There has been much debate about the subtle curtailing of Freedom of Speech in India. There have been arrests of various reporters and cartoonists for making statements against various political leaders. People have been arrested for posting simple status messages.
Books about Hinduism have been voluntarily withdrawn by publishers, fearing a backlash.
The most recent case is about a bunch of Kashmiri students who were booked under sedition for cheering Pakistan during a cricket match. A match that India lost. There have been a lot of tweets against this move, calling this an act against the basic right of freedom of speech. And actually, in general circumstances, I would have been as well. I mean, it is a sport, and they were cheering for the opposing team, so what the hell.
But an India-Pakistan cricket match has never been just sport. While I might not support a sedition case, I am definitely not okay with consciousness behind this. The cricket match between India and Pakistan has always taken on momentous proportions. It is the one chance for the common man to participate in the hate game towards each other. Do we really hate each other? Would we beat up a Pakistani if we encounter him? Or call him names? Perhaps not. But a match between these two countries involves religion and a whole bunch of animosity.
And when it involves Kashmir – a valued and disputed area, it is a potential landmine. It is no secret that the two nations have been fighting for Kashmir since Bharath was divided in Hindustan and Pakistan. India has always maintained that Kashmir belongs to us, and the people of Jammu & Kashmir are very content to be a part of us. Now, I cannot speak for those people. I’ve never even visited there and all the people I’ve met from the region are people who’ve moved away generations ago.
So the Kashmiris face additional pressure of always showing whose side they are on – India or Pakistan. They do not have the liberty to even cheer for an opposing team (if that is Pakistan) because that we are constantly fearing that it could show the population’s inclination towards Pakistan. Everyone looks for hidden messages in every statement. Of course, the Pakistani government did not lose any time in taking advantage of the entire situation by inviting the students in study in Pakistan.
Indians have always been passionate about cricket. If you choose to support England or Australia during match against India, you will be subject to a lot of ribbing from the others. But perhaps you will not be stabbed because there are no other connotations to supporting those teams. It does not speak of a conflicting religious affiliation. It cannot be used as a political lever by the powers above.
A Kashmiri blog said “ I wonder if a boss, who is a Manchester United fan, will fire a Liverpool fan who is his employee just because MU lost the game against Liverpool. This is hilariously absurd.”
It would be absurd, if one did not take into account the other sentiments behind India and Pakistan. If you were living in England, your boss might not fire you but he would definitely make your life a little harder for a while. When Australia lost to Italy in the Football World Cup a few years ago, the Italians walked around proudly, but very cautiously. They did not want to particularly tell anyone they were Italian till the Australians regained their good-humored sporting nature.
I wonder if the author of the blog has ever been to a pub in Europe when a football match is on. The scene can get quite crazy. Rivarly between sporting teams has always been around, and all politics and religion into that and it is a definite receipe for disaster.
But the blog very clearly lists why this match and the following reactions are so important. Supporting Pakistan has always been Kashmir’s way of showing rebellion against India. True, they would rather not be a part of either nation and would exist as an independent little country. But what do they really want? If the elections of 2008 were any indication, they would rather be a part of India.
If the riots of 2010 were any indication, they would rather be independent. I really have no authority to comment on this subject. Kashmiri Pandits I’ve met mourn the loss of their state and talk about childhood days in Kashmir. Kashmiri Muslims I’ve met talk about the harassment by armed forces. But both have a common sentiment – the destruction of this land over territorial fights.
The past few weeks have seen a quiet storm build up. In the eye of the storm is Penguin India and Wendy Doniger’s “Hinduism: An Alternative History” and a bunch of offended religious sentiment people.
Penguin India announced a couple of weeks ago that they would be withdrawing and pulping (an innocent term for destroying) all copies of the book. There was no court order banning the book but there was a case filed against it in 2010 by Shiksha Bachao Andolan.
I had not heard about the book and perhaps would have continued in ignorance if not for this announcement by the publisher.
The argument of the petitioner was the book hurt religious sentiments, had wrong facts and thereby would case “fear and alarm among that their religion and religious beliefs are not safe any more and can be trampled with and denigrated, distorted & insulted and hence you have intended to induce and incite them to commit offences against the State and against Public Tranquility.”
This is not the first time a book has been banned due to these reasons. But there always was a court order behind such bans and withdrawals. I am looking for Penguin’s reasoning behind the withdrawal but can’t seem to find any. But there definitely is not a court order behind this move.
The lack of clear reasoning makes this act more scary than a court order. The move seems to be another in a growing list of things that are going against the Freedom of Speech and Expression in India. From being arrested for innocent tweets and Facebook status messages to creating cartoons on figureheads, the mantra of intolerance seems to be on the rise in India.
What seemed to be funny articles have suddenly acquired a darker meaning. Kochi – the state that was all about the proletariat suddenly announced they were seizing all t-shirts and other things with Bob Marley’s photographs on them. Why? Because Bob Marley apparently promotes weed.
Goa – the party destination of India and Gokarna, the alternate refuge for hippies, have more complaints about police raids and harassment. Cops claim that this is done to ensure the safety of the tourists, given the rise in number of rapes and murders. Hashish / Charas / Ganja – the drug of our gods have suddenly taken a more sinister meaning.
Is there a reason behind this intolerance in the country? Is the story of Wendy Doniger and Penguin just a wake up call that most of us will not heed?
In researching the story about Doniger and Penguin, I visited the website of the petitioner - Shiksha Bachao Andolan.
Their description was as follows (though in Hindi) - Important role of education in national reconstruction is the goal . The overall development of the personality of the nation’s citizenry is the key role of education in any country . Education structure , curriculum – curriculum qualitatively , access and conform to the culture of the country , there has been public discussion on issues of education . Despite being the largest component of student academic world on various aspects of education debate has been kept away from him . Education for the nation re-building seminar on the role of students in an innovative effort being through education, culture, regeneration trust . This seminar is for pupils and students for students .
I came across another article on NDTV at the same time, which talked about factual errors in government-prescribed textbooks of school children. You can read the story here.
Impressionable children are being allowed to read wrong facts about Indian history. Facts and figures. Straight forward dates. And there are organizations which are worried about adults reading an interpretation of myth, religion and religious texts. Interpretations and analysis from which they are allowed to draw their own conclusion.
I wonder if Wendy Doniger had been an Indian, would there have been a similar riot? Foreigners are increasingly been given the stink eye in India. Ask any foreign correspondent who has been working in Delhi in the past couple of years.
Paranoia or truth?
You wake up to the smell of summer in the air. But instead of that warm glow it used to bring, now it reminds you of those carefree days of summer. That hint of summer in the air meant the end of exams or almost and two whole months of absolute freedom ahead.
You wonder when life began to get so complicated, when your dreams got so big that you’d wonder if you can achieve them or not. You pick up your cellphone, loaded with notifications and instead of the glee, you think of an article which said you should not look at your cellphone the first thing in the morning.
Little pings of the cellphones mean more work stuff rather than friends with something silly. In fact, something silly begins to annoy you because that means the extra effort of opening the phone again and wasting precious time.
You start the morning with a smoke and a bowl of fruit, as your concession to health.
You pause midway, looking at the fork in one hand and the phone in the other with the latest news and you wonder – when the hell did I grow so old!
I first heard “Frenemies” on an episode of Sex and The City. It seemed silly and harmless, and considering the theme of the series, it wasn’t something that I thought about till very recently.
Frenemies is apparently a term coined by an author in the 70s and apparently refers to a friend who can also be a rival, or an enemy who pretends to be a friend. Considering today’s world, I find it hard to believe that it was coined in the 70s, which in mind my is all about the flower power age.
But that is the word that keeps playing in my head. It has been known for a while that we live in the world of super competitiveness. It is no longer just a rat race. It is a race of rats on steroids, coke and whatever else that pumps them up. So you keep running as fast as you can, without knowing where you are headed till your heart gives out.
The few pit stops we have in this world are friends. The evenings of cold beer, meaningless talk, venting about annoying clients is often what turns horrid situations into funny incidents and keep you going. And then one day you take that pitstop and realise that it has turned into a competing arena and people who weren’t even supposed to be competing in this space have joined in – for the sake of mere fun.
It seems like such a simple, silly word.
It doesn’t really quite capture the desire to punch someone’s face, the urge to scream and shout or pull at your hair in sheer frustration of being backstabbed. It doesn’t quite have the emotional depth of what really occurs when you face a frenemy.
The idea of jealously guarding your ideas, your inspirations is just so tedious. Sometimes, exhausting. An idea grows by being shared. Inspirations are often derived from simple conversations. Of course, in this world of property registrations, intellectual property rights, creative common copyrights, patents on ideas and concepts – everything is up for sale.
Someone recently started a project on Facebook, very similar to one I’ve been doing for a while. They gave it the same title and of course, we both had the same inspirations. I wrote to them, pointing out that I was already doing this project for the past 3 years and shared links to show the same. I offered to collaborate with them or share their photographs on my page. The person started off annoyed at the intrusion, but realised that I had a valid claim (or as valid as it can be) to the project. They apologized, offered to change the name of their project and ended their conversation with “I hope you will not sue me”.
The thought of suing them over this never even occurred to me. It is a photography project. A fun project. On Facebook. The idea is not even mine originally. It is a global project that was inspired by a man in New York. Yet, ideas are dough of the day and you can sue someone for all kinds of infringement.
Of course ideas are the dough of the day. “Consultants” for brands and whatever else make more money for tossing out ideas than people who work towards making the ideas happen. It the world where people who cannot write a line of lyrics to save their life insure their voices. The people who have the gift to write beautiful poetry give away those lines without credit for bags full of money.
I believed once that as you grow older and more confident in your field, you would willingly share ideas and have active discussions about them leading to more ideas. I did not realise that I would have to hoard them and evaluate friends if they were friends, enemies or worse, frenemies before talking about it.
Of course, there are always better ideas and better inspirations. A true artist never stops because someone stole an idea. But in an expensive world and an empty bank account, it sure as hell burns to see an idea stolen.
Then again, we go to Facebook to vent, share, discuss these things – an idea that was stolen from two other men and created into something else by someone who had part of the skill but perhaps not the ability to bring up the original idea.
The idea men remain a footnote in a book, a credit in a movie while the others drive away laughing in a cool Bentley.
2013-14 has been a momentous year in Indian politics. Perhaps I have grown old enough to appreciate the nuances of politics, or the situation has gotten more interesting. We have had new faces come to the forefront, after decades of jaded, stern old men.
Rahul Gandhi on one side – the favorite icon of cartoonists. His comments gave cartoonists and columnists months worth of fun material.
Narendra Modi on the other hand – the controversial, progressive leader. He at least had some achievements to his name, albeit on the dicier side of how much was true.
But for those who did not find either of these options acceptable, it was a tough path.
And so came AAP – the aam aadmi party. The mango people party. The everyday man’s party. And hopes were rekindled. But in the short few months the party has been in power in Delhi, cartoonists have found a new love.
But this post isn’t about AAP or any of these political parties in general.
It is something that I just caught onto… the use of the word “Us” and “Our”.
While one would believe that these words in a secular country like India would be all encompassing, they truly are not. They mean different things when speaking to different sections of the voters.
For example, AAP’s reiterated stand they wanted to protect ‘hamari aurat’ and ‘aam aurat’. These statements were made after heinous violations of the rights of some African women, who unfortunately do not see any sign of justice currently. AAP went on to release the names and addresses of these women, who were accused of prostitution. Never mind that there is not a shred of proof of prostitution or drugs.
Reading through tons of speeches made by people after this incident, I wondered if it was only me who was noticing the distinct ‘hamara’.
While we claim to be a diverse nation and even celebrate the same, we are expected to be monotonous. Indians, by large, are expected to be Hindus, non-meat eating, non-drinking, traditional, temple-going crowd of people.
Even as we claim that the discrimination against Dalits is a thing of the past, when I read through these speeches, I wonder if that is really true. Conversations of with some people in the past have left me wondering about their definition of Hindus. There have been people who have stated that Hindus are the “non-meat eating, thread-wearing section of people who actually are not even supposed to drink beer”. This was said with a beer in hand. And it restricted Hindus to the Bramhin and perhaps the Vaishya sect of the population. They would include the Kshatriyas but the Shudras were no where in this equation.
I’m not going to talk about how these castes came along (we have a beautiful article on Wikipedia for that). But the mass definition of Indians refuses to consider even basic food preferences and restrict it to the smallest section of the population.
Likewise, AAP’s definition of our ‘hamari aurat’ coolly ignores the working woman, women from other cultures who have settled here for generations and are as Indian as you and me. The Chinese-Delhi woman, the African-Gujarati women. Yes, these people do exist and they worship the same gods that we do, if that is a point of contention. But in the worst case of racism seen in a while, all these people become outsiders with one stroke and hence, evil.
A few months ago, when someone asked me if we really had an option other than BJP and Congress, I had said I would probably support AAP.
The Anna Hazare Movement against corruption had just ended… least the first phase. And Arvind Kejriwal had started off with AAP. They seemed to have a team that understood the common man’s issues and not the uber rich of India. They were people like us who were creating a party to make a difference, and they seemed staunchly against corruption.
Of course, corruption is inevitable in India, or in any country for that matter. But as long as 90 percent of our taxes were used for what it was meant to be used, we couldn’t complain.
Fast forward to January 2014, AAP seems the stupidest thing to happen in the history of Indian politics. True, the team did not know much about running a state. But the glaring mistakes what they have committed so far were more common sense things rather than political knowledge to run a state.
Some political pundits will claim that these moves are a common sense thing. AAP is protecting their voter bank, which is not the middle class as portrayed earlier, but the lower middle class. The auto drivers. The bus drivers. The aam junta which does not include the pukka house dwellers.
We cannot really argue against their moralistic policies because that been there all along, right from the Anna Hazare Movement. Perhaps AAP is not directly related to Anna Hazare, but his policies linger around here because they were common ideals. The stories about them being anti-alcohol and drugs were quite common. Is there an explanation to what happened to the African women? No, there isn’t. Because we have no idea about the party’s policies other than against corruption, which in the bigger scheme of things is more of a statement rather than a policy.
The richer section of the society, and by that I mean the ones who earn in millions, should probably be scared of the AAP regime. Probably.
The question now is should the middle class also be scared of the AAP regime?
They have floated themselves on the frustration with corruption in the society and the lack of options in the political scene. But their sympathies lie with what they would perhaps term ‘The Proletariat’ in the most basic sense.
The move to give the control of policing the Delhi auto drivers to the Transport Department instead of the Traffic Police was the big red flag. This in a city where safety of women has been a hot topic. A city where auto drivers are known to be rude and dangerous. A city where the Transport Department clearly said they don’t want the job. Even if they get the job and the manpower to handle the same, where are the people on the street to address the issue? Do they have the authority to do anything more than seize the vehicle? Can they lodge a criminal complaint against the offender. This seems to be putting in more red tape in a country that is trying to wrap up the red tape.
Arvind Kejriwal is very familiar with the power of PR. His announcements regarding free electricity and water got an astounding response, as he knew it would. But nothing moved after that – like every other announcement. The political machine is a complicated hive, where pulling on one thread has ripple effects in several other areas – a fact that AAP seems to be unaware about or not bothered.
India needs a government that can take it forward but AAP’s current policies are more Gandhian than any current party. They might not believe in Hindutva, but they certainly believe in the ‘evil power of foreign hands’. I, for one, am most curious about their forthcoming ideas economic and foreign policies.
So far, they seem to think that foreign prostitutes are dangerous and the law process for them should be different – in the sense that they should have no protection and be stripped of basic rights. Which translates to we do not want foreigners in our country – saying no to all the investments? Perhaps they forgot that we live in a globalized world and a sense of fair exchange is required for any country to survive. We need to be intelligent, not an outright ban.
So far, they seem to believe strongly in the reservation system – a system that is killing the progress in various fields. Instead of revamping the reservation system to suit the modern day needs (urban and rural) they are going for the mass reservation system, which even Dr. Ambedkar was not too keen about.
So far, they believe that the government should have complete and absolute authority over what it does and remain unaccountable – a policy that has supported corruption, and has strong Communist leanings. (China, anyone?)
So far, they have not given women a voice in their campaigns. Infact, their campaign language reads “hamari auratein”. We need to protect our women. We need to keep them away from bad influences. The women of India, once again, are not given any voice in what we want to do.
AAP is trying to bring back the concept of ‘ours’ like it was in the 1940s. Our country – without foreign influence; our women – without their own rights; our religion – without growth.
Perhaps I am wrong. I hope I am wrong because for a while, I truly believed that AAP was the answer. But given the strong Communist base of the party, combined with a traditional / religious base, and the lack of common sense… AAP perhaps needs to take a back seat for now.
Besides, anyone who claims to be an anarchist and participates in any form of democracy either does not know the meaning of that word or is not a true anarchist.
Money money money.
Everyone’s talking about it or thinking about it. And according to one NYT article, a little too much thinking and talking about it. Apparently, there is a condition where you could be addicted to money. Considering my account is always mostly empty, I’m either not addicted or I’m constantly jonesing for a fix.
The NYT Article was nicely written. A former trader and his life of money and drug addiction (somehow the two always seem to go together). And he eventually talked about how he realised he was too addicted to making money and it had stopped being enough. It was the power that money brought along that was addictive as well, he said.
Perhaps only a rich man can write something like that. Perhaps only a rich man who has left behind the memories of not having enough to pay bills could talk about giving it all up. Well, either him or Buddha.
As much as we would like to live without money, the world is fashioned on money. Even the internet world has its own form of currency. We would all like to imagine that we could live off the land. Grow what you need, eat what you need. But then you have taxes, you have to buy seeds, pesticides, pay for the water and the electricity to pump the water. So you begin rearing some sheep to pay for all of that. And then you’ve to buy hay, or at least some amount of it. And you need to vaccinate it or face huge losses. So you start growing more to sell the fruit. But you need someone take the fruit to the market, so you need a vehicle or some form of transport. So you make a barter. And before you know it, you are back to money etc again.
Who made those oddly shaped pieces of paper so popular? Why?
I don’t want a fancy car. I don’t want a fancy house. I prefer a smaller house and a smaller car. Yet they tell me that these simple things need bagfuls of money and I need to pay for the bags too.