Reggae inna India

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I’ve been enjoying the month of July off from my column, so much that I’ve even forgotten to post the last few columns from June. This is my Gleaner column from June 9. Taru and Samara have received much publicity recently with a really good Guardian article about them last week. 

With all the angst about two Japanese performers supposedly taking over the Jamaican music scene by entering local competitions and dominating them (Japanese sound system Yard Beat beating Jamaica’s Bass Odyssey in the Boom Sound Clash finals, and Japanese reggae/dancehall artiste Rankin Pumpkin, nearly winning Magnum Kings and Queens) I thought I might highlight a happier story about the export of Jamaican music and culture.

Last month Al Jazeera aired a half hour documentary called India’s Reggae Resistance: Defending Dissent Under Modi. The film featured a musician named Taru Dalmia aka Delhi Sultanate and his partner, singer Samara Chopra aka Begum X. Principals in a band named the Ska Vengers, bringing classic Reggae to the masses of India is their mission.

After current Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi was elected the Ska Vengers produced a confrontational video called A Message to You, Modi, with lyrics that went”Stop your fooling around / Messing up our future / Time to straighten right out / You should have wound up in jail.” Like many other artists, writers and musicians they were worried about what the new regime might mean for freedom of speech. The bold song earned the band a lot of attention attracting filmmaker Vikram Singh, who made the Al Jazeera documentary.

I met Delhi Sultanate and Begum X about three years ago when they visited Jamaica. For them it was a pilgrimage, a much cherished visit to the holy land so to speak. For Taru in particular the trip was like living a dream because of the close emotional and psychic connection he feels with Jamaican music. He first encountered Reggae as a young teenager living in Germany where his mother taught Hindi. The bond was immediate and his love for the music followed him to Berkeley in California where his family moved next.

In California Taru hung out with youngsters whose parents had been members of the Black Panthers and continued to nourish his radical roots with Reggae. Fast forward to today and Delhi where he now lives. The documentary showed Taru and Samara in the process of getting a large sound system built called Bass Foundations Roots – BFR Sound System. Their plan is to tour the country with it, visiting sites of environmental and human rights protests bringing Reggae, which they see as the quintessential protest music, to protesters.

An earlier project called World Sound Power, tried to meld Indian folk resistance music with Jamaican sounds, with lyrics focusing on caste violence, state abuse of power and crony capitalism. With the BFR Sound System their intention is quite simple and revolutionary. As Taru explained in an interview on criticallegalthinking.com:

“We can make people dance. Our sound system is powerful and can create a sense of physical well-being and connectedness in listeners. At present, this is one thing that we can contribute to political spaces and gatherings. There is a time for speeches, for critical discourse for discussion, for slogans, but dancing and singing together is also very important. We will only get through these times if we find joy in each other and build strong relationships of trust and care, with each other as well as with the larger community. It’s the only way I find myself being able to not get depressed and to despair.”

Begum X who has a yoga therapy show on TV also sings over the sound. She’s a small woman with a big voice, when you hear her you look around expecting to see someone like Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan only to see a petite pixie like figure dancing Jamaican stylee in between belting out lyrics. She designs all the graphics and organizes the shows.

Both Taru and Samara sing in Patwa which the former fluently raps and DJs in, something people are surprised by. According to him if you sing in American English or perform on a theatre stage in India with a British accent it is considered normal, but “speak in English from another colony and people start raising questions at once. JA to my knowledge is the only colony that has managed to export its form of English globally.”

In the criticallegalthinking.com interview Taru elaborated on his unusual identity formation: “I consider the heritage that made Reggae to be part of my heritage, and my work aims to bring this into the Indian context. For me there are also clear links between the forces that underpin Reggae music and things that are happening in India today. The colours red, gold and green have concrete meaning here, incidentally the first national flag of India or the flag of the revolutionary Gaddar party also featured Red, Gold and Green. Red stands for the blood of the martyrs, green stands for natural abundance, and gold stands for the wealth that is inside the earth.”

So what do you say? Are Delhi Sultanate and Begum X not the most unlikely but inspiring Reggae Ambassadors ever? So what if the Japanese are invading Jamaican culture? The groundwork is being laid for access to the second-largest market in the world. Run wid it producers!

#IndianElections2014

Tweets curated on the historic Indian Election of 2014 which saw a seismic shift in power from the Congress Party to the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, the BJP.

Well, after 5 weeks of polling in India the results are in and Narendra Modi and the BJP have swept to victory. Here is a collection of tweets curated from the lead-up to the final day of polling, May 16, that gives a good sense of various reactions to the election results.
For some the victory of the BJP is worrying, almost as if the Boko Haram had taken  elections in Nigeria with an overwhelming majority. Certainly the actions of extremists in the new ruling party have earned it the bad reputation it enjoys and the inaction of the new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in the face of such excesses, is why people treat him as if he has horns. Let’s hope the BJP and Modi prove their critics wrong. Ultimately what my Nigerian friend, Olu Oguibe, said on Facebook remains true:

There’s a great deal of weeping and wailing among some today as Narendra Modi and the BJP sweep the stakes in India’s national elections. Yet, who is to blame for their success but the people? Like the ANC, India’s ruling Congress Party takes power for granted and corruption and incompetence as tradition. Worse, still, it saddles itself with a doddering dynasty. And so, the majority of the Indian people have knowingly and willfully cast their lot with Modi and his right wing, religious fundamentalist party. They’ll live with the consequences.

Que sera sera…

  1. Broad, smart, lovely piece by @DalrympleWill on the Indian elections and Narendra Modi. Best primer you’ll ever read.  http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/05/narendra-modi-man-masses 
  2. But a pretty picture! @ajayrdave: They all were waiting for Lotus to bloom.. It has now.. pic.twitter.com/zlmxET2Yph
  3. My @TheDailyShow interview discussing the Indian elections will air today at 9 PM EST which corresponds to 6:30 AM IST tomorrow in India.
  4. Huge celebrations erupt at the BJP headquarters. Didn’t even take an hour of counting that’s how clear it is ! pic.twitter.com/wfFyVAdQlG
  5. Asinine. Who expects pols to canvass by saying “We’re going to lose”? MT @firstpostin Dear Rahul Gandhi EatYourWords. pic.twitter.com/KTPqQK73iJ
  6. “Indians have dreamed collectively, & they have dreamed a man accused of mass murder” Must. Pankaj Mishra on #Modi~  http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/may/16/what-next-india-pankaj-mishra 
  7. Pankaj Mishra has written a terrific, searing, Pankaj Mishra-y piece on Modi & the new India:  http://gu.com/p/3p9tc/tw  via @WomaninHavana
  8. Muslims who condemn us for building bridges will one day realize our role for securing d interests of future generations as equal citizens
  9. Congrats to India for a new government that i will run to the best of my abilities.
  10. Now that it’s all over, and the heat is up, can all those tv panelists chuck the sleeveless Nehru bundis and go back to regular clothes?
  11. .@greatbong In 2009 you said “BJP was outmaneuvered, not destroyed.” You have been proven right. 🙂
  12. Big takeaway from this election result : ruling party shd avoid arrogance, inefficiency, corruption, misgovernance and lack of communication
  13. Extremely short concession speech from Rahul Gandhi taking responsibility. What is there to say?!
  14. conceding defeat: sonia gandhi cool, professional, dignified. rahul gandhi apparently feckless. nobody takes questions.
  15. Democracies everywhere these days seem to lust after toxic, nationalist authoritarian mo-fos. Sign of the times or what?
  16. Someone needs to tell Barkha Dutt another word for ‘decimation/decimated’.
  17. In a forest, close to nature. Glad the cacophony of election results are far away. Congrats Mr. Modi. Hope you’ll prove some of us wrong.
  18. That detached, taciturn press-conference-without-questions sums up the Sonia-Rahul Congress: There is ZERO organic feel for democracy.
  19. Narendra Modi Profile: From tea boy at a railway station to India’s next prime minister  http://aje.me/1nRkEAa  #IndiaElections
  20. A big shout out to the ABSOLUTELY AWESOME fight @smritiirani put up in Amethi!! Rahul is left with no face to show!
  21. Rout as BJP sweeps to power in India RT @OsamaManzar: Congress is looking like beauty spot on Indian map as a result of this election!
  22. Seismic shift underway in India today. Keep watching at  http://nytimes.com .
  23. Rabri Devi defeated.. 🙂 🙂 🙂 Only people from Bihar can understand the pleasure of this news.
  24. Modi Crushes Gandhi in India’s Election Landslide  http://thebea.st/1szCd5z  via @tunkuv [My take on India’s election results for @dailybeast]
  25. All those who think the lack of confidence of some voters in the BJP stems from fear have got it wrong. It’s not fear, it’s moral revulsion.
  26. BREAKING NEWS: People’s verdict is against us: Sonia Gandhi
  27. All those anchoring the coverage since the morning have gone home. Except Arnab Goswami. BECAUSE THE STUDIO IS ARNAB’S HOME.
  28. India’s stock market jumped more than 6% to a record 25,000 points as Modi secures electoral victory. Orgy of joy…  http://fb.me/3fa1LfEDU 
  29. Pankaj Mishra’s long piece on Modi’s India, and on the new India’s canniest artist.  http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/may/16/what-next-india-pankaj-mishra?CMP=twt_gu 
  30. India has always been a nation led with accommodation and consensus. It has chosen a leader with no real record of either. This is huge.
  31. Which is to say, Modi represents a fundamental shift in the political life of India. Should be very interesting to watch.
  32. India has been Jamie Lannistered. That is the hand has been cut off.
  33. Dear Rahul Gandhi, the journalists don’t want you to take responsibility, they want you to take questions.
  34. Those worrying about how India will change would do well to remember how it will change depends on how we, the citizens, change it.
  35. Today, hope won, hate lost. Today, work won,whining lost. Today, my India won, nobody lost. Congrats @narendramodi and BJP for historic win!
  36. The entire Congress baba-brigade who behaved like they were entitled to power & two rule -wiped out by voters
  37. “मैं हार की ज़िम्मेदारी लेता हूँ.” “मैं लेती हूँ.” “नहीं मैं.” “नहीं मैं.” “मैं.” “मैं.” पार्टी बोली,” ठीक है, ठीक है– मैं नहीं, हम.”
  38. Offering a laddoo to my distinguished predecessor A . Charles, the only other Thiruvananthapuram MP to be re-elected pic.twitter.com/UZF9t8tEAF
  39. Who is writing the long form article on the high tech election campaign by the BJP for grassroots reach? Look fwd to it.
  40. UK PM David Cameron extends invitation to Narendra Modi to visit UK on his way to BRICS summit to be held in August 2014 in Brazil
  41. Tech guys lost too! @NandanNilekani & V Balakrishnan MT @manupubby 7 journos lost – Ilmi, Ashutosh, Khaitan, Jarnail, Chandan, Rakhi, Anita
  42. Still very long queues at @BJP4India HQ of supporters trying to get their hands on box of @narendramodi Laddoos. pic.twitter.com/9ErY6r73xb
  43. As Modi prepares for office, here, again, is why we think he’s unfit to be India’s PM  http://econ.st/1hQzDD7  pic.twitter.com/yjFPzKxE5V
  44. #Modi‘s victory speech in Indian elections is remarkable to watch, and worth it just for his theatrical physicality.  http://m.ndtv.com/video/live/channel/ndtv24x7?alternative 
  45. Modi’s win may prove problematic when he has to attend talks in NY or Washington and can’t get in. Man doesn’t have a visa to the US. #India
  46. That’s an interesting point from @narendramodi. He will be the first PM born after independence. #indiadecides2014
  47. “I’ve never taken a vacation, ever” boasts Gujarat CM @narendramodi who will be #India’s next PM.
  48. I will be the hardest working Prime Minister, says @narendramodi. #IndiaDecides2014
    sidin
    Narendra Modi has just overtaken Manmohan Singh’s combined lifelong word count.

    an hour ago

  49. BJP goons already getting on me 4 my previous tweet. That’s really grown up people. I was just making an observation. AND I use my real name
  50. I gather Shinzo Abe sent his congratulations to Modi this afternoon. That is one relationship to watch closely. #HindiJapaniBhaiBhai
  51. Even though Modi/BJP wooed Kerala relentlessly, happy to see that BJP has drawn a blank. God’s Own Country, indeed.

India’s Mission to Mars…

India launches its Mission to Mars amidst excited tweets and the usual criticism.


Agence France-Presse @AFP
India’s Mars Orbiter Mission, which successfully launched today #infographic pic.twitter.com/3eH0He53m8
13h

Waking up this morning at 5-5.30 am, i checked in with Twitter, as i usually do, to see what the folks on my Indian timeline were talking about. It turned out to be something quite spectacular. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) at Thumba in Kerala (the state I happen to come from :)) had just launched India’s Mission to Mars and all or most of my Indian peeps were still tingling from the excitement of having just watched the liftoff live on their smartphones, tablets and TVs. Of course the occasional naysayer could be heard here and there as well, eg:

Anusha Yadav@anushayadav
Sending a mission to Mars to pretend we are all so first world is like making a swimming pool on slum land and calling it a 5 star hotel.

This is such a predictable wet blanket, one i don’t subscribe to at all. In the first decade after independence in India national leaders decided to set up five Indian Institutes of Technology, state of the art institutions delivering cutting edge technological education. At the time there were many opponents to the new ventures who cited similar reasons for not undertaking such expensive investments. India was poor they claimed, too poor to afford elite educational establishments using such high-powered technologies. Fortunately the naysayers were outnumbered and the IITs became institutions to reckon with, directly spawning what would eventually produce the IT revolution that galvanized the Indian economy30-40 years later. So more power to the Indian scientists who made Mangalyaan, the popular name for the Mars bound spaceship, possible.

The following selection of tweets culled from this morning’s stream reflects the tug-of-war between enthusiasts and naysayers. Fascinatingly it also exposes another schism, that between North and South India. As I mentioned earlier the spaceship was launched from the deep South so to speak–my home state of Kerala–also the most literate state. One person even went so far as to ask if this launch would have taken place had the scientists involved been North Indian. Culturally there are deep differences between North and South with North Indians generally looking down on South Indians (and making fun of their accents) who counter this by flaunting their superior intellectual traditions.

Others focused on the relatively low budget India had managed to pull off this great achievement with. Basically for the cost of four blockbuster Bollywood films we had managed to put a spaceship in orbit. Early indicators are that China is green with envy. Enjoy the tweets below and the article after that giving details about India’s exciting new space initiative.

Ashok @krishashok
I just saw India launch a rocket to Mars on my phone over 3G. I know we have problems to fix but we have sure come a long way
Details

Shivam Vij @DilliDurAst
Hmm. “@rupasubramanya: The successful launch to Mars today is a great moment for South Indians. We should be proud.”
15h

Mihir Sharma @mihirssharma
No photographic angle available that includes cow in foreground, rocket launch in background? #GrauniadIsDisappointed
16h

Saugato Datta @sd268
@mihirssharma Ideally, cow chewing garbage next to defecating child in front of ancient monument. #HavingItAll
15h

Manreet S Someshwar @manreetss
For all the naysayers on #Mangalyaan, here’s Wilde for you: We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
16h

Sidin Studukut @sidin
Good morning. Any major achievements today by non-Malayalis?
16h

Nitin Pai @acorn
Pavan Srinath wrote this post about ISRO a few months ago. http://pragati.nationalinterest.in/2013/07/not-quite-over-the-moon/
16h

Vimal Sapiens @vimalg2
I’m a big fan of creative people doing amazing things with frugal infrastructure. #ISRO  #jugaad #givesYouWings
16h

aby @abytharakan
RT @srini091: An ISRO Scientist transporting a nose cone of a rocket on a cycle. Thumba, Kerala, 1968. pic.twitter.com/VuClBM1KPC
16h

Sonia Faleiro @soniafaleiro
The Chinese seem rather put out by India’s #MarsMission: globaltimes.cn/content/822493… Via @akannampilly
16h

Surekha Pillai @surekhapillai
osum. RT @smitaprakash: Only South Indian accents so far…at Mission Control Room ISRO. 🙂 (yes yes you can send me hate tweets for this)
16h

Surekha Pillai @surekhapillai
i’m a bit of both. worship me. MT @samar11 Q: Would there be a credible Indian Space programme without all those Tamilians and Keralites? 😉
17h

Mahendra Palsule @Palsule
Folks watching launch live on phones/tablets/webcasts, sharing excitement on Twitter…who would’ve thought of this 5-10 yrs back?!
17h

Gautam John @gkjohn
Space fight! RT @sumenrai79: #Mangalyaan will reach Mars in September 2014, around the same time as #NASA’s #MAVEN.
17h

Firstpost @firstpostin
Mars Orbiter Mangalyaan crosses 3,000 km Live updates: bit.ly/1dJRz23
17h

Overrated Outcast @over_rated
At the cost of four and a half Salman Khan movies, ISRO sent a rocket into the orbit of Mars.
17h

Chetan Bhagat @chetan_bhagat
You know how they say in offices when someone doesn’t get it “It’s not rocket science you know.” Wonder what they say in ISRO.
17h

For more details read this NDTV article:

Mangalyaan, which means “Mars craft” in Hindi, is the size of a small car. It is golden in colour and will be carried by a rocket much smaller than American or Russian equivalents.

About 1000 scientists spent Diwali at work and also did not sleep last night, many of them performing last-minute health checks on the rocket that is now fully-fuelled and ready to go.

Lacking the power to fly directly, the 350-tonne launch vehicle will orbit Earth for nearly a month, building up the necessary velocity to break free from our planet’s gravitational pull.

Only then will it begin the second stage of its nine-month journey which will test India’s scientists to the full, five years after they sent a probe called Chandrayaan to the moon.

More than half of all Mars projects have failed, including China’s in 2011 and Japan’s in 2003. Only the United States, Russia and the European Union have successfully reached there.

The total cost of the project is 450 crores, one sixth of the cost of a Mars probe set to be launched by NASA in 13 days. (India’s mission to Mars: 10 facts)

The 1,350-kilogram unmanned orbiter must travel 485 million miles over 300 days to reach the red planet next September.

“This is a technology demonstration project, a mission that will announce to the world India has the capability to reach as far away as Mars,” said K. Radhakrishnan, chairman of the Indian Space and Research Organization.

Are we listening now?

What will it take to change the status quo in countries with the kind of healthy, flourishing rape culture that accompanies the worst forms of patriarchy?

In my last post i quoted a passage from Listening Now, a 1998 novel by Anjana Appachana about women in Delhi in which she captures the kind of lecherous assaults they often face in public. It was a situation we ourselves were familiar with as students at Lady Shri Ram College (LSR) in the 1970s. One intimate of ours was abducted by a hoodlum named Bobby Oberoi and narrowly escaped being raped by him. We later discovered that he was a budding Don, the scourge of Delhi University women, many of whom he had raped at gunpoint. Traumatized, she was afraid to return to Delhi, but luckily for her it was 1975, Indira Gandhi had just declared the Emergency, and most petty criminals and gangsters had decamped from the capital in a hurry: those who didn’t, risked being removed by the armed forces during curfew hours.

Later when some of us moved on to Jawaharlal Nehru University another member of our in-group found herself the victim of a stalker, a fellow JNU student from Aligarh, who became obsessed with her, dogging her footsteps wherever she went and begging her to marry him. It got so bad the university had to intervene, terminating his stay at the university and sending him home. JNU was an experimental university, the first central government funded university i believe, and every single state was scrupulously represented in its student body. This meant that students from rural areas who had never set foot in a big city suddenly found themselves rubbing shoulders with the most hip and sophisticated types from Delhi University, Calcutta, Bombay and the other major cities. It was the female students coming from colleges like LSR, Miranda House, Sophia’s who caused the most consternation for there was no counterpart for them in small-town or village India, where women rarely moved freely in public by themselves.

Anjana, like many other feminists, seethed with anger at the blatant lack of respect women were treated with, and was particularly incensed by the impunity with which men behaved, their actions circumscribing women’s lives in harmful ways. But were only men to blame for this state of affairs? Not at all. Her response to my quoting of the scene in her book makes the point that it’s often women themselves who deny the existence of gender-based violence, thus allowing it to continue without check. As she said:

Yes, that anger still simmers, but the writing helps Annie…but women don’t want to hear about it. When I had my reading at LSR either in ’98 or ’99, many of the girls were upset about that scene, because they felt it was unnecessary and that things were different. I was appalled. In fact I remember one of those girls shaking her head at me in disappointment and asking me why I found it necessary to write that scene. I said, it happens. And she shook her head again. Perhaps they saw me as a “foreign returned” woman who had no right to write these things. And I didn’t want to start justifying my years in India (have been coming here every year, now twice a year and living here not as a tourist but as a constant caregiver), so really, there was nothing to say. Fortunately the other readings went off very well, no one protested about that scene. But imagine, LSR girls! Sometimes I find, even about other things, that it is women who are most incensed by some of the things I write about. It is the attitude of “It-isn’t-like-this-anymore.” And from what I have seen and lived, it is worse now, because we women are going forwards and the men are rapidly going backwards. Also, all these rape protests are good and necessary, but are women making any changes in their own lives? Do they feel passionately about what is right and wrong and then do they try and do something about it?

I think we’re all just beginning to realize that if we–women, that is–want to feel safe and equal, we’re going to have to do something about it ourselves and this includes erasing or reformatting our own socialization. The following blogpost by Neha Dixit speaks eloquently of what will be required, among other things:

Unlearning submission

When the middle class thronged the roads protesting against this rape, they got a first hand taste of the police atrocities. Unlike the Anna movement, here they were ready to face police batons, water cannons, tear gas, which was till now  for them only a romantic image of a revolution. They lived the reality of stone pelting in Kashmir and the autocracy of the Armed Forces Special Power Acts in the Northeast. It may be surface sensitisation, but it was also a moment  to expose the sex terrorism of the state. To discuss custodial rapes, about the rapes of adivasi women like Laxmi Orang, who have been waiting for justice for the last five years or that of Manorama who was raped and killed eight years back by the army. And it is in this light then the middle class may understand the grotesqueness of Central Home Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde’s statement when he says, “ Tomorrow, if 100 adivasis are killed in Chhattisgarh or Gadchiroli, can the government go there?”  It is this participation, even at a cursory level, that is potent enough to initiate the scrutiny of political representatives and their prejudices.

For a woman who has made the journey from a stereotypical, upper caste patriarchal, middle class, small city person to a person who is still struggling to fight it on a daily basis, to do away with all stereotypes and acknowledge one’s privileges to engage with the working class, I understand the importance of unlearning. In creating an independent life, in awakening one’s own critical consciousness.

It is this unlearning that was instigated by these protests amongst the middle class. The unlearning that teaches to refute, question, assert and empathise. The Indian feminist movement is hidden under these protests.

In addition to unlearning the harmful effects of having learnt to be women in a profoundly patriarchal society we might have to take direct action of the kind outlined on Facebook by my friend, Punam Zuthsi…

On the 3rd I attended the IIC panel discussion moderated by Soli Sorabjee. From amongst the audience there was a suggestion … offered hesitantly that there should be a group of women who should volunteer to spend 12 hours at a time at a police station to ensure that anyone who came to the police station feel reassured and supported… I am told that there is a system by which women who volunteered could be made honorary constables. Reading the account of Nirbhaya’s companion who sat for hours in the ER of Safdarjang without a stitch; and hearing of a man whose head injury was not attended to for the whole day given the rush on the CT Scanner in the Safdarjang/ AIIMS… Apart from police stations there needs to be someone at the Emergency Rooms of Safdarjang and AIIMS and the Trauma Centre as well… Obviously the ‘social work’ segment at the hospitals is not terribly useful… One knew that the ERs did their work but it seems that they seem not to be as reassuring as I thought they were…

Now are we prepared to undertake such a radical rearrangement of our lives? If we want to lead free and unencumbered lives we’ll have to secure it by finding solutions to each of the ways in which society systematically failed that ill-fated young woman who was trying to do something as pedestrian as catch a bus home last December 16. We’ll have to acknowledge that there are fundamental ways in which our culture(s) must change. If not change won’t come in our lifetimes or the next.

Finally some of the change so urgently needed isn’t that difficult. A lesson may be learned from the family of SOHAILA ABDULALI, who lived to write about the horrific rape she suffered at the age of 17, and how she survived to lead a full life because of the empathy of her family and their continuing love and care for her after she was raped. That is what families are supposed to be, nurturing cradles of unconditional love–no matter your gender–especially when life has left you damaged or brittle. Read the following article and see how familial support and love helped to heal a trauma that could have disrupted Sohaila’s life forever. Now why can’t we all take a leaf out of this family’s book?

It’s not exactly pleasant to be a symbol of rape. I’m not an expert, nor do I represent all victims of rape. All I can offer is that — unlike the young woman who died in December two weeks after being brutally gang raped, and so many others — my story didn’t end, and I can continue to tell it.

When I fought to live that night, I hardly knew what I was fighting for. A male friend and I had gone for a walk up a mountain near my home. Four armed men caught us and made us climb to a secluded spot, where they raped me for several hours, and beat both of us. They argued among themselves about whether or not to kill us, and finally let us go.

At 17, I was just a child. Life rewarded me richly for surviving. I stumbled home, wounded and traumatized, to a fabulous family. With them on my side, so much came my way. I found true love. I wrote books. I saw a kangaroo in the wild. I caught buses and missed trains. I had a shining child. The century changed. My first gray hair appeared.

How are we going to repair Indian culture?

So much has been said, so much written, emoted, protested, pronounced and declaimed that you wonder if you should even venture to add anything to the maelstrom surrounding the young woman so brutally violated in Delhi who has now succumbed to her fearsome injuries. Yet not to mark her death with a post would be to disregard her life, to avert my gaze from this youngster who paid so dearly for having been out with her male friend in Delhi on December 16.

Image from Bangalore NH7 Weekender
Image from Bangalore NH7 Weekender

On that same evening I was in Bangalore, with Achal and Rita, enjoying the stupendous NH7 Weekender music festival. Somewhere in a field near the Yelehanka Airforce Base this superbly organized event featured seven stages or music stations facing different directions each one with a roster of acts simultaneously pumping out a particular genre of music: rock, soul, folk, punk, electronica and of course the Pepsi Dub Station with Reggae-inspired music. In fact i had organized this outing so i could hear the Reggae Rajahs live at the Pepsi Dub Station.

Weekender2

We watched Indian Reggae fans skanking and vybsing to the Reggae Rajahs who put on a great performance. We had barely arrived in time to catch them and missed all the earlier acts but it was wicked to be in Bangalore listening to live Reggae and so much else. The whole event had a mela-like atmosphere, thousands of youngsters, i mean probably 20 thousand young men and women, many of them out with each other and enjoying themselves. There was food, drink, other stuff to buy and the music crashing all around us, what an awesome moment, especially catching just before we left, the amazing Indian Ocean, one of the oldest pop bands in India.

Achal vouchsafed that the experience had restored his faith in Bangalore which in recent years with the explosion of tech industries had become unrecognizable from the gentle, civilized city it used to be. But seeing all these young men and women out having clean, good fun said something for the kind of space still available for non-religious, communal, Western-inflected, almost cosmopolitan recreation. Mind you you had to well-heeled, the tickets weren’t cheap but it wasn’t by any means exclusively an upper-class, English-speaking crowd.

In the aftermath of what took place in Delhi that same night, originating in a part of Delhi i know so well–Munirka–having studied at JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University), i was haunted by the thought of what a hostile space that city i love so much represented for a young man and woman who had only aspired to see The Life of Pi that evening. Early reports suggested that the rapists had taunted the young woman for being out alone with a man at 10 pm, as if to say she was now fair game for rape. They then had their way with her, expressing on her body and that of her companion, but particularly hers, all the repressed desire and rage engendered by a society that refuses to acknowledge the sexuality of its young, that keeps it pent up beyond all reasonable limits, allowing no space for young women and men to be with each other and enjoy their youth.

Who were these men? How old were they? I bet they didn’t have girlfriends or wives yet…where was their sexual energy supposed to be spent? This isn’t to justify their bestiality…personally i think they should be castrated as an example…but these are questions we need to ask and find answers for.

Ironically the long term cure for the rape culture so cozily nourished by draconian Indian kinship and marriage practices is the very thing this unnamed young woman and her friend were doing that evening. The practice of young men and women going out together before marriage has to be encouraged, cultivated and normalized before there’ll be any reduction in rapes. Look within India at cultures that have space for mating rituals before marriage and see what the correlation with rape is.

Gujarat may feature very high on the rape radar because of the systematic, premeditated rape that accompanied religious and ethnic riots there but if you look at regular, everyday rape statistics there i wonder what it would show. Because Gujaratis are generally very permissive towards their young and have space in their culture for widespread pre-marital mixing. Their garbas and other communal dances are designed i think to engage the sexual energy of young Gujaratis legitimately, within the culture, respecting cultural codes. As long back as the 60s and 70s the prevalence of courting couples had changed the name of Law Gardens in Ahmedabad to Love Gardens.

Look at Bangalore and the NH7 weekender event i described earlier and the vibrant pub culture long associated with this city. In recent years religious fundamentalists have decreed that pubs and other places be closed earlier and earlier, that spaces where the young could dance be shut down, all in the name of some sinister vernacular morality that ultimately begets, actually propagates, widespread rape, much of which takes place within families, with underage children, with the helpless and the most vulnerable in our societies. I haven’t even touched on the dread subject of Dalits all over India and the routine violation and terrorism they face at the hands of ‘moral’, ‘upright’, ‘chaste’ Hindus.

So rage against the government all you want, the problem is really with Indian culture, broadly speaking, despite the preponderance of female gods. Goddesses notwithstanding, as constituted now its a culture that incubates rapists, then trains them and arms them. How are we going to repair that?

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Nirbhaya image via Deepak’s Lore

Arundhati Roy and Indian De-MOCK-racy

Writer Arundhati Roy’s home is attacked by a mob protesting her position on Kashmir.

Speaking her mind Arundhati Roy’s views on the Kashmir issue have invited brickbats from all possible quarters (Tehelka). PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
The democratic tradition in India is only skin deep. It’s as superficial as the skins or membranes we buy to put on expensive cellphones and other gadgets. You realize this whenever a public figure criticizes the government, or generally adopts an unpopular position.  How dare they? A virtual fatwa is issued against the offending party by irate citizens with not even the slightest pretence that they might have the right to express their views, whatever these may be. So after weeks of outrage expressed on Twitter about the writer Arundhati Roy’s stance on Kashmir (that it should be allowed to secede) today the inevitable happened. A horde of protestors accompanied by TV cameras lynched the writer’s home, vandalizing property and shouting slogans at her and her family.

As fellow writer Salil Tripathi tweeted: Everytime Arundhati Roy writes or speaks, she incites people and there’s unrest, demonstrations, and threats of violence: erm, against her.

If only people would get their knickers in as much of a knot over serious things like the corruption that was highlighted during the Commonwealth Games or the scandal over the Chief Minister of Maharashtra allotting several posh apartments in a fancy building to himself and family members. To make matters worse the building “originally meant to be a six-storey structure to house Kargil war heroes and widows … was later converted into a 31-storey tower, apparently in violation of environmental laws,” and divided up among top politicians and army personnel in Mumbai.

How on earth is it that in the face of such crimes people can find the time to lynch a writer merely for expressing her views? And even if some people were foolish enough to do this how come members of the media accompanied the unruly protestors to the location and stood by doing nothing while the writer’s house was attacked? Is this the Indian version of ’embedded media’? Below is the statement issued by Arundhati Roy on the mob attack this morning.

SOMETHING FOR THE MEDIA TO THINK ABOUT

Arundhati  Roy

October 31st 2010

A mob of about a hundred people arrived at my house at 11 this morning (Sunday October 31st 2010.) They broke through the gate and vandalized property. They shouted slogans against me for my views on Kashmir, and threatened to teach me a lesson. The OB Vans of NDTV, Times Now and News 24 were already in place ostensibly to cover the event live.  TV reports say that the mob consisted largely of members of the BJP’s Mahila Morcha (Women’s wing). After they left, the police advised us to let them know if in future we saw any OB vans hanging around the neighborhood because they said that was an indication that a mob was on its way. In June this year, after a false report in the papers by Press Trust of India (PTI) two men on motorcycles tried to stone the windows of my home. They too were accompanied by TV cameramen.

What is the nature of the agreement between these sections of the media and mobs and criminals in search of spectacle? Does the media which positions itself at the ‘scene’ in advance have a guarantee that the attacks and demonstrations will be non-violent? What happens if there is criminal trespass (as there was today) or even something worse? Does the media then become accessory to the crime? This question is important, given that some TV channels and newspapers are in the process of brazenly inciting mob anger against me. In the race for sensationalism the line between reporting news and manufacturing news is becoming blurred. So what if a few people have to be sacrificed at the altar of TRP ratings? The Government has indicated that it does not intend to go ahead with the charges of sedition against me and the other speakers at a recent seminar on Azadi for Kashmir. So the task of punishing me for my views seems to have been taken on by right wing storm troopers. The Bajrang Dal and the RSS have openly announced that they are going to “fix” me with all the means at their disposal including filing cases against me all over the country. The whole country has seen what they are capable of doing, the extent to which they are capable of going. So, while the Government is showing a degree of maturity, are sections of the media and the infrastructure of democracy being rented out to those who believe in mob justice? I can understand that the BJP’s Mahila Morcha is using me to distract attention the from the senior RSS activist Indresh Kumar who has recently been named in the CBI charge-sheet for the bomb blast in Ajmer Sharif in which several people were killed and many injured. But why are sections of the mainstream media doing the same? Is a writer with unpopular views more dangerous than a suspect in a bomb blast? Or is it a question of ideological alignment?

One of the best responses to the entire situation came from Vir Sanghvi. In a cunningly argued article in the Hindu Times he asks a crucial question and then provides the answer:
Is the damage to India so great that it justifies curtailing free speech?

Obviously, it isn’t. No violence followed her statements and nor did she incite it. Moreover, there will still be an India with Kashmir as an integral part of it long after Roy herself is forgotten.

So, let’s just cool down. We have a perfect right to dislike Roy. We are entirely justified in being angered by her statements. But the moment we compromise on the principles that make us a liberal society —especially when her remarks pose no real threat to us at all — we start playing her game.

We become the repressive, authoritarian society she suggests we already are.

The Indian Mujahideen and the Commonwealth Games

A reaction to attack on tourists in Delhi on Sept 19,2010

As i sit here listening to samples of songs on the split personality riddim, one of the latest products from Kingston’s teeming studios, I’m actually battling a sense of dread. News has just come of an attack on tourists in India’s capital Delhi, two weeks ahead of the nineteenth staging of the Commonwealth Games there. The attack was accompanied by an email to the Indian media from a group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen. They want vengeance and are threatening retaliation for alleged atrocities in Kashmir. Congratulating India on its hosting of the CWG, the email goes on to say:

“Rejoice! We will now rightfully play Holi with your blood in your own cities. Scores of fidayeen are restless to drop the Evil ones into the hellfire… we Warn you to host the Commonwealth games if you have a grain of salt. We know that preparations for the games are at its peak; Beware!! We too are preparing in full swing for a Great Surprise! The participants will be solely responsible for the outcome, as our bands of Mujahideen love death more than you love life. In Kashmir you have succeeded in usurping our Right of self-determination with all your Chanakya policies.”

The language is accidentally poetic in places, occasionally striking a tragicomic note: Remember! As we bleed, so will you seep…

It’s hard not to weep. India presents a large, slow-moving target and is inadequately equipped to deal with the fallout from situations like the long-standing war over Kashmir. Just yesterday we (#JNSS) distributed “safety catalogues” to foreign tourists in Paharganj came a tweet from Delhi.

Only a short while ago India was faced with the prospect of shooting young 9 and 10 year old boys in Kashmir who were pelting stones at the army. Today the situation in Kashmir has escalated to the point where the nation is now being held hostage. Perhaps its time to let go? Incidentally  Arundhati Roy’s advocacy of independence for Kashmir (see video at the end of this post) was one of the issues that earned the person tweeting in her name the wrath of Indian tweeters.

A recent article What Are Kashmir’s Stone Pelters Saying to Us? (Economic and Political Weekly, VOL 45 No. 37 September 11 – September 17, 2010) summed up the problem well:

Like an obstinate nightmare, Kashmir has returned to haunt India’s political discourse, in this third consecutive summer of massive protests. For almost two months now we are witnessing the brazen  courage of Kashmiri youth, armed with stones in their hands, in groups of no more than a few hundred at a time, taking on Kashmir’s much vaunted “security grid”. This carefully welded network deploys at least 6,00,000 soldiers in uniform, and another 1,00,000 “civilian” intelligence and surveillance operatives. But pinned down by this summer’s showers of carefully aimed rocks, the grid has begun to appear clumsy and vulnerable.

As the sang-bazan, the stone-pelters, insolently stormed into prime time, they brought with them an intensity that made the newspaper pundits, and the usual chorus of television-studio experts, briefly wilt. Images of boys as young as nine and ten being dragged off into police vehicles, or shot dead by the paramilitary forces, have begun to dent conventional truisms about what is happening in Kashmir. Startling photographs of middle-aged (and middle class) women in the ranks of the stone-pelting protesters have also destabilised those who have hidden behind a morbid panic of the “Islamists”, or the fear of Pakistan’s venality, to obscure their understanding of events in the Valley. Although reluctant to grant this uprising the same political pedigree, at least some Indians seem to be curling their tongues around the word intifada. On the whole, the David and Goliath disproportion of the protests, and its sheer effrontery, has begun to capture the imagination of a growing number of people in India.  So beyond their furious defiance, what are Kashmir’s stone-pelters saying to us?