SACW | 21 Jan. 2006 'WSF Karachi Plans + Bigotry, Curriculum trouble, Book ban, Soft hindutva'
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Fri Jan 20 20:48:35 CST 2006
South Asia Citizens Wire | 21 January, 2006 | Dispatch No. 2204
 On the upcoming World Social Forum in Karachi (Zofeen Ebrahim)
 Subcontinent in bigotry's grip (Praful Bidwai)
 Pakistan: Curriculum change controversy (Omar R. Quraishi)
 India: Another book by James Laine banned in India
(i) Wise King, Foolish Subjects (Ananya Vajpeyi)
(ii)The Furious Incidents Of History In India (Basharat Peer)
 India: Encorse Soft Hindutva (Subhash Gatade)
 Announcement: Publications and Events
- Himal Southasian - Jan-Feb 2006
- Tariq Ali and Sitaram Yechury in conversation (Calcutta, 23 Jan 06)
- Panel discussion - Justice in Bhopal: 21 Years On (New Delhi, 24
Inter Press Service
January 21, 2006
WORLD SOCIAL FORUM:
TEMBLOR CAUSES SHAKY START TO ASIAN MEET
by Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Pakistan, Jan 20 (IPS) - Of the many disruptions caused by the
Oct. 8 temblor, that killed 87,000 people and left 3.5 million homeless,
one was the postponement of the Karachi chapter of this year's
polycentric World Social Forum (WSF).
As things stand, the sixth WSF is underway (Jan19-23) in Bamako, Mali
and will be closely followed by the Jan 24-29 event in the Venezuelan
capital of Caracas. The Karachi WSF is now tentatively set for March 24-29.
Karamat Ali, head of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and
Research and member of the Pakistan Organising Committee of the WSF, is
relieved at the postponement. ''The attention of the whole nation,
including that of civil society, was diverted to handling the
(earthquake) situation and it just didn't seem appropriate to think
about this event.''
This annual event, a colourful jamboree where the voiceless get a chance
to be heard, started in 2001 as a response to the World Economic Forum
(WEF). Because it is primarily attended by civil society it acts as an
effective counterweight to the WEF.
''There is a brighter side to the rescheduling,'' says Ali. He foresees
a larger participation with more people joining up after having attended
the forum at the other two venues. ''We can get some of the heavyweights
who had earlier committed to either Bamako or Caracas to attend. Their
participation will lend the Asian WSF a stamp of credence.''
People like Dalai Lama and Tariq Ali have already agreed to come and
''when distinguished people participate there is bound to be a
following,'' says Ali.
There is also hope that there will be a good number of delegates from
Africa since the Bamako event would be well over too. ''This would be
refreshing for us as we have very little exposure to African issues here
in Asia,'' he adds.
To suggestions that interest in the WSF may have waned because of the
postponement, causing many international celebrities with tight
schedules to cancel attendance, Ali said he was sure that WSF-Karachi
will draw huge crowds and prominent figures from within Pakistan and the
''I don't know why we are so fixated about getting celebrities anyway à
isn't WSF all about giving voice to the poor, marginalised and people
from the grassroots?'' said an irate activist.
''Why should there be a disconnect?'' argues Mohammad Ali Shah of the
Fisherfolk Forum and who is also acting as convenor for the fisherfolk
and peasants group. He hopes to get some 5,000 fishermen to the event.
''It should be open for everyone, the voiceless as well as the ones who
are known and heard often. It should be an equal platform for everyone.''
Shah sees the WSF as an opportunity to air grievances "at an
international forum''. ''We hope to organise a huge rally and talk about
issues like the injustice regarding allocation of water resources and
the contract system in fishing.''
The POC initially expected 50,000 people to attend, but after the
postponement, they now have a more realistic figure of 20,000-30,000.
Curiously, while the response from international organisations as well
as local grassroots groups have been tremendous, that from the bigwig
Pakistani civil society organizations (CSOs) has been somewhat lukewarm.
Interestingly, in a country which is steeped in religiosity and blamed
for its fundamentalist stance, not one religious party, political or
otherwise, has even attempted to register.
WSF supporters say that while there are people's movements in Pakistan,
they are not as strong as in the neighbouring countries. ''For this very
reason it is important to hold such an event in Pakistan,'' says Imran
Shirvanee, a journalist with strong leftist leanings and who is also
heading the media committee.
The event is expected to be political and even initiate revival of
progressive movements involving students and labour that were ruthlessly
crushed in the 1970s by the Bhutto regime and replaced by retrogressive
ones during the eleven-year rule of the military dictator Ziaul Haq that
''It's bound to breathe life into political movements since the forum is
about acting together. It's not just another gathering where people
network alone,'' says Ali.
''We started holding meetings, some 15 to 20 of them over the last two
months with various labour federations and made them aware of the WSF,
the struggles going on in other parts of the world, how the WTO regime
and the international financial institutions are affecting us and why
poverty is on the increase,'' said Farid Awan who is organising
participation by labour groups.
Awan does not hope for miracles but, like Ali, he is happy that a
process of debate, discussion and exchange can germinate. ''We have a
chance to get together on one platform and then put pressure on the
government. Something good is bound to happen,'' he says optimistically.
Organisers are already having sleepless nights setting up this mega
event and the least of their troubles is getting visas for nine members
of the Indian organising committee who can help with expertise gained at
the Mumbai WSF in 2004.
The largest delegation at the WSF in March will be from India -- 5,000
Indian participants, followed by some 500-600 Bangladeshis. The
organisers wish the visa process was less cumbersome, especially for
Indians. ''There should be a policy decision that anyone coming for the
WSF should get visa on arrival like they do in Bamako and Caracas,''
''If the government can issue 8,000 visas to Indian cricket fans, surely
they can do the same for the forum's participants,'' says Ali. ''We
started the visa process in Aug. 2005 and had spoken to the prime
minister who seemed very supportive. But we had to postpone that meeting
due to the earthquake and reschedule it.''
Meanwhile, it has been decided to hold a one-day Pakistan Social Forum
in Lahore on Jan. 24, to show solidarity with the WSF events taking
place all over the world. ''We hope we can get visas for our Indian
guests by then so that they not only get to attend the Lahore event but
can also stay on and help with organising the Karachi WSF.''
Themes to be debated at Lahore are already interesting and contentious
-- natural disasters and the role of state, debt and global forces,
trade, unjust distribution of water resources, military operations in
Balochistan and the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) among others.
The News International
January 21, 2006
SUBCONTINENT IN BIGOTRY'S GRIP
by Praful Bidwai
The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and
human-rights activist based in Delhi
Despite its economic growth and claims to modernisation, South Asia is
becoming a cesspool of bigotry, retrograde social practices and
intolerance. Pakistan, with its karo kari, persecution of Shias and
Ahmediyas and hate-campaigns against Christians, is already notorious
for this. But India may be doing no better. Over the past few weeks,
India too has witnessed an explosion of intolerance, censorship, and
physical harassment of people who differ from the 'mainstream'.
This should shake all public-spirited citizens out of the smug
assumption that our societies are basically tolerant and mature, and
that they have internalised liberalism and minimum civility in public
life. In fact, our societies are deeply troubled, with distressingly
high levels of intolerance. They badly need reform.
Consider three recent examples of intolerance in India. In Maharashtra,
where burning books has become a cult thanks to the quasi-fascist Shiv
Sena, the government has banned yet another book on Shivaji by an
American scholar on the flimsy ground that he discusses the potentially
competitive, complex relationship between Shivaji and his father. (When
his previous book was banned, goons attacked a prestigious research
institute, destroying invaluable manuscripts.)
In Tamil Nadu, another state with a century-long history of social
reform, chauvinists have been attacking actress Khushboo for making the
perfectly sensible statement that young women should take precautions
when engaging in pre-marital sex which, a survey shows, is widely
prevalent. They have declared Khushboo's views incompatible with the
Equally distressingly, Film Censor Board chairperson Sharmila Tagore
invited the defence services chiefs to vet Aamir Khan's Rang De Basanti,
which is woven around the lives of MiG-21 pilots. The apparent purpose
was to reassure the defence forces that the film doesn't throw
uncomplimentary light on the poor safety record of that aircraft.
This is shocking. The MiG-21, unfondly called the 'Flying Coffin', does
have a horrible record of failures and crashes. The IAF has lost 320
The pertinent point is that the services chiefs have no business to vet
a film because it deals with defence matters. By that criterion, films
that feature cricket players would have to be approved by the cricket
control board. Those with fictional characters from the corporate or
media world would be subjected to censorship by the concerned
professional bodies. So their 'sensitivities' (read, intolerances) are
The armed forces, like other institutions, have their place in our
societies. They are meant to defend the borders and provide emergency
relief. But they cannot demand they be deified, and never criticised.
That can only create an unhealthy cult of military hero-worship. Even
countries not known to be particularly liberal -- for example, the
United States -- don't subject films critical of war (like Catch-22,
Apocalypse Now, or The Deer Hunter) to censorship by the military.
However, all these lapses pale beside the egregious police attacks under
way on homosexual men and lesbian women in Uttar Pradesh, which are
driving women to the brink of suicide. A month ago, the UP police beat
up amorous couples in parks in Meerut -- although they had not indulged
in obscene acts. Now, they have surpassed themselves by arresting four
homosexuals in Lucknow. The reason for this is crass prejudice against
gays and intolerance of sexual preferences that don't conform to what's
defined as the 'mainstream'.
Lucknow's police chief committed an egregious offence. He invoked,
perhaps the first time in decades in Northern India, Section 377 of the
Indian Penal Code to arrest gays. He is brazenly homophobic. He says:
"In India, practising homosexuality, with or without consent, is a
crime… Gays are not respected in Indian society. NGOs which espouse
their cause do so at the behest of their foreign contributors."
Section 377 is a throwback to Victorian morality, itself hypocritical.
It should have been removed from the IPC decades ago. It criminalises
"carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or
animal." This 'order' is a bogus and unscientific concept. Worse, it's
an invitation to tyranny in the name of 'higher' social mores.
Heterosexuals constitute a majority in the society. But they have no
right to impose their preferences upon those who have different
inclinations. Every adult has an inviolable right to his/her sexual
preference and the freedom to exercise that preference.
Societies that don't accept this and persecute non-conformists are
incipiently tyrannical. They tolerate the sick kind of vigilantism
against lesbian women that is currently taking place in Indian cities.
In Meerut, a young woman who married her companion, was so badly
harassed that she drank poison. A mob, led by Shiv Sena fanatics, chased
her into the hospital where she was lodged. The police refused to rescue
Similar incidents have been reported from Kolkata, Allahabad, Lucknow
and Bhopal. Such medieval and authoritarian mindsets, with their
readiness to use force against 'perverse' marriages, should alarm us.
A powerful case can be made out for rating societies as free and liberal
on the yardstick of how much freedom they allow citizens in matters of
faith, diet, dress and sex. The worst are those that elevate bigotry to
the level of legality and impose an artificial homogeneity upon
citizens. The most emancipated societies are those which respect
individual freedom -- not merely legally, but in actually lived life.
Between the two fall societies which don't outlaw certain practices or
impose uniformity, but which impose taboos on individuals -- not just in
public life, but in their private life too.
Ultra-conservative societies like Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan under the
Taliban fall within the first category. The bulk of 'Christian' Europe
in the first half of the 20th century belongs to this group too. Much of
Western Europe today falls in the 'high freedom' category. Many such
countries have legalised gay marriages and don't stigmatise people with
same-sex preferences in public life -- witness Elton John and Paris
India and Pakistan belong to the not-so-free group, along with countries
with unflattering human rights records like Israel, Singapore, Sudan,
and Nigeria. Even the US, a highly conservative society, belongs to the
upper end of the same group.
A modern, enlightened society is based on fundamental rights. These are
intrinsic, inherent to all human beings. The most basic of these rights
is the right to life. A person's body is inviolate. No agency,
institution or individual can inflict harm upon it without breaching a
fundamental freedom. The right to privacy, including the pursuit of
one's sexual preferences is linked to the right to one's body, as well
as another fundamental right, namely, the freedom of thought, belief and
Fundamental rights cannot be suppressed or abridged in the name of some
'higher' 'mainstream' morality and majority 'sensitivity'. Those who do
so practise the worst form of majoritarianism, which is the anti-thesis
of democracy. They indulge in hate campaigns and mob violence, which are
indistinguishable from medieval witch hunts. If South Asia is to lay
claim to a minimal level of civilisation and aspire to a
liberal-democratic culture, it must not tolerate such crass intolerance
and bigotry. That's why enlightened citizens must speak up for freedom.
DAWN, Op-ed page
Jan. 17, 2006
CURRICULUM CHANGE CONTROVERSY
By Omar R. Quraishi
CURRICULUM revision seems to have become a very controversial issue in
the country with not a month going by without some political or
religious party objecting to a reported change in some textbooks or
The unfortunate thing about all of this is that many of the objections
raised by those who oppose changes in, or a revision of the syllabus
seem to border on the trivial.
In most cases, the ready defence cited against changing anything in the
national curriculum - as if it were a holy scripture ordained from the
heavens - is religion and quoting content of the Holy Quran.
Any attempt to revise or modernize the curriculum is seen by such
obscurantist and retrogressive elements as an attempt to "secularize"
the education system which is further equated with a distinct lack of
godliness in society. Those at the forefront of opposition to changes in
the curriculum have a very warped interpretation of the word 'secular'
which they equate with the Urdu 'la deeni,' meaning absence of religion
or to mean irreligious. This interpretation is then used by them to
claim that those who believe in secularism are in fact godless or atheists.
The real sense of the word 'secular' is lost on them, or maybe they
deliberately do not want to accept it because it would render their
objections redundant. 'Secular', as it used by progressive and
forward-looking people in this country, means not being irreligious or
godless but rather the separation of government and religion. Further,
it means that government policies should be free of the influence of any
particular religion and that such policies should not propagate or edify
the values and beliefs of any particular religion.
A couple of years ago, a report by some researchers at the
Islamabad-based Sustainable Development Policy Institute had brought the
curriculum revision issue to the fore. The authors of the report had
argued that textbooks used in government schools needed to be revised
because even subjects that were clearly not religion-based had religious
content in them.
They had further pointed out that the content in most textbooks was such
that those who are studying them would end up being intolerant, bigoted
and narrow-minded individuals with a common belief that other religions
were imperfect and flawed. India was demonized, women, children and
minorities were marginalized and disproportionate emphasis was placed on
religion. Taught in a system which encouraged rote learning and where
most teachers were wont to encourage their students to ask probing
questions, the results were extremely disturbing.
The truth is that rising intolerance, sectarianism, narrow-mindedness,
obscurantism, violence against religious minorities and lack of respect
for the views of others (and even a singular lack of respect for women
and their rights) can be traced in large part to an educational system
which is based, for the most part, on indoctrinating its students. The
result is that students at even some of the better public-sector
universities seem to be obsessed with matters such as patriotism,
religion and the country's ideology and this clearly comes out every
time there is a report published describing the holding of a national
debate competition and the topics spoken on by participants.
Another example of this growing tendency towards blind religiosity in
education was the decision by Gen. Zia's government to award extra marks
to students who had learnt the Holy Quran by heart. Such a rule is
unfair for Christians, Hindus, Parsis and any other minorities living in
the country because it does not award them extra marks if they have
learnt their holy scriptures the same way.
In recent weeks, starting from the beginning of December, two
controversies regarding this issue surfaced. The first was reported in
several international wire services but died down quickly, except on
some people's e-mailing lists. This had to do with the inclusion in the
Class XI syllabus of a poem called 'the leader' by an anonymous writer.
The problem with this poem, which talked about the qualities needed to
become a good leader, apparently, was that the first letter of each
line, all taken together, formed the following words: "President George
W. Bush". Clearly, an edifying poem like this should not have been
included in the syllabus of a country like Pakistan, so thought those
who objected to its inclusion. While in most countries such a matter
would not have raised much of a furore and would have been dealt with at
the administrative level, here it was publicized much in the media
(especially Urdu newspapers) and even made its way to parliament where
members of the opposition raised it in the National Assembly.
In any case the poem was eventually deleted from the textbook. The fact
is that such amateurish material (in the form of poems, articles, etc.)
circulates on the Internet and it is possible that some enterprising
textbook writer saw it fit to simply plagiarize directly from the net
and include it in the Class XI syllabus, rather than to write something
The controversy (which was more of the 'tea-cup' variety) should have
rested there but it didn't. Unfortunately, quite a few people - some of
them educated - equated the initial inclusion of the poem with an
attempt by the government and the ministry of education to deliberately
brainwash students to make them have a favourable view of the US
president. Such a view is myopic, given that the US would hardly need a
poem glorifying its president to be inserted into a Pakistani textbook
to become popular in this part of the world.
Unfortunately, those who, in recent years, have opposed curriculum
revision have offered little substance in any of their arguments
opposing the changes other than a resort to religious nationalism or
misguided patriotism (reinforcing one's belief in the saying that
patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel).
Quite a few MMA leaders were in the forefront of making such remarks,
though the brainwashing of students in the name of religion seems not to
bother them, probably because it suits their purpose. In any case, the
error was pointed out and the said poem was taken out of the textbook.
The episode, however, showed certain traits that increasingly seem to
have become part of our national psyche and character. These are: a
tendency to take positions that border on the very extreme, leaving no
room for any compromise and with no rational perspective on the matter
or issue at hand (which explains why debates and discussions are slowly
dying in our society); a tendency to see everything as a conspiracy (a
trait also often possessed by an individual or a group that has been
victimized or perceives itself as being a victim) and a tendency to
attribute to American prodding or dictations everything and anything
that the government does in this country.
The second, more recent, controversy surrounds the deletion from
textbooks of a chapter containing information for students on how to
pray. The information relates to prayers specifically for Muslims and
was included in the textbooks during Zia's Islamization drive. Reports
that the material had been deleted from textbooks galvanized the
country's religious parties and groups and their respective student
wings into action. Regrettably, one has yet to see these elements take
to the streets to demand clean drinking
water, better sanitation, a public transport system or to rally against
honour killings or horrible traditions like vani.
But when it comes to an issue like curriculum reform or the
establishment of a private examination board by an organization, they
waste no time in launching a campaign against such moves. The MMA has
already raised objections to this in the Senate and the Islami
Jamiat-i-Tulaba has held rallies in Karachi and some other cities
protesting against the deletion of certain material. Again, the blame
has been laid at the doors of America, with one Jamaat-i-Islami leader
saying that the "generals ruling" the country have become proxies of
Washington and are bent on destroying Pakistan's ideology at the behest
of the Americans. The fact is that at least on this count, the
government needs to be supported for taking the
correct decision. Mainstream textbooks are loaded with religious
content. Even language textbooks contain several chapters which list,
among other things, the duties of a good Muslim, how to say one's
prayers (applicable only to Muslims), stories about the Haj, the
importance of being a good Muslim and so on.
There is nothing wrong per se with these but there needs to be a balance
(if such content is deemed necessary for inclusion in non-religious
textbooks at all) between religious and non-religious content. Besides,
if such content - clearly aimed at the majority population - was
balanced by including material that catered to the country's minority
community students, then it would not be a discriminatory aspect to it,
But that isn't the case.
Besides, when Islamiat is already taught as a compulsory subject from
class I right up to the university level, what rationale is there for
including religious content in subjects that are purely humanities or
science-based? Similarly, if the government wants to award extra marks
to students who have learnt the Holy Quran by heart, it must extend the
same privilege to students of other faiths, provided they too have
learnt their holy scriptures.
In any case, learning how to pray is something that children usually
learn at home - taught by their parents, grandparents, older relatives
or the religious teacher who comes to their homes to teach them how to
pray and how to read the Holy Quran. Why cannot space in textbooks be
reserved for topics and subjects that would attract young minds towards
science, nature and an exploration in general of the world around them?
The fact is that attempts to overload mainstream textbooks with
religious content (and that, too, only for the supposed benefit of the
majority community students alone), should not be seen as a sincere move
to make the people more pious and godly but rather as a disingenuous
attempt to indoctrinate young minds.
 India: Yet another book banned in Maharashtra
WISE KING, FOOLISH SUBJECTS
by Ananya Vajpeyi
Time was when I was proud to own a copy of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic
Verses, given how much furore the book occasioned in the life not just
of it author, but of India, Iran, the UK, and of the larger world of
Islam all across the planet. Now I realize that even obscure volumes on
my bookshelf, acquired in the course of several years of doctoral
research in Maharashtra, could turn out to be prized possessions,
especially if they happen to be written by one James W. Laine.
Every other January, it seems, the Maharashtra government decides to
target something by this fairly unremarkable American academic, who
teaches at Macalester College in Minnesota, leading a quiet scholarly
life that is hard to relate to the strong reactions his work elicits in
far-away Pune. In January 2004, Professor Laine’s Shivaji: Hindu King in
Islamic India (2003) was banned. This month, exactly two years later,
his older volume The Epic of Shivaji (2001), an English translation of
the incomplete Sanskrit epic poem by Shivaji’s court poet Paramananda,
the Sivabharata, composed towards the end of the 17th century, suffered
the same fate.
Why ban a book that has already been in the market for five years? That
too, a book that is not even an original piece of history writing, but
rather, the translation of a well-known poetic text that has been around
for over 300 years, and has earned its place in Maharashtra’s rich
literary culture? How is a Sanskrit poem, that has been circulating for
over three centuries and was commissioned by the protagonist himself in
the first place, to augment the splendour of his court and memorialize
his life and deeds in a Mahabharata-style epic, all of a sudden
threatening to public order and safety?
In January 2004 members of the Sambhaji Brigade vandalized Pune’s
Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) and roughed up local
librarians and professors. Marathi public intellectuals were threatened
with, and in some cases subjected to, physical violence. There was even
an attempt to have Laine arrested on American soil with help from
Interpol. Why? Ostensibly because the author, qua historian, gave
credence to the rumours that have long circulated in Maharashtra,
regarding Shivaji’s paternity.
In that instance, Laine at no point said that he personally believed
Shahji not to have been Shivaji’s father, but only that such malicious
talk could be heard in different quarters, provided one kept an ear open
for what is perhaps best described as historical gossip. But even to
have mentioned that such rumour-mongering still goes on, almost four
hundred years after Shivaji was born to Jijabai in 1630 at the fort of
Shivneri, was considered intolerable. All hell broke loose for poor
Laine and several of his Indian colleagues engaged in the risky business
of historical research and writing in and about Maharashtra. Even today,
despite a concerted rehabilitation and rebuilding effort by civic-minded
citizens in Pune, the BORI library and archive have yet to recover from
the damage done to books, manuscripts and other property in the January
2004 acts of vandalism.
Once again, the ghost of the father has returned to cast a shadow on his
son. That Shivaji’s parents were estranged from one another is an
indubitable historical fact. Early in their married life, Shahji’s
political masters and Jijabai’s natal family were enemies on the
battlefield. The couple lived apart – Shivaji’s mother in Maharashtra,
his father in Karnataka – and eventually Shahji took another wife down
south, to spawn a separate dynasty of Maratha Bhosales in Tanjore. But
at the time of Shivaji’s conception and birth, Jijabai was Shahji’s
wife, and howsoever attenuated the relations between them, there is no
real evidence – at least none available to members of the public – to
challenge Shahji’s paternity of Shivaji outright.
There is an impeccably scholarly foreword to The Epic of Shivaji by
Professor S S Bahulkar. However, in his Introduction, Laine writes: “The
historical fact that Shivaji’s father took a second wife in Bangalore
and left Shivaji and his mother in Pune, and that his mother and goddess
play such a powerful role in his motivation to rebel against Muslim
authority, suggest that there is a folkloric and unconscious acceptance
of Shivaji as an oedipal rebel.” The recent ban purportedly aims to
punish Laine, and Bahulkar, who helped Laine translate Paramananda’s
poem, for using this word “oedipal” with reference to Shivaji and his
There has been a great deal said in defence of Professor Laine against
the ban on his 2003 book, including by this writer. Without rehearsing
all of the arguments against censorship, identity politics, vandalism,
the policing of academic research, the curbing of the freedom of
expression, the politics of injury and the denial of historical
objectivity already made in the press and the media, and in Indian and
Western academia in early 2004, this much bears stating: xenophobic
diatribes against Laine make no sense.
In his Shivaji book, he merely cited, without endorsing, loose talk –
baseless historical speculation, more accurately – that can be picked up
practically anywhere in Maharashtra. In his Epic book, the American
scholar made an old, difficult and little-read Sanskrit text widely
available to contemporary readers in English. Along the way he also
ventured the interpretation, objectionable or not is a separate matter,
about the dynamics within Shivaji’s immediate family and their effect on
Shivaji’s character and career. But why go after Laine for being a
foreigner, an outsider who is insensitive to Indian sentiments about one
of the great heroes of our history?
Shivaji has long been described in Marathi as Janata Raja, the Knowing
King. His intelligence was one among many virtues that have endeared him
to the people of his native Maharashtra for centuries. Why has this
extraordinarily clever ruler, indeed proverbially clever, fallen on such
hard times, where the most utterly foolish positions are assumed and
actions taken, supposedly in his name, to defend his reputation? If
patriots want to protect India from the onslaughts of American
imperialism, let them go after George W. Bush, not James W. Laine. Both
books should be immediately un-banned; the wise king Shivaji has long
withstood the good, bad and indifferent interpretations of historians,
and his glory will continue to stand the test of history
o o o
Jan 28, 2006
THE FURIOUS INCIDENTS OF HISTORY IN INDIA
In a macabre replay of events two years ago, another book on Shivaji by
James W. Laine has been banned in Maharashtra. Focussing on this story,
Basharat Peer explores the law and why some historical figures in India
are so emotionally charged
If you look at history you lose one eye,
If you ignore history you lose both.
Ten days after the residents of Maximum City Mumbai danced for the New
Year, the Maharashtra government banned a 300-year-old book. Epic of
Shivaji is a Sanskrit poem, Shivbharat, commissioned by Shivaji himself
to celebrate his life. Written by Shivaji’s court poet Parmananda it was
translated in 2000 by James W. Laine, a professor at Maclester College
in Minnesota, with the help of Marathi scholar Professor SS Bahulkar.
Two years ago, the same government had banned Laine’s book, Shivaji:
Hindu King in Islamic India (2003). Laine’s “crime” then was to mention
the historic gossip about the paternity of Shivaji. An irate Sambhaji
Brigade — the militant, anti-Brahmin youth wing of Maratha Seva Sangh —
attacked the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI), where Laine
had researched for the book. The institute was plundered, its staff
beaten up and precious manuscripts irreparably damaged.
The Maharashtra government claims that it banned the Epic of Shivaji for
containing “derogatory remarks” and that it saw the book as a cause for
potential “social tension”. No social tension was created in the last
five years that the book has been in the bookstores of Maharashtra.
Ignorance is the reason that PN Godge Patil, the lawyer representing
Udayan Raje Bhosale, the 13th descendant of Shivaji and petitioner
against the Laine books, is peddling. Lawyer Nikhil Nayar explains that
most banning of books happens under Section 95 of the Code of Criminal
Procedure, 1973. “A state government can ban a book if it feels that a
book or paper contains something seditious, something which promotes
enmity, is obscene, prejudicial to national integration, or outrages
religious feelings,” says he. “However, if it is a case of a book
published abroad and the Indian government wants to stop its entry into
India, then it is done under the Customs Act.” Gadgil claimed that they
encountered the book while fighting a case against Laine’s “defamatory
writings” against the Maratha warrior in Shivaji: The Hindu King in
Islamic India. He intends to talk to the Maharashtra government about
extraditing Laine from the US.
Laine makes no claims to being a “real son of Shivaji” but the American
scholar has spent many years of his life researching, thinking and
writing about Shivaji. Laine apologised after the 2004 ban and expressed
a frustrated resignation at the latest developments. “It was not my
intention to defame or insult Shivaji. If it was, it would be a very odd
choice to translate a 300-year-old poem commissioned by Shivaji
himself,” Laine said on the phone from his Minnesota residence.
The academic is bewildered that the Epic of Shivaji is being banned for
a phrase that occurs in the introduction of the book and refers to
Shivaji as an “Oedipal Rebel”. The “provocatory” phrase occurs in the
introduction written by Laine relates to his inference that there seems
to be a “folkloric and unconscious acceptance of Shivaji as an oedipal
rebel” amongst Maharashtrians, because after Shivaji’s father left his
mother and took a second wife in Bangalore, his mother and goddess
Bhawani played an important role in inspiring him to rebel against the
authority of Muslim kings. An incident often recalled in Maharashtra in
this regard is that Shivaji, who was of tiny build, cut off the head of
the giant-like Mughal general Afzal Khan. He then visited the temple of
goddess Bhawani, where he offered Khan's head.
Unfortunately, the brouhaha over Laine’s books is not an isolated event.
Historical debate has raged for decades on the archaeological evidence
of a temple under the Babri Masjid, about the dates, origins and nature
of the Indus civilisation, whether Aryans were indigenous or foreign,
about various claims on Mahmud Ghazni’s raids on Somnath and their
impact in creating the “wounded civilisation” of India.
Historian Sumit Sarkar says, “We need to have empathy for the past but
maintain a distance at the same time. If Hindus relate the foreign
origins of Mughals and Mahmud of Ghazni’s destruction of Somnath to
Muslims living in contemporary India, we will only have destructions
like that of Babri Masjid. I once saw a poster pasted by the roadside in
Delhi’s Muslim neighbourhood of Zakir Nagar. Below the broken picture of
the Babri Masjid ran a couplet: Khudaaya bhej de Mahmud koyee; butoon ko
sar chadhaaya ja raha hai. (Send another Mahmud, oh Lord, the idols are
Posters and slogans like this, invoking warped historical memory, can
only lead to Bombay blasts. Acknowledgement of our heroes and villains
as figures from a time past, as people whose deeds cannot be accounted
for by citizens who share parts of their political identity centuries
later, can save a society from Babris, Bombays and Gujarats. Independent
historical scholarship and dissemination of that knowledge in an
accessible language alone can help us.
Towards Freedom was such a project started by the Indian Council for
Historical Research in the 70s. Professors Sumit Sarkar and KN Panikkar
were to edit two volumes on the history of the Indian freedom struggle.
In 2000, the ICHR bosses loyal to the bjp hrd Minister Murli Manohar
Joshi, infamous for saffronising the institution, withdrew the two
volumes. Most liberals and leftist historians protested vehemently
against the withdrawal of the volumes by the then ICHR chairman, BS
Grover, known for his attempts to provide historical authenticity for
the Ram Janmabhoomi and temple campaign.
Laine’s troubles remind Sarkar of his own brush with state censorship in
2000. “Problems like this arise when people see the past through the
lens of the present and want it to mirror the present,” Sarkar explains.
He believes that Laine has every right to publish. “The banning of books
today is shocking because now we have a rather secular and democratic
coalition ruling the country,” he adds.
Barely a year after the problems Panikkar and Sarkar had to face, the
noose was tightened again around efforts at independent historical
research. In The Myth of the Holy Cow, DN Jha, Professor of History at
Delhi University argued that Hindus ate beef in Vedic times. The vhp saw
the book as aimed at insulting Hindus. Professor Jha had to live under
police protection after he received two anonymous phone calls
threatening him of dire consequences if he went ahead with the
publication of his book. A little known publisher brought it out but the
book was banned and Jha had to have it published in England, where Verso
Books brought it out with a tagline: The Book the Indian Government
Wanted to Ban.
Ban the books. Pressurise the publishers. Delay the releases. Force
authors into self-censorship. If these remain the commandments that
bureaucrats and politicians follow, the future histories of India will
be very dark tomes. “You cannot criticise anyone but Nehru and Gandhi in
India today. You can talk about their sex lives and nobody would raise a
figure because nobody can make a sole claim to them. Apart from them, it
is not just Shivaji, you cannot criticise Ranjit Singh in Punjab, Subhas
Chandra Bose in Calcutta, or criticise Ambedkar today without a storm
brewing up,” said veteran historian, Bipan Chandra. “Complete barriers
are erected against independent historical writing and research. If this
continues one cannot write a history of any aspect of India that would
make sense.” Sarkar is more optimistic and hopes that incidents like the
Laine ban remain aberrations.
January 19, 2006
ENCORE SOFT HINDUTVA ?
by Subhash gatade
Dr Surendra Parikh, practising allergist and President of the Federation
of Indian Associations in USA. Does the name sound familiar ? Definitely
not. But all those people who have been closely following Gujarat
genocide and the dubious role played by Narendra Modi and others from
his Parivar know this man for another facet of his persona. He happens
to be associated with the Hindutva brigade there and was the one who
took initiative to organise ‘Gujarat Gaurav Yatra’ on the streets of New
York City in the aftermath of the genocidal killings in the state. It
was a futile attempt to whitewash Mr Narendra Modi as he was facing lot
of flak at national-international level for his ‘successful Gujarat
It is worth noting that a professedly secular dispensation at the centre
selected Dr Parikh to be one of the receipients of the prestigious
Pravasi Bharatiya Samman which was given to him during the three day
meet held at H’bad. It was quite logical that a small group of Indians
residing in the USA who were present during the programme deemed it
necessary to lodge a protest when he was presented an award by the
President of India. This group was part of a larger coalition of secular
organisations and individuals based in north America called ‘Coalition
against Genocide’ which had spearheaded a successful campaign last year
to stop Modi from coming to USA.
But can it be said that it is for the first time that the dispensation
at the centre has been found to be wanting in its actions vis a vis
upholding secular principles ? The meeting of the National Integration
Council, which was held after a gap of 13 years last year inadvertently
underlined the fact, that government has yet to come out of the mindset
of the past NDA government. The agenda papers circulated before this
gathering in a way tried to peddle a convenient lie, which is very dear
to the Sangh establishment. It said that forcible and fraudulent
conversions (to christianity) are the main cause of civil unrest in
tribal and other rural areas. We very well know that within the Hindutva
weltanshauung ‘Conversion’ is a very convinient ploy to put the
religious minorities on hook. Under this pretext Hindutva front
organisations have played havoc with the lives of the tribals and have
been successful in re-converting may such tribals to their ‘original’
religion. As far as facts are concenred it can be said that the unrest
in such backward areas is primarily because of the material- cultural
deprivation felt by the local population vis-à-vis policies of the
Leading Christian rights activist and a leader of the All India
Christian Council conveyed his dispproval over the understanding of the
government on this issue. The letter stated that it “[I]s a malicious
myth propagated by obscurantist and fundamentalist – and often violent –
political groups and their frontal organisations of a well known
exclusivist ideology which believed in the thesis of One nation, One
people, One Culture” totally negating the Indian reality of Unity and
Diversity. ( The Milli Gazette, Wednesday 31, August 2005).
The way UPA government went back on its promise on the issue of POTA
repeal with retrospective effect was for everyone to see. When it was
out of power Congress had called the law draconian and had promised that
it would be repealed with retrospective effect. Once in power it
conveniently forgot its promise leading us to a situation where hundreds
of innocents are still languishing in jails without any trial. The
number of arrests made in Gujarat under this law in the aftermath of the
carnage has been repeated ad nauseam. And we very well know that despite
the fact that goons of the Hindutva brigade engaged themselves in a
planned genocide with due connivance of the state machinery all of those
who were apprehended belonged to the religious minorities.
Mukul Dube, a leading writer in an introductory essay to ‘The Parivar
Raj and After’ (Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, Mumbai, August 2005) had rightly
underlined “ Can the Congress not see what POTA has left behind of
itself? …POTA will continue to apply to those who were arrested under
its provisions. People who have suffered on account of a bad law will be
tried under the provisions of that very bad law—although that bad law
has been thrown out precisely because it was a bad law. It is difficult
to conceive of a more putrid example of brahminical double-speak.”.
Lot of eyebrows were raised when one witnessed the way Congress Party,
the leading constituent of the UPA government, went all out to admit in
its ranks rebels of the Shiv Sena, a Fascist formation mainly based in
Maharashtra. One has seen the way its Supremo Bal Thackray openly
praised Hitler, spew venom against the minorities and dalits and was
instrumental in demolition of the historic Babri Mosque. Justice Sri
Krishna Commission, which went enquired into the infamous riots in
Bombay in 1992-1993, had on several accounts held the Shiv Sena itself
responsible for the tragic happenings in the city. Questions naturally
arose in people’s minds that how could these very people who till the
other day were henchmen of the fascist formation and some of whom had
criminal cases slapped against them on such occasions could overnight
metamorphose into beacons of secularism.
Close wathchers of the Congress recall with horror the way it embraced
the path of soft hinduism in the eighties and thus facilitating the rise
of the ‘hard hindutva’ forces. May it be the issue of Meenakshipurm
conversions in the early 80s or the genocide of sikhs in 1984 or the
opening of the gates of Babri Mosque supposedly to ‘free’ Ramlalla one
could see the growing commonalities of views between the ‘secular’
Congress and the Hindutva brigade. The then Primi Minister of India
Rajiv Gandhi started the election campaign for the Parliamentary polls
in 1989 from Ayodhya itself. And in his opening speech he gave a call
for the formation of ‘Ram Rajya’ It was not for nothing that
majoritarian forces of the Hindutva kind gained an upper hand at the
cost of secularism. Looking back the eighties could be said to be the
turning point in the fortunes of the Hindutva brigade, which helped
bring it to the centrestage of Indian polity from its margins.
The dubious role played by the Congress in facilitating the ascendance
of the Hindutva forces may be a thing of the past but it cannot be said
that it cannot repeat its feat if it finds that it would be beneficial
to it in the short term. Professor Aijaj Ahmad rightly says that
Sangh-BJP may be programmatic communalists but as far as Congress is
concerned it is pragmatic communalists.
It should not be surprising that looking at the disarray in the Hindutva
camp and the slackening secular vigil the Congress Party may reinvent
itself in a soft Hindutva garb ? An inkling of this churning within the
Congress can be had from the grassroot level dynamics where at times one
finds local cadres of both the formations speaking same language
vis-à-vis ‘politics of appeasement’.
The ‘soft Hindutva detour’ of the Grand Old Party of Indian democracy is
definitely a wake up call. It remains to be seen how the motley
coalition of individuals, organisations which with their consistent
strivings helped turn the tide against the resurgent communal BJP
reinvigorates itself so that their cause celibre does keeps marching ahead.
 ANNOUNCEMENTS - Publications and Events
JAN-FEB 2006 Himal Southasian Publication Notice
COVER FEATURE: Gandhi, The Southasian
MK Gandhi was an 'Indian' before 1947. That makes him retroactively a
Southasian, and his thoughts and deeds should be able to provide a
roadmap for the entire region's political and civil society.
ALSO, articles on the people's movement in Nepal and the Maldives,
looking back at the Bhutani refugees, a report card on the Indian Left,
the cautious India-Pakistan thaw, Nirmal Verma, interview with Tariq
Ali, HK-WTO report, BIMSTEC's promise, Queen Karachi, and China in
Special report: Kashmir ka Sawaal
TARIQ ALI AND SITARAM YECHURY IN CONVERSTION
Date and Time: 23 January 2006 - 6.30 pm
Venue: G. D. Birla Sabhagar, Calcutta
(Passes available at: Seagull Arts & Media Resource Centre: 24556942 /
43 or Seagull Bookstore: 24765865 / 69)
The Other Media & We for Bhopal
Cordially Invite You to A Panel Discussion
JUSTICE IN BHOPAL – 21 YEARS ON . . .
Ingrid Eckerman – A Swedish Medical Practitioner, A Member of the
International Medical Commission on Bhopal and author of the Book ‘ The
Advocate S. Murlidhar – Advocate, Supreme Court, Who Has Been A
Consistent Support for the Bhopal Gas Survivors’ Struggle And Other
Jaya Srivastava – A Social Activist, who has been a part of various
Suroopa Mukherji – A Delhi University Teacher, Currently Fellow, Nehru
Memorial Museum and Library, Coordinator of the Students Group ‘We for
Shahid Noor – Bhopal Ki Aawaz – A Collective of Young People Orphaned by
the Bhopal Disaster
Student Representative - ‘We for Bhopal’- A Students’ Group dedicated to
the task of creating youth awareness about the Bhopal Gas Tragedy
Venue: Gandhi Peace Foundation, 223 / 231 Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg, New
Date: 24th January 2006
Time: 3:30 pm Onwards
Justice in Bhopal – 21 years on…
21 years down the line Bhopal lives both as a cause of concern and
reason for hope.
Little has changed in the living environment of the survivors. Even
after twenty-one years of struggle of the survivors’ group not much has
come their way. They continue to fight for their rights and justice, but
the form of justice delivered has been outrageously elusive. At best the
catastrophe remains as an imagery of deplorable negligence of human life
and dignity. Though the machinations of the Corporation and collusion of
the government in the aftermath of the disaster stands exposed the fight
remains as difficult in terms of establishing accountability from these
It is important to bring into focus some specifics into the larger
narrative of Bhopal injustice saga. There has been no end to the
physical and mental sufferings of the survivors, who continue to be the
victim of the negation by the government and Union Carbide/Dow Chemicals.
There are findings to show that the generations to be born are likely to
carry the ravages of the industrial toxins. Withholding of toxicological
information on the leaked gases by the Company has prevented an
effective and meaningful protocol of medical treatment. Adding to the
plight of the survivors is the lackadaisical management of little health
services provided by the government in the form of Bhopal Memorial
Hospital, which further curtails the little that has come their way.
Little has changed in the living environment of the survivors Bhopal
remains the world’s longest struggle for justice at the grass root
level, but little has been achieved in terms of justice. Despite the
verdict of the Supreme Court in May 2004, to provide clean drinking
water to the affected communities, measure to implement the order by the
State Government remain piecemeal. Besides on the legal front, Judicial
systems both in USA and India have failed to ensure adequate
compensation and justice to all survivors. Officials of Union Carbide
indicted in the charges of human slaughter and other criminal offences
are still absconding. And the new owner DOW Chemicals refuses to accept
any liability of its predecessor.
Described as the Hiroshima of industrial disaster, the corporation and
the government have both failed to take up liability, give adequate
medical treatment, means of livelihood and monetary compensation. Yet
the survivor groups continue to fight for their rights, however elusive
the forms of justice might remain. They fight for the dignity of human
Why is it that we are still talking about Bhopal? Is it possible take
the cause to the logics of justice? Do we need to rethink the strategy
when it comes to civil society action?
It is indeed a very disturbing fact that if Bhopal were to happen today,
we may be despairingly addressing the same State and the Judiciary,
whose unwillingness to act has withstood the test of several such
disasters, speaking volumes on the failings of the system.
This panel discussion looks at Bhopal 21 years on... as a reminder that
the disaster is on going, and there is an urgent need for our concern,
support and action.
Buzz on the perils of fundamentalist politics, on
matters of peace and democratisation in South
Asia. SACW is an independent & non-profit
citizens wire service run since 1998 by South
Asia Citizens Web: www.sacw.net/
SACW archive is available at: bridget.jatol.com/pipermail/sacw_insaf.net/
DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed in materials carried in the posts do not
necessarily reflect the views of SACW compilers.
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