Fundamental issues: Burqa dutt, Selective appliance of Freedom of expression

24 11 2007

As ironies go, it probably doesn’t get any better than this. A panic-stricken Marxist government bundling up a feminist Muslim writer in the swathes of a protective black burqa and parceling her off to a state ruled by the BJP — a party that the Left would otherwise have you believe is full of religious bigots.

The veil on her head must have caused Taslima Nasreen almost as much discomfort as the goons hunting her down. She once famously took on the ‘freedom of choice’ school of India’s Muslim intelligentsia by writing that “covering a woman’s head means covering her brain and ensuring that it doesn’t work”. She’s always argued that whether or not Islam sanctifies the purdah is not the point. A shroud designed to throttle a woman’s sexuality, she says, must be stripped off irrespective. In a signed piece in the Outlook called ‘Let’s Burn the Burqa’, Nasreen took on liberal activists like Shabana Azmi (who has enraged enough mad mullahs herself to know exactly what it feels like) for playing too safe on the veil.

So, does that make some of you feel that she’s only got what she asked for?Or do we need to shamefully concede that the public discourse on creative freedom and individual liberties has got horribly entangled in a twisted version of secularism and political hypocrisy?

Nasreen may well be an attention-seeker who is compulsively provocative and over-simplistic in her formulations on Islam and women. Her literary worthiness could be a matter of legitimate dispute and her eagerness to reveal her personal sexual history a complete turn-off. Many of her critics condemn the Bangladeshi writer for her propensity to ‘seek trouble’ in a country that has been generous enough to offer her asylum.

But when confronted with India’s larger claim to being a democratic, free society, none of that is really the point. All great art is historically rooted in irreverence and disbelief. And all open societies must permit absolute freedom to individuals — artistes or not — to question and reject inherited wisdom. Nasreen has been reduced to living the life of a fugitive on the run all because some fringe Muslim group decided to mix up the carnage in Nandigram with literary censorship and because the CPI(M) government was too nervous to question the bizarre juxtaposition of the protestors.

The Taslima Nasreen controversy is not as important for what it says about her as it is for what it says about us — as a country and as a people.

We may want to brand Nasreen as an ‘outsider’ who is not worth the turmoil she causes. But we aren’t qualitatively different when it comes to our own people either. Much the same arguments and adjectives (publicity-hungry, insensitive, arrogant, childishly provocative, etc.) were used to justify the forced exile of India’s most celebrated painter, M.F. Husain. India’s elite may trip over itself to own one of his frames, an aspiring middle-class may invest in him like they once did in gold and starlets may twitter incoherently at the possibility of being immortalised on the great man’s easel. But it hasn’t moved any of us into campaigning for a 92-year-old man pushed out of his own country.

Joking with me recently, Husain said he was living the life of a global jetsetter — dividing his time between London and Dubai. Then, suddenly, the quivering voice dropped to a faint whisper, as he said, “I don’t think I can come back home till the BJP is willing to change its mind.”

And so, these are the befuddling contradictions of India’s political establishment.

The BJP is upset at the writer being tossed around from state to state like a “football” and wants India to grant Nasreen a permanent visa and political asylum. In other words, it’s quite happy for Islam to be brought under the microscope of literary scepticism. But if Husain wants to interpret Hindu goddesses in his characteristically iconoclastic style, that’s not just unacceptable. It’s reason enough to send him to jail.

The Congress, with quintessential timidity, wants to offend no one. So, it’s worked out a piecemeal arrangement wherein every few months, it nervously tiptoes around the issue and extends Nasreen’s visa, hoping that no one will really notice. Its state unit in West Bengal has called Nasreen’s autobiography a “piece of pornography” and supported the West Bengal government’s decision to ban it.

If the BJP is comfortable in politically exploiting radical Islam to its advantage, the Congress is careful to not offend its practitioners for exactly the same motivated reasons. If you remember, the Prime Minister made it a point to take an official position against the Danish cartoonist who allegedly disrespected the Prophet. And it’s a matter of some irony that it’s under this government’s Home Ministry that Husain was slapped with court notices.

And finally, the ‘progressive’ Marxists not just banned Nasreen’s book (this in a state where the Chief Minister sees himself as a poet and literary philosopher), their party leader declared without any embarrassment that if Nasreen was going to be “so much trouble” she should just pack her bags and leave. The Left has treated the protests by the Muslim Right as worthy of response, but shown only reflexive contempt for the same sort of complaints from the Hindu Right.

So, what about the rest of us?

Have we been less hypocritical than our political leaders? Or have our positions, too, been coloured by prejudice?

Do we show the same anger for the ‘liberal’ politicians who push a writer out of her home as we do for the goons who vandalised the fine arts faculty in a university in Gujarat? Does a twisted notion of secularism make us respond to censorship differently when it applies to the Hindu majority? We are quick to condemn the lunatics who wield trishuls and wear saffron. But isn’t it time that the skull-capped and long-bearded version of fanaticism and hooliganism receives our contempt in exactly the same measure?

Creative freedom cannot be applied selectively. Otherwise, our self-image of being an open and proud democracy will need another look in the mirror.

Barkha Dutt is Managing Editor, NDTV 24X7

H H Sri Sri Ravishankar Heals the wounds of Nandigram

22 11 2007

Ravishankar, who reached the troubled area in the morning, went to a camp at the Brajamohan Tiwari Sikhsayatan near Nandigram market and gave sarees, fruits and dry food to nearly 1,200 inmates.

“I would like to bring the warring groups across the table and work out a solution,” the Art of Living founder said. Noting that identification with ideology has taken precedence over human values in Nandigram, he said the need of the hour was to reorient the embattled groups towards loyalty to human values.

Spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has offered to mediate for peace in Nandigram, saying he will soon seek an appointment with West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to work out a solution.
“I would like to bring the warring groups across the table and work out a solution,” the Art of Living founder told reporters here after a day-long visit to the troubled Nandigram area.
Asked whether he would seek an appointment with Bhattacharjee, he said, “Yes, of course. I would love to meet him. But I would not go with any proposal of my own. I would ask him in what way he wants help from me to bring peace there.”

Renowned spiritual and humanitarian leader His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has condemned the ongoing clashes in Nandigram in West Bengal. In a statement from Bangalore, Sri Sri said, “The continuing violent actions against innocent people of Nandigram are highly deplorable. More so as they came even on the day of Diwali.”
Regretting the loss of life and suffering of innocent people, Sri Sri urged the government to offer suitable compensations to the victims. He expressed his heart-felt sympathy to the traumatised people of Nandigram, who have not only become targets of violence, but also being brutally uprooted from their own land.

Ravi Shankar, however, expressed doubt whether the government of a Left-ruled state would take help from a spiritual personality like him.
“I have been given the highest civilian award of Communist Russia. But here, people like us are treated as untouchables,” Ravi Shankar, who has a growing following among the higher echelons of society especially among the corporate brass, said.
Noting that identification with ideology has taken precedence over human values in Nandigram, Ravi Shankar said the need of the hour was to reorient the embattled groups towards loyalty to human values.
“We have seen a number of empty villages. Some are inhabited by only women and children. The women we spoke to were afraid even to tell their names. The government must remove the fear psychosis,” he said.
Noting that his visit to Nandigram was the response of a human being to suffering fellow men, Ravi Shankar said inmates of the relief camps that he had spoken to wanted to return home.
“The immediate task is to instill confidence among the people. The political parties cannot do it. It has to be done by only apolitical people and NGOs,” he said.
Followers of Ravi Shankar are running 50 schools in Sonachura, Mahestala and Tamluk. “We have doctors visiting there from time to time. Our volunteers are also helping rebuild damaged homes. Our teachers are also talking to the families to bring them out of their psychological trauma.”
In reply to a question, Ravi Shankar said volunteers were beaten up in the area around March and April this year. “Since then, there has not been any attack on our men. I spoke to a large number of children. They said that all schools in the area, apart from those run by us, are closed.” “They told me they were afraid of being beaten up the moment I left. I have not seen such physical and psychological subjugation even in Iraq,” the guru, who was reported to be mediating between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE for a lasting solution to the Tamil problem, said

OXYMORONS and the expressions that they use

22 11 2007

The intellectual leftist and Freedom of expression and the Common man and the Right to information well they sounded synonymous (atleast to us the common man on the street) not any more.

Left against Nandigram issue to be raised in Parliament (This is from NDTV)
Press Trust of India
Thursday, November 15, 2007 (New Delhi)
As opposition BJP plans to disrupt Parliament proceedings on the Nandigram issue, the Left parties today decided not to allow it to be raised saying it was a ”state subject”.After a meeting of four Left parties, the leaders maintained that the Nandigram issue was a ”state law and order subject”.They said it could not be discussed in Parliament as rules did not permit such matters to be raised.”Parliament functions according to rules. Whatever the rules permit, can be discussed. Nandigram can be discussed in the West Bengal Assembly but not in Parliament,” CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta told a joint press conference with other Left leaders including his party colleague D Raja and CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury, Basudeb Acharia and Rupchand Pal.

And then there is the cracks in the left front dont you see them if not here is what the newspapers say…..

Nandigram: RSP tries to form intellectual forum, poet says no
Express News Service

KOLKATA, NOVEMBER 18: The RSP, a partner in the Left Front Government, is apparently trying to build a separate forum of Left intellectuals.
On Sunday, RSP minister Kshiti Goswami, who has been boycotting his office at Writers’ Building for the entire month, met poet Shankha Ghosh along with party colleagues Manoj Bhattacharya and Shubhranshu Bandopadhyay. Last week, the poet, who left his post as vice-chairman of state-run Bangla Academy in protest against the March 14 police firing, had joined the rally of intellectuals critical of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s policies on Nandigram.
“They are all basically Leftists, but the CPI(M) has antagonised them on the Nandigram issue. This has served a body blow to the Left movement. Our aim is to salvage some of the damage. We told Shankha that he should take an initiative to form a new forum of Left intellectuals because the situation demands it,” Goswami told The Indian Express.

Media says CPM fails to understand Muslims: Well well

22 11 2007

Yes you heard it right understand and understand and CPM thats wonderful well do we call it oxymoron or somethingelse.

CPM fails to understand Bengal, Muslims (IBNLIVE.COM)

A city infamous for bandhs and strikes, Kolkata suffered another jolt to its reputation. But has Bengal’s image taken a beating because of the protests in Kolkata? And do the protests in Kolkata reflect Muslim anger against the CPM?
CNN-IBN’s Senior Editor Sagarika Ghose asked this on Face The Nation to a panel comprising Kolkata Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya, Shahanshah Jehangir, president of the Indian Union Muslim League in West Bengal, filmmaker Goutam Ghose and senior journalist Swapan Dasgupta.
The CPM-led Left Front government first bungled in Nandigram, then it botched up the investigation into graphics designer Rizwanur Rehman’s murder and on Wednesday it failed to foresee the violence in Kolkata.
Why has the Left Front government failed to read the people’s mood so many times?
Mayor Bhattacharyya denied that the government has lost touch with the people and blamed Opposition parties for the violence.

READ ON this interesting story from CNN IBN

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