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Murli Natrajan
Balmurli Natrajan
Murli teaches at William Paterson University of New Jersey, where he is also director of the Gandhian Forum for Peace and Justice.

Whose Civil Society Is It Anyway?


by: on January 23rd, 2010 | 8 Comments »

People may remember a Hollywood film not too long ago called Indecent Proposal which featured actor Robert Redford offering a lot of money to “Woody” from Cheers (Woody Harrelson) to be able to get the latter’s wife Demi Moore for a night. I always wondered what the indecency in that film was all about. Was it the immorality of adultery? Was it the crassness of commodified trafficking in human beings? Or the commodification of love and, of course, sex? Despite the plausibility of all the above, I remain convinced that the indecency was primarily in the quantity of money offered by Robert Redford – not a few thousands, but a whole million – to a young couple in financial distress.


How Violent Can A “Democracy” Be And Still Be Termed One?


by: on October 13th, 2009 | 1 Comment »

Over the last few years, India has made much news on the global stage for its impressive economic growth rates and its “shining democracy” (a campaign slogan from the 1990s that sits well among ruling classes and a shrinking middle-class even today). However, like all shining images, this one too wears thin quickly when one is able to discern the growth of inequality, the fact that India ranks 94 / 119 on the Global hunger Index (of 2009) and has 27% of the world’s undernourished population while boasting of billionaires every year added to the list.

The following is a statement of appeal to the Government of India put out by a progressive group in the US, Sanhati that is a deeply concerned and superbly informed document offering a glimpse into the realities of India. The kind of violence that is unleashed by the Indian state on the pretext of quelling mass uprisings that have themselves become armed movements over time reminds me of Bishop Dom Helder Camara’s powerful insights in 1970s from northeast Brazil on the Spiral of Violence — where he spoke of three violences — violence of poverty and dependent development (Violence 1), armed violence of resistance of the poor and those acting on their behalf (Violence 2) and the crushing violence of the state to suppress this resistance (Violence 3). Not surprisingly, India’s aboriginal population of more than 75 million is at the receiving end of this state violence that brings the state and capital directly into conflict with the welfare of citizens.


Gandhi Today


by: on October 8th, 2009 | 4 Comments »

On October 2, 2009, we commemorated the 140th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi by having a discussion at my university. The title of the event was “Practicing Satyagraha in a Violent World: Conversations on Peace and Justice.” As Director of the Gandhian Forum for Peace and Justice, I had invited Ted Glick as one of two speakers.

Ted Glick is a long-time activist and organizer who has worked on building grassroots resistance and raising the level of public debate on issues of militarism, state repression, environmentalism, tenant rights, community development and racial justice issues in the NY/NJ area. For the last four years Ted has played a national leadership role in the effort to stabilize our climate and for a clean energy revolution. He was a co-founder in 2004 of the Climate Crisis Coalition and in 2005 coordinated the USA Join the World effort leading up to December 3rd actions during the United Nations Climate Change conference in Montreal. Most interestingly for our Forum, Ted has participated in and led numerous public actions of nonviolent civil disobedience and has courted arrest many times in that process. In May, 2006 he became the national coordinator of the U.S. Climate Emergency Council. For three and a half months in the fall of 2007 he ate no solid food as part of a climate emergency fast focused on getting Congress to pass strong climate legislation. On a national scale he has been a leader in coalition-building and independent politics efforts. From 1995 to 2005, he was the National Coordinator of the Independent Progressive Politics Network.


Debating Hinduism – What Radicals and Progressives Could Think About


by: on September 23rd, 2009 | 2 Comments »

This is a link to a post of my responses to many comments that have appeared as response to my piece on Mussolini’s Hindus and how to battle them in the latest Tikkun available here. Some of my comments are also as a follow-up to the “hate mails” that were posted on this site in response to the call to the Financial Times to not give an award to the chief minister of the state of Gujarat under whose administration a pogrom that resulted in the killing of 2000 people (mostly Muslims) occurred in 2002 and continues to reveal some shocking violations of basic human rights (see here for a petition to the Prime Minister of India following up on a high court decision that indicted the same administration for the most recent murder of a Muslim student).

Interested readers can read the entire piece from Tikkun and the responses here



“When Timidity Passes for Wisdom…” Or, How to Lose Friends and Influence Policy?


by: on September 9th, 2009 | 3 Comments »

Towards the end of his speech, President Obama said the following words: “…when facts and reason are thrown overboard and only timidity passes for wisdom, and we can no longer even engage in a civil conversation with each other over the things that truly matter that at that point we don’t merely lose our capacity to solve big challenges. We lose something essential about ourselves.”

While Obama’s speech made some forceful observations about how Social Security and Medicare were sought to be blocked by many who claimed that this heralded Socialism (which was obviously such a bad thing in those days of the Cold War, but oh, wait a minute it still is), his own “public option” found its way into the speech only at around half-time. Can one say, almost timidly? Perhaps, it is Obama’s way of claiming wisdom? He wants this reform to pass. In some form. And maybe he will succeed in this. But, did he lose something essential about himself (his progressive self) in the process?


And the Financial Times Award goes to … a Human Rights violator … Please sign the protest letter


by: on August 31st, 2009 | 24 Comments »

Tikkun readers will see a photograph in the latest Tikkun Magazine on page 59 of a man in saffron colors wielding a sword at a huge rally of the Hindu right-wing chauvinist party in India. That man is Mr. Narendra Modi, who has been at the helm of affairs in the western Indian state of Gujarat, and where a number of highly respected human rights observers documented a pogrom against Muslims in 2002 that resulted in the murder of about 2000 people and the public rape of numerous women.

I reproduce below a letter that is calling for as many signatures as possible from those of us deeply concerned about the ways that such individuals as Mr. Modi routinely seek and get legitimized through awards handed out by well-known institutions (who may not be aware of their background or worse, may not consider such crimes as significant). This letter is to Ms. Marjorie Scardino, CEO of the Pearson Group, which owns the Financial Times group, which owns FDI magazine. As some of you may know from media coverage, FDI just anointed Narendra Modi “Asian Personality of the Year 2009.” Please join us by signing the letter below. The louder the reaction to this, the more chance this outrageous action will be sanctioned.


Healthcare: Of Weakest and Strongest Links in the Battle of Ideas


by: on August 23rd, 2009 | 6 Comments »

Despite the fact that some individuals have shown up at the town hall meetings literally armed, left progressives need to continue to seriously identify and attack the strongest links (not the weakest) in the ideological repertoire of those who are so rabid in their opposition to the Obama healthcare plan. This means that focusing on the “will my granny be put to death” argument is only a distraction. This is not among the strongest arguments that congeal whatever opposition to this healthcare plan emanates from the broadly defined right-wing. It is definitely the strangest, perhaps.

Anyway, focusing on the strongest link is what the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci languishing in Mussolini’s prison wrote in his Prison Notebooks as the strategy in an ideological struggle as different from a military struggle. For Gramsci, whereas in the latter kind of war one has to attack the weakest link of the enemy, in the former kind of war one needs to attack the strongest link. This is because of the power of ideas which is not only of a longer durability than a military formation, but is also of a different quality – ideas when developed into beliefs and then upheld through rituals (customs, traditions) that reinforce beliefs – have a way of digging themselves very deep into psyches and collective consciousness. In this sense, the television shows we see are of course all living room war-games of the ideological kind.


Remembering Racism in an Obama Age


by: on August 17th, 2009 | Comments Off

On Nov 11, 2008 (just a few days after the historic win of Barack Obama) the German paper Der Speigel interviewed Professor Niall Ferguson, a historian at Harvard to discuss among other things, Obama’s historical election victory. Fergusen said: “Yes, it was a very moving moment. It was similar to the release of Nelson Mandela. When Obama was born, in 1961, mixed marriages between blacks and whites were still illegal in one-third of the American states…It is astonishing that the transformation from a racist America to an America that elects a black man to the White House was possible within that period of time. Even the world’s most dogmatic conservative ought to be moved.” (click here for the interview) Fergusen initially supported McCain but then became “a convert in the last six months because of Obama’s extraordinary combination of rhetorical genius, coolness under fire and organizational skills.” Asked to say what the election meant, Fergusen then said: “What it means is enough: the death of racism, the end of the original American sin and, most of all, the right reaction to end the economic crisis. Obama can stimulate self-confidence because he is so calm and collected. He will not simply put an end to the crisis or ensure that banks lend money again. He is a politician, not the Messiah. But he can change the national mood.”

Prof. Fergusen’s interview is very illuminating for understanding at least one aspect of the public display of “vile and bile” whenever Obama is mentioned on news channels like Fox (I watch this whenever I feel like I need to challenge my ability for suffering pain while maintaining some inner calm).


Disaporic Provincialism?


by: on August 13th, 2009 | Comments Off

I have written in earlier blogs about the progressive ruling decriminalizing LGBT sex in India this summer and the backlash from many religious “leaders” in India. It now seems to be the turn of organizations representing the close to 1.5 million Indians in the USA. Here is an “open letter” from a concerned Indian in America about one such organization and its annual India Day Parade celebrations which should celebrate the diversity of Indians but which unfortunately seems to have closed its doors to the LGBT community. Incidentally, the letter writer is also a community activist working on issues of community public health and at the forefront of the South Asians Organizing for Health Care Reform in NYC which is fighting against the vitriolic, racist, and anti-humanist obfuscations that have managed to take-over much of the mainstream media and many town-hall meetings.

“One giant leap backwards for Indian-kind” — An Open Letter

Sapna Pandya

On Thursday, July 2nd, I awoke to very exciting news from my native country of India. A decision was being made 10,000 miles away that would not only impact thousands upon thousands there, but also the community of Indians living in America. After over ten years of intense dedication and advocacy by lawyers, human rights advocates, public health professionals, civil society and many others, the Delhi High Court read down their decision to repeal Indian Penal Code Section 377. This antiquated law, left over from the British Raj, criminalized certain forms of sex that were defined as “against the order of nature,” among which consensual sex among two adults of the same sex was included. In other words, Section 377 made it illegal for gay Indians to have sex, but the Delhi High Court decided what many of us already knew was true: that such a law is unconstitutional and oppressive. This landmark decision, a true victory for human society as a whole and India in particular, was even beautifully linked to the ideals of equality and justice central to India’s freedom movement, as Justice Murlidharan quoted lines from Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘Objective Resolution’ from December 13, 1946 in the official Delhi High Court ruling.


Policing the Police in India


by: on August 6th, 2009 | 2 Comments »

A new report released by the Human Rights Watch documents the rot within India’s police system. The sad part of this report is that the research is based on the experience of people who live in some of India’s less devastated states and region. For example, the entire central belt (states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa) which is home to the most mineral-rich states and home to most of India’s aboriginal people (numbering officially about 75 million) is not covered in this report. And it is in this belt that some of the most undemocratic practices of the Indian state get played out (for more information on this region click here). As progressives, one task has always been the struggle to counter dominant representations of the nation. In this sense, the global rhetoric of democracy has made it tough for anyone to pose serious questions of erosion of fundamental rights in those places that are too easily assumed to be “democratic.” This report must be seen as part of the attempt to document another India, one that has failed most of its citizens.

The Press release from the report is given here: