Why Chetan Bhagat shouldn’t speak for Indian Muslims


Though written in the voice of an Indian Muslim, the author’s take is in fact the standard response of the textbook majoritarian

Prayaag Akbar Mail Me
First Published: Mon, Jul 01 2013.T
Jama Masjid during Ramzaan. Chetan Bhagat postitions himself as a young Indian Muslim angry at his exclusion from the mainstream capitalist, neoliberal project. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Jama Masjid during Ramzaan. Chetan Bhagat postitions himself as a young Indian Muslim angry at his exclusion from the mainstream capitalist, neoliberal project. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Updated: Mon, Jul 01 2013. 04 28 PM IST
Chetan Bhagat, ever the well-meaning bull in a china shop, wrote this weekend about the Indian Muslim. In his regular Times of Indiacolumn (in a piece headlined “Letter from an Indian Muslim Youth”), Bhagat appropriates the voice of—he doesn’t specify this, but it is easily surmised from the tone and content of the letter—a young Indian Muslim angry at his exclusion from the mainstream capitalist, neoliberal project. The piece is predictably disappointing in its understanding of the Muslim experience in India, but let us put that aside for the moment and discuss first this assumption of voice.
In India, we are perhaps overly protective of identity groupings. If a debate arises over the actions of a religious or caste group, or over the legacy of a historical figure, fear of giving offence sometimes leads to submission to loud voices instead of the safeguarding of freedom of information and thought. It is precisely this kind of criticism that Bhagat seeks to preempt when he writes, with splendid crudity, “I don’t have a name like Ahmed or Saeed or Mirza, anything that will clearly establish me as a Muslim.” Bhagat is saying, I am not a Muslim, so what? But what he is doing is actually pretty sneaky: His disclaimer is in fact a way of positioning himself, to the great majority of his audience, as someone qualified to write on this subject. The understanding he hopes to transmit to his reader through his mea culpa is that he should still be allowed to speak for the entirety of the Muslim population in India.
There are two problems with this. First, while anyone should be encouraged to produce scholarship and analysis about communities or historical figures, Bhagat’s casual ownership of the voice of 150 million people is patently not that. Second: It is precisely because I am an Indian and a Muslim that I would never dare to speak for all of us. I see the great variance in outlook, experience and especially opportunity that exists even within my own family. I compare my own privilege with the rest of Muslim India. I can understand why my views on the publication of The Satanic Verses might differ from a man or woman with a greater love for religious scripture. I cannot claim to speak for the lot of us.
Bhagat does not suffer such inadequacies. He drops, somewhat confusingly, the Indian Muslim voice for a moment to explain that he is an author of fiction, which means he might well be making fabrications—he leaves that to you, dear reader, to decide. This is another artless pretence, as if fiction writers are regularly permitted to write abject nonsense in op-eds—they are not, and certainly should not be allowed to in the future, millions of adoring readers or not.
Bhagat has a canny perceptiveness that sometimes serves him well. He has identified a major problem with the political experience of Indian Muslims, which is the capture of a great deal of the community’s vote by political parties who play the “secular card” without offering much else, especially quantifiable economic and political benefit.
This is a point that has been made numerous times. Where most differ is in the solution to this problem. Bhagat’s solution, though written in the voice of an Indian Muslim, is in fact the standard response of the textbook majoritarian, steeped in its favourite imagery (maulvis make an appearance in the first paragraph, skullcaps in the fourth) and couched in its favoured paternalist idiom.
What Bhagat is doing here is talking not as the Indian Muslim but to the Indian Muslim. His argument is basically a well-tuned representation of the argument Hindu nationalism has with Indian Muslims. As he points out first: “There is no shortage of Muslim achievers. There are Muslim stars in almost every field.” I imagine he means Shah Rukh Khan and Zaheer Khan and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and others like them. The implication here is that the success of some from the community is indication that any Muslim “with a modern outlook and a desire to come up [sic] in life” should be able to achieve identical success. What seems like a neurotic celebration of Muslim achievement is in fact a stick that is used to beat the rest of the community with: Look what those people have managed to do in India. Why can’t you do the same? Bhagat fails to see, or perhaps understand, the forms religious discrimination can take; there is scant acknowledgment that it even exists in India.
His cloying condescension is hard to take: “We don’t need it as a handout. We are willing to work hard for it.” Again, his implication adheres to that hoary Hindutva chestnut: that the experience of Muslims in India has been of the “secular” state apportioning handouts and freebies that the community has unthinkingly grasped at. Someone should perhaps explain to Bhagat that Muslims have worked as hard as any other community before and since independence; that, as the Sachar Committee Report showed, it is the state that has, in fact, failed to provide service and opportunity for such a substantial number of its people.
What Bhagat will not admit is that this piece is the latest in his sporadic series in support of Gujarat’s chief minister Narendra Modi and the bring-BJP-to-power-2014 effort. His argument is with the “secular” parties, the Congress and regional parties that garner Muslim votes, like the Samajwadi Party or Trinamool Congress. There is merit in this argument, as these parties’ abysmal record with Muslim communities, and their pandering to the most regressive elements within these communities, has proved. But—and this is only my suspicion—I wonder if his desire is the uplift of the long-marginalized Muslim community, or if this piece is a roundabout expression of his vexation with a religious group that he believes might well keep his favoured party and candidate out.
Years ago, I went to Madhya Pradesh to report on the last assembly elections there, a battle between the Congress and the incumbent BJP. I was fresh out of college and very indignant about the nature of minority politics in India. I was sitting, on one of my first days there, in a Muslim neighbourhood in Bhopal, talking to a group of young men. I asked them what the BJP had done for them.
“Nothing.”
I asked what the Congress had done for them.
“Nothing.”
I became excited. “Don’t you see,” I said, “why there is no difference between them? Neither of them do anything for you. Why should you think one is better than the other?”
One of the men, a taxi driver, said there was a difference. “It’s a personal thing. You know when the BJP is in power, these gangs, they can come to our mohalla, they can start a fight, break or burn something. We can’t respond. We go to the police, they won’t file a case. I suppose it’s a question of safety.”
I hadn’t used that exchange in my journalism until I wrote this response today. It was this man’s belief, and visceral as it was, it was unfair to the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government, which had a good record in these matters. But that man opened my eyes about two things. That I, from the elite, had a substantively different experience of my country than any disprivileged Indian, Hindu or Muslim. And that I should never presume to lecture people about the political choices they make. For the poor especially, the vote is their one connection with their political environment, with the factors and decisions that will shape their lives. They do not make that choice without thought.
Prayaag Akbar is the associate editor, The Sunday Guardian.

 

URGENT: A Letter from Indian Muslim Youth to #ChetanBhagat


JULY 1, 2013

If you agree with the following Text and wish to be one of the signatories of this letter, please send your signature (Name, Profession , City/State) at activist.journalist@gmail.com by 12 PM tomorrow (2nd July 13).

Dear Mr. Bhagat,

At the very outset, let us make it clear that we are not fans of your regressive fiction. Therefore, we write to you not as crazy fans but as Indian Muslim youth, who felt utterly patronized, insulted and hurt after reading your article, ‘Letter from an Indian Muslim Youth’ . You might have not realized this, but in pretending to render “a strong modern Indian Muslim voice’’ to the youth and the Muslim community at large, you have ripped them of their agency. You have reaffirmed stereotypes that many in the community have been fighting against. Heard of the Muslim god and his flock?

Sir, one does not need a name like Ahmed or Saeed or Mirza, or even be a Muslim to show one’s genuine concern for the community. One just needs to see beyond one’s own prejudice and biases. Believe us, this disgusting piece of your writing made us more nauseous than any of your (or Madhu Kishwar’s) love-verses to Modi. Your article is nothing but an extension of the thought process that anything Muslim is backward and regressive. Since you have assigned to yourself the task of bearing the moral burden of the community, would you care to explain what a ‘Muslim cap’ is?

We agree with you when you say political leaders make promises that go empty post elections. And that there are Muslims who have achieved much without any ‘’cap-wearing politician’’ helping them. But who is this leader that you are suggesting; one who would understand ‘’the desire’’ of the Muslim youth ‘’to come up in life’’ and ‘’inspire us to do better’’? Is it by any chance the mass murderer, Narendra Modi?

You know what hurts? That people pretend to care for you when they don’t. When in fact they use you to grind their own axe. How cleverly you turn everything that the Muslim youth face today – “being frisked with greater attentiveness, denied renting an apartment” – into a product of the community’s inherent backwardness, as if it bears no relation to the increasing communalization of our polity and society.

What makes you think that the ‘cap’ wallahs exercise a great deal of influence within the community? Interestingly, one particular party has been lately seeking a lot of photo-ops with precisely these kinds of community leaders. Make no mistake Mr. Writer. They don’t.

“Because of you”, you write castigating an imagined Muslim leadership, “people feel we vote in a herd.” Now, isn’t that really clever, Mr. Bhagat. People feel we vote in a herd because certain parties never tire of screaming hoarse about ‘minority appeasement’ and ‘vote banks’, even though, any psephologist or political scientist, or even an ordinary Muslim youth at Chai dukaan will tell you that Muslims vote just like any other community does: according to a mix of factors: local, national but above all, keeping in mind who will preserve their interests best. And their interests do tend to include the safety of life and livelihood.

We are sorry, Mr. Bhagat, but the ‘’democratic republic’’ you talk of is not so democratic. If it were so, Afzal Guru wouldn’t have been executed to ‘’satisfy the collective conscience of the nation’’. Muslim youth would not have fallen prey to minority witch-hunting, and their killers not decorated with gallantry awards. Adivasis in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa would not have been ripped of their fundamental rights to live with dignity. Dalit poets would not have been falsely charged under sedition laws.
Loving one’s nation is well and good, but being blinded by patriotism is not. Why do Indian Muslims always have to prove their allegiance to India? Why can’t they also be critical of their country?

The party whose path you are treading has had Indian Muslims pass through too many Sita-like ordeals of fire, Agni Pariksha. You may have the privilege to turn a blind eye to the post-Babri Masjid Demolition violence, the Gujarat pogrom, but many others don’t. How then do you think a leader who doesn’t even have the integrity to apologize for his complicity in the Gujarat pogrom represent Muslim youth’s aspirations for ‘’scientific way of thinking, entrepreneurship, empowerment, progress’’ and above all, ‘’personal freedoms’’? And just by the way, have you heard of the word, ‘Justice’?

Sd/-
Name Profession City (State)
1. Rafiul Alom Rahman, Student, Delhi University, Delhi
2. Mahtab Alam, Civil Rights Activist and Journalist, Delhi
3. Javid Parsa, Student, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad
4. Zulaikha Jabeen, Researcher and Activist, Raipur, Chhattisgarh
5. Shahnawaz Malik, Journalist, Delhi
6. Abdullah A Rahman, Student, TISS Tuljapur
7. Abu Zafar, Journalist, Delhi
8. Mahtab Azad, Development Consultant, Araria (Bihar)
9. Ali Amir, Student, TISS Mumbai
10. Gauhar Iqbal, Eauntropneur, Delhi

#India – Five steps to becoming a successful spot-fixer !


 Firstpost

Rajyasree Sen

I’m neither Chetan Bhagat, nor am I Hansie Cronje, but here’s my five-point plan on how to be a successful spot-fixer and not get caught.
1. Communication is key.  What is with this Chandila and Chawan? Who discusses which ball you’re going to drop over the hotel phone? Buy an iPhone and Face Time with each other.
Not only will nobody be able to track your scheming conversations, you’ll also get to see each other’s cheating faces. It’s also way more cosy than those strange stilted chats. Did Rajat Gupta and Rajaratnam not teach you anything? Oh sorry, to learn anything from them you’d need to read the newspapers and do something beyond throwing lavish parties.

Sreesanth and his cronies' spot-fixing modus operandi leaves a lot to be desired! AFP

Sreesanth and his cronies’ spot-fixing modus operandi leaves a lot to be desired! AFP

2. Diaries are a no-no.  If you must record what payments are going to come your way and keep accounts, must you use a diary? That too, one with bilingual entries. Get with the times. Start a fake Gmail id. With that id, create a Google doc. Use these Google docs to tabulate and record your earnings. Basically, keep it simple because you’re stupid.

3What kind of idiot deposits money from illegal transactions in his bank? Frankly, if you do that you should be jailed. For being an imbecile.  Instead, use the cash – since it’s hardly a fortune by cricketing standards or even by Delhi-standards – to make ticket/hotel/clothes purchases. Spend the cash, you fool. Don’t collect it for a rainy day.
And definitely don’t collect it in your own bank account. Or ask for payment in cash. Maybe a gold brick? It is Sunil Dubai after all. His bathroom must be lined with gold bricks. Or tell them to send diamond earrings for your mum.  Nothing says “I care” as much as gifts from the Dubai underworld. Be creative. It’s not that difficult.
4. Don’t forget to signal the bookie. Now this is of key importance. Even if your IQ is 25 or running in single figures, signal your bookie that you’re going to drop that over. What’s the point of giving 14 runs on an over, if no one pays you for it?  And forget no one paying for it, because you’re a super imbecile and have struck an idiot deal, you end up paying the bookie. Doesn’t that just make you feel like an arse? Do you really want someone called Sunil Dubai to be mocking you at his next spot-fixer’s reunion party? The answer is, no. So keep a beeper on your watch which reminds ye-of-little-brain of the fact that big brother is watching and you have to twist that wristband now.
5. Grow some balls. At least hold your own for more than 30 minutes before singing like a canary. Nobody likes a crook who gives up so easily. And keep in mind, this is the Delhi police. Not known for their great investigative skills.  Sulking, bawling and then spilling the beans are recipes for disaster. Not only is your cricketing career over, you’re not going to win any brownie points with your fixer friends.
Take a leaf out of Monica Bedi’s book. She stuck to her guns and kept repeating that she didn’t know anything about Abu Salem’s dealings. If you do that, even you’ll get to dance inNach Baliye. Nobody likes a crybaby. Really.

 

Narendra Modi’s supporters should stop using #FOS argument because they don’t understand it


It’s the Great Wharton Dustup

 

English: Image of Narendra Modi at the World E...

 

Dilip D’Souza, HT. March  7, 2013

 

A few themes emerge, if confused, from recent happenings at Wharton: freedom of expression, a possible insult to the nation, horrible regimes that the US is friends with. All worth addressing.

 

The insult, first. I accept that Narendra Modi feels injured by Wharton’s action. After all, how many of us get the chance to address some of the brightest business students in the world? Modi must have been looking forward to that. No doubt it came as a slap in his face that Wharton was persuaded to take back its invitation.

 

But let’s understand: it’s no slap in my face. The world over, institutions issue invitations, withdraw some, confer awards, annul some, and so on. They have their reasons, some of which I may agree with and some I may not, most of which I am not even aware of. (Why, for example, did Saginaw State University award BS Yeddyurappa an honorary doctorate in 2008?). I feel no particular emotion about any of these events: they just happen, that’s all. Just because a fellow-Indian, even a fellow-Indian named Narendra Modi, feels insulted by one of them hardly means that I feel or should feel the same.

 

Though I realise Modi has long learned the value of labelling criticism of him as insults to Gujarat’s “asmita”. For a decade we’ve seen him do it to any questions about the massacres of 2002, reaping the electoral rewards such rhetoric is designed for. Now that he nurses wider political dreams, the labelling gets correspondingly wider too: it’s not just Gujarat, but, as the Shiv Sena’s Suresh Prabhu announced, “Wharton has insulted India.” Look, Mr Prabhu, I’m Indian and I’m not insulted. Please don’t presume to speak for me.

 

Regimes close to the US, next. Chetan Bhagat summed this up with this comment: “Dear Wharton, the country you belong to routinely makes friends with dictators and military govts who used guns to be in power. Remember that.”

 

This is so shaky an argument that it’s a wonder someone as erudite as Bhagat even tries to make it. For one thing, Wharton is a thoroughly private, independent institution that has nothing to do with its country’s government. For another, that country also makes friends with democracies. So?

 

But above all, let’s understand what this argument amounts to: “So you say Modi did these horrible things? What about your pals in country X, Y and Z? They did equally bad, maybe worse things!”

 

Note that there isn’t, as you might expect, an emphatic claim here that Modi did not do horrible things. There is merely fingerpointing in different directions. Thus what this argument boils down to is an implicit acceptance (“equally bad”) of exactly the criticism of Modi that got his invitation withdrawn. Point made: by Bhagat, no less, and no doubt plenty more Modi supporters.

 

And finally, freedom of expression. The extent to which this straightforward concept is misunderstood always mystifies me. What it means is, I’m free to express myself, just as you are and just as Modi is.

 

But let’s understand: so are those who don’t want to hear Modi. Here’s the absolute essence of free expression: views we find annoying or offensive enjoy just the same freedoms our own views do. Presumably there were people who wanted to hear Modi, and they asked the Wharton organisers to invite him. In just the same way, there were people who didn’t want to hear him, and they asked the Wharton organisers to withdraw the invitation. Freedom of expression applies equally to both those groups.

 

Of course it left Wharton with a dilemma, but that’s what freedoms can and must do, when strictly upheld. They are never easy to enforce, because they will invariably displease someone. That Wharton chooses to come down on one side of the dilemma is, by itself, no indictment of free expression. After all, Modi gave a talk at Delhi’s Shri Ram College of Commerce not long ago. That time too, those who did not want to hear him protested. Did Modi’s supporters mourn any trampling of free expression then? No, because their man actually spoke. But SRCC’s choice of the other side of the same dilemma is also, by itself, no indictment of free expression.

 

If Modi’s supporters want to persuade the country that he should be PM, that’s fine with me. But let’s see them use reason and some logic, not handwaving about insults and freedoms they don’t understand.

 

Dilip D’Souza is a Mumbai-based writer

 

 

 

#India- The Power of Shame #delhigangrape #Vaw


 

December 31, 2012, sarai.net

 

By Saroj Giri

‘National shame’, lajja – this is the sentiment most Indians feel, now that the raped girl has died. The rape has so far been essentially portrayed as a heinous but aberrant crime, a deviant behavior which apparently did not follow from the kind of society we inhabit. So, why should we, the entire society, feel the shame? This only means that shame has burst through exposing all the denials and attempts to contain the enormity of the problem and just make it a case requiring strong laws. Shame has come upon Indian society in spite of itself. Society as a whole stands implicated – this is what the sentiment of shame entails.

Shame, said Marx, is a revolutionary sentiment. Shame is introspective, loosens the inner resistance one can put up against looking into oneself. Now Indians might be willing to look into their society, their family, their institutions, their day to day life, their values, their civilization, their ethos, their human relations – and locate the recesses of patriarchal domination in them all. Indian society today, that real society where violence against women is normal, almost casual, and where love towards women is deeply patriarchal, seems to have loosened itself up a bit. It appears far less confident about its claims, its self-lauding proclamations. Its defences are down – a rare occasion. It is caught offguard today. It cannot act as though violence against women is only an external problem, exceptional and a deviation from ‘our’ social norms.

When Frantz Fanon revealed the horrors of French colonialism, Sartre pointed out that the French, even the liberal and humane ones, should feel shame. Feel ashamed. Similarly instead of pointing the fingers to this or that minister or the police or some such particular agency or authority as responsible for rape, society should open itself up for introspection. What will be revealed is simple: an out and out patriarchal society, male domination and female subjugation.

This shame has forced a realization even in the mainstream media. Here is the Times of India: “The Delhi gang-rape victim succumbed to her injuries at a Singapore hospital on Saturday morning. The death of 23-year-old Nirbhaya (a name given to her by TOI) not only leaves us sad and heightens our sense of outrage, but also makes it important for all of us to focus now on the real reason behind her agony — the lack of respect for women in our patriarchal society” (Dec 30, 2012).

‘Lack of respect for women’, ‘patriarchal society’ – the right noises are being made. The right noises are being heard. From this ‘real reason’ of course the media being media goes on to suggest that people take a pledge to individually refrain from engaging in violence against women. There is a problem here. For this ‘pledge thing’ again tries to turn the focus away from the internal power relations that constitute this society, the relations of domination through which most men relate to women in this society.

So people are introspecting. They are on their own making all the connections – putting two and two together. They seem to be secretly sensing that the capital punishment and death to the rapists will only serve to shield society, cover up its true character. ‘India’s daughter’ precipitated a process where the accusing finger can also slowly turn towards ‘India’. Every family, every bastion of patriarchy, every woman within the family, every ‘victim’ of patriarchy, is following ‘the news’ – and getting inspired to raise new questions and not just provide ready solutions about ‘preventing rape’.

‘India Rising’
So the question: will shame be the signage, the starting point for the movement against patriarchy? Or will it be, in the name of ‘fighting rape’, another addition to the Indian nation’s list of ‘fighting untouchability’, ‘fighting poverty’, ‘fighting communalism’.

Indeed ‘fighting rape’ might, I fear, soon enter the lexicon of the ‘tough administrator’ Narendra Modi vying to be Prime Minister. In surmising this I thought I was only being a slightly paranoid leftie – till I saw some placards at the protests.
Stop Sexual Terrorism, it said. Rape as sexual terrorism, like a bomb blast! Rape is here externalized, like terrorism from across the borders, an evil enemy which attacks your good society.

I can already hear those like Chetan Bhagat saying how this is ‘new India rising’ – how the youth are not willing to take all this lax laws and all this disruption of life in a decent society, this kind of barbaric treatment of our upwardly mobile women. ‘New India’, ‘India Rising’, by invoking the hyperbole of capital punishment against rape, secretly reinscribes the myth of an essentially good society – ‘Indian values’. After anti-corruption, is ‘fighting rape’ the new cause of the self-righteous, self-aggrandising upper middle classes? This moment of shame will provide the long overdue antidote to the self-righteous middle classes and at least lessen their confidence and aggression, slow them down.

The initial outrage

The protests however were initially not in a mood to feel this shame, not in a mood to introspect. They started off dominated by the feeling of outrage.
Outrage has a target – Shiela Dixit, the Home Minister, Delhi Police, private bus operators. It functions with an accusing finger towards something external. It is essentially non-introspective. To start with, the protests against rape had this basic tendency to regard rape as having nothing to do with the patriarchal power relations that constitute society. Instead rape is located in something external, external to an essentially good society – it is a deviation, a crime, a criminal act to be explained by say the rapist’s ‘psychology’ but not by the tissue of social relations. Rape as a result of a criminal and sick mindset rather than what would follow from the gendered power relations that constitute this society we inhabit.

So the ‘prevention of rape’ does not involve transformation of society. It can be achieved by delegating responsibility to an authority which stands at a remove from society. So ministers and police must fix this problem for the smooth functioning of this society. This delegation meant exoneration of society, of precisely that society where patriarchy is felt and sensed every moment. Rendering this society invisible! To achieve this feat, it had to generate its own histrionics, high drama, extreme emotions, extreme everything – the smokescreen of ‘death to the rapists’. ‘Hang the rapists’ and leave society as it is – this is the motto. The mythical good society must be left unquestioned.

So here violence against women is not always already happening, not already foretold. It ‘takes place’. It is an incident – when, where, who. This is the way violence against women is rendered contingent, exceptional, forever an aberration – it just so happened. It took place on that night of Dec 16th 2012. It takes place every other day, or the same day some other place, or perhaps every hour – but each is a separate case. Each can be explained by referring to the ‘background’ of those individuals involved. ‘They were from the slum area’. The bus in which the girl was travelling did not have proper licenses. They were ‘those types’.

Society here sits as the judge and takes the moral high ground – it exonerates itself. What is rendered invisible is the thousand and one ways in which the rape and violence against women are mandated by ‘society’ – from female infanticide, to bride burning, to dowry deaths, to sexual harassment, to getting groped in the metro, to rape within marriage, to honour killings… The list is endless. Not just the violence – even the love and care reserved for women is laden with inscription of male power. The ideal wife, the ideal daughter, the respectable woman, adarsh bharatiya nari, the super mom – these are notions, tendencies and inclinations that constantly push women towards precarity, a lack of confidence, a fear, an anxiety. These are indeed sometimes more dangerous than the committed ‘crimes’.

So the outrage overlooked all of this. And yet this outrage gave way to shame. This shame might inspire a movement which could irrigate the veins and arteries of resistance against patriarchy in the street, in the family, in the bedroom. It might lead to social critique. It might allow women to go beyond merely fighting for basic safety and security. It might, indeed must, allow them to freely assert their powers and desires, their thoughts and their sexuality.

Today women are on the defensive, seeking to be the beneficiaries of protection accorded by an essentially male dominated society. This is extremely infantilizing. Even if this movement might succeed this might not change. In fact it might actively contribute to this infantalising – women might be ‘safe’ and infantilized. For example, if Delhi Police gets better in protecting women from sexual attacks then will women also be obliged to follow some of the ‘do’s and don’ts’ put up by the police? Will this enhance or lessen women’s agency?

Social evil?
So how will this shame be mobilized? Should feminists now work with the government to help make good laws? Feminists might proceed by laying the statistics of so many other kinds of violence against women: bride burning, dowry deaths, sexual harassment and so on. Feminists might provide the inputs to good policy formulation. But will these inputs only mean that in this era of targeted policy making, patriarchy would start getting ‘measured’ in terms of ‘affected groups’ or stake-holders and the benefits they should get? If we demand so much protection from the police, then will women also be obliged to abide by some of the rules ‘for your own safety’ that Delhi Police might frame?

 

Too many voices are calling for ‘strong laws and speedy justice’ to deter rapists, a call for a strong state. Perhaps a technocratic or security-centric solution is in the offing. If not this, another bad option that might impose itself is to adopt an approach of something like ‘the unfinished task of social reform’ carried over from the 19th century. So, like fighting sati, or widow remarriage, or untouchability, violence against women will be identified as a social evil. Yes it is a ‘social evil’. But is violence against women, like untouchability, a malignant growth in an otherwise healthy ‘social body’, as Gandhi would have it? Or is it intrinsic to the ‘social body’?

 

It is not to a cool and calm deliberation for policy formulation that this shame must lead to. What we need is a much more enriched rage, now carrying the moment of shame, of social critique. The narrow focus of the rage – ministers, police, strong laws – must now give way to taking account of how this rage must also be directed against the manner in which rape and violence against women is routinely deployed by none other than the state itself. Just check out the reports coming from the North East, in Kashmir and elsewhere. Or the rape of over 30 women by the Rajasthan Rifles in Kunan Poshpora. Or the gruesome rape and murder of Dalit women in Khairlanji. This list is very long. These are neither the result of an exception, bad policing nor a social evil. It is instead a well calculated strategy to inscribe the power of the state through patriarchal violence.

Sunday Reading–Who’s afraid of Saadat Hasan Manto?


The Union of India is eager to embrace the great writer, whose 100th birthday falls on this week, as one of its own. But how would Manto have looked at India had he stayed on? By Garga Chatterjee


15 224 

The left-wing student organization I belonged to in my college days in Kolkata used to have a poster exhibition every year. This exhibition has begun to take place every year after the 1992 demolition of the Babri structure. One of them had those memorable words calligraphied red-black in a typical Bengali left-wing style – “The child noticed the coagulated blood on the road, pulled at his mother’s sleeve and said, ‘Look, ma, jelly’.” That, I discovered, was a fragment of a very short ‘story’; and to read the rest, I had to go to Manto.

Why did he leave Bombay? India would have been so much of a ‘natural’ home for him, they say

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There is a lot of hushed and not-so-hushed lamentation in this year of Saadat Hasan Manto‘s birth centenary. Why did he leave Bombay? India would have been so much of a ‘natural’ home for him, they say. Somewhere between pronunciations such as these, so characteristic of the self-congratulatory strain of elite public-secularism and a second-hand appreciation of Manto’s raw exposition of the chasm between our private and public lives, somewhere between those things lies the attitude with which we in India look at Manto. The Anglicized literati and their patron, the Indian Union, wants to own Saadat Hasan Manto. They are masters at making cages for living writers – some gilded, others iron-made. Some cages become sarkari mausoleums after the writer’s death. Zoo tigers do not bite, generally. Clearly, the enthusiasm of some folks on this side of owning Manto comes from a hope that sooner or later, a suitably golden cage could be made for him in the Union of India, for us to cheer and clap at. But I am not so sure.

The Anglicized literati of India want to own Saadat Hasan Manto. They are masters at making cages for living writers

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Today, in Delhi and other places, Manto is dramatized, commemorated, written and read, largely in English. Urdu’s currency as one of the pervasive languages of the common public sphere (and not ‘qaumi’ affairs) of the Upper Gangetic plain has seen progressive ruin. Read primarily in English, would Manto resign himself to having a smaller following than, say, Chetan Bhagat? Would Manto have loved this loss of readership, would he have wanted to be primarily remembered for getting a Filmfare award for “lifetime achievement” in writing stories for Hindi movies? I am not so sure. He might have written about the gosht the Union would serve up, not only mazhabi gosht, but gosht from a thousand faultlines. He might have written about the garam gosht cooked up in Delhi in 1984, when Sikhs were massacred on that city’s streets, or about the gosht of Muslims burned and killed in Ahmedabad in 2002, if he lived to be 90 years old. Would he, a “Muslim” writer in our times, not be accused of writing only against “Hindu” violence? I am not so sure. He certainly would have written about a lot of gosht served up in East Pakistan in 1971. He certainly wouldn’t have had a postage stamp of the kind issued in 2005 with his image on it. Dying young has its benefits.

Read primarily in English, would Manto resign himself to having a smaller following than, say, Chetan Bhagat?

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He might have looked at the Saltoro range and the slow-killing heights of Siachen. He might have peered into that deathly whiteness, peered deep into it and among the frostbitten parts of the limbs would have located the new coordinates of Toba Tek Singh. Not content with “obscenity”, there might have been calls for him to be charged with sedition. That would have been true, irrespective of his leaving Bombay or not. He would have continued to write about the sensuality that permeates life in the Indian Subcontinent. Invariably, they would have intersected with more than one faith, belief and god(s), for they too pervade public life in the Union of India. Like Maqbul Fida Hussain, that sterling admirer of the goddess Durga who liberated her from the patently mid-19th century blouse-clad look, re-imagining the holy mother in her naked matriarchal glory, Manto’s run-ins with “public sensibilities” might just have been enough to eject him from Bombay. Almost surely, as it happened with MF Hussain, a robust on-the-ground counter to hate-mongerers would have been found wanting. Hardly being ‘Pak’, in the long run, perhaps he would have been easily pushed out of Pakistan also, where he “had only seen five or six times before as a British subject”.

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