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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

'Hindu' motorcycle, Muslim hand

A friend clicked this photograph and send it to me. It doesn't show any extraordinary situation but I found it amusing in a sense.

The bike has perhaps come for repair at a Muslim mechanic's shop. [Or the tyre is punctured]. Just behind him, the arrow [it tells time of Zohar--afternoon namaz] shows that there is a mosque nearby.

What is interesting is that the bike has 'Hindu' written on it prominently. Though in the decade of 80s, it was quite common for people to write 'Garv Se Kaho Ham Hindu Hain' and the Muslims getting 'Fakhr Se Kaho Ham Musalman Hain', on their business establishments. But here the bike has nothing else written on it. I don't remember seeing just 'Hindu' or 'Muslim' written on vehicles.

On the mobikes of Bajrang Dal and VHP activists, one often finds 'Jai Bhawani' , 'Om' or 'Jai Shri Ram'. But the unique identification of the bike, which declares 'I am a Hindu or a Hindu rides this bike' is amusing and at one level innocent as well. On bikes of Muslims, it is rare to find any symbol. Yes, some times one may find, 'Ya Ali'.

Also note, that the mechanic in photo also fits in the image of the Muslim, 'skullcap on head', slight beard and taviz [amulet]. Another reason I posted the photograph is that I was not in a mood to write some serious stuff. So I got the photo and decided to post it instead.

The moral! Is there any moral. Isn't it too childish to celebrate secularim or harmony on seeing a Hindu and Muslim together. Perhpas, the moral is that, one may identify himself as anything--a liberal or a staunch follower of his religion, but we can't do without each other. Or may be you can come out with your own and share it with me.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

DD Urdu: Doordarshan's Urdu channel making its mark

Almost three years ago DD's Urdu channel was launched, however, few cable operators relayed it initially. But the channel has steadily improved in the last year or so. And now its quite visible across the country.

More importantly, the quality of programmes has gone up. Lately I have been watching the channel quite often and have developed a liking for it. Apart from some really good programmes, the channel doesn't have many advertisements and a section of viewers may find it comforting.

Also, the anchors don't scream. [DD Bharati and Parliament's channels also have less advertisements and there are several programmes on these channels that are really worth watching but these channels are also underrated.]

It also quenches the literary thirst. Today morning I tuned in and found a lady reciting the poetry of late Allama Seemab Akbarabadi's famous Nazm on Sri Krishna. Subsequently, there was a programme on Gopi Nath Aman Lakhnavi. It was presented by Farooq Argali, who is a well-known personality, and has deep understanding of literature.

The soap operas are a bit amateurish but I don't care much about them, as one can watch them on any channel ranging from Star Plus to Colors. However, DD's rich library and its records of old programmes including Mushairas gives the channel, an edge.

For years there was no Urdu channel though other important languages had dedicated channels. The reason was that Urdu is not limited to any particular region in the country. Until a decade ago, the cable operators often showed channels from Pakistan, particularly, PTV.

However, I never liked the channel because the anchors excessively use English words in Urdu. Besides, I had a serious grievance. It was about talaffuz. Just for an example: Every Urdu speaker wants Qaaf to be pronounced as Qaaf. But on Pakistani channels, Qaaf becomes Kaaf, which is irritating if you are watching an Urdu channel for the sake of watching and listening Urdu.

Then Ramoji Rao launched ETV Urdu from Hyderabad. The myth that Urdu channel can't be run in this era was shattered. The channel is now almost a decade old and has a substantial viewership in Uttar Pradesh and other parts of North India apart from AP, Karnataka and Maharashtra.

The long-standing demand of Urdu channel was met finally and DD Urdu was inaugurated. However, it wasn't seen anywhere in the first couple of years. It is visible in most cities now. Also, the programmes have improved and the reception is also better now.

Earlier, when I asked the cable operator to show DD Urdu. He would instead start showing another Islamic channel. Perhaps, he thought that Islamic channel and Urdu channel are no different things. [We do hear about BBC's upcoming Urdu channel and also Munsif group's similar project].

The best part about DD Urdu is that it not only airs programmes on literature, poetry and mushairas but also different forms of art, music, Bollywood movies, discussions, travel programmes and other facets of life without the irritating advertisement breaks. Its news capsules aren't as good yet but channel's steady growing popularity would also lead to improvement in quality of news.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Why more bridges don't collapse?

The under-construction metro bridge collapsed in Delhi, causing the death of five persons. Bridges are now falling at regular intervals in this country.

Sometime back there was an incident in Delhi, earlier in Lucknow and before that in Hyderabad.

Still, bridges aren't falling everyday in India. Surprised at this statement! Yes, it surprises me when one sees how these bridges are built.

Just the other day I met an old acquaintance from Uttar Pradesh who had come for a visit after finishing a project. He had just finished the construction of a bridge and was in a holiday mood, awaiting clearance of his cheques.

I casually asked him about the construction work and that's what he told me: "The 26% cut straight goes to the officials and engineers, then 7% goes in taxes, 8-10% goes to local strongmen, junior engineers and other troublemakers who either extort or threaten to hamper work".

Construction was done more at night to avoid other extortionists including policemen."We keep 20% profit for ourselves. So the project has to be completed in just about 38% of the original budget that is needed for the complete construction of a safe project".

So if an overpass 'puliya' has to be constructed for Rs 1 crore, the contractor must build it in around Rs 35 lakh. How will he construct and if he does, how will it stand a few monsoons or high traffic?

And why is the 26% cut? Everybody needs it, officials have to send money to those up in the hierarchy up to the ministers. And there is no secret about it. Everybody knows it. In case of Central schemes, the situation is even bad. I asked him if the bridge will stand. "Hopefully", he said.

"I have done my best and at least, it's better than the construction which other contractors are doing in the area around. So it has fair chances of standing for a couple of years."

And nothing can probably check this corruption. Almost entire bureaucracy is complicit and those who dare to speak up, are either shunted out or 'silenced' so that the chain is not broken. Everybody must keep getting their share of bribes and cuts.

Ironically, it is this system that needs to be cleansed but it remains a non-issue. As long as Old British-built bridges exist despite having far oulived their life, we are moving. But in a few decades, when majority of flyovers and bridges in this country would be the ones built in recent history, we will perhaps see more collapses.

But the real 'traitors' who steal our money and compromise our safety, remain safe. If ever something goes wrong, it is the contractor who will be held, just for eyewash. The bureaucrat will remain safe. What a wonderful system! The need of the hour is a public movement against this level of corruption but there are no such signs visible.

Friday, July 10, 2009

India's own Guantanamo Bays: The Week's story on Secret torture chambers

A 14-year-old boy, Irfan, was crossing the road near his house in Delhi when a Tavera car screeched to a halt near him, he was bundled into the car and pinned down under the heavy feet with pistol kept to his head.

The mother kept searching for the boy. Had it not the car's numberplate and the judiciary's help, the boy may not have been tracked and released in ten days, from a secret Abu Gharaib-like torture cell in faraway Gujarat where he underwent such torture which even the adults can't even dream to endure.

This explosive story by news magazine 'The Week' has caused ripples in administrative circles. After a long time, a news magazine has done such an investigative story that brings to light something which was either not known or just talked about in whispers.

The magazine's journalist has unearthed and located these secret detention camps a la Guantanamo Bay, which are present in several Indian cities. The Week's managing editor Philip Mathew has written a special full page introduction for the story and the purpose of this extraordinary revelation. He writes:

..The muffled cry will never reach you. Nor the snap of bone. It is a strange silence, as if tranquilised by terror....the cover story is vastly different from Hitlerian terror, what is common though is the sadistic streak that strips a human of his dignity and sometimes his life...

The Week's cover story on secret torture champers comes at a time when mature democracies are pausing to listen to their conscience....many innocents suffer grievously as they were picked up on mere suspicion and had no access to legal help, nor their families know where they had been taken...

The extensive groundwork and the interviews by The Week's senior correspondent Syed Nazakat are a revelation. Yes, terrorists need to be treated differently. But does the organised might of the state need to torture 14-year-old innocent minor by abducting them and keeping them in soundproof cells that don't have windows and where new definitions of torture are scripted every minute?

Many are traumatised for their life and others die in these chambers without anybody's knowledge. Former DGP and Intelligence Bureau (IB) officer, Dr KS Subramanian's interview is also an eye-opener. He doesn't deny about such practices and says, "...in terrorist-related cases, the police may feel incentive to describe people as terrorists and kill them for professional reasons and career advancement.'

He mentions how farmers were killed in the name of Naxalites. The exhaustive report also tells about the exact location of these terror cells in Kolkata, Palanpur (Gujarat), Delhi, Mumbai and Guwahati--often in houses faraway from police stations.

The importance of the story lies in the fact that often journalists working on a particular beat get sympathetic and close to the system, rather than the citizens. In turn, they turn their back on such grave abuse of human rights. However, the issue is that we always feel it is 'the other' who suffers, not us and we forget.

When women get gang raped in custody, many feel that such incidents keep happening Dalits and Tribals or perhaps to that particular class of 'poor'. When innocents get killed in encounters, we remain indifferent. And in process cede our rights and liberties.

The use of drugs through injections, water boardings, attaching electrodes on genitals and other techniques of torture (as described by the magazine) are not something which any civilised state should allow on innocent citizens.

As the Week's editor writes, "...Irfan is not just Tasleema's 14 year old son. He is an Indian citizen with rights, just like your son and mine..... ". Read the story. Link to the editor's introduction and the story 'India's secret torture chambers'. It's chilling and shocking to say the least. Congratulations to the writer and the magazine for their courage.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Extra-judicial kilings: Ranvir Singh's encounter in Uttarakhand

The recent 'encounter' of Ranvir Singh in Uttarakhand has once again raised the issue of police brutality and absolute lack of accountability among the force.

For a change, the Uttarakhand Chief Minister who has just taken charge and wants an image makeover for the state government, swiftly recommended CBI inquiry. Unlike in most cases, it seems justice might be done in this case.

Otherwise in most cases the inquiries are ordered after months and years so that whatever evidences exist against policemen should vanish by then.

The incident hit headlines just because Ranbir was considered 'someone like us'--an MBA. And when the police said he was a terrorist, the vocal urban middle-class and TV channels were suspicious. How can he be a terrorist?

A dreamy-eyed youth from Ghaziabad going to Dehradun for his first job posting. His family background may not be as 'upwardly mobile' as many anchors and reporters in the national media, still he hailed from neighbouring Ghaziabad and the encounter took place not too far from Delhi. Otherwise, innumberable such killings take place throughout the country without getting even a mention.

Rural citizens and poor who can't pull strings keep getting killed in encounters without any proper inquiries. Most magisterial inquiries are eyewash, as the magistrates who conduct them are friendly to the police and have to work along side them. The doctors who conduct post-mortem reports don't go against the state government (police).

In Ranvir's case, at least, questions were asked. This was because of his 'promising career'. Unfortunately neither questions are asked, nor there is any suspicion or outrage when poor Indian citizens are killed in cold blood by the police--either a slum-dweller in urban areas or tribals by dozens in Chhattisgarh.

The version of police is accepted. Besides, the distance from Delhi also determines the amount of media coverage, which often puts pressure on the administration to act. That's the reason that in Ranvir's case, despite the initial acceptance of police theory 'terrorist shot dead', things have finally moved.

The reaction of citizens and media has led to action and nearly a dozen policemen have been booked for murder. Of course, all political parties are unanimous on this occasion unlike in Batla House encounter where it was said that even an inquiry would affect the 'morale of police'.

Alas, in most other cases of custody killings and encounter deaths, the guilty policemen not just get away with murders but earn 'medals' for gallantry and distinguished services which entitle them to free railway journeys, promotions and other benefits.

The death of Kuldeep

Just a few months back a youth was killed in Haryana. The youth, Kuldeep, a 22-year-old lad, was killed in cold blood. After mounting pressure the police had retracted and claimed that the 'trigger was accidentally pushed'. I had then written a post on police's brutality 'What's wrong with Indian society: Innocent get bullet, vandals get respect'. If you have a few seconds do read this post.

A tale of two encounters: Dehradun and Batla House
Also, read two Jamia teachers--Manish Sethi and Adeel Mehdi, making a comparison of two encounters at Twocircles.net. The writers tell us the encounterables, those who can be executed in an encounters, and how the even the procedural magisterial inquiry was sabotaged in the case of Jamia Nagar incident. Link to the report.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Homosexuality in Urdu poetry: Tolerance in medieval India and Islamic societies in the past

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For once, the Shankaracharya and the Shahi Imam are on the same side as also the BJP and the Muslim leaders. They are all opposed to the court's decision terming consenting homosexual relationship among adults as 'no longer criminal'.

Barely a handful of MPs have openly hailed the verdict. But it's interesting how tolerant people were towards homosexuality in the past. In Islamic world, from Iran to India,  such relationships were common and were completely acceptable in the society as well as among the Ulema [clergy].

Gar aan turk sheerazi be-dast aarad dil-e-maara
ba khaal hindosh bakhsham samarqand o bukhara ra [Hafiz]

Translation: If that Turk lad listens to my heart's cry, I can forsake the cities of Samarqand and Bukhara against the black mole on his face.

Poets like Hafez and the great Mir Taqi Mir openly wrote about their homosexuality. The divans of Urdu poets of 18th and 19th century are full of couplets that would outrage even some of today's 'self-styled liberals', but in those days even the orthodox Ulema were either lenient or indifferent.

They were ready to accept that everybody need not necessarily be like us and society should not impose its views on everyone. In present scenerio, it seems strange as an intellectual like Mushirul Hasan avoids commenting on the decision, for fear of enraging others.

Eminent religious scholars were less judgmental then and often took umbrage behind the extensive legal case including the requirement of witnesses that are needed to hold someone guilty of unnatural acts as per Shariah.

Either it was medieval homosexuality that is evident in couplets from the era of Aarzoo and Mir Soz or the pederasty in Firaq's shaayri and Josh's memoirs, the tolerant society openly accepted it. However, today it is unthinkable.

Contemporary Urdu poetry has just one openly gay poet Iftikhar Nasim 'Ifti'. However, in the past it was not considered outrageous. Poets openly wrote about their relationships.

Turk bachche se ishq kiyaa thaa rekhte kya kya maiNne kahe
rafta rafta Hindustaan se sher meraa Iran gayaa
[Mir Taqi Mir]

Above I quoted a coulet of the legendary Persian poet Hafiz. It was no different in India. Mir Taqi Mir celebrated his relationship:

Mir kyaa saade haiN biimar hue jiske sabab
usii attaar ke launDay se davaa lete haiN

Or

Us Mughal-zaade se nibhii har baat kii takraar khuub
bad-zabaanii kii bhii usne, to kahaa bisyaar khuub

His divan is full of such references, often termed as 'ibtizaal' [literary decadence] and deleted from concise collection of his poetry. Like poets of that era, Mir had homosexual relationships with boys and later got married also, as per the tradition of the times.

But he never faced any opposition then. There was no disapproval from the Ulema then. Were they less religious or less cultured? Certainly not. But they did respect every person's right to lead his life as per his wishes.

Or at least leave them to their own ways rather than worrying about what they do in their bedrooms. I feel if a person is truly religious or spiritual he would be more compassionate and would avoid finding faults with others.

In Urdu ghazal, the gender of the beloved is often not clear. However, there are hundreds of couplets in divans of the classical poets where the lover is clearly a male or a boy.

The great poet Khwaja Haider Ali Aatish wrote:

Zuleikha ko dikhaaye aasmaaN tasviir Yusuf kii
Ye dil diivana hai jiskaa pari-paikar hai voh laRkaa

Mir Soz said:

Hai chaal qayaamat, hai husn ya sharaara
chaltaa hai kis adaa se Tuk, dekho Khudara

and Aarzoo wrote:

fareb-e-khush pisraaN khurdan Aarzoo rasm ast
za-rooe tajruba guft eeN chuniiN pidar maaraa

One of the greatest poets of the sub-continent, Mir Taqi Mir, who is termed Khuda-i-Sukhan, wrote numerous couplets celebrating gay relationships. In fact, so explicit is Mir, that one may think twice before quoting them.

Not more than a fraction of their poetry is explicit or obscene. In fact, a majority of the asha'ar treats the subject subtly and with sensuousness like the following couplet of a gahzal where the usage 'kya kya kuchh' is unusual and fresh. The poet yearning for his beloved dreams of the pleasures of sexual union.

wasl uskaa Khudaa nasiib kare
meraa dil chaahtaa hai kya kya kuchh

In these couplets Mir falls sick owing to his excessive longing for his beloved boy [yaani maiN shauq kii ifraat se biimaar huaa] and Mus'hafi describes the feelings in terms of waves [lahroN se saara daryaa aaGhosh kar diyaa].

The legendary Urdu scholar SR Faruqi terms some of them as 'international literary gems' and extraordinary couplets. It is noteworthy that Faruqi doesn't even use words like 'good' and 'fine' generously.

The recent court verdict has 'shocked' a large number of clerics and even litteratuers. The Victorian law that criminalised not just gay relationships but also any other form of sexual activity [even any other sexual position among man and woman except missionary posiion] other than the order of Nature, has just been reinterpreted by the Delhi High court.

Even today in sub-continent, many homosexuals succumb to family pressure and marry, thereby destroying the life of a woman also. Pakistan-born Iftikhar Nasim has been brutally honest about his life and the difficulties he faces when he decided to 'come out' rather than living a 'false life'.

Read selected couplets of Iftikhar Nasim here.
Read his famous poem Mere Baba. In this verse the poet seeks answers for his alternate sexuality in Urdu, Hindi and Roman scripts here.

[UPDATE: This post was written in 2009. Now, in 2013, the Supreme court has said that the law stands and homosexuality that had been de-criminalised, is a criminal act.]