• kewal sethi

what ails india

this is the result of urge of contributing some thing. this article was written in 2007 and the incidents described were discussed in the papers. they are no longer remembered. but i believe the idea outlined in the article is still relevant.

so here it is.




What ails India

Kewal Krishan Sethi

Some days back ((April 16, 2007), about 40 to 50 persons belonging to Hindu Rashtra Sena, an unknown organization, attacked the offices of Star India and ransacked the reception and the parking area. Some forty vehicles were damaged besides the equipment in the reception area. Some security guards and a news editor were also injured. The volunteers of Hindu Rashtra Sena were protesting against the Star India giving protection to a couple who had fled from Surat. A Muslim boy had eloped with a sixteen years old Hindu girl and come to Mumbai on bike. They straight away went to Star India who, gleefully, broadcast the news. (Girl being a minor, a case of kidnapping has since been registered and the girl sent back to her parents).

The couple, in seeking assistance to their romance, was influenced by another news item which was being broadcast for the previous three or four days. In this incident a Muslim boy and a Sindhi Hindu girl from Bhopal had fled to Mumbai and married. The Sindhi Samaj in Bhopal had, as a consequence to this, imposed restrictions on the Sindhi girls. They were asked not to use the mobile phones and not to appear in public without their faces covered. The TV channel interviewed a large number of people regarding this couple and the subsequent orders of the Samaj. Of course the persons who sided with such restrictions, including women, were ridiculed as being against individual freedom, of being backward looking and being 'Hindu Talibans'. No wonder that the couple from Surat also expected to be treated as heroes by the TV channel and hence sought their assistance.

Another incidence occurred on the day preceding the one on which the Surat couple escaped to Mumbai. There was a function involving truck drivers who were to be told about the hazards of AIDS. The function was attended, or rather led, by actress Shilpa Shetty (of racist remarks in a reality show fame ) and an American actor Richard Gere. The two kissed on the dais, not just a peck as the custom is, but a long and passionate kiss. There was no provocation for such an act except that Richard Gere felt like it. This drew protests from the workers of the Shiv Sena who labelled this action against the Indian traditions. They burnt the effigies of Shilpa Shetty. The protests occurred in Varanasi, Delhi and Indore.

Before we close the narrative part, we would like to describe an incidence in Bangaluru. Infosys had invited President to a function in the premises. It is the protocol that at the time of the arrival and departure of the President, the National Anthem is sung. Instead of National Anthem being sung, instrumental music of the Anthem was played. The Infosys chief Narayan Murthy explained that there were foreigners present and they did not want to embarrass them. Of course he said that if some body is offended by this lack of protocol, he is sorry. But it is to be noted that he did not admit that what he did was wrong. There were protests against this incident but the defenders termed the persons objecting to this as 'hyper nationalists'.

Who, in his senses, would endorse the action of the so called defenders of Hindu faith who attacked Star offices. Who would endorse the action of the protagonists of the cause of culture in destroying public property. The entire media and the so called intelligentsia has risen in unity to condemn these actions. Their views would be shared by all the right thinking persons. Yet the episodes described above require some introspection.

Just what is the meaning of the words 'Indian Taliban' and ' hyper nationalism', the terms coined by the critics in relation to those protesting against the events or their coverage by the media. 'Taliban' is obviously the spin off from the Talibans of Afghanistan. Their intolerance of non Muslims is legendary. The Hindus, some of them staying for over a century in that country, were obliged to wear yellow dress so that they could be identified. Discrimination was the rule. The destruction of centuries old Budhha statues were the declared Governmental achievements of the Taliban. Just what has been done by the protagonists of the present agitation (leaving aside the misguided or the deliberately mischievous elements masquadering as agents of the opposition to the incidents) to deserve this phrase of condemnation. Has any body called upon the non Hindus to identify themselves every time they appear in public? Has any body called for their boycott in any walk of life? Is there a ruling that they can not attend the same institutions as the majority community? In Bhopal, all that has been done is to impose some restrictions on their own members, not on those of other religion. How can this be called persecution?

The trouble really is that a set of persons have assumed themselves to be the bearers of the right concepts of progress, of freedom, of human rights and so on. Their view is that every individual, whoever he be, has the right to do what he pleases, when he wants it, how he wants it and why he wants it. The others have no right to interfere or even to take offence to such activities. The individual is the only arbiter of his actions.

But do these people live up to their model, their own stated principles? The answer is no. Should any one else differ from their views, he is condemned as enemy of freedom, a danger to the liberty of others. they simply have no tolerance for the views of any body except themselves. There was one interview with a woman from Bhopal. She was defending the decision to impose the restrictions on the Sindhi girls. She was repeatedly interrupted and asked provocative questions. 'Don't you think that this means that the girls will have no independent thinking on any subject' was one of the statements. Why 'any subject' ? Was the edict, right or wrong, covered everything under the sun? What made the anchor say so? Another comment was that 'when the entire world is speaking of the freedom of the women, why are you taking away the freedom'. Were the women being asked not to go to the schools, not to go out without covering themselves from head to foot, not to go unaccompanied any where, not to study in schools and colleges, not to work in the offices just as the Talibans in Afghanistan had said of all the women, Muslim or otherwise. What was the nature of freedom, they had in mind. This was not specified. But obviously, what they had in mind was a preconceived notions of what constitutes freedom.

Let us go to the other phrase - hyper nationalists. This is a new word coined by the commentators. What does it mean? How is it distinguished from 'nationalism'? Are there degrees of nationalism? Can there be 50 % nationalists or 75 % nationalist corresponding to which there would be 150 % nationalists, to be described as hyper nationalists? If a person thinks that observance of the protocol is the duty of all where is the President is concerned, can he be described as being too sensitive, 150 % nationalist. The National Song Vande Matram has already been condemned as being sectarian which can not be made compulsory for all the people of this country. Are we on the way to declare the National Anthem Jana Gana Mana also to be of the same hue which may or may not be sung by an Indian depending upon his inclination? And all this is being done by those who would cry hoarse if Prophet (peace be on Him) is the subject matter of a cartoon in some foreign land.

This is the crux of the matter. We are having double standards. The explanation given by Narayan Murthy was worse than the offence. He said that it was to save the foreigners, who were present, from embarrassment. What was the nature of the embarrassment? One of the possibility is that they did not know the language and would not be able to pronounce it properly. But who expected them to join in the singing? Since the original song is in Bengali, it may be that many Indians can also not sing it properly but that does not embarrass them for the honour is to be in the heart and not in the words or the pronunciation thereof. Perhaps what Narayan Murthy had in mind was that if the National Anthem is sung, it will force them to pay attention to it. with instrumental rendering, they are free to hum a tune of their choice.

In the case of Shilpa Shetty, her action was defended as being her personal matter by many including Tasleema Nasrin, the Bangladeshi writer, living in exile in India. The argument taken up is that "if she does not have an objection, why should others be bothered. She is above 18, is grown up and knows what she is doing." (Comments from another actress Celina Jaitly). Obviously it is forgotten that what is being objected to is not the kissing as such but the public display of the same. There has been a case where an actress had an affair with a foreigner and had a child by him but nobody protested against it. The tapes of conversation, involving some indecent phrases and references between an actor and an actress were released some time back. As it happens, the two belonged to different communities yet nobody burnt the effigies of any one of them and they, both, remain the beloved of the movie going public. It is agreed that the consenting adults can indulge in what they want to but can they do the same in the public also. It is the indecency part which is being objected to and not the personal actions of the players.

Another interesting comment is that "I really wonder what has happened to the largest democracy where citizens have the right to expression and this reaction from the fundamentalist group is uncalled for." Once again what is their concept of democracy? It means that one can do as one pleases. By the same standard, does the right of expression not belong to the protestors? Can they not express their anger over what they feel is indecent exposure? Or is the right to expression the monopoly of those who would like to be indecent in public? And what is fundamentalist about it? Is the expression of indecency the sign of progress? Does our culture permit such promiscuous behavior?

Speaking of culture, it is said that "For whatever he did on the stage, remember he is a foreigner and one shouldn't expect him to behave like an Indian." (This one is from Shilpa Shetty) Check this. Gere is not an Indian so we should put up with whatever he thinks proper. In Bangaluru, we should give up our customs so that the foreigner is not embarrassed. The emphasis is on the concerns of the foreigner. The foreigner is not to be bothered about our sensitivity whether it be the question of our National Anthem or of our cultural values. Only we Indians should defer to their culture, their approach to life, their aversion to singing the National Anthem of India and their right of indecent kisses on the stage. If this is not the mental slavery, what is? And it applies to every one, be it the leader of the communication giant chief Narayan Murthy or the newly arrived commentator on the TV channel.

Which brings us back to the statement made earlier. We have double standards, one for ourselves so that we may appear progressive to the world. Mahesh Bhatt went to the extent of saying that 'doom is around the corner if we care for such trivia'. And pray, what is important? Obviously the cultural values of our society are not. Obviously the National Anthem is not. Obviously the protocol laid down for the President is not. Perhaps what is important is to behave as one would wish to without caring for the views of the society and to brag about it and to preen oneself on such behavior. That is democracy for them. That is the progress for them. To degrade oneself to do honour to the foreigner is the ideal behavior for them. If there is a protest against these, the protestor is 'Indian Taliban" without even specifying what having a Taliban bent of mind involves. It is to be recalled that some time back the words used were 'fascist', 'reactionary' and 'communalist'. Now they are not in fashion (except the last one) so some new words have to be coined to malign all those who disagree with so called progressive views. And the newest word to join the vocabulary of derision is 'hyper nationalist'. The definition of 'communal' was changed to mean one who spoke against the appeasement of minorities. The definition of 'secular' was changed to mean one who bestows favour, due or undue, on minorities. The meaning of the word 'nationalist' is now to be changed to mean 'one who stands for Indian way of life to be given up in favour of the foreigners, especially if they happen to be white'. All those who stand for the honour of the country and its symbols - the flag, the National Anthem, the National Song, the cultural values - are 'hyper nationalists', which is intended to be a term of ridicule. Indian values do not matter. Indians have no right to protest against outrages of our values. We have really and truly become world citizens.

Or are we just the second rate citizens?



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