Monday, June 05, 2006

Apologise Aamir, or else...

(June 2006. Originally written for a periodical, this piece is yet to be published)

Nov 2005. Lowell, Massachusetts. Yet another screening of my film Final Solution on a university campus in USA. Minutes before I am to introduce my film, a portly, middle-aged, bespectacled man starts distributing a pamphlet. It calls my film "propaganda", accuses me of "defaming Gujarat", claims that I am a terrorist, caught casing tall buildings in New York 6 months earlier. Never mind that the New York Civil Liberties Union is suing the city of New York and NYPD on my behalf, for racist harassment. "We-are-keeping-an-eye-on
-enemies-of-Hindutva-within-and-outside-Bharat", tells me this corporate executive from Boston, while distributing his pamphlet to my audience. "Everywhere you go, we keep a record", he says. I tell him an easier way of tracking me - just check my website - for screening venues and dates.

Outside the venue, a group of desis gathers even as the film starts. They are here to oppose the screening of my film at their university, without having seen it. I invite them, but most aren't interested. They await the Q & A session, where they plan to 'ambush' me. The 'ambush' is straight out of the Hindutva websites, an 8 point questionnaire for "enemies of Hindutva"; by now, I am a veteran of such ambushes. I know between 10 and 50 people will plant themselves in different parts of the audience, raise their hands as soon as the lights come on to prevent anyone else from asking questions. "How dare you call the Gujarat violence 'genocidal', thunders one. Far away from him, in another corner of the auditorium, another gets up to tell me - "The mobs did not kill anyone. All people died in police firing. And the toll is not over 2000. It is just about 100". "Why don't you make a film for Kashmiri Pandits", asks another, his friend wonders whether my heart bleeds only for Muslims. In the next few minutes, the focus is on films I never made - why not one on Jihadi terrorism? Hindu girls kidnapped by Muslims? Fundamentalist mullahs and their fatwas? Bombay bomb blasts and Lashkar or Hizbul or Al Qaeda?

"What about the burnt train", thunders a Gujarati NRI, "what happened was a reaction to Godhra". I pose a counter question - " Do you think post-911, every New Yorker should have gone out to on the streets to rape any Muslim woman, murder Muslim babies and kill old and young men? That New Yorkers should have burnt all Muslim cafes and shops, set fire to Muslim homes and that the NYPD should've helped them do it? That mobs led by local politicians should have ruled the streets of New York in the same way they did in Gujarat?" Like a proud American citizen, he recoils and says no.

I wonder why they try to defend such barbarism for India. Long distance nationalism? A mistaken notion of what India is and what it needs? Or an implied assumption that NY is 'civilised' while India is 'backward' and hence rape, murder and mayhem are acceptable consequences?" It is a question I have posed to many 'hostile' members of my audiences - usually they have no answers. Politics of hate and intolerance doesn't rely on reason; all it demands is faith. Just log on to! Or browse any 'enemies of hindutva' blog or list!

It is not unusual for any of us raising uncomfortable questions to deal with attempts to intimidate. The hatemails. The late night phone calls. Promises to rearrange your limbs. Or anatomical conversations about your wife, sister or mother. Or, as Harsh Mander tells me about attending friends' parties in Delhi, disapproving shakes of the head, groups that dissolve suddenly as you walk to join them, with someone making just the right dismissive remark: "we-are-ashamed-of-you" or "as-a-hindu-how-can-you-criticise-Hindutva" ! As soon as Mallika Sarabhai speaks for peace in Gujarat, she transforms into a "human trafficker", with her passport impounded. Teesta Setalvad's landmark legal intervention in the Gujarat carnage cases is not because of her belief in justice and secularism, but because "she is married to a Muslim". R B Sreekumar is "an indiscreet madman" for confirming that the bureaucracy and the police machinery actively assisted its saffronazi masters during the 2002 genocide. Former BJP minister Haren Pandya is shot dead under "mysterious circumstances" some months after he speaks to the Citizens' Tribunal, even though their report does not name him. Lawyers battling the hindutva brigade in Gujarat courts speak nonchalantly of phonetaps and IB sleuths, almost as if it were an occupational hazard in Gujarat. A well-meaning IPS officer tells me to "be careful while travelling in Gujarat, especially after dark"!

Elsewhere too, interesting times await me. The Censor Board refuses to see Final Solution, instead sends me legal notices about customs and forex violations, when I carry a DVD to screen at a film festival abroad. Hindu Jagran Manch-affiliated members of CBFC threaten the theatre owner in Bangalore where my film is to be screened as the opening film for the Films for Freedom festival. Censor chief Anupam Kher calls up the Bangalore police commissioner, urging him to take action against the organisers, the film-maker and others including Anand Patwardhan. A day later, they ban my film formally. Next year, ministry officials prevent my film from competing for the National Film Awards; as per their rules, my film wasn't made during the year it won a dozen awards and had hundreds of screenings. First they delay my censor certificate, later they cite the same certificate to prove that the film was made the year after. Ministers from the 'secular' UPA government watch helplessly.

Welcome, Aamir Khan, to the world away from the arc lights. Are you surprised at the hysteria cutting across party lines? To see Congress and BJP youth burn your posters in tandem? Or Vaghela and VK Malhotra speaking the same language? Why don't you simply apologise - actors are supposed to be bimbos - just say sorry and all will be forgiven. Learn the virtues of silence. Take a lead from your own fraternity. Did Hema Malini oppose gangrapes in Gujarat? Or did Raveena Tandon speak of wombs slit open by swords during her campaign speeches? Did Vinod Khanna request Mr Modi to not recreate the horrors of the Partition violence that his own constituency, Gurdaspur suffered in 1947? Or did Shatrughan Sinha request his party's cadre to at least spare Bihari Muslims? Even Navjot Sidhu's verbosity was transformed into deafening silence - what's wrong with you, Mr. Khan? Why not be a Madhur Bhandarkar and make promotional films for the BJP? Or take some mediocre poetry into a recording studio so you can beam next to a Prime Minister or a President on Page 3? Don't you read the rightwing journal Panchjanya - don't you realise you have the wrong surname, that you must be even more careful than the regular Hindu Hero the RSS would rather have us watch?

Aamir, dance as much as you want. Sing whenever you like. But stick to the script. No spontaneous dialogues. Never express an opinion. Beat up as many baddies you want on screen. But, in real life, learn to touch their feet and seek their blessings. You might get one of the Padma awards, perhaps even a Rajya Sabha seat. Find a patron fast or learn to shut up. Even the Big B and Anil Ambani need an Amar Singh. Both the Congress and the BJP feel that you are just an actor. Both wonder - "why is Aamir talking politics"? If the ruling party and the opposition are united on an issue, can they be wrong? Talking about politics is the exclusive domain of the Raja Bhaiyyas and Sadhu Yadavs. How dare you first have an opinion and then have the audacity to express it?

Why can't you simply let the people of the Narmada valley drown? They are mere tribals and villagers - marginal people. Peripheral to our lives. The kind of farmers who commit suicides in high numbers and spoil our cocktail dinners. The kind who support naxalites. The type who demand reservations in jobs that rightly belong to the elite. The uncouth majority who can't distinguish a chardonnay from a chappal. The non-consumers, without disposable incomes. Many of them are mere freeloaders, demanding all kinds of rights when they do not even buy a bike or a computer to contibute to the glowing health of "our" economy. But for you, we would have happily underplayed them in our newspapers and TV news bulletins, like we ignored Medha Patkar and NBA activists for the first 8 days of their starvation but carried images of Modi's designer hunger strike in its first 8 minutes! Why did you have to play the spoilsport and draw attention to the issue? Why are you speaking of the Supreme Court, justice and equity? Grow up, Aamir, don't you know we are not a welfare state anymore?

Speak, but only to Stardust and Filmfare. Or at glittering awards nights. We need Mallika Sherawats and Rakhi Sawants, not some actor with a conscience. And should you persist, be ready to bear the consequences. Today, it is just a boycott in Gujarat. Tomorrow India. Then, the diaspora. Not to forget the income tax tribunals, FEMA and FERA directorates, privilege committees and censor boards. And by the way, endorse as much cola as you want, after all it has got pesticides supported by a swadeshi subsidy!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Swadeshi Fascism: Cracking da Code?

(June 2006. This piece was originally written for Times of India upon their urging. It was never published)

Soon after becoming the Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933, Adolf Hilter called for fresh elections to the Reichstag - the German Parliament. On the evening of February 27, 1933 – six days before elections -- a massive fire broke out at the Reichstag. The next day, the Reichstag Fire Decree was signed which effectively suspended most of the civil liberties -- freedom of the person, expression, press, the right of free association and public assembly, the secrecy of the post and telephone, as well as the protection of property and the home.

Much in the same way that the Reichstag fire gave Hitler the opening to tighten his stranglehold and paved the way for the creation of Nazi Germany, the Sabarmati Express fire gave Modi the opening to revive the BJP's floundering electoral fortunes in Gujarat and legitimised the advent of the saffronazi.

The parallels do not end here. Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) and the 2002 Gujarat carnage seem eerily similar. Considered a turning point in Nazi history, the organized anti-Jewish riots in Germany and Austria were a forerunner of Endlosung or the Final Solution. Reinhard Heydrich (whose office oversaw the Gestapo, police and intelligence operations) sent a secret telegram to "all headquarters and stations of the State Police" with instructions for the immediate coordination of police and political activities in inciting the riots. "...the demonstrations are not to be prevented by the police... they are only to supervise the observance of the guidelines." The toll -- 36 Jews killed (some put this figures to 91), over 25,000 deported to concentration camps, 267 synagogues destroyed and nearly 7,000 Jewish shops, businesses and homes vandalized !

Closer home, survivors of the Naroda-Patiya massacre of Feb 28, 2002 recount the police reaction was far more direct, " Behnch**d, we have no orders to save you today." The Gujarat DGP P C Pande suffered memory losses while appearing before the Nanavati Commission, but an independent analysis of PCR wireless transcripts and cell phone records will confirm a chilling story of state complicity. Journalists and activists have repeatedly spoken of ministers leading mobs and supervising police operations. Hindutva mobs razed 270 mosques and dargahs, burnt and destroyed hundreds of Muslim homes and specifically targeted Muslim businesses like restaurants and timber marts in cities and petty businesses including Bohra traders' shops in villages. A Bajrang Dal activist succinctly sums it all: "The idea was to finish them financially, so that they are not able to rebuild their lives." Coincidence?

The womb-that-produces-the-enemy was repeatedly defiled, in a well-orchestrated campaign of sexual violence against Muslim women that saw similar modus operandi in Ahmedabad and Baroda, the tribal Panchmahals belt and in other remote villages of Gujarat. The carnage left in its wake 2,000 people brutally killed or "missing". (Some of them are now being found, through DNA analysis of hurriedly buried remains, like in Lunavada last week). Nearly 200,000 people were displaced, forced into relief camps and according to the Concerned Citizens' Tribunal report, the state denied them "even basic rights like water, sanitation and food supplies." Remarkable coincidence?

On March 23, 1933, the newly elected German parliament Reichstag met in Berlin and passed Hitler's Enabling Act, fortifying his position as the Führer. Formally called the Law for Removing the Distress of the People and the Reich, it ratified restrictions on freedom of speech, press and demonstration, setting the stage for further revocation of rights. The Nazi Gleichschaltung now began a massive coordination of all aspects of life under the swastika. A week later, a national boycott of Jewish shops and department stores was ordered by Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.

The terror tactics intensified with the April 1 campaign. Nazi brownshirts and the SA storm troopers carried posters: "Germans, defend yourselves against the Jewish atrocity propaganda, buy only at German shops!" 6 days later, Jews were removed from all civil service positions under a new law that made "Aryanism" a necessary requirement - The Law of the Restoration of the Civil Service. Next, the Law for Preventing Overcrowding in German Schools was passed on April 25 that denied non-Aryans admittance to schools. During the next few weeks, Jews were prohibited from serving as patent lawyers, dentists, technicians and doctors in state-run insurance institutions. Few months later, Jews were formally barred from becoming university professors or lecturers, journalists or government employees. They were banned from all cultural and entertainment activities including literature, art, film and theater. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws denied Jews citizenship, leading to a time when a Jew would be forbidden even to sit with a non-Jew, let alone marry one. Because the German people still did not speak out, Hitler proceeded to prepare the nation for his Final Solution - total extermination. The Law for the Protection of the German People did more than restrict freedom of expression -- it actually paved the way for the Nazi concentration camps and the Holocaust.

However, in Modi's Gujarat, you don't need to create new, formal laws to do any of this. Just read pamphlets or hear speeches calling for an economic boycott of Muslims. Or talk to school children forced to leave the Don Bosco school in Ahmedabad. Just visit Hindu and Muslim ghettos in Ahmedabad. Or accompany Muslim villagers back to their villages. Or try to find them a job under the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme. Or help them get a new ration card or treatment at a government hospital. Or attempt restoration of their homes and property taken over by the very people who killed and raped their families and friends.

The Supreme Court might be monitoring "riot cases" directly, but the saffron juggernaut rolls on in Gujarat. While upright police officers twiddle their thumbs in punishment postings, others like P C Pande survive and flourish. All critical voices are threatened, boycotted or labeled. Activist Teesta Setalvad and advocate Mihir Desai are labeled "enemies of Gujarat", Mallika Sarabhai braves harassment for speaking out and High Courts do not hesitate to formally make adverse comments, mercifully expunged by the Supreme Court. And now, it is Aamir Khan's turn.

Meanwhile, Congress governments bend over backwards to appease law-breakers. Illegal encroachments whether in Ulhasnagar or Delhi are regularized by ordinances. Yet it does not see any problems in evicting tribals and villagers from their homeland - the Narmada Valley - without making appropriate alternate arrangements. Its own Group of Ministers find rehabilitation to be woefully inadequate, yet the ex-World Bank official, now our Prime Minister, sees no cause to punish the guilty or announce a new package for the Narmada oustees.

Why not a new cess on those benefiting from the Narmada Dam so the people they have displaced are not forced to starve or migrate to urban slums. Why not ask the "5 crore Gujaratis" allegedly deeply offended by Aamir's remarks, to contribute Rs 10 each to create a corpus for rehabilitation? Or do they want watery graves to be the foundation for their own "progress"? Why don't the BJP Chief Ministers from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat sit together with their Maharashtra counterpart and sort out all issues concerning rehabilitation? Or is it too much to ask them to concern themselves with the welfare of the people?

BJP's youth leaders do not want Aamir's latest film Fanaa or any earlier film to be screened in Gujarat. Cinema theatre owners have "voluntarily" boycotted Aamir. Hema Malini and Shatrughan Sinha of BJP ask Aamir to apologize. It is quite another matter that they failed to appeal to Modi to protect innocent Muslim women and children in 2002, or as party MPs, failed to apologise for the carnage? NSUI - the Congress youth wing is busy burning posters of Aamir while waving coke bottles. Vaghela sees a plot hatched together - "a conspiracy by the Producer and the BJP" for publicity; his colleague Yogendra Makwana wonders why "Aamir is talking politics". Is the Congress in Gujarat the new B-team for the BJP? Really, why should anyone have a monopoly over politics of intolerance? Lets learn our lessons from history.

Golwalkar, the RSS ideologue once said, "The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e. of the Hindu nation, and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race; or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment -- not even citizen's rights."

So, no rights for non-Hindus? Are Muslims, Christians and Parsis reduced to second class citizens? And what about the rights of anyone speaking out against injustice? Or hate and bloodshed? Do they become "enemies of Hindutva or Gujarat"? Enjoy them while they last - you may soon have such rights in history textbooks, and that too, only till the saffronazis revise them!

But, till they do so, lets pay heed to Julius Caesar. "Beware the leader who bangs the drum of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind. And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded patriotism will offer up all of their rights unto the leader, and gladly so. How do I know? For this is what I have done. And I am Caesar."

Just substitute the term patriotism for Gujarati Asmita , Swaabhimman or Gaurav!