Indian Christians on Hit List?

There’s an interesting piece by Julio Riberio, former IPS officer, in the Indian Express today. He calls it the response of a retired public servant “in the twilight of my life”, to the recent steps taken by the central and right-wing state governments, as well as to their inaction in recent instances of horrifying incitement to violence against religious minorities. Yogi Adityanath – a fine example of the kind that pretends to be the protectors of ‘Hindutva’ – has recently called upon his supporters to dig up corpses of Muslim women and rape them. On a less immediate, more legislative level, he promises to snatch the voting rights of Indian Muslims, and make them second class citizens of the ‘Hindu rashtra’, much as Hindus in Pakistan are second-class citizens of the Islamic state. Meanwhile, Harayana is considering passing a law that would equate the slaughter of cows to first degree murder, to considerable support from urban and rural ‘Hindu’ sections.

Deviating from current western norms of rhetoric against religious aggression, Riberio has no compunction identifying himself as a Christian. And that is what makes his piece particularly strong, in my opinion. His very adherence to his religious – and therefore also to a large part his cultural – identity underlines the important role religion still plays in Indian social life, while also demonstrating that it has not, till recently, come too much in the way of everyday modernity.

Here are the most illustrative excerpts (in my opinion), but please read the whole article here.

[After the shooting that killed Indira Gandhi and clashes ensued between Sikh separatists and the State] a Christian was chosen to go to Punjab to fight what then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi termed “the nation’s battle” against separatists. I had accepted a “demotion” from secretary in the Union home ministry to DGP of the state of Punjab at the personal request of the prime minister. Arjun Singh, the cabinet minister who personally escorted me by special aircraft from Delhi to Chandigarh, remarked that when my appointment was announced the next morning, the Hindus of Punjab would breathe more freely and rejoice.

When 25 RSS men on parade were shot dead in cold blood one morning, then Punjab Governor S.S. Ray and I rushed to the spot to console the stricken families. The governor visited 12 homes, I visited the rest. The governor’s experience was different from mine. He was heckled and abused. I was welcomed.

Today, in my 86th year, I feel threatened, not wanted, reduced to a stranger in my own country. The same category of citizens who had put their trust in me to rescue them from a force they could not comprehend have now come out of the woodwork to condemn me for practising a religion that is different from theirs. I am not an Indian anymore, at least in the eyes of the proponents of the Hindu Rashtra […] “Ghar wapsi”, the declaration of Christmas as “Good Governance Day”, the attack on Christian churches and schools in Delhi, all added to a sense of siege that now afflicts these peaceful people.

Christians have consistently punched above their weight — not as much as the tiny Parsi community, but just as noticeably. Education, in particular, has been their forte. Many schools, colleges, related establishments that teach skills for jobs have been set up and run by Christians… Hospitals, nursing homes, hospices for dying cancer patients needing palliative care — many of these are run by Christian religious orders or Christian laymen devoted to the service of humanity. Should they desist from doing such humanitarian work for fear of being so admired and loved that a stray beneficiary converts of his or her own accord?

I was born in this country. So were my ancestors, some 5,000 or more years ago. If my DNA is tested, it will not differ markedly from [Mohan] Bhagwat’s. It will certainly be the same as the country’s defence minister’s as our ancestors arrived in Goa with the sage Parshuram at the same time. Perhaps we share a common ancestor somewhere down the line. It is an accident of history that my forefathers converted and his did not. I do not and never shall know the circumstances that made it so.

From Fourteen Fasting Students Determined to Live

The students of Jadavpur University request humbly that you starve yourself for 24 hours.

I pass on their request to you because I am heartened by your passionate outrage about global moral crises: the slaughtering of children in Peshawar, the dictates of hateful ‘saints’ in India, the murder of cartoonists in Paris. (But of course, this one is a little harder.)

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Jadavpur is a much-respected, much-awarded research university in eastern mainland India, one of the very, very few institutions in the country with equal nurture for technology and the social sciences. And yet, students and faculty of this sterling place have been demanding the resignation of their vice-chancellor. Their reasons are many, but the focal point of their protest became the sexual assault – on campus, by other students – of a JU student, that the VC refused to adequately address. In response, students boycotted class for a semester – harming themselves considerably – and sat on the university greens daily, singing songs and putting up protest plays.

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The VC could have talked to the students. But he said publicly that ‘talking’ was beneath his dignity. Instead, he unleashed a marauding police force on the students.

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Still, students and faculty held on to the hope of a civil and democratic resolution to the multiple problems on campus (including the VC’s dismantling of Jadavpur’s pride and joy: it’s interdisciplinary research schools and programmes). The state unleashed its full power on them – including the insidious power of media – but they stood undeterred.

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Finally, this last week, a few students began a fast unto death to get the university administration to engage with them.

Of course, the state tried to squash them. But it backfired.

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What they are asking now – these students who have been beaten, jailed, hospitalised, slandered and threatened – is that you join them in their hunger strike for 24 hours – Monday the 12th to Tuesday the 13th – in a symbolic show of solidarity.

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The fast-unto-death has, at the time of posting, almost crossed it’s 130th hour.

 

#JeSuisCharlie? Foutre le Camp!

I see on Facebook today that Charlie Hebdo is still trending, and an email informs me that the asinine hashtag ‪#‎JeSuisCharlie‬, started soon after the Paris attack, is still raging on the interwebs.

Well, I *am* furious about the disgusting – and frankly idiotic – murderers, but this “Je suis Charlie” nonsense is taking pop activism too far. I am NOT Charlie Hebdo, thank you very much, and neither are most of you showing solidarity with the hashtag. European xenophobia – and I say this because most of my friends abroad live in the USA – is a beast quite unlike the hysterically blind, unself-aware American one: it is far more open and unapologetic. In a way, that’s often a better thing than the subtle poisoning of the subconscious, but it is still not a good thing. And much of this xenophobia is expressed culturally through satire.

Does that mean Charlie Hebdo’s staff deserved to be slaughtered? No. Litigated against, perhaps, but not violated physically, much less murdered. On the other hand, do they deserve to be universally applauded for ‘bravery’? I don’t think so. It’s easy to be part of the cultural majority of a land and claim to be an equal-opportunity satirist, but that is not how power works. And indeed, if googling serves me right, I believe France – which is trotting out it’s historical culture of appreciation of satire as a moral brownie point – once banned a magazine for satirising Charles de Gaulle [UPDATE: Facebook connections tell me the banned magazine was Charlie Hebdo’s earlier avatar. Fascinating.]. So much for historical equal-opportunity.

In summary, Hebdo had every right to print what they did, even if they didn’t have sterling taste or a clean social or political conscience. On the question of religious ‘offence': if you’re a deliberately uninformed Hindu, you’re free not to eat beef (or any animal protein), but you have no right to stop anyone else from consuming it. If you’re a devout, conservative Muslim, by all means never draw the prophet, but you have no right to attack or slaughter those that do (but of course, you could take them to court). If you’re a conservative, stupid Christian, stay away from the school curricula. Your ignorance is your choice, not society’s collective burden. Let things stand at that, and all shall be well.

Well, well-ish. It’s a pity that that is the best we can ask for at the moment.

Freeing the Indian Conscience

A bit late in the day, but still worth recording. Of course, legal practitioners have been arguing on social media that this freedom from declaring a religious affiliation was always present in the Indian constitution, but for people like me, who have no legal training or knowledge, a direct proclamation such as this is much more valuable than a right that might be more interpretive or extrapolatory in nature.

The question now, of course, is when the government offices in Bombay will get around to editing their decades-old forms and printing them, or at the very least accept a blank in the box provided in the old forms for ‘religious affiliation’. Not any time soon, I suspect. Bureaucracy, especially the Indian bureaucracy, is a behemoth of restful inertia.

Still, theory is on the non-religious citizen’s side. That’s something to celebrate. At least till some zealous righteous person or group appeals against this ‘discrimination’, but hey, even atheists can hope.

NoReligion

Better Local Governance: Electing vs. Assigning

Much of the US was a structural shock to my system. When I first heard that such key offices as Commissioner of Police and district attorney was elected rather then appointed from a national, rotating pool, for example, I was aghast.

Popular punditry often conflates democracy with the mechanism of elections, but elections today are the epitome of a rigged game, favouring only those with the connections, funds, and social identities most accommodative of popular prejudice. Consider the USA, for instance. A country predicted to soon become – amongst much media headlining – not predominantly white, has not had two black senators serving simultaneously in their version of the parliament. Politics by colour of class might seem regressive on the surface, but the continuing structural violence against groups incapable of sponsoring enough elected members to the House is for all to see.

In the wake of the police brutality at Jadavpur University, though, I have had to reconsidered my deeply rooted colonial stance. On the one hand, it seems generally sensible to select and train officer-level police personnel (that is, those who bear arms and make the decisions) at a national academy, than to accept any average eighteen-year old who hasn’t ever left his home town, and present him with the privileges of uniform.On the other hand, however, there are such civil positions as deans and chancellors and registrars of universities. These fine women and men used to be elected to office from a group of their peers, and in many places perhaps still are. This ensured two things:

  • The person entering office has spent enough time within her new domain of authority to be familiar with its workings and its idiosyncrasies
  • And s/he has earned the respect and confidence of his/her peers to be elected to be the the boss of them.

The two combined is likely to encourage a situation of greater campus democracy, instead of the detached show of might we’ve witnessed. An administrator with an organic connect can help avoid a great deal of avoidable trouble to students, faculty, university productivity, and the public image of the political party at the helm of state-assisted units.

Of course, to be fair, there are several possibilities of exceptions I am not exploring here, and in the general scheme of revolution and resistance this might seem a little dull. But with the #hokkolorob movement intensifying without a clear goal except protesting to tyranny, tedious matters such as this is worth considering.

How to Manage the Media: A Guide for India

An interesting aspect of the police brutality at Jadavpur University today has been the response of West Bengal’s most powerful media house’s response to it. As my former classmate and friends SD and PP have pointed out (that latter rather colourfully, much to my delight), the ABP house – as evinced by their print reportage in the Anadabazar Patrika – first chose to speak of the protesting students as adisturbant, a ticking bomb, a threat imminent to ‘shikkhajogot’ (the world/sphere of education).Then, this morning, the mob that aided the police in beating up and molesting the students made the mistake of being carried away by their licence to violate, and assaulted a Star Ananda journalist (Star Ananda being the house’s television channel). And ABP instantly snapped around and bit a chunk off its former allies.

Of course, in the coming days the state shall broker peace with ABP, and after a few TRP-boosting stunts (perhaps a few studio debates, a special report on campus violence and gendered crimes), ABP will drop the matter completely. But the lesson helmspeople of the Indian state need to learn, once and for all, is that the media is not the same as party cadres. Their loyalty, when not backed by cash or other tradable commodities, is revoked when a kick is delivered to their groins. Unlike the junior cadet waiting to rise in ranks or the senior member waiting for their next ticket, they don’t accept it as a regrettable accident in a mêlée. Besides, attacks on journalists will give media houses higher viewership than parroting a party line anyway.

So be nice to your media partners, parties. It’s part of their payoff package. And breaking the deal will cost you.

Jewish = Muslim

Indian hardliner ‘nationalists’ have plumbed solidly for Israel in the current conflict.

Palestine deserves destruction, they say, because it has housed terrorists who have been annoying Israel for decades. Israel has been patient. No one can say Israel has not been patient. But now it has struck, and it will rip threats to its nation out by the very roots, and stomp on them till they’re dead, dead, dead!

Now, it so happens that Palestinians are mostly Muslims. And that is what triggers the orgasm of approval from our ‘nationalists’, not their sense of fairness or balance. Indian ‘nationalism’ exists superficially to combat ‘western culture’, but it’s roots draw true sustenance from Islamphobia, and fear of Muslim dominance in the state. So for them, Muslim-bashing anywhere is always good news. Couched in Israel-Palestine dynamics, they see the constant ‘oppression’ of a patient India by rabid Pakistan, and wish fervently that India would ‘teach a lesson’ to Pakistan in similar fashion.

There is just a tiny problem with this analogy, and it is this: Palestinians ‘terrorised’ Israel because Israel was carved out of Palestinian land without their consent, to house a specific religious minority.

Much, in fact, like Pakistan was carved out of British India – in the face of immense public opposition (and suffering).

So when Indian ‘nationalists’ go berserk with righteous joy at the suffering of Muslims, and defend Israel’s violence fervently, they should remember that in their tortured “West Bank is the subcontinent” analogy, Israel is really Pakistan.

The delights of your ignorance, my fellow patriots. The delights of your ignorance.

The Answers in the Catch

Having just found my father’s tattered copy of Catch 22 in our last unpacked box from home, I have been catching up on my Joseph Heller after years.It is wonderfully liberating to read a book from an era where depth of thought was not alienated from wit, and wit was not alienated from a social conscience. I look around at popular culture today, and find far too many fart jokes getting in the way of pro-people critique of power, which is what comedy is supposed to achieve politically. Instead, people are now convinced that comedy is ‘just a joke’.

Chew on this bit by Heller. He is a very funny writer, and Catch 22 is a very readable book, but it also raises questions we’d do well to think about from time to time.

“Nately was instantly up in arms again. “There is nothing absurd about risking your life for your country!” he declared.

“Isn’t there?” asked the old man. “What is a country? A country is a piece of land surrounded on all sides by boundaries, usually unnatural. Englishmen are dying for England, Americans are dying for America, Germans are dying for Germany, Russians are dying for Russia. There are now fifty or sixty countries fighting in this war. Surely so many countries can’t all be worth dying for.”

“Anything worth living for,” said Nately, “is worth dying for.”

“And anything worth dying for,” answered the sacrilegious old man, “is certainly worth living for.”

Review: Home Deli, Mumbai

(Cross-posted here: http://www.zoma.to/mynLq)

With a joy I can scarcely express in words, I am now free of my vomit-inducing, vampiric shithole of a workplace. Since the final conversation with my divisional head yesterday, I couldn’t stop humming. Several times I actually broke into song. My life was a dull monochromes full of mentally-unstable monsters, and in a few minutes, it was transformed into a vibrant landscape of happiness. The joy, the joy, the joy! Swimming, painting, sewing, travelling, friends, family, writing, baking – here I come!

The only thing I will miss about the job (apart from a few people) is being able to order regularly from Home Deli. Since I’ve been ordering from the place days before I actually saw it, I assumed it was a semi-swank corporate-neighbourhood joint, dispensing as they did delicious chicken-salad and ham-pineapple sandwiches, plus pizzas practically baked in cheese. Turns out it’s a spanking-clean hole-in-the-wall, with friendly – and occasionally a little saucy – staff.

It’s one of the joys of Bombay, I suppose, that even inexpensive holes-in-the-wall serve something as local as a bangda-thali right along with ham-and-cheese toasties and celery-onion sandwiches with house-made mayonnaise. Indeed, for the vegetarians around Prabhadevi, Home Deli provides a certain amount of pure-veg coolth. No longer do you have to settle for masala toast (although it does cost you forty bucks less). You can have grilled paneer in your sandwich, wok-tossed vegetables, corn and leafy greens… and lots and lots of cheese. If you eat everything, order the ‘non-veg sandwiches’ (as the menu puts it). They vary between excellent and very good, and come with finger-chips and coleslaw. The coleslaw is rich enough to put between two pieces of bread and made into a whole new sandwich, so it’s a win-win for you whichever way you look at it.

For people who prefer more substantial lunches, I personally recommend the Chinese set-meal. It comes with the day’s starter, a large portion of vegetarian or chicken fried rice, a gravy-dish with either vegetables or chicken, and a little dollop of sauce and salad. Sometimes, the starter is disappointing – such as three tiny onion rings – but on other days it is a meal in itself, like a heap of batter-friend cauliflower (yum!). So ask for the day’s special before you order. Of course, if you wish to spend more, you can order individual dishes – there will be enough to share between two people. The dishes mentioned above come between Rs. 65 to Rs. 150.

The two things I’ve never tried at Home Deli are their biryani and their thaali. I am picky about my biryani, and I didn’t fancy unpacking a huge meal of dal, chawal, subzi, fish, chutney and curd on our tiny cafeteria tables. Now that I’ve left the job though (yaay!), perhaps some day I shall just amble over with my Kindle, and have a nice, long, sit-in desi lunch there.

Fairer than that Word

I am editing a book meant for west African school-going audiences. Amongst many other slightly-sermonising pieces, it has a parable about honesty, featuring the Aesopian woodcutter who drops his iron axe into a river, and is tested by the goddess of the river, who tempts him with a gold and silver axe instead of his own.

Our author – subject-matter experts, they’re called – has recast the goddess as a fairy. A “beautiful” fairy, because she has golden hair and blue eyes. Mind you, this for a west African impressionable audience, by an Indian person – two countries with histories of white supremacist assault, and two cultures still plagued by the post-colonial disease of hating their own dark skin.

Barbie

I thought about the troubles of overriding authorship for a while, then I quietly deleted the description, changed “fairy” to “the spirit of the river”, and put in “curly black hair” and “kind eyes” in place of golden and blue. Third world children are swamped enough with blonde hair, coloured eyes and photoshopped white ideals of beauty. For fewer instances of bleached skin and self-hatred, they should perhaps trip across comforting little details like this, showing them that magically wonderful creatures can look like them, too.

Besides, there is no comparison between “kind eyes” and “pretty eyes”. The younger we teach children to notice people’s positive attributes rather than their looks, the better it will be for them, and for us.

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