28.6.14

In-Visible



They are everywhere. Hidden men. Hidden women. But if they are hidden, how are they visible?

When I read about traces of a bearded man, wearing a bow-tie, his chin resting on his hand, that was found in Pablo Picasso's 'The Blue Room' my first thought was that it was a mind trick. I still believe so, despite expert analysis. Is that a fairy in the clouds, or are feathers flying from pillows in the sky? Sand dunes look like women in repose, and try splitting a flower into two.

If blood flowing from the veins of a Christ image is a miracle, why is Picasso's work seen as a superimposition of one painting over another? If you look at the woman bathing, you might see other images — of touch, of gaze, of remnants. Beneath the skin there is a lot that is hidden.




Think about the hidden man and what it could mean as part of this painting. He might be watching her as she pours water. But he looks bored. And why is he dressed up? Is this a salon for men of leisure to slake their thirst, as water dribbles over body?

I am aware that he is not in the frame. They never are. Hidden men. Nobody draws them, or draws them in. They are scrawled over.

There are other paintings in the painting, there is a vase with flowers, a window. Different pictures. They are visible. The moment the invisible was noticed it took over, captured the imagination. 'The Blue Room' is now about the hidden man, the brushstrokes that covered him, who he could be and what he might have meant.

For me, he represents what the woman triumphed over. Can't you see her cleansing herself? Blue was Picasso's low phase, but the lady and her hidden treasure of emotions are best expressed in her nudity that reveals so much that her secrets ricochet off blank walls and imprint her belly.

She too becomes the hidden woman. Born.

--

© Farzana Versey

27.6.14

Condoms as the Death of Culture? Kama Sutra Updated

Published in CounterPunch




When the condom is pitted against fidelity, it becomes aquestion of sperm censorship and how it infringes on the freedom of values. Itis a delectable swapping of the blueprint.

India’s Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan in aninterview to The New York Times said:

“The thrust of the AIDS campaign should not only be on the use of condoms. Thissends the wrong message that you can have any kind of illicit sexualrelationship, but as long as you're using a condom, it's fine…One should alsopromote integrity of sexual relationship between husband and wife – a part ofIndian culture.”

While the Abstinence-BeFaithful-Condom (ABC) campaign that he propagates is accepted by UNAIDS –although abstinence and fidelity are mutually exclusive – it is not aboutculture. When his leader Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat then, hadhelped promotea brand with his photograph on the package, did he screen those who boughtthe prophylactic?

The condom as keeper of culture might seem a bitfar-fetched, but how different societies react to it and use it does reveal itsposition in a particular culture.

The minister’s comment cannot be taken as a personalviewpoint as he represents the ruling rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party that ismaking other attempts to retrieve culture. There is an assumption that Indianmarriages are about two pure people coming together and living a fairytale thateven mythology baulks at. Many deities practised polygamy and polyandry,although some of it was in the form of avatars. Today they can be quoted as‘family’, even if a doomed princess was saddled with five brothers as husbandsin the epic Mahabharata, because it is conjoined with other values.

***

What is surprising is that the ‘glove’ itself has addedinadvertently to the country’s culture. It was discovered a few years ago thatthe weavers in Uttar Pradesh were using the lubricant from condoms to polishthe zari on sarees to give a diaphanous finish to the six-yard creation.

75 per cent of the sexually-active Indians who should beusing condoms for safe sex are instead putting it to other use. In rural areas,according to one report, “In some places, we found that the condom was beingused to carry water when people go to answer nature’s call in the fields. Thisis a convenient use and throw-water carrier for them. For the children, ofcourse, it is a balloon they love blowing up.” In urban parts of the countrythey are mixed with concrete and tar to help make roads. For roof-making,condoms are spread out to provide a waterproof layer.

NGOs who were given free condoms in bulk to distribute topeople in their anti-HIV and safe sex campaigns had begun this lucrative trade.

***

The condom cannot work as second skin in more ways than theliteral sense. It impedes natural resources in a country where additional handsto work is a consideration for perpetuation of the family. The idea ofintroducing safe sex is also anathema to the middle-class that understands theimportance of population control, but not of the slur associated with thecarrier of caution.

Another issue that’s rarely spoken about is that Indians topthe list of small penises. The market now caters to different sizes, butchances are that there would be some inflated egos although it should be seenas cultural/racial, like skin or hair colour, or height. Invariably, theysettle for something that does not fit and might be rendered redundant.

However, it is less disturbing than a brand promoted by theSwiss government targetedat young boys who were thought to be ignorant and indulging in risky behaviour.The size of the condoms was smaller.

The onus on the boys is not only unfair but leaves the girlsout of the decision making process. It initiates a macho notion of the boy incharge of sexual matters and protection at a young age. That it is namedHotshot also makes him into a whiz, not unlike the latex brand that had HarryPotter’s image with a magic wand.

***

The high-profile hawking of condoms in hazard areas hascreated less sexual fear and more paranoia regarding saving the soul from purgatory.Defending the minister’s sentiments, VK Subburaj of the National AIDS ControlOrganisation stated:

"For high-risk groups like sex workers and men who have sex with men, we willcontinue the emphasis on condoms as morals won't catch their attention.However, for the general public the minister has asked to stress on morals likebeing faithful, not indulging in pre-marital and extra-marital sex.”

This demeans two segments that have traditionally been partof Indian culture as much as any other. A short-sighted morality is incapableof figuring out that sex workers are not born with an ailment that taints goodmen. It is the general public that patronises them, the hypocrisy of familiesnotwithstanding.



Political ideology that interferes in the family unitdegrades human relationships. A man visiting a red-light area needs to ensuresafe sex not only for himself but also of the woman he is with. Besides that,we completely ignore the fact that without a condom he might impregnate her andowe no responsibility. Suchillegitimate births, even if not accounted for, in their vagueness consolidatethe position of male potency.

According to a study by anthropologist BG Schoepf in Africa:

“Many women avoid using condoms because they are associated with promiscuityand prostitutes. Conversely, men who use condoms offend women because the womenassume he doesn't trust them.”

Fidelity among couples excludes everybody else, and othersituations that could be at risk or are a violation. Domestic rape might bethen considered part of the values, and a small price a woman has to pay for aman who does not stray. In 2010, Dr. Sonnet Ehlers created RapeAxebased on a comment made by a rape victim she met years ago who told her, “Ifonly I had teeth down there”. The female condom priced at $2 was meant todebilitate the rapist. According to its creator: “It hurts, he cannot pee andwalk when it’s on. If he tries to remove it, it will clasp even tighter...however, it doesn’t break the skin.”

This is naïve and burdens the woman in unimaginable ways.Should she anticipate rape and therefore go around wearing the toothy condom?If she happens to be wearing it, and the case gets to court, would the lawyersnot argue that she was prepared for it? There are different levels of sexualabuse and penile penetration is only one of them.

***

Condoms contradict creation. That is probably why the majorresponsibility for birth control is on women – they have to visit camps, getpainful instruments fixed, take pills and display their newfound sterility likea badge of duty. This was used to co-opt men. As I wrote in an earlierpiece:

Marketing people decided to transformit into a symbol, a grand combination of potency combined with supremesacrifice. All dread vanished the moment the male species was made to realisethat they were doing it for the better of humankind. With AIDS, the man beganto be seen as an honourable citizen, health conscious and enlightened.Suddenly, an ordinary latex thing became a political, social, and even economic(you are contributing to a better lifestyle for the future generation)statement.


But, add to that the more urgent need for a stiff brew satedwith a coffee flavour, or lubrication for the slip of tongue, ribbed as aspeedbreaker, and you find none of these caters to men. The reason is thatwomen are made accountable and expected to cover up for the denial of maleposterity. The ‘oral’ is at one level mimicking pleasurable infantilism, nottoo different from reclaiming ancient cultural values.

--



© Farzana Versey

21.6.14

Euphony



Music is in footsteps eager to reach you, the bell ring, the sound of whispers in ear, of knuckles unknuckling lazily, the swish of clothes, of laughter, and the name being called out. Again and again.

Music is windows rattling, wind knocking, thunder, rain, the splashing in pools of muddy water, the gurgle of drains, of gumboots plodding, the towel drying wet hair.

Music is opera, the gut-wrenching cry of unspeakable sadness, of stories that never die about people who always do.

Music is the church choir, stiff collars scraping necks, throats belting out hymns in sync, the uniformity of consent, of community, of togetherness.

Music is the huge temple bell rung just once to announce arrival and once more to depart, an offering to an idol created by the cadence of hands.

Music is the azaan, the call of the muezzin, especially at dusk, intoned like the sun cooling off, like air trapped in the hollow of cheeks that breaks free and escapes into the sky.

Music is the symphony of an orchestra where hands seem to quiver. Of the soloist at a pop concert who has to match voice with attitude, timbre.

Music is the turning of the pages of a book, of scratching out words with a pen, of sketching on rice paper, of the fan blowing into face, of lips puckering to blow away the strands of hair.

Music is distant traffic at night, of the phone on silent and a call with a name so familiar you divert it to voice mail so that you can listen to the sigh.

--

© Farzana Versey

20.6.14

KFC and the image factory



Corporate guilt is a lucky bitch. KFC has ended up with a halo instead of egg on its face. An apology, a little money, and glory follows.

When Victoria Wilcher went to the outlet in Mississipi, her grandma Kelly Mullins did not know they'd turn her out. As she said:

"They just told us, they said, 'We have to ask you to leave because her face is disrupting our customers.'"


This made a deep impact on the three-year-old whose face has been scarred in a pit bull attack. "She won't even look in the mirror anymore."

KFC's apology states:

"As soon as we were notified of this report on Friday, we immediately began an investigation, as this kind of hurtful and disrespectful action would not be tolerated by KFC. Regardless of the outcome of our investigation, we have apologized to Victoria's family and are committed to assisting them. The company is making a $30,000 donation to assist with her medical bills. The entire KFC family is behind Victoria."


With this, KFC becomes part of the 'Victoria's Victories' campaign. They have apologised and offered a donation despite investigations being under way. Implicit in this is a magnanimity that affords the organisation an exit from responsibility for the act of an errant employee.

This is how large corporations that rather obviously promote the smiling avuncular mascot and the happy meal not only lure customers (and none of us can deny stepping into their standard franchises), but also cover up for what is really an expectation that their clientele will be as uniform in image as their seating and ketchup sachets. We are soothed by the fast-food familiarity and in the rush probably have no time to "stand and stare". Except when what we face is a face not like ours.

The dogs broke her nose, both jaws, cheekbones and right eye socket; the right side of her face is paralyzed and she lost that eye. Her bottom jaw was reconstructed but she needs a feeding tube and must grow more bone in her face before more surgery is possible.


The moot point is this. Victoria's Facebook page posted her picture with a cartoon eyepatch:

"Does this look scary to you? Last week at KFC in Jackson MS this precious face was asked to leave because her face scared the other diners."


Is this a question of an image affecting others? Diners do get "disrupted" by stunning looks, titillating clothes, and what might seem to be unusual behaviour. I fully sympathise with the little girl, but the message plays into the importance of a "precious face". What happens to those who may have naturally disfigured faces or caused by accidents, and cannot be camouflaged?

It is intriguing that we will watch web images of people being maimed and disfigured in the most violent manner, yet cannot accept them in a social setting where the image is an immediate reality.

--

Update: June 25, 2 pm IST

Is it a hoax?

That is what they are asking about Victoria Wilcher being turned away from the KFC outlet.

Following the story, people donated money, doctors offers their services free of cost, and KFC pledged $30,000. A few days ago, a website stated that nothing of the kind happened, although KFC's investigations were not complete.

Now, apparently, they are and neither the camera footage nor the inquisitions of the staff reveal such an incident taking place, or even of the kid and her grandma visiting the franchise. Her aunt maintains they did.

This is truly unfortunate, not because of who we must believe but why anybody would have to resort to such a lie at all. Clearly, the family is needy. It is not the girl's fault.

KFC's statement closing the investigations ends with:

"We are honoring our commitment to make a $30,000 donation to assist with Victoria’s medical bills. We hope everyone keeps Victoria in their thoughts and prayers. She will certainly be in ours.”


Either way, its patrons will not ditch them. Nobody had spoken of boycotting KFC, but now it will also be respected for contributing to Victoria's healing despite being accused.

Why are the donors feeling cheated? Victoria's condition is the same, whether the incident took place or not. It would seem that donors need a 'hook' before they shell out money. Good has to be pitted against evil. Perhaps it is a purging of guilt, for whether we like to admit it or not the image matters as we turn away from what is uncomfortable for us.

The following links have more:

http://leader-call.com/2014/06/23/kentucky-fried-hoax/

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/06/24/local-report-brands-story-kfc-booting-pitbull-victim-hoax/


© Farzana Versey

15.6.14

Sunday ka Funda

"It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences."

— Audre Lorde





Victims, perpetrators and watchers: Preity-Ness



The problem with the Preity Zinta-Ness Wadia case is with the word molestation. As a feminist and one who would err on the side of a woman, I do have a few questions.

First, this is what happened: Zinta and Wadia are joint owners of the IPL Kings XI Punjab cricket team. They were in a steady five-year relationship, but had split quite sometime ago. They continued with the professional partnership.

The latest season of the IPL matches brought Zinta a lot of attention for her infectious enthusiasm and support of her players. Wadia seems to have been more a backroom partner, although given his background as scion of the Wadia business empire he certainly would take a call on financial matters.

On Thursday night, June 12, she filed a police complaint against him. Here is why:

On May 30, an IPL match between Kings XI Punjab and Chennai Super Kings was played at the Wankhede stadium. During the match, when Preity was at the Garware Pavillion, Ness reportedly accosted her and also bad mouthed her in front of many people.

She gave a written complaint following which an FIR was registered against Wadia under IPC sections 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation) and 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman), police sources added.




The police has acted quickly on her complaint that he accosted her, grabbed her hand and abused her before a bunch of people. Her complaint was converted into an FIR within a day.

This is how it ought to be, but often isn't. Besides, she had not recorded her full statement as she had to leave the city.

Now for a few points:

This is important to her, so could she not delay her travel plans? She also took 13 days to file a complaint, again because she was traveling. Where are the priorities? We must understand that she is educated and is not striving to survive, and has a support system. This is not the case with many women who are forced to stay quiet. The impact of an immediate complaint would help investigators too.

• The Oxford dictionary defines molest as 1.Assault or abuse (a person, especially a woman or child) sexually; 2 DATED Pester or harass (someone) in an aggressive or persistent manner

Despite the public statements being more in the nature of the latter, it has been given a titillating connotation. Unless there is more to it than we do know, such loose references demean those who suffer from sexual/physical exploitation of the worst kind.

In fact, just recently the courts have announced that sexual force against a woman's will in a marriage will not be considered rape. There are cases of domestic violence and harassment at the workplace that rarely get heard.

The response is likely to be that Preity Zinta has come out in the open and it might help women, and she has shown courage to take on a big man.

It does take courage, but she is a famous person in her own right. That is the reason that the Mumbai Police Commissioner has personally ensured the case gets due attention and the Maharashtra State Women's Commission have demanded action.

On her Facebook page, she has raised some important issues:

"It saddens me that no one at work or around ever stood up for me in the past when i was abused and insulted publicly. This time i was left with no option but to take this stern step as this incident happened in front of way too many people."


I assume she is talking about the IPL colleagues and not the film industry, for she has thanked them. I am disappointed though that abuse for her is abuse if it is in front of way too many people. This is one of the reasons people do not complain about what happens behind closed doors. Some news channels are talking about how there has been a history of abuse even during their relationship, and she has now decided to not remain silent. It is astonishing that not only was she quiet all these years, she continued with the working relationship for another five years when she filed the complaint.

He has reportedly talked about his political clout and she says her life is under threat. Did all this transpire during that one incident? If such abuse has taken place (Ness Wadia says it is not possible as she is always "surrounded by bouncers"), then it clearly reveals the arrogance of the man who assumes no one would dare to oppose him. In a sense, he was right. She gave him 13 days of respite.

"Sometimes we are so ashamed and humiliated that we fool ourselves to believe that no one saw what happened. Everyone always looks away as if they don't exist or then we don’t exist."


I am afraid, but I have to ask this: is there more concern for reputation, of being publicly humiliated despite being a star? This is a problem with fame — their status as former partners in a relationship would make them 'untouchable'. Besides, the reports on the cctv footage mention that she was with family and friends. Did they look away as well?

"Ironically what happened at Wankade is being diluted by every other fabricated story about my character except the truth of what happened. I'm sure the witnesses will speak the truth and i trust and believe that the police will do their job fairly and quickly."


This is by far the most unfortunate aspect. Indeed, it is treated like a soap opera. Even worse, some who are standing up to support her are comparing her courage by calling other actresses bimbos without any context. The media and social media space has always sensationalised abuse, more so when celebrities are involved. Even director Mahesh Bhatt has used this opportunity to plug the film 'A Hate Story' by referring to this as one as opposed to the love story it was. Nobody seems to realise there has been no personal relationship between the two for a while.

"No woman likes to be involved in a controversy like this which makes her open and vulnerable for all to take a dig at."


There is no reason that a fight for one's self-esteem and against abuse should be seen as a controversy. It isn't. However, if anyone commenting on this case believes that it will be an eye-opener, then we are deluding ourselves and living in a cocoon.

Barely a few days after the Badaun gangrape, there has been another case. Every single day, it happens in some form or the other.

It is also time to ask whether the blanket usage of the word rape is counter-productive. While the violation of a woman's body/person in any manner is reprehensible and should deserve punishment, the media and the cops tend to divert their energies towards motives and extent.

That is the reason I feel that Preity Zinta is doing injustice to herself and the cause of women speaking up. She should have taken action sooner, and helped the investigations. Without a full statement, it appears that she is as privileged as Ness Wadia, who should have certainly not said that he did not imagine she could "stoop to such a level".

This is the usual damning indictment when any woman raises her voice. If only many of them would raise their voices. And that at least a fraction of those showing support now would gather around them even after the media glare fades.

Note: Had withheld this hoping for more information. Have decided to post it with the proviso that while no two instances are the same, it is society's attitude towards different victims that reveals how we are and will be.

UPDATE: June 15, 11.30 am IST

Some reports have now added details about the case. Some of it is here.

The more I read about victim blaming/shaming, the more I realise that there is no sense of proportion. If we cannot compare this case with other instances of abuse, then why should we use the standards of other cases for this? The law applies the same sections for all, based on the complaint.

Some newspaper websites are carrying slideshows of her previous affairs. While she is called an attention-seeker, he is referred to as a mamma's boy, and his mother too is dragged into it. Wasn't there talk of a soap opera? Besides this, anyone with an internet connection becomes a commentator. Worse is that the 'concerned' are posting the insulting remarks by anonymous people, only adding to the shaming they are fighting against.

On the other hand, a TV channel was showing clips of her films, as though it was an award-winning moment.

Regarding her appeal for privacy, the case happened in the public domain, witnesses who were present there will be questioned, the police are talking to the media. And would respect for privacy have resulted is any support that she is getting?

I am aware of 'everyday misogyny' as much as any other woman, but I refuse to consider all crimes against women as "rape culture", a despicable and horribly misogynist term used liberally by feminists too.

Whatever anybody says is based on available material, and all speculation will rely on this as well as a general attitude. No one can take the moral highway on what is right or wrong. If this was not a one-off incident, then I do believe that Preity Zinta should see it as her duty to use her privilege and not just her right.

© Farzana Versey

8.6.14

Sunday ka Funda

Look around. The same story everywhere. In different forms. Different victims. Different perpetrators. Is it us? Nothing more to say...a powerful visual and the lyrics from Cranberries' 'Zombies' reflects what is:

"Another head hangs lowly,
Child is slowly taken.
And the violence caused such silence.
Who are we mistaken?

But you see, it's not me, it's not my family.
In your head, in your head they are fighting,
With their tanks and their bombs,
And their bombs and their guns.
In your head, in your head, they are crying...

In your head, in your head,
Zombie, zombie, zombie"


7.6.14

Narendra Modi's Fatwa

It is no less than an edict, one which has prompted me to say, "yes, Prime Minister, but..."



Narendra Modi's advise to the ministers sounds school-marmish. Do they have any merit? Some do, some don't. His media-related comments are more important than the rest. Here are two quotes from separate reports:

• Sources said the Prime Minister also asked the MPs not to talk to the media as spokespersons of the party but raise the issues of their own area and constituency with them instead.


• The Prime Minister also advised the parliamentarians to refrain from giving comments to media on national issues. He said they should be polite while dealing with the media.


I completely agree. In the past few years, ministers have struck out on their own during primetime and hurt the party they represent. The ill-timed sound bytes have only given anchors a 'debate', and the issue those remarks are for is soon forgotten. The cacophony coterie thrived in this environment, and became known for outspokenness or idiocy, depending on which side they were on.

The fallout was retraction the morning after. More debates on being misquoted. More TV and print time. It did not matter what the subject was. From coal to land sharks to rape, these made up the rogues gallery. Other panelists, mainly from the media, shared a camaraderie with them. This ensured both got what they wanted — a story.

Most of them lacked expertise in the subject, and were there only due to their availability on speed dial. Why did they come to the studios night after night to be shouted down by anchors? And what did they do? It invariably ended up with the spokespersons protecting their leaders. A Catch-22 situation, no doubt.

It served no purpose. Even offending ministers were back, smiling or sneering, after being anointed/insulted by a media person whose own expertise came from the research done by her/his team. People elect leaders, not journalists. The former owes them responsibility and self-respect. They represent us.

In sensitive cases, there is also the danger of a preemptive remark interfering in a judicial probe. Not everybody is in a position to discuss national or international issues with any degree of conviction, unless they are directly handling that portfolio and have hands-on experience or have worked in the department.

What we know now is which party members are the favoured ones on what channel, which ought to be anathema for freedom of the press. We recall their quotes. Let us not forget how Mani Shankar Aiyer's "chaiwalla" comment gave the BJP and its then PM candidate a new identity, an emotional handle. The quotable quoters are elitist, as is the media that projects them.

Is there a flipside to this? Yes. Since the media is not terribly interested in work done in constituencies, for want of ministers to pin down they might not cover issue-based controversial news as much. Or, if they do, it might become a free-for-all with decoys speaking on behalf of the party. This will provide an easy exit for the head office. A shrug will suffice. If the PM is serious, he should have a team of dedicated spokespersons who do as much homework as he expects from Parliamentarians.



Another reason I welcome this media 'layoff' is that the ball will be in the court of the PM. It is his diktat, his choice to stay away, his ministers are responsible for everything they say.

The media, in fact, has the upper hand here. For every Giriraj Singh utterance, they can go straight to the PMO.

Is the directive dictatorial? No. It would be if there is a complete disconnect between the media and ministers. The media is not being muzzled. As someone who has been right in there, as also an avid objective and, need I emphasise, cynical observer, newspaper and TV journalists will have to rely on independently-investigated stories. It is no secret that 'sources' are often dissenters or opponents. The information is fed to the media, and that becomes a 'scoop'.

Is there a flipside to this too? Yes. The ministers who won't talk about national issues might try and whitewash a few glaring stains in order to please their leader. They might then not feel the need to address the problem because it is not visible, and there are no checks on it.

This does not sound simple because it is not. Therefore, I've tried to give two arguments.

Regarding the other diktats, they are self-evident. Except that doing away with sycophancy is not restricted to dissuading feet-touching. It is good as symbolism, though. We did see Modi during his campaigns touching the feet of elderly voters, and on his first day in Parliament touching the steps of the "temple of democracy". Such gestures are unnecessary, precisely because of the nature of our democracy.

His comment on 'service providers' is interesting: "Before you know it you will find yourself beholden to these people. And it will be difficult to shake them off even if you want to."

Is this restricted only to the ministers in his cabinet? What about the industrialists? He does know there is no free lunch, right?

One cannot also ignore the fact that his short lecture to the ministers came after he superseded them to meet the bureaucrats alone. It is one thing to help streamline procedure and quite another to be the sole authority. I am afraid, but a mindset cannot alter overnight. Bureaucrats are accustomed to pretending to take orders. You give them a carte blanche to handle things and they might change, but only superficially. Instead of going through a layer of benefactors, they will now feel empowered to be answerable only to one.

Narendra Modi is a man in a hurry. That is the problem. He is too busy cutting off branches and painting flowers on the trunks of trees.

© Farzana Versey

---

Image: TOI

Report sources:
Indian Express and IBN

4.6.14

The hate that prompts a Nikhil to turn into a Nihal - Beyond The Pune Murder




A young man is killed by a group of people. They ought to be arrested and questioned for the motive of the crime by the police. The courts would then pronounce a sentence, one hopes keeping justice in mind for there are signs that the man was brutally attacked.

This short paragraph will not make the cut, not as a news story, not for readers, not for TV viewers. So, let us fill in the details.

The man was a 28-year-old IT professional from Solapur, working in Pune. He had gone for his evening prayers and was returning home on Monday night. A group of men armed with hockey sticks started beating him up and continued to do so till he bled and the wounds were visible, and until he died.

Is this para enough? What is the motive?

The man's name is Mohsin Shaikh. The cops have arrested members of the Hindu Rashtra Sena. A senior police official said:

“On Monday evening, there were rumours circulated through the social media that stones were pelted at a Shivaji statue. This led a group of youths from the Hindu Rashtra Sena to take to the streets. They targeted Muslim settlements. Motorcycles that were found at the place where Mohsin was beaten up led to the suspects."


Prior to that, somebody had posted morphed photographs of Shivaji and Bal Thackeray on Facebook. That had led the HRS to vandalise 200 vehicles and create mayhem in Osmanabad District, where it was believed the post originated from.

Why was Mohsin Shaikh, who was in Pune, targeted? Reports say that a 'Nihal Khan' posted those pictures. It turns out that it was a Nikhil Tikone who did so. This is not new. Recall how the Sri Ram Sene members had hoisted a Pakistani flag on the secretariat building in Bangalore to create tension between the two communities.

In such a situation, one group sees the other as an opponent and it does not matter who actually is behind the mischief. Tikone chose to post as Nihal Khan, but why did he do so? Was he alone or was it a group backing him?

And what happens to the man who lost his life for nothing? His friend Riyaz who was with him at the time of the attack said:

"I was saved because I don't have a beard, and wasn't wearing a skullcap. Mohsin was targetted because he looked like a Muslim.”


This will be explained away as a hate crime. The problem is the other layers get ignored. He was educated, had a job and a decent salary. He was also taking up social space with confidence, and not afraid to show an identity he was comfortable with. The hate here is for all of these factors, besides his religion. The resentment is against a person from a minority community who is not browbeaten by people who are seemingly uneducated, unemployed, and easily brainwashed.

[Those who talk about madrassa brainwashing need to look into their own backyard sometimes, if for nothing else then to at least save themselves from being destructive.]

The Nikhils have a vague idea about another faith, but they feel threatened by the fictitious Nihals who manage to lead a life of dignity without compromising on their choice of food, clothes, and faith.

There is a reason, idealistic as it may seem, that I started out by not mentioning any details, especially about religion. Will such hate crime reduce when people realise they are not getting any mileage for puffing their chests to prove they are in a majority or a position of power?

These are fringe outfits, yet they get mainstream space. Ironically, they object to posts but use the social media to promote a rift. That is their target audience, and it is no more about affording a computer, a smartphone and a wireless connection. These are cheap and accessible today. Anonymity can also make people whoever they want to be.

Mohsin lost his life because hate has takers. Already, the fence-sitters are specifying that it is a Congress-ruled state. Does it matter? Uttar Pradesh is a Samajwadi Party-ruled state, Kolkata a Trinamool Congress state.

The point is that the culprits have been burning public property for a few days and are not afraid to flash their motive. It is such pugnacity that not only kills innocents, but might also get away with it. One, two, twelve culprits may get sentenced for a murder that is real. Hate is an abstraction that uses other means, other reasons to hit back. Who will try it?

© Farzana Versey

2.6.14

No burial of the dead



They are killing themselves because there will be no cemeteries. They are killing themselves because they've lived believing they would die in a certain way.

From June 1, some of the dead in China will be cremated. No more digging of graves, preparing coffins, constructing tombs. As one report stated:

But in recent years local governments across the country have demolished tombs as part of a national campaign encouraging cremation, in an attempt to save on limited land resources. Government officials in Anqing, a city in the eastern province of Anhui, ordered that all locals who die after 1 June should be cremated, the Beijing News daily reported.


Although bulldozers have been working for a while now, the diktat came only in April. In May, six people committed suicide. The media has attributed it to old age, and not necessarily connected with the loss of burial space, but can we discount the discomfort of doing away with a cultural tradition that has to do with the personal?

Shi has been quoted as saying, "I've had a hard life, and when I'm dead I'd like to sleep somewhere protected from the rain – inside a coffin."

It is heartbreaking. Each society has its rituals for the dead; it is the final journey. A range of experiences and emotional bonds are silenced forever. Parting does take place in other ways, too, and is probably worse, for you cannot reach out although the person is within reach. Yet, it gives you the possibility of an open end, a journey where the road stretches so far you can see nothing beyond a point.

In death, you can see the end. Think about these examples mentioned:

• One 91-year-old woman named Wu Zhengde hanged herself after learning of the new regulations.

• Zheng Shifang, 83, killed herself after officials sawed her coffin in half in front of her.

• A 68-year-old woman killed herself by jumping into a well.

• Others drank poison.

It is easy to be pragmatic and discuss the genuine shortage of space. Should it not have been given a decent timeframe? These people and their families probably invested in the funeral rites and the coffins. China is a deeply traditional society. Cremation, unless you are brought up in such a culture, has several connotations.

While fire is pure for some, for others it is a destroyer. Very likely, the authorities would have an electric crematorium. It is practical and has no residue to deal with, unlike the pyre which takes hours and you wait until the loved one is completely consumed by flames. It is like a slow death again, and in some ways probably helps in purging grief. For a traditional people, an urn with ashes might seem incomplete.

Zoroastrians leave their dead isolated in the Tower of Silence for vultures to peck at the remains. It is to ensure that the human form in rigor mortis does not make the elements impure.

Burial too has different modalities. Muslims are not supposed to use any coffin; the idea is that the body must meet the earth as it is. Only a white cloth covers the deceased. Some people have taken to adding marble slabs over the grave, which is against the spirit of austerity.

Other cultures use different kinds of coffins — the type of wood, the shape, the trimmings. The music that accompanies the cortege is an ode and a dirge. The final nail is the curtain call.

Then there are those not claimed by anybody. Their lives, and their deaths, remain obscure. They are taken away in municipal vans. I am aware of the genuine need for organ donation or for bodies to be used for experimentation.

Then there are the mass graves of dissenters killed by the governments, their bodies deliberately defaced, all stamped with one fate.

It is impossible to ignore the huge emotive nature of loss, in any case. When Egyptians mummified bodies and buried things along with the dead, it was an affirmation that it was not final and the soul would return to the body, for which it had to be recognisable.

All such symbolism is about rejuvenation. The ashes are dipped into a holy river and flow; they do not drown. The buried underground may waste away, but the shrubbery and incense sticks bear witness to life.

And death is nothing but a continuum of life.

© Farzana Versey

1.6.14

Sunday ka Funda

I wish cheeks were also waterproof. Maybe eyes too? This ad for Bandaid says it all, and yet as I see the tears skirt the wound-covering, I cannot help but think about how they act as a dam to any signs of weeping, even sorrow. It is as though the tears are just taking a turn into another lane...

Life is like that.