The Calls For War!

The attack, production of crisis, and elections


The attack on Central Reserve Police Force personnel in Kashmir’s Pulwama on February 14 has turned up the volume on the jingoistic media channels.

Jingoism sells. The images of violence sell in a concerted call for more violence.

The shouting matches on the split Television screens are perfectly orchestrated to call for war, with suited anchors frothing up at the sounds of war. As if to match up the tenor of the emotions at the site of the attack, the decked-up newsrooms buzz with the calls for attack. From the plush studio settings, mediatized images of the broken vehicles and streets littered with debris are organized into a propaganda campaign.

For the middle class digital sphere, the immediate calls to war from the comforts of the living room offer succour to middle class sensibilities of national security.

This is the mechanics of propaganda.

From Operation Iraqi Freedom to the surgical strike, images and sounds feed the war machinery.

In turn, the war machinery manufactures the images and sounds, pumping up adrenaline, drawing even more viewers in to the 24X7 cycles, driving the ratings up in an ever-accelerating pace.

Wars are powerful tools of propaganda. They feed on insecurity, the threat of the “other” materialized through images, talk, and sound, and the gory materiality of violence.

Manufacturing a war organizes entire collectives of citizens as nationalists, projecting on the national imaginary the threat to the nation, brought together with media images of terrorists that need to be targeted through attacks. This threat to the nation is circulated across media screens, capturing the emotions of citizens as war mongers, rallying behind the political elites and only to be satisfied with more gore.

Crises form the bedrock of authoritarian techniques of producing sites of control and managing them to keep power intact. When under threat of losing power, authoritarian regimes create a wide range of strategies to keep power intact. The spectacle of a terror event is the perfect crisis that calls for strong response, propping up the authoritarian strongman as the legitimate and necessary ruler.

Such a response is often produced amid suspended reason. Revenge must be sought, that’s all, and the authoritarian regime is well suited to extract revenge. That the middle classes that quickly demand such revenge never step into the violence of the war zones is part of the mechanics of war. That it is often the poor, enlisted into the police and military to escape poverty, who must place their bodies amid violence, is part of the mechanics of war.

Moreover, the production of war and the circulation of geostrategic threats work well as communicative strategies for generating public support for authoritarian power. Wars often supply the perfect recipe for authoritarian regimes that hold on to power through appeals to emotion. Catalysing the citizen around the nation and national interests works well to distract from questions of economy, inequality, unemployment, and difficulties of everyday life.

The recent attack in Kashmir seemed to have offered the perfect backdrop for the mobilizing of patriotism. Noted Modi, issuing a warning to Pakistan that India will not be divided: “If they (Pakistan) think that the kinds of things they are doing, the conspiracies that they are concocting — that they will be successful in creating instability in India, then they should abandon that dream. They will never be able to do it.”

As television stations capitalize on the ratings-generating stories of the attack, the nation is once again organized around the enemy, with the call to protect national security. Heuristics of the enemy unify national sentiments, captured in smart techniques of producing the other.

Amid crisis, critical questions are suspended. The audience is configured into a homogeneous mass of collective hysteria.

Wars are also the backdrop for attacking the opposition in an election cycle. Building up to the elections, digitally circulating images quickly pick up stories that equate the opposition with the “other” of the nation. The ruling political party becomes the nation, and the nation the party.

Any critique of the jingoism is dangerously painted as anti-national, with large consequences. Any opposition to the regime is painted as the enemy of the nation. Facebook posts, YouTube videos, Tweets, and WhatsApp messages quickly circulate these

Consider for instance the photo of Rahul Gandhi, photoshopped with the Pulwama suicide bomber. The post,“भारतीय फौज पर हमला करने बाला नीकला राहुल गांधी का खास। क्या इस हमले के पीछे कांग्रेस का हाथ तो नहीं (The man who attacked the Indian army was close to Rahul Gandhi. Is the Congress behind the attack? -translated)”, made on the Facebook group Once Again MODIRAJ 2019, includes photoshopped images of Rahul Gandhi to suggest that the involvement of the Congress in the attack.

Consider similarly cropped videos of Priyanka Gandhi allegedly laughing after the terror attacks.

These images and stories work strategically to paint an increasingly strong opposition as the enemy. The war is a powerful political machinery, one that will quickly organize national politics around its agenda.

Amid these heightened calls to war, consider the critical questions that call for further reflection and deliberation. What are the places of dialogue amid this violence? What role does violence play in mitigating violence? Situate the police-military deaths in war alongside the deaths of civilians and protesting people in Kashmir. Most importantly, consider the question of sovereignty of the Kashmiri people that forms the backdrop of this violence.

by Mohan Dutta

Source: ex.php/en/NewsDetail/index/4/16300/The-Calls-For-War

CARE OpEd: When She Spoke to “Ma’am” About Sexual Abuse By “Sir” She Was Deported

Sexual harassment, Domestic Work, and Infrastructures for Voices

Between 2013 and 2018, the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) ran the “Respect our Rights” campaign with foreign domestic workers in Singapore.

The campaign, driven by the voices of domestic workers, designed and carried out by domestic workers with support from our research and production teams at CARE, highlighted the plight of domestic workers within the confines of homes in Singapore. Grounded in the framework of creating infrastructures of communication that the women would own, the project sought to build anchors for addressing threatening workplace practices that poorly affect the health of domestic workers. Through outdoor advertising, television and print ads, mobile events, digital media campaign, documentary film, and a series of white papers drawn from our research conducted with domestic workers, the campaign drew attention to the various facets of exploitation and abuse in domestic work.

A consistent theme that appeared throughout our in-depth interviews and advocacy-based fieldwork was the sexual abuse that domestic workers experience while on work.

In many of these instances of experienced abuse, domestic workers discussed how the nature of domestic work meant that they did not have a place to go to and often did not know whom to speak with when experiencing the abuse.

The four walls of the home silenced the stories of sexual abuse. The tremendous power imbalances between employers and domestic workers and the absence of accessible mechanisms for addressing workplace grievances rendered pathways for communication invisible.

Consider the story of Sarah, a domestic worker who had travelled to Singapore from the Philippines so she could send her children in the Philippines to school.

For many days, she had been experiencing sexual abuse.

Her “Sir” [referring to the male employer in the household] would inappropriately touch her. When this harassment occurred the first time, she did not know how to react. She did not push back immediately because she was afraid that her employer would deport her to the Philippines if she spoke up.

As the incidences of abuse kept occurring, she made herself speak up, and forced her body to fight back, pushing away an unwelcome hand or a forced embrace.

The sexual abuse carried on, with the forms of abuse increasing in frequency and magnitude. As the abuse magnified, so did her sense of feeling unwell. Sarah would often throw up, experience stomach cramps, and breaking into uncontrollable tears at the end of the day when she went to bed.

It was nerve racking to anticipate the sexual abuse, to actually experience it, and then to respond back when it happened. She shared how she stayed up until late at night planning strategies of response, figuring out what she would do when her “Sir” touched her again.

It took Sarah all her energy to gather up her strength and speak about the abuse to her “mam.” Although she felt that her employer would not believe her, she needed to at least try to speak up as she “could not take it anymore.”

When finally Sarah spoke with her “mam,” she was accused of lying, of “making up” things to create trouble. Her “mam” threatened Sarah that she would call the immigration and checkpoint authorities in Singapore and get her deported.

The story of Sarah is also the story of Radha, Nithya, and Carla. Carla also shared a story of her friend who was deported, having been accused of stealing from the employer after having brought up the incidences of sexual abuse to the employer and having asked him to stop.

The tremendous power imbalances at work, the isolated nature of the work, the ambiguities around the norms of work and home in domestic work, and the invisibility of communication structures for voice translate into suffering through the everyday forms of sexual abuse. Domestic work is a case exemplar of precarious work, without policy protections, all the way from wages to working hours to workplace conditions.

Even as our advisory group of domestic workers created a digital space on Facebook for sharing their stories, stories of sexual abuse are often not shared here. The digital space feels insecure and threatening, especially with the threat of being deported looming on the horizon.

These stories voiced by domestic workers in Singapore resonate with stories voiced by domestic workers in India, with experiences of abuse that are often deeply immersed in silence. In our ongoing collaborative fieldwork with domestic workers in India, experiences of sexual abuse are tied to hierarchies of class and caste, perpetuating the silencing of women.

Popular culture depictions of relationships between domestic workers and employers (son of employer) render these forms of sexual abuse as normative, failing to approach domestic work from a framework of workplace policies and protections.

The nature of the workplace in domestic work perpetuates the oppressive and insecure working conditions. What is a place of work for a domestic worker is the home of a family, typically positioned much higher in the social power structure. The absence of workplace policies that govern the home as a workplace means that workplace communication channels are mostly absent and even if structures outside the workplace are indeed available (Ministry of Manpower in Singapore), the women don’t know how to access these structures.

While advocacy campaigns such as the “Respect our Rights” campaign push for better workplace policies for domestic workers, for domestic workers to have a voice, opportunities for collective bargaining are fundamental. The International Labour Organization (ILO) emphasizes that it is important for domestic workers to “first be recognized as workers in the labour law, to enjoy fully the right to organize and collective bargaining, and to be registered trade unions.”

In countries such as Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia and South Africa, domestic workers are unionized in large numbers. Closer, in Hong Kong, domestic workers organize by nationality, and then come together under the Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions (FADWU). These union frameworks are integral to domestic workers having a voice and through their voice, transforming the workplace conditions that threaten their health and wellbeing.

The #MeToo campaign across India has drawn attention to the nature of sexual abuse in workplaces. In the confines of homes as workplaces, domestic workers often face a wide array of sexual abuse which are normalized into the cultural fabric that organizes home spaces. It is time Indians turned to the sexual abuse of domestic workers that is written into the cultural fabric and is simultaneously erased.


The Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) carries out advocacy projects through collaborations with workers in precarious working conditions across the globe. Mohan J. Dutta is the Director of CARE and Satveer Kaur, Lecturer in the Chua Thian Poh Community Leadership Center, serves as a researcher on the project. The latest manuscript highlighting the struggles of precarity of unskilled migrant work in Singapore is published in the International Journal of Communication.

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CARE OpEd: The National Register of Citizens And The Politics of Exclusion and Hate

BJP propaganda driven by deportation of “illegal” Muslim immigrants

Rendering four million people, almost all Bengalis and largely Muslim, stateless, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam has given a state-driven political face to the ongoing attacks on minorities across India.

The NRC, a list of people that can prove they came to the state on or before March 24, 1971, the day Bangladesh secured independence, is an extension of the broader climate of hatred and fear of the “other” stoked by the Hindutva forces across India.

The erasure of citizens from the NRC serves as the fundamental basis for their erasure from the right to land, right to vote, and freedom. Without access to structures of justice, the four million citizens rendered stateless are also rendered vulnerable to a broader climate of violence where lynchings and murders of minorities have become the norm. The normalization of hate goes hand-in-hand with the normalization of the exclusion of minorities.

The propaganda around the illegal Bangladeshi immigrant has been systematically catalysed across Assam to create the grounds for the politics of exclusion. The image of the Muslim infiltrator from Bangladesh is circulated through media images and everyday discourses, with the threat of the “other” infiltrating and colonizing state-driven resources.

The campaign of hate carried out by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been driven by the narrative that the illegal Muslim immigrants will be deported. This targeting of illegal Muslim immigrants is juxtaposed in the backdrop of the Hindutva agenda of the BJP, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing his preference for Hindu Bangladeshi migrants and the BJP considering the introduction of a bill that would offer legal rights to Hindu migrants. The stage for this politics of exclusion had been set much earlier with the Assam accord that gave legitimacy to the xenophobic response to the “other.”

To draw from Hannah Arendt, citizenship acts as the basis for the “right to have rights.” Fascist regimes driven by hate therefore specifically work on the mechanisms of erasing citizenship of minority communities, then turning these stateless bodies into sites of violence. Once these communities can be marked as the other of the state, their access to fundamental resources of livelihood are erased and they are subjected to various forms of state-driven oppressions.

Stateless people are often the targets of a wide range of societal violence, often without access to juridical structures and processes. Integral to the large-scale deployment of violence is the marking of the other as without citizenship rights, and therefore, without the right to be counted.

Moreover, the precarity of the largely poor Bengali Muslim communities working under conditions of exploitation over generations is further rendered vulnerable in conditions of statelessness. The symbolic marking of the other as without citizenship is intrinsically tied to the material exploitation of the other and the systematic perpetuation of oppression. Even as the NRC offers a framework for appealing the exclusion, the complexity of the legal processes of appeal make it particularly difficult for the margins to access. The NRC as a framework therefore disproportionately targets poor minorities who have over generations formed the backbone of the economy.

The sham of the NRC process in Assam being a secular process starts falling apart when interrogated for the logic for the organizing of the NRC. That the NRC is established on the fear of the illegal Bangladeshi Muslim immigrant disrupts any claim to secularism underlying the NRC.

The deployment of citizenship as a category for marking the “other” catalysed by the Hindutva forces follows the nation-wide top-down implementation of the Aadhaar card as a tool for identifying citizenship, evaluating eligibility to state provisions, and allocating resources. The seduction of technology works alongside a fascist framework for marking the other of the state and differentiating this other from the citizen, working in complementary ways to achieve the Hindutva agenda.

The limits of the technology and its techniques, its failures in implementation are however left out of the seductive appeal of the solution to governance. That many individuals who have not been named on the list have lived in or have ancestors living in Assam from before 1971 needs to be foregrounded, pointing to the limits of the techniques of marking and identifying. As an instrument of governance then, the effectiveness and efficiency of the NRC ought to be interrogated from within its internal logics.

Beyond questioning the techniques of marking citizens however, the very basis of the Assam accord needs to be critically interrogated. The idea that citizenship can be reproduced as a category to exclude and to legitimize violence needs to be examined. The arbitrary marking of 1971 as the year for determining who is a citizen and who is not needs to be brought under scrutiny.

The recognition of the very complexity of the ethnic composition of Assam amid histories of movements and migrations across West Bengal, Bangladesh and Assam offers a framework for understanding the complicated nature of the citizenship question. Closely interrogating the very basis for how citizenship is determined, by whom, and under what power configurations offers new ways for thinking through the politics of belonging, and for organizing in strategies of resistance.

The NRC that renders 4 million Indians stateless shares in its framework the politics of hate that is evident in the deportations in the US organized by Donald Trump, in the treatment of Rohingya refugees across Asia, and in the treatment of refugees across large parts of Europe.

The deployment of hate as an instrument for organizing citizenship is dialectically related to the marking of the “other” of the state, the outside that must be targeted as a site of violence to mobilize affect and to continually create bodies for labour extraction without rights. The fascist politics of hate that underlies the rise of the politics of exclusion is a global phenomenon, which simultaneously releases large numbers of stateless bodies into the global flows of capital, labour, and precarity without access to structures for voicing rights.

Critically situating the politics of hate organized by the NRC in relationship with the global logics of hate as tools of exclusion from the state, from Myanmar to the US offers opportunities for considering the ways in which this politics of hate ought to be resisted locally, nationally, and globally.

Recognition of the interplays of neoliberalism and the fascist politics of exclusion offers a basis for transformative politics that undoes the normative ideas of citizenship. Resistance to the politics of exclusion ought to begin with interrogating the very idea of the citizen: who is the citizen and who is not, and the ways in which this relates to the global reproduction of precarity.

Finally, the politics of exclusion being mobilized by the NRC in Assam creates a moral opportunity for the neighbouring states to create a politics of inclusion by offering refuge to those rendered stateless, and doing so through the framework of rights.

It also creates an opportunity for progressive politics in India to open up altogether new possibilities for imagining a politics of belonging through acts of resistance that disrupt the very idea of citizenship, connecting the citizenship question to the question of capital.

(Mohan J. Dutta is Dean’s Chair Professor of Communication and Director of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) in the School of Communication, Journalism, and Marketing at Massey University).