SACW | June 11-14, 2009 / Afghan Curbs on Free Speech / Colombo Deportation / Manu Militari in Kashmir / Hindutva / women's Bill / Homophobia
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Sat Jun 13 23:10:18 CDT 2009
South Asia Citizens Wire | June 11-14, 2009 | Dispatch No. 2634 -
Year 11 running
[ SACW Dispatches for 2009-2010 are dedicated to the memory of Dr.
Sudarshan Punhani (1933-2009), husband of Professor Tamara Zakon and
a comrade and friend of Daya Varma ]
 Afghanistan goes back in time - curbs on free speech (Kamran Mir
 Sri Lanka: Deportation of Bob Rae: Questions for the future of
Minorities and the Erasure of Democracy (UTHR)
 Pakistan: Sindhi Nationalists and threats to Pakhtun students
- The toll of indifference (Kamila Shamsie)
 'Men in uniform are Kashmir's problem, not solution' (Sanjay Kak)
 India: BJP without Hindutva - is like a Fish out of Water : So
what is this talk about camuflage? (Ram Puniyani)
 India: Never Ready For It (Editorial, The Telegraph)
 India: Quotas are not enough... Give women real power (Antara Dev
 India: Dalits in a 'Hindu rashtra' (Subhas Gatade)
- Forum on Countering Talibanization: A Way Forward (Islamabad,
23 June 2009)
The Guardian, 13 June 2009
AFGHANISTAN GOES BACK IN TIME
From his appointment, Afghan culture minister Karim Khorram has
shown a dislike of free speech and has taken steps to curb it
by Kamran Mir Hazar
Since the fall of the Taliban, the international community has been
playing a game of double-standards in Afghanistan. George Bush, for
example, repeatedly talked of spreading democracy in Afghanistan but
not once did he raise his voice against those accused of human rights
The Afghan government led by Hamid Karzai is pleased with such
pronouncements, as they downplay the daily increase in corruption,
injustice and inefficiency. Karzai is content with such
pronouncements and is exploiting them to ensure his own survival.
Nowadays he officially refers to Mullah Omar, the leader of the
murdering band of the Taliban, as his "dear brother Mullah Omar" and
is asking for the names of Taliban killers to be removed from the UN
In doing so, the Afghan government is intending to complete the
number of human rights violators in the government by officially
including the Taliban and Golbuddin Hekmatyar's terrorist group. But,
even if the intention exists to fight Hekmatyar and the Taliban, the
struggle has to begin from the presidential palace and parliament.
This is because many men loyal to the Taliban and to Hekmatyar are
currently acting as senior advisers to President Karzai, including
education minister Faruq Wardak; culture minister Karim Khorram,
Mullah Zaif and Mullah Mutawakel as well as such tie-wearing Taliban
like Hedayat Amin Arsala and former finance minister Nurulhaq Ahadi.
The international community's game of double standards and the Afghan
government's backing of this game has had bitter results for the
people. Alongside the spread of human rights violations, the
situation with regard to freedom of expression has become equally
desperate. Afghanistan has become one of the most dangerous parts of
the world for journalists. Seven journalists have been killed in
Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, a number of others have
been kidnapped and dozens more have been arrested and imprisoned,
beaten and belittled.
Thousands of letters have been sent so far to Karzai about Parwiz
Kambaksh, a journalist sentenced to 20 years' jail, but so far Karzai
hasn't even taken the smallest of steps to help Kambaksh. This is
even though all Kambakhsh has done is to download a piece of writing
off the internet, to print it and distribute it to a small group of
friends. Exactly one day after Kambakhsh was sentenced to 20 years, a
serious human rights violator by the name of Asadullah Sarwari was
given 19 years in jail, a year less than Kambakhsh.
Even though the situation of the freedom of expression had little to
offer prior to the appointment of the current culture minister, Karim
Khorram, it seems that by appointing Khorram three years ago, Karzai
has taken organised measures against freedom of speech and culture in
Afghanistan. The measures are to be put into practice through this
specific member of Golbodin Hekmatyar's party.
Only a few days after becoming minister, Khorram had turned up at a
cultural institution. There, he banned female photographers from
photographing him. He told them that he did not want women to take
his picture. This Taliban-style attitude showed that Khorram had no
inclination to come to terms with freedom of speech and that he would
take measures to curb this freedom.
Khorram has gone so far as to officially and practically declare
freedom of expression not a basic human right but a worthless western
phenomenon. In his most recent pronouncement, he has defended Nimroz
officials' decision to throw thousands of books into the river. The
books in part were about oppressive Afghan rulers but also included
books considered sacred by the Shia minority of Afghanistan. The
minister has used all that is in his power to stop freedom of speech
in Afghanistan. His coming along with military men in a raid on the
National Radio and Television station, the expulsion of 80
journalists, the sending to court of dozens of files of journalists
and media outlets, the sending of letters ordering around the press,
the lack of financial transparency in his ministry are part of the
minister's measures against culture and freedom of expression in
Equally, when the National Security Department, yet another
government body that is threatening freedom of expression, sent out
letters of censorship filled with bans to media outlets, the culture
ministry, which according to the media law is supposed to defend
freedom of expression, happily remained silent. Right now, the
culture ministry together with the telecommunication ministry is
planning to introduce a system of filters on internet websites.
The ministries have said that only pornographic websites and websites
that run counter to the Afghans' Islamic culture will be affected.
But judging by the minister's record so far, running against Islamic
and Afghan culture means anything that is not in line with the
minister's interpretation of Islam or culture. Kabulpress, one of the
most famous Afghan internet websites, is presently offering its
readers instructions on how to bypass the filter.
Self-censorship is equally widespread in Afghanistan, and many
journalists are unable to express their criticism in newspapers, on
radio or television. Left with no choice, some of them have turned to
the internet, and are writing under aliases for various internet
Experience over the last eight years had shown that the international
community's game of double standards, which is supported by Kabul,
has not only failed to improve the situation but has made the
situation worse. But all the international community needs to do is
to focus its energy and capability on the establishment of freedom of
expression, and on ensuring justice, and fighting illiteracy, and
drawing up plans for basic fundamental economic structures. This
would enable Afghanistan to move forward in history, rather than
backward, as it's doing right now.
• Translated by Nushin Arbabzadah
 Sri Lanka:
A statement issued by the
University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), Sri Lanka
Date of Release: 11th June 2009
DEPORTATION OF BOB RAE: SOME FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS FOR THE FUTURE OF
MINORITIES AND THE ERASURE OF DEMOCRACY
The recent denial of entry to the Canadian Parliamentarian Bob Rae,
a long time champion of democracy, requires particular attention by
those who care about the future of Lanka. His deportation reflects
the paradox of continuing internal repression and unhealthy
xenophobia despite the end of the war. It reflects a mindset that
bodes ill for the minorities and the democratic rights of Sinhalese.
It is a government that wants everyone else to conform to its own
agenda and is hostile to discussion of any kind based on rights.
In our recent report, released on 10th June 2009, we highlighted the
character of present government and its leadership, which is using
the euphoria following on military success against the LTTE to
promote a majoritarian agenda along with increasing authoritarianism.
If this trend is not challenged, the country will be hijacked by
those who will do irreparable damage to the long term interest of the
country. The UTHR(J) has experienced and challenged the negative
aspects of narrow Tamil nationalism, which permitted the rise of LTTE
and its ability to paralyse the community through internal terror and
created an illusion of strength among the Tamil community founded on
transient military success. In the absence of broader humanity, it
failed miserably in uniting the people.
Many people from the all the different communities hoped that end of
the war would bring goodwill to the fore. They hoped for
reconciliation and reconstruction in the context of a just political
process. It should also have been the time to restore democratic
governance and accountability and bring an end to the culture of
impunity. But during the last stages of the war, the bankruptcy of
the political leadership and its majoratarian schemes were becoming
clear. The dominant section of the government shows utter contempt
for the emergence of a Tamil democratic culture and is only
interested in using the armed elements within Tamil community that
are willing to toe the ruling SLFP’s narrow interests. In this
context the denial of entry to Bob Rae clearly exposes the mindset of
the present government and those who control its decision making.
When entry is barred to a Canadian parliamentarian, a former premier
of Ontario and one of the leading figures in the Opposition Liberal
Party after being granted a visa with the full knowledge of its
purpose by Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Canada, it is much more
than a gaffe. It reflects the atrocious diplomacy into which the
country is being driven by a clique that is usurping the due
functions of other arms of the state.
How different sections of the state acted tells its own story. Daya
Perera PC, High Commissioner in Canada was frankly apologetic.
Controller of Immigration P.B. Abeykoon told the Daily Mirror, ‘We
denied him entry to Sri Lanka and detained him after State
intelligence services warned that Mr. Rae’s visit was not suitable’
indicating that he was taking instructions from the Defence Ministry.
Someone at the Mirror tried to be clever by inserting a box item
comparing Rae’s deportation to that of Charles de Gaulle from Canada
in 1967 after his expression of support for Québec separatism. The
state-owned Daily News in saying Rae was involved in pro-LTTE
political activities in his home country, was repeating parrot-like
something about which it knew nothing. The Island simply described
him as an LTTE-supporting Canadian MP.
The Army spokesman as reported on its web site said not only that Rae
‘relentlessly supported Tiger terrorists and their supporters in
Canada’, but went on to put words into the mouth of poor Mr.
Abeykoon: ‘He was held by Immigration and Emigration authorities at
the airport on charges of aiding and abetting terrorism while working
against the interests of Sri Lanka.’ The related Defence Ministry web
site was strangely silent or had on second thoughts taken down its
posting. It is clear where the action came from.
To begin, we set the record straight. Far from being a supporter of
the LTTE, Bob Rae played an important role in helping Tamil
dissidents in Canada to find their voice. It was owing to active
moral support from people like him, that the LTTE’s monopoly over the
lives of Tamils in Toronto began to crack in 2004. In December 2004
he chaired a Human Rights Watch meeting in Toronto launching a report
looking into the LTTE’s recruitment of children. It was his
commitment to Tamil children that led him to take a strong stand on
the child soldier issue even as pro-LTTE activists attempted to
disrupt the meeting.
Bob Rae’s commitment to Tamil dissent and a united Sri Lanka is clear
from his participation at a memorial meeting in London, UK in March
2007 for his friend and colleague Kethesh Loganathan, who was
labelled a “traitor” and assassinated by the LTTE. Kethesh
Loganathan, a long-time activist, spent the last months of his life
working in the Government’s Peace Secretariat to take forward the
political process. In his keynote address, Bob Rae stated: “This has
been the central question in Sri Lankan politics for the entire 20th
century. How to create a country that reflects pluralism, that
reflects diversity, that reflects the differences, that reflects the
collective personalities of Tamils, of Hill Country Tamils, of
Muslims, of Sinhalese. And that gets rid of this pathology of an
excessive nationalism which never recognises the dignity and the
difference and the personality of the other.”
Bob Rae was firmly on the side of human rights, a committed opponent
of violations by the LTTE and its conscription of children. Like most
Tamil dissidents and many enlightened Sinhalese he supported a
federal political settlement in Lanka and at no time supported
separatism in Lanka.
It is a sad comment of the section of the elite in Lanka close to the
President, that once the Government started on a no-holds-barred
military course, they became nervous about any criticism of
violations by the government forces and by minions of the Defence
Ministry. Any criticism was branded as support for terrorism and
hence for the LTTE. This was the route by which Bob Rae is being
labelled a Tiger supporter in the minds of this clique.
The quality of intelligence on which the Defence Ministry deemed Bob
Rae an LTTE supporter raises a very fundamental question. Beginning
with the killing of five students on the Trincomalee sea front in
January 2006 through the thousands of extra-judicial murders over
which the Defence Ministry presided were based on the premise that
the victims were LTTE supporters. These were heinous acts based on
the intelligence of paranoid minds. They cry out for a thorough
investigation that will never come from the Sri Lankan Police.
For the Press too there are some fundamental questions. This
government has assaulted, threatened and killed persons in the media
who refused to feed off its trough. It is hard for anyone to work
under these conditions and keep their sanity. They know there would
always be the next incident where a tragedy would befall a journalist
whose understanding of patriotism does not conform to the norms set
by those in the top rungs of the Defence Ministry. They must
constantly worry about crossing the line unawares. Playing safe
imposes a conformity into which people slip in by slow degrees. That
is what the LTTE relied on. Its effect in the South is reflected in
how even the independent media have covered Bob Rae’s deportation.
Once facts cease to matter, journalism dies. One day perhaps, they
would understand that Bob Rae was their friend and a true friend of
Bob Rae’s deportation is reflective of the arbitrary abuse of power,
clamp down on dissent and the lack of space for dialogue within
Lanka. Such openness is particularly necessary for peace and
reconciliation, and this attack along with recent attacks on
journalists critical of the military and the relentless abductions
are reflective of a continuing war mentality of the military
establishment. Over the last twenty years we have documented the
deterioration of the Sri Lankan state and its various institutions.
Such deterioration was in many ways a consequence of the overwhelming
role of the military leadership in the affairs of both state and
society. At the current moment, the President in continuing to give
unwarranted licence for his brother, the Defence Secretary and the
military establishment, is undermining the international goodwill
that is necessary for Sri Lanka to rebuild and more importantly
inhibiting the ability for ordinary people to begin democratic life
having suffered the onslaught of the war.
It is high time the Government, the President, the ruling SLFP and
the other political parties stop acquiescing to the military
leadership. The rank and file and many of the high ranking officers
over the decades have shown considerable professionalism in the face
of politicisation. The people of Lanka have a strong democratic
ethos. Now, democracy should roll in the entire country. To delay
movement towards peace and reconciliation due to the personal whims
and ambitions of the Defence Secretary and the military establishment
would be a historic tragedy.
The Frontier Post
PAKHTUN STUDENTS SEEKING MIGRATION
Peshawar (PPI): More then 130 Pakhtun Students of Sindh University
Jamshoru, who leave Sindh University after they were given life
threats by nationalists’ parties have urged the government to migrate
them from Sindh University where it was impossible for them to
continue the studies after being attacked and tortured. “Sindh Taraqi
Pasand Party (STP) and supporters of other Sindhi nationalist parties
tortured Pakhtun Students, STP supporters stormed Alama Iqbal hostel
where Pakhtun Students were staying and badly injuring three
students, one of them Miandad Hassan was very seriously wounded and
hospitalized in Haiderabad Civil Hospital after continues bleeding
for 9 hours as the nationalist warned them to leave university before
May 28 otherwise Pakhtun Students would be shot dead and would be
kicked out of the university,” the students who were forced to leave
Sindh university alleged and urged NWFP government to make
arrangements for their migration to any of the University out of
Sindh. Establishing a protest camp out side of Peshawar Press Club,
the students informed more then 130 students of different parts of
NWFP were enrolled in Sindh University at Jamshoru where they were
studding in different departments however on May 21st thy were warned
to leave the university before May 28 and asked never to return the
University otherwise they would be killed. “ STP supporters snatched
our luggage, computers, mobile phones and cash and even we were not
allowed to attend the exams and asked to forthwith leave the
university as the university was only for Sindhis not for the
Pakhtuns,” they told PPI adding that “supporters of STP and other
nationalist parties attacked the hostels on May 28 and smashing the
doors and windows they entered inside the hostels, seized every thing
of Pakhtun Students asking if any of the Pakhtun student were seen
inside the university he would be shot dead at the spot,” they told
saying that they had no choice except leaving Sindh university as the
university administration was not able to provide them protection.
“yes we requested Vice Chancellor Sindh University Mazhar-ul-Haq
Sadiqi however VC just offered security at hostel gate showing his
inability to control the violent students inside the hostel rooms,”
the students informed and added that provost of the university also
given the same reply arguing that “STP is a nationalist party and the
university administration would be able to resolve the issue
involving nationalist aspect,”. Majority of the students who were
forced to leave the university belongs to Swat, Dir and Bunir where
military had been involved in gun battle with the militants had no
other option except to establish protest camp out side press club.
“We can not go to Sindh University as we are Pakhtun, were are being
punished for just very reason that we belongs to NWFP but what
provincial government in control of Pakhtun nationalist would do for
we are just waiting for it. We want return of our luggage, computers
and migration from Sindh University,” they remarked. The students
were of the view that 130 students of Geology, Pharmacy and other
departments had left the university at the time when their exams were
about to start nut they were not even allowed to carry their
belongings. “STP claimed it is Sindhu Dish not Pakistan therefore
Pakhtun students have no right to stay,” they remarked and questioned
what the Pakhtun nationalist government would do for them to save the
o o o
The Guardian, 12 June 2009
THE TOLL OF INDIFFERENCE
In the Pakistani press the Swat assault is painted as a popular
triumph. But it has come at a horrific cost
by Kamila Shamsie
Almost every day the news out of Pakistan offers evidence of growing
support for military action against the Taliban in Swat, and growing
antipathy towards the Taliban itself. The rightwing media, which had
urged the government to make peace deals, is falling over itself in
praise of military advances.
But straightforward approval for military action is not the whole
story. An article in one of Pakistan's papers a few days ago reported
that tribesmen in Upper Dir had besieged 200 Taliban and killed a
number in response to the Taliban's bombing of a mosque. The
newspaper cited this as further evidence of growing anti-Taliban
sentiment. There is no reason to doubt the tribesmen's genuine anger
– yet near the end of the article there was a telling admission that
cannot be left out of the picture: a tribal elder said that allowing
the Taliban to stay was asking for trouble as it would invite a
military offensive that they certainly didn't want.
This is where the story of wholehearted support for the military
offensive breaks down. The army's success has come at a horrific
cost: there are estimated to be 2.5 million internally displaced
persons (IDPs) in Pakistan. Who can blame the tribesmen of Upper Dir
for taking up arms to prevent the army from adding their families to
the swelling numbers of IDPs? The editorials of relief and approval
about the army's decision to "finally" do what is necessary contain
the implicit message that the suffering of the 2.5 million is the
price that must be paid. Around the world, leaders and opinion-makers
have reached the same conclusion.
But what of the 2.5 million? When their numbers were less than half
that amount – just a few weeks ago – the IDP camps could house less
than 15% of them. The rest had to rely on the kindness of relatives
and the even more extraordinary kindness of strangers. Families with
roofs over their heads have been taking in large numbers and sharing
what little they have. Their generosity is shaming, particularly when
placed against the horrifying indifference of the rest of the world –
a world that for months urged the Pakistan government to send its
army into Swat and surrounding areas.
Yesterday nine major aid agencies – ActionAid, Cafod/Caritas, Care,
Concern Worldwide, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children,
World Vision – issued a press release to say their aid projects face
closure due to a shortage of funds. Oxfam will have to shut down its
programme to assist 360,000 people if more funding doesn't arrive by
next month. The United Nations is faring no better – its $543m appeal
has only received $138m so far. The United Kingdom has given only
1.6% of the amount the UN requires.
A change in attitude is needed urgently; if humanitarian grounds
aren't reason enough, consider the fact that refugee camps are prime
targets for those trying to radicalise the disaffected. When the
Pakistani film-maker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy was in the IDP camps
earlier this year she found the young boys who make up such a large
population of the camps equally split between those who support the
army and those who support the Taliban. A vital "hearts and minds"
battle is being waged in the camps, where groups such as the
extremist Jamaat-ud-Dawa (linked to the Mumbai attacks) have been
very visible in giving aid.
Many in Pakistan who still oppose military action are likely to claim
that "the west" is pressurising the army to kill and displace its own
people, uncaring of the suffering it causes. Time now for "the west"
to show a different face to those who are desperate for assistance,
and will not forget where it comes from.
 India Administered Kashmir:
The Times of India, 14 June 2009
'MEN IN UNIFORM ARE KASHMIR'S PROBLEM, NOT SOLUTION'
by Sanjay Kak
Those who use the media filter to try to understand what is happening
in Kashmir should realize they're looking at a shadow play. A curtain
between events and us. What is played out on the screen depends on
who manipulates the sources of light.
Last summer, the Valley was overwhelmed by several months of
unprecedented non-violent public protest. It was triggered by the
complicated Amarnath land issue, but on the streets the people were
saying "Hum kya chahte? Azadi!" We are hearing this again this
summer, triggered by the rape and murder of two young women from
Shopian in south Kashmir. Only the stone deaf could miss the cry.
Between these two summer uprisings came the Assembly elections of
December. As everyone braced for a boycott, people did turn out to
vote. This surprise turnout was presented as nothing short of a
miracle and we were informed that this was "a vote for Indian
democracy". Those who wondered why people who had braved bullets only
a month ago should suddenly queue up to vote were reminded that
Kashmiris were an unpredictable, even contrary, people.
In fact, there is a frightening consistence about the Kashmiri chant
for decades: "Hum kya chahte? Azadi!" Protests have begun for all
sorts of reasons but they are a manifestation of the simmering anger
always close to the surface.
The current round of protests were given a head-start by the
distinctly amateur vacillations of the state chief minister, not
least his puzzling shifts on what may have actually happened to
Nilofar, 22, and her sister-in-law Asiya, 17, on the night of May 29.
Well-intentioned though he may be, Omar Abdullah seems very badly
advised, or else possessed of a political death-wish.
In its election campaign the National Conference made a point of
underlining that it was seeking a mandate for development, for bijli,
sadak, pani. It made no claim to settling masla-e-Kashmir or the
Kashmir issue. But once the elections were over, they went along with
the Indian establishment, which trumpeted the turnout as a decisive
mandate in India's favour. The inability of Omar Abdullah's
government to reach out to the people of the Valley in the past
fortnight is a timely reminder of the dangers of that delusion. In
just a little over 10 days, the protests have damaged the patina of
normalcy that the election 'success' painted on a deeply troubled
In the middle of all this, but almost buried by events, the J&K
police announced the arrest of Constable Nazir Ahmed of the India
Reserve Police battalion for allegedly raping a minor girl in
Baramulla in north Kashmir. (They admitted the constable was a former
Personal Security Officer of Ghulam Hassan Mir, legislator and former
minister). Days after the incident, a scuffle between the families of
the victim and the policeman led to the tragic killing of the
Both incidents of the past fortnight must be placed next to one from
a few years ago, when the infamous "sex scandal" led to huge
protests, bringing Srinagar to a grinding halt. That was a tawdry
tale of the sexual exploitation of vulnerable women, including the
prostitution of minors. It was on a massive scale, with the
involvement of politicians
, senior bureaucrats, police and paramilitary officers. The scandal
exposed the ugly networks of power and oppression, which prop up the
structures of control in Kashmir. It also laid bare the vulnerability
of women all over the Valley, prey to the brutal arrogance unleashed
by 20 years of intense militarization and unbridled power.
It's a good time to remember that the acquisition of land for the
Amarnath yatra was only the spark that set off last summer's
protests. But the real fuel was widespread resentment about the fact
that thousands of acres of agricultural, orchard and forest land is
under occupation by the army and paramilitary forces, housing their
feared camps and cantonments and vast logistics bases. The Kashmiris'
behaviour then turns out to be underpinned by a fairly
straightforward political reason: we don't need to delve into their
This week, the lights behind the curtain are being moved around to
give the illusion of change: the CRPF's duties are to be handed over
to the J&K police. If true, this will need massive local police
recruitment and give a disturbing new twist to the Indian
government's promise of employment to young Kashmiris. (However, from
the Establishment's point of view, a policeman in every home may well
be a solution to Kashmir's troubles.)
But this change of guard will not alter the lives of ordinary people.
They do not care if the oppressive figure of the soldier wears the
uniform of the Indian Army, its paramilitary forces, or is their
neighbour in brand new fatigues. Such shallow transformation is not
new: people remember the 'disbanding' of the dreaded Special
Operations Group, which was simply merged into regular police
operations; or the highly public way in which the CRPF replaced the
BSF in Srinagar, leaving the countryside in the Army's iron grip.
This summer's protest is not just about the rape and murder of two
women, the violation of human rights, or even the repeal of some
draconian law. The shadow play must not distract us from the real
issue, which is the extraordinary and intolerable militarization of
Sanjay Kak is a filmmaker whose most recent documentary 'Jashn-e-
Azadi' explores the conflict in Kashmir
 Communalism Watch (communalism.blogspot.com)
ELECTION VERDICT 2009 - WHITHER BJP?
by Ram Puniyani (June 13, 2009)
The resounding defeat of BJP in the 2009 elections, decline in number
of seats and decline in voting percentage prompted various BJP
insiders and sympathizers to do some introspection. Where did the
party go wrong? In his piece in Times of India 4th June 2009, Swapan
Dasgupta feels that BJP has got too much identified with Hindutva,
which is no more appealing to large section of Hindus so it needs to
come out of this image for a makeover. Sudheendra Kulkarni (Tehelka
13th June 2009), looks at the defeat as close Advani aide and also as
an insider and points out that Advani was not sufficiently backed up
by RSS and BJP. He also says that BJP’s implementation of Hindutva
looked to be anti minorities and that its links with RSS need to be
given a second look.
Kulkarni projects as if Hindutva is all inclusive, Hindu identity is
core of Indian Nationalism, and Cultural nationalism is not meant for
Hindus alone. One can infer that Kulkarni basically stands by the
core RSS concepts of Hindutva, Cultural Nationalism and Integral
humanism and finds BJP practices faulty in this direction. One can
point out that since Kulkarni is an insider, associated with BJP from
the times of Advani’s Rath nay, blood yatra, and is close to the top
echelons of BJP and that he had all the time to point out to BJP
leadership as to how their practice is deviating from the genuine
Hindutva. One is not sure whether this has been done inside the party
forums, any way lets keep that aside.
Concepts and ideologies are not made in the thin air. They reflect
the needs of social groups. These terms couched in the language of
religion were devised by ideologues of declining sections of Hindu
society, the landlords and Brahmins from early nineteen twenties
onwards. The term Hindutva in particular came into being as the
politics of Hindu Mahasabha and RSS. It stood for politics of Hindus,
for the building of Hindu Rashtra. This word was coined by Savarkar
in 1920s and was meant to be an alternate notion of politics to the
one being articulated by national movement led by Gandhi. Similar
concept of nationalism, based on the values of liberty, equality and
fraternity were also articulated by Ambedkar, while the third major
stream during freedom movement, Bhagat Singh and Communists, dreamt
of a Socialist society, based on the notions of substantive equality
and state regulating the social relations to ensure this equality.
It must be pointed out that the concept of Hindutva aims at Hindu
nation, in parallel to the concept of Muslim nation being propounded
by Muslim League, and in opposition to the concept of democratic
secular nation, the concept for which national movement was working.
This Indian nationalism is all inclusive, inclusive of all religions,
castes and both genders. The concepts of Hindu and Muslim nations are
exclusive concepts. The second point is that the Gandhi-Ambedkar
Nationalism was based on the equality of caste and gender while
HIndutva and the ideology of Muslim nationalism were continuum of the
feudal values, the harping on caste and gender hierarchy. In the same
direction later Deen Dayal Upadhyay the ideologue of RSS-BJP very
cleverly put up the concept of Integral Humanism. This concept argues
that as any organism is well balanced due to the division of work
between different parts of the body, similarly different social
groups perform different well defined tasks to provide the
equilibrium for the proper social functioning. This in a way talks of
status quo in the caste and gender relation prevalent in society.
Similarly Cultural nationalism as propounded by RSS and adopted by
BJP stands for the elite Brahminical culture as the synonym for
Indian ness. All in all this is precisely what RSS defines and BJP
practiced so far. There cannot be equal place of dalits, women and
non Hindus in this scheme of things. Swapan Dasgupta feels BJP has to
drop Hindutva, to provide an alternative based on good governance,
non dynasty politics etc. Kulkarni’s reading of Hindutva and integral
humanism is from the world of make-believe, totally off the mark. The
simple question is why were these practitioners of Hindutva, cultural
nationalism aloof from National movement? It is this National
movement which laid the basis of India and achieved India’s
independence. These streams which take the cover of glorious
traditions focus only on those traditions are elitist. In Indian
context the concepts Hindu nationalism and Muslim Nationalism derive
their legitimacy from Brahminical and Ashrafs (Muslim elite) stream
respectively. Why can’t RSS-BJP talk that primarily they are loyal to
the values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity and dump all those
concepts built around religious identity? It is because these
religion based concepts are the best cover for oppression of women,
dalits and non Hindus. And in turn these concepts also demonize,
intimidate and commit violence against minorities, trying to reduce
them to second class citizens.
BJP could come to power only because of harping on identity of Lord
Ram. BJP does hold Ram is the symbol of India’s identity. This is one
of the expressions of their cultural nationalism. The question arises
why only Lord Ram is the symbol of India, why not Shambuk, or Bali or
Sita. In nutshell their cultural nationalism picks up those
characters which suit the interests, agenda of Hindu elite. Surely
had Ram temple agitation not taken up, Babri mosque not demolished
and Mumbai and Gujarat violence not instigated, BJP would have been
on the margin of Indian society. Its very raison detre is due to the
fact that it is progeny of RSS, to the fact that it is related to
VHP, Bajrang Dal etc., whose vagaries it keeps defending most of the
time. It is thoroughly exclusionist and that’s why it justifies
Gujarat violence, Kandhamal, rejects Sachar committee etc. It is not
a mere coincidence; it is the core of BJP politics. It is not that
the concept of Hindutva is inclusionary and practice is faulty, the
very concept of Hindutva is exclusionary, in theory and practices both.
Can BJP throw away Hindutva, aim of building Hindu Nation around
glorious Hindu traditions of Manu Smriti etc? The question is
misplaced as BJP is nobody to decide that. BJP is merely a political
arm of RSS; it is RSS which has to decide that. Can RSS cut its own
legitimacy off by renouncing Hindutva? The question does not arise.
RSS essentially is aimed around these goals. Kulkarni’s confusions
and his welcome concern about poor, minorities and dalits are
misplaced as those are not the concerns of RSS, they have never been
and can never be the concerns of BJP and company at any point of
time. Hindutva or integral humanism is cleverly worded disguise to
undermine the concept of democracy. Last two decades had been a
nightmare where the values opposed to Indian nationhood asserted
themselves aggressively, bringing immense miseries. One hopes with
the trend of decline of BJP, those striving for democratic struggles,
struggles for equality and rights of dalits, women, adivasis, workers
and minorities will come to occupy the main social space and protect
the nation form the damages done by the politics in the garb of
 India - the Women's Bill Debate
June 11, 2009
QUOTAS ARE NOT ENOUGH... GIVE WOMEN REAL POWER
by Antara Dev Sen
I am most disappointed that the histrionics over the Women's
Reservation Bill in Parliament was limited to the cowboys of the
cowbelt. The Yadavs seem to be the most vocal opponents of the bill.
Not a single Southern MP has offered to self-immolate. Only Sharad
Yadav has threatened to drink poison, a la Socrates. (Curiously, this
did not spark a stampede of honourable members offering him their
best venom.) The charming Lalu Prasad Yadav declared that this bill
was a conspiracy to finish off regional parties and prevent the
empowerment of the backward. And dear old Mulayam Singh Yadav was
blunt. You won't get back in here, he warned the male MPs cheering
the bill: "For all the table-thumping now, soon you will be thumping
your charpoys at home!" His trusted deputy Amar Singh added later:
"The careers of many established leaders will be destroyed as their
seats are lost due to women's reservation". The talk of quotas within
quotas was eyewash, the bill's opponents were driven by the fear of
exclusion. And this for just ensuring that one-third of MPs are
women. What would the poor dears do if women were actually given half
the sky - and Parliament?
The touching insecurity of male MPs is not without reason. Socrates
believed, as Mr Sharad Yadav will confirm: "Once made equal to man,
woman becomes his superior". We see it around us - given equal
opportunity, education and support, women generally do better than
men, starting right from school. Take the most recent examination
results. The two CBSE toppers were girls, as were the three IAS
toppers. And since 1984, the percentage of women candidates winning
seats in Parliament has been consistently much higher than men.
Reportedly, the average winnability of women candidates in the last
five Lok Sabha elections is 12.5 per cent, as opposed to 8.3 per cent
Denying women a fair chance is essential to keep the patriarchal
power structure alive. So Indian women are usually not allowed to
study much. About half are married off before turning 18. They are
kept out of decision-making, and even what they earn is usually spent
by their husbands or fathers. Empowering women politically is one
decisive way to change our deeply sexist society. Women MPs have for
years cut across party lines to come together in support of the
Women's Reservation Bill. This time, with the commitment of President
Pratibha Patil and the Congress, the unambiguous support of the
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left, it seems likely to be passed.
So why am I not delighted at the prospect? First, because I was never
a fan of the bill. In 1996, when it was first tabled, it seemed like
a personal insult. Plant women in the highest decision-making office
in the country? There was a difference between panchayats and
Parliament, for heaven's sake. Would we be reserving ministries next?
Clear the way, remove the obstacles, watch women glide in on their
own steam. We don't need no reservation, we don't need no seat control.
As the bill aged, I mellowed. And bowed to the passion of senior MPs
like the late Geeta Mukherjee. There was an urgent need to increase
women's participation in the political process and to rectify the
shameful imbalance of political power. If reservation is the only way
our dear politicians can get more women into Parliament, so be it.
Quotas can fast-track social justice, and with an abysmally low
percentage of women MPs (we have finally reached 10 per cent this
year, a record) it seemed fine to jump the queue. When the quota
lapses 15 years later, may the best candidates win.
Now, 13 years of debates and dithering shows that the bill will not
fast-track gender justice. We should have looked at other ways of
politically empowering women. Instead, we are stuck in the rut of
cliched tokenism that does nothing for women's empowerment.
To make matters worse, this week it seems like the quota will be
reduced from 33.3 per cent to 20 per cent. This is unacceptable. Once
there is a quota, women will not get general seats and will remain
stuck in the 20 per cent seats reserved for them, chosen arbitrarily
by a draw of lots.
This lottery prevents MPs from nurturing constituencies, and the
electorate from rewarding or punishing their MP. Besides, men who are
forced to vacate their constituency when it becomes a woman's seat
for one election would use their women relatives as placeholders.
Women MPs would have to flit from one reserved constituency to
another, rootless and vulnerable.
And they will be limited to fighting against other women - ushering
in the age of purdah in politics. It would limit the voter's
democratic choices, instead of increasing them.
Besides, a "quotawali" could further hinder the acceptance of women
as equal to men, and their legitimacy as MPs. We have always had
outstanding women leaders and ministers, and this devaluing of women
MPs would be a great pity.
The reason we don't have enough women in Parliament is because
political parties don't give enough tickets to women - and often
allot them weak constituencies to lose from. Take this year's
allotments. Even the Congress and BJP gave barely 10 per cent of
tickets to women; the CPI(M) and the CPI, forever ranting about
women's empowerment, gave seven per cent. The Shiromani Akali Dal
fared the best, 20 per cent of its tickets went to women. So the
logical way would be to clear the block at this stage, instead of
Around the world this quota for tickets, not seats, has worked,
substantially pushing up the proportion of women MPs in Sweden (47
per cent), Norway, Canada, Britain and France. But in India, parties
will not give women candidates more tickets voluntarily, and it seems
forcing them to do so may be unconstitutional. Since most changes in
mindset are brought on not by law but by peer pressure and societal
reward and punishment, I believe that carrot and stick should also
work for "women-friendly" and "women-unfriendly" parties.
Parties should be categorised by both the percentage of tickets women
get and the percentage of women actually elected, to make sure that
the women are viable candidates from winnable seats.
For if we really want women's empowerment, endlessly debating a
flawed quota system in Parliament doesn't work. We should fight
against gender violence and focus on women's education, health and
freedoms. Electoral tickets give women freedom of opportunity.
Reserved seats make them the less than equal "quotawali".
Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted
June 13, 2009
NEVER READY FOR IT
In India, the State now speaks in many tongues on homosexuality.
Different ministries have come up with bafflingly different positions
on the matter. So far, on the ‘reading down’ of Section 377 of the
Indian Penal Code (the archaic law that ends up criminalizing adult
consensual homosexuality in India), the courts have sounded
progressive, the health ministry encouraging, and the law and home
ministries regressive. The regressiveness is alarming, not only
because of the astonishing ignorance, indeed blindness, of its “India
is not ready for it yet” position, but also because of the
schizophrenic divide regarding sex and sexuality within the State
that shows up when the health ministry’s view is compared with those
of the law and home ministries. Yet the health ministry’s ‘positive’
stance is founded on fear and caution rather than principled thinking
— on the same sort of logic that underlies action against swine ’flu
or SARS: if the law is not changed, then it will be difficult to stop
people from dying of AIDS. So when the law minister makes vague
public noises to the effect that some bits of the IPC “may be”
outdated, and Section 377 “could be” one of these bits, then it
really does not amount to very much. But by now, hanging on to every
word that the State lets fall on the matter, and then trying to make
sense of them, have become part of the entire struggle for legal and
social change that the movement against Section 377 has become in India.
This movement remains largely confined, though, to those who are
victimized by Section 377 — that is, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgendered community, mostly among urban (and sometimes
provincial), middle-class Indians. Annual parades and candle-lit
vigils, again mostly in the big cities and often (though not always)
associated with HIV/AIDS, are when this community is given some
visibility in the media, although of a stereotypically colourful
kind. Or when big-budget Bollywood indulges in a bit of innocuous
same-sex fun, people talk about it for a while, usually with light-
hearted titters, as if chatting about exotic lifestyle options. But
with food, weddings, cricket and elections being the nation’s chief
obsessions, the closet rather than the courtroom is where the matter
is invariably laid to rest.
Why does it remain virtually impossible to figure out what the
nation’s leaders think about men having sex with men, or women having
sex with women? Does the Rashtrapati Bhavan or the Prime Minister’s
Office have a view on homosexuality? Would the Gandhis, particularly
the younger ones, speak up for it? What does Agatha Sangma, the Lok
Sabha’s youngest minister, think about it? How does Buddhadeb
Bhattacharjee feel about the sexual orientation of his beloved
Proust? All these right-thinking people would not think twice before
speaking up against untouchability, apartheid or female circumcision.
So why this silence, or slipperiness, about this other, universally
acknowledged, form of discrimination?
DALITS IN A 'HINDU RASHTRA'
by Subhash Gatade
Everyone knows about Gujarat’s bias against Muslims. But consider the
dalits in this ‘Hindu rashtra’: they are confined to ‘dalits only’
housing societies in Ahmedabad, school quotas for recruitment of
dalit teachers are ignored, and dalits are buried in separate burial
grounds if available and in wasteland if not
108 dalits lost their lives in the riots of 2002, 38 in the city of
The severe earthquake that hit Gujarat in 2001 and the subsequent
relief and rehabilitation programme revealed to the outside world the
deep-seated caste bias in the Gujarati community, apart from the much
talked about bias against the minority communities. There were
reports that in some places the relief and rehabilitation work
bypassed both the dalits and the Muslims.
Similarly, the organised killing of Muslims a year later, in 2002,
also saw several dalit casualties. While the co-option of a section
of the dalits in the Hindutva agenda and their metamorphosis as foot
soldiers of the Hindutva brigade was duly reported, the media did not
deem it necessary to emphasise that the riots also affected dalits.
One hundred and eight dalits lost their lives, 38 in the city of
Ahmedabad alone. Quite a few of these deaths occurred when dalits
resisted the Hindutva goons by siding with hapless Muslims.
Interestingly, Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar had asked his followers to stop
Hindu Raj becoming a reality at all costs.
Discrimination against dalits in Gujarat occurs routinely -- in
housing, in education, and even in death.
No place for the dead
When Naresh Solanki's two-and-a-half-year-old nephew died in 2001,
the grieving family from Hooda village in Palanpur block of
Banaskantha district buried the child in the community burial ground.
No sooner had they reached home than they heard that a member of the
Patel community from the village had exhumed the body with a tractor.
The powerful Patels had encroached on some part of the land next to
the burial ground and were offended by the burial.
It has been more than seven years since that incident took place and
the dalits of Hooda village are still waiting for the collector and
the village panchayat to allot them some land for burial. When a
community elder died in 2008, his body had to be carried to another
village, where dalits have a separate graveyard.
That the problem of burials for dalits is not limited to Hooda is
borne out by a report in Mail Today in the first week of February
2009. It said that dalits are not allowed to use common burial
grounds in Gujarat and are often forced to bury their dead in
wastelands near villages. Absence of any legal entitlement to this
land allows the dalits to be pushed out of such lands by dominant
A survey conducted by the Gujarat Rajya Grampanchayat Samajik Nyay
Samiti Manch found that out of 657 villages in Gujarat, 397 villages
do not have any designated land allotted for burial for dalits. Out
of the 260 villages where land has been formally allotted, 94 have
seen encroachments by the dominant castes and in 26 villages the
burial ground is in a low-lying area and therefore gets waterlogged.
When the question of burying their dead comes up, dalits have much in
common with Muslims who also find their graveyards being encroached
upon by the dominant classes. A few years ago, the Gujarat high court
had to intervene and ask the state government to post police
personnel to block attempts to encroach on the graveyard of Muslims
[. . .]
Magazine / The Hindu
June 14, 2009
Habib was theatre
by Shanta Gokhale
Habib Tanvir, who passed away recently, melded the sophistication of
modern urban theatre with the vitality of folk arts in his work.
“It took me years to discover the simple thing that I should give my
artists autonomy; that I should give them their mother tongue…”
Habib Tanvir is identified so completely with a theatre that used
Chhatisgarhi actors, dialect and narrative material that it is
difficult to believe he chose to train at the Royal Academy of
Dramatic Arts, London. But it was just as well that he did.
Halfway through the course he saw how irrelevant the training was to
his idea of theatre. He quit and returned to India after writing and
singing his way across Europe with the ultimate aim of meeting
Bertolt Brecht, whose theatre he admired. Unfortunately, Brecht died
before he arrived in Berlin, but Tanvir stayed on to see his plays.
It is not by accident that songs have told as much of the story as
speech in Tanvir’s plays. In part at least, this was a Brechtian legacy.
With a dream
When Tanvir returned to India, it was with a dream he had nurtured
all through his travels in Europe. He was obsessed with doing
Shudraka’s “Mricchakatika”. Its modernism and free-flowing form
challenged him. His mind was sparking with ideas contrary to what
pundits claimed Sanskrit theatre had been. In Delhi, Begum Qudsia
Zaidi’s Hindustani Theatre was willing to back him. Begum Zaidi even
translated the play into Hindi for him. Then serendipity took over.
Born in Raipur, Tanvir had grown up with local folk theatre forms
like Nacha and Pandavani. On a visit home, he watched an all-night
Nacha performance and his mind was blown by the superb acting skills
of the five actors before him. On an impulse, he asked them if they
would go to Delhi to act in “Mitti ki gadi”. They happily agreed.
Begum Zaidi was horrified. (“Habib, theatre demands young handsome
faces, not these strange creatures”) but laid the foundation of Naya
Theatre, Tanvir’s karmabhoomi.
Madan Lal, Thakur Ram, Shiv Dayal, Bhulwa Ram, Jagmohan and Lalu Ram
became the backbones of Naya Theatre along with Tanvir’s wife and
professional partner, Moneeka Mishra. Together they tried, failed,
tried again to meld the skills, spontaneous energy and instinctive
feeling for movement and song of the Chhatisgarhi actors with
Tanvir’s sense of narrative flow and overall structure.
“It took me years to discover the simple thing that I should give my
artists autonomy; that I should give them their mother tongue,”
Tanvir once said in an interview with Prithvi Theatre. “I knew the
sweetness of the dialect but I was totally unaware of its
communicability to non-Chhatisgarhi people. That is what held me
back. And I got bad versions of Hindi and feeble actors because of
their self-consciousness. Finally I said ‘let’s try this’ and after
three years of failure I got the breakthrough with ‘Gaon ka Naam
Sasural, Mor Naam Damaad’ and then ‘Charandas Chor’.” The trick was
to use Chhatisgarhi dialect, allow the actors to improvise and, when
their movements matched his ideas, freeze them.
The 1974 play, “Charandas Chor” became a hit in India and abroad. If
the earlier 1954 hit, “Agra Bazaar”, which could so easily have been
a miss, had revealed the possibility of bringing urban actors and
rural non-actors together successfully on the same stage, “Charandas
Chor” established a way of bringing together the sophistication of
modern urban theatre with the vitality of folk artists. The method
served him well in all his future plays.
The folk element
Doing plays with Chhatisgarhi actors was not part of the “back to the
village” movement that swept in and out of social and theatre circles
in India in the 1970s. Tanvir was not chasing folk forms to use as
decorative elements, he said. He was chasing folk actors for the
specific vitality, acting and singing skills only they could bring to
his plays. He wanted to be part of their great cultural traditions
and, in the process, help those traditions and the actors to survive.
The actors were paid a salary of Rs. 5000-6000 a month, while Tanvir
received Rs. 10,000. No written contracts were required. The actors
stayed with Naya Theatre till they retired or died because it allowed
them to live off their art with dignity. In the village, they were
the lowest of the low. On the Naya Theatre stage they were kings and
Habib Tanvir did not believe government schemes could help folk arts.
“Government schemes are survey, budget, report on result. Art is not
like drought where you can count how many died,” he once told me. If
folk theatre was to survive, it needed hard work from within, not
“uplift” from outside, he asserted.
Tanvir combined a passion for theatre with an uncompromising belief
in secular-liberal values and a lifelong engagement with social
problems. His most overtly political play, “Hirma ki amar kahani”,
appeared to some critics to be an argument in favour of feudalism
against democracy. But Tanvir pointed out that democracy was not all-
white. It could be used for a fascistic agenda as had happened in
Gujarat. Similarly feudalism was not all black. It had encouraged the
arts. In telling the story of Hirma, he was only provoking people to
see both sides of the story .
Standing up for your convictions, countering lies, fighting
parochialism, meant running personal risks. Habib Tanvir did that
when his play “Ponga Pundit” was attacked by the Hindu right for
being supposedly anti-Hindu. Mikes and stones were thrown at him and
his actors. But he stood his ground and continued to perform the 70-
year-old folk play.
Habib Tanvir was theatre in every sense of the word. His death
orphans the art.
Shanta Gokhale is a writer and theatre critic based in Mumbai.
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 24, Dated Jun 20, 2009
CULTURE & SOCIETY
A Farewell To The Bard Of Bhopal
Habib Tanvir was like a Zen master — unruffled and wise. The Sangh
Parivar got after him, but nothing could stop him , says SUDHANVA
HABIB TANVIR was the last great actormanager of the Indian theatre,
in the grand tradition of Sisir Bhaduri, Prithviraj Kapoor, Utpal
Dutt. But he was more. He was one of our finest playwrights, an
internationally acclaimed director, a fine poet, lyricist, singer,
designer, teacher. He ran a professional theatre troupe, Naya
Theatre, for half a century. Anyone with any experience of running a
theatre group will tell you what a staggering achievement that is.
All along, maintaining the highest standards of artistic excellence.
Plays like Agra Bazaar, Charandas Chor, Bahadur Kalarin, Kamdev ka
Apna Basant Ritu ka Sapna, Mitti ki Gaadi, Shahapur ki Shantibai,
Mudrarakshas and Raj Rakt, gave immeasurable joy to theatre lovers.
In theatrical terms, there was nothing he left untouched. The ancient
Sanskrit writers Sudrak, Bhasa, Visakhadatta and Bhavabhuti; European
classics by Shakespeare, Molière and Goldoni; modern masters Brecht,
Garcia, Lorca, Gorky, and even Wilde; Indian writers Rabindranath
Tagore, Asghar Wajahat, Shankar Shesh, Safdar Hashmi and Rahul Varma.
He adapted stories by Premchand, Stefan Zweig and Vijaydan Detha for
the stage, besides adapting oral tales from Chhattisgarh. He took
theatrical seeds from all over the world and nurtured them with the
water, air and soil of Chhattisgarh. His plays were as cosmopolitan
as they were rural, as modern as they were traditional. And always,
just great rollicking fun.
Habib Tanvir was a public intellectual, responding to his times and
the events around him with plays as much as by writing articles,
speaking, joining protest marches and signing statements. Let me
recount here one of my quintessential memories of the man.
In September-October 2003, on the eve of the State Assembly elections
in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Habib sa’ab toured these two
states extensively with his plays. The Chhattisgarh shows, a majority
of them in villages, went off without a hitch. But when the troupe
started performing in Madhya Pradesh, they came under attack from the
Hindu Right. The play that evoked their ire was that little jewel of
the Nacha tradition, a play neither written nor directed by Habib
sa’ab, but simply inherited by him via his actors, Ponga Pandit, a
rip roaring farce against untouchability.
It was all meticulously planned. In town after town, gangs of saffron
activists would land up at the performance venue, and make enough
noise to make the district administration jittery about law and
order. But Habib sa’ab was considerably more crafty than his imbecile
attackers. At Bhopal, they performed his classic Charandas Chor.
After the performance, the organisers asked him to introduce his
actors. He said, “We are kalakars (artistes); our introduction is our
art. Would you like to listen to some songs?” “Yes,” chorused the
audience. The actors started singing, and, without anyone realising,
seamlessly segued into a performance of Ponga Pandit. By the time the
Hindutva zealots realised what was happening, the play was over.
In the same tour, they were travelling from one town to another when
they came upon a village. Habib sa’ab struck up a conversation with
the villagers. Would you like to see a Nacha performance, he asked?
Some of the villagers recognised his actors and within a short time
the village chaupal had been readied for performance. Ponga Pandit
was performed, watched by a few hundred villagers, who laughed and
enjoyed the play without any interference from right wing goons. At
another place, the protestors shouted ‘Joote maro saaley ko’ (‘Hurl
shoes at the *#@^’) and ‘Jai Shri Ram’. Habib sa’ab scolded the
protestors: “Aren’t you ashamed that you take the name of Shri Ram in
the same breath as you utter profanities? Abuse me, for all you want,
but don’t drag Shri Ram into it! I will not allow that!”
I was present at the performance in Vidisha during the same tour. We
reached there in the afternoon, and the district administration began
mounting pressure on Habib sa’ab to cancel the show, citing ‘law and
order’. He listened to the DM and SP carefully and respectfully,
asking questions about exactly how many people had gathered where. He
then insisted on going to the venue before deciding. At the venue, a
few dozen VHP-Bajrang Dal activists were shouting slogans against
him. Except that they’d got his name wrong — ‘Tanvir Ahmed murdabad!’
— and this amused him no end.
There was very heavy police presence. But the police allowed some
protestors to enter the auditorium. Habib sa’ab still decided to go
ahead with the performance. First, they did Asghar Wajahat’s Jis
Lahore Nahi Vekhya Voh Janmya hi Nahi, a play about a Hindu woman
left behind in Lahore after the Partition. Habib sa’ab made the main
character, a fundamentalist, say all the things you would expect your
friendly neighbourhood VHP guy to say, but the protestors could say
nothing, since the character in question was a Muslim.
Actor Udayram said: “If the god of death comes knocking for Habib, he
will say, ‘Wait, I am rehearsing’”
AT THE end of the play, Habib sa’ab spoke to the audience about
India, our myriad, wonderful cultures, the great religions of India,
our syncretic and pluralrist traditions. He was like a Zen master —
unruffled, calm, wise. What was fascinating was that he was not
delivering a speech, he was speaking to the spectators, engaging them
in a dialogue. Later, he explained to me that since most of the
audience were ordinary students, he felt that he had to win them over
with logic and reason. He spoke also about the Nacha, the theatrical
form of rural Chhattisgarh, and how he had learnt much from his
unlettered actors. He asked the spectators: would you like to see a
classic play of this genre? One man, saffron scarf around his neck,
said no. Before anyone could realise what was happening, the police
swooped in and removed not only him, but the entire audience. Within
minutes, the auditorium was empty, thanks to the police which was
deployed to aid the performance.
Habib sa’ab came to the microphone again, and said: I don’t care if
there is no one here. We have come to perform the play, and we shall
perform the play. And so, the play was performed — to an empty
auditorium. That was Habib sa’ab. Nothing could stop him from
In the last years of his life, as his old actors began retiring and
some started dying, and especially after his wife Moneeka died, many
of us asked Habib sa’ab to slow down, to disband the theatre, to
spend more time writing, teaching, workshopping. He would listen to
us, nod sagely, agree that this was what he ought to do. And yet,
every time someone phoned to ask for a performance, his eyes would
light up. The lights, the music, the stage, the travelling, the
hurlyburly of life on tour — all this gave him a high. As his actor
Udayram said to me once: “If Yamraaj (the god of death) comes
knocking, he will say, ‘Wait, I am rehearsing a scene.’”
And when the end came, he was still planning, dreaming, writing,
active till the last.
Deshpande has co-directed, with Sanjay Maharishi, two documentary films
on Habib Tanvir and Naya Theatre
deshsud at rediffmail.com
Outlook Magazine, 22 June 2009
Beyond The Fourth Wall
The great thespian internalised Brecht, adopted folk idiom as his own
Shama Zaidi on Habib Tanvir
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During the last few days I have been remembering Habib Tanvir over
the years, ever since we first met in 1954. It's like leafing through
an old family album of faded photographs. I knew Habib through his
interaction with three people in my family who at various times were
important in his life. The first was my eccentric uncle Zulfiqar
Bokhari who was the director of the Bombay station of All India Radio
(AIR). In 1945 Habib left Aligarh without completing his Masters
degree to join the Bombay film industry as an actor. Zulfiqar mamu
asked him to work for AIR as a producer and actor. I don’t know
whether he learnt anything about radio broadcasting while on the job,
but it certainly whetted his appetite for becoming an actor. And like
many who were influenced by Zulfiqar mamu, Habib adopted his style of
accentuated dialogue delivery, something he was to retain throughout
his life. For a while Habib copied mamu’s "afro" hairstyle as well.
The radio stint didn’t last too long because Zulfiqar mamu opted for
Pakistan in 1947 and went back to his hometown, Lahore. Habib then
turned to doing odd jobs, writing for films and advertisement shorts,
editing various journals and "struggling" to become an actor.
Like many of his generation of students of AMU, Habib was influenced
by leftist politics and this marked his political stance from then
onwards, though he threw away his party card very soon after he
acquired it. Just before Habib arrived in Bombay, the Indian People’s
Theatre Association (IPTA) had just been founded. He immediately
began to take part in its activities. They rehearsed in a hall near
Opera House and Habib acted in plays directed by Balraj Sahni and
Dina Pathak. I remember him telling us how they used to stage street
plays by pretending to be a pickpocket and a policeman quarrelling.
The crowd which collected had no idea that this was just a play and
by the time they found out and the real police arrived, the actors
melted away. When the Communist Party of India was banned many IPTA
members were jailed or went underground. From 1948-50, Habib was left
with the responsibility of running the organization. After which the
doctrinaire Ranadive line made it impossible to do anything
worthwhile in theatre and the group became almost defunct.
In Bombay, Habib edited the English periodical of the Bombay Youth
League, which he sold on the pavements of Bombay as well. One of his
earliest assistants in this venture was the second person in my trio,
my husband M.S. Sathyu. Sathyu ran away without completing his
studies in Bangalore and landed in Bombay in 1951. The only two
people he knew in Bombay were Khwaja Ahmed Abbas and Habib Tanvir,
who also edited a film paper that Sathyu happened to come across in
Bangalore. Sathyu sought out Habib and they became friends and shared
a flat near Churchgate station. As IPTA had fallen apart and Habib’s
attempts to become a filmstar weren’t leading anywhere he decided to
In 1953 Habib and Sathyu left to teach drama and art respectively in
a Montessori school in Delhi run by Mrs. Elizabeth Gauba. Indira
Gandhi was a close friend and her two sons attended this school
while Habib was there. Sathyu and Habib lived on the premises and
became part of Mrs. Gauba’s family. She had a large circle of
friends, including my mother Begum Qudsia Zaidi and Habib managed to
enthuse her about forming a professional theatre group. My mother had
grown up in Lahore and her brother-in-law Ahmed Shah Bokhari
(Zulfiqar mamu’s brother) was one of the first people along with
Imtiaz Ali Taj to stage modern plays for Government College, Lahore,
where he taught English literature. She and Habib decided that they
would start out by presenting adaptations of European classics as
well as Sanskrit dramas which, apart from Shakuntala, were almost
unknown in Hindi-Urdu theatre.
She set about translating a number of plays herself.
Meanwhile some friends in Jamia asked Habib to stage plays with a new
group they had formed. In 1954 he wrote Agra Bazar which was staged
by him with a group of villagers and amateur actors from Jamia. This
was followed by a dramatization of Premchand’s Shatranj ke Mohre.
Sathyu designed these plays and did the lighting as well, before
going back to Bombay to work with Chetan Anand.
It was in the winter of 1954 that I met Habib who used to come and
visit my parents. I was in the 9th standard in boarding school in
Mussoorie, and was in Delhi for my winter holidays. And I developed a
terrible crush on Habib about which he was faintly amused. I went
back to school in spring and later in the year Habib left for England
to study acting in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and later
direction in the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. After many months of
a study tour which took him all over Europe, he returned to India in
1958. Of this time, eight months were spent studying the plays of the
Berliner Ensemble, the theatre founded by Bertolt Brecht.
The influence of Brecht made him discard all that he had learnt in
England. He took to heart Brecht’s dictum that theatre needs to be
fun, like the music-hall or football. Some of the Brechtian concepts
had already been tried out by him in his production of Agra Bazar
and Shatranj ke Mohre which were produced by the Okhla Theatre Group.
But the example of the Berliner Ensemble inspired him to use song and
dance as part of the theatrical style. Use of folk idiom had already
become popular in Marathi and Gujarati plays staged by IPTA, but
Hindi-Urdu theatre had no such experiments until Habib came along.
By this time my mother had set up the Hindustani Theatre, and two
plays Shakuntala and Khalid ki Khala had been staged, both directed
by Monica Misra. Habib now decided to stage a musical version of
Shudrak’s Mrichchakatika as Mitti ki Gaadi (translated by my mother).
While the script was being polished he went home to Raipur to visit
his family. There he met a group of "nacha" style folk actors of
Chhattisgarh and was so impressed with them that he brought them back
to act in Mitti ki Gaadi along with a few Hindustani Theatre full-
timers. For this production Sathyu had called the poet Niaz Haider
from Bombay to write the lyrics. Habib had to bully and cajole Niaz
Baba to produce anything in a time-bound manner. But the final script
was quite marvellous. The play was a complete revolution for Delhi
theatre goers. It was panned by the critics as an insult to a
Sanskrit classic, but the audiences seemed to enjoy it.
Later, the most outspoken critic of the production, Suresh Awasthi,
became a devotee of Habib’s new style of theatre. My mother had a
terrible argument with Habib because of his use of folk actors. In a
huff he left to form his own group. Monica Misra, who originally
resented being upstaged by Habib, had by then fallen in love with
him and she also left Hindustani Theatre along with Habib. By then I
had left for England and Germany to study stage and costume design.
When I returned in 1961 my mother had died of a massive heart attack
and the Hindustani Theatre Repertory Company had been disbanded.
Habib and Monica married and formed their own group, the Naya
Theatre. The Naya Theatre included a large number of nacha actors
from Chhattisgarh plus some enthusiastic urban acolytes of Habib.
Another version of Agra Bazar was produced by him using this
combination of urban and folk actors. For many years indulgent
officials allowed Habib and Monica space in Delhi to house their
troupe in a government colony and they put up many memorable
While Habib and Monika were working out their ideas using folk
elements and the nacha actors, Sathyu and I tried to keep the
Hindustani Theatre going as an amateur group. Sathyu staged my
mother’s translations of Brecht’s Chalk Circle and I decided to
direct Mudrarakshas. Niaz Baba added the recitative verses and songs
for these plays. But halfway through Mudrarakshas, he suddenly
announced one day that he just had to go to Brindaban and we didn’t
see him for four months. Habib then offered to complete the verses
for the play. Many years later he used the same script for his own
production of the Mudrarakshas. Habib continued his productions for
Naya Theatre but we had to wind up the Hindustani Theatre and leave
Four years later I returned to Delhi in connection with the Ghalib
Centenary celebrations in 1969. We commissioned a number of plays and
other shows which were performed as part of the Ghalib festival,
including a splendid play by Habib. For some reason the play was
never repeated by him after that. Habib at first continued with his
mix of urban and folk actors but then decided to shift to Bhopal and
work only with his "nacha" actors.
Then we lost touch until 1974. Charandas Chor was staged by Habib as
a short play for a workshop in Jaipur, after which Habib worked with
me on a film-script for a film by Shyam Benegal, based on the same
story for the Children’s Film Society. Habib later expanded the
script into a full-length play, and along with Agra Bazar it is the
play most people remember him for. Except for Smita Patil who played
the princess all the other actors were "nacha" performers from
Habib’s "Naya Theatre". Our cameraman Govind Nihalani would get
exasperated with them because the dialogues and acting for each take
was improvised and so did not match what had been shot earlier. The
film was shot in the style of the old Keystone Cops and Chaplin films
and is still quite amusing.
It was after Charandas Chor that Habib’s signature style was
recognized all over the country. And, as someone has said, he became
a legend in his own lifetime. One kept getting news of him from
various people and read about his victimization by the Hindutva
forces; his being forced out of the Repertory Company in Bhopal and
the attempt to ban his staging of Ponga Pandit. One story he used to
repeat with glee was his reply to the BJP minister Sikandar Bakht who
advocated the cause of "Urdu theatre" during a seminar. Habib told
him there was no such thing as a separate Hindi and Urdu theatre.
They were the same. In any case, the minister himself knew nothing
about theatre, what he did know was how to destroy old mosques and
Habib was quite willing to give him a list of further mosques he
After Monica passed away in 2003 Habib could not continue with the
same vigour. But he still ate and breathed theatre till the last day
of his life. The 2004 festival of many of his plays, staged at
Prithvi Theatre, Mumbai, was like a swan song. We met a few times
during this festival and he reminisced about Monika and the old days.
Then a few months ago he came to Bombay for readings from his
forthcoming memoirs. Mahmood Farooqui read a few excerpts as Habib
was liable to get breathless, and Habib answered a few questions. His
daughter Nagin tells us that he had just got to the Monica part of
the memoirs before he went to the hospital, never to come back.
STAKE HOLDER FORUM
COUNTERING TALIBANIZATION: A WAY FORWARD
Tuesday, 23rd of June, 2009
3pm, at National Library
Constitution Avenue, Islamabad
The problem of Talibanization is much bigger than the crises of FATA
and Swat. There continues to be elements in our political leadership,
media, academia, civil administration and citizenry that support the
discourse propagated by the Taliban. Thus, there is a pressing need
for those who want to address this problem at its roots to articulate
and propagate a progressive discourse and a long term strategy.
This forum will provide an opportunity for different stakeholders,
political parties and representatives from the civil society and
academia, together with those directly affected by the Taliban crisis
to put their points of views forward. We would also screen a
documentary on Waziristan by our colleague Farhat Taj.
Qamar Zaman Kaira, Minister of information
Senator Mian Raza Rabbani, Chairman: Parliamentary Committee on
Afrasiab Khattak, ANP
Shmaila Rana, PML N
Amir Muqam, former federal minister
Afzal Khan Lala
Pervaiz Hoodbhoy Islamabad Quaid-e-Azam University
Khadim Hussain, Aryana Institute of Regional Research and Advocacy
I A Rehman Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
Dr Said Alam Mehsud
Prof. Mehdi Hassan, Beaconhouse University
Anis Haroon, Chairperson, National Commission on the Status of Women
Declaration by Fazal Maula
Press note by Idrees Kamal
Hosted by: Dr. Fouzia Saeed
The program is being organized under the umbrella of Amankaar Tehrik,
a citizen's platform with chapters in every city. Mehergarh and AIRRA
are the main organizers this event with other partners including
Women Action Forum, Pakistan Workers Federation, Bedari, Bhandar Hari
Sangat, and several other organizations and citizens joining from
Islamabad and Peshawar. Other organizations include Pashtun
Democratic Council (PDC), AIRRA, SAP-PK, Sarhad Chamber of Commerce
and Industries SCCI. Anjumne Tajran, Tajir Ittehad, Hotels and Bakers
Association, Labour Unions, Anjuman-e-Kashtkara n, Kissan Board,
Anjumne Tarqi Passand Musannifeen, Alami Pukhtu Congress, Alami
Pushtu Conference, PUTA ( Peshawar University Teachers
Association) ,Tribal Development Forum TDF, Districts Bar, High Court
Bar Association, Previous HCB, Students Unions, Students Societies,
Leading NGOs, SNI, PNF, SPO, SUNGI, Aurat Foundation, Shirkat Gah,
Khwendo Kor, , DIA, DR-NET, Humanitarian
Network, AWAZ, Doctors Forums, Lawyers Forum, Global Peace Council,
Teachers Association Peshawar Press Club, Khyber Union of
Journalists, Paramedical and clerk associations, Employees
coordination Council, Pakistan Workers Confederation, Mutahida Labour
Federation, ANP, PPPP, Pukhtoon Khwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP),
National Party (Dr. Malik Baloch).
(Other groups who want to join in Pl contact us)
AIRRA: 051-2220168 khadim.2005@ gmail.com
Mehergarh: 051- 2252203 mehergarh at yahoo. com
For any further information, please contact:
1- Idrees kamal (0300-5862104)
2- Dr Fouzia Saeed (0300-8541929)
3- Fazal Maula (0342-2637724)
4- Ziaddin Yousufzai (0333-9502027
5- Khadim Hussain (0333-5568938)
S o u t h A s i a C i t i z e n s W i r e
Buzz for secularism, on the dangers of fundamentalism(s), on
matters of peace and democratisation in South
Asia. An offshoot of South Asia Citizens Web: www.sacw.net/
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