Title Tattle - What not to name your book?

Would you read 'Cooking with Poo' or would the title put you off? That it might not alter your culinary skills seems like a given.

Yet, it appears there is a range of book names, less mysterious and more confounding. If they were in the realm of bizarre fiction, one might have considered some as edgy, wicked or a tease.

But, ‘Goblinproofing One's Chicken Coop', that has won this year's weirdest book title given out annually by the Bookseller magazine, is a manual. It has a higher purpose to help "clear your home and garden of goblins and banish them forever".

Clearly, the author Reginald Bakeley's mission against "scheming flower-fairies and other nasty members of the fairy realm" appealed to the public. Bakeley is truly concerned that if we paid heed to "weak-constitutioned fairy sympathisers, then the whole of the outdoors will soon be snatched away from mankind, its rightful master".

He made this comment after the award, but does the title convey the supremacy of the human race? One might wonder whether house-proud folks have been troubled by such creatures or they anticipate trouble from them. If it is the latter, then it leads us to the question that has bothered readers and writers: Is the written word capable of influencing us beyond our own thought processes?

These awards are not about gravitas. Bakeley's US editor said, "The Diagram prize celebrates the playfulness that is at the heart of much of the world's best book publishing."

It is with much sorrow then that I break the news about goblins winning over the more practical ‘How Tea Cosies Changed the World', and 'How to Sharpen Pencils'. For those of us who have battled with broken lead while sketching, this comes as a huge blow. And, can you imagine the several wonderful moments of afternoon tea beneath awnings or in the lounge area of one's home gently lifting the tea cosy, its splash of flowery print smelling of a stronger brew, quietly changing the world into a more genteel place where perhaps goblins would be welcome and sharpened pencils drew the landscape?

We know that titles are important to grab attention, and even the feel-good genre realised it when it used titles like 'I'm Ok, You're Ok', 'What After Hello?', 'Who Moved My Cheese', and the all-pervasive 'Chicken Soup for the Soul' series. These, however, are not weird. They reveal the content.

So, you might say do former “weird" winners 'Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers', 'Highlights in the History of Concrete', 'Bombproof Your Horse' and last year's winner, 'Cooking with Poo'.

There could well be writers who think the cancellation numbers of Greek postmen in villages has some significance, and who would not want to know about the history of concrete, when we are at pains to trace ruins? If I had a horse, and lived in a dangerous place where good old cowboys were redundant and there were imminent bomb scares, I'd most certainly wish to ensure that my steed was safe.

Philip Stone, the prize's administrator, understands that these books won't get you royalties that might afford the writer to even bet on a horse. But, he believes, “...the fact that writers still passionately write such works and publishers are still willing to invest in them is a marvellous thing that deserves to be celebrated".

It started in 1978 in no less a place than the Frankfurt Book Fair to "avoid boredom". Think about the pathbreaking works causing a yawn forcing the sellers and buyers to amuse themselves. Thus, 'Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice' took home the first prize. It does sound a tad bit academic, but it is possible to conjecture that in the late 70s mice without clothes caused a global uproar that might have been the reason behind the subsequent success of Pat Robertson.

Here are some titles that made me sit up and respond:
  • 'I Stopped Sucking My Thumb...Why Can't You Stop Drinking?': Pause here. It could be a child's appeal to an adult to desist from a bad habit. Great human interest potential. It is almost fable-like.
  • ‘God’s Doodle: The Life and Times of the Penis': Who can have a quarrel with this? The penis has so far been associated with the male. Here we see god's hand in it's creation and resultant ability to procreate.
  • 'Versailles: The View From Sweden': This would be something I'd gift Sarah Palin who could see Russia from Alaska.
  • 'Afterthoughts of a Worm Hunter': Can any of us claim we do not have afterthoughts. If one is a hunter, there are varied emotions at play - did I hunt well, did the kill appear at the right time, was it painless? If it is worms, then the hunted might reduce one in stature. It's a landmine of conflict.
  • 'Managing a Dental Practice: The Genghis Khan Way': Such candour is rare and if you do go under the drill, then it helps to be prepared for a warrior.
  • 'If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs': Do I need to elaborate?
  • 'Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots': It sounds surrealistic, but could be truly dangerous. With androids getting more power, what if they did become autonomous?
  • ‘Reusing Old Graves': Here is a dead giveaway title and eminently useful, if you believe in recycling and, of course, dying.

This gives me an idea for a title. How about 'Homeless Skeletons and the Underlying Clamour for Posterity'?

© Farzana Versey


Mumbai Blasts and Selective Justice

Yakub Memon

On March 21, 20 years after the Mumbai blasts, the Supreme Court pronounced its verdict: Yakub Memon sentenced to death; commuted in the case of 10 others; actor Sanjay Dutt gets five years in prison. An anti-terror court had in 1993 awarded death sentence to 12 people, including Memon. Dutt had been sentenced to six years jail term for illegal possession of a 9mm pistol and an AK-56 and had spent 16 months in jail after his arrest in 1993. He was, however, acquitted of the stringent charges under TADA.

Sanjay Dutt

Those were the days of TADA, Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, the horrific provision that transformed every suspect into a terrorist. It made the prevalent context of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ redundant. It gave more powers to the police, without any responsibility.

And today as the courts pronounced the verdict, a man who in fact assisted in nailing the real culprits is to be hanged to death and one with a pistol and an AK-56 goes back to jail. If Yakub Memon had not mentioned Pakistan, our intelligence agencies would be going on their regular spins to Dubai.

Advocate Ujjwal Nikam said that the death sentence for Yakub Memon would send a strong message to Pakistan about the consequences of hiding Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon. He is either an optimistic or a deluded man. He said something similar when Ajmal Kasab was hanged. And things have got no better. Worse, seven years ago he had stated that if Sanjay Dutt had informed the police then the blasts would not have taken place because he “knew that the three AK56 rifles he received from Samir Hingora, Ibrahim Mussa and Abu Salem on Jan 16, 1993, were part of a consignment meant for terrorist acts.”
Three guns were going to cause blasts across the city? And what was the huge consignment in Shiv Sena MLA the late Madhukar Sarpotdar’s house for during the riots that preceded the blasts?

In what is an extremely ironic situation, Sanjay Dutt played the role of a tragic gangster in Vaastav, a film produced by Chhota Rajan. Rajan was the second most important man in D-Company, helmed by Dawood Ibrahim, who was responsible for the 1993 Mumbai blasts. This film was made later. By then, Rajan had split from Dawood because he discovered his patriotism for India, a country he does not live in. He continues to conduct his underworld operations mainly from Bangkok, quite conveniently managing illegal activities in his home country.

Dark comedy aside, the verdict is abuse of law. While Yakub Memon and Sanjay Dutt will be seen as the pivots, we need to take a look at how the process of justice in this case took place.

In 2009, four of the accused were ordered to spend 50 years in prison or until they turned 65, whichever was earlier.

Let us look at their crimes carefully. After the Bombay riots, in March there were bomb blasts in several parts of the city organised by the underworld. These four men were a mofussil part of the operations. They already served over 17 years in jail after they were arrested under TADA.

This is what they have been accused of doing:

  • Salim Mira Shaikh was charged with helping land arms and explosives at Dighi jetty in Raigad, which were later used in the blasts.
  • Niyaz Shaikh was accused of acquiring training in Pakistan and also conducting a recce of the BMC building, which he did along with others.
  • Shaikh Ali smuggled and packed arms and explosives and recruited people for the blasts.
  • Moin Qureshi was accused of hurling grenades at the fishermen’s colony in Mahim but was spared the death rap for being a minor at the time of the incident; he was 17 years old then.

These were prompt arrests. At least three of the accused can be said to have merely assisted in the process of organising, and the fourth threw grenades at the fisherman’s colony. There is no mention of how many deaths that caused.

We have had a long incubation period on the riots report by Justice Liberhan. Where are the accused in that and what is the status of their arrests? There is rarely any talk about the riots; there is no loss of property “worth Rs 27 crore” and therefore useless to an economically-varnished India.

If we want fairplay, then play fair. During the riots cops were assisting in the process and shooting at random, shooting innocents only because they knew who stayed there. And what about the goon ministers who possessed arms? What about recruiting kar sevaks? How do you think people died during the riots – out of fear or did they commit suicide?

The CBI has got traces and footprints everywhere, but it chooses packers and movers to pick on. Had they not got a sentence at all, it would be different, but they have served the term. Incidentally, if TADA is defunct, should not these guys be tried all over again under the new law?

The problem is that we have two sets of justices operating always, whether it is on grounds of religion, caste, class, or fame.


For web-waves, Sanjay Dutt has become the face of ‘justice prevailing over celebrity’, quite forgetting that they are lapping up this case because of his celebrity. To suggest that he will be let off or this is what he gets for hobnobbing with terrorists is such a limited view, when the police force has relied on the underworld for their ‘encounter’ killings.

Besides, his father Sunil Dutt was a Congress MLA, and a socially-conscientious person; that did not get his son freedom. In fact, Bal Thackeray had famously said then that Sanjay was a “good boy”.  Yet, there were different standards for the riots’ cases. The Sena’s Madhukar Sarpotdar did not possess one AK-47, but several arms. And if any of you had visited those areas you would know what devastation was caused by the way he incited not only the public and his henchmen, but also the police. What sentence were those MLAs awarded?

In 2007,  the special TADA court Judge P D Kode had made some bizarre remarks in his judgement. Here are a few:

* Kode also observed it was an "eminently dangerous act" as the weapon possessed by Dutt was capable of mass destruction though the accused had not used the weapons.

* Dutt acquired the weapons to "protect" his family in the aftermath of sectarian violence that erupted in Mumbai following the demolition of the Babri mosque in late 1992.

* Kode said the character of the accused is very important while considering if they deserved relief under the POA (Probation of Offenders) Act. He pointed out that apart from possessing the weapons, Dutt was a close acquaintance of Anees Ibrahim and attended a party hosted by Dawood Ibrahim in Dubai.

One has to only go through the archives of newspapers and TV news in good old national Doordarshan to know who enjoyed his hospitality.

As regards guns, the poor in the bastis could not get weapons so they learned to make petrol bombs or wanted to. They were scared. You would be if each time you stepped out you were asked to drop your pants and show that you were circumcised, what the great Shiv Sena chief called “katuas”.

Finally, the judge had said that the crimes committed by Dutt and his friends were not "anti-social, ghastly, inhuman, immoral or pre-planned" and did not cause any harm to the general public.

When you keep weapons as protection it is pre-planned. If, according to law, you possess weapons, it is anti-social. How do you define “ghastly”? When the barrel of the gun looks ominously into a face?

We shall wait to see a verdict passed along the lines of anti-social, ghastly, inhuman, immoral, pre-planned in the Bombay riots case, too.

Therefore, this is not just about celebrity. Sanjay Dutt has already spent a year and a half in solitary confinement for a crime he did not commit. Who is culpable for this? The State? The Judiciary? They say that these months will be counted as part of the jail term. I want to know how being put in an ‘anda cell’ is the same as this? He was exonerated from terrorism charges, then how does the state compensate for that?

Let us use this example to show the complete arrogance with which the government and justice system operate. Let us raise these questions about the thousands of under-trials in our prisons, about those who are arrested for ‘terrorism’, about encounter deaths. Let us make someone accountable.

And that someone is the Government of India. The Judiciary. The Police. Don’t tell me I am “sympathising” with criminals, because a criminal is not answerable to me or you. The government, the judiciary, the police are. They are public servants. The Supreme Court Verdict is unfortunately a case of pinning the poster boys and hounding the scapegoats.

As for the ‘watchdogs’, it would be good for them to remember that those who prefer selective justice are the real anti-social elements.

(c) Farzana Versey


Also How Realistic is Black Friday? - the film based on the Mumbai blasts.  


The devil reporter wears emotions?

A rape apologist is somebody who condones rape, not one who reports on its verdict. The Steubenville trial has concentrated on making a devil of a reporter by comparing what she said with the terrible online comments. How concerned about rape are those who merely ‘followed’ the herd to outrage about the news?  All those who downloaded or watched the YouTube clips are as much rape apologists as Poppy Harlow. 

The CNN site and others have got many hits. Yet, who has bothered to even mention that she called it a “serious crime”?  That is just so tame and obvious, isn’t it? So, this quote from her has made it:

"Incredibly difficult, even for an outsider like me, to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart."

The screenshot reproduced by Mashable has the incessant query, “Not one word about the victim.” What do they want to know about the victim that has not been already reported? Is this a spectator sport? Trent Mays and Ma'Lik Richmond were sentenced for raping a 16-year-old by a juvenile court. Why are rapists punished? Because society needs to understand that they are committing a crime against women, against another human being. 

The idea is to make an example of them, and what better way than to mention that they were star football players and good students who had indeed lost it all for behaving in such an atrocious manner. Is this not the message that has to be sent across to other young men that, whoever you are, if you commit a crime, then this is what you get? 

One recalls other crimes, including mass murder and terrorism, where the convicts has been deemed insane. This results in covert sympathy, which is far worse.

You might ask: why was it difficult for a reporter or the news anchor to discuss emotions? Check out the comments. Anger is also an emotion. Pity is an emotion. Had the judge let them off, most people would have reacted emotionally. It was difficult to sit in the courtroom probably because both of the convicted got up and apologised to the family of the victim; one broke down. It is not about sympathy for their crime, but for their response to being punished. I would judge Harlow harshly had the verdict been innocent and she had said that this was an incredibly emotional moment watching as these two footballs stars and good students could return to a new life that awaited them. This was not the case.

A report further states:

(Candy) Crowley turned to legal expert Paul Callan who sounded almost apologetic when explaining how the rape conviction will mean that the Steubenville rapists will now be registered sex offenders and how that "will haunt them for the rest of their lives." None of these things said were untrue. But the tone was certainly a little off.

How does anyone decode that the tone was off? As I said, the report was about the trial, not on the rape. The emphasis ought to be on the rapists who will be tainted for the rest of their lives. This is as it should be, for the usual narrative is that it is the victim who is so tainted and who has to live with this all her life.  If, for the sake of argument, the tone sounded apologetic, it does not reverse the judgment. It brings to the fore that whatever anyone might feel those two young men will have to live with it, their futures have been mucked up. Justice has been done.  

Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine said after the verdict, "As I said already, any rape is a tragedy. But, it is even more of a tragedy when that victim is continually re-victimized in the social media."

This is what people should understand, instead of a typical knee-jerk reaction.

But, then, it is becoming increasingly impossible to do so.  Online abuses by anonymous blokes are being spread around by women, giving even more ammo to them.  How many of those reading these get sensitised? It just becomes part of the sickening term ‘rape culture’ that even well-known commentators use with impunity.

One report while rubbishing CNN – that I do not admire, anyway – talked about how the circus has just begun. Well, the moral high-standing falls flat on its face when you decide to ignore the crime and only watch the ensuing performance. How many referred to the victim while pulling up those who they think are rape apologists? Online warriors are primarily online voyeurs. This is being an apologist, too.

There is also a clear hierarchy regarding who to feel sympathy for. A few days ago in Mumbai, four men sodomised a eunuch, stubbed him with cigarettes, poured kerosene on him and threw him out of the moving car in which they committed the crime. Has there been any reaction to it except for a newspaper report? For all those who participate in the Gay Pride parade and offer lip sympathy to the LGBT community, this still remains an area of darkness. One of the reasons is that liberalism is all about accepting, but not questioning crimes towards the community as well as within it.

© Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

“Neither can the wave that has passed by be recalled, nor the hour which has passed return again."

- Ovid

Yet, we always wait...sometimes for nothing in particular. This song probably has nothing, but it lulls, it soothes. It makes one realise that waiting is all about the slow pace of understanding every moment going away...


Is Hinduism not a religion?

In what can be considered a bizarre judgment, deities have been pronounced as supernatural powers of the universe that do not represent any religion.

So, when believers participate in the Durga puja, fast for Lord Shiva, recite from the Hanuman chalisa, are they only invoking supernatural powers? I am merely conveying the observations made by the Nagpur income tax appellate tribunal. The normal reaction of devotees would be to express anger, for this is effectively giving the gods merely mythological status, not rooted in the real, in as much as any religion can be.

But this is unlikely to happen, as there is money involved.  An income tax commissioner denied tax exemption to the Shiv Mandir Devstan Panch Committee Sanstan on grounds that it spent more than 5 per cent of its expenditure on religious activities.

Here are some points from the report and my response:

The I-T act stipulates that for the purpose of tax exemption, an institution or trust must not be for the benefit of any particular religious community or caste. Differing with the I-T commissioner's order, the tribunal said, "Expenses on worshipping of Lord Shiva, Hanuman, Goddess Durga and on maintenance of the temple cannot be regarded as having been incurred for religious purposes."

Worship is different from maintenance. People can worship anywhere; to maintain a place of worship though is a technical matter. Supernatural powers are supposed to be omnipresent and omniscient, so they exist outside the confines of temples. The temples are religious structures, as are those of any other faith.

The tribunal went on to say that Hinduism was neither a religion nor a community. It consisted of a number of communities having different gods worshipped in different ways. Even the worship of god was not essential for a person who had adopted the Hindu way of life, it said. "Hinduism holds within its fold men of divergent views and traditions who have very little in common except a vague faith in what may be called as the fundamentals of Hinduism.”

In principle, this is possible. There are different gods, worshipped in different ways among the varied castes and sects. Each contributes to building places of worship for these specific gods; money is donated and collected for the purpose of a “vague faith in…fundamentals of Hinduism”. But you ask a Hindu and it is unlikely that anyone would point out to any particular god/goddesses. That is more likely in films and TV serials. 

The caste system has an ingrained hierarchy, and the Yadavs who are considered low caste are Krishna bhakts. Now, Lord Krishna is not confined to them and in a different avatar is revered by others. So also Lord Ganesha. Or Goddess Durga. They have different names as well and might represent two completely different forms at variance, most prominent being Durga as Kali. Ravana too is seen in distinct ways – as the evil force and the intellectual sage.

How can these disparate aspects fall into a single faith? I am not questioning polytheism. It has its virtues for believers. But, going by the tribunal statement, it amounts to obfuscation if an attempt is made to deny a oneness, and that too only to get tax benefits.

The tribunal further expressed:

...the word 'community' meant people living in the same place, under the same laws and regulations and who have common rights and privileges. This may apply to Christianity or Islam but not to Hinduism. "Technically, Hinduism is neither a religion nor a community.”

Neither Christianity nor Islam is monolithic, although they are monotheistic faiths. There are sects in both – the only commonality being the supremacy of one god. In that sense, these religions are more supernatural because they started with the ‘Word’ and have messengers, apostles and angels. There is only one holy book for these two, but how many Hindus would say they do not swear by the Bhagwad Gita and instead choose only some Vedas or Upanishads?

Regarding communities, Hinduism divides them along regional/caste lines whereas Islam and Christianity do so on the basis of sects. Why, even in Zoroastrianism there is a certain emphasis on Parsi and Irani, and Buddhists and Jains follow their versions. Sikhism also has its panths, and is in fact close to monotheistic. Visit any locality and you will see Hindus too living as communities. There is social activity based on ‘communal’ compulsions.

This was what started the argument.

The I-T commissioner had said that expenses for building maintenance, providing free food, festival prayers and daily expenses related to 'religious purposes'. This added up to more than 5% of the organization's expenditure. The sanstan had countered this, saying its temple was open to everybody, irrespective of caste and creed. "The temple does not belong to a particular religion. Installing idols is not a religious activity.”

I am all for providing benefits like food and alms to the poor, and it is not possible to comment on this particular case. The discussion is beyond it. If Hinduism has different ‘ways’, then does it not appeal to only limited groups? There have been instances when certain castes have not been allowed inside these temples. Also recall that singer Yesudas, a Christian, was not permitted to sing bhajans in a temple.

I wonder what would be the consequences if this tribunal’s remarks become the template for the concept of temples. Would we then even need a Ram Mandir? If for some unfortunate reason a temple is destroyed, should it be avenged? (If it is due to natural disasters the tendency is to see it in superstitious terms as the wrath of god.) Since they are supernatural, how does a ‘form’ become important, and how true is it?

Fact is that idols are about religion, except perhaps in the hands of a sculptor.  

© Farzana Versey



Imagine, how easy it is to get one language to become another. I don't usually post forwards here, but could not resist this...or ziz...from my inbox:

"The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the European Union rather than German, which was the other possibility.

As part of the negotiations, the  British Government conceded that English spelling had some room for  improvement and has accepted a 5- year phase-in plan that would become  known as "Euro-English".

In the first year, "s" will  replace the soft "c".. Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump  with joy. The hard "c" will be dropped in favour of "k". This should  klear up konfusion, and keyboards kan have one less letter.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in  the sekond year when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced with "f"..  This will make words like fotograf 20%  shorter.

In the  3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted  to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are  possible.

Governments will enkourage the removal of double  letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate  speling.

Also, al wil agre that the horibl mes of the  silent "e" in the languag is disgrasful and it should go  away.

By the 4th yer people wil be reseptiv to steps such  as replasing "th" with "z" and "w" with "v".

During ze fifz  yer, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from  vordskontaining "ou"  and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil  sensi bl riten  styl.

Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil  find it ezi TU understand ech oza. Ze drem of a united urop vil finali  kum tru.

Und  efter ze fifz yer, ve vil al be speking German like zey vunted in ze  forst plas.

If zis mad you smil, pleas pas on to oza  pepl."


Objectifying Women’s Rights:
Sexual Violence as a Brand

(Published in CounterPunch, March 11)

Behind the high walls of Tihar Jail, Ram Singh hanged himself to death early on Monday, March 11, reportedly using his own clothes.  He is one of the main accused in the Delhi gangrape case.  Therefore, the concern will be not so much about security in prisons, but how justice did not get to perform live before a salivating audience.

The criminal conducted the last rites of the case, at least partially. The victim’s brother has been quoted as saying, “I'm not very thrilled with the news that he killed himself because I wanted him to be hanged ... publicly. Him dying on his own terms seems unfair. But, oh well, one is down. Hopefully the rest will wait for their death sentence.”

While one understands the personal trauma, we ought to realise that in this instance the personal became political.  The discourse objectified the very rights that were being fought for. These need to be re-examined.  

It has been almost three months since the Delhi gang rape of December 16. Ever since, the media has been carrying articles or doing television stories on different aspects of what one newspaper has slotted as ‘Women under attack’. The conscience- keepers do not realise that this sounds fetishist.

What will it achieve, when it merely uses victims as exhibits – the covered, blurred faces not so much to protect the identity of the woman, but to desexualise her in a certain context? This amounts to shaming the shamed.

I’ve read a veritable array of personal accounts about where women were touched, by whom, for how long, and the manner in which they sought closure. This epidemic of exhibitionism serves two purposes – gaining sympathy and joining the bandwagon. One might think that this is about solidarity. Indeed, there is bonding over the collective assertion, but feminism gets reduced to the lowest common denominator of being ‘used’. Any contrarian thought is elbowed out as being insensitive or cynical.  No one is willing to face their own cynicism that did not trust the judiciary, the government.

“The thing women have yet to learn is nobody gives you power.  You just take it.” - Roseanne Barr

Elite suffering is colonising the muffles of the unheard. In doing so, it is silencing them. Everyone has a right to talk about their experiences, but they do not necessarily represent the unlettered, unvoiced. Who benefits from such catharsis, if it is just that?

Jyoti Singh Pandey has been completely taken over by the public. Whether it was about giving her names or starting campaigns, it turned into a reality show. She effectively became a brand.

A month after the incident an organisation held a fashion show to create awareness about rape incidents. One of the victims was told by an actress in a benign tone “not to be ashamed, it is not your fault”.

It is not news that rape is about power, but it is also about abuse of a woman’s body. The logistics make it difficult for a woman to adequately fight back. Therefore, dwelling on her valour denigrates the discussion and makes it incumbent on the woman to be projected as a braveheart to commemorate.

Reduced to a vegetative state, how relevant is an award for courage? On International Women’s Day, US state department honoured Nirbhaya (the fearless, one of the names given to her by a newspaper) with a posthumous bravery award. The citation applauding civil society stated, “Thanks to these efforts, the Indian government has begun to take action to follow through on those demands.”


Reforming the criminal

Should criminals be reformed? Just the fact that someone thought it necessary to raise this question is important – that the person has no criminal record himself or an axe to grind should be sufficient.

Unfortunately, while people are quick to brand celebrities activists, the moment a person in the public eye says something that appears to be politically incorrect at a particular time is enough for us to rubbish the message. Rahul Bose – actor, occasional director, rugby player, citizens’ forum wallah – said that rapists ought to be given a second chance and hope for reform.

"... We have to ask ourselves of the five or six of the rapists of the December 16 is there anyone who wants to change, who wants to reform ... Nobody is saying about commuting any sentence, the sentence stands as it is but while it stands can we create a gender warrior among them?"

The gender warrior bit is ridiculous and women do not need such gestures. I also wish he had not used this example; there are many other crimes too. Therefore, I’d like to examine reforms for crimes in general.

But first, a quick look at the comments. They show how utterly superfluous the arguments against him are:

  • What if it were his sister?
 (Those speaking in this manner do not realise how sexist this is.)

  • Why does he not reform himself?
(From what and into what?)

  • He wants attention?
(If so, then they must ask themselves why they do not bother in cases less prominent than the Delhi gangrape.)

  • Does he think he is an authority to speak on everything?
(No. But, are they not applauding civil society for speaking out without any knowledge of the subject?)

If many are agreed that capital punishment is out, then whatever prison term the criminal gets is meant for reform. This is what the government strives for. This is what civilised society needs. And it needs to implement it with as much, if not greater, force than it does in filing cases and ‘letting the law take its course’, for complete justice is not only about arrests, but what happens after.

While we need to understand the trauma of the victim, the mind of the criminal has got to be understood and given an opportunity to correct itself. There may be those with extreme mentally-unstable conditions, but many are ‘normal’ human beings who have gone over the edge due to circumstances, peer pressure, or a bestial streak either executed at a moment in time or across a pattern.

Assume we are putting a person in solitary confinement. What exactly does this achieve? That he (I am aware there are women criminals too, but for the purpose here I’ll stick to one gender) will feel the pain? No. It numbs him. He does not care. He probably is poor, so eating basic meals may not make much of a difference. We hear of instances where they take to reading holy books, and assume this is penance.  By this logic, most the world must have criminal tendencies given the amount of scriptural reading that society thrives on.

It is the lack of reformative spirit that should be addressed.  Do we recall the time when dacoits surrendered under some scheme where they would not be arrested? Some, like Phoolan Devi, took to politics. Others were ignored and probably returned to the villages. The police had been helpless in capturing them, but quite obviously the old form of dacoity did not work that is why they laid down arms.

A prison term does not always work as a deterrent. It is known that the big criminals manage to conduct their business from inside the cells. The jail authorities too need to reform.

As for rape and the cries for castration, even if that job is done will it prevent acid attacks, battering, disfiguring of women, and the increasing incidences of cyber abuse? On the one hand there is talk of change in mindset, and when somebody talks about it there is opposition. The mindset is not just about how criminals or those who justify crimes think, but how they need not think. That locked mind needs the key of reformation.

I had once suggested that a rapist should be made to financially pay for the girl/woman’s upkeep. This is not a payout, like blood money. It is a more proactive means to ensure that the person is not dependent. How would a criminal manage? Not all are rich, and the rich ones get away. This is where the prison term should ensure that he does real work during normal hours, instead of being made to march in line, that keeps him occupied and his earnings are diverted to the victim. This is especially important in the horrific instances of paedophilia.

The fact that we have “repeat cases” tells us that merely putting a person behind bars won’t work. His life behind bars should be an eye-opener. It also does not amount to being let off on good behaviour. This is a moral dimension, best avoided. There is not much bad that can happen inside jails, except perhaps brawls among prisoners.

We have to be pragmatic and accept that crime cannot be wished away. More importantly, what about crimes committed by the keepers of justice? What about undertrial prisoners who are proved to be innocent years later? Who needs to reform here? Do we imagine those who did not get a fair trial will come out reformed for something they did not do? They might well turn out to be avengers for injustice. Our definition of justice cannot be static. These young men are tortured and forced to confess. If we decide to give the benefit of doubt to the legal system (and I do believe it is our best bet), then suppose they see these ‘suspects’ in a humane manner and use reform as punishment it is possible that upon release they will be an asset in helping to prevent crimes. They will see themselves not as victims of the system, but its allies in a purely mutually-beneficial sense.

If people have an issue with this, then we will have to live with the flurry of kangaroo courts, khap panchayat, fatwas, fast-track courts pushed by the media to keep their TRPs ticking. Perhaps, we have got accustomed to these demonic shows so we can forget about demons we can ignore in real life.

© Farzana Versey

Sunday ka Funda


Wharton Woes: Modi Gets a Feel of Poison Ivy League

Those applauding the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania for dropping Narendra Modi from its list of keynote speakers had better pause. 

If anything, Wharton can be seen as the ‘Vibrant’ wing of the university. By denying Modi the opportunity to address what is clearly a capitalist-driven agenda, it has managed to imbue itself with a liberalism it may not possess. It is essentially a conformist management institution and the sole concern is to further precisely what Narendra Modi is claiming to do.

The Wharton Economic Forum is run by students, so clearly there are many who did not consider inviting Modi wrong. Even the protests are conformist, and playing into a politically-correct pattern from the humanities stream, working the stereotype. The US administration had already denied the Gujarat chief minister a visa in 2005, and that stands.

Recall the last time this happened, senior BJP leaders like L.K. Advani, Manohar Joshi, Arun Jaitley addressed a rally when Gujarat organised a ‘Bharat Swabhimaan Divas’ (self-esteem day) to regain the lost prestige of a state chief minister who could not visit America to address some hoteliers in Florida.

Modi had responded with: 

“No court of India, or the world, has passed any judgment against either the Gujarat government, or its chief minister. The decision is heavily lopsided, against the tenets of democracy and human rights and a violation of natural justice. The American government, which prides itself on being a democracy, has indulged in the misdeed of insulting the Indian Constitution and the five crore people of Gujarat.”

Modi is not India. And he has gone against the tenets of the Constitution and degraded the self-esteem of his people.

Mr. Advani had said, 

“The US regards India as a ‘pushover state’. However, this time they have chosen the wrong person. The fight for swabhimaan initiated by Narendra Modi will become the fight of the entire nation. It must be noted that even those who are ideologically against us have stood by Mr. Modi.”

This was an insult to the country, for India has not fallen prey to US moves in its internal policies or even on how to deal with foreign powers. The entry of multinationals too is debated and argued.

If his self-esteem was so important, why did Modi agree to address the forum via satellite on March 23? This time the BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said, “It doesn’t matter as Americans don’t vote in India.”

But, a huge PIO population does exercise this right. Then, there is the funding and a promise of investment. Besides, America is itself an imperialistic power. How much does its antipathy towards Modi have to do with the fact that he "did nothing to prevent a series of orchestrated riots that targeted Muslims in Gujarat” and how much because it wants to ensure that the economic promises made by Modi could considerably reduce its leverage in the market and lead to the prodigals returning home?

The main sponsor, Gautam Adani, Chairman of the Adani Group, has backed out as a protest. Other speakers too are dropping out.  The Shiv Sena that has problems with Indians from other states coming into Maharashtra, has said, ”Wharton’s move is an insult to India.”

There is some noise about how Modi will become a martyr because of it. The rightwing parties have little opportunity to get sympathy votes, so clutching at such straws often helps ride a storm.

Why has the rejection of Modi become such a huge issue?

The educated middle class aspires to get into Ivy League colleges. One has to only see the desperation over getting an entry into this rarefied world. The alumni associations help these wishes come true with annual sponsorships. The universities are happy to gain a bunch of bright students who will add to the US economy in future. However, its mainstay is the significant contribution by India's rich. All the scions of business families have performed the ritual of that mandatory MBA, and the parental wealth has helped a good deal to keep these universities in a happy frame of mind.

That is the reason Wharton had no ethical or technical issues when Anil Ambani got a lecture series dedicated to his father Dhirubhai, a man who used the simple old-fashioned method of keeping people in fine fettle to get where he wanted without any management technique. Wharton is, therefore, not terribly picky. It is important to note that Anil Ambani has not commented on Modi's invitation being cancelled. Just a month ago he had hailed him as the "king of kings".

The Wharton Forum has no lofty principles. Described as one of the big-ticket “India-focused business conferences that provides a platform for leaders to discuss the opportunities present in India and the challenges that need to be addressed", this meet is essentially about how to make the most of the Indian economy that has suffered fewer blows than the US or Europe.

So, whether it is Modi or anyone else, this would be like a preview trade delegation. It has been doing so for 16 years and has never got much attention.

The protest petition states:

“We find it astonishing that any academic and student body at the University of Pennsylvania can endorse ideas about economic development that are based on the systematic oppression of minority populations, whether in India or elsewhere. Our role as scholars and students—and indeed as would-be entrepreneurs and business managers—must be to develop conscientious and efficacious modes of economic organization, not to piggy-back onto the inhuman policies of politicians who not only lack a commitment to human rights and to ideals of social justice, but whose political success is based on the suppression of substantial sections of their own citizens. Modi still does not have a US visa to enter the US, but Wharton plans to present him on Skype to the audience. Recently there have been efforts to whitewash Modi’s grim record and to grant him respectability. Wharton’s invitation lends itself to doing just that.”

All good. But business models anywhere in the world ride on political initiatives. The very idea of a liberalised economy lends itself to some amount of wiggling. The Occupy Wall Street Movement was not organised by big business and bankers. A group of Wharton students, essentially expats, are indulging in diaspora nostalgia. How many minorities are accommodated in US universities? Pointing out a universally-recognised wrong in India does not absolve the flaws within their own system. 
To make up for the snub, news has come in that the expats under the aegis of ‘Overseas Friends of the BJP’ have decided to redeem him. He will address them at Edison, New Jersey, Chicago, Illinois, of USA through video conference.

One hears that Aap Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal has been invited. This is irony for he will be the only aam aadmi they will get to see, as the university has no place for commoners. How many cabbies and corner store owners have been to management schools in the US or even in India?

Recently British Prime Minister David Cameron on his visit to India went to express his regret over the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre. He was not revisiting history; he was ensuring that the Southall population kept the UK economy buzzing via Amritsar. He assured that the brightest students and big bucks got easy access to the old colonisers.  And he is not against the Gujarat chief minister. Most political leaders use a convenient modus operandi of semantics and split ‘acts of commission and omission’ with proactive development.

This is what the Wharton Economic Forum had done.  And this is also what the protests are doing. They are merely denying him space to speak. Will any of them sign petitions that say they would not invest in Gujarat and do business with anyone associated with Modi and the state?

If they get a good ‘package’, they’d pick it up in the future when the T-shirts and the slogans are frayed and the management cap seeks out talking heads.

(c) Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

“If it could only be like this always - always summer, always alone, the fruit always ripe..."

- Evelyn Waugh

Not quite, not quite. But torrid it surely is...


Desire under the microchip

Would you want your clothes to become transparent whenever you are aroused, instead of the usual signals? When innovative tech art enters personal territory it becomes both edgy and a matter of some concern.

Artist Daan Roosegaarde, who runs a social design lab, has diversified into computerised couture. He does not call it that. Rather, it has a name more befitting lingerie – ‘Intimacy’. You may opt for the black or the white version.

According to The DailyBeast:

Each dress has a small microchip embedded inside that contains software programmed to monitor different behaviors—in this case, a heartbeat. The garment functions much like a computer: The input is the heartbeat, the processor is the microchip and the output is the foil material, which can change from white to transparent or black to transparent.

Roosegarde does not treat it as merely a techno marvel:

“It creates a situation of total control that the wearer or the one who observes it has an influence over what fashion looks like…With some people you want to show more and some people you want to show less. We thought it would make complete sense that the dress would be proactive in that: either you have control or you lose control.”

Any woman who has been exposed to a particularly cold windy day or the gust from an airconditioner knows how her nipples react. These signals have little to do with arousal, although bracing weather can indeed be utterly enticing.

I assume the person who chooses to dress in ‘Intimacy’ is aware of the consequences. A beautiful and spontaneous reaction is now about control. What if she is aroused by a fantasy, a passage in a book, a scene in a movie, and not the person she is with? Is it not possible that she would try and control herself and withhold a natural expression even though she might not wish to see it through to what is considered a logical end?

The sensual would now become mechanical. Were the woman’s garment to turn transparent due to her partner, then it would express urgency, a preparedness that might pretty much bypass foreplay. Where would the blushing cheeks, the darkening of eyes, the shortness of breath, the slow running of fingers through hair, the biting of lips, the anticipation figure in this?

There is something automated about the dress, and as it is programmed one is not too far from such an allusion.

Besides, while ostensibly giving women the freedom to let their clothes communicate their desires, it actually plays into the male prerogative of perceiving the signals. It assumes that women might not wish to convey what they want – either through those natural expressions I mentioned or proactively by seduction, where she can gauge male arousal. ‘Intimacy’ makes woman the taker, or rather the taken, as does every stereotype in the book.  It chips in with a microchip to assist her to get rid of being able to transmit sexual intent.

Male arousal is seen as a given and in control of itself and of what it desires. The man will know exactly what to do, when and how. The reality is not quite as simple. Men also have issues and inhibitions.

There are plans to dress men, too. ‘Intimacy 3.0’ is a suit that will become transparent when they lie. Roosegarde uses humour to explain it: “That’s for the banking world.” That one-liner itself reveals that men’s command over their bodies in sexual situations is to be taken for granted.  It is unlikely that they would pick up a suit that would expose their lies. If they would wear it in an intimate setting, isn’t it a bit confusing that they would want to fake arousal or lie about interest in their partner? Reminds me of Pinocchio, whose nose grew longer with every lie. It would kind of stick out.

Unless, there is an altruistic motive to get men to be more truthful, aware that their lies would get exposed. The microchip would then work as conscience-keeper. From the body’s reactions to emotions to matters more intimately moral, it would seem a market can be created for robotising and lobotomising everything that is human.

© Farzana Versey