Sunday, August 31, 2014


FMS, Issue No. 314
(August 2014)

This workers’ paper circulates between 2-3 lakh workers every month. Everybody has her or his own specific relationship with it. The paper is read, remembered, read to others, critiqued, kept with care, photocopied and redistributed, compared with other sources of information, evaluated, weighed, tested, questioned, argued with, used, torn, thrown away, given importance to, respected. Liveliness surrounds it.

This is the daily life of this paper. The lives of each one of us is made up of similar diversities and differences, likings and disinterests, respect, curiosity and fullness. Some people are envious of this expanse. One such person said to us, “Where does the money for such expansiveness come from?” We thought we must consider this with some amount of seriousness.

A journalist wanted to know from a worker in a garment factory in the Okhla Industrial Area, “How much would workers like their minimum wage to be?” The tailor laughed and said politely, “A single worker, on an average, produces goods worth 18-20 lakh rupees a month.” And then he said, “Keep one to two lakh for your costs. The rest should come to us, it hardly needs saying. You can keep debating over 12-15,000 rupees, but that shouldn’t make invisible the lakhs of rupees that are ours.”

Continuing in this vein, we could say that printing 12,000 copies of this paper costs the same as the monthly minimum wage of a skilled worker, as under Delhi government rates. A friend disagreed and said, “No, even lesser!” The voluntary support and contributions of a handful of people makes printing 10-20,000 copies of this paper a very simple thing.

Friends, printing this paper poses no difficulty. Given the excitement, enthusiasm and support around this paper, printing even one hundred thousand copies would be ordinary. Recently, a few students and young teachers requested us for 1000 copies of the paper so that they could take them to a new industrial area and test their thinking in a larger landscape. That’s why this month we’ve printed 13,000 copies.

Like we’ve described in some of our previous issues, the industrial areas surrounding Delhi are among the most buoyant and volatile in the world. Critical and urgent questions about thought and action are being posed here. We can say with utmost confidence that it is from within these spaces that the sharpest and most edgy possibilities are emergent, confronting the contradictions and conundrums of the present. Very soon, a form of living that is in praise of the potential of the seven billion inhabitants of this planet will find its expression.

Wait – Do you think we’re getting carried away?

Every month, 20-25 people distribute this paper in 15 places in Okhla Industrial Area, Udyog Vihar (Gurgaon), IMT Manesar and Faridabad. Every month, during distribution, different kinds of conversations are struck up with thousands of people. You could say that each person who distributes the paper threads some form of conversation with perhaps 10,000 people in a year. A current of joyfulness rises from this conversational space. It stays in collision with the language of complaints, oppression and pain. It is generative. It pushes aside exhaustion, pessimism, anger and helplessness, and makes something else emerge in their stead.

For the last year now, in different issues of the paper, we have been talking about a new category of “political prisoners” that has arisen here in the last few years. We’ve posed this argument, and it has traveled between a few lakh people. No one has thought it wrong, or dismissed it as an overstatement. Rather, it has been taken forward and has entered other platforms and public forums. 500 to 600 workers from factories just from around Delhi are political prisoners of today. They are being kept in jail without bail for years. There’s a general consensus that these are political prisoners. However, what we would like to underline here is a desire that has surfaced in many a conversation, but hasn’t yet gathered the force of general actions. This desire is about how – as individuals, and as collectives – we can all, together, author a tense weave that compels the release of these political prisoners.

Here are suggestions that have come our way: During tea breaks, at lunch hour, while in the bus, when the shift ends, when the shift begins, in the neighborhood, at the teashop, at the paan kiosk, at the dhaaba, in the park, at a feast, in the village, via SMS, through handwritten pamphlets, with posters, in letters, on placards, by printing on t-shirts, at the barber’s, in the college canteen, in classrooms, in discussion groups and meetings, in essays, through stories, in poems, on blogs, on Facebook and on Twitter, in offices, while travelling, when on a pilgrimage, between friends, via letters to editors, through translating – everywhere, with everyone, whenever time permits – amplify, accelerate the ongoing disquiet of murmurs about these political prisoners. This in itself will dishevel power’s fragile but arrogant attire.

Visit these political prisoners. These conversations, you’d agree, must happen with them as well.


FMS, Issue No. 313
(July 2014)

Everyone knows around 7 billion people inhabit the world today. All of us also sense, in one way or another, the enmeshed presence of 7 billion in our lives. We evoke the capacities of these 7 billion in our conversations, time and again. The restlessness and trembling, praise and pride, curiosity and creation of 7 billion affect each of us. The quality of this sensing, surfacing and affecting is decisive for the future of life on this planet.

It is our understanding that the self-activities, thoughts, conversations and relationships that are being enacted, formed and created here – in the industrial areas in and around Delhi – can provide for a qualitative shift in the possibilities and aspirations of the 7 billion. So, let’s talk again about some of the qualities and characteristics of ‘here’.

1. Who acts? Who reacts?

The collective action of the workers of Maruti-Suzuki (Manesar) startled everyone. They de-occupied the factory of the management’s control, over and over again. We looked attentively, and found workers de-occupying factories all around here – after, and before, the events at Maruti Manesar. And we realized that companies react to de-occupation by giving concessions. We saw how these concessions continually, and in large part, fail. Faced with this constant failure of control and concessions, companies and the government have reacted with repression. Given this, during this period, one dominant trend has been of workers attacking factories. In reaction, the government has taken many workers as political prisoners. Courts have refused bail. Hundreds of commandos have been deployed in industrial areas, and police has been stationed inside workplaces. The acceleration of action by workers makes transparent the weakness and failing power of companies and the government.

2. Actions that make control loosen its hold.

There is no pause, no stoppage. There’s a stirring of creation everywhere, at all times, in every interval, in gatherings, as individuals, groups and collectives. This brings on the visage of each person a sense of joy and fullness. Managerial frowns deepen. On some days, a few thousand women workers reach the gates, but don’t enter the factory. On another day, handwritten pamphlets in motion inside the factory frighten the management. Another day, workers from two shifts gather in one place and neither leave the factory nor commence work. Sometimes conversations in the canteen are so engrossing that the meal is forgotten. And what mobile conversations might unleash, trouble managements no end. No step is big or small, grand or miniscule. The tiniest and simplest of steps gather momentum and change scale in a matter of moments.

3. Away from representation

“What is it that workers want?” has become a mysterious, unsolvable, incorrigible, enigmatic riddle. Conventionally, the operation of speaking for, on behalf of and in the interest of workers has provided the condition for representatives to emerge. They alone would be the ones who’d know workers, enter into negotiations and settle disagreements. This has been a form of control. Contrary to this, what we find here is that no one is waiting to be spoken for, and every person and every collective is gauging his, her, their actions and the potency of these actions. This disposition has displaced the weight of long-term agreements, be they of three or of five years. Even short-term representational games no longer hold sway. This is the gift, the insight that is emergent from here: The soundness, agility, longevity and robustness of workers’ abilities and capacities lies in the riddle, “What is it that workers want?” remaining a riddle.

4. De-occupying

A companion who works in Maruti Manesar said, “After we de-occupied the factory of the management, it was as if all of us who’d been working side by side for three to four years were seeing each other for the first time.” This thought, this feeling, these words have been resounding everywhere. Whether it’s the workplace, a park, a maidan, or a college, this is the affect that gives velocity to, and inspires to, de-occupy. New thresholds of life and relationships begin to take form when control loosens during de-occupation. And even if the de-occupation is short-lived, countless words become necessary to define and give expression to the excitement and the mood that it brings in its wake. Some words find a new life, a new force, a new context. Like: thoughtful, knowledgeable, the one who keeps his/her word, the one who suggests solutions, the one who understands the world and its ways, the experienced, the one who keeps herself abreast of what’s going on in the world, the informed, the mystic, the renouncer, the one who has a story for every occasion, the one who brings news from afar, the one who advises, the one who can be trusted and depended on, the one who knows about things, the one who understands, the contrarian, the listener, the voracious reader, the one who gives you courage, the capable, the alert, the magician, the responsible, the heretical.

5. Changing the order of time

To sleep when you want, to wake up when you feel like it, to sing when the heart desires, to eat when you like, to speak when you have the urge to speak, to listen when you feel drawn to something, to rest when you choose, to dream whenever. No shift, no lunch time, no tea break, no tension to catch the bus, no worry about cooking, no separation between night and day, no anxiety about which day of the week it is, no fretting over the date of the month. Thousands of workers have de-occupied workplaces and created this collective time. This non-serial, undivided time gestures towards the time to come. It is an intimation of the joyful, vibrant life that is knocking at the door of the present.

What we can see here, from here, is a glimpse of that which is immanent in the seven billion who inhabit this planet.