Young love on a leash?

When I read the media quoting activists, especially on the issue of teenage sexuality, I think there is often too much effort in an attempt to sound ‘progressive’. The latest is a ‘regressive’ law:

Under the special law proposed in the freshly revised "Protection of Children From Sexual Offences Bill”, no person below 18 years will have the legal capability to give consent for engaging in any kind of sexual activity. This flies in the face of the general law, Indian Penal Code (IPC), which recognizes 16 as the age of consent for girls.

The Bill in its original form, as introduced last year in Parliament, did not contain any such contradiction. In keeping with the definition of rape in Section 375 of IPC, the Bill, envisaging special safeguards for children, expressly said that where "penetrative sexual assault" is committed against "a child between 16 to 18 years of age, it shall be considered whether the consent for such act has been obtained against the will of the child or the consent has been obtained by use of violence, force ..."

I believe that many young people get into early sexual intimacy due to curiosity, peer pressure, not to speak about hormones. How consensual are these experiments, then? Young girls can be forced into consenting – with the promise of being part of an adventurous group, or of commitment.

The law has to only try and sound empathetic, but even then it had concentrated on “penetrative sexual assault”. Does deleting the clause make it tough on young love?

Madhu Kishwar, founder of Manushi, said:

“Do we want to start punishing young people for premarital sex? Do we want them to start wearing chastity belts? The authorities have gone overboard in removing the age of consent for those between 16 and 18, especially in a scenario where young people are getting sexually active at an early age. This is stupid and goes against the child.”

You refer to the person as a child and want the right of adults. Premarital sex can take place later, given the delayed marriage age among women. At 16, it is not a question of chastity belts but whether they can be responsible. Much of India still believes that sexual activity is also about emotional intimacy. Young people are not automatons. That is the reason we have abolished child marriage, which these activists agree is important to get rid of. Did society not insist that the age of marriage be raised to 18, and rightly so?

And may I ask how many of them would approve if their children were sexually active outside marriage at that young an age?

Is the problem only because the law would involve the parents should such a situation arise and bring them infamy?

Another comment is this:

“We know of instances where boys between 16 and 18 have been sent to jail for consensual sex with a girl. The new law is highly regressive and will result in an increase in such instances and also make it dangerous to engage in physical relationships. This, in turn, will lead to a rise in risky sexual behaviour. The health risks increase for girls, while boys will be threatened with jail. No gender will benefit.”

If indeed a regressive law will result in more such instances, then it could apply to so many other laws, and only proves that the youngsters are out to prove something, to rebel. As for risky sexual behaviour, the lack of knowledge is astounding. Among the people who are rounded up by the cops, the problem is due to use of public space. If the parents are so open-minded, would they leave the teenagers alone in the room at home? Do people, even adults, seek permission and ensure safe sex? Premarital pregnancies, abortion and misuse of pills are not age-restricted.

Psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty is being facile:

“Age of sexual contact has gone down remarkably and the adult-child is a reality. It refutes the changing times and is a denial of the current reality. Taking away the provision of consent puts a heavy price on any attempt at sexual exploration by kids in their late teens. If a 19-year-old boy has sex with a 17-year-old girl, will you put him away in jail?"

Let us bring a current example in mind. A 14-year-old girl was murdered. Her parents are prime suspects because she was reportedly intimate with her servant. It is said it was a case of ‘honour killing’. They used every attempt to divert the attention of the cops; even got medical evidence changed. Would the law have intervened to put the boy in jail? Or would the parents have wanted to protect their name and do what reports have said they did?

There are far too many questions that we need to ask ourselves instead of pushing for a liberal agenda that might make young people more vulnerable to believe about rights in a superficial manner.

Shanta Sinha, chairperson of the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) believes:

“Penalizing such activities will only add to the confusion. The law can be used against both boys and girls. Anybody, from parents to neighbours, can complain to the authorities, who will, in turn, take action against the youngsters. As a result, something very natural will now become distorted, secretive and unacceptable. This will have consequences for how we organize our society and relations between boys and girls.”

How many rape cases are reported when the girl is underage? Do the parents bother? Are they not afraid of what society will say despite the girl being a victim? So, how can anyone say that people will complain? If we wish to empower our young, then it is by taking them into confidence. It is true that on paper the law criminalises sex before 18, but parents and neighbours have looked down on such acts without legal intervention. Girls, especially, are beaten up not only by cops but by their own families even if they are as much as seen with boys.

Real life is not chick lit or a Karan Johar film.

(c)Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

“Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music.”

- Angela Monet

"Let us read and let us dance - two amusements that will amusements that will never do any harm to the world. never do any harm to never do any harm to the world"

- Voltaire


Today is World Dance Day


A Hundred Seas: Zohra Sehgal

In the quiver of her voice, the past gently blows in the wind.

In a hundred years, history changes, governments fall, technology advances, children are born, people die, trees fall, buds sprout. Zohra Sehgal has witnessed it all. Today, she completes hundred years, and is rightly been feted.

I have never met her. She is frozen expressions on celluloid, each an ice cube of a slightly different shape. Her eyes and mouth veered between those of a sorceress and a genial grandma. I will not list out her achievements, but my reactions to her. And I have to be honest: Zohra Sehgal was an entertainer, but her acting repertoire was limited in the period I was exposed to her work. She has tried many professions in the entertainment world. It is her ability to articulate thoughts about them that stood out as an almanac.

I recall her vulnerability when she spoke about how she paled in comparison with her sister in looks. I recall the mischievousness when she spoke about Uday Shankar, whose ballet troupe she had joined, and said she thought he did not have ‘it’ because of the costumes he wore. And I recall her voice as though coming from a distant tunnel, sentences elongated to make the most mundane observation seem like an event.

In many ways, she is like Charlie Chaplin. However many times he falls, or twirls the cane, or turns his face, to give a lopsided smile, your heart melts. He is pantomime and parody, but it has method. Of course, as director and writer, his films are classics. As actor, he deliberately used limited ‘props’ in his person; a tramp does not need much.

Zohra Sehgal, whether by design or not, uses these limitations. You know from the minute she enters the frame what she will do. It is like comfort food that you look forward to. Even in films crowded with stars and garish décor, she takes you aside. In fact, I’d say that she is an aside – the pickle in a meal, the dew on grass. There was no way one could miss her.

There are times she acts as a link between generations, between spaces, between ideas, like a sutradhar, the perennial story-teller who weaves the chains together. Her characters were liberal even in the most conservative environment. I cannot think of her doing a Lalita Pawar, the evil mother-in-law, or a Nirupa Roy, the weepy mother always looking for lost sons. I cannot see her as anything but herself. She is the character. Sometimes, you don’t even remember her name or whether she is given any, unless it is those British serials or international cinema. She is not mainstream or art-house.

She just is. Like coming home to grandma. You know it won’t be any different from a past experience, but you would not miss it for anything. And one thing: Zohra Sehgal has never made me cry.

But today, as I write this without thinking of anything except what I can remember of her, my eyes are moist. To rejoice in a hundred seas compressed in one drop of tear for a lady who flows like water…

(c) Farzana Versey


Shading the Vagina

Yoni puja, worshipping the vagina, from Yogini Temple, MP, India

I’d like my vagina to be nice and bright. This is my choice. Just as women make a choice to depilate the pubic area, or opt only for a bikini wax. Why do we do it? To feel clean and because we do not want hairs sticking out from the sides in swimsuits and lacy lingerie. We do not want menstrual blood drying on hair in the private parts unless we take good care to wash. We do not like smells that emanate from there, however natural the odour. Fragrant soap and powder are our allies. Often, we use panty liners because of the discharge.

So, why the vitriolic, supposedly feministic, reaction to an Indian feminine hygiene product only because its tagline states: “Life for women will now be fresher, cleaner and more importantly fairer and more intimate”? I found nothing offensive about the 25-second ad for Clean & Dry Intimate Wash that is aired on television. In fact, it seemed like a regular liquid soap. I missed pretty much of the controversy surrounding it until just the other day.

There are several ads where women cook, clean, dress for a man’s pleasure. One ad a while ago showed a village woman getting a little orgasm washing her husband’s underwear at the river! There are small sounds about these, not loud moans, as in this case. I was surprised at how proving oneself ends up being another form of peer pressure. “If you believe in women’s rights, how can you tolerate this typical obsession with fairness?” is the first dart thrown. Since it has to do with genitals, and Indian ones, the issue has become international. And the Indian ladies, who probably stuff their faces with SPF 50 sunblock cream or carry little paisley-print brollies to protect themselves, went ballistic. It was as though they were just waiting to show the world that we Indians don’t just have elephants and call centres and IT guys, we have the hardware that does not need any software. It was a bold step to out their pubes and flaunt its different shades.

To add ballast to their argument, they used the tried-and-tested racist angle. In India, there is most certainly a bias with a preference for fairer skin. But it is not based on caste or religion, but region. Face fairness products do show that success depends on how light-skinned you are. Unfortunately, the wrong man has been quoted to explain this. Indian theatre personality and veteran ad man Alyque Padamsee said:

“The only reason I can offer for why people like fairness, is this: if you have two beautiful girls, one of them fair and the other dark, you see the fair girl’s features more clearly. This is because her complexion reflects more light.”

This brought about a flurry of, ooh, so my vagina has to reflect light. However asinine his views, he was not talking about the pubic area.

Don’t these people read sex advice columns? Look at the number of men, much more than women, who want a solution to the dark area around the genitals. They are equally concerned about clipping hair or dried semen inside the folds of the foreskin. Brazilian waxing has become popular in some countries among men and a few salons even offer to embellish the area with little jewels. If a product such as the one for women is launched for men, they will most certainly opt for it. We are anyway talking about a limited section of people who use these.

I find it pathetic that there is anger about a woman pleasing a man. Well, I do not know how many of us women sit down and take a good look at our vaginas in a day and say with much poise and confidence, this is who I am and proud of it. It makes no sense. Sex – and due to circumstantial requirements the genitals are involved – is about pleasure: receiving and giving it. Yoni (vagina) worship was as common as lingam (phallus) worship centuries ago. Men try hard; women do so too. In fact, while women invest much more in ‘things’ – thongs, unguents, waxing - men have to rely on their organ. These women ought to ask themselves whether or not they have pampered themselves with such seductive indulgences. Partly, it could be the reasons I mentioned at the beginning, but like hell it would be a lie if no woman has tried to please a man in bed because it gives her pleasure too. Oh, watch out, whipped cream is white.

Wait. They are not against pleasure. They just don’t want to be coloured. I read this piece of tripe in Jezebel:

In this commercial for an Indian product called Clean and Dry Intimate Wash, a (very light-skinned) couple sits down for what would have been a peaceful cup of morning coffee – if the woman's disgusting brown vagina hadn't ruined everything! The dude can't even bring himself look at her. He can't look at his coffee either, because it only reminds him of his wife's dripping, coffee-brown hole! Fortunately, the quick-thinking woman takes a shower, scrubbing her swarthy snatch with Clean and Dry Intimate Wash ("Freshness + Fairness"). And poof! Her vadge comes out blinding white like a downy baby lamb (and NOT THE GROSS BLACK KIND) and her husband – whose penis, I can only assume, is literally a light saber – is all, "Hey, lady! Cancel them divorce papers and LET'S BONE."

Despite the attempt at in-your-face bravado, it reminds me of a sophomore necking in a corner, puckering collagen lips when caught. It is an insecure reaction, for the assumptions override the facts. The couple is light-skinned, as in many ads. Why does a woman have to be dripping? Who is the one putting pressure on the female here? And the hole is not about colour. It is the area around the vagina. If there is such a problem with that, I can imagine how difficult it will be for the drippers to find their clits, just in case the man ignores them.

In an ad of a few seconds, everything has to be quick. She is going to take a shower, which isn’t bad. Maybe she is spraying the water jet inside her for a bit of self-love, just in case he isn’t all that much of a dude, eh? In one wash, she comes out feeling fresh and dry (aha, there goes the dripping fun you had on her behalf). So they, the story goes, end up in bed and he cancels the divorce. Strange that it does not strike the faux fur-flying feminists that she might want to divorce the man and live with a bright and fresh genital location. What a shame, for are they not revolted that women want to please men?

Do us a favour. Since you look at yourself, and you are so against this fair business, just pour some dark chocolate on your vagina. This is a statement you are making, so don’t let any man rear his head near you.

(c) Farzana Versey

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Update: Am linking two old pieces to give a perspective. And spare me the crackers about how your feminism is bigger than mine.

On the movement to get men to shave: A close shave?

On men's rights, feminism, and beyond: Another patriarchy - Feminist men and Amazonian women


Muzzling, Mobs and Social Networking Mirrors

If you are crying hoarse about being a victim of and in the social media and gathering support for being targeted, then it is hypocritical to dismiss any government move to form a committee that would restrict the social media from acting irresponsibly.

Surprisingly, the freedom of speech lobby that gets tetchy over its own abuse is the one that opposes such restraint.

Press Council of India Chairman Justice Markandey Katju has written to the Communications and Information Technology minister Kapil Sibal to set up a panel “so that the social media can be regulated and suitable legislation be initiated on the basis of the recommendations of this committee”. He further states:

“Unless this is done irreparable damage may be done to individuals or to society, as the material shown may be inflammatory or defamatory or otherwise harmful to people…a new practice has developed in the social media of its misuse for defaming people/groups/religions/communities.”

Why is everyone so upset? When the minister had proposed it last year, the protest had taken on a febrile “Kapil Sibal Is An Idiot” tag. This reveals how such debates go. If there is no sensible argument and it comes down to merely snapping at idiocy, then it works in favour of ‘censorship’.

Sibal has said:

“We have to take care of the sensibilities of our people…Cultural ethos is very important to us.” 

One may contest this, although one can be reasonably sure that even our interactions are rooted in culture, even though it may not be overtly so.

Some say such moves are to protect politicians of the ruling party, and right now it is the infamous CD of Abhishek Manu Singhvi. Have we forgotten that the Congress party had immediately ticked off those politicians who used such sites to vent their anger or questioned policies, whether it was Shashi Tharoor, Omar Abdulla or Digvijay Singh?

Does the general public approve of such ‘connections’ the leaders make with a limited group of people, although it does get reported in the mainstream media?

Forums such as these act as extra-constitutional authorities where elected representatives can clarify their position, blame others, wreak vengeance, and campaign for themselves or against others. How is one to accept their version? Why are the usual official channels not used? Why must government policy be announced and discussed on walls and in tweets where there is more likely to be a back and forth of sound bytes rather than a sensible discussion?

A code should apply to people across the board and not merely to politicians or those in the government.

The users of these sites are angry. Are they any different from the Anna Hazare movement types when they dismiss a Katju or a Sibal and yet get into a huddle for their own defence? Who do they represent? Who are they to decide on how much slander is good enough? How many people flag abusive comments? Let us face it: Most people like a good fight. In fact, some are made precisely because of the notoriety they gain by such networking. Their visibility increases and so does the fan base. Is it necessarily on intrinsic merit?

Those who are talking about how those who hate them must also be allowed to have their say are largely popular because of just such infamy. This ‘freedom’ affords them statues even if it is to facilitate pigeon droppings. It is the cult of the dishonourable, and some will fall for it. Take any issue in recent times and it has become more exaggerated due to this word-of-mouth publicity. YouTube videos and CDs go viral and, much like terrorists claiming their hand in bomb blasts, these denizens claim to play a role in every major happening – whether it is the Arab Spring, exposing leaders, bringing scams to light, pushing the anti-corruption agenda, or showing a politician dropping his pants.

We have governments for a reason. We have laws for a reason. Do they work well always? No. Does it mean that forming groups and fighting them online will change the reality? This is the frightening aspect. How many of those commenting in morsel sizes are truly attuned to such reality? True, famous people are on networking sites, reasonable people are there, people who matter are there. My question is: Are they also not in places where it counts and are they not capable of pushing for change from where they operate? They can and some do.

If the idea is that one gets to see all stripes of thought, then there are other places that offer the same. The regular media outlets and the offbeat ones where commentary is at least more indepth, though not always so. It gives us a choice to dispute. For those who think that news is forced down us, how are they so certain that what passes for exchange of ideas on such websites does not do the same? There is bound to be an element of incestuousness, and it is a community too. Therefore, it is a bit amusing that when there is a mention of incendiary talk that hurts religious and communal sentiments, there are sniggers. Yet, when this community of networkers thinks it is in danger of being muzzled, there is a hue and cry. What are they displeased about? That their space is being occupied, right? Their freedom shackled. It just so happens that there are different kinds of freedom, and much as we dislike what we deem to be non-liberal thought, also has a right to exercise its freedom.

There are positive aspects to such sites, but the opposition to a proposed code leaves one with a slightly distorted picture of the whole anti-system. It really is not a contrarian viewpoint but a ghetto that wants its own protection. Not everyone is capable of self-censorship. There are loose cannons. There is anonymity. The idea that it is the only truly democratic medium free of vested interests is a fallacy. Are there no agendas being propagated on the internet, no vested interests?

What about Google’s position? It says:

“We work really hard to make sure that people have as much access to information as possible, while also following the law. This means that when content is illegal, we abide by local law and take it down. And even where content is legal, but violates our own terms and conditions, we take that down too, once we’ve been notified. But when content is legal and doesn’t violate our policies, we won’t remove it just because it’s controversial, as we believe that people’s differing views, so long as they’re legal, should be respected and protected.”

This is fine because it is making big bucks. We forget that in October last year, it was giving out information about surfing habits to America, France, Germany, Britain and India. A report had mentioned then that “Google included the total number of user accounts targeted, instead of just the number of requests made by police, courts and other agencies. Google is trying to get users to share even more tidbits about their lives on social networking service Plus, which has attracted over 40 million account holders since it debuted in June as an alternative to Facebook.” Is this not more intrusive? Or do we prefer such covert operations?

If the government does manage to make some headway with this, then we must understand that it could possibly help others as well. That should be the purpose. It could be an anti-government crusader who is abused and can seek recourse to action. It could be an individual whose identity is being tarnished.

It is facile to assume that discourse against the establishment will stop. Before social networking, we threw out the British, we threw out a government that imposed the Emergency, scandals were exposed. That will continue not because of, but despite, revolutionaries with hash tags who ensure a trend for a day or so. 15 minutes of fame has just become a lengthened shadow.

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(c)Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

"You forget that the fruits belong to all and that the land belongs to no one.”

- Jean-Jacques Rousseau

For World Earth Day


The colour of fire: Agni-V

I hate missiles. They are inhuman. But, of course, you might say, that is the idea. I hate missiles because I like a fair fight, if at all. Firing missiles with a push of a button is not fair. Don’t give me examples of other countries and how all is fair in love and war. It is not.

Yet, we in India have been jubilant over the Agni-V ballistic missile that took off from Wheeler Island off the Odisha coast on Thursday.

I tried to get excited as I saw a few clippings on television and then some photographs. 

In repose it looks like a giant-sized pencil. It reminded me of a fairytale where a young character stares wide-eyed at this marvel and tries to grasp it in her hand and she just cannot. And then with a great rumbling sound it moves on its own and whooshes off into the sky, writing out something on the clouds in red letters. The girl cannot read it clearly and the pencil is gone. She cries. For some reason I think of the character as a girl. Maybe, I am rewinding to my own childhood.

Missiles are an adult childhood game. I want to applaud this longest range ballistic missile with a range of over 5,000 kms. I want to start clapping when I read newspaper reports that call it “a high five moment”, “a game changer”. I want to make angry faces at the US for lecturing us to “exercise restraint” and to Chine for calling it a “political missile”. We are just playing. So what if it can reach most parts of China. I can reach China too.

I still see that little girl and a colour pencil. But now I look closely and it has ‘Bharat’ written on it, and then it pierces the clouds and withstands heat of 3000 degrees Celsius. I had no idea heat could ever get that hot. I do not know many things. I am sweating in 35 degrees C. This must be one swell of a missile. It has the right name. Agni – fire.

We are now part of the elite club of nations with Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) technology like U.S., Russia, France and China. I read that, “India's policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons, Agni-V will provide the country with depth in deterrence.”

This makes me feel good. The missile can reach very far, can destroy, but unless somebody else uses it first we will not do anything. I don’t know much, but I only hope it does not start to rust, or its parts do not get consumed with all the wiring inside. If it can withstand so much heat, then it must be careful not to burn itself. It happens with so many things in life.

I know you will tell me to shut up and stop this fairytale. You will quote some scientist who said, “Today, we have made history. We are a major missile power.”

Okay. I want to be part of history, of an elite club. I also want every little girl and boy to get a colour pencil just like Agni-V to act as deterrence against hunger, and to bring some cheer in their lives.

Spreading out sperm: Pop Store and the Invisible Harem

Pop Store and the Invisible Harem
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, April 20-22

He makes bastards. No one is quite willing to use the term, for not only does he portray himself as a Samaritan, but also a sort of sexual evangelist. Instead of the Word, he doles out semen.

You’ve probably read the reports about Dutchman Ed Houben, who has fathered 82 babies with different women. His story has resurfaced again recently. While there is an attempt to record his activities and examine a few ‘cases’, a vast area in analysis of the repercussions of such baby-creating remains empty. There is an element of cussedness about his management skills. He maintains an Excel ‘balance sheet’ to track successful inseminations and births. His hit rate is 80 percent. 

A few years ago he had said:

“I do it because I know how hard it is for people who desperately want a child. Also going through fertility clinics can be very time-consuming and costly for them.”

Financially, it might be inexpensive to use him, but one seriously wonders why the women cannot find a mate closer to them. Is it because he meets prospective clients through a legitimate channel, the German sperm donation network SpermaSpender.de and insists that the women are healthy? Both submit their medical records and he also provides a sperm analysis.

This is all very well, but how fresh are the records? He sleeps with 15 women in a month, and it requires extensive travel from his home in Maastricht; the list includes Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain, Belgium, France and New Zealand. Are the reports updated after each act? What if either of them has had unprotected sex with someone else after sending the reports and before doing time together?

To track his journey briefly, Houben was a virgin until the age of 34 although he had started donating sperm when he was 29. Eight years later he has to his credit over 80 babies, the oldest nine, the youngest two months, and ten in different foetal stages. This would mean ten children a year.

Der Spiegel had recorded his first real encounter:
“When he met women, they seemed like people from another world, simultaneously threatening and iconic. Women wanted good-looking, athletic guys rather than men like him. As a student, Ed sometimes necked with girls when he was drunk at parties, but that was the extent of his romantic life. In other words, he had no experience… He met a couple in 2004. The man was Dutch and sterile, and the woman was South American. They made it clear to him that they didn't want just a cup of sperm. Instead, the husband said, they wanted intimacy and emotions for their child at the moment of its conception. His wife taught Ed, 34 at the time, about passion.”

There are a few of worrying issues. Houben does not appear to like women. This incident reflects more the norms of a contemporary free-living couple. The woman initiating and teaching the ‘donor’ male might seem to give her an advantage, but she is essentially a slave to two men here – the husband who presides over the ceremony and the ‘giver’ as passive performer. The image is of the woman as whore-mother. If it were her idea, then it might have been empowering to the extent we wish to be politically correct about it. However, it is not quite so in this instance.

Besides, how will the intimacy and emotion the couple talked about register with a quick-footed sperm hitting an egg?


There is inherent patriarchy in the arrangement. This is not polygamy, which despite all its flaws, comes with certain strictures, whether it is in religious groups or tribes. Houben’s children may not carry his name, but it is his magic wand that did it. He is the carrier of glad tidings, a Magi.

More than that, he is a god-figure. As in all patriarchal societies, pleasure is a bonus. Much of machismo is about passing on good seeds to create another generation. The concept of equality with women goes against such sperm power. Women are the vessels. It is particularly distressing in the Houben example, for here the women will not only carry the baby, but also provide for him while he is working with them. They are, in effect, his employers.

In some ways he is a gigolo – no strings attached, with paid-for meals and travel expenses. But because sex as pleasure is removed from the relationship it is the employee who takes the call. It is really not surprising that he sticks to the missionary position. It is indeed akin to Passover, a release from bondage and the heralding of newborns.

As we progress, women are free to make choices. The problem arises after the choices are made. One is not denying the maternal instinct and the fact that women would want to feel ‘complete’. But is such completeness about them? Where test tube babies and cloning are not hesitant experiments anymore, modern science is pushing the generic male as the genetic male provider where a single cell jerked off becomes the woman’s universe.

The lack of intimacy, however wilful, makes women into objects even as they are glorified as mothers. This is not to suggest that some women do not treat it as just another intercourse. In an article one woman seemed completely in sync with what was in store and her role:

“I'm completely pragmatic about it," she says. She has rules for the sex. She doesn't have a problem with kissing the man. She puts on nice lingerie, but not her best. "And I don't jerk him off or give him a blowjob," she says. She talks with the man when it's all over, during the 15 minutes on her back.


Another dimension is that Houben’s vaginal wayfaring could result in inbreeding and that comes with inbuilt genetic deficiencies. Brothers and sisters may end up mating without knowing their lineage; there could be gay relationships too between siblings.

Since Houben’s job profile is to impregnate women it is obvious that he is the biological father of these children.

A New York Times article had discussed the ramifications of artificial insemination following the report of one donor who had fathered 150 children:

Now, there is growing concern among parents, donors and medical experts about potential negative consequences of having so many children fathered by the same donors, including the possibility that genes for rare diseases could be spread more widely through the population. Some experts are even calling attention to the increased odds of accidental incest between half sisters and half brothers, who often live close to one another.

One is aware that promiscuity is quite prevalent across the world, so there is a possibility that such fears of incest could arise even in such cases. However, most promiscuous relationships are not for procreation and one assumes that precautions would be taken to prevent conception.


The social dynamics could have an impact on ethics. Houben makes the women sign documents waiving legal claims to child support. There is no guarantee that they will honour it. A crucial aspect that has been overlooked is of him making claims. Middle age crisis could force him to seek companionship, or to ‘paternalise’ himself. Since he does not take money, he can demand palimony on grounds of desertion. There is also the possibility of some of these children turning out to be prodigies or celebrities a few years from now, and he might want a bit of glory. He maintains a detailed portfolio and, as there is attestation and paperwork involved, his assertions would be legitimate.

Could a public pronouncement on his part snowball into the invisible harem becoming visible, and many of the 82 offspring declaring a blood bond with the famous one?

There is also the valid issue about social responsibility. Houben, who earlier bottled his sperm, now projects his preference as the “natural way”, which is false. Physical intervention does not make it natural and most certainly not normal. Normal relationships, or even encounters, are not timed, unless it is commercial sex.

Pop store Houben’s is not a spousal situation. Therefore, equality is an extraneous concept. It is egalitarianism without fidelity: a planted seed that is not watered.

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 (c)Farzana Versey


Seedy CDs and Hollow Exposés

I am not particularly interested in what lawyer and Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi does in his spare time, and especially not in his private moments. Apparently his driver shot his boss getting intimate with someone and circulated the CD.

I do not understand why the courts have to put a stay on news channels from airing it. The news channels should know that it is not important to air it. They did the same with the BJP MLAs watching porn on their mobile phones.

Whether the CD has morphed images or not ought to be probed legally. It is not the business of the media. If this did indeed happen, then the person invading such privacy ought to be pulled up, not Mr. Singhvi. Irrespective of the political side he belongs to, he is entitled to a private life. Was he caught taking bribes or giving money for a deal? Was he caught trying to buy off members from other parties?

What disturbs me is a report that quotes someone who happens to know the lady, a lawyer, and the comments made on a social networking site:

  • Happened in his office. She is about 45-50yrs old. it has to be consensual or else he can much better/younger girls if he wants to exploit."

As I said, one is not judging what happened. I am questioning these know-it-alls. This person happens to be a woman. She assumes that only young women can get exploited, that men, however old they are or whatever they look like, always have the option. Looks like she does not read reports about how those in power – and it could be the power of physical strength or of being in an isolated spot or of revenge – can take advantage of women irrespective of their age or looks.

I find such an attitude disgusting. She further expounds:

  • “I do not agree that they had sex just for judgeship. U think it's that simple to become a judge? NO!...see she too is v rich and v influential also has a great legal practice. So sex only for favour is unlikely.”

So, now being rich and influential makes a person above-board.

Such tittle-tattle is reported as news? There are legal procedures that can be followed, although I have no idea what it would be about – that he granted the woman some favour? Or that he used his office for the act as is being said?

Some old pictures of him wearing a kurta and shorts are being posted that have nothing to do with the present controversy.

As someone who has done a few of these ‘chill out zone’ type stories with prominent people, let me tell you that the magazine (and channels) want the subjects to let down their guard, to show their ‘human side’. It does not mean that the person ‘drops his pants’ at the drop of a quote.

An intrusive media should know the difference between an exposé and idle curiosity. Going by their ‘tauba tauba’ reaction one would think they are all celibate. It would be really interesting to watch some CDs that show our honourable members of the Fourth Estate in compromising positions. We have seen them in the missionary position, but that is only a stand they take when they are holding forth on topics of ‘national’ interest.

Seriously, will we ever have an tell-all about the hallowed newsrooms or the cabins of revered editors? (That they occasionally write memoirs in semi-retirement exposing members of their tribe surprisingly makes them look good to the ones who were saved from the hawk eyes.) Can we also ask the media if they get their scoops by being rather ‘kind’ or sending their special scribes/anchors? After all, during those sting operations they do lay the honey-trap. What do they do when they are not 'stinging'?

The least we expect is that they should not join in the chorus of anonymous 'opinionators'. This incessant caricaturing of others just makes them into caricatures if you look from the other side.

Breivik's Day Out

They still won’t call him a terrorist. Anders Breivik remains a “right wing extremist gunman” and, with some concessional nod of late, an “anti-Muslim fanatic”. I feel that the trial is projecting his views in a circular light where despite what he has done, the emphasis will be on the statement made during the defence. It will work subliminally, for those he killed were not specifically Muslim targets. This would push the general sympathy idea and divert his motives.

He has displayed arrogance throughout. As a report says:

Norwegian killer Breivik breaks down as film of his hero Vlad the Impaler is played (but stays stony-faced as court describes way he slaughtered 77).

He smirked several times as the cuffs were removed, put his right fist on his heart then extended his hand in salute. “I do not recognise the Norwegian courts. You have received your mandate from political parties which support multiculturalism,” Breivik told the court after refusing to stand when judges entered.

“I acknowledge the acts but not criminal guilt as I claim self defence,” he added, seated in front of a bulletproof glass wall.

His self-defence was against “Muslims”.

The patch on his uniform

The Norwegian police plan to bring his mother Wenche Behring to the witness box because Breivik said during interviews:

“I just hope my mother is not there. She’s the only one who can make me emotionally unstable. She is my Achilles heel.”

They courts believe that seeing her will “reduce the killer to a quivering wreck”. This is ridiculous, for she has already stated that her son suffered from paranoid delusions five years ago. Why was he not treated for it? The insanity plea might work. And he might well be her Achilles heel.

All killers suffer from some psychological issues, and the ‘lone murderer’ or a group of terrorists being brainwashed is part of how the enemy is played on their minds subconsciously.

It is the job of the courts and the police to conduct the proceedings. I am surprised that such ‘motherly’ intervention is being made public. We are not dealing with a juvenile court. The man went on a killing spree, his acts are recorded, he has admitted to it. What more do they want to know? That he watched a Muslim running a store and it affected his mind so much that he decided to attack innocent people?

He is a terrorist, and not just Norway but all the western powers should treat him as such.

Also from my archives:

They don’t have terrorists in Norway?
Did Hindu or Islamic Fundamentalism inspire Oslo’s Terrorist?


Dalits ‘Cowed’ Down: The Folly of Beef Festivals

If a group of Christians decided to hold a pork festival as part of their cultural assertion in Hyderabad, a city in South India that is now in the news for the Dalit beef festival at Osmania University, would no one protest? I doubt it. There would be protests, if not clashes. The Hindu rightwing Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) did just that and it resulted in mob fury, and even a student being stabbed.

Beef festival organizer B Sudarshan, a research scholar, said it was unfortunate that some upper caste students tried to disrupt the festival which was going on peacefully. "We have not made any slaughter of animals in the hostel premises but only distributed food among the students to acknowledge the age-old custom of Dalits and minorities. We wanted to remove the dirty image associated with beef, as spread by the Brahminical culture," he said.

If it is age-old customs that they refer to, then it would also mean being subjugated, something that Dalits have suffered for centuries. There are several ‘dirty images’ that need to be publicly flogged. There are professions that have come to be associated with the scheduled castes and are looked down at. Perhaps, such scholars might like to find out if the Grade 1V low cadre workers can even afford a meal of lentils and chapattis, or how those in the rural areas are stripped naked and beaten up, even killed, for belonging to a scheduled caste. Will they be discussing beef with them?

This issue appears to be ostensibly puerile. But when it is projected as a cultural move, then we need to discuss it in the larger framework, as much as we do when the Hindutva groups wish to reclaim the ancient heritage by pulling down structures and inciting hatred against minorities. The standards for argument have to be similar, for it is a political move responding to a religious-political group.


Food is a primal need. So much so that alleys that stock edible items in malls make sure to not only psychologically but physically work up an appetite with strategically-placed exhaust fans that exhale the scent of freshly-baked breads or the sound of the crackling pit close to the ready mixes. Besides being a marketing trick, it urges us to salivate. It is a bit like pornography.

The reason for this digression is that Dalits, by fighting for the right to choose their food, are in fact portraying an image that might be quite unlike the one they envisaged. There is a large section of Hindus that reveres the cow; the movement against such slaughter is not new. It is seen as muscling Brahmin superiority. This is not completely true. You pass any temple and even the poorest people, not all Brahmin, will stop to touch the cow with reverence or feed it. Among the other castes, too, one often comes across instances where the men may rebel and partake of meat outside the house. At an eatery in Rajasthan, the owner told me that on weekends men visit for their dose of meat and booze. They would not permit the women to eat any sort of meat. These people are not Brahmins.

Meat is associated with pugnacity. It harks back to the caveman image of men hunting, holding up the bloodied spear, skinning the animal, tying its limbs and letting it cook in its own juices on a slow fire. The barbeque is often seen as a man’s day with the hunted, although women are primarily the cooks. Their participation here as well is a rolled-up sleeves act.

This is cultural conditioning. The Dalits are talking about the right to not be subjected to Brahminical dictates where food is concerned. It is true they might seem to be belittling the reverence for the cow, but is that their only motive? Is it not possible that the anger against the beef festival has also to do with them being part of an educational institution, of qualifying for the same professional stakes?


I feel they have taken the sting out of their protests by playing into the ‘reverence’ narrative instead of creating one of their own. The idea is not always to react. Some feel happy they are allowed entry into temples or to become priests. These are in fact the very values they ought to be moving out of. Why do they need the temples that have scripturally created the hierarchies in the first place? Why do they not have their own places of worship, if they must? Why read out shlokas (verses) that affirm, say, the karma theory, which would in effect amount to implying they are what they are because of some past birth sin?

The problem is not with beef. Anyone can tell you that many Hindus do eat beef. So, Dalits, Muslims, Christians can eat what they wish to. But to celebrate it is plain politics. These Dalits will not have a pork festival at the Muslim-run Anjuman-e-Islam institute.

I do not eat pork. I do not eat beef. I do not eat kangaroo meat or ants. Whatever it is that I eat, I do keep the sensitivities of those around me in mind.

When Mahavir Jayanti and Bakri Eid clashed on one day a few years ago, I wrote in one of my column that Muslims should perform the qurbani (ritual sacrifice) a day earlier. The simple reason is that vegetarianism is intrinsic to Jainism, whereas the qurbani is a symbolic gesture and it is often performed at different times in different parts of the world. Not a single Muslim wrote contesting me. It does not mean they did not do what they had planned, but I was not called a kafir or pseudo-secular, which happens often.

Some see culinary choices as hypocrisy. Let me give a personal example. When I was in school a close relative got married to a South Indian, a Brahmin. She converted. They went overseas to plum jobs with their plum education. On one of her trips home, I recall her saying that if one can eat lamb then why not pork, why these double standards? She had started eating pork. I assume her husband ate beef. I never bothered to ask. It did not really affect me. Looking back, I find it a bit strange for I am not the religious one; she chose another religion, which naturally made her an adherent to a faith. The liberalism was short-lived.

Years later, she and her family turned vegetarian, for health and ethical reasons. Now this idea began to be flaunted. It was both a physical and spiritual detoxification, but it also resulted in proselytising. I see that often among vegetarians, more than meat eaters. I have never denied that not eating pork is most certainly part of conditioning and it would be difficult for me to shake that off. I am aware that there will be people ready with their clichés to push me into a corner of an Islamist. Will I go and stuff myself with bacon only to prove them wrong?


It is not surprising that intellectuals have jumped onto the bandwagon, the academic Brahmins. I wonder what these proponents of the Dalit beef festival would say about the communal flare-up in the same city when a piece of beef was hurled at the Hanuman Temple wall. Would they see this as a protest? The first suspects would have been Muslims, but a source in the Special Investigations Team said, "We have specific information that the incident was executed by locals from the same community”. This was done by rightwing Hindus to cause mischief and put the blame on Muslims.

What would be the stand of the beef festival organisers on this? It is so easy for perceptions to change because the reality is not constant.

The real pity is that in a nation where many people go hungry, the Brahmins push for cow protection and the Dalits rebel against that. Where people do not have a place to live, places of worship become a refuge for scoundrels to act out their nasty beliefs – a piece of pork near a mosque, beef on temple walls. Caste and communal riots only prove that we are different. No one realises that with so much to lose, we have human festivals almost every day. Someone celebrates someone’s death. It is not just about human flesh, but humane ideals that die.


(c) Farzana Versey

Published in Counterpunch, April 18


Right Said Modi...

This time Modi is right. Why target only Gujarat and not othet states? His adminstration could be using diversionary tactics, and while one size does not fit all in matters of justice, there's got to be a trial room for everyone.

The Narendra Modi government on Friday moved the Supreme Court and sought an independent probe into encounter cases in all states in last 10 years, while venting its ire at Mumbai based human rights activists accusing them of focusing only on incidents in Gujarat. To press its case, the Modi government said, 'It is a matter of record and cannot be seriously disputed that between 1998 and 2000 special squads of Bombay Police ‘cleaned up’ (the expression then used) about 300 strong Bombay underworld dons with an average of 100 encounters a year'.

Having recorded their version, I'd like to know if the Modi government is using this as justification? Is there no difference between underworld dons and people arrested at random? The use of the term clean up reveals the modus operandi. Is the Gujarat government conceding such a possibility?

As far as details are concerned, it is spot on:

The Gujarat government argued that 'The Bombay police went by the Israeli strategy of ‘eye for an eye’ and ‘tooth for a tooth’ as was being unofficially claimed then. Officers who undertook this operation 'clean up’ were feted as super heroes and even immortalized by films.

They still are. From 'Shootout at Lokhandwala' to the supposedly more realistic 'Black Friday', the cops are the heroes to the anti-heroes. Interestingly, you cannot tell the difference.

Around the time-frame mentioned, a few of these officers would routinely pose for pictures with their 'kill'. It was and is a known fact that, besides being feted in the media, promotions are largely dependent on the quota of bodies.

The underworld has primarily operated from Mumbai and their close connections span across drug lords overseas, intelligence agencies, politicians, industrialists, film financiers, and the media.

The arrest of Jigna Vohra in the J.Dey murder case due to what has been played out as professional rivalry had to do with two rival gangsters.

Arun Gawli, the "daddy" of Byculla could contest elections from jail. Politics is not just a refuge for these gangsters but a logical move.

The cops rarely get the big guys. It is a tacit arrangement.

So, if we keep the peeve of the Gujarat government in mind, then indeed Maharashtra and other states need to be given the same treatment.

However, outside of the partisan stance of activists and human rights organisations, is Narendra Modi willing to accept that encounter killings did take place and the criminal officers were transferred?

If yes, then the Supreme Court can pull up the other states and alongside take this as an admission to similar culpability in Gujarat.

We have Modi's word for it, although he hasn't quite said it.

(c) Farzana Versey

Sunday ka Funda

"We fear violence less than our own feelings. Personal private, solitary pain is more terrifying than what anyone else can inflict.”

- Jim Morrison

Some places are doomed to both. But, where there is life, there is light.

Here's an Afghan song:

- - -

I am aware of the attacks by the Taliban in Kabul today. There are many aspects to life. If you want the news story, go here


Buy off the victims: Khwaja Yunus case

Would you trade justice for compensation? The idealistic mind says, no. But would a poor person have to make a pragmatic choice?

In 2002. Khwaja Yunus died in police custody. He was arrested in the Ghatkopar BEST bus blast case in Mumbai under POTA. The extent of his involvement is not clear, but the cops have put forth theories that he had absconded while being transferred to another prison.

Despite this, the Bombay high court on grounds of “violation of fundamental rights” has enhanced compensation payable to his family from Rs. 3 lakh to Rs 20 lakh. Why has this been done?

...a division bench of Justice A M Khanwilkar and Justice P D Kode rejected a plea to prosecute 10 policemen for Yunus's alleged custodial death.

The judges said Asiya Begum was free to file a suit for additional compensation, which would have to be decided on its own merits. The state, which has already given Rs 3 lakh to Yunus's parents, has now been directed to pay the remaining Rs 17 lakh within eight weeks. It was up to the state to recover the amount proportionately from the police officers responsible for Yunus's disappearance, the judges added.

What do we have here?

Initially, Yunus's father Ayub filed a habeas corpus petition for his production. The state CID sought the prosecution of 14 policemen for their alleged role in Yunus's "custodial death". After Ayub's death, Asiya Begum amended the petition to make 14 policemen as accused and sought Rs 20 lakh as compensation.

The judges further said the sanction was limited to the police team that took Yunus out of the lock-up in healthy condition and was allegedly responsible for causing his death or disappearance en route to Aurangabad.

This is an old tactic to make some policemen culpable. Since no one knows what really happened, except the version of the co-accused that Yunus was tortured, it makes one wonder how toothless even the CID is.

Why has the court decided to increase the compensation, the highest to date in the state? What evidence does it have that makes the disbursement of this money a crucial factor?

Yunus was the only earning member, but they cannot be called a poor family. He worked as a software engineer in Dubai. The judgement has also left to the imagination his disappearance and death. This does not sound like justice. The “violation of fundamental rights” that the courts spoke of includes the right to information about why the CID’s appeal was overlooked.

It brings me to the question of whether the increased amount can silence people. Will it set a precedent? The state has paid the sum it felt was due; the rest is left to the culpable policemen. I see a dangerous trend here. Cops are not so rich; they can be used by moneyed people to squash cases with the assurance that they can pay off the victims and their own families will be taken care of. The list of people who can avail of such ‘facilities’ would be politicians, businessmen, rivals, family members, the underworld, just about anyone.

I understand that justice takes way longer than cash deposited in a bank account, and the latter is more important for survival. It would be unfair for me to judge how a victim’s family makes such choices. Yet, some voices should be raised or we will just end up as commodities to be bought and sold.


India: A Fool's Paradise?

In our shastras it is written: “Satyam bruyat, priyam bruyat, na bruyat satyam apriyam.” It means, “Speak the truth, speak the pleasant, but do not speak the unpleasant truth.” I wish to rectify this. The country’s situation today requires that we “Speak the unpleasant truth”. When I said that 90 per cent Indians are fools I spoke an unpleasant truth. 

- Justice Markandey Katju

I agree with him that 90 per cent of Indians are fools. The problem is that by saying this we give ourselves the power to judge a whole spectrum of individuals who we do not know. I understand that it is not possible to know everyone – we often do not know those we live with or engage with socially. However, foolishness itself is of different shades.

A fool is described as one who “does not behave in an intelligent or sensible way”. It follows that the person has been fooled – tricked by someone. If we use the ignorance is bliss formula then the fool is complacent and agrees covertly to be tricked because there is some gain in the pain of being terminologically tainted.

Therefore, 90 per cent of Indians have agreed to this barter of being fooled.

Now that we have got some of this out of the way, I would like to address how this large number of the population do not follow one path and there will be an overlap in different areas of being ‘fools’ and being ‘fooled’, Also, I object to some of the examples given in his Indian Express column.

"First, when our people go to vote in elections, 90 per cent vote on the basis of caste or community, not the merits of the candidate. That is why Phoolan Devi, a known dacoit-cum-murderer, was elected to Parliament — because she belonged to a backward caste that had a large number of voters in that constituency. Vote banks are on the basis of caste and community, which are manipulated by unscrupulous politicians and others."

I think he is playing safe here and using a soft target as an example. If he were really speaking an unpleasant truth, then he would give recent examples. Why use a dead woman specifically from a backward caste?

"Second, 90 per cent Indians believe in astrology, which is pure superstition and humbug. Even a little common sense tells us that the movements of stars and planets have nothing to do with our lives. Yet, TV channels showing astrology have high TRP ratings."

Indeed, astrology is an area that interests a great many people, and is not restricted to India. In western countries, too, the daily horoscope is mandatory; Linda Goodman books are bestsellers. This is not a 90 per cent issue. Astrology is not the sole reason for superstition. Poor people in villages do not consult astrologers or match kundalis, but they are superstitious. As for TRP ratings, the same can be said about soaps and news channels. Is sensationalism also superstition?

"Third, cricket has been turned into a religion by our corporatised media, and most people lap it up like opium…But the media sidelines or minimises these real issues, and gives the impression that the real issues are the lives of film stars, fashion, cricket, etc. When Rahul Dravid retired, the media depicted it as a great misfortune for the country, and when Sachin Tendulkar scored his 100th century it was depicted as a great achievement for India. Day after day, the media kept harping on this, whereas the issues of a quarter of a million farmers’ suicides and 47 per cent Indian children being malnourished were sidelined."

I cannot disagree with this at all. The manner in which Dravid’s resignation was played out, with the emphasis on his retiring “gracefully”, was followed by an ironic moment. Tendulkar finally got his ton ton but refused to announce his retirement and instead went ballistic about senior cricketers discussing it. There was not a word about his retiring gracefully and he was instead lauded for standing up for his right to make a choice. Such contradictions are happily pushed down the throats of the public.

Yet, there is a reason why sports and film stars become heroes. There is money in it. They stand for escapism. The media manipulates a retirement to become an event. A film on farmers’ suicides on a promotion tour grabs more eyeballs than the reality. A TV expose on children suffering is promoted not much differently from a tele-serial. This is not foolishness. It is complacency.

In the next point, Justice Katju repeats his views on the reportage of actor-director Dev Anand’s death:

“In my opinion, Dev Anand’s films transported the minds of poor people to a world of make-believe, like a hill station where Dev Anand was romancing some girl. This gave relief for a couple of hours to the viewers from their lives of drudgery. Such films, to my mind, serve no social purpose, but act instead like a drug or alcohol to send the viewer temporarily from his miserable existence to a beautiful world of tinsel.”

I’d say the same is true of so-called realistic cinema. It pretends to convey the truth, but after those two hours – oh, they are usually shorter because apparently truth is quicker to portray – the miserable return to their miserable world and the not miserable return to their better world only do discuss the jerky camerawork or the starkness of UP/Bihar/mafia/rape. There is greater distancing here than those snow-capped mountains.

"Finally, during the recent Anna Hazare agitation in Delhi, the media hyped the event as a solution to the problem of corruption. In reality it was, as Shakespeare said in Macbeth, “...a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing”…At that time, if anyone had raised any logical questions, he would have been denounced as a “gaddar” or “deshdrohi”…All this was not rationally analysed. Instead, the hysterical mob that gathered in Jantar Mantar and Ramlila grounds in Delhi thought that corruption would be ended by shouting “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and “Inquilab Zindabad”."

Again, the assumption is that the Ramlila grounds had 90 percent of the population’s support. It did not and does not. I concur with what Justice Katju has to say about a “parallel bureaucracy”. It exposed itself as a hollow movement the moment we saw celebrities, who routinely bribe to get their files and projects passed, become part of the Annas. Slogan shouting is a pastime, and many indulge in it. These are probably the 10 per cent who Mr. Katju believes are not fools.

Unfortunately, however well-intentioned his views, his solutions are not unlike a Dev Anand film:

"The worst thing in life is poverty, and 80 per cent of our people are poor. To abolish poverty, we need to spread the scientific outlook to every nook and corner of our country. It is only then that India will shine. And until that happens, the vast majority of our people will continue to be taken for a ride."

The scientific outlook and reasoning are not an answer to poverty. Poverty needs active input from the government. It is as simple as that. It is a terrible fact that we have so many poor, but ‘modern’ thought will not necessarily change that. In fact, it contradicts the view of foolishness, for many among the rich lack a questioning and rational attitude, are steeped in superstition, casteism, communalism, and watch all kinds of escapist fare including a quick fix with the happy drug.

This is where the overlap occurs. Justice Katju, you and I are also fools. He talks about speaking out, which is what the Anna brigade did, which is what several citizens’ groups do, which is what the media does. Does such outspokenness alleviate or awaken or does it only create drumbeaters?

He has quoted a Faiz couplet to convey his views on speaking the unpleasant truth: 

“Bol ki lab azad hain tere
Bol zubaan ab tak teri hai.” 

(Speak, for your lips are free
Your tongue is your own)

To which I shall respond with another one by Faiz:

“Ab wohi harf-e-junoon sab ki zubaan thehri hai
Jo bhi chal nikali hai woh baat kahaan thehri hai”

(On everyone's tongue stays the sheer madness of speech
Once uttered those words have escaped)

Where? Where? 


Dargahs and the Sufi Sell-out

Sufism, which is thought to be an offshoot of Islam, is being used to temper the jihadi face of the religion. This is most offensive. Has anyone asked Hindus to follow the Brahmo Samaj or the Bhakti movements 

For fifteen minutes, father and son were left alone to offer prayers. Aside from the fact that Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal came out spiritually refreshed, it is portrayed as a brave move for a Pakistan leader and the “heir apparent” to visit a Sufi shrine against opposition from fundamentalist forces.

It is said that Mr. Zardari dilly-dallied on Hafiz Saeed because he needed to keep this segment in mind. Let me flip the coin: Why did Dr. Manmohan Singh mention 26/11 at all and talk about bringing the culprits to book? Was he too not catering more to the sectarians among the majority constituency rather than the Indian population? Our politicians are aware of what is going on in Balochistan, but do they even know where Behrampada is? It was one of the worst-affected areas during the 1992-93 riots in the financial hub of Mumbai.

As for visiting a Sufi shrine, paying respects to a saint does not make Zardari secular as a matter of course. He made a donation of Rs. 5 crore ($1 million), which would probably qualify as bilateral trade – he pays and in return gets some feel-good moments, and media mileage. Those carping about it are the ones who made such over-the-top reportage of minutiae possible.

Besides, it might help to know that there are several dargahs in Pakistan. The mullahs strike the more regular places of worship.

There is the patronising attitude of both Indian and Pakistanis of a certain kind to insist on ‘moderation’ in Islam only to appear progressive or under pressure from the clique, and without seeing the context. The Sufi yelp is a convenient transposition to the jihadi bark.

What really does Sufism amount to as a contemporary ‘political’ attitude? Is it a placebo or something you snort and delude yourself with?

In my column of May 15, 2007, in The Asian Age I had explored this with personal glimpses of a visit to the same dargah. Here it is:

“Are you a Sufi?” he had asked.

“You can say that,” I replied rather shamelessly. Since I was not in the flush of youth I could not claim to be a Marxist, so Sufism seemed like a safe bet.

“I see you are not a typical Muslim,” was the response.

Sufism, which is thought to be an offshoot of Islam, is being used to temper the jihadi face of the religion. This is most offensive. Has anyone asked Hindus to follow the Brahmo Samaj or the Bhakti movements only because some red-haired Vanzara guy (a police officer in Modi’s government) likes encounters of the thud kind?

Today, being a Sufi is like being a hippie. You can get away with anything. It has become a convenient cop-out for those who don’t want to identify with any religion. What does a statement like “I do not believe in organised religion” mean? Religion is about a belief system and there is nothing like unorganised religion, though all are often disorganised.

Then there are those who say they are ‘cultural Muslims’. This essentially means they greet you with an ‘adaab’, cook sevaiyaan, speak Bollywood Urdu, enjoy a drink and the occasional ‘Sufi mujra’ and say things like, “Islam needs to change with the times.”

Their favourite calling card is Jalalludin Rumi, the Sufi poet. And any singer who sounds like s/he is gargling claims to believe in Sufism – there is bhangra Sufi, Sufi pop. The Sufi rocks. It is important to dress the part – unkempt clothes, hair dishevelled and lust in the eyes. This, we will be told, is lust for union with god.

Hindi cinema that is always quick on the uptake has a surfeit of “Allah ke bande” and “Ya Ali” stuff doing the rounds. The videos stick to the spiritual quest by showing flying objects and outstretched hands.

Now I hear that even Bahadurshah Zafar is being called a Sufi because he went to temples wearing a tilak and sacred thread. Please! Sufism is not about sight-seeing trips to various god-houses. There is a lot of self-righteous noise being made because our government is not interested in bringing his remains back to the country.

There is no reason to go on about his pining for the soil of his birth; he is not here and to wake up after all these years is obviously a new liberal ploy. Amaresh Misra wrote recently, “If brought to India, Zafar’s remains would be turned into a memorial which millions of ordinary Hindus and Muslims would visit as a pilgrimage site…there will be a surge of emotions powerful enough to wash away enmities. Zafar’s mazaar would heal the Hindu-Muslim divide. For the RSS this indeed is a nightmare situation.”

What a shallow reason. Or merely a way to hit back at the saffron brigade? Hollow symbolic gestures are unimportant, especially if they have lost all validity. We do not need one more mazaar that is politically-motivated.

Sufi tombs are big-time money spinners, anyway. I finally made it to Ajmer from Jaipur. It had taken me years to reach the Khwaja’s sanctum. I had begun to believe in this ‘bulaava nahin aaya’ thing. I had spoken with an elderly friend who is deep into spiritualism. He said, “Baba will try to see you do not reach there. It is to test you. You have to take it as a challenge.”

The idea that a ‘pir’ who I had not said anything against and who I was not planning to ask anything from would want to test me was a dampener. Sometimes it is best for an idea to remain just that. Stepping out of the air-conditioned comfort of the car, having replenished myself with bottled water and organic biscuits, I was thrust into the gullies where every cute young boy claimed to be a Sufi. This looked like a peek into a heaven where god has promised one the best houris and ghilmans. I see this as the true spirit of Islam – no sham of renunciation, rather an acceptance of the good things that we forgo on earth due to morality.

At the dargah, if you are not a head of state or Katrina Kaif showing her legs, they assault you. It is a package deal where you are not left alone; a guide takes you around and decides where you stand, where you throw the flowers – yes, throw – and how long you pray. A few petals fell on the floor and I was reprimanded for insulting the blessings that were showered on me by a man with grease on his palms.

“London se aaye hai?” he asked.



“How is it important?”

“I can recognise people from all over the world. You give what you want, I do not ask. I am a Sufi.”

“Me too,” I declared with aplomb.

I immensely enjoy this ‘looking for the self’ vanity. And god is certainly not in the retail.

Everytime I pass the Haji Ali dargah in Mumbai, right in the middle of the vast expanse of water, I do cast a glance in the direction. I feel embarrassed sometimes, for although the white structure stands beautifully, I know it is the sea that I find beguiling, a sea that has listened to many more of my cries and answered many more of my whys.

“Kyon hifaazat hum aur ki dhoondhen
har nafas jab ki hai Khuda hafiz
chaahe rukhsat ho raah-e-ishq mein aql
ai ‘Zafar’ jaane do Khuda hafiz”.


Sunday ka Funda

In the dead of night, a Sufi began to weep.
He said, "This world is like a closed coffin, in which
We are shut and in which, through our ignorance,
We spend our lives in folly and desolation.
When Death comes to open the lid of the coffin,
Each one who has wings will fly off to Eternity,
But those without will remain locked in the coffin.
So, my friends, before the lid of this coffin is taken off,
Do all you can to become a bird of the Way to God
Do all you can to develop your wings and your feathers."

- Farid ud Din Attar

- - -

let's scatter roses and pour wine in the glass
we'll shatter heaven's roof and lay a new foundation.
If sorrow raises armies to shed the blood of lovers,
I'll join with the wine bearer so we can overthrow them.
With a sweet string at hand, play a sweet song, my friend,
so we can clap and sing a song and lose our heads in

- Hafiz (Ghani-Qazvini)

Modi, Myth, Marx

I have one question: How many people have dared to ask Mr. Amitabh Bachchan why he is endorsing the state of Gujarat as its brand ambassador when chief minister Narendra Modi is seen as the man behind the riots in the states?

Why this silence when our own people gloat about him, and yet the whole business about his popularity overseas is sought to be stopped in its track?

I have already discussed the Time magazine cover. Now the same magazine has a list of powerful people, and it is based on a poll. Modi is leading ahead of Lady Gaga. I suspect if he was on a list of the sexiest men, and the results were based on voting, he might have been leading there as well. It is a simple numbers game. And, converse logic.

In my mailbox there was this note:

Please find below web-link from Time Magazine dated March 29th, 2012 seeking your opinion whether Narendra Modi can be projected as next Prime Minister of India:

In my view, this CHEAP Minister needs to be reminded of his heinous crimes killing innocent Muslim women & children, making home-owners - HOMELESS, and needs to be reminded that he is in GROSS VIOLATION of the OATH he undertook before becoming CHEAP Minister of Gujarat.

After clicking above web-link, kindly cast your vote NO-WAY, and forward to your contacts.

Please remember: TINY RAIN-DROPS fill an OCEAN. - Your VOTE is VALUABLE.

It should be sent to the people of Gujarat, not to me or to hundreds of others living in different parts of the country and the world. I am not willing to add to the cacophony.

This sort of keyboard activism is intrusive and hollow.

Has this email been sent to Mr Ratan Tata, the Ambanis? They are investing huge sums of money in the state and have a large stake in how well he fares. It would take a few clicks from their staff, friends and obsequious wannabe in the same league types to maintain the status quo.

Has this email been sent to Mr. Bachchan who thinks that selling a state is like selling Chyavanprash or insurance? He is certainly not doing it for the love of Gujarat. He has no links with it. So, how believable is his stamp of approval? How many tourists will Gujarat get because of him? How many people will set up businesses because of him? How many will get interested in wildlife and Mahatma Gandhi’s place of birth because of him?

The fact is that this keeps the Modi flame alive. Not a day passes without some reference to him, and I plead guilty to it. It is a Catch-22 situation. One watches from the sidelines as one group projects him or joins in to counteract. Either way, he comes out the winner.

The latest stunt by his well-wishers is an ad in a regional paper that portrays him as Lord Krishna. For those who know a bit about the state, Gujaratis greet each other with “Jai Shri Krishna”.

This is not worth a controversy. However, the Congress party has jumped in.

“Narendra Modi is merely fooling the people. He is only doing this to win the elections. He has portrayed himself as Krishna now, next he will become Ram, Rahim ...He will do something or other.”

All politicians fool the people, and the Congress should concentrate on more important issues to fight him, not this fancy dress. Is the Congress not interested in wooing voters?

Our mythology has always come to the rescue of all parties, and the best way to win the attention of a leader is to anoint him/her as some god-like figure. It may not always be positive, as in the sleepless in Parliament Deve Gowda as Kumbhakaran, or the references to Ravana. Uma Bharti in one of her surly moments had declared that Hanuman was her brother. Indira Gandhi was declared Durga after the Bangladesh war and so is Mamata Bannerji, who even had tableaux dedicated to her during the puja.

What is interesting about Modi’s Krishna avatar is that it will soften the stand on Ayodhya. I have maintained that the BJP-RSS always work in tandem and the strategy is for one section to divert attention. It is interesting that the former RSS chief was K.Sudarshan, and the Sudarshan chakra was the weapon given to Krishna to fight Lord Indra and the Divine Army.

Since the Congress has taken a beating and Time magazine and the US are trying to play India, Modi is used to capitalise on this pop culture high. It is a big-ticket event. But at home, it is more. The NDA will continue on its Ram Temple movement, while Krishna can work as advisor to Arjun.

The tragedy is that no politician is doing what Lord Rama had to do – go on exile.

Mythology is not restricted to gods. Deification comes in different forms, and countering it has its own peculiar dynamics.

Mamata Banerjee has decided that Karl Marx has to go. It is unfortunate that the opposition to the communist parties makes her so blind to an ideology.

Under the pretext of lessening the burden on the students, it is just playing politics in another form:

The head of the school education syllabus committee, Avik Majumdar, said:

"History syllabus in Bengal gave importance to a particular ideology. History is not only about what happened in the past but it is also about how we look at it. We have tried to give our history syllabus a balanced approach. If there was any excess of anything, including Marx, it has to be done away with."

So, will we stop teaching people about the Indian freedom struggle because it is the past? No references to the Holocaust, or the World Wars? I agree that there has to be a balance, but for a state that until a few years ago still thought of Subhas Chandra Bose was possibly alive, what balance can there be? History is part myth, and education goes beyond the syllabus. Will Ms. Banerjee do away with the works of Rabindranath Tagore, a known Anglophile who was also in touch with his roots? What about Leftist literature in the Bengali language?

Somnath Chatterjee, while reacting to this move, made a curious statement:

“If students are to read Marx, Engels and about the Russian revolution, they are not supposed to turn into Communists.”

Even if they are, what is wrong? Schools brainwash students about different aspects. One should hope that a more indepth reading would give them several options to choose or discard.

By erasing history, we create contemporary mythological characters. Modi and Mamata are right up there seeking halos by denying others any space.

(c) Farzana Versey