Fear Factor in Gujarat

If it were not so tragic, the story of the Gujarat riots might have qualified for an edge-of-the-seat thriller. Witnesses are either coming out of the woodwork or turning hostile. Every accusation is termite-like eating into the riots case.

Recently, IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt testified against chief minister Narendra Modi’s role when he alleged that he was there at a late-night meeting on February 27, 2002, when the CM gave instructions to let Hindus “vent out their anger” and for Muslims to be “taught a lesson” after the Godhra train burning. His words were not new, but because of his position it did cause a stir. Besides, there were questions about the veracity of his claim. They said he was not present at the meeting. And there is also the question as to why the Special Investigative Team (SIT) did not call him for questioning. This was his position. One might ask why he did not proffer such information through other channels. It is likely that he would have lost his job or been transferred, which he was. Is he safe now?

According to a press conference held today, April 30, he has said:

“I can tell the Nanavati Commission that (about what he has said in the affidavit) and much more because I was privy to much more. When I approached the Supreme Court with an affidavit, I submitted to the honourable court that I know much more which I can reveal to the court when I am called upon to do so. If this commission is interested in finding out the truth and if I am given an opportunity to speak out the truth, then I can come out with all the facts that I know and can recollect at this point of time.”

He asked for security and got it. Now, some reports say that as per a notice from the DGP’s office he had to return the vehicles and ammunition. If the government is clean about its intentions, then does it have to worry about what an IPS officer who was not around, as they claim, has to say?

What do all these twists reveal besides delaying the process of justice to suit different stories at varied intervals and the fact that one needs an “opportunity to reveal the truth”?

Yasmeenbano Shaikh is the latest. She is a key witness in the Best Bakery case and earlier this week has moved the Mumbai high court against activist Teesta Setalvad who she contends misguided her. It is important to note that she had already written a letter to the Chief Justice of the Mumbai High Court on June 17, 2010. Her petition states:

“Yasmeen gave false deposition against the accused and identified them falsely at the behest and advice of Teesta Setalvad only in the false hope that she (Teesta) would help her financially…Yasmeen was obsessed with the idea of getting money from Teesta and hence she did not think much about the repercussions of her false deposition against innocent persons. She is however repenting now.”

The Best Bakery which was torched in the 2002 riots was owned by her father-in-law; her husband was injured and later died due to illness. She was witness to the carnage. Therefore, while she now says she is being manipulated for “ulterior motives”, will she deny that the bakery was burned down and people died? Does she know who did it, if she says that her testimony is false and innocents were implicated because of it? If she is expressing concern for the nine people who have been given a life sentence, then does she have similar feelings for the families of the 14 people who died in that fire?

Her letter was also sent to the Chief Justice of India, the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission and the Director General of Police, Gujarat. Why was there silence for 10 months if there was a good case to be followed? The DGP would have jumped at such an opportunity.

Is it her personal trauma that is making her do this – she lost her house to her husband’s second wife and had to live with her mother? Is there a political machinery using her and that could include the politics of activism? As she said about her time in Mumbai:

“Rais Khan (who has since also accused Teesta) and Teesta Setalvad kept strict observation on the flat in which we were residing, we were not able to go out and no one was allowed to meet us. Neither were we having mobile nor were we allowed to talk to anybody, even if we requested. We were not permitted to open the window of the room. Dhyansingh or sometimes Pradip, working in the office of Teesta Setalvad, used to stay for 24 hours there. They used to fulfill our requirements as well as keeping watch on us.”
After all this, why did she still go along? She says she was being tutored regarding what to say in the court by the activist as well as public prosecutor Manjula Rao. Is this not standard legal procedure where the lawyer advises regarding how the case should be dealt with?

One has to be certain as to how a woman who says she signed papers she had no knowledge of can now write letters to the powerful and mighty. She has made some very serious allegations:

“I was removed from the house the very next day of the pronouncement of judgement. I came to know that in the name of Best Bakery Case and for arranging deposition of persons like us, Teesta has collected lakhs of rupees and nothing was given to us.”

How does she know about the existence of this money, where it has come from and for what? Is it from the Gujarat government as compensation? Is it from human rights organisations? Is it from philanthropic institutes? Is it from well-wishers? Is it from outside agencies? Had she got a piece of the pie would she have continued to keep quiet and then what would have happened to her guilt and sorrow? Has no one told her that only one person’s deposition cannot result in such a huge sentence for the accused?

Having said this, it is difficult to ensure that victims are not used. The cases have been dragging on precisely because a closure would shut shop for many. The Gujarat riots were an intensive experiment at several levels. If Yasmeen could be lured by the activist lobby, then she can just as easily be lured by the political lobby. If she was kept under detention then her open protest could put her in further discomfort, unless she is being protected. She ought to know that legal proceedings can be instituted against her for false deposition, so what makes her unafraid? Is she just another face of Gujarat’s economic ‘miracle’? Or the ugly side of samaritanism?

Is justice about how many versions we have of it? It is important to not make this into a personality issue. No one can get away with any kind of abuse by using their power and position. If there are accusations, then they should be verified and the people made answerable. This should not in any way derail the cases against the role of the government officials.

Part of the problem with the Gujarat riots case is not only the strong establishment lobby but the several human rights organisations that jumped into the fray. There have been ego clashes and questions are naturally raised regarding the positions they take. It is, however, unfair that it becomes a battle against “pseudo secularism”. This is a sneaky modus operandi that may get some applause but does not solve the problem.

(c) Farzana Versey

Published in Countercurrents

Ask the vexpert - 25

Question: I am a 26-year-old bachelor. I like to fantasise about my sexy colleagues or actresses to arouse myself during masturbation. However, whenever I see a picture of a girl's vagina, I get turned off and feel like throwing up. I have tried to get over this strange aversion, but have been unable. I can get aroused by a woman's lips, smile, breasts, navel, but not the vagina. Hence, I am afraid of marriage. I am not sure if I will be able to satisfy my wife. Is there something wrong with me?

Sexpert: You should consult a psychiatrist to get you out of this aversion. You can start by looking at pictures of a vagina every day and also when you masturbate. After you are married, you won’t be able to go without seeing it.

Me: Marriage has got nothing to do with the vagina, which in turn has little to do with sexual satisfaction. You can praise all the above-mentioned body parts of your partner and she will be satisfied. In the long history of cohabitation, I have not heard anyone singing praises of the vagina. Marriage has to do with how two people try and not get in each other’s way except when the occasion so demands. Besides, when you are at your ‘real’ job it is unlikely that you will see V, unless you are an obstetrician or a techie who likes to check that all the hardware is tickety-boo. On your ‘other’ experiments there will be a nodding association required. Seen figs? If you are a fruit guy, it might be your answer.

However, to make sure you do not puke at the site, do chew on some ginger as you would when you are taking an arduous journey in the mountains. You could also acclimatise yourself by visiting caves and sitting there for a few minutes. Make sure you do not spend too much time or you will be left hanging loose when you need to replicate the images. Also, make a note of the bats on the ceiling – that is a good testing ground for future use.


The Call and Kalmadi

“Ma’am, I need to speak to you.”

“What is this about?” I asked.

“You are on our database…of socially conscious people.”

“I am sorry but it’s not possible.”

“Ma’am, don’t you have two minutes?”

“In two minutes I can get noodles ready, not social consciousness.”

I cannot believe they are reaching your doorstep to ask you questions. This call was from my building’s intercom and am glad the watchman checked to see if I had invited any “laidiss”.

This little anecdote of the afternoon takes us straight to the shoe/slipper or whatever footwear that was chucked at Suresh Kalmadi, Commonwealth Games Organising Committee chief and chor.

Let us get one thing clear – there will be many voices who will now claim that he was nailed because of the hoo-haa at Jantar Mantar and at the urban social dos they will discuss “how wonderful that we made it and exposed that fellow”. Hello, hello, Ms/Mr Social Conscious, when you run your half marathon in designer tracksuits, don’t forget who you are running with, okay? And at one time Kalmadi was One Of Them. Suave. Smart. Just a li’l bit Slimy. Great organiser, though. I recall his Pune Festivals. He had a good eye for laavni dancers.

So, for the past few months, there was a cry of “Kalmadi, Kal…maa….di” and how he gave deals to people at pumped up prices. He has finally been arrested. Now, some are saying it is just an “eyewash”.

Nitin Gadkari, the BJP’s spokesperson, is talking sizes:

“Kalmadi is a very small thing. He had a limited role of deciding the expenditure of just Rs.1,400 crore for the Commonwealth Games...Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must answer as to why only he (Kalmadi) was arrested when every file related to the CWG had signatures of a Group of Ministers (GoM), cabinet sub-committee, expenditure finance committee, Delhi chief minister and Prime Minister's Office ( PMO ). All those involved in the Rs.70,000 crore scam should be arrested.”

So, why was everyone barking out only Kalmadi’s name or “thing” all this while? He says he has proof:

“They can file a defamation suit against me if they believe I am making false statements.”

Looks like everyone wants to go to jail these days – whether it is on graft charges or defamation.

The real issue, not just for the Opposition parties (hardly clean themselves) but of certain members of civil society too who are suddenly talking the rightwing lingo, is the Congress. The CWG scam is huge, but how can everyone be arrested? Should the prime minister resign? What do resignations achieve? Kalmadi’s arrest is a big step because he did benefit, he was the one who was dealing with the agencies. Was he a front? Partly. But that is politics. In any field.

It is time, in fact, to ensure that politicians stay out of such sports events. Throw out all those running the major sports organisations and bring in former players, though they too have ulterior motives, especially if they are in prominent fields like cricket or tennis. Yet, at least they will be a tad better than politicians.

The other parties are only gearing for elections. That is all. Here is Gadkari:

“The Congress party has also not taken any significant steps to curb terrorism.”

I wish these politicians stuck to an issue and took it to its logical conclusion, instead of such diversions. Or is their concern mere ‘eyewash’ too?

Whose burden is the burqa?

Those who object to the “moving prison” say nothing about men displaying the physical assets of trophy wives in a consumerist paradise.

If anyone is benefiting from the Islamist idea, specifically the veil, then it is the western elite or the westernised liberals among Muslims. I might have been a part of the latter given my mode of dress, speech and general deportment. I choose, instead, to play devil’s advocate. The reason is that the debate over whether a woman has the right to cover her face and body has become a western discourse. Its validity is reduced partly due to its being co-opted by an alien yardstick and partly because, ironically, it uses the religious paradigm to justify the ban on the veil.

The Quran does not prescribe it, the Prophet did not enjoin it and so on go the arguments. That is not the point anymore, and incidentally men too follow certain dress codes. It is beyond religion and one must understand that the Muslim world, and even the Arab world, is not of one kind. Therefore, discussing anything in such uniform terms reveals paucity of insight. I’d like one single commentator to discuss this issue without bringing in Islam and then let us watch the fun.

Contemporary society has many areas of darkness and every religion is rediscovering its roots. The rediscovery probably has nothing to do with the essence of the faith. The Pat Robertsons often go well with TV dinners for those rushed for time and prayer. Patriarchal paranoia too would be justified if it also took into account how non-Muslim societies choose to treat their women where they are subtly left out of mainstream political and social opinions. Why is the West obsessed only with Islam?

This is an extension of the old xenophobia. Some are upfront and brand others as terrorists or suspects; the others go the other way and play patronising angels who understand the ‘pain’ of the Muslim woman. In France, where the veil was banned on April 11, a very small percentage of its Muslim population wears the veil. Why is the rest of the female population not considered in the arguments put forth? Does the fact that some women defied the ban not reveal that they cannot be herded into an ignorant, backward stereotype?

When the Bill was first being considered Andre Gerin, a Communist Party legislator, had said, “Today, we are confronted by certain Muslim women wearing the burqa, which covers and fully envelops the body and the head like a moving prison”. His 57 colleagues had signed a document that stated it amounted “to a breach of individual freedoms on our national territory”.

Whose individual freedom is it? I may personally not wear the veil but I do not think any woman doing so is infringing on my freedom. If the religion of France is secularism, then it does not as a matter of course mean that no religious choices can be made. Secularism is not atheism. If the issue is regarding security risks, then the government must make it clear that certain checks will be mandatory, but to sneak in ethical arguments is vile.

It is also extremely offensive to question veiled women who believe they feel empowered. Like grand vigilantes, the anti-veil group thinks it is important to probe the basis of such a choice. As a stand-alone poser it is legitimate, but then how many women have access to equal opportunities in the workplace or rights even at home? Those who object to the “moving prison” and contend that male insecurity puts a wife or sister behind the burqa say nothing about men who feel secure having trophy wives and displaying them for their physical assets in a consumerist paradise.

There is a belief that the veil defines a woman completely. It does not, just as a skirt or a lipstick does not. Whether they choose to wear loose ‘tents’ or scarves with tight clothes is only one of the choices they make in life, as much as others do things to please their partners, peer groups or societal trends. The people who can ensure that no one is forced to wear what she does not want to are those who understand the construct and not imposers who come with their own moral values garbed as liberalism. A true liberal is not offended by others and most certainly not afraid that she cannot bond with a face behind a niqab. With botox and cosmetics, not to speak of public facades, what about the masks we wear?

(c) Farzana Versey

The images are posited to emphasise the exaggerated positions and draw home the point that there are several layers between the two aspects.

Published in Countercurrents, April 25, 2011


Ale and Hearty

Can women use Viagra? Does it affect their performance? I am asking because of this silly little beer that has been created to trumpet the royal pain-in-the-ass wedding. BrewDog is marketing the Royal Virility Performance lager and it also has a tagline that says, “Arise Prince Willy”, which is sophomoric. It is a limited edition brew and the proceeds will go to the charities that the prince supports. Therefore, to mime a similar manner of speaking, those who consume it will really rise to the occasion.

What has not been made clear is the effect of the Viagra content on women who might imbibe it. Britain is known for its pubs and beer is a fairly unisex all-time drink there. It is a bit sexist.

The co-founder of the firm states: "As the bottle says, this is about consummation, not commemoration."

Then why wait for an occasion? Or is this bottle going to replace the water-bottle?

Now we have news that beer will not be served at Buckingham Palace because the “prospect of guests downing pints has been deemed unsuitable for such a prestigious occasion”. And would the guests be glugging pints? That says more about the guests than the beer. This is not the Oktoberfest where you sit on planks of wood and rough-hewn tables and the mugs are huge and there is much banging of the tables for refills. I dislike the taste of beer, but love to look at the froth. It is a beautiful sight, like a desert sunset topped by fluffy clouds.

Kate and William want a more “sophisticated” experience for their guests who will sip champagne and wine to accompany the canapés. There was a huge noise about how the 10,000 varieties of canapés will follow strict English cuisine norms. I wonder which English wines will be on the list and where would the champagne be from.

I am truly interested in the hierarchy of alcoholic beverages. I find it amusing when outside of fine dining, people make a production of wine-tasting. Especially if it is house wine! All good wines have been tasted; the details are mentioned on the label and if you are a connoisseur you ought to know about body and aroma. What’s the point when the steward brings a glass that you swirl it, sip it, roll it in your mouth and then nod appreciation, which you would do anyway?

It is fascinating, though, to watch. I doubt the guests at the Palace will dare do such a thing.

Talking of champagne, it is strange but quite sometime ago I had mentioned that the perfect female breast was the size of a champagne glass. It got people all wired up and it came to haunt me again recently in an accusatory tone. Honest, this is not my invention and not all champagne glasses are flutes. In fact, there is history to prove that the coupe was shaped along the curves of some aristocratic ladies, including perhaps Marie Antoinette. Wonder what she had with her cake.

I had an interesting experience in Delhi a few months back. I had a glass of vodka and my colleague brought his gin. We were seated with some other people at an ‘intellectual’ hub and he made a surprising comment about his choice of dinner drink: “I am not ashamed to show my feminine side.”

“Ah,” I said. “In that case I am an Alpha female and a spudist.”


Sunday ka Funda

"In the long run, the oppressor is also a victim. In the short run (and so far, human history has consisted only of short runs), the victims, themselves desperate and tainted with the culture that oppresses them, turn on other victims."

— Howard Zinn

Satya Sai Baba: Spiritual Rockstar

Baba died this morning of April 24, 2011. According to his own spiritual calculations, he was scheduled to depart earth in 2022. While I understand the grief of the followers, I do not understand the disposition towards worship. I usually do not fathom any kind of mass belief, so this is not to single out an individual. Not individual, say the faithful, it is Bhagwan. We need gods. Sachin Tendulkar is god, and Sachin was not going to celebrate his birthday because he wanted to pray for Satya Sai Baba’s recovery.

At 85, he did lead a full life. He was known for his miracles, more magical than any magician’s. Unfortunately, his own bodily organs failed and no doctors could revive them. Strangely enough, even the prayers of the devotees could not nor his own divine powers. 

This is a profound disclosure of the spirituality business. Many people need guidance; many people suffer from some sort of misery. Wealth, education and even therapy do not work. They prefer being part of a gathering where a guru offers solace by the mere fact of her/his existence. It is a rockstar phenomenon, a classic case of collective catharsis. 

I was witness to it at Baba’s Whitefield ashram almost 15 years ago. I admit it was as a voyeuristic tourist that I went. A blue plastic shade covered a huge tent-like area. People were ambling about and most were foreigners. As I recollect, it was only Whites, a phenomenon that is noticeable in most such ashrams. You rarely see Blacks or other races, although there is considerable Japanese presence at the Osho ashram, because he had this thing about Zen. These foreigners wore carelessly draped cream-coloured sarees and bindis on the forehead; the men were in kurta-pyjama. At a water-tap a woman, her hair coiled at the nape of her neck, bent to drink water by cupping the palm of her hand. It was a memorable image, reminiscent of villages as seen in Bollywood films.

There was a canteen across the road run by the ashram. It was packed with people. Long wooden benches and tables. I am not sure if one had a choice, but the stuff on my plate was terribly spicy and as tears ran down my eyes, I watched the rest whose palates were even less trained for such food. They were eating with their fingers, seemingly enjoying every morsel. I thought to myself that perhaps this is what the spiritual journey is all about – getting used to whatever is on your plate. 

Back to the main ashram, they said Baba was going to give a darshan. The ground was dusty, but a platform was ready; soon there would be a throne for him to sit in and deliver his sermon and bless the congregation. Some had already begun reserving their places on the floor.

What were they looking for? They could read hundreds of tomes on spiritualism from several masters; they could be believers without moving from their homelands. They chose to travel all those miles just to become a part of the enterprise and get a glance of the man. Is this faith or is it about auto-suggestion where you begin to believe in your own delusions? How much of a role does any guru play in this, except for being a conduit to their greater search for going beyond the material? Can people not give up luxuries in their own environment and contribute to their societies? Where does the guru fit in when they cook, clean and eat humble meals?

Is it not a contradiction to see the person they have faith in sitting on a gilded throne and being hailed by the most powerful people, people who are willing to publicly be obsequious, unmindful of their reputations? Does that make them spiritual when after the ‘special’ moment they are back to their corporate offices and ministerial bungalows dictating policies that are hardly austere?

Baba had declared himself the incarnation of the Sai Baba of Shirdi; the latter’s devotees are not necessarily his worshippers and that itself should say something. 

It is also pertinent to note that when it comes to proving faith-healing and miraculous powers, it is the poor who are brought forward. It can be deduced that for them just a touch of any god-like creature is enough of a status leap. You won’t see them rubbing shoulders at community canteens with the rich devotees. Therefore, the Satya Sai Baba empire had little to do with his ability to produce Rolex watches out of thin air and vibhuti (holy ash) from his palms. Both have been challenged and proven by the Rationalist Society, but it has not affected the attitude of the faithful, even the ones with reasoning powers.

This is more likely about channelising wealth into a nirvana factory. Baba’s educational and health institutions are often quoted as examples of the good work beyond the ashram. These are commendable activities, but they also encourage people to owe their knowledge and their lives to Baba. Besides, there is a lot of money involved in maintaining ‘international standards’. Attempts to probe into the functioning of not only this but any religious organisation always meet with a dead-end because among the believers are those who run the investigating agencies. Any other improprieties are also shut up. Will any people’s movement have the courage to look into the financial dealings at the several ashrams and even madrassas and missionary-run outfits?

Complicit in this is the media. Rarely has any media group raised questions and when they do there is an arching over backwards to give a balanced picture. I was once told to “go slow” on religious figures for one of my columns, although I had written about Imam Bukhari of Delhi's Jama Masjid and the Pope earlier. In a casual conversation with someone much later, I discovered that the editor was a devout worshipper. It makes one wonder, then, what balance we are speaking about when there are already treacly tributes pouring in.

Ever since Baba took ill, news reports gave a daily update. It is fine since he does have enormous appeal and people were concerned. However, it was distressing to read about security arrangements at Puttarpathi, where his main operations are run from and in the ashram where he will be kept in state now. The forces are there because there will be a rush of VIPs. I can already imagine people killing themselves in grief. Who will do so? The poor. Not the rich and influential.

What does it tell us about the prospect of individuals as institutions? As Satya Sai Baba had once said, “Devotion has to be unintermittent, uninterrupted, like the flow of oil from one vessel to another.” Pity, he did not keep another vessel ready. Who will be in charge of the various organisations run by the private trust? It will be interesting to see how things unfold and whether Baba’s legacy can continue under the tutelage of his trusted aide, an IAS officer, or his nephew. It is unlikely. There will be a fight for the spoils. Spiritualism goes on the ventilator.

(C) Farzana Versey

Also published in Counterpunch, April 25


Playboy and the Muslim Vote

Recently, there were reports of former cricketer Mohammed Azharuddin being used by the Congress to garner Muslim votes. An email asked: “I wonder how the secularists will react if a political party follows an aggressive strategy to get Hindu votes.”

I have a counter-question: How will the Hindutvawadis react if a Hindu girl posed in the nude for Playboy? They have often created a ruckus about Valentine’s Day or certain clothing. My question is based on the news item about a Turkish Muslim girl posing in the buff for German Playboy. Her parents are angry. Many parents would be. She says she wanted to be free. I wonder from what. She is an actress, and does not live in a strict environment. Yet, this is being seen as a protest against stringent Muslim laws.

So, I’d like to know how many good Hindu girls won’t face similar flak.

As regards the secularist question and Hindu votes, what was the whole Ram Janmabhoomi movement about? Can there be anything more aggressive than this? Are there no caste faction political considerations? Even the secular political parties employ such methods. The “Muslim vote bank” has just become a convenient ploy to hide the other ploys. Muslims are not in a majority, so there will be many more Hindu voters anyway.

And Hindutva groups do try and portray their Muslim agenda, including Narendra Modi. They keep their token Mussalman members and they too attempt the Muslim at Ganesh puja and Hindu at Iftaar stunts.

If there is a real problem with secularism, then will these people have the courage to ask Muslims not to vote for them? Just as you don't have to look at Playboy.

Cool Bhushan, Hot Air

Now is the time to test the efficacy of the Lokpal Bill. The iron is hot, even if it is being re-heated by political interests.

A fresh controversy involving anti-corruption campaigner Shanti Bhushan broke out today over allotment of priced farmhouse plots to him and his son Jayant in nearby Noida and demands have cropped for the lawyer's resignation from the joint committee to draft the Lokpal Bill.

The controversy arose after reports were published today that the Bhushans has been allotted 10,000 sq metre plots valued at Rs 3.5 crore each to them by the UP government in 2009.

There are no victims here. But is has become a tussle of egos and they are all using diversionary tactics. Shanti Bhushan says:

"Public applications were invited...It is clear that it is part of a campaign by some corrupt important politicians that if I remain on the joint committee, it will not be possible for them to draft a soft law.

"(If I am there) they will be compelled to draft a really tough law against corruption. Probably those politicians are feeling jittery. The real intention seems to be to derail the process (of drafting the Lokpal Bill)."

This is now about individuals. It always was, but it is becoming more visible. Name the corrupt politicians. This is about corruption, so face it head-on. Does Mr. Bhushan believe he is the only hard-nosed person around? Does anyone for a moment believe that some such draft is going to put an end to swapping of favours? Isn’t there a conflict between his legal persona and his civil rights activist one? Did his son not appear on behalf of the UP government in the statues-installation case in a Noida park? This was not a human rights issue.

It is a known fact that prime properties are sold for a pittance to favoured people. Isn't the anti-graft bill about honesty. The Bhushans must be ready for this trial. And so must Amar Singh and Mulayam Singh Yadav with whom there were telephonic conversations in a CD that has appeared.

Instead of using this as an opportunity to discuss bribe givers and bribe takers, people are claiming it is doctored, which it well might be. Swami Agnivesh is really pushing it when he talks about the timing of the CD’s release. Anna Hazare’s fast and the anti-corruption movement were also timed with the recent scams, never mind that many operators were not included in their radar.

The insouciance with which both the Lokpal panel members as well as the politicians are flashing it reveals that no one is afraid about corruption at all. It is being used like any other trend and will have a short shelf life. If there is any doubt, then it is the business of the clean upholders of a civil movement to prove their innocence and not try and get out of it. Was this not being lauded as the great revolution with celebrity support? Well, then, if the CD is fake and the papers regarding the property are in place, then the people defaming the Bhushans can be tried in court. The revolutionaries are there, aren’t they?

And stop the puerile debate about who should sit on the panel to draft the Bill. We have a Constitution that is constantly tampered with, so what’s a Bill? Whether Shanti Bhushan is part of it or not, he does not hold proprietary rights over it and neither is it necessary to beat him up. We have too many martyrs on the make as it is.

- - -

Precious quote from Anna Hazare who is backing Shanti Bhushan:

"How can I give a guarantee about any person. I got to know him only because of this committee. I can give guarantee only about myself."


'Trump'eting and 'Singh'ing

Donald Trump loves America so much that he wants Libya. And China too if he could get past the noodles and fake Rolexes. There was a time when many wanted Donald Trump. Today, in his respectable avatar as a “serious” Republican candidate, he is making rather outrageous comments. No, I don’t have a problem when he says, “this country is a laughing stock throughout the world”, for he assumes that the United States has got the power and ought to use it not to better itself but to get the better of others.

It is his rather facile attitude that makes one wonder what all the fuss is about Sarah Palin.

On Libya

“Look at Libya. Look at this mess. We go in, we don't go in, he shouldn't be removed, we don't want to remove him, we don't want to touch him, but he should be removed. Nobody knows what they're doing on Kadhafi. I'd do one thing. Either I'd go in and take the oil or I don't go in at all. In the old days, when you have a war and you win, that nation is yours."

I am tempted to at least accept his upfront stance. Nobody asked the American administration to go to Libya in the first place. If anyone has to do anything to or with Col. Muammar Gaddafi it is the other political leaders and how the people decide to act. He is pummelling them, but the situation would have been not as bad without outside interference.

Trump has inadvertently revealed that it is all about oil and not to save the poor citizens. Talking about the old days, he need not go very far back in time to figure out that the US went to war with countries it had no skirmishes with. It just landed up there when two other countries or two factions within a country were fighting, or of course to look for weapons of mass destruction or to find a man in a cave or a caveman. None of these qualify as victories because the local people have been most affected. And none of these nations belongs to America even after the ‘win’.

On China

“If you look at what China is doing, they're stealing our jobs, they're taking our money. They're then loaning our money back. It's amazing. They're making all of our products. They are also manipulating the currency that makes it almost impossible for our companies to compete with China.”

China is, undoubtedly, a canny competitor. But the jobs have not been stolen. It was the US that decided to outsource jobs to get cheap labour. If China is manipulating currency and doing a trade yo-yo, then it is merely using sharp business tactics. The US economy has suffered due to the jugglery of its own companies and the policies of the government. Naturally, foreign investors will move to where they get returns. China is not taking American money, unless Americans are choosing to invest there.

And what American products are being made by China? They manufacture cheap stuff of their own or imitations of Swiss watches, German gadgets, Italian mosaic work and even Indian artefacts. Ever heard about Chinese American apple pie? Or Apple?

- - -

Another case of putting the carriage under the horse is Indian PM, Manmohan Singh.

On five things he’d like to achieve with relations to Pakistan:

“Five would be too much. Well, if I can succeed in normalizing relations between India and Pakistan, as they should prevail between two normal states, I will consider my job well done.”

He cannot mention five things and then he wants normalcy. What is normal about these two countries individually, anyway? How would he define it when there are separatist movements all around? What is the yardstick for normal states to be considered normal vis-à-vis each other?

Such obfuscation is not new, but it would have been way better had he mentioned five specific things, even if he said cricket or sweets or films or exchange of camels, because he would certainly not talk about defence issues, Jammu and Kashmir, nuclearisation, prisoners, infiltration, Headley, Rana, Kasab, Raw, ISI. Nope.

So, how do we achieve this normal state between two normal states when the real issues are not addressed? I understand that on a flight to Kazakhstan, where the query was posed, it might not be prudent to go into details, but we have been in denial or employ dithering tactics.

And dear Mr. Prime Minister, this is about India and not you and how “well done” your job is. Is it at stake or is it steak?



Tharoor and Abdullah

"Amul babies are fit, strong and focussed. (They) symbolize white revolution, which brought milk to the masses.

- Shashi Tharoor

This comment is being considered humorous because unlike our other Congress netas he has not made a fuss over Kerala chief minister V S Achutanandan's statement about Rahul Gandhi being an Amul baby. A few points:

*Rahul asked the voters if they wanted a 90-year-old man at the end of the tenure. That was offensive to a senior leader.

*The Amul baby is an advertising symbol and has nothing to do with the masses. What is the baby 'focused' on anyway?

*The white revolution was the result of the cooperative movement in Anand, Gujarat. Those masses did not think of utterly butterly stuff. I guess they really did not want to butter up anyone, and did not even know if their bread would be buttered, forget on which side.

We miss straightforward old-fashioned sycophancy.

Incidentally, Narendra Modi has inadvertently got the thumbs up for a fit and strong
revolution in his backyard. He did not start it, we know, but Amul is a Gujarat story.

- - -

"The day is not far when there will be no girls to marry and we will all become gays."

- Farooq Abdullah on the declining female population

Is the primary role of women to be male-centric? Unless the minister lives in some la-la-land, girls do grow up to do other things. This remark is especially absurd because procreation has pushed the woman into a situation where, although she is the conceiver, she cannot decide whether she can give birth and if she does then she has no choice but to fall in line with the desire for a male offspring, even watching and participating in the ritual of killing the girl child.

Next we come to the minister's comment about gays. Homosexuality is not the consequence of lack of females. Using his logic one may say that since there are more men, women will become promiscuous and we will be headed towards a matrilineal society.

The skewed sex ratio should be seen from the female perspective and not about what will happen to the poor men.

For starters, they can grow up. Or is the Amul baby idea catching on?


Waiting for Dawood

There are no toilet seat images of the betrothed couple, but this wedding is no less important than the Buckingham Palace one. Moin Palace in Karachi is named after Moin Ibrahim, who is the son of our own monarch in hiding – Dawood Ibrahim. He did what all good sons do when their fathers have a heart attack: he got married. The bride’s father has no criminal record but is a good friend of Dawood.

Our newspapers have quoted the police as saying that this is their big opportunity to nab the “elusive gangster”. If they know all the details about his empire, his houses, his relationships, his family members, his Bollywood and political connections (no police connections, huh?), and they also know he was playing cards when his heart gave warning signs, then they should have got him by now.

Why is it that someone in his family has to get married for them to get all charged up? This sounds like those gate-crashers getting ready for dinner and some fun. According to a report:

Sensing a rare opportunity to get close to the most-wanted man in the country, Mumbai police and security agencies have begun digging for the trail of invites, which have allegedly gone out from Karachi and into the homes of several famous homes in the city.

“We have seen images and footage of Dawood’s earlier parties where several known faces were in attendance. We know that many of them have been invited this time as well. We are checking on all those who were associated with Dawood at one time or another.”

If the images were of earlier parties why are they dilly-dallying? Does anyone remember how the news channels went into overdrive during his daughter’s wedding reception at the Grand Hyatt in Dubai? They had parked themselves behind the trees with zoom lenses and all we got was shaky camera-work. And nothing at all from the investigating agencies who managed a free holiday.

This will be repeated. Dawood Ibrahim, Tiger Memon, Anees Ibrahim and Shakeel Ansari are not going to be at the gate to welcome guests or even on stage. The fact that the don’s business is spread across continents and he can move with such ease should tell us that he is a protected species. And if the cops know who he is hobnobbing with, then knock on their doors here. Why wait for the band, baaja, baarat?


What I would do to a rapist...

  • Castrate him? Spit in his face? Report him to the police? Would I have the courage and the presence of mind to do any of these when he has trampled on my body and my self-worth?

I am regurgitating these questions because they must be, especially if you read the letter I got in response (reproduced at the end). No one will sit in at Jantar Mantar for an 18-year-old who was raped in Delhi and then when she cried for help was again raped by those helping her. Our Home Minister was concerned about Delhi culture before the Commonwealth Games and roads and potholes. Has he looked into this culture?

I have already stated how wary I am about the media reportage of rape. Some cases do gather momentum, but the TV channels use them to project themselves as ‘saviours’. That is the reason I was hesitant to watch No One Killed Jessica. The other day I watched it on television and it was not as sensational as the promos made it out to be; I do not know whether it was heavily edited, but the journalist character who initially refuses to cover a ‘soft’ crime later becomes this grand do-gooder when she shamelessly takes over the ‘story’ peppering the urgency with invective.

On an earlier occasion during a love-making session when she gets a call, the hard-nosed hack gets up to leave. The guy asks, “What happens to me?” And she says, “Fly solo.” This was considered bold. We are such an immature society that a woman talking to a man she is intimate with speaking like this is seen as bold. More importantly, what was the point: to tell us that she does manage to get laid despite being a bazooka professionally? Or was it to contrast with the rape case she was taking up to give it to the big guys?

It is always about big guys. The small people and crimes against them don’t make us sit up and think.

But can rape, an intensely personal crime, be adequately covered? That is the reason for the queries at the beginning from a piece I had written on August 20, 2004.

I can only reproduce it with the same headline to express how I feel even today:

Castrate him? Spit in his face? Report him to the police? Would I have the courage and the presence of mind to do any of these when he has trampled on my body and my self-worth?

Would I kill him? Would I want to see him killed? These are cold questions confronting me because in one week I have had to contend with two faces of such brute behaviour.

Were I a slum-woman in a small town in India, would I have lynched a rapist? This is precisely what happened in the Indian city of Nagpur on August 13. 400 women stomped into the courtroom where dacoit Akku Yadav was being tried for murder and extortion; they knew he would be let out on bail. Such was life in their locality – he would walk into houses, drag women out and rape them. This was not lust. It was an assertion of his clout.

Why did these women take ten years to get rid of him? I do not know what snapped. That day they walked into the courtroom, threw chilli-powder at him and, as he was rubbing his eyes, they stoned him and stabbed him to death. Can I see myself as part of such a group? Does bonding in a sisterhood lessen one’s personal pain? Does every woman react to rape in the same manner?

We all have emotional scars which we bear in the silence of our hearts. What we lay bare are the tombstones that pronounce the demise of a part of ourselves. A lone woman speaking out becomes a chaalu cheez. The fact that this was a group has given it a different dimension altogether. The public display will at some point ghettoise them. What will happen to the young girls who would want to go to school, find jobs, get married?

Activists have applauded these “incarnations of Durga”, the goddess of redemption. I am scared that this could set a precedent. The courts in small towns may start believing that they do not have to play a vigilant role and the women can fend for themselves. Should every woman carry chilli-powder now? After she has been overpowered and humiliated, will she have to forget about the pain and the shame, and fumble to find that mirchi? And then gather the strength to kill her molester?

I would not be able to do that. I remember this vignette from an Indian play: the intended rape victim takes out a gun from her bag and makes her tormentor cut off his penis. Then she throws some money for his taxi fare and hands him her handkerchief to staunch the blood, mocking him with a “Thank you, I liked it”. I’ve never shied from calling myself a feminist, but I just could not connect with this.

Then, do I think it appropriate for a rapist to be hanged? Dhananjoy Chatterjee, who was the first person in nearly a decade to face the death penalty in India, refused to accept his crime. As his end drew near he listened to bhajans and read religious texts.

People are saying that capital punishment does not act as a deterrent, and as if to prove this, there has been a spurt of reported rape cases. Far worse, re-enactment of the hanging episode has become a new pastime; in one such case, a 12-year-old girl died while playing with a noose round her neck. So, has the punishment served its purpose or has it become some kind of melodrama that will spawn dialogue- baazi and amateur mimicry?

If I were the mother of Hetal, Chatterjee’s 16 year-old victim, I would have wanted the creep to live and suffer. Instead, today in his village he is seen as a martyr. Before he was taken to the gallows his family had threatened to commit mass suicide and had to be provided with police protection.

There are many such potential “heroes” roaming the streets. I was once at a beach resort in South India and a group of very young men kept passing crude comments. I got up from my deck chair and went up to the worst of the lot and tried to lecture him a bit; he started blowing cigarette smoke in my direction. That is when I lost my cool and punched him in the face. The rings on my fingers left red blotches on his cheek. But he held on to his ciggy, his machismo. Although I did leave some money, in case he needed first aid, I returned to my hotel room and cried. For a few months I even gave up wearing those rings. All I felt was remorse and guilt; at no point did I feel elated.

And that was, in comparison with the enormity of rape, a minor incident. We tolerate many such little offences in our subcontinental bazaars – elbows nudging breasts, bottoms being pinched. I begin to wonder whether our bodies are really our own. And just as I feel desperately low, I hear news of a young Muslim woman living near Kolkata being forced to marry her rapist, when the judge made that the condition of his release.

What would I do to a rapist?

(Farzana Versey)

- - -

This is the letter I had received in response. It sucks...

"Dear Versey:

This is in regard to your article you wrote. You were raped!!! whoa! and the rapist is about to be released. At the end you wrote that "What would i do to a rapist?". So i sujest that you should try to get over it and don't get confused. If you really like that guy you can always marry him. One of my friends married her rapist 17 years back. Now she has 3 kids and so she is living a happy married life now apart from the routine quarrels of husband and wife."

I find it strange that people cannot understand even the most straightforward writing. Worse, this guy had the audacity to expect a reply to let him know if I found his letter pathetic.


Raiments and the Church

Adam and Eve - Rubens
The Church of England got into a bit of a tangle when its website spoke flatteringly about nudity in the Spirit of Living section on its website.

Under a section headed ‘New Age’, the item said airbrushed models created “an unhealthy, unnatural model of perfection”. In contrast, it continued, “naturism is a liberating lifestyle and belief which encourages self-respect, respect for others and for the environment, and embodies freedom and a unique sense of communion with nature. Christian naturists see this as God’s design for living. It is purposefully non-erotic and non-sexual and engenders a wholesome appreciation of self and others.”
There is much going for Naturism as non-erotica. Adam and Eve were not born clothed, but even though there was no one around they chose to wear fig leaves. What prevented them from being 'liberated'?

How does this particular Church authority assume that people will not be judged for their imperfections or there will not be an attempt to seek perfection? How much of religious iconography has dared to create imperfect imagery – in art or otherwise?

The body is being taken over by faith quite openly although it always has do0ne so under cover in every religion. There are so many strictures. This is, therefore, surprising. It could become a means of proselytising where those who would feel awkward or ashamed might shed their clothes because it has been ordained by god.

It has obviously got a lot of flak and the photograph of the back of a naked man has been removed from the site. Why the back? Is it not evidence of shame? Or is it about going away from set ideas?

The cathedral did not fail to mention, “Otherwise we encourage prurience and those with impure motives.”

Prurience and liberation do not go together and motives cannot be gauged in bodies.

Ramgopal Verma ka Constitution

“I have no idea who Anna Hazaare is as I don't keep track of anyone except for film people and gangsters. I don't know what he is fasting for because I don't know what he or anybody else in the whole world is up to as I am too busy in my film work.”

- Film director Ramgopal Verma

When everyone is “charged up”, his comment most certainly lightens up the atmosphere, especially with so many factions and so much fractiousness already visible. Here’s some freewheeling - the backgrounder and more is in the footnote):

Anupam Kher calls up Ramgopal Verma. “Hello, hello?”


“My name is Kher. Anupam Kher.”

“I don’t know Anna Hazare.”

Hangs up and returns to looking at pictures of starlets to cast in his new film.

Phone rings again.

“Hallo? Halla Bol!”


“Mee Ramdas Athavale boltoy.”

“I don’t know Anna Hazare.”

Hangs up and returns to looking at pictures of starlets to cast in his new film.

Phone rings again.

“Halo? Halo?”


“Ha, ha, ha! Namaskar. Main Baba Ramdev hoon na.”

“I don’t know Anna Hazare.”

“Never mind. Aap ki filmon se woh haddiyon ki idea milee (I got the idea about using bones for yogic healing from your films).”

“Send royalty cheque please.”

“Ab tak Umaid Bhavan mein nahin gaya (I have not been to the royal palace Umaid Bhavan yet), wahaan tau Hollywood shaadiyan hoti hai.”

“I don’t know shaadi. Why call? Am busy and I don’t know you.”

“Lekin Mallika Sherawat ko jaante honge.(But you must know Mallika Sherawat)”

“Who is Mallika Sherawat?”

“Film star, mere blessings bohat leti hai yogasana ke liye (She takes my blessings for yoga asanas)”

“Ess, ess, I know fillim star. She is taking blessing to do yoga?”

“Nahin. To be a better person.”

“What is wrong with her now?”

“Better, better, everyone wants to be better. Yeh life ka neeyam hai (this is the rule of life)”

“I don’t know rules.”

“Pataa hai, aapki filmon mein clearly dikhta hai (I can see it clearly in your films)”

“Why you called? I don’t know yoga.”

“I am having trouble with An…”

“I don’t know Anupam Kher.”

“Oh, woh tau Constitution pheinkna chahta tha are Athavale ke log uske ghar par paththar pheinke (He wanted to throw out the Constitution and Ramdas Athavale’s people pelted stones at his house).”

“I don’t know the Constitution. He can keep it or do what he wants and I don’t know stones so they can do what they want.”

“Aap Bharat mata ke putra hai. (You are the son of mother India.)”

“I don’t know putra.”

“Yeh sab aag phaila rahe hai. (They are only spreading fire)”

“I did it, I made film on Sholay.”

“Aap Sholay ko jaante hai? Hum prasann hue (You know Sholay? I am thrilled.)”

“No. I don’t know Sholay, only made film.”

“Tau theek hai. Ab Ann…”

“I don’t know Anna Hazare.”

“Wah. I need people like you. I am fighting and fighting for so many years for this, but one man who looks bhookha (hungry) goes on hunger strike and takes credit.”

“I don’t know him. I know gangsters.”

“Woh corruption se ledenge? (Will they fight against corruption?)”

“They become gangsters because of corruption.”

“You said you don’t know corruption.”

“If you don’t know who your father is it does not mean you cannot be a father.”

“Wah. I will tell this on Rajat Sharma’s India TV. He keeps repeating my episode, it is like Comedy Circus, ha, ha, ha.”

“I am busy. Why you called.”

“Dil halka karne. (To lighten my stress.)”

“I don’t know stress.”

“Then you are my guru.”

“I am not Dhirubhai Ambani.”

“Pataa hai.”

“I am making new film: Ramgopal Verma ka Constitution. No one will be able to amend it.”

“The public will throw it out.”

“Who is public?”

- - -

The background:

Actor Anupam Kher must get it clear that you cannot eat your cake while baking it. And it would also do Ramdas Athavale’s RPI (Republican Party of India) members to understand that any slur on the Indian Constitution is not about Ambedkarites alone. While Babasaheb Ambedkar is the person who drafted it, we do not want a situation where his supporters, neo-Buddhists and Dalits are the only ones who rush to shelter its image, although this is not about image at all. It is also a bit ironical that those who are from groups that need protection should come out in support of laws that they themselves want updated.

Kher has defended himself:

“I have not made those remarks. I am really sad; someone should’ve verified with the person concerned or the news channels or backed it with documentary evidence before passing the privilege notice. It is not right to malign anyone without knowing the correct facts. I have not said that ‘Constitution should be thrown out’. All I said was there was a need for an amendment to the constitution. If MPs take 80 seconds to pass their salary bills, the government should do the same for the Lokpal Bill which is important.”

The Constitution is not a holy book and most people have not read it in its entirety. The Indian Constitution is a frame and the painting keeps changing. So, Mr. Kher cannot “throw” it out. However, the analogy he has used is immature. But it shows just how kneejerk reactions work. This was only one…

And Baba Ramdev is of course confused because he is feeling left out. 

Over the weekend I got almost 15 forwarded pieces giving a 'contrarian' view. Wow. This too is herd instinct when you cannot see the faulty discourse in the beginning and wait to ask the questions when you see 'like-minded' people doing so. This is not only hypocrisy, but reveals how many turncoats are there.

- - -

As for Anna Hazare, here's a quote:

"The work done by chief ministers of Bihar (Nitish Kumar) and Gujarat (Narendra Modi) should be done by chief ministers of all states. I am not in support of any party, but the work they (Modi and Nitish Kumar) have done at the grassroots level is needed. The rural development they have done should be imitated. I will not go into politics of this."

If this is not politics, then what is?

- - -

An abridged version of my April 7 piece has appeared in today's Khaleej Times


I am NOT Anna Hazare

Punk activism
I don’t know about all those commitment wallas but I did what I have never done before. I switched on the TV still in my satin nightgown. Yes, I am so common, no? I did it because I wanted to feel the heat and humidity seep from my pores into other areas of my being.

Last night I surfed channels and left a man swallowing swords to watch the ‘Anna dekh tera munda bigda jaaye’ show and we the people were informed that “Brashtachar ki haar aur Bharat jeet gaya.” (Corruption has been defeated and India has won). It was like a match with Brashtacahar’s 11 against India’s 100 or rather hazaar Hazares all looking like they had greased palms with oily pakoras, or was it lavender-scented sanitisers?

Now I can breathe, I thought. I don’t have to bribe the traffic cop with a sweet smile. Trust me, I have not ever given a paisa to a single one. I can walk with my head held high and quote saint Aamir Khan who is more like god because he is omnipresent. “Like the country has supported the Indian cricket team in their struggle to win the World Cup, I hope and pray that your struggle, which is infinitely more important and affects each and every one of us, will get an even greater support,” he wrote in a letter to Hazare. Of course, that letter, like the scriptures, made it to the media and the public.

Struggles of cricketers and of the ordinary Indian are similar?

Before the start of the fast
Anyway, he must have broken his fast by now and I am laying a bet with my fellow common citizens whether it will be orange juice, mosambi or neembu-paani or plain contaminated tap water from India’s various cities.

I have been called a cynic, a killjoy for not enjoying this hearty meal of activism. This stuff really tires me out. I have already posted about it and reiterate that we must not wear blindfolds for anything. When Sonia Gandhi said, “The issues he has raised are of grave public concern. There could be no two views on combating graft in public life. I believe that the laws in these matters must be effective and deliver the desired results”, did anyone in that crowd of concerned citizens utter the magic word 'Quattrocchi'? Anyone willing to stand up and be counted?

How can the report therefore talk of a “peace deal between Anna Hazare and the government”? Is there a war? Is Hazare the sole spokesperson? Look at his “middle path”: “Ministers will give the panel more weight, it will make the government more receptive to agreeing to the draft the committee draws up.”

Sure. A panel that wanted to call the bluff of ministers needs those ministers to add more weight.

Of such fluff are dreams made. Am glad that at 10.30 AM I am still in my satin nightgown and know the true metaphorical value of such dreams. Raat gayi, baat gayi: Here today, gone at dawn.

- - -

The Russians do it differently.

Pro-Kremlin activists have posed in lingerie for an erotic calendar with an antigraft message and the slogan “sex against corruption”, youth movement Nashi (Ours) said.

Women students decided to participate by dropping clothes and coming up with slogans like, “I won't marry a corrupt official”, “Brown envelopes are only for letters, “I will teach you to live without bribes”.

Given the nature of their positions (hmm) many will be willing to learn. Besides, if the women are ready to do what they have done for the calendar and make a decent income, the corrupt officials might just decide to lie back and enjoy.

Honestly, no one can completely end corruption. But we can just normally try not to bribe. Though, aren’t all these – fasting, sloganeering and titillating – forms of bribery?


Team India vs. Other Indias

I want to applaud Narendra Modi. Inadvertently, he has shown up the fake liberals for what they are. The Gujarat government decided to give Yousuf Pathan and Munaf Patel one lakh rupees each. Javed Akhtar has been quoted in the newspapers as saying onine (I assume a tweet), “All State are rewarding their World Cup winners by at least 1 crore but the rich Gujarat is giving 1 lakh each to Pathan and Patel. Great!”

Great, indeed, that it is now about the states and “their” winners. It reveals that it is not about India, but about Mumbai (which is a state within a state, of course), Kerala, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Jharkhand, Gujarat. Isn't it like the IPL?

If these liberals are alluding to the communal aspect, then there are many reasons to take up the cause; this is hardly it. The team has members from different communities and faiths and we rarely notice who is from where. This and the manner in which the post-match circus has unfolded only revels in regionalism. There was a time when selectors were quite partial to people from certain states, but that was more about patronising their own and often not without merit. Jagmohan Dalmiya and Saurav Ganguly come to mind.

It is a different game now. Everyday we are witnessing crores coming out of government coffers for our World Cup winning players. I can understand the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) doing so, but why the government? These guys played for India - that is their job. It is not some favour they have granted us. And it is rather shameful that many cricketers openly said they played for Sachin Tendulkar.

His greatness as a sportsman apart, this sounds quite like the “Indira is India’ obsequious slogan. It is okay, though, that they carried him on their shoulders. It is about camaraderie and that he may not be available for the next World Cup. But why is captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni pleading for a Bharat Ratna for Sachin? Think of the names in public life who have contributed so much and are honoured in their dotage or not at all. Of course, Tendulkar remains 'modest'. His dream of some academy or the other will come true. These are people who make loads of money in endorsements; they should be putting in their own earnings to start the business of ‘teaching’ since they won’t be training anyone for free.

The deification can reach weird heights. On Gudi Padwa one pandal had his image as Lord Vishnu. Why has no one objected in a country where there is always a noise about hurting religious sentiments? I understand that a polytheistic faith may not have problems with such portrayal but we really need to leave the gods alone.

It is impossible, though. Dhoni shaves off his hair as an offering; others go to temples, dargahs, gurdwaras. These are places where the poor sit and wait for someone to drop some coins or a roti, but our heroes visit with full security despite being pumped with ginseng in some product they advertise.

The public has reason to be happy, but those in responsible positions will not dole out money in crores as readily for welfare schemes for the other Indias.

Fighting Corruption: The Pitfalls of Populism

The Indian youth are out in the streets, in car and bike rallies, to support an aging activist’s fight against corruption. Anna Hazare and Anil Ambani may be on two sides of the spectrum, but even as the inquisition is going on into the 2G scam, we are witnessing a populist version of people’s activism.

Anna Hazare's fast-unto-death started on April 5 to push for the anti-graft Lok Pal Bill. He has called it the second Satyagraha, which is an erroneous usage. Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha was battling against British might, not against corruption that involves people right down to the lowest level, including some who may participate in the ‘movement’. I understand that one would like to see it as a practical solution to an idealistic idea, but whose idealism is it?

Hazare’s work through the years has been commendable, but the moment he needs a banner – in this case ‘India Against Corruption’ – the idea becomes a brand. Within three days there are already fissures among certain organisations. Besides, it is not as simple as it appears.

He says:

"We want representation from civil society in drafting the Lok Pal Bill, 50 percent from civil society and 50 percent from the government.”
This is to check on corruption in public life, so it obviously refers to those holding office. The alternative Jan Lok Pal Bill drafted by leading legal experts and personalities, including Arvind Kejriwal, former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde and Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan calls for setting up of ombudsmen independent of government control. Those found guilty would be awarded a jail term of minimum five years and maximum of life imprisonment; the investigation would have to completed within one year.

The government has its own version of a prison term of minimum six months and maximum seven years as punishment for corruption.

Who will foot the bill for the 50 per cent lok ayuktas that come from civil society? Are not politicians also from civil society? We would need a system to proceed against those being tried.

* * *

Corruption is more often a silent crime. There are enough scapegoats who will be made to shoulder the blame in another concept of people’s responsibility, where lok shakti means taking on the master’s problems. It is an ingrained aspect of Indian culture.

We are witnessing this farce as the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), while not yet giving a clean chit to Ratan Tata and Anil Ambani, has been talking about their honesty and how candid they have been. Niira Radia has been called “evasive”.

Ratan Tata, when asked about his letter to the Tamil Nadu chief minister praising Raja’s work in the telecom ministry, with some gumption said, “We had a chemistry problem with (his predecessor Dayanidhi) Maran.” Yet, he claimed, “I didn’t manipulate the system for 2G licence allocation.” Did not Mr Tata file a petition regarding breach of privacy about the leaked tapes? The political machinery does not wish to completely alienate the corporate lobby, so it accused Radia of being anti-national and an agent of foreign intelligence agencies.

Both sides are getting trapped in quick sand and they need to prop each other up without being seen to ostensibly do so. Why did they not produce records of the Rs. 300 crore that Radia had accumulated? Of course, there is every possibility of impropriety, but for whom and for what?

If foreign agencies were involved, how did they pay her so that the authorities would know the amount? Have the finance and other departments tapped those calls from foreign agencies? What foreign agencies have interests in seeing to it that the Ambanis and Tatas get the prime deals? Which foreign agency would be interested in what portfolio Raja got? It might be important to examine how these players then can be indicted for such foreign connections as well as anti-national activities, including the governments, past and present, for accommodating them.

* * *

How would the Lok Pal bill work in such a situation? There is a trickle-down effect where the tricking is actually going up. Many of those enthusiastic about Hazare’s rally would not have the courage to convict the beneficiaries of those in public office, which defeats the whole purpose. A politician getting kickbacks is one part of the deal – the other is the sneaking in of major players who through corruption will find space to promote their elitist products and ideas.

Hazare is for now being anointed with a Gandhian aura, but most of the Facebook fans of the movement won’t push the envelope. The fact that the mainstream media is giving it importance is precisely because it has the youth quotient. This translates into a larger audience.

Some sample quotes are rather revealing:

“I joined the cause as I feel that corruption can't be stopped till the youth takes part in such a movement. Anna Hazare has been fighting this evil for a long time, but he should be supported by people like us.”

“I realised that it is about time people like me come out and stand up to eradicate corruption. I am going to fast like Anna Hazare and I am even prepared to go to jail for the cause.”

“It is not only for activists and media to keep exposing scams.”

People like us, jail yatra, scams are the buzzwords, not to speak of our own Tahrir Square.

One also wonders what happens if the celebrity activists move out. There will be the chosen ones who will be nominated for the posts to look into corruption. It would work not too differently from an established system.

People have gathered in 400 cities to fight a demon. This is modern-day mythology. Hazare states

“I am not waiting for government, the government will have to bow to the wish of the people.”

The government bows every five years and politicians are known to ‘serve’ the junta. The fact that the Lok Pal will be like the Election Commission is no guarantee that it will be “completely immune to government’s influences”. Prosecuting ministers will not require the permission of the governor or the president. Will it ensure transparency? There won’t be “yes men” of the government, but what of other organisations? Or politicians from non-ruling parties?

Uma Bharti and Om Prakash Chautala may be booted out, but Sharad Yadav, Janata Dal (United) chief, has already offered support. He said:

“Just as Election Commission and Supreme Court are effective bodies, similarly an institution which is to fight corruption has to be equally powerful. I approve of the draft prepared by Hazareji and others. I am willing to back it in Parliament.”

That among the civil society members there could be those with personal interests who would be pushed in as concerned citizens is not an improbability. Or the lure of known names. During the appointment of the person to head the Right to Information Act panel, there was just such a scramble by celebrities to promote their concept of the appropriate person.

Despite his intentions, even Mr. Hazare mentioned the names of Justice (Retd) Santosh Hegde, lawyer Prashant Bhushan and Agnivesh who he felt “were not considered important by the government”.

It is possible that the government might intervene to make him give up his fast, but let us not begin to believe that the fight against corruption is a people’s movement yet. It had already started before the rally and there have been several exposes, public interest litigations filed. It would be prudent to ask whether the youth would boycott the goods and services of those the government has propped up. Or will this be just another ‘Rang De Basanti’ moment where power props up those with testosterone and the impetus is all about hitting the bull’s eye?

(c) Farzana Versey

- - -

Updated on new post


Shahid Afridi vs. Veena Malik in Big Goss

Pakistani captain Shahid Afridi has hit out at India and the Indian media. It is amusing, so let me present here an imagined conversation between him and Veena Malik in Big Goss. Parts of the report with his comments are interspersed:

"In my opinion, if I have to tell the truth, they (Indians) will never have hearts like Muslims and Pakistanis. I don't think they have the large and clean hearts that Allah has given us," Afridi said during a talk show on Samaa news channel when he was asked about relations between the two countries.

Veena Malik: “Shahidji, how kaan you say this ji? After so much afat we are making out here. Allah is not your jaagir and Allah has made my haat large and clean so I can put lots inside and also make it look like bright Taj Mahal.”

Shahid Afridi: “Mohtarma, aap kuchch na kahe tau hi behetar hoga. (Ma’am, it would be better if you did not say anything) You are insult to Pakistan, to Muslims, to hearts and all parts.”

Veena: “Haan, haan, apni zaat pe aa gaye na? Mard hote hi aise hai. (Yes, yes, you are showing your true colours. Men are like this only)”

Afridi: “Tau Ashmit kya cheez hai? (So what is Ashmit Patel?)”

Veena: “Dawnt get personal. Ash-mit has only shown bigness of haat and also its cleanness. He knows me and my Allah wary vell.”

"It is a very difficult thing for us to live with them (Indians) or to have long-term relationship with them. Nothing will come out of talks. See how many times in the past 60 years we have had friendship and then how many times things have gone bad," he said as the audience in the TV channel's studio applauded him repeatedly.”

Veena: “Fast of all, it is more than 63 and half years. I know all figures, ask Mohammed Asifji. Frandship is two sided, if you temper one side of ball and rub on ground, then frandship will be balled out.”

Afridi: “You made big bang only for publicity. Apni match-fixing par thoda tawajjo dijiye. (Concentrate on your own match-fixing)”

Veena: “I am bold and open…”

Afridi: “Now stop. Don’t go further. Bilkul Indian film star jaise talk-shauk kar rahi hai aap. (You talk like an Indian film star)”

Veena: “Ji, becaaz I have mammary. All our banda used to come here only…Mran Khan, Wseem Kram, Shwaib…sab Bollywood ke khwaab dekhte they ya Bollywood ki hairoyenon ke. (Imran Khan, Wsaeem Akram Shoiab would all dream about Bollywood or its heroines)”

Afridi: “Their women are after us, did you see any of us with pouches?”

Veena: “Woh tau aapka problem hai na? (Isn’t that your problem?)”

Afridi: “Yuvraj lekar ghoom raha tha aur pregnant aurat jaise vomit kar raha tha. (Yuvraj was walking around with it and vomiting like a pregnant woman – the reference is to an initially unfit Yuvraj and his paunch)”

Veena: “But than he plad so vall. Sab ki chonch chup kar di. (But then he played so well, he shut up everyone’s beak.)”

"We don't want to fight with each other but a third country – everyone knows which one it is - is trying to spoil our relations. (This country) is taking advantage of Pakistan and wants to take advantage of India. I don't want to go into details but these people will not let us come together," he added.

Veena: “Now dawnt blame Siri Lanka.”

Afridi: “Suniye, you don’t know cricket or politics, aap acting hi karein. (stick to acting)”

Veena: “Agar acting kar sakti tau role mil gaye hote. (If I knew acting then I would have got roles)”

Afridi: “So even you agree that Indians don’t have large hearts?”

Veena: “Nawt at all. It is large haats that even though I kanaut act they give me prime tam. Why no other country is coming in way of my relationship with India?”

Afridi: “Because outside India and Pakistan nobody knows you.”

Veena: “Saare jahaan ke log jaante hai (everyone in the world knows me), not only crickatting world. If you were bold like me you would name the mullahs who are spoiling relations.”

Afridi: “I said other country.”

Veena: “So I am also saying other country. Mullahvi.”

Afridi: “Aap ko tau Allah bhi…(With you even Allah…)”

Veena: “Dawnt be jealous of jarnail knowlej I own, theek hai ji? (Don’t be jealous of my general knowledge, okay)”

Asked about the Indian media's coverage of the Pakistani team during the semifinal with India at Mohali on March 30, Afridi replied: "The Indian media has a very negative approach and very negative thoughts. The people may not be like that but I think the media had a very dirty role in spoiling relations between us and India. Our media, which is criticised by people, is hundred times better than theirs," he said.

Veena: “I am making vawes in Indian media, no nagatiwe proach, no nagatiwe thot. Media is making me have good relations with all Indians. Pakistani media puts me in front of camera with some bearded man.”

Afridi: “And if India will put you in front of their bearded man you will jump with joy…”

Veena: “They don’t have those types.”

Afridi: “Amitabh Bachchan hai na.”

Veena: “His beard is designer and awerybody knows from paaon to sar (head to toe) I only like designer.”

Afridi also criticised Interior Minister Rehman Malik for warning the Pakistani team not to get involved in match-fixing and Indian cricketer Gautam Gambhir, who vowed to dedicate victory in the World Cup final to victims of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. "I think they were both very stupid comments by Rehman Malik and Gautam Gambhir...I wasn't expecting this from Gautam...This is all politics, what do you know about who carried out the Bombay attacks?" he said.

Veena: “Rehman ji and I are both Malik and Malik and only we know inside of match-fixing.”

Afridi: “Whole world is involved. It was bad for our morals.”

Veena: “Ab ismey moral kahaan hai? (Now where do morals come into this) Be bold and crejiss like me.”

Afridi: “That I can see. Boldness is not about upper stuff…”

Veena: “Dekhein, aap hadd paar na karein. (Look, don’t go beyond a limit)”

Afridi: “I am only saying outside you can be bold in dress and Rehman Malik was bad for moral with e.”

Veena: “Vot English is this, hain? Moral tau hmm…mmm…haan ‘M’ se shuroo hota hai…(Moral starts with, well, ‘M’)”

Afridi: “Ji. Hum ending ki baat kar rahe they. (Yes, I was talking about ending)”

Veena: “Pakistaniyon ka yehi prowblim hain. End ka sochte hain. Pichur abhi baaqi hai dost.(This is the problem with Pakistanis, they only think of the end. The picture is still to go on)”

Afridi: “So why did Gambhir want to dedicate to victims of Mumbai attacks?”

Veena: “He said for finals ji, and we were not playing, tau don’t do fikar. Indians have large haat that’s why we did not reach final.”

Afridi: “They did it for themselves. It is all politics.”

Veena: “Aap cricket kheliye, yeh kaafi hoga. Theek hain, ji? (You play cricket, that will be enough, okay?)”

Afridi: “Aur aap India mein hi rahe. (And you stay back in India)”

Veena: “Tau phir Pakistan ke crikaters ka kya hoga ji? (What will become of Pakistani cricketers then?)”

Afridi: “Badey dil se kaam chala lenge, ji. (We will manage with our large hearts)”

- - -

End note:

I'd like to add that I received a few congratulatory emails and text messages from Pakistanis after the semis as well as the finals. I was confused. I don't want piece, I want the whole ji.

(c) Farzana Versey
- - -

Updated: April 5, 6.30 PM:

Shahid Afridi is now walking with his tail between his legs. He did not say all that…er…he did not mean all that…ho-hum.

I have uploaded a video. It really does not make much of a difference. But his clarification comes to an Indian channel – NDTV – whereas he gets the applause in Pakistan.

“I have enjoyed my cricket in India and I love Indian people. Don’t take my comments negatively. I have always got a lot of love and affection from Indian fans. And I request the media to play a more positive role and not waste time on such trivial issues. The media makes a big deal of small issues. It is shameful. I have always done my bit to improve Indo-Pak ties but sometimes you say something and it is interpreted the other way. I have been quoted out of context.”

His answers were direct. What context was not there? This should just teach us about not going haywire about cricket diplomacy and players doing their bit. Perhaps he’d like to ask one of his own predecessors, Aamir Sohail, who had objected to his comments.


Sunday ka Funda

True celebration should come from your life, in your life. And true celebration cannot be according to the calendar, that on the first of November you will celebrate. Strange, the whole year you are miserable and on the first of November suddenly you come out of misery, dancing. Either the misery was false or the first of November is false; both cannot be true. And once the first of November is gone, you are back in your dark hole, everybody in his misery, everybody in his anxiety. Life should be a continuous celebration, a festival of lights the whole year round. Only then you can grow up, you can blossom. Transform small things into celebration.

- Osho

I watched most of the World Cup cricket final match on television. It was a delight without all those 'other' aspects. And when the dholaks came out in the street below, I knew that for those who toil at menial tasks, this was not about a big or a small occasion; it was about celebrating. They did not wear bangles in the shades of the tricolour, or dress in blue or have large TV screens or money to spend on alcohol. Their spirits were not even about patriotism. They don't have dates marked on calendars, but then they don't have much to look forward to. So, when such a moment arrives, they just come out. What is there to celebrate, you ask. It is the sounds from their poor hands that bring the rich men's traffic to a halt, that make them roll down their glasses and cheer along.

Around 2 AM, view from my window
It makes me part my curtain of sleep and look down below from the window and although I can see only the lights from cars in the lane, I can visualise those who are walking and dancing with their hands up in the air. This is their flag, their nationalism, their moment.

I did not feel one bit of cynicism last night/early morning because I became a participant in their lives grabbed in such moments. And in that I celebrated mine.

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

- T.S.Eliot (From The Wasteland)