The saga of Padmavati, now called Padmavat, seems to be sputtering to a close. The Central Board of Film Certification can pretend that there was something so objectionable about the film that it had to bring in two historians and a gentleman of princely descent for advice to make it fit for an infantile public. Perhaps by changing its name into that of the romantic poem on which Sanjay Leela Bhansali professedly based his film, the CBFC feels that it can justify passing it by distancing it from what rumour claims is history. But the CBFC’s reasoning is unimportant. What matters is that an institution of the government complied with the demand of vigilante mobs. Even the “panel” of historians and a blue-blooded gentleman was a show for the mob, which needs to be satisfied before it will allow the film to be shown. Thugs rule.
This frank avowal of the power of vigilantes, whether with the name of Rajput Karni Sena or any of the numerous others, was some time in the making. The controversy around Bhansali’s film, when it was still being shot, was triggered by a rumour that Padmini, the Hindu queen and symbol of Rajput honour, was to be seen in a love scene with the invader, Alauddin Khilji, in a dream sequence. It can be inferred that the violence that followed was deliberately contrived – the rumour was an excuse – for a purpose. It muddled the idea of history, something that any dispensation with a specifically edited version of nationalism needs. History must be emptied of its generally known contents and filled in with myth, fancy, imported notions of honour, morality tales, new heroes and wishful thinking posing as fact to make it easier in the present to glorify ‘Hindu’ achievements and values, revive old hostilities and construct boundaries of exclusion. The redefinition of culture is allied to this programme. For the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the most important instrument for both is religion: in the case of the film, the mobs pretended to suspect that Hindu Rajput honour was being sullied by Khilji’s lust in a dream.
What else did the vigilantes achieve? They reminded the populace of the power of violence in everyday life, and that creativity, scholarship and critical thought are irrelevant. The last has been made amply obvious by violence in universities, the murders of rationalists and critics and threats to others – the Humans of Hindutva site had to be withdrawn – and the repeated attacks on art, entertainment and literature. The hatred behind the attacks on artists and film makers should not be underestimated. Mobs did not stop at disrupting the shooting of Padmavati and destroying the sets; they slapped Bhansali. The threats to cut off noses and heads followed.
But this is not the first time that such a thing has happened. That it continues with increasing frequency over the years says something about the non-BJP, non-RSS population. This includes the collusion – willing impotence? – Of non-BJP governments and institutions. Why could an entire country not prevent M.F. Husain’s departure from its shores? Have any of those who destroyed his paintings and threatened him been punished? Named? What about those who forced Deepa Mehta to shift the shooting of her film, Water, out of the country because it featured Hindu widows? Have we been alert and active? Have we persistently demanded that such acts be punished or have we let repetition dull our resistance, even bore us a bit, as vigilantes, and the institutions behind them, chip away at the foundations of freedom and sanity?
It is as though somewhere deep down, we are not surprised. Especially when it is a work of art or a book or a film that is the cause of the apparently righteous rage. The tendency to moralize history and, consequently, ideas of culture is an old one, lying dormant to be excavated by a regime which wishes to whip up targeted ideas of patriotism and identity for its own use. Even when nationalism was thought by many to be a necessary emotion to build up resistance against British rulers, artists fell prey to the confusion between a moralized, identity-ridden history and creative freedom. “It should be understood, drama and history are not the same thing. In no play in any country is history perfectly delineated,” wrote Jyotirindranath Tagore in Bengali in 1901 in a modest defence of his 1879 play, Ashrumati, set in Rajasthan. “…it is not proper to associate prominent historical characters with matters quite foreign to them,” shot back his correspondent. “Everything has its limits, and even dramatic and poetical imagination with its great latitude is no exception to it.” This is just one of the enraged letters and reviews (in the Bharatmitra for example) to which Jyotirindranath composed patient replies, drafting an apology (this letter has not been found) to “H.H. The Maharana of Oodeypore” as advised by a friend, who also mentioned how anger against Bengalis among influential Rajput circles was being fanned by writers in another language.
The main plot of Ashrumati, while celebrating the heroism of Rana Pratap Singh, presents the story of his fictitious daughter. She is kidnapped in infancy by the Rana’s foe, brought up among Bhils, and later rescued from miscreants by Prince Salim, whom she reveres as her saviour and begins to love. Many of Jyotirindranath’s admirers found this unacceptable. Some were leaders of society in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan, where his plays, translated in Marathi and Hindi, were being performed. A Rajput princess, on top of that the daughter of Rana Pratap, indomitable in the face of Mughal incursions, loving a Mughal prince? Jyotirindranath’s claims for creative freedom, his repeated assurances that the girl’s story was entirely imagined, his effort to explain that art has its own logic – a girl unaware of her birthright, her religion, friend or enemy, could innocently love her rescuer – did not matter.
Instead, he had to reiterate his great reverence for Rana Pratap and keep quoting an excerpt from his play to show how the Rana’s honour remained unsullied. Not only had Salim not touched her, but she would also become a hermit as her father ordered her to expiate the sin of having loved him. That Jyotirindranath’s attempt to create a proud past included a generous and honourable Mughal prince too became irrelevant.
Have we moved on at all? Jyotirindranath walked into the trap of moralized history and identity politics in his enthusiasm to ‘create’ feelings of patriotism and pride in the past. He, like many writers of his time, before it and after, drew on the material for stirring tragedies and romances provided by the depiction of history in James Tod’s Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, published in 1832. In his earlier play, Sarojini, a Rajput princess is saved from an Iphigenia-like fate by her fiancé. When later, as her husband, he is killed by Alauddin Khilji’s soldiers, she commits jauhar in a rousing climax for which a youthful Rabindranath provided a song. That was a runaway hit, perhaps because it did not unsettle prevalent notions of honour and distinct cultural identities. Jyotirindranath may have mistaken it for the triumph of imagination in art.
Even though the circumstances of Jyotirindranath’s time no longer exist, when over-excited sensitivities may have had some excuse, Indians, for whatever reasons, have failed to place faith either in the objective possibilities of history or in the freedom of creativity and thought. The resultant confusions and moral timidity are there to be exploited by political parties and outfits focused on division. Since the history of people’s evolving psyche cannot be altered by magic, the only way forward is unflagging resistance to every act of coercion and suppression of art and thought, and insistence on the use of law against those who destroy and kill in the name of nationalism.
What Do the Echoes of Operation Kabaddi Really Say?
By Ali Ahmed
Two unconnected headlines at the start of the week are connected in this article. In one, the spokesperson of the United Nations Secretary General expressed the limitations of mediation as a conflict resolution mechanism for the conflict in Kashmir, arguing that both sides – India and Pakistan – needed to be on board for the Secretary General to exercise initiative under his good offices mandate enabled by UN Charter Articles 98 and 99.
While Pakistan repeatedly brings the Kashmir question to the attention of the UN – most recently during the visit of the President of the General Assembly to Pakistan last week – India takes the cover of the Shimla Agreement that buried the UN role in Kashmir by calling for a bilateral settlement of the dispute.
With India reluctant, there is little possibility of mediation figuring as a conflict resolution tool or the UN taking center stage in bringing to a closure its longstanding interest in the Kashmir question (To recall, the second longest serving UN observer mission is along the line of control (LC)).
However, there is one situation that can potentially propel UN center stage. This would be so if the actions hinted at in the second headline come to pass.
Among the contents of a book by a Jawaharlal Nehru University academic, Line on Fire: Ceasefire Violations and India-Pakistan Escalation Dynamics, is reportedly the revelation of an Indian plan to capture a few posts along the LC in late 2001, in a operation codenamed Operation Kabaddi. Apparently the operation was aborted by the intervention of 9/11 and onset of the United States’ led Operation Enduring Freedom in the region.
The book has it that the plan envisaged the capture of some 25-30 Pakistani posts along the LC in order to prevent the infiltration of terrorists into Kashmir, after preparations had been completed in end September. In the event, the plan could not be actioned even though there was a possible incident on October 1 that could have triggered the multiple attacks across the LC: the terrorist strike on the Kashmir Legislative Assembly in which some 38 people were killed.
The plan is precursor to the latter day surgical strikes of end September 2016. The surgical strikes did not have the same scope or magnitude, and with good reason.
Any operation – even if not as ambitious as made out in the book – would focus the UN Security Council on the escalatory possibilities connected with the outstanding issue that remains on its agenda as the ‘India-Pakistan question’ since the passage of its Resolution 39 (1948) on January 20, 1948. Mindful of the possibility of being forced to the table by a Security Council resolution, India sensibly restricted the scope of the surgical strikes, assuring Pakistan the following day that the operation had ceased.
Even so, the army’s ongoing reforms reportedly cater for leveraging its conventional advantage. After playing footsie with Cold Start – the freshly minted doctrine in wake of Operation Parakram in 2002-03 – by acknowledging its existence in fits and starts over its lifespan, the army owned up to it definitively, early in the tenure of the current army chief.
The army is currently engaged in a reform initiative in which the integrated battle groups that found mention in the doctrine are firmed in. The idea is of dedicated formations – likely heavier than brigade sized combat commands – formed for territory centric or destruction tasks. Pre-designated and programmed and having the requisite resources – firepower and engineer – intrinsic, these would be in a position for an early launch from a ‘cold start’, as envisaged in the evocative, if colloquial, name of the doctrine.
The JNU academic and author of the book Professor Happymon Jacob, hopes to focus attention on the continuing escalatory possibilities resulting from incidents along the LC which numbered some 3,000 last year, and the need for formalising the ceasefire dating to November 2003. The ‘ceasefire’ was not the result of a document, but is an understanding. This only reinforces Jacob’s fears of escalation, apprehensions that in light of the nuclear dimensions to war it can only bring the security minders of the international community – the Security Council – down on South Asia in quick time. The international community has a genuine interest in preventing a nuclear war outbreak, since the consequences are potentially global.
While India would press for having Pakistan in the dock for provoking the conflict in first place by a terror incident or a series of incidents that it could interpret as an armed attack, there is no guarantee that the Security Council will stop at that. This could release the Secretary General from his limitation encapsulated in the first news article referred to above, which incidentally was also voiced earlier in April last year.
India would be required then to engage with Pakistan meaningfully over Kashmir, something it is loath to do.
India therefore needs to reappraise its hardline in regard to Pakistan and in Kashmir. The hardline creates the conditions for a bust up over Kashmir. The army chief among his numerous media interventions has indicated that India has options up its sleeve along the lines of surgical strikes, but of a different sort and order that he did not dwell on in detail, keeping surprise in mind. In future such strikes cannot be as tame as the surgical strikes, fobbed off by the Pakistanis as a non-event.
Any future such strikes would need to be of the order of the hype that has since attended them, rather as they are depicted in the somewhat misnamed recent release Uri, which dramatises the surgical strikes. If the up-gunned Integrated Battle Groups are up and running by then – the exercises to prove their new design are due this summer – then their employment would have to reckon with the unintended outcome: international attention forcing India to the table to discuss Kashmir meaningfully.
For India, meaningful talks imply getting Pakistan to vacate its occupation of areas of the erstwhile kingdom of the maharaja. Keeping its claims alive, only last week India protested a Pakistani court order extending its sway over Gilgit-Balitistan as interference in India’s internal affairs. Its chief objection to the Chinese lifeline to Pakistan, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, is that it trespasses Indian territory. While India’s contention would no doubt figure in the talks forced on India, the casus belli (case for war) would likely lie in the tinder accumulated in Kashmir which would have to be reckoned with. Though distasteful, it would be a consequence of any Indian military action.
Proceedings at a book release function over the weekend organised by the Center for Land War Studies do not lend confidence that there is enough appreciation of the unintended consequences of military response. A significant reservation voiced by the speakers comprising retired members of the military brass who contributed to the CLAWS publication – Military Strategy for India in the 21st Century – was that there is little government-military interface on the nature of India’s military options.
This is little different from the criticism governments have faced over the past, which indicates this government’s security mindedness has been little different from its predecessors’, notable in light of its assiduous distancing from the past and its tom-tomming of the same. The difference is its hardline, which can land the region in a soup in quick time, absent mechanisms, other than routine diplomacy, for engaging Pakistan.
While to peaceniks the unintended outcome – meaningful talks perhaps mediated by the international community – of military action in line with Operation Kabaddi is not unwelcome, this is perhaps not an outcome sought by NSA AjitDoval’s team. In which case, Doval is best advised to read the CLAWS publication on military strategy and be mindful of the inadvisability of military options, and preventively defuse the conditions that keep Operation Kabaddi plans well dusted.
How eluding is our justice system
By Shabbir Aariz
Given the human imperfections and infirmities, perfect justice remains a divine attribute belonging to the throne of God. All humans being alike, therefore, dispensation of justice by one human being to another is not only difficult but impossible. Any hope of perfect justice at the human hand is a mirage. Yet the justice that lies within human grasp need not to be jeopardized in pursuit of perfection. Needless to say that even such pursuit in not felt in our system. Subversion of even the existing system after about three quarters of century of freedom and a constitution is loud and clear. The path of justice has not remained that straight where the freedom of the people could be defended against attacks from various quarters. The inclination to injustice increases instead of decreasing. Things seem to have reached to such a pass where defiance is celebrated and the system of safeguards is destroyed. The noblest desire, aspiration and hope in the society is always for fair and speedy delivery of justice which is becoming a dream with every passing day and which is needed to remain a constant goal of the system.
The Indian justice system, as various studies suggest, is too slow, too costly and too complex. It is a paradox that courts and police in India remain the least preferred mechanism for resolving disputes and access to and quality of justice further remain a question mark. The system has failed marginalized, disadvantaged and under privileged population. Democracy is never possible where the capacity of justice is lacking. India’s criminal justice system is so ailing and imperfect that even after decades trials are not concluded. As if this was not enough, we have seen in immediate past, people were found innocent after years of incarceration and their trials moving on slow pace at times out expediency. The law is not dead but appears to have slept. It no longer seems to have remained a sacred work to determine the rights, property, life and civil duties of the people. It has to be the prime duty of our judicial system to preserve the civility and reason instead of, though important as they are, the dignity of the administrators and rulers. We have been hearing of reforms also in the system but nothing has changed in reality so far. This insensitivity to reform or to change, has resulted in bad and erroneous verdicts even at the highest level also. Some of such verdicts are then forced down the throat of the other people or backed with bullets. This is more because of the fact there is shyness in accepting the fact that the mind has enormous capacity for error, self-deception, illogic, sloppiness, confusion and silliness which are required to be diminished. Judges are sworn in to decide according to the laws and not according to the good pleasure as there is no piety in that. A judge has responsibility as leader for setting the level of the administration of justice. Over two thousand years ago, Socrates said, “four things belong to a judge: to hear courteously, to answer wisely, to consider soberly and to decide impartially.” This mantra needs to be followed by all earthly systems of justice all over the globe. More particularly in a society one like India where over the years numerous verdicts from the highest court have become the subject of debate for wrong reasons. And equally those cases pending disposal for not a number of years but for generations. Judges have used extra-legal phrases and based their verdicts on such phrases and perceptions created totally extraneous to the law and circumstances. In the recent past , the overall pathetic situation of the justice system brought the then Chief Justice of India, Justice T. S. Thakur publically to tears and that holds the sufficient testimony to our ailing justice system at the highest level.
There may be a number of reasons for the system not coming up to the level of expectations and some are glaring. There has been a long standing practice of treating the judicial appointments at higher level as political patronage and outcome of nepotistic fiefdoms of well connected. Though now made permissible by the Supreme Court, judges as persons and courts as institutions have enjoyed greater immunity from criticism while being humans with common human frailties and fallibilities. This has resulted in loss of faith in the justice system on the one hand and in creation of a parallel system like khapp panchayats to set unhealthy trends in the society. It is therefore, imperative for those in position to seriously accord their thought and attention to the health of this third and important pillar of the state which makes it more urgent in a democratic system of the society. Unless it is so done, the system shall continue to elude those who seek justice.
(Well known poet and writer, the author can be reached at: [email protected])
Chinese Islamophobia was made in the West
In response to the rising international criticism regarding the detainment of more than a million Uighur Muslims in so-called “re-education camps”, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi defended the country’s actions, stating, “the efforts are completely in line with the direction the international community has taken to combat terrorism … if we can take care of prevention, then it will be impossible for terrorism to spread and take root.”
Other Chinese officials defended their country’s actions, claiming that Islam is an “ideological illness,” positioning the concentration camps as “hospitals” needed to “cure” people from this sickness. China’s ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai stated that the country is trying to turn the Uighurs into “normal people,” and a pro-government newspaper tweeted: “The West should be consistent over its own value system. How can it be fine to kill terrorists with missiles, but a humanitarian crisis when Xinjiang attempts to turn them into normal people?” Such statements describe the faith of over 1.7 billion people as an illness from which they need to be cured.
Viewing Islam as an abnormality and the cause of “extremism,” is not exclusive to China, rather it finds its home in the West’s Countering Violence Extremism (CVE) programs, which view expressions of Muslim identity as uniquely associated with “extremism” and “radicalisation.” Programs aimed at “preventing extremism,” have resulted in the stigmatisation and criminalisation of Muslim communities.
Today’s public discourse on terrorism consists of a fixation on Islam and the expression of Muslim identity as indicators of “extremism,” “radicalisation,” and “terrorism”. It is not a line of thought constrained to the People’s Republic of China, rather this viewpoint permeates much of Western academic research and policies. Termed “new terrorism” studies, this field of work arose post-9/11 in an effort to explain, not understand, 21st-century political violence and argued that Islam was the root cause for individuals choosing to engage in violence. In the US, this framework led to destructive wars abroad, surveillance of Muslim communities at home, and broad violations of human rights.
In 2011, a US government white paper likened the hijab to “passive terrorism.” The author viewed an article of clothing – a headscarf worn by many Muslim women who feel it is part of their religion – as an indicator of support for violence. This same cultural racist argument underpins the hijab and veil bans that are sprouting up across Europe. Politicians and activists who support such measures argue that a piece of cloth is equal to violence and thus pass legislation that forces women to undress, resulting in the gross violation of individuals’ human rights. Such policies are built on a false and unfounded premise that identifies markers attributed to Muslim identity (growing a beard, attending mosque, wearing a hijab, etc) as indicators of “radicalisation” and “extremism.” China too has adopted this framework as veils and “abnormal” beards are forbidden in the Xinjiang region.
Chinese officials’ dangerous claim that Islam is an “illness” can also find precedent in the comments made by western politicians who have long used anti-Muslim claims to promote their hostile agendas. In 2014, Oklahoma state representative, John Bennett, described Islam as a “cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out.” Donald Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn described Islam as a “malignant cancer,” and asserted that “fear of Muslims is RATIONAL”. A 2016 tweet from Flynn shares eery similarities to China’s current claims, as he declares “Islamic ideology [is] sick and must B healed”. In 2015 on The Kelly File, conservative political commentator Glenn Beck argued that there is a “disease in Islam” and it must be addressed.
Such dangerous claims pathologising a belief system are not restricted to the United States. In March 2017, far-right Australian politician, Pauline Hanson, stated: “Islam is a disease; we need to vaccinate ourselves against that.” In 2017, Caroline Santos, a candidate for United Kingdom’s right-wing UKIP, described Islam as a “cancer” in a tweet praising far-right figure Tommy Robinson.
Noted anti-Muslim figures like Ayan Hirsi Ali and AsraNomani have also attributed common Muslim phrases of “Allahu Akbar,” (God is Great), and ‘inshAllah” (God willing) as being associated with extremism and terrorism. Nomani and Hirsi Ali are known right-wing figures who have made a career out of promoting dangerous and discriminatory views about Muslims, but their claims that Arabic terminology is a “red flag” for extremism and/or terrorism is not relegated to a niche political view.
In 2018, Swiss officials fined a man for saying “Allahu Akbar” in public, and defended their actions arguing that a “passersby could have mistaken him for a terrorist.” Today in China, Muslims who have been heard greeting one another with the common phrase, “As-Salam Alaikum,” (peace be upon you) have found themselves detained in the ever-expanding networkof concentration camps.
China is instituting the very calls made by western politicians to “cut out” Islam, by criminalising any expression of Muslim identity, including removing Qurans from people’s homes, restricting fasting during the month of Ramadan, and forbidding Muslim parents from giving their children Muslim names. In an effort to “heal” Muslims from this “dangerous ideology,” the government has established 28 detention camps, described by Amnesty International as comparable to “wartime concentration camps,” aimed at mass scale eradication of Uighur Muslim identity. Detainees in the camps are forced to endure psychological and physical torture, renounce their faith, and pledge allegiance to the Chinese communist party.
Under the guise of preventing terrorism, governments have been able to institute discriminatory and deadly policies targeting Muslim communities. Proponents of such measures justify their actions with the demonstrably false and discriminatory argument that identifies Islam as an explanatory factor in political violence.
What we’re currently witnessing in China is the product of a framework that points to Islam and the expression of Muslim identity as the root cause of terrorism, a viewpoint that finds its roots in, and is a staple of, Western political discourse.
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