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Manto-The chronicler of suffering

Monitor News Bureau

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There was a galaxy of writers in the middle of the 20th century that created a fascinating and rich corpus of Urdu short stories over a short span of three decades. They would enrich and inspire readers in their own distinct ways but most of them believed in a progressive ideology based on the ideals of socialism. In the Pakistan of the 1980s, when my generation was growing up under a stifling right-wing martial rule, reading literature gave us solace and progressive literature gave us hope.

But there was one man, SaadatHasanManto, who invariably made his readers shiver. He shocked them and caused them sleepless nights. He took them beyond the compulsions of crass politics and outward social change. As teenagers, we would first pick him up, mistaking it for erotica. For, there was no one else in Urdu fiction whose work was as nuanced as his or as brave in dealing with the taboos of sexuality.

But the more we read the more we understood that this boldness was laced with subtle emotion and deep sorrow.

 

One would feel numb and frostbitten: numb after reading Khol Do and frostbitten after reading ThandaGosht.

Through Toba Tek Singh, he made many of us understand the paradox surrounding the Partition of India with all its surreal undertones.

SaadatHasanManto fills us up with a deep compassion for humanity in a unique way. In describing his protagonists and their deeds, he employs an ambivalent treatment of good and evil in human psyche. He neither moralises nor proselytises. He neither invokes rancour nor revenge. He inspires you with his insight and wisdom, not by emboldening the contours of a particular political ideology.

He understood what only those delving deep into either Marxist philosophy or human psychology do. The oppressors and subjugators are never at peace with themselves, and, the humaneness in a cruel man may pinch him hard from deep inside at a time when he would least expect. Likewise, a normal human being without power or pelf has an equal possibility of becoming a beast if circumstances warrant. Therefore, the liberation of human body, mind and soul cannot be a selective liberation. It is for humanity at large.

Mao Zedong once said that it is suffering alone that transcends the class of a person. Manto was the chronicler of suffering: he did not just go beyond associating people with their economic prowess, social class, caste, colour or faith, but also detached them from their motivated actions. The worst suffering in Manto’s life, for him personally and for the people around him collectively, was Partition.

Manto’s pen did not hiss but screamed on paper; his fingers did not press but pounded on the keys of his Urdu typewriter as he dissected religious extremism and communal violence surrounding the Partition. His characters belong to all faiths and nationalities, all classes and communities. Humanity is Manto’s only concern.

His collection of vignettes, SiyahHaashiye, is a direct and stark reminder of the rotten underbelly of freedom and Partition, the riots, the loot and plunder, the brutality that many cities and towns across the subcontinent witnessed. The slim volume appeared in 1948. One of the pieces read:

Mishtake*

“The knife plunged into the stomach, ripped the belly, moved down the midriff, also slashed the string holding the man’s pyjamas. The man with the knife then looked down and said, ‘Oh no, no! … that was a mishtake!”
(*The South Asian street version of ‘mistake’)

After coming to Pakistan and settling in Lahore, he felt nostalgic for Bombay which he had left in his prime as a screenwriter. Most of his pen portraits that he contributed to the Urdu periodicals from Lahore, Afaq and Director, between 1948 and 1954, recollect his memories of those whose friendship or acquaintance he cherished when he was a part of the Bombay film world. GanjeFarishte, a compilation of some of the pen portraits published in these magazines, also appeared during that time.

Manto loved Ashok Kumar and fondly called him Dadamoni, as most of Ashok’s friends and fans would. In his sketch, Manto relates an incident:

“The religious killings were now at their height. One day Ashok and I were returning from Bombay Talkies. We stopped at his place, where I stayed for several hours, and then he offered to drop me home in the evening. He took a short cut through a Muslim neighbourhood. A wedding procession led by a band was approaching from the other side of the street. I was horrified. ‘Dadamoni, why have you come here?’ ‘Don’t you worry,’ he said.

He knew what I was thinking. But it failed to calm my nerves. We were in an area which no Hindu would dare enter.

And the whole world knew Ashok was a Hindu, a very prominent Hindu at that, whose murder could create shock waves. I could remember no prayers in Arabic, nor an appropriate verse from the Quran. But I was cursing myself and praying in broken words, ‘O God, don’t let me be dishonoured … let no Muslim kill Ashok because if that happens, I will carry that guilt to my grave. I am not the entire Muslim nation. I am only an individual but I don’t want the Hindu nation to curse me forever and ever if something happens to Ashok.’

When the procession reached the car, some people spotted Ashok and began to scream, ‘Ashok Kumar … Ashok Kumar.’ I went cold. Ashok had his hands on steering wheel and he was very quiet. I was about to scream to the crowd that I was a Muslim and Ashok was taking me home when two young men stepped forward and said, ‘Ashok bhai, this street will lead you nowhere. It is better to turn into this side lane.’”

Manto was always aware of global politics and the bearing it has over the lives we lead, particularly in the Third World. The first ever literary endeavour he undertook was translating Russian literature into Urdu. However, he largely refrained from obvious political comment in either fiction or non-fiction.

This seems to have changed a bit with his nine letters to Uncle Sam, written between 1951 and 1954. The backdrop was perhaps the new economic, technological and cultural power assumed by the US in the wake of the Second World War, coupled with the beginning of a relationship between the Pakistani establishment and Washington, primarily aimed at combating Soviet interests. Manto is prophetic in some of these letters. No one dares write with such cadence and directness today.

In the third letter to Uncle Sam, he says:

“You have done many good deeds yourself and continue to do them. You decimated Hiroshima, you turned Nagasaki into smoke and dust and you caused several thousand children to be born in Japan … Out here, many mullah types after urinating pick up a stone and with one hand inside their untied shalwar, use the stone to absorb the after-drops of urine as they resume their walk. This they do in full public view. All I want is that the moment such a person appears, I should be able to pull out that atom bomb you will send me and lob it at the mullah so that he turns into smoke along with the stone he was holding…

As for your military pact with us, it is remarkable and should be maintained. You should sign something similar with India. Sell all your old condemned arms to the two of us, the ones you used in the last war. This junk will thus be off your hands and your armament factories will no longer remain idle…

One more thing. We can’t seem able to draft a constitution. Do kindly ship us some experts because while a nation can manage without a national anthem, it cannot do without a constitution, unless such is your wish.”

Here is another excerpt. This is from the fourth letter:

“There is something about lipstick that I need to mention to you. The kiss-proof lipstick that you sent over did not gain much popularity with our upper-class ladies. Both young girls and older women swear that by no means is it kiss-proof. My own view is that the problem lies with the way they kiss which is all wrong. Some people kiss as if they were eating watermelon. A book published in your country called The Art of Kissing is quite useless here because one can learn nothing from it. You may instead like to fly an American girl over who can teach our upper classes that there is a difference between kissing and eating watermelon. There is no need to explain the difference to lower and lower-middle class people because they have no interest in such matters and will remain the way they are.”

You read Manto today and you realise that the predatory times of the Partition of British India are not over. And in addition to the pains we inflict upon ourselves, those inflicted by the global powers have also increased with time.

For us, Manto’s writings on the Partition form the basis for establishing a process of truth and reconciliation around this colossal tragedy, the terrible suffering it made a generation go through and its never ending aftermath — the aftermath that we saw in Dhaka and continue to see from Srinagar to Ahmedabad in India and from Gilgit to Karachi in Pakistan. When truth is not established, brutality is not condemned, and perpetrators of atrocities go scot-free; reconciliation cannot be achieved and a lasting peace can never be made.


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Opinion

Growing crimes against women

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Aritry Das

For years India has grappled with the tag of being the ‘most dangerous country for women‘. Successive governments introduced measures, but there is increasing evidence that they don’t work – and are counter-productive. Indeed, in key Indian states, cases of sexual violence are on the rise.

The Constitution of India mandates that as a federal union of states, law and order issues remain primarily with state governments, unless there are overarching issues such as terrorism. This results in many states trying different methods to tackle growing violence against women, and creating a range of other problems rather than solutions.

 

States like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are the top states for registered rapes and sexual assaults, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a federal body that collates statistics across states. These state governments are introducing new measures to increase women’s safety, but experts say their moves are not addressing root causes and systemic failures in India’s creaking criminal justice system.

As many as 38,947 rapes were reported in 2016, which was a rise of 12% from 2015. The number of cases reported under “sexual assault, harassment and molestation”, was 84,746 nationally. This is the second-most common crime against women after “domestic violence” cases.

When Uttar Pradesh chief minister Ajay Singh Bisht, (Yogi Adityanath) came to power in 2017, he decided to tackle the problem of women’s safety by creating the controversial ‘anti-Romeo squad’, with police roaming in civil dress to surveil public spaces to keep a check on street harassers (also known as “roadside Romeos”).

The squad was eventually disbanded. But following a spate of rapes of minors, Bisht directed the police to revive the squad with the new power to issue a warning ‘red card’ to ‘suspected harassers’. If a person is caught twice doing a similar act, he will face criminal proceedings.

The squad had earlier drawn flak after reports surfaced about them targeting and publicly shaming young men, giving moral advice to couples, while some were made to do sit-ups or had their heads shaved in public.

Vaibhav Krishna, a Senior Superintendent of Police in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, told Asia Times that police officers for 23 anti-Romeo squads were receiving gender sensitization and training programs to help them handle cases better.

The squad’s further empowerment has raised concerns. Reports of the squad “moral policing” couples and a subsequent increase in sexual violence cases indicated that the measure was not working, according to PoonamKaushik, a women’s rights activist and general secretary of PragatisheelMahilaSangathan.

In the neighboring state of Rajasthan, crimes against women under all sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) jumped by around 40% and rape cases rose by 30% in the first five months of this year compared to the same period last year. This happened despite the government setting up its own version of the anti-Romeo squad in 2018 with policewomen on two-wheelers.

“In Rajasthan, the government has not set up enough women’s help desks or One-Stop Crisis Centers [to assist rape victims]. Instead, they are trying to create these mechanisms [anti-Romeo squad] that are working against women being in public spaces due to moral policing,” said women’s rights activist KavitaSrivastava, who played a key role in the framing of the Vishakha guidelines to address sexual harassment at workplaces.

Now the Rajasthan government plans to set up special investigation units for crimes against women.

Delhi, meanwhile, had at least five rapes reported every day last year, according to NCRB data. So, the state government wants to boost safety by bringing more women into public spaces through free metro and bus rides, and installing 300,000 CCTV cameras. The Delhi Police, which reports to the Home Ministry, also launched a motorcycle-fleet of female cops to patrol the streets called Raftar.

But it is hard to spot this patrol squad on the road, according to Jaya Velankar, director of Jagori, a women’s organization that works to make city spaces safer. She also pointed out that unless roads are safe, free public transport won’t work.

Data from Delhi Police shows that sexual violence against women has only marginally decreased in recent times. In the first six months of 2019, reported cases of rape (IPC 376) were 973, down from 1,005 cases in the same period in 2018, while cases of assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty (IPC 354) decreased by 172 and insults to the modesty of women (IPC 509) decreased by 101.

Madhya Pradesh was the first state to propose the death penalty for men who rape girls under the age of 12, back in 2017. But violence against women has not gone down. Rape of minor girls in the state made headlines throughout June this year. Now the government has taken an initiative to introduce GPS tracking devices and emergency “panic buttons” in passenger vehicles such as buses and taxis.

Maharashtra assigned a 2.5-billion-rupee (US$36 million) budget for women’s safety initiatives. But sexual violence cases have risen despite this. But a survey by non-government groups Akshara and Safetipin found that 44% of areas in Mumbai, the state capital, were unsafe. It said women were only safe to walk on 22% of Mumbai’s streets.
This year the Maharashtra government finally proposed safety measures such as setting up SOS hotspots, tracking apps and installing more CCTV cameras.

However, feminists are not convinced that surveillance leads to greater safety for women or a loss of autonomy.

The rising number of crimes has put state lawmakers in a difficult position and they have criticized the police, who then discourage women from filing cases, Velankar claimed. But a higher number of reported cases also meant that more women were coming out to report violence and governments now had greater responsibility to assure they get justice, she said.

The implementation of a major national scheme to increase women’s safety is also not faring well. Recent reports revealed that between 2015 and 2018, states and union territories used less than 20% of the 8.5-billion-rupee ($124 million) budget allocated to them under the Nirbhaya Fund, which supports schemes for women’s safety. The fund was set up in the aftermath of a brutal gang-rape of a paramedical student in New Delhi in December 2012. Delhi, which has the highest rate of crime against women, fared the worst by using only 0.84% of the 350 million rupees it received.

“The Nirbhaya Fund is used as per proposals from different departments of the central and state governments. It will not be implemented if there is no will to do so,” a senior federal official of the Ministry of Women and Child Development told Asia Times on the condition of anonymity.

Experts say government initiatives and implementation of laws won’t create change if a culture of impunity has made the criminal justice system weak. Kaushik noted that some of the worst accusations against the police stem from recent rape cases of minors in Unnao and Kathua, where they are alleged to have bowed to pressure from people of influence to bury cases and evidence.

The Unnao rape victim, who claimed she was a minor at the time of the incident, tried to self-immolate last year due to the police not registering her complaint against a BJP lawmaker. In the Kathua case verdict, four police officers were convicted among the six accused in connection to rape and murder of an eight-year-old Kashmiri girl.

Another major hurdle that stops victims of sexual violence from getting justice is the low conviction rate in India, which is a mere 25.5% for rape and just under 22% for sexual assault and harassment, according to NCRB data.

(Courtesy: atimes.com)

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Opinion

Why justice matters in Jammu and Kashmir

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Harinder Baweja

Pakistan has for long sponsored terrorism in?Kashmir. But is it enough for India to point to “causality”, without introspecting on the fact that Kashmir has a long litany of documented human rights violations that have gone unpunished?

Think about it. Why does India get prickly each time allegations of human rights abuse in Jammu and Kashmir are placed at its door? Is it because there is some truth in the allegations? Does India have a lot to hide when it comes to violations committed by its men in uniform?

 

Dismissing an updated report by Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which faulted both India and Pakistan for not improving the situation in Kashmir, a ministry of external affairs (MEA) spokesperson said last week, “A situation created by years of cross-border terrorist attacks emanating from Pakistan has been analysed without any reference to its causality.”

Reflecting India’s indignation at being called out, the spokesperson said, the report “seems to be a contrived effort to create an artificial parity between the world’s largest and most vibrant democracy and a country that openly practices state-sponsored terrorism.”

Let us get this out of the way first.

Yes, it can be said, with no hesitation at all, that Pakistan has for long sponsored terrorism and will likely continue to practise its “bleed India through a thousand cuts” policy. It has suffered humiliation at the hands of the United Nations Security Council, which recently declared Jaish-e-Mohammad chief, MasoodAzhar, a global terrorist. But that tag too is unlikely to lead to the Pakistani deep State severing its ties with the jihadi outfits it sees as “assets.”

But is it enough for India to point to “causality”, without introspecting on the fact that Kashmir has a long litany of documented human rights violations that have gone unpunished? The Valley, in fact, has erupted in anger each time the men in uniform have crossed the line, but justice – that ever so important balm for a population as alienated as Kashmir’s – has mostly stayed elusive.

Let’s talk about the two occasions when the Valley boiled over with anger.

First, in 2010, Kashmiris took to the streets after the Indian Army, in a fake encounter, killed three civilians and passed them off as infiltrating terrorists. The gross violation was proved beyond a doubt. The unsuspecting civilians had been lured to Machil, a forward sector along the Line of Control, and killed in cold blood. Despite an Army court martial pronouncing five of its men guilty and sentencing them for life, the Armed Forces Tribunal suspended the sentence, arguing that civilians ought not to have been in a forward location, wearing “pathan suits”.

Just like in 2010, when over 100 protesting youth were shot dead, in 2016 too, the civilian toll crossed 100 after stone pelters – angry with the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani – took to the streets. Kashmir gave vent to deep anger and betrayal – not only because Wani was eliminated – but because the trust deficit between the Valley and Delhi had eroded over years, and reached break point.

The pellet gun became the symbol of oppression. It blinded, maimed and killed. The OHCHR report that India summarily dismissed, pointed to the basic tenets of injustice: “There is no information about any new investigation into excessive use of force leading to casualties. There is no information on the status of the five investigations launched into extrajudicial executions in 2016… No prosecutions have been reported.”

Kashmiris live with this reality every day. Why must brazen killings go unpunished? More importantly, why lash out at a report that questions excessive use of force?
The Kashmiri wound is deep and it has festered for too long. One major step forward would be to reduce the repressive security measures. Instead of negating charges of abuse and human rights violations, India ought to take steps towards setting up a truth and reconciliation commission. Why not encourage public hearings in which victims and their families are encouraged to speak?

Reaching out and admitting to violations will help rebuild trust. It is not enough to merely look at figures that point to a reduction in infiltration. The problem now centresaround home-grown militants. Violations only fuel the cycle of violence.

Admit, address and provide justice, for Kashmir is not a piece of real estate, to be ruled by force.

(Courtesy: Hindustan Times)

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Opinion

Remove stigma, report psychiatric ailments

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Dr Arif Maghribi Khan

“All patients are mad. All psychiatric medicines cause sleep.” Yes, this is the common perception in Kashmir. While the fact remains that according to easiest classifications of diseases, there are two types of psychiatric ailments – neurotic and psychotic. In neurotic diseases, patient does not lose contact with reality.

The patient can tell you his or her name, address, locality correctly while in psychotic ailments, patient’s contact with reality is lost and he or she lives in world of their own. Such patients often report seeing angels, strange figures, or hearing voices or sounds, which nobody else sitting with the patient sees or hears.

 

One example of psychotic ailments is schizophrenia, the prevalence of which is as low as 0.5 per 1000, while ailments like depression, anxiety, phobia form the bulk of psychiatric ailments. Even in this day and age, when all the world of knowledge and information is at our fingertips, we as a society have not been able to differentiate between the two.

So the stigma remains attached with psychiatric ailments thus delaying diagnosis and treatment. It is because of this stigma, people visit psychiatric settings with faces covered or masked. Young adults and children fear to disclose to their parents if they suffer from depression or anxiety disorders, which leads them to live an impaired life, wherein they struggle with issues like loss of interest in studies or even loss of employment as their inability to concentrate consistently tears apart their social and professional lives.

Parents are there to discipline and guide children but not to make them fear depression. Another problem hitting psychiatric healthcare in Kashmir is the myth that all medicines prescribed by psychiatrists cause sleep, while the fact is that psychiatric medicines work by increasing, changing or blocking activities of neurotransmitters.

Nerves carry information from the body to the brain and vice versa. The brain is composed of roughly 86 billion neurons. Chemical messengers called neurotransmitters carry messages between neurons to help the brain receive the information, decide what it means and execute a reaction. Neurotransmitters are responsible for emotional regulation, pain perception, motivation, concentration, memory energy, mood, sleep patterns, libido. Any imbalance can result in Depression, Nightmares, Mental Fatigue, Anxiety, Impaired cognition, attention, and arousal, Apathy, Lack of motivation, Poor attention, and Fatigue. Most of the time a qualified psychiatrist uses anti-depressants which do not cause sleep, in first few months of treatment depending upon the psychiatric ailment anxiolytics, also known as ‘tranquilizers’ are used.

So let’s stop assuming that all medicines cause sleep and we will be dependent on them for rest of our life.

The biggest challenge faced by doctors today and specially psychiatrists is that due to easy availability of internet most patients start Google searching medicine for 8 minutes prescribed by a doctor who studied medicine for 8 years, fact is that not all information surfers get on medicine by Google search is authenticated. Patients are well advised to seek such information from doctor rather than what is searched on internet or what a specialist from other field like education or engineering has to say!

We need to fight epidemic of psychiatric ailments including drug abuse on basis of science and not search on internet. It’s as simple as that, to aware common people doctors, counsellors from field of mental health need to work vigorously in community to clear myths and mist surrounding psychiatric ailments. We need to give patients of anxiety disorders or drug abuse respect and not scare them with unfounded information. Also next time we label some person as mad for being stressed kindly read this survey of again “Nearly 1.8 million adults (45% of the population) in the Kashmir show symptoms of significant mental distress according to a comprehensive mental health survey conducted by the medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) between October and December 2015. The research was done in collaboration with the Department of Psychology, Kashmir University and the Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience (IMHANS).

(Author can be mailed at [email protected])

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