We are

The IDG is one of the oldest and most respected societies of St. Stephen's College, Delhi. It looks to broaden perspectives by discussing a variety of issues with eminent personalities.

Our talks often throw up some very unexpected answers and, even more often, some very unexpected questions.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Freedom and the Division of Labour: A Misesian Perspective, by David Clarance

The examination of (the) division of labour and exchange is of extreme interest, because
these are perceptibly alienated expressions of human activity and essential power as a
species activity.
Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts 1844

(The) Principle of the division of labour is one of the great basic principles of cosmic
becoming and evolutionary change
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action

The great thing about college is that you are always being exposed to new frontiers. David Clarance, a students of III Economics(Hons) at St. Stephen's College, shared his paper 'Freedom and the Division of Labour: A Misesian Perspective' with the Informal Discussion Group. The following is a short abstract of the paper, in his own words:

The natural law of scarcity implies that man is better off as part of society than he is on his own. Being part of society has its own implications for man’s freedom to “run his own life”. The catallactic society imposes certain restricts on the action set of an individual. These restrictions are in the form of natural laws and, what Ludwig von Mises called, praxeological laws. A certain section of liberals have attacked these praxeological laws as unnecessary and excessive. However these praxeological laws brought about by the division of labour are the least undesirable in the context of man’s struggle against nature. Further in the context of Mill’s concern, whereby society conditions individuals to conform to a certain “ideal”, the catallactic pressures (brought about by these praxeological laws) interact with “Millian pressures” to result in different outcomes with respect to an individual’s freedom. The direction depends on one’s belief of the relative scarcity of labour, which in turn are influenced by one’s belief of the role of the division of labour. Following Ludwig von Mises’ analytical structure, I show that catallactic pressures minimize Millian pressures and hence lead to a larger sphere of individual freedom in society.

For those interested, the complete paper can be found at https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B3PkXTkkRFiTSFhidG1tZUJUaTZWbjFManEtS3I0UQ. Check it out, it promises to be an interesting read!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Interpreting the Ramayana by Leila Gautam

Despite a parallel Amartya Sen- Kapil Sibal session happening at Andrew's Court, and the disturbance caused by boisterous, departing Rafters – the staff room was full, and everyone listened, utterly engaged, to what Dr. Bharati Jagannathan had to say about the 'Ramayana as a Bestseller'.

Her talk was about why the Ramayana continues to interest us, and has interested us for so long. She shared her insights, along with humorous anecdotes of her experience of teaching the A.K. Ramanujan essay as a history professor. The Ramayana is full of contradictions and controversies, and it is these that generate a great deal of questioning in the Ramayana tradition and keep the Ramayana as 'popular' as it has been. For example, you have the case of Rama killing Vali with an arrow from the back, and Rama brutally mutilating Surpanakha, and the killing of Shambuka, the Shudra, because he performed 'tapas' that resulted in the death of Brahmin's son.

Romila Thapar describes the Ramayana as a 'metaphor for Indian politics'. It is inherently political because it describes the 'Ramraj' – the kind of perfect model for a kingdom, governed by the ideal sort of rule. And Rama is the 'ideal' man – his behaviour presents the ideal code of conduct with relation to gender, class and caste heirarchies. So a large number of Ramayanas have come up, in many different contexts – as each group of people deals with these issues in different ways. A.K. Ramanujan talks about the 'Many Ramayanas' model – instead of looking at the Valmiki version (which happens to be the oldest one) as the authoritative text and the rest as variants – you look at each text as equally important and not derived from the Valmiki text, and study the context each has come from.

The Ramanujan essay(which can be found here) was removed from the History syllabus of DU. All this is part of a much larger trend in which certain political groups and persons have sought to impose a single version of the Ramayana onto the people, trying to erase all the other retellings. This is seen right from the start, in the 90s with Ramanand Sagar's serial that was aired all over India – it dealt very selectively with the Ramayana. And then you have the claim that the Babri Masjid was the actual, physical location of Ayodhya, and its subsequent demolition. The Sangh Parivar's problem with accepting the different versions of the Ramayana is this - if the Ramayana is to be made into history there cannot exist many tellings and many versions.

A very interesting example are the feminist retellings of the Ramayana. I personally, had a problem with the way Sita was treated in the Valmiki text. Rama makes her go through the trial by fire, and then it is proved beyond doubt that she is chaste, takes her back. Only to abandon her once more when she is pregnant.
A very recent (and inventive) retelling is 'Sita Sings the Blues' (which can be seen here legally). Touted as the 'Greatest Break-Up Story Ever Told', it was made by Nina Paley. The film moves between her break-up with her husband and the story of Sita. It pares down the Ramayana – summarizing it extremely – and looking at it from a very Western and 'modern' perspective. The film is irreverent and somewhat flipppant, yet very entertaining – especially as the broken-hearted Sita lip-synchs to the songs of Annete Hanshaw, a jazz chanteuse of the 20s. The film shows Rama as heartless, and in a very funny way. You have Lava and Kusha learning as children to worship Rama - Sing his love, sing his praise, Rama set his wife ablaze. Got her home, kicked her out, to allay his people’s doubt. Rama’s wise, Rama’s just, Rama does what Rama must. Duty first, Sita last, Rama’s reign is unsurpassed.” The film has been attacked by a large number of religious right-wing groups. Their problems with the film range from the way Sita has been caricatured (apparently in a lewd fashion) to how the film twists and subverts the meaning of the original epic.

The tension in the telling of the Ramayana is this duality - the Ramayana as one of the best stories ever, retaining the interest of the reader how ever many times s/he reads it, yet the treatment of Sita, which while remaining a minor irritant to women, is majorly worrying because Sita is touted as a role model for women in India. Many of us may escape this stereotyping, but most Indian women are caught between tradition and the tensions of modern life. They have to work for a living, get educated, travel in public, have public roles to perform, yet cannot transgress the roles that Sita's story lays out for them - fidelity, chastity, humility, deference to men and elders, etc. etc. In this sense, the telling of the Ramayana is a hugely modern problem.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Murder of Chandrika Rai by Arjun Rajkhowa

Chandrika Rai, a freelance journalist writing for the Hindi daily Navbharat and the English daily The Hitavada, in Umaria, Madhya Pradesh, was found murdered at home along with the rest of his family - his wife, Durga and their two children, Jalal and Nisha. Rai wrote regularly about the illegal mining racket in the area, and recently wrote a series of articles investigating the involvement of a local BJP leader in illegal mining. As reported in the mainstream media, the police in MP are currently investigating a possible link between the Rai murders and the recent kidnapping of the son of a local government official, downplaying the possibility of mafia involvement. As indicated by the fact-finding team constituted by the Press Council of India, the police have "almost discarded" the theory of the involvement of the illegal mining mafia at this stage, choosing instead to focus on the latter link. Whatever be the veracity of the police investigation, the fact remains that the lives of journalists are constantly threatened in India. The lack of reliable evidence often leads to obfuscation in cases, and the perpetrators go scot-free. Many journalists, as well as activists, find themselves confronting hostile officials and criminals, sometimes coterminous entities, on a daily basis. In the case of the recent burning of Dalit homes in Lathore, a local journalist's report on the illegal businesses of the local mafia was cited as one of the reasons for the "revenge attacks" perpetrated by the Meher-Agarwals. The levels of intolerance and lawlessness in the rural hinterland are exceedingly high, and such attacks on journalists, when they do occur, often go undetected and unpunished.

Truth and justice suffer greatly in an intolerant and corrupt society that feeds on lawlessness and muscle power. The culture of corruption has roots so deep, human lives, let alone constitutional principles, lose all value. Freedom is an illusion sustained by the elite, when a large majority of people live under conditions of threat and duress.

Truth and justice suffer greatly in an intolerant and corrupt society that feeds on lawlessness and muscle power. The culture of corruption has roots so deep, human lives, let alone constitutional principles, lose all value. Freedom is an illusion sustained by the elite, when a large majority of people live under conditions of threat and duress.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

An Interactive Session and Cooking Demonstration with Ritu Dalmia

Every once in a while we have a talk that pulls the crowd. Once every couple of months or so we here at IDG decide to host a different kind of session. This time around the theme was sure to be a hit. Food. Italian Food.

Chef Ritu Dalmia of Diva restaurant in Delhi turned our cafe into her kitchen. She spoke about her travels in Italy that transformed her from a rookie to someone with whom Italian food in India really arrived. Two students were her sous chefs for the day who cooked for us Bruschetta, Quattro Formaggi Pasta (Four-cheese pasta), Tomato-base pasta and chocolate fudge. Along with the cheeses came discussions about Nigella Dawson, food and pornography and a little too much wine. The conversation lingered while devouring little pieces of Gorgonzola and Mozzarella. With our intellectual and culinary appetites full, all we really wanted to do was Kiss the Cook!

A year goes by so fast!

It’s no secret: people like talking, and the IDG is more than happy to cater to your every conversational need. The year started off quiet without the usual preparatory “executive council building”, but things got noisy soon enough.

It started with Sadanand Menon and Kalaripayattu, an ancient Indian martial arts now reborn as an experimental dance form. Chiki Sarkar was candid, comfortable and, well there’s really no other word to use: spunky, as she spoke to us about the world of publishing. Tensions ran high, walkouts ensued and Apoorv literally tapped out when Prof. S. N. Balagangadhara decided to assert his predilection of legend over history. Vinod Raina joined us to “dig deep into the roots of education”. We were also witness, through a documentary, to the troubling tale of a community of professional courtesans, called Tawaifs, and the unfair perception of their culture as immoral due to its association with prostitution. Ashley Tellis was his usual, expressive, forceful self while we discussed the language of protest. Udayan Vajpayee gave us a little insight into how to appreciate art, and poetry in particular. Anjali Gopalan demonstrated how to make condom use more fun. Karan Thapar came back, two years post his last IDG visit, and with unfailing wit told us about his ‘fantastic’ interview in which the normally stoic Kapil Dev couldn't hold his tears back. Alam Khan, a 29 year old Sarod player and son of the late Ali Akhbar Khan spoke to us through the language of music. He wasn’t the only musician to grace the Staff Room; Sumangala Damodaran’s beautiful voice impressed us with the power of music and exposed us to the protest songs of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA).

It wasn’t all other people talking and us nodding along. The students’ discussion forum gave us ample space to argue amongst ourselves. Our discussion ranged from themes such as Secession and the Nation State to The Idea of Intelligence.

So here we are one on- a lot of work group reshuffling, journal talking, poster pasting and weird password setting later... we’re still going strong.