[WSMDiscuss] Echoes of Resistance : How Radio Quarantine builds solidarity in difficult times (Senjuti Mukherjee)

Jai Sen jai.sen at cacim.net
Mon Feb 1 20:26:04 CET 2021

Monday, February 1, 2021

India in movement…, Viruses in movement…, Media in movement…, Resistance in movement…, Solidarity in movement…

[Here’s something new, and different – and thanks Sundar, to all of you who created Radio Quarantine in Kolkata, India, and who sustain it !

[Sadly, I’m not being able to copy and paste in here the many wonderful – magnificent - posters that come with this article.  But they are truly half the article, and so I strongly urge all of you to read it at the link…

[And to listen to the broadcasts, go to https://radioquarantinekol.wixsite.com/rqkradio <https://radioquarantinekol.wixsite.com/rqkradio> - which also has truly fabulous graphics !  (But it’s mostly in Bengali, and so for those who’d like to see something in English, go first to https://radioquarantinekol.wixsite.com/rqkradio/radio-news <https://radioquarantinekol.wixsite.com/rqkradio/radio-news>, and then search the site.) :

Echoes of Resistance : How Radio Quarantine builds solidarity in difficult times

Senjuti Mukherjee

https://caravanmagazine.in/media/radio-quarantine-solidarity-difficult-times?utm_source=mailer&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=special_reads <https://caravanmagazine.in/media/radio-quarantine-solidarity-difficult-times?utm_source=mailer&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=special_reads>
Senjuti Mukherjee <https://caravanmagazine.in/author/42828>
And see also :

Paromita Kar, January 2021 – ‘This Earth : Its axis is your conscience - Tuning in to conversations that the world would do well to heed if it has to save itself’, on The Telegraph, January 31 2021, at https://www.telegraphindia.com/west-bengal/calcutta/this-earth-its-axis-is-your-conscience/cid/1805219 <https://www.telegraphindia.com/west-bengal/calcutta/this-earth-its-axis-is-your-conscience/cid/1805219>




A poster for Kankan Bhattacharya’s programme Asamayer Katha, Samayer Gaan—Untimely Talk, Timely Songs—on Radio Quarantine. (courtesy radio quarantine Kolkata)

At the end of an hour-long radio episode on Bengali protest songs, the singer and oral historian Moushumi Bhoumik performed a song written by Birendra Chattopadhyay, a twentieth-century socialist poet. A witness to the 1943 Bengal famine, Chattopadhyay wrote the lines “Anna bakya, Anna pran, Anna-i chetana”—Rice is language, rice is life, rice is consciousness. Like several other shows on Radio Quarantine, Bhoumik’s programme is concerned with building an archive of regional narratives of political resistance and cultural histories. She interviews folk singers and friends from as far afield as Purulia and Sylhet, and recollects her travels through the Sundarbans to document the region’s folk traditions.

Radio Quarantine was started by a group of Kolkata-based filmmakers and scholars in March 2020, as West Bengal went into lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With a tagline that translates to “Don’t be alone in such difficult times,” its primary aim was to create solidarity among its listeners even as national protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act were suddenly disbanded. The filmmaker and curator Kasturi Basu, one of the station’s founders, is no stranger to community-driven cultural and political work. Since 2013, she has run the People’s Film Collective, which hosts film screenings and festivals with a strong focus on popular movements. “This period of isolation is having a cruel psychological impact on people who are glued to the 24-hour news cycle on social media, witnessing an aggressive barrage of images, trolling and bullying,” Basu told me. “We concluded that this would be an ideal time to return to listening.”

While the radio station works as a collaborative platform that crowdsources diverse programmes featuring songs, storytelling and theatre, the shows often resonate with each other. The public memory of rice shortages evoked in Chattopadhyay’s poem was unpacked in investigations into the cultural history of the famine, through stories such as Manik Bandopadhyay’s “Chhiniye Khayni Keno?”—Why didn’t they snatch the food and eat? The fact that foodgrain stocks in India hit an all-time high this summer, even as a considerable section of the population went hungry during the lockdown, shows how this history echoes through the crises unfolding today.

Radio Quarantine attempts to invoke and analyse fragmented communities to resist the imposition of a mono-religious, mono-cultural and mono-lingual idea of India.
Other shows directly addressed the pandemic. In the talk show Quarantine Diaries, panelists discussed the CAA and COVID-19, reflecting on how citizenship is tied to healthcare, unemployment and housing, as well as on the harrowing reverse migration of daily-wage labourers, the rising number of political prisoners and the “privacy minefield” of the contact-tracing app Aarogya Setu. After the super-cyclonic storm Amphan hit parts of West Bengal and Bangladesh, on 20 May, the radio station went silent for a couple of weeks. When it resumed once electricity and connectivity had stabilised, it held further discussions on the migrant crisis, featuring interviews with workers from the Sundarbans, which had been devastated by the cyclone.




Poster for a May Day episode of Bangladesher Hriday Hote. (courtesy radio quarantine Kolkata)

Perhaps the most important aspect of Radio Quarantine is its attempt to invoke and analyse fragmented communities to resist the imposition of a mono-religious, mono-cultural and mono-lingual idea of India. This came to the forefront when the station began collaborating with social and cultural workers from Bangladesh.

On May Day, Radio Quarantine featured a series of interviews with women workers from both sides of the border. The first half of the programme featured domestic workers from West Bengal, who lead a precarious existence without a union to represent them and have been hit hard by the pandemic. The women described their bleak financial circumstances and raised demands for economic security and the regularisation of their employment. In the second half, Taslima Akhter, a Bangladeshi photographer, left-wing activist and the president of a solidarity group for garment workers, spoke about the exploitation Bangladeshi workers had been facing for a long time, as well as the choice between starvation and risking infection that the pandemic was forcing them to make. Another broadcast that day, in collaboration with Udichi Shilpi Goshti—the largest people’s cultural organisation in Bangladesh—featured revolutionary songs and the history of the 1886 Haymarket Massacre, which is commemorated on May Day.

The radio station also aired a programme called Bangladesher Hriday Hote—From the Heart of Bangladesh—featuring interviews with Bangladeshi scholars and activists, such as the novelist Azizul Huq, the sociologist and activist Anupam Sen, and the researcher and biographer Jatin Sarkar. The interviewees, many of them octogenarians with long histories of Left activism, have lived through a series of common historical struggles, including the famine. One interview in the series featured Moinul Abedin, the son of Zainul Abedin, one of the three primary painters to chronicle the 1943 famine. During the lockdown, Moinul said, he discovered a new series of sketches his father had created in 1970, when he visited Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, on the invitation of the Arab League, to document the hardships faced by Palestinian refugees. When Zainul returned to East Pakistan, the Liberation War was underway and the project had to be cast aside. In May, Moinul auctioned one of the paintings for food-relief efforts and to raise money for artisan communities that have been badly hit by the pandemic.




Poster for a special May Day programme named after Frida Kahlo’s 1954 painting “Marxism will give health to the sick.”  (courtesy radio quarantine Kolkata)

Basu told me that the decision to collaborate with Bangladeshi comrades was taken while planning a series of programmes on the birth anniversary of the author Rabindranath Tagore. “This is because Bangladesh fought for their right to celebrate Tagore’s body of work, which was accused of hosting anti-Islamic values, and its potential for uniting the Bengali community along linguistic and non-communal lines,” she said. Linguistic assertion played a large part in awakening ethnonationalism in East Pakistan. On 21 February 1952, a movement protesting the omission of Bengali as an official language reached its climax when the police shot dead nine student activists. The massacre is commemorated annually on both sides of the border to this day. Although the Pakistan government eventually gave Bengali official status, in 1956, the nationalist movement only intensified in the years leading up  to the Liberation War.

This movement received plenty of support from cultural figures in West Bengal. After the Bangladeshi journalist, activist and freedom fighter Kamal Lohani died of COVID-19, on 20 June, Radio Quarantine organised a memorial that noted, among other things, Lohani’s attempts to create solidarity between the two Bengals before and during the Liberation War as head of news at Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra—Free Bengal Radio Centre. Broadcast from Chittagong, Tripura and, eventually, Kolkata, Swadhin Bangla played a central role in bringing together nationalist forces and sustaining solidarity during the war. The memorial programme, which ran for three and a half hours, featured contributors such as Lohani’s son, Sagar; Sanjida Khatun, a musicologist and cultural activist; Urmi Rahman, a journalist and author; Mofidul Hoque, one of the founders of the Bangladesh Liberation War Museum; and Shubhendu Maity, an activist and member of the Indian People’s Theatre Association.

On 19 May, the station commemorated a lesser-known instance of linguistic solidarity. It was the anniversary of the 1961 killing by the Assam police of 11 activists, who had been protesting in the Barak Valley against the imposition of Assamese as the sole official language in the state. While Bengalis have officially seen two partitions, in 1905 and 1947, Radio Quarantine’s interviews with cultural activists, musicians and journalists from the valley prefixed those narratives with the geopolitics of the nineteenth century.




Poster for Rashtra o Camp: Durbishaho Uttaradhikar—The Nation and Camps: A Legacy of Misery—a programme on the migrant crisis.  (courtesy radio quarantine Kolkata)

Assam was part of the Bengal Presidency between 1826 and 1873. In 1874, the colonial government separated Assam from Bengal. Despite significant protests, the Bengali-speaking Sylhet region was appended to the new province in an attempt to accelerate commercial development in the Barak Valley. When the viceroy George Curzon partitioned Bengal in 1905, Assam—including Sylhet—was combined with East Bengal. The partition was annulled in 1911 following widespread protests by the Hindus of West Bengal, who had previously controlled trade, commerce and agriculture but were now a minority in the new province, which also included present-day Bihar, Odisha and parts of Chhattisgarh. In 1947, after Muslim-majority Sylhet elected to join Pakistan through a referendum, a large number of Hindus migrated to Assam and settled in the Barak Valley. Moreover, throughout the early twentieth century, the colonial government had encouraged the large-scale settlement of Bengali Muslims in Assam as cheap labour. These migrations led to developing tensions between Assamese and Bengali residents of the state, including the protests of 19 May 1961, that have culminated in the efforts to update the National Register of Citizens to exclude so-called “outsiders.”

In the first six months of its existence, Radio Quarantine produced close to three hundred and fifty episodes and had approximately eighty thousand listeners from around the world. By September, it had reinvented itself as a podcast.
Assam’s Bengal-origin Muslims, popularly known as Miyas, have worked tirelessly to assimilate with the “indigenous” communities of Assam. During the 19 May programme on Radio Quarantine, Hafiz Ahmed, Rehana Sultana and Abdur Rahim—who have all been arrested for writing “Miya poetry”—discussed their writings in light of linguistic imperialism, questions of belonging, origin narratives, legal citizenship and the NRC. Their poetry, written in the language spoken in Miya homes, explores the circumstances of the community, which is caught up in an endless dispute regarding their identity as outsiders, even as a corrupt and opportunist political class, land policies that continue to fail the so-called indigenous Assamese, murky transactions of government land and the ever-changing course of the Brahmaputra River have rendered the people of Assam segregated along numerous lines.




Poster for Ladai Chharchhi Na—We Will Not Stop Fighting—a programme on anti-CAA protests at Kolkata’s Park Circus.  (courtesy radio quarantine Kolkata) 

Amid the imposition of binary religious politics by the Bharatiya Janata Party over Assam’s complex ethnic, linguistic and economic histories, Radio Quarantine hosted discussions with Bengali Hindus and Bengali Muslims—as well as Miyas, who find themselves wedged between Assam’s anti-foreigner agitation and Bengali ultra-nationalist campaigns that urge them to discard the Assamese language—on how to face a frightening legal confrontation triggered by the NRC and the CAA. By highlighting such narratives, Radio Quarantine posed a strong argument against the state’s attempt at confining layered sociocultural histories within the scope of evidentiary documents and discrete legal entities.

In the first six months of its existence, the community radio produced close to three hundred and fifty episodes and had approximately eighty thousand listeners from around the world. As the lockdown was lifted and various aspects of public life slowly resumed, the team started producing fewer programmes. By September, the radio station had reinvented itself as a podcast, with six to ten episodes in a month. Its programming increasingly focusses on pedagogical content, discussing topics such as the history of science and technology in the subcontinent, particle physics, dark matter, quantum mechanics and gravitational waves in uncomplicated language for children and adults.




Poster for Gana Hensheler Galpo—Tales from the People’s Kitchen—which featured student groups running community kitchens during the lockdown. (courtesy radio quarantine Kolkata)

Nevertheless, Radio Quarantine continues to address the urgent political questions of our time. Recent episodes have discussed Albert Camus’s The Plague, Rajinder Singh Bedi’s short story “Plague and Quarantine” and Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay’s short story “Shada Prithibi,” among others. “Going forward, we are planning a series of episodes on the upcoming Bengal elections,” Basu told me, “and will be expanding our ongoing series on ground-level experiences from the Assam NRC exercises.”

Senjuti Mukherjee <https://caravanmagazine.in/author/42828> is a writer, editor, and archivist working with visual cultures and media history. 



Jai Sen

Independent researcher, editor; Senior Fellow at the School of International Development and Globalisation Studies at the University of Ottawa

jai.sen at cacim.net <mailto:jai.sen at cacim.net> &  <mailto:jsen at uottawa.ca>jsen at uottawa.ca <mailto:jsen at uottawa.ca>
Now based in Ottawa, Canada, on unsurrendered Anishinaabe territory (+1-613-282 2900) and in New Delhi, India (+91-98189 11325)

Check out something new – including for copies of the first two books below, at a discount, and much more : The Movements of Movements <https://movementsofmovements.net/>
Jai Sen, ed, 2017 – The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?.  New Delhi : OpenWord and Oakland, CA : PM Press.  Ebook and hard copy available at PM Press <http://www.pmpress.org/>; hard copy only also at The Movements of Movements <https://movementsofmovements.net/>
Jai Sen, ed, 2018a – The Movements of Movements, Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance.  Ebook and hard copy available at PM Press <http://www.pmpress.org/>; hard copy only also at The Movements of Movements <https://movementsofmovements.net/>
Jai Sen, ed, 2018b – The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?  (Indian edition). New Delhi : AuthorsUpfront, in collaboration with OpenWord and PM Press.  Hard copy available at MOM1AmazonIN <https://www.amazon.in/dp/9387280101/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1522884070&sr=8-2&keywords=movements+of+movements+jai+sen>, MOM1Flipkart <https://www.flipkart.com/the-movements-of-movements/p/itmf3zg7h79ecpgj?pid=9789387280106&lid=LSTBOK9789387280106NBA1CH&marketplace=FLIPKART&srno=s_1_1&otracker=search&fm=SEARCH&iid=ff35b702-e6a8-4423-b014-16c84f6f0092.9789387280106.SEARCH&ppt=Search%20Page>, and MOM1AUpFront <http://www.authorsupfront.com/movements.htm>
SUBSCRIBE TO World Social Movement Discuss, an open, unmoderated, and self-organising forum on social and political movement at any level (local, national, regional, and global).  To subscribe, simply send an empty email to wsm-discuss-subscribe at lists.openspaceforum.net <mailto:wsm-discuss-subscribe at lists.openspaceforum.net>
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://lists.openspaceforum.net/pipermail/wsm-discuss/attachments/20210201/827ebd80/attachment.htm>

More information about the WSM-Discuss mailing list