would probably fare better with Ian Talbot, Christophe Jaffrelot, Ayesha Jalal, or Hamza Alavi. Coming back to the book after reading more traditional experts on Pakistan might shed more light on the significance of some of Fair’s arguments, such as that Pakistan’s commitment to both Islamism and informal fighters goes back much further than the late 1970s or early 1980s.