Category Archives: India

Misogyny, outrage and social conditioning

It’s one month since the brutal gang rape happened in New Delhi, and the entire nation has been affected in one way or another. A positive difference that has manifested is the low tolerance level for publicly expressed misogynistic statements by politicians, godmen, khapp panchayats and sundry other people. The negative side of this is that outraging on TV and social media has become an obsession.

Although all the anger is valid, even long due, we have to understand that sweeping sociological changes take time, lots of time sometimes. So instead of turning this whole thing into a “them vs us” war of words we have to understand why gender biases are so strong and how to deal with them logically, legally and socially. By the end of the day we all have to live in the same society.

Social attitudes, underpinned by misinterpreted mythological and religious texts have taken a stronghold over the psyche of the people for centuries, or maybe more than a couple of thousand years. Everybody has gotten so used to the status quo that nobody wants to change it. Take for instance the attitude that women should always be kept in the background and the most appropriate place for them is the kitchen. More than a bias it’s a matter of convenience.

For the males of our society, especially those sections where women are kept indoors and they don’t enjoy much freedom both at personal as well as material levels, it’s the best of both worlds. Mother is always there to take care of the husband and the kids. Wife is always there to take care of the entire family and when it comes to emotional and physical needs, there is no accountability to worry about. Food is always there, sex is always there, there is normally a house that is kept clean and ordered, children are taken care of, elderly parents are looked after and there is no risk of having to take on the big bad world due to the womenfolk of the household. In many families, a widow is a fair game for the male members of the family simply because she has no other choice.

Take for instance the attitude of our religious and political public figures that reaches its vertex in the form of the Khapp panchayats. Women shouldn’t go out and even if they go out they should be back by certain hours. They should wear “appropriate” clothes. They shouldn’t carry cell phones. They should always go out with some male member of the family. There is no need for them to have a male friend. They shouldn’t study much. They should concentrate on household chores. Love marriage will result in public lynching or public hanging.

These diktats are nothing new. Our women have already been living in such conditions and most of them are OK with them because they have either seen nothing else, or they find the status quo a much safer and convenient option compared to taking on the strong male community.

There is another problem for males when women are empowered. They start making their own decisions. They start exploring options that give them more choices. They move out more and consequently they are less and less available. There is neither food nor sex security. The world of the women no longer is constrained within the four walls of the house – they begin to have a wider outlook, and worse, an opinion. Since a sense of honor is attached to the womenfolk of the family, if something happens to them, confrontation cannot be avoided. Dishonor has to be avenged by all means and there is social ignominy if appropriate revenge is not extracted. This is why, the Khapp panchayats don’t have the courage to reign in the boys but they very eagerly and unanimously impose restrictions on their women.

Women in our various societies are like disguised slaves. And remember the abolition of slavery lead to a civil war in America. People don’t easily give up their slaves.

Right now the easiest solution for the women would be to demand stricter laws not just for rape, but also for social oppression. Khapp panchayats shouldn’t be allowed to dictate how women can live their lives. Strict action must be taken and culprits must be apprehended before they can cause damage. There is no use of arresting people after somebody has been lynched or murdered. Swift action must be taken before such a tragedy takes place. This is something that will give the women the needed confidence. If women want to go out, if they want cell phones, even if they want to have boyfriends, the state must provide them full protection. There should be no compromise in the name of social norms when it comes to personal liberty.

Of course the real change will only come when women take up their cause.

It’s extremely difficult for India and Pakistan to have a cordial relationship

The passions in the country have been again stirred up by the latest round of brutal killings by Pakistani soldiers (or intruders, or LeT fanatics, whatever you like to call them) in which they even took away one of our soldiers’ head. The rumor has it that Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks recently offered Rs.500,000 for every head of Indian soldiers produced by Pakistanis. The veracity of the offer hasn’t been established yet (nothing can be established beyond doubt when it comes to Pakistan) but it shouldn’t surprise anybody if he really made this offer.

The problem with Pakistan is, its identity depends on an invariable hatred for India. According to this blog by MJ Akbar,

Pakistan’s hard line towards India is held by the Army, which takes the final call on India, whether in strategic planning or real-time response. Its thinking is rooted in Partition. India won freedom from the British. Pakistan won independence from India. Pakistan’s fundamentalist patriots therefore locate the existentialist threat from India.

The main takeaway from the above paragraph is “India won freedom from the British. Pakistan won independence from India.”

Just imagine, a big chunk of the Pakistani population migrated to this part of the world in 1947 because it didn’t want to live in India, especially with Hindus (who, for more than 800 years, had been their slaves and subjects) as ruling majority. On the other hand, Hindus and Sikhs who came to India during partition were forced to flee, otherwise they would have been butchered — they never wanted to leave the land their ancestors had tilled for centuries. There are different psychological dynamics on both the sides. Whereas in India, people are nostalgic about the land they left behind, in Pakistan people detest the people they left behind.

There is a glaring emotional disconnect. Can this disconnect be surpassed, or mended, or overlooked? I am not an expert and whatever I’m saying here is from the perspective of a laymen.

I think India will have to learn to live with hostile neighbors. I think it is easier to have a good relationship with China than with Pakistan. With China the differences might be ideological to a great extent, and racial to some extent and both these differences can be worked out. With Pakistan the problems are religious as well as historical.

As a religion, sooner or later we will have to accept that Islam cannot be at peace with other religions. Do we have a secular Muslim majority country anywhere in the world? Is there religious freedom in any Muslim country? In India the Muslim population has constantly increased since 1947. Can you cite any Muslim country where a minority population has increased? Even where Muslims have migrated to other countries they have had constant conflicts with indigenous populations, such as in many European countries. I’m not saying that this problem is with every Muslim, but with majority of them, it is, and if we’re looking for a permanent solution, we will need to acknowledge that and define a geopolitical philosophy accordingly.

Historically, especially concerning Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, as mentioned above, they dominated this land from the 11th-century till the British overthrew them. They were expecting that after gaining independence, the power would come back to them. They were so blinded with this inveterate hostility and the desire to rule, that they preferred to carve out another country rather than settle for a Hindu-ruled nation.

Unfortunately for them, things didn’t work out the way they might have imagined. Whereas India has experienced, despite massive corruption, caste politics, external terrorism and internal extremism, a gradual social and economic growth, for Pakistan the journey has been downhill. They never reached the old Muslim grandeur and to their utter dismay, their Hindu neighbors are living much better lives. Even Muslims in India claim that they’re better off in India compared to their counterparts in Pakistan.

So all this has generated frustrated anger and inferiority complex, and a sense of divine betrayal. One cannot get rid of such a feeling easily. You can gauge their unmitigated loathing for India by the fact that instigators of mass murders in India like Hafiz Saeed become national heroes over there. They don’t even pretend.

Add to this their military establishment that totally controls their politics and foreign policies. It’s in their army’s interest to project India as a perpetual bogeyman the country needs to be protected against, at all costs. Due to this the army has enjoyed unhindered prosperity because nobody can dare oppose them.

Not only Muslims in Pakistan, even Indian Muslims nurture this disconnect, but that’s another topic.

So what should India do?

India should stop being the nice person constantly seeking approval from other countries. Since their religion and attitude can never allow them to see Indians as worthy neighbors, they will need to be shown their proper place. No, I’m not suggesting launching a war, but India must act tough and make it clear that there are some things that are simply unacceptable.

They cannot digest India’s superiority in the Indian subcontinent? Too bad, they would have to come to terms with the reality. If they harbor terrorists that kill our people on our soil (or anywhere else), we shouldn’t rest until those terrorists are brought to book. There should be no confidence building measures and no peace talks until people like Hafiz Saeed roam free and spit out hateful speeches against India and instigate terrorist acts.

There should be no games, no cultural activities between the two countries unless Pakistan stops, completely, overt and covert acts of aggression against India. The condition must be unequivocal.

What about the peaceniks on both sides of the border? Should their voice be suppressed? There are surely people on both sides of the border who want to rekindle the old charm and under its aegis have nostalgic trips down the memory lane. Just as it is a reality that most Pakistanis don’t see eye to eye with their Indian neighbors, there are also people, although in minuscule minority, who want to live together, peacefully, happily ever after. On private levels they can go on doing this stuff, but they shouldn’t force the state to indulge in such activities unless all the burning issues are resolved.

It’s difficult for terrorism to survive without local support

The recent dastardly attack by Maoists reminded me of a conversation I had with one of my uncles. He was in the army when there was a great strife in the Naga regions of the country. The battles used to be bloody and cruel.

He was in the Sikh regiment perhaps (I cannot properly recall this). Many times the Nagas would capture Sikh soldiers, cut their heads, and leave the heads hanging from trees, tied with the decapitated soldiers’ long hair.

After that there would be a frenzy in the regiment, and they would go on a village-burning spree. He told me that most of the support for the warring Nagas, in terms of food and nightly lodgings, came from local villages, so these villages mostly became the targets of the army’s ire.

For every justified or unjustified uprising to sustain itself, the local support is invaluable. Without it it’s impossible to survive.

That’s why when local support in Punjab stopped, terrorism no longer remained an insurmountable problem.

It’s the same condition is Jammu and Kashmir: the extremists and terrorists get lots of support, whether voluntary or forced, from the locals. And so do Maoists. It’s very crucial to break that chain.

People in the areas of strife often complain that they get assaulted from both the sides: from terrorists and extremists for not providing enough support, and from the army and law enforcement agencies for helping terrorists and extremists.

The locals must be provided appropriate security and safeguards to isolate violent elements. In the harsh conditions of forests, barren lands and ice covered terrains, it will be difficult for them to survive even for a month.

In many cases the local population provides logistical support voluntarily, for example, in Kashmir, but there are also instances when they are threatened into compliance. Recently terrorists in Kashmir started threatening village sarpanches (village heads) and even killed a few to deter them from participating in the democratic processes of India. More than 40 sarpanches resigned en masse. It was a good opportunity for the Indian government to provide all possible security, if nothing else, then just to prove a point who is in the deciding position. Unfortunately, this opportunity was not availed.

The problem of insurgencies and terrorism, especially when the local population is embroiled too, must be tackled at three levels: neutralizing key trouble makers, cutting off local support, and providing maximum security to those who do not sympethize with terrorists and extremists active in their area. The third level is extremely important. Unless the situation is extreme, no local population wants to live in a permanent state of turmoil. Give them protection, give them reliable administration and deliver them swift justice, they’re always going to oppose extremist elements among themselves, unless it is a totally suicidal society.

Why repressive, corrupt governments fear freedom of speech

People don’t realise what a great power freedom of speech is. There is a reason why during freedom struggle various newspapers and journals were banned, writers and poets were arrested and films were censored. As a professional content writer, I can easily say that what you say and what you write can change the destiny of your country. Remember how single-handedly Arun Shourie dismantled the Rajiv Gandhi government? He was not a politician. He didn’t belong to a powerful organisation. He simply wrote. He simply let people know, through his words, what a scam the government ran. The government was so alarmed once that they threatened Ramnath Goenka that the Indian Express building would be demolished if he didn’t expel Arun Shourie from the newspaper.

For those who vouch for the freedom in the west, you can read about how severely western countries are pursuing Julian Assange, to an extent of mounting an attack on the Nicaraguan embassy when the fugitive whistleblower took shelter there. Why? Because he is bringing the nasty secrets of these, the so-called “free” countries to the aam admi.

Freedom of speech, of course doesn’t mean broadcasting and communicating every sort of balderdash. You may have your own definition, but when I speak of freedom of speech, it means letting people know the truth. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean you abuse people and threaten them, as people are wont to indulge in on the Internet.

The problem in our country is, people don’t read much. They are not well informed. They have biases but no opinions, and the government intends to maintain the status quo.

The overbearing backwardness, hunger and illiteracy in India can be attributed to the inertia of the people who can actually do something about these ills. There is a vast vote bank that, despite being illiterate and ill informed, can sway the politics of the country, but there is also another chunk that has the wherewithals to become politically aware and gain knowledge, and consequently, change the political equation. Sadly, this big chunk of population is either indifferent or too bogged down. Again, the government would like to maintain the status quo.

Up till now, the government had been successfully able to black out a certain section of opinion by planting its henchmen in accademia, news journalism and literature. This is another example of how an entire country can be relegated to a lasting torpor by a constant bombardment of one-sided opinion. When the British were here they had no choice but to curb freedom of speech, but when they left, our indigenous rulers orchestrated a gargantuan band of dubious scholars whose only job was to brainwash the public. It’s not that alternative opinion didn’t exist – again, people like Arun Shourie published their own work – but these voices were scattered and scarce. Even among common public there were many people who were forming their own opinions, but they had no medium to broadcast their views.

The Internet changed the equation. Publication and exchange of ideas became democratised. You could start a blog, get an audience and you could challenge the biggest journalists in the country. Imagine people openly proving motivated historians like Romila Thapar wrong in pre-Internet days.

With the Internet, and an affordable connectivity, you could refute the claims, you could publish facts that would utterly demolish the claims of the so-called learned ones, and if you thought they were trying to mislead the public, you could start your own campaign. In order to build an audience people would interact on other blogs, many international, and in this way some blogs began to get thousands of views every day.

The UPA government, primarily consisting of the Congress, was rattled by the popularity and impact of blogs. This is a party that feeds on ignorance and intellectual obfuscation. That is why, as soon as it came to power, it tried to block the prevalent blogging platforms. It assumed people would meekly protest and things would be back to normal. It failed to realize people had actually tasted freedom of speech and unless brute force is used, they are not going to give up easily. It retreated.

But still, blogging requires lots of effort. You need to maintain a blog, you need to get an audience, you need to engage that audience and the content has to be compelling on a consistent level. The commenting sections of various popular blogs did solve the purpose to an extent, they were not as engaging as Twitter and Facebook.

That’s why people immediately took to these new platforms, and just within a few years, millions of people all over the world started posting their views and responding to others’ views on a daily, rather, hourly basis. A great thing about social networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook is that they are great information broadcasting tools. Got a link you’d like to share with your friends, family and peers? Post it on Twitter and Facebook. Want to add a bit of commentary? Post it on Tumblr. Have a video you think people should see? Upload it on YouTube.

Two things repressive and corrupt governments fear: easy access to “right” or contrarian information, and quick dissemination of that information. The Internet in general and Twitter in particular, achieve both.

Another salient feature is that people themselves can report from their phones. For instance a renowned journalist was spreading misinformation about the riot situation in a small city. Someone from that city immediately tweeted and said the situation on the ground was totally different. Obviously people believed that person. And a few more echoing the same chain of thoughts from the same city.

When communication becomes easier, when flow of information in unfettered, the corrupt government and its henchmen and women cannot mislead people. Brainwashing is no longer possible.

Hence, under one pretext or another, the government tries to create barriers. It takes down websites (in the garb of maintaining communal harmony) and it blocks social networking profiles of people who try to expose its various acts of omission and commission.

India becoming Blockistan

Censorship in IndiaIndia’s tryst with censorship isn’t old. Whether it was religious censorship by Muslim rulers, political censorship by the British, or later on all pervasive censorship by our own politicians, we have had a nice stint with ideas, books, newspapers, and these days Twitter accounts and websites being censored and blocked.

The current spate of censorship had been expected for a long time. People in the mainstream media have always been at loggerheads with the free spirit of social networking websites that empowers everybody to express opinions and spread ideas. Mainstream media is nothing but the government machinery to suppress information, twist facts, confabulate public opinion and keep people generally in intellectual doldrums. Discourse is highly biased and debate is one-sided.

Twitter and Facebook, and before these, blogs, on the other hand, are like a whiff of fresh air. Information no longer belongs to those who control the media. Everybody can become a publisher and everybody can broadcast provided he or she can log onto the Internet and express consistently.

As soon as the UPA government came to power (with the Congress at its helm, of course) it began to curtail the freedom of bloggers by blocking widely used blogging services such as blogger.com. Within a couple of days the government realised it’s not as easy as it had thought and subsequently, had to retreat. Ever since then, it has been working towards creating various embargoes on the Internet.

People in the mainstream media of course have been gleefully recommending the curtailment. Social networking and blogging continuously make their job hard. The moment they try to spread some misinformation, it is countered by Twitter or blogs with factually correct information, often posted by people close to the ground. This way, the so-called intellectuals who have been running their propaganda for more than 60 years, are unable to do so.

In fact, according to the grapevine, some of these journalists approached the Prime Minister Office and asked for help, and hence the current blocking of websites and Twitter handles.

The recent Assam riots between Bodos and migrant Muslims from Bangladesh and the consequent upheaval among the Muslim community members gave the government an excuse to tighten its leash on freedom of speech. Journalists like Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai started blaming the social networking websites for spreading hate messages. This was a totally falsified campaign as:

  • Twitter, Facebook and right-wing blogs had not instigated violence between the two communities in Assam
  • The doctored photographs of Rohingiya Muslims being killed in Burma first appeared in an Urdu newspaper, and again, Twitter and Facebook and nothing to do with it
  • The violence proceeding a Muslim gathering in Azaad Maidan, Mumbai wasn’t directly instigated by Twitter users as most of the rioters don’t use Twitter and Facebook
  • It has now been established that all the inflammatory material that appeared on various websites actually came from Pakistani mischief mongers and people currently being targeted in India had no hand in it

Nonetheless, Twitter accounts tilting towards the majority community began to get blocked. According to this report in Economic Times,

ET has exclusively accessed government directives blocking Twitter handles and web pages.

The directive to block 16 Twitter handles were part of the notification sent out by the communications ministry on August 20. Only one of the twitter handles—@PM0India (the digit zero instead of alphabet O)—bears resemblance to the prime minister’s official account ‘@PMOIndia’.

The Twitter accounts of two journalists—columnist Kanchan Gupta and television journalist Shiv Aroor—are among those that have been blocked.

The directives only say that it has been decided to block these accounts. It does not quote any sections of the IT Act or any other law under which the decision to block the websites has been taken.

The other twitter handles that have been blocked include

Dosabandit (@dosabandit), Eagle Eye (@eagleeye47), Twitanic (@anilkohli54), Sangh Parivar (@sanghpariwar), Amit Paranjape (@aparanjape), Sumeet (@sumeetcj), Pravin Togadia (DrPravinTogadia), Panchajanya (@i_panchajanya), Barbarian Indian (@barbarindian), Scamsutra (@scamsutra), Ekakizunj (@ekakizunj) and redditindia (@redditindia).

There are many people, predictably, trying to downplay the entire situation. Many condescendingly talk about “fake revolutionaries” who have got nothing better to do.

To an extent it is true. It is much easier to raise your voice and protest on Twitter. It is also true that most of the people would choose to remain quiet the moment they have to face physical repercussions of their opinions. But many won’t. There is a reason every journalist, every agency, every government and every business has an account on Twitter or Facebook, or at least they have a blog. Why? Because there is an audience. If they didn’t matter, they wouldn’t be blocked. They are blocked because they tilt opinion. Twitter handles of vocal journalists like Kanchan Gupta got blocked because they wield a certain degree of influence. They have a reach.

This holds true for many people using Twitter and Facebook and their own blogs. Right now most of the people cannot make sense of what’s going on. That’s why, despite having active accounts on Twitter and Facebook, they are constantly deriding their users.

It is not easy to block information these days. Blocked accounts and websites can be easily accessed if you want to access them. There are many ways you can connect to the Internet even if your ISP blocks you individually. International media is waiting for such news. In fact that’s why within a few hours the blocked accounts are being unblocked.

Are we going to follow the footsteps of Pakistan and China and turn into a Blockistan? No matter how much it makes some of the English-speaking mainstream journalists happy, blocking isn’t possible, at least sustained blocking. The Internet has empowered the silent majority and there is going to be a big backlash if the government, or another agency tries to take this power back. In what form this backlash is going to manifest? It remains to be seen.