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जेएनयू की एक बहुत पुरानी शाम से उतने भी प्यारे नहीं देशभक्तों, भारत माता के वीरों (मुँह खुलते ही स्त्रियों को गालियाँ देने वालों को सप...

January 25, 2012

An Ode To The Women Who Became Statistics

[Published in Kashmir Times]

[Published in the Counter Currents]

There was something very unnerving about that photograph. The feeling came from its location. It could have been anywhere else in the newspaper, from that envied Page 3 to anywhere else, but not on ‘Remembrance/Obituary’ page where it actually was. It did not belong there. Knowing that the pretty girl with those sparkling eyes was dead sent shivers down my spine. Suddenly, the newspaper turned into something like a grave, with the girl buried within its pages.

There was something more unsettling about that picture. The face looked very familiar. So familiar it was that one could do nothing else but to look for a name to the face, one from one’s own social universe. Maybe this was what stopped the fingers from flipping over the page one rarely reads. Eyes followed the picture and settled down on the text accompanying the photograph and everything became clear in a flash. The picture was of Soumya Vishwanathan, a young journalist whose life was sacrificed at the altar of famed law and order machinery of the city that claims to be the national capital of the biggest democracy of the world. Add to this the recent aspirations of the city of turning itself into a world-class city.

I have no idea how this megapolis negotiates the dubious distinctions of being both the rape capital and the national capital of India. I am certain, though, that this fact does not trouble its current Chief Minister much. One remembers with indignation the concerns raised by Sheila Dikshit after Soumya’s murder. She was far more bothered with the audacity and ‘adventurousness’ of the woman for being alone that late in the night (what if she was returning from her office that too in her own car) than the deteriorating law and order situation in her state. She had the guts to offer an unwelcome suggestion to the women telling them not to be that ‘adventurous’.

It brought back reminiscences of all the middle class anger that was born out of that gruesome crime. There was hatred simmering within people’s hearts for both the murderers and the failures of those who are collectively referred to and feared of as administrators. The anger was bound to be there. After all, Soumya was not a tribal girl from some dark and distant corner of the country appendaged to the margins of our ‘democracy’. She, instead, was one of us, a middle class girl full of potential. And if she could be fated to such a brutal death, none of us was safe.

None of us is safe. This realization is bound to send a second bout of shiver down our spines. The shiver that got translated into all those heated debates on prime time television. All those familiar faces, perennially angry with something or the other, were now angry at the threat to our lives and were holding, rightfully, the government responsible for the murder. They were lending their voice in support of all those candle lights vigils to be held at India Gate, inspired by the Rang De Basanti brand of activism. Faced with this middle class anger, the government was bound to respond and so it did. It assured the people, as it always does, that stern action would be taken and the perpetrators would be brought to book.

And then, both the anger and the promise fizzled out.

This is what middle class anger is destined to. It boils up and then fizzles down in no time. It has a life of its own, a life that makes it search for the reasons to let it manifest itself. It ensures, though, that the reasons remain confined to individual cases, or the faces of victims. It has some strange aversion to dig deep and find the sources of the anger leading to a sustained movement for redressing the issue. The aversion emanates out of its discomfort with politics, something that the middle class finds a place too dirty to engage with. How come, then, it look for a sustained movement that would be political by default, even if it’s the politics that defines our present and shapes the future. This is why it finds a Soumya, an Arushi or a Jessica to express our anger against the injustices intrinsic to the system but never addresses the root cause. All such anger can do is catharsis, isn’t it?

This brings us to a dead end, a dead end that offers no way out without confronting the issue central to this whole thing. This dead end is what produces and sustains the vicious cycle of gendered violence. The dead end is defined by a central question, that why do we get angry when, and only when, it’s the women of our own class that get victimized by those who are either not from our class, or are unidentified? Why do we maintain a stoic silence on atrocities committed on women from the ‘lower’ classes? Why do we don’t have prime time anger directed at those who violate, say a Bhanwari Devi, a Soni Suri or scores of countless women from the underprivileged groups? Why no candles are lit, no vigils held for any Mathuras, Imranas or Gudias?

Forget being sad or angry for what happened with them, I am sure most of the English speaking urbane middle classes would not even know these names. Despite the fact that this is indifference to the plight of these women and the absence of volcanic eruptions of ‘our’ anger against such injustices against the ordinary women is what produces the perennial fear the middle class or even elite women are destined to live with.

The reason behind this is simple, that all these cases of violence against women emanate out of the same fountainhead, the one called patriarchy. It is patriarchy that is the premodern foundation serving as the base for our modern and democratic system. This is the system that not merely justifies these assaults but also blames the women, or the victims, for them. This is the system that demolishes all class divisions that segregate women and reduces them to their universal identity of sexuality. This is the system that converts a heinous crime of rape into ‘a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear’ as Susan Brownmiller points out.

This may sound a bit farfetched, yet the sentence hints at a disturbing fact. All of us, especially men, may not be actively engaged in gendered violence yet our silences on any such incident make us not only complicit in the same but also accomplices of the criminals. More so when the data from the National Crimes Records Bureau records 489 cases of rape, 550 of Sexual harassment and 1379 of kidnapping of women in a single year. That single year was not one in some dark and distant past but 2010 is beside the point. The writing on the wall is clear. The capital of the biggest democracy of the world witnesses a rape every 18 hours, and an incident of sexual harassment takes place here every 14 hours. Unfortunately, the data hints at the mere tip of the iceberg. Just think, faced with social stigma and the fears attached how many victims of such assaults would muster courage enough to get these cases reported?

We, on our part, have the moral courage of feeling angry and violated for just three or four cases in a year or more. That too, when we find one of our Priyadarshinis, Jessicas, Soumyas, or Arushis figuring as victims in the yellowing pages of the files kept in police stations. We keep mum rest of the times. We do not feel violated when we see women getting molested in all modes of public transport. We don’t feel angry when we see the ladies compartment of metro taken over by the rowdy males, security personnel included. We treat the cases of domestic violence as ‘family issues’, not worth any action therefore. We may treat all these instances as nonissues, but the fact is that the seeds of ‘bigger’ crimes against women are sowed in these cases only.

When we remain silent while seeing a ‘house help’ getting harassed we ensure that no Soumyas will ever get justice. When we flip the over the pages of a newspaper without even bothering as much as reading about what was done to a Soni Suri, we ensure that all our Arushis would turn into dry statistics confined in the files that would never ever be opened again. When we do not feel enraged about one Meena Khalakho getting brutally killed in a staged encounter somewhere in the forests of Dantewada, despite protests and walkouts by the same Congress that is the ruling party at the centre in Chhatisgarh assembly without any results; we lend ourselves and our lives for the similar brutalities. Let me reassert, till we ensure justice for all our house-helps, we aren’t going to get any for any women.

P.S.- I have not given details on any of the names, or victims, on purpose. If we really feel anything about them we may do at least as much as googling their names, can’t we?

January 19, 2012

नारा-ए-तकबीर हर हर महादेव

आप चाहें तो इस शीर्षक को ठीक उसी खिलंदड़ई वाले अंदाज में ले ही सकते हैं जिसमे मैंने इसे सुना था. नीलगिरी ढाबे, यानी कि जवाहरलाल नेहरु यूनिवर्सिटी के पेरियार, कावेरी (दोनों ‘पुरुष”) और गोदावरी (महिला) छात्रावासों के मध्य स्थित ढाबे, की उस जगह पर जो शाम ढलने के साथ मार्क्स के लिए कम और शैव और शाक्त परम्पराओं के तमाम व्यसनों में से एक ‘गांजे’ के लिए जाना जाता है. यह और बात कि यह बात शाम ढलने के बाद की नहीं बल्कि अलसुबह(सिर्फ जेनयू के लिए माने दोपहर के 12 बजे के बाद) की है. हुआ यूँ था कि दशकों (माने उम्र के तीन में से दो दशक) बाद एक लंबा वक्त अपने गाँव में बिता कर, मैं फिर से दिल्ली वापस आया था और इरादतन कम आदतन ज्यादा जेनयू में नमूदार हो गया था.

अब दोपहर के 12 बजे का वक्त भी चूंकि जेनयू के लिए अलसुबह होता है जब गंगा ढाबा पूरी तरह से सो रहा होता है और केसी (उर्फ कमल काम्प्लेक्स: पूरा नाम तुम्हे याद हो के न याद हो) चौधरी साहब की चाय, पूड़ियों और आमलेट के साथ अलसाई आँखों के साथ आपको उलाहने भरी नजर से देखता है कि मियाँ थोड़ा आराम (और देर) से नहीं आ सकते थे? तो और करते भी क्या वाले अंदाज में मैं नीलगिरी ढाबे की तरफ बढ़ निकला था और वहाँ (अल्लाह करम करे) वाले अंदाज में सरफराज़ अलीग उर्फ पंडित उर्फ जाने क्या क्या से टकरा गया.

अब यह सरफराज़ मियाँ भी जरा दिलचस्प आदमी हैं. जेनयू, यानी कि उस जगह जहाँ ब्राह्मणवादी/सामंती संस्कृति का जिक्र भी ‘पाप’ जैसा होता है , साहब मुझे देख लेते हैं हैं तो दौड़ा के पाँव छूते हैं, वह भी इस तर्क के साथ की आप बड़े भाई हैं तो मेरा हक़ बनता है और आप रोकने की कोशिश करें तो मैं नाराज हो जाऊँगा. अब ऐसे (प्यारे) शख्स का आप कर भी क्या कर सकते हैं, सो मैंने भी अपनी मार्क्सवादी शान में ये गुस्ताखी 'कबूल है, कबूल है, कबूल है' वाल्रे अंदाज में कबूल कर ली है. तिस पर तुर्रा यह कि सरफराज़ साहब उस दिन टकराए भी तो अपनी शरीक-ए-हयात नुसरत के साथ. मामला अब यह कि उन पर गुस्सा करें भी तो कैसे, कि भावज भी साथ है.

तो उन्होंने अपने अंदाज में पहले तो पाँव छुए और फिर विवेक शुक्ला ( कायदे से यानी फिल्म 'दिल दोस्ती इट सिट्रा'वाले अंदाज में कहें तो सुक्ला जी) को फोन लगा दिया कि दादा बैठे हैं ‘चले आओ’. फिर क्या.. विवेक बाबू भी चले आये.. अब उनकी सरफ़राज़ बाबू से कोई पुरानी नाराजगी थी (जो संभव नहीं है) या बीती रात का ही कोई झगड़ा था, कि आते ही सरफराज़ साहब पर पिल पड़े. फिर क्या.. जाने अलीग उर्फ पंडित उर्फ सरफराज़ साहब मेरे लिहाज में थे या मेरी भावज उर्फ उनकी अपनी पत्नी के, थोड़ी देर चुप जरूर रहे. पर 'सुक्ला' जी थमने का नाम ही न लें, तो उन्होंने भी जवाबी नारा बुलंद किया.

नारा भी क्या खूब था. ‘नारा-ए-तकबीर’. पर ये लीजिए जनाब.. जवाब आया तो ‘सुक्ला’ जी की ही तरफ से! ‘नारा-ए-तकबीर’ का जवाब था ‘हर हर महादेव’! आप चाहें तो अब मुझे, मेरी भावज और वहाँ मौजूद चंद और लोगों को बेवकूफ, या चाहे जो कुछ भी मान लें, नारे और उसके जवाबी नारे की वजह से नीलगिरी ढाबे की सुबहों को उदास रहने वाली जगह में एक ऐसी हंसी बिखर गयी थी जिससे ज्यादा खूबसूरती का दावा कुदरत भी नहीं कर सकती थी. एक ऐसी खूबसूरती जो सिर्फ दोस्ती से निकलती है, वह दोस्ती जो गैर-बिरादारान-ए-मजहब लोगों के लिए इस मुल्क में मुहाल में है.

जब साथ रहेंगे ही नहीं तो यह दोस्तियां कहाँ से होंगी? जब साथ जियेंगे ही नहीं तो एक दूसरे के साथ मुहब्बतों भरा ये रिश्ता कहाँ से कायम होगा? ज़रा सोचिये, कि जेनयू जैसी जगह पंहुचने के पहले आपके कितने दोस्त थे जो ‘गैर’ मजहब के थे? साथ होने के किस्से अब या तो गंगाजमनी तहजीब की अपीलों में मिलते हैं या बीत गए से वक्त की खुशनुमा यादों की तरह प्रेमचंद की कहानियों से कोई जुम्मन काका अचानक हमारी जिंदगियों में शरीक हो जाते हैं. पर इन कहानियों से, अपीलों से परे देखें तो हमने पूरे मुल्क को ही घेट्टो बना डाला है. ऐसा घेट्टो जहाँ साथ रहने की, जीने की, साझेदारी की गुंजाइश जाने कैसी तो सुरक्षा के लिए 'अपनों' के साथ रहने/बसने की ख्वाहिशों के नीचे दफ़न हो जाती है.

फिर ये हादसा भी उसी मुल्क में होना था जहाँ एक आम हिन्दू ताजियों के जुलूस में होता था और एक आम मुसलमान अपने बच्चे को चेचक हो जाने पर देवी माँ को 'कढ़ाई' चढाता था. उस मुल्क में जहाँ मुहर्रम के मातम की जंजीरें हिंदुओं का सीना भी चाक करती थीं और बनारस का कोई दशहरा उस्ताद बिस्मिल्लाह खान की शहनाई के बिना कहाँ पूरा होता था. उस मुल्क में भी जहाँ उस्ताद अलाउद्दीन खान को सुनने के लिए मैहर में माँ दुर्गा को उतरना पड़ता था तो अमरनाथ की यात्रा में छड़ी मुबारक के साथ सबसे आगे मुस्लिम चलते थे. अब सोचिये कि ये हादसा हुआ क्यों!

मैं इस सवाल का जवाब जानता हूँ. यह भी कि विवेक और सरफराज़ की चुहल भरी झड़प आपके लिए जो भी हो, मेरे लिए इस देश की फिरकापरस्ती का जवाब है. यह भी कि जब तक ऐसे दोस्त ज़िंदा रहेंगें, गंगाजमनी तहजीब भी ज़िंदा रहेगी..

January 12, 2012

On Course Correction: Why BJP secretly hates OBC reservations!

[From my column OBVIOUSLY OPAQUE in VOICE,01-15 January, 2012]

Words used were dirty to say the least. The meanings were dirtier. I so much wanted to make myself believe that I did never hear it, at least not while watching the proceedings of the lower house of Indian Parliament or Lok Sabha. The attempt did not work for the speech was going on muddying the already dirty space of Indian politics.

It was Sushma Swaraj who had taken the task of educating Lalu Yadav, a stalwart of Indian politics, unto herself. The newfound love of hers for Laluji was startling in itself. After all, he is one towering member of that fast vanishing community among Indian politics that has never compromised on upholding secularism. He was the one that has stopped the charioteer Advani and packed him off to where he belonged, the Jail. He was the one who changed the grammar of politics in Bihar forever.

No, please don’t misread me; I know that Lalu is no revolutionary. I know his contributions to Indian politics are as much a product of the person as of the fast changing times. I know that the other backward castes’ (OBCs) assertion in Indian politics was long in the coming. In fact, it was not even in the coming. It has engulfed almost all of South India when Lalu and his comrades were playing small games children play. Parliamentary democratic process in India has started to shake the feudal foundations of the crippled modernity that was unique to it.

The waves of change, however, seemed to fail from turning northwards. Something stood between the South that was democratizing itself fast and the feudal North. I would not dare speculating what it was for it could be anything from the Vindhyachal ranges in physical terms to the structures of caste and kinship in the metaphysical ones. Fascinatingly, the change had not come to the north despite the fact the potential of using ‘caste solidarities’ to subvert the stifling control of the so called upper castes on lives and times of others was identified much before by tall leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia. He has thundered decades before Lalu was to become what he is today that ‘numbers should define the claims’!

This all was to change. On the rise was a small club of regional and rural leaders who wore their mofussil identities on their sleeves. All of them came from castes hitherto known as ‘lower castes’ and asserted the pride of being what they were. It was subversion, of a brave kind though, of Brahmanism, the fountainhead of all that is evil in Indian society. It was a subversion that shook the very roots of caste system that has managed to remain steadfast for more than five millennia.

The club composed of Lalu, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati, Ram Vilas Paswan and many others. Despite all the differences of background, region, education all the leaders of the motley crowd had a trait in common. The trait was belligerence against casteism. They were not merely angry at the years of injustices against the lower sections of society but also ready to fight against it. All of them were prepared, at least as it seemed then, to pay any costs for the same, including their own aspirations. Well, I concede that the manifestations of the belligerence transgressed the parliamentary limits at occasions but then it was an anger bottled up for too long and was, therefore, to erupt volcanically.

There was one more thing common to the group. It was unabashed openness of their anger, an openness that was so rustic that it did never gel with the ‘suaveness’ of the Indian politics. They were the original ‘cattle class’ that has stopped the bus by force and was taking it over now. The middle class mocked at them, media made fun of them and they made use of this mockery and converted it into groundswell of support for them.

The middle class sighed in despair every single time Lalu made some comment in his ‘wrong’ English or summoned an IAS officer for getting his chair. The despair went a notch up when he told the not so amused Chief Secretary to prepare tobacco for his chewing. This despair was something Lalu, and his cohorts, may want or not. I have no clues about that. Though I am certain that in every single act like these, they were addressing a different people altogether. They were addressing the people who had one television for a whole village. They were the people who had to follow strict codes of honour and hierarchies for ‘enjoying’ a television show. They had to bow to the owner of that television for getting to watch Ramayana or Mahbharata. They were the people disenfranchised and dispossessed.

They had to laugh at Lalu when the owner of the television set scoffed at some new ‘stupidity’ of his. They had to. But, in the safe confines of their mind which could not be controlled by any amount of power, they were all applauding this rustic leader. He was the harbinger of hope and freedom. It was a freedom which they never had till now. Whenever the poor people in remote villages saw or heard Lalu summoning that IAS officer, they dreamt of refusing to dance to the tunes of the local landlords. Every single time an ‘upper caste’ brought a chair for Lalu, they realized that they too have a claim on their own lives, on their own labour. Every single time Lalu snapped at some minister with a ‘royal’ lineage, the collective dreams of the ‘claim’ went a step up and included lands.

It was this dream, this anger that every Lalu, Mulayam, Mayawati or others like them have tapped into for reinvigorating the movement for social justice against all the fake concerns of the champions of ‘social harmony’. Just think of it, from Babasaheb Ambedkar to everyone on the side of social justice wants JUSTICE while Bhartiya Janata Party wants ‘social harmony’. Well, they would for the structures of Hinduism including caste will collapse if there is no harmony. Their shops will go bankrupt, their factories will shut down if there is no harmony.

What Lalu, with many others, has achieved is a process of course correction. It is a process that aims at reengaging with the follies of our past and correcting them for building a society that is far more equal and egalitarian than what we are today. I am sure that Sushma and her masters were not happy with the reservations for the Other Backward Classes. They tried bringing the country to a standstill way back in 1989. Many of them immolated themselves, and many other unwilling ones, were immolated by others. Sushma would know it better for women like her had brought out marches against OBC reservations in Delhi University with ‘we would not get proper husbands’ as the central lament. She would know it for she contributed to the patriarchal insults of everything that is feminine decades later when she took a vow to live as a ‘widow’ if Sonia Gandhi assumed the Prime Ministership of the county.

If only she knew that the genie is out of the bottle. The genie has not read Hegel but still knows that all history is the history of increasing consciousness of freedom and once there, it does not go back. Means yes, actual freedom can be taken away but the consciousness remains. Though she does not seem to be comfortable with history at all, for if she was she would have learnt a lesson or two from the tremendous failure of anti-OBC reservation attempts.

Lalu is not a saint. Rather, He is quite a tainted example of the dirtiness of Indian politics. He may or may not be corrupt for the judicial process is on to decide on that. Yet, going by the popular perception he seems to be one, similar to many other like Yedurappas of BJP.Yet, nothing of this takes away the credit of being one staunch supporter of both social just ice and secularism in this country, one who has never compromised like many others. He is, therefore, not being tricked into by the Congress, Sushmaji. Just think of the absurdity of Sushma Swaraj, a minnow at best and a pawn at worst of Indian politics ‘educating’ Lalu Yadav who has learnt all his lessons in the battle field.

Lalu understands both Indian politics and history better than you. He understands social processes much better. He realizes that there are moments in history when you have to retreat to win the battle. The process of course correction has begun. Startlingly, it had begun with the second step first by providing OBC reservations in employment preceding those in higher education, a prerequisite for the same, by a decade and half.

There were many like you SushmaJi, even in Congress, who did not want this to become a reality. You yourself were in the government during the NDA regime for almost six years. What did you do then? Why did your heart not weep for Laluji then? Congress might have played a game by carving out sub quota for Muslims from the OBC’s share, but it will lose it at the end for this marks the beginning of a long overdue process of reservations for the minorities!

Well, the writing is on the wall. You can delay this process of course correction but you cannot stop it. No one can, not even those who started it in the first place. The people are on the rise and they cannot be tricked anymore, neither by you, nor anyone else. Keep trying dividing them along the axes of caste and religion, it has not worked for your party for two elections in a row, it will not even the third time.