Radia Tapes: Open Sesame?

We have seen how the 2G scam unfolded. Important people were packed off to jail. The really prominent names were not. No Tata, no Ambani. The role of the lobbyist thawed. Nira Radia became a ghostly figure making court appearances.

Now, the tapes that were at the centre of the controversy have been given a clean chit. I say tapes deliberately:

The Centre has argued before the Supreme Court that the Nira Radia tapes that were leaked to the media were tampered with. The tapes contained conversations between lobbyist Nira Radia and various industry leaders. The government has also stated that the tapes were not leaked by government agencies. The government said there were eight to ten agencies, including service providers, involved in the tapping of telephonic conversation of former corporate lobbyist Nira Radia.

Is this a victory for anyone? Was it not the government that was culpable, to begin with? So, how is the government version acceptable? What are government agencies doing? Why was the inquiry handled by the Ministry of Finance who appointed officers to investigate into the case?

The report says the starting and the end point of the conversation do not match with the original tapes, Justice Singhvi said referring to the report. He said the report also says that officers, who had conducted the probe, do not know who has leaked it."It is quite possible that someone else has done it," the bench said.

This is the SC making such vague statements. Of course, it is possible. We have seen the Shanti Bhushan case; Amar Singh is now a veteran in these false tape cases. Is it not crucial to ask who leaked the tapes and why?

Why should we accept the government statement when we doubt it on almost every other occasion? It is a seriously flawed argument, for the government got trapped in the scams. Why would it leak the tapes, anyway? To clear the main decks?

The other possibility is business rivalry and ego.

I had written the following a while ago:

We are witnessing this farce as the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), while not yet giving a clean chit to Ratan Tata and Anil Ambani, has been talking about their honesty and how candid they have been. Niira Radia has been called “evasive”.

Ratan Tata, when asked about his letter to the Tamil Nadu chief minister praising Raja’s work in the telecom ministry, with some gumption said, “We had a chemistry problem with (his predecessor Dayanidhi) Maran.” Yet, he claimed, “I didn’t manipulate the system for 2G licence allocation.” Did not Mr Tata file a petition regarding breach of privacy about the leaked tapes? The political machinery does not wish to completely alienate the corporate lobby, so it accused Radia of being anti-national and an agent of foreign intelligence agencies.

Both sides are getting trapped in quick sand and they need to prop each other up without being seen to ostensibly do so. Why did they not produce records of the Rs. 300 crore that Radia had accumulated? Of course, there is every possibility of impropriety, but for whom and for what?

If foreign agencies were involved, how did they pay her so that the authorities would know the amount? Have the finance and other departments tapped those calls from foreign agencies? What foreign agencies have interests in seeing to it that the Ambanis and Tatas get the prime deals? Which foreign agency would be interested in what portfolio Raja got? It might be important to examine how these players then can be indicted for such foreign connections as well as anti-national activities, including the governments, past and present, for accommodating them.

This is a morass. Now, we come to the media. There was a huge noise by those who were acting as whistle-blowers as well as the ones defamed. The strange aspect is that both groups have continued with their work and moved on. Vir Sanghvi had, in fact, sent the tapes to a couple of laboratories abroad that showed there was something amiss. Will the government use this as evidence? What about the magazines that carried transcripts – will the courts file a case against them?

How much of it is fake? If the “starting and end point” do not match, then what happens to the middle? Besides, who will be seen as culprits in these tampered tapes – will there be a hierarchy of favoured ones and those who can be put to pasture? The politicians, the businessmen and executives, the media persons – if some of their conversations have been tampered with, then does it follow that everything is? Does it, therefore, falsify the whole case and we discover there has been no scam at all?

And to think that a whole people’s movement started by riding on this wave. It is the people who will have to live with such half-truths.

Do read The Media as Middleman for a background and more


Gandhi: Man for all Seasons

Had there been no Mahatma Gandhi, we would not have to invent/imagine/simulate/recreate/upgrade one. That would have been a truly good thing for India. For there are a few Gandhi ideas that are the overloaded baggage we have been left to deal with. Instead of accepting the fallacy of these, we are forced to deify them out of force of habit or because we love holy cows.

Gandhi with Nehru and Sardar Patel
  • Gandhiji learned well from the British about divide and rule. Without being a part of active politics, he played one against the other, knowing well that everyone, including he, had to deal with an ego. It was his ‘suggestions’ about the prime ministership that resulted in a game of musical chairs.
  • Gandhiji started the strategy of what came to be called, and derogatorily at that, the policy of appeasement. His alignment with the Khilafat movement was as politically expedient as Jinnah’s new-found discovery of sherwani politics. But, at least, he had the good sense to form a country. Gandhi’s legacy continues to force groups to ‘cater’ to Muslims, and for Muslims to be used, and at times use, this policy. 
  • Gandhiji’s ahimsa resulted in people being beaten up. Non-violence should essentially mean a state of peacefulness. Offering the other cheek does not wipe out the violent principle. Even today, there is more violence in the name of maintaining law and order or protecting the peace of the country. Such irony.
  • Gandhiji’s experiments with toilet cleaning only made it clear that this was a low job and he was taking it up to dignify it. It was a generous gesture, the magnanimity of the high-born. The term Harijan – god’s children – was just such a pat pigeonhole. Everyone is considered god’s child for non Darwinists, and in India it is generally considered so. He was creating one more ‘special’ interest group. There was no suggestion that they could rise above toilet cleaning.
  • Gandhiji’s swadeshi movement only managed to make a bonfire for his vanity. It was like bra-burning feminists. People did not adopt the charkha and khadi is today a designer garment. Also, while promoting all things indigenous, he was quite happy to be ministered to by his foreign acolytes. 
  • Gandhiji brought religion into state politics. He spoke in terms of dharma, and invoked god. His public gatherings were prayer meetings held in an ashram. This was his idea of secular nationalism.
  • Gandhiji pushed the rural ideal of India living in the villages. While this is true, the process of industrialisation was burdened with guilt. It led to Nehru’s destructive policies of socialism, which was neither here nor there. 
  • Gandhiji’s abjuring of wealth and worldly desires were personal whims that he projected as part of an iconic lifestyle. This was brand creation. Had he been true to it, he would not need to announce it. His hosts were big business houses, and he put many people to test only to test his own mettle. This was not sacrifice, but selfishness. 
  • Gandhiji is largely responsible for post-Independence kingmakers. He had no dynasty, but he had a pedestal from where he could wave the baton and orchestrate major events, often not giving a thought to the consequences. From L.K.Advani to Sonia Gandhi, these moments of ‘sacrifice’ have only drawn the nation into a leaderless state or a state with a leader as mask/puppet.

The fact that people as far removed from each other as Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, Anna Hazare, Yaseen Malik think of him as an ideal should tell us that Gandhiji was a man for all seasons. It is not the Gandhian philosophy that they care about, but the sheer breadth of the marketing genius of the man who became Mahatma.

- - -

It's time for the Guinness Book. 485 "underprivileged" boys in Kolkata took out a peace march dressed as the Mahatma. It became a record. Their lack of food and education may never make it.

  - - -

There is an attempt by the RSS to distance itself from the assassin, Nathuram Godse, saying that he had severed ties in 1934.

This is what his brother Gopal said:

“All the (Godse) brothers were in the RSS. Nathuram, Dattatreya, myself and Govind. You can say we grew up in the RSS rather than in our home. It was like a family to us. Nathuram had become a baudhik karyavah (intellectual worker) in the RSS. He has said in his statement that he left the RSS. He said it because Golwalkar and the RSS were in a lot of trouble after the murder of Gandhi. But he did not leave the RSS.”


The Satanic Bourses

I have not seen so many levels of bigotry, liberalism, and the medium path before. Tags are being flung around. Everyone is looking for moderate Muslim voices as they would pins in the haystack, when these voices are the darned haystack. But you don’t like the idea of something so obvious.

Here’s your Stop Press moment. Salman Rushdie was to come live in a video conference after not being permitted entry and the whole Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) turning into a battleground of ideologies, many newly-acquired. The news is that this chat has been called off, too. It is time to mourn for the freedom of expression once again. More martyrs. More ‘rabid Muslims’. More snide comments about ‘hurt sentiments’. More disgust about how people are feeding off this episode, even if some are raising legitimate questions, who have been following the writer’s work and the literary trail for years. No word about how Rushdie has himself milked the fatwa cow at every single opportunity. He needs this identity more than anyone else. He needs some little thread to connect him to his Muslimness so that when he writes again about one of the angels from jannat, he can by default be seen as an ‘insider’.

Not a single person or any of the ‘freedom’ groups has had the sense to file an FIR against the miscreants. Why? On what grounds, then, do you expect the police to take care of you? The cops have been on duty. To call the government cowardly makes no sense. How brave are the organisers? Are they being held to ransom by some Muslims? In what manner? What exactly is the threat? There has not been a single word on that. We heard about the Raza Academy and SIMI earlier, and Mumbai dons as well. Any case filed against them? What is the liberalism you speak about if you cannot act upon it?

There is a yo-yo even in the attitude towards the government. Sometimes, it is accused of advising against Rushdie’s visit, then there is denial, then back again. It is the government’s job and the police’s job to protect those who are there, not those who are absent. Has a single incident occurred that any of the delegates or visitors can complain about?

A report says:

Despite Rajasthan government supporting the organisers of the festival, the link was called off amidst much drama at Diggi Palace in Jaipur. The owner of the Diggy Palace Ram Pratap Singh said that he decided to not allow the video link fearing violence. Singh said that several people had entered the venue and threatened to take the law in their own hands if the video link was allowed. 
"I have taken a decision on not to allow the video conference to go ahead on the advise of Rajasthan police. There are a large number people who are inside the property and a large number who are marching towards the property. This is necessary to avoid violence and harm to the property and my family," he said.

Don’t they have video cameras to shoot this march of the brigade? Are the police advising on their walkie-talkies while these people are stomping in droves to the venue? Why is there no clarity, and why is no one bothered to ask? Because, creating fear is a lucrative industry in such a situation. It gives everyone, including the cow that apparently is around to add an exotic touch at the venue, an opportunity to feel the pain of artistic muzzling.

Barkha Dutt was supposed to conduct the interview. She tweeted, “Wish me luck”. This is the woman who has gone to Kargil, covered wars in other parts of the world, interviewed separatists and people who are dangerous. Did she need luck for those coverages?

The problem is that the issue has had a snowballing effect and a good deal of it was allowed to get out of hand. Why the need for such a video chat when he was being asked to talk about ‘Midnight’s Children’? What’s the occasion? Just a rebellious act? Had he not been able to make it for personal or health reasons, would there have been such a need to link up? We know the answer.

So, should we applaud this freedom of speech? Will those in Jaipur and those following the festival circus care to oppose the move by the Gujarat police that detained six activists from the NGO Anhad when they attempted to enter Godhra for a programme ‘In Search Of Justice’ as a counterpoint to Narendra Modi’s Sadbhavana fast?

Whose sentiments were they hurting, these six people from an organisation? Do they have freedom of expression on an issue that is more palpable and real and certainly has greater consequences on people’s lives?

Now, the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (Sahmat), incidentally Anhad was formed by its founding members, has extended an invitation to Rushdie. Member Ram Rehman said:

"We have watched with dismay the unnecessary controversy which erupted over the presence of Salman Rushdie at the Jaipur Literary Festival. We strongly disapprove the threats - real or concocted - issued against Rushdie’s participation. Sahmat is issuing an open invitation to Salman Rushdie to come to Delhi to deliver a lecture or participate in a discussion on literature at any time of his choosing. We will host him under any circumstances along with an exhibition of the works of the late M.F. Husain, driven into forced exile by a similar retreat by the state in its cowardly unwillingness to stand up against communal politics.”

Do these people know what exile is? We must also remember that Safdar Hashmi belonged to the CPI (M). He was killed by goons of the Congress while performing the street play “Halla Bol”. We are getting into another political arena here. There is no doubt divisive politics, but it would be interesting to see how they would have viewed these two outside of the present strictures. The comparison of Husain and Rushdie is disingenuous.

For one, Husain’s paintings are not banned, and he chose available iconography. There is nothing that is not seen in ancient art. However, I have said this earlier, he lost the case when he took up the citizenship of Qatar. He was painting for patronage. He chose to be shackled. He kept in touch with his socialite hangers-on that used him to the last. He was an establishment man.

Rushdie too is very much establishment, and his ‘sin’ is not just of writing what he did but using that as the benchmark for a limited idea of freedom. A ban cannot change his basic outlook. He does not speak for the rights of the dispossessed. He makes his diaspora status sound like banishment, which is where even the Leftists join him. How do those who are now crying for Rushdie view this? Would they speak up for Maoists and separatists too?

A petition for lifting the ban on ‘Satanic Verses’ is being circulated. It has been endorsed by Hanif Kureshi, Charu Nivedita, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra and "ordinary college students", as a report quoted one of the drafters say. Had a petition been circulated among ‘ordinary’ people for a religious/community cause, they would be deemed brainwashed idiots.

Anyhow, what it states is revealing:

The petition argues that the ban places India “alongside Egypt, Pakistan, Iran, Malaysia, Liberia and Papua New Guinea” which are some other countries where the ban stands.

India often figures among the most backward countries where crime, corruption, gender disparity, standard of living are concerned. Do we want an Egypt-style revolution? Will we even have the ‘courage’ to overthrow a political leader in this manner? Such random comparisons are ridiculous. Why did the NDA government not lift the ban?

You already know that India was the first country to ban the book, even before the fatwa by Ayatollah Khomeini. Ever since then the liberals have taken charge of telling us how the mullahs will threaten us, and they are only too happy to oblige.

This is not to suggest that the maulvis are blameless. But just look at how the events unfolded. The Deoband protests. In the beginning that was it. They have protested many times. Let us say they are exercising their right to express their views. Everyone agrees it was political. However, it was beyond political politics. It was literary politics and opportunism as well.

It brings us to the Fab Four. How many know about their politics, their views on The Satanic Verses? They say they acted on their own. What freedom were they upholding? What about those who joined in the chorus? Can a writer who takes extreme poetic licence about reality speak of freedom? Can someone who has a Rajya Sabha seat from a rightwing party that bashes up journalists fight for Rushdie’s rights? Can someone who writes hagiographical accounts talk about freedom? Can those who are silent when smaller artists are banned talk about freedom? Can we talk about the freedom of banned organisations? Or of politicians who are forced to resign because of some ‘incident’ where they hurt someone?

Yes, they can. But only if they first look in the mirror.

- - -

And since I know I will be seen as anti-Rushdie, and I do not have the time or inclination for ifs and buts now, here you are.

Today, I am a Muslim for your pleasure. So listen up. If it has been convenient for you to label me, then it is convenient for me to use that label. Remember the times I have been shamed into the pigeonhole of belonging to the ummah? The times I was told that India tolerated me, that I should go to Pakistan, that I should try driving in Saudi Arabia? Where was your liberalism then when you could not see me? Where was the liberalism of the liberal editor who said I looked “too Muslim” in my photograph? Where was the liberalism of the newspaper that could not palate criticism of a sadhu? Where was the liberalism of the radical rag that told me not to write a spoof on Muslims? Yes. This too.

Where are the voices that don’t go around looking for mountain causes only so that they can hear the echoes?

(c) Farzana Versey

PS: Blog comments are moderated. I am curbing your freedom, but you know you compelled me to.


Poverty as Photo-Op: India's Zoo Story

India's Zoo Story
Poverty as Photo-Op
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, Jan 20-22

Oprah Winfrey walking the seedy bylanes of Mumbai on a work assignment in India, Jeremy Clarkson dropping his pants for a reality show, and tourists paying to watch naked Jarawa tribals dance are part of the same deal: Branding Blahdcasting Corporation.

Should outsiders be permitted to portray us in a manner that might seem demeaning? Is there only one reality in a nation as multicultural and internally divisive as India? Is it a matter of reality or of ethics, and are they mutually exclusive?

The latest news is that the BBC will not apologise for the Top Gear show that the Indian High Commission complained was “replete with cheap jibes, tasteless humour and lacked cultural sensitivity”. The channel says that while the programme showed the warts, it could not be considered insulting.

Rather uncharacteristically an Indian politician, naturally deemed liberal, wondered what the noise was about: we do shit, pee and spit in the open. So why get upset about this? The political system in India thrives on obsequiousness. The visit of the head of state from a western country is treated with the reverence we reserve for gods. The streets are washed, buildings where the foreign leader will pass by are painted, potted plants line the streets, garish hoardings are removed. We do not want them to see the dirty picture. Why is the Establishment’s protocol of greater importance than how television channels air our offal?

There is the dirt; you can see it. Films have been made with the backdrop by Indian filmmakers. “Gritty reality” is how they are described. Sometimes, they are romanticised with a mournful background score and large vacant eyes. This is art as manufactured reality. A painting of snotty kids is an expression; the canvas is the statement: where it is placed, how much it fetches at the auction, and what the artist’s sensibilities are.

Jeremy Clarkson’s “light-hearted road trip” is no satire. It does not turn the tables to show us the under-side. He is poking where it hurts. He is not hitting out at stereotypes like an intellectual Samaritan; his agenda is to play those up and cage them. If the intention was to feel the place, a “spontaneous interaction” that would capture “beautiful scenery, busy city scenes, local charm and colour”, and bring the “local car culture” alive, then one might have indulged the delightful picaresque. However, Clarkson had a toilet fixed to the boot of his Jaguar. He said: “This is perfect for India because everyone who comes here gets the trots.”

There is truth in such a remark. Unfortunately, scatological necessities are a great leveller and a global phenomenon. If I may say so, this is not unlike some scheduled castes that until recently carried night soil, excreta, on their heads. Is Clarkson replaying it as tragedy or as farce, or is he just on his own trip of exposing?

Are Indians in denial? We have luxury cars, bespoke apartments, farmhouse getaways, scented toilet paper. The drains in the highrises are choked with used sanitary napkins; handbags at parties are stuffed with silver cutlery from the host’s table. This calls for a satire. This calls for light-hearted revelation.

The closest he got to this was when “he stripped off his trousers in public before two Indian dignitaries to show them how to use a trouser press, while joking that he used it to make naan bread”. The ‘dignitaries’ are not identified. See, this is what passes for reality. People wearing slightly dressy clothes seem important.

His train journeys were most certainly not about Indians, but about the British. He put up banners. One read “British IT is good for your company” and when the carriages split apart it read: "Shit For Your Company". This is precious. Indians are always praising the British rule for giving us the railways. Obviously, Clarkson forgot that.

One learns that his show is pretty much about being upfront and offensive. He is paid big money to crack racist jokes. What does it reveal about such a social ethos? The fact that the channel does not think showing warts is an insult might work if the next Top Gear episode is a road trip to Balmoral. It’s closer home and he would not have to fit a toilet to his Jaguar boot.

* * *

Is exploitation by the establishment any less devious? Some foreign tourists were taken to the Andaman and Nicobar islands where the Jarawa tribes live in isolation. The naked women were asked to dance and were offered food and knick-knacks in return. A video that was aired by television channels revealed that a police officer was complicit in this ‘adventure’.


Modi reads from The Satanic Verses

...and the Anna-fication of a literature festival

Narendra Modi realised that all his efforts for the Sadbhavna mission fast were not going as great as expected. He had planned it meticulously, but he chose the wrong venue. Godhra. Wrong timing: a month before 10th anniversary of the train burning. No mention of the riots. He wants Muslims to forget that. He wants to mend fences. Nice guy.

This was about peace and harmony. 1600 cops and 5 specially-trained Chetak commandos and unarmed jawans guarding the place. Peace? Peace is based on trust, and he says that there have been no riots. So, what is he afraid of? I get it. He is afraid of Salman Rushdie. What if that bloke who is not permitted to visit the Jaipur Literature Festival decides to land in Gujarat? After all, Narendra bhai has been promoting it as the wonderful Disneyland where you may scream in terror as long as you can afford the rides. Modi likes Rushdie. He does not know why, but maybe it’s the old if A=B and B=C, then A=C.

Yet, for all his liking, he did not want to spoil the Jumma party. He waited and waited for some real Muslims to pay their respects. Finally, he just gave up. Peace can go take a long walk. He asked his men to get a copy of The Satanic Verses. He was going to protest against these Muslims. Those Deoband guys who did not treat his progressive Gujarati fellow nicely when he was made Vice Chancellor and that SIMI is really awful going after poor Salman. No one cares for freedom of expression.

“But, saab,” said his favourite police officer who was transferred for giving signals for an encounter killing, but had now undergone cosmetic surgery and was back at duty, “We took down posters, we threw out artists…”

“Bhai, jo, that is different. We are the establishment. Establishment has right to protect minorities.”

“Er…we are the majority.”

“That’s okay. I am not counting. We must feel like the minority.”

“So, what to do now, sir?”

“Bring me that book. I have many copies in that underground place where I keep all those files about 2002.”

“The book is banned in India.”

“We are not India. I mean, Gujarat has 5 crore people, so we are India within India.”

“This could cause communal enmity, saab.”

Modi guffaws. “This is the land of communal enmity. If you add tadka to cooking oil it will splutter but you get good food. Go, get me a copy. Cover it with green cloth.”

The man leaves hurriedly. A few mullahs come and shake hands with Modi. He says, “You are late.”

“We went to buy you a special edition of the Quran to promote this wonderful multicultural system you started.”

“Time is over for peace.”

“You are insulting Islam by not accepting a copy. Last time you did not accept skull cap.”

“You people’s sentiments get hurt all the time. But you cannot reach on time. I had arranged for your bath here.”


“For your namaaz, I made arrangements for you.”

“Wazoo…it is called wazoo.”

“Don’t try and convert me.”

“We are only informing you.”

“Why you did not inform me about Godhra train?”

There is silence.

“Okay,” Modi continued. “If you want harmony, go and sit quietly.”

His officer brings him a copy of the Rushdie book.

The mullahs smile when they see the green cover. “Subhan Allah! You are our supreme leader. We knew you had a surprise for us. We will pass a fatwa against anyone who does not vote for you.”

Modi whispers in his officer’s ear, “How did they know I am trying to conduct a counter election campaign to get some mileage because everyone is talking about UP?”

“The Deoband must have informed them.”

“This is same group that does not want Rushdie, na? Now see how papers will be full of Gujarat.”

He opens the book and starts reading. The group says, “Wah, wah” in unison.

Modi is confused. “You know what I am reading?”

“Ji haan. You have a sense of humour. You are reading Gulliver’s Travels.”

“What is that?”

“In the madrassa some boys have copies, they told us about how he lands in place where tiny people are and they tie him up.”

“So, why are you smiling? Now where is your Islam? It does not get insulted if book is covered in green?”

“The grass is also green and we walk on it, Khomeini saab.”

“I am not Khomeini,” Modi says disgustedly.

“Uff, mistake. Please continue reading, we are your prajaa, the little people.”

The CM shifts uncomfortably. The thought that he would be tied up by these little people worries him.

“How did these illiterates start reading books?” he asks his assistant.

“Because of Rushdie.”

“Does it mean if I read this book, I will become Muslim?”

“Saab, anything is possible. But don’t say this loudly. They will call it Islamophobia.”

“Take this away.” He returns the copy of The Satanic Verses. “Bring me some other book. These Muslims like stories. Even for peace mission, they want stories. It is always about god.”

The officer gets an idea. “I will get The God of Small Things.”

Modi shakes his head. “What things? These minorities will start thinking their god is the best again.”

“This is not about god.” The officer mentions the writer’s name.

“Arre, the same one who went jogging with comrades in Cuba?”

“Not jogging, only walking. Not Cuba, in India with Maoists.”

“Then send copy to Chidambaram.”

“What do get for you now?”

“Aladdin and the Magic Lamp. Muslims like fairytales. They think by rubbing a lamp, a genie will appear. They forget this is idol worship.”

“I cannot get it, sir.”

“Why? Is it banned?”

“No, your copy has disappeared.”


“Sanjiv Bhat took it as evidence that you were plotting against minorities.”

“What happens to my freedom of expression?” This time he asks aloud.

The audience looks wide-eyed.

“Say something.”

“We thought you are reading from the book.”

“No. I want to know. Why can I not express myself however I want?”

The crowd starts to leave. He calls out to them.

A small voice says, “How can ashes answer what freedom the fire must have?”

- - -

Reports say that today, the opening day of the Jaipur Literature Festival, some writers read out excerpts from The Satanic Verses, since Salman Rushdie is not allowed. This personality cult is seen as protest.

Was Rushdie going to read out from the book? A bunch of huddled up elites in their cocoon thinks this is freedom of expression. Would they have permitted Modi to read, had he written a book? Who are they catering to? A small group, and that includes the media, that knows precious little about such expression, that muzzles dissenting voices, that sells its space without ethics for ad revenue, that pushes political agendas, that also pushes religious ideas; this applies to publications in regional languages as well. It is, however, the English-language media that plays god. We have discussed this already in Salman's Atheist Shrine.

These interests sponsor the JLF and grabbing eyeballs is part of the strategy of making it commercially viable. If they have some enthusiastic pseudo martyrs, they will benefit. Incidentally, Taslima Nasreen and Arundhati Roy, both ‘victims’, have not been vocal about this. Taslima had a fight with Rushdie about Twitter followers and his misogyny. Roy has got to guard her Muslim constituency. Everyone is on their own trip.

This reminds me of Team Anna and the singing-dancing brigade exercising their freedom. Rushdie had attended the previous festivals, so cut it out. If it is so important, then I would like to know why the writers have not sent a petition to the government asking it in clear terms to arrest those who issued threats. Do that. Exercise your freedom, instead of sticking out your tongue.

The festival is already overcrowded. If this were a movie, it would have been all about buttered popcorn.

(c) Farzana Versey
- - -

Similar posts:

Why Modi refused spandex tights

Modi’s fast ‘unto’ death: Gujarat’s shame


Ramdev and Digvijay: Leaky Pens

Inked face and assaulter

We are a culture that thrives on condemning. We condemn those who are silent and we also condemn those who make a noise. Such condemnation takes away from any other questions. So, it was not surprising that the Congress, the BJP, the RJD, everybody condemned a man who threw ink on Baba Ramdev. Soon after, some ‘uncondemned’ the act. The theatre of the absurd does not quite go with a Greek tragedy, but Indian democracy can manage such contradictions. We will get there. First, a snapshot:

A man who gate-crashed at Baba Ramdev’s press meet on black money splattered ink on the yoga guru when he refused to answer a question on the 2008 Batla House encounter. 
Kamran Siddiqui, was beaten up by the yoga guru’s supporters immediately after the incident at the Constitution Club where Baba Ramdev was speaking to reporters regarding his plans to campaign against black money in the upcoming Assembly Elections. Siddiqui, who runs a non-governmental organisation called Real Cause was placed under arrest following a medical examination. A case under sections 153 (promoting enmity among communities) and 355 (criminal assault) of Indian Penal Code has been registered against him, a senior police official said. A first information report has been registered against him at the Parliament Street police station. If convicted, he may be jailed for up to two years.
When Baba said that the Batla House encounter was not fake, Kamran threw ink on him. Siddiqui is a petitioner in the Batla House encounter case.

A few points:

  • If Baba Ramdev is discussing politics, stop calling him a yoga guru in the context of his speeches.
  • A bit strange that nobody had heard about Kamran Siddiqui even though he is a petitioner in the case. Is it difficult to find that out?
  • Even more strange is that he asked this question to Baba Ramdev, and the latter chose to answer it. On what basis? 
  • Why has he been arrested for promoting enmity among communities? This sort of pigeonholing makes it into a communal issue. Batla House is not the whole of India.

Arrest anyone who indulges in this sort of behaviour, but is it so unusual? Don’t our MPs throw slippers at each other inside Parliament? What about heads of educational and medical institutions whose faces are blackened?

What about scheduled caste/female victims who are paraded with their faces smeared because of some ‘honour’? Why do we not condemn those acts with equal ferocity?

Typically, Baba Ramdev has become a martyr:

Media reports quoted Baba Ramdev as saying that he was not deterred by such attacks and would continue his campaign against corruption with full force. I spoke about bringing back black money to the country and giving it to the nation. I spoke about eradicating corruption. I spoke about turning a loot-tantra to a real loktantra (democracy). And in return, as a prize, this is what I have got. I don’t mind receiving black ink. By throwing ink on someone, one cannot malign someone’s character, he said.

You talk about a vague show-me-the-money, and everything else gets washed off. The report said that Baba Ramdev said that it was not an encounter and that led to the ink throwing.

This is not an attempt to blacken the face of Swami Ramdev. This is an attempt to blacken democracy, Hazare said in a statement.

Has Anna Hazare never seen such blackened faces before? Much as I do not relish the idea of such juvenile shoe-ink throwing, let us remind Mr. Hazare that his movement is a protest that has attempted to speak on behalf of the population without its consent. He should not be talking about democracy. If democracy is about protest, then black or blue ink should not be of concern. Hazare and his team should be finding out what it is that angers certain people. He has been holding the flag for such propagandised anger for a while now.

We have entered absurd territory, and the wilting cherry on a leftover cake is this:

Congress leader Digvijay Singh said the incident was a well-orchestrated conspiracy by RSS and the NGO activist who did it was anti-Congress and had links with BJP.

There have been occasions when such orchestrated attempts were made, by every political party. I do not understand how it can be deemed anti-Congress when the Congress government had said the encounter was not fake. (Unless, Ramdev has joined forces with the Congress Party!) Or, is this a strategy similar to the one he is accusing the RSS of – outsourcing, with the frontman speaking one version while the high command maintains its larger role?

The Batla House case was already politicised. The encounter had several loose ends that I mentioned in Shooting Terrorists and Other Stories: It was over within 30 minutes. 25 shots were fired by the cops; eight by the terrorists. Were these dreaded men so naïve as to open the door to a ‘salesman’, sub-inspector Dharmendra. What was he trying to sell? Did they buy anything? Did they not notice him looking at them carefully? Did all the “suspicious characters” stand at the door to welcome him?

Now Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has spoken out clearly:

"Congress is not serious on the issues pertaining to Muslims and treats them only as a vote bank. That is why when assembly polls are underway, the issue of Batla House encounter has been raised by party leader Digvijay Singh, who termed it as fake. Why has this issue been raised by him now? Congress should either sack him or take action against PM and Home minister, who feel that the encounter was not fake...This is just a political gimmick to befool Muslims, who are being treated as a vote bank.”

Do the political parties realise that for the majority of Muslims, all this produces a huge yawn? You think someone in Bhiwandi (a communally sensitive area in Mumbai) cares or even knows what Batla House is? Or are the ordinary Muslims suddenly expected to possess knowledge about all that happens with, to and by their community?

It disturbs me that one episode of ink-throwing has brought another case to the fore. And it is back to the chain reaction of condemn this and condemn that. Don’t. Each player is an actor here. If Siddiqui was sponsored by the RSS, and Digvijay Singh has been sponsored by his own party, with the satellite players Anna and the rest forming the chorus, then the crowded stage is bound to fall.

Nothing new. We invariably get the dark pits we deserve. If only we saved that ink and wrote our own fate.

(c) Farzana Versey

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Image: Mumbai Mirror

History Through Her Lens

Homai Vyarawalla was always described as the “first lady photographer”, and the thought of someone tiptoeing with a little camera, gently clicking flowers and princesses came to mind. But, when we place her in those historical times, then being a lady was about being many things. And she was.

There is a lot written about her, her photographs of leaders. It is like tracing a period without the need for any other crutch.

These two pictures of Jawaharlal Nehru exemplify this.

1. There is deadpan humour in this one, going where you are not supposed to go. Was there a political message?

2. Here, the image is reminiscent of Michaelangelo. Nehru is releasing the pigeon, but the sky is overcast. One does not know whether Nehru is letting go or wanting to hold on to it, or perhaps reach the sky. It comes across as a pensive, yet optimistic portrait. I’d say it captures the persona of the man and the politician.

And of course among the many others; this is how an Independence Day dance used to be like:

My fascination is with the way she treated her subjects. There is warmth and yet no obsequiousness. She seemed to be part of what was happening, but as a spectator. The black and white images, unfailingly adding a mystique, gave away quite a bit. It seems like a contradiction. It is not. The enigma was in the telling.

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Check out more images curated by NGMA


Sunday ka Funda

"mez se jab meri tasweer hataai hogi
har taraf mujhko tadapta hua paaya hoga"

(My pictures taken off the shelf
Would have spread my pain everywhere)

War is not pretty. It is not desirable. It's Army Day in India today. 'Haqeeqat' remains one of the best films on the subject. It tackles the inner pain and not just outer bruises.

Sometimes, we have to forget because we are helpless...in any 'war'

Hoke majboor mujhe usney bhulaya hoga

Film: Haqeeqat
Music: Madan Mohan
Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi
Singers: Mohamad Rafi, Talat Mahmood, Bhupinder, Manna De
Director: Chetan Anand


Salman’s Atheist Shrine

It is not people of the faith that are fearful of their belief being damaged but the purveyors of phobia who are scared stiff that their little world is not as large as they’d like it to be.

 Rushdie, Hitchens and Voltaire's bust

The timing could not have been more serendipitous and ironic. Around the time when the Deoband Darul Uloom made a demand that he should not be granted a visa to attend a literary festival, Salman Rushdie was genuflecting at Christopher Hitchens’, and by default his own, shrine in Vanity Fair.

It is rather interesting that labels like far right and far left, religion and atheism while seen as pockmarks on the faces of traditional practitioners become the rationale of the evangelical rationalist.

The seminary has gone on its usual tripe trip about hurting the sentiments of Muslims and there is a belief that this could be a ruse to garner Muslim votes in the upcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh. While the Muslim vote bank is a reality, the person in the street is not interested in a book, and is often not completely in tune with even the Quran. Is that not the reason they consult the mullahs over simple matters? These are uneducated and naïve people who do not even know their scriptures well enough. Would the majority of them care about a parody of the holy book called ‘The Satanic Verses’ written in a language they are not acquainted with, forget the magic-realism twists and turns? They would prefer to get clothes and other freebies from their candidates and not a reminder about a man living in the west who had a fatwa issued against him by a man in another country.

Alluding to the Muslim voters as bumpkins only interested in their religious rights and in a constant state of war for their faith only keeps the stereotypes alive. If someone is behind this move, then it begs the question: why are the mullahs being blamed? Why has it become a question of the infidel as victim? And those who say, “Don’t make an issue of it” are precisely the ones fanning the fires.

* * *

The discussion has taken a full circle and it is liberal discourse that has travelled in a time machine back to1988. People snort that those religious goons burned copies without even reading the book. Were these liberals so adept at speed-reading? The one who first suggested a ban is a rationalist-pragmatist-agnostic (Khushwant Singh) who assumed there would be trouble. His assumption was lapped up first by another rationalist-pragmatist-believer (Syed Shahabuddin). The secular government banned it. If that had already happened, then who was feeding the mullahs pulp fiction? Why were copies made?

In fact, the whisper campaign started early. Those who had inside information were considered important. The publishers in Delhi probably sold out the lot in this mafia operation. Who wanted it so bad? The intellectuals and academics. Their interest in the Quran seemed to have peaked. I was gifted a copy of “the prize catch”. It came by courier wrapped with a mock cover and a brown sheet.

This is the wonder of it all. A primarily self-conscious satire of a scripture is treated with reverence. There is obeisance for one version of freedom of expression. Such a one-dimensional idea gives as much succour to its proponents as any supreme god does to devotees. This form of liberalism is monotheistic and suffers from righteous arrogance. As Rushdie writes, “I began to understand that while I had not chosen the battle it was at least the right battle, because in it everything that I loved and valued (literature, freedom, irreverence, freedom, irreligion, freedom) was ranged against everything I detested (fanaticism, violence, bigotry, humorlessness, philistinism, and the new offense culture of the age).”

His right is obviously the only right. The violence for his cause, both by those against him as well as the more lethal violence of inflicting thought by his supporters, was very much the “new offense culture” that he detests.

* * *

There are millions more who read holy books. Is their pleasure to be discounted? Why are those books never banned? Because, outside of the cocoon of pop history is the reality of a belief system. This system may be in opposition to the freer one, but soon enough the latter seeks to sanctify itself. It gets baptised in the salons. The safe zones preempt the battle, and perhaps prepare the stage.

Using Hitchens, Rushdie writes:

“He, too, saw that the attack on The Satanic Verses was not an isolated occurrence, that, across the Muslim world, writers and journalists and artists were being accused of the same crimes—blasphemy, heresy, apostasy, and their modern-day associates, ‘insult’ and ‘offense’. And he intuited that beyond this intellectual assault lay the possibility of an attack on a broader front. He quoted Heine to me: Where they burn books they will afterward burn people. (And reminded me, with his profound sense of irony, that Heine’s line, in his play Almansor, had referred to the burning of the Koran.) And on September 11, 2001, he, and all of us, understood that what had begun with a book burning in Bradford, Yorkshire, had now burst upon the whole world’s consciousness in the form of those tragically burning buildings.”

Joan of Arc did not write any book but, here we go again, there is the subliminal refuge of Belief, of being impaled at the stake. In fact, one might go further and even refer to it as the Cross, for the good authors felt as slighted, or even more so, about insults hurled their way. The difference lay in how cannily they used this. They carried around the nails, and rusty as they became over time, they kept polishing them because it was about the “world’s consciousness”. Here were the Twin Towers themselves.

* * *

It is not the people of the faith that are fearful of their belief being damaged but the purveyors of phobia who are scared stiff that their little world is not as large as they’d like it to be.

And they are tremendously in awe of the Establishment. Rushdie got his moment at the White House to sort out his ‘war’ with the help of his fanatical atheist friend. And as he reached the room where the President awaited him, Hitchens declared, “The Eagle has landed.” Salman takes great pride in this brush with power. However delectable his prose, you take the fatwa out of him and he won’t be this Goliath in the political stratosphere. His oeuvre seeks sustenance from the ‘better’ societies.

Rushdie’s tribute to Hitchens is an occasion to revisit the only site that can keep him a martyr:

“The spectacle of a despotic cleric with antiquated ideas issuing a death warrant for a writer living in another country, and then sending death squads to carry out the edict, changed something in Christopher. It made him understand that a new danger had been unleashed upon the earth, that a new totalizing ideology had stepped into the down-at-the-heels shoes of Soviet Communism. And when the brute hostility of American and British conservatives (Charles Krauthammer, Hugh Trevor-Roper, and Paul Johnson) joined forces with the appeasement politics of sections of the Western left, and both sides began to offer sympathetic analyses of the assault, his outrage grew. In the eyes of the right, I was a cultural ‘traitor’ and, in Christopher’s words, an ‘uppity wog’, and in the opinion of the left, the People could never be wrong, and the cause of the Oppressed People, a category into which the Islamist opponents of my novel fell, was doubly justified. Voices as diverse as the Pope, the archbishop of New York, the British chief rabbi, John Berger, Jimmy Carter, and Germaine Greer ‘understood the insult’ and failed to be outraged, and Christopher went to war.”

Can’t you see? The knight-to-be found his knight. There was no way out. Everyone was against a book. The earth shook. The clique went into seismic spasms. The Oppressed People were capitalised, typographically as well as literally. They continue to be. They do not know who Salman Rushdie is.

He arrogantly announces that he does not need a visa to visit India, he who had to once beg the rightwing parties in India to do so because he worked on their ancient heritage blather by invoking his roots. Now, with a government announcement, people of Indian origin overseas can vote too. The ‘Bombay boy’ will not do so. I am sure he will have some civilisational argument. The fact is, he does not care. He is not the classic outsider, the metaphysical maverick. He is a god who needs complete devotion from the praying liberals.

(c)Farzana Versey

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Image (cropped version): Vanity Fair

Ask the vexpert - 29

Question: I want to measure the exact size of my boyfriend's penis. He claims that it is 6.5 inches when erect. I just want to confirm it. Should I use a scale or measuring tape?

Sexpert: Let the expert decide. It is not his pimple I am worried about but your attitude. Instead of being romantic and loving, you are so ‘physical’. It is not the length of his penis but the way he uses it to show you his love and affection that is important.

Me: Valid query. I believe that all relationships should be based on trust, and that needs to be verified. He has chosen a 0.5 figure, which immediately puts him in the suspects category. A tailor's measuring tape would give you a more rounded picture, instead of just the length. I'd suggest that to make sure the figure he has provided also carries weight, you should put it on a weighing machine. You might also try and check on stamina by putting 'him' through a stress test when he is in a 'happy' frame of mind.

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Question: I am 26, but still the cover of my penis has not been uncovered. What do I do?

Sexpert: Try daily with a little oil to slip it back till the base of the head of the penis. If you cannot, see a surgeon who will guide you further. Do not hesitate to consult one. If you act now, you will ensure pleasure during sexual intercourse.

Me: Don't do a thing. Wait for WikiLeaks.


Does Michelle Obama want to be Ms. Congeniality?

She has not read the book, she does not care about people’s perceptions because they would not know, yet she sends out clarifications. I am disturbed by what she seems to have a problem with:

“I guess it's more interesting to imagine this conflicted situation here and a strong woman. But that's been an image that people have tried to paint of me since the day Barack announced [he would run for president] - that I'm some angry black woman.”

And why can she not be one? Have those specific words been used? People have said things about Hillary, when Bill Clinton was President. Did it become an ‘angry white woman’ issue? People have called Sarah Palin several names, and she spawned a whole humour industry, as indeed did George Bush.

We are talking about The Obamas, a book by Jody Kantor. Like many such biographical accounts, it does not have an official stamp of approval and is based on interviews. This is a valid form of writing, as are opinion pieces. Had it been hagiographical, would Michelle Obama be concerned about how she is projected? Would she feel the need to debunk the archetype of the angry black woman?

Let us dissect the three words separately:

Angry. It does convey a negative emotion, but its potential to be channelised and keep the spark alive is even more potent. ‘Look back in anger’ goes right into the heart of such fury. The problem is that the world is rather interested in the Ms. Congeniality and Mr. Nice Guy ideas. Anger may lead to just an extra dose of arrogance, of righteousness, but belief also leads to introspection.

Black. It is a colour. It is a race. It comes with baggage, like many other shades – yellow, brown, white. I understand that racism is a major concern, but people in power in other societies have had to deal with labels too based on their origins. There have been black people who have contributed in several fields and to even mention it is exceedingly patronising. There are barriers, but they aren’t waiting for handouts or confirmation of their credentials – of blackness or beyond.

Woman. Again, the gender issue will talk of the ‘second sex’, which I find insulting. In a country that is still not quite certain whether it wants a woman to be President, the First Lady should be holding out for this one. I am not suggesting that a woman ought to be head of state, just as I do not think such choices need to be based on narrow definitions and identities and bandied about. It only shows we have not quite evolved and need these pigeonholes.

Now, if we take these three words together “angry black woman”, we can see it in a positive manner of a person who thinks independently, is comfortable with the identity she was born with (I will not say ‘be proud of’, for it is puerile to be proud of an accident of birth, unless you have great skin and an awesome pair of boobs, but that is about natural vanity, not worked-to-earn-a-place pride). This person is a woman and does not need masculine yardsticks to judge her, so if she is angry, then she bloody well will yell and scream and if you call this female hysteria then you will have to put up with it, because she is going to have her say. You think she in on the soapbox, fine. So, don’t expect a pedestal, lady, for that is the big trap. Your anger is as just as it is justified, and you don’t need for it to be justifiable.

On the other hand, we have Naomi Campbell, an angry black woman, but she is seen as a tyrant for what she has done. Should we psychoanalyse her behaviour necessarily through a black female prism?

When Michelle Obama says that being pinned as an angry black woman seems “more interesting” to people, she is using a limited definition by imagining it. However, one might like to know more interesting than what? That she fights for causes? That’s she brings up two teenage daughters? That she makes sure young Americans eat right? These matter only because of the place she occupies in the White House.

Therefore, one wonders why she thinks it is not quite right to say she sits in her husband’s political meetings? She has gone defensive:

“I am his biggest ally. I am one of his biggest confidants. But he has dozens of really smart people who surround him. That's not to say that we don't have discussions and conversations.”

Yet, one of the reports has this to say:

In the opening pages of The Obamas, Kantor sets out the terms of her project: “In public, they smiled and waved, but how were the Obamas really reacting to the White House, and how was it affecting the rest of us?” The questions are at once labored and absurd. The state of a marriage is a poor guide to the course of a presidency.

Really? Why was Clinton impeached? Why has Nancy Reagan’s role been dissected? The Obamas have talked about their life; they discuss with the media their concerns about their daughters; there is public display of affection. If Michelle were faced with that yawn of a quote “Behind every successful man there is a woman”, both she and Barack would have smiled, at the very least. Neither would deny it. They might not go the Clinton way of getting two for the price of one, but this reveals that a partner plays a role. She may not have problems with the White House staff, but many people have issues with those who work with their spouses, especially if they are essentially sharing the same physical space. The fact that one calls it home and the other office gives the former an advantage, and rightly so.

It would be a tough task to make it sound like an edition of Friends. As she said:

“My hope is that over time people get to know me. And they get to judge me for me. That’s why I don’t read these books. Because, you know, it’s a game in so many ways… Who can write about how I feel? Who? What third person can tell me how I feel? Or anybody for that matter.”

True. She might like to write her own story, but that too would be selective, would it not? Or would she write a self-help book, “How Not To Be An Angry Black Woman”?

(c) Farzana Versey


The Man with the Phallic Tattoo

I don’t know whether wishing his penis bon voyage would have taken him places or not, but the guy is now doomed to be living off his ‘suitcase’. According to MSNBC’s The Body Odd reports:

The 21-year-old Iranian man found himself between a rock and a hard place after he got a tattoo in Persian script reading "borow be salaamat" (good luck on your journeys), and the first initial of his girlfriend's last name ("M").

The tattoo artist used a handheld needle and caused damage. The reconstructive surgery did not work. Result: A semi-permanent erection.

There is no pain and he can get a “relatively normal erection”. Was it worth it?

I don’t have any particular opinion about body inking and piercing; in fact, I find some mild tattoos and piercings attractive. So, where does one draw the line? Is it cultural or personal? When I got my nose pierced way back when I was in college, quite a few people asked me if it had to do with being a Muslim. Later I was told it was against Islam. For me, it was just a shiny little thing on my nose and carried no baggage of anything other than personal whim.

Yet, in many ways it is more exhibitionistic than the Iranian’s private part. Esoteric tattoos and piercings do reveal personality as well as projection. If I see a person with her/his whole body covered with flora, fauna, faces, symbols, verses I would cease to notice the human behind these externals. One might well ask, don’t we wear clothes that could be considered different? That is where one conditioning revolts against another. Clothes may give away what we are to an extent, but do not take away from us. Even the big name labels are about us. Colourful works of art on skin may draw greater attention, but they strip us of identity. It does sound strange and in fact contrary to what the purpose is – an in-your-face assertion of a self-inflicted ‘wound’. Or, of the self as an art installation.

This could be seen as body mutilation too. In some tribes, parts were burned and marinaded to form an embossed jewel on the skin. Then there are instances of neck stretching, corset waists, tongue splits, and even colouring the whites of eyes and embedding crystals on teeth. How much of it is a fad and how much a need to be part of a group or to carve out a separate identity? Most of those who overdo it are seen as ‘weird’, and it may be the desired goal. But what if they tire of it? One can give away clothes, what does one do with skin, teeth, eyes?

In the case of those who have such embellishments in secret places, we cannot see them in the manner of the rest. No one but they or those they are intimate with would know. So, how can it be projection and the rest? It is probably a niche, a standing apart while doing what the rest do. It is a beguiling hush-hush thing that is often stated to be hidden, or the hiding is the statement.

The Iranian has to live with a phallus which is all dressed up but has nowhere to go. A bit like a travelling salesman who has nothing to sell.

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Image used for representative purposes: www.verparacreer.net

Saleem Shahzad Pe Mat Ro

Don’t weep for Saleem Shahzad, for the tragedy of his death, the investigations, the report and much of the concern is beyond tears.

There is a rage storming over the findings presented on January 10 by the Pakistani judicial commission that probed the abduction and murder of the journalist. But, this is like a chain reaction. Does anyone recall that an NGO buried his body?

In a June 2, 2011 article Lessons From Shahzad’s Murder, I had written:

Pakistan is the most dreaded place for journalists. The pronouncement has been made. Yet a Pakistani reporter, and a person with an insider view of the al Qaeda and Taliban, Syed Saleem Shahzad’s brutal killing was not the top news on the websites of three prominent dailies in the country. The internet allows you to update stories. Since they have carried the news, it cannot be fear. Some call it (Pakistan) a police state. A police state has order and the level of shackling is complete, except perhaps for underground movements.

We will revisit a few salient points from that piece later.

Some of the current media talk is bizarre:

Though the commission was given six weeks to investigate the incident after Shahzad was killed in May last year, it took six months to finalise its findings. The commission led by a Supreme Court judge submitted its report to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Tuesday.

Why was it given six weeks? Don’t many cases drag on? Was the media following up? How many petitions were filed by news agencies or independent journalists?

The report has not held any institution or individual responsible for the abduction, torture and murder of Shahzad. The Dawn newspaper quoted its sources as saying that the panel had "stopped short of fixing responsibility for the journalist's killing". The commissions members have agreed that the report would be made public only by the government.
"We have strongly recommended that the report be made public by government as soon as possible," an unnamed member told the Dawn.
Under the commission's terms of reference, it was asked to "inquire into the background and circumstance" of Shahzad's murder and to "identify the culprits involved" in the crime. Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists president Pervaiz Shaukat, a member of the commission, said that while the panel had not held anyone directly responsible, it had included its doubts and concerns in the report.

What else are investigations about? How much information did the media have? If the government is complicit in the case, then one would be curious about the doubts and concerns. What I’d like to know is the reason for the initial silence of the ‘lambs’. Here, let me take you back to those pestering thoughts I had expressed:

Shahzad had been taken in by the Taliban in 2006 on suspicion of being a spy; he was released after seven days. He knew the perils of his profession and had also registered his fears with Human Rights Watch of Pakistan. He disappeared on Sunday, May 29. A police complaint was registered by his family. Did any human rights organisation do anything instead of being “disturbed” that a state agency might be involved? The media does have considerable influence and can approach government functionaries directly or interview them. Was any of that done? He had left that evening to attend a talk show on a television channel. Did the channel keep flashing the news about his disappearance?
This is strange that the local police picks up a body, conducts a post-mortem that reveals torture, and hands it to a NGO that goes ahead and buries it. No questions asked. Later, the Islamabad cops and the local ones realise the identity matches that of Shahzad, which his papers would have shown anyway. His family had to seek permission to exhume his body to confirm his identity. How can an unidentified person be temporarily buried? There are mortuaries in hospitals and the police ought to have alerted the intelligence agencies.

The Pakistani media will in the coming days raise questions about the ISI, which really is the state of Pakistan today, as in what comprises the nation-state. To extricate the ISI from the other arms of Pakistani polity is to merely play a game of chess and move the pawns about. The chess board remains the same.

Cut to now. The ISI denies it role. What did anyone expect?


Sunday ka Funda

Why do we describe victims of cold-blooded murder as "well-mannered and never got angry"? Is it ok for angry, rude people to get killed? This is what they said at Anuj Bidve's funeral; he was killed in the UK by a 'psychopath'. Some people even call such guys mild, those who'd never hurt a fly.

We will not change. The world is round.

"I could be cannon food, destroyed a thousand times
Reborn as fortune's child to judge another's crimes
Or wear this pilgrim's cloak, or be a common thief
I've kept this single faith, I have but one belief"

A Thousand Years - Sting


Symbols and the Poll Cabaret

Vote the hell! Acting as spoiler, the Election Commission is going to make Uttar Pradesh pardanasheen (veiled). So Mayawati and her saathis, the haathis will be covered:

"The Commission has decided that statues of the CM and elephants (her party symbol) will be draped," Chief Election Commissioner SY Qureshi told reporters here.

Apparently, it is poll time and no such promos are allowed.

Those statues are gross anyway, but why is the EC spending so much time, money and effort when the CM looms larger than the jumbo? Is a statue more representative of the person than she herself is? Will all Congress candidates have to wear gloves to cover their hands, their party symbol?

People are bribed with everything from trips to pilgrim sites to CCTV cameras. Indian democracy can wait; let the fun begin.

It is like Moulin Rouge in the streets. Elections in India are a combination of dance, drama, pantomime, jugglery, and the acrobatic skills of purveyors of false hope. You will hear of the new voices raging like matadors towards bulls, but the red rag is often a cloth of blood. Or a clot. If this is pessimism it is internalised by the very karmic feed from the environment.

But that does not matter. We care little about who is in power and more for getting them there. The pre-ballot ballets are what make it so very interesting. You might find a cow with slogans scrawled on its body or an elephant with posters stuck on it; loudspeakers in open jeeps belt out patriotic songs to Bollywood tunes and film dialogues pass off as socially-relevant messages; election symbols can make you chuckle – would you vote for an independent candidate who thinks a balloon represents her/him? Flowers, birds, animals, vehicles, body parts are on display as party symbols.

Promises are made for rose gardens…yes, they do promise you a rose garden…in a country where people need a place to defecate, where women squat near drains with umbrellas hiding their faces to cover their shame as they extricate remnants of malnourished meals and contaminated water.

These people will be taken in trucks to vote, with bait of a little money or a little ride. The rich will celebrate in fancy bars and watch exit polls as they drink their gin and tonic. The glossies will flash pictures of them showing us their inked index finger, the nail varnish a bright fuchsia.

Gods are brought out in the streets – every faith is pandered to, no god should be unhappy. The people? They are god’s slaves. They are the slaves of leaders. They are the slaves of helplessness. They are we and we are they and we know the difference so well. That is why someone sits on a high chair and gives speeches about the horrible state of affairs. These people get elected and stay behind barricaded walls, eat beneath the light of chandeliers as large as ceilings and from crockery with gold rim, and drink off glasses so fragile that when they break they make no noise.

This is not the only silence you will hear. The silence of people with no voices but feet that can be dragged to the booths to put their stamp on someone’s name, never their own. The faceless ones who live for those days when life is a cabaret.


Muslim Fire, Hindu Ire

No patakhas for Muslims?

Leading Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband has issued a fatwa against manufacturing and sale of firecrackers, saying that it is against the Sharia law.

Manufacturing and selling of firecrackers is against the Sharia law, and firing crackers is a gross misuse of money, the fatwa said. It also said that that men who misuse money are the ‘brothers of devil’. The Islamic seminary issued fatwa on a query from a man involved in the business of manufacturing firecrackers. The news holds significance given that a large number of Muslims are involved in the manufacturing and sale of firecrackers across the country.

I just cannot understand this. Why would a person who is already involved in the business want to consult the seminary?

If firing crackers amounts to misuse of money, then so is placing flowers over tombstones at dargahs.

If those who indulge in this are ‘brothers of the devil’, are women permitted to play with phuljhadis?

Is there any evidence of the devil misusing funds? Did he not inherit hell, or should he be pulled up for spending a fortune on adding all those satanic thingies in there?

I do not see how there can be any mention of firecrackers in the Sharia. Did some of the Prophet’s opponents light up anaars on the desert sands?

If the Darul Uloom is so concerned, it should seek justice for children who work in these factories and are exposed to risks of extreme levels of pollution. Get over this fatwa obsession and do something that matters.

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Gays threaten Hinduism?

An artist holding an exhibition in the capital on the theme of homosexuality was on Thursday attacked and abused by an unidentified assailant, who also damaged one of the paintings on display. Balbir Krishan said the attacker entered the solo exhibition space at Lalit Kala Akademi with his face covered by a handkerchief. He pushed and kicked Krishan, a double amputee who has lost both his legs, while hurling insults all the while.

He has been receiving threatening calls saying: “Tuney Hindu dharam ko bigarne ka theka laga rakha hai (You are determined to ruin Hinduism).”

Someone should take these guys on a yatra where temple sculptures clearly show all kinds of sexual activities, including homosexuality. Will they dare to deface those? Will they dare insult the deities?

I am not suggesting that art should be irresponsible. In this case, he was only exhibiting works, giving expression to his thoughts and personal experiences. He was not indulging in criminal activities like paedophilia, for which a few good godmen have been caught. Why do these assaulters not land up in those ashrams and use their fists. Well, to beat up those holy folks...

No dharam can be spoilt. It is not perishable food.


Flag jousting and Indo-Pak 'peace'

The Pakistani flag is hoisted on New Year's Eve in India. At the tahsildar's office at Sindgi town in Bijapur, Karnataka.

Was there any news about it in the media immediately after?

There was damage due to violence. The police have arrested six people from the Sri Ram Sene youth wing.

Why was there silence, even if the idea was to spark off "communal tension" and a few Muslims could have been arrested? Why did that not happen?

The reports are coming in now, after things are under control. Does the BJP muzzle such news? How did the violence go unnoticed when the Sene and Bajrang Dal even gave a call for a bandh?

Not unexpected is the reaction that the BJP and RSS have nothing to do with this organisation. Remember how the BJP would distance itself from the RSS and continues to do so for opportunistic reasons, when the moderate mask wants to hide an aggressive face?

How different are the ministers in Karnataka telling women on the dress code to follow to prevent rape from the Sri Ram Sene group that goes on a rampage against westernised women?

It would be foolish to let it pass that such "miscreants" managed this and it came to light only after the BJP government took action.

You might wonder why they did it at all. One word: elections. The make-up van clears all blemishes.

As for the news, a trickle will now become a storm, and only storms have news value.

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In other news Shashi Tharoor thinks Indo-Pak peace can happen only if we deal with the messy stuff first. Now, people like us have been saying so for gadha (donkey's) years. Mr. Tharoor will hobnob with Them at soirees, though.

One more observation: Pakistani liberals will really cry for peace with India despite their dictatorial government policies. Indian professional liberals will toe democratic government lines.

People like us just speak without waiting for taalis or gaalis.


Why women don't rape men

A minister “personally” does not favour women wearing certain kinds of clothes. Bad enough. Worse is that Yahoo India has this discussion titled: “The Big Question: Are women to blame for rape?”

Why repeat such an idea? It could have been worded differently, instead of such a passive manner. E.g. “Are men such jerks that they rape women’s clothes?” Seriously, how many times do we have to repeat that fully clothed women, not wearing trendy or flimsy westernised dresses, are raped?

Karnataka’s women and child welfare minister C C Patil said:

“I personally don’t favour women wearing provocative clothes and always feel they need to be dignified in whatever they wear…Today’s lifestyle makes it mandatory for women to work like men and live on equal terms with them. So women work in IT companies and call centres at night, they ought to know how much skin they should cover when they leave for such work places. Thus, I leave the issue of their dressing to them.”

Well, thanks, but we should drop the term ‘moral policing’ for morality is the big culprit that starts these stereotypes, and policing assumes they have the power. There is another issue that we are not addressing. What does he mean by saying that it has become mandatory for women to work. It is as much a choice as any other, and it has little to do with aping men. If that were the case then women would be doing the dhinka-chika pelvic thrust, keeping their shirt/blouse buttons open till the waist.

Why don’t women rape men? After all, in many animal species it is the female that hunts prey, and a few smart insects even devour their mate after mating. I won’t get into the nurturing argument. Women’s brains are where they are supposed to be – in their heads. They may get attracted to men and their bodies but they do not lunge. There can be an element of lust when they eye someone, but they do not lick their lips.

Besides the tired argument about conditioning (how many of us are told not to look at men in that way?), women tend to be more individualistic in their thinking, even where sexist ideas are concerned. Men are more likely to follow the herd, which is why gang rape is quite common, often in places where women in fact do work similar to men: in the fields.

The female construct of conquest is not just about security, but exclusivity. Women gossip, but they rarely discuss their bedroom tales with their friends. Ask men and chances are that long after it is over, they will still be tied to the G-strings.

Writers, Patrons and Politics

There are some writers who I find difficult to read because of their politics. They pen books that are well-researched and woven with magic, and magically realistic, words. However, should they be knighted or awarded by the Establishment, I might question the motives of the System and their own supposed ‘unpopular’ positions, mainly because their impact is on today. They are capturing our world.

That is the reason I take issue with M.J.Akbar’s recent piece on the Bharat Ratna that I have written about earlier. Here is my rejoinder to some of his statements:

But his (Markandey Katju’s) campaign for a Bharat Ratna to Mirza Ghalib and Saratchandra Chattopadhyay is ludicrous. One of my great personal regrets is insufficient knowledge of Urdu, and ignorance of Persian: the two books I would carry to the proverbial desert island are the complete works of Shakespeare and Ghalib. Ghalib’s poetry is eternal, but his views did not always belong to the narrative of modern India. Ghalib lived through 1857. He watched 23 Mughal princes being hanged and fellow Dilliwallahs being massacred by merciless British columns. Ghalib was more interested in a pension from Queen Victoria, as is evident from his diary, Dastambuy, than a war for independence. This does not diminish his poetry, but it does raise questions about his politics.

Was he supposed to save those princes? 'Modern' literary mavens murder literature itself, so why question Ghalib's politics when the award is political. It is patronage in a contemporary setting for services rendered to the Republic. I have already expressed my reservations about using that date as definitive of merit.

How many writers, artistes, media persons came out to save Dilliwallahs in the 1984 riots? Did they or did they not get honoured anyway? Can we hold it against them?

Our cultural ambassadors who are chosen for special reasons and RS seats would also be looking for such Victorian encomiums without appearing to be corseted intellectually.

Justice Katju has read a million more books than any silly journalist, but perhaps he has not come across Joya Chaterji’s masterly Bengal Divided [Cambridge University Press, 1996]. He would surely have noticed a speech that Saratchandra, an undoubted literary genius, made in 1926. There isn’t space for the full text, but a few sentences establish the flavor - and trust me, I am leaving out the more gruesome bits: “The truth is that if Muslims ever say they want to unite with Hindus, there is no greater hoax. The Muslims came to India to plunder it, not to establish a kingdom…Unity can only be realized among equals…’Hindu-Muslim unity’ is a bombastic slogan…Hindustan is the homeland of the Hindus.” Et al. Saratchandra’s India was not the India that Mahatma Gandhi lived and died for.

Only because Godse killed for a particular cause does not mean that Gandhi died for the same cause.

As regards Saratchandra's communalism, how is it surprising? Are we going to split hairs over the nature of the kingdom when you cannot colonise without some amount of plundering, British trade being another form of it? If Justice Katju is wrong to wish for recognition of historical figures, then such regurgitation of history does the same. It is sanctifying his words by emphasising their notoriety. Everyone loves the bad guys, and now one can expect some Hindutvawadi to use Sarat babu with an, “He told you so”. They will have one more reason to shout down the ‘pseudo secularists’.

The past has its glories. The past has its dilemmas. The past has its mistakes. The past has its rage. Shall we reserve the Bharat Ratna for those who fought for a future in which every Indian is an equal?

The fact that a certain person will get the Bharat Ratna (“reserve” is an interesting word here), and a select few other Padma awards, means that every Indian is not an equal. Let us not even try for such equality, whether it is among religions, castes, gender, race, regions. Each has its dynamics and an equitable and just way of looking at it makes more sense. And rewarding, shall we say?