The Indian Mujahideen and the N-bomb?

When a newspaper report begins with "The prospect of terror organisations getting their hands on a nuclear device has long concerned both security agencies and thriller writers" you know that it is not going to be a joy ride.

The manner in which the Indian Mujahideen (IM) operatives have been captured and their statements in recent months looks too set up. At the start, let us remember that the Indian Intelligence agencies had not even considered the possibility of any local real or tactical involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks during the early stages of investigations. They, like the media and the public, were completely fascinated by the ten Pakistani men in a boat who landed on our shores, surviving the choppy waters from Karachi with packets of dry fruits and dates.

Except for Ajmal Kasab, they were all killed after going on a rampage in the city and taking the lives of 165 people. Whatever the role of the masterminds, it would not have been possible without local support. In 2008, nothing much was done to find out.

The IM chief Yasin Bhatkal (real name Ahmad Zarar Siddibappa) has been doing a lot of confessing ever since his arrest in August. The latest is that he asked his bossman in Pakistan for a minor favour — a nuclear bomb.

The IM has caused enough harm with rudimentary material, but the ring of N-bomb pushes the organisation in a different league. There is a bizarre ring to this narrative.

Yasin informed the officials:

"Riyaz told me that attacks can be done with nuclear bombs. I requested him to look for one nuclear bomb for Surat. Riyaz told me Muslims would also die in that (nuclear bomb blast), to which I said that we would paste posters in mosques asking every Muslim to quietly evacuate their families from the city."

Muslims have died in several jihadi sponsored blasts, and the guys in Pakistan have been killing their co-religionists for years now.

What is really alarming is that the investigating team actually believed this stuff to let it out to the media. How could Muslims "quietly" evacuate if the posters are going to be up on the walls? Does it mean that the police in Gujarat is so ineffectual? What about Muslims who do not visit mosques and cannot read? One does not even need to ask these questions for it is just so implausible, and as though they care for any lives.

Rather conveniently, the report states:

However, the plan could not be initiated since Yasin was tracked by the IB and arrested in August.

Only to tell tall tales. Bhatkal's statements sound like he is campaigning for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, by creating the N-bomb fear psychosis.

End note:

Notice the timing. The NIA that is getting titbits from the IM leader now gives a clean chit to Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, described as "the face of Hindutva terror", in the Sunil Joshi murder case. Rather interestingly, it was "personal enmity" for which she was charged, and the case against her and the others for involvement in the Malegaon blasts remains.

Here again, cart before horse.

© Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. “Which road do I take?” She asked.

Where do you want to go?” was his response.

“I don’t know,” Alice answered.

“Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.”

* * *

Actually, it does. Often the road decides where we want to go rather than the other way round.


Wagers of Labour: The Devyani Khobragade case

Is America humiliating India by riding on the case of a maid? Sounds illogical, but if true then it is bizarre.

The incident in short: Devyani Khobragade, Indian deputy consul general in New York, was arrested for falsifying details on the visa of her domestic help Sangeeta Richard. She was strip-searched, handcuffed, had her DNA swab taken and was put in a lock-up with drug addicts.

The Indian media and politicians have gone into hyperbolic mode that, in fact, is derogatory towards the country’s honour they are seeking to uphold. For example, one headline spoke about “Strip search shows India’s spine.” A minister said, “India can’t be treated like a banana republic.”

Every major political party has spoken out, with one vital difference: they are promoting their own agendas. It has little or nothing to do with electoral gains, for Indians really do not care about the nitty-gritty of who represents them abroad or at home. However, it most certainly helps to push ideologies, whether it is making a reference to the diplomat’s Dalit background, or asking for gay American diplomats to be sent back home by a rightwing member, or the ruling party standing up as one of the largest democracies against the might of the other largest democracy. Add to this a mish-mish of others who want to give a befitting reply to America’s arrogance to prove their feeble patriotism.

Posters too convey a feudal attitude of a bigger role as big brother that ought to protect our sisters.

It is shameful to read about a tit-for-tat policy when we are discussing diplomacy. An unconditional apology is perhaps in order, but the US refuses because it reasons it is about their laws.

After a week, secretary of state John Kerry called up India's national security adviser Shivshankar Menon. Spokeswoman Marie Harf issued a written statement:

"In his conversation with Menon, he expressed his regret, as well as his concern that we not allow this unfortunate public issue to hurt our close and vital relationship with India...The secretary understands very deeply the importance of enforcing our laws and protecting victims, and, like all officials in positions of responsibility inside the US. government, expects that laws will be followed by everyone here in our country.”

This is too vague and obvious that the response is not to the treatment but a reaction to public protests in India.

Foreign minister Salman Khurshid said:

"We have put in motion what we believe would be an effective way of addressing the issue but also (put) in motion such steps that need to be taken to protect her dignity.”

While granting her immunity makes sense, how does not meeting American delegates help serve her dignity? The western media and authorities are not terribly concerned with this issue.

With regard to withdrawing identity cards of US officials that allowed them special privileges over those they were entitled to, it should have been done long ago. Now it appears as though bruised egos are doing the talking. The US consulate and other staff have had many privileges and are afforded protection way above the norm. This reveals a lot about us, and a little about them. For a nation that does not have a history such as ours, where the pecking order is more glaring, its staff overseas seems to quite relish being treated like big saabs, not unlike the colonisers of the British Raj.

India has held its own at least at the level of détente, which is where it matters most. There is no need to behave in a churlish fashion now. Instead of these ‘withdrawal’ measures, would we have the courage to nix the nuclear deal with the US, have an embargo on trade relations, put strictures over fly zone and refueling, a cap over foreign investments, and mandatory surveillance of American companies and consulate offices by Indian agencies? This would be real talking.

Having said this, I do not think any of this is necessary only as a response to Ms. Khobragade. This case should be dealt with between two offices and not two countries. The international agency and labour commission has to look into it.

We have lost all sense of proportion, and failed to notice that the US picked on a mid-level diplomat, and not a high-ranking official. It is also curious why the US arranged for the maid’s family to visit just two days before the arrest of the diplomat. There is a suggestion that this was part of some plan. Why would the American government want to do so? There are strict procedures for immigrations, and if Sangeeta Richard is being given special treatment only because she did not get the salary as per minimum wages, then it might be prudent to ask just how many in the US do.

The helper escaped; her employer got a call asking for money; she complained about the disappearance and extortion; India alerted the counterparts in the US. Nothing happened. Instead, the employer got arrested.

The major issue is the indignity she underwent. It is indeed shocking and rather unusual. What were the authorities going to find after a strip search, a cavity search and a DNA swab? It makes no sense.

If the concern about malpractice, then what about the malpractice of the help seeking employment, which one understands is common practice?

Following the detention of Ms. Khobragade, a report stated:

“Many officials, who have faced such situations, say maids who allege human trafficking, sexual abuse by employers etc have an easier route to obtaining the coveted green cards for them and their families. For this, they are assisted by a veritable army of NGOs and lawyers. Officials said on condition of anonymity that sometimes maids etc are lured by attractive offers from resident NRIs.”

It brings us back to the question: what exactly is the US thinking? At a pinch, it looks like America wants to appear egalitarian towards what is the working class. Although this has not got much publicity, it will convey a message in-house. There has been discussion about minimum wages as opposed to what the domestic staff would earn in India. The expenses are higher in the US, even if board and lodge are taken care of.

It is important to note here that diplomatic staff, and even those of multinational companies, working in India are provided a ‘hardship allowance’, apparently to tide over the hardships they might face in a less developed country, quite forgetting that the dollar goes a long way here. As for the terrible state, they occupy the best real estate and are the toast of big business and the glamour world. They are on the socialite’s wish list all year round, and as they live in the metros there is hardly any reason to complain. If anything, they get far more attention than they would at home. The policy of “reciprocity” will not affect many socially, if we understand the Indian mindset.

The issue has to go beyond removing protective barricades. For those gloating that India is taking a firm stand, let us not fool ourselves.

Playing on anti-American sentiment will cut no ice, because the US has survived it and thrives on it. Count the nations that are against American policies and you will get the picture. Yet, it is American forces that land up to save beleaguered countries, and let us not get into the pragmatic position or even the ethical one here. Or, shall we use the word of currency now – malpractice?

© Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

“In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way. And in order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently.”

- Harry A. Blackmun

At first, these words by a Supreme Court justice in the early years of the last century appear regressive. I particularly dislike the word “treat”. However, it is important to recognize the differences and celebrate them.

Recently I came upon the term ‘microaggression’.

These photographs were posted with this explanation:

Photographer Kiyun asked her friends at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus to “write down an instance of racial microaggression they have faced.” 
The term “microaggression” was used by Columbia professor Derald Sue to refer to “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.” Sue borrowed the term from psychiatrist Dr. Chester Pierce who coined the term in the ’70s.

I was most intrigued by the “smell of rice”. When rice is steamed or cooked simply, it pretty much has no smell. But that is not the point. It is to point out a predominant trait or habit.

There are other such instances, and we will find them in our own environment too. How different is different allowed to be? Why is the ‘other’ always a matter of running down? Even within families not everybody is alike; our friends are not all the same; we too might not look, act or think in a uniform manner all the time.


Sunday ka Funda

"We could live for a thousand years
But if I hurt you
I'd make wine from your tears..."

Find these words interesting. Sounds a bit cruel on the face of it, but I am thinking of old wine, the longevity of tears that will be held precious even after a thousand years.

And just for the moment too...this:


Sanjay Dutt and the case for prison reforms

It would not be anything new if I said it is a mockery of the law. This is beyond comprehension. Actor Sanjay Dutt who was jailed for arms possession in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case is to be let out on parole once again on grounds of his wife's ill-health.

The latest report suggests that there are protests outside Yerwada Jail by activists of some political parties. All this happened primarily after some media outlets carried pictures of Maanyata at a film screening and a party last night, which signaled that she was perhaps quite well. The report says a doctor did check on her, and she is suffering from a liver tumour and suspected heart ailment.

How did Sanjay Dutt manage to get a whole month for his wife's ill health? Who decides on the tenure of care that would be required, as an illness has no timeframe, especially if the specifics are not spelled out?

The important questions here are about favouritism and the law. It is obvious that he manages to pull strings and get his way, something denied to others in the same case during the same period.

Zaibunisa Kazi, a woman in her 70s, was denied parole despite her illness. Will Sanjay Dutt stand surety for her? The answer would be: he cannot because he is a convict. Precisely the point. As a convict, how do the authorities take his word?

On the earlier occasion it was his own illness. Aren't prisoners sent to jail doctors? Should there not be adequate checks during his period of furlough to ensure that his health is alright, a mandatory requirement when a prisoner is inside the premises? Jail authorities can be pulled up if there is a problem. What are the standards when a prisoner is on parole? What if he commits suicide? Who will be responsible?

Should we blame the person seeking it or those granting it? If I were a celebrity, then it is possible that I might try and milk my status as much as possible. What is the law for — to play into my whims? Is the law my chattel that I can call upon to do as I will it to?

There is much talk about corruption, but what is going on here is a form of corruption on the part of the police and law agencies. Under pressure state home minister RR Patil passed the buck:

“The parole has been granted by the Divisional Commissioner. We are looking into the matter and have sought documents which formed the basis for allowing his release on parole.”

From the start, this case was in the public eye because the legal system deemed it fit to be seen as proper. To maintain that sense of propriety it sent a bunch of people to jail. Once you take this decision, then at least respect it. If Sanjay Dutt's behaviour is good, what is the aged Zaibunisa Kazi doing that isn't good?

I am all for humane treatment of prisoners, but it should apply across the board. (It was not done while convicting, as we know about ministers who had arms at the time.) If the law too believes it buckled under pressure while sentencing Dutt and a couple of others, then is there room for reopening the cases?

Perhaps it is time to use this instance to discuss prison reforms. Why can we not have a system of a broad-based house arrest, where convicts who are to be trusted can continue to contribute to society while being denied certain privileges? Doing carpentry and cooking may work in the barracks, but prisons can become better places if there are fewer prisoners in them. They can benefit if the 'homed' convicts are made to pay a portion of their earnings to the welfare of prisons. Imagine a Sanjay Dutt contributing, say, 10 per cent of his earnings.

There should certainly be strictures, such as showing up every ten days and filling up a roster, impounding of the passport and whatever identification papers the government deems fit, and the police can conduct surprise checks whenever they wish but accompanied by an appointed ombudsman from an impartial agency. Public appearances in the case of celebrities should not be permitted. Between work and home, the legal system can create a group of individuals who are not merely holed up and then granted special leave that looks like a farce.

If justice is seen to be done, it can be so outside the prison too. As I had written in an earlier piece:

a criminal is not answerable to me or you. The government, the judiciary, the police are. They are public servants. As for the ‘watchdogs’, it would be good for them to remember that those who prefer selective justice are the real anti-social elements.

The same applies to selective treatment of those who have seemingly got their just desserts.

© Farzana Versey



Everybody wants to claim Nelson Mandela. India has appropriated that right with its most bankable crutch: Mahatma Gandhi. Mandela, who fought against apartheid, was imprisoned for 27 years, is seen in India as the man inspired by Gandhi.

Of course, he expressed admiration. Yes, Gandhi was thrown out of a train in South Africa. But their lives and politics were vastly different.

That ought to not even be a point right now. Just as quoting Barack Obama on Mandela, except as an obituary, makes no sense. Mandela was the product of a violent struggle in his lifetime and was called a terrorist. He did not initiate a war on terror, he did not live to send drones to other countries.

In his own words: "Armed struggle must be a movement intended to hit at the symbols of oppression and not to slaughter human beings."

He was not a traditional pacifist when it mattered. As he said, "During the times of tensions, it is not the talented people who excel, who come to the top, it is the extremists who shout slogans."

In the rush to pay tributes, people don't seem to realise that they are conveying something entirely different from what they intend to say, simply because they are saying it badly.

Take this ad for a dairy product company.

It has sensibly not put in a reference to its butter. But, how exactly did Nelson Mandela rise each time we fell? Who are the 'we' represented here?

This does not even sound complimentary; rather, it is an insult. Did Mandela rise when others faltered? Does it mean that his whole struggle was about such flawed behavior on the part of the rest instead of a fight for what he believed in?

There is a quote by Confucius, which seems to have inspired the ad:

"Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."

Mandela did not give up despite the incarceration. It was his glory, his achievement. He did not wait and watch for others to fall so that he could rise.

In fact, prior to the 1994 elections, he said: "If there is anything I am conscious about, it is not to frighten the minorities, especially the white minority. We are not going to live as fat cats."

End note:

"Nelson Mandela Becomes First Politician To Be Missed" — Headline in The Onion

© Farzana Versey


Khaps and Taliban — Sometimes Misunderstood?

The idea that the khap panchayats want to get an image makeover is not new. They tried it earlier. So, will it be any different when they launch their website on December 14?

Whether we like it or not, khaps play an important role in villages, especially since the ministers are too busy in circuit houses, if they ever show up. Often, the regressive attitudes expressed and, worse, action taken against women, including honour killings, are not exclusive to panchayat members, but part of the conditioning and attitude.

Sunil Jaglan of Jind's Nogama khap has been quoted as saying:

"We feel positive work done by khaps is not highlighted by the media. Khaps resolve disputes related to property and matrimonial affairs but these do not get prominence anywhere.''

This could well be true, and given that there is more and more a need to delegate, khaps can play an important role. Perhaps a policy of reward, by way of recognition for their good work, might help them to understand why there is a negative perception based on their diktats and how detrimental it is to the society they claim to represent.

It is obvious that they are essentially trying to woo the media and the outside public, and such a website might not even be accessible to the villagers. However, the fact that they are in the open would be a check on their activities. In fact, it might help if they also dealt with issues not restricted to their domain. It would then reveal how the big bad city denizens behave, too.

The flipside of such 'reaching out' could be self-censorship of news and views, and if the media depends solely on their version the truth might never be out. Or, it might be reported as sensational items, like the Deoband fatwas that nobody except the mullahs sitting in there care about.

If the khap initiative does turn out to be an exercise in such value judgments, then it would end up telling the rest of the country who is boss.

For now, the benefit of doubt is due.


Another case of an organisation that will never get good press is the Taliban. There was a news item about how the Talibs told Pakistanis that howsoever great cricketer Sachin Tendulkar is they should not praise him, but instead praise their own Misbah-ul-Haq, even if he is a bad player. Headlines like “Stop praising Indian Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, Taliban warn Pakistani media" made it to all major international and national newspapers, with the usual moral authority that comes with being on the side of the good guys.

Turned out that the intelligensia got it all it so wrong that the Taliban statement came across as superbly nuanced!

The media took one para out of context and missed out on the analogy, exemplified in this last bit:

"This logic certainly opposes reality, just like the example of cricketers I just gave, everyone knows how much it is opposite of reality to not admire the greatest cricketer [Tendulkar]."

Of course, there will be many who would ask: "But haven't the Taliban done so many vile things? They are capable of saying this."

Yes. But there is no ethical reason for those who are 'superior' to mislead. This is not just about what the Taliban says, but how it is perceived in a generally antagonistic Indo-Pak context.

I was particularly struck by the photograph I have used here. It seems to suggest that Sachin is under threat from the Taliban.

It is a little amusing, though, that these guys want to clarify their stand on a cricketer. But, I do sigh in relief that no one has used the done-to-death headline saying that the Taliban bats for Sachin.

It was a 'no ball'.

© Farzana Versey


Cartoon: The Hindu
Image: Express Newsline


Sunday ka Funda

"A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end… but not necessarily in that order."
- Jean-Luc Godard

The battle between what constitutes good cinema and bad cinema will never end. The mainstream, whether in Hollywood or Bollywood, will be looked down upon, even as the majority of people crowd the movie halls to watch escapist fare, or distorted versions of events.

I have been quite open about my love for Indian cinema, despite its flaws, and partly because of the manner in which the original New Wave has been completely altered to make way for the sanctimonious creators of pulp redefined.

A while ago I read about this conversation between actor-director Manoj Kumar and Satyajit Ray, two people from different genres of filmmaking:

At the 1967 International Film Festival in New Delhi, Ray told Kumar that he found his film 'Upkar', a tad too melodramatic. After a pause, Kumar replied: “Manikda (Ray’s nickname), consider the scene in 'Charulata' where Soumitra Chatterjee first meets Madhabi Mukherjee. There is sound of thunder and lightning in the background. Is it not melodrama?”

A smiling Ray apparently patted Kumar’s shoulder and said, “You caught me!”

"Drama is life with the dull bits cut out."
- Alfred Hitchcock


A few months ago we had an interesting discussion here about a song from a Manoj Kumar film