Mystifying Multiple Identity

Professor Amartya Sen interrogates a large number of ideas in currency in the contemporary world including the tendency to categorize individuals and communities based on one overarching identity, clash of civilizations, multiculturalism, the presumed superiority of the West, terrorism emanating from religious fundamentalism and the like. As a review is constrained by limitations of space I shall rest content by discussing some of them.

Making and Remaking the World

The anarchist Prodhoun once famously denounced the state in the following terms: “To be governed is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under the pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest to be placed under contribution, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolized, extorted, squeezed, mystified, robbed; then at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked ridiculed outraged and dishonored. That is government; that is its justice, that is its morality.”

New Pathways of Scrutiny

James Hunt’s explorations on Gandhi in this inspiring series of essays are set in a postmodern context and an attempt has been made to recover the real Gandhi from the various influences and events that surrounded him through his journey of life. The author moves between an open admiration, to an objective analysis of the man, and the Mahatma. He seems to project Gandhi as a postmodern thinker, philosopher, and doer too. But Gandhi is and will continue to remain a thinker whose relevance does not freeze in time but he continues to offer ways and means with which one can understand the world a little better.

A Dangerously Flawed Thesis

It is always useful and insightful to review past events in tranquillity after the dust of fevered controversy has settled. Hindsight helps fill in missing details and information that might have influenced contemporary judgement and could lend perspective to what was until then a confused and unfolding narrative. However, far from shedding any new light, Kamran Shahid’s “new perspective” further clouds the great issues of the day that he seeks to discuss with a perverse thesis.

POSTMODERN GANDHI AND OTHER ESSAYS: GANDHI IN THE WORLD AND AT HOME

Gandhi continues to fascinate and frustrate those who read him. He refuses to retire peacefully into the archives and asks to be made contemporary. His admirers address the question of his relevance by mining his voluminous writings for meanings they are partial to, as if asking for his grace to be bestowed on their eloquence. Of these, those who are critically inclined towards modernity constitute a majority. They read and re-read Hind Swaraj to hone their own discontented critique of westernization and global industrial growth.

Signposts and Imprints

There are signposts and imprints in the text and even the subtext that evoked instant recognition having traversed them myself—as a feminist, as a woman and as one involved in the inception of a grassroot organization: the intersecting themes of the book lured me on. The agonized comments of the feminist founders in their endeavour to confirm to a collectivist form to ensure egalitarianism and democratic way of functioning, and the compulsions of adopting some bureaucratic features, “ It’s not just practical”, or “ We really tried and then decided we could not continue this way”, resonates of a familiar conflict between ideals/beliefs and reality /practice.

In Search of Preventive Strategies

The Saga of Female Foeticide In India by Ashok Jain attempts to highlight some of the issues of and considers preventive strategies regarding female foeticide in India. It consists of six chapters over which it traces the historical context of female foeticide in India, examines some of the data on sex ratio in the country, and scrutinizes some policies and debates on abortion, as well as the new reproductive technologies available to those desiring sex selection. The author also outlines international and national legislations regarding the unborn child and abortion, the Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act and the related concern of medical ethics. Finally he concludes with suggestions for preventive strategies for the problem of female foeticide.

Emerging Themes

Women in the subcontinent have been under a paradoxical purview; on the one hand, major issues pertaining to them are peripheral in the body politic; on the other, they have been the repositories of religious mores and the cultural custodians of their habitat. Even so, their public façade mirrors the whims of the political and socio-religious strictures outlined by the major opinion building agency i.e., the other gender. In the subcontinent as in the West, feminism has had a trickle down effect from the ‘surplus’ elite women, who formed conglomerates of pressure groups to tweak socio-cultural problems afflicting their sisters at the grassroot level.

Integrating Gender, Overcoming Disaster

This book is a useful ‘how to’ guide to mainstreaming gender in the management of natural disasters. For anybody in the field, this is likely to be a handy tool. The writers demystify links between gender and disaster management, within a sustainable development framework. It is a reader-friendly book, with exceptionally evocative sketches, although the cover is inexplicably ugly.

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Pakistani scholar, Tayyab Mahmud, speaking of the “spectre of the migrant” that haunts the modern world, says that immigration in public debate and political rhetoric is presented as a “problem to be solved, a flaw to be corrected, a war to be fought, and a flow to be stopped.” The immigrant, he says, hovers at the edges of her adopted society: As a non-citizen, she is to be marginalized in the distribution of legal rights and political protections. As a cultural signifier, she is to be erased. As a violator of borders she provides the rationale to ever strengthen the territorial divides. The threat perception triggered by the immigrant traverses two fields: that of the state and that of the nation. The immigrant puts at issue the inviolability of borders, territoriality of sovereignty, particularity of jurisdiction, and uniformity of citizenship—fundamental characteristics of the modern state.