Indian Elections 2014: Close-up 3

From Maheshwar Peri’s blog on Outlook India:

I was an undecided voter. I was exploring my options. UPA II did not deserve another chance. Modi personally never gave me good vibes. Blame the publicity, but I never saw any compassion in him, even in BJP posters. But BJP was still an alternative because AAP was not fit and ready to govern, at least for five more years. I had a lot of issues with AAP. So I was veering towards BJP despite my discomfiture. We still have to make a choice and NOTA is not an option for me. I wanted to vote for stability. For me, Gujarat is one of the better governed states. I also did not want a Baba, Amma, Behenji, Netaji, Didi or Bhayyaji to be the next Prime Minister or even interfere in governance.

As I kept expressing myself without bias on Facebook and elsewhere, the Modi fans went after me. They were organized, belligerent and at times scary. Many questioned my intelligence and a few even my integrity. Last night, I analyzed few people who took it on themselves in leading this charge—the hardcore Modi fans (I personally don’t think there is any BJP left). And what I found was revealing. Throughout the posts, I saw hatred, criticism or trivialization. No serious discourse based on facts and reasoning. Liberal use of epithets like “Sickular”, “Paid Media”, “Khan-gressi”, “Pakistani Agent”, “Traitor”, “ISI Agent”, “CIA Agent”, “Saint Topiwal”, “Fakeriwal”, “Aaptard” was common. The name calling was personal and perverse.

I encourage each of you to do a similar exercise. I can’t even wish them off as over-enthusiastic supporters. They are so committed to Modi that it is well nigh impossible to be objective in future. Unknown to us, we have created a lynch mob. But then, they have only learnt it from their leader who had used the “Mian” in Musharraf, and the “James Michael” in Lyngdoh to create insecurities and mass votes. Even as a PM aspirant, he peddles epithets such as “Shahzada” (Rahul) and “Pakistani friend” (Arvind Kejriwal) and vitiates the discourse. A leader who has only created a legion of followers but no second line of leadership needs a stronger opposition in Parliament. The checks and balances have to be stronger.

The agenda for positive change, good governance and development are mere statements that have got lost in the election carried forward by his followers. What started off as a positive campaign soon descended into bullying. Development is no longer the narrative. The bias was such that the same people who quoted Time (“The Under Achiever” cover on Dr.Manmohan Singh) started criticising and questioning The Economist and The Guardian for ‘interfering’ in India’s internal affairs. Hypocrisy has become synonymous with politics.

And then yesterday, a beast amongst us slapped Arvind Kejriwal. It was ferocious. It was brutal. It was inhumane. It was meant to physically hurt. As AK held his face, it was heart-breaking. He had a black eye and a swollen cheek. And the BJP bandwagon took to the streets and launched their attack in a highly synchronized manner. It was celebration time. The slap was a butt of jokes. AK was despised, derided, laughed at, attacked, and violated. It was appalling. Each time as I watched the slap, my heart wept. Is this the society we have come to be?

Last night, My decision was made. There was greater clarity. I don’t want a society where hatred wins over love, violence over peace, anger over amity, frown over smile, sternness over calmness, negativity over positive feelings. I don’t want a society where the mobs decide the agenda cleverly planted by a handful of people (we have seen it in 1984 and 2002).

I decided. I will vote with my conscience. I will vote for peace. I will reject divisiveness. I will vote for change. I vote to bring in a good opposition in the parliament. I vote for AAP.

Indian Elections 2014: Close-up 2

Yesterday on the train, I heard a rehash of a recent Facebook conversation I’ve had. A group of people (mostly supporting Modi) bemoaned the decline of the nation since independence, the growth in corruption, the general rotting of the social and moral structures – the usual cheesy whine (if you forgive the lame pun). To the last person, they blamed politicians and the government for this, and agreed with each other that nothing good could ever come of India.

The people on my Facebook, bless them, have the long view of greater good, and hence they oppose the dictatorial politics of Narendra Modi. My co-passengers on the train were blinded by the irrational hope for a majoritarian government, that will put troublesome minorities in their place and enforce righteous discipline. But both groups missed the mark, in my opinion, because they both disowning the responsibility they had, as members of the voting public, in nurturing our poisonous, sectarian political climate. It is our susceptibility towards divisiveness, after all, that has trained our politicians to believe that on-record religion and ethnic talk and off-record violence is all they need to sail into office. And if we want a stronger India, we have to shake off our personal discomforts with difference, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us initially.

And honestly, despite a political system so rotten it stinks, I don’t personally think India is beyond hope. Quite the contrary, in fact (although I do have my moments of hopeless cynicism). But if we are to actually go beyond moaning on social media and thriving on the “likes” and “shares” our oh-so-politically-aware commentaries earn, we need to first drop the automatic, frothing-at-the-mouth defensiveness and admit straight up that our own prejudices and apathy got us into the mess we’re in. It got us the politicians we have, the scams we pay for, and the social policing we suffer. A thriving citizen’s media is a great thing, but active involvement in communities and local politics is the only way this country will actually develop (and by that I don’t mean sprout more shopping malls).

If we want a better future, we absolutely HAVE to take ownership of our past. So stop getting mad when someone says you’re part of the problem. Everyone in a failing society is part of the problem in some way or another. Own up to it, and then try to grow beyond it. A seed doesn’t burst into a tree in thin air. It needs the dark and dirty depths for a strong beginning. This election season, that’s probably a good analogy to bear in mind.

Indian Elections 2014: Close-Up 1

My cabbie this morning was in a chatty mood, and for an hour we discussed politics, politics, politics. His chief grouse seemed to be that “Hindustan” – India – hasn’t been declared a “Hindu rashtra” or a Hindu nation yet. In the same breath, he said religion was personal, and what he would vote for is progress, ergo the vote for Modi.

Usually, in circs like this, I allow only curiosity free rein, because there is something very paternalistic about lecturing a working-class person on his electoral choices without first making an effort to understand where those choices come from. But the onset of elections has probably made me more anxious than I realised, because for the first time, I engaged in a gentle debate, asking him what concrete benefits “a Hindu rashtra” would bring him, and how the certain riots that would follow such a declaration would affect him and his.

Locked in a cab on a barely-moving highway, the two of us had very little choice but to listen to each other, and consider each others point of view. In the end I conceded that I really knew very little about caste Hindu anxieties in and around Lucknow, and he conceded that perhaps he wouldn’t benefit from the Hindu rashtra label after all. We also had a very involved conversation about what “pragati” should actually mean, and how little served it is by our political parties, but that’s a post for another day. He and I are good friends now, though. I have his number and know about his wife and family, and we have a pact of giving him the first call whenever “sir” and I have somewhere to go.

This, By the Way, is My Country

This is an extract from the online news portal Gaylaxy:

The two policemen, in their mid-20s, were posted on duty during the Ahmedabad gay pride march held on December 1st, in which the victim had participated. Today as the man was returning to his car, the policemen recognized and accosted him, asking if he had taken part in the march (images of the victim were seen on the print and electronic media which had covered the pride march). On his confirmation, the cops demanded to see his license and papers and started hurling abuses at him. The victim protested and tried to get away, but the cops started beating him up with sticks and forced themselves on him, abusing him all the time and remarking ‘jab poori duniya se marwai hai, toh humse bhi marwa le’ (when you have got fucked by the whole world, then get fucked by us too) . The man returned home battered and bruised with multiple wounds on his body. The cops were not drunk and were in full control of their senses.

Is the Pope Catholic? Apparently, He’s Hindu.

I woke up this morning and found that Pope Francis – the gods bless him – has turned into a Hindu gentleman, emphasis on gentle.

According to various news sites on the internet, which have gone into a bit of a tizzy overnight, Papa Francis apparently said “[a]ll religions are true, because they are true in the hearts of all those who believe in them. What other kind of truth is there?”. This, in essence, is the Hinduism we grew up with in Calcutta, embodied by the pithy saying “joto mawt toto poth” – there are as many roads (to god) as there are opinions/ideas about it.

And it’s not just me saying it. Casual references to this general approach can be found scattered through our cultural productions. For instance, Syyad Mujtaba Ali (my favourite writer), while describing an encounter with a newly-minted Austrian missionary on a warpath against “the savages” of Africa and Asia, says he finds quite unable to return the misguided man’s vitriol because “I am an Indian. From my earliest childhood I have heard that all religions are equal, and one should not use race as a bait in conversations”.

It feels good that this feeling has now gone global, especially since self-appointed protectors of “Indian culture” (à la an invented ‘Hinduism’ chiefly made up of Victorian British moral conceits) seem to have lost track of Hinduism’s finer ideological roots completely… and perhaps very deliberately. It’s difficult to rouse a rabble if your banner reads “Mind the karma and carry on”. If the Vatican now wants to take it up instead, I’m delighted.

Also, cynic though I am, I don’t care what the anti-Catholic conspiracy theorists are saying about the dove-like global image of this Father Love. Even if the holy daddy is only doing the “progressive” all-embracing love-talk to improve the PR of the Church, and is not yet going to walk the walk as easily as he talks the talk, he’s still a downright goddamned radical just for caring what the world thinks of Catholicism, and for taking it into positive account. It’s been centuries that organised religion has been used to tear people and things apart. It’s about bloody time it did some band-aiding.

Stay the path, lovely Father. Eventually, walk the walk as you talk the talk. Have a lovely year, and let the world have a lovely year with you. Kisses.

Hello yourself, good Father. Lovely to have you.

HuffPost Lauds Man For Telling Woman to Eat His Dick

Yes, it’s a bit hard to believe, what with the indie pro-oppressed groups rep HuffPost has build for itself. But this is how it promotes its story about Elan – a chap who allegedly produces the shows Bachelor and Bachelorette – antagonising an irate woman during a flight, invading her personal space multiple times, and when she retaliates with a slap, tells her to eat his dick. He has since called upon his Twitter fans and fellow-cunts to tell people like this woman to eat their dicks. From this I presume he’s talking only to the male of the repulsive and hopefully small community.

Was the woman – a Diane – a nice person? Hell no. She was one of those who complain incessantly about the inevitable, magnifying their own problem to such an extent that there is no room in their heads to accommodate the rest of the world. Of course, our only access to any info on Diane and indeed the whole incident is from Elan’s testimony, and as we’ve established before, he’s something of an immature cunt, so one can’t quite take his word for the absolute truth. But let us assume this happened, and he was at least right about the fact that when an attendant tried to sympathise with her Thanksgiving flight delays by saying he was being kept away from his family too, she said, “This is not about you”. Had a fellow passenger reminded her politely but firmly, that the staff was suffering just as she was suffering, and they had to work through it in the bargain, I’d be all for them. It’s very difficult to tolerate entitled people throwing fits at other people compelled by the wage and social hierarchy to smile politely and put up with them. It shows a flash of the ugly, selfish underbelly of humanity that makes the bile rise.

On the other hand, the woman could have been ill, in the middle of an emergency, of an anxious disposition, or not capable of dealing with changes to schedule due to a differently tuned mind. Let us also assume, for Elan’s benefit, that she was not any of these things.

Which in no way excuses what he did to harass her all throughout her flight. After his Twitter updates, which were fine and dandy and richly deserved by someone who was being mean to service staff. Then he started sending her successive little notes, boasting later that he enjoyed goading her immensely, and had wine delivered to her with the comment “Hopefully if you drink it, your mouth won’t be able to talk”. After that, when Diane retorted via a note of her own that he had no compassion, he tried to have two little bottles of vodka delivered to her, and when the attendant refused, walked past her, leaning into her personal space to drop them onto her table. He then recorded the sort of thrill and fear this act brought to him, not unlike the excitement of a truant child who throws a rock through a neighbour’s window.

By Elan’s own admission, she was seeking help for this harassment. “She is pressing the call button a lot”, he reports, after his harassment first began to escalate. Then she wrote him a second note, asking him to stop interfering with her and threatening to involve the authorities. Probably realising how little support she would receive from any kind of authority, Elan disregarded her completely. Finally, at the point of exit for this flight, she walked up to him and slapped him for what must have been a horrible flight for her. And then what happened? Well, of course the guard at the point immediately restrained her, and urged Elan twice to call the cops on her.

The thing about her violence is this. Supposedly an entire long flight of harassment across the United States – during which she was supposedly extended no support, because Elan gloats that the male attendant “making a ‘let’s just pretend this never happened’ face” at him, and “shaking his head a lot” – because the woman was annoying and dismissive of the service staff. This is unbelievably out of proportion with her offence, and a terrible retaliation besides, because it does nothing to make the woman realise how awful she has been and inspire her to make amends, but instead fuels her belief that the universe is conspiring to mess with her. In return for the absurd harassment and emotional assault on her, Elan gets a slap in the face. Given his idea of vengeance, I’d say it was perfectly in proportion.

But because of his jackassery, someone who was just an irksome person escalated to becoming a potential jail-bird for at least a few hours, while he, the agent of this change, gets away scot-free, admitting his delight with himself and being lauded on media. And lauded on media is right, for the promotion of this piece on HuffPost’s side bar is this: “LOOK: Annoying Airplane Passenger Got Exactly What She Deserved”.

He later says, apparently, that it was class solidarity that made me him do it, because he had had low-level jobs and suffered women like Diane himself. It’s a pretty excuse, that completely doesn’t hold. First, as we said, he didn’t say a single thing to make Diane aware of her entitlement or rudeness, instead escalating the matter till violence erupted. Second, if anything, the incident shifted attention completely from a classist slight to a provocative harassing ‘prank’, and the self-adulatory playing-to-the-gallery on Twitter. If social justice was somehow served in the process, it has passed completely under my radar.

In short, on the day America unwittingly celebrates the massacre of its first people, Elan and fans of his little vigilante escapade can proudly add institutionalised immaturity misogyny to the list.

In the Belly of the Beast: Peggy Mohan

A very interesting piece by Peggy Mohan in Kafila on ‘global systems’ and their flaws: (My own opinions on the matter are far too convoluted to hold interest)

Human beings, like cells, take up their specialized roles within the organism, allowing it to live. A few, always opportunistic, manage to find privileged positions. But the majority of the population simply plays along, with no strong opinions while things are good, neither helping nor harming, concerned only with its own survival. And life goes on because the sheer size of the megasystem insulates it from day to day feedback and need for course correction.

… We have all seen big systems on a roll suddenly come crashing down because they are inherently fragile, unsustainable, their structure totally dependent on their energy flow. The megasystem is inscrutable: its outward strength can mask even a terminal decline. Our job, then, is to study the beast and be alert to the signs, and ready with a road map back to a world that is our size.


How to Make Enemies: Anti-terrorism Version

My friend M linked to a letter by Johns Hopkins professor Chris Callison-Burch, addressed to the president of the United States. It concerns the callous way in which the nation’s government took refuge behind bureaucratic opacity to flaunt their racist terror of a Middle-Eastern Muslim man — otherwise known as security ‘profiling’.

Of course, said man might turn out to be vewy vewy dangerous indeed, and oooh, how silly would C-B look then, but if that were indeed the case, then the process by which the US government and their privatised visa process blocked him was doubly stupid, for you do not want to humiliate and antagonise an enemy so potent.

What strikes me most about this incident, however, is the sneaky school-boyish trickery employed by the US Embassy. They lured Omar with the promise of ‘looking into’ the tearing-up of his ticket to US, and the moment he handed them his passport, stamped ‘CANCELLED’ all over it. Gotcha! Hee hee hee!

I wonder if they high-fived each other after he left.

On his return flight back to Baltimore to defend his thesis, he was not allowed to board his plane in Cairo. The flight staff tore up his ticket without explanation. He returned home to Jordan and went to the US embassy where they told him that nothing was wrong with his student visa. A week later, the embassy called him back to say that they had found the problem. They said that if he came in, they would fix it. Instead of fixing it, they stamped CANCELED across his student visa without explaining what was wrong, and refused to answer any questions as to why. They handed him a piece of paper saying that there was no appeal process and that he would have to re-apply for a visa. He did. The interview went perfectly well, but the application remained stuck in \Administrative Processing”. After months of waiting, we finally held his thesis defense via video conferencing, and Johns Hopkins University awarded him his PhD. Omar was unable to participate in the graduation ceremony since he was never allowed to return. Microsoft sought an H1B visa for him, but because of prolonged delays in securing that visa for Omar, the company has given up its efforts and instead placed him in its Cairo.

Omar is exactly the type of person who the US should be actively recruiting to come to the country. [For reasons cited, see the article.]

Baby in a Box

We occasionally take peeks at Finland at work, because of their excellent performance (and Sweden’s, and Norway’s) in child-health and early child development. It’s therefore rather heartening to see the attention they have been receiving from the media, on account of these same achievements.

This is the latest story to break about easy and inexpensive public healthcare measures to ensure better national performance in child health. I disagree with the glib ‘equal start’ comment, but overlooking pink-hearty journalism, I’d say it’s quite a smart move, wouldn’t you?

For 75 years, Finland’s expectant mothers have been given a box by the state. It’s like a starter kit of clothes, sheets and toys that can even be used as a bed. And some say it helped Finland achieve one of the world’s lowest infant mortality rates.

It’s a tradition that dates back to the 1930s and it’s designed to give all children in Finland, no matter what background they’re from, an equal start in life.

The maternity package – a gift from the government – is available to all expectant mothers.

It contains bodysuits, a sleeping bag, outdoor gear, bathing products for the baby, as well as nappies, bedding and a small mattress. [Full list of boxed goodies available on the original link.]

With the mattress in the bottom, the box becomes a baby’s first bed. Many children, from all social backgrounds, have their first naps within the safety of the box’s four cardboard walls.

[The scheme was universalised in 1949] “Not only was it offered to all mothers-to-be but new legislation meant in order to get the grant, or maternity box, they had to visit a doctor or municipal pre-natal clinic before their fourth month of pregnancy,” says Heidi Liesivesi, who works at Kela – the Social Insurance Institution of Finland.

So the box provided mothers with what they needed to look after their baby, but it also helped steer pregnant women into the arms of the doctors and nurses of Finland’s nascent welfare state. In the 1930s Finland was a poor country and infant mortality was high – 65 out of 1,000 babies died. But the figures improved rapidly in the decades that followed.

“And baby’s in a boxy, faaast asleep”.

The Death of a Filmmaker

From my Facebook today:
As all of Facebook that cares now knows, Rituporno Ghosh is no more. I know a lot of people who hated the man’s work viscerally. However, short conversations on the subject revealed that it was the man they were discomfited by, not his works per se. A young member of faculty at a local uni once called him a “bishwo bikhyato gay maal” — a world-famous homosexual person. (Here, ‘world famous’ doesn’t mean what you think it means.)

Ghosh on set of his film, Chitrangada.

It is sad — in my personal opinion — that his more recent ouevre gave people an aesthetic reason to bash his sexuality with. It is wonderful to use popular films as a vehicle for rights-activism, but for so doing one must first ensure the watchability of the films. The entire point, after all, is positive outreach. Rituporno’s last films, I’m told, were unwatchable, especially in the context of his earlier excellence. And because they were about LGBTQ lives and rights, it gave people an easy club to bash his entire underlying ideology  — his very existence –with. For that reason alone, I wish he hadn’t left us at 49. I wish he had remained to produce ‘mainstream’, beautifully subtle, sensually-shot films about people whom we love to treat as clowns in the light and punching bags in the dark.
Of his earlier films, I would say Bariwali, Raincoat and Shubho Mohorot stand out on these very terms. Shubho Mohorot is the only film I have seen so far — and I am not a film buff — that surpasses the book it was based on [Agatha Christie's The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side], although upon reflection one might say the same of Raincoat [based on the principle plot-point of O'Henry's "The Gift of the Magi"]. I personally quite enjoyed the detailed, sensually appealing ambience of Chokher Bali, the subtitle ‘A Passion Play’, and the dramatically pleasing way in which the original had been adapted for the screen. Perhaps the art director takes a lot of credit for much of that, but it’s Rituporno I’ve always credited.
Now that he is so suddenly gone, I’ll think I’ll miss his sensitivity and sensuousness, but above all, I’ll miss his stubborn refusal to conform to dictates of market and society, even if the result was considerably less than remarkable. Especially in this whirlpool of bombastic mediocrity and hegemonic toeing-the-line that we live in today, rebelliousness is it’s own reward.

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