This volume collects seventeen stories of women and men who, simply because they were born poor, or a particular gender, or into a certain caste or religion, fell prey to the many atrocities and indignities endemic to contemporary India. Some resisted, survived, and soldier on. Some did not.
Lachmi Kaur lost almost all the male members of her family in the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. She then overcame despair to singlehandedly bring up her children and grandchildren with fierce love and pride. With great courage of conviction, Krishan Gopal, a Dalit man from Nimoda in Rajasthan, decided to build his own shrine to Hanuman after being forbidden from the village temple by his upper-caste neighbours. What followed was persecution, violence and exile from the village which lasted all his life. At twenty-eight, Dandapani defied his family—which could not accept him for what he was—left home, and underwent a sex-change operation. Now known as Dhanam, she lives with her extended family of eunuchs in a Chennai shanty. And, in a chilling first-person account, Raheem tells of his village in Muzaffarnagar which, after cynical political manipulation, went from amity to a communal conflagration in just a week.
Fatal Accidents of Birth is a powerful, challenging book. It tells us of the many ways in which we inflict violence upon each other—most of all by choosing to not see. And as it does so, this necessary book ensures that these stories will find their rightful place in our consciousness.
This feeble blemished light, this dawn mangled by night, This is not the morning we had all so longed for… —Faiz Ahmed Faiz
In the two decades since the early 1990s, when India confirmed its allegiance to the Free Market, more of its citizens have become marginalized than ever before, and society has become more sharply riven than ever.
In Looking Away, Harsh Mander ranges wide to record and analyse the many different fault lines which crisscross Indian society today.
There is increasing prosperity among the middle classes, but also a corresponding intolerance for the less fortunate. Poverty and homelessness are also on the rise—both in urban and rural settings— but not only has the state abandoned its responsibility to provide for those afflicted, the middle class, too, now avoids even the basic impulses of sharing. And with the sharp Rightward turn in politics, minority communities are under serious threat—their very status as citizens in question—as a belligerent, monolithic idea of the nation takes the place of an inclusive, tolerant one.
However, as Harsh Mander points out, what most stains society today is the erosion in the imperative for sympathy, both at the state and individual levels, a crumbling that is principally at the base of the vast inequities which afflict India. Exhaustive in its scope, impassioned in its arguments, and rigorous in its scholarship, Looking Away is a sobering checklist of all the things we must collectively get right if India is to become the country that was promised, in equal measure, to all its citizens.