SACW | 14 March 2006 | Prohibiting Spring; Failure of Military; Indo US Nuclear Blunder; Sniffer dogs at Gandhi's tomb; Divinty Businessmen; citizens vs builders
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Mon Mar 13 20:04:08 CST 2006
South Asia Citizens Wire | 14 March, 2006 | Dispatch No. 2232
 Pakistan: Prohibiting Basant, penalising jubilation (Imtiaz Alam)
 Book Review: The failure of military government (Rounaq Jahan)
 India: CNDP statement on Indo-US Nuclear Deal
 India: Sniffing on Gandhiji (Paul Zacharia)
 India: Tamil Nadu's freak swamis (S. Anand)
 India: 'legislate for citizens not only mill owners and builders'! -
Citizens March in Bombay, March 14, 2006
The News International
March 14, 2006
PROHIBITING BASANT, PENALISING JUBILATION
by Imtiaz Alam
Once again the axe of prohibition has fallen on a culturally and
aesthetically most gratifying festival of spring -- Basant. Playing to
the tunes of sickening clerics, the Punjab government earned the stigma
of banning the colourful festival of kite flying. As in previous years,
the people defied the ban in every alley and on every rooftop of Lahore
with police violating the privacy of homes to enforce an unenforceable
decree. There is no disagreement on exorcising the 'foul side' of kite
sport, but by outlawing the sport itself the ruling PML has revealed its
true reactionary nature. To punish all of society for the bloody sin of
a few is nothing but fascism. By denying the people their freedom of
expression, you lose the right to rule them and this is what has
happened on the eve of Basant in Lahore. Can any one stop spring and
banish people from celebrating its advent?
Exercising freedom of happiness and the right to seek pleasure was at a
great risk and invited the wrath of 'khudai faujdars' from the PML. As
if a long autumn of prohibition was not enough, the celebration of
Basant assumed a clash between the Freudian 'unconscious' or what is
'repressed' and the release of 'primary biological urges', on the one
hand, and the enforcers of a fascist code of prohibition, on the other.
The forces of denial came into action, after the clergy had failed to
stop people from gratifying pleasure, on the pretext of the horrible
deaths caused by the foul play of a section of kite flyers. The culprits
are those who manufactured murderous metallic or razor sharp string and
not the millions of kite flyers. Compensation for the innocent blood of
infants, who have been made an easy prey to the killer string by being
dangerously seated in front of motorbikes, cannot be made by crucifying
the happiness of the innocent millions. The Punjab government, with the
help of civil society, could easily take out the killer string from the
spring sport. But, the Chief Minister threw the baby out with the bath
This is in fact the fear of freedom that makes those shudder that use
'enlightenment' as a tactical façade for their shabby designs. Although
the official crusaders came down heavily and lawlessly on the violators
of prohibition, they cannot change the deep natural core of the human
animal which will continue to find release in a hundred and one ways no
restriction can inhibit. And this is what was witnessed in Lahore. On
the other hand, the denial of pleasure extended to civil society creates
the soil for submission to authoritarianism and its extremist clerical
allies. When libidinal energy is repressed, it finds most conflicting
expressions from puritanism to perversion and fascism to alcoholism and
cynicism to extremism.
What mullahs and autocrats don't understand is that repression of
pleasure at all levels, from family to state, leads to various kinds of
obsessive compulsive disorders. According to psychoanalysts, the
pleasure principal is central to the healthy growth of an average being
of a nation, if it doesn't get either stuck up with the oral pleasure
stage that the Horticulture Authority in Punjab has been trying to
inculcate in what it cowardly portrays as 'Jashan-i-Baharan', or becomes
a victim of guilt for the 'original sin'. This is the grey area where
the clergy builds its appeal and the PML tries to compete with it.
The psychologists have 'character analytically' discovered, and quite
paradoxically, the surface layer of humans, which should on average be
reserved, polite, compassionate, responsible and conscientious, is
overpowered by their 'secondary drives' which consist of cruel,
sadistic, lascivious, rapacious and envious impulses. There would be no
social tragedy of the human animal, according to Wilhelm Reich, a great
psychologist and character analyst, if this surface layer of the
personality works in direct contact with the deep natural core, i.e. the
primary biological urges. Now the Orgone biophysics have made it
possible to comprehend the Freudian 'unconscious', that which is
anti-social in man is a secondary result of the repression of primary
biological urges. What happens is that the surface layer of social
cooperation is not in contact with the deep biological core. Reich has
discovered that it is borne by a second and intermediate layer, which
consists of sadistic and reactionary impulses. The more the religious
extremists try to repress the orgiastically deprived masses, the greater
will be the perversion within their own ranks and resistance by the
Despite a partial vulgarisation of the most gratifying festival due to
the overindulgence of multinationals, a culturally perverse bureaucracy
and the trigger happy hooligans, the festival is keeping its spontaneity
in every alley and home and spreading like a prairie fire to every nook
and corner of the Islamic Republic. This beautiful spring has also
brought manifold gratification of pleasures by relieving the burdens of
demonising obscurantism with the cultural exuberance of all-encompassing
Basant. Celebrating colours and commemorating happiness amid a riot of
kites helps release repressed libidinal energies to the full. By defying
prohibition and relinquishing fear of freedom, the people have brought a
spiralling cultural revolution no cleric or patriarchal authority can
Like previous years, a landslide cultural verdict is being affirmatively
given on every rooftop, in every alley and every park in favour of
freedom of pleasure, celebration of love and commemorating of human
self-gratification. It is such a popular expression of the real self of
the people of Punjab and their Freudian 'unconscious' that defeats those
who base their ideological onslaught on the repression of primary
biological energies. Our cultural soil has in fact refused to become a
breeding ground for the thorns of bigoted religious repulsion and
exclusion. The festival welcomes spring by combining singing, dancing
and flaunting colours, mustered yellowish in particular, which also
symbolises the peak of spiritual voyage in mystical tradition.
The kite flying adds a competitive and thrilling dimension to the whole
festivity. The kites are not simply flown for a mock fight; they become
a centre of gravity for the whole festivity, dancing and singing. It's a
mock fight that satisfies what psycho-analysts describe as the secondary
drives. Whereas the noise of "bo kata" compensates for the un-fulfilment
in life, the kite-looting represents the Plebeian urge of the have-nots
in their existence of nothingness. The bloody metal thread, however,
reveals the foul side of our character structure that must be curbed by
outlawing the business of killer-thread production, not the festival itself.
While our Mullahs apostatise Basant, Bulleh Shah welcomes Basant in
these words: "Kaho phuley basant bahar noo; dil lochey mahi yaar noo"
(Tell flowery spring this Basant, my heart is jumping for my beloved).
Divorced from cultural ethos, there have been some 'puritans' who had
termed it a "Hindu" festival, but they are not being heard anymore.
Spring festivals have been the human cultural response ever since the
blossoming of flowers. Nature endowed spring with blossoming of flowers
and spreading of fragrance and a meeting season for all living. The
Basant festival in Punjab is as old as is the growing of sarson
(mustard), hence the yellow and green dresses. The folklore reconfirms
its organic vibrancy by singing: Mera rang dey basanti chola (colour my
shirt in yellow). Kite flying is also as old as the human urge to fly.
Even before the invention of paper, kites were made of other materials
as revealed by the excavations and pictures inscribed in many ancient
caves. Basant as a commemoration of a Hindu blasphemer belies history
since it's a festival of jubilation which is being observed prior to 1747.
Basant provokes the clerics of all hues against the cultural renaissance
of Punjab since it cuts across all divides and unifies people on the
most human rhythms of our Punjabi folklore and helps overcome our
estrangement from our real inner self. At a political level, it's a
struggle between 'repressed' urges and the authoritarian repressers. And
so be it. The more you will enforce prohibitive regimes, the greater
will be the defiance. But let not the kite slit the flower of our youth,
let no factory produce the killer string and, above all, let no crusader
trample our freedom to love and merry-making. Basant Manao, Basant
Sanwaro, if it can help release some suffocation from within.
The Daily Star
March 14, 2006
(Book Review) THE FAILURE OF MILITARY GOVERNMENT
by Rounaq Jahan
We've Learnt Nothing from History
Pakistan: Politics and Military Power
M Asghar Khan
Oxford University Press, 2005
M. Asghar Khan's book, which carries a rather depressing title: "We've
Learnt Nothing from History," is a fascinating account of the author's
personal recollections of political events and conversations with key
leaders in Pakistan over the last half a century. It is a refreshingly
frank account often told with a lot of humour. I consider this book as a
must read for all students of both Pakistan and Bangladesh politics.
Though it primarily focuses on Pakistan politics, many trends described
in the book are equally applicable to Bangladesh. Asghar Khan
demonstrates how rulers in Pakistan have repeatedly failed to learn from
history. I am sure after reading the book students of Bangladesh
politics will be tempted to draw similar conclusions about our own
rulers, both military as well as civilian.
The book narrates many personal experiences and conversations which will
serve as a valuable primary source for scholars researching Pakistan
politics. I believe we need many more such personal accounts by people
who have been privileged to witness historical events or have had access
to confidential information that throws light on dark episodes of our
history and politics.
Of course, there is always a risk with personal accounts. These are
written from the perspectives of individuals concerned. They can also be
self-serving and can tell partial truth or even lies. Unfortunately in
Bangladesh we have seen repeated such attempts to misrepresent history
by people who claim to be witnesses to historical events. But despite
such risks, personal accounts and memoirs are always a valuable primary
source. A good researcher should be able to check facts and decide what
can and what cannot be used as a source of information.
Though the title of the book is depressing, it is sadly apt. The author
persuasively demonstrates how repeated interventions by the military in
the country's politics thwarted development of democratic institutions
and norms in Pakistan. Each time the military took power, the results
were disastrous for the nation. Every military ruler assumed power in
the name of "saving" Pakistan. Each promised to "establish" democracy.
But each regime pushed the country further in the path of
disintegration. Chances of democracy taking root became even more remote
with each military intervention. Successive regimesmilitary and
civilianpursued the same failed policies and made the same old mistakes.
Readers of the book will easily concur with the author that ruling
elites, military as well as political, have not learnt anything from
Pakistan's six decades of history since its birth in 1947.
Asghar Khan argues that the military is incapable of fostering democracy
or even functioning as a government responsive to citizens needs,
particularly those of the poor, because the military institution is by
definition not accountable to people. He narrates an interesting
incident when a junior officer behaved insolently with the deposed
president Iskander Mirza. He writes:
"The conduct of this officer typified the dangers inherent in the
involvement of the armed forces in politics. When power is wielded by
the defence services, it is ultimately exercised by people who both by
experience and by temperament are least suited for this role. Since they
are not responsible to the people, their arrogance finds expression in
ways that are more harmful than the one typified by the ill manners of
the young officer at Mauripur airfield on that October morning." (p. 16)
Asghar Khan narrates many such incidences of the military's arrogance
and misguided policies. He underscores the futility of the pursuit of
military actions by military regimes when the situation on the ground
demands a political solution. He cites Pakistani rulers brutal military
actions in Bangladesh and Baluchistan as prime examples of such
arrogance and folly.
Of course the military rulers have been aided and abetted by equally
arrogant and power-hungry politicians such as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
Asghar Khan narrates a conversation with Yahya Khan who said that Bhutto
had advised him (Yahya) that "East Pakistan is no problem. We will have
to kill some 20,000 people there and all will be well." (p. 36)
Asghar Khan also reports on lack of resistance and even pro-active
undemocratic advice offered to military rulers by influential people who
are supposed to uphold democratic principles. For example, Chief Justice
Munir told Ayub Khan that a Constitution could be approved by "public
acclaim" in meetings organized in different cities of Pakistan by the
military regime (pp. 12-13).
I found Asghar Khan's detailed description of the role of the Inter
Services Intelligence (ISI) in politics to be the most illuminating
chapter. We generally hear rumours about ISI involvement without much
empirical evidence to support such allegations. In this book Asghar Khan
has devoted a whole chapter (pp. 195-201) describing how ISI's role has
changed over the years from its origin in the late 1950s as an
intelligence coordination agency to "a system of political interference"
in the 1970s and 1980s. He cites examples of ISI support in the
formation as well as break up of political parties and alliances;
manipulation of election results; distribution of funds to politicians;
aid to religions groups within Pakistan; and training of mujahideens
that ultimately led to Taliban control of Afghanistan. The most
interesting exposure of ISI's role was the suo moto case Asghar Khan
brought in the Pakistan Supreme Court in 1996 detailing the illegal
activities of the agency, particularly its disbursement of funds to
various political leaders (pp. 199-200). The case had three or four
hearings and has been in cold storage since 1999.
A pertinent question here is how can ISI continue to engage in such
illegal activities when its involvement is open public knowledge? After
all the newspapers have published the list of people who received ISI
funds. Then why is there no punishment either for the ISI or for the
people receiving funds? Asghar Khan provides a partial answer to these
question? He observes:
"It is a measure of the lack of political sense of the Pakistani public
that they continue to bring these people back to the assemblies whenever
national elections are held. Old habits die hard and the political
parties and their leadership, whatever their public stand, look towards
the armed forces to help them come to power. It has become the norm in
Pakistan for political parties when in opposition to establish contact
with GHQ or the ISI and conspire to bring down the elected government.
If this remains so, the ISI will undoubtedly continue to be used for
political manipulation." (pp. 198-199).
The information and analysis on the ISI's role provided by Asghar Khan
led me to ponder as to why we do not yet have such exposures on the
Bangladesh intelligence services. After all, for years we have heard
allegations about NSI and DGFI involvement in our politics. Yet no
researcher or the media has attempted to collect and publish empirical
evidence. This is a serious gap in our knowledge and understanding of
politics. Involvement of intelligence services is a cancer in politics
which needs to be clearly identified and eliminated. We need first hand
accounts like Asghar Khan's book. We need more evidence-based research
on the involvement of intelligence services in our politics.
Asghar Khan's life long commitment to and struggle for the achievement
of democracy, human rights and social justice come through clearly as
one reads the book. One principle he repeatedly emphasizes is that civil
and military officials are under no obligation to follow illegal or
immoral orders given by their superiors. He refers to the Nuremberg
trials after the Second World War when Nazi war criminals were held
accountable even though they tried to plead that they carried out orders
of superiors. He cites example from his own life when he refused to
follow the order of his superior military commander to destroy a caravan
carrying women and children. Chapter 5 of the book, titled "The
Guardians of the Law" contains copies of various letters he wrote at
different periods to Inspector Generals (IG) of Police and Chief
Secretaries, reprimanding them for various unconstitutional and illegal
actions committed at the dictates of "immoral and repressive" regimes.
In one letter written to IG Police in 1976 he states:
"[S]uch unlawful acts on the part of police officers can only push the
country further towards anarchy and chaos. Those who are party to this
are undoubtedly guilty of a crime against Pakistan and its people." (p. 89).
Again, this chapter of the book will remind readers in Bangladesh of
similar unlawful acts committed by our police, civil administration and
military under the order of their superiors. Asghar Khan's insistence on
protection of human rights and his description of various incidences of
violation of his constitutional rights underscore the importance of
establishing rule of law as the primary function of a modern state.
Though Asghar Khan has resisted Bhutto's autocratic actions and
personally suffered imprisonment and harassment as a consequence, he is
fair in his assessment of Bhutto. For example, he credits Bhutto for
some of his economic policies such as nationalization of industries and
the Five Marla Scheme in agriculture. He writes that "the working
classes were satisfied that the government was working for their uplift
and betterment. They acquired a sense of importance and a feeling of
security that they had not hitherto experienced" (p. 64). This kind of
generosity in recognizing good acts of opponents is rare in our parts of
Many of Asghar Khan's ideas and positions are visionary. He envisions a
local government system (pp. 161-2) that will free Pakistan from what he
calls the "shackles of an all powerful bureaucracy." He proposes elected
governments at village, halqa, district and provincial levels, with
control of their staff and operations. He is opposed to Pakistan's
acquision of nuclear weapons because he considers this to be an unwise
military strategy (pp. 243-44). He argues that it increases the chances
of India launching a nuclear first strike. He is also opposed to
increasing budget for the armed forces and weapons. Instead he
recommends increased investment in human development and social services
such as education, health, sanitation and clean water. He is in favour
of a near independent status for Kashmir. Indeed, the book is full of
many enlightened ideas and policies, which if implemented, would have
augured well for Pakistan and South Asia.
Asghar Khan is equally forthright in rejecting use of religion to
advance political gains. He argues that the military regimes like that
of Ziaul Huq cannot call themselves Islamic because under their policies
the gaps between the rich and the poor have widened. Asghar Khan
believes that Islam stands for social justice, and regimes that do not
promote social justice cannot be called Islamic.
Of course, a good book generates many questions. This book is no
exception. Many questions came to my mind as I read the book. Here I
will focus on only three. First, Asghar Khan writes that the ruling
class of West Pakistan considered East Pakistan to be an "encumbrance
and conditioned itself to believe that Pakistan would do better without
its eastern wing" (p. 9). But if that was the case, then why did the
ruling class not agree to part amicably with us? What was the need to
unleash the act of genocide?
Second, Asghar Khan does not fully explain what motivated him to enter
politics via a route different from that of other military leaders in
Pakistan. After all, he spent a life time in Pakistan military
establishment. What led him, then, to oppose his former colleagues: Ayub
Khan and Yahya Khan? Why did he decide to champion democracy, human
rights, and social justice?
Third, why are leaders such as Asghar Khan, who practice principled
politics, not able to mobilize enough popular support to win electoral
majorities? Why do people vote for parties that are led by corrupt
politicians? What are the constraints of the existing electoral
processes that work against clean parties and leaders?
Asghar Khan clearly is not worried about not winning electoral majority
or being a politician like the others. He is more interested in telling
the truth as he sees it and following his principles and conscience.
Surprisingly, however, the book does not have a moralistic, preaching
style. Instead it is written simply with a lot of anecdotes some quite
amusing, that make it very clear how Pakistani rulers repeatedly took
unlawful and immoral actions that ruined successive regime and pushed
the ordinary citizens into more and more hardship. The author deserves
our congratulations for a highly readable and lucid account of Pakistani
politics. Hopefully, after reading this book, our rulers will start
learning some lessons from history.
Rounaq Jahan is Senior Research Scholar and Adjunct Professor,
International Affairs, Columbia University, New York.
Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (India)
PRESS STATEMENT RE INDO-US NUCLEAR DEAL
March 11, 2006
The Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace
(CNDP), India expresses its deep distress and concern
at the euphoria being drummed up by the government of
India, and the media, over the visit by the US
president and further cementing of the nuclear ‘deal’
between the two states. The attitude of the Indian
government, and the media, closely mirrors their
attitude eight years back in the aftermath of the May
98 nuclear blasts in Pokhran.
If the blasts carried out then, in flagrant violation
of India’s longstanding position championing global
nuclear disarmament, had elicited no sign of remorse
from the Indian elite at that act of huge immorality
and utter stupidity, this time as well the further
compounding of that stupendous crime, by desperately
seeking international stamp of approval for its status
as a nuclear weapons state through this dangerous
‘deal’ severely undermining global efforts towards
nuclear non-proliferation and universal disarmament,
is being shamelessly and brazenly paraded as a great
‘national’ achievement. The prime minister of India
has called it “historic”, and no less. He has shown no
hesitation whatever in being co-opted, in the process,
as a junior partner in the US game plan – to function
as a frontline state of its newly acquired patron in
this part of the globe, to establish its unilateral
and unfettered global dominance.
The orchestrated hype and hoopla notwithstanding, the
‘deal’ entitling India to have ‘civilian’ nuclear
trade with the US – and also other constituents of the
45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), in gross
violation of the relevant provisions of the (Nuclear)
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) currently enjoying the
endorsement of 187 out of total 191 members of the UN,
as regards its ‘civilian’ nuclear plants now
identified, as negotiated and agreed between the two
states, remains yet to be approved by the US Congress.
This gives the anti-nuke peace movements in this
country, and the world over, a window of opportunity
to block this pernicious ‘deal’ by mobilising public
opinion, anywhere and everywhere, against it, which
promises to trigger off an all-round rush for the
weapons of deliberate mass murder all the world over.
We must measure up to this terrible challenge!
March 18 , 2006
SNIFFING ON GANDHIJI
by Paul Zacharia
It seems the sentiments of some citizens have been hurt because dogs
sniffed at the Mahatma’s samadhi. The media does not clarify to what
category these sentiments belong: patriotic, religious, political — or
perhaps zoological. But it did sound alarmed and somewhat hurt itself.
I know lots of dog-haters. But they are also animal-haters in general.
It’s a bug in their psychology. The outrage reflected in the media
without editorial comment seems to go beyond such personal quirk. The
dog becomes a shudra, an untouchable, a dirty lower caste whose very
sniff makes you lose your greatness/holiness. Amazing, isn’t it? And we
live in India 2006.
Bush is no beauty. But the dogs: such fine animals!
During the two decades I spent in Delhi, I’ve visited Rajghat many
times. I am sure I’ve seen the following creatures of God upon and
around the samadhi, doing various things from sniffing to sleeping and
peeing: crow, dove, sparrow, other birds, ant, butterfly, bee, snail,
chameleon, squirrel, bug, worm, cat, dog. (There were cows too, but they
are holy to begin with.)
I wonder if all these creatures were untouchable, or only the dog. This
was the early 70s to early 90s. I don’t know if the canons of
untouchability were different then. I have another question: if the dog
is a polluting shudra, what is the fate of thousands of our fellow
citizens in the northeastern region for whom dog is food, like chicken
and mutton for lots of upper-caste Indians? Can they enter the Mahatma’s
It would be interesting to find out the source from where the decree on
the unholiness of dog came with such authority that the media lapped it
up without even a side-glance. And many of these newspapers print Maneka
Gandhi’s animal love columns regularly. Unless I’m mistaken, the
dog-loving Maneka Gandhi herself has chosen to sink into silence. No
kennel club is outraged either. The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals (SPCA) is quiet. Don’t they realise that given the Indian knack
for bloodshed, this desecration of the holy samadhi can lead to a pogrom
on dogs? Perhaps, other things being equal, on dog-owners too?
I am puzzled. When thieves break into the sanctum sanctorum and make
away with God’s idol, the sniffer dog is a must. He/she sniffs all over
the holy things. In fact, the faithful and the media are outraged if
dogs are not called. It’s considered an insult to the greatness of the
lord. When offering-boxes of churches and mosques are pilfered, the
sniffer dog’s arrival is greeted with holy thrill. And when people lie
buried under debris after an earthquake, the sniffer dog is not an
untouchable shudra, but a saviour. Tomorrow, God forbid, if there’s a
fake bomb call from the Rajghat, will the bomb squad lock up the sniffer
dogs first? How far will Indian hypocrisy go?
Bush is no beauty, but I saw pictures of those dogs. Such fine and
handsome animals! Gandhiji would have loved to pat them on the head.
Outlook Magazine (India)
March 20, 2006
FAITH - SNEEZE . . . AH, GOD BLESS YOU
In the interiors of Tamil Nadu, these freak swamis are a phenomenon in
by S. Anand
At first glance, there is little to set apart the village of
Amachiapuram, 20 km north of Madurai, from other dusty, nondescript
hamlets in the region. On the highway, as advised by a local reporter,
we ask for the Mookkusali Samiyar (Snot Swami)—also known as the
Kulandai-varam Samiyar (Child-Blessing Swami)—at a teashop, so that we
reach the right place. At Amachiapuram, we are led to Arumugam the
tailor, the man who will shortly transform himself into the snot-spewing
The long-locked man is just about five feet tall and an undernourished
40 kg. Clad in a yellow veshti, he lives in the Adi Dravidar (Dalit)
Colony, where the roofs of most of the 27 government-built one-room
houses have collapsed.
Seated on a gunnysack, Arumugam pedals his sewing machine, stitching a
green blouse. It’s early on a Friday, and before the clients turn up, he
asks us to fetch him two 180 ml bottles of Cosmopolitan whiskey, two
plastic glasses, two water sachets, a packet of savoury
‘mixture’, some pickle and five idlis. Of course, the ‘prasadam’ will be
of even greater value if you add ganja, pan parag and Ganesh beedi to
the list. The man at the state-owned liquor shop 2 km away knows at
once: Is all of this for the Snot Swami? he asks.
After a turmeric-scrub bath in a lotus-strewn pond, Arumugam drapes
himself in a sari, sits below a tree near the Karuppusamy temple, and
elevates himself to a higher plane of consciousness by gulping 360 ml of
rotgut whiskey in 40 minutes. "Other swamis hide what they drink, I
don’t," he says.
Arumugam makes pronouncements on visa cases, court cases and health
problems. However, his speciality is blessing childless couples. He
tells Outlook: "I have blessed 5,700 couples with children." It’s a
claim nobody can confirm. Or contest. He says he has been rendering this
service for more than 15 years, though it is only in the last two years
that his fame has spread. "A man on whose kidneys the Coimbatore doctors
had given up came to me. I cured him," he says.
On an eventful Friday, more than 100 people—of all castes and
communities—seek out the cross-dressing swami. After a few swigs of
whiskey, idlis, pickle and tobacco powder, Arumugam is able to generate
a great deal of phlegm—and he lets it fly. Snot and spit fly out of his
sharp nose and mouth and hit the faces of those seeking his counsel. To
wipe it off would be blasphemous. For Snot Swami’s disciples, this is
the best way to be blessed. The irony is: If Arumugam was just another
Dalit agricultural labourer, people would have refused water from him.
Now, they welcome his snot on their faces.
Snot Swami is part of a phenomenon that pervades Tamil Nadu. Tucked away
in villages that invariably miss the cartographer’s pencil, their
reputations built purely by word of mouth, scores of freaky swamis have
been ‘healing’ people with various ailments—mental, physical, social,
personal, familial, even political. The social base of their clientele
is largely the lower middle class and the rural poor—people defeated by
marital problems, by science, modern medicine, the state, life. But once
in a while, desperation brings even people in Toyotas and Fords here.
In Lakkayankottai, a village in Ottanchattiram taluq in Dindigul
district, Vellachamy maintains a visitors’ ledger in his little ashram.
Among those seeking Vellachamy’s counsel is Subramanian, a farmer from
Palani, whose inexplicable body pains found no cure in allopathy. "I
spent a week in the ashram and found great relief," he says. Selvaraj, a
labourer in a rice mill in Dharapuram, says he has been unable to sleep
in 10 years: "I have been coming here once a month for the past three
years. After each visit, I manage to sleep for 10 days." Pechiammal,
from Nilakottai, has been deserted by her husband.
The swami, who keeps tossing shells as he speaks to the tormented soul,
offers her two juicy lemons, some charmed vibhuti (holy ash), and the
assurance that her husband will return soon.
A tailor by profession, snot Swami Arumugam blesses people with Phlegm
Mangeswari has not seen her truck-driver husband in 18 months. Eyes
closed, Vellachamy infers from this piece of information that he has
been living with another woman. The cure is the same: two lemons, holy
ash. "Dindigul is known for good lemon crops and ash is purchased from
shops," Vellachamy’s assistant, who maintains the ledger, explains
pragmatically. Why the ledger?
"The TN police wants to find out if we sexually abuse women who visit.
They even sent women police in mufti. The ledger is to keep a record,"
explains the 58-year-old swami with a rationalist past. He used to be a
member of the Dravidar Kazhagam and was a Congress member during
Vellachamy has a propensity to zero in on bigamy, and other sexual and
marital issues, as the root of all trouble. But he doesn’t always get it
right. Gazing into the eyes of our cab driver, Ilangovan, he says: "You
have two wives, don’t you?" Ilangovan denies the charge with vehemence:
"No saami, no."
Pugayelaipatti, also in Dindigul, is the home of Velankanni, a
60-year-old Christian swami who says he has given speech to dumb three-
and five-year-olds. A former goatherd, the unlettered man sitting on a
cot watching a Tamil channel on his black-and-white TV set draws deep on
his unfiltered Scissors cigarette, and dismisses us with: "I don’t see
people on Saturday. It’s my day off."
Rajayogi Durai Natarajan, who operates out of the privately owned
Rajakaliamman temple in Thethupatty village, calls himself a yoga expert
in the Tamil Siddha tradition. He says he specialises in ‘Vasiyogam’,
the yoga of breath control. "An average person breathes 15 times per
minute. If you breathe more it is because of tension, anxiety. I can
reduce it to one breath a minute. A tortoise breathes the least, lives
the longest." Who initiated him into the Siddha tradition? "You won’t
believe it, I was initiated in my dreams." That’s breathtaking. A former
trustee of the Palani temple board, Natarajan continues to be a member
of the AIADMK. He is, in fact, joint secretary of the party’s
agricultural wing for Dindigul district. "Politics and spirituality are
related. Politicians bow to people, the people bow to us."
The Tamil tabloid press reports on the activities of these lower-end
godmen with vulgar enthusiasm, and sometimes portrays them as criminals.
But Tamil Nadu abounds in gurus, both low- and high-end. The Anamalai
Hills in Coimbatore is home to several ashrams patronised by films
stars, industrialists and the rich. Jaggi Vasudev, practitioner of Isha
Yoga, and new-age guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar both hail from Tamil Nadu.
With more than 15 magazines devoted to spiritual matters and astrology,
and TV serials and cinema promoting spirituality, this is a state
steeped in religiosity. What these swamis represent is a relatively
benign, nonconformist—if freaky—fringe.
CITIZENS MARCH IN BOMBAY
Date and Time: March 14, 2006 - 3 PM onwards
Route: Azad Maidan to Mantralaya, Mumbai
People of Mumbai! Lets fight for open spaces, clean air,
infrastructure and public housing! Maharashtra government must
legislate for citizens not only mill owners and builders!
The people of Mumbai, are shocked by the Supreme Court judgment on
mill lands. The Supreme Court judgment has not only given commercial
interests more importance than the collective needs of a dying city,
it has actually supported the blatantly illegitimate demands of the
builders and mill owners.. Its implications are far reaching…………..
VIOLATION OF THE BASIC PROPERTY LAW: YOU CANNOT SELL WHAT YOU DO NOT OWN!
600 acres of land in the heart of Mumbai is occupied by textile mills,
most of which have been closed. Much of this land was leased to the
mill owners or sold at very low rates for the purpose of starting
mills over a century ago. The land could not be sold, until 1991 when
the law was amended, then too mainly for reviving sick mills. Today
when the mills have shut down, there is a rush to exploit it as real
estate, without providing livelihood and homes to the mill workers and
much needed infrastructure for the city. The judiciary and the State
Government have been callous enough to support sale of this land by
Mill owners with hardly any conditions..
CHEATED OF OUR RIGHT TO HOUSING, INFRASTRUCTURE, OPEN SPACE, FRESH AIR!
By Rule 58 of the DCR of 1991, mill lands could be sold, provided a
third was reserved for public use [like parks and play grounds], a
third for affordable housing and a third for owners to develop as they
pleased. Mill owners got equal FSI for the land that they were
'giving up'. But they were greedy for more. A modification in 2001 by
the Maharashtra Government reduced the land available for public
spaces -parks, playgrounds pedestrian areas, etc- from 200 acres to
just 32 acres. Where there would have been in 45000 low cost houses,
there would now be just 5000 houses. This was struck down by the
Mumbai High Court and now reinstated by the Supreme Court. The
extensive unplanned commercial development that would take place as a
result of this sale, would cause terrible congestion, traffic problems
and put an enormous strain the on existing services which are woefully
inadequate. Only Mumbaiites can truly understand what this means.
A CAUSE FOR ALARM!
The opening up of the mill lands as per the Supreme court judgment
will set the wrong precedent for all other such large govt owned lands
most of which are on lease such as the Bombay Port Trust land, the
waterfront, land owned by the Railways, etc, which could be then
opened up to private developers for commercial exploitation. People in
Mumbai will then only be able to walk around malls instead of open
DEVELOPMENT FOR WHOM?
The Supreme Court in its ruling says that it "had to choose between
environment and development and it chose development which it claims
is "sustainable". This development is certainly not in the interest of
citizens of Mumbai and cannot be described as sustainable . In this
case it is not just the environment, but largely local people,
citizens of Mumbai who are being marginalized for the benefit of a
DO WE AS CITIZENS HAVE THE POWER TO RECLAIM WHAT RIGHTFULLY BELONGS TO US?
This is valuable land in the heart of the city, can and should be used
to provide affordable housing for the mill workers, rehabilitation for
slums and dilapidated tenanted buildings, low income housing, green
spaces and vegetation to act as pollution sinks, public amenities like
markets, playgrounds, community centres, special schools and medical
institutions, public Infrastructure facilities, sewerage lines and
plants, that would reduce the load on the overworked infrastructure of
the Mumbai city and even the revival of the textile industry. No
elected representatives or public servants have the right to gift it
It is time to come together and demand our rights as citizens. We
have the right to participate in the planning of the city. We demand
that the Maharashtra govt immediately and urgently bring in
legislation providing 1/3rd, 1/3rd and 1/3rd division of the mill-land
area in the interest of the people and the environment.
We call on you to join us on the protest march to the Mantralaya on
March 14th at 3 pm from Azad Maidan, to demand justice for Mumbai, to
demand that the Maharashtra govt. which should represent the citizens
of Mumbai, immediately legislate to protect the mill workers and the
AGNI, AKSHARA, ALL INDIA BANK EMPLOYEES ASSOCIATION, ALL INDIA BANK
OFFICERS CONFERERATION, ALL INDIA LIC EMPLOYEES FEDERATION, ALL INDIA
TRADE UNION CONGRESS, CENTRE OF INDIAN TRADE UNIONS, CITISPACE, COMET
MEDIA, COMMUNIST PARTY OF INDIA, COMMUNIST PARTY OF INDIA (MARXIST),
DUCUMENTATION RESEARCH AND TRAINING CENTRE, EKTA, FOCUS ON THE GLOBAL
SOUTH, FORUM AGAINST OPRESSION OF WOMEN, GIRNI BHADEKARU SANGHARSH
SAMITI, GIRNI KAMGAR SANGARSH SAMITI, INDIAN FEDERATION OF TRACE
UNIONS, INDIA CENTRE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS AND LAW, LOK RAJ SANGHATAN,
MAHARASHTRA ASSOCIATION OF RESIDENT DOCTORS, MAJLIS, MOVEMENT FOR
PEACE AND JUSTICE, MUMBAI ENVIRONMENTAL SOCIAL NETWORK, INTERNATIONAL
NETWORK FOR TRADTITIONAL BUILDING ARCHITECTURE AND URBANISATION,
MUMBAI PORT TRUST AND DOCK WORKERS UNION, NATIONAL ALLIANCE OF PEOPLES
MOVEMENTS, NATIONAL FISHWORKERS FORUM, NIRBHAY BANO ANDOLAN, NIVARA
HAKK SAURAKSHAN SAMITI, PEOPLES MEDIA INITIATIVE, SHAHER VIKAS MANCH,
STATE GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES UNION, YOUNG PROFESSIONALS COLLECTIVE,
YOUTH FOR UNITY AND VOLUNTARY ACTION,
Mumbai Peoples Action Committee (MPAC),
7/61 Modern Mills compound,
KK Marg, Saat Rasta, Mumbai-400 011.
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
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