6.12.17

25 Years of Hindutva - the Babri Masjid Demolition



It is already a quarter of a century and India has learned nothing. 

Today, I am thinking about Suleiman. He should be 25 now. Is he hungry? Will he get his food? Is his house still ridden with bullets? Have the stains from the blood been cleaned? Has their memory been erased? 

Suleiman was an infant lying on the lap of an elderly woman in Behrampada. I take some poetic licence here. I have named him Suleiman while writing this. When we met all those years ago, and his milkless baby cries broke the silence, he was nameless. There were far too many adults who were afraid of turning into numbers. I got their names, their stories. This little baby's story was plebeian. He was hungry. There was no milk. The water from rice acted as substitute. In all the violence and loss around, it was this tale that was witness to a more palpable loss — he was the life amidst death and destruction. 

I have not been able to bring myself to revisit those places. In my mind, Suleiman could grow up to be a doctor, a businessman, a lawyer.

It is with sadness that I also know that whatever Suleiman does he will still be thought of as a jihadi. Or a haramzada even though it was those with legitimate power who had transformed his life into a tragedy when he could not even walk or talk.

December 6, 1992. The day something died in many of us.

The news had come in. The Babri Masjid had been demolished. And Bombay was on fire, a communal conflagration. I sensed fear around me like a shroud. I had felt a physical jab, its ache continues to resonate to this day.

The political

  • When I see Kapil Sibal appeal to the Supreme Court to defer the hearing on the Ramjanmabhoomi dispute to after the 2019 general elections, I wonder at the narrow vision. Did we not have any elections since 1992? Hasn’t it been a political tradition to keep the issue on the backburner and make use of it to keep the public on tenterhooks? Such pleas only help make the rabid Hindutva groups claim victimhood. 

  • When prominent celebrity activists join their voices in this let’s defer drama (the SC has rejected it), what one notices is that there aren’t any Muslim voices. If they are concerned about repercussions, why don’t they specify who the rioters will be? Recall how it was Khushwant Singh who suggested the banning of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses in India because of imagined repercussions? Singh did not suffer for it, but the whole Muslim population was deemed intolerant and of a jihadi mindset. This is how it always works. They ride on a Muslim issue and Muslims have to bear the flak for it. 

  • When I see Rahul Gandhi do a mandir yatra and walk around with a tilak (anointed by no less than the former president of India), and read and watch the sniggers about his soft Hindutva, I wonder about how convenient it is to target him with a catch phrase when the rot is deeper and more dangerous: That he, a supposedly staunch secularist, has to appease 80 percent of the population. Appeasement is never a good idea, but the tokenism that passes for it is sometimes a necessary gesture for those sidelined socially and politically, not the majority. 

  • When I read a liberal historian declare that L.K. Advani is the most divisive politician in India, I again see this as classic liberal cop out. We know about his role, about how his rath yatra inspired people. But the question to ask Is: why did it inspire them? This is important because Advani is now a has-been who had declared Jinnah a secularist. So why are even more people rooting for Hindutva? Why are they voting for a party that gets its orders from a rightwing fundamentalist organisation? Why are liberals afraid to call out majoritarian terrorism and why do they pussyfoot by saying we should not become another Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, as though we have no examples of indigenous terror?

  • When I see Indian Muslims try hard to toe the majority line and do what they do in order to be accepted, I wonder how this would qualify as secularism. They have started interfaith Eid celebrations. Not only does this reek of iftar politics opportunism, it negates what is fairly common. Most of us who live in cross religious areas have never had our doors bolted against other faiths on days of celebration or even otherwise. To create a pedestal for a normal social event does not raise its stature, but alienates in its ‘specialness”.

The personal



It is already a quarter of a century and India has learned nothing. I learned my lesson in one day.

That day, when the phones went dead, there was silence in minds too. The government had clamped down on phone lines to prevent people from spreading rumours. People who spread hatred, who spread the word that would take thousands of kar sevaks to Ayodhya were afraid of rumours that would expose their truth. 

I was walking down the lane, when outside a convent school an elderly woman held the hand of her grandson. She looked at me and asked, “Are you going in this direction? Can I walk with you?” I nodded. 

I knew her faith; she carried the identity marks with confidence. I’d seen these all my life. But on that day, for that moment only, when she said, "Look what they’ve done to us?” I was angry. Very angry. Who had done what and to whom? 

She said she was afraid, there was safety in numbers. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to cry. Who was concerned about ensuring the safety of numbers — the majority? It was majoritarianism that was sought to be asserted, it was majoritarianism that was being catered to, it was all about majoritarian asmita and pride. 

I said nothing. I listened to her, even though I was seething inside. Not against her, but what had become of her. And now me? 

I dreaded the very thought. At a fork on the road, we parted ways. She to the safety of home, I to the confusion that had become my home.

As the day wore off, I began to feel ashamed for those few moments when I was angry with a stranger who trusted me. Weren’t we just two people trapped within our respective truths? Her fear was individual. That it has been emboldened by the collective was probably invisible to her. 

It’s different today. Now they work in tandem, vikas and the virat, development at the point of a gun against an imagined enemy. In such opacity, it is easy to distort history and call it crystal clear truth. 

---

Also

On why 800 million Hindus find Muslims a threat and questions about minorityism:

On what happened in Ayodhya and the lies:

10.11.17

Reductionism and the Sexual Abuse Debate:
Beyond #MeToo, #HimToo


Every woman has faced some kind of sexual exploitation. It starts when we are young. We have barely had an opportunity to watch our bodies grow and find that somebody else is noticing and making a claim over it. Often, for just a moment, for that brush against us. He does not see anything else except that bit. We begin to hide the part that now seems like an appendage to only cause us trouble.

Sadly, what we see in the course of various articles on male predatory behaviour is a similar lingering-over-bodies objectification. The Harvey Weinstein story should have been about him flashing and spraying a potted plant upon being rebuffed; instead it has become anecdotal about parts of women, their person stamped with the victim tag.

Another problem with the exploitation discussion is that it gets reduced to a parade of names with a pecking order. So, while Bafta and the Oscar honchos throw Harvey Weinstein out, Roman Polanski and Bill Cosby continue to hold their place. Are their abusive actions any less damaging? Their victims too did not inspire the kind of solidarity we see with the Hollywood A-listers. The crime seems to matter only when the criminal and victim are mainstream.


Forty years after he was charged with and served a sentence for raping a minor, women took out a topless protest against Polanski in Paris as a result of the ‘Weinstein effect’. He has his supporters, from French philosopher Bernard Henri-Lévy to George Clooney, who finds the behaviour of Weinstein “indefensible” but had expressed sympathy for Polanski: “When you think about all that this 83 year old man has been through, it's awful to imagine that they're still after him.”

More prominent men are being outed, Kevin Spacey being the latest. Worryingly, the reportage has transformed the victims into numbers. 30 women, 50 women, 80 women. More women and counting. Men, too. Recall that New York magazine had done a lead story, its cover picture a montage of all the women who had accused Cosby. It was like a “wanted” list. The women were on parade. And given that he got away due to a “mistrial” and that he had plans to teach young people how to escape sexual assault charges, we need to examine whether, aside from celebrity gawking, these ‘outings’ have any real effect on the social mindset.

Me Too


While it is understandable that women would speak out as a group to feel safe and bolster their chances of being heard, this is not how it happened. They did not speak in one voice; it was a snowballing effect. Why does it have to be a sorority of victims? Isn't one victim enough for us to pay heed? Had the victim names not been famous would we have been interested?

Another aspect of the Weinstein episode is that women recognised for having broken the glass ceiling and fighting for equal pay have been relegated in public perception as people who struggle with silence when faced with physical humiliation. Most of them have a backdated encounter with Weinstein and they held their own despite him, yet there aren’t any paeans to them being survivors.

In trying to reclaim space, such attempts ghettoise women. Mass and social media are building up a cult of victims they can feed on. We may say “me too”, but how will hashtag comradeship make men answerable for specific crimes? The tendency to generalise and transform every issue into a jumpable bandwagon is detrimental to dealing with misogyny and the different kinds of extreme behaviour it manifests as.

Him Too



A UK actress says she lost out on roles because she refused Weinstein’s crass offer to “touch your tits. Kiss you a little”. This is a desperate man begging, it is not about power.

Weinstein had taken a woman out for lunch because he said she had looked at him. Cosby said, “I think that I’m a pretty decent reader of people and their emotions in these romantic sexual things.”

If it is not about imagining signals, it is about how a woman looks. And now even some feminists have begun mansplaining. From ‘me too’ to ‘why not me too’. Actor, and neuroscientist, Mayim Bialik writing on ‘Being a Feminist in Harvey Weinstein’s World’ chalked it up as an achievement that she was not “a perfect 10” and therefore safe. There were angry reactions for this regressive, ignorant and horribly standoffish statement: “As a proud feminist with little desire to diet, get plastic surgery or hire a personal trainer, I have almost no personal experience with men asking me to meetings in their hotel rooms…I have decided that my sexual self is best reserved for private situations with those I am most intimate with. I dress modestly. I don’t act flirtatiously with men as a policy.”

Such a moral prism is what dictates much of the debate. The question should not be, why is she assuming the abused women were flirting, but why should any man assault a woman even if she is flirting or dressed in a certain way?

Many women dread facing the jury, to answer the question about what they were wearing when they were abused. But the legal system only follows the socially-sanctioned approach. A journalist who was a teenager in the 60s was quoted in a Hugh Hefner obit piece as saying, “When the sexual revolution happened, none of those women looked like playboy bunnies. They looked like hippy chicks.”

Using a woman’s looks to measure her liberation is backward and to posit Woodstock and the hippie culture to the bunnies reflects slavery to archetypes. Besides, the “summer of love” wasn’t all about liberation. It often meant waking up with strangers in bed and not out of choice. As author and agony aunt of that time Virginia Ironside wrote: “But now, armed with the pill, and with every man knowing you were armed with the pill, pregnancy was no longer a reason to say ‘no’ to sex. And men exploited this mercilessly. Now, for them, ‘no’ always meant ‘yes’.”

It still does. And we are talking about situations where assumptions are made. There are many more situations where nobody asks. There is no time for a No.

Last year in the United States of America there were around 96,000 rape cases, an average of 263 every day. Everywhere in the world toddlers and grandmothers get raped. What power is being asserted and what pulchritude and seduction are at play here?

What women have to face in the street, in offices, sometimes even in the privacy of their homes is not always about those in powerful positions. 


Let us also not build up sexual power politics as a gilded space. Men from the lower strata can be exploiters too. Their victims ought to matter as much even though they might not be able to tweet or join a movement for solidarity. Their lives have hardly ever counted, and news of them being forced upon by men never results in any spontaneous empathy. 

The words of Rose McGowan, among the first to accuse Weinstein, are a simple testimony: “I told the head of your studio that HW raped me. Over & over I said it. He said it hadn't been proven. I said I was the proof.”

A woman alone is proof of what she has gone through. She isn’t a mere link in a callout chain.

***
Published in CounterPunch

9.11.17

Revisiting Akbar-Salim-Anarkali



Last weekend I watched the stage version of Mughal-e-Azam. I like new perspectives, even if they do not hold the old charm.

Feroz Abbas Khan’s take on the Anarkali-Prince Salim love story under the not benevolent eye of Emperor Akbar is an ambitious project. How could K.Asif’s landmark movie translate in the confined space of a stage, especially since there weren’t any claims at ‘reinventing’ the classic and the intent was to almost repeat the scenes and the dialogues verbatim?

As a tribute it succeeds; it has the  head-bowed quality about it, aware all the time of looking up to an icon. And it has improvised marvellously. That battle scene is breath-taking because it relies on lights, sound and choreography. The same applies to the kathak interludes – these are professional dancers and, to be honest, it was they who elevated the Pyar kiya to darna kya song sequence by adding heft to Anarkali’s challenge, and pathos; in the film the song was about Madhubala. There was also an innovative use of ‘mirrors’ and light to create the sheesh mahal, although the light hitting the audience made me squint and miss out on some ‘chakkars’ by the dancers.

There was also live singing. Neha Sargam as Anarkali did a marvellous job, but was it necessary, considering it was the same music? It was also rather disappointing when at curtains down, the announcer mentioned how people weren’t convinced that it was live singing and asked her to sing a few lines right there. To my mind, this was insulting to the artiste. The makers do not have to justify anything and ask their own actors to give proof.


If the original was about performances, this was not. For a supposedly more intimate medium, the acting was alienating. Probably it is the stage where expressions rely on voice and body language. Nissar Khan as Akbar was powerful at moments and desultory at others. Sunil Palwal as Salim has presence, but where was the angst? And where was the passion with Anarkali, the understated caresses, that choke in the voice? As for Jodha, there is no real pining for a son nor the conflict between suhaag and motherhood. Bahar’s - the daasi hoping to become a princess - character too does not have enough oomph and guile that the original possessed.

For me that was sad because on the film I felt Nigar Sultana had overtaken Madhubala in the qawaali not due to the lines but gumption (aidedhugely by Shamshad Begum’s voice).

Naushad’s music was the stuff of legend and it was good to revisit it ‘pictorially’, even if not entirely satisfactorily. Theatre, unlike cinema, is not really a director’s medium. But here the director rules, followed by stage design, lighting, choreography. It was treated like an occasion. People were taking selfies before the posters in the lobby…after all they had paid good money for the tickets.


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I’d say it was worth the few thousand bucks. For the million bucks’ worth, buy a DVD for a couple of hundred rupees.

14.10.17

Of Murder and Innocence: the Aarushi Case


I would have been tempted to title this piece, ‘Nobody Killed Aarushi’, which has become the standard headline for media prominent stories where the murderer is not found or let off because of lack of evidence. This sort of headline acts like a salve for the media that feeds off a death, a murder, and sensationalises it to the most cringing level, and then when the verdict goes against all their salacious intent, they find relief in throwing irony in our face: ‘Nobody killed X,Y,Z.’

They blame the police, the CBI, false witnesses, everybody but themselves. In fact, after Thursday’s verdict pronouncing Aarushi’s parents Nupur and Rajesh Talwar not guilty, one finds media persons blaming the media. As though they had no part to play in it, as though their sudden concern for other victims of child marriage and rape makes any frikkin difference now, except to flaunt their throbbing consciences. They ask selfconsciously: do we bother about the poor? My question is: Did you? Did anybody even mourn for or raise questions about the murder of Hemraj, the domestic help of the Talwars who was killed on the same day of May 16, 2008?

There have been other court verdicts before this. It points to the fallibility of the judiciary, not to speak of its judgements not being watertight ever. This is the latest:

Ordering the release of Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, sentenced to life imprisonment four years ago by a special CBI court for the murder of their teenaged daughter Aarushi and domestic help Hemraj in May 2008, the Allahabad High Court has meticulously detailed instances of falsification of evidence by investigating agencies — ranging from “subjective findings” by medical and forensic experts to tutoring of a witness and planting of another, evidence tampering to “deliberate concealment” of evidence.

The Supreme Court had earlier restrained the media from scandalous reporting of what was then seen as the rape and murder of Aarushi. The judges were perturbed that the information the media had was either leaked by the investigating body, the CBI, or was made up of “imaginary reports”.

I am surprised that none of the judges questioned Avirook Sen’s book Aarushi and Meghna Gulzar’s film Talvar that had pretty much the same insider look. Since there is such a noise about the media reportage (some are saying this should be taught in journalism school on how not to report a murder, something you’d never hear these elite do over the murders of the dispossessed), one wonders how these efforts were not questioned since the case was still sub judice.

Most important cases have been leaked out to the media. If there are to be guidelines on reporting, will it prevent opinions? It was Aarushi’s mother who was on the TV channels a day after her daughter was killed. Was she dragged into it? Does anyone recall how Aarushi’s friends were giving out certificates to her? Does anyone even know that many of the ordinary people are trained before they go ‘live’ with their spontaneity?

The problem is when reportage turns into an agenda. It is not the business of the media to pronounce a verdict. Unfortunately, news channels need stories that are not about an occurrence. They rely increasingly on the ability to play messiah. The cult of the exposé is flawed for it starts with a premise and tries to prove it.

It is titillating to watch blurred faces or little black highlighters over body parts to convey that the newspaper or channel are protecting the identity of the victims. These are victims created by the media, just as they are transformed into heroes for no reason other than having once been victims before those cameras.

***

Now that the CBI has become the bad guy, a gentle reminder that it was the CBI that had earlier washed its hands off the case:

“The agency has filed a final report for the closure of the case on grounds of insufficient evidence in the competent court.”

The CBI came into the picture only after the Noida police made no headway.

They had found a weapon, they had a reasonable motive – “immediate provocation”, they knew of missing files and a swapped vaginal swab, they knew that someone was tampering with evidence. Then, why was it so difficult to find out who and why?

It is impossible that the findings revealed absolutely nothing - the DNA sample? The brain-mapping? Who cleared the room before the police came in? It need not have been one person. These were people in different places doing different things. Who was calling the shots? And why?

The judgment speaks of falsification of evidence. What, then, is the truth? Who will try the falsifiers? Who will find the killers? What will Nupur and Rajesh Talwar do next? It must be tough to have a reputation sullied and so many years lost in prison and it must have been even more tough on them to have a daughter murdered in the next room and the place cleaned up while they were around just a few metres away. They should file a case against the Noida police, the CBI and the hospital authorities for shirking their duty and making a mockery of justice. And the media for making a mockery of everything.

They have the power, being educated and relatively better-off than many who do not have the means. Let this be a fight for the silent Aarushis and the silenced ones.

***


Much of the material here has been collated from my previous posts.

4.9.17

Dear Hindu Liberal, have you learnt to live with insulting and prejudicing?


Every other day, Muslims in India have to face some sort of social and online discrimination, if not get targeted physically. 
And every other day, there will be a bunch of non-Muslim liberal vultures (LV) talking down at them. They get on the pulpit with huge doses of demagogic platitudes in a 7th grade-level address to a whole group. Let me take some bits from a new one. The headline asks: 
"Dear Muslim, have you learnt to live with insults and prejudice?"

From the peephole, I suppose all Muslims would look the same to him. But, irrespective of who answers with what nobody has the right to pose this question. It's like pointing out to a wound on a person's face and asking, "Have you learnt to live with it?" If the LV really wants to know, and if he has the courage of his convictions, then he should be asking those who inflict the wound. 
"How are you doing? Wait! Don’t tell me. I’ll guess."
Yeah, it's a game. So, right at the very beginning, the LV shows he has no intention of waiting for a response, but will indulge in guesswork because he watches TV and reads the newspapers. And he knows everything there is to know about Indian Muslims, including the ridiculous assertion:
"First, I’m sure you’re surprised at the use of just the word Muslim. More specifically at the absence of the word ‘Indian’ before it. I know. We reserve that only for you: ‘Indian Muslim’. We don’t say ‘Indian Gujarati’ or ‘Indian Christian’ or ‘Indian Parsi’."




Nobody calls out to a Muslim person with a "hey you, Indian Muslim, howdaya like my shiny liberalism" or some such. And while in certain formats the term Indian Muslim is used, IMs would be happy with it. Not because it confirms their patriotism but it makes them unique. There is a psychological reason to stand apart from Pakistanis (and trust me, Pakistanis do not get a kick being identified as Indian too). Then there is the behemoth of Arab Muslims which IMs do not identify with. 
Those who insist, and rightly so, that Muslims are not a monolith, would agree. They gloat when mullahs take out rallies against ISIS, don't they?
However, these caste-class supremacist LVs will flash their "look, how much I care about you" concern while portraying the majority as fearsome: 
"Do you fear us all? I would, if I were you...Even though it seems like there’s not many of us around, I should say that not all of us loathe you."
This is so much passive-aggressive nonsense. It relies on making Muslims feel victimised because of others so that it can rush to play knight. It needs to bulk up the fear. Advertising copy relies on it to sell its products; Op-ed writers to sell themselves. 
"Did you once feel like punching people in the mouth (I would have) and have you stopped feeling it now? How?"
Notice the clever, sly usage of "I would". By employing violent imagery, it is no different from online Sanghi perception of Muslim reaction. Very smartly, though, institutional prejudice only makes him uneasy while urging to get IMs to feel something "stronger"...no full-on empathy this time:
"Do you feel protected when the Supreme Court fondles love jihad? Or when the high court belts out Vande Mataram? These things make me uneasy; do you feel something stronger, because they are aimed at you?" 
Or this:
"It has become unbearable, the thought of what we are doing to you. What must it be like to actually be you?"
How soon the "I would too" has changed to the mock-innocent, "What must it be like to be you?" So typically convenient. 
One has got accustomed to this sort of superficial and supercilious attitude. What surprises me is that there are masochistic Indian Muslims who depend on outsiders for their self-esteem and respect. And to know what Muslims 'really' go through! 
They will chant, "Mere Aaka..." whether it is a Modi or a LV. Traders and social opportunists don't want to burn their bridges even when they are nowhere near the river. The vultures thrive because from their safe cocoons the Muslims throw their compatriots at them.

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Also related my earlier piece The Murder of Muslims