Friday, February 19, 2010
The Halal Question
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, February 19, 2010
Let us not confuse matters. France’s problem with the veil is different from its problems with restaurants serving only halal meat. The veil is being banned on grounds of not being part of the mainstream and carving a separate niche. The argument against the restaurants is discrimination against the majority.
Quick, a Belgium-based chain, has gained popularity in France. Burgers are stuffed with smoked beef instead of pork. The mayor of Roubaix, a small town, said, “It’s very good that a restaurant like Quick offers halal (meat), but why get rid of what there is everywhere else? The fact that they do not offer other choices to non-Muslim clients is not acceptable.”
Has the mayor not heard about speciality restaurants? Would he have the same problem with sushi bars, vegetarian eateries, stores that sell organic foods, bakeries with only brown bread and sweets that are sugarless or eggless? Has it not become the norm to find new ways to market cuisine by emphasising that the place has only a certain kind of menu or even ambience? What about the Heart Attack Grill in Arizona built like a hospital that has cardiac arrest inducing burgers and provides wheelchairs to its clients as an after-meal incentive? Or the one in Japan that has toilet seats? What about picking a fresh piscine from a tank and open kitchens where you can watch the fish breathing its last just before it is brought to the table? We can take the argument even further – about places that offer only one kind of music, a limited wine list or are alcohol free.
Societies develop their own culinary culture that may be frowned upon by others, whether it is certain insects in the Far East or restaurants in Africa that serve game in what might be termed hunter style. How about a table with a hole where a monkey’s head has been cut off and the diners pick on bits of brain as it is cooked slowly? How about several parts of animals that are marketed as aphrodisiacs?
All these will be explained in terms that are politically correct or wonderfully chic. The problem with halal meat is that it is lawful according to the Quran only if the animal is bled to death and slaughtered in the name of Allah. No one protests as they have their probiotic meals in the name of bacteria or bothers to understand that several Indian restaurants that serve strictly vegetarian food first offer a bit to the gods.
These are cultural nuances and as long as you do not have to watch the process, and are assured of its goodness for your palate, there ought not to be any problem. Halal meat is not restricting others and it is not as if the French were waiting for this chain to open and are now disappointed. The motives are clear; no one is being cheated. You enter with the knowledge of what you will get.
Therefore, it is a bit surprising that the agriculture minister, Bruno Le Maire, is making it into an issue: “When they remove all the pork from a restaurant open to the public, I think they fall into communalism, which is against the principles and the spirit of the French republic.”
Communalism is when you force your thoughts on others. In my travels I have noticed that many countries in Europe do not understand the concept of vegetarianism. The troubles begin in the aircraft when “no meat” is understood to include fish. Should one accuse them of communalism?
The new French renaissance has a lot to do with the monetary aspect, too. It is a € 5.5 billion halal market catering to five million people, which is the largest Muslim population in all of Europe. A few years ago there was a halal version of Burger King, Beurger King Muslim (BKM) in France. It did not even attempt to look like an Arabic place. It serves an imitation of bacon made from halal turkey meat. This is rather surprising. Why would anyone who does not want anything to do with pig products wish to experiment with something like it? The only explanation is curiosity.
It is unlike some vegetarian restaurants that use soya to mimic meat and one restaurant in Hong Kong has specially created vegetables to look like chicken wings and lamb chops. Is this the grand idea of secularism?
Reports mention about how people drive from long distances just to get a taste of the sort of food they like but with the sanction that their faith permits. Besides the food, BKM also allows its female staff to wear the headscarf. What, then, would be the stance of France’s need to reclaim a national identity when it objects to the veil and yet wants its citizens to have access to a ‘restricted space’? Isn’t it a contradiction?
There are places where you go to experience exotica or the local flavour; it might include putting up with topless waitresses, having tea with yak milk or sitting on the floor. There are the subtle differences in the way cutlery is used or not used at all. I had once visited an institution in Mumbai and lunch was served as per old British traditions, but the meal was Indian. It was a sight to see my host roll his chapatti and use a knife and fork as he dipped it into the gravy as though it were sauce. We were alone in that dining hall, so even if he used his fingers to take bits of the chapatti and spooned the curry it would not have seemed odd. He would have felt perfectly in sync had he chosen to break bread with his hands, though, in a fancy restaurant.
However, amused as I was, I would not consider this as a loss of identity. He was just aping what he thought was modernity, while it was merely a western paradigm. Just as one would not see the West as one whole – the American hanging on to a Mac Whammy might seem a bit gauche to the Frenchman gently prodding quivering crab flesh with a fillet knife.
There are no standardised ways to eat and what to eat. It can be conditioning.
I do not eat pork. There are several other meats I do not eat. But, although I am not a practising Muslim, the reason I do not eat pork is considered a conservative option. The fact that I do not go looking for halal meat places should then make me a liberal. Combined, this may well damn me as a fence-sitter when all I am doing is exercising my choice to eat what I want without offending anyone.
Identity is larger than what you relish on your tongue or let slip off it.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Botulism and Babel
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, February 12, 2010
Jean-Baptiste Botul does not exist, but having been cited and sanctified by a real philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy, he has exposed the level of fictitiousness that exists beyond the imagination in the world of academia.
Before we unravel the several layers that constitute intellectual deceit, it is important to take a quick look at the controversy.
Frédéric Pages, a journalist, created Botul and his ‘work’ that often critiqued Immanuel Kant. This came in handy when Lévy wanted to emphasise his own position and used two pages from the writings of the fictitious philosopher. The intellectual community is having a good laugh. The question is: what are they laughing about? That Lévy did not have the good sense to run a search? Did he need a simulated theorist to rubbish Kant as “raving mad” and a “fake”? If that is so, then should one not examine why the journalist chose to do what he has done? His mock-up effort has been going on since 1999 – what prompted his fiction?
Lévy’s critics, even while damning him as a poseur, do not fail to refer to him as “France’s most dashing philosopher”, which is a rather superficial yardstick for philosophers. It is the celebrity craze that props up thinkers who can turn around and, as Lévy has done, say, “So I was caught, as were the critics who reviewed the book when it came out. The only thing left to say, with no hard feelings, is kudos to the artist!”
He is being magnanimous and including the whole intellectual community in his blunder. Rightly so, for the cult of the thinker is seriously flawed in contemporary times. “It’s the role of the philosopher to land blows,” according to Lévy.
What passes for original thought is essentially dependent on a bibliography not only of data but of ideas that have been sponged on. In the realm of philosophy, it becomes difficult to understand the fount from the fountain. The basis of judicious analysis is to understand available material and find one’s tangential niche, unless one is part of a fan club or a groupie.
Lévy’s fault is not quoting a fictional philosopher, but being cavalier about it.
The imagined aspect is redundant when ghost writing has become fairly commonplace.
A few years ago All Deliberate Speed, a book by Charles Ogletree, a Harvard Law School professor, had six paragraphs lifted from What “Brown v. Board of Education” Should Have Said, a book by Yale professor Jack Balkin, and he did not know he had plagiarised. Why? He had left the job to his assistants. The wrong assistant forgot to attribute it, or so he said, and it went straight to the publishers without him realising it.
He acknowledged his assistants but it was an Ogletree book. Often an academician claims to be helping out students; young people are indeed looking for such godfathers but what are they being taught? It is about being part of institutional cliques. It is an incestuous world where the hierarchy is based on who gets to the goal-post first. Not how. The number of guest lectures, the countries that send out invitations help in bolstering this pecking order. The academic junket junkies merely hold forth within the circumscribed area of what their sponsors lay out.
This case got some amount of exposure because big universities were involved. What must happen in smaller colleges? In the Lévy case, the most damning indictment was that he did not check on the internet. There is precious irony here. The fact that thorough philosophical discourse must include proper reading, absorbing, disputing of prevalent ways of thinking has now become something that is available within a few seconds.
If internet search engines are doing all the work, then why are huge sums of money spent on research that has absolutely no value except to glorify the teams, get their works published in journals and help create new celebrities? Most of the studies are only slightly smarter than spot polls. A small sample of people is used and treated no better than laboratory rats. Clearly, the motive is to prove a theory and there seems to be no room for individualism.
Besides, there is a disconnect with the outside world. The purpose of such knowledge is to disseminate information and not to be an exercise in vanity. While scientific breakthroughs in important areas are indeed valuable, what passes for science these days is quite often suspect or susceptible to vagaries of trends that are in turn chattels of commercial interests.
One of the reasons we still wish to respect the academic is that we believe there was no hurry to be feted. The image of the Saint of Scholarly Seeking toiling away among moth-eaten books in silent libraries smelling of old wood was a romantic notion. Today, not only do they wish to become known, but known better than the bloke sitting in the next cabin. Academics are often popular writers who were chartered accountants or some such thing and reinvented themselves, wrote fabulist tales about obscure aspects of their personal renaissance, were celebrated in the lists of bookstores along with cupcakes and immediately offered a Fellowship; if they are lucky in their veteran days, there might be a Chair named after them.
What makes them utterly charming is that after years of having done number-crunching they do not forget those roots and continue to nurse the market bubble. They have begun to use less heavy language, which would have been rather nice, except that they continue to look down on those who have such naturally accessible abilities.
Trivia is trumped up as appraisal. How many times must we have dreams of Madonna and Mona Lisa’s smile analysed or an ‘unusual’ assessment of Marilyn Monroe’s death?
The other worrying aspect is: Why would there be so many different versions and emphasis on how products affect us? From chocolates to wine to the scent from male armpits, we are inundated with conflicting information. Our health, sex lives and physical appeal become silent guinea pigs to this charade that is played out in campuses.
Again, these findings do not take cognisance of cultural, metabolic and even personal disparities. How provable are they outside of the study group? Are the findings adequate indicators to apply across societies?
What about thinkers and their ideas? Are thoughts verifiable? It would be fascinating to explore these areas but we’d end up with a fictional philosopher to make the real more potently real.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
The Curious Case of Dr Afia Siddiqui
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, February 6, 2010
The mosquito hovered over skin and with one little prick it had sucked out blood, infected an innocent person who might suffer from malaria. If the person is poor and lives in inhabitable surroundings, it could prove to be fatal. The insect is not accused of violence.
Had it been ‘Lady Al Qaeda’, she might have raised her hand and screamed, “Out, damned spot!”
Is Afia Siddiqui a Lady Macbeth metaphorical clone, a “psycho”, anti-Semitic as she is being accused of and which reveals the febrile mindset of those indicting her? Did she carry chemicals that would make bombs? Why did the judge often throw her out of the court accusing her of outbursts, which is a strange reason indeed?
She had fought back by saying, “Since I’ll never get a chance to speak…If you were in a secret prison, or your children were tortured…Give me a little credit, this is not a list of targets of New York. I was never planning to bomb it. You’re lying.”
There are clear divisions in this case and part of the reason is that she was an educated, articulate woman, a neuroscientist. The world cannot yet deal with this ‘type’. Incidentally, Dr Siddiqui has not been convicted for an act of terror but in the popular imagination even felony, if the victim is the lordly West, can pass muster as militancy. It is another matter that no tangible evidence has been provided for this too.
After the judgement she reportedly told her attorney, Elaine Sharp, to inform her supporters abroad of her fate and that she did not want any violence to ensue. What is violence? Support groups? Those who retaliate? The Establishment?
The malaria example might appear a facile metaphor for something that wreaks havoc and creates fissures in society. Truth is that violence is seen through a microscope instead of a telescope. In the laboratory the specimen sample is militancy and not martini. Martini by itself may remain shaken within the confines of a glass, but it stirs the sort of sophisticated idea of good versus evil where good is a given. There are no nuances, no dimensions. You meet the hero and just accept him. To enter into a debate would be travesty. He belongs to Her Majesty’s Secret Service and not the Hizbul Mujahideen or the Ku Klux Klan.
By pinning down one particular stream of fiendishness we completely ignore the more rampant issue of social violence – at the workplace, at home, as petty crime, as psychological aggression.
Religion and nationalism are the two most brutal forces. They do not give you a choice to understand the greys. They are intangible and, as in Sartre’s world, the incommunicable is the source of violence.
Every belief system has arisen due to some skirmishes. Amazingly, we use tribal warfare and mythology as benchmarks in a world that aims for détente. The penury of organised faith to sustain human civility is manifest when temples, mosques, churches are regularly desecrated – a term that takes the shine off violence and transforms it into something akin to a satanic act of sin. Stampedes at pilgrimage sites are further evidence of just this sort of pugnacity.
Using hostile opposites as an example, Leo Tolstoy said, “The churches are arrogance, violence, usurpation, rigidity, death; Christianity is humility, penitence, submissiveness, progress, life.”
The problem is arrogant display often gets wiped out by penitence. Cries of “Allah-u-Akbar” and “Jai Siya Ram” are the precursors of contemporary violence. Thieves and rapists do not shout out slogans.
A headcount of dead patriots glorifies the sense of nationhood that the wrapped-in-flag corpses had no premonition of. In their trail are thousands of cadavers that worked in those conquered countries, had names stamped on identity cards. That did them in. Their being certain people.
Certain people are not important. Their lives standing on footholds of local trains, losing limbs in factories, fighting for basic wages, fighting to enter places of worship, to marry someone from another caste, class, race, religion do not constitute brutality, even if they lose their lives in these battles. They are not burnished with the gold of nationalistic gunfire.
The American people are brainwashed into believing in a just fight. No explanation is given because it is about Being American, an America that can now show off god’s creation and liberty at the White House by installing a totem Harlem. It won’t pay heed to Malcolm X’s words: “If it is wrong to be violent defending black women and black children and black babies and black men, then it is wrong for America to draft us, and make us violent abroad in defense of her.”
Defence is rarely the goal of violence. It is an advertisement for oneself. What tells a militant apart from a James Bond? If we take away the so-called ideology of the former and the willingness to die for it, then both are comic-strip like characters that transmogrify into soap-opera heroes whose travails are ongoing as is their invincibility.
There is one crucial difference in the machismo: a lack of brotherhood. As a loner, Bond tempts the enemies instead of vanquishing them. It is a violence that seeks male bonding. He kills violence using violence.
The fanatically-driven sadist dies killing a lot of others with him. Both use ‘goodness’ as their calling card and although representative of specific places are rootless. Such emotional diaspora makes their aggression almost democratic and global in its sweep. Nothing is above them and everyone is below them.
The targets don’t get brownie points for making them happen. It’s a win-win situation. Therefore, by demonising violence we sanctify it. Why stone a devil that is within?
Monday, January 25, 2010
Survival, Sacrament and the Marketplace
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, January 25, 2010
“I survived by drinking Coca-Cola. I drank Coca-Cola every day, and I ate some little tiny things,” he said. Wismond Exantus’s tale of survival conveys a larger lesson about charity franchising. As someone who worked in the grocery store in Port-au-Prince, where he was found after 11 days, his recollection of Coca Cola as opposed to “little tiny things” indicates that the miracle his brother spoke about could have something to do partly with this beverage and the conglomerate idea it stands for.
There are other ideas. His rescue took place as mourners wept outside the shattered cathedral for the funeral of the bishop; his family could not go to the place to save him because of looters, so they approached the rescue team. The looters are home-grown vultures; the saviours are outsiders.
We’ve been through the Pat Robertson viewpoint. Unfortunately, outside of his limited evangelism exists a larger one that sponges on similar thoughts. It is a ready market for do-gooders who may not express their religious fervour in such black and white terms, but the glorification of being blessed works just as well.
“I am a person who has been blessed,” said Jeremy Johnson, a Utah-based millionaire. “To sit back and relax and send a little money or whatever, it just made me feel ungrateful.”
Ungrateful about what? He was not responsible for the earthquake or for the delay in supplies reaching. He bought helicopters to fly essentials. In Jimani, which he has made his headquarter just across the Haiti border, he has set up a tent. Reports describe him with reverence for managing a “bare-bones operation”, dressed in frayed jeans (is this mandatory uniform or designer empathy?) where he sweats it out with only a small refrigerator providing energy drinks.
Strangely enough, his how to be a millionaire story is rife with fraudulent practices, but this, we are told, has not interfered with his altruistic work. He had earlier “provided a home for boys pushed out of a Utah polygamist sect”. And now he is in Haiti where, according to the Utah governor, people rushed to the helicopters for food and it became “really dangerous”. Therefore, Jeremy is a hero because he not only saves people, but saves dangerous people and those who belong to sects that are not morally up to much.
It is not surprising that he is working with Maison des Enfants de Dieu — Children of the House of God — orphanage to send these children to adoptive families. He has already managed 21 visas and transported them to the United States.
Apparently, bureaucracy was not an issue, although it is for his aid effort where he sees boxes of food on the tarmac. “As a result I even stole. There is a lot left to be done,” he said. This is precious, considering that the local looters were considered selfish and almost vicious.
Johnson is not a celebrity, so his compassion is not entirely driven by charity tourism. It is more about personal gratification: “My life is going to change from this, there is no doubt.” He is already planning the next move and has his shopping list of people who need to be set right.
Haiti, having overthrown the imperial yoke, has to allow itself into a numbing social colonialism and aid slavery. Seen as a tribal society it will now be refereed and guided by the superior Red Crosses. A while ago, I read this delicious comment by model Naomi Campbell when she was asked why she chose to raise funds for the UK flood and not for Africa: “I do Third World. I have been doing Third World since 1994.” One wonders about the expiry date of such vanity of the conscience.
Thirty-seven per cent of Europe’s population was destroyed by the bubonic plaque; ancient cities have been buried by volcanic eruptions. We have had El Salvador, Mexico, Burma, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Indonesia — all victims of natural disasters, not to forget Hurricane Katrina and the fires in California.
These calamities have scientific reasons and imbuing them with fatalism makes a mockery of the spirit of enquiry that ought to look into the dangers manifest in our abuse of the environment. Such wimpy sentiments are merely geared to sneak out of political responsibility. Or sneak in political power through the backdoor.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Whose Euthanasia Is It, Anyway?
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, December 21 2009
She held my hand in a firm grip the night before she died. The room where she lay in coma was airy and it was home. The doctors had given up on my maternal grandmother, but we had not. I would sit by her bedside and talk to her or just read; I was told that voices registered. She probably knew when her time was up when she gripped my arm. Early next morning I started my monologue again, touching her wrinkled skin and looking into her beautiful grey uncomprehending eyes. In the need to convey my warmth I did not realise that her body was cold. She was dead. Was it selfish love that would not let her go? She went anyway.
The reason for this personal anecdote is the Indian Supreme Court admitting an appeal to end the life of a woman lying in a lobotomised state for 36 years. There are medical, emotional and ethical issues here.
Aruna Shanbaug was a nurse at the
The plea to the court has asked it to direct the hospital to stop force-feeding her. A question arises out of this simple demand: Is she eating enough at all that the forced feeding would put an end to her life? She is subsisting on mashed food and chokes on liquids. Her body is skeletal, but she breathes. Perhaps it isn’t food alone that is keeping her alive. Why is there no clarity about how she should be relieved of her painful existence?
The lawyer asks, “Is not keeping the woman in this persistent vegetative state by force feeding violative of her right to live with dignity as guaranteed by Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution? She is beyond cure. Let the court inquire about what medical science has in store for her. It appears that there has been utter indifference of medical world towards her.”
* * *
The right to live with dignity is not merely a medical subject. The courts would have to look into other aspects of the idea of dignity. Since Aruna is not in a position to know whether her state lacks dignity, it would therefore follow that those responsible for her care ought to be granting her that dignity.
Years ago a doctor had spoken up for death by choice and said, “How many of us realise the meaning of euthanasia? It means a good death. We talk of ethics when we prolong a useless life, so where do ethics go when we carry out abortions? Even the foetus have life and we kill them happily just because it suits our convenience. Do we then pause to think that the foetus may have had a mind to live on, may have had a brain which was that of a genius? There may be thousands of Arunas in
After the reappearance of the case, there have been other points of view. Dr. Ravi Bapat, who was supposedly among the first of the team that responded to Aruna on the morning she was discovered lying under the stairway, is against the SC petition. “It is idiosyncrasy, no living cell ever wants to die…Aruna is like a mentally challenged person now. Would any parent of a mentally ill child move the court in a similar manner? It is sickening how every five years someone raises Aruna’s case just for publicity.”
Ironically, the only two parties who have not gained mileage out of this are her callous family, that did not have the means or the patience to see her alive as the symbol she was to become, and her doctor fiancé who after three years of caring for her realised that her case was closed and went on with his life.
That is what life is about – to make choices. There is no love that keeps her alive. Her family gave up on her; the rapist is free, and the hospital has kept her room locked for fear he may return. Is she in a position to give evidence?
It is crucial to point out that there is virtually no comment about the rapist. Reports mention that after his seven-year jail term he is working as a ward boy in a
* * *
In all these years whenever the ‘story’ was covered in the media, the emphasis was on Aruna and for the most part her fight in a locked hospital room, hunger, pain, soiled clothes, stiff immobile hands and legs, the voice beastly, the brain half dead. Today at 61, the routine continues. She whines, is still afraid of male voices; we get these same dispatches in graphic detail. Aruna’s helplessness is made to appear heroic.
This is not about a lone woman’s fight nor a miracle, for it neither uplifts the spirit nor her body. She does not even recognise that she has survived.
This is not the tale of a support system. The crime was committed by a hospital staffer in the hospital premises and the authorities have a reputation to uphold. There should instead be an urgent need to look into the conditions of public hospitals and also the general wards of some private hospitals. They are in a pathetic condition. With Aruna’s case, there ought to have been a greater need to examine the level of security. By cocooning her in a room, the authorities have got away without being answerable for such a lapse. They could have fought the case against the rapist who was their employee; they could have issued notices against him being employed anywhere else.
What use is a lifeless person when the perpetrator of the offence is free? Does it drive home a point at all, least of all about the goriness of such a gruesome act? Aruna is not seen as a rape victim but a caged human kept alive.
This is not a tale of sisterhood. The nurses have rallied around for professional reasons – it could have happened to any of them. Their compassion is based on a ‘special bond’, we are told. How is it possible? Most would be a new batch, younger women for whom she is merely a publicised character.
This is not at all a story about a spectacular beginning, a meaningful middle and a fitting denouement with a moral thrown in somewhere.
And that is alarming. No ethical questions about the crime and the system are asked. Once the courts grant her the right to die there will be demands to legalise suicide by those who feel their life is not dignified enough. There will be related issues where you may not ban books that tell you the easy ways in which to meet your end. You may not prevent a discussion by the Hemlock Society. And you may not raise eyebrows over the concept of assisted death.
In societies where penury itself is a sin and avarice a virtue, the prospect of such methods being legally manipulated by poverty-stricken families and greedy relatives is frightening.
Aruna Shanbaug needs a peaceful departure and it should have been done long ago, quietly and with dignity, and not until the story was sapped off its juice. She has suffered enough – first in the basement, then in bed and then relentlessly under the media glare. She may not be aware of the latter two, which makes it worse.
What right are we then talking about when she does not even have the consciousness to know how her life is being used?
Those who left have it good. While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wants them to return home as “brain gain”, the right-wingers have been lauding them for precisely the same reason with an additional halo – the global revivalist.
In one of the fancy social satsangs at the altar of Mammon the luminaries wanted to know where Hindus figured on the world stage. There was no talk about
Has anyone tried to understand how in those hundreds of years of occupation,
In the world of the freshly-minted sophisticated anti-secularist, such details do not matter. To this mind the restoration of a hotel must be seen in the context of the Somnath temple which rose after each fall. It deviously disregards the fact that the rebuilding has been carried out by the management that has also generously set up a non- religious Trust to rehabilitate those who were affected in other areas as well. The global clock-turner is busy patting his back over restoration of places of worship and landmark sites, but there is absolutely no concern about resurrecting the ordinary citizen’s right to livelihood and dignity.
Listing the achievements of expatriates is typical of this tunnel vision. Of the few that become entrepreneurs or have prominent careers, there are thousands who perform ordinary tasks. Many have entered those western countries illegally or gone through agents after a lot of effort. Instead of wondering why this happens, this neo world citizen with a limited cultural baggage is basking in the reflected glory of achievers who had to go elsewhere to make their fortune and earn their fame because their homeland did not nurture their dreams.
The Knights, Sirs, and Nobel laureates refer to their Indian roots only when there is a bit of exotic drama required. How can they be considered a part of revivalism of ancient culture? Would they identify with the dubious idea of taking religion to new lands? They are on Forbes power list because of how much they influence society. Osama bin Laden is sharing space, too. If some build temples, then there are others like Swraj Paul who donate to the London Zoo. They pay huge sums to political parties in their adopted lands to get leverage for themselves and not their faith. It is quite simply business acumen and social opportunism at work. It has got nothing to do with keeping the flame of any potential Ram Rajya alive.
Yoga and levitating gurus is old hat and has little to do with healing powers and more to do with hype. It did not start with the new revivalists but old hippies. Being honoured and having festivals celebrated work as totems for ethnic minorities who may indeed possess talent. But, as Venkatraman Ramakrishnan made it amply clear, his “nationality is simply an accident of birth”. He would not want to be hailed as a global Hindu hero or be placed on the same pedestal as ashram evangelists.
In the excitement over the well-heeled, fossils of accruing mutual fund culture whose high-walled existence is no better than ghettos, the revivalist boasts that his religion is the only one that does not have a history of massacres. Loss of memory means ignoring the past of what some rulers did to demolish Jainism from South India between the 8th and 12th centuries, and the contemporary history of the Sikh carnage, the Mumbai riots and
Perhaps it might do them well to ponder over a small fact that those Hindus who are today a part of the White House clique have been appointed by a half Muslim, half Christian.
Shall we call such resurrection a case of appeasement since delusional apocalypticism can only be a mirage?
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
The Bangladesh India Forgot
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, December 16 2009
On December 16, a nation was cut off from a nation which was formed out of a larger nation. The second, Pakistan, was essentially a notion that took off from the larger idea that was India.
Today, as Indian states decide to lead microcosmic lives and even the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati, believes it will make things more manageable if her state is divided, the need for Bangladesh stands nullified as an ideology. It was protesting the language issue, the cultural dissonance with an Islamic Republic. Neither of these aspects has given it a distinct identity other than a name. In fact, Bangladesh has its own terror networks and the Jama’at-ul-Mujahideen is being examined by the Intelligence Agencies for its role in bomb blasts and its ties with local groups in India. There is a suspicion that it may also have been involved in the Mumbai attacks in November, 2008. Its avowed aim is to replace the current state of Bangladesh with an Islamic state based on Shariah. Things do come full circle.
Those who rue the partition of India do not appear to have the same reservations about the splitting up of Pakistan. It is no secret that India was an active participant in the civil war between East and West Pakistan. It took almost two good decades after the creation of Pakistan for its Bengali population to realise that they were indeed different. Interestingly, those on the Indian side of what is still West Bengal looked down upon their Eastern connections, quite unlike the memories people in Punjab and the northern states of India have for Lahore or other parts of the Punjab belt of Pakistan.
On the face of it, it did appear to be a people’s movement. As writer-activist-politician, Dr. Enver Sajjad, told me, “If I were Mujibur Rehman, I would have said that the country was created with 51 % of our votes, so we have the legitimate right to call ourselves Pakistan.”
Mujibur Rehman, leader of the Awami League, had a different subtext in his mind and went through the Jinnah-Nehru sort of parallel ego trip with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He wanted to be Prime Minister. Bhutto, who was the democrat with ostensibly no interest in parochial politics, was the architect of the Language Bill and the confirmation of the nation as an Islamic Republic. While he managed to sneak in Sindh into the national Pathan-Punjabi psyche and made use of the Mohajirs from the Urdu belt of India, the Bengalis did not fit into any scheme.
The simmering discontent got shape and form when a quasi government was formed with a war force of freedom fighters – Mukti Bahini. The Bangladesh Liberation War was an Indian war. Indira Gandhi was moving out of her father’s shadow. There was the background of the 1965 war with Pakistan. This time it had an added halo of concern for the underdog. In a battle that lasted a fortnight, 93,000 Pakistani troops surrendered. Indian prisoners of war were forgotten by their own prime minister. Indira was hailed as Goddess Durga.
K.F.Rustamji who founded the Border security Force has been quoted as saying, “The BSF boys started assisting the Mukti Fauj (later Bahini) in causing subversion and sabotage deep inside East Pakistan and even in district headquarter towns, where cash and weapons were looted and made over to the government of Bangladesh.”
The only instructions Indira Gandhi gave was: “Do what you like, but don’t get caught.”
The espionage had begun much before the actual skirmish on the ground. Could a war have been averted? The American and Russians entered the fray as more than observers. It became a big event primarily because India came into the picture. The call for war came was given by Indira Gandhi. In The British, The Bandits and The Bordermen there are detailed references to how the BSF played a role in not only the formation of the Bangladesh provisional government, but also in framing its constitution and selecting its national flag and national anthem.
What happened to the Bangladesh dream of language, region, democracy and, most important of all, independence? Was freedom merely a territorial dream?
What did Bangladesh get out of this? Thousands dead. Hundreds raped. An exodus of ten million people who sought refuge in the North Eastern Indian states and West Bengal.
Over three decades later, they are still seen as refugees. Many moved out from these border areas. You will find quite a few in Delhi.
Zuleikhabi works as a domestic help in four houses at Chittranjan Park. She does not dwell on home and sees no difference. She has not heard about Taslima Nasreen, although she does remember Tagore.
The Bard of Bengal brooks no territorial boundaries, his golden boat is laden for all who clutch at the stray straws of a life untrammelled, yet pregnant with possibility.
Zuleikha knows she is not wanted by the political parties, she hears about it at street corners where the menfolk congregate in groups, their common destinies binding them together for a few minutes of respite. She displays a rare pragmatism when she says, “Political parties everywhere do not want the poor. We were not wanted back home, too. But the people here do not seem to mind our presence. My memsaabs like my work and since they are Bengalis there is a common culture.”
Isn’t there resentment against them in the already overpopulated slums? “Here also people understand. We share our poverty. And many of them are refugees too – they have come from Bihar, UP…everyone is seeking shelter.”
The middle-class residents of the area support them on humanitarian grounds. As one of them said, “Many of them are staying here for years, and if we start shunting people out, then there are the Tibetans too. We fought the Bangladesh War for political reasons but now these people have come to look upon us as saviours. If the government is so concerned then they must try and stop the influx instead of letting Opposition parties make political capital out of it.”
Apparently, when the BJP was campaigning against them, the local Bengalis came out to protect the outsiders. As one academician put it, “With us, secularism and parochialism are one and the same thing. We will support each other in any part the globe.”
A project called ‘Citizenship, Identity and Residence of Immigrants in Delhi Slums’ by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties had revealed that workers of the BJP and Shiv Sena had been active in identifying Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants in selected slums. “The police conducted frequent late night raids in some bastis (slum localities) where many people suspected of being Bangladeshi nationals were taken to the police station…The active role of selected political parties in the identification and deportation of Bangladeshi immigrants, recognised for their bias against religious minorities, is very disturbing.”
Jaffer is oblivious to these wheels within wheels. He only knows that occasionally an inexplicable fear overtakes him. “Though there is nothing to be afraid of. What do we have that we must fear losing? Clothes? Vessels? Belongings? Nothing. But there is something...that feeling of not having anything to call our own. I came here in 1975 as a child and even today after 30 years I know that we can be thrown out.”
According to Reena Bhadhuri, an expert on Islam, “These are starving people trying to make a meagre living. How can they be connected to Al Qaeda and the Pakistani intelligence agencies?” On the other hand, there is acceptance of Hindu infiltrators in the North East. The deputy minister for national security during the BJP regime had agreed to give them special treatment. “If they have come here illegally, it may be justified because of the hostility they face in Bangladesh. Some distinction will have to be kept in mind.”
It is such doublespeak and double standards on the part of both India and Pakistan that have left Bangladesh as a fractured nation. It has no identity. Societies that are left with too many histories don’t think about the future. The future subjugates them before they can get there.