30.5.14

So, you need pictures to believe that rape happens?

There is no picture. See what you want to see, and wake up.


Have you been awakened yet? Have your eyes dropped out from their sockets as you saw the pictures of the girls hanging from a tree? Are you done with discovering poetry in the limbs of the branches and the scent of the soil, the mango fruit that would now lack lusciousness? Ah, lusciousness. That is what you were seeing. Are you aware now? You did not know that rape existed? That Dalits existed? That women's bodies were used and abused? Of course, you did. I heard you each time there was a rape talking about how you were elbowed in the local train, or that uncle leering at you when you were young, You spoke about it, and it was always applauded as a courageous move. You were so brave. You knew everything. You and those nice men who are concerned about protecting women. Those media vultures with their pixelated faces made to replay a tragedy that no one, no one, no one can understand except the one who goes through it. I won't describe it. You are looking for that. You need it to awaken you. I tell you what. Get a cup of coffee. Or something stronger

Ever since the two teenagers, cousins, in Badaun, UP, were taken into a room and gang-raped, with the police helping along, and then were strangulated and tied to that tree you are using flowery language for, and hanged till they died, you have discovered your inner conscience. Now you want everybody to chart out their travel itinerary to find their consciences. You say the photographs are necessary to make people aware. Cinema has shown the rape of women, including realistic cinema. There are books with characters who are sexually brutalised. Newspaper reports stare at you while you sip your morning cuppa. Why does nothing happen to you then? Why do you get an adrenaline rush only when you see girls like these?

I could not look at the photo for more than a second till it came on my screen. I did not want it to. Did I have a choice? You and your brigade of straw warriors who have a moral position on pornography were indulging in just that. This was your vicarious thrill. You garbed it with the piety of a passion you do not possess. Yes, I am judging you, because you are judging two dead girls. You think you are doing them a favour? Take a good look at yourself. They are gone. They are poor. Their families do not even know how to use the word privacy and dignity; they are victims of vultures and the uncouth. Hell, the girls went to the field to relieve themselves.

And again you find a tangential bylane to walk through: It's because there are no toilets in those villages. They need toilets, everyone needs toilets and healthcare and education. But what they needed was help from people when they might have screamed. What they needed and many others need is that men should learn to respect women; they do not own bodies other than their own. You know what? You are also claiming those bodies as yours, by putting them up for display. You have no bloody right over them. If this has awakened you, why don't you mock-play the scene and post your own pictures to show what it feels like? Your hormonal conscience coteries will be able to connect much more.

Have the photographs reached the interiors? Would it alter the mindset of men who assume proprietary rights? By looking at such images, the helplessness becomes even more manifest. The subtext is that not only can you rape women, you can even display them to look like puppets, and have an audience. That audience is not just the villagers who gathered around, but you, you dear lovely urban dweller tapping on your touch screen. In effect, you end up being in cahoots with the criminal, and not the victim.

You are no different from the cops and lawyers whose inquisition into rape cases almost always involves queries about what the woman wore, where she was, what exactly happened, how did she feel. Oh, man, they ask how did she feel. Do you know that? There was no picture of the how-did-she-feel moment. I guess, it won't affect you then. When you are shown for the exploiter that you are you turn around and say that I am elitist and live in a bubble. Come, meet Meena. Gangraped in a Worli slum. Husband beaten so badly he could not move. Both locked up. They would defecate in that dark hut and throw the faeces out. The cops eyed her when she finally escaped. I won't go into details here. I know that's what you want. I won't give it to you. If you don't understand what's happening now, you never will.

Meet Tara. At 12, she was taken to a brothel and ten men were forced upon her. She was given drugs. The addiction made her beg, begging made her do whatever she was told. She had tried escaping, but did she have a choice? I was not awakened by anything. When I did those stories, even if it was to highlight their plight, I felt like I was using them. It was very difficult. Especially with Tara. A child. Almost a teenager. I had judged myself, so I know how wrong it feels. And you are telling me not to judge you? You who admit that this is to make people know the truth? The truth is there. It exists. Looking for evidence of it assumes you do not quite believe what you purport to care about. You want your posh friends to know what happens to Dalits, as though they are some artifacts being rescued by a hip diva to exhibit at a well-appointed 'ruin' of a boutique.

I want to know whether you will put up those pictures on your walls? After all, some great art has used representation of events and tragedies. That would reach you where it hurts - your comfort zone - and remind you every single day. Will you do it? No. Then on what basis do you accuse others of having delicate sensibilities only because we do not want to use the victims? When the Delhi gangrape happened, and many were out in the streets, did you want photographic evidence of the woman who was named 'Nirbhaya' by the media? Why did you keep quiet then? Did you think people had been awakened only because they were there? Has it made any difference? Has it changed the lives of those in the villages?

And why this emphasis on gruesome crimes? In many cases of rape, there might not be visible physical violence; the girl/woman could be drugged or just overpowered. Is that of any less consequence? Your attitude reveals that you revel in the sensational. Even when there is a supposed sense of empathy, the headline reads "Two girls in a tree", as though they are objects.

And objectification it is. First by the rapists, then by the cops, and now by you. You are a spectator. You cannot bring about change in this manner. There are small organisations in villages. There was Bhanwari Devi, a gangrape victim, who became a 'saathin' to help women. There is the Gulabo Gang of vigilantes. To an extent, even the dacoit Phoolan Devi was such an example. They went through the fire and could keep the flame alive.

Awakening is not about a candle that will melt.

(c) Farzana Versey

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Published in Countercurrents

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Also: Reporting Rape

28.5.14

When will we kill patriarchy for our honour?




I detest the term 'honour killing'. It assumes that somebody's honour is at stake and therefore the murder has social sanctity.

Farzana Parveen was attacked by her family for "marrying the man she loved". She was pregnant. This happened in a big city, Lahore, Pakistan. It was in the day, at a place where there is always a crowd — right outside the high court. People stood and watched as her family members, including father and brothers, hit her with bricks and batons.

She was appearing in a case filed against her husband Mohammad Iqbal for kidnapping her. Her family had come prepared with guns and first fired shots in the air. It would seem the intent was to take her away. When this did not work, they picked up bricks and started pelting her. Her husband managed to escape. I find this disturbing. While it would be impossible to shield her against 20 people, he could have stayed there.

What was the crowd doing? Even if they did not want to get involved, they could have called for help. This is sickening. A report says:

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a private group, said in a report last month that some 869 women were murdered in 'honour killings' in 2013.


These are cases that get reported. Most are not. According to Pakistani law, if the victim's family pardons the criminal, it is acceptable with a few conditions. Many of such families are poor and settle for monetary compensation. In this case, the family is also the criminal. Although technically her husband will have to take a call, her parents would be permitted to do so. With the lackadaisical attitude of the cops, it is likely that nothing will happen. They all escaped. The father who did not handed himself to the police. He is not one bit repentant:

"I killed my daughter as she had insulted all of our family by marrying a man without our consent, and I have no regret over it."


This qualifies as 'honour'? It is true that in many societies such relationship decisions are still taken by the family. It is often explained as the need to protect the woman (and men too). However, the scales are clearly tipped against the woman, as in this case. How did she bring disrepute to the family, and how does their blatant act of bludgeoning her not do so?

Some people have taken to replacing the word 'honour' with 'dishonour', which is much the same. The onus continues to be on the victim. She is supposed to bring dishonour. Terminology reveals a lot about how cultures evolve, or rather regress. There is a tacit acceptance that a reputation has been compromised, which is why it is so wrong.

Did those onlookers know what honour was involved here? Yet, they kept quiet. Partly because it is understood that something must be wrong about the woman's character or behaviour that prompted such rage. It looked as though they were participating in some ritual where they did not need to comprehend the language, yet believe in its significance. This is not about an unacceptable love story, for folklore has plenty of them. It is about how patriarchy sustains itself.

We hear about gang-rapes "to teach women a lesson". The message being that if a woman chooses to be with someone other than what is deemed right for her she has become the property of a 'rival' and is therefore territory to be reclaimed, or just claimed if the criminals are not known.

Added to cultural conditioning is the class structure. It is often the ones higher in the hierarchy who commit such acts against the poor or those belonging to a 'backward caste'. In india, the latter is common, and almost every other day we hear about women sexually abused or killed because they went against the norms. Their partners are not spared if they belong to a lower caste.

It means that patriarchy itself has its own hierarchy. A bit like racism.

In Houston, Aaron Aranza beat up his 15-year-old daughter with a belt for choosing a Black man as her dance partner. It was for a traditional 15th birthday celebration, and he discovered her choice during the rehearsals.

Here too, he might explain it as 'honour'. A young woman in a supposedly progressive western environment cannot make a choice that goes against stratified ideas of what is acceptable. She was quite obviously unencumbered by divisive colour palettes in her personal interactions. That is the reason she probably did not think of her partner in black or white terms.

Some reports have specifically highlighted that her father is Hispanic, which says a great deal about how the media adds to the pecking order, that is no order at all.

The father's rage is about assertion of not just the superiority of colour, but of himself as owner of his daughter.

The centuries' old attitude has never gone away. There can be no freedom if women are treated as property and crimes against them are deemed to be about protection of resources, and these resources are women themselves. They aren't allowed to own their minds or their bodies.

Those who do so are seen as a blot. Isn't it time for such 'blots' to expose the stains on the male mindset? When will we kill patriarchy for our honour?

Update, June 2, 12.30 am IST:

What do the new angles mean?

Farzana Parveen's husband admitted that he killed his first wife to marry her.

There was no honour involved in that.

The latest news is her sister insisting that when they came out of the court, she wanted to go to her waiting family but Iqbal and Iqbal's accomplices beat her up with bricks.

Whatever be the truth, a few points:

Why did the father admit to the murder, then?
Why did the family not stop the husband, if he was the one attacking?
Why did he not stop them, if they were attacking?
Why did the onlookers do nothing?
What about the cops?

Irrespective of who did what, she was brutally killed. We should stop pigeonholing such murders as 'honour killings' because, besides the points mentioned earlier, they impede justice.

© Farzana Versey

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Also: Is this honour rape?

27.5.14

Smriti Irani, Sycophancy and the Politics of Vengeance



Twenty five percent of women make up the Modi cabinet.

Are we sexist if we question the credentials of some of these women, as much as we do so for men? If we can ask why Arun Jaitley has become the second most important man in the cabinet despite losing the elections from Amritsar, then we might also ask the same about Smriti Irani.

The acolytes have not experienced a single day of her capabilities and already pronounced her a great choice and a success. On what basis is she being touted as the next best thing? Had this 'out of turn' assignment been given by another government, or more likely another politician, it would have been seen as a favour, or a handout.

It appears to me that Mr. Modi's speeches are still resonating in the minds of the fawners. Priyanka Gandhi had asked, "Smriti who?" while campaigning for Rahul Gandhi in Amethi. Now they are gloating, "Smriti who? Take that. Our new Minister for Human Resource Development!"

Is this going to be one big round of vengeance politics? We'll get to that later. First, a few points about the 'Let's save Ms. Irani' movement, which reveals that the BJP supporters are still speaking with their mouths full of the May 16 ladoos.

• She is young, and that is an advantage. But, is she the first young person to be in a position of power? And if youth has such a premium attached to it, why have anyone above 40 in the cabinet?

[Incidentally, the PM has followed the RSS diktat of not having anyone over 75 in his ministry.]

• She is not the only woman. The oldest, Dr. Najma Heptulla, has been given charge of the Ministry of Minority Affairs. Why are we not discussing this — a senior person with experience, however titular (mainly Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha) given a token portfolio, which does no justice to her education, and puts her into a convenient 'Muslim' pigeonhole? Sushma Swaraj has got the plum External Affairs, which is great, except that she would not have settled for less and this was one way to curb dissent.

So, how is raising doubts about Smriti Irani sexist? She should anyway be the last person complaining. Did she not make a huge noise on Times Now, insisting on addressing Priyanka Gandhi as Mrs Vadra? Was she not aware that quite a few women choose to retain their maiden name?

And although I have no issues with her work experience as a TV actress, if we are talking sexism, would she be able to explain the misogyny inherent in the saas-bahu serials she became known for and which her party promoted her as during campaigns?

She has in the past experienced slurs, as have others. This is wrong. But right now, anybody who calls the issues raised about her lack of qualifications misogyny should ask themselves what they had to say about those who have been dismissed as running kitchen cabinets? And how can we forget the incessant references to "the former Italian waitress" when referring to Sonia Gandhi? Think about Jayalalithaa, Mayawati, Mamata Bannerjee, and recently Shazia Ilmi. How many have called out the misogyny in their cases?

• It is amusing that quite out of the blue, education has become irrelevant. Smriti Irani has completed her 12th standard. She comes from a middle-class family, and was a Miss India contestant. Therefore, to try and make this into an elite battle against her is disingenuous and churlish.

We have not spared the most educated politician in the world, Dr. Manmohan Singh, when we felt he did not deliver or was making the wrong moves. Why should we use kid gloves for somebody who has not even assumed her duties?

Did people not constantly make jokes about the rustic Lalu Prasad Yadav? Did anybody take umbrage to it, arguing against sexism, class, and several other isms?

The HRD Ministry is a vast area, that requires vast knowledge of the education field. It is not something you can leave to technocrats to deal with. To coddle her by suggesting that the details can be outsourced to those with expertise would be misogyny, to see her as a rubber stamp.

If anything, Smriti Irani and her fans are the elite, rooting for the well-spoken (read English-speaking) one. It is the privileged clique anointed by the 'man of the moment'. This includes TV channels drooling over her 'victory'.




Loss as victory is nothing new. It is used as a slap on the face by the educated illiterates. This brings us back to the politics of vengeance. During her campaign in Amethi, when she was faced with the "Smriti who?" comment, the then PM-designate himself brought it up in one of his speeches. The arrogance rankled him (who had called a politician's wife his "Rs 50-crore girlfriend").

So, shall we say Ms. Irani is rewarded for standing up against the dynasty children?

Maneka Gandhi who has been pretty much out of the circuit has been given charge of the Women and Child Welfare Ministry. That she is Sonia Gandhi's sister-in-law is a loud enough message.

Sanjeev Baliyan, an accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots, and Uma Bharti, an inciter during the 1993 riots, have both been given cabinet berths.

Of course, as they say in some parts, it is time to move on. These reminders don't suggest that. The presence of the VHP, RSS, and sadhus at the oath-taking send out strange signals.

As citizens, we want good governance. But each person has a duty to be vigilant. If we've done it in the past, there is no reason not to continue to do so.

It would help, though, if those who have made freedom of expression their business do not cash in on every opportunity. You have a voice. Use it well. Do not use it to promote yourself as a martyr. It sounds hollow when compared with those who are left to silently rot in prisons, or whose silence is bought.

© Farzana Versey

23.5.14

India vs. Pakistan – By Invitation Only: Proxy Patriotism

Published in CounterPunch, May 23-25





Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi’s team did not need to work at this one. Sixty-seven years after the Partition, India continues to nurse the inherited insecurity garbed as braggadocio in its relationship with Pakistan. Every government has effectively used it to whip up emotion and, worse, conflate hostility towards our neighbour with patriotism. This has produced a bunch of nationalistic fanatics, irrespective of their political ideology.

What helps them is a fairly large number of the Pakistani elite that gets excited each time they hear the word democracy. It does not matter that the controversy under discussion at the moment is what a sophomore would consider the equivalent of a ‘will the person I ask for a dance at a debutante ball agree?’ Is there fear of rejection? Or is it pugnacity associated with seizing the moment, a term that is used by analysts? “Seize, seize, seize,” the anchor declaims, as the panelists discuss whether Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would and should attend the swearing-in ceremony of Mr. Modi on Monday, May 26.  As I write this, there is still breathless anticipation.


This is not an offer for a dialogue, nor is it war. A mature government would deal with it as the casual and courteous gesture it is. The invitation has gone out to all leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries. While Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal may for now be considered ‘safe’, although Indian Mujahideen operatives were in recent times captured while ambling along the Nepal border, there are issues with others.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalaithaa has expressed concern about the invitation to Mahinda Rajapaksa because of the genocide of Tamils. She said in astatement

“…even before the new prime minister and the new government assume office and begin functioning, this unfortunate move of inviting the Sri Lankan President has deeply upset the people of Tamil Nadu and wounded their sentiments all over again. This is tantamount to rubbing salt into the wounds of the already deeply injured Tamil psyche.”

The BJP had earlier also expressed reservations and tough action against what it considers illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and its open welcome to “persecuted Hindus”. There is the perceived Taliban threat from Afghanistan. None of these have come up for debate. Why is Pakistan singled out?

* * *


In what can only be described as a master move, prior to the invitation to Mr. Sharif and on the day Mr. Modi staked his claim to office, a newspaper carried a report with the headline ‘Scared of Narendra Modi, Dawood Ibrahim, gang members go in hiding': 

“With Narendra Modi all set to become the prime minister, India's most-wanted don, Dawood Ibrahim, has relocated himself to an unknown location close to the Af-Pak border, which is under the Taliban. His base has been in Karachi.” An intelligence officer said, “With Modi coming to power, he is mortally afraid.”

Dawood is on the most-wanted list internationally, and during the period he has continued with his operations, yet there have been no sightings of him. He runs a vast empire across the globe, including in India, and it cannot be done with the help of henchmen alone. It need not be emphasised that the underworld has enjoyed political and police patronage.

The ease with which the dons conduct their operations should make it clear that being “mortally afraid” is not in their DNA. It is surprising that the media writes such stories because they are in touch with the underworld members, and aware about how nonchalant they are. Three years ago, a reporter was shot dead due to his contact with Dawood’s rival Chhota Rajan.

This rivalry forms part of how the patriotic ethos is formulated. Both of them were partners. Following the March 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai, Rajan announced that he was leaving the D-Company because as a Hindu it hurt his sentiments. It was said that these blasts were carried out as revenge for the riots following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in which many Muslims were killed. The term ‘action-reaction’ had not gained political legitimacy then. Rajan became a desh-bhakt (patriot) by default. In 2000, during a shootout in Bangkok, where he had moved to, he was seriously injured. It was not the police that kept tabs on him, but politicians, including the Home Ministry. This was during the NDA regime, the BJP’s coalition government. This report provides a vivid picture: 

“The following evening, 3,004 km from Bangkok the issue crops up again at a dinner meeting on Friday at Matoshri in Bandra, suburban Mumbai, between Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray and Union Law Minister Arun Jaitley.”

The Dawood news now is, therefore, not innocent and cannot be delinked with Indo-Pak dynamics. The Shiv Sena has won by a huge margin in Mumbai during these elections. And, although Arun Jaitley lost in his Amritsar constituency, he is being tipped to be the next Finance Minister.

Raking up the past Home Minister’s media brief to bring Dawood back, India Today does the job of propping up the new man: 

“PM-elect Narendra Modi had said the issue was not a matter to be discussed openly. ‘Did the US hold a press conference before carrying out the Abbottabad raid?’ he had said referring to the killing of Osama bin Laden by the US forces.”

The media seems to know more than Intel agencies. Osama was in Abbottabad within the line of vision of the Pakistani army, and was assisted by sources within. Some of these sources helped the Navy Seals operation.

If the new PM plans to do an America, it will not be too difficult. The ‘escape’ story is in tandem with the Osama not traceable one. The hunt is ostensibly predatory, but primarily it boosts the ego. The D-Company, known for their love of all things glitzy and debauched, seeking cover in Taliban territory is the stuff that would work well as patriotic parody in the time of fundamentalism.

* * *

Public perception is dictated by the pantomime performed by the leaders. They are still reliving the Partition.

Major General G.D.Bakshi on Times Now channel said that should Nawaz Sharif accept the invitation, it would not go down well with the army and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), who would then organise terrorist strikes in some region of India, other than Delhi.

Such ‘preemptive strikes’ assist in jingoism, and might encourage forces within to create a situation knowing well that a foreign hand would be held responsible. Titillation is dangerous. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been talking about “zero tolerance towards terrorism”. Is this to be the only agenda? 

Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi both share a love for capitalists, and nice roads. However, the latter also has some similarities with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan, who believes that the Taliban is crucial to his politics. Modi is beholden, and in many ways answerable, to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an extremist organisation that is not answerable to anybody but whose ‘army’ was deployed to assist the BJP in the elections. It is no secret that Modi would not have moved without the RSS go-ahead, which he did get: 

“The Sangh likened it to Hindu sanskriti wherein even a neighbour with whom one has bad relations is invited to a wedding at home. ‘We might have sour relations with our neighbour but we would still invite them to a wedding at home. This is our culture,’ a BJP source said, adding that it was up to Pakistan whether to honour the invite or not.”

Pakistan for its part has Hafiz Saeed making TV appearances in Pakistan to talk about Indo-Pak relationship. He is supposedly the mastermind behind the 2008 blasts in Mumbai that killed 166 people, and for which Ajmal Kasab was hanged. At the time, Kasab has mentioned how he was brainwashed with images from the Gujarat riots.

Former Pakistan high commissioner to Delhi, Aziz Ahmed Khan, gives a similar reason for the chariness over the invitation: 

“On the one hand it’s a good gesture that should be taken as a sign of peacemaking by Modi, but at the same time the baggage that he carries makes it very difficult for the government. There is a widespread belief in Pakistan that he was behind the massacres in Gujarat.”

The situation has become so touchy that any Pakistani bringing this up is looked upon with distrust. In a juvenile reaction, some Indian Muslims have taken umbrage over “interference”, while we hold forth on everything from Balochistan to Waziristan. This is precisely what the rightwing wants – pariah patriots who owe fealty simply by pointing out another’s warts.

A hawk policy towards a neighbour you’ve fought four wars with in over six decades is perhaps pragmatic, though to see every gesture as symbolic belies a fear of the unknown. It is not Pakistan, but India that looks unprepared and confused waiting for the ‘enemy’ to legitimise it with his presence.

Peace by any means sounds suspiciously like war by any means.

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© Farzana Versey

20.5.14

Bend it like Modi


Narendra Modi is officially the new Prime Minister of India. L.K.Advani, who had expressed reservations about his candidature in public, proposed his name. He had no choice. The RSS decides these things, including portfolios.

To cut a very long story short. There is much emotion, as though it has come as a huge surprise. There is much talk about how emotional he got and how humble he was that he touched the steps of Parliament.

Modi addressed a gathering with the words:

“We are sitting here in the temple of democracy. We are not here for any positions, but to fulfill responsibilities.”

Parliament is the seat of democracy and paying obeisance means following the Constitution.



Mr Modi is, of course, quite accustomed to bowing – whether it is before the controversial boy godman Nityanand, or guns during shastra puja, irrelevant in contemporary times, or before Swami Pramukh Maharaj.

He repeated that he was the son of a poor man, and that was the strength of democracy.

“Sarkar vo ho jo gareebon ke liye soche, jo gareebon ki sune, jo gareebon ke liye jiye, nayi sarkar gareebon ke liye samarpit hai.”

Reminiscent of Indira Gandhi’s ‘Garibi Hatao’ slogan, he spoke about a government that thought about the poor, listened to the poor, lived for the poor, and dedicated themselves to the poor. It must be noted that this time’s Parliament comprises of the richest.

Meanwhile...these are not supplicants, but bureaucrats:


© Farzana Versey

19.5.14

Aim of the bullseye

The bullseye sat lolling on the tongue like a lazy kitten. There was nothing to aim at, nothing to aim for. The scent of menthol reached my lungs, leaving me pleasantly breathless.

It was like going back to childhood. This little round candy continues to fascinate now as it did then.





It was displayed in large glass jars in the neighbourhood store. There was enough loose change only for one or two. This made it all the more precious. Placed in the open palm, sliding it from tip of finger to wrist, it looked like a dancer. Held against the light between my thumb and index finger, I'd imagine it was the globe...how delightful it was to find countries, oceans and mountains. There were no blues and greens and browns of the maps, no jagged lines demarcating territories or creating borders, no distance of miles, or even the eye trained on how far the crow flies. This monochromatic world, lacking in colour, was a great unifier.

One day, it fell down. I didn't know whether it hurt, but it was round no more. I picked up a jagged piece and poked myself. It was done without thinking too much, or thinking at all. Today, I would say it was about experiencing the hurt, even as I might never have understood it.

Your shape changes, you are broken, some parts of you are unrecognisable as specks. But aren't bullseyes meant to be targeted? I did not know where it got its name from, or whether it was the real name. Behind the glass, they were just bizarre eyes. Or, round zebras.




I read somewhere that zebra stripes are meant to confuse predators. The straight and diagonal lines crisscrossing appear as motion and with every move gather momentum.

Now, think about my humble candy as it speeds off from one end of palm to the finger tips. How can it fight my predatorial instinct when I already know what those stripes mean?

Those empowered with knowledge can use it rather well, especially when what — and in most cases who — they aim at is vulnerable. They are informed and privileged. They know about the warts. Worse, they know about the camouflage. As they tilt their head, I can see black and white stripes in their smiles.

I exchale the menthol of the candy. It stings the eyes.

© Farzana Versey

18.5.14

Sunday ka Funda




I do not know who would buy a mattress after seeing such images. Kurl-On is a well known brand. It has run a series using three public figures from different generations and for different reasons — Mahatma Gandhi, Steve Jobs, Malala Yousafzai.

The last one has been pulled up for bad taste.

The ad shows the young girl holding up her hands while facing down a gun, and then being shot in the head. She tumbles through the air before coming to rest on a Kurl-on spring mattress. Rejuvenated, sthen "bounces back" -- that's the campaign slogan -- to receive Pakistan's National Youth Peace Prize.


The ad agency is the local branch of Ogilvy & Mather.

The head of the Chilean studio that did the sketch admitted the gunshot stood out in the drawing.

"The Kurl-on ad tries to do the complete opposite, it's about triumphing over violence. The scene portrays a real event, an example of heroism that is very powerful, especially in Eastern countries, which is what they told us they wanted when we started the graphic."


If 'bounce back' is the tagline, I still don't get it. Do people want mattresses that bounce? Do they bounce on them? Being springy is a different thing altogether.

Ogilvy has apologised for the Malala segment. I can well imagine they would be concerned as she is an internationaly-accepted figure now and they cannot afford to antagonise the political brains behind her. There is silence about the other two though, and not only because they are dead. I find those images equally offensive.

• a young Steve Jobs being booted out the door, only to bounce back in his signature black turtleneck, showing off a Macbook in front of a camera.


• a young lawyer version of Mahatma Gandhi thrown out of a moving train and rallying back as the robe-clad Indian independence leader.


Bouncing back in a situation does not always mean being shot at, booted out, thrown out. In a subtle way, this is empowering those who do it — the corporates and the racists, who are everywhere. Normal people too bounce back from setbacks, personal and professional.

And many do not even have a bed to sleep in.

17.5.14

To Mrs Modi, the First Lady

Jashodaben goes to vote


Dear Jashodaben:

I hear you are in Tirupati to offer thanksgiving. Your prayers have been answered. Your husband has been rewarded, and may well head the next government.

You will, therefore, become the First Lady. There will be SPG guards protecting you. This can be extremely intrusive for somebody who led an ‘invisible’ existence for decades.

Do excuse my intrusion into this space, but now you are public property too. I desisted joining the chorus when you were flashed before the public on April 9. It was unnecessary to drag your name in, even though your name legitimised your husband in ways you may never imagine.

After 40 years, he publicly accepted you for the first time by adding your name in the spouse column in the affidavit when he filed his nomination papers. Clearly, he was aware that this time there would be more questions. You appeared as silently as you had probably disappeared. Your brother said you had gone off on a pilgrimage, as you promised you would the moment he accepted you:

“Jashodaben never stayed with Narendrakumar (Modi) after marriage and has led a life alone dedicated to spiritualism. But by heart she still considers Narendrakumar (Modi) as her husband. She had taken a pledge of not eating rice or any preparation made out of it till he (Modi) becomes a prime minister. She still considers committed to Narendrakumar (Modi) and is ready to go with him only if he calls her back.”

Why were you rejected? We tend to romanticise abstinence and asceticism. He was joining the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), where familial relationships are not encouraged. But, is not abstinence also about being above the perks of power? If anybody followed the vows, it was you.

Modi with his mother: isn't this family ties?


Your need for acceptance has been well-expressed by mythological figures and saints like Sita and Meera. But you were on banwaas and you had to give agni pariksha. Is this fair? You committed yourself to an idol, but what did the idol do?

Meera was strong. She said to those who taunted her, “Family honour, words of scorn? /I care not for these one jot, /For my Krishna’s bewitching form/Is etched forever on my heart.”

What did Lord Krishna do? He intervened in her dream to advise her, “If the gopikas could do their duty to their husbands, tend their families and above all be totally devoted to me all the time, you can do the same thing. Do your duty. I shall not leave you any time”?

For you he was both husband and deity, it would seem. You deserve more than a namesake relationship.

As the First Lady, will you have any influence? I am not suggesting that you should be doing the ribbon-cutting at inauguration for ‘ladies’ type projects. Your husband has promised many things to the women of India. It would make a lot of difference if you helped initiate schemes for ‘women’s empowerment’. Your husband keeps mentioning 'Nirbhaya'. There are many victims of sexual abuse who will never get media attention. They might not even want it. There are the widows of Vrindavan; they need more than an opportunity to spray colours during Holi. There is abuse at the workplace. There is domestic violence – a subject that causes a great deal of anguish and anger, because few want to go into what is considered a ‘private matter’, and a question of rights.

Do you believe in ownership in a relationship? Given your example, you gave up any claims not only to property or possessions, but also to the man you married at a young age. You made peace with your situation, but what about the many who lead lives of utter despair because they have been abandoned by some uncouth man in a fit of rage or for a higher purpose? Does the fact that the woman may not share that purpose count for nothing? Not everybody has the backing of a family they can return to. It is to the credit of your parents and siblings that you were not considered any less, which as you know happens often even among the urbanised, supposedly modern lot. You got an education, started earning, and became self-sufficient. You did not sell tea, and perhaps that will not bring a gleam to the eyes of people who get pleasure from hype.

Many women are illiterate and poor, and are often sold off into brothels. You are already aware of all this, and I am merely emphasising the points that are ignored when empowering women.

Now, I wish to touch upon a subject that is sensitive. You might have read about Snoopgate. A woman was being trailed and stalked by what a sting operation revealed to be the Gujarat government. The then Home Minister has been exonerated for keeping tabs for some ‘Saheb’. If we let this pass for the purpose of this note, then we still have the statement of the young architect’s father saying that the government had his permission to do so. It was to protect them. The woman is an adult. Is a father permitted to get in touch with the chief minister or other senior persons in the government to spy on his daughter? Is the state machinery meant for such purposes? Why has the father sought to quash a probe?

I was not and am not interested in salacious details, so I ask these queries because they can have serious implications. Women are stalked, and anybody can come forward to be a protector. With so many communication channels this can prove to be a means for blackmail, not to speak of an end to their reputation and future.

You have a right to a future, too. A future where you get the respect due to a partner. It may be difficult for you to transform from a Meera to a Radha, but no one worships Meera as a consort. Or will you stay in the background again – a name on a nomination paper, a prayer at a temple, footprints on a pilgrimage?

Your silence will be reflective of the silence of many women in a society where machismo takes different forms, sometimes even as abstinence.

Uth meri jaan...


© Farzana Versey

15.5.14

Marriage of Convenience: The ND Tiwari Saga



The N.D.Tiwari saga has now resulted in retribution. Whatever people might like to call it, the 88-year-old legalising his relationship with Ujjwala Sharma that was not anymore a relationship is the offshoot of years of guilt.

There are reports referring to his glad eye and other such stuff that is not germane to what he shared with the woman he has married. She says:

“He wanted to give social sanctity to our relationship, which was very old and we have a 35-year-old son. We will complete legal formalities after which we will invite all."


Social sanctity often means social security. Tiwari did not really care about public opinion. It is quite likely he is doing this because there is nothing left to lose anymore. He will be absolved of the feeling of having wronged; their son Rohit Shekhar who had dragged him to court in the paternity case will think he has scored some success in legtimising himself and his mother; and Ms. Sharma will be effectively 'saved'.

In all this, we forget a few things, including the fact that he was not quite the only bad guy here. (I shall reproduce some bits from an earlier post)

He snapped ties with her and the son in 1995. His wife had died two years ago. He was not interested in the relationship. She moved on and got married to Bipin Sharma; they have a son. Tiwari resurfaced in her life. Amazingly, she admitted: “Between 2002 and 2005 there was a semblance of a relationship between us.”

She had a husband, and went ahead to be with a man who was now quite a prominent politician, who had deserted her and the son, and shown no remorse.

In 2006, she and her husband parted ways. It was also the year Rohit started a campaign against Tiwari.

“In 2006, I started a campaign against him and sent out letters to everyone in Uttarakhand about our relationship. He kept telling people I was not his son but just a blackmailer. That’s when I started looking for legal options. This is not a battle for his property or money. I just want to make peace with myself. He had told me a 1,000 times in private that I looked like him. How I had inherited his nose. But if I met him in public, he would simply look through me. That hurt.”


I hope this puts an end to the hurt. It makes me wonder, though, about what really gives relationships sanctity. Is it merely the presence of people in our lives — their acceptance of us? Are they accepting themselves in that relationship with as much emotion?

© Farzana Versey

There are other aspects, should you be interested, here

14.5.14

The price of a home



Mukesh Ambani's home at Mumbai's Altamount Road still appears to me to be under-construction. There is something incomplete about it. Or, like a wedding cake that's been haphazardly sliced through. At night, it transforms into a lit-up bauble for Brobdingnagians.

It comes at a price and now it has topped the list, according to Forbes:

The title of the most outrageously expensive property in the world still belongs to Mukesh Ambani’s Antilia in Mumbai, India. The 27-story, 400,000-square-foot skyscraper home–which is named after a mythical island in the Atlantic–includes six stories of underground parking, three helicopter pads, and reportedly requires a staff of 600 to keep it running. Construction costs for Antilia have been reported at a range of $1 billion to $2 billion. To put that into perspective, 7 World Trade Center, the 52-story tower that stands just north of Ground Zero in Manhattan with 1.7 million square feet of office space, cost a reported $2 billion to build.


A rich person is most certainly entitled to spend wealth as s/he desires. There are wannabes who aspire to things the rich want. However, when it is a home in a city with a huge disparity in wealth among its citizens, then it ceases to be a question merely of personal riches.

Reminds me of wellknown architect Charles Correa, who and said:

“When I visited Australia I realised that save for a few homes most of the people in the cities live on similar-sized plots. Australia, I thought is locked into equality while in India we are locked into inequality. Mukesh Ambani has proved it. ‘This is the amount of urban space I control,’ he is telling us by building that home. At the same time you have to be impressed. What a huge ivory tower!”


Poverty bothers us, whether it is due to sympathy or because its presence is considered a nuisance, an intrusion into our space. We drive past, eyes averted. We walk past, waiting to get out and inhale. We are uncomfortable; this is not about us.

Why don't we feel the same way about the ostentatious although that too is not about us? We drive past and look with awe. We walk past, slow our steps until a guard looks with suspicion. This makes us uncomfortable because poor guy has access to super rich.

In that, we too live in ivory towers sponging on other people's make-believe.

© Farzana Versey

Conversion and Terrorism



When I saw this picture, it filled me with revulsion because, unlike images of violence that you can screen or turn away from, this was 'inviting' the viewer to participate. It was trying to co-opt the world.

The Boko Haram claimed they had converted some of the girls they had kidnapped to Islam. They are dressed in veils and ostensibly reading from a religious text. Who would believe in the exemplariness of this? Those who wish to, and there are many of those. The Islamists because it just adds to the numbers and makes them appear as the voice of the faith. The critics, and more than likely Islamophobes, because it is easier to condemn a religion-based act using the passive-aggressive strategy of 'your faith did it, but all religions are in essence about goodness'.

Now, since the Boko Haram are not about goodness, the saviours will emotionally and intellectually baptise those who might feel guilty by association.

In all this, nobody cares asking the questions that matter: Who converted the girls? Was it a religious head? What was the procedure? The Boko Haram guys are certainly not qualified to convert anyone. And in what language are the girls reading the holy text? Chances are the terrorists themselves do not know how to read, and probably do not even pray.

Forced conversions are a sore point, and being held hostage these girls could well also become hostage to the faith, for it probably offered them respite from the savagery of their kidnappers.

[An unrelated analogy would be the missionaries who make 'backward' class and caste communities feel indebted for removing the slurs on them.]

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On another note there is the assumption that such militants are less frightened of drones than they are of girls studying. This is ridiculous, and we saw how it worked out during the Malala moment. The problem with this analysis is that it ignores the reality that some examples do not represent the entire truth. Nigeria has not shut down schools for girls. In Swat where Malala was shot at there were other schools even at the time.

By going along with this anti-school idea, we boost the confidence of militants. In fact, it helps consolidate the view that certain societies are illiterate or uneducated, especially when they have made remarkable contributions in the public sphere globally.

As regards drones, if the world believes terrorists are afraid at all, then why do they aim so badly as to target the innocent population? If the terrorists are afraid, why do they hide? And why the attempt to justify drones that don't have philanthropic intent?

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Senator John McCain has said:

“If they knew where they were, I certainly would send in U.S. troops to rescue them, in a New York minute I would, without permission of the host country. I wouldn’t be waiting for some kind of permission from some guy named Goodluck Jonathan."


Such is the arrogance that even the Nigerian President does not matter. Why is the US not interested in capturing the terrorists and only rescuing the girls?

“If we rescued these young girls, it would be the high point of the [President Obama’s] popularity.”


Such is the opportunism.

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Update, May 18

70 members of the Boko Haram have been killed by villagers in a town in Adamawa State, as this report states:

It was gathered that the civilian forces acted upon a piece of information by a local food vendor that the terror group were coming to get food before heading out for a major operation to raid villages in the area.

According to SaharaReporters, the group mobilized, laid ambush and waited patiently for the militants.


Sounds great. Now, what I cannot understand is why hardened criminals would go to get food in such large numbers. It just does not make sense. A hundred? And villagers "pounced on" these "gunmen"?

A member of the vigilante group said the Nigerian soldiers appear unable or unwilling to wage an effective war against the insurgents. “They (soldiers) seem to be helpless and to fear the Boko Haram warriors who terrorize us here. But we are not afraid. They are men like us. And we are tired of folding our hands and allowing them to kill us, to kill our wives and to kill our children.”


By "men like us" does it imply that the locals have better means to tackle the group? Are the soldiers under any government diktat to lay off? Or are these vigilante villagers provided for to be frontmen or, perhaps more, by unseen powers?

Nigeria's natural resources are there for the picking.

© Farzana Versey

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Also Boko Haram and the Defensive Brigade

11.5.14

Sunday ka Funda



The last thing one would think about in a men's innerwear ad is a mother. The Amul Macho series has had some 'macho' moments, but it is pretty much oddball. In the latest one, burglars enter a house and are in the process of robbing it clean when the owner lands up in the room. He looks pretty much unlikely to take on the main big-built thief.

The 'hero' picks up the phone. Thief says, "Don't call the police or I'll shoot you."

"I am not calling the cops, I am calling your mother!"

"Why?" asks the thief, panic on his face.

"How do you address your mother?" the owner persists.

"Maaa," says the thief, pleading, almost like a child again.

"I must tell her about the big-big things you are taking away."

"Keep away the big things..." he tells his boys. And then to the hero, "Please don't tell Ma."

Much as I dislike stereotypes, the nurturing by the mother begins even before birth. Marketing gurus might sell products using this as a hook, but should we deny it because of that? The tagline "Bade Araam se" is indeed apt. That the guy wearing such inners can handle a tough situation. The entry of his wife at the end, holding him with approval, could be seen as a helpless bystander, but she is not in the frame earlier so I won't nitpick.

However, it is the thief who really makes this ad work because of the unseen mother. His fear of her also conveys a deep respect for the values she instilled in him, and that he is not adhering to.

I know it might seem that one is pushing it to justify a Mother's Day tribute, but the fact is that each time the ad appears on TV I wait for the word Ma.

On a side note, I do admit that I'd have committed fewer mistakes in my life had somebody called up my mother. I won't say no mistakes because, as another ad says, "Kuchch daag achche hain!" Some stains are good.

But mothers aren't detergents. They are water.

© Farzana Versey

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Also: Forrest Mum and Miracles" and Mamta (when age catches up)


9.5.14

The side villain

Sudhir on the left in both pictures
We know about the big names, we remember the characters they essay, the titbits about their personal lives that make it to the gossip columns.

We remember the clothes they wore, the way they styled their hair and made up their faces. We remember the good guys and the bad guys who made the good guys look good. This was before grey became trendy. It was all black and white. The black bow-tie, the white shoes, the white jacket. Or the velvet gown that reminded of last night’s sins.

It was a world of sin. The flesh beneath the flounces of voluptuous molls. The dark lips chomping on cigars or blowing smoke rings into other eyes. And in this world, somewhere behind the curling smoke was Sudhir. I do not know his real name. It is there somewhere, but I don’t care.

He was the leering presence in neon-lit rooms, the one with the lighter, the guffaw, the fake laugher. And the sneer. He was the sidekick with so much attitude that you could not forget him. He spoke as though he was biting right into his gums or chewing or sarcasm had lodged itself on his tongue. You knew what he would do and how he would do it. No surprises. It was just like the formula you expected from a hero.

It set me thinking about those who stand and stare who we rarely notice. Each time a Sudhir dies, a satellite that circles the centre disappears.

Muslimophobia and the Secular Sham: India Elects

Published in CounterPunch, May 9-11

“Hinduism is the mosttolerant of all religions. Its creed is all embracing.” – Mahatma Gandhi
“Hinduism is a way oflife and not a religion.” – Narendra Modi

The liberal and the fundamentalist have been separatelysoft-selling one particular religion for such a long time that today there isan overlap. Other cultures are sought to be subsumed in this embrace of “life”.Like foreign companies seeking franchises to capture the market, 13.4 percentof the population is up for grabs. Indian Muslims are a large constituency notonly for political parties, including the Hindu rightwing, but also for theurban educated majority. As happens when the middle-class is shaken out of itscomplacency, there is fear over any slur of fanaticism by association thatmight stick to them.

They know that territory well, having whitewashedthe wrongs of saffron terrorism by calling it ‘Talibanisation’ andpronouncements by village panchayats (courts) as ‘fatwas’, and wanting to save Muslimwomen from the veil, the Shariah, the madrasas. All these ostensibly so restrictivethat, in their imagination, it renders the community impotent.

Now, their words have come to bite them.

Singularlyplural


Secularism in the social sphereworks as varnish. Scratch the surface and there are prejudices – somecongenital, others visceral, and yet others acquired over a period of time.This applies to Muslims as well, but to a lesser extent because there has notbeen a paradigm shift in who they are. The catharsis is over; Pakistan is anexpunged part. For the majority community, history means regurgitating theconquest by Muslim rulers and for some reason it manifests itself as a backlashto correct the wrongs, even if they have no contemporary validity. It providesa reason for reclaiming a Hindu Rashtra.

While Hindutva has no patience for or interest insecularism, except as political bait, the liberal ethos makes it mandatory toadopt the role of gatekeeper. IndianMuslims remind them of a past where people converted to Islam, not due to forcebut because it was a pragmatic choice to free themselves from the shackles ofcasteism. The reason liberal Hindus have risen from their ennui is no differentfrom the BJP. It is a question of national pride to flash multiculturalism,knowing well that it has convenient pigeonholes.

According to one pollanalysis, “in 150-odd seats Muslims can determine the result”. That is 27per cent of the seats. All factors that go against Muslims could, therefore,tilt the electoral outcome. Despite this, there is no Muslim religious partythat has national legitimacy.

It is the minorities that ensureIndia does not fall into a homogenous rut. What they do in the political spherecontributes to a large extent how the nation works as a democracy. As equalstake-holders in the republic, they also pose a challenge to the manner inwhich the majority navigates the ‘difference’ without the crutch of‘natural-born’ prerogative.

Communalism

Muslims are certainly moreconcerned about communalism than other communities. It is not just riots. It isabout villagers evicted to make place for a factory. It could be denied housingin metros like Mumbai and Bangalore. It could be arrests on mere suspicion forterror activities. These cover a vast class spectrum.

Fake encounter killings are notrestricted to the minorities, but where Muslims are concerned the threatperception is invoked. In November 2005, IPS officer Rajkumar Pandian shotdead Sohrabuddin Sheikh. To save hismasters, Pandian was put behind bars. He admitted to the killing, but wonderedwhy he was not feted for saving the nation from peril.

The psychological weapon renders obligatoryrequirements like evidence, a warrant and a legal process irrelevant. In recentmonths, though, it has become a charade with the courts overruling the CentralBureau of Investigation (CBI) or reversing previous judgements and grantingbail to important witnesses and convicted persons.


While the fealty of resident IndianMuslims is often under a scanner, the BJP manifesto blatantly states: “Indiashall remain a natural home for persecuted Hindus and they shall be welcome toseek refuge here.” This welcome is in contrast to the attitude towards theminorities, including the elite. The BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi meets clerics from certain sects whosemembers are from the rich trading class. This is to ensure that entrepreneurs arebeholden to the government in this system of patronage. Instead of condemning politicalparties, liberal Hindus accuse Muslims of seeking sops. No questions are raisedabout Hindu appeasement even as crony capitalism thrives in the quasi-religiousworship of money to reach nirvana.

Hate

Vishwa Hindu Parishad's (VHP) president PravinTogadia stood outside the house of a Muslim businessman. Some Hindus hadalleged their houses were being taken over. Togadia offered the protestors asolution:

“If he does not relent, go with stones, tyres and tomatoes to hisoffice. There is nothing wrong in it. Killers of Rajiv Gandhi have not beenhanged ... there is nothing to fear and the case will go on.”

Nobody cared to find out whose houses were takenover and who the sellers were. By merely treating this as hate speech, theissue gets obfuscated.

Giriraj Singh, a minister from Jharkhand, said:

“Those opposing Narendra Modi are looking at Pakistan. In the coming days, suchpeople will have no place in India. They will only have a place in Pakistan,which is their Mecca-Medina.”

The reaction was instantaneous. Anchors, academics,celebrities and, curiously enough, expatriates, got concerned about their ownplight should there be a Modi government. Deportation became a joke.

Many in the media who work for corporate-fedestablishments and have organisational support spoke about how Indian“journalists will be shot at” for “anti-national activities”. The doomsdayprophets who hawk paranoia like placebos have never experienced the real fearof the displaced. The names and cases they profited from, and the poor inrelief camps, did not figure in their escape plans.


Paranoia


“We are looking for a Muslim liberal,” said thevoice at the other end of the phone. It was for a debate. This has beenrepeated a few times and in different places. They do not realise how insultingit is to specifically address you as a liberal anointed by them, the assumptionbeing that such a creature is a rarity. They often end up with caricatureswilling to serve their purpose and notions.

On a good sunny day, we might have seen the lighttogether, but now I find their shadow looming large. They are colonising thespace, and in that they are not much different from the Hindutva parties, whowant to purify the nation. They are covertly complicit in that, for when theycall a leader a fascist and Hitler, they are confirming and conforming to the superiorityof the race credo. In the manner of those Germans who took up the cause of theJews, they are assured of their Spielberg celluloid moment. This is collateralbenefit.

With protectionism as their arsenal, they mentallyghettoise the community by fabricating a ‘victim mentality’ schema that facilitatestheir role as giver. The munificence imbues them with a low-cost liberalism.

Those of us who do not buy the schmaltzy tokenismare dismissed as “closet jihadis”. This is classic projection, for covert empathywith the larger cause of maintaining a peaceful environment would qualify themas closet Hindutva proponents. “Abhayam, abhayam, abhayam (Absence of fear).There! I have said it three times. There is no need to be scared,” saidMr. Modi. This works as a charm for the liberals. Riding on the back offundamentalism, they are out to solve the problem of Muslims or what they often,delightfully, refer to as ‘the Muslim problem’.

There is little space for the liberal who happens tobe a Muslim by origin or a practising faith. It is disconcerting for the Hindu to see‘people like us’. The essay ‘The Liberal Illusion of Uniqueness’ states,“Liberals showed what the researchers call ‘truly false uniqueness,’ perceivingtheir beliefs as more divergent from the beliefs of other liberals than theyactually were.”

Unlike Islamophobia, that largely blames thereligion for militant acts because some terrorists took Allah’s name, theIndian Muslim is holding up a distorted mirror that does not offer the standardArab on a camel image. The only aspect that can set the good Hindu apart fromthe good Muslim is to hark back to roots. Things come full circle. The core isburied. Skeletons are exhumed.
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© Farzana Versey

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Also: Should Modi's Time-in affect Muslims?

---Note: All images are for representation purpose only.