Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Talk about feeling good!

At its most literal, sadbhavna translates to ‘good feelings’. Now who wouldn’t want Indian citizens to have good feelings for each other, across the tragic, screaming borders of caste, language, religion, sex? And if a democratically-elected representative wants to fast for a few days in the hope of fostering fine fellow-feeling etcetera amongst the electorate, there is nothing wrong with that.

But the thing is, good feelings can only come to those who are feeling good about themselves and the people they must deal with. I can believe, for instance, that Narendra Modi is feeling good. Good things have happened to him. He’s been CM for nearly a decade now. Everybody tells him that he’s good at administration (which might not be the same as being a good person or citizen or leader, but that’s another story).

However, there are other Indian citizens who are not feeling so good.

For instance, the Basumatarys from Kokrajhar in Assam. There are allegations that the deaf-mute wife was gang-raped by SSB (Sashastra Seema Bal) soldiers in front of her husband. That was earlier this month. A police complaint was filed, but I haven’t heard of any fresh reports on whether the armed forces are doing the needful: making arrests, trying the accused, punishing them. The victim — and the village, and in fact, all of Assam — wants to see some kind of justice getting served. But until that happens, it would be stupid to expect them to feel ‘sadbhavna’ vis a vis the SSB.

Also, for instance, the people of Karcha village in Chhattisgarh. They can’t be feeling too good after the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl... State home minister Nankiram Kanwar of the BJP shamed himself by asking why the dead child was out at night in the first place (...) It is hard to feel good about such ministers. Indian women will find it hard to forgive the BJP for not making him step down for this shameful attempt to protect alleged rapist-murderers by blaming dead children.

Read full piece here

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hail and Farewell

Since her murder, there have been allegations that evidence was tampered with. There is talk of exhuming Shehla’s body. There is talk of powerful BJP leaders being involved. Senior BJP leaders have also not said anything about the case, nor asked BJP-affiliated politicians to step down until their names are cleared in connection with Shehla Masood’s murder. They are instead taking out a ‘rath yatra’ to stop corruption.

One of the last few things Shehla did was fast — in solidarity with Anna Hazare. But despite his ‘victory’, when faced with the murder of a real person doing real things to combat corruption in her own state, Team Anna has been woefully quiet. Hazare himself is busy making statements about how Sonia Gandhi should be like Indira Gandhi. Perhaps he slept through the Emergency. In any case, nobody is fasting to bring the government of Madhya Pradesh to its knees, forcing it to investigate all instances of corruption that Shehla had pointed towards. Nobody is gheraoing the homes of BJP MLAs.

And I’m thinking, how quickly they fade — our little stars of truth that come tearing through our thick smog of violence and corruption. How quickly they fall, burn out, disappear into the dark night. She has been dead for less than a month but Shehla Masood is already fading from public discourse. The media hasn’t taken her investigations into corruption any further.

Some of her activist friends are trying to keep her work alive. Shehla had been working with a group of students to create a sort of ‘RTI leaks’ — a web resource for all information collected through any RTI application filed across India. It sounds like a very good idea and I hope the website lives and grows, for all our sakes.

Which reminds me of another poem where the lines went something like: They died that we might live — Hail and farewell! — to those who, nobly striving, nobly fell…like kings they died.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Self-loathing and the Middle class

I patiently waited in line. Five minutes, then ten, then fifteen. Finally one auto trundled up, and was promptly hijacked by people right at the back of the queue. We all sighed, shuffled, mumbled. The same thing happened again, then again.

Finally, one gent stopped a freshly hijacked auto by planting himself firmly in front of it. He asked the hijackers to vacate the auto and wait in queue like everyone else. The hijackers were a family including an elderly gent, and some women. The gent began to plead that they should be allowed to go first because, “We have ladies with us.”

This argument didn’t go down well. Angry little murmurs went up: “What, we’re not ladies?” and “We also have ladies with us.”

The old gent began to shout. His next argument was: “If I die right now, who’s responsible?” In other words, he was possibly hypertensive, and if we made him get off, he might suffer a heart attack.

He shouted louder at the protesting man who was trying to enforce the queue system. This younger gent then trained his guns upon the auto driver. “Make them get off.”

The auto driver, keenly aware of his precarious position, stared into the night, silent. The elderly gent, sensing victory, asked the driver to drive away. The younger gent, sensing defeat, shouted some more at the driver, began to abuse him. He said, “It’s really the (insert strong language) driver’s fault. Why do these guys allow it?”

I’m glad the driver drove away then. I sensed the younger gent was tempted to hit him. And there was a likelihood that others would join in.

And then I remembered why I mistrust the middle class.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Truth and reconciliation in the context of corruption

Last week a writer-friend, Vivek Tandon, called me to discuss what should actually be done to combat corruption. He thinks we need a ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ commission — something along the lines of what they did in South Africa after they finally got rid of apartheid. In the corruption context, this would mean people being given a chance to confess their corrupt acts and redeem themselves.
They would return their ill-begotten money (whatever remained of it), perhaps pay fines, but would not be jailed for corruption-related crimes dating back to… Well, the state would fix a cut-off date, and no further acts of corruption would be tolerated.
I’m not yet sure about the workability of such a commission... Still, I like the idea of Truth and Reconciliation. It assumes that corrupt people are human; that they want to return the morsels they have wrongfully stolen from the mouths of malnourished kids; that millions of bribe-takers lie awake at night, longing to confess but afraid of being sent to jail. Can’t fault the idea for a lack of optimism.
Corruption is often unforgiveable, especially in poor nations, but Tandon argues that corruption is an intrinsic part of the culture we grew up with. We are taught to use ‘contacts’ to ‘get work done’. That’s how we get confirmed train tickets, or driving license we don’t deserve, or construction contracts, or environmental clearances. We are taught that only idiots pay taxes. Just like millions of us spit, spit, spit everywhere, undeterred by the law or exhortations in the name of public health. People do it not just because they get away with it but also because they have always done it, and seen others do it.
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