A dangerous connivance


Shahbag Protest

 

GARGA CHATTERJEE, The Hindu

It is worrying that West Bengal’s political class remained tactical spectators to the Kolkata rally organised by Muslim groups in support of Bangladeshi war criminals

West Bengal looked to the Shahbag protests in Dhaka with hope. In 1971, a massive relief and solidarity effort was undertaken in West Bengal for the millions trying to escape a veritable genocide. The then leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami in East Bengal and its students wing organised murder and rape squads in collaboration with the Pakistani forces. Their crimes included mass murder, rape as a weapon of war, arson and forced conversions. Post-1975, generals used them to cast an Islamic veneer of legitimacy over their illegal capture of power. Their immunity lasted until the present Bangladesh government restarted the legal proceedings in the War Crimes tribunal. The Shahbag protests demanded maximum punishment for the guilty.

SHOCKING

In West Bengal, a few meetings have happened around Shahbag, mostly expressing support. But, shockingly, the largest was a massive rally held in Kolkata on March 30, explicitly against the Shahbag protests and in support of the war criminals already convicted. Various Muslim groups, including the All Bengal Minority Council, the All Bengal Minority Youth Federation, the Madrassa Students Union, the Muslim Think Tank and the All Bengal Imam Muazzin Association, organised the rally. People arrived in buses from distant districts of Murshidabad and Nadia, as well as from neighbouring districts. Students of madrassas and the new Aliah Madrassa University were conspicuous at the gathering.

The old rallying cry, “Islam is in danger in Bangladesh,” was heard. We heard a similar cry in 1952 during the mother-language movement, in 1954 when Fazlul Haq and Maulana Bhashani challenged the Muslim League, in 1969 when the Awami League made its six demands and during the 1971 liberation struggle — basically during every secular movement for rights and justice. The rally thundered that West Bengal would be “cleansed” of supporters of war crimes trial and the present Prime Minister of Bangladesh. They promised that political forces supporting Shahbag would be “beaten with broom-sticks” if they came asking for Muslim votes. Like Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie, Sheikh Hasina would not be allowed inside Kolkata. They expressed solidarity with the anti-Shahbag “movement” in Bangladesh. This assertion is worrisome, as the anti-Shahbag forces in Bangladesh have initiated a wave of violent attacks on Hindus, Buddhists and secular individuals, and the destruction of Hindu and Buddhist homes, businesses and places of worship. Amnesty International documented attacks on over 40 Hindu temples as of March 6. That number has increased.

This large gathering and its pronouncements have been in the making. A collapse in the Muslim vote was important in the Left Front’s demise. Muslim divines regularly remind the present government of this. The Trinamool Congress wants to ensure a continued slice of this vote. In an unprecedented move, the government handed out monthly stipends to imams and muezzins to build a class of Muslim “community leaders” who eat out of its hand. The debt-ridden, vision-deficient government is unable to solve the problems that are common to the poor. It has wooed a section of the marginalised on the basis of religion by selective handouts. These are excellent as speech-making points masquerading as empathy. This also gives fillip to forces whose trajectories are not under usual political control.

The Left Front’s political fortune stagnated after 2011. It has cynically chosen not to strongly oppose this communal turn. Waiting for the incumbent to falter is its roadmap to power. The damage this is doing to the West Bengal’s political culture is possibly irreparable. The incumbent’s connivance and the opposition’s silence are due to the long-eroded tradition of democratic political contestation through grassroots mobilisation. Both deal with West Bengal’s sizeable minority population primarily via intermediaries, doing away with any pretence of ideology in the transactions.

POLITICS OF BLACKMAIL

Organisations inspired by political Islam have used this disconnect to the hilt to blackmail the government. An emerging bloc of divines, and former and present student leaders have used students and youths as storm troopers at short notice. Sadly, they are unconcerned about life and livelihood issues of Muslims. With assistance from the Left Front regime, they drove out the persecuted humanist writer, Taslima Nasreen. The extent of their clout as blackmailers was evident from the government’s pro-activeness in keeping Salman Rushdie out of Kolkata, after his visit to Bangalore, New Delhi and Mumbai. This pushing of the envelope fits into a sequence of events that is increasingly stifling the freedom of expression. The double-standards are clear.

On March 21, a group of small magazine publishers, human rights workers, theatre artists and peace activists were disallowed from marching to the Deputy High Commission of Bangladesh to express their support to the war-crimes trial efforts. The police had “orders;” some marchers were detained. A month earlier, the same police provided security cover to an anti-Shahbag march and later to the marchers when they submitted a memorandum to the Deputy High Commission demanding the acquittal of convicted war criminals. Last year, public libraries were directed to stock a sectarian daily even before its first issue was published! The State thinks that it can play this brinksmanship game with finesse. When the political class acts as tactical facilitators or tactical spectators to apologists of one the largest mass-murders ever, the demise of Kolkata as a centre of culture is a natural corollary. A combination of circumstances can cause an uncontrollable unravelling. Bengal’s experience with sectarian politics is distinctly bitter.

The bye-election to Jangipur, a Muslim-majority Lok Sabha constituency, saw the combined vote of the two main parties fall from 95 per cent in 2009 to 78 per cent in 2012. The beneficiaries were the Welfare Party of India, a thinly-veiled front organisation of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, and the Social Democratic Party of India, a similar group. “Tactical pluralism” is their game, a concept quite akin to the tactical defence of Taslima’s freedom of speech by Hindu communal political forces. The rally in support of war criminals has exposed this faux pluralism.

There was another significant beneficiary in the same election — the Bharatiya Janata Party. Communal tension has been rising, with serious disturbances in Deganga and Canning. Sensing a subterranean polarisation, the majoritarian forces see an opportunity. Mouthing banalities about Bengal’s “intrinsically” plural culture is useless. Culture is a living entity, recreated every moment. It is being recreated by the victimisation discourse by fringe groups like Hindu Samhati and in certain religious congregations where unalloyed poison produced by divines like Tarek Monawar Hossain from Bangladesh is played on loud-speakers. Thanks to technology, vitriol produced in a milieu of free-style majoritarian muscle-flexing in Bangladesh reaches West Bengal easily. Hence the popularity of one of the convicted war criminals, Delwar Hossain Sayedee, who in his post-1971 avatar had become a superstar in the Bengali waz-mahfil circuit.

What are the effects of cultural exchange of this kind? The rally is a clue. A defence of Sayedee and the claim that he is innocent, made repeatedly in the rally, are like perpetrating Holocaust-denial.

A day after the anti-Shahbag rally in Kolkata, almost as a divine reminder of starker realities beyond the defence of Islam, nearly 45 lakh unemployed youth, Hindus and Muslims, sat for the primary school teachers’ recruitment examination for 35,000 posts. Clearly, the ‘minority’ employment exchange set up by the incumbents has failed. West Bengal has petitioned the Centre for a relaxation of the minimum qualifications for primary school teachers. The promotion of religious education is hardly the way to empowerment and livelihood generation for the minorities in a State where they have been grossly under-represented in all white-collar services. There are no short-cut solutions.

(Garga Chatterjee is a researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

 

 

 

 

Killers of creativity #Censorsip #FOE


Aranyani Bhargav, The Hindu

Mallika Sarabhai Photo:Thulasi Kakkat

Mallika Sarabhai Photo:Thulasi Kakkat

Dance appears to have escaped censorship, but a very subtle form of censorship disguises itself as a performance licence

Despite what romantics might say, it is not easy to be creative. Creativity is not simply something some people are born with and some aren’t. Creativity is cultivated over many years of training, learning, and experiencing. In other words, it is not an easy task to create something good and meaningful even in the best of circumstances. However, the best of circumstances don’t always present themselves at opportune or frequent moments in time. In fact, many an artist will tell you that the revelations regarding a creative piece of work came at a decidedly inopportune or inconvenient moment!

Moreover, there are certain factors in the art world that make the creation of dance (and indeed other forms of art) even more difficult. One is undoubtedly the lack of inspiration. Inspiration can be thwarted by internal factors such as emotional distress or laziness to actually do the hard work that creativity requires, or to go out there and get exposed to other people’s work – in order to draw inspiration from it. Inspiration can equally be diminished by external factors such as the apparent celebration of mediocrity, which may cause disheartening and discouragement; a lack of guidance in the form of a mentor, teacher or colleagues; and the economic factor – which in many ways limits creativity.

Let me explain this further. Money, I think, is the second factor worth mentioning that kills creativity. Of course, this is not unconditionally true. An art-funding body that approves funding for a choreographer’s work can be of immeasurable help to the choreographer because it helps him or her to be able to focus only on creating the work, rather than searching for funding. But there is a flipside to this as well. Work that is commissioned often has restrictions imposed on it by the organization that commissions it. Funds are released on the condition that content, concept, vocabulary and so on – will be determined and restricted – not by the choreographer, but by the person or organization funding the work. In that sense, it does kill creativity.

Restrictions are imposed in other ways too, and this particular one seems obvious as a killer of creativity – censorship. Of course, like all of the above factors, this one is also not an absolute evil. Censorship exists in an ideal world for good and important reasons. But sometimes, it does contribute to the bloodless murder of creative potential.

Censorship doesn’t happen in the world of dance very publicly as it does in some other spheres of art – Kamal Haasan’s ‘Vishwaroopam’ and Salman Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’ are quite openly censored by society. Dance appears to have escaped that censorship but perhaps that is only the case because the world of dance is less in the public eye than Haasan or Rushdie. Censorship does occasionally threaten to kill creativity amongst dancers. Mallika Sarabhai, a dancer and activist in Gujarat, has faced ‘censorship’ of sorts for having viewpoints that didn’t fit well with people in power. On a more ‘aam aadmi’ level, the police now imposes restrictions on dancers who wish to perform publicly. Of course, the banning of live music (which had a profoundly devastating impact on local musicians and bands) in Bangalore as well as the banning of dancing in pubs has caught quite a lot of media attention a few years ago. But even for ‘serious performers of dance’ in India, a very subtle form of censorship disguises itself as a ‘performance licence’. Amongst several things that the performer has to agree not to do, the vague statements could potentially restrict the freedom of any kind of creative expression – the performance must not have “any impropriety of language”, “indecency of dress, dance, movement or gesture”, or “anything likely to excite feelings of sedition or political discontent”. The basis on which impropriety or indecency, or in fact, the expression of political discontent is to be measured is not mentioned anywhere, potentially limiting the creative freedom of a dancer to speak, dance, or dress a certain way.

So, when the best of circumstances do not present themselves to a creative person, these killers of creativity make the creation of art an even more difficult task than it was to begin with.

 

IMMEDIATE RELEASE- Girish Karnad- Why is #Naipaul being Honoured ? #Mumbai Literature Festival


At the Mumbai Literature Festival this year, Landmark and Literature Alive have jointly given the Lifetime’s Achievement Award to Sir Vidia Naipaul. The award ceremony held on the 31st of October at the National Centre of the Performing Arts coyly failed to mention that Naipaul was not an Indian and has never claimed to be one.  But at no point was the question raised, and the words Shashi Deshpande,the novelist, had used to describe the Neemrana Festival conducted by the ICCR in 2002 perfectly fitted the present event: ‘it was a celebration of a Nobel Laureate …whom  India, hopefully, even sycophantically, considered an Indian.’

Apart from his novels, only two of which take place in India and are abysmal,  Naipaul has written three books on India and  the books are brilliantly written—he is certainly among the great  English writers of our generation. They have been hailed as a continued exploration of India’s journey into modernity, but what strikes one from the very first book, A Wounded Civilization, is their rabid antipathy to the Indian Muslim.The ‘wound’ in the title is the one inflicted on India by Babur’s invasion. Since then Naipaul has never missed a chance to weigh in against the ‘invaders’, accusing them of having savaged India for five centuries, of having brought, among other dreadful things, poverty into it and  destroyed the glorious ancient Hindu culture .

A point that strikes one immediately about these books is that there is not a single word in any of them on Indian music. And I believe  that if you cannot respond to music, you cannot understand India. Music is the defining art form of the Indian identity. Naipaul’s silence on the subject  when he is exploring the whole of modern Indian culture suggests to me that he is tone deaf —which in turn explains his insensitivity to the intricate interweaving of  Hindu and Muslim creativities, through the Bhakti and Sufi movements, that gave us this extraordinary  heritage, alive in the heart of every Indian home.

What Naipaul’s virulence against Indian Islam conceals , however, is that he has borrowed his model of the history of Indian culture from the  British musicologists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, like William Jones. These scholars were acquainted with many other ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptian , the Greek and the Roman. But they were mystified by the fact that while the musical traditions of these civilizations were entirely lost, the Indian musical tradition was  alive and thriving. They decided that this once pure-and-glorious music must have been, at some point during the course of its long history, corrupted and mauled —-and they found the villain in the invading Muslim. So, according to them, once upon a time there was a pristine Indian musical culture, which the Muslims had disfigured. They therefore ignored the music that was being perfomed around them and went in search of the true Hindu music.

In his analysis of Indian culture Naipaul simply borrows this line of argument and reemploys it— as his original perception. And not for the first time.

Naipaul accuses R.K. Narayan of being indifferent to the  destruction and death symbolized by the ruins of Vijayanagar , which to him was a bastion of Hindu culture destroyed by the maurauding Muslims. But again he gets this interpretation of the history of Vijayanagar readymade from a book by Robert Sewell called, A Forgotten Empire, published in 1900. Naipaul, as always in awe of his colonial sources, simply accepts this picture as the unadorned truth and recycles it wholesale as his own. That historians and archaeologists working on the site during the last century have proved the situation to be much more complex and have shown that religion had little role to play in the conflict is irrelevant to him.

Of the Taj, probably the most beloved of the monuments  in  Indian, Naipaul writes, ‘The Taj is so wasteful so decadent and in the end so cruel that it is painful to be there for very long. This is an extravagance that speaks of the blood of the people.’ He brushes off  historian Romila Thapar’s argument that the Mughal era saw a rich efflorescence of the mixture of Hindu and Muslim styles, by attributing her judgment to her Marxist bias  and says, ‘The correct truth is the way the invaders look at their actions, They were conquering. They were subjugating.’  To Naipaul , the Indian Muslim remains an invader for ever, forever condemned to be condemned, because some of them had invaders for their ancestors. It is a usage would yield some strange results if applied to the USA.

As for Naipaul’s journalistic exploration of modern India,  mainly in the form of a series of interviews conducted  with Indians right across the board, one must confess they are supremely well written and that he is a master in drawing sharp and precise visuals of the people he talks to and of the places he visits. What begins to bother one after a while  however is that he invariably seems to meet brilliant interviewees whose answers to his questions are expressed with a wit and elegance that  match his own mastery of the language . Even half-literate interviewees suffer from no diffidence in their expression.

How reliable are the conversations he records? In a well-known essay Naipaul describes his  visit to the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad , where he stayed with his friend, Ashoke Chatterjee, the Director of the Institute. In a recent email to me, Mr Chatterjee said, that Naipaul’s essay was ‘ a scenario that could have been but was not what he actually saw. Fragments of reality, selected and put together, into a collage of pure fantasy.’ Chatterjee’s friendship with Naipaul came to an abrupt end when Chatterjee told Naipaul that his book, A Wounded Civilization, should be classified as fiction.

In a recent book, Naipaul takes up for examination the autobiography of Munshi Rahman Khan, who emigrated to Suriname at the end of the nineteenth  century, and contrasts it with Gandhi’s .  Sanjay Subramaniam, the historian, has reviewed the essay in the London Review of Books and it doesn’t take him much effort to establish that Naipaul could only have read a third-hand, truncated translation of the text. ‘It is as if a reader in Gorakhpur was reading Naipaul in Maithili after the text had passed through a Japanese translation.’ That doesn’t prevent Naipaul from commenting even on the style and linguistic usage of Rahman Khan.

The question surely is by giving him the Lifetime Achievement Award, what statement is being made by the Award-givers.  As a journalist what he writes about India is his business. No one can question his right to be ignorant or to prevaricate

But the Nobel Prize has given him a sudden authority and his use of it needs to be looked at.

One of the first things Naipaul did on receiving the Nobel Prize was to visit the office of the BJP in Delhi. He who had earlier declared that he was not political, ‘that to have a political view is to be programmed’, now declared that he was happy to be politically ‘appropriated’. It was then that he made his most infamous remark: ‘Ayodhya’, he said,’ is a sort of passion. Any passion is creative. Passion leads to creativity.’

Salman Rushdie’s response was that Naipaul was behaving like ‘ a fellow-traveller of Fascism and [that he] disgraces the Noble Prize.’

In the wake of Ayodhya close to 1500 Muslims were slaughtered in the streets of Bombay alone. I was attending a Film Festival in New Delhi when the riots broke out and received anguished calls from my friends in Bombay to say Muslims were being pulled out of their homes or stopped in the streets to be killed. I rang my Muslim editor to say he and his family could use my flat, in a predominantly Parsee building, until the situation became safe. The great Marathi actress, Fayyaz, whom I finally located after a week in a corner in Pune where she had fled in distress from Mumbai, described how Shiv Sainiks had thrown fire bombs into Muslim slums and  how, when the inmates of the houses rushed out in terror, they were shot down by the Police as trouble-makers.

Seven years later, in cold blood, Naipaul was glamorizing  these events as ‘passion’, as ‘ a creative act’.

It is significant that this part of Naipaul’s sociologizing was not mentioned in the citation of the Award, or by Farouq Dhondy, who while interviewing him, mentioned the book, ‘Among the Believers’ and then quickly moved to a long-winded account of how he had helped Sir Vidia adopt a cat which thirteen years later was put to sleep lying on his lap—giving Naipaul another chance to burst into sentimental tears. Presumably Dhondy was trying to prove how ‘human’ Naipaul was.

But Landmark and Literature Alive who have announced this Award have a responsibility to explain to us where exactly they stand with regard to these Naipaul’s remarks. Naipaul is a foreigner and can make pronouncements as he wishes. But do they mean to valorize Naipaul’s stand that Indian Muslims are raiders and marauders? Are they supporting his continued insistence on Muslim buildings in India being monuments to rape and loot? Or  are they by their silence suggesting that these views do not matter?

  The Award givers have much to answer for.     ——       Girish Karnad,   1 Nov 2012       Mumbai

 

#India- Ending the silence- 1984 anti-Sikh Riots


HISTORY

Ending the silence

VIKRAM KAPUR, Frontline

Many questions still remain unanswered about the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi. Unless we face them squarely to give the event a sense of an ending, its ghosts will continue to haunt us.

BEDI/ AFP 

NOVEMBER 2, 1984: A building belonging to Sikhs burning in Daryaganj.

WHY do you write so much on Indira Gandhi’s assassination and the anti-Sikh riots it spawned, I am often asked. Sometimes the question comes with the admonishment: What can such writing possibly do except open old wounds? After all, 28 years have passed. Punjab is peaceful and, moreover, the country has a Sikh Prime Minister. So why don’t you simply move on like everyone else and let all that be? At other times, the question comes accompanied by a genuine concern for my literary well-being. There is nothing to gain by writing about the events of 1984, I am told. No one remembers them outside India; so the chances of finding a foreign publisher are remote. Even in India, 1984 accounts for little more than a historical footnote. Certainly, it is nowhere near as prominent as the destruction of the Babri Masjid or the 26/11 attack on Mumbai. So why write about it?

Over the years, I have put the same question to myself. I am not a Sikh. No one I knew was ever targeted in those riots. The mob came nowhere near my home in South Delhi. All I saw of the actual devastation was a burnt vehicle that had not been removed from the road and a razed gurdwara awaiting kar seva. That too, after the riots abated. My abiding memory of the day of the assassination is a flag I saw flying at half mast in a foreign consulate (I cannot recall which one) while walking home from school. At the time, I had no idea what could possibly make a flag fly at half mast in a foreign consulate. Yet, I distinctly remember my chest tightening with the thought that something was not right. My abiding memory of the three days of rioting that followed is a TV screen showing dignitaries shuffling past the Prime Minister’s body lying in state, the propriety manifest in the scene contrasting sharply with the mayhem playing out elsewhere.

The most telling anecdote I have from those days that involved someone I knew occurred more than a month after the riots subsided. A school friend who happened to be a Sikh visited me at home. After he had left, our chowkidar, an ex-Army havildar from Haryana, told me, “These days you should keep your distance from Sikhs, baba. They are no longer good people.” Those words brought home the extent to which the world can change in a few days. I had known that friend for years. We sat next to each other in school. Now, a wall that we had no role in constructing threatened to come between us.

Yet, despite not being touched by it, it is in that madness that I have found a groundswell of creative inspiration. Writers do not select their material. Their material selects them. Thus goes the old adage. As the Israeli writer Etgar Keret reminds us, stories that matter are those that come from somewhere inside the writer. Anyone can pluck something out of thin air. But for something to have value, it has to come from something. On the basis of that, I can only conclude that even though my involvement was no more than that of a bystander, somehow those events became as much a part of me as my DNA.

Terrible cost

Two thousand seven hundred and thirty-three men, women and children were killed in the three days of rioting, according to official estimates. A sitting Prime Minister was assassinated for the first time in Indian history. There was incalculable damage to property and other assets. Furthermore, the riots served to radicalise thousands of Sikhs who otherwise would not have had anything to do with the Khalistan movement, and paved the way for an insurgency that not only terrorised Punjab for most of the next decade but cast a shadow that reached all the way to Delhi. There were also instances of members of a ruling party actively participating in the bloodletting of a section of the citizenry while the government, the police and the administrative machinery sat about doing nothing. Rather, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi attempted to explain away the riots with the now infamous statement: “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes.”

All these years later, however, it is not what happened in 1984 that rankles. It is the fact that the “corpse” of 1984 continues to show enough signs of life to play out, to the letter, what the American novelist William Faulkner said about the past. (Faulkner, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for 1949, said, “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.”) The recent stabbing of Lieutenant General Brar, who led Operation Bluestar which brought about the Prime Minister’s assassination, is merely the latest indication that 1984 is still alive and kicking.

RAVEENDRAN/ AFP 

THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE RIOTS, in which over 2,700 men, women and children were killed, have still not been brought to book. A Sikh woman widowed by the riots, during a protest near Parliament House in New Delhi on October 31, 2002.

A journalist engages with history as it happens. A historian deals with it in retrospect. A biographer concerns himself with the actions of its principal actors. For all three, facts form, or should form, their major stock-in-trade. A literary writer, on the other hand, is more concerned with the heart beating at the core of the body of facts. Like Salman Rushdie in Midnight’s Children, he or she is willing to compromise on accuracy to get at the essence of things by giving that passage of events a recognisable face. Hence, Partition has its Saleem Sinai, the Russian Revolution its Dr Zhivago, the First World War its Paul Baumer, the Victorian age its Pip….

For me, the most compelling face of the 1984 riots emerged more than 20 years after they transpired. In 2005, following a lecture at a Delhi college, I met a 20-year-old Sikh man who would later become the inspiration for a short story. As part of the lecture, I had read an excerpt from my first novel that deals with the 1984 riots. Maybe that was what made the young man come over at the end of the lecture and ask if he could have a word. He waited patiently until I had finished with everyone else. Then we walked over to the college canteen. Over a cup of tea, he shared his story.

Confronting the truth

He said he had been told by his mother that his father was working in the Gulf while he was growing up. As he grew older, he started to wonder why his father never phoned. Then he wondered why his mother was always scrounging to make ends meet. Other families where fathers worked in the Gulf never seemed to want for anything. Finally, one day he brought matters to a head with his mother and demanded to know what had actually happened to his father. His mother broke down in the face of incessant questioning and told him that his father had been murdered in the 1984 riots. She had concocted the story about him working in the Gulf to spare him the heartbreak.

After he had finished, I did not know what to say. Everything he had told me was as far away from my childhood as you could possibly get. For me, Dad had been a given while growing up; it was inconceivable to imagine growing up without him. For that young man, his father had existed in a lie. In order to sustain the lie, his mother would have concocted other lies. She would have authored letters and told him they came from his father. She would have bought presents and passed them off the same way. She would have built expectation by conjuring dates when the father was due to come home only to dash it later by saying he could not for some reason…. For the ruse to work for any length of time, members of the extended family had to be in on it. Were so many people participating in a lie in order to save their little one from heartbreak? Or was it part of their own desire to keep their loved one alive, if only in fiction?

Whatever else it did, such a childhood had clearly marked him. If he had not told me he was 20, I would have put his age closer to 30. I was reminded of the passage in the German author Erich Maria Remarque’s First World War classic All Quiet on the Western Front where the battle-scarred narrator, Paul Baumer, says about himself and his mates: “Young? None of us is more than twenty. But young? Young men? That was a long time ago. We are old now.”

In the end, I asked him how finding out the truth about his father felt. He told me it was hard at first. While he had sensed his mother was lying to him, he was unprepared for the brutal nature of the truth. (His father was set on fire and burned to death.) With the passage of time, however, he had come to terms with it. The truth helped give the matter closure. He no longer had to live wondering about his father.

THE HINDU ARCHIVES 

A SIKH MAN who cut his hair and shaved his beard to hide his religious identity during the riots shows his identity card.

Closure is what the events of 1984 have lacked. Following the stabbing of Lieutenant General Brar, the airwaves have been rife with speculation about the ghosts of 1984 rising. Recently, a cache of arms was seized in Punjab. There have been claims that money is being collected in gurdwaras abroad to create mayhem in India, and jobless Sikh youth are being radicalised through incendiary rhetoric and doctored films. An Operation Bluestar memorial, which has raised the hackles of a number of Army veterans, is planned in Amritsar.

Will the ghosts of 1984 rise? I sincerely hope not. However, at the moment, that entire period resembles an erratic narrative meandering in the absence of inspiration. There is no telling where something so rudderless might go. If civil society and people of conscience continue to relinquish its stewardship, then its authorship may very well fall into the hands of those who wish to push it into retro mode, and we could find ourselves facing a tragic déjà vu.

As a nation, we prefer to use silence to deal with our historical mistakes. Hence, our ghosts hang around. In the immediate aftermath, silence has its uses. Then memories are too raw and wounds too fresh for a constructive dialogue. After a suitable amount of time has passed, however, silence is counterproductive. By letting the unresolved linger, silence allows resentment to fester. The events of 1984 have lacked the kind of rigorous reflection and self-examination that would give them closure. Many of the questions remain to be answered. Responsibility has not been affixed for the crimes. The decisions taken at the time have not been dissected in any great detail for their veracity. For instance, how and why were things allowed to deteriorate to the point where it became necessary for the army to enter the Golden Temple? That was, after all, the event that set the whole tragic cycle in motion. It demands to be placed under a microscope.

Political expediency

In part, all of that is the direct result of political expediency. Just like the Gujarat riots of 2002, what happened in 1984 was politically motivated and the political fraternity is understandably hesitant to examine or prosecute itself. The Bharatiya Janata Party has dragged its feet over the Gujarat riots. In the same way, the Congress has been reluctant to revisit 1984. It was 2010 before the Central Bureau of Investigation framed charges against the senior Congress leader Sajjan Kumar for his role in organising the riots. There are others who have escaped prosecution altogether.

When it comes to righting historical mistakes, we would do well to take our cue from others. The fact that there is no chance that the Holocaust will ever be reprised is not because what happened then is shrouded in secrecy. Rather, it is because it has been shouted so loudly from the rooftops that we are sick to the gut. By the same token, one big reason why Germany has been able to move on from the monstrosity that was Nazism and the crimes of the Holocaust is that it was willing to stare them in the face. (The Germans had no wish to repeat their mistake following the First World War, where they refused to take responsibility for their defeat and opened the way for Hitler to seduce them by blaming the entire debacle on the Jewish minority.) Hence, guilt was fixed where it needed to be fixed. In a number of cases, it was admitted with genuine remorse. Those guilty of the most heinous crimes were punished. The necessary apologies were made….

South Africa has attempted to do something similar with apartheid. While it has not been entirely successful, it has managed to emerge as a functioning multiracial democracy, a far cry from its troubled neighbour Zimbabwe. Even our much-maligned neighbour Pakistan came clean by making the Justice Hamoodur Rehman Commission of Inquiry report into their military failure of 1971 public. The same, however, cannot be said about the Henderson Brooks report dealing with our military failure in the 1962 India-China war. Even though 50 years have passed since the event, it remains classified.

The silence surrounding the events of 1984 has guaranteed that they have generated little reflection and practically no self-examination. A lot happened in 1984. Just the fact that a sitting Prime Minister was assassinated for the first time in Indian history is enough cause for discussion. President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, President Lincoln almost a hundred years earlier. To this day, the American press and intelligentsia debate those events. By comparison, the focus on Indira Gandhi’s assassination has been minuscule. In fact, the entire epoch seems to have leapfrogged the stage of reflection and stock-taking altogether and looks ready to enter the realm of contested history. The religious leadership of the Sikhs is hell-bent on declaring those who died for the Khalistan cause martyrs. Others view such attempts with a mixture of revulsion and shock.

After the beginning, possibly the most important thing in a story is its ending. A satisfying ending can salvage a mediocre story by making it memorable. If anything, the recent rumblings in Punjab should tell us the last thing we need with regard to the events of 1984 is more silence. By steadfastly remaining topical, that passage of history continues to prove how insufficient the sense of an ending we have provided for it is. Like the young Sikh man I met in 2005, it needs the kind of irrevocable closure that cannot be supplied by silence. The sooner we realise that and move to resolve the things that keep it topical, the earlier we will put it to rest.

Vikram Kapur is an award-winning novelist and short story writer. His website is www.vikramkapur.com






No, Banning “Innocence of Muslims” Is Not the Solution #mustread #mustshare


 

Posted: 09/17/2012 , Huffingtonpost
  Chair, Muslims for Progressive Values Canada

Once again we Muslims take centre stage in the arena of world politics, our “anger” dominating the headlines over a poorly made YouTube video, called “Innocence of Muslims.” And though the video is poor, both in content and production quality, the title alone is excellent.

As a Muslim, resident of North America my entire life, I have never heard the word “innocence” placed next to “Muslims” so many times by the media. So to the “Innocence of Muslims” creators, on this point alone — thank you.

Today’s blog post is dedicated to my fellow Muslims, with one exception.

The exception consists of the less than one per cent of Muslims who are engaging in violent anti-American demonstrations in a number of countries.

Why? Because that part of the community, that less than one percent of Muslims, does not have the time nor the heart for this message.

No, that less than one percent of the community, is working hard to destroy whatever efforts their fellow (mostly Muslim) citizens have made towards democracy in the Muslim world in an effort to replace it with another dictatorship, made up of salafi extremists. (Please note it appears there are no violent demonstrations taking place in the Gulf States likely because the would-be demonstrators there already compose the governments.)

To my fellow Muslims — the 99 per cent who are peaceful — here is my message. Online articles, information and resources, including amateur video productions, are everywhere.

On the topic of Islam, extreme interpretations of our scriptures backed up by sources many of us regard as inauthentic or out of date, receive millions of hits. Some of the information is posted by non-Muslims, but much is posted by those who call themselves Muslim, as well.

And amateur video productions on sites like YouTube and others are a thriving industry all over the world. From the diversity of amateur video production we see that people all over the world have a range of opinions on what is right and wrong, indecent and acceptable, not only in relation to religion, but regarding other matters as well.

And we cannot always “police” all of what is “out there” online. We cannot “police” it in North America. We cannot “police” it abroad. In fact, law enforcement all over the world seems to have difficulty literally policing truly offensive, criminal material, such as child pornography.

“Policing” opinions on religious matters is unrealistic in most instances. But some of you say “Innocence of Muslims” is a special case and should be banned. Personally, I disagree. “Innocence of Muslims” should not be banned, nor should any video that one finds disturbing because of its anti-Islamic, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian or anti-religious content.

Why? For a number of reasons.

First of all, in relation to “Innocence of Muslims” we must take into account the following factors:

1. Merely because the depiction is suggested doesn’t make it true;
2. Because there is no coercion allowed in Islam according to the Holy Quran, human beings are free to believe as they choose; and
3. Our Prophet Muhammad practiced a virtually super-human degree of patience, which we are supposed to emulate.

Second, in respect to anti-religious material in general, history and current policies show that when governments police the opinions of citizens the result is a dictatorship or at the very least a country that upholds injustice by censoring the criticism against it.

And when people are prohibited from making poor quality amateur YouTube videos, also at stake is the freedom of expression to speak out against the injustice of governments and others in a peaceful, constructive manner.

It means religious minority rights, women’s rights, queer rights — human rights — become endangered further. It means any opposition to those rights may more easily result in violence against minorities. It means that violence against minority groups may be then condoned by governments who do not have the constitution, the resources, and/or the expertise to enforce protections for their minority inhabitants.

It means humanity suffers more not less. What else can be done?

My fellow Muslims — our community has been under a magnifying glass for some time now. But in the past decade, great changes have taken place.

Though there remain many issues we must resolve among ourselves we are no longer afraid to discuss them today in the open.

Our Muslim community leaders — who now hail from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities, young, old, queer, straight, male, female, single, and married, are more confident now to express a variety of views, than previous generations, despite opposition and conflict, which at times originates from both inside and outside the mosque.

And unlike the previous generation, our reaction to the insanity of salafist and wahabi extremists, is swift and just — as shown by the statements issued last week by a host of Muslim organizations in North America, condemning the violence at the American embassies and conveying condolences upon the death of Chris Stevens, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and members of his staff.

It is in stark contrast to what we watched, particularly, those of us growing up in North America, decades ago, when the reaction to the fatwa pronounced against British Muslim author Salman Rushdie, endangering his life and stifling free expression among Muslims, was relatively muted, or worse. (And we must speak out now to ensure Rushdie is safe, considering the fatwa’s recent renewal).

We know now, as Muslims, we cannot remain silent in the face of injustice, particularly when the perpetrator claims to be Muslim and acts out in the name of our faith. But though we, as a community, may have matured, the media and public perception has not necessarily caught up with us at every turn.

Though there are plenty of pundits acknowledging we differ from the violent extremists who are taking advantage of the Arab Spring, there are others who continue to paint us all with the same monolithic, bigoted brush.

The words “Muslim Fury,” “Rage in the Muslim World,” are used without regard to the scant number of the demonstrators in relation to the entire global Muslim population.

And there are others hoping to screen “Innocence of Muslims” to a theatre audience — perhaps to bring some of the extremists in our midst, out into the open and create a perception that their numbers are greater.

My fellow Muslims, we live in difficult times. My fellow Muslims what is the solution? Must the problems of the entire Muslim world be a burden that constantly rests upon our shoulders?

Perhaps the answer is yes. Perhaps our generation must rise to the challenge of our era, remembering the words of the great late Martin Luther King Jr who said:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

And perhaps we must examine our community at home and abroad, with extreme Islamic love. Perhaps we must react not only to deflect the negative light others throw on our faith but consistently, together shine one on those injustices regularly taking place in the Muslim world.

Perhaps we must ask ourselves, not only why American (and other western) embassies are being attacked but why there are places in the Muslim world where there is poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, forced marriage, child marriage, female genital mutilation, honour killings, gender apartheid, persecution of religious minorities, homophobia, torture and murder of citizens by governments and war.

And perhaps we must ask ourselves what we must do, from where we stand, to peacefully, create a world of difference. And again remind ourselves of the words of the Holy Quran that now resonate so forcefully in the collective soul of our generation that — “Allah will not change a nation unless it changes what is in their hearts.”

 

India’s god laws fail the test of reason #Rationalist #FOE #Miracle


 

6 May 2012 , By Praveen Swami , The Hindu

Police investigation of Sanal Edamaraku for debunking a “miracle” at a church is a crime against the Constitution.

Early in March, little drops of water began to drip from the feet of the statue of Jesus nailed to the cross on the church of Our Lady of Velankanni, down on to Mumbai‘s unlovely Irla Road. Hundreds began to flock to the church to collect the holy water in little plastic bottles, hoping the tears of the son of god would sanctify their homes and heal their beloved.

Sanal Edamaruku, the eminent rationalist thinker, arrived at the church a fortnight after the miracle began drawing crowds. It took him less than half an hour to discover the source of the divine tears: a filthy puddle formed by a blocked drain, from where water was being pushed up through a phenomenon all high-school physics students are familiar with, called capillary action.

For his discovery, Mr. Edamaruku now faces the prospect of three years in prison — and the absolute certainty that he will spend several more years hopping between lawyers’ offices and courtrooms. In the wake of Mr. Edamaruku’s miracle-busting Mumbai visit, three police stations in the capital received complaints against him for inciting religious hatred. First information reports were filed, and investigations initiated with exemplary — if unusual — alacrity.

Real courage

Mr. Edamaruku isn’t the kind to be frightened. It takes real courage, in a piety-obsessed society, to expose the chicanery of Satya Sai Baba and packs of lesser miracle-peddlers who prey on the insecurities of the desperate and gullible. These actions have brought threats in their wake — but never from the state.

India‘s Constitution obliges all citizens to develop “scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”. India’s laws, though, are being used to persecute a man who has devoted his life to doing precisely that.

Like dozens of other intellectuals and artists, Mr. Edamaraku is a victim of India’s god laws — colonial-era legislation obliging the state to punish those who offend the faith of others. Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code criminalises the actions of “whoever destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons”. Its sibling, Section 295A, outlaws “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class”. Section 153B goes further, proscribing “any act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities”. Alarmingly, given the sweeping generalities in which these laws are written, truth is not an admissible defence.

In the decades since independence, these laws have been regularly used to hound intellectuals and artists who questioned religious beliefs. In 1993, the New Delhi-based progressive cultural organisation, Sahmat, organised an exhibition demonstrating that there were multiple versions of the Ramayana in Indian culture. Panels in the exhibition recorded that in one Buddhist tradition, Sita was Ram’s sister; in a Jain version, she was the daughter of Ravan. Even though the exhibits drew on historian Romila Thapar’s authoritative work, criminal cases were filed against Sahmat for offending the sentiments of traditionalist Hindus.

Punjab has seen a rash of god-related cases, mainly involving Dalit-led heterodoxies challenging the high traditions of the Akal Takht. In 2007, police filed cases against Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the head of the syncretic Saccha Sauda sect, for his purportedly blasphemous use of Sikh iconography. Earlier, in 2001, similar charges were brought against Piara Singh Bhaniarawala, after he released the Bhavsagar Granth, a religious text suffused with miracle stories.

Islamic chauvinists have shown the same enthusiasm for the secular state’s god laws as their Sikh and Hindu counterparts. Earlier this year, FIRs were filed against four writers who read out passages from Salman Rushdie‘s The Satanic Verses — a book that is wholly legal in India. Fear of Islamic neo-fundamentalists is pervasive, shaping cultural discourse even when its outcomes are not as dramatic as Mr. Rushdie’s case. In 1995, writer Khalid Alvi reissued Angaarey — a path-breaking collection of Urdu short works banned in 1933 for its attacks on god. The collection’s most-incendiary passages were censored out. India’s feisty media didn’t even murmur in protest after the magazine India Today was proscribed by Jammu and Kashmir in 2006 for carrying a cartoon with an image of the Kaaba as one among a metaphorical pack of political cards.

Even religious belief, ironically enough, can invite prosecution by the pious. Last year, the Kannada movie actress, Jayamala, was summoned before a Kerala court, along with astrologer P. Unnikrishna and his assistant Reghupathy, to face police charges that she had violated a taboo against women in the menstruating age from entering the Sabrimala temple.

For the most part, judges have shied away from condoning criticism of the pious, perhaps fearful of being held responsible for public disorder. In 1958, the Supreme Court heard litigation that grew out of the radical politician, E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker’s decision to break a clay idol of Ganesha. Lower courts had held, in essence, that the idol was not a sanctified object. The Supreme Court differed, urging the lower judiciary “to pay due regard to the feelings and religious emotions of different classes of persons with different beliefs, irrespective … of whether they are rational or otherwise”.

‘Insult to religion’

Earlier, in 1957, the Supreme Court placed some limits on 295A saying it “does not penalise any and every act of insult to or attempt to insult the religion”. Instead, it “only punishes the aggravated form of insult to religion perpetrated with deliberate and malicious intention” (emphasis added). The court shied away, though, from the key question, of what an insult to religion actually was.

Hearing an appeal against the Uttar Pradesh government’s decision to confiscate Naicker’s contentious Ramayana, the Supreme Court again ducked this issue. In 1976, it simply said “the law fixes the mind of the Administration to the obligation to reflect on the need to restrict and to state the grounds which ignite its action”. “That is about all”, the judges concluded.

That hasn’t, however, been all. In 1998, the Supreme Court upheld Karnataka’s decision to ban P.V. Narayanna’s Dharmakaarana, an award-winning re-reading of the Hindu saint, Basaveshwara. In 2007, the Bombay High Court similarly allowed Maharashtra to ban R.L. Bhasin’s Islam, an aggressive attack on the faith. There have been several other similar cases. In some, the works involved were scurrilous, even inflammatory — but the principles established by courts have allowed State governments to stamp out critical works of scholarship and art.

Dangers ahead

Indians have grappled with these issues since at least 1924, when Arya Samaj activist Mahashe Rajpal published the pamphlet that led the state to enact several of the god laws. Rangila Rasul — in Urdu, ‘the colourful prophet’ —was a frank, anti-Islam polemic. Lower courts condemned Rajpal to prison. In the Lahore High Court, though, Justice Dalip Singh argued that public outrage could not be the basis for legal proscription: “if the fact that Musalmans resent attacks on the Prophet was to be the measure [of legal sanction]”, he reasoned, “then an historical work in which the life of the prophet was considered and judgment passed on his character by a serious historian might [also] come within the definition”.

In 1927, when pre-independence India’s central legislative assembly debated the Rangila Rasul affair, some endorsed Justice Singh’s message. M.R. Jayakar likened religious fanaticism to a form of mental illness, and suggested that those who suffer from it be segregated “from the rest of the community”. This eminently sane suggestion wasn’t, however, the consensus: the god laws were expanded to expressly punish works like Rangila Rasul.

Perhaps Indians can congratulate themselves that the god laws have not been used to persecute and kill religious dissenters, as the ever-expanding blasphemy laws which sprang up in Pakistan. Mr. Edamaruku’s case ought to make clear, though, just where things are inexorably headed. If Indians wish to avoid the fate of the dystopia to the country’s west, its citizens desperately need to accept the right of critics to attack, even insult, what they hold dear.

In 864 CE, the great physician, Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Zakaria al-Razi, wrote: “The miracles of the prophets are imposters or belong to the domain of pious legend. The teachings of religions are contrary to the one truth: the proof of this is that they contradict one another. It is tradition and lazy custom that have led men to trust their religious leaders. Religions are the sole cause of the wars which ravage humanity; they are hostile to philosophical speculation and to scientific research. The alleged holy scriptures are books without values”.

Following a rich scholarly life, and a tenure as director of the hospital in Baghdad patronised by the caliph Abu al-Qasim Abd ‘Allah, al-Razi died quietly at his home in Rey, surrounded by his students. In modern India, his thoughts would have led him to a somewhat less pleasant end.

There’s no escape from the corporations that run India


Arundhati Roy, in Guardian

Domestic mega-corporations’ tentacles extend into every aspect of Indian life – but no one dares speak out against them

Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, is personally worth $20bn. He holds a majority controlling share in Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), a company with a market capitalisation of $47bn and global business interests that include petrochemicals, oil, natural gas, polyester fibre, special economic zones, fresh food retail, high schools, life sciences research and stem cell storage services. RIL recently bought 95% shares in Infotel, a TV consortium that controls 27 TV news and entertainment channels in almost every regional language. Infotel owns the only nationwide license for 4G broadband. Ambani also owns a cricket team.

RIL is one of a handful of corporations that run India. Some of the others are the Tatas, Jindals, Vedanta, Mittals, Infosys, Essar and the other Reliance (Adag), owned by Mukesh’s brother Anil. Their race for growth has spilled across Europe, central Asia, Africa and Latin America. Their nets are cast wide; they are visible and invisible, overground as well as underground. The Tatas, for example, run more than 100 companies in 80 countries. They are one of India’s oldest and largest private sector power companies. They own mines, gas fields, steel plants, telephone, cable TV and broadband networks, and run whole townships. They manufacture cars and trucks, own the Taj hotel chain, Jaguar, Land Rover, Daewoo, Tetley Tea, a publishing company, a chain of bookstores, a major brand of iodised salt and the cosmetics giant Lakme. Their advertising tagline could easily be “you can’t live without us”.

The era of the privatisation of everything has made the Indian economy one of the fastest growing in the world. However, like any good old-fashioned colony, one of its main exports is its minerals. India’s new mega-corporations are those who have managed to muscle their way to the head of the spigot that is spewing money extracted from deep inside the earth. It’s a dream come true for businessmen – to be able to sell what they don’t have to buy.

Of late, the main mining conglomerates have embraced the arts – film, art installations and the rush of literary festivals that have replaced the 1990s obsession with beauty contests. Vedanta, currently mining the heart out of the homelands of the ancient Dongria Kond tribe for bauxite, is sponsoring a “Creating Happiness” film competition for young film students who they have commissioned to make films on sustainable development. Vedanta’s tagline is “Mining Happiness”.

The Jindal Group brings out a contemporary art magazine and supports some of India’s major artists (who naturally work with stainless steel). Essar was the principal sponsor of the Tehelka Newsweek Think Fest that promised “high-octane debates” by the foremost thinkers from around the world, which included major writers, activists and even the architect Frank Gehry.

Tata Steel and Rio Tinto (which has a sordid track record of its own) were among the chief sponsors of the Jaipur literary festival. . Many of the world’s best and brightest writers gathered to discuss love, literature, politics and Sufi poetry. Some tried to defend Salman Rushdie‘s right to free speech by reading from his proscribed book, The Satanic Verses. In every TV frame and newspaper photograph the logo of Tata Steel (and its tagline, “Values Stronger Than Steel”) loomed, a benign, benevolent host. The enemies of free speech were the supposedly murderous Muslim mobs, who, the festival organisers told us, could have even harmed the schoolchildren gathered there.

Yes, the hardline Darul-uloom Deoband Islamic seminary did protest at Rushdie being invited to the festival. Yes, some Islamists did gather at the festival venue to protest and yes, outrageously, the state government did nothing to protect the venue. The battle for free speech against Islamist fundamentalism made it to the world’s newspapers. It is important that it did. But there were hardly any reports about Tata, the festival sponsors’ role in the war in the forests of central India – a war ostensibly waged against Maoists, but actually against all those who are resisting displacement by corporations such as Tata.

There were no reports either about the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, which make even thinking an anti-government thought an offence. Or about the mandatory public hearing for the Tata Steel plant in Lohandiguda which local people complained actually took place hundreds of miles away in Jagdalpur, with a hired audience of 50 people, under armed guard. Where was free speech then?

No one mentioned Kalinganagar where, in 2006, police fired on those who protested against the construction of a boundary wall by Tata Steel. No one mentioned that journalists, academics and film-makers working on subjects unpopular with the Indian government – like the surreptitious part it played in the genocide of Tamils in the war in Sri Lanka, or the recently discovered unmarked graves in Kashmir – were being denied visas or deported straight from the airport.

But which of us sinners was going to cast the first stone? Not me, who lives off royalties from corporate publishing houses. We all watch Tata Sky, we surf the net with Tata Photon, we ride in Tata taxis, we stay in Tata hotels, sip our Tata tea in Tata bone china and stir it with teaspoons made of Tata steel. We buy Tata books in Tata bookshops. Hum Tata ka namak khatey hain. We’re under siege.

But which of us sinners was going to cast the first stone? Not me, who lives off royalties from corporate publishing houses. We all watch Tata Sky, we surf the net with Tata Photon, we ride in Tata taxis, we stay in Tata hotels, sip our Tata tea in Tata bone china and stir it with teaspoons made of Tata steel. We buy Tata books in Tata bookshops. Hum Tata ka namak khatey hain. We’re under siege.

If the sledgehammer of moral purity is to be the criteria for stone-throwing, then the only people who qualify are those who have been silenced already. Those who live outside the system; the outlaws in the forests or those whose protests are never covered by the press, or the well-behaved dispossessed, who go from tribunal to tribunal, bearing witness, giving testimony.

But the Litfest gave us our aha! moment. Oprah came. She said she loved India, that she would come again and again. It made us proud.

Read original article- Capitalism: A Ghost Story

Open letter to ipetitions.com on Censorship


Dear Alex

 I am  a human rights  activist and a  social media expert who  very avidly uses the potent weapon  of online petitions to strengthen the offline campaigns on various human rights violations. I have used almost all petition sites including yours.
Your site  is featuring  a very controversial petitions , which blow horns on the top on censorship “Remove ban against ‘The Satanic Verses’, which states that  The Satanic Verses’ is an epitome of free speech. Banning the book is as good as banning one’s right to have an opinion in the world’s largest democracy. For a long time, to appease vote banks, successive governements have been trying to suppress the right to speech and opinion by banning several books and pieces of art created by men of high intellectuality. Among these, the most famous and controversial one has been ‘The Satanic Verses’. Banning the book in the 20th century, the Indian government committed a huge blunder as it paved the way for several subsequent bans. It is high time we remove the ban and welcome Sir Rushdie amidst us. Once this petition is signed by at least 10,000 people, it will be sent to the Prime Ministers Office and the Rashtrapathi Bhavan. No efforts will be spared to unban this magnificient piece of prose. The government should realise that every piece of literature can entertain people and at the same time offend them. Spread the word!
Now, I want to ask you how can blow the horn against ban on satanic verses when you have banned a petition on your site “ For Release of   Waqar “, it reeks of  hypocrisy, you  washed your hands  off the petition  by immediately disabling it with a small message which states-
This petition is going offline in 48 hours.
 Hello, Unfortunately, our legal department has encountered some legal issues regarding your petition (http://www.ipetitions.com/ petition/release-waqar-ahmad/). We are forced to remove your petition from our site, otherwise we are subject to legal proceedings. The petition will be disabled for at least 48 hours prior to removal, but you will have access to its database during that period. We apologize once again. Thank you for your understanding. -Alex iPetitions Support-
 I would really like to know “ What  legal proceedings “ will be  initiated against you, if you had the free waqar petition  ?  W ho threatened you ? and why  you pulled out the  petition from the website, REALLY
 Either  you  protect   human   rights  fully, or please don’t  create a façade  in the name of  e activism. This is highly unexpected of an  e petition website ,which says it stands for the same values that our petition demanded, Justice and Freedom for all.
 Expecting a  reply  to my queries
Warm Regards
 Adv Kamayani Bali Mahabal
@ kracktivist

 

ps- this letter has been sent to support@ipetitions.com also

‘Our policy is to ban first and hear later’


A SENIORSupreme Court advocate, Rajeev Dhavan has been one of the most trenchant critics of censorship. His book Publish and Be Damned: Censorship and Intolerance in India examines the relationship between political and social censorship. On a winter evening in his South Delhi residence, Dhavan, 65, tells Shonali Ghosal why the liberal space can be easily throttled in India.

Are the seven heads under Article 19(2) too open to interpretation by the government to curb freedom of expression (FoE)?
The seven heads of reasonable restriction in Article 19(2) are interpreted mechanically. If it falls into that slot (defamation), the court will say (it’s a) reasonable restraint. Nobody examines defamation and contempt of law as reasonable restraints. Some of these restraints are huge. For example, public order, decency, morality can mean anything; friendly relations with foreign states is also ambiguous. Free speech would be suffocated. Although the Supreme Court has been strong in protecting FoE as in the case of Price and Page Act, 1962 and Bennett and Coleman on advertisements (1972), nevertheless this wooliness in Article 19(2) is over-extended not just by courts but also by civil society. We find a Shiv Sena interpretation, an RSS interpretation, a CM Modi interpretation and, regrettably, a CPM interpretation when it interfered with Taslima Nasrin’s book.
Can there be a realistic litmus test to determine what is or isn’t a reasonable restriction?
No, because all the categories are fungible. One must realise that the right is fundamental and not the restriction. This is why the government and people censoring have to say “is this the least invasive way we can interfere with each other’s speech?” This is a message to civil society that the Constitution is a principled document. Free speech can never be answered with violence. If those concerned with Salman Rushdie have something against The Satanic Verses, which I personally think is a brilliant interpretation, it should be words against words.

But shouldn’t an artist be allowed to contest another person’s right to be offended?
Everyone has a right to contest what anyone says but what one does not know is how, where and in what way will the contestation take place. The Constitution is abused in ways where the State, at times, has taken a lackadaisical approach to free speech. The Satanic Verses was banned under the Custom’s Act, it was never given a chance to be heard. The policy is to ban first and hear later.

Are we killing the liberal space in India by arming and encouraging all objectionists alike?
The so-called liberal space where people talk and reason with each other is very easily throttled. Take the Khushwant Singh versus Maneka Gandhi case, the HC order stood for years until Sanjay Kaul reversed it. Getting injunction from the court on whatever ground is easy like in the cases of Khushboo and MF Husain where criminal complaints have been filed. Even Justice AM Ahmadi refused to aggregate all cases in one court. The process is the punishment — civil or criminal. Just going through the process of arrest, of bail, of being banned is enough to unsettle anyone.

With ‘offended individuals’ filing cases, artists have to keep attending to cases across the country. While protecting the right to object, isn’t the law neglecting the artist?
The unfortunate law is that a case can be filed wherever the offending exercise of free speech reaches. Former editors tell me that people filed cases in Assam just to make it inconvenient. One recent development that is worrying is that Mumbai has become the defamation capital. The reason: outside Maharashtra, the fees you have to pay is ad valorem fee (in proportion to the amount claimed). In Mumbai, the fee levels out so that you can claim huge amounts on low fee as was witnessed in the Justice PB Sawant case where the court ordered 100 crore damages. You don’t have to pay through your nose by way of fees. In Maharashtra, defamation has become a game to intimidate and harass. The corporates do very well on this.

‘The process is the punishment — just going through arrest, bail or being banned can unsettle anyone’

Should there be a distinction between content one can avoid (a book, a television show) and that you can’t (billboards) when citing disrespect or indecency?
Freedom of speech is subject to time and place. If you’re in a crowd and you say something to someone, that’s immediate. You have the option to read or not read a magazine. Many countries mark sections of magazine stores if they stock adult content. But all this content is available on the net. There are ways, at least on TV to restrain channels. Internet access is another thing altogether but you don’t break a walnut with a sledgehammer as Mr Sibal wants to do. These things require debate rather than the knee-jerk reactions of Kapil Sibal and Markandey Katju.

Shouldn’t we define the caveat about incitement of violence much more narrowly?
Categories on which reasonable restrictions can be made have to be reasonably broad but require Constitutional interpretation to ensure that you don’t ban plays like Tamas or a film like Ore Oru Gramathile. The court has been good in the late ’80s and early ’90s, which is evident from cases like The Bandit Queen where the Delhi High Court took a very aggressive view to cut out portions, which would’ve been removed. The Supreme Court reversed the order as it should have. Intolerance to free speech is on the increase and we don’t know how to deal with it.

Shonali Ghosal is a Correspondent with Tehelka.
shonali@tehelka.com

Now, ‘Flashread’ to rescue freedom of speech


//
Mail Today, New Delhi
From Ramanujan‘s essay to Hussain’s paintings, Rushdie’s writings to Facebook musings, the issue of cultural censorship seems to be spreading like a disease in this country. But before it goes viral, activists have decided to step up efforts to retain India‘s democratic fabric.

Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie‘s ‘The Satanic Verses‘ is banned for alleged blasphemy against Islam.

In one such attempt that bears a resemblance to the “flashmob”, where a group of people shake their legs in a choreographed move, free speech advocates have now joined hands to raise their voice against increasing intolerance in the country.

Termed “flashread”, groups in cities across the country met in public places and read out from works by controversial authors on Valentine’s Day, which has itself become a flashpoint of cultural censorship.

“What we have to do is keep embarrassing the state so that we can ask them; do we want India to turn into some of those countries where authors are jailed?” Salil Tripathi, an author, asked. “The state needs to be reminded that it has to protect the vulnerable. And who is the vulnerable here – the painter who paints what he wants to… the author who has something to say!”

A.K. Ramanujan
A.K. Ramanujan‘s essay on Ramayan was banned by the Delhi University.

At Delhi’s Lodi Gardens, a group of about 15 people gathered and began reading out extracts from the works of A.K. Ramanujan , Rohinton Mistry, Jeet Thayil as well as Salman Rushdie , whose intended appearance at the Jaipur Literature Festival created quite a storm.

“What we’re doing is showing them that there’s a civil way to make ourselves heard,” Mohit, a financial services consultant who read at the gathering, said. “We can easily form a mob and try to go after the ones who want to silence us. But the point is we have to behave in way you can appreciate. We have got to show that there’s a better way than just being loud.”

The movement was organised by Nilanjana Roy, a literary critic, editor and writer who is also heading an effort to lift the ban on Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.

Roy put the idea down on her blog on February 10 and it quickly spread on social networking sites, inspiring similar events in Mumbai, Bangalore and other cities – with groups using Twitter to keep each other informed about the timing and location.

The movement also allowed for impromptu changes – with one group in the Capital deciding to carry out a “flashread” at Janpath after office-goers were unable to make it to Lodi Gardens.

After the group at Lodi Gardens failed to attract much attention, they decided to move into Khan Market where a spontaneous reading in front of a bookshop invited interests and questions from passersby.

“More and more people seem to be afraid to say what they want; afraid to express themselves, and that is obviously a problem,” Mohit said. “If you can’t speak, you can’t think. For us the role model is right here (in India)… As a state and a country we are in danger of forgetting that.”

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