Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Free speech? Clever cover for India bashing

Hypocrisy of Left-liberal commentariat

Activist-author-anarchist Arundhati Roy remains recalcitrant. On Tuesday she issued a statement, in which, among other things, she “the people of Kashmir live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world”, “the Indian poor pay the price of this occupation in material ways and who are now learning to live in the terror of what is becoming a police state”, “pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds”. Curiously, or perhaps not, she claimed “Dalit soldiers” are getting killed in Jammu & Kashmir.

On Sunday, speaking at a seminar on ‘Wither Kashmir: Freedom or Enslavement’ in Srinagar, Arundhati Roy said, “Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. It is a historical fact.” She said she was proud to associate herself with “resistance movements” across India and counselled Kashmiris to “consolidate the gains” of the recent four months of anti-India agitation. “The power concedes nothing unless it is forced to,” she said, and demanded demilitarisation of Jammu & Kashmir. Then she went on to urge Kashmiris not to join the State police and the Central Reserve Police Force.

Strangely, Arundhati Roy questioned the legitimacy of Kashmiris electing their own Government: “You (Kashmiris) should think how the elections were used against you.” In the same breath she added, “The Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy has not been elected.” Does she then, at least, admit India is the “world’s largest democracy”? Of course not! “India is behaving like a colonial power and suppressing one community at the hands of the other … They are sending Nagas to Kashmir and Punjabis to Manipur.”

The Union Ministry for Home Affairs believes there is sufficient evidence by way of Arundhati Roy’s seditious utterances to prosecute her under Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code. This section says:

Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.

Explanation 1-The expression "disaffection" includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.
Explanation 2-Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.
Explanation 3-Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.

The Home Ministry is said to be waiting for “political clearance”. The Congress is believed to be of the view that while a case should be filed against her and she should be prosecuted, Arundhati Roy should not be arrested to avoid “negative publicity abroad”. And what if the courts hold her guilty and send her to jail? What then? Or is the Congress banking on the decrepit criminal justice system to drag the case for years and decades, by when it will be inconsequential whether she is punished or not.

Over the weekend, three distinct viewpoints have emerged. First, Arundhati Roy should be prosecuted. Second, we should ignore her just as others on the lunatic fringe are ignored. Third, she should be allowed to have her say because “freedom of speech is guaranteed” by the Constitution of India. I have already expressed my opinion on the first two points. The last view merits further comment.

Contrary to popular belief, popularised no doubt by illiterate and ill-informed members of south Delhi’s Left-liberal commentariat that rules ‘national media’, freedom of speech is not unrestrained in India.

The Constitution provides for "the right to freedom of speech and expression" [Article 19(1) a]. However this right is subject to restrictions under sub-clause (2), whereby this freedom can be restricted for reasons of "sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, preserving decency, preserving morality, in relation to contempt, court, defamation, or incitement to an offence”.

Arundhati Roy is clearly in breach of these restrictions. Anybody else violating sub-clause 2 would have faced the ire of the state. Second, by slyly referring to “Dalit soldiers” and urging Kashmiris not to join the police and CRPF, she is prima facie guilty of far worse.

That apart, for the Left-liberals to argue in support of free speech is disingenuous. The same freedom is rudely curbed when the Right wants to exercise this right.

As my friend and one of the leading scholars of West Asia, Barry Rubin, recently wrote, albeit in a different context, “Leftist attacks are designed to demonise, destroy and silence … Conservatives have been often demonised and, given liberal suspicion toward that side of the political spectrum, many liberals have believed whatever they’ve been told by often highly partisan and dishonest sources, failing to insist on fair play. Ridicule conservatives and moderate, traditional liberals will accept it without checking quotes, listening to responses, and demanding accuracy”.

In justification of their intolerance, bigotry and belligerence, the Left-liberals say, “We must draw a distinction between ‘hate speech’ and ‘free speech’.” Really? When does ‘free speech’ become ‘hate speech’? When it bruises bogus Left-liberal sensitivities? And, what if I were to insist, for good reason, that Arundhati Roy’s ‘free speech’ is ‘hate speech’ disguised in cockamamie jargon?

We could also ask whether those who have suddenly become vocal in protecting unrestricted 'free speech', which rests on the principle of absolute freedom to say anything, irrespective of consequences, had been equally vocal in protecting Varun Gandhi's right to say what he is alleged to have said (he says the tape was doctored; the issue is in court) during last summer's election campaign.

Arundhati Roy claims to be speaking for ‘justice’. There can be no justice till such time India is burdened with a flawed system based on the notion of laws being equal for all but privileges being different. The laws which she is accused of having violated shall never be applied to her because she belongs to the ‘intellectual elite’, the club of English-speaking professional dissenters who thrive on media publicity, who are feted by the commentariat, who are promoted by foreign media keen to portray India as a banana republic. Yet, the same laws are applied to others who are less privileged than Arundhati Roy and her gang of cheer leaders.

There is merit in the argument that nothing should be done to help Arundhati Roy achieve her goal of being seen as India’s Liu Xiaobo. There’s nothing she would love more than that and the adulation which would follow.

Yet, it rankles that she should listen to the grasshoppers sing while others serve time for offences far less serious. This is neither just nor fair. It’s definitely not my idea of justice.

What do you think?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Privilege of being Arundhati Roy

Since Arundhati Roy believes in a world of equals, why should she be more privileged than Chhatradhar Mahato?

If consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative, as was famously (and tad bitchily) declared by the flamboyant Irish writer Oscar Wilde, then Arundhati Roy qualifies as an author-activist-anarchist lacking in imagination. For she has been consistent in denouncing the Indian nation, questioning the quality of democracy in this country, casting aspersions on the judiciary, promoting secessionism and justifying the murderous campaign by Maoists to capture state power. Outraged as most people are by her passionate espousal of azadi for Kashmir at a convention in the heart of Lutyens’s Delhi last Thursday, they appear to have forgotten her previous assertion of the Kashmiris’ “right to secede” from the Union of India, not once or twice, but many times over. Similarly, this is not the first time that she has ridiculed the nation and the state or poured scorn over India’s democratic credentials which are universally acknowledged as among the best in the world.

“India needs azadi from Kashmir and Kashmir needs azadi from India,” she told an appreciative crowd of secessionists and their supporters, carted in from Aligarh Muslim University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi University and other such taxpayer-funded institutions of learning that double up as fast-breeders of Muslim separatists and Left extremists for whom nationalism is as offensive as their nationality. But this is not the first time Arundhati Roy has outraged sensitivities. Two years ago, on August 19, 2008, after attending a rally organised by separatists in Srinagar, she had excitedly told mediapersons eager to record her pearls of wisdom: “India needs azadi from Kashmir as much as Kashmir needs azadi from India.” She had then added with a flourish, as is by now her established style of exaggerating a point to sheer banality, “If no one is listening then it is because they don’t want to hear. Because this is a referendum… People don’t need anyone to represent them, they are representing themselves.”

Nor is this the first time that Arundhati Roy has questioned the quality of democracy in India; she has done so repeatedly. Invited for a book-reading session at New York’s Town Hall, she had stunned the gathering by suddenly launching a vitriolic attack on democracy in India. “The biggest PR myth of all times is that India is a democracy. In reality, it is not… There is no real democracy in India. Several States in India are on the verge of civil war… In Iraq, there are 1,50,000 military personnel, whereas in Kashmir Valley there are some 7,00,000,” she had said. Not surprisingly, she got a standing ovation. Who is to tell the Americans who applauded her that had India not been a democracy she would have been frog-marched to Tihar Jail immediately upon arriving at Indira Gandhi International Airport on her return?

On another occasion, while berating the police for arresting Maoists and charging them with murder, Arundhati Roy had lashed out at democracy in India for not tolerating terrorism in the name of Chairman Mao’s blood-stained ideology. “The concept of Indian democracy is the biggest publicity scam of this century. Holding elections every five years does not necessarily mean that our country enjoys democracy.” Her notion of democracy, presumably, is a system that allows unrestricted lawlessness so long as laws are being followed in the breach by her ilk — deracinated, English-speaking, cliché-mouthing ‘intellectuals’ who wax eloquent on the plight of the unwashed masses but recoil in horror at the very suggestion of being counted with those on whose behalf they claim to speak — and their rage boys who kill and maim, rape and loot, burn and destroy to satiate their perverse desire to see India suffer. It’s fashionable for them to intersperse their accented English with deliberately mispronounced words in Hindi. Hence Arundhati Roy’s description of India as “bhookhey-nangey Hindustan”; she, of course, has known neither dehumanising hunger nor the indignity suffered by a woman in tattered rags. India’s well-heeled radicals who own farm houses built on illegally ‘acquired’ tribal land are not expected to sully their manicured fingers with desi daal-roti.

The issue, therefore, is not about Arundhati Roy trying to shock Indians who are proud of their nation and nationality, Hindustanis who are perfectly at ease with Hindustan, a billion people who wouldn’t want to swap their democracy with a Talibani social order and political system which she obviously admires because she was inconsolable and in unrestrained grief after Mullah Omar and his thugs were chased out of Kabul. Only the naïve and the uninitiated would be offended by her crudity which is designed to infuriate the most tolerant and liberal among us who believe free speech is one of the defining features of democracy. The real issue is the discriminatory attitude of our state which fosters a system where the law, in theory, is the same for all but privileges, in practice, are different. Nothing else explains why Chhatradhar Mahato, a flashily dressed, dimwitted blabbermouth from the boondocks of Lalgarh in West Bengal, should be in jail for aiding and assisting Maoists in waging war on the state and helping propagate their destructive ideology, charged under the amended Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, while Arundhati Roy, a sophisticated self-publicist and articulate propagandist of every conceivable anti-national ‘cause’, should remain untouched by the proverbial long arm of the law.

The UAPA says “secession of a part of the territory of India from the Union includes the assertion of any claim to determine whether such part will remain a part of the territory of India”. The offences listed under this law include any assertion or statement “which is intended, or supports any claim, to bring about, on any ground whatsoever, the cession of a part of the territory of India or the secession of a part of the territory of India from the Union, or which incites any individual or group of individuals to bring about such cession or secession”. Prima facie Arundhati Roy is guilty of these offences when she endorses the separatists call for azadi, incites Kashmiris to break away from India, and urges impressionable young men and women to get “involved in this cause which is their future”.

There’s more. Section 18 of the amended UAPA lays down that “Whoever conspires or attempts to commit, or advocates, abets, advises or incites knowingly facilitates the commission of, a terrorist act or any act preparatory to the commission of a terrorist act, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than five years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.” Section 18B says, “Whoever recruits or causes to be recruited any person or persons for commission of a terrorist act shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than five years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

If the law of the land were truly applicable to all, then Arundhati Roy would have been in jail by now. Or, if we were to put it another way, had India’s democracy been perfect and not flawed, she would have been denied the presumed right to undermine the Indian state in so brazen a manner. Ironically, what she so crudely berates also affords her the freedom to abuse the very system of which she is a privileged beneficiary. The elite that is India’s bane would be incomplete without Arundhati Roy.

[This appeared as my Sunday column Coffee Break in The Pioneer on October 24, 2010.]

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Secede from 'bhookhey-nangey Hindustan', Arundhati Roy tells Kashmiris

Delhi Police protects secessionists at anti-India 'convention'

It was a stunning display of defiance right under the nose of the Government of India and under the protection of Delhi Police – defiance of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act which has been amended to bring under its purview not only those who indulge in secessionist and anti-national activities that amount to waging war on the state but also those who propagate secessionism and assist anti-national elements in waging war on the state. And this happened right under the nose of the Government of India, a short distance from North Block where the Ministry of Home Affairs is situated. The Indian state was pitilessly ridiculed and mocked at, those waging war on the state were openly asked to step up their campaign, and terrorism was glorified under the protection of Delhi Police.

On Thursday afternoon, a group of separatists, Maobadis and their sympathisers and publicists gathered at the Little Theatre Group auditorium on Copernicus Marg in the heart of Lutyens’s Delhi, ostensibly for a convention whose theme was ‘Azadi – The Only Way’. It was organised by the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners, a front organisation of the Maobadis.

The ‘convention’ was moderated by SAR Geelani, a key accused in the Parliament House attack case who escaped the gallows due to poor prosecution, prompting the judge to comment that it’s a pity he did not pay for his crime although it’s clear he committed it. SAR Geelani, ironically, teaches at Zakir Hussein College in Delhi; he lives in comfort at the expense of taxpayers.

The only voices of protest against the undiluted abuse and scorn that was poured on India were those of Kashmiri Pandits who repeatedly raised pro-India slogans and waved the Tricolour. After a while, SAR Geelani ‘directed’ (I use the word after due deliberation) the policemen on duty to throw out the pro-India members of the audience. The police obliged, dragging the Pandits and pushing them out of the hall.

The following are excerpts from what was said by two key participants:

Arundhati Roy: “Kashmir should get azadi from bhookhey-nangey Hindustan… India needs azadi from Kashmir and Kashmir from India. It is a good debate that has started. We must deepen this conversation and I am happy that young people are getting involved for this cause which is their future. The Indian Government is a hollow superpower and I disassociate from it… Earlier we used to talk about holding our high and now we prostrate ourselves before the US… Kashmiris have to decide whether they want to be with or get separated from bhookhey-nangey Hindustan where more than 830 million people live on only Rs 20 per day… In the early-1990s India opened two gates – one for the Babri Masjid and the other for the economy… We ushered in two kinds of totalitarianism: Hindu totalitarianism and the other economic totalitarianism... I am also aware of the stories about Kashmiri Pandits. I must tell you that Panun Kashmir is a false group…”

Syed Ali Shah Geelani: I urge Kashmiris to boycott interlocutors and reject the eight-point agenda of India for defusing the crisis in the Valley. The people of Kashmir are not against dialogue, but the talks should be on the core issue of azadi and Pakistan should also be involved in the discussions… The dialogue should not be bilateral. India, Pakistan and representatives of people of Jammu & Kashmir should sit together… They must take into account sacrifices made by Kashmiris during the last 63 years. Indian Government has to accept our five-point agenda, only then will we initiate talks with interlocutors. Otherwise, I ask Kashmiris to boycott them… We demand Indian security forces should be withdrawn from Jammu & Kashmir under UN supervision; political prisoners should be released; cases should be registered against the killers of 111 innocent people killed during the last four months… We want the right to self-determination… Today it is said that interlocutors will come and meet a host of people in the State for one year to understand what people want. This is a fraud. It is an attempt to delay everything hoping that poeple will forget… Kashmir is not an internal dispute but an international issue…

SAR Geelani added a clarification: “Kashmir does not only mean the Kashmir Valley but the entire Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh, Muzzafarabad, Baltistan and Mirpur...”

It could be argued that the principle of free speech, which is one of the pillars of democracy, allows individuals to spew venom at the state. But when free speech transmogrifies into open call for secession, should the state remain an idle spectator?

A last point. If Chhatradhar Mahato of PCPA can be held under UAPA for providing assistance to Maobadis and propagating their cause, then why should the same law not be applicable when it comes to Arundhati Roy? Because she speaks and writes in English, is a Booker winner and is feted by foreign organisations?

I have discussed this point in detail in an earlier blog entry: If there's no democracy in India, why can't she move to Swat Valley?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Games over, punish those who looted India

The knives are out in Congress

Within days of the Commonwealth Games getting over, the Prime Minister’s Office ordered a full-fledged inquiry into the ‘conduct’ of the sporting event which has cost the country’s taxpayers anything between Rs 70,000 crore and Rs 1,00,000 crore. The official estimate of Rs 27,000 crore is misleading since it does not take into account ‘miscellaneous’ expenditure: For instance, perfectly good pavements were torn up and relaid, and relaid yet again; plants that cost Rs 50 at nurseries in upmarket areas are believed to have been purchased at Rs 1,000 each; and, money meant for Dalit welfare has been diverted for building flyovers. Examples abound of the effort that has gone into making Delhi shine. The inquiry ordered by the PMO will be conducted by a committee headed by former CVC VK Shungloo, an officer known for his impeccable integrity.

With the CAG, the CVC, the CBI, the ED and now the PMO gunning for those who looted the nation in the name of the Commonwealth Games and used ‘national pride’ as a cloak to cover their misdeeds, the knives are out. Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has pointed a not-so-dainty finger at Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi, suggesting that he is to blame for the loot.

Mr Kalmadi has not wasted time in hitting back. He has pointed out that Ms Dikshit was in charge of all construction-related work and her budget was a whopping Rs 16,000 crore while his was a measly Rs 1,600 crore. It is indisputable that much of the loot happened under Ms Dikshit’s watch. The other agency involved in the preparations for the Games was the Union Urban Development Ministry. It has a lot to answer for, too.

The Congress, alarmed by the prospects of a free-for-all, has promptly issued gag orders. That has not prevented Mr Kalmadi, who, as photographs published in Mail Today point out, has a new swagger to his walk while Ms Dikshit looks distinctly worried, from reiterating his charges and asserting that the Delhi Chief Minister can’t escape responsibility.

Meanwhile, the CAG and the CVC have reopened investigations into projects undertaken by the Delhi Government. The CBI has taken files from the OC office into its custody. The ED has launched proceedings against the OC for inexplicably inflated payments. The Income Tax Department has raided the premises of firms that were given contracts for infrastructure-related work. Among the offices that were raided on Tuesday are those of Sudhansu Mittal, known for his proximity to certain senior BJP leaders, at least one of them a member of Delhi4.

BJP president Nitin Gadkari has called for a JPC inquiry. Although a joint parliamentary committee weighed heavily in favour of the Congress is unlikely to do more than a cover-up job (recall the JPC’s report on the Bofors scandal), it’s an idea worth pursuing. At least a lot of details will become public and those who have had their snouts in the trough will be outed.

In mid-August Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had promised that those guilty of wrongdoing would be handed out “severe and exemplary punishment”. The nation expects him to keep his promise.

India deserves far better than a tacky closing ceremony that reminded me of Sports Minister MS Gill telling mediapersons not to worry about the poor and tarred preparations, assuring them the Games would be like a “big fat Punjabi wedding”.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

When Hindus abandon Hindus under attack...

Humiliated and fearful of the organised fury of the Muslim mob, Hindus don't celebrate Durga Puja this year in Deganga.

(Photo shows desecrated Kali Mandir in Deganga)

There was a time, not that many decades ago, when Hindu grief in one part of the country would not go unnoticed in its other parts. And so it was that Hindus across north and central India, as it existed before the demise of British colonial rule a year later, observed a ‘black’ Diwali in the autumn of 1946 to commiserate with their co-religionists of Noakhali in Bengal. The infamous Noakhali riots, which erupted on October 10 even before the last corpse had been removed from the bustees of Calcutta which had burned for days following Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s call for ‘Direct Action’ on August 16, witnessed what Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was to later describe as a call to Hindus to leave or perish in the “flames of fanaticism”. If Direct Action Day led to the ‘Great Calcutta Killing’, the “organised fury of the Muslim mob” — as an enraged member of the Bengal Legislative Assembly rudely but pithily put it — was unsparing in Noakhali. Hindu homes were set on fire, Hindu women were raped and girls abducted, Hindu men were murdered. It was this unrestrained butchery and the Hindu grief in its wake that moved a million Hindu hearts in central and north India and the diyas remained unlit that Diwali.

Six-and-a-half decades later, Hindus, it would seem, are no longer moved by the plight of Hindus. The pseudo-secularism aggressively peddled by political parties of all shades — even the BJP has begun to subscribe to the bunkum made fashionable by the Left-liberal intelligentsia in the hope of ridding itself of its ‘communal’ (read Hindu) tag — and the divisive politics of caste identity have made Hindus inure to the plight and sorrow of fellow Hindus. Nothing else explains the indifference of Hindus towards their hapless co-religionists in Deganga who, after suffering the “organised fury of the Muslim mob”, led by Trinamool Congress MP Haji Nurul Islam, have been virtually abandoned by both community and state to their fate. Starting September 6, Haji Nurul Islam and his thugs, who met with resistance when they tried to demolish the main Durga Mandap that has existed for long, ran riot in Deganga block of West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district, a short distance from Calcutta. Hindu homes were ransacked, Hindu shops were set on fire, Hindu temples were desecrated. All this happened while the district administration and the police twiddled their thumbs. In West Bengal, the Marxists are loath to take on the mullahs; for the Trinamool Congress, the mullahs are powerful allies in Ms Mamata Banerjee’s quest for power at any price.

Humiliated and simmering with rage, abandoned and forsaken by their own in West Bengal and elsewhere, the grieving Hindus of Deganga decided not to celebrate Durga Puja, the most important festival in the Bengali Hindu calendar, this year. The Durga Mandaps in Deganga wore a deserted look, the joyous sound of dhaak, the traditional drum, was not heard, and an overwhelming sense of mourning prevailed. Fear played spoil sport, too: If the September riots were any indication, Muslim belligerence was not to be taken lightly. Meanwhile, in a demonstration of crude triumphalism, Haji Nurul Islam and his goons, with the full support and blessings of the Trinamool Congress, have built and inaugurated a new mosque right in the middle of Deganga market. The high-volume and high-pitched azaan is more a taunt to the Hindus than a call to prayers for the faithful.

The ghetto now rules Deganga. The Hindus, reduced to an awful minority by Muslim ‘settlers’ who entered West Bengal illegally and settled in Deganga as ‘citizens’ after being provided with ration cards by the local committee of the CPI(M) that facilitated the inclusion of their names in the voters list, can only grieve over their persecution today. Ironically, the Hindus voted en bloc for the Left, as did the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants-turned-Indian citizens. Then the demography changed radically; the pampered minority became the oppressive majority. That coincided with the waning of the Left Front and the waxing of the Trinamool Congress which, mindful of numbers, chose Muslims over Hindus in Deganga and strengthened its hold by patronising the likes of Haji Nurul Islam. When Ms Mamata Banerjee went around ‘inaugurating’ Durga Puja at various pandals in Hindu majority constituencies of Kolkata this year, she did not spare a thought for the Hindus of Deganga; she need not have because their votes do not matter. That’s the power of demographic change, forced and natural.

Nor does the Left Front, especially the CPI(M), care about the Hindus of Deganga. The Marxists believe survival depends not on alienating the mullahs but pandering to them. Hence the recently announced communal quota; hence, too, the West Bengal Government shamelessly looking the other way as students of a tax-payer funded Islamic ‘university’ — really an over-glorified madarsa — in Kolkata force their women teachers to wear the burqa on campus. Then there is the media which has blacked out the plight of Hindus in Deganga, striking an ideological posture with which we are all too familiar. But it is not Left-liberalism that has kept Deganga out of the columns of newspapers and prime time bulletins of 24x7 news channels: It is the fear of incurring the wrath of both Ms Mamata Banerjee and her Marxist foes. The tragedy that has befallen the Hindus of Deganga is similar to the stuff that once made Ripley’s ‘Believe It or Not’ a popular inclusion in Sunday papers.

Postscript: I have received the following e-mail from Hindu Samhati, the only organisation which has been trying to draw the attention of media and authorities to the fear that reigns in Deganga, admittedly without any success so far:

“Minor Hindu girl abducted by Muslim youth in Deganga in broad daylight on October 1.

Victim — Sangita Mandal; age 17 years, four months. Class 12 student. Daughter of Sukumar Mandal. Address: Village Purba Changdana, PS Deganga.

Kidnapper — Naharul Islam; age 22. Son of Abdul Rahim. Address: Village Doharia.

Sangita was abducted in a Maruti Omni van at Ambika Nagar in front of Polytechnic College.”

In a similar case of abduction and forced nikah when the mother of the minor girl appealed for justice to a division bench of Calcutta High Court earlier this year, the honourable judges of secular India’s secular justice system had cited sharia’h to legitimise the ‘marriage’, insisting that the age of the girl was inconsequential. We live in depressing times.

[This appears as my Sunday column Coffee Break in The Pioneer on October 17, 2010.]

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Ram ki Nagri, once again

But Ayodhya judgement at best a partial closure

During a recent television debate on ‘Saffron Terror’ (the coinage is an oxymoron, but such details don’t bother the ‘secular’ intelligentsia of this wondrous land of ours) I found myself seated next to Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen president and MP from Hyderabad Asaduddin Owaisi. Within minutes I was convinced that Mr Owaisi, dressed in an achkan and his heart bleeding profusely for suspected terrorists, lacked both manners and grace. He would interrupt everybody, insisting he had the right to have his say -- without, of course, conceding that right to others. Half way through the show, he suddenly turned towards me and smugly asked, “Will you accept the court’s verdict on Babri Masjid?” I refused to answer him, and for good reason. Later, after the show was over, I asked him, “Will you accept the verdict?” His answer was spontaneous, “Yes, we will.” And then added slyly, “But that’s not the issue. Will you accept it?” I headed for the studio exit.

Mr Owaisi’s question was not as innocuous as it may have seemed to others. For nearly three months a story had been doing the rounds in Delhi, the sum and substance of which was that the much-anticipated judgement in the Ayodhya case would be a two-one majority verdict in favour of the Muslims, upholding the Sunni Waqf Board’s claim to the disputed 2.7 acre land where the Babri Masjid stood till it was demolished by enraged Hindus on December 6, 1992, to reclaim Ram Janmabhoomi and rid India of one of its many monuments glorifying invaders who remorselessly laid the lives of kafirs to waste and destroyed their places of worship with vengeance.

Those who believed this story pointed to tell-tale signs: The pattern of deployment of security forces; the choice of date for the verdict (it was originally scheduled for September 24, a Friday); and the cockiness of Muslim organisations not known for holding the secular judiciary of India in high esteem and their repeated assertion that they would abide by the judgement. Mr Owaisi had obviously heard and believed the story. When I expressed my doubts about its veracity to a fellow columnist, he sneeringly replied, “You are living in denial.” Days before the judgement, questioning the wisdom of those who did not want it to be delayed any further, he tweeted that the “verdict will leave lotuswallahs disappointed”.

South Delhi’s commentariat is adept at the game of Chinese whispers, but it is also divorced from reality, preferring fiction over fact. The verdict of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court -- really three separate judgements with the judges concurring on certain key issues -- bore no resemblance to the inspired ‘leak’. The judges agreed on three important issues: Muslims do not have exclusive claim to the site held sacred by Hindus; the ground where the central dome of the Babri Masjid stood belongs to Ram Lalla as has been argued for centuries by Hindus who believe it is Ram Janmabhoomi; and, a temple existed at the spot that was selected by Mir Baqi to build a mosque to celebrate Babur’s victorious military campaign in the region. On the third point, two of the three judges also agreed that the temple was desecrated and destroyed to build the mosque; one of them held this to be un-Islamic, a point validated by theology.

It’s politically correct to say there are no winners and losers following the Ayodhya verdict. But we all know that’s not true. Why else would Mr Owaisi, whose party was last in the news for opposing ‘Hyderabad Liberation Day’ celebrations on September 17 because “many Muslims (razakars) were killed” when the people rose in revolt in 1948 against the Nizam for refusing to join the Union of India, be incandescent with rage? The same man who, having willed himself into believing the cockamamie story that two of the three judges would rule in favour of the Muslims, told me he would accept the High Court’s verdict, is now indulging in what comes easily to him and his ilk: Intemperate, provocative language. “We are not satisfied with the judgement. The evidence presented by Muslims to the court was strong… It seems that it has not been given due consideration,” he told one newspaper. To another he said, “There is anger building up among the Muslim community over the verdict but, god willing, it may not translate into street violence.” Notice how he is leaving the option of mobs taking to the streets wide open. Mr Owaisi is not alone; he has Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav of “ek parinda bhi paar nahi kar sakta” fame, to keep him company.

At the same show I was interrupted by a leading light of south Delhi’s commentariat when I made bold to suggest that little purpose will be served if we keep on going back to history. “What history? Tell us,” he tauntingly said and, along with Mr Owaisi, broke into raucous laughter. I could have given the example of the vandalism that had occurred in Ayodhya in 1528, and elsewhere in India since then: Varanasi, Mathura, Ajmer, Delhi -- the list is endless. But I chose not to bite Mukul Kesavan’s bait, choosing, instead, to place my faith in the wisdom and fair play of our secular justice system. That faith stands vindicated today. At one level, the Ayodhya judgement liberates Ram Janmabhoomi and serves to address, albeit partially, latent and lingering Hindu disquiet. At another level, it is a deeply personal victory for me and some other writers, all of them close friends and professional associates, who chose not to sway with the wave and told the truth as it was rather than join the crowd of intellectually bankrupt dhimmis who unfortunately hold positions of power and authority in free, secular India. They are the real losers and look more pathetic than ever before.

Let me conclude by quoting Nirad C Chaudhuri, a writer whom I greatly admire for speaking his mind freely and without caring a hoot about how many toes he tread upon: “Muslims do not have the slightest right to complain about the desecration of one mosque in Ayodhya. From 1000 AD every temple from Kathiawar to Bihar, from the Himalayas to the Vindhyas has been sacked and ruined. Not one temple was left standing all over northern India. They escaped destruction only where Muslim power did not gain access to them for reasons such as dense forests. Otherwise, it was a continuous spell of vandalism. No nation with any self-respect will forgive this. What happened in Ayodhya would not have happened had the Muslims acknowledged this historical argument even once.”

Well-meaning people believe the Allahabad High Court’s judgement will help bring the Ayodhya dispute to a closure. But the Ayodhya dispute is a manifestation of the historical faultlines that run deep through our society. Till such time we admit the existence of the faultlines and accept the causative factors, there can be no real closure. Settling a title suit is not quite the same as addressing what Niradbabu described as the “historical argument” of India’s imperfect past which makes our future tense. Sadly, though not unexpectedly, there is little or no reason to believe that we are anywhere near a real closure in the absence of any meaningful and sincere acknowledgement of the “continuous spell of vandalism” as symbolised by the monument to honour Babur which stood in Ram ki Nagri till December 6, 1992, and whose reconstruction is still being sought.