Erasing Images: Modi and Beyond

Ansari as he is. Pic: BBC

If his face could cause mental trauma to others, make people taunt the rest of the community for helplessness as the goons performed their ‘war dance’ with glee, one can well imagine how it must affect him.

On the 11th anniversary of the post-Godhra Gujarat riots, as I look at the photograph of Qutubbuddin Ansari I cannot relate it to him as the ‘face of the riots’. There is a reason I bring up this story after the first reports of it made for soft news in June last year.  Has Ansari moved on and, if so, what does such individual erasure mean for a group?

When the Reuters photograph first appeared it bore the long caption: 

"An Indian Muslim stranded in the first floor of his house, along with a few other Muslims and surrounded by a Hindu mob begs to the Rapid Action Force (Indian paramilitary) personnel to rescue him at Sone-ki-Chal in Ahmedabad, March 01, 2002.”

During riots and other such calamitous events, news and photographs bear witness. One does not think about ethics, or whether one needs to seek permission. It was a helpless man seeking assistance. As it turns out, he did get it. In a BBC article, he is quoted as saying, “Then my life went into a tailspin. The picture followed me wherever I went. It haunted me, and drove me out of my job, and my state.” He lost a few jobs in the state and elsewhere because he was recognised.

I possibly used the image once. But I recall comments from two different groups:

  1. The Indian rightwing said, “See, this is what can happen for all the past atrocities of Muslim rulers.”
  2. Some Pakistanis held this up as an example of Indian Muslims cowardice, of having to live in constant fear.

I did not know his name then. It just made me angry, not only because of what happened but because of how it would be perceived. The very fact that he was a nameless person denied him an identity. He was by default a nobody. He had no claims that came to light; his case was not in any court, or at least not known; there was no news about his house, his family members, his losses. Nobody wanted to know about him except perhaps as a symbol.

It is after over 12 years, that he finally decided he had to exorcise this image. He wrote to the Ahmadabad police commissioner:

"Today I am living in peace with my family. Not only that, my children are also being brought up in a very good environment. It hurts me when even today I see my picture with folded hands depicting my helplessness in newspapers, websites and on covers of reports of some NGOs. I would request you to please impose a ban on the use of my picture in future. And also, ask all media, websites and NGOs to remove my picture from their documents."

The photographs are still available on the web. Worse, a film ‘Rajdhani Express’ used it.  His lawyer sued the filmmaker:

"Ansari is facing serious social and family problems after the film was released in city theatres earlier this month. This has in fact created a circumstance of fear and danger to his personal safety and security.”

Let us see how people were to gain by using the photograph.

NGOs should have had better sense. They are fighting cases for several people living in refugee camps. Those camps are sufficient testimony. So, why Ansari? Because the activist cause relies on victimhood. This is not to deny the role they have played in bringing so many cases to light, but brochures need funds. Tapping for funds needs something identifiable. They too are catering to a sympathy market, a guilt trip.

The media used it because it has created the image. It goes beyond a photograph. It amounts to building it up, adding to the stock of helpless pictures that are reminiscent of the Ansari one. It has a snowballing effect, especially if you use cops or, better still, chief minister Narendra Modi as a contrast. It gives you something newsy with a touch of human interest, which seems to be the absolute tag-along with every news story.

Different political parties would use the photograph for reasons that would suit their agendas. The state government employed it as tacit threat and, for all the development and whitewash job, the Gujarat administration knew that this was its trump card. It will not let go of it so easily.  Most other parties naturally found it convenient to show the ugly image of Gujarat by holding this one man crying for help as a mirror.

None of them knew his name.

It is disturbing that terrorists too have used this picture to claim they are fighting for the cause of Muslims.

Has anyone stood up for Ansari? He is right – everyone has been exploiting him. He works as a tailor now, and he may have realised that it is better to remove traces of the past. It is time that his pictures were removed, for by trying to express concern the media, NGOs and political parties are in fact working into the pugnacious narrative of a government that has shown it has enough muscle to muzzle any opposition in any form. 

Having said this, and I maintain it is a matter of individual privacy and choice, let us not assume that all is well. There are refugee camps and ghettos. The moving on is tactical and practical; no one has made a proper inventory of those who left the state. There are cases pending against ministers and police officers.

We have a CM who does not think this is even worth giving any attention to. He is busy holding 3D conferences to reach out to people. This is not about good governance, but populism. Surprisingly, not many consider it so.

Memories are short or, more likely, selective as I wrote about the amnesia two years ago. The hands of the powerful are long. Modi has realised that he has managed to fool a few Muslims, including that cleric from the Deoband, and those who have managed to rebuild their lives would not want to leave. He would not care even if they did, for it might just help with his idea of a pure state.

However, Modi has a backup plan ready: Dalits. The state’s social justice department has set aside Rs. 22.5 lakh, not for the education or health benefits of dalits, but to train them in Vedic rituals. In what is being projected as a bold move, manual scavengers will learn the ‘karma-kand’, thus far the prerogative of the Brahmins, and even perform at wedding ceremonies.  It sounds good. Except that it is not much different from what ‘backward castes’ would do if they migrated to other cities – adopt a new profession. Instead of getting rid of manual scavenging, and offering them jobs in a potentially ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ atmosphere, he is pushing them into the standard Brahmin mode. He also forgets that there are still instances in his state where they cannot enter temples.

This new move will only draw attention to their caste when he attends ceremonies solemnised by them. And this seems to be the only motive. Some have suggested he moved fast when Mayawati announced her desire to be a PM candidate. I have maintained that Modi is not a contender; if at all he makes some noise it is only to assert his supremacy over opponents within his party at the bidding of the RSS. Therefore, the Mayawati factor is not important. He is trying to accommodate what are seen as fringe groups to play them against Muslims. High caste Hindus won’t be bothered about a few dalits learning some rituals that they will conduct among themselves, and the token big event for a photo-op.

This is part of the development agenda that few want to talk about. Develop a few to fall in line, make them into an example and show this as moving on.

You may wipe out footprints, but the congealed blood in eroded soles of slippers tell their own story.

(c) Farzana Versey

Published in Countercurrents

Also, a part-personal account in Marred snapshots


India's 'comfort zone' is not the Oscars

Ang Lee receives his award with a namaste

As is the tradition, I did not sit through the Academy Awards or even catch glimpses of it.  Except for Life of Pi, I have not watched any of the other films, yet. I’d like to, though. This is not about disdain or being highbrow; I catch quite a few Indian soaps.

However, there is no escaping the event. The host Seth MacFarlane has come out with several new notorious feathers in his cap, and I say this because the Oscars may choose politically-correct films, but the show wallows in a sophomoric need for attention. It conforms to the pattern of being mainstream, and in Hollywood you are mainstream if you are a bit sexist, a bit racist, a bit of a victim-predator.

You’ve already read about the wardrobe malfunctions, the gowns, the jewels, the asinine.

It is the India factor that interests me.  As no Indian film or nominee got an award, we did what we do best. It was so very amusing that a little town in Chandigarh was celebrating, distributing sweets because of Zero Dark Thirty. It did not strike them as ironic that the place had recreated Abbottabad, a Pakistani bazaar to be precise, all to trace the end of an Arab who was the nemesis of the West. Osama bin Laden brought a good deal of business to this town in Chandigarh.

It is business.

The same goes for Puducherry (Pondicherry) where the initial portions of Life of Pi were shot. These were locales that Yann Martel had written about in the book on which the film was based. Indeed, the background sounds and a lullaby were Indian contributions, but was it an Indian film?

Director Shekhar Kapur declared in his usual pompous fashion: 

“An Indian film will win an Oscar when it is good enough. Danny Boyle and Ang Lee have opened the gates for Indian filmmakers. It’s up to the filmmakers now. Do they have the courage and the desire to conquer international markets or do they want to continue playing in their comfort zone?”

The Oscar is not the yardstick for good cinema, although it has sometimes recognised fine independent films by outsiders. What is Mr. Kapur’s yardstick for good? Surely, he has been exposed to Indian regional cinema, to quite a few offbeat Hindi films, as well as experimentation within the framework of Bollywood, of which he was a player.

How have Danny Boyle and Ang Lee opened the gates for Indian filmmakers? I think there should be a clear demarcation between the two. Ang Lee, while exploring spiritualism, did not overly emphasise on Indianness. The main characters happened to be Indian. But, it was an international film made with those sensibilities in mind. Fine, he accepted the award with the Indian greeting of 'namaste'.

Boyle was also catering to a foreign audience. As I wrote in an earlier post:

Danny bhai can rest happy that he did a nice helicopter version of struggle and hope. Next time he might like to hang on to one aspect and embellish it with some detailing. This is merely a filmic tourist brochure of the other side of India.

This obsession with international markets seems to demean indigenous work. Did the Africans start discussing about how ‘Our of Africa’ would make them big players? Did the Japanese consider themselves fortunate to have ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ take their cinema overseas?

Satyajit Ray, Akira Kurosawa, Godard, Fellini, Costa Gavras have had more courage than a Shekhar Kapur and they did not seek out Hollywood acceptance, and the Oscars are just that. Everything else is a satellite.

As regards being happy in a comfort zone, it is rather superficial to ignore that most of the films that reached the Oscars were within their comfort zone. There happen to be differing levels of what varied cultures are comfortable with. The form of expression is bound to differ. We have films that deal with edgy subjects; some succeed, others don’t.  There is also some self-conscious attempt at ‘being different’ just for the heck of it, or to go to Cannes, which has sold out to Hollywood.

At least we do not choose White characters to portray Hispanic, Brown and even Black characters in our films.  

Bollywood is escapist. It has never claimed to be otherwise. And let us not look down on the audience or decide to improve their tastes. The same people who gave a thumbs-up to Dabangg were not as enthusiastic about the second one. Same actors, same gimmicks. They know what to like and what to reject. That is their comfort zone. 

(c) Farzana Versey


More at What about Slumdog Millionaire?  

and a light take at An hour at the Oscars


Sunday ka Funda

"I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn't know how to get along without it."

 - Walt Disney 

I woke up to the lemony flavour of this advertisement. I saw it coming when the ubiquitous antiseptic liquid that is a household name started airing ads for its new dish-washing liquid. All of us have learned to add a bit of it to clean surfaces, even in the bath; they diversified into soap and handwash and even though these did not smell of roses, we felt reassured that we were safe from germs. There is something like soup during a cold about it. 

"Life is nothing but a competition to be the criminal rather than the victim." 

- Bertrand Russell 

The competition in the market could naturally not take this lying down. After all, it is about the home. It hit out by using the most vulnerable segment - children. The antiseptic became 'harsh' and your dear moppet's tiffin needed something that had the power of a Sachin Tendulkar ton, but gently. 

It is an aggressive appeal and this time I think the ad has hit where it hurts. The soap and handwash segment were relatively fine with an antiseptic version around, for it would probably be the extra choice, the second wash, so to speak. You don't do the dishes twice over, and you don't want what mops your floors to touch your kid's tuck box. 

As a regular user of the antiseptic brand, I think their strategy is to depend on loyalty. No one can compete with that. 


I have cropped the picture to hide the name of the product and not named the antiseptic brand...because I just felt like it. 


Breaking News...

It is alleged...the prime minister called it a dastardly act...the home minister said he knew about it...then he did not know...the Opposition knew....then did not know...Intel forces knew...then did not know...it was a well-planned attack...no, it was rudimentary...outsiders...insiders...non-state actors...it is alleged....according to reliable sources...(reliable according to which side you want to be on)...yes, reliable sources...

According to news just coming in exclusively from top officials who shall remain unnamed that they have been told by reliable sources that everybody is a fucking idiot.


Hyderabad blasts last night. People dead. Injured. Shane Warne's botox looks gross. 


What Makes Premji a ‘Muslim tycoon’?
Can we see his philanthropy without religious blinkers?

Right said, Premji? Pic: The Telegraph

Azim Premji is the right type of man. India deserves every bit of him and his contribution, both as entreprenueur and philanthropist.

Therefore, when he announced recently to give more, it sounded just right:

“I strongly believe that those of us who are privileged to have wealth should contribute significantly to try and create a better world for the millions who are far less privileged.”

No one can have a problem with this. However, it raises two issues.

  • Did he have to sign up with the ‘Giving Pledge’ group, co-founded by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett? I have discussed my reservations about this sort of philanthropy earlier. It is his money, his country, his concerns. Globalising it obscures intent, if not action. He is right that education is the way forward. Unfortunately, there appears to be an increasing move for ‘quality’ education, ignoring the massive illiterate ‘market’.   
  • Is it necessary to make him into a showpiece of a community? There is a difference between keeping a low profile and not being proactive. It is indeed commendable that he does not flash his faith (a luxury he has, incidentally, because money has no religion), but what about the desperation by others to thrust it on him, and for him to do the proper secular thing?

I will have to reproduce in entirety the piece I wrote in 2007 in Counterpunch as a response to the execrable interview in Wall Street Journal. Azim Premji may be “The Bill Gates of India” (which tells us more about our foreign obsession than globalisation), but even the international media will sell his story tagged with religion:

Is Azim Premji really the world’s richest Muslim entrepreneur? Is there a list which mentions the richest Hindu, Jew, Buddhist, Christian, Scientologist, atheist, Rastafarian?

Unlikely. At least nothing that would make the Wall Street Journal want to give it front page legitimacy. Talking of legitimacy, surely we are talking about legitimate enterprise, for the underworld and the mafia, Muslim or otherwise, are flush with money. In all likelihood, they are investors in the big companies.

Mr. Premji heads Wipro, India's third-largest IT exporter. Its fortune rests at $17 billion. I like rich people. But this gentleman is not just rich; he has been saddled with baggage. And the newspaper goes out of its way to prise it open by saying that he defies all conventional wisdom about Islamic tycoons - he does not hail from the Persian Gulf and does not wear his faith on his sleeve.

Where did the term ‘Islamic tycoon’ come from? What is unconventional about not wearing your faith on your sleeve? Is it even important to discuss?

Of course, it is. Imagine the world we are living in. Azim Premji has to be displayed as the nice guy – no beard, well-fitted suit, an amiable demeanor, likeable. He might have been a crass bore with filthy lucre, the Tom Cruise type who had to jump on an Oprah Winfrey sofa to declare his love for a Kate to become interesting. Mr. Premji has been given a moment quite unlike that cheesy one. He has been profiled (and do pardon the pun) in an article titled, “How a Muslim Billionaire Thrives in Hindu India”.

I am an Indian and have always lived in the country of my birth. It is not a Hindu nation. It may have a majority of Hindus, but then it has a majority of illiterates. Why wasn’t the report called, “How a literate billionaire thrives in illiterate India”? There are many such potential headlines I may offer, but I should hope the point has been made.

This ‘Muslim billionaire’ has thrived because he had a family business to start with. He had money to get a decent education and he had the spirit of enterprise. Hindu India did not contribute to these, neither did Muslims. It is an individual achievement.

It is unfortunate that Muslims are being made accountable for aspects of life that would under normal circumstances not identity them with religion.

Yaroslav Trofimov, the writer of the article, says, “Yet, to many in India's Muslim community, Mr. Premji's enormous wealth, far from being inspiring, shows that success comes at a price the truly faithful cannot accept. They resent that Mr. Premji plays down his religious roots and declines to embrace Muslim causes – in a nation where people are pegged by their religion and where Hindus freely flaunt theirs.”

What price has Mr. Premji had to pay? He has quietly gone and made a success of his business. There is no resentment against his hesitation to talk about his Muslim identity, and no Muslim social organisations are dependent on his largesse.

What is resented is the fact that in a country where most of the 150 million people of the community are ghettoized, the likes of Premji are touted as examples of Hindu tolerance. This just does not wash. It is most patronizing, and a huge insult to those who do make a decent living but are tagged in ways that are negative simply because they lack the visibility of a high-profile profession. On any given day there will be a handful of Muslims taken out of the celebrity closet to reveal the mothballed magnanimity of the majority community.

No one wants Premji to stand up and be counted. But there is no reason for him to play along with this secular sham, and he has been doing so for a while. He said in an interview to the paper, “We have always seen ourselves as Indian. We've never seen ourselves as Hindus, or Muslims, or Christians or Buddhists.”

The report further states, “Mr. Premji has mentioned his Muslim background so rarely in public that many Indian Muslims don't even know he shares their heritage. None of Wipro's senior managers aside from Mr. Premji himself are Muslims. The company maintains normal working hours on Islamic high holidays.”

This does not sound like a report in a respected newspaper but something straight out of a pamphlet. What heritage are we talking about? Is there one Muslim heritage? His last name could well be Hindu as his roots are in Gujarat. What is so heart-warming and significant about not working on Islamic holidays? Does it become news when many Hindu-owned companies celebrate religious festivals with a puja (prayer) and in fact during Diwali (that is an unabashed ode to the goddess of wealth) people even offer prayers to account books? Is it news that this includes Muslim entrepreneurs? What is the purpose behind such a statement? And why is it surprising considering that most of the 70,000 employees of Premji’s company are non-Muslim?

These are devious little tricks. No one mentions good old Adnan Khashoggi and his cruise liners in which the international high and mighty had fun vacations.

Isn’t there a mean between riding the Islamophobia and secular waves? The latter is as ridiculous as Mohamed al Fayed screaming about being discriminated against by British society because of his religion.

Azim Premji is a thriving businessman in the globalized world he keeps talking about. A globalized world that is unwilling to dignify him as just another wealthy guy and has to mention his religion not just in passing but as the very crux of his defiance – a defiance that is as imaginary as other stereotypes.

He says with what appears to be an element of arrogance, “All our hiring staff are trained to interview in English. They're trained to look for Westernized segments because we deal with global customers.”

Indeed. The Chinese, the Japanese, the Russians are doing rather well for themselves, and they don’t go around kowtowing to some colonial mentality that talks about English in such a fashion. He mentions that most Muslims are educated in Urdu. Perhaps he might like to check the statistics that say Urdu is a dying language. Perhaps he might like to sponsor some schools for Muslim children; he can do so incognito so that his secular credentials are safe. Perhaps he might like to know that even madrassas these days use his computers, so it is entirely possible they are cracking codes on them. Perhaps he might like to not even entertain questions about his Muslim identity. He is rich enough to afford to say, “No comments”. That is true liberation.

However, being called a Muslim tycoon is like being addressed as a hot Eskimo. And who doesn’t like a touch of oxymoron?
Are we grown up enough to accept him without strings attached and our baggage of expectations and stereotypes? Why does he or anyone need to do something specifically, and self-consciously, secular to prove their nationalistic stripes?

Update Query: Wonder why I forgot to add here that among all the industrialists who sang paeans and promised and were promised a rose garden during Narendra Modi's 'Vibrant Gujarat Summit', Azim Premji was not around. He is or Gujarati origin and interested in development. What made him stay away? A point that needs to be noted. 


Hunt for a baby

Helen Hunt with her baby

When I read about Helen Hunt getting a baby due to an ‘uplifting experience’, I adduced it must have been close to Immaculate Conception. 

What transpired, instead, was a combination of superstition and auto-suggestion.  The uplifting experience was a ‘lift’.  On the David Letterman show, Hunt shared her experience with Indian guru Sri Chinmoy, who has been described as a “United Nations-recognised master”.  The UN has a questionable record on political issues; therefore, one wonders on what basis it might have certified a spiritual guru as a master.  In form of address ‘master’ is quite the norm, but it is by believers. Did the UN test spiritual powers and, if so, how did it measure these?

Bollywood films used to have a standard cure for infertility – a visit to a godman or guru. Often, the person would be a villain with beady eyes, smacking his lips and while showering blessings on the woman giving her a once-over. Depending on how the characters were to develop in the script, the woman would either be forced to succumb or escape. Art-house cinema too explored the misuse of tantric practices. This, unfortunately, is not relegated to cinema.

A scene from the recent Bollywood film 'Oh My God - OMG'

Even today, one reads about charlatans from different cults and faiths using their ‘powers’ to offer women more than spiritual guidance. The better-known gurus have an ostensibly clean image and a celebrity flock. They cater to bruised egos, including their own, and in India while their role in politics was earlier mainly on the sidelines, these days they pontificate on major national issues. This camouflages the exploitative nature of the smaller players.

Hollywood has been a good place for those who managed to charm an international clientele. Everyone seems to have been in some form of rehab, and needs succour. Scientology has already asserted itself. Tibetan Buddhism too has done so, for those with political sympathies for the Dalai Lama.  Beverly Hills easily alternates between the good life and the god life, one feeding the other.  People do feel the need to rejuvenate and/or seek a higher purpose.

However, when someone certifies that an important bodily activity has been performed due to such intervention, one needs to look more closely.

Here is the extract from a report:

The guru, who passed away in 2007, was famous for showing off mind-over-matter feats of strength, and he celebrates the achievements of people he admires by lifting them above his head.

Hunt explains, “He lifted people that he felt had achieved something, that had contributed something to the world… (Archbishop) Desmond Tutu, Muhammad Ali and me.

“I went with my goddaughter… and we pull into this place and women open the car door and they’re dressed in, like, floral gowns, and they walk me into this garden. Then I get on this contraption, walk up four steps and he lifted me up.”

It is obvious that Sri Chinmoy understood achievement. It does call for a celebration, although this is a most unusual way to express it. Why did this single experience convince her that she could become a mother? It coincided with her conceiving. “I wanted to have a baby and he was encouraging me to pray and not give up and I did have a beautiful daughter, so he was right.”

There is place for coincidence and serendipity in our lives, and some of us have had what are known as ‘out-of-body’ experiences. These, if we try and understand rationally, are part intuitive and part strong desire. The mind is an extremely powerful tool. Ask those who suffer from psychosomatic disorders. One needn’t go that far. It is possible to experience a state of suspension merely due to a fever.

But making babies does require some amount of hard work and it is far from being a meditative state. One cannot merely wish to conceive or be so uplifted as to create out of nothing. The concept of Immaculate Conception has fascinated me for long and it is a profound spiritual metaphor for creation. Taking it out of the realm of its religious context, it is symbolic of the purest birth of what could change the world – it could be a piece of art or an ideology.

Helen Hunt’s encounter with the guru lacks this sublimity. It appears to have been at best a spiritual transaction; it was also two famous people meeting as a trade-off. Why could she not pray on her own? How much did merely sharing her deep need for a child have to do with it? Is it not possible that the seed had to be sown in her mind for her body to accept it?

She is fortunate that she is who she is. But, the legitimacy she gives to such errant experiences conveys that although thoughts are potent, she could not even think them on her own.

© Farzana Versey

Veerappan's Legacy and a Sleeping State


Veerappan was probably the last of the bandits. Shot dead in 2004 by the security forces that he eluded for a good few decades, he is back in the news. The Supreme Court has stayed the death sentence of his four associates.

It again raises the question about whether the mental agony and physical confinement due to delayed execution is humane. Besides this, the courts must ask themselves whether the severe punishment to deter further such acts of crime serves its purpose. The Veerappan gang survived in the jungles across three states – Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. It started with poaching, and went on to smuggling of ivory and sandalwood available in the forests.

How he and his band of dacoits survived for this long has spawned many stories, including the complicity of certain forces and the romantic notion of him being protected by the villagers.

I mention this in the context of how the legal pattern of the mercy petition on behalf of his aides is being dealt with. Gnanprakasam, Simon, Meesaikara Madhaian and Bilavendran will have to wait until tomorrow to know whether the amended version of their plea will alter the punishment.

It is frightening to think about the political games that might play themselves. Afzal Guru’s case has already showcased how fast-tracking is done with ulterior motives. There are other precedents, all waiting for the noose. Sandalwood smugglers do not matter as much as an attack on Parliament in the general scheme, but now that the government has displayed brawn it cannot turn wimpy. If it flexed muscles in Kashmir, will it be forced to do the same in Kanya Kumari?

What is particularly intriguing is the Attorney General G E Vahanvati’s reasoning about denying that mercy in this case:

He said Veerappan’s gang members had committed a crime against the state by triggering a landmine blast that killed 22 people— five policemen, 15 police informers and two forest guards. Opposing the petition, the AG said, “These are crimes against the state and must be distinguished from crimes against society.”

A chief minister is killed. Does he constitute the state? Does the state not include society? One understands the validity of symbols, but without wishing to sound insensitive how are policemen, aware of the dangers of their job, more important than others? Going by the AG’s statement, is it not the business of the state to protect society and, therefore, crimes against the latter could also make the state responsible for laxity?

Where was the state when Veerappan was committing the crimes? People might recall that the police went full force only when Kannada superstar Rajkumar was kidnapped and held captive for over three months. This gave the Centre enough ammo to get Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to fight it out. 

Elephants, sandalwood, ivory may be state property, but they are also about business. Whose business? How did the dacoit manage to have an army with him? Had he not been shot dead, he and his men would still be on the run, continuing with their activities.

It is important to understand Veerappan a bit. At the age of ten, he picked up a gun and killed his first elephant. Was it for a lark or were these the makings of a criminal? One suspects it was pathological, for there were instances where he did not just snuff out a life, but beheaded the victims and even choked a six-month old lest its cries alert the police. And he never expressed remorse for any of his actions.

Yet, he remained in touch with those in power. He offered to surrender on the condition that he got a presidential pardon, the right to continue to hold arms and a movie to be made on his life. Part of it could be attributed to his close observing of Phoolan Devi whose post-dacoit ‘mainstream’ life he was beginning to be inspired by.  His numerous video cassettes were less about communicating to the outside world than to project himself as an invincible man; it was the trailer of the film he hoped would one day be made by a director of international standing.

Veerappan decided he was a messiah of the whole region. When he sent his list of demands, there was nothing for himself. What he said sounded like a politician’s manifesto – a solution to the Cauvery dispute, Tamil as the administrative language of Karnataka, and an ensured daily wage for the Manjoloi estate workers in Tirunelvelli. He wanted to portray himself as the king of Tamil Nadu, a real-life version of the celluloid MGR.

He even compared himself with Jayalalitha, saying that if she could be chief minister with cases pending against her, why could he not be set free? The fact is he would never get any credence as a free man. His appearance was geared to cause fear as a bandit. In the urban jungle, he would become a part of the history of thuggery. So he ensured he remained in the news every few months, and propped up his image as a folk hero.

He often said he respected women and hated the security forces who raped them under the ruse of trying to find him. It is true that women were arrested for helping him, for providing him information and food.  Then there were his aides.  It is possible that he captured them and they worked for him under duress.

The government and police forces that rely on informants ought to know how they use their powers to keep such people safe. It is barter. What applies to them would apply to the criminal too.

These people constitute society. They could well be victims, of the bandits/terrorists and the state, and one cannot with certainty tell anymore what comes first.

The killing of Veerappan was justified because it was a case of one force against another. But getting four aides executed now reeks of political opportunism.  For argument’s sake, if the state is convinced that capital punishment is the best way to deal with criminals (it is not and it will have to face the music by right-thinking citizens), then instead of looking back in anger, it ought to immediately address recent cases of terror against the state and announce the death sentence. Only then can it afford to take a high moral ground.

Justice seen to be done is not always justice. It is sometimes a coverup con job by those in charge of booking cons.

© Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

"The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant."

- Salvador Dali


Brussels Spout: Children as symbols

What makes Belgium’s capital boast of a little boy urinating? The last thing you might want is a spray of piss on your face as you pose before what is considered an iconic structure in Brussels. Is it fun? Is it funny? Does it have to be?

I read about the Manneken Pis a while ago. Standing two-feet high, the sculpture of a boy urinating was created in the 15th century. It continues to be one of the most-visited sites and it is said “no metropolis boasts such a well-known fountain engaged in the same bodily function”.

It might look cute and provide a few chuckles.  I like the idea of irreverence.  Installation art has not shied away from exploiting such bodily functions.  However, I am a bid disturbed about how this image is being marketed beyond its iconoclasm.

The report states, “Even as society has lowered its tolerance for images of nude children and become hypersensitive about sanitation, the politically incorrect statue has gained stature.”

This is beyond rubbishing political correctness. Just look at the examples of how the mascot is employed in ads and logos, as well as edible products such as chocolates, fries, lollipops.

Much of the market for these comprises of children. Would it not send out a message that not only is it okay for them to perform the job in public view, but it is utterly charming to do so? Even more worrying is that you might eat them – this can have a subliminal erotic impact. There are perverts roaming the streets, and the message that might go out is: if these naked tots are sitting on shelves waiting to being taken, then it must not be such a bad thing.

There is a further reason that bothers me:

When city officials wanted to promote a job-creation plan in 2005, they used ads depicting an office full of Mannekens at computers and in meetings. Another poster showed a construction site bustling with Mannekens in hard hats.

Is this not pushing the idea of child labour? One has to only watch photographs of children carrying loads on their heads, or toiling in fields and factories, some without clothes and with distended bellies, or crapping near railway tracks or in street corners in the poorer nations to understand that this stops being sweet.

Part of the fun is 896 suits of clothing that have been officially donated to him over the centuries and which he regularly wears. Many are displayed at the city museum, including a spacesuit, an Elvis Presley sequined jumpsuit and a French military officer's uniform that passing French soldiers must salute when the Manneken dons it.

While this seems harmless, who would really get excited about the adult prototype behaviour? Being a space scientist, or a musician, or an army officer might well be later ambitions for young people. But, how different are these from Barbie and Ken in different clothes? If we have issues with Barbie’s curves, then how do we explain the innocence of a child being exploited? Since we know the symbolic nature of the hoodie, what could a teenager wearing one imitating the Manneken convey?

Back then, statues at public fountains often performed biological functions including spitting, bleeding and lactating. “Before Victorian times, people didn't have all those complexes about nudity,” according to historian Roel Jacobs.

Lactating imagery is quite profound as it is a symbol of creation and nurturing. One might say the same about bleeding, for blood is about life and death. One does not perform bleeding as a ritual, though; menstruating too is in a manner a natural way of the body cleansing itself of unused eggs. Public spitting is disgusting, but one may consider the metaphors of ‘to spit at’ or ‘spit out’. Likewise, urinating could be to ‘piss off’, ‘piss on’.  For example, there is the satirical image of the Manneken spraying Nazi occupiers.

Here, the child image is used not only to understand a violent credo, but also to fight it. It amounts to brainwashing the vulnerable. The statue cannot be seen as pure fun if it is imbued with the responsibility of being more than a national symbol.

I do not think it is only about nudity.  There is the depiction of angels and the perennial Cupid in art. And while the Victorian era did bring morals into the forefront, we have no way of gauging whether strictures or openness truly altered human bodily functions. Morality and the lack of it invariably leave people with the choice to exploit others rather than themselves.

© Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

In early times in Japan, bamboo-and-paper lanterns were used with candles inside. A blind man, visiting a friend one night, was offered a lantern to carry home with him.

"I do not need a lantern," he said. "Darkness or light is all the same to me."

"I know you do not need a lantern to find your way," his friend replied, "but if you don't have one, someone else may run into you. So you must take it."

The blind man started off with the lantern and before he had walked very far someone ran squarely into him.

"Look out where you are going!" he exclaimed to the stranger. "Can't you see this lantern?"

"Your candle has burned out, brother," replied the stranger.

- - -

('Teaching the ultimate' - a fable)


Not the End of Afzal Guru: Politicians as hangmen:

“I only asked for pardon to stop millions of Kashmiri people hitting the streets. If I am hanged, I would take it as a sacrifice towards the people of Kashmir.”

 – Afzal Guru in 2008

The state has imposed curfew in the Valley. Early this morning, Afzal Guru was hanged to death.  It was a silent operation. He will be buried in Tihar Jail. This is to ensure that there is no backlash.

This is probably the worst mistake the UPA has made. If it wants ‘peace’, it should not have announced it at all. This is a government of hangmen. Of course, there are political compulsions. I wonder whether our Congress Prince also wants the blessings of some seers at the Kumbh Mela.  

Some might say that Afzal’s plea for clemency was already rejected, so it was only a matter of time. For this, we need to revisit several important events, including the crucial fact that his case was never a watertight one.

  • The prosecution produced 80 witnesses. None of them even mentioned that the four persons accused of conspiring to attack the Parliament have any link to any illegal or banned organisation. All of them were acquitted of charges of belonging to a terrorist organisation.

  • If Afzal was a surrendered militant how would the Pak-based JeM use him?

  • His confessions were made under conditions of torture and the police made him implicate himself before the media.

  • One of the other accused, Prof. S.A.R. Geelani, was framed on the basis of forged documents and fabricated evidence. After his acquittal, he has been speaking out and giving details about the conditions under which prisoners in the high risk cells are kept. The National Human Rights Commission instead of investigating the allegations closed the case filed by Mr Geelani on the ground that the jail authorities have denied the charges.

In 2001, the NDA government was in power; they did nothing. Now, the BJP is gloating and complaining about the delay in the hanging.

The history

They entered Parliament. They managed to get a sneak look into the House (watch the TV pictures of the terrorist taken from inside Parliament). Mr. L.K.Advani said it was a fidayeen attack - if they could do this in the USA, then why not us? But, there were air strikes on the Pentagon and Twin Towers – here you had these fellows driving in, coming out of their vehicles and managing to get close to three gates. And they were just five men. Anyone who has visited Parliament, and I have, knows that there is a huge security cordon at all times and more so when Parliament is in session.

Yet, in 2008, Afzal had said, “I really wish LK Advani becomes India's next prime minister as he is the only one who can take a decision and hang me. At least my pain and daily suffering would ease then…I have also requested that till the time they (government) take a decision, they shift me to a Kashmir jail.”

He did not consider the undertrials, little kids, old men, who have been arrested on fake charges (sometimes not even that courtesy was extended; they were just hauled up) who waiting for justice for years. At that time, he was reading India wins freedom by Maulana Azad about the country's independence movement. The Kashmiris would not quite get it, the Kashmiris who he was fighting for.

There is too much politics, and even terrorists were forced to play it.

The politics

Every few months the Afzal Guru mercy petition was brought out for airing. In 2011, the government advised the President to reject his plea. Everybody likes a nice linear structure, and no one better than the media. The Times of India had written:

“Guru, along with some others, was accused of plotting the audacious attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001 in which a group of jihadis came very close to wiping out India’s political brass. The aggression almost provoked an Indo-Pak war, with India mobilizing troops along the border to force Pakistan to cut its support to terror groups.”

This is plain over-the-top dramatic. Where are the points about how a group can enter Parliament? Let us also not forget that Professor S.A.R. Geelani was arrested for being part of the “group of jihadis” but had to be released.

And here is the precious sanctimonious ‘TIMES VIEW’ that ends in a typically foolish manner:

“As a philosophy, this paper is opposed to the death penalty. One of the very few exceptions we make is with terrorists—when guilt is beyond the shadow of a doubt. Guru execution will take weight off Cong back.”

It will be interesting to see some turncoat behaviour now. I am particularly curious about Dr Farooque Abdullah’s stand. Back in 2006 he had said:

“You want to hang him? Go ahead and hang him. But the consequences of hanging him must also be remembered. One of the consequences will be... we have paid the price of Maqbool Butt’s hanging by the judge who was shot in Kashmir. Those judges will need to be protected like anything.”

Judges have been shot at in courtrooms by goondas and the underworld too. And people in the public eye in controversial cases are always at risk. That is the reason our country has Z or is it “Zzzzz” security.

He also said the nation would go up in flames. This was the language Bal Thackeray used all the time, and of course everyone just indulged him; some even felt he was right.

What now?

Omar Abdullah has no choice but to be calm, call for calm.

In September 2011, he was trapped between the BJP and the Hurriyat. At any other time it would have been a wonderful place to be in, berated by two extremist groups. Unfortunately for him, their reasons for putting him on the mat were vastly different.

The chief minister was quoted from Twitter as saying: "If the J&K assembly had passed a resolution similar to the one in Tamil Nadu on Afzal Guru would the reaction have been as muted? I think not."

The death penalty for Rajiv Gandhi's killers has been delayed by state intervention. This is unusual.

Omar is right in that there are different standards. Interestingly, the muted reaction he was complaining about has agitated people and 'unmuted' them. The BJP is going hoarse with sudden concern for Rajiv Gandhi. (They are quiet over the acquittal of Haren Pandya's killers. Pandya was a BJP man who later had a fallout with Modi.)

The BJP uses the phrase "sovereignty of the nation" rather loosely. Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, unfortunate as it was, had its own dynamics that had to do with policy. The LTTE is not an Indian organisation, although it has its supporters. Such support results in huge electoral gains.

The BJP is worried about this aspect. After all, Priyanka Gandhi had met Nalini, one of her father's killers, in Vellore jail in 2008. The death verdict was given 11 years ago. Why did the BJP not put pressure to expedite it as they have done on a regular basis in the case of Afzal Guru, an Indian?

Omar Abdullah was pointing out the double standards, and one should see this as part of a thriving democracy that we are so chuffed about, with people out in the street.

However, the Hurriyat's Mirwaiz Omar Farooq had wondered why if he was so concerned about Afzal did he not resign. Again, this was missing the wood for the trees situation.

Omar Abdullah was in fact speaking as a political leader and expressing the helpless predicament of dealing with Kashmir. He chose the wrong forum to do so.

A few 'other' questions too need to be asked:

1. Would he raise the issue in the J&K assembly?

2. If so, would it mean he is doing so on humanitarian grounds or on a legal/factual basis?

3. If the latter, then would he risk providing possible loopholes?

4. How often do fake encounters figure in the assembly?

5. Does exposing political hypocrisy - I am assuming the muted reference was to politicians - enough?

This is a question for all parties. We do live in times when terrorists too have a vote bank, that is those who are not behind establishment-buffered terror.

Answers need to be sought in the right place, unless the 'people's movement' has seeped into the system's bones. In that case, stone-pelters should be excused.

(c) Farzana Versey 


Much of these are sourced from my previous articles/posts