With the advent of WhatsApp started the great integration. Or cellphone reunion we may say. Old class mates, friends from the old neighbourhood, colleagues — everybody started to form small groups and talk about good old days as if we all hate the present. Although the most people talk in those forums, mostly male members, are jokes, some random photo or video, and rarely about anything actually to do with the common interest of the group. One such group is formed by the alumni of the college I attended, to do my engineering. A senior alumnus has a passion for photography and posted links to a few photography competitions he entered. His photographs are exceptional, and naturally, some alumni suggested why doesn’t he start a blog. These days everybody is trying to write something – including me. Anyway, one of the alumni, while asking about the blog, cited a site, suggesting a blog about that theme. The blog was by a certain Amardeep Singh, and that’s where I first heard of Zorawar Singh.
It was a captivating tale. When a story starts with finding human skeletons by a lake in the Himalayas at a high altitude, you cannot stop reading. If it was a book, I’ve have used the adjective ‘unputdownable’. A general in Maharana Ranjit Singh’s army, Zorawar Singh was ranked a General at an early age, he carried out successful expeditions in Baltistan and Tibet, winning strategic locations from Afghan and Tibetan armies, which still is of geo-political significance for India’s borders with Pakistan and China. The most important one was, of course, Ladakh valley, which the author’s claims would otherwise have been a part of China at present. The blog was perfectly paced, rich with details about General Zorawar Singh’s exploits at such high altitude and inclement weather situations. The time span covered is from 1835 to December 1841, when Zorawar Singh had fallen in the hands of the Tibetan army.
It was a captivating piece of history. Yet, what inspired me the most was the ending phrase – Not all those who wander are lost. I’ve heard it before but put into the context of the expeditions of General Zorawar Singh in the vast emptiness of the Tibet valleys made the phrase a thousand times more profound. Considering the blog is mainly a photo blog, presenting snippets of history with many pictures taken by the author, the phrase delved into the realms of imagination, the other side of the Himalayas, Silk Route, gateway to the Central Asia. Parts of the world I’m immensely interested about. Amardeep’s blog rekindled the passion for exploring the world off the beaten track. And somewhere I felt a pang of jealousy for him, for successfully pursuing his conquest of following the footsteps of General Zorawar Singh, trying to solve a mystery learned from a school teacher thirty years back. And finally learning that those skeletons date back to 9th century meant that he actually found something he Wasnt looking for, reminiscent of the ending of The Alchemist. His wanderings have certainly not been lost, and I’m just playing my part to spread the tales of his amazing expedition.
Thinking about the conquests of General Zorawar Singh made me think of the history from another perspective. Looking at the landscapes snapped by Amardeep, paired with the description of Zorawar Singh’s expeditions in the treacherous terrains evoked the expeditions of Hannibal through The Alps, and Leonidas as Thermopylae, or in more recent times Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose reaching Aizawl through Burma. The expeditions led by extraordinary men are characterised by going against the tide, almost like a lone ranger. Yet, the annals of these significant deeds remained silent in the Indian history books. Maharana Ranjit Singh and his regime have been barely touched when I completed my history curriculum, but nearly 25 years later, education curriculum is certainly more biased than ever before. At least the regional schools provide some exposure to the regional history, and let’s hope that the significance of General Zorawar Singh is not forgotten in his own land, although the Tibetans remembered his valour by making a cenotaph in his memory after he was fallen in 1841. So let’s raise a toast to General Zorawar Singh, and to all those souls driven by the wanderlust, those who wander but are never lost…
Thank goodness that this was JNU, not Jamia Millia Islamia, so the students were arrested by plain dress policemen inside the campus and were charged for sedition and their social network profiles are pasted all over Internet as the traitors of India. On the contrary, if they were from Jamia, perhaps the students would have been branded as members of SIMI or potential terrorists. Whilst there were reasonable doubts over Guru’s role in the attacks, the curtain of secrecy around his execution is definitely not a shining example of Indian judicial system. This is not the first time someone voiced concerns over his conviction and execution, but perhaps twenty-something students are much softer targets of the state than the seasoned politicians and stalwarts in the legislative procedures. Needless to say his execution took far too long, but the sudden and secret operation, tantamount to assassinations of Soviet era political dissidents, was not without political motives. If Afzal Guru was proven a terrorist beyond doubt, he should have been executed when he was convicted. It didn’t have to be done hidden behind an iron curtain. How the government wrapped the news around secrecy, didn’t inform his family, or denied a funeral, the integrity of the government was definitely questionable, especially approaching 2014 as all political parties were keen to prove their good intentions to the electorate.
DSU, the hosts of the cultural programme are a leftist student body, and they used the occasion to debate and discuss the systemic killing of Afzal Guru. A bold decision indeed, where the presence of socialist voice in most part of India is in decline. Perhaps the decision to commemorate the occasion was spurred by the reference of Afzal Guru during the Hyderabad university protest and the death of Rohith Vemula, another victim of state sponsored oppression that created an uproar but soon fizzled out and forgotten, with no action against the Uni authority who rusticated Rohith.
Smriti Irani said the anti-India chants were insults to mother India. So did Rajnath Singh, the home minister. Not sure who that fabled mother India is, she must be a polyamorous person, sleeping around with everyone’s fathers. When thousands of years before, the poet wrote Janani janmabhoomischa swargadapi gariyasi, he didn’t confuse the identities of mother with the land one is born. The personification or to be specific, maternalisation of India is yet another subtle way of splitting the society at least in two fragments — ones who are okay to accept it, and most of a billion population belongs to this side, and those who don’t. Mother India, Mother Nature, Mother Earth…the examples are boundless across the world, in every region, every culture. To carry on with the practice in the name of heritage and culture is basically an easy way of indoctrinating nationalist feelings from an early age. Country is your mother, so criticising your country is tantamount insulting your mother — the logic is simple and effective. And we like cheap drama, or nautanki, as proven by the success of soaps. So, the slogans were defaming the motherland etc are all bogus arguments altogether, in order to gain political mileage and appease the crowd that is already biased through a systematic brainwash from childhood.
If a nation is greatly offended by someone challenging the national unity and integrity, that definitely raises a question on the integrity of the nation itself. To truly become a country that is a champion of unity and integrity, the country will have to progress including everyone, not differentially. Incidents like JNU protests question and point at the shortcomings, where the systems and psyche of the nation still have a long way to go before we can truly proclaim ourselves as a diverse yet united country. Perhaps, this was also an occasion to remind ourselves that the nation can be the biggest terrorist – and there are numerous examples across the world – as the country and its government and institutions are the ultimate voice, and it can control the voices that speak against it. Sedition is a blunt concept in this day and age. It only tells if the legal system is at par with the reforms needed for the twenty first century. There were no threat to the country or any violence that ensued the claims, people were debating views and ideas, not dealing ammunitions. The charges against Kanhaiya Kumar will not hold ground during the court hearing, and he will probably be discharged without any conviction. Looking beyond the anti-India chants and claiming to immortalise Afzal Guru, there was an attempt to defy the government, defy the legal system. Defy the fact that no matter who is in power, a nation is still merely a puppet of the whims and avarice of the politicians who run it. It was a protest against the preferential treatment by the government and at large, the public. We act based on the bias in-built within us.
If there were any group of population who are and has always been vocal against such atrocities are students. They are the harbingers of change, the visionaries of tomorrow. The outcry to tarnish all protesters in the same colour is both foolish and dangerous. Even though the charges against the arrested students won’t hold water in court, social vigilantism spread their profiles and images all across the country. And needless to say, in a prejudiced country like India where people still ask age, religion, father’s name, mother’s name, husband’s name for a job application, where equal opportunity is perhaps merely a word in the HR strategy document gathering dust in a locked cabinet, these students will be discriminated against for a long time.
And then there are the right wing student unions like ABVP, they are getting the mileage they wanted on a national platform, whilst the student movements have historically been mostly left wing. Without a direction and vision, their agenda of inciting hatred against the protesters have struck the chord with millions of students, who would now subscribe to their ideology. The ABVP treats themselves as the sole spokesperson of nationalism at university campuses, and in fact their role during the debate was undemocratic, by trying to overrule a meeting that was approved for, by directly threatening the university governing body.
We Indians have a great tendency and ability to paint everything in the same colour. We do not treat issues singularly, but collectively. So, the outcry to shut down JNU is widely endorsed, people voicing concerns over the injustice in India are anti-nationalist and the protestors are traitors to the motherland. And the treatment they received from the country collectively — be it the media, politicians, police or public, just proves their point. They exposed the system and its divisive position. People voiced their opinion against anything undemocratic, before India was independent, and after. However, in the new Swachh Bharat surge, it appears that such thoughts and protests have suddenly become undemocratic, and therefore need to be swept under the carpet. So, rather than condemning the DSU student union for their villainy, we should pat their backs for standing strong against all adversities, and being bold enough to choose an occasion that aptly demonstrate the shortcomings of the legal system and human rights in India.
Also, glorifying another country, even if they were deemed your enemy, does not count as sedition. If Pakistan has done something praiseworthy, people can say good things about them, just as it was found that the government finally passed the Hindu marriage act, allowing Hindu marriages as official. However, the JNU protesters went beyond this, and voiced anti-India chants that mainly caught the media attention. What the BJP government and their ABVP sidekicks are turning a blind eye on, is they cannot make someone love their country, nor can anybody else. Forcing someone to say Bharat mata ki jay does not prove they are proud of their country, but it is tantamount an abusive husband raping his wife night after night and boasting during the day how much she loves him!
It is not necessary to love the country one is born in. It is most likely, as there is a bond developed since the childhood that is mainly nostalgic rather than informed, but that does not mean that people cannot change their opinion later on. Think of North Korea or Saudi Arabia, can the citizens there love their country with the rogue people running it? More oppressive the state becomes, more vocal the voices of the public need to be, before the country truly becomes a place one can be proud of.
The same can be said about the Kashmir debate, which was another reason why the sedition charge was brought in. It is almost comical how the rest of the nation has unanimously decided that Kashmir is part of their country and even debating the subject is sacrilege, although they tactfully exclude the views of the Kashmiri people, whose fate were being decided by the rest of India whether they should stay a part of India. The government doesn’t even recognise what the Kashmiri residents think, let alone arrange a referendum. With the unfortunate disaster at Siachen glacier recently, I wonder how many centuries it will take the fools across India and Pakistan to stop wasting exorbitant amount of money in protecting a border whilst that money could be utilised in progressing the country forward, improving hundreds of millions of lives who still lacks basic necessities of life – food, clothes and shelter.
A University is the ideal platform for such poignant debates, as what we learn in the courses are hardly ever used afterwards, but we we learn from classmates of various location, background and views shape the person we become in the future. Whatever and whoever the DSU supporters have discussed, disputed, criticised or defamed, that could have been countered with an equally critical discussion of their actions and agenda. Also, this has become a platform for all political mudslinging, where depending on their political clout, the parties are extending support or criticising, rather than leaving it as a debate between two politically opposite orientated student unions. There are a multitude of conspiracy theories going around for both sides — about the protesters shouting anti-India slogans coming to campus days before, or the ABVP activists in the DSU rally saying anti-India chants — digressing from the fact that this is not an issue to start a witch hunt, but to reflect the truth behind the claims and debate how the society can progress. Sending police in plain dress and arresting student body president just exemplifies the point these students have been trying to prove — that India is fast becoming an oppressive state and anyone who dares to speak against the government or the country will be publicly persecuted. Let’s hope that the protests such as this keep continuing all across the country, to challenge the government of its actions and the public at large, to change their age-old ideas about nationalism and love for motherland. It’s time we share the social profiles the Bhakt media spread over internet to show they were anti-nationals, to spread the excellent work they have done for human rights in India, and for its better future.
1. Speech from Harsh Mander, a social worker and a writer while attending the protest rally against Police arrest in campus
2. The translation of Kanhaiya Kumar’s original speech
3. A write-up in Bengali regarding the JNU protests, criticising the Government stance, with the header“Musclemen cannot invoke love for nation”
4. An account of the protest, as witnessed by a JNU student present actually present during the protest
2. The translation of Kanhaiya Kumar’s original speech
3. A write-up in Bengali regarding the JNU protests, criticising the Government stance, with the header“Musclemen cannot invoke love for nation”
4. An account of the protest, as witnessed by a JNU student present actually present during the protest
The only moot point is that with the advent of technology, we are fast becoming net-activists. We are exasperated at something, we act on it, we criticise, and then within two weeks, that lesson is forgotten. We go back to our daily lives, or find another issue to fight about. We don’t fight hard enough to bring a closure. It’s like thousands of matchsticks are lighting up and put out, and failing to light the candle with a raging fire that the country needs to cleanse the injustice gathered over centuries. To make it really happen, people are needed to come down in the streets, be visible, be heard — revolutions cannot start from the confines of the room.
On the night of the 1st January when the country finished celebrating the New Year’s Day and looking forward to a long weekend, an yet unknown number of terrorists suspected from the group Jaish-e-Muhammad abducted a senior Superintendent of Police car and entered the strategic Air Force base at Pathankot and opened fire with a view to destroy the strategic military assets maintained in the base. Seven Indian lives were lost until now, whilst six terrorists were suspected to be neutralised. The operation is now declared complete, although it is not clear how many terrorists attacked the base and whether any escaped.
When I started my day on 2nd January, thousands of miles away from those picturesque yet dangerous terrains that abut Indo-Pak borders, I was completely taken aback! Not that terrorist attacks are unheard of in India — in fact, before 9/11, India had been subjected to numerous attempts since independence that the rest of the world dismissed as internal issues. Yet, in recent times, peace seemed to have returned to the Kashmir valleys and the attack sent a completely contradictory message, whilst the Indian PM recently paid an unexpected visit to Pakistan.
The fingers for obvious reasons point towards Pakistan, where regardless of all peace talks and all different political parties in power, on the issue of Kashmir, it is a bureaucratic and diplomatic dead end. Pakistan would never stop claiming for Kashmir fearing a political annihilation otherwise, and India would never give it away for the same reason, as well as Kashmir providing a natural deterrent to invasions without which, the border would be too close to Delhi.
Following the attacks, on the social media which, in addition to the news on Internet, is my window to what’s happening in India, there seems to be a another controversy brewing up. On one side, there are pacifists who are proclaiming #TerrorHasNoReligion and #NonStateActor etc, the bigger and louder voice are for imparting capital punishments to terrorists, strengthening the army and in some extreme cases criticising the government brazenness on waging war on Pakistan. For this majority, the suspicion, quite obviously turns to the Indian Muslim population, in where their loyalty lie. Political parties weighed in quite expectedly, all blaming the attacks to appear patriotic, yet criticise on various fronts to the incumbent BJP government.
The anger in the Indian public is understandable. For various reasons, India has been involved in numerous conflicts with Pakistan and although the relation thawed in recent times, the terrorist attacks in India have never ceased and in ALL cases, the links were found going back to Pakistan. All Political parties in power in New Delhi have said harsh words, then it no measure was taken, neither offensive, nor collaborative. Public is frustrated with the government inaction and the continuous disruption to normal life and the huge human loss incurred in the attacks. To the common public, such an attack should have been avenged, to make the perpetrators afraid of planning further invasions.
Such expectations, no matter how patriotic they sound, are only emotional, passionate and impossible. Declaring war without any evidence is a direct breach of UN legislation and however frustrating it is, the government can’t but accept that outfits like JeM are non-state actors, they are terrorist outfits with no established connection to Pakistan government or army until proven. Is Pakistan not aware of these outfits training in its soil and then crossing the heavily guarded Indo-Pak border? Of course they are aware, we can’t be so naive to assume that they don’t. It appears that in Pakistan there is the elected government, then the army and finally the ISI — Pakistan’s secret service agency, and each of these three leaderships has their own agenda. So, as far as terrorists are concerned, the government view was perhaps to turn a blind eye on attacks on India, rather than have the attacks turn internal. Also, for a large number of Pakistanis and perhaps some Kashmiris, who believe that Kashmir should a part of Pakistan, these attacks are not terrorist activities, the terrorists perhaps were seen as freedom fighters instead. Considering the whereabouts of these outfits are known to government, what the Pakistan government has done would define whether there were heavy involvement and possibly supply of weapons etc. to these terrorists, or whether they were aware of the plans and did not take proactive measures to thwart them crossing the borders. One of the conspiracy theories floating around suggests ISI and Pakistan Army tend to keep the Kashmir melting pot simmering but not boil over, in the wake of the goodwill missions between the Indo-Pak governments to defrost the relations. This also highlights the lack of control by the government over the Army involvements in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, what should India do? There is not much more to do than what’s being done in this or the last terrorist attacks. The first target was to secure the base and the key assets, as well as ensure the safety of the civilians in the nearby area. The Punjab Police and the NSG has completed that task although clumsily. The other important task was to neutralise the perpetrators or capturing them alive. Although it’s been a long battle and the statement from the SP was perhaps confusing in ascertaining the number of terrorists, most of the terrorists are now neutralised and the operation is declared complete. An enquiry by NIA is already under way to probe the attacks. The investigation is essential and the outcome will lead the way how India government would respond to the situation. During the attacks, it emerged that the the right forces were not deployed or the right equipments were not available, which will need to be addressed for future crisis situations. All the unanswered questions that have been raised following the attack will need to find an answer such as where the other terrorists came from or how did they infiltrate the border security forces of India and Pakistan. Questions need to be answered why after the SP was abducted, there wasn’t a high alert? Another approach by Indian government is really commendable during the Pathankot attacks was not to point finger at Pakistan straight away without any inquiry. Considering the ruling party is Hindu supremacist, not being carried away with passion for an Islamist attack showed the sign of its political astuteness. At the same time, the Pak media seemed to have asked the pertinent questions on how the borders that are heavily guarded were breached, and the investigation committee should pass information back to Pakistan if the involvement was found. On the other hand, despite cries from opposition Congress to severe all diplomatic ties with Pakistan, that would make the discussions and negotiations that have just started freeze again, as before. The trend showed that whenever Indo-Pak peace talks started, the separatists replied with an attack. The peace process or at least the discussions should not stop as that would appear as victory to the terrorists. Last but not the least, the soldiers who died in the confrontation should be remembered and it should be made sure that the state looks after their next of kin, as well as of the taxi driver who was killed.
One of the greatest achievements of post-independence India was that it’s the world’s biggest democracy and the government is run by a well defined constitution. At times critics may have quite rightly pointed out that they could be sluggish and overly bureaucratic, calling for revisions to cater for recent times. However, in situations like this, the integrity of the Indian constitution can be fully appreciated that allowed the government to function in a logical manner, keeping the interest of the entire population in mind. India’s Gandhian peace efforts in diplomatic missions has earned the country many allies, as did the recent economic boom. An adolescent response by a declaration of war would not only destabilise the political and social balance in the subcontinent, but it would also undermine India’s position as one of the biggest emerging economies. Considering the biggest opposition to India is China — economically as well as politically, such a move would definitely lose India a few supporters. Also, in the politically volatile situation in Pakistan, the last thing expected is to push Pakistan in a state where the extremists take over the government and cause a nuclear Armageddon, leaving probably the entire Pakistan and a large part of India wiped out for generations. The international community will keep the safe distance, and although based on their economic interest perhaps most of them take India’s side, none of them would be involved in the conflict.
Apart from win-loss angle, a war situation should at all cost be avoided from a humanitarian point of view. That each human life is precious and a war would only mean loss of hundreds and thousands of the human capital, the true building blocks of India — this should be the first point of argument. People are outraged about the situations and causing storms in the social media, but all such petty activism is light-years away from the harsh terrains of Himalayas, where the military outposts are guarding the territory in the most unforgiving climate and landscape. Despite being strongly opposed to the idea of any army, in the volatile borders such as Indo-Pak or Sino-Indian frontiers, unless the governments reach a permanent equilibrium, armed forces and border protection is necessary, not just for preventing illegal land acquisition, but also for minimising terrorist infiltrations. We don’t want to see any loss of life as seen in this attack, but a retaliatory response to flex the muscles, is something that may appear heroic in the ultra-nationalist perspective, but going to an armed conflict wiping out cities and villages is not a sensible option at all. So, before one raises another battle cry to show raging patriotism, please ask yourself who would suffer the biggest loss? Even if there is a war and India flattens Pakistan, what will happen then? Would that not pave the way for more ferocious terrorist elements like Al-Qaeda or ISIS? Picture the sights of devastation seen in the war torn middle-east, of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan — despite being threatened many times, such destruction hasn’t touched India or Pakistan yet, and let’s all hope that the governments to be prudent enough to avoid such meltdown.
There are possibilities that a lot of insider information is passed over to ISI by Indians, unknowingly or being bribed. Such possibilities cannot be ignored, and rather than the lapse in technology, the insiders passing on information are bigger threats, helping the terrorists with details to make their master plans. A lot of information coming out of the investigation still doesn’t add up. Also, the focus should be on the people of J&K as well, because the terrorists may have received local help, without which, how did they managed to to their reconnaissance of the army base? There are a lot of grievance against the Indian government and abuses by the army. If such issues are not addressed effectively and the residents felt that their voices are not heard, it makes way for sympathising, if not directly supporting, with the partisan elements – terrorist or otherwise. I remember watching a recent documentary on Channel 4 called Walking the Himalayas, where citizens in Srinagar were asked about the political tensions and the presenter summarised that people don’t feel as part of India. Such statement is conflagrant because a major UK channel is endorsing the view that the population don’t feel to be a part of India based on the ten people he spoke to. But the more worrying fact is that whether that statement is true, that the population is felt betrayed by the Indian government and feel detached? Will there ever be a referendum on Kashmir? The present referendum in Crimea showed how easily the votes can be rigged and a region be annexed. So what chance have we got of a fair vote and the accept the results and work towards a solution? This brings more fundamental questions of what is a state and its necessity in our lives? Why do we live in a fragmented world, building artificial boundaries and then keep spending more protecting these frontiers? There are endless questions and the answers are not available or implementable as yet.
To conclude however, let’s spare a moment for all the lives lost, and think again before crying out for blood. And remember, that the biggest harbingers of peace are also the biggest warmongers and the more the other countries, communities, people get into conflict with each other, the more we spend on war machinery, the more money goes to the coffers of these vendors of war. Our emotions will only feed the interests of those leeches.So think carefully, and do the right thing, which is to look at the situation from different dimension and see who the biggest sufferers will be for our wrong decisions. It’s always us.
Last night I had a dream. It was about an unknown suburbia in India, with its crowded and bustling roads full of old buses, vans and rickshaws. I was with one of my colleagues but had no idea what we were doing there, and we were lost, away from the city we were meant to be. The incessant din, multicoloured two storey houses, political graffiti on the walls and the web of power, telephone and cable TV lines above our heads were reminiscent of an India that was evolving in the new millennium, yet far away from the shiny edifices of Gurgaon and Bangalore, or the super fast highways in Bombay. We ended up in a train station, but the name of the station was nowhere to be seen. A train trundled in to the station, and we boarded the train without knowing where it’s heading to. We were meant to be looking for the first or second class cabins, but just rushed into the general class. Inside the compartment was dark, despite a bright day outside, and it was crowded like any other passenger train in India. I was desperate to find out where we were, to know which way to go. In the vapid heat inside the train, people giving us a little more room seeing my colleague struggle in the crowd, I made a last ditch attempt to read the station name – leaning over the barred windows, as the train started to speed up, leaving the platform. The first time I read a name, it did not make any sense, and even in my dream it felt absurd. I looked again, and it read like “Coal Nagar”. I know this does not exist, but in my dream, that name brought back all the information we needed. Coal Nagar was a suburb of a big city called “Anjar”, another imaginary place, but situated in Madhya Pradesh, and the city map flashed in my mind. As the train lazily chugged along the busy suburban landscape of houses, bazaars and scooters, we knew that Anjar is only a few miles away, and we will soon be in Anjar, then find a mode to get to Delhi and then back to UK. The sepia themed dream ended there, as we headed off towards Anjar leaving the unknown flurry of vibrant imageries, rapidly transforming in front of the barred windows, yet leaving an indelible stamp in my heart of an India I had never experienced.
I have not been to many places in Madhya Pradesh, yet that dream immediately connected the imageries to the central Indian state. The images in the sepia background instantly reminded of the film “Manorama six feet under”, both telling the tales of a forlorn India — far away from the new open market era image projected to the world, but still the epicentre of the present identity of India. A busy town, with strong connection to the rural surrounds, yet brimming with dreams and aspirations to escape the confines of the place to move forward to the bigger cities, inviting them with all their allures of 2BHK apartments and urban myths transgressed through hearsay of the people, who made it to the big cities.
It was an interesting coincidence, when I came across this article shared in The Guardian this morning. As I started reading the article, wonderfully narrated in a crime thriller pace of storytelling, the same images, still vivid from my last night’s dream, immediately struck my mind. It was a déjà vu of the “Manorama…”, a web of crime unfurling in a sedate township and the sandy sepia coloured background. Anjar in my dream is not Indore, but there is no reason why it can’t be. Yet, in the dream, whilst there was a life awaiting me outside the small township, this article instead divulge a sordid story of power, greed, corruption and shallow political exploitation of the Indian rural and suburban youth aspiring to break free the shackles of caste, class, religion and life long struggle. A vortex that consumed the futures of hundreds and thousands of youth coming from rural background.
Vyapam scam unfolded in the summer of 2015, when I was barely coping with tremendous pressure at work, and hence, most of the developments around the investigation past me by. This report may appear a bit long, but the narrative keeps the reader interested throughout and tries to analyse the findings from a number of different perspectives. Although the memories, left in the sepia tinted past, would evoke a sense of nostalgia, as the story unfurled, it divulged the primitive tooth and claw sides of the Indian politics and the web of corruption spanning not just a vast state but the entire central India.
I believe in the boundless possibilities and talent in India, and want to see the potentials fully utilised to thrive, not just as a country, but benefit the entire world. Yet, I wonder when that day would come, when scams such as this will be buried as the skeletons of past in that new shining India…
Full article below:
The mystery of India’s deadly exam scam
The mystery of India’s deadly exam scam
“Yes, I am a traitor, if you are a patriot, if you are a defender of our homeland, I am a traitor to my homeland; I am a traitor to my country… if patriotism is the claws of your village lords, … if patriotism is the police club, if your allocations and your salaries are patriotism,… if patriotism is not escaping from our stinking black-minded ignorance, then I am a traitor” – Nazim Hikmet
There are two pieces of news circulated in the media, at two different corners of the world, last week. In India, the famous actor, producer and director Aamir Khan stated in an interview that his wife Kiran was scared of the future of their children due to growing intolerance in the country. On the other corner of the world, cinemas in the UK refused to broadcast Lord’s Prayer before the films, for the period building up to Christmas festivities. Both these news caused uproar and debates in social spheres and the media flared the gravity of the incidents beyond proportion, creating national headlines. Although the two pieces of stories are seemingly unrelated, they are intertwined by the concept of intolerance, and social vigilantism. This is an attempt to analyse first incident using the latter to demonstrate that intolerance is not only limited to the confines of a region, religion or country.
Aamir Khan is one of the most gifted mainstream actors of Indian film industry. After featuring in films with resounding success, Aamir moved into directing his own films and made films on contemporary issues in the Indian society. One of his recent films, PK, based in the religious vaingloriousness of the humans, became a big hit in India, despite the ultra right-wing Hindu groups threatened closure of the film and vandalised the cinemas in a number of cities. With a huge fan base, gained since his first film around 1989, Aamir is also one of the most successful Bollywood actors. Despite being nominated for the national awards a number of times, Aamir refrained from attending as he had no faith in selection procedure for the awards. In a recent interview, he admitted that despite living all is life in India, it’s the first time he is concerned about the future of his children as there appears to be a growing unrest and intolerance in the country. I only came across the news the next morning by the tempest in the teacup, as the Facebook was found flooded with condemnation and criticism, mostly personal attacks on his ethnicity and religion. Aamir instantly became the target of social media witch hunt, a traitor and a Muslim sympathiser of terrorism. It wasn’t only limited to the overzealous public venting off their feelings, but other celebrities weighed in as well. This affair culminated in Aamir releasing a public statement. The statement was more of a clarification of his interview rather than a reconciliation to the growing media pressure, expecting a public apology. The nation is still enraged, and the abuses are continued as observed in social media.
I may have heard the Lord’s Prayer before, but wouldn’t recognise it. Some of the words are like this-“…Give us this day our daily bread,and forgive us our debts,as we also have forgiven our debtors.And lead us not into temptation,but deliver us from evil…”Church of England made an ad on Lord’s Prayer and wanted to broadcast it in cinemas before the films started. Majority of the cinemas including Odeon, Cineworld, Showcase have refused to play the short film due to their policy. A public uproar ensued in the island nation, with a dismayed portrait of Archbishop of Canterbury featuring front pages of nations newspapers, BBC tirelessly garbling out angry reaction from public to celebrities. A public petition started on the official parliament website to overthrow the decision by the cinemas, whilst the conservative media and politicians launched a scathing attack on the cinemas management policy. The petition gathered momentum throughout the weekend and by Monday it received enough signature to be debated in the parliament. Three days later, as I’m writing this, the petition has been officially rejected citing that forcing the cinemas to play the ad does not come in the jurisdiction of the parliament, it falls under the Digital Cinema Media, so all disgruntled Christians should write to the DCM, if they wanted the decision overturned.
Two separate incidents, two geographically contrasted locations, yet one inference could be drawn from both is the growing social vigilantism and the intolerance of the public. Starting with Aamir’s interview, it lasted about half an hour, where many constructive points were discussed regarding Indian society and its progress, and after he mentioned about the heightened intolerance in India, the journalists asked him a number of questions regarding his views on double standards of politicians as well as his views of terrorism incited by Islam. Aamir aptly clarified that he criticised the extremist mentality that is in the rise, regardless of the community, and the terrorists carrying Quran, did not legitimise their Muslim belief. However, the sensationalist Indian media only scooped the section that would produce the most uproar, and they succeeded brilliantly. Overnight Aamir became victim to a nationwide hate campaign, with the most lenient ones blaming him of heresy and betraying the country he built his career on, whilst the more vociferous ones went way further, from proposing to throw him out of the country to declaring 100,000 Rupees for someone to slap him in public. Even after Aamir released his statement people are maintaining their stance that he did an about turn facing such a strong public reaction and he insulted the country and de facto, its 1.25 billion people. The debates continued, and people promptly responded to the call for unsubscribing the android app Snapdeal, which Aamir is a brand ambassador of. However, this is neither the beginning, not the end of the debate around growing intolerance in Indian society.
The right-wing parties such as the present ruling party BJP and its ultra right sections such as Shiv Sena, Visva Hindu parishad, Bajrang Dal as well as BJP’s youth corps Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha or RSS, took over the role of protectors of the interests, culture and heritage of India’s Hindu population, and any attempt to criticise, satirise, question any of the centuries old practices and custom was met with severe and at times violent reactions. Apart from being the self proclaimed harbingers of Hindu identity, their stance was severely anti-Muslim, the second largest ethnic group in India. Not much later than the Rushdie affair involving Satanic Verses, the renowned Indian painter Maqbool Fida Hussain was criticised for his depiction of Hindu deities in nude, especially his painting of Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom, similar as Minerva of Athena in Roman and Greek mythology. The death threats, court petitions for defamation, ransacking his art exhibitions hounded Hussain until his death, and after, although the paintings were done in ’70s. The fact that Hussain was a Muslim helped the right wing hooligans in their anti-Muslim agenda provoking racial hatred in the spheres of art and creativity. The next incident, where the Hindu fundamentalists felt their feet trampled, was not so straightforward when it came to apportioning the blame. In 1996 a film was released by Deepa Mehta, “Fire” that portrayed a married woman’s lesbian extramarital relationship. Adultery and homosexuality, both were deemed damaging to the fabric of Hindu ideology and was vehemently criticised by the BJP and its extremist factions, calling for public apology from the director and instant ban on the film. The next film on the sequel, “Earth” in the partition of India and the ensuing communal violence also attracted cries for shutting down the film. The third film, “Water” featuring an affair of a widowed Hindu woman in the holy city of Benares, was met with vehement opposition from the right wing Hindu nationalists citing defamation of the sacred city as well as tainting the characters of widows, who, regardless of their age, are expected to lead life if a recluse. The production of the film was halted several times, as the mob attacked the film sets. The release was much delayed than the planned release around 2000-01. The then cultural minister of West Bengal offered Deepa to have the film shot in Bengal. However, the double standards of the communist government came to light as they offered Deepa Mehta to shoot Water in Bengal to snub right wing parties, trying to prove that the left is progressive, but in case of Taslima Nasreen, the exiled author from Bangladesh. Despite providing asylum to her in Calcutta, the government stance soon did an about turn, in face of growing protests from the Muslim communities in Bengal, harbouring the blasphemous author. The hypocrisy of various governments’ at various times in order to protect the free speech always affected the Indian societies. In recent past, the right wing factions began to promote a Hindu lead actor in Bollywood such as Hrithik Roshan, in order to diminish most of the public support divided amongst the three Khans, Aamir, Shahrukh and Salman. Incidentally, all three of them being Muslim, caused ire of the right wing Hindu supremacists.
Apart from the creative media, the propensity to disfigure the truth has never been so blatant than what was used by the BJP and the other right wing Hindu factions. The 1992 Babri masjid demolition was a first demonstration of the blind malicious side of the right wing nationalist parties to a republic. They also tried to stop celebrations of the Valentine’s Day as the true celebration of love was expected to be the birthday of Shri Krishna, a Hindu god with 16000 wives. BJP and their crony bunch of intelligentsia have been and still is instrumental in claiming the invention of numerous modern day best practices in medicine, science, astronomy, politics to be rooted in ancient Indian civilisation, which they proclaimed to be world’s oldest at 5500 BC, contrary to the archaeological findings and most factual historical findings of around 2000 BC. The latest addition to the hilarious claims was made in 2014, when the new Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed that the full head transplant was invented in ancient India deriving from tales in ancient Indian mythologies. BJP also tried to manipulate the educational system and the history by portraying Shivaji as a national hero because of his Hindu origin, and also introducing Saraswati Vandana, a prayer dedicated to Hindu goddess of wisdom Saraswati, to be recited in every school, rather than the national anthem. In 2007, a major sea canal project between India and Sri Lanka was permanently stopped, due to relentless disruptions by the right wing Hindu activists claiming the sand shoal in the shallow waters spreading between the two countries was in fact made by Lord Rama, another mythical character, purported to be a true person. The assassination of the renowned Karnatik author and free-thinker M.M Kalburgi in recent times, only proved the fact that the BJP and its other right-wing Hindu extremist factions would go to any length to promote their version of Indian history and culture and pulverise, not by logic and information, but by brutality, any voice of reason contradicting them.
As I said before, Aamir’s case did not start with his interview last week, but is rooted far deeper. Whilst Indian market opened to the world in late nineties, bringing the much needed deregulation, it was at that time, when the Hindu radicalism was on the rise. As exemplified above, along with state sponsored violence observed in riots in ’92, Gujarat riots on ’02 and many other individual attacks spreading communal violence, BJP and its cronies used their propaganda to promote Hindu nationalism, and any view that questions their superiority would be criticised and castigated. Their agenda also included the idea of Hindu supremacy, and hence by side-lining the Muslim population, apart from the one trump card they used to gain Muslim votes, by supporting Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam for the role of the president. With the rise of social media, apart from the right wing mouthpieces like newspaper, party pogroms etc, BJP also had another platform to permeate its agenda of nationalism. It was evident from the election campaign in 2014, which shared numerous photoshopped images of PM candidate Narendra Modi, as well as denigrating the free thinkers like Mahatma Gandhi, Tagore. With such a background, it was expected that the general public would refuse to bring a tyrant like Modi, who has blood on his hands, to power. Yet, no other opponent proved to be strong enough to stop the NaMo juggernaut, as public voted by the glamorous election campaign, and exasperated by the fading Congress’ nepotism, corruption and sycophancy to the old Nehru empire. After BJP was elected with absolute majority, it was clear that the propaganda machinery will be in full motion, promoting Hindu supremacy from day one. Aamir’s statement about growing intolerance in last 6 months, therefore, riled the BJP, and the media reported the case to the Indian population portraying Aamir as a heinous character, that he is ungrateful that all his films are made in India. Aamir was an easy target, his surname is Khan, and his fear of the growing intolerance in his surroundings is something that could be presented in a manner making him an unpatriotic person.
Having lived by first 30 years of my life in India, the only way I could summarise it is chaos. Chaos – not in a negative way, but the country is in a state of chaotic equilibrium. Nothing is perfect, yet everything works. Trains run late, yet the Indian Railways, world’s second largest public office, runs like a clockwork to make the unimaginably complicated system work. The dabbawalas in Mumbai deliver packed lunches to millions of people without a complicated IT system, and so does the dhobiwalas cleaning the laundries for millions of people, yet achieve a remarkably high accuracy. India is a curious place, a conundrum for the outsiders, a quest to the ones who know the country, how are we so different, yet there is a common emergence of a unique national character? This is why I revered India, but never fell into the glorious trap of patriotism. India was, and still is, my country, but never my mother, the bharatmata. India is also a land of contrasts — not just two, but many different contrasts at various degrees intermingle at every instant, and hence, stereotyping India is a difficult task. Indians are driven by boundless aspirations, trying to keep abreast to the tides of change modern time is bringing, yet in adherence to the archaic custom and cultures which has no place for coexistence. It’s not a dilemma between old and new, but instead of progress against regress.
This conflict between the two has always existed and still does, and it shapes our thought process and logic. When we speak about unity in diversity, that diversity mainly focusses upon the regional, cultural, linguistic diversity; although the religious orientation of all such diverse constituents is still Hindu. Despite a large number of non-Hindu communities residing in India, Hindus still make nearly 80% of the population, and therefore, any image projected of India largely constitutes portraits of a country for the Hindus, and as the second largest minority, Muslims. Other minorities, although they are part of an incredible India, their stories often go unheard. The Muslim fishermen on Kerala, or the Chinese shoemakers in Calcutta, or the Jewish and Parsi communities in Bombay, or a Gurkha tea plantation worker in Darjeeling – they remain away from the limelight of the Incredible India vision. As do the multitude of tribes spread all across India – from the central plateaux to the North-Eastern provinces to the Andaman & Nicobar islands. A majority Hindu population creates in public mind vision of a state with Hinduism at the centre of its raison d’etre. Impaired with this vision, anything that contradicts the key dogma of Hindu faith, the disagreement is often seen as the blasphemy, and denouncing the Hindu identity is tantamount denouncing India. Majority of the Indian population are reactionary, and therefore, easily manipulated. The right wing parties, irrespective of Hindu or Muslim, capitalise on this mob tendencies, along with a lack of clear thinking and decision making abilities. The lack of analytical thinking causes the mind to be easily led, to believe anything they read or listen or see, and whether that image fits to the preconceived notion of a Hindu India. With such warped concepts, a Hindu is also seen as an Indian, whereas a Muslim Indian is still a Muslim, a Hindu Bengali is a Bengali, but a Muslim Bengali is just a Muslim. The borderlines between nationality, regional identity and religion are blurred and intersect with each other – making a complex maze of identities. This fuzzy identity lies at the centre of the Aamir Khan scandal, which was started as a question on growing societal intolerance in India, but flared up as saying India is not tolerant, and that statement coming from a Muslim actor, his Indian identity is promptly ignored, and the debate is portrayed as a muslim insulting India.
The biggest pride I have in India is that since early days of independence, it is a republic and remained a republic state. A republic gives every citizen to express his/her opinion without fear, hesitation and discrimination. In Tagore’s words, “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high/ Where knowledge is free/ Where the world has not been broken up into fragments/ By narrow domestic walls”—the vision of India portrayed in his poem is far from the reality as observed in the twenty-first century India. What Aamir alluded to in his interview, about growing intolerance in the society, was only a fear, for the lives of his children. Yet, the following few days, and the mob witch hunt that was witnessed since then, only strengthens the truth in Aamir’s statement. The public reaction claiming Aamir’s statement as an act of insult to the country, heresy and treason, is no different than Saudi states — the intolerance of free speech is still the same. The concept of constructive criticism is of course non-existent in the sub-continent, where parliament session means the ruling parties and opposition shouting at each other, throwing abuses, often breaking into fights, and the smaller insignificant parties walking out. Many circulations and re-posts are going around in social media since Aamir’s statement, yet I have not seen a single person come up with simple logical facts to refute his claims. The biggest criticism was, what if Aamir said something about Islam? If India was intolerant, can he think what would have happened to him if he was in Saudi Arabia? The answer to these questions are, may be a lot worse, but that is an absolute ludicrous way of dealing with a criticism. It’s as silly as explaining why you failed a test to your parents saying ten other students failed as well. We call India a democracy, we say it’s a diverse country, but of course it’s easy to state that being the majority, of course Hindus can claim to the world that they live in harmony with Muslims, Christians, Jews, Jains, but can those minorities say the same with equal ease? Can they say that they enjoy equal opportunities and are not marginalised? Can they boast of the unity in diversity? They can’t, because the moment they do, they will be branded unpatriotic, be subjected to the harassment Aamir has been through in last one week. As a republic, we have a lot to learn, a long way to go before we can truly boast of our diversity which does not depend on numbers but everyone believes in it.
This brings the discussion back to the Lord’s Prayer debate. Like India. Britain is a democracy, and it is a country with majority white Christian population, although, unlike India, a large number of Christian born population do not identify with Christianity any more, they are confirmed atheists. Christianity has been and is part of the main fabric of the country; although Britain can boast of a widely diverse demography in present days, Christianity is an undeniable part in forming the popular custom, language and festivities. Christianity shaped the UK in its present form as we know it. So the public may celebrate Yom Kippur or Chinese New Year with equal excitement, Christmas and Easter is still the biggest festivals of the season. Considering the vast majority of the confirmed Christian individuals are not church goers, and don’t live their lives by the Ten Commandments, it is surprising how a refusal to pray Lord’s Prayer before the cinema made it to the national news! The numerous public figures blaming the decision to be shambolic, right wing parties licking their lips finding a topic to win supports on their white supremacy agenda, the petition seeing an avalanche of supports to overturn the decision — what we saw is a reactive intolerance, from a large number of the public in one of the epitomes of democracy and multiculturalism. The British public, who cried out loud “bring our country back”, never cared what Church of England was doing, but with that refusal, they are all united in protest again, against policymakers implementing multiculturalism, against a harmonious society. Whilst in India, general public is too blasé about the feelings of the other minorities, in Britain, the general public is, although more liberal, too uncomfortable to be seen of having any prejudices. However, instances like this present a rare glimpse of the undercurrent of the prejudices that run deep in people’s psyche, and the outcome is not the finest example of tolerance. That Britain is a democracy and irrespective of the background, the common sense that playing Lord’s Prayer in the cinema is plainly unacceptable — it hasn’t permeated through the minds of the people crying wolf. To them, this is a sacrilege that the country isn’t a Christian country any more, the country is being taken over by the immigrants, who dictate how the country should be run. Britain has never been a Christian country, when it became a democracy and brought in the immigrants to run the country better. But of course only a logical mind would think this. For the rest, if you are not born British and Christian, you are expected to show allegiance to the country in every step — revere the Royal family, celebrate Christmas, wear the poppy. The allegiance to the gimmicks became synonymous to adherence to the values.
As I started this discussion to analyse the incident of Aamir khan’s statement about intolerance and the reaction of the Indian population in light of the Lord’s Prayer ban in cinemas in the UK — both these incidents show us an undercurrent of intolerance, of different degree and manifestation, but identical in its concept. The boundaries between religion, ethnicity, language and nationality is blurred and all is brought under the same canopy of patriotism, the almighty word that tells you if you love your country. You must be a patriot, support your country in every deeds to make your existence in this universe meaningful! What’s the life worth it doesn’t want to sacrifice itself for the country? The tales of heroes and martyrs emerge, tales of great heritage, but wasn’t it how a Mein Kampf was born?! The intolerance that exists in the society is omnipresent, as does the tolerance. One cannot exist without the other, otherwise “to err is human” would have no relevance in our lives. Intolerance is not limited to the boundaries of a country, or religion, or ethnicity. It is our inherent fear and tendency of distrust the others. Being intolerant does not mean that people are not tolerant at all, it only alludes to the fact that they are not 100% tolerant. What needs to happen is acceptance of the intolerance and to address the issues constructively, not by declaring sums to slap a person who raised some concerns, nor by saying the country is taken over by immigrants.
This brings to two other factors that are vitally important for the discourse related to intolerance in the society. First, the role of the media. In these two incidents, apart from people’s shortsightedness about tolerance and its meaning, media is the next biggest culpable factor. In their rat race to increase ratings, media twist the facts in such a manner that it creates a headline, unconcerned of whether the facts are true, semi-true or blatant lies. The hype Aamir’s story received is completely due to the fact that they repeatedly broadcasted only two minutes of an interview that lasted half an hour, where a number of other social issues were discussed. Just in the same way BBC and ITV telecasted repeatedly the same news of CoE ad ban for next few days. Especially for India, with lower literacy rate that hinders the analytical reasoning, media needs to play a more responsible role than fuelling mass hysteria. The majority of Indian and british working class and uneducated sections don’t have the time nor luxury to delve into arguments and counter arguments, and perhaps draw an informed conclusion analysing all the facts. They probably take every news on its face value as seen of heard in the media. The flippancy of media observed in both these cases only made a much detrimental effect in maintaining a diverse society. The other factor is of course the role of the minorities in eradicating the intolerance from the society. Just by saying that the ethnic majority is intolerant, it doesn’t mask the fact that it runs in the minorities as well — illustrated by a gathering of thousands of radical Muslims in protest when a captured terrorist in India was hanged or people seen celebrating Paris attacks. Like BJP and its Hindu supremacist cronies, undeniably there are radical Islamist groups in India as well, as does separatist mujahideen outfits fighting for independent Kashmir, or militants in the north east. By being a free thinker, a voice of reason, one doesn’t have to stand up for minorities in every occasion, right or wrong. The question of right and wrong, good or evil eluded us since the early days of civilisations. We still form our opinions based on our understanding of the social filaments, our views towards life. It is a continuous struggle against ourself as well, where we need to break the stereotypes and paradigms layered over the years. If the reaction to Aamir khan’s statement was termed intolerant, my analysis is intolerant as well, as it represents intolerance of such intolerances.
So, what does the balance sheet look like, of the Aamir Khan controversy last week? Media gained, of course, with their heightened TRP and circulation of extra newspapers. Aamir lost a few dedicated fans and may not have his Snapdeal contract renewed. But he also won, although a handful, of admirers for speaking out the truth while the others shied away. Aamir’s wife Kiran has suffered the full brunt of public wrath, for having no opportunity to defend herself as Aamir did. Snapdeal, the company Aamir was brand ambassador for, despite losing nearly 100,000 memberships, gained in rating due to increased interest on their website for the controversy. But the biggest winner, from this debate is BJP and the PM Modi, as no official reprimand was issued through government of India. This is a surreptitious way BJP let its far right factions do the dirty work for them, such as maligning Aamir, his achievements and personal life; yet officially kept a safe distance from them to project an image of neutrality. Of all the involved sides, Modi’s image emerged as a leader who is calm and stoic, unperturbed by the scandal, his incredible India and swachh Bharat remained untarnished — much to the dismay and disconcert of any liberal person, as sycophantic praises poured in all over the media and Internet. In few weeks all will be forgotten, but this controversy will hush all the voices willing to ask questions, or point fingers at the government. The returning of national awards by scholars has already been much politically polarised, and their protests were degraded by the predatory right wing activists and Modi sympathisers. With Aamir added to this list of quarantined personalities, this paves the path for an unrivalled Hindu indoctrination of the country. The brooms of swachh Bharat movement will swiftly brush away the voices of criticism. India will be promoted as a country for its space programme, IT and manufacturing prowess, but the dark sides of caste system and discriminations, sectarian violence and intolerance, honour killings and female foeticides will be neatly tucked away. One may even ask at this juncture that if an actor is worth three billion rupees, is there really a concern for his children regarding social intolerance? If he is rich enough to possibly buy an entire security company, was there any ulterior motive? Will Modi go to the media with grand gestures of pardoning Aamir as part of Indian tradition and other similar nonsense, boosting his image up as the results don’t show the achchhe din or the good days he promised is imminent? We’ll never know this…
It’s been over a week now, since both these scandals broke out. People have now gone back to their daily humdrum life away from the uproar. Perhaps the nerves are still a bit raw in India, as the Aamir story still dominates internet and social media. In Britain people have forgotten about Lord’s Prayer already and engrossed in Christmas shopping spree. The guise is back, in both worlds, until the time something else flares up, when the fangs and talons will lash out again, baring our primitive instincts. Until then, we are all back to our pretentious social harmony, back in our sheep’s skin.