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ভাষা অধিকার নিয়ে চেন্নাই ঘোষণা

ভারত সরকারের  হিন্দি আধিপত্যবাদের বিরুধ্যে সকল ভাষার সম অধিকারের দাবিতে নানা ভাষার প্রতিনিধি মিলিত হয়েছিলেন তামিল নাডুর চেন্নাইতে। সেখানে আলাপ আলোচনার মাধ্যমে তৈরী হয় ভাষা অধিকার নিয়ে চেন্নাই ঘোষণা। ভাষা অধিকার নিয়ে চেন্নাই ঘোষণার বাংলা তর্জমা করেছেন আমাদের Promote Linguistic Equality – West Bengal গোষ্ঠীর সদস্য রৌনক। সাথীদের অনুরোধ করব, চেন্নাই ঘোষণাটিকে  দিকে দিকে ছড়িয়ে দিন।  এটিকে পড়ুন, এটিকে কেন্দ্র করে আলোচনা-সমালোচনা চলুক।

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ভাষার অধিকার বিষয়ে চেন্নাই ঘোষণা

ভাষার অধিকার বিষয়ক অধিবেশন

১৯-২০ সেপ্টেম্বর, ২০১৫ (১-২য় ভাদ্র, ১৪২২)

চেন্নাই

২০-ই সেপ্টেম্বার, ২০১৫, চেন্নাই-এ সমবেত হয়ে, যে-যে সংগঠন ও যে-যে ব্যক্তি-জন বর্তমান ‘ভাষার অধিকার বিষয়ে চেন্নাই ঘোষণা’ বা চেন্নাই ঘোষণার সাক্ষরকারী,

৯-ই জুন, ১৯৯৬, স্পেন-এর বার্সেলোনা থেকে প্রকাশিত ‘ভাষার অধিকার বিষয়ে সর্বজনীন অধিকারের ঘোষণা’-কে বিবেচনা করে, যেটা ছিল নানাবিধ আন্তর্জাতিক ও আঞ্চলিক ঘোষণা, আইন-সমূহ, অঙ্গীকারপত্র এবং অধিবেশনের পরিণতি, যার মধ্যে পড়ে ১৯৪৮-এর ‘মানবাধিকার বিষয়ে সর্বজনীন ঘোষণা’, ১৯৬৬-এর ‘নাগরিক ও রাজনৈতিক অধিকারের আন্তর্জাতিক অঙ্গীকারপত্র’, ১৯৯২-এর ইউনাইটেড নেশান্স অর্গানাইজ়েশান এর সাধারণ সম্মেলন-এর ৪৭/১৩৫ প্রতিজ্ঞাপত্র, ১৯৮৯-এর ইন্টার্ন্যাশানাল লেবার অর্গানাইজ়েশান-এর বৈঠক এবং অন্যান্য, কোনো বিশেষ ভাষার বিকাশ-কে রুদ্ধ করা বা জোর করে আরোপ করা বা অন্যান্য ভাষার তুলনায় এক বিশেষ ভাষা-কে প্রচার করা এবং ভাষার অধিকার নিয়ে ভারত গণরাজ্যের অন্তর্ভুক্ত একাধিক ভাষা-গোষ্ঠীর সংকল্প এবং দাবী-সমূহ বিবেচনা করে, ভারতের কেন্দ্রীয় সরকারের বর্তমান ভাষা-ভিত্তিক নীতি-গুলো মাথায় রেখে যা ভারত গণরাজ্যের বিবিধ সম্প্রদায়ের মুখের-ভাষার বিকাশ এবং কখনও-কখনও অস্তিত্ব-রক্ষার পরিপন্থী, ভারতের সংবিধান দ্বারা প্রদত্ত বর্তমানে প্রচলিত নির্দেশিকা-সমূহ কে বিবেচনা করে, যেখান থেকে উৎপত্তি ঘটেছে ভারত গণরাজ্যের মধ্যে ব্যবহৃত সমস্ত ভাষার সঙ্গে সম্পর্ক-যুক্ত সব আইন, নিয়ম-কানুন ও মূলনীতি, যা মোটেও ভাষাগত সমতা এবং অধিকারের ওপর নির্ভরশীল নয়, যা মোটেও বিভিন্ন ভাষাগত সম্প্রদায়ের দাবী-কে মর্যাদা দেয় না, ভারত গণরাজ্যের কেন্দ্রীয় সরকারের হিন্দী চাপিয়ে দেওয়ার কৌশল কে বিবেচনা করে, যা সর্ব-ভারতীয় স্তরে বিভিন্ন রাজনৈতিক দল এবং সংগঠন ছাড়াও বৃহৎ বাণিজ্যিক গণমাধ্যম ও রাজ্য সরকার-দের দ্বারা সমর্থিত ও প্রচারিত, এবং সর্বোপরি সময়ে-সময়ে নানাবিধ ভাষাগত সম্প্রদায়ের এই বাধ্যতামূলক আরোপ-এর বিরুদ্ধে ঐতিহাসিক ভাবে তাৎপর্যপূর্ণ গণ-অসন্তোষ ও গণবিক্ষোভ কে মনে রেখে, উন্নয়নের তকমা দিয়ে ইংরাজী-কে অতিরিক্ত গুরুত্ব দেওয়ার অভ্যাস এবং জনজীবন ও ব্যক্তিগত যাপন থেকে ভারত গণরাজ্যের মধ্যে প্রচলিত সমস্ত ভাষা-কে ছেঁটে ফেলে প্রাত্যহিক জীবনে ইংরাজীর সর্বগ্রাসী দাপট যে আমাদের ভাষাগত-সংস্কৃতিগত-অর্থোপার্জন এর সম্ভাবনার পরিসর-কে সংকীর্ণ করে – এই ব্যাপার-টা বিবেচনা করে,

এই নিম্নোল্লিখিত তিন-টে দাবী মনে রেখেঃ

১। ভারতের সংবিধান এর পরিশিষ্টের আট নম্বর তথ্য সারণি-তে তালিকা-ভুক্ত

ভাষা-সমূহ কে প্রতিনিধিত্ব করা ব্যাপক জনমানব তাদের নিজ-নিজ ভাষা-কে ভারত গণরাজ্যের কেন্দ্রীয় সরকারের সরকারি ভাষা রূপে চালু করার দাবী,

২। সেই-সব অন্যান্য অনেক ভাষা-সমূহ কে প্রতিনিধিত্ব করা ব্যাপক জনমানব-এর এই উপরি-উক্ত পরিশিষ্টে নিজ-নিজ ভাষা-কে যুক্ত করার দাবী,

৩। বিবিধ ভূমিসন্তান-দের এবং অন্যান্য জনগোষ্ঠী সহ শতাধিক ভাষাগত সম্প্রদায়ের প্রত্যেক অপ্রতুল জনসংখ্যা এবং তাদের সদস্য-দের নিজ-নিজ ভাষা-কে সংরক্ষিত করা এবং বিকশিত করার দাবী,

ভারত গণরাজ্যের মধ্যে ব্যবহৃত সমস্ত ভাষা ভারত গণরাজ্যের নাগরিক-দের বৈচিত্র্যের দিকে চিহ্নত করে যার জন্য এই ভাষা গুলো ঐতিহাসিক, সামাজিক, সাংস্কৃতিক ও আঞ্চলিক কারণে প্রত্যেক বিশেষ-বিশেষ ভাষা সম্প্রদায়ের অঙ্গ – এই ব্যাপার-টা বিবেচনা করে,

এইটা মনে রেখে যে, ভারত গণরাজ্যের সমস্ত ভাষা ইতিবাচক পরম্পরাগত জ্ঞানের উৎকৃষ্ট সঞ্চয়-স্থান যেগুলো শত-শত বছর ধরে বিকশিত হয়েছে নিজ-নিজ আঞ্চলিক পরিস্থিতি ও চর্চার ওপর দাঁড়িয়ে যাকে হারানোর মর্ম হল প্রত্যেক ভাষাগত সম্প্রদায়ের পূর্ব প্রজন্মের থেকে পাওয়া নিজস্ব ইতিবাচক উত্তরাধিকার, জ্ঞানভান্ডার এবং পর্মপরাগত বিশেষজ্ঞতা কে বিস্মৃতির অতলে হারানো,

আমরা এহেন ঘোষণা করছি যে

ভারত গণরাজ্যের মধ্যে সমস্ত ভাষা-কে সমান দৃষ্টি-তে বিবেচনা করতে হবে এবং প্রত্যেক ভাষাগত সম্প্রদায়ের নিজ-নিজ ভাষা-কে যে-কোনো সম্ভাব্য উপায়ে সংরক্ষিত করা, বিকশিত করা এবং জোরদার করে তোলার অধিকার আছে যেমন-টা কোনো গণতান্ত্রিক পরিমন্ডলে থাকা উচিত।

ভারত গণরাজ্যের প্রত্যেক নাগরিক-এর মৌলিক এবং অ-বিচ্ছেদ্য অধিকার হচ্ছে সরকারের আমলা, বিচার-ব্যবস্থায় কর্মরত সরকারী কর্মচারী এবং জন-প্রতিনিধি দের সাথে তাঁর নিজের মাতৃ-ভাষায় সংযোগ স্থাপন করতে পারা এবং সরকারের প্রতিনিধি-রাও যেন সেই উক্ত নাগরিক-এর সাথে তাঁর মাতৃ-ভাষার মাধ্যমেই আদান-প্রদান ও সংযোগ-স্থাপন করেন। ভারত গণরাজ্যের প্রত্যেক নাগরিক-এর তাঁর নিজের মাতৃ-ভাষায় প্রথাগত শিক্ষা-গ্রহণ এর অধিকার আছে। ভারত গণরাজ্যের প্রত্যেক নাগরিক-এর তাঁর নিজের মাতৃভাষায় বাণিজ্যিক ও জন-পরিষেবা পাওয়ার অধিকার আছে।

ভারত গণরাজ্যের মধ্যে অবস্থিত সমস্ত ভাষাগত সম্প্রদায়ের একাধিক সুপারিশ ও দাবী-সমূহের ওপর ভিত্তি করে আমরা একটা ‘নতুন ভাষা কমিশন’ গড়ে তোলার আবেদন জানাচ্ছি যার কাজ হবে ভারতের সংবিধান এর ১৭ সংখ্যক অংশ এবৎ অন্যান্য প্রাসঙ্গিক নির্দেশিকা-সমূহ কে পুনরায় বিচার এবং সংশোধন করে একটা নতুন ভাষা-নীতির প্রণয়ন ও প্রয়োগ।

আমরা দাবী জানাচ্ছি যে ভারত রাষ্ট্রের কেন্দ্রীয় সরকার নিম্নোল্লিখিত দাবী-সমূহ কে তৎক্ষণাৎ স্বীকৃতি দিক এবং মান্যতা প্রদান করুক :

১। ভারতের সংবিধান এর পরিশিষ্টের আট নম্বর তথ্য সারণি-তে তালিকা-ভুক্ত

ভাষা-সমূহ কে প্রতিনিধিত্ব করা ব্যাপক জনমানব তাদের নিজ-নিজ ভাষা-কে ভারত গণরাজ্যের কেন্দ্রীয় সরকারের সরকারি ভাষা রূপে চালু করার দাবী,

২। সেই-সব অন্যান্য অনেক ভাষা-সমূহ কে প্রতিনিধিত্ব করা ব্যাপক জনমানব-এর এই উপরি-উক্ত পরিশিষ্টে নিজ-নিজ ভাষা-কে যুক্ত করার দাবী,

৩। বিবিধ ভূমিসন্তান-দের এবং অন্যান্য জনগোষ্ঠী সহ শতাধিক ভাষাগত সম্প্রদায়ের প্রত্যেক অপ্রতুল জনসংখ্যা এবং তাদের সদস্য-দের নিজ-নিজ ভাষা যাতে বিলুপ্ত বা

বৃহৎ ধারার মধ্যে বিলীন না হয়ে যায়, তার জন্য একটা বিশেষ সরকারী দপ্তরের মাধ্যমে জরুরী সহায়তা করা।

আমরা এই দাবী জানাচ্ছি যে প্রত্যেক স্তরের সরকার যেন এইটা নিশ্চিত করে যে মাতৃ-ভাষায় প্রচলিত শিক্ষা গ্রহণ এর অধিকার যেন কোনো ভাবেই লঙ্ঘিত না হয়।

আমরা দাবী জানাচ্ছি যে সমস্ত রাজ্য-সরকার যেন ইতিপূর্বে বহাল প্রশাসনিক ভাষা বিষয়ে আইন-সমূহ ও নীতি-সমূহ কে শত শতাংশ প্রয়োগ করে। যে-যে রাজ্যে এই ধরণের নীতি নেই, তারা যেন গুরুত্ব দিয়ে এই নীতি তৈরী করেন।

আমরা এই উপরি-উক্ত দাবী-সমূহ ঘোষণা করার মাধ্যমে মানবাধিকার সংগঠন, প্রথাগত শিক্ষা-ভিত্তিক ও সাংস্কৃতিক গোষ্ঠী সহ অন্যান্য নাগরিক সম্প্রদায়ের সংগঠন, সমস্ত রাজনৈতিক দল, সংগঠন, গণ-মাধ্যম, এদের কাছে আবেদন রাখছি যেন তারা সংসদে ‘ভাষাগত সমতা এবং অধিকার বিষয়ক প্রস্তাবনা’ আনার জন্য নিজ-নিজ ক্ষেত্রে প্রচেষ্টা চালান এবং সেই প্রস্তাবনা গৃহীত হওয়ার পর আমরা যেন আমাদের অভীষ্ট লক্ষে পৌঁছতে পারি।

এই খসড়ার নির্মাতা-রা হলেন :

আনান্দ্ গ., কার্ণাটাক (কান্নাড়)

উমাকান্থান প., কার্ণাটাক (কান্নাড়)

কোমাক্কামবেড়ু হিমাকিরাণ আঙ্গুলা, তামিল নাড়ু (তামিল,তেলুগু)

গর্গ চ্যাটার্জী, পশ্চিমবঙ্গ (বাঙলা)

গাণেশ চেতান, কার্ণাটাক (কান্নাড়)

যোগা সিং ভার্ক, পাঞ্জাব (পাঞ্জাবী)

থামিজ়নেরিয়াঁ, তামিল নাড়ু (তামিল)

দীপাক পাওয়ার, মহারাষ্ট্র (মারাঠী)

প. পাভিথ্রান, কেড়লা (মালায়ালাম)

প্রিয়াঙ্ক্ ক.স., কার্ণাটাক (কান্নাড়)

ভাসান্ত্ শেট্টি, কার্ণাটাক (কান্নাড়)

মাণি ভ. মাণিভান্নান, তামিল নাড়ু (তামিল)

রাভিশাঙ্কার আয়াক্কান্নু, তামিল নাড়ু (তামিল)

স. সেন্থিলনাথান (আঝ়ি সেন্থিলনাথান), তামিল নাড়ু (তামিল),

সাকেত শ্রীভূষাণ শাহু, ওড়িষা (কোশালি)

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ভাষা, আত্মসম্মান ও অধিকার – পা চাটতে লাগে শুধু জিভ

পুরো দুনিয়া জুড়ে ব্যবসার একটা প্রাথমিক নিয়ম আছে।  ইংরেজিতে এই নিয়ম-কে বলে ‘কাস্টমার ইজ কিং’ অথবা ‘কাস্টমার ইজ  অলওয়েজ রাইট’। এর ভাবার্থ হলো, কোন পরিষেবা দানের ক্ষেত্রে, গ্রাহকের সুবিধে-অসুবিধে, সেইটাই আসল। যে পরিষেবা দিচ্ছে, যেহেতু যে গ্রাহকের থেকে টাকা নিচ্ছে, তাই তার দায়িত্ব হলো গ্রাহক-কে তার সুবিধে মত পরিসেবা দেওয়া। গ্রাহকের কাজ নয় পরিষেবা-দাতার সুবিধে মত ছাঁচে নিজেকে তৈরী করা। দুঃখের বিষয় হলো, নিখিল বাংলাদেশের সর্ববৃহৎ শহর আমাদের এই কলকাতায় এই নিয়মটি বাঙালিদের ক্ষেত্রে খাটে না। একটু ভেঙ্গে বলি।  

সম্প্রতি আমি প্লেনে চেপে চেন্নাই গেছিলাম।  দমদম বিমানবন্দরে পৌছনোর পর ঘোষণায় জানলাম যে গেটটি থেকে প্লেন ছাড়ার কথা ছিল, সেটি পাল্টে গেছে।  আমাকে যেতে হবে আরেকটি গেটে।  অগত্যা তাই গেলাম। আমি ছিলাম প্লেনে ওঠার লাইনের একদম শেষের দিকে।  আমরা সকলে প্রায় প্লেনে উঠে পরেছি তখন দেখলাম একজনকে বেশ ধমক দিতে দিতে একজন এয়ার ইন্ডিয়া কর্মী আমাদের লাইনের দিকে দেখাচ্ছেন।  উনি বেশ অপদস্থ ও লজ্জিত বোধ করে গুটি গুটি আমাদের লাইনের দিকে এগিয়ে এলেন। আমি ওনাকে ব্যাপারটা জিজ্ঞেস করলাম।  উনি আমাকে জানালেন যে উনি বাংলা জানেন কিন্তু ইংরেজি-হিন্দী জানেন না। না জানতেই পারেন। অধিকাংশ বাঙালি-ই ইংরেজি-হিন্দি জানেন না।  বিশ্বজুড়ে অধিকাংশ মানুষই নিজেদের মাতৃভাষা ছাড়া অন্য ভাষা জানেন না। না জানাটা অপরাধ নয়। অধিকাংশ রুশ, অধিকাংশ জাপানি, অধিকাংশ চীনা মানুষ-ই নিজেদের মাতৃভাষাই শুধু জানেন। যেহেতু এই বাংলার সর্ববৃহৎ শহরের সর্ববৃহৎ বিমানবন্দরে এই বাঙ্গালীটি শুধু বাংলা জেনেই ঢুকে পড়েছেন প্লেনে চাপতে, তাই স্রেফ হিন্দি ও ইংরেজি-তে করা ঘোষণাগুলি উনি ঠিক ধরতে পারেননি। ফলে পুরনো গেটেই এদিক সেদিক করছিলেন। তারপর সেখানে চেন্নাই-এর প্লেন ছাড়ার কোন চিহ্ন না দেখে শেষে একে তাকে জিজ্ঞেস করে এই নতুন গেটে এসছেন।  যেহেতু দেরি করে এসছেন, তাই যে এয়ার ইন্ডিয়াকে উনি গুনে গুনে প্লেনে চড়তে অনেক টাকাই দিয়েছেন, তারা তাকে দেরি করার জন্য ধমক দিচ্ছিলেন।  উনি লজ্জা করে আর বলে উঠতে পারেননি যে উনি হিন্দি-ইংরেজি জানেন না।  আসলে লজ্জা পাওয়ার কথা এয়ার ইন্ডিয়ার।  যে কোম্পানি কারুর থেকে কড়ায়গন্ডায় টাকা বুঝে নিয়ে গ্রাহকের নিজের ভাষায় তাকে পরিষেবা দিতে অস্বীকার করে। আর লজ্জা পাওয়ার কথা আমাদের – যারা বাংলায় বসে বাঙালির সাথে এয়ার ইন্ডিয়ার এই হিন্দি-ইংরেজি খবরদারি নীতিকে  স্বাভাবিক মনে করি এবং স্রেফ বাংলা জানা বাঙালির হিন্দি-ইংরেজি না জেনেই তার নিজেদের দেশ বাংলার মাটিতে গড়া বিমানবন্দরে এসে প্লেনে চড়ার ‘ধৃষ্টতা’কে অস্বাভাবিক মনে করি।

আমরা ভারতীয় ইউনিয়ন নাম এক অদ্ভূত রাষ্ট্রের অধীন। এখানে সরকারী এয়ারলাইন কোম্পানি, যা কিনা অনেকের মতই বাঙালির দেওয়া টাকার ভর্তুকি-তে চলে, এলাকার মানুষকে এলাকার ভাষায় পরিষেবা দিতে চায় না। বলে নিয়ম নেই।  আসলে এই নিয়ম ভারত সরকারের।  এ নিয়ম সচেতন।  এ নিয়ম এই রাষ্ট্রে হিন্দি-ইংরেজি ভাষী ছাড়া আর সকলকে দ্বিতীয় শ্রেনীর নাগরিক করে রাখার এক সুপরিকল্পিত ষড়যন্ত্র।  এই নিয়মতন্ত্র চলছে আমার আপনার টাকায়। এই নিয়মকে অনেক উড়ুক্কু বাঙালি সঠিক মনে করেন। আমাদের মতো নির্লজ্জ ও ক্ষমতার পা-চাটা জাত আর হয় না। বাঙালি এলিট-রা এককালে ইংরেজ-দের পা চাটত, এখন তারা পা চাটে দিল্লীর।  এই পা চাটার মাধ্যমেই স্রেফ নামে একটি বাঙালি শ্রেণী সংখ্যাগরিষ্ঠ প্রাণে-বচনে-যাপনে বাঙালিদের দাবিয়ে রেখেছে। এই শ্রেনীর উত্খাত এমন এক মঙ্গলময় প্রকল্প যাতে বঙ্গলক্ষ্মীর আশীর্বাদ থাকবে বলে আমি নিশ্চিত।

ওই প্লেন যাত্রায় বাঙালির বিড়ম্বনা এখানেই শেষ না।  প্লেন যাচ্ছে বাংলা থেকে তামিল নাডু।  প্লেনের অধিকাংশ যাত্রীর মাতৃভাষা হয় বাংলা কিম্বা তামিল।  কি করে সিট-বেল্ট বাঁধতে হয় থেকে শুরু করে বিপদ হলে কি কি করতে হবে, এমন গুরুত্বপূর্ণ তথ্যগুলি এই সরকারী প্লেনে বাংলা বা তামিল, কোন ভাষাতেই বিমান-সেবিকারা ঘোষণা করলেন না। এমনকি লিখিত অবস্থাতেও সেটি সে তথ্য কথাও ছিল না। যে সরকার তার নীতির অংশ হিসেবে বাঙালি ও তামিলদের সুরক্ষা নির্দেশাবলী শোনায় হিন্দি-তে, সে সরকার আর যাই হোক বাঙালি বা তামিলের প্রাণ ও সুরক্ষা নিয়ে চিন্তিত নয়। তাহলে এ কেন্দ্রীয় সরকার আসলে কার? যাদের ভাষায় তারা সুরক্ষা নির্দেশ দিল, তার। আমার বলতে লজ্জা করছে যে মধ্য-প্রাচ্য থেকে অনেক বিমানে চড়ে আমি কলকাতা এসছি, যেখানে প্লেনের নানা অংশে নানা নির্দেশ (যেমন দরজায় লেখা ‘টানুন’ বা ফ্লাস করতে কোথায় টিপতে হবে) বাংলা-তামিল-হিন্দি-আরবী-ইংরেজি এমন অনেক ভাষায় লেখা থাকে। কেন? তাদের কাছে বিমান একটি পরিষেবা, যেখানে তারা গ্রাহকের সুবিধা করতে চায়। আমার দেশ যে রাষ্ট্রের অধীন, তারা দুরদর্শন থেকে ব্যাঙ্কের পাশবই  থেকে সরকারী বিমানের সুরক্ষা নির্দেশ, সবখানেই হিন্দি প্রচারের মাধ্যমে তেরঙ্গা জাতীয়তাবাদ প্রচারে ব্যস্ত। ঐক্যের মধ্যে বৈচিত্রের স্লোগানের নাম যে জুয়াচুরি অ-হিন্দিভাষীদের সাথে চলেছে দেশভাগের পর থেকে, তার হিসেব কি আমরা নেব না? আমরা নিজেদের কাছে আর কত ছোট হবো? এ কোন একতা যা বজায় রাখতে আত্মসম্মান বন্ধক রাখতে হয়? একতা চাই – এমন একটা, তার পূর্বশর্ত হবে পারস্পরিক সম্মান।

প্লেনে যে ওঠে, সে শুধু বাংলা জানুক বা ইংরেজি পণ্ডিত হোক, নিখিল বাংলাদেশের নিরিখে সে একজন এলিট। সেখানেই যদি ভাষার ক্ষেত্রে এমন করে প্রতিবন্ধকতা সৃষ্টি হয়, একবার ভেবে দেখুন রোজকার সেই অভিজ্ঞতাগুলির কথা – যেখানে বাংলার সীমান্তের বিএসএফ, কলকাতার মেট্রোতে রেল পুলিশ, বর্ধমানে সরকারী বেঙ্কের ম্যানেজার এবং আরো অনেকে যারা নাকি আমাদের ‘পরিসেবা’ দ্যান বাংলা না জেনেই। উত্তরপ্রদেশে হিন্দি না জেনে এই কাজগুলি করতে চাইলে স্থানীয় মানুষ তাদের কি অবস্থা করত, সেটা নাই বললাম। অনেকেই এসব শুনে বলবেন – হিন্দী তো রাষ্ট্রভাষা বা জাতীয়ভাষা। তাদের জানিয়ে রাখি, হিন্দি রাষ্ট্রভাষা নয়, জাতীয় ভাষাও নয়। এগুলি রাষ্ট্র হিতার্থে চালু গুজব। গুজরাট হাইকোর্ট রায়তে জানিয়েছেন যে গুজরাটের ক্ষেত্রে হিন্দী ‘ফরেন’ বা বিদেশী ভাষা। আর রয়েছি আমরা। এমন এক জাতি, যারা কোথাও ঢুকতে গেলে দরজা খুলতে বলিনা, দরজার ফাঁক দিয়ে নিজেকে বেঁকিয়ে গলানোর চেষ্টা করি। এই বাঙালিই বাংলার মাটিতে টেক্সীকে হাত দেখিয়ে হিন্দিতে জিজ্ঞেস করে ‘যায়েগা?’। চম্পারন বা ভোজপুর জেলা কলকাতায় গতর খাটতে আশা আমার সেই টেক্সী-চালক ভাই-এর ভাষা যে হিন্দি নয়, ভোজপুরি, আমরা তাও জানিনা। এও জানিনা যে সে বাংলা বোঝে। দিল্লি-তে তো কত বাঙালি শ্রমিক কাজে যান – কোন হিন্দিভাষী সেখানে তাদেরকে বাংলায় হাঁক দ্যান?

সম্প্রতি মহারাষ্ট্র সরকার নিয়ম করেছেন যে নতুন অটো-রিক্শ পারমিট পেতে হলে মারাঠি বলতে জানতে হবে। কোন প্রতিবাদ হয়নি এ ঘোষণার কারণ এটি স্বাভাবিক। সেখানে অধিকাংশ অটো-চালকের মাতৃভাষা মারাঠি নয়। তারা বাইরে থেকে আসা।  কিন্তু তারা জানে না এক্ষেত্রে যাকে পরিসেবা দেওয়া হচ্ছে, সেটাই অগ্রধিকার পায়। সেই বহিরাগতরাও মারাঠি শিখে নিয়েছে এবং সৎভাবে রোজগার করে খাচ্ছে। এটা এই বাংলায় সম্ভব না। কারণ এর জন্য লাগে আত্মসম্মান ও শিরদাঁড়া।  পা চাটতে লাগে শুধু জিভ।

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Next time, electing a sarkar from Great Nicobar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

Battling religious censorship / Muzzling Expression of Taslima Nasreen

[ Outlook, 23 Dec 2013 ; Echo of India, 29 Dec 2013 ]

Kolkata, the so-called ‘cultural capital’, has demonstrated the increasing emptiness of the epithet, yet again. Taslima Nasreen, one of the most famous Bengali authors alive, had scripted a TV serial named ‘Doohshahobash’ ( Difficult cohabitaions) portraying 3 sisters and their lives – standing up to kinds of unjust behaviour that are everyday realities for the lives of women in the subcontinent. Nasreen has long lent a powerful voice to some of the most private oppressions that women face, often silently. The private channel where the serial was slotted ran a vigorous and visible advertising campaign – Nasreen’s name still has serious pull among Bengalis and the channel knew it. Nasreen had made it clear that the serial had nothing to do with religion.  However that was not enough for the self-appointed ‘leaders’ of the Muslims of West Bengal who issued warnings to the effect that the serial not be aired. The commencement of the serial, sure to be a hit and a commercial success for the channel, has now been postponed indefinitely. One can imagine the pressure the producers and broadcasters have faced that led to the shelving of a potential runaway commercial success. As in the recent incident of Salman Rushdie being prevented from coming to Kolkata due to the protest by similar characters, one can be sure of the kind of role the Trinamool Congress government and its law enforcement agencies had in this affair. If the government is to be believed, it had no role in the criminal farce that is being played out unchecked. Muzzling free speech and right to expression does not always need written orders from the government. A phone call here, a verbal order there – these are typically enough.

Nasreen has been living in New Delhi since 2007, after being hounded out of Kolkata by the CPI(M) led government on the instigation of Muslim groups threatening ‘unrest’. The pathetic reality of the lives of ordinary women in the subcontinent and the extraordinary oppression meted out to them, especially due to certain religious systems, have been the single most important theme of her writing. Steeped broadly and deeply in the cultural fabric of Bengal, the specific socio-geographical setting of much of her work is in the Muslim-majority nation-state of Bangladesh. Hence, in her earlier writings, Islam primarily represented the ugly face of religious majoritarianism. However, those who have cared to read her corpus, know very well that she has been an equal-opportunity truth-teller, castigating both Hindu and Muslim religious practices and ideologies.

Taslima Nasreen is a daughter of the subcontinent. Islamists in Bangladesh wanted her head and made life miserable for her. After a few years in the West, she returned to West Bengal. I say ‘returned’ as it was an inalienable part of her cultural homeland. In Kolkata too, she lived in the face of constant death-threats there too. After her forcible ejection from Kolkata, she has never been allowed back, though she remains extremely interested in relocating back. One would think that the culture of issuing death-threats to one feels one’s religion has been slighted by is alien to Bengal – which has, for centuries, been the ground Zero of religious syncretism as well as tolerance to so-called deviants of all hues. It is indeed sad that this alien culture of extremism of relatively recent import has managed to gain the upper-hand so as to force the government of the day to pander to these elements at huge cost to the social and cultural fabric of West Bengal.

Who exactly are these vocal opposers of Taslima Nasreen’s serial being shown publicly? Whenever one has self-appointed spokespersons doing the shrillest speaking, it is useful to study their antecedents. Abdul Aziz of Milli Ittehad Parishad and Mohammad Quamruzzaman of the All Bengal Minority Youth Federation are two prime examples who have been extraordinarily active in running the Taslima-denounication industry in West Bengal. Both these organizations share another distinction. They led a mass-meeting earlier this year in Kolkata protesting the punishment of Islamist leaders of Bangladesh who had directly committed crimes against humanity during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.  Thus those who defended rapists and mass murderers of 1971 (the victims were Bengalis, of whom a significant proportion were Muslims) have taken upon the mantle of community guardianship of Muslims in West Bengal. It cannot be clearer what kind of Muslim interest these folks represent. To even consider that such elements represent Muslim interests of West Bengal is tantamount to insulting the intelligence and humanity of the Mohammedans of the state.

Kolkata’s intelligentsia and youth, once known to take to the streets and chant songs to protest the muzzling of Paul Robeson, a black-American singer and artist, has had nothing but silence to offer on this one. The Trinamool Congress rulers and the erstwhile CPI(M) rulers have set a record of competing with each other on muzzling free speech on the instigation of groups in whose worldview, free speech has no place. While there may be short-term electoral gain for such posturing, this race to the bottom has no winners. The loser is the idea of a free and democratic society where dialogue and understanding is privileged over violence to ‘solve’ differences. In effect, such groups aspire for a society where there are no differences – no diversity of thought, expression, living and being. Nothing is more alien to the human condition than that. Gods only can help a society where governmental policy is dictated by sociopaths, unless a critical mass stands up to publicly state that enough is enough. Does the right to be offended take precedence over the right to free speech? If yes, we are in sad and dark times.

When insulting books, gods and other creatures has become the touchstone of ‘community leadership’, one might do well to remember the words of Kaji Nazrul Islam, the fiery poet of all of Bengal who is increasingly being packaged into a ‘Muslim’ poet – ‘Manush enechhe grontho, grontho aneni manush kono’ (Man has produced books, no book has ever produced a man). There is nothing truer than man himself and free speech is an pre-condition for that truth to shine forth, in its myriad hues.

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Filed under Bengal, Culture, Kolkata, Religion, Rights, The written word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*** DNA version ***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Army / police, Foundational myths, India, Our underbellies, Religion, Rights, Scars, Terror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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