May 082012
 

@pawandurani on twitter pointed me towards the story of Rinkle Kumari in Pakistan . I knew there was an issue vis-a-vis the rights of minorities across the board. I knew there were atrocities. but frankly, the occurrences across the border have not been in my line of sight. I read some articles/columns as and when I come across them, but it is very, very superficial reading. When Pawan pointed me to her story, i began reading about her in more detail. To paraphrase Stalin, one person’s story is a tragedy, millions are statistics

 

What i am going to do here is just compile content from various sources, it is heart rending. It is medieval and it makes you (me) cry at the tragedy of the entire thing. I totally respect journalists & activists such as Marvi Sirmed  in Pakistan working under tremendous pressure, in almost hostile territory,  not just towards minorities but also towards independent women who assert their citizenship rights,  to keep cases like this alive. I wonder if it was me, would I have that kind of courage that Marvi exhibits in such a hostile environment. or would it be more convenient to hold my peace …  I hope it is the former. I really do.

In short, Rinkle Kumari is one of the

three young Hindu women who were allegedly kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and married off to Muslim men chose to live with their husbands instead of their families after the Supreme Court of Pakistan on Wednesday allowed them to choose their future.

Though the three women — Rinkle Kumari, Lata and Asha — were allowed to choose according to their free will by the court, their relatives and civil rights activists alleged that injustice had been done to them as they chose to go with the men they were married to out of coercion.

 

Marvi Sirmed writes on this

Rinkle was kidnapped on February 24 by Naveed Shah and four other people. Police refused to lodge an FIR and to include the names of the influential Mian Aslam, Mian Rafique and their father Mian Mithu. She was produced in the court of Civil Judge Ghotki where she insisted on going to her family but the judge illegally sent her to the police custody in Sukkur Women’s Police Station. In sheer mockery of the President of Pakistan and his party Co-Chairperson, Mithu announced in front of many civil society activists that if Rinkle’s custody is snatched from him, he will set Mirpur Mathelo ablaze. The president had given a media statement against forced conversions earlier that day. “Come what may, justice will have to prevail” was the answer in a firm strong voice when I asked Raj Kumar, Rinkle’s uncle, if he was scared. Probably this resolve has come from years of persecution and injustice. “It has been decades that Hindu girls have been abducted and forcibly converted. We hear little or no voice at all against this oppression,” said Amar Lal, counsel to Rinkle Kumari’s family.

 

A press release put out by activists and civil society says that

It made us extremely concerned when Rinkle Kumari was produced in the Supreme Court on March 26 and after recording her statement in-camera, she screamed in front of media that she wanted to go to her mother and that she was converted forcibly. We are astonished to know that Mian Mithu has been involved in buying and selling of Hindu girls, as has been reported in Sindhi language newspapers and as per information from the victims’ families. A girl Anita was abducted and married to a Muslim from whose home Mian Mithu’s nephew abducted her and sold her to another hand. She is reportedly living with her fourth buyer, reportedly at the behest of this Mian Mithu.

 

Mian Mithu is a MP. Rinku Kumari is a barely educated woman with zero rights because of both her gender and her faith.

The Question is what should India do ? Does India offer citizenship rights to all Hindus in Pakistan? it could. But, then why not all Christians – they face tremendous discrimination as well? Why not people from Baluchistan? indeed why not Ahmediyas. Why not women who are discriminated against? After all, civilisationally & culturally we – especially the Northern part of us – has a lot in common with those across the border. In fact far more in common with them than with citizens from the South or the North East or even the East. Why not those in Bangladesh or in China or the Burmese or Tamils from Sri Lanka? And should the granting of asylum be only for those of Indian origin?

I personally believe that India needs to evolve a very pro active system of granting asylum. We need to start projecting an image that respects rights and gives a home to those who are persecuted, discriminated and not allowed to excercise human rights. Ancient kings in the sub continent provided asylum to those who came to their shores without imposing any conditions on religion or colour. Be it the Siddhis or the Jews or the Iranians (Parsis) – they made their home and could practise their ways without interference.  The Government of India needs to throw open its doors to asylum seekers not just  in the neighbourhood, but world over

Will there be infiltration by unwanted elements. There already is. But the needs of the many outweigh the hate of the few. There will be those who misuse the system of asylum but one Rinkle Kumari saved outweighs the risk posed by the infiltrators.  Being a superpower is more than a seat at the security council. It is also standing up and being counted. India needs to open its doors for those who want to asylum. It needs to empower our consulates and embassies to grant asylum. The Indian embassies worldwide need to become the symbols of freedom. India needs to live up to its civilisational heritage – and that is more than a number system with a zero base.

Start offering asylum & citizenship  to the discriminated in Pakistan. Don’t be afraid of starting with providing asylum to the Hindus.  Set the precedent. Set the system and expand it to all who desire ashraya

Also have a look at this on storify 

Nov 282011
 

My column in today’s DNA

26/11. A day three years ago, when the average Mumbaikar’s sense of relative security was ripped out.

It isn’t that Mumbai was a haven of security and peace. Quite the contrary. The last two decades had been quite traumatic for the city of dreams. First came the gang wars, followed by the riots and then by bomb blasts s in the first few years of the 1990s. This had an impact on  the fabric of the city, and its psyche went through trauma that was best associated with other places Then came the sporadic bomb blasts – targeting trains, buses, inflicting death, damage and fear  on a population that was on the move, trying to create a better life for itself and its families. Yet the city plodded on. Then came the floods – a random cloudburst that shook the city up. You still see the aftermath of that incident. A heavy downpour and half of Mumbai seems to be indoors. And, then came 26/11. Possibly, the most traumatic of the lot. Not because it happened in the elite areas of Mumbai. Not even because of the toll, but because the enemy – and let’s not mince words about who they were – were able to sneak into our city with the utmost ease, and unleash carnage, while all that we could do was wait and watch. That they were able to do this in multiple locations including trains stations, hospitals and hotels with ease makes one feel even less secure. The kind of impotence and paralysis associated with the four days of bloodbath was without parallel. An elite, highly indoctrinated, professionally trained, well-armed killer squad landed in your city, your country, and killed, and killed and killed – and there was no way to stop them.

Three years down the line, what is 26/11 signify. Like much else in this country – a ritual. A ritual where we take out old candles and light them, a ritual in which we send a file to Pakistan to ask for justice, a ritual in which television anchors, newspaper editors and intelligentsia pontificate on what was, what should be and what isn’t. 26/11 has become a ritual. A ritual like all others. Garlands, flowers, candles, meaningless words – but have we really learnt ?

The primary goal of the state is to keep its citizens secure. And, to ensure this security forces have to be well staffed, well trained, well armed, well coordinated.  Mumbai, three years after 26/11, faces a 40 per cent shortage of police personnel. There simply aren’t enough police to take care of  law and order, let alone a terror attack. The remaining anti-terror infrastructure promised in the aftermath of the 26/11 attacks is still in the distant horizon. There is no political party asking why jobs are not being filled – by locals or otherwise. There is no rath yatra highlighting the miserable state of security across the nation, and there is no activism on keeping citizens secure. While it may be impossible to prevent terror attacks 100% of the time, it shouldn’t be this easy for the enemy to get through the gates.

The response of the Americans and the Europeans to terror attacks on their territory was all party consensus on  the way forward. Can you see our politicians, our civil society, our citizens coming together on anything? If the Congress proposes something, the BJP has to oppose and vice versa. Everything is a party political issue. Everything is geared towards capturing the headlines. And, political capital is sought to be built on every little aspect of Governance – be it FDI or security. National Interest takes a back seat in this political edition of Tom and Jerry. What politicians seem to forget is that while Tom and Jerry is fun to watch, does one  really want them in charge of the Nation?

And Finally, Everyone knows where the terrorists came from. Everyone knows who funded them, trained them and deployed them. They also know that these weren’t non-state actors but a State itself. So why does India persist in this delusion of ‘we need to be friends’ with Pakistan. They aren’t our friends. They never have been. There doesn’t have to be a logical, understandable reason for their visceral hatred towards India. What there has to be is an appreciation on the Indian side, that some people just want to see your country burn. And those people are not hidden away in caves in the Hindukush mountains, but are within the Government of Pakistan.

 

Jul 272011
 

I grew up learning Carnatic Vocal music. Learnt the Veena for a while as well. But, today most of my music listening tends to be Hindustani Classical Music. Especially Vocal music. I find the form – which is non regimented – a delight to hear. Here a typical raga – let’s say Bhairavi – sung by two different exponents from two different gharanas – and the experience will be completely different.

Generally the full form of Hindustani Classical music is often forbidding for a new comer. It seems to be a lot of “aa aa aa aa” (as my brother once told me). That is the singer exploring and expounding on the Raga. Its a pleasure and a revelation. For example, one of my favorite ragas is Miyan ki Todi and my favorite singer is Bhimsen Joshi. I have 9 long forms of this Raga sung at various concerts, at different points of times in his life. Each is a different experience for the listener, but also in the way the singer explores and weaves his magic.

A good starting point for the newbie to Hindustani classical Music is the myriad Hindi film songs composed in a number of ragas and sung by popular singers and for a variety of moods and seasons. Atleast that is the way I began. there used be this morning show on All India Radio – its still on – called sur sangam. It explores a raga. It tells you the unique aspects of the Raga. It discusses the raga with a classical singer. It plays a classical piece and it plays a film song. A great primer and a great introduction to the genre. Semi classical music – such as Thumris, classical Qawalis and classical Bhajans can also be a great way of picking up various ragas. Thumris are love songs. They look at various aspects of love – from the anticipation of meeting the lover, to the joys of being with the lover, to the throes of despair on separation. Depedning on the Gharana – the thumri can be sung as a yearning for the lover or yearning for God (the bhakti ras).

One of the most famous Thumri’s in Hindustani Classical music is Babul Mora. It was composed by Wajid Ali Shah (played by Amjad Khan in the film Shatranj Ke Khiladi) the deposed ruler of Oudh during his exile in Calcutta. It is supposed to be the longing of a woman for her maternal home. Having said that the best renditions of the song have been by men.

 

This is Bhimsen Joshi – live in concert at Baroda – singing Babul Mora

Part 2 is here

And, of course, the version that made it popular amongst the masses. Kundan Lal Saigal singing Babul Mora in Devdas

 

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I actually didn’t manage to get the camera out today. Completely busy. Started the morning by signing a contract with Film Orbit for running Jhing Chik Jhing on their site. Also interesting conversations on content. interesting possibilities.

this is one i shot yesterday

30 day Project Day 20 -rings

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Pakistan has sent their young and extremely photogenic foreign minister, Mrs.Hina Rabbani Khar,to India. the Indian news media – which has the collective IQ and sense of a retarted hedgehog seems to be fida on her. Completely forgetting the Bombay Blasts, 26/11 and all the other dead from all the other blasts and other terrorist strikes that have originated across the border. She arrived on the day of the Kargil victory and promplty met Kashmiri separatists in Delhi. Maybe we should let her host a dinner party for Dawood Ibrahim in Parliament grounds … after all it is important to achieve peace for our time.

May 102011
 

This appeared in the April edition of Pragati.

If there is any country in the world that is a poster child for dictatorship, it is Pakistan. Over the last two and half decades at least, Pakistan seems to have been more stable and more prosperous under its military dictators than its “democratically” elected leaders.

Over the last few weeks, there has been a flurry of articles and posts discussing why India is not Pakistan. There is the civilisational argument—that Indians are more prone to democracy than Pakistan because of the Hindu ethos—not in the religious sense of the word, but by virtue of many streams flowing into the larger ocean. While this is true, a small niggling voice at the back of the head says that until 1947 it was their civilisational ethos too. Then, there is the caste argument. Pakistan is the way it is because it doesn’t have enough merchant castes and has too much peasant castes. While it is hard to disagree with this too, the fact remains that large numbers of Baloch, Sindhis, Pashtuns and Punjabis were traders, merchants and money lenders. Religion was how they prayed to God; profit was the motive behind their business.

While the factors mentioned above are definitely relevant, there are three other factors – far more modern – that sowed the seeds of a stable India and an unstable Pakistan. The first was very simple: Jinnah died a year after Pakistan was formed, Nehru lived for the next 17 years to see that his vision succeeded, and provided a modicum of stability in the system. Maybe India would have faced the same problems if Sardar Patel had been the first Prime Minister of India—not because Sardar Patel lacked the vision, but because he died in 1950, twelve months after the formation of the Republic. The other two reasons are slightly more complex—the rights of the land owner, and the imposition of a national language.

You cannot divorce Pakistan from the man who drove its creation. It seems unfathomable why Jinnah, a wine drinking, pork eating atheist and a man who believed in the European mode of secularism, would want a country based on religion. And when he got it, declared he wanted a secular state. It is also quite inexplicable that Jinnah, an urbane constitutionalist who otherwise believed in the rule of law—and found Gandhi’s mode of non co-operation contrary to this—would find it convenient to unleash hordes when he did not get his way on things.

One common reason given, rather uncharitably, was that he wanted to be head of state and would stop at nothing to get what he wanted. The reason was almost certainly far more complex: Jinnah wanted Pakistan out of ideology, but that ideology was not Islam.

If you re-read the history of that era you will see that there were two major ideologies prevalent. The first was Socialism—the rights of the tiller, the labourer, the worker and the dispossessed; and the second was Capitalism— the rights of the industrialist, the land owner, and the rich. By the 1930s, it was very clear that India was going down the social democratic route—socialist in terms of centralised planning, agrarian reforms, the whittling down of the zamindari system to give more rights to the tiller; and Democratic in the sense of universal franchise. In this both Patel and Nehru were united as were others in the Congress. The Nehruvian model, as it is now called, may have unleashed socialism on India, but its views on equality, social justice and land allocation probably saved India from Pakistan’s woes. However, there is no point being complacent about this fact. Those areas in India that are still feudal, where the rights of the indigenous people, the tillers, the marginalised communities are trampled are the same areas that Maoist militancy has taken root.

Jinnah, on the other hand was a capitalist. He had a certain disdain for the masses, and found his calling as the candidate of the zamindars. The Muslim League was the party of the zamindars, the Talukdars and the Rais. Had Jinnah been honest about the fact that he wanted a non-socialist state, he would not have gotten popular support. Islam was a decoy for continuing with the land-owning status quo. And today, it is this status quo that has come back to bite the state. Any nation that is feudal will go through this churn: It will be replaced by either communism or religion—both promise equality and both follow similar methods of ‘converting’ the disenchanted with promises of a better tomorrow.

The fact remains that the part of Pakistan that India speaks to is the feudal part. These by no stretch of imagination, can be called liberals. They speak English, they appeal to our sense of nostalgia, but they are responsible for a lot of what is wrong with Pakistan. It is a patriarchal feudal state where a few families own the bulk of the land; the rest are dispossessed. Militant Islam is a reaction to this inequity in society.

The other reason which is equally important was the imposition of Urdu as the national language. When a language gets declared as the national language it means that all official business is transacted in that language. The people who speak and write that language as their primary language have an edge over those who don’t. In Pakistan’s case that meant that the Mohajir—the immigrant from India—whose native language was Urdu had an edge over those who spoke Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi, Pushtu, and Bengali. The national language policy, in fact, had the effect of breaking up Pakistan. It didn’t break up because of religion, but because the Bengali speaking majority of East Pakistan felt disadvantaged when it came to accessing jobs and Urdu speaking West Pakistan didn’t want to share the pie.

India, on the other hand, went for the compromise. The concept of mother tongue was recognised, Rajya Bhasha was considered the language in which various states carry out their business, protests against a common language were taken into account and the question of having a single common language was left open. If at all of India wants to move to impose a national language, Indonesia might prove the better role model. They chose the language spoken by the fewest number of people and made it the national language. The economic disadvantage of having a national language was, therefore, spread amongst the population.

So, is Pakistan as a nation doomed? It is still not too late, but for that its ruling elite will have to put national interest first. Land reforms will have to happen, education has to be imposed, women have to be given rights, and the rule of law has to be paramount. Too many splintered interests in Pakistan—the land owners, the Army, the secret service, the political class—are looking at their own narrow self interest. In all this, their nation is crumbling.

Historically, the phase after feudalism is industrialisation. Maybe it is time for money to be channelled into Pakistan—not to fight the Taliban or put down their people, but to industrialise, create jobs, create value and create stability.

Aug 242009
 

I am, on most days, a centrist moderate who has a 10 degree oscillation on issues to the left and right. I believe in a safety net, i believe in strong national security. I believe in inclusive politics and I believe in one law for all. Corruption bothers me, uber nationalism makes me uncomfortable, the pandering to the religious right (of all religions) gets to me, and I find the whittling away of our constitutional rights dangerous.

I find all parties to be complicit in the stuff that ails this country. I vote for the Congress because I have not been able to find any other alternative . This is despite the fact, that given who I am and my background- I should be part of the BJP”s natural vote bank. Yet, for those reading this blog for a longish time, you would know that I am not a fan of the BJP.

I find their identity politics dangerous and repulsive. I find their use of my most sacred religious symbols hypocritical -given their parent organization’s atheist roots. (note: i don’t have issues with atheists and their world view, except when they try to use religion to create identity) . I find their focus on the urban, inexplicable – especially given that 70%+ of the electorate lives in villages; I find their fascination with big business dangerous; and i find the ability of their minions to take to the street and cause violence – if things don’t go their way – frightening.

Yet, I don’t find their fascination with Jinnah, problematic. He – if he was an Indian – would be their role model. He was a pork eating, alcohol guzzling man who created a Muslim identity – something that he would not have labeled him self as -out of thin air and partitioned a people. I dare say the 5 times a day devout namaazi would have irritated Jinnah, as Maulana Azad did !! His party represented the elite Muslim – not the deprived, marginal tiller; and when he didn’t get his way – he unleashed hoards to commit violence !

So why did Jinnah do what he did – was it because he wanted to be PM? I really don’t think so. Jinnah knew that he was dying. He also seemed to be ruthless enough not to be mawkish about the top job. I think that Pakistan was about ideology – and that ideology was not Islam.

If you go back and re read the history of that era you will see that there were two major ideologies prevalent. The first was Socialism – and the rights of the tiller, the labourer, the worker and the dispossessed – and the second was Capitalism – and the rights of the owner, the zamindar, the rich. By the 1930′s it was very clear that India was going down the social democratic route – socialist in terms of Centralised planning, agrarian reforms, the whittling down of the zamindari system to give more rights to the tiller; and Democratic in the sense of Universal Franchise.

Yet, the landowner – thought small in numbers – was a formidable power base to be reckoned with. As Prof.Mushirul Hassan points out in his book Legacy of a Divided Nation India’s Muslims since Independence :

The landlords had a common benefactor in the British Government. Men with socialist and communist leanings were, on the other hand, their chief adversaries out to destroy their source of livelihood – so much so Nawab Muhammad Yunus of Jaunpur was willing to negotiate with the Hindu Mahasabha but not the Congress. “The community of interest between the League and the Mahasabha”, he told Jinnah “can be created by the Zamindars through their full weight in favour of such an understanding” (pg. 75)

He continues:

“…. Hindu landlords suspicious of Congress intentions….. turned to the Hindu Mahasabha, their Muslim counterparts courted Jinnah. In August 1936, the Raja of Jahangirabad, a ruler with vast estates, met Jinnah and decided to contest the Assembly elections as an Independent and not as a member of the National Agriculturalists’ Party; in return the League agreed not to put up a candidate. Soon afterwards leading rais, zamindars and taluqdars became more closely aligned with the League ”

Landlords formed the largest single group in the League council. Of 503 members, there were as many as 163 landlords – with Punjab contributing the largest share of 51 followed by UP and Bengal”

He continues :

“The landlords were by no means a unified or cohesive collectivity, yet their overriding concern was to safeguard their future in a Congress dominated Government, which they thought was inspired by Bolshevik ideas. Such anxieties reinforced by the administration’s paranoia socialist stirrings in the colonies, were echoed time and again in response to peasant movements some parts of UP and Bihar. The spread of Bolshevism, Syed Ali Raza had warned Hailey, was fraught with dreadful consequences. It meant that ‘the whole society would have to be reconstructed on lines repugnant to the people’ (page 76)

So, if you take religious identity – as opposed to religion – out of the equation what remains is the rights of those who owned property. And, therein lay the major difference between Nehru and Jinnah. The former an ardent socialist, the latter – a person who was backed by the collective might of the landowning class, not. Sardar Vallabhai Patel – the other major player in this story – too believed in the rights of the poor and dispossessed. Whatever else their differences may have been – Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru were united in that.

If only Jinnah was honest about his intentions – and declared a capitalist state as opposed to a state based on dividing people based on how they pray – history would have been different. Pakistan would have been a rich, stable and well governed state. But, he didn’t -capitalism may not have won him votes -so he used the bogey of an Islamic identity – pray what does a Baluchi Muslim and a Punjabi Muslim have in common apart from religion – to create Pakistan. He had the opportunity to create a Singapore – he created a feudal state – that is low on education, industrialization, human rights – and that is still battling the genies that he let out of the bottle.

I said in the begining, that i am not surprised with the BJP fascination with Jinnah – be it Advani or Jaswant Singh – he stood for what they stand for – both in terms of constituency and in terms of agenda. Jinnah’s Direct Action has a parallel in Ram Janmabhoomi, his use of Islam a parallel in Hindutva, His representation of the landowners a reflection of the BJP’s core constituency. But, the whole story of Jinnah and partition is a lesson for the BJP – read history, but read between the lines. Do not divide us in the name of Hindutva, or religion. We have recent history that tells us what will happen. Broaden your reach – Stand for something that makes us reach the stars, not take us to the depth of despair. If you don’t believe me, peek across the border.

worth reading :
Nehru, Bose, Jinnah correspondence – here
Gandhiji’s scheme of offering Prime Ministership to Jinnah in 1947 – here

on the Jaswant Singh Drama :
Great Bong on Power of History