Swara Bhasker http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker.rss en Wed Nov 02 11:01:24 IST 2022 https://www.theweek.in/privacy-an-settlement.html when-anchors-aka-propagandists-spread-rancour <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/09/23/when-anchors-aka-propagandists-spread-rancour.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/swara-bhasker/images/2023/9/23/48-media-new.jpg" /> <p>Public culture in India, especially in the past decade, is not a fan of accountability. Politicians have never been a fan of accountability. It seems the dominant among the journalistic community, too, do not like to be held accountable. Ironic, because the very definition of the word journalism assumes a sense of accountability. Journalism is defined by the Encyclopaedia Britannica as “the collection, preparation, and distribution of news and related commentary and feature materials through such print and electronic media.” And the word news can be defined as “reporting or intelligence of an event that has lately taken place.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both definitions assume the centrality of events taking place, things happening, or facts. Thus, journalism has come to assume a certain objectivity and neutrality when reporting these facts, if it is to be considered serious journalism. So when journalism came to include interviews and commentaries, it became protocol to hold interviewees and commentators accountable if they made claims that were misleading.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, nothing exists in a pure, uncorrupted form and journalism everywhere in the world has faced pressure in the form of succumbing to government diktat or falling prey to the commands of owners of media outlets. Two extreme forms of corrupt journalism that the world has witnessed are the state-dictated news that comes out of North Korea or China and the genocide-mongering Radio Rwanda stations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From 1993 to 1994, a Rwandan radio station received support from the government-controlled Radio Rwanda, which allowed it to transmit using their equipment. Listened to by wide swathes of the population, this channel projected hate propaganda against Tutsis, moderate Hutus, Belgians, and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR). It is now regarded by many Rwandan citizens and the United Nations as having played a crucial role in creating the atmosphere of racial hostility that normalised the genocide of the Tutsis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian media, especially electronic media, has in the last decade come disturbingly close to resembling the Radio Rwanda stations in its hysterical demonisation of minorities, chiefly the Indian Muslim community, its relentless communal dog-whistling, vilification of dissenters, and its servile parroting of the government’s position on almost all issues. India must be the only democracy in the world whose leader has never in nine years taken a press conference.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is also a country where the democratically elected government is using overwhelming majority in Parliament to change laws and push its agenda changing the very nature of the Indian state. Most electronic Indian media channels have acted as lapdogs of the government. But what is probably more damning is that citing the TRP excuse, they have also aired fake news, targeted and vilified critics of the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After a decade of such poison masquerading as journalism, in the run-up to the critical 2024 general election, the opposition parties comprising the INDIA alliance have (finally) decided to boycott 14 anchors known for communal propaganda and rabble-rousing. The parties will not send their representatives to the shows of the named (and thus shamed) anchors. A lot of feathers have been ruffled. The anchors are hysterical in their indignation, the BJP is self-righteously touting free speech and even the silent-in-the-face-of-hate-speech News Broadcasters and Digital Association (NBDA) and News Broadcasters Federation (NBF) have issued critical statements claiming an attack of democratic principles reminiscent of the Emergency era.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I frankly find the clamour amusing. In my opinion these 14 (and a few more who were left out) are not journalists. They are propagandist rabble-rousers with jobs in news channels. They haven’t been banned. The political parties have exercised their right to protest by not appearing on these channels.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Boycott is an accepted form of peaceful protest in India, used most effectively against the British by Mahatma Gandhi himself. Those who are offended are actually stung that they and the Indian media are finally being held accountable for their words and actions. They abused their journalistic power and continue to do so, but for once the mic is pointing at them!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is an award-winning Bollywood actor and sometime writer and social commentator.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/09/23/when-anchors-aka-propagandists-spread-rancour.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/09/23/when-anchors-aka-propagandists-spread-rancour.html Sat Sep 23 11:35:04 IST 2023 three-countries-same-story-but-how-will-history-judge-indians <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/08/26/three-countries-same-story-but-how-will-history-judge-indians.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/swara-bhasker/images/2023/8/26/62-afghanistan-new.jpg" /> <p>August is a month of some significance for India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, incidentally nations with deep historic ties to one another. August 14 and 15 are Pakistan’s and India’s independence day respectively, and August 15, 2021, was the day when Taliban stormed Kabul and re-captured Afghanistan a second time round, two decades after they were ousted from power by the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All three countries are also grappling with a similar sociopolitical malaise—religious extremism and mob violence; though few in India would agree with my comparison. Arguably, Afghanistan exhibits the most extreme version of what happens when religious extremism accesses absolute state power. Two years after Taliban 2.0 came back to power predictably with a revised plan to oppress women, the war-ravaged country is reeling from economic hardships, malnourishment of large swathes of the population, lack of proper health care, and an arbitrary, authoritarian and violent government. Women have, of course, been the worst affected, with the Taliban passing 51 decrees relating solely to women in the last two years, effectively banning women from education, employment and travel, and severely limiting their access to health care, rightly prompting accusations of gender apartheid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pakistan, too, has suffered the results of the army attempting to use religion to consolidate its powers, appeasing religious extremists and allowing the ISI to (unofficially) nurture terrorist groups. Minorities in Pakistan live in fear and are vulnerable to violence by mobs of religious extremists. Recently, churches and several homes of Christians were burnt by mobs in Jaranwala in Pakistan, in one of the worst attacks on minorities in the country in recent years. Alongside such incidents, the country is also suffering a crippling economic crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India is the most prosperous, stable and progressive of the three countries and is trumpeting its democratic and inclusive growth credentials as it prepares to host world leaders at the G20 summit. But last month, riots broke out near the national capital after authorities failed to restrict movements of a person accused in a triple murder. Muslims have been at the receiving end of calls for economic boycott in Haryana.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manipur has continued to be embroiled in a sectarian war which was also precipitated by the exclusionary policies of the BJP-led government. Every week new incidents of mob lynchings of minorities are reported and ignored, bills for new laws are introduced and passed in the Lok Sabha with no discussion. We are likely to have a new penal code that replaces sedition with treason and gives our already communalised police forces more extra judicial powers. At the time of writing this article a church in Delhi’s Tahirpur was attacked by armed mobs who thrashed devotees and surrounded a police station chanting pro-Hindu rashtra slogans for hours before an FIR could be filed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Democracy and growth may be Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s favourite marketing gimmick but the fact is India has never been more similar to Pakistan and Afghanistan in one shameful reality. All three countries share the persecution of minorities by majoritarian mobs. In one aspect India is different. Both the Taliban and the Pakistani army came to power via military coups, but we, forward thinking descendants of a glorious and ancient civilisation, voted for majoritarianism twice! The Afghan people are victims of history, the Pakistanis to some extent victims of their army’s political machinations, but how will history judge Indians? We who have become similar to the nations we once scoffed at because the pleasure of seeing minorities being harassed seems so addictive. How will history judge us, Indians? Perhaps, the Germans can tell us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is an award-winning Bollywood actor and sometime writer and social commentator.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/08/26/three-countries-same-story-but-how-will-history-judge-indians.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/08/26/three-countries-same-story-but-how-will-history-judge-indians.html Sat Aug 26 16:49:42 IST 2023 when-the-fire-comes-home-nobody-is-safe <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/08/12/when-the-fire-comes-home-nobody-is-safe.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/swara-bhasker/images/2023/8/12/65-riot-new.jpg" /> <p>India is a land of all kinds of hereditary privilege. And perhaps the central outcome of privilege is being relatively safe amid all kinds of chaos that grips the country. I come from one such privileged group—savarna Hindu, upper-middle-class, intergenerationally English-educated, cosmopolitan, and progeny of Delhi-based Central government employed parents. It is the safest subset of Indians to belong to.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a progressive Indian I have tried to educate myself about the reality and experiences of those groups not as privileged. But, to be honest, fear of mass violence and threat to life has never been a part of my lived reality. And one doesn’t experience fear or understand the vulnerability of another identity until it begins to affect one personally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Six months ago I married a young Muslim activist. Slowly, after the wedding festivities died down, and I began to spend normal time with my in-laws, we began to get used to each other. To be honest, my Hindu identity, and their Muslim identity, didn’t really mean so much within the familiarity and comfort of the home setting. I felt at home, candidly recounting some wild stories of my youth to my mother-in-law, much to my husband’s horror!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My brother-in-law, a graduate from Aligarh Muslim University, got a job and began living and working in Gurugram. I was back in Delhi, and he came to see me at my parents’ house. We discussed his new job and he told me he was at a paying guest accommodation in Gurugram. He narrated how when he took some friends to have biryani at his sister’s house in Shaheen Bagh, the rest of the PG residents had chided the ‘biryani-eating gang’ for ‘risking their lives and safety’ by going into ‘those areas’. My brother-in-law was talking about how stereotypes against Muslims were infiltrating common sense of even educated young people like his colleagues. I nodded. He said that he felt insecure staying there and was considering moving to Shaheen Bagh or Okhla (Muslim majority areas in Delhi). I frowned—wasn’t this an overreaction? I mean, Gurugram was a tech hub and a cosmopolitan town neighbouring Delhi. Surely he didn’t feel unsafe there. I didn’t say anything. Some months passed and my brother-in-law moved to Okhla.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On July 31, following a viral video announcement by a triple murder accused Bajrang Dal leader about his attendance in a religious rally in Nuh, in Haryana, riots broke out. The communal conflagration turned bloody, killing two police personnel and others. As the situation was brought under control in Nuh, in neighbouring posh Gurugram retaliatory mobs torched a mosque in Sector 57 and killed a deputy imam. More incidents of arson followed and soon there were riots in Gurugram.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was looking up the news when I suddenly remembered with shock and consternation that my brother-in-law worked in Gurugram. I dialled his number hastily, wondering if he was having to make a dangerous daily commute. He answered that he was safe, had quit that job just 10 days earlier and was now working in Noida. I breathed easy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some days later my husband had to travel and was packing clothes. He took out a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and announced he was changing. Surprised, I looked at the freshly starched kurta-pajama he had on and asked why he was changing? He said with a wry smile, “I already have a beard. In kurta-pajama I will pakka look like a Musalmaan!” And he casually went off to change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An uneasy feeling emerged in the pit of my stomach as I realised that none of my privileges would protect my love, my partner, and now, my family, from the effects of the hate politics that was destroying everything good and decent in our country. The fire truly had come home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is an award-winning Bollywood actor and sometime writer and social commentator.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/08/12/when-the-fire-comes-home-nobody-is-safe.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/08/12/when-the-fire-comes-home-nobody-is-safe.html Sat Aug 12 17:50:25 IST 2023 fix-accountability-in-manipur <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/07/29/fix-accountability-in-manipur.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/swara-bhasker/images/2023/7/29/38-manipur-new.jpg" /> <p>Accountability or being responsible for one’s actions, of being answerable, are basic tenets, not just of a democracy, but any civilised society. In the absence of accountability, chaos, anarchy and injustice will follow. And those in positions of power may misuse their authority in any way they please.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some days ago an absolutely chilling video of two women being paraded naked and molested by a mob went viral on the internet. The incident took place on May 4 in Manipur, which has been on the boil for some months—Meitei versus Kuki tensions that were simmering for long erupted after a High Court order in April that granted tribal status to the Meitei community.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fresh protests by the Kukis began in Manipur and soon turned violent with clashes with the police and the local administration. The BJP government of N. Biren Singh responded with a crackdown, curfews and internet shutdowns. The violence, however, has not stopped entirely. Existing fault-lines and tensions between the largely Hindu Meiteis and the predominantly Christian Kukis have deepened and taken on a communal tinge, and violence, rioting and rape have followed. The violence in Manipur and attacks on civilians and churches have prompted the European Union to adopt a resolution, and the British parliament raised the issue in the House of Commons, while the US ambassador to India offered ‘assistance’ to help solve the conflict. But the prime minister has been busy with world trips, and large defence purchases that sit pretty with international laurels. After months of studied silence, a gruesome gang-rape and the naked march of women survivors prompted the prime minister to make a measly statement that found a way to blame the opposition for rapes in their states!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One would assume that any responsible central leadership would understand that the humanitarian crisis in Manipur is grave and the conflicts damaging from a strategic perspective and impose presidential rule and/or initiate peace talks with the stakeholders. Instead, our government has suspended opposition MPs like Sanjay Singh for demanding Narendra Modi’s presence in the house when Parliament debates Manipur. Biren Singh has refused to resign and callously said that hundreds of such cases (raped women being paraded naked by mobs) have taken place in Manipur and thus the internet shutdown. Right-wing media and social media have attempted to equate the trauma of the women survivors with previous gang-rape cases in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan or West Bengal. Meanwhile, panic has gripped Meiteis in neighbouring Mizoram, too, with rumours that similar conflict will start there, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Who then should be accountable? Why do citizens vote if not to look to the government to maintain rule of law even in times of conflict? Isn’t the basic duty of an elected government, especially a ‘double engine’ government (led by the same party—BJP in the state and the Centre), to safeguard the lives and livelihood of its people and de-escalate conflict?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As I type these last few lines out at a Mumbai cafe, a familiar face appears at the table; an acquaintance from the film fraternity. He orders himself a latte and begins to chat. He talks of how he’s beginning to work more overseas and is soon going to shift his family abroad because there are no ‘guarantees’ anymore in India. “You never know who will enter your house, or if a mob will attack you. I mean look at Manipur! It’s too bad you know! Can’t live in India anymore. I voted for Modi in 2014, but I never thought it would come to this.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I nod silently. That is what the people of Manipur must be saying, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is an award-winning Bollywood actor and sometime writer and social commentator.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/07/29/fix-accountability-in-manipur.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/07/29/fix-accountability-in-manipur.html Sat Jul 29 16:48:42 IST 2023 how-do-i-protect-my-child-from-the-mothers-angst <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/07/15/how-do-i-protect-my-child-from-the-mothers-angst.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/swara-bhasker/images/2023/7/15/49-Manipur-new.jpg" /> <p>Every fortnight as I sit down to write this column, I scan the news websites and social media to update myself on current affairs. In the last few months this process has been accompanied by a sense of foreboding. Some months ago, my husband and I discovered I was pregnant. It was almost immediately after our court marriage and neither of us was prepared! We were prepping for a larger wedding celebration in March, and did not guess that my constant fatigue and gynaecological issues were signs of pregnancy. Once we digested the news, all other concerns were replaced by our anxiety at being clueless first time to-be parents. I, beset as I was with hormonal changes and first trimester sleepiness, began to read books on pregnancy and devour the internet for any kind of helpful information.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My biggest takeaway—one that was corroborated by my gynaecologist and friends—was the simple motto: what affects the mother, affects the baby. This was true not just on food and nutritional consumption but also audio-visual consumption. ‘Avoid stress’ was the seemingly simple mantra everyone parroted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I tried to take all the pregnancy advice seriously. Along with giving up my much beloved daily coffee, I also switched what I was reading and watching. I decided to avoid non-fiction, or tragic literature, and switched to light comic novels or (safest) Enid Blyton! Next, I stopped watching all the realistic drama on streaming platforms and replaced them with re-watching of romantic comedies that I knew had happy endings, and children’s cartoons! But, at least once a day, my already hyperactive hormones found me getting awfully wound up! The culprits I decided were the Bollywood entertainment sites I followed. The spate of Hindutva propaganda film trailers, announcements and controversies were agitating and depressing me as I witnessed my beloved place of work transform into a mouthpiece for hate. I unfollowed such sites.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I took care not to read any comments on any life update I had posted. But how could I avoid the news completely when I write an opinion piece for a current affairs magazine? And I decided perhaps there is nothing wrong with following the news—surely the foetus should be kept abreast of happenings in the world it will soon come to inhabit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the news seemed to be on awful, destructive hormones. Each time I refreshed the screen, there were reports of more shootings and destruction in Manipur. One more hapless Muslim lynched. A dalit thrashed by an upper caste lineman for checking a faulty electrical wire. A video of a man urinating in the face of a tribal, the assaulter a BJP member and aide of an MLA in Madhya Pradesh. Images of Israel attacking Jenin, killing children and forcing thousands of Palestinians to once again turn refugees. Our Army threatening retired personnel on withholding their pension if their social media posts maligns “the image of the Army”. I felt weary and depressed. How do I protect an unborn child from a world that seems hell bent on encouraging the basest and most evil of human instincts and further oppressing the already marginalised? More important, how do I protect my child from the mother’s angst?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I confided in an older friend I trust and respect. She started with a disclaimer, “I don’t have children but I think it is more important to raise a courageous child who can stand up for what is right, than a well-meaning coward who has been shielded from harsh facts her whole life. The world is in this state because well-intentioned people allow the evil ones to have their way!” It was sage counsel, but I thought of my poor unborn child, blissfully ignorant of the cruelty that persists in the human race, and I began watching heartwarming animal videos.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let the little one have another few happy unaware months in the safety of the womb—it will have an entire life to deal with the realities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is an award-winning Bollywood actor and sometime writer and social commentator.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/07/15/how-do-i-protect-my-child-from-the-mothers-angst.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/07/15/how-do-i-protect-my-child-from-the-mothers-angst.html Sat Jul 15 15:47:06 IST 2023 adipurush-fiasco-when-idiocy-and-hypocrisy-reign-supreme <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/07/01/adipurush-fiasco-when-idiocy-and-hypocrisy-reign-supreme.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/swara-bhasker/images/2023/7/1/35-adipurush-new.jpg" /> <p>I must begin with a disclaimer. I have not watched <i>Adipurush</i>, the much-hyped multilingual retelling of India’s favourite epic, Ramayana, directed by Om Raut, starring Prabhas and Kriti Sanon, with dialogues by lyricist and self-appointed hindutva spokesperson Manoj ‘Muntashhir’ Shukla. I have seen the trailer. And I have seen audience review videos, tracked social media posts and followed the debate, and the controversy around the film that has included protests by hindutva groups and petitions in the Allahabad, and Punjab and Haryana high courts by right-wing activists demanding a ban on the film. Both as an actor and as a social media user, I have been used to trolling, abuse and negative commentary on my work by the right-wing social media ecosystem (often by those who haven’t seen it), but I watched and read the controversy around <i>Adipurush</i> with bemusement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From watching the trailer, and the marketing of the film, it was clear that the makers of <i>Adipurush</i> were trying hard to cash in on the general hindutva sentiment that is rampant in India today. The trailer, which described Sita/ Janaki as Bharat ki Beti (India’s daughter), and showed her being abducted by the evil one, who must be reminded of the <i>paurush</i> (masculinity) of Ram’s army, which will vanquish the arrogant enemy by the victorious Bhagwaa Dhwaj (saffron flag) to the thumping anthem of ‘Jai Shri Ram’, incorporated all qualities that the hindutva ideology identifies itself with. Raut, who also wrote and directed <i>Tanhaji</i>, an Islamophobic and grossly inaccurate fiction film marketed as a historical in 2015, credited Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the promotions for <i>Adipurush</i>, claiming that Modi created a conducive atmosphere and gave power to the film fraternity to make the films they want. The credits of the film thank all nine chief ministers of BJP-ruled states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the day the film released, social media was abuzz with angry comments from viewers feeling affronted, having discovered that the film took too many creative liberties. The main complaints were that the dialogues were not Sanskritised enough; there was an overuse of Urdu; Hanuman and Ravan’s dialogues were crass; Ravan was depicted to resemble Alaudin Khilji; Hanuman wore his beard like a Tablighi Jamaat member; Lanka, known to be made of gold, was shown as being charcoal black; Ravan’s pushpak vimaan was replaced by a large carnivorous bat; Ravan, a scholar and devotee of Lord Shiva, was feeding raw meat to his pet; and the action sequences looked like they belonged to <i>Planet of the Apes, Lord of the Rings</i> or the Marvel metaverse.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a bizarre turn of events the very sentiments that the filmmakers wanted to profit from, seemed to have been affronted. Even the sly move to depict Ravan like a medieval Muslim ruler seemed to have backfired. The right-wing ecosystem on social media joined in to troll the writer and director, who till the day before were poster boys of hindutva. A bench of the Allahabad High Court lambasted the filmmakers for hurting the sentiments of a tolerant community (Hindus).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the irony is too delicious to ignore, one wonders if this moment is a satire on what culture, common sense and public discourse will look like in the Hindu Rashtra. Is this what it feels like to live in a nation of perennially hurt sentiments? Is there a moment of self-realisation hidden somewhere for Hindus who are affronted by how Ram and Ravan are depicted but who stir not when the very name of our Lord Ram is used as a war cry to bully Muslims, by the very people now protesting this film?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Did a Bollywood propaganda film attempting to slyly incorporate widespread political discourse, and use people’s devotion, belief and sacred nostalgia to rake in box office profits, inadvertently just show the mirror to a nation where idiocy and hypocrisy reign supreme?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is an award-winning Bollywood actor and sometime writer and social commentator.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/07/01/adipurush-fiasco-when-idiocy-and-hypocrisy-reign-supreme.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/07/01/adipurush-fiasco-when-idiocy-and-hypocrisy-reign-supreme.html Sat Jul 01 12:57:23 IST 2023 brijbhushan-vs-brand-modi <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/06/16/brijbhushan-vs-brand-modi.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/swara-bhasker/images/2023/6/16/43-Brij-Bhushan-Sharan-Singh-new.jpg" /> <p>There is a saying in Hindi <i>nang badey parmeshwar sey</i>, which means a naked man is greater than God—he fears not even God, and has nothing to hide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nothing captures more aptly the naked callousness of the Union government, the Delhi Police, BJP ministers and spokespersons and some media channels toward the accusations of sexual harassment by a large group of India’s women wrestlers against the BJP MP Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, long-time president of the Wrestling Federation of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh is himself a picture of the utter shamelessness that total impunity grants to those in power. He has continuously denied allegations, rallying supporters to discredit the women athletes and even planning a <i>mahapanchayat</i> with Ayodhya-based seers to demand a watering down of the POCSO Act (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act). While the governor of UP denied permission for the <i>mahapanchayat</i> to be held, one cannot help wondering why seers would lend their support to such an unholy cause spearheaded by someone accused of acts that are clearly morally reprehensible?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The wrestlers—who began the sit-in protest in January 2023, took a break and then resumed in April 2023—were arrested by the Delhi Police for protesting at the site of the new parliament building. Awful images of our champion women athletes being dragged through the streets populated social media much to the horror of any sane-minded citizen. They have since been released and charges against them have been dropped. The wrestlers have in the meantime garnered a lot of international support, including from the international governing body of the sport—United World Wrestling. After the athletes were dissuaded from throwing their Olympic medals into the Ganges, the government has finally assured action, claiming that the WFI presidential elections will be held on July 4, and neither Singh nor any of his family will be allowed to contest. The wrestlers have halted their protest, giving Delhi Police a deadline to arrest Singh and commence a proper and fair investigation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, some facets of the sordid business raise questions. The father of the minor, who had alleged sexual harassment that led to POCSO charges being levelled at Singh, has changed his statement claiming he lied about his daughter’s age. This means the most legally incriminating and non-bailable charge against the accused no longer holds. Olympic medalist Bajranj Punia has since claimed that the minor’s father is being ‘pressured’. The Delhi Police have also asked the wrestlers to furnish ‘proof and evidence’ against Singh, a bizarre demand considering that investigation and finding proof is normally accepted to be the job of the police.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These protests are not the first instance where the government’s brazen indifference to women’s safety and seeming patronage to a sexual predator has been witnessed. The infamous Unnao rape accused BJP MLA Kuldeep Sengar has long been shielded by the BJP, which also repealed the conviction of Bilkis Bano’s 11 gang-rapists and released them just before the Gujarat assembly elections. But, even cynically speaking, one must ask why in the face of such international scrutiny, attention and public criticism does the Modi government continue to shield Singh even as Modi’s own image as a women’s rights champion is shown to be a farce? Is it simply because Singh, a history-sheeter with more than 30 criminal cases against him and a case alleging harbouring Dawood Ibrahim’s shooters, is an eastern UP strongman with a loyal Thakur votebank? Surely UP’s biggest Thakur leader is Yogi Adityanath? And surely Brand Modi is not yet so fragile that it needs a history-sheeter with a sordid past to garner those few Thakur votes in eastern UP? Is it electoral calculation or a balancing of power equations within UP BJP?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Or, is it simply that after the victory of the farmers’ protest, the 56-inch-chest can no longer be seen as succumbing to yet another citizens’ protest however damning the details…. because the Modi government has understood that the Indian voter just doesn’t care for the safety or dignity of Indian women?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is an award-winning Bollywood actor and sometime writer and social commentator.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/06/16/brijbhushan-vs-brand-modi.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/06/16/brijbhushan-vs-brand-modi.html Sat Jun 17 11:41:50 IST 2023 speak-up-for-justice-fellow-indians <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/06/02/speak-up-for-justice-fellow-indians.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/swara-bhasker/images/2023/6/2/crime-girl-new.jpg" /> <p>Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” says a minor character in Shakespeare’s iconic play Hamlet, expressing a sense that the affairs of the kingdom are no longer being ethically conducted, and that even the highest authority in the land is sullied by some moral turpitude. More than 400 years after Shakespeare wrote the play, citizens are so jaded that we are no longer surprised at any kind of abuse of power by government. We are too used to scams and the favourite response of the middle-class and educated Indians when critiquing politics is to quip, “All politicians are the same.” Or, “Politics is a dirty game.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, behind these hollow sayings is a cop-out that hides a deep rot. Many things are deeply rotten in India—our polity, politics, politicians, media, and once ‘neutral’ institutions. But, perhaps, the deepest rot is the one that festers in our society, in people like us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Every other week there is fresh proof of this rot in the form of a heinous crime often enacted in public and, we, the proud inheritors of an ancient land and great culture hum and haw and make insipid remarks on social media, but never really shake off the cynicism and indifference that has brought us where we are today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Recently, a ghastly video from Delhi captured a man repeatedly stabbing a young girl in a street as passersby kept witnessing the crime but rushing off. The man then smashed the girl’s head with a large stone. She died. Eventually, the Delhi Police arrested the 22-year-old Sahil Khan who apparently killed the 16-year-old girl because she broke up with him. I have seen the video. To me what is even more disturbing is the number of onlookers who witness the crime and stroll on, without intervening.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The horrifying video seems like an apt tribute to Indians of this decade. We, the educated Indians, who gathered in large droves at Ramlila Maidan in 2011 to support the India Against Corruption movement, but didn’t flinch when dalits in Una were tied to a jeep and flogged in public. We, who celebrated when a Kashmiri civilian was used as a human shield and later justified the blindings of Kashmiri protestors by pellet guns. We, the Indians, who have been undisturbed by the continued lynchings of Muslims to date. We, who didn’t flinch when an eight-year-old child was gang-raped in a temple in Jammu in a pre-planned crime. We, who name call protestors—be they students, farmers or sportswomen—because it is easier to discredit ordinary people than question those in power. We, who brush under the carpet unsavoury historical facts like the 2002 Gujarat riots, but believe lies and propaganda as long as it is in cinematic form. We, who light candles and beat utensils but never ask why oxygen did not reach the lakhs of Indians who died during the pandemic. We, who applaud the pomp and show of the inauguration of a new home to India’s much beleaguered democracy, but turn our faces away from the Olympic champions who are manhandled by Delhi Police.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are the Indians who just don’t care! We don’t care about justice. Nothing pricks our conscience.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is, perhaps, then no surprise that when we witness a woman being murdered on the street, we stroll by unconcerned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because, we, the Indians, have mastered the art of a split hypocritical existence. We are friendly, civilised and most of us fairly decent human beings in our personal spaces, trying to live honourable lives, but in public we are a disinterested, disconnected, cowardly lot scurrying to safety, willing to let a crime go unreported as long as we are not inconvenienced. We are so scared of some unknown retribution that we don’t have the moral courage to call murder or rape wrong. We prefer finding a way to blame the Congress from the 1970s for everything.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A society that couldn’t care less will one day turn its face away when we are at the receiving end of injustice. If only for selfish purposes, fellow Indians, speak up for justice now because one day the cause may be you!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is an award-winning Bollywood actor and sometime writer and social commentator.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/06/02/speak-up-for-justice-fellow-indians.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/06/02/speak-up-for-justice-fellow-indians.html Fri Jun 02 16:00:09 IST 2023 if-not-modi-then-who-so-many <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/05/20/if-not-modi-then-who-so-many.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/swara-bhasker/images/2023/5/20/46-Narendra-Modi-new.jpg" /> <p>But there is no alternative!” is the favourite quip of many liberal educated Indians when they want to end an uncomfortable discussion about the unsavoury direction Indian politics and society have taken under Narendra Modi’s ‘New India’. Each time the now rampant culture of bigotry, hate speech, Islamophobia, mob lynchings, blatant disregard for constitutional procedures, unconstitutional actions of agencies of the state, the misuse of ED-CBI and other state agencies, crony capitalist corruption, demonetisation, price rise, unemployment or China’s encroachment of Indian territory is brought up, the educated rational, liberal, ‘I-don’t-hate-Muslims’ elite Indian brings up the ‘TINA factor’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>TINA, which stands for ‘there-is-no-alternative’, is a myth popularised in public discourse and common sense understanding of Indian politics by the media and social media ecosystems much like the ‘Rahul Gandhi is a Pappu’ narrative. Both these popular ideas have ensconced in public discourse the notion that if not Modi then who?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The argument is that while there may be several valid critiques of Modi’s governance of India in the last nine years, people keep voting for Modi because there is no other alternative to effectively lead and govern the country, and surely they can’t be expected to vote for Pappu Rahul Gandhi! And so we must keep living with growing human rights abuses, corruption and authoritarianism because if-not-Modi-then-who? Pro-BJP journalists and opinion makers have also pushed this narrative enthusiastically, the subtext being that the BJP under Modi is invincible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The decisive victory that the Congress has won in the Karnataka assembly elections has, however, challenged this fallacy. The campaign the BJP ran, headlined by Modi, was high on communal rhetoric with Modi equating Bajrang Dal with Bajrang Bali (Lord Hanuman) and violating the code of conduct by asking for votes in the name of Bajrang Bali.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the past these pre-election techniques worked (most successfully in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh), but the Karnataka loss has upturned the BJP’s communal apple cart. The Congress campaign—targeting the state BJP for corruption, foregrounding the message of unity with Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra and focusing on local issues and leaders—seems to have resonated with voters. The Congress took a clear line on secularism. It spoke out clearly for the poor without worrying about how elites would perceive its platform. The results vindicated it. And, with this win, the narrative of BJP’s invincibility and the TINA factor myth have been punctured as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But it is worth asking ourselves: Is the TINA factor an accurate assessment of the Indian voters predicament these past few years? A look at regional elections and ground level activism tells us that India has been throwing up a variety of local political alternatives. In 2018, months after the huge BJP sweep in assembly elections of 2017, the Congress under its supposed Pappu won Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh (now BJP ruled) and Chhattisgarh. Recently it has added Himachal Pradesh (and now Karnataka) to its kitty. Other parties have come to power in Delhi, Punjab, West Bengal, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Kerala, Jharkhand and Mizoram. The point is that states in India have been finding alternative leadership to Modi’s BJP since the last five years at least.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But alternatives don’t only come from elections. They take birth in mass movements. In just the last three years India witnessed two major protests. In December 2019 the nationwide student- and women-led CAA-NRC protests began, which lasted till March 2020, and, in November, 2020, farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan began the farmers’ protests against the farm laws. The farmers won their fight with Modi repealing the laws. While the CAA-NRC protests ended with the ugly Delhi riots, it is noteworthy that the government has so far put the NRC campaign on the back-burner. Such mass protests present alternatives—an alternative vision for India, an alternative political language, and, hopefully, an alternative future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If this is the present-day ground reality in India, maybe it is time to ask ourselves who is peddling the TINA factor narrative and who does this fallacy serve? Because voters are decisively voting for the alternative, when they see it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is an award-winning Bollywood actor and sometime writer and social commentator.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/05/20/if-not-modi-then-who-so-many.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/05/20/if-not-modi-then-who-so-many.html Sat May 20 11:33:40 IST 2023 kerala-story-is-not-a-true-story <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/05/05/kerala-story-is-not-a-true-story.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/swara-bhasker/images/2023/5/5/74-kerala-story-new.jpg" /> <p>A one minute teaser of the film <i>The Kerala Story,</i> which tells the story of girls who are allegedly forcibly converted to Islam and sent to the Islamic State ruled areas and tortured, shows the testimony of a burqa-clad woman who states that her name is Shalini Unnikrishnan, and that there are 32,000 girls like her who have been converted, and are buried in the desert in Syria and Yemen. She claims there is a dangerous game underway in Kerala to turn ‘normal girls’ into terrorists and that this is an open secret.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fact checker Alt News conducted an extensive check on the claims made in the trailer, including interviewing the director and found that it is replete with blatant lies, and is based on misquoting two former chief ministers, some bogus mathematical calculations, vilifying an already persecuted minority, maligning a whole state and claiming it is “a true story”. The most stunning revelation being that the figure of 32,000 trafficked women is actually three, maybe four!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now one may brandish the notion of cinematic liberty, but should a film advertising itself as a true story be let off the hook for lying and misleading audiences? Moreover, there is something far more sinister underway. Increasingly, since 2019, Bollywood has been churning out films that mirror or further the Sangh ideology—either obviously or covertly. Starting out with <i>Padmaavat</i> (2018), <i>Panipat</i> (2019) and <i>Tanhaji</i> (2020), historicals in Bollywood have bought into the RSS re-writing of medieval Indian history positing Muslim rulers as barbaric and inhuman invaders, rapists and oppressors; whilst Hindu kings are reimagined as not just monarchs but saviours of ‘dharma’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Propaganda films reached a recent peak of both misinformation and box office collections in the form of <i>The Kashmir Files</i>. Like <i>The Kerala Story,</i> <i>The Kashmir Files</i> inflated the number of Kashmiri Pandits killed by terrorists to more than 4,000, whereas the Jammu and Kashmir government said in March 2010 on the floor of the legislative assembly that 219 Kashmiri Pandits were killed by militants from 1989 to 2004. Unofficial records widely corroborate the number of deaths as being in the lower hundreds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let’s be clear, no death is justified and even one person being murdered by terrorists or losing their life to violence is too many. But to use the trauma and the pain of a historical wrong, then inflate it, exaggerate, add fictitious sensational details, throw in some trauma porn, and further add to the negative stereotyping of an already marginalised people is plain unethical. To profit from these unsavoury ventures is evil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Numerous theatres in India reported incidents of anti-Muslim sloganeering, which included threats of violence at the film screenings. In April 2022, Khargone in Madhya Pradesh reported riots after a provocative tableaux of <i>The Kashmir Files</i> during a Ram Navami procession led to Hindus clashing with Muslims near a mosque.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, clearly, cinema has power. And no one has understood the power of Bollywood like the RSS-BJP. And producers, even if they are not communal, are most certainly cynical businessman. Once a winning formula is established, they milk it for maximum profits. <i>The Kashmir Files</i> has established a formula—take a historical event with some kernel of truth in it, exaggerate it to grotesque limits, pander to majoritarian stereotypes of marginalised communities, add many dog whistles, throw in some nationalist rhetoric, collapse religion and nation into one and whip up a fantasy of violence by Muslims and persecution of Hindus—in the promotions and marketing claim that it is ‘a true story’. <i>The Kerala Story</i> is only following the formula.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have a challenge for these filmmakers who love to base their work on real events and true stories. And they don’t need to go all the way to Syria. Make a film on the eight-year-old gangrape victim of Kathua, the rape of the girl in Unnao allegedly by Kuldeep Sengar, the Hathras gangrape, the allegations by women wrestlers of sexual exploitation by Brij Bhushan Sharan. Come on,<br> I dare you!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is an award-winning Bollywood actor and sometime writer and social commentator.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/05/05/kerala-story-is-not-a-true-story.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/swara-bhasker/2023/05/05/kerala-story-is-not-a-true-story.html Fri May 05 17:08:47 IST 2023