Kanhaiya Who?

An open letter to Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai, Arnab Goswami, Rahul Shivshankar, Sudhir Chaudhary

Thomas Carlyle in his book On Heroes and Hero Worship said: “Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.” It’s only in the past month (past year?) that I have come to see the influence of the Fourth Estate.

I abhor the current government, as much as I despised the governments before this. At the end of the day, they are all cut from the same cloth; they are all wolves in sheep’s clothing. I’m neither a Modi toadie, nor a Khangressi. I am not one of those who bestowed upon you the pejorative, the Presstitute. I haven’t forgotten how you exposed the Commonwealth Games scam, or the Vyapam. You brought justice to Jessica Lall. When you streamed live from Kargil, you were partly, if not entirely, responsible for instilling nationalism in the populace. You saved tigers, lit up villages, promoted the girl child. You even took on the VVIP culture.

What I reproach you for today is an offence that has been committed since the days of the Acta Diurna in Ancient Rome. Sensationalism in 24*7 news coverage has long ceased to be the monopoly of ill-informed vernacular channels. Night after night, prime-time after prime-time, news studios have turned into battle grounds of dissent, discussion, debate and more often than not, pure cacophony.

10 years ago, you turned Prince Kashyap, the 5-year-old who fell into a tubewell, into an instant celebrity and today you have done it again with Kanhaiya Kumar. In less than a month he has been transformed from a student leader into an anti-national, a terrorist, a freedom hero, the next CM of Delhi, depending of course, on which channel you ‘trust’.

If it wasn’t the eagerness of some news channels for ‘Breaking News’, the 28-year-old would still be as anonymous as he has been for the rest of his life. None of the events in JNU during the week in question were unprecedented for JNU. Pray tell us, why must left-leaning sloganeering in a communist citadel make national news? Why did certain sections of the media take it upon themselves to bring the ‘perpetrators’ into their studios to lecture them on patriotism? Is the administration at JNU incapable of conducting a disciplinary hearing? Are student politics across all universities in India reported with as much gusto?

Kanhaiya Kumar may not be anti-national (he’s out on interim bail, he hasn’t been acquitted). In spite of arduous attempts to have him lynched by media trial alone (doctored videos anyone?), the youth from across the country that stood with Kanhaiya, did so only because they, like Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s Voltaire, “…disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. They marched in solidarity because they, like him, have faith in the constitution, and the freedom of speech it guarantees, and not because they endorse his political ideology. They understood that receiving subsidised education should not disqualify him from having an opinion.

Kanhaiya Kumar is a brilliant orator, one well-versed in the art of the rhetoric. Period. Nothing more, nothing less. And he most certainly isn’t a hero. His 3 week stint in jail is an accomplishment only in the sense that he gets to walk out free while over 10,000 other under trials languish in Tihar. His speech upon release may be one of the best we have heard in the recent past, but what in his speech hasn’t been said before? Every 20-something has, at one point or another, overcome by idealism and passion for the country, echoed the very same thoughts. Which political rally hasn’t reverberated with cries of freedom from capitalism, from casteism? Why must you put Kanhaiya alone on a pedestal?

Kanhaiya Kumar in his speech, the evening before his arrest, made a fiery proclamation, “Talk about caste system, bring reservation in every sector, bring reservation in the private sector.” In what coherent reasoning would the next step after denouncing the caste system be to introduce reservations in the private sector? His political ideology is a blatant antithesis to the party he pledges his allegiance to. To quote Shashi Tharoor, MP, from his blog on NDTV today, “He speaks feelingly of democracy and freedom but belongs to a party that believes in dictatorship. He upholds a constitution his ideology deems bourgeois, and demands rights that would be denied to all Indians by the practitioners of the Gulag and Tiananmen Square. He rejects the power of the state but does so on behalf of a movement that has used violence, brutality and even murder to advance its cause in Kerala and elsewhere.” Is someone who is so passionate about this country unaware of the discrepancies in his ideology and that of his party? Or does his speech, like those of countless others who have preceded him in politics, have little in common with his philosophy? Why must he be a comrade of an ideology that has long been renounced almost everywhere in the world?

In the words of Amit Kalantri “To assess the quality of thoughts of people, don’t listen to their words, but watch their actions.” What actions do Kanhaiya or any of his comrades have that speak for them? How does a ‘blistering’ speech make him worthy of being interviewed by the biggest journalists in the country, while those adopting villages, teaching children of sex workers’ do not even make it to the ticker? Is the adage, actions speak louder than words, just a thing of the past?

Oh what I wouldn’t give for the news bulletin at 8 pm on DD National. Half hour of the news being read as is, in two different languages: no noisy debates, no hysterical anchors, and no exaggerated stories.

I cannot help but concur with Oscar Wilde:

In old days men had the rack. Now they have the Press. That is an improvement certainly. But still it is very bad, and wrong, and demoralizing. Somebody — was it Burke? — called journalism the fourth estate. That was true at the time no doubt. But at the present moment it is the only estate. It has eaten up the other three. The Lords Temporal say nothing, the Lords Spiritual have nothing to say and the House of Commons has nothing to say and says it. We are dominated by Journalism.

(Featured in Youth Ki Awaaz on March 09, 2016)


The Great Comeback

The media seems to have taken criticism for being laidback about the Chennai floods to heart, for I see no other reason why a racist comeback to a less than humane comment would make headlines. Or is it the Angry Indian Goddess effect- we shall celebrate all that a woman says irrespective of its worth, lest we be labelled sexist? Otherwise why would this make headlines, flood news feeds (no pun intended), and trend on twitter?

So while the rest of the country, media included (think Rajdeep Sardesai), waded its way through Chennai’s flooded streets, two of our ‘finest’ youth decided to say not so fine things.

1The first of them, one Ashish Chaudhary, whose past work experiences include being a Runner-up at MTV Splitsvilla, decided to wax eloquent. The man you see was baffled as to why a ‘land’ that did not accept ‘our’ national language, would seek help from the Hindi speaking ‘natives’ of the country. The poor chap seems to have been confused by Muttiah Muralitharan donating to the relief, and was ergo misled into thinking Chennai was in Sri Lanka. No? If he had stopped at that we could have all turned a blind eye to his not so sharp wit, and moved on. But then would we have this story? Mr. Ashish Chaudhary went on to declare that he wouldn’t mind if the Tamil people died. Tsk, tsk. His humanity along with his intellect seems to have decamped, much like he has from Facebook now.

What good would be a story if it didn’t have a hero (heroine? shero? or would that be sexist?) worthy of its antihero? Welcome Anusha Natarajan.

2So her ‘fitting reply’ that started of sounding like the ‘biggest comeback in the history of biggest comebacks’ seems to have lost its way navigating her uninformed and sectarian ideology. Let me explain why.

  1. You got this one right Ms. Natarajan! You did pay more attention than Mr. Chaudhary did in class.
  2. I don’t think Mr. Chaudhary is Maharashtrian even though he’s a Mumbaikar. Chaudhary very ‘North Indian’ sounding no?
  3. Hindi language people is actually a thing (366 million people worldwide) as is Tamil speaking people, Kannada speaking people and now also BS talking people. All people, all talking.
  4. Will the ‘real Indians’ please stand up? Dravidian is a language group Ms. Natarajan, not a race. And Aryan is just a word that has the life out of it misquoted and mistranslated. Mr. Chaudhary has as much an ‘immigrant’s’ blood in him as you do. Hint: Your skin tone. Dravidian black skinned ‘race’ no?
  5. I’m guessing it took a lot more than English to become the CEO of big big companies. Imagine a résumé that read: Qualification: Embraced English. Hired?

It’s not your fault Ms. Natarajan; you probably did not think your post would make the sort of news that it did. And I do not blame the countless Tamilians who hailed you as their angel of vengeance; it is hard to be objective in the face of calamity and a scathing insult. But I do blame the numerous dailies that chose to add this to the Chennai floods hashtag. I blame them for ignoring the hypocrisy it reeks off. I blame them for failing to see that while the perpetrator seemed misinformed, insensitive and inhumane, the avenger had no redeeming qualities either. She chose to counter Hindi supremacy with Dravidian (read Tamil) supremacy. How is this ‘sharp’?

A ‘fitting’ reply would be to tell Mr. Chaudhary that it didn’t matter that he was so quick to condemn the Tamilians to death. It didn’t matter because the rest of the country wasn’t judging them by their language, or race or religion. It didn’t matter because the rest of the country was leaving behind families, and jobs, to help save a few lives. It didn’t matter because even though the government had failed them miserably, humanity hadn’t let them down.

Aya bandhuraya nēti gaanā laghucētasām | udāracaritānām tu vasudhaiva kuumbakam ||

Discrimination saying “this one is a relative; this other one is a stranger” is for the mean-minded. For those who’re known as magnanimous, the entire world constitutes but a family.  (Mahopanishad VI 71-73)



You’re It!

do-you-believe-in-godWe bow, we kneel, we circumambulate, we prostrate. We plead, we beg, we surrender, we bribe, we negotiate. We pray- a chant, a whisper, a hymn- with folded hands, and a heart full of faith. 365 days a year, every waking minute sometimes. We build, we demolish, we persecute, we kill, we go on wars.  And we do it all in the name of God.

God. The creator, the sustainer, the Supreme Being. Omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent.  Jesus, Jehovah, Allah, Bhagvaan, Buddha, Waheguru, Baha, Ahura Mazda or Adonai. He or She. A fan following that would put any modern-day rock star to shame. Yet, this faith is the most cynical of our beliefs. We question, we speculate, we scream out in disbelief. 8 million years and you think we would have figured out the answer. We look for signs, we wish for miracles. We seek “it” in the faces of the innocent, in the blessings of the old, in the vagaries of nature, in the miasma of narcotics. We starve ourselves, we take vows of silence, we throng in millions to take dips in holy rivers on frosty winter mornings, we walk on smouldering embers, and we travel the world to pay obeisance to a black cube of stone. And when all else fails we look for “it” in god- men, miracle workers and savants. This is perhaps why the son of a carpenter is still the most popular man on earth two thousand years after his death, and a dark-skinned philandering cowherd  has nothing short of a cult status. This too does not cure our skepticism.  We then proceed to elevate common mortals to divine eminence, put them high up on pedestals and subject them to humble supplication. They become “mahatma”, “Sri Sri Sri”, and “sant”. Call them by what name you will, they still remain dubious. Then when these very same messiahs are caught indulging in less than divine pursuits we strip them of their powers, drag their names in mud and still question, “Does God exist at all?”

So what is it that compels us to mould this enigmatic entity into human form? Why does the all prevailing life force have to be some heroic, miracle working, sword wielding, horse riding, war waging larger than life mortal? Why could it not be just that, a life force, energy of some sorts? Energy – that can neither be created nor destroyed, that pervades all life forms, that is neither vengeful nor scheming, that does not necessitate the existence of a Judgement Day. Why could we not take responsibility for who we are and what we do rather than blame it on some divine conspiracy? Why could we not channel all that faith, all that devotion for striving to better what we know already exists- our lives and of those around us- rather than debate the existence of what created us? Why are we so obstinate to admit that we create our own personal heaven and hell? When will the realisation dawn on us that the only reckoning that we’ll ever be subjected to is our own? Why can’t we trust ourselves enough to acknowledge that we are the creator of our destiny, the only ones that can lay down the master plan? Why can we not be the Temple of the living god- not perfect but certainly plausible? Thath thvamasi. You’re “it”!

Unto the Gallows

The latest victim of male wantonness breathed her last yesterday, she was only 23. The public outcry is justified. To quote: In India women are neither safe inside the womb nor outside it. Hurt, horrified, scarred and certainly unsafe, they demand the rapists be castrated and tortured as brutally as their victim was, and then hanged to death. And even the offenders seem to agree, albeit they only want to be hanged. For the countless protestors, campaigners and mourners this seems like the ultimate and the only logical solution. An eye for an eye. A life for a life.

In retrospective, 14th August 2004, Dhananjoy Chatterjee was hanged to death at the Alipore Central Jail for the murder and rape of a 14 year old in 1990. The same “masses” then created an uproar protesting the inhumanity of the death sentence and questioned its place in a society built on the dignity of human life. They were right then, they are right now. Janata janardhan (masses are the lord).

An issue arises not because they demand the death sentence but the reason they demand it for. They believe that hanging these offenders will deter men from ever wanting to lay hands on a woman let alone violate her. Quick question: Didn’t the hanging of a rapist in 2004 serve as a precedent enough or are our men so vile and morally corrupt that the perpetrators from among them need to be periodically hung to awaken them? If the latter is true then we certainly do not lack men to send to the gallows. Our Armed forces, the BSF, CRPFs have for decades detained, beaten, stripped, molested, abused and sexually assaulted women in the North East, Jammu and Kashmir and the Naxalite states, in the garb of suppressing insurgency. Fathers, uncles and brothers rape minor girls every day. Husbands rape their wives (yes it’s still rape if the woman refuses sexual intercourse, irrespective of the fact she is married to the man wanting it-it is called marital rape!). Most of them however go without making national headlines. There’s no public outrage (save a few human rights organisations), no media upheaval, no candlelight vigils, no pages on social networking sites, no clamour for reforming the law.

Men do or do not defile women because of the laws or the lack of it. Men defile women because for millennia an unspoken knowledge has been passed onto them that women are commodity, to be treated and disposed in the manner they seem fit. And the government, the judiciary, the internal security can do nothing to stop it. Because from Sudan to Malaysia to India to Australia, the US, the UK, the UAE, women being raped, whether in broad daylight, in darkened alleys or in the confines of their own homes, is a global phenomenon and the state of the nation has nothing to do with it! We don’t need better governance; we need a better human race! A race with conscience, a race in which men do not look at every woman as a means for sexual gratification, where women refuse to be seen as an “item girl” or a “pin up” or a “centrefold” (this is not to say that women who are raped are at fault, but the faction of them that projects, in magazines, movies or otherwise, that women in general enjoy being jeered at and lusted after). This consciousness does not come from better education opportunities, reducing unemployment, or from gender equality policies. It comes from self-reckoning, from taking stock of how we treat the women in our lives- in our homes: the ones we beat, abuse and assault, our workplace: the ones we molest, in public: the women we leer at. We must be the change we wish to see in the world. Because after all, like they say, the greatness of mankind can be judged by the way it treats its women.


ImageCountless profiles on Facebook are sporting a black dot as their profile pic. They are protesting – against the barbaric rape of the 23-year-old in the national capital. They’re mourning – the decadence of the human morality, the government’s helplessness. They have begun yet another chapter in the time-honored, and certainly universal, concept of the “Campaign”.

Campaign – the state of inspired generalized public awakening or the one intended to garner it. There’s a cause, there’s the multitude with a voice, and there’s the need to bring about a change. It’s the formula that won almost more than half the world its independence. It’s tested and foolproof. The late 20th century saw the beginnings of a widespread protest by women across the UK and the USA, frustrated by their social standing, taking to the streets, demanding universal adult franchise-the Suffragette. Then there was the weed driven, flower powered anti-Vietnam War protests in the US in the 60s. Another campaign that gained widespread popularity was the anti-AIDS campaign. The Red Ribbon would become synonymous with AIDS across nations. My hometown Bangalore too had the famous Pink Chaddi Campaign ruling national headlines for a while. Also rather (in) famed was the Slutwalk. Red has come to symbolize breast cancer. Then of course there are the candle light vigils that succeed every disaster, every failure of the judiciary.

Campaigns work. There are 196 independent countries. Women can vote. America withdrew from Vietnam. However, with most other campaigns the symbolization has overtaken the cause. Every year on December 1, millions across nations proudly pin the Red Ribbon onto themselves, in solidarity with the anti-AIDS movement. But how many of these same people will vow against unsafe sexual practices, vow to have their partners tested before going the whole way? But sport the Red Ribbon we will. The Pink Chaddi campaign of 2009 collected 1000s of pink chaddies to be mailed to the offices of the Sriram Sene in protest against a group of women attacked by its goons in a pub in Mangalore. The movement was to become eponymous with the rights of women. And what difference has it made? Three years later girls were beaten up yet again for partying in Mangalore. Women continue to be abused, molested and raped. The Pink Chaddi seems hardly empowering! Millions of women swear to go braless on October 13 to celebrate the Breast Cancer Awareness Month. How many of these millions however, are aware of the danger signs or have themselves mandatorily tested every year?

The question is do we take part in these campaigns because for however little a while, they do make us feel that we are working for the betterment of our brethren. Because just for that little while they make our otherwise mundane lives seem of some consequence. Because it is important we care. Because that is what the society expects off us. The emotions behind these campaigns certainly aren’t wrong. They however do take away attention from the real cause. The campaign takes center stage. Campaigns set up to reform the judiciary cannot lead to the deaths of those employed to protect it.

The 23-year-old lies critical, battling for her life and the Black Dot is going to do nothing to better it. Or put an end to women being violated. They will continue to be raped. And we will continue to be appalled.

The protest is only the means to an end, not the end in itself. It cannot be become bigger than what it purports to solve. Because we all know what we want, but we are either ignorant or in denial of the means of achieving it. A campaign merely takes the horse to the water, but will it drink it or piss on it is the question.