Dear India: Where are our candlelight marches, our outrage and our mass protests? Why have we been so muted in our response to the gang rapes of two girls, an eight-year-old child and a teenager? And no, our lazy tweets and our commiserating hash tags do not count.
This week, two cases of rape and murder — one of a shepherd girl in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir, the other in Unnao, in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh — have been moments of acute national shame. They have proved how the powerful conspire to enable and protect sexual abusers. Worse, they have exposed the ugliest underbelly of India. Political and societal responses to these charges of rape have revealed entrenched misogyny, religious hatred and a shameful class bias. They have held up a mirror to the worst in us.
We must confront this: The India we thought had changed has not changed at all. In 2012, a massive popular uprising against the gang rape of a medical student in Delhi, dubbed the ‘Nirbhaya’ (fearless) case, led to a tough new set of anti-rape laws. It was considered an inflection point in our conversation about gender. Now we know that not much is better or different. Not our politicians, not our hate-mongers — and sadly not even we, the people.
For the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the cases have been especially embarrassing, given the prime minister’s oft-quoted slogan of “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” (“Save our Girls; Educate our Girls”). In the Unnao case, one of the accused rapists is a legislator of the BJP. The victim tried to commit suicide outside the house of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a saffron-robed monk once billed as a possible successor to Modi. She alleged inaction by the state administration on her complaint, which she had filed last year.
Instead, her father was arrested and died in police custody. The hospital report confirmed that he suffered 18 assault injuries, and he is on tape, not long before he died, naming the man whose goons beat him up: The brother of the lawmaker accused of the rape.
In the Kathua case, you cannot read the police charge sheet without feeling nauseous. It details how a little child from the Bakherwal nomadic community had taken her family’s horses to graze in a nearby forest and never returned. The charges say she was repeatedly drugged, taken hostage and hidden. One of the accused rapists (eight men have been arrested in connection with the case, including local police officers) was reportedly “invited” from Meerut, hundreds of miles away, to participate. The child was strangled with her own scarf; a stone was then slammed on her head to “make sure that the victim [was] dead,” according to the charges.
There is a photograph of her, smiling, wide-eyed and full of hope, in anticipation of a life yet to come. And there is a second photograph of her defaced body abandoned in the forest. You cannot look at the two pictures together without looking away almost instantly. The police say the rape and murder were part of a plot to “dislodge” the shepherd community, which is Muslim, from the village. The case quickly took a hideous communal twist, with a self-appointed Hindu group staging marches in defence of the rapists, sounding nationalist slogans and waving the national flag — defiling all that the flag stands for. Two BJP ministers in the Jammu and Kashmir government also criticised the police’s investigation. Worse, a mob of lawyers blocked law enforcement officials when they arrived at court to file the charges, again seeking refuge behind the flag and slogans. Their demand was to take the case away from the state police and hand it over to a central agency. This was a hideous sectarian politicisation of a child’s rape.
The silence of the top women ministers in the Modi cabinet on both the Kathua and the Unnao cases has been disturbing, and only undermines their track record as trailblazers. Women hold key portfolios of defence, foreign affairs, and information and broadcasting, among others. But what good are these path-breaking positions of authority if the women don’t speak for female victims of violence and abuse? Not that men shouldn’t lead by example. In 2012, the Nirbhaya gang rape in Delhi raised similar questions about whether it made any difference that a female politician governed Delhi and that the then-ruling party — the Congress — was helmed by a woman.
Finally, we must reflect on our own responses. Sure, Indians are angry. We are tweeting furiously and writing posts on Facebook. But our class bias, especially in the media, has been unveiled. The Delhi rape of 2012 was close to the bone; it could have been any one of us or those who watched and read us. So the coverage that case got was instantaneous and intense. It has taken months for these crimes to get to prime time. And even so, how many of us will move beyond our keyboards and spill over onto the streets — as we did for Nirbhaya?
Kathua and Unnao are now known not just nationally but internationally. And yet, some will complain about this column appearing in a “foreign” newspaper. How “anti-national,” I will be told on social media by people missing the irony. These Hindu “nationalists” who spoke for rapists have shamed India, its Constitution and, of course, Hinduism.
Gandhi and the elusive Nobel
By Amitabha Bhattacharya
Many a genius missed the Nobel Prize. Leo Tolstoy in literature, Lise Meitner, Satyendranath Bose and MeghnadSaha in the sciences; even Einstein was awarded one for the photoelectric effect, not for his revolutionary ‘Theory of Relativity’. Why then is there such lament on Gandhi missing the Nobel Peace Prize? A book of 171 pages titled ‘Gandhi And The Nobel Peace Prize’ written by the noted author Dr.Rajinder Singh of the University of Oldenburg, Germany provides for the first time an authentic and comprehensive account of the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of this case, based largely on his research at the Nobel Peace Prize Institute, Oslo.
The book explains the process of filing nominations, short-listing of candidates based on expert advice and how the final decision is taken. Once the basic rules are explained, Singh goes into chronological details of what happened every time Gandhi’s name came up for the prize. Were the nominations sent in time? Was the expert opinion not favourable? Who were the competitors? When was he short listed? All these issues have been discussed threadbare with supporting evidence. At the end of the book, which is rather non-judgemental, the reader appreciates the complexity of the process and the bureaucratic diligence with which assessments were made and comes to terms with the final decision, with a tinge of sadness.
The fact that a large number of persons – present and past members of the Nobel Committee, advisers at the Nobel Institute, members of national assemblies and governments and International Court of Justice, holders of Nobel Peace Prize and even university professors of law, political science, history and philosophy – can nominate helps one understands why till 1964 fourteen Indians from Gandhi, Sri Aurobindo, Nehru, Aga Khan III and Radhakrishnan to insignificant ones like Hari Mohan Banerjee could be nominated.
Gandhi’s name was raised in 1924, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947 and 1948 in around 100 nominations. No wonder that GeirLundestad,
permanent secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, admitted “Our record is far from perfect and not giving Mahatma Gandhi the Nobel Prize was the biggest omission”. Gandhi was first nominated in 1924. But the nomination, from the Council of State, Delhi, missed the deadline of 31 January 1924.
In 1937, Ole Colbjørnsen, a Norwegian journalist, economist and politician, on behalf of ‘Friends of India’, nominated Gandhi. The ideals of ahimsa that marked his struggle against colonialism as also the fact that Rabindranath Tagore had proclaimed him ‘Mahatma’ were highlighted.
The expert of the Nobel Committee, Jacob S. Worm-Müller, a historian and politician, made a factual assessment of Gandhi’s achievements but was rather critical of his approach and unconvinced of his internationalism. “Many of his actions though religious and moral, are tactical with sly calculations. He is frequently a Christ, but sometimes suddenly a politician…” He noted that Gandhi had fought only for oppressed Indians in South Africa rather than the natives who were in worse condition, supported WW I and been inconsistent in his approach, especially on rescinding Satyagraha after the burning to death of twenty policemen in Chauri-Chaura. The expert advice was fairly detailed based on which the Nobel Committee “did not see Gandhi’s work as finished and ignored him for the prize.”
Gandhi was again nominated in 1938 by Colbjørnsen, supported by 27 members from the ‘Friends of India’, Denmark. C.F. Andrews wrote, “There is no one in the world who deserves more to receive the Nobel Prize than Mahatma Gandhi. I have known him for twenty-three years and have seen his work of non-violence which has again and again brought peace in the midst of strife…” Gandhi’s Christian followers saw him as a ‘holy Christian’. Even Romain Rolland supported the nomination. Despite such support, Gandhi’s name was not short-listed. Colbjørnsen again wrote, in 1939, reiterating the earlier arguments and adding that ‘the relaxed political situation in the provincial governments is due to Gandhi’s influence.’ This also did not work.
By January 1947, three proposals favouring Gandhi were sent by B.G. Kher, G.V. Mavalankar and G.B. Pant. Rajagopalachari also played a role. Finally, Gandhi was shortlisted amongst six. The Nobel Committee asked historian Jens A. Seip to prepare a new report which Seip did by complementing the old one with Gandhi’s contributions since 1937. This period was crucial, both for his achievements and failures. Seip analysed this period through three conflicts – one between Indians and Britons on the autonomy of India, on the question of India’s participation in WW II and the inner conflict between Hindus and Muslims. Extensive analysis followed. Eventually, Gandhi’s role as a leader of violence- free resistance and as a pacifist was appreciated. However, in the Nobel Committee, two members in Gandhi’s favour could not convince the other three. In the midst of the India-Pakistan conflict, a reported statement by Gandhi that if there was no other way to secure justice from Pakistan, the Indian government would be forced to go to war (The Times, September 27, 1947) was also perhaps taken into consideration.
Gandhi was finally nominated for the prize in 1948 from different countries like the USA, UK, France, Norway and India, with more than 20 from USA alone. Suddenly, it appeared that the whole world was pleading for Gandhi, almost in unison. Seip again added Gandhi’s contribution between the period of August 15, 1947 to Gandhi’s assassination (30 January 1948). The Nobel Committee, according to Singh, was considering a posthumous prize. But the issue was to find an appropriate successor to receive the prize money.
The Nobel Committee was told that Gandhi left no estate and no testament and that The Harijan Trust, SarvodayaSamaj and The Gandhi Memorial Fund took responsibility to work in his spirit and name.
The Indian authorities had no concrete plans and thought that the Norwegian Parliament would ensure ‘The Gandhi Memorial Fund’ receives and controls the prize money. Nothing came out of this confusion. As such, Singh feels, the Nobel Committee could not perhaps be blamed ‘for not awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Gandhi.’
This long process from 1924 to 1948 when Gandhi’s name came up again and again was also the most tumultuous period of our freedom movement. Globally also, it was a turbulent time. Emotional appeals likening Gandhi with Buddha or Christ did not help.
Various forces working at the national and international levels might have made it difficult for the Nobel authorities to make an objective assessment of Gandhi at that time. Though gentle, his methods were so radical and original that they created different strands of opinion even in India and were adopted in many parts of the world mostly after his demise.
INDESCRIBABLE JOHN ELI
By Shabbir Aariz
This indeed is proverbially a herculean task to describe or define John Elia in any particular frame. Whosoever while mentioning him, is either trapped in contradictions of one’s own opinion or is able to confine to a few verses of John Elia to judge him. But the more one tries to understand John, the more confused one is and I believe that you need another John Elia to explain him. He is a phenomenon, a thing like a live fish to hold in your hand or an elephant amongst blinds to be described. Wusatullah Khan, a noted broadcaster, holds that knowing John is as good as dating with a liberated lady. And it is quite obvious that a man who in him is a philosopher, a scholar, a biographer, a linguist with command over Urdu, Arabic, English, Persian, Sanskrit and Hebrew and needless to say that the Ismaili sect of the subcontinent could not find anyone other than John to translate Ismaili treatises from Hebrew, it becomes a tedious affair to be conclusive about John. Common perception though with an element of truth is that John is a progressive Marxist, an unconventional poet and always in denial of everything including himself while himself saying in three line verse,
“KISKO FUSAT K MUJSAY BAHAS KARAY…..
OOR SABIT KARAY K MERA WAJOOD….
ZINDZGI K LIYAY ZARORI HAY
(Anyone prepared to argue and prove that my existence is imperative for life). His poetry is admittedly very close to life and his verses in the words of a legendry poet, Majrooh Sultanpuri, are like a dialogue which no other poet has the distinction to be capable of. John has an extra-ordinary craft of connecting with his audience that has created an unprecedented fan following which no other contemporary poet can claim to have. So magical is his poetry and its rendition that it has created a cult of his admirers with such an obsession and longing for the life of melancholy lead by John Elia himself. It is no secret that he was never a happy man with defiance and protest against everything and anything around. Loudly a nonconformist when he says
“unjaman main mayri khamooshi…..
burdabari nahin hay wehshat hay”.
His style made him famous and popular. He appears to be disgusted even with creation when he says … “HASILE KUN HAY YEH JAHANE KHARAAB….
YAHI MUMKIN THA AYSI UJLAT MAIN”.
His admirers strangely wish to pass through the same pain and despair that is hallmark of John’s poetry besides satire and the disdain for the system which contributed to his sadness in life. He has so glorified and romanticized the pain and sadness that it leaves his audience in frenzied ecstasy.
John Elia was born in the year 1931 and died in 2002. He originally belonged to Amroha in the state of Uttar Pradesh, younger brother of Rayees Amrohi, a known journalist and writer. John migrated to Pakistan in the year 1957 and settled in Karachi where he is buried now. But Amroha never left his heart and mind. He never felt comfortable after leaving Amroha partly because his stay in Karachi brought him in conflict with the system too. Many other things have also contributed to his sadness in life. He was married to a well-known writer of Pakistan, Zahida Hina but in mid-80’s , the relation between the two became bumpy and ended up in divorce which left John devastated and for ten long years thereafter went in depression without writing a word.
As is true about many in the history of literature, John earned his name and fame more after his death than in his life time while he was not received well and felt a strange type of suffocation when he says,
“AAP APNAY SAY HUMSUKHAN REHNA…..
HUMNISHEEN SAANS PHOOL JATI HAY”.
Thanks to the electronic boom and You Tube that brought him to the lime light and enabled audience to reach him and his works. As if this was not enough that his first poetic collection only came to be published when he reached the age of 60. It is worthwhile mention that he has as many as seven poetic collections to his credit namely SHAYAD, YANI, LEKIN, GUMAAN, GOYA, FARMOD and RAMOOZ. Except one, all other are published posthumously. This is besides his scholarly works in prose which may require greater insight to go into.
John all his life remained honest, direct and straightforward in expressing his views on matters of public interest. He also never demonstrated any pretentions or reservations while expressing the truth of his personal life. He never made any secret of his fantasies, love affairs or drinking habits. Yet he was never at peace either with the times or with himself. John Elia, in my humble opinion lived ahead of times and even the desire of dying young without being bed ridden was not granted to him except that he strangely enough wanted to die of tuberculosis and which he did.
(The author, a senior lawyers, is a well known poet and writer. Feedback at: [email protected])
Manto: Why I wanted to read a ‘lewd’ writer
By Naveed Hussain
I first read Saadat Hasan Manto as a teenager and the spirit of what I’m writing now was etched on my memory in those years.
I was too young to understand the intricacies of his stories but I enjoyed what I read and craved for more. Back then, Manto wasn’t available in the small town of Haripur where I lived. A friend introduced me to a schoolteacher, a bibliophile who had a modest collection of Manto in his personal library.
“Why do you want to read Manto, he’s a ribald, lewd writer,” he quipped. “This is exactly why I want to read him,” I replied, almost impulsively. He smiled and agreed to lend me Manto’s books. Thus began my journey to explore Manto. The more I read, the deeper my love for him became.
Manto was a nonconformist, an unorthodox and ruthlessly bold writer. He didn’t believe in the so-called literary norms of ‘decency’ and ‘civility’ set by didactic writers of his time. For him, truth is truth. No matter how bitter and despicable the reality, Manto never dilutes the truth. Like a muckraker, he pokes his nose into the muck, rakes it, and then holds it up to the reader – in all its profound ugliness and twisted beauty. “If you don’t know your society, read my stories. If you find a defect, it’s the defect of your society, not my stories,” he says.
Manto wrote on socially taboo topics like sex, incest and prostitution, which earned him the wrath of contemporary traditionalists, conservatives and even progressives. For some of his ‘lewd’ and ‘obscene’ stories he had to face lawsuits – among them were great stories such as Thanda Gosht, Bu, Khol Do, Dhuan and Kali Shalwar.
But it is to miss the point to simply say that Manto wrote about sex. He wrote about the sexual debauchery of men and the sexual exploitation of women; about our patriarchal society where women are often treated as a ‘sex toy’, not a human being. Unlike many, I don’t compare Manto with DH Lawrence, because Manto is not lustful, even though he explicitly writes about the female anatomy. He’s more like Guy de Maupassant, who sees the throbbing heart, not the sensuous body, of the prostitute.
Manto blames the ‘diseased mind’ for reading ‘ribaldry’ into his stories. If a sex maniac derives morbid gratification from Venus De Milo, should we blame Alexandros of Antioch for chiselling such a ‘graphic’ sculpture? No, certainly not.
For contemporary literary pundits, Manto was also unacceptable because he wrote ‘indecent’ language. “They [the critics] criticise me when my characters verbally abuse one another – but why don’t they criticise their society instead where hundreds of thousands of profanities are hurled on the streets, every day,” he wonders.
I also love Manto because he was honest. He was an unflinchingly true writer who believed in calling a spade a spade. Sketch-writing was introduced as a genre in Urdu literature much earlier, but Manto created his own peculiar tell-all style. He didn’t write only the good qualities of his characters. “In my bathroom, everyone is naked. I don’t clothe them because it’s the tailor’s job,” he writes.
Manto’s sketches, which he initially wrote for the Lahore-based Daily Afaq newspaper, were later collected and published as Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wasn’t a hypocrite. He minced no words while writing about his dead friends. “I curse a thousand times a so-called civilised society where a man’s character is cleansed of all its ills and tagged as ‘May-God-Bless Him’,” Manto wrote in Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wrote sketches of filmstars Ashok Kumar, Shyam, Noor Jahan, literary figures such as Meera Ji, Agha Hashar and Ismat Chughtai and some politicians. “I have no camera that could have washed smallpox marks off the face of Agha Hashar or change obscenities uttered by him in his flowery style.”
Before embarking on his literary career, Manto had read Russian, French and English masters like Chekhov, Gorky, Victor Hugo, de Maupassant and Oscar Wilde and translated some of their works into Urdu. Surprisingly enough, despite his love for revolutionaries, Manto was not a Marxist ideologue. He was a humanist who was pained to see social injustices, economic disparities and exploitation of the underprivileged. He hated the obscurantist clergy and parasitic elites alike.
Although Manto had migrated to Pakistan after 1947, he couldn’t understand the rationale of partitioning a land along religious lines. His stories of bloodshed and cross-border migration, such as Teetwaal Ka Kutta and Toba Tek Singh, made him unpopular with ‘patriotic’ Pakistanis. To this day he remains a shadowy figure on the official literary lists of Pakistan: our school curricula, our national awards, our drawing room conversations.
Manto was acknowledged as a creative genius even by his detractors. And he knew this, which is perhaps why he wanted these words to mark his grave: “Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto and with him lie all the secrets and mysteries of the art of short story writing. Under tons of earth he lies, still wondering who among the two is the greater short story writer: he or God.”
Manto’s family feared his self-written epitaph would attract the unwanted attention of the ignorantly religious, so on his grave one finds a Ghalib couplet. He faced censorship all his life and even now has chunks of his stories taken out by the authorities. But as we mark his centenary year, I can say this with the instant certainty I felt as a young man in Haripur: the words and stories of Saadat Hasan Manto will outlive us all.