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“Haider” – Hamlet in Kashmir: Suhas Munshi

October 21, 2014

This is a guest post by SUHAS MUNSHI

The challenge of telling stories of a conflict is its victims. Each, traumatized in their own way, needs their own story. The narrator is bound to fail not only those he didn’t include but those who didn’t see their stories recreated faithfully. Had Basharat Peer set himself the task of faithfully adapting the violence done to Kashmiris he would have had to script a pornographic narrative for the screen. Some of the bile directed at him from Kashmiris comes from a dissatisfaction of not depicting the true extent of the brutality of the Indian army and rendering its casualties adequately pitiful. An opinion piece written on the movie in ‘The Parallel Post’ titled ‘Setting the wrong precedent’ condemns torture scenes in the movie as having actually undermined the actual extent of army atrocity in Kashmir. The piece goes on to say, ‘army excesses wane out by the time movie reaches its climax.’

However, the only service that a story teller from Kashmir could do to art and to humanity is to depict the people living there, especially the victims, as humans; as people, just as they are found anywhere else in the world, and not continue to peddle the cliché of the valley being a dehumanized pastoral paradise. Accusations of betrayal, conceit and condescension are being hurled at Basharat Peer, the writer, when he has got, for the first time ever, the words ‘plebiscite’, ‘half-widows’ and the rousing call of ‘Azadi’ in a script, through a movie, on mainstream cinema. Read more…

‘Make in India’ – Modi’s War on the Poor

October 20, 2014

For some months now, I have been thinking of someone whom I saw on television during the parliamentary election campaign. The place was Benaras and Modi’s candidature from the seat had just been declared. The television journalist was interviewing a group of clearly poor people, taking their reactions on this new, though expected development. This person, fairly drunk in his Modi-elixir – and perhaps also a bit literally drunk – swaggered as he answered, affirming his support for Modi: Modi bhi chaiwala hai, hum bhi chaiwala hain (Modi is also a tea-seller and I am also a tea-seller). His words reflected the success of the remarkable gamble – that of projecting the new poster boy of corporate capital as a humble tea-seller. It was clear how so many of the poor had bought into this campaign.

What reminded me of this person initially, was that very soon after the election results were out, even before the government was formed, ‘team Modi’ announced a series of measures for the development of Benaras, which included the building of 60 flyovers – ‘to ease traffic congestion’. Mainly meant for the benefit of smooth flow of motorized traffic (rikshas, cycles and pedestrians, after all, have little place in the economy of the flyover), this was the beginning of a plan that would transform this holy city. If the experience of building flyovers anywhere in India is any experience, this would additionally mean mass demolition of settlements of the poor, shops and even entire informal markets – including tea shops that have long been part of life of local communities.

Then the government took office. Within a couple of months, the plan for Varanasi’s upgradation started being drawn up more concretely. Not everything in the proposed subsequent plan (end July 2014) seemed objectionable -not the least the idea to work on a possible mono rail, improvement of the bus network, and a Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) like the one in Ahmedabad. Except that this would mean more and more dislocation of the poor and destruction of their livelihoods. We have seen this happen in city after city in India, including in Delhi. Read more…

Un-owning – Archives in General, Ambedkar in Particular: Rajshree Chandra

October 19, 2014


The immediate motivation for writing this piece has been the passionate and often partisan debate that surrounded the publication of the new, annotated critical edition of B. R. Ambedkar’s work, Annihilation of Caste (AoC) by Navayana Publishing. Sufficient water has flowed under the bridge to soften the various sharp edged stones and so it is perhaps time for some dispassionate perspective on the matter.

There are two kinds of debate that got triggered off by the publication of AoC. One of course relates to the 124 page provocative introduction to AoC written by Arundhati Roy titled ‘The Doctor and the Saint’ – The “Doctor” being Ambedkar and the “Saint” referring to Gandhi. The other relates to questions of ownership of archival material and questions of its fair dissemination. While the former has been hotly, and often intractably, debated by experts, scholars, followers and fans of Gandhi and Ambedkar, it is the latter that has received less attention than it deserves.

The question is important: It does not merely relate to the question of who owns Ambedkar, but in general relates to a wider question of authorship and representation of intellectual heritage. And as I have argued in my earlier posts on Kafila [1], for me the legal question is preceded by a normative concern and a political question, which is this: Should the answer to the question of who speaks for and about Ambedkar be selective? And relatedly, should ideas, works and publications of our thinkers and philosophers be policed and guarded by caretakers and/or representatives deemed to be “authentic” and/or “legal”? But before I come to these questions let me briefly contextualize the publication of AoC, as only a specific instance of his large body of work. Read more…

आज्ञाकारिता की संस्कृति

October 19, 2014

कुछ वक्त पहले देश के एक बड़े शिक्षा संस्थान की विद्वत् परिषद् ने कोई एक साल पहले पाठ्यक्रम में की गई बड़ी और महत्वाकांक्षी तब्दीली को खारिज करते हुए पुराने पाठ्यक्रम को वापस बहाल करने का फैसला किया. यह वही परिषद् थी जिसने पहले के पाठ्यक्रम की आलोचना को दरकिनार करते हुए पिछला परिवर्तन किया था.उस वक्त इस निर्णय की आलोचना करने वाले अध्यापकों से राजनीतिक और शिक्षा विभाग के अधिकारियों ने प्रश्न किया था: यह निर्णय अत्यंत शिक्षित,अपने ज्ञान-क्षेत्रों में सुपरिचित विद्वानों ने सुचिंतित ढंग से किया क्यों किया जब आप इसे अकादमिक दृष्टि से कमजोर बताते हैं? एक तरह से विश्वविद्यालय के अकादमिक समुदाय ने स्वेच्छा से यह फैसला किया. लेकिन  भिन्न परिस्थिति में इसी निर्णय को इसी परिषद् ने फिर उतने ही निर्द्वन्द्व भाव से कैसे रद्द कर दिया?

अभी दो महीने हुए, देश के प्रधानमंत्री ने शिक्षक दिवस के दिन बच्चों से सीधे बात करने का निर्णय किया. केन्द्रीय मानव संसाधन मंत्री ने स्पष्ट किया कि यह कोई सरकारी फरमान नहीं है, स्वैच्छिक है. लेकिन केंद्रीय माध्यमिक शिक्षा समिति, केंद्रीय विद्यालय संगठन,आदि ने इसे लागू करना अनिवार्य कर दिया. अनेकानेक निजी विद्यालयों ने भी, जो अपने काम-काज में सरकार से आज़ाद हैं,इसे अपने बच्चों के लिए निर्विकल्प कर दिया. Read more…

Rip Van Winkle and Raman Singh Government

October 15, 2014

Can an elected Panchayat deprive a section of its own people belonging to a minority community its constitutionally granted right to practise its religion – e.g. organise prayers or engage in religious propaganda and have sermons?

Or can it ever deprive them of their mandatory quota of grain under PDS (public distribution system) which is focused more on persons living below poverty line?

Anyone conversant with rudimentary understanding of law would reply in the negative. It appears that in Chattisgarh they do it differently. In fact, Sirisguda, Kunguda and many other villages in Jagdalpur and adjoining areas in the state are in the news for similar reasons. Read more…

‘The Meerut Girl’, desperate Hindutvavaadis and their Jihad against Love

October 14, 2014

[With two updates added on October 15, 2014]

The phrase ‘Jihad Against Love’ is Janaki Nair’s in The HinduWhy Love is a Four Letter Word. I can’t think of a better description of this sick, twisted, violent campaign, in which local Hindutvavaadi thugs ally with families desperate to control their young sons and daughters from – quite simply – falling in love. Families that have no qualms in violently separating their children from relationships outside their caste or religious community, often killing one or both of them. Such murders have come to be dubbed ‘honour killings’ by the English media, but a starker, more revealing term is suggested by Pratiksha Baxi – ‘custodial deaths’. Indeed, the young people killed in such cases are in the custody, much like prisoners, of their own families.

If you haven’t had enough of tragic love stories, take a look at Perveez Mody’s book, The Intimate State: Love-Marriage and the Law in Delhi (Routledge, Oxford and New Delhi, 2008) for  heart-breaking accounts of of treachery and betrayal by parents, of their own children who fall in love with the wrong people, and the kinds of physical violence unleashed on rebellious couples by their own families.

The Hindutvavaadi campaign has an able ally in the Christian Right. A report in 2009 in The Times of India said:

‘Love Jihad’, a religious conversion racket which lures gullible girls by feigning love, has brought rivals Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Christian groups in Kerala together.

“Both Hindu and Christian girls are falling prey to the design. So we are cooperating with the VHP on tackling this. We will work together to whatever extent possible,” said K S Samson, an office-bearer of Kochi-based Christian Association for Social Action (CASA), a voluntary Christian association.

Samson said some days ago, CASA got to know about a Hindu family in a Christian parish where a school going girl was the victim. ”We immediately referred it to the VHP,” he said, adding the saffron outfit has helped them in many cases.

Read more…

Challenges to “Islamic State” from within Islam

October 14, 2014

This news was not as widely reported in the Indian media, to my knowledge, but on September 24, 204, 120 Islamic scholars wrote an Open Letter to to the “fighters and followers” of the Islamic State, denouncing them as un-Islamic, using the most Islamic of terms.

Lauren Markoe wrote in Huffington Post a report reproduced in NewAge Islam:

Relying heavily on the Quran, the 18-page letter released Wednesday (Sept. 24) picks apart the extremist ideology of the militants who have left a wake of brutal death and destruction in their bid to establish a transnational Islamic state in Iraq and Syria.

Even translated into English, the letter will still sound alien to most Americans, said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, who released it in Washington with 10 other American Muslim religious and civil rights leaders.

“The letter is written in Arabic. It is using heavy classical religious texts and classical religious scholars that ISIS has used to mobilize young people to join its forces,” said Awad, using one of the acronyms for the group. “This letter is not meant for a liberal audience.”

Even mainstream Muslims, he said, may find it difficult to understand.

Awad said its aim is to offer a comprehensive Islamic refutation, “point-by-point,” to the philosophy of the Islamic State and the violence it has perpetrated. The letter’s authors include well-known religious and scholarly figures in the Muslim world, including Sheikh Shawqi Allam, the grand mufti of Egypt, and Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem and All Palestine.

Read more…


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