Sunday, November 11, 2007

Modi and Tehelka: Democracy, secularism? Excuse me

Modi men were caught on camera bragging about their sordid acts, which we all knew very well about. Without state complicity the mass level violence of this kind could not be sustained for so long. What probably has shocked us – assuming it has – is the shamelessly remorseless way of admitting it. But then, if we think it is shameless, there is something wrong in our vision. Mr. Modi is not a passionate Hindu, he is just a politician and the carnage was nothing more and nothing less than a political ploy to mobilize votes. The fact that he was voted back in power is proof enough that he did not play the wrong card. This time again, the Tehelka expose, though appreciable, would only benefit him. He is lucky to reap the fruits of what he sowed twice. The riots will doubly fructify for him. So, what was he playing upon? It was and is the egoism of the Hindus and their self-image which is far from flattering. The collective pride of the Hindus seems to have been badly injured making them angry and making them see themselves as a cowardly lot, which is why they seem to be appreciative of violence because violence is the way to assert one’s dominance over others. Non-violence as the tool of the brave is certainly good to hear and might also carry substance but we have not been away from our roots in the jungle for long enough to realize it. In nature, might is right and human beings still see it that way subconsciously. Therefore, Modi is not the problem, we are. He is nothing more than the unification of our collective demonic selves. It is we personified and of course we hate him just like an ugly man hates the mirror. He gave us what we wanted and what we deserved and if it is shameful and sickening, it is we who are sick. He’ll be voted back in power because it is just emergence of symptoms, wait for the diagnosis and the cure will, of course, come much later. Let’s be thoroughly ashamed first. Let’s first learn how to hang our heads in shame before we even dream of holding it high. What democracy, what secularism?

General Musharraf vengeful?

New Delhi
November 8, 2007
8:30 pm

General Musharraf has acted like a general – sensing the danger, he resorted to making a definitive strike. I call it ‘definitive’ not because I think it is the final blow and the tables have been turned and all dangers to Musharraf and his authority conclusively averted, but simply because the blow he has dealt is something that seals things tight in the state of a deadlock. Against the use of brute force only greater brute force can strike and win quickly enough. In this case the greatest force is the military might, which is what General Musharraf has at his command. So, no greater force is available. Now, the only force greater than brute force can be moral force, which is like a storm that first gathers momentum, builds itself and then dashes on. This too is not likely given the fact that if the power is somehow wrenched off Musharraf’s hands – let’s assume – what other hands are available to put it into. Pakistani politicians have made it tough for the electorate to decide in favour of democracy. The Pakistani masses see the rule of Musharraf as a rule clear of political muck and corruption. Things look relatively rosy under Musharraf’s rule. That’s how it appears to be from the outside.

Musharraf won the elections but he doesn’t seem to be a fish that is sure of the waters of democratic process. We may say that he is acting on account of self-interest. I think self-interest would still be there even if it were Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif or Imran Khan or anyone else. Self-interest is not a political problem, it is human nature. Corrupt motives, however, need to be seen in a dimmer light. And politicians in general have given no hope to Pakistani masses.

Seen from a purely legal angle, the move is certainly unconstitutional and the justification of preventing Pakistan from ‘committing suicide’ like a jilted lover fails to convince unless of course getting rid of Musharraf is equated with committing suicide.
Apparently, Musharraf saw the Supreme Court turning against him and hence took an extraordinary step to avert extraordinary dangers. Among the first steps he took was to sack Chief Justice Iftikhaar, which was expected considering the kind of beating Musharraf has to take when he tried sacking the Chief Justice the last time. It is more of an act of vengeance than a political manoeuver. And, of course, survival is also a key factor.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ram Sethu can be explained, unlike Karunanidhi

September 21, 2007
8:15 am

Does karunanidhi somehow make a connection between the so-called ‘scientific temper’ and questioning the existence of Lord Ram? And wishes to prove that he is among the more forward thinking individuals who do not believe in mythology or anything that cannot be scientifically established? To all those who tend to disregard anything and everything not ‘proven’, the simple reply has always been that what is not known is not necessarily nonexistent. Existence of something is independent of proof. We never believed Homer’s Iliad before the remains of Troy were recently found. And now we cannot disregard the proven fact that Troy did exist once. And if this is true, in all probability battle of Troy is also a part of the era bygone, and so is Achilles and his proverbial ‘heels’. The same may well be true of Lord Ram.
Ram Sethu or Adam’s Bridge (for the western oriented) is not manmade, NASA says. Well, Ramayana doesn’t say it is. It was made by Nal and Neel, who were not humans of course. They were vanaras (kind of apes). That’s one part of it. Another relevant question could be: what makes a man made bridge different from a natural bridge or that of any other kind? I am no scientist but this much is obvious that the only way to say that something is not manmade is by saying that something was made not the way we humans would make it, or by saying that it was made in a way much like the way some other agency is known to make it. How do we know pyramids were made by human beings when even today, with all the technology at our command, we would find it difficult to imitate the structural perfection of the pyramids? But we cannot say it was not made by human beings because they are graves to dead men and, therefore, have to be necessarily made by human beings. The purpose is clear and right in our faces, and we cannot turn our faces on it. This is what Ram Sethu lacks. It was made to cross over to Ravan’s Lanka, mythology tells us. But the bridge has no inscription to that effect. Thus, the confusion.
The most important, however, is not whether or not Ram existed. It is about the religious belief of the people in this country. And beliefs are not open to question. Ram’s factual existence may be debatable, his social and relig
ious relevance cannot be. The controversy ends there. There should be just an apology and the chapter be considered closed. And people like Mr. Karunanidhi must be told to restrain himself before he goes down the public memory as one of the makers of the bridge. The species is known to be unnecessarily naughty. That would be a more plausible explanation for his otherwise inexplicable antics.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

We need the Potter and the fairies

Newspapers in India – like, I assume, everywhere else in the world – are crying hard and loud enough about Harry Potter, and people like me are quite baffled about this new entrant in the international arena. This one seems to occupy all the space available, nearly everywhere irrespective of the medium. I am among the less informed who get stumped wreaking our well-fed memories to recall as to which country has a bespectacled boy-President with a wand in his hand. Then, with some help from the surroundings, things get clearer. So, the newspapers are all going so maddeningly colourful and kiddish on account of a character from the children’s book. I mean, I am not against children or their books. After all, it’s huge consolation that they are reading at last – no matter what. This little Potter fellow can spin some magic of some sort with his strange looking wand (isn’t it a little too short?). And we all – young and old, rich and poor – love magic because it makes room for new otherwise-impossible possibilities. Magic throws open the gates to the magical and the impossible – a chance to live out what cannot be acquired. It has that single most important ingredient that makes all dream worth pursuing – hope. The hope that the world will be better tomorrow; that things would improve and not just change. No matter how many times the reality crushes the hope, it survives still. Hope floats in the muddy waters of murky reality. And that makes us live and want to live, and also keeps the Harry Potters alive. Imagination is more important than knowledge, Einstein said quite correctly. Well, it indeed is. How else could a hopeful world be explained despite earthshaking disaster of man’s making. We need the Potters and the fairies as much as our forefathers did.

July 15, 2007

5:30 pm

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Purdah system can be abolished, cannot be judged

The foremost presidential candidate is neck deep in controversy regarding her ‘veil’ or ‘purdah’ remarks. I wonder what purpose could the remark serve anyway. Moreover, whether it is done away with or stays is a matter of choice. There is nobody forcing the women to wear purdah when they are already out there prancing around in miniskirts. It is simply about cultural preference. Recently, I read an article by one Sapna Sharma in The Times of India (June 22, 2007; Pg. 20, New Delhi Edition). The writer lady says:
“Purdah hardly protects women. Far from it, it was and continues to be a device to subjugate them. That this subjugation was complete under the Rajputs is evident from the facts that either before or after Moghul invasion one finds no historical figure among Rajput women except Mirabai. Ironically, her greatness lies in her being a symbol of revolt against the suppression of women.”
Purdah or veil, as must be known to the writer, is made of cloth, and not of steel and cannot, therefore, be expected to work as a shield or armour. The ‘protection’ being talked about here is the protection of some kind other than afforded by combat attire. Quite evidently, it is a protection against sight, and is not essentially against the sight of the intruders or plunderers as the writer seems to suggest or as Ms. Pratibha Patil seems to have suggested. It was brought in essentially to protect women from becoming an ‘object’ – or an ‘object of desire’, if you prefer. The same writer concludes the same piece saying, “The sad truth is that purdah is a relic of the times when men regarded women as property. It has no relevance in a liberal society.” Let’s agree for the sake of argument. She says it belongs to the period when women were treated as ‘property’. Well, property belongs to someone, as the conception of ownership is inherent in the term ‘property’ itself. But an object may not ‘belong’ to anyone. In the times of purdah, women ‘belonged’ to someone, today they belong to the billboards. That’s liberal society for you. With the exit of purdah, also went away the ownership, making women public property. Haven’t you seen magazines for males featuring attractive women clad in swimsuits on the cover? Haven’t we seen them selling shaving gels for men? Aren’t they being ‘used’ without belonging? And for whose benefit – males, of course. It was this ‘objectification’ that the purdah sought to be a defence against. Of course, the clothes that protect from the sun, rain and dust also confine one’s body to some extent. Protection always comes at the price of liberty, and for security of any kind one needs to forego a part of one’s freedom. So long as the liberty to choose is there, the freedom cannot be said to be lost.
Coming to Mirabai, her ‘greatness’ does not lie in being ‘a symbol of revolt against the suppression of women’ but in her devotion to Lord Krishna. It is this that makes Mirabai stand out. She was not a social reformer but her devotion necessitated her revolt. Mirabai’s devotion and her treating Lord Krishna as her husband was against social norms, which made her a rebel. So, rebellion was a necessary means and not an objective. Therefore, purdah does signify a bygone era but that does not entitle us to sit in judgment on it, as it is also indicative of the realities that are not ours. We have neither the authority, nor the understanding to pronounce a value judgment on the past. After all, today will be ‘yesterday’ tomorrow.

June 22, 2007
9:15 pm