Category Archives: Terror

ডাক্তার ও মেরুদন্ড

ডাক্তারের অন্যতম কাজ রোগ নির্ণয়। কিন্তু এসএসকেএম হাসপাতাল-এ গত বেশ কয়দিন যাবৎ যে প্রহসন চলল, তাকে রোগ ‘আবিষ্কার’ বলা যেতে পারে। কিন্তু অচেনা ভুতের ভয় ছাড়া অন্য কোন রোগ আবিষ্কৃত হলো না। ডাক্তারবাবুরা কিন্তু যথাসাধ্য চেষ্টা করেছিলেন। খুব চেষ্টা করেছিলেন। কি হতো যদি প্রথম দিনেই দেওয়া হত ‘ফিট’ সার্টিফিকেট? কি হারাতেন তারা? সরকারী চাকরি যা কিনা হারানোর কোন ভয় নেই – মাসে লাখটাকার অনেক বেশি মাইনে। মনুষ্যরুপী দেবতা ইমেজটা তার সাথে একদম ফ্রী। কি হারাতেন তারা যদি তারা বলতেন সূর্য্য পূব দিকে ওঠে , অথবা, যদি জানিয়ে দিতেন যে পৃথিবী সুর্য্যকে প্রদক্ষিণ করে ? একটা জেলা শহরে ট্রান্সফার, খুব বেশি হলে। বঙ্গবাসীর চরম দুর্ভাগ্য যে কোন এক সুদূর অতীতের পাড়ার মেধাবী ছাত্র জেলার গর্ব বাপমায়ের আশাভরসা এককালে মাধ্যমিক-উচ্চমাধ্যমিক-ডাক্তারি প্রবেশিকা-ডাক্তারি পরীক্ষা সবেতে ভালো ভাবে পাশ দিয়ে অভিজ্ঞতায় নুব্জ হওয়া রত্নদের মধ্যে ‘রাজা তোর কাপড় কোথায়’ বলার মত একটিও মানুষ পাওয়া গেল না মেডিকেল বোর্ড-এ। অথচ মালিন্গেড়িং বা রোগের নাটক করাকে কি ভাবে ধরতে হয়, তার শিক্ষা তো এমবিবিএস করার সময়েই দেওয়া হয়। এনারাই তো সংবাদমাধ্যম এড়িয়ে টুক করে গাড়িতে উঠলেন। ড্রাইভার গাড়ি নিয়ে হুশ করে বেরোলেন। চেম্বার সেরে বাড়ি ঢুকলেন। হয়ত সন্তানের সাথে চোখাচোখি হলো। সে মুহুর্তে আগামী প্রজন্মের চোখে ছোট হলেন না বড় হলেন নাকি বুদ্ধি খাটিয়ে শাক দিয়ে মাছ ঢাকলেন , ম্যানেজ দিলেন। হয়তো মনে হলো, কেউ জানতে পারল না। যে মা মুখ দেখলে বুঝে ফেলতেন মিথ্যা বলছেন কিনা, তিনি তো কবেই চোখ বুজেছেন। আর কোন সাক্ষী নেই, আয়না নেই। সভ্যতা ভুলে গেছে, মেরুদন্ডি প্রাণীর উদাহরণে একদিন কি বিপুল জনপ্রিয়তা ছিল মানুষের। কোন পাঠক মনে করাবেন কবির নামটা?

সত্যই কি কেউ জানতে পারল না? এই তো সেদিন অবধি মেডিকেল কলেজে ছাত্রাবস্থায় বন্দেমাতরম জয়ধ্বনী দিয়ে ছাত্রপরিষদ করছিলেন – সরকারী গান্ধীবাদের। কাজে ঢুকে হয়ে গেলেন এইচএসডি – কমরেডি কৃপা ও সান্নিধ্যের লোভে । আজকে পরিবর্তনের যুগে ‘প্রগ্রেসিভ ডক্টর’-এর অগুরু আতর গায় লাগিয়ে আবার সেটিং করে নিয়েছেন, কালকে পদ্মপাতায় নজনের মধ্যে জায়গা হবে কিনা, তার হিসেব ও করছেন আজকাল একটু-আধটু। ছাতা-জার্সি সব বদলেছেন ভয়ে ভয়ে – কখনো প্রোবেশন, কখনো প্রমোশন, কখনো ট্রান্সফার, কখনো উচ্চাকাঙ্খা, কখনো ভিজিলেন্স। খবরটা এবেলা জানিয়ে রাখি – আপনার বিশ্বরূপের সাক্ষী আছে। সেই অন্তরাত্মার মালিক সাক্ষী, এই দিন দুনিয়ার মালিক সাক্ষী, মা দূর্গা-মনসা-চন্ডি-শীতলা সাক্ষী, ধর্মঠাকুর সাক্ষী, নার্স দিদি সাক্ষী, গ্রুপ-ডি ষ্টাফ সাক্ষী, এমনকি আপনার পোষা ড্রাইভার-ও সাক্ষী – অধঃস্তন বলে সামনে কিছু বলে না। দেবতারা ডাক্তারদের খুব ভালবাসেন। নইলে প্রতিদিন পূর্বের পাপস্খালনের এত নিত্য-নৈমিত্তিক সুযোগ তৈরী করে দিতেন না তারা। ভাবেন তারা উপরে বসে ‘এবার তো সুযোগটা নে, কালি মোছ।’ দয়াময় সুযোগের পর সুযোগ দ্যান – আর সুযোগগুলি দিনের শেষে শুকিয়ে যায় উচ্ছিষ্ট ভাতের মতো। আরো টেস্ট করা দরকার – হৃদয়, মল, মুত্র। কিছু একটা পেতেই হবে, অথবা দেখাতে হবে যে পাবার আপ্রাণ চেষ্টা করছি। সভ্যতা ভুলে গেছে, মেরুদন্ডি প্রাণীর উদাহরণে একদিন কি বিপুল জনপ্রিয়তা ছিল মানুষের।

মেরুদন্ডী গুরুর ছাত্র হয় মেরুদন্ডি। আর জার্সি-বদল ‘নির্বিবাদ’ ‘ঝামেলা এড়ানো’ গুরুর ছাত্র হয় কোরপান শাহ-এর হত্যাকারীরা। যারা মানসিক ভারসাম্যহীন মানুষটাকে অত্যাচার করে খুন করলো, তারা হত্যাকারী, তারা সংখ্যায় বেশি না , এক বাটি দুধে একটুখানি চোনা । আর যারা, তাকিয়ে তাকিয়ে দেখল – সেই সংখ্যাগুরু সোনার টুকরো প্রত্যক্ষদর্শিরা ? এদের তো বলতেও হবে না , ‘মাস্টারমশাই, আপনি কিন্তু কিছু দেখেননি’। এরা এখুনি সব দেখেও না দেখতে, সব জেনেও মুখ বন্ধ রাখতে শিখে গেছে। এরা আসছে দিনে ডাক্তারী মাষ্টারমশাই হবেন। সামনের দিনে আরো দীর্ঘায়িত হবে মেডিকেল বোর্ডের রোগ-আবিষ্কার নাটক। জার্সি-বদল হবে অহোরহ। অনেকে একই জার্সি-তে নানা পতাকার তালি লাগিয়ে কাপড় সাশ্রয় করবেন। নব যুগের ফকিরী সাজ। কারণ দেড় লাখি মাইনের ডাক্তার-ও অমেরুদন্ডি হবার কারণ হিসেবে বলেন ‘পেটের দায়’। সভ্যতা ভুলে গেছে, মেরুদন্ডি প্রাণীর উদাহরণে একদিন কি বিপুল জনপ্রিয়তা ছিল মানুষের।

একদিন ভোপাল গ্যাস দুর্ঘটনার পরে বাংলা থেকেই কত ডাক্তার ছুটে গেসলো, আরো পরে পাশে দাঁড়িয়েছিল কানোরিয়া জুট-আন্দোলনের। তাদেরই রেশ দেখা গেছে বন্যা-ত্রাণে, আইলায়ে, নন্দীগ্রামে। ৮০-র দশকে এই বাংলা থেকেই চিকিত্সক-রোগী উভয়ের কল্যাণের দাবি নিয়ে হয়েছিল ঐতিহাসিক জুনিয়র ডাক্তার আন্দোলন। পাশে দাঁড়িয়েছিল সরকারী ডাক্তারদের অদলীয় সংগঠন। লোভ, ভয় ও হুমকি দিয়ে তত্কালীন সরকার সে সংগঠন ভাঙ্গিয়ে দলদাস ডাক্তার গোষ্ঠী গড়ে তোলে। লজ্জার ইতিহাস বেশ পুরনো। দল-দাসত্বের লাভ অনেকে কড়ায়-গন্ডায় উসুল করেছেন – সল্টলেকে প্লট নিয়ে, ট্রান্সফার আটকে দশকের পর দশক কলকাতায় থেকে গিয়ে, মেরুদন্ডি ডাক্তারদের প্রমোশন আটকে, বারবার দূরে ট্রান্সফার করিয়ে। লাল পতাকাধারী কেষ্টর সুযোগ্য উত্তরসুরী হলো সাদা কেড্স পরা তেরঙ্গা বিষ্টু। আগে পেছনে ‘স্যার স্যার’ করার জাতীয় সঙ্গীত গাওয়া হয়েছে নিরবিচ্ছিন্ন ভাবে। অথচ, মেরুদন্ডি প্রাণীর উদাহরণে একদিন কি বিপুল জনপ্রিয়তা ছিল মানুষের।

এই তো সেদিন, কোরপান শাহ-এর বধ্যভূমি এনআরএস-এই সূর্য্য উঠেছিল।মিথ্যা কেসে সন্ত্রাসবাদী তকমা পাওয়া ছত্তিশগড়ের আদিবাসী স্কুল-শিক্ষিকা সোনি সোরির যোনির গভীরে পাওয়া গেল পাথরের একাধিক টুকরো ও পুলিশী অত্যাচারের অনেক চিহ্ন। ফরেন্সিক ডাক্তারের রিপোর্ট বুঝিয়ে দিলো ছত্তিশগড়ের পুলিশ-গোয়েন্দারা অপরাধী, মিথ্যাবাদী, অত্যাচারী। আজ-ও এমন শিরদাড়াওয়ালা ডাক্তার থাকতে বিভুষণের শাল দেওয়া হলো দাগী আসামিকে? শাল-এর এতই আকাল ? কোরপান হত্যার নিশ্চুপ সাক্ষীদের কেউকেউ কাল ফরেন্সিক ডাক্তার হবে। তখন যোনির মধ্যে আটকে থাকা রাষ্ট্রের প্রেম-মাখা পাথরের টুকরোর খবর থাকবে কি মেডিকেল রিপোর্ট-এ ? কালকের সোনি সোরীরা, আমার বোনেরা ভায়েরা মায়েরা থার্ড ডিগ্রীর চিহ্ন নিয়ে কোথায় যাবে? আমার যে খুব ভয় করছে।

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Filed under Army / police, বাংলা, Bengal, Terror, Under the skin

Myth of the safe scribe / The subcontinental freedom of press-oppression

[ Open Magazine, 2 May 2014 ; Dhaka Tribune, 8 May 2014 ]

On April 19th, bullets fired by ‘unknown’ gunmen injured Hamid Mir, acclaimed Pakistani journalist, columnist and political talk-show host for Geo TV. His brother alleges that Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI is behind the attack. Known to be a strong votary for democratic rule in Pakistan and consistently against religion-inspired militancy, he has never been in the good books of the intelligence establishment. The subcontinent is a dangerous place, especially for people who consistently speak truth to power. This danger can often be in the form of threat to life, especially if you are in media expressing the right thing at the right time. Since I write for daily and weekly newspapers in Pakistan, I happen to have acquaintances in Lahore and Karachi who have over time become close friends. I have met some of them. One of them is Raza Rumi.

My Pathan broadcaster friend Wajahat S Khan had introduced me to Raza Rumi. It was Raza who first welcomed the idea of me publishing in The Friday Times, the Najam Sethi–edited weekly. Raza was and still is a consulting editor with the publication. It is important to state that quite a view of my pieces published there have been quite critical of the human rights and civil liberties situation in Pakistan and I believe that the editorial team is in no small measure responsible for that. Raza has been very active in Indo-Pak peace initiatives and as the Director of the Jinnah Institute, a think-tank, has been a key participant in Track 2 dialogues of all sorts. He has an ongoing love affair with all things Delhi and especially revels in the bygone cultural space of North India that encompassed Delhi and his favourite city and hometown, Lahore. He had recently published an exquisite travelogue, Delhi by heart. I was among the people he shared his manuscript with for comments, before it was published. On March 28th, I heard that Raza had been shot at by a group of ‘unknown’ assailants. He survived. I suspect that his views, which have always been supportive of greater regional cooperation in Southasia, and especially between Pakistan and the Indian Union, are not entirely unrelated to the reasons of this attack.

After anchoring is television show, Raza Rumi was on his way to the Data Darbar shrine. That was when bullets rained on his car. His driver succumbed to the gunshots while his bodyguard was seriously wounded. For a long time, he has been one of the most vocal champions of secularism in Pakistan. He has stuck his neck out for the continued repression of the hapless religious minorities of Pakistan who have very few real supporters. Probably the most consequential stance vis-à-vis the attack on him, Raza Rumi has been one the staunchest critics of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other extremist Islamic groups that are directly opposed to his vision of a pluralist and harmonious society. Specifically, the Express Media group, for which he often writes and whose TV channel he does his show for, has been attacked five times with 3 staff members being killed in a attack earlier this year. Raza Rumi has appealed to the government to provide him security and prevent him from becoming the ‘victim of an ideology asserted with bullets and bombers’. Most TV channels in Pakistan basically underplayed the incident and conveniently reported about Srinivasan and IPL.

Now there is a feeling perpetrated by Delhi-based ‘watchers’ and other peddlers of the ‘idea of India’ that things are radically different on this of the Radcliffe, that this is some kind of a safe haven for journalists and fearless reporting. Of course, the usual exceptions apply. Local journalists in ‘disputed’ territories of the Indian Union have been paying with their life and limb for decades now. You can be beaten up with bamboo canes and dragged along the road by the Indian police and Central Reserve Police Force if you interview protesting students or take pictures that the powers-to-be don’t want being taken – as Azhar Qadri of Kashmir Tribune and Showkat Shafi, a Srinagar-based freelance photojournalist found out in painful ways. These are not exceptional events but simply illustrative. Delhi journalists who go visit often enjoy embedded junkets masquerading as reporting. As for foreign journalists who might be critical – they are simply classified as persona-non-grata and are denied entry into the Indian Union, as was the recent case with the famous American journalist David Barsamian. A closer look tells us that the threat to journalists is more widespread in the Indian Union and not only limited to separatist insurgency-hit areas.

Strangely enough or may be it is not that strange that fame works for you, in terms of protection – in terms of how long you hold out. If Raza Rumi were a local reporter in Swat or Waziristan, saying what he has been saying and also doing local reporting, we would have crossed his 10th death anniversary by now. Or he would have long left for the UK or USA. Or he would have done what most people end up doing – simply shut up, change the reported subjects, change his views, change vocation. In the Indian Union, the complicity of media is sustaining abuse of power makes the powerful in media quite safe in this sense. Far from a life threat, they might even end up as parliamentarians. But for the honest and fearless reporter on the ground, things are often very different.

Chhattisgarh ranks high in the list of areas where threat to reporters is very high. ‘unknown’ people on a motorbike shot Umesh Rajput of Nai Duniya dead near his home in Raipur. He had been receiving threats to stop doing the kind of reporting he was doing. In Dantewada, Bappi Ray of Sahara Samay was harassed after he interviewed a farmer who had been assaulted by the District Collector. Naresh Mishra of Zee TV was badly beaten and Azad Saxena and Venu Gopal were kidnapped for hours together to prevent them from reporting from the village of Tadmetla. Surpiya Sharma of Times of India also faced the denial of entry. According to Reporters Without Borders, an international media freedom-watch organization, police rammed the car of Bastar Impact editor Suresh Mahapatra and several other journalists. The disturbing commonality lies in the finger pointing at the police and government security forces as being the criminals behind these crimes. A journalist is attacked to deny the people’s right to know the truth. What might be the kind of crimes that need to be hidden away from public view that the state agencies feel that it is worth the bad-press that comes from bloodying journalists?

Chhattisgarh is not the lone bad apple, though the rot there is particularly offensive. The killing of Shehla Masood, Right To Information (RTI) activist and blogger, in Bhopal created some furore, especially in light of the fact that she had been harassed by the police for sometime. On 10 February this year, officers of the Indian Reserve Battalion at the Kangla Fort beat Arindam Chaoba Sharma of Imphal Free Press ferociously. In recent times, reports of killings and grave assaults on journalists come in from Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Karnataka – the list goes on. It extends even to the Andamans where the police have continuously harassed Denis Giles, the editor of Andaman Chronicle, ever since he broke the now-famous story of poachers and outsiders sexually exploiting Jarawa women.

At least eight murders of journalists have been reported in 2013. This was the year when the Indian Union slipped to an abysmal rank of 140 out of 179 countries in the Press Freedom Index issued by Reporters with Borders. However smug may be the claims of the power elite in terms of freedom of expression and hence, the freedom to express freely, this rank represents its worst point. As for a reality check, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe, two basket-cases in the Anglo-American worldview, do marginally better than incredible India. If this is the state of freedom of expression, a fundamental right under Article 19 of the constitution, then one should reflect very critically about what happens to this right when one drives 10 miles away from Mumbai or Delhi. If it is any consolation to a warped mind, Pakistan ranks 158 in the list. The neighbor has managed to make the power-centres unsafe too. As for India, “Criminal organizations, security forces, demonstrators and armed groups all pose a threat to India’s journalists” – the Reporters without Borders report said. In that list, the security forces are the ones that have greatest impunity. Surely the violator of liberties with the greatest impunity is the most serious threat to securing the freedom of expression of people. Raza Rumi, in a public statement, appealed to the state for protection. Where do potential victims of state agencies in India turn to?

If truths are security threats for the powers to be and security forces are engaged in curbing people’s right to know the truth, it is a sad commentary on state of the republic undergoing the world’s most elaborate exercise in representative democracy.

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মেরী কম, তেরঙ্গা বেশি

[ Ebela, 10 Oct 2014]

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

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

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

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

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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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Is this the Bangladesh we wanted? Analyzing the Hindu Population Gap (2001-2011)

[ Alal o Dulal, Apr 2014 ]

Garga Chatterjee and Naeem Mohaiemen for AoD

In October 2012, Prothom Alo published a frightening report that stated, in plain words, that over the last decade (which spans a BNP, an AL, and a Military “CTG” government), the Hindu population of Bangladesh has dropped dramatically and continuously. We at Alal O Dulal are a group of editors committed to a secular Bangladesh. At the same time, we are mindful that “secularism” has become a politically inert, and semantically complex, category, often providing cover for a political party’s other follies (the sentiment here can broadly be categorized as, “at least they are secular”).

Since the publication of the PA report, the editors of AoD have been having a series of discussions on what these numbers mean for the future of Bangladesh. We believe secularism cannot be enforced by force, certainly not through the barrel of a gun. A process of domination, subjugation, and political nullification of oppositions in order to “defend” secularism is dangerous. Instead of producing secularism as a normative, naturalized, and lasting category, it reinforces the perception (internally and externally) that secularism can only be defended by force. This, in the long term, weakens secularism.

Neither of the two main political parties (the AL or the BNP) have made secularism a priority, using it mainly at the polls as a strategy. A common perception that minorities were safer under an AL government, prevailed for a while, benefiting AL in a number of past elections. Riots instigated during the twilight of Ershad era, or the anti-Hindu backlash carried out after 2001 election victory of BNP-JI alliance, or the more recent anti-Hindu violence in 2013, are highlighted to support this view. We have done such highlighting ourselves in our past activist work (at Alal O Dulal, at Drishtipat, in the pages of Daily Star, New Age, Prothom Alo, and Dhaka Tribune). Our own personal political commitments have also been guided by a belief in secularism and therefore in opposition to parties that do not take a public secular stance. However, events of the last four decades prove that minorities have fared poorly under every government.

There is also the concern, in 2013, that our national politics has been degraded to such a degree that attacks against Hindu community may even be deployed as a “false flag” operation, giving a cover to target the opposition parties as the presumed protagonists of these attacks. It is difficult to believe such a scenario, but it is difficult to entirely ignore the troubling evidence.

Indeed, the BNP and Jamaat are usually presumed to be the protagonists of these attacks according to the media. However, the post-Shahbag/Shapla murky political landscape of Bangladesh forces us to ask ourselves uncomfortable questions. One question we have been asking ourselves is this: Since the Jamaat is currently hamstrung by the negative backlash it faces due to its role in 1971, and the BNP faces the problem of its alliance with Jamaat, who benefits at the present time from these attacks? What is the benefit to the Jamaat (or BNP) to attacking Hindu homes– a move certain to result in widespread national and international backlash against these two parties (as has happened). Recall that the 2001 attacks happened after BNP-Jamaat were solidly in power, and presumably considered themselves invincible. But the attacks of 2013 happened when that coalition was out of power and in fact on the defensive (in spite of public posturing)– the recent announcement that BNP would not undertake any long campaigns until they get the party (http://www.dhakatribune.com/politics/2014/apr/09/bnp-wants-overcome-frustration-first) shows the party acknowledging its (http://www.dhakatribune.com/politics/2014/apr/11/question-bnp%E2%80%99s-existence-ignites-debate) current weakness, and the tenuousness/controversy of its alliance with Jamaat. In this weakened scenario, why would that alliance, or its subsidiaries, carry out attacks on Hindu homes– an event that would surely create backlash and condemnation against the party?

A few newspaper reports have reported that, in at least some of the cases, ruling AL party affiliated activists were either involved in the attacks, or fomented them, or stood by while they happened . We at Alal O Dulal do not have the resources to investigate these reports further, but an independent, neutral probe body must look into these issues. These reports, mostly falling into silence since they do not match a national liberal-secular script, have reminded us that 2013 is not the same as 2001– when the BNP election victory saw widespread attacks against the Hindu community, and a (http://www.dhakatribune.com/law-amp-rights/2014/jan/24/judicial-commission-finds-bnp-jamaat-involved) probe found BNP-Jamaat involved. At that time, some AoD editors worked actively to rehabilitate victims of one such attack in the village of Annadaprashad– as members of the diaspora activist organization (https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/mukto-mona/conversations/topics/8110),Drishtipat. But in 2014, we find a complex situation where minority communities are surrounded by both hostile forces and “friends” who use them as chess pawns.

In his introduction to the investigative book, Ramu: Shamprodayik Shohingshota Shongkolon<, Barrister Barua shares how communalism is a cross-party, indeed pan-Bangladesh, phenomenon:
“In my professional life I often have to face a different kind of communalism. Instead of feeling pride in my achievements often I am made to feel embarrassed by trivial things. In 2001 when on the occasion of being inducted into the Dhaka Barristers’ Association I went to a courtesy meeting with committee, the Awami League backed Chairman, on examining my educational qualifications, commented,“I see that all your degrees are from India, so why didn’t you stay back there?”

Does the Chairman not know how many of young men from the majority religion go to India every year to obtain their degrees and how many of them choose to stay there? After almost nine years of studying in England when I returned home in 2011 and was interviewing for the post of the lawyer for Dhaka City Corporation, North and was asked exactly the same question by a teacher from Dhaka University, I realized that the country hadn’t moved ahead much from 2001, at least in terms of communal thinking.

Beside these, among the communal words that we hear or use often but pretend to not to notice are: the use of the word “Babu” to address to someone, to call someone “malaun” or “nere” (shaved head) despite deep friendship whenever we lose an argument with them. In recent times the Awami League leader Suranjit Sen has been a major victim of this sort of things. The roots of these ugly words go so deep that it is not easy to uproot them. On top, we have gotten so used to hearing these words that we are no longer shocked by them. But, in the words of Tagore, whether this acceptance is true acceptance is rather doubtful.

In my opinion the fact that there is no law regarding this is a contributing factor as to why we aren’t able to come out of this. The time has come for us to think about introducing an anti-communalism/anti-racism law in our country. In many countries of the world there are effective laws regarding this and these laws are implemented. If we had a similar law in our country that would help in increasing communal harmony. At least it would somewhat alleviate the everyday harassment that minorities have to face in the country.” (excerpt translated by Tibra Ali)
***

How gholate(murky) is our national politics that we need to consider seriously the allegation made by some newspapers, that attacks against the Hindu community may also have been deployed by the party that represents secularism, as a “false flag” operation to blame the opposition? The water is very muddy by now.

Meanwhile, the opposition BNP also continues to have a party position that is silent on support for secularism as state policy. Other than a few pro forma responses denying responsibility for these attacks, we have not seen the BNP take any strong stance for secularism. This party also uses this issue for their political advantage (no doubt some party stalwarts will take comfort from the fact that we have indicted AL equally for this issue– but again, this is simply about one party getting an advantage over another, neither party is sincere on this issue).

In this situation, where will those outside of majoritarian, Bengali, Muslim, domination-subjugation identification go for political support? They are homeless in Bangladesh.

We should also point out that, in academic discourse, “secularism” is now a vastly debated term. What it means in 2013 is not what it meant in 2001. There is a sprawling body of work and debate on this, but without delving into that, we at AoD define “secularism” as a safeguarding and guaranteeing of all non-majority communities’ political, economic, and cultural rights.

Secularism, in our view would be an embedding set of national policies which would ensure full, deep, and representative presence of such communities in all national spaces. It would foster the implementation of “affirmative action” policies that would ensure representation of these communities to counterbalance decades of under-representation and marginalization. At the same time, we caution that such policy cannot take the forms of current cynical political practice, where representation of minority communities in economic and political life is simply used as a political tool to ensure visible “loyalty”– those are policies that benefit, as with many things in our politics, party not people.

Let us take a longer view. Analysis of the Enemy Property Act (later the Vested Property Act) shows that both AL and BNP, when in power, have used this to grab minorities land. Abuse of state power to grab land from minorities, in fact, appears to be the only constant–on this issue, both major parties are on the same wavelength when it comes to grabbing minorities properties and land.

Every government has used the minorities for political gain, yet nobody has truly been on their side. In the end, no political party truly defends the rights of minorities, perhaps with the exception of small left parties who are sincere at the grassroots, but weak at national electoral level.

After the PA report, AlalODulal published the post (http://alalodulal.org/2012/10/02/hindu-2/)Final destination and quoted Afsan Chowdhury’s words. We at AoD shared his anger and shame and feel it’s appropriate to quote, again, his cuttings words: “After all the words are spent, what remains behind is the shame. We have allowed this to happen again and again (http://opinion.bdnews24.com/2012/10/01/ramu-when-shame-is-not-enough/). We didn’t need a new version of old Pakistan. Bangladesh was to be the exact opposite but thanks to inefficiency, corruption, bigotry and religious excess, we have failed to build a state we could be proud of. For us there is only disgust. On behalf of all who accept what we have said, our sincerest and humblest apology to the people who have suffered in particular and to all minorities in general.”

And of course we must nod toward the late Humayun Azad, who passed away from complications six months after he was brutally attached outside the Book Fair. He coined the phrase “Is this the Bangladesh we wanted?”

Over six months in 2013, a group of independent researchers have been looking at the data cited by Prothom Alo, from Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS). They have shared it with AlalODulal, for wider dissemination. In a web exclusive we publish those research results in excel data form (go to article end  for link, if quoting these results anywhere, please cite “AlalODulal.org”).

***

Research Summary:

1. In the 2001 census, the total Hindu population was 11,608,268. The annual population growth rate was 1.37%. According to the published research in the Prothom Alo, by 2011 the number of the Hindu population should be 13,200,000. But in BBS` 2011 census report the actual Hindu population is 12,299,940. The gap amounts to 900,060. This is the missing Hindu population.

2. The study of the Prothom Alo had one limitation. BBS adjusted its census and its 2011-data of the Hindu population in 2012 including data of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) that were assigned for the post-enumeration check and that found 3.97 percent people were left out in the first count. Now, the actual number of the Hindu population in 2011 is 12,789,113. Considering the total Hindu population in 2001 and the annual growth rate of 1.37% the predicted number in 2011 should actually be 13,337,065 people. This means that the decrease of Hindu population would change to 547,953 (instead of 900,060). The adjusted figures data from the IRC data sheet on the population change characteristics of Bangladesh between 2001 and 2011 have certain important features.

3. To discover that the decline in Hindu population is 0.5 million, instead of 0.9 million is of little comfort. This is still a very large number and confirms the worrying trend of continuous decline.

4. Even on the adjusted numbers, there is a shortfall of 0.5 million Hindus from what would be predicted using the rate of growth of population in the decade. Unless there has been some drastic and unexplainable change in Hindu fecundity rates or large-scale conversion to other faiths (both of which we consider unlikely as explanations), the reason for this shortfall has to be explored. Prima facie, this represents the net Hindu emigration out of Bangladesh in that period. The real population growth of Hindus of Bangladesh between 2001 and 2011 was 1,148,769 (using the adjusted figures). The gap between predicted growth and actual growth is 547,953.

5. Assuming that the 1.37% annual growth in Hindu population did happen (dismissing drastic fecundity /death rate/life expectancy/conversion explanations), something around 547,953 Hindu individuals of Bangladesh origin exist, somewhere in the world. To make sense of these numbers in some other way, we can state that in the 2001-2011 decade, for 1696721 new individuals added to the Hindu population, 547,953 have left the country. That is about 1 person leaving the country for every 3 persons newly added. This is a shocking statistic.

6. Family planning depends on the long-term plans of the family – which also includes the stability of their present state, including stability of homestead and source of income. While we think that low birth-rates cannot explain a deficit as large as 547,953, it is well known that a sense of security and long-term stability affects birth-rates in a community. For example, the birth-rates of Kashmiri Pandits, after their displacement from the Kashmir valley, have taken a drastic hit. Numerous studies document this.(http://www.hardnewsmedia.com/2009/03/2679 ). It is not improbable that a small proportion of the ‘missing Hindus’ were not actually born.

7. What is the geographical distribution of the deficit and does that tell us anything? Some districts have actually registered a net decrease in Hindu population in the 2001 to 2011 period. There are 9 such districts. Most of these 9 districts form a near-contiguous belt – Bhola, Barisal, Jhalokathi, Pirojpur, Bagerhat, Narail, Gopalganj and then Rajbari and Manikganj. What does this strong geographical concentration of the districts actually registering a net Hindu population decrement in 10 years tell us. Some of these districts (Bhola being the most infamous example) have been sites for serious anti-Hindu attacks. It may also be useful to note that in 2001 the BNP-Jamaat won all seats in Manikganj, Bhola, Pirojpur, Jhalokathi, Barisal and Rajbari. But Gopalganj, the ultra-identified borough of Awami League is also in the list. Hence this precludes any clear explanation in terms of local party domination, though one cannot rule it out as one of the out-migration factors.

8. Studies  which also look at the volume of ‘enemy property’ in different districts in terms of number of affected families, percentage of Hindu families affected and correlating that with the percentage of Hindu population change would be useful to trying to find out the reasons behind the ‘missing Hindus’ of Bangladesh. For example, see this 2009 ( http://archive.thedailystar.net/forum/2009/february/our.htm )summary of Abul Barakat’s research. Here are some key statistics from Barakat’s research:

a) Households: 43% of all Hindu households (1.2 million) have been affected by EPA/VPA. 57% of households that lost land lost an average of 100 decimals. Survey data shows 33% of affluent Hindu families lost land due to EPA/VPA. 50% of affluent households had at least one close relative who lost land

b) Total Land: Total area of land lost is 2.01 million acres, which is 5.5% of Bangladesh’s total land mass but 45% of land owned by the Hindu community. The research shows two numbers: one is the impact on Hindu community as measured by the official land records, the second is the impact as measured by survey data. The survey data shows 22% more land loss (2.6 million acres) than official records. The type of land lost is typically agricultural, homestead, pond area, orchard, fallow land, etc.

d) Value: Assuming average market price of land as seen in the year 2007, total value of land lost is Tk. 2,416,273 million (Tk. 3,106,636 million from survey data).

e) Sale Value: Even if land is being lawfully sold, the price of Hindu-owned land is reported as Tk. 900,000 per acre, as compared to Tk. 1,500,000 for similar Muslim-owned land

f) Methods of dispossession: Influential parties grab land in connivance with Tahsil and Thana Revenue Office, Tahsil and Thana Revnue Office itself grabs land. Death and/or out-migration of one member of a Hindu family is used as excuse to enlist the whole property. Influential parties grab the land by using violence, local thugs, and forged documents. Influentials allure sharecroppers to occupy land, and then become eventual owners, etc.

g) Accompanying harassment: Harassment that accompanies land-grabbing includes obstruction in casting vote in elections, obstruction in harvesting crops, workplace intimidation, property destruction, eve-teasing, looting, robbery, obstruction in shopping, extortion, etc.

h) Political affiliation: Barakat’s research also shows that grabbers try to change their political affiliation with each change in government. We can conclude that either party affiliation is switching after change of government, or ownership is switching from one party affiliate to another.

9. For those looking to one party or another for a solution, note that this drop has happened in both AL and BNP period. Unless there is an united political push to protect minorities and to give them full rights of a citizen, neither of the two parties will be able to reverse this trend. Where would this trend lead to? This statistical analysis has some shocking pointers. As Dipen Bhattacharya wrote in an earlier op-ed for Alal O Dulal:
“Until a few years ago, I believed that even though the Hindu percentage was declining, the absolute number of the Hindu population was increasing and would continue to increase. However, the truth is <strong>bitter and it’s statistical. It seems the trend is for negative growth numbers. For the next forty years or so, we might expect to see the Hindu population drop from a high of 13 million (in 2011) to 10 million. Whether the population will plummet drastically after 2051 is a matter of speculation. But for all practical purposes, the Hindu community will stop being a major participating community in Bangladesh. If the country stabilizes its population at 250 million, then an estimate for the Hindu number for the year 2101 could be as low as 3.75 million.

Among several explanations of  the low growth rate are (i) mass exodus to India, (ii) the disruption of the family structure and (iii) the willful underestimation by the the Census Bureau. Some say the migration to India is for better economic opportunities. Even when the existing religious bonding favors the power structure, some explanations comprise “land-shortage” and “land-grabbing” as if those words could take away the inherent religious bigotry that is present. They fail to see how – without any access to the existing power system of the current Bangladesh society – vulnerable the Hindu population is. Soft and hard intimidation, extortion, threat to family structures, illegal occupation of property, and looting and burning of households and temples are sufficient to have this population scurry across the border. The Hindus migrate to India because their lives are made unbearable through various means in Bangladesh. (http://alalodulal.org/2014/01/09/statistics/)  (The Statistical Future of Bangladeshi Hindus )

Meanwhile Ali Riaz came to this conclusion in 2012:
“Take for example the issue of the dwindling Hindu population in the country. An examination of the census data of the composition of religious minorities since 1901, led me to conclude in 2004 that there is a massive out-migration of the Hindu population: about 5.3 million in the preceding 25 years. The Hindu community in Bangladesh has been weak owing to its lack of access to resources and hence has never been able to mount resistance to the institutional persecutions faced. This has left Hindus with no choice but to relocate. In 2001, for example, a large number of Hindus from three districts (Barisal, Pirojpur and Bagerhat) initially moved to the neighbouring Gopalganj district in search of a safe haven. In the absence of a potential haven nearby the persecuted Hindus decided to cross the border. The porous border between Bangladesh and West Bengal, not to mention the cultural and historical ties between these two parts of Bengal, helped the intended migrants to move to the Indian state. Some returned later, but some didn’t…

The census reports of the past 60 years show a steady decline of the Hindu population. This decline is not consistent with the population growth rate of the country. For example, the population growth rate was 3.13 percent for 1961-1974, 3.08 percent for 1974-1981; 2.20 percent for 1981-1991; 1.58 percent for 1991-2001; and roughly 1.34 percent for 2001-2011. It cannot be ascribed to low Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of the adherents of Hindu religion. Even if one takes into account that the TFR among Hindu women is estimated at 13% less (estimate is based on recent contraceptive use rates) until 1991 and 15% after 1991, the average annual growth rates of the Hindu population would have been 2.72 during 1961-1974, 2.68% during 1974-1981; 1.92% during 1981-1991; 1.34% during 1991-2001, and 1.14% during 2001-2011.

If we factor in these assumptions and reconsider the government statistics, the numbers change drastically. By 1991 the Hindu population should have reached 16.5 million as opposed to 11.16 million recorded in census data. The rate of the missing population has increased in the past two decades. The current Hindu population, 13.47 million, is far short of the number one should expect based on population growth rates. The decline of the religious minority community is matched by the increased use of Islamic icons and symbols in political rhetoric, not to mention deletion of secularism as state principle and official designation of Islam as the state religion.”

Full data, with district wise break up on Hindu and other populations and detailed tables are available at Alal o Dulal :

http://alalodulal.org/2014/04/12/hindu-population-gap/

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Filed under Bengal, Dhaka, Partition, Religion, Terror

January on Jessore Road / The besieged Hindus of Bangladesh

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

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

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

They’ve just blown around from town to town

Till they’re back out on these fields

Where they fall from my hand

Back into the dirt of this hard land”

– Bruce Springsteen, This Hard Land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

সুধাংশু যাবে না

–শামসুর রাহমান

লুণ্ঠিত মন্দির, আর অগ্নিদগ্ধ বাস্তুভিটা থেকে

একটি বিবাগী স্বর সুধাংশুকে ছুঁলো

‘আখেরে কি তুলি চলে যাবে?’ বেলা শেষে

সুধাংশু ভস্মের মাঝে খুঁজে

বেড়ায় দলিল, ভাঙা চুড়ি, সিঁদুরের স্তব্ধ কৌটা,

স্মৃতির বিক্ষিপ্ত পুঁতিমালা।

স্বর বলে, ‘লুটেরা তোমাকে জব্দ ক’রে

ফেলে আশে পাশে

তোমার জীবনে নিত্যদিন লেপ্টে থাকে

পশুর চেহারা সহ ঘাতকের ছায়া,

আতঙ্কের বাদুড় পাখার নিচে কাটাচ্ছ প্রহর,

তবু তুমি যেও না সুধাংশু।’

আকাশের নীলিমা এখনো

হয়নি ফেরারি, শুদ্ধাচারী গাছপালা

আজও সবুজের

পতাকা ওড়ায়,

ভরা নদীকোমর বাঁকায় তন্বী বেদিনীর মতো।

এ পবিত্র মাটি ছেড়ে কখনো কোথাও

পরাজিত সৈনিকের মতো

সুধাংশু যাবে না।

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

An unearthly voice vibrates in Sudhanshu

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

Sudhanshu gropes amidst cinders

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

The dog-eared scatters of manuscripts in memory.

The phantom says, ‘The plunderer has beaten you

Here and there

Your daylight clings to

An animal outline ambushed by a murderer’s mien,

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

Despite all, do not leave, oh Sudhanshu.’

The blue of this sky is yet to

Diminish, the sacred trees

Are yet flying green

Banners, the copious river

Meanders her waist like a slim snakecharmer lass.

He won’t abandon this sacred earth for elsewhere,

Unlike a retreating soldier in defeat,

Sudhanshu would forever not leave

– Shamsur Rahman

(Gargi Bhattacharya translated the poem from the Bengali original)

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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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India can learn some lessons from Boston / Unlike Indian cities, Boston cares for its residents

[ Daily News and Analysis, 21 Apr 2013 ; The Shillong Times, 23 Apr 2013 ; Echo of India, 24 Apr 2013 ; Millenium Post, 24 Apr 2013 ]

The city of Cambridge is home to both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where I work, and Harvard, where I used to be a student. I have been living here for the last 7 years or so, though the last 24 hours have been unique in many respects. After the Boston marathon bombings, there was speedy resumption of normal routine. Things got haywire from night of April 18 when a police officer of MIT was killed, in front of Stata building, across the street from my Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. The chase and hunt that followed ended about 24 hours later.

During that time, Boston, Cambridge, Watertown and a few other towns were ‘shut down’ – public transport was withdrawn, people were strongly advised to stay indoors and keep doors locked. This led to the internet and TV becoming the source of information about events that were unfolding in our vicinity. As I joined many others in the Boston area in this, I could help notice certain things that made me remember the subcontinent.

I discovered from my friends here that one could actually listen in live to the wireless messages that were being exchanged between the police teams. It was called the ‘scanner’. The messahes are broadcasted in publicly accessible frequencies. It is important to point out that this sort of listening is different from the freely viewable spectator-sport that is broadcasted by the Lok Sabha TV. The listener was incidental in this case and therein lies its value. As power seeks to control society more and more through CCTVs and other such monitoring devices, this police scanner was an odd CCTV of sorts, trained at the law-enforcers themselves. No relationship of trust can develop between people and the law enforcers without transparency. I am sure that police anywhere abuses power, but such scanners are part of that repertoire in the hands of the people that rein in such abuse a little bit. Such scanners should be publicly available in the Indian Union where people can also listen in to their own khaki on their job. Otherwise, we are left with the occasional grainy MMS to implicate one policeman beating up one woman or a policeman dragging someone by tying them to a motorcycle – thus keeping the ‘bad apple’ logic always available as an escape route for decorated cynical brutes.

MIT, like all major US universities, has an emergency alert service for students, faculty and staff. Since the initial incident had taken place at MIT, SMS alerts were sent by MIT to all subscribers periodically. Between 10-48 pm on Thursday and 9-24 pm on Friday, MIT sent 17 such updates to its subscribers and also on its website. Forget a university, in the subcontinent, do governmental authorities keep the populace updated about far more fatal scenarios? The sad bit is that this is not rocket science .The same parties which control the government use this kind of technology to woo voters before elections. It is do-able – it is simple deemed unimportant in an atmosphere of unaccountability.

Finally, after one of the suspects lay dead and the other injured suspect was in custody, the police chief and other city officials did a press conference. They mostly thanked the people of the Boston area for their cooperation and gave certain details of the situation. There was not much self-congratulation. This seemed quite ordinary until I saw another police official talking to the press on TV. A 5-year old girl had been raped, an Assistant Commissioner of Police had repeatedly slapped another girl who was protesting police inaction and another policeman had tried to bribe the 5-year old’s father to keep him mum about the rape incident. Deputy Commissioner of Police Prabhakar started in that very desi barely concealed  doublespeak method – ‘I would not like to congratulate ourselves but…’

**********

Its the night of 19th now. As per information received till now, one of the 2 suspects of the Boston marathon bombings, has died. The other suspect is wounded and been taken into custody. There were  gunfights leading  up to it. Through the day I have heard helicopter sounds above and police-car sirens. The primary theatre of  action was Watertown, a city near Boston. Boston, Cambridge, Watertown and a few other cities had been ‘locked down’ as a security-measure. This is somewhat different from a curfew. The governor Deval Patrick has requested residents to stay indoors and keep their doors locked. Public transport systems were suspended. Now that measure has been lifted.

The long string of events that started yesterday began from the evening of the Boston marathon. This marathon is a part of Boston’s urban culture – like how the Book Fair is an integral part of Kolkata’s urban culture. This is not only running a long distance. Many people running there were doing that to raise money for different kinds of charities and causes. The Laboratory where I work, has 7 members. Among us, 2 people were running that day. The proportion should give us an idea how wildly popular this is and how enmeshed this is to the city’s urban culture. Hence, after the explosion, almost as a point of defiance to terror tactics, Boston was back – walking, dancing, running, working, playing – as it generally does. This is not simply a rhetorical statement – being an outsider, if you will, I have noticed this very starkly. In the Boston marathon bombing, 3 people have died altogether and more than a hundred people were injured. Many friends of mine from Harvard and MIT went to donate blood after hearing that the hospitals were running especially low on their store of platelets. In Kolkata and Delhi, when much larger catastrophes have happened, have youths from universities and middle-classes queued up to donate blood?  I do not know.

On the night of April 18, I got an SMS alert from the MIT authorities at 10-48 pm  to stay indoors and that there had been a shooting incident near the STATA building. Incidentally, this is bang opposite to my own Lab in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. This is the incident when an MIT Police officer was fatally shot by the Boston bombing suspects. US universities have campus police who are specifically deployed in university areas – and they are different from the city police. I got the alert within 10 minutes of the incident, pointing to the promptness of the MIT emergency alert system. Periodic alerts continued in the MIT emergency website and also by SMS – at 1-20, 11-41, 12-01, 12-28, 12-37, 1-04 and 1-31. Finally, at 1-56 am, the campus was declared safe, that the suspected asailant was not on campus anymore and the staying indoors directive was lifted. These periodic alerts were important as many researchers are present working till late into the night in any major research university in the US. So this had real relevance.

Such alerts continued through the night- updating everyone associated with MIT with the situation.The main theatre of activity had shifted to Watertown by then. Like many other people, I was also glued to the news and updates, being locked in. Early on, on the 19th of April, MIT declared that it would be closed on that day. I got similar messages from Harvard and Lesley, the other two universities I have been associated with. The extent to which they took safety seriously did evoke trust and gratitude in an affiliate like me. Later in the day, MIT President Rafaek Reif sent an email message to all of us. I must mention that such alert messages do come on other days, but very rarely. In matters of security, the police had been working, at least in this case, on the basis of written law, not on the basis of ‘orders’. Recently, at the gates of the Presidency University of Kolkata, as a mob of hoodlums belonging to the ruling party vandalized the university and attacked students inside the campus, the police forces that were posted there told the Registrar that they did not have ‘orders’ to stop this. Police in India do not seem to need orders when they slap and bloody women repeatedly when they protest and ask questions about the inaction over the rape of a 5-year old.

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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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Spokespersons of darker people – a response to Vijay Prashad’s Bengal’s Slide into Fascism

[ Frontier, 13 Apr 2013; The Northeast Today, May 2013]

There is a certain way in which certain spokes-people sell ‘movements’ happening in the third world to primarily white audiences in the first world. They act as non-partisan but ideological warriors. Curiously those representing this strand from India include many from the CPI(M), the foremost among them being Vijay Prashad. A recent article by Vijay Prashad in the widely read Counterpunch is a case in point where he paints an alarming scenario about the recent happenings in West Bengal – especially with reference to the death in police custody of Sudipto Gupta, a student activist of the SFI.

Much of what is being said about the incident is true, but, to the white readers in the first world, where English language ability becomes an important point of legitimacy of viewpoint, will hardly know that this is not unprecedented and that almost all of these crimes have been previously committed by the erstwhile CPI(M) government led by the party, They will also not know that such authors also support the same CPI(M).

The article in question can be found here ( http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/04/10/bengals-slide-into-fascism/)

1.Such propaganda materials do not state that the student organization of the CPI(M), when it was in power in West Bengal, systematically decimated other organizations, mostly through organized violence or threat thereof. These readers will also not know that during the CPI(M) regime, student union elections with non-SFI candidates happened in only a minority of college of Bengal -as in most colleges, SFI did not let others even submit nomination papers for candidature.

2.While they will wax eloquent on the danger of ‘neo-liberal reforms’ in education, they will not state that the ‘neo-liberal reforms’ like privatization and auctioning of college-seats to highest bidders were started by the erstwhile govt. to which the ‘main’ one owes allegiance to – and never confronted the government on the streets like it is doing now.

3.It will also not say that fees were raised many times during the  CPI(M) government – and that SFI did not take to the streets in protest.

4.The piece does not go into the details of “tendency to yoke education to careers and to measure learning with fealty to rules developed in the North Atlantic” – since a laying out of this would show that the past and present government were not qualitatively different in this respect.

5. That police lines have advanced hundreds of times with unpleasant and bloody motives on opposition student groups during the erstwhile regime, bloodying them and there was no ‘slide into fascism’ article written then by the author.

6.The arresting of hundreds of students and throwing them into buses to transport to jail, a vivid picture that would rouse a Westerner, is also something that the erstwhile government perfected and routinely practiced on opposition student activists.

7.Unless one probes deeper, the reader will not know that Sudipto Gupta was the latest in a string of students killed by police violence – a student protesting forcible takeover of land from peasants for a car factory was killed by police beating in Singur. There was no slide into ‘fascism’ when that happened. None of the 4 ‘left’ student organizations mentioned protested that killing. Shamefully, the present Chief Minister termed Sudipto’s death an accident. More shamefully, there are no words on record on the Singur death from the erstwhile Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharyya.

8.One should not forget that there has never been a public apology on any case of custodial death of opposition activists by the police during the CPI(M) rule. Trinamul is simply continuing that shameful tradition. Between 2001 and 2010, there have been 98 government documented cases of death in police custody due to torture during the CPM rule. This data is from the National Human Rights Commission, compiled by the Asian Centre of Human Rights led by Mr.Suhas Chakma. This is a fraction of the dead and a fraction of the CPM rule.

9.Sudipto Gupta is the 93rd ‘left front’ cadre killed in recent years, but the sordid ‘score’ is not 93-0. The lack of the other number is intellectual dishonesty. Scores of opposition members have been killed during the CPM regime. Even the erstwhile CPI(M) government did not only target the right-wing opposition but also communist activists from other parties and groups.

10.In the article, Vijay Prashad refers to a ‘temple’ dedicated to the present Chief Minister and presents a picture as proof. The Bangla words sadly dont say ‘temple’ – they simply say Alipur Trinamul Youth Congress office. By that same definition, Bengal is full of ‘temples’ to Lenin, Stalin and many others. No doubt the present Chief Minister is the singular face and command of the governing party, and she also has authoritarian tendencies, but to call that a ‘temple’ is pulling a fast one.

11.The article states ‘ any state inquiry would be compromised by the culture of impunity that has begun to enfold the state’ – what he does not say is that this culture of impunity is a legacy of the last government. How many killers of opposition activists were punished during the last regime? The article does not venture there. Impunity existed and continues to exist. The novelty is not the alarming bit, the continuity is. The piece , however, knows the value of using continuity to its favor, when it remembers acts by the present CM, similar to the one meted out to her in New Delhi. Just that there is a blind -spot and an empty time of 33 years, when all of this analysis does not seem to apply.The number of opposition party offices that had been destroyed and ransacked during the erstwhile regime somehow does not figure.

12.The piece correctly alarms how offices of party-affiliated women’s organizations were attacked. The same author in a different piece in the same publication, tried very hard to absolve party activists who committed the gruesome rape, burning and murder of Tapasi Malik, a fiery young activist who was fighting against forcible acquisition of land by the party-government that the author supported. The author insinuated that her father was involved in the killing. Later CPM party activists and functionaries were arrested.There was no follow-up from the author.

Read both the original piece http://www.counterpunch.org/2007/05/23/the-political-economy-of-a-crisis/ and its counterhttp://sanhati.com/news/307/ )

13.The piece states that the media will not let this be seen in context. True. So won’t the author. That missing context is the past record. Using the evocative imagery of the Kristallnacht may be smart for communicating the ‘gravity’ to Northern world sympathizers, but that’s just about it, especially in the context that this is not the first Kristallnacht, just the latest.

Bengal’s slide into fascism did not start with the present government, and with the past record of the present opposition, may not end with it, unless honesty and repentance of past-crimes becomes an integral part of political praxis of the opposition, including the CPM. Pointing out these out will bring obvious charges of being an apologist to the present government. In the meantime, poorer nations are stuck with self-appointed spokespersons with huge blind-spots. This was not an exercise in exposing an apologist of the CPI(M). It is also to make the point that honest reporting requires full truth-telling. Partial truths discredit everyone else who is fighting for justice.

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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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Shahbag: A story of two hangings; differences in their dynamics / Shahbag live from Dhaka / Shahbag Live

[ Daily News and Analysis, 23 Feb 2013 ; Millenium Post, 21 Feb 2013 ]

It is indeed unfortunate that the name Shahbag will not evoke much response from the Indian pretenders to ‘global citizenship’. They may have heard of Tahrir Square and in their amateur glee, may have done the absurd comparison of an antic or two in Delhi and Mumbai to it. Dhaka is the city many Indians believe that ‘they’ liberated in 1971. In fact, the liberation war has not ended. It is still ongoing at Shahbag. Shahbag is one of the main street intersections of Dhaka where the events taking place as I write may have historic consequences.

Take the road that leads from Dhanmondi, Dhaka towards Nilkhet. Turn left at Science Lab and keep on walking. If you hear passionate slogans from the young and old shaking the ground beneath your feet, you have reached Shahbag. After the 1971 Liberation war of Bangladesh, the governments of the states of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh reached a tripartite agreement. One of the despicable results of this was the granting of clemency to some of the worst perpetrators of crimes against humanity in the last millennium. The few Bengali collaborators of the Pakistani occupation forces indulged in mass-murders and rapes that have few parallels in recent memory. They have never faced the judicial process, until now. The International War Crimes tribunal in Bangladesh has been pursuing some of the biggest leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Razakar, Al-Shams and Al-Badr militia – a process that has stupendous public support in that nation. One of the most hated of these characters, Kader Mollah, has been handed a life sentence and not a death sentence. This resulted in a protest assembly started by a bloggers and online activist network that was quickly joined by progressive and left-wing student organizations. The result has been an unprecedented mass assembly that has been going on continuously since February 5 with people from all walks of life joining in. People are singing, making new slogans, giving new life to old slogans which had been made into lifeless clichés, drawing giant murals on the streetside, doing multiple street theatre performances at the same time in different locations of that busy urban intersection and what not. Having been witness to the Anna protests in Delhi last summer, all I can say is that if that was warm Jacuzzi or a stove-flame (depending on your perspective), Shahbag is a veritable volcano. It was briefly called off after February 21 only to start again a day later.

As I stand in Shahbag, soaking in this immense human energy, I cannot help compare this to another such urban assembly I was recently witness to, where too, calls for hanging (something I am personally opposed to, under any circumstance) were the primary chant. These were the India Gate protests after the Delhi rape and murder case. At India Gate, Kavita Krishnan and others tried their best to inject sanity into the folks demands for death and castration. There the political was trying to reason with the expressly ‘apolitical’. Here in Shahbag, from the very outset, it was very political. However, it was not partisan. The difference showed. In Shahbag, the politicized students and youth mood that bordered on uber-nationalism was blood-lust was interrogated, at the square itself, by mass chants, that challenged simplistic understandings of nation, nationalism and revenge. The slogan ‘Tumi ke, ami ke, Bangali, Bangali’ (Who are you, who am I? Bengali, Bengali) was often changed to ‘Chakma, Marma, Bangali’ to include other ethnicities in the state of Bangladesh. The former 2 ethnic groups were involved in a long armed insurrection with the government. This is not easy, especially in a nation-state formed primarily on the basis of an exclusivist ethno-linguistic nationalism. Imagine saying the K-word or the N-word as different from ‘Indian’ in the Delhi chants. But Dhaka could, and they could precisely because Shahbag is political. The media covers Shahbag, it does not dictate it. It does not repeat the world ‘apolitical’ like a ghost-busting mantra as those in Delhi studios did as soon as the ‘Damini’ protests started. In Shahbag, it was demanded that whole organizations that were involved in rapes and murders be banned. In the Indian Union, can we even dare to name the organizations and agencies to which the highest numbers of alleged rapists are affiliated? The amateur flash-in-the-pan nature of Delhi protests showed when it was all but broken but a Lathi-charge. The brutal murder of one of the organizers of the Shahbag protests, blogger Rajeeb Haidar, only strengthened the resolve of the square. In Shahbag, the government is trying hard to appropriate the movement for justice. At the India Gate, the Delhi Police meted out instant justice of another kind. Shahbag is also a call for a different political direction – the youth wanting to resolve issues that happened before their birth. This bursts the myth that today’s young only react when things affect them directly. The hip metro youth of India, are still sadly, in a state of political infancy in this regard.

I stood mesmerized by the slogan-chanting figure of Bangladesh Chhatro Union’s Lucky Akhtar, who has now been nicknamed ‘slogankanya’ by Shahbag itself. Lucky has been hospitalized multiple times, once after being pushed by the ruling party operatives keen to take the stage. Whenever Lucky led the sloganeering, it was hard to separate the aesthetic from the political. And why should one? In this assembly for justice against crimes that also includes innumerable rapes, there were thousands who were there not as somebody’s mother, daughter or sister, but as politically inspired women. And it matters. And that showed.

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

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

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

—Allan Bloom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Harvard state of mind

[ Daily News and Analysis, 19 Nov 2012 ]

Having been associated with the Harvard University since 2006, I have attended a very many events there. On 13 November, I witnessed an event, which led to some thoughts that I would like to share. At a panel-discussion titled  “ The Supreme Court of India and the Implementation of Human Rights”, I got to hear Altamas Kabir, The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Indian Union, Swatanter Kumar, a judge of the Supreme Court of the Indian Union and Ashwani Kumar, the freshly minted Law Minister of the government at Delhi.

I arrived at the newly built Wasserstein building. There were absolutely no entry bars – precisely what a public event in a university should be like. If such an event were held in Kolkata where I grew up, the amount of frisking that would have gone on, can be imagined – apart from the self-appointed managerial positions that young and not-so-young functionaries of the local Youth Congress would have taken up. There were no flower bouquets, no thhali girls.

The event happened in a class-room with a seating capacity of 86. Not all seats were filled. Having studied in an elite college in Kolkata, I could imagine that an event like this would easily fill the huge centenary hall of the University of Calcutta. But during my 6 years (1999 -2005) in the University of Calcutta (West Bengal’s largest university), I had no opportunity to attend an event where the union law minister and more than one sitting judge of the supreme court spoke. More importantly, there was an opportunity for questions after they were done speaking. While I am individually fortunate, I come from that unfortunate stock whose ability to interact with their own minister and high functionaries of the government comes easier when they are out of their native land. In my years at Harvard, I have been in the same room with Pranab Mukherjee, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Kaushik Basu, Kapil Sibbal, Nirupama Rao and others. In my years at the University of Calcutta, I had no such opportunity. Harvard University’s own funds are about 30.7 billion US Dollars at present. This figure is close to the total GDP of Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. In 2009, the University Grants Commission of India gave about 12 crores to Burdwan University (awarded a NAAC 5-star status) as its tentative 11th plan period allocation. Such is the love for elite spaces in America in the mind of the government at Delhi that in 2008, it donated about 22 crore rupees to Harvard University. We surely have got our grant priorities right. But I digress.

I heard the minister speak. Hearing his crisp English, I remembered how many people were concerned at the possibility of Mayawati become the prime minister. The anxieties were not about policy but about public speaking and interaction skills at the global stage. As I sat hearing the minister, I realized how much like music must this accent of the minister sound to ‘global Indian’, how much his seamless comfort in suits soothes their nerves. The event had no surprises except for a brief moment when Altamas Kabir felt thirsty and reached for water that was on the table in front of him. Someone from the front-row, probably some government functionary, literally leapt to assistance without being asked, trying to get the bottle and the glass to the judge before he could get to them himself. The agile response looked oddly out of place but then most of the spectators were also from the subcontinent. They understood.

Humans from the subcontinent seem to acquire more rights and privileges and access to the eminent, when they are in some elite centre in USA. They can ask question without intermediaries. They can walk up without being stopped. However transiently, it feels like the eminent are also fellow citizen. Back in the subcontinent, this is not possible unless one belongs to a certain bubble. This is precisely why the pronouncements of the government on human rights have to be compared with the reports on the status of human rights in India, coming from the United Nations agencies and other human rights organizations. A good human rights record speaks for itself and does not need public relations acrobatics from the government. Which is why even a St.Stephenian accent is not enough to sell a positive human rights record to the AFSPA affected Manipuri youth. It is easier sold at Harvard, or so the government may think.

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Filed under Acedemia, Americas, Class, Elite, Power, Rights, Terror, The perfumed ones

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

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

You lifted one fistful of salt

And an empire was shamed.

Lift

One fistful of rubble

Now

And pour it on our shameless heads.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under A million Gods, Bengal, Faith, History, Nation, Partition, Religion, Scars, Terror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Filed under Army / police, Media, Memory, Our underbellies, Scars, Terror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Bengal, Nation, Power, Religion, Terror

Mamata’s shining moment : India versus the union

[ Daily New and Analysis, 23 Feb 2012 ]

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

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

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

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

The portrayal of the NCTC impasse as some kind of a Mamata versus Congress flavour of the week shows the degradation of the level of public discourse, especially in the television media. A supreme ignorance of the nature of the constitution and political evolution of the Union is apparent in the coverage by photogenic faces who serve inanities by the mouthful. And why not? The media elite is an inseparable part of that Delhi-based illuminati, also comprising of policy think-tanks, security apparatchiks,immobile scions of upwardly mobile politicians, the higher bureaucracy and all the stench that connects them. This cancerous network of self-servers are curiously simply ‘Indians’ – largely devoid of the visceral rootedness that this large land provides to its billion. Their regional identity is hidden shamefully, displayed diplomatically, cashed in cynically and forgotten immediately. What is most dangerous is that their plan of destroying India’s federal structure is not  conspiratorial but inadvertent – a joyride by default where speedbreakers were not expected. This is a window to the mind of the deep state at Delhi.

This deep state – eating away at our plural fabric, creaming at the thought of the Delhi-Mumbai urban corridor, holds a disproportionate sway over the billion who are not simply Indian. This unacknowledged billion comes with its proud identity and sense of autonomy. Its diversity is still a robust one, not a brow-beaten domesticated version fit for DilliHaat consumption. Be it calculated manoevering, Mamata has twice taken the initiative to bell the cat. But forces need to gather like the ‘thuggies’ of yore. This cat called India needs to be strangled, so that the Union of India lives.

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