If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Let not the bigots take over

The Roman Catholic Church excommunicated a Brazilian doctor and medical team for performing an abortion on a nine-year-old girl. According to CNN.com, the abortion was performed after the girl became pregnant with twins, allegedly after being serially abused by her stepfather. According to London’s Daily Telegraph, abortion is illegal in Brazil, the world's most populous Catholic country, except in cases of rape or when the mother’s life is in danger, both of which applied in this case. The physicians said that the girl was too small to safely carry twins to term and that her life would be in danger if the pregnancy was not terminated. The abortion was carried out only after it was approved by a court in accordance with Brazilian laws.

CNN.com reported that the doctor and medical team, along with the girl’s mother, were excommunicated by Archbishop Sobrinho of Brazil's northeastern city of Recife, where the procedure took place in early 2009. However, the child’s stepfather was not excommunicated because according to Sobrinho, “graver act than (rape) is abortion, to eliminate an innocent life.” He also added that the child was not excommunicated because the church is “benevolent when it comes to minors.” (How sweet of them!)

The Archbishop was supported by the Vatican. Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Congregation for Bishops, told an Italian newspaper abortion was a sin and that the unborn twins were innocent.

The world was outraged. After much sound and fury, the excommunication was rescinded on 15 March 2009. But that did not make the original action civilized.

Back home in India, the creed of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – according to its official website – is “Good governance, Development & Security”. In January 2009, activists of the Sri Rama Sene, one of the fringe organizations of BJP, barged into the lounge bar Amnesia in Mangalore, in the BJP ruled state of Karnataka. They abused the owner and customers and beat up women, even as they tried to run to safety. The civil society was outraged by this act of despicable moral policing and gross violation of the rule of law. But the Sene was unrepentant. The chief of the Sene, who was arrested, was quickly released on bail. So much for good governance, development and security!

The Sene followed it up with more such acts on 14 February, the Valentine’s Day, in many places. “The saffron brigade's moral police tarred the faces of cuddling lovebirds and ‘married off’ some of them.” – The Statesman, 15 February, 2009.

Two different kinds of atrocities reported from opposite hemispheres, yet the similarities are unmistakable. They are: A. Religious fundamentalists care for neither basic human decency, nor the law of the land, and B. Women are always at the receiving end of fundamentalist “justice”.

One would expect that a state that has been ruled by communists for 30 years should be free of such scourges. If you share this view, Dear Reader, please think again.

In July 2007, eight school teachers were heckled and humiliated for protesting the ban on wearing salwar-kameez to Bakhrahat Girls High School, in the southern fringes of Kolkata in West Bengal.

“The government-aided Bakhrahat Girls’ High School’s managing committee had, about a year back, passed a resolution making it mandatory for all teachers to wear saris. This, despite the state government as well as Calcutta High Court allowing female teachers the freedom to wear either to school. The sari stricture was not put down on paper; it was conveyed verbally to the teachers.

“Eight of the 30 teachers in the school, with 1,500 students, have stood firm in their opposition to the dress diktat.” (The Telegraph, Kolkata, 27 July 2007).

Some parents and local people ganged up, abused, and threatened the teachers with physical violence. They had to be rescued and taken from the school in a black police van normally used for ferrying prisoners, under the glare of TV cameras.

What business did outsiders have to meddle in a patently internal matter of a school? They did so because in West Bengal today, nothing is outside the purview of the ruling party. The borderline between the ruling party and the state and its various institutions (like schools) has been obliterated. "The party" intrudes into everything, including family disputes. The Bakhrahat incident couldn’t have taken place without active participation by the party activists and a benevolent nod from their bosses. Neither was it a stand-alone incident, I am confining myself to one instance for the sake of brevity.

If I may go back to Mangalore, I tend to think that many of the targets of the Sene’s ire, i.e., the pub-hopping, beer-guzzling young men and women, can’t distinguish between happiness and pleasure, much like Oscar Wilde’s Happy Prince. But that is a different issue. Violence against them is despicable and must be stopped.

The incident also reminds us that democracy could turn into a tyranny of the majority, a point that needs to be made repeatedly, lest we forget! After all, how much nuisance could the Sene commit if there was no BJP government at the Vidhan Saudha in Bengaluru?

And the third incident shows that the Marxist fundamentalists aren’t qualitatively better in respect of some basic principles like gender equality and the rule of law. Truth to be told, these two cadre-based parties with total abhorrence for the law of the land are similar in substance, though different in form, agenda, and rhetoric.

In his best-selling novel, The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini has described a blood curdling incident where an allegedly adulterous couple are stoned to death in a packed stadium during the halftime of a soccer match in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Although it’s a fictionalized account, let’s remember that where there are no free media, like in Russia under Stalin, literature alone brings out truth.

The repeated instances of physical violence against people whose lifestyle the Hindu bigots don’t like foretell the possibility of a similar situation in India under the saffron party in the future. And after having lived in red West Bengal for over three decades, I shudder to think of what will happen if the Marxists ever come to plenipotentiary power at the centre.

I would request my readers, who plan to vote for the saffron party or any other fundamentalists, including fundamentalists of the Marxist variety, to read Chapter 21 of Hosseini’s book. Let not the bigots take over in the summer of 2009.


  1. Sir,
    It is really wonderful. I also feel the same as you said in the last paragraph.Everything has become changed. People are becoming crazy day by day. They even don't know what they are doing and why? This is really spoiling the entire environment.
    I am really sacred to think the situation of West Bengal 5/10 yrs. down the line. Will it be a real safe place to live? If not then where people can go to find the peace?

  2. I fear we are shredding country to bits in the name of all the 'isms'. Sanity and civil society are fast receding from even the periphery.

    It is sad that even the educated & aware publics are unable to get themselves heard.

    The Communists in Kerala have 'democratised corruption' and thus silenced the middle and lower classes.

    The arrogance in the utterances of leaders reflects a confidence in the silence of the lambs!

    Sometimes makes me wonder if we are 'waiting for the knock on our door'.....

  3. Thanks, Anek, for your comments, which are most relevant. I think already, West Bengal is not a "livable" place. What will have become of it five or ten years from now depends on what the people there do now.

    And Bhawani, you have summed up the situation beautifully. The lambs have been silent for far too long. We, the so called educated people, should consider if we can afford to wait for the "knock on the door".

    Of the many modern superstitions that we have, one is our reluctance to involve ourselves in any form of "political" activity.

    An example: The civil society in West Bengal rose to a body in 2007/08 against the massacre in Nandigram and also, the murder of Rizwanur Rehman. (It was a murder all right, CBI notwithstanding!) Yet most of the leaders of the movement, like actor-film director Aparna Sen, were at pains to claim their action was not political! I don't know how one can fight the destructive politics of the day with anything other than political action, although I can understand, most sane people find it impossible to associate with any of the existing political outfits.

    That precisely is the crux of the matter. We, the people, cannot leave the business of politics to politicians alone. It is time for us to speak out, convince the middle of the roader that unless he or she takes side, there will be no road in the foreseeable future.

    My blatantly political post (the first since I started this blog) is a step in that direction. I hope more readers will react to it, and tell me if they think I am wrong.

  4. Thanks Sir for your wonderful and thought provoking post. This 'blatantly political' post of yours was probably long due. I agree with you completely that it is our responsibility to exercise our vote with caution. But the big question is, who do we elect? It is like choosing between 'devil and the deep sea'. Look at our state. The one who is ruling has done every thing possible to ruin us in the last 32 years. And the one which hopes to take over is probably even worse. Do we see any light at the end of the tunnel? I see only darkness. I might be sounding too pessimistic but where is the alternative? We surely need a revolution but surely not what the Maoists are upto. By blowing away bridges and railway stations we can surely achieve nothing. What we require is probably strong leaders. Leaders who have vision, unbiased and with clear thoughts. Do we have a single one today? I don't know what the way out is but I for one is not going to cast my precious vote to any one. For the moment, let this be my mode of protesting.

  5. Dear Anirban,

    Thanks for your response. What you say is logical and sensible and I am sure your views are shared by millions of ordinary Bengalis today.

    I can understand your point because I thought (and used to argue with my friends) the same way a few years ago. But no longer. I don't think we can afford the luxury of pessimism any more. Why? And what can we, the common people, do? Let me organize my thoughts. I will come back with a full length post soon. Please follow "this column".

    Best wishes.

  6. I shall await your post in response to Anirban’s comments. I share his views completely. When I was in JNU (nearly 9- 10 years back, one of the so-called politically active universities in India, I had very high hopes from student’s politics when I heard some of the student leaders. To my mind, the framework of JNU politics is one of the best given the circumstances in India. However, I have seen the worse side of it, when students themselves corrupted a well-laid out established system for petty things. That is why, at the end of the day JNU system remains a sad memory for me despite its apparent goodness. In two years of my stay there, some of my peers and I did try to bring about small changes where we challenged what were established by political dadas (mostly from Bengal) but our try was not free from lot of abuses being showered upon us, getting outcaste by Bengalis in JNU, personal slander, threats etc. We did have a small success though when for a year we helped elect a different political union which we thought would be good. However, the union misused all its power and became ineffective during that time. In all, we tried but failed miserably. We understood that the entire politics (for all the parties) were just a “fun-activity” among interested students and was a tool to settle personal scores, misuse funds, impress women, talk non-sense and waste time. Even if it sounds bad but it is true that if we did not get involved perhaps we would have been better off. My experience does not prove in any way that all those involved were worthless but trust me most of them were. It is very typical of India I guess. While I agree that one can change only through getting into the system but to clean a dirty mud one has to immensely resilient. I cannot really feel myself safe and secure with a CM aspirant in Bengal who apparently mistook Rakesh Sharma for Rakesh Roshan recently and thought Rakesh Roshan went to Moon (I heard this was reported recently). Do I feel safe and secure in the current system? Of course no. However, my fear about things to come increases when I see the alternatives. I fear the day when we elect such alternatives just because we have lost patience. Having said that, I cannot blame who do so. It is a weird problem.

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  8. Here is a snapshot of the speech that I was talking about:


    It disgusts me.

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I will be happy to read your views, approving or otherwise. Please feel free to speak your mind. Let me add that it might take a day or two for your comments to get published.