The Defence Minister as Local Bully

Did the Defence Minsiter of India have to sound like a gully bully to make a point about the rightwing version of patriotism?

Unfortunately, his lesser crime is being highlighted and not the one that's truly dangerous.

Let's get done with the lesser one first.

He took a potshot at actor Aamir Khan's comment sometime last year about his wife feeling insecure about living in India anymore. One may or may not agree with such sentiments or their expression, and the canny Khan almost took back all that he had said, but dragging it in reveals a gameplan. And that gameplan is to ensure that those who critique the government are boycotted. Aamir lost his endorsement deal with Snapdeal and Parrikar said, "Some of our people are very smart, I know. There was a team which was working on this."

The Defence Minister is admitting that the BJP has a team that will see to it that your work and livelihood can be snatched from you if you utter a word against the government or the country: “I am only trying to point out…if anyone speaks like this, he has to be taught a lesson of his life. That was a very arrogant statement, we have to love our nation.”

The BJP has been in power for barely two years now and the party's supporters have shown us just how much they love the nation by stilling voices — verbally or by putting an end to the owner of the voice.

Randeep S. Surjewala, spokesperson of the Congress asked, "Can this be the 'Raj Dharma?" Under no circumstances must this become common lexicon. The Indian republic does not need any such terminology. We have had enough references to epics that, in a sense, confirm the Hindutva Rashtra dream.

What is far more worrying is that Parrikar has justified the use of force and weapons by the armed forces with the taunt, "I do not want to train the Army to use the lathi." Earlier this month, following the killing of Burhan Wani in Kashmir, the police and the army used pellets that grievously injured and blinded civilians. This goes against every norm of civilised society, not to forget human rights abuses.

The army knows how to use the lathi when forcing out confessions. There is nothing innocent and tame about the lathi; the person who holds it wields control. A mob running amok pelting stones in anger is often first shown the lathi that transmogrifies into a gun. Perhaps, it is a gun already.

The minister further stated:

“Where to use the Army is a civilian decision. However, whenever the Army is used, full power has to be there, otherwise do not use the Army."

In sensitive areas, the Army is used as a political tool. That is as far as a civilian decision is concerned. But if you arm the Forces with teeth and the power to use weapons at any time, then it is about militarising a region and not for civilian support.

When called upon in civilian areas, the job of the Army cannot be to shoot at sight but to maintain the peace. It should also have mastered target training and not hit at random people, including children. One major had the audacity to ask on national television, "What was a child doing there?"

Children, women and men are free to roam the areas. Even if some militants occasionally use them as shields, the figures of killings just do not add up.

More importantly, it is time ministers stopped using organisations to promote patriotism politics. The person who is killed on the land he tilled and lived off had a very close association with and love for it. Every individual who lives in the country is a nationalist, especially the one who wants the betterment of the country and questions it.


How Social Media Dishonoured Qandeel Baloch

Qandeel Baloch sometimes looked like Amy Winehouse; her death was as tragic as Amy's. Both were on drugs. Winehouse was on the hard stuff; Baloch on the harder one.

Addiction to social media is narcotic. I do not mean the persistent need to check the walls and timelines or click on likes, or even to voice an opinion or an inanity, but the recreating of life online — to be completely subsumed by the persona one has birthed as well as the perceptions. In fact, Baloch was no more her own creation. She was an opinion. As she had said, "Love me or hate me both are in my favour. If you love me I Will always be in your heart, if you hate me I'll always be in your mind."

In the real world, she was killed by her brother — sedated and then strangulated, as her parents slept in the other room, sedated too. This murder falls into the honour-killing category. And immediately, we hear of the yawn-producing argument that these murders should be called dishonour-killings because, they ask, where's the honour.

Such ridiculous assertions forget that by doing so they suggest the victim would have brought dishonor as much as the perpetrator has, when we are in fact talking about misplaced ideas of honour, prevalent in almost all societies.

In Pakistan, the victim's family can forgive the man. Baloch's father has refused. He wants to wreak vengeance upon the son. One article even quoted the parent calling out, "Qandeel, Qandeel!" Strange, because that was not the name she was given at birth. She was Fouzia Azeem. Qandeel Baloch was the pseudonym she chose for herself. To escape, among other things, memories of being forcibly married off by her parents when she was a teen.

It was her new life that took care of them. Baloch was the only earning member. Her brother says he killed her because of the stuff she posted. But it could also be because his male ego could not handle being dependent on a sister, that too one who was unapologetic about her self-portrayal.

The latest news is that her mother says the brother was taunted by his friends regarding his sister's shenanigans, somehow softening the opinion against him. Nobody seems to want to take responsibility for judging her. She is now, as she was then, just a daughter, a sister, a trigger for the self-righteous.

Qandeel Baloch was not as unusual a phenomenon as is made out. The pretty provocative at 26 is often what rebellions are made of. I watched an interview in which she referred to herself as a social media sensation. That was her identity.

It is no different from the social media celebrities around who primarily feed their followers minutiae of their lives — the animals they rear, the food they eat, the places they visit, the clothes they wear. They flash these as a badge of frankness, when what such trivia does is to act as a camouflage for their opinions and feelings or, more likely, lack of them.

They feed on events and trolls. The more trolls they get for a stray comment the more they begin to market their boldness. Being in-your-face is projected as honesty. The cliques to which they belong — and they sure as hell wouldn't survive without them — ensure that their machinery is well-lubricated with their fan-like leech behaviour.

The Qandeel supporters were different. They might have enjoyed her exhibitionism, but they could not possibly invest in her emotionally because they felt they were not equal. As long as she could be patronised, it was okay. In some cases, she reminded them of their own struggles. But, yet again, there was a kid glove treatment.

I watched The Ali Saleem Late Night Show where she appeared alongside Pakistani comic actor Rauf Lala. The latter had the audacity to leer at her and make it seem like doing so was a part of his acceptance of her. He resorted to the typical subcontinental trope of, "You are like my sister." She shot back, "Can't you say daughter?" He agreed, in the same leering manner, "Ok, ok, like a child I've rocked in my lap."

If you think this was just another character from the entertainment industry, then you are wrong. I've witnessed much sniggering by Pakistani liberals online. Upon her death, they might have surely spoken some shit about how horrible honour killing is and how she was merely a misguided youngster. Short of calling her a floozy, because they are so desperate to be politically correct, they meant just that.

Qandeel, obviously, had a different opinion of herself and her agenda. In a Facebook post a day before her death, she had written:

"I believe I am a modern day feminist. I believe in equality. I need not to choose what type of women should be. I don't think there is any need to label ourselves just for sake of society. I am just a women with free thoughts free mindset and I LOVE THE WAY I AM."

But this love for herself was the result of going regularly viral due to the 'love' of others. Did the liberal society ever grant her the status of feminist? Even Mathira, a model and actress known for her item numbers, had mentioned in an earlier interview about her drawing the line somewhere as opposed to Qandeel, who apparently knew of no such line.

Qandeel did a bad version of twerking, she wore transparent clothes and seduced the camera. The viewers were added bonus. And she sang. That's what she wanted to do. That's what nobody was interested in. Unless she sang wearing night clothes in bed just before signing off in a video she shot to share with strangers.

Did anybody notice her voice? Clearly not. Even in that 'understanding' interview with Ali Saleem, the host made her run on a treadmill and sing. To be fair, he made the other guest do so too, but Rauf Lala had no singing ambitions. Qandeel did.

But she was just time-pass for those on social media who even as they while away the hours in their echo chambers look down on people like Qandeel who do the same.

They refuse to accept her not only on her terms, but even on theirs, should she have made it. She had to be kept in her place, even as they pretended not to show her her place.

In the end, the social media voyeurs were witnesses to the murder of Qandeel Baloch.


An earlier one on Amy Winehouse


Muhammad Ali, the Muslim

There is a photograph of him offering prayers in the ring. This one image conveys clearly that you cannot remove the sportsman from his larger role as a political Muslim.

As an interested observer with no knowledge of or interest in boxing, Muhammad Ali became an advertisement for Islam. He came to represent certain qualities of pragmatism, focus and humanity and brotherhood that might qualify him, for today’s stereotyping, as a ‘good Muslim’.

He, like everybody else, was not perfect – as a man, as a friend, as a Muslim and even as a Black. But his stance on many issues had sound ethical ring. When he refused to be drafted for the Vietnam War, he explained his reason thus:

“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America,” he said at the time. “And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. … Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”

He was arrested, stripped of his title and his license was revoked. He came to be hated. “Is this what he does to America, an America that made him?” they asked.

If a nation can make a man, why can a religion not? I ask this because an attempt is being made to erase his race, his faith, and thereby all that he stood for. As Donald Trump had done: “Obama said in his speech that Muslims are our sports heroes. What sport is he talking about, and who?”

It is not merely the rightwing doing so. It comes camouflaged as showing him as being “beyond” all these. The fact is that he chose these identities.

The persistence to call him by his birth name is as much a political act as a religious one. Why would the Hindutva people insist on calling him Cassius Clay, even though he had stated, "Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn't choose it, and didn't want it. I'm Muhammad Ali, a free man..."

Few understand what freedom means to others.

I had a few exchanges with some from the Indian rightwing. It started with this quote I posted:

"The word 'Islam' means 'peace.' The word 'Muslim' means 'one who surrenders to God.' But the press makes us seem like haters."

This statement is more political than religious. It is also sad that after leaving a life of slavery, even Muhammad Ali had to deal with Islamophobia. Ali was alluding to the chasm between what his belief meant and how it was perceived by those supposedly with open minds. He was no blind believer. He categorically condemned recent terrorist attacks:

“I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world. True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion.”

The rejoinder to the quote was this:

“Well, Ali (CC) lived and grew up in different times – had he been born now, he wouldn't have said this again!”

The fact is he became even more aware of this aspect of his identity due to the increasing profiling of his faith. As after 9/11 for which he said: "The real Islam comes from Mecca. All people are God’s people. The devil can be any color." Following Donald Trump’s brag about not allowing Muslims into America, Ali had stated that Muslims have to stand up to anti-Islamic speech.

His response was decades after his conversion when he had already owned the religion.

But why should the Hindu right be in denial about the faith of somebody so far away? There were attempts to suggest that he turned to Islam only because he wanted to escape being drafted or to protest against Whites.  (Do they even get the irony here when they insist on ghar wapsi of Muslims, to get them back into the fold of Hinduism, that perhaps they had issues with the religion?) There was also a desperation to point out that he was already a world champion before he chose to convert, and Islam had nothing to do with it.

This is amusing, for it exposes their hollowness. Here is a man who answered to the name “The Greatest”, who was a champion, who could have whatever he wanted, and he chose Islam.  

I read somewhere that while Cassius Clay was a nice, charming bloke of a boxer, Muhammad Ali was a perennially angry man whose boxing too had become hardened. But, then, experts of the sport say that his so-called dancing days in the ring were more flash less fight.

The first comment is fascinating. I know it was by a white man, but forgot to save the article. How can a person transform with a change in name? Why do people forget that Ali used the name Cassius X, after Malcolm X, in his early Muslim days? As I said before, he was no blind believer. He even experimented with mentors, moving from Malcolm X to Elijah Muhammad.

Those who believe that Islam should not get any credit for his greatness are resistant to the idea of using this logic when they talk about terrorism and jihad. Will they cease blaming the religion for these as well?

Nobody would suggest that Muhammad Ali learned boxing from Islam or even how to be a winner. But it is possible that, having found spiritual equanimity due to his raging anger against the world outside and its attitude towards him and his people, he felt assured and at peace with his identities.

“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me—black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me."


A couple of videos doing the rounds. The first one begins well but drifts into evangelism; the second is funny. He was not just a boxer. You've got to check out his oeuvre to be able to see that.


Snapchat or Drought?
India's Elite Makes a Case for Tanmay Bhat versus Lata and Sachin

“Snapchat or drought?” demanded Arnab Goswami on Newshour. That one cryptic query bears witness to how reductive debates are and what freedom of expression has come down to.

A standup comic Tanmay Bhat put up a short video where he impersonated Lata Mangeshkar and Sachin Tendulkar in a mock battle. Impersonation and mimicry are a staple of comedians and if done well can caricature the subjects and throw in more than just laughs.

Tanmay Bhat does nothing of the sort. It’s the kind of thing your friends might slap their thighs over as you crack off-colour jokes at the pub, and that too only if you are paying for the drinks.

However, everyone has their rights. He to do what he did, and I to find it objectionable. But, there are people who will fight for his right to be stupid but not yours to be offended by such stupidity. And how do they justify it?

It so happens that the MNS party and the like issued threats calling for the removal of the video, and of beating up Tanmay. The police too got into the act.

All of this happened after the controversy broke out. It is ridiculous to assume that those who object to the video want it censored or the comedian arrested or harmed in any way. (I am putting it up, too.) If they want a bloody disclaimer with that line, “I may not agree with what you say but I’ll defend your right to say it”, then I’ll just ask them to shut up since they think there will be fewer clicks on their liberalism were they to defend another’s right to have a differing opinion.

I have one major objection to that video, and it is Tanmay as Sachin poking fun at Lata’s age – her face looks like it has been in water for eight days apparently – and urging her to die. To anybody who has elderly parents, this should hurt deeply. It isn’t about the pop taunt of “hurt sentiments” – it is closer to the bone. You are a hypocrite if you go online to outrage over an old person being ill-treated by her family or post pained captions on seeing pictures of old age homes but think that Mr. Tanmay Bhat’s act is just fine.

The funny thing is that the Tanmay camp finds it offensive when there are girth jokes about him. Fat-shaming, they say. It is and it is offensive. Wonder why they do not find age-shaming offensive too. Clearly, a level-playing field satisfies nobody.

They say people are just obsessed with this icons business and both are Bharat Ratnas. The irony is that even suppose they are ‘protected species’, just what are these urban legends like Tanmay Bhat? One does not see social media denizens support the right of a Johny Lever or a Kamaal R. Khan for similar ‘humour’; they are, in fact, dismissed as crass. This proves that it is not about freedom of speech but about elitist cliques.

For those who think Tanmay Bhat as well his AIB group are independent-minded rebels, do not forget that they had sent their queries in advance to be vetted for their roast on Bollywood celebrities and apologised to the Church. [I had written about AIB Knockout's fake fight for FoE]

Somebody even posted that those “hounding Tanmay” would return after a couple of days to their old task of “harassing Muslims”. This is just so pathetic to even put them on par. The hounding is done by some political parties/idiots; minority harassment is social behavior in its varied forms.

Also, all manner of caste and regionalism has come into play, and while these aspects of the ‘hounders’ (including weirdly enough the people spoofed) are highlighted, the comedian’s caste etc. are not dragged in. One says it is because Lata and Sachin are Brahmins people are protecting them, another says Marathi pride should be hurt by drought in Maharashtra and not a Snapchat video.

Nobody can deny that casteism is prevalent in India, but in this case is it being milked dry to support bad humour, reducing the genuine debate over it. Ask these same people to do a Snapchat funny video of our other Brahmins – TV anchors and newspaper editors (who should naturally stand for their FoE) and they have no answer.

I suspect some even think that the comedian was making an anti-casteist statement...except that the Brahmin Lata trills to Sachin, "Vinod (Kambli) is better than you". Kambli is from a backward class community. And if we really want to get into this, then it is again the Bhat way to get a high-caste to legitimise him. 

The worst is dragging in the drought. Media people who were pained about the time wasted on such stupid debates as against the drought went on to host shows discussing Tanmay Bhat. Do they even have a spine, forget a conscience?

The drought vs. Snaphat idea is opportunistic and insensitive. Nobody is censoring the drought, so give it attention, and not only when it is ‘happening’ to do so.

Then there were those saints who said if you don’t like it don’t watch it. They seem to have reached a Zen state where they know without watching whether something is likeable or not. And if switching off is the answer to deal with what we find offensive, then I guess we can apply if to hate speech and government policies too. In fact, these zombies probably do, except for they Twitter/Facebook forays where they lend their shoulders to the martyrs they create.

Director Mahesh Bhatt posted this quote by George Carlin:

“I think it's the duty of a comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately.”

Yeah sure. Our PM has been doing this for a while now. And the joke is on us.