Monday, November 4, 2013

A Joke on Indian Secularism

 Some of you may have received a FB/ IM post about something called the Prevention of Communal & Targeted Violence act, saying stuff about how it is blatantly Anti- Hindu, and another example of the Congress pandering to the minorities etc etc. If you haven’t I’m not reproducing it here as I plan to present the case in a hopefully more rational & definitely less sensational manner.

Like me you may have dismissed it as yet another example of factually liberal right wing propaganda in the utterly disgusting Nehru – Patel funeral controversy mould. That would have been the happy ending. Unfortunately I happened to get into a debate with my father in law on this. I told him such stuff as given in the post was not possible in a democracy and Indians always believed more in rumour rather than actually finding out the facts for themselves and I would do so by reading the bare act (bill in this case) and doing the doodh ka doodh pani ka pani thingy.

To be blindsided in any debate is galling, to be blindsided in one with one’s father in law, well better not get into that. Anyway to get to the point, the act is linked below:

I think everyone should take time out to read it, at 56 liberally spaced pages it isn’t terribly long and should take less than 30 minutes to browse through.

Basically as the name suggests it broadly defines responsibilities, parameters of response and relief in cases of communal violence. It sets up authorities at the Central and state level with broad based representation across majorities & minorities, Government and opposition etc. to investigate and act upon riots with advisory and executive roles. It defines responsibilities for various Government departments, measures for rehabilitation & compensation, minimum standards for relief camps and punishment in case of dereliction of duties by government officials and others for stuff from hate propaganda to arson & torture to killing.

All this is pretty much fine and even commendable. The problem comes with the definition of “Group”, group being the term used throughout the act for the parties whom the act would protect. Group is defined as “religious or linguistic minority, in any State in the Union of India, or Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes…” (page 1, section 3(d))

Further “victim” is defined as “any person belonging to a group as defined under this Act, who has suffered physical, mental, psychological or monetary harm or harm to his or her property as a result of the commission of any offence under this Act, and includes his or her relatives, legal guardian and legal heirs, wherever appropriate” i.e. linguistic & religious minorities. (page 2, section 3(k))

The sum of these 2 definition means that anyone who is not a linguistic or religious minority is not covered under the act. Now riots as anybody who has experienced them first hand would know are never a event where only one community suffers. What would typically happen in a riot between 2 communities is that in areas dominated by one community, members of the other would be displaced and vice versa in areas dominated by the other. So members of both majority and minority community would suffer pretty much in the same manner, though the the number of people affected from each community of the same may vary from riot to riot.

From a plain standpoint of justice any illegal and unethical transgressions by either of the communities should be incorrect and both should be equally deserving of punishment. However as per the act designed to protect the victims of a riot, a victim with the double misfortune – as there is no other way to put it – of not being in a religious or linguistic minority is not a victim at all no matter how much he or she may have suffered. As per the logical conclusion of the sections, this person would not be entitled to minimum standards in relief camps, there would be no punishment for officials who through deliberate intent or neglect may have caused this person to suffer, nor should he be entitled to rehabilitation under this act.

Carrying the same argument forward using a topical example, a Muslim victim in the Muzzafarnagar riots would be a victim entitled to the protection of the law, but an Hindu victim of the same riot would not, which is plain ridiculous. Nor as per the law would Kashmiri Pandits, who are a minority community in Kashmir but a majority community in India qualify for rehabilitation, (unless they somehow come under the linguistic minority definition).

Now one may say that there are other laws that cover rehabilitation, redressal of justice etc for such a person. However if that is the case those same laws are equally applicable to all communities and religions so what is the need for a special law covering minorities.

Secularism is quite famously not defined in the constitution though it states that India is a secular state. A generally accepted definition of secularism is “a doctrine that rejects religion and religious considerations.” A second more detailed definition is that a secular state, involves 2 doctrines;

a)    Separation of the state from religions institutions and
b)   People of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law

This law as per the above definition does not seem to meet the concept of equality before law. The Indian Constitution in Article 14 explicitly guarantees the Right to Equality before law, “without discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them”. How can then this bill that denies that right to equality be passed under the aegis of that very constitution?

Let us not even get into the fact that as per section 72 (page 28) “….it shall be presumed, unless the contrary is proved, that the offence committed was knowingly directed against a person by virtue of his or her membership of a group. “ So basically you are guilty until proven innocent unless you fall into the “Group”. While this seems to more suited for Guantamano bay and tinpot dictatorships than the world’s largest democracy, even this would be fine if there was reciprocity, which there isn’t by a long shot.

The fact that this bill is being sponsored and passed by the Grand Old “secular is my middle name” Party of India is a tight slap in the face of any Indian who actually understands and believes in secularism. In the political landscape as it exists today, it is difficult to envisage any opposition party, either the communist parties, or the RJD (let us not even think of the SP) or the single state regional parties opposing this bill. Which means the only person opposing this patently un-secular bill is (atleast by conventional definition) the least secular of parties i.e the BJP. If that isn’t a joke, what is? God bless India….

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Taj Palace… Random thoughts after a visit

I visited the Taj Palace yesterday night… Innocent little me thought it would be desolate at midnight but it was full of likeminded gawking Bombayites being herded thru the security cordon to catch a glimpse of beautiful building we all love so.
There were scores of people lighting protest candles. Post Rang de Basanti, lighting candles has practically assumed the proportions of a pastime. I don’t want to belittle the motives of people who do that; I’m sure they feel every bit as angry and horrified about what we have had to undergo. But by lighting candles and writing blogs for that matter, we are doing little more than giving vent to our anger into the path of least resistance, to no end at all. The net effect is nothing more than what is achieved by our politicians condemning the attack and forgetting about it in a week. How can we channelize our feelings in something more productive manner? I grope for answers and find none…
Overhearing people commenting on the attack around me, practically everyone, old and young, Hindu and Muslim, is discussing the fact that something like this attack will happen again soon. I mean with the political will and intelligence network we seem blessed with, it is hard to logically disagree. But by being so defeatist are we not getting into a vicious circle of despondency and self- fulfilling prophecies?
On a more happy note, repairs are on in full swing. To hand it out to Jamshedji Tata, he has constructed a fortress; the external façade hardly seems affected. Internally, I am sure it is a very different matter but the place is a hive of activity. I look forward to being there, whenever.

Paki Two Face

Pakistan has always been a country whose left hand doesn’t know what its right hand does. The Prime Minister Mr. Nawaz Sharif didn’t know his general was invading India. Its last two governments have no clue what happens in the North West Frontier Province…and so on. Or atleast so they would have us believe.

In the latest instance the Pakistani Foreign minister publicly proclaimed that, we as in Pakistan & India are twin victims of terrorism and they will do anything repeat anything to assist the Indian Government in investigating these horrendous attacks. Even so, when the PM asks for the DG of ISI to come over it was a surprise to hear them agree; but not for long

Very clearly now some junior official will be sent, he will take notes, he will not promise anything except to get back after consulting his bosses, which will never happen. If we are stupid enough to share any information steps will be taken to make sure no further evidence is left in Pakistan. Or perhaps even will not come to pass. Perhaps direct PM to PM requests are a breach of protocol and they should send an official request at secretarial level presumably in triplicate too…which can then be deliberated upon.

Can we even consider co-operation with this country after it has spurned a direct request from the highest office of our country? If they have nothing to hide, why refuse co-operation.

Why should India suffer if Pakistan cannot control its own elements - assuming they want to in the first place? Is it our problem Pakistan is a functional anarchy where elected leaders are a poor third in the pecking order after army chiefs and intelligence chiefs? There comes a time to say enough is enough. If we cannot act after the most brazen attack on our national fabric, we will never do so ever.

Pakistan is supposed to mean "the land of the pure". Perhaps its time for a change of name…

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Mumbai Terror Attacks - Views from Home

There is a scene in Harry Potter & The chamber of Secrets, where Harry & Ron are going to the Forbidden Forest to follow the spiders as per Hargid’s cryptic instructions. Ron, terrified of spiders keeps saying ,”Lets’ go back” only to be told not to panic. A few minutes later when man-eating spiders surround them with seemingly no hope of escape, Ron again asks “Do we panic now??”

That is the question a number of Mumbaikars will be asking themselves today. What we have seen over the last night is a series of terrifying, mind numbing almost inexplicably surreal attacks on the way we live our daily lives. Suureal because if a day ago if we had been told that the Taj & the Oberoi would be witnessing 14 hour hostage dramas, if we had been told that there would be public shootouts at CST, Chowpatty, Metro, Cama Hospital all at the SAME TIME, what would we have said? Would we have believed it? These are places we visit daily, I was less than half a kilometer from the Oberoi day before, there has been shooting right outside my office in Crawford Market, I cross Metro on my way to work daily. That there can be such a audacious orchestrated attack on all these places defies all belief and comprehension.

Everything has happened so suddenly that it is difficult to get any real hold on events or my feelings about them. When we first saw this on TV at around 10:30 with the attack on Café Leopold and apparently some shooting outside VT station the media response was typically confused and speculative veering between gang wars and terrorist attacks. The locations kept changing, reporting seemed hyperbolical “khoon se latpath laashen bikhri hui hain (there are bloodied bodies all around) and India’s 9/11 headlines” repeated 20 times for the same image. My initial reaction was that it was an isolated attack being blown out of proportion. Then as we watched more, events rose in scale to match the hype. We heard the explosion at the Taj the moment it happened, saw the wisps of smoke at it’s dome build up into a conflagration, saw a live video of terrorists driving down Metro in a stolen car shooting people as they went by with one person seemingly shot down in full view of the camera, when 3 of our top ranking police officers are killed trying to storm the hotels, realization sunk that this was something different, an attack on a scale and of a method not seen before in Mumbai, (which routinely clocks a series of blasts every couple of years), or anywhere in India before.

Many questions will be asked. How can a score of people walk into hotels and railway stations with a 12 hour supply of grenades, guns and ammunition? How can nobody know about such a co-ordinated action? Who do we blame this time? Whose head should roll - our immaculately dressed Home Minister, the Maharashtra Chief Minister or the Intelligence team? Most importantly do we the people yet again shrug this off and act as if things are normal again?

There or no easy answers to these questions or in some instances any answers at all. One cannot equally protect every square foot of the city or the nation without losing some efficiency somewhere. Many Indian cities as varied in their socio - economic characteristics as Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Jaipur have suffered these attacks. The current attack seems to focus on places frequented by foreigners with the aim of maximizing international impact and mentally bracket India in the same basket as Pakistan and Afghanistan. (Already England is apparently canceling their ongoing cricket tour.) One thing seems obvious, the idea is to create a fear psychosis, make us afraid to step out of our homes, make us look over our shoulder every time we walk the roads. If we do any otf these things we will be helping the people who do this win. That will be the final victory in the battle that began yesterday. But in not panicking are we being foolhardy? I don’t have the answer, unfortunately neither it seems, do our leaders.

There is a pattern to our responses now which is so predictable that to follow it is as painful as the terrorist attack itself. We call for greater central & state intelligence co-ordination, centralized intelligence agencies, choking the funds flow for these organizations, stricter terror laws, more closed circuit cameras, political parties bashing each other and more. Perhaps we need all of these but these are long term measures which will probably not yield result soon enough to prevent more rounds of attacks. The genie is out of the bottle, and it won’t go in so soon, I am afraid. We face bleak times, but let us face them united as Indians, not as Hindus or Muslims, or Bhaiyyas or Maharastrians, or Dalits or Brahmins but as Indians. If the answers have to come, they will only come that way.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Sensitive Indian

This is intended as a word of caution for all foreigners, creative people, thinkers, believers in freedom of speech about behaving themselves in India. The new vibrant, self confident India is not a nation that will allow itself to be insulted, maligned or trifled with by outsiders or intelligentsia who have no notion of Indian culture, tradition and pride.

However as we are a non-confrontational, non violent, people here is an indicative but by no means comprehensive list of offensive behaviour which shall not be tolerated so that you may all know your limits…

1. Any form of cinema or writing which projects inaccurate facts about historically important figures such as Empress Jodhaa, Mangal Pandey, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose (who is definitely alive and in hiding at the ripe old age of 109), Rani Laxmibai, Bhagat Singh, Laila Majnu, Raj Kapoor, Charlie Chaplin (oops cross out that one) etc. We believe that since historical facts about people are debatable certain depictions may be incorrect and hence offensive and hence no movies should be made about such figures.

However as a concession we shall ignore old movies made about Empress Jodhaa like Mughal E Azam as we do not believe in raking up old issues where bans are not possible.

2. Any celebration of Western concepts such as Valentine’s Day involving expression and exhibition of love is not allowed as it does not form part of Indian culture. Love in India is timeless and as pure as the river Ganga, which we revere above all and which is demeaned by exhibitionist behaviour.

3. Indecent dresses worn in public by public figures such as actresses Shreya as they are not allowed as per our tradition where women are equivalent to Goddesses. However they may wear even skimpier clothes in their movies as cinema is after all an escapist form of entertainment.

Similarly any statement stating that Indian women indulge in pre-marital sex or are anything but virgins is the greatest affront to our beliefs.

4. Any speech, writing or interview suggesting that superstars MGR, NTR, Chiranjeevi, Rajanikanth or Rajkumar are anything less than perfect or that they have any human flaws and frailties.

5. As a secular nation we respect our minorities and shall not allow movies such as The Da Vinci Code which sully Jesus Christ. The fact that these movies are allowed in the Christian majority west has no bearing upon our action. However books on which these movies are based may continue to be published as Indians by and large do not read books.

By the way we will also not allow any work of art maligning Hindu Gods and Godesses.

Any person or organization that indulges in the above acts should be ready to be picketed, beaten up, have their faces blackened, houses and shops burned etc.

However we will not be offended by:-

1. Women getting molested on the streets. These women wear skimpy clothes and venture out at unsafe hours and hence not falling within our definition of “good” women or Goddesses do not warrant any outrage.

2. Mass riots such as those in Gujarat in 2002, the Mumbai riots of 1992-93 or the anti Sikh riots of 1984 as in a multi cultural, multi religious society like ours some small incidents of friction are bound to happen from time to time.

3. Encounter killings by the police

4. People defecating on roads and in public places. India has too many people you see and is a poor country.

5. Violence in any state against inhabitants of another state because of course as Free Indians we have the rights to be citizens of our state before being citizens of our country.

From The Indian who is seen and heard and hence who matters……..

We are supposedly the largest most populous democracy in the world, a fact our leaders never forget to mention of Independence Day, Republic Day and at the United Nations. However we seem to have forgotten what democracy means and we do not seem to be in any imminent danger of remembering anytime in the near future.

George Bernard Shaw once said of democracy that, “Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.” However we Indians do not read Shaw. We would do well to do so as well as another person who said "The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment."

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Copycats and angry directors

Recently watched Dus Kahaniyan which is to put it politely not worth writing about or wasting time watching. Around the same time I also read this interview by one of the many (mis) directors and producer Mr. Sanjay Gupta who was a very angry man.

In his own words

“At a time when everyone is ripping off films, I'm still being called a 'DVD director'! Every story in DK is original. The other day I met people from an awards jury who told me they couldn't give my "Zinda" any awards because it was a remake of a Korean film. What are some of the recent Yash Raj Films?”

Q: You sound bitter.
A: I've every right to be……..Just because I don't come from a filmy background I'm given a raw deal. I've been attacked for no reason. All I do is make my films. And I'm having a blast. If today I'm called successful, my success lies in being able to make offbeat films like "Pankh", "Great Indian Butterfly" and "Dus Kahaniyaan".”

A very angry (not so) young man indeed. Err but what was the reason for the anger here?? In all fairness I think of Guptajee’s filmography and my stream of consciousness thoughts runs thus….

1) Debut movie - Aatish - a lift from John Woo’s breakthrough classic (and one of the best Hong Kong gangster flicks, your taste is undeniable) A Better Tomorrow…..
2) Biggest hit Kaante is all Reservoir Dogs except for the first 20 minutes which are very precisely lifted from The Usual Suspects. (To be fair you did not savage either Reservoir Dogs or the Usual Suspects the way Vivek Agnihotri did to the latter in Chocolate, but then a more precise job of wringing out every bit of style, substance and logic out of a great movie and finding finance for producing what is left is not a gift given to everyone),
3) Musafir is copied from Oliver Stone’s U Turn (it is probably his worst movie but still better than any of yours)
4) Ram Shastra – Hard to Kill (I think I am one of the very few people to have seen it so you cannot call me prejudiced sir, I am a dedicated consumer of your products)
5) Zinda – supposedly a scene to scent copy of the Korean Oldboy, whose DVD I have been unable to lay hands on (don’t have your contacts sir you see)
6) Hamesha – hmm slightly difficult because rebirth stories essentially have the same story. I am prepared to acknowledge a slight setback here
7) Khauff – This disappeared from the theatres so fast that I really could not catch it there, not that I wanted to and well I haven’t seen it entirely on cable either but the plot from what I little I saw is like The Juror. But I haven’t seen this so I pass.
8) Have I covered everything – I check IMDB just to be sure and surprise surprise, you also directed Jung. That’s Desperate Measures alright…

So, well the score reads 6 to the chaps who call u DVD director or whatever and 2 no results. Leading to the point that what are you really complaining about man? That other people also have access to DVD’s? Or is it that they do not consider your subtle changes as transforming the flick into an original?

Coming to the topic of changes I think one example should rest the issue. Towards the climax of A Better Tomorrow Chow Yun Fat and the lead chap whose name I forget (basically Aditya Panscholi and Sanjay Dutt) are in a church when lead chap asks Chow “Do you believe in God?” Chow with the trademark cigarette dangling from his face gives a piercing stare, the trademark John Woo pigeons fly around, and he says “Sure I believe in God, I am God, any person who believes in himself is God.” Cool… In your version everything goes as per script till Aditya opens his mouth to answer “Tu mera bhagwan hai Baba (that’s Sanjay), mera dost mera bhagwan hai.” Both wipe tearful eyes and hug with an understandably embarrassed Sanjay muttering “Kya bol raha hai yaar.” Should we talk about inspiration…sorry Sanjay ji inspiration is not a word for this.

So save the anger man and rent a DVD….

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Roman History

Just finished reading a book about Rome, rather the Roman Empire and the whole experience has fused all my past knowledge of the Roman empire(literary and cinematic) to create a collage of Roman history in my mind, something like pasting lots of news snippets on a storyboard and creating a tale from those snippets using your imagination to fill the gaps. It may not make you knowledgeable but its fun.

The book is called Imperium by Robert Harris (who is currently my favourite thriller writer, more about his work some other day), and is about a lawyer called Marcus Cicero and his career in Roman politics. Well then in Rome one rose in politics only if you were from an aristocratic family or had lots of money (you will note things haven’t changed much in 2000 + years) but Cicero having no assets except the gift of the gab and an overwhelming ambition (also pretty good resources, mind you) still tried to fight his way up the ladder. Now while the story was definitely very fascinating, fast paced, what made it neater for me were all the characters I had read about earlier or seen in movies who kept popping up for special appearances. There was Crassus (from Kubrik’s Spartacus) and Spartacus himself is mentioned as well as Pompey the great and Julius Caesar before he became the Julius Caesar. And like today, politics had no permanent friends or enemies, everyone is full of deception (the wheels within wheels kind) and continually tries to outplay everyone else.

I love that Roman history has so much drama (beating any soap opera hands down) that it all almost seems unreal. Now I have read a bit about the Roman era, from Robert Graves’ ‘I Claudius’, which is about the Roman era from the reign of Augustus, Tiberus and the very (in)famous Caligula followed by the crowning of Claudius himself, and its inferior sequel, Claudius the God and the very scholarly ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’. Through all of them I have liberally dropped my jaw in disbelief as to whether all this actually happened, though I loved them all.

So I was quite stunned yet again when the notes at the end of the novel mentioned that all the events actually happened and there was no liberal garnishing of fiction into the storyline with real characters thrown in for effect. So when I wikipediaed and found that not only did the entire Cicero story (more or less) actually happen but what happened to Cicero after this book ends is 10 times more dramatic than the book, I dropped my jaw again albeit for the opposite reason. This is possibly the only time in life I will actually be very disappointed and pissed if there isn’t a sequel. Now how many books can you say that about?