soniasarkar26

– Words, sometimes, can be more baffling than illuminating. As people struggle over a particularly verbose verdict, legal experts tell Sonia Sarkar that brevity, simplicity and clarity are important parts of a judgment

Justice delayed, as the old saying goes, is justice denied. But what about justice misread? What happens when a verdict is worded in such a way that it is not easy to understand what is being said?

That wordy judgments can be difficult to understand was brought to the fore last month when a Supreme Court bench was giving its verdict on the issue of defamation.

“This batch of writ petitions preferred under Article 32 of the Constitution of India exposits cavil in its quintessential conceptuality and percipient discord between venerated and exalted right of freedom of speech and expression of an individual, exploring manifold and multilayered, limitless, unbounded and unfettered spectrums and the controls, restrictions and constrictions, under the assumed power of ‘reasonableness’ ingrained in the statutory provisions relating to criminal law to reviver (sic) and uphold one’s reputation,” Justice Dipak Misra said in a 268-page long judgment in the Subramanian Swamy vs Union of India case.

Faced with a convoluted sentence such as this, it is not surprising that there is growing demand for simply phrased judgments. “Brevity, simplicity and clarity are the essentials of a good judgment,” says (Retd) Justice Sunil Ambwani, former Chief Justice of the Rajasthan High Court. “Sometimes, judges emulate Shakespeare. But they don’t know that little Shakespeare is fatal to justice,” adds former Law Commission chairperson Upendra Baxi.

What constitutes a sound verdict? Reasoning, and the result of that, holds Baxi, who teaches law at the University of Warwick, UK. Verbosity is not a sign of a good judgment, he points out. “Judges should never use flowery language which becomes incomprehensible. One should not need a dictionary to understand a judgment.”

The importance of language lies not just in the fact that it should read or sound well. Legal experts stress that the essence of a verdict should not get lost in the language. A verdict becomes unclear if the wording is not sharp. And that can lead to justice being derailed.

The experts point out that judges should bear in mind that judgments are written for aggrieved parties, lawyers, appellate courts, law students and for society at large. That’s the primary reason why it should be written in an understandable language, they add.

The Supreme Court, too, is aware of the pitfalls of verbosity. It laid out guidelines on the writing of judgments in 2010. It said that “appropriate care” should be taken to not load a verdict with all legal knowledge on a subject as citing too many judgments could lead to confusion rather than clarity.

The movement against incomprehensible judgments has been gaining ground for a while now. The issue was taken up by former Supreme Court Justice R.V. Raveendran in an article titled “Rendering Judgments — Some Basics” in 2009, a collection of lectures that he delivered at the National Judicial Academy in Bhopal. The unwarranted use of legalese, hackneyed phrases and clichés should be avoided in a judgment, he writes.

Justice Ambwani, who wrote around 10,000 judgments in his career as a judge, seconds it. “Plain and simple language has always been appreciated in writing judgments,” he writes in a brochure on “Skills of Judgment Writing” by the Judicial Training and Research Institute, Lucknow. “The greatest of these is clarity. It is better to avoid invidious examples, unnecessary quotations, and lecture.”

There was a time when judges were known for their crisp language. Former Supreme Court Chief Justices M. Patanjali Sastri and P.N. Bhagwati were particularly admired for their language, Baxi says.

Inadequate knowledge of English is often held up as a sign of badly written judgments, but perhaps the issue goes beyond that. Not every judge is fluent in English, for they come from different states, and have different socio-economic backgrounds.

“I knew one judge who used to go through the editorials of newspapers and picked up words from there. He used those words in his order even if there was no need for them,” ex-Justice Ambwani says.

Last month, a Supreme Court bench consisting of Justice Abhay Mohan Sapre and Justice Ashok Bhushan objected to a high court judge passing an order in English which was erroneous on account of grammar, syntax, usage of words and punctuation, and sent the order back to the subordinate court and asked him to issue a fresh order.
But knowledge of English is not essentially a sign of a well-written judgment, and not all scholarly judges are lucid. Baxi believes that some verdicts of V.R. Krishna Iyer — known for scores of path-breaking judgments — were often difficult to understand.

“It is true that Justice Iyer has his authentic brand of self-expression which frequently violates canons of good English as well as good legalese,” Baxi is quoted as saying in the book Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer on Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles, written by Shailaja Chander.

To ensure that judges write using simple words, the National Judicial Academy in Bhopal and 22 academies run by different states have started compulsory courses for judges with special emphasis on writing judgments.

“Very few judges have good command over language. They use flowery language because they think that’s how a good judgment is written,” Geeta Oberoi, acting head of the National Judicial Academy, says.

The Delhi Judicial Academy, which too conducts courses for judges, has been focusing since 2014 on writing judgments. “We invite English professors who tell judges how to construct sentences in simple words. They also tell them how to keep the essence of judgments intact. A judgment should not be verbose,” an officials says.

“Judgment should always be to the point. To enrich the judgment with language style may not be very desirable. If one gets lost in the language, one loses the grip over the main issue,” former Supreme Court judge V.D. Tulzapurkar said in the Manohar Nathurao Samarth vs Marotrao and Others case (1979).

In the brochure on judgment writing, retired Justice Ambwani stresses the need to adopt short words and avoid long sentences. Minimise jargon and technical terms and avoid double or triple negatives, he wrote. “No reader wants to wrestle with sentences,” he warned.

Justice Misra’s sentence was 73 words long. And, indeed, it called for some serious wrestling.

 

This story appeared in The Telegraph.http://www.telegraphindia.com/1160622/jsp/opinion/story_92453.jsp#.V2n4TPTuHCQ

Is India’s biggest minority on the way to being made politically irrelevant? With the BJP picking Yogi Adityanath, among the most virulent anti-Muslim voices, as UP chief minister, the debate is no longer whether Indian Muslims are pampered; it is whether they are being shoved out of the national discourse. Sonia Sarkar gets a measure of the shifting equations

 

“Unless proved to be ‘good’, every Muslim was presumed to be ‘bad’.”

— Mahmood Mamdani
Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, written in the backdrop of 9/11

He rears cows; doesn’t eat beef. He believes the Mughal emperor, Akbar, was an invader but hails the Mewar ruler, Maharana Pratap. He despises Aurangzeb and has a soft corner for Dara Shikoh. He abhors the skull cap in his daily life but flaunts it at a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rally.

Meet the good Muslim of India – a Muslim not defined by his or her own religious or cultural belonging or mooring but defined by parameters set by Hindu ultra-nationalists, many of who sit saddled in power today. Does it say something that one of the most consistently strident and divisive anti-minority campaigners – Yogi Adityanath – has been handpicked to lead Uttar Pradesh, our most populous and politically influential state?

One such “good” Muslim comes from UP itself and was recently applauded on the floor of the Parliament for disowning his “terrorist” son. Sartaj Ahmed of Kanpur disowned his son, Saifullah, killed in an encounter last fortnight in the thick of the final rounds of polling in Uttar Pradesh. Hailing him, Union home minister Rajnath Singh told the Lok Sabha: “We should all be proud of him (Sartaj).”

Did Sartaj have a choice? That’s the question many are asking now.

“Sartaj had to prove his nationalism by disowning his son,” asserts Delhi’s Mohammad Aamir Khan, 38, who spent 14 years in jail, being falsely implicated in terror cases. “Strangely, a Hindu’s patriotism is never questioned. Why don’t fathers of Hindu men, who were recently accused of spying for Pakistan’s ISI, disown their sons, just as Sartaj did?” Khan asks.

Umar Khalid, the PhD student of Jawaharlal Nehru University, who was arrested for allegedly shouting anti-India slogans last year, says society profiles him by his religion. “I don’t even call myself a Muslim, I am an atheist, yet they term me a bad Muslim. But these circumstances make you feel conscious of your Muslim-ness,” Khalid says.

This is a hard time to be a Muslim in India. Branding at the hands of ultra-Hindu groups, often backed by the powers, comes easy; belonging, as the recent outcome of the UP Assembly election might attest, comes tough. The BJP, which swept UP by a landslide, chose not to give a single Muslim a ticket. Hindu groups and leaders are quick to label Muslims as good and bad; Muslims are under pressure to prove their loyalty to the nation.

For quasi-political Hindutva groups, a good Muslim is one who exhibits ample love for the country or subscribes to their ideology of ultra-nationalism. Often, they cite the example of how the Bollywood Muslim trio of lyricist Shakeel Badayuni, singer Mohammed Rafi and music director Naushad, showed their patriotism by composing a Hari bhajan, Man tarpat Hari darshan ko aaj for Baiju Bawra (1952).

For the RSS, a Muslim who is fairly a Hindu is a good Muslim. “A Muslim doesn’t necessarily have to worship Ram as God but he must accept that Ram was a great personality and he doesn’t oppose the building of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya,” says a Nagpur-based Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader.

Pakistan-born Canadian author Tarek Fatah is the new darling of Hindu nationalists because he lambastes radical Islamists. “Traditionally, India is a land of Hindus; I can never support the invaders,” Fatah tells The Telegraph from Geneva. His argument is ahistoric, and rubbishes hundreds of years of syncretic culture and tradition that went into the making of plural India.

When Hindu groups love a Muslim, they reward him too. For example, recently, they named Dalhousie Road in Delhi after Dara Shikoh. According to them, Shikoh was a good Muslim because he translated the Upanishads into Persian; Aurangzeb, his brother and slayer, was a bad Muslim because he was devout and imposed religious taxes on Hindus during his time. The erstwhile Aurangzeb Road now stands re-named after former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, another “good” Muslim because he was the architect of India’s nuclear programme, he knew the Ramayana and played the veena. And this exercise of rechristening Aurangzeb Road as A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Road took place to send a strong message that there is no space for “bigoted rulers” like Aurangzeb in India. Recent works on the last great Mughal emperor, such as Audrey Truschke’s Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth, suggest that he was more sinned against than sinning. But historical truth or detail has seldom come in the way of ultra-nationalists. Aurangzeb stands condemned and deserving of being airbrushed.

Bringing some “good” Muslims together in 2002, the RSS floated the Muslim Rashtriya Manch. Last year, the forum asked all Muslim members to rear cows and also brought out a booklet, on cow and Islam, highlighting the importance of cow in Islam.

“A good Muslim is someone who accepts Indian culture and tradition,” says RSS leader Indresh Kumar. “Muslims who are born here, should be loyal to India.” But that loyalty is for Muslims to prove, each step of the way. If Hindus think some Muslims don’t conform to their idea of loyalty, they’d want them packed off to Pakistan. That’s the diktat they issued to Bollywood superstars Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan when they recently spoke out against rising intolerance in the country. Often, the net is cast wider. During the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Union minister Giriraj Singh called out to all those opposed to Narendra Modi to head to Pakistan.

Muslims in India have for years been told “mend your ways, else go to Pakistan”. Hyderabad Lok Sabha member and no-nonsense Muslim voice Asaduddin Owaisi recalls that during his growing years as a Hyderabadi teen, a group of Hindu men would routinely come by his house in an upmarket neighbourhood and shout: ” Musalman – Kabristan ya Pakistan…“(For Muslims – it’s either destination graveyard or Pakistan).”

Delhi-based human rights activist Mahtab Alam has come to believe that many in his community sub-consciously feel the need to distance themselves from “bad” Muslims. He too has done it. “Once someone told me that S.A.R. Gilani, charged and acquitted in the Parliament attack case, was teaching in Jamia Millia Islamia, my alma mater. I quickly corrected him, saying, Gilani teaches in Delhi University, not Jamia. By saying so, I was not merely stating a fact but was disassocia-ting my alma mater and myself from the ‘bad’ Muslim.”

Muslims often make a conscious effort to prove their loyalty. In 2008, Mumbai’s Muslim Council refused to bury the Pakistani terrorists involved in the 26/11 attacks in the Marine Lines Bada Qabrastan. Recently, Muslim clerics in India spoke in unison against televangelist Zakir Naik, whose affairs are under investigation.

Despite displaying their patriotism repeatedly, Muslims are routinely stereotyped. During any India vs Pakistan cricket match, a Muslim is invariably suspected to be supporting Pakistan. A Muslim man with a beard and a woman in hijab are seen with suspicion. Recently, a young schoolteacher in Mumbai resigned after she was asked by the headmistress to remove her hijab and burqa before singing national anthem during the school assembly. Last year, a Muslim soldier was dismissed from the Indian Army because he refused to shave his beard. Again last year, Bollywood actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui was not allowed to act in a Ramleela in his west UP village for being a Muslim.

“Bad” Muslims have been routinely targeted. Two years ago, Mohammed Akhlaque of Dadri in UP was lynched for allegedly storing beef. Last year, two Muslim men in Jharkhand were hanged to death by self-styled cow vigilantes for allegedly trading in cows. Vice-President Hamid Ansari’s patriotism was also questioned for not being part of the International Yoga Day two years ago, and for not saluting passing contingents at the R-Day parade. Ansari hadn’t been invited to the yoga event and isn’t, as Vice-President, supposed to take the salute; only the President, as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, is.

On the sidelines of rampant political discrimination and name-calling, Muslims have continued to fare poorly as a social group. In 2008, the government-appointed Rajinder Sachar committee report stated that Muslims suffer from severe deprivations in education, employment and health services. Houses are not rented out to them; they are forced to live in ghettoes. Indian human rights groups have repeatedly expressed concerns over profiling of Muslims as terrorists.

Hatred against Muslims has grown manifold too, fuelled by social media Hindutva activism. M. Reyaz, assistant professor of Journalism at Calcutta’s Aliah University, says, he chooses not to confront anything “obnoxious” against Muslims posted on social media: “Argument with them is futile.”

Experts say that this sort of labelling becomes stronger when politicians make the Hindu-Muslim divide more obvious. Addressing an election rally in UP recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his infamous kabristan-shmashan reference, sending out a clear message on which side he stood. “The good Muslim-bad Muslim narrative gets validated when a prime minister makes such references in his speech,” historian S. Irfan Habib points out. Muslim representation in Parliament and the UP Assembly is at a low, and in both Houses the BJP coasted to victory making it apparent it wasn’t bothered about them. “It seems Muslim voters have no relevance and that’s a reason to worry,” Habib says.

Writer and theatre actor, Danish Husain, however, feels that paying attention to the Good Muslim vs Bad Muslim debate would mean playing into the hands of rogues, who have usurped the nationalism narrative. “This is a bogus distinction and an attempt to deflect us from the real issues of the country,” Husain says. “None including the media should fall into the trap.”

Perhaps, that’s a sound advice for Muslims in India too. But only perhaps.

My name is Khan, and I…

A Good Muslim

1. Rear cows; don’t eat beef
2. Don’t wear a skull cap socially but flaunt it at BJP rallies
3. Don’t ask for constitutional rights
4. Don’t object to the construction of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya
5. Lambaste radical Islamists; practice yoga
6. Tell everyone that I am supporting India in an India vs Pakistan match; oppose Pakistani actors in Bollywood
7. Am always apologetic about any crime a Muslim commits in any part of the world
8. Never question radical Hindus and self-styled cow vigilantes
9. Sing bhajans, celebrate Holi and Diwali, invite Hindus to Iftar
10. Consider A.P.J. Abdul Kalam as the ideal Muslim.

A Bad Muslim

1. Am into cow-trading; eat beef
2. Wear a skull cap socially without inhibitions
3. Claim my constitutional rights
4. Question the demolition of Babri Masjid
5. Don’t sing Vande Mataram or chant Bharat Mata ki Jai
6. Question atrocities against Muslims
7. Question police ‘encounters’
8. Don’t consider Muslim rulers
of India as invaders
9. Vote for ‘secular’ parties
10. Sympathise with Maoists.

 

Muslims speak…

1. Umar Khalid, JNU student.
“If you give up claims to your Constitutional rights – say, right to pray etc  and live like a second-class citizen, you are a good Muslim, in the eyes of the Hindu nationalists. But if you claim your rights as a citizen, you become a fundamentalist or an anti-national.” 
 
 
2. Shahid Siddiqui, Rajya Sabha member:
 
 “By disowning his son’s body, Sartaj, proved that largely, Muslims in India are loyal to their country.”
 
3. Shabnam Hashmi, social activist: 
 
 “If a rational Hindu questions the radical Hindus, he is an anti-national. If a rational Muslim does the same,  he is a terrorist.”
 
4. Asaduddin Owaisi, president of All India Majlis-e Ittehadul Muslimeen and Lok Sabha member. 
“Why is it necessary for a Muslim to be either with the secularists or the Hindu nationalists?
Minority Index

POPULATION

Muslims — 17.22 crore or 14.2% of the total population

EMPLOYMENT

Recruitment of minorities in government, public sector banks, PSUs
8.57% in 2014-15
(Religion-wise data as well as employment in the private sector are not maintained)

Defence Services*
3%

Bureaucracy
2.5%

Government sector
23.7%
(as against 35.2% Hindus)

Private sector
6.5%
(as against 13.9 % Hindus)

WPR**
33%
against the national average of 40%

LITERACY RATE

68.5% against 73.3% for Hindus

*Source: 2006 CNN IBN’s Minority Report
**Work participation rate (WPR) is percentage of the total workers to population
Sources: Census 2011; Ministry of minority affairs; 2006 Sachar Committee report 

The Telegraph, March 19, 2017.

https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170319/jsp/7days/story_141346.jsp

 

 

 


So what’s countering the climate of hate and intolerance best? Laughter, reports Sonia Sarkar

The fight is between puja and namaaz.

Bhai, a Hindu boy, says, “Our God is the real God.”

“No, it’s not,” Bhaijaan, the Muslim boy, retorts.  “You will know the truth when you die, brother.”

“And you will know after your death,” Bhai fumes.

“What if I kill you and you find out yourself?” Bhaijaan shouts back as he aims a sickle at Bhai.

To this, Bhai brandishes a knife and screams. For the next 10 seconds both make faces at each other, but comically.

  • FUN-DAMENTALISTS: (From top) A scene from BBC Two’s The Real Housewives of ISIS; comic actor Yugvijay Tiwari; Akash Banerjee of Newslaundry

The depiction might be funny but the message in this satirical sketch by 15-year-old comic act Yugvijay Tiwari is strong and unmistakable — the banality of communal fights. Yugvijay, who calls himself the “racist Indian” and has several videos on YouTube, believes comedy is the only tool to fight radical views. “In real life I have seen people fighting like this. They don’t realise what they are doing is wrong. So I decided to draw attention to some serious issues through humour,” says the Class 10 student from Madhya Pradesh’s Sagar.

The teenager is not the only one using humour to hit out at bigotry on social media. Sporting a red ‘tilak’ on his forehead, quite like a member of the right-wing Sangh Parivar, satirist Akash Banerjee too rips apart religious extremists through his spoofs on Newslaundry, a Delhi-based media -watch platform.

Aakash’s show, ‘Why So Serious?’ has been particularly stinging on the Indian Hindu-religious Right, from the ultra nationalists of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to self-styled cow-vigilantes.

In one of his shticks, or lampoon acts, he even takes potshots at the union defence minister Manohar Parrikar for crediting the teachings of the RSS to the much-hyped ‘success’ of the surgical strikes against Pakistan last year.

In the opening scene, Akash is seen trying to put his foot into his mouth. He invariably fails and then reasons: “I didn’t go to RSS shakha for physical and ethical dexterity…It prepares you to be supple, so that the most awkward positions become the most comfortable ones like the foot-in-mouth, which is why Parrikar is found in such a pose always.” Banerjee then scans through the RSS supremo M.S. Golwalkar’s anti-Muslim teachings and asks the audience to decide if this parallel drawn by Parrikar is fair.

“In the post-truth world, radical views will keep pouring in and one has to counter them. The best way to do that is through satire,” says Akash, whose videos attract 25,000-plus views on an average.

Graphic artist Orijit Sen says humour strikes a chord with a wider audience. “Often, people don’t understand the long-term effects of extremist views. But when the same has been told with humour laced with irony, it appeals to people. It makes people think about the issue.”

There must be some thrush to it because suddenly satirists across the globe are using humour as a tool to combat extremism. Humorists in the West are fighting Islamic extremism, largely the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Take the case of London-based comedian of Pakistani descent Humza Arshad. He has become a YouTube sensation with his ‘Diary of a Bad Man’ series where he mocks the young boys who joined  ISIS. Birmingham-based British Asian comedian Shazia Mirza is receiving rave reviews for her latest spoof ‘The Kardashians Made Me Do It’ inspired by the jihadi schoolgirls who joined ISIS. Shazia spells out ISIS as Illusion and Seduction in Iraq and Syria.

Recently, BBC Two released a sketch ‘The Real Housewives of ISIS’, yet another satire on the growing trend of women in the West joining ISIS. One of the scenes in the sketch goes like this. A hijab-wearing woman who met her husband online says, “It’s only three days to the beheading and I’ve got no idea what to wear.” Another woman wears a suicide vest and asks her friends, “What do you think? Ahmed surprised me with it yesterday.” The third radicalised wife turns up wearing a similar explosive device and adds, “What a complete b****. She knew I had that jacket.”

Heydon Prowse, the co-writer of ‘The Real Housewives of the ISIS’ tells The Telegraph, “We have spent the last five years taking the p**s out of every major political party, corporate fat cat and inane celebrity. It would have been a bit odd if we hadn’t done a sketch on the genocidal death cult currently spreading fear and misery across the Middle East.”

The two-minute skit was viewed more than 21 million times and elicited nearly 90,000 comments on the BBC Two television channel’s Facebook page within three days of its release.  Of course, it also incurred the wrath of a section of viewers.

Heydon thinks extremism is a cultural phenomenon best combated in the cultural sphere.

Jihadi studies expert Amarnath Amarasingam agrees; he ventures that sometimes something very spicy is easier to digest with a spoonful of sugar and that’s the kind of the role comedy plays. Toronto-based, and a distance senior research fellow at the UK’s Institute for Strategic Dialogue, Amarasingam told us in an e-mail, “The point of comedy is to allow non-extremists in different communities to see themselves as one and the same and to highlight extremism as something outside the norm.”

Across the globe, humour has established a strong connect with the youth through social media. Ahmed Al-Basheer of Iraq has been likened to American political satirist Jon Stewart for his sharp wit. He believes it’s the youth that is getting lured by extremists through social media and therefore one should use the same medium to counter it. “It’s important to tell the youth that extremism should be made fun of via social media because the medium is uninterrupted and uncensored,” says Ahmed from Amman in Jordan.

Worldwide, humour played a huge role in dealing with the political and religious extremists even in the past. Dadaists were the biggest critics of Hitler in Germany. In the recent past, Charlie Hebdo cartoons were regarded as a satirical answer to the religious extremists though many felt they were “irresponsible” and “provocative”. In India too, it was mostly political satire in the form of cartoons and occasional columns that became popular counter-narratives.

Varun Grover of the Indian satire troupe ‘Aisi taisi Democracy’ has been largely inspired by the Indian tradition of “haasya kavi sammelans”. He thinks humour can make a difference today when the space for public debate is shrinking. “People are not engaging with each other. Humour is the only tool to penetrate people’s minds,” he says.

But there is intolerance of humour too. Varun and his team members — Rahul Ram and Sanjay Rajoura — were not allowed to perform in Allahabad by a group of protestors last year. Akash is regularly trolled on Twitter.

Orijit argues that Indian audiences need to evolve. “They are largely conformist and are not ready to accept the fact that positions of power have been publicly ridiculed.”

Akash, however, is optimistic. He says things are changing slowly : “There is an appetite for more.” And for once he isn’t joking.

 

Published in The Telegraph, March 11,2017.

(https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170312/jsp/7days/story_140268.jsp)

Narendra Modi’s sway over power is spurring a robust drift away from liberal thought and towards Right-wing nationalist studies across our campuses. Sonia Sarkar gets a grip on the trend

  • DOCTORAL DEITIES:  (From left) V.D. Savarkar, Deendayal Upadhyaya and M.S. Golwalkar have become widely favoured and promoted research subjects

Modi is in, Marx is out. Mythology is in, history is out. Announcing a new trend in varsities across the country. It’s “Rashtravaad” (nationalism), Hindutva, Golwalkar, Savarkar, Modi and Indian mythology that have caught the imagination of research scholars post-2014. Looks like Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” cry carries a deep Indic ring in academic circles.

“This is the time for Indian researchers to move beyond (German revolutionary) Karl Marx and (Russian communist) Vladimir Lenin and research Indian personalities and Indian polity, Indian culture and consciousness,” asserts Kaushal Kishore Mishra, professor of Political Science at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU).

Mishra’s students are writing papers on “Cultural nationalism of (RSS icon) M.S. Golwalkar,” and “Relevance of Hindu Mahasabha leader Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in Political Science”.

More and more MPhil and PhD students are being encouraged by faculty in various universities to explore Hindutva-related subjects. “I tell my postgraduate students that they must look beyond human rights, women’s empowerment, Panchayati Raj and Gandhi as these topics have been explored extensively. They must do research on topics which have remained untouched such as Bharatiya Jana Sangh leaders – Deendayal Upadhyaya and Syama Prasad Mookerjee, and the RSS and its social service,” says Sanjeev Kumar Sharma, Political Science professor at Meerut’s Chaudhary Charan Singh University.

Similarly, in Lucknow University, research is on to establish “historical links” of Lord Shiva with Kashmir, inspired by a fictional work. “The scholar read about it in a recent bestseller and he proposed to write a thesis on it,” says a university professor.

Eulogising Modi in research papers is a growing trend too. Scholars in BHU are writing papers on the “Role of Modi in the empowerment of Muslim women,” and “Modi and (US President) Trump – a case study of the two personalities vis-a-vis their elections”. In Gujarat University, researchers are working on papers such as “Improvement in India-US relations, post Modi”, and “Emergence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in national politics, post Modi”.

Other state-run higher education institutions such as the Ram Manohar Lohia Avadh University in Uttar Pradesh’s Faizabad and Maharaja Ganga Singh University in Rajasthan’s Bikaner are championing the “Hindu” cause in a big way too. A scholar in the Bikaner university is writing a paper on ” Sarsanghchalaks of the RSS (Heads of the RSS)”; another is working on “The cultural outlook of the RSS”. At the Faizabad university, grants have been sanctioned to a PhD student to write a paper on “Deendayal Upadhyaya and his Hindutva ideology”.

This is not to suggest that all research work in the social sciences in every university revolves around the Hindutva ideology these days. But surely, there is a pattern – young researchers are being nudged towards themes and personalities attached to the notion, and politics, of Hindu nationalism, whose unabashed mascot Prime Minister Modi is.

There is good reason for this to have become a trend. Many academics believe smart researchers are trying to cash in on the Hindutva vogue to secure easy grants. “Research grant funds allotted to universities are poor. Given the current political scenario, receiving grants, either from universities or from the central funding institutions, for Hindutva-related topics would be easier,” argues Vijay Kumar Rai, head of the department of Political Science at Allahabad University.

Some senior teachers and scholars also argue that the trend is part of an attempt by faculty members who espouse far-Right Hindutva ideology to gain a strong foothold in upper academia, a project of the Sangh Parivar and the Modi government to take the orientation and outlook of educational institutions, and indeed of learning, under their fold.

  • MASTER OF THE CLASS: Future generations may be looking at a radically revised view of India’s past

An illustration of how opinion is beginning to be skewed, without much to back it: an Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) journal recently stated that the iconic “Dancing Girl” of Mohenjodaro is Goddess Parvati, and therefore proof that people of the Indus Valley civilisation worshipped Shiva.

Over the past two years, many universities, central and state, have been quick to accept doctoral and research proposals on content that would be amenable to the Sangh ideology. So much so, that it has left some academics alarmed. “A young scholar would shape the academic terrain of the country in the coming years. Projects with preconceived conclusions should not be entertained by universities,” Rai stresses.

It’s not that the universities have not done credible academic work on Hindu nationalists and their ideology in the past but most such work was conducted with a critical eye. Some of these studies were taken up in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), known to be a Left bastion. “We study personalities as part and parcel of larger processes. There are studies which focus on communalism in its various forms, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh, and they do not accept the self-definition of communalists as nationalists,” Mridula Mukherjee, former professor at JNU’s Centre for Historical Studies told The Telegraph.

Equally truly, Right-wing academicians have long nursed a grouse that they stood sidelined by the Left-liberal academic caucuses. They complain of having had to forever jostle for academic space. “Proposals on these topics were often rejected because they were labelled mediocre, communal and far-Right,” Mishra grumbles.

Left-liberal thoughts and voices did enjoy an extended and domineering run over India’s academia. It was true not only of JNU or Delhi University or institutions in Bengal and Kerala, but also of campuses across the heartland and elsewhere. But there’s an argument for that – Right-wing thought hadn’t been able to bring to the table solid, credible ideas and work that could compete. Modi’s arrival in power began to slowly but surely change that. “So they are infiltrating into the liberal academic space aggressively now,” says a senior Delhi University (DU) professor who would not be named. “For them, the only qualifying factor is that the scholar has to be a Hindu loyalist.”

Politics and personalities have always influenced academic trends. In the late 60s, the Communist Party of India could influence the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s policies. Around that time, significant research took place on Marx, Lenin, communist politics in the erstwhile Soviet Union, and also on former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his secular-liberal vision of India. Post the 1971 war and the creation of Bangladesh, academic papers were written extolling Indira Gandhi’s emergence as a strong woman leader at home and abroad.

So with Modi in power, the likes of Golwalkar are replacing Nehru in research bibliographies.

Hindutva-related ideologues tried to craft their narrative in educational institutions once before – during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in the early 1990s. That’s happening in a big way now. “Modi’s radical approach is reassuring for the Right-wing academia; we feel encouraged,” says Manoj Dikshit, professor of Public Administration at Lucknow University. It is no coincidence that academics with Sangh affiliations are being handpicked to head major institutions – Y. Sudarshan Rao (ICHR), Girish Chandra Tripathi (BHU), Chandrakala Padia (Indian Institute of Advanced Studies), Vijay Bhatkar (Nalanda University).

Rai, however, warns universities that they should not compromise standards by welcoming run-of-the-mill work merely to appease the government. “Churning out research papers like factories could affect the credibility of the universities… Academics, with any leaning, shouldn’t try to prove their loyalty towards the government through their work,” he adds.

But few on the Right are interested in listening, it would appear. They are marching on, regardless, taking cue from a dispensation that is positively urging them on.

The presence of RSS members in university seminars and workshops is becoming a norm. For instance, many of them attended the Indian Political Science Association’s annual conference at BHU in 2015, where research papers on subjects such as the theory of Ram Rajya and the relevance of Manuvaad in the current political scenario were released. Last year, Hindu spiritual guru Shankaracharya Swami Nischalananda Saraswati addressed students of Lucknow University where he claimed that the computer has its origins in the Vedas.

In 2015, RSS conducted a camp in Osmania University. Last year, RSS leader Indresh Kumar was invited as the chief guest at the Hemchandracharya North Gujarat University’s convocation. RSS leaders were invited at the DU convocation in November last year. Many witnessed the varsity vice-chancellor, Yogesh Tyagi, touching RSS joint general secretary Krishna Gopal’s feet before moving to the dais. RSS leader Indresh Kumar and a few others have been regularly invited to speak at orientation courses in DU. In all these sessions, RSS leaders tried to indoctrinate teachers by giving lectures on their idea of nationalism. A teacher who attended one says, “One speaker likened atomic particles – electrons, protons and neutrons to Hindu gods – Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwar.” IIT Delhi has received close to three dozen research proposals on the potential of panchgavya, a concoction of cow dung, urine, milk, ghee and curd.

BHU’s Mishra is unrelenting on the way ahead; now’s the opportunity and it needs to be grabbed. “Emotions are running high. If we don’t do research on these subjects now, nobody will remember our national ideology and icons,” he says.

In the post-truth era, await new truths.

PS: Just as an aside, Wendy Doniger’s opus, The Hindus: An Alternative History, pulped in 2014 for fear it will attract Right-wing Hindutva rage, has made a quiet return to the stands.

Congress leader Palaniappan Chidambaram looks different today. He is not in his trademark white veshti and shirt. He is sporting black trousers and a grey pullover, instead. His tone is a touch different too, more reflective, easier, patient. The former finance and home minister is seated in his plush basement office at Jor Bagh, a tony central Delhi neighbourhood, open to questions and candid to answer. Since the Congress went out of power in 2014, Chidambaram has built upon his earlier reputation, writing a punctiliously researched and widely read weekly column. Fearless in Opposition , a new collection of his essays, has just hit the stands, and Chidambaram is in an expansive mood. He answered a wide range of questions Sonia Sarkar put to him. We present excerpts:

Q: The name of your book is Fearless in Opposition. But why do we see so little real Opposition in Parliament?

A: That’s because our numbers are small in Lok Sabha.

Q: But you have spoken only twice in Rajya Sabha, last year. Why?

A: Since the time I became the member of Rajya Sabha in June 2016, my regret is that there have been few debates. One major debate was on the goods and services tax (GST), which I initiated and the other on Kashmir, which Ghulam Nabi Azad initiated and during which Karan Singh spoke. There was one half-complete debate on demonetisation. If that debate had continued and the Prime Minister had yielded to the legitimate demand of the Opposition, I was scheduled to speak on that.

Q: What are your achievements as an Opposition?

A: We forced this government to retreat from distorting the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act. Also, they are revisiting the GST rate; now the state finance ministers have agreed with me and said that the standard rate should not be more than 18 per cent.

Q: How do you think demonetisation has damaged the economy? How do you see the budget?

A: Demonetisation has damaged the economy by, at least, one per cent of GDP. This damage will affect next year’s growth rate and, I suspect, even the growth rate of 2018-19. The budget showed little empathy towards casual labourers and daily income earners, who suffered greatly by demonetisation.

Q: How do you rate Arun Jaitley as a lawyer and as the finance minister?

A: He is a very good lawyer. But going by the economic performance of the government and the budgets he has presented, I am afraid, that… they have done no structural reforms, they haven’t come up with any new idea and their implementation is poor.

Q: The Congress has been criticising Modi’s policies but why do you think his popularity is still increasing?

A: If you measure popularity by electoral success, well, the five state elections will be an immediate indicator of his popularity.

Q: What are the Congress’s chances in UP? Is the Rahul Gandhi-Akhilesh Yadav magic going to work?

A: Clearly, the SP-Congress alliance will be the number one party in UP. UP’s shadow will fall on Bihar and Madhya Pradesh too.

Q: But can the two – SP and Congress stay together?

A: That will depend upon who gets what numbers in the elections. But the Congress will support Akhilesh to form the next government.

Q: Akhilesh has displayed his strength by revolting against his father. But Rahul is not taken seriously in politics. People call him “Pappu”. How would he fight this image?

A: These are your or your paper’s perceptions. Whoever uses the word, “Pappu”, that is his perception. They (referring to Ram Manohar Lohia) called Indira Gandhi, ” Goongi gudiya” (dumb doll). But later, (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee called her “Ma Durga”, after the Bangladesh war. Remember, what they said about J. Jayalalithaa when she came into politics and look at what they said when she passed away.

Q: What has been your role in the party in the ongoing elections?

A: I am not involved in the election management of these five states. But I did say, it will be wiser to have a tactical alliance with one of the major parties (not BJP) because we are in the fourth position among the four parties in UP.

Q: In your book, you say that the Congress must communicate its views to its cadres in other Indian languages, besides English and Hindi. Are Congress workers in the states going away?

A: What is said in Delhi must be communicated to the states in their languages. In the states where the Congress is weak, we are not attracting new talent. Some workers may have drifted to the regional parties, wherever the latter is strong.

Q: You have said the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) should be more humane. What efforts did you, as Union home minister, make to make it more humane?

A: I wanted AFSPA to be repealed. Since there was no consensus with the defence ministry on the repeal of AFSPA, I left behind an amendment of AFSPA. If you are not repealing AFSPA, at least amend it, make it more humane. The defence ministry said, if AFSPA is not there, it will deprive the armed forces of the much needed immunity. My argument is that this law allows you to work with impunity. This law gives you the right to kill. Anyone who believes in human rights cannot support that provision.

Q: You were the home minister when there were consecutive uprisings in Kashmir in 2009 and 2010. How do you think you failed as a home minister?

A: 2010 was a gross failure of the state police in containing the youth violence. We learnt our lessons and things were changed. From 2011 onwards and till 2015 (till the eighth month of the NDA government), it was the best period in Kashmir.

Q: In 2010, a three-member panel was set up to review the situation in Kashmir but nothing happened after that. Why?

A: Three interlocutors made a remark-able difference to the narrative of Kashmir. Their dialogue with people brought about a change. I think, (the former chief minister) Omar Abdullah tried but as it turned out, many of the recommendations were not implemented.

Q: You have said the number of incidents of terrorist violence in Kashmir has gone down from 4,522 in 2001 to 222 in 2014. But 2001 was the peak of militancy and 2014 wasn’t. Isn’t this a faulty comparison?

A: No, it isn’t. How did the number fall? It happened due to better border policing and treating the unrest among young people in the Valley with a more different and humane approach.

Q: Last year you said some people think that the Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru’s case may not have been correctly decided. But when he was hanged, your government didn’t even inform his family members in Kashmir.

A: I think it was poorly handled.

Q: Now that you have analysed where you went wrong on Kashmir, will the Congress (if it comes back to power) look at Kashmiris with compassion?

A: We must go back to give meaning and content to Article 370, and give Kashmir a larger degree of autonomy. Even if that means asymmetric devolution of powers, so be it.

Q: In 2015, you also said that the Rajiv Gandhi government’s decision to ban Salman Rushdie’s novel Satanic Verses (1988) was wrong. Were you not in a position to influence the decision then?

A: I was a junior minister then. Decisions were taken by Cabinet ministers. But I am willing to concede that our understanding of authors’ rights then was limited.

Q: When you are in Opposition, do you have enough time to look back at your mistakes?

A: Of course, that’s reflected in the columns. Wherever I find that we have had made mistakes, I have candidly put them in my columns.

Q: How do you see the recent turn of events in Tamil Nadu?

A: It’s the right of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MLAs to elect their leader. It is the right of the people of Tamil Nadu to ask if that leader deserves to be the chief minister.

Q: In 2009, it was shocking to see a journalist hurling a shoe at you at a press conference. But don’t you think the language of protest in India has stooped to a new low, especially on social media?

A: It has happened because the language used by the ruling party is abusive and divisive; and that catches on. I can’t imagine Jawaharlal Nehru using a language that Narendra Modi used recently in the Lok Sabha. Those who are in high office must use language which is parliamentary, moderate and conciliatory, even when you criticise the Opposition.

Q: Lalu Yadav once said, I don’t see any reason for any politician not to aspire to become a PM. Do you want to become the PM too?

A: Not necessarily. In fact, once you are in public life, you must not aspire to become anything, you must accept whatever comes your way. When you are young, you can aspire. After a certain stage, you don’t aspire.

Q: Where is your way forward with the Congress going down? What is your plan ahead as a politician? Also, how do you see yourself two years later, in 2019?

A: I am not looking for any career advancement. I will continue to work for the party and the victory of the party in 2019.

Telegraph, February 12, 2017

(https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170212/jsp/7days/story_135291.jsp)

 

For weeks before it voted yesterday, Punjab was on song. Sonia Sarkar reports on the jig-gigs that became the key campaign tool across the state

Aaja nach lae!”

– Old Punjabi folk refrain

  • NOTES FROM THE HUSTINGS: Performers at Jaago organised by AAP

As the sun begins to set, celebration time dawns around this market square in Jalandhar, 80 kilometres south of Amritsar. Men turn out in the traditional kurta and chadra (sarong) strike up a rhythmic beat of the dhol; women, dressed in green and violet shararas and carrying decorated earthen pots on their heads, lead out a dance troupe, their arms twisting in sync with the drumbeat. Passersby begin to tap their feet. ” Le gaya bai le gaya, jhaaru wala le gaya,” they sing in chorus, (Those who wield the broom have swept the scene.)

  • Nishawn Bhullar

The jhaaru is the symbol of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and these singers are exhorting the crowd to vote for H.S. Walia, who is contesting the Jalandhar Cantonment seat. From the busy market area, the troupe moves into the dusty bylanes and then to someone’s courtyard in the locality, as more and more people follow them. “Music is the only effective medium to reach out to people,” says AAP media co-ordinator Manpreet Randhawa.

This traditional Punjabi dance form, called ” jaago“, is a pre-wedding ritual but AAP has roped in local performers to turn it into a campaign instrument. “When a local form of art is used for political campaigning, everyone gets involved. People are ready to listen. These days, nobody wants to listen to politicians,” Randhawa adds.

Perhaps, true. In Punjab, the sight of the quintessential kurta-pyjama-clad politician with his palms pressed together, making promises and asking for votes, was rare this election season. Singers, musicians and folk artistes were hired by political parties to woo the voters, instead. Jingles, songs and short video clips were employed as tools by politicians to reach out to people – young and old.

AAP, the youngest kid on the poll block, wasn’t unique in turning to local performing arts as a canvassing method; all parties did.

The Congress’s chief ministerial candidate, Captain Amarinder Singh, who is taking on Akali veteran and incumbent chief minister Parkash Singh Badal in Muktsar’s Lambi, has come up with a foot-tapping number, ” Keh do ek bar, chahunda hai Punjab Captain di sarkar” to bring in hope for future – say it out once, it’s the Captain’s government that Punjab wants. “Our message is positive,” says Rishi Raj Singh, director at political strategist Prashant Kishor’s IPAC (Indian Political Action Committee), which is handling the Congress party’s campaign in poll-bound states.

The song, peppered with the exhort ” challo!” (let’s go!) after every stanza, touches upon the real issues of the state – drug trafficking and addiction, unemployment of the youth and farmers’ debts leading to suicides. “But the song will not make you sad. We are trying to tell people how Punjab will become great again under the political leadership of Captain Amarinder Singh,” Rishi Raj adds.

Political pundits have come to believe music helps politicians feel the pulse of the people. “We have a song for every occasion in our life. It’s music that keeps the people alive even in times of distress. Political parties have realised that music is the only effective tool to appeal to the masses,” says regional historian Raj Kumar Sharma, who is also the former principal of Government College, Gurdaspur.

  • Gurdas Maan

The Election Commission too has realised that music enjoys great mass appeal. It appointed celebrated singer Gurdas Maan as icon to spread awareness during the Assembly elections. Maan’s main role was to motivate the youth of Punjab to get enrolled in the voters lists and vote ethically. It’s a different story that his popular number, ” Apna Punjab hove, ghar di sharab hove,” promotes the locally distilled hooch, which has killed many young men in the state and is one of the burning issues in the polls.

For political parties, composing a catchy number is not enough. The lyrics should also strike a chord with constituents, especially at a time when rivals are using similar methods to woo voters. Kishor’s IPAC deployed 200 young men and women to push Captain Amarinder Singh’s case with the voter in March last year. The team spoke extensively with farmers, college students, businessmen and women to understand the mood of people. They picked up a series of local words and phrases, which were often used during long conversations and composed the theme song for him.

“People expressed their concern towards ‘ nasha (addiction)’ and ‘berozgaari’ (unemployment) but were also hopeful of a better future. So we picked up phrases such as ‘ kishan di khushhaali‘, ‘kheta vich bhangra’ and ‘ mund banjana nawab‘ that they used during casual everyday conversations and weaved them into the song,” Rishi Raj says. He hired Bollywood music director Sneha Khanwalkar of Gangs of Wasseypur fame to compose the peppy number. Sung by Bollywood singers Richa Sharma and Shahid Mallya, the song makes indirect references to AAP as “outsiders” too.

AAP, whose radio jingles became very popular during the Delhi elections in 2015, has mostly utilised its in-house talent. For example, Gurdev Mann, the candidate from Nabha, sang the party’s theme song, ” Jharu wala button daba dyon Punjabion… Badlan nyo sabak sikha dyo Punjabyon… (Press the broom button, teach the Badals a lesson).” AAP’s star poet-singer-cum-leader Kumar Vishwas wove out another song, “Ek Nasha”, slamming the ruling Badal family for all the evils in the state. The opening lines are hard-hitting – ” Saddi watt kha gaye, fasal kha gaye, khet kha gaye Badal, saddi sadak kha gaye, nahar kha gaye, ret kha gaye Badal (The Badals have eaten away our sand, our roads, our canals and our fields…)

  • Captain Amarinder Singh on the campaign trail

As a retort to AAP, Badal’s Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) came out with a video, Lalkar, which accused AAP of misleading people through false propaganda. Apart from releasing Lalkar, SAD has also used folk songs to deliver its message to the masses. “We have used the tune of the popular folk songs and peppered them up with party’s message. For example, our songs talk about our ‘ aata-daal‘ scheme under which rice and lentil were supplied to BPL families at a cheaper price and they also mention the uninterrupted supply of water and power to farmers,” says Badal’s media adviser Jangveer Singh.

None of these songs became an instant hit. These songs were released many months before the elections, to small gatherings at first on an experimental basis. “We played our theme song for the first time in a gathering in May, last year. When we saw people tapping their feet, we realised that this will do wonders,” Jangveer says.

Some candidates have been inviting singers too to campaign for them. Last week, SAD’s Hardeep Singh “Dimpy” Dhillon, fighting from Muktsar’s Gidderbaha, invited singer Babbu Maan to sing for him. The next day, his Congress opponent, Amarinder Singh Raja, also invited Maan. On both occasions, huge crowds – gathered on terraces and watching from every available vantage point – roared as he belted out some of his popular numbers.

Some local singers, who have been composing songs on social issues, refuse to campaign for politicians, though. Nishawn Bhullar, whose satirical number Jugni is liked by more than 1 lakh listeners on YouTube, is one of them. “This song slams all politicians. The message is subtle but strong – let’s not vote for the corrupt and the incompetent,” says Bhullar, who turned away requests by politicians. “Nobody wants to hear the politicians because they have nothing new to say. People only listen to the messages we give through our songs. So it is important for us to be cautious about these politicians.”

Dalit singer Ginni Mahi, who too refused to sing for a BJP candidate, believes singing for politicians would mean fooling the people. “I sing about equality and humanity – the songs of Ambedkar saheb and Sant Ravidas. Political parties would claim to believe in their ideologies only before the elections but they would forget them soon after. Why should I help them to fool people?” Mahi asks.

As you read this, the people of Punjab have already given their verdict. Who’s to face their music?

Telegraph, February 5, 2017.

https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170205/jsp/7days/story_134004.jsp

Bastar has contrary reasons to suspect the outsider

Crossings

DARKNESS IS beginning to fall; I am in search of a hotel room in Jagdalpur. Two hotels have turned me away. They don’t give out rooms to single women. The third offers me a room, but with a rider. I am not to tell anyone that I am a journalist.

Why not? Journalists and professors come from Delhi and write “nasty things” about Bastar, is the reply. “We have been asked by the police not to entertain such people.”

There is no room – but there is growing disdain – for journalists, political and social activists, lawyers and academics among sections of the townspeople. Activist Bela Bhatia witnessed that recently, when a group of people threatened her and her landlady, and asked her to leave her ghar and gaon without delay. She had accompanied a human rights team to meet women who had alleged being sexually abused by the police. Delhi academics Nandini Sundar and Archana Prasad have seen this, too. They were booked last year on charges of murdering a tribal.

The threats are real, but the police shrug them off. The Jagdalpur superintendent of police, R.N. Dash, is convinced that local people have their own reasons for wanting to keep journalists and others out.

“Because people from Delhi write bad things about Bastar, nobody wants their daughters to get married to local men. People living outside Bastar think that their daughters will not be safe here,” he says. “Those who refused you a room are most likely fathers who’d failed to get brides for their sons, all because of wrong reporting. It’s very natural for them to be angry at outsiders.”

But it’s not just the outsider who fears the police in Bastar. As I travel into the interiors of Narayanpur, Dantewada, Bijapur and Sukma, villagers complain about being threatened and intimidated by the police. Not surprisingly, they first treat me with suspicion, not convinced that I am a journalist. I may well be a police agent, they say.

“People have come to us posing as journalists and related our complaints about police torture back to the police. Then the police came and beat us up,” says a young Dantewada villager.

Once they are convinced that you are indeed a journalist, the villagers open up – their hearts and their doors. In a quiet village, I am offered a room by a teacher’s wife because the nearest town with a hotel is miles and hours away. She gives me dinner – a small helping of daal and chawal.

In Bijapur, a young man offers to take me to a village in the forests – to meet victims of police torture – on a motorcycle. My taxi driver, Chander, takes the wheel as the villager and I squeeze in behind him. He skillfully manoeuvres the bike through long stretches of pebbled road, dirt tracks, fields and underbrush. It even splutters its way through a small stream. And then, after a series of sharp twists and turns, Chander suddenly loses control of the machine. All three of us, along with the bike, plunge into a rice field. Chander, also a local, is more amused than hurt. “Take a picture, Madam, capture the moment,” he tells me in Hindi. “We will remember that we’d had a fall.”

Pictures and selfies taken, we get back onto the bike and the mud track. We are deep in the jungles now. The sound of the wind, the swish of the leaves and the chatter of the birds travel with us. Finally, we reach our destination after an hour.

For the people of Bastar, travelling for hours to cover short distances is nothing new. They are used to walking for miles when they have to catch a bus.

When we return to the highway on our way back, evening is just about to set in. A few villagers are waiting at fancy bus stops that flaunt stainless steel seats and huge photographs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Raman Singh. The wait is often a long one, for buses are rare on this route.

As the sun begins to set, I spot a dark-skinned woman, small and barefoot, carrying wood on her head. Soon I can’t see her anymore – she has vanished into the dark.

Like most people in Bastar, she is now invisible.

Telegraph. February 5,2017

(https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170205/jsp/7days/story_134000.jsp)

fwThe government has made a slogan of the brave Indian jawan to settle political arguments. It has also left the same jawan ill-provided and restive. Sonia Sarkar reports

  • Illustration: Suman Choudhury

“An army marches on its stomach.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte

On paper, it sounds like a feast. Milk and eggs for breakfast. Four days a week, non-vegetarian dishes – chicken, mutton or fish – are to be served.

Border Security Force (BSF) jawan Tej Bahadur Yadav would scoff at that. “We sleep hungry,” he says in a video that has gone viral, pointing to the burnt paranthas and watery daal that he has just been served at a border post.

Jawans or soldiers have never been in the news as much as now. They make the emblazoned mascot for the Narendra Modi government, invoked over issues as wide ranging as demonetisation and student agitations. But a hollow, ill-fed mascot, the ranks of jawans would complain.

The jawan mantra has often been chanted. Tired of standing in ATM queues? Think of the jawans who stand on the borders. Kicking up a fuss over students’ rights? Think of the jawans. Shivering in the cold without power? Think of the jawans. “It’s when you (jawans) guard the border, people sleep without fear,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi extolled them last Diwali.

But Yadav’s video has put the arc lights on how the jawans themselves sleep – on an empty stomach. “Finally, someone had the courage to speak up,” a BSF jawan in Srinagar says. “Does the government want us to fight on an empty stomach?”

The government has taken some steps – the commandant and the second-in-command of the 29th Battalion, where Yadav is posted, have been moved to Tripura pending a probe into his allegations.

But the video has kicked up a cacophony of complaints. Jawans speak of low quality food, inadequate clothing, pay disparities and harassment by seniors. And the grouse is not just from paramilitary forces such as the BSF and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), they also come from the army.

Last week, CRPF constable Jeet Singh went public demanding parity in pay and other benefits for the central armed police forces with the army. In another social media message, an army jawan alleged harassment by superiors for writing about soldiers’ problems.

Clearly, for the government, which has been holding up the gut-wrenching symbol of the veer jawan, there is trouble afoot.

“It’s unfortunate the way the government is projecting the soldier as a symbol of nationalism. The government should have dealt with their problems first,” says C. Uday Bhaskar, director of the Society for Policy Studies, a Delhi-based think tank.

Jawans have been at the wrong end of supplies and treatment for long. They seldom protested. But now that they are being daily lionised to serve the purposes of the government, they are speaking out. Access to social media sites has made it easier. “The PM has been advertising Digital India. So what’s wrong if soldiers use this platform to express their concerns?” a CRPF sub-inspector asks.

What troubles paramilitary jawans the most is the disparity in pay with counterparts in the army. But while parity seems like a distant dream, they are highlighting more pressing needs such as proper food and attire.

Adequate nutrition is essential to keep the soldier’s morale high, points out a 2008 paper authored by researchers at the Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) and Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences (DIPAS).

A BSF jawan needs 3,850 calories a day, and a CRPF jawan, 2,900, states the government. In both the forces, mess committees comprising constables, sub-inspectors and fourth-class staffers decide the menu. The monthly ration allowance for the former is Rs 2,905 and for the latter, Rs 2,868.60.

But jawans complain of corruption that deprives them of their share of food. A retired CRPF jawan states that constables are often “forced” by their seniors to buy rations from designated shops, which offer 5-7 per cent of their profits to the seniors. “Even if these shops sell low quality daal or rice or artificially coloured spices, jawans have to buy from them,” he grumbles.

A senior BSF officer admits that there are cases of food being siphoned off canteens and sold to locals for money. “In Kashmir, some personnel may exchange a sack of rice with the bakarwals (cattle-rearing nomads) for a sheep,” he says.

The BSF sends tinned food to its jawans in places too remote for fresh supplies. The watery daal in Yadav’s video was part of tinned rations, supplied by the army because Yadav is posted on the Line of Control.

Satwant Atwal, IG, BSF headquarters, states that an enquiry will look at “any systemic aberrations” and suggest corrective intervention. “The welfare of the troops is of the highest priority,” she says. The forces do have redress mechanisms for jawans – such as complaining to their seniors.

But this is not the first time that food supplied to jawans is being questioned. In 2011, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee said dry rations were consumed by army troops well past their expiry date. Over 74 per cent of fresh fruits and vegetables issued to units by supply depots also failed prescribed norms, it said. In 2007, high-calorie food items meant for soldiers in Siachen were seized from shops in Leh; irregularities were found in the procurement of meat in Ladakh.

The DFRL-DIPAS team writes that in the camps they visited, they found most jawans were dissatisfied with the quality and quantity of food. This was highlighted during the Kargil battle, too. “…they sent us puris and sabzi. At those heights puris and sabzi freeze to stone, you can’t eat any of it,” The Telegraph had quoted a young army officer at Drass as saying during the 1999 conflict.

Moreover, jawans are at times not adequately geared for harsh weather conditions. “When they move from moderate weather conditions to severe cold conditions, arranging special clothing such as snow boots, woollen socks and jackets is a problem. But we somehow manage,” says a BSF assistant commandant.

 

Security experts say that there is very little sense of ownership among the chiefs of the paramilitary forces because they are not the direct recruits. These officers come from the Indian Police Service, even if they have never been into any operational role before. Jawans feel that their chiefs never understand the real problems because they don’t know what it is to serve at the front.

Questions sent by The Telegraph to Kiren Rijiju, minister for home affairs, went unanswered. The army headquarters did respond. “The method chosen by the jawan to air perceived grievance was in violation of laid down rules and regulations and military discipline. A very effective and responsive grievance redress mechanism exists in the army, which, it is evident, the concerned jawan ignored to invoke. Specific complaints made by him are however being investigated,” said the army PRO, Col Rohan Anand.

 

 

But the issues are, of course, known. In a 2008 report, the Comptroller and the Auditor General had referred to problems relating to procurement of special clothing, mentioning the use of partly torn and recycled special clothing for winter. In 2007, high quality trousers, jackets and parachutes meant for the army at Siachen were found in Leh shops. The Telegraph had reported that soldiers deployed on the Kargil front were seen arriving at the frosty wind-blown heights in “canvas shoes and cotton jackets”.

Inadequate arrangements often lead to tragedy. In 2014, eight BSF personnel were found unconscious in the Paloura base camp because they had inhaled carbon monoxide caused by lighting a kangri in a closed room to keep warm.

Harassment by seniors is another common grievance. An army jawan is on a hunger strike in Madhya Pradesh in protest against the “menial jobs” he is forced to do for his seniors. An Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) constable has similar complaints. “I have even washed officers’ undergarments. Those who refuse to do such jobs are denied leave by the seniors,” he says.

Leave is a problem because most paramilitary forces are understaffed. “The CRPF, which is now filling 24,000 vacancies, is a reserved force, which should be deployed only when there is an exigency. But 80 per cent of our jawans are always deployed,” a CRPF officer points out.

Long working hours, living in harsh conditions and harassment by seniors can lead to fragging – killing of seniors or colleagues – or suicides. “Most jawans have rural backgrounds and join the force because of the social respect attached to the uniform. Their morale is affected on a daily basis when they are deprived of their basic rights,” says retired ITBP inspector Rajender Yadav. “Those who cannot cope commit suicide.”

Despite the rising discontent, the foot soldiers carry on. “When my jawan complains that he is doing everything for the country but the government doesn’t care for him, I tell him: ‘Desh ke liye kar rahe ho ‘,” a BSF officer says. Ask what you can do for the country, but not what the country can do for you.

A shorter version of the story appeared in The Telegraph | Sunday, January 22, 2017 |