Bunches of unwanted Indians are being sent off to Pakistan pretty often nowadays. Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi has conveniently asked all Indians who want to eat beef in the face of a beef ban in Maharashtra to go to Pakistan (“or Arab countries or any other part of world where it is available”). In April this year, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad requested (for the umpteenth time) all such Indians to go to Pakistan who do not agree with their policy of Hindus reproducing vehemently so that they can outnumber Muslims and correct the demographic balance. Whatever the reason for the banishment, I am baffled by this business of sending the unwanted to Pakistan!
When we were little children and the two Indo Pak wars of 1965 and 1971 were still relatively fresh in people’s memory, Pakistan was a regular butt of children’s (everyone’s actually) jokes in India. The toilet was, in a twisted form of jest, commonly referred to as Pakistan. Every time someone suffered flatulence, they were asked to go to Pakistan!
I must have sniggered at this as a kid, but I’m no longer amused. Is Pakistan some sort of dustbin that is willing to take in unwanted and ostracized Indians, whether beef lovers or Muslims, ‘seculars’ or liberals? Or is Pakistan the name of something quite different in the heads of the extreme right? A place where the unwanted can simply disappear into? An equivalent of the Nazi gas chamber?
This rhetoric about Pakistan has to be explained. If any Indian who questions the Hindu right wing has to be banished, then they must spell out what they mean by such a banishment? Is the threat of Pakistan simply intended to silence dissent, a sort of replay of the Partition that will strike horror in the hearts of Indians and make us question where our loyalties lie and in the process make the naysayers appreciate India more? Or is it a more sinister threat than that?
Gurgaon rape: To bring change, we need sustained effort beyond immediate anger and protests- March 14, 2012
I try and not rant against the system on this blog, but when you read about rape everyday and then it happens in your backyard, it’s just too much provocation! I took a taxi back from the airport close to midnight yesterday and I was glad for the paternal polite sardarji who was my cabbie, while still wondering about whether appearances can be deceptive. I am not a paranoid person, but when brutal incidents happen everyday, it twists your mind, doesn’t it?
And then, to top it all, the police response is to stop women from working in pubs after eight in the evening. Sure, they caught some of the rapists, but I’m not willing to forgive an attitude that resorts to curtailing the freedom of citizens rather than taking measures to increase the safety of our city.
My first reaction, of course, is how easy it is for society (the authorities are reflecting a larger social attitude) to ask women to behave ‘within limits’. Just like recent incidents in which airline staff asked people with disabilities to deplane, the attitude reeks of a mindset in which women are considered weak, disadvantaged and mostly a problem.
Why can’t we do something to promote (among men and potential rapists and everyone) understanding and tolerance, perhaps by creating common platforms to bring people from diverse backgrounds together? Culture and sports, community building activities like planting trees, cleanliness drives…I don’t know. There must be something we can do to stop the ‘us’ and ‘them’ thinking. Urban vs rural, rich vs poor, modern vs traditional, boys vs girls……as a society, we seem to be losing our balance and lashing out against something. And I am, perhaps naively, convinced that rape, brawls and bad driving are symptoms of a problem, while also being problems in themselves and therefore we need to take a larger view and address the issue at many levels.
Of course, there is a disregard for the law and authority, which needs to be addressed by harsher punishments and better policing. But I cannot believe a rapist thinks he is right or isn’t shit scared when the police actually catch him. Then what makes him do it? What makes him not stop? Its insensitivity, the prioritization of his pleasure over anything else, the importance of ‘I’ and our own and the absence of an inclusive sense of community. If I were to actually know a girl who worked in a bar and see her as a normal person trying to earn a living, would I be less likely to rape her? (For that matter, I don’t happen to know a rapist, so its hard to profile one!)
I don’t know how to think all this through. But I do know that citizens have a right to expect governments to act. The action, however, must be long-term and two-pronged and a diverse range of citizen groups must be involved. Protests should convert to some sort of sustained communication, building of trust and spreading the message that crime against anyone is a crime against yourself, your community, your family, your women……..yourself…..
Amitav Ghosh, a writer of fiction who I particularly admire, blogged recently about the dangers of writers facing their audience in response to the recent trend of literary festivals and the Rushdie fiasco at the Jaipur Lit Fest. He makes the point that writers are able to take controversial positions and push the boundaries of thought only because they are separated from their audience. When writers put themselves in a position where they are being questioned, they will also be influenced, therefore weigh their words carefully and lose their spontaneity altogether. On a more serious note, society needs voices of dissent, opinions that ruffle feathers, perspectives that are different from the mainstream; who offers these if everyone is answerable and no one is willing to take the risk of speaking their mind?
I have written earlier about a scary culture of intolerance that is spreading through society. Ghosh’s piece also echoes a similar sentiment. There is an urgent need for defiance in our society; we conform too much, we give in too easily. We don’t want to think things through because we are convinced of the futility of such an exercise. We don’t really believe in change.
But we do want to publicize our smallest achievement and so, expecting writers to only write and not talk about their writing in today’s world is quite impractical. Most of us put up pictures of mundane events on Facebook and its but natural to share our achievements. But Ghosh’s piece made me wonder- When is the right time to share and exhibit our work/talents/creativity? A friend writes decent poetry, but shares her work with a select few, firm in her belief that her writing needs to mature much more before she would be willing to share it publicly. This is not out of shyness of lack of confidence, I suspect, but out of a desire to hone her talent in solitude with constructive feedback. Adulation and popular opinion can often derail a creative process completely.
Even as I blog my heart out to the world everyday, I admire the ones with restraint and patience; the ones who pursue art for art’s sake and worry about its saleability at a different level, that is independent from the process of creation. That’s how I think it should be. I worry immensely when I break my rules and visit the site stats page of my blog, when I should be worrying more about how good I feel about what I have created!
Contrary to popular belief, true confidence isn’t about keeping your art in the public eye constantly; its about making it accessible, sure, but most of all believing in it yourself and continuing to nurture it.
After many years, I walked into the building I practically lived in for five years. The WC-shaped, slightly run-down but nostalgia-ridden Architecture Block at the School of Planning and Architecture in New Delhi, or SPA as most of us know it. A place, or rather an environment, that shaped our perceptions and made us the people we are today, for better or for worse.
I was there as one of seventeen advisers who would guide the present 4th year (soon to the final year) students to research/explore/debate/investigate a subject of relevance in the format of a research seminar in groups of 5-6 students. Naturally, when you visit your alma mater after years, the foremost question in your mind is “Has anything really changed?”
Walking around the campus before the interaction and even during the interaction, not much felt different. The students were the usual mix- scruffy ones, alert ones, bored ones, blank ones, bright eyed ones, sleepy ones, confused ones, disinterested ones, the ones who ask questions to get noticed and the bright ones who always ask questions- kind of similar to what we were back then in the ’90s. Now note that I’ve had no college-level teaching experience, so these are totally fresh and spontaneous observations.
Some things had changed- the most prominent being the mobile phone that threatened to disrupt, distract and deviate the discussion. Faculty had to strictly warn the students from leaving their phones on and leave the room is they must use it! After the interaction, I started noticing more differences. A couple of computers set up in the canteen for web surfing on the go, a lot more expensive looking clothes, many cars parked along the wall outside in the lane.
Meeting old batchmates who have been teaching at SPA, I learnt more about the differences and the impending changes. The intake in college has increased from about 70 to 120 since the last couple of years, which means college needs more resources, more faculty, etc. Computers and computer-based teaching is going to be compulsory soon. The friends with experience warned me not to expect students to turn up for classes, respond to emails and calls, etc. They warned me of the ‘wikipedia syndrome’; apparently, students might just throw internet-sourced info at me with the message that they know everything, have access to all info and I am redundant really!
But what intrigued and shocked me the most was the discussion about how sensibilities and sensitivities have changed. That a member of the visiting faculty faced complaints and investigations because he informally used a swear word in front of a student; that faculty and students can no longer drink together on out of town trips because the students could photograph them and complain! It was apparent that the faculty is now paranoid. The kids can smell the fear, I was told and then they sieze the chance to sort-of intimidate the faculty.
I have no idea how much of this is true and how much exaggeration. Some of this may also be about specific incidents and not a general critique on students today. But in an environment when interacting with first years is seen through the lens of ragging being a punishable offense by law, I guess its natural for students to seize a window to put their faculty (any representative of authority) in the dock as well!
My concern is that the stories I heard today are linked to a larger mood of intolerance, defiance and conservatism that seems to be haunting Indian urban youth today. While youngsters should get cooler and more open-minded, they seem to be closeting themselves in a variety of safe havens like social media and class-bound interactions, even private transport over public. While we viewed everything from a prism of coolness and novelty, they seem to be viewing us from a prism of usefulness and value.
Why is this happening? Is it because they’re trying to follow the ‘go to college, get a degree and earn pots of money’ script; and in the process, most of missing out on self-development, introspection and pursuit of true interests and passions? I don’t know. Perhaps in my interactions over the seminar next semester, I’ll get a better glimpse into their psyche and be able to address the subject more comprehensively! Or maybe it’s another of those questions with no real answers!