Labour, Politics, UK

Tories out: A last minute guide for tactical voting

Last year when the UK delivered its shock verdict in EU membership, I was in Normandy. I had already done my bit, I voted IN through postal ballot, did some Facebook canvassing, slagged off and ridiculed the UKIP buffoons and Cameron’s brochure. I thought that was enough to stay in. It was not. The VOTE LEAVE banners stuck on bushes and little bridges seemed to have a louder voice. This year, after a year of drama and pandemonium, we are yet again heading for another election, apparently to a stronger and stable UK. A day after the results, we’ll be on our way to a France again, where the people overwhelmingly voted for a pro-EU leader, shutting down the threat of a protectionist and nationalist regime. Our visit would be quite symbolic, either going in as equals, with a progressive government in the Westminster working to damage control the Brexit outcome. Or going in as laughing stock, with a government still fooling its people with no deal is better than a bad deal, Brexit means Brexit and all other mouthful nonsense. The 8th June will definitely change the future course of the British politics; it’s just waiting to see if that’s for better or worse.

If you survived this far and not pissed off about another remoaner, and you haven’t much time, read this concise guide that gives you much insight about tactical voting. How to vote the Tories out: a newbies’ guide to tactical voting. You don’t need to know the rest unless you’re still undecided, where this might help you decide why you can’t let the Tories another reign.

The biggest dilemma about this election is whom to vote. On one side, you have Theresa May and her cronies, constantly changing their stance on every single policy, and already showing the horrors of the Thatcher era politics with cuts on every imaginable public service. And there is another party which shouldn’t even be considered a mainline party after the Brexit vote. UKIP lost its relevance, although unfortunately, the supporter base of disillusioned working class hasn’t yet moved back to mainstream parties. It’s to see if 2017 will see the obliteration of UKIP like 2015 was for BNP. On the other side of the spectrum, there is Labour. Or Jeremy Corbyn. Like it or not, he is the face of Labour, and based on where you are and how old you are, you either like Labour because of him, or you won’t vote Labour because of him. It is undeniable, however, that despite the mass walkout of mainstream Labour politicians, Labour led by Jeremy Corbyn has done very well to cut the Tory lead to a minimum. But surveys aren’t accurate. I’m still apprehensive. Then there is SNP, set to win all their seats with bigger margins after Theresa May quashed the call for a second referendum. At times where Labour was expected to rip the Tory bills and arguments apart, they were surprisingly very reserved, and it was SNP did that job. But they don’t have a manifesto for the entire UK, and while you agree with them, and may form coalitions, their interest will only circle around Scottish public, which accounts for only 8% of the population. And about Libdems, seven years after they made the collaboration with the Conservatives, and virtually wiped themselves out of the UK map, their popularity is on the rise again, mainly to urban young voters based on the Brexit renegotiation issue. You have the Green Party as well, but outside Brighton, they only appear to have a niche voter bank, not large enough to swing any seat. And the Women’s equality party. But these parties, although they have a credible agenda, this is not the Election to undercut anti-Tory supports. Who can you trust then? The choice that appears to be available to the general public, not just this time, but for most of the elections, is the best of a bad bunch.

It is hard to support a particular political party these days. This is partly because they moved away from the party hardline and gradually taking a centrist approach. It is quite possible to find that various parties are promising to fulfil your expectations on various sectors, and you end up choosing the party meetings most of them. For the generally capitalist economies, this offers a middle ground for the oppressed middle and lower classes, but from a socialistic point of view, this means that the changes are not drastic enough to ensure that the income gap is decreasing and everybody in the country is offered a minimum level of lifestyle.

The other deterrent of voting is the lack of leadership. Despite all other negatives, Margaret Thatcher was the last credible leader the UK has seen. The PMs after her lacked any kind of leadership. They were suave men, great in appearance and eloquence but that’s how far their skills went. They hardly knew the country or its people outside their boys club spheres, and failed to understand the challenges and hardships faced by the working class. Outside the PM club, Nick Clegg was one such leader who showed great promise, but ended up committing political euthanasia for the Libdems by joining with Tories in 2010. Looking at Theresa May, she often tries to emulate Thatcher but fails miserably. Most of her answers in the PMQ ended up making personal insults to Jeremy Corbyn, or other opposition MPs or members of the public. A leader who shows no respect for the opposition and no empathy for the harsh realities faced by the working class today including most of the public servants, it is unimaginable how people can trust her to be in charge of the country. All she has got is strong words and no actions to follow through. On the other side of the bench we have Jeremy Corbyn. Much has been said about his appearance and leadership qualities, but over the last two years he had shown extreme resilience when he had to withstand challenge from his own party rather than the opposition. Granted he made rushed decisions within the Labour camp, reshuffling shadow cabinet every month or so, but that wasn’t a failure of him, but the Labour MPs who chose to leave the party in tatters rather than stand behind Corbyn. People who think Jeremy Corbyn isn’t the suitable leader, let me remind you the terrible handling of the home office by the now PM, including the UKBA vans and the cuts in police that is to some extent responsible for the failure to intercept recent terrorist attacks. If her track records prove she is a better leader based on void arguments like enough is enough or Brexit means Brexit, then it begs the question of legitimacy of such claims.

So, whom to vote for then? Looking at most or all sociopolitical events happening over last decade, or longer than that, I repeat to myself one simple phrase, “Know your enemy”. The more problems I witness, the more I’m convinced that there’s so much hatred and so much tension between humans, and one root cause is that we are always fighting a shadow war with an imaginary opponent but the real perpetrators always get away unharmed. It does sound like a communist manifesto, but wealth is the main underlying factor in most of the crises faced today — austerity, terrorism, tax evasion, immigration — the list is endless. It is like watching the butterfly effect unfurl in front of your own eyes. Considering the vote is not decided by the 1% of the wealthiest people, but the working class people, the phrase “know your enemy” is actually understanding who they are actually exploited by. The enemy is not the Polish construction worker next door who you think is taking up your jobs, the enemy is not the Muslim neighbourhood that you avoid because it doesn’t feel like Britain there, the enemy is not the disabled person having to prove every week that they are unable to work, nor are the children fleeing their war torn countries waiting in Calais jungle for yet another dangerous attempt to cross the channel. The enemy is not the EU, taking away billions of pounds from you, because you don’t know how much it’s putting back in. The enemy is not the children and people in countries with natural disasters, famine, political unrest because you think all your tax ends up there doing charities. The actual enemy is who led you believe all this red herrings so you are not disgusted by things that are actually robbing you in the daylight. About protecting the interests of the rich, about making Britain a tax haven, about sending away doctors and nurses who’ve been legitimately working here for years by raising the threshold, by cutting pensions and disability benefits yet funding millions for the clowns in Buckingham palace. You must be disgusted learning how imams tell the Muslim communities whether to vote and for whom to vote? I am. But you don’t see it the same way when The Sun, Daily Mail and The Express urges on its front page who you should be voting for! The media who led you believe all the trash deliberately, by Rupert Murdoch & co is our enemy. You don’t really need religious hate preachers in this country, but the media is doing exactly that right in front of your nose. The societies are being divided thanks to media scapegoating. Yet, you choose to spend you hard earned money reading that trash and get agitated that this country is going down. And there are politicians. You’re not disgusted that a PM is saying enough is enough after repeated terrorist attacks, yet she was the person in charge of the home affairs for last six years, cutting police and surveillance numbers. You are worried about letting Syrian refugees in case they are terrorists, yet you don’t flinch when picture of May appears with the king of Saudi Arabia. You still know where most of these terrorist outfits get their funding from, don’t you? You just chose to ignore and rather shout for Burqa ban! You see smug Jeremy Hunt smile sheepishly when he’s asked about the chaotic situation in the NHS, Iain Duncan Smith burst out in cheers when a cut is mentioned, we have a buffoon of a foreign secretary that people should be ashamed of allowing representing Britain to other nation. And that the fox hunting would be brought back doesn’t bother you, nor does Theresa May’s warning about throwing out any human rights laws to prevent terrorism, uncannily idiotic and dangerous as the Muslim ban proposed by the orange faced batshit across the pond. Yet your derision is only directed towards Diane Abbott for getting her figures wrong, and your anger towards Jeremy Corbyn for his supposed IRA link.

So really, you need to think whether you should be more worried about Labour raising tax for people earning more than £80k and the Bolshevik rhetoric suggested by the right wing media, or issues that have been plaguing the country for much longer? Britain needs a new government, a government that puts its people first and treat all as equals. And a government that draws away from US led foreign policy framework about the Middle East and think how the country can constructively contribute to the peace process. Guns didn’t work there, it’s evident now. All it did is bring the enemy home. We need a government that ensures that our public service is protected and public servants are recognised for their amazing service working unreasonable hours for pittance. You need a government that will ensure Brexit happens with a close tie to the Europe, by agreeing free labour movement so the access is not lost to our biggest market rather than grovelling to counties that are undemocratic. You need a fairer society where the minimum wage lets someone have a decent lifestyle unreliable of the food banks, people who earn more are made to pay more tax, closing loopholes that the Tories have been enjoying sharing with their crony pals. Can Theresa May promise all these? Heck no! Can Labour deliver all this? Heck no, but they made the first move by thinking about it. And they say “You’ve actually failed when you stopped trying”. But more importantly, you need to keep the Tories out. So, look at many tactical voting sites and see if your constituency is marginal. If you’re Libdem and Labour is marginal, your best bet is to vote Labour, rather than allow another closely won conservative seat. And above all, VOTE! Make sure you had your voice heard. I still wait to see the day when it will be liable to fines if you didn’t vote. So turn up and don’t moan later.

Here’s one last word of caution though. If you’re thinking voting Libdem where they are close to win and Labour is not in contention. Remember 2010, when you were betrayed by them. So, don’t make an assumption that Tim Farron will side with Labour if there’s a hung parliament. But I’d still think if there was alternative voting available, Labour would be the second choice of Libdem supporters than the Tories. And if you voted Libdems, you have a fair chance of a coalition; voting Labour and losing the seat to Tories will mean another seat will have to be won somewhere to compensate. In either case, make your vote count towards making a difference. It’s your choice, for a better tomorrow…or worse. Just remember, “Know your enemy”. All the best to your future.

Politics, short story, UK

A Remoaner’s Parable for Brexit

A good friend once told me this story:

There was a devout man. He prayed to God every day and thanked him for his existence on earth. He always believed that if he was in any kind of trouble, God will help him out. And so God did. One time when his child had fever, and he prayed and prayed. The next morning his child was cured completely; he even went to school. Or the other time when he ran into debt and after praying to God, he had the dream and found an untouched scratch card lying inside a book, and he won enough money to clear his debts.

One day our devout man was working in his office. It started to rain heavily around the lunch hour. The people thought the rain would stop soon. But it carried on, and the water started to rise. The banks of the river nearby had burst, and a flash flood followed. There was a TV at the pantry area in the corner. In the middle of share price displays, there was a woman on screen with an angelic face, making an announcement that everybody should leave the area straight away. Everyone in the office packed their bags and rushed to leave the building. Everyone but our friend. He started praying, so the disaster would stop. Colleagues tried to dissuade him, but he was firm in his belief. His colleagues thought he was mad, but he knew God will help him.

Half and hour went by. The water is gushing inside the building. The devout man is still asking God to put an end to this awful weather. There was a loud honk outside. A rescue truck is rescuing stranded people to take them up to high ground. Our friend looked out of the window.

“Hey there! Come downstairs, there’s nothing to worry. The water isn’t deep. We got you”
“Thanks, but I’m fine here. God will save us. You should pray as well“
“What nonsense! Come right now, we got other people to rescue and the water is getting higher”
“God will make it all stop. You’ll see. You carry on, help the others“
“You moron!“

And the truck drove away. The man went back to his prayer. Half an hour went by. The ground floor is under a waist deep water. A big siren and flashing lights outside. A fire engine is passing by. It comes to a halt as the fireman noticed the man looking out of the office window.

“Hang in there fella, we’ll get the ladder to you!“
“I don’t need your ladder. The God almighty will soon put an end to this.“
“What a load of rubbish! Get on the ladder now. We can’t stay here long, water will get in the engine“
“You save yourself my friend. God will save me. He always had in the past“
“Good luck to you on that.“

And the fire engine went away. The man was feeling a bit anxious now. Is God not happy with him? Has he done something wrong? “I promise I will pray more, dear God! It’s just the thoughts about work and family distracted me lately. But I will, once again, be your true servant“. He started praying more feverishly. Half an hour…then an hour went by. It’s getting dark, and there is no sign of the rain to stop. The water has come up to the first floor. Our man went to the roof, so god can save him. “Ah I see. He probably wasn’t planning to stop the rain. It must be a boat, like Noah’s, that will save me. I know now why God waited for so long. He wanted the water to rise so he can send the ark“. The man suddenly felt that God hadn’t forsaken him, and he was too blind to see it. He watched out for the boat, but was disturbed by a very loud whirring noise again—

A helicopter is circling over the buildings. Our man is suddenly flooded with shining light from the helicopter. They lowered the rope ladder, to rescue the last few stranded people. A booming voice came from the copter

“ Hello there! Grab the ladder carefully and climb up inside”.

The man thought that wasn’t the way he expected the help to come. And he refused. The pilot explained that he won’t be able to come back and he must escape. But our man refused. There will be a boat soon. The helicopter flew away.

The man started praying again. Minutes went by, then an hour. The water has risen to the roof. He is standing facing the sea of water that engulfed all buildings around. He is suddenly panic-stricken. That God wouldn’t help him this time. He started wondering what sins he had committed that God is annoyed with him. The water is rising fast. It’s up to his ankles, then waist and in a few more minutes he was standing with his chest under water. He held on to the handrails, knowing it’ll all be over in a few minutes. Faces of his wife and son flashed in front of his eyes. And that all his prayers didn’t manage to move God, that was more hurtful. He felt betrayed. With water almost up to his neck, he lets out a desperate howl, “Why dear God did you abandon me? I have always been faithful to you. What have I done wrong? Please help me!“

Suddenly there was a bolt of lightning. And a few more. The dark sky was lit up with electric blue flashes. Then, as our man looked up, silhouette of a man appeared, and the God spoke,

“Fucking idiot, who do you think alerted you of the flood, and sent you the truck, fire engine and the helicopter? I thinks it’s better to have no followers than the blind ones like you!”

He disappeared in the clashing and colliding clouds. The water isn’t rising anymore. The devout man gazed at the sky, awestruck.

“I was right! My lord has saved me again. I saw his face! I’m glad I waited until the very last moment” – he thought.

And then, there was a loud sigh, then out came a big wave, and the man was washed away into nothingness. Even the God had had enough of this delusional moron.

Over 17 million people voted for Brexit out of 46 million electorate. Within the first hour of the shocking morning of the 24th June, it was clear that all the promises and dreams of claiming back the glory land was a farce. The first lifeline was the desperate call for a second referendum. The second, the utter chaos that followed in the Tory and UKIP camp, as their bunch of lies came to light one after another. Then there was the High court and the Supreme Court ruling for giving MPs a vote to trigger Article 50. There were options for a soft Brexit with access to single market and free movement. And then the vote. The final say before it was all over. And it was. Thanks to the deluded 17 million, thanks to the jokers Farage and Boris, thanks to the scheming Daily Mail and Daily Express, and finally thanks to the bloody three-line whip from Corbyn, the fucking show is finally over. There’s no more lifeline; only the grim future with a racist molester as the main ally for UK. Or possibly the only ally left. The road to perdition starts here…
Bengal, Politics

যাত্রাপালা : রঙমেলান্তি, ২০১৬ বিধানসভা নির্বাচন ও জনমত

ভোট নিয়ে আগে অনেক পরীক্ষানিরীক্ষা করেছি, সে জোড়া কুঠার (এ ম্যাওবাদী আসার অনেক আগের ব্যাপার বাপু, তখন তিনোমুল মানে মাঠেঘাটে ঘাসের মধ্যে ফুটে থাকা ফুলই জানতাম, কাজেই আমারে আবার ম্যাওবাদী বলে দেগে দেয়ার চ্যাষ্টা কইরেননা) হোক বা বেচারী বারে বারে জমানত বাজেয়াপ্ত হওয়া নেপালী বুড়ো (উঁহু, স্বাধীন গোর্খাল্যান্ডেও নেই)। ভোট মানে তখন লায়েক হয়েছি, আঙুলে কালি লেগে থাকল কদিন সেটাই বেশী আলোচনার বিষয়। তাপ্পর কলেজে তো সব অ্যাপল, রঙ আছে বললেই ক্যাল। তা সে ঠিকঠাকই ছিল, কলেজে রঙবাজি চালাতে গিয়ে নিজেদের মধ্যে লাথালাথি খেয়োখেয়ি না হওয়াই ভালো। গোল বাঁধল তিন সাড়ে তিন বছর পর, দুজন ছাত্র ইয়ার ল্যাগ খাবার পর। কলেজ তো গাজোয়ারি করে সংশোধনের জায়গায় বর্জন পলিসি চালিয়ে বসে রইল, এদিকে খাল কেটে কুমীর ঢুকে পড়ল, অ্যাপল হয়ে গেল লাল। ম্যাজিক নাকি! আরে অ্যাপল তো লালই হয়, লাল না হলেও রঙ চড়িয়ে হলুদ সবুজ পাশগুলোও লাল করলে তবেই না বাজারে খাবে! ব্যাস, ইয়ার ল্যাগ যে কে সেই বহাল রইল, মধ্যে থেকে আশেপাশের কলেজে নির্বাচনের সময় চলে এল বাস ম্যাটাডোর, লোহার রড উইকেট ইঁটপাটকেল সহযোগে সুষ্ঠু ছাত্র নির্বাচন ঘটাতে। সব কলেজ তখন সাহায্য পেয়ে লাল। আমরাও। অ্যাপল-ট্যাপল আবার কী!

এদিকে আমার তখন নিজেরও রঙ বাছার পালা। নেপালী বুড়ো হয়তো অতদিনে পটল তুলেছে। এ যেন ঘর রঙ করার টেনশন, সামনে ডুলাক্সের কালার চার্ট, কোনটা নি? তত্ত্ব-ফত্ত্ব জানিনা, ওই ইন-কিলাব-জিন্দা-বাদ শব্দকটাই রক্তে আগুন ধরিয়ে দিত। তারপর আবার কিনা শিক্ষিত বাঙালির পার্টি, অন্য কিছু করলে হয় অশিক্ষিত না হয় সিদ্ধার্থ রায়ের গুন্ডা, তাছাড়া কমরেড কথাটা শুনতে মন্দ না, সৌমিত্রও করে…আম্মো লাল হয়ে গেলাম। মানে ঝান্ডা ঘাড়ে ব্রিগেডে যাবার দলে নয়, এই বেশ নন্দন-কফি হাউস-পার্টি ম্যানিফেস্টো-অস্ত্রোভস্কি এইসব আর কী, পেটে লবডঙ্কা, কিন্তু পাক্কা আঁতেলের ভাঁজ মারার ইচ্ছাটা ষোলআনা। দাড়ি মুখ আর ঝোলা কাঁধে প্রেসিডেন্সি না যাবার আফসোস এখনো মনে দাগা মারে। সেই তখন থেকে যত্তদিন ভোট দিয়েছি সব গেছে লালে। এদিকে আবার কী কান্ড! পিসি এর তার সাথে বাওয়াল দিয়ে নিজেই পাটি গড়ে বসল। প্রচুর উৎসাহ ভক্তদের মধ্যে। কিন্তু ততদিনে মাথায় হার্ডওয়্যার হয়ে গেছে এ পিসি সে পিসি যে কোথায় কোথায় ডক্টরেটের কাগজ কিনে, না হয় গায়ে কেরোসিন ঢেলে বিনোদনে খামতি রাখেনা কিন্তু ভোট জিততে পারবে কিনা তা নিয়ে প্রচুর সন্দেহ। সেই আটানব্বই থেকে শুরু। আর পারছিনা গুরু। পরের তেরো বছর এ বলে আমায় দ্যাখ তো ও বলে আমায় দ্যাখ। তফাত হল গিয়ে ওই তিরিশ বছর ধরে যা চলেছে সেটা এখন হলমার্ক, সেই রেকর্ড ভাঙতেই হবে, এটাই টার্গেট। ভজহরি ফিল্ম কোম্পানির আমারো কি চান্সো মিলিবে না-র মত সব নিজের নিজের তামাশা দেখিয়ে আমাদের বেশ আনন্দ দিয়েছে অনেকদিন (কি! আনন্দ! পেয়াদা!)। তার ওপর আবার নতুন প্রজাতীর মহাবির্ভাব, বুদ্ধিজীবি। উরেববাস, তেনাদের মাথা এত বড়, তার ছায়ায় গোটা পচ্চিমবঙ্গো ঢেকে যায় যায়। এনাদের বচন শিরোধার্য, যা বললেন কইলেন জনগন হাপসে খেলো, পেট খালি তো কী বে! এর মধ্যে আবার আই ফোনের যুগে অচল নোকিয়ার মত সৌমিত্রদাদু চক্ষুলজ্জার বালাই না রেখে বলেই ফেল্লেন ভোটখানা বামফ্রন্টরেই দিয়েন। ফেলু মিত্তির বইয়ের পাতায় কতবার আছাড়িপিছাড়ি খেলেন সেই আহ্বান শুনে কে জানে। যাক এগারোর ভোটে গদি ওল্টালো, ভাবলাম এই শুরু হল পাগলের রাজপাট, ভাগ্যিস আমি আগে থেকে কাট মেরেছি। কলকাতা আর কলকাতা রইল না, মেছোবাজার হয়ে গেল্। নাহ, নিন্দুকে যাই বলুক, পিসি নিরাশ করেন নাই, কৌতুক নকশার ডবল ডাইজেস্ট সাপ্লাই দিয়ে গেছেন হরদম। উরেব্বাস রিম্পা-রুঙ্কা-ঝঙ্কা!!! আরে ওরা যে কল্লো চৌতিশ বছর সে বেলা? এ তো তৎকাল সার্ভিস, চৌত্রিশ কী চৌদ্দ বছরে ওদের রেকর্ড ভেঙে দেব। আর এদিকে জনগনের হাতে হ্যারিকেন। তবে জ্বালাতে হয়না, এতো শ্রীর ছড়াছড়ি, তাঁদের দ্যুতিতেই দশদিক আলোকময়। কিন্তু জনগন পড়েছে মহা ফ্যাসাদে। ননস্টপ খিল্লি দিতে দিতে গাল ব্যথা হয়ে গেছে কিন্তু থামার চিহ্ন নেই। কি করা? আবার মানুষের জোট হয়েছে এবারে, এতদিন মানুষ গান্ডু ছিল, এবারে তারা মানুষ হয়েছে। এইব্বার যাবি কোথায়? কমলা সবুজ লাল মিলেমিশে একাকার। আরে ছাগলরা, লালের সাথে লাল ছাড়া আর যাই জুড়িসনা কেন, জানিসনা লাল টা খালি ফ্যাকাশেই হবে? তবে কিনা বেশিরেড বলে তো কিছু নেই, লালে অন্য রঙ মিশলে তবেই না রেড কমরেড! বিজেপি নিয়ে বেশী কিছু বলা মানে সময় নষ্ট, বালের পার্টি বললেই যথেষ্ট। তা বেশ হয়েছে লাল আর বাল একদিকে। আরে পালটা বাকী রইল যে! ও সে তো ব্যস্ত কেষ্টোনগরে ছেলে ঢোকাতে। ফুল হাউস। আর নীল সাদা? পিসির দলকে নিয়ে কিছু বলার ধ্যাস্টামো নাই বা কল্লাম। নেতাদের নিয়ে তো কিছু নাই বা বললাম, তো কারা এই নীল সাদার বেয়াদপি দেখেও ওয়াহ ওয়াহ করছে?  কেউ আজন্ম পিসিভক্ত, পিসিকে একাধিক নোবেল দেয়া হচ্ছেনা কেন বলে সওয়াল করতে ব্যস্ত। আর একদল পাল্টিপারপাস, যে বিরিয়ানির প্যাকেট দেবে তার দিকে পালটি খাবে। কেউ কেউ আবার চারিদিকে তাড়কার ছড়াছড়িতে আপ্লুত হয়ে আহা আহা করছে। কী! বলতিস কিনা শিক্ষিত বাঙালির পার্টি, এবার দ্যাখ সালারা তোদের তিরেই (এই কেলো করেছি, আনন্দর মত তির লিখে ফেল্লামজে) তোদের ঘায়েল কল্লাম। কত বুদ্ধি দেখাতে হবে বল আরো বুদ্ধিজীবি ভাড়া করে আনব, কোথায় গ্যালো তোদের দেরিদা আওড়ানো বুদ্ধুবাবু? কী! অ সেও অবসর থেকে ফিরে পোচার করতে লেগেছে? আর কত খেল দেখাবি বাপু। ছিল খালি আমাদের সুমন নিজের ফেলা থুতু চাটার জন্যে, সেখানেও তোদের প্রার্থী দিতে হবে? কি কম্পিটিটিভ রে বাবা। অতঃ কিম?

এখন যদি প্রশ্ন করা যায় এই তুঘলকী ক্যাওড়ামোর জন্য কে দায়ী তা সে হলাম গিয়ে আমি আর আপনি। আমরাই চৌত্রিশ বছর জুলুমবাজি দেখেও কোনো যোগ্য বিকল্প নেই এই অজুহাতে একটা সরকারকে ক্ষমতায় রেখে এসেছি। আমরা মুখে বলি কম্যুনিস্ট, জনগনই সবচেয়ে বড় অস্ত্র, সর্বহারার মুখপত্র। অন্যদিকে সংগঠন চালানোর সময় চুড়ান্ত শ্রেনীবৈষম্য, শহরে আওড়ালাম নেরুদা-দেরিদা আর গ্রামে পুষলাম হার্মাদ, এতে সংগঠন রইল কিন্তু শহরের বাইরে প্রান্তিক মানুষের ঠিক তেমন কোন সার্বিক উন্নয়ন আর হলনা। বরং আজ যা অবস্থা তাতে বলা যেতেই পারে যে যদি কম্যুনিস্ট সরকার চান তো সিপিএমকে দয়া করে ভোট দেবেননা। ২০১১য় কিন্তু পিসির গদীতে বসার কারণ গ্রামাঞ্চলের মানুষের লালের ওপর থেকে ভরসা একদম চলে যাওয়ায়। সেদিক থেকে দেখলে, ১১তে সর্বহারার পার্টি কিন্তু তৃনমূলই। সিঙ্গুর নন্দীগ্রাম আনতে গিয়ে ছিপেম তখন জোতদারের প্রতিভূ। কিন্তু শহুরে মানুষের ভোটে তো সরকার পাল্টায়না, পাল্টায় গ্রামে। তাঁরা এখন কোথায় যাবেন? আগে যারা লালের হয়ে ঝান্ডা আর ডান্ডা বইত, হাওয়া বদলাতে তারা এখন নীলে। যে পুষবে তারা তাদের। কাল বিজেপি পরশু হয়তো আইসিস। তারা আগে ধমকাত লালে ছাপ না মারলে, এখন নীলে না মারলে। কোথায় দেবেন? যদি মনে করেন সব প্রার্থী ভুষিমাল তবে সবার নিচে চুপচাপ অপেক্ষা করা নোটা তো রয়েছে আপনার পুষে রাখা বঞ্চনা হেনস্থা সবকিছুর বিরুদ্ধে কথা বলার জন্য। সবাই জানুক যে পশ্চিমবঙ্গে নির্বাচনযোগ্য দল নেই কোন। যাত্রাপালা দেখিয়ে ভোট টানা আর যাচ্ছেনা তেমন। ক্ষমতা চলে যাবার ভয়ে সবাই গলবস্ত্র। তাই এ বলে নারদ সত্যি হলে টিকিট দিতামনা তো ও বলে হাত কেটে নেয়াটা একটু অন্যায় হয়েছিল বটে। তবে নোটা যে তেমন জনপ্রিয় হবেনা বলাই বাহুল্য। শহরে প্রচুর অ্যাক্টিভিস্ট তারা দুনিয়া পাল্টানোর স্বপ্নটপ্ন দেখে, নোটায় তারা ছাপ মারতেই পারে, কিন্তু দুশ পরিবারের গ্রামে নোটায় বোতাম টিপে পার্টির চক্ষুশুল হলে তখন এমার্জেন্সিতে হাসপাতালে বেড জোগাড় করে দেবে কে? সাধের বানানো বাড়িতে আগুন লাগানো রুখবে কে? ছেলেমেয়ে স্কুলে যাবার সময় তাদের নিরাপত্তা দেবে কে? সেখানে তো আলিমুদ্দিনেরও জোর খাটেনা, হরিশ মুখার্জিরও না। জোর হল লোকাল লিডারের আর তার বাইক বাহিনীর। তাহলে বিকল্প কী বা কে? চোখে পড়ার মত একমাত্র বিকল্প বলতে গেলে তো দিল্লিতে আপ সরকার। তারা নিতান্তই শহরকেন্দ্রিক, কলকাতা আলাদা রাজ্য হলে বলতাম আপ-এর মডেলে সরকার গড়তে। অঞ্চল, রাজ্য, ভাষা সংস্কৃতির গণ্ডি পেরোনোর মত রাজনৈতিক মডেল আপ-এর নেই। গ্রামের গা জোয়ারি রাজনীতিতে সে মডেল চলেনা। অগত্যা? নোটা ছাড়া তো কোনো গতি দেখা যাচ্ছেনা। এদিকে শহরে সিট অনেক, সেগুলো নোটায় খুইয়ে বসলেও গ্রামে যে জিতবে সরকার তো গড়বে তারাই। গোটা রাজ্য নোটায় ভোট না দিলে শঠে শাঠ্যং হবার কোনো উপায় নেই। তবে হ্যাঁ কালসাপ বিজেপি থেকে দুরেই থাকবেন, তাদের পয়সা দেয়ার লোকের অভাব নেই, খানিক পা রাখতে দিলে তখন দু দলই লোপাট হয়ে যেতে বেশি দিন লাগবেনা।  তখন দেখবেন কেমন মজা। আদ্ধেক রিফিউজিদের ডান্ডা মেরে পাড়া থুড়ি দেশছাড়া করার মতলব তো নরেন মুদি রাখঢাক না করেই বলে দিয়েছে। তবে তাদেরকে আর আলাদা করে সাম্প্রদায়িক বলা যাবেনা, ভোটের লোভে সবাই সাম্প্রদায়িক।

উপায় কি নেই? নাকি আসলে জনগনই বেশি চালু, লিডারদের বাঁদরনাচ নাচিয়ে তারাই রক্ষা করছে গণতন্ত্র? সারদার মত বড় মাপের কেলেঙ্কারী (তবে সারদা একা নয়, চিটফান্ড কোন সময় থেকে শুরু হয়েছে তা খুঁজতে গেলে কিন্তু আবার সেই গত চৌত্রিশ বছরের দিকেও আঙ্গুল উঠবে) না ঘটলে সরকার কে গড়ল তাতে সাধারণ মানুষের কি তেমন কিছু ছেঁড়া যায়? দশ-বিশ হাজার টাকা ঘুষ দেয়াটা তো জলভাত কোনো কাজ করিয়ে নেয়ার জন্যে। সে যে পার্টিই ক্ষমতায় থাকুক সেই ট্র্যাডিশন সমানে চলে আসছে, আসবেও। তাই হয় নোটায় ভোট মারুন, নাহলে নিজেদের মধ্যে যোগসাজস করে এমন ভাবে ভোট দিন যাতে যেই জিতুক পাল্লা যেন প্রায় মাঝামাঝি থাকে। তাহলে তিন দলই কাজ করে দেবে, কম পয়সায়। এদের হাতে যত ক্ষমতা দেবেন, ছিনেজোঁকের দল শুষে নেবে আরো বেশি বেশি। নেতাদের তটস্থ রাখুন যাতে তারা মানুষকে সমঝে চলে, উল্টোটা নয়। কাজেই বলি কী, বাইরে যে পার্টি যা রঙই হোক না কেন ভেতরে সব্বাই কালো– নিটোল মাকাল ফল। কাজেই ধড়াম করে দুই কী পাঁচ কী সাত না খুঁজে সবার শেষে পড়ে থাকা নোটা-টা নিয়েও একবার ভাববেন, আপনার পরিবত্তোন আপনিই আনতে পারেন, অন্যের ঘাড়ে বন্দুক রেখে “যত্ত গাড়োলের দল, এ পার্টিকে কে ক্ষমতায় আনলো” জাতীয় তত্ত্ব চায়ের দোকানের বাইরে কেউ খাবেনা। অ্যাপল হয়ে যান সব, বলুন লাল নীল সবুজ গেরুয়া কারুক্কে চাইনা। আমি ভোট দিলে এবার আর লালে নীলে না, সিধে নোটায় মারতাম। আপনি কোথায় দেবেন?/span>

Education, India, Politics

The JNU protests with the context of nationalism

JNU students protests the arrest of the JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar

JNU students protests the arrest of the JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar

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.

A caricature on the legal system in India

A caricature on the legal system 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

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.

Politics, Russia

Alexander Litvivnenko murder inquiry and Putin’s rogue state

A man looks at a portrait of ex-spy Andrei Litvinenko by Russian artists Dmitry Vrubel and Viktoria Timofeyeva in the Marat Guelman gallery in Moscow May 22, 2007. Moscow cannot extradite former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoy to Britain on charges of murdering fellow ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko because of a constitutional ban, the Russian Prosecutor-General's office said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin (RUSSIA) - RTR1PYPQ

A man looks at a portrait of ex-spy Andrei Litvinenko by Russian artists Dmitry Vrubel and Viktoria Timofeyeva in the Marat Guelman gallery in Moscow May 22, 2007. Moscow cannot extradite former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoy to Britain on charges of murdering fellow ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko because of a constitutional ban, the Russian Prosecutor-General’s office said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin (RUSSIA) – shared from The Guardian

Russia never failed to amaze me, from the Soviet Union during my childhood years, whilst reading the fables and folklore from the snow laden land, to now, knowing more about the state after the Iron Curtain was lifted, through various media coverages and current affairs, and all such information merge into a collage with stark contrasts. With its contradictions, Russia is in many ways similar to India, yet in many ways is miles apart. During my childhood, whilst marvelling at the utopia that all people lived as equals there, and that Lenin and Stalin were demigods, protecting the interests of the proletariat without a shadow of blemish on their persona, Russia was painted as the El Dorado, by our local communist press. Even when my beloved Tintin uncovered the oppression of the Bolshevik state, I was greatly miffed at Hergé and wondered whether he took sides with the capitalists. Then came the teenage years, with Rocky and Rambo dominating the silver screens, including many other films and books featuring the Cold War and showing that the Soviets were the actual bad guys there. I didn’t believe it, and treated most of it as they were represented — a work of fiction. Around the same time, however, the end of Communism and falling of Berlin Wall marked a new chapter in Russian history, which not only split the Soviet Union, but it also left all communist parties across the world in utter disbelief. The ripple of that seismic change in the global political equation also reached the east Indian state of West Bengal — one of the few states remaining as the last bastion of Indian communist movement. The fall of Soviet Union left indelible marks in the future of the party command, as there were no ideals to follow, no role models left. During my early adulthood, the keenness to learn more about communism kindled the fondness towards Russia, yet the search for more information was in vain without the access of computers and Internet. The next decade reaching up to my thirties, Russia remained a state that I adored before and still did, place of economic hardship and political oblivion, a state that is more humane than the Capitalist America and Britain ever was, and I always remained a supporter of Russia in games, sports, contests over the capitalist countries.

Until then, the images of Russia invoked a feeling as the land of Communism, and Siberia and Santa Claus. Of lake Baikal, of Ural Mountains, of Steppe and Tartars, of Volga and Vodka. Of leaders with undoubted integrity like Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev. In my thirties, I had access to more information through my researches and media — information that would starkly refute my rose-tinted vision of Russia, Soviet leaderships and the Bolshevik Revolution itself. The secrecy weaved by Lenin had turned the country into the Iron Curtain by Stalin, adding to it the atrocities during the WWII or the Katyn massacre, the Marxist dream probably was already slipping away. From WWII until the fall of Soviet Union, the state was mired with atrocities, espionage, distrust and suspicion.

With the wake of the CIS, and subsequently the Russian Federation, following the dissolution of the other member states, the communist idealist views were dead, but the ghosts of the practices from the Soviet era remained unchanged and with time, the power of the state was devolved into a number of powerful business leaders and the ex-secret service officials, the epitome of which is the charismatic president Mr Putin. Despite the highly censored media, there were instances of gross human rights violations, provocative actions at the international territories, secret assassinations, intimidations and at worst, annexing part of a foreign territory of Crimea through a dubious referendum. The presence of Russian Mafia in many of the European countries dealing arms to extortion made the threats to rest of the Europe palpable. With the corrupt officials at the helm, the presence of state sponsorship to such dealings is irrefutable. The assassination of Alexander Litvinenko exemplifies one such tale of secret assassination, state protection of the Mafia, and throttling the voices against the government. An incredible read, this report can only highlight the audacity of the events that unfurled on that fated 1st November 2006, and Russia’s complete disregard to the diplomatic relations.

Alexander Litvinenko: the man who solved his own murder

On 21st January, the high court in the UK released the verdict on Alexander Litvinenko assassination, that it was the Russian state who “possibly” murdered a UK citizen and an MI6 informer. However, the proofs and alibis scream loudly of the involvement of the prime suspects Lugovoi and Kovtum (Lugovoi has recently been awarded the state honour by Putin. And the source of the Po-210 isotope, which is a highly controlled substance and could only be sourced from the state run labs or reactors, corroborating the allegations. The case is open and shut, that the murder was definitely been carried out by the Russian state, with direct orders from Vladimir Putin. What changed the outcome of the report is unknown, possibly the lack of circumstantial evidences or the reluctance of the UK government to be on the wrong foot with Russia whilst dealing with ISIL or Iran’s sanction uplifting.

Russia was an enigma, and still is, and it has given the world great scientists, artists and thinkers. However, the present government has now been reduced to a bunch of corrupt officials from communist era, pimps and the thugs, who jettisoned their communist ethos of improving the lives of the others, and instead exploit the lives of its citizens and plunder the national wealth. At the same time, the methods of spying, interrogation, intimidation adopted in the Communist era to thwart the capitalist threat has now become the mechanism of the rogue state to continue its reign of torture, secret assassinations, extortion and trafficking whilst continuously flouting at the UN regulations.

People around the world still worship Putin, still rejoice how he shuts down the leaders of the capitalist countries, how he is a man of character and how a leader should be. Some people still like Hitler. That doesn’t make them right, nor do their fuzzy feelings justify the lives claimed by these “angels of death”. To conclude, here is the parting shot from Alexander Litvinenko on his deathbed, to his assassinator:

“You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed.
You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilised value.
You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilised men and women.
You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life.
May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people.”

And the outcome of the inquiry may not be significant in terms of how much it would affect Putin, and Russia will claim the report was politcally motivated; but almost 10 years after his assassination, Alexander Litvinenko proved to the world the true colour of the Russian president…
Feminism, Politics

Planned parenthood shootings and the future of pro-Choice debate

Ever since reaching the age of conscience — that is becoming a twenty-somethings for me, I was always at the pro-choice side of the debate than pro-life. I still am, but perhaps the hard pro-choice stance, which could often be misconstrued as anti-life, had softened over the years, especially during and after the birth of our first child. As we went through various stages of my wife’s pregnancy, and looking at numerous books showing how the fœtus must be doing and looking like, it made me realise that taking a stance for or against abortion on an absolute basis is not as straightforward because of the multifaceted nature of the issue. The two opposing camps have always waged a battle against each other, trying to undermine the views of the other side, and an empathic reconciliation has never taken place. I must admit, taking the pro-choice side, I have always been cognisant and critical of the pro-life arguments, and therefore, rightly or wrongly, I thought that the pro-life argument has always been very loud and desperate to win over supports, compared to the pro-choice campaigns. Adding the religious dimension on pro-life, the arguments also appeared seemingly outdated. The recent Planned Parenthood shootings took the perennial debate to a new and dangerous level, where people would be ready to kill the dissidents. Planned Parenthood shootings demonstrated the root of this rift between the two warring camps transcends the bias or prejudice of the pro-life campaigners and it delves into their identity, religion, race and other dimensions.

Growing up in 80’s India in a middle class background, discussions around sex was limited to sex education classes in a handful of private schools. Beyond that, everything was discussed behind closed doors. Whilst women still had their mother or other motherly figures to turn to, men ended up in a much worse situation with no sexual education apart from turning to porn or that one famous friend who magically managed to have some sex. The concept of abortion was taboo, partly due to religious and societal paradigm and partly due to lack of knowledge and government help. The contraception had just started to dawn on people, as an alternative to accepting each pregnancy with joy or stress.

With such a background, my first encounter with abortion was through opening of a new Marie Stopes Clinic in Calcutta — in a lush green parkland I often visited. Before the privatisation and swank private hospitals, the edifice of Marie Stopes clinic was a shining beacon of private healthcare. On various advertisements and at the entrance of the building showed a sign ‘Infertility clinic’. Although I wasn’t very familiar with the term infertility, I guessed what it was after a few years, whilst reading John Grisham, Erich Segal and Sidney Sheldon, coming across the term “back alley butchers”. It was perhaps those late teen years when I first realised the trauma, social stigma and persecution surrounding the issue of abortion.

A banner from Marie Stopes clinic in India

A banner from Marie Stopes clinic in India
Source: Marie Stopes Clinic India website

During my first thirty years of life in India, the issue of abortion revolved around gender and religion, than personal choice in most of the time. India had had a long history, especially in the majority Hindu caste system, of a patriarchal society, and thereby treating women as burden to the parents and men as the bread winners as well as the superior genders. Birth of a girl child not only meant a lifelong debts for the family to afford the dowry to “marry off” the girl, but also and end to the family line, carrying the family surnames and the heritage forward into the next generation. For the age old despicable dowry system, birth of a girl child was unwelcome and often resulting the parents keeping on having children until they had a boy, or in worse case, female infanticide in rural areas. With the advent of modern medical science, detection of the gender if the foetus gave rise to another malicious practice — predetermination of the sex and termination of the foetus if it was a girl. It was only in the nineties that the government decided to act and banned the prenatal sex determination to abolish sex selective abortions. Before this rule was passed by the Supreme Court of India, millions of women have been subjected to inhuman treatments — from quacks prescribing unknown drugs and herbs to the back alley butchers — it was not just the foetus that was terminated, but the mothers ended up permanently unable to have children any more, leading to another societal stigma of being infertile, or worse, being killed in the termination process. Not to mention the social trauma of going through the experience without any support in order to avoid drawing neighbours’/extended families’ attention. The sex-selective abortion was not as dominant in the Muslim population, but apart from religion, the Muslim community was and still is primarily patriarchal like Hindus; thereby putting a preference on the male child. If the Muslim women were not protected by the Islamic rules, the gender superiority, often observed in a Muslim household, would have forced many more women into terminating the foetus due to the societal preference of gender. Marie Stopes and similar clinics provided a professional and compassionate alternative to women through the period prior to the actual procedure. However, in an urban setting, with possibly extortionate prices, this may have provided an alternative to only a handful of women from affluent background. The suffering for rest of the women still continued until the Prenatal gender detection was banned.

However, amongst the Gen Y population in the urban areas, with education and more liberal points of view compared to the previous parochial generations, the taboo of abortion was much less stigmatised than before. The conversation amongst men and women were more open, although the areas such as sex, abortion, pregnancy, period were still veiled under a secrecy – only being revealed to the close confidantes. In late ’90s and early 2000s, abortion in the urban setting was discussed more openly and people were aware of the modes of contraception, and the morning after pills in case of unprotected sex. The fact that the medical help is available to discuss termination of unwanted pregnancies itself lifted a weight off the women from the new generation. Nevertheless, the plight of rural women continued with illegal street-side health centres mushrooming in small towns ready to carry out gender test under the guise of checking the health of the foetus. These clinics also carried out abortions as an outcome of the gender determinations. In the urban areas, however, abortion started to become a choice finally, rather than an imposition from religious or social situations. The women did not shy away discussing the technical details with the doctors and get professional opinion on the methods of abortion based on the stages of pregnancy. It became a question of more women having specific plans for the future and a child did not fit in that plan, nor was there any impulsion to continue with a pregnancy by mistake for the rest of the live. Even though the question of abortion was becoming a question of choice, the secrecy and shame has not been lifted entirely, and it appeared that if the female fœticide factor is removed, the amount of Indian women choosing to have abort a fœtus was still a small number.

When I emigrated to Western Europe, I expected the amount of pro-choice people would increase significantly. On the contrary, what I found from the media, is that the society is more pro-life orientated. In fact a report showed that Western Europe has the lowest abortion rates in the world at 12 per 1000, whilst Eastern Europe top the list with approx 43, and the rest of the world is scattered somewhere in between. My initial ideas of more liberal places to have more liberal views on burning issues like abortion were shattered. It was expected that the percentage of the population pro-choice in the USA would be relatively low due to large conservative republican belts, but finding the rates for Western European was entirely perplexing. However, the more I acclimatised with the Western European society, the reasons became clearer for the low rates.

First, the entire Western Europe has a phenomenal welfare system in place, including healthcare and its access to the majority of the population. Apart from religious grounds and misogyny, perhaps the biggest factor for women deciding on abortion is their financial situation, the affordability of providing for another life. The welfare system ensures that that worry is taken away, and the parents/ mothers get state allowances for each child to cater for their needs. The healthcare and education is free as well for children and this may have swayed the women to carry on with the pregnancy. Second, the quality and value of life is seen at a different perspective in Western Europe compared to many places in the world. That the fœtus is still a living organism with possible feelings and sensations make people less willing to carry on with the termination. The education and behavioural aspect of treating living beings with compassion perhaps deters many of the expectant mothers terminate the fœtus. Third, and this perhaps applies to numerous women in developing countries where premarital pregnancy is still a social stigma that resulted in abortion. In Western Europe, the social stigma around children outside wedlock or single parenthood is nearly abolished other than pockets of orthodox conservative regions/communities. Also, the religious bias and the doctrines from Christian and Muslim — the two biggest communities excluding atheists, are against abortion; hence, regardless of the strong affiliation to a religion, people generally tend to live by the religious values and thereby deciding against their choice to abort the fœtus.

The previous few sections described how the observations regarding abortion spanned a large number of wider aspects such as religion, economic situation, values, lifestyles etc. However, that only represents some possible reasons why abortion rates vary across regions and the factors influencing that difference. The main debate of this article between pro-life and pro-choice camps. So, what can be observed from the pro-life and pro-choice campaigns across the countries and various places?

One fact is very clear that neither of the sides are very accommodating to the views of the other nor are willing to lose any ground. The pro-choice campaign obviously gathered momentum with more number of women becoming independent in the patriarchal society and growing number of liberal voices in favour of leaving the decision to the woman, who is actually going to carry the child. The pro-choice supporters however, at times, go beyond their primary objective of letting the mother choose whether to keep the baby, and meddle with branding the pro-life activists as primitive, oppressive and authoritative. With such adversity and acrimony, the purpose of the pro-choice movement is often lost. Often the pro-choice movement appears as a reactionary pressure group against the provocative pro-life campaign. On the other hand, the pro-life campaign has held the moral high ground since the religious texts existed. The life was treated as a gift of almighty God that humankind cannot refuse. Certain texts define the time when the fœtus transforms to life and be considered as containing a soul, thereby prohibiting it to be terminated. Since then, the rhetoric has kept being evolved and the tactics adopted by the pro-life campaigns on present day still are passively coercive, and abominable. Apart from making the women feel continuously guilty by reiterating the “life” and “feeling” of the fœtus in various contexts — be it the pædiatrician telling what the baby can and can’t feel at different stages, or the numerous pregnancy books charting the fœtus’ progress from first week, or the sensationalist media heralding every celebrity childbirth as cover story. The inherent message is quite succinctly delivered as though motherhood is the pinnacle of a woman’s identity. Apart from such implicit anti-choice messages, there are direct actions to discourage abortions, such as legislations for doctors to make women listen to the fœtus’ heartbeat before termination, banning entities supporting abortions from public schools, or in case of recent Planned Parenthood clinic, a reduction in state funding. Whilst writing this article, I came across an article how thousands of women travel from Ireland to England to have abortions, as abortion is illegal in the republic and punishable offence in the Northern Ireland. The political bias is in most cases conservative — irrespective of the parties implementing the policies, to avoid losing public support as the majority in Western Europe are still pro-life. The pro-life campaign had successfully stigmatised the abortion through such connotative and explicit actions. And since this process has been going on across generations, children grow up accepting that is the only version truth, not following the norm is tantamount seceding being a model person.

As the voices against such organised brainwashing became louder, the pro-life line of attack changed its subtlety and started direct threats to the activists supporting for pro-choice or the clinics carrying out abortions. There has been incidents of violence against pro-choice such as mob raids, arson and bombing at abortion centres in the past with the authority turning a blind eye on the perpetrators. On 27th November, a man entered a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, and opened fire killing three people and injuring many more. After a long stand-off with the police, a certain Robert Dear was arrested, yet he is only referred as a suspect. Where police shoots innocents in other parts of the USA on the basis of their colour or ethnicity, it was surprising how Dear was arrested without any injury despite the gravity of the attack, and the police is still very silent about convicting him. During his interview, it was rumoured that he mentioned “no more baby parts”, exactly the same words shown in the media coverage on a series of sting operations at Planned Parenthood Colorado Springs centre, allegedly giving body parts to the research laboratories after the abortion. Although Planned Parenthood categorically denied the claims, the link between these sensationalist media coverages and the shootings cannot be denied. The aftermath of the shooting was even more shocking and only proves what significance do women’s rights hold in the USA. Rather than passing stricter gun control laws or providing extra security for other clinics, the state authorities defunding for the Planned Parenthood clinic, citing a legislation that abortion is not family planning! Each year governments pass numerous legislations, debated by male dominant parliaments and committees, and the majority of such legislations are anti-choice, taking funding away from clinics, discussing parenting and prenatal developments to women undergoing elective abortions, and many other small measures that are seemingly insignificant but collectively undermine the pro-choice rights and options.

I have mentioned at the beginning that going through my wife’s pregnancy for our first child was an amazing experience and it moderated my views on abortion from hard pro-choice to pro-choice with some appreciation for the fœtus that develops at a phenomenal rate. Whilst sex-selective abortions should be banned as legislated in India, taking a point from the pro-life campaign, never mind the soul, but the fœtus should only be terminated up to a period when it does not experience pain. On the other hand, is there any medical research that can unequivocally say when it starts having feelings? Aren’t most of the existing literature regarding childbirth focus on how wonderful the phenomenon of birth is? Don’t they almost emotionally blackmail a pregnant woman about choosing to continue with the childbirth? The answers aren’t probably straightforward, and in the end, abortion could be a stressful procedure, both mentally and physically. How I interpret it is, that the pro-choice argument, contrary to how it is portrayed as anti-life campaign, is not about preaching the killing of fœtus at all, but merely presenting a choice to women whether they would want to continue with their pregnancy. It’s all about removing the social stigma of abortion and as a result passively force women to continue with the pregnancy. Pro-choice is about the way of life, where one always has the two options unanimously and chooses to take the path as desired by their plans for the future. Abortion should be a natural questions and scenario to be discussed with the paediatrician where they could ask the woman if she wants to keep the child, as well as the women should expect the question and not be offended by the suggestion of termination being an option for the pregnancy.

Pro-choice is still an utopia in this present world. Whilst pro-life campaigners turning more violent with time, and the governments bringing more legislations that are anti-choice, the pro-choice movement does not have the momentum to effect the change in public psychology nor the legal side of the matter. It will need more campaigns, more people speaking out about abortion rather than treating it shameful and taboo. People like Jex Blackmore, who, through her Unmother diaries, shared experiences undergoing an abortion and the stereotyping she experienced. The campaign needs to be loud enough to be heard beyond the closed doors of the parliaments, so one must be vociferous about their support to the pro-choice campaign, but at the same time, hostilities towards pro-lifers would not help achieve the objective. However, I hope that with time and more liberalisation of the society, a pro-choice society will not be a far-fetched dream but a reality of tomorrow, despite the trials and tribulations and demonisations of today…

PS: I believe abortion and pro-choice campaign is a feminist agenda at present, rather than humanist, and I am unsure how and where a man like me, with their own prejudices, should stand. Reading from various contemporary newspaper articles and blogs, it appears that one arm of feminism is completely anarchic – it treats even men supporting feminism to be patronising, and thus consciously or unconsciously emboldening their patriarchal nature. I cannot argue against that school of thought, as not being sure what a man’s position should be on issues such as this. The other line of thought is more classical feminism, where women fight for equality and earn it rather than the male-dominant society divesting the powers to women as they pleased. With that line of though, I could identify myself as a feminist or a humanist supporting equality on all fronts. From that aspect, I would treat this as a feminist blog, but if this does appear patronising, I apologise in advance for my ignorance.
Education, India, Politics

The Guardian article on Vyapam scam in India: A tale of greed, corruption and lies

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…

A sculpted pencil by the Russian miniature artist Salavat Fidai. Photograph: WENN Source: The Guardian

A sculpted pencil by the Russian miniature artist Salavat Fidai. Photograph: WENN
Source: The Guardian