The Indian Mujahideen and the N-bomb?

When a newspaper report begins with "The prospect of terror organisations getting their hands on a nuclear device has long concerned both security agencies and thriller writers" you know that it is not going to be a joy ride.

The manner in which the Indian Mujahideen (IM) operatives have been captured and their statements in recent months looks too set up. At the start, let us remember that the Indian Intelligence agencies had not even considered the possibility of any local real or tactical involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks during the early stages of investigations. They, like the media and the public, were completely fascinated by the ten Pakistani men in a boat who landed on our shores, surviving the choppy waters from Karachi with packets of dry fruits and dates.

Except for Ajmal Kasab, they were all killed after going on a rampage in the city and taking the lives of 165 people. Whatever the role of the masterminds, it would not have been possible without local support. In 2008, nothing much was done to find out.

The IM chief Yasin Bhatkal (real name Ahmad Zarar Siddibappa) has been doing a lot of confessing ever since his arrest in August. The latest is that he asked his bossman in Pakistan for a minor favour — a nuclear bomb.

The IM has caused enough harm with rudimentary material, but the ring of N-bomb pushes the organisation in a different league. There is a bizarre ring to this narrative.

Yasin informed the officials:

"Riyaz told me that attacks can be done with nuclear bombs. I requested him to look for one nuclear bomb for Surat. Riyaz told me Muslims would also die in that (nuclear bomb blast), to which I said that we would paste posters in mosques asking every Muslim to quietly evacuate their families from the city."

Muslims have died in several jihadi sponsored blasts, and the guys in Pakistan have been killing their co-religionists for years now.

What is really alarming is that the investigating team actually believed this stuff to let it out to the media. How could Muslims "quietly" evacuate if the posters are going to be up on the walls? Does it mean that the police in Gujarat is so ineffectual? What about Muslims who do not visit mosques and cannot read? One does not even need to ask these questions for it is just so implausible, and as though they care for any lives.

Rather conveniently, the report states:

However, the plan could not be initiated since Yasin was tracked by the IB and arrested in August.

Only to tell tall tales. Bhatkal's statements sound like he is campaigning for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, by creating the N-bomb fear psychosis.

End note:

Notice the timing. The NIA that is getting titbits from the IM leader now gives a clean chit to Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, described as "the face of Hindutva terror", in the Sunil Joshi murder case. Rather interestingly, it was "personal enmity" for which she was charged, and the case against her and the others for involvement in the Malegaon blasts remains.

Here again, cart before horse.

© Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. “Which road do I take?” She asked.

Where do you want to go?” was his response.

“I don’t know,” Alice answered.

“Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.”

* * *

Actually, it does. Often the road decides where we want to go rather than the other way round.


No Method, No Madness: The Subtlety of Farooq Sheikh

seene mein jalan aankhon mein toofan sa kyon hai
is shahar mein har shaks pareshan sa kyon hai

(Where is the loneliness headed to
as far as one can see there is nothing beyond)

Farooq Sheikh was probably nobody's favourite actor. Few parents might have looked upon him as an ideal son in his early days, and few women swooned at the sight of him, and few children tugged at his shirt imploring, and few peers felt threatened by his image.

Yet, why is it so easy to remember the characters he essayed, as though they are etched deeply in the heart? Some might think he played the man-next-door, and was therefore identifiable. I do not agree. In fact, there was a touch of stardom to his persona, for every ordinary bloke he was on screen there was the Farooq Sheikh stamp — a slightly hurried manner of speech, the way his hair flopped over his forehead, the shuffling gait, and the thehrao...there are quite a few words in English that would explain this, but none has the quality to stop us for a few seconds in pause mode to pause. I'll settle for tranquil.

He died at 64, and his last film Club 60' was about a couple of senior citizens coping with the loss of a son. It has been on my "to watch" list, but I already know how he would have dealt with it.

Does it mean that his performances had no surprises? No, it is just that they came with added sheen and finesse. For someone who cannot be slotted as a method actor, his spontaneity shone. He was the unheralded mascot of directors like Sai Paranjpye and Muzaffar Ali. In the former's movies about everyday trial and tribulations, garnished with humour and charm, he fit in as though to the manner born. In Ali's 'Gaman', who can forget the helplessness, the silent ache of making a living in a big city, connected to love through the crossed cable wires beyond reach? Who can forget him as the reluctant nawab in love with a courtesan in 'Umrao Jaan'? Who can forget him again as a sidelight in Satyajit Ray's 'Shatranj ke Khilari' (the chess players), as a pawn in the bigger scheme? Who can forget him as the unkempt, unemployed youth who cannot save the girl he loves from being sold to a rich Arab in 'Bazaar'? Who can forget him in this year's huge hit 'Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani', where as the father of an errant son his love pores out of every extra fold in his face and brightens a room that seems always so dark?

In many ways, his film journey was like the start of 'Katha', based loosely on the hare and tortoise fable. Pitted against no less an actor than Naseeruddin Shah, who was the tortoise here, Sheikh took on the hurried hare with a disarming rather than a devious smile. His cocky twirling of the keychain, the languid moves, the showing off, all like a pinch of extra salt. He did not need poison.

His own career was more tortoise-like, slow and steady. He did not win any race, for he participated in none.

In the past few years, he was added to the list of panellists on news channels always looking for that elusive 'nice Muslim'. Except for maybe one occasion when I did not like the way he allowed himself to be projected, I felt that however much the fake moderate/liberal cultural Indian Muslim bogeys tried to co-opt him, he stood apart. He lived a pluralistic life, and did not feel the need to shout about it or even see this as something unusual.

It was so like his performances. He was not celebrated, he was not dismissed off. Perhaps, this was a good thing. Subtlety leaves no marks, but is something you remember without even trying for it does not fade away.

© Farzana Versey


From 'Bazaar':

"Dekh lo aaj hum ko jee bhar ke
Koi aata nahin hai phir mar ke"


Notes from the OPD

At the hospital for consultation. Saw...

At entry point, bags searched. Nervous smiles when the person at security does not figure out why anybody would want to keep chewing gum sticks in a jewellery pouch.

Those carrying fruit are asked to leave them. All those germs must not be allowed in. Human beings can carry as many germs and no one even notices.

In the lobby, anxious faces, some impatient. The liftmen have to answer the same question a hundred times with the standard reply, "Abhi time hai, wait karo (there is still time, wait)."

As soon as it is time, there is a rush. Someone's love and life held in the cubicle that will take them to a room smelling of antiseptic, medicines, and helplessness.

In the canteen, they are gobbling up potato vadas, poha, sandwiches. Coffee, tea, juices. Fast. To rush back to meet a loved one dribbling into a bowl of lukewarm soup.

We exchange smiles at the counter. I ask for coffee; wish one could request for extra froth. Have you realised that the more the froth the less the coffee? Why would I want it, then? Because both coffee and froth don't last forever.

There is a small area for prayers off the lobby. A large idol wearing a garland, flickering flames on lamps. A man has prostrated himself. I can't see his tears. Neither can the deity. Not the flames. Not the person he is praying for.

The OPD is a maze of lanes with chairs stuck to walls. A wheelchair passes through. At one turning, a woman, an in-patient, is on a bed awaiting her turn for tests. Eyes blank as strangers look at her frail frame, drips connected to unseen veins.

Moving on, laps hold plastic bags that hands fish into to bring out files seen umpteen times that make no sense.

What do those figures and percentages mean when they talk about blood-urine-stool? Then there are unintelligible-sounding words and graphs that give one undue importance.

Check out the normal range and whatever falls in the 'less than' or 'more than' could be intimation of mortality. Really.

No chairs vacant. Stand against the marble wall. Try shoulder exercises, try pushing heel against it, try sideways and see blurred reflection. Notice others watching. Smile sheepishly. There is no ice to break.

Watch the toilet. Women walk awkwardly towards it and if locked wait, fidgeting with the ends of dupattas, saree pallus, or strands of hair. The one returning has eyes averted, as though she has just done something she should not have.

Men don't wait for the locked door to open. They knock. Or walk away. The one returning will either adjust zipper in full public view or do a version of twerking to position his stuff.

The doctors' chambers are close to one another, so confirmations are sought about who belongs where and who goes in when.


Bored, I look blankly at the cellphone. Then start sketching. Someone peers. I draw a pair of tits. They could be the globe, the sun, the moon, anything. But I know the person is thinking of something flesh. It is our bodies on test, isn't it?

Bored, I look at my feet. Why am I wearing these peep-toe shoes that are so perky? I slip my foot out, the one that's hurting and see that my little toe has chafed and turned red.

Bored, I ask the person next to me what time it is. She tells me, after looking at my watch.

Bored, I read up the text messages offering me home loans, domestic staff, pest control, even a villa ready to move into.

Bored, I re-read an email that had disturbed me. Now that I look as distressed as the others, I feel less guilty about not having any visible signs of illness.

Bored, I begin counting people in the corridor. I check out their clothes, the way they speak with whoever is with them, their voices, the way they move their hands and tap their shoes and sandals.

Bored, I start chatting with the salesmen from pharma companies with their huge bags. There are a dozen of them. I ask the one standing near me, "Are all of you from the same firm?" No, he says. "Then you are competitors? So, who decides who gets in first?" He finds it funny. He says they have an arrangement.

Bored, I now have twelve young men discussing pharma arrangements with me.

I get a call in my lowest volume mode. I answer it only to say I am very busy.

My doctor's door has been opening and closing, people have walked in and walked out. Someone tries to get in. He says, "After F." She repeats, "Ok, I'll come after F." It is so contagious I too want to say I'll go after F, until I realise that I am F.

I tell the doctor about previous tests, repeat symptoms, add new ones. He takes the vital readings. Peers at reports, x-rays, prescriptions. Scrawls something. Change in medicine. Change in schedule. Change in what I must do and not do. Change is constant.


On the way out, I stop at the chemist's. Crowded. Someone says, "Side please." We are all waiting and there is no side to move to. I leave.

On the way out, I pass the prayer area. A family is standing with folded hands. At least I think it is a family. Their faces glow in the light.

On the way out, the lobby is abuzz. Some film star has come to visit another film star. I pull my shades from my head and wear them indoors. Just for fun. People try to place you. Coloured glasses colour others' perceptions too.

On the way out, I stumble. Yes, old habit. I don't notice a step. 'Ouch' escapes my lips. Is ouch a word or an exclamation? Does ouch really sound like ouch or have our sighs and grunts begun mimicking words?

On the way out, I go to another chemist way past the hospital gates on another street. I buy chocolates. The sales assistant at the cosmetics counter gives me a spiel on a new night cream. What is the difference between night cream and day cream, I ask. She says, "Ma'am night cream you apply at night." I cannot believe it, I tell her. If I use it in the day, will it become night. "Not like that ma'am," she says. "It is good for you." I buy it. If there are things good for me in the world and affordable, I will take them.

On the way out, I forget I had been to the hospital where there are patients who might not be aware of the difference between night and day. It makes me cry.

On the way out, I reach home. In.

© Farzana Versey


Wagers of Labour: The Devyani Khobragade case

Is America humiliating India by riding on the case of a maid? Sounds illogical, but if true then it is bizarre.

The incident in short: Devyani Khobragade, Indian deputy consul general in New York, was arrested for falsifying details on the visa of her domestic help Sangeeta Richard. She was strip-searched, handcuffed, had her DNA swab taken and was put in a lock-up with drug addicts.

The Indian media and politicians have gone into hyperbolic mode that, in fact, is derogatory towards the country’s honour they are seeking to uphold. For example, one headline spoke about “Strip search shows India’s spine.” A minister said, “India can’t be treated like a banana republic.”

Every major political party has spoken out, with one vital difference: they are promoting their own agendas. It has little or nothing to do with electoral gains, for Indians really do not care about the nitty-gritty of who represents them abroad or at home. However, it most certainly helps to push ideologies, whether it is making a reference to the diplomat’s Dalit background, or asking for gay American diplomats to be sent back home by a rightwing member, or the ruling party standing up as one of the largest democracies against the might of the other largest democracy. Add to this a mish-mish of others who want to give a befitting reply to America’s arrogance to prove their feeble patriotism.

Posters too convey a feudal attitude of a bigger role as big brother that ought to protect our sisters.

It is shameful to read about a tit-for-tat policy when we are discussing diplomacy. An unconditional apology is perhaps in order, but the US refuses because it reasons it is about their laws.

After a week, secretary of state John Kerry called up India's national security adviser Shivshankar Menon. Spokeswoman Marie Harf issued a written statement:

"In his conversation with Menon, he expressed his regret, as well as his concern that we not allow this unfortunate public issue to hurt our close and vital relationship with India...The secretary understands very deeply the importance of enforcing our laws and protecting victims, and, like all officials in positions of responsibility inside the US. government, expects that laws will be followed by everyone here in our country.”

This is too vague and obvious that the response is not to the treatment but a reaction to public protests in India.

Foreign minister Salman Khurshid said:

"We have put in motion what we believe would be an effective way of addressing the issue but also (put) in motion such steps that need to be taken to protect her dignity.”

While granting her immunity makes sense, how does not meeting American delegates help serve her dignity? The western media and authorities are not terribly concerned with this issue.

With regard to withdrawing identity cards of US officials that allowed them special privileges over those they were entitled to, it should have been done long ago. Now it appears as though bruised egos are doing the talking. The US consulate and other staff have had many privileges and are afforded protection way above the norm. This reveals a lot about us, and a little about them. For a nation that does not have a history such as ours, where the pecking order is more glaring, its staff overseas seems to quite relish being treated like big saabs, not unlike the colonisers of the British Raj.

India has held its own at least at the level of détente, which is where it matters most. There is no need to behave in a churlish fashion now. Instead of these ‘withdrawal’ measures, would we have the courage to nix the nuclear deal with the US, have an embargo on trade relations, put strictures over fly zone and refueling, a cap over foreign investments, and mandatory surveillance of American companies and consulate offices by Indian agencies? This would be real talking.

Having said this, I do not think any of this is necessary only as a response to Ms. Khobragade. This case should be dealt with between two offices and not two countries. The international agency and labour commission has to look into it.

We have lost all sense of proportion, and failed to notice that the US picked on a mid-level diplomat, and not a high-ranking official. It is also curious why the US arranged for the maid’s family to visit just two days before the arrest of the diplomat. There is a suggestion that this was part of some plan. Why would the American government want to do so? There are strict procedures for immigrations, and if Sangeeta Richard is being given special treatment only because she did not get the salary as per minimum wages, then it might be prudent to ask just how many in the US do.

The helper escaped; her employer got a call asking for money; she complained about the disappearance and extortion; India alerted the counterparts in the US. Nothing happened. Instead, the employer got arrested.

The major issue is the indignity she underwent. It is indeed shocking and rather unusual. What were the authorities going to find after a strip search, a cavity search and a DNA swab? It makes no sense.

If the concern about malpractice, then what about the malpractice of the help seeking employment, which one understands is common practice?

Following the detention of Ms. Khobragade, a report stated:

“Many officials, who have faced such situations, say maids who allege human trafficking, sexual abuse by employers etc have an easier route to obtaining the coveted green cards for them and their families. For this, they are assisted by a veritable army of NGOs and lawyers. Officials said on condition of anonymity that sometimes maids etc are lured by attractive offers from resident NRIs.”

It brings us back to the question: what exactly is the US thinking? At a pinch, it looks like America wants to appear egalitarian towards what is the working class. Although this has not got much publicity, it will convey a message in-house. There has been discussion about minimum wages as opposed to what the domestic staff would earn in India. The expenses are higher in the US, even if board and lodge are taken care of.

It is important to note here that diplomatic staff, and even those of multinational companies, working in India are provided a ‘hardship allowance’, apparently to tide over the hardships they might face in a less developed country, quite forgetting that the dollar goes a long way here. As for the terrible state, they occupy the best real estate and are the toast of big business and the glamour world. They are on the socialite’s wish list all year round, and as they live in the metros there is hardly any reason to complain. If anything, they get far more attention than they would at home. The policy of “reciprocity” will not affect many socially, if we understand the Indian mindset.

The issue has to go beyond removing protective barricades. For those gloating that India is taking a firm stand, let us not fool ourselves.

Playing on anti-American sentiment will cut no ice, because the US has survived it and thrives on it. Count the nations that are against American policies and you will get the picture. Yet, it is American forces that land up to save beleaguered countries, and let us not get into the pragmatic position or even the ethical one here. Or, shall we use the word of currency now – malpractice?

© Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

“In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way. And in order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently.”

- Harry A. Blackmun

At first, these words by a Supreme Court justice in the early years of the last century appear regressive. I particularly dislike the word “treat”. However, it is important to recognize the differences and celebrate them.

Recently I came upon the term ‘microaggression’.

These photographs were posted with this explanation:

Photographer Kiyun asked her friends at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus to “write down an instance of racial microaggression they have faced.” 
The term “microaggression” was used by Columbia professor Derald Sue to refer to “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.” Sue borrowed the term from psychiatrist Dr. Chester Pierce who coined the term in the ’70s.

I was most intrigued by the “smell of rice”. When rice is steamed or cooked simply, it pretty much has no smell. But that is not the point. It is to point out a predominant trait or habit.

There are other such instances, and we will find them in our own environment too. How different is different allowed to be? Why is the ‘other’ always a matter of running down? Even within families not everybody is alike; our friends are not all the same; we too might not look, act or think in a uniform manner all the time.


Mandela and the Politics of Immortality: Art and Artifice

(Published in CounterPunch, Dec 11)

I saw a dead Nelson Mandela in 2010 for the first time. The symbolism of and reactions to his corpse in a work of art then and to his demise now make for an almost eerie comparison.

December 10 Tuesday’s memorial service held at a stadium saw thousands, and many more who watched the live broadcast in three stadia in Johannesburg. 11,000 troops took care of the security arrangement, as several heads of state and government paid tribute. His body will lie in state until the funeral on Sunday. As reported:

“Each morning, his coffin will be carried through the streets of the capital in a funeral cortege, to give as many people as possible the chance to pay their final respects.”

There is choreographed precision, for this would not merely be about homage but ensuring immortality, a fumigated immortality. Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani – leaders with politics quite different and negating what Mandela represented – were at the same place consolidating the pragmatism of denial. Obama has worked within the circumference of the racism apologia. Rouhani signifies a moderate stance where power brokering replaces ideology. Benjamin Netanyahu canceled his plans at the very last minute. An Israeli official said he changed his mind after learning about the high cost, as well as special “security challenges". It goes without saying that he is an opponent of Mandela’s stand on a free Palestine. Obama’s handshake with Raul Castro has become another one of those messiah miracle moments that appeals to the infantile concept of angels flying overhead to clear the air.

Immortality is in many ways about the longevity of status quo. In some cases, death by martyrdom ensures that. Mandela is probably the first political mystic many of us have watched, and now the sinners will canonise him. The process started when he became the first Black president of South Africa. The civilised world could not accept just another black, so he was honoured as the ‘man of peace’; the person they called a terrorist had to be whitewashed as a democrat. During the 27 years that he was imprisoned, the struggle had continued.

It must be mentioned that Winnie Mandela, his wife in all those years, was also imprisoned and tortured. Rather ironically, to make certain that Mandela’s posterity remains untarnished, her three decades of effort to keep his heroism alive have been sacrificed. Her black against blacks political moves are certainly more nuanced and expose the one-dimensional narrative that we would like to imbue Mandela with.

Robben Island, where he was imprisoned, is now not just about prison bars echoing with cries and defiant raised fists; it is a guest book of purple prose penned by many a suited establishmentarian. Nothing establishes it better than the effort in Obama’s speech to disabuse the notion of Mandela as someone “detached from the tawdry affairs of lesser men” only to consecrate him as a ‘higher man’. Notable was the pre-emptive strike of the ‘higher plane’ on which he himself stood:

“Like America's founding fathers, he would erect a constitutional order to preserve freedom for future generations – a commitment to democracy and rule of law ratified not only by his election, but by his willingness to step down from power.”

Using the language of wisdom, he sneaked in references to how “Madiba disciplined his anger” and, rather opportunely for Obama himself, how “he showed in painstaking negotiations to transfer power and draft new laws, he was not afraid to compromise for the sake of a larger goal”. Icons are often the creation of others’ self interest and self-indulgence.

To add to the mythology, it helped that Mandela took his own final breath unmasked by oxygen. The last breath transformed a political sage into a death-defying prophet. That Soweto, the arena of the violent uprising, enshrined this Biblical moment is not without irony. Public sentiment is quite unlike the rehearsed obituaries that seek to gain historical relevance by default. That the leaders would return to order their armies and polish their weapons is the real post-mortem of the déclassé, a deliberately bourgeois reference to underline the pugnacity.

This is where the dead Mandela of 2010 in a painting seems so relevant now. Johannesburg artist Yiull Damaso strove to "confront a subject that remains almost taboo" – the future death of Mandela. Mortality is no message. However, as a metaphor for dying ideals it is significant.

Parodying Rembrandt’s ‘The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp’, the artist had painted Mandela covered in a loin cloth, watched over by world leaders Archbishop Desmond Tutu, President Jacob Zuma and former presidents F.W. de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki, and a 12-year-old boy who died of AIDS.

He explained it thus:

“The politicians around him are trying to find out what makes him a great man. Nkosi Johnson, the only one in the painting who's no longer alive, is trying to show them that Mandela is just a man. So they should stop searching and get on with building the country.”

The African National Congress found the ‘autopsy’ revolting. A party spokesperson had said:

"It is in bad taste, disrespectful, and it is an insult and an affront to values of our society. This so-called work of art is also racist. It goes further by violating Mandela's dignity by stripping him naked in the glare of curious onlookers, some of whom have seen their apartheid ideals die before them."

South Africa has seen a great deal of suffering. Mandela stands for overcoming racism and the onlookers are perhaps made to watch not his literal death but to understand what the movement he represented was about. Using a child, an AIDS orphan, who died of an illness that requires extreme caution, stands for the diseased parts of the system that has no moorings.

The almost naked form reveals a man without any encumbrances, and the loincloth is at a very basic level both tribal culture and childhood. As dress has become our mode to judge civilisation and hierarchy, it might appear to be racist at some level. But the ANC, by referring to the work as “a foreign act of ubuthakathi (bewitch), to kill a living person”, indulged in convenient sorcery by ignoring the leader’s long tenure as the ‘living dead’.

The painting was displayed in a mall, where nuance would be lost to consumerism. Whether it was intentional or not, this too comes across as a potent message. The symbolism of hawking Madiba as a shining hope, by subverting the essentiality of his tribalism and history, has been an egregious pastime of the intelligentsia.

Nelson Mandela in a glass case has indeed become a work of art and not a bad investment for the glory-seekers.

© Farzana Versey


Images: 1. A stamp commemorating him in Russia; 2. Slogans during the anti-apartheid movement; 3. Cameron, Obama and the leader of Denmark posing for selfies at the memorial service of Mandela; 4. The painting

Courtesy: New York Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian


A touch of arrogance: The Kejriwal USP?

We are in a hurry to create heroes, especially if he happens to 'conquer' the seat of power. Is that not the reason why, despite the BJP doing well in all the four states that went to polls for the assembly elections, the accolades have been reserved for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)?

Jammu & Kashmir CM Omar Abdulah said, "Never underestimate the underdog/ newcomer with a fresh face and message."

Arvind Kejriwal, an IITian and Magsasay Award winner, can hardly be called an underdog. His message, too, is not new. Following his win, he said:

"Who are we? We are the aam admi of this country. We are very ordinary people. But when ordinary people stand up to injustice, they shake up the establishment."

The establishment has been shaken quite a few times before too - whether it was by S.P. Mukherjee, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, Jayaprakash Narayan, Morarji Desai and the Janta Party, V.P.Singh and the Jan Morcha and later Janata Dal, the NDA, and all these in response to the Congress. When the Congress returned, it also shook up what was the prevailing establishment.

If Kejriwal means doing politics differently, then it is too early to accept it. We might rejoice over unknown names when it comes to water, electricity; pamphleteering and house visits also have a feel-good factor.

Rahul Gandhi too has admitted that the AAP used non-traditional people, which was its strength. He should not see too much in it or try to "learn", as he said the Congress should, because there is something called flash-in-the-pan.

Look no further than Bollywood to figure out how many remarkable "debuts" have not had a repeat chance.

Kejriwal further states:

"This is the first time that an election has been fought on the basis of truth and honesty. Till now, we associated politics with crime and corruption. For the first time, people have looked at honest politics and the results show that the masses are fed up with the corrupt politics of BJP, Congress and their likes. If these parties do not change, people will uproot them."

A simpler term is anti-incumbency, although "uprooting" has a nice romanticised ring to it. There is a touch of arrogance to his statement. Those who fought against the Emergency did so for upholding truth. The Bofors kickbacks resulted in the JD win. One may not agree with the politics of some of the parties, but they fought for something.

He is positioning himself as a messiah, and one is not sure whether the "we" is the royal we or he can claim to speak on behalf of us or even for the common man. The common man does not recognise corruption because he does not have the means to acquire anything. If a tube well is not installed in a village because some bureaucrat has swallowed up the money, then for the common man it is water that is the issue, not the sahib. He is pragmatic enough to realise that this immediate boss is his connection with the world.

The major parties do have criminals, they are corrupt. Some of the leaders known for their notoriety have been getting reelected. Why does this happen? Where is the intelligence of the public? Where is this victory of democracy that we are hearing about now?

The 'cleanliness' of the AAP has to do with it being new. One splash of mud, and it will be laundry time.

Meanwhile, Anna Hazare has resurfaced as the wise man who showed Kejriwal the way. "Delhi ‘andolan’ has helped AAP,” he said. This might sound opportunistic, but it happens to be true.

Kiran Bedi, another member of the core team of the People's Movement, has said: "Why can't they (BJP and AAP) sit down together and explore an option of a common minimum programme."

Bedi has come out as a clear BJP supporter, but then Anna too was a tacit supporter, and one cannot rule out Kejriwal's own ideological allegiance. The reason he has said he will not ally with any big party is to ensure some time. He will weigh his options carefully for the Lok Sabha elections next year. [Of the 70 seats in Delhi, the BJP got 32 seats, the AAP won 28. 36 seats are required to form the government.]

Those who are running down the quick schemes by the Congress Party, even if they were rushed in time for the elections, they had been in the pipeline. That they were to help the common man ought not to produce sniggers now. After all, the AAP also capitalised on the corruption scandals. It was a case of being at the right place at the right time.

© Farzana Versey


On the common man fallacy in this earlier post: Aam Aadmi in the time of elitism


Sunday ka Funda

"We could live for a thousand years
But if I hurt you
I'd make wine from your tears..."

Find these words interesting. Sounds a bit cruel on the face of it, but I am thinking of old wine, the longevity of tears that will be held precious even after a thousand years.

And just for the moment too...this:


Sanjay Dutt and the case for prison reforms

It would not be anything new if I said it is a mockery of the law. This is beyond comprehension. Actor Sanjay Dutt who was jailed for arms possession in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case is to be let out on parole once again on grounds of his wife's ill-health.

The latest report suggests that there are protests outside Yerwada Jail by activists of some political parties. All this happened primarily after some media outlets carried pictures of Maanyata at a film screening and a party last night, which signaled that she was perhaps quite well. The report says a doctor did check on her, and she is suffering from a liver tumour and suspected heart ailment.

How did Sanjay Dutt manage to get a whole month for his wife's ill health? Who decides on the tenure of care that would be required, as an illness has no timeframe, especially if the specifics are not spelled out?

The important questions here are about favouritism and the law. It is obvious that he manages to pull strings and get his way, something denied to others in the same case during the same period.

Zaibunisa Kazi, a woman in her 70s, was denied parole despite her illness. Will Sanjay Dutt stand surety for her? The answer would be: he cannot because he is a convict. Precisely the point. As a convict, how do the authorities take his word?

On the earlier occasion it was his own illness. Aren't prisoners sent to jail doctors? Should there not be adequate checks during his period of furlough to ensure that his health is alright, a mandatory requirement when a prisoner is inside the premises? Jail authorities can be pulled up if there is a problem. What are the standards when a prisoner is on parole? What if he commits suicide? Who will be responsible?

Should we blame the person seeking it or those granting it? If I were a celebrity, then it is possible that I might try and milk my status as much as possible. What is the law for — to play into my whims? Is the law my chattel that I can call upon to do as I will it to?

There is much talk about corruption, but what is going on here is a form of corruption on the part of the police and law agencies. Under pressure state home minister RR Patil passed the buck:

“The parole has been granted by the Divisional Commissioner. We are looking into the matter and have sought documents which formed the basis for allowing his release on parole.”

From the start, this case was in the public eye because the legal system deemed it fit to be seen as proper. To maintain that sense of propriety it sent a bunch of people to jail. Once you take this decision, then at least respect it. If Sanjay Dutt's behaviour is good, what is the aged Zaibunisa Kazi doing that isn't good?

I am all for humane treatment of prisoners, but it should apply across the board. (It was not done while convicting, as we know about ministers who had arms at the time.) If the law too believes it buckled under pressure while sentencing Dutt and a couple of others, then is there room for reopening the cases?

Perhaps it is time to use this instance to discuss prison reforms. Why can we not have a system of a broad-based house arrest, where convicts who are to be trusted can continue to contribute to society while being denied certain privileges? Doing carpentry and cooking may work in the barracks, but prisons can become better places if there are fewer prisoners in them. They can benefit if the 'homed' convicts are made to pay a portion of their earnings to the welfare of prisons. Imagine a Sanjay Dutt contributing, say, 10 per cent of his earnings.

There should certainly be strictures, such as showing up every ten days and filling up a roster, impounding of the passport and whatever identification papers the government deems fit, and the police can conduct surprise checks whenever they wish but accompanied by an appointed ombudsman from an impartial agency. Public appearances in the case of celebrities should not be permitted. Between work and home, the legal system can create a group of individuals who are not merely holed up and then granted special leave that looks like a farce.

If justice is seen to be done, it can be so outside the prison too. As I had written in an earlier piece:

a criminal is not answerable to me or you. The government, the judiciary, the police are. They are public servants. As for the ‘watchdogs’, it would be good for them to remember that those who prefer selective justice are the real anti-social elements.

The same applies to selective treatment of those who have seemingly got their just desserts.

© Farzana Versey



Everybody wants to claim Nelson Mandela. India has appropriated that right with its most bankable crutch: Mahatma Gandhi. Mandela, who fought against apartheid, was imprisoned for 27 years, is seen in India as the man inspired by Gandhi.

Of course, he expressed admiration. Yes, Gandhi was thrown out of a train in South Africa. But their lives and politics were vastly different.

That ought to not even be a point right now. Just as quoting Barack Obama on Mandela, except as an obituary, makes no sense. Mandela was the product of a violent struggle in his lifetime and was called a terrorist. He did not initiate a war on terror, he did not live to send drones to other countries.

In his own words: "Armed struggle must be a movement intended to hit at the symbols of oppression and not to slaughter human beings."

He was not a traditional pacifist when it mattered. As he said, "During the times of tensions, it is not the talented people who excel, who come to the top, it is the extremists who shout slogans."

In the rush to pay tributes, people don't seem to realise that they are conveying something entirely different from what they intend to say, simply because they are saying it badly.

Take this ad for a dairy product company.

It has sensibly not put in a reference to its butter. But, how exactly did Nelson Mandela rise each time we fell? Who are the 'we' represented here?

This does not even sound complimentary; rather, it is an insult. Did Mandela rise when others faltered? Does it mean that his whole struggle was about such flawed behavior on the part of the rest instead of a fight for what he believed in?

There is a quote by Confucius, which seems to have inspired the ad:

"Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."

Mandela did not give up despite the incarceration. It was his glory, his achievement. He did not wait and watch for others to fall so that he could rise.

In fact, prior to the 1994 elections, he said: "If there is anything I am conscious about, it is not to frighten the minorities, especially the white minority. We are not going to live as fat cats."

End note:

"Nelson Mandela Becomes First Politician To Be Missed" — Headline in The Onion

© Farzana Versey


Khaps and Taliban — Sometimes Misunderstood?

The idea that the khap panchayats want to get an image makeover is not new. They tried it earlier. So, will it be any different when they launch their website on December 14?

Whether we like it or not, khaps play an important role in villages, especially since the ministers are too busy in circuit houses, if they ever show up. Often, the regressive attitudes expressed and, worse, action taken against women, including honour killings, are not exclusive to panchayat members, but part of the conditioning and attitude.

Sunil Jaglan of Jind's Nogama khap has been quoted as saying:

"We feel positive work done by khaps is not highlighted by the media. Khaps resolve disputes related to property and matrimonial affairs but these do not get prominence anywhere.''

This could well be true, and given that there is more and more a need to delegate, khaps can play an important role. Perhaps a policy of reward, by way of recognition for their good work, might help them to understand why there is a negative perception based on their diktats and how detrimental it is to the society they claim to represent.

It is obvious that they are essentially trying to woo the media and the outside public, and such a website might not even be accessible to the villagers. However, the fact that they are in the open would be a check on their activities. In fact, it might help if they also dealt with issues not restricted to their domain. It would then reveal how the big bad city denizens behave, too.

The flipside of such 'reaching out' could be self-censorship of news and views, and if the media depends solely on their version the truth might never be out. Or, it might be reported as sensational items, like the Deoband fatwas that nobody except the mullahs sitting in there care about.

If the khap initiative does turn out to be an exercise in such value judgments, then it would end up telling the rest of the country who is boss.

For now, the benefit of doubt is due.


Another case of an organisation that will never get good press is the Taliban. There was a news item about how the Talibs told Pakistanis that howsoever great cricketer Sachin Tendulkar is they should not praise him, but instead praise their own Misbah-ul-Haq, even if he is a bad player. Headlines like “Stop praising Indian Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, Taliban warn Pakistani media" made it to all major international and national newspapers, with the usual moral authority that comes with being on the side of the good guys.

Turned out that the intelligensia got it all it so wrong that the Taliban statement came across as superbly nuanced!

The media took one para out of context and missed out on the analogy, exemplified in this last bit:

"This logic certainly opposes reality, just like the example of cricketers I just gave, everyone knows how much it is opposite of reality to not admire the greatest cricketer [Tendulkar]."

Of course, there will be many who would ask: "But haven't the Taliban done so many vile things? They are capable of saying this."

Yes. But there is no ethical reason for those who are 'superior' to mislead. This is not just about what the Taliban says, but how it is perceived in a generally antagonistic Indo-Pak context.

I was particularly struck by the photograph I have used here. It seems to suggest that Sachin is under threat from the Taliban.

It is a little amusing, though, that these guys want to clarify their stand on a cricketer. But, I do sigh in relief that no one has used the done-to-death headline saying that the Taliban bats for Sachin.

It was a 'no ball'.

© Farzana Versey


Cartoon: The Hindu
Image: Express Newsline


Sunday ka Funda

"A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end… but not necessarily in that order."
- Jean-Luc Godard

The battle between what constitutes good cinema and bad cinema will never end. The mainstream, whether in Hollywood or Bollywood, will be looked down upon, even as the majority of people crowd the movie halls to watch escapist fare, or distorted versions of events.

I have been quite open about my love for Indian cinema, despite its flaws, and partly because of the manner in which the original New Wave has been completely altered to make way for the sanctimonious creators of pulp redefined.

A while ago I read about this conversation between actor-director Manoj Kumar and Satyajit Ray, two people from different genres of filmmaking:

At the 1967 International Film Festival in New Delhi, Ray told Kumar that he found his film 'Upkar', a tad too melodramatic. After a pause, Kumar replied: “Manikda (Ray’s nickname), consider the scene in 'Charulata' where Soumitra Chatterjee first meets Madhabi Mukherjee. There is sound of thunder and lightning in the background. Is it not melodrama?”

A smiling Ray apparently patted Kumar’s shoulder and said, “You caught me!”

"Drama is life with the dull bits cut out."
- Alfred Hitchcock


A few months ago we had an interesting discussion here about a song from a Manoj Kumar film


The World According to 'Gap':
Sikhs, Tokenism and Mistaken Xenophobia

[Published in CounterPunch, Nov 29-Dec 1]

Gap has managed two marketing scoops within a short period. It got a Sikh model, Waris Ahluwalia, to be the face of its Holiday 2013 campaign, and when one of the hoardings was defaced it scored by acting against the racist attack and promptly posted the ad as its background picture on Twitter. 

People who wear Gap could now also wear a halo. Those who did not became potential loyalists. Are people all that easy to please, or are these gestures a great way to divert attention from dealing with the real stuff? Who buys anything only because of the models? Lady Gaga's piss, the latest gimmick to market it as a limited edition fragrance, is a quirk. 

The conscience of commerce 

Had Gap used Prabhjot Singh, the Columbia University professor who was beaten up on September 21 after being called “Osama” in the increasing incidence of White terror the symbolism would have been more potent. But that is never the plan. A message by a Sikh on Gap’s Facebook page says it all: “Thanks for honouring Sikh culture in your ad, Gap. #Respect.”

Somewhere in the Bronx, in the hoarding of the garment ad that had the words "Make love", love was replaced with bombs. Beneath the logo was scrawled, “Please stop driving taxis”. 

The person who helped this drivel get a premiere opening was a media commentator. He took it upon himself to awaken people about what goes on in “a haven of tolerance”, New York City, where one in every three residents is an immigrant. “I wanted the world to see how millions of brown people are viewed in American today,” wrote Arsalan Iftikhar. 

Gap, according to him, is way ahead in fighting for minority rights. “…as the year 2014 inches closer to us, I want to live in an America where a fashion model can be a handsome, bearded brown dude in a turban who is considered as beautiful as a busty blonde-haired white girl in see-through lingerie.”

He completely loses the plot. For someone who describes himself as a “person of color” he seems to forget that white is also a colour. He has problems with stereotypes and yet falls into the same fetid rut not only regarding race, but also of how women are viewed by men. The transposition is disingenuous and completely off. In fact, it only conforms to the set piece of advertising as titillation. 

The Gap ad is not the first. In June 2008, Kenneth Cole had put out an ad that stated: “A Sikh male, about 25 to 35 years old, who is ‘attractive’” for a worldwide campaign titled ‘Non-Uniform Thinkers’. Sonny (Sandeep) Caberwal was one of the faces of its campaign focus: “We all walk in different shoes.” This too was in New York. A life-size picture of the model was at the Rockefeller Centre. The Sikh community honoured Caberwal.

How does being attractive and of a certain age send out any special message? The fashion house specified Sikh male; they wanted a bloody turban to sell their “different shoes” idea. They were using him and his religious identity. “Non-uniform” means different, as in not one kind. So the Sikh was being hoisted up in cardboard form but he sure was not a part of the mainstream. 

Caberwal had said in an interview: 

“People think Sikhs are fundamentalist, outside the mainstream of society, or immigrants or something is wrong with them. Kenneth Cole wanted to represent the fabric of American culture. There’s a lot of struggle in the United States as to how we perceive people post 9-11. I’m as much American as anyone else.”

Racism in the retail space is about magnanimity, and has little or nothing to do with how perceptions work or can change. Over-the-counter tokenism has many takers because it works as a placebo. 

Clutching at origins 

Most citizens of a pluralistic society would also want to retain traces of their origin, and hold it up as evidence of multi-culturalism. However, it is not quite so simple. If the ‘superior race’, and by that I mean the host country, offers hors d’oeuvres by way of acceptance, then the immigrant guest indulges in a ritualistic form of debriefing.

The Surat Initiative’s noble purpose is to introduce themselves to Americans by offering to tie a turban for them. This is mere exotica, a feather in the cap, flowers in the hair, not inclusiveness. No one dressed up in costume, as it were, would feel different, even if they look different. Besides, who are these Americans? Do the Sikh groups approach Blacks, Hispanics, Asians? There is an assumption that only white Americans are the authentic citizens; it nullifies the whole theory about the “core values” of the country. Pluralism isn’t about pointing out differences.

Prabhjot Singh too appears to carouse the pantomime when he says, "I want to live in a community where somebody feels comfortable asking me 'Hey, what's on your head? Why do you have that beard? What are you doing here? Are you American?' I think we should be able to ask those questions.” 

In civil discourse, this would be deemed offensive. He is putting an identity to the test of a prejudging jury. It is frightening and intrusive. Do Jews have to explain to anybody in the United States what the kippah they wear on their head signifies and whether they are American despite it, which is the implication of Singh’s argument? If this serves to ensure an equitable social space, would Sikhs be as comfortable posing queries about American naturalised habits and rituals? 

Nobody needs a modern state to be discussing religion as its primary hallmark. We have the Pam Gellers who have problems with “Muslim turkeys” for Thanksgiving. Their response to a faith arises mainly from their adherence to another. A slaughtered bird does not adhere to any belief system. 

Mistaken identity 

It is not said out loud, but the Sikh community does resent being the fallout on the war against terrorism. In so many ways this is tragic that there has to be a study on ‘Turban Myths’ by Stanford researchers and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF). 70 per cent Americans think Sikhs are Muslim. Therefore, one cannot dismiss this as ignorance. Stereotypes are blinding and willing to smother whatever comes in the line of blinkered vision. The Sikh Coalition got supermarkets that had an Osama costume with a turban and a stick removed from their racks. One of its directors said, “If you lost a loved one during the 9/11 attacks or during our nation’s war against al Qaida, or if someone attacked your father in a hate crime because he wears a turban, I doubt this costume would make you comfortable.” 

Does this not demean those who might choose to dress in this manner? Hate crimes predate 9/11 as has been noted: “During the 1979 hostage crisis, Sikhs were called Iranian. During the first Iraq war, we were called Iraqi. After 9/11, we've been called al-Qaeda, Taliban and Afghan, with all the accompanying slurs.” 

Jagjit Singh Chauhan, the driving force behind the separatist movement for Khalistan in Indian Punjab, had a strong presence in the US and Canada. It is revealing that no indigenous slur was cast on the Sikhs because of him.

The weight of post 9/11 is a heavy stone. The first victim of reaction to it was a Sikh. Anger that coagulated into fanaticism did not differentiate between a “towel head” and a “rag on the head”. Coupled with a beard, these identity marks harked back to Osama in the public imagination. 

After the Wisconsin attacks, I had written this:

Can this not happen to others, too? Did the Sikhs not get killed for being Sikhs in their home country, India, where the ruling party conducted an operation right inside the Golden Temple? Have the Sikhs not had to fight for their right to wear turbans, to carry their symbolic swords? Was there any al Qaeda then?

That a term like “mistaken xenophobia” is used in the mainstream makes it obvious who the real targets are. That this does not disturb the diaspora as a whole is distressing.  There is a pecking order among the ‘others’, and more often than not each group wants to keep its universal master in a fine frame of mind. Co-option becomes slavery.

A contrarian viewpoint comes from Clark Harris, a white convert to Sikhism, who wants to uphold the culture of a martial race of the faith and is also a proponent of gun culture:

“I just can’t imagine going out without wearing a handgun in today’s society. You’re just really asking for trouble especially in our situation where there are so many people out there who hate us for looking Sikh…From what I saw, he (Prabhjot Singh) wasn’t wearing a kirpan, and I think that would’ve been a real deterrent…I think there are enough teachings in Sikh history, like by Guru Gobind Singh, that we should be able to defend ourselves and defend those who can’t defend themselves. That’s why, in my mind, we wear the kirpan so it’s not a showpiece.”
Responses to racism as well as defensiveness do become showpieces. The model and the persecuted become eye-candy, granted space by those of privilege. The commercial agenda is not to work on abuse, but on hurt sentiments. This gets the community members to lend support in tangible ways.  To be assimilated by those on a temporary guilt trip loosens many strings, including the purse ones. 

(c) Farzana Versey


Rubbles and Reminscences: 26/11 Redux

The frosted window had what looked like crushed ice stuck on it. I did not reach out to touch it. Had I tried, it would not brush roughly against my skin. It was encased inside another glass. This was at the top floor of Leopold Café.

A friend was visiting and I decided to show ‘my Mumbai’ in the limited time we had. He was not new to the city, so my version would just be one more. We entered the place where you can sit and watch the crowds on Colaba Causeway. The pavement does not have potholes as it always did. It is a neat walkway now. As always, there were too many people talking in too many tongues. Foreigners dominated. No space.

We were directed to the top. I have never sat there. With little choice, we climbed the steep stairs and found a small table. After ordering some light snacks, I recounted memories of earlier visits. Until, he looked at the glass and said, “Hey, they have retained this.”

This was a remnant of the Mumbai attacks. Leopold was one of the targets. I had not bothered to look because nothing was visible below. Now I saw that crushed glass. I cringed.

We left soon after.

Walking down the road I was tempted to pick up some street stuff and did. The Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Hotel is not too far. There are barricades like coffins every few yards.

In the street, I went click-click. Then my visitor wanted to drive via Nariman Point and as we passed Hotel Trident, he said, “Do you realise we have just done a 26/11 sites tour?”

I was shocked. Shocked that it had happened without any plan, without any thought.

The fact is that I should have thought.

I had done so back in those days when I protested against Mumbai’s Charge of the Lightweight Brigade, when I avoided being included in all manner of rallies and panels.

Should I have written this blogpost, then? Yes. Because I did it. You may not know, but I will. There is no escape. It was not for 26/11. It was just for being a part of my city, for showing it off. A city that is more than what destroys it, more than the sounds that echo in large halls.

The horse-driven carriages had lights brighter than I had ever seen before and in one there was a family from another Indian city. I loved the look on their faces as they watched the sea. My sea. I owned it even as I sometimes thirst for droplets.


A couple of months ago, I was searching for one of my lost pieces. I found this here

Not to be coddled by anybody, not even the liberals. Not to whine about it, even though people like martyrs. Tough luck. Deny them that pleasure of liking. Of anointing.

At this moment, I feel privileged and, although I detest the word, humbled that I could continue to write because I love to. The noises of appropriators or authorised dissenters could not muffle my voice. I owe it as much to those who have listened to it.

© Farzana Versey 


When the verdict was passed on the 26/11 case, the judges roundly pulled up the media. There was barely any discussion about that. 

And Blind is up again, if you want to listen to it.


No end to justice: The Aarushi-Hemraj murder verdict

The verdict is out. But this is only another beginning. Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, parents of 14-year-old Aarushi have been pronounced guilty of her murder and that of their domestic help, Hemraj, in the early hours of May 16, 2008. There is also the charge of destroying evidence and filing a false FIR.

They issued a statement saying they will fight for justice. For themselves. Aarushi, even in death, was treated with disdain. Every bit of her for public consumption. No one was concerned about her reputation. Dead people don't have reputations. No one was concerned about Hemraj. I include myself in this group of people who treated his death cursorily.

This is what the death of the poor mean. What is even more astonishing is that after the verdict, there is sadness. People have short memories. The media that enjoyed the spectacle of conjecture now talks about probity. The media that sensationalised the case now thinks in terms of giving respectful space and not judging. Who were they to judge, to begin with? But not only did they judge, they decided on the 'turn of events'. Reporters were posted in Noida and acted as detectives. The change was quite evident.

I have written quite a bit about the case and following are excerpts.

June 2, 2008

Her father Dr. Rajesh Talwar is under suspicion for having killed her and their servant because he found them in a compromising position; other reports suggest that the girl knew about her father’s extra-marital affair. Whatever it is, I do find it surprising that the mother, Nupur, is appearing on several television channels to save her husband. She should be in the lawyer’s offices, with the police. Not giving sound bytes to the cameras. I am afraid I feel no sympathy for her when I watch her. Besides, they say she was in the house when the murders took place.

[I mentioned today that she was on TV a day after the murder. There were cameras covering this, so I did think in terms of a soundbite. Now, it appears she gave an interview to NDTV a week later. Apparently, that is fine. Also, I am told to remember that she was "stoic". That is not the point. It is whether you want justice for your daughter or for your husband and yourself?]

Now comes the part about the media. Aaj Tak channel had a story in the initial days titled, “Papa yeh tu ne kya kiya?” (Papa, what have you done?) What is this? Some soap opera? And when the mother was mentioned they played the track of the song “Maa…tu sab jaanti hai…” from the film Taare Zameen Par.

July 13, 2008

Criticising the UP police once again for their alleged irresponsible handling of the Aarushi murder case, Union minister for women and child development Renuka Choudhary said that the family should sue the police. “The family should sue the state police and those responsible for bungling the case must be suspended,’’ she said.

This isn’t mere concern about how the case was handled and the character assassination of Aarushi’s father Dr. Rajesh Talwar. It is about party politics.

This is a way to make the Mayawati government accountable.

It is true the police was most shabby in how they went about getting evidence, but why did the Talwars not mention their compounder Krishna’s name right then? Now he is the prime suspect. The question also remains as to where the parents were when the murder took place and how soon did they inform the police.

And just for the information of the minister, it wasn’t merely the cops who tarnished Aarushi’s name; the media went haywire. There was no need to report all that and no need to show all those teachers and students certifying the girl’s reputation. All this only draws attention to something that may be untrue but gives enough scope for rumours.

Dec 30, 2010

The CBI can’t solve a case. Aarushi... has left enough traces. But those traces do not seem to find their way to the source.

The Central Bureau of Investigation came into the picture soon after the Noida police made no headway. Perhaps, the entry of the CBI was the big mistake. Big people need big people to get mouths shut.

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

It is impossible that the findings reveal absolutely nothing. What did the DNA sample show? What did the brain-mapping reveal? Who cleared the room before the police came in? It need not be one person. These are people in different places doing different things. Who was calling the shots? And why?

Instead, the CBI has washed its hands of the case:

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

It has been only two and a half years. There are cases that are pending for decades. I would like to see what Aarushi’s parents do next. It must surely be tough on them to have a daughter raped and murdered in the next room and the place cleaned up while they were around just a few metres away, isn’t it? They should file a case against the Noida police and the CBI and the hospital authorities for shirking their duty and making a mockery of justice.

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

I don't know what to add except that there are silenced Hemrajs too.

There cannot be closure for facts change over a period of time because perceptions of them do.


Sunday ka Funda

"Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god."
— Aristotle

What happens if beast and human come together? When I saw this photograph, even before reading the article, I found immense beauty in it. Beauty, not courage, not adventure. We have seen divers, all dressed up and prepared to face sharks. In an older video, Christina gets real close, and the BBC commentary even talks about the sexual attraction, of mimicking a shark, of the shark being in a trance.

There are other questions that can be raised about interfering with nature, courting danger. And what happens were the shark to turn violent? Who is to blame? Would killing the shark that you have been embracing until now be deemed self-defence? Can it, if we rally extend the argument, be a crime of passion?

The article does not have answers. However, it describes the encounter:

At the 22-second mark, one man swims down and grabs the dorsal fin of the lemon shark. After riding it for several seconds, he does something truly shocking. He swings around to the bottom of the shark, gives it a bear hug and hangs on belly to belly. His head is precariously located just below the shark's mouth and he hangs on for several seconds before finally letting it go.

Before you watch this, let me ask Aristotle: Is it solitude when man and beast come together in what could be a spiritual (and a broad sense godly) experience?


Will Tarun Tejpal open a can of worms?

The manner in which the case of the editor who sexually exploited an intern is being played out one would imagine that people never had a low opinion of the media. From the looks of it, they expect the highest standards of propriety, chastity and morals from the news purveyors.

Tarun Tejpal, founder and editor of Tehelka, the investigative and sometimes controversial magazine, forced himself upon a young reporter from his office during the recent ThinkFest organised by the magazine. He wrote a letter to the managing editor; she, in turn, forwarded it to the rest of the staff with a short note.

Not noteworthy

The letter has been taken to the cleaners, and rightly so. But, let us pause and think. What could he have said? I am surprised he put anything on record at all. Why is nobody suggesting that perhaps he has been forced to by one or two of the many who are supposed to be sponsors or 'well-wishers' of Tehelka?

In the note, he does a promo for his mag. Let us look at it from the long-term perspective. He has to keep his best people around, and ensure that they are not affected by the scandal. It is part patriarch and mostly self-interest. The financial stakes are not to be sniffed at. His mention of a six-month leave is probably a face-saver. Or, perhaps, someone up there has provided some sort of guarantee?

Tejpal, of course, attempts to cover his tracks:

"It is tragic, therefore, that in a lapse of judgment I have hurt our own high principles. Because it involves Tehelka, and a sterling shared legacy, I feel atonement cannot be just words. I must do the penance that lacerates me."

This is all about him, and not a thought for the young woman, the daughter of his old colleague, his daughter's friend. However, the quibble over his use of terminology has revealed something: most have played right into it by getting moralistic themselves rather than treating his behaviour as a crime that needs to be tried legally.

Shoma Chaudhary in her letter to the Tehelka team has called it an "untoward incident". Again, much as this term is reductionist, did she have a choice if she had to forward a note? Could she go beyond the mandate, that too when she was to be in charge of the team?

On NDTV last night, she came across more strongly, and spoke about treating this case as sexual harassment at the workplace.

One needs to broadbase this, to include SH in other work-related environment too. Women journalists have to conduct interviews that are often not without the uncalled-for attention they receive. I am deliberately being euphemistic here, because adding to the sexual connotations just gives those looking for a high a talking point and little else.

Look, who's talking

This incident, like many others, has become about scoring over an opponent. Tehelka was supposedly a magazine with Congress leanings, so the opposition is quick to bring in references to Asaram Bapu and even the stalking by 'Sahib' in Gujarat, as though one evil cancels the other. Then there are competitors in the media, who have found a wonderful opportunity to pick holes at everything Tehelka has done, as though their own house is clean.

Should this incident be an example for exposing the media? Yes. But, if anybody thinks it is an isolated incident, then they are wrong. The assumption behind wanting such an exposé is that the public really did not believe such a thing was possible and the media was above-board. I doubt if it is naïveté. It seems more like the feigning of innocence so that they can now concentrate, rather lasciviously, on a case study.

However, can one entirely wipe out the work of many of its reporters only because of what their boss did, unknown to them? Now that they know, should they be punished for being part of the organisation?

The problem here has ceased to be about sexually abusive behaviour. Tejpal is the right candidate for pillorying. Brash, flashy, and sanctimonious. Even a letter written by an environmentalist made a mention of him and his red Pajero.

To be noted therefore: If a person in a position of power is not brash, flashy and does not have a red Pajero there is a better chance of his crime being less eyeball-grabbing. Tejpal had plans to start Prufrock, some sort of elite club. Where did he get the money, how can he do such elite things after claiming to stand up for investigative journalism...such questions are posed by those who seem clueless about the media, or think it better to go along with the flow.

The whole corporate structure works on barter, and as has happened often power is abused. It would not help to indulge in innuendo or even give random examples.

In some cases such abuse is passed off as consensual. This sort of consent is as forced as molestation. Besides media heads, there are the sponsors, the businessmen, traders, film stars, PR agents, and even colleagues that follow a pecking order. Women are used as bait, if not a straight honey trap. Go fly a kite if you did not know about this.

The Tehelka ThinkFest has been in the news regarding some of its sponsors. Again, I have an issue with all such fests because they only dumb down intellectual/literary exchange and compromise them at the altar of the highest bidder. For the critics to now use unconnected material from the past is sheer opportunism and will do nothing for the crime for which Tejpal must be tried.

Is anybody really interested in the victim or justice for her? Does it matter whether or not she covered cases of exploitation for the magazine? What if she wrote a gossip column or about fashion or sexy things — should we then judge her differently?

If anything, Tehelka was given a halo by the readers, mainly for its over-emphasis on sting operations that became trendy. Now, they are treating this as the story of the fallen hero.

Justice is not about self-righteous indignation.

© Farzana Versey


Also read my 2003 essay (from an anthology on the media): When puppets hide behind pomposity


Update on November 23

Although most people are in the loop of who said what, just to put on record what the girl said:

In her complaint to Tehelka Managing Editor Shoma Choudhary, the victim says, "It is extremely painful for me to write this email to you – I have struggled with finding an easier way to say it, but there isn’t one. The editor in chief of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal, sexually assaulted me at Think on two occasions last week. From the very first moment, I wanted to call you, or find you and tell you what he had done to me – but given how absorbed you were at Think; preparing for and conducting sessions, and the fact that it was impossible for the two of us to get even a minute alone together, I could not. To add to this, I had to process the fact that it was Tarun who molested me — my father’s ex colleague and my best friend’s dad, and someone I had so deeply respected and admired for so many years."

“I hope you will also understand how traumatic and terrifying it has been for me to report this to you — and yet how critical it is that Tehelka constitute an anti sexual harassment cell as per the Vishakha guidelines immediately, to investigate this matter. At the very least, I will need a written apology from Mr Tejpal and an acknowledgement of the same to be circulated through the organization. It cannot be considered acceptable for him to treat a female employee in this way.”

And here is Shoma Chaudhary's statement