Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Need to recognise different narratives of partition - The way forward

As I think of writing about partition, I pause to think if it is still a relevant issue? Partition of India and Pakistan happened 67 years ago and was succeeded by many other major clashes so should I instead talk about the wars? Is partition an outdated issue or does it still hold any relevance?
Talking of relevance, another debate that came to my mind was whether it is fine to keep talking about it? Should we not just move on?
I will begin by answering the second question first. Prof. Krishna Kumar in his book “Battle for Peace” (2007) has argued and I agree with him that while a lot has been written on partition, we have not been encouraged to engage with it. We have, especially on the Indian side, continued to see and develop it further without challenging the basic proposition. There is now an emphasis on oral history. There is also the angle of class that has been used to explore partition. It is argued that it was the Hindu dominating class v/s the Muslims dominated. While the Indian scholars have debated upon the inevitability of the partition, there hasn’t been any significant attempt to imagine India if partition had not happened. This should not be surprising because the narrative of partition is tied up with the foundation of two countries. While partition is a moment of “crisis” for one, it is a moment of “liberation” for another. This discourages attempts to see partition from the side of the “other”. This discourages any critical dialogue on the narrative of the partition. But it is relevant a discussion? Should we not just forget and move on?
The fact is we can’t. Before forgetting about the partition, we need to engage in a dialogue with it. We need to understand the complexities of the past because it shapes our present perspectives. 67 years after, India and Pakistan still seems to live in the past. 67 years after, we still compare ourselves. On both sides, there are still people who debate if the decision to part ways was right or not. On the Pakistan side, the vision of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah is constantly reminded. As Prof. Krishna Kumar in his book “Pride and Prejudice” (2001) had shown that the idea of Pakistan shared by Quaid-e-Azam during the formative period of Pakistan is still invoked. This is not true for the Indian side. But on the Indian side, many people still remember partition and the existence of Pakistan but in a more negative light. Many people have the misconception that Pakistan came out of India whereas on partition, undivided colonial India had been partition into two nations – India and Pakistan and imagine a “father-son” relationship which is used in a derogatory sense. There are still many people who would point at any negative news from Pakistan and would say that Pakistan has failed and it will soon “merge” with India.
67 years after, we still carry a stagnant picture of each other. Because the partition happened on communal lines, on both sides, people imagine a conservative or hypocrite other. So the talk of partition is still not irrelevant. It is very much alive. The narrative of partition continues to shape our perceptions about each other.
When I say narrative, I mean the “official” narrative. As stated above, both sides have constructed an opposing narrative. The Indian side “officially” sees partition as a sad event. It views it as a significant break in the ‘secular’ fabric of the country. It views it largely as the conspiracy of the British. This is the dominant and official view on partition in India. On the “Pakistan” side, the partition is far from being a moment of “crisis”. It was the partition that led to the birth of Pakistan as a separate country. It is seen as “liberation”. Liberation from whom? As the official narrative of partition says, liberation from both British and Hindu dominance. The book “Pride and Prejudice” (2001) gives the content of history textbooks in both India and Pakistan. Both countries have given different interpretations for same historical events. Both have chosen to emphasise or neglect certain events. Both have used history for their project of nation-building. While India used it to save itself from fragmenting any further, Pakistan used it for legitimizing its decision of separation and for sovereignty. All countries use history for its own national ends and India and Pakistan are no exception.
It is important at this stage to clear that my intention is not to challenge any narrative. It is infact to state that different perspectives exist and we must recognize that. It is to say that none of the narratives can be entirely refuted. One cannot really argue that whose interpretation of history was correct. It cannot be argued that there was no Hindu dominance. It cannot be argued that before the British, there were no problems between Hindus and Muslims. The British may have encouraged the division but they cannot be alone blamed for it. Similarly, the complete difference and opposition theory cannot be accepted either. There cannot be such a simplistic division of population, lived experiences into Hindu and Muslim. The religious identity cannot be assumed to be primary. We need to view these interpretations more critically. History as a discipline has many schools of thought. It accommodates several interpretations and we must respect that.
Besides these two official narratives, we have the narrative of partition that many people on both sides did not and still do not accept the decision of partition. Many did not want to migrate and wanted to live in the place that they had been living for since years. There are many who did not want to migrate but had to or were forced to. We must also respect this. This narrative seems to be more dominant and “accepted” in India. The reason was stated above.
The reason why we need to recognize the different perspectives on partition is because it seems to be the way forward for peace. We need to engage with the narrative of partition, understand it, view it critically and accept that the past was very complex. We need to engage with the past before moving on because the past shapes our present perceptions. We cannot see partition simply as either a sad and disruptive moment in the secular fabric of Indian society or as a moment of liberation accepted by all. On the Indian side, we find it is fine to refute partition without thinking that refuting partition refutes the very existence of a country. This pertains more to ignorance on the Indian side because of the existing official narrative. Similarly, on the Pakistan side, there is a need to realize that while partition is a reality, it was not accepted by all at that time for different reasons. This does not refute the existence of Pakistan. We need to accept that different perspectives exist. We need to engage more critically with our past. We cannot see partition from one view and talk of peace. The past was complex and we need to recognize that for a simpler future.
Kumar, Krishna. 2001. Prejudice and Pride. India: Penguin Books.
Kumar, Krishna. 2007. Battle for Peace. New Delhi: Penguin Books.
This article was published on Countercurrents, South Asia Monitor and Eurasia Review 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sexual violence by army is a reality and cannot be justified

In 2004, Thangjam Manorama, was brutally raped and murdered by Assam Rifles. She was arrested from her house at around 3 am on the allegation of being a “militant”. Her body was found a day later. There were bullet shots in her vagina and semen all over her skirt. To protest against this brutual rape and killing, a group of about 50 women had staged a nude protest in front of the Kangla fort. They had raised slogans like “The Indian Army rape us”. This protest had forced the Manipur Government to act. The Manipur Government had ordered an inquiry and submitted a report but the Guwahati High Court had rejected it saying that the Manipur Government does not have the authority. After continuous pressure, there were some developments in the case but they have not led to any result. Till now, justice has not been granted. This case was not an exception. Such incidents have happened before and continue to happen in areas where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act(AFSPA) has been imposed. Many believe this is because AFSPA provides the armed forces with legal impunity.
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) rules over eight states in India – North East India (except Sikkim) and the state of Jammu & Kashmir. In the name of “upholding law and order”, the law gives the right to armed forces to arrest without a warrant, shoot to kill any person on mere suspicion. The law protects the army persons with legal impunity. The officers found guilty can be punished only after the central government issues a sanction. This is one of the main reasons why today AFSPA has become a symbol of army arbitrariness and cruelty in AFSPA areas. AFSPA has resulted in fake encounters, rapes, torture, extra-judicial killings and disappearances.
Much has been written about how the army is misusing its power not only to disregard the civilians but also the government and judiciary. We have had instances where the armed forces have refused to co-operate even when the judiciary has taken up such cases and have been accused of destroying or manipulating evidence. Even in the case of Manorama, it is alleged that the guilty officers had shot her several times in the vagina to destroy evidence. The state government too has acknowledged cruelty of the army in some instances. State government officials have in some cases in Manipur paid compensation to the victims of AFSPA. Former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram had acknowledged that he felt “ashamed” of the Kunan Poshpora incident of Kashmir wherein atleast 50 women were raped by the soldiers of Rajputana Rifles in a single night. But the army alone cannot be blamed. In many cases, the central government has also refused to sanction the right to punish the guilty officers.
There is a sense of hypocrisy, when India talks about human rights, and criticizes China for the atrocities committed in Tibet, and gives shelter to political refugees. While we are proud to call ourselves a democracy, the truth is that the army is very powerful. Also, while AFSPA, an anti-human law, does permit killing, the law does not permit sexual violence. How can the sexual violence be justified at all? This should not come under legal impunity. This was also one of the recommendations of the Justice Verma committee that was appointed in December 2012 to review laws for sexual crimes. The committee had recognized sexual violence by armed forces in AFSPA areas and had recommended that the cases of sexual violence be brought under ordinary criminal law.
The army being held responsible in cases of sexual violence will, in no way, “degrade” or “disrespect” the army as the army officials would like us to believe. We must respect our army. They do sacrifice their lives for us, whatever the motivation may be. It does not mean all their acts are right or should be justified. These incidents are real, they are not fabrications and the guilty army personnel should be punished. The cases of sexual violence have not only been reported from AFSPA states. There have been several reported cases of army men raping civilians in non-AFSPA states. While this does not mean that all army persons misuse their power, some definitely do. The glorification of army and army persons serves like impunity even in non-AFSPA states. Army personnel should never feel insulted or degraded because of measures to ensure transparency and accountability under certain circumstances. But the army cannot and should not have criminals in uniform, they cannot be above the law. This is a democracy and the army being a part of the state must respect it. 
This article was published in The News Minute

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Contributing To A Culture Of Mutual Peace And Understanding : Zindagi Channel

The Zee network has recently launched a new channel by the name of Zindagi. With the theme of “Vasudeva Kutumbkam” or “The whole world is my family”, Zindagi channel promises to bring in stories from around the world. The channel theme and the tag line “Jodey Dilon ko” or “to connect hearts” clearly indicates that this channel has a clear mission. It is trying to use the medium of television to create a culture of peace. The channel was launched on 23rd June and is initially bringing in Pakistani content. The channel has selected some famous serials from Pakistan and is now broadcasting them in India. In this article, I will attempt to analyse the mission of this channel in the context of Indo-Pak relations.
The Indo-Pak relations doesn’t need an introduction. Even those who may not belong to either of the countries may know about the fluctuating relations that the two countries have. The Indo-Pak relations is characterized by love and hatred, peace and war. An important element of the Indo-Pak relations is that of “curiosity”. Both sides are ever curious about each other. Even if one may hate Pakistan, one will still be curious about it and any mention of Pakistan will definitely evoke an interest. This is another interesting bond that India and Pakistan shares and this is because both countries have very limited means of communication or knowing each other. There are severe visa issues. Other means of communication are also bound with several restrictions. Because of this, people in both countries do not know each other and have painted an opposing picture of the other. Both have constructed stereotypes for each other. But as I had previously said, even with hatred and suspicion, they remain ever curious and interested to know about the other.
Now what happened when Zindagi channel was launched? Indian channels and serials have been broadcasted both legally and illegally in Pakistan. The Pakistan Electric Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has from time to time tried to enforce strict restrictions on the telecast of Indian serials because of several reasons including the petitions by local channel producers but they have met with little success. According to a Times of India report dated 19 November 2013, a no. of channels in Pakistan were fined for airing too much of “Indian content”. The people of Pakistan have also resisted these restrictions by shifting to DTH cable system or by watching them online. In contrast to this, India has had few such opportunities to access Pakistani channels and serials.
So while people in Pakistan had a sense of what India was like, what Indians think, people in India were largely clueless. And so with this initiative of Zee, with this opportunity to know the “other”, their enthusiasm seems to have crossed the boundaries. There was a huge enthusiasm from people of India for this new channel. This can be inferred from the response that can be seen on social networking sites and ofcourse, the TRPs. A Times of India report dated 1 July 2014 had argued that not only the channel has received good response from the public but even bollywood and television celebrities are welcoming the new channel.
Saying so, the first step towards the mission of the channel seems to have been completed. It has established itself to become the platform through which people will know about the other side of the border. Now comes the second and more important step. What is the content?
Zindagi channel is currently running 4 shows – Zindagi Gulzar Hain, Aunn Zara, Kitni Girhain Baaki Hain and Kaash Main Teri Beti Na Hoti. All the four serials given an insight into the everyday life and struggles that people in Pakistan go through. It presents the problems existing there. It is presenting the extreme rich and poor divide, the problem of polygamy and the problems faced by women. Why did the channel pick on these shows? What is the relevance?
By picking up these shows, the channel is doing something more important. By presenting the everyday struggles, the everyday stories of pain, the Zindagi channel is able to show that we, Indians and Pakistanis, are not only similar in our language, culture, values but also in our problems. These problems are relatable. We are also struggling with them here. There is an extreme level of rich and poor divide in our country as well. The problems of marriage are also as relevant here. There is a serial by the name of “Kitni Girhain Baaki Hai”. The stories in this serial are as relevant to Indian audience. The stories presented in this serial pertain to the struggle of women, the changing society and human nature.
This representation of struggle has another element to it. It breaks the image of Pakistan that has been painted by our biased media. Pakistan has been painted as a Muslim conservative country. It is being seen as riddled with severe problems which people in Pakistan have accepted and glorified. This image of Pakistan is quite problematic. While Pakistan has its problems, the people of Pakistan have not accepted it and are struggling to change it. There does exist a counter culture in Pakistan that is trying to oppose the forces of religious fundamentalism and intolerance. These serials are also representing this counter culture. It is breaking several myths about Pakistan. While polygamy is prevalent in Pakistan, there are voices against it. People are struggling against it. It is being popularly rejected. Same goes for women’s rights. In all the four serials, women are not being shown as passive and submissive.
Thus, this representation of women in sarees will also have another important connect. It will break the stereotype that muslims are “conservative”. One of the most common stereotypes about muslims is that muslim women would always wear a burqa or atleast a hijab. It must be noted that while considering burqa and hijab as a sign of “conservatism” is a debatable issue but popularly it is seen as “conservative”. This stereotype is also very apparent in the representation of muslims in Indian electronic media. The representation of women in sarees breaks this popularly-held stereotype. It also again shows that how Indians and Pakistanis share a similar culture even in terms of their dress.
The representation of the counter voices and elements of cultural similarities like the saree are extremely important details that are breaking the popularly held views about Pakistan and Pakistanis. In one of our aman chaupal sessions in which we tell Indian students about Pakistan, when asked about the official language of Pakistan, several students were confident that it is Arabic. With this and some other views expressed, it was clear that how they had stereotyped Pakistan to be a “conservative” country with one religion and one language (Arabic). They had a completely opposing picture of Pakistan. For them, Pakistan was completely different from India and there were no similarities. This was also not just an experience of one school but in all the other schools that we have done sessions, students had more or less the same views. Their views reflect the popular conceptions.
Thus, I feel that Zindagi Channel is a great and an important initiative that has been taken by the Zee network. By breaking these stereotypes and emphasizing on similarities in terms of language, culture and challenges that people of India and Pakistan share, it will become an important contribution to creating a culture of mutual peace and understanding among the people of India and Pakistan.
This article was published at Countercurrents

Saturday, June 21, 2014

When "East" met "West" at Pondicherry

It was last year when I enrolled for a peace and conflict course being offered by a norweigian think tank in Pondicherry. Though I had quit the 3-months long course way too early, I managed to have some interesting experiences/encounters with my fellow coursemates who, except for 4 South Asians, were all from European countries.

As a person hailing from social science background, Edward Said's orientalism made me both apprehensive and interested to meet people from European countries. We all know about orientalism more popularly the East-West dichotomy. East and West are seen as complete opposites of each other. While east is definitely glorified and exoticised, it is also seen as backward and inferior to west. Even though this East-West was a colonial conception but even in this post-colonial world, it continues to exist. Our minds are still "colonised" and "colonising". People in western and former colonising countries equate India with yoga, culture, festivals and a "third world country" that comes with many underlying stereotypes. This entire conception or stereotyping of India is very problematic.

I must admit that I did think that I will have a hard time dealing with this stereotyping. I also had my own reservations about people from western countries because of the working of UN and the bias towards the third world and south asian countries. How we are reduced to being seen as helpless nations that require the patronage of western countries. How we were and are still seen as largely incapable of ruling ourselves and ofcourse, the drones.

I went with my own set of stereotypes and biases to Pondicherry, a former french colony. So what sort of "colonial" encounter did I have?

It was a two-way learning, a two-way process of breaking stereotypes. There were some important lessons that I learnt. While they were certainly the "expected" with people asking stereotypical questions, thinking that Indians are a homogenised population in terms of language, religion, customs and getting over-excited about anything "Indian", there were also those who did see things from our view, who did try to understand India and Indians. I remember asking someone from Denmark about the welfare state that exists in her country. She told me several things and then I asked her to share her experience about India. She said that it is the complete opposite. While scandinavian countries are about "order", here it is about "disorder". Before I could respond, another person from her country interrupted and said, "You know, that's our problem. Too much "order"".

In other instances, whenever I would ask them about India, they would say that they were amazed by diversity. I would then ask them about their country and they would not always put forth a very glamorised picture. They did share the existing problems in their country. Aa for diversity, it turned out that they were not simply fascinated by it. They admired it and moaned that they wish their country was also more tolerant of diversity.

I also met people who opposed the drones, who did find a problem with the way UN was working, who were aware of the bias that exists. I admit that I was deeply moved by it. That time I felt guilty of having stereotyped all of them.

As about those who had a stereotypical thinking, it was great to burst their stereotypes. I was happy to tell someone from Norway that we also celebrate Christmas. I shared with her my own childhood memories of christmas and she was visibly amazed but had also become very happy. She was happy to know about the multiculturalism that exists in India.

As for me, I had a lot to learn from them. I got to learn about welfare states of the scandinavian countries which our state must learn from. I got to learn their perspective on several issues like migration, multiculturalism, culture which is very important as in order to understand an issue, I feel that we must see it from different perspectives. Another important thing that  definitely learnt was that things are never black and white. While i detested the tendency to stereotype India, I had also stereotyped them. I learnt that not just the west but Europe itself is very diverse.

But most importantly, a lesson for me was that they are not different from us. They have a different lifestyle, dfferent values, cultural ethics but there are many things that goes beyond all these boundaries of difference. There are many values that appeal to all of us as human beings. We may be different but we are all the same. We all have our struggles. We may be different but cultures do not differ in terms of desire for peace and culture. They do not differ in terms of respect to humanity.

I am thankful that I did get this opportunity to interact, to know about what they think. Miscommunication and lack of communication is what breeds hatred and suspicion. So I was happy that I was given a chance to know them and to burst my myths, to change my thinking. The root of all problems is lack of communication. Communication binds people, it creates the platform for understanding. In this regard, I am very happy with the launch of Zindagi Channel that will be bring stories from Pakistan. I believe that miscommunication sustains the Indo-Pak conflict. People in both countries are under the misconception that the other hates them but this is not true. They have portrayed a negative and opposing picture of the "other" and there are less opportunities to challenge this conception. I hope that Zindagi channel will be able to become this opportunity and will be able to bridge this gap of miscommunication. It will be able to show the side of Pakistan that most Indians are yet to see. It will be able to make us realise that we people are just the same. Not just our language, our religion, our culture and values but even out thinking is just the same. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

This too is Pakistan

It is quite common for most of 'us', the non-Pakistanis and those who have known Pakistan mainly through our national or international media, to stereotype Pakistan with religious fundamentalists, the  Taliban, intolerance to religious minorities, men with moustache and topis, all women in burqa etc etc. Being an Indian, as my national media would tell me, I would also expect all Pakistanis to have venom against India and to be solely responsible for all military clashes. I would be taught to expect "Pakistan" to be of a certain type. So the Indian as well as International media would try its best to give us answers for "What is Pakistan". I, through this article, would try to tell "what is also Pakistan".

The basic conception about Pakistan pertains to the official religion i.e. Islam. Pakistan today is seen as being controlled by religious fanatics, the mullahs and their violent extreme - the Taliban. We hear about Malala, the ban on youtube, the persecution of religious minorities. There is no denial to this dismal reality. Yes, there is a lot of religious influence in several spheres. But what is equally important is the constant struggle by people of Pakistan against them. There is a section of the population who do not believe in them, who have rejected and struggle against their authority. Like in India and globally, people of Pakistan do not feel that their political and religious heads represent them. There are many civil society organisations and individuals who have constantly raised their voice and have protested against them. The virtual world - Facebook and Twitter have emerged as the counter-platforms. There are several pages on Facebook that criticize these acts and challenge the claim of representation. There are several alternatives to youtube. There are counter-voices and they represent Pakistan.

Protest after Peshawar church blast. Source: Express Tribune
The essence of Pakistan is not religious conservatism, it is religious tolerance. The white portion in the national flag of Pakistan represents the religious minorities. In the universities, there is also quota for religious minorities. The Constitution of Pakistan grants them the freedom to profess any religion. It is true that religious minorities have been subjected to atrocities but that is not the entire story. That is not Pakistan. The persecution has been condemned by people of Pakistan as well. They also protest against the persecutions and that is Pakistan. Recently, a virtual anti-terrorism campaign has emerged in Pakistan by the name of “Awaz Uthe gi”. It condemns the discrimination and violence meted out to the minorities.

Sikhs at Punj Sahib, Pakistan. Source: Express Tribune
It is widely-believed among Indians that Pakistan and people of Pakistan have a lot of venom for India and Indians. All they cite are the wars, the border clashes and acts of terrorism. It is not entirely their fault because this is all that they have been shown. It is always hatred that is cited. What is not cited are the instances of goodwill, peace and friendship that have been initiated by Pakistan. What they don't know or don't remember is that the school in which the present PM, Manmohan Singh, had studied had been renamed after him. What they don't know so widely that there has been a long-standing struggle for a "Bhagat Singh chowk" in Pakistan. They don't know that there is a samadhi for Sir Ganga Ram in Lahore. They are unaware that Pakistan allows hundreds of sikh pilgrims to Nankana Sahib every year. What they don't know is that the soldiers on wagah border exchange sweets on Holi, Diwali and Eid. What they don't remember is that Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had sent a bouquet for Sonia Gandhi when she was ill.

Exchanging sweets at Wagah Border
As for gender, it has been quite easy to talk about women empowerment in an Islamic country. The parameters to judge it have mostly confined to the existence of burqa and hijab. While we must recognise that we fail to acknowledge the agency of those women who do not find it discriminating and may, on the other hand, find it liberating as it does not objectify their body, but even if that has to be taken, we must know that not all women in Pakistan do wear the burqa or hijab. There have been voices against it. Contrary to stereotypes, women in Pakistan also appear significantly in education, politics, army and other spheres. We must also acknowledge that we have failed to see the progress that Pakistan has been doing in terms of giving rights to LGBTQ community.

We have failed to see Pakistan. We have failed to see how it struggles like any other country. There is a lot more to be explored. Yes, there are problems with Pakistan but so do we. The people of Pakistan are struggling and challenging the existing evils like us. You may ask, why does it concern us? It concerns us because there is a war industry out there that operates on these weapons of miscommunication. There are people out there who will paint Pakistan as an evil and themselves as saints and 'saviours'. 

This article was published on The Alternative

Saturday, May 17, 2014

India, Pakistan share a culture, language - and the same evils

"Pakistan ke log bhi ladai se utni hi nafrat karte hai jitni ki hum" (Pakistanis condemn war as much as we do)
"Pakistan mein bhi kuch log dharm ke naam pe ladai karte hai par ye ger-kanooni hai" (In Pakistan also, some people fight in the name of religion but this is illegal)
These were the thoughts expressed by Indian students when asked to write something about Pakistan, at the end of an Aman chaupal session, an initiative of an India-Pakistan friendship platform named Aaghaz-e-Dosti. As part of the initiative students are told about the other side of the border which their biased and political media will never tell. Though generally the students are not told but are encouraged to ask questions from someone who is from or has been to the other side of the border. In this session, students in a Delhi school were told about Pakistan - its geography, politics, culture and people. They were told about Pakistan's rich diversity in terms of language, religion and culture, a reality contrary to the popular conception of Pakistan in India. In order to address the misconceptions that students had about Pakistan, they were also told about religious minorities, religious fundamentalism in Pakistan. They were told that like in India, there are problems in Pakistan. Like in India, there are people who use religion for their own interests, and that the people of Pakistan condemn violence like we do.

The students who were hardly 15 years of age understood this and wrote this when they were asked to write a message for Indo-Pak peace. They could have written something more common and moderate, but this is what they wrote; they shared their solidarity with the people of Pakistan. But it surprises me that people much older and much 'wiser' have not understood this. People in both countries use the other country as their measuring rod. Their view about themselves is shaped by the condition in the other country. One of the most famous examples would be the discussion on religious minorities. Any talk on religious minorities in India would mean a comparison with treatment of religious minorities in Pakistan. And the same goes in Pakistan. This tendency of comparison holds true for many issues. But the fact is that in all this comparison politics, we must know who is suffering. We must know that this comparison is against progress, against humanity. If the other country is treating a certain community badly, it doesn't give us the legitimacy to treat ours horribly too.
This comparison politics has other vices. Recently, I read a news item in India about the unfair treatment meted out to Hindus in Pakistan forcing their migration to India. However, the news report was silent on their struggle within India, their demands from the Government of India. Similarly, a news item in Pakistan stated that Muslims and Dalits are not allowed education in India. It was a clear exaggeration. While it had happened only in a particular case the heading seemed to suggest that all Muslims and Dalits in India are denied education. This was a clear exaggeration and miscommunication but this is what frames the popular mindset. I must state that here too, the students turned out to be smarter than these older and "wiser" people as they themselves said that media exaggerates for the sake of TRPs. But the older and "wiser" people do not understand this. They fail to see the politics within. They get trapped in this half knowledge and miscommunication which is then used by religious fundamentalists for their own motives. The religious fundamentalists will use this hatred for legitimizing their own evil. This happens in Pakistan, just like in India. This is also used by the state to divert attention from more important concerns in both countries. 

We need to realise that both India and Pakistan are diverse countries. We cannot form a homogeneous picture. It is diverse not only in terms of culture, religion but also in terms of people's thoughts and opinions. True, that in some parts of India or in Pakistan, something wrong and condemnable may be happening; but that may not represent the view of the entire population. There are contrasting voices in both countries. There is religious fundamentalism, sectarianism, conservatism in both countries. Social, political and economic problems exist in both countries. But more importantly, we need to realise that this comparison politics will not lead us anywhere. If the feeling of humanity calls Indians talk about the rights for Pakistani Hindus, then the same humanity should also call them to care about the religious minorities in their own country. Humanity should also call them to reach out to those who are suffering irrespective of their religion. We need to be a bit more bothered about our own domestic politics before intervening into what is happening on the other side. We need to be a bit more wiser to understand this conspiracy that is being played out. 

Both India and Pakistan are developing countries. They are both lagging behind. Both have failed to give basic rights to their citizens. Both countries have communal politics. Both have marginalised several sections of the society. Both are also diverse countries. Let's spare each other for our own good. The students realised it and its time that the older and "wiser" do as well.

This article was published on South Asia Monitor

Monday, May 12, 2014

We all should be out and proud

The Supreme Court of India has recently recognised transgenders to be the third gender. They have been recognised as full citizens of the country who will be entitled to equal rights. This decision has been warmly welcomed by not just people of LGBTQ community but also by many amongst the heterosexual community. It is being seen as the realisation of a true and just democracy. It is being hailed as a progressive move.

However, I think that there is much more that the heterosexuals should derive out of this commendable judgement and the larger LGBTQ movement. This decision and the struggle for the equal rights should not just be seen and labelled as 'liberal' or 'progressive' by the heterosexuals. I always feel that the LGBTQ movement is a liberating experience not just for the people of non-heteronormative or diverse sexualities but for all genders. 

I consider it important to state that I claim no expertise in this matter. My understanding over the issue is based on basic scholarly literature and the little experience that I have had. In this article, I attempt to share the lessons that I derive from the LGBTQ movement. What it means to me.

The most basic lesson that I derive from the movement is in its very nature. The LGBTQ movement, as the name suggests, is not a homogeneous movement. There are many sub-groups within and they vary greatly in terms of their issues. The LGBTQ community represents and celebrates the diversity that nature has shown in everything including sexuality. Contrary to popular misconception, diverse forms of sexuality are natural. There are several forms of evidence available including the fact that diverse sexualities is present both in plant and animal kingdom. Theorists like Foucault have discussed how heteronormatity has come in a certain historical time in Europe. There are others who have shown how this was disseminated in different societies through colonialism. Other factors like religion, over-emphasis on fertility and several other social factors led to non-heteronormative sexualities being regarded as a deviant. The LGBTQ movement challenges this and brings to light the truth about the extent of diversity that nature has shown. The nature loves diversity in every aspect including sexuality. Heteorsexualty may appear more prominent but it is just one form of the diverse sexualities that are present in the nature. 

The LGBTQ movement is a movement of liberation for all. The LGBTQ movement not only challenges the heteronormative society but also the patriarchal society. This is because it challenges the notion of gender as determinants of behaviour. It challenges the gender-based roles and stereotypes. It challenges that sex and gender are natural. It proves that they are social constructions. While we are born with a particular genital, our behaviour, preferences has been constructed by the society. The society makes a man or a woman. It is the society that expects a person with a vagina to take care of the household. The LGBTQ movement disrupts all binary and opposing notions. It does so in several ways.

A homosexual person often challenges the stereotypes conforming to their gender. However, it must be noted that not all homosexuals will do so. A transgender female may be born with a penis but does not feel or consider herself to be a man. Then there is also the case of inter-sex people. They clearly transcend the binary notion of gender.

Another fundamental essence of the LGBTQ movement is the emphasis on individual agency. Who gets the right to decide whether a person is a man or a woman? They would say that the person himself/herself. I find it empowering and extend it beyond this. I see it as this beautiful idea of “I am what I think I am”. It talks about the self breaking the constructed barriers. It celebrates the individual that challenges the biased and discriminatory notions, norms constructed by the society. It gives importance to the individual’s perspective. It celebrates the voice against injustice and inequality.

To conclude, I think that the LGBTQ movement should be seen as the liberation of us all. It is a movement tied not just to the issue of sexuality. It is waging battles far beyond. It exposes the society and its norms that we take as “primordial” and “natural” as a construct. It encourages us to come out and speak against the injustice. It encourages us to be ourselves, to respect ourselves.

This article was published on Countercurrents 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Open Letter to Chief Justice of Allahabad regarding the norm of women covering their head in Bara Imambara

Open Letter to Chief Justice of Allahabad regarding the norm of women covering their head in Bara Imambara

Kind Attn: Justice Dhananjay Yashwant Chandrachud

Respected Sir,

This is with reference to the news report in the Hindu dated 11th March 2014( )  stating that now women visiting the bara Imambara, a famous tourist site in Lucknow (U.P.), will have to cover their heads. This rule suggested by the shia community has been accepted by the Imambara administration and this rule has become applicable now. The shia community suggested this regulation on religious grounds.

However, we think that this is not acceptable. Our concerns are following:
·         First of all, Bara Imambara, in its entirety, cannot be regarded as a religious site. The mosque next to it can be regarded as a religious site but not the labrynith (bhulbhulayah) and the bowli. Imambara is a historical site and so a heritage of the country not of any particular religious community. So if this is accepted then this rule may also become applicable to most of the other monuments. 

·      Secondly, while the mosque bars non-muslims from entering , the imambara permits and is visited by people irrespective of their religious faith. So such a rule cannot be accepted. 

·     Third, even for muslim women, we think that hijab and head covering should be a matter of choice. It should not be imposed, women should be given the right to decide for themselves. They are equal to men and have the right to form their own decisions. Such a rule should be seen as a violation of their rights. Infact, some progressive women rights’ groups have already registered their opposition against it.

We believe that visiting of monuments and sites protected by ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) cannot be made 'private' on such basis with the 'autocratic' rules by religious groups. We also believe that equality on gender basis should come first and such rules cannot be made compulsory. We believe that it is against the fundamental right of practicing religion itself as even non hindus and atheists will be forced to enter a tourist place as per the rules of a particular group on religious basis. Moreover, rights of women cannot be ignored and their choice and desire cannot be compromised on such basis. 

In view of this, we hereby through this letter, condemn the decision of Imambara administration and hereby appeal to you to kindly intervene in this matter and roll-back this decision to safeguard the rights of citizens. 

Thanking You

Mission Bhartiyam 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

When Cricket 'threatens' The 'Integrity' Of A Country

"Where the head is held high and mind is without fear”, wrote Noble Prize Winner and Renowned Poet Rabindranath Tagore.
Rabindranath Tagore doesn't need an introduction for any Indian. The nation respects him and his thoughts. However, today it turns out that the nation that derives or rather claims to derive inspiration from his thoughts, have reduced this thought to mere words.
The reference is to the action of the State Government of Uttar Pradesh and Subharti University (a private university in meerut) taken against the kashmiri students who cheered for the Pakistani Cricket Team. Both the government and the university have maligned the concept of fearless minds. They have instilled fear in the minds of the citizens who shall now think before praising any country for any reason.
For the state government regarded the act of praising Pakistani cricket team and cheering upon its victory to be so dangerous that it booked the students with the charge of sedition. Similarly, the university had expelled these students. It had also not taken into account the fact that other students in their protest against the act of kashmiri students had broken windows and vandalised their hostel rooms. For it, their act was much more dangerous than their right to life that was also under threat. Isn’t that a problem?
This incident has several other aspects to it.
A very basic thing that comes to one's mind is that it is clear violation of freedom of expression. They were merely expressing their choice and preference. How can a government tell us whom we should cheer for? Will the state now govern our choices and preferences? It is yet another blot on the world's largest 'democracy'.
Also constitutionally speaking, supporting Pakistan or any country with whom we have a diplomatic relation and which India has duly recognized as a sovereign state, in no way constitute any crime unless and until it coupled with hatred or motive to destruct and a will against the Elected Indian Government or Constitution.
While it cannot be assumed that kashmiri students were cheering for Pakistani cricket team as a way to show their resistance against Indian oppression. However, even if they were, I think India should care more much about the oppression than the expression of resistance against it. They should be bothered more about why they are protesting.
Another point is that even if it was an expression of resistance can this method be seen as seditious? Cricket is afterall a game, just that and if not then may be we should start solving our international issues through it.
If we accept this today, let's be prepared for more such acts. Today, they do it with Kashmir and so we are silent but tomorrow, the state will come up with more definitions of sedition.
If merely speaking or cheering in favor of another country or condemning one's own country counts to sedition, then there have been innumerable situation wherein the Indian government itself should to be charged under sedition. Violating human rights of kashmiris, applying force on peaceful demonstrations of people and suppressing vioces should come under sedition because it degrades the fundamental essence of democracy that are the citizens.
The action taken by the university clearly shows how we are generating hatred, intolerance and radicalism through our knowledge-systems. Our knowledge systems should emphasise on the values of equality, justice and humanity. They should not become an apparatus of the oppressive state.
Needless to say, this incident has also raised questions on the country in the international sphere. The country or the so-called democracy is being condemned for this shocking and unacceptable reaction.
As we noted, this incident raises several issues. It forces us to think that where are we heading to? 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Pakistani Hindu Refugees in India appeals for humanity

A group of Pakistani Hindu Refugees are sitting on a protest at Jantar Mantar. They had started the protest yesterday and it will go on till tomorrow. The protest is being organized by a group called Seemant Lok Sangthan – Universal Just Action Society that has been working for the rights of Pakistani Hindu Refugees for a long time. The protest is to demand rights for the Pakistani Hindu Refugees for their “survival, protection and development”.

Today I along with three other persons – V Arun Kumar, Ghazanfar Abbas and Seema Chandra went to the protest to know about their issues. We spoke to the president of Seemant Lok Sangathan. Hindu Singh Sodhi, the president, was himself a Pakistani Hindu migrant who had migrated in 1970s. He told us that because of the increasing religious fundamentalism and terrorism in Pakistan, religious minorities have been subjected to unspeakable atrocities. There are cases of forceful conversions, killings, abductions and rapes. None of the guilty have ever been prosecuted for the same. Because of this, Pakistani Hindus are migrating to India for refuge. He told us that in 1971, there was an exodus resulting in the migration of about 90,000 Hindus in India. Hindus are coming in large numbers.

But even here, there is no relief for them. The intelligence is always after them. Because of their nationality, they are unable to get jobs and their mobility is restricted. They are not being given any refugee rights. He told us that the Indian Government does not have policies to deal with them and because of this, they are facing hardships. They are struggling for basic amenities. A majority of the migrants are farmers and daily wage workers. They are not getting help from any source. UNHCR has not even declared them as refugees. They are demanding amendments in the citizenship act, laws for their protection and help. The statement with their demands can be read at

There is a need to rise above these barriers of religion, caste and nationality and see each other as human beings. In this scenario, not just the Pakistan Government but even the Indian Government needs to be criticised for their actions which are opposed to humanity. They need to be criticized not because this is the case of Pakistani Hindus but of human beings. 

We feel that we must extend our support to them not because of their nationality or religion but on humanitarian grounds. The people who talk about Indo-Pak peace do often negate this tragic fact thinking that this will create contempt for Pakistan. There is also a tendency that when one talks about the plight of Pakistani Hindus, the counter is to talk about the treatment meted out to religious minorities in India. While there is no denial to the dismal reality of India, this tendency needs to go because this is not helping anyone. Infact, it is only doing much more damage. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Caste rules, whether you see it or not

Power is not a difficult or an unusual concept to be understood. Power as domination, is generally understood to be recognizable. It is a lived experience for all of us, whether in the form of exercising it or experiencing it. However, it is argued that while power is a lived experience, it cannot always be seen. It is not always recognisable as there are some forms of power which we internalise and normalise, making it a social fact, which let alone resist, we cannot even recognise.

Sadly, this seems to be the case for caste in modern urban India.  A generally-held view among young, upper-caste urbanites is that caste is a problem of rural India. While a general survey would suffice to prove my point, the voices against caste-based reservations definitely shows this. Going by the slogans and opinions of the anti-caste-based reservation, it seems that most are unaware of the very logic behind reservation. They see it as a privilege being extended to some because they were discriminated centuries back. They see the reservation as "discriminating" the general category. It is viewed as "anti-progressive". Infact, reservation has almost become a joke for many. Recently, Aam Aadmi party had proposed reservation for Delhi students in Delhi University. Reservation is being seen as a privilege, rather than as an opportunity for the deprived. It is sad to see these views but the truth is that, this is the popular view of most of the upper-class urbanites.

It is sad but not shocking that the rationale behind caste-based reservation is not understood because this again comes from the dominating section who had not only dominated but is still dominating. The caste-based domination is not an evil of yesterday, it is going on. It is the reality of today that still there is a discrimination against students of backward castes in schools. The report of a mainstream and popular Newspaper, Times of India, dated 25 June 2009 talked about the discrimination faced by backward caste students across India. In the report titled "Dalit kids cannot use school loo but have to clean them", it is stated how not only the students but the teachers also indulge in caste-based discrimination. They are made to sit on the floor, punished unnecessarily, forced to clean the classrooms, the toilets, and are refrained from attending several school programmes. Similarly The Hindu, had released its report titled "In Perali village, Dalits can't cycle in upper caste areas" in this very century. These are not the discriminations of the past, but the realities of today. Upper-caste men raping dalit women is almost a norm in villages even today.

As about caste being a problem only of the rural India, these upper-caste, educated urbanites should ask the caste of the people who come to collect garbage from their house or clean the mess on the roads, in their schools/colleges and workplaces. According to The report 'Upper castes pose problem for sanitation in BMC' published in The Hindu dated 27 July 2009,  while the upper-caste would be appointed, they would not clean roads and drains because they felt that it the work of the lower-castes. The class of sweepers is still largely dominated by the people of underprivileged or backward castes. This is not all. It is wrong to think that discrimination happens only in villages. According to the report titled "Suicide by Dalit students in 4 years" published in The Hindu dated 5 September 2011, 18 students in some premiere educational institutions had committed suicide in four years because of traumatic experience of caste-based discrimination. One of the victims, a Dalit student in AIIMS was taunted by both the faculty and class mates:

“How could Chamars become doctors? You have come here only because of quota, you cannot go ahead”

This was not a one of its kind report. There are hundreds of such reports and thousands of unreported stories. How many of the 'progressive, educated' upper-caste youths do even realise that their abuses are also caste-based? The abusive words "bhangi", "chamar", "chuda" are names of some underprivileged castes. Caste is not just limited to the rural. It is very much present in the urban areas. Another way to 'see' it is in the institution of marriage. Even today, inter-caste marriages are a problem. Contrary to the view, honor killing and the 'milder' forms of abuse and discrimination are not limited to rural areas.

It has been argued that class, not caste, should be given reservation. Do the urban, educated, upper-caste youth realise that a large section of the poor comprise of the under-privileged or backward castes? Caste is not such a social identity. It is tied to political and economic identity as well. They need opportunities to come up. Reservation based on caste will ensure them economic liberation and may also lead to their social liberation. When they will get opportunities to prove themselves, to break this myth that they are good only for 'menial' tasks, they will be able to provoke a change in thinking.

I would like to conclude by arguing that caste is still a reality of the today, whether the urban, upper-caste people can 'see' it or not. The reason why the urban, upper-caste youth cannot see it is not because it does not exist, but because they are not affected by it. Ask a Dalit, what caste is. As about this constant debate of going 'beyond caste', as Social Scientist Surinder Jodka had rightly pointed out, the beyond framework seems to be a conspiracy of the upper-caste. We cannot go beyond the caste because caste still exists and determines the life of a large section of population". 

This article was published on Countercurrents

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My New Year Hope...

13 years have passed...but they have been unbothered. 13 years of her sacrifice...her heroic struggle, it must come to an end. Her demands be heard. Justice be done. Salute to the Eche Irom...the Iron Lady.