Category Archives: Nation

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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ভারতের নতুন টাকার নোট ও হিন্দী-দিল্লী আধিপত্যবাদ

ভারতীয় রিজার্ভ ব্যাংক নতুন ৫০০ ও ২০০০ টাকার নোট চালু পরপরেই এই নতুন নোটের নানা বৈশিষ্টকে বেআইনি বলে অভিযোগ করে জনস্বার্থ মামলা দায়ের হয়েছে মাদ্রাজ হাইকোর্টে। বিচারপতি সে মামলা গ্রহণ করেছেন এবং প্রাথমিক শুনানিতে সরকারপক্ষের এই বক্তব্য যে দেবনাগরীতে সংখ্যা আসলে সংখ্যা নয়, নকশা মাত্র, এ হেন সাফাইতে  সন্তুষ্ট হননি। সরকারপক্ষ আরো সময় চেয়েছে। আগের ৫০০-১০০০ টাকার নোট বাতিলের ফলে যে রাষ্ট্রব্যাপী ব্যাপক আর্থিক অস্থিতি তৈরী হয়েছে, এই নতুন নোট আস্তে আস্তে তা সামলাবে। অথচ এই নতুন নোটের ডিজাইনের মধ্যে নিহিত রয়েছে এমন কয়েকটি জিনিস, তা এই ইন্ডিয়ান ইউনিয়ন সংঘরাষ্ট্রের ভাষিক  জাতিসমূহের মধ্যে যে মৌলিক বোঝাপড়া, তাকে পদদলিত করে। এই নতুন নোটে অগ্রাধিকার পেয়েছে ৩টি জিনিস – হিন্দি, দিল্লি ও মোদী।

নতুন নোটগুলিতে সংখ্যা বড় করে ছাপা হয়েছে হিন্দির সর্বাধিক প্রচলিত ও প্রচারিত লিপি দেবনাগরিতে। আগের নোট সংখ্যা দেবনাগরীতে ছিল না। নতুন দিল্লীর কেন্দ্রীয় সরকার কি মনে করে যে হিন্দিভাষীরই একমাত্র মাতৃভাষায় নোটের সংখ্যা পড়ার অধিকার আছে, আর অহিন্দীভাষীদের নেই? টাকার নোটে কোন লিপিতে সংখ্যা থাকবে, তা নির্ধারণ করে সংবিধান ও রাষ্ট্রপতির নির্দেশাবলী। সংবিধানের ৩৪৩ নং ধারায় পরিষ্কার ভাবে বলা আছে যে ইন্ডিয়ান ইউনিয়ন সংঘরাষ্ট্রের যে কোন সরকারী (অফিসিয়াল ) কাজে ব্যবহার করতে হবে আন্তর্জাতিক সংখ্যালিপি। যার মানে হলো “ইংরেজি”তে আরবি-হিন্দু সংখ্যা। অর্থাৎ 1,2,3 ইত্যাদি। এতদিন তাই  হয়ে আসছে। আন্তর্জাতিক লিপি ছাড়াও নোটের ব্যাপারে দেবনাগরী লিপিতে সংখ্যা ছাপা যাবে, এই মর্মে কোন রাষ্ট্রপতির নির্দেশিকা বা সাংবিধানিক বিধান নেই। ১৯৬০-এর রাষ্ট্রপতির নির্দেশিকায় বলা আছে যে দেবনাগরী লিপির সংখ্যা শুধু সেই কেন্দ্রীয় সরকারী প্রকাশনার ক্ষেত্রে ব্যবহার করা যাবে, যে ক্ষেত্রে জনতার যে অংশের জন্য এই প্রকাশনা, তার জন্য এটি জরুরি। প্রথমতঃ, টাকার নোট কোন কেন্দ্রীয় সরকারী “প্রকাশনা” নয়। ফলে এই নির্দেশিকা এ ক্ষেত্রে প্রযোজ্য নয়। আর দ্বিতীয়তঃ, টাকার নোটে ছাপা তথ্য কি শুধু হিন্দিভাষীদের জন্য? বাকিরা কি বানের জলে ভেসে এসছে? এই সকল ধারণার একটা মিথ্যা উত্তর মজুত থাকে।  সেটা হলো হিন্দী হলো ইন্ডিয়ান ইউনিয়ন সংঘরাষ্ট্রের রাষ্ট্রভাষা। এই দাবিটি সম্পূর্ণ মিথ্যা হওয়া সত্ত্বেও সরকারি ও বেসরকারি কায়েমী স্বার্থান্বেষী চক্র গত ৭০ বছর ধরে এই মিথ্যা প্রচার করে চলেছেন।  ভারতের সংবিধানে রাষ্ট্রভাষা ধারণাটিরই কোন স্থান নেই। ভারতের কোন রাষ্ট্রভাষা নেই। গুজরাট হাইকোর্ট তার বিখ্যাত রায়তে স্পষ্টভাবে জানিয়েছে যে অহিন্দী রাজ্যে, হিন্দী বিদেশী ভাষার সমতুল্য।

ইন্ডিয়ান ইউনিয়ন নামক সংঘরাষ্ট্রে অহিন্দীভাষী জাতিসমূহ যে চুক্তির দ্বারা হিন্দীভাষী জাতির সাথে আবদ্ধ, তার নাম দিল্লীতে ক্ষমতাধারী পার্টির হিন্দীকরণের ম্যানিফেস্টো নয়। তার নাম সংবিধান। টাকার নোটে এই সংবিধানকে বুড়ো আঙ্গুল দেখানো প্রকারান্তরে ইন্ডিয়ান উনিয়নের ঐক্যের উপর আঘাত হানা। রাষ্ট্রক্ষমতা দখল করে যে রাজনৈতিক আদর্শ মানুষে মানুষে ভাষার প্রশ্নে বৈষম্য ঘটায় এবং সংখ্যাগরিষ্ঠ নাগরিককে ভাষার প্রশ্নে দ্বিতীয় শ্রেণীর নাগরিকে পরিণত করে, তা কোন বহুভাষী রাষ্ট্রের জন্য কল্যাণময় নয়। এ ব্যাপারে হাতের কাছে ১৯৭১-পূর্ব্ববর্তী পাকিস্তান এক জ্বলন্ত উদাহরণ।

যদি শাসকেরা চাইতেন যে ইংরেজি ছাড়াও মানুষের অন্যান্য ভাষায় সংখ্যাগুলি পঠিত হওয়া জরুরি, তার দুটি সহজ উপায় ছিল। এক, টাকার নোট যেহেতু প্রচার বা স্তুতির স্থান নয়, বরং একটি নিত্য ব্যবহারিক বস্তু, তাই টাকার বিনিময় কার্য্যের সাথে অপ্রাসঙ্গিক অন্যান্য ছবি ও নকশা তুলে নিয়ে অনেকগুলি ভাষার লিপিতে একই সাইজে সংখ্যা দেওয়া যেতো। দুই, ইউরো মডেল নেওয়া যেতো।  সে ক্ষেত্রে, ভাষিক জনগোষ্ঠীর ব্যবহৃত নগদের সমানুপাতিক হারে নানা সিরিজের নোট ছাপা যায়, যেখানে ইংরেজি সংখ্যার সাথে কিছু শতাংশ নোটে সংখ্যা থাকবে বাংলায়, কিছু শতাংশে দেবনাগরীতে, কিছু শতাংশ তামিলে, ইত্যাদি। দুর্ভাগ্যের কথা এই যে যখন এই উপমহাদেশ ফিরিঙ্গী শাসনাধীন ছিল, তখন কিন্তু এই এলাকায় চালু টাকার নোটে ৯টি লিপিতে সংখ্যা (ইংরেজি সমেত) একই সাইজে দেওয়া থাকতো। ১৯১০ খ্রীষ্টাব্দের ১০ টাকার নোট দ্রষ্টব্য। একই সাথে একই সাইজে থাকতো নানা ভাষায় টাকার অঙ্কটি অক্ষরে লেখা – যথা বাংলায় দশ টাকা। বহু ভাষাকে সমমর্যাদা দেবার ব্যাপারটির ইতি ঘটে ১৯৪৭-এ ইন্ডিয়া রাষ্ট্র গঠিত হবার সাথে।  তবে থেকে হিন্দি তথা দেবনাগরী পরিণত হয় তথ্য দেবার জন্য বড় আকারে। অন্যান্য ভাষা পর্যবসিত হয় পিছনদিকের এক ছোট প্যানেলে গাদাগাদি করে ক্ষুদ্র আকারে, বৈচিত্রের পরাকাষ্ঠা হিসেবে। ১৯৪৭এর পর থেকেই ক্রমাগত টাকার নোটে হিন্দীর মোট এলাকার তুলনায় ইংরেজি ব্যতীত অহিন্দী ভাষাসমূহের মোট ছাপা এলাকা কমেছে বিরাটভাবে। ঔপনিবেশিক শাসনের তুলনায় টাকার নোটের মাধ্যমে বিভিন্ন ভাষিক জাতীয়তাগুলির মধ্যে ক্ষমতার ভারসাম্য যে ভাবে ক্ষমতা হস্তান্তর পরবর্তী ইন্ডিয়ান ইউনিয়ন রাষ্ট্রে লঙ্ঘিত হয়েছে, তা শুধু লজ্জার বিষয় নয়, চিন্তারও বিষয়। অহিন্দী ভাষাগুলির এই প্রান্তিকায়ন আকস্মিক নয়, প্রকট ভাবে পরিকল্পিত কেন্দ্রীকরণ-মূলক রাষ্ট্রনীতিরই অঙ্গ। ১০% তামিল আর ৭৫% চৈনিক জনগোষ্ঠীর সিঙ্গাপুর তাদের টাকার নোট তামিল, চীনা ও ইংরেজিতে একই সাইজের অক্ষরে নোটের অঙ্ক ছাপে। আসলে সমতা হোক বা বৈষম্য, ইচ্ছা ও নীতিটা আসল। নোট তারই বহিঃপ্রকাশ।

নতুন নোটে রয়েছে দেবনাগরী “র” অক্ষর সম্বলিত নতুন টাকার আইকন। এই আইকন বাছাইকালে কোন জনমত যাচাই হয়নি। আমার ভাষা বাংলা তথা অসমীয়াতে টাকা শব্দ যে অক্ষর দিয়ে শুরু, তা হলো “ট”, হিন্দীর রুপিয়ার “র” নয় । যদি আজ “র” এর জায়গায় সকল নোটে “ট” সম্বলিত আইকন ব্যবহার হতো, তাহলে হিন্দিভাষীরা কি মনে করতেন? তারা ছেড়ে দিতেন? আসলে হিন্দী আধিপত্যবাদের এই রাষ্ট্রে এই “ট” আইকন কল্পনা করাও শক্ত। পরিকল্পিত ভাবে অহিন্দীদেড় প্রান্তিক করে দেবার যে নানা প্রকল্প চালু হয়েছে, তা এখন টাকার নোটেও ঢুকে গেলো আরো জোরালো ভাবে।

কেউ বলতে পারেন, তাহলে ইংরেজিই বা এতো পবিত্র কেন? হিন্দী হলেই যত অসুবিধে? হিন্দী তো অন্ততঃ বিদেশী নয়। এ প্রসঙ্গে ফের মনে করাতে চাই, যে হ্যাঁ ইংরেজি বিদেশী ভাষা, এবং অহিন্দী মানুষের কাছে হিন্দীও বিদেশী ভাষাই। পূর্বোল্লোখিত গুজরাট হাই কোর্টের রায় সেটা পরিষ্কার করে দেয়। আমরা যেন দেশ ও রাষ্ট্র, এই ভিন্ন দুটি ধারণাকে এক না করে ফেলি। অবশ্যই, সকল ভাষার সমান অধিকারই আদর্শ উপায়।  তার ব্যতিরেকে কেন ইংরেজি, সে নিয়ে প্রবাদপ্রতিম গণনেতা তামিল নাড়ুর মুখ্যমন্ত্রী আন্নাদুরাই-এর মন্তব্য স্মর্তব্য। তিনি বলেছিলেন, ইন্ডিয়ান উনিয়নের মতো একটি বহুভাষিক সংঘরাষ্ট্রে প্রতিটি ভাষিক জাতীয়তাকে সুবিধা ও অসুবিধা সমান ভাবে ভাগ করে নিতে হবে। তবেই ঐক্য সাধিত হবে। ইংরেজি হলো এই ভাষিক জাতীয়তাগুলি থেকে সমদূরত্বে। এটাই ইংরেজির সুবিধে।  আরেকটি সত্য হলো যে ভারত নামক রাষ্ট্র কল্পিত হয়েছিল ইংরেজিতে – নানা জায়গার উচ্চবর্গের মানুষের মূলতঃ ইংরেজিতে ভাব বিনিময়ের মাধ্যমে। আজও তা সত্য। এটা অবশ্যই ভারত কল্পনায় উচ্চবর্গের বিশেষ স্বার্থ ও প্রাধান্যকেই চোখে আঙ্গুল দিয়ে দেখায়, কিন্তু তা আজকেও সত্য এবং বাস্তব।  ইংরেজি না থাকলে নানা ভাষী শাসক গোষ্ঠীর কোন মেলবন্ধন নেই।

এই নোটে রয়েছে আরো নানা সমস্যা। সংবিধানের অষ্টম তফসিলে গত কয়েক বছরে অন্তর্ভুক্ত বেশ কিছু ভাষা, যেগুলির নিজস্ব লিপি আছে, যেমন মনিপুরের মেইটেইলোন, সাঁওতালি (অলচিকি যার লিপি), সেগুলি নোটে অন্তর্ভুক্ত করা হয়নি। ২০ হাজারেরও কম মানুষের ভাষা সংস্কৃত রয়েছে নোটে কিন্তু ৭০ লক্ষাধিক মানুষের মাতৃভাষা সাঁওতালি নেই, এ কেমন পরিহাস?

অথচ নতুন করে যখন নোট ছাপা হলো, সেই সুযোগ তো ছিল। ফের, প্রশ্নটা সদিচ্ছার ও সমতার, যে সমতার আদর্শকে গলা টিপে মারে ক্ষমতা। ইন্ডিয়ান ইউনিয়ন সংঘরাষ্ট্রের ভাষিক বৈচিত্রকে নতুন দিল্লী একটি নিরাপত্তা ও ঐক্যের বিরুদ্ধে চ্যালেঞ্জ হিসেবে দেখে। এই ভাষ্যে, হিন্দি ছাড়া সবকিছুই গোলমালের, অনৈক্যের প্রতীক, আর হিন্দী হলো ঐক্যের প্রতীক। এই প্রায় সাম্রাজ্যবাদী ও আধিপত্যকামী রাজনৈতিক দৃষ্টিভঙ্গি বোঝা যায় যখন সরকারি ভাষার প্রচার ও প্রসার তথা অন্যান্য ভাষার স্বীকৃতি দেবার বিষয়টি দেখাশুনো করে কেন্দ্রীয় গৃহমন্ত্রকের অধীন একটি দপ্তর। নতুন দিল্লি নতুন নিয়ম চালু করেছে যে নিজস্ব লিপিহীন নতুন ভাষাগুলিকে সরকারি পঞ্জীকরণ ও স্বীকৃতি প্রাপ্তির জন্য সেই ভাষা লেখার ক্ষেত্রে দেবনাগরী লিপি আবশ্যিক ভাবে মেনে নিতে হবে।  এখানে সেই ভাষার মানুষ তথা বিদ্দ্বদজনদেড় মতামত গুরুত্বহীন। এই ব্যবস্থার এক বলি হলো বোড়ো ভাষা, যেটির আবাদভূমি কোন হিন্দিভাষী এলাকার সংলগ্ন নয়। বোড়ো  লেখার ক্ষেত্রে দেবনাগরী বাধ্যতামূলক করা হয়েছে নতুন দিল্লীর আদেশে।  এর আগে মোহনদাস গান্ধীর ছবি দিয়ে টাকার নোটের সার্বিক গ্রহণযোগ্যতার রাজনীতিকরণ করা শুরু হয়েছিল। টাকায় এইবার বিজেপি সরকারের “স্বচ্ছ ভারত” প্রকল্পের বিজ্ঞাপন হিন্দিতে ছেপে টাকার নোটকে রাজনৈতিক উদ্দেশ্যে ব্যবহার করার প্রক্রিয়াকে অন্য স্তরে নিয়ে গেলো। এর ফলে এবার থেকে টাকার নোট হয়ে উঠবে নিজ প্রবর্তিত সরকারি প্রকল্প বিজ্ঞাপনের এক নতুন ক্যানভাস। একটু একটু করে গণতন্ত্রের মৌলিক নিরপেক্ষতার কাঠামোটি ধ্বংস প্রাপ্ত হচ্ছে।

পুরানো নোটগুলিতে স্থান-ভিত্তিক রাজনৈতিক সিম্বল জায়গা পায়নি ৫০ টাকার নোট সংসদ ভবন ছাড়া। এই সংসদ ভবন সকল নাগরিকের প্রতীক।  অথচ আমরা দেখছি যে নতুন নকশার ৫০০ টাকার নোটে বিরাজ করছে লাল কেল্লার ছবি। এই লাল কেল্লার স্মৃতি ইন্ডিয়ান ইউনিয়ন সংঘরাষ্ট্রের সকল জাতির কাছে সুখকর নয়। লাল কেল্লা ছিল দিল্লী-কেন্দ্রিক মোঘল সাম্রাজ্যের সদর দফতর। ইন্ডিয়ান ইউনিয়ন সংঘরাষ্ট্র মোঘল সাম্রাজ্যের উত্তরাধীকারী কোন রাষ্ট্র নয়।  এটি ১৯৪৭-এ সৃষ্ট। দিল্লী-কেন্দ্রিক যে সাম্রাজ্য বাঙালি, অহমিয়া, ওড়িয়া ইত্যাদি নানা স্বাধীন এলাকা দখল করেছিল, লাল কেল্লা সেই স্বাধীনতা হরণের প্রতীক। মূলতঃ হিন্দী-উর্দু ভাষী লোক-লস্কর এই দখলকৃত এলাকায় বসিয়ে তারা এই দেশগুলিকে শাসন করতো। সেই কাটা ঘায়ে লাল কেল্লার নুনের ছিটে দিয়ে আজকের নতুন দিল্লীর সরকার কি প্রমাণ করতে চায়?

৫০০-১০০০ টাকার নোট বাতিলের ঘোষণাটি যখন নরেন্দ্র মোদী দিলেন হিন্দি ও ইংরেজি, ইংরেজির সময়ে পর্দায় ফুটে উঠলো হিন্দি অনুবাদ। কলকাতা দূরদর্শন কেন্দ্রকে বাংলা অনুবাদ দেওয়া হয়নি, চেন্নাইকে দেওয়া হয়নি তামিল। তাই বাকি অর্থাৎ সংখ্যাগরিষ্ঠের ভাগ্যে বরাদ্দ হয়েছে অন্যের থেকে শোনা কথা, গুজব ও বেসরকারি সংবাদ মাধ্যম। রাষ্ট্র সবার। এবং সবাইকে তাদের ভাষায় জানানো রাষ্ট্রের দায়িত্ব। এই মৌলিক নীতির লঙ্ঘন জলভাতে পরিণত হয়েছে। এদিকে অহিন্দিভাষী অঞ্চলে ভোট চাইতে যাবার সময়ে কিন্তু বিজেপি সেই ভাষাতে পোস্টার-ফ্লেক্স দিতে ভোলে না। ক্ষমতার যত কেন্দ্রীকরণ হবে, ততো বেশি বেশি করে আরো বেশি মানুষ প্রান্তিক হবেন।নাগরিকের দায়িত্ব নয় নিজেকে বদলে রাষ্ট্রের উপযোগী হয়ে ওঠা।  কল্যাণকামী রাষ্ট্রের দায়িত্ব তার পরিষেবার ক্ষেত্রে ও অন্য সকল ক্ষেত্রে নাগরিকসমূহের ভিন্নতার বাস্তবতা মাথায় রেখে সেই ভিন্নতাকে ধারণ করার উপযোগী হয়ে ওঠা।  যেন এরই রূপক হিসেবে দেখা গেল যে নতুন নোট চলতি এটিএম মেশিনগুলিকে না আঁটার ঘটনা। হাজারে হাজারে এটিএম মেশিন নতুন নোট অনুযায়ী বদলাতে হলো। বদলে চলতি এটিএম মেশিন অনুযায়ী নতুন নোট বানালে হতো 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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The illegal Bangladeshi – a view from West Bengal

[ Express Tribune (Karachi), 16 May 2014 ; Observer Bangladesh, 17 May 2014 ; Millenium Post, 15 May 2014; Kashmir Observer, 17 May 2014]

The massive victory of Narendrabhai Modi led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the recently concluded parliamentary elections of the Indian Union has brought much cheer to Islamo-nationalist political forces in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. The cynical calculation behind the jubilation is that the new government will squeeze illegal Bangladeshi migrants who are in the Indian Union. The Awami League government will look like a lame duck in front of an aggressive New Delhi. This would strengthen the Bangladeshi opposition’s case of Awami League being an Indian (read Hindu) stooge. This will politically benefit the opposition. However, it is not to be forgotten that during the last Islamo-nationalist Bangaldesh Nationalist Party government at Dhaka, which partially coincided with the tenure of the BJP-led government at New Delhi, many ‘deals’ happened. There were ‘illegal Bangladeshis’ then too. What are the plans of the new New Delhi government will unfold soon.

The People’s Republic of Bangladesh shares with the Indian Union a border whose drawing, policing and barb-wiring takes into account the concerns of everyone except those who live at the border. This is probably true for nation-state borders in general. The Border Security Force (BSF) of the Indian Union has a distinctly bad reputation for being trigger-happy when it comes to shooting down what it claims as people illegally crossing the border. This makes the BSF a much-hated name in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, a sentiment that is used to the hilt by Islamo-nationalist political forces in their campaigns. The BSF also routinely harasses, rapes, maims and assaults people in the villages of the West Bengal side of the border. This complicates the easy narrative of BSF’s anti-Bangladesh bias. Like all stat-raised band of armed people, these are self-serving forces. The border is a plum posting for the amount of money paid to border security personnel on either side – an ‘illegal’ taxing of ‘illegal’ activities. BSF, with its assaults on both East Bengalis and West Bengalis, seems to be an equal opportunity brutalizer. This is the force entrusted by the Indian Union to keep ‘illegal Bangladeshis’ to enter the territories of the Indian Union.

During elections in the subcontinent, neighbouring nation-states and their inhabitants come alive as proxies for domestic issues and fissures. ‘India’ is one of the fundamental axes around which politics in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal expresses itself. The Indian Union has ‘closet Pakistanis’ and ‘illegal Bangladeshis’.

Narendra Modi, speaking at a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rally at Srirampur in West Bengal on 27th April, made public his resolve to deport Bangladeshis from India. It is an old BJP charge that most political forces in West Bengal have tried to get Muslim votes by nurturing illegal Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, by getting them government documents to regularize their illegal status. The unsubstantiated underside of this charge is that the West Bengali Muslims look favourably at this development and do not mind this increase in the number of their co-religionists. At the alarmist end of this claim is that West Bengal is staring at an inevitable demographic reversal where Bengali Hindus will soon lose their majority, thus losing their only safe haven (though victims of the 1971 Marichjhapi massacre would say otherwise). That modern yearning for a united Hindu vote (just like monolithic Hinduism) remains unfulfilled. The BJP’s thought that in West Bengal’s multi-cornered fight, a renewed push at the consolidation of some Hindu votes might reap some dividends has turned out to be true as it increased its vote percentage all across West Bengal and has emerged as the second largest party in the Kolkata metropolis – an unprecedented development.

Mamata Banerjee, the chief beneficiary of Muslim Bengali votes, had reacted sharply to Modi’s statement. She characterized it as a ploy to divide Bengalis along religious lines. Banerjee is aware that between a third and a fourth of West Bengal’s electorate are Muslims and were crucial to her dream post-May 16th scenario of calling shots at Delhi. With the BJP’s absolute majority at the centre, such dreams came to a nought. Nonetheless, she had reminded the people that the ‘butcher of Gujarat’ does not have a clean record of ensuring peaceful co-existence between religious communities. Modi’s ‘Bangladeshi’ is a codeword that Banerjee can decode.

Though pre-partition Bengal was very often called Bangladesh, and a dwindling number of West Bengalis continue to say Bangladesh when they mean West Bengal, the term ‘Bangladeshi’ is a relatively recent term. The term owes its present currency to Bangladesh’s dictator Zia-ur-Rahman who used this term effectively in his soft-Islamization programme to counter the politico-cultural capital of Bengali identity, deemed to be a political tool of the Awami League and otherwise polluted by Hindu Bengali influences.

The ‘Bangladeshi’ that Modi wants deport back to East Bengal is a Muslim migrant from East Bengal. He did not cross over or bribe the Border Security Force in order to wage a demographic war against West Bengal’s Hindu majority. He did that because he is pitifully poor in a low-wage country and would have gone to Dubai or Malaysia if he could. East Bengali Hindus have additional reasons to cross over, given the rampant systemic discrimination they face in their homeland, in addition to the general atmosphere of insecurity for religious minorities in that country.

When some professional secularists claim that few, if any, illegal Bangladeshi migrants are present in the Indian Union, they are consciously lying and this does immense damage to their otherwise good causes. It is undeniable that a very large people from East Bengal (whose present political form broadly is the People’s Republic of Bangladesh) have been migrating to the Indian Union, since 1947. While this traffic has seen ups and downs, there are specific high-points. The early migrations are etched in public memory due to their immediate ties to the partition. The widespread rioting in East Bengal in 1950 led to a large second wave. There have been many waves after that. The anti-Hindu riots of 1964 and the 1965 Indo-Pak war saw a huge number of people move out. The events of 1971 took this to another scale altogether, where a genocide, directed towards East Bengalis in general and East Bengali Hindus in particular, produced 10 million refugees of which nearly 1.5 million (mostly East Bengali Hindus and East Pakistani Bihari Muslims) never went back. 1971 marks the peculiar end of the ‘legitimate’ refugee. This partly stems from the false idea that religious minorities are ‘safe’ in ‘secular’ Bangladesh. By 1974, those who had fled during the Bangladesh Liberation war events of 1971, the percentage of Hindus in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh stood at 12.1 %. The 2011 figure was 8.5 %, a staggering 33% decrease in proportional terms. The downward trend continued through every decade since 1971. The Babri demolition of 1992, the 2001 and 2014 anti-Hindu violence were big-spurt in this continuous trickle. Even on 27th April, the day Narendrabhai Modi gave several Hindu temples and homes were ransacked in the Comilla district of Bangladesh.

It can be safely assumed that most of those who fled their homeland ended up in the Indian Union. The long partition continues. 1971 does not represent a change. That partition and refugee narratives tend to centre around 1947 and are mostly from the higher castes, the low-caste heavy later traffic does garner the same prominence in ‘public imagination’ of West Bengal, still dominated by the higher-castes. Namasudras and other lower caste communities of East Bengal have formed the bulk of the post-1971 migration, many settling in 24 Parganas district. The Muslim migration follows similar routes. The shifting demographic reality of 24 Parganas and the consequent insecurity that it evokes among people who recently fled East Bengal to find security in a different demographic reality across the border has resulted in a series of riots in that area. Fringe groups like Hindu Samhati have fished in these troubled waters with some success. Public muscle flexing of certain Muslim groups in that area has not helped matters. Copybook trigger issues like music in religious procession passing through specific routes, encroaching on religious site and trans-community eloping/kidnapping are all present. While political parties are doing their arithmetic carefully, conflagrations in the subcontinent have the power of burning calculation sheets to ashes, with the spoils going to the most cynical players.

In this high-stakes game among the powerful, the unresolved issues of the powerless fester on. Fleeing persecution, insecurity and death, the post-1971 lower caste refugees from East Bengal remain ‘illegal’. For all practical purposes, the Indian Union denies citizenship to those who crossed over from East Bengal after 25th March 1971, the day when major atrocities by the Pakistan army started in Dhaka. The 2003 Citizenship (Amendment) Act took away the possibility of birthright citizenship from the children of many of those who fled persecution in East Bengal. This has created millions of state-less young people who are children of refugees (infiltrators in government-speak) who have lived all their life in the Indian Union. Due to the amendment, many Dalit migrants were been identified as ‘infiltrators’ and deportation proceedings were started. The Matuas, one of the largest low caste groups of primarily East Bengali origin namasudras settled in West Bengal, have been protesting this act, passed incidentally by a BJP-led government. While all political parties want the ‘legal’ Matua vote, they are silent on the citizenship question. The root problem is that they want to duck the issue of distinguishing between the varying motives of those who crossed over. To the Hindutva brigade, this question is a ‘secular’ way of effectively distinguishing between Muslim and Hindu illegal migrants. No one wants to be seen as the one who wants blanket amnesty to Bangladeshi Muslim migrants. Neither does one want to appear insensitive to the plight of human rights refugees. Silent solidarity will be enough for votes. Modi has astutely recognized an opportunity and has set the cat among pigeons by calling for for evaluation of illegal migrants, case by case. He has also gone on to state that all Hindus have a right to seek refuge in the Indian Union. He is silent on why his party’s government passed legislation that took away the possibility of citizenship from the children of lakhs of low caste Hindus of East Bengal.

Ultimately, the persecuted Hindus of East Bengal (refugees and resident) are mere pawns. When Delhi-based Subramaniam Swamy (who has not been included in the cabinet till now by Narendra Modi) outrageously claimed a third of the territory of the Bangladesh to settle illegal Bangladeshis, he does not care about the ramifications of such statements on the situation of Hindu Bengalis presently living in Dhaka and Chittagong, where they are branded Indian fifth-columnists by dint of faith. The 1992 actions of Ramlala’s lovers took its toll on many Hindus in Dhaka and elsewhere. The Hindustani Hindutva brigade couldn’t care less about this type of ‘collateral damage’.

East Bengali Hindu migrants are unfortunate. The prime beneficiaries of partition crafted the Nehru-Liaquat pact of 1950. Many did not move due to the false sense of assurance (including the assurance of the door being permanently open) that came with this largely ceremonial gesture. By this, the Indian Union effectively washed off its hands from the ‘minority problem’ in Pakistan. It did not want the refugees whose refugee status resulted directly from the political agreement and power-hungry moves that created the Indian Union in the way it did. ‘Shutting the door’ has been the Indian Union policy post-1971 (similar to what Pakistan did to stranded Pakistanis in Dhaka), something it cannot implement – one of the natural consequences of claiming full monitoring abilities over an absurd frontier. For decades, the Indian Union has systematically discriminated Eastern frontier refugees (mostly Bengalis) on questions of compensation, entitlement, relief, citizenship, etc. The Indian Union owes reparation to these people, for the Indian Union’s creation and its geographical contours are intimately tied to their migration and impoverishment.

The ‘illegal Bangladeshi’ and associated codeword play is a problem created by a partition that failed as a solution. If division has failed, some measure of integration is necessary. This can take various forms including the possibility of dual or tiered citizenship for all Bangladeshi migrants. Of course, the government at Dhaka has to be a party to it, since migration to the Indian Union has been crucial in the alienation of a huge amount of Hindu-owned property in Bangladesh. Whatever certain private fantasies may be, that a Muslim-free Indian Union or a Hindu-free Bangladesh cannot be a solution is evident on a daily basis in almost minority-free Pakistan. A comprehensive asylum system needs to be instituted, which does not discriminate on the basis of religion. Hindus are not the only human rights victims in Bangladesh. The Ahmadiya Muslims, the Jumma people of the Chittagong Hill tracts and many more are. When any India-based entity like the BJP makes public pronouncements about its sympathy towards victims of human rights victims anywhere, it might do well to make amends for the communal riots in Muzaffarnagar, Ahmedabad, Deganga and a lot more. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

 

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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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Filed under বাংলা, Bengal, Colony, Foundational myths, Hindustan, India, Nation, Pakistan

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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বঙ্গদর্শন

[ Ebela, 4 Nov 2014]
খণ্ডিত বঙ্গের দুই অংশ – ছোট ভাই পশ্চিমবঙ্গ ও বড় ভাই পূর্ব্ববঙ্গ।  এই দুই বঙ্গ মিলেই আবহমানকালের বাংলাদেশ – যদিও ১৯৭১-এর পর তা মূলতঃ পূর্ব্ববঙ্গের জাতিরাষ্ট্রের
‘অফিসিয়াল’ নামে পরিণত হয়েছে। নিজেকে বাংলাদেশ নামে ডাকার অধিকার পশ্চিমবঙ্গের বড় অংশই ছেড়ে দিয়েছে। সেটা দুঃখজনক। নিজের নাম স্বেচ্ছায় কেন কেউ নিজে থেকেই ভুলে যাবে, তা আমার বোধগম্য নয়। তো সে যাই হোক, এতটাই আত্মবিস্মৃত আমরা যে বাংলাদেশ নামটির পুরো অধিকারটাই আমরা তুলে দিয়েছি পূর্ব্ববঙ্গের হাতে। খন্ড-বঙ্গের ছোট খন্ড আমরা।  এই খন্ড ভাব আর ছোট ভাব দুটি প্রায় হারাতে বসেছে আজ দিল্লীর তালে নাচতে গিয়ে। তাই তো আজ পশ্চিমবঙ্গের অধঃপতিত জাতি নাক সিঁটকে বলতে শিখেছে ‘ওরা তো বাংলাদেশি’। আর তোরা হলি ‘ইন্ডিয়ান’। বাঙ্গালী তাহলে বোধহয় বঙ্গোপসাগরের গভীরে বসে মাঝে মাঝে মুণ্ডু তুলে কলকাতার ডাঙ্গা দেখছে – কেকেআর, শাহরুখের নাচ, আটলেটিকো, দিওয়ালি, হোলি, গুরগাঁও তথা আরো হরেক বেঙ্গলী ব্যাপার-স্যাপার। এরই মাঝে বোমা ফাটল বর্ধমানে। আরেক রকমের বেঙ্গলী সকলের টিভিতে এসে উপস্থিত। বাংলাদেশী ! এবার আর গরু-পাচারকারী বা কাঁটাতার পেরোনো বেআইনি হিসেবে নয়। পরিচয় এবার জেহাদি। খবরে তেমনই প্রকাশ।
অথচ চিরকাল ব্যাপারটা এমন ছিল না। পশ্চিমবঙ্গ বুঝত ও জানত যে ‘ওপারে’ যে দেশটি, তার সাথে তার বিশেষ সম্পর্ক। সে সম্পর্কের স্বীকৃতি কোনো আইন বা সংবিধান দেয় না। তাতে কি বা এসে যায়? এসে যায়নি বলেই তো ১৯৭১-এ পূর্ববঙ্গের মুক্তিযুদ্ধের সময় পশ্চিমবঙ্গে  যে বিশেষ সংহতির উন্মাদনা দেখা গেছিল, তাতে অনেক ঐক্য ও অখন্ডতার পূজারীরা ভয়ানক জুজু দেখেছিল। যখন স্লোগান উঠেছিল – এপার বাংলা, অপার বাংলা, জয় বাংলা, জয় বাংলা – তখন অশোকস্তম্ভের ৪ সিংহের ভুরু কুঁচকে গেছিল। পূর্ব্ববঙ্গের এক নকশালপন্থী (হ্যা, ওদিকেও ছিল ও আছে) দল -এর স্লোগানে ছিল অন্যতর কল্পনার বীজ – দুই বাংলার চেকপোস্ট উড়িয়ে দাও, গুঁড়িয়ে দাও। সে  বীজ থেকে যে কোনো চারাগাছ বেরোয়নি আজ অবধি, তা বলাই বাহুল্য। যে কোন দাবি বা স্লোগান একটি বিশেষ সময়ের দলিল। আজ এই স্লোগান উঠলে অবশ্যই শুনতে পাব – চেকপোস্ট উড়িয়ে মরি আর কি। এমনিতেই বিএসএফ দিয়ে ওদের পিলপিল করে আশা রোখা যাচ্ছে না, উড়িয়ে দিলে তো পশ্চিমবঙ্গ-টাই দখল করে নেবে।  ন্যায্য চিন্তা, বিশেষতঃ যখন ১৯৭১-এর পরেও পূর্ব্ববঙ্গের হিন্দু সম্প্রদায়ের উপর
নির্যাতন, সম্পত্তিদখল, দাঙ্গা ইত্যাদি চলেছে প্রায় নিরন্তর – সরকারী/বেসরকারী পৃষ্ঠপোষকতায়। আর হিন্দুদের পূর্ববঙ্গ থেকে পালিয়ে আসাও চলেছে নিরন্তর।  চলছে আজ-ও। তবে তারা নিম্নবর্গের, তারা ব্রাহ্ম্মন-কায়স্থ-বৈদ্য নয়, তাই তাদের আখ্যান পশ্চিমবঙ্গে উপেক্ষিত। তার উপর আছে এক ধরনের মেকি ধর্মনিরপেক্ষতার। ১৯৭১-এর সংহতি থেকে আজকের পূর্ব্ববঙ্গের বাস্তব চিত্র সম্পর্কে সম্পূর্ণ জ্ঞানহীনতা, ইটা ঘটল কি করে? কি করে পশ্চিমবঙ্গ তার ওপর অংশ কে দেখার বিশেষ দৃষ্টিভঙ্গি হারিয়ে ফেলল?  কেন আজ তাকে দিল্লীর থেকে চোখ, ক্রাচ আর দূরবীন ধার করে পুর্ব্ববঙ্গকে দেখতে হয়। কখন আমরা অন্ধ, অশিক্ষিত ও পঙ্গু হয়ে গেলাম? কখন আমরা ‘বৈরী বাংলাদেশী’ নামক চরিত্রের নির্মাণের দিল্লী রেজিমেন্টে নাম লেখালাম?
আজকে বর্ধমানের কল্যাণে আমরা জেনেছি জামাত-এ-ইসলামীর নাম। এর আগের গল্প কেন আমরা এত কম জানি? আসলে আমরা তো ক্রমে পশ্চিমবঙ্গের জেলাগুলিরও নাম ভুলতে শিখেছি, ওপারের খবর কি জানব। বরং দিল্লি-বম্বে-গুরগাঁও-নয়ডার মানচিত্র মুখস্থ করি গিয়ে। সচিন মোদের  ব্রহ্মা, শাহরুখ মোদের বিষ্ণু আর দিল্লীশ্বর হলেন সাক্ষাত মহেশ্বর। মন্দিরে আর জায়গা কই ? কার সন্তান কত অন্যাশে বঙ্গ-ত্যাগ করে দিল্লী-বোম্বাই পৌছেছে, এই যাদের সাফল্যের মাপকাঠি, তারাই ক্ষুব্ধ হয় বাংলাদেশী অনুপ্রবেশ প্রসঙ্গে। অনুপ্রবেশ অবশ্যই সামাজিক-রাজনৈতিক-অর্থনৈতিক অস্থিরতার কারণ হিসেবে দেখা দিতে পারে, কিন্তু বলবে কারা – যারা পশ্চিমবঙ্গ ত্যাগ করে উন্মুখ, তারা ? বাংলাদেশী অনুপ্রবেশকারীদের ব্যাপক অংশ জেহাদ করতে কাঁটাতার পেরোন না, আসেন জীবিকার জন্য। দুবাই বা মালয়শিয়া পাথেয় যোগার করতে পারলে এদিকে আসতেন-ও না। ঠিক যেমন আমলাশোল থেকে ঢাকা যাবার সহজ ব্যবস্থা থাকলে অনাহারে মরার থেকে অনেকেই গার্মেন্ট কারখানায় কাজ করতে বেশি পছন্দ করতেন।
ক্ষুদ্রতর পশ্চিমবঙ্গবাসী হিসেবে বৃহত্তর পূর্ব্ববঙ্গকে বোঝার দায় আমাদের আছে। আজকের পুর্ব্ববঙ্গকে। কবেকার ফেলে আসা ভিটেকে খোঁজা না , সেই ভিটেতে যে ব্যাপক বদল ঘটেছে – সেটাকে বোঝা। আমাদের জানতেই হবে যে শিশু ফালানি খাতুনের গুলিবিদ্ধ মৃতদেহ কেন কাঁটাতারে ঝুলছিল, জানতেই হবে কোন সীমান্তরক্ষী তাকে খুন করলো – তবে জানতে পারব এই পশ্চিমবঙ্গের মধ্যে সীমান্তরক্ষীদের দৈনিক অত্যাচারের কথা।ওদিকের সীমান্ত রক্কাহ করে বাঙ্গালী। স্থানীয় মানুষের মুখের ভাষা বোঝে।  এদিকের কথা আর বললাম না। মার্কিন দূতাবাসের সামনের রাস্তার নাম হোচিমিনের নামাঙ্কিত করে যে দুঃসাহস ও ঘৃণা জানিয়েছিল কলকাতা, সেই দায়তেই জানতে হবে কেন ঢাকার ভারতীয় দূতাবাসের সামনের রাস্তা ফেলানির নামাঙ্কিত করার দাবি ওঠে।  জানতে হবে ওদিকের সুন্দরবনের রামপালে ভারতের এনটিপিসি-র পরিবেশ ধ্বংসকারী বিদ্যুত প্রকল্পে পশ্চিমবঙ্গবাসী দায়হীন কিনা। জানতে হবে সব সাইক্লোন শেষ মুহুর্তে আমাদের কাটিয়ে যখন ওদিকে ঘুরে যায়,তারপর কি হয়? তার জন্য পরের ছুটিতে হিমাচল-কন্তাকুমারি-রাজস্থান-আন্দামান না করে একটু যান-না ওদিকে।
এক শ্রেনীর পশ্চিমবঙ্গীয় ওদিক ঘুরে এসে এক রোমান্টিক স্বর্গের চিত্র আঁকেন। ঢাকায় দুর্গাপুজো দেখে বলেন, সব ঠিক-ই আছে। ফি বছর যে বেশ কিছু দুর্গাপ্রতিমা আক্রান্ত হয় ওদিকে, সেটা বলতে কুন্ঠা কেন? ওদিকের সংবিধানের আগেই রয়েছে একেশ্বরবাদী ইসলামী বাণী।  এদিকে মা দূর্গা সহায় বা জয় শ্রী রাম নেই। এদিকে সংখ্যালঘুদের সম্পত্তিলুঠ হচ্ছে, দেশত্যাগে
বাধ্য করা হচ্ছে, একথা নিন্দুকেও বলতে পারবেন না। এ প্রসঙ্গে ওদিকের লজ্জিত হওয়া উচিত। অতীতের হিন্দু জমিদারের অত্যাচারের শাক দিয়ে আজকের বাস্তবতার মাছ ঢাকা যায়না। আবার ওদিকেই শাহবাগে ৭১-এর চেতনাধারী মূলতঃ মোসলমান বিশাল যুবসমাবেশে ডাক ওঠে ‘সূর্য্য সেনের বাংলায়, জামাত-শিবিরের ঠাই নাই’। সূর্য্য সেনের জন্মদিন উপলক্ষ্যে  ওদিকের খবরের কাগজে একটি ব্যাঙ্কের পাতাজোড়া বিজ্ঞাপন দেখেছি – এদিক কল্পনা করতে পারে?
শরতচন্দ্র বাঙ্গালী ও মোসলমানের মধ্যে ফুটবল খেলিয়ে অনেক গাল খেয়েছেন। আজ কলকাতা নামধারী ফুটবল-দলের সাথে ঢাকা মহমেডান ক্লাবের খেলা হলে উনি বুঝতেন, মোসলমানের টিমটাই বাঙ্গালীর টিম। কলকাতার দলটি বাঙালিও নয়,মোসলমান-ও নয়, এক্কেরে আন্তর্জাতিক – স্রেফ টাকাটা দিল্লি-বম্বের। অন্যের মাতাকে মাতৃজ্ঞানে পুজো করতে বাধ্য হবার মত পরাধীন ওরা নয়, সেটা ‘মাইন্ড’ না করার মত শিরদাঁড়াহীন-ও ওরা নয়। ওরা বাংলার ভবিষ্যৎ বলতে জাতির, ভাষার ভবিষ্যৎ বোঝে – আমরা বুঝি রাজারহাটে কল-সেন্টার।  আমাদের মধ্যে ‘কানেকশান’ সত্যিই আজ কম।  কারণ ওরা বাঙ্গালী, আমরা বং।

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মেরী কম, তেরঙ্গা বেশি

[ Ebela, 10 Oct 2014]

জাতীয়তাবাদের মার শেষ রাতে, এমনই আমার সাম্প্রতিক উপলব্ধি । নাইটশোতে হিন্দী বই ‘মেরী কম’ শেষ  হলো ‘জনগনমন’ দিয়ে। বইটার-ই অঙ্গ – হলমালিকের অত্যুত্সাহ নয়। প্রায়ে মাঝরাতে রাষ্ট্রপ্রেম পরীক্ষা। কে দাঁড়ায়ে, কে দাঁড়ায়ে না – এই সব পায়তারা। বন্ধুর থেকে খবর পেলাম হিন্দুস্তানের রাজধানীর। সেখানে একটি সিনেমা-হলে নাকি এই দাঁড়ানো-না দাঁড়ানো কেন্দ্র করে হাতাহাতি হয়েছে।  তা ভালো।  ঘুষোঘুষি নিয়ে যে বই, তার যবনিকা মুহুর্তে কিছু মানুষের হাত নিশপিশ করতেই পারে। সেখানেই ছবির সার্থকতা। মশলাদার ডিনার খেয়ে পেট গুরগুর, হল-এ ঠায়ে বসে কোমর অবশ কিন্তু বুকে চাগার দেয়ে ‘ইন্ডিয়া’। পয়সা উসুল।

চ্যাম্পিয়ন মনিপুরি মুষ্টিযোদ্ধা মেরী কম-এর জীবনসংগ্রাম-ই ‘মেরী কম’ বই-এর মূল ব্যাপার। তাতে নানা ভাবে এসেছে একাধিক প্রসঙ্গের ছোয়াচ – মনিপুরের রাজনৈতিক অস্থিরতা, মনিপুরীদের সঙ্গে হিন্দুস্তানিদের বৈষম্যমূলক ব্যবহার, ভারতীয় বাহিনী, মনিপুরি সন্ত্রাসবাদী ( কারুর কাছে সসস্ত্রসংগ্রামি), ইত্যাদি। ‘মেরী কম’ মালাইকারি-তে নাম চরিত্রের ব্যক্তিগত  সংগ্রাম-সংসার যদি হয় চিংড়ি, তবে এই অন্য গল্পগুলি হলো মশলা। চিংড়ি যতই ভালো হোক, মশলা ঠিকঠাক না পড়লে, ঠিক করে না কষলে, পাতে দেওয়া যায় না – বিশেষতঃ সে পাত যখন ছড়িয়ে আছে ভারত রাষ্ট্রের শহরে-গঞ্জে হলে-মাল্টিপ্লেক্সে। প্রতিদিন বলিউডের হেসেলে তৈরী খাবার হিন্দী-মাতা বেড়ে দ্যান দেশজুড়ে ছড়িয়ে থাকা তার রাষ্ট্রপ্রেমী সন্তানদের পাতে । অশোক-স্তম্ভের উপর দাঁড়ানো সিংহ-গুলির গায়ে গত্তি লাগে। অনেকেই এখন নানা কুইজিন আস্বাদন করতে চান – একটু মুখ বদলানো, একটু ‘বৈচিত্রের মধ্যে একতা’ আর কি । তাই জমে গেছে ‘মেরী কম’ এর গল্প – এক মেয়ের কাহিনী, এক মায়ের কাহিনী, এক স্ত্রীর কাহিনী, মনেপ্রাণে ভারতীয় এক  মণিপুরীর ভারতের কাছে গ্রহণযোগ্য হয়ে ওঠার কাহিনী, প্রান্তিক ভারতীয়তার মঞ্চের কেন্দ্রে আসার কাহিনী, দুষ্টু মেয়ে মনিপুরের সাথে ভারতমাতার মান-অভিমানের কাহিনী। ভারত রাষ্ট্র লিবারেল – এসব এখন নেওয়া যায়।  মনিপুরি-দের কথা জানিনা তবে নাগা-রা নাকি আরো কিসব খায়। সেসব হিন্দুস্তানী পাতে দেওয়া মুশকিল কারণ কিছু স্বাদ এতই ভিন্ন যে অনেক তেরঙ্গা গরম মশলা দিয়েও তা বাগে আনা যায় না। যে সাপের বিষদাঁত আছে, তাকে নিয়ে খেলা দেখানো যে বিপদজনক তা সব সাপুড়ে জানে।

‘মেরী কম’ বইতে অন্তঃসত্ত্বা নায়িকা তার স্বামীর হাত ধরে এগোচ্ছে হাসপাতালের দিকে।  প্রসব বেদনা উঠেছে।  বাইরে চলছে কারফিউ। স্ত্রী-কে একটু অপেক্ষা করতে বলে স্বামী এগিয়ে গেল। রাষ্ট্রবিরোধীদের তাড়া করতে ব্যস্ত  খাঁকি উর্দি পড়া সরকারী বাহিনীর সামনে পরে গেল স্বামী। সে জানালো তার স্ত্রীর কথা।  এক জওয়ান এগিয়ে গিয়ে দেখতে পেল স্ত্রী-কে – ঠিকই বলছে। যেতে দেওয়া হলো। অস্থির মণিপুরের এমন নানা কাল্পনিক খণ্ডচিত্র বারবার ফিরে আসে ‘মেরী কম’-এ। কাল্পনিক বলছি কারণ কিছু বাস্তব বড়ই অন্যরকম। সেই বাস্তবের মণিপুরে সরকারী বাহিনী ইম্ফল-এর ভিড়ের রাস্তায়  দিনে-দুপুরে সকলের সামনে চংখাম সঞ্জিতকে ঘিরে ফেলে। সঞ্জিত বাধা দেয় না। উর্দিধারীরা তাকে নিয়ে যায় রাস্তার পাশে এক ওষুধের দোকানের মধ্যে। কয়েক মিনিট  বাদে সঞ্জিতের রক্তাক্ত মৃতদেহ খাঁকি-ওয়ালারা বাইরে এনে তুলে দেয় একটা ট্রাক-এ। পুলিশ একই সঙ্গে আরেকজন যুবক-কে তাড়া করে এবং গুলি করে মারে পথচলতি রবীনা দেবীকে। রবীনা দেবীও ছিলেন অন্তঃস্বত্ত্বা। রবীনা দেবী ও সঞ্জিতের নিথর দেহদুটি ট্রাক-এ পরে থাকে পাশাপাশি।  প্রায় সিনেমার মতই এই ঘটনাটির সব মুহূর্ত  লাইভ ধারাভাষ্যের মত উঠে যায় কামেরায়ে। আগ্রহী পাঠক গুগুল দেবতার কাছে খোজ করলেই তা দেখতে পাবেন। মাল্টিপ্লেক্সে বর্ণিত অস্থির মণিপুরের যে শিশুভোলানো নকল চিত্র, তার পাল্টা এই অন্তঃসত্বার বিয়োগান্ত পরিণতি। বিশেষ সেনা ক্ষমতা আইন-এর তলায় কাঁপতে থাকা মণিপুরীর দৈনন্দিন বাঁচা ও মরার গল্পের বাজার নেই। নাকে-নল নিয়ে অনশনকারী ইরম সর্মিলার আখ্যান পপকর্নের স্বাদকে একটু তেঁতো করে দিতে পারে।আর সেন্সর-বোর্ড তো আছেই – প্রাপ্তবয়স্ক দেশবাসীকে এই অনুত্তেজক রাষ্ট্রীয় নগ্নতা থেকে বাঁচানোর জন্য। তাই খেলাধুলাই ভালো। মণিপুরী মেয়ের শত প্রতিকূলতায় ভারতীয়ত্ব প্রমানের চেষ্টা এবং আসতে আসতে ভারতমাতার পক্ষ থেকে তাকে বুকে টেনে নেওয়া।  তালি তালি। আর যারা ভারতীয় হতেই চায় না? ওদিকে যেও না ভাই ফটিংটিং-এর ভয়। তেরঙ্গা বুনয়িপ একেবারে কাঁচা খেয়ে ফেলবে – কেউ জানতেই নাও পারতে পারে।

তাই ফিরে আসি ফিলিমেই। বাঙালি বা পাঞ্জাবি অভিনেত্রী দিয়ে ‘অথেন্টিক’ সাঁওতাল বাহা বা দুলি নামানো গেছে ইষ্টিকুটুম থেকে অরণ্যের দিনরাত্রিতে। সঞ্জয় ভনশালী সেদিক থেকে অনন্য নন। তিনি ভালোই জানেন যে তার বই-এর বাজার ইন্ডিয়া নামক চড়া তেরঙ্গা এলাকায়ে, মনিপুর-মিজোরাম-নাগাল্যান্ডের মত ফিকে তেরঙ্গার দেশে নয়। বাস্তব জীবনে মণিপুরী নন ভারতীয়-বাহিনীতে কর্মরত পিতা-মাতার কন্যা প্রিয়াঙ্কা চোপরা। ‘মেরী কম’ সেজে তিনি যা আয় করেছেন, মেরী কম বক্সিং রিং-এ এতদিনে তা আয় করেননি, করতে পারবেন ও না। তবু দুচোখে স্বপ্ন থাকলে ক্ষতি কি? ঠিক যেমন ‘মেরী কম’ বইটি রিলিজ হবার দিনেই শিক্ষক দিবস উপলক্ষে প্রধানমন্ত্রিজির ভাষণ শেষে ইম্ফল থেকে তাকে প্রশ্ন করলো ১৭ বছরের এক মিজো তরুণ। আমি কি করে প্রধানমন্ত্রী হতে পারি ? প্রধানমন্ত্রিজি ইয়ার্কিছলে উপদেশ দিলেন ২০২৪-এর নির্বাচনের জন্য প্রস্তুতি নিতে। যে সর্বজ্ঞাত সত্য তিনি বলেননি তা হলো অশোক-স্তম্ভের রাষ্ট্রে কোন মিজোর প্রধানমন্ত্রী হওয়া সম্ভব না – আজ না, কাল না, ২০২৪ এও না। তারা বরং চীনা-জাপানী টিপ্পনী শুনতে শুনতে তথাকথিত ভারতীয়ত্বের তথাকথিত মূলস্রোতে গা ভাসানোর চেষ্টা করুক। এই চেনা ছকের বাইরে গেলে যে পরিণাম খুব একটা মনোরম হয় না, তা জানেন মনোরমা। বছর ৩৪-এর থাংজাম মনোরমাকে ২০০৪-এ বাড়ি থেকে তুলে নিয়ে আধাসামরিক বাহিনী। অনেক বুলেটে বিদ্ধ এবং পুরুষসিংহদের বীর্যমাখা মৃতদেহ পাওয়া যায় পরদিন। এর প্রতিবাদে ৩০জন মণিপুরী নারী সরকারী বাহিনীর সদরদপ্তরের সামনে উলঙ্গ হয়ে গর্জে ওঠেন – আমরা মনোরমার মা, ভারতীয় বাহিনী আমাদেরও ধর্ষণ করো। যেদেশে মনোরমার ও তার মায়েদের গল্প হিন্দুস্তানী মশলা ছাড়াই নাইট-শো তে পরিবেশিত হবে, সেই দেশের জাতীয় সংগীতের আওয়াজে দাঁড়ানোর জন্য অপেক্ষায় রইলাম।

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The Goonda first came for the Assamese / Gunday on the loose / The Bollywood Gunday threat against Assam and Bengal

[ Daily News and Analysis, 4 Mar 2014 ; Dhaka Tribune, 5 Mar 2014 ; Echo of India, 11 Mar 2014 ]

People in the Bengals use the word ‘Goonda’ quite liberally – to refer to anything between a naughty child to the local political thug. But in the eyes of law, who is a Goonda? One of its many legal definitions is to be found in the Control of Disorderly and Dangerous Persons (Goondas) Act (East Bengal Act IV of 1954). There is goonda is someone ‘involved in affray, rowdyism or acts of intimidation or violence in any place private or public so as to cause alarm to the people living or frequenting the neighbourhood’. According to the Uttar Pradesh Control of Goondas Act (U.P. Act No. 8 of 1971, amended by U.P. Act No. 1 of 1985), it is ‘generally reputed to be a person who is desperate and dangerous to the community’. But if film and artist communities in Assam and West Bengal have been protesting mischief and many young people in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh are disgusted at the false and mischievous retelling of its Liberation struggle, then the source of mischief can safely be called a Goonda, at least rhetorically if not legally. When there is more than one such public enemy, in Hindi they are called Gunday. Gunday are backed by deep-pockets whose ulterior projects are more extensive than the specific acts of mischief. More often than not, the Gunday of the real-world are mercenaries for other people’s projects, even part of broader, more sinister projects of which the employed Gunday may not be even aware of. The Gunday are as important as the people who dictate what Gunday does, how they do it, when they do it.

In the reel-world, ‘Gunday’ is a project of Yash Raj Films, a Bollywood centric entertainment behemoth. It is one of greatest flag-bearer of Bollywood Hindi films, that grandest by-product of ‘Indianness’. Some perverse people like me feel that the relationship is inverse – that ‘Indianness’ is a byproduct of Bollywood Hindi films, among other things. It is the thread that connects the browns to browns, with the punitive sedition laws at hand just in case some folks didn’t get the point. Whatever be the tall ‘diversity’ claims of the Indian Union, the cultural landscape after partition has a couple of winners (English being one) and a large set of losers. In the Indian Union, we all know that cultural and political clout of which language has expanded after partition, so much so that not knowing it is seen as a sign of being politically and culturally queer. This advancement comes with the retreat of Marathi, Kannada, Bengali, Assamese, etc. as playgrounds of cultural imagination and virtual annihilation of fecund tongues like Maithili, Awadhi, Brajbhasha, etc. It is not accidental that the most successful film industry is of the same language that receives the maximum preferential subsidy for its advancement. The subsidy to English in poor brown-land is a scandal of another scale altogether.

Let me not beat about the bush and come to the point. Gunday is a Bollywood Hindi film. For West Bengal, it was dubbed in Bengali. This make one, get many formula by dubbing into other tongues makes economic sense for the producer. But that also opens the flood-gates for this trend. The film and cultural community in West Bengal has protested against this. If using their mighty economic muscle, Bollywood producers can brow-beat distribution networks and cinema halls into showing such dubbed material, this will be an economic bonanza for Bollywood. Much black money will find greater returns but fledling non-Hindi film industries will fail ruin as they cannot outcompete Bollywood in black money, film volume and the cinema-hall blackmailing strength that comes with it. This desperate aggression was in full display in Assam where Rajni Basumatary’s Assamese film ‘Raag’ which was running quite well was removed by economic goondaism to make way for Gunday. Not too many films are produced in Assamese and when a good one is made with help from the Assam Film Development Corporation, this is the fate. Cultural diversity, even cultural competition, can only flourish in a level economic playing field. No amount of bleating about ‘unity in diversity’ changes that basic fact.

Let me describe a scenario. Dubbing my story and then forcing it down your throat using my economic muscle will slowly silence you. You wont be able to tell your own stories. You will have to adapt my stories. It does not matter if you have a long tradition of telling stories. Soon you may even develop an aesthetic sense for my stories, get alienated from your stories, from your people, look at them with curious eyes of an outsider. In short, I will destroy you cultural roots, replace them with mine and you will finally clap along the way. If that does not make me a Goonda, I don’t know what does.

The acts of some gansters have international manifestations. Gunday has chosen to parrot the official Delhi fiction of Bangladesh being a product of a brief Indo-Pak war. The people of that independent nation did not take that lying down. The producers have apologized. The Assamese can dream on. Pakistan has sought to protect its film industry by trying to restrict ‘Indian’ (read Bollywood) films. The states of the Indian Union have no such power, just like they do not have the power to protest the huge subsidy and preference given to one desi language. Apparently, this language ‘unites’. We know how this unidirectional unity works. No Assamese film will be dubbed in Hindi and released to multiplex audiences in Delhi and Mumbai. Not in this nation state. If slow but sure annihilation of certain cultures is a pre-condition to some kind of a ‘national integration’ project, then that nation is an enemy of those cultures. It is up to the Indian Union to decide what integration project it wants to promote – a predatory one or a harmonious one. It is up to you, the viewer, to ask whether your film ticket is filling a goonda’s pocket.

 

 

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Filed under Bengal, Culture, Delhi Durbar, Dhaka, Hindustan, Kolkata, Language, Nation, Pakistan

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

Death of a general / The unconquered General Giap

[ Daily News and Analysis, 12 Oct 2013 ; New Age (Dhaka), 24 Oct 2013 ]

‘Amar nam, tomar naam,

Vietnam, Vietnam’

(Your name, my name, Vietnam, Vietnam)

–       a popular slogan in West Bengal expressing solidarity with the Vietnemse people during the US-led military operations against Vietnam in the 60s and the 70s.

General Vo Nguyen Giap, the brilliant chief of the Vietnamese forces who gave the French, till-then the hardest kick in their back from a colonized people, died on 4th October. The development of civilizational and philosophical finesse in the form of Michelin stars, ‘fine’ dining, schools of politics and philosophy, experimental art and delicate wines have long been subsidized by the blood and tears of non-White people. So General Giap and his Vietnamese guerrillas surely left a bad, non-fruity after taste in the French palate. The French were thoroughly defeated at Dien Bien Phu. They surrendered to the Vietnamese. We had won.

For the subcontinent, whose ‘liberation’ from colonial rule did not involve surrender of the colonizers naturally did not involve liberation from the institutions that suppressed rebellions, beat up and tortured political workers, certain national liberation struggles of South-East Asia may seem from a different world. Indeed, it was a different world, where the native-staffed army and police that swore undying allegiance to some European power, did not automatically become the army of police of ‘independent’ nation-states. In the subcontinent, armed group of men in uniform loyal to the British crown, turned desi patriots overnight, with rank, pay and pension protected. Thus, it should not come as a surprise that the Indian Union’s Indian Army has conducted extensive aerial bombing of its own citizens in Mizoram and armed-uniformed wings of the state are the organizations accused of the largest number of rapes, again, of its own citizens. Its twin born out of the same transfer of power, the Pakistan Army has aerial bombed its own citizens in Balochistan for years. For a subcontinent, which has been taught to mix up transfer of power (and institutions) with national liberation, Vietnam would have showed them what the real thing looks like.

The Vietnamese victory at Dien Bien Phu shook the world. For those uninfected by the ‘White-awe’ syndrome, like Malcolm X, the meaning of this victory was clear who used this for his own political preaching. ‘White man can’t fight a guerilla warfare. Guerilla action takes heart, takes nerve, and he doesn’t have that. He’s brave when he’s got tanks. He’s brave when he’s got planes. He’s brave when he’s got bombs. He’s brave when he’s got a whole lot of company along with him, but you take that little man from Africa and Asia, turn him loose in the woods with a blade. That’s all he needs. All he needs is a blade. And when the sun goes down and it’s dark, it’s even-steven.’

There was a time when the 1905 Japanese naval victory over the Russians broadened the chest of many a brown people. There was a time when a significant number of middle-class brown people too considered themselves Asians. The idea of Asia and Asian-ness is long-gone from the subcontinent. The great-grand children of such brown Asians have their mindscapes dominated by video games and films and shows, with white winners, white saviours, white sexiness, white ruggedness, white determination, white failings, white sacrifices, white sadness and a million other minute shades of white-human personhood. To this generation, the Asian is a term for folks with ‘slit eyes’ – such is the pernicious grip of whiteness on bankrupt minds. Part of the reason that the subcontinent is saddled with false gods and extreme alienation is that we never had our own General Giap. Which is why, when this towering personality breathed his last, we did not know that we had lost our very own. The Vietnamese got a national liberation army. We got folks who pride themselves on being patted on the back for killing colored people, at home and in faraway land, for the British monarch.

My own city, Kolkata, had a special connection with General Giap and Vietnam. Even before partition, the students of Kolkata observed Vietnam Day in January 1947 in solidarity with the Vietnamese anti-colonial struggle. The brown British police killed 2 protesting students. The same police would be designated loyal enforcers of law in about 8 months time. General Giap visited the city more than once and then, as a school student, I had the good fortune of seeing him with my own eyes. Thousands had assembled to catch a glimpse of him that day. I feel it is not unrelated that removing slums is still the hardest in that metropolis. Many browns have a peculiar interest in the twists and turns of the World Wars. That the chivalrous white man dropped more bombs in Vietnam to crush them than they dropped in each other in Europe during the Second World war is one of those details that do not break into brown consciousness due to the ideological predilections we have to due other kinds of story-telling that we have become specifically atuned to, as an enslaved people. We know about white successes and white failings, white truths and white fictions, but that’s about it. In our enslaved heads, we can love or critique Rambo and other ‘world’-saving White creatures, real and imagined, but many coloured people were saved for the likes of General Giaps, big and small. Let us expand our heads to accommodate our heroes.

 

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Filed under Bengal, Colony, History, Kolkata, Memory, Nation, Obituary, Sahib

Nakbas near home – Their Palestines, Our Palestines

[ Daily News and Analysis, 28 May 2013 ; Kashmir Reader, 26 June 2013 ]

Fleeing from one’s homeland after being pushed out from there was a phenomenon that bound people across the subcontinent in 1947. It was also a time of unbinding as millions were frantically trying to prevents knots from untying – knots that had taken generations to build, knots out of which selfhoods emerged and thrived. That anxious and tragic trudge, leaving behind the land of ancestors, also happened to the west of the subcontinent, in Palestine. For Palestinians, 15 May is not ordinary day either. It remembered as Nakba Day or the ‘day of catastrophe’. More than half a million Palestinians fled their lands in the wake of the 1948 war – never to be able to return. They hold on to keys, real and symbolic, asserting their right to return to their lands, adding flesh to ‘the struggle of memory against forgetting’. The leaving behind the land of ancestors is something subcontinentals know too well.

Palestine has become a codeword for injustice to a people who had to flee their homes unwillingly. There very few large university campuses in the West where some form of Palestine solidarity activism does not exist. The present author has actually suffered some persecutions due to his involvement with such initiatives at one point. This also spills over to general activism against militarism and occupation – activist forces, however marginal, have a supportive stance on Palestine. Such support has almost become a sine qua non for being considered serious and passionate about human rights, in general.

Some years ago, I was chatting with a friend who is very passionate about Palestinian rights, their denied statehood and most importantly, their right to return to their ancestral homes in Palestine from their diasporic network, including many in refugee colonies.  He is a Bengali baidya born and brought up in the C.R.Park locality of New Delhi. The discussion turned to ancestral origins and he revealed that they were from Dhaka. I asked him, so what about your right to return? He looked perplexed. What do you mean – he asked? I said, I am guessing your East Bengali family, like most others, did not flee Dhaka voluntarily, and like Palestinians, their ancestral abode, even if razed or occupied, is as sacred to them, and most importantly, they did not have consent in the dispensation that made them refugees. And let the Rs.20000/sq.ft. property values of CR Park not make us forget the earlier name of this ‘posh’ locality – East Pakistan Displaced Persons(EPDR) Colony. Most ‘EPDP’ colonies are not ‘posh’ – especially those inhabited by people from backward castes. Such colonies, authorized and unauthorized, have been the site of state repression including large scale massacre, as in Marichjhhapi in 1979. Yes, there are differences from Palestine, but what prevents anyone from seeing the many similarities?

Palestine is not the site of the world’s largest or longest displacement. But what determines its pre-eminent position in the ‘global’ mindscape? Imperialism, that hollowed out word, also determines the pecking order of resistances, of solidarity causes, inside our heads. If the Bengali Baidya cared only about Bengal and  nothing about Palestine, that looking away from the priority list of the minority world into the majority world, would be termed ‘insular’ and ‘inward’ looking. That there is no such slur for those who don’t care about the displaced in the subcontinent is but a testimony to the skewed nature of our sensitibilities.

People who question such fundamental things as the nation-states in the subcontinent do not call for the right to return of Muslims who fled Ambala and Kolkata, or Hindus who fled and continue to flee East Bengal. What do these blind-spots reveal? What is so natural about the displacement from Ambala to Multan that it merits no call for justice and ‘right to return’? Surely, constitutional  ‘nationality’ cannot be a reason to suspend humanity and consider the myriad ‘right to return’s in our subcontinent as absurd.

There may be something else at play. It is harder to confront one’s immediate surround. We know them – the university rebel who is a docile son at home, the fire-eating caste-hating savarna who predictably marries someone else from a similar caste, and many others. Distant cause-mongering helps us to get away from these clearly disturbing mismatches between rhetoric and action, but at the same time preserves the semblance of an ethical self, even a pedestal.

One may ask, why not this and that?  But if ‘activism’ is to be taken seriously, tangible action is to be taken seriously, then there is a certain problem in having this cafeteria choice of causes.  Not all causes stand a crucial test – whether one is directly affected by the consequences of one’s actions in the furtherance of a cause. It matters.

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Filed under Bengal, History, Home, Identity, Memory, Nation, Pakistan, Partition, Scars

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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Filed under Army / police, Foundational myths, History, India, Nation, Obituary, Our underbellies, Pakistan, Power, Rights

Bihar’s just demands / Haq se maango

[ Daily News and Analysis, 2 Apr 2013 ; The Shillong Times, 6 Apr 2013; Millenium Post, 6 Apr 2013]

The recent induction of Narendra Modi to the to the parliamentary board of the Bharariya Janata Party (BJP), added one more chapter to the cold war between Janata Dal (United) and its no-as-secular ally. The BJP has been slowly pushing the envelope and this NDA partner is has been resisiting. When a chief minister of a opposition ruled state makes a visit to the New Delhi Durbar to meet Manmohan Singh, there is reason enough to follow it. When that chief minister in question is Bihar’s Nitish Kumar, one must sit up and take notice. This swift forward move from the backward state’s satrap is partly designed to polish Nitish’s ‘figher for Bihar’ image. Additionally, this also gives a clear signal to its supposed ally in Bihar, the BJP, that his party is not averse to two-timing. The ball is in the BJP’s court as this puts pressure on it to anoint a prime-ministerial candidate agreeable to Nitish’s party, Janata Dal (United). The BJP secretly wishes that New Delhi does not ahead and grant a substantial special package or the coveted ‘backward’ status to Bihar. Any such move from New Delhi will constrict the options in front of the BJP even more. It then has to match the Indira Congress bribe or play distant. The matching bribe may come in the form of a more Nitish-friendly prime-ministerial candidate for the NDA. Additionally, Nitish may simply call any grant from New Delhi inadequate and derive some kind of understanding from the BJP in that front if NDA comes to power. In short, Nitish’s Bihar can have its cake and eat it too. Nitish has played a masterstroke.

Sometimes such politicking overshadows genuine and substantive issues at hand. Case in point is the whole issue of ‘backward’ status or special financial package for Bihar. Bihar is one of the ‘sick’ or BIMARU states of the Union whose mineral wealth has been actively mined for a very long time. The clues to its special, but not unique, situation are to be found in the enthusiasm with which ruling party leaders from two other states – Orissa and West Bengal, have come out in support of Bihar’s plea and have added their own name to the queue.

To many, this might be appear to be an opportunistic gang-up moment to extract as much as one can from a fragile government with thinning numbers in the Lok Sabha and unsure of the reception at the hustings next time. And that is exactly correct. But what is forgotten in this age of short policy memory is that New Delhi shares a major part of blame for the pathetic industrial scenario in these states for decades – not as an innocent bystander but by active policy. The mineral rich states of Orissa, erstwhile Bihar (with Jharkhand) and West Bengal have been devastated for decades by the freight equalization policy of the centre. By this policy, the central governmental would subsidize the transportation cost of minerals from mining zones to anywhere else in the Union. Basic ideas of efficiency and cost considerations were thrown to the wind as the centre decided to create an artificial system by which production factories could now be uncoupled from the mines themselves. The locational and natural advantages of these states were neutralized by subsidizing their deindustrialization. This process went on for 4 decades, from 1952 to 1993. In addition to other factors, the present industrial map of India is based on the policy driven destruction of the competitive advantage of the mineral-rich states.

These eastern-states are textbook cases of what devastation centralist policywallahs can do in a pseudo-federal polity. The begging bowls in the hands of these states are not accidental, as these states have never received any reparation for this punitive central policy. That is long due. If the centre is too broke to give reparations, then a genuine federal solution must be found where states would control mineral revenues found under their soil. It is absurd that coal-producing states often pay more to the centre than non coal-producing states to buy their own coal. Revisiting the central, state and concurrent lists are the need of the hour. There is a limit to New Delhi keeping states at tenterhooks by dangling the carrot of central grants. Local control of revenue will blow the cover of this false sense of importance.

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Filed under Bengal, Delhi Durbar, Federalism, India, Nation

Where is compassion for our own / Jail return tales / The underside of national pride

[ Daily News and Analysis, 23 Mar 2013; Millenium Post, 27 Mar 2013; Echo of India, Mar 2013; Frontier Vol. 45, No. 41, Apr 21- -27, 2013]

2 Italians came, shot 2 fishermen off the Kerala coast, got apprehended, were parked in a hotel and then they left for Italy. With the Italian government finally saying that they will not give back the 2 accused sailors in the Kerala fishermen-in-sea murder case, the ground was fertile for some reaping of patriotic crops. Nothing works better than some good-old Italian bashing to make ‘patriotic Indians’ out of us. The Italian government agreed to send them back, cutting short the tournament of competitive patriotism.  But for these Italians, how else could the homegrown saffron Goths, constantly plotting the fall of an imagined Roman regime in New Delhi, rehearse another episode of their ‘India, good or bad’ drama. How else could certain khadi-clad centurions grab this opportunity to show off intense love for peninsular fishermen? As the khadi and the saffron match each other’s love for fishermen, decibel for decibel, they also compete in actively plotting the destruction of life and livelihood of thousands of fishermen at Koodankulam, beating for beating, 144 for 144, arrest for arrest, tear for tear. Irony is not a very effective genre of public performance in the subcontinent. May be because there is just too much of it around us, making it plain and non-newsworthy. Just like hypocrisy.

Italy is not alone among European states in irking the mandarins of the government at Delhi. In a less publicized series of events, Denmark did it too. Was Sanjeev Bhaskar was right when he famously asked – is it ‘coz I am brown? Most probably not. One of the prime accused of the almost-forgotten Purulia arms drop case of 1995 is a Danish citizen Niels Holck (famously known as Kim Davy). Authorities of the Indian Union wanted him extradited. A Danish court said that the conditions in jails run by the Government of India are inhuman. Between 2001 and 2010, 14231 people died in police and prison custody in Ahimsa-land. Sadly, this is no foreign NGO data but statistics from the National Human Rights Commission. Mumbaikar Arun Ferreira closely avoided becoming a part of that statistic. If J.L.Nehru had received from the British the same kind of prison-treatment as Arun Ferreira received from the Government of India, he would have discovered another ‘India’. His fatherly letters to his daughter would have sounded very different. Actually, this is the ‘India’ whose power was transferred during Partition. Norwegians simply did not want to risk a rediscovery of this ‘India’. Incessantly claiming to be the world’s largest democracy probably did not help. The Danish court did not want Kim Davy to suddenly jump off from some height, hang oneself unnoticed, meticulously commit suicide deceiving the prison and police-folk or simply die of ‘unexplained’ internal bleeding. We would love to call this ‘racism’, that is, us minus some fourteen thousand.

Most of these 14231 deaths were due to torture, typically occurring within 2 days of being taken into custody. We will probably never know the exact details – your  ‘right to information’ has its limits. Unfortunately, the dead do speak – if not in words, then in numbers. The Government of India has no anti-torture law satisfying the United Nations Convention Against Torture guidelines. Denmark and Italy have such laws. The honourable and reasonable Government of India also promised that Kim Davy would be housed in a ‘special jail’ so that Danish fears are laid to rest. Browns are second-class for a regime jail that can give an undertaking to produce a ‘first-class’ jail, when it wishes, for international PR purposes. We browns are not fit for such treatment. No ‘India first’ Saffron-wala will accuse any Khadi-wala for this preferential treatment, or vice-versa. Third degree treatment is reserved for its own ‘nationality’. This predictable closing of ranks around this ‘India’ is deeply revealing about their sense of pride and patriotism.

The twisted sense of patriotism and the opportunistic use of the charge of ‘racism’ came together in producing another spectacle around which much tear was shed , much pride was hurt, many hearts bled and many  professional fire-eaters ate fire on camera. The daughter of a junior-level Indian Union embassy staff in New York was in police custody for less than 48 hours with others in the cell, due to a faulty investigation. The familiar parade of Saffronwalas and Khadiwalas came again, spouting pride and honour. P.Chidambaram (then home-minister), S.M.Krishna (then foreign-minister) and diplomats became vocal.  It was declared that a lawyer would be employed for the girl’s case and that they would ask for compensation for distress in custody. This is rather rich coming from the nation of 4 custodial deaths per day. Add to it the hundrerds of millions of days of torture, hopelessness, broken families, lost aspirations and insanity. Will our khadi and saffron patriots ask for such compensation? If one believes that girls case has merit (and I believe it has), then the whole exchequer has to be emptied many times over to pay back the citizens of the Indian union who have been brutalized by the state’s criminal justice system. Coming back to Italy, it’s alright to love or hate pizza. Lets not talk about pride being hurt and loss of dignity of the justice system. If there was any pride and dignity at all, it should have been hurt at least 14231 times in the past decade. One should have some shame to qualify as human.

What is this thing that changes even human physiology, numbing our compassion, making us cheering spectators of contemporary gladiator games? It is the civic duty of a nationalist. My nation is good. You, sir, are bad.

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Filed under Army / police, Diaspora, Nation, Our underbellies, Rights, Scars, Terror, Under the skin

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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Filed under Army / police, Bengal, Delhi Durbar, Democracy, Foundational myths, Hindustan, Identity, Language, Nation, Power

Deconstructing elite ‘concern’ and ‘action’ on rape / Shinde’s ‘Common Man’ Approach Is Just Rhetoric / Rape, rapists and politicians / Hope, that foul, deceitful thing

[ Daily News and Analysis, 24 Dec 2012 ; Kashmir Times, Dec 2012 ; Echo of India, 1 Jan 2013 ; Millenium Post, 28 Dec 2012 ]

When powerful people show concern and promise speedy action on injustice, there is a transient moment of home. Given how many times this charade has been played in front of the people, including this time with regards to the Delhi rape and violence incident, it may be useful to take this incident and analyze. This may be a useful exercise in calling out double-speak from the Indian nation state.

Not always does one see a failed presidential candidate come out to defend the ‘sanctity’ of the residential-palace of a successful presidential candidate. On 22nd December, Sushil Kumar Shinde, the home-minister of the Indian Union, tried his best to appear statesmanlike at the press-conference at the Press Information Bureau. Flanked by a couple of other ministers and a smattering of bureaucrats, he announced to the assembled media and through them to ‘people-at-large’ that the government had heard the rape-protestors of New Delhi. The poor should learn something – it is not enough to be displaced, raped, maimed, killed, brutalized for years. It is also important to know how to chant slogans in English and write them in chart-paper. The star-studded press conference was not so much about firefighting – after all, youths holding placards written in English are not a major electoral constituency.  It was more about appearing sensitive to a larger populace. Shinde saheb even tried the ‘common-man’ approach.

He said that he understood the outrage for he too was a father. Oh, the connect! Lesser mortals are lesser in more ways than one. Rare are the moments when people in power include themselves in ‘everyone of us’, as if we are one community. When the ‘common bond of humanity’ ploy is used in such moments – those in the charmed circle in Lutyen’s Delhi and its South Delhi spill-over nod liberally in agreement. One would almost want to believe that Shinde saheb’s daughter would buy a 10 Rupee ticket on a green Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) bus and travel from Daryaganj to Kapashera border after a hard day’s work, you know, like many, many others. No such luck. Shinde saheb has Z plus security. One of his daughters, Praniti madam, is a MLA. With more police force out to protect his powerful daughter than what would be deployed to protect an average neighbourhood, it is hard to imagine an anxious father of a commoner here. Unless of course she was meeting aspiring legislators of his own party. After all, in the last five years,  Maharashtra, Shinde saheb’s home state, has had the largest number of candidates with declared cases of crimes against women, including rape. Atleast 26 Indira Congress candidates to different legislatures had such cases against them (source: Association for Democratic Reforms). Shinde Saheb may say that all of these cases are politically motivated or ‘law will take its own course’, but surely, as a father, would he take chances? If not, what have the people done to deserve these candidates from his party? That the BJP, the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party also has numerous such candidates does not help matters, does it? What do Smriti Iraniji and Sushma Swarajji think about the ‘jewels’ that their party has been nominating? Why is the tirade against the bad guy always directed towards an inchoate other or society at large, when there are more tangible alleged-rascals inside the party? There have been calls for ‘fast-track’ legal procedures for such cases. Ostensibly, this fast tracking should also apply to alleged crime committed against women by tricolour and saffron ‘social workers’. Shouldn’t it?

In a statement after meeting the Prime Minister of the Indian Union, Manmohan Singhji, Shinde Saheb stated that “To ensure a strong law to deal with crimes of this nature, the government will take immediate steps for the amendment of the Criminal Law for enhanced and more effective punishment in the rarest of the rare cases of sexual assault such as this”. This is something that has a resonance with a significant section of the protestors where public hanging and castration have been demanded. But there is rape and there is rape. The state has hinted that it might toy with the idea of death penalty or something more severe that the present punishment for ‘rarest of the rare cases’. Is the alleged rape of a 56-year-old woman in Gujarat by a Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) jawan a ‘rarest of rare case’? Does the alleged repeated sexual brutalization of Soni Sori  in the custody of Chhattisgarh police qualify as a ‘rarest of rare case’? Was the alleged gang-rape of a 12 year old mentally challenged deaf and mute girl by 3 jawans of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) near their Warangal area camp a ‘ rarest of rare case’? What about the alleged gang-rape in Basirhat, West Bengal by 5 jawans of the Border Security Force (BSF)? Is the alleged rape of a Congolese child a by Indian Army jawan posted as a ‘peace-keepers’ a ‘rarest of rare case’?  Did the forensic evidence of DNA match matter in that case? Did anything matter? Did anything get fast-tracked, or was a clean-chit thrown back on the face of the victim? What about the Kunan Poshpora tragedy of February 23, 1991 – the alleged gang-rape of more than 50 Kashmiri women by jawans of the Indian Army? It has been 22 years. Does ‘morale’ come before justice or does ‘honour’ look different when viewed through tricolour blinders? Or are these not ‘rarest of rare cases’ not ‘rarest of rare’ precisely because they are not rare? I sincerely hope the Delhi youngsters who spectacularly besieged the Raisina Hills only to be lathi-charged back have all this in mind, when they chant, ‘We-want-jus-tice’.

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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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Ram, Ramu, Ramna – the dangerous slide of Bangladesh / Buddha weeps in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

[ Daily News and Analysis, 15 Oct 2012 ; Dilip Simeon’s blog ; South Asia Citizen’s Web, 16 Oct 2012 ; The Friday Times (Lahore) October 19-25, 2012 – Vol. XXIV, No. 36]

You lifted one fistful of salt

And an empire was shamed.

Lift

One fistful of rubble

Now

And pour it on our shameless heads.

(written by Gopal Gandhi on 6 December 1992 – the day of Babri demolition)

On 29 September, in the Ramu area of the Cox’s Bazar district of the Republic of Bangladesh, an estimated 25000 strong crowd of people belonging to the majority religion destroyed 22 Buddhist temples and monasteries and 2 Hindu temples. The participants in this orgy of violence included, among others, many functionaries of 3 major political groups – the party in goverment Awami League, the main opposition party Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh. The purported ‘cause’ was the offence caused by a Facebook post – an absurd theme in an area with very poor internet reach. Also, the serious preparedness as exhibited by the modus operandi also suggests otherwise. It was clearly not simply a Rohingya response to the Buddhist-on-Muslim oppression in Burma. Ramu can be reached by the N1 highway after taking a right from Feni. Feni is not too far away from Noakhali, where in 1946, in my opinion, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi got closest to some of the ideals he talked about.

When the British administered areas of the subcontinent were partitioned amidst massive violence, a popular conception was blown to smithereens. That was the twisted idea that minorities in partitioned area would be akin to collaterals that would ensure peace and safety of life and property. This would be as follows – Hindus in East Bengal would be safe because attacks on them would risk retribution on Muslims in West Bengal and other areas were Muslims were minorities. In Punjab, a near-complete ‘population exchange’ was conducted with millions of lives being paid as a price of that politico-demographic barter. With clinical efficiency, ethnic cleansing happened in Sindh, Rajputana and the Punjab. No sizeable minority remained in the post-partition areas. Those who were left were at the mercy of the majority, sections of whom have periodically shown immense mercilessness ever since.

The story of the eastern partition was somewhat different. Here, the second partition of Bengal was incomplete and haphazard. Even, mass uprooting and forced migrations of people, sizeable minorities remained in West and East Bengal. However, there was a certain asymmetry in these migrations. Many more migrated from East Bengal to West Bengal than in the opposite direction, indicating, among other things, the difference in security and threat-perception of minorities in the two adjacent Bengals. In fact, this is the long partition, for this migration of persecuted minorities from the East to the West continues up until this day. East Bengal ( in its East Pakistan and present Bangladesh avatars) has recorded a continuous decade on decade decrease in the percentage of its Hindu and Buddhist minority population. This ought to be a matter of shame to any state. The deeper tragedy lies in that the Liberation war of 1971 was also believed by many to be a triumph of secularist forces against the forces of religion-based politics. This is a matter of particular shame to the present avatar of the East Bengal state, Bangladesh because it was founded by defeating currents that denied human rights to minorities. In the run up to 71, sectarian hounds of the majority religion brutalized the populace indiscriminately – Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists. Such a trial by fire, like the one that Germany had during the 1940s ought to act as a bulwark against the socio-political legitimacy of majoritarian oppression of this grade.  Unfortunately, this has not happened.

From the long saga of second-class treatment of Hindu and Buddhist refugees from East Bengal by the government of the Indian Union vis-à-vis its treatment of refugees from West Punjab to the present day denial of citizenship to persecuted Bengali refugees fleeing the Republic of Bangladesh, this story of a long-unfolding and relatively unsung humanitarian crisis has not engaged the attention of the Subcontintent as it should have.

Valiant people like the famous Shahriar Kabir and the lesser known National Awami Party functionary Shamim Osman Bhulu, both belonging to the majority community of East Bengal have toiled hard, often risking their own lives, to protect the minorities and uphold the values of 71. It is love for one’s land and basic humanity that makes people do these things. A plural ethos takes time to build, and is even harder to rebuild. Humanity in some can be very hard to kill. But they are powerless in front of a crowd of 25000, a constitution that discriminates and a state that is apathetic to the plight of the minorities, at best.

The Nehru-Liaquat pact in the wake of the 1950 massacre of minorities in East Bengal, especially in Dhaka and Barisal, was supposed to develop a framework that would safety and security to minorities in Pakistan and the Indian Union. The Government of India deserted the cause of the minorities of East Pakistan soon after. It was only much later in 1970, when tens of millions of refugees, mostly of minority religions, arrived in West Bengal and Tripura to save themselves from selective extermination in East Pakistan, that the Government of India planned a response that suited its geo-political interests. I mention this because few of the wrongs that were done to the minorities of East Bengal during the Pakistan period were reversed. The famous Ramna Kali temple that dominated the skyline of Dhaka at the time was bull-dozed to the ground by the Pakistan army. Lamentations notwithstanding, successive governments of the Bangladesh republic, secular or not, elected or dictatorial, have not rebuilt it. However, the worst point of minority persecution comes through the destruction of their economic means and homestead. As of 1997, through various version of the Enemy property act, 1.64 million acres (6640 square kilometers) of land owned by Hindus have been forcibly taken over since 1948, with a large portion of the usurpation happening after 1971. The amount of land translates into 5.3% of the total land area of the Republic of Bangladesh that is equivalent to 53% of the total proprietary land of the Hindus, affecting 4 out of every 10 Hindu households. Most of the land was snatched between 1972 and 1980. This was the result of pain-staking research by Professor Abul Barkat of University of Dhaka. He also showed that the largest proportions of the snatched away lands were with those affiliated to the ‘secular’ party Awami League.

The subcontinent, divided the nation-state, each of them of confessional character, explicitly or implicitly, is a tinderbox that is never too far from explosion. What happens in one nation-state exacts a heavy price in another. The destruction of the Babri mosque structure in Ayodhya and the anti-Muslim rioting in Mumbai led to anti-Hindu riots in Bangladesh with many temples destroyed. This was the old theory of mutually assured violence prevention in the post-partition nation-states turned on its head. This was not the first time either. That is why, when one sees the perpetrators of anti-Muslim rioting in the Indian Union shedding copious tears about the state of minorities in the Republic of Bangladesh, it is important to call out their dangerous game of cynical and selective concern for minority rights. The solutions to peace do not reside in any one nation-state of the Indian subcontinent, but by making sure that all the butchers of Gujarat 2002 and Mumbai 1992 are prosecuted to the last man and woman, if need be by extra-ordinary judicial commissions, one gains the moral right to condemn the brutalization of minorities in the Republic of Bangladesh. If one believes that his or her faith is one of love, they might do well to dwell on what Cornel West said, that ‘justice is what love looks like in public.’

Certain followers of Ram want the Ramna rebuilt and Ramu violence condemned, while maintaining silence on the rubble at Ayodhya. This silence needs to be broken by others. The voices of the Shahriar Kabirs of the world are strengthened by those of the Teesta Setalvads and Ansar Burneys of the world. The subcontinental walls are designed to shut-out voices of despair and voices of hope, voices that sound much akin to ours. Asian Dub Foundation, that trans-subcontinental band had given an important message to all of us, way back in 2003 – Keep Bangin’ on the Walls.

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Opposition as sin : symptoms of a decaying federalism

[ Daily News and Analysis, 5 Oct 2012 ; Globeistan, 9 Oct 2012 ]

In the last millennium, Delhi could dismiss elected state governments at will. The yearning to do so still remains, but the once-sharp blades have become blunt. Commanding majorities are a thing of the past. Some deplore this lack of decisive punishment and call it the ‘fracturing’ of the polity.  It is also increased representativeness. Monotheists have never been at peace with the idea of robust polytheism. The post-partition Indian Union is no different.

But Delhi knows other ways to make worshippers of other gods submit or pay tribute to it. These ways, enshrined in the constitution and vigorously cemented by the servility of a whole generation of Congressite politicians to the High Command have to do largely with two things – lists and revenue. The lists of jurisdiction, which mark out what is Caesars’ and what is not his, and what he shares with others, have been one of the choicest methods by which the Delhi imperium has run roughshod over the diverse policy aspirations of different regions of the Subcontinent. Especially brash is the concurrent list where marks out that a province, say, Tamil Nadu, cannot make a law for Tamil Nadu that contravenes what Delhi has in mind for Tamil Nadu. The other big stick is of course the Union centre’s control over taxation, mineral resources and the stupendous amounts of revenue that come with it. From angrez to kangrez, the mastery over revenue collection from the provinces to keep them in a state of permanent dependence is an art that has been passed on like Dronacharya would pass it to Arjun. As a self-respecting person who has elected his/her provincial government, it is not easy to imagine a future with the Article 356 intact. But there it is. However, even in the absence of it, the Union centre is trying to punish provinces for policy pronouncements that are well within the ambit of provincial rights, however moth-eaten they may be.

This was in naked display when Anand Sharma, the Union cabinet Minister in charge of commerce and industry, a prominent jewel among the ones that Sanjay Gandhi, the peerless gem-master, chose. Before the Trinamool Congress parliamentary party walked out of the Union government, the Government of West Bengal was given to understand that the Global Partnership Summit 2013, a high profile investors meet organized jointly by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) and the Union Commerce ministry would be organized in Kolkata in winter. After the pullout, suave Commerce minister said “given the strident opposition and a hostile approach to FDI in general, it would not be appropriate to invite corporate leaders of the world and the global investors to Kolkata when the government is totally opposed to FDI.” The said summit, he said, would now take place in Agra. Apart from the politicking aspect of it, it is important to realize the deeply anti-democratic strands inherent in pronouncements of this kind and why this is not a matter of concern for Kolkata alone.

I will not visit the question of relative merits or demerits of FDI in multi-brand retail here. What is important is that in the last election manifesto of the Trinamool, its opposition to it was clearly mentioned. It is not opposed to FDI in general – the right honourable Mr.Sharma knew this even at the moment he was publicly stating otherwise to the press. The world beyond the New Delhi ‘Municipal’ corporation or the India International Centre is very different. The frightening thing is, Sharmaji knows it.

He announced that the new location of the event is Agra, a city in a province ruled by the Samajwadi Party that has assured that it will come to the rescue of the Union government when oxygen supply may be threatened. Importantly, the Samajwadi party is also opposed to FDI in multi-brand retail. In the 2012 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, two each of the four seats in Agra were won by the BJP and the BSP, SP trailing third in terms of votes. Thus, the top 3 political parties in Agra and Uttar Pradesh have publicly opposed FDI in multi-brand retail. Agra seems to be a curious choice if local opposition to FDI in multi-brand retail is a consideration as Sharmaji suggested. Something does not add up.

If the Trinamool has ignored or even reversed in practice more than one promise it had made in the election manifesto, including political appointments of university administrators and denial, even criminalization, of the right of protest and free expression. It is clear that such hypocritical practice had also extended to FDI in multi-brand retail, no shifting of venue of the proposed meet would have occurred. Ironically, it has received a rap on its knuckle from Delhi for actually standing by its manifesto on this one. Sudhangshu Shekhar Roy, a Trinamool MP, reacted to this asking whether Bengal was a colony of Delhi. Although it is posturing, still words such as these underline the long dysfunctional federalism in the Indian Union.

This is not a matter of West Bengal alone. The constitution of the Indian Union does not mandate penalization of a constituent state, if the party leading the state government takes a certain position on a policy matter of the Union government. Such penalization is unconstitutional. It is the job of the state government to maintain law and order so that private and public life is not disrupted. The centre’s job is not to second-guess the law and order maintenance ability of a state. Using the hypothetical ruffling of sensibilities of corporate mandarins as a basis for retribution against a state government whose policies the centre does not like is Article 356 by other means. How can so-called ‘threat’ perceptions be used to counter rights of opinion as enshrined in the constitution? Is the centre then working on the basis of another, ‘higher’ constitution? Can pesky provincials have a look at it?

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Can one ‘bad’ apple spoil the bunch?

[ Daily News and Analysis, 23 September 2012 ]

 

Irrespective of how this battle ends, the rules of engagement have possibly changed for some time to come. The Trinamool, Bengal’s political behemoth, has decided to quit the Union cabinet, opposing the decision of allowing FDI in multibrand retail, subsidy reduction in LPG and diesel. This may also mean an end of its relationship with the ruling Congress(I), but that is yet unknown. Beyond number games and the longevity of the present Union government and its policies, certain happenings may affect politics in the times to come.

The foremost among these is the Trinamool’s unmaking of the typical role of a regional second fiddle. In the largely bipolar contemporary electoral political scene of the Indian Union, the Congress(I) and the BJP have come to represent poles around which other groups ought to coalesce. The expected role of such alliance partners is to generally stay out of macro policy decisions of the ‘national’ and ‘international’ import. There are entrenched and well-heeled Delhi-types to take care of those things – thank you very much. In return for looking away or nodding passively, they gain the right to haggle over the size of their booty – this ranges from the apparently selfless like outlays for specific provinces to opportunities to help themselves like ‘juicy’ ministry births and crony deals. It would be a mistake to see these as necessary evils that the righteous ‘national’ parties have to put up with. Only the ideologically blinkered would see it this way. Rather they are pay-offs to ‘pesky’ but necessary, ‘regional’ forces that are needed in the era of coalitions so that the right to the largest share of the spoil can be ensured beyond doubt. The regionals that are party to government are not expected to veto broad policy. It is this rule of the game that Trinamool has broken.

Previously, the Trinamool has demanded its pound of flesh; its choice of cuts – shank or sirloin – it has haggled over such things. Those things were, however, rarely the issues over which the Trinamool has been known to threaten and did not figure in its list of reasons for quitting the cabinet. Quite the opposite, actually. It has been most vociferous and contrarian on issues that are not Bengal-specific. The mock pretensions in its ‘All India’ prefix notwithstanding, the Trinamool Congress is a party of Bengal. In recent times, this is a ‘regional’ group whose political stance on ‘broader’ issues has come to be known at large. Its acute interest in these issues can partly be traced back to the contested  political space it inhabits in Bengal, in opposition to the CPI(M). In an effort to cede no oppositional space to the Left Front even on what are its pet issues, the Trinamool has sought to posture along the line the Left would have, if the Trinamool were to play the role of a traditional regional party. Trinamool’s critical importance also partly stems from the specific power balance and numbers of the 15th Lok Sabha. So is this case of mould-breaking regionalism a particular phenomenon that happened due to an opportune combination of factors or might it have an afterlife? In this context, there are certain issues to consider.

In the magisterial-centre kind of ‘federalism’ that the Indian state has, in the absence of a strong ‘regionalist’ alliance, regional groups learn from each other – about pushing envelopes, about haggling tactics, about endearing Delhi-based fixers, about the timing of jumping ship. It is in this milieu that the Trinamool has gone where few have ever been but more importantly, it has shown that the journey is possible. Whether this attitude will be an infectious one or not will come to determine how the centre will hold in the Indian Union or really, what kind of a centre. After the Socialist camp’s fracture, the remnants of the Janata pariwar are essentially province-based formations, although they retain a nominal pan-Indian-ness. The 4 left parties being regionally limited as they are, their regional units (except their Delhi apparatchiks) have systematically internalized the posturing and anxieties that befit explicitly regional parties. Among the ‘non-national’, one mostly sees strong regionalist formations. The ecology of high policy has never factored in the opinions and strands that might emanate from the regional majority (though the majority is not constituted as such, as a bloc). For example, lobbyists for international financial and diplomatic interests have traditionally focused the nurturing of assets in the big two national parties, which together represent less than half of the people who voted. Not that the ‘left-out’ representatives would necessarily mind being nurtured themselves. This moment of brinkmanship by the Trinamool may be a flash in the pan and might ‘sag like a heavy load’, forgotten in time.  Or does it explode? If the Trinamool has given anyone else ideas, funding Delhi-based ‘think-tanks’ may not suffice in the future.

A lot rests on the next Lok Sabha elections, whenever that happens. Whether the future of a seventh of humanity lies in the strengthening of variegated aspirations or towards a more homogenized one depends disproportionately on the performance of the Congress(I).  If the combined vote of the two nationals dips below 45 per cent with the BJP vote share remaining steady or increasing, the rules of the pseudo-federalist game might have to be amended. The ‘nationals’ might do well to accept this possible future and learn to live with it from today. Its about time.

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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

Unequal glory: India and the ‘other’ medal tally

[ Daily News and Analysis 21 Aug 2012 ]

A few days have elapsed since the Olympics and now even the Independence Day is over. With some trepidation, one can assume it is safe enough to make a few points. The 2012 London Olympics have been the most successful one for the Indian Union in recent memory. On the field, it has won six medals. This is the highest number of medals that this nation has won at any Olympics, giving it a rank of 55, placing it between the upper two third and the bottom third. More desis attended this Olympics than ever before, packing events where the Tricolour went, embodying the spirit of the Olympics by hooting and cheering when a badminton player from China hurt herself as she led her bronze-medal match against an Indian. The bronze in boxing may momentarily help people of Manipur forget about the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or so the Union wishes.

There is another way at looking at the medals — a way that brings the cheering and the hungry, the Jatt and the Kuki, the prince and the servant together. What about a per capita analysis of the medal tally? Given the collective gloat, how many medals does the nation win, per person? It is easy to do this. One simply needs to divide medals by population. There can be multiple ways of counting medals – one can count only golds, one can add up medals irrespective of colour, one can add up giving differential weights for gold, silver and bronze. Fought in the name of the nation, such an analysis brings the ‘national’ participation (or the lack thereof) in the picture. Doing a gold only analysis does not suit the Indian Union – this time it has not won one. One might imagine that a larger population would lead to a larger talent pool of sportspersons and hence a correspondingly larger number of medals. Negative deviations away from this would not represent a system that does not nurture its population in general, be it sports or otherwise. The medals then are achievements of the individuals, sometimes due to grit and talent, sometimes due to the added factor of wealth. Their grit is in spite of the nation that wants to appropriate the glory. Abhinav Singh Bindra, the Punjabi Sikh, had won an individual gold medal in the 10 metre air rifle competition at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In his memoir he has a chapter named ‘Mr Indian official: Thanks for nothing.’ The Union of India’s dispossessed millions might say the same of the state.

So here is the data at the close of the 2012 Olympics. 85 countries had won medals. The following numbers are calculated using a weighted formula where a gold gets 4 points, silver 2 and bronze 1. So, if a country won 1 gold, 1 silver and a bronze medal, the total points is 7 and dividing 7 by its population in millions gives the number of medals per million. Topping this modified chart using the weighted number of medals per million population was Grenada. This is not surprising given a success by chance from a very small nation like Grenada takes the cake. However, some small Caribbean nation or the other has been topping the list since 1996, pointing to something more than fluke, but a regional ecology of excellence. By this measure, People’s Republic of China gets a rank of 67. The United States of America is at 42, the Russian Federation at 31, France, Cuba, Great Britain and Australia are at 33, 15, 13 and 11 respectively. The reason I have mentioned these nations is because their population is relatively substantial. With this historical best medal haul, in 2012, India comes last, 85th out of 85. Going back to the medals per population data through the Olympics, India was 87th out of 87 at Beijing 2008, 75th out of 75 at Athens 2004, 80th out of 80 at Sydney 2000 and 78th out of 78 at Atlanta 1996. In 1992, 1988 and 1984 its tryst with destiny at the Olympics did not result in any medal.

Domestic inequity shows up in unlikely ways in international pageants where Hindustan tries to show off its turbaned best. As though it was natural, the Indian Union, for all these years, has sent an Olympic contingent where the middle and upper-middle classes are heavily over-represented. Through this whole period, India topped the world tables for the largest number of hungry people, beating Sub-Saharan Africa (yes, ‘those’, them) hands down, who in turn have beaten India at the Olympics. There you are, hauling the least number of medals in the name of the greatest number of people, consistently. The parallel with India’s billionaire list and its dismal per capita income could not be starker. And so it goes. Unfortunately, fudging poverty lines and pretending to be the world’s largest democracy does not help win medals at the Olympics.

( In a longer version, the following parts preceded the piece)

The words ‘bullion’ and ‘billion’ have always sounded quite similar to me. That is possibly why every time I hear about browns in the Forbes billionaire list, I am reminded of gold. Vice-versa, when I look at the gold-silver prices in the newspapers, images of the polyester shahzadas and their ilk come to my mind. For that kind of a person, the gold and silver rush during the Olympics makes me think of brown folks who have consistently been topping charts – be they the medal tally or the Forbes’ list.

The annual Forbes’ list has been featuring an increasing number of brown people for the last two decades. The publication of the list is accompanied by an odd sense of pride and intimacy with people whose homes and dreams are strictly off limits for 99% of us brown folks. One can understand the inevitable celebrations, newsflashes, articles and talkshows that significant sections of the media peddle to the rest of us. It is similar to film magazines for whom celebrating glitz is their ideology and the raison d’etre. Similarly, ownership patterns and ideological milieu nearly guarantee that the large sections of the media mark such rich lists as ‘national’ accomplishments. The accomplishments are largely ‘national’ in an oft-unacknowledged way. Talking about the role of anything other than capital, technology, creativity and business acumen has become passé and blasphemous. Not talking about something does not take away the role of the sweat of the multitude and the surrender of their commons in so ‘national’ a cause. But that is another matter.

However, constant banging on the walls can cause a breach in the broad consensus around the meaning of such lists. Nowhere is it more relevant than in ‘Shining India’ where increases in per capita income ($1410 in nominal terms and $3703 in comparable purchasing power terms, in 2011) is widely interpreted and propagandized as a stand-in for well-being of people at large. This grew by 15.6% in 2010-11, the $3703 representing a unimpressive global rank of 129 in a list of 183 nations. Even this figure hides reality, as income inequality in the Indian Union has risen significantly in the last decade. The average Indian is a figment – a supposed cross between the Polyester prince and the migrant labourer, a ‘face in the crowd’. For Grenada, that figure was $13,896, and with significantly less income inequality than the Indian Union. This means, the ‘average Grenadian’ with an income of $13,896 is less of a figment than the ‘common Indian’ making $3703.

This harping on Grenada has a bullion connection. This time it has to do with the Olympics.

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Filed under Bahishkrit Samaj, Class, Democracy, India, Nation, Our underbellies

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

Darker than coal – the centre-state politics of mineral revenue

[IPA, 20 April 2012 ; Frontier (web), 1 Jun 2012]

India was supposed to be a democratic federal union. The daily debasing of that compact goes largely unnoticed among our chattering classes and policy makers.  The states in India have long been reduced to impoverished alms-seekers – mass leaders from its great provinces prostrating daily in front of federal bureaucrats and policy-makers who represent no one. This is nothing short of disturbing, to say the least and cannot be a good sign of health in a democracy.

Let is come to the specifics. Why are states forever standing with the begging bowl in front of the centre? It is not that the city of Delhi knows any secret formula to grow money in the manicured gardens near the North and South block. This false opulence comes from the constitutional provisions by which the centre captures most of the revenues that are produced in the states. The centre has also awarded itself the right to grab the revenues from the pre-existing wealth of the states, namely their minerals and other subterranean resources. It is from this wealth gathered from distant lands that the ‘National Capital Region’ or British-built Delhi awards itself with infrastructure and services that other parts of India can only dream of or can only pay for by the traditional Indian method known as toiling hard to earn one’s own bread.

Except Maharashtra, all the other coal-producing states are stricken with poverty – near about fifty percent of the people in these states living even below the Montek-line, mockingly known as the poverty line. This includes West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. These also include some of the most impoverished zones of the Indian Union, where contractors, mining mafia, government officials and goons rule the roost as a dehumanized and starving populace looks on. What the centre gives as coal royalty to these states is a pittance. Delhi siphons that off through its channels keeping the states impoverished. The states have repeatedly asked for the coal royalties to be increased. Such requests have fallen on deaf ears – coal is lucrative and the thief knows that. Geography books in India inform students that West Bengal and Jharkhand has coal deposits. What it does not inform that is the coal does not belong to them. They are more like encroachers on the land under which there is coal deposit – the centre throws some spare change at these beggar-states as it makes off with the loot. While nationalization of prime resources is indeed a positive step, the divorcing of the fruits of the bounty from the very people in whose areas these were found goes against all elements of distributive justice.

In such a scenario, honourable Shriprakash Jaiswal, the coal minister from Delhi’s Shastri Bhavan, has given West Bengal a few pearls of wisdom. He has suggested that work be stopped at the almost-completed Bengal Aerotroplis project at Andal near Durgapur as coal was locked under those lands. This ambitious project, which is projected to make Andal a major air-cargo hub of South and South-east Asia, has been a project longtime in the making. Similar clamours from the centre a few years ago had made the West Bengal government take the drastic step of reducing the project area by 400 acres so that certain areas with purportedly rich coal deposits are left out.  From minister Jaiswal’s recent pronouncements it seems that our mai-baaps in Delhi want more as coal is a national property and hence, projects should not come up on coal-bearing land so that mining activities are affected.

It seems that having coal, or other mineral deposits, is like having a curse. Dongria Kondh people of Orissa and Gond people of Chhattisgarh know it too well as the central paramilitaries effectively suspend the fundamental rights of the citizen in these places to uphold the rights of multinational mineral magnates to plunder and run. Equally bad is the scenario of states like West Bengal. The centre will not increase royalties on coal. At the same time, it is threatening to throw a spanner into a major potential employment and revenue-generating project in the state. The coal is national, but the revenue loss is West Bengal’s. The coal is a national resource, but land in West Bengal will be quarantined for such purposes without reasonable compensation to West Bengal. If a respectful relationship between the Union centre and the mineral-bearing states are to evolve, the central government might want to make the states equal partners in decision-making as well as royalty and revenue sharing. It is rather shortsighted to expect that West Bengal and Jharkhand will forever pay for Commonwealth Games and white elephant infrastructure in Delhi while its own people starve. The expression of sharp discontent and dogged resistance by Baloch nationalists on very similar matters of natural resource exploitation by Islamabad is a subcontinental example. One expects that Delhi will learn from its neighbour – that uncompensated exploitation of a province’s resources is unjust, that a functioning union needs co-operating partners, not imperious masters and sulking servants.

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Filed under Bengal, Democracy, India, Nation, Polity, Power, Rights

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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Filed under Foundational myths, History, Nation, Obituary, Pakistan, Partition, Religion

In defence of the West – reflections on the renaming debate of West Bengal

[ Himal Southasian, 26 Aug 2011 ]

“The past is never dead, it is not even past.”  ~ William Faulkner

Nations and national identities are transient entities. The entities might be imagined but what is very real is the feeling of belonging – no amount of ontological information, about how it came to be like it is, can easily take away that feeling. Meanings of life, meanings of community, meanings of love, pride, shame and desire are built from such feelings. Add to it a transient continuity through a set of  directly experienced or indirectly ‘felt’ scenarios, held in common. That is what makes memories of the past – a communitarian memory of sorts. To deny that memory, however irrelevant that may be to some sectors of the present populace, is, to deny a community certain ways of expressing its identity and continually coming to terms with the past. To look at the present as some kind of a thing in itself, with the past being a book that that has been read and shelved, only belies a very arrogant and strange understanding of the nature of human pasts, and indeed the nature of human presents.

As far as names of such entities go, the naming and more crucially, renaming, represents some kind of a project. For the last few weeks, the province of West Bengal in the Union of India, underwent a ‘renaming’ process. To people who were not indifferent to the renaming exercise, the end result of the process has evoked various hues of emotion – intense disappointment, anti-climax and for folks like me, relief. At this point, it is useful to have a brief recap of this entity, West Bengal.

This is not be confused with the shortlived western segment of Bengal arising out of the Partition of Bengal of 1905.  The 1905 partition saw eastern parts of the Bengali speaking areas sliced off from it to form the province of Eastern Bengal and Assam. The rest, called simply Bengal, though technically Western Bengal and much of present day Bihar and Orissa, never really came to be known as such. In any case, the partition was reversed with the Bengals reunited in 1911. By 1947, the demand for a separate homeland, for ensuring the rights of Indian Muslims, had taken shape through the formation of Pakistan. While the pro-Pakistan Muslim League held a majority in the Bengal Legislative assembly and hence supported a wholesale inclusion of Bengal into Pakistan, an intense demand for the partition of Bengal came from the non-Muslim political forces. June 20, 1947 saw the legislators of these non-Muslim-majority areas assemble  and vote overwhelmingly for the partition of Bengal. This emerging entity,  intended to be formed by the assemblage of most non-Muslim-majority districts of Bengal, is what came to be West Bengal. The contours of the cleavage between West Bengal and East Bengal, and hence, by implication, the contours of West Bengal, were decided by Cyrille Radcliffe’s ‘award’. The said ‘award’ resulted in one of the greatest mass migrations in recent human past. In the tumultuous times of 1947 and shortly thereafter, nearly 3 million ‘East’ Bengalis came to West Bengal. According to the 1951 census of India, 27% of the population of Kolkata were partition-related migrant refugees from East Bengal. Especially spurting after the communal violence in East Bengal ( by then, rechristened and officialized by the state of Pakistan as ‘East Pakistan’) in 1950 and 1964, migration to West Bengal continued through the 50s and the 60s. It is estimated that by 1970, about 5 million refugees had arrived from East Bengal. In subsequent years, the westward migration due to real or perceived insecurity and/or opportunities has been slower, but far from absent. A substantial portion of the population of West Bengal have migrated from their ancestral abode in East Bengal in the last one or two generations.

Rumblings of discontent about the name ‘West Bengal’ started in government circles a few years ago. The reason was primarily one of discomfiture with the position of ‘W’ at the fag end of the alphabet series in English. The Union of India, being a federal system, often has meetings on important policy matters where representatives of the provinces ( called ‘states’) deliberate and present their viewpoints. Like an obedient brown-skilled English-educated schoolboy, the Union of India choses to follow the alphabetical order of English to call the representatives of the provinces, one by one. The problem should be clear by now. West Bengal with its ‘W’ is called last. It does not get much hearing, after all the provinces have spoken.After all, the Union of India has 28 provinces. After the recent change in government in West Bengal, the process of remedying West Bengal’s name gathered steam. And many people chimed in with suggestions.There were civil debates carried out in the television but in a more detailed way in the newspapers.

Any name, it may seem on the outset, is as good as any other. But the nature of alternatives that were being thrown up was an interesting socio-political indicator of sorts. A few names, of the Bangla, Bawngo or Bengal kind, made the rounds. Names of this kind found their votaries in people who argued – there is no East Bengal, why should we then call our province West Bengal? There is a certain problem with this unfortunate ‘there is no East Bengal’ view point. The roughly eastern segment of the land inhabited primarily by Bengali speaking people will always be East Bengal. East Bengal is as much a geographical entity as it was a political entity. The political entity has been conceived variously as East Bengal (1947-1955), East Pakistan (1955-1971) and Bangladesh ( 1971- present). The changing political construction of that geographical space does not change the psychogeographical space that East Bengal holds in the mind of large sections of the people of West Bengal, especially the refugees and their immediate descendants. People who were refugees from East Bengal did not locate their abode differently in the same psychogeographical space as East Bengal’s official political name changed with time. There also exists the East Bengal that does not simply reside in the memory of migrants. This is the living entity of East Bengal, in its political form of Bangladesh. It is not surprising that radical political groups, extremely staunch in their opposition to the Pakistani state, still chose to refer to themselves with their East Bengal epithet – various factions of the Purbo Banglar Shorbohara Party (Proletarian Party of East Bengal) and the Purbo Banglar Communist Party ( East Bengal Communist Party).

Names that simply refer to Bangla or Bengal show a thrust to create a wholly-contained identity, one that is contained within West Bengal’s territorial limits.The name Bangla or Bawngo is not new. However, it is hardly conceivable that a person’s conception of Bangla or Bengal suddenly underwent a radical transformation right after 14th August 1947 in one’s imagination of the place they imagined to be Bangla. The unfortunate illusion that the post-partition generations suffer from has the Bengal of one’s imagination stop at the international border. It is especially acute in West Bengal, which in fact is the smaller of the 2 politico-geographical segments of Bengal. Add to this the primarily Hindu name roll-call of the who’s who of Bengal’s past as taught in West Bengal. What one ends up with is a weird view of Bengal. The very-real presence of East Bengal in Satyendranath Bose’s professorship at Dhaka University, Bankim Chandra Chattyopadhyay’s deputy-collectorship at Jessore, Rabindranath Thakur’s literary productions while being stationed at Shelaidaha in Kushtia, Masterda Shurjo Sen and Pritilata Waddedar’s armed insurrection against the colonial occupation in Chattagram and myriad such events, ideas, conceptions, ownerships, get projected, very-really, imperceptibly but exclusively, onto the physical imaginary of Bengal’s western sliver. It is my suspicion that this psychological phenomenon where trans-frontier locales get uprooted from their real location but do not quite  get correspondingly embedded on this side of the frontier leaving places, faces, spaces, events in a strange purgatory of cognitive inaccessibility, is a major sequelae of partition. This possibly has given rise to  misshapen, constricted visions of one’s cultural  past, severely restricting initiatives of cultural engagement in the present time. Trends that seek to rename West Bengal as simply Bangla or Bengal may only add to this smugness of being complete.

Some have pointed out that the other great casualty of the partition of India, namely Punjab, do not go by East or West Punjab but is called Punjab on both sides of the international border. Without going into the details of its specific renaming, a few facts are to be borne in mind. Entities called West Punjab ( in Pakistan) and East Punjab state ( in the Union of India) arose right after partition. The East Punjab name carried itself into the later PEPSU ( Patiala and East Punjab State’s Union) fomation. Whatever the names cleaved entities politically go by, Punjab to the east of the border is still East Punjab. In certain unfortunate respects, the Punjabs are less amenable to cross-border imaginaries. Firstly, the ‘cleansing’ of populations in 2 sides of the international border in Punjab are almost surgically complete. The Muslim/ non-Muslim divide in terms of population distribution is nearly complete in the Punjabs. West Punjab has less than 3% non-Muslims and other Punjab’s numbers are correspondingly dismal, when one keep’s in mind the pre-partition demographic mix in these areas. The Bengals, inspite of migrations ( mostly from East to West), retain large number of the ‘other’ religious community within their slivers. A living access to the constructed ‘other’ puts certain limits to the process of ‘othering’. Furthermore, with increasing proportions of the two Punjabi population getting literate, their cultural productions are not mutually comprehensible in print, as West uses Shahmukhi ( Arabic) and the East uses Gurmukhi. This seriously inhibits the bonds of exchange and engagement of the kind that the Bengals continued to have post-partition, albeit not to an extent a culturally continuous geographical space should have within its different parts. Borders of the land do make their presence felt as borders in the mind.The logic of the nation-state devices the agenda of cultural continuities and discontinuities.

There is another aspect to these calls for ‘Bengal’.This one jives very well with that snazziness that shining India is all about – ‘Brand Bengal’ as it is called in the chambers of commerce and in the upmarket cafes of Kolkata. Some of this is the upwardly mobile upper middle class with its ‘consumer product’ centric view of all things. Then there is the element of supposed ‘coolness’ of ‘Bengal’ vis-à-vis the vernacular.  Whats more, it even reeks of the nostalgia of  stolen Burma teak, lazy colonial evenings and a booming Calcutta port to drain away surplus. The over bearing presence of the Calcutta-centric ( not Kolkata-centric) discourse on the question of renaming West Bengal did serve to skew the public. To some inhabitants of Calcutta, whose ‘Bengal’ or ‘West Bengal’ do not stretch beyond the confines of the metropolis (except a flight to Darjeeling). They are very perturbed about the discomfiture that foreigners (read inhabitants of Western Europe and USA) would endure pronounce this new name. If they had half the empathy for their fellow beings just beyond their city compared to what they have for folks who live half a world away, may be they would have better appreciated the importance of ‘West’ in ‘West Bengal’. Their lived reality remains utterly divorced from the sensitivities of the matuas and other low-caste communities who migrated from East Bengal and have trans-border organic connections in terms of family ties and pilgrimages. Slicing off references to ‘West’ would have been a project of cleavage – especially ironic in the face of officially sanctioned joint-exercises ( the drill-sounding expression is used intentionally)  between India and Bangladesh using Rabindranath Thakur’s 150th birth anniversary as the reason.This, at the same time when, poor Bengalis in either Bengal, are continuously harassed and belittled by immigration functionaries and East Bengalis are gunned down at the Indian Republican frontier by Government of India’s Border Security Force at a disturbingly regular interval.That the killing of East Bengalis does not evoke any serious reaction in Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, might suggest that the time has indeed come to drop the ‘West’ in West Bengal, as its mandarins show not a shred of sympathy to its brothers and sisters to the east. But there may be hope still.

Of late, there has been a veritable explosion of sorts, in writing memory. In these times, we are really seeing the final passing away of that generation from West Bengal who not only had ancestral roots in East Bengal but had actually lived their, often right into their adulthood , as was the case for many later refugees. What they have also seen is the gradual loss of the signs of their distinctiveness in their future generations – distinctiveness that defined self-identities and attitudes. Few people of Barisal origin born in  West Bengal have anything akin to the stereotypical Barishailya raag ( the innate short-temper of Barisal people). In West Bengal, hardly any post-partition generation of Dhaka-Bikrampur origin would self-identify oneself with that dash of brash pride that comes with the epithet of ‘Dhakaiya kutty’. The slow loss of the cultural peculiarities of these sons and daughters, and grandsons and granddaighters, of East Bengal, thrust upon West Bengal, has resulted in the writing of memoirs – memoirs of a way of life, memoirs of the loss of a way of life. These memoirs differ from the kinds which were produced earlier, post-partition, which often had  the backdrop of recent loss, that one had not come to terms with. The present crop of writing is rich with the story of loss, that has been digested and reflected upon, in terms of the double loss in identity that they see right in front of their eyes, in their progeny. That makes this genre of literary exploration especially poignant as it is also the last gasp of a robust, secure and self-confident East Bengal in West Bengal. Aldous Huxley said, every man’s memory is his private literature. Now, after long last, some of that is becoming public.

Gangchil publications of West Bengal has become the outlet for a stream of life and migration stories from East Bengal. Published in Bengali, the continued presence of East Bengal in the metropolis that is Kolkata is exemplified by the following lines ( translated by the present author from the Bengali original) from a 4- volume memoir from Adhir Biswas. This particular volume is called ‘Amra to ekhon Indiaey’ ( We are now in ‘India’) –

“ I left desh ( homeland) in 1967. My son argues, what do you mean you left your homeland? Isnt this your country , this India? I want to say, desh means the land of one’s birth, my village Magura, district Jessore, river Nabogonga ….. My son says, that is a story from 42 years ago. For 42 years , you have been here. This city Kolkata, river Gonga, the temple at Kalighat. I shut up at my son’s rebuke.
In front of my eyes, the branches of the banyan touch the water of Nabogonga.The water submerges the vegetation on its banks. The clear dawn peeks in through the slit in the bamboo fence. I hear the doel bird – cheeik, cheeik. Seeing my shutting up, my son thinks that he has hurt me, tried to say something to console me. By then, I see the  swaying boats tied up at the  jetty by the temple. I see the shadow of the pakur tree in the water. The small bamboo bridge. In the middle of the Naboganga, an eddy whirls up. I feel it, my homeland hasnt left me –  it is living on embracing this thin, worn out body of mine.
I dont reply back.I keep silent.’

At another place, Biswas goes on – ‘ A new country, a new city. Double-decker buses, trams, the Kalighat temple. The liver and leg pieces at butcher Mohanda’s shop. And then at some point, I think about my childhood homestead. Sitting with a fishing rod by the bank of Nabogonga. I remember and think a lot about sitting with Bhombol, the dog and cleaning its ear-wax. Before my mother was cremated in the grounds at Satdoa, her pillow and madoor ( mattress) was thrown in the forest. I feel that they are still right there.I can clearly see the state of the madoor, the shape of the pillow.But I dont have a passport.’

‘But I dont have a passport’ – West Bengal stands to lose when it cannot appreciate the importance of that space of mental topography called East Bengal, which also is a real geographical entity. The lamentations for his long-dead mother with her spectral presence in a home he does not and cannot live but is the only place he can ever call home makes the case for the continued presence of the East Bengal in the West Bengal imagination. We do need it for sanity, to avoid a process of loss of parts of oneself. The present project of dropping the ‘West’  would help erase the memory of the grandmother altogether for the next generation, let alone lamenting the inability to return. For the next generation, there is no return may be, to the east. They are all marching to Delhi, to become ‘Indians’, a people without grandparents, but a people with an ‘ancient history’, I am told. In Delhi descend all the cosmopolitans without grandparents and great-grandparents – the first true Indians who are nothing but Indians, and powerful ones at that. Being ‘too’ Bengali or worse still, Lepcha, makes one that bit less suitable for this ‘Indianness’. This Indianness is a sophisticated shoe to fill, and I have smelly feet. Some of that smell comes as an inheritance from people who came from places where they do not even fly the Indian tri-colour.

One suggested name that also was in contention was Banga-pradesh, the pradesh( province) part seeking to specify that it is not a ‘desh’ or nation by itself and to underscore its unquestionably within-India-ness. Others suggested banga-bharati, a not-so-ingenious rip-off from Rabindranath Thakur’s Visva Bharati. It might as well have been called Delhi-Bengal or Dilli-Bongo, to make the attachment to the heart of Mother India ever so tight. Among the list of alternatives were Bawngodesh and Bawngobhoomi. Both had inadequacies that mired names like Bengal or Bangla – a pretension to a quarter-baked wholeness that flew in the face of the reality of indelible trans-border connections. Another alternative ‘Gour-Bawngo’ harkened back to some mythic continuity to an older name for a certain part of Bengal. It would have been inadequate, regressive and plain fictional, in the present context.

The present government, after a rare consensus based agreement, with all opposition political groups including the Gorkha Janmukti Morhca in tow, decided to officially rename West Bengal as Paschim Banga ( pronounced Poshchim Bwango). This name is simply a translation of the name West Bengal in Bangla. To me, this name brings more respite than elation. Name changing exercises are either cosmetic or cheap tricks to serve reactionary political agendas. In this case, the dropping of the reference to ‘West’ could have achieved something silently damaging.That this was thwarted is a big respite. Not that I would mind if ‘West Bengal’ was not perturbed.  As Ashis Nandy often states, all cosmopolitan geographies have multiple names. Calcutta, Kolkata and Kalkatta may be geographically similar, but they reflect differently poised parts of the city and indeed different cities within the city. Such is the name for West Bengal. Poshchim Bwango is the name by which a large number of its inhabitants are used to calling it anyway.The popular constituency of Poshchim Bawngo is clearly larger than that of West Bengal, and in that sense, the ‘official’ political name now is more aligned to what most people call it in real-life, Poshchim Bawngo or Poshchim Bangla, rather than West Bengal. Not that I would mind if ‘West Bengal’ was not perturbed. I come exactly from the social milieu who do daily treks between ‘West Bengal’ and ‘Poshchim Bawngo’, depending on the situation. ‘West Bengal’ is a name that is inaccessible to a large portion of the population.

The present moment also holds within itself the half-chance of another future. In the age of increasing reach of the internet, the web has enabled intercourse of ideas between the two Bengals at levels that were unthinkable and is unprecedented since the 1947 partition. A website like Bangalnama, set up by young people from West Bengal, is active in the preservation of this collective memory of the ‘lost’ East.  But it will be erroneous to think that it is simply nostalgia. Websites like this are buoyed by active participation from people from both Bengals and cannot be discounted as digital mourning saga of the Hindu upper caste refugee generation-next.  This memory is now serving as glue where young people from both Bengals are interacting with each other, commenting in each other’s blogs and websites, which are proliferating everyday. Transportation between the two Bengals is now easier than it has been in decades. The dropping of the ‘West’ epithet, at this juncture, would have been nothing short of a failure to imagine a recovery of cultural consonance in this part of Southasia, may be even reversing some of the wounds that can only come from the severance of the deepest bonds.

I return to a question that had been posed many times in the run-up to this renaming debate. Where is East Bengal? Among other places, it  is also in what is implied by ‘West’ in ‘West Bengal’- that there is that other half. Till global warming induced rising sea levels actually finish of this West/East debate for good, ‘East’ Bengal also lives in the matrimonial advertisements of the scions of East Bengal, 3 generations removed from partition, which lists  never-visited-again ancestral abodes – Barisal, Faridpur, Mymansingh, Khulna, Noakhali, Srihatta, Rajshahi, Tangail, Bogura, Sherpur, Narayanganj, Brahmhonbaria. All this is in the ‘East’. It is that east, to whose west my land lies. West Bengal. Poshchim Bawngo. At least, for now.

“For in the end, it is all about memory, its sources and its magnitude, and, of course, its consequences.” ~ Elie Wiesel

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Filed under Bengal, Elite, Identity, Kolkata, Language, Nation, Open futures, Partition

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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Filed under Bengal, Democracy, Foundational myths, Hindustan, India, Nation, Power

Dhaka Street – Anti-minority riots in Nandirhat: Bad moon rising

[ Frontier (web)  1 Mar 2012 ; The Common Times (Orissa) 7 Mar 2012 ; Frontier Vol. 44, No. 38, Apr 1-7, 2012 ]

Before the present Awami League (AL) regime, the tenure of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) regime was marked by a conspicuous increase in attacks on religious and ethnic minorities in Bangladesh. The rising tide of killings, forced conversion, arson, rape, abduction and threats was partially stemmed during the interim caretaker government. In the present AL times, the scenario for religious minorities have been relatively less violent. Unlike in the Indian Union, the minorities of Bangladesh do not have multiple political allegiances to chose from . AL with all its inadequacies ( the sordid backtracking on a clearly secular constitution and economic devastation of minorities by the Enemy/Vested property acts being the most egregious) has been nearly the sole beneficiary of the minority votes in Bangladesh. Numbering nearly 10 percent of the population, they are crucial for AL’s design of holding on to power.

Riding on the wave of popular discontent against the rampant corruption of the BNP, AL also benefitted from the people’s organizations that are staunchly committed to the secular ideals of the Liberation struggle – Shommilito Shanskritik Jote, Sector Commander’s Forum, Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee among others.However this apparently secular consolidation belies a slowly boiling Islamic radicalization of significant sectors of the population. Recent events at Nandirhat – Hathazari are a stark reminder. In what was a classic scenario played out so many times in the subcontinent, a religious procession with drums ( in this case, Hindus from Lokenath Sebashram) passed by a mosque. This resulted in an intolerant retaliation and a period of classic Bengali dhawa-palta dhawa. While a section of local elders were mediating to defuse the scenario, another faction went on a rampage, ably supported by the local Madrasha. During this vandalism, a number of Hindus temples namely Sri Sri Jagadeshwari Ma Temple and Jagannath Bigroho Temple at Nandirhat, Raksha Kali Temple, Jalakumari Bari Temple, and Sita Kalibari Temple at Sadar Upazila were desecrated. Attackers also set fire at the Sri Sri Jagadeshwari Ma Temple. About 50 homes and businesses belonging to Hindus were also attacked, damaged and looted.

This area houses Bangladesh’s oldest and largest madrasha, Al-Jamiatul Ahlia Darul Ulum Moinul Islam. The boro-hujur of the Madrasha is also a leader of the Islamic Oikyo Jote ( Islamic Unity Alliance), an important partner of the BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami. This madrasha has produced graduates who volunteered for the Afghan ‘jihad’ during Taliban rule. Given the large influence institutions under its Depbandi sway wield locally, the events at Nandirhat were the perfect excuse to demonstrate the pent up venom that was being injected for sometime. The local police remained slack onlookers for the first 24 hours, where massive attacks happened in atleast three different waves. Intervention from the highest levels resulted in the imposition of Section 144. Things have been relatively violence-free thereafter.

This area, in Chittagong division in many ways represents the Bengali Muslim frontier more specifically.Between the hinterland of East Bengal and the Buddhist-animist groups of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the areas represent the sharpest edge of Bengali Muslim expansionism. The Tripura area in the Indian Union has seen a similar take-over by Bengalis (primarily Hindus in this case). These areas of Chittagong remain very close to the pulse of the ‘deep state’ of Bangladesh. The AL hunts with these hounds but also runs with the hares when it deems politically expedient. The two-faced nature of its politics, the tokenism in its professed secularism and its wariness to challenge entrenched religious fundamentalism is largely drawn from its self-awareness that the party itself (including sections of its middle leadership) is not a bulwark of muscular secularism. Unsurprisingly, the most vocal secular voices in the AL are mostly those who joined AL after long stints with Communist Party affiliated groups like the Chhatro Union and Jubo Union. AL has shirked responsibility for the incident, instead choosing to engage in political one-upmanship by blaming the Jamat-e-Islami and its notorious students wing, the Islami Chhatro Shibir.

There is undoubtably a planned and conspiratorial element in the whole affair. The police have held Jashim, a construction worker from Hajipara, who has confessed that he was given money to break a section of the wall of a local mosque by  Mohammad Lokman, the chief functionary of the Hajipara Jam-e-Moshjid. One is reminded of Bhishma Sahani’s ‘Tamas’. The formal and informal links between militant religious organizations, ‘charities’, expatriate supporters, political groups, local police and underemployed youths have created lasting cesspools. The AL can chose to look away from the growing radicalization at its own peril. In the upcoming elections, they need a spirited turnout from the base. While frightened minorities have voted the AL, a significant section might just stay home. Fright after all cannot be long-term political capital. That fixed deposit matures after sometime. AL needs to reinvest in building up the secular fabric of Bangladesh. Leaving solidarity actions only to expressedly left-secular organizations is a cynical strategy at best. A majority can still be forged against the growing clout of fundamentalism. That politics is arduous but the future of Bangladesh and the subcontinent is connected to the outcome of that struggle.

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Mamata’s shining moment : India versus the union

[ Daily New and Analysis, 23 Feb 2012 ]

In the wake of the NCTC (National Counter-terrorism Centre) controversy, the Prime Minister of the Union of India, Manmohan Singh has written to the Chief Ministers that “In forming the NCTC, it is not the government’s intent in any way to affect the basic features of the Constitutional provisions and allocation of powers between the States and the Union.” But words are as just that – words. It is the wording of the proposed legislation that matters. The proviso provided in the draft legislation flies in the face of the pious banalities about the central government’s intent and attitude towards the federal nature of the constitution and lays it out rather clearly – the police/enforcers under the NCTC can a person from any state, without informing or consulting the state police agencies. Draconian and Gestapo-like to say the least, there is another problem. As it happens, the constitution, law and order is a state subject. In the long process post-independence where the provinces have been reduced to impoverished alm-seekers, this legislation goes for the jugular. This is serious stuff from a section of the India Congress think-tanks.

The constitution, at its outset, reads, “India, that is Bharat, is a union of states.” Without the states uniting to form a federal system, there is no India. All the power and legality that the union government at New Delhi wields stems from this act. Same goes for its hubris when it dictates as Rex Imperator to the states through its non-statutory, non-elected appendages like the planning commission. The Sarkaria commission of 1983 had a large set of specific recommendations to review centre-state relationships and power sharing in the spirit of a federal union. The commission’s recommendations have essentially been frozen to death. Given the persistent encroachment of the centre on state rights on various issues, review of the concurrent list in favour of decentralization is a pipe-dream at present. What could have embodied the spirit of the Indian federal union, the Inter State Council, has been made into a toothless talking-shop, rather than the real state of policy review and consultation it should be.

The chief minister of Paschimbanga (West Bengal), Mamata Banerjee, has thrown spanner into such province vassalization designs – now twice in a row. For long described in mainstream corporate media as a speed-breaking tantrum thrower, she has been able to line up almost every chief minister except  Congress appointees to chief ministership to certain states. First through opposing the mandatory provisions about the Lokayukta in the Lokpal bill and now opposing the draft NCTC legislation, she has done what every state, including Congress-ruled states, should be doing – opposing the anti-federalist designs of the Union government. The  pundits who detest  the ‘disproportionate’ clout of ‘regional’ political forces should for once thanks these forces for standing up for the constitution, where the pre-eminent ‘national’ party has been found wanting. One can only note the cynical opposition of the BJP to the NCTC, the big ‘national’ group, given its sordid past of advocating very similar legislations like POTO which had provisions for federal policing and were as anti-federal any other. UPA ruling forces like the Trinamool Congress and National Conference,  non-UPA ruling parties like JD(U), AIADAMK, TDP, BJD, Nagaland People’s Front and  CPI(M), regional opposition parties both inside and outsie the UPA like the DMK and TDP  have also made clear that they serious exception to the NCTC as proposed.

The Delhi-controlled Indian Union as it stands today is in a big way the product of a reverse swing of the pendulum that started with the rejection of the Cabinet Mission plan of 1946. In the eve of parition and subsequent formation of the Indian Union, the ultra-centralized beast that we have at hand was unthinkable. While many Indians gloat at Pakistan’s long tryst with the ghosts of partition and separatism, partition and the resultant elimination of the major chunk of non-Congress political sphere enabled the central government of India to create a state that is a federal union only in name. This old Nehruvian disease, not surprisingly, also infects the Mahasabha-JanSangh-BJP lineage, who have their own delusions of unitary nationhood.

The portrayal of the NCTC impasse as some kind of a Mamata versus Congress flavour of the week shows the degradation of the level of public discourse, especially in the television media. A supreme ignorance of the nature of the constitution and political evolution of the Union is apparent in the coverage by photogenic faces who serve inanities by the mouthful. And why not? The media elite is an inseparable part of that Delhi-based illuminati, also comprising of policy think-tanks, security apparatchiks,immobile scions of upwardly mobile politicians, the higher bureaucracy and all the stench that connects them. 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. What is most dangerous is that their plan of destroying India’s federal structure is not  conspiratorial but inadvertent – a joyride by default where speedbreakers were not expected. 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 DilliHaat consumption. Be it calculated manoevering, Mamata has twice taken the initiative to bell the cat. But forces need to gather like the ‘thuggies’ of yore. This cat called India needs to be strangled, so that the Union of India lives.

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Chidambaram’s regret: Proding a sleeping beast

[ Sakaal Times (Pune) 31 Mar 2011 ; Echo of India (Port Blair) 1 Apr 2011 ]

For what its worth, the Wikileaks cables have been providing an unabashedly frank set of commentaries and report-backs from Unites States diplomats on the conversations and activities that the power elite of the world engage in. What must be a rather painful pinprick to the ego of über-nationalists of third-world nations, the leaks reveal that petty to hefty political
operatives feel way more comfortable about airing views about their own nation and polity in front of foreign diplomats than in front of their own people. A place at the big table comes at a price.The sine qua non for being a trusted lynch-pin in the Washington consensus based model for the new century is to be at home with the idea of being part of a global power elite with trading vital national interests and bandying information being a standard method of operation. But this can have blow-back in the nations the comprador elite inhabit, as the recent uproar in the Indian parliament shows. An alleged comment attributed to the Home Minister P Chidambaram was perceived to be particularly egregious, leading to calls for his resignation from a wide spectrum of the opposition – especially from the cow-belt.

According to the cables, in 2009, Chidambaram commented to Timothy Roemer, the United States ambassador to India, that higher growth rates in India would could be achieved “if it were the south and west only” and that “the rest of the country held it back”. By implication, ‘rest’ would mean the north and the east. What is all the more interesting is the sense of the world ‘it’ – the idea that the majority of the population of the country was holding the minority back from
launching into the big league. The extreme non-rootedness and disparaging attitude that such lines show are unfortunate, where whole peoples and their abodes come to be conceived as surplus production units by the GDPwallas. In fact, Chidambaram is on record stating that “My vision is to get 85 percent of India into cities”. With such visions doing rounds at the helm, it has the potential cause incremental social unrest and destroy certain compacts, which for good or for bad, have been an important basis of the Indian Union. Let me explain.

The alleged statement touches a rather raw nerve in the large sections of the cow-belt, especially those who champion the cause of peoples of Hindi dialects. The Hindi issue, till recently, was an political plank of the socialist formations in the cow-belt and going by the characters who were the shrillest in condemnation, one does see those forgotten political
contours re-emerging in a rare moment of solidarity among the various factions of the erstwhile cow-belt socialists – spanning from the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal to the Janata Dal ( United). The Bharatiya Janata Party with its core constituency in the cow-belt was active too. Political leadership have mostly chosen to not open the can of worms along a North-South divide and for this, credit is partly due to the politicians of the BIMARU states.There are serious divisions in opinion about the nature power sharing compacts in the Indian Union. The centre-state relationships in the union as well as the relationship between the North and the South in terms of power leveraging at the centre is at the end of the day pegged to the parliamentary representation of these zones in the Union parliament. At present, the basis of
such representation is that of he 1971 census. Article 81 and 82 and the 42nd constitutional amendment (1976) essentially froze the North-South power relations at 1971 population levels. By the 96th constitutional amendment ( 2003) extended the 1971 scenario till 2026.Until that time, territorial constituencies, in the Lok Sabha with regard to the number of seats allocated to each state, cannot be altered.The 96th constitutional amendment bill was passed with opposition support, including the cow-belt socialists who were politically more influential in 2003. It was a BJP government in centre, the Janata Dal (United) being the second largest faction of the ruling coalition and Samajwadi Party being the 5th largest party in parliament with 26 seats.

It is important to note the implications of this for the BIMARU states. Population changes between 1971 and 2001 have thrown up newer demographic realities. If parliamentary constituencies were allocated to states in proportion with 2001 census figures, all the BIMARU states stand to gain seats , even after adjusting for cleavage of some of the states in the
meantime- Uttar Pradesh (adjusting for Uttarakhand) – 6 , Rajasthan -4, Bihar (adjusting for Jharkhand)- 3 and Madhya Pradesh (adjusting for Chhattisgarh) – 2. This means that in the present parliamentary representation, the BIMARU states are underrepresented by 15 seats, not a small amount at all. This also leads to a democratic deficit when the population and
representation start having an assymetric relationship. This scenario of events will continue till 2026. By that time, the skew or the under-representation of the BIMARU states will be more acute,possibly between 25-30 seats, if the present population growth rates are any indicator.

In 2026, if parliamentary representation is brought in line to population proportions according to the 2021 census, we are looking at an adjustment of 25-30 seats in favour of he BIMARU states. The fallout of this shift would depend on the political climate vis-a-vis North-South relationship at that point. Admittedly quiescent in recent years, the nature of North-South relationship has the potential to become tenuous in the face of such a huge shift in power equations in the Indian Union centre. It is in this context that alleged comments made to the US Ambassador have the potential of waking up a sleeping beast. If such antagonisms develop, the Southern states would feel being victimized and squeezed out of resources and power leveraging for having done a better job at population control. We have already heard such grumblings on issues of central resource allocation to states. The Home Minister will do well to remember the Dravida Nadu movement in his own state. That project’s present political nonviability does not predict its future when population truths, however bitter, will hit home. While he might want 85 percent people to be rootless and bereft of sub-national identities, toiling away
in the cities to raise GDP numbers, the tapestry of human plurality of India is much more resilient than urban-industrial fantasies of nothing-but-Indians. That tapestry has numerous untied ends. Chidambaram can chose to pull them at his own peril.

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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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