Eternal meanderings of mind on Politics-Culture-Religion-History-Civilisation-Economy-Science-Language…Questions par un esprit libre sur sa raison d'être, ses souvenirs et pensées sans fin…বাঙালির জানালায় পৃথিবী – সাহিত্য দর্শন রাজনীতি ধর্মে বাঙালির চোখে বিশ্ব আর বিশ্বের চোখে বাঙালি। একই জীবনদর্শনের ভিন্ন রূপ না দুই সমান্তরাল মহাবিশ্ব?
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?
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 the 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 the 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 the 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 the 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. The 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 was 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 the population who is 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 demonstrates 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 an ideal platform for such poignant debates, as what we learn in the courses are hardly ever used afterwards, but 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 the motherland. It’s time we share the social profiles the Bhakt media spread over the 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.
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 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.
“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”
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 the 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 the 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 many 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 several times, Aamir refrained from attending as he had no faith in the 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 Facebook was found flooded with condemnation and criticism, mostly personal attacks on his ethnicity and religion. Aamir instantly became the target of a 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 the 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 the 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 the ’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 a 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 to protect free speech always affected Indian societies. In recent past, the right-wing factions began to promote a Hindu lead actor in Bollywood such as Hrithik Roshan, 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 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 the 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 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 the Indian market opened to the world in the 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 an 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 the 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 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 Bharat Mata. 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 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 the 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 is, maybe a lot worse, but that is an absolute ludicrous way of dealing with 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 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 are still the biggest festivals of the season. Considering the vast majority of the confirmed Christian individuals are not churchgoers 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, the 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 unacceptable — it hasn’t permeated through the minds of the people crying wolf. To them, this is a sacrilege that the country isn’t Christian 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 are 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 deed 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 to distrust 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 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 because they repeatedly broadcasted only two minutes of an interview that lasted half an hour, where many other social issues were discussed. Just in the same way BBC and ITV telecasted repeatedly the same news of CoE ad ban for the next few days. Especially for India, with a 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 as 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 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 were 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 northeast. 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 the 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 a 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 the 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 the 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.