Sunday, September 21, 2008

Media, Muslims and Mujahideen

A bomb does not discriminate between a Hindu or a Muslim (File Photo)

Now that the Delhi Police has “cracked” the bomb blasts, I can make my own confessions. Suspicion is not a fundamental right enshrined in Indian Constitution but it is an unalienable right in a flourishing democracy. Suspicion is the fundamental premise on which the edifice of our intelligentsia stands. Therefore, intelligence agencies cannot be denied the right to suspect. The same right to suspect cannot be denied to ordinary Indians. Equality is the hallmark of a true democracy.

The journalist in me has a problem when an official declaration, a chronological monologue, is treated as the gospel. It is not the job of a journalist to arrive at conclusions. The job of a journalist is to stand outside the circle and communicate nuances and niceties taking place inside the circle. When a journalist jumps into the circle, he becomes part of the story. Proximity breeds bias. Bias breeds bigotry. A true journalist can be anything but he can never be a bigot.

Journalistic bigotry is dangerous for it plays a vital role in shaping public opinion. Each such story leaves an imprint on public consciousness. In each blast, media, the fourth estate, behaves like fourth mistake. The needle of suspicion automatically swings towards Muslims whether it is Mecca Masjid blast or Malegaon blasts in which devout Muslims were specifically targeted inside their mosques. Every time there is a blast, Muslims find themselves in the no man's land. They are caught in the crossfire between intelligence agencies and terrorists. Neither of them will trust Muslims. The day-today Muslim problem is bread and butter rather than the bomb.

Each blast is viewed from the green lens of Islam although saffron lens is equally making India red. One of the reasons for these blasts is to put the entire Muslim community in the defensive mode by systematically manipulating Islam. The trick is like a psychological warfare before the beginning of actual war.

It is true that a minuscule minority among Muslims has become radical. It is equally true that a minuscule minority among Hindus has gone on the extreme. SIMI, RSS and Bajrang Dal, are competing identities, each one claiming to represent their respective community. It is competitive extremism at work which can be summed up in one-line: My version of extremism is better than yours! Media plays safe when RSS and Bajrang Dal are involved in bomb blasts while it indulges in triumphant journalism when SIMI comes under the scanner. The reason for this differential approach is commercial: No businessman would want to antagonize the majority Hindu readers. Media, therefore, claims to be nationalistic but it only practices majoritarian nationalism.

From a journalistic point of view, I have a problem when Police changes the names of ‘alleged’ (it is one adjective which we in the media have abused and used at will) masterminds overnight. First it was Abdus Subhan Qureishi (alias Tauqeer), now it is Atif, the “terrorist” who has been gunned down.

The journalist in me finds it hard to digest that Mufti Abul Bashar, the alleged mastermind of Ahmedabad blasts, is linked to Delhi blasts. If Bashar is really connected to Delhi blasts, the bomb blasts should never have taken place since he was in police custody when the blasts took place. How can Bashar, a poor madrasa-educated person mastermind Ahmedabad blast with such precision? When did Indian Madrasas start producing tech-savvy Muslims? Indian government would love that to happen! There won’t be any need for Central madrasa board for modernization then!

Police says that the educated Muslims are involved in the blasts yet they arrest who will not be termed ‘educated’ by worldly standards. Mufti Bashar is just one example. A section of the mainstream media is extremely behaving like the nautch girl of Indian intelligent agencies. Instead of investigating the police claims, media is promoting self-contradictory journalism.

The journalist in me has a problem when a TV correspondent spits out the intelligence feed that there was a meeting of SIMI in 2001 where 200 youth were recruited to wreak havoc across India. What was our intelligence agency doing for the last 8 years?

Muslim accused are being branded as terrorists before the proper investigation and filing of the chargesheet. The actual trial by a court of law is yet to begin but the trial by media has already passed its judgement. Sample this:

“Mohammed Saif, the terrorist (emphasis added) who was arrested after Friday’s encounter, even possessed a fake voter card.” (TOI, September 21, page 1, Delhi edition)

Isn’t it a perfect example of Judgemental journalism?

Meanwhile Muslims live under siege and fear. State, said Mahatma Gandhi, is nothing but organized violence. Friday’s encounter of Jamia Nagar in Delhi raises some disturbing questions. Local Muslims have termed it as “dubious.” They have reasons to believe so. As a Delhi friend put it, “No one saw cross firing yesterday. Only the police claim it happened. Did you read in any report that anyone actually saw cross-firing?” She added, “How come the two so-called terrorists managed to flee? There was only one exit.” She asked, “If they knew they were going for a possible encounter, why wasn’t the building or the area properly covered by the police?”

Her conclusion was chilling and disturbed me:

“But the point is that they can kill anyone anywhere. Tomorrow my brother might be the target and on flimsiest of grounds with no chance of proving the innocence. You are guilty just because they say so.”

“It makes me bloody angry.”

Indian Muslims live with fear, security, discrimination and terror tag. A bunch of the so-called ‘Muslims’ have hijacked their Faith. I detest when somebody says those who planted the bombs were Muslims. Indian Mujahideen, a faceless body, has launched a faceless jihad for the sake of Indian Muslims. A true jihad can never be faceless. If one peers through Islamic history, he will come to know that a jihad is a battle which is fought under the banner of recognition and not anonymity.

I see a problem when a country of more than one billion people can’t arrest a loose bunch of murderers who want to convert India into a slaughterhouse.

Indian intelligence agencies have some much input yet they produce zero output.

India’s 160 million Muslims have a problem: fear. And nobody is willing to even listen to them. They are the in-betweens of India’s fight against terrorism. They want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. India needs to integrate them. A Muslim friend put it bluntly, “Rabindranath Tagore’s poem ‘Where the mind is without fear’ no longer adorns my wall.”

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Raj with No Reason

Raj Thackeray: Emergence of an Indian Raj!

The worst way to reason is to have no reason. There may be reasons not to have a reason. No reason is a good way to keep people guessing the reason. If you have the reason, you can’t actually fool people not to know the reason. The reason has to be real and not imaginary.

Raj Thackeray, the nefarious nephew of Bal Thackeray, has been on rampage citing a single reason: imagined insult to Marathi language. Does speaking Hindi or any other language in the state of Maharashtra belittle Marathi? Jaya Bachchan’s unintentional utterance that ‘she will speak Hindi because she is from Uttar Pradesh’ did not go well with Raj although Jaya had apologized right there to the people of Maharashtra for not speaking in Marathi. Is Hindi, our national language, a threat to Marathi, Maharashtra’s official language? Can’t Hindi and Marathi co-exist in Maharashtra? Language should promote harmony and not hatred.

Raj must salute India’s tolerant democracy that allows him to indulge in lingual terrorism. Raj believes in lingual hegemony of aggression. He portrays himself as a messiah of Marathi language and Marathi manoos (Marathi population). Will his intolerant attitude towards Hindi promote Marathi? Aggression does not promote a language. It degrades the language and covers it with the dirt of exclusivity. If Raj sincerely wants to promote Marathi, he should rebrand his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) as Multi-National Sena!

He is using his mother-tongue to flex his political muscle and put himself on the state’s political radar. Politics is the art of the impossible and Raj is very keen to master that ‘art’ even if he has to coin his own slogan of regionalism which is an antithesis to the very idea of Indian nationalism.

Raj’s theatrics began with the formation of MNS when he felt that he is being ‘sidelined’ by Udhav, Bal Thackeray’s son. A political party needs an ideology and issue to keep breathing. Raj raised an issue which became the core ideology of MNS: to check uncontrolled migration to Bombay from North India especially from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. This might have been a valid issue to an economically-impoverished Marathi but Raj’s constant maneuvering and tirade transformed it into venom. Raj suddenly jumped to language from economics. What happens when a politician propagating regional economics tries to become a linguist? He becomes a political snake whose bite is communicable.

Bal Thackeray became the first victim of the snake-bite when he blasted Shahrukh Khan as an “outsider” who calls himself a “Dilliwala.” Why should Bollywood become a battleground for the uncle-nephew political rivalry? The answer lies in one question: What have the uncle-nephew done to improve the lot of hapless Marathis? They have only paid lip-service while Bollywood has paid fat cheques. Not many would know that Bollywood, the world’s biggest film industry, employs thousands of Marathis. To cover their collective failure, Bal Thackeray and Raj are competing with each other to target a symbol of economic success: Bollywood.

Why has been the state acting like a mute spectator? The Congress-NCP alliance is in no mood to offend Marathi sensibilities. It has adopted an old British dictum: Divide and rule. It has tacitly supported Raj’s rants in order to divide Sena’s Marathi votes. Any official utterance is bound to have a long-term consequence. Marathi mass will not gain from this political triangle because players involved in this game are concerned about their private rather than public interests.

It is a dangerous game where Indian nationalism is being challenged by Marathi jingoism.

Lingual compulsions cannot succeed in a country like India. How would Raj react if Marathis working in the Middle East are forced to speak Arabic at public functions? Will Raj support the compulsion?

Bombay is a city that does not belong to any particular community. It is a city of Suketu Mehta and Salman Rushdie. It equally belongs to Dileep Padgaonkar and Shobhaa De`. It is a city of dreams where a Marathi as well as a Bihari co-exist to eke out a living. It is a city of irony where thousands come for bread and butter. And a few have come here in search of the bomb as well. Bombay is Bombay not because of Marathis like Raj but because of Gujaratis and Parsis who have nurtured this city into a cultural mega polis.

Having stayed in Poona, I know the fact that Marathi is a civilised language. Deep down in my heart, I curse myself that I don’t know enough Marathi to converse with government officials. I am not against any language; I am against the lingual compulsion.

Tailpiece: India bleeds by alarming regularity with the reemergence of Indian Mujahedin (IM). With Delhi blasts on Saturday, one thing is certain: Contrary to Gujarat Police claim that they have busted the real culprits, cyberpunks of IM are still at large and openly threatening to wreak havoc in India. A question which every Indian must ask: Is there any intelligent design behind it?

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Ahmed Faraz: Death of a Romantic

Ahmed Faraz: Main jaa chuka phir bhi teri mehfilon mein hoon! I am not an obit writer; nor do I aspire to become one. August was a month of poetic obituaries; it was a month when angel of death plucked out longstanding poetic trees in two different countries: first it was Mahmoud Darwish of Palestine, and now Ahmed Faraz of Pakistan who died on August 25 at the age of 77. If Darwish penned the pain of Occupied Palestine, Faraz mourned a militarist Pakistan. Both voices signified the poetry of protest which is the last refuge of Muse. Surprisingly both bore an uncannily pictorial resemblance. The poetry of Darwish and Faraz reflected internal struggles within the Muslim world. Their sane and at times insane voices provided an alternative platform for love as well as lament. For Faraz, Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq’s military rule was boon as well as bane. He was arrested and later had to leave Pakistan. It left him bitter but at the same time it gave him enough space to popularize ‘protest poetry’. As Faraz once said, “Yet it (military rule) also provided ample food for thought for the poet and made protest poetry so popular in Pakistan.” Faraz was a limited man but with unlimited ambition. Although Faraz was a wearer of many hats; his poetry can be summed up in two nouns each beginning with R: Romance and Revolution. Teenagers took comfort in his couplets while aspiring revolutionaries quoted him at length to drive their point. His ghazal Sunaa hai log use aankh bhar ke dekhte hain was an international hit. Faraz was not just a poet of romance and love; he was a poet of masses as well as mass hysteria – a syndrome which has consumed so much of Pakistan. His poetry gave voice to the suppressed souls of a depressed Pakistan. He spoke against the Partition as well: Ab kis kaa jashn manaate ho us des kaa jo taqsiim huaa Ab kis ke giit sunaate ho us tan-man kaa jo do-niim huaa (taqsiim=divided; do-niim=cut in two) He breathed life into the idea of romance in contemporary Urdu poetry. His romantic couplets may have sparked millions of romances all around the Urdu-knowing world but yet his writings failed to bring a revolution in his troubled homeland. Perhaps therein lies the irony of Ahmed Faraz. He was a crusading poet who did not believe in the idea of crusade. He preferred verse over weapon. He never shied away from raising the standard of revolt against the Pakistani establishment. He was an asset to Pakistan but Pakistan government treated him like a liability. He was a dissenting poet disenchanted by his own military government. It is primarily for this reason that he went into a self-imposed exile for six years. He told people of Pakistan to dream because he believed that dreams do not die. In his poem titled Khvaab marate nahiin (Dreams do not die), he said: Dreams are not hearts, nor eyes or breath Which shattered, will scatter (or) Die with the death of the body. Dreams do not die. Dreams are light, life, wind, Which can not be stopped by mountains black, Which do not burn in the hells of cruelty, Like light and life and wind, they Do not bow down even in graveyards. Dreams are letters, Dreams are illumination, Dreams are Socrates, Dreams are Mansur! Faraz was a poet of official dislike and unofficial like. Pakistan of Pervez Musharraf tried to woo him with the Hilal-i-Imtiaz in 2004. The trick did succeed initially. But the tricky success did not last. Faraz returned the award two years later because he was a man of conscience. He said, “My conscious will not forgive me if I remained a silent spectator of the sad happenings around us. The least I can do is to let the dictatorship know where it stands in the eyes of the concerned citizens whose fundamental rights have been usurped. I am doing this by returning the Hilal-e-Imtiaz (civil) forthwith and refuse to associate myself in any way with the regime...” Faraz had compared his life to that of a candle. Main bhi chup ho jaaunga bujhti hui shama’on ke saath… (Shama’on = candles). It will not be easy to forget Faraz. He will be remembered though he is not in our ‘mehfil’: To laut kar bhi ahle-tamanna ko kush nahi Main lut kar bhi wafa kay inhi kaaflon mein hoon Badla na mayray baad bhi mozon-e-guftagu Main jaa chuka phir bhi teri mehfilon mein hoon… We have lost Faraz forever. In his own words: Ab ke ham bichhde to shaayad kabhi khwaabon mein milen Jis tarah sukhe hue phool kitaaboN mein milen Those who know Urdu will understand the essence of the above verse because these lines will get derailed in English!