29.4.07

Did Mandira Bedi insult the Indian flag?

While the World Cup finals were being telecast, Mandira Bedi’s saree became a subject of discussion. She wore one of those designer thingies with the national flags of all countries; the Indian flag they alleged was near the feet.

I saw her. The flag when she sat with her legs crossed was somewhere just below the knee. Has she insulted it? I suppose so. There was no reason to have this silly display at all – everyone knows that several countries are participating. She is not a cheer-leader, but an anchor, though I have no idea what the purpose of having her or any other woman with no knowledge of the game is all about.



The way corrupt and inefficient people get away with their crimes is an insult. Poverty, lack of health facilities, illiteracy are all an insult.

Earlier Sachin Tendulkar got into trouble for cutting a cake with the flag impression. What about all those pulaos that are made in the three colours on national occasions? What about the models who strut about in clinging tricolour minis?

PS: The national flag symbolises, according to Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who later became India's first Vice President, the following attributes: “Bhagwa or the saffron colour denotes renunciation or disinterestedness. Our leaders must be indifferent to material gains and dedicate themselves to their work. The white in the centre is light, the path of truth to guide our conduct. The green shows our relation to (the) soil, our relation to the plant life here, on which all other life depends. The Ashoka Chakra in the centre of the white is the wheel of the law of dharma. Truth or satya, dharma or virtue ought to be the controlling principle of those who work under this flag. Again, the wheel denotes motion. There is death in stagnation. There is life in movement. India should no more resist change, it must move and go forward. The wheel represents the dynamism of a peaceful change.”

24.4.07

Is Gujarat waking up?

Here is the latest news. Posted without comment for now...

Three IPS officers arrested for fake encounter (from The Hindu)


Ahmedabad, April. 24 (PTI): Gujarat Police today arrested three IPS officials on a charge of murder for their alleged role in the death of a man in a fake encounter in 2005.


Those arrested are Inspector General (Border Range) D G Vanzara, Rajkumar Pandayan, a Superintendent of Police with the Intelligence Bureau, and an IPS officer from Rajasthan whose name was not released.

Michael and me

Wonder how I forgot to put this up. It was published in November 2006.

An Iraqi in India
By Farzana Versey
Counterpunch

Michael Fathallah is dead, but then there are so many dead Iraqis. So, why do I remember him? I am sorry this is not the right thing to say at such a wrong time, but I just cannot forgive him for having made me drink coffee that tasted like something out of a sewer.

He had gazed at me intently and stated, "You like it! It is our specialty." Since it was not a question, I was hoping no answer was required. I shook my head weakly as I fidgeted with the chipped cup that had no handle. To make matters worse, he brought out a whole bunch of bananas, saying, "Eat!" I assured him all this was not necessary. "Oh, we Iraqis like to pamper our guests." Like this?

I began to think about how I should do it. Ought I to just peel the fruit and start chomping on it, or must I do the ladylike thing and break off one-inch bits and pop them delicately in my mouth? My host was getting impatient. "Ok, ok, never mind, but these are good for your stomach."

Although I was born a Muslim, as an Indian my affiliation with the religion was far removed from the Arabian Nights adventure one was supposed to look forward to in the afterlife. As a matter of fact, the so-called Arab identity was completely alien.

The only Arabs one encountered were tourists who consolidated the stereotype with their white kaftan costumes and veils holding prayer beads in their hands even as they scoured the streets for knick-knacks. Soon, the shops started stocking up on colorful sequined scarves and trinkets that might appeal to their sensibilities. Despite the money, one noticed that they weren't quite treated with the same respect as even the Caucasian backpackers.

It was during one such story I was doing, about the influx of Arabs, that I got to see the amazing variety of people. Not all of them were sheikhs who arrogantly threw the windows in their rooms in five-star hotels wide open to let in the rain and then offered to pay for the soiled carpets. Many lived in small hotels in nondescript localities; they'd huddle together in corridors, mostly awaiting the fate of a sick relative they had admitted into a hospital. India was a cheap and good option for medical treatment.

A chance conversation had led me to discover the Arabs that had made their homes in Mumbai.

That is how I met Michael one afternoon at his apartment in a lane infested with shady characters -- pimps, prostitutes, drug peddlers. I was ushered into a large airy room that seemed to have no furniture. I sat on a low rickety stool and he made himself comfortable on what could have been a cot but was covered entirely with newspapers. He was dressed in pinstriped pajamas -- the kind prisoners wear, and a long shirt. He was completely unselfconscious and I soon found myself liking this encounter. Besides, I was getting rid of my pre-conceived notions about Arabs.

He was a practicing Roman Catholic and clarified: "All Arabs are not Muslim." But he supported Iraqi laws and found the interference of the West, even in matters of laws like execution, disgusting. "Who are they to decide?" he asked.

He had come to what was then called Bombay towards the end of 1917 with a shipload of books and had seen "history written and re-written". Since education in his country was not upto his father's standards, he got himself admitted to St. Mary's School, a respected missionary-run educational institution that even today is considered among the better schools. After his studies, he returned home to Basra and worked as a bank manager. But in 1942, he made the trip back to Bombay to help his brother-in-law with his business and stayed on until his death.

He would spend his time at the Arab School, which would transform into a club in the evenings, and he'd pore over the crumpled old newspapers from Iraq. The events were probably stale, but they kept him in touch with a part of his country. Culturally, did he still feel close to the Arabs? "Of course, I have lived amongst them -- a gallant, valiant, hospitable people."

It wrenched his heart to watch what happened before his eyes in his adopted home. Sleazy action being replayed night after night -- apartments that went under the guise of guest houses from where the Arab tourists trooped out in the early hours of the morning, even as they were fleeced of their money and belongings by hustlers.

Michael was extremely protective of the reputation of his people. So, what kept him in Bombay? "For those of us who don't have unlimited wealth, this is the best place. I can also walk around anywhere in my long night shirt." He picked up a banana and started eating it.

There were no curtains and a gentle breeze was blowing in from the open balcony. He beckoned me to join him outside. We watched the street below and the hotel across from where silly grins greeted us. He took the fruit peel and threw it on the pavement below. "Look, I have become one of you," he declared.

As he escorted me to the door, he said, "Come again, please. I can only offer you the best coffee in the world."

I found myself smiling. I don't know when the bitter taste on my tongue had disappeared.

23.4.07

As you like it...

Today, April 23 is William Shakespeare's birth and death anniversary.

Hamlet's Soliloquy:


To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despis'd love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.-- Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember'd.
- - -
Macbeth's Soliloquy:

Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppress'd brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.
Thou marshall'st me the way that I was going;
And such an instrument I was to use.
Mine eyes are made the fools o' the other senses,
Or else worth all the rest; I see thee still,
And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,
Which was not so before.
- - -
Sonnets:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.
- - -

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.

22.4.07

Branson's been booted out

British Airways has chopped off a cameo played by Virgin Atlantic chairman Richard Branson in the latest James Bond film Casino Royale.

Who gets more mileage out of this? Branson, of course. What did BA think? That had the portion remained in the version they screen for in-flight viewing, people would have jumped off the aircraft to catch a Virgin flight instead? Or decided to switch loyalties?

Most people choose airplanes for the best routes, the best fares, and what they perceive is safety and hospitality record, though both these factors are iffy.

Branson can and does pay huge amounts for publicity, so it is a bit daft to think he would need a small part in a film to pose competition to BA.

Loyalty in the service industry is based on the factors I mentioned, and that too if you are a frequent flyer. I cannot imagine businessmen or high-flying executives bothering about who appears in a movie. Most of them don’t watch films. They play with their laptops, trying to look busy, or they put on the headphones and fall asleep. Or they get drunk.

BA has revealed supreme idiocy and insecurity. I hope Branson comes up with a fitting reply, perhaps a spoof. He’d make for a wonderfully cheesy martyr. His stock will go up even more...uh, the Virgin's got a rise...

21.4.07

Expectations...

Whoever you marry, whatever else you say you want, the bottomline (oh, well) remains this.

20.4.07

News meeows - 3

I should not be commenting on this, for in doing so I am only adding to the media frenzy. But what I saw while switching channels was something that made my stomach turn. A woman reporter of CNN-IBN was doing everything to gatecrash into the Aishwariya-Abhishek wedding site. They showed her talking to security guards, they showed her attempting to go to other buildings; then she was in the middle of the road, and finally she had climbed up a tree. She ended the report by saying how tired she was and the final image was of her drinking water from a bottle while panting a little.

Where were these enthusiastic reporters when 700 hutments were demolished two days ago? I could not even find a report to post here. The only evidence I saw was a picture of the devastated site with a child carrying a fan from the debris. Unfortunately, I cannot locate that picture on the website; it was there in the print version.

Do you know that the CNN-IBN reporter will be considered a great heroine by the staff, by her peers, by all those salivating masses? She risked her life and limb, did she not?

Today’s national newspaper Times of India carried several stories and even a special report. I refuse to put up pictures of what they managed to ‘capture’, although this banner headline in sick pink with its wedding card-like design should give you an idea. I am not sure if there is a deal with Hello! magazine or a foreign channel for exclusive coverage. It is unfair to conjecture.

Whether it is so or not, the Indian media are behaving like beggars. Yes, beggars.

And even those who have shown some propriety are doing so for two reasons. One, they just don’t have the resources. Trust me, I know. Two, they want to pander to the family. Especially film journalists who have otherwise trampled on everyone’s toes to get a scoop have the audacity to talk about “leaving them alone”. This too is simple. They want to be the loyalists, the ones who kept their word. They shall be later rewarded.

Such BS.

I have said this in an earlier blog. This privacy thing is a smart strategy. Either way you win. What was Amar Singh doing on TV telling the world in an exclusive interview about how the valet and chef were given invitation cards because they “mattered”? Why is this information not private? Or is it to tell the world that the Bachchans are so attached to their staff? Bloody hell, the personal valet will be tying the shoe laces and keeping the clothes ready and cooks will be helping in the kitchen. So whether you invite them or not you need them. If all the guests were sent notes asking them not to speak, then who is giving out information about the songs that were sung, the clothes worn, the dances?

Here is one more thing that made my stomach turn. “An emotional Aishwarya Rai burst into tears at the sangeet ceremony on Wednesday evening at Prateeksha, Amitabh Bachchan’s Juhu bungalow. According to industry sources, Abhiash performed to every song played that evening, but Ash couldn’t contain her emotions after she touched Abhishek’s feet in one of the songs.”

If this is true, then it is beyond disgusting. It is a custom among Hindus to touch the feet of elders; perhaps in the old days women did bow before their husbands. But today? Bollywood films and TV serials continue to perpetuate this, but why should it be replicated in real life? And anyway Aishwariya is slightly older, so if anyone should be touching feet it ought to be Abhishek.

- - -

I have commented on the Indian media coverage of the Virginia Tech killngs. A question that struck me: would we have given it this much attention if two Indians had died had the university been in Papua New Guinea?

It is indeed true what the comments below say about Indians aping the West. The more tie-ups we have with foreign channels and newspapers, the more slavish we will become. We have had good ‘women’s magazines’. Yet, people want regional versions of Elle and Cosmo; now Hello! has come in, when every newspaper carries a few pages of gossip, glitter and gas. (That is the way they treat most news as well.)

- - -

I started watching American Idol only to see what on earth this Sanjaya Malakar noise was all about. And you know what? If I had not read reams written about it or seen glimpses in the Indian media, I would have seen him and the show as a tepid display of complete lack of talent. Nobody is that great among the lot. I had read that Simon Cowell was hard to please. Uh-huh, he looked like he was trying so hard to have an opinion to begin with. Totally idiotic.

True, am not a fan of contemporary western music, except perhaps the blues and some neat rap (oh yeah, so what?!), but if you know a bit of music, then you can tell these guys are goners.

Why the hell do they scream so much? Are they just “blowin’ in the wind”?

- - -

Not all is lost. In the case of the ‘rash driving’ by Alistair Pereira in Mumbai I wrote about, who got away with a mere six-month sentence for killing seven people, there is some hope.

Here is a report from the TOI, “There can’t be a greater slur on the system. The way the prosecution dealt with the case was pathetic.’’ Bombay high court Chief Justice Swatanter Kumar’s observations on Thursday delivered the most telling blow yet to the Mumbai police for its “mishandling’’ of the Alistair Pareira hit-and-run case. Invoking a rarely used provision of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) that gives the high court extraordinary powers to examine the legality of proceedings in any subordinate court, a division bench comprising the Chief Justice and Justice S C Dharmadhikari called for records from ad hoc sessions judge A Mishra who had delivered the judgment acquitting Pareira of culpable homicide.

The judges indicated that they would look into four aspects of the trial— the legality of the judgment, whether there was miscarriage of justice, the conduct of the police and the prosecution and the compensation awarded to the victims and their survivors.

These surviving family members deserve justice.



19.4.07

Cool-uncool

The monkey is cool - the right attitude, can look you straight in the eye and even in nakedness displays class.















Kirsten Dunst may be a Hollywood biggie, but this isn't even about a grea
t cleavage. It looks like someone is taking off their night clothes after a rather boring night. Uncool.



The media massacre of the Virginia Tech tragedy

The Virginia Tech shootout where 32 people were killed has thrown up various questions and most of you have read about them.

I have always been a bit surprised at the way in which the Indian media covers such events. In this case, because two Indians – a professor and one student – died there has naturally been much interest. However, there is absolutely no reason to Americanise our news. The same pop psychology, the same ‘breaking news’ stops, the same “we will be giving you details all day”. I am sorry for what has happened as everyone is. But do you have to interrupt our news for that? By flashing Minal Panchal’s pictures on screen how would anyone in India find her (when she was missing)?

I am rather sick of the sound bytes too. One panel discussion decided to debate whether it was safe for Indian students to study in the US. I don’t think it is safe for most people’s sanity, but that is another matter. What shocked me were the words of a representative of some US university or agency that facilitated students to get visas. This American gentleman said that Indians should not lose the opportunity to get an education in the US and help improve the state of their country.

And those darned anchors sat there and listened to this crap. If someone wishes to go overseas and wants to study/work, it is their choice. Just don’t give us this barf about how your education is going to improve our situation. We have become so servile that the anchors even said, oh, this also happens in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Sure, there is plenty of crime here. But our universities do not claim to be havens of security and enlightenment. Those hick town colleges where crimes take place are branded as such.

When will our media learn to tell the difference and stop toeing the western line in everything?

18.4.07

54 Indian POWs Versus Sarabjit Singh

Rahul Gandhi may have made a politically rash comment, but even if he had not intended to reveal the truth, it hurts. “Hum jo kaam haath mein lete hain, usey poora kartey hain...chahe woh desh ki azadi ho, Pakistan mein batwara ho ya desh ko ekkiswin sadi mein le jana ho.... (We deliver what we promise, be it the independence struggle, dismemberment of Pakistan or leading the country into the 21st century....),’’ he said. In effect accepting that India was responsible for dividing Pakistan. We are back again to 1971. Too much has happened since and Bangladesh is dealing with its own problems. But one major problem is ours. The state of our prisoners of war. 

Look at the scenario today. One more fast unto death. One more case of emotional blackmail. Dalbir Kaur has this time decided to forgo food until her brother Sarabjit Singh is released from Kot Lakhpat jail in Pakistan. Earlier, she had stated, “Both Delhi and Islamabad should know that Sarabjit will not be the only one who will be hanged. We have prepared five nooses at home, and we will commit mass suicide.”

The Indian government has time for this case. Not for those they sent to war to divide another country or fight for the rights of a regional group, whichever way we choose to see it. There is always the ‘trade is more important than Kashmir’ line being dished out during every Saarc summit. We keep count of the dead (official figures only, please) that die protecting our ‘porous’ borders. We just don’t have the time to think of those who were still living in Pakistani jails for a cause they did not even know about or perhaps identify with.

They just went there as Indian soldiers 36 years ago. At that time Indira Gandhi was hailed as Durga. The goddess was so busy playing the pugnacious deity that she apparently forgot to ask for our men to be returned, while we handed over Pakistani POWs. The irony is that Bangladeshis who we helped free are infiltrating our borders while the families of those soldiers just wait.

There are many who think it is foolish to assume they are still alive – it has been over three decades. Why do some of us who have nothing to do directly with the case continue to persist with it? Every few years I write about it because suddenly when I seem to almost give up I get a letter in the mail from some family member writing to say, “The mystery of the missing 54 POWs should not be allowed to die a natural death. The sacrifice of these warriors must never be seen as being in vain by the present and future generations. If even a single politician's or big industrialist's or media baron's immediate family member had been thus sacrificed, am certain the 'great mystery' would have been resolved long ago.”
Someone asks if I can do something. I cannot. I had sent an email to the Ansar Burney Trust that deals with such issues in Pakistan in January 2002; no reply. So, what can I do as an individual? Is it therefore possible to even imagine the extent of the helplessness the families feel?

My first involvement began in 1992. Evidence of the soldiers were alive was produced in the form of frayed postcards, clippings from old magazines. More importantly, it was in the eyes of those who related the stories. Today, they are willing to concede that their sons, husbands, brothers may not be alive. What do they want? News. As one father, who is now dead, had told me, “I want to see his army belt, his uniform and identification disc.”

They want justice. The Pakistani government insists it does not have any Indian defence personnel in its custody; this has been its stand all along, and India has not pursued to contradict it.

M.L. Bhaskar in his book, ‘I Spied For India’, mentioned the names of some of our defence officers who were in jail from the information he had got from a Pakistani official when he himself was in prison. 
The Indian government is quite certain that our army personnel are still in Pakistani prisons. 
However, every Indian government in power has only made half-hearted attempts. Morarji Desai had got his external affairs minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to talk with General Zia-ul-Haq, but Vajpayee got into technical details about international ratio.

As Indira Gandhi’s home minister, Narasimha Rao had asked families of the missing personnel to visit Pakistan. In 1983 a delegation was taken to a civilian jail in Multan. None of the prisoners recognised them; they were shown petty smugglers, trespassers and illegal entrants.

They have been collecting evidence for years. As one of them told me recently, “Through my studies on the subject, and I can only reasonably conjecture, that soon after the war there was a deliberate 'understanding' by India and Pakistan at the very highest levels, to keep all information on the missing POWs absolutely out of view till the picture clears. The embarrassing disclosures may have been 'protected' within the frame-work of larger peace initiatives redefining boundaries within the subcontinent. After the ceasefire, it’s likely that in the confusion and anger among 'uniformed' Pakistanis for losing the eastern wing, many POW undertrials were randomly scattered, without proper accounting, to remote jails.”

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto did hear the cries of some prisoners when he was awaiting his hanging. He was told they were Indian POWs. This was mentioned in Victoria Scholfied’s book ‘The Bhutto Trial and Execution’. Since it was published years after the war, we must ask why the Indian POWs were still behind bars. There could have been a political angle that one of the family members states, “Bhutto claimed to have been disturbed by the screams of demented POWs sharing his prison when he was himself awaiting execution by the military dictatorship that unseated him. That could have been a clever ploy/red herring by him to get India involved to save his neck. It’s quite another matter that we do not know what he did as PM himself after the war to resolve the POW issue.”

Another person is more cautious. He says, “The only and 'extremely remote' possibility of anyone being alive is that a few may have escaped, been caught, and then forced to convert to Islam. This may have been done out of fear and convenience, or when they turned lunatic. This category may have been spared death. Such information will also never be revealed. These living 'zombies' may then be languishing in prisons, along with thousands of other Pakistani civilian undertrials.You must know that close to 80% of all jailed inmates in India and Pakistan are in the 'under-trial' category.”

If, as Scholfied had written, “When the time came to exchange POWs, the Indian government did not accept these lunatics as they could not recount their place of origin. And thus, they were retained at Kot Lakhpat,” then I feel the onus has been on the Indian government, and it has shown complete disregard. Not one political party has included the return of our POWs in its manifesto. Why hasn’t a single government delegation gone to Pakistan? What have our various ambassadors done? What about public opinion?

Yet, when it comes to one individual the highest authorities in the country come out to support an ordinary citizen who happens to be a farmer who ambled across in drunken stupor to the other side of the border, though the Pakistani Supreme Court has sentenced him to death by hanging for detonating bombs five times, resulting in deaths and injuries. He has confessed to being a RAW agent, and yet the then External Affairs minister Natwar Singh discussed the matter with the Pakistan high commissioner in India and reiterated the fact that this was a humanitarian matter and also that there was a strong public sentiment in India for sparing the life of the individual.

Does it mean there is no public sentiment for our POWs? Indeed, except for the occasional TV panel discussion, that too in the past couple of years, and two films which flopped, absolutely nothing is done. Is it because these families are trying to reason and not getting dramatic about it? What if they started going on hunger fasts?

If Sarabjit has already spent 17 years in prison, then what about our soldiers? Were they tortured? Did they lose their sanity? Their memory? Did they die of hunger? Almost every family has been able to produce some evidence that they did not die during the course of the 13-day Bangladesh War. 
Yet no search was ever undertaken. The Indian government would have to look at all possibilities. While the popular theory is that it is merely a political issue, other reasons can also be attributed regarding the missing people. They could be under assumed names, or could have been mistakenly kept back as deranged, or could have been captured a little before the actual outbreak of war, in which case they do not qualify as POWs but as security prisoners or spies. This means that all these categories must be checked.

Can the Indian government be prosecuted and be later pursued in a court of law? A human rights activist lawyer had told me that a prima facie case could be set out if the courts feel the government has not been sincere. The case only gets strengthened if there is evidence to back it.

This is not about false hope, for hope is never false. It is about accountability.

© Farzana Versey

17.4.07

Is a life worth Rs. 70,000 only?

Maverick: Those damned villagers ruined the car
by Farzana Versey
The Asian Age, Op-ed, April 17, 2007

Imagine you are a villager and have to depend on a daily wage. The sole earning member of your family has been killed. You are handed just enough money to last you four years if the normal daily income is Rs. 40. Is this justice?

Is justice about killing seven construction workers due to rash driving and getting away with a six-month jail sentence and a Rs. five lakh fine, most of which will be distributed to the family of those who were mowed down?

Is justice about “Man may lie, but circumstances never,’’ as the judge Ajit Mishra stated while letting off the accused, Alistair Pereira?

Is justice about the judge being aware that something was wrong but blaming it on bad police investigation and even worse prosecution? This is what he said: “One thing is certain... there was an accident by the car and seven people lost their lives. A chemical analysis report speaks of alcohol levels in blood but the prosecution did not examine any witness who said Pereira had consumed liquor.’’

Is there a law where the prosecuting lawyer can be sued? And the police? Why was this case wrapped up in five days and only six months after the accident?

Why did no political party visit the site at the time or offer any compensation? The workers had refused to claim the bodies because they had no money for the funeral.

These horrendous realities are bad enough.

I was shocked to read the headlines scream out in the papers then: “The Church speaks out – We’ll leave no stone unturned to ensure that the culprits in the Bandra case will not go scot-free...”

Since when did the Church become the custodian of justice in criminal cases? It is true that all those in the car were Catholics, but how does that make them better or worse?

A spokesperson for the archbishop had said, “But drunken driving is also a serious offence and a sin”. If the culprit had confessed, then would the parish have come to his rescue? Would he be forgiven by the Church? Does that change anything?

Joe Dias of the Catholic Secular Forum, a community group, took this even further, “Unfortunately, incidents like these will feed the stereotype of Catholics as alcoholics.” This is ridiculous. Drunken driving is a huge social problem, especially in metros. The Catholic Church seemed to be only concerned with its reputation. What stereotypes? True, Hindi films show Catholics enjoying their tipple, but that too is changing and for those labourers these stereotypes hold no value.

Who are they? The emphasis tends to be on the ‘youth of today’. This is a typical urban obsession. We know little or nothing about the labourers. Most work in farms in their villages and come to the cities after the harvest because there is nothing to grow. For all the talk about the Rajus in the interiors who are learning computers there are many more who have to do without electricity. And why does upward mobility always have to do with the metropolitan version of it? These people are considered outcastes and illegal immigrants when they come to the cities even if it is to build homes for us. Yet, there is no attempt to link our lives with theirs. Where are their roads, their transport, their hospitals?

They work in rich people’s houses where they barely get a decent salary. And they have to mimic the burra sahib fantasy of “Bearer chai lao”. In homes where food is cooked in desi ghee and tea isn’t Earl Grey but good old masala chai, this becomes a complete caricature.

Now we have a supposedly renaissance query thrown at the finalists of a beauty pageant: “If you had to convince a rural woman to compete in the Miss India pageant, what would you say to her?’’ The contestant who won the top honour had said, “I would first remind her that she has every right to such privileges as a Miss India would have. If she wins she could go back to her village and the improvement she would bring about would make the achievement of the pageant irreplaceable.”

I find the question itself disgusting. It means that rural women are seen as creatures from a different planet and have no place in such a contest anyway, which is why they would need to be ‘convinced’.

As for the reply, what rights does a pageant winner get except to realise some ambitions that are elitist to begin with? The rural woman could go back to her village. Of course! Are we being told that the ‘improvements’ she brings about would be due to walking on the ramp in designer clothes and giving rehearsed answers?

Are the hungry predators eyeing the villages? If you want development then educate them. Education does not mean learning to walk like you are holding something between your thighs, learning to talk as though you are at a school elocution competition, and looking like a million bucks which is roughly what it costs to get you to look that way. Please leave the rural woman and man out of the flashy drama.

And this also means their life is not worth 70,000 bucks each. Alistair Pereira’s killer Toyota Corolla cost more than Rs. 5 lakhs.

16.4.07

News meeows - 2

I want to throw something at someone. Just when we are still adjusting to the state interference in the personal lives of Priyanka Wadhwani and Mohammed Umer (now Umesh) comes the news of a right-wing group attacking the Mumbai office of STAR News, breaking furniture and window panes and injuring a few people. They carried hammers and iron rods.

One report states, “The activists allegedly belonging to a little known organisation called Hindu Rashtriya Sena protested against the presence of a couple from Surat in the studio. The boy is reportedly a Muslim and the girl a Hindu and a minor. The boy has been taken into custody and the girl sent to a remand home.”

Even if this is a case of a minor, the timing clearly reveals the intolerance of fanatic groups. There are several kidnappings that take place in India and elsewhere. Why the hell don’t these blokes do something? Should they not have informed the parents of the girl if they were so concerned? And I would also like to know what programme the channel planned to air.

If it was one more sensational story, then I’ll be damned if I will forgive the media. Instead of getting underage couples in their studios they ought to debate the issue or inter-religious alliances and play a proactive role in putting the goons in their place for meddling in people’s lives instead of trying to get sound bytes from them.

Sick.

- - -

More sick. Richard Gere’s effigies are being burned in the streets by the Shiv Sena for kissing actress Shilpa Shetty. They have called it a peck on the cheek. See the picture for yourself. That is the only reason I am reproducing it here. TV channels have been replaying the scene all day. Both these actors were part of an AIDS awareness programme in Delhi.

I have absolutely no problem if Gere or anyone kissed anyone. But how necessary was it here? Are they trying to tell us that we backward Indians cannot take public display of affection? What affection did Gere feel for Shilpa when they were discussing the serious issue of HIV affected people on a public platform? I am sorry but this seemed very staged to me. Very staged.

I believe Sunny Deol was also there and by speaking in Punjabi he managed to convey the message to several truck drivers who were present in the audience. This is what conveying a message is all about, not stunts. This has happened before for an AIDS awareness show where the supremely activist Shabana Azmi waltzed with Gere on the table at a sit-down dinner fundraiser!

It is time we realised that the role of at least our celebrities is to use their position for the cause they claim to promote, not to get mileage for it and appear like cheap Hollywood upstarts.

Sick.

- - -

More sick. Amitabh Bachchan went to Tirupati to pray for his son and daughter-in-law. He and his friends Anil Ambani and Amar Singh donated Rs. 51 lakh each. Fine.

Last night I watched Jaya Bachchan discussing her new bahu. When asked if she was the ideal, she said yes. And these were her words, “I like it that she stands behind and listens…” Damn. Then she was questioned if she had fit in the family. I will not quote directly but I have it more or less right. She said that not only does she know who is family and who are relatives and friends and who is what. She ended with, “This is how things should be.”

Sure. Back to the good old days when the woman stood back and listened and learned who to like and not like based on exactly what her in-laws wanted.

And to think this Mrs. B runs the show. Oh, she did say Ash was a strong lady and had a lot of dignity. When they talk like that during Indian weddings, it is time to wake up and smell the garam masala. Strong means learn to handle the poor baby (husband). Dignity means, yes, you got it, stand behind and listen.

Sick.

15.4.07

Worship: Kurt Vonnegut

Worship

I don’t know about you, but I practice a disorganized religion.

I belong to an unholy disorder.
We call ourselves, “Our Lady of Perpetual Astonishment.”
You may have seen us praying for love on sidewalks
outside the better eating establishments
in all kinds of weather.
Blow us a kiss upon arriving or departing,
and we will climax simultaneously.
It can be quite a scene,
especially if it is raining cats and dogs

Kurt Vonnegut died on April 11. This is a previous unpublished poem.

Abhi-Ash, now get it done with...

Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwariya Rai are getting married. It is only natural that there will be a lot of publicity involved, especially since they want no publicity. Hah, tell me another one…

There is, however, a limit to how privacy is maintained. 500 cops will be on duty (besides the private security arranged). Do you know what the police say they are worried about? Not threats. But of people immolating themselves due to “heart break” or performing yagnas (a ceremony conducted before the holy fire to ward off evil) because the lady is supposed to be manglik (with the negative influence of Mars, which is why she was first married off to a tree).

In all these months there have been no major reports of anyone conducting the above-mentioned tasks, which often happens in the case with celebs. Why does a senior police officer have to tell the media, “…some may try to demonstrate their love in an unpleasant manner and try to grab attention. We also have information that some fans may perform certain rites outside the bungalow for a successful marriage. So we want to ensure there is no trouble.”

Where did this information come from? This is only feeding the superstitious public who may not care to in fact conduct such acts. It amounts to encouraging the herd mentality. Imagine if you are a fan of either of the two and you want to prove it, would you not think, hello, I must follow the trend. The cops even have fire-extinguishers and medical aid ready.

What the heck is happening? Is the message being sent out that it is okay to do what you want and we are there to look after you? Isn’t it convenient because the Bachchans have very kindly made place for the media opposite their bungalow, a horribly cheap thing to do for which the media will anyway be grateful. For what? To take pictures of vehicles of those entering? To catch a glimpse of some star? Or the cops on bandobast duty? Or those trying to immolate themselves or perform religious rites? What a grand photo-op that would be!

And the police? They are taking precautionary measures when what they ought to be doing is sealing the area completely or putting up barricades. It is a small road. What else would those 500 men be doing?

Meanwhile my thoughts are with that tree who is already Ash's husband. Such desertion...

"Khud apne haath se ‘Shahzad’ us ko kaat diya
ke jis darakht ke tahani pe aashiyana tha"


13.4.07

Bhopal's Sindhi girls in trouble

(Here is a news update on what I wrote)

Bhopal Sindhis slap conduct code on girls - Times News Service
Community Cracks Down After Elopements With Muslim Boys

Bhopal: After two high courts upheld a couple’s marriage and asked the state to provide them security, a local Sindhi panchayat has come out with a code of conduct for parents to ‘prevent’ their girls from falling in love with Muslim boys.
After marathon meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, the panchayat issued a list of instructions to the parents to “keep their daughters in check’’ and “not give them much liberty’’. “Sometimes too much liberty becomes a burden on society,’’ it said.

The panchayat came to these conclusions in the wake of two Sindhi girls eloping with two Muslim boys in the recent past. In the first case, a community girl, Priyanka Wadhwani, eloped with Mohammad Umar and married him only after Umar embraced Hinduism and changed his name to Umesh.

In another case, a minor girl eloped with a Muslim boy.
The panchayat has banned use of cell phones by community girls, who have also been asked not to cover their faces with scarves and ‘dupattas’ even during summer. They have also been asked not to move around on two-wheelers in the city. Bajrang Dal activists, too, joined the panchayat under the banner of Hindu Kanya Raksha Samiti. Former Bajrang Dal convener Devendra Rawat claimed 346 Hindu girls married Muslim boys in the past three-and-half years of whom 200 were minors. Altogether 120 of these girls returned after a few months and some even attempted suicides. Sindhi community members claimed over 100 girls have eloped with Muslim boys.

A community leader who headed the panchayat, Bhagwandas Sadnani, told TOI, “We have instructed young girls going to schools and colleges not to carry mobiles. They will not be given two-wheelers. Also, they will have to reveal their faces when they are travelling on the roads. Priyanka Wadhwani’s parents gave her a twowheeler. The family is suffering for that. Has anyone thought of the parents of that girl? What has she accomplished by eloping at the age of 21 with a boy from a different community? What is so great about her act that she has become a role model for some?’’ He added, “We are talking about the well-being of the girls here.”
The Hindu way of living is completely different from the Muslim way of life. Many cannot adjust. Has anyone asked what happens to these girls when they are left by their husbands after a few years? Where do they go from there? Parents get their daughters married in their own community to ensure that she is not ill-treated after marriage.The community has its own responsibility because she is a daughter from the same community.’’

The Sindhi community is equally adamant about accepting the marriage. “If Umar has converted, will he go to Hanuman temple? Will he worship Ganesh?’’ Unless he converts in toto, we will not accept the marriage,’’ Sadnani said.


And then there was bound to be an equally silly reaction:


Muslim youth ostracised
Angry Muslims in Bhopal also gathered under the banner of Majlis-e-Sura. Chairman of All India Muslim Teohar Committee Oshaf Shahmiri Khurram said, “We have ostracised Mohammad Omar. He has converted to Hinduism. He can’t be part of our community any more. Islam does not acknowledge such marriages. Priyanka Wadhwani should have converted before a nikaah.”

12.4.07

Mullahs in Islamabad, Bajrang Dal in Bhopal

From Brothels in Islamabad to a Bandh in Bhopal
by Farzana Versey
13 April, 2007, Countercurrents

Look forward to a Bhopal bandh. The BJP-RSS combine has decided that two adults from different religions getting married is wrong. This warrants the state to close shop. Praful Goradia, who TV anchors politely refer to as a Hindutva “ideologue”, had the gall to say that it is okay if the marriage is between a Hindu and Christian or a Parsi, but with a Muslim it would be one-sided. You see, in Mr. Goradia’s world a Muslim will force the partner to convert, and if we are speaking about a male then the poor woman will be dismissed with those three words “talaq, talaq, talaq”.

He did not have the decency to at least check on what had really happened. Priyanka and Umer fell in love. They got married. And Umer went through a ‘purification’ ceremony after which he became a Hindu and is now called Umesh.

Yet, her parents had filed a case that he had kidnapped her. Shakeel, his brother, was arrested in Bhopal and detained for five days. The couple had fled to Mumbai and cannot return home, and Shakeel has had to get police protection.

The saffron parties have been demonstrating before Umer’s house even though they know he is now Umesh. Finally, they have decided to call for a bandh.

Without getting into the socio-psychological dimensions of conversions and the state of inter-religious marriages, I would like to know why this horrendous attitude is dismissed as ridiculous when it is dangerous. We make a huge noise about freedom of speech. What about freedom of personal choice?

The Hindutva dramatis personae are notorious for passing off their vile methods as a circus. Most people become indulgent and merely feel a bit worried by the sticks and stones mode of conduct. This is revolting and regressive.

They consistently find soft targets and manage to stay in power. We in India fancy ourselves as a paper democracy. It is this democracy that has come up with some very dictatorial means of keeping the status quo and, needless to say, it is women and the backward classes that suffer the most. They tell us what is ‘morally’ right. They give us our social values. We keep quiet. We do not put them behind bars.

Then why does everyone get alarmist when it comes to issues that have to do with Islam?

Now let us visit our neighbour. “Pakistan to close down brothels in Islamabad,” stated a recent headline. The PTI report went on to say, “Already facing a multiplicity of problems, Pakistan’s government has apparently decided to resolve the stand-off with a group of radical Islamic clerics by accepting one of their key demands of closing down all brothels in the capital city.”

I am against clerical interference or even the interference by the Establishment in matters of social concern, but we must understand that Pakistan has chosen to adopt an Islamic Constitution. The protests by voluntary agencies are valid, for any society that wishes to be active socially must provide a counter voice. However, is the shutting down of brothels evidence of fanaticism?

Go to any red-light area in India and see how the cops operate. They drag women out, demand money from the madams and even use the women for their own pleasure. I think I know a bit because I have been involved with a NGO working in those parts. The fact is that most of these women are sold here by their own relatives and even parents. There are no legal provisions to look after their needs.

This is precisely the reason I am a bit uncertain about the way the liberal Pakistani society has reacted. It is all right to rubbish the clerics, but how many have made proactive suggestions? Mullahs and their counterparts in any country are not known to be reasonable. And what happens to the women involved in prostitution? Would there be safeguards and alternative employment for them? What about the illegal call girl industry that exists and will only thrive more?

Fundamentalists in any society are together with the government. It is a professional and political necessity for them. Islam is not on their minds. And those goons in Bhopal are not concerned about Hinduism. They are trying to feed a frenzy.

Will we call this a ‘fatwa’? No, of course not. That is considered the prerogative of the ‘backward’ Islamists. So, a couple of days ago when there was a religious decree – denied later – against Pakistan’s tourism minister Nilofar Bakhtiar for hugging her paragliding instructor on a visit to France, everyone who had concern writ large on their faces stood up and wanted to be counted. Ms. Bakhtiar was not striking out on her own. She said, “I do not feel ashamed at all for what I did and I am not afraid of anyone except god.”

Why bring in god here? You want to hug, then hug. Be happy and open about it. Do not seek moral sanction.

And I do wonder why no one seems to realise that when the hip and happening Benazir Bhutto decided to give up her western clothes and be a real conservative there wasn't any protest then. Even today, will the liberals in Pakistan ask her not to cover her head? Will they ask her why she did nothing to bring about any changes in the laws to benefit women when she was in power?

There is a neat hierarchy playing here. The elitists versus the non-elitists. Brothels, hugs and inter-religious marriages are chic. There is drama. The mullahs and mahants feed on it and so do those who want to go against the tide.

The minister represents her government and is educated enough to understand that going paragliding and embracing your instructor may be a private matter, but it will be splashed in the papers. People will react. Did we in India not react when Padmini Kolhapure (a film star, for god’s sake) planted a peck on the cheek of Prince Charles years ago or when Shabana Azmi kissed Nelson Mandela?

Just because we have this secular republic seal does not make us superior. We have shut down dance bars, we clear up places so that couples are not seen in public, we go and vandalise shops on Valentine’s Day.

The reason fundamentalists are finding their way in easier is because just as there is no one stream of Islam or Hinduism, the people who oppose too do not provide reasonable alternatives. Half-hearted rhetoric will get us nowhere.

We are becoming pawns in a game we do not even know how to play.