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ভারত ও ঢাকার মাঝখানে – অনিকেত প্রান্তর

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Next time, electing a sarkar from Great Nicobar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Floating in the Durbar / Floats in the Delhi Durbar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Dilli khushion ka angan

Dilli sadio se raoshan

Dilli kala ka sagar…

Dilli sab ka dil hai yaaro,

Desh ki dharkan Dilli’

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

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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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