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গোবিন্দ হালদারের নিষিদ্ধ ফিসফিস

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The illegal Bangladeshi – a view from West Bengal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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ম্যাড্রাসী কারে কয়?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next time, electing a sarkar from Great Nicobar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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বঙ্গদর্শন

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

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মেরী কম, তেরঙ্গা বেশি

[ Ebela, 10 Oct 2014]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Indianness / strange thoughts on an republican eve

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Delhi Durbar, Foundational myths, Identity, Nation

January on Jessore Road / The besieged Hindus of Bangladesh

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

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

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

They’ve just blown around from town to town

Till they’re back out on these fields

Where they fall from my hand

Back into the dirt of this hard land”

– Bruce Springsteen, This Hard Land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

সুধাংশু যাবে না

–শামসুর রাহমান

লুণ্ঠিত মন্দির, আর অগ্নিদগ্ধ বাস্তুভিটা থেকে

একটি বিবাগী স্বর সুধাংশুকে ছুঁলো

‘আখেরে কি তুলি চলে যাবে?’ বেলা শেষে

সুধাংশু ভস্মের মাঝে খুঁজে

বেড়ায় দলিল, ভাঙা চুড়ি, সিঁদুরের স্তব্ধ কৌটা,

স্মৃতির বিক্ষিপ্ত পুঁতিমালা।

স্বর বলে, ‘লুটেরা তোমাকে জব্দ ক’রে

ফেলে আশে পাশে

তোমার জীবনে নিত্যদিন লেপ্টে থাকে

পশুর চেহারা সহ ঘাতকের ছায়া,

আতঙ্কের বাদুড় পাখার নিচে কাটাচ্ছ প্রহর,

তবু তুমি যেও না সুধাংশু।’

আকাশের নীলিমা এখনো

হয়নি ফেরারি, শুদ্ধাচারী গাছপালা

আজও সবুজের

পতাকা ওড়ায়,

ভরা নদীকোমর বাঁকায় তন্বী বেদিনীর মতো।

এ পবিত্র মাটি ছেড়ে কখনো কোথাও

পরাজিত সৈনিকের মতো

সুধাংশু যাবে না।

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

An unearthly voice vibrates in Sudhanshu

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

Sudhanshu gropes amidst cinders

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

The dog-eared scatters of manuscripts in memory.

The phantom says, ‘The plunderer has beaten you

Here and there

Your daylight clings to

An animal outline ambushed by a murderer’s mien,

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

Despite all, do not leave, oh Sudhanshu.’

The blue of this sky is yet to

Diminish, the sacred trees

Are yet flying green

Banners, the copious river

Meanders her waist like a slim snakecharmer lass.

He won’t abandon this sacred earth for elsewhere,

Unlike a retreating soldier in defeat,

Sudhanshu would forever not leave

– Shamsur Rahman

(Gargi Bhattacharya translated the poem from the Bengali original)

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

Death of a general / The unconquered General Giap

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

‘Amar nam, tomar naam,

Vietnam, Vietnam’

(Your name, my name, Vietnam, Vietnam)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Nakbas near home – Their Palestines, Our Palestines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bihar’s just demands / Haq se maango

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Floating in the Durbar / Floats in the Delhi Durbar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Dilli khushion ka angan

Dilli sadio se raoshan

Dilli kala ka sagar…

Dilli sab ka dil hai yaaro,

Desh ki dharkan Dilli’

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

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

Beyond BJP versus Congress rivalry in Gujarat / Centre puts its man in opposition state / Verdict on appointment of Lokayukta in Gujarat

[ Daily News and Analysis, 15 Jan 2013 ; Millenium Post, 19 Jan 2013 ; Echo of India, 13 Jan 2013 ]

Last week, I attended a memorial event of the inimitable and now forgotten Rajnarain. It was socialists like him, communists and a whole plethora of ‘regional’ political formations, whose opposition to the Indira Congressl led to the suspended animation of Article 356, the draconian act used primarily by the Congress(I) to dismiss insubordinate state governments. Just when you thought that conspiratorial centres in Governor Houses across state capitals had folded up, filling empty time cutting ribbons and enjoying largely undeserved chancellorships of universities, the old disease has found a new victim. This time it is Gujarat. Who would have thought.

Gujarat governor Kamla Beniwal appointed RA Mehta as the Lokayukta of Gujarat, inspite of protests of the state government. The appointment was challenged in court. On January 2, the Supreme Court upheld the appointment. Predictably, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has reacted strongly to the verdict. Kamla Beniwal is a former Rajasthan unit of the Congress(I). The relationship between such governors and opposition ruled states have never been exactly rosy. But beyond the obvious Congress(I) – BJP rivalry, this appointment and its subsequent legitimization by the Supreme Court has far-reaching implications. The implications, unfortunately, are largely negative.

The problem is not about what kind of a person RA Mehta is and whether he is actually fit for the position. He possibly is. It is also not about the embarrassment that the Gujarat state government may face if an upright Lokayukta takes office. The question in a federal-democratic system like the one Indian Union claims to have is who will decide this fitness. It is in that context we need to understand what was happened. In effect, an unelected person who is a former member of the party in power at Delhi (a party that is by no measure an example of incorruptibility) has unilaterally chosen who will head the anti-corruption ombudsman organization in the state of Gujarat. She has done this without consulting and actually ignoring the popularly elected state government. Another unelected institution, the Supreme Court, has upheld this appointment that is political in all but name. So, as essentially political decision has been brought into the purview of the judiciary. This is an insidious encroachment into the powers of the legislature. For anyone who takes democracy seriously, this cannot be a happy development.

There has been another encroachment and in my opinion, is the more troubling one. No one can deny that neutrality and independence should be important characteristics of any Lokayukta. But where did we get this ridiculous idea that anything that is ‘central’ is also neutral. Who says that the government at New Delhi can select better specimens of humanity than Gujarat?

As I said, in this case, an unelected body is endorsing the unilateralism of another unelected person over a whole elected assembly. More importantly, for all practical purposes, the governor is the thikadar of Delhi to keep oppostion ruled states in check. This thikadari system has colonial roots – an extractive colonial system that wanted to retain the right to meddle into democratic political expression of people. In the post-partition subcontinent, governors represent just that – a person who is answerable to Delhi over the heads of the people in a state. During the heyday of the Congress(I), the dismissal of  elected state governments using Article 356 used to happen through the connivance of the Delhi agent in a state, the governor. Now, due to the demise of the ‘Congress system’, the usage of this undemocratic tool has become politically unviable. However, the ideological framework in which the states are considered fiefs of the centre has not died. It has in fact strengthened as the Centre launches frequent schemes to encroach on the few rights the states have – the NCTC scheme and the recent plans to make water a central subject are of this nature. The present impasse in Gujarat is yet another attack on the federal structure of the Indian Union.

Going back to the Rajnarain memorial event, there I saw that giant, the former Supreme Court judge Rajinder Sachar. People of this generation, whose baptism happened in politics before they became judges, had a intimate understanding and respect for democracy. They have also seen Delhi usurp powers from the provinces over the decades. In contrast, latter generations (and judges are not outside it) have increasingly grown up with an ‘idea of India’ that is same as a Delhi lording over the states. This ‘new normal’ no doubt makes people less sensitive to violation of states’ rights. All institutions that are dominated by the elite come with a certain ideology about nationhood, development, future, the ‘idea of India’ and other such things. This results in larger problems, especially when judiciary starts arbitrating political disputes.

BJP has been livid over this issue and it should be. However, its sensitivity on the curbing of federal structure should go beyond Gujarat. If it comes to power at New Delhi, it owes to the people steps on the implementation of the recommendations of the Sarkaria commission that sought to strengthen India’s federal structure. Otherwise BJP’s should not subject people to opportunist theatrics on federalism. People want action, not actors.

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The fax internet democratic republic / Focus on rapes that India forgets / Rapes do happen where there’s no internet / Rape: Elite mode not needed

[ Daily News and Analysis, 30 Dec 2012 ; Millenium Post, 7 Jan 2013 ; Kashmir Times, Jan 2013 ; Echo of India, 12 Jan 2013 ; Kashmir Reader, Jan 2013 ]

The notice has been served to ‘the people’. The Justice Verma Committee, set up to review the present criminal laws relating to safety and security with an eye to amend them, has asked ‘all members of the public’ among others to respond with ideas, knowledge and experience, to assist the committee in reaching its objective. The notice has been published in many newspapers. This mode of public consultation is not new. Parliamentary committees regularly serve such notices to the public. This usual practice has received unusual publicity due to the widespread focus and interest that has been generated in the context of the Delhi gang-rape. The government has touted this consultation practice as some measure of its response to public outrage. That the awareness of such consultations is abysmal is failure pf democratic governance. By taking advantage of this lack of public awareness, the government has now shed a spotlight so bright such that a not-so-rare practice is appearing extraordinary. This is disingenuous at best. This is a very smart stunt, not the act of setting up the committee itself, but how the setting of such committee has been publicized by the government.

The 3-member committee has asked that the pubic send in their comments by emailing justice.verma@nic.in or by sending a fax at 011-23092675, by the 5th of January. Embedded in this hasty empathy is a deeper message – its attitude towards consultation in this aspiring democracy. It is indeed tragic that the horizon of imagination of the powerful about modes of consultation with an utterly poor and regularly sexually brutalized people, is limited to email and fax. Unfortunately, when rapists target their victims, they do not discriminate on the basis of access to communication technology. Most rape victims and potential rape victims in the territory of the Indian Union do not have access to fax or email. It is not hard to predict that this lifeless and bureaucratic invitation will evoke very few responses from the billion plus populace. Most of the submissions will be in English, a minority will make their point in Hindi. The culture set by parliamentary committees  that explicitly state that submissions be made in English or Hindi has excluded and turned off the majority of the literate. Thus people, whose mother tongue in neither English nor Hindi will hardly write back . One must commend the Justice Verma committee’s adverts in that they do not explicitly mention any language in which the submissions need to be done. By the Delhi-based political culture of active exclusion of non-Hindi vernaculars has already taken its toll in the form of voicelessness and resultant disengagement. No democracy worth its name can afford that. Still larger is the majority to which email / fax are alien if not unheard media. That does not give them any respite from being raped; neither does it stop them from having opinion and rape legislation.

For a few decades now, a 3-tiered pecking order of citizenship has developed with the English/Hindi literate, the literate in ‘other’ languages and the illiterate. If you know only Tamil, it does not matter how erudite you are or how eager you are to put your opinion through on matters of legislation, the blunt message of the government about your suggestions to parliamentary committees essentially is, thanks, but no thanks. The lesser that is spoken about the lack of governmental efforts to reach out to the illiterate populace about their opinion, the better.

How state views the participation of people in making legislation in a participatory democracy gives out how it views such processes in the first place – an unnecessary but unavoidable ritual that is not to be taken seriously. Bureaucratism and alienation are every handy to help snuff out even the last possibilities of life of the ritual. All this points to a deeper disease, a malaise that reduces consultative democratic practices to things done for the record, not for the people.  Humane governance thus loses out to the clerical efficiency to bookkeeping. It is not that the government has never tried to engage the people at large. The Bt Brinjal consultations, where minister Jairam Ramesh held court at various areas beyond Delhi to hear what people had to say, were a positive step towards inclusive consultation. This example has unfortunately not been followed up for other legislations.

People, who bear the brunt of every day atrocities, clearly are not qualified to comment well on these issues. Those who keep cases pending for years and award gallantry awards to supervisors of rape of inmates are. Access barriers and ‘expertise’ hence become methods of choice for shunting out popular opinion in a democracy – given that fundamental rights of expression become less violable under metropolitan scrutiny. A democratic state folds itself to fit the aspirations of the people. A heartless state expects the people to contort themselves to fit some alien definition of an engaged citizen, or else, not be counted at all.

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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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The multiverse of loyalty

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Primordial organic identity

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

United in grief

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Bangladeshi-Pakistani bhai-bhai?

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

 

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

 

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

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