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Looking towards the Future

No Borders: Journeys of an Indian Journalist by Mukul Sharma; Daanish Books, Delhi, 2006; pp 248, Rs 425 (hardback). ADITYA NIGAM No Borders by well known journalist and activist, Mukul Sharma, is a journalistic account of struggles of common people all over the world, as well as a bold attempt to break out of the normal representational conventions of the global media industry. These conventions, whereby the western man comments, theorises on and makes available information and knowledge about the global east/south to it and the rest of the world, are as much part of the media industry as of the global academic world. In this representational schema, as the author puts it, the south is either mired in poverty or in fratricidal conflict, or is at best a place of emerging markets. These conventions, it is well known, are constituted by intricate power relations in such a way that they traverse even radical and liberal ends of the spectrum.

has been instrumental in kindling a sense of self-respect and pride among the

Looking towards the Future

musahars.

No Borders: Journeys of an Indian Journalist

by Mukul Sharma; Daanish Books, Delhi, 2006; pp 248, Rs 425 (hardback).

ADITYA NIGAM

N
o Borders by well known journalist and activist, Mukul Sharma, is a journalistic account of struggles of common people all over the world, as well as a bold attempt to break out of the normal representational conventions of the global media industry. These conventions, whereby the western man comments, theorises on and makes available information and knowledge about the global east/south to it and the rest of the world, are as much part of the media industry as of the global academic world. In this representational schema, as the author puts it, the south is either mired in poverty or in fratricidal conflict, or is at best a place of emerging markets. These conventions, it is well known, are constituted by intricate power relations in such a way that they traverse even radical and liberal ends of the spectrum.

The Eyes of a Journalist

In this representational schema, especially as it works in the media industry, even our knowledge of Africa, for example, is heavily mediated through the western lens. It is what the western concerns, maybe even western liberal concerns (say, Rwanda or Darfur) give priority, that often determine what is worth reporting from that unfortunate continent. However, when the eye of a journalist like Mukul scans the continent, he finds the lives and struggles of ordinary people in Nigeria, Namibia or Zimbabwe to be more significant and worthy of reporting. And his eye does not stop there, in Africa. It travels across continents, from various parts of Asia to South America, and indeed, to Europe itself, discerning common threads of struggle – against capitalism and corporate colonisation of the world. The reportages in No Borders cover the neoliberal era, especially between 1990 and 2005, across these different continents and put together for us a collage of different aspects of life – one that is necessarily fragmentary, but nonetheless powerful.

In this sojourn we move from the story of the defeated miners of UK and the hopeful struggle of the dock workers in Liverpool, to the difficulties of German unification after the fall of the Berlin Wall; from the struggles of the Nigerian Ogoni people against the havoc wrought by Shell, the oil multinational, the arrest and trial of Ken Saro-Wiwa to the less spectacular, but no less significant struggles of the musahars of Bihar or the sheer fraudulence of the US-sponsored war against South American coca farmers.

From Mukul’s reportages we learn of the draconian laws in Indonesia where the government can, by law, designate any land as mineral land and the landowner must surrender it to (usually) foreign mining companies or face imprisonment for 10 years. We learn that despite such laws and firings by the elite security forces, popular struggles against land acquisition have surged forth from the end-1990s. Massive demonstrations and road blockages have taken place and some impact is being made somewhere.

Inspiring Stories

The inspiring story of the musahar agricultural workers in Bihar, for example, is telling, if not altogether new. This most oppressed and “backward” community has seen large-scale migration of young men in search of jobs, through the 1990s, to Punjab and Haryana. The state of utter desperation and poverty among them is such that they cannot even afford the paltry sum of a few hundred rupees required for such travel and have to take loans from moneylenders at 10 to 12 per cent per month, that is more than 120 per cent per year. Gradually, through the painstaking work of some activists, they have formed an organisation and a ‘Gram Kosh’ to which all families contribute Rs 15 a month, a support system has been built up where families looking for small loans can now get them at as little as 2 per cent per year. Nothing earthshaking here, but it is important that starting from 20 villages in 1992, the Gram Kosh covers 400 villages now and

Also inspiring, though in a different way, is the story of the workers of Tower Colliery in South Wales, UK, who after years of bitter struggle against the government and the employer, British Coal, managed to reopen the coalfield in 1995. When the colliery closed, the workers, at the union’s initiative, got together and pooled in $ 2000 from their redundancy money and within four days collected $ 3,50,000, and subsequently, raised enough money to buy out the pit for $ 2 million. This was being run as a cooperative where all workers were shareholders at the time of reporting.

Lack of Updates

Inspiring as these stories are, there is one lack that one feels continuously while reading these accounts. We do not really have an update of these significant achievements. Partly, at least, the absence of an update or a postscript could have been taken care of had the different pieces appeared with their own date of publication. But in some cases other questions keep coming up. For instance, did the buyout and cooperative effort last? How did the cooperative manage its capital market issues? After all, in India too, we have the significant instance of the takeover of Kamani Tubes which ran profitably up to a point, but soon started facing serious problems. Largely, the problem with industrial cooperatives the world over, has been that they have been undertaken only when the industry or enterprise is in terminal decline. At that point, this kind of artificial respiration does not take it very far. Similarly, take the report on Nigeria, for example, which talks of the arrest and trial of Ken Saro-Wiwa, but the fact of his subsequent execution is not mentioned anywhere.

These are really simple matters of production that could have immensely improved the overall effectiveness of the book. After all, for a relatively new and small publisher, Daanish Books has certainly done well in terms of design and a little more effort in taking care of these and some typographical errors would have greatly enhanced the book’s quality.

EPW

Email: anigam98@yahoo.co.uk

Economic and Political Weekly August 4, 2007

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