Bookshelf

Everyday Nationalism:
Women of the Hindu right in India

by Kalyani Devaki Menon
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010

Few historians bothered with Hindu nationalism before the upsurge of the 1980s, with the streets awash with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bajrang Dal. The initial interest thereafter was with regards to communalism and riots, with Gyanendra Pandey's work (1990) at the forefront. Rarely did this corpus take into consideration the deep roots of Hindutva ideology, in the everyday practice of its legions. Shubh Mathur gave us a superb ethnographic report from Rajasthan (The Everyday Life of Hindu Nationalism, 2008) and now comes Menon's report, produced out of field research in various sites of greater Delhi. Written for an academic audience, this book shows how Hindu nationalism allows for some dissonance, giving way to acceptable transgressions so as to better build its ideological and intellectual hegemony over its cadre – notably among women – in its tentacular organisations. (Vijay Prashad)

Putting Women First:
Women and health in a rural community

by Rani Bang with Sunanda
Khorgade & Rupa Chinai
Stree, 2010

This book is as much a treatise on the abysmal state of India's health services as the story of a young couple's determination to make a difference. Rani and Abhay Bang moved to Gadchiroli in Maharashtra, one of the most backward districts in the country, and began to practice clinical medicine among the desperately poor Gond Adivasis. Their primary health-care and holistic approach quickly led to a drop in infant mortality, maternal mortality and communicable diseases.

But more than an example of a hugely successful public-health initiative, this work is a moving chronicle of humane doctors who realised that they must also understand the anthropology, sociology and economics of ill health. For Drs Bang, confronting the liquor mafia and exploitative landlords, as well as challenging unjust practices in the Employment Guarantee Scheme, was as much a mission as the supply of affordable drugs, regular ante-natal care and safe delivery. A deep understanding of social causes as well as the social impacts of poor health was drawn from daily and intense interactions, allowing for robust interventions in the community.

Besides clinical practice, the book describes the Bangs' invaluable contribution to epidemiological research. In a path-breaking community-based study they published in the Lancet in 1988, 92 percent of women reported having some kind of gynaecological problem, and most of them had not been treated for it. The study went on to form the basis of several public-health interventions, and was widely quoted as having put women's reproductive health on the agenda long before it was a 'fashionable' issue. (Laxmi Murthy)

Desire Named Development
by Aditya Nigam
Penguin, 2011

Post-1991, India moved away from the Nehruvian bureaucratic semi-socialist economic model into a capitalist 'free-market' model. While the earlier system had many problems, the new model has often been characterised by rapacious corporations cornering public resources, with the government acting as their willing handmaiden. The result has been a deepening ecological crisis amid impoverishment of the peasantry and proletariat, even while India is projected as 'shining' by the middle and upper classes who bask in the benefits of the changed economic landscape.

This slim primer by social scientist Aditya Nigam lays bare the myths and deities of the Western capitalist economic model India has adopted – development, endless growth, consumerism, industrialisation – and shows how it is leading the country into an ecological and economic crisis. Nigam breaks no new ground, putting forward arguments that have been made numerous times before; but he does so in an engaging, approachable style that is easily accessible, even to readers with an aversion to economics and politics. He also succeeds in demonstrating how nearly all of us, in some degree or the other, unthinkingly buy into these myths.

As to solutions, Nigam has no easy answers, but then there are none. For now, maybe all we can do is try to learn from the positive examples he presents and try to build on them to find a way to counter and progressively work with the neoliberal, corporatised form of 'development' that is currently being foisted. (Vidyadhar Gadgil)

Inshallah Football
directed by Ashvin Kumar
Alipur Films, 2010

This 80-minute documentary offers a glimpse into the life of Basharat Baba, an 18-year-old Kashmiri boy from Srinagar who is all set to follow his dream of playing professional football in Brazil. The only problem is that he does not have a passport. No problem, right? Wrong. Basharat is the son of Bashir Baba, a former Hizbul Mujahideen separatist who trained in Pakistan but later surrendered to the Indian government. As Basharat makes the rounds of various government offices to obtain his passport, and even contemplates approaching the Kashmir High Court to argue against his being blacklisted by the state government, we get to hear about the lives of the people who are part of Basharat's life and their views on the young football star's predicament.

What sets this film apart is that it captures a different, perhaps more hopeful Kashmir. In this Kashmir, it is still possible for people to come from as far off as Brazil to train Kashmiri youth to be professional football players; here, a former separatist can, and does, start all over again, ultimately reconciling with his son and his torturous past. It is disappointing to note that Basharat's Argentine/Brazilian coach, Marcos, has been given only a year to stay in Kashmir. This goes to show how the Indian government clamps down on individuals such as Marcos and his Brazilian wife Priscilla, a strong moral force for Basharat – a couple who have, and are putting into action, innovative ideas that address the real concerns of Kashmiri youths. (Meher Ali)

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