Careless news

I don’t understand what the picture below has got to do with the content of the news item. Since it has no credit line, I am not sure whether Omar Abdullah is inspecting “the Indo-Pak border in the R S Pura sector”, as is mentioned in the Times of India, or bird-watching. 

Also, while in another report in TOI’s web edition, he does state that Pakistan should do its bit for peace, the Pakistani Rangers who were killed by the BSF were not anywhere near J&K. This happened in Fazilka town in Ferozepur district, which is a couple of hours’ drive from Chandigarh. The BSF guards the 553-km international border in Punjab.

As regards Pakistan refusing to accept the bodies, obviously it would. Consent would amount to culpability. So throwing evidence will not work.

What has Omar Abdullah got to do with this?

For a clear reference I am reproducing the news item and photograph as it is in the newspaper from the epaper. Ignorance, and such carelessness, is not always bliss:

Pak refuses to accept intruders’ bodies
J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah inspects the Indo-Pak border in the R S Pura sector on Sunday. Pakistan has refused to accept bodies of two alleged Pakistanis, who were shot dead by the BSF early on Friday when they tried to sneak into India, an official said. ‘We had informed the Pakistan Rangers and we were hopeful they would take back the bodies. But they refused and said the deceased were not Pakistanis,’ BSF deputy inspector general Panaj said. ‘We have enough proof to substantiate their identity but Pakistan does not want to admit the fact,’ he added


Sheikhs Not Stirred: Arab Sandstorm Through The UAE Prism

This is what will save the sheikhs. There cannot be a people's movement when the people are not your own, do not have citizenship rights and have to renew their residence permits regularly. 

Sheikhs not Stirred:  
Arab Sandstorm Through The UAE Prism
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, Feb 27

While the Arab world is experiencing the snowballing effect, people are chucking snow balls at each other in Dubai’s malls. Just when the Jasmine Revolution overthrew Ben Ali in Tunisia, pulse points were touched with the fragrance of jasmine in the stores of the United Arab Emirates that have no inclination for any other kind of flower power.

The Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF), an annual pilgrimage for retail therapy, has just concluded and reportedly there was a 142 per cent increase in sales at some outlets and electronic goods sold over 40 per cent more than they ever have. Brochures talk about the man of vision who wrote on water. It is supposedly a line from a poem by the ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. Some of the palm islands may be sinking, but that has not prevented the feel-good factor from permeating.

It would have been easy for the kings and princes of the seven emirates to play god and become deified caricatures. But they have been smart enough to realise that they cannot walk on water, so as a consequence chances of their crucifixion are dim.

As a fairly regular visitor to the UAE, I noticed on my last trip three months ago that most construction activity has stopped; cranes stood like ugly art installations and workers slept on cardboard sheets, their bright orange overalls contrasting with the predominant grey of the uniform atrium facades of tall towers. Hoardings still spoke of bespoke homes.

The papers did report on the plight of workers, of incidents of rape, of couples caught kissing. But as one of the junior-level workers in the service industry told me, “Don’t expect to read stories about major crimes.” The problem is that the major crimes are primarily committed due to the outside trade, just as the suffering is the burden the expatriates, who constitute over 60 per cent of the population, have to bear.

This is what will save the sheikhs. There cannot be a people’s movement when the people are not your own, do not have citizenship rights and have to renew their residence permits regularly.

* * *

Pause for a while over the terms being bandied about currently in the areas of strife: “People’s movement”, “Arab World”, “Middle-East reforms”, “End of Despots”, “Youth anger”, “Revolt of the poor”. The voyeurs do a finger count of “who next”. Or, more appropriately, what regime falls next. In these heated times, they put all the ingredients in a pot and wait for them to simmer, quite forgetting that each component has a specific flavour. In this case, it is the masses rather than the gourmet intellectuals who can tell the difference.

The ‘Arab world’ only works as nomenclature, much as Europe or Asia does. Islam may be the binding factor but the manner in which the religion is projected differs in each of these countries. The fear of pigeonholing is not because the theologians will take over but for such a perception that is prompted by the outside world. This would give and has given the military more powers than it ever had, and it is pertinent to note that some of these ousted leaders have had army training and experience themselves. Therefore, the people’s protest has given way to a sneaky military coup or waiting-in-the-wings mullahs. Who will benefit the most from these ‘stopgap’ regimes? Any die-hard conspiracy theorist will tell you that it is the West, mainly the US.

We have already read about the unemployed leaderless youth. Without a leader, and a mission, this would be akin to a non-worker’s strike. Protest is not a job. There is a sense of sadness when some carry placards that state: “Sorry for the inconvenience, but we’re building Egypt.” Who are the ‘we’? Those burning effigies, stamping on portraits or those who stood by the revolution and yet gathered outside the Mostafa Mahmoud mosque asking the people to apologise to the ousted leader? As one of them said, “We are for change and call for the new democratic state of Egypt, yet our president, father, and grandfather Hosni Mubarak should be dignified.”

It will be difficult for those not aware of these mores to understand such sentiments where despotism and paternalism are indistinguishable. If we wish to be more objective then it might be likened to the Stockholm Syndrome, except that the captive are the citizens who in fact pay for and prop up their captor. After 30 years, the need for change is natural, but is it germane? Most of the population is below 30 and they can be said to have been born to Mubarak. They have no experience of reforms or of change. Their concept of nationalism thus far had been obeisance to the leader. Besides, when there is talk of reformation it must be clarified that it has to do with a transparent form of governance and not to alter the cultural ethos. None of these nations in turmoil could be considered backward.

* * *

I know people from Egypt, Syria, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon and some have become friends. One day as I sipped coffee at a Costa outlet in Dubai the Moroccan waiter got chatting and when I asked him where he was from he said, “Morocco” and then paused, “You know Morocco?” Not many did then. Tunisia rhymed with Asia and there is still confusion over what constitutes the Middle East and North Africa. There are revolutions going on and we must all join in seems to be the anthem. The outsourcing of empathy has a faulty dimension and is disingenuous.

The crisis is about the streets, and that will not change radically. Most of the rulers are westernised, including in their mode of dress. Civil strife has always existed throughout the region, whether intra-Arab or inter-Arab, the Gulf War being the first eyeball grabbing one. It is a bit hasty and facile to believe, as some commentators will have us do, that Al Jazeera has replaced CNN. The legitimising of the former denotes the true nature of how these revolutions are being pandered to, for no one was ever in awe of Al Jazeera’s admirable coverage of the way some western countries overpowered Arab nations.

If we take the recent example of Libya, there are reports trickling in of how the Boston-based Monitor Group was paid for image-building exercises of the country and its leader. The consultancy firm is linked to defence strategists as well as the intellectually elite Harvard Business School. This has been the scenario always with the US and many other western powers that make certain to ally with the right Arab authorities.

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is writing his own elegy by declaring that he is not interested in ruling anymore. This after his forces unleashed the worst form of clamping down of protest in the present situation. However, with his Bond girl-type bodyguards and his own tragic-comic persona that veered from a Che Guevara get-up to an African tribal chief’s, he was no purist of the Arab cause.

What will any of these movements achieve besides dethroning the atrophied who even denied people any coherent contemporary history, except as an ode to themselves? The emperors were permitted to not only be fully clothed but leave with the riches they had accumulated in their role as benign dictators. The sons and daughters, the ones who are fighting against their poverty, did not demand that the wealth be returned. There are no court cases, no appeals to the United Nations. In some ways, this is being viewed as a completely indigenous uprising. It is, but only because no big power wants to dirty its hands in the mud. We are not talking about WMDs or Israel. At this level, pontificating serves a more noble purpose, which is why Obama Incorporated asked the rulers to quit and make way for a smooth transition. There cannot be a smooth transition in chaos. For the conglomerate, only oil rules. They know which Arab country to keep lubricated. It is precious that Gaddafi has said that Al Qaeda was behind the mob fury unleashed in his country. Is this what the people want? Another bunch of troops on their land looking for Osama? Was he diverting attention or drawing attention and subtle parallels?

He will get asylum, a strange word for him and the others who keep many an economy thriving with their funds, anywhere in the West or Saudi Arabia, the supra Arabic power that is beyond both the Arab world as well as the Occident.

* * *

Against this backdrop, we have the UAE. The rulers dress traditionally and while many mock the mimicking of the West, including a “Las Vegas clone” indictment, the fact is that Dubai, primarily, has worked the global village in an almost ironical fashion by creating a whole one within its territory. Hollywood, Bollywood, industrial houses, fashion houses, even politicians from everywhere have bought mansions that look like their own houses and cities. You cannot get sharper than this.

Mortada, an Egyptian, had tasted life in New York and this was the next best thing. His clothes and deportment did not reveal a single crease that his life was full of. He had swapped one kind of indigence for a lesser one. Egypt was home, where he’d return to someday. When I called up my Syrian friend Hakkam and asked him if he planned to go to Damascus, where his family was, he replied in his usual flirtatious manner, “Wallah, you want holiday with me?” I briefly mentioned about the news stories and all he said was, “Too busy here.”

“What are you busy with?”

“Making highlight, lowlight, blow-dry.” He is a stylist. And a pragmatist. His protest was to leave the still life, even if all it ended up being was sleeping in a dark dingy room and taking annual holidays home.

As in most parts of the world, the financial crisis hit the Emirates too and people left behind their cars at airports because they had no money to pay back loans. But many decided to stick it out. The local Emiratis won’t rebel because they are either well-settled or they have options elsewhere. Many are or consider themselves to be a part of the various royal families. These royal families, unlike the leaders elsewhere, are happy enough to be on postage stamps, as portraits in almost every establishment. They keep getting fantastical ideas and invite the best people to give shape to their vision.

Embittered immigrants – flotsam and fiefdom alike – make their cocoons here where anyone can become a chameleon.

Sunday ka Funda



“What are you doing here?” is a query I have become accustomed to. Sometimes, it is meant as an insult; sometimes, as a 'compliment'. The use of single quotes will become clear soon. Recently I got a response to my piece No multiculturalism please, we’re British.

It was a stimulating note that some of you will find interesting. I shall reproduce most of it without the name of the writer or of the recipients, all of them extremely accomplished. My reply that follows has stuck to only a couple of basic points. I need to add that the writer is not a Hindu or a Muslim. Why do I need to? Because of slots, slots, slots we are ready to put people into.

The note

Hi Farzana Versey,

Yours was an admirable response to Brit PM Cameron's attack on multiculturalism.

You write with a knowledge and confidence of a British citizen whereas you live in that squalid, venal place (India) where nothing noteworthy happens and there is little intellectual life. No wonder thoughtful South Asians prefer to write in foreign journals.

Ms Versey, you focused on the views of a single writer, Douglas Murray, described as Director of The Centre for Social Cohesion. First of all, as a London resident, I can assure you that the CSC is a virtually unknown body. It happens to be an offshoot of the rightwing ThinkTank called Civitas which has focused on the impacts of immigration into UK. Then came the London bombings (by disaffected Muslims) in July 2005. That led to the birth of the CSC in 2007. It started with a Report in 2008, claiming that Islamic societies at Universities tend to enocurage extremism. The claim was based on a survey which (according to the President of the National Union of Students) was based on 'vague and misleading questions and their answers were then misinterpreted'.

Mr Murray, neo-conservative by outlook, called for a bar on immigration from Muslim countries and asked that "conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board". Notice that Murray chose to write in the WSJ, a rightwing journal owned by arch-capitalist and anti-Muslim, Rupert Mudoch.

Most of the other Brit ThinkTanks are also wary of Muslims. For example, the better known Policy Exchange (PX) is obsesssed with Muslim 'extremism'. A wide ranging Report in 2007 called Living Apart Together said that multiculturism and government failure to assert British values has encouraged young Muslims to adopt anti-western views.Later the same year, another Report claimed that 'extremist literature' was being circulated in mosques and called for great regulation. Policy director Anthony Browne called for a clamp down on arranged marriiages, deportation of controversial imamas and a ban on hijabs in school. A founding chair of PX is now the education secretary Michael Gove in Cameron's government. Another ThinkTank is the Social Affairs Unit that publishes the monthly mag called Standpoint, today's version of the old CIA sponsored mag, Encounter. This also keeps ranting against Muslims.

Why this fixation with Muslims?

Farzana, you have answered this question in your last line "Fear of the Other'

Yes, given the 9/11 tragedy and the Iraq & Afghan wars, the West is well aware that Muslims are intelligent and fearless. And increasingly, they are proving to be an intellectual match with the West. In Britain, the co-Chair of Cameron's Tory Party is a highly personable and articulate Pakistani woman Baroness Warsi. In the media world, there is Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, columnist for the Independent; Mehdi Hasan, columnist for the centre-left monthly New Statesman.Salma Yacoob is the attractive and fluent leader of the Respect Party founded by George Galloway. Among the men are Zia-ud-din Sardar, Tariq ali, Tariq Ramadan and of course Salman Rushdie.

And the Hindus? Somehow, the intellectual [discusion and debate] doesn't seem to attract them. As far as I know, there is just a single Hindu public intellectual in Britain - he is Prof-Lord Bhikku Parekh of political science and highly regarded. The West considers the Hindus a safe lot - rather cowardly and submissive, pre-occupied with their rituals and businesses.

I wish you {some other names were also mentioned, including a couple of recipients} were in Britain to utilise your talents to maximum effect. This country is dripping with intellectual stimulus that would keep you alert and occupied, and engaged with both your own community and mainstream organisations.

Best wishes

My reply


To begin with, a pre-emptive apology to all: This is my first click on 'reply all' and it might well not be repeated.

Thank you for your kind words, X, but I do write for Indian journals and cut my teeth in the Indian media over two decades ago and persisted. I guess a lot of 'noteworthy' things do happen in South Asia, which is why you have a slew of 'nostalgic' literature by the diaspora too. It is another matter that I am not acceptable to the mainstream media anymore, but that is a personal battle.

This is a digression from the theme of the article and your note, but for all of us you mention I am reasonably certain India/South Asia is challenging to navigate and that is where the intellectual stimulus comes from, even if it is emails forwarded that ask for a John Howard-like character to make India a 'clean' place.

I responded to one individual - Douglas Murray - because he was justifying an Establishment ogre. There are indeed other organisations and there is a wariness about Muslims. Two years ago one of these incidents had prompted me to write a piece Taming the Islamic Shrew.

While there is a fixation with Muslims, I see it as unfortunate that we have to respond. Fortunately, some of us go beyond the obsession with one subject, and I am most certainly not qualified to speak on behalf of Islam. Hindus in the UK do not need to indulge in faith-oriented intellectual activity because there is no specific falsification of their beliefs, although they do rise in revolt when an ad depicts a deity. Why view their work through the prism of how the British or any system sees them? I also make a specific distinction between Hindus and Hindutva just as I expect a distinction to be made between Muslims and Islamists. One of the most hardcore rightwing Hindutva intellectuals is Koenraad Elst.

When I do visit the UK again, I would most certainly be stimulated to write. But only after checking out the latest addition of an Indian waxwork at Madame Tussaud's!

We are like this only...

Thanks again and please excuse this intrusion in your Inbox.

Best regards,

- - -

I was responding, but it has raised the question as to whether we are what we are because of where we live.

“You don’t sound Indian enough.” How often have I heard this and how often do I want to ask how nationality can be measured. The sound of my words may not carry the baggage of the soil, but the undergrowth has to do with the environment. I don’t wish to take the quick way out and say I am a global citizen, for I know the globe is one round blob but everyone is chasing everyone else to be the next superpower, the next big franchise deal and even the next Paris Hilton. And I don’t want to flash my India card deliberately, too, only because it will give me a niche market. If it is generic to what I am saying, then yes. If it flows as part of the flood of emotions, then yes.

But I’d be damned if I’d let it act as a dam.


Passé the blog, please?

We are dead. Or dying. Or we are soon-to-be fossilised. Or we are really old. If blogging is still important to us, then we are on our way out.

The New York Times and all the doomsday prophets at Pew Research Center can get all a-twitter about people leaving their online journal nests, but I’d like to grow old gracefully. For I know that something will come along to replace the current favourites and they will become obsolete too and have to meet me in my mouldy hole and, guess what? I’ll have more with me in that cave because I gave more and took more.

According to the NYT report:
Blogging started its rapid ascension about 10 years ago as services like Blogger and LiveJournal became popular. So many people began blogging — to share dieting stories, rant about politics and celebrate their love of cats — that Merriam-Webster declared “blog” the word of the year in 2004.

There has always been that smirky attitude. I started blogging because I was already ranting about politics – it was part of my work. I don’t have a cat and I do not diet. The first note I received was from a reader of my columns asking, “Why do you want to become one among the millions?” I found it weird. It was as though I was abdicating my throne! (Well, he did think I was going downmarket.) Then I read an article that said anybody who has a blog thinks they can say anything. Almost all international publications have blogs, some by their own columnists. So why chuff at the ‘outsiders’? Senior writers often quote from blogs and there are slots in newspapers that give snippets from them (now it is more tweets), especially on topical issues.

My blog journey was not for that. It was to find a space for all the things I wanted to say, without worrying about deadlines or word limit or audience expectation.

Yet, I did not treat it with any less respect than I did my more ‘constructive’ work. My writing has always been personalised, including my political writing, so this wasn’t a way to go on an I for an I binge, which is how many bloggers are perceived. Having been on both, and several, sides, I can say that I have read many blog posts that are far more substantial than some of the Op-eds, especially in the newly-refurbished publications that sacrifice content for layout. For someone like me, blogs have been a huge boon because since I do not toe any line, I can say just what I want without getting a headache dealing with those who are the line-markers. As a political animal, it was only a matter of time before my obsession with raindrops and damp walls would transmogrify into the bestial world of social degeneration.

So, when did the great bloggers’ escape take place?
Former bloggers said they were too busy to write lengthy posts and were uninspired by a lack of readers. Others said they had no interest in creating a blog because social networking did a good enough job keeping them in touch with friends and family.

Has anyone been forced to write lengthy posts? Since this is being posited against social networking sites, I wonder how many ‘readers’ those have. They will need to click on a link and return to lengthy posts, extracts, podcasts, video blasts somewhere else.

I have had immensely gratifying interactions with readers. Some have veered away, but they are the ones who mention me, and am sure some of you. And those who read my articles see a new side on blogs, a more complete picture. And if someone starts a blog only to appear as a legitimate blogger to be able to comment, then one must be worth it. Or if someone signs into a site only to send a message telling you how wrong you were about something you wrote two years ago, then it’s worth it. And if you feel let down when you want support and have the courage to say it, then it is worth it. And when you are down and they can sense it and stay quiet, then it is worth it. And if with passing time you can read their minds as they read your words, then it is worth it. And if you can remove the comment-posting facility and continue to write because you need to, then you know that the streets may be full of people and the walk may not be lonesome, but it is your feet that carry your weight and take you where you want to. It is worth it.

- - -

Okay, there is a flip side. A couple of months ago I got a lovely letter about how very wonderful I was. I sent a 'Mucho gracias' reply. The person was online so I got a prompt note: "Are you on Twitter or something?"

"Am surviving without bird feed," I wrote back.

Well, he made some cute-nasty comment. A few weeks later, I sent a short email because I had not noticed something in his first letter. I was surprised to get this in an email: "Hey, hey." I hey-heyed back and quoted some rubbish. Then he asked, "Now can you tell me your name?" (My name often appears as only initials if I type on my phone, yet...) Poof. Was I angry? Upset? No. He said I took two weeks to reply so how was he supposed to recall. What were those wonderful words for, then? "Oh, I surely wrote them, but I don't recall the name of the writer!"

Fake humility is not my genre, so I won't venture there. But I felt like an actor who performs well and gets under the skin of a character and that is what is remembered.

It's really worth it.


The Godhra Verdict and Selective Amnesia

The man who was all along considered the mastermind behind the burning train has been acquitted. This should tell us just how justice is being dished out in this case.

Today, February 22, the Special Investigative Team that was inquiring into the coach that was burned in the Sabarmati Express at Godhra and killed 59 people, mainly kar sevaks, convicted 31 people; 63 have been acquitted. The SIT was not the first investigative agency appointed. It should not be the last. We look forward to an explanation of what the 63 did not do that the 31 did.

The special court has accepted the conspiracy theory regarding the burning of the coach and reports mention that as per the charge-sheet some Muslims living in an adjoining colony had conspired to kill kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya on that train.

The Congress spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan should have kept quiet if she is not aware of the contents of the judgement. Instead, she chose to state, “In political sense, whatever the judgement with regard to Godhra incident, the communal violence that erupted in Gujarat (post the train carnage) remained a blot on democracy...It is a blot on the record of Narendra Modi for which he will always have to answer the people of the nation.”

A politician commenting by sidetracking is dangerous. Not only is this politicking but it will be seen as appeasement of Muslims, even though it is a valid point, except for the ‘blot on democracy’ bit because no political party is innocent. In this incident, the SIT has done a commendable cover-up job for Chief Minister Narendra Modi. 

Let us rewind to September 2008. The Justice Nanavati commission had given Modi, his council of ministers and police officers a clean chit, calling the Godhra case a “conspiracy’’.

When a judge sitting on a case for over six years who has got contrary evidence from another commission of enquiry – refer to my piece in Countercurrents Keeping Alive The Ghost Of Godhra on the U.C.Banerji findings – calls it a conspiracy, he should explain the nature of that conspiracy. He cannot dish out some one-liner like, “It was a part of a larger conspiracy to create terror and destabilise the administration.’’

If indeed it was true, and Modi was let off because he was innocent, then does one not assume it was his business to ensure that no terror was created later? Lumpen elements cannot destabilise the administration. So, who did it? 

Did he or did he not talk about the action-reaction theory? Did Justice Nanavati tell us how that could prove his innocence? How could he be absolved of any lapse in providing “protection, relief and rehabilitation to the victims of the communal riots’’ when statistics, refugee camps, raped women, people burned alive tell a different story? More than 1200 people died to pay for the sin of the Godhra train fire. Modi did visit the bogey almost immediately. Did he go to the Best Bakery that was burnt down by the goons in the state of which he was chief minister?

The Godhra carnage also led to Gujarat’s first POTA case in which there were 131 accused and 106 booked; it was later whittled down to 94. Please note the initial position and let us ask a few queries: Does it take 131 people to pull the chain of the train from outside so that it would give time for enough people to collect and throw petrol? Wouldn’t people who conspire be prepared in advance? Was Justice Nanavati saying that some fellow called Maulvi Hussain Umarji (yes, I repeat, the “mastermind” who has been acquitted!) suddenly discovered that a train would be travelling with kar sevaks? He twiddled this thumb and then, since the Gujarat Forensic Science Laboratory and statements by SIT accuse him, he pulled the chain, whispered in the ears of some Muslim boys to get a few people because the train should not go away. This group lands up there, throws petrol and the tragedy takes place?

When the train was stopped did no one raise an alarm or jump down? Did no one notice the maulvi? What about the station authorities? Did the engine driver just sit there and wait for someone to indulge in “conspiracy”?

Why were police officers transferred after the riots if they were not culpable? 

This case cannot be closed under any circumstances until we get the truth. What happened to the kar sevaks and to their families is tragic. They should have sued the government of Gujarat. But then Modi bhai silenced them with a fat compensation almost immediately.

This is what justice does. The Nanavati Commission was a farce, given extensions 12 times. Besides, the latest judgement lets off those it accused. That should tell us something.

Now the head of the SIT, R. K. Raghavan, says, “I have a mixed opinion on the judgement. I am satisfied with the Godhra train burning verdict, but I am pained as so many lives were lost due to the incident.” How can a person in his position have a mixed opinion on a ‘judgement’? A judgement is declared after cases of people who have died are brought to court. It still has eight cases of post-Godhra rioting pending before it, including Naroda Patia and Gulberg Society. Hope he is ready for more pain.

Meanwhile, Narendra Modi is sitting on his throne with even greater adhesive stuck to his seat busy planning beach resorts for fun tourism.

(c) Farzana Versey

- - -
Published in Countercurrents


The Indian Army’s Women

The headline is deliberately sensational. This is how the women officers are treated – with scant respect and without getting their due. Worse, the government that talks about reservations for women in Parliament agrees with the court that women in the Indian Armed Forces are lesser than men. Major Seema Singh has challenged the Supreme Court:

“The policies for women in army not only discriminate her against male officers but also lower her status to that of a jawan/junior commissioned officer, whom she has been leading for 14 years.”

After this, she is “thrown out”, and given the number of years she receives no pension and no retirement benefits. In the scathing words of Major Singh:

“The army is using the policy of use and throw while dealing with its trained women officers.”

The risk theory is propounded, which is flimsy:

“Women officers and gentlemen officers commissioned into these services are performing similar jobs, undergoing similar professional courses and are being posted to all field and peace postings. There is no separate charter of duties for women officers or short service commissioned male officers and permanent commissioned male officers. The strength of women officers posted in services in combat zone is 30% whereas short service commissioned gentlemen officers comprise 29% and permanent commissioned gentlemen officers have 23% presence.”

Even if one is to take the facing the enemy line, these tasks are not about combat. Besides, how many troops are really in a constant state of battle? Why must only combat zones be considered real work? This is just a manner in which the army, a male preserve, keeps its image of machismo alive.

It is clearly not an issue of performance but gender, for why do the officers doing the same job get to stay and why are some pushed up to give orders to the women who were once their seniors? How many women officers have been implicated in scams? How many have had cases against them for sexual harassment? How many have shirked their duties? How many have dropped out mid-way? How many have used excuses to get out of the army – it is tough and the excuses are fine-tuned? How many instances have the armed forces encountered where women officers specifically asked for soft postings? Are there more applications for leave from women officers?

Do remember these women are not getting brave in bunkers for a short while; this is their job and they ought to be given all the facilities due to them.

If militant organisations can have their women’s wing, and be sure they are combative, then the army need not worry about our women officers. They joined the forces knowing what they were getting into and not to nurse the wounds and egos of our male officers.

- - -

On an unrelated note: 

Cinema halls play the national anthem before the start of a movie. Of late, they have the film Rajneeti's team on screen before the flag singing the anthem. No one resents standing up out of respect, but I certainly do not want to see the faces of Katrina Kaif, Ranbir Kapoor, Prakash Jha and the rest covering the flag. Why do we have to face them? It appears we are paying respects to them as representing the anthem and the flag.


News meeows


The verdict on the Godhra case will be pronounced on Tuesday. 10,000 cops will guard Ahmedabad and 2000 will be posted at Godhra. This is a telling indicator that it is the big city that decides how the tide will swing.

Godhra collector Milind Torawane has banned all TV channels from showing images of the Godhra carnage or the riots that followed, for 12 hours beginning noon of February 22. Joint commissioner Satish Sharma told mediapersons on Saturday that they should refrain from showing or publishing images of Godhra and post-Godhra riots on the verdict day so as not to fuel public emotions. The police have given security cover for families of all the 92 accused booked in the case.

I understand it, but why did the Gujarat government use images of the burning train in its own election campaign? Was it not to fuel public emotions? How selective are these emotions? The locals go on a rampage, the police with the connivance of the government kills over 1200 people – their own people – because of a burnt train coach with 59 passengers they did not know the identities of?

94 accused were rounded up and are in the Sabarmati prison since 2002, whereas Narendra Modi remains the chief minister. Have these accused been given security cover because the verdict will go against some of them or because it won’t? Then the public emotions will again be divided. The post-Godhra riots took place without any photographic evidence. It spread through hate-inducing pamphlets and posters. So, images won’t cause any such reaction unless they are engineered to.

However, I’d agree that they should not be aired because TV channels will sensationalise it for no reason other than to grab attention for themselves. And anyway, the media people do not decide the fate of criminal or civil cases, although they’d like to believe they do.


The Orissa government on Saturday seemed to be working to a hush-hush plan to swap abducted Malkangiri collector R Vineel Krishna and junior engineer Pabitra Majhi with a clutch of jailed Maoist leaders. This could be the first such exchange deal since the 1999 IC-814 Kandahar incident in which militant Masood Azhar and others were freed for 190-odd Indian Airlines passengers.

There is a huge difference. The plane was hijacked by Harkat ul Mujahideen, a Pakistani militant outfit, and demanded the release of its members. The lives of 190 people were at stake. In Orissa, the kidnapping is against the Indian establishment. It is an indigenous hostage situation.

From reports one gathers that the cops helped in putting up the bail pleas for the Maoists, but the lawyer says it has to be done the proper judicial way. Apparently, the reasons for the arrests are flimsy. The government may well go the quiet way because it can be questioned regarding its policies. I do wonder, though, why the Maoists have not kidnapped policemen or politicians.


The Dalai Lama gave a lecture in Mumbai on “Ancient Wisdom and Modern Thoughts”, but he did sneak in politics:

“Now in China, genuine socialism is no longer there; a communist party without communist ideology. Capitalist communism: this is new. I heard that the life of some Indian communists and a few leaders of the Indian communist party is more bourgeois than socialist.”

True. Just as the life of some spiritual leaders who check into five-star hotels while their people sit for hours in protest. The Dalai Lama has consistently played a dog and the bone game with China. The problem is this tussle on his part takes place in India. And he does it so subtly, so 'spiritually', that we don’t even realise what is happening”

“I describe Indians as the guru, we (Tibetans) are chelas (students) of Indian guru. Essentially we learn from you.”

And then he said:

“Caste, dowry, discrimination, these may be a part of your tradition but they are outdated, and must change. The youth must change some of these…. From your chela, this is constructive criticism. Sometimes, you are a little bit lazy. You must be more hardworking; work with full self-confidence.”

Did anyone object? Of course, these are evils but where was the BJP that starts getting all hot and bothered everytime someone talks about our ‘tradition’?

Forget Indians, may we know in what manner the Tibetan youth can be self-confident and hardworking when they don’t even have their own land? How many of them have access to the huge amount of donated money from overseas by foreign supporters? Does the Indian government not have limits on this?

He made a rather curious comment:

"Modern education system does not pay attention to wholeheartedness. Teaching ethics without touching the religious space is important."

Is he conceding that ethics is antithetical to religion? And if it is important and 'wholehearted', then why must it not infringe into the religious space?


Yoga guru Baba Ramdev got a taste of politics on Saturday at his yoga camp in Arunachal’s Pasighat where he was allegedly called a “bloody Indian dog” by Congress MP Ninong Ering. Taking exception to the insult, the yoga guru’s spokesperson S K Tijarawala threatened that Ering wouldn’t be allowed to come to Delhi to attend Parliament. Ering, who has denied the charge, has been asked by the Congress to explain his conduct.
  1. This should tell the Congress that, if true, its own party is completely removed from Arunachal. 
  2. Who is Swami Ramdev to disallow an elected MP from attending Parliament? File a case against such libellous language. Simple.


'Yeh Saali Zindagi' - Life is a bitch, so is the film

Okay, I did not like Yeh Saali Zindagi. In fact, I thought it was a waste of my time. This sounds awfully non-intellectual. You are supposed to like pathbreaking cinema, appreciate nuances. Guess what? I don’t think those guys who were whistling at the cuss words or going “Oye, oye’ at the kissing scenes knew any “maa ki aankh” avant gardism. They probably did not even identify enough with the goonda-gardism.

I took a quick look at some of the reviews and phrases like “dark comedy”, “twisted plot”, “unconventional narrative”, “love with the backdrop of a thriller” hit me. Then there are technical hosannas, especially about pace.

Smart accountant Arun works for slimy boss, falls in love with nightclub singer Priti who can’t sing, who is in love with a businessman’s son, who is engaged to a minister’s daughter, who is angry because he loves the singer, who needs help of the other guy who loves her. Pace? Yeah, yeah. “Bhenchod.

Then there is Kuldeep who is in jail, wants to reform, has an aggressive wife who he tames with kisses and a son, decides on one last big ticket kidnapping with the help of corrupt cop, gets the wrong girl, who goes to real girl and real father of girl, finally goes to real lover of her singing…nah…of her body...nah…of her soul…well…Pace? Yeah, yeah. “Chutiya.

Cut to auditorium. People are laughing. Not because the comedy is dark but because a man is killed and his corpse farts. They are whistling not because there is anything exciting but the coarse language seems like their “saala”. It is programmed to sound rough and tough and hard. Oh yeah, they get the weapons and the phallic stuff to convey that.

The film is supposed to give you the underbelly of Delhi. Honestly, this could be in Jharkhand, Patna or Virar or even Sicily. No wonder they have to dateline every event. “Somewhere in Sohna, “Outskirts of Delhi”. Okay, we are such dolts, we Angrezi types that we won’t know the underbelly.

Arun's love for the nightclub singer is shown as some sort of obsession. It isn’t. He moons like an adolescent who has just discovered new use for a water tap and just as suddenly has her accounts in order (where in the beginning he had managed to get the thumb impression of another corpse…dark, na?) She goes “Oh, Arun,” like Saira Banu used to in those old films, except she is “real”. Uff, how everyone is telling us again and again that this is real, and all about subtext and layers and ensemble cast, which is a nice way to create 'confujan' and make it sound like it has so many “bhadva” layers.

It is so ‘witty’ that a bullet that backfires and boomerangs on the unrequited lover becomes the cause of denouement. Geez, the object of his love finally says, “I love you.” Now, is one supposed to go treacly and get goosebumps? No, no. This is serious cinema with layers. So, should one laugh but only slightly because it is a dark comedy? No, no. They are finally snuggled in bed.

Sudhir Mishra has made two marvellous films: Ek Raat Ki Subah Nahin and Hazaaron Khwaaishein Aisi that meshed love and the thriller genres. Yeh Saali Zindagi is neither here nor there. I mean, there are people who think describing the person one is crazy about as rajma chaawal is different and potent. Really? All Punjabis probably do, that is if they are not calling them tandoori chikkan or sarson da saag. But rajma is kidney beans and he goes on about kidney…kaleja…(which is liver)…dil…

Mishra can take a bow. He has finally made a film for the frontbenchers.

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Note: I have used cuss words in the post that were there in the film and passed by the censors. I suppose I got some of the layers right. To the readers, please excuse, but I also had to be 'realistic'.


Wake Up Singh: An Open Letter To A Sleepy Statesman

It takes more than two to tango?

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

If you are not as big a culprit as you are made out to be, then would you enlighten us as to how small you are? What exactly was the reason that prompted you to meet with this huddled group of television channel editors to clear the air when some of the scams have to do with the media’s tacit involvement?

You need to address the nation and for that you could have chosen a proper location, held a public meeting and then let the newspapers and TV channels cover it and we would have the right to choose where we get our news. This was a PR exercise, not a genuine attempt to help Indian citizens know the truth. I understand that it was all fixed; the questions were stage-managed. As the head of government you are not answerable to the media and by doing so both you and our news sources have lost further credibility.

Now let us discuss one of the most important points you made and that was regarding coalition politics – you blamed it for the compromises your government has made: “You have to put up with a lot if you are running a coalition. Otherwise, you will have to hold elections every six months, which will not be a very happy situation either.”

This is a pathetic comment coming from the prime minister. A coalition gets together not because all the parties agree on every issue, but because there is a need to add up the figures and reach the holy grail of running the government. There is a barter system and portfolios are handed out according to demand and expediency. You know a party’s strong points, its important contenders and accordingly they are given the ministries. There is compromise inbuilt in this sort of horse-trading. But, there is no choice because the days of one-party rule are over. Seeing this as some kind of political dynamism, the leadership ought to use the strengths of the parties rather than hold them responsible for the crimes that are committed.

You are the head of this coalition and are supposed to know who is doing what, at least at the top level. This chickening out is a terrible letdown and reeks of opportunism on your part, something no one will ever accuse you of because you are a master of the cloak-and-dagger game.

How conveniently you blame the finance ministry and the departments of telecom and space for the spectrum/S-Band deals. You don’t even need to work it out because it appears self-evident. Then, what exactly is your role? It is only when the issues have gone beyond what is considered normal public memory have you come out in the open. How open is it really? The mammoth nature of corruption is just a “mistake” on your part? All these scams involve people in major positions, they involve bureaucrats, they involve industrial houses, and they involve what might also be security forces at some level. And what solution do you have? You said that after the Budget session you will reshuffle the cabinet.

The Budget session will involve the finance ministry that you have just blamed for impropriety. So, who will manage that? The same culprits? What will the reshuffle entail? This is the sneakiest thing governments do when they want to hush up the matter – just make those culpable invisible, let them cool their heels somewhere or go underground, bring in ‘fresh blood’, or a few from the old order that are ostensibly untainted, and make sure the carpet is thick enough not to let any dust escape.

However, what will you do about the constraints of coalition politics? Surely, you cannot dump some prime players because they prop up the Congress. How will you perform the balancing act? If they are forced to quit, then the coalition becomes weak, instead of weak-kneed as it now is. It is convenient to blame your partners on the choice of ministers, but how can you even suggest that you did not imagine a “serious wrong had been done”?

May we know what according to you a serious wrong is? Weren’t the Commonwealth Games a Congress show? Why was no action taken against the apathy and avarice? Regarding Devas, how can you say that letters were exchanged but there were no assurances given? Why were letters exchanged without a thorough examination? Can any such correspondence infiltrate the major ministries without any motive?

It does not make anyone in the country proud that the prime minister has to defend such deeds. If the coalition is to blame, then why did you not invite those under the radar to join you in this meeting? As we say in Hindi, “Doodh ka doodh aur paani ka paani ho jaata” (We’d be able to tell milk from water and the level of adulteration). Now you are using the way out with the acceptance of ‘responsibility’. This will make you seem like a statesman, even a martyr. Let us cut it out. You are not accepting responsibility for the acts committed but for not knowing about these “aberrations”. It is this bad.

I hope you know that most of India is in India and not for foreign consumption and our global image you are so concerned about. You want to sell some hollow dreams of how we can be seen as an economic power; interestingly, all the major scams have to do with such visible sectors. You say, “We have not lost the will for reform. Reforms will be visible in the Budget. We will also bring more legislation.”

What is more legislation? What about social reform and answerability? You are only giving more teeth to the ones who bite, not the ones who are bitten.

You want to stay the course despite ethical and governance deficit. You will camouflage this as a means of retaining stability. The UPA is unstable not because it is a coalition but despite it. You, Gulliver, are roaming free by reassuring the Lilliputians. It’s been a while since you were washed ashore unconscious. Isn’t it time to wake up?

(c) Farzana Versey

Published in Countercurrents


Men on a mission

You get a silky or lacy thing from him but it might be to keep track of somebody snuggling up to you when he is out of sight. The Chastity Garter will send men a text message if their wives or girlfriends are cheating on them.

Edward and Lucinda Hale came up with the idea because:

“Our relationship nearly fell apart when Lucinda cheated me. She told me she regretted it and wished there was a way of removing the temptation by making straying impossible.”

I don’t think this garter will take away temptation, which lies in the mind. It will only make it difficult to act upon it. I also find the technicalities a bit amiss:

The garter monitors rising pulse rate as well as surface moisture levels on the skin and when these apparent signals of sexual stimulation occur, a text message is sent to alert the woman’s husband or boyfriend.

See, where is the remedy for temptation? She is all charged up and excited and all her partner will get is a beep-beep to tell him there’s something about Mary, but no apple will be bitten into. Why? Only an automatic text message can unlock it, which is a control freak idea. Does it make him feel any better? Imagine if he’s in a meeting and is alerted about a panting spouse. What does he do? Leave the client and rush to save conjugal bliss? Will he reach on time? What if she was only indulging in a bit of self love? Or reading some erotic literature?

It is also an exceedingly regressive product. And to think that this is a gift for the woman. Do women want it? Is it not insulting? I can only hope this piece of bondage turns the tables and makes the recipients get on top and whip it out.

Another freaky idea for the boob trap is one of those make life easy bras. US engineer Randy Sarafan believes he has come to the rescue of millions of men and women by inventing a bra that will come off with a clap of hands. I think it is unromantic and quite chauvinistic. It is like a master clapping to get services rendered, for the woman won’t be doing the clapping. If fumbling with hooks was a problem in the throes of passion, how will this stupid act not douse the fire?

Think about a man standing behind and clapping and then the garment falls off. He would have to stand behind or she would have to be face down or well they would have to think about when to clap and what to do next, all kind of planned. Besides, what if his hands are clammy?

Honestly, hooks aren’t all that tough. I understand men don’t like to ask for directions, but at least in this case women would be quite ready to just release themselves. Guys, you can save the applause for after you’ve got it right, not before.


Indo-Pak Pieces and Bits

I find the phrase “diplomatic offensive” rather amusing. So, one such offensive took place yesterday when Pakistani singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan was not arrested despite being caught with $142,000. He was not being harassed; this is customary procedure. I know there are people who will shoot back about transactions worth crores that get past. They do but they must not. It is as simple as that.

It is appalling that a report in the TOI can flaunt how he could get away with this:

The decision not to arrest the singer was influenced by the fresh peace process between India and Pakistan that started only a week ago.

At risk would be the PM’s latest effort to mend fences with Pakistan, because Rahat is not only a popular Bollywood singer, in many ways, he is also the voice of all attempts to foster India-Pakistan peace.

Great. It follows that we should not probe into other issues – whether it is Hafeez Saeed or Dawood Ibrahim – because we are talking peace. There was diplomatic pressure from Pakistan and there would be because he was a celebrity. The same prompt action is not taken when fishermen are caught only because of the tides that push them into each other’s territories.

And how does he become the voice of peace? We have had people like Mehdi Hassan and Reshma years ago, but there was no attempt to project this ‘aman ki asha’ commercial enterprise. Let us not say there was no need. Our relations with Pakistan have always been strained. If he is a Pakistani icon then I wish he’d get more singing assignments there. He is a marvellous singer, but it isn’t that we don’t have any of our own. I have repeatedly said that the import of performers is limited to the safe bets and those who will increase the TRPs. There is not sufficient reciprocity, though.

Regarding the practical issue, why was he carrying this much foreign currency? It is common practice for performers, Indians included, to be paid in cash, though they do show a percentage of their earnings on paper. Therefore, this is ridiculous:

Documents revealed that Khan sang in Hindi films for free as “a goodwill gesture”. However, DRI officials don’t buy it and suspect that the singer was paid Rs 15 lakh per song through a different manner, which they are investigating.

We have had cases of high-profile Indians who have been detained. There was the wife of an industrialist who was carrying undeclared jewellery; she had to put up with the investigations although she was known to wear a lot of these baubles.

More recently, the Income Tax raided the houses of Priyanka Chopra and Katrina Kaif. They are famous and ‘icons’, for whatever it is worth. I am quite certain they could and probably did use their contacts to hurry up the matter, but did the government put pressure?

The media is making it out to be a case of Indo-Pak relations and mentioning the cases of Adnan Sami and comedian Shakeel who was sent threatening messages by Raj Thackeray’s MNS. We know that this party threatens and roughs up Indians from other states as well. As for Adnan Sami, his property was attached because his wife has filed a suit against him.

Why does not anyone talk about peace initiative in this case?

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Salman Taseer’s killer Mumtaz Qadri has been indicted, but on Valentine’s day students and other fans sent him roses.

Now, wasn’t he supposed to be a hardcore Islamist and doing his bit for the religion? Then why are the clerics not flogging his supporters? Some Maulvi Ibrahim had threatened to flog anyone who was spotted selling or buying red roses. He said:

“Islam condemns Valentine’s Day and boys presenting flowers to young girls is vulgar and goes against the norms of Islam.”

If Islam follows the sharia, is there any hadith that actually mentions Valentine’s Day? Who is this man kidding? Is there mention of flowers, roses or lilies or even cacti, mentioned in any religious scripture of Islam and their role in corrupting morals? What is so vulgar about it?

Anyway, this is some mullah who has nothing better to do. He should be sent off to Syria, a nice Muslim country, where women wear the most enticing lingerie that have feathers and flowers. Some of these are gifts from their husbands.

Which makes me wonder: Is it okay in Islam if a man gives his spouse roses on V day? Or will he have to consult a maulvi about this impious act? And does placing flowers on graves of persons of the opposite sex also go against culture? Just asking…

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In India the Darul Uloom Deoband has come up with its latest fatwa:

“If a holy Muslim doctor advises that a woman is unable to bear birth pangs, then a less than three months old pregnancy can be terminated but if it is more than three months old, the abortion is absolutely unlawful.”

Medical practitioners already know that it is inadvisable to terminate a pregnancy later than three months. But how will this holy Muslim doctor know whether a woman can bear birth pangs six months in advance? Is he that holy? I assume this doctor is a male, so is it okay by the Deoband that a woman would be examined by him? Or will he only check her pulse and get a brainwave?

I think these guys should just take their business on the roads and get parrots to pick out cards to give ‘advice’.

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A man has been granted divorce due to mental cruelty. No, his wife was not tormenting him to perform well or nagging him or asking him for roses everyday. She just wore revealing clothes.

The courts thought he had a point:

Cruelty includes not only physical but mental cruelty as well. Ostensibly, she (wife) has indulged in bloating falsehood beyond proportions, additional district judge Manmohan Sharma ruled, accepting the husbands plea that he suffered mental agony as his wife regularly wore vulgar dresses. The court allowed the divorce plea saying mere living under one roof without the necessary ingredients of love and faith, which are the hallmark of a fruitful matrimonial relationship, is nothing but animal existence. The man contended that his wife wore vulgar clothes during their honeymoon. She dressed herself in a very vulgar manner and asked to change she retorted that she wanted to be noticed by at least 50 people.

Fine, it is possible for a man to feel disturbed and insecure. But there are instances when men like the idea of their wives being noticed. It is a huge ego boost. In this case, did she love him less? Did he lose interest in her? Was she unfaithful?

Let us flip this: If he wore lungis or tight-fitting jeans, would the court accept a divorce plea from her on grounds of mental cruelty?

These are indeed personal choices and the partners need to have some understanding, but it is unfair to undermine individuality. Men get attracted to women who are all sexed up but once they get married those very clothes, that foxy look and aggro attitude become a problem.

Stick to inflatable dolls. I think there is nothing in any religion's scriptures against this.

Cloning Cairo: A New Map for Kashmir?

Cloning Cairo: A New Map for Kashmir?
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, February 14

Everybody seems to now know what Tahrir means. Liberation, they intone. And then starts the search for a mirage – the replication of it in their own territory. The latest to join in the people’s mission is Mehbooba Mufti who heads the main opposition, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), in Jammu and Kashmir.

This state had been ruled much like the dynastic fiefdoms that seem to dictate South Asian democracies. But, there have been elections, whatever be the merits of such an exercise in a region that is captive to both terrorism and the armed forces. There is not one despot the people can overthrow. With a few political parties, coalitions and almost 150 militant organisations, indigenous as well as infiltrated, how would liberation be defined?

According to a report in the Times of India, “Drawing parallels between the Cairo protests and last year’s summer unrest in Kashmir, Mehbooba said that while the people in the most populous Arab country were not accused of anything, the leadership in J&K was dubbing protesters drug addicts and Lashkar-e-Taiba agents.”

One does not imagine that Hosni Mubarak’s team did not accuse the protestors; had that been the case there would not have been any bloodshed at all. The protests in J&K were not designed to overthrow any regime but to express disgust towards the political and military establishment. There was no gathering that gained momentum. These were stray acts by helpless youngsters, women and men. That is how it started and then it was only a matter of time before the leaders of political parties as well as terrorist groups would take over and sneak in their cadres to score points. The anger of the protestors was manipulated. If anything, it revealed that not only do the militant outfits lure young blood, it is also the political ethos currently sweeping the Indian nation that is looking for a new generation of unemployed disgruntled youth to act as vassals and carry forward their message. In chaotic situations, it is impossible for unorganised dissent to have any credence on its own steam.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah responded in an expected fashion: “When Mehbooba Mufti asks Kashmiris to replicate Egypt, it looks as if she wants army rule in the state since her party is in the opposition…This shows her mind is focused on grabbing power in the state through unfair means. But, fortunately, the people of the state have understood their (PDP’s) mechanizations and won’t be swayed and take to violence for petty politics.”

Petty politicking is rampant in every state. However, conjecture at such level can be dangerous. The PDP has often allied openly with the major separatist groups in Kashmir. It was even accused of giving the street protestors its party flags. How can such a party then want anything to do with the army?

In the state there are no fair means of grabbing power. The people do not want anyone that is part of the Indian or Pakistani government. Mr. Abdullah forgets that he had derided his own people for violence a while ago, so his magnanimity towards the Kashmiris and their steadfastness against the sweeping tides is merely a hollow echo in the valley.

It is important to remember that there is no possibility of an Egypt clone in Kashmir because while Tahrir Square symbolised the protest at the ground, Kashmir’s Lal Chowk is essentially the hub of demagogues. If there is a gathering there, then the politicians want to be protected from their people; the militants need to be protected from the army and the army from the militants and the people. There are multi-pronged attacks in the state.

In this diversity, which has been reduced to a dialogue between India and Pakistan with barely a nod towards the Kashmiri population, Mehbooba Mufti has added one more claimant: China. Her party has drawn a map that shows Aksai Chin and the Karakoram region as a part of China. She says it is for the convenience of Kashmiris and her party’s ‘vision of Kashmir’. It is easy to dismiss this, and we may be allowed a smirk regarding the ‘convenience’ aspect, for the lay person would not take cognisance of or be interested in such territorial issues.

But what about the reality that China does have those areas, that it is developing a project in what is now Gilgit-Baltistan? The acceptance of what exists would not in ordinary circumstances be cause for alarm. India believes any claim over those territories is illegal but has done nothing about it. Even after Ms. Mufti’s comment, in typical bureaucratic mode Union home minister P Chidambaram told a television channel that if the map was not corrected he would take action.

As a registered party the PDP will probably make the modifications, but there are several maps drawn by separatist groups that the Indian government has no control over. The Hurriyat’s Mirwaiz Umer Farooq had mentioned China as a stakeholder in 2009. He was not permitted to travel to the country because India objected to its stapled visa policy, by which it conveys that it sees Kashmir as a disputed region as a whole. Just as we can accuse China of using this issue – it has not asked or been invited to be part of any dialogue or tripartite talks – the Chinese have a long-standing wrangle over the North East regions of India and are perhaps trying to push that agenda along. Their role in Pakistan goes with their old allegiance. It is no secret that Pakistan has had an easy relationship with China and its nuclear personnel have trained in that country. If one is to believe American analyst Selig Harrison, then Pakistan has given “de facto control” of Gilgit-Baltistan.

These areas have not been under Pakistan’s legal control and the present revolt is a convoluted game that involves the army, the elected parties, the local Pashtuns, the Taliban and the US troops. It is a sort of food chain-like situation. India has expressed fears about all these ‘characters’ in the Pakistani drama except for the NATO troops. There are some sections that indeed believe they act as a safety gear for India. The Chinese troops that are supposedly based in the Northern areas are seen as a threat. The paranoia has some historical relevance given the Chinese penchant for hidden dragon tactics.

The people of Kashmir who do accept the Chinese position are doing so for pragmatic reasons. One such unidentified person in a report a while ago had said, “China is developing a mega hydel project in the Neelum Valley in Muzzafarbad. Tomorrow, if Kashmir were to be independent, China could finance projects here. An independent Kashmir could sustain itself by just selling power to India.”

If we do not want China in the picture, whether in a map or otherwise, then we must address the fact that since Pakistan ceded those territories are those areas included in any of the talks that we have with our neighbour? Mufti’s wanting to connect Srinagar with Karakorum would necessitate passing through legitimate Chinese territory. Is this a civil matter of transportation and connectivity or a diplomatic or a military issue? The point is not whether China can claim such areas but whether we can reclaim them.

Once again, the issue has been reduced to territory. Unlike Egypt, Kashmir has in fact always been in a state of insurgency with portions being amputated at different times in its history. And despots have reigned in varied forms. Kashmir was recently thrust with Centre-appointed interlocutors whose job is “confidence building and dialogue” and to tell the state and the Centre what the people are cribbing about.

The Chief Minister has also decided to pre-censor shooting of Bollywood films in the state. “I will first ask what the film is all about. I won’t let them shoot a film in the Valley which shows that only bombs go off and bullets are fired in Kashmir. There’s hardly anything untold in Kashmir. What’s untold is its positive aspect.”

Cinema did show the positive aspects of snow-capped mountains, red blazing trees and boat rides on the Dal Lake, when that was all that was really good. The situation is different now. On what grounds can he prevent the reality from being portrayed? If that is the case, then why does he issue statements against the army when they kill innocents? Today he is with the Congress party; yesterday he had aligned with the rightwing BJP. The people don’t have the luxury of such see-sawing and separatist organisations choose their narrow lanes.

The state had a recruitment drive for the police force and many showed up. Unemployed people would. There is no reason to gloat because a former special police officer (SPO) who had killed ten rebels during his tenure and whose services were terminated because he lost an eye during an attack was last seen begging in the streets. You may prevent a cinematic version but truth cannot be hidden.

Kashmir does not need to be a Cairo and cannot be. From whom or what will its people get liberated when they are pulled in several directions by a hydra-headed monster called political opportunism?


I'm Naught With Cupid

Everyone wants to fall in love. It is like something on call. An over-the-counter drug. A beauty product to improve your skin. (My god, look at that glow!) And it is based entirely on demand and supply.

So spaketh I, over 12 years ago. The reaction from those who don’t know me was “Bloody cynic” and from those who do or did at the time was, “Bloody liar”. Both are true, to an extent. The latter knew I blindly trusted those I cared about, that I collected soft toys and sent out cards all the time, that I could be mushy and watched romcoms and wept during those moments. But when I put aside my tears and blinkers, I could arch my eyebrows and ponder and probe.

The cutest comment I received was from a 19-year-old who occasionally sought my advice about girlfriend problems and also discussed time management. He knew me from a different position and his reaction was: “I could not figure out a word of this article but it sounded nice!”

Here is my version of love, an invited column to go ‘con’ as opposed to the ‘pro’, in the Sunday edition of the Times of India, September 20, 1998 (don't have a clue what the occasion was) on 'Do you believe in love?':

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If you care to click on it, then you might be able to read it quite clearly. Scanner not available, so took a picture. Yes, could not even get this straightened out!

Feel the love, as Mata Someone or the SriSriSri Swami would say. I just hope your Monday today isn't blue. Unless you like it that way...


Modi’s Red Revolution

Will Narendra Modi transfer bootleggers? Will his cops have an ‘encounter’ with them? Not likely. For, the great leap forward that is Gujarat would take a backseat then. Every state has a thriving alcohol industry, but poor Modi is stuck with the legacy of prohibition and a not-too-complimentary red revolution. Illicit trade has of course continued. Now comes news that tomatoes are being used to ‘carry’ booze and they come at a pricey Rs. 250 per kg:

The bootleggers of Sardarnagar came up with the novel idea when they realised that most tipplers prefer tomatoes and onions with their daily shot of hooch. First, the tomato is softened and some of its juice is extracted with a syringe. Then, the liquor concoction is injected into it before freezing it. The tomatoes are then sold along with other vegetables by roadside vendors.

The bootleggers mix sleeping tablets in the concoction to make it more potent. But the arrangement has worked well for both the consumers as well as the sellers.

I am not sure many of those imbibing it are aware of the sleeping tablets. There is the whole business of spurious fruit, grains and vegetables going on anyway, but the consumers are buying these as necessities and not with the purpose of getting a high.

While some say they can eat these tomatoes in public without being caught, I wonder about the alertness of the police. If it is openly available, has no regular buyer noticed the difference in price and complained to the consumer forum? Don’t the police buy vegetables?

This is all part of the hypocrisy prevalent in our society. No, no, we cannot have alcohol in Gandhi’s Gujarat, they say, as though Gandhi owned Gujarat or ever chided his friends Nehru and Jinnah for drinking. Modi feels no affinity towards Gandhi and am quite certain he does not have a great dislike for ‘hard drinks’, although he might be a teetotaller. He is stuck with this moral business, though.

'Piya' tu, ab tau aaja:
Narendra Modi could chill with the drinkers

In this hour of need, I think he should simply hark back to our ancient civilisation – yes, the other bugbear he is stuck with – and quote from the scriptures about the potency and purity of somras, the elixir of the gods. He will then be free to lift prohibition, legalise the booze trade, invite Vijay Mallya to set up a brewery that uses only ingredients with a local flavour and market it as Gujarat’s asmita (self-esteem).

Right now, no one quite knows what sort of liquor is being sold; it does not appear to be very fine or one that will appeal to the discriminating palate. A proper scheme will add pride when there will be different wines, ‘Surti Scotch’, liqueurs with flavours of jeera (cumin seeds) and chhoondo (raw mango pulp mixed with sugar and other stuff) and, of course, vodka. Prafulbhai can ask his ‘Mrs’ Latikaben to get some farsan (snacks) ready as he pours his vaasi batatanu daaru (rotten potato tipple).

Narendra Modi will only consolidate his position as the economic messiah with the new halo of being Kingfisher’s kingmaker.

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Images: TOI and Narendra Modi.com

Sunday ka Funda

Don't you know you're talking about a revolution
It sounds like a whisper


No multiculturalism please, we’re British

It’s failed and all because of Islamic terrorism. Soon after British Prime Minister David Cameron pronounced the defeat of multiculturalism, it was but a matter of time before commentators would go on their ‘let’s separate the wheat from the chaff’ binge.

Douglas Murray is director of the Center for Social Cohesion in London. In his opinion piece in Wall Street Journal he expresses views that are antithetical to the idea of cohesiveness. Drawing thin lines, he is in fact creating walls. He does make a distinction between multiculturalism and pluralism and multiracialism. It is curious, though, that he imagines the hotchpotch idea of one cannot subsume the other. Racists are agitating against another culture as much as they are against a race, for a race brings with it specific cultural values and history.

He states rather audaciously, “State-sponsored multiculturalism treated European countries like hostelries. It judged that the state should not ‘impose’ rules and values on newcomers. Rather, it should bend over backwards to accommodate the demands of immigrants. The resultant policy was that states treated and judged people by the criteria of whatever ‘community’ they found themselves born into.”

This is a complete whitewash job. No state ever sponsors multiculturalism; even sanctified universities like Oxford and Cambridge have their pecking orders and their syllabi that demarcate South Asian and African studies. One might consider this as intellectual ghettoisation. The state may not impose values on ‘newcomers’ simply because it is ignorant about them. What values are inculcated in the indigenous population across the board? Are not criminal laws applicable to everyone, and quite often more stringently against the outsiders? If bending over backwards means that the state permits certain dress codes or social habits, then this is a pluralistic idea. It can be evident even among Britons themselves who are not a uniform herd relishing shepherd’s pie.

The example Murray cites of the state’s ‘benevolence’ is facile and reveals extreme prejudice: “In Britain, for instance, this meant that if you were a white English girl born into a white English family and your family decided to marry you against your will to a randy old pervert, the state would intervene. But if you had the misfortune to be born into an ‘Asian-background’ family and the same happened, then the state would look the other way.”

These are such stereotypes, to begin with. There have been cases of women of Asian background that have got a good deal of prominence. How many English girls are forced to marry against their will? What about the old perverts who commit incest or the ageing playboys? How often has the state intervened to prevent teen pregnancies and date rape? The suggestion that being from an Asian background is a misfortune is a patronising stance. The state can intervene if it becomes an issue that requires legal intervention. An adult woman can file a complaint. There are many voluntary organisations that provide a support system.

Perhaps Mr. Murray has heard about Jack Straw. Although he was concerned about “Pakistani heritage men” who targeted white girls because they thought they were “easy meat”, he did also concede that “overwhelmingly the sex offenders' wings of prisons are full of white sex offenders”.

But this is not on the plate. It is Mr Cameron’s Eureka moment that has to be bared and Murray is on a roll: “In his speech in Munich, Mr. Cameron rightly focused on the problem of home-grown Islamic extremism. He stressed several preliminary steps—among them that groups whose values are opposed to those of the state will no longer be bestowed with taxpayer money. It is a symptom of how low we have sunk that ceasing to fund our societies' opponents would constitute an improvement.”

This is dictatorial in the extreme. How will the state trace the roots of this home-grown Islamic terrorism? Bradford? Birmingham? What values does the state have? A state does not possess values. It has laws, it has a manifesto and it has political parties and a Parliament. Values are cultural and personal. Terrorism is not a value. It is an act of crime, wherever it comes from and in whatever form. A coloniser nation should know that better than anyone else. Tax-payer money is for the express purpose of supporting citizens irrespective of their beliefs, unless the Constitution of the state makes it clear that it will exclude certain ‘values’. A Muslim doctor, engineer, teacher or even a preacher has the right to the facilities offered if s/he is contributing to that society and not causing damage; merely dissenting against the Establishment ideologically does not qualify. It would be reasonable to assume that Scotland Yard is sharp enough to comb out the home-grown terrorists. Or is that impossible to manage and poor British tax-payers are now sponsoring those who bomb their subways even as their families back home are being bombed on an almost daily basis by the superbowl superpowers?

But, Mr. Cameron’s is not the final policy. Mr Murray has more to say: “The fact is that Britain, Germany, Holland and many other European countries have nurtured more than one generation of citizens who seem to feel no loyalty toward their country and who, on the contrary, often seem to despise it. The first step forward is that from school-age upward our societies must reassert a shared national narrative—including a common national culture. Some years ago the German Muslim writer Bassam Tibi coined the term "Leitkultur"—core culture—to describe this. It is the most decent and properly liberal antidote to multiculturalism. It concedes that in societies that have had high immigration there are all sorts of different cultures—which will only work together if they are united by a common theme.”

It is generous that a Muslim writer has been quoted. ‘Core culture’ is part of daily living. You may adhere to it, but is that indicative of loyalty? What about Britons who have emigrated? Do they carry their core culture or their other specific culture and do they follow this practice in their new country? Would they be deemed disloyal to the English idea? How many westerners become part of the national narrative of the nations they migrate to?

It might be prudent to ask whether the Welsh and the Scots believe in a standard British culture and how it can be defined as a paradigm for patriotism.

Murray’s subversive views are not designed for this audience. He has a clear blueprint of his targets: “The Muslim communities that Mr. Cameron focused on will not reform themselves. So the British government will have to shut down and prosecute terrorist and extremist organizations, including some ‘charities’. There are groups that are banned in the U.S. but can and do still operate with charitable status in the U.K. Clerics and other individuals who come from abroad to preach hate and division should be deported.”

I agree in the main about hate-mongers and charities that may indulge in non-charitable activities, but there is the danger of using the ruse of terrorism to decimate groups that are not involved in any such activity. If this becomes government policy, then who is to stop ‘concerned’ citizens from exposing and acting upon their biases openly? It is good to know that clerics may be deported. How does one deport a head of government who indulges in hate-mongering?

This is not the failure of multiculturalism but the success of the fear of any ‘other’.

(c) Farzana Versey

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Published in Countercurrents


Sex at 12?

Very soon, if the Bill is passed, Indian children will be permitted to have sex. I read this report a few days ago and am still trying to figure out what it means.

Twelve-year-old children may soon be legally permitted to have non-penetrative sex with children their age. That’s one of the proposals of a draft Protection of Children From Sexual Offences Bill, 2010, which has been sent to states by the ministry of women and child development for their views.

The Bill also seeks to introduce a gradation in the age of consensual non-penetrative sex (12-14 years and 14-16 years) against the existing age of consent for sex which is 16 years. It proposes that in case of the age group 12-14, the maximum age gap between partners should be two years. For the 14-16 group, the maximum gap should be three years.

What precisely qualifies as non-penetrative sex? Let me be clear: Is it restricted to vaginal or anal as well, given that with the legalisation of homosexuality sodomy is not a crime anymore? What is the reason for the reduction of age limit? How will it protect against sexual offences, when there are different forms of molestation that do not require penetration? What about oral sex? And soft child porn, which already has a huge market?

How will the authorities ascertain that it is consensual? Not many 12-year-olds are hooked on the internet and playing video games will blow-up dolls and preening guys. Imagine the consequences of children being subjected to a thorough physical ‘check-up’ in the school urinal or washroom. Will it change the norms of ragging? We will not even venture into such occurrences in small towns and villages.

The gap of two and three years will ensure that on paper there is no exploitation or paedophilia. But, an adult who has taken advantage of a youngster can well put the blame on a classmate of the victim or a neighbour or friend.

While a senior official of the ministry of women and child development confirmed that the Bill has been sent to state governments, law minister Veerappa Moily said he was not aware of it.

He had better wake up and not relegate his involvement to saying it is not right. For, these people have some silly ideas:

Aparna Bhat, an SC lawyer who was part of a National Commission for Protection of Child Rights group that drafted the latest bill said the gradation of age down to 12 years was to decriminalize sexual exploration by two children.

Under the existing law, if two 12-year-olds get physical and if one child’s parent complains, the other can be pulled up by the Juvenile Justice Board.

Sexual exploration? If they have attained puberty and are exposed to quite a bit of the stuff available, then they might progress beyond superficial exploration. It is ridiculous to assume that on the one hand there is talk of consent and then there is a mention about one child’s parent complaining. This can have vast social ramifications. How many kids will go and tell their parents they have agreed to have a doctor-doctor session with the girl/guy in school or down the road? If there is some bodily evidence or harm, then the complaint would be a matter of the parent taking over and crying foul even if it has been consensual.

We have a law against child marriage, even though such marriages made it mandatory for the children to reach a certain age before they could live together. This Bill is a regressive move under the garb of giving children the right to consent.

The minimum age in the US is between 16 and 18; in the UK, it is 16 and in Spain 13. We are truly starting young and putting the children, the future, on the block.


Mayawati’s Shoes and Dalit Empowerment

Mayawati's Shoes and Dalit Empowerment
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, February 9

Dalits are beaten up. Dalits are raped. Dalits are humiliated. In Uttar Pradesh. In the past few days. Did you hear anyone complain about the feudalism of the perpetrators of the crime? No. Now, they have woken up.

Mayawati’s chief security officer and the state’s Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Padam Singh bent down to clean her shoes with his handkerchief when the chief minister was on an inspection tour.

Feet of clay?

The Opposition that remains silent over serious issues has raised its voice. What is the reason? If the objection is to a senior officer performing a menial task, then they themselves reveal an obsession with status quo. Don’t we have shoeshine boys everywhere, not to speak about government quota for Grade 1V jobs that no one else will do? Go to any village and the zamindar will wait for the servant to bring his slippers; sometimes, the womenfolk in the family are supposed to perform this as part of their household duties. It is a contemporary version of preparing for conquest reminiscent of the kings of old who were handed over the sword by their regal consorts.

In India we have a strange relationship with the soil and the concept of Mother Earth. What is known as the cow belt (the cow, again, has holy symbolism as ‘gau mata’, the goddess-nurturer), a Dalit in power upsets the hierarchy. Mayawati was sanctified as a ‘Dalit Goddess’ because that was one way in which to make her acceptable. That did not alter the ground reality, and in this case the ground has its own metaphorical resonance. The backward castes are dragged through the mud, they as bonded labourers get submerged in the soil, they are pummelled and pushed on the floor, and they cannot step on hallowed territory.

A crown of thorns

Today, Mayawati is stomping on this very terrain. Her feet and shoes become a subject that is more manifestly potent of power-reversal. When she was sworn in as chief minister, the Brahmin MLAs refused to touch her feet, a practice that has become fairly common. Surprisingly, some of them went ahead and touched her Brahmin minister Satish Chandra Misra’s feet. Therefore, she may have striven to take the Dalit agenda ahead but due to the nature of our society her own attitude had to change. Her brashness could well be part of her personality and nothing to do with her caste, but there is no denying that some of it is a response. Her exaggerated projection of herself and her ideology is clearly an indication. The statues of herself, a ridiculous granite park, the portrayal of herself as the inheritor of Ambedkar via Kanshi Ram are at odds with the commonly-held view of the backward classes. It is this that shakes the citadel.

It unnerves those who would not blink had a high-born been the recipient of such obsequiousness. They would put the onus on the person performing the task. In this case, she has to bear the brunt. Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan said, “It all reflects feudal mentality of Uttar Pradesh chief minister, who believes in reliving the royal monarchy. It appears that the security officer had some serious compulsions that made him perform the shameful act. I would suggest Mayawati appoint a separate contingent to take care of dust along her route and to do such errands as cleaning of her sandals.”

Was the security officer trying to please? Are there no coteries? Did the Mulayam Singh government not run like a private limited enterprise with its nobility – the Bachchans, Anil Ambani and Amar Singh?

There is a peculiarly devious tactic employed by smart politicians to fake humility for public consumption. The padayatras through dusty trails are part of this image-building. Nobody asks questions about who cleans those shoes inside the privacy of the neta's domain. When Rahul Gandhi did his stint with Dalits, his shoes too must have got soiled. Rajiv Gandhi’s Gucci loafers became a symbol for India marching towards the 21st century, a wholly simplistic totem. The savvy Omar Abdullah has been quoted as saying, “I won't let my security chaps carry my briefcase, but I guess to each their own.” His statement itself reveals a certain amount of arrogance, that he can hand over his briefcase to his staff anytime he wishes. And by emphasising each to her own, there is an element of being above such acts performed.

Congress state president Rita Bahuguna Joshi said, “Mayawati should resign. On the one hand, she claims to fight for the rights of Dalits and, on the other, she disrespects a Dalit in such a manner.”

This Dalit was a President’s gallantry award winner and stayed with Mayawati even when she was not in power. Did she order him to clean her shoes? Or do they have a problem with someone of rank bending down? In that case, what about politicians who genuflect before godmen? What about the very ethos that expects ministers to bow before their seniors?

The governor and the godman:
At Satya Sai Baba's 85th birthday celebrations

It is culture-specific and acceptable in those situations, but should political leaders do so? Does the Congress party have problems when young ministers, especially from erstwhile royal families, have people rush to touch their feet? What about South India where the form of complete devotion is to lie flat on the stomach and pay their respects?

Buta Singh had to clean the shoes of worshippers at the Golden Temple as penance for a political act that rubbed the religious leaders the wrong way. We cannot pretend to be non-committal towards tradition and faith. It is there around us in every sphere.

Padam Singh, the man in the news, said, “Yeh to manavta ke nate kiya that (I did that on humanitarian considerations).”

The problem here is humanitarianism is a class issue. Have you heard about Dalit humanitarianism? You are not supposed to. This ‘act of grace’ has been taken over by the higher castes and classes, sometimes garbed as philanthropy, tax exempted of course.

Mayawati may be aggressive, greedy and feudal. She may do nothing for the Dalit cause at the micro level, but the large picture sends out a clear message and reveals the true face of the high-born opponents. Even if inadvertently, she ends up thinking on her feet.

(c) Farzana Versey