Afzal Guru’s last letter to wife yet to reach her in Kashmir #humanrights


IANS | Feb 11, 2013, 08.07 PM IST

Afzal Guru's last letter to wife yet to reach her in Kashmir
Afzal Guru was hanged for his role on 2001 Parliament attack on February 9 at 8am in the Tihar Jail complex where he had lived in a solitary cell for many years.
NEW DELHI: Hours before he was to be executed, Afzal Guru penned his last letter to his wife, Tihar Jail officials said on Monday. The letter, written in Urdu, was posted on Saturday but is yet to reach his wife in Kashmir.

Speaking to IANS, officials at Tihar jail said that Afzal Guru, convicted for his role in the 2001 Parliament attack, was told on February 8 evening that he would be hanged the next morning.

“When he was told about his execution, he was cool and calm. He just expressed his wish that he wants to write a letter to his wife. The jail superintendent gave him a pen and paper,” an official told IANS under condition of anonymity.

“He wrote the letter in Urdu, which was posted to his family in Kashmir on the same day,” the official said. However, when IANS contacted the family, who live in Sopore, they said they are yet to receive it.

“We haven’t received this letter. Maybe like the letter that we got today about his hanging, we will get it later,” Yaseen Guru, Afzal’s cousin, told IANS on phone.

Afzal Guru was hanged on February 9 at 8am in the Tihar Jail complex where he had lived in a solitary cell for many years.

His family has demanded that they be allowed to conduct his last rites.

“The government will take a decision in this regard,” another official told IANS.

Afzal Guru, who used to spend his time in the jail by reading and writing, has left behind many books and hand-written articles.

The family has asked the jail authorities that all his belongings should be returned to them.

“The government will have to take a decision on this issue,” the official added.

 

In Tihar, officials feel ‘tinge of sorrow’ #Afzalguru #deathpenalty


10 February 2013 , By Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar , tehelka

‘Al vida’, said Afzal Guru to his executioner, who had himself bid him good bye with the same words a few seconds earlier. And then as the executioner pulled a lever, Afzal’s frame hung from the gallows.

“He was dead in a minute, though”, as per the jail norms, the body was kept hanging for a full half hour, said an official who witnessed the hanging. Thereafter Afzal’s body was taken down from the gallows and buried with full religious rites near Jail No. 3, right next to the grave of Kashmiri separatist Maqbool Butt who too was hanged in Tihar.

“But there is a difference between the two. While Butt was a separatist leader, Afzal never spoke about secession of Kashmir from India. In fact, he used to tell us that he had been unnecessarily dragged into this. In fact, he actually believed in ridding India of corruption,” the official added. He spoke to The Hindu on condition he not be identified because he was not authorised to speak to the press.

While right-wing activists across the country celebrated Afzal’s execution, in the jail itself there was no celebration. Rather, the staff appeared glum. “He was a pious soul and was extremely well behaved. Even as he was being taken to the gallows, he greeted the jail staff he knew by their first names. The only thing he requested before the hanging was that ‘mujhay ummeed hai aap mujhay dard nahin karaogay’ (I hope you will not cause me pain). And he was assured by the executioner, who himself was overcome with emotion as he kept looking into his eyes as the black cloth was drawn over them, that it would be a smooth journey. And so it was.”

Contrary to some media reports, Afzal was told of his impending execution on the actual morning and not the previous evening.

“The only thing he had in the morning was a cup of tea. But that is because he was not offered any food. Otherwise, he was so normal that he would have had that too.” Initially Afzal was wearing a pheran, or Kashmiri gown. He later took bath and changed into a white kurta-pyjama and offered namaz.

“There have been about 25 executions in Tihar and senior officials [here] have witnessed the last 10, but never have they seen a man so calm and composed on learning the news of his impending death.”

In the last couple of hours of his life, Afzal had the company of some jail officials. And he narrated to them his thoughts about life and death. “He spoke of universal brotherhood and oneness of the mankind; how no human being is bad and how the soul in each one was a creation of the same God. He believed that if you moved on the path of truth, that was the biggest achievement.”

In fact, Afzal was so calm in the morning that he even penned down some of his thoughts, put the date and time on the paper and signed it.

When asked by the jail staff about his last thoughts of his family, on who would take care of them, Afzal said “it was God who looks after each one of us and so would be the case now”.

“His strength came from his spirituality. He was a learned man; as well versed in Islam as with Hinduism. Often, he would tell us about the similarities in the two religions. Some time ago he had read all the four Vedas. How many Hindus have actually done that? You normally rejoice at the end of evil, [but] when a pious soul goes away, it leaves behind a tinge of sorrow,” the official said.

Recalling, how all through Afzal was “joyful” as also “cool and calm”, the officials said in the past they have seen people shiver at being told about their being taken to the gallows. “But here it was just like what we had heard about people going to the gallows smiling.”

Another difference between Afzal and others who were executed for terrorist crimes terrorists, the official said, was that while almost all others had made religious or political cries before being hanged, Afzal just walked the last 100 steps from his cell to the gallows as he normally would and went away wishing those around him.

 

A rare interview of Afzal Guru in Tihar Jail – And I was condemned to death #deathpenalty #Kashmir


The media constantly played the tape.The police officers received awards.

Hear the other side too. In 2006, Vinod K. Jose met Afzal Guru inside Tihar jail for a rare interview. These are the edited excerpts…

Posted On Sunday, February 10, 2013 , Mumbai Mirror cover story

A rusted table, and behind it, a well-built man in uniform holding a spoon in his hand. Visitors, all of them looked habituated to the procedure, queued up to open their plastic bags containing food, allowing it to be smelled, sometimes even tasted. The security man’s spoon swam through curries thick with floating grease – malai kofta, shahi paneer, aalu baingan, and mixed vegetables.

As the visitors opened tiny bags of curries, the spoon separated each piece of vegetable from the other mechanically. After ‘frisking’ the food of a middle-aged woman, the spoon was dipped in water in a steel bowl nearby. It then moved to the plastic bags of the next person in the queue, a boy in his early teens.

By this time, the water in the steel bowl had acquired all kinds of colours, the floating oil setting off rainbow hues in the light of the winter afternoon.

Around 4.30 pm, it was my turn. The man left the spoon on the table and frisked my body, top to bottom, thrice, thoroughly. When the metal detector made a noise, I had to remove my belt, steel watch, and keys.

The man on duty bearing the badge of the Tamil Nadu Special Police (TSP) looked satisfied. I was allowed to enter now. This was the fourth security drill I had to go through to get into the High Risk Ward of Prison No. 3 in Tihar Central Prison. I was on my way to meet Mohammad Afzal, one of the most talked about men in contemporary times.

I entered a room with many tiny cubicles. Visitors and inmates were separated by a thick glass and iron grills. They were connected through microphones and speakers fixed on the wall. But the audibility was poor, and people on either sides of the glass strained their ears, touching them to the wall to listen to each other. Mohammad Afzal was already at the other side of the cubicle.

His face gave me an impression of unfathomable dignity and calmness. He was a slight, short man in his mid-thirties, wearing a white kurta-pyjama, with a Reynolds pen in his pocket. A very clear voice welcomed me with the utmost politeness.

“How are you, sir?”

I said I was fine. Was I to return the same question to a man on deathrow? I was apprehensive for a second, but I did. “Very fine. Thank you sir,” he answered with warmth. The conversation went on for close to an hour, and continued a fortnight later with a second mulakat. Both of us were in a hurry to answer and ask whatever we could in the time we had. I continuously scribbled in my tiny pocket book. He seemed to be a person who wanted to say a lot of things to the world. But he often reiterated his helplessness to reach people from the current stature of ‘condemned for life’. Excerpts of the interview.

There are so many contradicting images of Afzal. Which Afzal am I meeting? Is it? But as far as I’m concerned there is only one Afzal. That is me. Who is that Afzal?

(A moment’s silence.)

Afzal is a young, enthusiastic, intelligent, idealistic young man. Afzal, a Kashmiri influenced, like many thousands in the Kashmir Valley, in the political climate of early 1990s.

Who was a JKLF member and crossed over to the other side of Kashmir, but in a matter of weeks got disillusioned and came back and tried to live a normal life, but was never allowed to do so by the security agencies, who inordinate times picked me up, tortured the pulp out of me, electrocuted me, dipped in petrol, smoked in chillies you name it.

And falsely implicated in a case, with no lawyer, no fair trial, finally condemned to death. The lies the police told was propagated by you in the media. And that perhaps created what the Supreme Court referred to as “collective conscience of the nation”. And to satisfy that “collective conscience”, I’m condemned to death. That is the Mohammad Afzal you are meeting.

(After a moment’s silence, he continued.)

But I wonder whether the outside world knows anything about this.

Can we begin with your life? Your life before the case…

It was a turbulent political period in Kashmir when I was growing up. Maqbool Bhatt was hanged. The situation was volatile. The people of Kashmir decided to fight an electoral battle once again to resolve the Kashmir issue through peaceful means. Muslim United Front (MUF) was formed to represent the sentiments of Kashmiri Muslims for the final settlement of the Kashmir issue.

Administration at Delhi was alarmed by the kind of support that MUF was gaining, and in the consequence, we saw rigging in the election on an unprecedented scale.

And the leaders who took part in the election and won by a huge majority were arrested, humiliated and put behind bars. It is only after this that the same leaders gave the call for armed resistance. In response, thousands of youth took to armed revolt. I dropped out from my MBBS studies in Jhelum Valley Medical College, Srinagar.

I was also one of those who crossed to the other side of Kashmir as a JKLF member, but was disillusioned after seeing Pakistani politicians acting the same as the Indian politicians in dealing with Kashmiris.

I returned after few weeks. I surrendered to the security forces, and you know, I was even given a BSF certificate as a surrendered militant. I began to start life anew. I could not become a doctor but I became a dealer of medicines and surgical instruments on commission basis. (Laughs.)

With the meagre income, I even bought a scooter and also got married. But never a day passed by without the scare of Rashtriya Rifles and STF men harassing me. If there was a militant attack somewhere in Kashmir, they would round up civilians, torture them to pulp. The situation was even worse for a surrendered militant like me. They detained us for several weeks, and threatened to implicate us in false cases and we were let free only if we paid huge bribes…

Once, I had to bribe the security men with all that I had to escape from the Humhama STF torture camp. DSP Vinay Gupta and DSP Davinder Singh supervised the torture. One of their torture experts, Inspector Shanti Singh, electrocuted me for three hours until I agreed to pay Rs 1 lakh as bribe. My wife sold her jewelry and for the remaining amount, they sold my scooter.

I left the camp broken, both financially and mentally. For six months I could not go outside home because my body was in such a bad shape. I could not even share the bed with my wife as my penile organ had been electrocuted. I had to take medical treatment to regain potency…

If you could come to the case, what were the incidents that led to the Parliament attack case?

After all the lessons I learned in STF camps, which is either you and your family members get harassed constantly for resisting, or cooperate with the STF blindly, I had hardly any options left, when DSP Davinder Singh asked me to do a small job for him. That is what he told, “a small job”. He told me that I had to take one man to Delhi.

I was supposed to find a rented house for him in Delhi. I was seeing the man first time, but since he did not speak Kashmiri, I suspected he was an outsider. He told his name was Mohammad (Mohammad is identified by the police as the man who led the five gunmen who attacked Parliament. All of them were killed by the security men in the attack).

When we were in Delhi, Mohammad and I used to get phone calls from Davinder Singh. I had also noticed that Mohammad used to visit many people in Delhi. After he purchased a car, he told me now I could go back and gave me Rs 35,000 saying it was a gift. And I left for Kashmir for Eid.

When I was about to leave to Sopore from Srinagar bus stand, I was arrested and taken to Parimpora police station. They tortured me and took me to STF headquarters, and from there brought me to Delhi.

In the torture chamber of the Delhi Police Special Cell, I told them everything I knew about Mohammad. But they insisted that I should say that my cousin Showkat, his wife Navjot, S A R Geelani and I were the people behind the Parliament attack.

They wanted me to say this convincingly in front of the media. I resisted. But I had no option than to yield when they told me my family was in their custody and threatened to kill them. I was made to sign many blank pages and was forced to talk to the media and claim responsibility for the attack by repeating what the police told me to say…

Rajbeer Singh allowed me to talk to my wife the next day. After the call, he told me if I wanted to see them alive I had to cooperate. Accepting the charges was the only option in front of me if I wanted to see my family alive, and the Special Cell officers promised they would make my case weak so I would be released after sometime. Then they took me to various places and showed me the markets where Mohammad had purchased different things. Thus they made the evidence for the case.

The police made me a scapegoat in order to mask their failure to find the mastermind of the Parliament attack. They have fooled the people. People still don’t know whose idea it was to attack Parliament. I was entrapped into the case by Special Task Force (STF) of Kashmir and implicated by the Delhi Police Special Cell.

The media constantly played the tape. The police officers received awards. And I was condemned to death.

Why didn’t you find legal defence?

I had no one to turn to. I did not even see my family until six months into the trial. And when I saw them, it was only for a short time in the Patiala House Court. There was no one to arrange a lawyer for me. As legal aid is a fundamental right in this country, I named four lawyers whom I wished to have defended me. But the judge, SN Dhingra, said all four refused to do the case.

The lawyer whom the court chose for me began by admitting some of the most crucial documents without even asking me what the truth of the matter was. She was not doing the job properly, and finally she moved to defend another fellow accused. Then the Court appointed an amicus curie, not to defend me, but to assist court in the matter. He never met me. And he was very hostile and communal. That is my case, completely unrepresented at the crucial trial stage.

What is the condition in jail?

I’m lodged in solitary confinement in the high risk cell. I’m taken out from my cell only for a short period during noon. No radio, no television. Even the newspaper I subscribe to reaches me torn. If there is a news item about me, they tear that portion apart and give me the rest.

Apart from the uncertainty about your future, what else concerns you the most?

…Global developments. I took to the news of the execution of Saddam Hussain with utmost sadness. Injustice, so openly and shamelessly done. Iraq, the land of Mesopotamia, the world’s richest civilisation, that taught us mathematics, to use a 60-minute clock, 24-hour day, 360-degree circle, is thrashed to dust by the Americans…

Which books are you reading now?

I finished reading Arundhati Roy. Now I’m reading Sartre’s work on existentialism. You see, it is a poor library in the jail. So I will have to request the visiting Society for the Protection of Detainees and Prisoners Rights (SPDPR) members for books.

There is a campaign in defence for you…

I am really moved and obliged by the thousands of people who came forward saying injustice is done to me. The lawyers, students, writers, intellectuals, and all those people are doing something great by speaking against injustice. The situation was such at the beginning, in 2001, and initial days of the case that it was impossible for justice-loving people to come forward.

When the High Court acquitted SAR Geelani, people started questioning the police theory. And when more and more people became aware of the case details and facts and started seeing things beyond the lies, they began speaking up.

Members of your family have conflicting opinions on your case?

My wife has been consistently saying that I was wrongly framed. She has seen how the STF tortured me and did not allow me to live a normal life. She also knew how they implicated me in the case. She wants me to see our son, Ghalib, growing up. I have also an elder brother who apparently is speaking against me under duress from the STF. It is unfortunate what he does, that’s what I can say.

See, it is a reality in Kashmir now, what you call the counter insurgency operations take any dirty shape – that they field brother against brother, neighbour against neighbour. You are breaking a society with your dirty tricks.

What comes to your mind when you think of your wife, Tabassum, and son, Ghalib?

This year is the tenth anniversary of our wedding. Over half that period I spent in jail. And prior to that, many a time I was detained and tortured by Indian security forces in Kashmir. Tabassum witnessed both my physical and mental wounds. Many times I returned from the torture camp, unable to stand, all kinds of torture… She gave me hope to live. We did not have a day of peaceful living. It is the story of many Kashmiri couples…

What do you want him to grow up as?

Professionally, if you are asking, a doctor. Because that is my incomplete dream. But most importantly, I want  him to grow without fear. I want him to speak against injustice. That I am sure he will be. Who else knows the story of injustice better than my wife and son?

(While Afzal continued talking about his wife and son, I could not help but recollect what Tabassum told me when I met her outside the Supreme Court in 2005, during the case’s appeal stage. While Afzal’s family members remained in Kashmir, Tabassum dared to come to Delhi with her son, Ghalib, to organise defence for Afzal.

Outside the Supreme Court New Lawyers chamber, at the tiny tea stall on the roadside, she chatted in detail about Afzal. While sipping and complaining about the excess sugar in the tea, she talked about how Afzal enjoyed cooking.

One picture she painted struck me. It was one of the few precious private moments in their lives: when Afzal would not allow her to enter the kitchen, but would make her sit on the chair nearby and he would cook, holding a book in one hand, a ladle in the other and read out stories for her.)

If I may ask you about the Kashmir issue, how do you think it can be solved?

First, let the government be sincere to the people of Kashmir. And let them initiate talk with the real representatives of Kashmir. Trust me, the real representatives of Kashmir can solve the problem. But if the government considers the peace process as a tactic of counter insurgency, then the issue is not going to be solved. It is time some sincerity is shown.

Who are the real people?

Find out from the sentiments of the people of Kashmir. I am not going to name x, y or z. And I have an appeal to the Indian media; stop acting as a propaganda tool. Let them report the truth. With their smartly worded and politically loaded news reports, they distort facts, make incomplete reports, build hardliners, terrorists et al. They easily fall for the games of the intelligence agencies…

Also, you tell me how are you going to develop real trust among Kashmiris when you send out the message that India has a justice system that hangs people without giving them a lawyer, without a fair trial?

Nine security men were killed in the Parliament attack. What is it that you have to tell their relatives?

In fact, I share the pain of the family members who lost their dear ones in the attack. But I feel sad that they are misled to believe that hanging an innocent person like me would satisfy them. They are used as pawns in a completely distorted cause of nationalism…

(An ear-splitting electric bell rang. I could hear hurried conversations from the neighbouring cubicles. This was my last question to Afzal.)

What do you want to be known as?

(He thought for a minute, and answered)

As Afzal, as Mohammad Afzal. I am Afzal for Kashmiris, and I am Afzal for Indians as well, but the two groups have an entirely conflicting perception of my being. I would naturally trust the judgment of Kashmiri people, not only because I am one among them, but also because they are well aware of the reality I have been through, and they cannot be misled into believing any distorted version of either a history or an incident.

I was confused by this last statement of Mohammad Afzal, but on further reflection, I began to understand what he meant. This was a time before clear accounts of the strife had begun to emerge from Kashmiri voices; the source of knowledge on Kashmir for most Indians were textbooks and media reports. To hear about the history of Kashmir and incidents in the state from a Kashmiri was usually a shock to most Indians – as it was to me as I listened to Afzal.

Two more bells. It was time to end the mulakat. But people were still busy conversing. The microphone was put off. The sounds from the speaker stopped. But if you strained your ear, and watched his lip movements, you could still hear him. The guards made rough round-ups, asking everyone to leave. As they found visitors reluctant to leave, they put the lights off. The mulakat room turned dark.

In the long walk out from Jail No 3 of the Tihar jail compound to the main road, I found myself in the company of people in clusters of twos and threes, moving out silently – mother, wife and daughter; or brother, sister and wife; or friend and brother; or someone else. Every cluster had two things in common.

They carried an empty cotton bag back with them. Those bags had stains of malai kofta, shahi paneer and mixed vegetables, many caused by the spills from the rash frisking of the TSP man’s spoon. The second thing in common, I observed, was that they all wore inexpensive winter clothes, torn shoes, and outside Gate No 3 they waited for Bus No 588, the Tilak Nagar-Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium bus, that perhaps took them to Dhaula Kuan main junction – they were the poor citizens of this country.

I remembered former president Abdul Kalam’s musing on how poor people were the awardees of capital punishments. My interviewee was also one. When I had asked him how many ‘tokens’ (the form of currency allowed in the jail) he had, he said “enough to survive”.

The writer, now the Executive Editor of The Caravan magazine conducted this interview when he was the India reporter for the US public radio, Pacifica

► DSP Davinder Singh asked me to do a small job for him. I had to take one man to Delhi, rent a house for him

► I am Afzal for Kashmiris, and I am Afzal for Indians as well, but both have an entirely conflicting perception of my being

 

 

A Collaborator in Kashmir #Afzalguru #mustread


  • By: Amitava Kumar
  • PUBLISHED ON MARCH 23, 2010,

“A Collaborator in Kashmir” appears in PEN America 10: Fear Itself.

After flights from Delhi to Jammu and then on to Srinagar, I rode north in a taxi to Sopore, closer to the Pakistan border. I’d come to Kashmir to meet Tabassum Guru, whose husband is on death row in Delhi. But when I stood before her, Tabassum waved me away. She had no desire to meet with journalists.

For his role in the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, Mohammad Afzal Guru was sentenced to death by hanging. Another defendant was condemned to ten years in prison; two others were acquitted. Afzal Guru’s hanging, scheduled for October 20, 2006, was stayed after a mercy petition was filed with the President. In its judgment on his appeal, the Supreme Court had recognized that the evidence against Afzal was circumstantial and that the police had not followed legal procedures. Nevertheless, the judgment stated, the attack on the Indian Parliament had “shaken the entire nation, and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender.”

In response, a group of Kashmiri leaders passed a resolution that read, in part, “We the people of Kashmir ask why the collective conscience of the Indians is not shaken by the fact that a Kashmiri has been sentenced to death without a fair trial, without a chance to represent himself?”

Afzal’s family could not afford a lawyer, and the court-appointed lawyer never appeared. A second lawyer was appointed, but she wouldn’t take instructions from her client and agreed to the admission of documents without proof. Afzal then gave the court four names of senior advocates, but they refused to represent him. The court chose another lawyer; this one said he did not want to appear for Afzal, and Afzal expressed a lack of confidence in him. But the court insisted—which is why the Kashmiri leaders asked whether it was Afzal’s fault that Indian lawyers thought it “more patriotic” to allow a Kashmiri to die than to ensure that he received a fair trial.

Only the naïve assume that the conflict in Kashmir is between fanatical militants and valiant soldiers. The real picture is darker and more complicated. In a system where the conventional economic nodes no longer function, and all resource lines intersect at some level with the security-state, there is a sense of enormous, often inescapable, dependency on those who are clearly seen as oppressors. This has bred complex schizophrenia. The writer Arundhati Roy has written, “Kashmir is a valley awash with militants, renegades, security forces, double-crossers, informers, spooks, blackmailers, blackmailees, extortionists, spies, both Indian and Pakistani intelligence agencies, human rights activists, NGOs, and unimaginable amounts of unaccounted-for money and weapons….It’s not easy to tell who is working for whom.”

Tabassum Guru illuminated this murky landscape in the night-flare of a statement she wrote for The Kashmir Times in 1994. “A Wife’s Appeal for Justice” is anguished and unafraid. It tells the story of how the police and the armed forces have turned Kashmiris into collaborators; although the statement is no more than fifteen hundred words long, it starkly demonstrates the costs of military occupation. She begins with her husband’s story.

In 1990, like thousands of other Kashmiri youths, Afzal Guru joined the movement for liberation. He had been studying to be a doctor, but instead went to Pakistan for training. He returned three months later, disillusioned. The Border Security Force gave him a certificate stating that he was a surrendered militant. His dream of becoming a doctor was now lost; instead, he started a small business dealing in medical supplies and surgical instruments. The following year, in 1997, he got married. Afzal was twenty-eight, and Tabassum eighteen.

After his surrender, Afzal was often harassed and asked to spy on other Kashmiris suspected of being militants. (Sartre, writing more than fifty years ago: “The purpose of torture is not only to make a person talk, but to make him betray others. The victim must turn himself by his screams and by his submission into a lower animal, in the eyes of all and in his own eyes.”) One night, members of a counterinsurgency unit, the Special Task Force, took Afzal away. He was tortured at an STF camp.

Dravinder Singh, one of the officers mentioned in Tabassum’s appeal, has been frank about the necessity of torture in his line of work. He has stated that torture is the only deterrent to terrorism. Singh spoke to a journalist about Afzal Guru in a recorded interview: “I did interrogate and torture him at my camp. And we never recorded his arrest in the books anywhere. His description of torture at my camp is true. That was the procedure those days and we did pour petrol in his arse and gave him electric shocks. But I could not break him. He did not reveal anything to me despite our hardest possible interrogation.” Azfal’s torturers demanded that he pay one lakh rupees, and Tabassum sold everything she had, including the little gold she had received when she married.

In the statement she wrote in 2004, Tabassum Guru sees her suffering in the light of what other Kashmiris have experienced: “You will think that Afzal must be involved in some militant activities that is why the security forces were torturing him to extract information. But you must understand the situation in Kashmir, every man, woman and child has some information on the movement even if they are not involved. By making people into informers they turn brother against brother, wife against husband and children against parents.”

After his release from the camp, where his interrogators had attached electrodes to his penis, Afzal needed medical treatment. Six months later, he moved to Delhi. He had decided that he would soon bring Tabassum and their little son, Ghalib, to a place he had rented. But while in Delhi, Afzal received a call from STF’s Dravinder Singh, his former torturer. Singh said that he needed Afzal to do a small job for him. He was to take a man named Mohammad from Kashmir to Delhi, which he did, and he also accompanied the same Mohammad to a shop where he bought a car. The car was used in the attack on the Parliament, and Mohammad was identified as one of the attackers.

As Afzal waited in Srinagar for a bus to Sopore, he was arrested and brought to the STF headquarters and then to Delhi. There he identified the slain terrorist Mohammad as someone whom he knew. This part of his statement was accepted by the court, but not the part where he said he was acting under the direction of the STF. Tabassum wrote, “In the High Court one human rights lawyer offered to represent Afzal and my husband accepted. But instead of defending Afzal the lawyer began by asking the court not to hang Afzal but to kill him by a lethal injection. My husband never expressed any desire to die. He has maintained that he has been entrapped by the STF.”

When I arrived in Sopore in my hired car, I noticed soldiers on the streets and on rooftops. There had been soldiers in Srinagar, too, but it was different here. We had left behind the painted roadside signs put up by the army and paramilitary units with messages like “Kashmir to Kanyakumari India is One.” In this town, there were only small, often half-finished houses and grimy stores. I got out of the car to ask about the hospital where Tabassum Guru worked.

She was at the cashier’s desk in the Inpatient Block, a tall woman in green shalwar-kameez, her head covered with a dupatta. She said she didn’t want to talk to me. I went outside to call friends in Srinagar, and learned that a week or two earlier two journalists from Delhi had done a sting. Afzal’s brothers had been collecting money for his defense but using the cash to buy property instead. The journalists had brought a spy camera and asked Tabassum if she felt that she had been betrayed by the Kashmiri leadership.

I decided to wait. I had come too far. Patients kept walking up to the entrance of the hospital, and a pony cart dropped off a sick woman. My driver, Shafi, having learned that I was visiting from New York, wanted to know where in America were the World Wrestling Federation’s matches held. We talked for a while, and then went inside the hospital again. A large crowd waited in the area marked Outpatient Block. Most people stood in the corridor, jostling against each other with a feverish energy that required good health. The few chairs were occupied and those who were sitting had adopted postures that suggested they’d been waiting for days. A sign on the wall said: UTILIZE YOUR WAITING TIME EFFECTIVELY—PLAN THINGS TO DO—MEDITATE—DO BREATHING EXERCISES—CHANT A HOLY NAME—READ BOOKS. I studied that sign for a while but felt agitated and decided to tell Tabassum that I was leaving. She nodded and half-smiled, then said goodbye.

From the road outside the hospital, lined with walnut and willow trees, I could see the snow-covered mountains. Shafi was full of ideas about how I might have persuaded Tabassum to talk to me. He said I should have told her that what I wrote would help her husband. But I had seen pictures of mobs in Delhi and elsewhere burning effigies of Mohammad Afzal; activists for the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party had exploded firecrackers on the streets outside the courthouse when he was first condemned to death; the print and television media had repeatedly described him as a terrorist mastermind. How could I have assured Tabassum that what I wrote would help?

When the journalists had interviewed her about Afzal’s brothers, Tabassum had said that she had never asked anyone for money to help in her husband’s legal case. She had said, “Mera zamir nahin kehta” (“My conscience doesn’t allow it”). I thought of that statement again when, in Delhi a week later, I watched Sanjay Kak’s filmJashn-e-Azadi (How We Celebrate Freedom), which documents the cost of violence in Kashmir. An indigent woman in a hamlet is asked whether she has received the promised financial compensation from the armed forces for the wrongful death in her family. The woman, her hands beating her breast, replies, “They have snatched my child from my bosom. I’ll eat pig’s meat but not accept compensation from the army.”

Soon after my return from Kashmir to upstate New York, where I work, I read Orhan Pamuk’s memoir, Istanbul. In his youth, Pamuk wanted to be a painter, and he still saw his city with the eyes of an artist. “To see the city in black and white,” Pamuk writes, “to see the haze that sits over it and breathe in the melancholy its inhabitants have embraced as their common fate, you need only to fly in from a rich western city and head straight to the crowded streets; if it’s winter, every man on the Galata bridge will be wearing the same pale, drab, shadowy clothes.”

Reading those words, I thought again of Srinagar. I had flown in from “a rich Western city,” and everything there looked drab to me, draped in a dirty military green. Every house that was new looked gaudy and vulgar or curiously incomplete. Many structures were shuttered, or burnt black, or simply falling down due to disrepair. Pamuk writes that those who live in Istanbul shun color because they are grieving for a city whose past aura has been tarnished by more than a hundred and fifty years of decline. I believe Pamuk was also describing plain poverty.

Jashn-e-Azadi had shown me another Srinagar. The film’s richness lay in the space it created, in the viewer’s mind, despite the violence, for thought and for color. The filmmaker had discovered again and again in the drabness of the melancholy the gleam of memory: the memory of blood on the ground, of the beauty of the hills and red poppies, of the keening voices of mothers and painted faces of village performers. Also the memory of the dead, of falling snow, of new graves everywhere, and the shining faces crying for freedom.

In a travelogue written more than four decades ago, V.S. Naipaul described how out of the “cramped yards, glimpsed through filth-runnelled alleyways, came bright colors in glorious patterns on rugs and carpets and soft shawls, patterns and colors derived from Persia, in Kashmir grown automatic, even in all their rightness and variety…” In Kak’s film, riotous color is glimpsed only when we see tourists donning traditional Kashmiri costumes for photographs, holding pots filled with plastic flowers.

When I think of the melancholy of Afzal and Tabassum Guru, it isn’t color that I seek, but a narrative to give sustenance to their lives. That is what was powerful about the story that Tabassum told: She gave coherence to what had been their experience and the ways it resonated with the experiences of other young Kashmiri couples.

As with Pamuk’s Istanbul, I found traces of Srinagar in a film about another distant place. Paradise Now, directed by Hany Abu-Assad, tells the story of two friends on the West Bank, Said and Khaled, who are recruited to carry out a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv. The two young men are disguised as settlers going to a wedding. The would-be bombers get separated at the border, and the plan is called off, instigating some reflection and doubt on Khaled’s part. But Said is determined. We learn about his motivation when, in the company of Suha, a young woman who has just returned to Palestine, he goes into a watch shop, and Suha notices that videos are also available at the shop. These videos show the execution of collaborators, and Suha is shocked. She asks, “Do you think it’s normal that those videos are for sale?” Said replies, “What is normal around here?” Then he tells Suha, quietly, that his father was a collaborator. He was executed.

In Nablus, cars keep breaking down. Nothing works. The houses look either bombed or unfinished. In all of this, Nablus resembles Srinagar. Nablus is also like Srinagar in the ways in which its children are scarred by violence. I’m thinking of Ghalib, Afzal and Tabassum’s son, as well as thousands of other Kashmiris. It is horrifying but not difficult to imagine that many of them will find words to offer as testimony which are similar to those Said, sitting in an empty room, speaks to the camera just before he leaves on his suicide mission:

The crimes of occupation are endless. The worst crime of all is to exploit the people’s weaknesses and turn them into collaborators. By doing that, they not only kill the resistance, they also ruin their families, ruin their dignity and ruin an entire people. When my father was executed, I was ten years old. He was a good person. But he grew weak. For that, I hold the occupation responsible. They must understand that if they recruit collaborators they must pay the price for it. A life without dignity is worthless. Especially when it reminds you day after day of humiliation and weakness. And the world watches, cowardly and indifferent.

 

Press Release-Statement on execution of Afzal Guru


COMMITTEE FOR THE RELEASE OF POLITICAL PRISONERS

185/3, FOURTH FLOOR, ZAKIR NAGAR, NEW DELHI-110025

 

09/02/13

Condemn strongly the illegal act of executing Mohd. Afzal Guru!

Condemn and expose the violation of all procedures and law of the land!

Release SAR Geelani the working president of CRPP immediately and unconditionally!

 

The CRPP condemns strongly the illegal execution of Mohd. Afzal Guru. The central home minister and the home secretary have gone on record saying that every procedure has been followed in the case of Afzal Guru. None of his family members are aware of this decision of the Government of India. Nor do the lawyers of Afzal Guru. It is mandatory on the side of the government to inform the petitioners who had filed the clemency petition. Afzal’s wife Tabassum had filed a clemency petition demanding justice for her husband who never throughout the trial got an opportunity to defend himself and demand justice. She had in that petition even traced his early days in Kashmir and how he was continually being harassed and tortured by the notorious STF of J&K to act as an informer for the state. She showed in that petition how the ordeal has still been continuing in the life of her husband and their family in their quest for justice. The fact remains that neither Tabassum nor any of her family members have been informed about the rejection of this petition.

 

It is absolutely necessary that once a clemency petition is rejected the petitioner should be informed so that s/he can take recourse to other provisions that are guaranteed by the judiciary of India. There are provisions for judicial review which are quite exhaustive. But Afzal Guru was denied once again his last chance to represent himself and get relief from the gallows.

 

It should be noted that Mr. Bhullar who is also under death row in Tihar Jail had moved a petition in the Supreme Court to look into the matter of the delay in the execution of death sentence. There are case laws in the apex court wherein pronounced delay in the execution of death sentence is in itself grounds for converting the same into life. The court had appointed Mr. Ram Jethmalani as the amicus curiae in this case and was hearing the petition. That the Government of India under the Congress government has even subverted the Supreme Court in clandestinely executing the death sentence bemoans the real, fascist nature of this government which has scant regards for its own judiciary and law.

 

The clandestine execution of the death sentence of Mr. Afzal Guru violating all procedures and even the law of the land is nothing but desperate attempts of the ruling class parties like the Congress and the BJP to bet for votes appealing to the frenzy of jingoism. After having alienated the masses of the people and even the middle class through their anti-people, pro-market policies resulting in widespread miseries for the working people these parties have lost their faces and credibility and hence this desperate, brazen display of competitive jingoism on the life of someone who from the day one had never a chance to defend himself properly.

 

We at the CRPP appeal to all the democratic and progressive sections of the subcontinent to see through these devious designs of the ruling classes and forge a mass movement to abolish the evil of death penalty from the subcontinent.

 

The CRPP protests against the arrest of Prof.SAR Geelani who is our Working President while on his way to Malviya Nagar by the notorious Special Cell of the Delhi Police. The Special Cell as usual is browbeating in every possible way to terrorise the people from expressing their dissent against the clandestine execution of Mr. Afzal Guru. We demand his immediate and unconditional release. We call upon all progressive and democratic sections to protest against such fascist designs of the Indian state.

 

In Solidarity,

 

Amit Bhattacharyya

Secretary General

 

PA Sebastian

Vice President

 

MN Ravunni

Vice president

 

Rona Wilson

Secretary Public Relations

#India -Afzal Guru, Parliament attack convict, hanged in Delhi’s Tihar Jail #deathpenalty, protest today at Jantar Mantar


JOIN SILENT PROTEST AT  JANTAR MANTAR TODAY at 1.00pm AGAINST THE HANGING OF AFZAL GURU

Edited by Surabhi Malik | Updated: February 09, 2013 08:46 IST

Afzal Guru, Parliament attack convict, hanged in Delhi's Tihar Jail

New DelhiAfzal Guru, convicted for his role in the attack on Parliament in 2001, has been executed at about 8 this morning at Delhi’s Tihar Jail.The Home Ministry had recommended the death sentence for Guru on January 23, sources said, and President Pranab Mukherjee rejected his mercy petition a few days ago, clearing the way for his hanging.

Nine years ago, in 2004, Afzal Guru was given the death sentence by the Supreme Court. The sentence was scheduled to be carried out on October 20, 2006, but was stayed after his wife filed the mercy petition, which had been pending with the President’s office since.

The main opposition party, the BJP, has for long questioned the delay in the execution of Guru. Senior Congress leaders like Digvijaya Singh too said that a decision must come soon. But activists and political groups in Kashmir have argued that Guru was not given a fair trial. There have been many requests that his death sentence be commuted.

Afzal Guru is from Sopore in Kashmir and curfew has been imposed there and in other major towns in the valley, including Srinagar, just 35 kms away.  The army is on high-alert.

Separatist groups in Kashmir have earlier warned against Guru’s execution and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has repeatedly stressed that it could have serious repercussions in his state. Mr Abdullah is in Delhi and is leaving for Srinagar immediately.

In December 2001, five heavily-armed terrorists drove into the Parliament complex and opened fire. Nine people were killed, most of them members of the security forces. All the terrorists were shot dead.

Both Houses of Parliament had just been adjourned and many MPs and ministers, including then Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani were still inside.

A few days later, Afzal Guru was arrested.

In November last year, Ajmal Kasab, the terrorist from Pakistan who was caught during the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, was executed in a Pune jail.

 

CALL FOR ENDORSEMENTS- Defend Women’s and Artists’ Freedom From Fanatics’ Fatwas #VAW #Kashmir #FOE


freedom_of_speech

In Kashmir, young girls who performed in their own rock-band are now silenced by fear, following a fatwa by the Grand Mufti declaring that music, especially for women, is ‘un-Islamic.’ At a time when the whole country has been on the streets demanding women’s freedom to speak, sing, write, live, and love without fear, it is shameful that girls’ freedom of expression is under attack. After the recent ‘raid’ on ice-cream parlours in Mangalore by the Hindutva groups who handed young couples over to the police, we have this fatwa in the name of Islam against young women singers in Kashmir. Misogynist and patriarchal restrictions on women’s freedom, by fundamentalists and fanatics of all hues, must be resisted tooth and nail.

After the attack on the women artists’ freedom of expression in Kashmir, yet another artist’s freedom has been under attack. The paintings of an artist Anirudh Krishnamani in Karnataka have been taken down from an exhibition because Hindutva fanatics backed by the ruling BJP Government accused them of depicting Indian mythological figures in an ‘obscene’ way.

We condemn the culture cops who try to attack music and art. We stand in solidarity with the Kashmiri all-girl rock band Pragaash, and we are eager to be able to see them perform and hear their music. We stand in solidarity with Anirudh Krishnamani, and are eager to be able to view his paintings.

Kavita Krishnan

Kamayani bali Mahabal

IF YOU AGREE PL ENDORSE IN COMMENTS SECTION

No noble family will allow girls to become dancers: Hurriyat #Vaw #WTFnews


PTI | Feb 3, 2013, 08.13 PM IST

No noble family will allow girls to become dancers: Hurriyat
Hurriyat spokesman Ayaz Akbar said in a statement that Kashmir is a place of sufis and saints and there is no room to nourish western type of culture and immoral values.
SRINAGAR: Hardline faction of HurriyatConference today expressed surprise overJammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah‘s support for the valley’s only all-girls rock band, saying there is no room to nourish western culture and immoral values in the state.”Kashmir is a place of sufis and saints and there is no room to nourish western type of culture and immoral values,” Hurriyat spokesman Ayaz Akbar said in a statement.

“Though in a civilised society there is no place for coercion and force, there are some values a citizen has to adopt to safeguard the ethical and religious traditions,” he said.

“Hurriyat Conference expresses regret and surprise over the support of Omar Abdullah,” Akbar said.

“As a matter of fact no noble family will allow their girls to choose their profession as a dancer so as to be a mere thing of pleasure for strangers,” he said.

Akbar said Omar should have gone through the history of Kashmir to find out the high regard and esteem bestowed upon women in order to save them from being sold as commodity.

“It is a matter of concern for us the way Omar Abdullah backed the rock band because the dynasty he belongs to has since long disassociated itself from Islamic and ethical values,” he said.

Referring to the reported threats being given to the rock band, the spokesman termed it “not good”.

“Instead, parents should have rectified the things and provided advice to their daughters that their activities were not as per ethics of Islam, culture and our unique identity,” he said.

Omar had come out in support of the girls yesterday saying police will probe the threats.

“I hope these talented young girls will not let a handful of morons silence them,” he said.

The all-girls band, which came to limelight in late December last year after their performance at the annual ‘Battle of the Bands‘ competition here, had defied the convention by stepping into the male-dominated field of music.

The girls’ band has received abusive and hate messages on their Facebook page for defying convention by choosing the field of music.

 

#India -Sexual Violence, Consumer Culture and Feminist Politics #Vaw # Sexuality


 – Rethinking the Critique of Commodification : Sreenanti Banerjee

FEBRUARY 3, 2013
by , Kafila.org

Guest Post by SREENANTI BANERJEE

I will begin with the by now well-known interview of author and social activist Arundhati Roy, conducted by Channel 4 (a British Media House), about the widespread protests after the horrific December 16th incident of the brutal gangrape of the 23 year old medical student in Delhi. Permit me to quote Roy at length as I do not wish to take bits and pieces from her talk, and pluck them out of their context.

We are having an unexceptional reaction to an event which isn’t exceptional […] But the problem is that why is this crime creating such a lot of outrage is because it plays into the idea of the criminal poor, the vegetable vendor, the gym instructor, the bus driver actually assaulting a middle-class girl. But when rape is used as a means of domination by upper castes, by the army or the police it’s not even punished.

Question: Is there any chance that this protest is going to lead to genuine change, that the political class will accept that this is not what modern India is all about?

Answer: I think it will lead to some laws perhaps, and increased surveillance. But, all of that, I repeat, all of that will protect middle class women.

Question: This is such a contrast from the image of modern India that is being potrayed by the film-making industry in Mumbai, by the whole sort of new tech India. I mean as if there are many worlds competing here [……] So you are suggesting that this new India is fuelling disrespect for women?

Answer: The feudal India has a huge history and legacy of disrespect and violence against women, I mean, any accounts of partition or what is done to dalit women contains that. But, now there is a sort of psychosis. First of all the army and the police are using rape as a weapon against people in places like Chattisgarh, Kashmir and Manipur and so on [……]

But, the other thing is that there is a widening gap between the rich and the poor.Earlier atleast the rich did what they did with a fair amount of discretion. Now it’s all out there, on television, all the sort of conspicuous consumption, and there is ananger and a psychosis building up. Women at the top, at the middle and the bottom are going to pay the price for it, not so much at the top but certainly the dalit women are continuously going to be subjected to violence, and young urban women like the one to whom this happened are very very vulnerable to this kind ofpsychotic rage.” (emphasis added).

Now, although the interview appears to state the ‘real’ conditions of Indian democracy and how the state always permits only a particular class to vent its grievance against violence, here I would urge you to read with me in this interview something that appears to be a central conundrum of cultural politics in what we come to know as the “Global South” today.

The anchor of the programme here speaks in his generic Orientalist “civilizing” tone of a “new and a modern India”, accompanied by a commonplace bewilderment about a supposed “clash of civilization” (in the Hutingtonian sense), about how a “modern” country can exhibit such entrenched misogyny (as if women’s emancipation is always and already another synonym for ‘modernity’) – a country which in fact was supposed to have ‘transcended’ its erstwhile ‘uncivilized’ past and by now gotten rid of its taint of being a “fallen civilization”. And this amazement on the part of the anchor is nothing unusual since this was typical of the whole of Western media after the ghastly event of December 16th when it was always poor “Indian men” raping its modern civilized ‘other’ (in the form of urban women), not being able to cope with rapid processes westernization and globalization.

However, it is interesting to note Arundhati Roy’s response to these questions, especially her notion of “conspicuous consumption” leading to anger and psychosis amongst the urban youth, and women “paying the price” for capitalism’s “pornographic” seductions with its obnoxiously rising concomitant gap between the rich and the poor.  Now, for quite some time, we have seen a continuum in terms of taking positions on westernization and its supposed effects on women and their ‘safety’. From Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief to the Supreme Court Judgement criticized by the Justice Verma Committee Report pp. 80 – 83 (which claimed that in India women would seldom falsely “cry rape”, as sex here is generally not for sale and hence women are more protectionist about their sexuality compared to the West where sex is used for pleasure and economic purposes), to Kakoli Ghosh Dastidaar of Trinamool Congress asserting that the “context” of the Park Street rape incident of the “pub-going woman” was qualitatively different from that of the bus gangrape as in the former (“false”) case it was a mere squabble between a prostitute and her client (as opposed to the more ‘authentic’ gangrape in the bus), to Abhijeet Mukherjee’s lament about painted and dented, non-intellectual, consumerist women’s frivolous protests – all of them (although from different standpoints) seem to be commenting on the ghastly effect that capitalism and its twin associate commodification has on the urban Indian woman. While the article published in The Hindu (quoted in the Verma Committee Report) as well as Arundhati Roy seem to be engaging in a much more nuanced analysis of how women venturing in the public sphere for work, education or leisure ‘unfortunately’ become the targets of the wrath of men who are “victims” of an ever-growing individualist consumption-oriented culture, as opposed to Kakoli Ghosh Dastidaars or Mohan Bhagwats who engage in a much more blatant eulogy of the woman who maintains all the ‘lakshman rekhas’ and is not ‘utstrinkhal’ (a term recently used by the Hindi columnist Raj Kishor in an article to describe the ‘licentious urban women’); the underlying assumption is the same. And, that is, the striking opulence of consumer capital leads to sexual violence of urban women.

Fear of the ‘Inauthentic’ Female that predates Capitalism

Although I do understand where Roy is coming from and her concerns about the injustice that global capital has been giving rise to in recent times in terms of erasing any public discourse on state-sponsored sexual violence against women and sexual violence perpetrated by the upper class and upper castes on Dalit and tribal women, the assertion of women (of all classes) “paying the price” for the pornographic exhibitionism of wealth of a particular class, I believe, is certainly problematic.

Here, I do not wish to give the elaborate and rather painstaking (although much needed) inventory of misogyny predating capitalism. However, I do wish to give one particular instance which perhaps would take us to the heart of the matter, and somewhat help me to articulate my theoretical disagreement with Roy and certain other significant social commentators who consider “mindless flaunting and display of wealth” as the “root cause” of sexual violence against middle class women, and a “paying  of price” in terms of them being brutally violated and their intestines being pulled out as a direct and inevitable outcome of the hubris of global capital. This I believe, is a classic case of the much talked about notion of “justifying” sexual violence, something that directly informs what we conceive as “rape culture”.

Here, the notion of male ‘anxiety’ demands further exploration. One of the significant instances of this vulnerability gets demonstrated in the Laws of Manu, which is commonsensically renowned for its misogynist claims. But since commonsense by definition impedes criticality, it is significant to say that it is quite possible to refrain from any crass reductionism of Manu as far as his interpretation of women is concerned. In Laws of Manu, chapter 9, Manu says,

“[14] Good looks do not matter to them (women), nor do they care about youth; ‘A man!’ they say, and enjoy sex with him, whether he is good-looking or ugly. [15] By running after men like ‘whores’, by their ‘fickle minds’, and by their natural lack of affection these women are unfaithful to their husbands even when they are zealously guarded here. [16]. [……] women, who have no virile strength and no Vedic verses, are ‘falsehood’ […]”  [i]

What we need to do here is to read Manu against Manu himself. What is interesting is that the notion of control of women’s sexuality does not stem in Manu from the assumption that women are ‘naturally’ passive and weaker. Neither, does the desire to control emerge from an understanding that women are ‘essentially’ treacherous, unaffectionate and malicious. Rather, a different reading would help us realize that one of the primary sources of men’s anxiety and vulnerability about women’s sexual excess is the notion of the ‘masquerade’, the capacity to feign ‘originality’ and ‘authenticity’ on the part of women, only to prove the fictive nature of that very notion of an ‘authentic’ uncorroded pure womanhood’; in other words, the capacity to ‘mask’ or ‘mime’ oneself, only to show that there is no ‘referent’ of a ‘real self’ behind the mask. Thus, patriarchal disgust emanates from an inherent fear.

Is Commodification and Objectification Bad for Feminism?

From the above analysis, we realize that a culture of misogyny which certainly predated the advent of capitalism, already had a deep-seated fear of the ‘inauthentic fake open feelinglesss promiscuous whore’, whose sexuality in effect had to be controlled. With the advent of capitalism, new patriarchies got introduced which denied women’s household labour, gave rise to unequal wages so on and so forth. But, along with that, the already existing culture of misogyny became all the more ingrained as the apprehension and fear about the ‘inauthenticity’ of the ‘exchangeable’ woman became all pervading now. This is because like everything else, the woman also got translated into an ‘unnatural’ fetishized commodity, got ‘reduced’ to an ‘object’ of exchange under the capitalist order.

However, it should be noted that here the words objectification and commodification are necessary phenomena (as Thomas Keenan points out in his Reading ‘Capital’ Rhetorically), used strictly in the (non-orthodox) Marxist sense of being rendered ‘abstract’ for the purpose of exchange, so that everything is made ‘equal’ (alike) in the eyes of the bourgeouis law (or in other words, rendered ‘human’). Objectification here is a necessary and determining trait of social constitution of individuals as proprietors where the notion of the ‘object’ presupposes a consciousness of ‘difference’. Thus, here the agent is constituted as a discrete ‘self’ (individual), posessing ‘natural rights’, different from ‘others’, and yet ‘equal’ to ‘others’ (since as proprietors the agents should be able to see the others as “subject to the same laws, rights, calculations”). Thus, the ‘equality’ which objectification gives rise to is certainly not false consciousness in this context (as orthodox readings of Marxism would read it), since such a misplaced Marxist reading of objectification as false and hence bad reduces the meaning of the word to a banal Rightwing moralistic cry over a sovereign ‘wholeness’ getting ‘reduced’ to a mere ‘part’.

It is significant to note the pejorative connotations that words like objectification, commodification, consumerism and alienation have assumed in Indian feminist circles, where feminism has almost come to imply a kind of politics of asceticism, bereft of an ambiguous engagement with notions like that of desire and consumption practices. Here, desire of non-westernized women is assumed to be always and already more real, ethical and hence democratic than that of their westernized counterparts. And, I believe that it is precisely under such a climate of an uncritical collapse of rightwing and leftist critique of commodification, that the dissemination is possible of the opinions  that conspicuous consumption is the reason for sexual violence against women.

It is interesting to observe here that the Justice Verma report, along with all its commendable suggestions, makes one similar observation. It endorses the view that, “[…] the large-scale disempowerment of urban men is lending intensity to a pre-existing culture of sexual violence.” [ii] What is significant here is that, a mere stating of the ‘fact’ (as if it is self-evident) certainly does not explain the fact. It rather reifies the ‘fact’ as inevitable or ‘natural’. Hence, in my mind, in order to engage in a full-blown analysis of the ‘causes’ of sexual violence, this observation needs a qualification. And, that qualification is that neo-liberalism along with all its dissemination of social inequity across classes, in the process of commodifying people, alsomakes them ‘inauthentic’, that same inauthenticity which was much feared by Manu and his other patriarchal cohorts of those times.

And discourses on ‘teaching the promiscuous woman a lesson’ originate from an inherent fear of this very ‘inauthentic artificial’ woman, who chooses to objectify and commodify herself (although certainly “not under circumstances of her own making”). This choice, in my mind, needs to be respected, rather than dubbing it as mere false consciousness (just like we have learnt to respect the ‘choice’ of non-secular women adopting the headscarf, the hijab or the veil, by now a well-recognized aspect of postcolonial interrogation of Western Feminists’ ethnocentric spree to “Save the Other”). Hence, we need to ask the all important question that under what circumstances women’s commodification (starting from sex work to Bollywood item numbers) becomes the worst kind of objectification?[iii]

Thus, what we should keep in mind is that a real ‘critique’ of political economy should never get reduced to a mere ‘criticism’, since then our interrogation of capitalism becomes a banal moralistic one, bereft of the mentioning of the possibilities that processes of commodification give rise to, something that certainly impacts our subjectivity as well. In other words, a critique of global capital should not get reduced to a mere rightist and in turn a protectionist sob story ofcultural degeneration in terms of what capitalism does to the ‘unharmed’ body of the nation (the idea of the ‘nation’ already being a gendered concept, marked as feminine), a ‘sovereign’ body which is in need of ‘protection’ and ‘recuperation’ from the onslaughts (read harm, corrosion and injury) caused by globalization.

Now, although the larger point that the Justice Verma Report was trying to make here was that rape is not a ‘crime of passion’ but rather an “expression of power” and also how different subcultures use rape as a weapon against women to assert their collective identity, and all this can easily pass off as a mere ‘depiction’ and a resultant ‘analyses’ of ‘reality’,[ivi] it is significant to point out that this underlying assumption of the article in The Hindu about consumerist abundance and “showing off” as the root cause of sexual violence was indeed troubling. This especially becomes problematic in a climate where precisely the same words (although devoid of any sociological nunace) are used to “teach them” that this is the “price that they pay” for being brazenly commodified.

Now, the point is where do we draw the demarcating line if we are to build this continuum between sexual violence and pompous modernity? How do we intellectually separate the claims on capitalism made by thinkers like Roy with respect to sexual violence against urban women and that made by Mohan Bhagwat of RSS for instance, for whom, westernization is to be ‘blamed’ for the increase in crime against women in cities, or in other words ‘Indian’ women are more ‘rapeable’ than the auspicious ‘Bharatiya Nari’ (And Bhagwat, let me remind you, before hurling such lunacy, infact had already demanded severe punishment for the rapists and even called for their death penalty, something that can easily be used in his favour as a disclaimer to this terrible claim). Furthermore, this argument was later backed up by none other than Ashis Nandy, the eminent sociologist, for whom urban anomie and severe individualization is yet again the cause behind the increasing amount of sexual violence against women. Push the logic, and we shall easily be reminded of the words of the Toronto police officer for instance who remarked that, “woman are extremely fashionable these days and are constantly “showing off”, they should stop dressing like sluts to avoid rape”, something that triggered off the Slutwalk movement in Toronto, or for that matter someone like Abhijit Mukherjee’s contempt towards “painted and dented women”, intellectuals and protestors by morning and disco-goers by night!

Rape, Shame and Consumption

While the Justice Verma Report tries to undertake the mammoth task of addressing sexual violence as a structural problem rather than an aberrant individual act (and thus engages in a resultant critique of inequitable economic policies for giving rise to urban violence and quite rightly so), and quite commendably recommends a separation of notions of ‘honor’ and ‘shame’ from the act of rape, the language of the continuing emphasis on capitalism curbing options of recreation for migrant men and hence such “prospectless” men taking recourse to sexual violence as an articulation of their pent up frustration on urban women frequenting pubs, lounges or discotheques is certainly problematic. It creates an aura of scholarly empathy (for the lack of a better word) for the ‘deprived’ victimized men who are thought to become “psychotic” for the surrounding bourgeouis profligacy and hence engage in ghastly gangrapes as their last resort to gain some identity. Thus, it becomes a viscious argument which creates a moral, linguistic as well as an intellectual atmosphere where if the rape happens in and around what gets connoted as ‘hubs of consumerism’, since conspicuous consumption of the rich by now is already located as the indirect ‘cause’ of rape, the raped woman is judged as guilty for her ‘offence’ and hence is supposed to be ashamed for her habits of consumption, feel apologetic for a structure which “creates rapists” by ripping lower class men off their fundamental rights. This logic also at times gives rise to the age-old public spectacle of the vamp of Bollywood pleading for mercy, saying she is no more “like that” (consumerist, open and unrestricted).

Thus, conceiving capitalist exclusion as a cause of rapes in the cities creates an ambience of shaming the “slut” by claiming that such pomp-exuding ‘looseness’ furthers capitalism’s brutality of alienating the urban youth (which also strenghtens the implied logic that ‘she deserved it’). Thus, unless we put a vehement period to this perceived cause and effect chain of consumption habits of the rich and its resultant repercussion of poor optionless anxious migrants raping, we shall never be able to remove ‘shame’ out of rape, especially when the rape is that of an upper-middle class woman. It would perpetuate an atmosphere of the much talked about slut-shaming and “victim” blaming (as a ‘predictable’ outcome of ‘ugly modernity’) if not in the langauge of provocation, but certainly in the language of apparently sanitized social science ‘analyses’ of cities and urbanity leading to a culture of anonymity (devoid of community and kinship ties) which is then perceived to strengthen a culture of sexual violence against upper-class women (something that Nandy diagnoses as “anomic rape”). Here, a politically motivated continnum is established between modernization, urbanization and rape.

The point which I am trying to bring home here is that shame (for being loose, available, commodified, consumerist, accessible, frivolous and all other such cuss words) would continue to get associated with rape if we emphasize consumption practices of either the rich (as the Leftist position seems to be doing) or the woman herself (as the Rightwing generally does) as the cause of rape, and not a general culture of hatred towards the non-normative woman (consumerist or non-consumerist), who in turn needs to be “kept in place”. We cannot under any circumstances say that neo-liberalist exclusionary mechanism is one of the causes which manufacture rapists, since that would politically be as fatal as saying dress is “one of the causes” that lead to rape. We cannot and should not under any condition “justify” in the name of “analyzing” the root cause of rape, since otherwise just like demonizing the “criminal poor” or the “vegetable vendor”, the “pub-going loose and inebriated woman” would continue to be easy targets of Rightwing vengeance and Leftwing scorn. It will reinforce the view that “some women” ignite if not provokethe pent up anxiety caused by the lack of recreational options under the capitalist order, and give rise to a kind of ‘violent working class jealousy’, which when pushed to its logical and inevitableextreme causes a psychic collapse and hence ends up in rape. That would be suicidal for Feminist politics, especially at a time when detractors and digressors are all around, looking for an opportunity to hijack Feminist issues to further their own political agenda. The six rapists also perhaps thought that the woman in the bus was a non-abiding, permissive and consumeristwoman and hence needs to be punished and put to shame. Thus, let us not embellish the self-worth of rape culture and not justify sexual violence with the garb of finding ‘root causes’ of such heinous acts (in our misplaced spree to curb the self-worth of global capital).

Does the Hindu Right and the ‘Critical’ Left merge on notions of Women’s Sexuality?

Here, it is important to mention that the larger political impulse of this article is to point out that the intellectual Left should certainly be more critical and tentative about its critique of conspicuous consumption and the homogenization of its effects, to keep its theoretical distance from an atavistic nativist criticism of consumer culture of the Hindu Right or even the nationalist political project for that matter. Ruth Vanita, in her insightful article published in Seminar 2002 hinted at a similar problem where she pointed out how there is a strange congruence of the secular left and the Hindu Right (what she calls the “Hindu Left”), no matter how theoretically distant they are, as far as taking ‘positions’ on cultural debates concerning depiction of sexually explicit materials in postcolonial India was concerned. (She here cites the controversy around the Miss World contest and around such songs as “Choli ke peeche kya hai” as instances to illustrate how both rightwing as well as leftwing women’s organizations condemned such ‘degeneration’, although in different parlances, by demanding a state censorship to ban such phenomena).[v]

Towards a Defense of Painting and Denting: Can Commodities seek Citizenship Rights?

At this juncture, it is significant to point out that women in recent times have assumed this very political identity of a conspicuous consumer to get human rights against sexual violence, be it in the form of the Slutwalks, the Consortium of Loose and Forward Going Women (in the case of the Pink Chaddi Campaign) or the more recent broaching of the Society of Painted Dented Ladies of India (as a result of Mukherjee’s comment about the perceived ‘frivolity’ of the protestors in Delhi). Tired of listening to cynical leftists about capitalist inequity being the foundation of gender violence, as it is thought to put sex out there in the open, make it marketable and devoid of restraint (along with the perennial infliction of rightwing violence), these women seek human rights and seek to defend the notion of ‘bodily integrity’ against sexual assaults ‘as’ sluts, ‘as’chaddis (the pink branded female underwear in this case i.e. ‘objects’ or vendible commodities), ‘as’ painted and dented women (or in other words, ‘impure’ and ‘contaminated’ beings), only to show the performative and fluid nature of this much abused notion of ‘integrity’ and how the oft-cited idea of “non-commodifiable purity” informs rape culture (Remember the essentalist assumption based on which women are given loans under the system of Microfinance, the assumption that women are ‘essentially’ good, not money-mongerers, and hence more reliable in terms of paying back loans on time, unlike the greedy ‘materialist’ men? Doesn’t it sound strangely similar to the Supreme Court verdict derided by the Verma Committee Report which said Western woman are economically motivated and hence more likely to falsely “cry rape” for material reasons as opposed to Indian women who are ‘good’, less materialist and hence more reliable?)  [vi]

Does the ‘Postcolonial’ Collapse with the ‘National’ when it comes to Women?

Now, even for an eminent Subaltern Studies Scholar like Dipesh Chakrabarty, the Indian Feminists of today (and he actually gives the instance of the Pink Chaddi campaign)[vii], critique the hypermasculinity of the Ram Sena by a kind of ‘uncivilized’, neoliberal class-war (which, in his mind, excludes the poor), precluding any dialogue between the supposed sacred and the secular,  which, as he tries to show, erases and symbolically “gags” the ‘other’ in the name of female empowerment (what he calls a kind of “in your face Feminism”, punctuated by an undertone of superfluousness and intolerant individualism, which for him is ‘uncivilized’ in the sense that it does not offer room for self-reflexivity and self-criticism). In other words, the protestors against sexual violence (the Pink Chaddi campaigners) and the ones who perpetuate sexual violence (the Ram Sena), for Chakrabarty, occupy the same moral space, where political claims like that of ‘looseness’ and ‘forwardness’, for him, deserves vehement criticism for being significant cohorts of what he calls “economic globalization”, devoid of a kind of self-criticality that the legacy of ‘civility’ (something that he found in the nationalist political project) taught us. Now, the moot point is, does perpetration of sexual violence by the under-class or the non-secularists (a category that at times gets denoted by the postcolonial scholar as an idealizedhaven of ‘faceless crowd politics’ exhibited by global modernity’s ultimate ‘other’, a section of the society who are not only citizens and voters but also perceived as significant subversive players of Indian democracy and cultural politics), here get patronized as a mode of enraged ‘resistance’ (no matter how psychotic) against globalization’s hegemony?

At this juncture, it is important to recollect that the two categories of women that Shilpa Phadke, Shilpa Ranade and Sameera Khan pointed out in their thought-provoking article on Loitering, Gender and Public Spaces (the ones who appear in urban public spaces without an “apparent purpose”, as they call it), are the window shopper and the street walker (or the sex worker). Now, while the window-shopper is idealized as shopping is considered as a respectable act in the global city (as the authors minutely illustrate), the streetwalker is conceived as “undesirable and illegitimate.”[viii]

However, for the purpose of my argument, I would like to introduce a third category of women (although all the three are certainly overlapping each other and I draw the demarcating line solely for analytical purposes), where the buyer or the consumer woman also ‘behaves’ like a street-walker. Now, what happens when this ‘particular’ category (women in the cusp zone of window shoping and sex working), the primary one which pink-chaddi campaings, slutwalks or the feminist assertion of being painted and dented end up representing, seek ‘universal’ entitlements for protection against sexual violence? A category of women who do not feign the empty rhetoric of ‘universal sisterhood’, who are respectable on the grounds of class and their ability to get access to spaces of consumption, yet they thwart the liberal discourse and hence become ‘unrespectable’ as they, precisely in and through the tools of consumerism, violate the normative bourgeouis markers of femininity as well? Do we read the gestures of these women as mere ‘assimilation’ to the discourses of global capital, or do we read them as further ‘democratization’ precisely with the aid of the ‘tactics’ of assimilation? Moreover, are all class-marked assertions necessarily classist? What is interesting to note here is that the notion of subversive unrespectability and logic of impropriety gets instituted precisely through the discourse of consumer-driven respectability and propriety. And, we can never engage in any serious analysis of such instances of resistance by a blanket en masse debunking of phenomena like that of conspicuous consumption and an unanimous lament for its aftermaths.

To me, such women act as a ‘spectre’ which ‘haunts’ and breaks open the very limit of the normative subject ‘woman’ of human rights, i.e. the image of the ‘bhadramahila’ (a mixture of the Victorian bourgeouis emancipated mother and the Brahminic image of the ‘pure’ nationalist woman, as Chatterjee put it), a spectre that needs to be recuperated and not dismissed as ‘middle class’ and hence ‘exclusionary’. And, most significantly, they denounce a “politics of assimilation or inclusion” where the spectre is merely “integrated” into the whole (the image of the chaddi or the slut does not say that I represent a non-commodified ‘real’ woman and hence give me human rights. Remember the Park Street rape survivor asserting repeatedly that she might be an escort but that certainly does not give anyone the right to violate her? Remember her statement when she said that just because she did not choose to be a ‘victim’, and in fact carried on with her dailyconsumerist chores from the next day even after the ghastly attack, did not mean that the state could deny her justice?).

Thus, a serious critique of the eulogy of consumer imperialism getting packaged as Feminism (something that the new Feminist assertions are accused of) can never be plotted in the language of commodification as a ‘curse’, something which “alienates” women from their “authentic”native selves. This is because, adherence to such notions of reactionary nostalgia of non-consumerist lifestyles and uncritical assumption of ‘good’ and ethical national/local or working class culture (garland bedecked “innocence” of tribal women so on and so forth) leads to the dangerous assumption that westernized woman are less “authentic” and hence more condemnable (and even rapeable in certain arguments).

Welcoming the Spectre

Hence, the larger question is, can we recuperate this ‘hollowness’ and inauthenticity that capitalism gives rise to for Feminist ends? A commodified woman is an inauthentic “monster” (a term that Marx himself infact used to describe commodities in Capital), a monster who is feared across all political positions. Thus, we need to defend this present moment in Feminist politics where such abstracted spectral artificiality and monstrous frivolity are used as political ‘standpoints’ which certainly help us in our struggle against patriarchy. Although these ghosted creatures scare and haunt us, and we can never know with adequate certitude what kind of violence and exclusion embracing them would entail, nonetheless such spectres should be welcomed for Feminist politics to survive. To believe in them is a practical necessity. Commodification here is pushed to its logical limit. Thought, after all, as Althusser once put it,must be pushed to its extreme.

Thus, to me, this moment of women claiming to seek rights as ‘impure materialist reduced commodified alienated objects’ should be respected, rather than dismissing it as middle class, elite or exclusionary. This is because it is just not an emotional response to the kind of brutal violence against women that we are experiencing in urban areas in recent times, a mere unreflective ‘enough is enough’ kind of deliberation. Rather this has an intellectual underpinning. And that unsaid subtext is that, let the spectral inauthenticity caused by consumer capital be pushed to its limit, or be celebrated in order to break open that same consumer capital’s logic of manufacturing feminine respectability. It strives to create a transformation of the very meaning of personhood, of humanness, or in other words changes the very meaning of what kind of a woman ‘deserves’ human rights and state protection against sexual violence.

Sreenanti Banerjee is an M.Phil student of Social Sciences and a Junior Research Fellow at Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC).

References:

[i] Manu, The Laws of Manu, ‘Chapters 3 and 9’, trans. Wendy Doniger and Brian K. Smith, (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1991), pp. 43-73, pp. 197-233

[ii] Praveen Swami, “Rapist in the Mirror”, The Hindu, Jan 11, 2013

[iii] This is a point which Shohini Ghosh raises in “The Troubled Existence of Sex and Sexuality: Feminists Engage with Censorship” in Women’s Studies in India: A Reader (ed. by Mary. E. John), Penguin Books, 2008.

 [iv]Justice Verma Report, Pp. 220.

[v] “Whatever happened to the Hindu Left” by Ruth Vanita, Published in  Seminar, 2002.

[vi] Shilpa Phadke had raised some key questions around these issues in in her nuanced 2005 article on Middle-Class Sexuality, “Is there a Feminist way of being a consumer?”

[vii] Shilpa Phadke, “Some Notes on Middle Class Sexuality” in Geeta Misra and Radhika Chandiramani (eds.) Gender, Sexuality and Rights: Exploring Theory and Practice, New Delhi: Sage, 2005.

[viii] Dipesh Chakrabarty. From civilization to globalization: the `West’ as a shifting signifier in Indian modernity.  Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Volume 13, Number 1, 1 March 2012, pp. 138-152(15).

[ix] Shilpa Phadke, Shilpa Ranade and Sameera Khan, “Why Loiter? Radical Possibilities for Gendered Dissent” in Melissa Butcher and Selvaraj Velayutham (eds), Dissent and Cultural Resistance in Asia’s Cities, London: Routledge, 2009.

 

Abuses, threats can’t silence Kashmir’s only girl band #Vaw


Valley’s all-girl rock band after online slur still detremined
Azhar Qadri
Tribune News Service

Srinagar, February 1
The musical journey of Kashmir’s first and only all-girl rock band has come to an abrupt end after an online hate buzz.

The brainchild of three teenagers from the Valley, ‘Pragaash’ — a Kashmiri word meaning ‘from darkness to light’ — arrived on the music scene like a whiff of fresh air in a state plagued by violence for the last two decades. The 16-years-old made their first and last public performance at the ‘Battle of Bands’ here last December where they gave bands that mostly comprise of boys a run for their money.

But days after their debut, the band decided to call it quits. The reason: a vile barrage of abuses and hate messages about them and their families on the Internet, strong enough to force the young teen into hiding and abandoning their dream.

One of the girls, who talked to The Tribune on the condition that she would not be named, said the band had “ended”, but was reluctant to give reasons for the decision. “We have closed. It just ended… we had to hear so much from society that is why… I don’t want to tell anyone the reason,” she said.

The girl’s mother said she cried through the night after reading comments about the band on a social networking site. “The girls’ pictures were uploaded on a Facebook page and opinions were sought on whether making a band was wrong or right for our girls.

Some people wrote that the girls’ families had no food, which is why they were out to earn. After reading the comments, my daughter got very upset and cried all night. She decided not to do it again,” said the girl’s mother, adding that the family tried to talk her out of her decision. According to the girl’s mother, some posts appreciated the band; others didn’t. “Our religion does not allow this, our society doesn’t allow this,” she said.

‘Pragaash’ was a milestone in Kashmir’s music history for being the first rock band where the guitarist, drummer and vocalist were all girls. Women have enjoyed success in Kashmir singing folk songs, mystic poetry and romantic songs, but what set ‘Pragaash’ apart was its genre.

Band guitarist Aneeka Khalid, however, said the band had not been disbanded.

I rubbish the claims which have been made by some people quoting us that we will quit because of the threats ‘Pragaash‘ has received.

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