The Nagrik Podcast

Conversations about civic participation. Nagrik Open Civic Learning makes Open Educational Resources for civic participation. All our materials are under CC BY 4.0.

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Monday Jun 05, 2023

Following the announcement of nationwide pandemic control measures in India on March 24, 2020, tens of thousands of daily-wage migrant workers in India suddenly found themselves without jobs or a source of income. At inter-state bus terminals and railway stations in cities like  Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru, thousands of such workers gathered, waiting to be evacuated back to their homes. According to the government's data, more than 1.14 crore inter-state migrant workers returned to their home-states. Many of them worked in the construction industry, the second largest source of work in India, after agriculture. Nearly all construction workers (almost all 56 million of them) are part of India's 411 million informal workers.
The significant majority of work in India, over 90% of it by most accounts, is informal. These workers do not benefit from social security schemes such as employee state insurance and the provident fund. They are also not protected by the laws that regulate employment, such as the Factories Act. For example, informal workers have no legal right to paid leave. The events that unfolded after the “lockdown” announcement left us in little doubt about the very real effects of these wide gaps in the law.  
The visible ejection of informal workers during the pandemic lockdown from Indian cities, including nearly all its construction workers, shed light on their lack of any meaningful social security. As part of the relief package announced by the government, the labour ministry announced a scheme that would credit 24% of wages into the provident fund accounts of those eligible. But only 1.5% of India’s construction workers, part of the mere 5.7% that work on a regular basis, are contributing members of the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation and thus eligible for such PF-related benefits. The remaining overwhelming majority of construction workers could hope to qualify for another relief measure announced by the government: direct benefit transfers to the accounts of workers registered under the Building and other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 (“the BoCW Act”) using the Building and Other Construction Workers cess (“BoCW cess”) funds. In most cases, the BoCW system was the rusted and creaking infrastructure used to deliver social security benefits to construction work.
In this episode, we learn about the campaigns that contributed to building the BoCW system - the welfare infrastructure that became law in 1996 and in 2020, would be used to provide Rs. 2250 crores worth of emergency pandemic relief to 18 million construction workers.
You will learn from:
R Geetha, the southern regional coordinator of the national campaign committee for a comprehensive legislation on construction labour (NCCCL-CL)
Subhash Bhatnagar, national co-ordinator of the NCCCL-CL
Rina Agarwala, Professor of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University
Chirayu Jain, Delhi-based advocate
Shruti Herbert, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at University of Edinburgh
"Dial W for Wage Theft - the India Labour Line Story: Sushovan Dhar, Sanotsh Poonia, Shreehari Paliath, Chandan Kumar", The Nagrik Podcast 
Unni, Jeemol. 2020. “Impact of Lockdown Relief Measures on Informal Enterprises and Workers”, EPW Engage, Vol. 55, Issue 51. 
Pandey, Vikas. 2020. “Coronavirus lockdown: The Indian migrants dying to get home”. BBC, May 20, 2020. 
Mathews, Rohan Dominic. 2019. “A Comprehensive Legislation for Construction Workers in India: Unpacking State, Capital and Labour” in Hawel, M., & VSA-Verlag für das Studium der Arbeiterbewegung, WORK IN PROGRESS. WORK ON PROGRESS: Beiträge kritischer Wissenschaft: Doktorand_innen Jahrbuch 2019 der Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung. pp. 90-109. 
Jha, Ajit. 2020. “Covid-19 Relief Package: Will central largesse help construction workers?”. Economic and Political Weekly, Vol LV Issue 17, pp. 20-22. 
Jain, Chirayu. 2018. “Are the Centre’s welfare measures for daily wagers effective or mere paper tigers?”. The News Minute, July 2, 2018.
Jain, Chirayu. 2022. “A New Labor Regime”. Phenomenal World, July 9, 2022. 
“How Many Migrant Workers Left Cities During the COVID-19 Lockdown?”. The Wire, June 20, 2022. 
Agarwala, Rina. 2006. “From Work to Welfare: A New Class Movement in India”. Critical Asian Studies 38:4, pp. 419-444. 
Agarwala, Rina. 2008. “Reshaping the social contract: emerging relations between the state and informal labour in India”. Theor Soc (2008) 37. pp. 375-408. 
Agarwala, Rina. 2018. “From Theory to Praxis and Back to Theory: Informal Workers' Struggles against Capitalism and Patriarchy in India” In Gendering Struggles Against Informal and Precarious Work edited by Agarwala, Rina and Jennifer Jihye Chun, Emerald Insight, 29-57.  
Agarwala, Rina. 2019. “Using Legal Empowerment for Labour Rights in India”. The Journal of Development Studies, Vol. 55, No. 3, 401-419. 
Ahuja, Ravi. 2019. “A Beveridge Plan for India? Social Insurance and the Making of the “Formal Sector””. IRSH 64, pp. 207-248. doi:10.1017/S0020859019000324 
"Labour Code Lecture Series: Lecture 3 - The Code on Social Security, 2020", Working People's Coalition

Monday Oct 17, 2022

Yellappa is among thousands of migrant workers who wait every morning at one of Bangalore's several labour stands to seek work from construction contractors. He is one of 56 million people employed in India's construction industry. 
Nearly all of them are part of India's 411 million informal workers, who constitute over 90% of India’s workers. Not only do they not benefit from social security schemes such as employee state insurance and the provident fund, they are also not protected by the laws that regulate employment. Even after Independence, the large majority of Indian workers never benefited from the labour legislation of the twentieth century because they worked in small scale enterprises that were exempt from any obligations under those laws. Even for that narrow slice of India’s workforce to whom these laws apply, access to any mechanism that can provide redress for work-related grievances or hold employers accountable, is not guaranteed.
When Yellappa was not paid by his employer, he called 1-800-833-9020, the India Labour Line. It is a helpline that workers across India can call to receive counseling about any grievances in relation to their work, like unpaid wages or an uncompensated workplace accident. It was set up in the wake of the forced exodus of migrant informal workers from Indian cities following the sudden announcement of pandemic control measures in 2020. Aajeevika Bureau teamed up with the Working Peoples' Coalition to demonstrate that it is indeed possible to imagine a grievance redressal system that works for all workers.
On this episode of the Nagrik podcast, we learn about India Labour Line and Aajeevika Bureau’s Rajasthan-based labour helpline on which it is modeled, how the helplines operate to demonstrate a workable model of grievance redressal for workers, and about their objectives. 
You will learn from:
Shreehari Paliath, Senior Policy Analyst, India Spend. Read his journalism and other stories at IndiaSpend is a public interest data-driven journalism non-profit. 
Sushovan Dhar, director, India Labour Line
Sanotsh Poonia, programme manager leading Aajeevika Bureau’s legal aid work
Chandan Kumar, organising secretary, Working People’s Coalition
BBC News, “Coronavirus India: Death and despair as migrant workers flee cities” 
Indian Express, “Explained: Indian Migrants, Across India”
Sumant Banerji, “A look inside one of the most unsafe workplaces”, Mint (Oct 11, 2022)
Ravi Ahuja, “A Beveridge Plan for India? Social Insurance and the Making of the Formal Sector”, IRSH 64 (2019), pp. 207-248
Aajeevika Bureau, “Unlocking the Urban: Reimagining Migrant Lives in Cities Post-Covid 19”, 2020
ICDD Interview Series, “The Informal Economy, Labour, and Collective Cooperation in India (with Pravin Sinha)”
Shreehari Paliath, “How A Labour Helpline Is Helping Informal Workers Recover Wages”, India Spend (Aug 3, 2022)
Press Release for the launch of India Labour Line

Wednesday Jul 13, 2022

November 7, 1938, 21 years after the October Revolution and two years after he published his searing critique of Hinduism in The Annihilation of Caste, B.R. Ambedkar’s Independent Labour Party called for a one-day strike against the passage of the Bombay Industrial Dispute Bill. Among its other provisions, the law would make strikes a criminal offence. More than one lakh workers are said to have participated in the strike in Bombay alone.
Earlier in the year, Ambedkar had marched at the head of 25000 small peasants, landless poor, and agricultural labourers as they demanded the abolition of the khoti system.
Thus in 1938, in the space of a few months, Ambedkar led agitations that advocated for the interests of what we today call the informal poor and for the interests of industrial workers. Both of them were the results of years of political work, advocating against exploitative agrarian practices in the Konkan region, building effective bridges between social groups, and negotiating on behalf of Dalit workers with leftist trade unions. In this episode of the Nagrik podcast, we learn about Ambedkar’s advocacy around issues of labour in the 1920s and 30s, from our guests:
Dr Jesus Chairez-Garza, Lecturer in Modern History, University of Manchester
Prabodhan Pol, Assistant Professor, Manipal Centre for Humanities
Dr. Sumeet Mhaskar, Professor, Jindal School of Government and Public Policy
Sarvodaya Shivaputra, “Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar role in the Bombay Legislative Council (1927-1939)”, Swami Ramanand Teerth Marathwada University
Abha Trivendi, “Indian Labour Movement (1927-1929): A Critical Appraisal”, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress Vol. 70 (2009-2010) 
Georges Kristoffel Lieten, “Strikers and Strike-Breakers: Bombay Textile Mills Strike, 1929”, Economic and Political Weekly (1982), 
Sumeet Mhaskar, “How a Strike 40 Years Ago Dismantled Workers’ Claim Over Mumbai, Hastened its Gentrification”, The Wire (2022) 
Shivangi Jaiswal, “Labour Ministers, State and the Prism of Law, 1942-52” 
Santosh Suradkar, “The Anti-Khoti Movement in Konkan Region, c. 1920-1949” 
Unnamati Syamasundar, “Independent Labour Party & the Legacy of Ambedkar as Organizer”, Round Table India (2018) 
Antaripa Bharali and Ankit Kawade, “A Lesson From Ambedkar’s Unusual Choice of Symbol During 1937 Poll”, The Quint (2019) 
Prabodhan Pol, “100 Years of Mooknayak, Ambedkar's First Newspaper that Changed Dalit Politics Forever”, The Wire 
Kari Kumar, “Ambedkar and the Bombay Textile Workers”, Dalit History Month

Thursday Mar 31, 2022

The Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (or KKPKP) is a membership-based trade union of waste pickers and itinerant waste buyers in Pune in Maharashtra. Formed in 1993, it wanted to assert waste pickers’ status as workers and their role in the city’s solid waste management. Today, it has over 9000 members, 80 percent of whom are women from socially backward and marginalised castes. Each member pays an annual fee to the organization and an equal amount towards their life insurance cover.
In 2005, KKPKP formed a wholly-owned workers’ cooperative called SWaCH in partnership with the Pune Municipal Corporation. 1500 waste pickers became providers of door-to-door waste collection services to the city’s households. In 2008, the PMC entered into a five-year agreement with SWaCH to decentralize door-to-door waste collection services. Cooperative members would collect segregated waste from over 2000 households. The non-recyclable garbage is further segregated for sale, while the wet or organic and non-recyclable waste is dropped off at the PMC’s ‘feeder points.’
A union of informal workers had formed a work co-operative.
Both historically and geographically, standard or formal work has been the exception. The vast majority of work in history has been performed without paid leave or work-related social security. Even when a significant portion of work in the rich nations came to be performed through formal arrangements, the large majority of work in the poorer nations remained informal.
In recent decades, the proportion of informal work has increased in the global north. This development has coincided with the emergence in the 1970s and 1980s, of a set of policies adopted by governments around the world to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society, collectively known by the term neoliberalism. These policies have whittled away at the islands of formal work in the rich nations and impoverished informal workers in the poorer nations. One such policy is the privatisation of municipal services. Municipal contracts for waste collection services in the poorer nations have, instead of welcoming them into formal work, dispossessed waste pickers of their sources of livelihood. 
In this episode of the Nagrik podcast, we learn about organising informal workers in neoliberalism through the example of Pune’s KKPKP. What are the different forms in which informal workers organise? What barriers do informal workers face in organising? How did the founders of KKPKP bridge the gap between them and the city’s waste pickers who lived very different lives? What kind of demands did KKPKP make? Did entering into a direct relationship with the PMC affect the union’s ability to advocate for its members? How do we understand the role of a work co-operative of waste pickers in resisting neoliberal trends? How can it safeguard against larger forces that can diminish the quality of waste picker lives? You can learn about all of this from the guests on this episode:
Lakshmi Narayan, co-founder, Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat
Poornima Chikarmane, co-founder, Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat
Melanie Samson, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Johannesburg
Jane Barrett, Director of the Organising and Representation Programme at WIEGO
ILO, “Integrating Informal Sector in Municipal Solid Waste Management - SWaCH Cooperative, Pune”
Poornima Chikarmane, “Integrating Waste Pickers into Municipal Solid Waste Management in Pune, India”, WIEGO Policy Brief (July 2012)
Poornima Chikarmane and Laxmi Narayan, “Organising the Unorganised: A Case Study of the Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (Trade Union of Waste-pickers)”
Waste Matters, “Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat - Photo Blog”
Supriya Bhadakwad (KKPKP), “Waste Pickers: Paving the Solutions Path to Climate Change-1”, Speech at event organized by Zero Waste Europe GAIA and Zero Waste France at the COP21 in Paris
WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, “SWaCH Pune Seva Sahakari Sanstha | WRI Ross Center Prize for Cities 2018-2019 Finalist
TERI, “Swach Across Bharat - The Future We Want Series”
SWaCH, “We, SWaCH”
WIEGO, “Recognizing Waste Pickers”
Melanie Samson (ed.), Refusing to be Cast Aside: Waste Pickers Organising Around the World, WIEGO (2009)
Faranak Miraftab, “Neoliberalism and Casualization of Public Sector Services: The Case of Waste Collection Services in Cape Town, South Africa”, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, December 2004
Lilita Gcawbe, “Reclaimers yearn for formal recognition from government”, Health-e News (August 18, 2021)

Sunday Jan 16, 2022

2021 marked 15 years of the Forest Rights Act and its most transformative provisions - those related to community forest rights and their governance through village gram sabhas. Along with the PESA in 1996, the FRA carved out spaces in the law for community participation in the management and governance of forests. These laws were the results of more than a century of social movements in various parts of India that cried out against the injustice of treating forest dwelling communities as encroachers on their lands, an injustice that persisted even after the constitution of independent India promised special protections for adivasis and scheduled tribes.
For over a century, the Indian state's legal control of forests had extinguished the traditional rights of forest-dwelling communities, who came to be perceived as illegal occupants or encroachers of government forests.
Things changed dramatically in 2006, when the Forest Rights Act recognized and vested a set of forest rights in the scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who have been residing in forests for generations but whose rights had not been recorded. Most radically perhaps, the law recognized their rights as communities of ownership of minor forest produce that has been traditionally collected within or outside village boundaries, and the rights of access to collect, use, and dispose of this produce. 
Minor forest produce includes all non-timber forest produce of plant origin including bamboo, honey, wax, tendu or kendu leaves, medicinal plants and herbs, roots, and tubers. 
Apart from recognising and vesting these rights, the Forest Rights Act also set up democratic procedures for decision-making at the level of settlements.
Like any paradigm shifting project of decolonisation or for the de-centralisation of power, fears are expressed about whether the newly empowered people are actually ready for the responsibilities of power. 
This episode of the Nagrik podcast reflects not only on the economic and ecological impact of the community-led management of forest resources, but also on grassroot-level democratic practices in relation to the governance of forests. 
The Nagrik Podcast is among the world's best civic engagement podcasts.
You can listen to:
Purnima Upadhyay, who runs Khoj, a civil society organisation that works in the region of Melghat in the Amaravati district of Maharashtra, on the promotion of the effective use of community forest rights under the Forest Rights Act;
Kesav Gurnule, who works with Shrishti, a civil society organisation that works in the Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra, on the promotion of the effective use of community forest rights under the Forest Rights Act;
Mittali Sethi, a former Project Officer with the Tribal Development Department of the government of Maharashtra, in Dharni and Melghat, an IAS officer of the 2017 batch, and currently the Chief Executive Officer of the Chandrapur Zilla Parishad;
Vandana Dhoop, an independent researcher, whose work has covered Nayagarh's women-led Forest Protection Committees; and
Sharad Lele, a Senior Fellow at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment
Further reading:
Mittali Sethi, “How 2 Landmark Laws Can Come Together To Make India’s Forest Communities Secure”, Article 14
Geetanjoy Sahu, “Experiences in the Vidarbha Region of Maharashtra
Implementation of Community Forest Rights”, Economic and Political Weekly
Sharachchandra Lele, Shruti Mokashi , “Mapping the potential of Community Forest Resource Rights in central India”, Mongabay
Shreya Dasgupta, "Does community-based forest management work in the tropics?", Mongabay
Lekshmi M, Anup Kumar Samal, Geetanjoy Sahu, “15 Years of FRA: What Trends in Forest Rights Claims and Recognition Tell Us”, The Wire
Madhusudan Bandi, “Looking beyond the Forest Rights Act”, The Hindu
Vandana Dhoop, “In Nayagarh, India, community women get long-due recognition for protecting their forests”, Rights+Resources

Saturday Dec 04, 2021

In September earlier this year, many of us received a video depicting the violent murder of 33-year-old Moinul Haque during an eviction drive in the Darrang district of Assam. Many of us who saw the video were forced to reflect on what could make a man hate a stranger enough to act with such shocking violence. For some others, it was the nonchalance of some uniformed participants in the violence that struck home. The video became another landmark in a long history of ethnic contestation over land in Assam, which shares a 163-mile border with Bangladesh. Over the years, as the region went through several tumults, including the partition of Bengal in 1905, the partion of India in 1947, and the genocide in East Pakistan followed by the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the narrative took root that “indigenous” Assamese were losing their land to “migrants from Bangladesh”. It became the political foundation for the Assam movement during the early 1980s, the creation of a legal procedure to detect illegal immigrants and expel them from the state of Assam, and later, the creation of a National Register of Citizens for Assam, associated tribunals with the power to determine the validity of a person's citizenship, and detention centres to hold the people who failed these tests. The BJP came to power in the state in 2016 and intensified efforts to weed out so-called illegal immigrants. These efforts have disproportionately affected Muslims. According to government data, nearly 87,000 people were declared foreigners in Assam between 2015 and 2020. As of April of 2021, 1,36,173 cases were pending in the Foreigners Tribunals.
This is the background in which Aman Wadud practices law. In many parts of the world, the people who most urgently need legal services are not able to access them. The people whose citizenship has been questioned in the Foreigners Tribunals of Assam are among them and Aman Wadud, as a lawyer and co-founder of the Justice and Liberty Initiative, provides these services pro bono or free of charge. 
Further reading:
Rohini Mohan, “‘Worse than a death sentence’: Inside Assam’s sham trials that could strip millions of citizenship”, Vice News (July 29, 2019)
Siddhartha Deb, “How India disenfranchises Muslims”, The New York Times (September 15, 2021)
“Prove your Grandfather is Indian: Ground Reportage on NRC”, Bangalore International Centre on YouTube (November 20, 2019)
Jagat Sohail and Apoorv Avram, "'Invaders', 'Terrorists' and Now, 'Illegal Immigrants': Hindutva’s Reframing of Exclusion", The Wire (February 7, 2020)
Rahul Karmakar, “When you can’t find foreigners, you manufacture them: Human rights lawyer Aman Wadud”, The Hindu (June 27, 2020)

Friday Sep 17, 2021

For several years now, we have all tuned in to a global conversation on the power of technology firms, that included often intersecting themes such as privacy and surveillance; electoral manipulation and democratic backsliding; the sourcing practices of hardware firms; misinformation, hate speech, and censorship; algorithmic bias and the frightening capabilities of machine learning and artificial intelligence; ownership structures and monopolies; and exploitative labour practices in gig and platform work. In India, we spoke about privacy and digital exclusion when the government forced through the implementation of Aadhaar, its biometric-identification system, about network neutrality when Facebook introduced its limited version of the Internet, about the foreign ownership of software products during border skirmishes with China, about waves of anti-minority hate speech coursing through social networks, about the state's surveillance of political opponents and human rights defenders using military-grade technology, and about the widening digital divide when the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic forced schools to adopt online learning technology.
This episode of the Nagrik podcast is the second and final part of a series on labour organising in technology. In the last episode, we learnt about how mostly blue-collar workers were demanding better conditions in gig and platform work. Circumstances are markedly different in India's IT sector, where employment remains highly sought after. In this episode, we will learn about how these white collar workers are organsing, and for what. 
The increased public scrutiny of the technology industry around the world coincided with the sheen coming off India's information technology sector. After 2015, stagnant wages and the long hours of work made it a less attractive employer, a trend that continued into the difficult months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The increased precarity of work in the IT sector became the cause for and the focus of, its workers coming together.
Conditions of work in the IT sector have perhaps worsened during the periods of working from home forced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Organisers have reported more intense surveillance of workers and increased hours of work.
Some of the organisers that we spoke to, articulated a particular view of the role that workers unions have to play in charting the course of the technology industry towards more justice and fairness in technology. The Kerala-based Pratidhwani however, is very different. To begin with, tt categorically does not see itself as a workers' union.
While Pratidhwani organised around cultural activity to be able to better advocate for the interests of IT employees, the other organisations that clearly identified themselves as workers unions, provided legal support during times of employment uncertainty. 
To understand the methods and objectives of these groups, and to learn about their challenges and successes, we spoke to:
- Jaai Vipra of AIITEU, the All India IT & ITeS Employees' Union
- Alagunambi Welkin of UNITE, the Union of IT and IES Employees
- Vineeth Chandran of Pratidhwani
- a founding member of the Bangalore chapter of the Tech Workers’ Coalition (who did not want to be named), and
- Devika Narayan, a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Said Business School in the University of Oxford
More reading
- Rashmi Menon, “Even India’s tech workers are interested in employee unions”, The Mint (January 8, 2021)
- Prudhviraj Rupavath, “Accenture may layoff 10,000 employees as unions campaign against illegal labour practices in IT sector”, Newsclick (August 28, 2020)
- “IT employees union UNITE warns firms on workforce reduction”, The Hindu, (November 6, 2019)
- Swarnami Mondal, “Verizon Data Services Sacks 1200 Staff Across India, Employee Alleges Bouncers Used To Intimidate Them Into Forceful Resignation”, The Logical Indian (December 15, 2017)
- “Dumped by L&T Infotech, students in ‘no jobs’ land”, BusinessLine, (January 20, 2018)
- David Streitfeld, “How Amazon crushes unions”, The New York Times, (March 16, 2021)
- Gerrit De Vynck et al, “Six things to know about the latest efforts to bring unions to Big Tech”, The Washington Post (April 30, 2021)
- Matt O' Brien, “Google workers form new labor union, a tech industry rarity”, AP News (January 4, 2021)
- Moira Warburton, “'Amazon won't change without a union”: Canadian warehouse files for union vote”, The Star, (September 14, 2021)
- “Technopark, India's first & largest IT park, celebrates 30th anniversary”, OnManorama (July 30, 2020)
- “Prathidhwani organises virtual job fair for IT sector in Kerala”, Deccan Herald (September 17, 2021)
- “Techies beautify walls of government school in Karyavattom”, The New Indian Express (July 21, 2021)
- All India IT and ITeS Employees’ Union
- Union of IT and ITeS Employees
- Tech Workers Coalition
- Prathidhwani

Wednesday Jul 21, 2021

In August and September of 2020, delivery executives of Swiggy struck work in many Indian cities. They wanted to draw attention to the fact that in spite of the Covid 19 pandemic and the steep increase in petrol prices, Swiggy had reduced what was known as the base component of the remuneration paid to the executives from Rs. 35 to Rs. 15. Images of Swiggy executives kneeling down on the streets of Hyderabad were carried by several media outlets.
In March of 2021, the Telangana State Taxi and Drivers Joint Action Committee announced that 35000 taxis participated in a Black Flag Cab March, a symbolic protest where taxis offered their services with black flags to highlight the fact that even amidst rising fuel prices, the app-based cab aggregators Uber and Ola had not increased the base rates for drivers. In May, the United Food Delivery Partners Union held an online protest that urged the state government for a financial relief package, vaccination on priority, and the provision of masks, sanitisers, and face shields. 
A significant majority of work in India is performed through informal forms of employment. The emergence of the gig or platform economy during the past decade has transformed this world of work in many sectors. Most visibly, location-based apps have transformed how people access location-specific work such driving, delivery, domestic work, and beauty services. Another category of work, known as cloud work, refers to short-duration jobs that could be performed from anywhere with an internet connection.
The claim made on behalf of technology platforms that have mediated work during the last decade is that they would increase transparency and as a result, wages and working conditions. Another claim is that they allow women, persons with disabilities, young people and others who are marginalized in traditional labour markets to access work. 
An issue at the centre of the global conversation on the gig and platform economy however is how platforms have avoided any obligations under labour laws. As a result of the characterisation of the workers who perform services using these platforms on a daily basis as entrepreneurs or freelancers instead of as employees, platforms are able to shift much of the risk of business to these workers. 
Platforms however, have claimed that people are able to access through them, work that is better than what would otherwise be available to them, under less rigid arrangements. 
In this episode of the Nagrik podcast, we learn from a group of experts about measuring the quality of gig and platform work and the challenges facing gig and platform workers who want to organise and negotiate for better work.
We learn from:
Shaik Saluddin, the Hyderabad-based National General Secretary of the Indian Federation of App Based Transport Workers
Vinay Sarathy, the Bengaluru-based President of the United Food Delivery Partners Union
Sadhana Sanjay, Research Assistant at the Bengaluru-based NGO, IT for Change
Aditi Surie, sociologist and consultant with the Indian Institute of Human Settlements
Ayush Rathi, Senior Researcher, at the Bengaluru-based Centre for Internet and Society
Additional information:
Amay Korjan and Vinay Narayan,  "Socializing Data Value - Reflections on the State of Play", IT for Change, July 2021
Aayush Rathi and Ambika Tandon, "Platforms, Power, and Politics - Perspectives from Domestic and Care Work in India", June 2021
"Future of Labour Post Covid-19: Part 1", Suno India
Aditi Surie, "Are Ola and Uber Drivers Entrepreneurs or Exploited Workers?", EPW Engage, June 2018
The Hindu, "Food delivery workers seek COVID-19 relief package", May 30, 2021
The Wire, "Swiggy Delivery Executives Strike in Chennai and Hyderabad Over Reduction in Payment", August 19, 2020
Soumya Chatterjee, "Food delivery executives protest in Bengaluru, demand compensation for loss of work", The News Minute, June 4, 2020Shilpa S Ranipeta, "12 days after strike began, Swiggy continues talks with delivery execs in Hyderabad", The News Minute, September 26, 2020

Wednesday May 26, 2021

Vaccinating a significant part of the world's population is widely accepted as the most effective strategy to emerge quickly from the Coronavirus pandemic that we find ourselves in. As of May 20, 2021 however, only 3% of India's population has received both doses of any of the three vaccines that are currently available in the country. On average, only one in every 1000 Indians receives a vaccine dose each day. 
India is not the only country that has struggled to vaccinate its population against the Coronavirus. 25% of the population in high income countries has been vaccinated compared to only 0.2% in low income countries. The WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom referred to these inequities in access to the vaccine as “a catastrophic moral failure”.
The current themes of pharmaceutical monopolies and affordable access to health remind us of the global struggle to make anti-retroviral therapy available to people living with HIV-AIDS at a time when the continent of Africa was being ravaged by that disease. That campaign for equitable access to life-saving medicines, with the South African Treatment Action Campaign at its visible core, took place just as the WTO and the TRIPS Agreement had come into existence. 
What the AIDS epidemic and the campaign for life-saving medicines helped the world understand better was that the true vector of disease was inequality. The HIV virus disproportionately killed the world's poor and the marginalised.
Covid vaccines can be made available for all people, in all countries, and at speed but only if there is a fundamental transformation in how we currently manufacture and distribute medicines, but it has been done before. 
In this episode of the Nagrik Podcast, we learn from a group of activists and scholars who worked on ensuring access to life saving medicines twenty years ago during the HIV-AIDS crisis, and some who today, are working for the equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.
We hear from:  
Achal Prabhala, an activist for access to medicines, whose work spans India, Brazil, and South Africa through the accessibsa project
Anand Grover, a Senior Advocate in India and a founder-member of the Lawyers Collective, who was the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health
David Legge, a scholar emeritus in the School of Public Health and Human Biosciences at La Trobe University in Melbourne, is part of the Peoples' Health Movement
Ellen t'Hoen, a lawyer and public health advocate, was the director for policy and advocacy at Médecins Sans Frontières’ campaign for access to medical treatment
Fatima Hassan, social justice activist and human rights lawyer, is the founder and director of the Health Justice Initiative
James Love, the director of Knowledge Ecology International 
Leigh Haynes, a lawyer and health equity expert, who is part of the Free The Vaccine campaign
Additional information:
Hannah Ellis-Petersen et. al., “Stench of death pervades rural India as Ganges swells with Covid victims”, The Guardian (2021)
Alia Chughtai, "Did India get its COVID vaccine strategy wrong?", Al Jazeera (2021) 
WHO COVID-19 Technology Access Pool 
Ellen t'Hoen, “The global politics of pharmaceutical monopoly power”, Open Society Foundations (2009)
Christopher Butler, “Human Rights and the World Trade Organization - the right to essential medicines and the TRIPS Agreement”, 5 J. INT’L L. & POL’Y 5:1 (2007)
“The Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health - Ten Years Later: The State of Implementation”, Policy Brief 7, (South Centre: 2011)
Joseph E Stiglitz et. al., “Patents vs. the Pandemic”, Project Syndicate 
Achal Prabhala et. al., “We can't let the WTO get in the way of a 'people's vaccine'”, The Guardian 
Ellen t'Hoen, “Covid shows the world it needs new rules to deal with pandemics” 
Achal Prabhala et. al., “The world's poorest countries are at India's mercy for vaccines. It's unsustainable”, The Guardian (2021) 
“OPEN LETTER: Uniting Behind A People’s Vaccine Against COVID-19”, Oxfam International  
"No profit on pandemic - European Union Citizens' Initiative" 
Susan George et. al., “Taking Health back from Corporations: Pandemics, big pharma and privatized health”, TNI Long Reads, 
Zachie Achmat, “How to beat the epidemic”, The Guardian (2001), 
“A Timeline of HIV and AIDS”, 
Katherine Eban, “How an Indian tycoon fought Big Pharma to sell AIDS drugs for $1 a day” 
Sarah Boseley, “How Nelson Mandela changed the Aids agenda in South Africa”, The Guardian (2013)
Peoples’ Health Movement, “Peoples’ Charter for Health”

Thursday Apr 08, 2021

From 1948 until the early 1990s, South Africa pursued a system of institutionalised racial segregation known as apartheid. It ensured that South Africa was dominated politically, socially, and economically by the nation's minority white population. According to this system of social stratification, the Afrikaaner-speaking white citizens had the highest status, followed by Asians and Coloureds, and then black Africans. 
Sport was also segregated along similar lines. Black Africans, Asians, and coloured people participated in sporting environments that were separate and inferior to those in which white athletes participated. Non-white athletes could never participate at a high level of competition, or represent their country at international events.
From the 1950s, sport, with its myths of level playing fields and cross-cultural exchange, became one of the nodal points of anti-apartheid activism in South Africa and around the world. In 1958, Dennis Brutus, a vocal critic of apartheid, co-founded the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SAN-ROC). In the years that followed, SAN-ROC was the coordinating centre of an international movement to isolate South Africa in international sport.
In this episode of the Nagrik Podcast, we try to learn how a small group of people were able to lead a campaign of such global influence, and explore the lasting impact of the sporting boycott.
We hear from:
Sam Ramsamy, Brutus' successor at SANROC, who from the mid-1970s, went about constructing and protecting, along with his colleagues, an international boycott against South African sport.
Abdul Samad Minty, who represented SANROC at the meeting of the International Olympic Committee at Baden Baden, to persuade its delegates to exclude South Africa from the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. 
Douglas Booth, the dean of the School of Education, Sport, and Exercise Sciences at the University of Otago. His work primarily focuses on the political and cultural aspects of sport and in the mid-1980s, while at the University of Natal in Durban, South Africa, Booth started his work on the sports boycott of South Africa.
Sean Jacobs, an associate professor of international affairs at The New School in New York. He is founder and editor of Africa is a Country, and in 2019, published his book, Media in Postapartheid South Africa: Postcolonial Politics in the Age of Globalization.
John Minto, who led Halt All Racist Tours or HART, which was formed in New Zealand to protest against rugby tours to and from Apartheid South Africa. 
Bruce Kidd, a Canadian campaigner for the preservation of the boycott, who had won medals at the 1962 Commonwealth Games.
Further reading
ES Reddy, “A tribute to Sam Ramsamy and others who fought apartheid sport”, South African History Online
“1976 - African countries boycott the Olympics”, BBC - On This Day
“The D’Oliveira Affair”, BBC - Sporting Witness
Mike Rowbottom, “Ramsamy, the man Mandela called his son, reflects at 80 on SANROC, the IOC and his “greatest moment” at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics”, Inside The Games
Tom Hunt, "Trevor Richards: 50 years on from Halt All Racists Tour and the power of protest", Stuff
“1981 Springbok Tour”, New Zealand History
"Rebel Rebel", BBC - The Documentary Podcast
Venu Madhav Govindu, “India’s gift to the struggle against apartheid”, The India Forum

Wednesday Feb 17, 2021

India’s garment sector employs at least 12 million people in factories, but millions more work from their homes. Most of them are women and girls from minority or marginalised communities and the garment sector is not alone in using the labour of home-based workers.
Four out of five Indian women of the working age are neither working, nor seeking employment. The paid work that is available to India's time-poor women is often precarious and exploitative, and falls within the category known as informal work.
Home-based work falls in this category and it is marked by very little remuneration, irregular incomes, unregulated hours of work, no social security, and poor conditions of health.
Like other types of informal work, there is no formal relationship of employment with a single identifiable employer and workers have little or no legal protection.
Trade unions, which had originally emerged to represent the interests of men working formal jobs, often failed to recognise these special barriers that informal workers (and women in particular) faced, and were in many cases, unable to adequately represent their interests.
In law too, most labour protections are only available to formal workers who earn wages. There are hardly any laws that protect the wages of informal workers or the piece rates that are paid to home workers. This was true of the ILO's international standards as well.
That was the case at least, until 1996, when the International Labour Organization adopted Convention 177, an international convention on home workers. Under Convention 177, ratifying states are obliged to formulate, adopt and implement a national policy on home work, aimed at improving the conditions of home workers. Such a policy had to promote the equality of treatment between home workers and other workers in relation to their collective bargaining rights, wages, health and safety, social security, maternity benefits, and so on. The states also commit to implement such a policy through laws.
The story of how this convention came to be, is one of remarkable civic action that resulted in an international network that campaigned for votes at the international labour conference in Geneva.
61% of the world's workers earn their living in the informal economy. In South Asia, over 80 per cent of women in non-agricultural jobs are in informal employment. Along with the ILO Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (known as Recommendation 202), the Home Work Convention may be seen as a pillar of the international strategy to make visible, the undervalued work in the informal economy.
While it remains a powerful tool in the hands of groups of informal workers, the networks and institutions that emerged from the campaign for Convention 177, are perhaps just as important as the convention itself.
Today, membership-based organisations of home-based workers are more formally networked through the Homenet networks. WIEGO, or Women in Informal Employment: Globalising and Organising, which emerged through an urgent need felt during the campaign for a better understanding of informal workers in policy spaces, is today the premier organisation working to increase the voice and visibility of the working poor, especially women.  
Such networks and institutions offer informal sector workers a strong alternative to federations of traditional labour unions.
In this episode of the Nagrik Podcast, you will receive an insight into the work that went into the adoption of these standards, and the networks and associations of informal workers that emerged from that campaign.
This episode features interviews with:
-  Renana Jhabvala the national co-ordinator of SEWA, the Self-Employed Womens' Association of India
- Martha Chen, a Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, an Affiliated Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and one of the founders of WIEGO, Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing
- Marlese von Broembsen, the Director of WIEGO's Law Programme
- Eileen Boris, a professor at the Department of Feminist Studies in University of California Santa Barbara and the author of Making the Woman Worker: Precarious Labor and the Fight for Global Standards, 1919-2019
- Dev Nathan, a professor at the Instutite for Human Development
Additional Material
C 177 – Home Work Convention, 1996
R202 - Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012
R204 - Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy Recommendation, 2015
Kathmandu Declaration for the rights of South Asian home-based workers
SEWA, the Self-Employed Womens’ Association of India
Support Informal Workers, Reduce Poverty – the WIEGO manifesto
Homenet International, Homenet South Asia
WIEGO, “Informal Workers in India: A Statistical Profile”
Homenet South Asia, “Impact of Covid-19 on women home-based workers in South Asia”
Homenet South Asia, “Working in Garment Supply Chains: A Homeworker’s Toolkit”
Homenet South Asia, “Empowering Home-based Workers in India: Strategies and Solutions”
Eileen Boris, (OUP: 2019), Making the Woman Worker: Precarious Labor and the Fight for Global Standards, 1919-2019
Who Makes Cents?: A History of Capitalism Podcast, “Eileen Boris on the Construct of the Woman Worker”
UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, “Informality: How to Approach the Elephant in the Room”
Shiney Chakraborty, The Wire, “Women Informal Workers: Falling Through the Cracks in the Pandemic”

Friday Dec 25, 2020

The Mahad satyagraha was a landmark event in the history of human rights struggles and in particular, for the struggles of India’s oppressed castes for civic rights. At least in its immediate context, the Mahad satyagraha was about Dalits making a claim to the water in the Chaudar tank of Mahad, a village in the Raigarh district of Maharashtra.
The story as it is told often begins with a resolution moved by Sitaram Keshav Bole in the Bombay legislative council in 1923. His proposal to allow Dalits to access all public water facilities in the province of Bombay, was passed. 
These seeds fell on very fertile ground. The region of coastal Maharashtra and the Raigarh district in particular, already had a history of anti-caste ideas. 
This is evident from the childhood and early life of one of the key personalities through whom we can approach the Mahad satyagraha - RB More, one of its main organisers and a founder of the Mahar Samaj Sewa Sangh.
In 1926, the SK Bole resolution of 1923 was affirmed by the Mahad municipality. It decided to throw open the Chowdar Tank to the Dalits. But, to quote from Dhananjay Keer’s biography of Ambedkar, "However, the resolution of the municipality remained a mere gesture in that the Untouchables had not exercised their right owing to the hostility of the caste Hindus."   
 By the mid-1920s, BR Ambedkar, who had returned to India following his studies, had already made very public arguments for the creation of separate electorates for oppressed minority communities. In March 1924, he convened the meeting that established the Bahishkrit Hitkarni Sabha with the motto, "Educate, Agitate and Organise". 
Thousands of people from across Maharashtra and Gujarat arrived in Mahad for the conference on March 19, 1927. Among other matters, the Conference, which came to be known as the first Mahad conference, appealed to the government to make the SK Bole resolution a reality, if necessary, by providing a protective legal environment for its enforcement. At the tank, Ambedkar took water, followed, in defiance of the oppressive caste system, by a large number of people. Two hours later, there was violent reprisal from the upper caste Hindus of Mahad. Many Dalits sought shelter in the homes of Muslims. Several days later, the orthodox Hindus of Mahad conducted a purification ceremony at the tank and declared the water once again fit for consumption by the upper castes.
The question of Dalit access to water was discussed all across Maharashtra and a decision was taken to have a second conference at Mahad in December. Around this time, the upper caste Hindus of Mahad filed a suit to declare the tank as private property. In the courts, Ambedkar was enthusiastic about using the Mahad case to set a precedent on the question of access to public resources and public spaces.
At Mahad on the morning of December 24, the District Magistrate asked Ambedkar to postpone the satyagraha but Ambedkar wanted to at least address the conference. During the speech, he said, "This Conference has been called to inaugurate an era of equality in this land" and drew parallels with the French revolution. That night, a copy of the Manusmriti was placed on a pyre and burnt.
RB More came to be known as Comrade RB More, and was a senior Indian communist leader at the time of his death in 1972. His life almost represents a bridge between the Marxist and Ambedkarite politics of Maharashtra.
In this episode of the Nagrik Podcast, we will learn about the political space from which the Mahad satyagraha emerged, and the organisational work of BR Ambedkar, RB More, and their colleagues through the Bahishkrit Hitkarini Sabha, the Mahad Samaj Sewa Sangh, and their several publications, and also the legal and political strategies that Ambedkar pursued during this time. 
To help us understand the colonial state's mediation of conflicting claims and the role of anti-caste thought in the making of Dalit claims to public resources and public spaces, we will listen to Ramesh Kamble, Rohit De, and Anupama Rao. Ramesh Kamble is a professor of sociology at Mumbai University. Rohit De is a historian of South Asia and the author of People’s Constitution: Law and Everyday Life in the Indian Republic. Anupama Rao is a historian and the author of The Caste Question, published in 2009 by the University of California Press. Thenmozhi Soundararajan, a co-founder of Equality Labs, will help us understand the continuing significance of the Mahad satyagraha for anti-caste struggle today. Finally, Subodh More, a Mumbai-based activist, will give us a glimpse into the early life of his grandfather, RB More.
Additional Material
Anupama Rao, The Caste Question - Dalits and the Politics of Modern India, (Cambridge University Press, 2009)
Satyendra More, Subodh More, “Comrade RB More - A Red Star in a Blue Sky”, Communists Against Caste
“An Interview with Subodh More”, School of Media and Cultural Studies
Yashwant Zagade, “How Dalit-'Lower Caste' Unity Laid the Foundation for the Ambedkarite Movement”, The Wire
Anupama Rao, “Dalit Communist RB More’s memoir presents the kind of history that governments like to erase today”, Scroll
“Rohit De - The Global History of Rebellious Lawyering”, Yale University
Rohit De, "Lawyering as Politics: The Legal Practice of Dr. Ambedkar, Bar-at-Law"

Monday Nov 30, 2020

Switzerland and Germany are considering binding laws for corporations to meet human rights standards in their overseas supply chains.
Cotton farms, spinning and weaving factories, and garment manufacturing factories are all part of the same supply chain for garments. Human rights violations have been documented all along it. For example, in 2011, reports emerged of the Sumangali scheme, a system of exploitative employment of young women in the spinning and garment factories of western Tamil Nadu. These factories supplied garments to major western brands that were sold in stores all around the globe.
The multinational corporations that search the world for cheap labour and raw materials and globalized economies of scale, like retail chains and the sellers of branded products such as clothing, footwear and food, are the most powerful actors in such supply chains. They are known as lead firms.
To become part of these supply chains, countries compete over the cost of land, infrastructure subsidies, wage and employment flexibility, and by avoiding trade unions. They even establish export processing zones where tax holidays, weak labour laws, and weak inspection provisions will apply. Suppliers from these countries must compete globally and lead firms have the power to set lower production prices for their products and shorter lead times to make and ship their products. This also reflects in the wages paid to workers. Even marginal improvements in wages and other conditions of work can be undercut by corporate decisions to source raw materials or other products elsewhere. The brunt of the exploitation on these globalised supply chains is faced by workers who are also otherwise marginalised, such as women and migrants.
While production processes may span several countries, the liability of employers under most laws and international conventions stop at the borders of each individual country. Local supplying companies, whether they are garment units in Tirupur or tea plantations in Assam, are unlikely to face accountability because administrative or judicial processes are too slow, weak or corrupt. At the same time, the lead firms, whether they are fashion retailers in the Netherlands or British tea brands, are usually immune from any legal accountability, since there is no cause of action or jurisdiction over them in either the host country or the home country.
Labour unions too, had become weak during the decades of globalisation. Along with human rights campaigners, they had to figure out how to bargain with the powerful lead firms, whether there were alternatives to their traditional methods, how workers all along the supply chain could collaborate, and how they could advocate directly with the consumers of the products.
The global conversation on business and human rights became more urgent because of some prominent cases of corporate negligence, such as the Rana Plaza disaster. The non-binding United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were developed on corporate responsibility for human rights violations. Now, countries like Germany and Switzerland are considering binding regulations on human rights standards.
In this episode of the Nagrik Podcast, we will learn about how campaigners took the concerns related to business and human rights to the doorsteps of the lead firms in global supply chains. We learn from:
Karuppuswamy, the founder of the Rights Education and Development Centre, an NGO working with spinning and garment workers in western Tamil Nadu
Rakesh Supkar, the Business Head of Traidcraft India, which helps businesses establish sustainable, fair and inclusive supply chains
Friedel Hütz-Adams, a researcher of agricultural supply chains at the SUEDWIND-Institute in Bonn
Michael Futterer of Transnationals Information Exchange (TIE), which works to develop international cooperation among workers and their organisations
Prof Justine Nolan of the University of New South Wales, who has researched corporate responsibility for human rights and modern slavery
Christian Schliemann, a Senior Legal Advisor at the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin
Additional material
Fair Labor Association, Understanding the Sumangali Scheme in Tamil Nadu's Garment and Textile Industry
Oxfam, Addressing the Human Cost of Tea
Clean Clothes Campaign, Fashions Problems
Equal Times, Child Labour and Exploitation in India's cotton fields
United Nations OCHR, Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights - Implementing the United Nations "Protect, Respect, and Remedy framework
Freshfields, Germany takes a step closer to mandatory human rights supply chain due diligence

Saturday Oct 17, 2020

Even in a career in public life that has already spanned five decades, the date of April 18, 2013, holds special significance for Prafulla Samantara. On that day, three judges of the Supreme Court said that the Union government's permission for a mining project in the Niyamgiri Hills of Odisha, a mandatory requirement under Indian federal law, could only be given after taking the consent of the gram sabhas, or the village councils, of the region. Ten years before that, Vedanta Alumina Ltd. (VAL), a subsidiary of the UK-based Vedanta Resources, had applied to the Union government's Ministry of Environment and Forests for approvals for an alumina refinery project in Lanjigarh Tehsil in Kalahandi District and a a bauxite mining project in the nearby Niyamgiri Hills. 
These hills are home to the Dongria Kondh people, approximately 8000 people living across 100 hamlets, classified as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group by the Government of India. They speak the Kui language and worship the Niyamraja, who they consider the supreme god of the Niyamgiri jungle and the source of all their resources. The legal charge against the mine was led by a group of urban activists who understood the proposed mine's capacity for environmental and cultural destruction. One of them was Prafulla Samanthara. R Shreedhar, a former geologist who had long worked with mining affected communities, was another.
Their set of petitions before the Supreme Court monitored Central Empowered Committee received was among several that claimed that Vedanta's projects would destroy the traditional way of life of the Dongria Kondh people, who are spiritually and culturally attached to the Niyamgiri Hills.
As this group was plotting their multi-pronged legal challenge, there was growing political mobilisation in the region about the potential consequences of mining activity. The political actions taken by the tribal groups also attracted the support of international civil society groups and some conscientious shareolders of Vedanta Resources in England.
In this episode of the Nagrik Podcast, we learn about the Indian state's relationship with the country's forests and forest-dwelling people from Sharachchandra Lele, a distinguished fellow in environmental policy and governance at Atree, the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment. Along with him, Shomona Khanna, the Delhi-based advocate helps us understand the Supreme Court's 2013 judgment as part of the story of democratising the governance of forests and forest resources in India.
The senior journalist Nitin Sethi and the anthropologist Madhuri Karak explained the political mobilisation of the communities living on and near Niyamgiri against the mine, and help us understand how the communities interacted with and were in turn shaped by the legal processes happening far away in New Delhi, and the advocacy campaigns happening in London.
And of course, we listen to the memories of Prafulla Samantara and R Shreedhar as their legal challenge to the mine wound its way through various steps in the legal process.
Additional Information
Orissa Mining Corporation Ltd v. Ministry Of Environment & Forests (2013), Supreme Court of India, Indian Kanoon
Anjali George, "Claiming Niyamgiri: the Dongria Kondh’s Struggle against Vedanta" (2014), Ritimo
"Prafulla Samantara",Goldman Prize
"The diverging paths of two young women foretell the fate of a tribe in India" (2018), The New Yorker
"The story of one of the biggest land conflicts: No mine now, but is it all fine in Niyamgiri?" (2018), The Economic Times
Kathryn Hopkins, "Church of England sells Vedanta stake over human rights concerns" (2010), The Guardian
Simon Goodley, "Protesters challenge Vedanta on human rights" (2012), The Guardian
Lectures from Nagrik's course on Community Rights and Forest Governance
Dongria Kondh Lado Sikoka denounces fresh plans for the mine at the 2016 Niyamgiri Parab
Sonali Prasad, "Photos: The Dongrias of Niyamgiri revive climate-resilient heirloom seeds" (2018), Mongabay
M Rajashekhar, "The Dongria Kondhs of Odisha now face a more formidable enemy than Vedanta" (2015), Scroll 

Tuesday Sep 08, 2020

In the late 1960s, the 70s and the 80s, photographs of tribal and forest-dwelling women of the Garhwal Himalayas, encircling and hugging trees to prevent their planned felling, went around the world, influencing conservation movements everywhere. 
Sudesha Devi was among the leaders of this movement. A young woman, married and with children, she stepped beyond her daily routine of hard physical labour and broke stifling social conventions to become a leader. In Uttarakhand's agrarian economy, women were the most directly affected by environmental degradation and deforestation. The Chipko movement was propelled forward by ordinary women like Sudesha.  As her story tells us, womens collectives that mobilised at very local levels around issues such as domestic violence and alcoholism, formed the backbone of the mobilisation around ecological issues. 
In this episode of the podcast, we learn about Sudesha's life from Sunandita Mehrotra. In 2013, as a young researcher in the Garhwal Himalayas, she spent several days walking with the now seventy-year-old Sudesha Devi as she tended to her cattle and the farm. Today, Sunandita runs Artreach India to transform the lives of children, young people and women from marginalised communities across India, through art and creative education. 
Often romanticised as a movement for the conservation of forests, the truth about Chipko's origins and intentions is somewhat more complex. For many in the movement, conserving forests and protecting trees was only important if it could also support local livelihoods. 
Sunderlal Bahuguna is the environmentalist and Gandhian who for many from the mainstream of Indian politics, represented the leadership of the Chipko movement. In 2013, Profressor George James of the University of North Texas published Ecology is Permanent Economy: the Activism and Environmental Philosophy of Sunderlal Bahuguna. On this episode, you can also listen to excerpts from interviews where Bahuguna explains to Professor James, the movement's intertwining threads of local economics and ecological conservation.
Professor Haripriya Rangan of the University of Melbourne's Australia India Institute has studied how the people of the Garhwal region of the Indian Himalayas perceived forests and their own forest-dependant livelihoods. What she found and wrote about in Of Myths and Movements: Rewriting Chipko into Indian History, was a region that people were leaving in search of a livelihood. Dr. Sharachchandra Lele, a Distinguished Fellow in Environmental Policy & Governance at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, helped me understand the Chipko movement as part of the tapestry of social movements that opposed the state takeover of forests and continued to resist the state's control over them.
Additional Information
Jungli Beej, the blog the Sunandita maintained during her period of research in Uttarakhand
A clip from Sudesha, a 1983 documentary film by Deepa Dhanraj for Faust Films
Prof. Haripriya Rangan's work on forests and regional change
Haripriya Rangan, Of Myths and Movements: Rewriting Chipko into Indian History
Dr. Sharachchandra Lele, "Understanding Current Forest Policy Debates through Multiple Lenses: The Case of India", Ecology, Economy and Society
Sunderlal Bahuguna in conversation with Dr. George A. James

Monday Aug 10, 2020

Mishika Singh is a Delhi-based lawyer, one of many who responded to calls for legal assistance following the riots of February 2020. 53 people, official figures say, lost their lives. In nearly all cases where violence was targeted at Muslims, the police remained mute spectators, even when it led to death.
What is the role of the public-spirited lawyer after large scale violence is directed at a community? History shows us two intertwining paths. The first is to fix responsibility on the perpetrators of the violence through the criminal legal system. The objective then is to ensure that those who caused the violence are tried and punished. The other is to ensure that those who were injured or lost members of their families, or their homes or businesses, are compensated and supported to return to a life similar to the one they lived previously. In both sets of legal remedies, the odds are stacked high against the victims.
Gagan Sethi walked down these intertwining paths in the aftermath of the violence in Gujarat in 2002. He is the founder of Janvikas, a development support and training organisation, and the Centre for Social Justice, an initiative for human rights and access to justice.
Akram Akhtar Choudhary, an activist, was pursuing his law degree in New Delhi, when clashes between Hindu and Muslim communities in and near the Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh in August and September 2013, resulted in at least 62 deaths. He would pause his legal education to return home to support the victims through the Afkar India Foundation, which he established.
In this episode of the Nagrik Podcast, we learn from the methods of Gagan Sethi in Gujarat following the violence in 2002 and Akram Akhtar Choudhary in Uttar Pradesh following the riots of 2013. We also observe as Mishika Singh takes the initial steps in her journey to wrest compensation from an insensitive bureaucracy, for the victims of Delhi's communal violence of 2020.
Additional Information
Jeffrey Gettleman, Sameer Yasir, Suhasini Raj and Hari Kumar, New York Times, "How Delhi’s Police Turned Against Muslims"
Hannah Ellis-Petersen and Shaikh Azizur Rahman, The Guardian, "Delhi's Muslims despair of justice after police implicated in riots"
Deutsche Welle, "Delhi riots: Victims struggle to rebuild their lives"
Asmita Nandy, The Quint, "4 Months Since Delhi Riots, Victims Await State Govt Compensation"
United Nations OCHA Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement
Walter Kalin, "Video - Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons under International Law"
Central government guidelines on scheme for assistance to civilian victims or family of victims of terrorist, communal, and Naxal violence
A.G. Noorani, Frontline, "Gujarat's internal refugees - review of Sanjeevini Badigar Lokhande's Communal Violence, Foreced Migration and the State - Gujarat Since 2002"  
Indian Express, "What is Bilkis Bano gangrape case?"
Soutik Biswas, BBC, "Has Gujarat moved on since 2002's riots?"
Report from a public hearing in Delhi where the internally displaced survivors of Gujarat speak about their struggles, hopes and implications of the central government compensation package
"The Survivors Speak, How has the Gujarat Massacre affected minority women - Fact-finding by a Women’s Panel"
Amnesty International, "The state must ensure redress for the victims: A memorandum to the Government of Gujarat on its duties in the aftermath of the violence"
BBC, "Muzaffarnagar: Tales of death and despair in India's riot-hit town"Pritha Chatterjee, Indian Express, "Muzaffarnagar relief camp: ‘We watch our children make it from one night to the next’"
The Hindu, "33 children died in Muzaffarnagar relief camps"

Tuesday Jun 23, 2020

In October 2019, the most recent conflict over Mumbai's Aarey colony came into national prominence when the city's municipal corporation took advantage of a Bombay High Court order confirming that the area did not fall into the legal category of a forest, to fell trees and clear the area for the construction of a car shed for the city's metro rail. 
For many years, this area has been a site of conflict between the city's need to expand and urbanise further, the environmentalists who value Aarey's biodiversity and green cover, and the people who inhabit its 12 villages, including the 27 tribal hamlets in which several adivasi communities live. 
Earlier that year, the multilingual and socially conscious hip-hop collective Swadesi had released a music video in collaboration with Prakash Bhoir, an activist and a leader among the adivasis of Aarey. The song was a clarion call to resist the cutting down of trees in the Aarey colony and a critique of India's model of economic development.  
"We don't like your fake development, nor do we trust you thieves, 
To build a metro you're killing the trees, 
How will you breathe when they're gone? The jungle and sky are my home, 
You come here, mess with us, and destroy our home, 
Nature has lost its worth for man but she gave birth to us."
The song was titled, "The Warli Revolt". The name recalled a series of events in 1945.
Around the beginning of the nineteenth century, like many adivasi and forest-dwelling communities around India, the Warlis of Maharashtra found themselves dispossessed of their traditional communal lands and forest resources, and in conditions of humiliating indebtedness and slavery. But in 1945, not far from Mumbai, they rose up in protest to demand an end to the worst aspects of their enslavement - and they succeeded somewhat. 
How did this community, mischaracterised as timid and unsophisticated, organise and articulate their political demands? What are the memories of this resistance that survive in today's adivasi struggles? On this episode of the Nagrik Podcast, we learn more about the political techniques and strategies of the Warlis from Professor Indra Munshi and Professor Archana Prasad. 
Professor Munshi led the department of sociology at the University of Mumbai and is the author of several works on India's adivasis. Professor Prasad is at the Centre for Informal Sector and Labour Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, and the author of the book, Red Flag of the Warlis - History of an Ongoing Struggle, which has been published by Left Word Books.
Additional Material
Anadya Singh, "Prakash Bhoir is fighting for the Forest", RoundGlass
"Meet this lover of the Aarey forest, Prakash Bhoir", Sabrang India 
The Warli Revolt ft. Prakash Bhoir by Swadesi, Azadi Records
Listen to Swadesi on Audible
Interview with Prakash Bhoir on the Aarey Colony and about the Forest Rights Act, Adivasi Lives Matter
“Home of Warli adivasi revolt, Talasari's loyalty to the left deepens”, Indian Express
Indra Munshi, "Tribal Women in the Warli Revolt 1945-47-Class and Gender in the Left Perspective", Economic and Political Weekly
Godavari Parolekar, "Revolt of the Warlis", All India Kisan Sabha
Archana Prasad, Red Flag of the Warlis: History of an Ongoing Struggle, Left Word Books

Saturday May 23, 2020

We learn from Nupur Sinha, the Executive Director of the Centre for Social Justice (“CSJ”), about the work that goes into using the justice system to fight for the rights of marginalised people, through a network of grassroots lawyers and paralegals. Nupur and the team at CSJ have nurtured this network to provide legal support in several communities, through riots, natural disasters, and even the current pandemic, and also to make systemic interventions through the justice system in relation many problems such as securing the rights and entitlements of adivasis and stopping violence against women.
Who are these grassroots lawyers? How does CSJ train and mentor them? What do they do every day? What work went into their response to the Gujarat riots? How did CSJ refine their methods over time? These are some of the subjects covered in the course of her conversation with Nagrik Learning's Aju John.
Additional Material
Photograph of Nupur Sinha, at a discussion on traditional knowledge and biodiversity at Dhanpur in Gujarat. 
Photograph of Shobhini Vohra, a paralegal and law student who went on to become a lawyer and remains a part of CSJ's network.
Photograph of Renuka Khumbani, a lawyer with CSJ's centre in Amreli, Gujarat, guiding a session on women's rights.
Photograph of Arvind Khuman and his colleagues Jagruti Joshi Katira and Renuka Khumbai, leading a legal awareness camp.
Photograph from a monthly review meeting known as "Access to Justice", in 2017.
Prita Jha, "How Hindu Mobs Used Rape As a Weapon Against Women Such as Bilkis Bano During the Gujarat Riots", The Caravan
J.S. Bandukwala, "Finding Small Rays of Sunshine 16 Years After the Darkness of the 2002 Gujarat Riots", The Wire
"Gujarat riots: Despite challenges, human rights lawyers worked to hold perpetrators accountable", excerpt from “Breathing Life into the Constitution: Human Rights Lawyering in India”, by Arvind Narrain and Saumya Uma

Monday May 11, 2020

On the first episode of the Nagrik Podcast, we learn from Abha Singhal Joshi, whose career is a slice of the recent history of legal literacy programmes in India. Over two calls, she spoke to Nagrik Learning's Aju John about her start in life as a litigator in Delhi and her route to legal literacy programmes via legal journalism.
The conversation covers a lot of ground, including details of her work with the Multiple Action Research Group to deliver legal literacy to the poor and marginalised through the production of learning materials on various aspects of the law, training programmes in different parts of the country, and even the production of a television series that was broadcast on Doordarshan. Finally, she also covered the work of providing training to the police and to the judiciary.
Additional material
Photographs of Abha Singhal Joshi with her colleagues Vasudha Dhagamwar, Seema Misra, Vrinda Narain, and Rajiv Sawhney
Photographs of some legal literacy publications developed by MARG including the Hamare Kanoon series, a title on the Land Acquisition Act, and a (still relevant) title on the Inter-state Migrant Workers Act.
Photographs from the Lex et Juris magazine that was edited by Mahesh Jethmalani and published out of Bombay. In the podcast, Abha talks about the feature on women in the legal profession, which includes includes interviews with (former Supreme Court judge) Ranjana Desai and Zia Mody.
Watch Bol Basanto on YouTube.
Photograph of Abha Singhal Joshi lecturing at the National Police Academy in Hyderabad.
1. The friend that Abha met at Nariman Point who introduced her to the people who ran Lex et Juris, was employed with Singhania and Co. Khaitan and Co., as Abha recollects during the podcast, was not the employer.
2. Abha also mentions that she had interviewed Zena Sorabjee for the Lex et Juris feature on women in the legal profession. The person she interviewed was in fact Ms. Sorabjee's daughter Zia Modi.


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At Nagrik Open Civic Learning, we want to radically reduce the cost of learning to participate in public life by publishing open access learning materials. To copy, remix, distribute, and translate these materials, you don't need to ask our permission. On our podcasts, we narrate the rich history of civic action. Our free open courses are at

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