An observer's foresight

By Madhuwanti Saha

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March 14, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Bengal Flavour Seeps into Chennai

Few corners in the city like the Bengal Association in T. Nagar, South Cultural Madras Association in Indira Nagar, Bihar Association in Perambur and Madras Kalibari in West Mambalam geared up to celebrate Durga Puja in October. Capturing the spirit of the festive season…

Decked in a white sequined sari and gold jewellery, Durga Ma with her children, Karthik, Lakshmi, Saraswati and Ganesha stands gracefully in the main room of the Bengal Association, on the fifth day of the 10-day festival. The idols are ready and waiting even as the courtyard buzzes with cooks, idol-makers and decorators going about their jobs.

Amidst all the commotion, stands a small group of artisans giving finishing touches to other idols with intense concentration. Unfinished idols are lined up in two or three columns, waiting for their turn to get decorated. These will be supplied to Anna Nagar, Korattur and other areas around Chennai. One of the idols will be delivered to Apollo Hospital too. The Bengal Association is the centre for making Durga idols and other idols around the city.

Suti Mondal giving finishing touches to the idols

Jeevan Krishna Pal and his fellow workers have   come down from Kolkata in August in order to start work on   on these idols. . Everyday they toiled for 14 hours to get the idols ready on time. Situ Mondol, one of the artists engrossed in draping the sari around the idol  talks about the five main raw materials – Ganga’s clay, wood, colour, strings of rope and straw- used for making them. He says that around 20-25 bags of Ganga matti (clay) are brought from Kolkata each year. Jeevan has been coming to Chennai for past 15 years.  Jeevan explains how Ganga Matti was applied on the outer surface of the idols, like the face and hands while mud from Chennai was used as a base since the idols tended to crack. Apart from wood, straw, and mud, everything else like hair, colours and brushes were brought from Kolkata. He also talks about   the sequence of idol making and its method of colouring.

Idol-making starts with the making of smaller parts of the idol, for instance, one finger of the Goddess Lakshmi followed by the feather of Karthik’s swan and then Karthik himself. The eyes of the Gods, drawn last, are actually the hardest since they are considered the soul. Division of labour takes place between these artists. As all of them have 14-15 years experience in this profession and each one is allotted a different job for better utilisation of time.

Suti Mondol is responsible for adorning the idols with jewellery and clothes while Pal paints the eyes, faces and hands of the Goddesses. Other artisans are entrusted with the task of keeping insects at bay. In this manner, their work is completed well within time. . In such a short time they have successfully completed a total of thirty six   idols in this courtyard.   In the same courtyard, there are six cooks busy preparing sweets and other Bengali items. The smell of bonde (small fried balls soaked in sweet syrup) fills the courtyard. Durga Puja is very much incomplete without its platter of food, especially sweets.

S. Adhikari, the Maharaj (head cook) in Bengal Association talks about the variety of food that would be prepared in the consecutive days. The bhog (a form of prasad), distributed freely after the morning puja to all the devotees  usually consists of   small pieces of fruits  a sandesh (Bengali sweet) and shirni, a dish prepared with semolina and wheat with bananas, raisins, nuts and a few other fruits thrown in. The Khichuri Bhog which is the main attraction of this puja is served after the Sandhi Puja. This simple dish is cooked with rice lentil, vegetables and ghee. . Apart from the prasad, there is a full course meal, served both during lunch and dinner.  Adhikari says that every year around 1000 people in the morning and 400 in the evening   enjoy the four-day feast at the Bengal Association, which is celebrating its 77th Durga Puja this year.

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Different associations like Bihar Association, Bengal Association, and South Cultural Madras Association, will be setting up Bengali food stalls.  Items like puchka, chats, fish fry, rolls, Bengal’s signatory sweet rosogolla etc. will be prepared. These associations, like any Durga Puja association in Kolkata, will serve lunch and dinner during the final four days to their members as well as non-members. This tradition has always remained intact in Bangali culture and will continue into the   future.

So even being away from the home, these associations keep up the fervour and enthusiasm of Durga Puja alive in this city.


April 30, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


After the pension reform bill was adopted by the French Senate it awaited the joint parliamentary commission’s approval/sanction which again went in its favour on October 27th, 2010. This infuriated the country’s powerful unions who vowed to carry on their struggles. So French workers from the sectors of the industry and students took to the streets to voice their discontent on October 28, which marked their eight national strike. The turnout was smaller than the unions had expected but the momentum remained the same. France again witnessed disruption of trains and cancellation of flights. In the meantime Sarkozy is expected to sign the bill into law on November 15.

After almost a month of strike oil workers return to work

Apparently the movement has started showing signs of weakness. Credit goes to the parliamentary vote, but this was also a consequence of the decision of the inter-union coordinating committee at its October 21 meeting to slow the pace of protests and strikes. This had a negative impact as it reduced the support for indefinite strikes throughout France. This decision was not supported by one of the participating unions- the radical Solidaires union, who called for an indefinite general strike. On the other hand the inter-union coordinating committee set up two national days of protest – October 28 and November 6 and six unions of Air France have separately called for a four day strike starting from November 4.

The enthusiasm and zest of the strikers started dwindling as early as October 21. The garbage workers have returned to work on October 26 in Marseilles where 9000 tons of garbage were piled on the sidewalks. The decision was taken by the FO union on October 25 out of concerns over “hygiene and safety.”

However the big relief for the government was the resumption of work at all the 12 oil refineries and major ports. The oil strike had almost paralysed the country. Previously workers of the three refineries had voted to return to their jobs on October 25. While the CFDT (French Democratic Confederation of Labour) union said the workers at the last four oil refineries decided to end their strike on October 29. In fact the leaders of CGT (General Confederation of Labour) and the CFDT compelled them to resume their work after refusing to defend them against police strikebreaking. From the beginning, they pursued a treacherous policy of appealing to Sarkozy to modify the cuts, while allowing financial hardship and the absence of resolute leadership and a political perspective to wear down the strikers and force them back to work with nothing to show for their struggle. Moreover, these unions did not reveal any details of their negotiations or whether the employers had made any concessions on workplace issues. All This has to some extent had resulted in isolation and betrayal of the French oil strike against the pension reform. Apart from the pension cuts, the strikers were protesting Sarkozy’s plans for a 40 percent privatisation of petroleum terminals at the port thus making the 220 agents of petrochemical industry lose their public sector status.


A significant political consequence is the exposure of the class-collaborationist politics of the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) of Olivier Besancenot. It has responded to this event by shamelessly covering for the betrayal of the unions and the bourgeois “left,” with deceitful pseudo-radical rhetoric.

The exposure of the NPA’s politics is a critical question of class strategy for workers. Apparently, their objective function is to prevent workers from breaking with the union bureaucracy, which has made its strategy clear: to isolate and sell out every section of the working class that struggles against Sarkozy’s cuts. In protecting the unions, the NPA is acting as direct opponents of the strategy advanced by the World Socialist Web Site: forming committees of action independent of the unions and the “left” parties, to organize mass political strikes to bring down the Sarkozy government. The above statement had been written by Alex Lantier who writes for World Socialist Website published by International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI).


The intentions of the union were questioned when they decided to slow down the pace of the protest movement. This was a big disappointment for the country as it  brought down the momentum of the movement that united the country for more than a month.


November 8, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


The global downturn has forced France President Nicholas Sarkozy to introduce pension reforms to prevent the economy from entering debt spiral like Greece and Portugal. The pension reform will raise the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62 and prolong the full pension retirement age to 67. The declaration of this reform met with violent protests and street demonstrations right from March 2010.

The first mass demonstration took place on 23rd March 2010. Initially less than a million people participated in it. But as the strike  gained momentum more than 2 million took to streets though the number has always remained a matter of dispute between the police authorities and the Unions. Within September itself, the country saw 8 nationwide demonstrations in 200 cities. Three unions — the CGT (General Confederation of Labour), Force Ouvriere, and SUD launched two 24hr strikes in September and one in October, thus bringing the country to a standstill disrupting all modes of transportation, schools, banking and postal services. The interesting fact is that high school students swelled in the ranks of protestors. They feel that raising the retirement age can reduce jobs for them. Air France union called for a 24hr strike on 12th October. It is very much evident that these strikes are taking a toll on the economy. Travel and tourism industry is most vulnerable to these strikes. Air France estimated that a day of strike costs around euro5 million ($7 million). The petrochemical industry is suffering huge losses with12 refineries shutting down and petrol pumps running empty. Finance Minister Christine Lagarde estimated that the strikes were costing the economy between $285 and $570 million per day.

Despite these mass protests bringing the country to a standstill and almost paralyzing its economy, Sarkozy’s government has vowed not to back down on the centerpiece of its reform — raising the age of retirement to 62 from 60 by 2018. Both the lower house and upper house have passed the controversial reform bill. The French senate even adopted it on 26th October. Now it awaits the joint parliamentary commission’s approval after which Sarkozy will sign on it and publish it in the official gazette. Meanwhile trade unions have not lost hope and have promised two more days of protests. They have even received support from Socialist party leader Martine Aubry who has told them not to give up.

French Senate passing the reform

Sarzoky’s pension reform is aimed at balancing France’s loss-ridden pension system by 2018. According to him France is facing a funding shortfall in its state pension scheme due to a growing older population and fewer working-age people paying contributions. So raising the age of retirement by 2 years is essential to pull the country out of financial crisis. The country is obliged by European Union rules to bring down its deficit to 6 percent of GDP next year and to 3 percent by 2013, from 7.7 percent this year.

“This reform is essential, France is committed to it, and France will carry it out,” Sarkozy said on October 27, 2010 in the Normandy beach resort of Deauville.

Meanwhile the union and the left wing opposition opines strongly opines that plan to raise the retirement age and increase civil servant’s contributions to private sector and make people work longer for a full pension are totally unjust. It will be most harsh on those who have started out young or did physically exhausting jobs and on women who took career breaks to have children and will therefore have to work till 67 for a full pension. Many people consider retiring at 60 a pillar of France’s hard-won social contract — and fear this is just the first step in eroding their often-envied quality of life. French fear that with Sarkozy as the head, retirement reform will be just one step in a process that will dismantle their social system and change their basic human rights into privileges which only the wealthy can afford.

Critics say that Sarkozy wants to adopt an “American-style capitalist” system and claim the government could find pension savings elsewhere, such as by raising contributions from employers.

But  Sarkozy had tried to made  few concessions to union demands by offering earlier retirement to people who started working before the age of 18 or who faced certain physically-demanding jobs. But, he added, “There is no question of going back on this. Working a little longer is the most reasonable path.”


November 8, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Considered a land of paradise, Kashmir has always attracted tourists and ironically violence as well. Violence, strikes, militant attacks now rule the land instead of mystic beauty of Dal Lake and gardens. It will be hard for the Kashmir folks to remember the last day when peace dominated their lives.

The latest strike to disrupt the normal lives in Kashmir Valley was called by Hardline faction of Hurriyat General Secretary Masrat Alam Bhat to protest the killing of a teenager in a teargas  shelling at Rajouri Kadal area of the city. He asked the people to observe two days strike on June 29 and 30.  The whole economy was paralysed with the government offices, educational institutions, banks and other private and government establishments closed down and traffic off the road. Shops and business markets were also shut down. Following the strike most of the le aders and activists of Hurriyat including its chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani, have been arrested and slapped Public Safety Act, the moderate faction of Hurriyat leaders have been placed under house arrest since Monday. Several top separatist leaders, including JKLF (Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front) chairman Mohammad Yaseen Malik, National Front chairman Nayeem Ahmad Khan and Muslim Khawateen Markaz Chief Yasmeen Raja were also arrested.

From this time onwards Kashmir witnessed demonstrations, undeclared curfews, restrictions and complete strikes, thus throwing the normal lives out of gear. The Valley was in throes of bloody public unrest. Within August itself, 57 lives were taken by the security force action as riotous, stone-pelting mobs engaged security personnel and attacked paramilitary camps and police stations at different places. Anti-India and pro-freedom slogans by the young protestors and stone- pelting were a common sight. In fact stone pelting was considered an instrument of organized and orchestrated protest. Kupwara and Handwara in the north, Kakpora and Pulwama in south and Gandherbal in the east, Sopore, Srinagar and Anantnag were the main places where residents urged by the protestors marched in the streets. So if on one hand there was strike declared by Separatists, then on the other authorities imposed curfew in Sopore and placed prohibitory orders in various parts of Srinagar and rest of the Valley in the name of law and order.

It is quite evident that normal life has become a rare sight in Kashmir. Even if life returned to normal on July 17, 2010 after 21 days, it was short-lived as protestors again clashed with the police. On August 16 the hardline faction of the separatist Hurriyat group headed by Syed Ali Geelani called for a Valley-wide shutdown on Monday as part of its Quit Kashmir campaign. In connection to that Geelani announced a new protest calendar on October 25 2010. He asked the people to observe civil curfew on November 5, November 6, November 7 and November 8. According to the calendar people will observe complete shutdown and Black Day on October 27 against the landing of Indian troops in Jammu and Kashmir and march towards the UN Observers’ Office. It was only on October 28 and October 29 when people resumed their normal activities.

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Four months have passed and Kashmir is still in the same condition- curfews imposed on every other day, calls for strikes and police firing. Even if strikes are withdrawn and curfews are lifted, some incident or the other throws the Valley back to that same bloody public unrest. But it has also resulted in unusual peace.  Sunday becomes a very busy working day for students, bank and telephone officials and markets as they do not wish to any more time. There is so much desperation in a common man in Valley to go back to his normal life. The question lingers in his mind- “Will Kashmir ever see light of day?”


November 8, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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