Tittle-tattle as Tribute

It’s a good thing that in a wired world we connect with information we might not have had access to so easily. But, together with that, there is also an excess of ‘uber facts’ that pass for knowledge. And then there is the surfeit of tributes – to coupling, to uncoupling, to botched-up cosmetic surgeries, to products, to people as brands, to débutantes, to the retired, to the living, to the rumoured dead. To the dead.

It does not matter whether you know anything about the deceased, or of the others, but it has become mandatory to add to the info pool.

Today as I signed in to access my mail, I saw a caricature of a man playing the table. But my eyes were riveted by the second ‘g’ and ‘l’ of google. They reminded me of Mahatma Gandhi’s glasses and walking stick. The link, of course, takes you to Ustad Alla Rakha. It is to celebrate his 95th birth anniversary. Who decides which year is worth commemorating? How many people who do not know him or about him would be enthused enough to read up or listen to his music?

Here is a short documentary on him:

What we end up with is over-the-top ‘connoisseurs’ who seem to know all, or the jejune attempts at keeping up with the Joneses that sometimes takes the form of distasteful parody.

On Monday, Zohra Sehgal turned 102. It is a remarkable moment for a remarkable lady. But the photograph that made it to most newspapers and websites was of her holding the knife high and, as one media outlet said, “attacking the cake”. She is an effervescent woman, but somehow her stance and the onlookers seemed to be at odds. Who were they? Family? Neighbours? Close friends? Where were the celebrities who keep throwing sound bytes about her achievements, about how lovable she is? I found the cake-cutting and the observers incongruous.

The picture I have chosen is gentler. There are personal moments when people end up as performers for an audience that only seeks certain characteristics, and thereby reduces them.

On her hundredth birthday, I had written:

There are times she acts as a link between generations, between spaces, between ideas, like a sutradhar, the perennial story-teller who weaves the chains together.

We don’t seem to care for stories anymore. The whispering gallery is where we stand and assume to understand life.


Here is the piece on her 100th: A hundred seas: Zohra Sehgal


The Artful Dodgers

If a celebrity sells a refrigerator to an Eskimo, it will be sold. We see this often in our society pages. So, why is it surprising if a painting by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee goes for Rs. 1.8 crore?

Narendra Modi landed up in Kolkata for the BJP campaign and alleged:

"Your (Mamata) paintings used to be sold for Rs. 4 lakh, Rs. 8 lakh or Rs. 15 lakh, but what is the reason that one of your paintings sold for Rs. 1.80 crore. I respect art. But who was the person who bought the painting for Rs. 1.80 crore?"

The reason for his interest in art is, of course, to score political points. In this case, "the multi-crore Saradha ponzi scam". Sudipta Sen, the key accused, said, "I didn't buy the Chief Minister's painting."

A couple of points:

  • Is there also a check on those who act as decoys for such deals? Does the reputation of a buyer matter?
  • If it is alleged that this is illegal money, then all parties take donations that are not all above-board.
  • The Trinamool Congress (TMC) maintains that all payments for the paintings are taken by cheque, and used for social service activities.
The entire amount which will be raised from this exhibition will be used to run campaign of the Trinamool Congress for the ensuing panchayat elections.

The Election Commission is being called upon to intervene in such cases now and is wasting its time. If there was indeed such a transaction, it is not possible to keep tabs if some of the money was paid in cash. And certainly no party can take a moral position on this.

The TMC's Derek O'Brien repeated his bluster, seeing how his 'bravery' is appreciated by social media activists:

"Blood is still fresh in the hands of the butcher of Gujarat. If he makes personal attacks against (TMC chief) Mamata Banerjee, we can also ask tough questions."

Why is it a quid pro quo? Why hasn't the party asked those questions before their leader was the target of personal attacks? This personality cult stinks. The riots and killings are well-documented. A bunch of people capitalise on them only when it suits their politics.

Memories are evanescent. Or, perhaps, agenda-driven. If you hate Modi, forget Mamata Banerjee's track record in Singur, in rape cases, in dislocating villagers, in censoring, in not permitting any criticism of her?

This is what passes for liberal analysis.

© Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

What’s going on here under the garb of promoting the idea of voting as a right?

Young man stands before visa officer at the US consulate. She is impressed that he has got admission into Boston University. He tells her the date of travel. “Isn’t that the voting day?” He does not know. “Is it?” Then he shrugs that one vote won’t make a difference. To which the stern lady says:

“If you cannot make a difference to your own country, how can you make a difference to another? Why should they have you?”

Fool. The US is ‘having’ him because of his grades, and not because he is voting. And voting does not translate into making a difference. He is projected as some sort of dimwit, which is a bit strange. How did he get into a big university? He is going there with the hope that they make a difference to his life, add to his education. After which, in all likelihood, they will use his brain for their technological benefit, among others. If not, they will not suffer him.

The last thing we need is for Indian democracy to be upheld via the American route.


Ramdev, Dalits and Our Mindset

Many of us have at some time or the other made a reference to Rahul Gandhi's visits to Dalit homes, much of it not complimentary.

Baba Ramdev took it a step further, and in some ways a bit too far:

"Rahul doesn't want to marry a 'desi' girl, however, he likes going to Dalits places for picnic and honeymoon," the yoga guru said, adding, "if the Congress vice president had married a girl from the particular community, not only the girl would have become rich, but Rahul would have become the PM."

We know he not only supports Narendra Modi, but is an active participant in the BJP's campaign. The party has not responded.

The Congress members have reacted, but it is quite obvious that this has to do with who he targeted. However, it just sounds more appropriate to express concern for a social issue.

The general anger is over the remarks being anti-Dalit and anti-woman, for it assumes that Dalit women are available and all they are interested in is benefiting from the interactions with a powerful man.

This is a fairly straight interpretation. However, how many people have bothered to question where this attitude stems from?

Krishna says:

"The fourfold varna has been created by Me according to the differentiation of guna (qualities)." (Bhagavada Gita, 4.13)

There is much in Vedic literature too that is complex and not static. However, the ritual of 'purification' is intrinsic to become a Brahmin.

The Manu Smriti says:

"The brahmin acquires his status by his knowledge, the ksatriya by his martial vigor, the vaisya by wealth; and the sudra by birth alone."

Does it not mean that the sudra has no way to prove her/himself?

Temple devadasis are always from the 'lower' caste. What "qualities" make them so? Is it not due to the community they were born into?

The fact that even today there is discrimination against Dalits — although we must remember that many among the Scheduled castes/tribes do not have the benefit of such nomenclature — should awaken us to it as a huge social problem.

After a controversial statement and resultant outrage, how many are willing to engage in the larger debate? If the BJP is silent because it does not wish to antagonise its Brahmin constituency, what does it say about the society we live in? If Modi has kept quiet, after projecting himself as a chaiwaala and capitalising on poverty, what does it convey? The questions will be laid to rest.

Will the FIR against Ramdev achieve anything? We have recent examples of such action taken against those who make hate speeches, and they get away.

While on Dalit matters, what about the Congress and Rahul Gandhi, who had said in October last year:

"If you want to take this (Dalit) movement forward, then one Dalit leader or two Dalit leaders would not be enough. Lakhs of Dalit leaders are needed....the leadership of the movement has been captured by Mayawati. She doesn't allow others to rise."

It is clear he was talking about power politics, but we do know that a good deal of reaction to Mayawati is also casteist and misogynistic.

On the Newshour debate last night, Dalit activist Kancha Ilaiiah was angry, and rightly so. When Ramdev appeared on the show, he asked him, "Do you know what honeymoon means?" And then went on to state that it is when a man and woman have sex.

If the connotation was lost, this made it sound like a parody. I have much respect for his writings on Dalit issues and understand where he is coming from, but how do such words make amends for the general tone of the abusive content that was being debated?

When Ramdev publicly withdrew his comments, whatever be his motive for doing so, there was a demand by Ranjana Kumari that he apologise to Dalit women. I do not know how many Dalit women were watching the show. The ones who are paraded in the public square and have no recourse to legal action? The ones who are killed for marrying someone from an upper caste? The ones who are treated as chattel?

Mr. Ilaiah said he should wash their feet and drink the water. Isn't this playing the same game that they accuse the 'high-born' of? Ramdev is a shrewd man; he immediately said that he had done so often. There are probably some sadhus who perform rituals that include Dalits.

There are other rituals too. Isn't there a Brahmin practice of taking soil from a prostitute's house to mix with the clay for Durga puja sculptures? Aren't eunuchs considered auspicious for certain occasions? All of these obfuscate the problems that they face.

We do not help matters by only using an incident and forgetting about how it manifests itself in daily life.

Instead of merely calling Ramdev anti-Dalit, why not flip his ridiculous statement and throw it back at him — that, yes, marrying a Dalit would be a normal and regular thing to do, provided the woman has a choice in the matter?

Instead of the National Commission for Women calling Ramdev's remarks anti-women, why not go all out and condemn the general perception that women are gold-diggers, or the more polite assertion that they look for security?

All these are about mindsets. Do we have the time and patience for them?

© Farzana Versey


Images: 1) Ramdev with Sunita Poddar, a devout disciple who invested in his Scottish island; 2) With Uma Bharti; 3) A devadasi


When Mumbai was boothed

Everything is not about cynicism. We have a tendency to applaud only acceptable forms of protest. Now that 54 per cent have voted, Mumbai seems to have reclaimed itself.

There was much carping about the low turnout in the city until late afternoon on poll day. As the celebrities from Page 3, Bollywood, industry have been photographed, it is obvious that the others who didn’t go out and vote do not fall into the ‘luxury’ category. Not everybody is holidaying, not everybody is at kitty parties or watching movies, not everybody is smug.

It is for these not everybodys that I still laud my city. Whether they say so or not, refraining is dissent. I do have a problem about showing the middle finger though, because it insults the Indian Constitution and is churlish. But, for those who made a conscious decision, it is time to feel empowered. As residents of the financial capital, this sends out a strong signal to the complacent establishment.

There is the usual noise about how you can therefore not criticise the government. You can. If you pay taxes, don't throw garbage in the street, don't clog drains, don't incite people to anti-social activities. You can and you must.
This option is visible. For all those with inked fingers, nobody knows where their affiliations lie and therefore it would be interesting how willing they would be to stick their necks out for the party of choice, irrespective of the results.

This brings me to the idea of ‘privacy’ of choice. It appears to contradict the process of 'assembly'. If people voted en masse with a specific ideology/manifesto in mind, then it would be active participation. I am beginning to respect those who vote for freebies because they are not those insufferable ones voicing their tosh about rights. They seem more selfish than politicians, who are often upfront about their ruthless ambitions and even their lies. You can see through them.

My constant refrain is that the candidate or party you vote for is not going to be answerable. They might change alliances anytime.


How prudent was it to carry this story about 28,000 safai kaamgaars from the sweeper’s colony and their voting choice on the eve of the polls in Mumbai?

We have spent over 100 years here but we do not own these rooms. Several generations of our family have been in this profession and even the educated members of the community have been forced to take up this job as we do not have any other accommodation. No party takes active interest in our upliftment. So, we have unanimously decided to use the None of the Above (NOTA) option in the Lok Sabha elections," says Devendra Makwana, a resident of the BMC sweepers' colony near Arthur Road Jail, Byculla. 

This was uploaded on the website at 11.30 pm. The Congress MP or his supporters, of the rival parties’ candidates could easily approach them for what is essentially a municipal issue. They could make promises, offer sops, anything. In fact, members of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and Aam Aadmi Party have been quoted in the report.


This picture in the social media was touted as evidence of democratic power:

Is it applause-worthy? It is shameful and distressing that in this city, this country, the poor, the elderly, and the disabled do not have the means to live with dignity. Unless, somebody decided to deliberately stage this for a photo-op.


So this is exercising franchise - go vote and get discounts, and fatten the purses of those who will benefit the most anyway?

Or this:

“Share your inked selfie using #dnaVoteGuru to encourage your friends & stand to win movie vouchers.”


Then there was the Election Commission doing its bit from secularism. Or, was it the media?


How do people vote?

The poor with their helplessness.

The middle class with the belief that their version of right and wrong are supreme.

The very rich by calculating who will give them the best deals and pass their lolly dreams.

Therefore, voting is all about getting returns.

And it is only one part of democracy. The whole of India waits in long queues for every little thing. No one applauds them for standing for hours to get their rations, their buses and trains, their seats in schools and colleges, and water dripping into dirty buckets from slowly drying taps.

Will those who did go to the booths accept whatever be the verdict and stop cribbing from now? Unlikely.

I have retained my right to rant. I am the alpha satvik voter.

© Farzana Versey


Shazia Ilmi's secularism

There is much, much more to call out Shazia Ilmi on. Not this:

“Don't be much secular. Muslims are too secular and they should become communal. They are not communal and do not vote for themselves. Arvind Kejriwal is ours. Muslims have remained secular for long...have voted for the Congress and helped them win. Don't be so secular and look at your house (community) this time. Other parties have their votebank intact and Muslim votes split. This is a controversial statement, but we should look at our own interest.”

Ilmi, the Aam Aadmi Party candidate from Ghaziabad was talking to some members of the community, including clerics. As is expected, there has been a reaction. Her own party members believe she should not have said it. She herself has clarified:

"I said it half sarcastically. Somebody was saying Muslims are very communal. I am saying Muslims are not communal, infact they are very secular. They need to be communal. This does not mean to incite hatred. They must think of themselves and must not be political slaves. What have the political parties done for Muslims in terms of political empowerment and representation in either government or private jobs, education... in terms of economic and political opportunities."

I figured the sarcasm bit out immediately and I am sure her audience did too. The only ones who did not are her party cadres, the opposition, and the media.

Their reason is obvious – to extend the show. For long the BJP has accused AAP of covertly working to benefit the Congress. But, then, why would they want the votes that would probably go to the party? Will AAP divide the votes against the BJP, and then see how it goes?

Besides that, there is Ilmi’s ‘be communal’ suggestion. Everybody is using the communal card or offering sops based on it, every group wants to protect its own. Why is this so surprising? I suppose wanting to build a Ram Mandir in the BJP manifesto is about the development module the party talks about.

If you look at Ilmi in this picture, she was not even trying to be non-communal. She was reaching out to a group of Muslims, and with her head covered was trying not to disrespect sentiments, although it is unlikely a non-Muslim would have tried to do so, and whether the people there might have been offended at all.

From some responses, it is rather amusing that those who have often been abusive towards the community and slandered its members for divisiveness now believe one newbie politician is spreading the message of communalism. Will they take back their insults, then, considering that Muslims are not communal? Interesting to see how they get trapped in their own arguments.


PS: Narendra Modi is trying hard to drop his communal stance. This magazine cover takes him right back to the days that his party wants erased. How will he build a temple with this image?!

© Farzana Versey


Bread and Wine

The Last Supper is not just Resurrection. It seems a challenge to authority, to the haters, to those who kill, and who cannot stand dissent. It is rebirth, not of oneself but of those who stand by you. It is a lesson to face the traitor head-on, but also to keep people guessing about the identity of the one who betrays — in that way, everyone is on their toes.

Jesus was a sharp man. He went through tribulations, yet he also knew he was destined to be much more than one nailed to the Cross. There has been much analysis of the famous eponymous painting of the event by Leonardo da Vinci, including the sort of food displayed. The salt-shaker in repose as bad omen; the plate before Judas being empty; the choice of fish - did Christ get his apostles from among the fishermen?

Bread and wine, of course, mean what has been said:

"For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25)

Would remembrance imply rejuvenation of those who remember? Are they the only chosen ones?

I am not qualified enough to discuss the symbolism in religious terms, or even in detail. Also, I was quite intrigued by this other painting by Jacopo Tintoretto:

It is darker, has more happening, and except for the light near Jesus, the rest is almost mundane. Does it need the routine to show up brilliance or does brilliance put everything and everybody else in the shade?

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. (John 6:53-58)

Was this spiritual barter? Or, is it the submergence of flesh to live in another (off another?)? If the eternal is based on the temporal, then is it really eternal?

PS: It took a Mad takeoff, with cellphones playing an important role, to suggest that, indeed, the temporal is eternal, connecting, staying in 'touch' with others and, therefore oneself.

© Farzana Versey


On caps, Vajpayee and the Modi Trial

There is competition over who meets Muslim clerics among the two top political parties, and then both accuse each other of appeasement.

When Sonia Gandhi met the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Ahmed Bukhari, she apparently got an assurance from him regarding her plea that Muslims should not divide the secular vote. The BJP accused her of vote-bank politics. It was as though they had captured the Muslim votes already in that little meeting that has nothing to do with Muslims at all.

Days later, BJP president Rajnath Singh met a whole bunch of clerics – vice-president of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, Maulana Kalbe Jawwad, Maulana Hameeudul Hassan, Maulana Yasoob Abbas and Maulana Khalid Rasheed Farangi Mahali. The Congress hit back.

Both described these as courtesy calls, but when pushed the BJP said

“Rajnath Singh is a candidate and it's his duty to go door to door to everyone's house. Not be selective. All prominent persons in Lucknow are close to each other. So we have to call on everyone and reach out to people of all sections.”

These politicians talk about wanting to improve the lot of common people, so why are they meeting “prominent persons”? One of the clerics later told a TV channel: “We are scared of Narendra Modi, but Rajnath Singh has the acceptability of Mr. Vajpayee.”

Acceptability of Mr. Vajpayee?

Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha got into a bit of trouble over his statement

“The weakest PM ever was AB Vajpayee, who wanted to sack Mr Modi for the ghastly Gujarat massacre, but succumbed to BJP bullying.”

Does anybody recall Vajpayee’s support of Modi post Gujarat riots, his speech in Goa at the time? Does anyone recall that he was famously called a ‘mukhauta’ (mask) by his own party man? He was positioned as the nice face and knew about it. Jha further stated: 

“The weakest PM India ever had was AB Vajpayee who despite the treachery of Kargil, gave Musharraf a red carpet welcome at Agra. The weakest PM India ever had was AB Vajpayee who was hugging PM Nawaz Sharif, even as 50 soldiers...”

Hindutva parties are so against Pakistan and would oppose any red carpet welcome, but now they have nowhere to look. So they call out the change in the earlier Congress stand where the former PM was praised. This is so churlish. I do not agree with Jha about using Pakistan as a touchstone to decide strength and weakness of our national leaders, but it is no big deal. The Sangh has been critical of Jawaharlal Nehru for years as well as Mahatma Gandhi.

Most of them are in a twist. No politician can keep religion out of politics because they themselves are blind worshippers of anything that will get them power.

Vajpayee’s photograph with a skull cap and Rajnath Singh’s recent one are making some kind of statement to transpose with Narendra Modi’s refusal to do so. In the by-now hyped-up interview he gave India TV, the loop on the skull cap was played in the promos and given prominence. My stand on it has been clear. I do not think it is important, nor is it evidence of secularism. However, if he talks about it, there will be some counter argument. This question should have been irrelevant, considering this was a major interview.

In a mock courtroom, he sat in the witness box. This effectively made it appear as though he was taking justice head-on. Nothing of the kind happened, and it was a horribly creepy show, where the audience clapped after every sentence. It lacked dignity and probity. It was a sham. The interviewer Rajat Sharma helped Modi sail through, not only with planned queries but his whole demeanour of agreeableness. 

The cap question was designed to give Modi an opportunity to softly peddle his views about a community. He gave it a lot of importance, and spoke about how he would respect all cultures, but not do what was against his “parampara” (tradition). I have an issue with this.

He positioned himself against one community, showing that they were outside his parampara, which I assume is Hindu. It better be, for India is not a Hindu nation and Indian Muslims, with or without skull caps, have a stake in it. Indian parampara is as much ours. To transpose this cap against the others makes for an interesting discussion when one is given the argument that he wears other caps because those are regional. How is the Sikh turban regional? Are the khasis not Christian? I won’t even get into his Buddhist outings, for he has cravenly started even using Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, who would find him an untouchable (pardon the use of the term).

When people get competitive about who is wearing what, then we need to shut up about secularism. These are ritualistic and gimmicky. However, if political leaders go to the Ajmer dargah to beg for favours from a dead saint, then they have no right to make distinctions about parampara. Modi knows that there are a few influential and rich Muslims in Gujarat or of Gujarati origin who contribute to development, his presence being absolutely incidental. Why, then, does he meet Muslim religious leaders? Why does he not go to the relief camps, instead?

One person in the audience asked in a pained voice how he coped with the aftermath of 2002. Seriously, nothing could be worse than asking a man who uses the “puppy” analogy for Muslims about how he coped during the period. He said it was “Satya ka saath, desh ka pyaar” – The side of truth and love of the nation. Such delusions.

I obviously did not expect any counter-questioning, but he was clear about his position as a grand mufti of sorts.

Pictures were shared of the big moment. People sitting out in the open on plastic chairs before huge screens when even slums have TV sets. This cannot be spontaneous; they were herded there to create a buzz. After all, this cleric was going to give his devotees a sermon.

© Farzana Versey

Also: Modi reads from The Satanic Verses


Sunday ka Funda

Gulzar to receive the Dadasaheb Phalke award seems like a redundancy. The accolade will not change a thing, but it does draw attention to the fact that this poet-lyricist-scriptwriter-director is one of the more subtle minds to embellish the Indian film industry.

I have often uploaded his songs, and gone into sometimes long explanations. Of Tere bina zindagi se shikwa tau nahin.... Of Mera kuchch samaan padaa hai aapke paas

This time, let us just listen. This is not one of my favourite ones, but it captures a certain mood. A tribute to tears?

Fill the eyes
Empty sleep...

Pani pani re khaare paani re
Pani pani re khaare paani re
Nainon mein bhar jaaye
Neendein khaali kar jaaye


Rape through the politician's prism

Where is Mulayam Yadav's son, CM Akhilesh?

Let us not dismiss these as merely sexist remarks. They are criminal. Let us also, for the sake of the female population we claim to support, look at these comments in totality. They are as bad, if not worse, but it will give us a better perspective.

Why are we shocked? Because these statements have been made during the elections? What about all the rest that are made throughout the year? Is the outrage we feel not pandering to political parties, each more disgusting than the other?

At a rally in Moradabad, UP, the Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav said: “Ladkon se aisi galtiyan ho jaati hain, to iska ye matlab nahin ki phaansi de di jaye (Boys do make such mistakes, but that does not mean that they should be sent to the gallows).” 
Referring to the Shakti Mills rape case, Mulayam Singh, whose party is in power in Uttar Pradesh, said: “Two or three accused have been given the death sentence in Mumbai. We will change such laws when we come to power ... we will also ensure punishment of those who report false cases.”

The first bit clearly reveals patriarchal notions that consider rape and women their property, and men will be boys. (It needs to be noted here that Mamata Banerjee’s attitude is not much different towards rape victims, so misogyny is not the only issue here.) Now, reprehensible as this is, everybody has latched on to it and forgotten their own pleas against capital punishment, including for rape. There is also a group that supports men’s rights against false cases, not to forget the support Tarun Tejpal has got from his friends.

Yadav has put us in an awkward position, for many human rights activists would want a law where people are not given the death punishment. I am not so sure about false cases, because it is rare for women to expose themselves and their bodies to such scrutiny only to wreak vengeance or get some rewards by implicating a man. Rape is a crime and like all crimes there will be evidence. Why is it so difficult to understand?

Have you heard discussions about these following his comment? No.

Soon after, his party’s Mumbai chief Abu Azmi added to it in this conversation quoted in Mid-day. This man is a serial offender where making outrageous comments are concerned. He has brought in Islam, and there is the kneejerk reaction that it is to get the Muslim vote. How pathetic is this. Muslim women get raped too, and they suffer as much. Was Mulayam Singh appealing to the Hindu vote, or do his ‘secular’ credentials make him a quasi-Muslim who was taking up for Muslim rapists? The Congress Party’s Nitish Rane posted this: ‏”All potential Rapists plz contact Samajwadi party female members n family members as its ok to rape them! Green signal mil gaya hai! Enjoy!” (sic) What votebank was he catering to?

Is Abu Azmi's son Farhan
serious about opposing his father?

Why did the reporter think it important to get Abu Azmi’s views on solution to rape, knowing what kind of a man he is? He repeated Yadav’s concern about false cases and a few other aspects:

  • “These days, the number of such cases has increased where girls go and complain whenever they want. If one touches them, they complain, and if no one touches them, they still complain. Then, the problem starts, and the man’s honour, which he has earned throughout his life, is destroyed. Rape with or without consent should be punishable as per Islam.”

  • “If a woman is caught, then both she and the boy should be punished. As per Islam, if someone has (sex) with consent, it’s the death penalty even then. In India, there’s death penalty for rape, but when there’s consent, there’s no death penalty...If you agree to be with someone, it’s okay. But the moment something goes wrong, and one gets angry and starts blackmailing, then the other person would be hanged; this is a serious issue.”

  • “As per Islam, rape deserves death penalty. If someone rapes a woman, she shouldn't be punished, ladki to bechari hai (the girl is helpless). The whole country should stand with her.

The last part has not been brought up in any discussions, which are a repeat of the sensational headline: ‘SHOCKING! Women having sex should be hanged, says Abu’.

He should have been hauled up for bringing in Islam in a secular country, if any of this can be used in any nation at all. Besides this, he is expressing typical power politics of gender where the woman who ‘consents’ is assumed to be loose or vengeful. It reveals some gumption and I wonder just how these political leaders do not give a damn for the 49 per cent women voters that have become sound bites.

The mainstream and social media have a free run, too. Abu Azmi’s son Farhan is being hailed as the sensitive guy who has taken on his father by publicly dissociating with the comments. His wife, actress Ayesha Takia, also spoke about being “deeply embarrassed”. All well, except that the son is contesting these elections. Is he doing this to assure his constituents? Superficially. The area knows him for his high-end restaurants and glamorous life. They are the ones who sniff into lace handkerchiefs during plays on ‘Nirbhaya’, a victim of the media after the rape. They are bothered about their safety from the pub to home. One is not reducing their concerns, which are legitimate too, but this is what the young Azmi is playing on.

At a time when everybody has a forum to express, we are inundated with the most venal form of support for victims. From bragging about boycotting Azmi’s restaurants to sexual innuendos about the characters in this sorry episode, it is open season. If they wish to express anger, then how does this fit in: “I wish Ayesha Takia would chest bump Abu Azmi?” Is this respect for women?

Those who have a problem with feminism as an “over-reaction” want to join the gravy cart of ‘women’s issues’.

The media is playing the statements on loop. Panellists are talking about all sorts of punishment for the rapists. Some are obviously playing politics. No one can sit on a high moral ground. Unfortunately, not even those who are yapping about misogyny.


On a different note, is Narendra Modi declaring for the first time that he has a wife in his nomination papers. It proves that he has withheld the truth until now under oath. The marriage took place when he was 17, and she a year younger. Again, the matter should be about bringing this to the notice of the Election Commission, or file a case. Get senior party leaders to explain. Has this happened? I hear a complaint has been filed, but not by any political leader or human rights organisation.

The lady becomes an object. By the BJP – they are crooning that she has gone on a pilgrimage to pray for him because he has finally acknowledged her publicly (even if this could be a hostage situation). By the Opposition – they are feeling sorry for her being abandoned by this big man (even if he was not a big man when he did so). And by the concerned – they feel sympathy for her plight, or give her a certificate for managing so well on her own. All of this reeks of such a patronising attitude. She should be left alone.

In fact, just leave women alone - in so many ways.

© Farzana Versey


One incident, two versions

Nobody in India can be in denial about communal clashes, but should the media play them up? Or, jump the gun? On Ram Navami, violence erupted in Kanpur. It happened to be the eve of the polls in Uttar Pradesh. These things can be engineered.

What is disturbing is the manner in which media reports give differing versions. Hindustan Times stated:

Eight people were injured when members of two communities fought a pitched battle over taking out of Ram Navmi procession in Sayed Nagar of Kalyanpur area in Kanpur late Tuesday evening.
Panic spread in the area after the rival groups resorted to indiscriminate firing and lobbed hand-made bombs during the clash. Police had to resort to cane charge to control the mobs after they tried to manhandle them.

Others had something else to say. Take this in Mid-day:

The incident was triggered when the district administration did not allow some people to take out a Ram Navami procession through a certain route in Sundernagar area of Kalyanpur.

HT starts by talking about two communities; Mid-day (The Freepress Journal and IBN too) mention that the administration did not grant permission.

In one the implication is that members of a certain community that is not referred to by name could have created mayhem. In the other, it seems to be a dispute with the administration.

Which one is true?

As I said, communal clashes do take place and it is easy to manufacture them, especially for political parties. Should this mere raw material for a news story? Has there been any interview where the police has blamed any group? What makes some in the media decide on these matters? People were injured, property destroyed. We have our priorities all wrong.

On the other hand, while HT specified that eight people were injured, the rest used an obscure “many”. Even one person is important, and eight are many. But eight is not eighty. It alters how the government and police act upon it.

If the media is concerned about how these issues affect the polls, then they should be the first to maintain some sense of proportion.

"My life is rolling on..."

They weren't really the mop-tops, the rubber lips, another brick in the wall; they didn't just call to say hello or get into orgasmic ecstasy over love to love you baby. And yet, 40 years later music lovers are celebrating the start of their journey.

I had written my reminiscences, mainly about Donna Summer, here. ABBA was mentioned, yet it is most of their songs I recall. I mucked up the lyrics, but they filled up pauses in my sentences. Or even explained what I was too shy to state...”Mother said I began to sing long before I could talk...”...or a note of hope... “Chiquitita, you and I cry/But the sun is still in the sky and shining above you”... or just to express angst...“Where is the spring and the summer/That once was yours and mine?”... And of course “gimme, gimme, gimme” for things one did not even want.

The best fun was the “ahan” after ‘Voulez-vous’. Such permutations were discovered!

Then there was ‘Chiquitita’... “Now I see you've broken a feather/I hope we can patch it up together...”

And, to end, these words that do not end:

“Even if we had to lose, there’s no regret. If I had to do the same again, I would my friend...”


Lighting up the dark

There are scenes that stay with you. They don't leap out but slowly touch your skin, your eyes; you can smell the pain, the pining; taste the slivers of light. Kaaghaz ke Phool remains one of my favourite films, and a lot of it has to do with how it could be seen. Guru Dutt's magnificent paean to angst was to a large extent realised by his cinematographer V.K.Murthy, who is now gone to another world of lights.

The only tribute I can pay is with a few images from just one film. He has many more that he lit up...with shadows...

Modi as Hindutva’s Marionette: India Elects

Published in CounterPunch and Countercurrents

Mad Hatter: “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?
“Have you guessed the riddle yet?” the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.
“No, I give it up,” Alice replied: “What’s the answer?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” said the Hatter.
(From ‘Alice in Wonderland’)

Think about Narendra Modi as loser. Almost everybody, including his detractors, has been talking about the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate in terms of victory. The reason is the so-called ‘wave’, which ought to be a cue for the ebb. Why, then, are the experts not conceding even the possibility of such a scenario?

Poll watchers in India are clutching at straws. It might seem like a spontaneous, even kneejerk, response to the countdown to the general elections that begin on April 7 and conclude on May 12 with the democracy anointing one privileged autocrat over another. But, much of new thought is regurgitation of stodgy ideas about cults.

Modi is the face, body and soul of the BJP, and several masks. These masks are not self-created, but given to him at regular intervals to suit a particular point of view. Somebody pulls the strings and he dances to it. When we watch a puppet show we look at the suspended character or a shadow figure, not the string-puller or the hands. Modi is getting a taste of his own stunts. During and soon after the Gujarat riots, he made sure that no mud stuck to him. The deaths in the riots, the encounter killings, the transfer of police officers and a huge spy network to keep tabs on his own people should have made him a criminal at least for the sin of omission, if not abetment. If he walks free today, it is because the courts say so. Courts depend on evidence. He knew that, and left no traces that would pin him down. In fact, he cooperated with the judiciary. He showed off that there was communal harmony in Gujarat, which he transformed into his personal fiefdom. He spoke for five crore Gujaratis, including those who continue to live in relief camps.

What was clearly an example of what was wrong became a test case for the BJP to propagate its idea of right. Modi is not the General, but a foot soldier, a facsimile of those he pushed in front to shield himself in 2002. The danger in making such a statement is that it might be construed as indicative of his helplessness. It was implied as such by senior journalist M.J.Akbar, who flirted with Congress politics 25 years ago and joined the BJP recently, and is now its spokespersons: "In ten years, no other politician has gone through so much scrutiny as Modi has gone through. He was scrutinised by police, central government, CBI, court-appointed institution...”

For all his spontaneity and brusqueness, Modi is a shrewd tactician. He does not mind being used. On his own, he is at sea, whether it is regarding foreign policy, history, the economy, and of late wildlife protection (he said there was poaching of rhinos in Assam to create space for Bangladeshi immigrants). He resorts to homilies because facts would expose him. This works for his audience – and he is primarily a performer – because facts lack sex appeal. They are mundane obstacles to reach the goal post. He gets on a magic carpet, instead. The remote control of this ‘magician’ is in the hands of the Sangh Parivar, a motley backroom group of rightwing organisations that decode India for the BJP.

This is the India that sees the ‘dev’ (god) in development, the one word chant of Modi. How would it play itself out? 

Astrology, singing of Vande Mataram, vegetarianism, cow protection, cleaning the Ganga are essentially social issues, and challenge mores at the most. They cannot cause paranoia.

Who is keeping the fear industry alive? 

  • The BJP campaign manager in Uttar Pradesh Amit Shah said, “In Uttar Pradesh, especially western UP, it is an election for honour. It is an election to take revenge for the insult. It is an election to teach a lesson to those who have committed injustice....A man can live without food or sleep. He can live when he is thirsty and hungry but when he is insulted, he cannot live. The insult has to be avenged.” 61 people have been killed in the Muzzafarnagar riots and 50,000 are living in refugee camps.


Sunday ka Funda

Two ways of looking at belief:

One day Mara, the Evil One, was travelling through the villages of India with his attendants. he saw a man doing walking meditation whose face was lit up in wonder. The man had just discovered something on the ground in front of him. Mara’s attendant asked what that was and Mara replied, “A piece of truth.” 
“Doesn’t this bother you when someone finds a piece of truth, O Evil One?” his attendant asked. 
“No,” Mara replied. “Right after this, they usually make a belief out of it.”


Tosui was the Zen master who left the formalism of temples to live under a bridge with beggars. When he was getting very old, a friend helped him earn his living without begging. He showed Tosui how to collect rice and manufacture vinegar from it, and Tosui did this until he passed away. 
While Tosui was making vinegar, one of the beggars gave him a picture of the Buddha. Tosui hung it on the wall of his hut and put a sign beside it. The sign read: 
"Mr. Amida Buddha: This little room is quite narrow. I can let you remain as a transient. But don't think I am asking you to help me to be reborn in your paradise."

(Zen fables)


Are voters spoilt for choice or a dead-end?

They all look and act the same, with cosmetic differences, after you have sat down and taken stock. Why don’t the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) just form a coalition and be done with it? We can then have all their marketing ploys under one roof - secularism, development and no corruption. The rag-a-tag Third Front can work as an opposition. The Communists, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and all the regional political groups can keep these three on their toes. This is if we ignore the fact that they all have enemies within. 

The Congress topi has already become redundant. It used to be the Gandhi cap, which Gandhi never wore. The AAP cap tries hard to mimic the common man, especially Mumbai’s dabbawallas. It is quite a sight to see Bollywood stars and a banker who has declared a Mercedes among her assets don that cap saying ‘Aam Aadmi’. The BJP wears an invisible RSS cap. All leaders end up with some head-gear on their campaign trail to appear affable to the locals. One leader refused to wear a skull cap, though. But he even refused to wear spandex tights.

Unlike the United States of America we do not have clear Red and Blue states, but rainbow states, with rain and shine, slush and dryness. People are spoilt for choice and yet there does not seem to be one that a person who is not ‘naturally’ aligned would veer towards.

I have to keep repeating that these are general elections, not assembly polls, where a good candidate who fixes sewers, listens to citizens’ woes, attends kiddie parties, passes files for parks and sports grounds would work. Here you are directly casting a vote for a political party and the candidate is only a medium. S/he might visit your constituency occasionally, but the major decisions will be based on which party comes to power.

Then there is the debate about party manifestos. “Where is the manifesto?” I have been hearing the shrill cries in TV studios. How many people read the manifesto? Do not talk about only the few of us who manage to go through excerpts reproduced in the newspapers. We read the promises, are happy or disappointed with various offerings on paper. Do we ever put the parties on the mat to pledge that they will not change the basic values that they stand for and you voted for and ally with a party whose candidates they have publicly abused and put you through the same torture? How is this not crucial when it ought to form the backbone of who they are?

After much deliberation, I have come to the decision to support NOTA (none of the above). I have reservations even about this ‘nothing’, and had talked about it here. This is not a U-turn for me. It happens to be the only way in which I can assert that not making a choice is also a choice.

I had written the following:

Is NOTA an opinion? It sounds good on paper. But it won't have an impact. 
The EC has already clarified that the candidate securing the highest number of votes would be declared elected even if the number of electors going for the NOTA option surpassed the votes polled by the electoral contestants. 
There goes the non vote. NOTA is a wasted opinion, and chances are that those who have made this choice would publicly claim otherwise, if the party that comes to power looks cosmetically good. Will those who opted for NOTA come out and claim to be votaries of it? 
In some ways, the rejection of all candidates is a rejection of the electoral process. If no one is good enough, then just boycott. 'None of the above' reeks of self-righteousness, rather than an opinion.

I admit I am being self-righteous. Personally, I can and may boycott the elections, but I have no right to urge or even suggest that others do the same. NOTA has got constitutional validity and I can proselytise about it, although I will not.

It brings us to the other question I raised: Will I sneak out of this after the results are announced and it could help me to stand by the victor? No. That is the reason I have put up the NOTA logo in the sidebar on this blog. I shall remove it only after the finale.

© Farzana Versey


Note to those who read me:

As you know, I try and engage with the comments. For the past few weeks I have been tardy, and it might continue for some time. Besides, where political stories are concerned I do not write anything I do not believe in, so it just ends up as reaffirming what I have already stated. I shall keep the comments box open, but will not respond to everything. A simple ‘thank you’ and ‘lovely’ is not my style. So, hope you understand and accept my thanks in advance for just reading and spending time thinking about it, thinking your own thoughts. I am sure your views would be of interest to others too, including me.


The Election Commission's Ethics

Aamir Khan: Muffling an 'ethical' laugh?

For all the hot air about voting as a right and duty, it is being hawked by brand ambassadors. After dithering (over what?), actor Aamir Khan has come on board as the voice of conscience. The Election Commission now has stars in its eyes with its own “national icon”.

The video spot, interestingly, does not just stop at Aamir asking people to vote. The cinestar, known for his "perfectionist" approach, also exhorts people to vote ethically...Aamir asks people to resolve to vote without fear, pressure or inducement, financial or otherwise. As the musical score of 'Saare Jahan Se Achcha' plays in the background, Aamir is shown tying a tricolour thread on his wrist and taking a pledge not to "sell" his vote in the name of religion, caste or any other inducement. "I pledge that I will untie this tricolour thread only after I have cast my vote in these elections," he says and calls upon people to take the same pledge.

Will Aamir Khan take a pledge not to portray a corrupt politician on screen ever? Will he ensure that his peers in the film industry and those in advertising, of which he is a part, take all payments in cheque and do not endorse any unethical product? 

Politics is about social discourse too. You cannot be ethical selectively. What does tying a tricolour thread mean when TV ads sell pasta in the colour of the national flag? So, you can keep eating it to vote ethically?


The EC’s role raises important questions. Does a state channel have any business to play moral vigilante? Are voters under tutorship of the Election Commission? Is the definition of ethical by the authorities the same as or similar to that of voters with varied issues and from different strata?

A few days ago the EC in Maharashtra, after appealing to voters to avoid corrupt and criminal, and choose “pro-development”, candidates went further in its enthusiasm and wanted us to sign a pledge:

The letter, written in Marathi for Maharashtra's voters and in other regional languages for people from other states, urges voters to elect a candidate who will 'meet the aspirations of the people and the nation as a whole,' thus making it clear that they should look beyond narrow agendas...and to 'inspire and encourage friends and family members' to vote in this fashion.

The job of the EC is to ensure that candidates follow rules, and do not indulge in corrupt or criminal activities, and that includes going against campaign rules. It must ensure there is no cross voting and people are not denied their right due to goof-ups. It is not the job of the EC to advise on how and who to vote for. If a candidate is hiding assets, how is a voter to know about it? What exactly does pro-development mean? Is the EC also riding a wave? It is also obvious that this is to target the educated middle class. Is this pledge being signed in the slums and rural areas, where the poor often vote for freebies? This is the more obvious aspect, for the rest are bribed with other promises, if not passing of files and berths.

And truth be told, we would not vote if we were not offered something in return. It is barter, and for whatever it is worth the voter is at least empowered by such knowledge. The EC is infantilising the procedure. Like a bunch of obedient students, after we sign the pledge, “Voters can either give the letter back to the school or submit at the nearby polling centres or election offices before or at the time of voting”.

This contradicts anonymous voting, for the pledge will have our name, signature, polling station number and name, assembly segment number and name. This is not only unlawful, but unethical.


If you want ethics, and however much you may snigger, it is in this rather basic move by Rakhi Sawant, an item girl in Bollywood. I am deliberately highlighting it because it is a job for which she earns and has declared her assets. There is more:

And in an interesting first from the zone, the debutant has submitted Annexure 16 detailing her expenses on public meetings and rallies. Also, she was the only one to specify the number of vehicles to be used in her campaign, the proposed expenses on pandals, lights, furniture, posters, etc.

The other actor who is getting noticed is BJP’s Smriti Irani, automatically considered worth attention and respect because she has enacted ‘bahu’ roles in TV soaps. This has been marketed as the USP by her party. Ironical, for she is contesting in Amethi against Rahul Gandhi, whose mother Sonia has often been called out for being just a dynasty bahu. That apart, politics is unforgiving business. The Aam Aadmi Party’s Kumar Vishwas took a potshot at her:

“The message has reached villages. Now it doesn’t matter whether Irani comes, Pakistani comes, Italian or American ... Amethi has already taken a decision.”

Vishwas is a stand-up comic. He is also silly. However, the reaction, especially about the Pakistan reference, is astounding. The earlier NDA government was behind the huge PR exercise called the Agra Summit.

This particular statement does not qualify as misogyny, although there have been way too many instances, including the term ‘Hate Hags’ used for the BJP’s women candidates. It is a patriarchal system where the only manner in which women can be reduced is to personalise/sexualise their identities. Every party has indulged in such lookism fantasies. 

Worse, it is disgusting to watch that panellists in discussions are repeating the offensive terms. How does that work against hate speech?

End note:

Look at this picture of Buddhist monks in Bihar wearing Nitish Kumar masks.

Imagine what would happen if some mullahs did so? Or sadhus? Or Christian priests? Does this not amount to religious interference in the state?

© Farzana Versey


Images: Hindustan Times, Times of India


Modi: The Jungle King and the Rhino

Dear Rhinobhai:

I have woken up before the sun peeped out, and struggled with hot plastic cups of coffee, climbed on an elephant's back with people I did not know, to be able to spot you in the thick of the forest at the Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary.

I knew you were precious as you smirked and gave us a glance and we went berserk capturing your one horn for a smudgy posterity. You, dear Rhino, knew you were different.

But did you imagine that you would be right in the thick of the Indian election fever, that too when the place you are native of — Assam — has never been given the respect of a mainstream state?

I have imagined your tears as poachers killed your parents, children, friends. Never a handsome creature, your USP was the hauteur you exuded, and that curving weapon-like horn that nature had bestowed upon you. I knew I scalded my tongue with milky coffee too hot to handle as I watched your droll manner. Even from the elephant-back height, we felt small and insignificant.

There have been attempts to save you before, but nothing quite compares with what the BJP's prime ministerial candidate has done. Like all politicians, Narendra Modi chose a tourist attraction to make a point. In this way he can internationalise an issue, get foreign investment, and also sound sympathetic.

Are you in tears now, tears of feeling wanted, tears of joy? This is what he said:

"Aren't rhinos the pride of Assam? These days there is a conspiracy to kill it. I am making the allegation very seriously. People sitting in the government...to save Bangladeshis... they are doing this conspiracy to kill rhinos so that the area becomes empty and Bangladeshis can be settled there."

Please tell us, can you recognise Bangladeshis? Did you know where I was from, or that man from Amritsar or the lady from Spain? You share the jungle with other animals, some you get along with, some you don't. But you guys know how to survive. There is no acrimony. You do it because it is instinctual.

Are you shaking your head and wondering how you have been dragged into this political controversy. It happens all the time. It is called appeasement. Any small group is targeted (yes, just like what poachers do) and given the impression that it will be looked after. Naturally, gratitude is also an instinctual emotion. You want to return the gesture and promise fealty. However, unlike humans or domestic pets, you cannot express it well. So, the well-wisher uses another group as your enemy. You know what? That group has been the real concern, not you. Sorry to break it, but it is Bangladeshis who are being 'poached' here.

Ask yourself: Even if all other animals leave, how can they take up your space and live in the wild? You are being used. By putting you on a pedestal as "Assam's pride", your space on the ground is already taken away. Like this:

"Those who are conspiring to finish of rhinos, they should listen to this carefully. After May 16, they will be taken to task one by one (chun chun ke hisab liya jayega)."

I know what you are thinking. That we humans will descend to any depths to score points. As George Orwell wrote in a work that can be read as a tribute to you and your jungle mates:

“All men are enemies. All animals are comrades."

© Farzana Versey