Friday, 28 February 2014

Purushottam Agrawal - General Elections 2014 and the Challenge of Communal Fascism

I made the following observations while addressing a National Convention on Democracy and Secularism on 27 February 2014 in Delhi. .. I am posting these remarks online to invite reflection, interaction and most importantly, action – Purushottam
A meeting similar to this was organised ten years ago in the wake of the Gujarat pogrom, but the mood of that convention was one of fire and ‘josh’, unlike the present one characterised by udaasi. May be you are not that udaas or tired, but let me confess, regarding matters of secularism and rights, I feel tired in spirit...
The organiser of that convention wanted me to address it “as a Hindu”, because of the name I carry. I told him, unlike many of my secular Hindu friends, I don’t disclaim my Hindu identity, but I don’t take political positions as a Hindu. Today, you want me to condemn the Gujarat pogrom, “as a Hindu”, tomorrow, I might, “as a Hindu” feel sympathetic to the idea of Hindusthan Hinduon ka, nahin kisi ke baap ka! I made it clear that I shall speak as a citizen concerned about democratic institutions and norms. Following this, the chief organizer  said that in his opinion it is best if I do not address his Convention.
A secular friend has often castigated me on my ‘hindu-ness’, saying it is because of people like me that the RSS is gaining strength. I have had to remind him that it is precisely because of those Hindus who are religious, but don’t vote for RSS, that RSS has still not succeeded in its designs.
Friends, I find it rather amusing that many of us have no sense of the Hindu tradition, its agonies, its inner conflicts of hegemony and resistance. We have no desire of engaging with it in a serious way, but when the Babri Masjid is demolished, all of a sudden we want to turn to Vivekananda, even the Vedas to find arguments against communal fascism. Such efforts on our part carry no credibility amongst the people who we want to address.
Today, I have been asked to talk about ‘Freedom of thought and life of mind’.  From this podium, Jairus has put the phenomenon of fascism in a theoretical perspective, and Rahul Pandita has done a great job of reminding us of the plight of Kashmiri Pandits.  I claim no scholarship, not even great knowledge. I just want to share my concerns and ideas as a citizen and as a writer.
Let us face the facts. Over the last twenty years, communal forces have succeeded in changing the ‘mindscape’ of our society. Rahul just quoted a very senior communist leader telling Kashmiri Pandits, in the context of their forced exodus from the valley, ‘Aisi baaten hoti rehati hain…’ (“such things happen”). This statement is reflective of the changed mindscape. Even responsible people are falling prey to the ‘chalta hai’ syndrome. More importantly, it is reflective of a very narrow and short-sighted understanding of communal fascism. This reminds me of a related incident which shows the extent to which we have internalised the ideas rooted in the politics of identity. 
My friend the late Farooque Sheikh had once visited a refugee camp of Pandits in Delhi, and I had to face a hard time convincing a Kashmiri Pandit colleague of mine at JNU that Farooque was a Gujarati, not a Kashmiri. My colleague’s idea was simple- if not a Hindu, Faruque must certainly be a Kashmiri Muslim, otherwise why would he visit the suffering Kashmiri Pandits? The prejudice that only Dalits can speak for Dalits, women for women and so on has been given huge respectability by our intellectuals. By this argument, someone like me who belongs to the privileged savarna male minority should speak for no oppressed community or individual. We must not forget that in the wake of the 1984 mass murder of Sikhs in Delhi, the only non-Sikh institution to close in mourning was Vidya -Jyoti— a Jesuit theological institute.
To what extent, has the mindscape of our society changed?  Just look around.  It is not a court of law that has passed an order against Wendy Doniger’s book. The publisher decided to pulp it on its own. There was no formal ban on Aamir Khan’s films in Gujarat, it is just that the exhibitors were “not willing” to release them. Similarly there was no formal ban on Salman Rushdie attending the Jaipur Literature Festival in 2012. But the police couldn’t “provide security”. Moreover on the last day of the festival a ‘celebratory’ mass Namaaz was offered at the venue. If next time around the Bajrang Dal feels like organising a Hanuman- Chalisa path at the same venue how will ‘secular’ politics and intelligentsia be in a position to react? It did not happen in a Christian majority country, but here in India, that the film ‘Da Vinci Code’ was  allowed to be released only after the Information and Broadcasting Ministry had  obtained approval of  the Christina clergy by organising a pre-release screening. This was a case of officially sponsored religious censorship of art.
In my youth I had read a story by Harishankar Parsai. In this story, Rama appoints Hanuman as the tax inspector and crafty traders get away with tax-evasion by binding their account-books in a red piece of cloth, as Hanuman wears a red loin-cloth. In so doing, they “prove” their devotion to Hanuman. The story “informs” its readers that this is why traders bind their account books in red till date. This was forty years ago. Tell me honestly- will a writer write such a story today? Will any responsible editor publish it? That is the distance we have travelled. That is the change in mindscape we have undergone.
Only this morning, I came across a rather funny – and sad – bit of news. A truck carrying scrap paper met with a minor accident, with its cargo spilling on the road. In it, there were some copies of a holy book- Hindu or Muslim not known. Subsequently, the driver and cleaner were beaten to a pulp by an irate mob and the police have registered a case against the scrap-dealer who dared ‘hurt’ religious sentiments by treating holy books as scrap.
We have discussed the theoretical aspects of communal fascism in this session, and that is really important. The challenge however is that of acting fast and in a credible manner. Just like Jairus, Kamal and Anu, I studied at JNU, and also taught there. We were given to endless discussions and lengthy meetings – sometimes the general body meeting of the students ran for 36 hours straight! We were confident of revolution being around the corner, but the wretched corner has turned into a corridor and we are still waiting…taking rounds in the corridor…and things have changed beyond recognition. The mindscape of our society has changed fundamentally.
We have to realise that communal fascism is not merely a concern from the standpoint of security of minorities. It poses a threat to the very idea of a democratic and vibrant society. Frankly sometimes I pity the state that Indian Muslims have been reduced to. A political party assuring them of merely basic security against murder, arson and loot can claim itself as secular and can hope to take Muslims along. Should not the Left in Bengal feel ashamed at the plight of Muslims as reflected in the Sachhar Committee report? Do our secular parties realise that Narendra Modi is only speaking their language when he points out that in the last 12 years there have been no riots in Gujarat? The communal and secular parties almost seem to be in connivance for restraining Muslims from being equal citizens of a secular democracy.
People like Dilip and yours truly have been shouting hoarse about the importance of ensuring rule of law, autonomy of institutions and the constitutional rights of citizens qua citizens…but the politics of ‘anti- communalism’ listens, nods and goes on exactly as before.
We are going to have elections in less than two months, and these elections are going to be fraught with unprecedented significance. If Narendra Modi becomes PM, chances are that things in this country will change in a very basic way, and for the worse. Theoretical discussions and disagreements are as important as ever, but we have to think of concrete political choices as well. How do we face the very real danger of India turning into just a formal democracy, without the present churn and vibrancy?  We must remind people and also remind ourselves, that democracy is not just about numbers – it is about democratic norms and institutions. It is about ensuring the free expression of even such views which one may find utterly nonsensical.
Let us never forget, Jesus was crucified as a heretic. ‘Heretics’ provide a society with the opportunity of self-reflection, and democracy is fundamentally about ensuring a non-violent and civilised interface between the orthodox and the heterodox in each and every sphere of life. Communal fascism is a threat to the very idea of such a vibrant and meaningful democracy and hence is a matter of concern not only for religious minorities, but for each and every citizen.
So, we have to look at concrete and credible political possibilities. Some friends refer to AAP as an alternative. I too appreciate its role but with reservations and criticism. Such disagreements are not only normal but also welcome. The point however is to arrive at a practical consensus on defeating communal fascism electorally. Perhaps, in the short term we can proceed with a constituency-wise assessment and in each constituency, help the secular candidate who is most likely to present a challenge to communal politics. 
In the long term however, there is no alternative to acting in a manner consistent with human rights, democratic norms, autonomy of institutions and upholding the rule of law. We cannot relax these standards no matter who claims to be ‘hurt’. Unless we act fast to recover our credibility, we will find ourselves even more marginalized and communal fascism will only grow stronger.

Book review: Culture and the Death of God – Terry Eagleton

Culture and the Death of GodTerry Eagleton
reviewed by 

In Culture and the Death of God he deploys all his formidable skills to explain how the high hopes of many generations of secular materialists collapsed along with the twin towers.

Atheism is in trouble, according to Terry Eagleton. Throughout the 20th century it went from strength to strength, as churches lost their congregations and theology was put to flight by natural science. But then there was 9/11 and everything changed. Traditional churchgoing may have continued its long decline, while the strident scepticism of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens still struck a chord with the book-buying classes, but, in the rest of the world, religion was rousing itself from a long slumber. Wild forms of worship – Christian, Islamic or other – have now taken hold of the poor and the oppressed. Religious faith has gone viral.

Or so it seems to Eagleton, and he thinks we should have seen it coming. He is a celebrated practitioner of wide-ranging intellectual commentary, with bestselling books to his credit and acres of polemical journalism. He always seems to have read all the philosophers and theorists that the rest of us find too fearsome, and he has a knack for fitting them neatly into place by means of a well-turned epigram or an alliterative turn of phrase. His prose is alive with dichotomies, insults and laugh-aloud jokes, and at the end we are invariably invited to savour the "irony" as the masterminds are shown losing their mojo as the truth slips out of their grasp. In Culture and the Death of God he deploys all his formidable skills to explain how the high hopes of many generations of secular materialists collapsed along with the twin towers.
Eagleton came to fame in the 70s as the Oxford English don who was also a self-confessed revolutionary socialist, or, if you prefer, as the revolutionary socialist who was also a self-confessed Oxford don. He managed to become an icon of theoretical rectitude and earthy leftism at the same time as climbing to the top of his greasy profession. After a while there was an epidemic of Eagleton-envy wherever literature was an object of academic study. In recent years, however, the comrades have begun to sniff an odour of apostasy: Eagleton may still be loyal to his leftism, but – to judge by recent broadsides against the New Atheists, whom he accuses of misinterpreting true Christianity – his doughty materialism has been deserting him.
Culture and the Death of God will not give much reassurance to the old Eagletonians. The book takes us on a rapid tour of the intellectual battlefields of Europe over the past 300 years, sites where, according to the received version of history, the brave soldiers of progress and rationality have triumphed time and again over a rabble of reactionary God-botherers. But these victories, according to Eagleton, were at best equivocal, and in due course they would be reversed by the cunning of history. First there were the fabled philosophers of the Enlightenment, leading the charge against priestly infamy and angels-on-a-pin theology; but none of them could envisage a world without God, even if they preferred to worship him in the guise of reason or science. Any damage they may have done to religion was repaired by the German idealists with their woolly notion of spirit, and by their followers the romantics, who reinvented God as either nature or culture. 
You might think that Marx made a better job of deicide, but on close examination the communist hypothesis turns out to have been a surrogate for the heavenly city. And poor old Nietzsche, for all his bluster and derring-do, ended up resurrecting Christ in the form of the Übermensch. The 20th-century modernists fell into the same trap, vainly appealing to art to plug "the gap where God has once been", and if a few freaky postmodernists have managed to break away from religion in recent years, it was at the price of a complete denial of hope and meaning, which no one else is willing to pay. "The Almighty," Eagleton concludes, "has proved remarkably difficult to dispose of." Rumours of his death have been greatly exaggerated: he has now put himself "back on the agenda", and "the irony is hard to overrate".
Eagleton's well-known verve and cogency are all on display in Culture and the Death of God, but various vices are apparent as well. He seems to have turned himself into the Jeremy Clarkson of philosophy, giving high-performance ideas a quick spin, but making a point of not taking anything very seriously. He has never been a hero of the campaign against cliche, and he repeats himself shamelessly and recycles whole paragraphs. Instead of considering thinkers as individuals struggling to get some clarity about the conceptual problems that trouble them, he fits them up as characters in an off-the-peg story about the Enlightenment begetting idealism which begat romanticism which begat modernism which begat postmodernism. 
When he jeers at the idealists with their "high-minded contempt for everyday habits", or at the "high-minded vacuities" and "high-minded fatalism" of Matthew Arnold, or the "high-minded liberal platitudes" of Salman Rushdie, he sounds more like a rowdy kid than a serious subversive. And when he chooses to praise Kant, Burke, Condorcet, Schiller, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud for their "great" books, or rates Alain Badiou as "perhaps the most eminent philosopher of our time" (LOL), he seems to speak with a voice of transcendent self-assurance rather than the gratitude that might be a more appropriate response to greatness.
Eagleton has sometimes been accused of bumptious egotism, but nothing could be further from the truth. If he has a unique selling point, it is his uncanny self-effacement... read more:

LEJLA KURIC - Opposing religious bigotry is not bigotry

The recent controversy sparked when Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Maajid Nawaz commented on the censorship of a satirical cartoon offensive to some Muslims, has highlighted once again that British Muslims are perceived as a homogenous group with no difference of an opinion. This is a perception widely held on the Left. More often than not, the Left sadly aligns itself with self-serving, self-appointed ‘community leaders’ that it regards as authentic voices, while truly liberal voices like Nawaz’s are shunned as those of ‘Westernised’ sell-outs.
Liberal apologists for the Islamic Right are – perversely – happy to turn a blind eye to the fact that ‘community leaders’ promote divisive religious identity politics and a narrative of perpetual victimhood. It is only a small step from religious identity politics into religion as a political ideology. When this happens, religion becomes a tool of politics rather than a matter of private belief and personal conscience. Religion as a political tool is detrimental both to human rights and civil liberties. It corrodes trust within society and engenders competitive forms of intolerant religious and cultural chauvinism.
The West is, of course, imperfect. But as an immigrant of Muslim background, it strikes me that many British people do not realise how privileged they are to live in a democratic, pluralist society which enshrines equal rights and protections for all its citizens in law. For most of the world’s population, this is a dream.
Witnessing unimaginable brutality driven largely by inter-religious conflict and the genocide of Muslims in the Balkans – correctly described as ‘the worst atrocity on European soil since WW2’ – has shaped my own political views. Religious and sectarian identity politics inevitably lead to hatred, resentment, and – ultimately – violence. It was the underlying factor in the Srebrenica Genocide in which over 8000 Bosnian Muslims were murdered. It is also the underlining factor in every act of violent Jihadism, including the Woolwich murder, in which Muslims are the perpetrators.
These experiences have taught me to detest religious identity politics and to  value secularism, which allows both for freedom of religion and also freedom from religion. Thus, the struggle for secularism is the struggle for equality and human rights, not against them. The values of liberal post-Enlightenment democracy underpin the freedoms and rights of everyone. For these values to be traduced by members of a minority constitutes a perverse and self-defeating attack on the very source of their own freedoms.
Anti-Muslim bigotry from Far-Right nationalists must be tackled head on. It goes without saying that hate crimes against Muslims are unacceptable and must stop. Any attempt to introduce discriminatory policies such as preventing the building of mosques or stopping ‘Islamic immigration’ must be vehemently opposed.
But the notion that there is rampant persecution of Muslims in Britain – “open season” on UK Muslims comparable to the Nazis’ pre-war persecution of Jews, according to Liberal Democrat peer Meral Hussein-Ece, or a “Muslim civil rights crisis,” as Mohammed Ansar likes to call it – is specious. There are no special ‘Muslim Civil Rights’. There are only Civil Rights. This imaginary persecution is really a way to disguise a reactionary political agenda. When I was shot at in Bosnia and denied education in Croatia because of my religious identity – that was persecution. Persecution is not when someone is denied special religious privileges with which to protect sexism and homophobia, or to introduce censorship and blasphemy codes or oppress other people.
Put simply, refusing to tolerate persecution by the religious does not amount to persecution of the religious. Opposing religious bigotry is not bigotry. The fact that the Left often embraces reactionaries and fanatics from within minority religious communities, and sidelines true progressives, speaks volumes. It not only suggests the Left assume all Muslims are illiberal, homophobic, anti-Semitic, misogynist theocrats unable to aspire or live up to ideals of democracy, equality and pluralism. It also suggests that these failures be indulged.
The Left identifies Muslims as a vulnerable minority and, on this basis, actively excuses and covers up for Islamic extremism and other nasty, regressive views that would never be tolerated if espoused by the white nationalist Far-Right. To cope with the undeniable existence of truly liberal Muslims, they are dismissed as an aberration and shunned for fear of alienating the Muslim masses. This is the soft bigotry of low expectations.
The word Islamophobia is often invoked whenever Muslims, Islam or Islamism are discussed. But by dishonestly conflating criticism of ideas with bigotry, intolerance and the stigmatisation of their adherents, the Left is helping to re-introduce and defend blasphemy taboos by stealth. This does not help dismiss misconceptions about Muslims – it makes them worse.
This spinelessness and intellectual dishonesty has enabled Far-Right groups such as the EDL to position themselves as the defenders of democracy; those who are unafraid to speak unpleasant and inconvenient ‘truths’ suppressed in the name of political correctness.  The reality is that, in many ways, they are the mirror image of its nemesis and a comparable menace to democracy. Until we recognise that we need to tackle Islamism and religious extremism with the same vigour and same outrage as Far-Right, their appeal will remain.
It is time for the Left to acknowledge that there is a conflict between reactionaries and progressives within what is referred to as ‘the Muslim Community’. In order to defend progressive, egalitarian values in our society, the Left must show solidarity with and support for genuinely liberal and secular Muslims.
It must cease its indulgence of the evasions and double-talk of reactionary traditionalists in the name of self-regarding cross-cultural tolerance. It is time for people of all religions and none who believe in secularism, democracy and universal human rights to stand together and defend them against their enemies. But to do so, we must be prepared to discard the labels we often cling to like comfort blankets and to unite around the values we wish to uphold.
See also:  

Janaki Nair - TERRORIZED BY THE PAST // Nivedita Menon: The Embarrassed Modern Hindu

The tradition of sexuality in ancient Indian culture is what the attackers of Wendy Doniger’s book fear most

It is our good fortune that our knowledge of Hinduism does not come from the authorized versions that Dina Nath Batra and his Shiksha Bachao Andolan wish to propagate. Neither does our collective imagination remain reined in by his fantasies about the Indian past. This large and luxuriantly complex society, even when all else has been brutally taken from its wretched millions, has its imagination intact. And, we fervently hope, for some time to come. Therein lies the challenge to our desperately needed “historical temper”.

As an 18-year-old, I had read the sexually frank passages of the Rig Veda with wonder and amazement. In a small village called Sanehalli, Karnataka, where the performing arts have been vigorously patronized by Swami Panditaradhya, I recently watched, along with the people from surrounding villages, the Kathakali performance at the annual theatre festival, in which Shakuntala incrementally raised the decibel level and shouted “Anarya!” at Dushyanta, violating all norms of womanly behaviour and appropriate performance voice. There was thunderous appreciative clapping at the end. I have filed past, with lots of ardent devotees of Krishna, the brilliant murals at the Cochin Palace at Mattancherry, where Krishna does not waste a single digital extremity of his eight hands and two feet in pleasing his gopis (his two flute playing hands excepted). 

Ditto the Guruvayur Temple, whose sexually explicit murals are now, alas, being modestly covered in (NRI-sponsored) gold plate. The erotic sculptures at the Nellaiappar Temple at Tirunelveli, the great Chalukyan temples at Aihole Pattadakkal and Badami, all visited daily by hundreds of chattering and irreverent school children, continue to stand as testimony to what our illustrious forebears were also preoccupied with. One could go onad nauseum, about the little and great traditions of Indian mythology which are not only sexually explicit but bloodstained to boot. It is Wendy Doniger’s triumph that she brings us these complexities in just one book.

To be fair to Dina Nath Batra, he does not deny that the luxuriant growth called Hinduism has yielded many embarrassing fruits: indeed he even admits that there is much that is shameful in Hinduism up to the present day. This is among the many charges Batra made against Wendy Doniger: “That the entire list of the books authored by YOU NOTICEE shows that YOU NOTICEE concentrate, focus and write on the negative aspects and evil practices prevalent in Hinduism.

Therefore, his argument is that we should shield our young/vulnerable/women from such knowledge. Therefore, genuine terror about the Indian past underlies Batra’s recent campaign, and his success in getting Penguin to pulp the remaining copies of the 2009 book The Hindus: An Alternative History. What if this text actually reveals to the deracinated urban school child or NRI reader that there is much shameful ambiguity in “ancient Indian culture” to which we should be reverently and unquestionably wedded? What if women learn that contemporary Indian sexuality has deep roots in, not the Wicked West but our own ancient Indian culture?

So, in the laziest and most predictable way, Doniger’s gender and race identities are used to trump her formidable language skills, scholarly acumen, and academic experience. This is an ironic echo of the proscriptions against certain genders and castes that Doniger herself has highlighted as a central feature of centuries of Indian “censorship”. 

Doniger’s “crime” is not her preoccupation with sex and sexuality as “ancient Indians” knew and practised it: it is rather her unwillingness to participate in eliminating these aspects from our collective memory. What the AIDS epidemic, the review of Section 377, and the December 16, 2012 incident all brought into the public sphere was an unprecedented focus on sex/violence/sexuality that ripped open what for so long had been strenuously denied and brushed under the subcontinental mattress. Now Dina Nath Batra wants to put this ungovernable sexuality back into the toothpaste tube.

In his insightful work on the “formations of the secular”, the anthropologist, Talal Asad, rightly highlights a particular problem posed by claims of sacredness (and therefore, in our current context, the luxuriant claims of “hurt sentiment” that ensue): is a book inherently “religious”? Or is it inherently malleable? In short, can it be read as both a literary and a religious text? If not, it raises the further question: is it the book, or the reader, whose religiosity is at stake?

The Shiksha Bachao Andolan seems to be claiming a bit of both, like many current protests. Of late, we have been continuously enjoined to delete, ban, boycott or abstain from certain representations/practices, not because the bearer of the “hurt” asserts the “believer’s right” that “I must not see it” (that is much easier achieved, by self-imposed abstinence). Rather, we are continuously told that “It must not be seen/ heard/taught/thought”, and therefore, the text/sculpture/painting/ movie must, if necessary, be violently removed from the public sphere.

Unfortunately, the list of books/artifacts/movies/paintings that Batra and his shock troops, (including the ardent long-distance Hindu nationalists of the United States of America), will have to censor/delete/destroy/alter will be a long one indeed, beginning with the Rig Veda itself. Although this will be an arduous task, we have too many uncomfortable historical reminders of the extent to which zealots will go to cleanse and rewrite public memory. This claim of “hurt sentiment”, it must be pointed out, is quite different from the democratic demands for collective reflection on truly disabling “historical wounds” arising from statements and representations on the underprivileged/oppressed. 

But it will not do to rely on the inherent wiles and cunning of those inhabiting the subcontinent, or on private memory, to survive and resist such public onslaughts of a dominant political, religious and social majority. Our demand to remember, hear, see, know, and above all be heard, be seen and be known must be vociferously defended from such infringements by beginning an urgent and long overdue discussion on the lineaments of a new civility, and a thoroughly revised “historical temper" The author is Professor of History, Centre for Historical Studies, School of Social Sciences, JNU

NIVEDITA MENON - The Embarrassed Modern Hindu
Jakob De Roover’s empathetic account of the imagined ‘Hindu boy with intellectual inclinations’ born in the 1950s needs to be read with another imagined growing child: the Hindu boy's sister. Devout Ram-worshipping Hindus in some parts of Vidisha, Mandsaur, Ratlam and Indore districts of Madhya Pradesh actually welcome Ravana on Dussehra, in some places as a local god; and in Mandsaur as a respected son-in-law because Mandodari, his wife, belonged to their town. Both Valmiki communities as well as Kanyakubja Brahmins of Vidisha believe Ravana to be a consummate intellectual and Shiva bhakta. Nobody is ‘confused’ or ‘insulted’ or ‘hurt’ by this, except the likes of Dinanath Batras and KC Guptas, (the latter one of those who campaigned for the removal of Ramanujan’s essay)...The real disdain for Hindu folk tales, oral ballads and other practices of believing Hindus is shown by these Dinanath Batras and KC Guptas who are shamed and embarrassed by the glorious pagan aspects of Hinduism, and the refusal of Hindu practices to be tamed into the pallid, rigid North Indian upper caste version that is the basis of the Hindu nationalist project. There is point in pulping Doniger – they may as well call for pulping 80 percent of Hindu practices and texts..

The Fraud Called Opinion Polls

News Express, a news and current affairs television channel, claims to have exposed malpractices of 11 opinion poll agencies via a sting operation. Its sting operation, titled Operation Prime Minister, revealed, the channel claimed, that pollsters are willing to manipulate data and provide “misleading results”.

While the sting operation does not show how or which specific survey in the past was deliberately manipulated, nor offer any evidence for it, transcripts provided by the channel show that heads of such agencies were willing to provide two sets of data — original and manipulated — for different rates when purportedly approached on behalf of political parties.
News Express editor-in-chief Vinod Kapri said in a press-conference that they wished to “expose the mindset and intent” of the polling agencies and were motivated by the Election Commission’s letter to political parties inviting their views on opinion polls and the mushrooming of such polls. Kapri said their sting showed that these polling agencies are willing to manipulate data to any extent at the behest of the client by way of deleting negative data or simply increasing the margin of error to show a spike in seats.

In all, the sting operation involved undercover journalists meeting 11 polling agencies as representatives of political parties. Most of these 11 agencies are neither well-known names nor do any major work for any of the prominent media houses. Among the three big names two -- AC Nielsen and CSDS-Lokniti -- did not entertain the News Express reporters and said they were booked for election season.

In one clip telecast, C-Voter'sYashwant Deshmukh is seen telling the News Express's undercover reporter that while 3% was the standard margin of error, “at best, we can put it to 5%”. "rafu kar sakte hain, paiband nahii lagaa sakte hain," he is heard saying. [We can darn, but not put a patch] Responding on Twitter, Deshmukh said, “I hope dear old friend Vinod Kapdi (sic) also shows me denying all his efforts and saying clearly that CVoter and Yashwant can’t do such things.” No such footage was shown, but there have always been murmurs about C-Voter in the past as well. Way back in January 2012, in a blogpost for exitopinionpollsindia, Rajan Alexander asked: C-Voter: Two different UP opinion polls; two contrasting predictions. Why should any one believe them?

Following the sting, India Today said they were "suspending all opinion polls being carried out by C-Voter for the India Today Group. A show-cause notice is also being sent to C-Voter seeking a response on the charges levelled by the news channel." C-Voter had been contracted by India Today for the forthcoming general elections to conduct various opinion polls for the group, the statement clarified.

Liberal newspaper Express Tribune cowed into silence by Pakistani Taliban

When it was launched four years ago, the Express Tribune set out to become the house newspaper of liberal-minded Pakistanis. A newcomer to a market dominated by conservative-inclined papers, it made a point of writing about everything from the relentless rise of religious extremism to gay rights.
But in recent weeks the paper has been cowed into silence by an unusually blatant display of power by the Pakistani TalibanThe paper was forced to drastically tone down its coverage last month after three employees of the media group, which includes another newspaper and television channel, were killed in Karachi by men armed with pistols and silencers on 17 January. The attack was later claimed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a large coalition of militant groups, which accused the media group of disseminating anti-Taliban propaganda. Immediately following the killings, the paper's editor, Kamal Siddiqi, sent an email to staff outlining the paper's new policy.
Henceforth there would be "nothing against any militant organisationand its allies like the Jamaat-e-Islami, religious parties and the Tehrik-e-Insaf", the rightwing party led by Imran Khan, that strongly opposes military operations against the TTP. There would also be "nothing on condemning any terrorist attack", "nothing against TTP or its statements" and "no opinion piece/cartoon on terrorism, militancy, the military, military operations, terror attacks". Reporters have been banned from describing a movement responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians, soldiers and police as "outlawed" or "militant". The terrorist attacks that rack the country on an almost daily basis are covered on the news pages, but are pared down.
"We do have exclusives, but we don't run them," Siddiqi said. "It's very frustrating at a personal level for all journalists. But we have decided that we won't do anything at least for the foreseeable future that will come back to haunt us." Other changes include a more conservative approach to photographs of female models in the paper's lifestyle sections and weekend magazine. Worst affected are the opinion pages. Once-feisty leader writers have almost entirely overlooked the near-continuous attacks that have rocked the country in recent weeks. Ayesha Siddiqa, a regular columnist, said the muzzling of Pakistan's media was contributing to an "absolutely mesmerising information deficit" among the public.
"I said to the editor, 'what am I to do, start writing about cooking or films?' Because that's all that's left." The killings followed a bomb and small-arms attack on the company's offices in Karachi in December. One reporter on the paper said the attacks had terrified many colleagues. "The paper has an unusually young staff and a lot of the kids were pretty scared, with parents telling them they should quit," the staff writer said. "There were some people who said we should fight back, but they were a minority."
After the killings, a TTP spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, was allowed to join by telephone a live discussion programme on the paper's sister television station, Express News. He claimed responsibility for the killings, complained the company "was playing the role of propagandist in this war with the Taliban" and said it had ignored regular complaints he had emailed to the channel. The TV show's host, Javed Chaudhry, promised that the station and newspaper would take pains to present the TTP's position "without any trimming".
"We will have a balanced and impartial attitude towards you and will convey your point of view to the people but we have only one request: that our colleagues should be protected," he told the TTP spokesman and watching audience. The TTP has threatened and attacked journalists in the past, including the BBC after its Urdu-language service aired highly critical comment about the Taliban attempt to assassinate the schoolgirl Malala Yousafzaiin 2012.
Although much of Pakistan's national debate is conducted in the country's generally right-leaning Urdu press and television, the TTP monitors everything. Ali Dayan Hasan, of Human Rights Watch, said: "The Taliban and other armed groups have threatened the media over their coverage for several years, but now those threats are ratcheting up by accompanying attacks. "It's an extremely effective tactic that does far more than just censorship, it also skews the entire national debate." Siddiqi, the editor, said he could not risk any more lives.
"The fact is three people have been killed and no one out there is protecting us," he said, pointing out that no arrests had been made in connection with either of the attacks on the company. "We are on our own. We have to look out for our own people."

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Jyoti Punwani - For Doniger row, don’t blame the law

So you have our idiotic law too!’’ a relative from Islamabad crowed after the Wendy Doniger affair hit the headlines. He was referring to Doniger’s statement that described Section 295A of the IPC as “the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offence to publish a book that offends any Hindu.” Why did Doniger, who must be familiar with the section under which her book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, was sought to be banned, describe a law which applies to all faiths as one that applies only to Hindus? Indeed, it was the offended feelings of Muslims that gave rise to this law. The story of how Section 295A came to be enacted shows its continuing relevance.
In 1927, the Punjab High Court ruled that while the book Rangila Rasool on Prophet Mohammed was offensive to Muslims, its Hindu publisher could not be prosecuted under Section 153A of the IPC, which related only to promoting disharmony between two communities. Sensing the mounting anger among Muslims, it was thought necessary to enact a law specifically targeted at wounded religious feelings. However, given its  potential for misuse, it was carefully fine-tuned with stringent provisions.
Even trial courts have taken liberal views on cases filed under this law. In 1953, the trial court of Tiruchirappalli held that iconoclast Periyar’s act of breaking a Ganesh idol did not amount to an offence under this section, a view set aside only by the Supreme Court. However, because five years had by then elapsed, it decided not to punish him. In 2005, another landmark judgment on Section 295A was given by the Calcutta High Court, striking down the West Bengal government’s ban on Taslima Nasreen’s Dwikhandito.
Given the way courts have ruled, neither Doniger nor Penguin had any reason to blame the law. Whatever their reasons for hiding behind this smokescreen, it is alarming that well-known intellectuals have called for a reform of the two laws dealing with acts that hurt religious feelings and promote disharmony: Sections 295A and 153A. They must be amended, they say, to protect “Intellectual and artistic freedom and the right to self-expression… works of serious academic and artistic merit.”
That’s a dangerous demand. Consider the editorials of the late Bal Thackeray in Saamna at the height of the December 1992-January 1993 Mumbai riots. The counsel for the Shiv Sena, before the Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry into the riots, described them as literary masterpieces. Indeed, some have the power to make the average Hindu reader weep in anguish or send a rush of anger through her. That this anger is directed towards a government described as one that cynically allows “fanatic anti-national Muslims to kill young patriotic Hindus”, and that the anguish is at the loss of young lives (rioters) by police bullets, does not take away from their literary merit.
MIM MLA Akbaruddin Owaisi’s seditious and anti-Hindu speech at Nirmal in December 2012 could well be described as an articulation of his right to self-expression. How else would one describe Raj Thackeray’s essay, “My stand, my fight”,  published in Maharashtra Times when his men were assaulting north Indians in 2008? Was Subramanian Swamy’s revolting but meticulously argued essay in DNA in 2011, “How to wipe out Islamic terror?”, devoid of academic merit? On the other hand, didn’t we all lament when big guns like Bal Thackeray and Varun Gandhi were acquitted of charges under Section 153A?
Throughout the Srikrishna hearings, policemen were asked why they hadn’t filed cases under Sections 295A and 153A against Shiv Sainiks. A few of the slogans on their placards could be described as examples of “self-expression’’. Yet, these placards (and speeches) were relied upon to convict former Sena MP Madhukar Sarpotdar and two aides in 2008. This was the first and only time a Sena leader was convicted under Section 153A. It was also the only 1992-93 riots conviction upheld by a higher court. Can we celebrate this conviction without celebrating  the provision under which it was made?
Sections 295A and 153A have been misused, but so have the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act. Hate speech is as much a part of our society as are atrocities against Dalits and violence against women. The difference is this: the most powerful purveyors of hate speech are seldom prosecuted because prosecution needs government sanction. The prosecution of artists and dissenters gets noticed. What doesn’t is the non-prosecution of political leaders. We should demand more frequent application of Sections 295 A and 153 A against these influential offenders.
see also:

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Taslima Nasreen on censorship and free speech

I tried to say:
‘Freedom of expression is again under attack in India. Penguin India should not have withdrawn Wendy’s book ‘The Hindus’. The publishers should uphold an author’s freedom of expression. Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti, the organization that claims that the book has many factual errors,could write a book correcting those errors. The book under attack is currently one of the bestselling books on Amazon. It shows that censorship cannot keep freedom of expression suppressed. In fact, it breeds curiosity and so censorship is really
its own worst enemy.
Penguin India is one of the biggest publishing houses in India. It had all the capacity to fight the court cases it faced. But instead, it compromised with those who do not believe in free speech. Penguin India said, “Indian penal code section 295a, makes it difficult for any Indian publisher to uphold international standards of free expression”. It is true, but my question is why don’t you fight for the abolition of the age-old British law, which is used by governments to ban books, harass and imprison authors? Free speech is universal. There is no such thing as national free speech, or international free speech. Like there are no such things as Islamic human rights or Western human rights. Like free speech, human rights are universal.
Writers should have the right to write whatever they like. Everyone should have the right to offend people. Without the right to offend, freedom of expression does not exist. Nobody should have the right to spend his or her entire life without being offended. Don’t we all know that if “Free Speech” means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not like to hear! Without hurting the sentiments of misogynists, obscurantists, ignorant irrationalists — you will not be able to bring change in society. Throughout history always some people’s sentiments were hurt – had to be hurt – especially when society was about to change. In this country when sati was abolished, or girls’ education started, many misogynist sentiments were hurt. But should we care about their so called sentiments or should we help society to evolve, to make the world a better place?
It is dangerous if the government tries to deny people’s freedom of expression in order to protect the sentiments of those who don’t believe in democracy. Many of my books are banned in Bangladesh. My book was banned in West Bengal too. The government of West Bengal not only banned my book, it forced me to leave the state too. The new government banned the release of my book Nirbasan in 2012 and a few months ago forced a TV channel called Akash Ath to stop telecast of a mega serial written by me. The serial was about women’s struggle and how three sisters living in Kolkata fight against patriarchal oppression to live their lives with dignity and honour. She (Mamata Banerjee) banned me in order to appease some misogynist mullahs.
The truth is I am used for the vote bank politics in India. If fundamentalists demand for the banning of books, should governments ban books? Should fundamentalists decide what we should read, write, watch, wear, eat, drink, think? Governments seem to give them the
authority to decide. Fundamentalists do not believe in plurality of thoughts. They do not believe in individual freedom. They believe in theocracy, not in democracy.
Most Indian secularists do not support me. They support writers who are attacked by Hindus, but not the writers who are attacked by Muslims. Salman Rushdie is supported by secularists though, probably because he is not so vocal against Islamic oppression on women the way I am. I am not a man. I am not macho. I am a woman. A single woman at that. And a feminist. We live in a misogynistic, patriarchal society and people in this society hate feminists.
Freedom of expression is like rape in India. Politicians and intellectuals do not defend everyone’s freedom of expression like they do not condemn every rape. If I could get the same support Wendy got, the TV producer could start broadcasting my mega serial despite government’s threats.’
See also

Students rally against Delhi University's FYUP

Stop the Destruction Of Students' future, of our Education

President of India, Visitor of DU, Must Intervene!
Intensify the Ongoing Movement for the Roll Back of FYUP!
Sign the Petition to the President Of India // We appeal to all DU students and all Citizens of Delhi to Join Delhi-Wide FYUP Hatao- Bhavishya Bachao Yatra
Starting on 26 February

Roll Back FYUP! Save Our Future!  Honours in 3 Years for Present Batch!
Since 15 January, we had undertaken a massive campaign, seeking feedback on FYUP from more than 17000 students. More than 90% of these students have stated that they still want to finish Honours in 3 years. Students openly proclaimed in the feedback that FYUP has proved to be a disaster. Thousands of teachers and students participated in numerous protests since the day it was unilaterally implemented. In a Referendum on FYUP held in August 22, 2013 out of 11,556 students 10,519 students (91.02%) voted against the FYUP. Yet the DU VC remains adamant in his authoritarian attitude and FYUP isn't being scrapped. His aim is to reduce DU into a private teaching shop that churns out semi-skilled students as a reserve army required for low-paid jobs in the mushrooming corporate sector.
Our Experience in the First semester :-
·        Most non- DC papers are an utter waste of time and energy. The burden of sub-standard foundation courses don't allow us to concentrate on courses of the main discipline. These unwanted courses and lack of infrastructure forcing us to stay in college till 5 pm.
·        The 'multiple exits' options are nothing but attempts to get rid of dropouts. If we move after second year with a ‘DIPLOMA’, it will be a diploma in which subject?
·        The Fourth year is also an extra financial burden of nearly 2 lakh rupees which most of us cannot bear. The FYUP enhances existing inequality in Indian society as hard working students of Hindi medium or rural background are overburdened with useless courses forcing them to drop-out in between.
·        In FYUP, only 20 out of 50 papers in FYUP is from DC I; whereas, in 3 Yr Hons. 75% of the papers were from core discipline. So, despite spending both time and money on an extra year, the students will have less knowledge of their core discipline!
·        In short, FYUP means un-specified 'drop-out' degrees (diploma) for those who cannot afford 4 years; and less knowledge and more costs for those who are forced to spend 4 years.  
Honours in 3 Years for Present Batch is still Possible : If in the next two years (or four semesters) students are given a choice to NOT study the remaining 4 FCs, 4 Applied Courses, 6 Cultural Activity papers and 4 out of 6 DC II, than in our second and third year we shall get rid of 14 non-honours courses. In these 14 slots one can easily study those 6 DC1 + 2 Research (main honours) papers which are forced currently in the fourth year.
Students and Teachers of DU are fighting for the roll back of FYUP. However, all those political forces who have strong presence in the Parliament, Assembly and DUSU never chose to oppose and stall FYUP.
While the Congress-led UPA forcibly imposed FYUP, the BJP, despite being the principal opposition and having hundreds of MPs and MLAs, extended support through silence. While UPA awarded padamashree to the DU VC, BJP's Prime-ministerial Candidate Narendra Modi made DU VC an honoured guest at his Education Summit. Common students and teachers had hope in the AAP for intervention. Unfortunately the AAP too, during its 49 days stint in Delhi Govt and despite getting daily high-voltage media presence, remained significantly silent and non-interventionist on this massive corruption with education system of the largest central university of this country. And, the DUSU leadership, despite being elected on an anti-FYUP mandate, never led sustained struggle and  allowed FYUP to continue.  
It is now clear that if FYUP is allowed to stay and spread than it will completely ruin the higher education system of our country. It is a larger game. There is indeed a vested interest in degrading the affordable and quality education of DU - so as to benefit the private and foreign universities that are making a business of education! 
And no country can build a secure future without securing the quality of its universities and the future of its students. The need of the hour is to unite and strengthen the honest movement to roll back FYUP.
We demand an urgent intervention of the President of India who is also the Visitor of our University. We appeal to DU students and the Citizens of Delhi to sign the petition to the President and volunteer, support the Delhi-wide March ‘FYUP HATAO-BHAVISHYA BACHAO YATRA’, starting on 26 February, 2014

Sunny kumar
All India Students' Association
9013757372, 9213974505