Sunday ka Funda

"''Home' is any four walls that enclose the right person."

- Helen Rowland

I like the tagline: "Har ghar kuchch kehta hai" (every house speaks). For a paint ad, this seems like an obvious choice. But how often do homes talk or convey anything?

This ad in some ways is all about stereotypes — the armyman's discipline and the woman leaving her maternal home. While the emotions are subtly conveyed, through his concern for decorating the bedroom like the one in her house, a mere replication does not take a relationship forward.

Nitpicking aside, the words and feelings stay with you.

"Tell me whom you love and I will tell you who you are."

- Arsene Houssaye


Blood in Nairobi

It takes extreme heartlessness to lob grenades, to shoot people in the head, and hold them hostage. People who have nothing to do with any cause, who are just going about their daily lives, enjoying an evening out with their families, or tourists taking a break from the sights.

What happened on Saturday in Nairobi is tragic and despicable. We have a tendency to compare, because we have become numb to killings largely because they appear on TV.

I would have liked to talk about my grandmother's early life in Kenya, the lullabies she sang to me in Swahili, the slaves her father released.

The crouched bodies and fear in the eyes of September 21 are a reminder of another kind of slavishness. We know who is behind the attacks. We even know why, to an extent. This does not mean anything. For, people are slaves to ideologies and politics, and nothing will stop them. The attempt to stop too is no free lunch.

Reports have mentioned the race of the victims, their nationalities, and it all becomes about who is mine, who is the other.

Al Shabaab, a terrorist organisation based in Somalia, has taken responsibility. The New York Times mentions that this attack was "one of the most chilling terrorist attacks in East Africa since Al Qaeda blew up two American embassies in 1998". Somalia and Kenya have been at war over three decades before that, and continue to be. It was territorial, to begin with.

Al-Shabaab’s spokesman, Ali Mohamoud Rage, said following the attack: “Kenya will not get peace unless they pull their military out of Somalia.”

Reports mention how the group was gloating in the social media. This trend has to stop. It is bad enough that we get sensational images on television. Such theatre of violence is close to the real thing, and glorifies the killers.

There is also a tendency to create more fissures:

• "The mall, called Westgate, is a symbol of Kenya’s rising prosperity, an impressive five-story building where Kenyans can buy expensive cups of frozen yogurt and plates of sushi. On Saturdays, it is especially crowded, and American officials have long warned that Nairobi’s malls were ripe targets for terrorists, especially Westgate, because a cafe on the ground floor, right off the street, is owned by Israelis."

Kenya is rich in natural resources, and it has seen levels of prosperity until, like many other nations, it was colonised. The expatriates continue to thrive.

However, is the Israeli establishment not there to do business? Don't they do business in the U.S. which feels under constant threat? Why is it always about 'us'? (Has the Israeli establishment expressed reservations?) The Somali group has been described as 'Islamist". Does that explain their earlier war with Kenya? Does that even explain the Arab entering Kenya in the 16 century to trade and staying on?

Eyewitnesses say the terrorists asked Muslims to leave. Unless they were recognisable by mode of dress, they would not know. And they don't really care, even if some reports suggest they asked people on the run to identify the Prophet's mother. One does not see terrorists do this in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan where they target their co-religionists.

Rudy Atallah, the former director of African counterterrorism for the Pentagon, said: “I think this is just the beginning. An attack like this gives them the capability to recruit, it shows off their abilities, and it demonstrates to Al Qaeda central that they are not dead.”

Now imagine if the reports had not played into just this narrative. The Al Qaeda does not need the media to let it know what its members and allies are doing. The organisation is well-oiled and has its antenna up. What we are witnessing — the 39 dead people and 150 injured will be forgotten — is one more version of monopoly.

Dan Stackhouse, a commenter from New York City, sort of revealed the subtext:"Kenya is an old ally of America, not to mention Britain and other major powers. It would be hypocrisy if we did not aid them in their fight against the shabab in Somalia. For now we can do nothing about al-Assad's terrorism in Syria, but we can and should do something about this."

This is not a quid pro quo. Helplessness over inability to 'do' something in Syria should not seek replacement. The old idea of allies too does not work anymore. Besides, the power equations are different. (Not to forget that Britain ruled over Kenya.)

At this time, we need to spare a thought for those who are killed everyday for some vague idea — of faith, of political expediency, of just muscle power. We need to spare a thought also for Somalia. There are Somalians who live an honest life. They are not terrorists.

One has to only be exposed to lands where terrorists live to understand how desperate the ordinary people are, and how victimised they too can be... if not by bullets, then by branding.

© Farzana Versey


All quotes from The New York Times



The issue of highlighting race is again evident in new findings. As reported:

The Foreign Office is investigating suggestions that a female British terror suspect nicknamed the "White Widow" could have been linked to the plot. Witness accounts have suggested a woman was among the attackers, fuelling speculation that Samantha Lewthwaite, who was married to 7/7 bomber Jermaine Lindsay, was involved.

She is wanted by Kenyan police over links to a suspected terrorist cell planning bomb attacks.In March 2012, it was reported that Lewthwaite, 29, originally from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, had fled across the border from Kenya to Somalia.

Sunday ka Funda

"Say goodbye to the oldies, but goodies, because the good old days weren't always good and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems,"

— Billy Joel

Good for optimism.

I am not leaving anything nor is anything that matters to me leaving. Not yet. But listening to this, I am choked...

Farewell: Apocalyptica


"Hello, my Internet connection has not been working for hours," I tell the service provider hotline guy, after being warned by a computerised voice that this call is being recorded for quality and training purposes and I am to be part of the education.

"Ok...please provide me with security details....thanks...ok, may I call you by first name?..." he rattles off.

"Anything, just get this working."

"So what is the problem actually?"

"The internet..."

"You want to subscribe?"

"I told you it is not working and when it does work it is very slow."

"I understand. Am really sorry for the inconvenience. How many bars are showing?"


"Four," I say, squinting my eyes to make sure I don't miss out on any bars and mislead the training and quality.

"That's good. Now try browsing."

"That's what I have been trying to do, and it is not working."

"Oh, so sorry to hear that. Did you try switching it off?"

"I have done all that is possible. Switched off, on, removed batteries, put them in, taken the phone/tab for a walk..." [last bit not said aloud]

"Maybe you don't know the settings..."

"I've been using this before you were born." [not said aloud]

"We'll try it manually...go to home page, then to settings..."

"I have been there for a couple of hours..." I had also cleared cache, history, geography to make it light as a feather.

"Now add this...then this...type google...G O O..."

"I know how to spell."

"Now click save..."

"There is no save...it auto saves."

"IPad is Apple?"

"No. It is orange." [said softly because call is recorded and training might not be fruity]

"I will have to transfer you to my technical department..."

"And who are you?"

"I am hotline help. Transferring now...[music] Sorry about the long wait..."

[It's been 30 seconds only]

"Okay, transferring the line to Shahrukh Khan [not his real name]. SRK will now help you..."

"Even if Idi Amin does I'll be happy."

[obviously, I did not say it aloud]

"I understand you have a problem. Have you tried switching on and switching off?" asked SRK.

"No. I have no clue how to do it. Because I am not a machine."

[I did not say this latter bit aloud]

The wonders of life. The line got cut off. I resigned myself to being unconnected. A few minutes later I got a text message. "Were you happy with the help?"

I switched off. So, yes, the help worked in unintended ways.


Have stings replaced news?

The anchor held up a piece of paper and shouted down a politician with the precious words: "I have this secret information." A rival channel did its own bit of smirking: "Our sting operation will give you the whole story."

It will not. This too is fed information. The reason there is a surfeit of 'stings' — how can a formal letter by a cop to his bosses be called a sting operation when he has written it and sent it? — is because newspapers and TV channels have saturated the regular routes and want to entertain. Many of the readers and viewers too wish to be entertained, and news stories, however controversial, become more interesting when they stink.

Sting operations get a whole lot of points by a gullible public that assumes those blurred video clips are done as an act of public good. No one bothers to check out the motives behind these moves. It is high time we made the mainstream media answerable, but the alternatives are not always as above-board as they appear simply because they too depend on the largesse of sponsors, advertising and benefactors.

A few noises are being made now about some of these exposés. I wish it had been done earlier, too. Then we would have been spared this rush and rash of scoops where dirt covers only more dirt.

I've said it in earlier pieces, and instead of repeating myself I shall reproduce two extracts, one from 2010, the other from 2007. [Unfortunately, opinions do not qualify as scoops and exposés!]:

Stings that stink, 2007, Asian Age Op-Ed:

Have sting operations changed anything? Have people stopped having their palms greased? Is there more awareness about wrongdoing? Are the culprits shunned by society?

You know the answers. They have, on the contrary, become even more important.

A reporter of a Delhi television channel tried to expose a teacher for forcing her students into prostitution. It turned out to be fake. It was done on the prodding of a businessman as a planned strategy to hit out at the teacher for owing him Rs 100,000. He called up a reporter who we are told harangued her to make a few quick bucks by getting into the flesh trade and supply women. It is said she fell for this bait. A colleague of the reporter was sent as a potential girl ready for the job.

The whole story sounds bizarre. Would a woman in a respectable profession be so gullible as to get into criminal activity? If there is any truth, then why has it been labelled fake? This is not a big channel. Had it been one of those fancy ones, do you imagine anyone would have made such a noise about its lack of authenticity? The reporter has been arrested. I would like to know what is being done to the channel owners. This isn’t just a sensational story. It is about an issue that concerns women and any sensible person. Sting operators cannot get away with it.

Is this about vigilantism at all? (In 2005), there was an exposé where 11 Members of Parliament were bribed to pose questions in the House. The website carried tape recorders and cameras to catch them red-handed and a TV channel aired what they thought was a complete travesty. These clippings were later shown in Parliament. Newspaper reports were dramatic: "Parliament was stunned into shamed silence."

Does Parliament feel no shame when elected members throw slippers and chairs at each other? Has no ministry ever been shamed for taking kickbacks by giving a contract to an undeserving company?

And who were the MPs who were paid Rs 15,000 to just over a lakh for asking questions? Were they important enough names? These nobodies suddenly got notorious fame as "the dirty eleven." I can lay a bet that even if they were not bribed and were told they would be given some media coverage, they would still have done what they did. The sting operation only helped make scapegoats of a few unknowns to let the real sharks march around like saints. A whitewash job has never been simpler.

The real scoop was this, and it had been reported in this newspaper: The television channel gave the sting operators about Rs 58 lakhs. Less than Rs 10 lakhs was spent on the entire operation. The bribe amount was less than Rs 3 lakhs. Other expenses were about Rs 5 lakhs. The equipment was available on loan. Was the balance money returned to the TV channel? Does anyone know?

There should be transparency regarding sting operations too. Jaya Jaitly, who ought to know, had made an interesting comment, that it would be honest if a person went to these sting operators and told them that someone was taking money for asking questions or getting things done; the snoops could then accompany the person and catch the culprit in the act.


Would they do a sting operation on cultural organisations or famous "respectable" artistes who get special privileges? What about nominated MPs from the "world of arts" who use their position to further their personal causes? What about NGOs that misuse foreign funds? What about media houses that take money from socialites to promote them?

The media as middleman, 2010, CounterPunch

Journalists have often got prime posts in social organisations or are sent on junkets; many of the hugely respected senior names conduct all their ‘investigations’ over the telephone, which means they are fed information by interested groups. What about owners of channels who get elected and become MPs?

To push the envelope (no pun intended) further, what about freedom of speech? Does the industrial house not have the freedom to lobby? Does the lobbyist not have the freedom to push her case? Does the journalist not have the freedom to act as a go-between?


Political stooges have always existed, only the level of subtlety has altered their persona. You just have to spend some time in any of the intellectual hubs in Delhi and you will see a journalist supping with a politician or a bureaucrat. There are TV channels that have given preference to young recruits merely due to their proximity to and sometimes family connections with such powerful people.

The (Radia tapes) revelations have become such a talking point, ironically, because they have been exposed with much flourish outside the mainstream media in India. Internationally, the Washington Post mentioned ‘paid news’ and reported that The Foundation for Media Professionals plans to host a conference on journalists as power brokers. The organisations’s spokesperson said, “We are actually happy that these practices have come out in the open. It forces us to address the problem. We as journalists sit in judgment of others all the time. We should hold ourselves to a higher standard.”

Journalists are fallible and their standards should be decreed by ethics and not morality and most certainly must not become a ruse for nobility. The self-examination should also raise questions about the media conducting kangaroo courts and making a spectacle of helpless common people.

"False history gets made all day, any day, the truth of the new is never on the news." (Adrienne Rich)

© Farzana Versey


Meat, Drink and Judging Vivekananda

Would the young give up the occasional tipple and their cuisine choices only because of a leader? Does a leader who comes with a moral baggage — and selective at that — truly appeal to the youth? On the other hand, if the leader were given to some of these indulgences would the young be influenced by it, or is it something they are anyway attracted to?

Today, as one 'youth icon' Modi turns 64 (what happens when the youth grow older — do they discard these icons and refer to them as "senile" as some middle-aged folk have been doing about another leader?) — my thoughts turn to how self-righteousness plays itself out for political gain.

Last week, Shashi Tharoor was at the inauguration of a statue of Swami Vivekananda. BJP Kerala state president V Muraleedharan who was present stated:

“The union minister said that Vivekananda’s legacy cannot be appropriated by a particular section or group and went on to add that the monk used to eat meat and drink occasionally.”

Swami Vivekananda is now one of those sages that the rightwing is trying to claim as its own. He did have what may broadly be called a 'Hindu view of life', but it was certainly not a narrow divisive vision.

Tharoor often speaks before thinking, but this time, even if it is political expediency, he was merely trying to throw a spanner in the Hindutva works. In a fashion followed by the saffron parties, he was humanising Vivekananda, and there is much of that in his persona.

It was enough to create a controversy. BJP leader O. Rajagopal made what The Hindu refers to as "a frontal attack on Shashi Tharoor" (what could be the other option?) and demanded an unconditional apology. As the report mentions how this tale was spun:

Being a Bengali belonging to the Kayastha caste, Vivekananda may have had fish and even meat, but there was no reference of him ever having taken liquor.

His remarks hurt national sentiments and showed that Dr. Tharoor was still rooted in American culture and lifestyle. His remark that Vivekananda took to drinks was especially objectionable when campaigns are being launched to wean away the youth from liquor.

I should assume that these keepers of our palate culture will have no problem if Bengalis and other communities continue to eat what they want, and they do not have to follow state diktats on such habits.

Regarding drinks, it is not only the youth that needs to be weaned away. Kerala consumes a whole lot of alcohol; in many places elsewhere too the poor drink cheap country liquor that often results in death. This ought to be of concern and not whether it is a western lifestyle that some youth emulate. These young people are more likely to follow contemporary heroes than Swami Vivekananda, especially in their lifestyle choices. If the legacy of the Swami has any currency it will survive an occasional hic.

But that is not what certain parties want. They have no foot to stand on, so they recall saintly figures from the past and prop them up as engineers of some purification process. This only means that contemporary leaders are devoid of any good qualities that the youth can look up to. Swami Vivekananda is the new flag-bearer of this flushing.

The leader quoted in another report even said that "Tharoor has depicted him as an alcoholic". There is a difference between somebody having a few drinks and being an alcoholic.

It is clear that some of those who are sober can't hold their 'drinks' and in the stupor they find a little bit of trendy morality.

"Above all, beware of compromises. I do not mean that you are to get into antagonism with anybody, but you have to hold on to your own principles in weal or woe and never adjust them to others “fads” thought the greed of getting supporters." - Vivekananda

© Farzana Versey


Image: A young Swami Vivekananda

Mass molestation? Nymphomania?

While newspapers have been falling over each other to report sexual crimes against women, the least they can do is not use senseless terms. What does "mass molestation" mean — is it being compared to a prelude to gangrape? Or is it a non-consensual orgy? Or is it an abusive version of a mass stampede? Instead of highlighting the negative, such words sound reductionist.

As I've been repeating here, rape and molestation are being sexualised rather than criminalised.

This is what DNA had to offer:


The latest in the Asaram Bapu case is that Ram Jethmalani, the defense lawyer, in his bail plea has presented a most curious argument to buffer the 'fabricated' theory:

Jethmalani mentioned that the girl was afflicted with a 'chronic disease' which draws a woman to a man and said this was subject to police investigation.

Asaram, like any accused, is entitled to legal recourse. However, is Mr. Jethmalani implying that the minor victim is a nymphomaniac? Although sex addiction is not a conventional malady, at 16 how can she suffer from such a 'chronic disease'? Are there other instances where she has been drawn to men in such a manner that it would result in her being abused? Let aside misogyny, this does not make technical sense.

Her parents have been devotees of the godman. Did she on any occasion express attraction, in word or deed? Why did Asaram Bapu not gauge all of this, if he is touted as an all-knowing guru?

I ask these questions not because I believe in this baloney — what works as legal charlatanism — but because it has been registered in the court files.

For a moment, let us go along with this fantasy. What happens to all the other arguments that were presented? Asaram Bapu is a canny man; there are cases against him. How far will his lawyers go to disprove them and put the reputation of others at stake?

What chronic disease does he suffer from?

© Farzana Versey


Miss America, Missed America

Why OD on racist comments against the latest beauty pageant winner when the majority of Americans don't care? If they can accept yoga, herbal cures and gurus, and even Spelling Bee and American Idol winners, why would they have a problem with Nina Davuluri, an American of Indian origin, getting the crown?

I found the comment by the host of Fox News and Commentary, Todd Starnes, rather curious:

"The liberal Miss America judges won't say this - but Miss Kansas lost because she actually represented American values."

What is a 'real' American? I didn't ask 'who' because it is only an idea, and could be represented by many perspectives. Miss Kansas is an Army Sergeant. It was the first time a contestant displayed tattoos. As these do not constitute values, one wonders whether her serving in the forces has anything to do with it. If that represents fealty by default, then does it mean that "liberal" judges do not understand American values? How are values to be displayed on a stage such as this?

What about the comment by Miss Florida Myrrhanda Jones? When asked about minorities having low-incomes, high-unemployment and incarceration rates and what should the country do to address this, she said:

"My father is unemployed. It took a lot for me to be able to stand on this stage. ... We need to have more jobs in America."

She was cut off before she could continue.

How would American values be factored in here? Was she not addressing a real issue with a personal example?

The 2014 finals on September 16 represent a small segment of the United States. There are bound to be reactions by just such a small group. That they are ill-informed is another matter.

However, Indians who like celebrating every 'foreign' success are likely to forget their own biases. Davuluri was referred to (wrongly) as an Arab and "Miss Al Qaida". This, more than anything else, would bother the majority of Indians, because we too tend to box in all Arabs with terrorists.

Then there is the profession. She wants to be a doctor. Indians are so hierarchy and status conscious that they will look down upon anyone who does not have such acceptable professional aspirations. Indian doctors in the U.S. are as much a stereotype as are motel owners or, as one of the angry responses mentioned, "Miss America? You mean Miss 7-11."

Had she mentioned that she wanted to run a nail spa or be a flight stewardess, Indians would not quite like it. They would then not be as concerned about racism as they are now, which only reveals their prejudices as much as those who are ranting about it.

The question posed to Davuluri was rather ironical. Responding to Julie Chen's decision to have plastic surgery about making her eyes less Asian, she said:

"I don't agree with plastic surgery, however I can understand that from a standpoint. More importantly I've always viewed Miss America as the girl next door. And Miss America is always evolving... I wouldn't want to change someone's looks. Be confident in who you are."

How many contestants say they are the girl next door? I find the term quite patronising, whoever utters it. Besides, what is the standpoint of understanding an alteration in identity? Are looks the only criteria that ought to be judged where such change is sought?

She also said:

"I'm so happy this organization has celebrated diversity, and, on this stage tonight, there was so much diversity."

53 women from places with a different climate, accent and cultural nuances, are bound to be diverse.

By emphasising the origins, immigrants, that too second and third generation, in some ways disqualify themselves. When she stood with Crystal Lee, the first runner-up, even before the results were announced, Davuluri said:

"We are making history right here as Asian-Americans."

She is Miss New York. In that state you bump into all kinds of people. Choosing a platform that is meant to celebrate pulchritude — let us cut out the tripe of the talent and question rounds (Syria?!) — she was no different from any other contestant. The primary motive is to look good, and also play up the exotic if you've got that.

Rather cannily, the discourse has shifted from sexism to racism, when the body objectified is also a form of 'segregation'.


End note:

In a just-concluded dance reality show —'Jhalak Dikhla Ja — on Indian television, an American lost out to a telly soap actress. Lauren Gottlieb is not an Indian citizen, but she has acted in a film and plans to work in India. She performed a few Indian-style dances, too, and was a delight to watch and by far the best dancer. She got the most number of perfect scores from the judges. So, it is obvious that she got fewer votes from the public — the Indian public that is obsessed with westerners did not want to see her win. And then we talk about racism.

© Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

"Through the crowd, patchwork souls
Move closer

And when you fall
Down in between them all
Here you are whole
Not broken"

— Skye


The photo fatwa

This is the man who has issued a fatwa against photography. You can see that he has no qualms about striking a pose.

I am really tired of saying that a fatwa means zilch. Yet, every other day — often in reply to a question — there is an edict. It is not binding on anyone.

Only the media seems to take the Darul Uloom Deoband seriously, and always refers to it as "India's leading Islamic seminary".

Quite naturally, a bizarre fatwa grabs attention. Some Muslims consult the seminary for general information. An engineer wanted to know if he could pursue his passion for photography. I am assuming he did so because of Islam's stand regarding iconography. He was told that photography is a sin.

This is ridiculous. How and why did it transform into a fatwa? The media tends to follow the Deoband's advise columns, and what it posts on the website. When push comes to shove, the organisation is more than ready to show muscle. A fatwa materialises as the last word. Newspapers and TV channels get excited.

The reporter is soon on the phone talking with the vice chancellor, Mufti Abdul Qasim Nomani, who says:

"Photography is un-Islamic. Muslims are not allowed to get their photos clicked unless it is for an identity card or for making a passport."

The reporter goes all Wahabi on him, mentioning how Saudi Arabia "that aspires to return to the earliest fundamental sources of Islam" (duh) permits it and even telecasts the Haj live. To which the Maulana replies:

"Let them do it. We do not allow it. Not everything they do is correct."

I like the last bit.

At any other time, the media would have used this to scream with joy about how Indian Muslims are under no threat of being Saudi-ised, and everybody can breathe free. But now is not the time. Now we have to prevent Indian Muslims from being denied their Nikons and Canons and dual camera phones. They need to be 'brought into the mainstream', and saved from such backward fatwas.

Really, take a chill pill. Most Muslims in India don't give a rat's ass about the Deoband and don't even know where it is, who runs the show, and what stuff they smoke.

Next on the reporter's itinerary is the All India Muslim Law Personal Board. One Mufti Abul Irfan Qadri Razzaqi agrees with the fatwa:

"Islam forbids photographing of humans and animals. Whoever does that will be answerable to God."

Reporter is on a mission. He "reminds" him about Saudi Arabia. To which the gentleman says:

"Just because they are richer than us doesn't mean they are also correct. If they are allowing photography they will be answerable on the Day of Judgement in the court of God."

See. You can do all you want, fatwas be damned, till you are alive. You may even perform the pilgrimage to Mecca in the horrid land that permits photography. You will finally be judged by a 'non-human' who, alas, cannot be photographed.

End note: I've used this picture before, but is it halal?


Dressing up for Modi?

In what has been referred to as "Narendra Modi's rally" in Jaipur today, the “diktat" over the dress code is the major news. As happens often, the minutiae has taken over the discourse. According to a report:

BJP's minority cell has asked people from the Muslim community to come dressed in a specific attire. Men have been asked to wear sherwanis and topis and females have been asked to wear burqas. Whether this is Modi's attempt to reach out to the Muslim community is anyone's guess.

Are the men attending a wedding or a special function that they'd dress up in sherwanis? Why is it assumed that all women would be amenable to wearing a burqa? How different is such a dress code from extremists issuing edicts? Will those who do not fall into the stereotype qualify as Muslim enough?

Some other reports have mentioned the presence of clerics from the Ajmer Dargah. They are residents, and would wear what they usually do. We get to see saffron kurtas and bandanas quite regularly. Are those people told what to wear? Does anybody object or applaud them for it? [In the picture that accompanies this post, Modi looks like he is dressed up for a purpose. Or is it the usual entertainment quotient he provides for all BJP functions as “showstopper"?]

One viewpoint is that this appeal was sent by the BJP's minority cell. It would be impossible for the cell to take such a decision on its own. Modi and party must have been kept in the loop.

Besides, how does this qualify as an attempt to reach out to Muslims? If they do indeed wear "Islamic clothes", what else is there to do? This is in no way about wooing the community. In fact, it would help in easily identifying the members and keeping a check on them to see how they react, and then 'profiling' them.

Vote-bank politics is less about appeasement and more about creating ghettos to use and abuse.

© Farzana Versey


Cringe-worthy news

Three recent examples.

Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh said:

"I have always maintained that Rahul Gandhi would be an ideal choice for the PM post after 2014 elections (Lok Sabha). I will be very happy to work in the Congress under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi."

As a sitting PM, it does not behove him to 'abdicate'. Whatever the behind-the-scenes happenings, he ought to give the perception of being in charge. He may praise Rahul Gandhi, but the country most certainly does not like its leader to announce that he will work "under" anybody. It was a weak-kneed obsequious comment.


Watched a rather nice interview of Zubin Mehta on NDTV after his concert in Srinagar. However, two of his comments were rather off:

• “Let (us) have another way, a spiritual way and I think yesterday there was a beginning of some process of healing because Hindus and Muslims were sitting together in complete harmony."

The Kashmir issue is not a communal matter. If this harmony works, then the Kashmiri Pandits who feel shortchanged and have been applauding the concert should also accept the maestro's version of harmony. They will not. So, one cannot expect it from those who live under the threat of the bullet.

• "Geelani Sahab hum to aapka dost hoon (I am your friend). You don't believe it! I wish all of our opposition would have come and enjoyed the music."

The 'opposition' is made up of several streams of thought. Singling out Geelani just made it appear as though he drives Kashmiri aspirations alone.


Later on 'We the People' regarding the same subject, someone described as a media person who spoke against elitism mentioned how her car was stopped several times, documents checked and added, "This is not an everyday thing in Srinagar." It was so superficial. In fact, there are barricades and checkpoints and the less privileged are stopped everyday. She ended up doing the varnish job while trying to complain about it.


The Times of India carried a story discussing how spirituality and sex and not mutually-exclusive in Hinduism. It started and ended with Asaram Bapu, in effect conveying that he does not have to be a celibate.This was not in their "Sacred Space" or even an Op-Ed or a feature. It was a report.

This is disgusting, considering how the newspaper has been commercialising its concern for rape 'survivors'. Here is how it starts:

"Asaram is being pilloried by everybody, from parliamentarians to journalists, for alleged sexual assault on a teenager and is in jail now. Some of the horrified public responses at his alleged act can also be attributed to the general notion that dissociates sex from spirituality. This notion considers everybody on the spiritual path as 'wedded' to celibacy. But is this perception correct?...This possibly explains why many Hindi newspapers and TV channels are aghast at the preacher's 'fall from grace'."

Rather conveniently, the blame has been placed on Hindi channels, and Christian priests used as a counterpoint in the English media. This is asinine. It also reveals the mindset. Rape is not a sexual relationship. Such idiocy camouflages the intent to airbrush the image of this godman.

"...ancient Hindu rishis were known to have families and children. Even modern spiritualists like Swami Ramakrisnha Paramhansa... were all householders...If Asaram has broken the law with the alleged sexual assault on a minor then of course the book must be thrown at him."

This is for the courts to decide, and not some scripture. Asaram's celibacy or lack of it is not the issue. Had it been consensual with an adult, and had he — and his followers — not gone around promoting some form of sexual purity, it would not have at best been a salacious moment. Remember Nityananda and his video clips? (Aside: The same English media pilloried N.D. Tiwari for being caught with some women, although he is not a godman.)

The article mentions sex abuse by Christian priests, but not a word about many cases in ashrams in India. If Hinduism permits sadhus to have a sex life, then why do they talk about 'sanyas'? It is the pinnacle, and they obviously have not reached it.

All this apart, it is just appalling that when a man is in court for a crime like rape, an attempt is made by a big mainstream newspaper to discuss spiritualism and sexuality with his case as a backgrounder. Shameful, any which way we look at it.

© Farzana Versey


The call of the muezzin in court

It is such judgements that should make us have faith in the judiciary. Not only has it upheld secularism in Constitutional terms, it has also conveyed that politicians cannot pander to communal sentiments.

Imams and muezzins are most certainly not the responsibility of the government in India. The Calcutta High Court has made it clear that it is not the business of the state government to provide funds to the Wakf Board:

"It is well settled that the state cannot patronize or favour any particular religion. Secularism is part of the basic structure of our Constitution. The state, therefore, cannot identify itself with or favour any particular religion. Imams and/or muezzins are individuals of the Muslim community and attached with mosques. The decision to provide honorarium to them cannot serve the general interest of the community as a whole."

However, I do not see why the judges had to add that it had “unnecessarily created tension among different religious communities which should be avoided in a secular state”. The BJP was one of the petitioners against the Rs. 2500 and Rs. 1000 stipend to the imams and muezzins. What if the Mamata Banerjee government decided to also provide for sadhus in temples – would the bench think of this as equitable and secular because it would then favour others, too?

At the centre of the discord is “public purpose”, with the state believing it should be given the privilege. The court reiterated:

"The concept of public purpose cannot be contrary to the pronounced constitutional value of secularism. If today the government is allowed to spend out of the public exchequer by granting honorarium to the religious leaders of a particular religious community to the exclusion of similar treatment to other religious communities, such a governmental action being unconstitutional, cannot be said to be for public purpose."

While I completely agree that those attached to mosques should be given an honorarium only by the authorities running such institutions and the government owes it nothing – in fact, the community should shun such gestures by the political establishment – I do believe the judges were trying to be politically-correct.

This ought not to become a precedent against minorities and scheduled castes and tribes where ‘secularism’ will be brought in to argue against certain kinds of reservations that have to do with right to opportunity that has been often denied to many.

Let us not forget that Mamata Banerjee is no friend of tribals or even some minorities. Recall the villages that were thrown open for corporate ventures. It is important for the leaders of communities to be alert. Most politicians will only pander to what are explicitly religious places, because they want the sops to be visible from miles away. The ordinary Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Dalit does not know, or care about, who runs the show.

It is this ordinary daily wage earner who needs such ‘gestures’ the most. Secularism must not come in the way of that. For, as we know only too well, money is the most secular, and it is in the hands of a few who probably spend more time building places of worship or donating to it. Some even work as backroom boys to prop up political parties with a religious agenda.

©Farzana Versey

Front page rage

There was a knock on the door. A young man stood there assuring me, “Don’t worry, I am not selling anything”. Great. So, why was he here?

“I am a working professional.” He paused, waiting for the information to sink into what he might have perceived as the pyjama-clad brain. I played along with the “pressure-cooker is about to whistle” harried look, although the whistling part can be deemed misogynistic. He smiled. “Actually, a few of us are trying to do something.” I twiddled my thumb, just to underscore how important he was.

“You know there are so many senior citizens hanging around…”

The shock on my face had no impact on his terminology. The smile was still in place. “We want to do something.”

“Like what?” I finally broke my silence.

“Oh, we will collect funds.”

And he said he was not selling anything? Of course, I was not going to help his part-time activist and fulltime arrogance. Who the hell has given these people the right to land up at our houses, and assume that we are not aware and do not ‘do anything’? Only because he was dressed well, “cool” really, the watchman allowed him in and did not even alert me on the intercom. The youth movement has figured out that you send your smart men and women and they will be acceptable.

This was not the first time. What I was perturbed about is this fellow telling me about what happens in my locality (senior citizens don’t hang around, and they are not looking to be fed) without giving any information about himself and those “few people” who have decided to save others. I had no inclination for a conversation, pissed off as I am with this neo-activism everywhere. But, who are these people? What organisations back them? How do they disburse the funds, and who is accountable for all this? If at all they want to approach people, they ought to first provide this information in writing.

And, no, don’t come anywhere near my door. For, as far as I am concerned, you need to be saved from your delusions.


Speaking of which, The Times of India today had a front page story with the headline: “Bikers harass fashion stylist in auto at Malad”. The unnamed stylist did not go to the police to register a complaint against these men who passed lewd comments, but she allowed her friend to post the picture she took of these guys on her cellphone.

It is sad I even have to write a disclaimer to say that obviously I do not condone such acts by these louts. But here, I have said it, so can we move on to some questions?

How does this qualify as a front page story? If it bothered her – and it would – why did she not go to the cops? If they do trace these men after seeing the photograph, on what grounds can they take action based on some newspaper report by an anonymous person? It is also interesting that she noted that one of the guys was wearing a “BMC uniform”. Being a municipal worker as opposed to her stylist profession obviously makes the story more palatable to the urban youth.

The story continued on the inside page with snippets from the social media. One word leaped out: pepper spray. Women need to get out of the house with pepper sprays. Why this sudden interest? A few days ago, DNA carried a report about a social worker-socialite who wanted to donate pepper spray cans. Clearly the target was the slick urban young women who could fit it like a lipstick in their bags. The samaritan had decided to name it after herself, and added that having spoken to some people they were willing to pay for it. So, it could turn out into another business venture?

If women wish, they can just add some water to pepper powder and fill aerosol spray bottles with it. There is no need to market it. Women in Delhi two decades ago used to wear ‘porcupine’ clips in their hair to ward off men in public transport. In other cities too similar methods have been employed by women when they could. While women need legal protection and security, let us see it as a necessity and not buy into this culture of paranoia.

The lewd comment story must have gained enough mileage. The TOI, after giving it front page importance, had another report on Page 6: “Father strips, assaults 15-year-old girl, held”. It had about four short paras. No rage. The man is an alcoholic and unemployed. His wife does odd jobs. They do not figure in the elite concern. Whistling men on bikes get us more agitated.

Curiously, the same paper carried this on Page 12:

Same paper, same day, a senior woman editor wrote an Op-ed titled, “Don’t Make Her Lose Her Face”…the subhead: “Because the raped woman isn’t the one who has to be ashamed”. Oh, get over it already. You say don’t make her lose face, as though she cannot decide on her face and everything else, and then add this “ashamed” bit, like an afterthought. It just sounds horrible, because we are taking over and deciding not to shame her.


Shame is having a good time. Asaram Bapu has finally been arrested and here are the two bits that are highlighted:

  • He will be in the same cell as Salman Khan was in for hunting black bucks. 

In effect, the media is equating rape with such hunting and also giving this fraud godman celebrity status.

  • That he passed the potency test on the first round.

He agreed to it despite initial reservations and then did so because he said that the body is only mortal. There is more than meets the eye. He has a huge number of followers, including women, who took to the streets to support him. A man in his 70s who comes out flying with flying colours in potency gets validation. After all, he is also a healer of sorts, so this is an advertisement for his prowess. His superhuman qualities.

The only thing that is always impotent is rage.

©Farzana Versey


Also: Re-examining sexual violation - Asaram Bapu and five men


Sunday ka Funda

"We are not free to use today, or to promise tomorrow, because we are already mortgaged to yesterday."

— Ralph Waldo Emerson