Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Congress, Wake up and smell the Chai !

Most Congressmen do not wish to leave the Party just yet, but they just wish to know where the exit door is . There is a somewhat surreal feeling that the Party High Command is in  a state of deep meditational trance with the trusted bunch of its elected representatives sleepwalking through their Parliamentary duties with the real centre of power having shifted elsewhere. Its sad to see a once lively and fiesty Party look like a troupe of Ramlila actors without costumes. 
One major problem for the Party is that it appears to have lost its authoritative voice. In contrast the BJP, the new kid on the block, has a clear and unmistakable ( even though a little too shrill) voice. This is the voice of a million shopkeepers and salaried middle class professionals demanding an identity they'd not feel diffident about. And this crowd is backed by the moans and wails of those that, during the recent General Elections, had created a severe backlash against the culture of slothful dependency on caste and religion based reservations. Add to that the Twitterings of the young first time voters, drunk on the power of their votes ever since they brought down the Government at the Centre, and you have a powerful wave to ride on. 
In politics it is a great advantage to speak one's mind during a crisis ; it is also an advantage to do so fast and clearly. Earlier this week when the matter of the ordinance seeking an amendment in an earlier law that barred the ex Chairman of the TRAI, one of the top regulatory bodies of India, from accepting any government assignment after superannuation, the BJP held quiet back room negotiations with several opposition parties and ensured that the Bill passed through both houses of Parliament even though it did not have a majority in the Upper House. Congress's allies left it all alone to protest weakly and voted in favor of the Bill. If this pattern continues during the Assembly elections due to be held soon in several states, the prospects of the Congress returning to power any time soon , are grim.  
What Congress needs at this stage is not mechanical deals but a less exclusive Party culture . It needs to be much more porous to ideas emanating from outside its charmed circle.       

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Voices in a Cafe

I have an acute horror of meeting the man who sat behind me for over an hour in a canteen . He enjoyed a leisurely meal and spoilt mine and exhausted by a long wait for a delayed flight, I never turned around to see his face or the meek companion to whom he was lecturing on India’s Great Traditions of Governance . He was sure that the concept of pseudo secularism was inspired by a certain foreign hand and supported by a handful of Delhi’s westernized and over educated elite . Together they had tried to block the Rising Majority and failed . And now the Majority would show them who was the Boss. His feral body odour wafted across from time to time as he leant back smugly in his chair after having made what to him was a particularly  indisputable point . For an entire one hour he talked in an impersonal nasal drone with his mouth full of saliva and food . I am unlikely to recognize him should we ever meet again , but I shall never forget that insufferable voice that punished the senses. I hope that someday when he lies helpless and paralysed, someone shall play back his own grating tones to him for a full hour .

First he spoke of a helpless rage all honest Indian voters like him had long felt . The anger , he said emanated first from the degradation of Age Old Indian Values of moral purity and was deepened by the sight of blatant encouragement being given under a Vote Bank Poltiks, to millions of illegal migrants . Already in several areas he said , this had diluted the numbers of Hindus and come elections, each time Appeasement of the Minority groups  became the norm . Last but not the least he added, as he slurped his way through the last bits of a large meal, he was hundred percent sure that all these defenders of minority groups and the Jhola Wallah NGOs that supported them, were together polluting the nation with the many evils of Western Culture such as feminism that gave women ideas above their station. With a burp he began to recount the relative stability of homes where old Indian virtues ruled and mothers were full time mothers and children respected the elders . Our Fathers must be real Men and have the courage, he said, to refuse to apologise to or appease any member of the family or their community . The socio political scene in the rest of the north was being suffocated , he said , because the government (whom he referred to as Delhi) and the academe had both been run for decades by left leaning soft pseudo secularists who treated any assertion of male authority and articulation of support for expanding businesses , mining ore and buying land cheap for setting up productive factories, as a sin . Fact was , the illiterate and the poor everywhere would be happy to sell their meager holdings and move away to the comfortable lives in cities , given a chance . But instead they were fed subsidized grain that made gas and petrol costlier for those who were creating wealth . Naturally they were running wild and raping women in cities . India’s upwardly mobile can not be suppressed anymore, nor the natural brilliance of upper castes so visible in our IIT and IIM graduates be denied . They it is he said, who are driving the Indian Dream along with our scientists who will one day guarantee that Army achieves its dreams for annihilating our neighbours in a bloody battle some day . Army’s victory when it comes , he said pushing back his chair , would make these candle burning secularists’ friends crawl and cringe and weep before our Generals as they had done in 1971 . It will happen soon , you’ll see , he repeated smugly and asked the waiter to remove his plates and refill his glass .

His poor fellow guest seemed a timid soul content to agree on all points made by the nasal voice . He limited his comments to yes yes ! and Is that so? Once or twice I even remember him saying True , True , as though he were listening to a religious discourse of some revered Baba in an Ashram . The terrible nasal bass went on without inflexions , dry as the dust that covers most of our Khadi Bhadars and public libraries . Tasteless as the toasts and the Ketchup served in government Dak Bungalows ,  and bone rattling like the experience of being stuck in a filled to capacity railway coach being dragged upon a medium gauge line by a heaving engine .

Will one day this sea of stupidity  be lapping up around our homes , because we did not drain it out while there was still time ? It is already roaring in western Uttar Pradesh , a bare fifty kilometers from Delhi and entering its rural hinterlands . 

Monday, 7 July 2014

And now free Brides for Votes


The exercise for garnering votes in lieu of freebes (or near freebes) began some three decades ago, when rice was offered to the masses at two rupees a kilo and Janata sarees and mixer grinders for free during Assembly elections . Then the offers began to go up steadily, to free colour TVs, kitchen utensils and free laptops . And now a BJP member of Parliament has topped the charts by offering a free import of brides from poverty riddled Bihar to Haryana's young bachelors if his party is voted to power in the soon to be held Assembly elections in their horribly female deficient state .  This is especially ironical coming as it does, from a Party that not only fielded a formidable band of sisters during the recent Lok Sabha Elections, but also helped them win with impressive margins : Smriti Irani ( of Tulsi fame ) , Uma Bharati (of Ayodhya fame ) , Nirmala Sitaraman and Ms Lekhi whose debating skills during TV panel discussions can silence even brother Goswami ( Arnab not Tulsidas ) . But curiously the proverbial cat seems to have got their tongues while a brother MP offered to import young girls as free brides from Bihar . As though women in poor states were no different from cattle .

Truth be told, when the subject is women and their human rights, underneath all their loud pro women banter, nearly all India’s political parties display the same mindset their forefathers had a hundred years ago . The same sudden flashes of temper are seen ( as in West Bengal) when an MP threatened to have women from families in the Opposition raped by his goons ; and another repeated the age old 'boys will be boys' chant ,when faced with a horrendous rise in gang rapes in a state ruled by his own son . So it may be sad but certainly is not surprising, that an MP makes what he considers a most charitable offers when he offers unmarried men in Haryana Bihari brides for free if they will vote for his Party. You see, he argues sweetly, the brides’ families in poverty stricken Bihar too get a good deal since they can now marry off their daughters without a dowry .  

Every politician in India knows , how in the increasingly volatile atmosphere of a pre Election period , vote bank bases can be broadened only by successful rabble rousing , and that without a mob there can be no rabble rousing . How are mobs to be attracted in the first place ? Lectures about good governance or a shining economy may attract the media and the academe , but vast vote banks can only be created by conjuring imaginary threats to one's religious culture or the danger of the male line in families with unmarried sons coming to an end . The young rabble thus attracted is bound to become the most determined carrier of contempt for women as human beings with a free will and democratic rights. Since Mahabharata days , the history of India is a history of clashes not between opposing streams in politics , but between this beast that thinks nothing of murdering fetuses and smothering the still small voice of non mob beings .

What happened in Haryana and the politely supportive noises made by Mr Dhankad’s political brothers from the BJP in Bihar thereafter, is not a freak happening . It is the product of a whole chain of discourses that reflect the violent process of smashing of the rights of Indian women by powerful male manipulators across states again and again. Luckily for the manipulators , the central leadership at this point, is not keen to get involved . So it has so far stood aside . They are also aware that the proposed Haryana model (creating an electoral template for predatory bachelor voters) may not be not rooted in nationally acceptable political principles of fair play , or sound demographics , but it can attract male votes . By selling a naïve belief , that it is possible for Haryana to enjoy all the benefits of a mostly male population and overlook the brazen misuse of cheap migrant brides imported from poorer states, the sellers are covering up another ugly fact . Families of men in the states of Haryana and neighbouring Punjab have killed female fetuses relentlessly for two decades, and are already buying brides from Bihar and Orissa . These women who do not even speak their language are then often forced to work on the farms and abort fetuses if furtively done ultra sound tests confirm the gender of the unborn to be female . This supposedly large hearted offer to marry unwanted daughters without a dowry is a huge lie . The bride price paid by grooms has given the buyers the added benefit of creating stronger male centredness among the locals and keeping any signs of comeuppance in the migrant brides firmly in check . What , one may ask , does it mean to be a bride in a macho state, destined to be governed by such MPs ?




Thursday, 3 July 2014

Some thoughts on Indian Migrations                                Mrinal Pande


Trans state migrations have been an anthropological  constant throughout our history since 2000 B C , when tribes from south eastern Europe , Central Asia and even the arctic circle entered this gigantic rhomboid from the North West and fanned out all over the north . The Vedas urged the Aryan hordes to keep on forging ahead saying,  charaivati ! and they did . Constantly . Then in the 4th century BC came Buddha and he advised his Bhikkus not to sit within homes like all those Vedic ritual bound householders , performing Yagnas and animal sacrifices . They must , he urged  carry the message of peace and non violence all across the land and move fearlessly through land , water and forest like  rhinos . His predecessor Mahavira , another iconoclast reformer , had similarly exhorted his Jain Sadhus and Sadhwis that (barring the four monsoon months) they must constantly be on the move to preach .

Ashoka the Great added another dimension to the inter state migration of men and women , when he imported labour from neighbouring Orissa to clear the land and build a new  Magadh . The Muslim invasions in the 11th century triggered off even more gigantic waves of mass migrations as the defeated kings  and their subjects and their priests fled hugging whatever they could carry . By now the castes had become simply unrecognizable as Gotra or Pravara identities were no longer a shield against violence . So the Dharmshastras decreed that the upriited warriors and traders could happily use their family priests’ or Guru’s Gotra as theirs at the time of performing birth , death or coronation related rituals in far off lands . The Vratya ( tribes and individuals who chose to stay outside the pale of the Vedic religion ) had always defied a caste identity anyway , and by now their numbers were not insignificant .  According to the first ever census of 1891 , India had  over two lakh wandering Jogis of which 35% were females . And this did not include millions of weavers in Bengal and Malwa and Rajasthan who were householder Jogis (of the Nath sect) who were neither Muslim nor Hindu) . 

If all of us share wholly fuzzy and makeshift regional identities , why are Biharis in Mumbai and Bengali Muslims in Assam and Delhi suddenly being dubbed superfluous and dangerous ? Why are the peoples from the North East being made to feel insecure outside their states? Please note that richer migrants and outsiders encounter practically no prejudices anywhere . And Bhaiyya baiting Chief Ministers will happily roll out a red carpet for Shri Tata and Suzuki Bhaiya . There is no doubt all that is good , goes the Sanskrit saying ,  resides permanently in gold . In the mean while , the exact size , clientele and locations of  the forces that first help smuggle in people from across the borders with Bangladesh or children from poverty zones of Orissa and Jharkhand and then supply them as cheap illegal labour to avid buyers all over India , remain out of sight . It is often implied that superfluous outsiders from UP and Bihar are driving the sons of soil (Bhumi Putras) out of jobs . What they are actually doing, is driving down the price of labour in the areas . Nearly each unskilled and under age immigrant is being paid less than the legally stipulated minimum wages . But unless a young maid is found hanging in a middle class colony or a frightened , scarred and starved bonded labourer is rescued from a dark basement by some good Samaritans , no one takes an interest in looking closely at the regular providers of cheap hands in the region , nor do the police seem enthused about penalizing factory owners or placement agencies that traffic in child labour .

Nobody migrates from one’s own land without the hope of getting to somewhere better . The Kshatriya ancestors of the Thakres could have been no exceptions as they left Magadh and migrated towards Maharashtra via Bhopal . Sorry xenophobes, but Indian history will have its little jokes . A few centuries after the Thakres moved to Maharashtra from then prosperous Bihar, the once mighty Peshwas of Pune were forced to migrate north with hundreds of their nobles and servants and priests when   Peshwa Baji Rao the second , last Srimant of the once mighty Marathas was driven by the British to Bithur near Kanpur . When the Peshwa requested that Srimant be sent at least to the holy northern city of Varanasi near the river Ganges , the British refused . By then Varansi had such a sizeable population of Marathi immigrants that the British were becoming apprehensive of the wily Peshwa or even the Rani of Jhansi of landing there supposedly for a pilgrimage , and then igniting a popular revolt against them with help from ‘their people’

All our talk of building and living in multicultural societies will remain an empty slogan unless this subaltern history available mostly in Indian languages, is dusted and the experiences and stories about all large scale migrations in the past, are fed into  public debates . Today the argument against immigrants everywhere in the world , springs mostly from long habits of defying colonialism : Germany for Germans , Israel for the Jews , Kurdistan for the Kurds, the Caliphate for the Islamic brothers…and so on . But in actual lived experience this minimalist dream has been achieved only exceptionally and nearly always with tragic results . The more fiercely xenophobic leaders defend themselves against ‘outsiders’ , the less the state will have left eventually , to defend . Remember the disintegration of a country called Yugoslavia ?