The official government patronage of godmen and sadhus is worrying

It has been reported that these godmen had planned to launch a Narmada Ghotala Yatra on April 1 to highlight a slew of ills from Chouhan’s apparent failure to stop cow slaughter to alleged corruption in the planting of saplings along the Narmada river.

By some uncanny coincidence, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led Madhya Pradesh government’s decision to confer minister of state (MoS) status on five godmen, one of whom goes by the name, ‘Computer Baba’ (apparently he has a memory ‘like a computer’), comes days after Netflix began streaming Wild Wild Country, the true story of the misadventures of ‘Bhagwan’ Rajneesh in Oregon, USA.

You’d be forgiven for believing it’s fiction. A charismatic godman, flowing beard and all, sells his koolaid philosophy of free sex and conspicuous consumption (one of his wristwatches cost a million bucks – that’s dollars, not rupees) that finds a market among westerners but is greeted with somewhat less enthusiasm in Pune where the ashram is based. Continue reading “The official government patronage of godmen and sadhus is worrying”

The lamentable humiliations of Hadiya

At the heart of this controversy lies not so much the right of a woman to choose her religion and spouse, but society’s attitude to women.

We should be grateful for small mercies. On International Women’s Day, a day when hashtags were declaring ‘Time’s Up’ and ‘My Body is Mine’, our highest court reaffirmed a more basic right: the right of an adult citizen — woman citizen, I should clarify — to marry.

Social media was split into two camps: Those still convinced that the 24-year-old Hadiya was a victim of brainwashing and, thus, incapable of making rational choices, and those celebrating the court-ordered granting of her ‘freedom’. Continue reading “The lamentable humiliations of Hadiya”

Padmavat is not a political film and yet, seeing it can become a political act

Padmavat has been cleared for release; its attempted censorship and ban comes from non-state actors and Vasundhara Raje’s decision to block its release in Rajasthan out of respect to the ‘sentiments of the people’ is meek acquiescence to these non-state actors

I’m not a fan of advocating mass suicide by women as a method of safeguarding some male notion of honour, but I am going to watch Padmavat.

I am not a fan of Sanjay Leela Bhansali either, and yet, watching his latest movie is the only way I can think of that I as an individual citizen can mark both my protest and my support: Support for the right to make films, write books and voice opinions without being brow-beaten into submission and protest against the craven abdication of state to such bullying.

Even by the standards of our perennially outraged nation, the sustained protest over imagined offences in a film as yet unseen about a character whose historical authenticity is not established is unprecedented. Continue reading “Padmavat is not a political film and yet, seeing it can become a political act”

In an age of beef killings and human shields, speaking up is an act of courage

Speaking up has consequences and, so, in the din of divisive discourse that makes way for majoritarian force, the solitary voice is now hard to hear.

I don’t know if you ever read Roger Rosenblatt’s essay in Time magazine in the early eighties: the air-crash over Washington, the rescue helicopter picking up survivors and, in the freezing water, the man who each time offers the lifeline to someone else, you go first. By the time it’s his turn, he’s gone under.

That era is over. We now live in an age of spectacle, of Twitter stars and troll slayers. Where we judge people by the number of their followers or Facebook likes.

We live also in an age where what we eat can, and does, become a matter of life and death. Where we justify the use of our citizens as human shields in the name of expediency. Continue reading “In an age of beef killings and human shields, speaking up is an act of courage”

Welcome to the vigilante nation

The meek acquiescence by citizens to the growing intrusion of state and other actors is alarming.

Don’t eat beef. Don’t transport cows. Don’t buy cows.

Don’t drink alcohol if in Gujarat and Bihar or within 500 metres of state and national highways. Don’t play cricket with Pakistan and don’t hire Pakistani actors in films. Stand to attention during the playing of the national anthem before watching culturally appropriate movies. Scenes that show that Hanuman Chalisa doesn’t scare away ghosts will be excised. Tasteless remarks about Hindu Gods and sages will lead to arrest warrants.

Do yoga. Dress decently. Do not loiter in parks and malls. Definitely do not loiter with people of the opposite sex, even if they are your siblings. Sing Vande Mataram if you’re attending municipal corporation meetings in Bareilly, Meerut, Varanasi and Gorakhpur or if you’re a college student in Uttarakhand. Continue reading “Welcome to the vigilante nation”

No law can bridge the gap of basic decency

On June 24, a software engineer Swathi was attacked by a man with a knife in Chennai. As she lay bleeding, not one commuter came forward to help. Partly it’s a reluctance to get involved in a long-drawn legal process including police questioning and court appearances. Partly it’s a fear that intervention could lead to suspicions about guilt.

“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing,” Albert Einstein.

Juan Jasso on an early morning tram in Manchester, England did not ‘look on and do nothing’. The Mexican American who has lived in England for 18 years was offended by the language used by three rowdy fellow commuters. The retort from one of them? “You’re not even from England, you little f***ing immigrant. Get off the f***ing tram. Get back to Africa.”

Jasso, a sport lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, later told Channel 4 News: “It was a bit of a surreal moment because initially it was just me asking those individuals just to watch their language.” Continue reading “No law can bridge the gap of basic decency”

We have reached a place of ugly, triumphant majoritarianism

The injection of religious symbolism into the idea of India is deliberate, and dangerous.

The sons of Bharat Mata have put their love on public display and it is not a pretty sight. At the Patiala House district court, men in black shout Bharat Mata Ki Jai as they assault journalists, students, teachers and even a panel of senior lawyers sent by the Supreme Court.

Caught on camera is BJP MLA OP Sharma chasing and hitting an activist as policemen watch quietly. A day later, the mob assaults Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union, arrested on yet-to-be-proved charges of sedition.

On TV, the BJP’s official spokesman – the same person who uses doctored videos on primetime — asks his co-panelists to chant with him: Bharat Mata Ki Jai. They do not oblige. Continue reading “We have reached a place of ugly, triumphant majoritarianism”

Rohith’s death: India must have conversation on apartheid against Dalits

Rohith Vemula was not just any son. He was a Dalit son, and to ignore his caste is to ignore the significance of his life and death.

We did not flinch at the news that an eight-year-old Dalit boy had his arm amputated after he was thrown into a sugarcane crusher for ‘not working properly’ in Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh.

We were not repelled when a seven-year-old Dalit child was hospitalised for six days after his teacher thrashed him for picking up a plate reserved for upper-caste kids for his midday meal at a government school in Osian, near Jodhpur.

When 17-year-old Anil Parashurama Methri was bludgeoned to death in Karnataka’s Mijri village in July after being caught trying to deliver a love letter to an upper-caste classmate, where was our outrage? Continue reading “Rohith’s death: India must have conversation on apartheid against Dalits”

Mob at Mumbai cinema diminished spirit of national anthem

Who decides what is nationalism and how best it is to be displayed? For some, standing up for the national anthem is tokenism; for others it is a sacred duty. For some, our flag and national anthem are the glues of nationhood; for others, nationalism is best expressed through being good citizens.

In 2009, months after the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai, Ram Gopal Varma made a film called Rann. A critique of media’s insatiable appetite for TRPs, the movie’s title track was a remix of the national anthem, with the added word rann (or war). Jana Gana Mana rann hai, is rann mein zakhmi hua hai Bharat ka bhagya vidhata and so on. To nobody’s great surprise, the Censor Board raised objections and Varma had to drop the song.

What a long way we’ve come since 2009. Then, I wrote about how Varma had crossed a line. But nobody suggested that he was being unpatriotic or less than Indian or should be dispatched to Pakistan.

Now, forget about remixes, people who fail to stand during the playing of our national anthem are abused, threatened and ejected from movie halls by vigilante audiences. Continue reading “Mob at Mumbai cinema diminished spirit of national anthem”

Khap inter-caste marriage ruling a sign of compulsion, not reform

With a sex ratio of just 877, permitting such marriages in Haryana is less radical shift and more pragmatic solution.

Hisar: The winds of change are gently blowing through Haryana, but, ironically, it is the state’s skewed sex ratio rather than social revolution that is making this possible.

In a state where men are increasingly finding it difficult to find wives because of a sex ratio of just 877 girls for 1,000 boys—the worst in the country, according to the 2011 Census—a khap (caste) panchayat’s recent ruling permitting inter-caste marriages is less radical shift and more pragmatic solution. Continue reading “Khap inter-caste marriage ruling a sign of compulsion, not reform”