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Thursday, April 16, 2009

A play with a difference!

On the evening of 15th April, the Friends group of Jamia Millia Islamia performed a street play at the Delhi Haat. The play titled “Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya?” was based on the concept of homosexuality and gay rights. The group consisted of students of AJK Mass Communication Research Centre of Jamia Millia Islamia.


Watching the play was a welcome experience as it touched on a topic which is talked about behind closed doors. Homosexuality, though coming to the focus of various talks, is still a subject of great hush-hush. In this season of elections and IPL, watching a play on a different topic was surely refreshing. And it is solely to those students' credit that a controversial topic like homosexuality was shown to a whole public.



The play was all about showing the angst and isolation that the people of the gay community face. The play was presented on different levels which showed ostracisation from family and society and how it drives the victims to be driven to the point of extreme acts. Also worth mentioning were some sequences in the play where some really serious aspects of gay discrimination were shown. Be it the plight of a gay AIDS patient or the harassment of gay couples by the police, the ridicule society gives out to homosexuals or suicides committed by such people; every aspect was shown in a stark reality. And each time a question was raised. Why do they have to face this?



Afroz Alam Sahil, who was a part of the play, said that the message of the play is to make the voices of these people get heard. He further says that the play does not pass any judgement. It is more of a case study of actual incidents and shows the tribulations that the homosexuals have to undergo in our country.



At a time when gay pride parades are coming out and people are talking of scraping Article 377 which criminalises homosexuality in India, this play reminded us that there are issues which we simply cannot ignore. However gross people might find them, we have to sit back and notice them because they exist among us. And homosexuals are one such reality.



As far as reactions are concerned, the play did succeed in shocking the spectators with its bold theme. As the play progressed on, I could notice that people had shocked expressions on their faces. And there was pin drop silence throughout the play. But one thing was for sure. The play succeeded in conveying its message. And again talking of reactions, the play has evoked some reactions from the moral police as well. Activists of the Republican Party of India (RPI) staged a demonstration in front of AJK MCRC in Jamia on 16th April protesting against the staging of this play. This is just another instance when the so called moral police leaves no stone unturned in silencing those voices which raise such issues that are deemed unfit for a ‘sane’ society. On top of that, the Urdu daily, Humara Samaj, went on to publish an editorial condemning the staging of this play. They even criticised Jamia Millia Islamia for giving permission to go ahead with this play and also accused the university of damaging the image of the Islamic culture.



But the performers of the play are unfazed because they believe they have touched a legitimate topic. And it is this attitude that reminds us of the fact that democracy is all about expressing oneself inspite of all oppositions. Homosexuality is a tabooed topic in our country. And the staging of this play only signals that we are free to express ourselves in a democratic setup. And people will have to look up to such issues one day. Because it is a human issue after all.

Elections Vs IPL

As India prepares to welcome the summers this year, two events of epic proportions collide with each other. The 15th General Elections and the 2nd edition of the Indian Premiere League (IPL) are taking place together this month. And already preparations are underway for the coverage of these two events. Now the only thing remaining to be seen is which one scores over the other in terms of coverage.

The importance of IPL over elections is something which has divided opinions among various circles. As we look into them, we find that the story is splitting into two halves. It is one section which thinks that the elections will not be affected by the IPL. While the other section thinks that the elections will be affected by the IPL.


Qamar Agha, who is a political analyst and hosts a few TV shows, says that the elections will not be affected by the IPL. He says that the people will always give more importance to their right to vote under any circumstances. He feels that in a democratic setup like India, people will come out to vote because they know the importance it holds for them over a game of cricket.


Echoing his thoughts, students from Delhi University, who are ever conscious of their rights, give out full support to the elections. For them, it is a celebration of their existence in democracy and they are very vocal about their support to the elections. Ashutosh, a law student, says that he feels it is his moral duty as a citizen of this country to vote. He gives more important to following election coverage than following the IPL as he thinks it will him along with other citizens. Pranshu, a history student, says that it is the moral responsibility of all sane minded citizens to follow election developments. He says that cricket can never gain such a prominence that people might forget their democratic responsibilities.


Now as far as those people are concerned who feel that the IPL will affect the turnout of voters in the elections, we find that there is a section who believes that the political machinery of the state has rotten beyond doubt. It is a reflection of those Indians who are frustrated from the existing corruption in politics of this country. It is a sign of the unrest that is brewing within from quite some time.


Subrata Mukherjee, who is the convener of the Asian Political Science Association and a former professor of Delhi University, feels that the way people view the elections will remain the same whether there be any IPL or not. He is among those people who feel that the state machinery has rotten down and the corrupt politics has totally disinterested the people in events like the elections. For him elections are just another process where we choose such people who suck our blood in the end. And the people have got fed up of politicians who continuously cheat them.


Even a large chunk of the common people has lost trust in the politicians of the country because it’s always about the power that the politicians go for in the end. And this is affecting the way the elections are viewed in this country. A layperson’s views on the elections confirm this very clearly when he says that he would prefer to watch the IPL than go and cast his vote. Harpreet Singh, who is a staffer in Delhi University, says that he would rather watch the IPL than give any special interest to the election proceedings. For him, again, it is just another round of ceremony where we choose leaders who cheat us and suck our blood in the end.


But some people wouldn’t still go out of their way to take any side. They still want to view it as a platform where these two events will go off without affecting each other much. Chetan Chauhan, a former cricketer turned politician, feels so. For him the IPL doesn’t pose much of a threat in seeking out voters. Since he has himself been a well-known cricketer, he feels that the public will figure out some way to take required information out of the two events.


Now it remains to be seen how the media gains from all this hype. As the media today is profit-driven, it will be all about striking the correct balance between the elections and the IPL. Qamar Agha feels that the media is smart enough to do this. He says that as the media today is a profit making organisation, it is imperative that they will ultimately find that they will figure a way to give coverage to both the events to make the most of it. And we can see it because now the media is totally into election coverage. But news of the impending IPL are now making headway on the airwaves.


So in this age of publicity and hype, the war for coverage between the elections and the IPL is more about the prominence of democratic ideals and the entertainment quotient of cricket. As there is a division in thoughts, we find that people are divided in their opinion regarding the importance to be given to the General Elections or the IPL.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Elections: A Saga of Violence and Violations

The 15th General Elections are knocking on our doors. And again the world’s largest democracy is gearing up to witness this political spectacle. Numerous campaigns are being carried out to urge the people to vote. And what is more interesting is that this time a huge chunk of the voters will be youngsters. And already our politicians have started to give us a good time with their political circus of myriad coalitions for the polls. But what is most noticeable is the trend where political parties openly violate election commission rules and give us rounds of violence in every election.

We have noticed it in earlier elections, and it has already started in these elections as well. The first reports of violence have appeared in the newspapers. This is a stark reminder of the fact that muscle power still dominates our electoral process. With the first phase of polling starting from 15th April, the show of violence has finally come out with the cases of two murders and one incident of violence.


On 13th April, Bahadur Sahab Sonkar, who was contesting the Jaunpur Assembly seat from the Indian Justice Party (IJP), was found dead with his body hanging from a tree. His supporters have raised a hue and cry calling it a murder, while the post-mortem report states it as a case of suicide. But inspite of it, the Election Commission has still decided to go ahead with the pollings. On the same day, Congress MLA Makhanlal Jatav was murdered in cold blood while returning from campaign in his Bhind constituency. Both these incidents took place in Uttar Pradesh, which once again highlights the high level of lawlessness prevalent there. Again on the same day, in the Godda seat of Jharkhand, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Nishikant Dubey was attacked by supporters of the opposition party.


These incidents are such which are not something new during elections in our country. Incidents of violence and breaking of Election Commission rules are something which political parties commit with great vigour. If we look incidents in the past, then we find out that the Election Commission has been totally inept in handling political parties for violation of rules.


If we look in the last Assembly Elections held in 2007, we find that one of the most infamous scandals was the CD scandal committed by the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. And a reply to an RTI has brought in more discredit to the Election Commission in handling discipline among political parties. Afroz Alam Sahil, an RTI activist, had filed an RTI seeking information on the CD scandal from the Election Commission. The reply stated that the Commission had received 19 complaints against the Party. The nature and the gravity of the offence committed by the BJP have also been mentioned very clearly as per the Indian Constitution. The Commission had directed the CEO of Uttar Pradesh to file the same number of FIRs against the State BJP President Mr. Lalji Tandon and his associates for the production of the CDs. But even today the information on the Police enquiry is awaited by the Commission. This clearly shows the real level of importance given to the Election Commission by government institution like the Police Force.


This single incident shows the inability of the Election Commission in handling serious cases of indiscipline during elections. Glorifying the gory acts of the Godhra carnage and using them as acts of rhetoric is a serious offence as it spreads communalism among the general masses. The use of communalistic propaganda is something which has been used particularly by communal parties like the BJP. Even in the recent case of Varun Gandhi’s hate speech, we see how a communal feeling has been stirred to gain on the Hindu vote bank. And here again, the inability of the Election Commission to handle the situation properly has come out. And Varun Gandhi has now emerged as the new hero of Hindutva.


So, violation of rules and incidents of violence are something which have become synonymous with elections. And we can only speculate how many more incidents of violations and violence we have to see in this General Election. And all this because our Election Commission has turned out to be a toothless organisation in dealing with these offending parties.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Vanishing Minorities of our Neighbourhoods

If we want to look into examples of genocides or ethnic cleansing, then we really need not look into distant countries with some troubled history. Our two neighbours, Pakistan and Bangladesh, carved out of our own India, give us great examples in this respect. While our seculars shout out hoarse over the protection of minorities in our country, our neighbours have set milestones in giving silent deaths to their minorities.

Ever since their respective formations, Pakistan and Bangladesh, have left no stone unturned in harassing their minorities, especially Hindus. A large chunk of these incidents go unreported and what is more infuriating is that the human rights people and the media of these countries don’t give much hoot to these incidents. They can shout out their lungs for the Muslims of Palestine and Kashmir, but not for the suffering minorities of their own countries.

In March 2005, in the province of Baluchistan in Pakistan, government troops killed 33 Hindus. Most of them were women and children and many more were injured. Hundreds more fled from their homes. But what is surprising is that such headlines never managed to make it to the Indian media. An independent account of those killings emerged after teams from the Pakistan Human Rights Commission (PHRC) led by human rights activist and famous lawyer Asma Jahangir visited Dera Bugti town in Baluchistan province, in January 2006, nine months after the killings there. The human rights commission published its report later in 2007 mentioning that there was rampant discrimination against all religious minorities. Asma Jahangir noted that the Hindus faced the worst form of discriminations especially from the intelligence agencies.

Among the pieces of evidence presented to the human rights team was a video that a resident had managed to take of some of the violence- and of the dead. As the Pakistani authorities were silent, Baluchi political leaders smuggled the video out of the country. This video was then circulated among political and human rights groups as an indication of the brutal face of the Pakistani military authorities. The video tape and the circumstances around its late circulation, and the sparse and delayed reporting of the killings, are a sign of the cloak of silence laid over several areas of Pakistan. This silence is shrouding the abuses and the insurgency that are leading to attacks on government targets almost every day. The killing of Hindus, and the hush-hush around, raises the issue of their wretched status in Pakistan.

Now when we turn over to Bangladesh, we find that compared to Pakistan, Bangladesh has stable regular reports of depredations on the minorities. The presence of a somewhat alert media there has still let incidents of violence against the minorities come out. But the growing number of incidents only points out that the growing Islamic radicalism in Bangladesh has created the situation highly insecure for the minorities there. Bangladesh was created as a secular nation. But these growing incidents of fundamentalist violence are only showing that secularism has turned into an ugly joke there.
Ethnic cleansing of minorities in Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) started in 1947. Over half-a-century has passed with no end in sight. Minorities in Bangladesh, including women and children, were subjected to extreme brutality and torture. Hindus comprised nearly 30% of the total population in Bangladesh in 1947. After the exodus of minorities following the partition of India in 1947, the Hindu population went down to about 22% by 1951. Due to unabated persecution, intimidation, and forcible conversion to Islam, the Hindu minority population kept on dwindling and now stands at a meager 10.5% of the total population in Bangladesh (1991 census). After the National Elections in Bangladesh of October 2001, which brought the anti-Indian and highly fundamentalist Khaleda Zia regime into power, many more minority Hindu families were forced to migrate out of their "Homeland of generations" for safety sake.

In the recent past, there have been several cases of brutal killings of prominent members of minority communities in the strategic Chittagong Hill Tracts, by armed gangs of Islamic fanatics. Significantly, these tragic incidents started in the wake of Santu Larma-Khaleda Zia high-level talks at Dhaka, for establishing permanent peace in the said region. The very day the talks started, in Rangamati (CHT), an armed gang of BNP-JeI backed ‘United People’s Democratic Front’ (UPDF) attacked pro-Larma Chakma tribals resulting in the death of four Chakma Buddhists. Next day at village Hingla in Rouzan locality of Chittagong, Gyanjyoti Borooah (55), a locally popular Buddhist Monk, running an Orphanage/ Monastery was brutally killed. In the next few days, more attacks were made on the Chakma Buddhists and more monks were killed. Madan Gopal Goswami, a Hindu priest, was also gunned down in Gachhabil area of Manikchhari in Chittagong. These cases of utmost brutality generated strong resentment among local Chakmas and Hindus.

At Niamatpur under Naugaou, terrorists armed with lethal country made weapon burst into the house of one Mr. Gajendra Nath Sarkar at mid night. The miscreants went on rampage at the house kicking and punching family members first and then forcefully kidnapped Ms. Babita Rani Sarkar, holding the family at gunpoint. Next morning, the miscreants dropped off the highly tormented body of Ms. Babita who was seriously wounded but alive. Terrorist warned the local minorities with stern punishment if the incident is reported to police. This incident further instigated fear among minorities there. To escape humiliation and save their females, minorities started sending out all the young girls and women to relatives in towns. Ignoring all the warnings, oppression and torture of miscreants, Ms. Babita, a student of class ten in a local school and her family decided to file case in the local police station. The brave girl identified one Shariful among eight evildoers. Police arrested Shariful and Ahidur Rahman while writing this report. Ms. Babita took refuge at the residence of her maternal uncle at another village. Later Police Superintendent Mr. Mustafijur Rahman visited the village assuring the safety of minorities there but locals said minorities have never been safe since the 2001 Elections. Some also stated that Babita's distant sister was also gang raped earlier but administration has not done enough to endow justice.

There are numerous more cases of atrocities against the minorities in Bangladesh. And a little known fact is also that during the 1972 war, the West Pakistani army carried a massive genocide in Bangladesh to exterminate the Hindu minorities. The information on them can be obtained from websites like http://www.genocidebangladesh.com/. The presence of a somewhat alert media and the holding of some important positions in the politico-economic hierarchy by some Hindus can still retain some assurance for the Hindus and other minorities in Bangladesh. And now with the coming of Sheikh Hasina’s party to power in the last Elections, we can hope for the situation to improve some bit.

But what about Pakistan? A state which is almost on the verge of collapsing. The deteriorating situation there only reminds us of the fact that the Hindus and other minorities must be subjected to unimaginable humiliations. Also, with the rise of the Taliban there, it is only to be seen when an open massacre of minorities happens there under full government scanner.

So the next time some Human Rights chap shouts out hoarse over the protection of minorities in India, I would advise him to compare the situation with our neighbours. And then India would definitely have the upper hand in treating minorities properly.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Danger Rising Within

On March 29, the former governor of Assam and Jammu &Kashmir, Lt Gen (Retd) S K Sinha said that Assam should get more attention than Jammu & Kashmir from the Centre. Sinha, who was on a three day visit to the North-East, said this to the Guwahati based newspaper Assam Tribune. Sinha stated that since Assam is rich in natural resources, it is vital for the Centre to retain it at any cost from the greedy eyes of Bangladesh. What is more horrifying is his statement that after five years, the next Chief Minister of Assam will be a Bangladeshi.

Sinha’s comments are significant at a time when the question of illegal Bangladeshi migrants is a burning issue in Assam. It is known that Bangladesh, facing the burden of population, needs more space and as the North-Eastern region is connected to the rest of India by only a small 2 km corridor, anti-India forces can manage to cut that off. If that happens, then the entire region would be snapped off from the rest of the country.
The trouble also intensifies with the presence of the top ULFA leadership in Bangladesh, who are now forwarding the interests of the Bangladeshi nationals by going against the interests of the indigenous people. The presence of the huge number of Illegal Bangladeshis in the state has triggered an identity crisis for the indigenous people which can result in big trouble as it did with riots in the areas of Udalguri and Kokrajhar last year. Also, the presence of these illegal immigrants has also given spurt to the activities of Jehadist elements like the HuJi in the region.

The presence of dirty vote bank politics has ensured the survival for these illegal immigrants in Assam. And on top of that, the ever increasing feelings of communal hatred that are being augmented by these Bangladeshis are creating havoc with the communal harmony of the state. Though the situation is deteriorating, it can still be saved if proper action is taken by the Centre as soon as possible. Or else we can only wait for another calamity that will take down the entire North-East along with Assam.