Ostrich Syndrome!

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.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Racial Attacks in Australia- Can we condemn?

The recent or rather the ongoing attacks on Indian students down under are a chilling reminder on the existence of a farce Australian society, far from the helm of civilization. What more could have we expected from the discovery of John Cook, whose men had slaughtered the local Aborigines to make the continent livable. The savagery of John Cook’s siblings has passed on, in good health, to future generations. But how justified are we as Indians to raise a hue and cry on these ghastly acts of prejudiced murder? Do we tow the same line when it comes to our equality records? How good are we, the brown men, in treating the brown and blacks amongst us? How fair are we, the citizens of a free and democratic country in giving justice to our own citizens? Do we fulfill the criteria to condemn these attacks? These are difficult questions with equally thorny answers.
We all know that the events of last week have been condemned by all including the Australian Prime Minister. Condemn? Murderers and racial thugs are not condemned, they have to be punished. Punished as a deterrent for their peer group. Punished to justify the cause of equality and also punished for justice to the victim.
But do we, Indians, practice all of this? Honestly not. Don’t we take the wrong sides in our strife against dalits? How many of us have condemned with equal veracity the killing of harijans in Haryana and UP in recent past? How many of us even know about the Khairlanji massacre? How many among us would be willing to eat on the same table with an untouchable? These inequalities are a common or rather a daily occurrence in our country. Our abhorrence of people of different faith, low caste and different races is incredible and phenomenal. We even believe and differentiate on the basis of color, may be with a vigor and hatred that would make an Australian blush. How many times have we seen the demand for a”beautiful, tall and fair” bride in matrimonial columns. Demand for a Fair bride, in a land which was once dominated by the Dravidans, the real inhabitants of India, those whose genes bore the blueprint from the blacks of Africa.
We live through these atrocities as if they are a natural consequence of race and creed. Unfortunately, our belief in inequalities of caste, creed and religion are so strong that we refuse to raise questions and protest. It is an abject submission to the power of inequality which is rampant in India. So how can we question the Australians on their equality record? What message are we trying to give to the world? Maybe, we demand justice for some but it doesn’t matter if we ourselves are the perpetrators of a similar crime.
My argument to bring the issue of our own record is not to lessen the measure of criminal misdoings of the white Australians. What more can we expect from a race which can even hijack and Europeanize the Christ? My point is that how can a society which is so deprived of justice and social equality raise a voice against the wrong doings of someone else with a fervor good enough to produce results? How can we point fingers when our own hands are red in the blood of egalitarianism? Contradictions in the Indian society are not new. We preach morality but rank highest amongst the most corrupt nations of the world. We preach Gandhism but stage pogroms to annihilate ethnic minorities (that too in the land of Gandhi!). We claim we have never attacked another country, but did we really had time to? We were busy attacking our own churches, our own dalits, our own adivasis, our own peasants, our own men, women and children in the name of caste, religion and race.
With hands across our hearts, we should ask, are we justified enough to question the barbarism in Australia? Isn’t it time to set our own house in order? Can we stand up and be counted so that we can make our case strong against the Australians. Inner strength gives outer courage. India can claim its share of International justice only if its executive, its police, its judiciary and most importantly its people are willing to propagate and inculcate national justice and social equality.

The Great Indian Medical Bazaar- Where are we heading?

It is around a year that the kidney scandal in Gurgaon was exposed, more by chance than with intent. It was a grim reminder of how a corrupt and a defunct social system can play in the hands of those who wait for every opportunity to milk the downtrodden and underprivileged sections of this great country. The scandal was an interplay of complex social factors which thrive on the blood of the “have nots”. The illegal kidney transplant scandal clearly showed that in a country with one billion people, human life and specifically human organs are up for sale. The scandal exposed the ugly face of poverty and misery which compel the not so willing donors to sell their vital organs for a price. Although it is a different issue that not all donors get what they were promised.
The scandal was more than a story of sinister gang of medically trained criminals out and about harvesting kidneys from unwitting donors. It is a matter of grave concern and debate that in the present day and era something of this magnitude was happening next to the capital, right under the noses of the elite and the powerful. It also reflects poorly on the health system of a nation which recorded all time high indices of market growth in the same year. Corporate hospitals and stories of their horror are not new for me. In each and every out-patient clinic I see at least two or three patients mis-treated, under-treated or over-treated in the biggest of the corporate hospitals of Delhi and its neighboring areas. It should be very clear in our minds that the corporate sector is meant to mint money and we cannot really blame the devil for being evil.
The need of the hour is introspection into the public health sector. Why have the people lost faith in our age old public health system? Why do people avoid going to a government hospital where treatment is supposed to be free? It’s high time that we find answers to these innocent but not so simple questions. The decay of Indian public health sector has been gradual but consistent. Lack of a health vision, lop sided health policies, irrational and unrealistic health goals and apathy of governmental machinery in allocating funds for the health have all added to the confusion which prevails in the Indian public health sector. Unfortunately we doctors are also to be blamed for this poor show. It is a common knowledge that a significant chunk of our young doctors go abroad to get ‘trained”. It is estimated that in every 20 doctors practicing medicine in the US, one is an Indian. Indians make up roughly 20 percent of the "International Medical Graduates" - or foreign-trained doctors - operating in the U.S. A training which allows them to live the rest of their lives in UK and USA criticizing Indian system and concluding that nothing can be done to save India and its people.
Gurgaon kidney scandal had exposed the ugly side of corporate health practice in this country. It is a slap on the faces of those who feel that privatization is the solution of all problems in this great nation. As if we have forgotten the Carbide experience, the Blue line experience or the privatization of health sector in its present form and shape. Having said this, it is also a reminder for the public health sector to set its own house in order.
It’s more than a year since the discovery of the Gurgaon Kidney racket. Things haven’t changed. Most of us, and importantly the people who decide health matters in this country, seem to have forgotten the story. Change was urgent and so was the need for stringent laws of organ trade. Health matters do not bring votes. The corporate world flourishes as new hospitals throng the landscape. The journey of the poor sick Indian continues. An urgent need for revamping the ailing health system of this land remains unfulfilled.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Democratic Space- What is that?

As if the Chhattisgarh government was not good enough to rain destruction on a soul like Dr Binayak Sen, we now have the Madhya Pradesh government arrest Mrs. Shamim Modi, a social activist and a law graduate working among the tribals in Betul district of the state. Geographically they seem to be different states with different issues; the fact that they are ruled by the same party is uncanny. What is even more interesting is the fact that both Dr Sen and Mrs Modi were involved in raising issues of the local people; their health, their employment and very importantly their environment.
In Algebra of Infinite Justice and throughout her other essays, Arundhati Roy has spoken of a democratic space. A breathing space within the plexus of a complex social order, to agitate and protest. In my opinion democratic space is an unwritten permission to think. A fundamental consideration and respect granted by a state to its subjects to raise a voice of dissent and disagree. It is this democratic space which forms the basis of a vibrant democracy. We Indians have witnessed a violation of this space time and now either as clamping of emergency, burning of books, boycotting movies or even building dams against local wishes. Violation on and off is a mistake but violation on a regular basis is a habit. This is even more dangerous when the infringement is by the perpetrators of democracy themselves. The ruling party in Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh stands guilty of this crime. The BJP has a habit of intruding into the democratic space.
Most contraventions of this nature start as pin pricks to test a society. The experiment is completed with the implementation of harsher laws, more strict censorship and refusal to accept protest. India’s neighborhood has witnessed this all. What could be more glaring than the Talibanisation of Pakistan. The resurgence of Taliban in Pakistan started with minor issues. They were seen as saviours from a US backed regime setting in order its own personal agenda than caring for the welfare and will of the people. Today Taliban threatens to annihilate the state. And remember it was the Pakistani state machinery which silenced those who made the correct noises. People like Pervez Hodbouy and Asma Jhangir stand isolated and lonely.
Freedom to protest is an intrinsic check mechanism in any democratic system. It provides a measure of accountability to the system. Even history remains witness to the power of protest. Who can ignore the fall of the German wall to persistent and powerful protest. Writers, artists, social activists, intellectuals, government employees, anyone can be a medium for this voice of reason. Disputing the government policies need not necessarily mean sedition. Governments are after all meant for the welfare of their subjects. If subjects are unhappy with a policy, they should have the right and freedom to organize and agitate. Labeling this agitating cohort as traitors is a calculated move by those who are inclined to fail democracy itself.
The cases of Dr Binayak Sen and Mrs Shamim Modi are no different. They are a minority which knows the art and power of protest. They know how to expand the democratic space. They asked questions which had uncomfortable answers. They are the true guardians of democracy. By actively using the state machinery against them, the governments of Chattisgarh and MP have shown a blatant violation of a valid democratic right. The BJP as such has proved beyond any doubt its inability to handle issues without blurring the line between civilization and savagery. It is of utmost importance that we Indians should be able to read the game plan of an organisation hell bent on destroying the democratic credentials of this beautiful country. There is an urgent need to protest against this brutality of thought. A clear message has to go today so that our generations to come could breathe in an infinite democratic space.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Dr. Binayak Sen Granted Bail

The Supremme Court on Monday (25th May, 2009) granted bail to Dr Binayak Sen after hearing which lasted for just one minute. With bail being granted to Dr Binayak Sen, there is a sense of victory amongst common Indians like me, for whom Dr Sen is a symbol of hope. He meant hope for the underprivileged and deprived masses of this great nation. It is a matter of national shame that it took more than two years for the judiciary to grant bail on a sham case manufactured by an administration bent or punishing Dr Sen for his crusade against ill health, poverty and ignorance. As a nation born out of a non violent freedom struggle, it is our dharma to see that people like Dr Binayak Sen should always be given the right place in history. His untiring efforts to provide medical care to the downtrodden people of Chattisgarh might not have gone well with the defunct state machinery but his hard work should be lauded wide and aloud within the four corners of India.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Dr Binayak Sen

14th of May 2009 was not only the last day in the long process of the LS Elections, it was also the second anniversary of the incarceration of Dr Binayak Sen. Dr Sen who languishes in Raipur jail is ailing with a heart condition for which urgent medical help is required. Despite the efforts and pleas of a number of NGOs, social activists and even nobel laureates, the Chattisgarh government continues its unjustified detention of Dr Sen. What is more appalling is the fact that even charges have not been framed against Dr Sen in the course of two years and he has been denied bail on more than a single occasion.

This is what our executive and judiciary can offer as reward to a person who gave everything up to continue on his mission to serve the poor and the underpriviledged masses of this great country. It's a shame that Dr Sen languishes in jail even when murderers and thugs can fight elections and get bail to vote out a government during a confidence motion. Even more atrocious is the total neglect on part of the Indian media towards this case. Both the print and the electronic media have made sure that the case does not catch the imagination of the people of India. On enquiry from a TV reporter of some repute, I was told that they don't support Dr Sen's case as he has charges of sedition against him. How rediculous could that be! In the first place, charges of any nature and gravity are yet to be framed and proven against Dr Sen. Secondly, if charges of murder against Arushi Talwar's father (yet to be proven), charges of sedition against Sanjay Dutt, charges of murder against Pappu Yadav can find place in our media than surely Dr Sen's case can find some support and space. Anyway this is what we can all expect from a media controlled by the corporate world. We all are well aware of how much the corporate world loves Dr Sen and his mission! Although the national media has conciously avoided covering Dr Sen's case, a number of International journals in medicine and surgery have carried editorials and news items asking for his early release. The New England Journal of Medicine and British Medical Journal are worthy of note in this respect.

It is a national disgrace that a soul like Dr Binayak Sen still languishes in prison due to the shear high handedness and draconian policies of a democratically elected government. It is high time that we, the people of India, channalise all efforts in our means to secure the early release of Dr Sen. We all should realise that such imperious and autocratic means to silence the voice of sanity must meet stubborn resistance from all quarters. If we don't speak for Dr Sen today, no one will speak for us tomorrow.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

All in the Name of Democracy

All in the name of Democracy
The general elections in India are in their penultimate stages. In a week or so we will know for sure who will, or for that matter if anyone will, be forming the next government at the Centre. It’s important to know who comes to power but more important will be the scenes from this election campaign which will (and should) haunt us for times to come.
It all started with the election commission, the watch dog for democratic process in this country. It found itself in the middle of power strife, a contention not heard of in a democratic set up. Who was the real election commissioner? Who is more powerful? Which commissioner was loyal to which party? All, in the name of democracy.
The campaigning tone was set up by the vituperative narration of Varun Gandhi, the catch of 2009 Elections for the BJP. It was his hate speech which started the election campaign for the BJP and set the right mood within the ranks of the Sangh Parivar. The falling apart of the UPA with visible division of the “secular vote” in states like Bihar and UP was followed by the utter frustration on the part of likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav. In fact the Samajwadi Party chief was caught on camera actually assaulting an election official. What a good precedence for our young generation who is taught to believe in the democratic and non violent credentials of this country. Mayawati who at one time was poised to usher in an era of political freedom for the down trodden Dalits of this country was seen setting her own agenda. Her quest for the prime ministership was too strong than her commitment for the people which she probably represented the best. Although I feel that her claim to be the prime minister is as good as those of many.
Then there was a war of words between the Prime Minister and LK Advani on who is stronger (or rather weaker) than the other. Advani left no stone unturned in saying what he did against the chair of the Prime Minister. Man Mohan Singh had no option but to go on an all out offensive, putting on a facade which did not suite him. In fact it was distressing to see him speak as he did. It all unfolded nakedly and shamefully right in front of our eyes, in the name of democracy. The rhetoric of Narender Modi, scornful as ever, was the icing on the cake. His chauvinism for gender, caste, religion and region (and even toys!) was on full public display, in the name of democracy. Rahul and Sonia Gandhi travelled through the length and breadth of this country. They had Khandar and the December Parliament attacks to offer, besides promises which were no different from those made in 2004. The left was hobbling with the ghost of Nandigram; it’s a different issue that the police had to kill few more people to cleanse the place for fair and free elections, all in the name of democracy. In the name of democracy the veins of Indian social fabric were ripped apart and the nation left to bleed. The wounds given in the process were deep and painful. The nation was yet again made to mourn its dead and dying political morality.
The election campaign saw promises made, candidates killed, alliances broken, ally’s switch sides, left turning right and right going ultra right. All this, in the name of democracy. The real issues which bother millions of Indians were left grappling in the dark. No one talked of health, education and poverty. No one wanted to discuss development. There were no takers for issues like female feticide (female ratios in some states have dropped to 800:1000), women rights, farmer’s debt, child labor, crimes against Dalits, corruption, civil rights, ecologically disastrous projects, and so on and so forth. Issues, of which we have no dearth. Issues which could change the way people lived in India. Probably our politicians do not want to change the way our masses live. The mayhem was deafening and total. Not a sane voice was heard. In fact even humanitarian crises were addressed as they fetched votes (AIADMK and DMK did talk about the massacre of Tamilians in Sri Lanka).
Democracy is a philosophy which can be felt by those who cherish it. It is a political pluralism which gives space to breath. Democracies are meant for the betterment of their people. It’s a weapon of mass upliftment. As Indians we can’t be luckier enough to cherish a democratic set up nurtured through a unique freedom struggle. At the same time, as Indians we are unfortunate enough to mess with this dream. We made a tryst with destiny more than sixty years back. Today the dream lies shattered and unfulfilled. The custodians of our democracy have turned traitors of our fate. It is my firm belief that if things go wrong in a democratic set up, it is more difficult to set the house in order. Even harder than setting things right under a dictatorial regimen. Raping a democratic system is far easier than molesting a despot. It is high time that our politicians, the torch bearers of Indian democracy, wake up to the realities of this great land and its fantastic people. There is an urgent need to address the problems of the common Indian. To blur the boundaries of Bharat and India. To set examples for others to follow. To listen to the needs of those in pain. Pain from poverty, pain from hunger, pain from social ostracization. People of India await answers from those who are hell bent on fulfilling their own needs and agenda, all in the name of democracy.

Hope for Change

The events of last fortnight have saddened me, not as a Muslim but as an Indian. Varun Gandhi and his audacity of criticizing muslims have taken us all by surprise. It was always clear that the BJP and the Sangh Parivar would stoop to the lowest levels for polarizing the Indian society. After all this is a do or die election for LK Advani, the “iron man” of the party. But how fair were they in using Varun Gandhi, the great grandson of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in carrying this baton of hate?
Practicing in a prestigious medical Institute, it occasionally falls upon me to take care of the so called “politically connected” patients. A significant number of these patients came from Pilibhit, the constituency where Varun Gandhi wanted to chop off muslims hands. Like most other patients coming to a government medical hospital, these patients were poor and in dire need of help. Like most of the patients coming to the Institute, they had letters from their MP, in this case, Smt. Maneka Gandhi, the mother of Varun Gandhi. And above all, in this cohort of patients, a large number were muslims (with names that frighten Varun Gandhi). But is this all going to change post Varun’s rhetoric of hate? We can only wait and see.
Varun Gandhi has catapulted himself to an advantage position. There is not an iota of doubt in my mind that he will be easily winning the Pilibhit constituency with a huge margin (after all we know that Narendra Modi had no difficulty in retaining Gujarat post Godhra). But is this all that matters in politics? Are numbers important than individuals? Is abhorrence of a community the mantra for change? Well, we all can watch with hope.
As an Indian I earnestly hope for things to change. After all it was hope that changed America. It was hope that kept the likes of Mahatma Gandhi to flirt with the idea of freedom. It was hope that let Martin Luther King dream. It was hope that kept Nelson Mandela alive and it was hope which energized Varun’s great grandfather to build a secular and pluralistic India even when we were plagued by the scourge of partition. It’s time for the common Indian to hope. Hope for a change from politics of hate to politics of inclusiveness. Hope for a change from oratory of hate to a language of healing. Hope for a change from repugnance to esteem. Hope for a change from saffron to white, the color of peace.