Will the Insecure Male at the News Desk Please Stand Up?
K.K. Shahina, of the Tehelka, some feel, may be a terrorist. No prizes for guessing who. After all, Shahina has been working, despite pressures of all sorts, to unravel the impossible web of lies that the police, the media, and political parties have been weaving around the figure of Abdul Nasar Madani, who was arrested again as an accused in the 2008 Bangalore blast case and denied bail. Madani, as is well-known, had already suffered enormous injustice at the hands of the Indian state but to the chagrin of the Hindutva ‘nationalists’, he re-entered the political arena. Whether one agrees with him on Islam or other matters, or about his choice of alliances, is a different matter. Choosing to demand space in the political public, he exercised his right as a citizen, and thereby indicated a preliminary implicit willingness to place his views before a critical public.
And this has been his ‘crime’. It has taken the Hindutva police of Karnataka an astoundingly complicated, yet strangely flimsy and (shockingly) flagrant web of lies to ‘punish’ him for it. Determination of this kind cannot be tolerated in the Muslim; it is increasingly read as the surest evidence for the Muslim-person’s complicity with anti-Hindu- anti- Indian terrorism. Or at least the surest sign of the presence of the ‘pro-terrorist mindset’. Shahina too looks determined enough to deserve ‘punishment’. She has consistently worked to unravel the web of untruth despite pressures of many kinds and risks, the first of which is indeed her Muslim name. Her recent story in the Tehelka (‘Why is this man still in prison?’, 7, 48, 4 Dece 2010) gives the lie to the Karnataka Police’s ‘evidence’ against Madani. Shahina’s story indicates that the testimonies of witnesses that the Karnataka Police has cited against Madani are fabrications. The ‘Madani Case’ was being slowly consigned to the past , which is certainly the best way of rendering someone beyond public politics, of sinking him/her into the shadowy world of ‘security concerns’ where politics does not exist.But Shahina does not give up and thus the Karnataka Police’s case against her for having allegedly attempted to ‘influence witnesses’ in the Madani case is perhaps only to be expected.
The utterly brainless, irresponsible report in the Mathrubhumi (28 November 2010) that shamelessly parrots the Karnataka Police’s version of things, too, appears completely explainable in the light of the fact that this newspaper has been leading the Islamophobic charge in Kerala recently, right from the atrocious ‘Love Jihad’ propaganda to demonising Madani to the story of Rayana and the Veil. Therefore one can hardly expect the Mathrubhumi to suddenly turn respectful to either Madani or the Muslim community in general. Nevertheless, it appears that this newspaper is playing a woefully non-rational strategy, considering its own stakes at present, and it may be worth asking why it has chosen to raise the pitch precisely at a time when the political gains to be secured from may not be very high. The brazen Islamophobia raised by the Mathrubhumi through almost the whole of last year was undoubtedly a combination of the soft Hindutva which has been part of its nationalist legacy, and the immediate political context in which it sought to check the CPM’s possible gains through an alliance with Madani’s party, the PDP. That situation is past, and worse, it is quite evident that the Mathrubhumi overplayed its Islamophobia-card. The recent elections to the panchayats in Kerala revealed that Islamophobia mainly served the BJP (going by their successes all over Kerala, and not confined to a few traditional pockets), not the CPM or the Congress. Secondly, given the utterly breakable nature of the Karnataka Police’s offensive against Madani and the huge moral investment that the Mathrubhumi did make in that ramshackle tale, the latter’s rational strategy would have been to keep quiet, not provoke further debate. Since we all do know that the average Malayalee reader’s historical memory is astoundingly short, Madani would have been swept away smoothly into the vagueness of the past and the shady twilight of ‘security concerns’. In other words, it should have desisted from rousing the flames all over again through the present report. Thus the decision to report, with almost a certain repressed glee, the news of the Karnataka Police’s case against Shahina, actually goes against the despicable short-term interests of the newspaper.
But what if a long-term goal is involved? What if the newspaper is trying to woo prospective Hindutva-identified readers? To this one must reply that while right-wing Hindutvavadi-brand of nationalism seems to have found a constituency in Kerala for the time being at least, there may be good reasons for the Mathrubhumi not to make a permanent or long-term investment in it. If it is trying to make a dent in the readership of the BJP-mouthpiece, the Janmabhumi, it is not making a wise investment, for the returns appear to be poor. But more importantly, if it is trying to target the arguably-growing readership that is gravitating, one way or the other, closer to a ‘Hindu’ identity, it is even more mistaken. The shapes that ‘Hinduism’ seem to be taking in globalized Kerala do not seem to be entirely or always conducive to pro-Hindutva ‘nationalism’.
This last point was apparent to me a few years back, in the wake of the destruction wreaked by the Tsunami in the coastal villages of south Kerala. The Araya community of coastal north Kerala happens to be one of the strongest bastions of Hindutvavadi nationalism in Kerala, and representatives of a pro-Hindutva outfit from the north arrived to help their brethren in the devastated coastal villages of south Kerala. They were also welcomed by the powerful and wealthy spiritual leader Mata Amritaanandamayi, who also hails from the Araya community in one of these coastal villages in south Kerala. There were other organizations engaged in relief work, especially of the Christian Church and other NGOs too, who were readily accepted by the villagers. However, the leaders of the pro-Hindutvavadi groups who also claimed to represent the community interests of a coastal community, the Arayas, asked the villagers to refuse the aid offered by the Christian Church. The villagers refused to obey them. Interestingly, the response of many followers of Amritaanandamayi was not according to the expectation of the pro-Hindutvavadis. Many felt that the aggressive anti-minority posturing of the pro-Hindutvavadi ’nationalists’ was damaging what they perceived to be the Hindu position, and indeed, they silently withdrew their support.
This is not surprising, if one considers the eminently globalized and pluralized, if entirely elite, nature of the ‘Hinduism’, that the cult of Amritaanandamayi constructs. The ‘Hinduism’ transacted at her ashram appears to be many things. It appears to be, at one and the same time, the more common version of Hinduism based on consultation of the horoscope and various remedial measures for astrologically-determined misfortunes; a watered-down, palatable version of the Upanishadic Hinduism focused on Guru-Shishya dialogue; the Christianized charity-based-’love-is-God’ Hinduism (the most popular brand there); the sort of faith induced by the Sivakasi-printed images of Gods and Goddesses; cult-based Hinduisms with practices similar to the group-prayer-singing of the Satyanarayana cult, and many other sorts. These cater to specific groups of believers, which are no less than specific segments of the globalized spiritual demand for ‘Hinduism’ that the ashram has brilliantly capitalized on. The Hindutva-pride version is only one of these. Clearly, other segments, which collectively account for a far larger number of takers, will be compromised if this particular segment is upped, even if inadvertently. This is what prompted many of the powerful members of the ashram to reject the pro-Hindutva elements’ aggressive anti-minority effort, even as they continued to tolerate minimally pro-Hindutva nationalism as one of the many demanded brands of ‘Hinduism’.
Surely the Mathrubhumi with its claims to ‘secularism’ and a mentor, M P Veerendra Kumar, whose commitment to the Wretched of the Earth is nothing short of frightening, can do better. If it wishes to capitalize on the growing demand for ‘Hinduism’ as faith and identity in globalized Kerala, it had better get thinking, instead of promoting Dimwittedness-at-the-Desk as a positive virtue in everyday functioning,. The shrill Hindutvavadi tone is not likely to get his party or his allies more votes; nor is it going to necessarily please his readers, especially the globalized Hindu. While aggressive Hindu nationalism is one of the versions of ‘Hinduism’ that globalization has induced in Kerala, it is not the only one.
However, I cannot help remarking that besides dimwittedness, there is also the element of male envy. Shahina’s deeper ‘crime’ is actually the same as Madani’s: she too displays a determination to claim space in the ‘world of action’ (in the Arendtian sense), to speak and to do in the public-political realm. If only these two would retreat into the worlds of work or labour where they would toil dumbly, they would have been safe! If only Shahina remained content with with a gendered world of ‘work’: writing stories about minor celebrities oohing and aahing about the pleasures of ‘God’s Own Country’, if only she was happy with the minor gains from writing about local restaurants, resorts or boutiques! After all that’s the sort of work that chic young women do in most newspapers! And what a bargain — you get the badge of the journalist but basically do the fun thing. How easy it is to be ‘modern’! But alas, this is an unrepentant woman. She chooses to be ‘modern’ the hard, singular way: determined to retain a Muslim name, determined to stay simultaneously in dialogue and dispute with Islam, and determined to be a public-political person — a speaker of words and doer of deeds. That’s why the boys at the desk (and there are indeed few women there) don’t like her though they don’t stand up — either because they are too scared or too polite — to openly say so. Or, simple, they don’t stand up because of their ire at the fact that she does stand up — and out — unlike them, without that prized possession, the penis.
(Cross-posted om http://www.countermedia.in)