Young love on a leash?

When I read the media quoting activists, especially on the issue of teenage sexuality, I think there is often too much effort in an attempt to sound ‘progressive’. The latest is a ‘regressive’ law:

Under the special law proposed in the freshly revised "Protection of Children From Sexual Offences Bill”, no person below 18 years will have the legal capability to give consent for engaging in any kind of sexual activity. This flies in the face of the general law, Indian Penal Code (IPC), which recognizes 16 as the age of consent for girls.

The Bill in its original form, as introduced last year in Parliament, did not contain any such contradiction. In keeping with the definition of rape in Section 375 of IPC, the Bill, envisaging special safeguards for children, expressly said that where "penetrative sexual assault" is committed against "a child between 16 to 18 years of age, it shall be considered whether the consent for such act has been obtained against the will of the child or the consent has been obtained by use of violence, force ..."

I believe that many young people get into early sexual intimacy due to curiosity, peer pressure, not to speak about hormones. How consensual are these experiments, then? Young girls can be forced into consenting – with the promise of being part of an adventurous group, or of commitment.

The law has to only try and sound empathetic, but even then it had concentrated on “penetrative sexual assault”. Does deleting the clause make it tough on young love?

Madhu Kishwar, founder of Manushi, said:

“Do we want to start punishing young people for premarital sex? Do we want them to start wearing chastity belts? The authorities have gone overboard in removing the age of consent for those between 16 and 18, especially in a scenario where young people are getting sexually active at an early age. This is stupid and goes against the child.”

You refer to the person as a child and want the right of adults. Premarital sex can take place later, given the delayed marriage age among women. At 16, it is not a question of chastity belts but whether they can be responsible. Much of India still believes that sexual activity is also about emotional intimacy. Young people are not automatons. That is the reason we have abolished child marriage, which these activists agree is important to get rid of. Did society not insist that the age of marriage be raised to 18, and rightly so?

And may I ask how many of them would approve if their children were sexually active outside marriage at that young an age?

Is the problem only because the law would involve the parents should such a situation arise and bring them infamy?

Another comment is this:

“We know of instances where boys between 16 and 18 have been sent to jail for consensual sex with a girl. The new law is highly regressive and will result in an increase in such instances and also make it dangerous to engage in physical relationships. This, in turn, will lead to a rise in risky sexual behaviour. The health risks increase for girls, while boys will be threatened with jail. No gender will benefit.”

If indeed a regressive law will result in more such instances, then it could apply to so many other laws, and only proves that the youngsters are out to prove something, to rebel. As for risky sexual behaviour, the lack of knowledge is astounding. Among the people who are rounded up by the cops, the problem is due to use of public space. If the parents are so open-minded, would they leave the teenagers alone in the room at home? Do people, even adults, seek permission and ensure safe sex? Premarital pregnancies, abortion and misuse of pills are not age-restricted.

Psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty is being facile:

“Age of sexual contact has gone down remarkably and the adult-child is a reality. It refutes the changing times and is a denial of the current reality. Taking away the provision of consent puts a heavy price on any attempt at sexual exploration by kids in their late teens. If a 19-year-old boy has sex with a 17-year-old girl, will you put him away in jail?"

Let us bring a current example in mind. A 14-year-old girl was murdered. Her parents are prime suspects because she was reportedly intimate with her servant. It is said it was a case of ‘honour killing’. They used every attempt to divert the attention of the cops; even got medical evidence changed. Would the law have intervened to put the boy in jail? Or would the parents have wanted to protect their name and do what reports have said they did?

There are far too many questions that we need to ask ourselves instead of pushing for a liberal agenda that might make young people more vulnerable to believe about rights in a superficial manner.

Shanta Sinha, chairperson of the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) believes:

“Penalizing such activities will only add to the confusion. The law can be used against both boys and girls. Anybody, from parents to neighbours, can complain to the authorities, who will, in turn, take action against the youngsters. As a result, something very natural will now become distorted, secretive and unacceptable. This will have consequences for how we organize our society and relations between boys and girls.”

How many rape cases are reported when the girl is underage? Do the parents bother? Are they not afraid of what society will say despite the girl being a victim? So, how can anyone say that people will complain? If we wish to empower our young, then it is by taking them into confidence. It is true that on paper the law criminalises sex before 18, but parents and neighbours have looked down on such acts without legal intervention. Girls, especially, are beaten up not only by cops but by their own families even if they are as much as seen with boys.

Real life is not chick lit or a Karan Johar film.

(c)Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

“Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music.”

- Angela Monet

"Let us read and let us dance - two amusements that will amusements that will never do any harm to the world. never do any harm to never do any harm to the world"

- Voltaire


Today is World Dance Day


Shading the Vagina

Yoni puja, worshipping the vagina, from Yogini Temple, MP, India

I’d like my vagina to be nice and bright. This is my choice. Just as women make a choice to depilate the pubic area, or opt only for a bikini wax. Why do we do it? To feel clean and because we do not want hairs sticking out from the sides in swimsuits and lacy lingerie. We do not want menstrual blood drying on hair in the private parts unless we take good care to wash. We do not like smells that emanate from there, however natural the odour. Fragrant soap and powder are our allies. Often, we use panty liners because of the discharge.

So, why the vitriolic, supposedly feministic, reaction to an Indian feminine hygiene product only because its tagline states: “Life for women will now be fresher, cleaner and more importantly fairer and more intimate”? I found nothing offensive about the 25-second ad for Clean & Dry Intimate Wash that is aired on television. In fact, it seemed like a regular liquid soap. I missed pretty much of the controversy surrounding it until just the other day.

There are several ads where women cook, clean, dress for a man’s pleasure. One ad a while ago showed a village woman getting a little orgasm washing her husband’s underwear at the river! There are small sounds about these, not loud moans, as in this case. I was surprised at how proving oneself ends up being another form of peer pressure. “If you believe in women’s rights, how can you tolerate this typical obsession with fairness?” is the first dart thrown. Since it has to do with genitals, and Indian ones, the issue has become international. And the Indian ladies, who probably stuff their faces with SPF 50 sunblock cream or carry little paisley-print brollies to protect themselves, went ballistic. It was as though they were just waiting to show the world that we Indians don’t just have elephants and call centres and IT guys, we have the hardware that does not need any software. It was a bold step to out their pubes and flaunt its different shades.

To add ballast to their argument, they used the tried-and-tested racist angle. In India, there is most certainly a bias with a preference for fairer skin. But it is not based on caste or religion, but region. Face fairness products do show that success depends on how light-skinned you are. Unfortunately, the wrong man has been quoted to explain this. Indian theatre personality and veteran ad man Alyque Padamsee said:

“The only reason I can offer for why people like fairness, is this: if you have two beautiful girls, one of them fair and the other dark, you see the fair girl’s features more clearly. This is because her complexion reflects more light.”

This brought about a flurry of, ooh, so my vagina has to reflect light. However asinine his views, he was not talking about the pubic area.

Don’t these people read sex advice columns? Look at the number of men, much more than women, who want a solution to the dark area around the genitals. They are equally concerned about clipping hair or dried semen inside the folds of the foreskin. Brazilian waxing has become popular in some countries among men and a few salons even offer to embellish the area with little jewels. If a product such as the one for women is launched for men, they will most certainly opt for it. We are anyway talking about a limited section of people who use these.

I find it pathetic that there is anger about a woman pleasing a man. Well, I do not know how many of us women sit down and take a good look at our vaginas in a day and say with much poise and confidence, this is who I am and proud of it. It makes no sense. Sex – and due to circumstantial requirements the genitals are involved – is about pleasure: receiving and giving it. Yoni (vagina) worship was as common as lingam (phallus) worship centuries ago. Men try hard; women do so too. In fact, while women invest much more in ‘things’ – thongs, unguents, waxing - men have to rely on their organ. These women ought to ask themselves whether or not they have pampered themselves with such seductive indulgences. Partly, it could be the reasons I mentioned at the beginning, but like hell it would be a lie if no woman has tried to please a man in bed because it gives her pleasure too. Oh, watch out, whipped cream is white.

Wait. They are not against pleasure. They just don’t want to be coloured. I read this piece of tripe in Jezebel:

In this commercial for an Indian product called Clean and Dry Intimate Wash, a (very light-skinned) couple sits down for what would have been a peaceful cup of morning coffee – if the woman's disgusting brown vagina hadn't ruined everything! The dude can't even bring himself look at her. He can't look at his coffee either, because it only reminds him of his wife's dripping, coffee-brown hole! Fortunately, the quick-thinking woman takes a shower, scrubbing her swarthy snatch with Clean and Dry Intimate Wash ("Freshness + Fairness"). And poof! Her vadge comes out blinding white like a downy baby lamb (and NOT THE GROSS BLACK KIND) and her husband – whose penis, I can only assume, is literally a light saber – is all, "Hey, lady! Cancel them divorce papers and LET'S BONE."

Despite the attempt at in-your-face bravado, it reminds me of a sophomore necking in a corner, puckering collagen lips when caught. It is an insecure reaction, for the assumptions override the facts. The couple is light-skinned, as in many ads. Why does a woman have to be dripping? Who is the one putting pressure on the female here? And the hole is not about colour. It is the area around the vagina. If there is such a problem with that, I can imagine how difficult it will be for the drippers to find their clits, just in case the man ignores them.

In an ad of a few seconds, everything has to be quick. She is going to take a shower, which isn’t bad. Maybe she is spraying the water jet inside her for a bit of self-love, just in case he isn’t all that much of a dude, eh? In one wash, she comes out feeling fresh and dry (aha, there goes the dripping fun you had on her behalf). So they, the story goes, end up in bed and he cancels the divorce. Strange that it does not strike the faux fur-flying feminists that she might want to divorce the man and live with a bright and fresh genital location. What a shame, for are they not revolted that women want to please men?

Do us a favour. Since you look at yourself, and you are so against this fair business, just pour some dark chocolate on your vagina. This is a statement you are making, so don’t let any man rear his head near you.

(c) Farzana Versey

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Update: Am linking two old pieces to give a perspective. And spare me the crackers about how your feminism is bigger than mine.

On the movement to get men to shave: A close shave?

On men's rights, feminism, and beyond: Another patriarchy - Feminist men and Amazonian women


Sunday ka Funda

"You forget that the fruits belong to all and that the land belongs to no one.”

- Jean-Jacques Rousseau

For World Earth Day


The colour of fire: Agni-V

I hate missiles. They are inhuman. But, of course, you might say, that is the idea. I hate missiles because I like a fair fight, if at all. Firing missiles with a push of a button is not fair. Don’t give me examples of other countries and how all is fair in love and war. It is not.

Yet, we in India have been jubilant over the Agni-V ballistic missile that took off from Wheeler Island off the Odisha coast on Thursday.

I tried to get excited as I saw a few clippings on television and then some photographs. 

In repose it looks like a giant-sized pencil. It reminded me of a fairytale where a young character stares wide-eyed at this marvel and tries to grasp it in her hand and she just cannot. And then with a great rumbling sound it moves on its own and whooshes off into the sky, writing out something on the clouds in red letters. The girl cannot read it clearly and the pencil is gone. She cries. For some reason I think of the character as a girl. Maybe, I am rewinding to my own childhood.

Missiles are an adult childhood game. I want to applaud this longest range ballistic missile with a range of over 5,000 kms. I want to start clapping when I read newspaper reports that call it “a high five moment”, “a game changer”. I want to make angry faces at the US for lecturing us to “exercise restraint” and to Chine for calling it a “political missile”. We are just playing. So what if it can reach most parts of China. I can reach China too.

I still see that little girl and a colour pencil. But now I look closely and it has ‘Bharat’ written on it, and then it pierces the clouds and withstands heat of 3000 degrees Celsius. I had no idea heat could ever get that hot. I do not know many things. I am sweating in 35 degrees C. This must be one swell of a missile. It has the right name. Agni – fire.

We are now part of the elite club of nations with Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) technology like U.S., Russia, France and China. I read that, “India's policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons, Agni-V will provide the country with depth in deterrence.”

This makes me feel good. The missile can reach very far, can destroy, but unless somebody else uses it first we will not do anything. I don’t know much, but I only hope it does not start to rust, or its parts do not get consumed with all the wiring inside. If it can withstand so much heat, then it must be careful not to burn itself. It happens with so many things in life.

I know you will tell me to shut up and stop this fairytale. You will quote some scientist who said, “Today, we have made history. We are a major missile power.”

Okay. I want to be part of history, of an elite club. I also want every little girl and boy to get a colour pencil just like Agni-V to act as deterrence against hunger, and to bring some cheer in their lives.


Seedy CDs and Hollow Exposés

I am not particularly interested in what lawyer and Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi does in his spare time, and especially not in his private moments. Apparently his driver shot his boss getting intimate with someone and circulated the CD.

I do not understand why the courts have to put a stay on news channels from airing it. The news channels should know that it is not important to air it. They did the same with the BJP MLAs watching porn on their mobile phones.

Whether the CD has morphed images or not ought to be probed legally. It is not the business of the media. If this did indeed happen, then the person invading such privacy ought to be pulled up, not Mr. Singhvi. Irrespective of the political side he belongs to, he is entitled to a private life. Was he caught taking bribes or giving money for a deal? Was he caught trying to buy off members from other parties?

What disturbs me is a report that quotes someone who happens to know the lady, a lawyer, and the comments made on a social networking site:

  • Happened in his office. She is about 45-50yrs old. it has to be consensual or else he can much better/younger girls if he wants to exploit."

As I said, one is not judging what happened. I am questioning these know-it-alls. This person happens to be a woman. She assumes that only young women can get exploited, that men, however old they are or whatever they look like, always have the option. Looks like she does not read reports about how those in power – and it could be the power of physical strength or of being in an isolated spot or of revenge – can take advantage of women irrespective of their age or looks.

I find such an attitude disgusting. She further expounds:

  • “I do not agree that they had sex just for judgeship. U think it's that simple to become a judge? NO!...see she too is v rich and v influential also has a great legal practice. So sex only for favour is unlikely.”

So, now being rich and influential makes a person above-board.

Such tittle-tattle is reported as news? There are legal procedures that can be followed, although I have no idea what it would be about – that he granted the woman some favour? Or that he used his office for the act as is being said?

Some old pictures of him wearing a kurta and shorts are being posted that have nothing to do with the present controversy.

As someone who has done a few of these ‘chill out zone’ type stories with prominent people, let me tell you that the magazine (and channels) want the subjects to let down their guard, to show their ‘human side’. It does not mean that the person ‘drops his pants’ at the drop of a quote.

An intrusive media should know the difference between an exposé and idle curiosity. Going by their ‘tauba tauba’ reaction one would think they are all celibate. It would be really interesting to watch some CDs that show our honourable members of the Fourth Estate in compromising positions. We have seen them in the missionary position, but that is only a stand they take when they are holding forth on topics of ‘national’ interest.

Seriously, will we ever have an tell-all about the hallowed newsrooms or the cabins of revered editors? (That they occasionally write memoirs in semi-retirement exposing members of their tribe surprisingly makes them look good to the ones who were saved from the hawk eyes.) Can we also ask the media if they get their scoops by being rather ‘kind’ or sending their special scribes/anchors? After all, during those sting operations they do lay the honey-trap. What do they do when they are not 'stinging'?

The least we expect is that they should not join in the chorus of anonymous 'opinionators'. This incessant caricaturing of others just makes them into caricatures if you look from the other side.

Breivik's Day Out

They still won’t call him a terrorist. Anders Breivik remains a “right wing extremist gunman” and, with some concessional nod of late, an “anti-Muslim fanatic”. I feel that the trial is projecting his views in a circular light where despite what he has done, the emphasis will be on the statement made during the defence. It will work subliminally, for those he killed were not specifically Muslim targets. This would push the general sympathy idea and divert his motives.

He has displayed arrogance throughout. As a report says:

Norwegian killer Breivik breaks down as film of his hero Vlad the Impaler is played (but stays stony-faced as court describes way he slaughtered 77).

He smirked several times as the cuffs were removed, put his right fist on his heart then extended his hand in salute. “I do not recognise the Norwegian courts. You have received your mandate from political parties which support multiculturalism,” Breivik told the court after refusing to stand when judges entered.

“I acknowledge the acts but not criminal guilt as I claim self defence,” he added, seated in front of a bulletproof glass wall.

His self-defence was against “Muslims”.

The patch on his uniform

The Norwegian police plan to bring his mother Wenche Behring to the witness box because Breivik said during interviews:

“I just hope my mother is not there. She’s the only one who can make me emotionally unstable. She is my Achilles heel.”

They courts believe that seeing her will “reduce the killer to a quivering wreck”. This is ridiculous, for she has already stated that her son suffered from paranoid delusions five years ago. Why was he not treated for it? The insanity plea might work. And he might well be her Achilles heel.

All killers suffer from some psychological issues, and the ‘lone murderer’ or a group of terrorists being brainwashed is part of how the enemy is played on their minds subconsciously.

It is the job of the courts and the police to conduct the proceedings. I am surprised that such ‘motherly’ intervention is being made public. We are not dealing with a juvenile court. The man went on a killing spree, his acts are recorded, he has admitted to it. What more do they want to know? That he watched a Muslim running a store and it affected his mind so much that he decided to attack innocent people?

He is a terrorist, and not just Norway but all the western powers should treat him as such.

Also from my archives:

They don’t have terrorists in Norway?
Did Hindu or Islamic Fundamentalism inspire Oslo’s Terrorist?


Right Said Modi...

This time Modi is right. Why target only Gujarat and not othet states? His adminstration could be using diversionary tactics, and while one size does not fit all in matters of justice, there's got to be a trial room for everyone.

The Narendra Modi government on Friday moved the Supreme Court and sought an independent probe into encounter cases in all states in last 10 years, while venting its ire at Mumbai based human rights activists accusing them of focusing only on incidents in Gujarat. To press its case, the Modi government said, 'It is a matter of record and cannot be seriously disputed that between 1998 and 2000 special squads of Bombay Police ‘cleaned up’ (the expression then used) about 300 strong Bombay underworld dons with an average of 100 encounters a year'.

Having recorded their version, I'd like to know if the Modi government is using this as justification? Is there no difference between underworld dons and people arrested at random? The use of the term clean up reveals the modus operandi. Is the Gujarat government conceding such a possibility?

As far as details are concerned, it is spot on:

The Gujarat government argued that 'The Bombay police went by the Israeli strategy of ‘eye for an eye’ and ‘tooth for a tooth’ as was being unofficially claimed then. Officers who undertook this operation 'clean up’ were feted as super heroes and even immortalized by films.

They still are. From 'Shootout at Lokhandwala' to the supposedly more realistic 'Black Friday', the cops are the heroes to the anti-heroes. Interestingly, you cannot tell the difference.

Around the time-frame mentioned, a few of these officers would routinely pose for pictures with their 'kill'. It was and is a known fact that, besides being feted in the media, promotions are largely dependent on the quota of bodies.

The underworld has primarily operated from Mumbai and their close connections span across drug lords overseas, intelligence agencies, politicians, industrialists, film financiers, and the media.

The arrest of Jigna Vohra in the J.Dey murder case due to what has been played out as professional rivalry had to do with two rival gangsters.

Arun Gawli, the "daddy" of Byculla could contest elections from jail. Politics is not just a refuge for these gangsters but a logical move.

The cops rarely get the big guys. It is a tacit arrangement.

So, if we keep the peeve of the Gujarat government in mind, then indeed Maharashtra and other states need to be given the same treatment.

However, outside of the partisan stance of activists and human rights organisations, is Narendra Modi willing to accept that encounter killings did take place and the criminal officers were transferred?

If yes, then the Supreme Court can pull up the other states and alongside take this as an admission to similar culpability in Gujarat.

We have Modi's word for it, although he hasn't quite said it.

(c) Farzana Versey

Sunday ka Funda

"We fear violence less than our own feelings. Personal private, solitary pain is more terrifying than what anyone else can inflict.”

- Jim Morrison

Some places are doomed to both. But, where there is life, there is light.

Here's an Afghan song:

- - -

I am aware of the attacks by the Taliban in Kabul today. There are many aspects to life. If you want the news story, go here


Buy off the victims: Khwaja Yunus case

Would you trade justice for compensation? The idealistic mind says, no. But would a poor person have to make a pragmatic choice?

In 2002. Khwaja Yunus died in police custody. He was arrested in the Ghatkopar BEST bus blast case in Mumbai under POTA. The extent of his involvement is not clear, but the cops have put forth theories that he had absconded while being transferred to another prison.

Despite this, the Bombay high court on grounds of “violation of fundamental rights” has enhanced compensation payable to his family from Rs. 3 lakh to Rs 20 lakh. Why has this been done?

...a division bench of Justice A M Khanwilkar and Justice P D Kode rejected a plea to prosecute 10 policemen for Yunus's alleged custodial death.

The judges said Asiya Begum was free to file a suit for additional compensation, which would have to be decided on its own merits. The state, which has already given Rs 3 lakh to Yunus's parents, has now been directed to pay the remaining Rs 17 lakh within eight weeks. It was up to the state to recover the amount proportionately from the police officers responsible for Yunus's disappearance, the judges added.

What do we have here?

Initially, Yunus's father Ayub filed a habeas corpus petition for his production. The state CID sought the prosecution of 14 policemen for their alleged role in Yunus's "custodial death". After Ayub's death, Asiya Begum amended the petition to make 14 policemen as accused and sought Rs 20 lakh as compensation.

The judges further said the sanction was limited to the police team that took Yunus out of the lock-up in healthy condition and was allegedly responsible for causing his death or disappearance en route to Aurangabad.

This is an old tactic to make some policemen culpable. Since no one knows what really happened, except the version of the co-accused that Yunus was tortured, it makes one wonder how toothless even the CID is.

Why has the court decided to increase the compensation, the highest to date in the state? What evidence does it have that makes the disbursement of this money a crucial factor?

Yunus was the only earning member, but they cannot be called a poor family. He worked as a software engineer in Dubai. The judgement has also left to the imagination his disappearance and death. This does not sound like justice. The “violation of fundamental rights” that the courts spoke of includes the right to information about why the CID’s appeal was overlooked.

It brings me to the question of whether the increased amount can silence people. Will it set a precedent? The state has paid the sum it felt was due; the rest is left to the culpable policemen. I see a dangerous trend here. Cops are not so rich; they can be used by moneyed people to squash cases with the assurance that they can pay off the victims and their own families will be taken care of. The list of people who can avail of such ‘facilities’ would be politicians, businessmen, rivals, family members, the underworld, just about anyone.

I understand that justice takes way longer than cash deposited in a bank account, and the latter is more important for survival. It would be unfair for me to judge how a victim’s family makes such choices. Yet, some voices should be raised or we will just end up as commodities to be bought and sold.


Sunday ka Funda

In the dead of night, a Sufi began to weep.
He said, "This world is like a closed coffin, in which
We are shut and in which, through our ignorance,
We spend our lives in folly and desolation.
When Death comes to open the lid of the coffin,
Each one who has wings will fly off to Eternity,
But those without will remain locked in the coffin.
So, my friends, before the lid of this coffin is taken off,
Do all you can to become a bird of the Way to God
Do all you can to develop your wings and your feathers."

- Farid ud Din Attar

- - -

let's scatter roses and pour wine in the glass
we'll shatter heaven's roof and lay a new foundation.
If sorrow raises armies to shed the blood of lovers,
I'll join with the wine bearer so we can overthrow them.
With a sweet string at hand, play a sweet song, my friend,
so we can clap and sing a song and lose our heads in

- Hafiz (Ghani-Qazvini)


Cheeky Ganguly

I don't need to watch the IPL matches. The photographs are on the ball.

I don't care much about checking out men's butts, but Saurav Ganguly seems to enjoy a bit of exposure. Mumbai Mirror caught him from behind. The 'Restricted Zone' in the foreground makes sure you only look...no touching, no touching, as one Bollywood song goes.

PS: If the cricketer had been part of Kolkata Knight Riders, instead of Pune Warriors, he'd have been sore.


IPL, Kitsch & Lipstick

Cricket does not interest me much anymore. I liked the white flannels, and whatever money the players may have made, the idea of them being auctioned is somehow quite unpalatable.

Now that the new season of IPL has started, there was the usual glitzy opening ceremony. Nothing these days goes without an opening ceremony. I did not watch it, but saw the pictures – crass Bollywood fare, the top-billed actors looking like courtesans and pimps acting as cheer-leaders.

Since we have foreign players we cannot complain about foreign performers. This time, they got Kate Perry. Her bottom half was Anjuna beach, Goa and the top half was ‘let’s getting married in a Rajasthan palace’.

But, this picture with cricketer Doug Bollinger is such a put-off. I do not know how all you wonderful people look at it, but this appears to be some kind of soft-porn to me, with that wide-open mouth and the mike.

And then there is this. Precious. I will retain the caption as it was, emphasising a couple of interesting phrases:

CALM BEFORE THE STORM: With the IPL and associated entertainment set to drown out all other cricketing noise over the next month-and-a-half, we decided to take a peek back to calmer, more innocent days, when famous men could wear lipstick without fear of retribution. Pictured during India's 1989 tour of Pakistan are (from left) future commentator Sanjay Manjrekar, a zero-international-centuries Sachin Tendulkar, two-Test wonder Vivek Razdan and Indian Express boss Shekhar Gupta before he started walking the talk.

As this was in Pakistan, I naturally call it the $10 million picture.

“It (cricket) requires one to assume such indecent postures” 

– Oscar Wilde

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Both photographs from Mumbai Mirror. The paper has not attributed it to any source.


Million Dollar Men: Asif Ali Zardari and Hafiz Saeed

The Ajmer Sharif Dargah in north India has become for politics what the Wagah border is for peace activists.  It is just so much melting wax and withering flowers.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is to pay a visit to the shrine on what has been touted as a “personal” trip. Given his position, it is quite natural that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would ask him to join him for lunch. Now, when these two countries meet for any meal, there is a slow fire burning and a pot boiling in the background. You can see what is cooking, but the people at the table do not seem to have a clue.

We are still at the stage where the sophomoric question is: who should make the first move? Many moves have been made, in wars, by insurgents, through signed pieces of paper, with hugs, blasts, dialogues. These seem to have fallen on the head without anyone making the first move. Instead, the friendly country far from the neighbourhood has decided to do something about it.

The United States of America has put Hafiz Saeed, the leader of Jama'at-ud-Da'wah that was declared a terrorist organisation by the United Nations in December 2008, up there as the big dish. A little problem here. You don’t get him. He is just an item on the menu. You have to hand him over to the great master chef, Barack Obama, and in return take away the $10 million bounty offered by the U.S. for any information on him. No one quite knows what Mr. Zardari plans to pray for at the dargah, but it certainly isn’t a huge amount of money this time. As for Dr. Singh, he is a clean man with clean thoughts and, anyway, he does not have Hafiz Saeed. He can demand that he be handed over, is the chorus. Pages and pages have been exchanged over the Mumbai attacks of November 2008.

We need to look at this a bit carefully. India and Pakistan do not perceive Saeed in the same manner, and the simple reason is that they cannot. They are two countries with different compulsions. Saeed has been the mastermind behind those blasts. Ajmal Kasab, the hit man and the last guy standing, became the fall guy. In terms of a criminal act with the evidence he would be culpable. How does one gauge the extent of input by a mastermind? Osama bin Laden did not go out and attack anyone, yet he was the hunted. If we go by this logic, then the U.S. President must take responsibility for the killings of all the civilians in unprovoked wars.

The reason for bringing this up is the crucial element of American convenience. It would be facile to believe for a moment that the US is concerned about India, even though Obama said it has not forgotten the Mumbai attacks. It remembers at an opportune time. The present Zardari-Singh meeting is not terribly important, except to discuss the same old things. I also do not believe that the US bounty will suddenly make terrorism an issue. It has always been an issue.

The American establishment is only making sure it gets a sneak preview. While peace between the two countries is whimsical, the state of unrest has helped outsiders a great deal. This bane has been a boon for them, for a huge world population can be managed, if not colonised, by the simple expedient of posing as a saviour figure.  It simply does not understand that terrorism in these parts is feeding off angst. It is playing on sentiment.

To put it simplistically, for the West the Mumbai attacks showed India as a rich country and Pakistan as a few men in dinghy. Good old David Headley, Hafiz Saeed’s video maker and map drawer, managed to get a visa to India and do his recce trips as a US citizen. They have him there. Do the two countries have the courage to ask America what exactly it is doing with him?

Hafiz Saeed is roaming free. His December 2011 rally against NATO killings turned out to be bigger than that of most politicians. This was not in some small town, but in Lahore, where he turned the ‘war on terror’ on it head by urging the Pakistani authorities to revoke its cooperation. Whether anybody likes it or not, there are many Pakistanis who support his organisation, Difa-e-Pakistan. Political pragmatism would make it imperative to be on his side, because at least with regard to NATO he is expressing the prevalent sentiment: “In 10 years of war that US has fought in Afghanistan, Pakistan actually lost more than the invaded country.”

Afghanistan has been a sore point with mainstream Pakistani politicians from the time of the influx of refugees during the Afghan war to the Taliban entering the plains and attacking just about every group of people. The splitting of hairs over ‘good Taliban’ and ‘bad Taliban’ has in fact blurred the lines. In the popular imagination, the U.S. is to blame for it. The audacious move to assign ‘guardian angels’, troops to watch over their sleeping comrades “against possible attacks by rogue Afghans” after an American soldier Sergeant Robert Bales killed sleeping Afghans, amounts to playing victim.

Pakistan is caught between these two victim-aggressors. It is willing to risk drone attacks, but the authorities probably believe that the rightwing within might come in handy. The view that Pakistan wishes to create communal tensions in India works symbolically to the benefit of Pakistan and India should disabuse such notions actively. If Pakistan wishes to destabilise India by hitting out at its totems of economic progress, then why would it want to do trade with India and why should the Indian government encourage it?

If India believes that the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) is behind it all, then does it make any sense to ask Pakistan to hand over Hafiz Saeed or to even try him? More importantly, if India believes that all acts of terror emanate from Pakistan, then is there any purpose in pursuing peace? Peace does not merely mean no war. It conveys a sense of confidence and trust. Neither country trusts the other.

This leaves a large opening for America, and it never fails to appear. The farce of a $10 million bounty will be played out in salons rather than in Islamabad or New Delhi. This is a huge bait for Pakistani liberals and expats to fill the U.S. coffers during the run-up to the elections. The money will be in trust, without it being spoken of in such clear terms, and the well-wisher Pakistani lobbyists will buy peace. America knows this only too well.

The obvious question would be: Aren’t there more prominent Indians in that country? Rich Indian immigrants are keener on being American; they do not have to prove their innocence, unlike Pakistanis. This is a major difference.

What has this got to do with President Zardari meeting Dr. Singh? If one is to understand some of the ‘peace’ proponents, then India is doing a subtle America without the bluster. The lead opinion piece in The Times of India had this gem:

“Clearly, Zardari has stolen an imaginative moment from the bitter-sullen history of India-Pakistan, by asking to come to pay his respects to a cherished and much-beloved saint across the Indian subcontinent. It shows what we, despite the horrendous Mumbai attacks of 2008, are still capable of. Perhaps the Pakistani president will seek forgiveness for those attacks and pray that both countries can move on by jointly erasing the scourge of terrorism. God knows, there are more people killed in Allah’s name in Pakistan today than elsewhere in the region.”

This is so full of Pat Robertson type evangelism, with its penance and forgiveness tone, that one wishes that all SAARC meetings are held at the shrine. In fact, such ‘private’ visits only reinforce the belief that we in South Asia will always mix religion with politics.

Taking such peace talks further is a piece in The Hindu jointly written by former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan Humayun Khan and former Foreign Secretary of India Salman Haidar:

“Peace within the region is an essential requirement for India to continue on its upward path. It must make renewed efforts to convince its neighbours that it poses no threat to them. It still has to fully convince them that it is ready to honour their independence and separate personality.”

How can such a thing be proved? India is fighting movements within almost as much as Pakistan is, with probably fewer casualties. The emphasis on economic progress, in fact, diverts attention away from political instability. There is no doubt that India being the larger nation has to respect other nations, but their sovereignty depends on how they manage contradictions within. Bilateral peace has little to do with this.

“To further allay apprehensions, discussions could be initiated on relocation of forces along the border and on regular meetings between chiefs of the armed forces and of intelligence agencies. The need for better understanding between the two militaries cannot be over-emphasised, because the security syndrome in Pakistan is the major obstacle in the way of progress.”

Do the armed forces act independently? They don’t. Besides, there is a difference between armed conflict and terrorism. Terrorism does not take the regular route. While Pakistan has to deal with the army as possible government, India has to handle the politicisation within the army. How they talk to each other matters little when compared with how they operate inside their own countries.

Dr. Manmohan Singh does not have to worry about the Indian armed forces posing a threat to his position. Asif Ali Zardari has to every minute of the day. A little prayer at the dargah will not change that. What he might get by way of benediction is a new eureka motivation: blame the existence of Hafiz Saeed on newbie willing to sup with Islamists Imran Khan for the moment. Wasn’t seize the day an all-American novel?

(c)Farzana Versey

Published in Counterpunch, April 4

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Image of Asif Ali Zardari and Dr Manmohan Singh courtesy Open magazine


Sunday ka Funda

“I don't believe in people just hoping. We work for what we want. I always say that one has no right to hope without endeavor, so we work to try and bring about the situation that is necessary for the country, and we are confident that we will get to the negotiation table at one time or another.”

- Aung San Suu Kyi