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Archives for : October2017

Gujarat: Tribal woman dies, four critical after ‘torture for witchcraft’

The five were branded with a hot iron rod on their hands and other body parts and made to walk on burning charcoal, after which they collapsed and were taken home by their family members.

| Surat |

witchcraft, Gujarat tribal areas, Gujarat, Tribal woman killed, Tribal woman killed for witchcraft, violence against women, Gujarat witch case, Tribal woman beaten up, woman brutality, Indian expressIt all started few days ago when some villagers complained of fever, which was blamed on witchcraft. Some of the villagers then called an exorcist to “identify people involved in witchcraft”.

The condition of the four, who are admitted at Valsad Civil Hospital, is said to be critical.

Meanwhile, village sarpanch Vanitaben Chaudhary’s husband was attacked by locals after police, acting on her complaint, arrested five villagers for summoning the exorcist.

“The exorcist with the help of some villagers had tortured the people who they claim were carrying out witchcraft activities. We have arrested five people in this connection… We are also trying to identify the exorcist involved in the death of a woman,” said Sub-Inspector R C Vasava of Subir police station.

According to sources, it all started few days ago when some villagers complained of fever, which was blamed on witchcraft. Some of the villagers then called an exorcist to “identify people involved in witchcraft”.

Police sources said that on Friday night, five villagers — Paruben Janabhai Pawar (50), her husband Janabhai Pawar (55), Anaben Pawar (45), Nachjibhai Bhisara (50), Rajyuben Bhisara (51) — all suspected to be practising witchcraft were brought to the village temple where the exorcist performed certain “rituals” and physically tortured them, while rest of the villagers watched.

The five were branded with a hot iron rod on their hands and other body parts and made to walk on burning charcoal, after which they collapsed and were taken home by their family members.

As their condition deteriorated, they were taken to Ahwa civil hospital where Paruben Pawar died. With the condition of the other four being critical, they were shifted to Valsad Civil Hospital.

After coming to know about Paruben’s death, sarpanch Vanitaben, accompanied by her husband Gulab Chaudhary and Paruben’s son Nanabhai, reached Subir police station on Friday night and filed a complaint against five villagers — Vanu Pawar, Dinesh Budhekar, Suresh Bhoye, Chhagan Jhamar and Jayram Gavit — for calling the exorcist.

After the police arrested those five men, a group of 20 people, mostly women, reached the sarpanch’s house on Saturday morning and beat up Vanitaben’s husband. He was rushed to Ahwa hospital where his condition is reported to be out of danger

The sarpanch has filed another complaint against the villagers for attacking them. “We have registered a complaint on rioting and have started looking for the accused,” Vasava added.

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Rajasthan- Dalit women Branded witches, and dragged to hell #WTFnews

Illustration: R. Rajesh

Dalit women in Rajasthan are being hunted by ‘bhopa’ sorcerers, who exploit superstitions on health

When a 75-year-old woman, labelled a witch by an influential Jat family and locked up in her own home was rescued by a team from the administration in August, the ugly face of medieval-style witch-hunting was revealed in the Mewar region of Rajasthan. The incident at Bholi village in Bhilwara district is not an isolated one.

Sunita Devi (name changed), who spent 18 days in a room measuring 10 ft x 10 ft without a window, was held responsible for the illness of a school-going girl from a Jat home. A ‘bhopa’ (exorcist) told the family that Sunita was a witch, and Jats responded by attacking her modest house – the only one belonging to the backward Nai community in the village – and thrashing her husband and sons.

In another instance, Lakshmi Bai (name changed), 65, has been forced to live in Bhilwara for 12 years after being driven out of her native Dariba village on the suspicion of being a witch. Living with her husband as a social outcast, she attended the caste panchayat five times pleading that the odious tag be removed, but to no avail. Sunita Devi and Lakshmi Bai came to Jaipur this week to narrate their sufferings to State Women’s Commission chairperson Suman Sharma, after the occult practices of ‘bhopas’ were exposed in a sting operation led by social activist Tara Ahluwalia. Hundreds of ‘bhopas’ have gone into hiding in Bhilwara, Chittorgarh, Rajsamand and Udaipur since their torture of innocent women came to light.

Caught in the act

The sting operation was carried out in September by Ms. Ahluwalia – chairperson of Baal Evum Mahila Chetana Samiti – along with two women volunteers and a team of journalists. Disguised as villagers, they approached ‘bhopas’ seeking treatment for ailments. When these ‘exorcists’ declared that the women were under the influence of witches and applied witchcraft, they secretly photographed them.

The occult practices involve pulling women’s hair, beating them with a broom, iron rod and pliers and dancing in front of them with the chanting of unintelligible phrases to “liberate” them. A woman ‘bhopa’, Jhumri Kalbeliya, dressed in a colourful attire, demanded cigarettes and dragged the woman volunteer to a smoke-fire. She put a knife to her throat, threatening the witch “residing in her body.”

Those who attacked Sunita Devi’s house were arrested under Rajasthan’s Prevention of Witch-Hunting Act, 2015, but they are out on bail. “Rajasthan is the fifth State to enact the legislation on witch-hunting, but not a single case among the 86 registered so far since 2015 has resulted in conviction. Three of these involve murder charges,” pointed out Ms. Ahluwalia.

The Samiti chairperson, who has been working with the victims for 35 years, said the practice, based on a superstition that witches enter the bodies of susceptible women, was prevalent mostly in the Mewar region.

The 60-year-old activist said in the majority of cases of women being tortured, beaten up or even killed after being branded as witches, there was the sinister angle of ‘bhopas’, relatives and neighbours trying to usurp their property. Moreover, almost all women labelled as witches are Dalits, poor and widows.

After the sting operation in which the role of the so-called witch doctors was exposed, the civil society was outraged by the failure of police to book ‘bhopas.’ Seven of them operating in Bhilwara and Chittorgarh were detained for a night under Section 151 of Criminal Procedure Code and released the next day with a warning.

Following protests by civil rights groups, police launched a crackdown and started registering first information reports under Section 6 of the Witch-Hunting Act. On Ms. Ahluwalia’s complaint, an FIR was registered against Jhumri Kabeliya – who claims to be an incarnation of nine goddesses – on Wednesday and a hunt was launched to trace her.

Bhilwara Superintendent of Police Pradeep Mohan Sharma said all ‘bhopas’ would be arrested and booked under the Witch-Hunting Act, but the activists say the State government should show stronger will.

An important provision of the Witch-Hunting Act is Section 8, empowering the State government to impose a collective fine on the inhabitants of a given area for abetting or participating in witch-hunting or sheltering the perpetrators. The fine is to be used for compensating and rehabilitating the victims. However, no such fine has been imposed so far.

The Act provides for imprisonment for one to five years and a fine of ₹50,000 to anyone who stages such attacks. Two recent cases of witch-hunting, in which the women were tortured to death, have brought into focus the intensity of superstitious notions. A 40-year-old Dalit woman was branded a witch, stripped, beaten up mercilessly and made to eat faeces in Kadera village of Ajmer on August 2. She was forced to walk on embers which were shoved into her eyes, blinding her.

After the woman died of torture, the local caste panchayat asked the accused to take a dip in the holy pond in Pushkar and feed cows in order to “absolve themselves of their sin”. A 70-year-old woman in Semari block of Udaipur district was beaten to death on September 23.

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Retired Indian Army officer Served With an Illegal Migrant Notice #WTFnews

“Humiliating” Sobs Ex-Army Officer Served With an Illegal Migrant Notice in Assam


GUWAHATI: Azmal Haque, a 49 year old retired Indian Army officer, is proud to have served the nation for 30 years. But little did he know that he would face a day where his Indian citizenship would be challenged by the state.

Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO), a resident of Chhaygaon in Assam’s Kamrup district was served a notice by the Foreigners’ Tribunal to prove his citizenship. With the warning that if he is not able to he willl be sent to the detention camp for illegally residing in India.

The notice claimed that Haque had entered India after March 25 of 1971 without any papers. So he needs now to prove in the court that he is indeed an Indian citizen.

“This is shocking and humiliating. This is what I got after serving the nation for 30 years. We had pledged that the country comes first before anything else when we joined the forces and we take pride in that,” a sobbing Azmal Haque told The Citizen from his residence, some 70 kilomtre from the state capital Guwahati.

The notice was issued on July 6 this year.It was delivered late and he missed the first date of appearance on Septmember 11. As a result he now has to appear in the court on October 13. Co-incidentally he had joined the Army on the same date in 1986.

His elder son is studying at the Rashtriya Indian Military College (RIMC) and younger daughter is at Army school in Narengi, Guwahati.

Haque’s father Maqbul Hussain’s name features in the 1966 voters’ list and similarly his mother Rahiman Nessa’s name features in the NRC (National Register of Citizens). “See, if my parents are Indian and if all my siblings are Indian, how can I be an illegal foreigner? I’m very hurt at this treatment,” he added.

Before being promoted as an JOC in 2003 by then President APJ Abdul Kalam, Azmal had served in Secunderabad, Gurdaspur (Punjab), Kota (Rajasthan), Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh) and Meerut (UP) among others.

“During my posting at Gurdaspur, I have been to the Pakistan border on various assignments. I was posted in Meerut during the time of Kargil war,” he said.

Before this, in 2012, his wife Mamataj Khanam was also served notice when Haque was posted in Chandigarh. “I had to take leave and come down to home to sort it out. This is nothing but harassment,” Haque said. He had joined the Army as a mechanical engineer.

This is not the solitary case, there are hundreds of others who have been served notice in spite of having valid papers. Earlier this year, Abu Taher Ahmed, a constable at South Salamara Police station in western Assam was also served an illegal citizen notice.

According to the government data there are altogether 1,41,733 doubtful voters present in Assam. An official document published by Assam government in October, 2012 says that more than 92 percent of the resolved cases of ‘D’ Voters have been declared as genuine Indian nationals.

Lawyer Aman Wadud said that it’s the modus operandi of Assam police. “Without any investigation whatsoever, Indian citizens are being accused to be illegal immigrants,” said Wadud.

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Dalits in Karnataka village face social boycott over naming of Circle after Ambedkar #WTFnews

Members of the Dalit community allege that they have been denied access to water, electricity, and even groceries from local stores.

For almost a month, Dalits in a remote village in Karnataka’s Bijapur district, have allegedly not been given access to water and electricity. The local grocery store owners and flour mill have refused to sell their products to them.

Dalit women have been barred from working in the fields. For almost a month, the everyday lives of the Dalit community have taken a major hit and they are struggling to make it through the day.

On September 3, the Dalits of Matyali village in Basavana Bagewadi taluk demanded that the new Circle constructed at the entrance of the village be named after Dr BR Ambedkar.

“The Savarnas did not take this well. They wanted to name it Basaveshwara Circle. They began fighting with a few Dalits near the new Circle and started calling them names. Angered by this, the Dalits sat down in the new Circle and began protesting against the Savarnas. That’s when the Savarnas began throwing stones at us and many Dalits were severely hurt,” alleged Yellappa Doddamane, a 46-year-old resident of Matyali village.

Yellappa says that over 100 Dalit families residing in Matyali faced social boycott after a series of events which followed this clash.

“My wife Sunanda was severely injured during the attack and we had to take her to the Bijapur district hospital. Several others from our community also sustained minor injuries. Sub Inspector Suresh Gaddi, from the Kolar Hobli police station, took a statement from us but no FIR was filed. He told us to drop the issue and make peace with the Savarnas,” Yellappa claimed.

Sub Inspector Gaddi, however, said that an FIR could be filed only after the statements of all the injured persons were taken, which took several days.

Angered by the alleged apathy doled out by the local police, the members of the Dalit community protested outside the Basavana Bagewadi tahsildar’s office. Tahsildar Vinay Kulkarni assured the Dalits that swift action would be taken.

A peace meeting was called on September 5 where officials of the taluk administration, members of the Savarna castes and those of the Dalit community discussed the issue. It was decided that the Circle will be called Basaveshwara Ambedkar Buddha Circle.

Members of both communities went home after arriving at a consensus. Little did the members of the Dalit community know that the very next day, a social boycott would be imposed on them.

Following the day when the consensus was reached, Sunanda Doddamane and Basamma, both Dalits and residents of the village, went to the local grocery store to buy vegetables for the day’s meal. They were shocked when the store owner refused to sell them vegetables.

“He told us that after the meeting with the taluk officials, the Savarnas had met in the evening and had decided to boycott us. They do not let us get water from the taps connected to the pipeline. We are not allowed to work in the fields. We have no access to electricity. They have cut off the power lines which supply electricity to our homes. We have to pay Rs 20 per day to travel to Kolar Hobli to buy our groceries. There are no proper buses. We have to wait for private vehicles or buses. We don’t have so much to spend. We have been skipping meals to survive. We have to buy water also, which is difficult as we have less money,” Sunanda said.

On September 16, when the taluk administration failed to take action, the members of the Dalit community protested outside the Deputy Commissioner’s office. Deputy Commissioner Shivakumar KB assured them that their troubles would end. An FIR was finally filed at the Kolar Hobli police station under relevant sections of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevent of Atrocities) Act and six persons were arrested.

This did not put an end to the social boycott. Doubly angered by the arrests, members of the Savarna castes have continued the social boycott, the Dalits of the village allege.

Speaking to TNM on Saturday, member of the Dalit Sangharshana Samiti, Jitendra Kamble, alleged that the authorities have not helped the members of the Dalit community at all.

“They just did not follow up and see if these atrocities were being committed against us despite the arrests. On September 25, we carried out a protest where all the Dalits of the village walked from Matyali to Water Resource Minister MB Patil’s house in Bijapur. He assured us that action would be taken against those responsible. Tomorrow (Sunday), Minister Patil, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and a few other Congress leaders will visit Bijapur for a function. We will meet the Chief Minsiter there and submit a complaint,” Jitendra Kamble said.

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India – Why are we silent on the grave threat to Prof Kancha Illaiah


Peoples Voice
Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Radical Humanist, political analyst and human rights activist

While it is nobody’s suggestion that India was a tolerant land some three years back and suddenly has developed the intolerance but none can deny the fact that the goons threatening intellectuals and activists have certainly become more arrogant and encouraged by the absolute ‘disinterest’ shown by those in power. In the past few years we have lost number of persons for the cause of human rights and secularism and probe have reached nowhere even though links with organisations associated with Hindutva groups have been reported in the media.  Activists are being threatened; intimidated and street goons have taken it upon themselves to provide the justice. Where the person is a bit powerful, cases are filed against him in the court while goons are let loose to physically intimidate him.

Kancha Illaiah is a well-known Bahujan philosopher who has been actively critiquing the Brahmanical social order and its injustices meted out to the Dalits-OBCs and Adivasis. Should he not be allowed to do this under the garb that it ‘hurt’ the community sentiments. It is not the question of any outsider writing a critique but a person from the community historically denied right. The only difference this time was that his new book that has come out is about the Vaishya community which is basically a trading community.  Normally the Brahmins are the target but this time the Vaishyas ( Banias) have taken it to themselves and have been protesting against Illaih for his writing against them. The main contention of the community is that they have been called ‘social smugglers’ by Kancha Illaih in his book. One of the Member of Parliament from Telugu Desam Party T G Venkatesh has reportedly threatened to kill him and asked for his hanging. Yesterday, his vehicle was attacked and a prompt action by his driver could save his life. So shocked was Prof Kancha Illaiah that he felt deeply isolated and decided to confine to his home for the next one week. It is sad that an intellectual at this stage is facing so much of threat of physical violence and no assurances from the authorities for his safety. Now the issue is being deliberately being politicized to create a Hindutva frenzy in the state so that corrupt politicians can reap the benefit of the emotional blackmailing of people. This is the new India where the brahmanical Hinduism will come through violent means. No criticism would be allowed or countered through a fair critique. It is not that Kancha Illaiah wrote it for the first time. His thought provoking books are there in open and should be welcomed. One can disagree with him and for that we have enormous avenues to not merely protest peacefully but also wrote counter argument to denounce but that is not happening.

With so much of media and publishing world in hand these power elite are still fearful of a few who critique them. We are informed that Gandhi was a Bania. None deny that. We are not here asking anyone to be unhappy where they are born. None come here with a fixed birth record except in the brahmanical system where your caste and occupation are fixed with your birth. That is what we call caste based varnashram dharma and it must be rejected. We cannot hide the fact that caste system and caste discrimination are the biggest obstacle in the development of this country. In fact the caste system remains our biggest hurdle in national unity and integration. The caste system creates prejudices in the minds of people and limits your mobility beyond your own castes. Once you confine yourself within your castes, everything outside it looks as suspect and dangerous. Can we have a united India with so many thousands of caste and each considering it superior to other? Critiquing India’s notorious caste system is nothing wrong but will ultimately help India get stronger and united. Even then if he has said anything academically or factually wrong then there are options before the people to go the court or even write rejoinder through engaging in a democratic debate. Huge number of upper caste dominate our media, academia, intelligentsia and they can write a counter critique of Kancha Illaiah but the abdominal street protests that we are witnessing in Andhra and Telangana are merely for the political purpose and need to be unconditionally condemned.

The videos of protest using innocent children to urinate in public on the photograph of Kancha Illaiah is nothing except the sick mindset of the people who are using children to reap the rich harvest of hatred during the election. It is deeply despicable and condemnable. Why children should be used in a debate which is academic debate. And even if they are used, is the best way to use their ‘creativity’. Is this not an imposition of male supremacy as we find no girls or women in the protest? Kancha Illaiah has not killed anyone, nor is he spreading hatred against particular communities or people, he has not threatened anyone but used the only way, to speak up through his writings against what he and many like him consider historic wrong. Isn’t it his right to question and speak up against the social injustice that prevailed for centuries in our society?

Isn’t it for Indians to ponder as why one community is in business or knowledge while other is purely for cleaning human excreta? Is this not a reservation which has existed in this filthy society where a few protested but those enjoyed kept quiet? When this hegemony is challenged then the question of merit is raised as if all those in the Dalal Street in Mumbai are the most meritorious people?  Caste system is nothing but hidden apartheid and you cannot hide from the fact that it need to go and should be demolished as Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar as well as many others like him, had wanted.

What is more disturbing is that the failure of the two state governments of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to provide him protection and action against those threatening him. The way political protests have been launched against him is clear indication of the local politicians who are being encouraged by their respective parties to intimidate a scholar through street goondaism. The two chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh and Telanagana are the same who refused to speak up against institutional murder of Rohith Vemula. Even when the entire country stood up for Rohith’s cause, the two upper caste governments actually were determined to treat him as a ‘non dalit’, a deliberate ploy to divide people on caste lines and deviate from the real issue of the prevailing caste prejudices in their system. The Member of Parliament of Telugu Desham party has openly threatened to kill him but there is no action from the chief minister Chandra Babu Naidu. The goons are openly attacking him and monitoring his physical movement but the two chief ministers remain shamelessly silent on the issue.

Another appalling thing is the conspicuous silence of intellectuals and political parties as Kancha has himself said. This is a very disturbing fact. We know he has been a critique of brahmanical system in our political parties and intelligentsia including the left and this is not for the first time any intellectual spoke about the left and other political organisations. It was a critique of Dr Ambedakr, Phule, Periyar and many others who follow their path yet over the years. There are people who acknowledge their faults and happily engage in a fruitful discussion on the issue which is a welcome sign.

This is the period of a great crisis among us.  Those who are targeting Mr Kancha Illaiah, know it well that there are wide differences among the non Hindutva groups of people. This is not merely the problems of the left forces but also of the Ambedkarites and Bahujan forces. It is not the time to get into digging history and then taking a stand. In my opinion every Ambedkarite or a true intellectual of any variety left or socialist or freethinker will always defend an individual’s right to freedom of expression and engage in democratic debates.  Moreover, it is not a street brawl that he has engaged in but a purely academic work which can and should only be countered through academic exercise or democratic protests. The pain is that we have not heard intellectuals, academic taking any stand on it particularly outside Andhra and Telangana except for some individual responses on social media.  It is good that the Congress Party has issued a very strong statement in the media as their spokesperson Randeep Singh Surejewallah demanded action the threatening Member of Parliament and protection to Mr Kancha Illaiah. This is certainly a positive sign and we appreciate it.

India is fast becoming a mob republic where power elite has developed various ways to not only intimidate you but put you in deep distress to the strength of physical hurt or elimination. The mobs are being encouraged to take law in their hands and they have the fullest backing through the PR agents who can easily convert a wrong into right and the vice versa but then these should be the finest hours for all of us who are fighting against the subjugation and discrimination as it is the right time to see the truth, our stand and our attitude. We need to develop the culture of debate and discussion as that is the only way to save us as a society and as a nation. Once people start taking law in their hand and deciding to judge everyone in the street we will have none to blame but on to us. It is better to learn from the experiences of others. People in Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere know well the importance of democracy where in the name of identities and national interests people have killed each other. India survived as a democracy and fared well because despite all our weaknesses, we promoted ideas through constructive debates. We agreed to disagree. If you don’t like Mr Kancha Illaiah or any one like him, don’t read him, switch off your TV or if you are reasonable enough then counter him ideologically and argumentatively through various mediums. Each one of have various options including social media and it should be used to strengthen the debates but don’t fall prey to the political goons who are only using sentiments to spread hatred and promote their political interest. Prof Kancha Illaiah must be provided all the security that he needs as well as those threatening to kill him must be prosecuted.


Why are we silent on the grave threat to Prof Kancha Illaiah

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Savitri’s revenge: The story of how this ‘antharjanam’ shook the imperfect world of Namboodiri men

She was an antharjanam, meant to live pure and tame. But she was a lover of pleasure and she threw open her doors to all men

This is a real story from 1905, of Kuriyedathu Thatri, a Brahmin woman who, instead of staying in purdah and worshipping her gods, became a prostitute. Why she did what she did has always been a great mystery in Kerala. Archives in Kochi tell her story. During her trial for prostitution, she began to recite the names of all her famous clients. Great men fell. The king had to stop the trial. The Thatri case became a turning point in the history of women’s reforms. The novel  Pratikara Devata based on her life was written by Lalithambika Antharjanam.


She was called Savitri, named after a heroine so devoted to her man that death itself surrendered all claims to his soul. But heroines reign in the epics. This was a mortal who shook the imperfect world of men. Her tale began like countless others, ordinary and plain — it was the end that stirred tremors of fear, provoking waves of change. For this Savitri was not pure, and she was certainly not chaste. It’s as a pratikara devata that she is invoked: the goddess of fury and revenge.

Savitri of the epics birthed an ideal; Savitri, the woman, sought justice in vengeance. The first conquered Yama to resurrect her husband; the second scorned him, her memory shattering death with contempt.

Always pure and tame

Savitri was the daughter of a Namboodiri Brahmin in Kerala. Thatri, they called her, not out of love — for she was born when the stars spelled doom — but for reasons of convenience. It was in the late 19th century that she appeared, her life charted already in a gilded cage of tradition.

Namboodiri men were always to be pure; Namboodiri women, pure and tame. They could not move freely, for the gaze of strangers would corrupt them. They could not eat before their men had dined, but cooking was their ordained duty. They could wear no ornaments of gold, only brass bangles for the Namboodiri bride. To wear a shirt was sacrilege, and to fasten a blouse unheard.

When the young flouted norms, the old quaked in horror; the smallest change sparked fears that revolution had come, the end was near.

Savitri was an antharjanam. Creatures like her spent their lives in the darkness of ritual, in great houses where splendour marked everything that was not female. “Most antharjanams,” one like her said in 1937, “observe (purdah). They have eyes but are prohibited from seeing anything pleasant. They have legs but their movement is circumscribed. Their state is quite like that of household utensils… the antharjanam is a jailed creature… constantly watched; they are not permitted to breathe fresh air, to see the world.”

They could venture out shielded by large parasols and guarded by maids, but the world under the cadjan umbrella was, as a playwright declared, that place we recognise as hell. “An antharjanam is born crying, lives her life in tears, and dies weeping” — there was no escape for the Namboodiri woman, save that which came with death.

Gods, gods everywhere

The Namboodiri recognised no sovereign above antiquated custom. All and everything was infected by it. There were hundreds of gods to venerate — gods in the north, gods in the south; in the east, and in the west. There were gods on the roof, and gods in the granary. There were gods in temples, and there were gods in flames.

And these were all gods with many demands to make. They insisted on baths — a bath in the morning and one in the evening. A bath if you left the house, and a bath if a traveller crossed the threshold. If the lowborn came your way, a dip was your remedy, and if you stepped on unsanctified ground, the stillness of the pond alone promised salvation. Purity was the goal, but it was also the fount of ceremonious oppression. Hand in hand they forged chains and the mind was enslaved.

But “the most distressing of all,” shuddered another Brahmin girl in her memoir, “was the traditional bath after delivering a child.” The thirsty mother, bleeding from the arrival of her husband’s heir, could have no water — not when the unclean midwife tainted her with breath and touch.

“So the first thing the antharjanam was forced to do,” it is said, was “walk to the kitchen tank… and take a bath” again. “Others would help her get there but, on the way back, she would have to negotiate the steps alone”. But loneliness was a familiar beast for Namboodiri women. And one more dip in that punishing sequence of baths not an unusually trying affair.

That which was terrible was marriage. The Namboodiri male, a census official observed, was a “royal liege and benefactor” to all who tilled his lands — lands the gods decreed were his before the pen met paper to invent records of the past. He was “suzerain master, household deity” and “god on earth” to those blessed to be his slaves.

Before him prostrated kings, and obeisance often came in the shape of the royal sisters. What was a mere wife before this manifestation of the divine? She lived to serve, to eat his scraps. Her purpose was to bring forth his offspring. And if he installed another wife, she rejoiced so one more might enjoy the ecstasies of servitude, placing body and soul at the disposal of her twice born lord. They were his so he could do his duty. His pleasure, however, he sought in embraces elsewhere.

Blame it on the stars

Savitri, though, was different. Her father was crossing a brook when they told him of her birth, and many were the lines she too would cross in the fullness of her time. She grew up, it is said, in a shadow cast by her inauspicious birth. But it is an apocryphal yarn woven to reconcile her subversive act — nobody could explain why she did what she did, so they blamed the mischief on refractory stars in a stormy sky. Her father cared enough for the girl to teach her to read, and there were those who heard her recite in a beautiful voice. At 18, she married a grandee decades her senior. Some say he rudely abandoned Savitri, casting her into domesticated oblivion; others say she was widowed, fated to spend the rest of her days in resigned piety. She was young but duty demanded the sacrifice of her identity.

The king in Kochi was horrified. He ordered the case be closed. Sixty-four men had fallen by then. Was the 65th the king himself?

Savitri was prepared for neither. She was a lover of pleasure, it was afterwards explained, for she loved watching theatre. She made love one day with a Kathakali actor when he was dressed as Keechaka, he who lusted for another’s wife. Savitri met him by a pond where they defiled each other, their act reflected in the waters where purity was thought to reside.

But Savitri made love with many men in many places — they told her to be chaste, but she threw open her doors, defiance steeling desire. She was a Brahmin, and no impulse was to be acknowledged. But Savitri did what she pleased, receiving scores of men in her chambers — till one day a visitor screamed. She was recognised. This was no prostitute, he cried. This was Savitri of Kuriyedathu house. She was an antharjanam, and she had sinned.

The year was 1905, and scandal was unleashed with a fury unknown. All of Kerala was transfixed. Waves of modernity had lashed the coast but the Namboodiris stayed obstinately aloof. Disdain was what they proposed for all that was new. They were too exalted to care, too wealthy to change. And suddenly their universe began to sink — the boat had holes already, but Savitri blew one that could not be plugged. The airs of a class were shattered, and the king in Kochi issued commands: the saadhanam — that “thing” no longer entitled to a name — must be tried. A few before her had also gone astray, and so they were cast out. Savitri too would be ostracised — her family prepared her funeral rites and slammed their doors in her face. That, they thought, would be the end of the accursed whore.

But Savitri was different from those before her. “I did not break the law alone,” she said. The men who came to her bedchamber should also be tried. She produced a treacherous catalogue — a list of gods-on-earth whose intimacies she revealed. She knew the dates of their unions and she knew the names of their families. The month was jotted down, and many more details too — a birthmark here, a mole there. Savitri welcomed punishment, but she would take with her these men. They gathered in judgement, certain the slut would fail. But the slut was clever, and there was no escape.

Hell hath no fury…

There were legions of them in Savitri’s records. There were decrepit elders, masters of the Vedas, those whose learned feet attracted the high and low. There were charming actors, and scholars of Sanskrit too. There were barbers and there were tradesmen. There were those who served in temples, and there was the husband of her sister alongside the brother of her own husband. There were officials, and there were even some who had gone to the grave.

Planting Savitri behind a screen, the chief interrogator screamed “Confess!” And so she did — and named also his brothers, offering proof of their crimes. With every name, Savitri hacked at a hundred pretensions, a rotting façade of honour crumbling in her wake. And finally the world beheld bare men, stripped by an invisible woman who claimed at last her voice.

The king in Kochi was horrified. He ordered the case be closed, and closed himself from hearing any more names. Sixty-four men had fallen by then. Was the 65th the king himself?

Savitri was nonchalant. When the trial came to its end, she turned to her questioners and said, “If you seek more names, seek answers from my aunt” — a middle-aged widow who, it was said, aided her scandalous perversions. She spent the rest of her life paying the price, even her servants refusing to approach her. A generation was doomed, and all pride was lost.

An unborn child too suffered — a little girl whose father had shared Savitri’s bed. She died a spinster, a tragedy aged 70, every day a reminder of sin. But Savitri disappeared. Her father’s house disowned her, and where that house stood ruins came to be. Her husband’s house disowned her, collapsing under the weight of its ignominy. Many heads hung in shame. But Savitri’s was not among them. She went out into the world, never to be seen again.

Some say she crossed the hills into Tamil country, liberated by an Anglo-Indian who offered her a home. Some say she married a Muslim. All we can know is that she was free. She destroyed the purity of the ponds, bathing instead in revenge.

The Namboodiris were shaken out of their stupor. Enough, they said: it was time to change. Men called for education. Women began to speak: Arya Pallom thundered before ancient men; K. Devika entered the halls of legislature; and Lalithambika told stories of painful truths. Men threw on shirts, and women colourful blouses. Widows took husbands. The parasol was discarded. The years passed, and other battles emerged to be fought. But somewhere amidst all this was whispered the name of the whore, tinged with fear, but with an ocean of awe. The whore had died but her voice had remained.

The writer, who wrote the award-winning The Ivory Throne, when not writing is busy trying to make a mean ‘meen pollichathu’.

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India – “There Are a Lot of Newtons Among Election Officials”


Perceptive and mordant, Newton is one of the most thought-provoking Hindi films in recent times. It chronicles the efforts of a resolutely sincere election official (played by Rajkummar Rao) to oversee polling in a Maoist-affected constituency in Chhattisgarh, as he battles a world-weary paramilitary officer (Pankaj Tripathi), who does not share his devotion to the rulebook, and the apathy of the Adivasi voters. Scripted by Mayank Tewari and Amit V Masurkar, based on the latter’s story, and directed by Masurkar, the satire has been reviewed glowingly and collected under `12 crore in ticket sales in its first week. The film’s selection as India‘s official entry for the best foreign language film at the Oscars has certainly helped. This is 36-year-old Masurkar’s second feature, after Sulemani Keeda, an endearing independent comedy. He talks to G Seetharaman about how the film took shape and why he is not losing sleep over claims that Newton is similar to a 2001 Iranian film, Secret Ballot. Edited excerpts:
On Newton being a marked departure from Sulemani KeedaMy only concern with my first feature was not to mess up and to tell a story which is co herent. I had never directed actors before. I had only done corporate films and short films for NGOs. When my editor showed me the first cut of Sulemani Keeda, my first emo tion was a sense of relief. With Newton, I was more confident. So the focus was on telling the story I wanted to tell.

On his journey from writing a script on a political dynasty in the electoral fray to Newton

We wrote that in 2008 or 2009. We lived with an MP. It was me and co-writer at that time, Hitesh Kewalya (who wrote the screenplay and dialogue for Shubh Mangal Saavdhan).We travelled to Kushinagar and Gorakhpur (in Uttar Pradesh)… It was about a dynasty, a scandal, a conspiracy. When you research for that, you find really interesting election stories. Like, how in Arunachal Pradesh, polling officers travel for two days on foot with the EVM (electronic voting machine) on the backs of donkeys or how in the Gir jungle (in Gujarat) there is just one voter.Initially I thought of setting it (Newton) in Gir where the polling party lands and this voter is missing and they are looking for him. I was thinking of several stories. I wanted to do a story from the other side, an election in a strange place. We are talking about India being the world’s largest democracy and I felt this story needed to be told.

Then a friend of mine gifted me Hello Bastar by Rahul Pandita… After that, I watched the documentary Red Ant Dream. I wrote the first draft in 19 days for a script lab in 2013. And visually I started seeing Bastar for this film, as in the whole region… Later we started reading other books -Nandini Sundar’s book (Subalterns and Sovereigns: An Anthropological History of Bastar, 18542006), Ilina Sen’s book (Inside Chhattisgarh:

A Memoir). Then we started meeting the authors… Then we met lawyers working in that area, Adivasi activists, surrendered Naxals, local journalists, voters, police officers, paramilitary officers, Election Commission officials… Mangal Kunjam, a local journalist, helped us on the film. He was our consultant and he just didn’t introduce us to Bastar and Dantewada, he introduced us to many people and was on set as a language consultant.Another guy who helped me is Javed Iqbal (journalist). The village you see in the film is based on his photos. He also introduced me to Mangal. He read the script and constantly watched my cuts.

On his visit to the Election Commis sion headquarters in Delhi

I just walked into Nirvachan Sadan and said I want to meet the Election Commissioner of India. They were really surprised. I said I’m writing a film on elections. He was not there so I met his deputy, Sudhir Tripathi, who was extremely helpful. He asked me to go on the website and read the presiding officer’s manual. Newton is somebody who is just following the manual. Newton is not a hero, he is just a protagonist. He need not be politically correct or enlight ened. He is following the rules because they are there and that’s his job.

On Newton’s critique of elections

The EC has a huge task at hand. It’s logisti cally mind-boggling how they conduct elec tions. The moment you start talking to offi cials and go on the ground, you realise there a lot of Newtons out there. It’s not unique. A lot of people are following the rules. That’s why governments keep changing and power ful people are defeated in elections. At the same time, there might be instances of booth capturing, bogus voting. The idea is do you say elections are bad or that action is bad? If that action is bad, that needs to be stopped.

Election is just a tool. The important things are the principles of humanity and democ racy, where everyone should be able e to vote and everyone’s voice is heard. There e is a gap between this and how it is happenening in reality.

If you look at it, how they are held in some places, it is questioned by journalists and by people who live there. Just because it is held in a wrong way in some areas it does not mean the whole system is bad. You need to strengthen the process and make people aware of their rights

On the film’s Oscar chances

I think we have a good enough chance, as much as any other film from India before… Our intention is not to spend a lot of money. We have not made this film to go to the Oscars or Berlin (film festivals). Ourr main reason was for our people to watch it… We have opened in Jagdal-alpur, Kondagaon, (both in Chhattisgarh) garh) and Gorakhpur. In Almora it’ll open n now.

On whether the plagiarism charges have put a dampener on n the film’s success

I told you about the people we met et and their experiences which have come me into the film. We were on the field for eight months doing legwork. After that at we wrote it, cast Rajkummar, had the he finance in place and then went to Chhat hhattisgarh. After that if somebody tells me there is another (similar) film… this s is a film about elections, which happensens in India, and an honest election offi fficial, and India is not short of honest est officials. Especially after TN Seshan, an, everybody knows what the Election on Commission is… It wasn’t something ng like, `Oh my God, Kya kar diya ya maine!’ It (Iranian film) was someething I heard about. We went to Berrlin and we won there, and then we e went to Hong Kong and won there e also. I never heard anybody mention this and these are people who watch more films than these Versova boys.

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Lesson from Banaras

The BU V-C’s misogynistic views reveal that while the politics of the right in India may be successful, there is no sterling intellectual talent that can be chosen from this tradition
I have a hysterical interview recorded in my iPad with Kaushal Kishor Mishra, a profes sor in the political science department of Banaras Hindu University (BHU). I met him earlier this year while spending a week in Varanasi to cover the Uttar Pradesh assem bly polls. The interview was filed away as reference to understand the thinking of ac ademics from the RSS tradition, something the professor openly flaunts, as do many teachers and administrators at BHU.I found no use for it then but now that we have heard the most outrageous views of the vice-chancellor of BHU, Girish Chandra Tripathi, let us tune in to what those who teach political science have to say for themselves. Let me add a caveat that professor Mishra was a likeable soul, paan-chewing and friendly in the way that old Banaras pundits are.

First, Mishra was unrestrained in his advocacy of the BJP and was rallying people to vote for the party in the March polls. My first question was about whether the Hindu right had intellectual traditions or historical interpretations that would withstand aca demic scrutiny. Surrounded by students whose PhDs he was guiding, he answered: “Look at the way good governance is interpreted in the Bhagavad Gita. Nehru is the one who tried to finish India’s intellectual traditions. We should have learnt from the Vedas, Upanishads. BHU is not a university, but a mandir.“

There is more in the interview, not relevant to this piece. But even back then, the issue of girls having limited access to facilities in their hostels and being denied permission in various ways at BHU had been flagged. The women students who gathered in a room to speak to me had come from little towns in the UP-Bihar heartland. One was from Gorakhpur, another from Ballia, a third from a village near Patna. They were protective about their campus, loved being in BHU, did not want an unnecessary con troversy, but just wished they had more rights and facilities. When I asked whether they would like elected students unions (not currently allowed in BHU), they said no.

From little towns and traditional backgrounds, these were not particularly political young people; in fact many seemed very comfortable with the cultural ethos in BHU that has over the years shifted right-wards although BHU at one time also produced socialist and communist thinkers besides those belonging to the Nehruvian tradition. That is why the little insurrection by the girls, their strong will to protest something that is patently wrong, is all the more remarkable. India lives between tradition and modernity. It is not just an occasion to score political points. It is also an occasion to recognise that India does keep moving on in spite of many things that drag us down.

Misogyny is hardly the preserve of the RSS alone, although the world’s largest cadre organisation is basically an extended male club. The women’s groups under its umbrellas all speak for traditional values and mostly protest in order to enforce a moral code, often combined with blatant communal profiling. This ethos is not comfortable with women who protest and demand their rights as individuals. Little wonder that RSS and BJP spokespersons kept defending themselves by speaking of their sisters and daughters, the sort of phraseology that sees women as sexless entities who need male protection.Worth noting, as the entire sequence of events at BHU was triggered by sexual harassment and the administrations callous response.

One would be right to argue that universities reflect the attitudes prevalent in society. But the fundamental problem with this approach is that it expects us to give up the expectation that universities should ideally be places for freedom of expression, debate and dissent, no matter how fringe or in contrast completely status quoist.

Increasingly, we have seen an assault on intellectual freedoms. At Delhi University, currently heads of departments are deny ing permissions for any gatherings that could dis cuss the state of our democ racy. At JNU, last I heard there was heated debate on whether an army tank should be situated on cam pus to instill “national pride“. At BHU, the vice chancellor, now reportedly on his way out, expresses views of a Neanderthal male. At the heart of the problem is the question that I posed to BHU’s professor Mishra. Does the right wing have an intellectual tradition whose conclusions would be acceptable across academia?
Reading a Nehru or a Gandhi would enlighten anyone. Dr Ambedkar is brilliant in the manner in which he challenges every accepted social norm. It was minds such as these that gave us our Constitution. Now the universities are being packed with followers of MS Golwalkar and VD Savarkar. Having read both, the first is pure nonsense, the second interesting if mean in spirit.

The politics of the right in India may be successful, but there is no sterling intellectual talent that can be chosen from this tradition. Which is why we have a mediocre as vice-chancellor in a historic university. He just brought shame on the entire country.But young women with fire and spark rescued us. Saba Naqvi is a writer and journalist

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India – Panic of the Patriarch

Why men clinging to euphemisms like `a simple case of eve-teasing’ and `a feeble no’ may be a sign that they’re frightened of women who are fighting back
The patriarchs are in a panic in India. Wheth er it is in the streets or in universities or in courtrooms or in their homes, women are making their voices heard. And the men are running scared and retaliating. But you also see the women’s refusal to be cowed down. Even a cursory list of recent instanc es shows this: Gauri Lankesh refused to be silent, and they killed her for this.Hadiya (earlier Akhila) from Kerala re fused to give up on her marriage and for this the court -among the most patriarchal of institutions we have, and yet sometimes the only recourse in women’s search for justice -decided that she was `weak and vulnerable’. Marriage, `the most important decision in her life’, they said, could only be taken `with the active involvement of her parents’. Worse, the Supreme Court actu ally lent credence to the fictitious bogey called `love jihad’ and her family locked her up in their home.

Shifah (Stanzin) refused to allow self styled community representatives, the Ladakh Buddhist Association, to call her marriage and her choice of religion any thing other than what it was, her choice. No one, she told them categorically, has the right to interfere in this. She refused to en dorse what she called a `game of misogyny played in my name’.

The women students of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) refused to be cowed down and came out and protested against sexual harassment and intimidation. For this, they were beaten and chased by the so-called upholders of the law, the police. Their women teachers stood by the students and fought with them and spoke up for them. The university authorities, typically, heaped blame on them, the vicechancellor tried to pass things off by calling this serious violation of the students’ rights a `simple case of eve-teasing’, and the police filed FIRs against the students.

Shayra Bano refused to give in to the pressure of the conservative establishment and withdraw her petition to do away with triple talaq.

Despite the attempts of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board to stop Muslim women‘s battle for their rights, she, and other women who supported her, fought and won.The irony, and the tragedy, is that none of the five judges who ruled on her case, had anything to say about gender justice.

These are only a few of the many instances of battles women are fighting.Each such battle is evidence that the ground is shifting and women are no longer willing to remain silent.

But equally, each battle also shows the resilience and embeddedness of patriarchies, not only in individuals but in all our institutions.

It could be in the so-called security establishment (as for example when the security guards to whom the student in BHU called out for help did nothing), or the police, who beat up the students and their teachers.

Or it could be in so-called religious and community organisations, as in the Ladakh Buddhist Association which thought nothing of putting a demand to Mahbooba Mufti, the head of state in Kashmir, to annul a m a rriage of an adult woman.How does a personal decision become a matter for state intervention?
Or it could be the head of an educational institution -as in BHU, or earlier at Jammu when Ladakhi women students protested sexual harassment by a senior faculty member in the school of medicine, or at Christ College in Bengaluru. Or it could be our courts as in the Kerala High Court‘s judgment to nullify Hadiya’s marriage on the basis of a complaint filed by her father.As if a 24-year-old woman does not have the capability to make up her own mind.

Or indeed in the recent High Court judgment in the Farooqui case where the court ruled that the victim’s refusal to consent was too `feeble’.

It’s not only that patriarchies are reasserting themselves in the face of women’s claims to their rights and their demands for justice. It’s also that there is a sense of impunity that patriarchal in stitutions carry with them, that allows them to do so.

So while the courts may annul women’s marriages because they feel women don’t know their own minds, they will not penalise institutions that do not follow the law as in, say, not setting up Sexual Harassment Committees; they will not caution self styled community organi sations to stay out of wom en’s personal decisions.

Years ago, a woman called Mathura was denied justice in a case of rape be cause the courts felt she was a woman of question able character. A woman called Rameeza Bee was denied justice because she was assumed to be a prostitute.

One might think then that not much has changed today. And yet, that’s not entirely true. Something vital has. The women. They’re speaking out as never before. And the men are frightened, they’re hitting back.

The battle will be a long one. But it has well and truly begun.

The author is founder of Zubaan Books

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Criticism isn’t hatred, PM Modi is not an underdog: Response to ‘Hate-Modi industry’ piece

One wonders who wants to criticise someone for the heck of it and receive death threats on social media?

As I slumped down on my chair on Friday, waiting to finish work and dive into the weekend, Rahul Pandita’s piece in OPEN Magazine, titled “Inside the Hate-Modi Industry” caught my eye.

The blurb to his piece reads, “The visceral hatred for Modi is making many observers of politics lose their objectivity. In their desperation to see him on his knees, they find meanings where none exists.”

The idea of a blurb is to draw readers’ attention, and this one did its job superbly. I was full of questions – who has a ‘visceral hatred’ for Modi? Why do they hate him? How do they show their hatred? Why do they want to see him on his knees? Why are they so desperate? And what will they gain out of this hatred?

The piece, alas, was rather disappointing, mainly because it plays right into the with-us-or-against-us ideology it aims to diss. The author seems to be saying if you are criticising Modi, it must be because of your visceral hatred towards him. The piece conflates criticism with hatred. And that is extremely dangerous territory.

Since the essay has many strands, I shall attempt to articulate my disappointment with each of those separately, lest I am accused of misinterpreting.

Pandita begins the essay by asking why seasoned journalists did not see BJP’s win in the UP elections. Unless you are the Old-Monk sipping, name-dropping, Press Club veteran, you would not accord yourself the false self-importance and attempt to predict election results, especially from a state that is as complex as Uttar Pradesh.

Why is a journalist expected to predict election results anyway? Like Supriya Sharma says in her last ground report from Jaunpur, “making a prediction is a sign of conceit – it involves two assumptions. One, that voters are uncomplicated subjects who reveal their minds to journalists, and two, that a few voters can accurately speak for the rest. While voting decisions continue to be shaped by identity-based communities, the class differences within these communities are no longer insignificant, and local specificities cannot be ignored.”

Having said that, why did journalists not see the scale of BJP’s win in UP? Simply because reporting from the ground has taken a backseat as armchair journalism thrives. An individual journalist’s political beliefs are immaterial.

Those that were on the ground in Uttar Pradesh, like Hindustan Times’ Prashant Jha, did predict BJP’s win.

Secondly, Pandita takes offence to the fact that his friend pompously said, “Modi dhul jaayega (Modi will be washed out.)”

Well, while the pompousness is something I would also be put off by, I don’t blame the friend for equating Modi with BJP’s election results in UP. No one knew who the BJP’s Chief Ministerial candidate would be. The optics were such that the election was fought between Yadav-Gandhi combine and the Modi-Shah combine. Even Congress and BJP were blurred in comparison. The battle was between personalities. And BJP’s hero was Modi and no one else.

Let alone a state Assembly election, Modi was the face of Municipal Council elections in Delhi this year. “Milke chalenge, khil’ke rehange Modi kamal ka rang” went the campaign song.

“Meri sarkaar ghareebon ko samarpit hai,” Modi announces in in the middle of the campaign video implying that it would be his government in Delhi. The BJP’s candidate, Manoj Tiwari features in the last few seconds of the ad when he says, “Kamal ka button dabayiye, Narendra Modi ji ke sapnon ki dilli banayiye”

So Pandita should not be surprised if journalists had said Modi will win the MCD elections.

Two days ago, while reporting from Sangli, in heartland Maharashtra, I was speaking to a fruit seller. “Ab to Modi Maharashtra me bhi aa gaya,” she said. Unsure of what to make of it, I prompted, “Fadnavis ji ki baat kar rahin hain?” With a blank look she asked “kaun Fadnavis?”

Since 2013, when the campaign for the previous general elections gained steam, Narendra Modi has been touted as not only the face of the party and subsequently the government, but also the soul of the government.

For instance, if a journalist has to criticise the foreign policy of the present government, should she approach the MEA? Perhaps not. The External Affairs Minister is relegated to handling visa issues on Twitter, while the Prime Minister negotiates everything from H1B visas to Rohingya refugees. When Jawaharlal Nehru was similarly handling foreign affairs more than relevant cabinet ministers, he was rightly blamed for India’s defeat in 1962. Scholars and observers can go into details and criticise V K Krishna Menon or read Australian journalist Neville Maxwell’s accounts of 1962, the common man will hold Nehru responsible for it.

In such cases where the individual leader is omnipresent in government functioning and looms over its functioning, the human being becomes the government. India was Indira at one point, and New India is NaMo these days. In terms of equating a human being to a public office, the two are disturbingly similar.

For instance, while the PM’s personal app has about 185,456 downloads, the PMO app 2331 downloads. Most people do not see the PMO as a powerful body, but the man as a power centre.

Pandita then goes on to talk about the “left-leaning professional colleague” who predicted Modi’s routing in UP, and recalls a young journalist saying he will “will die the day he stops believing in revolution.” While that sounds like a reasonably accurate guess, what it goes to show is that the country has concrete ideological groups of journalists. Those on the left have let themselves be defined by revolution, while those on the right will die the day they start believing in egalitarianism.

Both are to be criticised. Journalists are meant to be the voice of the underdog, irrespective of ideology. Neither those that sided with the Nazis in the 1930s nor those that sided with the Stalinist regime in the 1940s, were doing journalism a favour.

The next point Pandita makes gives Modi a sense of extreme importance that the leader himself would perhaps be surprised by. He says, “In their desperation to see Modi on his knees, they find meanings where none exists.”

This makes Modi look like a lone warrior who is defeating a mammoth enemy single handedly. An Abhimanyu in the Chakravyuha, if Hindu mythological references are your choice, while the reality of power is far from what the author makes it out to be. It is tough to believe that Modi is less powerful than his detractors. If that were the case, many journalists would not self censor.

The next paragraph in Pandita’s essay is the most interesting. He asks journalists to recognise that India was not a ‘sone ki chidiya’ earlier and neither has it been since 2014. This is, in effect, a complete collapse of BJP’s electoral message. PM Modi came to power by promising this country something that it has not seen in the past 70 years of its existence.

In speech after speech, the Prime Minister spoke about ‘the future’ and ‘New India’ to differentiate it from the Congress ruled country of the past decades.

Give me five years, Modi asked the voters in 2014. And the voters gave him that time to change the country.

Referring to himself in the third person, the Prime Minister gave passionate speeches from small towns and big cities talking about how this was the first time in centuries that Hindu rulers have taken over. And that the glorious age of Bharat was here. The hashtag NewIndia is not a creation of Modi’s detractors.

Pandita goes on to say, journalists should not criticise demonetisation as an economic policy because it worked politically in Uttar Pradesh. The success of a policy politically is no justification for its utter failure on the economic front.

And why would we not equate Narendra Modi with Demonetisation’s failure? After all, it was Modi who went on air on the 8th of November and sought 30 days from the people. It was he who made promises that looked like he possessed a secret magic wand that would sparkle and the menace of a parallel economy would vanish.

The Finance Minister didn’t ask for 30 days time, the Governor of Reserve Bank of India did not say he could be punished by the people if black money was not rooted out in 30 days. The Prime Minister of the country did.

For a journalist, this government has been most uncommunicative. The idea that one could develop sources in the South Block and North Block is passe. There are no press conferences held any more. There is only one-way communication (Mann Ki Baat) and that too by the Prime Minister himself.

“The protest hate industry against Modi can be divided into two categories,” says Pandita. While one group is opposed to the RSS ideology, he says, the other just criticises to be ‘modern and rebellious’.

One wonders who wants to criticise someone for the heck of it and receive death threats on social media? Who wants to criticise someone for the heck of it and be shot at in their own home? Who wants to criticise someone for the heck of it and live in constant fear? Who feels the need to put themselves at risk in order to stay relevant?

Those criticising the government (and specifically Modi) are doing it despite grave threats. And here, one should differentiate  themselves from people like Sanjiv Bhatt, who Pandita rightfully criticises in this essay.

I understand Pandita’s essay is about people he terms “Modi bashers”, therefore I do not want to question him about those that are bashed for even remotely criticising Modi. Whataboutery is not merely a lazy counter but an irritating defence. However, as a former editor of respected publications, Pandita surely understands the importance of balance.

While acknowledging the hate mongers on social media, how did he manage to overlook those who issue death threats as if they were propaganda pamphlets being distributed at street corners? If one read the essay without any context, one could not be blamed for assuming that those who question the government have a personal axe to grind with the Prime Minister.

Also, the Prime Minister himself follows such trolls on Twitter. And has refused to unfollow despite showing examples of their violent behaviour.  Again, the leader himself giving them tacit support.

“The country’s common people are sick of media,” says Pandita. I agree. I am sick of them too.

The media is woefully inefficient. Irrespective of a journalist’s personal ideology, if she is not the voice of the underdog, she falls short of fulling her professional commitments.

In this story, the Prime Minster of India is certainly not the underdog.

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