Category Archives: Our underbellies

রোহিত ভেমুলা ও ঘরের কাছের অন্ধকার

১৬ জানুয়ারী ২০১৬ অর্থাৎ যেদিন প্রধানমন্ত্রী নরেন্দ্র মোদি  ঘোষণা করলেন যে ২৫ কোটি টাকা অবধি দরের ‘স্টার্ট-আপ’ কোম্পানি খুলে ব্যবসা শুরু করলে ৩ বছর আয়কর দিতে হবে না, শ্রমিক অধিকার ও ভাতা ঠিকঠাক দেওয়া হচ্ছে কিনা, পরিবেশ দুষিত করা হচ্ছে কিনা, এসবের কোন কিছুরই সরকার ৩ বছর অবধি পর্যবেক্ষণ পর্যবেক্ষণ করবে না, ঠিক তার পরের দিন,  গত রবিবার একজন ছাত্র আত্মহত্যা করেছে। এরম আত্মহত্যা তো কতজন করেই থাকে, কতরকম কি হয় আজকাল – প্রেমঘটিত, অবসাদ, ‘ড্রাগস’। একজন পিএইচডি গবেষণারত ছাত্র আত্মহত্যা করেছে।  সে ক্ষেত্রে আবার যোগ হতে পারে ‘স্ট্রেস’। কিনতু তারপর যদি বলি গ্রামের ছেলে, ইংরেজি মিডিয়াম নয়, দলিত – এমন একজন আমার-আপনার শহরের নামী বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ে দু-চোখ জোড়া স্বপ্ন নিয়ে এসে আত্মহত্যা করেছে, তখুনো আমরা একটু হাতরাবো একটু ‘স্ট্রেস’, একটু প্রেম, একটু ‘ড্রাগস’। কিনতু তারপর যদি আরো বলি যে তার বৃত্তির টাকা পাঠাত সে বাড়িতে, তা দিয়ে তার বিধবা মায়ের চলত, তখন হয়ত ‘ড্রাগস’টা বাদ পড়বে। তারও পরে যদি বলি যে সে স্বাভিমান নিয়ে প্রকাশ্যেই বলত যে সে বাবাসাহেব আম্বেদকরের  আদর্শে বিশ্বাসী, সে মৃত্যুদন্ড বিরোধী – তা সে ইয়াকুব মেমনেরই হোক বা কাশ্মীরে কুনান-পোসপোড়ায় কাশ্মীরি নারীদের গণ-ধর্ষণ করা সৈন্যদেরই হোক (পরের মৃত্যুদন্ডটা হয়নি, কোন দন্ডই হয়নি) এবং সে কারণে সে ছিল আমার-আপনার রাষ্ট্রের ঠিকাদারী নেওয়া বিজেপি দলের ছাত্র সংগঠন এবিভিপির চক্ষুশূল, তালে হয়ত বলবেন ব্যাপারটি ‘গোলমেলে’। এবং আরো যদি বলি যে মৃত্যুদন্ডের বিরোধীতা করে মিছিল বার করার জন্য বিজেপির এক সাংসদের অঙ্গুলিহেলনে নতুন  দিল্লীর হুকুমে জো-হুজুরি করা এক কেন্দ্রীয় বিশ্ববিদ্যালয় উপাচার্য্য তাকে ছাত্রাবাস থেকে বহিস্কার করে।  যদি বলি যে তার সেই বৃত্তির টাকা, তার হকের টাকা সে পায়নি বেশ কয়েক মাস? যদি এটাও বলি যে তাকে দলিত বলে সামাজিক বয়কটের মুখোমুখি হতে হয়েছিল নতুন দিল্লির কেন্দ্রীয় সরকারের এদেশে চলা হায়দ্রাবাদ কেন্দ্রীয় বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ে? আর কি কি তথ্য লাগবে, সত্যের আর কত পরত ছাড়াতে হবে এইটা বুঝতে যে হায়দ্রাবাদ কেন্দ্রীয় বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের বিজ্ঞানে পিএইচডি-রত ছাত্র রোহিত ভেমুলার মৃত্যু স্থুলভাবে একটি আত্মহত্যা হলেও একটি অন্য সর্বার্থেই একটি রাজনৈতিক হত্যা?

এই রাজনৈতিক হত্যা কে করেছে, তার একটা সহজ এবং চালক- দায়সারা উত্তর হয়।  সেটা হলো ‘সমাজ’। কিন্নতু  তাকে কি দলিত সমাজ মেরেছে? তাকে কি হিন্দু সমাজ মেরেছে? তাকে কি মোসলমান সমাজ মেরেছে? তাকে কি উচ্চ-বর্ণের হিন্দু সমাজ মেরেছে? বৈষম্যের পৃথিবীতে সমাজ বলে কিছু হয়না, বৈষম্যের টানাপোড়েনে, ঘাত-প্রতিঘাতে লিপ্ত থাকে নানা গোষ্ঠী, নানা সমাজ। বৈষম্যের কারণে এই বিভক্তি আবার এই বিভক্তিই হলো শক্তি। কারণ বহির্শত্রু নিপীড়ক গোষ্ঠীর বিরুধ্যে আত্মশক্তিকে সংগঠিত করার জন্য দরকার আভ্যন্তরীন ঐক্য। আর নিপিরিতের এই নিজে নিজে গোষ্ঠী তৈরী করে নিপীড়ক-কে মোকাবিলা করার প্রয়াসের বিরুধ্যে নানা পাল্টা চেষ্টা চলে, চেষ্টা চলে বৈষম্যগুলিকে বাদ দিয়ে নিপীড়কের ধান্দা অনুযায়ী বিশাল একতার দোকান খোলা, এমন দোকান যার প্রধান মালিক হবে নিপীড়ক, অংশ-মালিক হবে নিপীড়িতের মধ্যে থেকে তৈরী করা দালাল আর লাভের গুড় খাওয়া হবে সকল মানুষের ঐক্যের নাম।  নিপীড়কের ঐক্যের নানা দোকান আছে – সেসব দোকানের নানারকম নাম আছে – যেমন হিন্দুত্ব, ইসলাম, ভারত, ইন্ডিয়া, সমাজ, সুশীল, ইত্যাদি। রোহিত ভেমুলা এইসব স্বপ্ন দেখত এইসব দোকান ভেঙ্গে একদিন খোলা মাঠে মানুষের হাট-বাজার তৈরী হবে।

আমরা বঙ্গবাসী। রোহিত থাকত দূরে। সেই দূর থেকে তার বন্ধুরা জানিয়েছে যে দলিত বলে, তেলুগু মাধ্যমে পড়াশুনো করে উচ্চ-শিক্ষার স্বপ্ন দ্যাখার ধৃষ্টতা দ্যাখানোর জন্যে রোহিতকে এবং তার বন্ধুদের শুনতে হতো টিপ্পনি , হাসাহাসি করা হত মফঃস্বল গুনটুরের গন্ধ গায়ে লেগে থাকা স্বপ্নালু মানুষগুলিকে নিয়ে। আজকে চুনি কোটালের মৃত্যুর প্রায় ২৪ বছর পরে আমরা এমন এক শিক্ষা-

সংস্কৃতি তৈরী করেছি যেখানে মেডিকেল কলেজগুলিতে শহুরে আইসিএসই-সিবিএসইর রমরমা (যদিও পশ্চিমবাংলার ১০% ছাত্রছাত্রীও এইসব বোর্ডে পড়ে না), উত্কর্ষ-কেন্দ্র প্রেসিডেন্সিতে নানা বিষয়ের প্রবেশিকা পরীক্ষা যাতে বাংলায় না হয়, তার পাঁয়তাড়া করা হয় এই বাংলার মাটিতে থেকে, বসে, খেয়ে মোটা হওয়া একধরনের আরকাঠি  গোষ্ঠীর চক্রান্তে, যাদবপুরের তথাকথিত ‘কুল’ বিভাগগুলি থেকে বাংলায় কথা বলাদের পরিকল্পিত ভাবে হতে হয় হীনমন্যতার স্বীকার, সেখানকার  ইতিহাস বিভাগে বাংলায় স্নাতকোত্তর স্তরের উত্তর লেখার জন্য লাঞ্চিত হতে হয় প্রতিবন্ধী ছাত্র রামতনুকে, অন্য সময়ে ভুলে যাওয়া দিনে এই রকম-ভাবেই বাংলায় লেখার জন্য হেনস্থা হতে হতে আত্মহত্যা করেছিল যাদবপুরের ইতিহাস বিভাগের ছাত্রী পৌলমী সাহা। এই বাংলা বাংলা করলাম এতক্ষণ কারণ বৈষম্যের জন্য  বাংলা একটা উছিলা মাত্র। বাংলা মানে শহর কম মফঃস্বল বেশি গ্রাম আরো বেশি, বাংলা মানে বড়লোক কম গরীব বেশি, বাংলা মানে হাতখরচা কম টিউশনি বেশি, বাংলা মানে গাড়ি কম সাইকেল বেশি – অর্থাৎ বাংলা মানে সেই সংখ্যাগরিষ্ঠ যাকে জোর করে হারিয়ে দেবার চক্রান্ত চলছে আমাদের এই বাংলাদেশে। প্রেসিডেন্সি যত বাংলা-বিরোধী শহুরে-ইংরেজদের আখড়ায় পরিণত হবে, ততবেশী অসবর্ণ  অধ্যাপক  মহিতোষ মন্ডল লাঞ্ছিত হবেন এই-সকল ‘সুপার-কুল’ পোস্টমডার্ন আখড়ায়। মেডিকেল কলেজগুলি তত বেশি করে গুরগাঁও, নয়ডা ও ক্যালিফোর্নিয়ার ডাক্তার তৈরীর কারখানা হবে। বাংলার গণ-মানুষকে, অন্তজ জনতাকে  জোর করিয়ে হারিয়ে দেবার এই চক্রান্ত বন্ধ হওয়া দরকার। দরকার জনসংখ্যার অনুপাতে সর্বস্তরে সংরক্ষণ। দরকার বিরাট একতার বুটিক দোকান ভেঙ্গে হাট-বাজারের দাপাদাপি। রোহিত ভেমুলার  সুইসাইড নোটটি ইন্টারনেট-এ পাবেন। সেটিকে পড়ুন। বামুন-কায়েত বিপ্লবী আর রেডিকেল-দের অপরাধ-বিলাসের জন্য চে গেভারার মৃত্যু অবধি যেতে হবে না। রোহিত ভেমুলার মৃত্যু আমাদের অন্তরের অন্ধকারগুলিকে  প্রকাশ্যে আনতে সাহায্য করুক।                                        

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সংহতির রাজনীতি – গাজা থেকে আইসিস

[ Ebela, 4 Sep, 2014]

গণহত্যার ফলে যখন মানুষ মারা যায়ে, তখন ‘সন্তান মোর মার’ গোছের ভাবনার একটা দাম আছে। কিন্তু কত মানুষ মরলো, সেই সংখ্যার বিচার-ও একদম ফেলনা নয়।  তাই তো চোরাগোপ্তা হাজারো হত্যার মাঝেও জ্বলজ্বল করে কলকাতা ৪৬, নোয়াখালি ৪৬, পাঞ্জাব ৪৭, বরিশাল ৫০, দিল্লী ৮৪, গুজরাট ২০০২। গণহত্যা বা জেনোসাইড কথাটিও ঠিক যত্রতত্র ব্যবহারের জিনিস নয়।  পৃথিবীর বুকে থাকার অধিকার আছে সকলের। একটি বিশেষ জনগোষ্ঠী নিকেষ হবার উপক্রম হলে শুধু কটা মানুষ হারিয়ে যায় না।  হারিয়ে যায়ে পৃথিবীকে ও জীবনকে দেখার একটি প্রণালী। হারিয়ে যায়ে মানুষ হবার নানা বিকল্প পথের একটা।  ফলে আমরা সকলে একটি মোক্ষম চেতনার একটা অংশ হারায়।  সেটা হলো – নানা ভাবে মানুষ হওয়া যায়ে।  এই যুগে যখন জামা-কাপড়-খাওয়া-দাওয়া-শিল্প-সংস্কৃতি-কথন-বলন সবই যখন বিশ্বজুড়ে একরকম হয়ে আসছে, এই চেতনাটি খুব দামি।  মানব জীবনের বৈচিত্র ওই ‘বৈচিত্রের মধ্যে ঐক্য’-র মত ছেলেভোলানো সরকারী স্লোগান না।  এটা মানব জাতির ভবিষ্যতের সম্ভাবনাকে বিস্তৃত করে।
এজিদী-রা সংখ্যায় খুব বেশি নয়।  ব্রিগেডে বড় মিছিলের দিন নেতা-নেত্রীরা কত লোক এসছে, তার যে করেন , তার মতই সংখ্যা হবে তাদের। ইরাকে তাদের মূল নিবাস।  এরা ক্রিষ্ঠান বা মসলমান নন – এদের ধর্ম অতি প্রাচীন। সম্প্রতি ইরাক ও সিরিয়া-তে ইসলামিক স্টেট নামক জল্লাদতন্ত্রের প্রতিষ্ঠা হয়েছে।  রক্তের হোলি খেলা এই    সন্ত্রাসী আন্দোলনের নাপসন্দ যে তাদের অধীকৃত এলাকায়ে বিধর্মী-রা বেঁচে-বর্তে থাকবেন।  তাই শুরু হয়েছে ঢালাও জবাই। এজিদী-দের, ক্রিস্টান-দের, এবং ইসলামিক স্টেট-এর সংজ্ঞায় যারা মোসলমান হয়েও ‘সহি’ মোসলমান নন, তাদের। তাদের হত্যা-লীলায়ে মৃতের সংখ্যা বেশ কয়েক হাজার।  এবং এজিদী-দের কে তারা যেমন করে  নিকেশ করছে, তা গনহত্যারই সামিল। কিন্তু এই গণহত্যার প্রতিবাদে অকাদেমি অফ ফাইন আর্টস-এর সামনে কোনো মোমবাতি, কোনো সহমর্মিতা, কোনো ধিক্কার, কোনো দরদ ফুটে ওঠে নি। লাল-তেরঙ্গা নানা দলের গাজায়ে ইস্রাইলি আগ্রাসনের বিরোধিতা করা  হুড়োহুড়ি দেখে মনে চিন্তা জন্মায়ে।  অন্য সকল ব্যাপারে এমন নিস্তব্ধতা কেন? কোনো কোনো মৃত শিশুর ছবি কি বেশি কান্নার উদ্রেক করে? যদি তাই হয়, তবে কি সেই বেশি দুঃক্ষ ও বেশি সহমর্মিতার মাপকাঠি ?
হার্ভার্ড বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ে যখন আমি ছাত্র ছিলাম, তখন পালেস্তাইন সংহতি আন্দোলনে জড়িত থাকার কারণে আমাকে নানা ভাবে হেনস্থা করা হয়।  সে হেনস্থার কারণে  আমার সংহতি আন্দোলনে যুক্ত থাকার জন্য একটুও আমার একটুও খেদ নেই।  অনেকে এর চেয়ে অনেক, অনেক বেশি দাম চুকিয়েছেন।  কিন্তু পালেস্তাইন সংহতির নাম তার  বিশাল বপুতে কি কি লুকিয়ে থাকে, তার খোজ নেওয়া প্রয়োজন। যদি কোনো সংহতি আন্দোলন ব্যক্তিগত জাতি, ভাষা, ধর্ম  উদ্বুদ্ধ হয় কিন্তু তা প্রকাশ্যে মানবতাবাদের নাম চালানো হয়, তখন সেই ফাঁকিটা বোঝা দরকার।  ফেইসবুক বা  টুইটার-এর কল্যাণে আমার নিরীহ অনেক পালেস্তিনীয় শিশুর বীভত্স মৃতদেহের ছবি দেখেছি।  দেখেছি ইসরাইলী হানায়ে ছিন্ন-ভিন্ন সাধারণ মানুষের ছবি, অনেক ক্ষেত্রে একই পরিবারের একাধিক সদস্যের। কিন্তু কোথায় নাইজেরিয়া-র বোকো হারাম বা ইরাক-সিরিয়ার ইসলামিক স্টেট-এর ততোধিক নৃশংসতার ছবি? এই একচোখামী-র একটা মানে আছে।  এতে কিছু  ধরনের মৃত মানুষের প্রতি সহমর্মিতা আদায় হয়, কিছু হানাদারের প্রতি ঘৃণা উদ্রেক করানো হয় এবং কিছু ধরনের হানাদারের ব্যাপারে নিশ্চুপ থাকা হয়। এই চুপ থাকা অনেক কিছু বয়ান করে।
মানবাধিকার নিয়ে সোচ্চার হবার সময় এই বাছাবাছি, এই চিত্কার ও নিশ্চুপ থাকার আলো-আধারি খেলার তলার খেলাটা কী? তাহলে বলতেই হয়, এই মৃতের প্রতি সমমর্মিতার ব্যাপারটি ভুয়ো।  যা সত্য, তা হলো হানাদারকে আমি কতটা ঘৃণা করি সেটা প্রকাশ করতে আক্রান্ত ও মৃত-কে ব্যবহার করে।  সেই সংহতির রাজনীতি ন্যক্কারজনক।  হানাদারের  ধর্মীয়/জাতিগত/শ্রেণীগত পরিচয় দিয়ে যদি গণহত্যার জন্য কাঁদবো কি কাঁদবো না, পথে নামবো কি নামবো না, সেসব ঠিক হয়, তাহলে সমস্যা বড় ভয়ানক।  আক্রান্তের ধর্মপরিচয় , আততায়ীর ধর্মপরিচয় – এগুলি দেখে সহমর্মিতার ভঙ্গি, তা যতই সততার সঙ্গে করা হোক, অন্য ভেজালে তা ভুরভুর করে।  ছত্তিস্গরে যখন হিন্দু গ্রামবাসীরা মূলতঃ হিন্দু মিলিটারী দ্বারা আক্রান্ত হয়, তখন হিন্দুত্বের ঠিকাদার-দার মুখে যায়ে না কোনো প্রতিবাদ।  পাকিস্থান,আফ্ঘানিস্থান, সিরিয়া, ইরাক – এসকল জায়েগায়ে গত এক বছরে প্রায় এক লক্ষ্  মোসলমান মারা গেছেন মোসলমানের হাতে সন্ত্রাসী কায়্দায়ে।  তখন হয় না মিছিল।  হত্যালীলা যখন চালায় মূলতঃ ইহুদী ইসরাইল রাষ্ট্র-শক্তি, তখন মাথা চাড়া দেয় মানবাধিকার, সংহতি, ইত্যাদি। এই দুনম্বরিকে পষ্টাপষ্টি দুনম্বরী বলা প্রয়োজন।
গাজায়ে ঘটে যাওয়া হত্যালীলায়ে আমরা ব্যথিত।  আমরা সকলে জানি গাজার গল্প।  আমরা মন থেকেই এই আগ্রাসনকে ঘেন্না করি।  কিন্তু আমাদের এই ঘেন্না করার লিষ্টি-তে কার অগ্রাধিকার , সেটা কিন্তু ঠিক হয় অন্য কোথাও।  আমরা জাগি ঘুম থেকে, কিন্তু ঘড়ির অ্যালার্ম দেওয়া হয় অন্য কোথাও।  কিসের থেকে কি ‘বেশি’ গুরুত্বপূর্ণ, তা ঠিক করে দেয় যে বিশ্বকল্প, তা কি স্রেফ মানবতাবাদের ভিত্তিতে তৈরী? কোন মৃত্যু হয় হেডলাইন আর কোন মৃত্যু হয় সাইডলাইন? তাই ন্যুয়র্ক, লন্ডন, কলকাতা, প্যারিস – সকলে যখন জানায়ে ধিক্কার ও সমবেদনা, তলিয়ে ভাবা দরকার – কেন শুধু  এদেরকে ধিক্কার? কেন আরো বিস্তৃত নয় সমবেদনা ? পালেস্তাইন-এর মুক্তি চাই, মার্কিন সমর্থনে ইস্রাইলি আগ্রাসন মানছি না, ইত্যাদি বলা সহজ।  কঠিন হলো মানুষ হিসেবে গাজার পাশে দাড়ানোর অধিকার অর্জন করা।  ২০১৪-তেই যেসব বৃহত্তর গণহত্যার জন্য বাংলায়ে একটি মিছিল-ও হয় নি, সেই গণহত্যার শিকার যে মানুষ, তারা সেই অধিকার অর্জনের পরীক্ষা নেবে। আমরা তৈরী তো ?

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A khidki into our minds / Khidki opens a window

[ Fountain Ink, April 2014 ]

Thanks to the mid-night anti ‘drug’ and ‘prostitution’ activism by the erstwhile Delhi law minister Somnath Bharti, the Khidki Village in Delhi had suddenly shot into prominence in the subcontinent and beyond. Many from New Delhi and elsewhere, who had barely heard of this place, descended upon the area in the aftermath of the ‘racist vigilantism’, to see the ‘backward’ brown creatures that inhabit that area. They wanted to see the village that lives up to its ’village-ness’, tucked in one of the armpits of the ‘cosmopolitan’ NCR metropolis. The Khidki village is older than all the malls and multiplexes of the NCR, older than all the universities of ‘New Delhi’, older than the nation’s bequeathed capital ‘New Delhi’, older than the nation, older than the idea of the ‘national’ and for that matter older than the ‘idea of India’. For all its antiquity, yuppies who claim to have a thing for brown heritage would much rather live in some sector of Gurgaon or Noida. Who wants to live in ‘Khidki village’? You know how that sounds, especially the derogation with which names like Khidki village are taken.

Outsiders (the non-village kind) from New Delhi refer to it as an ‘urban village’ (the inhabitants simply call it their village). There is a certain hip-ness that comes with the ‘urban village’ tag as it prepares the ground for using the area as a creative arts canvas by hip folks whose dads wont allow their own ‘authorised’ neighbourhoods for similar ‘creative’ projects. Khidki village and its extension have yet not earned the ‘hip and cool’ tag associated with another similar largely ‘unauthorised’ village agglomerate in Delhi called Shahpur Jat. This one has excelled as a haunt of White foreigners and brown yuppies with disposable cash. ‘Creativity’, ‘experimentation’, ‘urban village’ – brochures are full of these terms, marking out a niche as a social calendar hotspots. The elite’s ‘art’ studios feeding on low rents and insecurity of ‘unauthorised colonies’ bloom here. The inequality helps stretch the urban canvas – creative ‘arts’ indeed.

But I digress. The residents – they live there. They call it home. They have been calling it home much before six other villages were destroyed to make way for what is the New Delhi of the Union of India. Some people have roots, live in communities and do ‘come into their own’ with the fashionable beam of ‘urban anomy’.

The Khidki extension episode about Aam Aadmi Party minister Somnath Bharti’s nocturnal activism over ‘drugs’ and ‘prostitution’ has made monsters-at-large out of the minister and the complaining people of Khidki village. In circles whose voice comes most alive in European jargon, this has been called the cheap politics of ‘othering’. Worse displays of animus against African people have happened through cases of outright violence and at least one instance of vilification by a Goa minister. ‘Liberal India’ has typically swung into damage control mode. This damage control has included round after round of sanctimonious condemnation of racism against African black people. Television media knows its constituency of self-congratulation well and has followed it up with various talk shows themed around various versions of the question ‘Are we racists?’ and has invariably concluded that some bad apples are. And have added ‘I love you’ notes to Nigerians, at the end of such shows. Such shows also discuss the racism faced by desis abroad. The racism that uppity NRI desis show in their promised land and many desis show in the subcontinent can only be matched by the alarm that raised when some relatively elite brown gets paid back in the same coin in some white land.

With upward mobility for a section of the metropolis janata and the Indian Union taking a ‘greater role’ at the world stage, more of these people have white friends and acquaintances than ever before. Just when elite desis and their known whites seemed to have reached non-racist nirvana – imagining themselves as part of some universal brotherhood of idea, commerce, commodity and romance exchange, the prejudiced desi hordes are letting this emancipated side down. This is the source of embarrassment. Not themselves, but those who share their skin colour and give the whole team a bad name. During the British Raj, this embarrassed class of browns was quite well known and did well for themselves by distinguishing themselves from the ‘uncivilised’ loathsome browns. The overall rising tide of anti-colonial sentiment made such embarrassment less fashionable for sometime. Post 1990s, the sharp rise in the petulance/anger of brown consumer elites with racism they face abroad is matched by their condemnation of racism at home. This is one real contribution of GDP growth and ‘international“10 ization’ of commodity markets. With India rising and shining alongside the white world, in malls and tourist destinations, commercial and academic engagements, and anti-colonialism being passé, the time is ripe for more public display of embarrassment. The audience for this is the white World and self-image the desi liberal has created for oneself and almost believes in. They would hate to be confused with other browns.

But then, talk is cheap. The backward browns have shown their true colour through explicit racism that makes liberal, our homegrown ‘world citizens’ shudder. But what about things that are implicit in patterns of behaviour? Those are harder to track down but when done, do say a whole lot about the people practicing it. Their own displaying prejudice explicitly can be called out for it and asked to change, or at least reassess, their positions. But what about those whose public lives are epitomes of ‘ultra-liberal’ posturing peppered with condemnation of the ‘backward’ while implicit in their behaviour are exactly the for which they publicly bad-mouth the ‘backward’ every day? When you have such a class lecturing the prejudiced at every opportunity, the result is a farce of a poor quality. The farce needs to be exposed for what it is – too many people enjoy excellent views from the moral high ground that they occupy undeservedly. Too many are condemning the ‘backward’ by standing on self-constructed pedestals.When we are all naked, and the ‘liberal’ gives up the pretension of wearing ‘ultra-fine’ clothes, we can start talking truth. We can have a dialogue. We can be embarrassed or not, for what we are – irrespective of whether white people are watching.

What constitutes the ‘world’ of the ‘world citizen’– the world is mentally, if not physically located in a temperate zone OECD white-Caucasian country, given that not much of the world fits that description, the extent of the mental world of the world citizen is not so big after all. It is hard to map out the mental world but some things can give us certain clues.

The ‘free choice’ that these brown ‘world-citizens’ in matters of marriage, romance and sex can be revealing. With increasing number of non-browns coming to the subcontinent and a correspondingly increasing number of browns going to ‘foreign’ countries, there are some foreign-brown marriages that happen. That’s all good. Now close your eyes and picture such a couple. There are many such ‘cute couples’ now. Note the colour of the ‘foreigner’ in the frame. Most likely, it is not someone African or Afro-American. The ‘cute’ or the ‘angelic’, sadly is from the same races whose mental worlds have shaped the world-view of the brown liberal – typically French of Anglo.

One in eight Americans are black. More than one in six are non-Whites (including Latinos, not including other browns). Now think of some people you may know or you may have heard of, who have married Americans. Normal human interaction without any colour prejudice or special colour affinity would have resulted in one in six such marriages being with non-Whites. Is that the case? Hell no. Is that the case even among those who would declare that in their post-racist world, love runs blind? Hell no. If you ask them individually, they would have said that their own White choice is ‘incidental’. It could have been someone black. Just that it hardly ever is. Their non-prejudiced ‘choice’ is so predictable, that it takes away all suspense. Many such individual choices hide behind the mask of politically correct speech. This closely parallels the marriage choices of the ‘I don’t believe in caste’ types. Individually, they would burn the sacred-thread (if a male) and/or denounce the ‘caste system’. Just that their life choices speak louder than their speeches and posturing. The cosmopolitan Savarna liberal usually leads a schizophrenic existence.

Let us come back to the subcontinent. Darker Africans have been coming to many parts of the subcontinent in recent years. A large number of them are students. ICCR has offered 900 specialised scholarships for students from African countries. There are more than 10,000 African students in the subcontinent and the largest chunk is in the institutions of NCR. Incidentally, African students consider Kochi, a city without the intellectual pretensions of New Delhi, very safe. There are thousands of Nigerians in the NCR. As for the students, we are talking of very meritorious ones, many of them studying in significant numbers in the NCR’s most premier institutions. But when it comes to campus-coupling of browns with foreigners (especially in vogue among liberal circles of elite institutions), whites rule the roost. The students from Africa may study advanced biology, Kathak dance, journalism, architecture, literature, history, sociology, urban planning, gender studies and many other things, but they are no match. I stress the liberal and elite bit, as these are the spaces from where the shrillest chants against racism typically come, along with pronouncements that they stand above differences of race, caste, colour and such things. For the ‘radical’ and ‘liberated’, neither the African nor the East Asian students do not forms a part of their desirable cohort, for purposes of campus romance or intimacy. Those from Manipur or Nagaland are also similarly excluded, always spoken on behalf of, by the predictable crowds. But when it comes to ‘desirability’ and ‘companionship’ as equals, other aliens matter. Whites win hands on. The white on campus will have an inordinately long line of droolers. Desirability is as much about how one’s views oneself as it is about the desirable one out there.

What is the source of such desire and skewed choices? Doesn’t it have something to do with fantasies tied with the awe that power evokes in certain minds? More often than not, it comes from a weak bond with one’s living environment, developing into a hatred of things associated with one’s own community. This journey away from the self is couched in the celebratory notion of ‘liberation’ – a journey involving progress towards a universal human ‘love-in’. That suits white Caucasians on campus very well, to find suddenly themselves in the enviable position of being able to punch way above their weight. It does not matter who approaches ‘first’ but the white in skin is acutely aware of his/her ‘market value’ in postcolonial lands, especially among the tribe of those with brown bodies with culturally illiterate, trying-hard-to-be-white minds. This state of thing makes it relatively easy for the gora who only has to show a little interest in things native and might even learn a native phrase or two. Before they can show that off, the coconut native is already trying to impress by showing off his/her acquaintance with all things white – their culture (pop and sophisticated), their stories, their sitcoms, their epistemologies, their myths, their histories, their nuances with some half-baked critique thrown in so as to avoid appearing too eager. Gone are the ‘politically correct’ measures of mutual compatibility based on mutual respect – otherwise the East Asian and black African students would not be so undesirable in romance and intimacy compared to Whites, even among the ‘thinking’ and ‘elite’ academic spaces, even among the ‘liberated’ and the ‘radical’? For these coconuts, of course the next best thing after a white body with a white mind is another fellow brown body with a white-mind. Certain kinds of urban agglomerations offer excellent refuges for browns to explore their mutually shared whiteness. They are also the elite – fatafat English, chain-café hangout types, even with browns of the same mother tongue.

The ex-colony is indeed an unfortunate thing. There is always a lingering infection at the head, because the vernacular non-elites could never quite take over and are on a retreat. Transfer of power happened so that the production of brown bodies with white minds could go on with locally produced grease. Not quite Macaulay. Way sophisticated. Way sordid. At least Macaulay’s children looked like buffoons to the rest of the browns and they themselves had few illusions of reciprocal equality with the whites. Now, the illusion of reciprocal equality with whites is strong. Alienated from their own communities, they need to maintain self-respect by these means. Due to their ubiquity in media and academia, they have an inordinate influence over the aspirational dreams of the masses. The new buffoons have indeed turned the joke on the people. It must be supreme irony that some of these ‘liberated’ browns will go on to lecture us other browns on agency, structures of power, media representation, feminism, politics of culture, indigeneity, even equality.

This holding of whites in high esteem is not peculiar to certain browns. Data from millions of users of the popular US dating website OKCupid suggests exactly the same (http://qz.com/149342/the-uncomfortable-racial-preferences-revealed-by-online-dating/). Disproportionately high (as in higher than what population percentages would suggest) desirability of whites as partners cuts across most non-white races, except African-Americans. The funny bit is that the data also reveals that this special desirability is not reciprocated by whites to any non-white group. One non-white person probably gets tantalizingly close to the origins of disproportionate desire by a description. The person talks about having grown up filled primarily with white narratives and depictions of white people and felt as if she was ‘in a movie’ when she was romancing a white. From the lists of ‘hottest actors’ to ‘sexiest actresses’, from fiction to philosophy, they cast a very deep shadow on the person’s mind that felt during intimate moments with the white partner that one was living a long-pregnant fantasy, as if it was a movie. The African-Americans, having to live with the reality of whiteness, as opposed to the nurtured fantasy about whiteness, have no illusions. They are confident enough to have a spine to hold them up straight without white crutches.

The ‘conservative’ in brown-land at least makes his/her mindset clear. They probably neither like the white nor the black. However, for the ‘liberal’, among the itinerant foreigners who come for study and pleasure, it is mostly the white that gets intimate attention, with others largely avoided. The ‘liberated’ typically talks his/her way out by jargonised hypocritical bluster. In fact, the observable action of black-avoidance being same, this bit dishonesty makes them a notch worse than the conservatives – and there is the rub. For the ‘enlightened’ and the ‘liberated’ are loathe to admit that they too are products of the ‘dominant’ worldview of white-worship. That in practice boils down to racial preference and that does not sound nice. The ‘liberated’ believes that dominant world-views only affect the ‘mindless’ hoi polloi. Facts show that they are not outside but inside the circle of dominance. Such stark demonstrations can be heart wrenching. Liberation warriors become quivering and petulant balls of self-defence, alarmed at the tug at the ground beneath their feet, the ground they had fashioned into a pedestal to preach others from. All kinds of desperate and verbose ego defences come up, aided by jargonized bluster.

Those who are busy condemning and vilifying the people of Khidki extension en masse stress that some of the residents who had gathered had even uttered the ‘N-word’. It was. The ‘N-word’ was also used to build brown-black solidarity against racism and anti-communist witch-hunt in the United States of America. One does not expect the yuppie anti-racists to have heard about the song ‘Negro bhai amar, Paul Robeson’ that Kamal Sarkar composed based on Najim Hikmet’s verses, a most popular song that the legendary folk-singer Hemango Biswas extensively sang. For that matter, the N-word vigilantes probably have not heard of Paul Robeson. For them, history started with 1991. One might add that the song inspired more people in the subcontinent to develop serious anti-racist views as well as a critique of the American state that newly-learned knee-jerk political correctness about ‘N-word’ and other White speech-forms can ever evoke. The particular charge that comes with the ‘N-word’ has a certain context. Ashis Nandy has repeatedly taught us one thing – to take people’s categories seriously. Grounded social and cultural literacy is not to be expected from those who think that only white people’s categories are the ones with meaning. A peculiar kind of browns whose cosmopolitanism almost always translates into a greater understanding of nuances and contexts of things from white lands than things back ‘home’ (the flittering class actually doesn’t like to be ‘tied down’ to the concept of ‘home’) possibly doesn’t realise the ridiculousness of charging the people of Khidki extension of using the ‘N-word’. Having gained adulthood by being consumers of Anglo-American public discourse and pop trivia, they often forget that their books, TV shows, webpages and magazines are part of their bubble-existence. To think that the bubble is the world may be fine for life and times in the bubble-urbania. The problem happens when they venture out into the real world and use their bubble-derived notions and categories to judge that. While being exquisitely literate about the ‘N-word’s horrendousness, they would not be able to name even 10 derogatory words used to refer to dalits in the subcontinent. This is no sign of enlightened purity or post-casteism or castelessness but the stench of super privilege by which everyday categories and realities have been shut out of their lives. Forever coddled, forever urban, forever ‘non-casteist’, forever offended by the N-word, neither can they name 10 dalit sub-groups (not that those who can pass the ‘name test’ are virtuous, but they are at least in touch with the structure they benefit from and have no illusions of innocence). Some of the disproportionate beneficiaries of a system can afford to not know the details of the victims. What is offensive is that these are kinds who are stomping all over the Khidki residents, with a righteous indignation. The browns are an unfortunate people. Those divorced from reality are the narrative-peddlers and the chroniclers of social tension and cultural flux of the browns. Sleek presentation in elite language and idiom, coupled with political correctness has helped many of the chroniclers go places.

The reality is, hundreds of African students stayed in the Khidki area. The same cannot be said of most ‘respectable’ yuppie locations of New Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon. Not every locality allows a ‘ghetto’ to develop. The curious bit is that areas without African ‘ghettos’ are typically places where the Khidki-haters like to live in. Whites get treated differently. May be they would have been treated differently at Khidki too. But wouldn’t those who criticize the Khidki residents while regularly lounging at ‘artistic’ cafes and other upscale hangout-with-whites-like-whites locales also treat them differently? The ‘backward’ Khidki-wallas do not hide their feelings. Khidki residents have not (yet) learned the language and style of appearing to be non-racist. The ‘backward’ often responds with equal alienation to black and white. Others who hide their selective alienation, having learned the language of not letting feelings and subjectivities publicly known, uses the ill-gotten pedestal to preach against racism.

The Khidki incident has given rise to many paeans to the ‘diversity’ of New Delhi and how the ‘othering’ of the black-Africans is a blot on its ‘cosmopolitan’ image. This ‘othering’ bit, a category dutifully imported from ‘Continental’ discourse, is a non-issue here. The problem is segregation. That is a broader issue than Africans. It is also about who is typically rounded up by the police when a car-lifting happens, or who is issued an ID card or is asked to register at the local police station because one happens to work as a domestic help in a upscale area. Just because these browns do not have an explicit skin-marker, does not make the treatment meted out them any different. However, all that is normal, even as youths from these posh homes have also added their voice against Khidki. It is not a simple blind spot. What are the predictable triggers of righteous indignation? Why does it typically parallel what would trigger indignation in a supposedly post-racist Euro-American society? Why are our daily segregations, born in the belly of our society, not similarly spectacular and newsworthy? The yardsticks of whose social realities have we borrowed to assess our own? What makes us chose among the segregations? What is the rank-order in our heads? From where did we import this hierarchy? By choosing to privilege one kind of segregation over another, which audience are we signaling to? Are all these audiences domestic? What does this tacitly self-congratulatory ‘anti-racism’ vis-à-vis the silence over daily seggregations tell us about our selves?

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The many avatars of Asaram Bapu / The Asarams around us

[ Daily News and Analysis, 28 Oct 2013 ]

The way the likes of Asaram Bapu and other ‘godmen’ have allegedly taken sexual advantage of the iniquitous power dynamic they had with their ‘disciples’ makes any consent in their acts questionable. Especially in the case of Asaram Bapu, the image of this man with ‘fans’ and disciples half his age or even less has evoked widespread revulsion from disciples and non-disciples alike. What Asaram preaches cannot be separated from what Asaram does. Can we extend these criteria to others? Which other people get away by taking advantage of iniquitous power dynamics?

There is something called ‘artistic license’, a concept often used to create a smoke-screen of exception around activities otherwise abhorrent. Some things are apparently okay if an iniquitous power situation is perpetrated by an artist, writer, poet, musician, visual artists, film-types – some ‘creative’ person. Not everyone is like this but you know the type we are talking about. In this ‘creative’ crowd, one often discovers characteristics that Asaram would recognize. A famous Bengali poet-novelist was known for his ‘intellectual’ communion with fans, typically half his age. Another equally famous and now-deceased writer of romance from Bangladesh married his daughter’s friend who was into films. Typically, they marry or propose to people half their age. The need for ‘fresh meat’ is a sick mentality that they can couch well by their word-wizardry and their ‘artistic’ bent. Some who marry early (like the deceased poet-novelist) put their spouses through a life of shame and indignity. Those who were just too cool for marriage before their 40s make it up by marrying people half their age. Are god-men the only schemers while these are on experimental ‘journeys’? Do these writers write why they mostly like them young – or will that literary ‘exploration’ destroy the ‘opportunity’ at hand one might be nourishing? Will abstract painters paint and film-types make ‘experimental’ films on the nitty-gritties of their inner schemes? That we don’t call out what’s going on here should cause serious self-reflection in those of us who condemn the Asarams. This blind-spot is especially troubling due to the deep sexism embedded of these circles. In such inequities, the less rich, famous and younger is mostly a female.

How do these wreckers of families and individuals, get such a long leash? Just because they are rich celebrities who can charm young ones in whirlwind summer romances of ‘special attention’ when people of their own age cohort have moved on? The combination of age, power/fame and economic difference is characteristic of a predator. Sadly, the victim’s false sense of agency is characteristic of the ‘liberated’ circles. Just like god-men, predators also often have a fully liberated person in every town, you know, just in case on has to drop in for some relief and ‘catching up’. Some victims are lured into thinking that they too are part of the predator’s dreamy, ‘interesting’, ‘care-free’, ‘experiential’ and ‘experimental world. This charade of agency is important for the ‘liberated’, for from that flows a sense of consent. Tragically, the predators know this too well and use to the hilt to their advantage.

Some victims return to society to cut losses. It hurts the pride of the ‘conscious’ and ‘liberated’ victim to admit that. Society holds the bag to collect the wreckage; due to ties it considers sacred – family values, matrimony and other markers of ‘backwardness’. If only these backward types could mix in the right circles, read the correct books and be ‘articulate’, snort the right stuff in right company, then they would understand such ‘creative’, ‘consensual’ projects. But alas.

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

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

“Ekbar matir dike takao,

 Ekbar manusher dike”

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

 –  Birendra Chattopadhyay, Bengali poet (1920-1985)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*** DNA version ***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cities that are easy on the eye / Swanky dreams and apartheid by other means

[ Daily News and Analysis, 30 Apr 2013 ]

Flights connecting the gulf-countries with Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, Cochin and other cities form a large portion of the international air-traffic between them. I have been in these flights a few times. Many of the travelers are labourers coming back to their families for a vacation after being away for months, sometimes years. Because they form a large part of the air-traffic, they also provide a large part of the airport revenue. Very few of the labourers I have interacted with can read English fluently, if at all . That most if not all of the airport, its nook and crannies, only make complete sense only to an English literate person, makes one wonder which ‘public’ did the planners have in mind when designing this public utility space. The unwashed masses and their squat latrines have no place here. The architectural language of these places conform to a ‘global’ idiom, however alien that may be to most desis. Airports and sites such as these are so-called ‘gateways’ of a place that would ideally exude an up-market, ‘international’ look – never mind that non-English literates form a significant part of the market. Such places are the product of a certain imagination – that conceive places like air-ports not only as places where people catch air-planes but also where a certain kind of people should ideally be able to enter. It is also symptomatic of nationalist anxieties – of being ‘up to standard’ to the west, so that the occasional gora who steps in should not feel confused in the least. Some of us browns know English anyways and empathize deeply with that discomfort. For the rest of the brown, frankly, who cares? They walk about hesitantly in the mirror chamber of its alien interiors. There is an invisible wall and often thinly veiled disgust in the face of coconut (brown outside, white inside) desis. This invisible wall has an invisible sign hanging on it which says ‘Unwelcome’ or ‘Unfit to be the kind of Indian that South Bombay is proud of’. What am I talking about is not about airports, signage or English – the disease is deeper and more serious.

There is something deeply troubling about the nature of our imagination of the city, including the idea of urban citizenship, who is included in that imagination, who is not, who is the city for. And how ”we’ appear to the West captures an inordinately large part of those concerns. City elites are obsessed in proving that they are tropic-burnt brothers of goras – and they wish that the tropic-burnt others, whose land and labour pay for such obsessions, ideally should vanish. Given that this is not an ideal world, splendid use has been made of their control over the bureaucracy and policy circles, to make others vanish, if not from the city, but at least out of sight. It is a hard task to make a city of their wish – a city easy on their eyes – but they do try.

During the commonwealth games, that ill-fated coming-of-age ritual of a diseased and demented nation-state with ‘super-power’ fantasies, its capital city was ‘beautified’. Among other things, it involved ‘garib hatao’. Thus the urban poor were kicked out and judicial officers moved around in police vans to sentence beggars. The normally slow judiciary knows where its priorities lie. If that were not enough, large sheets have been put up in many areas of Delhi, especially near bridges, to block out ‘unsightly’ (read poor people’s) areas so that the upwardly mobile residents and visitors can enjoy a virtual-reality show on its roads. The soul of this wall is made out of the same material that the invisible wall of the airport is made up of. The T3 airport terminal does not allow legally licensed auto-rickshaws to come near it lest phoren visitors have a ‘good impression’. In Kolkata, bicycles have been banned from plying in most of its main streets. Hand-pulled rickshaws are being pushed out.They say it is ‘inhuman’ and heart-wrenching, as if loss of employment is heart-warming.  Beyond the Indian Union, residents of Baridhara, one of the elite areas of Dhaka, have banned cycle-rikshaw-wallas who were the lungi. Shame about one’s people and feeling alienated from one’s broader environ is a nasty disease that afflicts whole of the subcontinent.

The dream of being counted as a part of the global cosmopolitan class has led to the blatant exclusion of people from public spaces who do not ‘fit the bill’. This forcible homogeneity of being ‘cool’ and ‘international’ finds its twin in the Hindi-ization of various subcontinental identities – in the name of being ‘traditional’ and ‘swadeshi’. Thus emerges the new desi – Bollywood loving, English speaking, having wholesome family fun eating McAloo Tikki. In many ways, the gated community, that pinnacle of contemporary desi urban aspirations, is a concrete form of this dystopic vision. It is safe inside, we are surrounded by people like us, we talk in English and Hindi and cheer for European football leagues There is a word that sums of all this that may sound quite bitter and might hurt those with ‘liberal’ and ‘inclusive’ sensibilities. It is called apartheid.

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The heavenly duties of stones in our punyabhumi / Just the nature of my game / The life of stones

[ Daily News and Analysis, 16 Apr 2013;  Kashmir Reader, 20 Apr 2013 ]

Police forces in many areas of the Indian Union engage people in their area of activities by organizing football tournaments. By some heavenly design, these incidents almost always make it to the media, in a subcontinent where police atrocities find it hard to get reported. A smiling lion of a man handing a cup to some sweat-soaked youths. In other nations where police atrocities happen less frequently, police organize fewer football tournaments.

The recent months have seen passionate championing of the right of women not to be raped. The Justice Verma commission set up in the aftermath of the Delhi rape and murder incident invited responses from the public. It received many inputs from many quarters on their own. Not a single Director General of Police responded to the notices of the commission. They were probably busy giving away prizes at football tournaments. Image building exercises become important when exercises  to protect the rights of common people fail. But I am dirty-minded enough to suspect that there is more to this ‘failing’. I will simply ask the question – which domestic organization, in the business of providing monthly salaries and occasional bravery medals,  happens to employ the largest number of alleged rapists and serial abusers? Hint – such lions also fight against social vices by extracting money from sex-workers of all genders after raping them. Given that the ‘rule of law’ comes down hard when certain lines are crossed, I will not answer the question. Are you thinking what I am thinking?

This punyabhumi is choc-a-bloc full of men and women whose sensitivities are often bruised by the non-desi concept of a  sexual woman – in skin, in paint, on screen, in public. Stones have often been the weapon of choice against this anti-national evil. Where do these stones go after national duty like attacking artists is done? Since every inch of the land is punyabhumi, no wonder the stones also carry that near-heavenly quality. The national fervour that is deeply embedded in each and every such piece of stone does not decay like its slightly less masculine cousin of radioactivity. The stones simply march forward to Chhattisgarh to continue their holy duty.

Some of the stones made their way into the vagina and the rectum of one Soni Sori, held by Chhattisgarh police for 8 cases. In spite of the stones that were inserted deep in her vagina and rectum, the police could not prove the charges in 4 out of 8 cases. The other 4 are going on. The patriotic stones might have continued to torment an adibashi woman like Soni Sori unless her medical examination was shifted out of Chhattisgarh to less godly Kolkata. Soni Sori has also alleged that she has been repeatedly raped. But some of the prime witnesses, the patriotic stones, have been removed by the Kolkata doctors. Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose of Kolkata, in his later years, started finding ‘the living response’ in many inorganic matters, including rocks. Nothing short of the expertise of that departed soul can help make sense of the testimony of the stones. Till such time, Soni Sori’s rape will remain ‘alleged’.

The charges against Soni Sori that were proven false in court included very specific things like opening fire and using explosives to blast the vehicles of Essar steel, attacking the police at Kirandul and blowing up a police station. If the state were a person that imagined such crimes from thin air, concerns about mental health would arise. If the state deliberately made up these cases, then it is sociopathic.The state, after failing to prove charges against Soni Sori ( incidentally, a  school-teacher), has started an enquiry to ascertain whether she should be sent to the mental asylum in Agra.

Lets concentrate on the football tournament instead. SP saheb has already arrived for the prize distribution ceremony. I think we should all stand up, clap and smile  because our culture teaches us that we should be respectful to elders, especially those who win gallantry medals. Brown women need  not fear – too many lions of Bharatmata are protecting them in every street.

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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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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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The art of brewing a telegenic storm / Hurricane Sandy

[ Millenium Post, 7 Nov 2012 ; Echo of India, 14 Nov 2012 ]

Hurricane Sandy made landfall in Kingston. This is not a town in the USA. It is a city in Jamaica, immortalized among many people by Harry Belafonte’s soulful voice in ‘Jamaica farewell’. It is very probable that by now audience in many parts of the world through TV and newspapers know of very small town of eastern USA. Some might have picked up names of neighbourhoods in New York City. In an iniquitous global media regime, the size of the basic unit of human assemblage, that is capable of capturing attention and only thereafter be injected with properties of humanity, varied widely from place to place. If it is an OECD nation, chances are you will have heard and read not only stories of neighbourhoods but also of individual people and their struggles. But I digress.

I came across this ‘wind-map’ of over the North American subcontinent. This was quite an internet rage for sometime – a strange thrill of sorts, of being in the midst of it, and hovering over in a helicopter at the same time. This participation has limits. For if the map was not insular and showed places were other people lived, one would have known that when Hurricane Sandy made landfall in Kingston, its highest winds were blowing at 130 kilometres per hour. For good or for bad, there was no minute by minute live update.

If the media cameras has panned away from New York Mayor Bloomberg’s press meet, one would have seen the death and destruction in Haiti and Cuba where not whole towns and settlements have been destroyed. However, we do not know of the names of those towns, let alone specific neighbourhoods. Their pictures, their human conditions, will not flashed across front pages half way across the world. Lesser people have lesser print space, if at all. While every human being is equally precious, the fact that most media outlets have carried no follow up of the news of the 100 fishermen who were stranded off the Carribean coast during the Hurricane, tells us that beyond the quantity of humanity, there is a notion of quality of humanity – a conception of quality that is sickening to the core.

While we had so much sympathy about loss of electricity in North America, that nearly 70% of Jamaica lost electricity is something that I had to try hard to unearth. This is especially rich and sad at the same time as the contours of such reporting are replicated dutifully even in those parts of the world where the reach of electricity does not even reach 70%., including the Indian Union. In that feverish reportage of flooded subways of New York, not only a large part of the Carribean coast gets flooded. The appeal for emergency aid from those areas also got drowned.

Hurricane Sandy made landfall in Kingston, Jamaica and has killed over 70 in the Carribean till now. This is greater than the total number of casualties in the USA, till now. Carribean islands, Haiti, Dominican Republic. Hispaniola actually. Columbus had made his landfall there.

But I was not watching some US channel – why did they only show the US part of the hurricane on Indian TV? May be it’s the same reason why even storms, hurricanes and cyclones that have killed many more in India also did not get so much live coverage.

In his live-beamed press conference, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg sounded so confident and reassuring and looked so smart in his coat and tie. The New Yorkers were giving such articulate interviews to the channels. What do we have? Our cyclone-affected are a bloody disgrace. Remember Cyclone Aila? They show themselves half-naked on TV, stare weirdly at the camera and cant even speak English. I hope they show New York subway water removal when Cyclone Neelam makes landfall. Much more civilized. And in any case, Haitian, Dominican and Jamaican companies don’t own stakes in Indian media outlets. At least somebody has got their priorities right. I mean, anchors sitting in Delhi looked seriously worried about the disruption of public transportation in New York.

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Eternal ‘outsiders’ – Marwaris of Kolkata / KaliKatha via Bypass

[ HardNews, Nov 2012 ]

Salt Lake City, a satellite township located east of Kolkata, was developed from 1958-1965, largely during the regime of Bidhan Chandra Roy, West Bengal’s longest serving Congressite chief minister. ‘Reclaimed’ by destroying wetlands and a rich pisciculture zone comprising of large salt-water lakes, the land-filled erstwhile marshes came to be known as Bidhannagar. The area was then parsed into sectors, plotted and allotted largely to Bengali service and professional classes, except for occasional lollies to various loyalists of the ruling parties, through the decades, till such plots lasted. These were not sold as free-hold plots but were given on lease. There had been no provision of lease-transfer, so complicated procedures were devised by the ‘leasees’ so that ‘selling’ could happen – primarily by naming the buyer as the legal inheritor of the plot. Money changed hands as usual, just that the government did not get a piece of this extra-legal action. It was losing a lot of potential revenue as Bidhannagar has emerged as an elite residential hub. This year, it has been decided that the government would make legal provisions for lease-transfer and collect revenue from these transactions.

The recent outpouring of concern around legalizing lease-transfers of property in Salt Lake City, is a potent cocktail of entrenched prejudice and false victimhood concocted and vouched for by a sizeable section of the Bengali urban middle class. It is being said quite openly that the original intention behind sealing up ecologically irreplaceable wetlands and turning them into residential plots was to enable members of the Bengali middle class to make their homes. Not going into the patently classist and racist connotation that gives to a public project like Bidhannagar, one thing is clear. Even if many Bengalis in Salt Lake City do transfer their leases to non-Bengalis (read Marwaris), we will see quite a few Bengali crorepatis emerging in the process. Neither will these Bengalis transfer lease under the kind of coercion many of their peasant brethren have faced over the last few years. In short, these would-be crorepati Bengalis are neither victims nor middle-class. Some will park their cash in Rajarhat, a new real-estate boomtown created during the previous regime largely by forcibly acquiring land from Bengali peasants, adding an ironic twist to this evicted Bengali victim story. What emerges from this is that the villainous Marwari is alive and well in many urban Bengali minds.

I know this mind well, for I too possessed it at one point. I daresay, like many Kolkata-bred Bengali children, I too grew up with a dangerous concoction of socially replicated prejudice and received wisdom. Utterly false binaries were created and perpetuated – the wily, slimy Marwari poaches upon the unsuspecting, honest Bengali so that our tragic hero loses his ancestral home, his financial status and advantageous social status vis-à-vis the baniya. The victimhood fiction masquerades as a definitive answer to a variety of questions – the decline of Bengali culture to the changing demographic compositions of certain Kolkata localities. 1943 famine is a key year in this narrative when many Marwaris who ran a significant portion of the disgraceful wartime grain-speculation racket did hoard food grains. While that is condemnable, the vicious racist edge to that is problematic. The middle class Bengalis do not harbour any visceral hate against the subinfeudatory (madhyasattwobhogi) class from which many of them come, which for decades slowly extracted the life blood out of the Bengali peasantry. While the Calcutta Marwari lobby is partly blamed (and rightly so) for scuttling the 1947 United Bengal scheme of Sarat Bose and Suhrawardy, and consequently for the partition of Bengal, the other staunch Bengali opposers of the scheme like the Congress High Command darling Bidhan Chandra Roy have gone on to become unblemished cult figures. To try to explain all misfortune by invoking ‘external conspiracies’ is a lazy route to absolve oneself of blame – a comfortable but ultimately self-destructive position.

There seems to exist a small but fashionable cottage industry that simultaneously laments the disappearing cosmopolitanism of Kolkata by documenting the present and past of its resident Armenian, Jewish and Chinese populations among others. Given that, it is also the right time to change the narrative about the Marwaris – a more numerous group that is constitutive of the famed Kolkata cosmopolitanism, or the shreds of it that remain.

The Marwaris have been part of the Bengal landscape from pre-British times. They were a conspicuous part of the entrepreneurial and industrial initiatives that was partly responsible in once making Kolkata the ‘greatest city between Aden and Singapore’. The philanthropic initiatives in Kolkata by the Marwari business houses are second to none. The dismal condition of the state’s apex health facility, the SSKM hospital does not do justice to its large Marwari benefactor Seth Sukhlal Karnani, who was also instrumental in bringing a precocious virtuoso from Kasur (near Lahore) to Kolkata, giving the world Lata Mangeshkar’s early idol, Noorjahan. Walk over to the Sambhunath Pandit Street and you will be standing in front of the only specialized Neurology institute in West Bengal, the Bangur Institute of Neurology. The Marwari House of Bangurs were also the donors behind setting up the Bangur Hospital near Tollygunge. Successive state governments could only manage to turn these great institutions of public good into dismal caricatures of their earlier selves. This closely parallels our best attempt at caricaturing Marwaris, by portraying them in films as slimy creatures who speak bad Bengali. Few of these Bengalis, including those who serve at the Bangur Institute of Neurology or who live in Bangur Avenue, know how to pronounce the name of the benefactor properly (‘Bangar’ and not ‘Bangoor’). The Marwari Hospital in North Kolkata is in shambles but does show the philanthropic imprint of this community on the city, especially on the public healthcare infrastructure.  That the Bengali ‘prince’ Dwarakanath Tagore (Rabindranath’s grandfather) was financed in his indigo ventures by Marwari trade houses of Sevaram Ramrikh Das and Tarachand Ghanshyam Das is conveniently forgotten.

When Bengali-origin people like Jhumpa Lahiri and Jaya Bhaduri, who were neither born in Bengal nor grew up here, achieve fame, we quickly feel proud to claim them as our own. Few Bengalis proudly own up in the same way people like Jagmohan Dalmiya and Bimal Jalan who were born and brought up in the city .For stalwarts like Lakshmipat Singhania and GD Birla, who made Kolkata their karmabhumi, this same sense of ‘owning’ is largely absent even though we do celebrate past Bengali entrepreneurs like Biren Mukherjee and even the semi-mythical Chad Showdagor! At a time when chit funds represent the pinnacle of Bengal based entrepreneurial skills, we forget the houses of Goenka, Birla, Oswal, Jalan, Dalmia and many others started their journey from this city. The community even got its ‘Marwari’ name from this city, a name that has become a self-identity tag. A friend of mine, from the Marwari Somani family of Kolkata, a PhD scholar in Economics at Harvard, found his match in a Kolkata Marwari family girl. This alliance between Kolkata Marwaris is very common and there is much more than locational convenience at play. There is a lot Kolkata about Kolkata Marwaris – something Bengalis find it hard to acknowledge, treating them as eternal outsiders.

At a time when subinfeudation was gasping for life, many literate middle class Bengalis landed in Burma for better opportunities. In part, Marwari trade networks in South-East Asia helped these Bengalis gain employment and remit money from Burma, the ‘Dubai’ of those days, back home to Bengal. Bengalis have arrived from the hinterland to Kolkata in batches. Some of these Johnny-come-latelys, with hardly a 50 year relationship with the city, still manage to lay a greater claim to Kolkata, of being more authentic ‘Calcatians’ vis-a-vis Marwaris. They also have arrogance of looking upon the Marwaris, who have century old residential connections with the city, as interlopers and outsiders.

Cosmopolitanism is better lived than remembered. Bengalis, whose lungi carry an unmistakably Burmese-Arakan influence, whose ‘authentic’ Malai-curry is derived from the Malay peninsula, ought to know better. An insular mediocre middle-class bengalism is surely no way to show love for Bengal.

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Bigmother is watching / Have censored websites broken any law

[ Daily News and Analysis, 2 Sep 2012 ; Countercurrents 3 Sep 2012; Globeistan, 9 Sep 2012 ]

Bigmother has not been around for 28 years now. But she sure is watching over us. She died before the internet happened, yet her devotees celebrate her sacred memory by blocking websites. That is some legacy. When I was growing up in Bengal, there would be seminars about the contemporary relevance of Vivekananda. Seminars about the contemporary relevance of India’s holiest cows are rampant. Banalities are timeless, and hence ever relevant. When a pre-internet disease infects the web, it is a sure sign of a living ideology.

In a throwback to times when Bigmother would lock some of us up and tell the world that this is for our own good, her devotees in charge of the Government of India have tried the same. But they lack Bigmother’s courage – she used to be rather public about her harsh dealing and silencing of her wayward children. They have secretly blocked certain webpages. The irony of ironies is that the list of ‘blocked’ websites has been ‘leaked’. Who knew there were desi Julian Assanges around. May be some bloke did it for some money, or someone was trying to be funny. Or, he was simply following orders. We will never know. Does the much touted right to information extend to right to information that the state wants to hide but has been leaked? Lets not go there.

Transparency and freedom are fundamental to the health of this democratic organism. Without them, it is like a life size sex doll, which can be inflated, paraded and used at will, only to be deflated till next time. This is why we need to look very seriously at the quivering wizards of Oz at the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology
who blocked internet content without explanation.

Altogether, 309 items are known to have been targeted. Many of these websites ostensibly could have fanned the flames of communal hatred. That the flame-carriers of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots or hyenas of Gujarat 2002 have not been banned from the grand old party and the saffron sangh is another matter. Websites are apparently more damaging than kerosene.

No reason has been given why a certain website or webpage or twitter/facebook account has been blocked. That explanation is important because that potentially opens up such unilateral silencing to legal challenge. How so? Incitement to violence, communal or otherwise, is an offence under the Indian Penal code. If the government thought that it had a legally tenable basis of pre-emptively blocking a website for that reason, it could have said so. Its secrecy and subsequent silence is akin to the hubris of the policeman who is seen taking a bribe but looks on nonchalantly as he knows that the onlooker is powerless. It also signifies a distinct brand of shamelessness that only the powerful have.
If the Government of Indian Union thinks that these contents in the web would indeed incite violence, has it proceeded to press charges against the banned websites in Indian and foreign courts? Does it fear that whim of the powerful is at not a full-proof good legal defence?

A summary look at the blocked list is important. Twocircles.net, an Indian Muslim news portal, has been targeted. Its reports of a fatal communal flare-up in Mathura have been blocked. Incidentally, this website, which has received several accolades, did sterling service in trying to check rumours by publishing in toto the Myanmar government’s response to doctored images claiming to show massacred Muslims in the Arakan province. Did the government media, the Doordarshan do its part is rumour checking that this news portal did? Pages from prestigious news sources like Al Jazeera, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Dainik Bhaskar and others have been blocked. Prestige is immaterial here, but I still list these to make a point. It is sad that one has to use this ploy and possibly tells us about the thick skin we have developed to censorship. But what really is at stake is the voice of the frail dissenter, the small fish, us. If a website is lying or is inciting violence, they can be taken to court. But to cede the state the right to indiscriminate, unilateral pre-emption without explanation is to give up our liberties.

Does the internet even matter, in the Indian Union? It increasingly does, the state knows it and you should too. For, if we think that there are ‘legitimate’ reasons for shutting out certain unsavoury words, then we all risk being shut off, piecemeal, at a time that suits the incumbent power of the day. The BJP has cried censorship and they are right. But I
also have three words for them – Maqbul Fida Hussain.

The government with the heritage of Emergency has learned from the past. Now it wants to build an atmosphere where Emergency need not even be declared. It is important that is resisted. For an unaccountable state approximates Coco Chanel who said “I don’t care what you think about me, I don’t think about you at all.” And that stinks.

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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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Political memoirs: Why not tell all? / A risk-free shot at paradise

[ Daily News and Analysis 13 Aug 2012 ]

 

The Indian Union has a Right to Information Act for stuff on paper – files, communiqués, data, clarifications and things like that. But these jottings of the powerful do not and cannot divulge the dealings of the powerful. And the shadow state that is the private sector does not even figure. Keys to open doors do not open trap doors.   No such hint of any trapdoor could be found in Arjun Singh’s autobiography with a title that reeks of that unmistakable desi style of faux-humility. His less than 400 page production, ‘A grain of salt in the hourglass of time’, quite predictably, did not shake up the hour-glass of time. It could have. He was the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh in 1984 when the Bhopal gas tragedy happened. Warren Anderson might not write an autobiography. Rajiv Gandhi died before writing one. Apparently, the new president of the Indian Union has been writing a memoir too. And this has been going on for quite some time. However, it will not be out in his lifetime. That is good news – for lesser mortals can then hope for a memoir without an eye out for this life. After all he lived through the Emergency, the rise of the polyester prince and much more. Still, there is the vexing problem of legacy. People want to go with a bang and want the firework display to be permanently etched on the sky. The search for immortality, that is sad and pathetic at the same time, has led almost all big men and women to write legacies, not autobiographies. Politicians, fixers, executives, and tycoons – all refuse to believe that they will actually die, till they actually die.

This had leads memoirs and autobiographies of people of power to be filled with stories of childhood, stories of rise, often ghost-written passages of visions and ideas, private small talk. So much so, they often read like a hagiographies written in the first person. Few examples of candour are generally limited to those that are not libelous and hurt no existing deity. Given how intertwined autobiography writing and legacy making is, omission and concoction may not even appear so to the autobiographer. But autobiographies have a potential to be heretical and blasphemous, if only people of power would chose to redeem their pledge to the people, even partially. Crimes, murders, conspiracies against the people, defrauding, sleaze, and intrigues – are a part and parcel of the life of the powerful. Given so many people actors in this play, that nothing much actually comes out is an indirect testament to the terribleness of truth. Struggle against truth can tie public political adversaries in compacts that weather life and death.

To live the life of the powerful, to be witness or party to crimes, to lead double and triple lives, to see ‘great’ men and women in their purulent nudity, to be a ‘great’ man or woman of that sort, is common if not the rule in the corridors of power. I too have a second or a third life. But the crucial difference is that my double or triple life, in comparison, affects very few. Not all-lifelong charades cast their shadow on the people in the same way – the more powerful one is, the longer is the shadow. I have often wondered something. Just like the priests at Delphi, the ones deemed closest to Apollo knew the fraud, similarly the society of elite insiders also know what they deny. Given that the entourage of the powerful minimally has bodyguards, hanger-ons, pimps and others, why do we have near to nothing in the public domain. I have a feeling that partly the reason lies in the threat of swift and fatal retribution if the compact is breached. I cannot totally blame the entourage. For it is a choice between riding a luxury car and being squashed under a truck or disappeared. As the playwright said, assassination is the extreme form of censorship. The other part of the reason is that this entourage is not formed overnight, but through a long process of continuous pruning and screening. As a result, when one starts approaching the top, the product is impeccable. We have to look elsewhere for public disclosures.

All people, including those without a moral-ethical compass one can boast of, want to come clean to someone. People caught in the web of posturing in public life, in relationships, often wish that they could admit their life to someone and face no consequence. Amnesty, even from one person, can be powerful. That is why I suspect that for many, their deepest bonds are not with people with whom they have greatest consonance, but those who known their life more substantially, in front of whom the weigh of posturing is that bit lighter.

The urge to admit is dismissed during life, for being too risky. And it most probably is. Why not try it in death, by writing an autobiography that has everything that one was party to but could not admit during life? It can be opened after death. Technology might do away with untrustworthy middlemen. May be even Wikileaks. Fingerprinting the pages for is a good idea – for a posthumous tell-all will surely be disputed on grounds of authenticity. What is there to lose? Why lose a chance to gild one’s afterlife after having gilded this life? For the believer of the Hindu type, a parting shot, even one that hits the target after the archer is gone, would give the person a fighting chance to have a decent sort of re-birth. For the Abrahamic ones, they might just escape hell on judgement day. For the non-believer, there might be a surge of righteousness, an end of the road high like Timothy Leary, sans the substances. One can have one’s cake and eat it too.

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It was the night of July 10th

[ Daily News and Analysis (Mumbai) 17 Jul 2012 ]

 

How many are angry at the Guwahati road-strip?

How many men would say that if this happened to their sister, they would kill the wolves with their own hands?

How many would want that fate for the Guwahati lions?

Since it is Assam, how many were Muslims?

Did you wonder?

You did not?

Did you see the video?

Were the clothes torn?

Could one see anything?

Were you outraged?

How many of the outraged did not find the video that good?

How many of them wished that the video were not pixellated?

How many of them will feel on camera that they feel ashamed as an ‘Indian’?

By how much will the number of searches for “guwahati molestation video” go up?

Have you searched for it today?

Did you find it?

Could you share it?

Please?

Who else downloaded it?

Someone I know?

Me?

How could you even think?

What about the fathers of the women whose opinion were sought on camera in different metros on this matter?

Even dads are tech-savvy nowadays, no?

Does anyone know the girl’s name?

Does she have a Facebook account?

Any photos there?

What do the papers say?

Any details?

What happened?

I mean, in detail, what happened?

What did they do?

Who did what first?

Next who did what next?

Cant the press-wallahs make out from the unpixellated version?

Cant they write a transcript?

Where? How? How next?

How else are we supposed to make image sequences in our minds?

Did the local MP give a statement?

What about the DGP?

Why did the police not arrive in time?

By the way, which organization has the greatest number of rape and molestation allegations against it?

The Police?

The Army?

It cant be the Air Force, can it?

May be the Border Security Force?

Or the Assam Rifles?

Are 50 policemen safer than 50 men on the street?

Are 50 army men safer than 50 policemen on duty?

Is the Border Security Force safest of them all?

But Guwahati is far away from the border, isn’t it?

But all places in the ‘North East’ are near the border, aren’t they?

Did they do a background check on her?

On whom?

The northeast girl, who else?

Does it matter who she was?

Isnt it enough that she was assaulted in ‘full public view’?

Isnt it shameful that no one else came to her rescue?

Wouldn’t you, if you were there?

Didn’t everyone say on camera that they would run to her rescue?

What if she were a terrorist?

Islamic? Secessionist? Marxist?

Marxist-secessionist?

What is that?

Like Manipur PLA?

Would the MP still give a statement?

What if the creatures jostling for a piece of her were men in uniforms?

Would the photographer have given the footage to the press?

Where would then be the phone calls from all over?

Would we still have 2 hour show on NDTV?

Remember Manorama?

Did incredible India come to her rescue?

Does outraged India’s outrage melt at the sight of the patriotic Khaki?

Does it want to know why one family was mourning through the whole day of July 10th like it has been mourning for the last 8 years?

Thangjam Manorama, Devi.

Picked up by the Assam Rifles late in the night of July 10th.

2004. Raped. Killed.

It has been 8 years.

 

How will the hangman hang himself?

How will the shooting squad shoot themselves?

Nothing hides selective rage better than a tri-colour blinder.

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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

Parading Pinky, reporting Pinky

[ Echo of India, 26 Jun 2012; Millenium Post, 2 Jul 2012; Globeistan ]

The Bengalee athlete Pinky Pramanik, who has won numerous medals for Bengal and the Indian Union, has been at the centre of unprecedented media attention surrounding the issue of her biological gender. A woman who was living with Pink for some time has accused Pinky Pramanik, who considers herself female, of rape. The way this case of alleged rape has been taken advantage of, by wide sections of the print and television media, should be enough for serious soul-searching about the nature of media we have and the depths it has reached for a few eyeballs more, for more and more revenue. The media has finally taken unbridled infotainment to its sordid extreme by manufacturing information and conjectures to provide entertainment – that too by massaging already existing prejudices against gender and sexual variance.

First came the police, then the reporters with cameraman in tow, and then in the TV sets came doctors and psychologists. The doctors conjectured about the biology of intersex, ‘male’ and ‘female’ hormones, the merits of ‘early treatment’ of ‘such’ cases and what not. Only a few tried to delve beyond a crude form of biological determinism to talk about what gender one may consider oneself, in spite of their penis or their vagina. However to think that gender ambiguity is something unknown to our populace would be a cover up. This cover up seeks to ignore the huge number of male children dressed up in sarees and ornaments, even if for a photograph, in certain Bengalee homes – a practice becoming far less frequent now. That biologically determined sexual features and the gender of the self, both lie in a continuum and not necessarily in tandem, is a consciousness we have strived hard to cremate. Which is why in public discourse built of posing, the richness of human gender identities and forced to coalesce into two polar forms, thus forcing most of humanity into performing roles and not living their lives.

This case of alleged rape and the prurient ‘reporting’ around it stems from a certain feature of the Indian Penal Code, that only a man can rape. A woman can commit a sexual assault, but not rape. This asymmetry in law stems largely from archaic and make-believe notions of gender roles in sex and by extension sexual predation. Many countries, including France have gender-neutral rape laws where rape at its core remains sexual intercourse without consent, with certain exceptions of statutory rape. It is from this ludicrous asymmetry in the IPC stems the need to demonstrate Pinky Pramanik’s gender, for ‘rape’ as defined by the IPC can only be committed by a man and hence Pinky Pramanik can be charged with rape only on being shown to be a man. This is where the media came in and took it upon itself to supply masala and queer-hate masquerading as a rape-case reporting. Every time a hijra is violently raped by members of the police force and other extortionists, something that happens with gut-wrenching regularity, where is this debate of rape or not, article 302 or 377? There is no report, there is no conviction, and there is no case. This same media doesn’t report it. That violent sexual crime is not the monopoly of the ‘sexually deviant’, is hardly a sensational story. If anything, it can give rise to sensations that threaten to open a Pandora’s box.

From the very outset, the basic assumption of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ was thrown to the winds. Pinky’s whole life was brought in public scrutiny, including instances where she had reportedly shown ‘unwomanly aggressiveness’. What sterling examples of gender sensitivity we have in our media, which finds female aggression extraordinary, and by implication, male aggression as ordinary. What is this but an extension of the sick mentality found in numerous books of religion and law where disciplining the woman by aggression is placed when within a man’s right.

Pinky Pramanik’s story has not died down. Her picture is all over. So are detailed second, third and fourth hand account of many events in her life. How all this discussion in the public domain affects the legal decision-making in her case is a pertinent question – at the least this provides unnecessary and prejudicial information to the judges and magistrates who will sit on Pinky’s case. The police have constantly handled her with male constables. It appears they are better judges of gender than the 7 member medical team set up at the Barasat Hospital to determine the same. The same police has been freely circulating a video clip of Pinky naked as ‘proof’. So we have a set of law enforcers who have trampled the rights of the accused and have taken upon themselves to spread naked clips of the accused. When under trials at Abu Gharaib were filmed naked, many reacted in horror. Our police can do this and get away with it. And that, alas, in this much-famed democratic republic, is not the media story.

Couching our worst prejudices as a simple search for the resolution of a law and order technicality, we are being fed Pinky’s day in custody, Pinky’s medical report, her past life, in amazing detail, in bits and pieces – anything short of a high-resolution photo of Pinky’s genitalia. This competitive detailing of Pinky’s life day by day reminds me of another dark episode of journalism in the Subcontinent when the daily life of Dhananjay Chattopadhyay, condemned to hanging by death, was printed day after day for the voyeuristic consumption of the worst kind.

Pinky’s case, sans the sensationalism and rape allegation, is a heart-breaking one. It has been set up in public discourse as if her physiology and bodily features, however it is, is somehow criminal. This is the worst kind of profiling, making us indistinguishable from societal systems which publicly stone rape victims for adultery.

Bengali, English and Hindi media – among those I could review, fared sordidly, selling sex and gender ambiguity by sensationalizing any hint of difference on this issue. As a society, we were indulging in criminalizing sexual marginality and having a good laugh at the same time with friends – wholesome family entertainment for respectable people.

But every time this laugh was happening, every time this was being discussed in the public square, in homes- those among us who identify as anything but normative genders, were squirming. They were being made to feel unwelcome, just by dint of their being, ‘sexually deviant’ potential sexual predators in waiting. And those among us who daily derive ingredients for masturbatory fantasies by reading accounts of specific circumstantial details of rapes that papers produce expressly for that purpose, will go on to rise another morning as respectable people, to judge other people again. Do we have no shame or fear of gods?

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Filed under Army / police, Bengal, Eros, Media, Our underbellies, Rights, Sex

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

A matter of roads – elite panaceas and encroached commons : Emerging urban dystopias in the Subcontinent / Hope in jaywalkers

[ Himal SouthAsian Jan 2011; The Daily Star (Dhaka) Dec 4 2010; The Daily Mirror ( Colombo) Jan 4 2011; Down to Earth, 15 Oct 2013]

“ I have been to Houston and other American cities. Europe too. Traffic is fast. People wait for the traffic signal to walk. They are so disciplined.There are few people walking anyways. When will Kolkata become like that? Possibly never. Not with people like this. Not with so many people.They are not fit for a modern city.”

There is a certain angst at play when some look at Western cities and then look at cities of the subcontinent like Kolkata or Dhaka, only to sigh deeply (I exclude ‘planned’ dystopias like New Delhi from this discussion as they represent the defanging of the people at a very different level. I write about cities where there is still hope and obstinacy). Slow traffic, roads  of inadequate width, people on the streets, non-observance of traffic rules are cited as major reasons. Add to that rickshaws and bicycles – and  Paris like traffic looks like a perfectly unattainable dream. At this point, the nature of the voiced solutions should be predictable – widening of roads in the city but not tearing down middle-class homes, getting people off the streets by tightening and enforcing traffic rules and possibly, keeping rickshaws and bicycles off the busier areas. If some are already mentally nodding in agreement by now, there is something deeply troubling about the nature of imagination of our city we have, including the idea of urban citizenship, who is included in that imagination, who is not, who is the city for.

Among the upwardly mobile in the cities of the Subcontinent as elsewhere in the Southern World, there is an evolving homogenizing vision of what the future of global urbanity should look like – who is included, who is not. This vision has been long in the making , expressed privately in frustration at drawing rooms – now this progressively exclusive vision has the confidence of being forthright about itself, under the garb of urban  development  in the new century.

As a counter-force to this restrictive idea of urban citizenship,  one might ask, who  does the city really belong to?  And whether one likes it, cringes at it, celebrates it or wants them gone – some facts are worth mentioning. At least 40% of the population megalopolises of India like Kolkata and at least 50% of Dhaka live in slums (bostee). Slums are not only the underbelly of a city, they are a living critique of the dominant socio-political order of the sun-lit city. Hence the question of roads and traffic and the typical set of wants and frustrations that the elites express about the city is really another extended stage where the contestation of the question of ownership of the city is acted out. In such a contest, there really is a more plural view of the city from one side as opposed to a restrictive view – no slum ever dares or imagines that it will gobble up the quarters of the perfumed. The city that the slum and the lower middle-class imagines necessarily includes those who want to see the slums gone from the city and the jaywalkers gone from the street. The dominant urban vision has no time or imagination for such plurality in vision. The city that the perfumed classes of the Subcontinent want almost never looks like the city they live in. Many are ashamed of it. I grew up and lived in Chetla – a locality in Kolkata that is not really throbbing , in short, not ‘posh’. Some of the unfortunate ‘posh’ people who lived there used to say they lived ‘near New Alipore’ – New Alipore being a ‘posh’ area where much fewer people wearing lungi and brushing their teeth in the morning on the street could be found.This has interesting implications about how adjusted one is to reality in its full import. I wonder what some of these maladjusted would have thought about their great-grand father from the village, garu (water carrying vessel)  in hand, crossing a meadow in the morning to defaecate in the field but that is another question.

Given this, in contemporary times, the thrusts towards “cleaning-up” the cities and its streets have something holy at its core – distributive injustice. The city’s commons belong to everyone and so do its streets. The streets being common property to be used for transport, it deems fit that the proportion of a metalled road to footpath or side-walk in a given street should be commensurate with the nature of use. The proportion of people using the footpath to the proportion of people on cars on the streets are a good indicator of how common transport-intended land is to be divided in general , with adjustment space for specific situations. But has anyone every heard of footpath widening as opposed to road-widening ? What is especially ironic is how the shrinking , unmaintained footpath has become lower priority in the urban development discourse – this development is really a staking out of territory for some, the nature of thrust showing who is in charge. Footpaths are fast becoming in the mind of the upwardly mobile what government hospitals have already become to them – places they do not go to and hence they do not care about. Given its restrictive view of the urban future, the group wants to mark out a city for its own, within the city.This progressive loss of free walking space and the sophisticated and exclusionary plans of “urban development” represents this thrust to mark out a city for people-like-them, with ‘cleaner’ habits, ‘orderly’ manners and ‘refined’ sensibilities. There is an barely implicit collective will, laced with power and interest, and when those things combine, there surely is a way. The arc of that way, bends sharply towards to the interests of the new mandarins of the city- in whose vision, an increasing proportion of the city dwellers are quasi-traspassers.

In a situation where much of the city is considered trespassers to be avoided and given the stupendous majority of the city being formed by such ‘quasi-trespassers’, one sees the perfumed classes conjuring up a feeling of being besieged and finding ‘order’ and ‘security’ in that spectacular physical expression of this maladjustment to the living ecology of a city – the gated communities. An entire generation is growing up with limited or no consciousness of the bostee, jhupri, khalpar and rail-line jhupris and udbastu ( refugee) colonies. This lack of consciousness is not because they do not exist in the city, but the elites have now managed to carve off a sterilized existence where much of the city dare not show itself. Gated communities are also gates in the mind. All this would not have mattered if these elites were not disproportionately influential in conceiving the future of the whole city and not only their gated communities. Although these people have their gated communities, to much gritting of  teeth, there are not many gated roads – at least, not yet.

By top-down orders, increasing number of streets in Kolkata have seen bicycles being banned from plying on certain streets and consequent harassment of the bicyclists. Something is to be said of this ‘sanitization’ of streets of non-motorized transport. Given that the perfumed ones inhabit the same earth ( if not the same world) as those who smell from armpits, the central question of a sustainable ecological future is not really irrelevant to the future of our cities. Cornel West says that justice is what love looks like in public. In the context of urban resource allocation, distributive justice has to come from love of the city and all its people. This includes the rights of the pedestrian, the thhelawala ( cart-plyer), the bicylist and also the motorized. In case of the motorized, the question of passenger density is conceivably at the heart of the ecological question. With criminalizing non-motor transport and encouraging the rapid expansion of low passenger density private four-wheeler transport – the policy-makers show which world they belong to. They sadly, still belong to the same earth as before.

This brings us to jay-walking.The men and women behind the wheels hate these people- uncouth, running across streets, everywhere. They just keep on coming, running, getting into buses and now, horrendously, into underground railways too. And so there are calls for tightening traffic rules with more punitive fines and calls for more vigilant and numerous traffic police.In the absence of gated streets, at least one can ensure a semblance of that by keeping “jaywalkers” out of the streets. These filthy impediments of the city are partly what go into making the idea of a ‘long-drive’ so inherently appealing for some of the scions of the elite.And of course they also love the greenery in Amazon rain-forests as shown in the National Geographic channel. Some of them have also worn wrist-bands to “Save the Tiger”.

The traffic police make half-hearted attempts to control jay-walking. They recruit from schools with poorer children who spend days volunteering at busy traffic intersections of the city. A gaudy T-shirt from the Traffic Department, a badge of false-self importance saying “Traffic volunteer”, some stale snacks in a packet to take home – we have all seen them. The “Save the Tiger”s have better things to do – studying harder for engineering entrance, now that more seats are ‘reserved’. But the effort is bound to fail – the the hapless homeguard doubling up as traffic police, the child in the gaudy T shirt, their fathers, mothers, uncles, brothers, sisters are right there, right then, somewhere, on some other intersection, jay-walking across the street, holding up progress of fast traffic and smooth urbanity, crossing on to the other side, living to fight another day. No wonder the volunteers and their minders do not push hard, beyond a point. There is the rub- it is not a question of who is jaywalking the streets. Rather it is a mixture of contending ideas of who the city belongs to, of predictable eyesores counter-posed with the want of Paris and Singapores in Kolkata and Dhaka – the stuff of fantasies of resident non-Indians, as Ashis Nandy might put it.

But the jay-walkers keep on walking.The urban-industrial vision of the elites is a totalizing one-it brooks no dissent. It is distinctly irked by every interstice that is unfilled – it deems that as a nuisance at best and a law and order problem at worst. In our cities of ever decreasing interstices, of all crevices having been accounted for by census and survey, watched ever sternly by law, every such act of daily risk-taking, in that act of brisk jay walking restores a measure of dignity to vaunted idea of the city’s commons. In this act, they are joined by ‘other Wests’, like those espoused by the Reclaim the Streets (RTS) collective’s non-violent direct action street reclaiming and those that inspire the massive motor-traffic jamming bicycle-rides of Critical Mass.

I have a feeling that it is in those jay-walkers and in their haphazard trajectories, in their at-times-hesitant-at-times-wanton disregard of the impatiently honking Hyundai Santro, in their collective stoppage of a small fleet of Boleros, Marutis and Indicas to cross the street just in time even though the state has given a green-light, lie the multiple trajectories to plural, open and just futures for our beloved cities.

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Hating Mayawati’s statues – a story of false concerns and true fears – an inquiry into the elite mind

( Himal SouthAsian , Aug 2009)

Mayawati, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and unquestionably the most popular living Dalit leader of India is at the center of a controversy. She is building immense statues to Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, Manyavar Kanshi Ram and to herself and in the process generating much resentment among the English-speaking public as well as her political adversaries.

Figures ranging from Rs. 1000-2000 crore have said to have been allocated towards these constructions and have resulted in a veritable outrage among certain sections of the society. Who is outraged and who is not, why the outrage and what does that tell us about the outraged?

Preliminarily, one must hear how the outrage is being verbalized and take a close look into those allegations. The outrage is expressed along primarily has three lines – firstly, that public funds could be better utilized for development work, second, the sheer impropriety of erecting statues to oneself during one’s lifetime and third, that this does nothing for the Dalits whose cause Mayawati professes to espouse.

1. Better utlization of public funds?

There is something disingenuous when it is said that the money could be spent on improving health-care facilities, sanitation, water and what not. What is unsaid is that the money comes from the budget of the various ministries which have nothing to do with health or education or sanitation, the department of culture being a major one. These are pre-set budgetary provisions.

But there is something more to be said. The charge of squandering public money is looked upon as a non-casteist charge and by bringing it up, prejudices and animosities which may otherwise have casteist origins can be sanctified and presented in public discourse. What predictably escapes from scrutiny are the plethora of such expenses done over the years and even now in a country as poor as India – the upkeep of Rashtrapati Bhavan ( a 340 room residence – the world’s largest residence for a Head of State) and other Governor Houses, the banquets in the governmental charmed circles, the lavish welcome to foreign heads of state, the “traditions” of the armed forces like musical bands and polo clubs – the list is long and expressing it loudly is tantamount to bringing down the prestige of the nation – indeed the same nation which has the world’s largest number of hungry humans and an infant mortality rate of utter shame.

Clubbed together, they possibly form the political and economic equivalent of building 5000 such statues a year. One wonders whether the same shrill voices would have been as shrill if Mayawati had ordered the construction of the statues of deceased prime-ministers and presidents of India. Also, the sudden obsession of the chatterati which invariably are high caste circles, with the absence of proper sanitation facilities or the high maternal mortality rate in Uttar Pradesh is amusing. This new-found concern possibly has a useful parallel in the sudden spurt of detailed universal primary education plans coming from high caste think tanks during the protests against the recent increase of caste-based reservations in higher education.

2. Mayawati the megalomaniac – Where’s the propriety?

Megalomania is possibly more common than we think or admit – just that most of us do not have the resources or public acceptability to go about it. In the past, building statues and other structures to oneself, has often been practiced by the rulers in India. The kings of India have done this – Britishers have gone on to name entire cities and islands after living monarchs and other white men. As it turns out, Shravan Prajapati, the sculptor of the statues also has sculpted a commissioned statue of Margaret Thatcher, very alive and kicking.

While, to some of us, a change in epoch has taken place, one must remember the peculiar obsession of what befits the “modern times” or the twentieth ( now twenty first) century is not shared across the populace of India. This is especially true for the Dalits and other oppressed and marginalized communities and it is time one admits that the grappling with modernity which so permeates our popular discourse is, at the end of the day, primarily a higher caste phenomenon – which interestingly also makes it a minority phenomenon, the higher castes being a minority of the Indian population.

This means that there is the possibility of a majority vision of public propriety which may be very different from what higher castes are comfortable with. This is something that higher castes by and large do not allow for the possibility of – hegemonic groups pre-suppose that their vision of the world is an all encompassing vision of the world with them at the centre. Anything else, which dislodges them from the centre and throws open different public standards to be as valid as long as they are backed by other peoples, is dangerous – for then ethos, practices, moralities and standards suddenly start seeming less providential and timeless, more open to multiple interventions and hence more democratic – an institution towards which hegemonic minorities tend to have a distrust.

Having said this, one also has to note the deep hypocrisy in the propriety argument. Both Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Panditain Indira Gandhi were made the Bharat Ratna when they were prime ministers. I am not judging these acts but can only say that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Of course, technically they did not nominate themselves Bharat Ratnas – but were bestowed the honour on behalf of the “people of India” by the Office of the President. But that is a game two can play at. Mayawati has publicly said that her own statues were not built out of her own accord but was a publicly stated wish of Kanshi Ram. Moreover, most of her statues have been inaugurated by the minister of urban planning Nasimuddin Siddiqui with budgetary provisions not coming from ministries whose portfolios she holds.

As much as the elite would like to claim that we are Indians first before we are Dalits or Kshatriyas, some facts stand out starkly. The first Dalit Bharat Ratna was bestowed on Babasaheb Ambedkar as late as 1990, only under V.P.Singh’s Rashtriya Morcha government which rode to power on twin prongs of anti-Congressism and caste-identity politics. What is clear is that if the backward castes have to wait for the recognition of their heroes as heroes of India, they would be waiting a long time. Since 1990, no other backward caste icon has been deemed a ‘ratna’ enough for Bharat. Such a myth of unity backed by a scheme of inclusiveness which is more like an inverted pyramid is clearly unstable. Sooner or later, someone had to walk out and make their own pyramid – Mayawati in her political astuteness is doing just that.

The sheer lack of Dalit icons in the urban Indian public pantheon is not an accident – nor does the space lack icons. Ishwar Chandra Bandopadhyay is one such icon. He struggled for the legalization of widow remarriage in India and lobbied the British rulers for this. He is truly a pioneer.

But thereafter the story gets complicated. The question is, pioneer for whom? As it turns out, pioneer essentially for forward caste Hindus among whom widow remarriage was virtually absent and was an ominous taboo. This was not the case with many backward castes and indigenous peoples of India among whom widow remarriage was nothing new. Then what does the valorization tell us in addition to Ishwar Chandra’s greatness? It is also tells about the near invisibility and irrelevance of the lives of much of India’s peoples in setting the content of public discourse of India, dominated by the higher castes.

In some ways, this is akin to Columbus’s “discovery” of America – what is unsaid is that it really was the arrival of Spaniards to a land where many people had lived and thrived. One can think that world is what one determines it to be – unfortunately for some, deepening of democracy has the subversive potential of rudely interrupting such daydreams. Such interruptions are never pleasant especially when they threaten to be a opening shots of a long series of interruptions that might unravel the world of the forward castes as they know it where a Kshatriya engineer sues a Brahmin doctor in the court of law of a Kayastha judge. The arrival of people whose grandmothers sung them different lullabies, lullabies born out of the night soil, may break the party. And there is the rub.

Mayawati is possibly no more demagogic as a leader of the Dalits as most other “leaders of India” have been.It is the alien-ness of her political culture which appeard to be crude to the forward castes. For those Indians who have been fed on a steady diet of some form of the ideological spectrum of Mill-Hume-Smith-Hegel-Marx and have lamented at the absence of evolution of indigenous political thought with the exception of certain icons of the elite , unfortunately, have a narrow view of what constitutes political thought. In a human existence, where much of politics is among the non-reader of books, the evolution of political thought also has multiple trajectories- some inaccessible to the book reader, however odd that might sound.Every time the forward caste revenue collector of a forward caste zamindar came, when the backward caste menfolk of a village ran away to hide behind tall grass to escape the immediate oppressors – theories of the nature of power developed. Schools of political thoughts have developed as dalits and tribals have huddled in fright at being displaced at the bulldozers of a mining company protected by state forces. Theories of human dignity and humiliation developed when bhangis scoured the faeces of forward caste toilets by their right hand – just like forward castes have never really known how it is to touch faeces with their right hand, in the same way, there is a near total non-access to the reasons why in a NDTV-GfK Mode survey, 62% of Dalits around Lucknow support the installations of the statues of Mayawati.The Ambedkar Park project in Lucknow has a water body called the Bhim Ganga ( named after Bhimrao Ambedkar). Dalit men and women have often collected water from the Bhim Ganga considering it holy.

That tells us something important – that in this supposed aged of all-encompassing modernity, myths and indeed gods are coming to life just as they always have.This world of animation almost completes eludes the chattering classes to whom India’s diverse peoples are almost an embarrassment in a supposedly global village where everyone is supposed to understand that Mocha is a kind of coffee.

3. The statues do nothing for the uplift of Dalits

Mayawati has tried to project herself as a Messiah of the Dalits – this she is not, arguably. And not so long ago, comparisons were being made in India with the other messianic figure of these times, US President Barack Obama. While it has been argued publicly by the chatterati that Mayawati is no Obama for she is too confrontational and lacks a unifying vision (and privately, her ‘unpresentability’ at international forums), something else needs to mentioned.

Obama’s political idiom is one of a supposedly already post-racist America, that is, one of white America’s sin atonement vision, for cheap. Jesse Jackson,who was also mainstream but slightly edgy and not as colorblind as Obama could never have calmed the nerves of the liberal establishment like the way Mr.Cool has.

Mayawati, on the other hand, sells no such fiction. She does not talk of a post-casteist society – in fact the real and present caste-ridden society is her political capital. But she had been stressing compact before contradiction, possibly too soon, and it is in that, she does disservice to her Dalit base as activists like Prakash Ambedkar would argue. This does not take away the very real sense of dignity some of the Dalits have been armed with. Dalits from South India have visited the Ambedkar Park and the various statues and could conceivably become an alternative pilgrimage for some Dalits.

Finally, we still need to dissect the discomfiture of the elites with Mayawati’s statues building at a very raw, getting under the skin level. Mayawati with her ilk, who play by different rules may not have imbibed the refined art of covert aggrandizement. It is too much in the open – the big golden ear-rings she wears, the huge birthday cake she cuts with toadies looking on – is too easy to condemn. But at one level, it is understood that this flamboyance does not follow the idioms the mandarins of elite Indian society are used to – she doesnt go playing golf or drinking Johnny Walker Blue Label with public money – she makes her and her mentor’s statues. The acceptable methods and the range of permissible display of helping oneself with public money has been normalized and well worked out for other groups and sectors which have been in power for much longer periods of time – in some cases, centuries. The new interloper either hasnt learnt that yet or has a different game to play- in both cases, she poses a danger to the models of silent theft, and more broadly to the upper caste consensus of how political life is organized.

No one should under-estimate the power of co-option – Laldenga and Shibu Soren are great examples of how iconic leaders can be reduced to ghosts of their earlier selves. But for now, every cringe about her from the Indian elites is being shrewdly crafted by her into a new medal of pro-Dalit credentials, which of late had been tainted by her increasing overtures to ‘Manuvadis’.

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How Chhattisgarh shames “us” – memories, nightmares and dark underbellies

( Himal SouthAsian , Nov 2009 – Web Exclusive )
“As a person born and brought up in Bastar I have been studying the recent happenings in this district with deep concern and I have come to the conclusion that in the long drawn out battle of nerves between the Government and you-know-who, the obvious casualty is the poor Adivasi, who has been constantly ignored and misunderstood.The Government has completely failed in understanding the sentiments of the people of this region. Economically depressed, and perpetually exploited by the urban settlers, these tribals are easy prey to the corrupt and high-handed administrative and police machinery.As a result a permanent wedge has been driven between them and the Government. Community development schemes and tribal welfare departments of doubtful utility will not save the situation” – reads a letter by a certain S.R.Naidu to the editor of a weekly magazine . Of late, most of us have heard similar views which seek to paint the state as a corrupt force, ruling by police intervention in Chhattisgarh. Such writers dont want to understand that development schemes take time to show effect and deep down harbour a sympathy for the Maoists – right? Wrong.Do you really know who S.R.Naidu was talking about? It was Prabir Chandra BhanjDeo, local MLA and ex-ruler of the area.The letter was published on 6th May in NOW – a political and cultural weekly.That was 1966.

Let us look into the thoughts that rushed through our heads and the conclusions we made, before we were told it was 1966.Does tell us something about the automatic consumers of packaged “information” and viewpoints we have become, when certain buttons are pressed.None of this is new – not the packaging nor the consumption. Yes, it was 1966.Naxalbari was still an unknown village in Darjeeling district.There were no armed Maoists in India then.In the 1967 general elections, in Bastar, the Congress came 5th after 2 independents (including the winner), Jan Sangh and the Samyukta Socialist Party candidates.Times change. Or do they?

In 1967, 40% of the 20 million babies born in India each year were projected to eventually suffer some degree of brain damage.The International Food Policy Research Institute in its 2008 India State Hunger Index classified the state of hunger in Chhattisgarh as “alarming”.The best performance came from Punjab, classified as “serious”, a notch better.An Indira Congress minister admitted to the Time magazine in an interview in 1967 “we are producing millions of subhumans annually”.The minister’s name was Chidambaram.He died in 2000.Times change.

Some of the subhuman babies of 1967 are 38 years old now.What creatures have they developed into? Some of them inhabit Chhattisgarh.According to the much-denounced Arjun Sengupta commission report, in 2004-05, a total of 836 million (77% of the population) lived on below Rs. 20 a day.To people like us, caught between 20-20 , Sensex  and MacAloo Tikki, these numbers come as anti-national conspiracies to denigrate the emerging giant that is India.What image are we projecting to the world – we ask detractors. Shouldnt we be united in this hour of initiation at the big table ? We are preoccupied with what the world thinks of us.I wonder what do those millions of subhumans think of us – what do they think of our cafes, our news anchors, our “sufi” music , our engineering colleges, our BPO “revolution”, our Dial-a-pizza.When the sun goes down in Chhattisgarh tonight, with one of the subhuman women, after having loved a subhuman man and potentially aggravated the “population problem”, tries to close her eyes in sleep – what does she see. Does she dream that a four-lane highway come to her village? Are there cars on those roads? Is that me at the steering wheel of one of those cars? or is that you? How do we appear to these creatures in their dreams and nightmares – do we look human?

Abujhmad for Gonds of Chhattisgarh is the unknown forest.It is the universe of the Madia Gonds which holds within itself chronicles, snake-bites , culture and much more.And this is true for much of Madia-desh.91 percent of the Madia Gonds lived below poverty line in 1997-98.These are the people of whom Verrier Elwin wrote “These are the real swadeshi products of India, in whose presence all others are foreign. These are ancient people with moral rights and claims thousands of years old.” Our cities are expanding – our gated communities need iron gates and wrought iron furniture is all rage.Our eyeing of their land and the iron-ore beneath them is not new – their eyeing us back is not new either.They have been there since the Iron Age.They are not “innocent” tribals – they have never been.No human is.Am I? Are you? But their lack of innocence is a different one. Those of us, in the sun-lit megalopolis, who learn the past from history books, with worlds as broad as TV channels, feel distinctly uneasy about all this talk of moral rights and thousand year old claims.We know our high cholesterol and lack of exercise epidemics.And there are the overworked anaemic Gonds. The possibility of a connection is bound to be distinctly unpalatable. I might even change the channel.

Godless ideologues of the Maoist variety , who possibly imagine the ghotuls as future Red-Guard commmunes , are now arming the Gonds for their own violent ideological ends – pawns in their  macabre “revolutionary” game. But what paths have we left for Gonds – we, who think that an armed Gond is unnatural but a hungry Gond is natural.What happens when all that constitutes a  people’s dignity – Gods, pasts, grandmother’s tales, stubbornness, honour, ghotul, groves, hills -are sold off ? Should they apply for a stay-order, through proper channel, in triplicate?Himanshu Kumar, a Gandhian if there was one, says with a sad rage “For how long will middle class ‘bhadralok’ remain silent spectators to State’s colonization of tribal territory to subsidize urban growth in the name of ‘tribal development‘ ? ” It does not portend well for our democratic society.

During a showing of his documentary on the Narmada Bachao Andolan, film-maker Sanjay Kak said he was possibly filming an obituary of non-violent struggles in India. Is Himanshu Kumar a voice in the wilderness? Have we finally accomplished what Nathuram Godse tried to do? In 1966, Prabir Chandra BhanjDeo lead the Bastar Gonds into a non-violent struggle for famine relief and cheaper rice against the Madhya Pradesh government.The government declared he was insane and finally shot him dead at his home along with many of his supporters when the Gonds had come to greet him during dusshera.Gonds still rever his memory and were recently dispersed by force at his memorial day.That is how that story ended.I shudder at what new story ideas our collective greed is coming up with. We have no shame.

“The struggle against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”  – Milan Kundera

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