Saturday, July 29, 2006

IIT profs take on Modi

IIT professors denounce Modi
Chennai, July 28: Two IIT Madras professors today protested Narendra Modi’s presence at a convention on the institute’s campus, one of them holding up a placard that said, “Mr Modi, We Disapprove”. |  Read

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Please read this. I don't know how many other newspapers would have covered this.

How 'normal' is Mumbai

On the surface, life in Mumbai is normal. Better than normal, some would say, because despite the July 11 bomb blasts, trouble has not broken out between Hindus and Muslims. Better than normal because despite the police rounding up and questioning hundreds of Muslims, mostly young men, in the different Muslim mohallas, there has been no outcry and protests against the police.

Yet, this is the surface. Underneath there is trouble, there is resentment, there is disappointment.

Within days of the blasts, two stories appeared in the press (Mumbai Mirror, July 27) that illustrate the trouble that is brewing and that could grow. Hamid Pir Mohammad Ghojaria, a watch repair mechanic from Jogeshwari, took a train to south Mumbai to submit admission forms for his son to a local college. At around 5.15 p.m. he entered a train that he planned to take to the next station. He says, as soon as he entered the compartment, he saw commuters beating up a passenger who had worn a Pathani suit. Before long, the commuters spotted him. Ghojaria sports a beard and wears a cap. He said these men shouted, “Get out of this country, go back to Pakistan, you do not belong here, you are the ones responsible for the blasts in the city”. They turned on him and began hitting him and when he cried out “Allah”, they insisted he take the names of Ram and Krishna. Luckily for him, the next stop, which was the last stop, Churchgate, came and he was let off. He has registered a police case but the men who did this to him simply walked away.

A similar case has been reported of Abdul Aziz Kandhai from Malad. A salesman of mobile accessories, Kandhai had taken a train from Kandivili to Marine Lines in South Mumbai. Like Ghojaria, he too sports a beard and wears a cap. There was a bomb scare on his train half way to his destination and most people jumped off the train. Kandhai stayed on board and was chanting with his rosary beats. But others in his compartment, who had stayed on the train rather than jumping off, began to abuse him and accused him of having planted the bomb. He says seven or eight men pounced on him and hit him. He managed to get off the train at the next stop and approached a policeman for help. But he got none.

These might be stray incidents. Or they might be indicative of something more that is brewing in the city.

Women, for instance, acknowledge that there is a great deal of fear in their areas as the police undertake combing operations in connection with the bomb blasts. Hundreds of young men are being rounded up and questioned. And although the majority of them are innocent and are eventually allowed to go, the very fact of being summoned to a police station sends a message of fear to the entire neighbourhood.

A woman who runs an organisation for Muslim women says that Muslims in Mumbai have not forgotten that nothing has been done to punish the people responsible for the killings during the 1992-93 post-Babri Masjid riots. There has not been a single conviction in a riot related case even as the long awaited judgment in the ‘93 bomb blasts case will finally be delivered on August 10, after 12 years in trial courts. She also points out that while the English language newspapers are running daily profiles of the 182 people killed in the July 11 blasts, the majority of the thousands who died in the Gujarat massacre of 2002 are people not known to the general public. No newspaper ran such detailed profiles.

And little is also known about what the survivors of 2002 are facing in Gujarat today. It’s as if Gujarat has been forgotten as other troubles hog column inches and broadcast time. But Gujarat is a wound on the psyche on the majority of Muslims that will not just disappear with time.

She also says that some of the women she works with -- many of them live in Muslim-dominated neighbourhoods and wear the burqa – have noticed that people that people stare at them with hostility and pass comments suggesting that the entire community is made of terrorists. One of these women said that she wished she didn’t have to travel by train and that when she does, she wishes she had ear plugs to block out such comments.

We need to look beneath the surface and bring out the real tensions that minorities face at times of terror. Writing about this does not mean one condones those who helped the terrorists. It also does not mean that the police should be stopped from doing their jobs. But what it does mean is that if we truly believe in a multi-cultural and secular society, then we must be alert and sensitive to the wrongs that can so easily be perpetuated in the name of fighting the war against terror.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Can Mumbai take any more?

Source: The Hindu

THE SERIAL bomb blasts on Mumbai's trains on July 11 have almost made us forget another anniversary that will take place on July 26. Last year, on this day, Mumbai came to a standstill. It almost drowned. And for the next 48 hours practically nothing moved. No trains, no planes, no buses, no cars, no people. For a city that tentatively picked itself up the very next day after the devastation caused by the bombs that went off in seven rush-hour commuter trains on July 11 this year, that was quite a feat. How easy it is to forget that more people died on July 26, 2005, than on July 11. Those 182 who perished in the trains were victims of a plot that is beyond anyone's control. Till today, the Mumbai police remain clueless. Some arrests have been made. Some theories have been set out. But none of these add up to a credible explanation for what happened on that day. Not yet.

Yet, even before we know who did this, some television channels are suggesting how we should deal with the perpetrators of the crime. Within days of the blasts, a few television channels had begun conducting one of their inane instant polls asking people to vote whether India should do an Israel on terrorism. In other words, should India bomb the alleged terrorist training camps in Pakistan? And the response, not surprisingly, has been an overwhelming "yes" for this absurd proposition. Absurd because no one can win a war fought between two countries with nuclear weapons.

Needless to say, none of these channels has bothered to give its viewers a little bit of history about Lebanon, the genesis of the conflict there, what happened in 1982 when Israel resorted to almost identical action, the fact that Lebanon had finally begun to look forward to a period of peace and prosperity after decades of being an arena of proxy war. In fact, most Indians would not have known that there were so many of their fellow countrymen and women working there.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Learning from Mumbai

Source: The Hindu


PEOPLE living in this great metropolis of Mumbai are
angry and sad. Not just because seven serial blasts
that ripped through Mumbai's lifeline, the suburban
train network, killed 186 people and injured over
700 on Tuesday, July 11. Not because the daily
tension and discomfort of commuting on packed trains
will be that much worse now — with the added
component of fear. Not because in times of need we
are always left to fend for ourselves with the State
either absconding or held up elsewhere. Not because
people in other cities are celebrating our
"resilience" and "spirit" without knowing the first
thing about the daily challenges that the majority
of Mumbaikars face and overcome.

Impossible conditions

No, none of these reasons makes us sad and angry
although some may annoy us. We are sad because
despite petitions and protests, we still have to
continue to travel each day like cattle instead of
human beings. Because no one, but no one, is
bothered about the impossible conditions in which
the majority of us live, or the fact that because
housing is not available within easy reach of where
we work we must commute long hours and impossible
distances in trains packed with three times the
number of people than their capacity.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link)

First Post

I've joined the league of bloggers, finally, for two reasons:

One, the Indian government recently blocked blogs in its attempt to do something about terrorism. As a person who has lived through the Emergency and press censorship, I found this decision senseless, to say the least. It is a typical reaction from a government that has not thought through its policies and also does not have a clear view of what freedom of expression really means.

Two, members of my family and friends have suggested I create a blog. I have resisted because I have little time to spend "blogging" when there's so much else routine writing that has to be done as part of my job. But often I do have views that don't necessarily mesh with what I can publish in my newspaper or elsewhere. What a perfect place this is to begin and continue conversations on issues that concern so many of us. Hence, the blog.

I also have friends who are sent my column every fortnight. I'll spare them the irritation of receiving it in their mailbox every fortnight and instead give them a chance to read it in their own time on my blog.