Sunday Times Politically Incorrect 5th Dec 2014
The ‘Illiteracy’ of the ruling class…
This week was reserved for BJP Union Minister ‘Sadhvi’ Niranjan Jyoti and her foul mouth. No amount of gargling with boric acid will cleanse that. Or her mind. She may have apologized and taken back her despicable words. But the fact that she uttered them in the first place, is shocking enough.The even more shocking aspect of this incident is this : are we really upset by what she said? As upset as we need to be under the circumstances? Or will we take her gutter language in our stride and move on? In another, equally distasteful context, will we also overlook Mamata Banerjee’s crude ‘Bamboo’ remark and put it down to yet another ‘Didi outburst’? Are we getting so accustomed to vile language being spewed in public by prominent political players, that we no longer react to these crude remarks with the abhorrence they demand?
The worst aspect of the ‘Sadhvi’ speech was Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu’s weak attempt at justifying her revolting words by explaining Niranjan Jyoti is ‘a woman from an economically weaker background who has risen without all sorts of support.” So??? Was he implying we should employ a different set of standards for individuals who rise ‘without all sorts of support’. What sort of support did he mean? He added he had ‘counselled’ her and she had ‘realised her mistake’. He put a lid on the controversy by firmly declaring, “There the matter ends’. Oh no, it doesn’t. If anything, there the matter begins!
Mamata has never needed anybody to either defend or counsel her – nobody would dare attempt it either. Nor would anything work in her case. Unlike Union Minister Niranjan Jyoti ( can you believe this 47- year- old is Minister of State for Food Processing Industries?), the Chief Minister of West Bengal lays claims to many impressive college degrees, and on paper at least, she is a highly educated person! Which makes one wonder what we mean by education these days! Is this the language used by ‘educated’ people? Should one start divorcing education from culture, upbringing, sensitivity, knowledge, civilized conduct?
Look at the Sadhvi’s track record - here’s a person who has made it to this enviable position after winning from Fatehpur, a constituency which the erudite V.P.Singh had nurtured and won twice. Jyoti belongs to a community of boatmen - seen as an important vote bank in the state. She was the only woman to be sworn into the 21 member council of ministers. It was believed she was being rewarded by the party for helping the BJP crack the Dalit and backward classes in Uttar Pradesh. All that is fine. It’s politics as usual. That her declared net worth hovers around 25 lakhs, also says something. But is that ‘something’ enough? Can her modest beginnings be exploited to condone her atrocious public abuse? Will anybody offer similar concessions to someone who comes from a less deprived background? Are we supposed to feel sorry for the abusive ‘Sadhvi’? Why?
This is yet another example of the politics of convenience and opportunism. Sure, she is an elected representative of the people and nobody can take that away from her. But did she have to be inducted into the government and given a ministerial berth she is clearly not qualified for? No, she didn’t! And if she has been placed there, either she should shape up and fit the bill, or, if she crosses all limits of decency (as she did), she must be sacked. Why should the offended people of India passively accept her programmed, hollow apology and go along with the government when it declares it a ‘closed chapter’. Who closed it? Not us!
Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti calls herself a ‘Katha Vachak’. She is someone who delivers religious sermons through story telling. She also describes herself as a social worker. Most would agree her latest speech disqualifies her on both counts - if that was her idea of a good story, sorry, it sucked. And what sort of ‘social work’ does she do apart from inciting followers? It is disingenuous to say that her speech was not made inside the Parliament, and therefore can’t be held against her. Really? It is precisely this kind of arrogant justification of blatant wrong doing that is worrying voters. If the Sadhvi gets away with this and still hangs on to her position, it will encourage others to follow suit, test the waters of tolerance and see if they too are honourably exonerated by the powers that be. Parliamentary conduct and language be damned, we have witnessed disgraceful scenes of hoolganism indulged in by all the parties at some point of the other. The disturbing trend has to stop and strong disciplinary action taken against those who misbehave and break laws of civil conduct – within and outside the Parliament.
The root cause of the Sadhvi’s deplorable utterances is the lack of education – and by that I don’t mean getting a degree from a reputed university. People like her, irrespective of which religious group they represent, deserve to be ostracized and shunned. If she had been asked to step down, it would have sent the right signal across party lines and perhaps, deterred future hater mongers from making such inflammatory comments. But will we ever show such sense and take necessary steps in advance? Unlikely. There is too much at stake – all sorts of nasty equations to safeguard, dubious factions to protect. That leaves the Bewildered Indian who wonders what went wrong… when… why. We remained silent when we ought to have spoken up. People like Niranjan Jyoti don’t suddenly pop out of nowhere. They wait… they know when to strike… because they also know who’ll protect them when they do open their mouths. It’s the Sadhvi today – who will it be tomorrow?
Shobhaa’s Take 27thNov2014 Asian Age
Perhaps my strong emotional response to the Ferguson case in distant St.Louis, Missouri, has a lot to do with the fact I spent a fortnight in America recently and came back with thousands of images exploding out of my head. Most were pleasant – very pleasant. Some, not so. I was back on the West Coast after a fairly long break. The flight to Los Angeles seemed never ending – well, over sixteen hours cooped up inside an airplane is almost as bad as being strapped into an MRI machine for sixteen minutes - and equally claustrophobic. The LAX airport looked most third world ( to be fair, massive construction is on to convert it into a swanky new terminal), and I smirked superciliously, remembering Mumbai’s glittering T2 and several other equally attractive, modern terminals across India. The entire experience on arrival in the land of milk and honey, was disheartening and gloomy ( no porters, no trolleys, poor signage, total chaos), and the long drive to the hotel over shabby flyovers and dirty streets, didn’t help the mood.
Later, much later, walking around the impossibly spread out city and talking to locals, it was pretty obvious that the great ‘Melting Pot’ of the world was showing signs of strain and was in danger of boiling over. As it happened when Michael Brown, an 18- year- old , unarmed African American teenager was shot dead by Darren Wilson, a white cop, who was later exonerated by a grand jury. “I just did my job. I did what I was paid to do,” Wilson blandly told his interviewer on ABC News, further fuelling the wrath of protestors across the country. At the time of writing, several cities across America are burning, in what threatens to be a major polarizing moment in race relations – uneasy and troubling at the best of times. Flashpoints like the Ferguson case take place when society refuses to address ghastly truths about itself and pretends ‘all is well’ when it damn well isn’t. We, in India, are in exactly the same situation, and for the same reasons. We refuse to give our demon a name. In place of race we have religion.
Most Americans by and large remain indifferent to what’s going on in India. And I am talking about desi Americans, too. Most are so frighteningly insular in their outlook, one wonders whether they have any other real interests and objectives beyond making money ( the primary reason most of them immigrated to America more than thirty years ago). Yes, they are vaguely curious about Narendra Modi and his government. But if you think the Madison Square Garden extravaganza impressed these folks, forget it. They took pains to point out it was precision staged by well-heeled BJP supporters in America, who efficiently managed the gushy Indian media coverage of the hoopla . According to the people I met, the average Joe didn’t know ( nor care) that a Very Important Man from India had come to America and met President Obama. What was a momentous, historic event for us back home, was apparently nothing more significant than a four line reference in mainstream newspapers there. In fact, the ‘Indian’ person who is occupying the mind space of our deshbhais and behens far more, is Republican Governor of Louisiana , Piyush Bobby Jindal (he also holds the post of Vice Chairman of the Republican Governors’ Association), who is being described as the ultimate ‘dark horse’ with a pretty good chance of clinching the Presidential nomination, beating Hillary Clinton and the rest in the race to the White House. Eat that!
How does race touch ‘our’ people in America? It is funny – they remain suspended somewhere in between – neither ‘idhar’ nor ‘udhar’. A little like the proverbial ‘dhobi ka kutta’. I didn’t see any real intermingling - whether with the Whites or African Americans. If anything, Indians stick to other Indians, and largely mind their own business. Their prosperity is evident and visible, more on the West Coast than elsewhere. These are the wealthy techies who have done spectacularly well in Silicon Valley and beyond. They work hard , educate their kids at top schools, spend those green backs judiciously, invest in decent homes… travel… and stay out of trouble. Like the other Asians. Perhaps, that’s the best way to survive and thrive. Their kids feel American, eat American, live American, think American, dream American. Their idea of India is nebulous at best. And the only connect is via grand- parents they may meet once in two years. Are they friends with White kids? Frankly, I can’t comment. I didn’t see much of it during my short stay.
How do the several Indian communities living in America respond to the Ferguson saga? Do they experience the same level of outrage as African Americans demonstrating on the streets? Clearly not. But try asking them where their sympathies lie, and don’t be surprised if they defend the White cop, Darren Wilson. The thing is, we are as racist ( if not more so) than anybody else. Educated, successful, overseas’ Indians actually think they are White! Not coloured – even though that is the category they technically fit into. And that is how they are seen. Personally speaking, going through the rather demeaning line of questioning by Immigration officials, I wasn’t all that surprised to be asked a few really intrusive / offensive questions , in tones that dripped sarcasm. Nor was I shocked to be searched and checked for ‘gunpowder and explosives’. This is how it goes. Michael Brown paid for it with his life. Prejudice wears blinkers and sees what it wishes to.
Often,your only crime is the colour of your skin. Whether in America or India.
Mumbai Mirror 4th Dec 2014
Rohtak Sisters : Drama Queens??
I clearly recall collaring a brute who had deliberately brushed past me outside Eros cinema, and clobbering him. Nobody had intervened or come to my defence. I must have been seventeen years old at the time.Now comes the dramatic story of the Rohtak sisters. I confess I fell for the uncut version myself. So impressed was I with the way Aarti(22) and Pooja (19) fixed their tormentors in a crowded bus, I promptly hailed them as modern day Jhansi Ki Raanis in a tweet! By then, they were all over the media, along with a beaming dad, and had also made it to CNN and the BBC World. Their stand was being applauded by countless outraged women ( and a few men) across platforms. Their quotes urging women to fight back and not take such public harassment lying down etc. were being extensively quoted. Not wishing to be left out of the narrative, the Haryana Government hastily announced a cash award for bravery ( since withdrawn) to be given on Republic Day! Soon, video number two surfaced showing the girls taking on a man in a Mumbai park and thrashing him energetically. So far, three chaps (Mohit, Kuldeep, Deepak) from the bus incident have been booked. But the slightly dodgy part of the story still remains: were the beatings staged? And if so, who shot both the videos? Is it true one of the girls was overheard requesting a female co-passenger to shoot the maar-peet before the actual beating took place? Was the belt she used to flog the guy taken out of her bag or was she wearing it when the assault took place? These are important details that establish the motivations of the girls. Aarti has denied carrying the belt in her handbag , insisting it takes her 20 seconds to whip it off. As for the rest, well, we shall find out soon enough.
I recall innumerable similar situations from my own life when I didn’t think twice before accosting men who had deliberately brushed past me or passed rude/ lewd remarks. I have chased down a few near Churchgate Station ( I grew up in the area) and let them have it – verbally and physically ( what are large , heavy handbags for??). I am talking 40 years ago! Later, I did repeat the same drill if anybody ‘accidentally’ touched my daughters. Of course, such a public display of unbridled rage embarrassed the girls no end and they urged me to ‘let it go’. Absolutely not! No woman should ‘let it go’. That’s how we breed monsters in our society - desperadoes who dare to molest women in congested localities, because they believe they can get away with it. They generally do. And so the cycle goes on… generation after generation.
The ‘Rockstars of Rohtak’, as sections of the media have dubbed them, live in different times. They are savvy about the power of provocative videos going viral and creating instant, overnight celebrities . It’s entirely possible both the videos are indeed accurate recordings of two separate incidents that took place, involving the same two girls. It is also possible that both times there were obliging bystanders around who had the presence of mind to start recording these nasty incidents and nail the culprits. But – and it’s a vital ‘but’ – what if the two girls had in fact planned the incidents to make a point? What if it was their way of sending out a strong message to other women who have suffered in silence – and ‘let it go’? The quotes one has read and heard, sound incredibly well composed and admirably calm. The girls must indeed be very mature and confident. Plus, they have the support of their father, whose quotes are equally convincing. Provided both incidents took place as seen in the videos, without any stage management, then, of course, my skepticism /cynicism is misplaced.
This is where media responsibility kicks in. In our impatience to flash a potentially ‘hot’ story, we rush in blindly, without bothering to fact check . In the process, we get had. We get used. We get exploited. Worse, we end up with egg all over our faces. Definitely not nice!
While the basic message of these two videos is laudatory (“women should fight back and not take any form of harassment lying down”), we must stop to consider the possibility of a miscarriage of justice as well. Public opinion is so ‘tagda’ , those boys could have been lynched had the co-passengers been aggressive and involved. As of now, they stand accused and their future looks pretty bleak. The Rohtak sisters are heroes, basking in the unconditional admiration they have received for standing up to bullies.
As someone who hasn’t taken anything in life lying down (or standing up, or even sitting!) , I am all for the Rohtak girls showing the way. Fingers crossed they haven’t ‘ullu bano-ed’ us for instant fame.