bjp's

“As a director of photography, if you can convince the photographers you work with that you are 100 percent behind them in everything, they will give you 100 percent. I’ve always stuck up for my photographers – whether it was at the Sunday Times or Getty Images. You have to have that relationship with them because they are really vulnerable. They are only as good as their next picture. They are constantly soul-searching. They need support. They need someone to trust. That’s what I’ve always based my career on, and that’s why I have such a strong relationship with the photographers I’ve worked with. It’s my job to encourage, support and inspire them. I’ve been a photographer and I know how lonely a place that can be. I’ve been in difficult situations and know how scary that can be. For this profession to continue, we need to give as much support to the guys out there as we possibly can.”

- Getty Images VP Aidan Sullivan in an interview with The British Journal of Photography. Read more on the BJP’s Web site

Credit: Aidan Sullivan, center, on one of his last photography assignments in Afghanistan before joining the Mail on Sunday as a picture editor. (© Aidan Sullivan)

Here are the 10 latest developments:

  1. Militants last evening killed 62 people in an hour in a series of coordinated attacks in four places. The militants are a faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB).
  2. They targeted Adivasis or tribal settlers who work largely on tea plantations. In retaliation, they attacked a Bodo village this morning with spears and rods, killing three people.
  3. The police fired on Wednesday on demonstrators, killing five people. The police claim hundreds of plantation workers armed with bows and arrows defied a curfew to surround police stations in Sonitpur district, the area worst hit by the militant violence.
  4. Some protesters set fire to shops and others blocked a railway line and roads. Police said they had to disperse the crowds.
  5. Parts of northern Assam are under curfew. The army is on stand-by.
  6. 18 children and 21 women were among those killed on Tuesday evening. “This is one of the most barbaric attacks in recent times with the militants not even sparing infants,” said state Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi.
  7. Last evening’s killing are being seen as revenge for an offensive by security troops against the militants.
  8. Adivasis, who migrated to Assam more than 100 years ago, have been targeted by Bodo rebels in the past along with Muslim settlers in the state. The Bodos are an indigenous tribe in Assam, making up 10 per cent of the state’s 33 million people.
  9. Adivasis oppose the Bodo claim for an independent homeland, arguing that in many areas of the state, their ethnic group is in the majority.
  10. At least 10,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in Assam in the last three decades. In May, rebels from the same group shot and killed more than 30 Muslim settlers in the region.

A teenage boy’s death at the hands of a vicious lynch mob was just another atrocity meted out to India’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, a crime is committed against a Dalit by a higher-caste Hindu every 16 minutes. Every day about four Dalit women are raped by higher-caste men. Every week about 13 Dalits are murdered.

"That’s just the rape and butchery," wrote the Booker-prize winning author Arundhati Roy in an essay published earlier this year that boils with rage at India’s institutionalised system of social stratification. "Not the stripping and parading naked, the forced shit-eating [literally], the seizing of land, the social boycotts, the restriction of access to drinking water."

The essay forms the introduction to a new edition of Annihilation of Caste, a scathing demolition of Hindu customs published in 1936 by Dr B. R. Ambedkar, the brilliant founder of India’s civil rights movement who broke free of his “untouchable” upbringing to help author India’s constitution.

Roy’s use of the word butchery is neither careless nor exaggerated.

When Priyadarshini Telang, the Dalit activist, spoke to Fairfax Media in Pune on Tuesday, it was after he had attended a meeting on how to move a stalled investigation into the murder of a Dalit family of three on October 20 in a district near Kharda.

"The people they are consulting to rewrite the school curriculums are not secular groups, but very ideological, religious Hindu groups. That will only strengthen the caste system."

The biggest obstacle preventing change, argues Telang, is that governments of all persuasion in India, be they Congress or the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, are embarrassed by caste atrocities and do everything they can to pretend they are not happening.

"The Congress Party preaches a secular message, but their participation within the caste system gives them little reason to change it. For the 60 years they have governed India, the Congress has always put caste first. The Congress is a green snake in the green grass."

At least you know what the BJP really stands for, says Telang. They are like a white snake in the green grass.

With Narendra Modi about to become the first Indian prime minister to visit Australia in 28 years, Telang says his major concern about Modi’s first few months in government are his plans to focus India’s education system even more on reinforcing Hindu values.

In Nitin Aage’s case, Telang explains, a special prosecutor probably will be appointed when the case comes to trial, but that will be too late to have a role in collecting evidence and strengthening the case.

"There are only one or two Dalit witnesses. Everyone else is from the higher caste. There will be enormous community pressure on the witnesses at the trial. The facts of the case are clear, but the chances of a conviction are low."

"What most people do not know is that the Indian village is a deadly place."

Books by Hindu nationalists merging myth with reality proliferate in PM Modi’s home state of Gujarat.

You cannot blame Bhavana Vaja, 12, for telling you that the first aeroplane was invented during the mythical Dvapara Yuga, when the Hindu God Ram flew from Sri Lanka to Ayodhya in India with his wife Sita and brother Laxman in a Pushpaka Vimana - a swan­-shaped chariot of flowers.

By claiming that they familiarise students with India’s ancient heritage, some books printed by the education department of western Gujarat state teach children that aeroplanes existed in India since Lord Ram’s era. And that is just a sample of how religious content is included in science, history, environment, and mathematics books.

"Every week we are asked to do projects in our science and social studies classes. We refer to these books then," says Saras Solanki, age 9.

The Gujarat government has introduced nine new books this academic year for classes 1 to 12. These books, written by Hindu nationalist ideologues, have been delivered to 42,000 elementary schools across the state free of cost.

Eight out of the nine books have been penned by Dina Nath Batra, founder of the Hindu nationalist organisation, Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti. Batra was responsible for forcing Pengiun India Publishers to withdraw all copies of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus in February this year.

Enthused by its success, Batra went on to force two other publishers - Aleph and Orient Blackswan - to withdraw books that he deemed “hurtful to Hindu religious sentiments”.

'Supplementary reading'

Taking a leaf from Batra’s book, India’s prime minister and former chief minister of Gujarat state, Narendra Modi, last week said that genetic science existed in ancient India.

In fact, Modi wrote a foreword in Batra’s books saying his “inspirational literature will inspire students and teachers”.

Education in India is the responsibility of both the state governments and the federal government. A state textbook board formulates curriculum based on the guidelines specified by the National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT). However, these nine books deviate vastly from those guidelines by relying heavily on religious subjects and mythology.

Hence, they have been introduced as “supplementary reading” for the students. These books are stored in the libraries and are made available to students any time they want. Use of these books for extracurricular projects and presentations are encouraged.

"I find that children want to show off their knowledge. More often than not, they are averse to textbooks. Though, they are happy to sit in the library and leaf through other books so their presentation can be better than others in the class," said Jayashree Ben Solanki, a 6th grade teacher at a municipality school in Ahmedabad, the capital city of Gujarat state. "Therefore, these books end up being read more widely than textbooks."

"Gujarat is an experimental ground," said Gaurang Jani, a professor of sociology at Gujarat University. "The BJP and the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] will test their methods in the state and if found successful, will replicate it throughout the country," he told Al Jazeera.

"The move to infuse right-wing ideology in mainstream curriculum has been started by printing books with a religious bias using taxpayers’ money. If the books are received without major opposition in Gujarat, they will introduce such books at the national level as well," Jani said.

'Saffronisation'

There is already some talk of changing the school and college curriculum at the national level.

In Indian political context, “saffronisation” is used to refer to the policies of right-wing Hindu nationalist organisations, which, according to critics, are divisive. The term refers to the saffron-coloured robes worn by Hindu sages.

Barely four days after India’s new right-wing government was sworn in this May, Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani, a former TV actress, issued her first statement saying the Vedas, the Upanishads and other ancient Hindu texts should be introduced in the classrooms.

Consequently, in July, a consultative body called The Bharatiya Shiksha Neeti Ayog (Indian Education Policy Commission) was constituted by the Hindu nationalist organisation, RSS and is mandated “to study the present education system and suggest corrective steps to make it Bharat-centric.” Bharat is the Hindi word for India.

"The problem is that they are equating India to Hindus. What about the India that houses the Muslims, Christians, Jains, Sikhs and other religions? India’s defining character is its diversity - including religious. That will be subtly and efficiently destroyed by introducing religious content in school books," said Sveta Joshi, a former professor at Delhi University who has done extensive work on the 2002 religious riots in Gujarat.

One of the nine books in question urges students to visit Hindu pilgrim places like Jagannath, Badrinath and Rameshwaram to “cleanse themselves”.

"Students who are slightly older do question the lack of any Muslim or Christian places of worship," Solanki, the elementary school teacher, said.

"Four of the nine books are titled Prerna Deep, they are meant to have short biographies of ‘inspiring Indians’." Dalit, Jain, Sikh, and Buddhist heroes are mentioned prominently. The mention of Muslim and Christian heroes is almost negligible though," said Jani of Gujarat University.

Questioning perspectives

Since 1952, when it founded the first Saraswati Shishu Mandir (nursery school) in Gorakhpur in northern Uttar Pradesh state, the RSS, the ruling party BJP’s mother organisation, has always had schools that propagate its ideology. In subsequent years, the RSS founded Vidya Bharati, an umbrella body for thousands of educational institutions based on Hindu values, from the nursery to the post-graduate levels.

"Until now, the Hindu system of education was running parallel to the regular NCERT curriculum, which was formed collectively by eminent scholars from all walks of life. But now, the danger is that they want to merge the two," said Jani. "The Sangh ideology is slowly becoming the state ideology," he adds.

"If children are taught from a young age about Hindu supremacy and glory, they will not question it at a later stage in their life," said Lila Visariya, a scholar at the Gujarat Institute of Development Research, at a conference organised in Ahmedabad last month.

Achyut Yagnik, founder of the Centre for Social Knowledge and Action, said that the “saffronisation of education” began in Gujarat slowly and subtly since the BJP established power in the late 1990s.

A report by NCERT states: “While communal perspectives have been present in textbooks in earlier periods too, studies done of textbooks rewritten from this perspective, for example in Gujarat, highlight their ready potential to contribute to a culture of divisiveness between religious communities …”

Gujarat was witness to gory religious riots in 2002, which killed about 1,000 people, mostly Muslims. Religious faultlines in the state, however, go back several centuries.

Last year, the Committee for Resisting Saffronisation of Textbooks protested against the textbooks in another Indian state, Karnataka, which, they said, strengthened stereotypes of Muslims and Christians and subdued the voices of women, Dalits and non-Vedic traditions. The textbooks remain unchanged.

"If anyone has problems with any of the books, I urge them to go to court," said Harshad Patel, the media coordinator for Gujarat BJP. "Let them do what Dinanathji did. Get the court to pass orders to withdraw the books," he told Al Jazeera.

A LITTLE, NOT TOO LATE

The highly acclaimed institution that is the British Journal of Photography decided to opt for a ‘Women Only’ issue this April. Photography is a boy’s club and this seemed like a logical step towards addressing that problem. BJP have decided to tackle their own gender imbalance with an issue dedicated solely to the minority. 

The book is filled with liberating projects detailing what it’s like to be a women in today’s world. I won’t pretend that I can relate to even half of these. It’s filled with inspirational stories of courageous females who are undeterred by the probability that they will never be seen as important as their male counterparts. This is capital-A Artworld after all and BJP is a part of it. 

And I’m flicking, and scanning, and reading, and just generally trying to absorb what they’re trying to achieve. I stumble across a great line in it by Brett Rogers, director of The Photographers’ Gallery in London. "There is a tendency for women to belittle their achievements, but as an institution, it’s our job to seek them out".

This is an important moment in my reading. The magazine doesn’t dwell on Rogers long, in fact he’s only a small part of one article, but this moment carries a lot more weight than some of the more predictable elements that follow. 

Perhaps BJP are hamstrung by their sponsors or afraid to alienate the male side of their audience but I’m left underwhelmed. This could have busted an important issue wide open and knocked us all on our backs gasping for air. But it doesn’t. It’s idle threats. The opening address by Deputy Editor Diane Smyth is aspirational and ambitious but then it all goes a bit limp. 

There is a lengthy feature on Cass Bird and Susan Meiselas gets an in-depth profile and nothing strikes me as all that groundbreaking. I can’t help but dwell on that Rogers quote. What needs to be spoken after it is on the tip of our collective tongue. "It’s our job to seek them out … but we don’t". 

I’ll never claim to know even half enough about feminism but surely, there could have been smarter ways to tackle gender imbalance without having to be so on-the-nose about it. If the problem is integration then open-label segregation isn’t the way forward. I would have liked to have seen this magazine publish this without the ‘Women Only’ title and see how it was received. Tip the scale the other way until someone notices and adopt a practice that better reflects the ideals set out by Smyth in the opening. Now that’s change. This is just reparations. 

This magazine doesn’t work as a solution in the same way a once-off women-only meeting in parliament isn’t the cure to a lack of women in high ranking government positions. This magazine is treating the symptom not the disease. But it’s a start.