A Few Questions On Roy, Geelani, Kashmir etc.

by Ritwik on November 2, 2010

I’ve been thinking of writing on Roy, Geelani and Kashmir for some time now. Hopefully you’ll see a deeper argument later on in another post.

For the time being, I am tossing out a few questions that have come to my mind. Before I begin, let me state that I stand for the freedom of speech and thus any ideas of booking Roy,Geelani etc for their statements are absurd and I oppose that. In fact the law of sedition requires a serious re-look if you ask me. On the other hand, I have very serious reservations about Arundhati Roy. It’s hard for me to take Geelani seriously because I am not in the habit of paying close attention to religious fanatics.

Now for the queries:

1. It is reported that in her speech at the gathering in Delhi, Roy mentioned that she “stands for” the Kashmiri Pandits who have been driven out of their homeland. She reiterates this in her premature letter condemning her possible arrest [“pity the nation” blah blah]. Okay so my first question is this: Why was Ms. Roy sharing a stage with a person (Geelani) whose politics is responsible for the exodus of the pandits in the first place? When was the last time she shared a stage with a senior functionary of the Indian Government, which in her view, has been responsible for the holocaust, the black plague, Indonesian tsunami etc?

2.  Roy has been saying for some time that India is a “Hindu Upper Caste State”. A lot of her defenders use arguments that implicitly seem to accept the truth of this assertion. Let us discuss this. On what parameters is India a “Hindu Upper Caste State” ? Do the so-called upper castes enjoy any codified privileges in state institutions or state supported educational institutions? Are important posts in the state machinary reserved for upper caste hindus? Symbolically, a sikh prime minister, more than one Muslim President, an extremely powerful Dalit chief minister — are these the signifiers of a hindu upper caste state? In fact, what is the signifier of such an entity? Last time I checked, the most elite, snobbish and (hence) vied for educational institution in this country is controlled by Christians. It may be a nice turn of phrase, but once you have made the jump from fiction to political writing, a certain degree of honesty and calibration is called for.

3. Many have pointed out that Geelani spoke in a mature manner in the seminar in Delhi. Of course one must understand the word mature in a relative sense. To some the claim that “In azad kashmir, muslims will be forbidden to drink but non muslims can drink” is indicative of maturity. Sadly, I have a somewhat higher benchmark. In any case, for the lack of active rabble rousing in Geelani’s Delhi performance — I must congratulate him. It is clear that the years have not been wasted on him. He proved that apart from his usual fire-spitting drivel, he can also speak in a suave and sophisticated manner. The question here is short – so? On the evidence of relative restraint in one speech should we excuse this man’s religious fundamentalism which has a somewhat more extensive record? Well Mr. Advani has been trying this tactic unsuccesfully for years. Yet he is (justifiably) still held to account for the criminal act of the pulling down the Babri masjid. Next time, when Narendra Modi, appears to speak in a restrained manner about “5 crore Gujaratis which includes muslims” I expect to see Geelani’s caravan of promoters rushing to remind us that Modi has turned a new leaf.

4. With my very limited understanding of political theory, I usually take the word “azadi” (freedom) when used in the political sense to mean a politically free (ie, independent) state. Independence implies being free of the control of other nation states. Mr. Geelani’s call for azadi has consistently advocated a union with the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, which at least on paper, is a nation state in its own right.  Geelani has made his position clear on this on multiple occasions. My question to his new found band of delhi-based promoters — are you also supporting azadi in the same sense? Or maybe independence the way JKLF supports it? Or maybe anything goes as long as we feel we have done our bit in “weakening” the evil edifice of the Indian state? Or maybe in the “saala kya farq padta hai, akhbaar mein photo aa gayi” sense?

5.

‘Far away, in that other fake democracy called India’: so said Arundhati Roy in a passing reference to India when she began her talk at the finale of the Left Forum 2010 in New York in the middle of March. Fake democracy? Yet in the same month her long essay ‘Walking With the Comrades,’ supporting the struggle of the CPI (Maoist) in the tribal areas, was published by a mainstream, corporate-controlled Indian magazine, Outlook. How would that be possible if India were just a ‘fake’ democracy?
– Rohini Hensman

The erudite Rohini Hensman asks this question, ironically enough, on Kafila (link)

To the best of my limited knowledge, Ms. Roy has not responded. If she has, somebody please enlighten me. Or maybe she won’t given her magisterial ways. In which case maybe one of her apologists can provide an answer. I know you lurk around on this blog, in fact we all know who you are, so show your face and provide an answer.

6. “India is a fake democracy”. Repeat after me. “India is a fake democracy”. Rinse and repeat. “India is a hindu upper caste state”. Oh good, come and join the left-liberal bandwagon. Now that you are an admitted member of the club, child, go on and say whatever the fuck that comes to your mind – but remember, the more caustic you make it, the higher you will rise in the ranks. And don’t you forget to collect all state-funded scholarships on the way. My question is, why is the (still influential) genuine left-liberal opinion in this country, of which I consider myself a tiny and insignificant part, allowing this scam to take place in its name?

A Kafila of Brown Sahibs and Memsahibs?

by Ritwik on October 13, 2010

On 5 October, Kafila.org published a post by Nivedita Menon, guest authored by Susmita Dasgupta, which argued that Nirmohi Akhara is not a “Hindu” sect and that Ram was a fictional hero not backed by Puranic texts and therefore worshipped only by those on the margins of society.

Almost every line of the original post leaves the author and her hypothesis vulnerable to being taken apart. For instance, the author contends that Krishna-worshippers traditionally believed themselves to be non-hindu. At some time, krishna-worshippers could “climb into the Hindu fold because Krishna has a Puranic backing”. It is curious why those who defined themselves as “non-Hindus” would want to climb into the “Hindu” fold. Maybe there are lots of details and resultant complex analysis involved in this picture, which the author hasn’t had the time or effort to look into, eager as she is to wade into murky waters to serve one or the other political project. If such service is to be done at the expense of the truth or academic method, then so be it!

I shall not dwell any more on the factual inaccuracies and logical inconsistencies which are scattered all over Susmita’s post and her response to comments. Indeed, certain commentators, like “BC” and “suresh” have already raised some extremely probing questions to which Susmita has (wisely) chosen not to respond.

Having read the post soon after it was published, and having found it legitimately funny [though such an outcome was probably not foreseen by the author or her promoters], I had submitted the following comment to Kafila:

My heartfelt thanks to Susmita and Nivedita for providing some much needed comic relief in the midst of an overheated debate on Ayodhya.

Susmita, in the course of your researches (?) did you bother inquiring from the Nirmohi Akhara as to their religious persuasion? Specifically about whether they consider themselves within or without the fold of hindusim.

Even though it was the first serious engagement with Susmita’s post, this comment was not approved by Kafila’s extremely enlightened moderators – the flimsy reasons cited by them [only on my prompting via this blog] can be read here

My comment was not made in jest. It’s tone was somewhat dismissive because I think indulging in long debates with people who cannot respect academic rigour or method and for whom facts are but inconvenient obstacles in the way of ideology, constitutes a waste of time. Indeed, there would be some justification in labelling the Kafila bunch, barring some honourable exceptions like Rohini Hensman and Jairus Banaji, as extremists [glib ones, though] for this very reason.

The second part of my comment [about asking the Nirmohi Akhara] involves a serious question of methodology. It is alright to to go back to Rabindranath and Saratchandra and other Indian and Western scholars, however did the author bother to ask the present followers of the Nirmohi Akhara about their religious persuasion? Isn’t it extremely condescending for all of us, far way from ground realities and communicating in a foreign tongue, to be passing judgement on the religious beliefs of a set of people without even bothering to consult them about it? Forget about involving them as actual participants, in this instance English speaking “scholaraship” has failed to even use the “subject of study” as a “native informant” !

Such methodology brings to mind the following passage by the brilliant social theorist Achille Mbembe:

On key matters, the Hegelian, post-Hegelian, and Weberian Traditions, philosophies of action and philosophies of deconstruction derived from Nietzsche or Heidegger, share the representation of the distinction between the West and other historical human forms as, largely, the way  the individual in the West has gradually freed her/himself from the sway of traditions and attained an autonomous capacity to conceive, in the here and now, the definiton of norms and their free formulation by  individual, rational wills. These traditions also share, to varying degrees, the assumption that, compared to the West, other societies are primitive, simple or traditional in that, in them, the weight of the past predetermines individual behaviour and limits the areas of choice – as it were, a priori. The formulation of norms in these latter societies has nothing to do with reasoned public deliberation, since the setting of norms by a process of argument is a specific invention of modern Europe.
(Achille Mbembe, On the Postcolony,2001)

If, in the above, we replace Western/European by English-speaking/convent-educated and take other societies to mean non-English speaking sections of India, then we see that the kind of attitude adopted by Susmita Dasgupta and other writers at Kafila is precisely the kind that Mbembe bemoans and rejects in Western discourses about Africa [and by extension, other colonized societies]. Somehow, in their keen-ness to emancipate the masses by “representing” their interests, some people forget or fail to take into consideration the masses own feelings on the matter.  In doing so, they end up behaving like arrogant white masters in a colony instead of equal participants in a democratic set up. In the present instance, the Nirmohi Akhara should be consulted about their own religious beliefs. The fact that they may not speak English, or refuse to participate in coffee table discussions should be immaterial. Please note that my question, was and is, one of methodology. I am not presupposing Nirmohi Akhara’s response [or lack thereof] if a query over their religious beliefs is indeed posed to them.

By censoring out my comment, Kafila doesn’t muzzle me since I am still reaching a audience similar to theirs through the same medium, but by muzzling the Nirmohis on a matter inextricably linked to them, not only does Kafila show intellectual arrogance, but a rather unfortunate sense of cultural and linguistic superiority which is a relic of the colonial episteme. Kafila should know that if they open their eyes to this, they can discard what we can call, the Educated Brown Man’s Burden, and this will enrich both their understanding and analysis.

Muzzled by Kafila.org?

by Ritwik on October 5, 2010

EDIT: Shivam Vij of Kafila has reponded to this post. His comment and my response to it can be read in the comments area.

Please judge whether the following comment is either profane or ad hominem in nature:

My heartfelt thanks to Susmita and Nivedita for providing some much needed comic relief in the midst of an overheated debate on Ayodhya.

Susmita, in the course of your researches (?) did you bother inquiring from the Nirmohi Akhara as to their religious persuasion? Specifically about whether they consider themselves within or without the fold of hindusim.

I posted the above comment at Kafila.org this afternoon. It appears to have been rejected/deleted without assigning any reason. Comments made after mine have made their way on the website, which would indicate that my comment has been rejected/deleted/held till “higher authorities” take a call.

Kafila’s stated comment policy can be read here: http://kafila.org/about [link will open in new tab; scroll down to read section entitled “comments policy”]

  • The authors of posts reserve the right to not publish a comment, to delete one after having published it, or to close a thread.
  • We do this but rarely. Our archives speak of our tolerance; our only concern is to keep the debate civil.

I leave it to the wisdom of the reader to judge whether my comment was in contravention of the policy or of the bounds of fair debate. The reader is of course free to make their own judgement about whether Kafila’s writers and moderators are trying to muzzle uncomfortable questions.

As for the high and mighty who write at Kafila, I would advise that they amend their comment policy to add sarcasm and humour to their list of undesirable traits.


(UN)VEILED

by Ritwik on August 13, 2010

The following is a guest post by Ishita Tiwary. Comments may be directed at ishtiwary26888@gmail.com

The burqa is an enveloping outer garment worn by muslim women in order to cover themselves when out in public. It consists of “jilbab” a loose body covering, the “hijab” which is the head covering, and the face veil known as the “niqab”.

Historically there is evidence that women, particularly Arabian and Persian women, wore this garment before the advent of Islam. Hijab is a requirement as ordained by the Koran, for both men and women, to dress and behave modestly in public. This requirement has been interpreted in many different ways by Islamic scholars and clerics all over the world.  For instance, the Koran has been translated by saying, “And say to the faithful women to lower their gazes, and to guard their private parts, and not to display their beauty except what is apparent of it, and to extend their headcoverings (khimars) to cover their bosoms (jaybs), and not to display their beauty except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband’s fathers, or their sons, or their husband’s sons, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their womenfolk, or what their right hands rule (slaves), or the followers from the men who do not feel sexual desire, or the small children to whom the nakedness of women is not apparent, and not to strike their feet (on the ground) so as to make known what they hide of their adornments. And turn in repentance to Allah together, O you the faithful, in order that you are successful

The recent ban on the burqa by the French government has created a furor across the world.  Some have welcomed the move, stating that the ban upholds the principles of secularism and most importantly secures the right to dignity to a woman. While others have criticized it by deeming it as enforced assimilation in society, and stating that it is yet another instance of the perceived Islamophobia of the West.

The origins of “The Veil Affair” can be traced back to mid 90’s in France. In 1994, a memorandum- “Francois Bayrou memo” was issued, which distinguished between discreet religious symbols and ostentatious religious symbols such as the “hijab” which was sought to be banned in the public realm. A decade later in 2004, the French government passed a law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools, which in essence banned all ostensible religious symbols in public schools. The law basically upheld the principle of Laicite. The principle of Laicite basically means the separation of the church (or religion) and the state. In France, the government is legally prohibited to recognize any religion, but it does recognize religious organizations. In 2009, French President Nicholas Sarkozy commented that “In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut from all social life, deprived of all identity.”  Accordingly the French National Assembly appointed 32 lawmakers from right and left wing parties on a six month fact finding mission to look at ways of restricting the use of the burqa. On 26th January the group delivered its report, and was in favour of banning the burqa in the public sphere.

The debate surrounding “The Veil Affair” can be surmised as such. Those who are for the ban, support it on chiefly two grounds- The Laicite argument and the Feminist argument. According to the Laicite argument, the wearing of the veil in the public sphere, distinguishes Muslim women from the rest and thus hampers the spirit of unity and secularism that the French Nation upholds. The feminist arguments points out the loss of identity of a woman who dons the veil as well as symbolizing the submission of women to men. Those against the ban point out that it yet another instance of rising Islamophobia in the west, that the woman has a right to choose whether she wears the burqa or not, and that this enforced secularism is a prime example of western patriarchy.

To me, the debate over the banning of the burqa by the French Government is much more than just upholding the principle of Laicite, or restricted to securing the dignity of a woman to just one nation, or the perceived Islamophobia. In essence the debate is and should be about the freedom and liberation of a woman, her dignity, and the right to her own identity, her body and finally the claiming of herself.

The donning of the burqa ensures the loss of identity for a woman. With only her eyes visible, the person observing her has no idea as to who she might possibly be. Is she young or old? Does she have short or long hair? How much does she weigh? Is her face happy or sad? Is there anything distinctive about her? How does she show her inner tumult or happiness to the world? Imagine living this reality everyday. Imagine looking at yourself in the mirror like this everyday. Perhaps an eerie sense of disassociation takes place, and perhaps as time passes by time ensures that this becomes habitual and normal.

The Koran talks about how modesty should be practiced by both men and women. Then why is it that it’s the women, who actually have to cover themselves from head to toe? Perhaps, it has got to do with the patriarchal setup of our society, where it is the responsibility of the woman to preserve the honour of her family. The burqa is not just a garment, but a garment that has religious weight attached to it. A woman who wears the burqa is also symbolically representing values such as Modesty, Piety and Piousness. By associating such loaded terms with this garment, the veil in essence desexualizes a woman, and takes away her right to her own sexuality, her own body.  In this case, religion supercedes individual liberty. It is something that most women, irrespective of their religion can identify with- The fact that women have always have to carry the weight of preserving honor of their family, by practicing modesty, and this is done through the means of curbing their sexuality.

From the above, it becomes clear how patriarchy uses sexuality as an instrument of control over women.  Symbols become very important, especially when it comes to exercising control. The wearing of the burqa symbolically shows that there is implicit recognition from a women’s side that she is subservient to a man.

In a democratic setup, it is the role of a secular government to takes steps that counter discrimination. The burqa is in essence against the basic dignity of a woman. It robs her of her identity, of the right to her own body and sexuality, and symbolically renders her inferior to man. In such a scenario, it is imperative for the secular state to intervene and take measure that counters this form of discrimination. Such steps will ensure, although controversy laden, and rightfully so, the upliftment of the status of women in society, a gradual change in the mindset of coming generation in their perceived attitude towards the burqa. At times, laws which seem to be unpopular and intolerant at first, can actually bring mammoth changes in not only the mindset of future generation, but also in trying to equalize the power relationships between different sections of society, in this case, it being between men and women.

Yet Another Non-implementable Law

by Ritwik on July 17, 2010

Ours is a law-loving country.  Deprivation, oppression and crime are rampant. However our esteemed leadership cannot be accused of not doing enough legislatively to contain these problems. It’s a different matter that our bewildering gamut of laws usually end up multiplying aforesaid problems.

Readers would hardly need reminding of the far-sighted legislation that imposed a blanket ban on smoking in public places. Every major college and university now have big boards that declare them to be no smoking zones. Of course, this has caused all professors in say, JNU to give up smoking overnight. If there exists a place where this glorious objective has not been achieved then that is a lacuna of implementation. Of course, there could be nothing wrong with the law itself, even if it is making law breakers out of all us.

Or we could take the Punjab Excise Act, 1914 which somehow applies to Delhi and which bans the sale of alcohol to those under 25 years of age. I feel tempted to repeat the oft quoted line about being mature enough to vote and drive at 18 …

The latest such initiative comes from the Women and Child Development Ministry. This department has already given us controversial legislation like the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act and the Dowry Prohibition Act, which though noble in spirit, are overly susceptible to misuse. Earlier this year, the Ministry saw a change of guard when the last minister lost her Lok Sabha seat. There was  some hope that her successor will not display excessive zeal but would instead focus on deliverables.

This time, though, the Ministry has outdone itself, thus sending out an emphatic signal that it will continue to battle common sense regardless of changes at the top.

So what has happened? The Times of India reports that the Ministry is “piloting” a legislation that will make it possible for the authorities to penalize and even jail parents who beat their kids. In fact, it goes beyond that as the “comprehensive” draft bill, which not surprisingly, has been drafted after consultations with “civil society” seeks to prevent the abuse of children by parents, schools, day care centres, workplaces etc etc. It even seeks to cover ragging.

Of course, any effort to strengthen the legal framework to deal with child abuse is laudable, but some salient features of the proposed legislation require closer examination:

The proposed punishment for the first offence is one year imprisonment or a fine of Rs 5,000 that can be raised to three years’ imprisonment for a second offence with a fine of Rs 25,000.

Maybe I am reading this wrong. But the above seems to say that if ever this law is passed and implemented [which in India, as noted above, are two very different things] then any reasonably well off parent can get off by paying a paltry fine. However the same amount can be backbreaking for any of the country’s countless poor people. Maybe I ought to have more faith in our police system, but I cannot let go off the idea that this gives yet another tool for unscrupulous policemen to harass and torture the poor. Might it be that  the “civil society” activists who have consulted on the bill missed this insignificant detail?

The draft bill says, “Whoever intentionally inflicts physical penalty on a child for disciplinary purposes shall be punished for the offence of corporal punishment.”

Whoever means “family member, school, relatives, neighbours, friends, educational or care giving institutions, prisons and homes set up under the Juvenile Justice Act.” Again, maybe it’s just me but this seems awfully broad ranging. What will happen in case of a fight between two children, say one who is 14 and the other 17 ? Maybe the aggressor could be sent to one of our homely juvenile justice homes, which we can expect to be homelier still once this bill has been cleared.

It is obvious that the proposed bill is yet another act of over-zealousness which seeks to achieve social objectives by force of law, rather than investing in necessary social and cultural reform. It will be non-implementable, because of its sheer impracticality. That does not bother me as much as the fact that unlike the equally stupid anti-smoking law, the proposed bill has inherently greater scope for misuse and harassment.

Barbaric Attack on Kerala Professor: A Few Questions

by Ritwik on July 9, 2010

A few days back, thugs belonging to a radical Islamist outfit called Popular Front chopped off the right hand of Prof. T.J. Joseph, a private college lecturer in Muvattapuzha in Kerala as “punishment” for the  “offence” of hurting religious sentiments. The Hindu has covered this story in some detail.

Dilip D’Souza has raised some pertinent questions in this regard:

* Why the college management “apologised”.

* Why the Kerala government saw fit to issue “instructions” that the professor should be suspended.

* Why the college followed the government’s instruction and suspended him.

* Why the police lodged a case against the professor.

The following is worth noting as well:

T. Vikram, Superintendent of Police, Ernakulam Rural, who was camping in the area, said: “We have talked to church leaders to convince them that an all-out effort is being made to nab the culprits.” (as reported in The Hindu)

I don’t understand why the police needed to specifically assure church leaders that the perpetrators of this ghastly attack will be brought to justice? Surely these “church leaders” should have been incensed regardless of the religious affiliation of the victim?

Of course, this episode would not have even become a news story had the attackers not committed the tactical error of chopping off Joseph’s hand. As it is, they had him on the run. A little bit of shouting from the rooftops had ensured that:

1. Joseph was suspended from his job. In what capacity did the state Government instruct a PRIVATE institute to suspend an employee is not clear.

2. He was picked up and harassed by the police.

3. After getting out on bail, he went into hiding to escape frequent death threats. In response, the police put out a wanted poster for his arrest

Why exactly were the government and the police so keen to prosecute Prof. Joseph? Why were the charges of “hurting religious sentiments” believed at face value and not investigated properly? What constrained the government to apply the serious charge of “fomenting communal hatred” on the Professor? What about the concept of an educational institution being an open space? Why did the state not defend Prof. Joseph’s fundamental right to expression?

Maybe the secular, progressive and people friendly Left Democratic Front government of Kerala can provide some answers.

Not only cynical, but the cause of cynicism in others

by Ritwik on October 26, 2009

The naysayers have won.

As they always do, albeit in the short scheme of things.

Why won’t they? When the other side [“the good side”] lacks dedication, focus and passion? The cynical herd of sheeple are assured victory when the Good Side treats  enterprise as that damned entity, E-C-A.

and there is but one dividing line, just one, and that is between those who go so far and no further, and then there are those who DO go further, who take that final step. the risk takers versus the rest. the passionate versus the herd.

And where do i find myself? in the former class, struggling to emerge as a sentient being. shackled this way, in a prison worse than black water, or indeed any other colour.

You may tell me that it is only the short scheme of things, but till the time we live, it’s only the ephemeral passing moment that matters, and after we are gone, who gives a fuck?

yea, and now will live the pretense, the veneer of interestedness in idly sitting on the posterior enjoying the trappings of comfort. but I will go back and fight, another day, smarter and stronger than before. always.

Now, Darwin censored in America

by Ritwik on September 15, 2009

The Telegraph (UK) reports that Jon Amiel’s film Creation, a British project about Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution has not found a distributor in America. The film, which has secured positive early reviews, has had no problem in securing distributors in other territories all over the world.

It may be recalled that America has witnessed an acrimonious debate on Darwin’s theory of evolution, which is widely accepted as the best explanation for the origin of life and evolution of various life-forms. Creationists in America refuse to accept Darwin’s theory as it clashes with ideas propagated by Christianity.

However, US distributors have resolutely passed on a film which will prove hugely divisive in a country where, according to a Gallup poll conducted in February, only 39 per cent of Americans believe in the theory of evolution.

Movieguide.org, an influential site which reviews films from a Christian perspective, described Darwin as the father of eugenics and denounced him as “a racist, a bigot and an 1800s naturalist whose legacy is mass murder”. His “half-baked theory” directly influenced Adolf Hitler and led to “atrocities, crimes against humanity, cloning and genetic engineering”, the site stated.

It is difficult to see this incident in isolation, given the increasing intolerance and jingoism shown by vast sections of the American media over the past few years, while covering matters as diverse as Iraq, health care and outsourcing.

It is also interesting that despite the election of Barack Obama, right-wing opinions seem to hold a great amount of sway over the country. This seems to rule out any hope of genuine “change”, at least for now.

For a society that prides itself on being free, America has touched a new low. One can only hope that sense will prevail and at least one distributor will show the guts to stand up for freedom of speech, in the land that is gave us Operation Enduring Freedom

Move over Limewire, Booster is here

by Ritwik on September 1, 2009

update: boostermp3 is down.

For the longest time, I’ve been using limewire to download songs in Mp3 format [obviously, I own the original CDs :p]. But in recent months I have been getting increasingly disenchanted with file sharing software, as I was simply unable to find what I wanted, especially when it comes old hindi songs.

Then a friend introduced me to Cool Toad, which is a pretty good resource for bollywood songs – old and new, but it doesn’t have much of a rock collection.

Today I found salvation in the form of Booster, a fantastic site where you can stream and download [free of charge] mp3 versions of millions of songs cutting across genres. And there are no irritating banner ads to distract from the experience.

This is how the internet should work – breaking down barriers to information and art.

Why the BJP is right in expelling Jaswant Singh

by Ritwik on August 23, 2009

Jaswant Singh's Controversial Book

Jaswant Singh’s Controversial Book

Over the last week, there has been much brouhaha over Jaswant Singh’s new book titled Jinnah: India Partition Independence

The former BJP leader has tried to argue that Jinnah was a secular man who was “pushed” towards communal politics due to the inflexible attitude of senior Congress leaders.

This basic contention fits in well with the old RSS/BJP approach of using any stick to beat Nehru and other Congress leaders, and hold them responsible for all of India’s ills.  Jaswant Singh advocates that Jinnah’s recommendations to the Motilal Nehru Committee (demanding special concessions to Muslims) should have been accepted back in 1929. Singh contends that had this been done, Jinnah would have never orbited towards communal politics.

It is amusing to see a senior (now former) leader of a Hindu nationalist organization like the BJP advocating concessions to Muslims. One can well imagine what the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha response would have been (in the 1930s) had Jinnah’s recommendations been accepted by the Congress. For some reason, I can clearly hear “minority appeasement” echoing in my head.

I’ve always found it incredible how RSS/BJP sympathizers, who otherwise profess a deep hatred for Jinnah and his muslim communal politics, hold that if only Nehru had overcome his personal “greed” and allowed Jinnah to be prime minister, then partition would have never occurred.

These people set no store by the popular will of the people of India, who elected the Congress by record margins in all polls conducted till then. The Congress was the largest political organization in the country [by far], Gandhi was the tallest leader, and Nehru was both a tall leader and Gandhi’s handpicked nominee. None of these things seem to make any impact on the immune-to-logic grey cells of the Hindu nationalist crowd.

This is probably because inspite of public protestations to the contrary, I suspect that the RSS/BJP and their cohorts feel quite comfortable with Jinnah. Believing as they do in identity politics, they deem it natural for a muslim to speak for muslims, as a hindu must speak for hindus. It is incomprehensible for them to see Gandhi, Nehru and other hindus speaking for the minorities, and minority leaders like Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan speaking for an inclusive nationality.

Thus, what has done in Jaswant Singh is not his exoneration of Jinnah, or putting the blame on Nehru. The seasoned politician that he is, Jaswant Singh must have realized that holding Sardar Patel equally culpable for the partition of the country would seriously ruffle feathers in the “parivaar”. Over the years, the RSS and its fronts like the BJP have successfully wrested Patel’s legacy from a stupor-ridden Congress, which seems to have forgotten it ever had leaders other than the “first family”. Patel’s aggressive nationalism and “iron man” image fits in well with the RSS idea of India.

In this light, one can well imagine the fury of RSS leaders. Jaswant Singh was identified as a very senior BJP leader, and organizationally speaking, it was extremely irresponsible of him to “tarnish” Patel with the same brush as Nehru, when the RSS has for years been trying to appropriate the former and demonize the latter.

To put it simply: in the RSS fantasy world, Nehru was a Europeanized brat, who tricked Gandhi and wrested the PM-ship to satisfy his personal greed, which led to the partition of the country. Patel was a good samaritan who had to bow down to pressure from Gandhi, but who nonetheless did unparalleled work in unifying the country. Jaswant Singh effectively shows Nehru and Patel to be working together, as a team, and not at cross purposes as the RSS would want us to believe.

When the BJP says that Jaswant’s contentions are against its core ideological beliefs, this is what it is alluding to: a senior leader cannot undermine the years of ideological work done by committed RSS pracharaks, and consequently leave the parivaar in an indefensible position.

Politically speaking, if Jaswant Singh had not been expelled, then the self-styled “Chotte Sardar” Narendra Modi would have been taken to the cleaners by the Congress in Gujarat. Patel is a highly respected leader even outside his home state, and one can well imagine the BJP’s discomfort had it not taken prompt action by expelling Mr. Singh.

Thus, I find it incredible that the media [both print and broadcast] has been typifying the BJP’s action as intolerant. It is amazing that The Hindu faults the BJP for expelling Jaswant Singh, but didn’t bat an eyelid when Somnath Chatterjee was expelled for defying party orders. The latter didn’t even question his party’s core beliefs in marxism-leninism!

The BJP is right in expelling Jaswant Singh because a senior leader cannot publicly question his party’s view of history – that puts the entire ideology under a cloud of doubt.

I completely agree that Mr. Jaswant Singh should have freedom of expression, and thus I think it is reprehensible that his book has been banned in Gujarat [for I believe that no book should be banned], but as far as being member of a political party goes, he cannot continue being a member of a party unless he accepts its core ideological position.

To sum it up: it is right to expel jaswant singh, but wrong to silence him.

Putting billions in perspective

by Ritwik on August 19, 2009

informationisbeautiful.net features an interesting chart which puts into perspective the vast sums of money thrown about by politicians and commentators:

billion_dollar_960(click image to enlarge)

Vodafone, Iphone and Swine Flu

by Ritwik on August 12, 2009

apple iphone

Apple Iphone

I love the Apple Iphone. It is a device high on ease of use, features and style. It perfectly blends great looks with usability.

I have always wanted to own one of these beautiful devices. Now, after much cajoling and coaxing, I am in a position to buy an iphone and attain digital nirvana.

The problem: my present phone [a very battered Nokia] has all but died and I need to find a new cell phone soon. The latest model of the Iphone, the 3GS [S stands for speed] hasn’t been launched in India yet. The 3GS adds a lot of nifty features to what is an already great device.

Why exactly the 3GS is not in India escapes me, considering this is the second largest cell phone market in the world. Still, Apple has been hinting that the latest and greatest Iphone will hit these shores sometime this month.

You wouldn’t think so, given that their is zero publicity for the device, from either Airtel or Vodafone – the two companies which are allowed to sell Iphones in India.

Given that I (urgently) need to buy a new phone, and I want that phone to be an Iphone, I have two options – either buy the model currently available in the market [and run the risk of being outdated within a matter of days] or wait for a few more days and buy the 3GS as soon it hits the Indian market.

Having decided on option 2, I have been scouring the web for any news related to the imminent arrival of the 3GS. The Airtel and Vodafone websites have zilch. Apple promotes the 3GS on its India site but doesn’t talk of a release date. The web has failed me as a source of credible information.

Worry not, I tell myself, and start working the phones. “We don’t sell Iphones in India – contact vodafone or airtel”, the Apple dealer in Delhi informs me [somewhat rudely]. I get similarly pleas of ignorance from the two service providers.

Finally, I drag myself down to the large Vodafone store in CP.

Me: I wish to make inquiries about the Iphone

Clerk [must be some kind of “executive”]: keval inquiries, ya khareedna chahtein hain ? [do you just want to inquire, or are you interested in buying?]

Me: khareedna hai [I want to buy]

C: I have only 16 GB model available.

Me: 3GS ? (hopefully)

C: no, 3G

Me: When would 3GS be available ?

C: No idea.

Me: You have absolutely no clue ?

C: None (rudely)

Me: Look here, my phone is broken, I want to give you 30000 bucks for a new phone, the least you can do is share with me any information you might have on the iphone

C: It might take 3 months

Me: but apple has said it will come in august!

C: 3 months. You buy 3G

Me: What if I buy it and then next day 3GS becomes available, I would be wasting my money.

C: In any case, I sell blackberries [produces different blackberry models for my perusal]

Me: let’s see [halfheartedly, after all I had not gone to buy a bloody blackberry]

C: Iphone data transfer plans from Vodafone are very expensive (!!). You should go for blackberry

At this point, a terrible thing happens [even worse than not getting an Iphone] – the man sneezes. thrice. without the use of a handkerchief.

Needless to say, I beat a hasty retreat from the store.

Getting home, I pounced upon a bunch of Tulsi leaves – traditional wisdom suggests that tulsi is a miraculous remedy for all kinds of influenza. Well, I’d  choose tulsi over tamiflu anyday!