Thursday, 30 November 2017

Indian Express editorial - Lift the gag on the Sohrabuddin case

The gag order by a special CBI court in Mumbai, restraining the media from publishing proceedings of the trial in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh alleged fake encounter case, is questionable at best, and undemocratic in fact. It amounts to prior restraint which curbs not just the freedom of the press but also the citizen’s right to know. It does so in the name of “security”, without making even a minimally compelling case for how it is threatened if the media does its job. A public trial ensures that not only is justice done, but also that it is seen to be done. In effect, therefore, the court seeks to insulate from public gaze a matter which it says “appears sensational” — a judicial euphemism, perhaps, for the fact that the list of accused has featured an array of high-profile individuals such as ministers and high-ranking police officers of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh, including BJP president Amit Shah and Gujarat anti-terrorism squad chief D.G. Vanzara, both of whom were discharged in controversial circumstances in 2014 and 2017 respectively.

Ever since the 2005 death in police custody of Sohrabuddin — accused of involvement in a range of crimes from extortion to terror — and subsequently of his wife Kausarbi and associate Tulsiram Prajapati in Gujarat, the unfolding of the case has invited charges of political interference. It is for this reason that it has had an unusual trajectory: The Supreme Court mandated an inquiry in 2007, with the investigation to report directly to the court. In 2010, the SC transferred the case to the CBI. In 2012, after the CBI submitted that witnesses were being threatened and the trial could not be held in a free and fair manner, the SC airlifted the case to Mumbai. More recently, controversy broke out over the death in 2014 of the CBI judge hearing the case, B.H. Loya. An investigation by this paper has found no evidence of foul play in that particular incident. It is also true, however, that many unanswered questions persist in the case. That’s why there is a strong public interest to hear the arguments and counter-arguments, averments and submissions of the defence and the prosecution.

The court’s gag order seems to confirm an ominous pattern. A larger climate of censorship appears to have infected the courts as well. Just weeks ago, the Allahabad High Court barred the media from reporting on the 2008 Gorakhpur hate speech case, in which UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is the prime accused, saying that “wrong reporting” has been “causing a lot of embarrassment” to the state. Earlier, in May, the SC barred the media from publishing or reporting the orders passed by controversial Calcutta High Court judge, Justice C.S. Karnan, while sending him to jail for contempt. It would be tragic if the court’s overreaction then, and its excessive deference to an unproven security threat now, should cast a shadow on its reputation as an institution that upholds, not circumscribes, openness and freedoms.

The Vortex: Why we are all to blame for the nightmare of online debate. By Oliver Burkeman

The Vortex: the psychological whirlpool into which I can feel myself getting sucked almost every time I open Twitter, or Facebook, or any of the websites devoted to chronicling the mendacity and stupidity of the world – by which I mainly mean politics – in 2017. This metaphor is slightly self-serving, since it suggests not a failure of self-discipline on my part but an external force so strong I could hardly be expected to resist it. Still, that’s how it feels. Once the waters claim you, you’re no longer really in control.

At the very edge, the Vortex exerts only a gentle pull, which usually manifests for me as the thought that catching up with the news might be a relaxing break from writing or household chores. Or it’s the inner voice arguing that having finally persuaded the baby to take a nap, I deserve the small pleasure of a few moments on social media. It’s rarely relaxing or pleasurable in practice. But by the time I remember that, the current is too strong: I’m already firing off sarcastic one-liners, vigorously favouriting posts from people intelligent enough to share my opinions, or else actively searching for updates from commentators whose views, I know in advance, will render me livid. By this time, my stomach muscles have tightened and my jaw is clenched, which is the point at which some people erupt into sweary tirades or vicious personal feuds. But that’s not really me. Mostly, my ranting continues inwardly, sometimes for hours, so that I can easily find I’ve spent an entire session at the gym, or a trip to the supermarket, mentally prosecuting a devastating argument against some idiotic holder of Bad Opinions who will never have a clue how much I cared.

I realise you don’t need me to tell you that something has gone badly wrong with how we discuss controversial topics online. Fake news is rampant; facts don’t seem to change the minds of those in thrall to falsehood; confirmation bias drives people to seek out only the information that bolsters their views, while dismissing whatever challenges them. (In the final three months of the 2016 presidential election campaign, according to one analysis by Buzzfeed, the top 20 fake stories were shared more online than the top 20 real ones: to a terrifying extent, news is now more fake than not.) Yet, to be honest, I’d always assumed that the problem rested solely on the shoulders of other, stupider, nastier people. If you’re not the kind of person who makes death threats, or uses misogynistic slurs, or thinks Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager ran a child sex ring from a Washington pizzeria – if you’re a basically decent and undeluded sort, in other words – it’s easy to assume you’re doing nothing wrong.

But this, I am reluctantly beginning to understand, is self-flattery. One important feature of being trapped in the Vortex, it turns out, is the way it looks like everyone else is trapped in the Vortex, enslaved by their anger and delusions, obsessed with point-scoring and insult-hurling instead of with establishing the facts – whereas you’re just speaking truth to power. Yet in reality, when it comes to the divisive, depressing, energy-sapping nightmare that is modern online political debate, it’s like the old line about road congestion: you’re not “stuck in traffic”. You are the traffic.

And by “you”, of course, I mean me. (And you too, though. Don’t try to wriggle out of this one.) The most basic characteristic of the Vortex is a fundamental disingenuousness about what it is we’re doing when we visit social media forums to engage in political debate – a disingenuousness no less evident in the output of many professional pundits and columnists. We may tell ourselves we’re there to inform people, or to get informed, or to try to persuade those who disagree with us. Much of the time, though, our real motives emerge from the phenomenon psychologists call “in-group bias”. We want to telegraph our good standing as members of certain groups to other members of those groups: the anti-Trump resistance, say, or people who think Brexit is lunacy, or opponents of homophobia, and so on. We want to feel the warm sense of bonding that arises from endorsing a fellow group member’s opinions, or best of all from having our own opinions endorsed, through “likes” or other positive feedback. If the world is going to hell in a handcart, we at least want to feel we’re travelling in a big group of friends. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we want to make those who don’t belong to our portfolio of in-groups feel bad: to shame them, or just to wind them up. (You can call all this “virtue signaling” if you must – but please be advised that this simply identifies you as a member of the right-leaning tribe whose members like to think of themselves as so hard-headed and rational as to be immune to such things. In other words, it’s virtue signaling.).. read more:

Sioux Leader To Trump: ‘Leave The Office You Bought And Take Your Swamp Things With You’

A Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe leader issued a damning response Wednesday to President Donald Trump’s “Pocahontas” slur earlier this week during an event meant to honor Navajo Code Talkers.
Harold Frazier, chairman of the South Dakota-based tribe, said he was “deeply ashamed” of Trump’s “disgusting” treatment of the World War II veterans and appeared to suggest that the president should resign. “The President of the United States had an opportunity to honor veterans and bridge gaps in the relationship Tribes have with the Federal government,” Frazier said in a statement sent to HuffPost. “Instead, he chose to disgrace himself, his position and the nation he represents.” Frazier continued, “The President of the United States wanted to utilize an opportunity to honor native warriors who defended this land to make a political attack. I have one for him, leave the office you bought and take your swamp things with you.”

For many Native Americans, Trump’s racist remark was a reminder of the trauma they have faced since European colonization began in the 1600s. “We have been forced to learn the way of the American life,” Frazier said. “We have learned American religions, language, economy, politics and society. ... The President’s comments are another reminder that we are not allowed to participate.”
Frazier also pointed out that sexual assault and abuse, much like the violence that the real Pocahontas endured, affect Native American women at staggering rates.

“What happened to Pocahontas is still happening today to our women,” Frazier said. “Native American women continue to be victims of rape and exploitation by white men. The President of the United States is practicing that by exploiting native women as an insult for political machismo.”
Trump hasn’t addressed the outpouring of condemnation he’s received from Native American leaders and U.S. lawmakers since Monday.

Read Frazier’s full statement below: 

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Muslim girl meets Hindu boy. How our forbidden love blossomed in Canada

I met the man of my parents' dreams when I was a 20-year-old sophomore in university. Young and naive, I thought love meant meeting someone who my family would least resist; someone they'd "approve" of and proudly talk about with their relatives back home in Pakistan. My ideal partner would be a Sunni Muslim, in the upper-middle to rich socio-economic class, fair-skinned and from a "respectable" family. Deep down I knew checklist man was not right for me.

I kept this checklist in the back of my mind. It's not something I ever questioned. I just knew deviating from these desirable traits would not sit well with my loved ones. But deep down I knew checklist man was not right for me — no matter how much my family tried to convince me otherwise. He wanted to put the expectations of his parents above everything else and follow the life path they had laid out for him. I, on the other hand, wanted to explore all that life could offer, make my own decisions and see where life would lead. After two years of dating the perfect checklist man, our relationship came to an end.

The epitome of taboo: Drastic differences in mentality and outlook are very often brushed aside in South-Asian cultures to maintain the peace and make sure children get married to the most socially and economically suited spouse. In Canada, I could quietly end a relationship that, from the outside, looked like a match made in heaven. I could go against culturally ingrained expectations and not be punished for it. But my bravery was put to the test when I met and fell in love with Sai. Sai is a Hindu-Indian who, from a Muslim-Pakistani perspective, is the epitome of taboo. Political and religious strifes in both those countries had made us "the other" in each other's cultures.

Historically, Indians and Pakistanis have been one people, but geopolitical differences in the last 70 years have bred hatred and animosity for one another that a major segment of the population continues to uphold. Back in our countries, Sai and I would have legitimately feared for our lives and our safety if our families and communities didn't accept the relationship. Sai is a Hindu-Indian who, from a Muslim-Pakistani perspective, is the epitome of taboo. In India, interfaith marriage is on the rise but far from the acceptable norm. In Pakistan, honour reigns supreme (even in film!) and major life decisions are made just to avoid bringing shame to a family. In both countries, there are still stories of couples like us being shunned or even murdered by their own families for marrying outside the acceptable norms. Some couples have even turned to India's "Love Commandos" in desperate times to ensure their safety. But in Canada, we didn't feel afraid. We didn't need to sneak around. We could love and explore each other freely and openly and not be ashamed for wanting to be with the person with whom we shared a cosmic connection.

To me, it never mattered that Sai wasn't a Muslim, or that he was dark-skinned or wasn't going to be a doctor. What mattered was that he loved me and respected me for who I was, and he respected himself and saw that life was too short to live according to someone else's expectations. We both saw eye-to-eye and were ready to weather the storm that lay ahead. As was to be expected, neither of our families were initially pleased with our union. My parents would belittle Sai at any opportunity they got. We eventually cut contact when things got really bad — an estrangement that lasted over a year.

Sai's parents were also less than welcoming towards me, but because they lived in India and had little control over what Sai did in Canada, their power over him and his decisions were limited.
We had to fight with our families to be with one another and to show them compassion and understanding when all they had for us were sarcastic remarks and empty threats. 

A battle worth fighting: Today, after more than six years, Sai and I have managed to bring our families together and show them that our partner's religion or skin-colour really does not matter. It has been a tough road to walk, but the reward has been worth it. Canada, and the relative freedom it offers immigrant communities, has played a huge role in allowing me to see that I didn't have to be who I was expected to be. This country has given me the space to make my own choices and take control of my life in every way imaginable — particularly in love.

The life I live today would have been unfathomable to my younger self — living, without being married, with a man from a background that goes against everything my family, religion and culture taught me. It has been a tough road to walk, but the reward has been worth it. Some mornings as I kiss Sai while he's leaving for work, I'll be struck with the realization that I am fortunate enough to share my life with the man of my dreams, to have him come home to me and to be able to build a future together with him. I am, in every sense of the word, truly blessed.

Purushottam Agrawal - Absurdity of epic proportions: Are people aware of the content in Jayasi's Padmavat? / Mukul Kesavan - Rajputs redux: Padmini's long afterlife

Malik Muhammad Jayasi sure composed his magnum opus Padmavat, glorifying a Rajput legend of valour, and casting one of the most powerful, competent Muslim kings as the villain of his narrative. Why is there an issue with Padmavati despite Sanjay Leela Bhansali reiterating that his movie is based on Jayasi's work?

Malik Muhammad Jayasi belonged to the Chishtia order of Sufis. His miracle-legends have been part of popular memory. The most stunning miracle he performed -- the Padmawat -- has been around physically for five centuries. Jayasi composed his magnum opus in 1540 in Awadhi, its manuscripts were mostly found written in the Persian script. Taking the legend of Padmini from the oral traditions of Rajputana, Jayasi created a fascinating texture of legend, history and mythology (Hindu as well as Islamic), drawing liberally from his vast knowledge and life experiences. Padmawat was apparently an instant hit in the literary circles of north India, and was also translated into Bengali in the sixteenth century itself. Thus, to Jayasi goes the credit of taking the Padmawati legend to Bengal; wherefrom a number of novels, plays and poems glorifying the Rajputs were to emanate in the nineteenth century.

Ever since Ramchandra Shukla, the most influential historian of Hindi literature, published his edition of Padmawat (1924), its excerpts have inevitably been included in Hindi syllabuses, from schools to post-graduate programmes. Shukla situated the text in a historical context in which after initial conflicts, Hindus and Muslims were coming to terms with each other: "A century ago, Kabir had already castigated bigotry of every kind. One is not sure of the pundits and mullas, but ordinary people had recognised the unity of Ram and Rahim...only those sadhus and fakirs could hope to win popular admiration who seemed beyond discriminating on religious lines... For Hindus and Muslims alike, it was time to open up to each other. People were tending towards sharing rather than distancing. Muslims were willing to listen to the Ram story of the Hindus and Hindus were ready to hear the Dastan of Hamza... and sometimes both tried to explore pathways to God together."

To Shukla, Padmawat was a luminous signpost of this shared search of the pathway to God. He wrote about Padmawat with as great a passion and critical acumen as he did about his most favourite poet - Tulsidas. Taking a cue from the "last stanzas" of the epic, which supposedly "hold the key" to Sufi content "hidden" in the text, he thought it was an allegory of Sufi spiritual practice. But, Mata Prasad Gupta, the great text-critic and scholar of the early modern vernacular literature of north India, in his edition of Padmawat (1963), based on a comparative study of sixteen manuscripts of different periods, comes to the convincing conclusion that the so-called 'key stanzas' were "added to the text much later." He concludes that far from an allegory of any kind, Jayasi was, in fact, composing a richly layered poem of human desire and love.

Capitulation - Dawn editorial on Pakistan today

NB: It is a long, complex and controversial history, but the steady slide towards tyranny was built into the communal politics deployed by the Muslim League in the 1940's. If the establishment of a civic religion (the use of religion by the state) was its goal in a power game; then the slide towards theocracy (the use of the state by the priesthood) was always a possibility. This became evident in the involvement of Muslim clerics in ML politics in the mid and late 1940's. It may provide comfort to some, but it is also pointless, to cite the 'secular' preferences Jinnah evoked in his Constituent Assembly speech, for once the process of communal mobilisation had begun, the way was open for clerics to gain the upper hand - and this began in the anti-Ahmeddiya riots of 1953. 

There is simply no possibility of a stable polity in any part of South Asia if it is sought to be founded upon a single civic religion. (Here's a comment on Bangladesh). The Hindutva gang led by the so-called Sangh Parivar is hell-bent upon instituting their version of state Shinto upon India. This will cause much pain and violence, but it will fail. We may all note that ruling classes and elites in this region are not only quite open to radical extremist politics of the conservative variety, they also constantly pressurise ordinary people to become extreme and fanatical in their views. 

The single uniform element in the politics of utopian extremists is their hatred and fear of ordinary life - they will simply not allow ordinary people to live in peace, according to their own preferences. We will be told what to eat, what to wear, what to believe, whom to love, whom to hate, what to think about the past and the future. Its is the present that they seek to control, and ultimately, to destroy. And the establishment is encouraging this relentless destruction of daily life.  The 'mainstream' is extremist - it is for the rest of us to recognise the fight this nihilist system. DS
It is a surrender so abject that the mind is numb and the heart sinks. The deal negotiated between the state, both civilian and military facets of it, and the Faizabad protesters is a devastating blow to the legitimacy and moral standing of the government and all state institutions. In one brief page and six gut-wrenching points, the state of Pakistan has surrendered its authority to a mob that threatened to engulf the country in flames. The federal law minister has been sacked - in return for a promise by the protesters to not issue a fatwa against him. Whether a decision made out of desperation or fear, the upshot is that the state has accepted that mobs and zealots have a right to issue religious edicts that can endanger lives and upend public order.

The decision to compensate the protesters and use public funds to pay for the damage to property caused by the protesters turns on its head the fundamental responsibility of the state to ensure law and order. The pledge to prosecute whoever has been held responsible by a government inquiry committee for abortive legislative changes is to invite further protests and violence. Something profound changed in the country yesterday and the reverberations will be felt for a long time. How has such catastrophe befallen the nation? Devastating incompetence and craven leadership by three sets of actors appear to be the reason.

The PML-N government helped create the crisis and then managed to exacerbate it at every step. Until the very end, when the government used the veneer of a court order to try and forcibly evict the protesters from Faizabad, there were gargantuan failures of planning and shockingly poor tactics. The political opposition also played a miserable role, fanning a crisis for the most myopic of political reasons and searching for a pyrrhic victory.

Finally, the military leadership appears to have to let rancour towards the government in an ongoing power struggle affect its role in bringing this phase of the crisis to an end. The government has been humiliated and the military leadership has further improved its standing with sections of the public for helping end the protests — but at what cost to the country and its people? A menacing precedent has been set by the protesters that will surely embolden others and invite copycats. It is no exaggeration to suggest that no one is safe.

Zealots had already demonstrated the power of mob violence and the strength of the politics of intolerance and hate. Now, a blueprint has been created for holding state and society hostage. Despair is not an option for a nation state, but neither can there be a pretence that a significant setback has not occurred. Is there anyone, in state or society, to help repair the damage?

To find the extremism behind the Egypt terror attack, start with anti-Sufi preachers. By HA Hellyer

On Friday, more than 300 Muslim worshippers were murdered, and scores more injured, by extremist Islamists in Egypt. There are quite likely a few reasons why this attack took place when it did, including the rejection of radical groups by this northern Sinai town. But one reason is a deeply ideological one, which relates to the Sufi character of the mosque where the massacre took place.

That ideological component goes far beyond this particular attack – and, indeed, beyond one particular group. It is a problem that Muslim communities the world over must all tackle – a virulent strain of extremist thought that ironically rejects orthodoxy, while insisting it is the most orthodox.

In much of the international reportage around this brutal massacre, words such as “Sufi minority” were used, as though Sufism was some kind of marginalised sect or cult, somehow dubiously related to Islam. That is not the mainstream of Islamic thought. Historically, Sufism was regarded by Islamic scholars as being an integral part of the broader religious disciplines, and the practices of Sufis as being part and parcel of religious devotions. Celebrating the birthday of the prophet, for example, which takes place all year round but intensifies during this particular month, might be called a “Sufi practice” – but Muslims have celebrated that irrespective of whether or not they were affiliated to a particular Sufi order.

To describe Sufism as a sect, in that regard, would be akin to describing the different legal rites of Sunni Islam as “sects” – which would be rather peculiar. Of course, this is precisely what the extremists do. Extremists will claim that Sufis are mushrikeen (idolaters) or mubtadi’ (deviant). The irony is that while such extremists insist that they are following the most “pure” version of Islam, they have rejected a fundamental part of what actually constitutes mainstream Islamic thought.

In that regard, such extremists are themselves a sect – not those whom they attack. The tremendous majority of Islamic scholarship is deeply and indelibly influenced by Sufism, and Islam’s most famous figures upheld it as a core part of the faith… read more:

Also see:

Aditya Chakrabortty - The fat cats have got their claws into Britain's universities

Academia’s unfolding tale of greed goes beyond vice-chancellors’ salaries: it’s about how the decisions about their pay are made, and by whom.. Seven out of 10 vice-chancellors are either members of the committees that set their pay, or can sit on them

Scandals aren’t meant to happen in British universities. Parliament, tabloid newsrooms, the City … those we expect to spew out sleaze. Not the gown-wearing, exam-sitting, quiet-in-the-library surrounds of higher education. Yet we should all be scandalised by what is happening in academia. It is a tale of vast greed and of vandalism – and it is being committed right at the top, by the very people who are meant to be custodians of these institutions. If it continues, it will wreck one of the few world-beating industries Britain has left.

Big claims, I know, but easily supportable. Let me start with greed. You may have heard of Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell. As vice-chancellor of Bath University, her salary went up this year by £17,500 – which is to say, she got more in just one pay rise than some of her staff earn in a year. Her annual salary and benefits now total over £468,000, not including an interest-free car loan of £31,000. Then there’s the £20,000 in expenses she claimed last year, with almost £5,000 for the gas bill – and £2 for biscuits. I knew there had to be a reason they call them rich tea. Breakwell is now the lightning rod for Westminster’s fury over vice-chancellor pay. As the best paid in Britain, she’s the vice-chancellor that Tony Blair’s former education minister, Andrew Adonis, tweets angrily about. She’s the focus of a regulator’s report that slams both her and the university. She’s already had to apologise to staff and students for a lack of transparency in the university’s pay processes – and may even be forced out this week.

But she’s not the only one. The sector is peppered with other vice-chancellors on the make. At Bangor University, John Hughes gets £245,000 a year – and lives in a grace-and-favour country house that cost his university almost £750,000, including £700-worth of Laura Ashley cushions. Two years ago, the University of Bolton gave its head, George Holmes, a £960,000 loan to buy a mansion close by. The owner of both a yacht and a Bentley, Holmes enjoys asking such questions as: “Do you want to be successful or a failure?” Yet as the Times Higher Education observed recently, he counts as a failure, having overseen a drop last year in student numbers, even while being awarded an 11.5% pay rise.

Compare these fortunes to that of rank-and-file university teachers, who have seen only a 1% rise in their basic pay in the last year. Or consider that on the sector’s own statistics, most academics are on some form of casual contract, including being paid by the hour for marking and teaching. It is not uncommon in English and Welsh universities for students to pay £9,000 a year to be taught by an academic who isn’t earning that much. Reporting last year, I met one lecturer at a Russell Group university who had until recently worked a total of five jobs a week, including as a binman.

Bring up such examples and the universities will spin you a version of what Rick Trainor, former principal of King’s College London, once said: “If you want the best, you have to pay the best.” What they won’t mention is the finding of the University and College Union that more than seven out of 10 vice-chancellors are either members of the committees that set their pay, or can sit on them – as Bath’s Breakwell did. If this were just about individual greed, we could sling out a few bad apples and carry on. But what’s rotten in universities is the rules observed by the people at the top. And what’s at risk is the reputation of our entire higher education system... read more:

Monday, 27 November 2017

Amnesty seeks criminal inquiry into Shell over alleged complicity in murder and torture in Nigeria

Amnesty International is calling for a criminal investigation into the oil giant Shell regarding allegations it was complicit in human rights abuses carried out by the Nigerian military. A review of thousands of internal company documents and witness statements published on Tuesday points to the Anglo-Dutch organisation’s alleged involvement in the brutal campaign to silence protesters in the oil-producing Ogoniland region in the 1990s.

Amnesty is urging the UK, Nigeria and the Netherlands to consider a criminal case against Shell in light of evidence it claims amounts to “complicity in murder, rape and torture” – allegations Shell strongly denies. While the cache of documents includes material Shell was forced to disclose as part of a civil case brought against the company and many of the allegations are long-standing, the review also examines some evidence which has not been previously reported.

It includes witness statements seen by the Guardian that allege Shell managed a unit of undercover police officers, trained by the Nigerian state security service, to carry out surveillance in Ogoniland after the oil company had publicly announced its withdrawal from the region. 

Shell stopped operations in Ogoniland in early 1993 citing security concerns but “subsequently sought ways to re-enter the region and end the protests by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, Mosop”, claims Amnesty... read more:

Rohan Venkataramakrishnan - New reports tell us more about CBI judge’s death – and bring up fresh questions

A week after Caravan magazine published a report about the allegations made by the family of Central Bureau of Investigation judge Brijgopal Harkishan about the circumstances of his death in 2014, prompting calls from several prominent figues for an inquiry into the matter, further reporting has brought fresh details about the case – and some more questions. An Indian Express report on Monday carried interviews with several witnesses at the scene insisting that there was nothing untoward about Loya’s death. This follows an NDTV report on the case, which also raised questions about some details in Caravan’s story, while leaving many unanswered questions about the affair.

Loya was presiding over a Special CBI court in Mumbai, where the only case he was hearing was the staged encounter by the police of alleged extortionist Sohrabuddin Sheikh, in which Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah was one of the accused. Shah was Gujarat home minister when the fake encounter took place. As hearings proceeded after Loya’s death, Shah was discharged from the case. Loya’s family told the Caravan that the judge had gone to Nagpur for a colleague’s daughter’s wedding on November 30, 2014, where he apparently fell ill suddenly and died of a heart attack.

The family told the Caravan that there were a number of inconsistencies in the story they were told about the judge’s demise as well as other circumstances that gave them cause for suspicion, from the recorded time of death and the condition in which his body was returned to them to the way it was handled. The Caravan article also quoted Loya’s sister alleging that her brother was offered a Rs 100 crore bribe by Mohit Shah, then the chief justice of the Bombay High Court, to deliver a favourable judgment in the case. Since the story has moved forward from the original report, here is a quick rundown of where things stand:

BJP’s Repeated Attempts to Bypass Legislature Are Threatening Parliament’s Authority. BY JAIVEER SHERGILL

When Narendra Modi stepped into the Parliament House for the first time in May 2014, the prime minister-designate knelt and touched his forehead on the main entry gate. “This is the temple of democracy,” he proclaimed. However, owing to the arbitrary functioning of his government, this “temple of democracy” has witnessed a travesty of constitutional propriety on a number of occasions.
The manner in which repeated changes in the Goods and Services Tax (GST) rates are being announced by the finance minister, when an amendment to the GST legislation is yet to be passed by the parliament, is a signal of the erosion of the authority and legitimacy of the parliament. It is a negation of the fundamental principles of our parliamentary system and constitutional provisions.

Ours is a parliamentary system of government based on the Westminster model. The constitution has vested the power over the purse in the hands of chosen representatives of the people, thus sanctifying the principle of ‘no taxation without representation’. The accountability of the government to citizens is implemented through scrutiny of its work by the parliament. Therefore, there was a touch of irony in the government’s announcements on GST bypassing the legislature. After a prolonged opposition to the GST, the BJP realised the benefits of the law only after coming to power. The Congress had prepared a robust framework for a single unified indirect tax structure. However, post its implementation by the BJP, the outcome has been completely different from the conceived taxation model, defying the very purpose the tax reform was conceptualised for the Indian economy. Consequently, many structural flaws remain unaddressed.

Illuminating India: photography 1857–2017

Photography arrived in India in 1839, originally used by the British to document the people, architecture and landscapes of the subcontinent. It also became a medium for Indian people to express their unique experiences of the country. A new Science Museum exhibition, Illuminating India, brings to light previously overlooked Indian photographers who worked in parallel with their foreign counterparts from the 1850s onwards.. see photo gallery:

Do we really want Mark Zuckerberg to run the world? By John Harris

The question is almost a year old, and not currently being asked in quite the feverish way it was over the summer. But let’s try it again: could Mark Zuckerberg run for US president? The founder, chairman and CEO of Facebook began 2017 by announcing his latest “challenge”: a pledge to visit the 30 US states he had never spent time in before, which has now been achieved. Along the way, he has made a point of meeting Trump voters, sampling the mood in post-industrial backwaters, and seeing at first hand evidence of his country’s opioid crisis. He now talks about the importance of community, and the need for his generation to find a collective sense of purpose, rather suggesting the leading actor in a school play about Bobby Kennedy.

Some of you have asked if this challenge means I’m running for public office,” he wrote back in May. The previous month, he had dinner with a Trump-supporting family in Newton Falls, Ohio, who didn’t seem to mind that he brought his own food and a retinue of aides, and were reportedly told: “If there are any news reporters that call you, just make sure you tell them I’m not running for president.” There again, we also know that close associates have spoken to him about “the gov’t service thing” and how his embrace of it might play with Facebook’s shareholders; that his charity has hired a handful of Washington insiders, including David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign manager; and that he has taken the strange step of publicly renouncing his atheism.

For the time being, though, Zuckerberg’s possible political ambitions are not really the issue. Far more important is what we know already: that his power is titanic, and Facebook is shaping millions of people’s understanding of who they are and their place in the world, often in grim ways. To be more specific, Facebook’s promotion of “fake news” remains a huge issue. The story of its manipulation by geopolitical forces – Russia, chiefly – that see it as an effective means of shaping the world has only started to be exposed. Facebook’s weakening of the traditional fourth estate continues apace, with profound consequences for how power is held to account, not least in Facebook’s own case.

Meanwhile, nothing appears to have shaken Zuckerberg and his close associates’ dream of a communication platform that will collect such a huge volume of personal information that it will become a kind of ever-expanding global brain – and, as an added bonus, the only reliable means of marketing things to people... read more:

China: campaign to evict Beijing's migrant workers

More than a hundred Chinese intellectuals and scholars have decried a “ruthless” campaign to evict thousands of migrant workers from Beijing. The latest round of evictions began in the wake of a fire on 18 November that killed 19 people in an industrial neighbourhood in south Beijing, and 17 of the victims were migrants. City officials have declared a 40-day campaign against “illegal structures”, which for years have housed the millions of migrant workers who run Beijing’s restaurants, delivery companies, construction sites, retail shops and a host of small factories.

The open letter, which was addressed to the country’s leadership and circulated on Chinese social media, called the evictions “a serious trampling of human rights”. Signatories included professors, researchers, poets and artists and more names continued to be added. It criticised the lack of due process and rapid speed at which the campaign was being implemented. Videos and photos posted on social media showed streets clogged with clothes and other belongings after migrants were given just minutes to pack up. Many who had lived in the Chinese capital for years were only allowed to take what they could carry before police sealed entire buildings. Authorities reportedly cut water and electrical service in some cases.

“Any civilised and law abiding society cannot tolerate this, we must clearly condemn and oppose these actions,” the letter said. The haphazard nature of the mass evictions make it difficult to determine exactly how many people have been displaced. Migrants are being forced from their homes at the start of Beijing’s winter and temperature have hovered around freezing for the past week.

China operated a national “household registration” system designed to control internal movement, meaning migrant workers lack many of the rights compared to native Beijingers. The system has been widely criticised for years and officials have pledged reform but have made little progress. Beijing officials have targeted a 15% cut in population of the downtown districts from 2014 levels within the next two years. That amounts to a reduction of about two million people, and authorities have also plan to demolish 40m square metres of illegal housing.

 “It’s somewhat astounding that the large numbers of migrant workers could be evicted so quickly, but this is in part because the Chinese authorities have systematically eroded all the ways people can protect their rights,” said William Nee, a researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong. “And, of course, China maintains the world’s largest censorship apparatus, so that it’s hard to meaningfully debate issues of injustice.” But Beijing officials denied they were targeting migrant workers at all, and said it was focused on safety. “It is irresponsible and groundless to say the campaign is to evict the ‘low-end population’,” an official from the Beijing Administration of Work Safety told local media.

Pentagon Papers and time when media was trusted

It has been described as a Hollywood all-star team’s riposte to Donald Trump. Steven Spielberg’s new film, The Post, headlined by Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, dramatises the Washington Post’s publication of the classified Pentagon Papers, which exposed government lies about the Vietnam war.
But while there are well chronicled parallels between the administrations and obsessions of Trump and Richard Nixon, the movie is also provoking debate about the role of media as watchdog – and whether a similar leak today would survive partisan attempts to discredit the messenger.

Spielberg consulted Daniel Ellsberg, the Rand Corporation strategic analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers – a top-secret 7,000-page document detailing US strategy in south-east Asia from 1945 to 1967 – to New York Times journalist Neil Sheehan in 1971. It was a bombshell that revealed the White House knew it was fighting an unwinnable war.

After the Nixon administration won a court injunction that stopped the presses, Ellsberg gave a copy of the documents to the Post and 17 other newspapers. The Times and Post fought the order for 15 days until the supreme court overturned the ban in a 6-3 decision. Justice William Douglas wrote: “The dominant purpose of the first amendment was to prohibit the widespread practice of governmental suppression of embarrassing information.”

But the justice department still pursued a vendetta against Ellsberg. He went on trial in 1973 on charges of espionage, conspiracy and stealing government property. The charges were dismissed due to gross governmental misconduct and illegal evidence gathering against him. The Pentagon Papers were declassified in 2011 and released for the public. Now 86 and widely regarded as the patron saint of whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, Ellsberg had temporarily lost his voice due to illness this week. He corresponded with the Guardian via email from his home in Kensington, California… read more:

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Eugene McCarraher - The People’s Republic of Heaven

The People’s Republic of Heaven: 
From the Protestant Reformation to the Russian Revolution, 1517–1917 
By Eugene McCarraher

This year marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution of October 1917. Toppling the provisional government that had overthrown the Romanov dynasty in February, Lenin and the Bolsheviks did more than deal a coup de grâce to the old regime; they sparked a wave of revolutionary upheaval that eventually washed over almost every continent. (The Cold War, usually dated from 1945, arguably began with the seizure of the Winter Palace.) The fear of revolution among bourgeois elites in the North Atlantic world induced them either to support fascist movements or to compromise with the working classes. 

The fascist alternative culminated in tyranny, genocide, and global warfare; the compromise enabled the “golden age of capitalism,” when high wages and widespread access to disposable income - ensured by labor unions and welfare states -fueled rates of economic growth and underwrote a level of social equality never before (and not since) seen in the Western democracies. In the Soviet Union itself, “really existing socialism” ended a feckless and brutal monarchy; provided education, medical care, and other public services; and (despite the images of queues served up for propaganda in the capitalist nations) raised the standard of living for ordinary people through rapid industrialization - all at the price of a ferocious oligarchy and its apparatus of murder and repression. The “Soviet experiment” would seem to have been either the tragic miscarriage of a passion for justice or a barbarous attempt to bring heaven to earth that proves the folly of utopian ambition.

Because the Russian Revolution and its consequences are still relatively fresh in historical memory, its centenary can easily overshadow the anniversary of another, perhaps even more consequential upheaval: the quincentennial of the Protestant Reformation, which commenced in October 1517. When Martin Luther posted the Ninety-Five Theses on a church door in Wittenberg, “out of love for the truth and desire to elucidate it,” he set off a chain of events that ultimately demolished the unity of medieval Christendom. Luther and his fellow reformers triggered a radiating tremor that would shake not only the Roman Catholic Church but all subsequent Protestant denominations, as the “priesthood of all believers” sanctioned the centrifugal energy of Protestantism. (The protest in Protestant hides in plain sight.) 

If the most hallowed doctrines and even the Bible itself could now be arraigned before the bar of individual judgment, then Christianity could be endlessly transformed and perhaps even ultimately repudiated. While the Russian Revolution launched what E.J. Hobsbawm once dubbed “the short twentieth century,” the Protestant Reformation incited five centuries of turbulence: religious liberty, liberal democracy, capitalist economics, and the “disenchantment of the world” supposedly wrought by the erosion of belief in magic, sacrament, and the occult.

Were the Reformation and the Revolution connected, despite the chasm of 400 years? The British-Pakistani writer and activist Tariq Ali sees a parallel, opening his new book on Lenin by citing Luther’s intransigent (and probably apocryphal) declaration to the Diet of Worms in 1521: “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Shortly after the Bolshevik victory, the young German philosopher Ernst Bloch suggested an even longer historical lineage for Lenin. In The Spirit of Utopia (1920), Bloch sketched a genealogy of revolution that included the Jewish prophets, St. John of the Apocalypse, medieval heretics and millenarians such as Joachim of Fiore, and radical Protestants such as Thomas Müntzer and John of Leyden (John Bockelson). Speaking the language of theology, this pre-Marxist vanguard had imagined the kingdom of God as a communist paradise.

Bloch linked the Protestant and Soviet moments even more pointedly in Thomas Müntzer as Theologian of the Revolution (1921), whose protagonist envisioned “a pure community of love, without judicial and state institutions” - in marked contrast to the conservative and submissive Luther, who by supporting the German nobles’ suppression of the peasants’ rebellion of 1524–25 had consecrated the “hard and impious materiality of the State.” If Müntzer’s political theology was mired in mythopoeic conceptions of time, Lenin’s scientific appraisal of history ensured the fulfilment of Christian hope. The Soviet state heralded “the time that is to come,” Bloch declared with eschatological flourish. “It is impossible for the time of the Kingdom not to come now,” he concluded; hope “will not be disappointed in any way.” (“Where Lenin is, there is Jerusalem,” Bloch would later write in The Principle of Hope.)

But hope was disappointed, paradise was postponed, and in 1991 the “pure community of love” was exiled to a neoliberal gulag of dreams. With the revolutionary jitters of the ruling class relieved, capital unilaterally abrogated its burdensome and disingenuous truce with labor, and Margaret Thatcher’s “There is no alternative” became the ukase of plutocrats and incremental reformers. Real wages flatlined, growth rates decelerated, and the welfare states deteriorated. The golden age passed into a fiber-optic era of high-tech toil, gig work, and working-class demoralization... read more:

Why I’ve Had Enough of George Orwell. By BEN JUDAH

Why is it always Orwell o’clock? Why is everything mildly unpleasant about government instantly Orwellian? Why is every banal propaganda effort obviously 1984 sprung to life? Why is it all as crushingly predictable as the Orwell Prize, the outstandingly foreseeable new Churchill And Orwell double biography, and now a new life-size bronze Orwell statue outside the BBC?

There is a simplicity and a clarity to Orwell’s prose. It flows nicely. But  there is also nothing special about it other than the fact it has been canonised as the ultimate in English authorial excellence.
This is still very much a surprise to me, because there is just so much wrong with it. Are the violent caricatures of Jews in Down And Out In Paris And London really defending the downtrodden in 1933? Are the rantings (against amongst others, vegetarians) in The Road To Wigan Pier even coherent? Were the baying hysterical yellow people forcing a European into Shooting An Elephant really an appropriate metaphor for colonialism in 1936? Is Julia, the paper-thin vamp in 1984,really a character at all?  

Stranger, too, is the idea that George Orwell was a master of prophecy. And this is not merely a matter of a few false calls. Orwell was a man wholly addicted to tub-thumping socialist augury. The gentleman non-pseudonymously known as Eric Blair categorically announced in 1937 that “the upper-middle class is clearly finished.” He predicted in 1941 alone that: the British Empire would be converted into “a socialist federation of states”; the London Stock Exchange would imminently be “torn down”; Britain’s country homes would be transformed into socialist “children’s camps”; and Eton and Harrow faced immediate post-war closure. He was making claims that were childish even for his time. This addiction to announcing the future is why even his oft-quoted and more often imitated 1941 essay England, Your England reads much more like a strange sermon from his own parallel universe belonging to British socialist totalitarians than anything genuinely reflective.   

But none of Orwell’s silly predictions would really irritate if  the canonisation of 1984 was not a net negative for our political debate. This is not to say the novel is not a decent evocation of Stalinism—it is. It’s just that its lodging itself as the English language’s only universally-read dystopia hampers awareness of what really threatens democracy today. It strikes me as rather glib to say that 1984 is relevant because Orwell was worried about surveillance and “newspeak” words losing their meaning. Orwell’s actual warnings—about homogenization, the destruction of information, a world without wealth and only unlimited powers of the state—are now miles away. If anything, the threats to democracy are the opposite of “Orwellian.”

This is the problem of bringing everything, always, back to Orwell. He has nothing to say about social fragmentation, financialisation, ethnic splintering, unaccountable corporations, offshore kleptocrats, or echo chambers, to name but a few. Instead, he leaves too many political minds forever chasing, Quixote-like, the totalitarian windmill of untrammeled state power. They ignore the real anemic state before their eyes, which struggles to keep up with corporate algorithms, is unable to fulfil its promises, or tax the super-rich.       

Orwell was no visionary when it comes to economics, either. Recall his Floating Fortresses in 1984, explicitly designed to eat up the surplus production of a population. His inability to meaningfully reflect on the dynamics of capitalism (beyond moralising condemnation), let alone imagine a consumer society, is a fascinating wooly mammoth frozen in ice from the postwar era. It is a reminder of how utterly written-off by European intellectuals the market economy was immediately after the war - and what a shock the 1950s consumerist takeoff in living standards proved to be.

Most of the Orwell cult only irritates, but one thing legitimately grates: the idea of Eric Blair as a monument to British decency... read more:

Roger Scruton: The great swindle - fake ideas and fake emotions have elbowed out truth and beauty

Whatever you think of Foucault and Rorty, there is no doubt that they were intelligent writers and genuine scholars with a distinctive vision of reality. They opened the way to fakes but were not fakes themselves. Matters are quite otherwise with many of their contemporaries.... 

In Foucault’s view, all discourse gains acceptance by expressing, fortifying and concealing the power of those who maintain it; and those who, from time to time, perceive this fact are invariably im-prisoned as criminals or locked away as mad - a fate that Foucault himself unaccountably avoided... 

Foucault’s approach reduces culture to a power-game, and scholarship to a kind of refereeing in the endless ‘struggle’ between oppressed and oppressing groups. The shift of emphasis from the content of an utterance to the power that speaks through it leads to a new kind of scholarship, which by-passes entirely questions of truth and rationality, and can even reject those questions as themselves ideological. The fake intellectual invites you to conspire in his own self-deception, to join in creating a fantasy world. He is the teacher of genius, you the brilliant pupil. Faking is a social activity in which people act together to draw a veil over unwanted realities and encourage each other in the exercise of their illusory powers... NB: I call this behaviour a retreat into language. It is very prevalent these days, especially amongst leftists of the pomo-sapien variety. The homo-jansanghus and his Islamist counter-parts cannot retreat into language, for they have long replaced human speech with shouting. Added to which they can resort to state-supported hooliganism. DS

A high culture is the self-consciousness of a society. It contains the works of art, literature, scholarship and philosophy that establish a shared frame of reference among educated people. High culture is a precarious achievement, and endures only if it is underpinned by a sense of tradition, and by a broad endorsement of the surrounding social norms. When those things evaporate, as inevitably happens, high culture is superseded by a culture of fakes.

Faking depends on a measure of complicity between the perpetrator and the victim, who together conspire to believe what they don’t believe and to feel what they are incapable of feeling. There are fake beliefs, fake opinions, fake kinds of expertise. There is also fake emotion, which comes about when people debase the forms and the language in which true feeling can take root, so that they are no longer fully aware of the difference between the true and the false. Kitsch is one very important example of this. The kitsch work of art is not a response to the real world, but a fabrication designed to replace it. Yet both producer and consumer conspire to persuade each other that what they feel in and through the kitsch work of art is something deep, important and real.

Anyone can lie. One need only have the requisite intention — in other words, to say something with the intention to deceive. Faking, by contrast, is an achievement. To fake things you have to take people in, yourself included. In an important sense, therefore, faking is not something that can be intended, even though it comes about through intentional actions. The liar can pretend to be shocked when his lies are exposed, but his pretence is merely a continuation of his lying strategy. The fake really is shocked when he is exposed, since he had created around himself a community of trust, of which he himself was a member. Understanding this phenomenon is, it seems to me, integral to understanding how a high culture works, and how it can become corrupted.

We are interested in high culture because we are interested in the life of the mind, and we entrust the life of the mind to institutions because it is a social benefit. Even if only a few people are capable of living this life to the full, we all benefit from its results, in the form of knowledge, technology, legal and political understanding, and the works of art, literature and music that evoke the human condition and also reconcile us to it. Aristotle went further, identifying contemplation (theoria) as the highest goal of mankind, and leisure (schole) as the means to it. Only in contemplation, he suggested, are our rational needs and desires properly fulfilled. Kantians might prefer to say that in the life of the mind we reach through the world of means to the kingdom of ends. We leave behind the routines of instrumental reasoning and enter a world in which ideas, artefacts and expressions exist for their own sake, as objects of intrinsic value. We are then granted the true homecoming of the spirit. Such seems to be implied by Friedrich Schiller, in his Letters Upon the Aesthetic Education of Man (1794). Similar views underlie the German romantic view of Bildung: self-cultivation as the goal of education and the foundation of the university curriculum.

The life of the mind has its intrinsic methods and rewards. It is concerned with the true, the beautiful and the good, which between them define the scope of reasoning and the goals of serious enquiry. But each of those goals can be faked, and one of the most interesting developments in our educational and cultural institutions over the past half century is the extent to which fake culture and fake scholarship have driven out the true varieties. It is important to ask why.

The most important way of clearing intellectual space for fake scholarship and culture is to marginalise the concept of truth.. read more:

see also

Articles on ideology in East Europe

Pakistan: The flames of bigotry. By Zahid Hussain

IT all started with just few hundred zealots blocking Islamabad’s main highway. Now into its third week and with thousands more joining in, the blockade has virtually brought the administration to its knees. Pampering and pleading have failed to move the defiant clerics; even the court order to end the siege has fallen on deaf ears. The paralysis of the state has given the fanatics a greater sense of empowerment.

What is more troubling is that the flames of bigotry are sweeping across other parts of the country creating a dangerous confluence of religion and politics. The controversy over the missing oath that has apparently been exploited by the newly formed Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) to whip up religious sentiments has turned into more of a political issue bringing the beleaguered government under severe pressure. It is the fear of a blowback that seems to have limited the option of using force. The repeated extension of deadlines and seeking the help of religious leaders to end the stand-off demonstrate the helplessness of the administration in a midst of a political crisis. The political fallout of the 2007 Lal Masjid military operation and the 2014 Model Town police action keeps haunting the embattled government.
But giving in to the irrational demands of a political-religious group would further weaken the authority of the government and the state. The administration has failed to learn from the consequences of the policy of appeasement and the delayed action against the Lal Masjid militants. Undoubtedly, there would have been no need for such massive use of force had the then military-led government acted a year earlier when the vigilante squads organised by Lal Masjid clerics went on the rampage. The police could have easily tackled the matter then without much bloodshed.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Shyam Benegal on the Padmavati controversy: Are threats to be made without rebuke? Will the government remain a mute spectator?

As the storm over Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s upcoming historical film Padmavati refuses to blow over, award-winning director and former MP Shyam Benegal talks about how he dealt with fact and fiction in his films and iconic TV series, Bharat Ek Khoj, based on Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India. He also heads the committee appointed by the Centre to frame new guidelines for Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC). Excerpts from the interview:

With Padmavati, there have been problems raised by certain people. What are your thoughts on these objections made by those outside the CBFC?
No one appears to have seen the film, other than the filmmakers. No one really knows what it contains. The Shri Rajput Karni Sena must clarify, as it claims to know what it contains.

Biographies run into trouble with families, but this is the portrayal of a mythical character. Does this make it a problem of another order?
As far as Rani Padmini or Padmavati is concerned, her existence is vivid in popular imagination due to Padmavat, the long heroic ballad written by Mallik Mohammad Jaisi, a Sufi poet, in and around 1540. In Bharat Ek Khoj, a series on Indian history that I made for Doordarshan in early 1980s, I had picturised an episode based on Padmavat. There is a scene in it where Alauddin Khilji, who laid siege to Chittor Fort, is standing below the ramparts and looking at a pavilion above where a group of women are singing and dancing the ghoomar. Rani Padmavati is seen watching the women. On another pavilion, above the pavilion of the dancing women, Raja Ratan Sen looks at the same scene. They are on three different levels.

The narrative of Jaisi’s ballad is rich with emotion and pathos. I can only speculate on reasons behind the Karni Sena’s agitation. I get the impression that the Padmavati story is being used to create and consolidate a political block of the Rajput community.

How must literary characters or historical characters be handled by filmmakers?
Whenever any film relates to any contentious historical or mythological incidents or events, it is always prudent to refer to its source. If it is drawn from a fictional ballad, like Jaisi’s work, then that should be made clear too — whether it’s a traditional rendition, a mythic retelling; or a historical recreation. Mentioning the source is essential, since the story is not a purely imaginary work of the filmmaker. For instance, the Shiv Sena had problems with how I presented Shivaji in Bharat Ek Khoj. I made it clear that it was derived from the historian Jadunath Sarkar’s authoritative work, Life of Shivaji. This prevented all unnecessary controversies.

To what extent did you follow Discovery of India, and to what extent did you go beyond the text?
I was aware of one very important fact: Nehru had written this when he was incarcerated in Ahmednagar jail for three years or more. He did not have his source material at hand — no libraries to refer to. He did correspond with historian EP Thompson when in doubt. His rendition had a strong nationalist bias. I had Nehru narrate the commentary in his own voice (Roshan Seth played the role). I also made sure that the views of recognised contemporary Indian historians — across the three main periods: ancient, medieval and modern India — were given expression as well. The subjective voice was that of Nehru, while the objective voice was that of the professional historians.

In 2017, how would you define creative licence in India? Now you cannot cast real life stars who are Pakistani and also not talk about mythical characters.
This happens from time to time. It is like a pendulum, which has swung to the majoritarian view at present. Media, newspapers and TV have all gone that way. It has swung the other way as well, in the past. As far as casting actors from Pakistan is concerned, it is not that we have never been able to do so. We have often had actors from there. Currently, the prevalent situation between the two countries does not allow it. As filmmakers and people in the creative field, we have to be aware of the political vagaries of the time. This does not mean we should not do what we must, but always be aware that there can, at times, be a backlash.

But what is the role of the state when people start issuing threats?
Threats have reached alarming levels at present. We have seen individuals offering bounties of Rs 5 crore and more for killing or mutilating actors and the director of Padmavati. These threats have been issued publicly on TV and other mass media. Such threats are unheard of in a democracy. Are threats of mutilation and death allowed to be made without rebuke. Will the government remain a mute spectator? This is a shocking state of affairs. The government has an obligation. They must give protection to anyone who is threatened in this manner. Also, it is the job of the government to stop threats of this nature being made. I am surprised that the government has taken no action or even made any offer to protect those who are being threatened. Instead, we have people from the ruling party endorsing the threats.

Is fictionalising history per se, a bad idea?
Not a bad idea at all. History offers wonderful subject matter for fictional rendition — adventure, romance, melodrama, tragedy, etc. Also, characters from history are larger than life, which makes them very attractive.

Is this a new phase of mob rule that filmmakers and playwrights in India are experiencing?
Mobs may be unthinking but the leaders who manipulate them are not. They have a definite agenda.

Freedom of expression has always been a limited idea for a variety of factors in India. But is the right to get insulted getting overwhelmingly exercised now?
Freedom of expression as an idea has never been absolute in any society. The limit to my freedom of expression is when it starts to impinge on someone else’s freedom of expression. How far it can go is a matter of debate in a democratic society. Dictatorships can and do ride roughshod in such matters.

The International Film Festival in Goa saw two films picked by the jury, Nude and S Durga, dropped. Does this concern you?
I am very concerned. There are certain rules and conventions about film festivals internationally. The decisions of the jury must be respected. Governments cannot tamper with those decisions. If they wish to do so, they must scrap the jury and make their own selection. Why pretend to have a jury? Films that are entered in festivals are meant to be uncensored and as pristine as possible. A film festival is meant to celebrate the art of cinema.

Is there any news on the report of the committee on new guidelines for CBFC that you headed?
The ball is in the government’s court now. We have submitted the set of recommendations, which we think would respect the integrity of films as a creative expression and make certification smoother and better. There were two parts to the recommendations: the first part was given in April and the second in September.