This appeared in Sunday Times
An era of Shudh Hindi Romance coming up…?
Perhaps, I should have written this column in Hindi. I have nothing against Hindi. Or any other language for that matter. In India, we have 22 official languages to choose from. Each one of those languages is rich and profound. Most Indians possess impressive language skills and can communicate reasonably well in four or five languages. Hindi is just one of them. So is English - our chutneyfied version of it - which deserves official recognition as an Indian language. Apart from our mother tongues, many of us are fluent in at least two more languages. This is an enormous national asset. Hindi has not been declared India’s national language so far. And regardless of what the political class assumes, Hindi is neither spoken nor understood beyond North India. Even in Maharashtra where I live, Hindi is, at best , a second language after Marathi. Since both languages use the Devnagiri script, people can read simple sentences without too much difficulty. That’s not the case in other States. Mumbai has its own version of spoken Hindi , popularly referred to as ‘Bambaiya’. This is street speak at its most colourful with a vivid use of racy colloquialisms. I find ‘Bambaiya’ totally ‘Jhakaas’ – and I challenge anybody to come up with a shuddh Hindi substitute for that delicious exclamation.
Which is why, it is awfully annoying to note that the new government, while still taking baby steps managing our vast country, is sending out a few directives that are entirely out of sync with the mood of the nation. Take the recent Home Ministry order instructing government departments to stick to Hindi on social media platforms – sorry, this is not going to fly. Why the hell should someone who does not use Hindi as a primary language be compelled to express himself / herself in it? This smacks of an insidious attempt to gradually impose Hindi as THE language across India. And that , is not going to be accepted by a vast majority of Indians. DMK Chief, M. Karunanidhi stated as much when he said, “ This amounts to an attempt to treat Non-Hindi speakers as second class citizens.” Jayalalithaa has written a letter of protest as well. Government departments are manned by people from all over India. Their official accounts on social media are accessed by anybody and everybody interested in following what’s going on in the corridors of power. Why should such communication be restricted to Hindi? To counter argue – why not Bengali? Tamil? Urdu? Telugu? Why should Hindi alone be given this special status? NDA allies are unhappy, and so are many Indians, who believe in national integrity.
The real fear isn’t about the domination of Hindi in a country that is blessed by such a multiplicity of complex languages and dialects (over 2,000 and still counting!). For six decades, we have functioned just fine with our crazy khichdi of assorted linguistic flavours enhancing communication. Language is about reaching out and embracing differences of all kinds. Language is about expression and influence. Language is fluid and fantastic. It evolves organically and changes with each generation making unique contributions to it. There are other ways to ‘unify’ India, surely? Every language has its own unique cultural identity and status. It creates and occupies its own special space in history. Hindi is a beautiful language. But In India we are fortunate enough to have many, equally beautiful languages. It is important to respect linguistic diversities and not allow any one language group to overshadow the rest. Let’s get this straight – all languages are equal in a democracy.
The new government has started off on a positive note with many worthy programmes and projects. For the ‘achhe din’ to continue, a re-look at some recent initiatives is urgently required. From the sacking of Governors to the stubborn refusal to deal firmly with Minister of State Nihalchand Meghwal , there have been significant missteps that cannot be easily overlooked. The expectations riding on Modi’s government may be unrealistically high – but this Sarkar is obliged to live up to them, given the overwhelming mandate it has received. The ‘D-Word’ – Development – is a deadly one. It cannot be seen in isolation to mean economic development alone. Giving Hindi precedence over other languages (English included), could lead to resentment and hostility, divisiveness and suspicion. The most common fear being : It’s Hindi today. What will it be tomorrow? That’s a legitimate enough concern. Perhaps, the new sarkar was merely testing the waters to gauge the response to the ‘Hindi Only’ instructions. Instead of looking ahead and hastening the globalization process via easy and accessible communication systems, we will be taking ten steps into the past. India could do with a massive dose of positivity and patriotism after a decade of fragmentation, frustration and chaos. Why not start by leaving the language option open to users? Otherwise, there will be many who’ll accuse the sarkar of ‘ullu banaoing’ citizens by trying to push Hindi down their throats. Nahi chalega! Nahi chalega! Yeh dil maange more – language-wise and otherwise.
This appeared in Mumbai Mirror
Will the real Nihalchand please stand up?
One of the most cowardly lines in government lingo is “We’ll look into the matter.” When this annoying line gets tossed around while a 20-year-old woman is running from pillar to post fighting for justice… and quite possibly, her life, just hearing those meaningless words makes our blood boil. Because we know what the phrase actually means – it means zilch! Illey. By the time the authorities get around to ‘looking into the matter’, the traumatized woman may just be dead. That’s how bad it is. That’s how callous it has always been. Except, this time the narrative is different. It involves a Minister in Narendra Modi’s newly formed cabinet. It is he who is being accused of rape by the victim. And while he runs away from the media, refusing to respond to the charges, there is a bunch of inept BJP spokespersons ‘looking into the matter’. While these chaps continue to look, Nihalchand Meghwal, Modi’s Minister of State for Chemicals and Fertilisers, calmly cools his heels and buys time, waiting for his political mentors to bail him out. And, no matter what outraged citizens feel, the brazen Minister will not step down! Worse, party bosses are backing him all the way.
On Arnab Goswami’s Newshour, a certain Mr. Rao suggested this was a case of mistaken identity and that the woman, who was 17 years old when she was repeatedly raped by – get this – 17 men, had got it all wrong! He also insisted that the Nihalchand named by her, was a different Nihalchand - not the Minister! He went on to make the most preposterous comments about his co-panelists, audaciously saying some of us were ‘hallucinating’. Stuck with the lousiest job on earth (defending a colleague accused of rape and intimidation), Mr. Rao also dug his own grave in the bargain. Even assuming all of us were on hallucinatory drugs that night, what could Rao have said to save the Minister’s butt? The story is sordid enough, if true. According to the charges, a tender 17- year-old bride’s husband – yes, husband – pimped her to friends and influential people, in return for favours. Allegedly, the girl was drugged during these encounters and forced to oblige. When she did file a police complaint against her tormentors, the case was closed and her charges dubbed ‘false and fabricated’. Ditto happened at the District Court. It is only after she filed a review petition that an additional district judge issued notices to Meghwal and 16 others.
Once that happened, the story changed dramatically. The woman now claims the Minister’s goons come to her village every day to intimidate and threaten her. She says the Minister has offered her a job and large sums of money to delete his name from her complaint. Let’s take the most cynical scenario here, and assume the woman is lying through her teeth. Let’s give the men the benefit of the doubt and feel sorry for them. Let’s accept they could have been framed. Should the imbroglio end there? No way, Jose. It’s too late for that now. One of them is a liar. Which one? The woman is poor and to all appearances, fighting a lone battle against powerful men pitted against her. Their lives aren’t under threat. Hers is. What is the truth ? “ Let the courts decide” is the other cliché one hears over and over again. Given the snail pace of justice, that could take twenty or more years. The woman will be 40- years- old by then. Nobody will remember the case or even the Minister’s name. Perhaps, that is the intention – to tire out a victim till someone either drops dead, or runs out of physical/monetary resources to pursue the case.
Most times, women facing sexual exploitation (whether within the family or outside it), are made to feel responsible for the abuse and placed on the backfoot. Terrorising a victim into silence is easy. Generally, it is via threats to her person. This case is murkier still, since her husband is involved. This is not all that uncommon. There are any number of pimp-husbands in Mumbai ( Bollywood , corporate India, Police and other government agencies), who are notorious for exploiting their wives. Nobody talks about it openly. But everybody knows who they are. We have men in Parliament who are complete rogues – bigamists, serial adulterers, paedophiles, black mailers and worse. Nihalchand’s will be one more case that will be ‘looked into’ eventually… if ever. Meanwhile, a 20-year-old victim has been asked by the cops if she can name witnesses and provide accurate dates when the alleged rapes took place!
You decide who is hallucinating / concocting/ fabricating material here….while anonymous authorities promise to ‘look into the matter’.
This appeared on the NDTV blog...
It’s not about Preity alone…
That’s the damn problem with celebrity spats – the personal becomes more important than the larger issues raised. When such spats involve a beautiful and brave former ‘Bollywood star’, who is facing a slow and painful fade out, and a volatile rich man, who happens to be a former lover and current business partner, it’s a made-for-media story all the way. The easiest thing to do with all the juicy material flying around is to dismiss it as a high profile lovers’ tiff, as certain journos with deeply vested interests have tried to do. Once you reduce the case to nothing more serious than a former girl friend’s public pique at being dumped and possibly replaced by a younger, hotter woman,perspectives change and opinions alter. In Bambaiyaspeak, it becomes another flippant Bollywood ‘lafda’, worth milking by scoop- famished mediawallas . It also makes Zinta look bad. Perhaps, that’s the whole idea. Preity is being projected as either a ‘poor thing’ who can’t handle rejection, or a neurotic, high –pitched , out of control woman chasing publicity at any cost. This is grossly unfair to Zinta. As it would be to any other woman caught in similar circumstances.
Let’s be honest : It takes guts to file an FIR against a powerful person who has allegedly been abusive in public. Abuse is abuse – verbal, physical, sexual. This is not a fight between equals. Pitted against Zinta is a wealthy, well connected, individual. Zinta will find herself increasingly isolated, not just by her own film industry colleagues (evasive!), but even by those in her social circuit. That’s Mumbai. Zinta is no longer regarded as a force to reckon with in Bollywood – she has made too many professional mistakes - turning a flop producer being the latest. That’s how it goes in the movie business – a female star is only as valuable as her last week’s box office collections. Most fans will find it difficult to recall Zinta’s last commercial hit. Becoming the part owner of an IPL team that narrowly missed the cup this season, has ensured a certain level of visibility.But the debacle that took place at the stadium on 30th May, and which is dominating media space right now, will only erode whatever is left of the PZ brand. India is not terribly kind to strong willed, outspoken women who are dubbed ‘trouble makers’ if they dare to raise their voices, especially against men. Zinta is such a woman. In the past, she has bravely stood up to pressure tactics by being the only witness to stand by earlier statements against the Indian Mafia in the notorious Bharat Shah case of 2003.Today, she’s at the centre of another ugly controversy and is being hauled over the coals across social media platforms. Why not let the cops get on with their job? It must be noted that Zinta has not accused anybody of molestation –sexual or otherwise. Her lawyer has sensibly relied on a Supreme Court verdict which specifies that the real test is whether an action “shocks the sense of decency of a woman.” If Zinta was indeed called a “fucking whore”, a “ fucking bitch” in the presence of several people inside a stadium,as she claims, and reminded of the fact that she is just a ‘bloody actress’, one would think it definitely qualifies as a fit case that must have shocked her sense of decency – as it would, any woman’s. And since Zinta’s ‘class’ was also allegedly questioned in the exchange, it is appropriate to point out that generally it is the abuser who displays his / her true class….not the victim!