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Current Affairs ( 6 Nov 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Artists Refusing To Return Awards Lends Intolerance Debate Perspective: What It Means In The West Asian Roulette: New Age Islam’s Selection From Indian Press,7 November 2015


New Age Islam Edit Bureau

7 November 2015

Artists refusing to return awards lends intolerance debate perspective

By Viju Cherian

Shah Rukh, you are my hero but we don’t deserve you

By Barkha Dutt

Myanmar, under the world’s eye

By S Y Quraishi

Why Chetan Bhagat is wrong about Indian liberals

By  Nalin Mehta

Take a stand: Why we need to stop being tolerant of intolerance

By Kanti Bajpai



Artists refusing to return awards lends intolerance debate perspective

Viju Cherian

Nov 07, 2015

Bollywood actor Vidya Balan said she will not give back her national award as it was an honour bestowed on her by the country and not the government. (File Photo)

I don’t think the BJP is surprised by the current intolerance debate. But I’m surprised at the way the party has reacted to it. While at one end party leaders make intolerant statements at the other the BJP is disassociating itself from it. In a hurry to distance itself from the issue, the party has gone on the offensive, little realising that what is often important is not the situation, but the manner in which it is addressed.

With the exception of a few, most of the award returnees can be asked ‘why now?’ At a stretch they can even be accused of remaining silent when acts of intolerance took place under previous governments. But one has the right to choose her battles — negating that freedom is yet another form of intolerance. They not protesting earlier should not weaken the case for why they are protesting now. If a scientist did not return her award after the 1984 anti-Sikh riots or after the 2002 Gujarat riots she does not lose the right to protest now.

Those who suspect a plot behind this intolerance debate are quick to give it a political subtext. But to say that the Congress has engineered this ‘protest movement’ is giving too much credit to the grand old party. The Congress, among other Opposition parties, is just trying to make political capital out of it. It is the BJP — through its actions and inactions — that brought things to this pass.

In the din of accusations and counter-accusations a question remains unanswered: What is being done to reduce the existing levels of intolerance? The ruling party and its supporters are yet to say what measures are being taken to clear this miasma of communal intolerance.

What steps have been taken to reassure the religious minorities who are being told at regular intervals that if they do not follow a particular line they can prepare for an exodus? What is being done to reassure a majority of Hindus who are watching in horror how their faith is being misappropriated by fringe groups? What is being done to reassure an aspiring India that the government’s agenda is still development (as Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised) and it has not been usurped by sections within the BJP and the Right?

Unfortunately, precious little. On Thursday, the BJP released a book Know The Truth, explaining how the protesting ‘so-called intellectuals’ were ‘silent then and violent now’, and that their protests were nothing but ‘ideological intolerance’. This does not show the party in a good light. The government will, at its own peril, ignore (or ridicule) the combined voices of the intellectuals and derive motives for it.

Post-Script: The ‘Let’s-Return-The-Award-India’s-Too-Intolerant’ cycle has brought to light an interesting aspect. Notice that credible voices, even when they are against public sentiment, are respected. Anupam Kher’s opposition was largely welcomed, even if a few reflected suspicion. But the reaction to Chetan Bhagat was an eye-opener. It was a revelation to see so much hatred against the popular writer. But when Kamal Haasan and Vidya Balan refused to join the chorus of returnees they have not been panned. Rather they have managed to bring a perspective to the debate — something that was lacking till now. And in that is a lesson for the BJP.


Shah Rukh, you are my hero but we don’t deserve you

Barkha Dutt

Nov 07, 2015

Five years ago, the hate brigade wanted to banish Shah Rukh Khan to Pakistan for his views that Pakistani players be allowed to play in the IPL, which was followed by a demand for an apology and attacks on the screenings of his film, My Name is Khan. (HT File Photo)

My dear Shah Rukh,

I won’t hold it against you if you decide never to give me an interview again. This is the second or third time that the honesty of your thoughts and the clarity of your conviction — in response to questions from me, questions that have never had anything to do with Kajol or Karan Johar or even the lungi dance — have landed you in the middle of a nonsensical and shameful controversy.

This week some Right-wing ideologues asked me why I asked you what I did. They implied that by discussing issues of creative freedom, the wider debate around tolerance and, above all, the scrutiny you have had to face as an Indian Muslim from chest-thumping, hyper-nationalists, I was revealing signs of my own twisted and communal mind.

I ignored the toxicity of the statement and reminded them that there was history to your words when you told me that having to prove your patriotism was “the most degrading and hurtful” experience of your life.

It goes back to 2010 when we sat for an interview, just like we did this week. Over the years our conversations have become slow ambles that wander casually through a deeply emotional terrain. You have spoken to me with a candour that has disarmed me. You — India’s most beloved star — have told me you have no friends. You have opened up about how “solitary and reclusive” you are and why your daughter is the only one who really understands you.

You have wondered out loud on national television about whether it’s your failure that you can’t sustain friendships. You have been willing, on more than one occasion, to third-eye yourself and make a joke or two without any of the pomposity and self-importance that is so typical of others in your fraternity. You have laughed at yourself and made me laugh. You have always taken questions from the media head-on, handling them with self-deprecating wit — even when one or two of them are intrusive, tasteless and irritate the hell out of you. Like the time you laughingly told the reporter who asked if you were gay: “Kabhi mere saath ek raat to guzaro (Spend a night with me sometime).”

But when we met five years ago in Mumbai you were angry. Because then too, like now, the lunatic hate brigade wanted to banish you to Pakistan. (Lucky them, I say.) You were being asked to say sorry for your view that Pakistanis should be allowed to play in the Indian Premier League. And you gutsily refused. Your film My Name is Khan was just going to be released; the Shiv Sena had been attacking theatres screening it; they wanted an apology before your film would get a safe passage. You held on to your views. And you told me, “I’ve been telling everyone there are three kinds of identities we have; we have a familial identity by the religion we are born in, so you’re a Muslim, a Hindu, or a Sikh and you’ve got to believe that because that’s what you’ve been taught. Then, there is the place that you live and work in, or are born in and work — that’s your regional identity. But all this is a subset of your country’s identity, of your national identity; when did subsets become more important than the set itself?”

Two years later you got into a scuffle at the city’s Wankhede Stadium — you regretted it later and said you’d made a mistake — but I still remember how you told me that the official whispered a communal slur to you, an abuse that once again targeted you for your religion.

Now, here we are again, in 2015, where you prophetically said in my interview, “To all those, telling me to go to Pakistan, this is my country, I am not going anywhere. So shut up, just shut up.”

But they didn’t, did they? When you said, “Our religion cannot be defined or showed respect to by our meat-eating habits. How banal and silly is that,” I wanted to jump up and applaud. In your matter-of-fact way you had sealed the mindless, yet dangerous debate over beef politics that has ravaged India in these past few months. You spoke on everything from the fight at the film institute (you back the students) to those returning awards (not your preferred way of protest, but you find them brave). And despite what the Sena threatened you with in 2010, you reiterated your support for creative people from Pakistan to be given space in our films.

You are a first among equals in your community. Almost no one else (save a handful of notable exceptions) among the biggest and most glamorous stars is willing to speak — if you put it politely, you can call it reticence; if you are blunter, the word you would use is cowardice. But you bucked the trend, yet again.

What’s most sickening is how you’re now being told that the fact that a ‘Khan’ can be so popular is proof of India’s secularism. You anticipated this rubbish when you told me acerbically, “Khan shining is not India shining.” Broken down, the gross subtext is that you should be grateful for a country where so many Hindus are fans of a Muslim star. It’s been left to you to point out that the tokenism of the ‘three Khans of Bollywood’ is the very antithesis of secularism.

I wish I could ignore the hate brigade. But when a party general secretary and a long-term MP are among those asking you to leave for Pakistan — and when the minority affairs minister calls you her brother but makes apologies for their poison, all I can say is every word you spoke becomes even more invaluable.

You, Shah Rukh — the real life man — not Raj or Rahul, your screen avatars — are my hero. But shamefully, I must admit — We don’t deserve you.

With sadness,

Barkha Dutt is consulting editor, NDTV, and founding member, Ideas Collective


Myanmar, under the world’s eye

Written by S Y Quraishi

November 7, 2015 12:00 am

Few elections have attracted as much world attention as the one in Myanmar scheduled to take place on November 8. The election is particularly important for India, not just because Myanmar is its immediate neighbour but also because it borders a very sensitive, militancy prone region. The fact that the country shares its borders with two giant powers, India and China, makes it geopolitically important. What kind of election it’s likely to be is the question foremost in the minds of the Myanmarese people and the global community.

Myanmar, like most countries of the region, has a long history of electoral fraud — from preventing eligible voters from casting their vote freely, if at all, to manipulating the results. Fraud can also occur much in advance by altering the composition of the electorate.

The treatment of minorities is an important issue in this election too. For the last 50 years, Myanmar’s military rulers have followed a strategic project of Burmanisation — single religion (Buddhism), language (Burmese) and culture (Burmanj).

In the 2010 election, ethnic Rohingya Muslims constituted three of 29 MPs and two of 35 members of the Rakhine Regional Assembly. The anti-Muslim tide surfaced after reforms started in 2011, erupting in communal violence, in which at least 200 Rohingyas were killed and 1,40,000 displaced. Nearly a million Rohingya Muslims have been debarred from voting by questioning their citizenship itself, under pressure from Buddhist nationalists, and nearly a hundred candidates disqualified from contesting elections. “I am deeply disappointed by this effective disenfranchisement of the Rohingyas and other minority communities,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last month, adding, “Barring incumbent Rohingya parliamentarians from standing for re-election is particularly egregious.”

Nine countries had raised concerns that rising religious tensions could spark “division and conflict”. Aung San Suu Kyi said that she “saw worrying signs of religious intolerance” in an interview to an Indian media outfit on October 9. Many consider it a perfunctory tokenism. Defending her deafening silence, she said it was the wrong way to achieve reconciliation. Not a single National League for Democracy (NLD) candidate is a Muslim while, ironically, the ultra-nationalist Buddhists accuse Suu Kyi of being pro-Muslim. Many are questioning this attitude of the “Asian Mandela” and winner of the Nobel peace prize. Perhaps it is a case of “electoral compulsions” that we in India, too, are familiar with.

A silver lining is an appeal by a civil society organisation, “Interfaith for Children”, signed by leaders all four religions — Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam — for religious tolerance and peace.

The credibility of the election commission has itself come into question. The Union Election Commission (UEC) chairman, Tin Aye, has washed his hands off, with the shocking statement that he could guarantee the accuracy of only 30 per cent of the voter list. While admitting the error in the software, he passed on the blame to voters! It’s the people’s duty to correct errors in the voters’ list and he would bear no responsibility if voters complained without checking the list. President Thein Sein made a radio speech that, according to the Daily Eleven, “sounded strikingly similar”.

It did not help matters when Tin Aye told a leading media person, “The president and I are comrades, brothers in arms. We have mutual respect.” Suu Kyi seized upon it, calling Tin Aye the bosom pal of Thein Sein and asked the public to be “vigilant, cautious, careful and very, very brave” in the weeks before the election. The CEC was a high-ranking member of the military junta and the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). The president appoints at least five election commission members and some of the top positions are held by military men. To the UEC’s credit, it may be said that they have invited a large number of independent observers. As many as 11,000 domestic observers, from 28 organisations, 905 international observers from at least six international organisations and 30 diplomatic representations are expected.

Despite credibility issues, political enthusiasm is enormous, with 6,074 candidates from 91 registered parties in the fray. There are 35 million voters registered to vote at 40,516 polling booths. They will be electing 168 representatives to the Upper House, 330 to the Lower House and 644 to regional and state legislatures. Myanmar has set up polling stations at its 44 embassies and consulates around the world for advance vote-casting by its more than 29,000 overseas citizens deemed eligible to vote. Domestically, advance voting, from October 29 to November 7, will be allowed for government officials, political candidates, local observers and media personnel.

Myanmar’s refugee problem is another hot issue in the elections. During the five decades of military rule, millions of Myanmarese left — illegally — in search of security to become “undocumented” migrant workers in neighbouring Thailand and Malaysia and beyond. The UNHCR records 1,30,000 Myanmarese in Thailand, 1,50,000 in Malaysia, and over 10,000 in India. There are 14,000 refugees in Thailand’s largest refugee camp, from the eastern Kayah State that was devastated by the civil war. They are accused of having connections with armed groups branded as unlawful. Although the government had invited them to return, seven of the 15 rebel groups refused to join the ceasefire agreement signed on October 24.

The main parties in the fray are the USDP, the ruling party floated by the army, and the NLD led by Suu Kyi. The NLD had won the 1990 election to the constituent assembly, boycotted the 2010 election and participated in the 2012 by-elections for 46 seats. It won 43 of the 44 seats it contested.

The constitution debars anyone from the office of president if s/he has a spouse or children who are foreign nationals. This directly affects Suu Kyi, whose late husband was British, as are her two sons. The constitution also limits the role of political parties to 75 per cent seats, the rest are reserved for the military. This makes amendments to the constitution almost impossible, which rules out a Suu Kyi presidency completely. Some feel that she may stand for the post of speaker.

Whatever the outcome, the spotlight will be on Myanmar for the next few months. The election will determine the fate of the country’s transition to democracy after five decades of military rule. The US has already announced that its relationship with the state would depend on the quality of the election and its acceptance by all parties.

Quraishi is former chief election commissioner of India and author of ‘An Undocumented Wonder: the Making of the Great Indian Election’.


Why Chetan Bhagat is wrong about Indian liberals

By  Nalin Mehta

November 6, 2015

Indiaís biggest-selling novelist Chetan Bhagat has taken a huge swipe at Indian liberals in these pages (November 2), arguing that they usually have ìno clueî and ìno solutionsî about what India should be like. This is primarily because behind their modernist faÁade, liberals are just superior English-speaking children coming out of class privilege, upset at being replaced by Hindi medium types at Indiaís social high table.

Having once looked down upon those speaking vernacular languages and seeing Hinduism as backward, these people are insecure with the rise of people not-likethem and have rebranded themselves as ìliberalsî. If, ìModi and Amit Shah had gone to Doon School, or studied in college abroad, or at least spoke English with a refined world accent,î Bhagat argues, ìthe liberals would have been kinder to themî. Sorry, but he is completely wrong. Though Indiaís literary snobs have long dissed Bhagatís commercial successes he remains, as Aakar Patel argues, ìour most remarkable novelistî, one who is ìmore read by the middle class than were P G Wodehouse, Irving Wallace, Sidney Sheldon and James Hadley Chase ñ all put togetherî. This is why it is important to point out the ignorance and falsehoods in his claims.

First, Indian liberalism in general and protests against intolerance in particular have never been about only a small, privileged English-speaking class. Of the three dozen or so writers who returned their Sahitya Akademi awards, only three received it for writing in English. As many as nine got it for writing in Punjabi, ten Hindi, four Kannada, two Telugu, and one each for Malayalam, Assamese, Urdu and Kashmiri.

In defence of liberals: Their portrayal as English-speaking elitists is a sorry caricature

(In defence of liberals: Their portrayal as English-speaking elitists is a sorry caricature)

Among liberals who have been murdered: Malleshappa Madivalappa Kalburgi was a noted epigraphist of Kannada; Govind Pansare wrote his best-selling Shivaji biography, ëShivaji Kon Hotaí, in Marathi; and Narendra Dabholkarís courageous work against superstition as part of his Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti was primarily in the heat and dust of public meetings, not air-conditioned drawing rooms.

Indian liberalism, which is essentially about respecting all equally, is not an elite creation of those ìsipping tea from fine china cupsî or a sleepover party of hedonistic elites. It is at least as old as the syncretic fusions created by Nanak and Kabir and can be traced all the way back to the Rig Vedic tradition that ìthere is only one truth, only men describe it in different waysî.

The great Swami Vivekananda, revered among others by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was also a torchbearer of this liberal tradition of ancient Hinduism. He wowed the West with his iconic Chicago speech in 1893 by highlighting precisely this stream of tolerance as the heart of Hinduism. Vivekanandaís later comment that ìYou will be nearer to Heaven through football than through the study of the Gitaî would have earned him censure from the Hindu Sena were he to say it today.

Indiaís Constitution was created by a great liberal, Bhim Rao Ambedkar, whose iconic ëAnnihilation of Casteí remains one of the most original critiques of Hinduism. The man he fiercely criticised as a traditionalist Hindu, Gandhi, was also a liberal in the sense that he wanted ìthe cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possibleî even as he refused to be ìblown off my feet by anyî.

From the late Hindi journalist Prabhash Joshi who wrote ëYeh to Raghukul Nahií after the Babri masjid was demolished to Mahasweta Devi who only writes in Bengali to the Hindi TV anchor Ravish Kumar who was born in Motihari but still returned from Dadri ìfeeling like a corpseî at the lack of remorse over the killings, Indian liberalism lives precisely because it is rooted in Indian tradition, not because it is some artificial creation of whiny English speakers at a cocktail party. India, in other words, is not Pakistan, where columnist Khaled Ahmed argues the only way you can keep writing about fundamentalism or terrorism is to ìtouch footî and apologise to those offended.

Second, the charge of elitism echoes the derogatory charge of ëMacaulay-putrasí that the right wing has long furnished. Macaulay started English education in India with his infamous 1835 Minute which argued that ìa single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabiaî.

It was nonsense, of course, but to speak English in India today is not a crime. It is at the heart of our revolution of aspiration as everyone from Kapil Dev who once modelled for ëRapidex English Speaking Courseí to the millions of poor who queue up for admissions for their children in private English schools can testify.

Third, yes, among the liberals, some identify with Congress or the Left but the vast majority do not. There is nothing that connects a Dibakar Banerjee or a Krishna Sobti with any party-political position except for a general abhorrence for intolerance.

Chetan Bhagat

Fourth, many liberals do respond to Islamic fundamentalism and to Congress intolerance. The charge of being ìpseudo-secular, pseudo-intellectual and pseudo-liberalî applies much more to Muslim politicians but not intellectuals like Javed Akhtar, who has often spoken against it, or Syeda Hameed, who authored a detailed report on reform in Islamic marriage laws.

Secular liberals do have solutions, just as Ambedkar did. Going to elite institutions, like he did to Columbia and LSE on a scholarship, is not necessarily a sign of privilege but of academic excellence. Just as it was for Bhagat.


Take a stand: Why we need to stop being tolerant of intolerance

Kanti Bajpai

November 7, 2015

The idea of tolerance (and intolerance) is at the heart of much of an increasingly bad-tempered debate in India over cultural issues. What is tolerance as we think about it and practise it here in India? We can distinguish between at least three perspectives.

One notion of tolerance is, essentially, borne of ignorance. Many of us simply do not know much about the cultural beliefs, habits and observances of others. Or what we know is incorrect. As long as those private and semi-private ways of others do not affect us, we are happy to remain ignorant and to carry on with our lives. A very large part of our lives in India is lived in this fashion. Quite a bit of our famous tolerance is happy ignorance. It is hardly tolerance at all.

The trouble is that mass education and mass communication make it harder for us to stay ignorant. Even the humblest, most remote and most apathetic of us is forced to sit up and take notice given the amount of noise generated by governments, media, NGOs and violent mobs.

Another notion of tolerance is the result of an almost lazy acceptance that everyone has their beliefs, habits and observances, and they are entitled to them. These have come from history, are deeply embedded, and are socially legitimate as a result. Tolerance in this case means having no strong opinion on what others do – as long as their views and practices do not substantially interfere with my peace of mind. This is a ‘thin’ version of tolerance. It is live and let live.

The trouble with the thin, non-judgmental stance is that it can’t last. It is hard to remain in a state of fraternal contentment. Sometimes the views and practices of others will interfere with my deeply held beliefs, habits and observances. Also, those who do have strong opinions about others, who do not take a calmly acceptant view, will make a lot of noise and push us to take sides. Indeed, those who have strong opinions about the cultural views and practices of others may resort to intolerant acts against them.

We are then faced with the following problem: Should we be tolerant of the intolerant acts of others? In India, we are usually very tolerant of intolerance. We are afraid of the intolerant amongst us, and we allow our legal and political system to be used to protect the intolerant. We also find extenuating circumstances so that we are not forced to take a stand. We tell ourselves that others acted intolerantly in the past, so why should we act against intolerance now? Why not just put our heads down and hope that intolerance is the exception, that it will go away, and that to make a fuss will only make matters worse?

This leads us to think about a third perspective. If we cannot remain ignorant or calmly acceptant, then we are forced to engage with the views and practices of others. Real tolerance would seem to involve engaging with others and then deciding to live with the way others do things or arriving at some kind of compromise. It means entering into debate to arrive at a sense of limits – on what we will and will not tolerate. This is a much ‘thicker’ notion of tolerance.

Should one then enter into debate with those who are intolerant of others and don’t want engagement and debate? Intolerance that expresses itself in illegal ways – hate speech, acts of physical violence – has to bear the weight of the law and should be punished. There is not much room for debate in those circumstances.

How can one bring into conversation those who are intolerant of others but don’t act illegally? There is no easy answer. The artists, writers, scientists and academics who have returned awards or signed letters have provided a way of beginning that conversation. Many Indians who disagree with them and have intolerant views may be prompted to pause and listen. These are thoughtful men and women who have taken the trouble to speak and act. Why? Instead of regarding them as part of a conspiracy, let’s stop to consider and reflect.


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