Articles for May 2007

Old post – not current: BJP, Gujarat, and yet another embarrassment

An old post. Please note that this is not a comment on BJP today, but an incident from 4 years ago. Bringing it up in the shadow of M F Hussain’s death to make two points. 1. There are others being targetted too (and they are alive, so we can change and make a difference), and 2. This boy had not painted naked goddesses, but still got the brutal. So let’s not pretend that it is about defending religious figures or something. It is plain old moral policing. We need to grow up. ASAP.


The point here is not to bash any political party or anything, but to look at the problem and see what needs done clearly.

This time around, its art. Apparently, the erotica that has always been a frank element of our culture, is also now about shame. An art student’s work is put up for exhibition, and he gets arrested. Why? What is this new brand of moral policing? And what is it about Hindutva they are protecting? Why does a government need to interfere with an art student’s work?

The uproar hit the ceiling when the fellow students of the arrested Chandramohan organized an exhibition of Indian erotica. Vice-Chancellor Manoj Soni, living up to his reputation as an RSS stooge, took the decision to seal the department after BJP municipal councillors complained about the erotica exhibition. Oh really! Give me a break. Nudes are a staple of fine art education and study of anatomy. Good work elicts admiration, bad work elicts criticism, but arrests? Shutting down of a fine arts department?

I wouldn’t be surprised if owning a copy of the Kama Sutra became illegal in Gujarat, or if Khajuraho itself got destroyed after this. What are we, the citizens doing, allowing such insanity to rule our country?

Nudity exists. Acting holier-than-thou doesn’t change what the mirror shows us as we change clothes. It doesn’t stop minimal clothing and erotic films from being best sellers. It doesn’t stop people from seeing the beauty of the human form, and finding appeal in it. Where is the shame in erotica, a student’s art, or Indian erotica? It is not like they are exhibiting these on the street. People walking into an exhibition are well aware of its theme and what to expect. If they don’t like it, they can stay away. What is this with arresting artists?

What do we do about Indian artists who have already painted plenty of nudes in the history of India? What is this new overgrown morality being imposed on people?

So what’s next? Will love matches and dating be banned and offenders arrested if they are seen together in a public place? Are we India of the Kama Sutra, or are we Saudi fucking Arabia?

Mumbai water supply going to the dogs?

Sudden epidemic of Solar-Powered ATMs in news

Walking down the street near the old Ajmera School in Borivli West today, I came across this:

Dog at leaking water connection

In case the picture isn’t clear, this is a dog drinking at a leaking water connection. Take a close look:

Dog licking the tap all around

I couldn’t get a better picture. It got scared and ran away. Actually, when I saw it, there were two dogs drinking there, mouth to mouth. It actually was looking very pretty, like a pose for a photo. Unfortunately, the minute I showed even a little attention, this one got wary and the other one plain ran away. So I had only one model to shoot.

I find a couple of things very disturbing about this. One is the attention given to leaking taps. In a country, rather world, where drinking water is an issue, this connection was leaking like a regular tap left on. I wonder how many of these are in Mumbai, and how much of the water crisis could be solved by simply getting them repaired. In an area that looks pretty parched from the summer, the gutter next to it had about 3-4 inches of water in it, which dried out about 5 meters or so, on both sides from the tap. Obviously this little oasis was from the tap.

The other thing I find disturbing is that a bunch of street dogs are drinking straight from the water connection that probably comes to my home too. How’s that for maintaining the purity of drinking water? Hardly anyone in Mumbai boils or filters drinking water, as it is generally very safe to drink. Could freak accident epidemics be happening from incidences like this?

If I make a complaint, I dare say a standard complacent reply will be issued with someone assuring me that it will be repaired – eventually – one fine day. If I speak about contamination and stuff, they will bring to my notice that water is flowing out, not into the system, so the chances of contamination are low. Government departments are well practiced in the art of deflecting anything that would mean actually taking prompt action. It is very comfortable to continue on auto pilot.

But I will still be making that complaint and following up on it personally till the problem is solved. It’s the least I can do about the water problems we are facing.

Also disturbing to me, is the fact that if I can walk around for half an hour almost anywhere in Mumbai, I’m likely to find a broken/damaged/leaking public tap, connection or pipe or similar. How much water we as a city are really wasting? WHY?

And the thing that gives me the creeps is that my home is quite far from any main water supply of the city. How many such “compromised” points lie between the purification unit and main tanks and the water that reached my tap? Should I really be drinking this water at all? And, in a developing country, with a reputation for most of the public not having access to drinking water, is the little public that is supposed to have it, also not really getting it?

How much quality can be added to existing water supply facilities simply by including careful maintenance and strict hygiene?

I hope anyone reading this makes it a point to promote awareness of this among people they know. We as a people can report every single point we find that wastes water and opens the main supply for contamination and insist on action.

Solution on Kashmir?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

For a long time, Kashmir has been a thrown in the sides of India, Pakistan and Kashmir. Countless men losing their lives, exhorbitant amounts of money spent, arguments, claims, hopes and anger. Its been pver 50 years. The issue is still on.

The world watches with bated breath as the two nuclear armed rivals try and figure life out and hope that the nuclear part of it remains in firmly in the capability rather than the use. It seemed hopeless for a long time. 3 wars, numerous hot moments and endless peace efforts later, no one really sees hope.

I remember being on a discussion forum, where the people of India and Pakistan were arguing desperately about how Kashmir belongs to them. Each side with strong versions of the “truth” and every option under the sky being pulled out for an airing.

I remember a comment I made that got me very strong hatred from my compatriots. I had said, “If it was within my power, and if it would bring peace, I would happily gift Kashmir to Pakistan.” Regardless of the history, regardless of what is right, my heart bleeds for the people of the land who have forgotten what a normal llife is all about. Its ages since they have been able to trust strangers, seen a society without soldiers, or felt truly safe in their own land. But even if I could gift it, I couldn’t bring happiness. There are people who want to be with India, there are those who would like to join Pakistan and then there are those who want independence. All of them can’t be happy with my “gift”.

It is true attrocities have been committed by both countries. By militants or by armed forces. It is true that Hindus and Muslims have both known a lot of fear and pain and death in this place. But that has already happened. We can choose to harp on about it, or to move on ensuring that it will not happen again.

For a long time I have even avoided thinking about Kashmir because of the helplessness I feel. I feel frustrated to see politicians sitting safely in Delhi and Islamabad and deciding the moves on the fates of those living the problem. Frustrated, because I haven’t seen any result that will ease the situation of the Kashmiris.

Finally, I found a thread of hope. I came across this news article about Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan’s visit to India and the progress made in the talks. For the first time, I found a no nonsense willingness to leave aside age old perceptions and assumptions and actually take things as they come from across the border. There is a trust that moves me with hope. I only hope that the Indian Government live up to this trust, and both countries build up on it to move toward a resolution on this festering sore.

I’m quoting the article here, Its worth a read:

ISLAMABAD: Faced with a volley of questions by an accusing Pakistan media over his reported statements during a visit to India, Kashmiri leader Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan stuck to his guns, saying the truth about cross-border militant training camps could not be hidden, nor could anyone find fault with his desire for peace in Kashmir, and that the United Nations resolutions were “obsolete.”

Returning from New Delhi on Thursday, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir drove straight to meet the media in the capital, presumably to clear the air over his statements that have been slammed by Kashmiri Opposition parties here.

The ageing leader, also known as the First Mujahid, said it was “a fact that there were training camps [for militants] in Pakistan and in Azad Kashmir [Pakistan Occupied Kashmir].”

“Speak the truth”

“It was in the open. We cannot keep something like this under wraps. The Americans can give you all the details about these camps. These things cannot be kept hidden in this day and age. We should speak the truth, or we will be exposed as liars,” Mr. Khan said.

But, the Kashmiri leader said, he had been misreported as saying these were “terrorist” training camps, while he had stressed the camps were for “freedom fighters.”

He said he had also pointed out that President Pervez Musharraf had closed down the training camps and that there was no more infiltration into India. His purpose in India was to attend an intra-Kashmir “hear-to-heart” dialogue, where he asked for free movement of Kashmiris, intra-Kashmir trade and peace, Mr. Khan said.

“We have wasted 50 years in discussing a final solution, and got nothing in return but bloodshed and suffering for Kashmiris. There should be no more discussion on this. Rather we should focus on tackling the situation on the ground in Kashmir, where people are dying. If we focus on the process, improve the atmosphere, it will lead to the solution by itself,” Mr. Khan said. “No one can disagree with my point-by-point demands for free movement, trade and peace.”

Asked about Indian “inflexibility” to Gen. Musharraf’s famous four-point proposals, Mr. Khan shot back, “They gave me a visa even though they considered me as enemy number one. Is this is not flexibility?”

Mr. Khan praised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and said he was on the right track towards finding a solution to the Kashmir issue. “My impression is that a good environment is being created for a solution to Kashmir, and to take the peace process forward, and the Indian Prime Minister is making all efforts. The round table conference discussed all the issues, and I think they are serious. They are working on demilitarisation, on opening of routes, so these are within the parameters suggested by President Musharraf,” he said.

The APHC should have attended the New Delhi roundtable because no Kashmiri should refuse the opportunity to present his point of view, Mr. Khan said.

The U.N. resolutions on Kashmir were “obsolete.” He pointed out they were only recommendations. “Do you want to keep harping about them until the last Kashmiri is killed?” he asked a reporter who questioned him on this.

When the reporters pressed him about India’s “unyielding” stand, Mr. Khan urged Pakistanis to stop thinking of India “as a municipal committee” which had “not done this or that.” Describing India as “10 times a bigger country,” he said it would have to keep its “own commitments” in mind before taking any step and could not be pushed around.

He said there was no question of India “trapping” Pakistan in a peace process. “We fail ourselves on many occasions, and blame India for nothing.”

Intolerance: Excessive morality?

Actor Gere kisses Bollywood actress Shetty during an AIDS awareness programme amongst truck drivers in New Delhi

In a country where watching films without vulgar dances is incomplete, we are quick to take offense at public figures. Richard Gere and Shilpa Shetty in the recent limelight are an example.

What happens to caring about the AIDS and HIV campaign they were pushing? Well, a kiss happened. Right on stage, in the middle of the public eye, Richard Gere did a move similar to one from his film “Shall we Dance”? Ok, so the Indian crowds may not have seen the film, and thought it was all real. They got offended – of course! Being offended comes easy to our public and its easy.

Its easier than spending brain time and effort about the subject of why Gere and Shetty were on stage in the first place. In a country threatened by HIV, where the government is coming out of its own modesty to encourage frankness and promoting condoms openly, the real sum total of this particular effort went down the drain with all focus shifted to one impulsive action.

They both apologized. Shilpa Shetty herself was taken aback. Gere went to the extent of saying that she was not to blame and he did it impulsively. An apology is an apology. He apologized to the public for exposing them to something that hurt their sentiments. What is the country still harping about?

Gere is not an Indian. What he did, to him was a simple impulsive action. It was on stage and it was a copy of an action he had done in a film of his. I can see our stars doing all sorts of things on stage, publicly, and so on in public shows. Does he have to take part in a Bollywood film for him to get away with this?

Suddenly all these righteous people whose most notable achievement seems to be criticism, forget the good he is doing. The man is a regular visitor to India for years. A follower of the Dalai Lama. He is interested not only in his enjoyment in our country as a tourist, but is taking part in initiatives to help our society for the better in many ways. He donates to charities working here. Even when he got this severe reaction for his action, he was working to create awareness about HIV and AIDS among the citizens of this very country that is yelling for him to be arrested.

The tolerance we Indians claim to be so proud of is just parrot talk. We yell at the Liz Hurley wedding, we make a noise about an inter-religious love marriage, we have an issue with Mandira Bedi having a religious symbol tatoo…… where is our tolerance for people simply living their lives and not harming another person? How does it matter to us what ceremony a person marries with, if that is what s/he wants? How does it matter to us if two people are in love and want to marry but are not from the same religion? How does it matter to us if someone finds a religious symbol beautiful and worthy of a place on her body? And how does it matter at all to a country bred on regular vulgarity in films, if one star kisses another on stage? What IS the harm coming to us or the society from this?

Where are the morality guys, when tiny kids regularly perform dances loaded with sexual innuendo (like the originals) on dance shows? Or is it ok if its kids doing it? Or is it just about kisses? Or is it just about a foreigner kissing an Indian woman publicly? I have no issue with those either. I only find it strange that we expect a foreigner to be aware of and follow our morality even in impulsive actions, when we are otherwise completely ok with it. This reminds me of the fatwa against Pakistani Tourism Minister for hugging her sky diving instructor. Is that the route we want to go as a country?

Both Shilpa Shetty and Gere are naturally upset with this turn of events. It is rather scary to stick your neck out hoping to create some useful awareness in the viewers, and another to get pulled to bits by the same people over some impulsive mistake.

In any case, it makes no sense to be more offended by displays of affection than violence – something the moral zealots usually are fine with.

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