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The country needs an anti-fascist force, says activist acquitted after 40 months in jail

Sudhir Dhawale, a dalit rights activist accused of having Maoist links, was declared innocent on May 15.

On May 20, after spending three years and four months in Nagpur Central Jail for crimes he did not commit, dalit rights activist Sudhir Dhawale finally walked out as a free man.

His arrest in January 2011 had outraged social activists in Maharashtra. Dhawale is a well-known poet, political commentator and publisher of Marathi magazine Vidrohi, and had attended a dalit literary gathering in Wardha district just before he was detained by the police. He was charged with sedition and, under the controversial Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, accused of being a member of a terrorist organisation and waging war against the state. Meanwhile in Mumbai, the police barged into his modest home where his young sons were alone, gathered several books as evidence and allegedly coerced his wife to sign the list of seized articles.

Last week, after the prosecution failed to prove even a single case against him, the sessions court finally acquitted Dhawale – and eight other political prisoners – of all charges. His acquittal has come four months after Arun Ferreira, another Mumbai-based social activist who spent five years in jail for being an alleged Maoist, was cleared of all charges against him. Just two weeks before Dhawale’s release, however, GN Saibaba, a Delhi University professor, was arrested by the Maharashtra police for allegedly having links with Maoists.

Despite being forced to spend 40 months in prison without bail, Dhawale is cheerful and completely unresentful. “I have been saying for a long time that the Indian state is fascist, anti-people and has been involved in the atrocities committed against marginalised people,” Dhawale told Scroll.in in Mumbai just before a meeting with members of the organisation that he founded, the Republican Panthers Jatiya Antachi Chalwal (annihilation of caste movement). The group works across Maharashtra to organise marginalised groups and respond to hate crimes, and Dhawale has already plunged back into work.

Unsurprisingly, his biggest concern these days is India’s newly-elected Bharatiya Janata Party-led Democratic Alliance government under Narendra Modi. “As such, the BJP and Congress are two sides of the same coin, with similar ideologies that disregard the poor and the marginalised,” said Dhawale. “But the BJP – which is essentially the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] – is more openly fascist, so we will have to be prepared for more oppression.”

For nearly a year, the BJP has been criticising the former Congress-led government for being too soft on Naxalism, despite the fact that thousands of paramilitary troops are stationed all over central India’s Maoist-affected areas. “Usually, actual military forces are used to protect foreign borders, not fight a country’s internal wars. But who knows, the Modi government could do anything,” said Dhawale.

Most of the development that Modi has been promising, he claimed, will actually benefit multinational companies. “Most of these multinationals have their eyes set on acquiring land in central India, which is rich in natural resources but is also the place where most adivasis live,” said Dhawale.

Throughout his jail term, Dhawale had been occupied with trying to understand the nature of fascism and people’s movements. He wrote five political commentaries in prison, of which two have been published. One is about the Shiv Sena’s deceased founder Bal Thackeray. The second is on Anna Hazare and his movement against corruption. “Hazare did start a jan andolan, but it was obvious that it was a movement for the middle-classes, attempting to address only the symptoms of a corrupt system and not the system itself,” said Dhawale.

While Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal have become the face of people’s movements, Dhawale believes the focus needs to shift to the many smaller, scattered grassroots movements across the country that are already working for the marginalised. “With this new government, it is time for all these movements to come together, be vigilant and create a strong anti-fascist force.”

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What goes into creating an uber-luxurious home in India? We ask the experts

There is surprising consensus among experts on the main elements of luxury in architecture.

Luxury living conjures an idea of opulence and excess, but is increasingly becoming more about seeing design as a solution, form following function, and innovation. Our panel of experts sheds light on what constitutes luxury in an Indian home.

Response to context

Pallavi Choksi of Pinakin Design points out astutely that “Real luxury is the luxury to waste space, especially in a place like Bombay.” Her view finds resonance with Hadi Teherani, the much decorated German-Iranian architect. He says, “Luxury is first and foremost to have space, not just enough for what you need but enough space to really thrive. And luxury has always been defined that way.”

But is space all there is to a luxury home? Location or context also plays an important role.

“Context is very important”, says Rajiv Saini, who runs one of India’s leading design practices and specializes in high-end luxury projects. “Volume, air and purity of space all come into play—if it is in the hills or in the plains.” So, the location of the property and the way the house responds to it is equally crucial.

Hiren Patel, of Hiren Patel Architects agrees. He laments, “We live in a temperature controlled cocoon with artificial lighting and for these comforts we have lost our connection with nature.” The work he looks up to is of Charles Correa and Geoffrey Bawa, architects whose design brought the environment in. “Charles Correa—his design was climate adaptive and absolutely connected to nature. And he still brought in luxurious touches with open terraces. And Geoffrey Bawa—he added the aspect of landscape and took us back to the pastoral.”

Hadi Teherani reiterates the idea of context. In his Mumbai-based luxury project, the Lodha Altamount, he has chosen to respond to Mumbai’s graph-like skyline. “The design of Altamount was strongly influenced by its location. Next to Altamount stands a luxury highlight of architecture, the Ambani tower, the most expensive home in the world. How do you want to top that? The Ambani tower is very structural. It shoots through the air, it combines all sorts of crafts and structural design elements with gaps and open spaces. You can’t top that and definitely not with our type of design. That’s why we decided to hold back and instead develop a dark and sleek building. That type of building doesn’t exist a lot here in India. Usually buildings have many structural elements like beams and balconies. By creating a calm building in the skyline of Mumbai, we will make Altamount stand out.”

LODHA Altamount, Mumbai - image courtesy LODHA The Luxury Collection
LODHA Altamount, Mumbai - image courtesy LODHA The Luxury Collection

Going desi

Responsiveness to context can also be seen in the way architects and designers are trying to incorporate Indian designs or specific Indian requirements in their structures. There is a definite Indian palate that denotes neo-luxury even as we get more globalized. Our homes reflect our identity, regional or national, and there are multiple ways of getting it right.

Pallavi Choksi at Pinakin Design LLP explains, “The difference is in layout design because often times you have more than one generation living in one house, so the major difference comes from family structure.”

Luxury living spaces are also defined by non-material considerations. Hadi Teherani tells us, “What I do experience is that many projects are influenced by religious thoughts and by Vaastu, something like Feng shui. So the master bedroom has to be in the south-west and the kitchen has to have a certain location. Those rules need to be followed exactly. In Mumbai, it’s a little more liberal but in other regions, Hyderabad for instance, every centimetre has to be exact as per Vaastu.”

Functional design

Common wisdom holds that functionality is the foundation stone of design today. But is it still true for luxury design which has come to be associated with the need to stand out rather than be useful? And by that virtue, is there a threat of functional design losing the sheen of luxury by its simplicity?

Rajat Sodhi, the director of the architecture and design practice Orproject, counters, “Functionality has become a misnomer for ‘cheap’. You can build a w/c for a minimum cost and as the functions offered with it increase, so does the cost.” Function and luxury go hand in hand. “Sensibility in design is what makes the difference, between functional and luxurious.” Kota Stone is the cheapest stone available, but if you reinterpret it, use it with inlay work, it can be a bespoke luxurious experience.

Uncharted territory

So how will luxury architecture in India shape up in the years to come? Mridula Sharma, Editor-in-Chief at Decoration International Magazine observes, “Luxury has moved over from Italian marble and imported fixtures and has become about how you are redefining Indian things. Something smart, Indian, and contemporary with a strong concept behind it—that’s luxury”.

But perhaps there is still much to be explored in the space of luxury homes in India. Hadi Teherani says, “The idea of really designing your bathroom or kitchen has not yet reached India. Bathrooms are still rather compact and practical since the idea of spending quality time in your bathroom doesn’t seem to exist yet. Customers definitely do not request a spacious bathroom when we discuss their projects. For me, personally, a great bathroom is extremely important, as it is the first thing you use in the morning. Afterwards you go to work, and you come back home. But I believe the areas that you use most need to have enough space for you to move and thrive in.”

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This article was produced on behalf of Lodha Luxury by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff

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