Thursday, November 29, 2007

I take offence

There are a few books I’ve read – whatever their academic value may be – which have provided me such distinct visuals in my mind, that I’ve become a little emotionally connected to issues that didn’t concern me directly.

I’ll give you an example. Back in boarding school, when we’d study history and independence, I always read that partition was traumatic. But I didn’t have a very clear picture of what had happened on the ground. To ordinary people. So I picked up Freedom at Midnight, which Mrs. Datta (my high school history teacher) told me was a Hollywood version of partition stories. But to me, all of 14 (I think) it was just painful to read these accounts of families being torn apart, fathers being killed in front of their children, complete train carriages being destroyed.

It’s just that I don’t have any family which was affected by partition. The Kashmiri side of my family was already in Delhi for generations, in fact, they avoided much of the chaos of Kashmir too. And my moms side, from Pune, were involved in the freedom struggle (her grandfather led the struggle for independence for the Princely States) but there was no cross-border struggle. But despite that, I’d always wonder what Kashmir was like, what happened there.

Again, I walked through the library looking for something on Kashmir. I’d been there as a child, but all I have is memories of snowballs, apples and houseboats. I finally came across Tavleen Singh’s book, Kashmir: A Tragedy of Errors. It’s ironic that now, with the Indian Express, I have to edit her columns every Sunday! It was my first window into the Valley. I could sense the emptiness, the discontent the Muslim population had with the Kashmiri Pandits and her lament at the general state of the valley. I probably can’t remember specific details about incidents, it’s been about 15 years since I read it, but her descriptions of the empty feeling you got in the towns, the curfew that was stifling life there, still remain with me.

So, it was even more ironic that when I met Tavleen Singh’s son, a journalist, he was talking about comparing Gujarat with the Sikh riots after Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination. And it just occurred to me that although I know a fair deal about what happened in 2002 (I was in Montreal at the time), but I didn’t know too much about the Sikh riots, besides the immediate cause. I’d read some accounts, but suddenly I wanted to know more. I picked up When a Tree Shook Delhi, by Manoj Mitta and H.S. Phoolka at the Delhi airport, and by the time I landed in Bangalore, I was done. I think I almost started crying a few times. It’s still absolutely shocking me to what a mob is capable of, I’ve written about this before.

I’m ashamed to say, but when Tehelka came out with its findings on Gujarat, complete with first-hand accounts and boasts from the perpetrators, so many people shrugged it off saying “well I knew that, I really thought their big announcement would be something else”. THIS is how used to violence we have become, whatever the reason.

It’s just that with Nandigram and accusations hurled at the CPM that the state allowed the party cadres to do whatever they wanted, comparisons to Gujarat came about. And again, here you have messages from the top, direct or indirect; in effect allowing people to do what they want, victimize whoever they want. Could we ever seriously wonder why most Indians have no faith in the police? When I started reading Mitta’s account of how the police in Delhi did nothing to stop the violence against the Sikh community for three days – no, helped fuel the violence in many places – I had goosebumps. And that one account from a police officer, which is the closest they came to implicating someone on top – that there had been a senior level meeting where the top of the police were also present, and it was decided to allow riots in the wake of the assassination – is too crazy for me to digest. I mean that.

And I know… I shouldn’t be so wide eyed when faced with these incidents. I mean, after all death surrounds us in this country, but to think that genocide has been a part and parcel of our democracy is too scary a thought.

My colleague at work was talking about the difference between India and Pakistan today. She said that we never had to fight for democracy. We sure did fight for independence, to inherit the system of governance already in place, but it was a top down change of guard. And Pakistan today is actually showing a preference for a particular political system. It’s the same thing that Sunil Khilnani said in The Idea of India; that people in India are largely more connected with their communities than with an overall government (clearly, I’m not directly quoting here!!). But to the point, I think we as a country have finally started to fight for our government too – the government we want – and if I may say so, the media has pretty much everything to do with it.

Why? Because when I saw CNN-IBN this evening, a young doctor from AIIMS was telling a reporter that they were not going to operate on any more politicians, after all, AIIMS is not solely meant for them, I felt a few confidence. She asked him if he can really go through with this, and he said he would, and especially because “you are with us” (talking about the media).

Maybe we didn’t think about how well our democratic set-up would work, but these are important questions that need to be addressed. And if there is a government that cannot, or will not, protect its people – well, its time we hold them responsible. Really. But in real life, can that happen? Will Tehelka’s investigation go anywhere? I won't even go into the delayed and very corrupt justice system in this country.

You know what the scary part is, I think the next time (and I hope there isn’t one) something like this happens – I won’t be able to hide behind my age, or that I was away in university – I’m going to be an adult with voting rights and the ability to protest loudly… wait. Nandigram happened. I was all those things. So are you, whoever is reading this.



IR said...

very well written , very forceful ,assertive and thought provoking ,

however i differ on only one point,the media in this country is as susceptible to ideoligies, vested interest or influence (as the case might be) as any other "body" which has a wide reach( ex. the govt or the judiciary)

mahima said...

I agree with the ideology part totally, but its also become a weapon for the common man.... protection, at least we think, if we're on TV, something will have to be done... exposes//// and also smaller stuff, like that poor Chiranjeevi's daughter, who thought her father won't be able to blow her up etc because the channels would save her....

nirvikar singh said...


"Unity in Diversity" The most profound statement made for our country and its democratic setup, doesn’t it sound a little cliché these days?

Well, after reading your article, that was the first thing that came to my mind. Almost For the last six decades ,Kashmir has been a paradise lost, its people still trapped in the vortex of dispute and the death toll continuing to rise .As indians ,as people as a community ,what have we done ?
Mahima, in your article you have brought out two very important issues,, firstly, making the government accountable and secondly and which is the most difficult putting an end to the tragedies like genocide in Nandigram or the carnage of Gujrat Riots.
Unfortunately, what has happened in our political setup is that almost all parties have become mathematicians calculating their vote banks and issues have gradually started getting their due importance only after assessing their count on the vote bank scale.
The other thing which i feel very strongly is that ,we as people give due importance only to issues which directly affect us.Its time we as people need to start feeling for the victims of Gujrat Riots or Nandigram.
Have you ever wondered that even after being the architect of the biggest carnage in recent times Narendra Modi comes back to power with a thumping majority in 2002 and it may so happen even after the the excellent work of Ashish khaitan in the Tehelka's expose in Gujrat, he might just win again?
In west Bengal after being in power for over three decades the cpm feels that they can get away with anything even with the genocide of Nandigram but when the Cpm starts realizing that their wrong decision in Nandigarm can affect them in Kereala or for that matter in Tripura the issues will graduate to the national level and not be a region or a state based issue.but before making the government accountable we as a people will need to be awakened .
A very good attempt to wake us up Mahima, well done.

egg style said...

As a perceptive Indian writer once put it, so long as Indians still pack cinema halls to shed a common tear in the dark, and si gh along with the songs, Indians will be Indians. India has never given up its quest for "escape", nor should it.

Anonymous said...

Okay as a pakistani i agree with you, we really have had to fight for democracy and for a multitude of reasons are probably going to be fighting for it for a long time. But its not just democracy that we all want (both indians and pakistanis) i think its good governance from a democratically elected government. That is something we can hope to achieve through our votes, our voices (amplified through the media of course) and our actions.
Mahima, your blog as always is refreshing and thought provoking.

Anonymous said...

As a silent spectator to chilling genocides and massacres that seem to be increasingly becoming the norm in our country I completely empathise with your anguish. It’s scary to think that what should otherwise be considered anomalies are so often shrugged off and as you said, occasionally encouraged by the State and Law and Order. (What law and order? The last person I’d approach for help or security would be the police.) Every Gujarat or Nandigram, brings home the fact that Modi’s camp and the CPM cadres can get away with the senseless strong arm tactics and bone chilling violence. Its voices like yours that will hopefully work as a wake up call to shake us out of the dumb apathy we show towards incidents that should otherwise awaken in us proactive counter measures. Those men will always be beasts. Don’t expect much more. We should be thinking: Human. Mature. Loud.

SV said...

This is certainly very thought provoking; brings on a sense of disgrace at what we have grown to become used to.

I am ashamed to say that I am one of those too; feeling the passion..but from a distance. I wonder how long I can hide behind the excuse of my physical absense for?

Let me think about it..

mansur said...

ive never taken everything at face value what the media or a particular author has to say especially about controversial topics or topics that interest me.i always try to get different angles to a story and even tune in to cnn or bbc to get the full picture even with issues concerning our own country.the media here usually takes a side without even knowing what the outcome of a certain case is gonna be or when the case is subjudice.ive heard even mannu sharma's family is planning to start a news know's what tricks theyve got up their sleeve.i had even heard that mannu sharma was dating jessica lal for a very long time before he shot her.i know this is laughable and he is still guilty of murder but there are things that everyone should know about before taking a stand and more importantly before the media takes a stand.i even heard that a lot of prominent people were in that party even one of our top(present)police chief but they all vanished into thin air when the time came to testify.poor shayan munshi.what about pramod mahajan's case.i heard rumours during that time that pramod was having an affair with pravin's wife and that he(pravin) was not mentally ill as the media and the bjp portrayed him to be.that guy looks fine to me and who knows which way the case is going to go but i wont be surprised if the rumours are found to be true'll definitely hurt the bjp big time.i read the hindustan times regularly and find it amusing how barkha,vir etc skirt issues instead of just taking a stand.they are never open and sometimes you find them all writing about a hot topic and coming to the same conclusion-nowhere.its all upto the reader to derive whatever conclusion they want to.we could have done that without even reading their articles.khushwant singh is a lot better in that case and i wish him a long and healthy life.he is one person who will take a stand on some issue and atleast is not a hypocrite.i wrote to barkha recently and i hope to get a reply as she is also an alumni of my college.hehe.
i have been very lucky to have got to travel a lot both domestically and abroad from a very young age as i was professionally a cricketer and belonging from assam does give me a slightly better picture as far as the diversity of our country goes.i am settled in delhi now and its a shame how less people know about my state(assam) or any other state for that matter.its very easy to comment on other people but until unless one has gone and lived there for a certain period it is difficult to understand them.
as pointed out by one of our bloggers, india is a diverse country with hundreds of ethnic groups,languages etc.this sometimes leads to racism against outsiders which in turn leads to ghettoisation and some times even communal clashes and is very easy for us indians to say that we are targetted racially abroad but after living in the uk for 5 years i dont think the chavs there are half as bad as is so easy for us to joke about santa and banta or even call a south indian kalu.all these simple things are actually racist comments and would be treated as serious racism abroad.why do fairness creams sell so much in this country?does it help to be fair when we go in for interviews or paste our pic for a matrimonial site?in north india there definitely is a lot of racism like in assam or the east where people dont speak in hindi and will sometimes not even reply if spoken to in hindi.the south has its own perception of north indians and the likes.punjab has its own problems and i just hope the issue regarding the pro khalistan leader bhindranwale's portrait in the golden temple doesnt get serious.
some times it is difficult to fathom how well our country has done despite all this.i would like to give one more example.ive asked my family so many times about how it felt when the chinese army had come inside the the rest of india the people started making excuses that our soldiers were ill equipped for the cold climate of the far east thats why it was difficult to stop the chinese.has anyone asked the army what it did when the chinese army was marching on our national highway up to tezpur passing my hometown on the way.tezpur is a few thousand km's inside our border and it is never cold there or in my hometown as it is not hilly and the temperature hardly drops below 8 degrees even in the family was afraid of losing our property etc and word went around that the indian govt had betrayed us as there was no army personnel anywhere in sight.maybe we do not lack the killer instinct only on the cricket field.maybe that is one reason that whoever has invaded india in the past has got it easy except for the portugese who were probably unlucky to come during akbar's time.who knows otherwise we could have been learning portugese instead of english now.atleast we would have been better at football.
in delhi people probably heard a different version of the story(indo -china war) just to save nehru's ass for a very big blunder he made by trying to make us believe that the chinese army could be overcome with ease.
as one of the largest democracies we should all know the truth about everything concerning the country and only then can we improve ourselves and help the country aswell.the media definitely has a long way to go in being more professional.