Oct 022016
 

When I was growing up, I was often told, by my father’s friends – India and Pakistan, we are brothers. we have the same language, culture, etc etc etc.  This was when we lived in Delhi. i later realised that the fact that the dominant culture in Delhi was Punjabi, and there was a yearning for the age gone by. As i grew older, and began understanding the concept of diversity, i began understanding only one thing – that while there are some Indians who are like the Pakistanis – primarily Sindhis and Punjabis – most of us are not.

As I got even older, i understood more. As a student in England, i had a Pakistani classmate, who was from Karachi. He told me that he was a Mohajir and that his family supported this party called MQM. That they were fighting for Mohajir rights. Mohajir was a term used to describe immigrants from India. And, i found that kind of odd- that Mohajirs would be discriminated against- given that Pakistan was set up as a Muslim homeland. Then came other surprises. This was an era before cell phones. Even land lines in India were sparse. And i would call up on a given day to India – to my dad’s office to chat. or he would call me. All my classmates knew that habit. That day, dad’s office was shut for Muharram . My Pakistani classmate did not know what Muharram was. I was kind of surprised, because he was a Muslim, and this was a Muslim religious day. Which is when I also figured that all Muslims do not live together in harmony. And, there are some countries in which Shias are discriminated against. From my Bangladeshi neighbours and classmates, i learned first hand accounts of the massacre in Dacca before the 1971 war. And it was based less on religion, and more on the ethnicity, linguistics, and just the desire to kill the ‘other’ – you can define ‘other’ whichever way you want, it is just someone who is not like you.

And, then the 1993 bomb blasts took place in India. Planned in Pakistan. Executed in Mumbai. The start of a long list of terror attacks, against civilians in India. It continues till today.\3345244882_391ccd20d7_z

The overlapping era, across the world, was the era of sanctions against South Africa for practising apartheid. The best cricket players, the best actors, the best rugby players, never played internationally because their government was bigoted, and their system perpetuated it. I never understood why Pakistan never faced sanctions. What it has done since inception has been on par with what Nazi Germany perpetuated. Yet, it got away free.

Pakistan has had some of the best publicity and public relations management in the history of nations.It got away, literally, with murder, rape and massacres. Even when it committed  genocide in East Pakistan, there were no sanctions. I have heard first hand accounts of the genocide, and, much of what we read  has been so sanitised, that people who speak about it come across as nutcases. The men who planned it, those who implemented it, walked away scot free. The actions against the Bengali speaking population of East Pakistan was just something that they got caught doing. There is a list of things that are so under the radar, they rarely get mentioned. Genocide against every conceivable minority possible – Shia Muslims, Ahmedias , Christians, Hindus, the Baloch People, Hazarasjust to mention a few. These are stories i routinely come across when i trawl the interwebs for reading. There are a lot more i never come across, because a) they aren’t on the internet, b) they are on the internet but i don’t read the language. Pakistan has gotten away with sheer murder, time and time again. And, the naive west, led by the USA, has fallen time and time again for a pack of lies, told by a bunch of sociopaths, who claim to be the last defence against Islamist terror. This is like the west paying the mother lode of terror to get it to fight terror.

I always wondered why South Africa faced sanctions, and Pakistan did not. As i got even older i got the answer to it. The Afrikaners, were terrible on television. They looked arrogant, didn’t look terribly telegenic, spoke like Nazis, and came across as terribly racist. On the other hand, Pakistan had invested in people who are suave, sophisticated, look telegenic and sounded like they were possibly your best friends. If you take away all your biases against Pakistan, and listen to their generals and bureaucrats on television. If you heard them day after day, you will be convinced that they are the victims of circumstance. That India is the aggressor. That they are the last defence against terror. Someone as canny as Nixon was taken in by the sophistication

I have often written about why I never understood successive Governments of India falling for the Pakistani line of ‘let us be friends’ – maybe, as a woman i believe that before friendship, there needs to be trust. there needs to be that sense of security. And, i have often wondered, why we don’t stop trading, transacting, communicating. The nostalgia of one Indian state, cannot become the cross for the rest of India to bear.

Last week, before the surgical strikes against terror camps on the other side of the LoC (btw – India did not violate Pakistan’s territorial rights, it walked into a part of India illegally occupied by Pakistan) , and after the Uri attacks, there was this entire clamour about banning Pakistani actors on film. I have no views on this, except that why would you hire outsiders, to do jobs that locals can do. But, Bollywood has always been kind of woolly headed about Pakistan. It stems from the fact that too many people from Bollywood come from Punjab. And most Punjabis are, understandably, nostalgic about undivided Punjab. As a south indian brought up in Maharashtra, this entire ‘we are one people’ ‘we have the same language and culture and food’ never made sense, because we didn’t. But, this is less about the myopia and nostalgia of Bollywood, and more about the fact that on a daily basis, representatives of the Pakistani establishment are entering your homes, via your TV sets, to give you their side of the story. I ran a poll on this, on twitter, to gauge the response of others. A

Frankly, i am less bothered about actors, than i am by the Pakistani establishment. I also, do not expect actors, and cricketers, and other Pakistani civilians working in India, or for Indian companies, to take a stand against their government for one simple reason. This is a government without conscience. All those links that i have provided above, tells you the ruthlessness with which they kill the ‘other’. If i were from such a state, i would be terrified of the repercussions on my family and friends. On my loved ones. The state of Pakistan is capable of just about anything.  I will leave you with the death of the qawaal Ajmad Sabri. He was killed for being a Sufi. Because being sufi is considered blasphemy. And, the government marked him for death by pinning the blasphemy label on him.

 

While i understand the anger that we all have against Pakistani infiltration, it’s support of terror and the way it lies, i also understand that India is dealing with a Pakistani system where no one is in control. Not the Government, not the Military, not the terrorists. The competition to take control, is what is spilling over to the rest of the world. While the rest of the civilised world competes on achievements, this lot competes on bloodshed. I wouldn’t expect the Pakistani actors in India to speak out against the terror attacks in Uri, they are probably too terrified. If i were in their place, i would be terrified too.  What i do expect, however, is for Indian channels to stop getting Pakistani establishment on TV news shows to defend Pakistan. I was appalled to see a tweet from a leading news anchor about the presence of General Musharraf on their channel. All I could think of was the Batra family. Musharraf has been leading the charge against India since the time he duped the then PM Vajpayee, and betrayed the concept of friendship and peace. Remember Kargil?

In human relationships as with States, some things stay common – without trust and respect, there can be no friendship. no love. there may be lust, but that is temporary. There could be memories, but those are yesterday. the question is always about today – do we trust them ? do we respect them? Have we done all that we can for either — In my opinion, we have. It hasn’t worked. Now it is time to move on. It is time to shred the nostalgia. the fact that a few of us have family memories of Lahore and Karachi. That we have memories of food, and festivals. It is completely ok, to forget the past, rinse it out of memories, and move on.  It is ok not to have any relations with Pakistan – not as friends, not as enemies. we can’t change our neighbourhood, nor get our neighbour to move. But, we can learn not to want being liked by them.

 

Jul 282016
 

(this first appeared on shethepeople.tv )

A headline caught my eye today, and made me grimace. “Chennai man killed by speeding Audi, police to determine if woman driver was drunk.” It made me ask the same question I seek to answer, every time I write. Is a descriptor needed? Does the line still read right, if I bump off the word ‘woman’. Does it really make a difference whether the drunk is a man or a woman? But, there are things that we don’t expect women to do. And, it is not just headline writers. A few days ago, a professional acquaintance was telling me about a case of corruption in a private company, and someone getting sacked. “She was caught red handed” they said. I responded “a woman taking a bribe?” part incredulous, part shocked. Frankly, after all these years of working, some of it in news, things like this should not surprise or shock me, but they do. There are things we expect of men and women, and there are things we don’t expect them to do.

All of us, to a greater or lesser extent refer to the world, through gender lenses. There are things we expect ourselves to do, and expect to be done for us. And, it applies to men, women, and society at large.  The number of female friends who do not pay attention to personal finance (I used to be one of them), and leave it to the men in their family; the number of men who have no cooking skills, and leave it all to the women in their family (how many men do you know who tell you they can just make tea, and boil an egg). These are at a very basic level. And, the roles determined by culture and society, which we broadly call gender roles, impact both sexes.

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(Trapped & Chained by gender)

At my age, my father was the main provider for a family of 7. A spouse, 3 children, and two from the older generation. He never went on holiday. Or got himself  new clothes. We lived on a honest Government servant’s salary, that was supplemented by a honest teacher’s salary.  I asked him, much later in life didn’t he crave for the nicer things in life – a new pair of shoes, a watch, a new tie, maybe even a holiday.  He laughed and said, ‘I had the pleasure of seeing you all grow, I didn’t really need anything more.”  My father was the provider. My mother was the nurturer. He loved photography and travel. She loved reading and studying. Both put their dreams away for us. A former colleague of mine, who wanted to start up, put his dreams aside. He wanted to be the good provider. Another colleague, stayed at home to look after her family, because she believed it was her role. One is not judging any of the decisions here, one is simply saying that our decision making is often, even sub consciously, based on gender programming.

While sex is biological, gender is societal programming.  And, while we often talk about how gender roles impact women, the fact is, it impacts both.  A woman is expected to be responsible for the upbringing of the children and taking care of the household, never mind if she has other dreams. A man is expected to go out and provide for his family, dreams be damned.

The question of gender has come back into the public sphere in a big way, for the first time since the 1970s. And, it has to do with discrimination. And, that discrimination is neither governmental, nor organizational. Both encourage diversity. That discrimination is innate. Within individuals. And, most of us don’t even recognize it, because so much of it is linked to society, culture and traditions.

So the starting point in ending discrimination is to recognize that there is something called genderthat is a product of society and culture, and that it is very distinct from sex that is determined at the point of conception. It has to do with roles that we perform. If we accept that roles have little  to do with biology, then we can make a beginning to end gender.

As women, we cannot achieve equality, until we recognize that men are as weighed down bygender roles as women are. The average  man –father, brother, partner, colleague, friend – is not patriarchy. He is an individual, just like the average woman. Maybe a set of conversations will help change things at the individual level. A conversation on dreams, and wishes, and how they can be achieved, may really help redress the balance in our own immediate universe. And, many adjoining universes, may end up shifting the balance towards a more gender free, or gender neutral world.  It is the world we owe future generations.

Mar 062016
 
Some basic maths.
most Indians finish their 10th at the age of 16-17 ; their 12th at 18/19 (depending on which part of the year they were born)
They finish graduation at 21/22.
they finish their masters at 23/24
If they then enroll for a PhD – it can take between 3 and 7 years. That would make them 26/31 when they get their degree. I don’t know anyone who has finished their Phd in 3 years. I know people across the world, who after a decade or so, are yet to finish their Phds. 
And, post a Phd there is a post doctoral research – which makes you even older.
Also, if you come from rural, rurban India, add a year or two – sometimes lack of teachers, schools, floods etal increases the finishing your education by a year or two.
Also, if you take a gap year to work between your degree and your Masters, you may be older when you enroll for a PhD. And, sometimes, people do a second Masters’ before enrolling for a Phd. 
So, while i may understand one’s opposition to Kanhaiya’s views, i don’t understand the issue with  age. 28 and a Phd student is not a bad number. Had he been 35, i would have raised eyebrows (slightly). I know 35 year Phd students (who didn’t take a gap year, who haven’t got a second masters – who enrolled for their Phd straight after their masters, and are yet to finish)
Academia has traditionally been funded by Government – be it a Monarchy or a Republic. And, that means tax payers’ money. So have been art, music and science. So have been wars, and monuments to a regime’s greatness. So have been roads and schools, and hospitals.  None of us is consulted on what it is spent on. I am not sure we can selectively decide which of the Government’s schemes we fund.
So, i am just as cool with Kanhaiya’s Phd, as i am with some person doing their Phd in the links between ancient astrology and astrology. It is a given that i am going to pay for their curiosity/research/ future. It is also a given that there is probably no practical output from either thesis.
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Feb 182016
 

Right now, India is furiously debating, on traditional and social media, the rights and wrongs of the JNU case. The debate revolves around one question – is it ok to chant anti India slogans (in whatever shape and form) in a democratic republic ? The informed, expert view is yes, it is – no matter how distasteful it is for the rest of us ; the counter view is ‘arrest the traitors and hang them at dawn’, and if you can’t hang them (because it might be illegal) then at least beat them up till they agree with ‘us’.  There is so much outpouring of patriotism, and outrage, that it seems to have polarised everyone – words such as traitors and anti national flowing freely – and  it has managed to drown out every other news, including the Make In India week going on in Mumbai.

A few continents away, there is another debate. In the USA, the FBI wants tech giant Apple to create a backdoor in its OS, to enable them to gain access to the iphone of San Bernardino shooter. A simple enough request you would think. Afterall, who will say no to something that has a potential national security/law and order angle?

 

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(image courtesy : here)

Well, the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook has said no. Firmly. Politely. And, without any ambiguity. In an open letter published on the company’s website, Cook has this to say,

The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.

He goes on to explain the grounds, the need for encryption, the need for privacy – and a corporation, like Apple, not doing anything that compromises the privacy and security of the individual. This in particular stands out,

The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.

He suggests that the Government take a legislative route on this, rather than a judicial one – trying to get agreement based on an approximately 250 year old law

The entire letter is here, and is worth a read. The CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, has waded into the debate supporting Tim Cook and Apple’s stand. The two largest tech companies in the world, weigh in on the side of the consumer. The cynical among us may say it is good business, individual consumers are looking for privacy, especially in more mature markets. But, the bottom line is that it takes courage to stand up to your Government or any authority. And, that is a refreshing sign in a world where the first response to Government demands is abject acquiescence.

In a complex world, with competing agendas, the core question is Are the rights of the individual greater than the demands of National Security? Where do you draw the line ?

My own view is that unless the State protects the right of the individual, no matter who that individual is and how offensive his/her words or actions are, it is down the slippery slope of loss of rights for the rest of us. And defend does not mean give a free pass. It means ensure that constitutional rights are protected – including the right to speech, the right to a free trial, the right to defense, the right to association, and the rest. There cannot be hair splitting on this. It is just too dangerous for all of us, if there is.

Jan 262016
 

The Purna Swaraj Declaration, made on the 26th of January 1930, by the Indian National Congress, was a move away from asking for Dominion Status and asking for Complete Independence, as a Republic of equals (us) who will determine their own path and destiny. the full text of the declaration

“We believe that it is the inalienable right of the Indian people, as of any other people, to have freedom and to enjoy the fruits of their toil and have the necessities of life, so that they may have full opportunities of growth. We believe also that if any government deprives a people of these rights and oppresses them, the people have a further right to alter it or to abolish it. The British Government in India has not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom but has based itself on the exploitation of the masses, and has ruined India economically, politically, culturally and spiritually. We believe, therefore, that India must sever the British connection and attain Purna Swaraj or Complete Independence.

“India has been ruined economically. The revenue derived from our people is out of all proportion to our income. Our average income is seven pice, less than two pence, per day, and of the heavy taxes we pay, twenty per cent are raised from the land revenue derived from the peasantry and three per cent from the salt tax, which falls most heavily on the poor.

“Village industries, such as hand-spinning, have been destroyed, leaving the peasantry idle for at least four months in the year, and dulling their intellect for want of handicrafts, and nothing has been substituted, as in other countries, for the crafts thus destroyed.

“Customs and currency have been so manipulated as to heap further burdens on the peasantry. The British manufactured goods constitute the bulk of our imports. Customs duties betray clear partiality for British manufactures, and revenue from them is used not to lessen the burden on the masses, but for sustaining a highly extravagant administration. Still more arbitrary has been the manipulation of the exchange ratio which has resulted in millions being drained away from the country.

“Politically, India’s status has never been so reduced, as under the British regime. No reforms have given real political power to the people. The tallest of us have to bend before foreign authority. The rights of free expression of opinion and free association have been denied to us, and many of our countrymen are compelled to live in exile abroad and they cannot return to their homes. All administrative talent is killed, and the masses have to be satisfied with petty village offices and clerkships. “Culturally, the system of education has torn us from our moorings, our training has made us hug the very chains that bind us.

“Spiritually, compulsory disarmament has made us unmanly, and the presence of an alien army of occupation, employed with deadly effect to crush in us the spirit of resistance, has made us think that we cannot look after ourselves or put up a defence against foreign aggression, or defend our homes and families from the attacks of thieves, robbers, and miscreants.

“We hold it to be a crime against man and God to submit any longer to a rule that has caused this fourfold disaster to our country. We recognize, however, that the most effective way of gaining our freedom is not through violence. We will prepare ourselves, by withdrawing, so far as we can, all voluntary association from the British Government, and will prepare for civil disobedience including non-payment of taxes. We are convinced that if we can but withdraw our voluntary help, stop payment of taxes without doing violence, even under provocation, the end of this inhuman rule is assured. We, therefore, hereby solemnly resolve to carry out the Congress instructions issued from time to time for the purpose of establishing Purna Swaraj.

There were those in the liberal faction of the Indian National Congress who had an issue with the concept of civil disobedience. Dr.Ambedkar in particular. In the Nagpur session, a few months later,  on August 8th he made a speech at the Depressed Classes Congress:

he endorsed Dominion status, and criticized Gandhi’s Salt March and civil disobedience movement as inopportune; but he also criticized British colonial misgovernment, with its famines and immiseration. He argued that the “safety of the Depressed Classes” hinged on their “being independent of the Government and the Congress” both: “We must shape our course ourselves and by ourselves.” His conclusion emphasized self-help: “Political power cannot be a panacea for the ills of the Depressed Classes. Their salvation lies in their social elevation. They must cleanse their evil habits. They must improve their bad ways of living…. They must be educated…. There is a great necessity to disturb their pathetic contentment and to instil into them that divine discontent which is the spring of all elevation.”

Gandhi, however, was of the view that non violence and civil disobedience were the way forward.

“The Congress cannot stay its hands after having passed the independence resolution, “It was no bluff, no showy nothing. It was deliberate definite change in the Congress mentality. It is then as much up to the critics as to me, to devise ways and means of achieving independence.”

On those who had issues with the non violent part of the resolution, Gandhi had this to say

There is undoubtedly a party of violence in the country. It is as patriotic as the best among us. What is more, it has much sacrifice to its credit. In daring it is not to be surpassed by any of us. It is easy enough to fling unkind adjectives at its members, but it will not carry conviction with them. I am not referring to the frothy eloquence that passes muster for patriotism. I have in mind that secret, silent, persevering band of young men and women who want to see their country free at any cost. But whilst I admire and adore their patriotism, I have no faith in their method. I am convinced that their methods have cost the country much more than they know or care to admit. But they will listen to no argument, however reasonable it may be, unless they are convinced that there is a programme before the country which requires at least as much sacrifice as the tallest among them is prepared to make. They will not be allured by our speeches, resolutions or even conferences. Action alone has any appeal for them. This appeal can only form non-violent action which is no other than civil resistance. In my opinion, it and it alone can save the country from impending lawlessness and secret crime. That even civil resistance may fail and may also hasten the lawlessness is no doubt a possibility. But if it fails in its purpose, it will not be civil resistance that will have failed. It will fail, if it does, for want of faith and consequent incapacity in the civil resisters.

“We must cease to dread violence, if we will have the country to be free. Can we not see that we are tightly pressed in the coil of violence? The peace we seem to prize is a mere makeshift, and it is bought with the blood of the starving millions. If the critics could only realize the torture of their slow and lingering death brought about by forced starvation, they would risk anarchy and worse in order to end that agony. The agony will not end till the existing rule of spoliation has ended. It is a sin, with that knowledge, to sit supine, and for fear of imaginary anarchy or worse, to stop action that may prevent anarchy, and is bound, if successful, to end the heartless spoliation of a people who have deserved a better fate.”

On the New Year’s Eve 1930 (31st December 1929) Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled the tricolour at Lahore, and declared that 26th Jan 1930 would mark the beginning of Purna Swaraj.

It is a fascinating era in Indian history. India was lucky to be led by moral and intellectual giants – who debated vigrously with each other, at the same time as working for a common goal – a strong, independent India, where all of us are equal.

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