Category Archives: Foundational myths

Why the Tamil struggle for Jallikattu is historic

[ Firstpost, 19 Jan 2017]

jallikattu-poster

All over Tamil Nadu, tens of thousands of people, largely not under any political party banner, have assembled in protest. The most widely broadcasted protests are from Marina beach. That massive protest at Marina beach is actually very small compared to ones happening in other parts of Tamil Nadu including Madurai, Erode, Salem and Coimbatore. And its not only big cities but small towns and villages, where such protests are taking place – thus uniting the length and breadth of Tamil Nadu in its demand “We want Jallikattu”, which is both a cultural demand and a political demand. Thousands of people had assembled from last night in protests, but “national media” didn’t live-telecast this since this was not Delhi and hence didn’t matter to the “nation”. As the day progressed on 18th January, young people from all walks of life spilled on to the streets, from students to IT professionals to farmers, including many, many women. As we speak, this has become too big for “national media” to ignore, and since this is not Kashmir from where independent media and telecom connectivity can be blacked out at will, “national media” wants to explain to the ‘rest of India’, why are Tamils angry and why are they protesting? While they ask that, they are quick to add that the protests are apolitical. Nothing could be farther from truth. The protests are not partisan but are intensely political – uniting the Tamil national polity in a united voice. More things unite Kashmir and Kanyakumari than the Delhi establishment would like to admit.

In its limited imagination, the non-Tamil media is likening this to Tahrir Square of Cairo. If they had more local grounding and less of an imaginary that is inspired by Anglo-American talking points, they would have reached back into the not so distant Tamil past. They could have looked closely at the site the protesters chose. The Marina beach is not an ordinary spot. It houses the memorial to C.N.Annadurai, the giant of Tamil politics, the biggest votary of Tamil pride, a staunch oppose of Hindi imposition and one of the fathers of federalism in the Indian Union. If they had tried to understand Tamil Nadu from the Tamil stand point and not from the Delhi stand point, they would have found that the present protests, in their spontaneity, intensity and popularity come close to the anti Hindi imposition protests of 1965 when Union government tried to forcibly shove Hindi down the throats of non Hindi citizens of the Indian Union. While protests happened in various states, Tamils took the lead. The response from New Delhi was swift and central forces killed nearly 400 Tamil protesters that year. In 1967, the Congress was voted out and never again has any Delhi headquartered party ever held power in Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu branches of Delhi –headquartered parties failed miserably in 1965 and are failing miserably now in representing the Tamil sentiment for their priorities are ideologies are decided elsewhere, without an eye to Tamil interest. Since 1967, Tamils have politically opted for their own representatives and not Tamil agents of Delhi interests. It is because Tamil Nadu stood up against Hindi imposition that all non Hindi states have been able to protect their cultural and linguistic turf against homogenization ordered from Delhi, that is designed to benefit a certain ethno-linguistic group that holds huge sway on power in Delhi. Even today, with the Jallikattu protests, Tamils have opened the space for the rest of us to assert of cultural rights against whims and fancies of Union government agencies about animals and humans that imagine the Indian Union as a bloated form of the NCR. The way the Union government has been criticized by the Tamil protesters on the ground show that they understand this political dynamic very well.

The huge presence of women for a “male sport” shows that this issue goes beyond the particulars of Jallikattu and stems from something bigger and wider. This has been joined by Non Resident Tamils around the world ( in USA, Ireland, Mexico, Thailand, South Korea, Uktaine, Russia, Malaysia and elsewhere) as well as the Tamil social media space where unlike in NOIDA, Whatsapp messages about bovine animals are being used to unite people and not dividing them. The Jallikattu protests show that against the cosmo-liberal stereotype of “Indian young people”, there are young people,, millions of them, to whom roots matter, identity matters, culture matters and they do not aspire to lose their Tamil-ness to make the cut in the Delhi-Mumbai idea of Indianness. These are the people, who know English very well but have chosen to respond in Tamil to Delhi media questions posed to them in English. If this appears odd, remember the number of times Delhi-based English media carries responses in Hindi without any translation. Try to think why that is not considered odd, when a majority of the citizens of the Indian Union do not understand Hindi.

In the protests, a recurring theme is that the Tamil interests have been marginalized in the Indian Union. Tamil culture is older than the Indian Union and all its institutions and self-respect is a very important part of that culture. The situation that Tamil Nadu now doesn’t have control over its own maritime trade, foreign relations or for that matter most aspects of Tamil internal affairs is hardly two centuries old. The Tamil political memory and historical consciousness goes far beyond that and is a living thing that influences politics of here and now. Thus, whenever the Union government has destroyed state rights, the Tamils have been at the forefront of protesting it – a strain of politics that has recently widened to include of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, who has been regularly voicing concerns about the destruction of the federal structure. Tamils gave up their autonomous rights over their land, resources and people, when they signed up for the Indian Union. Any giving up of rights have to come with concomitant compensatory benefits. That has not happened. While Tamil Nadu produces a huge amount of revenue, much of that is siphoned off by the Union government through its constitutional powers and through the discriminatory schemes of Delhi, it gets much less money (so-called “central funds” which originate from resources based in states) than the amount that Delhi makes from resources in Tamil Nadu. In short, Tamil Nadu’s resources are used to subsidize Union government schemes outside Tamil Nadu. During the Eelam Tamil genocide, the Union government explicitly sided with the Sri Lankan government, thus making clear that Tamil Nadu’s sentiments matter little to Delhi even when it comes to genocide of Tamils elsewhere. Thus it is only natural that many Tamils that many Tamils have a feeling that they are getting cheated in this deal called the Indian Union.

At this juncture, it doesn’t help when the so-called “national opinion” brands makes fun of Tamils as irrational or barbarous people who love to be cruel to their animals. If at all, it is quite duplicitous, since Delhi doesn’t mind the revenue that is extracted from Tamil Nadu while using its institutions like the Animal Welfare Board of India to undercut Tamil cultural practices. That is the tragedy of a centralized administration where bureaucrats from high female foeticide states get to decide the women’s rights policies of socially progressive states like Tamil Nadu. Whether Jallikattu is right or wrong, should it be discontinued or continued or continued with modifications, is an out and out Tamil affair. That the Animal Welfare Board of India, which doesn’t exactly reflect Tamil opinion, gets to decide on this shows how Tamils are infantilized as being incapable of deciding their own affairs, including their own cultural practices or for that matter, animal welfare issues. This stems from the two long lists called the Union and Concurrent lists of the Constitution of India that gives almost unfettered right to distant people from Union government agencies over the lives and issues of people of various states. It is this false federalism, in which state rights have been completely disrespected, are the source of most of the problems and solutions to this are achievable within the ambit of the Indian constitution by large scale move of subjects from Union and Concurrent lists to the State list in keeping with the federal democratic spirit of the Cabinet Mission plan of 1946, to which most elected lawmakers of the time agreed, only to turn their back on it after 1947. Yes, reforms are needed and they can take many shapes. The ambit of the Supreme Court can be limited to Union and concurrent list subjects with state based apex courts becoming the highest authority on state subjects. This along with a move of most subjects to the State list can realize the full federal democratic potential of the Union of India. Otherwise, such deep-rooted political grievances promote alienation and make their presence felt in some way or the other, in not so palatable ways.

The defence of Jallikattu on the basis of practice and culture has been likened to the defence of Sati. That so many have learnt to instinctively make this Sati argument in fact has a long past in British imperial pedagogy’s imprint of brown colonized lands. As my friend Ritinkar Das Bhaumik said, “we should stop drawing parallels to Sati. We already have one group that sees an analogy between cattle and women. We don’t need others.” While deciding to hang Afzal Guru, in spite of many grounds of reasonable doubt about the case, the Supreme Court of India said, “The collective conscience of the society will be satisfied only if the death penalty is awarded to Afzal Guru.” If “collective conscience” of the society has already been admitted by the Supreme Court to be a decider in handing out judgements, what prevents it from listening to the “collective conscience” of Tamils regarding Jallikattu that is on display in the protests all over their land today?

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আমাদের সংস্কৃতি, আমাদের দেশ, এবং আমাদের সংগ্রামে আজ অবধি গড়ে তোলা যা যা আছে

জুলাই মাসের প্রথম দিকটি মণিপুরের ইম্ফল এলাকায় চলল টানা গণ-আন্দোলন। গণ-আন্দোলনের প্রত্যুত্তরে ভারতে রাষ্ট্র-যন্ত্র মণিপুর বা কাশ্মীর গোছের এলাকায় যা করতে অভ্যস্ত, তাই করলো। অর্থাৎ কারফিউ জারি করলো, নিরস্ত্র আন্দোলনকারীদের সশস্ত্র রাষ্ট্র-শক্তি বেধড়ক মার দিলো দিনের পর দিন, একজন তরুণ আন্দোলনকারী যার নাম রবিনহুড, তাকে গুলি করে পুলিশ হত্যাও করলো। মণিপুরের এই আন্দোলনের একদম সামনের সারিতে রয়েছে হাজার হাজার রাজনৈতিক চেতনা-সম্পন্ন স্কুল ছাত্র-ছাত্রী। তারা পুলিশের মার খেয়েও নিজেদের জাতির ও সংস্কৃতির অস্তিত্ব-রক্ষার দাবি, অর্থাৎ ‘ইনার লাইন পারমিট’ প্রচলনের দাবি নিয়ে আন্দোলন চালিয়ে যাচ্ছে। যখন ‘ইন্ডিয়া’র ‘কুল ও ট্রেন্ডি’ টিনেজারেরা তাদের ‘এস্পিরেসনাল’ বাপ-মায়ের সুশিক্ষায় ‘পার্সোনাল স্পেইস’, ‘টিম ইন্ডিয়া’ এবং মল-মাল্টিপ্লেক্সে বিভোর থেকে তাদের সমাজ-সচেতনতার পরিচয় দিচ্ছে, ঠিক তখুনই তাদের মণিপুরী ভাই-বোনেরা জানান দিচ্ছে যে তারা অন্য ধাতু দিয়ে গড়া। মণিপুরী কিশোর-সমাজের এই রাজনৈতিক ভাবে পরিপক্ক ও বিস্ফোরক আন্দোলন নিয়ে আমাদের কিসুই আসে যায় না কারণ, এক, মণিপুরে যে কিছু ঘটছে, সেটাই আমাদের ভাবনার মধ্যে নেই, দুই, ‘ইনার লাইন পারমিট’ জিনিসটি কি, তা আমরা জানিনা, তিন, এতে ভারতীয়ত্বের কোন নামগন্ধ নেই, তেরঙ্গা দ্বিচারিতাও নেই, মোমবাতি নেই, সেলফি তোলার সুযোগ নেই। অতয়েব আমরা এতে নেই। তবু একটু খোঁজ নেওয়াই যাক না, কেসটা কি।  কারণ স্কুল-ছাত্র রবিনহুডকে খুন করা হলো যে ‘আইনরক্ষা’র নাম, সে আইন তো আমার-আপনার সম্মতিতে তৈরী বলেই বৈধতা দাবি করে।

ইনার লাইন পারমিট বা আই.এল.পি হলো অরুণাচল প্রদেশ, নাগাল্যান্ড (ডিমাপুর বাদে) এবং মিজোরামে ঢোকার জন্য এইসব এলাকার বাইরের ভারতীয় নাগরিকদের জন্য আবশ্যিক একটি সরকারী ছাড়পত্র। এই আন্দোলন মণিপুরেও আই.এল.পি প্রবর্তনের দাবিতে, যার নেতৃত্বে রয়েছে জয়েন্ট  কমিটি অন আই.এল.পি সিস্টেম নামক দোল-নিরপেক্ষ নাগরিক-রাজনৈতিক জোট। আজকে যে অঞ্চল ‘উত্তর-পূর্ব্ব’ নামে পরিচিত, উনবিংশ শতাব্দীর দ্বিতীয় ভাগে ফিরিঙ্গিরা এই এলাকার স্বাধীন রাজ্যগুলিকে দখল করছিল এবং তাদের তৈরী ইন্ডিয়া-র মধ্যে সেগুলিকে জুড়ে দিচ্ছিল নানা অসৎ উছিলায়। যেহেতু এই এলাকায় স্বাধীন অসম-কে দখল করে  সেখানে চা সমেত নানা ব্যবসা শুরু করলো ফিরিঙ্গিরা, তাদের এই ধান্দাকে সুরক্ষিত করতে তারা আনলো আই.এল.পি।  এর ফলে অসমকে ঘিরে থাকা এলাকার (অর্থাৎ আজকের অরুণাচল প্রদেশ, নাগাল্যান্ড ও মিজোরাম) মধ্যে বাইরের কেউ শুধু অনুমতি সাপেক্ষে ঢুকতে পারতো। ওই এলাকার মানুষজন মোটামুটি স্বায়ত্ত-শাসন-ই চালাত ( যা ছিল বাংলা বা বিহারের মতো সোজাসুজি ভাবে ফিরিঙ্গি-শাসিত এলাকায় কল্পনাতীত), দিল্লী বা লন্ডনের নাক গলানো ছিল নগন্য। বদলে ওই এলাকার রাজ্য তথা জন-গোষ্ঠীগুলিও অসমে ঢুকে পড়ত না এবং ফিরিঙ্গি সরকারের জন্য নিরাপত্তা খাতে খরচা ও মাথাব্যথা কমে গেছিল।  এর ফলে অসমে অর্থনৈতিক মুনাফা প্রকল্পে ফিরিঙ্গিরা সম্পূর্ণ মনোনিবেশ করতে পেরেছিল। এই এলাকারগুলির ‘স্বরাজ’ অবলুপ্ত হলো ১৯৪৭-এ দিল্লী-রাজ শুরু হবার পর থেকে। ১৯৪৯-এ মণিপুরের অনির্বাচিত মহারাজা-কে শিলং-এ গৃহ-বন্দী করে, ভারতীয় বাহিনীর কুচকাওয়াজের মাধ্যমে ভীতি প্রদর্শন করিয়ে ভারতের মধ্যে মনিপুর-কে জুড়ে দেবার চুক্তিপত্রে একপ্রকার তার পূর্ণ সম্মতি ছাড়াই সই আদায় করা হয়। অথচ এই সময়ে মণিপুরে জনগণের দ্বারা অবাধ গণতান্ত্রিক পদ্ধতিতে নির্বাচিত একটি সার্বভৌম সরকার বর্তমান ছিল, যারা কিনা সম্পূর্ণ-ভাবে মনিপুরের আলাদা অস্তিত্ব বজায় রাখার পক্ষপাতি ছিল। সেই  নির্বাচনে ভারত-পন্থী কংগ্রেসীরা লড়েছিল কিন্তু সংখ্যাগরিষ্ঠতা পায়নি। প্রজা শান্তি দলের নেতৃত্বে, কংগ্রেসকে পর্যদুস্ত করে গড়ে উঠেছিল সেই মণিপুর সরকার – মহারাজা ছিল স্রেফ আনুষ্ঠানিক প্রধান।যেহেতু নেহরুর ভারত ছিল প্রবলভাবে গণতান্ত্রিক, তাই তারা মনিপুরকে জুড়ে নেবার সাথেই সাথেই মনিপুর-বাসীদের নির্বাচিত নিজস্ব সরকারকে বরখাস্ত করে দেয় ! আফ্স্পার মাধ্যমে মিলিটারি শাসনের প্রেক্ষাপটে ভারতীয় পৃষ্ঠপোষকতায় গড়ে ওঠা এই নয়া গনত্রন্ত্র এগিয়ে চলেছে অপ্রতিরোধ্য গতিতে, ‘এনকাউন্টার’ খুনের নিরালা পরিবেশে খাকি উর্দির কঠিন নজরদারিতে।

মণিপুরে আগে থেকে আই.এল.পি নেই কারণ এই রাজ্য কখুনো ফিরিঙ্গী শাসনাধীন ছিল না। যে সময়ে ফিরিঙ্গিরা এই এলাকায় তাদের দখলদারি ও শাসন বাড়িয়ে তুলছিল, মণিপুরের  সার্বভৌম মহারাজারা ছলে-বলে-কৌশলে ফিরিঙ্গিদের ‘ইন্ডিয়া’ উপনিবেশ থেকে নিজেদের আলাদা করে রাখতে পেরেছিল, পেরেছিল নিজেদের বহু-শতাব্দীর রাজনৈতিক স্বাতন্ত্র। মনিপুরীদের নিজভুমে বাইরের কে প্রবেশ করবে-না করবে, এটা ঠিক করার প্রায় নিরঙ্কুশ অধিকার-ও ছিল মনিপুরি-দের। ফলে মনিপুরের জন-গোষ্ঠীগুলোর ক্ষমতাগত ও সাংস্কৃতিক অস্তিত্বগুলিও মুছে যায়নি। কিন্তু ১৯৪৯-এ ইন্ডিয়া-তে জুড়ে যাওয়ার ফলে, মণিপুরীদের এই বাইরের লোকের ঢোকাকে নিয়ন্ত্রণ করার স্বাধিকার আর রইলো না। তাই এই আই.এল.পি প্রবর্তনের দাবীর মূলে আছে মনিপুরের নিজস্ব জনগষ্ঠিগুলির নিজেদের পারম্পরিক আবাদভুমি তথা জন্মভূমিকে নিজেদের জন্য রক্ষা করার স্বাভাবিক বাসনা। তার কারণ, ইন্ডিয়ার মধ্যে বিলয়ের ফলে বাইরে থেকে আসা বিশাল সংখ্যক মানুষের ভিড়ে নিজভূমে পরবাসী হয়ে যাবার আশঙ্কাটা একদমই অমূলক নয়। উত্তর প্রদেশের জনসংখ্যা মণিপুরের থেকে ৭৫ গুণ বেশি। ইতিমধ্যেই ইম্ফল উপত্যকায় মণিপুরী ও বহিরাগতের সংখ্যা প্রায় কাছাকাছি হয়ে দাঁড়িয়েছে। কিন্তু কাশ্মীর থেকে কন্যা-কুমারী, আমরা সকলে ভারতীয়, এই বহুল-প্রচারিত স্লোগানটা কি সত্যি নয়? আমরা সকলে এক জাতীয় হই বা না হই, যেটা একদম নিশ্চিত সেটা হলে যে আমরা সকলে একই রাষ্ট্রে সহ-নাগরিক। নতুন দিল্লীর কিশোর-যুব সমাজের যেমন নিরাপদ-ভাবে নির্ভয়ে জীবন কাটানোর স্বাধীনতা আছে,  মণিপুরী কিশোর-যুবসমাজের একই-রকম স্বাধীনতা নেই। কেন তাদের সে স্বাধীনতা নেই, তা নিয়ে তুলনামূলক আলোচনা করলে ভারতীয় রাষ্ট্রের চরিত্র সম্বন্ধে কিছু অপ্রিয় সত্যপ্রকাশ অনিবার্য হয়ে উঠবে।  ওদিকে না যাওয়াই ভালো। পাঠকদের শুধু এটা লক্ষ্য করতে বলি যে দেখবেন ভারতের ‘জাতীয়’ মিডিয়া দিল্লীতে মনিপুরি যুবদের উপর হয়রানির ঘটনা নিয়ে যতটা প্রচার করে,আসল মনিপুরের মণিপুরী যুবসমাজদের জীবনের  দৈনিক ত্রাস ও লাঞ্চনাকে নিয়ে তার সিকিভাগ-ও করে না। করা সম্ভব না। দোকান বন্ধ হয়ে যাবে।

সাম্প্রতিক অতীতেও নিজভূম নিয়ে ব্যাপক অর্থে স্বতন্ত্র ছিল, এমন জাতি-গোষ্ঠীর পক্ষে হঠাত করে কোন বৃহত্তর ব্যবস্থার মধ্যে ‘ক্ষুদ্র’ স্থান পাওয়া বা নিজভূমে সংখ্যালঘুতে পরিণত হওয়াকে খুব সহজ-ভাবে নেওয়া সম্ভব না।  এমনটাই স্বাভাবিক। ভারত-রাষ্ট্রের মধ্যে নানা জাতীয়তার মধ্যে বহিরাগত জনস্রোতের ফলে নিজভূমে সংখ্যালঘু হয়ে পড়ার বাস্তব উদ্বেগ-কে ভারতের সংবিধান সাধারনতঃ কোন স্বীকৃতি দেয় না। কিন্তু তাই বলে উদ্বেগ-গুলি উবে যায় না, বিশেষতঃ যখন কাশ্মীর  থেকে কন্যাকুমারী অবধি বিস্তীর্ণ ভূখন্ডের বিভিন্ন এলাকায় মধ্যে অর্থনৈতিক অবস্থা, কাজের সুযোগ, জনসংখ্যা বৃদ্ধির হার ইত্যাদি বিশাল তারতম্য আছে। অন্গামী জাফু ফিজো, প্রবাদ-প্রতিম নাগা জননেতা, ১৯৫১তে বৃহৎ জনসংখ্যার রাষ্ট্র ভারতের মধ্যে নাগাদের নিজস্ব আবাদ-ভূমির সন্ত্রস্ত অবস্থার প্রসঙ্গে বলেছিলেন ,’আমরা খুব সহজেই ডুবে যেতে পারি, হারিয়ে যেতে পারি : আমাদের সংস্কৃতি, আমাদের সভ্যতা, আমাদের প্রতিষ্ঠান, আমাদের দেশ, এবং আমাদের সংগ্রামে আজ অবধি গড়ে তোলা যা যা আছে, সব ধ্বংস হয়ে যাবে এবং তাতে মানবসমাজের সামান্যতম উপকার-ও হবে না’। কেউ নিজেদের পারম্পরিক আবাদভূমিতে প্রান্তিক হয়ে উঠতে চায় না। আজ বৃহৎ জাতীয়তার সামনে  ক্ষুদ্র জাতীয়তার ক্রমশঃ বিলীন হয়ে যাবার সংকটময় সময়ে  হয়তো কোথাও ফিজোর ঘোষণায় নিহিত বহুত্ববাদী ধারণা, অর্থাৎ সকল জাতীয়তার ও জাতি-গোষ্টির নিজ এলাকায় নিজেদের মত বাঁচার অধিকার নিয়ে আরো গভীরভাবে চিন্তা করার দরকার আছে। বাংলায় বা তামিলনাডুতে কি যথাক্রমে বাঙ্গালীরা বা তামিলরা সংখ্যালঘু হয়ে যাবার কথা কল্পনাতেও আনতে পারে? তা কি কখুনো মঙ্গলময় হতে পারে? এমন যদি কখুনো ঘটে, তার প্রতিক্রিয়ায় কি ধরনের শক্তির উন্মেষ ঘটবে, আমাদের কোন ধারণা আছে ? কোন জাতি-কে এমন ভাবে কোণঠাসা করা অনুচিত। তাই মণিপুরে আই.এল.পি দাবি এক ন্যায্য দাবী।

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ভারত ও ঢাকার মাঝখানে – অনিকেত প্রান্তর

গণপ্রজাতন্ত্রী বাংলাদেশের শেখ হাসিনা সাথে ভারতীয় সংঘ-রাষ্ট্রের নরেন্দ্র মোদীর চুক্তির ফলে নিরসন হলো ছিটমহল অধ্যায়, যদিও এর মধ্যেই অন্য রাষ্ট্র  বেছে নেওয়ায়ে সংখ্যালঘু ঘর ইতিমধ্যেই ঘর জ্বলেছে এক রাষ্ট্রে । অদ্ভূত জিনিস এই ধর্ম, রাষ্ট্র ও নাগরিকত্বের টানাপড়েন-গুলি।  আর এসব  এলোমেলো করে দেওয়া সেই অদ্ভূত শব্দটি – ‘জন্মভূমি’। বাংলাদেশের অন্তর্গত ‘ভারতীয়’ ছিটমহলে ‘ভারতীয়’ নাগরিক শিশু পাশের গ্রামে (অর্থাৎ বাংলাদেশে) গিয়ে শিখেছে যে তার প্রধানমন্ত্রী হলো শেখ হাসিনা। সর্বার্থেই ছিট-মহল গুলি প্রান্তিক, এমনকি রাষ্ট্রও তাদের থেকে আনুগত্য দাবি করে না। ভারতের নাগরিক নিজেকে ভারতীয় মনে করে কিনা, তেরঙ্গা দেখে সটান হয় কিনা, গান্ধী দেখে শ্রদ্ধা দেখানোর ভাব করে কিনা, ক্রিকেটে পাকিস্থান-ঘেন্না করে কিনা, ছিটমহলবাসীদের ক্ষেত্রে ভারতের তাও এসে যেত না। আজকালকার রাষ্ট্র-ভিত্তিক বিশ্ব-চরাচর-কল্পনার দিনে  দিনে এর চেয়ে হতোছেদা আর কি করে করা যেতে পারে। যাই হোক, আশা করা যায় যে এখান থেকে দুই দেশের বাচ্চারা ঠিক ঠিক পতাকা দেখে ঠিক ঠিক সটান হতে শিখবে।

ভারতের প্রধানমন্ত্রী, যিনি ঘুণাক্ষরেও সোসিয়াল মিডিয়া-তে হিন্দি ছাড়া কোন দেশী ভাষায় তার প্রজাদের বার্তা পাঠান না, এ হেন পাক্কা ভারতীয় জাতীয়তাবাদী পূর্ব্ববাংলা সফরকালে সস্তা চমক দিয়ে সেখানকার বাঙ্গালীর মন জয় করার জন্য টুইট করলেন বাংলায়। একজন পশ্চিম-বঙ্গবাসী হিসেবে এটা  কতটা অপমানজনক যে ভারতের প্রধানমন্ত্রী বাঙ্গালী হিসেবে আমাদের সেটুকু স্বীকৃতিও দেয় না, যতটা কিনা পূর্ব্ব-বঙ্গবাসীদের দেয়। আকাশ খুব অন্ধকার।  আমরা একটু নিজেদের ভাঙ্গা সিঁড়দারাটার দিকে চেয়ে দেখি, একটু লজ্জা পাই, একটু ক্ষুব্ধ হই, একটু আত্মসম্মান সঞ্চয় করি । স্বীকৃতি দিক না দিক, দিল্লি বাংলা ও অন্যান্য রাজ্যের থেকে করের টাকা নিয়ে খয়রাতি করে আসবে বিদেশে একটি বিশেষ ভাষা-কে ‘ভারতের  মুখ’হিসেবে ফোকাস দেওয়ার জন্য। এবার-ও নরেন্দ্রভাই-এর ঢাকা সফরকালে ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের একটি বিভাগের শ্রীবৃদ্ধি ঘটেছে নতুন দিল্লির সরকার বাহাদুরের কল্যানে। বাঙালি, তামিল, অহমিয়া, তেলুগু, কন্নড়-ভাষী মানুষেরা এটা জেনে প্রীত হবেন যে তাদের ভাষা-সংস্কৃতির প্রতিনিধিত্ব করার দায়িত্ব-টা হিন্দী আপনাদের না জানিয়েই নিয়ে নিয়েছেন আর সাথে নিয়েছে আপনাদের করের টাকা।  বলাই-বাহূল্য, নতুন দিল্লীর খয়রাতি পাওয়া ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের বিভাগটির নাম হিন্দী। আর এই সব খয়রাতি করে অনেকে ভেবেছেন ওরা হেব্বি খুশি।  ওরা কিন্তু অনেকেই বেশ রেগে আছেন।

কলকাতার হো চি মিন সরনীর নাম অনেকেই শুনে থাকবেন।  কেউ কেউ হয়তো জানবেন যে এই রাস্তার আগের নাম ছিল হ্যারিংটন স্ট্রীট। কে এই হ্যারিংটন? ইনি ফিরিঙ্গি কোম্পানির আমলে নিজামত বা সদর আদালত-এর প্রধান বিচারক ছিলেন।  ১৮২৩ সালের  ২৮ জুন তিনি লিখিত মন্তব্য করেন যে সতীদাহ প্রথা যদি তখুনি নিষিদ্ধ করে দেওয়া হয়, তাহলেও এই নিষিদ্ধকরণের বিরুধ্যে তেমন কোন রাজনৈতিক আন্দোলন তিনি আশা করেন না। অর্থাৎ জনগণ সে অর্থে সতিদাহর পক্ষে ছিল না। সতী-দাহ প্রথা নিষিদ্ধ হয় এর ছয় বছর পরে, ১৮২৯ -এ। নানা বিরুদ্ধতা উপেক্ষা সত্তেও সতিদাহ নিষিদ্ধকরণের যে প্রকাশ্য নায়কদের কথা আমাদের চিরকাল জেনে এসেছি, কিন্তু নেপথ্য নায়ক যে জনগণ, তাদেরকে স্বীকার করে নেন হ্যারিংটন। ফলে নায়কদের উচ্চতা একটু কমে, তাদের সংগ্রাম একটু ফ্যাকাশে হয়। তবুও সেটাই বাস্তব।  হ্যারিংটন-এর নামের জায়গায় হো চি মিন  দিয়ে সেটা ভোলা যায় না।  তবে হো চি মিন নামকরণের ছিল আরেকটি উদ্দেশ্য, এবং সেটি কিন্তু গর্ব করার মতো। এই রাস্তাতেই মার্কিন কনসুলেট। ভিয়েতনাম-এ মহিলা-শিশু-বৃদ্ধ নির্বিশেষে মানুষকে হত্যা করার যে নৃশংস খেলায় মেতেছিল মার্কিন যুক্তরাষ্ট্র, এটা ছিল তার-ই বিরুধ্যে কলকাতার নিজের মত করে প্রতিবাদ। একটু লজ্জা দেওয়া, একটু বিড়ম্বনায় ফেলা। কলকাতার মার্কিন দূতাবাসকে আজ-ও হো চি মিন-এর নাম স্মরণ করতে হয়, না চাইলেও। নৃশংসতার প্রতিবাদ হিসেবে লজ্জা দেওয়ার মতো নাম পরিবর্তনের দাবি কিন্তু বেশ ছোয়াঁচে।  নিষ্পাপ শিশু ফেলানি-কে ভারতের কেন্দ্রীয় সরকারের বি-এস-এফ বাহিনী গুলি করে হত্যা করে দুই বাংলার সীমান্তে। গরীবের মেয়ে ফেলানির দেহ লটকে সীমান্তের কাঁটাতারে লটকে থাকে বেশ কিছু সময়। আর বিঁধে থাকে ‘অনুভূতিগুলো’। এই কাঁটা-তার-এ ঝুলে থাকা শিশুর ছবিটি ভারতের ‘স্বাধীন’ ও ‘মুক্ত’ সংবাদ-মাধ্যম খুব বেশি প্রচার না করলেও, সারা বিশ্ব জেনে গেছিল ফেলানিকে এবং তাকে খুন করা উর্ধি-ধারী বাহিনীকে, যাদের মাইনে  আমি আপনি দিই। বাঙ্গালীর দ্বিতীয় বৃহত্তম শহর ঢাকায় উঠেছিল প্রতিবাদের ঝড়, দাবি উঠেছিল সেখানকার ভারতীয় দুতাবাসের সামনের রাস্তার নাম বদলে  ফেলানির নামে করে দেবার জন্য। তারপর যা হবার, তাই হয়েছে।  গরিব মানুষের মেয়ের মৃত্যু নিয়ে প্রতিবাদ বেশিদিন টিকে থাকে না – ঘটনা হয়ে যায় সংখ্যা । ফেলানি ঝুলে ছিল যে কাঁটা-তারে, দুই বাংলার মধ্যে সে কাঁটা-তার বানিয়েছে দিল্লী। এতে ওপার থেকে অনুপ্রবেশ কমেছে কিনা, তার কোন খবর নেই , তবে এই কাঁটা-তার লাগানোর বরাত পেয়ে যে ঠিকাদার-রা কাজ করেছেন, তারা যাদের ঠিকাদার হবার নিয়োগ দিয়েছেন, তাদের যে পকেট ভালই ভরেছে, সেটা বলাই বাহুল্য। সেটাও আমার আপনার টাকা। তবে এটা যেহেতু ‘জাতীয় সুরক্ষা’র প্রশ্ন, বেশি হিসেব চাইবেন না। বেশি হিসেব চাইলে আপনাকে সিধা করার মত নানা কালা কানুন ভারতে মজুত আছে – অশোক-স্তম্ভের সিংহ-গুলি শুধু দাঁড়িয়ে থাকে না, কামড়ে রক্ত-ও বার করে।

ভারতের কেন্দ্রীয় সরকারের প্রধানমন্ত্রী নরেন্দ্র মোদী সম্প্রতি পূর্ব্ব বাংলা ঘুরে এসে বললেন যে ছিট-মহল বিনিময়ের ঘটনা হলো বার্লিনের প্রাচীরের পতনের মতই ‘ঐতিহাসিক’। এই ‘ঐতিহাসিক’ ধারণাটা আমি কখুনই ঠিক বুঝে উঠতে পারিনি। কোনটা ঐতিহাসিক, কোনটা নয়, কেই বা সেসব ঠিক করে দেয়।  তবে এটুকু জানি, যে দুই গরীব বাস্তুহারা টইটুম্বুর  বাংলার মধ্যে যে ‘অনিকেত প্রান্তর’, তার মাঝে কাঁটা-তার বসিয়ে আর যাই হোক, বার্লিনের প্রাচীর পতন হয় না। সীমান্ত-বাসী মানুষের ভাষা যারা বোঝে না, তাদের গায়ে উর্দি পরিয়ে, হাতে বন্দুক ধরিয়ে ধর্ষণ করানোকে, মন-মর্জি মতো মারামারি ও জিনিস-পত্র হাতানোকে, হতদরিদ্র মানুষ খুন করানোকে ‘সুরক্ষা’র নাম দেওয়া পাপ। এই পাপ কিন্তু আমাদের পয়সায় মাইনে পাওয়া-রা কিন্তু করে এপার বাংলার মানুষজনের সঙ্গেও।  এমন পাপ মা দূর্গা কখুনো মাফ করবেন কিনা জানিনা।

যখন এই দিল্লী-ঢাকা শীর্ষ দেওয়া-নেওয়া হচ্ছিল, পাশে থাকা থেকে সাথে থাকার সুললিত বাণী দেওয়া হচ্ছিল, ঠিক তখুনই হাসিনা সরকারের প্রবাস কল্যাণমন্ত্রী মোশারফ হোসেন ফরিদপুরে তার বহুদিনকার চেনা একটি প্রথিত্জসা সংখ্যালঘু পরিবারের বসতবাড়ি জোর করে হাতিয়ে নেবার সব রকম ব্যবস্থা সম্পন্ন করেছেন। একদিন হয়তো সেই নিপীড়িত পরিবারের একজন ‘এপারে’ চলে আসবে। পশ্চিম-বঙ্গের বাঙ্গালীদের সংস্কৃতিক নিজস্বতাকে যারা স্বীকৃতি দেয় না, তাদের কোলেই খুঁজতে হবে নতুন আশ্রয় ও পরিচয়। তারপর তার এই নতুন প্রভু তার নিজের রাজনীতির খেলার অংশ হিসেবে দেখাবেন ‘নাগরিকত্বের’ লোভ। তাই দেখে পূর্ব্ব বাংলার কেউ কেউ বলবেন যে এমন ঘোষণা হলো অনধিকার-চর্চা। ঘর-পালানো মানুষটা কি আজ-ও ‘ওপারের’?  পূর্ব্ব বাংলার ভিটে ছেড়ে পালিয়ে আসা বাঙ্গালী হিন্দু ঠিক কোন মুহুর্তে ‘ইন্ডিয়ান’ হয়ে যায় এবং দেশ নিয়ে কিছু বলার অধিকার হারায়? পালানোর দিন ? বর্ডার পেরোলে ? ‘ইন্ডিয়ান’ নাগরিকত্ব পেলে? দুই পুরুষ পরে? নাকি এসবের অনেক আগে, ‘ভুল’ ধর্মে জন্মমুহুর্তে? আমি জানি না।

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গোবিন্দ হালদারের নিষিদ্ধ ফিসফিস

সে যতই দেখনদারী হোক, সম্প্রতি মুখ্যমন্ত্রী মমতা ব্যানার্জীর ওপার বাংলায় যাত্রার ফলে কিছু সম্ভাবনার সৃষ্টি হয়েছে – যার মধ্যে গুরুত্বপূর্ণ হলো তৃতীয় পক্ষের মধ্যস্থতা ছাড়াই একটি জাতির দুই বিভক্ত অংশের একে অপরের দিকে নতুন করে তাকানো। এই বিভক্তির কারণের মধ্যে, তার ঠিক-ভুলের মধ্যে না গিয়েও একটা কথা বলা যায়। দেশভাগ ও তার পরেও ঘটতে থাকা খুন-ধর্ষণ-ধর্মান্তরকরণ-লুঠ-ঘরপোড়ানো-সম্পত্তিদখল ইত্যাদি ভয়ানকের অপরাধের শাস্তি হয়নি, এপারেও – ওপারেও। এই আদি পেপার বোঝা সুদে-আসলে এতই ভারী যে মানুষ সেই বোঝাকে ফেলে দিয়ে ভুলেই গেছে পাপের কথা। প্রায়শ্চিত্ত তো দূরস্থান।

১৯৪৭-এর বাংলা-ভাগের সাথে ব্রিটিশদের দ্বারা উপমহাদেশের শক্তিশালী গোষ্ঠীগুলির হাতে যে ক্ষমতা হস্তান্তর হয়েছিল, আজকের ইন্ডিয়ান ইউনিয়ন, পাকিস্তান, গণপ্রজাতন্ত্রী বাংলাদেশ এক অর্থে তার-ই ফসল। এই ভাগের সাথে সাথেই ‘আমরা’ কারা ,’বন্ধু’ কারা ’, ‘শত্রু’ কারা- এগুলির নানা মিথ রচনার বীজ পোঁতা হয়, যার থেকে বেরোনো মহীরুহ আজকের দিনে আমাদের মনকে, আমাদের কল্পনাকে একদম আষ্টেপৃষ্ঠে জড়িয়ে ফেলেছে। নতুন রাষ্ট্রের পেটের গভীর থেকে জন্মানো এই কল্পকাহিনীগুলি যে আজ পবিত্র সত্যের স্থান নিয়েছে, তা শুধু গল্পের ভাবের জোরে নয়। সরকারী প্রচার এবং সরকারী বাহিনী, ঘুষ ও শাসানি, আঁচড় ও আদর, পুরস্কার ও থার্ড ডিগ্রী, জন্মবার্ষিকী উদযাপন ও মিথ্যা মামলায় হাজতবাসের এক অসামান্য সংমিশ্রনেই আজকের পবিত্রতা, সংহতি, ‘বিকাশ’, রাষ্ট্রপ্রেমের জন্ম (দেশপ্রেমের নয়)। সাবালক এই সব বিষবৃক্ষের রসালো ফলের আমার দৈনিক কাস্টমার। দেশভাগ পরবর্তী সময়ে, আমাদের স্বকীয় আত্মপরিচিতকে পিটিয়ে পিটিয়ে রাষ্ট্রীয় ছাঁচে ঢোকানো হয়েছে দিল্লী, ইসলামাবাদ ও ঢাকার মাতব্বরদের স্বার্থে। মানুষের আত্মাকে কেটে সাইজ করা হয়েছে রাষ্ট্রীয় স্বার্থ ও রাষ্ট্রীয় সুরক্ষার জুজু দেখিয়ে। এই পাপ বঙ্গোপসাগরের থেকেও গভীর।

আমাদের কল্পনা ও স্মৃতির অগভীরতার কারণে আমরা মনে করি যে এক রাষ্ট্রের প্রতি আনুগত্য বোধয় দৈব নির্ধারিত কোন ‘প্রাকৃতিক’ নিয়ম যা না মানলে আমরা দুনম্বরী বিশ্বাসঘাতক মানুষ। যাদের আনুগত্য, টান ও ভালবাসা রাষ্ট্র-সীমান্ত পেরোলে ঝুপ করে উবে যায় না, তারা বুঝিবা মানসিক বিকারগ্রস্ত এবং রাষ্ট্রের চোখে নেমকহারাম। রোজ এই ধারণাগুলিকে বিনা বাক্যে মেনে দিয়ে আমরা আমাদের এই মর্ত্যলোকে স্বল্প সময়ের জীবনকে করে তুলি ঘৃণাময়, ভীতিময়, কুঁকড়ে থাকা। ১৯৭১-এ কিছু সময়ের জন্য পূর্ব বাংলার মুক্তিসংগ্রামের সময়ে এপার বাংলায় এরকম অনেক তথাকথিত বিকার চোরাগলি ছেড়ে রাজপথে মুখ দেখানোর সাহস ও সুযোগ পেয়েছিল। এ সত্যি যে ১৯৭১-এ ইন্ডিয়ান উনীয়নের নানা এলাকায় পূর্ব বাংলার স্বাধীনতা সংগ্রামের জন্য সমর্থন ও সাহায্য ছিল। কিন্তু পশ্চিম বাংলায় এই সাহায্যের আড়ালে যে আবেগের প্রকাশ ঘটেছিল, তা আজকের ডেটল-ধোয়া ভারত-বাংলাদেশ আন্তর্রাষ্ট্রিক সম্পর্কের পবিত্র গণ্ডির বাইরের এক প্রায়-নিষিদ্ধ জিনিস। পশ্চিমবঙ্গের সাথে পূর্ববঙ্গের যে একাত্তুরে ‘ঘনিষ্টতা’, তার সাথে কর্ণাটকের সাথে পশ্চিমবঙ্গের ঘনিষ্টতা বা কর্ণাটকের সাথে পূর্ববঙ্গের ঘনিষ্টতার কোন মিল নেই। এই মিল-অমিলের অঙ্ক মেলাতেই তো ঘনঘন বেজে ওঠে জাতীয় সঙ্গীত, যাতে এরম চিন্তা গুলিয়ে যায় মিলিটারি ব্যান্ডের আওয়াজে। দিল্লি-ও একাত্তরে ভালই জানত এসব ‘নিষিদ্ধ’ প্রেমের কথা – কিন্তু এই প্রেম তখন তার রাষ্ট্রীয় স্বার্থের পক্ষে কাজ করেছিল বলে বাড়তে দিয়েছিল কিছুদিন অন্যদিকে তাকুয়ে, তারপর রাশ টেনে সমঝে দিয়েছিল সময়মত। এই আচরণেরও অন্য উদাহরণ আছে। যেমন তামিল নাদুর বিধানসভায় শ্রীলংকার ইলম তামিলদের সমর্থনে যেসব প্রস্তাব পাশ হয়, তা নিয়ে দিল্লীর নিস্তব্ধতা – যেন দেখেও দেখছে না। যেমন কাবুল ও পেশোওয়ারের মধ্যে যে ঠান্ডা-গরম পাখতুন বন্ধন ও তা নিয়ে আজকে ইসলামাবাদের চাপা ভীতি।

১৯৭১ অবশ্যই অতীত। সেই ‘নিষিদ্ধ’ প্রেম আমরা কবে বন্ধক দিয়েছি বেঙ্গালোর-দিল্লী-নয়ডা-গুরগাঁও স্বপ্নে বিভোর হয়ে। তাই তো আজ, আমরা, এই বাংলায়, দিল্লির থেকে ধার করা চশমায় পূব দিকে তাকাই আর দেখি – গরুপাচারকারীর মুখ, অবৈধ অনুপ্রবেশকারীর মিছিল, হিন্দু বাঙালির শেষ আশ্রয়স্থল হোমল্যান্ডটিকেও জনসংখ্যার বিন্যাসে কেড়ে নেওয়ার দীর্ঘমেয়াদী ষড়যন্ত্র। এই সবই কিছু ঠিক, কিছু ভুল, কিন্তু সেসব ঠিক-ভুলের পরেও মধ্যে লুটোয় দিগন্তজোড়া বাংলাদেশের মাঠ, যে মাঠ শুধু গণপ্রজাতন্ত্রী বাংলাদেশের মাঠ নয়, বরং নিখিল বাংলাদেশের মাঠ। সে উত্তরাধিকার আজ প্রায় তামাদি।

বিগতকালের এই যে সম্পর্ক, যার শেষ প্রতিভুদের একজন এই গোবিন্দ হালদার। একরাষ্ট্রের আনুগত্যে বাঁধা আমরা, তাই এ প্রেমের কথা কেউ প্রকাশ্যে স্বীকার পায় না। এ সম্পর্ক – তা ঠিক পরকীয়া নয়, বরং এমন এক প্রেম যার শুরুর পরে প্রেমিক হয়েছে বিভাজিত। আর প্রেমিকার প্রেম থেকে গেছে একইরকম। কিন্ত অন্যের চোখে সে দুই প্রেমিকের প্রেমিকা, এবং কলঙ্কিনী। এমনই এক প্রেমিকা ছিলেন গোবিন্দ হালদার। গত ১৭ জানুয়ারী, ৮৪ বছর বয়সে মারা গেলেন অতি সাধারণ এক হাসপাতালে। অবিভক্ত যশোর জেলার বনগাঁ এলাকায় জন্ম।বনগাঁ ‘পড়ে’ ‘ইন্ডিয়ায়’।আকাশবাণীর জন্য গান লিখেছেন। একাত্তরে গুরুত্বপূর্ণ ভূমিকা নিয়েছিল আকাশবাণী কলকাতা। পরে যুদ্ধকালীন স্বাধীন বাংলাদেশ সরকার প্রতিষ্ঠিত হলে তার স্বাধীন বাংলা বেতার কেন্দ্রের জন্য প্রচুর গান লেখেন যা মুক্তিযুদ্ধের সময়ে মুক্তিযোদ্ধাদের ও পূর্ব বাংলার জনগণের মুখের গান, প্রাণের গান হয়ে ওঠে। মোরা একটি ফুল বাঁচাবো বলে যুদ্ধ করি, পূর্ব দিগন্তে সূর্য্য উঠেছে রক্ত লাল, পদ্মা মেঘনা যমুনা তোমার আমার ঠিকানা – এগুলি তার প্রবাদপ্রতিম রচনা। শ্রোতার ভোটে তৈরী বিবিসি রেডিওর সর্বকালের সেরা ১০টি বাংলা গানের তালিকায় তার দুটি গান উপস্থিত। এই লোকটি মারা গেল, কোন বঙ্গশ্রী, পদ্মশ্রী ছাড়াই। আসলে সে ঠিক গান লিখেছিল ‘ভুল’ রাষ্ট্রের জন্য। তাই এপারে তার কল্কে নেই। আমাদের মধ্যেই ছিলেন এতদিন। জানতে চেষ্টাও করিনি, কারণ রাষ্ট্রর ক্ষমতা যত বেড়েছে, তা আমাদের মানুষ হিসেবে ছোট করে দিয়েছে। স্বাধীন বাংলা বেতার কেন্দ্র-ও একাত্তরে গোবিন্দ হালদারের নাম ফলাও করত না – সে ‘ভুল’ রাষ্ট্রের যে। পরে ঋণ শোধের চেষ্টা হয়েছে। গণপ্রজাতন্ত্রী বাংলাদেশের প্রধানমন্ত্রী শেখ হাসিনা তার চিকিত্সার খরচ পাঠিয়েছেন, সরকার পুরস্কৃত করেছেন, রাষ্ট্রপতি আব্দুল হামিদ কলকাতায় মৃত্যুপথযাত্রী গোবিন্দ হালদারকে দেখে গেছেন। আমার কাছে একটা ছবি আছে – বৃদ্ধ গোবিন্দ হালদার বাংলাদেশের পতাকা নিজের বুকের কাছে ধরে আছেন। পার্টিশন এলাকার যারা নন, একদেশ-একজাতি-একরাষ্ট্র রাষ্ট্রের গর্বে বলিয়ান যারা, হয়ত ভাগ্যশালী তারা,কিন্তু তাদের কি করে বোঝাব এসব ? হয়ত তারা বুঝবে পরজনমে, রাধা হয়ে। তখুন হয়তো তারা অনুভব করবে গোবিন্দ হালদারদের দেশের ঠিকানা।

কেউ কেউ কিন্তু তলে তলে বোঝে। ঢাকার অভিজিত রায় – খ্যাতিমান মুক্তমনা ব্লগার। ২৬ তারিখে , একুশে বইমেলা থেকে ফেরত আসার সময়ে তাকে রামদা দিয়ে হত্যা করা হলো। তার স্ত্রী রাফিদা আহমেদ বন্যা। দায় নিয়েছে ইসলামী সংগঠন আনসার বাংলা-৭। প্রতিবাদে এ বাংলার কিছু মানুষ ২৭এই কিন্তু জমায়েত করলেন যাদবপুরে। নিষিদ্ধ প্রেম পরিণত হয় নিষিদ্ধ কান্নায়, কাঁটাতার ভেদী শপথে, চোরাগোপ্তা। সব রং তেরঙ্গায় নেই।

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ম্যাড্রাসী কারে কয়?

 

ইউটিউবে একটি ভিডিও সর্দি-কাশির ভাইরাসের মত ছড়িয়ে পড়েছে। নাম ‘এন্না দা রাস্কালাস – সাউথ অফ ইন্ডিয়া’। বেশ চনমনে ও মজাদার এই ভিডিও ইতিমধ্যে প্রায় ১৪ লক্ষ বার দেখা হয়েছে মাত্র ২ সপ্তাহে । না দেখে থাকলে দেখে ফেলুন। স্ট্রে ফ্যাক্টরি ও কালচার মেশিন নামের দুই শিল্পীগোষ্ঠী ‘দক্ষিন ভারত’-এর বিভিন্ন জনগোষ্ঠীর স্বতন্ত্র ও পৃথক সংস্কৃতি ও জীবনবৈশিষ্ট-কে তুলে ধরেছেন। ‘মাদ্রাজী’ নাম এক করে দেখা এবং হেয় করার প্রবণতার বিরুধ্যে এই ভিডিও। ‘দেয়ার ইজ নো ম্যাড্রাসী, উই আর অল পারোসি’ ( ম্যাড্রাসী বলে কিছুই নেই, আমরা সকলে প্রতিবেশী) – এই হলো গানের জনপ্রিয় লাইন ও মূলমন্ত্র।

এবেলা স্বীকার করে নেওয়া ভালো যে ম্যাড্রাসী শব্দটা আমি বাঙ্গালীদের সঙ্গে কথোপকথনে ব্যবহার করে থাকি। এ শব্দটি শুনেই বড় হয়েছি। আসলে, বাংলায়ে ম্যাড্রাসীর সাথে মাদ্রাজী শব্দটিও চালু আছে – রোজকার কথায় এবং সাহিত্যেও, প্রথম হিন্দী ফিলিম হবার অনেক আগে থেকে। নিখিল বাংলাদেশে সাধারণত এই শব্দটি কাউকে নিচু করে দেখাতে ব্যবহার করা হয় বলে মনে হয়নি। আমি গঙ্গা-যমুনার হিন্দুস্তানী এলাকায় বড় হইনি। শুনেছি সেখানে নাকি ম্যাড্রাসী শব্দটি বেশ হেয় করেই ব্যবহার করা হয়। আমার বাংলার ‘মাদ্রাজী ‘ শব্দ, যার মাধ্যমে আমি অন্য বাঙ্গালীর সাথে একটা সাধারণ-ভাবে জানা ধারণাকেই নির্দেশ করি। যদিও এটি মোটামুটি নানান দ্রাবিড় ভাষাগোষ্ঠির (যেমন তামিল, তেলুগু, ইত্যাদি) জাতীয়তাগুলিকে বোঝাতে ব্যবহার হয়, সচেতনভাবে তাদের মধ্যেকার তফাত্গুলিকে মোছার লক্ষ্যে ‘মাদ্রাজী’ শব্দের উত্পত্তি নয়। দ্রাবিড় জাতীয়তাগুলির মধ্যের বাস্তব ভিন্নতা নিয়ে আসলে আমাদের মাথাব্যথা ছিল না। বরং এই বাংলাদেশে আমরা যে সব দ্রাবিড় জাতীয়তাগুলির মানুষের সংস্পর্শে এসেছি, তার ভিত্তিতে বানিয়ে নিয়েছি এক ‘মাদ্রাজি’ – যার আকার ও বৈশিষ্ট একান্তই আমাদের নিজস্ব দ্যাখা-শোনার ভিত্তিতে। বাংলাদেশের মনের একটি জায়গায় বাস করে আমাদের এই ধারণার ‘মাদ্রাজী’, কিছুটা বাঙ্গালীর ‘ব্রেজিল-আর্জেন্টিনা’র মত – আগমার্কা আসলের সাথে যার মিল খুজতে গেলে আমাদের নিজেদের গড়ে নেওয়ার প্রক্রিয়াকে এবং সে প্রক্রিয়ার সততাকে অস্বীকার করতে হয়। ঔপনিবেশিক সময়ে নিখিল বাংলাদেশের শহুরে মানুষের অভিজ্ঞতা ও দৃষ্টিভঙ্গির ফল যে মাদ্রাজী, দক্ষিণের নানান জনগোষ্টির সাথে তার সম্পর্কে দূরের , যদিও পুরো সম্পর্কহীন-ও নয়।

এই উপমহাদেশের দক্ষিন অংশে রয়েছে নানান দ্রাবিড় জাতীয়তাগুলির নিজনিজ মাতৃভূমি। এই এলাকাগুলির একটা বড় অংশ ইংরেজরা ‘ম্যাড্রাস প্রেসিডেন্সি’ নাম দিয়ে এক প্রশাসনের ছত্রতলে নিয়ে আসে। এই সময়েই নানান ভৌগলিক ও জাতিগোষ্টির এলাকা তালগোল পাকিয়ে ‘মাদ্রাজ’ নামক নির্মিত ধারণার উদ্ভব ঘটে। নির্মিত কারণ সাহেবরা এক প্রশাসনের তলায় এনে মানচিত্রে দাগ কেটে দেওয়ার ফলেই ‘মাদ্রাজ’ ব্যাপারটি চালু হয়, ক্রমে হয়ে ওঠে ‘আসল’ কিছুটা। ঠিক এই ঔপনিবেশিক সময়েই, প্রশাসনিক একতা ও মানচিত্রে সাহেবের টানা দাগের ভিত্তিতে আরেকটা ধারণার বাজার আস্তে আস্তে গরম হতে থাকে। সে ধারণাটির নাম ‘ইন্ডিয়া’। যে ধারণাগুলির পেছনে ঠেকা হিসেবে থাকে বন্দুক ও লস্কর, তার নাম হয় জাতিরাষ্ট্র। আর যেগুলির থাকে না, তা থেকে যায় জাতীয়তা হিসেবে।

দেশভাগের পরে রাজ্যগুলির ভাষাভিত্তিক পুনর্গঠন এবং শহরের পুনর্নাম্করণের ফলে ‘মাদ্রাজ’ মোটামুটি অবলুপ্ত হয়েছে। ‘ইন্ডিয়া’ ধারণাটি নানাভাবে বিভক্ত হয়েছে – এক পবিত্র মাতৃভূমি (ভারত নামধারী সংঘ-রাষ্ট্রে), শক্তিশালী ষড়যন্ত্রকারী শত্রু (পাকিস্তানে), দাদাগিরি দেখানো ‘বন্ধু’ (৭১ পরবর্তী পূর্ব্ববঙ্গ অর্থাত গনপ্রজান্তন্ত্রী বাংলাদেশে), এক গুরুত্বপূর্ণ প্রতিবেশী (বর্মায়), ইত্যাদি। অনেক উপনিবেশ এলাকাতেই ‘মাদ্রাজ’ বা ‘ইন্ডিয়া’ গোছের ধারণাগুলি গল্পটা একইরকম। একই প্রশাসনের তলায়ে বসবাসকারী নানান জাতীয়তার মানুষ , বিশেষতঃ শহুরে পেশাজীবী ও শ্রমিকেরা, অন্যান্য এলাকার শহরে পৌছয়ে। এই আদানপ্রদানের মাধ্যমে এবং সাহেব বিরুদ্ধতাকে কেন্দ্র করে একটা সাধারণ ঐক্যের ধারণা তৈরী হয় – যা ক্রমে জাতিরাষ্ট্রের হিসেবে বাঁধে। এই ধরনে ধারণা কাল্পনিক বলেই ঐক্য, অখন্ডতা, পতাকা স্যালুট, জাতীয় সঙ্গীত, জাতীয় পশু, এক সংসদ, এক প্রশাসনিক ক্যাডার (আইএএস, আইপিএস), কেন্দ্রীয় সিলেবাস, শিক্ষা বোর্ড ও বিশ্ববিদ্যালয় ইত্যাদি নানা ব্যবস্থার মাধ্যমে এই কল্পনাকে বাস্তবের রং দিতে হয়, মন্ত্রের মত বলে যেতে হয় এই ধারণার পবিত্রতার কথা। আবার একই সাথে ধারালো অস্ত্রে সান দিতে হয় সারাক্ষণ – এই গানের সুরে যারা গলা মেলায় না, তাদের উচিত শিক্ষা দেওয়ার জন্য। এইখানে ইন্ডিয়া-পাকিস্তানের আশ্চর্য মিল। তা গুমখুন হওয়া বেলুচি-সিন্ধি-মণিপুরী-নাগারা হাড়েহাড়ে জানেন।

‘ইন্ডিয়া’র অন্তর্গত জাতীয়গোষ্ঠির্গুলিকে কেন্দ্র যে এক চোখে দ্যাখে না, সেটা কারো অজানা নয়। কাল্পনিক ‘ইন্ডিয়া’র ”আসল’ আত্মাটি যে বিন্ধ্য পর্বতমালার উত্তরে হিন্দুস্থানী এলাকায়, তা আর বলতে অপেক্ষা রাখে না। বলিউডিয় ‘আম আদমি’ যে পূর্বের বা দক্ষিণের আদমি নন, সেটা পরিষ্কার নিশ্চই পরিষ্কার হয় এশিয়াড বা অলিম্পিকে ‘ইন্ডিয়া’ দলের ‘আসল’ পাগড়ি দেখে – সে মাথা তামিল হোক বা উড়িয়া। পাগড়ি হলো মেনস্ট্রিম। বাকিদের কষ্ট করে বোঝাতে হয় তারা কারা, কি খায়, কি গায়, কি করে, কি পরে, কি বলে, ইত্যাদি। যেমন পুষ্প-প্রদর্শনীতে অজানা গাছের নাম ছোট করে লেখা থাকে , তেমনই আর কি। ‘সাউথ অফ ইন্ডিয়া’ ভিডিওর মূলে রয়েছে ‘আসলি’ ইন্ডিয়ানদের কাছে নিজেদেরকে তুলে ধরার, বুঝিয়ে বলার প্রচেষ্টা। যাতে তাদেরকে একইভাবে স্টিরিওটাইপ না করা হয়। ‘ইন্ডিয়া’র দিল যে দিল্লীতে , একের পর এক নাগা, মিজো , মণিপুরী হত্যা, ধর্ষণ, প্রহার, অপমানের ঘটনা চোখে আঙ্গুল দিয়ে দেখায় যে সব স্টিরিওটাইপ বাঙ্গালীর ‘মাদ্রাজির’ মত অপেক্ষাকৃত নিষ্পাপ নয়। হিন্দী বচন, গুরগাঁও গমন, দেওয়ালি পালন – এগুলিই ‘ইন্ডিয়া’র আত্মা থেকে দুরে থাকা জনগষ্টিগুলির ‘ইন্ডিয়ান’ হবার সোপান। কিন্তু আমাদের নিজনিজ মাতৃদুগ্ধ-মাতৃভাষা-মাতৃভূমি তো কাল্পনিক নয়। উপমহাদেশের অনেকে ‘ইন্ডিয়ান’ বলতে যাকে কল্পনা করেন, তাদের সাথে অনেক ‘ইন্ডিয়ান’এরই কোন মিল নেই। তারা যদি আজ মাইল গান গায় , ‘দেয়ার ইজ নো ইন্ডিয়ান, উই আর অল পারোসি’ – তারা কি খুব ভুল বলবে? ‘ম্যাড্রাসী’ নামের ধারণাকে যদি বেশি তলিয়ে মারো টান, আরো অনেক পবিত্র কল্পনাও হয় খানখান। তাই, ‘ওপারে যেও না ভাই, ফটিংটিং-এর ভয়’। দিনকাল ভালো না।

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Next time, electing a sarkar from Great Nicobar

[ Daily News and Analysis, 29 Apr 2014 ; Dhaka Tribune, 22 May 2014 ; Millenium Post, 2 May 2014 ; Echo of India, 7 May 2014]

At the very outset, I should make my position on certain things very clear. I believe that there are many, many ways of being human – none of them being ‘better’ or ‘worse’, ‘progressive’ or ‘regressive’, ‘forward’ or ‘backward’ than others. There is no rank order of ‘civilizations’, cultures, millenia and the like. For that matter, I am not sure what ‘civilization’ means, unless you define it by a set of arbitrary parameters and ascribe those parameters some kind of inherently positive value, just because you fancy them. This line of thought may be particularly irritating to those who, after their unfortunate birth in brown-land, were born-again when exposed to White people’s worldviews. But the irritation of such dwijas (twice born) is irrelevant. They would have been altogether irrelevant if a deep democracy were able to function in the subcontinent. I hope such a time comes soon, before the dwijas are able to stamp out all diversity and cultural rootedness from this world. I hope they are soon kicked off the centre-stage that they have occupied for too long, by keeping the people out by sheer power. Till such time, before the story of the hunt is rewritten and the lions still lurk, some will continue to make hay. But let me get back to the many many ways to being human.

Now that we have the clap-trap about ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ humans out of the way, let me come to the ongoing elections to the Indian Union parliament. Using the principle of one-man one-vote, this exercise seeks to present an opportunity to the people to determine and influence the nature of the power that will rule over them. But that is not all. This exercise also relegitimizes (kind of like license renewal) the structure and apparatus that imposes itself on the people. Thus power structures seek legitimacy by offering a pre-determined amount of decision-making power. It does not give all powers to the people. For example, the people who are supposedly the only sovereign in this schema cannot alter the ‘basic structure’ of the Indian Union constitution, even when fundamental rights of the individual are protected.

The crucial part of such schemes is that they are all-pervasive. The intense focus of resources and energy by modern nation-states on maintaining and defining territorial limits is not accidental. Within that zone, it is supreme. Which is precisely why territories where such monarchic supremacy is not established are sources of unending paranoia for the powers-to-be. The smokescreen of people’s welfare is used to unleash the non-pretentious forces of a nation-state – money and military. In places where people don’t live, powers dangle the notion of ‘strategic importance’.

We are born from our mother’s womb. We are born where our mother lay pregnant with us. When we are born, we are as human anyone else. This is before there is consciousness of the state, constitution, Gandhi, Nehru, tricolor, New Delhi, etc. Is it a pre-condition of being human that these notions have to be built up within our heads for an individual to be considered fully human? Clearly not. Our bloodlines and human consciousness predates all flags and constitutions and gods willing, will outlive them too. So one has a right to be fully human and not be impinged upon, counted, exercised power upon, demanded loyalty from by institutions like the nation. One has a right to exist in the land one was born upon, to mingle in the society into which one is born or welcomed, live a glorious life among one’s kins and so on. Institutions that place themselves as mediators of these rights, without being called to mediate, are inhuman and anti-social in a very fundamental sense. They may well be legal, depending on how many guns back up the self-imposed mediator. Legality is different from justness– only the people can create the latter. No paper document written in their name can.

Whether one votes or not votes or boycotts it, all of these positions are vis-à-vis the voting process and the state that sponsors it. The all pervasiveness of such schemes means that you will be counted, not matter what – you will be classified, even if you don’t belong. Lack of ‘consciousness’ is not an option and in any case, irrelevant. Institutions that intensively survey uninhabited islands, wrap the remains of the dead in distinct flags, ‘teach’ loyalty through school syllabi do face a problem when they face people who regard the state as alien. Some of the indigenous peoples of Andaman and Nicobar Islands like the Shompen are such aliens. But they are ‘Indian’ citizens, irrespective. Are they proud of Gandhi? Do they respect the tricolour? Do they have a stake in Siachen and Sir Creek, given what happens there is done in their name too? Do they believe in ‘unity in diversity – given that their numbers have sharply dwindled ever since they were ‘claimed’ as ‘Indians’? It is from the perspective of the Shompen people of the Great Nicobar island that the all pervasive state starts looking not so pervasive – a hint that there is an outside, even when high resolution maps and detailed anthropological surveys have been done. This ‘outside’ consciousness is an extremely dangerous thing. Hence, when the Shompen people voted in Indian Union elections for the first time, whatever that act means, there was a sigh of relief at the deepest heart of the state. A portal to an outside, however small, was technically sealed. There is an outside and there will always be an outside. It comes with every child who is born. Hence there is a persistent and dangerous glimmer. To live without certain indoctrinations makes a dynamite of a people, even if they don’t ‘know’ it. The distance from birth-rights to full-citizenship is a journey that requires surrender of rights, without consent or with indoctrination that there is no outside.

I remember a 4-panel cartoon. At first, a bear stands in a jungle. Then some trees are cleared, encroachers arrive. The bear looks on. Finally, everything is ‘clean’ and someone is taken aback that there is a bear in the midst of ‘civilization’ and asks where it came from. The bear was always there. I am sure they created a ‘sanctuary’ for the bear thereafter. May be it will start speaking Hindi and English and straighten up its spine when the band plays Jana-Gana-Mana. With enough ‘aspiration’, it might go on to sing ‘the world will live as one’. There wont be any bears left any more. Such is progress in a world without outsides.

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Netaji and the politics of legacy and memory

[ Daily News and Analysis, 4 Feb 2014 ;  Millenium Post, 6 Feb 2014 ; Echo of India, 11 Feb 2014 ; Frontier Weekly online, 5 Apr 2014 ]

When Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in Porbandar, he ensured that many decades later, all state government and union government employees get a day off on October 2nd every year. When Jawaharlal arrived in a Kashmiri Brahmin family of Allahabad on 14th November, the seed of Children’s Day was born in this brown land. For some curious reason, decades of publicly money funded propaganda has ensured that people are fed stories about unverifiable heartwarming anecdotes about child welfare priorities of the Indian Union’s first Prime Minister, father of the Union’s fourth Prime Minister and grandfather of a subsequent one. What is verifiable though is that the regime of the great do-gooder of children also ruled for long years over the highest number of hungry, starving children among United Nations member states. But then, Henry Kissinger also won a Nobel peace prize. If you have not heard of the ‘National Integration Day’ of 19th November beyond large newspaper ads with beaming faces of people your government wants to remind you at a cost to the public exchequer, you should be ashamed of yourself. The lone child of the great man of Children’s Day fame was born on that day. You should mark your calendars for another version of that auspicious day coming up this year. While you are at it, lose you eyes and take a deep breadth. Imagine your worst enemy. Do you feel any pent up anger? If yes, you may be lacking in the Sadbhavna Quotient (SQ – yes you first heard it here). Then I suggest you make the best of the Sadbhavna Day celebrations that happen on August 20th every year. On this auspicious day, the first prime minister who took over from his mother’s constitutional position without a non-family interregnum was born. The sarkar bahadur at Delhi sends memoranda on unforgetabble days to all central government departments, to do the needful. You better head to the nearest central sarkar bahadur office next time to catch the action. You might even get some chai-biskit to smoothly complement the ‘sadbhavna’ or ‘national integration’ feeling that might be evoked. One tends to get carried away at such holy occasions with free chai, year after year. Browns are, after all, very emotional people.

On 23rd January, a only MP who turned up at the Parliament of India to garland the picture of Subhash Chandra Bose on his birthday was Lal Krishna Advani of the BJP. Some MPs from West Bengal were busy in similar events in their state. The Indira Congress must have been tired from cheering the great rise of the great-grandson of Government of India’s children’s welfare champion Number one. Or they could have been tired of the burden of extra cylinders. Subhash Chandra Bose was also figured in the expanded pantheon that loomed large behind of podium from where the great grandson demanded cylinders. The curious shape of the select pantheon of past presidents of the Indian National Congress (which Indira Congress claims to be the successor of) resembled a 9-headed Ravan with the non-family Gandhi at the centre. Electoral desperation forces many things. Subhash Bose was there too, with the white cap that was snatched from his head by Nehru-Gandhi Congressites after the 1939 Tripuri session of the Congress. The military cap that Netaji put on later is too uncomfortable for those who would want to erase the various other currents and means that was part of the anti-colonial struggle in the subcontinent. Greater awareness of such trends may undercut official narratives and make many question the differences between freedom and brown-mask-government, liberation and transfer of power. That can be very uncomfortable.

This erasure has enabled the sons and grandsons of the Hindu Mahasabha and JanSangh to add past Congress presidents to their sordid pantheon of Hitler-lovers and British informers. In a subcontinent where erasure of public memory and creation of false legacies is a fine art, even the atheist, socialist, anti-communal Bhagat Singh is now wrapped in a saffron turban for 272+ mileage. The lure of power is reflected in the eagerness of liliputs to stand on the shoulder of giants.

But this false bhakti can be easily tested. The Prime Minister’s Office admits that there are 20 secret files relating to Netaji’s disappearance. Can the BJP guarantee that it will publicly disclose uncensored versions of these files if its alliance attains power in 2014? The complicity of all the players of the deep state to this conspiracy of silence and evasion needs to be exposed.

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Filed under Bengal, Delhi Durbar, Democracy, Foundational myths, History, Memory

Indianness / strange thoughts on an republican eve

[ Daily News and Analysis, 21 Jan 2014 ; New Age (Dhaka), 26 Jan 2014 ]

26th January is the Republic Day of the Union of India. In spite of the high drama performed by the Aam Aadmi Party in the sanctum sanctorum of power, this week will end with another edition of an annual ritual commemorating the day when representatives of about 12% of the population of the subcontinent decided to frame the constitution in the name of 100%. Thus the Republic of India was born. In this auspicious week, one may ask with some trepidation, what is India? What kind of a question is that, one may ask. One can show the territorial limits of the Union of India in some map, point to it and say, there it is. That kind of an answer oddly makes Cyril Radcliffe the father of the nation.  So let us shift gears to a different question. What makes India and ‘Indianness’? Well, technically, the transfer of power by the British to certain sections of the subcontinental elites, the partition and the constitution framed in the name of the people makes India. But such legal definitions would sadden lovers of a transcendental ‘Indianness’ that is apparently millennia old and permeates through Ganga, Yamuna, Bollywood and Mohenjodaro (remember the weird bearded man?). A variant of this ‘Indianness’ is also to be found in our special ‘Indian genes’ and aloo tikki (aloo came to the subcontinent about 500 years ago from the continent of ‘Indians’ living half-way across the world). More recently, the fervor with which one cheers for a group of male players contracted by a private entity and sponsored by a New-York headquartered company has become a marker of ‘Indianness’ or lack thereof.

The real state of affairs of a human being cannot be ascertained by the perfume one dabs on oneself. It is to be found in the original smell of the armpits, that the perfume is designed to shoo away. The continuous tutelage in ‘Indianness’ that was explicit in mass media earlier (remember Sai Paranjpe’s Ek Chiriya style cartoons with a cute and sly message continuously aired during turbulent times when some chiriyas wanted to fly away?) has now become a monolithic cultural norm, with decades of preferential promotion of a language and a forced monolithic identity finally paying off. With enough rokra, a good, strong dandaa and pervasive indoctrination, orderly and docile queues can be created. Anek anek chiriyas have a stake in this game now.

When a Tamilian goes to New Delhi vis-à-vis Beijing, I am assuming that Beijing feels more alien. That is something undeniable. I am not including the rootless cosmopolitan class of the browns who feel at home at any place that has a chain-coffee outlet. I am talking of the earth, not of the shifting crust. However I am not sure that this even this grade of alienation holds true for the Naga – whose sas-bahoo diet is not imported from Hindustan but from Korea. Korea, thus, is not equally far from all trajectories of ‘Indianness’ – real or imagined. Even for the Tamilian’s supposed closeness in New Delhi, that is too is a project in progress. The non-alienation is less than it was 60 years ago. This is because of a common, constructed mould that has been used to make ‘citizens of a nation-state’ out of human beings. That commonality needs to be continuously manufactured even while proclaiming its transcendental pre-existence as a matter-of-fact. The shape of this mould represents what is the ‘core’ of this ‘Indianness’. Hence, more and more will come to speak a predictable ‘core’ language – the non-core will have to know it to be counted equally. That precisely is the indignity of forced top-down one-ness. One size never fits all. Some come pre-fitted, others have to try hard to fit in, excising parts of their identity.

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Filed under Delhi Durbar, Foundational myths, Identity, Nation

January on Jessore Road / The besieged Hindus of Bangladesh

[ The Hindu, 16 Jan 2014 ; The Friday Times (Lahore), 17 Jan 2014 ]

“Hey there mister can you tell me what happened to the seeds I’ve sown

Can you give me a reason sir as to why they’ve never grown?

They’ve just blown around from town to town

Till they’re back out on these fields

Where they fall from my hand

Back into the dirt of this hard land”

– Bruce Springsteen, This Hard Land

Few moments in the past century evoked as much hope in its stakeholders than the emergence of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh as a secular state in the eastern part of the subcontinent. Drenched in the blood of martyrs and fired by lofty idealism that has still not completely died, this nation-state has not lived up to its ideals. Often declared by some to be the greatest achievement of the Bengali people, is at a dangerous crossroad, once again. The ruling Awami League has an unenviable record of corruption and graft tainting its last 5 years in government. To be fair, the previous elected government of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-Jamaat-e-Islami combine had a track record far worse in this regard. But the country is young and the BNP-Jamaat was last in power 7 years ago – when a significant section of the present population was had not reached adulthood. In addition to that, the opposition, especially the Jamaat, has been partially successful in using its massive economic clout and international propaganda apparatus to portray itself as a victim of state-sponsored witch-hunting. The ‘witch-hunting’ boils down to two things that can all but finish the Jamaat off as a viable political force. The first is the deregistration of Jamaat as an electoral force, as it privileged divine ideas over democracy in the party constitution – something that the Supreme Court deemed as illegal. The second is the War Crimes trial of those who committed crimes against humanity during 1971. Almost all of the present Jamaat leadership was heavily involved in murder, rape, arson and forced conversions. In a subcontinent where politics thrives on the erasure of public memory, this episode has refused to disappear. In fact, a dilly-dallying Awami League government was almost forced by the youth movement in Shahbag to pursue the war crimes trial seriously. Facing the prospect of political annihilation, the Jamaat responded by a three-pronged offensive. One, marshaling young Madrassa students and use them for blockading Dhaka. Two, lending BNP its activists to act as boots-on-the-ground. Three, carrying out targeted attacks on the homes, businesses and places of worship of Hindus, the nation’s largest religious minority. But the collateral damage is often wider.

Farid Mia, a fruit seller, had the extreme misfortune of being near the Ruposhi Bangla Hotel in Dhaka when the street-fighters of the opposition BNP–Jamaat combine hurled petrol bombs indiscriminately. They were aiming to create a scenario of fear in the run-up to the parliamentary elections of January 5, which the principal opposition combine was boycotting. By January 8th, the elections were over. So was Farid’s fight for life at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital. The devastated face of the young child Mohammod Liton, Farid Mia’s youngest son, will go down as a call to conscience, however transient. Farid was unlucky. He could not have known that he would be a victim.

But there are predictable victims. In 2001, after the BNP led alliance won the elections, the usual pattern of murder, rape and arson targeting Hindus happened on a very wide scale. Hindus have traditionally voted for the Awami League. The guarantee for ‘Jaan’ and ‘Maal’ is important for the survival of any people. In the Awami League regime, although Maal in the form of property and homestead has been regularly taken away by Awami League powerfuls, the attack of life and systematic rape of minority women was not part of the party’s policy. The same cannot be said of the BNP-Jamaat under whom cadres, systematically aided by the police forces, have regularly threatened both ‘Jaan and Maal’. Thus, it is not hard to see why the Hindus chose the devil over the deep sea. The Hindus who had voted in 2001 had learned their lesson when they were targeted in massive post-poll violence, most infamously in Bhola. This time around, the Hindus seemed to be out of favour from both sides. While they were targeted by the BNP-Jamaat for coming out to vote at all, in other areas they were targeted by Awami League rebels for coming out to vote for the official Awami League candidate who happened to be of the Hindu faith. There have been disturbing signs over the last few years that at the very local level, the difference between the ‘secular’ Awami League and the communal-fundamentalist BNP-Jamaat seems to disappear, though publicly the former does not tire in parroting the secular ideals of 1971 – the much used and abused ‘Muktijudhher chetona’ (Ideals of the Liberation War).

The violence unleashed against the Hindus this time around, before and after the 5th January polls, have been worst in Jessore, Dinajpur and Satkhira, though many other places like Thakurgaon, Rangpur, Bogra, Lalmonirhat, Gaibandha, Rajshahi and Chittagong have been affected. If people remember Thakurgaon and Dinajpur from a different time, it is probably because these were strongholds of the communist-led Tebhaga movement of the late 1940s. Part of the reason few riots happened in these areas when the subcontinent was in the throes of communal riots was the cross-community solidarity and political consolidation that had been achieved. That was then and we have come a long way since then. Malopara in Abhaynagar, Jessore, inhabited by Bengali Dalit castes, has been attacked repeatedly. Large scale attacks on villages, businesses and places on worship, able-bodied men being on night vigils, women huddling together in one place – all these things brought back memories of 1971 for many of its inhabitants. In Hazrail Rishipara of Jessore, women were raped at gunpoint for the crime that their families had voted in the January 5th election. Dinajpur has been badly hit with cases of beatings, home and shop burnings, and putting fire to haystacks and crops. Both Jessore and Dinajpur being areas bordering West Bengal, crossing the border for preserving life is a sad trek that many have undergone. Such slow ‘squeezing out’ is not new, neither is it intermittent. It is a continuously process that is an effect of a political discourses the willy-nilly aims to delegitimize the very existence of the minorities on their ancestral land by always asking the question –‘Why are you still here?’. ‘Why am I still here’ is a question the minorities have asked themselves and as the statistics show, a staggering number could not find a good answer and hence they left. The trickle has been slow and silent. The ‘Partition’ continues.

The ‘Partition’ was swift and vicious in the Punjabs and Sindh where religious minorities have ceased to exist for all practical purposes. This is not so in the Bengals, where many still live in the ancestral land claimed by nations whose legitimacies are much more recent than people’s ancestral claims over their homestead. Nearly 30% of the Bengal’s western half’s population is Mohammeddan (the figure was 19.46% in 1951, after the 1947 partition). Even in the eastern half, little less than 10% of the population is Hindu (it was 22% in 1951). In East Bengal, secular politics does exist beyond the fashionable drawing rooms of liberaldom. It was one of the four much touted foundational principles of the 1971 Liberation war. The autocratic years of BAKSAL, the long years of army rule when the barracks used Islam to create a veneer of political legitimacy beyond the Awami League and pro-liberation forces, the overtures by mainstream parties to fundamentalist groupings – all of this has given religion-based politics a front-row seat in the nation. Neither have religio-political organizations been immune to the violent turn of this brand of politics internationally in the last decade or so.

How did things come to be this way? The issue of minority targeting, one must admit has deeper roots than simple ‘communal politics’ and ‘mixing politics with religion’. Pro-Pakistan forces, which looked to faith-unity as basis of statehood, did not disappear after the Liberation War. They were broadly and transiently (as it increasingly seems) delegitimized due to the their role in the atrocities of 71. But what about the ideological moorings of the project that religion marks a nation? What about the splinters of that project stuck deep in the political and social structures? That trend did not die not did it dry up. One has to remember that even the Awami League in its inception is a faction of such a trend that reoriented later along the lines of Bengali Nationalism. In the imagination of all the ruling factions since 1947 during East Bengal, East Pakistan and Bangladesh periods, there has been a tacit understanding of the normative citizen – a Muslim Bengali male or a Bengali Muslim male. Hindus of East Bengal are a living reminder of a Bengaliness that is not co-terminal with narratives that conflate Bengaliness (or Bangladeshiness) with being a Bengali Muslim. Their progressive marginality in numbers makes this conflation project easier. Such projects are not necessarily active political projects but often live in the underside of mindscapes that can be ‘secular’ in very many declarations. Thus they can be marginalized without being actively targeted in ‘innocuous’ everyday dealings. Communally targeted violence feeds off from a broader spectrum of support, from active to lukewarm to unconscious.

In any modern nation-state, the majority can decide to be whatever it wants and the minority has to follow suit. So Hindus were expected to become Pakistanis overnight in 1947. While Bengali Muslims politicians have the autonomous agency to un-Pakistanize themselves at will, east Bengali Hindus could only publicly do so at explicit cue from their Bengali Muslim brethren. At any rate, they are never ‘good enough’ citizens in whatever dispensation they find themselves. At one point, they weren’t good enough Pakistanis. Now they are not good enough Bangladeshis. What is the commonality between being a good enough Bangladeshi and good-enough Pakistanis, since being Bengali is not enough. Isn’t religious majoritarianism part of that mix? If yes, what did 1971 achieve for the security of ‘maal’ for Hindus, given that more Hindu land has been usurped by the Awami League than by any other party. But still the Sarkar Bahadur is responsible for jaan and maal. As I said before, the Awami League takes maal for protection of jaan. BNP assures neither. This is part of the draw for Awami League for the Hindus of East Bengal. Just like other minorities, extra-territorial loyalty is the easiest slur that is bandied about. And this is also what makes minorities lesser citizens in a polity – they cannot critique their state in all the ways a majority community person can. They are forced into living double lives and then condemned for living it. Fortunately or unfortunately for Hindus of East Bengal, West Bengal exists where their situation is nothing but information to be used tactically by Hindu-majoritarian forces to oil their own political ambitions. Thankfully, they have been more successful outside West Bengal than within it, but who can say for how long?

But still one cannot but hope that the People’s Republic of Bangladesh would live up to its original ideals. Minorities have fled the nation-state for want of security in large numbers, year after year. Numbers matter. It also matters that nothing of the scale of Delhi 1984 or Gujarat 2002 has happened there since 1971. The name of a ‘Hindu’ hero like Shurjo Sen can be chanted spiritedly by tens of thousands of mostly Muslim youths in the streets of Dhaka. There is no such parallel in the nation-states that are the other fragments of 1947. Even in the recent protests at Shahbag, lakhs raised slogans in his name. “Shurjo sen-er banglaye, jamaat-shibirer thhai nai (No place for Jamaat-Shibir in Shurjo Sen’s Bengal).” There is significant presence of minorities in the bureaucracy and local administration. Even in the recent spate of violence, the state has transferred police officials for failing to provide security. Gonojagoron Moncho, the youth movement that spearheaded the Shahbag protests for war crime trials, has led a road-march to violence stricken Abhaynagar to stand in solidarity with the affected. This is not a fly-by-night visit by VIPs or a handful of politicos. This reality exists too. It is this reality that partly prevents a mass exodus of Hindus beyond the levels seen at present. There is too much to lose to leave. Still. For far too many.

সুধাংশু যাবে না

–শামসুর রাহমান

লুণ্ঠিত মন্দির, আর অগ্নিদগ্ধ বাস্তুভিটা থেকে

একটি বিবাগী স্বর সুধাংশুকে ছুঁলো

‘আখেরে কি তুলি চলে যাবে?’ বেলা শেষে

সুধাংশু ভস্মের মাঝে খুঁজে

বেড়ায় দলিল, ভাঙা চুড়ি, সিঁদুরের স্তব্ধ কৌটা,

স্মৃতির বিক্ষিপ্ত পুঁতিমালা।

স্বর বলে, ‘লুটেরা তোমাকে জব্দ ক’রে

ফেলে আশে পাশে

তোমার জীবনে নিত্যদিন লেপ্টে থাকে

পশুর চেহারা সহ ঘাতকের ছায়া,

আতঙ্কের বাদুড় পাখার নিচে কাটাচ্ছ প্রহর,

তবু তুমি যেও না সুধাংশু।’

আকাশের নীলিমা এখনো

হয়নি ফেরারি, শুদ্ধাচারী গাছপালা

আজও সবুজের

পতাকা ওড়ায়,

ভরা নদীকোমর বাঁকায় তন্বী বেদিনীর মতো।

এ পবিত্র মাটি ছেড়ে কখনো কোথাও

পরাজিত সৈনিকের মতো

সুধাংশু যাবে না।

Risen from the embers of an ancestral place–plundered temple–

An unearthly voice vibrates in Sudhanshu

Are you, finally, leaving?’ At the end of the day

Sudhanshu gropes amidst cinders

For the deeds of his homestead, splintered bangles, the mute colours of a vermillion box.

The dog-eared scatters of manuscripts in memory.

The phantom says, ‘The plunderer has beaten you

Here and there

Your daylight clings to

An animal outline ambushed by a murderer’s mien,

You spend your hours crouching under the bat-wings of terror,

Despite all, do not leave, oh Sudhanshu.’

The blue of this sky is yet to

Diminish, the sacred trees

Are yet flying green

Banners, the copious river

Meanders her waist like a slim snakecharmer lass.

He won’t abandon this sacred earth for elsewhere,

Unlike a retreating soldier in defeat,

Sudhanshu would forever not leave

– Shamsur Rahman

(Gargi Bhattacharya translated the poem from the Bengali original)

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Filed under Bengal, Dhaka, Displacement, Foundational myths, History, Identity, India, Language, Memory, Nation, Pakistan, Partition, Power, Religion, Rights, Terror

When Nagas follow the constitution and ruffle the centre / At the margins of homogeneity / When the state of Nagaland upholds the constitution

[ Daily News and Analysis, 9 Dec 2013 ; Millenium Post, 9 Dec 2013 ; Echo of India, 9 Dec 2013 ; Morung Express ; Kashmir Reader, 16 Dec 2013 ; Dhaka Tribune, 17 Dec 2013 ]

The Union of India is not a homogenous union. It never was. What I mean by this is that its constituent parts are not created equal nor does the law of the land treat them equally. There are a host of special provisions that apply to specific constituents only – thereby removing any chance of homogeneity. There is indeed a great deal of homogeneity of law – but that is in ‘mainstream India’. ‘Mainstream India’ has typically been those parts of the Union where the Indian Army is not deployed at present. Naturally, the contour of this ‘mainstream’ has been changing. Places where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is in action, there are sweeping powers that the Armed Forces have over the life and liberty of people. The AFSPA has been applied at different times to most of what constitutes the Union of India’s northeast. No points for guessing in which other zone, apart from the northeast, does the AFSPA remain in force. But lets get back to homogeneity.

The non-homogeneity of the law typically remains buried from the mainstream (for definition of mainstream, see above) because most people from the mainstream simply do not have much reason to venture ‘out there’. The converse is actually true. In an over-centralized system, largesse in the form of opportunities, public facilities, institutions, universities, infrastructure, etc are inordinately showered around a zone around New Delhi called the National Capital Region (NCR). Hence, those from ‘out there’ have to trudge to the centre of the ‘mainstream’, whether they like it or not. It is very rare that this non-homogeneity comes into public scrutiny in the mainstream. Except for the big exception – the K exception. The provisions of the constitution of the Union of India that accords special K provisions has been the stick by which religious majoritarian forces have tried to show their super-special Indian-ness. Others have avoided the issue, for their supposed fear of losing religious minority vote-banks. The agreements between them are far deeper, but let us not go there.

Auspicious days have a special value in our lives. So much so that the ‘bad guys’ specially choose such occasions to mar the jubilation. They must be having a particularly twisted mind. 1st December 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the Indian Union declaring the state (in the constituent province sense) of Nagaland. As late as 1936, the British authorities were not entirely sure where to put most of the ‘northeast’ – in the Empire of India or in the soon-to-be-created crown colony of Burma. Indeed, after 1937, some Naga areas ‘fell’ in Burma. Funny, isn’t it, that the land, that inalienable heirloom of ancestors on which a people live and their identity thrives are not the most important truths – but lines drawn without consent and ‘falling’ on people are. Nagas have led the longest struggle (someone’s terrorism, someone’s insurgency, someone’s freedom struggle – we all know the routine disclaimer) against both the post-British Burmese and Indian states. Whether they are post-colonial states (and this doubtful list includes Pakistan too) depends on whom you ask.

More than 50 years ago, the then prime minister of the Union of India, Jawaharlal Nehru said in the Lok Sabha – “ The Nagas are a hard-working and disciplined people, and there is much in their way of life from which others can learn with profit. We have had for many years Nagas in the Indian Army and they have proved to be excellent soldiers. Our policy has always been to give the fullest autonomy and opportunity to self-development to the Naga people, without interfering in any way in their internal affairs or way of life.” The last sentence is critical, as it goes against the usual thrust of policies from New Delhi – typically aimed at creating a homogenized, Hindustan (Hindi-heartland) centric identity. However, the context is important. When the Brahmin from Allahabad was speaking those words, he knew the stakes. A few years before that, certain Naga groups had conducted a plebiscite. The Union of India did not consider any such plebiscite legal and of course there was no question of respecting the verdict of something it considered illegal in the first place. Legality is something. Reality is typically something else. The army was brought in. These pronouncements by Jawaharlal came shortly after his discussions with a group called the Naga People Convention (NPC). They negotiated the subsequent statehood status for Nagaland. Given the prevailing conditions, special provisions for the State of Nagaland were incorporated as Article 371A of the constitution of the Union of India.

Now on the eve of the 50 glorious years of Nagaland’s life as a state of the Union of India, the ruling party of Nagaland called the Naga People’s Front has decided to take Article 371A of the constitution and certain pronouncements by the Petroleum Ministry in the parliament of the Indian Union at face value. The Nagaland state government wants to use all its natural resources on their own and has cited the constitution to say it is constitutional. This is the kind of problem you get into when you have non-pliant provincial governments. New Delhi is not amused at the constitution being thrown at them. This is a crisis, not so much of law breaking, but of law-following. We probably know how this ends. There will be ‘high-level’ ‘meetings’ and ‘consultations’. The otherwise passive position of the Governor of a state (a New Delhi agent and probably predictably a former CBI apparatchik) will become active. The state government will probably back down. The courts will go the ‘right’ way if it comes to that. It will be ‘all peaceful’ on the Northeastern front. And the Union of India will have lost another opportunity to breathe much-needed life-blood into its federal structure.

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Filed under Army / police, Caste, Change, Delhi Durbar, Federalism, Foundational myths

Paying the price for a gory ideology of hostage theory / Vague vengeance driving terror / Vague vengeance and Pakistan church blast

[ Daily News and Analysis, 1 Oct 2013; Millenium Post, 7 Oct 2013; Shillong Times, 7 Oct 2013; Echo of India, 9 Oct 2013 ]

“Ekbar matir dike takao,

 Ekbar manusher dike”

 (Once, take a look at the ground beneath your feet. Then, look at human beings)

 –  Birendra Chattopadhyay, Bengali poet (1920-1985)

 

In the most murderous attack on what is left of the ever-terrorized Christian population in Pakistan, Islamic terrorists have killed at least 85 worshippers at the All Saints Church in Peshawar on September 22nd. Inspired suicide bombers were the weapon of choice to target the Christian congregation. The death count is still rising, as more people succumb to their injuries in the hospitals. Outright murder represents the sharpest edge of what Christian and other ‘constitutionally’ non-Muslim people endure in Pakistan. Their daily life in a nation-state that officially considers them unequal in various ways to official Muslims is not pretty. Usurpation of property, blasphemy charges, attacks and destruction of places of worship, rape and subsequent forced conversion (or the reverse order) of womenfolk form the visible tip of a much broader systemic antagonism.

Thankfully, the minorities are not completely friendless in Pakistan. At huge personal risk, people like IA Rahman, Asma Jehangir, Abid Hasan Minto and many others have been standing in solidarity with religious minorities of Pakistan, protesting on the streets, for decades together. The threat to their lives is real, as was shown by the brutal murder of Salman Taseer, governor of West Punjab, and someone who had expressed solidarity with a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, phonily charged with blasphemy against Islam and given a death sentence. The recent anti-Christian massacre has brought the predictable protestors to the streets – human rights activists, left activists and the Christian community itself. But in addition to this, a somewhat broader segment also has protested. These groups have demanded that there be no dialogue or negotiations with Islamic terrorists behind this attack.

While shunning dialogue, the society in Pakistan may do well to initiate a broader dialogue. Directed not at the clearly-defined demons like the Taliban, this dialogue may point to a broader disease that emanates uncomfortably from the holy-cows of that nation-state. Only the society-at-large can initiate such a dialogue that explores the contours and content of inherited socio-political ideology, things that take a providential status as foundation-myths of any nation-state. Should one take a closer look at holy cows and foundation myths to diagnose the disease?

Jundallah, the Islamic terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the Peshawar massacre, laid out in no uncertain terms how it justifies the attack. ‘‘All non-Muslims in Pakistan are our target, and they will remain our target as long as America fails to stop drone strikes in our country.’’ So, non-Muslims in Pakistan are, in their understanding, more America’s than Pakistan’s and if America cared enough for its ‘own’ in Pakistan, it had better stop doing things to Muslims in Pakistan. This equation of America = Christian = some hapless Suleiman Masih in Peshawar has widespread appeal, not only for its simplicity, but also for its antiquity. For those who have a somewhat longer memory, the subcontinent has known this for some time – most famously as the pernicious ‘hostage’ theory.

The ‘hostage’ theory has been around for some time. This was enunciated most explicitly by Mohammad-Ali Jinnahbhai, the quaid of the All India Muslim League, as a macabre formula for peace. By this notion, the safety of religious ‘minorities’ in the then still-to-be-born Pakistan and India would be ensured by the fact that the majority community A wont attack minority community B, because in other places, community A is a minority where B is the majority, and hence vulnerable to ‘retributive’ counterattack. Hence, it would ensured (or so it was thought) that violence would not happen locally, as communities that imagine themselves non-locally, would see that this could go tit for tat for ‘themselves’ elsewhere. A minority then is a hostage of the majority. If there are two hostage takers, peace will be ensured. Rather then hostage-driven peace, the subcontinent has witnessed many instances of what can be called retaliatory hostage torture. The massacre of Hindus in Noakhali on Kojagori Lakshmi puja day, the massacre of Muslims at Garhmukteshwar, the reciprocal train-massacres crossing the Radcliffe border of the Punjab, the massacres in Dhaka and Barisal – the list goes on. The list shows that hostage torture enjoyed a broad currency. The Muslim League was simply brazen enough to state it as such. Other groups also used it to their advantage to the hilt.

A tacit acknowledgement of the ‘hostage’ status of minorities was the basis of the Nehru-Liaquat pact – to protect the minorities in West Bengal and East Bengal. The hostage theory lives on when the Babri mosque demolition causes hundreds of temples to be destroyed in the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh. This is why a Hindu there is more India’s than theirs – sort of an unreasonable remnant that ideally shouldn’t have been there. The hostage theory is an ideology of the book and not of the soil. The question of a human’s belonging, in that heartless scheme of things, is not with the soil beneath his ground, but with someone faraway bound by similar ideology. This binds people from disparate soils similarly, and divides people from the same soil. The modern dominance of universalist, extra-local ideologies of community definition, as opposed to the local and the ecological, has taken a very heavy toll on humanity. Peshawar shows that the ideology of the hostage theory is alive and well in the subcontinent. Jundallah is its bloody edge. The softer margins include a very many among us.

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Close encounters of the inhuman kind / Of Sarfaraz Shah, Ishrat Jahan and the need for empathy / When protectors turn predators / The great danger of state ‘security’

[ Daily News and Analysis, 9 Jul 2013 ; Express Tribune, 9 Jul 2013 ; Millenium Post, 5 Jul 2013 ; Echo of India, 9 Jul 2013 ; Kashmir Reader, 10 Jul 2013 ; Kashmir Images, 10 Jul 2013; The NorthEast Today, August 2013 ]

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of India has found that Ishrat Jahan, the 19 year old woman killed in an ‘encounter’ in 2004, was not a terrorist. It also found the involvement of senior officers of Gujarat police and the Intelligence Bureau (IB). Rest assured, no other case of ‘encounter’ involving the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Gujarat Police will be heard of in the near future. Everyone learns from past mistakes – institutions learn even faster to cover up tracks. However, the expose or ‘investigation’ of the CBI by the IB has more to do with a breach of trust – that sacred compact of looking the other way.

But is there a lesson that Ishrat Jahan is teaching us?  Staying clear of trouble is what Ishrat had done all her life. That did not prove quite useful. I maniacally walk in straight lines – only son, propertied family, the curly-haired dreamer, and old parents – lots to lose that I deeply love. Fright as a method of silencing is as old as inhumanity. And I am not immune to fright. But does walking straight help?  Does it ensure safety – of life and property, as they say? If Ishrat Jahan wasn’t safe, who is? There were the words– Pakistan, terrorism – words that do not need proof for culpability. Though I inhabit that cool vantage on an iceberg, Ishrat’s murder is a rare peek into that world in the submerged part of the iceberg, icy and ruthless. And what I see scares the hell out of me.

Those involved in Ishrat Jahan’s murder are not small fry. They include quite a few higher ups entrusted with enforcing the law. Why are those people who are more likely to murder and torture than ordinary citizens so thoroughly over-represented among the ranks of certain state-funded institutions? Why are they almost always ‘protectors of law’? What is this ‘law’ that it protects? What are its contours? Is this law to be read in between the lines of the constitution? Is this law to be found in the umbra and penumbra of the constitutional guarantee to life? And still they talk, fashionably, gracefully, fashionably – like Pythia, the oracle at Delphi. If one person knew that Apollo did not speak, it was Pythia. Unbelievers always have a way of becoming priests.

Only if one eavesdrops on the players at the top, then the code in which they talk to each other, codes that are not to be found in the formal rulebook. In an interview aired by the BBC, journalist Andrew Marr asked Noam Chomsky during an exchange on Chomsky’s views on media distortion of truth, how could Chomsky know for sure that he, a journalist, was self-censoring? Chomsky replied, “I don’t say you’re self-censoring – I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying; but what I’m saying is, if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.” And it is the production of this believer-citizen that is essential for ‘encounter’ murders to go unlamented for very few enjoy the spoils of being an cynical insider. The insiders may come in different colours, shapes, sizes, tongues and even faiths, but unless they shared a contempt for habeas corpus and veneration for this ‘other’ rule-book, they would not be sitting where they are sitting.

Similar to what Michael Moore said, I have never been slapped by a Pakistani army man for I was walking too briskly on Srinagar streets, never been murdered in broad daylight in the streets of Imphal by special forces from Pakistan, never been kidnapped in Gujarat by the Inter Services Intelligence, never been tortured for days together in jails by Sindh Police, never been detained, blindfolded and then shot through the head by a Pakistani Army man. But there is no opportunity for competitive gloating to be done here by Pakistanis either. For the near-daily murder and torture of pro-independence Baloch youth are now too numerous to deny. For Ishrat Jahan of Gujarat and Chongkham Sanjit of Manipur share just too many things with Sarfaraz Shah, gunned down in Karachi in broad daylight by the Pakistan Rangers. Sarfaraz’s howls, his pleadings, the utter helplessness in front of the law enforcement agencies, that moment when the gun fires, that look on the face of Sarfaraz a moment before he is shot – a look that shouts out ‘Please’ in a way that would make the Himalayas crumble if the gods were as benevolent as they are said to be  – these are all too familiar on the other side of the Radcliffe. Something else is familiar – that the Rangers will not pay for their crime. There is far too much that is common between the subcontinental badlands – commonalities that make a mockery of the exclusive pride that some seem to possess.

Every time we ignore an extra-judicial murder, it brings us that much closer to being a cold reptile. We have a stake in this. ‘The freedom of others extends mine infinitely’ said a famous graffiti from Paris 1968. And when this ‘other’ is the one where all our collective prejudices and hate converge, ensuring that ‘other’s’ freedom has ripples everywhere. The flood of empathy needs such ripples now. We owe it to us and to the Ishrat Jahans and the Sarfaraz Shahs of the subcontinent. We must never forget what Avtar Singh ‘Paash’ had articulated so poignantly years ago.

‘Jey desh di surakhya eho hondee hai
key be-zameeree zindagi lei shart ban javey,
akh di putli vich han ton bina koi bhi shabd ashleel howe,
tey man badkaar ghadiyan de samne
dandaut’t jhukiya rahe, tey saanu desh di surakhya ton khatra hai’ ( If a life without conscience is a pre-condition of the country’s security, if anything other than saying ‘yes’ in agreement is obscene, and the mind submits before the greedy times, then the security of the country is a danger to us).

*** DNA version ***

The man-eater insignia is so ubiquitous in the Indian Union that the pack of maned carnivores appears docile. In moments of tricolour pride, they may even look like protective mascots. The possibility that they might have been staring down at you all this time is an unsettling thought. I maniacally walk in straight lines — only child, propertied family, the enchanting curly-haired one, the old parents — lots to lose that I deeply love. Fright is a silencing method as old as inhumanity.

Does walking straight help? Does it ensure safety of life and property? If Ishrat Jahan wasn’t safe, who is? But then she was Muslim. Then there were the words– Kashmir, terrorism, Pakistan — incandescent words of certitude that stick to one’s skin till they char the flesh down to the bones. But I have never been slapped by the Pakistan military for walking too briskly on Srinagar streets, never been murdered publicly in the streets of Imphal by the 10th Balochistan Rifles, never been kidnapped in Gujarat by the Pakistani intelligence, never been detained in West Bengal, blindfolded and then shot through the head by a policeman from Pakistan. Who should you be scared of — you, of the right religion and a law-abiding, flag-saluting, Dhoni-cheering, Raanjhanaa-adoring, jhamela- avoiding citizen of the Union of India?

Ishrat’s death shows our collective helplessness and what is possible. One such death is a deep ocean of unredeemable injustice — injustice that brutally squeezes out the milk of human love out of a mother till blood oozes forth. That it is possible to kill with impunity with multiple higher-ups involved. That it is possible to expose that with ease if power-politics demands so. Ishrat is exceptional in that her murder had some scavenge value — she posthumously has become a wedge that ensured ‘investigation’. Very few such ‘encounters’ have this wedge-like quality — usually the four lions hunt together. The animals are at their vilest in plainclothes and not in khaki, just like real news is what transpires between panelists during a talk-show break.

The detailed understanding of the anatomy of ‘encounter’ that has been displayed by the principal political parties is sinister. It is akin to the knowledge that police has about every crime in a locality, but ‘solves’ specific ones based on self-interest. Then there is the deeper layer of being complicit in the crime. What does this tell us about other ‘encounters’.

Some very big-shots are involved in Ishrat Jahan’s murder. What is this monstrous system that is designed to provide upward mobility and gallantry rewards for the scum of the earth? Why are those people who are more likely to murder and torture than others found mostly among the ranks of certain state-funded agencies? Why are they almost always ‘protectors of law’? Is the Constitution really an ornate cover to some deep law of the state for whom ‘encounter’ murders are ordinary policy?

Every act of private gloating by that demon within some of us that cheers a Muslim death brings all of us that much closer to being a cold reptile. There is an acute need for a flood of empathy to sweep away our collective prejudice and hate. Where is the purifying flood? Where is mother Ganga when she is needed the most? She owes it to us and to the Ishrat Jahans whose cases would never be reopened.

I do sincerely hope that the Mother-goddess Durga will secure us against ‘security’. There is no buffalo — only 4 lions in sight that she thinks are her own. When will my demon-slayer mother open her third eye?

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Mercenaries of today / When nationalism thrills, it kills / Subcontinental nationalisms –the forgotten debris of operations / Chronicle of a death foretold

[ The Express Tribune (Karachi) 13 May 2013 ; Millenium Post, 11 May 2013 ; The Northeast Today , June 2013 ; Echo of India, 14 May 2013 ; The Shillong Times, 11 May 2013 ; Daily Kashmir Images, 15 May 2013]

Formal learning about the past has a certain bias – discontinuities and differences are underlined more than continuities. This kind of a framing has a problem. It makes the human journey and experience look like some kind of a journey towards progress and betterment. So strong is this dogma that things happening later often take on positive hues just by the dint of having happened later, somewhat similar to the wisdom and respect that is accorded to people for being born earlier.

School textbooks are interesting things and the vision of the world they impart upon you can years of unlearning – in most instances, complete delearning is not possible at all. It is from such school texbooks we get our ideas of history – at least that is where I got mine.  In that framing of the past via history, kings and their stories of building and losing kingdoms have centre-stage. The history that I read in school had a good dose of battles, wars, empire-building and such things. Avenging one’s sisters slighting, avenging killing of a father, avenging one’s own usurpation from the  throne and similar personal grievances of the royals were often presented as prominent reasons for war between kings. Of course these could not have been the only reasons, but these were presented as ‘sparks’ or ‘factors’ in the mix. The thought that often occurred to me in my childhood when I sat in the class was about the people who constituted the armies that fought these bloody battles. I can understand ties of caste, clan, religion and such – but for kingdoms and their armies that encompassed more than one such category (and most did), what was in it for most of the fighting men? Why would they march and fight because some big guy had been miffed by the actions of some other big guy. They held no personal grudge either way. It is not as if their king loved them any more beyond the service that they provided. In short, there was no love lost. The part-time soldiers knew that they were mercenaries.  That made them professionals. The ‘give’ and the ‘take’ were well defined – the professionals knew what mattered most was their own life. That is precisely why certain things were quite common. Mutinies were common. Desertion was commoner. Defeat of a king often did not result from some  great reversal in actual battle, by say being outkilled by numbers – but simply because most of the army ( that is to say, most of the mercenaries ) making a quick cost-benefit ratio calculation between sticking with their employer and fleeing. The subcontinent has produced countless such mercenaries. We now like to think of many of them as ‘veers’ and ‘ghazis’. The ’cause’ of fighting was, more often than not, as irrelevant to the armed man as the ‘prestige’ of a five-star hotel is to an underpaid bathroom-cleaner.

With the rise with nation-states and ideologies of nationalism, we now have an unprecedented phenomenon that has been sweeping the world, particularly for the last couple of centuries. I am referring to permanent standing armies and agencies for dealing with ‘external threats’ of nation states. There are hordes upon hordes of young people signed up in the army and other agencies, doing exactly what mercenaries of various hues have done in the past, with a crucial difference. Many of them vaguely think they have a cause (‘the nation’, its ‘security’ and ‘prestige’) which is better than the ’cause’ of his opposing party and that they do what they do not only for money and other material benefits. In short, they do not think of themselves as mercenaries. So much so that now the term ‘mercenary’ has become a nasty word. Now it is generally associated, quite tellingly, with ‘weak’ states or ‘non-state’ actors – in short, entities that do not have a strong ‘nation-state’ ideology.

All of what I have been talking about is about the employees – patriots or mercenaries. However, what about the employers? I am sure that a nice bathroom looks nice to the bathroom cleaner, the hotel manager and the owner.  But who among these benefits more from a bathroom cleaner saying ‘I love my job’, that is it not merely a matter of cleaning a bathroom but the ‘prestige’ of the hotel?

All such loves hinge on an assumption on the part of the employee – that there is something greater that the employer and the employee are both a part of, where the vertical employer/employee dichotomy vanishes and they stand side by side, as equals. This something is the nation and is held together by nationalism – the king of ‘glues’. Sarabjit Singh and Surjeet Singh were neck deep in the glue. The former is dead. ‘Tactical kindness’ from the state of Pakistan has saved the latter. The state of India denies their claims of working for it – certifying them as free-actors. The state of Pakistan ascribes free agency to its nationals who get caught or killed across the LOC and deny any connection. The mythical glue produced by the anthem, jhanda and the danda seems to loose potency during these times. Who endangered Sarabjit Singh’s life the most? Do we have anything to fear from those who endangered Sarabjit’s life the most (and I mean the Sarabjits in jails and under cover on both sides of the Radcliffe line)? Sanaullah has been killed too. People who did not know him name when he was living will now make him a martyr. Others will try to show why this was not a retaliation, or how Sanaullah’s death was less brutal than Sarabjit’s. In this nitpicking about the level of brutality and the arrow of causality, what gets brutalized is the dignity of human beings, who have rights that predate nations and nationalisms. A few lines from the Punjabi poet Avtar Singh ‘Paash’ (killed by Khalistani militants) may have clues.

‘Jey desh di surakhya eho hondee hai
key be-zameeree zindagi lei shart ban javey,
akh di putli vich han ton bina koi bhi shabd ashleel howe,
tey man badkaar ghadiyan de samne
dandaut’t jhukiya rahe, tey saanu desh di surakhya ton khatra hai’ ( If a life without conscience is a pre-condition of the country’s security, if anything other than saying ‘yes’ in agreement is obscene, and the mind submits before the greedy times, then the security of the country is a danger to us.)

Surely, anyone is free to take pride in the hotel, but they should know who is expendable, irrespective of their depth of pride.

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Floating in the Durbar / Floats in the Delhi Durbar

[ The Friday Times , February 22-28, 2013 – Vol. XXV, No. 02 ]

Sometime last month, it was the 26th of January in the Indian Union. It was January 26th at many other places but the date has a special significance for the Union of India nation-state. And Delhi has a special significance for the Union of India. I was, in fact, in Delhi that day. Not in that ‘New’ Delhi – built on the land ‘cleared’ by displacing numerous villages, villages that had been there for centuries. Some descendants are still fighting for compensation for the land where present day Lutyens and Baker designed palaces stand. I am told that in some of these palaces, there are crisp-khadi-wearing sages who are busy determining compensation amounts for village-destructions and community-annihilations that are being planned right now. Some say, in the subcontinent, the notion of time is not linear but cyclical. I have an odd feeling that it is more like a downward spiral. By mistake, one may think it is an upward spiral, especially if one just sees a snapshot without a past. For every displaced village there is a trendy and hip urban ‘village’ in Delhi. For the hip, it is a world ‘pregnant’ with opportunities – some bellies need to be torn apart in the process, that’s all.

Since the day is a state holiday in the territory of the Indian Union, I will write and ramble. It’s a chhutti after all. So, I was in Delhi on the 26th. There is this splendid kababi on the road through the Delhi gate of Shahjahanabad. They call themselves Captain’s Kabab and claim to be more than a century old. They earlier had a signboard called Tundey Kabab. That had a different establishment date – again more than a century old. The signboards are very new. They haven’t even thrown away the Tunday Kabab signboard – the date discord is for all to see. But more importantly, the Kabab is there for all to taste. And it is sterling. The powers to be had fenced off the whole stretch of this road till the Red Fort and beyond. This made things hard for me as I had to walk quite a bit to simply reach the opposite side of the street where the Kabab shop is. This went on for a few days to the run up to the 26th. I had been in the same area, in a similar fix around August, the 15th. But then that occasion had brought cheer to my life. Ostensibly to portray that the Union’s diversity goes beyond humans, different kinds of animals are brought to parade on this day, on top of which men sit wearing gaudy military uniforms, ready to defend me. Some of these four-legged beasts used to rest in front of my hotel, taking a break from their patriotic duty. I had seen the mouth of a camel up close and had marveled at the size of its teeth.

For some reason, the morning sun of the 26th of January in Shahjahanabad reminded me of an anecdote that a gender studies scholar had once related to me. She grew up in Allahabad, no less – the city that housed the Nehrus’ and the city which saw its first motor car quite early – also of the Nehrus’. So there was this custom of standing up, with a spine as much erect as one can, when the Indian Union’s ‘national anthem’ is played. This ranked high among the set of ‘values’ to be inculcated in the young and the impressionable. So one day, when she and her sister was near about their father and his friend at a local tea shop, they all heard the ‘national anthem’ – Rabindranath’s words overworked to death for reasons of state. The father and his friend kept on drinking their tea, seated as before. Fresh with patriotic righteousness in such matters, the sisters castigated the elders, making them somewhat squeamish. After high school, she went to university and there she was starting to learn that there are many other in the world beyond the tricolour. But certain old habits die-hard. One day as she lay supine in her hostel bed, the radio decided to dish out Rabindranath’s co-opted verses. Her former tricolour self and her present multi-coloured self reflexively reached an instantaneous compromise – she continued laying on her back but stiffened her spine, stretched the fingers of her feet as much as she could. She lay ‘in attention’. Strange are the ways in which the tricolour evokes an erection. But I digress.

Whether I understood Gandhi wrong or the state read him wrong is an open question but a big attraction of the 26th in this Republic of self-proclaimed non-violence is the parading of its latest guns, tanks and missiles with concomitant cheering by its naturally, culturally, historically and physiologically non-violent Delhi citizenry. After the display of arms and ammunitions have soothed the anxious hearts of the non-violent people, gaudy floats or tableaux from various provinces and some central government agencies capture the road in front of the Red Fort. Lest someone may think that this kind of ‘diversity on display’ is inspired by the similarly annual spectacles organized by Stalin in Red Square (Square, Fort – what does it matter?), one simply has to look into the past of the eternal Republic. Not ‘Vedic  past’ but ‘Durbar past’. During the British rule over the subcontinent, Delhi was, for a few occasions, the venue of a spectacular and costly farce called the Durbar – a symbolic act of collective obeisance to the janaganabhagyavidhata of the time. The armies of the British crown (which continued uninterrupted under the Congressite crown) and the diversity of the spine-less native princes’ procession in front of the King-Emperor or his Viceroy for long provided the template from which today’s spectacle grew. The continuity is telling in more ways than one. A major project of post-partition history and civics in the Indian Union has been to manufacture a discontinuity. It is increasingly successful. Eternal republics have endless resources for such projects.

I was woken up early by the processions and I joined others to watch the annual Republican ritual. My peculiar location helped me get the view for the show that was otherwise ticketed. Lack of sleep does not suit me well. Last night’s food was making its presence felt. Standing by the march-past, I farted. Thankfully, there were lots of patriotic noises to drown me. I made a mental note to myself – radish, cabbage and Bengal grams, within 12 hours of consumption, are incompatible with patriotism. A man learns something every day.

I stood on the street-side as the floats passed one by one. Given my dirty mind, I could not help notice a little piece of ‘heaven’ floating as a float on this earth, right here in Delhi. Oh, the joy! On that float, there were people looking happy. They were looking happy continuously, a rare feat for even the happiest on this earth. They were happy up until the float finished its course. I do not know whether they continued to be happy ever after – those characters on the float. Some party-pooping voice in my head whispered that on this day, there were more people on this float in Delhi than there was on the streets of the capital of the province that this float is supposed to represent. The eternal Republic did not deny the whisper, its ‘independent’ media did not confirm it either. Cutting through the fog of unconfirmed discomforts, a little piece of heaven floated alongside the Red Fort. The atmosphere was gay and many a brown cheeks wore tricolour paint. Such was the glory of that splendid January morning.

One by one came floats from many areas – the affected mirth of one trying to vanquish the affected mirth of the one in front of it. This reminded me of Soviet show-farms but only better. They only managed affected mirth. The republic has managed to introduce the unique spectacle of competitive affected mirth. No kidding.

Then came the tableau of ‘Paschim Bangaal’, written in Devanagari, no less. Thankfully, this one did not have any affected mirth as it was decorated with statues of confirmed dead but famous people and one Subhash Chandra Bose. But that’s not the point. What is this ‘Paschim Bangaal’? Ostensibly, it has something to do with the western half of Bengal after its second partition in 1947. ‘Paschim Bangaal’ is not what a stupendous majority of the people living in that land calls it. The script in which that was written is understood by very few in that land. But to be ‘represented’ and made intelligible (to whom?), Delhi seems to have specific ways to caricature our names, a process to which we have to necessarily submit. The Hindi-Hindu republic is free to call anyone in whatever way it deems fit, and by dint of an ideological veneer lubricated with cold cash, this ‘way’ has now been normalized in the minds of many. Such is the insidious nature of a centralizing uni-lingual nation-state. When Bengalis pronounce other people’s names in their way, it is termed ignorance. When they stick to pronouncing names in their own ways, after being reminded of the correct way, it is termed obstinacy and parochialism. When the Hindi-Hindu mandarins do the same, it becomes a standard, a benchmark – to be emulated and propagated. All peoples have their own ways of making sense of others, except the hegemon who has a unilateral right to not only caricature others but also make sure that such caricatures enjoy the status of ‘official’ and ‘approved’ portrayals. The ideology runs deep. The Tamils or the Bengalees can be caricatured for their dress and pronunciation, but there is no fiddling with the Hindu-Hindi. The core is never caricatured. Or rather, what is not caricatured is a hint to what is the core. It is the sovereign and as Miss Roy points out, sovereign is the one that alone can decide on exceptions. It sits in the Red Fort, it sits in our school syllabi, it sits inside the heads of the subject peoples. To make a core-periphery distinction is unpalatable to some. Some from the periphery are complicit in this show – following to the minutest detail the correct and ‘standard’ way to bend over backwards, how to prostrate at the right moments, so as to have the privilege to strut in front of power.

The core is most comfortable, no doubt, in Delhi, where it all began. After all, what better place to institutionalize inequity and marginalization of ‘misfits’ than a new ‘city’ whose founding is based on the total uprooting of whole rooted communities. Rootedness is something it hates like a plague. This is a mecca of the rootless but even here, true success is only for those who are ready to reach for the stars on the shoulder of others. The state signals its favour for this ilk in no uncertain terms when it awards its badges of honour. The ‘Padma Shri’ for ‘distinguished service in any field’ is the award that is most commonly given away and is typically announced just before the 26th of January every year. Delhi accounts for less than 2 per cent of the population living in the territory of the Indian Union. This year, nearly 20 per cent of the winners of Padma Shri were from Delhi. There is something about Delhi, some believe – as the thick and rich cream generated by distributive injustice is made invisible as such, and transformed into the ‘spirit of Delhi’ and other such curious concepts.

From Delhi’s own float, a rock-star looking character sang –

‘Dilli khushion ka angan

Dilli sadio se raoshan

Dilli kala ka sagar…

Dilli sab ka dil hai yaaro,

Desh ki dharkan Dilli’

So, if you want to be counted, you know what tongue to speak and where to stay. For the rooted, the obstinate and the rest, there is ‘the idea of India’ to suck on.

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This my people / Irom’s Manipur, Pazo Bibi’s Balochistan and Obama’s America – lessons for the Subcontinent

[ The Friday Times (Lahore), December 28 – January 03, 2012 – Vol. XXIV, No. 46 ; Frontier(web), 27 Nov 2012; The NorthEast Today, May 2013 ]

The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity, but the one that removes awareness of other possibilities, that makes it seem inconceivable that other ways are viable, that removes the sense that there is an outside.

—Allan Bloom

When there is a festival, it may create an illusion as if the ‘whole world’ is happy at this moment. Or so we like to think. Solitary wails cannot be heard above the sea of laughter. For a certain segment of inhabitants of the Indian Union, the high note of last November was Barrack Obama’s victory in the US presidential elections. He asked for 4 more years. He got it. Resident and non-resident desis watched his victory speech of hope.  USA may or may not have 4 more years of hope, but that November also marked 12 years of hopelessness in a part of this subcontinent. Irom Sharmila Chanu, the Gandhi that Gandhi never was, finished 12 years of her epic fast, protesting the torture perpetrated by the armed wing of the Indian state in Manipur, especially in the cover of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). And she is not finished, yet. She may get 12 more years. I sincerely hope not.

A major part of the reason why the cries of Manipuri women, as exemplified by Irom Sharmila Chanu, can be ignored is the purported ‘insignificance’ of Manipur in the ‘national’ scene. This ‘national scene’ effectively came into being in the Indian Union after the Republic was proclaimed in 1950. Even before the Indian Union was a Republic, it had managed to dismiss the democratically elected government of Manipur led by the Praja Shanti party. The Congress had fought the elections of Manipur and lost. Manipur, with an elected government and at that point not an integral part of the Union, was annexed by the Union of India, which was still not a Republic. Original sins often create particularly bad ulcers.  Excision is not an option for a ‘modern nation state’. Hence ‘insignificant’ ulcers bleed on as the rest of the body is on pain-killers, reading history and civics dutifully from official textbooks.

The focus on the US presidential election also focused the minds of some desis on to the two other elections happening in the USA at the same time – those to the US Congress and the US Senate. Let us understand a few things carefully. The US Congress is analogous to the Lok Sabha of the Indian Union. But the USA is a nation constituted by a more real commitment to federalism rather than a semantic charade in the name of federalism. Hence its upper house, the US Senate is not analogous to the Rajya Sabha of the Indian Union. In the lower house in both USA and the Indian Union, the numbers of seats are meant to be proportional to the population. This represents that strand of the nation-state that gives precedence to the whole. This whole is ahistorical and is a legal instrument, though much time and money is spent in the Indian Union to create a fictional past of this legal form. The upper house in the USA represents that strand where past compacts and differing trajectories and identities are represented in the form of states. The states form the ‘United’ States of America – hence in the Senate the unit is the state, not the individual citizen. That is why in the US Senate, each state, irrespective of population, has 2 members. This respects diversity of states and acts as a protection against the domination of more populous states and ensures that smaller states are respected and are equal stake-holders of the Union. In the Indian Union, the so-called ‘Rajya Sabha’ is simply a copy of the Lok Sabha, with multiple staggered time offsets. Even in the Rajya Sabha, the seats allotted to each state are roughly proportional to its population – and hence at its core does not represent any different take on the Indian Union. In the Sabha of the Rajyas, the Rajyas are not the unit, making a mockery of the name itself. Manipur has 1 representative in a Rajya Sabha of 245 members. Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura altogether have 7 members in that Rajya Sabha. No group thinks of themselves as ‘lesser people’ for being fewer in number. A federal democratic union is not only for the children of Bharatmata. It is a way of having a joint family with many mothers, for no one’s mata is less important than my mata.

This pattern is replicated all across the subcontinent. When one looks to the west, once sees the autonomy of the Khanate of Kalat being usurped unilaterally as part of the ‘One Unit’ scheme, again by a fresh Pakistan state that itself did not possess a republican constitution. And there too, one sees a festering ulcer that bleeds intermittently. Sweeping powers given to the Frontier Corps do not help. Nor do the extra-judicial killings and torture of young Baloch activists help. Piercing an ulcer with a dirty knife risks a general blood poisoning. Every missing person, every body-less head, every tortured torso that ‘appears’ by the highway in Balochistan makes the lofty pronouncements about human rights made from Islamabad that much more hollow. And even if the Baloch decided to try to democratic path, what can they do in a system where they count for less than a tenth of the seats, in the national assembly. In November, the extra-ordinary powers of the Frontier Corps were extended in Balochistan again. Maintaining ‘law and order’ is the universal answer to all protestations – that same cover that the British used to beat brown people into pulp. If the brutal actions of the Frontier Corps as well as the impunity enjoyed by themselves sounds familiar across the border, it is because their colonial cousins in Khaki also have a similar record of glory. It is this impunity that has broader implications. Live footages of Sarfaraz Shah’s killing or Chongkham Sanjit’s murder will not lead to anyone’s pension being withheld. Behind the scenes, there might well be pats on the backs for the ‘lions’.

It is useful to understand why it is in the best interest of a democratic Union that the Rajya Sabha be constituted on a fundamentally different paradigm than the Lok Sabha, rather than replicating it. In contrast to the ‘whole’ viewpoint, the regions of the Indian Union and Pakistan have diverse pasts, some of which have hardly ever been intertwined with the ‘centre’, however defined. This also means that concerns, aspirations and visions of the future also differ based on a region’s perceived attitude towards a monolithic ‘whole’. A federal democratic union is one that does not discriminate between aspirations and is rather flexible enough to accommodate differing aspirations. Rather than using ‘unity in diversity’ as an anxious mantra of a paranoid monolith, one might want to creatively forge a unity whose first step is the honest assessment of diversity by admitting that the Indian Union or Pakistan are really multi-national nation-states.

Irom Sharmila’s struggle is failing partly because in this fight for dignity of the Manipuri people, the subcontinental constitutions drowns the voice of the victim in the crowd of the apathetic and the indifferent, inside and outside the legislative chambers of Delhi and Islamabad. Violence then becomes a way to be heard above the high decibel ritual chants of the ‘idea of India’ or ‘fortress of Islam’ or ‘Jinnah’s Pakistan’. Ideologically vitiated ‘national’ school syllabi and impunity of military forces do not produce unity – it produces a polarization between unity and diverse dignities. There is no unity without the constitutive parts’ dignity. Hindi majoritarianism or Punjabi-Urdu majoritarianism may not appear so to its practitioners but from the vantage of the step-children of the majoritarian nation-state, the world looks very different.  When such questions are raised in the subcontinent, one may see tacit agreement or opposition. As far as the opposition goes, it is important to make a few mental notes. Is the person who opposes the idea for whatever reason, from Delhi/Islamabad/Lahore or broadly from North India / West Punjab? Also, has the concerned person lived most of their adult life in a province different from where his/her grandfather lived. If the answer to either if this is yes, there is a high likelihood that the pattern of response to questions raised in this piece will be of a certain kind. Inherent majorities with the noblest of democratic pretensions end up forming imperious centres in the name of a union. A democratic union of states takes into cognizance the subcontinent as it is, not the subcontinent that delhiwallas and isloo/lahorewallas would want it to be like.

A point often made by legal honchos of the subcontinent is that neither Pakistan nor the Union of India is a union of states in the same way the United States of America is. What they mean is that these nation-states did not come into being due to some agreement or treaty between states. Rather they maintain that the states/provinces are arbitrary legal entities/ instruments created by the respective constitutions for administrative ease. What such a reading aims to do is to delegitimize any expression of aspiration of the states/provinces that may not be in line with the centre. How can an arbitrary legal entity created by central fiat and also alterable by fiat have autonomous will? This legalese collapses in the face of sub-continental reality where states/provinces as they exist today are broadly along ethno-linguistic lines. These entities are along ethno-linguistic lines ( and more are in the pipeline in Seraiki province or Telegana) because ‘administrative’ units can only be arbitrary to a point, irrespective of the total arbitrariness that constitutions permit. The ethno-linguistic ground-swells are real, aspirations to homeland are real, and since the capital cities do not have enough experimental chambers to convert all inhabitants into ‘nothing but Indian’ or ‘nothing but Pakistani’, these are here to stay and do not seem to have any immediate plans of committing suicide. While the specific drawing of the lines may be arbitrary (something that applies to the whole nation-state too), that in no way makes the reality of ethno-linguistic community habitats vanish. A legal stranglehold that denies this reality also ends up denying that the subcontinent existed before the constitutions were drawn up. If the BritIsh didn’t happen to the subcontinent, and if one or more large nation-states had to happen in the subcontinent, such entities would have been due to agreements between different near-sovereign entities. That states/provinces did not have such agency to make such a compact in 1947 is a legacy of British rule. Ironically, such a scenario bequeathed from the British is the bedrock of the post-colonial nation-states of Pakistan and the Indian Union. Both like to call themselves federal, for no one else calls them so.

A creative re-conceptualization of the distribution of representation and power in the Indian Union as well as Pakistan may show that one does not necessarily need to choose between the unity and diversity. Accounting for more than a sixth of humanity and a serious breadth of non-domesticated diversity, that subcontinental experiment is worth doing, irrespective of its outcome. A people’s democratic union is not only feasible but also humane. For far too long, bedtime stories commissioned by the state have been read out in schools and in media outlets, so that our deep metropolitan slumber is not interrupted by real nightmares in rougher parts. But there are just too many truths to spoil the myth.

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Filed under Army / police, Change, Delhi Durbar, Democracy, Elite, Federalism, Foundational myths, History, Identity, India, Nation, Pakistan, Plural pasts, Polity, Power, Rights, Terror

Subcontinental illusions of equal citizenship / Is everyone Indian (or Pakistani for that matter) / Imaginary homelands

[ The Friday Times, August 31-September 06, 2012 – Vol. XXIV, No. 29 ; Globeistan, 7 September 2012 ]

 

August is the month of state-funded high patriotism in the subcontinent. In my childhood, ‘patriotic’ films would be shown in the state television channel. The ‘patriotic’ genre has continued, producing many films. Recently, Bedobroto Pain has made a film on the valiant rebellion that took place in Chittagong in 1930, led by ‘Masterda’ Shurjo Sen. This recent film is simply called ‘Chittagong’. A few years ago, there was another film on the same topic called ‘Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey’. The language in both cases is  Hindustani, except for some Firangi characters. And this set me thinking though August may not be the best month to think about these things.

Chittagong now falls under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Bangladesh and before that was under the jurisdiction of the government of pre-71 Pakistan. The Indian Union has never had jurisdiction over an inch of the soil over which large parts of the 1930 story is set. But, for a certain kind of audience that Bollywood caters to, this location and its people, can be mangled partially to make it palatable and understandable to a Hindustani understanding audience. The audience can also conceive, with some stretch of imagination, of some place called ‘Chittagong’ where people speak Hindustani as they fight the British. Of course, Shurjo Sen and his compatriots largely spoke Bengali and Chittagonian, but that is immaterial. What is important is, Shurjo Sen and Chittagong can be packaged, with some cinematographic skills, for a Hindustani audience. Not all things can be packaged like this. For example, to make a similar film in Hindustani on a story set on the life of  Chawngbawia, a legendary hero of the Mizo people or a romantic drama set in a Naga village with Naga characters, will be dismissed as absurd. From a linguistic point of view, Shurjo Sen talking to his comrades in Bollywood Hindustani is also absurd – but it can pass off, with some awkwardness. The Naga or the Mizo does not. So there is a geography that the Hindustani audience and Bollywood has in mind, of what is theirs, what is partly like theirs and what is very unlike theirs. Of course it does not say that aloud – but their conceptions need to be taken seriously. They apparently have their fingers on the pulse of the nation. In a significant sense, their target audience constitutes the nation. And they don’t target everyone living under the jurisdiction of the Indian Union.

One of the enduring myths that most nation-states serve the people inside its borders is a conception of equal citizenship. The Union of India does it with some pomp and pride. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan does it after ceding some space to a particular creed. It is this idea of equal citizenship, of the poor and rich, of the tall and the short, of the one-legged and the one-eyed, of the prince and the pimp, that nation-states point towards, when it claims, ‘we are all Indians’ or ‘we are all Pakistanis’. Equal citizenship is the foundational myth on which the castle of uniform nationality rests. And every copy of the constitution will tell you about equal citizenship. This formally flat legal terrain, like a blanket that cover all beings uniformly, with the edges forming the frontiers, is crucial. Those under the blanket need to be calm and believe in this uniformity. For unless one stays still, it is impossible to tie up the edges of the blanket into a sack, stitch it up tightly, and write on it in big letters ‘ the eternal and inviolable nation’. Now this uniform blanket is as real as the emperor’s new clothes. To understand what lies beneath, this blanket needs to be pulled off. Some people underneath it will try to hold it back, some will be surprised, and some will be happy that the charade this gone. Reactions to snatching of the blanket rather than the smug illusion of the warm, caring blanket reveal more about the folks underneath.

Since we cannot snatch the blanket, we have to resort to thought experiments to ascertain what epithets like ‘citizen of Indian Union’ or ‘citizen of Pakistan’ hide. I invite my readers to play a game. Let us start with the ‘citizen of India’. Such a soul is, whether he or she likes it or not, an ‘Indian’. And nation-state narratives would like us to believe that this ‘Indian-ness’ is some kind of a colour that paints us uniformly, making people uniformly Indian. Is it so? So here is the experiment. Rather than asking ‘Who is Indian’, we shall ask, ‘How likely is a citizen of the Indian Union to be anti-India or  secessionist?’. Let me now throw some names – a Mizo from Aizawl, a Hindu Rajput from Jaipur, someone from Himachal Pradesh, a Meitei from Imphal, a Bihari Brahmin from Patna, a Vanniyar Tamil from Chennai, a Hindu baniya from Baroda, a Brahmin from Kanauj, Uttar Pradesh. This list will suffice. These epithets are combinations of caste, creed and ethnicity. They refer to huge groups of people, not any particular individual. Now rearrange this list from most likely to least likely to be anti-India or secessionist. I do not need your answer. But think about it. Ask the question ‘How likely is a citizen of the Indian Union to be anti-India or secessionist?’ to each of these descriptors. Some of them will be very unlikely – it will be absurd to think of a member of that group to be a secessionist. The exact order is immaterial, but there is a pattern to this answer to which will have a broad agreement. This scale, from the absurd to the probable, measures how much we still disbelief the idea of equal citizenship, even after 65 years of constant preaching. This really is an exercise in inversing the idea of citizenship to lay bare what lies beneath the velvet blanket of the nation-state. But more importantly, that this exercise can be done at all, tells us that some kinds citizens of the Indian Union are deemed more or less ‘Indian’ than others, even as faceless groups. Even as faceless groups, some of them have nothing to prove vis-à-vis ‘Indian-ness’ and are beyond suspicion just by the accident of birth. Others have to ‘prove’ it and are not above suspicion irrespective of life trajectories. This is what such a group ranking tells us. There are tacit grades of citizenship, tacit grades of loyalty, tacit grades of ‘Indian-ness’ and the constitution reflect none of this. Apparently, all ‘Indians’ constituted it.

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan can also be involved in a game of being ‘Pakistani’ by asking ‘How likely is a citizen of Pakistan to be anti-Pakistan or secessionist’. Here is a list – a Baloch from Dera Bugti, a Sindhi from Ratodero, a Seraiki from Dera Ghazi Khan, a Muslim Jat from Lahore, a 3rd generation Dakkani mohajir from Karachi, a Hindu from Tharparkar. Again, the specific order does not matter, but the broad agreement in the order gives away who constitutes the deep state, the core state, the first people, the troublesome people and the unwanted people.

Standing under the mehr-e-nimroz are the chosen people. The others jostle for space – in the umbra, pnumbra and the antumbra, in the Indian Union, in Pakistan, in every unitary nation-state that cannot come to terms with the fact that peoples pre-date nation-states and will outdate them too. To keep up the pretense of the uniform citizenship, nations use diverse mascots – as prime ministers, chief justices and what not. The question really is not who they are but are they legitimate representatives of diverse peoples. The mascots are hardly so and that gives away the game – and though they are held aloft during the game, they are not really players. If one listens to the real players on the field, the code in which the main players talk to each other, codes that are not to be found in the formal rulebook, then the unitary nature of the  ‘team’ cracks. Inspite of their irrelevance, the mascots are well chosen. In an interview aired by the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1996, journalist Andrew Marr asked Noam Chomsky during an exchange on Chomsky’s views on media distortion of truth, how could Chomsky know for sure that he, a journalist, was self-censoring. Chomsky replied “I don’t say you’re self-censoring – I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying; but what I’m saying is, if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.” And that is true for this mascots – they may come in different colours, shapes, sizes, tongues and faiths, but unless they shared and deferred to the implicit pecking order of the deep-state, they would not be sitting where they are sitting. Caged birds are no less colourful. For they can be Bengali, or Tamil, but when in the Highest office, they have to wear that unmistakable achkan. Surrounded by the ardali whose get-up is alien to Tamil Nadu and Bengal, it gives a hint of that code of propriety in the sanctum sanctorum, a code that is unmistakably Ganga-Jamni. But the Jamuna covers only a small part of the Union of India. And for Pakistan, the presidential high-couture has to be imported. The Republic of Hindi and the Republic of Urdu together rule the subcontinent. The late George Gilbert Swell in a sterling speech in the parliament of the Indian Union talked about his people, who were not part of any Hindu-Muslim bind but for whom beef was a food as good as any other. He talked about the cow-belt and the non-cow belt. He was saying this in a House that is run by a constitution that encourages the state to take necessary steps to single out cows for protection. Whose principles are these? Clearly not Swell’s or his people’s. All the eloquence about ‘unity in diversity’ notwithstanding, some of the diverse are necessarily silenced, and the list of the silenced is predictable. It is predictable due to the public knowledge of the ‘archetypal’ Indian, the same knowledge that helps one play the rank order game I introduced. This is why somebody’s local ideology has to be repackaged under the garb of some supposedly universal principle, so that the tacit definition of the archetype remains tacit. This tacit ‘Indian’ is at the heart of the nation-building project, the archetype to which all types must dissolve. One must never spell out the archetype – that is too discourteous and direct. The ‘traitor’ or the ‘potentially treacherous’ is also the ‘exotic’ and easily ‘the feminine sexual’ in the imagination of the core nation. For the core nation, except itself , everyone else has a box–  Tamils wear dhotis, Malayalis wear lungis, Bengalees eat fish. The core nation does not have caricatures – it is the default. It is what male athletes wear on their head in the Olympic march-past.

The perverse scale of absurdity that I floated earlier also leads us to foundational myths around which nation-states are formed. They go Bin Kassim – Khilji –Mughal – darkness –Muslim League- 14th August or Vedas-Ashoka-Akbar-darkness-Congress-15th August. The gulf between arbitrariness and  ‘historical inevitability’ is filled up with sarkari textbooks and besarkari subtexts. Why is such concoction necessary ?  For whom? Who does it serve? The archives have keys for open doors, not for trapdoors. People of the subcontinent have to find their own destinies, by freeing themselves of ‘national’ myths. They need to think about the unsettling possibilities of truth if it had a megaphone as loud and powerful as power.

Somewhere in this scale of Indian-ness or Pakistani-ness, is the sarkari potential of making tighter nations, and the bleak hope that some foster of unmaking them as they are. Intimately connected to this conception of the ‘Indian’ (or not) is the ‘idea of India’. Depending on who you are in the scale of imaginary troublesomeness, it can be a bloody idea or a bloody good idea.

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Filed under Community, Foundational myths, Hindustan, History, Identity, India, Nation, Non-barbarians, Pakistan, Plural pasts, Polity, Rights

This land is my land / Decoding the Assam riots / Loss of familiarity

[ The Friday Times (Lahore) -August 03-09, 2012 – Vol. XXIV, No. 25 ; Daily News and Analysis (Mumbai) 2 Aug 2012 ; Millenium Post (Delhi) 4 Aug 2012 ; The Kashmir Monitor (Srinagar)  4 Aug 2012 ; Countercurrents 2 Aug 2012 ]

The Assam state of the Indian Union has seen violence flare up suddenly from July 6th.  With more than 40 people reported dead and upwards on one and a half lakh displaced in a week, the Kokrajhar riots between Bodos and Muslims have again brought in focus certain issues that are not limited to Kokrajhar district, or for that matter to Assam. There will be the usual game of getting as much mileage from the dead and the displaced. There will be a lot of talk Assam becoming another Bangladesh or even Pakistan, with careless fear mongering thrown in for good measure. There will be others, who will sell the absurd fiction that almost no illegal migrants from the Republic of Bangladesh exist in Assam. To go beyond this, let me focus on two contexts – regional and global.

If one looks at a special kind of map of the world, the type where different population densities are marked with different colours, something sticks out very starkly. The part of the world with one of the biggest continuous stretches of the highest range population density is Bengal – East and West. Now incompletely split along religious lines, the Bengals are veritable pressure cookers – with millions of desperately poor people looking to out-migrate to any area with slightly better opportunities. At this point, it is important to realize that when ethno-religious communities are awarded a ‘home-land’, be it a province or a country, a process of myth-making starts from that time onwards, which aims to create a make-believe idea that such a formation was always destined to be. In the minds of later generations, this solidifies into a concept as if this demarcated territory always existed, with vaguely the same borders, with vaguely the same culture and demography. This process is both creative and destructive. It is creative in the sense that it gives the ethnic-mentality a certain ‘timeless’ territorial reality that is often exclusive. The destruction often lies in the twin denial of the past of the region and also the rights of those who are neither glorious, nor numerous. With this in mind, let us come to Assam.

To take the issue head on, the elephant in the room is the Muslim, specifically the ‘Bengali’-speaking Muslim in Assam. I saw ‘Bengali’ in quotes, as many of the ‘Bengali’ speakers in Assam are more correctly described as Sylhoti speakers. And Sylhet is an important part of the story. Today’s Assam state with its Axomia core and a few other communities is the successor to the much larger province of yore, which included the whole district of Sylhet, much of which is now in the Republic of Bangladesh. Sylhet has for a long time represented something of a frontier zone between Bengal and Assam. And most Sylhetis are Muslims. So when Sylhet was a part of the province of Assam before partition, the idea of Assam was very different. In the Assam legislature, most Muslim members were elected from Sylhet. In short, they were an important contending bloc to power. In fact, before partition, the premier of Assam for much of the time was Mohammad Sadullah, a Brahmaputra valley Muslim, who was solidly supported by the Sylheti Muslim legislators, among others. Though a Muslim leaguer, he stayed back in Assam after partition. Unknown to many, the Assam province, like Bengal and Punjab, was also partitioned in 1947 – the only one to be partitioned on the basis of a referendum (held to determine the fate of the Muslim majority Sylhet district). The largely non-Muslim Congressites is Assam in fact did not even campaign seriously for the referendum, for they were only too happy to see Sylhet go, so that they could have a complete grip over the legislature minus the Sylheti Muslim threat to power. The Sylhetis are but reluctant Bengalis, but that is another story. What I want to impress here is that the origin of the feeling of being slowly outnumbered and besieged also has a certain past. This feeling never died out. The post-partition demographic shift of Assam has again started sliding back, with an increasing proportion of the populace now being Muslims. Whether it is differential fecundity rates or Bengali-speaking migrants from the Republic of Bangladesh, or a combination of both, the net effect is a slow growth in this siege mentality. It is important to note that really are many illegal settlers from the Republic of Bangladesh. This has often led to accusation leveled against the Congress party that it shields the illegal migrants by creating captive vote-banks out of their insecurity. This may be partially true, given its reluctance to fulfill the terms of Assam accord that was signed to end the Assam agitation of the 1980s. Among other issues, it sought to identify illegal settlers and take legal action. Given that onus is on an accuser to prove that someone is not a citizen of the Indian Union, rather than the onus being on a person to prove whether one is a citizen of the Indian Union, the illegal settler identification process has been a gigantic failure. So the issues remain, the tempers remain, so does the politicking and the volatility that could flare into violence, as it has done now.

Now let us come back to the population bomb that is Bengal. If it appears from the story till now that this is some Muslim immigration issue, one will be mistaken. To the east and north-east of Bengal are territories that have been inhabited by tribes for centuries. Due to the post-partition influx of refugees, some of these zones have essentially become Bengali-Hindu majority homelands. One prominent example is Tripura. This tribal majority kingdom, inhabited by many tribal groups, most notably the Riyangs, is now a Bengali-Hindu majority state. There is the same kind of tribal son of the soil versus settler Bengali conflict as in Assam with a crucial difference. Here the game is over with the Bengalis being the clear victors. The future of the tribal groups possibly lies in tenacious identity-preservation in ‘Bantustans’ called autonomous councils or slow cultural assimilation into the Bengali ‘mainstream’. Sixty years can be long or short, depending on who you are.

A similarly sad saga is unfolding in the Republic of Bangladesh where the government in its immense wisdom settled large groups of desperately poor landless Muslim Bengalis in the hill tracts of Chittagong. The Chittagong Hill Tracts, one of those ‘anomalies’ of the Radcliffe line, had a solid tribal-Buddhist majority, all through the Pakistan period. The large group of tribes, the Chakmas being the foremost, have a distinctive culture, lifestyle and religion, quite different from the Muslim Bengali settlers. After active state supported migration schemes, now the Chittagong Hill Tracts are Bengali Muslim majority, except on paper. The army is stationed there largely to protect settler colonies as they expand. Clashes between the indigenous tribes and the settlers are common, with the military backing the settlers to hilt. Human rights violations of the worst kind, including killings, rapes, village-burnings and forced conversions, have happened, aided and abetted by the state machinery. The indigenous tribes of the Chittagong Hill tracts are fighting a losing game. Like Assam, here there has been an accord in response to insurgency by the tribes. The accord remains unimplemented. The state possibly believes that the indigenous tribes will take to Sheikh Mujib’s heartless advice to them in 1972, ‘to become Bengalis’.

All of this is happening in a global context, where the questions of ‘special’ indigenous rights are being raised. Some of it takes the form of racial politics of the majority as in certain European nations. There are the interesting cases of ‘cosmopolitan’ cities like Mumbai and Karachi – with sons-of-the-soil in and out of power respectively, but both with a strong undercurrent for rights of the local. It is easy to label these as ‘xenophobic’ or ‘prejudiced’, especially in the ‘interconnected world of the 21st century’ or whatever global consumer culture calls such dissidents now. Yes, this too is dissidence and of a primal variety that dare not tell its name in these times when the contours of what is dissident and what is sociopathy have lost their human connection, to become ‘discourse’ categories. I am not talking of ‘nationalism’ but a variety of ‘ethnocentrism’ which has known and lived in a territorial space and now finds too many ‘outsiders’ in that space, playing by different rules, making their ‘own area’ less recognizable, all too sudden. The reaction to this loss of familiarity and challenge to position from ‘outside’ groups constitutes a strain that cannot be shouted down for its supposed political incorrectness. While many may think that it is inter-connected-ness that feeds life, and that there are no ‘pure’ indigenous, the rate of such change is crucial. When some clans of Kanauji Brahmin migrants to Bengal became Bengalis no one knows, but now they are undeniably Bengali. At the same time, modern transportation now enables mass movements in short periods of time that was unthinkable earlier. Such migrant communities change local demography all too quickly and by quick I mean decades. Often, such migrations happen in spurts and successive waves, where kinship ties are crucial. Such settlers have more in common with co-settlers than the indigenous. Often the settlers have a perilous existence, partly due to the animosity of the indigenous. This leads to huddling with knowns rather than huddling with unknowns. Thus this new ghettoisation, both geographical and psychological, inhibits the kind of integrative processes that in the past led to the formation of new, syncretic communities.

The notion of a legally uniform country, where anyone is free to settle anywhere else, is geared towards the rights of the individual, with scant heed to the rights of a community to hold on to what it has always known to be its ‘own’. The modern nation-state forces such communities into playing by the rules of atomization, for the only entity that the state seriously recognizes is the individual. And in a flat legal terrain, the rights of the citizen can be used against rights of a community, not even his own. Bengal, Assam, Burma – have hard cartographic borders and soft physical borders. The nation state aspires to a uniformly hard border, often working against the reality of culture, ethnicity and terrain. In the specifically charged context of demographic change, it is useful to realize that no one comes to live a precarious life in an unknown place with few friends and many enemies to embark on a 200 year plan to effect demographic change. People simply live their lives. However, from the vantage of the indigenous, this sudden settlement is a change and a concern, a concern that animates itself as demographic projections. In the absence of any sanctioned way of controlling the speed of change or the nature of influx, ethno-religious theories of ‘being besieged’ provide a way to gain a wider moral sanction for extra-legal intervention. Our porous subcontinental realities require an approach that devolves power and rights that would protect against such massive change. Just like the elite quarters of the cosmopolitan city, everyone has a right to preserve what is dear to them, before it becomes dear to someone else. If this sounds like a scheme to rationalize the tyranny of a communitarian xenophobia, that is possibly because many of us have loss the sense of intimate belonging to a community. Living creatively with differences assumes a certain element of consent between the communities. That consent is important. Fear of total change, loss of self-identity and self-interest hinders consent. Metropolitan diktats of assimilation deny communities that dignity. Communities assimilate in their own way. Speed is a new factor that needs to be dealt creatively. Lack of a serious move towards according communities to determine the future of their locale and futures would end communities as we know them.

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Filed under Bengal, Class, Community, Foundational myths, History, Home, Identity, Memory, Partition, Power, Religion, Rights, Terror

Unholier than thou – a rice eater’s confessions / All the king’s men

[ The Friday Times (Lahore) July 6-12, 2012 – Vol. XXIV, No. 21 ; Globeistan]

 

As Kolkata was being scalded by a particularly oppressive and damp south Bengal summer, in the middle of the erstwhile Anglo district of the city, a tragedy was unfolding. In the once-greatest city between Aden and Singapore, the Calcutta Race Course maidan, with its turf Club and Derby, had been the ‘pride’ of a certain kind of people of the Orient. On 6th June, on that very ground, Abhishek Pal, a Bengali youth of 22, was running a race to get a police job in spite of his martially-challenged, rice-eating race. He lost consciousness and died shortly thereafter. Such is the trial by fire one needs to overcome to be able to serve Bharatmata. Such is the poverty of Bharatmata’s sons that there will be thousands of Abhisheks running that race again, whatever the heat, whatever the cost. The lay and the non-martial often feel inadequate as they are given an impression that the hearts of the Indian Union’s ‘finest men’ beat in step with its national anthem. The goddess of fate had a curious way to capture the ‘finest’ and ‘darkest’ aspects of the Indian Union’s 65-year old nation-state-hood in that desperate dash that Abhishek Pal made. As his heartbeat became faint, I suspect it also started getting out of tune with the Indian Union’s national anthem. And then it stopped beating altogether.

This was not the first time, nor will it the last time – such is the pull of service, especially in a nation where such a job is one of the few ways to escape the endemic poverty and the cycle of daily humiliation that the impoverished know as life as usual. Abhishek was running to join the police service in Bengal, a force developed by the British along the lines of the Irish constabulary to keep a restive population in check by any means necessary. Like police anywhere, some of its members form that rare set of men who actually take money from sex workers after raping them. In the post-partition era, these means of keeping in check have acquired a vicious edge, as many older people recall with a sense of tragic wistfulness that the British generally aimed below the knees when they shot. Abhishek possibly saw the police in its many avatars as he was growing up. As I sat thinking, a sequence from a Western flick seen two decades ago flashed in my mind. Boss kicks his underling, underling shows rank by slapping his aide, aide comes out and punches a guard, and guard finds a commoner to thrash, who finally takes it out on a dog. Everyone wants to rise up in the chain to bear a lesser number of kicks and slaps, even at the cost of death. The lines to join the police and army grow. So do the number of people who gave the ‘supreme sacrifice’ even before being recruited – 2 youths in Chandauli, UP in July 2009, 2 more youths in Khasa, East Punjab in December 2008. A twisted director could have made a surreal slow-motion shot of the stampede moments that would have surpassed Chariots of Fire. You cannot beat the ending. Fervour, tragedy, action, emotions. There will be more such races and recruitments. We cannot change neighbours, or masters. At recruitments events, those with non-religious tattoos are also rejected. Tattoos represent ties, ties that bind man to man, to thoughts, to life. Hence they are sure signs of a subterranean unknown, a second life. Those without such explicit marks are better – they are tabula rasa, ready to be imprinted with the state, ably represented by the commanding officer.

Qaumparast or not, joining the armed forces forms a far less viable option in the mindscape of the middle-class Bengalee young man. In my whole family, and we are a large family (my grandfather had 6 brothers and 3 sisters), there was not a single person who was in the army. Nor did I know anyone who was in the army among my friends’ families. My overt knowledge of anything that was both ‘Indian’ and ‘Army’ was the Indian National Army of 1940s vintage, which, though headed by a Bengalee, unsurprisingly, had few Bengalee combatants. Once, when I was less than 10 years old, I had asked (I don’t know where the thought had come from) – Ma, Should I join the army? Ma answered in a concerned tone – Are you crazy? I had pushed on – Ma, somebody has to join the army? If not me, who then? Let other people’s sons join, not mine. Thus spake my rice-eating non-martial mother whose martial skills were limited to whacking me with a comb or a rolled newspaper. What can I say – I just had the wrong kind of upbringing. Looking around me, in school and college in West Bengal, I realized that rather than being the exception, I was a very typical specimen. At that point, I did not think that Bengalees, Tamils and many other people of the Subcontintent have very low army sign-up rates. Not knowing this growing up in Calcutta, a few visits to Delhi made me understand what a rice-eating non-martial chicken I was. There, every now and then I would meet someone whose father was in the army, or whose elder brother had returned home from ‘posting’, or someone who was preparing hard to crack the National Defence Academy / Naval Academy exams. This was another social reality, another society actually, with a different set of ‘normal’ expectations – the world of sarfarosh, a lot of talk of ‘dushman’ and ‘tujhe pata nahi mai kaun hu’. Here, being in the army was a part of public culture and imagination. When they said ‘our men in uniform’, the ‘our’ had a different truth-value to it and rightly so. I was in Hindustan or Al-Hind, far away from rice-eating lands. It is in Hindustan ‘over here’ and the Al-Hind ‘over there’ that Fauji and Alpha Bravo Charlie were runaway hits, while we in the Deccan and Bengal ate rice and dreamt other dreams in blissful oblivion. There were testosterone laced recruitment ads on television asking “Do you have it in you?” Another said – Join the Indian army – be a winner for life. I wondered who the losers were. The mirror never lies.

There is a running joke about the Indian Railways. The Railways often declares something to the effect that we should take care of the rail as it is our ‘national property’. One person who took this seriously removed a fan from one railway compartment and left a note ‘I have taken my share of the ‘national property’. When it comes to the Army, Bengalees, Tamils and some others seem to be largely disinterested in their share. Are they genetically non-martial? May be C R Datta, Surya Sen, Bagha Jatin and Bagha Siddiqui could answer that. But I have met none of them. Two of them have been killed long ago.

Who killed Bagha Jatin? Who captured Surya Sen? Which army? Who was it loyal to? Who did it serve by killing Bagha Jatin? Did anything substantially change in that army on that fateful August day in 1947? What did not change was the sense of regimental accomplishment in having been awarded Victoria crosses, barrah khana traditions, fake ‘Sandhurst’isms, subsidized liquor, that peculiar brown-skinned sense of pride of having served the House Saxe-Coburg Gotha and the House of Windsor in Iraq, Egypt, France, Belgium, Burma, Thailand and most poignantly, in the Subcontinent, including Jallianwala Bagh. If some Union of India citizen were to do the same today by making a career out of serving the House of Windsor militarily and then go on to claim loyalty to Bharatmata the next day, what would one say? The crucial difference however lies in the formal idea of loyalty to a state – often confused with the country. Nationalism apart, there is another thing Bengalees call “deshoprem” or love of one’s own land. The definition of land is mostly left to the person. Which is why there can be deshoprem for a 30 square mile area around one’s home. I don’t know if there is a Hindustani word for it – qaumparast does not quite do it, which I reckon is nearer to nationalism. I am sure they too have a word or expression for it – for they too like everyone else came to know their own land before they came to heed their nation-state which tells them what their land ought to be and how much does it extend. Ideologies that reverse this sequence are sociopathic.

Most Bengalees are not into shoes – especially those that cover the whole foot. They are not into shirts either – having given up being topless quite late. I was sent to a ‘proper’ Bengali middle-class Inglish school. Here, while the text was in English, the subtext was unrepentantly and unabashedly Bengali. I never quite liked wearing the black shoes that we were mandated to wear. That was the case with some of my other friends. So in class, especially in the middle and back benches, some of us would get out of our shoes and sit cross legged, in what we call babu style. In giving in to what was second nature, we managed to partially keep the shoe out of us. However, many in the subcontinent take shoes seriously. A friend of mine, a batchmate at the Medical College, Kolkata, recounted this to me. He hailed from one of the laterite-red districts of Bengal, I had visited his very modest home. There I had met his father, an upright man who had briefly worked as a shoeshine to educate his children. My friend went on to join the Indian Army. Years later, he told me of a strange encounter. As one of the ‘finest of men’ in the ‘officer grade’, no less, he was entitled to assisted shoeshine services. This means there was another human being, employed by the Indian Army, among whose job description was to clean and tidy up the shoes of officers and higher-ups. Paying for this, is perhaps, the minimum the citizens of the Union of India can do, to show thankful they were. This particular friend of mine, a rather conscientious fellow who dabbled in left wing student activism in his student days, felt a pang of unease every time his pale shoe was made to glow. No order to stand at ease would cure that. However nothing would surpass the strange feeling he had when his father came visiting where he was stationed. The army shoeshine came forward to shine his shoe in presence of his father. His father had come to see how much his son had risen. ‘As I endured the shoeshine ritual in front of my father, I felt I was falling in my father’s eyes, every passing moment.’ He left his job after the stipulated years of commission, discharged honourably. He did not have ‘it’ in him, I guess, to gather greater honours. Unless one has ‘it’, it is hard to be loyal till death to a white man sitting continents away, then be loyal till death to the constitution of sickly brown people the next day and still be taken seriously. But it was and still is all very serious.

The subcontinent is a land of many gods. There are as many holy cows as there are gods. Looking at the holy officer grade Jersey-Shahiwals, I wondered why are the jawan-grade desi cows so sickly? After all, they give  the milk, plough the land, pull carts and what not. In archaic commie-speak, in a class-divided society, one can imagine a  conversation quite similar to the one I had with my mother. Ma – Shall I become a jawan or a lance-naik? No beta. You will become an officer. Who will then become a jawan then? Other people’s sons of course, otherwise how will my grandson be able to attend a foreign university? All cows are holy but some are holier than others. Nothing joins Pakistan and the Indian Union more than this shared two-tier holiness. Very few like Laxminarayan Ramdas and Asghar Khan have developed mad-cow disease. Thankfully, this virus can cross the Radcliffe. After all, it is not natural to have a sense of visceral belonging to the snowy tracts of Siachen, and a concern that it might be taken away or held on to indefinitely, while we really are steaming like potatoes in Karachi and Kolkata in summer. Our napaak-ness keeps it real.

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Filed under Army / police, Bengal, Class, Delhi Durbar, Democracy, Elite, Foundational myths, History, Identity, India, Nation, Our underbellies, Pakistan

Owning Manto / Who’s afraid of Saadat Hasan Manto?

[ The Friday Times (Lahore) May 11-17, 2012 – Vol. XXIV, No. 13 ; Viewpoint Online ]

The left-wing student organization I belonged to in my college days in Kolkata, used to have a poster exhibition every year, ever since the 1992 demolition of the Babri structure.  One of them had those memorable words calligraphed red-black in a typical Bengalee left-wing style – “The child noticed the coagulated blood on the road, pulled at his mother’s sleeve and said, ‘Look, ma, jelly’.” That was not the whole of the very short ‘story’ and to read the rest, I discovered Manto.

There is a lot of hushed and not-so-hushed lamentation in this year of Sadat Hasan Manto’s birth centenary. Why did he leave Bombay? India would have been so much of a ‘natural’ home, they say. Somewhere between pronunciations such as these that is so characteristic of the self-congratulatory strain of elite public-secularism and a second-hand appreciation of Manto’s raw exposition of the chasm between our private and public lives, lies the attitude by which we look at Manto. The Anglicized literati and their patron, the Indian Union, wants to own Sadat Hasan Manto. They are masters at making cages for living writers – some gilded, some iron-made. Some cages become sarkari mausoleums after the writer’s death. Zoo tigers do not bite, generally. Clearly, the enthusiasm some folks on this on this side of owning Manto comes from a hope that sooner or later, a suitably golden cage could be made for him in the Union of India, for us to clap at. I am not so sure.

Today, in Delhi and other places, Manto is dramatized, commemorated, written and read, largely in English. Urdu’s currency as one of the pervasive languages of the common public sphere (and not ‘qaumi’ affairs) of the Upper Gangetic plain has seen progressive ruin. Read primarily in English, would he want to be read much less than Chetan Bhagat? Would Manto have loved this loss of readership, would he have wanted to be primarily remembered for getting a Filmfare award for lifetime achievement in writing stories for Hindi movies? I am not so sure. He might have written about the more gosht the Union would serve up, not only mazhabi gosht, but from a thousand faultlines. He might have written about the garam gosht cooked up in Delhi in 1984 and Ahmedabad in 2002, if he lived to be 90. Would he not be accused of writing only against Hindu violence? I am not so sure. He certainly would have written about a lot of gosht served up in East Bengal in 1971. There would not have been the 2005 postage stamp then. Dying young has its benefits.

He might have looked at the Saltoro range and the slow-killing heights of Siachen. He might have peered into that deathly whiteness, peered deep into it and among the frostbitten parts of the limbs would have located the new coordinates of Toba Tek Singh. Not content with ‘obscenity’, there might have been calls for him to be charged with sedition. That would have been true, irrespective of his leaving Bombay or not. He would have continued to write about sensuality that permeates life in the Subcontinent. Invariably, they would have intersected with more than one faith, belief and god(s), for they too pervade the public and public life in the Union of India. Like Maqbul Fida Hussain, that sterling admirer of the goddess Durga who liberated her from the patently mid 19th century blouse-clad look, reimagining the holy mother in her naked matriarchal glory, Manto’s run-ins with ‘public sensibilities’ might just have been enough to eject him from Bombay. Almost surely, as it happened with Hussain, a robust on-the-ground counter to hate-mongerers would have been found wanting. Hardly being ‘Pak’, in the long run, perhaps he would have been easily pushed out of Pakistan also, where he “had only seen five or six times before as a British subject”.

The inner crevices of the human psyche, where the shadow cast by public stances falls short of darkening it completely, acculturated beliefs, socially learnt prejudices as well as greed, eros and love come together, in that twilight zone, Sadat Hasan Manto looked for faint shades of light, looked compassionately, critically, and saw the human. In these perilous crevices, where few dare travel, lest it start exposing their own selves in variegated greyness, Manto ventured often.  It is this vantage that makes him an equal-opportunity lover and an equal-opportunity destroyer. He writes in his ‘Letters to Uncle Sam’, “Out here, many Mullah types after urinating pick up a stone and with one hand inside their untied shalwar, use the stone to absorb the after-drops of urine as they resume their walk. This they do in full public view. All I want is that the moment such a person appears, I should be able to pull out that atom bomb you will send me and lob it at the Mullah so that he turns into smoke along with the stone he was holding”. The Hindu fanatics are not amused at this, for they know, barring the specifics, he would have been as acerbic towards them. He stands tall, rooted in social realities, beyond posturing self-flagellation of progressives. Elite India’s sordid attempt at appropriating Manto’s sanjhi virasat , with careless drops of French wine falling on ornate carpets in restricted entry programmes where Manto is performed and fashionably consumed as a marker of ‘liberalism’ and ‘refinement’, might also attract the lobbing of a thing or two.

Descended from the Kashmiri brahmin caste of Mantoo, the despair of Sadat Hasan the Bombayite post 1947, parallels, in many ways the state of the greater community of the pandits, where circumstances slowly made them aliens in their natural home. This decentering by forces beyond their control is the story of Manto, and also the story of many in the contemporary subcontinent. Cynicism and prejudice make better bedfellows than many would like to admit. Manto possibly stares at us with irreverence at the examples of our reverence, at our Gujarats and Rinkle Kumaris, our Asia Bibis and Ishrat Jahans. As we grow taller in our own eyes by fashionably ‘appreciating’ Manto, curled up in our beds, curtains closed, windows closed, our sad pretensions only become clearer. But there is no Sadat Hasan to chronicle our shamelessness.

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Filed under Elite, Foundational myths, India, Memory, Nation, Obituary, Our underbellies, Pakistan, Partition, The perfumed ones, The written word

Dilli dur ast / Delhi and the rest of us – a gangrenous old saga

[ The Friday Times (Lahore), April 27-May 03, 2012 – Vol. XXIV, No.11; United Kashmir Journal(web); Frontier(web); Globeistan(web)]

 

Contrary to the claims of the Indian National Congress (INC), the 1946 Indian election results showed that though the INC was by far the largest force in the British governed territories in the Indian subcontinent, there were other players with considerable mass support, including the All India Muslim League, Communist Party of India, Scheduled Caste Federation and others, who altogether won nearly 40% of the seats. The false dominance of the Indian National Congress in the Madras province was largely due to the election boycott by the Dravidar Kazhagam, in part a continuation of the Justice Party current.  Indeed in some British constituted ‘provinces’, the Indian National Congress was a minority force. This was largely true for the 1937 elections, where the results were similar – a Congressite dominance in most provinces, but its marginality in populous provinces like Punjab and Bengal. The All Indian Muslim League (AIML) in the 1937 election had received a serious drubbing, virtually everywhere it contested. Though compromised by the factor that all these elections, 1937 or 1946 were far from representative in the absence of universal adult franchise (a point that is often forgotten in discussions around the events of 1946-47), one thing is clear – significant sections of the population were not with the INC, for whatever reason. A considerable section of the INC’s leadership always harboured ‘strong-centre’ ideas, though their inspirations were varied. It ranged from the necessity of a strong policy-driving centre congruent with ideas of command economy in vogue, the need of a tutelary centre that would provide the right lessons of modern citizenship so that a ‘sack of potatoes’ become ‘Frenchmen’ to the outright fantastic one that wanted a strong centre that would make sons of Bharatmata out of the wayward multitude that practiced ‘non-classical’ and plural Indic religions.

Given the INC’s serious marginality in more than one province at that point, the future of an Indian Federation was envisaged as a liberal union of provinces, where the Union government would only administer a few things and the provinces (or states) would be having pre-eminence in most matters.

The centralizing hawks of the INC were kept in check, for the time being, by the political realities and power equations. It is in this backdrop the Cabinet Mission plan, the blueprint of a future self-governing Indian Union was proposed.  Not going into the validity and judgment of making communal provincial groupings envisaged in the plan of May 16th, one does see the other aspect of the plan. The ‘centre’ would be in charge of defence, communications and foreign affairs – everything else would be within the ambit of provincial rights. Indeed, the centre would be the meeting ground of the provinces, not the imperial powerhouse from where the provinces would be governed. The latter was the British model of colonial domination – and such systems do facilitate smooth extraction of resources from far-flung areas but they are hardly the model of welfare where democratic aspirations of the people for self-governance has the priority.

In the political class, there was a general sense of resignation ( not necessarily agreement) to the basic thrust of the cabinet mission plan as a way to contain the diverse aspirations that India constituted and also politically expressed. It is this thrust or rather the destruction thereof that has grown to be a serious issue which goes largely undebated in post-partition Union of India.

In 1946, when the Cabinet Mission plan was proposed, the India that was conceived in it had provinces with powers that would put today’s Kashmir’s moth-eaten ‘special status’ to shame. Senior Congressites like Abul Kalam Azad, Vallabh-bhai Patel and numerous other mandarins of the party publicly and privately were more than prepared to give this dispensation a shot. The problematic idea of a sectarian grouping notwithstanding, the plan was overtaken by a breakdown of agreements between the INC and the AIML. The intense ground-level hostility in ‘mixed’ provinces in 1946 no doubt seriously undercut the chances of a grand federal Indian union, in the immediate context of prevailing circumstances. Whether the AIML’s motive on a sectarian grouping of people was holy or cynical, anti-people or liberating, is a question I will not visit here. But what is true is that the exit of the AIML due to the partition of India in 1947 suddenly changed the entire scenario. Till then, the field was a contested one. Now, one opposing side had left. Virtually unchallenged in the legislature, the Congress centralizers started scoring goals after goals in the unguarded field. These goals for the Indian centre turned out to be disastrous same-side goals as far as a democratic federal union of India was concerned.

Post-partition India was hardly any less heterogeneous and the principle of provincial autonomy with federal non-imperious centre still made democratic sense. But in that field without serious political opposition, the centralizing proponents of the INC had smelled blood, taking the idea of a strong-centre to the extreme. The lists that divide power between the union centre and the states in India are a stark testimony to this process by which states were reduced to dignified municipal corporations. They would thereafter be found forever standing with begging bowls, making depositions and cases in fronts of central government bureaucrats and ministers. Among the elite’s of that generation, the strong centre idea had appeal – it provided an excuse and an opportunity, of ‘shaping the masses’ into what was the elite’s definition of an ‘Indian’, a presentable citizen of a new nation-state.

The erosion of provincial rights in the post-partition Indian Union has seen a concomitant development of a veritable army of carrion-feeders who have mastered the process of carrying the spoils from the length and breadth of the land to pad their Delhi nests. These are the new ‘Indians’. In some way they are no different from Hindustan’s emperors and their hanger-ons who would deck up the capital by squeezing the country. What is different is that the earlier forms of ferocious extraction, of explicit carriage of loot to Delhi is now replaced by the fine art of legislative injustice. The process has been honed to near perfection over the decades, now designed and lubricated to work smoothly without making a sound. Delhi and its surrounds are showered with money that Delhi does not produce. It is peppered with infrastructure that India’s provinces had toiled hard to pay for. It is lavished with highly funded universities, art and cultural centres, museums that are designed to sap talent from India’s provinces and handicap the development of autonomous trajectories of excellence beyond Delhi. Over the decades, numerous white elephants have been reared, maintained and fed in Delhi – none of them paid for by those of live in Delhi. Of late, there is the perverse politics of infrastructure development. Who could oppose a cow as holy as infrastructure? In essence what infrastructure development in Delhi has become is the following – a method by which revenues extracted from India’s provinces are lavished in and around Delhi by making good roads, snazzy flyovers, water supply infrastructure, urban beautification projects, new institutes and universities, big budget rapid transport systems like the metro and numerous other things that India’s impoverished wastelands as well as other towns and cities can only dream of. This is perfectly in line with the new ‘expansion’ of Delhi in which Delhi’s political class has major stakes. Essentially this is cash transfer of a very sophisticated kind. Delhi’s richer classes acquire nearly uninhabited land or rural farmland. The ‘centre’ chips in by ensuring the areas get ‘developed’ from scratch. This ensures that these areas become quickly habitable or investable by Delhi’s perfumed classes, thus pushing up real estate prices, making the rich of Delhi richer. This is backed up by real infrastructure that is backed up by real cold, cash from India’s central government. The only thing unreal here is the process of pauperization of India’s provinces, of the great cities of Chennai, Kolkata and Bhopal, which have been systematically decimated by this distributive injustice. The other pauperization that has happened is more insidious, though equally corrosive. I am talking of the process of internal brain drain. Delhi’s bevy of highly funded institutions, lavish research funds, impeccable infrastructure, creation of a semblance of high culture by governmental khairati, has made Delhi the centre of aspiration for the brightest in India’s provinces. Delhi poaches on the intellectual capital of Kolkata and Chennai by the way it knows best, the baniya method.

The largesse that Delhi gets flows over to various other sectors. The large concentration of central government jobs in and around Delhi ensures that those who live there or are from those areas are more likely to end with those jobs, especially the jobs in the lower rung. This artificial support to a certain geographical area with ties to the national capital goes against all principles of natural justice, let alone those of a federal union based of equality. The Delhi-based political class uses various events and excuses of ‘national pride’ like the Asian Games or the Commonwealth Games to bestow Delhi’s residents and in effect themselves and their families, better infrastructure, inflated asset values, a better life, so to say – underwritten, as always, by India’s parochial and provincial masses. The provinces, West Bengal, (East) Punjab continue to pay for partition, by paying for Delhi.

Even the media is a part of this process. A summary look at newspapers in Kolkata and Delhi will show that Delhi-based newspapers have page after page of central government advertisements – while the population of the two cities are not too different. The media is an integral part of that Delhi-based illuminati, also consisting of policy wonks, security apparatchiks, immobile scions of upwardly mobile politicians, bureaucrats, professors, defence folks, hanger-ons, civil society wallahs, suppliers, contractors, importers, lobbyists and all the stench that connects them. This cancerous network of self-servers are curiously termed simply ‘Indians’ – largely devoid of the visceral rootedness that this large land provides to its billion. Their regional identity is hidden shamefully, displayed diplomatically, cashed in cynically and forgotten immediately. This is a window to the mind of the deep state at Delhi. This deep state – eating away at our plural fabric, creaming at the thought of the Delhi-Mumbai urban corridor, holds a disproportionate sway over the billion who are not simply Indian. This unacknowledged billion comes with its proud identity and sense of autonomy. Its diversity is still a robust one, not a browbeaten domesticated version fit for India International Centre consumption.

The preference for things Delhi-based or things ‘Indian’ and not ‘provincial’ has resulted not only in cash transfer of epic proportions, but has surreptitiously help develop the ideology that the roots of success in India go through Delhi, by denying one’s own rooted identities, clinging onto some rung of a ladder to Delhi, moving away from one’s origins. In short, this distributive injustice serves to disincentivize aspirations that don’t hold ‘Indianism’ as the ideology, Delhi as the location.

In the era of long indoctrination, Delhi has been built up as an imperial zoo, where all we provincial rustics have to come to gawk, to be awed, and expunge ourselves of our ‘parochial-ness’ to become ‘Indians’, hailing a very specific kind of motherland. But we are people who happen to have our own mothers, those on whose lap we slept, those whose milk we drank, that whose smell we recognize. She is beautiful in a sari. She does need ornaments of gold to make her beautiful. But there sits a woman, decked up with precious jewels, none earned by herself, but brought as tributes by servile ones who want to be seen in a photograph with her, the queen. That queen is called Delhi.  And she is the reigning goddess, gathering devotees by throwing money – devotees who are working feverishly to move closer and closer into the charmed circle, into Delhi’s gilded embrace.  For all her glitz based on loot, the queen attracts awe and fear, not love and respect, from peoples who have mothers less shiny.

Some final thoughts on India’s provinces. States, provinces, nations – none are designed to contain the aspirational trajectories of the plural multitudes in the Indian Union. Democracy is a deity that has seen a lot of empty, cynical and faithless obeisance be made in her front. Increasing democratization, transfer of the locus of power away from the centre, is a way of deepening democracy. There have been very few attempts to do this. The Sarkaria Commission of 1983 was a positive step in this direction with clear recommendations of making a more inclusive, federal and democratic union of India by transferring certain rights from the central list to the state list. Predictably, the commission’s report is in suspended animation. For all that we know, it might have died already. The Indian state may not admit it. All too cynically, the centre has often tried to bypass the provinces by speaking over the heads the state governments through its army of central bureaucrats and law enforcers posted as imperial minders in every district. This friction between the different levels – between the local bodies and the state governments, assures the centre’s stability. It has also tried to project an ultimately false sense of autonomous empowerment at the local level by the Panchayati Raj institutions by not giving the local bodies any power to veto decisions and proposals that affect their own futures. The blatant disregard of these institutions when ‘higher authorities’ push a project through in the face of massive opposition to loss of livelihood, destruction of homestead and displacement shows what lofty catch-words peddled by the higher level of administration like ‘local empowerment’ or ‘deepening democratic institutions’ really mean, when push comes to shove.

Some ‘states’ in India vaguely are entities that existed even before the modern idea of India was conceived and will probably outlive the idea too. Some of them would have been among the top 20 entities in the whole world in terms of population. They are repositories of plural cultures that the myopic Delhi-based circus called Dilli-haat cannot even fathom, much less domesticate, package and consume – with a bit of ‘central funding support’ thrown in for window dressing. The union of Indian exists, but it is and never was an inevitable union. To take that myth seriously, for that matter to take foundational myths of any nation-state seriously, is a dangerous error – realities are glossed over by textbook manufactured pride. The past of the constituents of the Indian Union were partially intertwined and largely not. To change this balance decisively, so that a Delhi-prescribed and Delhi-centric path to the future becomes a pan-Indian obsession is dangerous dream.  Whether the future of the Union of India will look  a joint family where the feared patriarch sets the rules for all or more like a split joint family living in proximity who are in good terms but cook separately, is a choice we need to make. The latter is much closer to our social reality anyway. Structures that limit aspirations and exile imaginations are fundamentally sociopathic. I am sure, Delhi wants to be loved. Like the plural pasts, to unlock the greatest potential, we need a plural future – an Indian union with thousands of sisterly centres. Delhi no doubt will be one of the sisters in that love-in. Distributive justice would be the glue holding together that future circle of sisterhood. I hope.

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Filed under Democracy, Elite, Foundational myths, Hindustan, History, Identity, India, Jal Jangal Zameen, Kolkata, Madraj, Nation, Open futures, Pakistan, Partition, Plural pasts, Polity, Power, Urbanity

Munjho desh Sindhudesh – remembering Bashir Qureshi (1959-2012)

[ Kashmir Times, 17 April 2012; IPA 13 April 2012; Frontier(web)]

There are many in post-partition India who did not  accept partition. However, there are various strains within this non-acceptance. One strain has to do with the idea that religious sectarianism cannot be a basis of uniting or dividing peoples and culture into nation-states. To them, those are in West Punjab, Sindh, Azad Kashmir and Pakhtunkhwa continue to be of our own, in a broad but warm sense of the term. While there are others to whom the denial of partition comes a hatred of the idea that anyone can even think of dismembering some 19th century apparition called ‘Bharatmata’, irrespective of whether people have any emotive belonging to the concept. To this latter group of Bharatmata worshippers and Indian-state nationalists, the borders are sacred, but wrongly drawn. They should have been drawn to include within the Indian state’s domain what they consider rightfully their’s but circumstantially lost. They claim the land, but not the people. Which is why when a tragic earthquake strikes Azad Kashmir, they do not think our people died. When bomb blasts happen in Lahore, they dont think our blood was spilled. This blind-spot has had a most ironic effect. The people from West Punjab and Sindh who are most well known to those in post-partition India, are the one’s some Indians like to hate. More Indians know of Zaid Hamid than Asma Jahangir, they know Hafeez Sayeed but few have heard of Ansar Burney, that sterling specimen of a humane desi. Due to this strange blind spot, we have lost our ability to appreciate and engage with personalities, who in some other world, and in some other time, would not have been so unknown and ‘foreign’. The untimely death of Bashir Qureshi gives us an opportunity to ponder upon our collective myopia as we develop an increasingly restrictive notion of ‘our own’, a trait that is so uncharacteristic of this plural Subcontinent.

Sindh has a strange position in our memory. It is the well-spring of some of the most time-tested syncretic traditions of the Subcontinent – if not of the whole world.Sindh was not a major flash-point of partition violence at first. When Mohajirs from United Provinces, Bihar, Gujarat and elsewhere would change the character of Sindh forever. This started soon thereafter, when for fear of life, the Sindhi Hindus started leaving in droves, carrying with them  parts of Sindhi culture and identity. In Sindh, the ferocious eviction drive was mostly led by newly arrived non-Sindhis. Without a land to call one’s one, without the organic connection with the Sindhu river and its land, its customs and crucially Sindhi Muslims, Sindhi Hindus have been slowly rendered identity-less in India, slowly but surely. The Sindhi cultural centres or Sindh’s mention in Janaganamana give a false impression of vitality. Bollywood is a more accurate barometer of reality – the conspicuous drop in the appearance of a caricature Sindhi character.

Sindhi Hindus may have heard the slogan ‘Tunjo desh, munjo desh, Sindhudesh, Sindhudesh’ but have never heard it in a mass political rally. This is partly why few in India and few Sindhis in India ever heard of Bashir Qureshi, aged 52, who died last on April 7th. The Sindhu weeps as it passes Ratodero, Larkana, Budhapur and Goth Chelaram at the demise of a worthy child. Calling for the autonomy of Sindh and an end to Punjabi hegemony, he started as a student activist of the Jeay Sindh Students Federation. He was also a fighter  against Zia ul Haq’s religio-autocratic regime. Unlike other leaders who had cushy pads in the West,  Bashir Qureshi did not leave Sindh. Repeatedly incarcerated and inhumanly tortured along with other activists, Bashir Qureshi emerged as the pre-eminent Sindhi nationalist figure, after the death of Saeen G.M.Syed. He would come to spend nearly 7 years in jail. Those were testing times for Sindhi nationalists with the movement hopelessly divided into many factions. Bashir Qureshi’s organizational skills and his constant on-the-ground fight helped transform his faction, the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) into the influential Sindhi nationalist organization it is, easily eclipsing lesser Bhuttos like Mumtaz Ali Khan Bhutto.

Very recently, the JSQM under Bashir Qureshi’s leadership had made a clean break with the 1940 Pakistan resolution of the Muslim League and had called for Sindh’s autonomy. JSQM under his leadership had been among the very few political parties which publicly protested the regular events of forced conversions of girls from the beleagured Sindhi Hindu community in Sindh. Parties which eloquently trumpet their concern for minority rights like the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) have been conspicuous by their absence at such protests. Most recently Bashir Qureshi had taken up the case of Rinkle Kumari, a hapless Sindhi Hindu girl, forcibly converted and forcibly married, only to be dealt with inhumanly by the courts when she simply petitioned to be freed so that she could return to her parents. Bashir Qureshi was among the few who believed, lived and embodied that plural, syncretic Sindh, where Islam and Indic religions shared saints, pirs and other divines. In the present day circumstances in Pakistan, where even the killing of the Punjab Governor Salman Taseer goes publicly unprotested due to sheer fear, Bashir Qureshi and JSQM’s vigorous public protest for the cause of a non-elite Sindhi Hindu girl cannot be a starker contrast.

In Pakistan, he was, predictably often painted as an ‘Indian’ agent. He was not an ‘Indian’ agent – for India has not given justice to its own Rinkle Kumaris, victims of Delhi riots of 1984 and Gujarat riots of 2002. He was an agent of humanity – standing for the rights of those, who fear to cry when it pain, lest they be singled out as ‘anti-national’. His love for Sindhudesh went beyond that geo-strategy laden toxic male hobby called nationalism. Bashir Qureshi represented the best of Sindh in the same tradition of Allah Baksh Soomro and Saeen G.M. Syed.

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India versus the Union of India

[ Frontier (web)  17 Mar 2012 ; Frontier Vol. 44, No. 42, April 29-May 5, 2012 ; Echo of India, 10 Mar 2012]

So the states have spoken through Mamata Bandopadhyay. The chief ministers, the ones who atleast publicly posture that they believe in the constutionally mandated federal character of the Indian union, have opposed the proposed NCTC (National Counter-terrorism Centre). Manmohan Singh has fired letters to chief ministers. It appears that those letters have not pacificied nor clarified. The chief ministers are more interested in the letters of the proposed draft legistlation of the NCTC. This organism, a brainchild of P.Chidambaram, is the latest in a series of initiatives ( inclduing the infamous UAPA) that have been chipping away the the civil liberties and democratic fabric of the country, slowly but surely.Sure, it is not Stasi-like times till now but the powers that have been accorded to the NCTC would make anyone who care about basic human rights sit up. Not all the chief ministers who are in tow with Mamata opposing the NCTC, are champions of civil liberties, but their united stand in defence of federalism is to be commended.

The  constitution of the Indian Union has powers laid out in different baskets. Some matters are for the the union government to decide ( what we sometimes misleadingly call the ‘centre’). Some matters are in the jurisdiction of the states. Some are concurrent. Law and order, where any matter about combat of terrorism would typically fall, is a state subject. The dangerouslu dismissive attitude of the union government towards state’s rights and its intent and attitude towards the federal nature of the constitution is clear from the nature of the proposed powers of the NCTC – the police/enforcers under the NCTC can a person from any state, without informing or consulting the state police agencies. This, in common parlance, is as glorious as unilateral kidnapping of private citizens without much accountabillity.

The union government at Delhi has, post partition, created through its policies a discourse  of inevitable move towards a unitary super-strong centre like where states are reduced to dignified municipal corporations, forever standing with begging bowls, making depositions and cases in fronts of central government bureaucrats and ministers. Some ‘states’ in India are entities that existed even before the modern idea of India was conceived and will probably outlive the idea too. Some of them would have been among the top 20 entities in the whole world in terms of population. They are repositories of plural cultures that the myopic Delhi-based circus called Dilli-haat cannot even fathom, much less domesticate, package and consume – with a bit of ‘central funding support’ thrown in for window dressing. The union of Indian exists, but it is and never was an inevitable union. To take that myth seriously, for that matter to take foundational myths of any nation-state seriously, is a dangerous error – realities are glossed over by textbook manufactured pride. In 1946, when the Cabinet Mission plan was proposed , the India that was conceived in it had provinces with powers that would put today’s Kashmir’s moth-eaten ‘special status’ to shame. This proposal enjoyed wide-spread support inside and outside the Indian National Congress, as Abul Kalam Azad’s autobiography so clearly reveals. Scuttled by visions of a strong centre wielding a big stick to shape up the multitude into a ‘modern India’, the Nehruvian tendency prevailed. Post-parition, with a open field without serious political opposition, this political tendency took the idea of a string centre to the extreme – essentially hollowing out the powers of states by serial violations of state rights, impositions of Article 356 and legislations rubberstamped by huge unquestioning Congressite majorities.The long practice of High-command ‘appointments’ of chief ministers in Congress rule states, especially after the demise of the Congress syndicate, have also contributed to the steady degradation of the power and prstige of that office. The Mahasabha-Jan Sangh-BJP tendency always relished the unitary monocultural homogenous motherland idea and have always been big champions of strong centres, draconian laws that suspend basic civil liberties and the like. Their opposition to the NCTC is supremely cynical, to say the least, given its sordid past of advocating very similar legislations like POTO which had provisions for federal policing and were as anti-federal any other.

Who would have thought that there is still life in the regional forces of India to stand up united against calculated attacks of India’s federal character? Almost all regional parties, ruling and opposition, inside UPA or NDA or non-aligned, have made it known that they take serious exception to the NCTC, precisely because it encroaches on state’s rights.

A supreme ignorance of the nature of the constitution and political evolution of the Union is apparent in the media coverage by photogenic faces who serve inanities by the mouthful. And why not? The media is an integral part of that Delhi-based elite circle who constitute the new mandarins of India – politicians, bureucrats, professors, defence folks, hanger-ons, policy wonks, civil society wallahs and alll This cancerous network of self-servers are curiously simply ‘Indians’ – largely devoid of the visceral rootedness that this large land provides to its billion. Their regional identity is hidden shamefully, displayed diplomatically, cashed in cynically and forgotten immediately. This is a window to the mind of the deep state at Delhi. This deep state – eating away at our plural fabric, creaming at the thought of the Delhi-Mumbai urban corridor, holds a disproportionate sway over the billion who are not simply Indian. This unacknowledged billion comes with its proud identity and sense of autonomy. Its diversity is still a robust one, not a brow-beaten domesticated version fit for India International Centre consumption.

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The multiverse of loyalty

[ Himal SouthAsian, May 2007 ; Dhaka Tribune, 7 Feb 2014 ; Shillong Times, 23 Jan 2014 ; Echo of India, 28 Jan 2014 ]

The multiverse of loyalty: ethnicity, state and the Bangladesh-India cricket match.

 

 

For the West Bengali bhadralok, East Bengal continues to represent vastly different things to different people: a Muslim-majority country, an audacious dream of ethnic pride and secularism, a land vaguely culturally similar but distant in imagination, their forefather’s homeland, the place where cyclones aimed at West Bengal finally end up, a hub of ISI activity, the place of origin of the wondrous Ilish fish, the list, of course, goes on. While every West Bengali’s attitude towards East Bengal/Bangladesh is formed from one or more such memories and connotations, many of these have a limited acceptability in standard discourse, particularly in public expression. That does not make them any less potent, however, and forces their manifestation only under very particular instances.

 

One of those instances was 17 March, the day Bangladesh scored its historic win over India in the World Cup cricket match in the West Indies. I watched the Bangladesh-India game in an undergraduate house at Harvard University. With India being the odds-on favourite, the Bangladeshi team was widely expected to take a beating. Since live telecasts of cricket matches are not available on cable TV, the Harvard Cricket Club folks, comprised primarily of Indians (including this writer), had bought a special subscription. Watching along with me were two East Bengali friends. If truth be told, I only watched the Bangladeshi innings because I could not wake up in time for the Indian innings after a late night’s work. Regardless, while I was happy that West Bengal’s own Sourav Ganguly, the Indian team’s former captain, was in the process of scoring the highest number of runs for the Indian side, I was not very happy with the Indian total. But slowly, perhaps as I became more and more caught up in the action on the field that reaction changed.

 

With the Bangladesh Tigers prowling all over, I felt the first of many alarm bells going off in my head. I was surrounded by non-Bengali supporters of India, who were cursing the Indian team for its poor performance. But as the direction of the game became increasingly obvious, I did not really see the coming defeat as my own. In fact, I was busy asking  somewhat quietly and ashamedly questions about the Bangladeshi team: Oi batsman tar nam ki? (What is that batsman’s name?) By the time the match was nearing its end, I had become an unabashed Bangladeshi cheerleader. This led to a few strange stares, but I did not care. Nonetheless, it did all feel a bit odd. My cheers, after all, were not really for good cricket. There was nothing remarkable about a single run taken by Bangladesh, except perhaps that it was bringing the underdog a little closer to a win against the titan. And I was happy, long-forbidden loyalties were having a free ride, and the Bengali (not the West-Bengali Hindu) in me loved that we had won.

 

After the game ended, the general ambience in the room was distinctly dark. But I found that my own mood was not part of the gloom. My East Bengali friends treated me to a pint of beer, and we had a hearty, congratulatory talk. As I walked home that evening, I felt a nagging confusion- not about the anger of the Indians, nor about their reaction to my cheers for Bangladesh. Rather, of my own change of heart. A side of me had opened that only had so much space and time for loyalties. It is an easy call, perhaps, when Ganguly is on the team – he is an Indian Bengali. But even here I was found wanting. And more generally? In the games to come, would I continue to root for the Bangladeshi team? And what did this opening mean for India-Pakistan matches to come?

 

Primordial organic identity

The way that my reaction had publicly changed during the course of the game would have been inconceivable had I been watching the match anywhere within India or Bangladesh. The split self that I harbour and which, I believe, many others do as well , does not have a legitimate space for expression in any but the most liberal of establishments in the Subcontinent. But such dual identities remain within us, deep down in our hearts, where politically correct stances and obeisance to national symbols cannot cast a shadow.

 

Ethnicity is a category, as is identification with a nation state. However, these two differ in one important aspect. A nation state demands explicit loyalty, and de-legitimises everything else; those who balk at this explicit parade of fidelity are at best and parasites at worst, loyal to another nation state. The kind of fealty that ethnicity proposes, I like to believe, is at once more organic and primordial than that demanded by the nation state. In most cases, the loyalties to ethnicity and to nation state do not come into specific conflict with one another. But the varying degrees of distance between the two can be mapped as a continuum. On the one hand is the Naga, for instance, who has no nation state but is held within an all-consuming one, which goes to repressive lengths to extract explicit loyalty. At the same time there is the Hindi belt, an area that can explicitly declare its unflinching loyalty, as the points of declaration in its case do not interfere with claims of ethnicity. The Hindi belt is to the localities the natural claimant of the spot where the Indian pulse is to be felt, something that the rest of India only grudgingly acknowledges.

 

West Bengal is an interesting case in this regard, falling somewhere in the middle of this continuum. Together with the explicit declaration of loyalty to the Indian nation state, we find here a vague understanding and acknowledgement of ethnic kinship with Bangladeshis. But of course, almost all Hindu (and Muslim) West Bengalis would balk at a declaration of loyalty to the state of Bangladesh. And so the split self remains masked. Even among West Bengalis there would be a continuum of the exact extent to which this kinship is felt, irrespective of loyalty to the state of India. It is an interesting and open question: How does the barrier between Muslim and Hindu West Bengalis differ from that between West Bengali Hindus and East Bengali Muslims? For that matter, can any such difference be attributed to allegiance to India? Would the dynamics of West Bengali loyalty to India change if Bangladesh were not a state that bore the primacy of Islam in its Constitution? Further, did Hindu West Bengalis feel clear affinity with the Bangladesh that was still officially ‘secular’ before the 1988 constitutional amendment that made it ‘Islamic’?

 

The day after Bangladesh’s 17 March win, I was reading Sangbad Pratidin, a Bangla daily published in Calcutta. It reported that, following India’s loss, local cricket fans were not as grief-stricken as was the rest of the country. This same story was echoed in the national media. I could not help wondering whether I would have felt as positive as I did if my local Calcutta boy, Sourav Ganguly, had not scored well  indeed, had he not been the highest run-getter among all of the two team’s batsmen. How would I have taken to East Bengali bowlers cutting short Sourav’s innings?

 

Days later, the Bangladeshi team defeated South Africa, the world’s top-ranked squad, doing much to demonstrate that their win against India was not a fluke. West Bengal’s largest-circulating Bangla daily, Anandabazar Patrika, carried huge headlines trumpeting, “Bengalis stun the world’s best”. Bangladesh had the sudden chance of a glory run, and I found that I wanted to cheer it all the way , my conscience perhaps cleared by India’s elimination.

 

United in grief

An inward-looking state experiences great problems with transnational loyalties and animosities associated with those loyalties. Nowhere were the disadvantages of this seen more clearly than in this year’s Cricket World Cup. It is widely acknowledged that Southasia, specifically India and Pakistan, are the lifeblood of commercial cricket (See Himal November 2006, Cricket cooperation). Southasian interests are the major stakeholders in wooing sponsors, popularising the game, worshipping the players, studying the telecasts, watching the ads, performing related ceremonies, baying for the blood of fallen stars, critiquing the teams, purchasing the tickets, buying the players. The majority of this exuberance has not spilled over into other global cricket audiences, except possibly the West Indies in an earlier era.

 

In the 2007 Cricket World Cup, all of this was fantastically played up. India lost unceremoniously to an unrated but spirited Bangladesh. Pakistan lost to Ireland, one of the weakest teams in the series. The drama reached its bizarre crescendo after the Pakistani loss, when the South African coach of the Pakistani team, Bob Woolmer, was found murdered in his hotel room. Rumour had it that Woolmer had learned that the match had been fixed, and that he might have had specific names. The reaction in India and Pakistan was one of shellshock. Normally larger-than-life cricketers came back home as social outlaws under cover of darkness, to avoid the wrath of fans. Allegations flew wildly, as did dispensations on what had gone wrong. India’s coach Greg Chappell resigned days later, checking himself into a hospital, reportedly fearing for his life. Only one player received a hero’s welcome upon his return to India, and that was Sourav Ganguly. Some Bengalis might have taken satisfaction in the thought that they had not been the ones who had lost. In the West Bengal imagination, India had.

 

With an estimated 70 percent of global cricket viewership residing in India and Pakistan, the economic fallout of the losses of these two teams was enormous. International and national corporations had invested tens of millions of dollars in television commercials touting the country’s cricket stars, while broadcasters were charging up to three times more for advertising during Indian games. Following the losses, many advertisers pulled out, with some of the largest attempting to default on contracts. The poor showing from these two teams also hit the host West Indies hard. An overwhelming number of travel and accommodation bookings had been made from India and Pakistan, and their near-simultaneous losses brought in a wave of cancellations and demands for refunds.

 

In the midst of all this, one heard oft-repeated laments of how invincible a combined India-Pakistan team would have been. In sleek television studios, ex-cricket stars frankly criticised their respective cricketing establishments, and even took the liberty of the moment to give advice to the other side. It was one of those rare moments when segments of the Indian and Pakistani populace were united in grief  and even sympathetic to the grief of the other.

 

These losses, however, did not have much direct emotional impact on me. I (along with many others, evidently) was still looking out for Bangladesh, and was finding doing so surprisingly easy. Given the relatively low expectation from Bangladesh, a loss did not bring sadness, but wins were unmistakably joyful. Segments of the Indian and Pakistani audiences may have broadly turned off emotionally from the game, but that only went to show how the ethnic continuums that spread across Southasian borders make it so tricky for the inward-looking nation states of Southasia to promote tendencies of crossborder solidarity.

 

Cricket in Southasia is not a game; it is serious business, and a regular metaphor for public imagination and expression. Cricket has been used as an acid test for loyalty to one’s country. In general, it does not leave much space to reach across and support the neighbours.

 

But primitive loyalties know no political frontiers, however strong the efforts of Southasian states to seek out exclusive loyalties. Rather, this more guttural type of devotion inevitably finds its own space in private imagination; crossborder organic connections, after all, predate the Southasian political landscape – not to mention cricket itself. But what can be used as a tool to solidify loyalty to a nation state can also act as an avenue of private, almost unconscious, subversion. Because the relationship between a country and its citizens has been moulded into one of either loyalty or defiance, this process inevitably comes with guilt.

 

Can we not imagine beyond this? If political identities in Southasia are largely imagined, then forceful transnational identities are potent triggers for an organic re-imagining of the region. Guilt makes the private dissident crave legitimacy, for intimate alternative identities do not like suppression. The dissident can only hope that organic continuities will eventually make states negotiate with transnational loyalties, with the audacious hope that such negotiations will be obligatory to the long-term survival of nation states in Southasia.

 

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Bangladeshi-Pakistani bhai-bhai?

Of course, the Southasian story in 2007 World Cup cricket did not end with the defeats of Pakistan and India. Perhaps just as significant as the losses of those titans were the surprising wins by Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. But while the series organisers must have prayed that the turn of events from these two teams would successfully retain the interest of the great mass of Indo-Pakistani audiences, they were to be disappointed.

 

There were widespread stories of Indians and other Southasians, once the smarting had subsided, changing their loyalties to cheer for either Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. This regional camaraderie and the denial thereof was unbeknownst to me, until I chanced upon it on the Internet. On a widely used social-networking website, a group of Pakistanis had formed a virtual community to cheer on what they called the ‘East Pakistanis’. This attempt at comradeship, of course, would not sit well with any Bangladeshi. The site called East Pakistan for World Champions included the line, After kicking India’s ass, they take on the world.

 

The forum quickly became a space for nationalist abuse and counter-abuse, all under the guise of sporting solidarity. After anger arose due to Bangladesh being referred to as ‘East Pakistan’, a Pakistani member retorted, ‘Ah, personal insults. I would expect nothing less from you, my less evolved, but still Pakistani brother.’ The thread of this type of baiting continued, with increasingly personal put-downs from both sides.

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