Ostrich Syndrome!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A note on Ramdev's Protest and Govt. Response

Post Ram Lila ground atrocity, there are two distinct aspects to the anti-corruption protests in the country (who manufactured this distinction and why can be anyones guess). Manufactured or spontaneous, the distinction is a reality whether we like it or not; whether we accept it or not.
The two aspects are : One, whether we accept the blatant, cruel, "police-state mentality" of the state in curbing any sort of protest and secondly do we accept babas, fakirs, mullahs, sadhus, pastors et al to run the campaign against corruption with a tinge of white, saffron, green or any damn color of religion?
I think majority of Indians are on the same page as far as the first question is concerned. There is no room for justifying whatever happened at the Ram Lila Grounds on that fateful night. This time it was Ramdev, another day it could be you or me. Police state is not an option in a democracy. Protests form the basis of dialogue in a democracy. We know whats happening in neighbouring Pakistan in the absence of any thoughtful dialogue.
As far as religious color to anti-corruption protests go, this is where the contradiction becomes obvious. We all know that Ramdev's campaign, how so ever pure and vital, was being fuelled by the Sangh Parivar with an agenda which was different than what appeared on stage. Corruption and need to fight it is by no means debatable. What is debatable in this context is the communalisation of corruption. Communalising corruption is dangerous as the the common Indian is a deeply religious being, ready to digest what ever is offered in a holy wrapping. Ironically one of the agenda of the rabid Talibanis is to establish a corrupt free (Islamic) rule in Pakistan....not very different from the establishment of RSS's (or can I say Ramdev's) Ram Raj in a Hindu rashtraya.
It's time to see the difference between the hawks and the doves in this unfolding power struggle. The Monty-Man Syndrome through which the duo of Montek & Manmohan Singh have put this country is here to stay. Protests to cure any part of this syndrome will be throttled by all available force. Whether we want to fight this as a unified, secular camaraderie or leave it in the hands of agenda setting godmen is our choice.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Media and Protests: Who Manufactures What?

In April this year the media went into a loud and vulgar rapture as Anna Hazare continued his four-day fast against corruption at Jantar Mantar in the capital. Hyperventilating newscasters repeatedly declared that the issue of corruption has “touched a cord” with the middle class. The circus at Jantar Mantar ended on a happy note with an amazing display of rhapsody for millions of urban, educated, elite Indians as they saw the government kneel to the demands of Anna in re-formulating the Lok Pal bill. But this was more than a month back. In Indian politics, one month is a long period. With a short public memory and an equally uncaring public attitude, it is easy to comprehend why another fast in another corner of the country has evoked minimal response. Social activist and Gandhian, Medha Patkar has been on an indefinite fast since last seven days at Mumbai in protest against the land grab at the Golibar slum, next to the Mumbai airport.
The contrast is striking. No high profile players, no well known public figures, no lavish tents, no Bharatmata cut outs, no mineral water bottles for the attendees and of course minimal media glare. All the goodies of Anna Hazare’s protest are missing from Medha Patkar’s remonstration. What is most conspicuous is the “wretched” clientele for whom Medha is fasting. Medha’s indefinite fast is for the basic rights of 26,000 families, which dwell the Golibar slum. Slum dwellers! People who are a road block in the conversion of Mumbai to Shanghai.
Medha is protesting the blatant callousness of the Maharashtra government and its nefarious Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA). SRA is the by-product of the political-land mafia nexus aimed at usurping those living in the slums of Mumbai. This futuristic Shanghai has more than 60 percent of its population living in slums with Golibar being the second largest slum of the city. The SRA aims to authorize private builders to redevelop slum land. The result can be anyone’s guess. Private builders take up the slum land by force, forgery or on cheap rates. The resale value of these prime locations brings phenomenal wealth in the general property market. Even more despicable is the Clause 3K of the SRA, which gives a single builder right to redevelop a slum without inviting any tenders.
What is most deafening in this protest is the silence of the media (electronic, paper and alternative) which stood with Anna Hazare in his high profile fight against corruption. No facebook pages, no twitter messages, no hourly news updates. Surely something is amiss “now” as compared to “then”. Was it the personal charisma of Anna Hazare, who was largely unknown to elite Indians till April this year, which drew the masses and the media? Or was it a will of the media to suddenly awaken to the reality of corruption in this country? It baffles me.
Surely, Anna Hazare’s well-orchestrated (and hence well funded) fight against corruption was more appealing to the urban middle class Indian then a fight for the slum dwellers of a small locality of Mumbai. Although to evaluate the efficacy of a protest on the basis of number of people benefited by it is not only dangerous but purely foolhardiness par excellence! Protests represent the core values for which a society stands, not the number of people affected by its success. May be it is for this very reason that our very conscientious media fails to represent decisively the issues raised by Irom Sharmila, who has been on fast for the last ten years against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Having said this, it may be noted that media has played a significant role in “individualistic protests” like those demanding justice for Jessica Lall or Priyadarshani Mattoo. Although it is easy to find instances of media manufactured struggles in India if the victims are elite, educated or middle class but to say the same for this very media taking up the causes of the underprivileged, oppressed or rural masses is difficult. No wonder there is hardly any coverage of Vidharba farmer suicides or of atrocities on dalits across the length and breadth of the country.
In India the amalgam of forces that drive a protest are also an important determinant for its adoption by the media. In Anna’s case high caste, elitist composition with a cosmetic supplementation by commoner Indians and fuelled by well-funded corporate driven NGOs, formed an ideal diet for high TRPs. A ready meal for media digestion! Unfortunately these ingredients of manufactured protest are lacking when it comes to core issues of human survival as in Medha Patkar’s ongoing demonstration in Mumbai.
The role of media in a democratic set-up cannot be over emphasized. But with more corporate control it is not difficult to discern what this integral pillar of democracy will support or rather avoid to support. With economic liberalization the media has become an important tool to formulate, channelize and direct popular protest; and there lies the danger for an unequal and unjust society like ours. Highlighting the correct story is a morally responsible task that has to be done without fear or favor. Medha Patkar and Irom Sharmila need an equal share of bytes & columns as Anna Hazare or Jessica Lall’s sister. Injustices cannot be compared, weighed and then sold to the general public wrapped in a piquant newspaper or an exciting television show. Discriminations cannot have different colors. Biases cannot be silent or loud. Inequality can never be less or more.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Verdict on Binayak Sen: Protest to show we are alive

Dr. Binayak Sen’s life sentence by a lower Raipur Court couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. The New Year is beginning. The Indian economy is projected to grow at a rate of 8%. The real estate prices in the country are booming to an all time high. Indian stake at symbols of power like the permanent UN Security Council seat appears more justified than ever before. The nuclear deal, the memorandums of understanding, the new dams, special economic zones….every block is falling in place. It seems India Inc has arrived at the party. But unfortunately every party has the so called party-spoilers, who create ruckus to dampen the spirit of fun and festivity. It is the prime duty of the party host to keep such nuisances at bay.
Dr Binayak Sen has emerged as one of the most prominent spoiler for this celebration of neo-liberal loot and pilferage. His work in the tribal areas of Chattisgarh has been treated as an act of sedition by a judiciary which stinks of grubby political bias. He and two others have been sentenced for rigorous life imprisonment and shorter prison terms, to run concurrently under Sections 124A read with Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code, Sections 8(1), 8(2), 8(3) and 8(5) of the Chhattisgarh Vishesh Jan Suraksha Adhiniyam, 2005 (Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act) and Section 39(2) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967. It is important to realize that this half baked verdict is a clear message for those who dare to challenge the new order of India Inc…..the order which displaces the local aboriginal population in the name of development, growth and other such illogical jargon of adjectives which are common use by the state machinery. The tribal districts of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Karnataka and Maharasthra are the destination of some US $ 85 bn of promised investments, mostly in steel and iron plants, and mining projects. In Chhattisgarh itself 9,620 acres of land is already under process of acquisition. The juggernaut of development is puffing on all cylinders and anyone who attempts to question the validity, logic and benefits of this capitalist expansion is in serious danger of being eliminated in the name of sedition, Naxalism, Maoism or treason.
The malicious and seriously dangerous agenda of the Chattisgarh government is highlighted in the blatant lacunae within the verdict delivered on Dr Sen by B.P. Verma, the Second Additional District and Sessions Judge of Raipur. For example associating Dr Binayak Sen to the seditious Maoist cause is based on an important testimony given by Deepak Chaubey, the so called landlord who rented his accommodation to the Maoist leader Narayan Sanyal on the recommendation of Dr Sen. This assertion of Chaubey came on direct questioning by the Public Prosecutor, a fact overlooked by Sh Verma. It was also ignored that Chaubey was acting on duress of the police who threatened to implicate him in the case. Reading the 92 page judgement it can also be concluded that Judge Verma has based Dr Sen’s implication with the CPI Maoists largely on police hearsay and planted evidence. He has conveniently overlooked the thirty odd years of selfless service by Dr Sen not only as a reputed doctor but as a human right activist.
It is high time that the civil society of our country wakes up to the nefarious agenda of development and the concomitant “collateral damage” in its wake. Courageous people like Dr. Binayak Sen who send ripples of hope in vast masses of humanity, need to be defended at all costs. Our Hon. Home Minister has said that this verdict might be unsatisfactory for some people (italics are mine). It’s laughable to hear this from a Harvard educated lawyer, even if the statement was made under executive compulsions. Judicial verdicts can never be satisfactory or unsatisfactory; they are either just or unjust. And why some people? Probably because the state wants to undermine the numbers of those who are hungry, poor and deprived?
In a country which ignores hunger deaths, genocide criminals, millions of malnourished children (more than Sub Saharan Africa) and a defunct political class, people like Dr Binayak Sen are the only hope and a selfish state has no right to take these symbols of hope from us. Scream, shout, protest and wriggle out of the iron grip of injustice. As common people we need to show signs of life…..we have been dead long enough. Remonstration and disapproval of this injustice is the way ahead. I am reminded of a saying by the Romanian American Nobel Peace Laureate, Elie Weisel, he said “there may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Kashmir: Let’s Blink

To the north of the Indian peninsula, uncomfortably locked between Pakistan and China, lies the land mass of Jammu and Kashmir. To some it is home but to majority of us who sit a few hundred thousand kilometers away, it is a symbol of India’s unity and pride. The shinning crown. Unfortunately this symbol of vanity has been the focus of strife in all its sixty three years of existence with the Indian mainland. It has been inherited through war & blood and continues to be a painful bleeding sore on the forehead of India.
The events of last few months have further added to the tragedy of Kashmir. The spectrum of resistance in Kashmir has seen a new hue. The struggle for azadi (freedom) has new voices and so do the brutalities committed by the Indian state in the name of guarding sovereignty and national interests. The line between sovereignty and subjugation has faded. They want azadi and we want a hold on this strategic geo-political mass. Who is right and who is wrong? Are we really interested in the Kashmiri people or are our interests limited to Kashmir, the valley?
It is regrettable that as nationalist Indians we think of Kashmir only when the valley prods us with violent protests, custodial deaths or brutality of armed forces/the terrorists. Kashmir as an assimilation point in the mainland of India does not exist in our imagination. Whenever we talk of Kashmir it is ceremonial to quote a racist Persian proverb, “Gher qahet ul rejal uftand ba sey uns kum gheri, Yeke Afghan, doyam Kamboh, soyum badzat Kashmiri” which simply translated means even if there is scarcity of humanity, do not get closer to three subsets of people namely Afghans, Kambohs and the rogue Kashmiris. How convenient to disown a whole subset of people which have existed for thousands of years on the very land which we so proudly call our motherland.
The severance of Kashmir’s umbilical cord with India is near complete. We don’t think of them and they don’t assume us in their imagination. Do we care if villagers of rural Kashmir develop a unique psychiatric illness called the midnight knock syndrome (following late night searches by security forces)? Do we bother if psychiatric illnesses are the maximum amongst Kashmiri Pandits settled in Jammu? How many of us even know that one third of Kashmiris in the age group of 15 to 40 years have some form of substance abuse? How many of us would stand for the cause of a Kashmiri student who has been denied accommodation in Delhi due to his decent? Does it not bother an economist Prime Minister if Kashmir is ranked 22nd amongst the states of the Indian union in terms of per capita income (at Rs.20,604)? How come a Harvard educated Home Minister does not realize the perils of staggering unemployment rates in the valley? Kashmiris do not exist on the national agenda. How can we expect assimilation of Kashmir when we have opened so many veins which bleed the valley white? To be honest, we stand accused of injecting nihilism in the valley.
I agree that a large part of the problem has its birth in the Pakistan sponsored separatist movement of the 80s and 90s. But what we do not realize is the slow transition of this state sponsored separatist movement into a full fledged struggle for azadi by the masses of Kashmir. Cognizant ignorance of Kashmiri grievances combined with an incompetent political class has worked as a catalyst in the process of this transition. The use of force, application of draconian laws, fake encounters by security forces and apathy towards the common Kashmiri by the motherland has only given teeth to the call for azadi. India’s sovereignty and Kashmir’s azadi are at loggerheads in the valley. The human cost of this never ending war is phenomenal. The wailing of Kashmiri mothers, sisters and daughters has a deafening echo in the realms of civil society across the globe. Mainland India stands accused for this extraordinary situation. Every stone pelting Kashmiri killed by an Indian bullet gives birth to ten more protesters ready to die for the cause of Kashmiriyat. We do not realize that the role of Pakistan and of hate breeding jehadi terrorist camps from across the border is fast diminishing. Kashmir, the proxy war with Pakistan, is near over; we are now fighting our own people – young boys and girls fuelled by failure of faith on part of India. The accusation, humiliation, torture, rape and killings have only added to the ever swelling numbers of protestors who come out to face the frustration of the motherland.
The “ostrich syndrome” of burying our heads in the sand thinking everything is well, is not working in Kashmir. We have tried bullets. We have played the batons. The failure of force is too evident to be ignored. The monster is staring us direct in the eye. It’s time we blink. It’s time we think. The ignominy of forceful suppression in Kashmir is now beginning to show up. The bloody trail of the past three months should be discomforting for a nation which bears foundation of a non-violent freedom struggle. The call for azadi can be overlooked but can we ignore the smell of human flesh and blood? It is said that peace is not the absence of war but the presence of justice. The Kashmir valley pleads for justice. The serenity of Chasme Shahi, the blue waters of Wular Lake and the dew drops on the pines is not what makes Kashmir an integral part of India. Beating hearts, free minds, aspiring thoughts and a mist of warm breath is what Kashmir is all about.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Commonwealth Games and Kalawati

The so called “irresponsible remarks” by Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar (on the Commonwealth Games) have left the government and its beloved babus fuming. The routine and the alternative media is buzz with an outright condemnation of Mr. Aiyar, calling him anti-national and an unworthy son of this great motherland. It all amuses me.
As an Indian, I know that the stakes of Indian pride on a global scene are too high to be meddled with at the last moment. The Beijing Olympics have showcased China to a global audience and we are told by the self righteous hawks that we too should use this opportunity to showcase the might of India, the next super-power. We are told that events like the Commonwealth Games bring with them employment and opportunities for developing and improving the existing infra-structure. The government sees the event as a boon for economic development and prosperity. I won’t be wrong in concluding that we have been made to believe that the woes of the common Indian will be laid to rest on October 3, 2010 as soon as the games are declared open!
Alas! This could have been true. The darker side of the organization of these games is not only murky but plainly speaking dirty to the soul. Corruption, malpractices, poor quality and irrelevant budgeting have plagued the games in a big way. The games will conclude with an approximate budget of 35000 Crore rupees (or 1.3 Billion USD). Imagine a sum of 3500 Crore Rupees just to develop a showcase of might and economic well being in a country where 47% of population earns less than 1.25$! What can we call this? Are there words to describe this inhuman and irrelevant extravagance?
I agree with those who argue that events like the Commonwealth games shouldn’t be compared with governmental policies of public welfare. True but unfortunately it is not all about money; it is the irrelevance of thought of our policy makers which angers me. It was heartening to see Mr. Rahul Gandhi talk about Kalawati during the trust motion in 2008. But can he imagine that how many more Kalawatis would have been added to the system ever since the inception of construction work for the Commonwealth Games? I still remember Beena, the eight year old daughter of Ram Pyari, a migrant worker from Uttar Pradesh who had come to Delhi with her family to work on one of the stadia. Beena had bone cancer and of course the family could not afford any treatment. Beena died in one of the slums which had come out as an illegitimate offspring of the Commonwealth games village. The family wanted to take Beena’s body back home but couldn’t afford loosing the provisional livelihood as the contractor wanted the work to go on a war footing- he had a deadline to meet. Beena was buried in Delhi and Ram Pyari continued working at the stadia which is now ready as a symbol of India’s growing economic might- the ornament of the showcase which Mr. Kalmadi and his bunch of imbecile nitwits want us to appreciate. I am sure the story of Beena and Ram Pyari is not the only one. Many Beenas lie buried under the debris of what we think is the greatest sporting event in the country. Surely, the cost of organizing the games goes far beyond 35000 Crore rupees.
It is ironic that the logo of these games has been made to look like the Chakra (a symbol of India’s freedom) with four colors- red, blue, yellow and pink. Each color has relevance and they represent the “trinity of values” which symbolizes the games. Red represents a unification of humanity, yellow –a chance for the athletes to realize their destiny, blue promotes equality and pink we are made to believe adds an element of surprise and luxury to the games and reflects India in all its resplendent glory. On one of Beena’s visit to my clinic I had asked her which color does she like the best. It haunts me that she had abruptly said “Pink”. No wonder India’s “resplendent” glory could only be erected on her flesh and bones.
I am surprised why the “trinity of values” concept eludes our ruling class when it comes to prioritizing hunger, poverty and ignorance? Why can’t the red represent an equitable distribution of resources? Why can’t blue promote social equality and social justice? And how about assigning the yellow color to opportunities and hope to fulfill the destiny of millions of common Indians who are otherwise too effete to even stretch their imagination beyond the need and fulfillment of daily bread? It is indeed a matter of shame that we want to hold the Commonwealth games even when we have yet to sort out more pressing issues which require an in-depth and humane allocation of funds and resources. I won’t be exaggerating if I compare this to Pokhran-II where an incumbent BJP government found it appropriate to conduct the blasts and gain instant middle class popularity rather than mending India’s gaping economic and social wounds.
The showcase of Indian glory will also be a hallmark of core values which define our ruling political and bureaucratic setup - corruption, lop sided priorities and a determination to pose an untimely, unasked and unnecessary agenda on the common man. I agree with Mr. Aiyar that with the conclusion of Commonwealth Games on October 13, the hungry hounds will look forth to future programs of loot. Maybe Asian games or even Olympics- the final sporting spectacle, the final event for unprecedented plunder of my and your money. In the mean time Mr. Rahul Gandhi’s Kalawatis and my Ram Pyaris can only curse their fates. Their numbers will grow. Many more Beenas will be buried under the debris of “resplendent” glory and phony pride of India. Pinks will elude their meaning for her and for the likes of her; black will be the color of the day.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Attack on Freedom Flotilla- Come on Obama, earn your Nobel!

When President Barrack Obama was declared the winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace 2009, there were mixed responses from the International and US communities. The black were ecstatic, the whites sighed, and the browns like me only hoped that the Nobel laureate Obama would usher in change in a world where his country is seen more of a tormentor than anything else. Unfortunately nothing changed. More American soldiers were commissioned in Afghanistan; more drones killed innocent civilians than Al Qaida members in the tribal areas of Pakistan; more “development” work was sanctioned to American companies in Iraq and even more hysteria was generated against the weapons of mass destruction with Iran. It appeared that the Nobel Prize for Peace to Barrack Obama was as much a waste as it was a hoax in those six years when the real champion of peace, Mahatma Gandhi was denied its bestowment (We were told that Gandhi was nominated six times for the prize).
The Israeli attack on the Turkish boats carrying humanitarian aid to the caged people of Gaza is an opportunity thrown by history towards President Barrack Obama to earn his Nobel Peace Prize. The merciless killing of nineteen innocent humanitarian aid victims by Israeli forces aboard the Freedom Flotilla is not new. Israel is known for similar brutalities in the past. Who can forget the killing of innocent Muhhamad Al Durrah, the little boy who hid behind his father to avoid the Israeli bullets at a sleepy Gaza junction? Or for that matter can we ever forget the thousands murdered at the Sabra-Shatila camps in Beirut? So what is so big if Israel has committed murder again? To an ordinary citizen of the world like me, it is the audacity with which Israeli authorities perpetrated these crimes, right in front of world attention, knowing the consequences! It was murder planned and executed in broad daylight, right in our drawing rooms. The iron cold savagery of Israeli authorities has even taken its allies by surprise. Never have we seen such a global outcry over an Israeli atrocity.
In the opening remarks of his Noble lecture, President Obama had said, “It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations – that for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice”. Undoubtedly strong, soul stirring words. But actions to bend history in the direction of justice never come easy. We know President Barrack Obama is an excellent orator. He weaves his words to make the listener believe in him. His popular Cairo University speech to Muslims is an epitome of rhetoric manufactured to the tune of popular Muslim sentiments. But for how long? Words sound good only if they are followed by firm actions. Actions are fortunately impervious to rhetoric. They have the accuracy to hit where it hurts. We know what Martin Luther King meant in his I Have a Dream speech because his actions and subsequently his sacrifice were proof enough to nurture the meaning of each and every word- truthful and heavy with purpose.
It’s interesting that President Obama’s second book Audacity of Hope derives its inspiration from the famous painting Hope by G.F. Watts. Obama had attended a sermon by his mentor, Jeremiah White who had then described the painting - "with her clothes in rags, her body scarred and bruised and bleeding, her harp all but destroyed and with only one string left, she had the audacity to make music and praise God ... To take the one string you have left and to have the audacity to hope ... that's the real word God will have us hear from this passage and from Watt's painting." How much more will President Barrack Obama wait? Palestine as a geopolitical entity is in rags. Its landmass divided by unjustified borders and fences. Its body scarred, bruised and bleeding. Every day brings new wounds and fresh death. The harp of hope for millions of Palestinians is long broken. The identity of Palestine has been untimely aborted by cruel hands of the Israeli establishment.
There are moments in history which demand change in our perceptions and attitudes to what looks routine. We have become immune to the siege and violence of Gaza. We have become deaf to the cries of mothers and lamenting of daughters. The complex power equations of the Middle East have muddled the cost of human suffering which is an inevitable part of the package. With each day the darkness around Gaza deepens. Peace talks, war crimes and peace talks again. The cycle goes on with a status quo which suites the perpetrators more than the victims. The attack on Freedom Flotilla is one such moment which has thrown a chance not towards Barak Obama, the President of the most powerful country in the world, but towards Barak Obama, the Nobel Laureate for Peace 2009. There is no paucity of options on Barak Obama’s platter. Israeli economic blockage, redefining biased territorial divisions, UN sanctions, maybe use of force or even freedom for the people of Palestine in general and Gaza in particular. President Obama was criticized by many for being given the Nobel Prize prematurely. This is the opportunity to justify the award and to reaffirm the faith of people in hope and humanity.
We know the cost of standing up against Israel and the Zionist agenda can be exorbitant and pure dangerous, but then the cost to maintain status quo is already deadly. We hope Barack Obama, the first black President of the United States of America stands up to what he writes and thinks. We hope that his actions, not rhetoric, will manufacture global consent against any further Israeli oppression. We hope that he frees the prisoners of Gaza not only from their brutal masters but from their fates as well. President Barak Obama, we will wait to see if you are just one of them or are you a rare breed.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Our Choice: Insulated Nationalism or Arundhati Roy?

Across the length and breath of human history there are instances when a person can get away with murder but being an anti-national (as defined by popular sentiment) is a crime of the highest order. In Hollywood or in Bollywood, treason is the ultimate epitome of a villainous character. Arundhati Roy’s recent essay on Maoists of Dhantewada has more or less opened a Pandora’s Box. More than the debate on subject, the conventional and the alternative media (read internet) is busy in pronouncing her guilty of treason, a charge not easy to prove or refute. In wake of what I consider as one of the most poignant pieces of honest evaluation, Ms. Roy has come under significant attack from both the right and left ends of political and intellectual class. Many have written her off as an anti-national about whom India and Indians should not worry. She has been labeled as a fanatic bohemian. She has been disregarded as an author who has a habit to describe the problem emotively without offering a solution. In a nutshell she has been criticized, spited and even threatened. Of all the comments on her platter, her being labeled as a rabid, anti-national is the one which makes interesting read.
George Orwell had once said, “by ‘nationalism’ I mean the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labeled ‘good’ or ‘bad’”. Good or bad? Nationalist or Anti-national? The vernacular sounds familiar. As a young boy growing in a Muslim ghetto, I had heard this vocabulary on more than a single occasion. Growing up in a middle class, “secular” Muslim Indian household, my sensitivity to nationalism had been nurtured and grown into a robust beast, ready to devour any signs of sedition, treason and subversion. It was very late in life when I realized that nationalism does not necessarily mean accepting all that the state says, commands and orders. Nationalism also means asking the correct questions at the correct time even if this compromises the state’s own interests.
We all practice what can safely be labeled as “insulated nationalism”. A kind of nationalism which is kept free from external influences and affections. Pure and unadulterated. Insulated nationalism carries the smell of blood. It attracts beasts of all kinds. Human history is full of disastrous effects of insulated, thoughtless nationalism. Nationalism gave birth to Hitler. In the early nineties, it was nationalism cooked with a pinch of Hindu religion which saw the rise of right wing fascist parties in our country. Taliban and their machinery of jihadism is the end product of nationalism mixed with tenants of Islam. Jingoism post 9/11 incited the American people not only to re-elect an incumbent and incompetent George W Bush but also to support his so called war against terror. Insulated nationalism is one of the most perfect weapons of mass destruction human mind has ever discovered. A missile which can be fired without any payload; from any distance. It’s an unmanned drone which causes unprecedented destruction in its wake.
The rhetoric of insulated Nationalism can be most dangerous when the people fed on it are half literate, half hungry, half clothed and all in all half human. This half human does not realize that even his nationalism is half baked in the fire of vested interests. Day in and day out his mind is controlled by the jingoism which appears on television, radio, newspapers and other sources of state outlet. The ability to ask questions, the power to raise a finger, the insight to evaluate a plot, are all burnt in the fire of this insulated nationalism. The story doesn’t end here. The insulation of nationalism is further fortified by straps of religion, caste, and region. So, if you are a Muslim you cannot question the violation of human rights in Kashmir. If you are a dalit you cannot condemn the government’s credibility on reservation policies. A Christian cannot raise the issue of Orissa carnage on an International Human Rights forum. And on similar lines, an Arundhati Roy cannot raise a voice against the misfortune of adivasis and the tribal of Dhantewada without being labeled anti-national.
Nationalism is an innate trait which we acquire growing up in a society. The components of nationalism cannot be forced but felt. Nationalism means assimilation and integration of people on a common social stage. What kind of nationalism can we expect from the dalit survivors of Kherlenji massacre or the lucky ones from the Gujarat and Delhi (1984) pogroms? None. Their perception of nationalism and the concept of nationhood have been blurred (or should we say clarified) by their experiences of the microenvironment they lived in. The insulation from their nationalism has been ripped apart, exposing the rawness to factors around them. In fact it would be outright ridiculous to expect quantum of nationalist packages coming out from such underprivileged and downtrodden sections of the society which has been denied justice in cold blood. Strangely it would not be surprising if we see the perpetrators of these crimes berate nationalist slogans from roof tops. Insulated nationalism is surely a strange weapon.
As for the likes of Arundhati Roy, who could be more nationalist than the one who has the ability and courage to raise voice against injustice, inequality and discrimination of her own people? Who could be more patriotic than the one who fights for the rights of those whom we consider inconvenient road blocks in the agenda of OUR progress. It is frightening to see the “insect” definition of George Orwell being applied with impunity. Nationalism with insulation is like fire without warmth, like a bird without wings. It is time that we remove the insulation from our nationalism so that our raw nerves could be exposed to what is happening around us and with us. The mist of breath and the warmth of blood spilled next door can only be felt if we have this raw nerve.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Certificate of Good Standing from the MCI- Who Needs it?

For any Indian doctor applying for a course or even employment outside the country, it is usually essential to procure a “Certificate of Good Standing” from the Medical Council of India (MCI). I have gone through this arduous task on a couple of occasions. Correctly enough the validity of this certificate is for a year and for re-certification you have to again go through the same procedure. That is to say the Council keeps a check on your character as a doctor on an annual basis.
A couple of weeks back, Dr. Ketan Desai, the President of MCI was nabbed by the CBI on charges of taking a bribe of Rupees 2 crores in lieu of recognizing a Medical College from Punjab. How ironic could that be! President of the Council which issues Certificates of Good Standing to thousands of doctors has a dubious character himself. No wonder, the Certificate of Good Standing of the MCI is not signed by its President. This task is left with the Registrar of the Council.
It is funny (and scary) how often our government system and its characters are an oxymoron to their own value system. How often we are betrayed by those in whom we dispose our faith and belief. Judges, civil servants, politicians, journalists, doctors. You name it and every single profession has betrayed the common Indian in the country’s short history of sixty three years. It makes me think. Are we heading in the right direction or have we lost the plot already?
We all remember the first few lines of “tryst with destiny” speech of Jawaharlal Nehru on that eventful midnight but we rather prefer to forget the concluding part of his speech. He had said, “We have hard work ahead. There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full, till we make all the people of India what destiny intended them to be”. Surely destiny didn’t mean this for the people of India to be! Against the back drop of Nehru’s “tryst with destiny”, the destiny of common Indians is written not by themselves but by thugs who are at the helm of affairs.
Loss of faith of the common man in government machinery is an open secret. People like Dr. Desai only reaffirm this loss. It is this breach of faith which throws a life-line to the ever expanding private sector. Day in and day out, new hospitals and private medical schools pock mark the Indian landscape. Rules are twisted. Illegal permissions granted. The party goes on. The loot goes unabated. I am not arguing that the Private health sector should not exist. Unarguably the government health sector should be supplemented but not substituted by a robust private sector. In fact some of the best brains in Medical sciences in our country are the product of a vibrant private health sector.
Unfortunately, the problem is not the private sector. What can we accept from Institutions which are formed and run with an open intent to earn money? Dr. Ketan Desai was not from the private set up. It is us, people working in the public sector who are guilty of betraying our clientele again and again. It is us who defy rules. It is us who get lured to money. It is us who are an easy prey to temptations of wealth, power and mammon.
The acceptance of “gifts” from pharmaceutical companies is a common occurrence in thousands of government hospitals across the country. How conveniently a “bribe” can be changed into a “gift” is something on which we all need to ponder. Gifts are given to someone you love, not to doctors meant to treat patients! Pharmaceutical companies set out big sums in their budgets to lure doctors into writing their drugs and implants. It is ironic that the corridor of most government hospitals across India are filled with sick and dying patients as well as a good number of neatly dressed medical representatives with well polished shoes. In fact I could see the class difference here too, bigger the company, more suave the representative!
The most dangerous part of the story is that with exponential (and selective) economic growth, there has been an intrusion of foreign companies on the Indian scene. Most CME programs, medical conferences and surgical workshops are now sponsored (read hijacked) by these profit making machines. The promotion of implants and drugs in the name of scientific research in a country with no clear guidelines and checks is a matter of urgent concern. The rampant use of implants actually meant for the western population is riddled with intrinsic complications. But who cares? The flow of money washes away the ethical concerns.
The corruption in the Indian medical fraternity is not limited to the MCI or Dr. Ketan Desai. The rot goes deep. He just headed the juggernaut which steam rolls over human life and suffering in the pretext of alleviating it. The disintegration of ethical values is near complete. Entice of wealth has taken its toll. The question is whether we can break out of this free fall or are we ready to land with our faces flat on the ground. The task is cut out for the MCI. There is an urgent need to set the house in order. The need of an honest and transparent system at the MCI cannot be over emphasised. It’s my belief that India cannot cleanse itself of people like Dr. Desai. They will keep coming back like seasonal pests. But we can surely have a system to identify and neutralise them. If checks and balances are in place the likes of Dr. Desai can be kept at bay. In all honesty, the Medical Council of India needs a Certificate of Good Standing for itself more than anyone else.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Why I hate the IPL

To qualify as an Indian, it is essential that you love cricket, it is important that you gossip, it is vital to fall in love with pelvic thrusting actors and cajoling actresses on the celluloid screen and it is quintessential that you make money the quick (and sometimes the wrong) way. The saga of Indian Premier League (IPL), the beleaguered cricket league of India, is no exception to these general rules of Indianness. The vulgar display of money, power and beauty is there for all to see. From selfish business tycoons to iconic players, all adorn the masala called IPL. It is surely entertainment at its best. The kind of recipe which made a friend’s eighty-five year old grandma vouch for a team (it’s a different matter that she can’t make out why the two brothers, called “mid off” and “mid on” play for every team!)’. IPL is fun as long as it confines itself to the cricketing field. Last week the game spilled over, flooding our fragile democratic institutions and drowning a lot in its wake.
To believe that all what happened in the last couple of weeks is the result of an ego clash between Lalit Modi and Shashi Tharoor would be rather stupid and naïve. In fact are we being made to believe that a shrewd businessman and a newly crowned politician do have an ego? Doesn’t make sense to me. In all its three years of existence, IPL was not about cricket. It was about money. About a lot of money! The unprecedented value of the IPL was too much to be resisted by all - politicians, administrators, business moguls, cine stars. Everyone wanted a piece of this rich pie. But are we really interested in the Tharoors, Pawars, Ambanis and Modis? Corruption in the IPL does not really worry me. From the day of its conception the IPL was not a sanctum sanctorum. “Brand IPL” as it is tried to be labeled by those who believe in the politics and power of “brands” was a hot bed of vested interests. It was an outlet for black money. Yes, they also played cricket to keep the likes of us think that the league represented a sport so close to a billion Indian hearts.
The financial aspects of IPL are not only murky but an eye opener for those who thought that India was a poor nation with more than forty percent population living below the poverty line. The total value of IPL, which even Mr Modi cannot predict with surety, is expected to be around 70000 crores. This unaccounted money is available to the richest people of India. No doubt the rich got richer in the IPL. Compare this to a cumulative expenditure of mere Rs. 27.59 crores in the prestigious National Rural Guarantee Scheme of the Government of India for the state of Orissa in 2008-09. The Orissa example is even more glaring as this is the state where hunger deaths are reported on a regular basis. Some may argue and correctly so, that it is foolhardiness to compare a government scheme with a privately owned sporting event which is meant for entertainment. Sure, but this is the best way to show how India entertains and Bharat survives under one roof. The contrast of IPL money and the lack of it in governmental schemes shows the divergence of thought and responsibility which goes in making India a nation of such huge contradictions. It is this thought process which gives birth to Maoists, Naxals and other elements of state defiance. With the muck and shame of IPL written large on the faces of corporate and political class of India, words of our Hon. Home Minister, Shri P Chidambaram sound so hollow, “we shall counter the Maoists with force. They are the gravest internal security threat to our country”. How can we even expect to believe a word of what he says? Maoists, Naxals, Naga Militia. Are any of these a bigger threat to the nation than the financial scamsters of IPL? Shouldn’t the equation be set right now? May be one Maoist for every thug involved in the IPL? How about “neutralising” the threat of Lalit Modi and his brigade before “neutralising” the alleged mastermind of the Dantewada massacre, Ramanna Paparao?
IPL even described socialism in its own new way. According to a report released just before the end of IPL2 (2009) by the equity research firm IIFL, Rajasthan Royals, the team representing Jaipur would have made the highest profit of Rs 35.1 crore in the group matches of the second edition of the tournament even when their performance was below par compared to their champion status of 2008. Knight Riders, which finished at the bottom in the league table in South Africa, nevertheless ended up with the third highest profit of Rs 25.8 crore in IPL 2. King’s XI representing Punjab, which also did not make it to the semis, just beat Kolkata to second spot with a profit of Rs 26.1 crore. How interesting is that! Teams doing poorly in terms of cricket will not necessarily fare poor in their financial gains. It looks as if Lalit Modi and his gang of franchises have defined what could be called as “IPL Socialism”.
The IPL also represents a loot of public funds, my and your money, which doesn’t even get noticed. Each day & night match of the IPL played under flood lights, consumes electricity enough to run 500 average Indian homes for a month. The provision of subsidised electricity doesn’t make things any different. It is believed that the average electricity bill for a single day and night cricket match of the IPL is more than 15000 US Dollars. For those interested in numbers, this is the government’s expenditure on health for ten adult Indians if they live up to an age of 70 years (at the rate of 21 dollars PPP). Water, a deficient resource in cities like Mumbai and Delhi is used to keep the fields green during the IPL. This, in a country which is now at the top of the childhood malnutrition charts of the globe with lack of clean water being the primary cause of a large number of infant and childhood morbidity and mortality.
The money and its earthy use in the IPL is a matter of shame for each Indian. We all love cricket but surely not in a way in which Lalit Modi packed it for us. The very fact that a large part of our society is still deprived of basic daily needs including food should always weigh heavily on our conscience. Why are we as civil society becoming oblivious to the needs of the common Indian? How can we even accept an Agriculture Minister presiding over the functions of the IPL when hundreds of farmers are committing suicide day in and day out? How are we justified in condemning the Maoists when the Indian society gives them an IPL every now and then? If the law of the land does not permit theft, how can it allow this unprecedented day light robbery? The vulgarity of IPL stands defiant. If Mr. Lalit Modi and his band of filchers cannot feel for the poor they should at least respect poverty.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Living with the Ghosts

I don’t believe in ghosts. I think they are the folly of a fearful mind. But yet I find ghosts to be funny characters. They hound you at the most awkward of hours and at the most awkward of places. Having said this, some ghosts are not funny, they can make life miserable. Ask Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of the Indian state of Gujarat. Mr. Modi is alleged to have mastermind or rather orchestrated the genocide of Muslims in Gujarat during the 2002 communal riots. It was this orchestration of communal massacre which earned him the title of modern day Nero by the Supreme Court of India. The ghosts of Gujarat 2002 keep returning to him. The more he tries to ostracize these nefarious characters, the more they return with new force and vigor. Ghosts of young men & women, small children, pregnant mothers and even the little Caspers, the fetuses who were torn out of the cozy comfort of their mothers’ bellies and thrown into soaring infernos. All are back. Some ghosts are obstinate, pigheaded to get justice for getting them into this indiscernible state by Mr. Modi and his riot manufacturing machine which runs on human blood.
I am sure these ghosts will accompany Mr. Modi on March 27th 2010, when we are made to believe, that he presents himself to be questioned by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India to probe the Gujarat carnage. It is important to note that Mr. Modi will be testifying only in the case of Mr. Ehsan Jafri who was murdered, sorry, dismembered, in the Gulbarg society carnage in Feb 2002. I am amused to imagine that as Mr. Modi will sit in the big leather chair in front of a tight lipped committee of polished bureaucrats, there would be a thousand eyes popping over his shoulder, jostling to get space, pushing and elbowing each other to make their presence felt. The SIT interrogation room will be full of ghosts. Frail elderly ghosts, who will be pushed further back in the chaos, the naughty little ones who will dodge their mothers to go and pee on Modi’s white starched kurta and the pregnant ghosts, the most difficult to control; they start cursing and bellowing at the top of their voices whenever they see Mr. Modi. Probably they were too much in love with their babies-to-be the day they were raped and cut opened. Then there would be those who are unnamed, unidentified - the faceless ghosts. These are the ones who resided in bodies which were charred beyond recognition in the spring of 2002 across different locations of Gujarat. Bodies scorched so badly that even their spirits are now faceless.
It will be interesting to note how these ghosts will react as Mr. Modi is put through what I feel will be scratchy questions. Well surely uncomfortable for people with a heart and soul! I had always felt that Mr. Modi should be invited to an episode of Sach ka Samna, the popular Hindi version of a more suave Moment of Truth. Seeing him answer moral (and immoral) questions in a true or false pattern would be fun. In fact it might be much easier for him as well; at least he will not have to give bizarre and whacky explanations which make us judgmental on his intelligence and astuteness. So, if the host asks, “Mr. Modi you ordered the best bakery carnage -True or False?” he, with all the straightness of face (resembling the election face mask he distributed in 2007) will answer, “False”. The not so always accurate lie detector machine says: False. No more explanations, no more shame. Well, no more shame particularly for Mr. Modi and no more shame for us, Indians, in general.
History has a peculiar knack of catching up with its characters. On March 27th India’s history will catch up with its most pernicious of politicians. In the company of three thousand invisible yet tangible ghosts, Narendra Modi will undergo a scrutiny of his deeds. His acts of commission and importantly his impotence of omission, everything will go under the scanner. And all this in the presence of those to whom he owes an explanation. He owes an explanation to all of us. To me, to you, to those who love our freedom and our country. To those who bow before the god a bit differently and also to those who bow in the same way as he does. He owes an explanation to the nameless ghosts who wander through the land of Gandhi awaiting their moksha and to those who were left alive and mourn the dead.
I am sure Mr. Modi will perspire as the SIT questions get difficult and will sigh as the easier ones follow. Watching him quietly in the room with three thousand ghosts will be a smiling Ehsan Jafri in white kurta-pyjama; still soaked in blood. His body was dismembered, but his spirit is cohesive. He has identified his killers. He has recognized the perpetrators. His death has not gone waste. His wailings from that fateful day in Gulbarg society haven’t gone unanswered. The Day of Judgment is closing in. He does not want to blink. He wants to capture each and every second of this hearing into his fluid state. The pain of getting dismembered by a crowd of assassins must surely be not greater than the pleasure of seeing Narendra Modi in the spot light. The spot light of shame and ignominy.
Narendra bhai Modi, as he is popularly called, has a task cut out. Either he faces the SIT to answer questions he has been evading since February 2002 or he continues to live in the shadow of ghosts. His party feels that he is a popular chief minister who always respects law. It makes me laugh - law and Modi in the same voice? A sarcastic oxymoron for those who saw law raped in Gujarat in the 2002 carnage. An ironic antithesis for those who saw their children thrown in fire in the February of 2002. An iron-cold apathy for those who saw policemen betray their trust.
Mr. Modi, it’s not easy to live with ghosts. They create ruckus, they can be hysterical. They don’t let you sleep peacefully and above all they do not forget or forgive.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Beheading Islam in Peshawar

The news of beheading of two Sikh youth in the Peshawar region of Pakistan has not come as a surprise to the world. What more can we expect from a rabid race of Talibanis, born and brought up on the fodder of hate and violence. The news in fact brings to light the hollow rhetoric of the Pakistani establishment when they claim to have contained the menace of Taliban.
What surprises me is the eerie silence of the Muslim ulema in the subcontinent (particularly in India) in their condemnation of this cowardly act of appalling brutality. Where are those who leave no opportunity to condemn what is inconvenient to them, no matter how comfortable it might be to Islam in general and Muslims in particular? What happens to all those voices which grow louder at times of trivial issues which they think place Islam in danger? What more danger can await a religion than accusation of the kind which we see after such heinous atrocities? When can the Islamic ulemas realize that acts such as these are the ones which actually put Islam in danger.
The blood of innocents in Palestine is mourned. The brutalities of Narender Modi’s pogrom in Gujarat were mercilessly damned. Then what happens when it’s time to condemn the most bigoted and rabid of Muslims? By being mum to the brutalities of Taliban the Muslim ulemas are giving voice to those who perpetrate violence. What justification can we give to the condemnation of the likes of Modi and Sharon in future? What message is passed on to those who stand and fight for the cause of underprivileged and minorities in this country? Shouldn’t this usual tale of the ‘victim becoming the perpetrator’ be put to rest once and for all?
The threat from Taliban is not confined to Sikhs, Jews or Hindus. They are running amok with a real danger to the spirit of Islam. Non Muslims across the globe can secure themselves against any Talibani attack. They can build fences, walls and iron shields. But what happens to the global Muslim community? What fence can stop the condemnation of Islam in global drawing rooms? What wall can prevent the filtration of pure hate against Islam and its proponents amongst Sikhs? Where do we buy an iron shield to repel the cutting suspicious look against a bearded Muslim at an airport?
There are many who argue that Taliban does not represent true Islam. Definitely yes, they do not represent the common Muslim of the subcontinent. But unfortunately they have been made to appear as the face of real Islam in this polarized world. They are the ones who get the media attention and most unfortunately they are the ones who think that THEY represent Islam in their own brutal way. How much we may argue, for an innocent Westerner, Taliban is the face of Islam.
There is a war between moderation and fanaticism, between love and hate. The esoteric Islam of the subcontinent faces a monster in the new, cruel definition of the religion. It’s time we realize this danger before the monster grows too large to restrain. The means to contain this ogre are many. Physical force, debate, condemnation, every weapon in the armamentarium should be used. We are already fighting a losing battle. The tacit support of the Pakistani and American establishment at one time has fed the Taliban strong. It requires real commitment of the moderate Muslim forces in the region to come out and take the bull by its horns.
My heart aches for Jaspal Singh, who was murdered by a group of thugs who are the so called torch bearers of Islam. Can we imagine his pain and fear as he would have been finally dragged to the altar amidst a sea of drolly dressed men chanting “Allah-o-Akbar”? What all might have gone through his head in his final moments? How detestable he would have been to Islam and its followers? His pain, his trepidation, his final gasps for breath, all for perpetrating the cause of Islam? I am sure that day, it wasn’t Jaspal Singh who was beheaded, it was Islam beheaded in Peshawar and we all should mourn this death.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Why I am Man

I am a man because I have the right and power to molest a teenager and abet her to commit suicide. I am a man because I have the courage to throw acid on any girl who refuses to marry me. I am a man because I have the audacity of ripping apart the modesty of the girl next door. Finally, I am a man because I was born in India, the land which gives unconditional supremacy to its masculine gender right from inception of life. In fact I was allowed to be born because I was a man! India is not short of such men of substance, SPS Rathore, Manu Sharma, KPS Gill, Vikas Yadav, Babu Bajrangi. The list is endless and so is their enormous and teeming masculinity.
The events of last few weeks have heated up the urban debate on sexual chauvinism in this country; as if sexual chauvinism never existed in India! With a female sex ratio of 865 to every 1000 males in the cosmopolitan and modern Delhi (in 2001) we can only imagine how hideous things are in the rural heart of India. Rapes, molestations, dowry deaths - can you imagine any single day when you had picked up a newspaper and hadn’t come across this ugly jargon? What do we mean when we say that Goa has become dangerous for females? The truth is that it was never safe. There would hardly be an inch of land in this great nation which can be called safe for its citizens of “lesser sex”.
As a doctor I am horrified by parents deliberately forgetting to count female siblings when asked, ‘how many children do you have?’ Apathy to the birth of a baby girl in India is well known. I can recall all those sad faces waiting outside the labor ward, when told that their “daughter” has given birth to a “daughter”. It is usually left to an experienced hospital ayah to break the news, “bechari key larhki hui hai” (the poor lady has given birth to a baby girl). I think we are the only nation on the face of earth where a mother becomes miserable on delivering a baby girl!
The fight for survival for the Indian female starts in the womb. If she is lucky to be born, she becomes ready meat for men of substance. Men like SPS Rathore, masculinity of whom is pampered in the cosy cot of political power. I presume it is easy to molest a girl in India than to get a mobile phone connection! I feel that Rathore was able to do what he did not only because he was a senior police official with absolute power but because of total apathy and insouciance of the Indian society towards females in general. We worship Durga we, revere Sita but we fail in the fundamental duty of sexual equivalence. Male dominance in India is a natural occurrence of birth. In fact I won’t be wrong if I conclude that Rathore was not responsible for the events leading to the suicide of Ruchika Girhotra. We all were. Indian society should share this collective blame. Rathore was just using the cold hearted attitude of our sexist society.
Why do we sacrifice mothers, daughters and sisters for fathers, sons and brothers? Why do we have to plunder a Lakshmi in the name of dowry? Why do we deprive our Saraswatis of basic education? Why can’t we give justice to Durgas of this land? Things can change only if we change. Female upliftment is the sine qua non of social progress. The civil society of India needs to understand the dynamics of sexual equivalence. The likes of SPS Rathores can only be kept at bay if we start loving our daughters and treating them at par with our sons.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Curious Case of Vikram Buddhi

It is ironic that the day President Barrack Obama held his Nobel Peace medal in hand, the American judiciary soiled its hand with blood of justice...….cold and savage. Again the American consciousness failed to separate the good from the bad. And yet again an innocent was sacrificed at the altar of lady of liberty, the symbol of freedom and hope for millions across America. The sentencing of Vikram Buddhi, the IIT Alumnus from India has come as rude shock in this part of the world. The curious case of Mr. Buddhi, a graduate of the IIT Mumbai, is an eye-opener for all those who till date believed in the fairness of the American legal system. The case of Mr. Vikram Buddhi is perplexing. In December 2005, an Internet message appeared urging the people of Iraq to avenge the death of 312,769 Iraqi women and children. Subsequently this message was traced to the computer of Vikram Buddhi, a graduate student at Purdue University in Indiana. Vikram was picked up for interrogation and released on January 18, 2006 by the U.S. Secret Service, complete with a report that he posed no threat. For obscure reasons, in May 2006 he was mysteriously picked up again and jailed. The case went to trial, crucial evidence was hidden from the jury by a hostile judge, and a guilty verdict was returned on June 25, 2007. Finally on December 11, 2009 he was handed a four years nine months prison sentence. So much for posting hate messages against the then President George W Bush and his team of gagsters. I suppose if this was his crime, then at least half the world’s population would be behind bars! We all know how popular the butcher of Baghdad was!America and its claim of freedom has been under the scanner for long. Post 9/11 the American claims of justice, egalitarianism and liberty have been admonished on a regular basis. No wonder, President Obama announced the closing down of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in his first Presidential address to the nation. It is important that in a world with impending terrorist threats every country has a right to defend its land and subjects. But it is also noteworthy that governments have no right to trample human dignity in the name of salvaging freedom and liberty. Needless to say American establishment has a habit to stamp on the rights of others. Their past and recent misadventures in the Middle East, Vietnam, Central America, Rwanda and Afghanistan are an appalling testament for the same. The tombstones in America’s human right cemetery have a grim story to tell. Vikram Buddhi’s case is not the only one. The mockery of justice and legality in the legally correct land is a regular feature. Although it is a different matter that those who suffer are African Americans, Native Indians or expatriates from the third world; the not so equals in an otherwise “equal & just” American social order. The most glaring of all cases is that of Gary Tyler, an African-American, who is serving a life sentence in Louisiana. He was convicted by an all-white jury in 1974 for the murder of a 13-year-old Timothy Weber, a white student who was shot during intense racial clashes in Destrehan, Louisiana. Tyler, who was 17 at the time of the incident, has consistently denied involvement in the crime. In yet another story of blatant violation of human rights at the hand of an unjust legal system, two prisoners Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox languish in solitary confinement for the last 37 years in a prison in Angola, Louisiana. Their crime, political activism in prison. No other living prisoner in the United States is believed to have spent so long in solitary confinement as these two. And of course who can forget the thrashing of Rodney King in March 1991 at the hands of Los Angeles Police officers, the custodians of law.There is no justification to the obscenity of Vikram Buddhi’s remarks on the internet. Equally there is no justification of handing him a half baked prison sentence, concluded in secrecy and painted with prejudice and hate. The American people should realize that it is not what he said is important, but why he said it. The universal detestation for America comes from its extraordinary record of war and destruction across the globe. American hegemony and its fall out is something which should worry the common American as a citizen of this world. Aggression breeds frustration and frustration breeds people who are vulnerable to the follies of the rabid. How lop sided can the American system be in condemning the handling of Roxana Saberi’s case by the Iranian authorities when they themselves have a Vikram Buddhi at hand? Justice is a bewildering weapon. Its presence can be sweet and fresh but equally it can hand a savage blow to the very cause it is meant to fulfill. American establishment and most importantly the American people need to introspect. Vikram’s case has revealed the vulnerability of their system. It won’t be long before the American dream dies for millions of Indian students who wanted to go the same path as Vikram Buddhi; but for the common American the nightmare has only begun. Freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom of identity are at stake. Once all Indians, all Chinese, all Arabs, all Blacks, all Browns and all Natives are swallowed by the legal American anaconda, it will come for their blood.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Am I a Naxal Sympathizer?

The recent upsurge in Naxal violence has led the Hon. Home Minister of India, Mr. P Chidambaram to put a difficult question to the intelligencia of this country, “Are you a Naxal Sympathizer?”, he asked all those who showed any feeling, occult or open, in sympathizing with the red brigade. The question leaves little room for answer and even little space for people like me, who do sympathize with those who have been deprived and protest, sans violence. Doesn’t it sound very much like George W Bush bellowing “Either you are with us or you are with them”? George Bush’s question and subsequently Chidambaram’s query smothers all breathing space in the middle path of rationality. Such provocative, “agenda-setting” questions are not without meaning. Not only do they smother rationality on one end, they justify the use of unfair, undemocratic and violent means of crushing all forms of remonstration on the other. The question itself answers what the people of ‘shining India’ (and not Bharat) want to listen. What more should we expect from Mr. Chidambaram, the lawyer who at one time represented the controversial British Mining giant Vedanta Resources and the American energy firm Enron.
To an ordinary Indian like me, the Naxal movement is the end result of years of repression of local people, loot of local resources and violation of fundamental rights. Police atrocities combined with a feudal, caste based hierarchy has only made things worse. The gross neglect and disregard of adivasis and tribals of India by ‘rulers’ not very different from Mr. Chidambaram has resulted in the present state of affairs. Only if the prototypes of Mr. Chidambaram would have provided a just and democratic system of equivalence, things would have been different. Unfortunately it is difficult for a Harvard educated, Mr. P. Chidambaram, the protégé of the royal family of Chettinand, to comprehend the tragedy called life which the adivasis of India lead every day.
It is true that there is no place for violence in the India of Gandhi. Violence is to be condemned, abhorred and dismissed. Violence, whatever the cause, has always been a reason to question the sanctity of the Naxal movement. But how justified is it in a democracy for a state to use force against its own people? Mr. Chidambaram’s contemplation in using Army and Air-force in dealing with the Naxals stands to be condemned. Who is not aware of the so called “collateral damage” during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars? The phenomenal loss of life in the cloak of collateral damage has been heart rending. Can Mr. Chidambaram assure against any such “collateral damage” in this one sided offensive? What have we learnt from our experiences in the North East and Kashmir? Why are we depending more and more on force to handle critical, people based issues? Why can’t we address the problems which breed Naxals? Is this the beginning of end of democratic debate in this country?
Another important aspect of this debate is the sudden haste in tackling a problem the roots of which go way back to the 1940s and 50s. The sincerity of the present government in providing instant, cold blooded solution to the Naxal problem is suspect. The recent economic downturn and its financial implications have made India a hot bed for cheap resources. Everything comes cheap in India. Men, women, children, iron-ore, coal, water, forest, climate. The list is endless. Plundering of resources is easy. Even easier is the mismanagement of our ecology, people included. It is this loot of nature and man which is resented by locals and it is this resentment which is uncomfortable to our political class. It doesn’t require rocket science to conclude that the nexus of political class and India Inc. is the main beneficiary from this symbiosis of life and death. No wonder the political class wants to finish off any form of confrontation to this unabated pilferage.
It’s high time that the common Indian stand and be counted. The malicious political agenda which thrives on human blood has to be contained. Today they want to use force on Naxals, tomorrow it could be us. There is no justification of using violence against violence. Examples from across the globe have shown that violence breeds hatred and hatred breeds violence. The cycle of hate and violence swallows innocent human lives. If the Naxal violence is unjustified what reason do we have to give laurels to those who defend violent oppression of this movement?
As for Mr. Chidambaram, I sympathize with those who slept without food today. I sympathize with those whose homes were bulldozed for building a dam. I sympathize with children who will die in the night waiting for medical help. I sympathize with women who were raped by custodians of law. I am a common man. Unfortunately I sympathize with those who I feel are oppressed and deprived. My sympathies are not governed by the Harvardian rules of business. My compassion does not weigh opportunities. India Inc can wait but millions of hungry and deprived Indians can’t. The choices of sympathizing with masses represented by Naxals are limited. The rulers of this country should wake up to the realities of Bharat or it would too late to contain this so called menace. Its time the political class of Mr. Chidambaram realize that hungry people are more dangerous than the most ferocious of hounds.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Pointing Finger of Babasaheb Ambedkar

Mayawati, the Chief Minister of the most populous state of India is in news yet again. Her fondness to Greek Parthenon-style memorials has landed her in trouble with the highest court in the country. I wonder what the Supreme Court of India would have done to the likes of Shahjahan, Akbar, Cholas of Southern India and Rajputs of Rajasthan if it existed in their times. Surely, Mayawati is not a Shahjahan and her Parks nothing compared to the beauty of Taj and the Thanjavur temple. Well, that is not the point I am arguing. No sensible person on earth can defend the exorbitant and vulgar waste of public money in building stone monuments even when more than half of state’s children perish with malnutrition and disease. In fact I can argue with more fervor against the building of Mayawati’s parks and her loathness with development projects in the state. What we need is a more thoughtful insight into the reasons which go into the execution of this agenda of capricious commemoration. The sensitivity involved in Mayawati’s parks is more heart aching than the stone sculptures they represent. I see these parks as embodiments of pride and smugness. They are a means to leave an imprint in the sand of time by those who are tasting power maybe for the first time. The startling size of the statues is in direct proportion to the degree of throttle which the dalit community struggled with in the centuries gone by. I believe by building parks and grotesque statues, a subtle message goes: we have arrived! The building of statues and memorials is not new to us. Every dynasty and every ruler has tried to leave his impression in stone. Even if we ignore the rulers of ancient and medieval India, it is presumed that the largest number of statues came up immediately after independence, in the new, vibrant and democratic India. Each freedom fighter was celebrated in stone. That was our way of showing to the world that we have arrived. We called it different names. We never questioned its absurdity. Even as the country struggled to find solutions to the problems of illiteracy, hunger and poverty, more and more statues came up. More memorials were built and even more were planned for the next decade. Each statue came with adjectives like honor, pride and respect. Our courts never questioned their correctness. Baba Saheb was himself idolized in stone across thousands of small dalit villages and “mohallas” in India. His not very alluring statue, with the pointing finger, pock marked the country in unprecedented numbers. Was this an attempt to immortalize his philosophy? Surely not. Those who build his statues are alien to his philosophy. They are too illiterate to read the volumes of literature he has written. Their understanding limits itself to self pride and gratification. It is a celebration of their freedom within the tiny confines of the shadow of his statue. It is scientifically proven that statue building is a method of emotional expression. We can surely see the emotions which go in building the statues of the most respected dalit leader of all times. To me, Mayawati’s parks are an expanded and a vulgar version of this statue of Ambedkar. So where does this all lead us to? With hands across our hearts we need to ask difficult questions. Are we reacting to Mayawati’s parks and statues because she comes from a background to which we, the Indian elite, are not used to getting ruled by? Are we not being more stringent with her than with her predecessors? Are we not disturbed in our comfortable cocoons with the political rise of dalits in this country? The charges of corruption against her are extremely serious. But are we not being too self righteous in approaching her? Is it new that a Chief Minister has been charged with corruption? Well we have sitting Chief Ministers with charges of murder! Surely two wrongs do not make a right but the judgment of right and wrong has to come with a clear, un-jaundiced vision. We accepted Mulayam and Lalu, the abbreviated versions of dalit leaders, but to accept Mayawati is getting difficult for us. She represents a community which was meant to be ruled, to be decimated at will. She surely stands guilty of breaking this rule. Baba Saheb Ambedkar had once written, “Political power cannot be a panacea for the ills of the depressed classes. Their salvation lies in their social elevation. They must cleanse their evil habits. They must improve their bad ways of living”. I am sure if he was alive today; he would have been pained to see the contemptible misuse of money in building parks and statues. Mayawati too needs to learn from this message of salvation and social elevation. Political power is temporary, social elevation permanent. Statues can be a way to display social arrival and arrogance but surely it would be better if the same money is used for genuine emancipation of the most depressed sections of the Indian society. I wonder why Barrack Obama doesn’t start building statues of all those who toiled for the rights of the African-American community in the USA? He won’t because a level of education has taught him the correct way of achieving salvation. The blacks of America will not be benefited by a statue of Frederick Douglas but they surely will benefit from the health reforms on the agenda. We may like it or not, but Mayawati is a change which we have to come to terms with. Her statues may be a representation of corruption in the political class but surely they are much more than mere stone idols. As Indians, the only way in which we can stop this vulgar display of symbols of emancipation, is to give life to the thoughts of people who are idolized in these statues. By imbibing the thoughts of Ambedkar, we will no longer have to face his pointing finger.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Their Kasab, Our Kasabs

Ajmal Kasab, the Butcher of Mumbai, is a house hold name in India and Pakistan. It can be safely argued that after Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Ajmal Kasab may be the only name in the subcontinent which raises equally avid feelings and blistering debates across the Radcliffe line. He was trained to kill and he did his job with frightening exactness and in cold blood. He killed and broadened the horizon of savagery for future generations. He killed because he was primed to kill. Whatever the reasons for his killing hundreds of innocent Mumbaikars, to me he was a product of a system which is now established in Pakistan. The system of failure. However maligning it may sound to my friends across the border, the failure of Pakistan as a state is too evident to be ignored. The failure of democratic issues, freedom of speech, cogent leadership and failure of coherent thinking in the Pakistani administrative set up is barefaced. The social fabric of Pakistan as a nation has been split open by forces born out of its misadventures of the past. These forces now threaten to annihilate the country.
Well we can add more adjectives to the failure of Pakistan. But just before we do that lets focus on “our” Kasabas. The Indian Kasabs. The men who were born in an authentic democratic set up, nursed and nurtured by the so called righteous political class of our country. Men brought up in “shining India”. Men who are innately Indian but behave like the Kasabs of Pakistan. Can we ignore them? Surely not.
The recent report of the magisterial enquiry into the encounter of Ishrat Jahan is a grim reminder of our Kasabs. The metropolitan court has alarmingly called the killing of this 19 year old girl as a fake encounter. It is important to remember that her death at the hands of our Kasabs is a matter of great concern in a civilized society. She is not the only one. Sohrabuddin Sheikh, Kausar bi, Ranbir Singh, Rabina Devi, Ch. Sanjit are just few of the names which epitomize the presence of werewolves in the Indian administrative machinery. According to one report, there are allegedly 28 fake encounters in Gujarat alone. The Indian Kasabs are surely working overtime!
We justify (and rightly so) the likes of Ajmal Kasab through the failed state theory. But can we apply the same to his Indian counterparts? I wish I couldn’t. To me India hasn’t failed as a democracy as long as it comes to organizing elections and electing peoples’ representatives. Roots of democracy as a process of elections are deeply ingrained in our psyche and any attempt at uprooting this thought process is met with stiff resistance. Then what went wrong? Why did we breed Kasabs in the land of Gandhi and Buddha? The answer to this question is complex and painful.
Unfortunately our democracy starts and ends with elections. The broader meaning of democratic rights and duties is lost in the mayhem of electing men and women who conveniently forget the virtues of a democratic setup. Democracy as classlessness, as egalitarianism, as social equality never existed in our country. We were too much in awe of organizing an election in a country of one billion plus people to really focus on the key issues which threaten India’s democracy.
The collusion of political class with corrupt administrative machinery is one of the most dangerous and disastrous outcomes of our democratic set up. It was this colluding apparatus which tasted blood in Gujarat. The communal political class, represented best by Narendra Modi, has given free hand to our Kasabs, namely policepersons D.G Vanzara and R.K Pandayan to carry out their agenda of liquidating targets which could be conveniently wrapped under the covers of “fight against terrorism”, an abridged version of the American rhetoric of “war against terror”. But there is a difference. The Americans kill others in the name of war against terror; our Kasabs kill our own men and women in their fight against terrorism.
The outcome of fake encounters by Indian Kasabs is even more disastrous. It gives birth to more Pakistani Kasabs. It opens new avenues for Islamic fundamentalists to recruit young blood in this game of death. In short, our Kasabs and their Kasabs form part of a cycle of hate, a man eating machinery, which is oiled by the likes of Narendra Modi on our side and Hafeez Saeed on their side. There would be many who would argue that democratically elected Modi is different from a branded terrorist like Hafeez. To me it is a difference without meaning because the outcome of their actions is the same. The means may be different but both represent the end point of a product which is disastrous to the civilized society. They are the mandarins in this festivity of death and destruction.
It’s time that we, the democratically inclined masses of this great land manifest our might in bringing sanity in this chaos. The Kasabs are working hard on both sides of the border. Unfortunately we cannot do much about their Kasabs but we can surely rein ours. The leash of peoples’ power is too strong to ignore. Democracy is a process of constant evaluation and implementation of the principles of equality and justice. The checks and means are built in. We suffer because we fail to use these means. We are pained because we let the leash go into unworthy hands. We bleed because the custodians of our democracy give us wounds which take centuries to heal.
The man eaters of India have to be exterminated before they become too colossal to conquer. We do not want more Ishrats. We cannot afford Sanjits. The blood of innocent children of this great land is too precious to go waste. Their Kasabs held the nation to ransom for three days; our Kasabs can do that for a thousand years. Their Kasabs were armed with AK-47s; our Kasabs are armed with service revolvers and carbines bought through your and my money. Their Kasabs meant to create havoc and terrorism in Mumbai. Our Kasabs have a broader agenda. The country is on their target and innocent Indians their victims.
I feel threatened. I am a Muslim, I have friends across the border, and I am a common Indian. I would surely make good recipe for lunch! Not long ago, we were told that we had made a tryst with destiny. Today the very dream is at stake. Terrorists from across the border had made life difficult; terrorists from within have snuffed the light out. We have to wake up now or their and our Kasabs will bleed the country white.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Jews, Jihad, Jinnah and Jaswant

There were three words which would ignite the heart and minds of a common Muslim, pretty much globally. Words which would make them fly passenger aircrafts into buildings, words which would inspire them to blow themselves up within a group of school children. These are the three “J” words- Jews, Jihad and Jinnah. In the last three days or so a fourth word seems to have been added to this heartrending vocabulary, Jaswant. I am not sure if this could be said for the world Muslim community but surely Muslims from the sub-continent are not keeping their feelings occult. Jaswant Singh is the new found hero of Muslims. The man who supposedly “demolished” the BJP and had the courage to act against the “ideology” of the Sangh Parivar.
In the last three days or so my mailbox has been inundated with emails from Muslim friends across the globe. Congratulatory messages, interview excerpts and even a heavily edited biographical sketch of Jaswant Singh. What is interesting to note is the particular attempt of the American Muslim diasporas to see Mr. Singh in a new light. Or maybe to see with awe and pleasure the disintegration of party values for which they feared the BJP not long ago. Jaswant Singh’s glorification of Jinnah in his new book has added him to the list of those rare scholars who eulogize the Muslims and their glorious past. What makes him so interesting is the fact that he comes from a party which is known for its politics of hate against the minorities in this country. Being a part of the BJP, this volte face makes him look like a conspirator from within the ranks. A man who could spill the beans! Surely, the climax to the events leading to BJP’s defeat in the 2009 general elections.
As a Muslim, I can appreciate the desperation of my brethren in clutching on to any sign of defeat for the perpetrators of Ayodhya and Gujarat. The delusive disintegration of the BJP is like a fable to Muslim ears. I see this as an attempt to construct new messiahs as the old ones betray. To many, Jaswant Singh gives a reason to justify the two nation theory of Jinnah with a much more erudite argument. Although it is a different matter that the same divisive imagination is now threatening the land which Jinnah created.
What is surprising to me is the simplicity which goes in the belief bestowed into Jaswant Singh by the Muslim community in particular and people with secular credentials in general. Jaswant Singh was part of the machinery which ran amok in Gujarat in 2002. In a recent interview to a news channel he categorically boasts of preventing Atal Bihari Vajpayee from resigning in wake of the Gujarat riots. To me, this is an act for which he and the likes of him should never be forgiven. My heart whines when I realize that there was a moment in that mayhem which could have saved our face in front of the world community. Moment of sanity within the ranks of the slayers. Oh Mr. Singh! You did not prevent Vajpayee from resigning, you snatched a chance from history to correct. A chance of salvation of the ethos of Indian democracy and secularism. Had Atal Bihari Vajpayee resigned that day, the pride and dignity of secular Indians would have been salvaged.
May be Jaswant Singh’s book was more to do with Jawaharlal Nehru than Jinnah. Maybe the agenda was to blame Nehru for the happenings of the decade preceding the macabre division on that fateful midnight of August 15, 1947. Maybe it was more to do with the politics of diverting secular Hindu vote from the Congress. We can only guess.
As for the delight of the Muslim diasporas in celebrating the so called “disintegration” of the BJP, I have a word of caution. The BJP is down but definitely not out. They are in a process of defoliation. The new is taking over from the old. The cycle of hate is getting new bearings. The machine is getting ready for fresh meat. People may come and go; the thought process can only mature. Yes, there are cracks in the old bastion and the rubble is falling. It would be inanity par excellence to get attracted to this debris.
The legacy of Jinnah has new takers. It is acceptable that his political thinking can be revisited and cherished by those who not long ago idealized the core beliefs of communal politics in this country. Muslims of India have limited options. Their options do not lie in abhorring Jews, loving Jinnah or dying in Jihad. They need to integrate in the main mass of the country. The process of democracy gives them this chance. They should realize that the tectonic plate which connects them to their brethren in Pakistan and the Middle East is long fractured. The process of drifting away to connect with the remnants of Islam in the Arab world is no longer an option. Their dreams, their aspirations and their desires lie in India. Pakistan is history. Hindus are not Jews and Jaswant no Jinnah.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Prof Sabharwal - To Sir with Love

In Mahabharata we had Eklavya, the low caste prince of Nishadha offer his right thumb to Dronacharya, his apocryphal guru. This was in 10th Century BC. On August 26, 2006, a mob of (so called) students lynched Prof. Sabharwal in Madhav College in the holy city of Ujjain. The Indian guru-chela tradition has come a long way indeed. The Brahmanand Purana goes on to say, Guru brahma, guru vishnu, guru devo maheshwara, in essence it means that Guru is an incarnation of god. How ironical it is that the members of a party which came to power on pretext of saving Ram, the god, was hand in glove with the killing of a guru on that fateful day in August 2006.
As if the killing of Prof. Sabharwal was not enough, there was more pain to follow. All the six Akhil Bhartiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP) members accused in his murder were set free by a Nagpur court. The mockery of Indian traditions and justice was on full public display. Well, if we believe the Nagpur court, no one actually killed Prof. Sabharwal. Its only incidental that he happen to die inside the premises of the Madhav College at the time of college elections. It is also adventitious that at the time of his death he was trying to see through the process without any bias to the party in power.
Campus killings are not new in India. Denial of justice is even more common. What is rare is the increasing audacity of killers owing allegiance to a specific political party or organization. The license to kill is freely available; you only need to be a part of an execrable nexus. A foot soldier of a party which can defend you and your evil actions. India is surely and steadily moving in the right direction. The road to anarchy. We are being sucked into a path of ideological vacuum, into a black hole of barbarism shielded by a distort and inclined judicial process.
Every time we have a killing we look towards the judiciary with conjecture and hope and each time we whince in despair. Babu Bajrangi, Sajjan Kumar, Vikas Yadav, Mohd. Shahabuddin, Manu Sharma; the endless list of tombstones in India’s judicial graveyard. We are not even allowed to mourn the death of this process of justice as it amounts to contempt. The law guards its dead and the dying with paramount strictness and acerbity.
In all honesty it would be inappropriate to burden the judiciary with all the corpses of India’s morality. The court is the end process of the game of coercion. The fuel to run this machinery of murder comes from a defunct and feckless political class, the proud guardians of our democracy. Beasts who cannot look beyond the arithmetic of votes and seats. The arithmetic of death does not matter. The universality of this political class is beyond doubt. Left, right and centre, they are everywhere, omnipresent and all powerful. Any attempt of resistance to this process of decay is dealt with cold blooded savagery.
Prof. Sabharwal would have been alive had he realized this simple fact. To be alive and happy in India you have to look the other way. Look the other way if a woman is being stripped in broad daylight. Ignore if a child of twelve is being lynched by a crowd for a petty theft. Show disdain to a girl being burnt alive by eve teasers. What if few hundred adivasis die each day defending what they think is theirs. Apathy and insouciance are the mantras of survival in today’s India. Fortunately there are many like Prof Sabharwal who think and act otherwise. They resist the cold, iron grip of this nexus of murderers and guardians. They wriggle and show signs of life. They breathe and actuate action. They are uncomfortable for the system and its mandarins. They have to obey or they have to be eliminated to keep the system going. To keep the plunder alive. The hippodrome of political hegemony should have its characters intact; to let the show go on. The circus of death and barbarism.
It’s time that we, the people of India, rise from our ashes and resist what we think and know is incorrect. To register our protest and show our abject rejection of corrupt authority. We need to resuscitate our system with the much needed esprit of hope and change. We have to move and show signs of life or it won’t be long that the licentious serpent of political class and murderous thugs will swallow us. To Prof. Sabharwal I can only say, sir, we regret loosing you at the altar of political power and a gimpy judiciary but your death has not gone un-mourned. The lamenting from your death will be loud enough to breech the walls of those who sit comfortably making plans for a future murder. We apologize we couldn’t give you respect as a teacher. I assure we will give dignity to the purpose of your death. We couldn’t guarantee your safety. We pledge to eliminate those who rot the system. We regret we couldn’t give you justice. We promise to vindicate your stand.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Gay Rights and Us

Indians are devastated. There is an urgency to address issues of public morality and answer questions like what are we going to say to our children? People of all faith and religion are flocking together to understand the ugliness of the statement made by the Delhi High Court legalising gay relationships. The viciousness of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community is being celebrated on all television channels across the country. In a recent debate on a prominent TV channel, a retired police commissioner lambasted a guy rights activist. Imagine, morality pouring out of the mouth of a police commissioner! How ridiculous could that be? In fact, by the most rough estimates, the High Court statement stands to ablactate our Police force of significant money which was routinely extracted as hafta (weekly extortion sum) from Hijras and transgender on our streets. It is a different matter that the policewalas of India are too chic to be let down by the diction of an old judge of the High Court. This brings us to the broader question. How justified are we in condemning legalisation of LGBT rights?
Legalising LGBT relationships have two entirely divergent angles. It is both an issue of religious faith and a matter of human rights. Unfortunately, as a bystander, I have seen on more than a single occasion that religion and human rights don’t go hand in hand. Our experiences with Taliban in Afghanistan, with Church’s posturing on abortion and in recent times with forces of hindutva in Gujarat are more than ample evidence to prove the point. So do we expect that major religions of this country would go all out to embrace the LGBT community with open arms? Not really. Hinduism is full of verses depriving those who indulge in a homosexual relationship. Manusmriti talks of loss of caste or Gatibhramsa for those who are in such rapport. Being a Muslim I know that Islam prohibits homosexual relationships. But then Islam also prohibits alcohol, pork and idol worship. Should the Muslims go all out in India asking the government to ban these? The restrictions imposed by a vibrant democracy teach us to rein our religious thoughts and practices to a more personal level. Whenever the boundaries of personal and public discourse on issues of faith get blurred, the country is engulfed by a squall of blood. How commonly have we seen the eruption of violent conflicts started by the carcass of a cow in a temple or a pig in a mosque? Expectedly the most severe condemnation on the High Court judgement has come from the Islamic seat of Deoband. Having said this, it’s interesting to note that Muslim scholars in US and Europe have never spoken in so harsh and ruthless language against the LGBT community in these regions. Possibly acceptance of a practice takes time and the scholars in those countries are more evolved on the social understanding of sexual orientation of people.
This brings us to the issue of public morality. How many times have we heard the use of this word in all public debates on legalisation of LGBT relationships? Public morality in India, as I understand, is a weapon of a class to be used without much justification on the most downtrodden creatures of the society. Public morality goes for a toss when a girl is burnt alive by petty eve teasers. Public morality is thrown out of the window when issuing censure certificates to bollywood movies which would be good enough to be labelled as pornographic. Public morality is raped and molested each day on Indian buses, Goan beaches and red light areas. Public morality is burnt and thrashed in the name of dowry and female foeticide. Yet we Indians accept public morality as a shield against any act of human upliftment and social change. Change which does not suite our style, our culture, our values and our petty needs can be easily sacrificed at the altar of public morality without any questions asked or eyebrows raised. It is interesting to see that there has not been a single case of conviction in last twenty years in accordance with Article 377 in this country. Public morality is Rip Van Winkle, awake after twenty years of deep stupor.
In my opinion, the real context of the LGBT issue is a matter of human rights. We live in a democratic country, governed by a constitution which imparts equal rights to all irrespective of their religious faith, class, gender or age. Although the impartiality of this statement can be questioned, the essence of the constitution remains pristine. In legalising guy rights in India, the Delhi High Court has shown its abject acceptance of a community which has long been eschewed in our society. To me, this is an empowerment of kinds. It has nothing to do with religious decrees and narrow social fiats through which our lives are governed. This is accepting those who live life as they think is good and natural for them. If we cannot accept this change then we should have reservations on orders prohibiting sati and child marriage. It is a matter of serious thinking that in a complex dynamic world, are we ready to accept social change as and when it comes or are we still trapped in our past. By supporting the legalisation of gay rights we do not accept the practice (at least I don’t), we accept a broader relevance of human rights. Some of these rights might not be acceptable and palatable to us but if they give freedom to a big hunk of the society, they should be relevant and meaningful. It is wrongly felt that by legalising the LGBT community, the Delhi High Court has opened the flood gates for such relationships. “Oh my God, my son will be a gay now”, screamed a man from inside his new Skoda on a TV channel. I wish I could tell him that his son will be a gay or a heterosexual not because of the High Court order but because of his sexual orientation and preferences. These are misconceptions which make our society handicap to accepting change. It’s high time that we change our attitudes and preferences for social acceptability. Our morality should not be based on bigotry. Intolerance can destroy civilisations. Social change is the sine qua non of survival. Good or bad, social changes need time to manifest their full impact. As a democratic country we need to give this time.